Chain of Keys

“This house was built in 1788.”

Although most people will see this statement is a factual one, I will argue that it is, in fact, imbued with value and judgment.

We choose to highlight something by stating it, by making it the subject of a statement. Something must be focused upon (apart from “dummy” statements like ‘it’s raining’ or ‘it’s me’ but I will argue these are not empty subjects) when we say anything. To choose to focus upon the house is something consciously done by a speaker. And to choose to highlight its age is another choice. Both are given importance by stating them as facts. Value is thus given to them. They – the house and its age – are judged to be important facts.

Poets and songwriters are masters of value making. A good example is PJ Harvey’s Chain of Keys.

Fifteen keys
Fifteen keys hang on a chain
The chain is joint
The chain is joint and forms a ring
The ring is in
The ring is in a woman’s hand
She’s walking on
She’s walking on the dusty ground

The dusty ground’s a dead-end track
The neighbours won’t be coming back
Fifteen gardens overgrown
Fifteen houses falling down

The woman’s old
The woman’s old and dressed in black
She keeps her hands
She keeps her hands behind her back
Imagine what
Imagine what her eyes have seen
We ask but she
We ask but she won’t let us in

A key so simple and so small
How can it mean no chance at all?
A key, a promise, or a wish
How can it mean such hopelessness

“The circle is broken”, she says
“The circle is broken”, she says

Out of the void of the music comes fifteen keys on a chain. We send time wondering, imagining, what kind of keys and chain they are. We are told, next, chain is not a like a strand but is joined to form a loop (ring). But where is this ring of keys? It is in the hands of a woman. What is she like? How are we to imagine her? We don’t know, but we are told she is walking on the dusty ground. Why is she walking on here? So many questions. So many images. The sparse repetitive sax and drum line gives us an image of her walk walking among the fifteen empty falling down houses with their overgrown gardens. The story goes on.

I hope you can see how the words have created the image for you. It may well be based on an actual place with actual persons with actual things and actual dialogues but it no longer belongs to the event, only belonging to the memory (or thought) and (or) to the song.

To take statements as facts of reality is to not understand that statements are acts in reality. They are acts within the reality. They do not stand outside of reality. This is what, I believe, Derrida had meant by there is no outside text (alternate translations ‘there is nothing outside of the text’; ‘there is no outside context’). The largest most inclusive category – as tiring as this approach physically and mentally is – must be taken in order for anything to be make complete sense. And we must forget that rational sense itself is an act within this reality not separate from it in any way.

Svabhava – the doctrine of no intrinsic nature

There is no intrinsic nature (svabhava) to conditioned phenomena. All conditioned (samskara) and unconditioned (dharma) phenomena are without self (anatman) and are empty (shunyata). All conditioned phenomena are impermanent (anitya) and unsatisfactory (duhkha).

With this as base Buddhism teaches enlightenment (or release) (nirvana) that ends all rebirth (samsara, reincarnation).

God’s Imperfection

Time is important. 
Change and difference create value. 
God means nothing without man. 
The imperfections of man generates 
the perfection of God.

Yet, God’s perfection 
is nothing and everything. 
For that is the power 
of a knowledge that comes 
from nowhere.

Chicken soup for the non-soul

“So if there is no self, non-self, non-soul or no- soul what is it that gets reborn or reincarnated?”

This is question I often get from Westerners new to Buddhism. How can there be no soul? Who or what is doing these good and bad things?

The Buddha always starts with the idea of impermanence. All real things are impermanent. Real things do no stay the same. This much most people can understand and agree with. Then the Buddha moves on to the idea of unsatisfactoriness. All real things are unsatisfactory. This too most people can agree upon also. But then most people get tripped up by the last statement of the truth of reality. All real and unreal things have no inherent self. Real things are seen to have no coherent core, just as unreal things (ideas and concepts of the of the imagination) do not have any core.

What makes a rock a rock is not anything. There is no “rock-ness” of things. If there is a rock-ness then would that not entail a permanent “something”?

There is also another suggestion here with this formulation – that there is something permanent but without a self. Real things are impermanent and unsatisfactory. But Unreal things are “permanent” and “satisfactory” in some way even though they are without a self. But what can be permanent if it is unreal?

This kind of formulation is not dissimilar to that of God or soul. Since God and soul are permanent and satisfactory. This is the conundrum. So, does God and souls exist or not? According to Buddha they must be unreal but unreal things have no self. But real things have no self either.

The only way forward, I feel, is to deal with these issues separately. Understand the nature of real things before we deal with understanding what the nature of unreal things are.

*Remember that book? Sorry. Clickbait title.

Religion from a biological or anthropological point of view

It seems to me that everything we do is for one purpose and one purpose alone, and that is to survive. We eat, sleep, exercise, work, play, wear clothes, buy houses, read, write, speak, listen, study, teach, sing, have sex, defecate, pretty do everything as a way to survive.

We create institutions to survive. Health care, education, science, philosophy and religion are just some of the institutions we have as a way to survive as a group rather than as an individual.

Seen this way, religion is no different to the ballroom dancing club, tennis club, academic associations that we create in order to survive. Religion, God, souls, mind and self, therefore, are concepts to help us, and should be studied as a biological and anthropological necessities. It should be off-limits to scrutiny.