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Theology for artists and musicians, Buddhist & Christian

Monday, April 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with side-trips to China, ancient and modern ]
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The-Bach-Window-Saint-Tho-007
Bach window in the Thomaskirsche, Leipzig, where Bach was Cantor

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The Dalai Lama has a fascinating article out about reincarnating lamas (“tulkus”) which has direct relevance to discussions of what happens when he died — whether he decides to reincarnate as a new Dalai Lama, whether the Chinese decide to do it for him, etc.

I learned a lot — but the piece that really caught my eye was this:

The Emanation Body is three-fold: a) the Supreme Emanation Body like Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, who manifested the twelve deeds of a Buddha such as being born in the place he chose and so forth; b) the Artistic Emanation Body which serves others by appearing as craftsmen, artists and so on; and c) the Incarnate Emanation Body, according to which Buddhas appear in various forms such as human beings, deities, rivers, bridges, medicinal plants, and trees to help sentient beings.

I love the ontology that gives us “human beings, deities, rivers, bridges, medicinal plants, and trees” and which reminds me of Borges‘ scheme, allegedly derived from a Chinese encyclopedia, The Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge, for the classification of animals:

In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

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But really, that’s a bonus.

It’s the inclusion of “craftsmen, artists and so on” as being potentially Artistic Emanation Bodies of Buddha that gets me. I see it as a viable counterbalance to the current emphasis in the west — and in the westifying east — on STEM topics, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as the ultimate desirables in education.

And for what it’s worth, the idea is not without comparative equivalents. July 28 is the commemoration, in the Episcopalian Calendar of Saints, of “Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750, George Frederick Handel, 1759, and Henry Purcell, 1695, Composers” — while the Lutherans on the same day commemorate “Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750; Heinrich Schütz, 1672; George Frederick Handel, 1759; musicians”.

From a set of Episcopalian lectionary readings:

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness: Thou gavest to thy musicians Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, and Henry Purcell grace to show forth thy glory in their music. May we also be moved to sound out thy praises as a foretaste of thy eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Arthur Waley, in his slim volume on Li Po, puts a somewhat ironic spin on the idea, telling us:

It was commonly believed that immortals who had misbehaved in Heaven were as punishment banished to live on earth for a fixed time, there they figured as wayward and extraordinary human beings. They were what was called ‘Ministers Abroad of the Thirty-Six Emperors of Heaven.’

Falling, drunk, into the Yellow River while attempting to kiss the moon would appear to qualify one for this honorific.

**

Not to worry, btw. According to an announcement issued yesterday:

The Tibetan spiritual leader told a group of abbots not to worry as he is in good health and still has recurring dreams indicating that he will live for at least 113 years.

Dragging my tail in the mud

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — i’m afraid this will be a very Thoreau-Taoist post for this electoral season ]
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Two browsings recently set me thinking about politics in general — and dragging my tail in the mud in particular:

Shadi Hamid in What is Policy Research For? Reflections on theUnited States’ Failures in Syria

When the basic thrust of policy seems immovable irrespective of events on the ground, how should researchers respond? Should influencing policy be the animating objective of policy research?

and at the pointy end, Matt Cavanaugh at War on the Rocks, The Way Home from ‘a War’:

What is it like to make uncertain judgments with severe moral consequences? For military professionals, being the state’s lethal instrument necessarily entails ethically perilous, life-or-death choices.

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Here’s the cntext, as I see it..

Wallace Black Elk:

The whole earth is an altar. In church, they have a little slab of marble which they call an altar. But our altar is Grandpa’s altar… Our carpet is the grass, the sacred altar; our ceiling is the stars; our night lamp is the moon; Grandpa the sun is our mystery power.

Thomas Traherne:

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.

Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never
enjoy the world.”

Chuang Tzu:

I will have Heaven and Earth for my sarcophagus, the Sun and Moon shall be my burial insignia, the stars my coffin-jewels, and all Creation shall be mourners at my obsequies. Are not my funeral paraphernalia all in readiness?

Thoreau-Taoism, which she would spell Thurrodowism, is Ursula Le Guin‘s superlative confection.

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Chuang Tzu:

From Chuang Tzu: Mystic, Moralist, and Social Reformer, tr. Herbert Giles, p. viii:

Prince Wei (B.C. 338-327) of the Ch’u State, hearing of Chuang Tzu’s good report, sent messengers to him, bearing gifts, and inviting him to become Prime Minister. At this Chuang Tzu smiled and said to the messengers, “You offer me great wealth and a proud position indeed; but have you never seen a sacrificial ox:-When after being fattened up for several years, it is decked with embroidered trappings and led to the altar, would it not willingly then change places with some uncared for pigling?

Or from Chuang Tzu, Basic Writings, tr. Burton Watson, p.108:

Once, when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u river, the king of Ch’u sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.”

Chuang Tzu held onto the fishing pole and, without turning his head, said, “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed, and stores it in the ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?”

“It would rather be alive dragging its tail in the mud,” said the two officials.

Chuang Tzu said, “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!”

Sunday surprise, surprise

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — quoting Emerson next to Arthur Waley on Li Po ]
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SPEC DQ emerson waley li po

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — my title is taken from the book of Job — known to Islam as the prophet Ayyub — chapter 38 verse 7 ]
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Let’s begin with Qur’an 22. 40:

SPEC Quran 22.40

I can deeply appreciate a perspective as respectful as this.

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Consequently, I am even more deeply saddened when the Islamic State tears down the crosses atop churches —

SPEC DQ china is

than I am when the Chinese do the same exact thing..

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And I’d suggest that the phrase “were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques” as indicating that those who check / repel / drive back those others who demolish such places of worship, do so in accordance with the divine will..

Here, members of the Islamic State bulldoze a monastery..

bulldozing Mar Elian

Such acts, then, should be checked, prevented, surely, by those who honor the Qur’an.

The question that remains is how best to accomplish this.

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Likewise, there is the phrase about “monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned”..

Apparently, the “name of Allah” was “much mentioned” in monasteries and churches at the time of the Prophet, and we may therefore wonder why Malaysian Muslims would wish to ban the use of that name by Christians —

SPEC malaysia

— when as KL Chan pointed out in his recent LapidoMedia post Do Muslims have a monopoly on the word Allah? — even if we ignore the clear evidence of the Qur’an itself,

One of the oldest evidences of Christian use of the word ‘Allah’ can be found in a Bible translation from 1514.

That’s two years after Michaelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and three years before Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.

As Usama Hasan says, it’s a fiasco.

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Sources:

  • BibleGateway, Job 38.7,
  • Qur’anic Arabic corpus, Qur’an 22.40
  • Legatum Institute, China arrests Christians
  • Christian Today, Isis militants desecrate Iraqi church
  • Daily Mirror, ISIS Jihadists using a bulldozer
  • Perry, Malaysia Top Court
  • Usama Hasan, #Malaysia #Allah fiasco

  • No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

    Monday, August 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — borders and distinctions from Trump to Revelation, plus one ]
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    Donald Trump‘s “three core principles of real immigration reform”:

    1. A nation without borders is not a nation.

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    G Spencer-Brown wrote of his book. Laws of Form, “The theme of this book is that a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart” — or as Heinz Von Foerster rephrased him, “Draw a distinction and a universe comes into being”. Indeed, his book opens with the words:

    We take as given the idea of distinction and the idea of indication, and that we cannot make an indication without drawing a distinction.

    He writes:

    Distinction is perfect continence.

    That is to say, a distinction is drawn by arranging a boundary with separate sides so that a point on one side cannot reach the other side without crossing the boundary. For example in a plane a circle draws a distinction.

    Similarly, Gregory Bateson defines an idea as “A difference or distinction or news of differences”.

    **

    Borders are both physical and metaphysical: the border between the physical and the metaphysical passes through human beings, who are themselves both metaphysical and physical.

    Borders may thus be heeded or ignored.

    Smugglers don’t necessarily ignore them, they may take them very seriously, as do those who police them. Birds, however, ignore them, fishes, lizards, languages..

    There are would-be states that straddle national borders, as the Basque peoples straddle the border between France and Spain:

    Basque France Spain 600

    There are also would-be states that literally erase national borders, as in the case of IS bulldozing thw border between Iraq and Syria:

    Iraq Syria Border 600

    Thus while borders may be tidy in separating one from a second, they are also untidy in straddling them, neither one nor two, yet (like Janus) both.. They are, in short, thresholds, limina. And so wahat we know of liminality applies to them. I have discussed tthis previosuly on Zenpundit in Liminality II: the serious part — suffice it to say here that limiality is a condition that exacerbates, intensifies.

    **

    The anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, quotes Leviticus 19.19:

    You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff.

    Why these disjunctions? Dougles notes the repeated refrain in just such contexts:

    Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy

    and points out that Ronald Knox correctly — if “rather thinly” — translates this:

    I am set apart and you must be set apart like me

    She then tells us:

    Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order.

    noting that:

    The word ‘perversion’ is a significant mistranslation of the rare Hebrew word tebhel, which has as its meaning mixing or confusion.

    and concludes

    ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created.

    **

    The upper image, below, is taken from my recent post on Matrioshka cartography, and waas taken in turn from Say goodbye to the weirdest border dispute in the world in the Washington on August 1st..

    SPEC DQ maps

    … while the lower image is from Welcome to Liberland, the World’s Newest Country (Maybe) in the New York Times Magazine, dated Aug 11

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    Lydia Kiesling, in her post Letter of Recommendation: Uzbek in the NYT magazine today, writes:

    National borders can be risibly at odds with reality, especially in Central Asia, where Turks, Mongols, Persians and others roved and mingled, where ‘‘Uzbek’’ was, for a time, more of a descriptive antonym of ‘‘Tajik’’ — no­­madic versus settled — than an ethnic classification.

    And why not?

    They are, after all, distinctions drawn in the mind, lines drawn on paper. Thus the Sykes-Picot map:

    Sykes_Picot_Agreement_Map_signed_8_May_1916 600

    Sykes was quite clear about the “lines dorawn on paper” part. He is reported to have said:

    I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk

    The map, in other words, is not the territory: the map is a map.

    To take another instance of importance in today’s world, the Durand Line:

    Durand_Line_Border_Between_Afghanistan_And_Pakistan 600

    Not only is the map not the territory in this case — it can be seen, as one-time Afghan president Hamid Karzai said, as “a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers” — Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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    Sympathies which exist across borders can be potent forces for their dissolution. In a poem titled “Their Eyes Confer Fire” written in the 1980s about Basque country, I wrote

    We have
    little time,
    Marie explained,
    for those
    who, because
    it is hard
    to draw
    lines
    across actual
    mountains,
    carve up
    this earth on
    paper.

    France, Spain:
    we disdain
    boundaries, borders,
    and border guards.

    A canny reader noted that the entire poem could be read not as a description of the Basques as they exist in reality, but as a paean to the corpus callosum joining the two hemispheres of the brain — and thus the two modes of cognition of which I so recently wrote.

    **

    Returning to Lieberland, or Gornja Siga as the locals call it, we learn:

    Gornja Siga has come, over the last few months, to assume an outsize role in the imagination of many — not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and in the United States. Its mere existence as a land unburdened by deed or ruler has become cause for great jubilation. There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation. All the most recent states — South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea — were carved from existing sovereignties in the wake of bitter civil wars. Here, by contrast, is a truly empty parcel. What novel society might be accomplished in a place like this, with no national claim or tenant?

    Consider one sentence alone as the key to that “outsize role in the imagination”:

    There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation.

    The apocalyptic yearning here and its kinship with the Amrican dream are hard to miss — it is like a conflation of Matthew 5.14:

    A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

    with Revelation 21.1-2:

    And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

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    Plus:


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