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Jacob Needleman is a best selling author, philosopher and religious scholar. He is the Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University and he was Director of the former Center for the Study of New Religions at the Graduate Theological Union. Mr. Needleman's books, and he is a prolific writer, include The American Soul, Lost Christianity, Money and the Meaning of Life and The Heart of Philosophy. And he tells me in addition to the book he will be talking about tonight that he has already got a seed of a new book, the topic of which is the meaning of, what do we mean by god? So that should peak some interest. His newest book that is here tonight, Why Can't We Be Good has been described as a meditation on how we can bring our inner ideals and our outer actions into balance so that we can live an ethical life. The book tackles a very big question. And we may if we are good, no I am just kidding about that we may just glean a little bit of the answer tonight. So please join me in a warm welcome for Jacob Needleman. Good. Can you hear well, it's not too much of the echo or something that you can you hear me well make out the words I have to give my usual warning about philosophy philosophers, we don't do answers. We do questions, but sometimes and often with the kind of questions that philosophy deals with to deepen the question, if you deepen the question and go into it very deeply with more and more of yourself, with your mind and your heart and particularly when you ponder it with in the company of others who are equally concerned, the question begins to turn into an answer. Not so much in words necessarily but in the experience of something in oneself and something that people share together, some kind of quality or sensitivity or atmosphere, whatever you call it, which gives hope gives hope that there is an answer and it can be found. But not necessarily the way we usually seek answers with just the mind alone or the senses alone. And this is I think particularly true of the question tonight. And the question of this book what I have taken to be the mission, the philosophy of the of the philosopher is to look at the questions that are really the great questions of the heart. The questions, some of which or all of which are every human being every man or woman sooner or later asks not just intellectually but with the whole being and the questions which science cannot answer, which cannot answered by simply observing or theorizing or taking a poll or looking it up on Google. The questions - who am I, for example. What is a human being? Does god exist? Or is that are we alone in the universe without any commanding, benevolent, intelligent presences over everything. What can we know? What can we hope for? Why do we suffer? Why is there evil? And what work we should do and how should we live? Questions like this, which some people in the modern world have considered to be unanswerable and therefore have given up hope of answering them and has come to the point of saying that we shouldn't even be asking them, just forget about them. Go on with our life, in dealing with what we know and not pursue some fantasy, that we could never know the answer to these questions. Well, it's these unanswerable questions that are perhaps most important part of human life, that is they touch the most important part, I think of ourselves of our human identity which is that we deserve what is good, to wish to understand what is true and perhaps above all that we should be able to love and that's really the subject of this book. And I see it's particularly true of this question that what I said about pondering and together and thinking deeply and asking with all of ourselves. Because this book deal in this, this is what I am going to speak about as a part of the theme this talk tonight of this book. And the theme of this book is stated right on the first page and then a quote that probably most of you know very well. In those two, in fact there are two quotes that define the parameters of this question. And I want to get them exactly right, one is from the Old Testament, from the Prophet Micah, "He has shown the old man what is good and what does the lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before thy God". And, the next quote on this page is from ST. Paul Roman 7:19, everyone may not probably know this quote, "For the good that I would, I do not. But the evil which I would not, that I do." And that is the question in this book. Why is that? What does it mean? How to face it? How to confirm that question? Now what I have tried to do in all of the books, I think a prolific author means an ageing author, if you live long enough you are all going to be prolific yes. Oh you have trouble hearing me. Okay. Okay, I thought having a mic I could well, I could whisper, but I guess not, okay. I think I will just go on, not start over, is that okay? The question that I have dealt with in books that I've written have are questions and problems of our culture, of our time, of our everyday life. And trying to look at these problems and questions of our actual, concrete everyday life from the perspective of great philosophical or spiritual philosophy, great philosophical questions and ideas and spiritual philosophy as I've come to understand it from point of view of great ideas and those those subjects have been it seems like that have been part of are part of our everyday culture that we face, that we have to deal with like, even things which seem to be unrelated like the question of money, what is the place of money in a life that is searching for meaning, or education, or the problem of our relationship to time which in our modern world has become more and more anguish, more and more problematic for so many of us to after all these decades and centuries where our best, some of our best minds have had as their aim, the developments or inventions, technologies designed to save time and the result is that nobody has any time left. This is one of the most extraordinary paradoxes of our time that with all these saving of time most of us, I think, feel that really time is disappearing, at least meaningful time is disappearing. So questions like that and this question question in my last book was the meaning of America which is a burning and aching question for the whole world and certainly for us. And in that book I tried to define what I consider to be the real role and meaning of America in the world and it had to do with a having a a space, a nation, a government which allows freedom but not so much only freedom from tyranny and so forth but freedom for. And have not only freedom for material things but freedom to search for the truth, freedom to form communities that seek to come and touch with conscience. And that to me was the ultimate meaning of America in the world and that if it were to loose it's the structure of the government which protects that freedom it would have lost its meaning. But this book is with the question that is also and may be even more now-a-days in general, the question of today, of our time, of our life and the question of the ethics, morality. Why can't we live according to what we believe and I would even say with ST. Paul in a way what we know to be good. And the point is very simply put. On the one hand there is this feeling of what is right, perhaps you can go into a discussion philosophically, intellectually about different issues and relativities and all the rest of it, but lets say for a moment in a simple way, on one side we know what we should do, we know what is right, it has to do with justice and love and care for others and the planet etcetera. And our children and the young people and starving people, you know whatever you would say we know what is good and it all comes to down ultimately to why can't we care? But we know we ought to we know we ought to be able to love. Its on one side and we go into the life, we live, go into the street as it were, we go into manifestation of ourselves, action, behavior and we are more very, very often we find ourselves betraying or not able or not willing or in one way or another betraying what we know to be good. So on the one hand you have I know, on the other hand have I must act. And so there is this gap between what we understand, what we know, what we feel as our duty or goodness, what it means and on the other hand there is our manifestations or actions and there is no there seems to be no relation between them so often and in a profound sense. Now we may not feel that gap, we may feel we can but in fact if we look at our lives, mostly, we will see that how deep the deepest ideas are so often betrayed or forgotten when we are in front of a difficult situation. So this book I I know the problem, I know the question and we can discuss whether you think it is as it is not a real question but I think it is the one of the real questions of our era, of our time, best of all human eras, in all human times. So when I write a book, and I have a theme, that I ask a question has a reason from the world that needs to be directly faced. When I write a book as a writer, some of you writers probably will agree, I feel the book is half written when I find the opening sentence and sometimes it takes me two or three years to find the first sentence of a book. It took me two years to find the first sentence of my book on money but once I found that I said aah! But of course it's a lot more difficult than that. When this book, I was grappling around with first sentence of this book and instead of a sentence I found a story, a tiny little story. I was working through, reading through the tomb, some selections from the Talmud, from the Jewish tradition which is my birthright, my native tradition, although I developed the severe allergy to it at an early age, but I took took in some anti allergy thoughts and of coming back to see what's more deeply true in it as this book shows. But this little book part of the Talmud which is the commentary on, the sacred writings of the Jewish tradition is huge, many volumes and there is this one section of the sayings of of the fathers, which is very understandable and readable to anyone, which I can recommend to all of you. And this tells the stories of the early rabbinic teachers although they weren't called rabbis at the time, most of them the ones I was speaking about, lived. There was in particular rabbi who was a teacher, is known as Hillel the Elder, a very famous name and he had lived around the time of Jesus or little he was a little bit before, but though they were contemporary in terms of Jesus being young when Hillel was at his full maturity. And for all we know, this is a fantasy I have I - I don't talks about it in the book, Jesus may have been- when he was a child, may have been one he may have been one of the teachers who he left his parents for few days to go sit at the steps and listened to that's is a fantasy, I have no evidence whatever. But when you see the message of Hillel you really deeply, you will see its very corresponding to with with we have seen from Jesus. Well Hillel, this is the story about this brash young man who comes up to Hillel and says he is got he is painted as a heathen which probably meant some other cult or some being an atheist or whatever, says I will embrace the Torah, I will embrace Judaism, and the Torah is the fundamental five books of Moses in the beginning of the Old Testament as you know, and so that the fundamental heart of the Jewish teaching and this man, can you hear me, all right, you are hearing me?. Yeah and this man says I will embrace Judaism if you can tell me the essence of the Torah while I am standing on one foot. So this young man we are told had asked the brash question to another teacher just before and that other teacher chased him out of the room with a stick. So but Hillel simply answers very quickly and I presume you can picture the young man standing on one foot while Hillel is answering. "That which is hateful to you do not do it to another. Or do not do it to your neighbor". "That which is hateful to you do not do it to your neighbor". Then Hillel says, you may put your foot down, I mean he doesn't say that in the text but I am sure he says that is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary. Now he says go and study. Okay, that is the beginning of this book that is the beginning of the question. What does it mean? What does he have to study? How study? Hasn't he just heard what it is to be good? What does he have to do now? Just go out and practice it. But he can't practice. He discovers it's not so simple. It's not something you can you can hear it in one second. But it takes years to be able to do it. And for that you need help and you need work and you need ideas and you need other people. So that was the beginning that's the question of this book where do we go when we hear something which we immediately recognize? What is the bridge between what I know to be good? How can I actually act that? So many people have told us and arguing lengthily, beautiful arguments, great philosophers, spiritual teachers have told us that yes, that's what it means, yes I must care I must care, I must love, I must be just, I must consider the others, as an end and not as a means, I must do what brings the most happiness, I must sacrifice my only interest for the other, I must care for my fellowmen which is the essence of the Judaic tradition and every other tradition in the that we know. But especially the Judaic that starts right from the beginning. Where do you go to begin to you have anything practical that takes you there? Because if you live long enough you will hear all these teachings and you find you know it's like losing weight, you can hear what you are supposed to do. But put, you know, the come and bear whatever it is in front of your thorn. You must just receive it more so with morality, with ethics. I found the answer, the beginning of the answer, to the practical question of how to go from what I know to what I do? In this place where I really didn't expect to find it, it was in my classroom as a teacher, in San Francisco State and in other places. I found what I could call the first plate of the bridge. And if I tell you what it is in one word you will be disappointed because it sounds like oh that, we know about that. But if the word is listening, the work of listening to another person is a deeply a deep beginning of morality. Well why did I say that? Nobody, I had never heard anybody put it that way, perhaps better people have. And I explored that by an experiment which I often tried without even realizing at the beginning the huge ethical significance of the experiment which many of you have heard of. And which many councilors use but not with this particular aim which is to study just the work of listening to the other person and that experiment is that, when two people passionately disagree on some very serious question - in this case I give in the book I give the example of the question of abortion which is one of the most intractable questions of our time because both sides have such, when they are quieted down, most sides have such strong arguments and so these two people come up front of the class they are given the direction. You first person call her number one, number one you state your view about abortion, state supports abortion, partial birth abortion and you stated succinctly and then number two you can respond to that person if you are you but only after you have summed up her view in such a way that she is willing to say that is an accurate statement of my view and you mustn't fudge it. In other words the second person has to be really really be accurate and the first person has to be merciless and say that you left out this or that isn't so I as the moderator I take that role, I say, the first person says excellent, the second person says well he said this and she says okay that's close enough and I say no that isn't close enough. Try again and try again and try again and that goes on back and forth, the second person then is free to state her view, in this case, it's two women and the first one can only respond after she has summarized that question to this point that number two says that's a fair statement, clear. That goes back and forth now. In order to do that people get, - say okay I can do that but people, they are very surprised at how hard that is to - because they discover, they discover that they are not able to listen to as much as they thought they are listening to their own thoughts. About two thirds of the time its their own mind that they are listening to or they are waiting for the person to take it, catch their breath so they can come in and put their point across or so they can contend they are waiting to get, to win and to in order to listen like that, they discover that you have to step back from your own mind. You have to step back from your own opinions, you have to create a space in yourself, in your mind, in your heart and open it to let the other person in. It doesn't mean that you have to agree with the other person, not at all, you don't have to. It is a question simply of letting them in like you entertain the guest, you've let the guest into your house your, you give them tea, and cake and whatever and you say goodbye. You don't take them upstairs you don't do anything, you just let them in and listen, lets this person into your mind. Their views into your mind and that's the beginning of morality. Its the beginning of what, a way in the distance would be the capacity to love because in order to listen like that, you have to step back from your ego, you have to step back from your opinions which we always identify with so much and to believing to kill the person that disagrees with us. And that goes back and forth and people who try this experiment, people would try this experiment, they'd end. I have seen many times, they still disagree. That's not the point but they go out practically arm in arm, because they've discovered the other person is a human being and what they disagree with is the is their idea, is the opinion of the other person not the other person's being. For as now, when we have so much of disagreement it becomes almost murder. People who disagree they are denying your being, they want to kill you some times just at that moment there is such anger, there is such egoistic attachment to our own thoughts and that's like the first note in an (octave) that leads to perhaps another kind of action. So these capacity for listening, I have tried more and more in classrooms and with other people and I've never heard it said that this is a step toward morality. This people think of it as some times it's that the various reasons of mental health, of resolving disputes and that sort of thing. This is not what we are talking about, we are talking about the development, where the acquaintance in oneself are power of attention which lets you separate from the ego and there you are beginning to really open to the other person. So this books starts with that discovery of these - early in the book that relates it to Socrates or how he worked and with people which has been, I think, wrongly interpreted in many ways as merely intellectual. It is an ethical act to the work of listening to each other and then later on in the book I describe how this can be developed, this whole question of opening to another person. Later on in the book I describe the experiments I gave where I gave these people, these students an exercise of reading, studying the philosopher Marcus Aurelius who is a great, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius who lived in 2nd Century A.D. as Emperor of the Great Roman Empire and his book Meditation Of Marcus Aurelius which I recommend to all of you is one of these beautiful statement of the ancient meaning of philosophy which is to live great ideas. To live them not just to think them, but to actually put them into practice. That was the role of the philosopher in the ancient world, that's a way of life not just as way of thought. And a part of his great teaching what he is trying is to not - is to attend in himself to give his attention which is the purest power of the human being. Give his attention to some thing or to search, to try, to give his attention to some thing in himself which he says is in every human being, which he calls the logos which is obviously a word that Christians have heard many times which for Marcus Aurelius is equivalent to God, that is it's equivalent to the great intelligence of the Universal World that is in every human being. Only we don't attend to it, we are disconnected from it and so our life is spent giving our attention and reacting to everything outside, with anger, with fear, with cravings, which destroy our humanity ultimately. So he tried not to give his attention to his reactions, to his passing egotistical thoughts, to his impatience, to his fear, to his power or whatever it is. For him power is not being the Emperor of the Greatest Empire on the earth. For him power is the power of attending to some thing finer in ones own psyche, one own heart and mind. And that's what he is trying to do and he is failing in trying and but that's his aim and he has many, many of these little thoughts in this book, are like exercises to practice in life. And one of the exercises which I said why don't I try giving this to my students because I have tried it many times. I interpreted a certain way, I took away certain parts of it but the essence of it was this, when he feels annoyed with somebody, when he feels angry with something when he feels discouraged by something he tries to separate from it just to be in touch with it just to see it and there to attend to the logos within. So I said to the class, let's try an exercise and this is not for getting a grade, you are not going to be graded on this. Just try. It was on a Tuesday and then this class meeting was Thursday. Just try it you are going to be annoyed, you are not but maybe you are but I don't know, but you will be annoyed many times between now and Thursday. You'd be annoyed in the next hour by some (indiscernible) and so will you, will probably, I probably or probably am. But you will be annoyed many, many times all I am asking you to practice is to observe that you are annoyed. Just say more or less like saying to yourself like here I am, I am annoyed. Just step back from that for a moment. You see what I am saying, it sounds easy. Just I am annoyed. Somebody cuts you and takes my parking place I am annoyed. Somebody doesn't like my book I am annoyed. You don't laugh at a joke, I am annoyed. So just to step back from that and look at it, don't try to get un-annoyed, don't try to improve yourself. Just look this is a very interesting thing - this is - some of you study Buddhism and other teachings and that, you know, that this is the seed, this kind of an effort, is the seed of something very great in a human behavior, very great but it's the beginning. So the class of about 50 students, Thursday class convenes again. I try not to mention it because I wanted to see, but if anybody brings it up on their own but anyhow they are a little bit reluctant. So at some point I say, oh by the way how many of you tried the exercise. One and a half people raise their hands. One did this and the other did this and one was a doctor who comes as a as a senior citizen in (indiscernible) the class, he was and the other one was this young woman sitting in the back who hardly ever speaks. Mary, her name was and she was - so the doctor. I said well doctor what did you find that out and he said well, and - first of all I said that I must say to you the fact that almost all of them forgot is a hugely significant event, a hugely significant aspect of the human condition. I can't go into that now, I didn't go into that then, I just mentioned it. That's immense because at the moment they said that yes I will try and nobody remembered expect one and a half people and actually it turns out only half because the one guy got it wrong. He remembered - when he got up, he said my sister-in-law was coming over and I know she is one who annoyed the hell out of me. So I am going to try and then when she did annoy him, he got rid of his annoyance and so forth and so on and looking brave, and so he succeeded in becoming, I don't know what, because he was so happy and proud with himself of being able to get rid of his annoyance that he fell into a deeper circle of hell than he would. But the young woman, that was interesting. She was very shy and so she said, you know, I was driving in the free way and I took the exit before my home and drove into traffic and went into the dry cleaners where it was Wednesday and they have promised me of my clothes my dry cleaning. On Wednesday I had it written down on this receipt and it was a oriental young woman there behind the counter and she looked at the receipt and she said they are not ready and I - I said, "But it says here Wednesday" and she said, Oh so sorry, tomorrow I will try. But it says Wednesday, what do you mean? Oh sorry, sorry and then she said suddenly I remember what Professor Needleman said. I said here I am, I am annoyed and suddenly an amazing thing happen. I suddenly I became two people. One I was a person who was angry and annoyed and another person who is just there watching without any judgment, without any anger, just watching this happening in myself deeply interested and very fine. And then she said this stunned thing that shook me, was so astonishing to me. She said, I didn't know my mind could do that. Now what shook me about that was the possibility that are we raising a generation of human beings who do not know that this power of the mind to simply step back from itself exists and that because that power is the seed, I think, of deep morality. To be able to disengage from your own personal self interest and the emotions that support it, is the beginning, wouldn't you agree, is the beginning of morality. Otherwise morality very often is simply something that ego does, out of conditioning or something the ordinary person does out of conditioning or out of out of some, and some instilled belief system which, thank God, we have that too because otherwise we would be in chaos. But real morality, deeper morality comes from something much deeper inside of ourselves and that's the thesis of this book is that that deeper something is called conscience. And that is not this condition, socially conditioned super ego of the psychoanalyst, but an intrinsic capacity of the human being which, when it speaks, it's very often, very painful. But we know what it is. So this young women said that, and that became to me, an example that why can't we be good? Can be? The question can be faced, can be explored, can be understood by seeing that we cannot separate from this social self that we what they call the ego and the ancient traditions or what we call, what they call something by the other name. And so this simple experiment corresponding with the other one of listening leads to the deeper reflection of this whole matter, behavior later in the book I have discussed this experiment which has that has received a lot of attention recently. In 1961 Stanley Milgram experiment in which a man was told to press to give electric shocks, increasing electric shocks to a person. He thought was a real really good antidote and because the authority of the lab of the scientist were there to tell him, keep pressing those things as part of the experiment. Keep delivering the shocks and sort of a - So this begins to connect. So what I I guess what I want to I want to open up for questions now. About this this theme, this area we have disconnected ethics from the vision of human nature that the great traditions have asked, have provided. We have disconnected to call it the problem of ethics from ideas about the world, about the universe, about the higher powers, about truth and beauty. Ideas which inspires certain feeling and sense of awe and wonder which is very close to the feeling of love and morality and we get disconnected ethics from and made it into something intellectual and the intellectual part of the mind is only a part and that part of the mind is not built for values. It's built for seeing mechanisms. And in order to come to the inner being, the part which can really begin to feel once obligation to another person. One has to begin to separate from oneself. And there you have touch a new feeling, a new power. I will give you one final example. Oh I am sorry, I am going to from a story that I tell which is to show you that ethics is a the capacity to care for another, to separate from one's ego is an intrinsic part of human nature which is covered over by what we consider to be good in the cultural conditions we usually have around us and that has to do with a young man who was a student of mine and who is this was in Mexico and he was sitting around the Christmas tree decorating it with his young son who was about five years old. And there was a knock on the door and it was a beggar, a boy, a young boy also about five and that father and the son went to the door and the father saw that little boy and he said to his son give him one of your toys and they went back into the living room, leaving the beggar at the door and that little boy picked up an old toy of his and the father said and this is true story, the father said, no give him your favorite toy and the little boy resisted, of course, father was very firm but very gentle but firm. He said give him your favorite toy, the boy cried no. The father, give him your favorite so that little boy picks up his favorite toy, new toy and he went to the door and the father waited for him in the living room and a few minutes past, a few minutes past and that little boy came running back into the living room with his eyes glowing, his face radiant saying daddy can I do that again. So he discovered something that all that finger wagging can make you discover. He discovered that when you do separate from the egoistic element in your life, this other comes in and brings a joy that is far beyond which you receive when you just get things for yourself.