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On ecumenical destruction

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Kosovo I know little about, Timbuktu I've heard praised, Bamiyan I've visited ]
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Synagogue:

Before the conflict, the synagogue held thousands of religious and cultural treasures, including hundreds-years-old Torah scrolls, historical texts, precious dining ware, and ancient Judaica of all sorts. Some of the items were reportedly looted in the early days of the war. Some were reportedly placed in safekeeping. Many remained in the building until its destruction.

Buddha:

Two large Buddhas were intentionally destroyed with artillery fire and explosives by members of the Taliban militia on March 11-12, 2001.

Mosque:

The UN cultural body Unesco watched in horror on Saturday as Mali extremists ravaged shrines in the fabled city of Timbuktu which it had listed as endangered sites just days before.

Church:

The ongoing de-Christianization of Kosovo continues and unlike the past frenzy of the anti-Serbian mass media in the West, we mainly have a deadly silence about the reality of Kosovo and the continuing Albanianization of this land. However, how is it “just” and “moral” to persecute minorities and to alienate them from mainstream society; and then to illegally recognize this land without the full consensus of the international community?

Historic site:

“There is no authority here. Syria was one of the jewels of the crown of the Middle East,” Landis says. “The most beautiful Crusader castle, Krak des Chevaliers, undisturbed, has been bombed by both sides because rebels took up and made it a stronghold. The government bombed it. It makes you want to cry, but I guess that’s the price of war.”

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No religious animosity is necessary for destruction.

Rock art:

Vandals have destroyed prehistoric rock art in lawless southern Libya, endangering a sprawling tableau of paintings and carvings classified by UNESCO as of “outstanding universal value”.

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The religions: which is it to be – sibling rivalry or family feeling?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two images from recent Religion Dispatches posts neatly pose the question ]
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Sources:

  • Jeremy Stolow, Will Quebec Ban Religious Symbols in Public?
  • M Sophia Newman, Are Attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh Religiously Motivated?
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    Québec officially doesn’t seem to like what it terms “conspicuous religious symbols” — including the pictured “large” crucifix, hijab, and dastar (upper panel above, top row, left to right) and niqab and kippa (bottom row, left to right).

    I suppose that’s one way to achieve uniformity — maybe peacocks should be asked to tone down their feathers until they’re more in line with pigeons, too — but it’s instructive to note that most of the folk in the Bangladeshi march for religious harmony (lower panel, above) would be banned from wearing their identifying symbols if they tried to hold a similar parade in Montréal, Québec.

    Lac Zut, alors!

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    In the tiny middle panel of my DoubleQuotes graphic, where you’ll usually find a pair of spectacles or binoculars, the Swayambunath Buddha, just outside Kathmandu, Nepal, looks on, bemused — having seen so much, so very much, of human nature.

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    Out of context: mayhem or medicine among the Buddhists?

    Monday, March 24th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- propaganda via the misquoting of an image ]
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    The two images are the same — as above, so below. Their contexts, however, are different: one image is preented with the comment:

    Muslims burned in Burma … by Buddhists idolaters?

    The other:

    An ethnic Tibetan monk throws the body of a child onto a funeral pyre in a ditch in Jiegu Town of Yushu County, Qinghai province, after an earthquake registering 7.1 on the richter scale hit the area. April 19, 2010. Over 1,400 people died in the disaster.

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    Sources:

    I used only one copy of the photo, since different people have cropped it differently, but the two quotes can be found with their respective versions of the same image here:

  • Forum voices Yemen, Muslims burned in Burma
  • 2Wall, The Most Shocking Pictures of 2010
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    While the violence encouraged by Buddhist monks against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma is tragic and important for us to recognize [1, 2], borrowing the photo of a monk taking a medically justified measure to avoid adding a preventable medical disaster to an already terrible natural one, transposing it from the Tibetan plateau to Burma, and then identifying it as a photo of a Buddhist monk murdering Muslims is… unhelpful to say the least.

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    On “Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form”

    Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a little transhumanist techno-buddhism -- the title quote comes from the Buddhist text known as the Heart Sutra ]
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    You might think the form of the Buddha would be fluid — but thangka painters are instructed to paint him according to graphical formulae not unlike the floor-plans and elevations architects draw up for tract-houses…

    Canon of the Physical Proportions of a Great Being

    The image of Buddha, who was called The Greatest Yogin of all Times, expresses serene quiescence. The harmony of his physical proportions is the expression of great beauty. The required measurements are laid down in the canon (or standard pattern) of Buddhist art, which corresponds to ideal physical proportions. The span is the basic measure, i.e. the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the tip of the thumb of the outspread hand. This distance corresponds to the space between the dimple in the chin and the hair-line. Each span has twelve finger-breadths. The whole figure measures 108 finger-breadths or 9 spans corresponding to the macro-micro-cosmic harmony measurements.

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    Let’s go transhumanist on this. The artist Wang Zi Won is now exhibiting Mechanical Buddhas and Other Religious Icons

    The artist predicts that in the future humans will evolve and adapt themselves to enhanced science and technology just as men and animals in the past evolved to adapt themselves to their natural circumstances. He sees this future as our destiny, not as a negative, gloomy dystopia. His work is thus based on neither utopia not dystopia. Wang represents the relations between man, technology and science through the bodies of cyborgs.

    The artist considers it important to escape from human bondage in order to achieve harmony between men and machines. He thinks this harmony can be achieved through the process of religious practices and spiritual enlightenment. In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva of Compassion helps people attain enlightenment, Arhat is a spiritual practitioner of asceticism, and Buddha is a being who reaches the highest level of enlightenment. Through them, the artist intends to follow the path of enlightenment, breaking away from anxiety, agony, and pain. The artist has no intention to emphasize religious connotations through these Buddhist icons but to reflect his own or our own existence between utopia and dystopia.

    Notice how well the white porcelain skin of this mechanical Buddha — graceful in its every fluid motion — embodies #4 in the celebrated 32 Excellent Signs of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body:

    The skin of a Buddha, no matter how old he is, remains unwrinkled and as smooth as that of an infant nursing on his mother’s milk. This reflects his having always been generous with nourishing food and drink. In the Pali tradition, this sign is having tender hands and feet.

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    In just 14 contemplative seconds, see how their mechanical halos move these Buddhas in another of Wang Zi Won’s works:

    These figures make terrific counterparts to Theo Jansen‘s marvelous Strandbeests, which I featured in last week’s Sunday surprise.

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    Groucho Marx is supposed to have said “Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light” — but then Spike Milligan is also supposed to have said it, which figures.

    Or as William Butler Yeats” Crazy Jane suggests in his poem Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop:

    For nothing can be sole or whole
    That has not been rent

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    Here’s Leonard Cohen on the same general topic:

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    On China vs India — and the Hungry Ghosts

    Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- I'd have put these two "quotes" in my DoubleQuotes format, but wanted to quote quite a gobbit of each, and the print would have been too small ]
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    Offering us a fresh angle on two great nations as we (maybe) pivot to Asia

    Excerpted from Hungry Ghost Festival 2013 Begins In China As Spirits Descend On Homes, Wander Streets:

    The gates of hell have opened. Its ghosts have been let loose to roam on earth and visit the homes of their relatives.

    According to traditional Chinese beliefs this happens every year during the seventh month of the lunar year, resulting in a raucous, feast-and-music filled celebration known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. But not all ghosts are good. There are some spirits who wander the streets, ravenous and envious because they died without descendants or were ignored by their kin while alive.

    To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world.

    For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead.

    Excerpted from Indian state outlaws profiting on miracles, summoning ‘ghosts’:

    New Delhi – A new law against superstition and black magic in India’s Maharashtra state has triggered a debate between religious groups who say that the state is interfering in personal faith, and rationalists who say religious malpractices violate human rights. [ … ]

    “We will challenge the law as it is ambiguous and interferes with personal faith,” says Abhay Vartak of the Santan Sanstha, a Hindu organization. “The law does not define much of what it outlaws – ghosts, for instance. The government itself is not clear whether ghosts exist! And if belief in ghosts is to be outlawed, then what about the Hindu Scripture the Atharva Veda, which says a lot about how to get rid of ghosts who come to inhabit a body?” he asks.

    The law specifically outlaws 12 practices, making them punishable by a jail term of seven months to seven years. Of the 12 clauses, two relate to belief in ghosts. The first one forbids recommending violent and sexual practices for purging ghosts from the body – including drinking urine or stool, being tied with a rope or chain, and touching heated objects. It also outlaws creating fear by threatening to invite ghosts.

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    For a glimpse of how the notion of “hungry ghosts” might be interpreted in terms of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy — as embodied in the Chöd rite — see Tai Situ Rinpoche‘s Introduction to Chod.

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