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A Shakespeare Sutra?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — just curious whether Buddha and Shakespeare are hand in glove ]
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Tempest Sutra

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Son Emlyn was watching The Tempest today when I tried to Skype him, and on that account I’ve included the whole of Prospero‘s speech, not just the familiar stretch that runs from “Our revels now are ended” to “our little life Is rounded with a sleep”.

I trust he will return from school in a week or three to visit a little while in my call — and that he won’t be too disturbed at my infirmity.

Sources:

  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest, IV, 1:
  • Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
  • A rosary of glass beads for Emily Steiner

    Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — semantic networks as game boards, old and new — see also the series presently linked at and ending with On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six ]
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    Since I’m plaguing Emily Steiner with my thoughts on two of her recent tweets, I’d best explain first the reasons for my interest.

    Game-boards-1
    top left, a HipBione “WaterBird” board; right, Cath Styles‘ “Museum Game” board; lower left, an early HipBone “DoubleQuote” board; right, the “Said Symphony” board

    As long time readers here will already be aware, I’m involved in the design, development and play of a family of games based on Hermann Hesse‘s conceptual Glass Bead Game, using boards that are what mathematicians would term graphs:

    **

    Technically, our game boards in the course of play are what Margaret Masterman termed semantic networks — and Masterman herself cited one such network from an earlier century imaging the Trinity — here on the right panel — which I have reproduced in the triptych below along with a diagram of the Kabbalah, left, and of the elements by Oronce Fine, center:

    3-ancient-bds2

    **

    Which brings me to the first of two tweets Prof. Steiner posted today — the image of a head, with what is clearly a semantic network inside it — thoughts connecting with thoughts, or brain areas with brain areas, or perhaps both:

    Akasha games in the mind

    Viewed from the perspective of the HipBone Games, this semantic network within a brain (mind) is what the Buddha termed, somewhat reprovingly, a game played akasa, “by imagining a board in the air”.

    **

    But the Buddhist tradition wasn’t always as, what shall I say? — puritanical about games:

    Tablet DQ Monastic games

    As you’ll see, the upper panel here is a bit more relaxed on the subject of games in Buddhism — while the lower panel shows another game board, this one for a medieval Christian game on the Gospels, which Dr Steiner featured in the other tweet of hers that caught my eye today.

    There are four canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but they’re actually asymmetrical, Matthew, Mark, and Luke sharing properties and chunks of text which have conferred on them the group title of the “synoptic gospels” — while John is more symbolic, deeper, indeed mystical, and stands alone.

    There’s a saying about them, Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest. I don’t believe it’s intended to name the four pof them, but since Mark is second in order both in the saying and in the sequence of gospels found in the New Testament, I’m happy to consider John’s Gospel to be the equivalent of Inwardly Digest

    **

    But bringing the ancients into the modern day is a laudable activity, so I’ll close by taking that Gospel game board, as I like to think of it, and compariung it with one of the boards from the recent series of games in which AlphaGo — clearly a duende or djinn of some sort — beat out our best-living Go master in a series of 5 games:

    Tablet DQ Go and Gospel games

    Again, symmetry and asymmetry. Is the symmetry of the Gospels game a symmetry of the Divine Mind? And is the asymmetry of the game of Go an asymmetry of the two minds in play — or simply of a game in which one player gets to make the first move?

    I look forward to learning from Dr Steiner how the Gospel game was played.

    Véra Nabokov, preemptive strikes, and the Talmud

    Friday, May 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — i personally am better acquainted with “innocent until proven guilty”, but.. ]
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    Contemplating this:

    in light of the Talmud:

    Obviously if Véra Nabokov intended to protect her husband, she intended to shoot his would-be assassin right before the assassination attempt, not right after it.

    **

    If Someone Comes to Kill You, Rise Up and Kill Him First:

    Several days before the horror of September 11, 2001, Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke to Conservative rabbis in an international conference call. Responding to a concern expressed about Israel’s policy of preemptive targeted killings of suspected terrorist leaders and the inevitable collateral damage, Mr. Peres defended the practice, citing an oft-quoted rabbinic legal dictum, “Im ba l’hargekha, hashkem l’hargo,” “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him (first).” The uproar last July by Israel-bashers and, more credibly, by the Israeli Jewish public after the Israeli army bombed a Gaza apartment building, inadvertently killing fourteen civilians, including nine children, along with arch-terrorist Salah Shehada, again focused attention on the issue of collateral damage in the implementation of “Im ba l’hargekha.”

    File under preemptive strikes, targeted killings, drones, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, etc.

    Of Blood and Bride

    Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — concerning the tidal pull of two words on the emotions, in considering Hamzah bin Laden’s recent message ]
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    quote-blood-sin-and-desecration-of-the-race-are-the-original-sin hitler

    **

    In the Jewish book of Leviticus [17.11], we find:

    For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for the soul.

    For Christians, the early Church father Tertullian has the appropriate quotation:

    Plures efficimur quotiens metimur a vobis? semen est sanguis Christianorum.

    This translates to “We multiply whenever we are mown down by you? the blood of Christians is seed” and is often quoted in the form “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

    The American equivalent comes from Thomas Jefferson‘s Letter to William Stephens Smith of November 13, 1787, and is no doubt familiar to ZP readers:

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

    The terrible significance of “blood” to the Nazis is illustrated by the Hitler quote at the top of this post.

    **

    In the beginnings of the jihad fought by the Al-Qaida and its secessionist successors in the Islamic State, Abdullah Azzam‘s words are foundational. In a document which has been titled Martyrs: The Building Blocks of Nations — shades of Tertullian and Jefferson — Azzam writes of both blood and ink:

    The life of the Muslim Ummah is solely dependent on the ink of its scholars and the blood of its martyrs. What is more beautiful than the writing of the Ummah’s history with both the ink of a scholar and his blood, such that the map of Islamic history becomes coloured with two lines: one of them black, and that is what the scholar wrote with the ink of his pen; and the other one red, and that is what the martyr wrote with his blood. And something more beautiful than this is when the blood is one and the pen is one, so that the hand of the scholar which expends the ink and moves the pen, is the same as the hand which expends its blood and moves the Ummah. The extent to which the number of martyred scholars increases is the extent to which nations are delivered from their slumber, rescued from their decline and awoken from their sleep.

    Again — though I cannot say for certain who gave that title to this compilation of Azzam’s words — we see the importance of blood as the prime sacrificial element on which a world is built.

    Indeed, one commonly cited hadith found in the collection of Bukhari states:

    Anyone who is wounded in the path of Allah comes on the Day of Resurrection when [his] color is the color of blood, [but] his scent is the scent of musk.

    **

    I trust I don’t have to belabor the reasons why the word “bride” — particularly in combination with the word “blood” — is also fraught with enormous archaic, archetypal pulling-power. If we are in any doubt, we should consider the ravishing bridal poetry of the Tanakh’s Song of Songs which is Solomon’s:

    Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, With one bead of thy necklace. [Song of Solomon, 4.9]

    — not to mention the eucharistic “bridal supper of the lamb” in that most poetic, visionary, and well-nigh inscrutable book of the New Testament, the Revelation of John of Patmos:

    Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. [Revelation 19. 7-9]

    and in the fullest and final revelation of that revelatory book:

    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. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. [Revelation 21.1-4]

    **

    Bear this double call of “blood” and “bride” on the emotions in mind, utilizing whichever of the above examples strikes the deepest chord in you to confirm their trance-like appeal, as you consider this message from Bin Laden‘s son, Hamzah, issued just a day or two ago:


    Thomas Joscelyn posted a breakdown of the message content at Long Wars Journal yesterday:

  • Osama bin Laden’s son says jihad in Syria key to ‘liberate Palestine’
  • I trust this post of mine will add to our understanding of the emotional force on which Bin Laden’s son is appealing.

    The reversal of Maugham’s Samarra

    Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — how British and American literature, a Talmudic tale and a Sufi teaching story conspire — twice — to illuminate current events in Iraq and Syria ]
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    Let’s start with Somerset Maugham‘s telling of the Appointment in Samarra, which John O’Hara borrowed as the epigraph of his novel by that name:

    The speaker is Death

    There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

    **

    Here’s the version of the same story found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 53a:

    R. Yohanan stated: A man’s feet are his guarantors? they lead him to the place where he is wanted. There were once two Cushites who attended on Solomon, and these were Elihoreph and Ahyah, the sons of Shisha, scribes, of Solomon (I Kings 4:3). One day Solomon observed that the Angel of Death was distressed. He asked him: Why are you distressed? He responded: They have demanded from me the two Cushites who sit here. [Solomon] gave them over to the demons and sent them to the district of Luz. When they reached the district of Luz they died. On the following day he observed that the Angel of Death was smiling He said to him: Why are you smiling? He responded: To the place where they expected them from me, there did you send them!’ Solomon immediately began to say: A man’s feet are his guarantors? they lead him to the place where he is wanted.

    **

    In February 2014 in the US Jewish magazine Forward, writer JJ Goldberg made fine use of this tale, applying it to a then-contemporary news event in his piece, Lesson of the Talmud in an Iraq School Suicide Bombing:

    School massacres have become so commonplace that they scarcely shock us anymore. And yet, occasionally mayhem invades the sanctity of the classroom in a way that can still puncture our complacency. At these moments we’re reminded how fragile is this thing we call civilization. Such was the case February 10 in a rural schoolroom outside Samarra in north-central Iraq, where a terrorism instructor teaching a class in suicide bombing accidentally detonated a live explosive belt. Twenty-one students died along with their teacher. It happened in a training camp run by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Sunni terrorist group that was recently expelled from Al Qaeda for, of all things, its excessively brutal extremism in the Syrian civil war. [ .. ]

    The location of the suicide school in Samarra has layers of poetic resonance, probably unintended by ISIS. Though predominantly Sunni, the city is revered by Shi’ites as the place where the last caliphs are buried and the Mahdi disappeared. Its name resonates in medieval Islamic lore with mysteries of suicide and predestined death, echoed in modern Anglo-American literature and linked to Talmudic legend.

    After discussing the Talmudic and Maugham versions, Goldberg concludes:

    Thus, the lesson of Samarra. In Arabic lore, we’re drawn helpless to our predestined deaths. In the Talmud, it’s kings who dispatch us with the best intentions to what they assume will be a cakewalk, but it’s we — or, per the Talmud, the king’s black soldiers — who do the dying.

    **

    The Afghan Sufi writer Idries Shah tells the story in his brilliant little book Tales of the Dervishes, under the title When Death Came to Baghdad:

    The disciple of a Sufi of Baghdad was sitting in the corner of an inn one day when he heard two figures talking. From what they said he realized that one of them was the Angel of Death.

    “I have several calls to make in this city during the next three weeks,” the Angel was saying to his companion.

    Terrified, the disciple concealed himself until the two had left. Then applying his intelligence to the problem of how to cheat a possible call from death, he decided that if he kept away from Baghdad he should not be touched. From this reasoning it was but a short step to hiring the fastest horse available and spurring it night and day towards the distant town of Samarkand.

    Meanwhile Death met the Sufi teacher and they talked about various people. “And where is your disciple so-and-so?” asked Death.

    “He should be somewhere in this city, spending his time in contemplation, perhaps in a caravanserai,” said the teacher.

    “Surprising,” said the Angel; “because he is on my list. Yes, here it is: I have to collect him in four weeks’ time at Samarkand, of all places.”

    Shah attributes his telling thus:

    This treatment of the Story of Death is taken from Hikayat-iNaqshia (Tales formed according to a design’).

    The author of this story, which is a very favourite folklore story in the Middle East, was the great Sufi Fudail ibn Ayad, a former highwayman, who died in the early part of the ninth century.

    **

    All of which brings me to this Kurdish news story published yesterday, ISIS captive begs Peshmerga to kill him for 4 o’clock appointment

    DUHOK, Kurdistan Region — An Islamic State (ISIS) militant caught in fighting near Mosul last week begged his Peshmerga captors to shoot him dead on the spot so he could reach paradise the same day, a frontline Kurdish soldier said.

    “The militant’s own suicide vest had failed to explode but he had sustained injuries from his friends’ vest explosions,” Peshmerga Captain Salim Surchi of the Spilk base told Rudaw. “He kept saying, ‘kill me, you infidels kill me.’” Cpt. Surchi said the militant was captured by the Peshmerga during last week’s fighting in the Christian town of Tel Skof, 28km north of Mosul. The militant was eager to be killed on the spot because it was a holy Islamic day known as Isra an Mi’raj, the day that marks Prophet Muhammad’s ascension to heaven as mentioned in the Koran. [ .. ]

    Cpt. Surchi lost three of his close friends that day and had others wounded, he said, but he still rushed to help a wounded ISIS militant to save his life. “I was filming the dead ISIS with my cell phone when I saw one of them moving his leg and I placed my hands on his chest trying to help him breathe,” the Peshmerga commander said of the moment following the fighting. “He breathed heavily a few times, he was conscious and he could even speak,” he added. Cpt. Surchi said that despite the militant’s pleas to be shot dead, he went ahead and treated his leg wound.

    “When I was treating him I asked, ‘where’re you from?’ and he said, ‘I’m from Samarra and came here for jihad.’ The militant then said, ‘We were 50 suicide bombers altogether and we wanted to be in paradise by 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” Cpt. Surchi recounted. [ .. ]

    “The wounded one kept asking us to kill him till the end of the day.”

    Which in turn brings us full circle. In Maugham’s telling, our traveller makes his way to Samarra to avoid death, who finds him there. In yesterday’s version, the jihadist leaves Samarra to meet his death, who refuses, on the night of all nights, to oblige him.


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