Archive for August, 2015


A little disclaimer. I’m not an expert on Carl Jung except that I find him very fascinating and have been reflecting on his concepts over the past decade. I love for poetry, symbols, icons, rituals, dreams and Jung makes them come to live for me. So when I listen to interesting songs or observing symbols that I’ve never been exposed, there is the dimension of depth being added. I was listening to Lost Starts by Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and a phrase caught my attention “Yesterday I saw a lion kiss a deer.” That was profound. Or recently when I came across Ouroboros and as someone who dreams of snakes often, it just takes on a different meaning for me.

While working with a schizophrenic patient in a psychiatric hospital, Jung realized that there were images and ideas that did not belong to the patient’s individual unconscious. These memories belong to the collective unconscious of generation past. Slowly he started to notice this pattern in other patients as well and in his personal unconscious.
A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious is undoubtedly personal. I call it the personal unconscious. But this personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the collective unconscious. I have chosen the term “collective” because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behaviour that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. It is, in other words, identical in all men and thus constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us.

Jung calls them archetypes. “Psychologically … the archetype as an image of instinct is a spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way, the prize which the hero wrests from the fight with the dragon.” Jung first referred to them as primodial images. It is like a prototype: a prototype of a car, a plane, a robotic system, mobile applications etc. Yet it is more than just a prototype. It is like an app where wise people from generations and generations have been coding and recoding with the aim of helping us live a whole and complete life. And this app is inserted into our unconscious minds. When we deviate too much the warning signs will appear in the forms of stories, strong feelings, images, symbols and dreams. And the warning sign will flash, system compromised. Please recalibrate. This is the essence of Jung’s archetypes.

I had a client in his mid 20s who is angry and very argumentative. He has to right, right at any cost. He grew up with a mother who is obsessive with being right. A good and worthwhile person is the one who is right. There is no room in his psyche to accommodate any wrong. To be erroneous is to be worthless. This split torments him.

A young Hispanic medical student was referred to me. She came from a morally and traditionally conservative family. She can’t fail morally or professionally. Apparently she failed both….she was repeating her second year of medical school and failed short in some moral dimension. She came in, said a few words and cried. This went on for six months. There was no place in her psyche for failures.
So what have these splits to do with all these symbols and icons? Everything.

In The Da Vinci Code, the character of Professor Langford was scripted to say, “Symbols are a language that can help us understand our past.” These religious symbols and icons offer a spiritual perspective that brings about healing for the soul.

What do these symbols represent? Professor Langford while gesturing the symbol of a triangle with his arms explained to Sophia, “This is the original icon for male. It’s a rudimentary phallus. This is known as the blade. It represents aggression and manhood. The symbol is still used today in modern military uniform. The female symbol is its exact opposite.” Many religious symbols contain union of these opposites: male and female, light and darkness, life and death, joy and suffering, good and bad. Carl Jung calls this coniunctio oppositorum. “For the symbols,” writes Jung, “are natural attempts to reconcile and reunite opposites within the psyche.”

A couple of religious symbols I want to touch upon briefly. The Star of David with two triangles overlapping one another. Sri Yantra, 9 interlocking triangles with upright triangles representing Shiva and upside down triangles representing Shakti, the force of femininity. Together it symbolizes Avaita or non-duality, oneness. Then there’s the Yin/Yang symbolism that forms the core foundation of Chinese cosmology. Yap-yum in Trantric Buddhism. The union of male diety and shakti, compassion and insights that we need to reach enlightenment. The Cross in Christianity, the unity of death and resurrection, finite and the infinite. These symbols are invitation for our psyche to hold on to opposites and it is this ability to hold on to opposites that healing and harmony take place. My argumentative client was not able to accept the fact that people make mistakes. The Korean medical student was not able to hold success and failure at the same time. And this is very crucial because nature does not have preference for one over the other. It is all a part of the same reality. While we tend to attach negative connotation to failure and positive to success, for nature there is no preference. But it becomes a monumental problem for us because we have inherited a very strong tendency toward linear rational thinking.

For Jung, of all the archetypes, mandala is among the most significant. Mandala, translated from Sanskrit meaning circle, is a geometric figure with layers of either concentric squares or circles representing wholeness. In ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections” Jung writes “I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing…which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time…only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is…the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious.” Hence Jung calls mandala the archetype of wholeness.

Mandala emerged in various geographical regions in various forms and yet remains true to its content such as the Tibetan paintings, labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in French, stupa, Ankor Wat (Cambodia), Borobudur in Indonesia and many more.

A whole person is someone who has embraced himself/herself fully. Wholeness refers to the self that has fully embraced itself. When the self is fully embraced you are at peace with yourself. You come to term with yourself. This is me with all my deficits and flaws, weaknesses, strengths, courage, creativity. People’s praise does not inflate your ego. People’s criticism does not deflate yours sense of self. Your internal equilibrium is internally regulated. The more your sense of self is externally controlled, the more vulnerable you become. So when someone said, you are so average, he responses “Ok.” “You are not that smart.” “Sure, why not.” “You are fat.” “I love to eat, let’s go have dinner.” Because this person is able to embrace everything, this person can’t really be destroyed.

The significance of a mandala is the center that holds everything together. The center that can hold everything internally together. There are so many things in life, pleasure, pain, life, death, high, low, success, failure, tears, laughter, darkness, brightness, fear, courage, ugliness, beauty. The question is, what is at the center? And can this center hold everything together because things that we cannot hold them together will take us down.

Once I had a client who grew up with a mom diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. It was total chaos. He was very shameful of his past, of his mom, of his history. He created a facade of a beautiful life. But internally he was falling apart. He was financially broke and on drugs. His wife threatened to leave him. He was unable to embrace himself, his past. His center could not accommodate ugliness and shame. He was falling apart.
Mandala points to the center that can hold everything together. One of the iconic image that conveys this distinctive belief is that of Shiva in the most serene state and a cobra wrapped around his neck.

Archetypes are not just symbols with meaning. Archetypes speak to us as well. One day in class while we were discussing dreams, a skeptical student related her dream, a dream that kept recurring in her life. She will be standing in front of a television and the only thing she sees is the snow screen. And then she falls right through the ground and she just keeps falling ad infinitum. So I asked if she had been struggling with communication with a significant person in her life and that it felt like there is no solution in sight. She nodded. Jung calls this phenomenon the religious function of the psyche. The archetype is not passive. It speaks. There is something inherent in our psyche that will drive us toward wholeness if we will pay attention.

A scene from one of my favorite movies “My Life” portrayed a dying cancer patient visiting a Chinese doctor. And the Chinese doctor held the patient’s finger pointing to his own heart saying, “Life is trying to teach you something. Listen.” For Jung, life is constantly trying to tell us that we need to learn to embrace the totality of who we are, the good and the bad, the beautiful and ugly, the high and the low, the strengths and weaknesses. Our psyche will speak to us through dreams, symbols, images, stories, strong feelings about things in our lives that we have not embrace. It will keep trying to tell us about things we need to learn to embrace. Listen to your hearts, Jung reminds us.

A jazz vocalist Marena Whitcher, in “Coniunctio Oppositorum,” sings:

I’m climbing these stairs
They‘re leading nowhere
Will the circle close
Or come around?
Not sure if I am going up or down

The more that I want the less I got
The more that I am the more I’m not
I try to soar but then I dive
The more I say the more I lie

I resign
I’m fine with disillusions
Seeing through
Misleading false conclusions
Sailing to the middle stream
Can‘t decide for one extreme
Drifting in between

Ebb or tide
Wax or wane
Above or below
I‘m running in circles
Whichever path I’ll take
I’ll come around

While researching the negative impact the epistemology of western modernity has on the lives of local farmers, I was privileged to interview emeritus professor of economics, Dr. Chatip Narsupa. As he was explaining the concept of local economy among farmers, he paused, looked at my name card and asked, “Do you think there’s an archetype for farmers?” I was taken aback by the profoundness of his question and said that I would come back with an answer. After interviewing 65 farmers in 20 provinces in the north and northeast, I believe there is. There is something very distinctive about farmers, almost as if it is rooted in their DNA. They value freedom. They will work hard and do everything possible to maintain this freedom. And to do so requires living a very simple life. To live simple means you have to come to term with yourself and not allow others to define you. Because if you do, you can’t live a simple life. And if you can’t live a simple life, you can’t achieve that freedom working in the field. This is the individuation that Jung speaks about. It’s the mandala.

One day I was driving my son’s old Honda civic 1982, kind of falling apart, in my coat and tie. I pulled into a gas station. There was a homeless man walking around asking for money. He came to my car and asked, is this your car? I embraced myself and the car proudly saying ‘Yes.’ Then he said ‘Oh my God…Oh my God.’ And walked away without asking me for money.

To Jung, religion is liberation and it comes when we are able to embrace ourselves fully. This is the psychological expression of Hindu moksa, Buddhist nirvana and Christian salvation. It is what it means, in Jungian terms, to be saved. So, paraphrasing Jung, I’ll say let’s explore the internal Ouroboros and go in search of a lion kissing a deer.

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A phrase from a song ‘a horse with no name’ came to mind. ‘I’ve been to the dessert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain. In the dessert you can remember your name…’ It seems in a place where there is no social order, no category, no stratification, it is much easier to hear our voices and know our names. Then my mind drifted to the life of Foucault. I wonder if his deconstructive works, archeology and geanology, were his attempts to hear his voices, find his name and offer this gift to others? I wonder if he was looking for a place that makes everything fits.

Chuang Tzu writes

When the shoe fits
The foot is forgotten
When the belt fits
The belly is forgotten
When the heart is right
‘For’ or ‘against’ are forgotten

Marilyn Monroe was quoted, “I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world. Fortunately for the world, I have not found the correct footwear to achieve that goal.” Chuang Tzu would have agreed, “The world is ruled by the shoe that fits.” But he would have added “And it already is.”

My life has been the quest for a shoe that fits. And I have so many pairs of shoes. In the process I found Chuang Tzu, a Taoist poet and philosopher while pondering the topic for my dissertation 17 years ago. I was instantly touched by his writings and so I asked my professors, not in this exact phrase, can I write about nothing. My professors asked can I prove it. I said yes, and I proved nothing. And they were very pleased with my research, for nothing. But since then nothing has impacted my life more than nothing. I am constantly engaging nothingness intellectually, socially, emotionally, and professionally. Personally it is the profound beauty of nothingness that makes every thing fits.

A few words on chuang Tzu. Not much is known about him except that Historian Ssu-ma Chien placed him between 370 to 300 BCE in the State of Sung. The people of Sung were constantly invaded and subjugated to abuse, domination, and discrimination. Describing the people of this state Watson writes, “Its inhabitants, as descendants of the conquered Shang people, were undoubtedly despised and oppressed by the more powerful states which belonged to the lineage of the Chou conquerors, and the ‘man of Sung’ appears in the literature of late Chou times as a stock figure of the ignorant simpleton.” It was speculated that Chuang Tzu writings were meant to awaken the people of Sung from the disillusion imposed by their conquerors.

Commenting on the evocative method of Chuang Tzu, Victor Mair states:

The sublime wisdom of The Chuang Tzu is imparted to us by poking holes in our conventional knowledge and assumptions about what is good and bad. It accomplishes all of this, furthermore with a divine sense of humor throughout. The Chuang Tzu deals with very heavy stuff, but it does so with a feather-light touch.

Speaking of Chuang Tzu’s evocative method, one of my favorite story is that of the Butterfly Dream.

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly. A butterfly flittering fluttering around happily. Suddenly he woke up. But he did not know if he was the butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou or Chuang Chou dreaming he was the butterfly. There is a clear distinction between Chuang Chou and the butterfly. This, said Chuang Tzu, is called transformation of things.

Chuang Tzu writes, “Where can I find a man who has forgotten about words so I can have a word with him?” So I’m trying to forget words so I can have a word with Chuang Tzu.

So, when the shoe fits
The foot is forgotten,
When the belt fits
The belly is forgotten,
When the heart is right
“For” and “against” are forgotten.

Easy is right. Begin right
And you are easy.
Continue easy and you are right.
The right way to go easy
Is to forget the right way
And forget that the going is easy.

For me there is nothing like a shoe that fits. It is a place where I do not have to struggle and fight, a place where there isn’t a need to prove anything, it is a place where one does not have to search for things to represent because the self is capable of presenting itself, a place where the heart does not feel heavy. When the shoe fits, metaphorically, we can explore the wonders of the world socially, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually and be amazed. When it fits, things come easy. Chuang Tzu writes:

Easy is right. Begin right
And you are easy.
Continue easy and you are right.

When you write and ideas just flow to your fingers and they are beautiful, at least to you, and you do not want to stop writing. When you teach, it does not feel like you are teaching. When you are taking a course and you do not think about assignments, papers, and grades. You just thoroughly enjoy ideas. Or when you are with someone who is just so easy to be with instead of having to work so hard to connect. When it fits, you can feel that peaceful pulsating joy deep inside and, in the words of Henri Nouwen, you know this is home.

But when it does not fit, it immobilizes us. It weighs heavily on our hearts. Life becomes a task to endure. Colors fade. Rhythm lost. A friend asked me to buy three books on how to succeed as teenagers for her daughter. I know a beautiful girl who lives in constant fear that her life will be a disappointment to others. When the heart isn’t right, it gets caught in a perpetual cycle of quest and nothing is forgotten. When life is hard, relationship is complex, career is challenging, success is a far distance, the tunnel seems unending and the heart is heavy, we keep remembering and replaying everything mentally seeking a glimpse of hope that can cease the cycle. Perhaps this is the reason Jung writes in Modern Man in Search of a Soul:

Among all my patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty-five—there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church.

I thought long and hard about Jung’s understanding of religion and I think, for Jung, to be religious is to be whole. The mandala, union of opposites, yin and yang, harmony between conscious and unconscious self, alchemy etc. Wholeness implies the ability of the self to embrace itself fully, the good and bad parts, the beautiful and the ugly aspects, shadow and light, being and non-being.

A religious person is comfortable with all these dimensions of the self. Jung uses the term religious function of the psyche to refer to how archetypes speak to us and guide us toward wholeness. Mandala, as a symbol of wholeness, is one Jung often refers to. “I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self, I had attained what was for me the ultimate.” Jung invites us to listen to our hearts because, if we pay attention, our hearts will guide us toward becoming a whole person. Expanding on this concept, James Hillman and Thomas Moore discuss how our society rushes in too quickly to get rid of psychopathologies. Perhaps we need to take time to listen to pathologies because our souls are trying to tell us something about ourselves. In Finding Space, Winnicott, God and Psychic Reality, Ann Ulanov writes:

The parts of us and of our communities that grieve like widows, the parts of us we neglect like orphans—these, when included, bring wholeness. Whatever we run from will turn up in our subjective-object God-images. Whatever we fear will direct us to the place where God will find us. Whatever we skipped over and missed in psychological development we must go back and look for, for there God is waiting to meet us.

One way our souls speak to us is through archetypes. And archetypes may be expressed through religious symbols in various shapes and forms.

I rented a room by the bank of Chao Praya River in Bangkok right across from Wat Arun Ratchavararam (the Temple of Dawn). For hours I pondered and reflected upon the architectural symbolism of this sacred site, a cosmology so vastly different from my current social setting, the representation of Mt. Meru where the gods reside. And where the gods reside is the universe of perpetual changes through the movements of Trimurti (Bhrama, Vishnu, Shiva). The movement which is the cycle of life through Bhrama the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer. And at the center is the stillness of the self within this changing phenomenal, the seasons of life, of the rise and fall, light and darkness, being and non-being. A symbolism well portrayed by the iconic image of Shiva with such serene and peaceful expression and a cobra wraps about his neck. How profound. And now I know why I am not as godly as I should.

Not too far from the Temple of Dawn stands one of the tallest stupa (pagoda) in Bangkok situated within the gate of Wat Saket Wora Maha Viharn. This doom-shaped architectural design with a square base and sharp-pointed spiral top represents the essential teaching of the Buddha, about liberation. Various structural designs of the stupa carry the symbols of the four elements: earth, water, wind, and fire signifying anicca, the impermanence that is life. Anatta, the fundamental core of Buddhism reminds us not to hold on to any particular identity. Anatta is when we are not thirsting for a particular identity within a certain social environment. This understanding is represented by the sharp-pointed spiral top of a stupa pointing heavenward symbolizing nirvana, the ability to live in a world of changes even of the self and remains at peace.

Wholeness is not coming to term with external reality but the internal world as well, the being and non-being of the self. Chuang Tzu tells a story:

Duke Ai of Lu inquired of Confucius, saying, “In the state of Wey there was an ugly man called nag the Hump. The men who lived with Nag doted on him so much that they could not stand to be away from him. Of the women who had seen him, more than ten petitioned their parents, saying, “I would rather be his concubine than another man’s wife.” He had no accumulated salary whereby he could fill people’s stomachs. Furthermore, he was ugly enough to terrify all under heaven. Yet male and female alike congregated before him. Surely there must have been something that distinguished him from other men.

The comfort of being so connected to even the ugliest of the self brings charm to life and offers a deep sense of liberation because when one can embrace ugly one can’t be destroyed. There is something very therapeutic about being in the presence of someone who can’t be destroyed, someone to whom you can take out your frustration, anger, pain, unresolved issues but this person can’t be destroyed. She still treats you as well as before. It is her ability to embrace your negatives that overtime enables you to embrace your own and move toward becoming more religious. There is when ugly becomes beautiful. My goal in life is to become an ugly therapist and ugly professor.

Perhaps the concept of a religious person according to Chuang Tzu and Carl Jung is best captured by a 16th century Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa:

“On a branch
floating down a river
a cricket, singing.”

The Obstacles

What makes it difficult for us to be at this place? An idea, suggests Chuang Tzu. For him there are no fits or misfits. Everything kind of exists until an idea of “what fits” emerges and along comes misfits.

Chuang Tzu explains that in the world we live in there are many different types of people. People do come in many different shapes and forms. There are short and tall people. There are skinny and big people. There are those with 10 toes and those with 12 toes. There are those with IQ of 80 and those with 120. There are those who are shy and those who are talkative. There are those whose bodies are symmetrical and those who are not. And everybody kind of live in some sort of harmony until one day some one started drawing value-added circles, the circles that define norms, stipulate standards, and articulate criteria. And big people become fat and unhappy and 12 toes are now pathological and 80 IQ feels stupid while the nonsymmetrical are looking down upon as ugly. And young men feel less complete without six pack abs. The belt no longer fits.

This difficulty does not take place only at the individual level but global and epistemological as well.

In The Darker Side of Western Modernity, Walter Mignolo shows the world of multiple cosmologies and languages co-existing prior to the 1500. None more domineering than others. But through Enlightenment and the rise of industrialization came a cosmology, legitimized through knowledge and rationality, claiming universality. Mignolo writes:

After 1500 the world order entered into a process in which polycentrism began to be displaced by an emerging monocentric civilization. Western civilization emerged not just as another civilization in the planetary concert, but as the civilization destined to lead and save the rest of the world from the Devil, from barbarism and primitivism, from underdevelopment, from despotism, and to turn unhappiness into happiness for all and forever.

In the emergence of this monocentric civilization, knowledge plays a very important role in marginalizing all other forms of cosmologies. In The Missing Chapter of Empire, Santiago Castro-Gomez writes:

The co-existence of diverse ways of producing and transmitting knowledge is eliminated because now all forms of human knowledge are ordered on an epistemological scale from the traditional to the modern, from barbarism to civilization, from the community to the individual, from the orient to occident…By way of this strategy, scientific thought positions itself as the only valid form of producing knowledge, and Europe acquires an epistemological hegemony over all the other cultures of the world.

According to Mignolo, the world of multiple cosmologies has been replaced by what Vandana Shiva called “monocultures of the mind” resulting in one supreme universe while all else become inferior and hence we have developing vs developed, third world vs first world, primitive vs civilized nations. Within this monocentric cosmology, there is a close relation between knowledge and economy that has dramatically reprioritized our value system. In “The Birth of Bio-politics” social theorist Thomas Lemke shows how our social world was once divided into various domains such as education, religion, politics, family, social relations, economics etc. However the design of neo-liberal policies has collapsed all these domains into one, which is economics. Referencing Foucault, Lamke writes:

Foucault suggests that the key element in the Chicago School’s approach is their consistent expansion of the economic form to apply to the social sphere, thus eliding any difference between the economy and the social… Here, the economy is no longer one social domain among others with its own intrinsic rationality, laws, and instruments. Instead, the area covered by the economy embraces the entirety of human action.

And now, argues Lamke, all domains of life are defined in terms of cost-effectiveness, productivity and maximization. The self comes to define itself by its entrepreneurial skills. How much can I produce? Values become quantifiable. While I was interviewing local farms in rural Thailand I learned that productivity was initially not a part of their value system. The values they embraced were simplicity, sufficiency, generosity and loyalty. They used to live simple and help one another. Now they compete, taking up loans hoping for big gains, getting into debts due to changes in the market price. Many lost their lands and migrated to city to work as laborers. From freedom to bondage, from respectable members of the society to the stereotype: poor and uneducated. An idea, said Chuang Tzu. In his research of the World Bank’s approach to poverty reduction, Christopher Collins observes that a country is judged on how well it performs strictly by GDP regardless of the social dimensions. It is how much one earns and not how well one lives. Mignolo writes:

In the era of neoliberal globalization it has become one of the main weapons to promote competition, thereby encouraging fast speed and success, consuming the energy of millions of people who live their lives constantly thinking of going faster and getting ahead, to being a winner and to avoiding the shame of being a loser.

It is the idea of ‘what fits,’ Chuang Tzu reminds us, that we need to pay attention to. When a system is designed to make people believe so strongly in an idea, internalized it until it becomes a part of the value system, people no longer have to be forced or coerced into performing the act. It is this technology of the self, according to Foucault, that keeps us in the loop, being obsessed with productivity that feeds into this competitive economic system. At the global level, it has increased the gap between the haves and the have nots. At the intrapsychic level, it has prevented us from embracing ourselves fully. The vulnerable, inferior, weak, negative aspects of the self have to be hidden, suppressed, neglected, ignored for fear that their emergence will deprive us of the opportunity to succeed and be competitive. In trying hard to fit in the ever-changing criteria of competition, we have alienated ourselves from our souls. We have to betray parts of us in exchange for a currency that can buy us a place in the world. For Jung, this cuts to the core of what it means to be whole. It destroys wholeness. So we gained a house and lost a home.

Nouwen writes, “Probably no word better summarizes the suffering of our time than the word ‘homelessness.’”

How can we regain our home?


Bert Lance, budget chief for Jimmy Carter once said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We live in a society that thinks everything is broken and we keep trying to fix them so that they will fit. But, Chuang Tzu reminds us, things already fit. It is the idea of fixing that is unable to fix itself. This reminds me of a statement by Foucault “Psychology can never tell the truth about madness because it is madness that holds the truth of psychology.” Fit, said Chuang Tzu, is an idea. Silence the idea and things fit. And here we turn to the “Butterfly Dream.”

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly. A butterfly flittering fluttering around happily. Suddenly he woke up. But he did not know if he was the butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou or Chuang Chou dreaming he was the butterfly. There is a clear distinction between Chuang Chou and the butterfly. This, said Chuang Tzu, is called transformation of things.

On a night train to northern Thailand, I sat across from two Buddhist monks. During the course of the conversation a Buddhist monk said to me “Dream is a short reality. Reality is a very very long dream.” There is a significant difference between dreams and reality. Chuang Tzu invites us to live between both metaphorical worlds. In The Butterfly as Companion: Meditations on the First Three Chapters of the Chuang Tzu, Kuang Ming Wu suggests that often it is the rigidity of holding on to a certain understanding of reality or being held captive by a certain epistemology that prevents us from creative transformations.

Along the same line, Mignolo suggests the need to work toward pluriversality whereby local communities learn the process of delinking themselves from colonial epistemology. He writes, “Delinking then means to think from the silences and absences produced by imperial modern epistemology and epistemic practices.” Recognizing the reality and benefits of modernity, Mignolo advocates for creating alternatives whereby modernity remains one of the many possible cosmologies.

One of my favorite quotes by J. Krisnamurti states, “In the light of silence all problems are resolved.” The silence is the silencing of constructs and ideas about how things should be. When we silence them, we see things as they are and learn to navigate ourselves. In The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha, Raimundo Panikka described how the Buddha answered the question regarding Absolute Reality with silence. The silence of the question does not imply that silence is his answer. His answer is to silence the question itself. Panikkar writes “What the Buddha requires is a realistic sense of acceptance of reality just as it presents itself, a total confidence in life, in what is given to us, without seeking to replace Reality with our own ideas.” We are invited to “total acceptance of our human condition, of the real contingency in which we find ourselves” because to “thirst is to transgress Reality, to evade the human situation.” The real contingency of ourselves needs to be embraced. This is not about resigning but accepting and transforming. Panikkar concludes that in helping us come to the appreciation of silence “The Buddha smiles!”

Like the phrase written by Dewey Bunnel, “In the dessert you can remember your name,” the place of silence makes it possible for us to hear our voices, recognize our names and explore parts of us that have been buried deep. Those parts of us that are ignored and rejected are places where God is waiting to meet us. I believe these places include other cosmologies, cultures, languages and gender that have suffered marginalization.

Chuang Tzu remind us that we are not broken. We are not a project to be fixed. Resist the discourse that keeps telling us that we are broken. We fit. We are just different and we are heaven’s gifts to earth.


Chuang Tzu tells a story about an ugly tree:

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, “There is a big tree in my yard I named it Shu. It is crooked and bumpy. You can’t even try to measure it. Its branches are all twisted. Leave it by the road, not one carpenter will even consider cutting it down. Your words too are big and useless, rejected by the people.”

Chuang Tzu responded, “You are distressed by this big useless tree. Why not lie down beside it. Sleep under it. Its life will not be shorten by aces. It can’t be harm because if it is useless, it can’t get hurt.” Then Chuang Tzu added, “We all know the use of the useful. But who knows the use of the useless.”

In Christian tradition we have a story of an ugly tree as well. It is the ugliest of the ugliest of trees. It is a useless tree and yet we know the use of this useless tree because under its shade, we are promised deep rest for our weary souls. This rest does not come through stories, analogies or metaphors. This rest comes because a life has been given on the cross to deconstruct lines that marginalize thus making possible the inclusivity of the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the gentiles, the lepers, the outcasts. Through Jesus, the death and resurrection carries a very profound symbolic meaning. The symbolism says, you can kill me and I will be back, you can nail me and I will return, you can bury me and will. E resurrected. Nothing can stop me from loving you. You can’t destroy me. You can’t destroy my love for you. And we keep killing Jesus and he keeps coming back again and again until we realize that all the social conditions we have internalized and introjected no longer bind us. In this liberation we are invited to live completely in this world and to love life in all its polarities. And because we are a part of this ugly tree, we cannot be destroyed. And because we cannot be destroyed, our lives become an invitation to others to be at the place where the God resides.

My dad served as a pastor and an evangelist his entire life and the best of his theology was the last advise for my brother and me two weeks before he passed away. “Sons, don’t take yourself seriously.” One evening my ex and I were reading a book of great quotations. We came across a quotation that reads “You grow up the day you learn to laugh at yourself.” Being a person who makes so many mistakes I thought, here’s my chance to find out about her mistakes. So enthusiastically I asked her “Have you ever laughed at yourself?” Without any hesitation she said, “Yes, at the thought of marrying you.” And she laughed and laughed and laughed. I did not find that amusing initially. But then slowly I came to realize the profoundness of her humor and my mind wonders to Mt. Meru, the stupa at Wat Saket, the mandala, Jung’s union of opposites, Chuang Tzu’s butterfly, Issa’s cricketมand the death and resurrection of Jesus. I have come to see them as invitations to be a religious person. When asked about the nature of reality, the Buddha replied with silence. Then He smiled because his shoe just fit.

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