Hatred is Poison

I have great appreciation for the Buddhist concept of the “three poisons” or “unwholesome roots”:
•     greed (attachment, desire, sensuality),
•     hatred (aversion, anger, ill will),
•     delusion (confusion, ignorance).
The poisons represent the root causes of suffering, the “craving and clinging” in the second Noble Truth. We encourage suffering when we act with greed, hatred or delusion. We encourage happiness when we act with generosity, loving-kindness or wisdom.

During the 2016 election, I was disappointed with the overt expressions of the poisons, particularly hatred. Things such as appeals to mistrust and hatred of immigrants, and characterizing opponent’s supporters as deplorable. The candidates did not seem to be acting in the best interests of themselves or the country.

I thought about how I might influence this situation. Eventually I put up a “Hatred is Poison” webpage and a Zazzle store and moved on to other things. Predictably, the effects of my work reflected the small amount of effort I put into promoting it. Much public discussion still reflects greed, hatred and delusion. Both sides of American politics still appeal to the poisons. Both sides are still failing.

So here in February 2018 I’m doing a reboot at this neglected blog. Some reflections and quotes. Comments & contributions welcome.

this thing called hatred

The word hatred can have a range of meanings:
from an exaggerated dislike or preference (“I hate washing the dishes”),
to an all-consuming obsession  (“I hate them – I want them dead!”).

Hatred is an extreme expression of aversion. We don’t just ignore, avoid, disfavor, dislike, abhor or detest something, we HATE it!

All hatred has negative consequences. Inside the mind, hatred colors our attitude towards life, emphasizing the unsatisfactory and encouraging a general unhappiness. Outside, when we speak or act from hatred we must contend with how other people react.

Even if the situation isn’t serious, the strength of our reaction can foster suffering: if you really HATE washing the dishes, you will suffer while washing the dishes; without the hatred, washing the dishes can just be washing the dishes.

Anger is a related but more inescapable part of life. Anger is an emotion that comes and goes. It is often expressed as an immediate reaction that soon cools. It can get us into trouble, particularly when the mind turns a brief angry reaction into ongoing hatred or belligerence. However, anger can sometimes have apparently positive effects, encouraging the effort needed to resolve a problem.

Hatred can be a holding onto anger.
Hatred can be a continuing force that fuels a smoldering anger.
Hatred can amplify angry reactions: an attitude of hatred can turn a minor affront into an infuriating offense.

Anger is related to fear. Fear is related to flight, anger is related to fight. When we are truly confronted with danger, then anger or fear (fight or flight) are appropriate responses. But it is hard to realistically evaluate danger, particularly in a complex culture where descriptions of dangerous things are used to entertain and persuade. It is easy to get drawn into fear and anger  by exaggerations of danger.

But there is a possibility of change:
Less fear leads to less anger
Less anger leads to less hatred
Less hatred leads to less suffering
Less suffering leads to less fear

classic quotes

Give up anger, abandon fury,
do not be vexed;
it can only do harm.
— David (Psalms 37)

An angry person is ugly and sleeps poorly.
Gaining a profit, he turns it into a loss,
having done damage with word and deed.
A person overwhelmed with anger destroys his wealth.
Maddened with anger, he destroys his status.
Relatives, friends, and colleagues avoid him.
Anger brings loss.
Anger inflames the mind.
He doesn’t realize that his danger is born from within.
An angry person doesn’t know his own benefit.
— Buddha (Kodhana Sutta)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
— Jesus (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV)

In this world
hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
ancient and inexhaustible.
— Buddha (The Dhammapada, rendered by Thomas Byrom)

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
— John the Evangelist (1 John 2:11 ESV)

By doing this [becoming angry] you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.
— Buddhaghosa (Visuddhimagga)

When someone criticizes or disagrees with you, a small ant of hatred and antagonism is born in your heart. If you do not squash that ant at once, it might grow into a snake, or even a dragon.
— Jalaluddin al-Rumi (Mathnavi)

contemporary quotes

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
— Martin Luther King Jr  (Strength to Love)

Darkness can only be scattered by light, hatred can only be conquered by love.
— Pope John Paul II   (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, January 2002)

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.
— Gandhi (The Story of My Experiments with Truth)

… there are many different kinds of afflictive or negative emotions, such as conceit, arrogance, jealousy, desire, lust, closed-mindedness, and so on. But out of all these, hatred and anger are considered to be the greatest evils because they are the greatest obstacles to developing compassion and altruism, and they destroy one’s virtue and calmness of mind.
— The Dalai Lama   (The Art of Happiness)

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
— Martin Luther King Jr (Montgomery Alabama, 1956)

To be angry is to let others’ mistakes punish yourself.
To forgive others is to be good to yourself.
— Cheng Yen  (Buddhist Quotations on Aversion, Anger and Hatred)

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
— from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition (fakebuddhaquotes)

No Scientific Christian ever considers hatred or execration to be “justifiable” in any circumstances, but whatever your opinion about that might be, there is no question about its practical consequences to you. You might as well swallow a dose of Prussic acid in two gulps, and think to protect yourself by saying, “This one is for Robespierre; and this one for the Bristol murderer” [who had previously been cited as objects of hatred]. You will hardly have any doubt as to who will receive the benefit of the poison.
— Emmet Fox (The Sermon on the Mount)

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.
Yoda (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace)



by Marvin Gaye

Anger, can make you old, yes it can
I said anger will make you sick, children
Anger destroys your soul

video   itunes

Hatred is Poison
by Zema

Hatred is poison
it will eat you alive
Hatred is poison
make you die from inside

video   itunes


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Dhammapada Songs: Liner notes

from rick ferriss

Back in 2010, I decided to write some songs based on the Dhammapada, an ancient collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha.

An illustrated version of the Dhammapada by Thomas Byrom was one of the first Buddhist books I owned, and when a friend suggested that I write something based on the Pali canon, I immediately thought of it. In particular I thought of the very beginning of the first chapter: “We are what we think” became the first line of the first song.

My songwriting process involved reading, contemplating, writing, and editing. There are many versions of the Dhammapada, but I concentrated my reading on two of them: the poetical Byrom rendering I was familiar with, and the more literal translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita. I tried to perceive a common ground within the two versions, and then to translate my understanding into singable lyrics that express the ideas using the language and features of our modern culture.

I think of the songs as relatives of the Dhammapada, rather than alternate translations. They are of the same family as the translations, but have different backgrounds (some closer than others).

In 2010 I released Dhammapada Songs, a CD with 5 tracks of two songs based on the Dhammapada: “We Are What We Think”, and “Thousands”. In 2017, I finished a third song, “Your Work”, and released a 3-song collection, titled Dhammapada Songs #2, that also includes another version of “We Are What We Think”, and an extended remix of “Thousands” that Bill Dudley created from the original recordings.

In the three posts that follow these comments and links, the lyrics for each song are compared with short passages from the Byrom and Buddharakkhita Dhammapadas:
Chapter 1 (We are what we think)
Chapter 8 (Thousands)
Chapter 12 (Your Work)

The Dhammapada:

The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom.
Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita.
Buddhist Publication Society, 1985.
Buying links at goodreads
Read online at Access to Insight
Free dowloads at Reading Faithfully

The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha.
Rendered by Thomas Byrom.
Various editions, 1976
Buying links at goodreads
Free dowload of pdf

Michael P. Garofalo’s Dhammapada Sutta page has links to many translations and commentaries.

Dhammapada Songs

free streaming and free good-quality mp3 downloads:
free streaming and paid high-quality downloads in MP3, FLAC and more at Bandcamp:
Dhammapada Songs
Dhammapada Songs #2

youtube video for “We are what we think”.


  Dhammapada chapter 1: parallel texts

Lyrics for “We Are What We Think” compared with literal and poetical translations of the Dhammapada.

more info is at Dhammapada Songs: Liner Notes.

The Dhammapada, translated
by Acharya Buddharakkhita, 1985.
(read at Access to Insight)
The Dhammapada, rendered
by Thomas Byrom, 1976.
(read online)
Dhammapada Songs #2,
by R Ferriss, 2017.
(read/listen at Bandcamp)
1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts, suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

2. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

3. “He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

4. “He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.

“Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.

“Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.

This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

We Are What We Think
We are what we think
Our thoughts create our worlds
Speak impurely, act impurely,
and trouble is part of you, like the wheels on a car.

We are what we think
Our thoughts create our worlds
Speak purely, act purely,
and happiness follows you like a shadow.

Hatred has never been ended by hatred
Hatred can only be ended by love

She abused me, she defeated me, he robbed me, he beat me,
dwell on such thoughts and be imprisoned by hatred.

He abused me, he defeated me, she robbed me, she beat me,
abandon such thoughts and be rescued by love.

Hatred has never been ended by hatred
Hatred can only be ended by love  …

Now and forever this will be and was

  Dhammapada chapter 8: parallel texts

Lyrics for “Thousands” compared with literal and poetical translations of the Dhammapada.

more info is at Dhammapada Songs: Liner Notes.

The Dhammapada, translated
by Acharya Buddharakkhita, 1985.
(read at Access to Insight)
The Dhammapada,
rendered by Thomas Byrom, 1976.
(read online)
Dhammapada Songs #2,
by R Ferriss, 2017.
(read/listen at Bandcamp)
100. Better than a thousand useless words is one useful word, hearing which one attains peace.

101. Better than a thousand useless verses is one useful verse, hearing which one attains peace.

102. Better than reciting a hundred meaningless verses is the reciting of one verse of Dhamma, hearing which one attains peace.

103. Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.

104-105. Self-conquest is far better than the conquest of others. Not even a god, an angel, Mara or Brahma can turn into defeat the victory of a person who is self-subdued and ever restrained in conduct.

106. Though month after month for a hundred years one should offer sacrifices by the thousands, yet if only for a moment one should worship those of perfected minds that honor is indeed better than a century of sacrifice.

107. Though for a hundred years one should tend the sacrificial fire in the forest, yet if only for a moment one should worship those of perfected minds, that worship is indeed better than a century of sacrifice.

108. Whatever gifts and oblations one seeking merit might offer in this world for a whole year, all that is not worth one fourth of the merit gained by revering the Upright Ones, which is truly excellent.

109. To one ever eager to revere and serve the elders, these four blessing accrue: long life and beauty, happiness and power.

110. Better it is to live one day virtuous and meditative than to live a hundred years immoral and uncontrolled.

111. Better it is to live one day wise and meditative than to live a hundred years foolish and uncontrolled.

112. Better it is to live one day strenuous and resolute than to live a hundred years sluggish and dissipated.

113. Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things.

114. Better it is to live one day seeing the Deathless than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the Deathless.

115. Better it is to live one day seeing the Supreme Truth than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the Supreme Truth.

Better than a thousand hollow words
Is one word that brings peace.Better than a thousand hollow verses
Is one verse that brings peace.Better than a hundred hollow lines
Is one line of the dharma, bringing peace.It is better to conquer yourself
Than to win a thousand battles.

Then the victory is yours.
It cannot be taken from you,
Not by angels or by demons,
Heaven or hell.

Better than a hundred years of worship,
Better than a thousand offerings,
Better than giving up a thousand worldly ways
In order to win merit,
Better even than tending in the forest
A sacred flame for a hundred years –
Is one moment’s reverence
For the man who has conquered himself.

To revere such a man,
A master old in virtue and holiness,
Is to have victory over life itself,
And beauty, strength and happiness.

Better than a hundred years of mischief
Is one day spent in contemplation.

Better than a hundred years of ignorance
Is one day spent in reflection.

Better than a hundred years of idleness
Is one day spent in determination.

Better to live one day
How all things arise and pass away.

Better to live one hour
The one life beyond the way.

Better to live one moment
In the moment
Of the way beyond the way.

Better than a thousand words
of gossip or idle or hurtful speech
is a single word that leads into peace.A poem of a thousand lines
that leads into slumber and fantasy
is not as good as a single line that leads into peace.A warrior who conquers a thousand foe,
on every day of a thousand battles,
does not win a contest so great as the one in ourselves.To conquer your self is the toughest fight,
with a victory greater than all other victories,
and a prize that no person or demon or god can destroy.

Better than a hundred years
of hatred and greed and delusion
is but a single day of awakening

Better than a hundred years
of suffering and pain and confusion
is but a single day of awakening

And better than a thousand words
of gossip or idle or hurtful speech
is a single word that leads into peace.

  Dhammapada chapter 12: parallel texts

Lyrics for “Your Work” compared with literal and poetical translations of the Dhammapada.

more info is at Dhammapada Songs: Liner Notes.

The Dhammapada, translated
by Acharya Buddharakkhita, 1985.
(read at Access to Insight)
The Dhammapada,
rendered by Thomas Byrom, 1976.
(read online)
Dhammapada Songs #2,
by R Ferriss, 2017.
(read/listen at Bandcamp)
157. If one holds oneself dear, one should diligently watch oneself. Let the wise man keep vigil during any of the three watches of the night.

158. One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others. Thus the wise man will not be reproached.

159. One should do what one teaches others to do; if one would train others, one should be well controlled oneself. Difficult, indeed, is self-control.

160. One truly is the protector of oneself; who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled, one gains a mastery that is hard to gain.

161. The evil a witless man does by himself, born of himself and produced by himself, grinds him as a diamond grinds a hard gem.

162. Just as a single creeper strangles the tree on which it grows, even so, a man who is exceedingly depraved harms himself as only an enemy might wish.

163. Easy to do are things that are bad and harmful to oneself. But exceedingly difficult to do are things that are good and beneficial.

164. Whoever, on account of perverted views, scorns the Teaching of the Perfected Ones, the Noble and Righteous Ones — that fool, like the bamboo, produces fruits only for self destruction.

165. By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another.

166. Let one not neglect one’s own welfare for the sake of another, however great. Clearly understanding one’s own welfare, let one be intent upon the good.

Love yourself and watch –
Today, tomorrow, always.

First establish yourself in the way,
Then teach,
And so defeat sorrow.

To straighten the crooked
You must first do a harder thing –
Straighten yourself.

You are your only master.
Who else?
Subdue yourself,
And discover your master.

Willfully you have fed
Your own mischief.
Soon it will crush you
As the diamond crushes stone.

By your own folly
You will be brought as low
As you worst enemy wishes.
So the creeper chokes the tree.

How hard it is to serve yourself,
How easy to lose yourself
In mischief and folly.

The kashta reed dies when it bears fruit.
So the fool,
Scorning the teachings of the awakened,
Spurning those who follow the dharma,
Perishes when his folly flowers.

Mischief is yours.
Sorrow is yours.
But virtue is also yours,
And purity.

You are the source
Of all purity and impurity.

No one purifies another.

Never neglect your work
For another’s,
However great his need.

Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.

Your Work
Your work is to find your work
and then to do your work
with all your heart.

Your work is no one else’s work
you may not end your work
but you can start it.

Sorrow lives within you.
Stumble into mischief
and suffering surrounds you like a choking vine.

But happiness is in there too.
Watch and learn and work and grow
light the darkness even in the darkest time.

Love yourself like nobody else can love you
Watch yourself like no one else can do
Defeat yourself and meet the master of you
Free yourself

Coal as a Soil Amendment

I wrote this research proposal back in 1990, when I was an Associate Professor in the University of Kentucky Department of Plant Pathology. It was time to renew my Hatch Project – a research professor’s official rationale for federal funding in colleges of agriculture. For some time, I had contemplated leaving my position at UK. And since I expected that I would never have to actually undertake the proposed research, I was free to think outside the usual boxes.

I thought about how bringing diverse fields of knowledge together often produces unexpected results. Coal as a soil amendment came to mind. One of my specialties was soil-borne plant pathogens and soil microbiology, and Kentucky is a major coal-producing state. UK had recognized specialists in coal chemistry, and there was active agricultural research on reclamation of mined lands. I did some preliminary tests, got some interesting results, and went ahead with a proposal that centered on use of coal as a soil amendment. A possibly counter-intuitive combination that had some clear underlying rationales.

So I went ahead and developed a proposal. I thought that even if I left UK, the proposal might get distributed and somehow influence someone. In 1991 I left behind the concerns of an academic job. Recently I thought about the old proposal. It does not seem to be online, and there does not seem to have been a great flowering of coal-amendment research recently. So, in the public interest, back from the grave, here is the text of a draft from 1990.  – rf


Use of Coal in the Control of Soilborne Plant Diseases
A preliminary research proposal  – May 11, 1990
R.S. Ferriss, University of Kentucky Department of Plant Pathology

Coal is an abundant and relatively inexpensive resource.  There has been a limited amount of research on the use of coal (primarily lignite) as a soil amendment or potting mix component.  Results of this research have been mixed: some reports have described increased plant growth due to alteration of soil temperature or other, unknown factors; while other reports have indicated that any plant growth increases can be explained by the content of plant nutrients in coal.  In most of this work, few details have been provided about the type of coal that was used.  The only reported uses of coal that are related to plant pathogens have involved the use of coal as a carrier for biological control organisms.  Diseases caused by soilborne pathogens are limiting factors in the production of many crops.  Although control by pesticides is feasible in some production situations, their use has been limited by environmental considerations and the evolution of fungicide-tolerant pathogen biotypes.  A number of soilborne diseases can be controlled by the use of organic amendments.  In recent years, most amendment-related research has centered on disease-suppressive composts.  Suppressiveness appears to be related to anti-fungal toxins, antagonistic microorganisms in the compost, and/or the fostering of antagonistic soil microorganisms by compost amendment.  Coal is chemically similar to highly-decomposed soil organic matter (humic acids), and creosote, a coal decomposition product, has long been used as an anti-fungal treatment for wood.  Sulfur, which is present in relatively high concentrations in some coals, is among the oldest fungicides, and is frequently used agriculturally to reduce soil pH.

The proposed research would investigate the use of coal as a soil amendment for the control of plant diseases.  Since coals vary greatly in chemical composition, tests would include a number of well-characterized coals of contrasting types.  Since particle size affects surface area, and thus chemical and physical properties, a number of coal particle sizes would also be evaluated.  Initial experiments would involve the amendment of soils that are naturally-infested with common soilborne fungal pathogens, such as Theilaviopsis basicola, Phytophthora parasitica var. nicotiana, or Rhizoctonia solani.  Populations of the pathogen and other soil microorganisms would be monitored over time, and plants would be grown to evaluate coal toxicity and effects on disease.  If initial greenhouse and growth chamber experiments indicate that coal might be of use in pathogen control, further work would evaluate effects in the field, and attempt to identify coal characteristics that are associated with disease control.

Previous Research
The use of coal and coal-based products in agriculture and horticulture has received sporadic research attention in various parts of the world.  This research can be broadly classified into four areas according to the intended commercial use:  lignite as a potting-mix component, coal as a soil amendment, coal as a mulch, and coal as a carrier for microorganisms.  The following review is based on the English language literature; a good deal of additional work has been published in Polish, Hungarian and Russian.

Lignite as a Potting-Mix Component
Media used for container production of plants are usually composed of a primary, light-weight material of high water-holding and cation exchange capacities, along with other materials that improve wettability, alter bulk density, and/or add nutrients.  Sphagnum peat is the standard primary component in much of the world; however, considerations of cost and availability have led to the use of a number of other materials, including tree barks, composts, and lignite.  Beardsell and coworkers (1979, 1982) found that lignite is difficult to wet after drying (apparently due to shrinkage), but that pinebark-lignite potting mixes have good water relations if they are not allowed to dry out.  Richards and coworkers (1986) found that addition of 20 % lignite to pine bark-sand potting mixes increased the total water holding capacity, but did not increase the amount of water available to plants.  They took these results to indicate that “brown coal is a highly porous medium and that adsorbed water is held under high tension upon, and/or within the brown coal particles”.  They also found that addition of lignite increased plant growth, and speculated that this effect was probably due to its high cation exchange capacity causing greater retention of nutrients.

Coal as a Soil Amendment
Research on amendment of soil with coals has concentrated on the use of coal-derived “humic fertilizers” or soil conditioners, and the use of lignite to increase the organic matter content of soils.  In a series of experiments, Kozhekov and coworkers (1968) studied the effects on plant growth of ‘oxidized coal’, ammonified coal, and coal treated with ammonia and superphosphate (‘humophos’).  In general, they concluded that plant growth increases were similar to those produced by fertilizers containing an equivalent amount of primary plant nutrients.  However, they noted that low rates (about 500 kg/ha) of humophos sometimes increased yield more than equivalent fertilizer, and that this material might have a longer residual effectiveness than inorganic fertilizers.  They also noted that some reports of increased plant growth with humophos might be due to soil temperature increases associated with a mulching effect, and that there still were questions about reported growth increases with small amounts of humic acids.  In response to claims that coal treated with ammonia could act as a slow-release fertilizer, Berkowitz and coworkers (1970) tested the effects of different nitrogen-treated coals on plant growth and nitrogen uptake.  They found the nitrogen-treated coals to be “agrobiologically inert”.  In pot experiments with barley seedlings, Cairns and Moschopedis (1971) found that a low grade, weathered, sub-bituminous coal and a sulfomethylated derivative increased plant growth and nutrient contents similarly to an equivalent amount of ammonium nitrate.  Dzhanpeisov and coworkers (1984) reported that coal-derived soil conditioners could greatly increase the amount of water-stable aggregates in a coarse-textured, structureless soil.  El-Abedine and Hony (1982) added lignite to Egyptian soils.  Microscopic examination indicated some physical breakdown and fraying of the lignite particles with time — possibly indicating the results of microbial activity.  The lignite increased the cation exchange capacity and rate of water infiltration of the soil.  Plant yield increases appeared to be due to nutrients in the lignite.  In a cursory overview of Hungarian research, Gati (1982) reported vague beneficial effects of amendment of sandy soils with peat-lignite mixtures.  He reported the novel use of a relatively deep ‘blanket layer’ of amendment to improve interception of leachable materials.  Iswaram and coworkers (1980) placed 0.5 g of peat, charcoal or ‘coal’ in a planting hole in soil along with a pea, soybean or mung bean seed.  All of the materials increased plant growth, with the effect being greatest for coal combined with Rhizobium inoculation.  There have been a number of reports on the effects of charcoal on plant growth and nodulation by Rhizobium.  For example, Vantsis and Bond (1950) reported increases in plant growth and nodulation with charcoal added to sand, and speculated that the effect was due to adsorption of toxins.  Conversely, Devonald (1982) found no increases in growth or nodulation when charcoal was added to potting mixes, and speculated that the peat in the mixes was sufficient to adsorb any toxins that were present.  The adsorptive ability of activated charcoal has resulted in a large number of investigations of its use as a herbicide safener (Hoagland, 1989).

Coal as a Mulch
In one of the most detailed investigations of soil-coal interactions, Fairbourn (1974) reported on the effects of a surface layer of 1-3 cm-diameter pieces of ‘stoker coal’.  A 2.5 cm-deep coal layer was applied between rows, with 10 cm strips left bare for crop rows.  The coal mulch increased soil water storage, early-season soil temperatures, and growth of corn, sorghum, and soybeans.  The coal pieces rapidly weathered to smaller particles and became integrated into the soil.  In contrast to the fractured, cracked crust of the bare soil treatment, the coal treatment had a “very friable” surface structure that facilitated planting.  The coal-soil surface layer had reduced water retention, and thus an increased water infiltration rate and wetting depth.  The coal mulch increased soil temperatures at 15 cm by approximately 2 C.  Separate experiments indicated that plant growth increases were due to this increased soil temperature, rather than soil fertility or light effects.  Sharratt and Glenn (1986) applied a slurry containing coal dust to the surface of a West Virginia peach orchard at a rate of 18 Mg coal/ha.  The coal mulch increased night-time soil temperatures by approximately 2 C, and increased bud temperature 0.5 C during radiative frost conditions.

Coal as a Carrier for Microorganisms
Lignite has been widely used as a carrier for applying Rhizobium inoculum to seeds (Tilak and Subba Rao, 1978).  Jones and coworkers (1984) used stillage (a grain-alcohol byproduct) absorbed on lignite as a substrate for growth of two biological-control fungi, Gliocladium virens and Trichoderma harzianum.  Although the substrate without antagonists increased disease due to Rhizoctonia solani, substrate colonized by G. virens reduced disease.  Harman and Taylor compared lignite, a bituminous coal, and sphagnum peat as media for the solid matrix priming (pre-planting incubation at sub-germination water potentials) of seeds in combination with bacterial and fungal biocontrol agents.  The bacterial antagonist gave best control of damping-off when mixed with bituminous coal, while the fungus gave best control when mixed with lignite.  The authors ascribed the differences to a pH effect, and commented that the peat was difficult to work with in this application.

Rationale for Further Research
The previous research on uses of coals and coal-related materials in plant production indicates that some commercial applications may be feasible, and there is limited commercial use of coal as a soil amendment in the US (Anonymous, 1985).  However, many questions remain about the actual reasons why application of coals to soils might be desirable.  If their use were based only on their limited content of plant nutrients, it is unlikely that coals could be an economically viable alternative to more traditional fertilizers.  However, consideration of documented and possible theoretical interactions of coals with soils indicates that there may be a number of additional commercial applications.  Two potential uses are considered below: use of high-sulfur coals to reduce soil pH, and use of coals in the control of soilborne plant diseases.

Soil pH has a substantial effect on the availability of soil nutrients, and thus on plant growth (Rowell, 1988).  In most agricultural situations, soil pH is below the optimum for growth of most crop plants, and thus it is desirable for it to be raised by the application of lime.  However, there are a number of situations where soil pH is higher than optimum, and there is thus a need to lower it.  One example is related to the growth of trees in urban environments (Messenger, 1983; Ware, 1990).  Many commonly planted tree species are native to forest environments where soils have a relatively high content of soil organic matter, and a relatively low pH.  Although urban soils may have an initially favorable pH, runoff from concrete surfaces increases pH, and can result in deficiencies in nutrients such as iron and manganese.  Use of sulfuric acid, elemental sulfur, or sulfate salts to raise pH can present problems of plant toxicity.  Sulfuric acid is produced from high sulfur coal when it is incubated in soil (Harrison, 1978).  Mulches of high sulfur coal might provide a buffered, slow-release source of sulfuric acid for soil acidification.  Another example is calcareous soils.  The high pH of these soils necessitates foliar application of many plant nutrients, and their low exchange capacity fosters the rapid leaching of nutrients.  Amendment with high sulfur coal might provide a way to lower the soil pH and add exchange capacity.  High pH favors bacterial activity, and thus hastens the decomposition of most applied organic amendments.  However, since coal is chemically similar to highly-decomposed soil organic matter (humic acids), it might provide a relatively long-lasting effect.  Additionally, high sulfur coal is a major world resource of sulfur, and could be used to supply this nutrient to sulfur-deficient soils (Kanwar, and Mudahar, 1986).

Soilborne plant pathogens are important limiting factors in the production of many crops.  Prominent examples in Kentucky include black shank of tobacco (caused by Phytophthora parasitica var nicotiana), and black root rot of a number of crops (caused by Theilaviopsis basicola).  Additionally, many crops are affected by sub-clinical pathogens, which can reduce yield without producing recognizable above-ground symptoms (Suslow and Schroth, 1982; Lynch, 1983).  Although pesticides are used commercially to control some soilborne pathogens, their future widespread use is made questionable by their cost, environmental concerns, the evolution of resistant pathogens, and their inactivation by interactions with soil clay and organic matter.  In recent years, there has been considerable interest in the biological control of soilborne pathogens (Cook and Baker, 1983).  Control by the addition of specific antagonists and through the use of organic soil amendments have both received widespread attention.  Although the specific characteristics of most amendments which promote control are unclear, some progress has been made in work on disease-suppressive composts (Hoitink and Fahy, 1986).  This work has identified three primary factors: the presence of organic compounds toxic to pathogens, the presence of antagonistic microorganisms in the amendment, and the fostering of antagonistic microorganisms after the amendment is added to soil.  Coals have both similarities to and differences with traditional organic amendments.  On the one hand, the basic composition of coal is very similar to that of highly decomposed soil organic matter (Waksman, 1938; Tate, 1987).  On the other hand, coal contains little readily metabolizable material, and may contain additional components which are toxic to organisms (Gormley et al, 1980).  Additionally, industrial processing of coal can produce other compounds with high toxicity or carcinogenicity, including creosote, which is widely used in the preservation of wood against attack by fungi (International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1985).  A number of fungi and bacteria have been identified which can partially decompose coal and its related precursor, lignin (Kirk and Farrell, 1987; Olson, and Brinkman, 1986; Scott et al, 1986).  Furthermore, sulfur and sulfur-containing compounds have long been used in the control of insects and fungi (Ainsworth, 1981).  Since much of the sulfur in some coals is present in organic forms (Olson, and Brinkman, 1986), it is possible that sulfur-containing organic compounds toxic to fungi might be produced in the course of microbial decomposition (Wainwright, 1988).

The above considerations indicate that it is possible that amendment of soils with coal could effect some control of soilborne plant pathogens.  Possible mechanisms include the presence of toxic materials in the coal itself, the production of toxins during microbial decomposition in soil, the provision of substrates for antagonistic microorganisms, changes in soil pH, adsorption of phytotoxins, addition of plant nutrients, and the alteration of soil water relations.  There has been little evaluation of the effects of addition of coals to soils on soil microorganisms, and apparently no research on effects on plant pathogens.  It is possible that some of the reported inconsistencies in plant response to coal amendments could be due to sporadic control of pathogens.  

Plan of Investigation
In order to adequately investigate the control of soilborne plant pathogens by coal, it would be necessary to take into consideration a number of factors.  Primary among these would be the nature of the coal used.  Coals vary widely in their ultimate sources, toxicity to macrophages, and nutrient contents (Lindahl and Finkleman, 1986; Lyons and Alpern, 1989; Seemayer and Maojlovic, 1980).  It is possible that coals may also vary greatly in their effects on soilborne pathogens, so it would be important to evaluate a representative sample of well-characterized types of coal.  Another factor which would probably influence activity in soil would be the particle size of the coal.  Smaller particles have a larger surface area per unit weight, and thus would be expected to release constituents more rapidly and be more subject to microbial degradation.  However, processing and safety considerations might place a practical lower limit on particle size.  The effects to be evaluated would also be an important consideration.  Although it is unlikely that coal would have a restricted spectrum of biological activity, it would be important to evaluate effects on a taxonomically representative sample of soil microorganisms.  Additionally, it is quite possible that some coals could be toxic to plants, particularly when first added to soil.  It would thus be essential to also evaluate the phytotoxicity of amended soil.  Finally, just as coals can vary, soils vary greatly in their physical and chemical characteristics.  It would be important to evaluate effects in different soils, particularly ones that differ in pH and buffering capacity, and to monitor soil pH after amendment.

Taking these factors into consideration, the most logical research approach would be a progressive evaluation of factors, in which the design of each experiment takes into consideration the results of previous ones.  Initial experiments would concentrate on the comparison of different coals.  Amendment treatments would include well-characterized samples of the major coal ranks (including high and low sulfur coals), a commercially-available coal-based soil amendment, and a non-coal amendment marketed specifically for control of soilborne diseases (such as a chitin-based material).  A single soil containing naturally high levels of an important soilborne pathogen would be used.  It would be amended at a moderately high rate, and incubated under greenhouse conditions.  In addition to populations of the major pathogen, variables to be monitored would include: populations of total soil bacteria, fluorescent Pseudomonads, total soil fungi, Fusarium spp., Rhizoctonia spp, and Pythium spp.; effects on tomato seedling establishment and early growth; and soil pH.  Each variable would be assessed at setup, and after 2, 4, 8, 12, and 16 weeks.  Based on the results of the initial experiment, similar experiments would be performed using a number of particle sizes and rates of coals of particular interest.  Further work would examine the effects of other coals that are related to ones identified as being of interest in the initial experiments, and effects in other soils (particularly ones for which lowering pH or increasing infiltration rate would be desirable).  With the aid of cooperators with expertise in soil chemistry and physics, additional research would evaluate the effects of particular amendments on soil nutrient availability and leaching, as well as soil water relationships.  Once a few promising amendments had been identified, effects on disease, soil microorganisms and plant growth would be evaluated in field experiments.  Ultimately, work might be directed toward development of processed coal products of commercial potential.

Literature Cited
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*Lyons, P. C., and Alpern, B., eds. 1989. Peat and Coal: Origen, Facies, and Depositional Models. Elsevier, NY. 882 pp.
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*Messenger, S. 1983. Treatment of chlorotic oaks and red maples by soil acidification. J. Arboric. 10:122-128.
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*Rowell, D. L. 1988. Soil acidity and alkalinity. Pages 899-898 in: A. Wild, ed. Russell’s Soil Conditions and Plant Growth, 11th edition. John Wiley & Sons, NY. 991 pp.
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*Sharratt, B. S., and Glenn, D. M. 1986. Orchard microclimate observations in using soil-applied coal dust for frost protection. Agric. and Forest Meteorol. 38:181-192.
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*Vantsis, J. T., and Bond, G. 1950. The effect of charcoal on the growth of leguminous plants in sand culture. Ann. Appl. Biol. 37:159-168.
*Wainwright, M. 1988. Metabolic diversity of fungi in relation to growth and mineral cycling in soil— A review. Trans. Brit. Mycol. Soc. 90:159-170.
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*Ware, G. 1990. Constraints to tree growth imposed by urban soil alkalinity. J. Arboric. 16:35-38.

Let us sing with our planet

I was looking for a song to sing at an interfaith Earth Day event. Let us sing with our planet emerged.
Our planet is on an unpredictable journey. We don’t know where we are going.
   Everything is connected.
   Everything contributes.

So what can we do?
We have a chance to place our intention: to add our voice and actions to a lessening of suffering.
To sing with the plants and animals and rocks and water and all of us humans and our cultures and all the rest of the living world and all the rest of Gaia.
To sing with our planet (which includes ourselves — a good place to start singing).
To sing with all the different musics and musicians we can perceive.
To sing not as a disciplined choir, but as group working toward something that’s greater than its parts. To sing with everything and for everything.

Let us Sing with our Planet
lyrics and music by Rick Ferriss

Let us sing with our planet, as we travel along,
with our many companions, and our stories and songs.
With our love and our anger, with our laughter and fear,
let us sing with our planet, let us sing while we’re here.

Now some voices are quiet, and some voices are strong,
but when we sing together, all our voices are one.
In a great congregation, or only alone,
let us sing with our planet, let us sing for our home.


The Folk Process

Resurrected from a 1994 Friends of Florida Folk (FOFF) newsletter — rf, april 2014

The Folk Process

For 25 years or so, I’ve operated under the assumption that I play quite a bit of folk music.  However, I’ve avoided facing up to just exactly what “Folk Music” is.  Perhaps subconsciously inspired by the Folkie News article reprinted in the December FOFF Newsletter, I recently had a revelation about THE TRUE NATURE OF FOLK MUSIC.  The idea probably isn’t new (and it’s maybe not totally serious), but it’s helped me to make more sense of what I do with music.  Perhaps running this by FOFF members will generate some discussion and help others to clarify their thinking.

“Folk music” is music that has been subjected to The Folk Process.  TFP has at least three major components: incompetence, bad memory and orneriness.

1. Incompetence — I’m trying to learn this song off of a Doc Watson record, but I don’t know how he does this one riff, so I just pick on a D7.

2. Bad Memory — I’ve heard a song a few times at jams, and I remember most of it, but I don’t remember all of the words, so I make up some words that seem to feel right.

3. Orneriness — There’s a song on this Pete Seeger record, but I really don’t like the way he does it, so I change it around to the way that it sounds best to me (MY WAY).

On the surface, these characteristics of TFP aren’t very flattering.  Indeed, a subconscious awareness of them might contribute to the low turnout at many folk concerts that Jan Glidewell laments in the January FOFF Newsletter.  (Not many people are interested in paying money to contend with belligerent, forgetful incompetents.)

But at a deeper level, TFP is much more positive.  Incompetence, orneriness and bad memory work together to produce something that is much greater than songs and musicians: evolution.

Genetic evolution results from the interaction of two basic processes: diversification and selection.  Genetic variability in living things arises from DNA being altered, moved around and recombined by partially random phenomena.  The environment then “selects” which organisms reproduce more (and thus pass on more of their genes to the next generation).

TFP is the semi-random diversification process that produces variation in the basic “genetic material” of music (songs or tunes).  It generates different versions of songs.  Musicians and audiences then “select” which versions are played more (and are thus passed on more).  Folk enthusiasts thus have the opportunity to participate in the accomplishment of something that no one person can do alone (even a Mozart or Gershwin or Dylan): the evolution of music.

Recognizing the existence of TFP can help us to be more tolerant and appreciative of ourselves and others.  There’s a lot of TFP in types of music that often don’t get recognized as “Folk Music”, such as jazz, blues, rock, country, reggae, and gospel.  And if somebody’s butchering a great old song sometime, go easy on them — they’re just folk processing like a lot of us other folks.

—     Rick Ferriss,  Tampa

Broad Sense Evolution

Some background for evolution-related posts — rf, march 2014

Broad Sense Evolution / Universal Darwinism / Generalized Evolutionary Theory
Evolution is not just part of biology. It happens whenever there is a carrier of information, sources of variation, and mechanisms of selection.

The study of evolution has become an integral part of biological science. But basic concepts of evolution have also been applied to other fields: we can speak of cultural evolution, with memes taking the place of genes as units of inheritance; of evolutionary psychology, recognizing the many effects that our evolutionary history has had on our thought processes; and of evolution-based computer simulations in software development, mathematics, economics, and many other fields.

All of these different kinds of evolution involve a particular kind of cause and effect. At the most basic level, all types of evolution are made up of three elements:

• Continuity / inheritance: a carrier of information that can replicate, allowing the information to reproduce, increase and continue through time.

• Variation / diversification: factors that cause some of the information to change, creating variants.

• Selection / environment: ways in which some of those variants are selected to continue reproducing, while others are selected to not continue.

In biological evolution, the primary carrier of information is genes made of nucleic acids like DNA, gene variation involves various mutations and recombinations, and genes increase in frequency when individuals that carry them have more descendants. In cultural evolution, the primary carrier is memes that make up traditions such as language and art, variation can be introduced by communication and other experiences, and what continues is mostly selected by use and disuse.

The environment is a key part of evolution by natural selection: it is the thing that selects; the ultimate cause of differential reproduction. Although selection for some characteristics can be related to particular environmental conditions, the total environment that selects includes everything that might influence reproduction. For genes, it includes the living and non-living external factors that the carrier organism encounters (temperature, food, predators, etc), as well as the physiological and psychological environments inside each individual (how gene products interact with each other). For human genetic evolution, it also includes the cultural environment: language, traditions, habits and other behaviors that a person must deal with. And all these aspects of culture are evolving together under the influence of other cultural elements, as well as the physical and biological environments. Genes and memes co-evolve together in a vast dance of universal contingency.

If environmental conditions stay the same, then the same characteristics will always be selected for, and subsequent generations will become progressively better adapted to those conditions. But if the environment changes, then different characteristics will be select for, and evolution will take a different course. Since changing environments are the norm, the genetic map and the environmental territory are often out of sync.

The idea of evolving thoughts was mentioned by Jacques Monod in his classic book about evolution, Chance and Necessity (1970): “Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms. Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed, they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must certainly play an important role”

In The Selfish Gene (1976), Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” for a related concept: “Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”

More about generalized evolutionary theory / Universal Darwinism:

Susan Blackmore discussed the evolutionary algorithm (and proposed “temes” – technological replicators) in a 2010 New York Times blog titled The Third Replicator. Some good references and comments are included.

A number of good introductions to evolution are available online, such as an illustrated slide show from from UC Berkeley (evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/), and more detailed descriptions, such as at Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_evolution, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_%28disambiguation%29).

In Emptiness and Brightness (2013), Don Cupitt proposed “universal contingency” as a basic part of the world view of the evolving religion of our New Axial Age. It’s a more cogent and descriptive term for a basic meaning of the traditional Buddhist concept of “dependent origination”, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s more poetic “interbeing”.

Evolution and Buddhism

Some evolving ideas about one of the interfaces between Buddhism and Science  — rf, march 2014

Three Connections
Evolution can be described as a process where information changes through variation and selection. It is not just part of biology. It happens whenever there is a carrier of information, sources of variation, and mechanisms of selection. The character of this selection reflects the environment, and as the environment changes, selection changes. [more about evolution …]

There are at least three ways in which Buddhism can be related to such concepts:

1. Our Heritage. Buddhism recognizes that humans inherit capacities for both suffering and happiness. Our natural inclinations toward greed, hatred and delusion often lead to problems. But we also inherit the capacity to awaken: to understand and address our suffering.

2. Personal Change. Buddhism offers ways to change ourselves through personal mental evolution: the generation and selection of new ways of thinking.

3. Evolving Dharma. Buddhism is an evolving cultural phenomenon. Its great diversity may result from core teachings that emphasize both basic principles and personal introspection. The principles provide a continuing foundation for the evolution of new ideas through cultural interactions and individual efforts. Introspection through mindfulness, meditation, logic and other techniques facilitates development and selection of ideas, and enables the rediscovery of the Buddha’s insights.

1. Our Heritage
Humans inherit both causes of suffering and solutions to suffering.

The cultural heritage that humans receive from their families and cultures is the result of many generations of cultural evolution. The development of the brain that holds that culture goes back much further. Behavior and brain have evolved together over millions of years. We inherit a large, but not infinite, repertory of possibilities.

The human brain has a reptile core, encased in a mammalian layer. On top there is a thin cortex that enables human ways of thinking such as language, logic and culture. Our ancestors spent many thousands of generations living in small groups. Behaviors were selected that aided survival in that environment. However, these days most people live very differently. We suffer because of our misdirected mind: ways of thinking and behaving that can appear to be appropriate, but are not always in our own best interests.

The general validity of evolution is widely accepted among contemporary Buddhists, and traditional Buddhist teachings are sometimes interpreted in terms of evolution. Many Buddhists have traditionally referred to the human mind’s natural tendency to jump from topic to topic as “monkey mind”.

Buddhism recognizes three root causes of suffering: greed, hatred (or anger) and delusion (or ignorance) — the three poisons. They poison our relationships with people and the world. However, these tendencies can also be related to behaviors that are adaptive. Greedily acquiring and storing resources can aid survival through difficult times; strong feelings of group identity can promote cooperation in tribes and families; and delusions can justify adaptive actions that would otherwise be dismissed. These ways of thinking may have benefited people in some situations, but they also can be harmful: fostering desire, aversion and error.

Buddhist teachings offer ways to deal with such ancient inherited behaviors. Ways to lessen the damage caused by the poisons without giving up the beneficial functions that they can serve. Buddha taught that we carry both the causes of suffering and the solutions to suffering. We can lessen suffering by encouraging positive characteristics, such as generosity, lovingkindness and wisdom. And we can address the basis of suffering through understanding of desire and self. We all inherit the capacity to awaken.

2. Personal Change
Meditation can encourage both variations in thinking, and conscious selection of thoughts.

Buddhist teachings place great emphasis on the mind. The Dhammapada, a traditional collection of sayings of the Buddha, begins with the assertion that our world is largely determined by our thoughts: “We are what we think, All that we are arises with our thoughts”. Much Buddhist practice is devoted to changing people’s ways of thinking.

Our thinking processes involve patterns of thoughts that can cluster together in sequences. In modern neuroscience they can be termed schemas or scripts. In traditional Buddhist psychology they might be called mental formations or sankharas. Many are very short lived. However, some persistent thought patterns are analogous to genes or memes: they produce offspring much like organisms do; they can mutate and evolve in various ways; and they are reinforced by repeated use. People can spend years obsessing about their parents or siblings, being subject to irrational fears, or succumbing to addictions. The mind creates a comfortable internal conversation that ties us to such habitual ways of thinking.

Some types of Buddhist meditation involve recognizing when thinking occurs, and then letting go of the thought and returning awareness to the breath or other object of attention. It is practicing how to stop: inhibiting certain thoughts by not reinforcing them; neither grasping at them or pushing them away.  This practicing helps meditators learn how to better deal with unwanted thoughts when they are not meditating. They become able to positively influence the evolution of their thoughts by abandoning harmful ones.

When grasping and aversion are abandoned during meditation, a state of choiceless awareness can be entered where thoughts, feelings and perceptions simply come and go without attachment or consequence, without judgement or intervention. Ingrained reactions and interpretations are not reinforced by attention, weakening the links of expectation between what is and what was. Space becomes available for new thoughts. New interactions can emerge. Less preconception opens the way for creative solutions.

Thus meditation can aid in two aspects of mental evolution: increasing the variety of thoughts, and enhancing skills for the conscious selection of certain thoughts and not others.

3. Evolving Dharma
Buddha’s teachings contain seeds of both diversification and selection.

The historical Buddha’s first description of his discovery is often referred to by phrases such as “turning of the wheel of law” or “setting in motion the wheel of truth”. Movement is implied. A journey. But when a wheel is set rolling, the unexpected is to be expected: some initial direction can be provided, but uneven ground soon leads to wandering.

Over the last 2500 years, Buddha’s teachings have spread great distances from their birthplace. These travels have given rise to a wide variety of Buddhist practices and traditions. However, there are still some basic concepts and attitudes that are part of nearly all the varied branches of Buddhism.

This simultaneous diversification and consistency may be a consequence of some basic Buddhist teachings.

Near the end of his life, the Buddha reminded his followers to:

be islands unto yourselves,
refuges unto yourselves,
seeking no external refuge;
with the Dhamma as your island,
the Dhamma as your refuge,
seeking no other refuge.
—  Maha-parinibbana Sutta

There can seem to be a conflict here: rely only on yourself, but also rely only on the teachings (Dhamma/ Dharma). However, from perspectives of both practice and evolution the two can be seen to be complimentary. Practitioners use the teachings as a guide in their personal investigations. But the Dharma is also a carrier of information that is passed on through time (the first condition needed for evolution). By comparing their own experiences with the established teachings, practitioners encourage or discourage certain ideas and practices, and may introduce new ones. Their actions provide both the variation and the selection that are necessary for traditions to evolve.

The Buddha may have been concerned about mis-interpretations of his teachings after he died. He might have recognized that if the core teachings were to continue, they would need to be repeatedly re-discovered and re-affirmed. Maybe by repeatedly stressing both the teachings and self-reliance, he deliberately laid the groundwork for an evolving religion that can adapt to many cultures, yet maintain a universal core. Regardless of his intention, that seems to be what resulted.

Among world religions, Buddhism seems to have the greatest natural tendency to evolve. Judaism, Christianity and Islam inhibit change by relying on particular sacred writings. Hinduism and Taoism have deep and complex cultural roots that tie them to particular civilizations. Buddhism operates in a middle ground, with widely accepted basic teachings that evolve connections to local conditions and influences.

The continuity of the Dharma results from the repeated confirmation of the Buddha’s insights by his followers. No matter what exotic cultural traits may become attached to the Dharma, the basic teachings are re-affirmed again and again by the personal experiences of practitioners. The core ideas keep getting rediscovered because the potential for that rediscovery is just as much a part of our human inheritance as is a fear of snakes or interest in sex or learning to talk.

Communication and migration are bringing together many formerly distant Buddhist lineages. The Dharma has entered a new era of rapid evolution. Ancient traditions of East and West are interacting, giving rise to new concepts, new combinations of beliefs. And at the same time, more and more people are recognizing and relating glimpses of Buddha’s insights, developing a clearer image. The wheel continues to roll.


When I look deeply into the form of the universe,
everything reveals the mysterious truth of the Tathagata …
—  Torei Enji’s Bodhisattva’s Vow

This essay unavoidably reflects particular perspectives on Buddhism and biology. Hopefully those who disagree with certain parts will benefit from their criticism. Here are some notes and links for further consideration.

Our Heritage
Attitudes of Buddhists toward evolution:
Matthew Hutson provides an entertaining tour of some routine delusions in The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane:
Tricycle editor James Shaheen interviews science writer Robert Wright on where natural selection and Buddhism meet:
A fairly detailed overview of evolutionary psychology:
More about the three poisons:
www.naljorprisondharmaservice.org/pdf/ThreePoisons.htm (Naljor prison project)
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_poisons_%28Buddhism%29 (Wikipedia)

Personal Change
There are many versions of The Dhammapada (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhammapada). The quote is from my favorite, the poetical rendition of Thomas Byrom:
William H Calvin relates insights about mental functions and evolution in The Cerebral Symphony (1989), A Brief History of the Mind and other books.
Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the pattern-based processes that underlie brain function:
The comments about meditation are mostly based on personal experiences with vipassana and zazen. There are many good introductions available, including:
www.spiritrock.org/meditation-instructions (basic vipassana instruction from Jack Kornfield via Spirit Rock)
www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1465 (detailed Q&A about vipassana from Sayadaw U Pandita via Shambhala Sun)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDJ_wbjBL6c (video intro to zazen from Hazy Moon Zen Center)
zmm.mro.org/teachings/meditation-instructions/ (text & photo intro to zazen from Zen Mountain Monastery)

Evolving Dharma
Access to Insight is a great resource for quotes from the Pali canon:
Norman Fisher and Vincent Horn discuss the evolution of Buddhism in a BuddhistGeeks interview:
Gil Fronsdal’s discussion of the vipassana movement provides an interesting overview of the introduction of Buddhist meditation practices to the US:
Rick Fields’ How the Swans Came to the Lake, is a classic compilation of stories about Buddhism coming to America:
The full text of this version of Torei Enji’s vow is at: