There is No Milk

By Jerome Yi

“If you bring me to that holy mountain in India, sitting on the top of that mountain – in the lotus position with our eyes closed – will be no more holy then having a beer at the bar of a local hotel nearby. It’s so obvious and still a lot of seekers seem to refuse the idea. Oneness is everywhere. Is that clear? Everywhere is everywhere.”

—Jan Kersschot

“[N]early 40 years’ experience has shown me that a taste for beer and cowboy-stories is entirely consistent with a taste for perfect art and the highest intellectual exercises.”

—Joseph McCabe

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Bertrand Russell once said, “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” I submit a more radical proposition: that there is no such thing as wasted time.

That something (or someone) is a waste of time is a ubiquitous refrain. I should know. Even as a nihilist who doesn’t believe that there is inherent meaning or purpose to life, I always make a distinction between time that is wisely spent and time that is ill-spent, and I find myself constantly complaining about the latter.

This is explained by the fact that I am obsessed with making the most of my life, which for me means achieving as many of my goals as I possibly can.

In spite of this, I consistently fail to reach a level of productivity that I can be satisfied with. I attribute this to external distractions, poor planning, and, above all, a lack of self-discipline.

And yet, there are times when, almost mysteriously, the desperation to accomplish diminishes, and the accompanying urgency falls away.

Some months ago, I was sitting in my room late at night, playing Super Mario World. It was a world that I’d conquered long ago. I’d completed all of the stages and found all of the secrets. Other than perfecting my mechanics and attempting to set new records, there was hardly anything in that linear, static, 16-bit 2D world that I hadn’t done before. There were a hundred other things I could’ve done with my time, things that would’ve actually translated into something substantial outside of the television screen. Games are a dead end.

But life itself is a game.

More accurately, it’s a combination of games: activities that consist of man-made rules superimposed over natural laws–or, perhaps more accurately, natural laws disguised as man-made rules. You have the career game, which entails the acquisition of experience and connections, the building up reputation, and the accumulation of various items, mostly cash. You have the social game, which entails the acquisition of friends and the fulfillment of various obligations. The difference between “real life” games and virtual reality games is that the former cannot ever be completed, because there is no inherent goal, let alone an ultimate goal. Like Tetris and Pac-Man, life is a game that you are bound to lose sooner or later. The world is like a vast casino–at the end of the day, the house always wins.

All roads lead to Hades. You can’t save the world. You can’t even save individual people. Medicine, no matter how advanced, never saves lives–at best it delays the arrival of the Grim Reaper by a few decades. To truly save a life would mean to preserve it for all eternity.

Civilization is one gigantic, circular goal. Think about it: what could possibly be the end of all of that art, music, literature, and technology? Well, there’s otherworldly transcendence, but if you’re a naturalist, that’s pretty much off the table. None of this had to exist–the universe did just fine without any of this for billions of years. As far as I’m concerned, everything is a form of entertainment. Movies are entertainment. Books, essays, poetry, blog posts, and news articles are entertainment. Video games are entertainment. These things didn’t have to exist, yet they are here. We don’t have to enjoy them, but neither do we need to take them seriously.

This is not to spit on the efforts of idealists and physicians, and announce that the only thing worth doing in life is shopping and watching television. Neither is this meant to justify indolence and pretend that idlers are just as valuable to a society as active contributors. As moral philosopher Shelly Kagan once said, the fact that it’s going to be all the same in the far future doesn’t mean that it’s all the same in the present. The thing is that there is nothing to justify, nothing that needs to be justified. If the “purpose” of the universe is simply to be as it is, then, well, it’s a success–there is nothing wrong with it. As in a flawless painting, nothing in the world is out of place. As in a flawless play, nothing in life happens in vain.

As Jeff Foster says:

“How wonderful to see that life needs no purpose. That its purpose is its purposeless present appearance. Does music have a purpose? Does a sunset have a purpose? Does dancing have a purpose? Its purpose is in the listening, in the seeing, in the dancing. Life is at once meaningful and meaningless. It’s both and it’s neither.”

An Extraordinary Absence

At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as “wasting” time. Life takes care of itself. It always has and always will. No activity is done in vain, whether it is doing tedious work at the office, balancing the checkbook, filling up the car at the gas station, sitting in a church or a temple, sitting in traffic, pursuing an education, writing a book, exploring a library or a bookstore, cleaning the room, washing the dishes, taking out the trash, rearranging the books in the bookshelves, reading poetry, drawing a picture, learning a language, practicing a musical instrument, listening to a favorite record for the thousandth time, watching a movie or a TV show, playing a video game, drinking a beer, arguing with family members, chatting with friends, shopping at malls and supermarkets, taking a walk around the neighborhood, eating dinner at a fast food restaurant, or lying awake in bed late at night. Perhaps we can learn to appreciate these things for what they are, not merely as means to some nebulous (and perhaps non-existent) end.

The world is but a glorified train station. Life is but a wait for the arrival of the train of death. There’s no need to worry about anything, including making the “most” of life.

Because it doesn’t matter how we pass the time. It is enough that it passes. No need to cry over spilt milk, because no milk is ever spilt.

Because there is no milk.

God’s in His Heaven–All’s Right with the World

By Jin-yeong Yi

“What is the best consolation in sorrow and in misfortune? … It is for a man to accept everything as if he had wished for it and had asked for it; for you would have wished for it, if you had known that everything happens by God’s will, with his will and in his will.”

—Seneca

“For I am already that which I seek. Whatever I seek or think I want, however long the shopping list may be, all of my desires are only a reflection of my longing to come home. And home is oneness, home is my original nature. It is right here, simply in what is. There is nowhere else I have to go, and nothing else I have to become.”

—Tony Parsons

“A man who moves with the earth will necessarily experience days and nights. He who stays with the sun will know no darkness. My world is not yours. As I see it, you all are on a stage performing. There is no reality about your comings and goings. And your problems are so unreal!”

—Nisargadatta Maharaj

“The Lord is everywhere /And always perfect: / What does He care for man’s sin / Or the righteousness of man?”

—The Bhagavad-Gita

As the world comes to an end–of another year, that is–most of us probably have our heads full with anticipation and apprehension of what lies ahead.

I’m still a pessimistic atheistic nihilist, but I like to indulge in possibilities, so please humor me by considering some ideas that I’ve been turning over in my head.

Since you are here, I invite you to take a moment to look back on the past year. Did you make any decisions you regret? Embarrassing behavior, poorly executed plans, wasted opportunities? Would you go back and change anything if you could? Now take a longer moment to look back on your life up this point as a whole, and ask yourself the same questions.

I’m probably not wrong in guessing that there were a lot of things that didn’t go your way, and that even if things went your way for the most part, you’re still not completely content–you want more of this and less of that.

Some of you may be deeply depressed–to the point where you wish to die or at least depersonalize so you can comfortably observe your life in third person.

Many commentators on Neon Genesis Evangelion complain about Shinji’s constant whining about his woes, but I’m sure most of us can sympathize to some degree: how many of us never find themselves in circumstances and situations they would rather not be in–mundane, tedious, frustrating, arduous, painful, pointless?

Doesn’t the world look awful right now? Doesn’t it look downright hopeless at times? Wars, economic depression, poverty, pollution, overpopulation, ethnic-religious-political strife, concentration camps, environmental destruction, natural disasters, child abuse, breakdown in human relationships…how many libraries can be filled with volumes on what we consider to be wrong with this world? And worst of all, doesn’t it all look meaningless? And even worse…ultimately beyond our control?

As Joseph Conrad lamented in a 1897 letter to Cunninghame Graham:

“It evolved itself (I am severely scientific) out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! — it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider — but it goes on knitting. You come and say: ‘this is all right; it’s only a question of the right kind of oil. Let us use this — for instance — celestial oil and the machine shall embroider a most beautiful design in purple and gold.’ Will it? Alas no. You cannot by any special lubrication make embroidery with a knitting machine. And the most withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself; made itself without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart. It is a tragic accident — and it has happened. You can’t interfere with it. The last drop of bitterness is in the suspicion that you can’t even smash it. In virtue of that truth one and immortal which lurks in the force that made it spring into existence it is what it is — and it is indestructible!

It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions — and nothing matters.”

Now put such judgments aside for a moment and consider this possibility: that life is a movie written and directed by a cosmic Director–call It God, or Brahman, or Consciousness, or whatever suits your fancy. Suppose that this Director is perfect–It knows exactly what each scene calls for. All of the details are impeccably balanced together. A perfect movie is in the making as we speak–and we are starring in it.

As most of us would agree, a good movie does not necessarily mean a good life for the characters. A director getting his or her way often entails a character not getting his or her way. If movie characters were capable of thinking independently, not a few of them would probably question the decisions made by a director, unable to see how all the pieces fit. If a good director knows what’s best for his or her movie, think how much truer this would be of a perfect Director.

You may not be satisfied with what you are, but as far as the Director is concerned, you are perfect for Its purposes. Your hair color is perfect. Your skin color is perfect. Your height is perfect. Your weight is perfect. Your IQ is perfect. Your knowledge is perfect. Your ignorance is perfect. Your beliefs are perfect. Your likes and dislikes are perfect. Your joys and sorrows are perfect. Your pleasures and problems are perfect. Your thought process is perfect. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Every single decision you’ve made hitherto is perfect, and every single decision you will make hereafter will be perfect.

If your role is to succeed, you will succeed. If your role is to fail, you will fail. If your role is to die a peaceful death after a long and happy life, you will die a peaceful death (in your sleep, perhaps) after a long and happy life. If your role is to die a violent death after a short and troubled life, you will die a violent death (by your own hand, perhaps) after a short and troubled life. Either way, you will have fulfilled your role–there’s no way you cannot fulfill your role. Your every move, your every line–all of it is without flaw. No matter how insignificant you may be, you complete the picture–that is why you are here.

What you were yesterday was perfect. What you are today is perfect. What you will be tomorrow will be perfect.

If you are uncomfortable with this idea, then allow me to ask you another question: what are you, really? Are you a character in this movie? Or are you the One Who is running the show?

This blog post, written by someone whose writing skills clearly leave much to be desired, is perfect. Your opinion of this blog post, dear reader, whether it is positive or negative, in agreement or disagreement, is perfect.

I am perfect. You are perfect. The world is perfect. Life is perfect. Everything is for the best.

Whether or not we know this. Whether or not we accept this. Whether or not we are at peace with this. God’s in His heaven–all’s right with the world.

It may be so. It may not be so.

It’s possible, isn’t it?

See also:

Ramesh S. Balsekar – A Duet of One: The Ashtavakra Gita Dialogue

The Bhagavad-Gita

Meister Eckhart – Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense

I am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment 

Dennis Waite – How to Meet Yourself…and find true happiness

Paramahansa Yogananda – Why God Permits Evil and How to Rise Above It 

Of Solitude (or, The Universal Citizen)

By Jin-yeong Yi

During my childhood and adolescence, I would spend time with friends just about every chance I would get, dividing our time together in each other’s homes. When I was a kid, I once threw a tantrum in front of my mother because I couldn’t meet my friends. But at some point, companionship no longer seemed as essential as it once had been. I noticed that I felt a sense of relief once friends had returned to their homes; I then had some peace and quiet and I was free to straighten out my room, and go my own way without any external distractions. And as time went by, I saw my friends less and less, finding that I was acquiring a taste for this stillness, this solitude that allowed me to think, to explore.

I was never one of the popular kids in school. It didn’t help that for years I was a mischievous little bastard who delighted in playing pranks on my classmates and generally just annoying the hell out of them.

Then I found myself hanging out with other misfits, who weren’t total pariahs but were for the most part ignored.

Then I found myself alone. Not completely, as I was still very much a part of society in that I was either in education or in employment. I was a secular atheist instead of a Christian, listened to heavy metal instead of hip hop, and spoke with a somewhat idiosyncratic American accent and style that incorporated a number of distinctly British and even Southern U.S. phrases.

An individual needs other people not only to survive, but also to thrive. That is undeniable. Even as a loner who meets his few remaining friends only a few times a year, I recognize my dependence on others for my needs and wants, whether they be the books I read, the movies I watch, the music I listen to, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, or the tools I use to write and draw. Were I truly on my own, there would be very, very little I could do, and I wouldn’t last long, unless I were to learn how to survive in the wilderness. True independence is an illusion, as that entails complete self-sufficiency.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t keep people at arm’s length, that I can’t have my own corner. Being forgetful, I sometimes fancy that I am a loner mainly because there’s something about me that rubs people the wrong way, causing them to shun me. Then I remember that the loneliness has been mostly self-imposed. I have had quite a few opportunities in my life to reach out and strike up friendships. But I chose the silent freedom of solitude, of marching to the beat of my own drum.

It was because I was a loner that I was able to grow and become my own person. It may not be possible to escape the fate of being a product of one’s time, but at least I can say that I managed to rise above stereotypes to no small degree, and separate myself from the herd.

I do not intend the word “herd” in an entirely derogatory sense. A herd of sheep is not inherently “inferior” to a lone wolf–one is simply a collection of individuals that have a place among one another, and the other is simply a single individual that does not quite fit into any group. The two are merely different, and whether one is superior to the other is a question of preference. And I find that I prefer to go my own way. (This is likely why I almost never watch TV. I don’t have much beef with the tube; it’s just that I favor choosing what I want to watch, when I want to watch it.)

I’ve never been in a band, but I think the analogy works well enough. A real band works as a team on the creative process (a band in which only one member is calling all the shots is not really a band but a solo artist with supporting musicians), and this naturally entails disagreements and compromise. A one-man band does not suffer from such drawbacks, and one-man bands like Burzum, Havohej, Ildjarn, and Mütiilation are decisive proof that it is possible to produce albums that are not merely good, but superlative. An individual who chooses to write the music of his life on his own has more control over the range of options that he has. Like the lone artist, he can skip the groupthink and focus on doing what he feels is best for his greatest masterpiece, which is none other than the life he is living one moment at a time.

I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of my relationship with myself during one Christmas morning, when it was time for everyone in the family to exchange presents. It was mostly a disaster because we got each other the wrong gifts–things that were either superfluous, unnecessary, or unwanted. What I realized was the simple truth that no one knew me better than I knew myself. Others could make deductions and get me something I would like, but only I knew what I wanted. Only I knew what I desired in life. And if I didn’t know, no one knew. No one could know.

There is a lonely side to being a loner, of course. At times you might find yourself wishing that others can understand you, and that others will accept you for what you are. You might find yourself wishing that you can share your joys and sorrows with someone who can fully appreciate them.

I think this longing for acceptance and companionship goes hand in hand with something deeper: a longing for a place one can, without any reservations, call home. And what is home? We could use the definition “where the heart is,” but we could also try something more fundamental: the place where one has always belonged and will always belong. Based on this definition, can you, dear reader, say that you have a home on this earth? For my part, I must say that I do not. I was born and raised in America, but I certainly do not think of this place as home, not because I dislike it but because my roots here do not extend past two generations, to say nothing of infinity. Well, then, it would make more sense for me to live in Korea, where all of my known forebears had lived. Needless to say, however, that chunk of land called “Korea” was not always populated by Koreans, and the time will come, whether in 100 years or 10,000 years, when the last Korean leaves this world and the geographic location he once thought of as his eternal home is renamed by its new inhabitants. Whether a country, a house, a car, or a planet, everything is borrowed in this world; nothing is truly for keeps.

In my view, the closest we have to a true home is the universe of the mind, because our minds have always belonged to us and always will until we die. To be a universal citizen is to be a citizen in the universe of your own mind. Nowhere is home in this world, but everywhere is home in the mind.

Which brings me back to the main subject of this post. The only person who is guaranteed to be with you to the end is yourself. There’s nothing wrong with seeking companionship, with surrounding yourself with people. But if you don’t feel compelled to do so, and are somehow content with being alone, well, what’s the problem? Solitude is no sin.

I know you’re out there somewhere, fellow loners. There could well be a fair number of you among my readers, including regular visitors that are so heavily introverted that they don’t even subscribe, let alone speak up, content to lurk. Here’s me waving a friendly hello. Like me, you might be having a fine evening, enjoying your own company, passing the time by reading a good book, watching a good movie, or relaxing with a cold one. And there is nothing wrong with that! Tonight I raise my metaphorical shot glass to you, and wish you many more years of blessed solitude.

In Defense of the Illogical

By Jin-yeong Yi 

“Where is reality? Can you show it to me?”

—Heinz von Foerster

Early this year, I wrote in “The Magic of Fiction”

…I find that fiction makes the most sense when I view it as a dream. From this perspective, plotholes, as well as realism and plausibility in general, aren’t exactly of earth-shattering importance. It’s imaginative fiction. It’s a dream, not a documentary. Dreams are often logically inconsistent and are not infrequently downright absurd, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyable or edifying, or even enlightening and life-changing. Why must fantasy be brought down to the level of reality? Is not the fundamental goal of fiction to convey an experience, which is something that can be appreciated with or without the element of realism?

When it comes to objective reality, probabilities trump possibilities. But when it comes to subjective fantasy, possibilities far and away trump probabilities.

PZ Myers does a rather fine job of illustrating my point with his critical blog post on Man of Steel:

The falling woman trope. It’s everywhere. The poor woman is plummeting to her doom at the terminal velocity of 200 km/hr, and superhero swoops upwards at even greater speed and catches her. This doesn’t work. At that speed, invulnerable super-strong arms are like blunt blades and are going to messily trisect the victim.

Slugfests. In every case, bad guy meets good guy and you know that shortly they’ll start throwing roundhouse blows at each other. This is not how people interact with each other, except when they’re very drunk and stupid. These are supposed to be super-intelligent, powerful beings, and their standard response to any challenge is to punch someone in the nose.

There has to be a witness. This is a corollary to the absence of deaths. A couple of the secondary human characters face the most traumatic event ever — one of them is stuck under a pile of rebar and concrete (don’t worry, they pry her out and she’s completely uninjured!) so they can stand around and gawp as the superclowns rampage all over their city. Titanic forces are shattering whole buildings, but they stand there getting a little dust in their faces, and that’s it. (Emphasis mine) 

It’s understandable that someone so firmly grounded in the hard sciences as Professor Myers is would view fiction in this light. It’s not “right” or “wrong,” but I simply don’t think that the laws that govern the prison of the real need to encroach upon the free lands of the unreal. If the tyranny of logic is absent in the realm of the imagination by default, why must we go out of our way to voluntarily enforce it? I render unto reality the things which are reality’s, but when it comes to fantasy, I embrace the illogical–and the impossible.      

As James Cameron put it, “[T]he beauty of movies is that they don’t have to be logical. They just have to have plausibility.”

I would go a step further and say that the content of movies, and fantasy in general, doesn’t even need to be plausible–just imaginable. If something can be conceived, be imagined, that is enough. For what matters is the experience. 

Skyship 9

By Jin-yeong Yi

With the great griffins circling overhead, the blues singer prepared for her 9th audition. The problem was that she was a hawk, but Apollo would have none of her excuses. The most conspicuous error that the nationalists made was writing the secret code of the junior doctrines that needed to be memorized by each child under three, but the satyr could not hear what the whining willows were saying in their defiance of the gecko. But as the wise eagle knew in his hour of pain, the bleached t-shirts and tired faces of the melodies playing in the background of the garden party were not to see the light of day again.

But they won’t mind, because the most important thing that the gray iceberg had ever done was to express sentiments about Thomas Paine’s latest detective novel and Proust’s last anthropological monograph.

A Late Afternoon Stroll Through the Plains of Noland

By Jin-yeong Yi

The trees were stationed on either side of the great cabins, but the mountains stood still as they received their daily feeding from the creatures that knew not bees or lakes. The silence was not within his plan to trek through the vast penetralia of the southern caves, but he didn’t know what the paint was doing splattered on the front porch of the house 1,333 miles away. But he didn’t care, because the summit was not the height of temptation, but the trucks were piling on high.

“My friend, didn’t you say that you had a dinner party to attend to?” The rabbit asked. “What the devil do you mean by that?” asked the bewildered turtle, who promptly proceeded to transform into a hedgehog. “The winter is young, so we might as well find some black licorice to feed my young.”

“But life is too short,” protested the rabbit, who happened to be a pacifist. The conversation stopped there, because the logic was running out, and there was a pyramid of canned beans on the shelves of a recently abandoned cabin to the west of the temple.

With her patience wearing thin, the bird briskly swam down the Nile in order to visit the French intellectuals who supported the ideas of Meslier.

A Warm Welcome

By Jin-yeong Yi

I created and launched this blog on Friday, December 21, 2012. I had promised myself that I would create a blog on the first day of the new year at the latest, and for various reasons decided that I would go ahead and create it during the final days of the holiday season.

Since this is the introductory post, I think an FAQ is in order:

Why does this blog exist?

I’ve wanted to create a blog for a long time, but refrained from doing so because I was a very private person who jealously guarded his thoughts. However, my desire to broadcast my cogitations into cyberspace never went away. This blog exists because I realized that if I didn’t create one soon, I might never do so. In other words, I decided that it was now or never.

What can I expect to find in this blog?

You can expect to find discussions of various subjects, including philosophy, religion, video games, movies, music, and books.

What are your beliefs?

I consider myself to be first and foremost a skeptic. Like the Greek philosopher Arcesilaus, I am not certain of anything, including the notion that I am not certain of anything. Tentatively, I am an atheist (gnostic or agnostic depending on the god[s] in question) and a nihilist. My politics are a blend of conservative and liberal ideas, though it seems that I lean more toward the right.