Sunday, November 22, 2009

Layer 226 . . . The Thick of It, The Game of Politics, Refraining From Harm and Modern Beauty


There's a beating-up in the press today for Brown and Cameron, and it's forced both of them to apologise for their actions. Namely? Using Remembrance Day for photo-opportunities - behaving like publicity-crazed actors on a poppy-strewn stage in the so-called 'Field of Remembrance' outside the Abbey last week.

Without proper permission they both went into the 'Field' in order to “inspect” the crosses and poppies that had been put there to commemorate those who have died in the Middle East wars. Cameron went in first with his personal photographer, prior to the service, and having got wind of this Brown scuttled in there when the service was over, accompanied by his wife and a film crew, which was shooting on behalf of the press corps. “Inspecting”. Gazing earnestly at the crosses and the poppies.

Thanks to “The Thick of It” on the BBC we have a much sharper appreciation of what goes on within the inner circles of the political leaders. The sense that even the senior members of the government and the opposition are just actors and performers, acting to scripts provided by strategists, speech writers, political analysts, image makers, PR consultants, rapid response units, private secretaries, press secretaries, focus groups, pollsters, and assorted over-opinionated dickheads.

This, of course, doesn't invalidate the view of politics given by “Yes, Minister”, which made us aware that government ministers are also manipulated, maneuvered, thwarted, hoodwinked, fed bullshit and led astray by devious professional civil servants up to the level of Permanent Secretary.

What we now understand about politics is that it is indeed the 'art of the possible', and that honesty, integrity and good intent will always be trumped by ambition, competing egos, deviousness, ruthlessness, stupidity, vested interests, and the  hunger to have and to hold power.

The Thick of It last night showed the Minister and her Tory opposite number taking part in a Radio 5 Live debate, with them and their various advisors and hangers-on being viciously verballed and bullied by their respective handlers, strategists and spin supremos. The sheer awfulness and nastiness of it all is brilliantly portrayed. And let's not kid ourselves that this is an exaggeration and a caricature. It's not. This is how the game's played in our sophisticated times.


Refraining From Harm.

How To Practice – Chapter 4 – The Dalai Lama

Buddha teaches us how to find refuge from suffering and limitation, but the chief refuge, or source of protection, is found in the states of realisation achieved through practicing morality, concentrated meditation, and wisdom.

Buddhist scriptures recommend that you hide your good qualities and achievements like a lamp inside a vessel. You should not advertise them unless there is a great purpose in doing so.

Buddhists do not ask for happiness. Happiness comes from putting [spiritual doctrine] into practice. Buddha teaches the actual refuge – how to practice the doctrine – but the main responsibility lies in your own implementation. To create the foundation for an eventual spiritual state devoid of suffering and limitation we need to engage in the following practice:

1)    Identify the 10 nonvirtues (see Layer 225)
2)    Identify the 10 virtues (which are the opposites of those nonvirtues)
3)    Abandon the former and adopt the latter.

Limitation in dress is the practice of contentment regarding clothes. [Monks and nuns are limited to one set of robes] The same is true for adornments. It is a mistake to think that it is really worthwhile to spend more on food, clothing and adornments just because you have more money. Rather, spend more on health and education for poor people. This is not forced socialism but voluntary compassion.

Also, it is essential for monastics to be satisfied with adequate shelter. An elaborate home is not allowed. This is called contentment with regard to shelter. Lay people can adopt this practice by reducing the neverending quest for a better home and for the furniture and decorations in it.

Examine your attitudes toward food, clothes and shelter. By reducing expectations you will promote contentment. The extra energy which is released should be devoted to meditation and to achieve cessation of problems.

We should be contented in material areas, for those are bound by limitation, but not with regard to the spiritual, which can be extended limitlessly.

With regard to compassion and altruism there is no limit, and thus we should not be content with the degree we have.

Practicing the morality of individual liberation is also helpful in increasing mindfulness and introspection.

The practice of morality of individual liberation also fosters tolerance and patience. Buddha said that patience is the highest form of asceticism, and through it one can reach nirvana. For monks and nuns there are four qualities of patience and tolerance to maintain:

  •     If someone pushes you around, you should be tolerant, patient.
  •     If someone shows anger to you, you should not respond with anger.
  •     If someone hits you, you should not strike back.
  •     If someone embarrasses and insults you, you should not answer back.

Usually my advice to beginners is to be patient; have fewer expectations of yourself. It is most important to be an honest citizen, a good member of the human community. Whether or not you understand profound ideas, it is important to be a good person wherever you are right now.

The essence of the Buddha's teaching can be found in two sayings:
  •    If possible, you should help others.
  •     If that is not possible, at least you should do no harm.

Summary for Daily Practice
  •     Notice your attachments to food, clothes and shelter, and adopt monastic practices of contentment to a layperson's life. Be satisfied with adequate food, clothing and shelter. Use the additional free time for meditation so that you can overcome more problems.
  •     Develop a strong desire to refrain from harming others either physically or verbally no matter whether you are embarrassed, insulted, reviled, pushed or hit.


You should never, ever forget to turn the TV off after watching Andy Marr's early morning politics programme on Sundays. If you do you will become irritated beyond belief by the stuff that comes on in the God slot. There they were this morning, discussing 'angels' in front of a studio audience – media whores Cristina Odone and Kelvin McKenzie and pals – talking about whether angels exist, whether you can communicate with them, what they do for us, etc. Of course they exist. As do fairies, pixies, leprechauns, elves and hobbits. And God, of course.

Odone had two novels published, The Shrine and A Perfect Wife. She contributed to Why I am still a Catholic.


Modern Beauty - Ugly Beauty

Has beauty disappeared from modern art? Several influential modern thinkers insist that it has. And this belief has inspired them to publish a clutch of recent books which claim that modern art is no longer capable of capturing true beauty: that beauty has gone from art.
Art critic Waldemar Januszczak fiercely disagrees, believing that great art is as interested in beauty as ever.
Art's search for beauty has manifested itself in depictions of the idealised female form, glorious landscapes, lovely flower studies and perfectly arranged renaissance altar pieces - but where does this search continue today?

Januszczak's a strange guy. I'm not sure he's really got much to say about art which really adds to the sum of human knowledge and enlightenment. He filmed a lot of the programme in and around Venice, and rightly said it's a place one should go back to as often as possible, preferably out of the main tourist season.

Sample quotes from the programme -

Talking about the ancient weathered walls and surfaces - “Old things can have a beauty that's been earned.” [Grace?]
“Growing old gracefully is one of the sternest tests that life sets us.”

“Permanent change is what life's all about.”

“We should stop trying to make sense of everything. We need the inexplicable. We need mysteries. Art's purpose is to nourish our imaginations.”

Carl Andre said, “All materials are interesting. But most people are matter-blind. They don't know what things are made from.”

Jeff Koons said, “The highest state that art can take you to is the acceptance of everything.”
[Possibly he's talking about non-attachment]
And, “We should follow our interests and focus on them. There's nothing else you can do in life.”

Yoko Ono believes that all of her work has a vibration that has a positive effect on the world.

Anish Kapoor

Good vibrations ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anish Kapoor was one of the artists featured in the programme. It's no surprise he has a beautiful website:


I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is back - a new R4 series on Mondays at 6.30, repeated midday on Sundays.

Sample comment - "The Kennington Oval cricket ground . . . so called because it's built in the shape of a cricket ground."

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