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Monday, April 18, 2011

'Hope(fulness) beyond and without hope'; to affirm unconditionality unconditionally


An online friend made a comment on Facebook about the previous post where I affirmed 'hope' in terms of 'hope(fulness) beyond and without hope'. If I've read him right, he asks if 'hope' could in fact be a kind of unskilful 'rickety narrative' that serves to reinforce uncritical, dogmatic 'beliefs'. I'm assuming that he is referring to how 'hope' can and has been used by various political and/or religious authorities to promote an uncritical optimism to secure power, or how individuals may project their fears and anxieties--the roots of which need to be examined--onto 'hope' rather than attend to what needs changing. If these are what he is pointing to, I agree that they are very valid concerns. It is not difficult, I believe, to observe these problems around us. His comments prompted further thoughts on the notion of 'hope(fulness) beyond and without hope'. This is a cumbersome phrase, I admit, but I want to stay with it for now (at least until a better arrangement of letters come along) to clarify what I mean when I say I affirm 'hope'. The hope I affirm is influenced by both Derridean deconstructive thinking and certain Buddhist ideals, assuming that the parallels I posit between these two traditions are not unreasonable. 

But before I go into the response, I'd like to preface it with some comments about the relationship with this online friend. I have never met him--face to face that is. I met him on a Buddhist discussion forum; someone whose posts and writings resonated with me. So we eventually became friends on Facebook, and have had occasional exchanges via Facebook updates and posts (he is on a different continent btw). Insofar as our friendship arises out of shared Buddhist commitments, he is what I would call a kalyana mitta, or admirable friend. And indeed, I have observed qualities in this friend which are admirable, even if I've only ever 'seen' or 'heard' him in a heavily mediatized way and may never 'know' for sure if my observations about him are accurate or not. I'd like to underscore this point because it frames what I say below. 

Given the mediatized space between us, I cannot honestly say if I may 'know' or 'feel' as this friend does, even if--especially if--he is 'present' to me in seemingly immediate and transptedarent ways (isn't this the same with all those others we 'see' and 'hear' everyday in the media: tsunami victims, terrorists, subjugated men/women, starving child, etc?). But this very same mediatized space--in which the other appears as 'present' but who may perhaps be nothing more than a trace or cipher--is also what allows he and I to develop friendship. Given the absence--an unknowingness which by definition cannot belong to the order of knowledge or fore-knowledge--at the heart of this friendship, it seems to me that what enables the relationship is a certain gesture of 'good faith' between the two of us. 'Good faith' in the sense of trust, confidence, and goodwill. It is this 'good faith' that allows for a relationship between two persons separated by space, time, place, and culture (and indeed, any friendship). There would no doubt be irreducible differences between us, differences which I may speculate on but never 'know' for sure: that is to say, the differences--those particularities--that make an individual an individual cannot be directly experienced or inhabited, even if they are communicated to me (isn't this the same for all friends, acquaintances, enemies, or strangers I encounter face-to-face in physical reality?). Yet, despite these irresolvable unknowns, despite our irreducible differences, we are able to enter into a relationship because we share certain values and ideals, of the Dhamma, of counter-cultural politics, of ecological concern, for example. It is through the profession and affirmation of these values and ideals (via the things we do on Facebook or 'real life') that certain pathways open up for us to meet and greet the other with respect and recognition. 

The affirmation and enactment of such ideals as friendliness, compassion, justice and equality appears to bridge splits and gaps without erasing difference (in fact these ideals are made possible by difference). Following this line of reasoning, how might we make connections with those innumerable others whose dukkha I witness everyday but whom I may never 'know' or 'feel', whose otherness will always remain other to me (not to mention that 'my' otherness will always remain other to 'me', as the truth of anatta or not-self posits)? How may I respond to those others without whom I cannot maintain fidelity or fulfil my duty to such Dhammic ideals as friendliness, compassion, and sympathetic joy? While I share dukkha with them, I must admit that, all things considered, my circumstances are A LOT more favourable, the dukkha I grapple with is nowhere as difficult as theirs. Given the limitations on how I can engage with them or help to alleviate their suffering, how may I find other ways of connecting with them despite unavoidable gaps and irreducible differences? How may I bear witness to their dukkha? How may I enter into a relationship of 'good faith' with them (even if they will never know)? How may I affirm and enact my commitment to goodwill, compassion, and metta? Perhaps, and this is what I explore below, I could be hopeful for them, share hope with them, affirm hope(fulness) beyond and without hope: 'May you be well, may you be free from suffering'.

Response:

If hope(fulness) is rickety in the sense that it is always uncertain, never sure, always falling short, risks futility, impossiblity, then yes, it IS rickety. This is what I’ve tried to express with ‘hopefulness beyond and without hope’. ‘Hope’ is a name (if only an arbitrary one) I give to unconditionality, which may go by other names like ‘hospitality’ and ‘gift’ (and we could include also, 'metta', 'compassion', 'Awakening', etc). If ‘hope’ is another name for unconditionality, then, as I’ve tried to show with a deconstructive reading of ‘hospitality’ and ‘gift’, ‘hope’ is likewise always already impossible from the start, and must always be granted, given up and over, sacrificed to the absolute future, impermanence, emptiness, void, or whatever one calls it. ‘Start again… start again…’ as my first meditation teacher S.N. Goenka is fond of saying. ‘Hopefulness beyond and without hope’ has to always let go and hope anew, if it wishes to affirm/enact unconditionality unconditionally, if it wishes to remain faithful to 'the impossibile' that allows ‘hope’ (and also ‘metta’, ‘compassion’, ‘hospitality’, ‘gift’ and all that) to become possible in the first place.

If hope(fulness) is rickety in the sense that it is a convenient lie people tell themselves to shirk responsibility or to avoid attending to what needs changing, then yes, I accept this ineradicable danger--risk--the spectre of uncertainty, which interestingly is also an opening, chance, space, opportunity, possibility. This is why I readily accept that hope may always fail, that it must always admit its own impossibility, if it is to become a responsible response. This is how I’ll try to avoid wrapping myself in a convenient lie; I hope I remain mindful and vigilant. Whether I'm successful or not, I'll leave the future to the future--not the future for which we maintain a savings account, but the unforseeable absolute future whose call I nevertheless hear right now, demanding decisions, responsibility, duty, fidelity, faith, trust. 

But whether others—and there are innumerable others—are clinging onto ‘hope’ as a convenient lie, sugarcoating fears and anxieties as rosy (fervent) optimism: I don’t know. I cannot know or speak for others. How can I presume to do so when I’m riddled with uncertainties myself? It may be the case that ‘hope’ is today, at least in so-called advanced liberal societies, prescribed as a kind of sedative and consumed by many who nevertheless remain confused, unaware, fearful and mistrustful of dukkha, anicca, and anatta--unwilling to examine the uncertainty that is life--even as they fervently ‘hope’ for ‘freedom’ and ‘happiness’. But it is also the case that there are many more others who grapple with dukkha more acutely than 'us' living in advanced liberal societies, this small minority of which I’m part. For those others who are living in abject poverty, facing persecution from their own kind, or exploitation by ‘foreign intervention’, I wonder if they would, ever so often, fix their gaze on the horizon--to the sunset perhaps—and hope that the future to come would ease their suffering. I’m assuming they do. I can only ASSUME because I only ever ‘see’ and ‘hear’ them via the media. I do not, cannot, and may never honestly ‘know’ them, even as their faces emanate from the screen with apparent immediacy; in this respect, doesn't the screen, the gaze, then function like a veil, covering with 'objective' transparency an opacity which would always remain to some degree masked, hidden, inaccessible?. Nevertheless, even if those others remain inaccessible, I cannot ignore what I see and hear, even if what I see and hear is heavily mediatized; what I see and hear is dukkha, found everywhere but belonging properly to no one.

How should I respond? I’m painfully aware that regardless of what I do to respond responsibly—charity, activism, critical inquiry, etc—my efforts can only go so far to help alleviate their suffering. I will never experience their circumstances; I will never feel how it’s like to survive day-to-day on a thin thread of hope. Are those others holding on to ‘hope’ lying to themselves, avoiding what needs attention, repeating a bad habit? I cannot say; how would I honestly know? Even if I have reasons to be sceptical about ‘hope’ (such as the reasons given above), given my privileged circumstances, and given that I do not experience dukkha the way they do, I have to ask if I could or should, if it’s responsible to, pathologise their ‘hope’? 

I choose not to, not if I wish to maintain fidelity to what my own encounter with dukkha (who hasn't experience pain, fear, loss, grief?) has taught me. I choose instead to affirm hope, or ‘hopefulness beyond and without hope’. I affirm ‘hope’ not to gloss over their suffering with some uncritical utopianism (there's enough of this in the global 'liberal' media), but rather to bear witness to their suffering, to give testimony to dukkha. This ‘hope’ I affirm—and which I hope to constantly unsettle (though it is always already unsettled anyway)—is not directed at any specific proposition. It is more like an affirmation, of friendliness, of goodwill, of metta—‘May you be well, may you be free from dukkha’—to affirm unconditionality unconditionally. Unconditionality: hope(fulness) beyond and without hope allows me to empathise, and hopefully sympathise, with those others whose dukkha I cannot pretend not to notice. Without empathy and sympathy, I cannot become compassionate: I can’t maintain fidelity towards the Dhamma, which has brought me much contentment, ease, compassion and yes, hope(fulness) beyond and without hope—again, not a fervent optimism but an ACCEPTANCE and WILLINGNESS to allow things to always become otherwise, anicca, impermanence, change.

To put it another way, I affirm hope to ‘share my merits’, as Buddhist teachings repeatedly tells me to do. Will these merits ‘reach’ those others? I don’t know. But unless I wish to be irresponsible, unfaithful, towards the Three Jewels, I choose to affirm hope(fulness) beyond and without hope. Am I misrepresenting the Three Jewels by affirming ‘hope’? I don’t know. I’ll leave it to others to decide. Am I addicted to or bamboozled by some misguided faith or dogmatic thinking? Again, I’ll leave it to others to decide (for isn't it usually another who diagnoses pathology in others, not oneself?). Admittedly, this refusal to reply directly to these conundrums surrounding my decision may be somewhat irresponsible. So I shall offer this tentative respond for now: YES, PERHAPS.

I’m always feeling my way around; I do not pretend to have overcome the uncertainty that is dukkha. If anything, ‘hope’ for me is a pledge of goodwill, an affirmation (‘yes!’), a promise of fidelity towards metta, compassion, and all the rest of it in the face of dukkha, both my own and others. I’m trying to be faithful to my intentions, to honour decisions, to respond responsibly. I may in the end ‘hope wrong’. But to affirm, to enact, to live, unconditionally is to always risk becoming wrong, for the unconditional  does not reject what appears irreconcilable or irresolvable nor deny uncertainty or unknowingness; the unconditional always says 'YES' to 'PERHAPS’, otherwise where’s unconditionality? 

I accept. 

Karma’s a bitch (or bastard; let's be gender-neutral), as they say. But there we also find responsibility, duty--which for everyone can only ever be 'mine'--to fulfil.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I have never truly given and may never will; but perhaps this is why I must.

I've been revisiting the work of Derrida for my research so my the posts at the moment may be somewhat Derrida-centric. In this post, I'd like to reflect on his ideas about 'the gift', and again to speculate on the parallels with Buddhist ideas. As with 'hospitality' Derrida's thoughts on 'the gift' turn on the possible-impossible aporia, whereby the impossibility of a pure/absolute gift is its very condition of possibility. Here is the link to the section on 'the gift' in the IEP, if you wish to explore it in the broader context of Derrida's work. I'll try to explain it in my own words, and hopefully maintain fidelity to Derrida's arguments.


According to Derrida, a pure/absolute gift should not be recognised as a gift as such. Once it is recognised as a gift and the receiver responds with a 'thank you', the gift is no longer a gift, because in saying 'thank you' it is almost as if the receiver has 'paid back'. In this exchange of giving and thank you, both parties enact a relationship of obligation. Because of this relationship of obligation, there arises the opportunity for the giver to give something just so they can receive an acknowledgement. (I think if we are honest enough, we've all done this. I certainly have) This is not pure/absolute giving. It is an economy of exchange.

Even if the receiver doesn't know that they are receiving a gift, to prevent the relationship from slipping into this economy of exchange, the giver too cannot know that they are giving. If the giver knows they are giving, it not only presupposes a 'debt' on the receiver (even if it is something as simple as a 'thank you') but also gives rise to the opportunity for the giver to think: 'I'm such a nice person to give something to this person, and without them knowing no less!' *pats oneself on the back*' Again, this is not pure/absolute giving, it is a kind of self-serving calculativeness.

So for there to be pure/absolute giving--for the gift to be unconditional--the giver must not know they are giving, and the receiver also must not know they are receiving. But if this is the case, then a gift is impossible; all acts of giving would always fall short of the unconditionality of 'the gift'. It would seem that Derrida is driving us to a dead end. But what he is pointing to, I think, is that since this is unavoidable, to be faithful to the unconditionality of 'the gift' we have to accept that we are always falling short, we ought not deny the impossibility--the absence--that marks all relationships of giving-receiving, and the impossibility of attaining self-presence of 'giver' and 'receiver'. To assume the identities of the 'giver' and 'receiver' without recognising that they are always already not of the self is to fail to honour the unconditionality that the ideal of 'giving' or 'the gift' demands. It seems to me then that given this aporia, we have to always start again, and again, and again--not unlike meditation--so that we would not become complacent with the identities of 'giver' or 'receiver' nor with the relationship between 'you' and 'I', which can sometimes mask a certain imbalance, or worse, an unacknowledged self-serving calculativeness.

To relate this to Buddhist terms, what this points to is that pure/absolute giving requires an emptiness of the giver, the giver must be not-self, so that all that paying back, patting oneself on the back, exchange, etc, would not inhere even if they are unavoidable. It also requires the giver to always double back and accept that even though their intention of unconditional giving is impossible right from the start, they nevertheless must commit themselves to this impossible ideal--if they wish to be truly responsible to the other, if they wish to be truly generous or selfless, if they wish to be truly faithful to the call of unconditionality.


(One quick note here: I would not call myself a Mahayana practitioner. Even though my formal practice is Theravadin-based, I do not know if I could pass for a Theravadin either. I'm not unaware of the mutual criticisms levelled at each traditions. While there is a degree of validity in the criticisms from either camp, I do not wish to dwell on them. I'll leave it to others to draw the boundaries. Given that the wisdom of both traditions have transformed my life, I simply wish to be grateful and acknowledge either tradition whenever I can.)

As I understand it, the impossibility of fulfilling the unconditionality of 'the gift' is expressed in the bodhisattva ideal too where one sacrifices one's own Awakening for the sake of all sentient beings. 
But the bodhisattva vow says that sentient beings are infinite and innumerable. If sentient beings are infinite and innumerable (i.e. with no beginning nor end), then when will the bodhisattva ever attain Awakening? If Awakening is the horizon orienting the path, then it is an impossible horizon, or to paraphrase a quote from the previous post, it is not a horizon but the shattering of the horizon. Yet, this impossibility at the heart of the bodhisattva vow forms the compass for the Mahayana path. It is almost like saying, 'This CANNOT be achieved but this is precisely why I MUST strive for it.' (I've explored this line of thought here in terms of 'ethical responsibility'). 

The 'impossible' which I have been alluding to in these recent posts, and which I think is a certain 'structure of experience' at the heart of our everyday lives, points to a kind of radical responsibility and also a kind of radical hope beyond hope. This hope--or perhaps more precisely, hopefulness beyond and without hope--is not directed at any specific content nor is it a kind of fervent optimism or utopianism (see here for another discussion on hope). As the logic of the impossible in Derrida's thoughts and the bodhisattva ideal suggests, this hopefulness lacks presence or beginning or end. It is a hopefulness that embraces its own absence (or emptiness or void or whatever one calls it), placing hope in its own (im)possibility: unconditionality, which has always been (though time becomes irrelevant here) and must always remain unconditional. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Traces of traces, what is?, and the future to come



This post will be quite long, in the sense that it will take up some space because of the layout of the text rather than the number of words What I want to do is share some thoughts--the traces of traces--marking my experience of a song. Some of these traces include a beautiful poem written by a good friend about his first meditation retreat. 

So first, the poem:

retreat

each morning
the gong waking us
into 4:30am darkness

*

for the first three days
watching the breath

*

feel breath entering
& leaving the nostrils,
channels of breath
lightly brushing
the upper lip

*

stripped of speech
& gesture
how we still keep
a polite distance,
how I am careful
not to slurp at my tea
in the dining hall

*

writing is not permitted;
‘there is no need
to take notes’

*

no reading material
except signs & notices;
a makeshift sign
on the border of the property reads
‘do not go beyond this point’

*

every day after breakfast
walking alone through the field;
around its perimeter
the long grass has been trampled
into a narrow path;
my toes & sandals
sprayed with dew;
cicadas leaping
away from each step

*

perhaps a sleepmurmur
is all that has exited
my mouth for days –
other than a cough
or froth of toothpaste

*

three times a day
a ‘sitting of determination’:
to remain still
for an hour,
observing the pain
in shoulders & spine
as it arises

*

hearing only
the anticipated chant
that will signal
hour’s end

*

nearing the hour
the coughing starts up
amongst the men
meditating around me

*

remembered songs drop by,
wash uninvited through
the meditating mind

*

what is that sound?
the knocking
of two percussive blocks
or a frog
restless in the dawn?

*

4:30am
New Year’s Day:
close to 40 degrees celsius;
moths, mosquitoes, others
drunken in the heat,
revel around the nightlight
outside the dorm.

*

some afternoons
must be 45 degrees
in the meditation hall;
leaving a sweat-lake
on the mat

*

break my vow of silence
to inform the manager
that the first toilet on the left
has a blockage

*

men & women segregated,
separate facilities,
though we all meditate
in the same hall –
men to the left,
women to the right

*

everyone asked to dress ‘modestly’
to minimise distractions

*

meditating in the hall
at dusk,
intermittent mooing
of a distant cow

*

sleepless:
a spider on the window
of the dorm ...
this side of the glass

*

without communication
it’s difficult
to reach any agreement:
whether the dorm door
should be open or closed
during sleeping hours

*

on white porcelain sinks
in the washroom,
mosquitoes & beetles:
a growing collection of corpses

*

anicca:
all things arise,
pass away

*

the instruction
repeated:
‘Start again.
Start again ...’

(From 'How to Be Hungry', Stu Hattonhttp://tinyurl.com/2a9vrlh)

This is the song I was listening to (not the best version but this is the only one on Youtube):



Here are the lyrics and the traces of traces:

each morning
the gong waking us
into 4:30am darkness

my eyes are closed but i can see
faces calling back to me

They say that it all began in Greece, when the philosophers asked themselves, “Ti esti?” – “What is the sense of this or that?” “What do we mean by the word Being?”     

oh they chime like bells on a sunday morning
come close and bring them back again


But at base, the first question on the question that preoccupied me, the first question on the question has two parts. First: is questioning the privilege form of philosophy?

oh can you see by the early light
we've been these characters all our lives

stripped of speech
& gesture
how we still keep
a polite distance,
how I am careful
not to slurp at my tea
in the dining hall

Is thinking really questioning as it’s often said? Couldn’t there be, before the question, a more ancient, profound, and radical movement  that is not questioning, but is rather an affirmation. 

yeah the rain's been gone since yesterday morning
come down and bring it back again

writing is not permitted;
‘there’s no need
to take notes'



Then, even presupposing that the first question of philosophy concerns Being – what is ‘to be’, what is the sense of this or that, what do we mean by the word Being? – is there not something presupposed in the way we come to understand Being?

oh would you come?
will you come and bring it back again?

remembered songs drop by,
wash uninvited through
the meditating mind



Haven’t we in our interpretation of Being privileged a modality of time that is the present and the presence of the present. 

no the light didn't shine round here this morning
wake up and bring it back again



what is that sound?
the knocking
of two percussive blocks
or a frog
restless in the dawn?



The question of the self: "who am I?" not in the sense of "who am I" but "who is this 'I' that can say "who"? What is the "I," and what becomes of responsibility once the identity of the "I" trembles in secret?"


lord, i am lost in a slow man's dream

yeah my eyes are closed but i can see



meditating in the hall
at dusk,
intermittent mooing
of a distant cow


I cannot respond to the call, the request, the obligation, or even the love of another without sacrificing the other other, the other others. Every other (one) is every (bit) other [tout autre est tout autre], everyone else is completely or wholly other. 

my heart's been gone since sunday morning

come down and bring it back again



oh would you come, will you come and bring it back again?

...messianicity without messianism...
it follows no determinate revelation, it belongs properly to no Abrahamic religion

oh would you come, will you come and bring it back again?

the opening to the future or to the coming of the other as the advent of justice, but without horizon of expectation and without prophetic prefiguration 

anicca:
all things arise,
pass away  
will you come and bring it back again?


is not the horizon but the disruption or opening up of the horizon


the instruction

repeated:

‘Start again.

Start again ...’

viens, oui, oui
come, yes, yes

-----------------------

(Quotes in italics are by Derrida, except 'is not the horizon...' by John D. Caputo.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hospitality, anicca, and anatta

In the previous few posts, I've attempted to speculate on the possible parallels (which is NOT to say equivalence) between Buddhist thought and Derrida's ideas on the impossible-possible aporia, which he explores through various themes such as forgiveness, responsibility, and hospitality. I'd like to reflect on hospitality in this post. 


For Derrida, true/full/total hospitality is impossible insofar as it turns on the notion that the host should welcome any and everyone--that is, the host has to allow their home to be totally open. But if the home is totally open, then one is not 'the master of the house', so to speak. If this the case, then the host no longer hosts, the host no longer exercises hospitality. Yet, this impossible demand of hospitality is its condition of possibility: it is the very notion of indiscriminate openness that allows for any act of hospitality in the first place. To explicate this further, here is a very succinct explanation from the entry on Derrida in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:


His point is relatively simple here; to be hospitable, it is first necessary that one must have the power to host. Hospitality hence makes claims to property ownership and it also partakes in the desire to establish a form of self-identity. Secondly, there is the further point that in order to be hospitable, the host must also have some kind of control over the people who are being hosted. This is because if the guests take over a house through force, then the host is no longer being hospitable towards them precisely because they are no longer in control of the situation. This means, for Derrida, that any attempt to behave hospitably is also always partly betrothed to the keeping of guests under control, to the closing of boundaries, to nationalism, and even to the exclusion of particular groups or ethnicities (OH 151-5). This is Derrida’s ‘possible’ conception of hospitality, in which our most well-intentioned conceptions of hospitality render the “other others” as strangers and refugees (cf. OH 135, GD 68). Whether one invokes the current international preoccupation with border control, or simply the ubiquitous suburban fence and alarm system, it seems that hospitality always posits some kind of limit upon where the other can trespass, and hence has a tendency to be rather inhospitable. On the other hand, as well as demanding some kind of mastery of house, country or nation, there is a sense in which the notion of hospitality demands a welcoming of whomever, or whatever, may be in need of that hospitality. It follows from this that unconditional hospitality, or we might say ‘impossible’ hospitality, hence involves a relinquishing of judgement and control in regard to who will receive that hospitality. In other words, hospitality also requires non-mastery, and the abandoning of all claims to property, or ownership. If that is the case, however, the ongoing possibility of hospitality thereby becomes circumvented, as there is no longer the possibility of hosting anyone, as again, there is no ownership or control.


The reference to border control and nationalism suggests that the notion of hospitality is of relevance in today's geopolitical climate, where tensions surrounding immigration seem to be boiling over in many parts of the world including Australia, the US, Europe, and even in the small country where I grew up, Singapore. But what use is such a way of thinking about hospitality? Countries obviously need to exert some form of control over their borders; they obviously cannot simply let any one in willy nilly; overpopulation and the strain on resources could be a problem if immigration is not regulated. 


To my understanding (which is, btw, very rudimentary), such a notion of hospitality does not discount these necessities. It seems to me that Derridean ethico-political thinking does not aim to make specific recommendations on policies and laws, or on how sociopolitical relationships ought to be organised. Rather, it is about questioning the metaphysical assumptions of presence underlying these relationships--e.g. the assumption that there are unchanging meanings in how these relationships are approached, that there are fixed essences of 'we' and 'them', for instance. As indicated above, the moment a host asserts ownership or control (which they must)--the moment a host assumes self-identity--hospitality becomes contaminated with inhospitality. In making such an argument, it seems to me that what Derrida is trying to do is to always 'pull the rug from under our feet' so to speak, in order to complicate any assumption that there is enduring presence in 'I' and 'you', and in the world we engage in. Rather, every relation of 'I' and 'you' is always marked by absence


The aim in pointing out the impossibility of hospitality is not to immobilise decision. Rather, it is to point out that for any decision of hospitality to be responsible, it has to be re-evaluated over and over again--it is a decision that has to be taken over and over again so that we do not rest comfortable on any fixed ideas about 'us' or 'them' which might lead to all sorts of ethical violence (for me, this can be seen in the detention of asylum seekers in Australia, or the imminent banning of the burqua in France, for instance). What this requires then is a kind of vigilance or mindfulness, and even a certain air of humility which accepts that things are always open to unpredictable change, that notions of 'us' and 'them' can never be settled once and for all. To this extent, I think he is pointing to something quite similar to Buddhist understanding. 


If anicca refers to incalculable and unforeseeable change, can we say that it also points to the demands of hospitality: an unconditional openness towards those unexpected 'guests' which the ceaseless movement of impermanence invites? And if hospitality requires that we relinquish all control and ownership, can we say that it also points to the demands of anatta: the identities of 'host' and 'guest' are not of the self?