Monday, December 12, 2016

Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh

I'm an admirer and a follower (at least intentionally :-)) of the famous Vietnamese Buddhist mont Thich Nhat Hanh. I have read a number of his amazing books. However, I started reading them in the time I stopped blogging, this is why you did not see any review of his books here.

I hope to have some time soon to review the best of them. Now this post is just a signal that my current morning reading (replacing for a short while when I was in hospital, the book about S. Ulam) is now:

Thich Nhat Hanh - SILENCE. The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise.

As all books written by him, this one is very simple, modest and bright explanation why we do need silence. Sounds trivial? Perhaps... But when you start reading Thich's words, you will never think it is trivial or naïve ...

"(...) You don't need a lot of modern gadgets in order to be civilized. You need only a small bell, a quiet space, and your mindful in-breath and out-breath. (...) That is what I call true civilization."

"People usually think that their ancestors have died, but that's not correct. Because we are here, alive, our ancestors continue to be alive in us. (...) They are fully present in every cell of our body. (...) We are a community of cells, and all our ancestors are within us. We can hear their voices; we just need to listen."

I will be coming back to this post again...


"Hope is the power behind love. When hope fails, so does love" - The Ladder of Divine Ascent

By Pvasiliadis - Own work, Public Domain,
This was quite unexpected discovery and the following  addition of this masterpiece to my library. I was pointed to it by a friend, when we discussed our recent reads of the spiritual and meditative texts from different traditions. After my recent readings from Buddhist, Chinese and Jewish traditions, this was a very profound "return" to some of my roots that are also very important to me. My grandma was Christian Orthodox. My uncle and aunt contributed greatly to the rebuilding of the orthodox church in the city of Bransk (amazing town in eastern Poland known from Eva's Hoffman "Shtetl"). The link here, leads to text in Polish where they are named. Whenever I listen to an Orthodox polyphony I know this Eastern tradition (along with the Western Christian and Jewish) is not in my mind - but in my bones...

My search into meditation and spirituality started decades ago in the Western Christian tradition (among others it was for my friend and a monk Jan Bereza). Before, still in college times I was reading (not understanding too much though :-), John's of the Cross "Dark Night of the Soul". So with deep reverence I just started to read:

John Climacus - The Ladder of Divine Ascent

John Climacus was 7th century, early Christianity Saint reveread by almost all Christian traditions. He was a monk at Vatos monstery at Mount Sinai. He is said to leave decades in a noble isolation, at the foothill of The Mount Sinai. What attracted me to the book and turn me into its (slow) reading (it will perhaps take a year or more in my style of reading of such books) is the opinion of my friend. She said that the book is not very much "religious". That it is universal and is all about the elevation of one's personality and the path through life ...

However, during the reading I also found some thoughts and directions I would like to stay far from ... You can perhaps find some grains of salt in my comments below...

What is below is the selection of the finest quotes from the book I made over almost one year of reading it. I've been typing them here, so this post was evolving since December 2016. Today, while on business in the US, I have just finished reading it....

A quote from the Intro:

"Stillness (besychia) is worshipping God unceasingly and waiting on Him. Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath. Then indeed you will appreciate the value of stillness"

and another:

"Prayer is the expulsion of thoughts" (ascribed to Evagrius)

(re) starting my reading of this book...

Finally, after some long time (4 months) I'm returning to this book... I finished lengthy intro by bishop Kallistos (which was very good I must say) and started the Ladder itself. And here, I must say a strange surprise... in the third step ("On Exile") I found these words:
"If you long for God, you drive out your love for family." and then quite lengthy explanation why ... which is really strange... And the warning that if you "(...) let the tears of parents or friends fill you with pity (...) you find yourself weeping forever in the afterlife"

This strange. I do want to comment on that yet, will continue reading and thinking ...

"Humility arises out of obedience, and from humility itself comes dispassion, for 'the Lord remembered us in our humility and saved us from our enemies' (Ps. 135:23-24). So we can rightly say that from obedience comes dispassion, through which the goal of humility is attained. Humility is the beginning of dispassion, as Moses is the beginning of the Law, as the daughter is completes the mother and Mary completes the synagogues"

"War against us is proof that we are making the war"

"All he would say was this: 'Please forgive me. No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin". (...)

Do not search about for the words to show people you love them. Instead ask God to show them your love without you having to talk about it.(...)

Do not deceive yourself, foolish worker, into thinking that one time can make up for another. The day is not long enough to allow you to repay in full its debt to the Lord.

"The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent, when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.

Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed"

"And this is how anger replies: «I come from many sources and I have more than one father. My mothers are Vainglory, Avarice, Greed. And Lust too. My father is named Conceit. My daughters have the names Remembrance of Wrongs, Hate, Hostility, and Self-justification»"

"Malice is an exponent of Scripture which twists the words of the Spirit to suit itself."

"Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to preen itself and show off.
Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a doorway to slander, a leader of jesting, a servant of lies, the ruin of compunction, a summoner of despondency, a messenger of sleep, a dissipation of recollection, the end of vigilance, the cooling of zeal, the darkening of prayer."

"It is hard to keep water in without a dike. But it is harder still to hold in one's tongue."

"Hypocrisy is the mother of lying and frequently its cause. Some would argue that hypocrisy is nothing other than a meditation on falsehood, that it is the inventor of falsehood laced with lies"

Today, I was reading "Step 15" - "On Chastity" and I must say that this is the part of the whole Christian teaching where I start to be its critic, where I start to think that it made a great harm to us. Read this:

"To be chaste is to put on the nature of an incorporeal being. Chastity is a supernatural denial of what one is by nature so that a mortal and corruptible body is competing in a truly marvelous way with incorporeal spirits. A chaste man is someone who has driven out bodily love by means of divine love, who has used heavenly fire to quench the fires of the flesh" (...) "The rule and limit of absolute chastity is to have the same feelings regarding animate and inanimate beings, rational and irrational" (...) "Truly blessed is the man totally unstirred by anybody, any color or any beauty."

Why I'm so enraged by such words? See, we are all on this earth because of love, the physical love that follows the spiritual love. The love finds the best friend in our bodies. The sexual feelings, sitting on the opposite side of chastity are sacred. That is what Bible has taught us through "Song of Songs". That is what is the very essence of our own personal experiences when we truly loved - in both spiritual, higher sense and in "bodily desires" to be with the person we loved, to know her (him). I think that the whole "school of thought" that tries to say that the corporal feelings, the sexual desires, and the physical love are bad - is just sick and harmful. Sure, there is a space between the "sacred and holy" sex and the debauchery and laxity. But to teach good is not to deny the desires, is to show from where they come: from God !!! Why Christianity has not done it well??? 

"When you hear that your neighbor or your friend has denounced you behind your back or indeed in your presence, show him love and try to compliment him. (...)  It is not self-critical who reveals his humility (for does not everyone have somehow to put up with himself?). Rather it is the man who continues to love the person who has criticized him." - The great passage from 'On vainglory' chapter - the 22nd step of the ladder...

" (...) it is sheer lunacy to imagine that one has deserved the gifts of God. You may be proud only of the achievements you had before the time of your birth."

"On Pride" - the 23nd step of the ladder...

"The light of dawn comes before the sun, and meekness is the precursor of all humility."

"Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor or dishonor. Meekness prays quitely and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be"
"The souls of meek shall be filled with wisdom, but the engry mind will cohabit with darkness and ignorance".

"Evil is deliberate kind of knowledge. Or, rather, it is a deformity of the devil.(...)
Hypocrisy is soul and body in a state of opposition to each other, intertwined with every kind of invention."

"On Meekness, Simplicity, Guilelessness and wickedness" - the 24nd step of the ladder...

"Humility is constant forgetfulness of one's achievements. (..) It is to forestall one's neighbor at a contentious moment and to be first to end a quarrel. (...) It is the disposition of a contrite soul and the abdication of one's own will."

"The sun lights up everything visible. Humility reaches across everything done according to reason. Where there is no light, all is in darkness. Where there is no humility, all is rotten."

"The man who has come to know himself with the full awareness of his soul has sown in good ground. However, anyone who has not sown in this way cannot expect humility to flower within him."

"On Humility" - the 25th step of the ladder...
Not very often in this, otherwise great book, you can find words that puts you off... This is sad remainder that Christian tradition has some darker sides... See this:

"A - obedience, B - fasting (...)  Φ - unhating rejection of parents (...)"

This is strange and something I hardly understand or find acceptable...

"On Discernment" - the 26th step of the ladder...

"This is why a wise man once said: 'You shall obtain a sense of what is divine'"
"On Discernment" - the 26th step of the ladder...

Here a comment from myself: The Bible, through the "Song over Songs" gave us the sense of what is divine... Why Christianity seems to forget that teaching .... ?

"Let us seek to discover the things of heaven through the sweat of our efforts, rather than by mere talk, for at the hour of death it is deeds, not words, that must be displayed."

"On Discernment" - the 26th step of the ladder...

"Keeping guard over one's thoughts is one thing: watching over one's mind another. Distant from each other as the east from the west, the latter is more significant and more laborious than the former."

"On Discernment" - the 26th step of the ladder...

"Eyes show different colors and the sun of the spirit may shine in different ways in the sould. There is the way of bodily tears and there is the way of tears of the soul. There is the way of contemplation of what is before us and the way of the contemplation of what remains unseen. There is the way of contemplation of what is before us and the way of the contemplation of what remains unseen. There is the way of things heard at second hand and the way of spontaneous joy within the soul. There is the way of stillness and the way of obedience. And in addition to these there is the way of rapture, the way of the mind mysteriously and marvelously carried into the light of Christ."

"On Discernment" - the 26th step of the ladder...

"It is impossible to destroy wild beasts without arms. It is impossible to achieve freedom from anger without humility."

"A Brief Summary ..."

" 'God is love' (1 John 4:16). But someone eager to define this is blindly striving to measure the sand in the ocean."
"Hope is the power behind love. Hope is what causes us to look forward to the reward of love. Hope is an abundance of hidden treasure. (...) When hope fails, so does love."

"On faith, hope, and love" - the 30th step of the ladder...

Mirek@Gainesville, last update November 16th, 2017

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Let's befriend a ... tree ...

I did not expect this book will change so much in my attitude to nature... "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World" by Peter Wohlleben. (See GoodReads entry) Passionate, scientific, non-fictional - don't know how to label it :-), yet it really changed the way I thought about nature.

There was perhaps something inside me when I was sick seeing a tree cut without a reason or the large parts of forests in North Poland "cultivated" as the lumber industry calls it. Don't take me wrong, I'm not in the camp of people who protest the lumber industry. Not at all. But I saw so many examples of a very bad way the forests were managed... We heard the stories of officials (here in Poland) trying to kill the last pristine forest we have: Puszcza Białowieska...

The book will tell you more about that. I read it audio. Great voice of Mike Grady.

This seems to be my real return to blogging about books. Even short notes are better than nothing.
However, the post like the three earlier, are from my early morning reading of mostly physical books, so they are a bit different in character and the way I write ...


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Stanislaw Ulam - Life & Legacy

I was able to buy a true rarity (through SealsThings via Amazon): the antiquarian volume of "From Cardinals to Chaos. Reflections on the Life and Legacy of Stanislaw Ulam" edited by Necia Grant Cooper and published in 1989 by Cambridge University Press.

While not a very old print, it is generally hard to get.

For long time I was in admiration to Stan Ulam. That dates to my Master Thesis in which I used Monte Carlo simulations, pioneered by Stan. The book gives me a possibility to know about him much more.

Stanislaw Ulam was Polish-American scientist. Educated as mathematician in the pre-war Poland, he worked on Manhattan project and invented many techniques for computer simulations and contributed greatly to both pure and applied mathematics.

In time, this post will perhaps tell you more about him ...

BTW, one, perhaps funny reason I like Stan is for ... his first name! My beloved grandfather was also bearing proud Stanislaw name and my mother is Stanislawa :-)

The book starts with amazing account on Stan by his wife Francoise Ulam. She outlived Stan by 27 years and helped to compose this amazing edition....

"He was a loner, a maverick, a very complicated man, a Pole, and, above all, a study in contrasts and contradictions, which often aroused mixed and conflicting emotions in people. He moved only to the beat of his own drum and never kow-towed to anyone or stopped to promote himself."


"Banach once told me, 'Good mathematicians see analogies between theorems or theories, the very best ones see analogies between analogies' "

"Contrary to those people who were violently against the bomb on political, moral or sociological grounds, I never had any question about doing purely theoretical work... I felt that one should not initiate projects leading to possibly horrible ends. But once such possibilities exist, is it not better to examine whether or not they are real? An even greater conceit is to assume that if you yourself won't work on it, it can't be done at all. (...) Sooner or later the Russians or others would investigate and build them."


"Of all escapes from reality, mathematic is the most successful ever. It is a fantasy that becomes all the more addictive because it works back to improve the same reality we are trying to evade. All other escapes - love, drugs, hobbies, whatever - are ephemeral by comparison."
(The Lost Cafe, Gian-Carlo Rota)

" ... I always had confidence that if Stan had a feeling for something, it was sure to be significant."Francis H. Harlow


I was surprised, down the book, how deep it would go into science!
The chapter "Probability and Nonlinear Systems" reviews the traditional and modern approaches to the probability theory. I deeply enjoyed the description of Bertand's Paradox - an amazing example how deceptive and unclear was traditional probability theory. Seems to me I did not have it mentioned in my probability theory course during my studies !
This paradox reveals that computing a probability using standard definition can deliver much different results for a simple system that obviously should just result in one! Namely, depending on a way we define the set of ALL possibilities, we get 1/4, 1/3 or 1/2 as the probability. Read about it here, a nice demonstration done using Wolfram's Mathematica is here.


Stan Ulam was also unquestionable founder of the school of number theory at Los Alamos. Daniel Shanks (about Daniel) named the effort in a nice way: "Los Alamos School of Experimental Number Theory". One of Stan's achievements was the invention (with Gardiner, Lazarus and Metropolis) of LUCKY NUMBERS (the definition here and the sequence here at OEIS). The sequence reads:
1, 3, 7, 9, 13, 15, 21, 25, 31, 33, 37, 43, 49, 51, 63, 67, 69, 73, 75, 79, 87, 93, 99, 105, 111, 115 (...)
Very nice (awaiting my next "lucky" birthday at 63 :-))


Stan was truly "a renaissance man". In addition to the vast areas of mathematics and physics he covered in his studies he made multiple forays into biology and what we could call today cognitive sciences. In "A Gamow Memorial Lecture" he delivered at the University of Colorado Boulder on October 5, 1982 he made many interesting conjectures about some important mental mechanisms. For example, he speculated about the visual perception, or to be more precise the pattern recognition. The fundamental question is how we recognise handwritten letters, while they differ so dramatically in the two texts written by any two people?
Does the brain store many variants of the letters or some abstract pattern?
Stan conjectures about the third possibility: real-time deformation creation and fast comparison between what we see and what we have in memory:

However, he was fully aware of the speculative character of such conjectures, and when trying to explain why we can not expect that computations would lead to model the brain, he points (as I and many other do) to Gödel theorem:

Amazing !

I have bought an antiquarian marvel. The 1974 collection of Stanislaw Ulam selected papers: "Sets, Numbers, and Universes" published by MIT Press:

In this book I found amazing sketch of Stan made by famous Polish painter Zygmunt Menkes:

 Can't wait till have time to read Stan's papers !



The concept of Cellular Automata was discovered by Stan Ulam and David Newman in 1940s while they both worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In the book I review here there is an amazing article (by Brosl Hasslacher) on the applications of Ulam and Newman ideas for fluid dynamics. It shows how the model offered by the cellular automata can lead to Navier-Stokes equations for fluids and their dynamics!

See: "On recursively defined geometrical objects and patterns of growth" R.G. Schrandt & S.M. Ulam (Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory report LA-3762) (Essays on Cellular Automata, ed. A.W. Burks, Urbana, University of Illinois Press,1970)


The key tool in DNA sequence analysis that has been central to genetic science is the ability to measure a distance between DNA sequences. It is not very well remembered but this is one of the greatest of Stan's achievements. In 1972 he proposed how to define a usable metric space of the DNA sequences ("Some ideas and prospects in biomathematics", Annual Review of Biophysics and Bioengineering 1:277-291). The definition enabled sequence comparison and it was one of the most important intellectual achievements of seventies that later led to modern genetics and finally to the Human Genome Project. Stan, speaking of the sequence analysis, with the typical proud wit, once said: "I started all this" :-) (After Walter B. Goad article in the book).


To my great amusement I read in Nick's Metropolis account that it was him & Stan who coined the name for one of the most important name in Statistical Physics: MONTE CARLO:

"It was at that time that I suggested an obvious name for the statistical method - a suggestion not unrelated to the fact that Stan had an uncle who would borrow money from relatives because he "just had to go to Monte Carlo"

BTW, my Masters' thesis was written on a base of my Monte Carlo simulations. I must admit that at that time (30+ years ago), I did not know much about Stan. For some reason he was missing on the author's list of the key paper on that topic:  which was read by, us (by then physicists) while missing the real key (and also earlier) work: read usually by statisticians and mathematicians:


What is not widely known about Stan's Ulam contributions to science is his contribution to the science of nonlinear processes. Together with Enrico Fermi and John Pasta he created a model system named as "FPU problem" for the authors names.  BTW, we call it today "FPUT Problem", thanks to T. Dauxios ("Fermi, Pasta, Ulam, and a mysterious lady". Physics Today 6, 2008). Earlier, in 1953, they initiated a series of computer simulations exploring how simple, multi-degree nonlinear mechanical systems obeying reversible deterministic dynamics evolve in time.

However, what was great about Ulam's contribution to the field of research was ... his wit in naming it. He once remarked on its naming (non-linear science) saying that it is like "defining the bulk of zoology by calling it the study of 'non-elephant animals'" :-) Using this funny expression he simply stressed that both in mathematics and nature the nonlinear processes prevail!
More telling, in this context, is the another Stan's bon mot:

"Ask not what mathematics can do for biology, Ask what biology can do for mathematics"

See also what David K. Campbell (Boston University) said in his Lilienfeld Prize Lecture :

"FPU was a watershed problem: marked birth of nonlinear science (and computational physics/ ”experimental mathematics”) with its paradigms of  chaos, solitons, and patterns, and produced many specific insights into physical phenomena including ILMs, anomalous heat transport, and a deeper understanding of statistical mechanics. The FPU problem was, as Fermi remarked, quite a “little discovery.”

He also wrote:

"In all these respects, non-linear science represents a singularly appropriate intellectual legacy for Stan Ulam: broadly interdisciplinary, intellectually unfettered and demanding, and - very importantly - fun" :-)

All that goes even deeper. In the next article of the book ("The Ergodic Hypothesis"), Adrian Patrascioiu considers how the solution of the FPUT (Fermi, Pasta, Ulam and Tsingou) problem can be linked to Quantum Mechanics:

"So perhaps quantum mechanics is nothing more than classical statistical mechanics done the right way in a universe filled with particles interacting primarily via electromagnetic and gravitational forces."


I must say that Ulam had an incredibly deep understanding of Quantum Mechanics. In his discussions with Gian-Carlo Rota (Italian mathematician and philosopher) he once said:

"Quantum mechanics uses variables of higher type. Instead of idealized points, or groups of points or little spheres or atoms or bodies, the primitive notion is a probability measure. Quite a logical leap from the classical point of view. Nevertheless you find in quantum mechanics the strange phenomenon that a theory dealing with variables of higher type has to be imaged on variables of lower type. It is the complementarity between electron and wave."

The notion of the variables of higher type, particularly in the probability context, where we speak about probability AMPLITUDES instead of themselves, is indeed very important and, for many, the hardest to grasp...


Stanislaw Ulam had many friends. Let me name only two great minds I was not very much aware before reading this book. The first is Paul Erdős, genial Hungarian mathematician ( Ulam and Erdős exchanged about 200 letters on science... It is a demonic paradox that Paul died in Warsaw in 1996 at the mathematical congress. In the country of Ulam's childhood...

The second was aforementioned  Gian-Carlo Rota (Italian mathematician and philosopher -

The notes left in Ulam files, discovered after he passed away, revealed a deep level of friendship, respect, good humor and focus on deep problems of science...

What was specially pleasent to me was the discovery that so many of these dialogs happened in ... Gainesville Florida - my adopted "home town" in the US....


Both Françoise and her husband are buried with her French family in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

(Some extra links: Borsuk-Ulam theorem: 
Ulam's Cardinals:
with Everett on Projective Algebra:

The post finished on June 25th in Lodz, Poland

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Chinese Painting and Thought - A Different Perspective ...

In one of my last visits to "Shakespeare and Company" bookstore in Paris (I wrote about it here before), a small, inconspicuous book, almost by chance, found itself in my hands. "Existence. A Story" by David Hinton. David is a poet and renown translator of Chinese poetry. The book sheds light on the experiences that are so often ignored by our proud (yet frequently blind) Western tradition... What is amazing for me, is that on the deepest level, as you could find in my previous post about Kabbalah, it is not that bad - we also have some amazing traditions touching the essence of everything ... But, for some reasons, that awareness of existence is much more prevalent in Chinese thought and art than in ours ...

As it was before with Kabbalah and the Journey to Lhasa, this post will contain the most interesting quotes I find in it during my everyday early morning reading ...

"We turn to the empty darkness of pure awareness, which is all that remains after this practice of forgetfulness, and we inhabit the expansive space of that darkness"

"That clarity is a beginning place, and almost as soon as this empty gaze into the nature of things reveals existence vast and deep, it reveals something else no less wondrous and unimaginable: there is no distinction awareness and the expansive presence of existence. They are whole, a single existential tissue, which is to say that existence-tissue is our most fundamental self."

"(...) the pictographic nature of Chinese means that words share the nature of things as living phenomena. (...) This suggest a very different concept of time. We in modern West inhabit time as a metaphysical dimension, a river of future flowing through present and into the past. This grand metaphysical assumption about the world structures our immediate experience, but it is purely imaginal, and it creates a strange schism between us and the vast tissue of transformation that is reality. As inhabitants of this linear time, we are located outside of existence. But there is no trace of such dimension in empirical reality. (...) and 'time' is nothing other than the movement of change itself, an ongoing generative moment in which every thing (noun) is alive (verb) and pregnant with transformation."


"In the modern West, linguistic thought is experienced in a mimetic sense, as a stable and changeless medium by which a transcendental soul represents objective reality. This sense of language assumes language did not evolve out of natural process, but that language is instead a kind of transcendental realm that somehow came into existence independently of natural process."

"The history of language in China reveals that language was not experienced as a mimetic separation by ancients (...) They recognized language as an organic system evolved by the existence-tissue describing and explaining itself. In the cultural myth, language begins in China with the hexagrams of the I Ching, such as the first two, Heaven and Earth:

These hexagrams embody the two fundamental elements of the Cosmos: yin and yang, female and male, whose dynamic interaction produces the cosmological process of change"

"Here we encounter the tantalizing fact that to translate a Chinese poem into English is to fundamentally misrepresent it, because the mimetic function of English, with its distancing, is exactly what a Chinese poem is meant to undo"


"Existence decorates itself with identity and meaning, just as it decorates itself with mountain ridgelines and sea-mist, cities and rainbows. And yet (how can it be?), as soon as existence begins to know itself, it is lost to itself. Existence rustles. It wants to know itself; and in the end, it cannot. It can only elude itself"


'Tao also means "to say"'

"A Tao called Tao isn't the perennial Tao.
A name that names isn't the perennial name."

"(...) the might be translated 'A Tao that can be described/explained is not the perennial Tao"


"From this attention to thought's movement comes meditation's first revelation: that we are, as a matter of observable fact, separate from our thoughts and memories. That is, we are not the center of identity we assume ourselves to be in our day-to-day lives, that center of identity defining us fundamentally outside the existence-tissue. Instead, we are the empty awareness ('empty mind') that watches identity rehearsing itself in thoughts and memories relentlessly coming and going."

"(...) mind refers not to the abstract analytical faculty that we normally associate with that word. Instead it refers to the empty awareness that Stone-Waves encountered in meditation, that we encountered before opening our eyes here in the beginning"


"In perennial Absence you see mystery,
and in perennial Presence you see appearance
(Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching)

Presence is simply the empirical universe: the ten thousand things in constant transformation, existence vast and deep, everything and everywhere. And Absence is the generative void from which this ever-changing realm of Presence perpetually emerges. (...)

In this mirror-deep empty mind, the ancients experienced perception as nothing less than Absence itself mirroring Presence"


"Lao Tzu often employs female terminology to describe the elemental contours of Absence, the dark and mysterious source of all appearance: 'mother of all beneath heaven', 'nurturing mother,' 'dark female-enigma'. This female cosmology feels very primal, and probably dates from the earliest levels of human culture, levels when the existence-tissue first began decorating itself with celebration and meaning"


"In Ch'an meditation, that cosmology is revealed as the very structure of consciousness, for meditation allows you to watch thought emerge from a generative emptiness, follow its dynamic evolution, and finally return back into that emptiness.(...)
This is a return to the elemental mystery of creation; and at the same time, it reveals consciousness as an integral part of the cosmological tissue: thought, memory, identity, all moving with the same dynamic energy as the Cosmos itself"


"Poetry was sometimes referred to as "poetry-Ch'an." Although made of words, it is at its most profound level a spiritual practice opening consciousness to an immediate experience of the existence-tissue that precedes thought and language. (...) And poetry is the language's most distilled expression."


"As we have seen, this grammar is minimal in the extreme, leaving a great deal of open space in the poem: all words can function as any part of speech, subjects and pronouns are often missing, verbs have no tense, function words (conjunctions, prepositions, articles, etc.) are rare, there is no punctuation, etc. This open space feels like an extension of the open space that surrounds the poem, and together they are a single tissue of emptiness: Absence, the source-tissue. (...) In this poetry participates in that more primal experience of time as an ongoing generative moment, which also defines the texture of the poem, for the wide-open grammar and absence of verb tenses creates a sense that the events of a poem occur in a kind of boundless present."


"The practice of calligraphy is similar to the practice of meditation. It changes our relation to language, the medium of identity; and finally, it reweaves identity into the existence-tissue"


"When the ancients looked at a painting with mirror-deep mind, they rehearsed empty awareness here in the beginning, (...). As they gazed mirror-deep into a painting, they felt within consciousness both the blank field of Absence and dynamic Presence emerging from that field, its forms chosen not arbitrarily or to portray a particular landscape, but for the resonance they open in X, its empty mind and full heart."


"The COSMOLOGY of Absence and Presence structures everything in ancient China. It defines the physical structure of the Cosmos, with the empirical world emerging from a generative emptiness; the compositional structure of calligraphy and painting, with their forms emerging from that same emptiness and vanishing back into it; the structure of language and poetry, with their empty grammar and pictographic words emerging at the empty source of things, the ideograms themselves nestled around the empty space within them, the structure of consciousness, in which thought emerges from a generative emptiness and returns to vanish there; and finally, it structures perception, where empty mind mirrors empirical reality"

"So the concepts of Absence and Presence might almost be translated: 'formless' and 'form', for they are just two different ways of seeing the existence-tissue"


"In perennial Absence you see mystery,
and in perennial Presence you see appearance.
Though the two are one and the same,
once they arise, they differ in name.

One and the same they're called dark-enigma,
dark-enigma deep within dark-enigma,

gateway of all mystery."

"Dark-enigma is a return to consciousness prior to language and the utilitarian differentiation of things we need for survival (...) As soon as you conceptualize it, name it even with this first name, dark-enigma, that immediacy and wholeness is lost"


"There is another name for Absence and Presence recognized as a single entity, a concept that emphasizes its nature as a living tissue: Ch'i:

"This is experience at a very primal level in this cosmology, revealing that empty consciousness is not emptiness, but an ethereal configuration of:


(And with this quote I'm ending the relation from this amazing little book...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Reading "Mysteries of the Kabbalah"

I have been reading Marc-Alain Ouaknin (the most famous for his account on Talmud: The Burnt Book) "Mysteries of the Kabbalah" for quite a long time, both in Polish and English...
I was coming to and going away from it for other books.

I must say that this is one of the most important and most beautiful and most comprehensive (for us mere mortals of XX/XXI centuries...) book about the Kabbalah...

This is not a review yet. This is a running log of some finest thoughts and ideas.

Let me start with, actually, some quotes the author makes:

"... the mystery of evil, the only one in which God does not make us believe but makes us think" (Marie Noel)

opens Chapter 20.

"The very root of evil is hidden in the depths of absolute good and it is the act of denying the miracle and the possible" (Yosef Ben Shlomo from "The Master of Lights")

Now, Marc-Alain himself:

"For man, good resides in the gap between the perfection of God and the transgression of this perfection through the creation of the world. This creation is a break in the immanence of perfection. Any creation is less perfect than the source of all perfection."

I will perhaps come here to some previous thoughts of the book later ...

There we go now: from Rabbi Nachman from Breslov: "It is forbidden to be old" .

And from the author: "A person is old when he has lost hope. A person is old when instead of seeing hope as a door opening onto the future, he sees it opening onto the past. Old age is a nostalgia for hope. It is when one does not have the strength to say, 'Tomorrow'"


"... in the beginning, after the contraction of the divine, the tsimtsum, and the first emanation of light, there was beriya. This word literally means 'creation', the transition from absolute nothingness to a state of being, the transition from ayin to yesh, to produce the raw material of the universe ..."

"This raw material, the infinitesimal element in matter, had a specific shape, the point.(...) So, in the beginning, there was the point ..."

"The second phase of creation for the kabbalists is called yetsira: "formation". (...) the first transfiguration of the point was a vertical line, (...) After this vertical line a horizontal line was born and attached to it, and thus the plane was born."


"(...) the Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria was an immediate success, since it answered the existential questions of the period."

Rabbi Issac Luria replied by formulating the theory of tsimtsum ("reduction"). According to this theory, the first act of the Creator was not to reveal himself to something on the outside. (...) the first stage was a folding in, a withdrawal; God withdrew 'from himself into himself' and in doing so left a void within his bosom, thus creating a space for the world to come."

"That which happens in the world can only be the expression of this original and essential exile (one might be tempted to call it 'ontological'). That the divine presence, the shekhina, might be ontologically in exile is a daring and revolutionary idea. All the imperfections of the world can be explained by such an exile"

"This kabbalistic explanation () is of striking originality in that it does not consider exile to be uniquely as a proof of faith, nor a punishment for sins, but, above all, as a mission. (...) the aim of this mission is to cause the holy sparks that had been dispersed to ascend again and release the divine light and holy souls from the domain of the qlipa, which represents tyranny and oppression on the terrestrial and historical plane."

I must admit, that this theory developed by Rabbi Isaac Luria is the first ever explanation of the imperfection of the world and its horrible condition, its evil - given from inside a religious tradition - that speaks to me... That was a revelation to me to find it out after so many years of study ...


"This silence of words that speak to say nothing is perhaps the very essence of literature"

Rabbi Nachman from Breslov: "Words are like birds; why keep them shut away in cages?"


"Joy is the creation of space in which speech can be expressed and exist."

Rabbi Nachman from Breslov: "It is a great obligation to always be in joy" , "Sadness is the exile of divine presence"

Jean-Yves Leloup: "Being is not a thing, but a Space, an Opening which must remain free. God is the freedom of man."


"The letter of the Ten Commandments were produced 'in a void', as one might say 'in marble' or 'in wood'. The actual substance of the writing is a nonsubstance"


Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev: "Everyone has a duty to look at their nothingness and to respect it"


"Saying that 'father' and 'mother', each in their own way, possess the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet is expressing the fundamental relationship between language and fertility; it is stressing the fact that 'making' a child is first and foremost a dialogue and that the human being anchors the possibility of his existence in the linguistic potential unleashed in speech"


"To summarize the theory of tsimtsum, the space occupied by the world is created aby an emptying or withdrawing of the infinite and by a force that maintains the light of the infinite at the periphery. This force is called Shaddai"

"It is also the name of God, which designates the force that prohibits the infinite from reoccupying the void it has left."


A quote from Maurice Blanchot: "... at the beginning of everything, the power of words and exegesis is affirmed, in which everything begins from a text and everything comes back to it, a single book in which a prodigious sequence of books unfolds, a library that is not only universal but which takes the place of the universe and which is even more vast and more enigmatic than the universe."


"The Revelation is first and foremost the revelation of a text; this is the revolution contained in the Bible story"

"The question of the relationship to the text is not merely that of reading but of interpretation. Interpreting is discovering meaning but not truth - not revealing a secret, but revealing that secret exists."

"The "Text-God" must be accorder its status of infinity; in other words, every means must be used to give it an infinite meaning. These means consist of all the rules of interpretation that have been explained in the previous chapters, and especially gematria, tseruf, and so on. The need to interpret the text as the liberation of the divine is one of the fundamental meanings of all the work of kabbalists and Talmudists."

"Truth does not mean the appropriateness in relation to certain prior existing meanings, but resides in being "open to" ...


"The infinity of God is self-limiting. He created the world and became its guest in a finite form. For the Kabbalah, this passage from the infinite to the finite occurs through the text"

"For kabbalists, the incarnation is produced in the body of the Text"

"The name is a meditation on nothingness that becomes a being, and which returns to nothingness. It is entry into movement and an infinity of time"


"(...) it is the conjugal, or rather love, relationship that is the favorite metaphor, as the Bible shows in the Song of Songs. Love, (...) is the primary value on which the world rests. This reunion of the beloved and the bethrothed is a refrain that runs through kabbalistic literature and is translated at the cosmic level by the reunion of man with the Creator (...)"


Rabbi Tarfon taught, "You are not required to complete the work, but nor are you at liberty to abondon it" (Pirke Avot 2,16)

Baal Ha-Orot, The Master of the Lights:
"If you want to, you can. Son of man, look!
Contemplate the light of the Presence that resides in all existence!
You have the wings of wind,
the noble wings of the eagle...
Do not deny them for fear that they will deny you.
Seek them and immediately they will find you."

Absolutely incredible book ....
Mirek@Lodz, Poland / October 26, 2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016

End of reading of "My journey to Lhasa"

I have finished this great book.

Let me share only one reflection that comes to its reader's mind: it is deeply tragic what has happened to amazing Tibetan culture since Chinese invasion and during their occupation of Tibet. On the eyes of the entire world, China has killed the smaller world of the culture so deep and beautiful.

How many times in the history of the world, large and powerful countries were destroying the peoples and their culture on the eyes of powerless world ...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reading "My journey to Lhasa" ...

I have been reading, for some time, "My Journey to Lhasa" by Alexandra David-Neel.
Interesting account about Tibet as it no longer exists ...

This is not a review yet. Just some quotes...

"When we left him the old farmer's face expressed a perfect serenity, a complete detachment from all earthly concerns, having, it seemed, entered the true Blissful Paradise which, being nowhere and everywhere, lies in the mind of each one of us."

"Farther in the deserts, higher still on their giant peaks, they seek caves and almost inaccessible shelters, where they may meditate and be alone, face to face with the Infinite and the Eternal."

more to come ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Hope and a Fear ...

I just finished reading (listening in fact) of "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
The only thing I could tell you all is the message of hope and ... a message of fear. While absolutely incredible progress has been made when it comes to cancer cure - we still are far away from victory. And the reasons are absolutely mind-blowing: the very essence of cancer is the same as is the essence of life itself...
Despite enormous efforts, like the one described in the book - The cancer genome atlas: - we are far, on the clinical level from the precise knowledge how to treat the malady ...
However, the overall tone of the book is realistically optimistic. At least to the extent of cancer prevention - we can do a lot ...

It will stay with me for long ...

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Jacob's Scriptures

This incredible book (by Olga Tokarczuk) is not yet available in English. I hope it will be one day.

On 900 pages of it we get one of the most fantastic mixture of fiction and history of XVIII century Poland and Eastern Europe.

The book tells the story of Jacob Frank, a Jewish mystic, who created almost impossible, new messianic sect in XVIII Judaism - the sect that broke with traditional Judaism, adopted some tenants of Sabbatai Zevi, had a short affair with Ottoman Turkey Islam, and then ...converted to Catholicism! Frank and his family and followers got into plays with Austrian Emperor, had a kind of small kingdom in Brno, were imprisoned in Czestochowa and ended its glory in a noble castle in Offenbach, Germany !

Absolutely amazing book; from the perspective of care paid to facts and play between imagination and history - I could compare it only to Umberto Eco’s “Prague Cemetery” …

The book ends beautifully:
“It has been written though that a man who labours himself with the works of Messiahs', even the unsuccessful ones, will earn respect as the one who studies the eternal mysteries of the Light, just by telling these stories.”

Macrospherology of humans. Globes - volume two of Peter Sloterdijk's Spheres

I have been reading the second volume of Sloterdijk's magnum opus for a couple of months now. I still haven't found the time for a f...