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Sunday surprise – Dylan and the Bauls

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — how Buddha came by his Middle Way, among other things & songs ]
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John Wesley Harding Bauls

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In a fascinating article titled Dylan tunes like you’ve never heard them – in Hindi and Bengali a few months back, Nate Rabe made the assertion — I only saw it today —

Bob Dylan, unlike many of his contemporaries, seems to never have been drawn to India. There were no pilgrimages to Rishikesh, no gurus, no lost years by the Ganga and, to date, I’ve not detected any Hindustani musical influence in his music.

Okay — how about his album covers?

On the cover of John Wesley Harding (above), Dylan is flanked by “Luxman and Purna Das, two Bengali Bauls” — “South Asian musicians brought to Woodstock by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman” according to Wikipedia.

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The Bauls — with their one-stringed instrument, the ektara, and their ecstatic songs of devotion — have been an interest of mine at least since the time that album came out in 1967. It was shortly thereafter that I also ran across the album The Bauls of Bengal issued by Elektra in 1966.

A writer in the rec.music.dylan newsgroup notes:

Through their songs, dances, gestures, through silences, through postures and looks, the Bauls tell stories of the earth, of the body, of lovers uniting – subtly revealing the mystery of life and laws of nature. Submission to the divine is their tightrope to wisdom. Most Bauls are wandering mendicants, living on what they are offered by villagers in return for their songs. They sing from the heart on their never ending tours and consecrate their lives to a fusion of music, song and dance as the privileged vehicle for attaining ecstasy.

Edward C Dimock Jr, author of The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya Cult of Bengal and co-author with poet Denise Levertov of the “slim volume of poetry”, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali, wrote on the liner notes of the Bauls’ album:

Some people have said that it is possible to characterize the Bauls by a distinctive doctrine. I have never found it possible to do so, for it seems to me that they are first and foremost individuals, and that the term Baul encompasses a wide range of religious opinion, traceable to several Hindu schools of thought, to Sufi Islam, and much that is traceable only to a man’s own view of how he relates to God. All Baul’s hold only this in common: that God is hidden in the heart of man, and neither priest nor prophet, nor the ritual of any organized religion, will help man to find him there.”

Dimock, as you have guessed, is another long-time favorite author of mine, and I once had the privilege of meeting Denise Levertov, whose poem A Tree Telling of Orpheus I hold to be one of the great poems of the 20th century.

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There is an album out titled From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan, which includes a rendering of Mr Tambourine Man by one Purna Das Baul

and Nate Rabe’s piece introduces us, among others, to Susheela Raman, covering Like a Rolling Stone:

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It was a wandering musician playing an ektara, so I have heard, whom the ultra-ascetic known as Siddhartha Gauama overheard saying or singing:

If you tighten the string too much it will snap and if you leave it too slack, it won’t play.

That hint was enough. Siddhartha grasped from those words the essence of the teaching he was to make famous as the Middle Way, set aside his austerities as he had earlier set aside his princely status, and in short order attained enlightenment — becoming Gautama Buddha, one of the great masters of our age.

h/t 3 Quarks Daily

In which John Horgan presents a DoubleQuote

Friday, April 24th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — taking a very brief break from Bach for once — but Kanye? ]
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In what I’d term a DoubleQuote in the Wild, Dr John Horgan uses a simple textual and visual juxtaposition to good effect:

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The juxtaposition here “works” because “the American Dream” textually links the two images the way a rhyme does at the end of this couplet, a long-time favorite of mine, translated by J. V. Cunningham from the Latin of John Owen:

Life flows to death as rivers to the sea,
And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

Thus there’s a bond first established verbally between Adam Gadahn and Kanye West, two people we might not otherwise think of together — and in thinking of them together, we open a wide range of possible associations, including a sort of parallel match between Kanye and another American jihadist, Omar Hammami — like Kanye, a rapper — also mentioned in JM Berger‘s piece today about Gadahn’s life an death. And from there our thoughts can fan out to Anwar Awlaki, and his son, Abdulrahman Awlaki, or to Deso Dog, the German jihadist rapper.

In a word, the juxtaposition is provocative: thought-provocative.

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And what of the American Dream? Wikipedia currently defines it thus:

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” ..

The idea of prosperity hrough hard work, it seems to me, has much in common with the Puritan ideal, captured by Ning Kang of the School of Foreign Languages, Qingdao University of Science and Technology, in these words:

Puritanism shaped the Americans’ national character – acquiring wealth through hard work and thrift

American Puritans linked material wealth with God’s favor. They believed that hard work was the way to please God. Created more wealth through one’s work and thrift could guarantee the God’s elect. The doctrine of predestination kept all Puritans constantly working to do good in this life in order to be chosen for the next eternal life. God had already chosen who would be in heaven or hell, but Christians had no way of knowing which group they were in. Those who were wealthy would obviously be blessed by God and in good standing with Him. The work ethic of Puritans was the belief that hard work was an honor to God which would lead to a prosperous reward.

Is that about right? I’m not much of a puritan myself, but it seems to me that the aspect of the dream that has to do with purity gets lost when the American Dream becomes a Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the metric of success and prosperity equates to a Kardashian spouse — while on the other side, purity in the form of burqas and “religious police” is the fetish that drives the Salafi-jihadists: Consider this, from an IBTimes report:

Isis chief executioner found beheaded with cigarette in his mouth

The corpse showed signs of torture and carried the message “This is evil, you Sheikh” written on it. The severed head also had a cigarette in its mouth. It is unclear who carried out the decapitation but the message was obvious.

Islamic State’s (formerly known as Isis) ban on cigarettes is one of its signature polices. It has imposed a strict set of Sharia laws barring the use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes in the territories it has conquered across a swathe of Iraq and Syria.

IS has declared smoking “slow suicide” and demands that “every smoker should be aware that with every cigarette he smokes in a state of trance and vanity is disobeying God”.

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Contemplating John’s DoubleQuote, then, it seems to me that Gadahn has the puritanical streak in the original dream, adapted to its contemporary Islamist form, while Kanye has much of the prosperity side, largely detached from any kind of asceticism in preference for bling — but with a laudable concern that that bling not be derived from child labor, slavery, etc:

Unholy: perhaps it’s a useful word

Friday, January 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — when religion casts a long and violent shadow ]
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unholy cover
cover art for the Unholy album, New Life behind Closed Eyes

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Unholy may prove to be a very useful word, I think.

It’s not secular, it’s not irreligious, it doesn’t lack for some sort of supernatural influence — in fact it fits right in with the metaphysical implications of such Biblical phrases as (Revelation 12.7):

there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels

and (Ephesians 6.12):

we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places

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Because, I am arguing, it is neither secular nor irreligious, it fits perfectly, I’d say, the kinds of situation we’re in so freuqnetly, globally, of religiously motivated group violence.

The word jihad — besides focusing entirely on Islamic variants, when in fact Buddhist, Hindu and Christian militians are also in evidence — concedes too much to those who regard their warfare as holy, divinely sanctioned, while other terms make things sound secular and almost normal, as if politics without the religious booster was all we are talking about.

BrutaL and spiritual, spiritual and brutal on both sides — in the Central African Republic, for instance:

It was March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim rebel coalition Séléka swept into the riverside capital, Bangui, from the northeast. President François Bozizé fled as a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder got underway. Séléka leader Michel Djotodia soon proclaimed himself the successor; he would later lose control of his ranks and an attempt that fall to disband them would do little to stop the atrocities.

At the same time, groups of militias called anti-balaka had begun to form and train and retaliate against Séléka. Their name in the local Sango language means “anti-machete”; their fighters are comprised of ex-soldiers, Christians and animists, who think magic will protect them. They’re adorned with amulets to ward off attacks and fight with hunting rifles, poison-tipped arrows and machetes.

Amulets and machetes.. warriors and angels.

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Maybe we should say “unholy warriors” and “unholy wars” rather than “holy warriors” or “jihadis” — and “unholy monks” for the Burmese mobsters in saffron robes.

And I’d reserve the use of the term for situations in whiuch at least one side in a conflict openly avows religious motivation. Someone making a treaty someone else feels is foolish or dangerous simply doesn’t meet the bar.

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It’s worth considering the Unholy CD cover art alongside two other recent images:

Moebius Floating City

and:

Wild-Hunt-602

And about that top image from the Unholy album, just so you know:

UNHOLY present their Prosthetic Records debut, a metal massacre fueled with down-tuned guitars, double bass and deep grooves akin to the sounds of Entombed, Crowbar and later Carcass, with members having been in bands like Santa Sangre, Another Victim and Path Of Resistance.

Sunday second surprise: Ferdinando Buscema

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — from Tesla to St Augustine is a short creative leap ]
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I recently received a LinkedIn invite from one Ferdinando Buscema, who described himself to me as a Glasperlenspieler, a player of the Glass Bead Game. I must say that pleased me, there’s a quiet humility there that calling oneself Magister Ludi or Master of the Game would lack. He’s a player, I’m a player, let’s play.

Here’s the BoingBoing video he sent me when I accepted his invite:

Not for nothing does Ferdinando call himself a Magic Experience Designer.

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As you’ll see, in the video Ferdinando very warmly recommends Erik Davis‘ book TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information — which has also been highly praised by the likes of Howard Rheingold, Hakim Bey, Mark Dery, Bruce Sterling, Terence Mckenna, and Mark Pesce, to which intriguing list you may add myself.

Erik and I began a never-completed HipBone game many years ago — it was around the topics of Hanibal Lecter, his recreational collection of church collapses, and the origins of the Memory Palace in Simonides‘ encounter with the gods Castor and Pollux — and Erik mentions the HipBone Games briefly in his book. At the moment, I owe him an update on the games, which I’ll post here at Zenpundit in due course.

It was a particular delight for me, then, to see Ferdinando’s obvious and full-throated praise of Erik’s stunning book in his video, followed up by equal praise of Ramon Llul — one of those writers in the Hermetic tradition whose work precedes not just the Bead Game but much of today’s science, from digital computers via genetics to genetic algorithms and cryptography.

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Ferdinando’s third treasure turned out to be Nikola Tesla, and in particular the remark he made about his mode of creativity. I hadn’t come across this remark before, but it cried out for DoubleQuotation with a remark of St Augustine’s, which I have carried with me since I first read of it in Dom Cuthbert Butler‘s book, Western Mysticism, back in my teens better than half a century ago.

Here, then, are the two luminous / numinous quotes, from Tesla and Augustine, DoubleQuoted by me for Ferdinando as an offering on first meeting:

SPEC DQ Tesla Augustine

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It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the word “ictus” which Augustine uses also features in the context of Gregorian Chant, where it indicates the almost simmultaneous touchdown of a bird on a branch and its takeoff on a new curve of flight. I had the honor to learn the word from Dom Joseph Gajard, choirmaster at the Abbey of St Pierre de Solesmes — then and I suspect now the center of the world’s musical paleography and liturgical perormance of the chant, and in my teens my favorite vacation and retreat — under whose cheironomic hand I had the good fortune, once, albeit without much skill, to sing..

And so the beads are dropped into the lake: we watch as their ripples ripple out and intersect..

Christmas and Season’s Greetings

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — eine kleine weihnachtsmusik ]
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Since we are divided on the name, nature and very existence of the all-encompassing, please allow me greet you this day from within my own “home” tradition:
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Wishing those of my friends who are believers a blessed Christmas, and to those who are not — why, feasting, family, joy, and a great blast of Bach’s trumpets!

May you each and all find even the gloom of the gloomiest circumstances and darkest days of the year a little lifted by the spirit in these voices!


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