Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Turtles & Anger Management in Vietnam

Vietnam was ruled by the Ming Dynasty in the early 15th century. That was a bummer. So, this guy, Le Loi - he thought this was seriously a raw deal, and he mustered the Vietnamese people to fight back. And fight they did for ten long years.

As Le Loi raised his battle cry, Long Vuong the Dragon King stirred the waters in his home that laid beneath the waves of Vietnam's lakes and rivers. The word on the heavenly streets was that the Vietnamese were in for a blood bath. And there Le Loi was, just up and fighting for his country and not listening to reason or words of warning. Well... crap.

The Dragon King heard the anger and pain of war above him, and then he cozily went back to sleep. He'd planned ahead, you see. Years ago he returned the blade of Heaven's Will (Thuan Thien) to land via a fisherman.

"What a catch!" thought the fisherman, and he tugged and he tugged on his net. But when he retrieved his net all he found was a long blade. "That's no fish," he said and heaved it back into the water. But like the cat that came back, there was the blade in his net again the very next day. "Well, fine. Whatevs!" huffed the fisherman, and he brought the blade home.

Fish he knew what to do with but blades not so much. So, it sat there until one day during the war Le Loi found himself visiting the fisherman. The blade caught his attention instantly. "Take it, take it," said the fisherman. "It glows something terrible night after night. I can't sleep. Please, take it."

So, now Le Loi had a magic blade, but where was the hilt that went with it? Hmmm.

Well, it just so happened that a nearby bush was glowing. Bushes don't usually do that, so off Le Loi went to investigate. Within the bush he found the bejeweled hilt that perfectly fit his magic blade.

The mighty sword glowed in the hero's hand. Le Loi knew this weapon was heaven sent. With its burning light at the front of his Vietnamese army, the long dark of their war would finally end.

So, yep, the Ming army got there's. 'Cause that's how they throw down in Vietnam, suckahs! Le Loi became King of Vietnam and lived in a beautiful palace in what is now Hanoi in front of Ho Huan Kiem Lake.

One day Le Loi was floating in a pretty boat on the lake, just chillin', when suddenly there appeared a giant, golden turtle in the water before him. "Return what was lent, earthly king," the turtle said. Le Loi instantly knew, the sword was not his to keep. It belonged to Heaven. The sword had done it's work, and the time had come to return the weapon to its rightful owners. He threw the sword to the golden turtle who brought it back down to the depths and to the great Dragon King.


K, so, do I even need to say it? Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake. The story also reminds me of the mythical Irish Spear of Lugh which had to be kept in water when not in use because of the flames that emanated from it's blade. I'm also reminded of the story of Taliesin from the Mabinogion, and how he was found in a fisherman's net, but I'm not sure that comparison is relevant here. Altogether, there does seem to be a sensibility held in common with the Celts here.

Why a sword? Why water? Sex, presumably. The pointy, masculine fire is put to rest in the feminine waters.

In this story the sword is returned to a turtle - a longstanding symbol of long life for the Vietnamese. Therefore when it was returned, agression was dowsed, and long life resumed it's rightful rule.

Water can also represent the subconscious mind. The legend says that a light could be seen at the bottom of the lake for years after the sword was returned. A fire in the mind perhaps. A sign that creativity is now free to flourish perhaps.

But this blog is about what these stories have to do with our daily lives. Well, there's the obvious "Peace, Love and Understanding" interpretation, but what advice does this story have to offer us on an individual level?

Don't get angry. Just have some sex! You'll feel a lot better.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Literalism

"Religions do make factual and historical claims, and if these claims are false, then the religions fail." Holy bejesus!

I've come to love The Stone which is a philosophy column on the NYTimes website. Often the contributors tackle the subject of religion, and Tim Crane recently published his ideas about religion and atheism. Crane states that Christianity relies on the fact of rising of Christ from the grave. For many of the faithful that is absolutely the case, but does the entire religion rely upon its claims being accepted as fact?

"Archaeology is the search for fact not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall." Thank you, Indiana Jones. It's true. There are facts and then there are truths.

Does faith need to be built upon facts? It is a question that would be argued by both the faithful and the unfaithful. I say "no."

No disrespect to any man or woman of faith, but it's safe to say that logically speaking people to don't rise from the grave after being buried for three days. Not even Jesus. As far as I am concerned, the rising of Christ is not a fact. It is, however, a truth. What does the Resurrection mean to you? You might see a transcendence in the story. You might see a lightening of our burdens. The science of resurrection or the lack their of has nothing to do with the truth of the Resurrection.

Our myths and religious stories are brilliantly and consciously built. They contain within them mathematics, astronomy and ecology. Some fast examples: Multiples of the number 25920 (years in on cycle of the precession) litter sacred texts around the world. Salmon is called wisdom, and salmon is the animal that travels back to where it hatched every year to procreate. It even jumps up streams to get there. Stories about the planet Saturn often include the number 30, and Saturn takes thirty years to travel around the sun. And these stories that contain our math and astronomy tell the tale of our human soul. Saturn is often responsible for the loss of the golden age - when we ate Eve's apple of awareness. Our stories are too smart, too scientifically observant. Human beings made these stories knowing full well just what they were doing. We've forgotten how we did that now, and some scholars are slowly putting the pieces back together. But that we'll find that religious stories have been understood as truth and not fact by certain faithful followers in bygone times feels inevitable for me.

Can we allow truth and fact co-exist? Can Genesis and the Theory of Evolution co-exist? One is a story grown out of truth and one is a theory based on facts. It is up to the faithful to understand the designation of "truth" as being of a higher value. Someone needs the story of Eve and the apple to help them get through this world. Someone else needs the story of a Mexican sunrise. Facts don't help a human function in this world. Truth does, and facts cannot threaten the value and importance of truth.

Bob Walter of the Joseph Campbell Foundation has a speech he often gives where he says, "Mythology is a matter of life and death." Attaching oneself to the "facts" of a religion inevitably creates conflict between different belief systems (see, Buddha told you attachment was bad). If we see the truth and metaphor in our faiths and let go the ideas of fact and history, then we can be as peaceful as ours Gods hope we will be.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why railing at God(s) makes no sense. Woot!

mmmmBOOM! The dark void burst spewing forth the sun, the moon, the stars - No, not the big bang. It is the creation story of the Kuba people who live in what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. After the explosion, MBoom, the Sky God, got jiggy the Earth Goddess, and they begat themselves some sons. One was named Woot. Yes, really. Woot.

Woot had 9 kids. Guess what their names were? Guess. "Woot". All ten of them had the same name: Woot. Woot played a typical Saturnine role. He named all the plants and animals and people, too. He and the kids taught mankind how to be human as opposed to animal. They taught us to be Prometheus instead of Epimetheus, Gilgamesh instead of Enkidu.

Woot's two youngest invented sharpening and pointed tools. Sounds great, right? What would mankind do without those tools? The brother who invented pointed tools murdered the brother who invented sharpening (cough - Cain and Abel.) This crime brought death to the world of men. This crime brought evil to the world of men.

What does that have to do with us trying to go about our lives today?

It means life is not going to get better.

If you're a glass half empty kind of person, then you are like many Christians who believe that orginal sin and the fall from grace were bad. If you're a glass half full kind of person, then you see how really, this is beautiful.

The world is broken. Nothing works out just right. Cosmically, the lunar year and the solar year don't match up. String theory doesn't quite cut it as the Theory of Everything. Earthbound, we have war; we have poverty; we have disease.

Nothing will break the cycles of these wrongs. I do not mean to say that fighting against them is pointless. On the contrary, that is what Compassion is all about - doing what you can to ease the pain of your fellow man. But we cannot defeat war. We cannot defeat hate. We cannot live a human life without pain.

Life in the Garden of Eden? Painless. Life outside the Garden of Eden? Hurts.

But it was humanity's choice to leave the Garden. Whatever you believe about the snake, Eve chose to eat the fruit of wisdom - the fruit of awareness - of consciousness. Without consciousness, there is no experience of love. There is no experience of beauty.

The story told in the Quiche Mayan book The Popul Vuh is my favorite paradise lost story. Their "Garden of Eden" was a darkness where all people understood eachother and were peaceful. But the people went to their god, and they asked to leave that peace behind. Why? They'd never seen the beauty of a sunrise. And without light they'd never looked upon the face of their god. In other words, they'd never been fully conscious. Their god told his people the journey was painful, but the intrepid among them prepared themselves. The people lost their unity, and they learned pain. But they saw the sunrise.

Can you imagine living your life and never once seeing the sun rise?

The stories tell us not to ask more of our world or our gods than what they can give us. From the get go, they let us know, this whole living thing is going to suck balls. These stories tell me that when my shit hits fans I should relax and go find something beautiful.


My source: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Humanities/pschmid1/kuba.html

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One Legged Summer

I busted my knee. I was travelling in Bodh Gaya when one day I went kerplop. Six weeks later the one legged summer is almost at an end.

So, there's this story about a dude who stood on one leg for way longer than one summer.

Dhruva was a Indian prince in mythical yesteryear. He was not the big cheese, however. He was a little cheese. And it's not like he was moldy cheese or anything; he was just little. But you would have thought Dhruva was seriously rank if you talked to him after that day in the throneroom. Dhruva was playing with his father the king under the watchful eye of the queen. Dhruva was the son of the king's second wife, and the queen, ie the king's first wife, was incensed to see the inferior child in the lap of the king. The woman unleashed a vicious tongue on the innocent child: "Scram, you little pisser. The highest seat worthy of your ass is in the outhouse."

Wah wah. Dhurva ran to his mummy. But mummy was little comfort for the crying child. "She's right," she confessed to her son. Dhruva was of an inferior birth. Had he been worthy of the king he'd have been granted a better birth. But was there no way around this?

Prayer. Lots and lots of prayer. Devotion, ascetecism, meditation, ie prayer earned you the favor of the gods. It might even privy you to gods' powers and secrets. Dhruva's mother told her little boy the only hope he had to better himself in this world was to pray, and off to the temple went the five year old boy.

Little Dhruva prayed and prayed to Vishnu. And he conducted a lot of his prayer while standing on one leg. Huh.

Little Dhruva got bigger and got the attention of Vishnu. When Vishnu visited the young man who'd spent almost the entire of his existence in prayer, the young man had forgotten his powers of speech. There in the presence of his god he found himself unable to express his profound devotion.

This is my favorite part. According the Bhagavata Purana Vishnu touches Dhruva's cheek with his conch. A conch is a symbol representing the call to faith or the spreading of the faith. After the tap ont he cheek Dhruva suddenly spouts poetry of love and devotion for Vishnu. The god's touch made him a poet! To be inspired to is speak for the gods.

"A'ight," Vishnu said. "You're all pious and shit now, so you'll be king instead of your brother. So, check it. Your brother will die in a hunting accident. Then when that catty mother of his runs after him, she'll kick it in a forest fire. We cool?"

"Mos def," said Dhruva. And so it was that Dhruva was king of the world for the rest of his life. When his time came to die Vishnu took him into the heavens and gave him the job of the pole star.

The pole star is fixed. It's steady. Dhruva prays on one leg "like a column," [Vishnu Purana] - a column not unlike the earth's axis. The Bhagavata Purana calls Dhruva a bright planet "around which all the other planets and constellations of stars are circling like a group of bulls does stationary around a central pole [for crushing grain]." The act of standing on one leg here represents centering, focusing and a broad perspective.

Q: Has my one legged summer centered me, focused me or broadened my perspective?

A: Eh.

Well, the disappointment of having lost out on a summer of adventure is still rather fresh. Perhaps when this experience is well in the past I'll have a different perspective. In the meantime I can at the least focus on finding me some of that inspiration.


My sources: The Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana. I first encountered the story in the book Hamlet's Mill. Also, it is possible I've watched several episodes of "The Wire" of late.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thoughts from Bodh Gaya

As I write this I am in Bodh Gaya, India witnessing celebrations take place 'round the sacred Bodhi tree on Sakyamuni Buddha's birthday. The tree is the tree under which Buddha achieved his enlightenment. Around it people chant, rock and tap while reading holy sutras. I watch the faithful file past the tree and wonder at a beautiful distress on their faces - as if the tree were so holy, it hurt.

I have to ask: Why is this important? Yes, thi is beautiful and holy and it fills the souls of the faithful, but what does it matter you and me in our every day lives?

What is your pilgrim path? Perhaps you love to write, and you'd like to visit the Algonquin. Perhaps Burning Man feels like home to you. Or perhaps you'd like to visit Amsterdam and give thanks to Mother Reefer.

Footsteps. Buddhapada are stylized carvings of the Buddha's footprints. I've only been in Bodh Gaya on this trip so far, but I've seen several of them here and most adorned with offered white and orange flowers.

So, step by step walk the labyrinth path. Dip a toe in the sacred river. Wander the beautiful black of a spirit cave. At the end of the dark is a wisdom moving in the gallop of a horse painted on the wall. Or perhaps in the light there stands a Bodhi tree.

But that is their wonder. What is yours? When are you most yourself?

There's a place that stands for that for you, I think. Perhaps to go there helps you regain perspective? Perhaps the place realligns you with your path? It must be so peaceful there.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bunji for Buddha!

So, say there's a drought, and say, you think it's 'cause the rain god is mad at you for not paying enough attention to him. (Such petulant children our gods can be!) So, what do you do? Obvi, you cut down the tallest tree in the forest and strip it of its branches - we're talking 150 ft tall. You wrap four ropes around the top of it.

Then you and four other guys climb to the top of the 150 ft pole. Four bars have been built at the top for you to sit on. You take a seat and tie a rope around your ankle. The fifth man stands on the pole. He plays a drum and a flute. He dances for each of the cardinal directions, and he dances for the sun. You sit there, above the world, listening to a man honor the sanctity of a life lived in time and space. The pole he stands on marks the navel of the universe. You feel centered.

The song ends. You lean back; you fall off your seat.

You swing! The four men seated around the pole are all swinging round and round in mid air. They'll spin and spin until they finally land gently on the ground.

This is the Voladores ritual of the indigenous Mexicans, specifically of the city of Papantla (exact indigenous origins of the ritual are subject to debate). Alas, the ritual seems mostly to be done to entertain tourists now. (Email me if you know of the ritual being done regionally for its own sake).

Lately I've been feeling the need to do something wild. Something to shock my system and remind me I'm mortal. Not sky diving - I'm too chicken for that. I would love to bunji jump, but I have enough back problems as it is. I've been thinking about cliff jumping - jumping into water from an exhilarating height.

What other reason is there to do a dare devil stunt than to remind us that we're alive? We remind ourselves and simultaneously, if we take a lesson from the Voladores, we honor the fact that we're alive and a part of a god's creation.

So by that logic: Bunji for Buddha! Sky dive if you love Jesus!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

(paradise) LOST

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you've not watched Lost through to the end of Season 5. Do not read if you plan to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I highly recommend).

I knew how this past season of Lost was going to end ever since the appearance of the polar bear in season one. Want to know how?

First, a disclaimer: The mythology I will discuss will be broad, in depth concepts, and in order to be succinct I will be speaking of them generally. For supporting evidence of the comparative elements discussed here read Hamlet's Mill.

The paradise or golden age of a culture concerns time. The end of paradise is the beginning of time, more specifically it's the beginning of broken time. To the naked eye, the Zodiac looks like a band of constellations that wraps around the earth. And it appears to be moving ever so slowly around the earth (that's called the precession of the equinoxes). This image is often likened to a mill. The mill that is the zodiac is not perpendicular to the earth. Instead it's slanted to one side a little bit. The ancient mythologist imagined that the zodiac mill once stood perpendicular to the earth and that when it did time made sense. There were a complete and consistent number of days in a year. Lunar months and solar months came out equally. But something broke the mill, something pushed the zodiac so that it was on a slant. That broke time.

So when the mill broke it was the beginning of time as we know it now. It is also the beginning of pain. It is the beginning of death. And the end of the golden age was caused by a crime.

Someone on the staff of Lost is apparently familiar with these concepts. Hints were dropped for the .01% of the population who would understand them (but now you do too, so yay). In season 4, the boat is called the Zodiac. When Ben leaves the island he must turn a wheel that's broken slightly on it's axle - very much an image of the Zodiac. Also, the number 108. I've been told that the numbers are a part of a formula which is concerned with the end of the world. That also supports what I'm saying about the return to paradise because returning to paradise requires the end of the world. 108 is also a precessional number. What's a precessional number? Well the precession, which I mentioned above and encourage you to do your own research on, takes 25,920 years to complete one cycle. Numbers that divide evenly into 25,920 are found as sacred numbers all around the world. 108 is such a number. Because of other knowledge displayed, I do believe that at least someone on the staff of Lost understands that.

And I'm sure all of you could tell when the 5th season started to become more Judeo-Christian and Miltonic.

But the mythological hints I did not see clearly until the 4th season (I never watched the 3rd season.) So, how did I know about the return to paradise ever since the polar bear?

Once upon time, before there was Lost there was Alias. JJ Abrahms was the creative force behind its first season. When the show got to its recap episode about 2/3rds of the way through the season, I thought, this is a lot like the recap episode in the Japanese animated series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Then all of a sudden all the pieces started falling into the place. The entire first season of Alias is modeled on that Japanese series. [For those familiar with series: father and child having issues with a missing mother, Aida and Toji are mushed into one character namely Will, and the plots parallel for instance the black out episode parallels with the Quentin Tarntino hostel takeover episode. Noah is Kaworu, and so on.]

So JJ Abrams began a series heavily influenced by the Eva series but abandoned his interest in his series after that. He never finished what he started. Then Lost began. If I'm not mistaken, the series started to take a turn towards the supernatural with the appearance of the polar bear. Then I knew, JJ Abrams was going to use this to finish what he started. This would be his American Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Based on my knowledge of the Japanese series I knew that a character would intentionally end the world in order implement a sort of return to paradise. The motivations are even the same. Gendo did it to be with his deceased wife, Yuki. Jack did it because he lost Kate.

How is what Jack did a return to paradise? The characters choose to undo the time spent and the pain experienced on the island in favor of going back to the time moments before they were trapped on the island. This is a clear "no" to life lived in the fields of time, space, and pain. And this is the mythic story of paradise's loss and the attempt to regain it.

I have not yet seen the season six premiere. I anxiously await it out here in distant Singapore. But now, for the first time, I don't know what's going to happen. I can't wait!