Tablet of the Maiden

Shrine Baha’u’llah in Haifa, Israel. Photo from https://www.bahai.org/bahaullah/shrine.
Shrine of the Bab on Mt. Carmel, Haifa, Israel. Photo from https://www.bahaiblog.net/2012/05/the-decleration-of-the-bab/.
Room where the Declaration of the Bab took place, May 22-23, 1844, in Shiraz, Iran. Photo from https://youtu.be/JZtUr95q6o4.

Entrance to the dungeon in Tehran, where Baha’u’llah was incarcerated when he was visited by the heavenly maiden. Photo from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%ADy%C3%A1h-Ch%C3%A1l.

In Tablet of the Maiden, Baha’u’llah described a mystical experience He had while suffering in prison. I became acquainted with the tablet when a friend  showed me an excerpt from the writings of Baha’u’llah in the book, The Mystery of Sophia, by Robert Powell and Estelle Isaacson.  After having studied the writings of Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i faith for over 20 years, I was surprised to find that there were English translations of His writings that I was unfamiliar with. I did a search, using a few of the words from the excerpt quoted in my friend’s book, and discovered the entire Tablet of the Maiden on a Baha’i library website,.  I read it several times. It is a beautiful description of a mystical being, and of the mystical fellowship Baha’u’llah had with her during, what was otherwise, a grim and gloomy time. 

The tablet describes an houri which I had never heard of before and probably misread the first time as “hour.” I looked it up and learned that an houri  is an Islamic heavenly being. A promise in Islamic tradition is that houris will attend to the needs of. believers in paradise.

After reading and enjoying Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of the Maiden several times, I read the linked notes from the Universal House of Justice and the translator. I learned that the UHJ (the global governing body of the Baha’i Faith) did not fully approve of Juan Cole’s translation. They did not forbid the believer’s from perusing it, but they withheld full approval which would, if it were granted, have exalted this tablet to the status of scripture for Baha’is, along with the body of previously authenticated writings of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and the Bab, which, along with the Bible and the Koran, are scripture for Baha’is.

Only 5 percent of the writings of Baha’u’llah have been translated into English and authenticated by the Baha’i elected hierarchy. A few others, such as, the Cole translation of Tablet of the Maiden, are known as provisional translations, meaning they have not been authenticated by the Faith’s elected leaders. 

Whether scripture or not, Tablet of the Maiden certainly belongs to a wide category of literature from which I derive inspiration and pleasure. One of the inspirations I am deriving from it is that the breast of God is accessible to me.

I believe the reason that the UHJ has not yet authenticated this work is that the English-speaking Baha’i community, as a whole, may not yet be ready for a glimpse of our Lord baring a woman’s breast. Perhaps not enough of us understand mystical allegory. Molesting a girl is horrible, but appropriating the nurturing potential of God is awesome!

There are several passages in the vast body of Baha’u’llah’s writings, which have been translated into English, and which have also been authenticated by the Guardian or the Supreme Body, in which Baha’u’llah refers to His contact with the Maid of Heaven. 

In Epistle to the Son of Wolf, Baha’u’llah describes what He experienced while incarcerated in a brutal Tehran dungeon in 1852. Innocent of any crime, save that of being involved in the suppressed minority religion started by the Bab, Baha’u’llah was forced to trek, barefooted and bareheaded, before a jeering multitude pelting Him with stones, for several miles in the summer heat. Arriving at the dungeon, He was  escorted down several long, narrow flights of steps to a damp, dark underground pit inhabited by killers, robbers and vermin. He was collared in a hundred pounds of chain. He sat on a low bench chained to other prisoners with His feet in stocks. The dark prison was gloomy and putrid. Other Babi prisoners were being summoned out to be tortured and killed.

There was little opportunity for sleep, and the weight of the chain was a constant torment. Yet, sometime near the midpoint of the four months during which He was in the black pit, Baha’u’llah had an amazing mystical experience which He later described.

In his Súriy-i-Haykal (Tablet of the Temple) Bahá’u’lláh describes his vision as follows:

“While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden — the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord — suspended in the air before Me. So rejoiced was she in her very soul that her countenance shone with the ornament of the good-pleasure of God, and her cheeks glowed with the brightness of the All-Merciful. Betwixt Earth and Heaven she was raising a call which captivated the hearts and minds of men. She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God’s honoured servants. Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in Heaven and all who are on Earth saying: ‘By God! This is the best beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not. This is the Beauty of God amongst you, and the power of His sovereignty within you, could ye but understand.'” [Bahá’u’lláh, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, page 5 (Tablet of the Temple comprises the first section of Summons of the Lord of Hosts). This passage is also quoted in God Passes By, by Shoghi Effendi, pages 101-102.]

After His release from the black pit of Tehran, His health broken, Baha’u’llah, His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha (then 13), His daughter, Bahi’ih Kanun (then 12)  and His pregnant wife were banished to Baghdad, across a snowy mountain pass, in winter. Two of His brothers also accompanied Him. 

According to Shoghi Effendi’s histories of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths, Baha’u’llah wrote prolifically during the decade He spent in Bhagdad (1853-1863 including the two years He absented Himself to Kurdistan due to problems with a half brother). His literary works during that period include The Book of Certitude, which explains the Babi doctrine, later to become the Baha’i doctrine, of the Manifestation of God, Who appear from age to age, and include Krishna, Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. The Bab, too, is a Manifestation of God, asserts Baha’u’llah, citing the proofs of His recently martyred contemporary. As a general concept the doctrine of the Manifestation of God is also taught in Hinduism as the return from age to age of the divine avatar. The writings of Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, who translated the Essene Gospels of Peace approximately a hundred years after Baha’u’llah’s Book of Certitude was written, frequently make mention  of the great teacher to humanity, who arises periodically throughout history, and names some of the same Figures put forth by Baha’u’llah. Both Buddha and Christ promised to return, their followers expecting the Matreya and the second coming of Christ respectively. Jews still await the Messiah. One of the sects of Muhammad’s followers, the Shia,  expect the return of the Twelfth Imam; the other sect, the Sunni, expect the appearance of the Mahdi.The appearance of a messianic figure was widely expected during the 19th century. America experienced revivals known as the great awakenings. Everywhere expectation was high.

Another book Baha’u’llah wrote during the Baghdad period was the mystical Seven Valleys, written in response to Sufis He met during His sojourn in Kurdistan. This book introduced the concept of the Friend, the personal companion we each have once we are awakened spiritually. Krishna spoke of the concept in the Bhagavad Gita. Gita 6:30, “He who sees Me in all things, and sees all things in Me, he never becomes separated from Me, nor do I become separated from him.”

Christians speak of having a relationship with Christ. Matthew 11:27-30: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  

In Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys, we deepen in our relationship to the Friend in seven phases, hence the seven valleys: the Valley of Search, the Valley of Love etc.. 

Baha’u’llah also wrote the poetic Hidden Words during his stay in Baghdad. He would walk along the banks of theTigris River and compose a verse or two, writing in either the Persian used in the Sufi poetry of His Iran heritage, or the Arabic used in the Koran and the oral and written traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

“O SON OF SPIRIT! … Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.”

The themes of the individual revelations within the book are devotion, detachment mystical love, faith and so on. In fact they run the gamut of the themes found in divinely inspired writings, with  the amplification factor of the recency of their revelation, being now around 150 years ago, by the Founder of the most recent world religion, the Baha’i Faith.

The idea of the god within is as old as the Brahmins and as new as the enlightenment of the most recently enlightened person. Yet the ignorant either call it blasphemy or take it as an excuse for presumption.

Baha’u’llah wrote many other works during the Baghdad period. When Baha’u’llah was about to be expelled to Constantinople in 1863, He wrote the Tablet of the Holy Mariner (pages 224-225, Baha’i Prayers), an except follows:

“Whereupon the maid of heaven looked out from her exalted chamber,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

And with her brow signed to the Celestial Concourse,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious! 

Flooding with the light of her countenance the heaven and the earth,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

And as the radiance of her beauty shone upon the people of dust,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

All beings were shaken in their mortal graves.

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

She then raised the call which no ear through all eternity hath ever heard,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

And thus proclaimed: ‘By the Lord! He whose heart hath not the fragrance of the love of the exalted and glorious Arabian Youth,

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!

‘Can in no wise ascend unto the glory of the highest heaven.’

Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!”

Up to this point Baha’u’llah had not claimed a leadership role in the Babi community, although He was greatly respected by many of the Bab’s followers. Immediately prior to leaving for Constantinople, Baha’u’llah announced to his family and a few followers that He was the one who had been foretold by the Bab.

Baha’u’llah and the Bab were born two years apart, 1817 and 1819 respectively by the Gregorian calendar. Under the Islamic calendar, in use in Persia at the time, their birthdays fell on two consecutive days. However, translating their birthdates into the Gregorian calendar resulted in their being observed a month apart. Recently the western Baha’i world began to observe the birthdays of their twin manifestations on two consecutive days which vary from year to year, but generally fall sometime within October or November.

Prior to the births of Baha’u’llah and the Bab, Shaykh Ahmad, a Shi’i Moslem cleric born in 1753, taught a more scientifically harmonious approach to spirituality than the literalist interpretations that dominated. He taught that the journey Muhammad reportedly took to Jerusalem and back to Arabia within the duration of a single night was not a physical journey. Although this seems logical now it was controversial at the  time. Shaykh Ahmad also prophesied the eminent coming of a new Manifestation of God. After Ahmad’s death in1826, the Shaykhi school came under the leadership of Siyyid Kasim. Siyyid Kasim became increasingly aware of the proximity of the coming of an new Manifestation of God. From Nabil’s Dawnbreakers: “To his disciples who questioned him regarding the signs of the Manifestation, Siyyid Kasim would say: ‘He is of noble lineage. He is a descendant of the Prophet of God, of the family of Háshim. He is young in age, and is possessed of innate knowledge. His learning is derived, not from the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad, but from God. My knowledge is but a drop compared with the immensity of His knowledge; my attainments a speck of dust in the face of the wonders of His grace and power. Nay, immeasurable is the difference. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is of extreme devoutness and piety.’”  He had even appeared unnoticed at one of the Siyyid’s lectures.

In 1843, when Siyyid Kasim passed away, his disciples dispersed to search for the Promised One. Mulla Husayn, who had distinguished himself in service to the Siyyid, traveled from Karbila in Iraq to Sharaz in the south of Iran, following his intuition. The evening before May 23, 1844,  he met a young man who looked vaguely familiar. They struck up a conversation and the young man, Ali Muhammad, invited Mulla Husayn to his home. There the Bab revealed himself to Mulla Husayn. Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad, also known as the Bab (which means gate or door), was born 1 Muharram 1235 A.H., according to the Islamic calendar (20 October 1819 AD, according to the Gregorian calendar).

Over a millennium earlier, the martyrdom of another Husayn, Imam Husayn, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (now known as the Bab or Gate), tragically occurred at the Battle of Karbala 10 Muharram 61 AH or October 10, 680 AD. This bitter day is still commemorated by Shias. As the Movement founded by the Bab grew, the joyous celebration, by the Babis, of the Bab’s birthday, and in time Baha’u’llah’s also, contrasted with the more somber commemorations of the martyrdom of Husayn still being being widely observed, in Iran, near the same days. 

The Bab’s house in Shiraz with the upstairs room where the Bab declared His Station and Ministry to Mulla Husayn, in 1844, was  demolished, in 1981, as part of a plan by the post-1979-revolution government of Iran to persecute the Bahai’s by, among other things, destroying their shrines. The persecutors built an Islamic religious building on the site, named “Bayt-al-Mahdi” or “The House of the Promised One”.

The Bab prophesied the eminent appearance of another Promised One, One greater than Himself Whom He referred to many times in His writings as Him Whom God would make manifest.

Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri, now known as Bahá’u’lláh (the Glory of God) was born on the second day of the Islamic month of Muharram, 1233 A.H. (12 November 1817), in Tehran, Iran. His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha,Who later became the Center of the Covenant, was born the same night the Bab declared Himself to Mulla Husayn, May 23, 1844. Soon afterwards Baha’u’llah became involved in the Movement inaugurated by the Bab.

The Bab was imprisoned, first house arrest, then moved to mountain fortresses. Baha’u.llah convened a conference of Babis at Badesht, in the mountains near the Caspian Sea. There Tahirih, the Pure One, removed her veil while addressing the assembly, in violation of Islamic custom, which obligated women to wear veils over their faces while conversing with unrelated men or to sit behind a curtain. Tahirih, who was later martyred, stated, while being led to her execution, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you can not stop the emancipation of women!” Then the Bab too was martyred by a firing squad in Tabriz, Iran on July 9, 1852.

When the Shah was attacked by two youths identifying themselves as Babis unhappy about the execution of the Bab, Baha’u’llah was arrested as part of a large sweep against the Faith. The black pit where he was incarcerated was formerly a reservoir for a public bath. It became a Baha’i shrine for a short time.

In 1868 the dungeon was filled in and an opera house was built over the site. The opera house was destroyed in 1947 and a bank building was constructed there. Baha’is acquired the property in 1954, but it was confiscated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. 

Bahá’u’lláh’s: Tablet of the Maiden (Lawh-i-Ḥúrí), was written in Baghdad. Following is an excerpt of the Tablet, translated by Juan Cole:

There arose the houri, Who had dwelt in pre-eternity in the pavilions of holiness, protection, and glorification and in the canopies of sinlessness, greatness and splendor. Upon Her creamy brow the most high pen hath written in crimson ink, “Praise be to God! This is a houri upon Whom none have gazed save God, the exalted, the most high. God hath purified the hem of Her purity from the knowledge of the concourse of names in the realm of eternity, and Her face from the view of all who are in the kingdom of creation. When She arose with the ornament of God from Her palace, She looked with one glance toward the sky. The people of the heavens swooned at the rays of Her visage and at the wafting of Her perfume. Then She looked with another glance toward the earth, and it was illumined by the lights of Her beauty and the loveliness of Her splendor.

Praise be to Thee, O my God, for all the wonders of Thy handiwork that Thou hast shown Me in Her, for the ensemble of Thy power, manifest in Her creation. She hung there, suspended. Then She journeyed through the sky as though striding across the horizon in mid-air. It is as though I discovered that the chain of being was set in motion by Her footfalls. She descended, drew nigh, and came until She halted before Me. I was bewildered by the subtleties and wonders of Her creation. Behold, I discovered within myself a passion that grew out of my yearning for Her. I raised my hands toward Her, and lifted the hem of Her veil from Her shoulder. I found Her hair to be sandy, wavy and curly, lying on Her back in ringlets, hanging down almost to Her legs. And when the gales blew it to the right of Her shoulder, it perfumed the heavens and the earth. When it was blown to the left, from its fragrance there spread a holy musk-like scent. It is as though the motion of Her tresses caused the spirit of life to quake in the inner essence of creation, and caused the kingdom of mystical insight to tremble in the realities of being.

Gender Identity

About a month or two ago, I was in a support group meeting and an individual sat down next to me. I glanced at the person, and had a negative emotional reaction because of the way he-she was presenting him-her-self. The purse he-she set down between us looked feminine. The shoes looked masculine, but the red painted toenails visible through loosely woven fabric on the tops of the shoes looked feminine. The body build, in general, with the large rib cage, wide shoulders, muscular arms, thick neck, balding hair, looked masculine, but the bosom looked feminine, the blouse, pants and earrings looked feminine. When he-she spoke, the voice sounded masculine. I knew I didn’t have the right to be offended simply because this individual did not fit neatly into one gender category or the other, but I felt powerless over the pity, disgust and judgmentalness that was welling up within me.

Later in meditations, many sessions, instead of developing compassion, I continued to feel judgmental. I realized reading more about transgender people might be helpful, so I read, Becoming Nicole, the Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt.

Nichole, a boy at birth (as far as anyone could tell), was named Wyatt. His farther was uncomfortable about the way Wyatt liked to dance and look at his reflection, as a two-year-old, while wearing a tutu a friend of Wyatt’s had given him. When I read that, at the very beginning of the book, I thought that possibly the reaction of the parents, while Wyatt was exploring his feminine side, had pushed him over the line into identifying as female. Then as I read farther, I learned that there are developments in the brain, early in gestation, that seem to determine gender identity. Usually they match physical gender, but apparently, not always. So I came up with a new theory: perhaps the teenager who gave birth to Wyatt and his identical twin brother, Jonas (whose gender identity matches his physical gender (male)), before handing them over to the adoptive parents, did not have adequate nutrition to meet the specialized needs of two developing fetuses, in order to make enough of whatever hormone was required at the specific time it was needed. Apparently, I needed to find a way to avoid blaming God for what seems to me such a tragedy. I want to blame poor nutrition before and during pregnancy, possibly combined with drug and/or alcohol use.

The book I read described a time when a transgender program overseen by a doctor was underway for Wyatt-Nicole, and the transition was going fairly well with acceptance by both staff and students at her school. Then suddenly her peaceful world was shattered when the Christian “right” grandfather of one of the students started making a scene about a “boy” being allowed to use the girl’s bathroom. It was a trying time for the family. They moved and the children were not allowed to tell anyone about Nicole’s trans status. This proved very difficult for both of them. They couldn’t get close to any of their acquaintances without being candid, which they knew better than to do.

I’m 75% through the book and haven’t learned all the details of the operation Nicole will have when she reaches the age of 18. Apparently, they turn the penis inside out and insert it into the body cavity to form something like a vagina. Of course, once the testes are removed, Nicole will never be able to father a child, nor will she be able to mother one either, except by adoption. Nicole started puberty blocking drugs at the first sign of puberty. She will not develop post-pubescent male characteristics since she was enabled to start her trans program in childhood.

I never had a particular strong gender identity, never was a girlie girl. I don’t like makeup, particularly when it is overdone. I can’t stand the smell of fingernail polish or perm. I hate women’s shoes, and shop for my shoes in the boys’ section. I rarely wear dresses or skirts, but sometimes I do for comfort mostly, when it is hot. I am very content with the unisex look in clothing, something that would be appropriate for either sex, like thongs, jeans and t-shirts or woven shirts that are not particularly feminine, other than the side they button on. I have had my hair professionally done only a few times in my life. Keeping it combed, clean and trimming it myself from time to time is all I want. So it is a little hard for me to understand what all the fuss about gender is about. I know that is me. Others may want to make more of a fashion statement pertaining to their gender.

I am beginning to feel compassion for trans people, but it is still something close to pity. My attempts to put myself in their place results in my assertion that I could be content with either gender role. Deal the cards, I’ll play my hand without asking for a new shuffle. Maybe that is not true, but there is no opportunity (or desire) to prove it. I’m happy to be a woman since that happens to be what I am, but I probably could have been a good man, if that had been my outcome in the cosmic roll of dice.

Thank you, trans people, for helping me grow my compassion!

Rigged

I was thinking about the government and wondering why some people favor policies designed to make the rich richer, when many of the people voicing conservative opinions aren’t particularly rich, and don’t benefit from the policies they defend. That’s a real riddle to me. Are the wealthy such skillful propagandists that people who don’t know better just get scammed, to not only go along with policies that subsidize the wealthy at everyone else’s expense but also, to voiciferously defend them? “Don’t take money from the business tycoons! They worked hard building their businesses making products we all need, and they deserve to wallow in their opulence!” Is there a misplaced identity in the factory worker, toiling away while listening to hate mongering against the lower classes on her radio, thinking, as oppressed as she is, at least she’s better off than someone else? Or is it like the victim of a kidnapping who comes to take on the opinions of his captors? Is there brain washing going on? I just can’t believe that the 99% are letting the 1% get away with what they’re getting away with! Do we really think that we are just one lucky gamble away from joining the super-rich? We don’t want to destroy that lifestyle, because there’s chance we’ll get there too?

I read, Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer, by Dean Baker. The ebook is available at deanbaker.net in a variety of formats for free. I didn’t realize that until after I had bought my copy from Amazon for $1.99. The author explains how a laissez faire economy is impossible because there has to be rules of some kind that will effect the outcome in some way. These rules will benefit one class of people to the detriment of another. The people benefiting don’t want the rules to change, unless they can skew them to benefit themselves even more. They protest any attempt to change the rules for a more agrarian outcome by screaming, “Free market economy!”

“There is no scenario in which the market works alone. Government policies will affect the level of output in the economy. The only question is whether we want to design these policies explicitly to meet certain goals or if we want to pretend we don’t notice the impact of the policies we have put in place.” Dean Baker, Rigged, 11%.

Baker examines five areas in which policies deliberately set by the government, or left in place by the government, have had the effect of ratcheting up the wealth of a small group of people, while the majority have watched their own standards of living plummet, within the last four decades in the United States. The book implies that a more equal distribution of wealth can be achieved by the adoption, by the government, of different policies in those five areas. I read it twice, taking notes the second time, because I really want to understand this.

“In the case of macroeconomic policy, the United States and other wealthy countries have explicitly adopted policies that focus on maintaining low rates of inflation. Central banks are quick to raise interest rates at the first sign of rising inflation and sometimes even before. Higher interest rates slow inflation by reducing demand, thereby reducing job growth, and reduced job growth weakens workers’ bargaining power and puts downward pressure on wages. In other words, the commitment to an anti-inflation policy is a commitment by the government, acting through central banks, to keep wages down. It should not be surprising that this policy has the effect of redistributing income upward.” Dean Baker, Rigged, 5%.

According to Baker’s Rigged, there is a cluster of consequences to keeping interest rates high. They include:

  • Low inflation
  • Rise in the value of the dollar relative to other currencies
  • Upward redistribution of wealth
  • Reduced consumption or demand
  • Slow job growth
  • High unemployment
  • Downward pressure on wages
  • Weakened worker’s bargaining power
  • Longer hours for those who remain employed (if company provides benefits)
  • High US trade deficit (we are importing goods faster than we are paying for them with either exported goods or money)
  • Manufacturing jobs are lost

Why the government has set these scenarios as priorities has to do with the goals of the people making the decisions.

The second area in which, according to Baker, wealth is being redistributed upward, is the structure of the financial industry and it’s regulation. Baker compares the financial industry to the trucking industry in that as the trucking industry moves goods from place to place, the financial industry handles capital and securities. The financial industry has undergone a rapid growth in the last few decades, “from 4.5 percent of GDP in 1970 to 7.4 percent in 2015.” (Baker 19%). He points out that all of this growth does not seem to improve the effectiveness of the industry in serving it’s function and, “waste in the financial sector provides income for some of the highest earners in the economy.” Dean Baker, Rigged, 19%.

“Excessive trading is the greatest source of rents in the financial sector, and subjecting it to a financial transactions tax (FTT) would go a long way toward bringing taxation in the financial sector in line with the rest of the economy.” Baker, Rigged, 20%

Government policy has been to guarantee the solvency of huge banks. The solvency of huge banks is guaranteed at tax payers’ expense, too big to fail (TBTF) insurance. Baker believes that the banks should be asked to downsize themselves, break themselves up to their size of the 1990s or 1980s. (Baker, Rigged 25%)

The third area covered in Rigged to explain why wealth has been redistributed upward toward the already wealthy during the last few decades, is patent and copyright protection. Protections for pharmaceutical products are more important to the government than preventing the loss of manufacturing jobs.

“When government officials sit down with their counterparts from China and other countries, they can negotiate over the currency policies that these countries are pursuing. If negotiators opt to make currency a priority, they can likely get these countries to agree to increase the value of their currencies relative to the dollar… There will be a trade-off for focusing on currency values, meaning that other items will be given lower priority. For example, the United States has pressed China for increased access for the financial industry, the telecommunications industry, and retailers, and it has pressed China and other developing countries to devote more resources toward enforcing U.S. patents and copyrights.” Baker, Rigged, 17%

“Over the last four decades these protections have been made stronger and longer. In the case of both patent and copyright, the duration of the monopoly period has been extended. In addition, these monopolies have been applied to new areas. Patents can now be applied to life forms, business methods, and software. Copyrights have been extended to cover digitally produced material as well as the Internet. Penalties for infringement have been increased and the United States has vigorously pursued their application in other countries through trade agreements and diplomatic pressure” Dean Baker, Rigged. 5%

So basically we say to China, “We’ll keep our currency high relative to yours so you can have us as a market for your manufactured products. We just ask that you honor our patents on our pharmaceuticals to protect the exorbitant income of our 1%”

The 4th way income has been redistributed upward during the past several decades, according to Dean Baker in Rigged, is the pay of corporate executive officers (CEOs).

“The CEOs who are paid tens of millions a year would like the public to think that the market is simply compensating them for their extraordinary skills. A more realistic story is that a broken corporate governance process gives corporate boards of directors — the people who largely determine CEO pay — little incentive to hold down pay. Directors are more closely tied to top management than to the shareholders they are supposed to represent, and their positions are lucrative, usually paying six figures for very part-time work. Directors are almost never voted out by shareholders for their lack of attention to the job or for incompetence.” Baker, Rigged 5%

The 5th way that the wealth gap has increased within the last few decades, according to Dean Baker in Rigged, is by protections to the pay of doctors, dentists and lawyers.

“Finally, government policies strongly promote the upward redistribution of income for highly paid professionals by protecting them from competition. To protect physicians and specialists, we restrict the ability of nurse practitioners or physician assistants to perform tasks for which they are entirely competent. We require lawyers for work that paralegals are capable of completing. While trade agreements go far to remove any obstacle that might protect an autoworker in the United States from competition with a low-paid factory worker in Mexico or China, they do little or nothing to reduce the barriers that protect doctors, dentists, and lawyers from the same sort of competition. To practice medicine in the United States, it is still necessary to complete a residency program here, as though there were no other way for a person to become a competent doctor.” Dean Baker, Rigged, 5%

“The United States will spend more than $3.3 trillion in 2016 on health care…, more than $10,300 per person and roughly twice the average for other wealthy countries. But for all this extra spending it is not clear that we get better quality health care. By some measures, like life expectancy and infant mortality rates, the United States ranks low among rich countries. While treatment for some conditions is better here, we cannot say that the quality overall is better.” Dean Baker, Rigged 55%

I had a few skin cancers treated with liquid nitrogen by a dermatologist. Medicare paid for 80%, but this dermatologist did not accept Medi-Cal, which would have covered the other 20%. When I received the bill I realized I could not afford this treatment. I may need to spend a day interviewing dermatologist’s offices by phone until I find one that takes both Medicare and Medi-Cal, or find another alternative.

A promising treatment for me, that came in the mail, was a preparation called Blood Root Paste. This product does not have a huge intellectual property markup, because it is an herbal preparation. No one has, as of yet, found a way to patent a plant without genetically modifying it. This means that no one, other than perhaps wealthy governments, can run the expensive testing to prove (or disprove) effectiveness and safety of herbal products. The salve, for which I paid something like $12, which included shipping from Equator, actually removed two skin cancers that the dermatologist had refused to treat with the liquid nitrogen, had biopsied, and recommended that I get surgery. The surgeon she recommended does not accept Medi-Cal either, and there is no way I can afford the 20% of the cost of surgery that Medicare won’t pay. But, thankfully to the bloodroot salve, now I won’t need it.

“The low density of doctors in the United States might … be a factor in the pay gap. The United States has 2.6 physicians per 1,000 people …, compared with 2.8 in the United Kingdom, 3.3 in France, and 4.0 in Germany. But the relatively low density in the United States is a matter of deliberate policy. In 1997, the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education decided to limit medical school enrollments in the United States, which had previously been growing more or less in step with population growth. Dean Baker, Rigged 57%

I learned the difference between the cost of dental care in the United States and in Mexico when I decided to have my mercury filings replaced with composite, since I live about an hour away from Tijuana. The difference in cost is so substantial that I thought Mexican dentistry must be inferior in some way. I have had dental work done in Mexico and in the United States and I can’t say that it is any better in the United States. Why the difference in cost?

“[T]he average pay of U.S. dentists is almost 40 percent higher than in the next highest country (Japan) and more than twice as high as in the United Kingdom, Italy, or Finland,… [T]he law requires that dentists graduate from an accredited dental school in the United States (an exception for Canada began in 2011). Dentists protect themselves from domestic competition by limiting the scope of practice of dental hygienists, who often have the skills to perform many of the tasks performed by dentists.” Dean Baker, Rigged 58%

I learned a lot from this book. I used to think that boycotting Chinese manufactured goods would do some good. I even tried to do that, but it is next to impossible. A cell phone, DVD player, or almost anything you need, is made in China, Vietnam, Malaysia etc. It is not true that people over there will work for less and accept substandard working conditions. Even if that is part of the truth, it’s not the whole truth. The truth is the decision makers have decided to protect the pay of CEOs, doctors, dentists, lawyers, Pfizer, Microsoft, Disney and Chase Manhattan, and let the rest of our jobs go overseas. We should demand that provisions be put in place to limit the pay of CEOs, that the interest rate be lowered, that a system be set up to finance research and development that is less costly and more efficient than patents, that a trading tax be levied on stock exchanges, that the large banks be broken up, that general practitioners, nurses, medical assistants, dental assistants and paralegals be allowed to do work they are educated and qualified for, that limits to the number of doctors and dentists being allowed to practice in this country end, that the tax codes be simplified and loopholes be done away with.

“[M]ost high-end earners are probably not like the counterfeiter who does nothing productive, but insofar as they are paid more than is necessary for their services, their excess pay does come at the expense of the rest of us. This means that if a CEO is paid $30 million, but someone else would do as good a job for one half or one third of the pay, then the rest of us are effectively subsidizing this person’s pay. The channels through which the money goes from the rest of us to the high-end earners may not always be clear, but their good fortune nonetheless imposes a cost on the rest of us.” Dean Baker, Rigged, 8%.

You might also like to check out Dean Baker’s blog.

 I Dared to call Him Father, by Bilquis Sheikh

I attended a Catholic mass Sunday. The scripture aboutJesus and his disciples in a boat during a storm was shared and expounded on. I’m not sure I believe that Jesus literally walked on water and that Peter literally took a few steps on the water before he started to sink, but it is a wonderful metaphor.

Walking on water, to me, is a metaphor for maintaining emotional equanimity. Both are difficult, perhaps imposible, or nearly so. When I’m in a storm of anger, fear or hurt feelings, like Peter I’m calling out, “Help me Lord I’m sinking!”

I read a book about a Muslim woman in Pakistan, I Dared to Call Him Father, by Bilquis Sheikh) who, through dreams and an inner voice, came to understand that she was to become a Christian. I don’t understand why she couldn’t have had Muhammad and Jesus too. Don’t Muslims accept the teachings of Jesus the way Christians accept the teachings of Moses? This book told of another formerly Muslim woman, who had accepted the Christian Faith and then had been murdered, most likely by her brother. No arrests were made. In a practice known as “honor killing,” a woman, who is judged by relatives to have brought shame on the family, is murdered by a close male relative such as a father, brother or husband, often with impunity. This is part of the culture in some parts of the world. One can imagine how intimidating that is for the girls and women living in such a culture. I read a book some time ago that discussed the situation for women in Jordan (Honor Lost: Love And Death In Modern Day Jordan, by Norma Khouri). It described the murder of a woman by her father for being in a relationship with a Catholic man. This regimentation of the lives of girls and women, enforced by murders rarely prosecuted, predates Muhammad and Islam. It is a pernicious cultural practice that is changing very slowly with the slowly increasing educational opportunities for girls.

According to the book, I Dared to Call Him Father, there are many secret Christians in Pakistan, people who secretly accept the salvation of Christ, while maintaining the appearance of being Muslim. The author, Bilquis Sheikh, was completely open about her conversion to Christianity. She did receive criticism and shunning from some family members, even some threats, but she prayed and lived a life of faith. She left Pakistan for awhile, then returned for the last few years of her life.

Honor killing takes place against people who change their religion, engage in promiscuous. or homosexual behavior, refuse an arranged marriage, seek divorce from even a violently abusive marriage, or became the victim of rape. Although it is a crime primarily against women and girls, being gay can get a man killed within the cultures that practice honor killing. A young man or boy may be coerced into killing his own sister.

Honor killings happen all over the world, but particularly in Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities. I read the article on honor killing in Wikipedia, which gives details by country. There are laws against murder everywhere, but honor as an excuse for murder is effective in many locales for the perpetrators to receive lenient sentences or even to avoid prosecution all together.

I admire the courage Bilquis Sheikh, a woman from a well-to-do family in Pakistan, showed when she felt the call from God to change her religion, and did so openly, even in the climate of fear created by the honor killings in her midst. The story, I Dared to Call Him Father, opens in the 1960s when Bilquis was in her 50s. She had been divorced and was the caretaker of a young grandson.

The Quran states that God (Allah) is not our father, that he does not beget. Muhammad was explaining that the figure of speech Jesus used to describe God was only that — a figure of speech. I do not feel that that negates it’s aptness as a figure of speech.

Some day religious bigotry and bias will end. True spiritually is universal, I believe, and a bigoted religiosity is not even spiritual.

Filthy Rich

I read, Filthy Rich, a biography of Jeffrey Epstein, checked out from the public library with the OverDrive app on my Android phone. It was hard to put down, and I wizzed right through it. The book was about a rich person who seemed above the law in the expression of his pedophile proclivity. James Patterson, John Connolly and Tim Malloy were the writing team.

The book starts out with the story of Mary, a sixteen-year-old girl, who is lured by a friend of a friend to work for a rich neighbor, in Palm Beach, Florida, as a masseuse. With no experience in massage, she is promised $200 for showing up at the man’s mansion and providing a rubdown. Of course things escalate to more than she is comfortable with, and both girls get paid.

Why it was such an interesting read, I don’t know. Perhaps I want to understand pedophilia and all its ramifications? Maybe I want to look at the sick so I can appreciate the healthy? Maybe I want to better understand some of the unpleasant encounters with inappropriate people I have had in my life?

It was good to see an attempt at justice. The police chief did a really good job interviewing the victims and putting together the case, but Epstein’s legal team fought back effectively, and the sentence was reduced to less than 18 months with plenty of free time where he was allowed to leave the jail facility to go to his lawyer’s office and home and other places. It didn’t really seem like he got punished for what he did.

A parasite on society in more ways than one, Epstein made his fortune helping billionaires find tax loopholes.

Walking on Eggshells by Lisa Chapman and Lisa Wysocky, a book review

I read, Walking on Eggshells by Lyssa Chapman, which I got on loan from the public library on my phone’s Kindle app via satellite. I was finished with the book in less than three days, not because it was particularly short, but because it was hard to put down. Lyssa and her co-author, Lisa Wysocky, did an excellent job making the book both readable and fascinating.

I love recovery stories so much I should probably join AA or NA. The drinking and drugging I once did was done as part of my relationship addiction, which Lyssa also has, and worked through beautifully, both in real life and in the pages of her book.

I wish everybody could hit bottom and turn away from drugs, alcohol, and abusive relationships forever! Some people wonder why alcoholics can’t learn to drink in moderation. Some counselors even mistakenly lead that direction. I did the same with one of my ex-husbands. I tried to get him to drink just a little and then stop. BIG MISTAKE!!! He was totally incapable of doing that. I finally gave it up myself and learned that I function much better when I don’t do drugs or alcohol at all, other than one or less Kombucha or equivalent per day. (But we had already broken up for the last time before I learned that.) My husband of the past decade and I both came to understand the importance and the benefits of the nonuse of drugs and alcohol decades prior to our meeting.

Lyssa became famous near the end of her book by joining the reality show her dad and step-mother were in called, “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” in which he would do what had been his job for many years off camera, now for the camera: apprehend fugitives that he had bailed out of jail who failed to make their court appearances. Lyssa’s dad had been a bail bondsman at least from her childhood on.

Lyssa’s mother and father broke up when she was small. They were both alcoholics and users. She did not see or hear from her mother until she was almost in her teens. Her dad got heavily into his addictions for awhile and she suffered from neglect.

She explained how her dad had neglected her but had not abused her. As a result of the neglect, she had suffered abuse while living with her dad in Hawaii. A number of years later, while living with her mom in Alaska, she confided in a friend about the sexual abuse. The friend told the police. When the police interviewed Lyssa, she told them it happened in Hawaii. Both her mother and the police assumed it was her dad, and she didn’t correct them. As a result ishe became estranged from her dad for several years.

Both Lyssa and her older sister, Barbara, had babies the same year. Lyssa was 15. They were both alcoholics, users and promiscuous from their early teens on (even younger in the case of Lyssa’s drug use.)

At the age of 14, when her baby was on the way, Lyssa tried to clean herself up, but without suitable role models she had a difficult time gaining permanent sobriety. Her step-mother, Beth, was firmly against drug and alcohol use and had helped Lyssa’s dad get clean and sober prior to the reality show. It is possible that Beth’s stern toughness helped Lyssa as well, although Lyssa didn’t particularly like it at times.

When I finished the book I started reading Lyssa’s Facebook page. Lyssa, I wish you the BEST in your life of sobriety! If there is anything I can do for you, let me know!

The Discourse Summaries of S.N. Goenka, Book Review

On day one of the ten-day meditation workshop taught by S.N. Goenka via prerecorded audios and videos (as he passed away in 2013), one learns to pay attention to the breath, not a mantra, not a name of God, not an external object as these things might be sectarian, and misery is universal. The steps to liberation from misery are available to all. One sits in one’s assigned place on a meditation cushion and mat on the floor of the meditation hall, or in a chair (if one prefers), and meditates, three or more hours during that first day, and puts one’’s full attention on the ingress and egress of one’’s breath through the nostrils. The Discourse Summaries; is a book of summaries of transcripts of the eleven talks given by Goenka for ten evenings and one (the last) morning, during two of the 10-day Vipassana meditation retreats that he personally led in 1983 and 1984.

Vipassana means, “as it is,” and the student is constantly exhorted throughout the ten-day course to become aware of sensations as they are in the body, starting, the first few days, with the area of the nose and upper lip. Little instruction is given on how to sit. I didn’’t see in the book, nor do I remember during my recent Vipassana, experience, at the Southern California Vipassana Center in Twenty-nine Palms, any exhortations to maintain a straight back. One learns quickly enough what kind of posture results in discomfort when held for an hour, and learns to sit correctly on his or her own.

The second day’’s discourse was given, like the others, on two large video screens at the front of the meditation hall, one on the right and the other on the left, and through the speakers at the front of each side wall, at 7 pm, and this one after the second full day of meditation. The Pali word, Dhamma, is used a lot in the Discourses of S.N. Goenka. Its meaning is roughly similar to the Sandskrit word, Dharma, and the English word, piety. Quoting Goenka, ““Any action that harms others, that disturbs their peace and harmony, is a sinful, unwholesome action. Any action that helps others, that contributes to their peace and harmony, is a pious, wholesome action.””

The meditation hall has a left and right half, divided by an isle from the front to the rear. On the right sit the women enrolled in the program, on the left sit the men. The residences, for the student’s use during their 11-day stay at the campus, are strictly segregated on the basis of sex, as are the two dining rooms. During the program, the participants each give their written pledge to observe celibacy during the program, along with non-killing, non-drinking alcoholic beverages, non-use of drugs, non-smoking, and being content with the (delicious) vegetarian meals provided. The segregation of the sexes tends to remove one large distraction, and meals being prepared by others removes another. Having nothing much to do other than meditate in the hall or your private room tends to insure that a lot of time gets spent in meditation. Observing silence for the first nine days, except when talking to the teacher or teaching assistant, does add to the meditative atmosphere.
S.N. Goenka makes the claim that Vipassana meditation is completely non-sectarian, anyone from any religious background, or no religious background, is made welcome. However, the points of Buddhist doctrine are pretty thoroughly covered. I remember Christ being mentioned once, by Goenka, during one of the discourses that I watched on the video monitor while a student in the course. He said, ““Jesus, while being tortured and killed, prayed, ‘‘Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’’ That is real compassion!”” Buddha, of course, was mentioned many, many times during the course, with many entertaining anecdotes from the life of Buddha being told, and the various doctrines of Buddhism being well explained. Personally, I was thankful for that, because I felt I needed to learn more about the life and teachings of this Great Man. It is no conflict whatsoever with my own religion, the Baha’’i Faith, which believes in the Harmony of Religion, and the Exalted Station of All Its Founders. The lovely anecdotes of the life and sayings of the Buddha, that were given in the videos played during the course, do not all appear in the book under review. There is another book that focuses more on these stories. Perhaps I will review that one in a future post.

The Path of Dhamma is called the Noble Eightfold Path. Sila is morality, Samadhi is developing mastery over one’s mind, Panna is the development of wisdom which purifies the mind. Right Speech, right action, and right livelihood, the first three of the eightfold path, constitute Sila, or morality. Right effort, right awareness, and right concentration, the second three of the eightfold path, constitute Samadhi, developing mastery over one’s mind. Awareness of what is, right now, bringing the mind back to the present moment, if it strays to the past or the future, is largely what the second discourse is about. Still, through the end of the third full day of meditation, the student focuses on the breath at the nostrils.

The last two of the eightfold path, right thoughts and right understanding, constituting Panna, the development of wisdom, are discussed in the third discourse. Quoting Goenka, ““Rationally one examines what one has heard or read, to see whether it is logical, practical, beneficial; if so, then one accepts it.”” I am reminded of one of the principles of the Baha’’i Faith: the independent investigation of truth. Each one has the right and the responsibility to examine what one reads and hears to determine if it is true, or at least possible. Dogma should not be taken on “blind faith.” This principle, of which much has been written in Baha’’i literature, is also enunciated by S.N. Goenka in his discourses about Vipasanna meditation. Goenka goes on to say that merely accepting or rejecting what one reads or hears, on the basis of one’s intellect, is only the first step. One must then develop wisdom by experiencing truth for one’’s self.

The third discourse prepares the student for day four. During the first sessions of day four, the student practices what is called Anapana, awareness of the breath. Then, during the afternoon session, the student begins, Vipassana. During an audio of D.N. Goenka speaking at the beginning of the afternoon meditation, the student is instructed to practice awareness of bodily sensations, some pleasant, some unpleasant, that arise or are present in the various parts of the body. This instruction bids the student to start having awareness of any sensations at the top of the head, then to work down to the face, and in increments to become aware of each part of the body, in turn, from the head to the toes, spending from one to ten minutes on each. Sometimes the bodily sensation is pain. In that case, one stays with the pain in awareness, and maintains equanimity. This too shall pass, all sensations are temporary, all conditions are temporary. Quoting Goenka’’s Day Four Discourse, ““In the past, because of ignorance, these sensations were causes for the multiplication of your misery, but they can also be tools to eradicate misery. You have taken a first step on the path to liberation by learning to observe bodily sensations and to remain equanimous.”

Craving and Aversion are the two antagonists to equanimity. Once we decide we like something or we don’’t like something, we want something or we don’’t want something, equanimity becomes more difficult to attain or maintain. It is a fact of life that things happen that I don’’t want. The things I do want don’’t always take place. Maintaining equanimity throughout the ups and downs of life is the art of hanging very loosely to one’’s expectations. Still, we must have expectations, but we must not be overly attached to them.

While meditating on day four of my Vipassana course at Twenty Nine Palms, I was encouraged to maintain the same sitting position for a little over an hour without repositioning. I held it for about a half an hour before giving into the body’’s demand for a repositioning. My right knee started hurting, hurt more and more, until all I could think about was the pain in my right knee. Then I thought, “I don’’t want to hurt my leg!” That is when I repositioned myself. Later, when the session was over, and I rose to my feet, I found that I had not hurt my leg at all! It was as good as ever, maybe even better. It was soon after that that I did manage to hold the same position for an entire hour.

Quoting Goenka: “To begin, while you sit for meditation, most of the time you will react to the sensations, but a few moments will come when you remain equanimous, despite severe pain. Such moments are very powerful in changing the habit pattern of the mind. Gradually you will reach the stage in which you can smile at any sensation knowing it is… bound to pass away.”

From Goenka’’s Day Five Discourse: “Wherever there is attachment, there is bound to be misery, and the greater the attachment, the greater the misery.” The way to end suffering is by eradicating its cause. One begins by learning to observe without reacting.

There are four kind of attachments, according to S N Goenka. The first is craving, the second is, I and mine, the third is, my views and beliefs, and the fourth is, rites, rituals and religious practices.

“This is what Siddhattha Gotama did to become a Buddha: he started observing reality within the framework of his body like a research scientist, moving from gross, apparent truth to subtler truth, to the subtlest truth. He found that whenever one develops craving, whether to keep a pleasant sensation or to get rid of an unpleasant one, and that craving is not fulfilled, then one starts suffering…. It was clear to him that the cause is the attachment that one develops. Out of attachment one generates strong reactions, sankhara, which make a deep impression on the mind…. Previously, every sensation gave rise to a reaction of liking or disliking, which developed into great craving or aversion, great misery! But now, instead of reacting to sensation, you are learning just to observe equanimously, understanding, ‘This will also change.’ In this way sensation gives rise only to wisdom, to … understanding.”

Life is an amazing laboratory for learning this! How many times an hour do things come up that either I don’t like or I like a little too much? These are my opportunities to practice nonattachment and equanimity.

I will discuss the rest of the book in a future post.