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Newsletter Number 78 • August 2011

Even though our physical bookstore is closed, we will continue to keep our website up and running. We will also continue our monthly newsletter.

Please help defray the costs of our monthly Newsletter

Contributions of $5.00 or more can be made to

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Thank you for any help in defraying the costs of our Newsletter

Len and Tony

In 1999 when I left the investment banking industry, in which I had been an institutional salesman, at the request of some of my individual clients I began to write a newsletter to keep them up on events at certain companies in which we shared investment interests.

As nature took its course I began to expand those missives to include commentary about politics, Spirituality, Philosophy, and just about anything else that caught my fancy. A few years ago I began to use the title “Observations from The Middle End…” as a title. This was chosen to express my opinion that life, and markets were both non-linear in nature and required “out of the box thinking and approaches to achieve best results.

In a recent missive (July 23, 2011) I covered some ground that was near and dear to my heart and mentioned favorably a number of books which I highly recommend. I have decided to reprint the whole missive in this newsletter.

The books to which I referred include: Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Acceptance of What Is, Never Mind, and Enlightenment Is Not What You Think it Is, all by Wayne Liquorman and all reviewed on this website. I also recommended Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. This is a wonderful new book about TM which was recommended by Tony in our last newsletter. Finally I talked quite a bit about Ramesh Balsekar. I have reviewed a number of his books on this website.

I hope you enjoy my Observations from The Middle End… If any of you would like to be added to my email distribution list (it is free) just send me an email at len@lenopp.com.

Musing # 1267--Middle End Thinking -

“A physicist is just an atom’s way of looking at itself.” Niels Bohr

“Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”
Niels Bohr

“There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” Niels Bohr

“If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation it would appear that God has a special fondness for stars and beetles.” John B. S. Haldane

“It is my supposition that the Universe is not only queerer than we imagine, is queerer than we can imagine.” John B. S. Haldane

“The belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural science. Since, however, sense perception only gives information of this external world or of “physical reality” indirectly, we can only grasp the latter by speculative means. It follows from this that our notion of physical reality can never be final.” Albert Einstein

“Behind the tireless efforts of the investigator there lurks a stronger more mysterious drive: It is existence and reality that one wishes to comprehend.”
Albert Einstein

“Things are not as them seem. Nor are they otherwise.” The Lankavatra Sutra

“I woke up one morning and all of my stuff had been stolen...and replaced by exact duplicates.” Steven Wright

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Albert Einstein (I am surprised that this was not from Yogi Berra.)

“The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn’t.” Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Mankiewicz died in 1993 which puts this into proper context, as from what I have seen very few modern movie scripts make any sense at all.)

“Contrary to the beliefs of the philosophical materialists in our midst, awareness doesn’t reside only in the brain. Awareness abides everywhere.”
Ram Dass

“Information is just bits of data. Knowledge is putting them together. Wisdom is transcending them.” Ram Dass

“We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.” Albert Einstein

“Religions are founded by what mystics say when they come back; but what the mystics say is not the same as what happened to them.” Ram Dass

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative of consciousness.” Max Planck (Physicist considered to be the pioneer of quantum physics.)

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one.” Albert Einstein.

*************************************************************

Saturday July 23, 2011

I went through my files and selected some of my favorite quotes from people or sources I consider to be among the greatest “middle end” thinkers I have encountered. There are a few consistent themes or threads that run among them. The acceptance of paradox and the “unknowability” of ultimate truth are key concepts. In the end, the intellect can take us only so far.

I would sum up my understanding as follows:

The ultimate paradox is that in our day to day activities we live our life in a Newtonian universe, in which time moves in only one direction, and pursuant to which we can usually identify cause and effect. However our essential nature, our transcendent essence or being, exists in a quantum universe in which none of the Newtonian rules apply.

It is quite apparent that wisdom really amounts to enjoying the process of life and accepting who we are and what we can and cannot do.

One of my favorite stories is about an old man and a talking frog. The frog says she has been cursed and tells the old man that if he will kiss the frog it will turn into a beautiful young girl who will love him and warm his bed. The old man ponders and chooses not to kiss, saying: “You know, at my age, I think it might be more interesting to have a talking frog.”

Besides knowing what we can and cannot do, it is equally important to know and accept what we can and cannot know. This concept is brilliantly expressed in the story of a Zen master and his student. The student queries the master and wants to know what happens after death.

His master smiles and says: “I do not know.”

The student responds: “How can that be? You are a Zen Master.”

“Yes” responds the Master, “But I am not a dead Zen Master.”

***********************************************************

From a philosophical point of view I have found the teachings of the Advaita tradition to be most satisfying to my intellect and most productive in helping me to accept my situation in life. I resonate extremely well with the lessons I have learned from Ramesh Balsekar (a prolific author of dozens of excellent books, now deceased, but with whom I was fortunate enough to spend 5 days enjoying satsang in his apartment in Mumbai in 2004.) I have also found the books of his philosophical heir, the sage, Wayne Liquorman, to be most enlightening. Sharing satsang with Wayne has also provided me with great pleasure and a number of insights.

Ramesh emphasized the ultimate paradox. His concept is that there is no such thing as free will. Everything in the universe is determined. As he put it: “The movie has been shot. The film is in the can.” He notes that from our perspective we can view the past, experience the present, but for the most part not gain access to the future segments. Nevertheless, or despite this fact of life, we have no choice but to live our lives as if we do have free will.

Ramesh called this ”The Ultimate Understanding”. I think it is important to note that he did not call this “The Ultimate Truth”. Ramesh made it very clear in his teaching that there is no such thing as truth, just concepts. (He also pointed out that achieving the “ultimate understand” involves more than just the intellect, it has to be experienced on a deeper, more core level.

Ramesh was a very unique man. He grew up in upper middle class family in India. His graduate school training was at the London School of Economics. He became a banker and rose to be President of the Bank of India. He then became a sage, teacher, and a very prolific writer. His keen intellect is, to me, captured by the following statement: “There can never be any experience as such of the Absolute for the simple reason that there cannot possibly be anything objective about the Absolute, which is essentially pure subjectivity.”

**************************************************************

Liquorman has continued down the same path, but being a Westerner, he has tweaked the methodology of the teaching but not the basic message. His emphasis is on “Acceptance of What Is.” He has written three books, each of which I highly recommend. If anyone is interested in following Wayne’s thinking and his current activities he has an excellent website: www.advaita.org . If anyone wants to read my reviews of his three major works and a number of reviews I have written about books by Ramesh these can be accessed from the still alive website associated with the bookstore we closed.

Go to www.21stbooks.com. Also if you want to support this website you can link to Amazon from the website and our former proprietor, Tony Kainauskas will receive a small credit for each sale through this channel.

Neither Ramesh nor Liquorman has any “technique” or practice to recommend. Following in the tradition from Ramesh’s teacher, Nisargadatta, their methodology is to provide “pointers” from which the student may or may not gain some degree of understanding.

The following, from Wayne Liquorman, is, I believe, an excellent summary of the essence of this line of teachers of Advaita:

“I am often asked, “Does everything happen as part of the functioning of Totality or is effort required by the spiritual aspirant?”

Effort by the spiritual aspirant may well be required as part of the functioning of Totality!

As always we must look deeply into the source of the effort. Does the spiritual aspirant have the capacity to author the effort? Or is the spiritual aspirant’s actions and ultimately the spiritual aspirant himself part of a larger functioning?

These are the essential questions raised by the Advaita Teaching. But the Teaching does not truly value the answers. It is the investigation itself which is the heart of the Teaching.

It is for this reason that pure Advaita is without doctrine or precepts. The Teaching is humble. It makes no claims on the Truth. It is simply a collection of pointers, encouraging an investigation that ultimately ends in Nothing...the Nothing which we all truly ARE.”

Thanks to the strong urging of my son Mike, a few years ago I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. This has become my favorite novel of all time. I have no idea from whence Vonnegut got his ideas or conceived of the concepts in this book, but I think the novel incorporates all of the best teachings inherent in “Middle End” or “Advaita” thinking. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has come to be “unstuck in time”. His is transported back and forth to a planet, Tralfamadore, in which the civilization perceives reality as a film that has already been shot. They view the ultimate destruction of their civilization and planet but accept that eventuality with total equanimity. (Until he “gets it” Billy keeps asking his Tralfamadorian hosts why, if they can see ahead and perceive the destruction, don’t they do something to change the outcome?) From the Tralfadorian point of view the question makes no sense at all. After all, “the film has been shot; the movie is in the can.”

This book is very profound and is also hilariously funny. I would urge everyone to read it.

My favorite line from the book is: “Among the things Bill Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”

*****************************************************************

Long before I discovered Ramesh and Advaita, I became a practitioner, then a teacher, of Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought to the West the most powerful and most natural form of meditation on the planet. I was fortunate enough to start TM in 1975. I am celebrating the 36th anniversary of my initiation this summer. I believe that meditation has had an enormously beneficial influence of my life. I consider myself very fortunate to have been destined to meditate for these last 36 years.

TM is enjoying a huge resurgence of interest. David Lynch (renowned producer of movies and TV series) has established The David Lynch Foundation which has been bringing TM to students all over the world. There is an enormous amount of scientific data supporting the healthy effects of TM (reducing the negative influence of stress, lowering blood pressure, increasing happiness etc. etc.)

If anyone wants to learn about TM (which I most highly recommend) Norman E. Rosenthal, M. D. has written an excellent book which is among the best sellers on the non-fiction lists. I have been reading and thoroughly enjoying his book: Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation.

This is very well-written and enjoyable book in which Dr. Rosenthal marries many anecdotal stories along with just enough data from research to produce a book that is both fun to read and highly informative. If you already do TM I think you will enjoy the stories, and if not it may encourage you to start, which I think, would be a very good thing.

What, if anything, does the above have to do with or relate to markets, wealth, and making money?

The answer to that question probably depends on your worldview. If one believes in a universe of infinite correlation, then everything we see, feel, eat, read, experience etc., will affect everything else.

If one believes there is no such thing as free will then it is kind of irrelevant.

If we believe we can control our actions and future results I would say that the one important lesson for traders, speculators, and investors that might be culled from all of the above is that one’s state of mind can certainly affect one’s ability to make better decisions. The greatest mistake that market participants make over and over again is a failure to recognize mistakes, and sell losers. Many market participants need to learn to let go of the past and move on to the next trade, speculation, or investment.

Another possible benefit from absorbing the concepts mentioned above may be that the individual can develop greater patience. The following is excellent advice from Warren Buffet:

“In this game the market has to keep pitching, but you don’t have to swing. You can stand there with the bat on your shoulder for six months until you get a fat pitch.”

As I have noted in these musings over the last four or five months, this is a very difficult environment in which to make money. I see no hanging curveballs.

Finally, it is important to note that attitude is everything. As the late movie producer Mike Todd put it:

“I have never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation.”

*********************************

Len

Finally published

In this long-awaited book—more than 40 years in the making—we join Dr. Vernon Katz as he sits by Maharishi’s side and we listen in on these exhilarating conversations about the highest potential of human life.

The majestic panoramas of Lake Tahoe in California and the Kashmir Valley in the Himalayas provided the ideal settings for these conversations. It was there in 1968 and 1969 that Maharishi began his as-yet-unpublished commentary on the Brahma Sutra, a key text of the timeless wisdom of Vedanta. The penetrating questions asked by Dr. Katz inspired deep insights from Maharishi on the nature and development of higher states of consciousness. Through Maharishi’s words, the ultimate reality of life becomes meaningful and practical for people living today: anyone can awaken the wholeness of consciousness within. These conversations are suffused with bliss and serve as a tribute to Maharishi’s legacy of knowledge for full development of the human heart and mind.

About the Author

Vernon Katz is a trustee and a visiting professor at Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.A. He earned a first class honors degree and a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University. His thesis on Indian philosophy was supervised by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the eminent philosopher who became India’s second president.

Vernon’s work with Maharishi on the Vedic literature began in 1962, when Maharishi invited him to assist with translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. Maharishi’s insights into Vedic knowledge and its practical application for human life will be upheld and will benefit life for millennia to come. The conversations in this book give the reader a glimpse into a precious phase in the emergence of Maharishi’s knowledge.

http://www.mumpress.com/books/other-authors/f06.html

For the summer I offer our favorite fiction titles

I am choosing titles that both Len and I both enjoyed, so the titles should be enjoyed by readers of many tastes

Slight descriptions follow... see our website for full reviews.

Slaughterhouse-Five or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death
Kurt Vonnegut

I suspect that out of the many of my generation who experienced this novel in the 60’s and 70’s a few were stirred by its message to take the first steps towards the all encompassing void. And now, dear reader, if you have yet to read this book the time is now ripe for you to enjoy it.

Martin Eden by Jack London

This is one of my favorite novels. If you are an aspiring writer or just a lover of good quality fiction you do not want to miss this one.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

This is a novel that I rank with Shogun, as a masterpiece delving into a fascinating culture in a way not previously accomplished. Shantaram is a blockbuster first novel by Gregory David Roberts.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I found this book difficult to put down while reading it, and impossible to forget when done. It is an emotional tale that will sway your feelings about family, friendship and honor. The psychological portraits of father, son, and friend are insightfully drawn and emotionally provocative. It is a story about a country and culture in transition: Afghanistan before and after the monarchy. Do I need to add that it is well written?

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

If you like fiction that is soft as summer evening rain, you will enjoy this story. It is truly an artful piece of work by a master story teller. What the writer has accomplished does not register fully till the last joyous paragraph is read and some time has elapsed. Norwegian Wood has sold millions of copies in Japan.

Eleven Minutes
Paulo Coelho

A novel by Paulo Coelho (author of The Alchemist) has been translated from Portuguese, and according to the blurb on the cover is “a gripping exploration of the potentially sacred nature of sex within the context of love.” I found this book to be both enthralling and intriguing. It has a fairy tale feeling about it, and is the story of a young girl from a Brazilian village who learns about love and life through her adventures as a prostitute in Switzerland. The book claims to be a fictionalized version of a true life story. Certainly this is “X-Rated” but it transcends sex and I found it to be very moving and transcendental in its views and experiences about love, life, and pain. This book is one of those hidden treasures that one feels privileged to have discovered and enjoyed.

Monk Downstairs
Tim Farrington

A touching little “feel-good” novel that I think almost everyone would enjoy. The novel is well-crafted, and the characters are interesting and worth getting to know. It is about a very interesting relationship between a single mother and the gentleman who has just left a monastery to move in and rent her in-law apartment in the Sunset District of San Francisco. This book is a real charmer and both Dena and I really enjoyed it.

Monk Upstairs by Tim Farrington

Sequels are usually inferior affairs, some just a rush to cash in on the success of the original. The Monk Upstairs is not one of them. The sequel to The Monk Downstairs is equal to or better than the original. The is the story of a man who leaves the silence of a Catholic Monastery after 20 years to try to adapt to life in the secular world. The novel has beauty , spiritual depth and much humor. It will make you laugh as well as touch your heart deeply. After falling in love with his landlady in the original book, the sequel takes us to the bumpy road of marriage and of trying to reconcile a former life of prayer with complete focus on God to now a life of marital problems as well as physical joys.

The characters are totally real and they soon become a loved family to the reader. The emotional richness of this book will leave you wanting a sequel to the sequel.

White Tiger
Aravind Adiga

A brutally satirical look at the country of India, similar in feel to Shantaram and Holy Cow, yet unique in its own way.

This is the story of a man born in the dark (poor rural India) and reaching the light (Delhi). The book grabs you from the beginning and when you are done you feel that the author has created an almost perfect novel.

Written as a letter to the Chinese premier—the author explains and dissects India in a way that is hilariously funny and deeply poignant.

The main character finds his way out of the darkness of his rural corrupt village to the light of Delhi by becoming a driver for a wealthy Indian. But he finds that corruption does not begin and end in the small villages of rural India, but expands and grows in the rich suburbs of Delhi.

This is a classic book, dealing with the weight of materialism, the liberation of spirituality, and of one man’s breaking free of “the chicken coop”.

For those who have experienced India first hand this book will ring true… for those yet to go, this novel will peel away the illusions that one may have of this deeply spiritual yet also deeply corrupt country.

Enlightenment for Idiots
Anne Cushman

One reviewer compared this title to a hybrid of Eat, Pray and Love and Sex in the City.

This is a truly funny novel—filled with thinly disguised, easily recognizable gurus and eastern spirituality inside jokes.

More than that, the writing is also very good. So, while it is very funny, it also is very tender. It is an insightful book on human relationships as well as a true and vivid portrayal of modern day India.

The History of Love
Nicole Krauss

One of the most unique and enjoyable novels I have read in the last few months. I give the author credit for having an incredible imagination in devising a very unique plot and then doing a fantastic job of writing to bring to life a cast of very compelling characters from different countries, cultures, and ages,

The book is really quite unique. The author has great talent. The book contains humor, pathos, and everything else that makes novels worth reading. One of the reviewers I read basically caught the essence of this book in a single word, “captivating”.

The characters in this book range from old men born in Poland before WWII to a young brother and sister living in New York. I found each character fascinating and the weaving together of the story is qualified as a “tour de force”.

This is the kind of book I would never have looked at, let alone read, were it not for Tony’s assistance. Tony remains an incredible resource and I urge our local customers to allow him to make suggestions and our out of town customers to give him an occasional call to see what he is reading and recommending.

Is fate or choice the greater?

If I believe in one is my suffering lessened?

A click of the wheel: time and place change

There is silence … I feel centered

A dead end street…

take it... yes or no?

 the choice is quick

I skate free one moment

then I am on my back and even the grass feels hard

A hip broken in 3 places

One click of time and all changes

1 minute later/earlier or a different decision.

A different fate?

If only...

You know the madness this game creates.

I am allowed to accept or to suffer

There is no judging of this

the pain is in me and on me yet I can feel separate

There is no right or wrong

Life is… Just is.

I can take all as a gift of wonder
or pick and choose

Throwing unwanted parts into a junk pile

with anger.

Fate or choice ?

The way we think it should be and the way it truly is

Acceptance or suffering?

Is it truly our choice?

Peace is but a brief interlude

War the constant

A war not winnable

endless

Unless the surrender is total & unconditional

Tony

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