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Why I suspect I’d make a lousy Tibetan Buddhist meditator

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — where the blind spot of aphantasia meets the beauty of Avalokiteshvara ]
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Tablet DQ 600 Avalokiteshvara & the aphantasic

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Perhaps sadly, perhaps not, I suffer from aphantasia.

It’s a great relief, actually, to have found someone who doesn’t laugh at me when I say I can’t visualize — a researcher, no less, Prof. Adam Zeman, with a paper on the topic in Cortex.

I have tried on occasion to find metaphors for my condition. The best way to explain what does happen when someone asks me to visualize something is to say I can see it “as if painted in water on glass” — or “as if it’s behind me, out of sight, but I can remember roughly what it was like when I last looked.”

Sources:

  • Lion’s Roar, Developing Pure Perception Through Visualization
  • BBC Science news, Aphantasia: A life without mental images
  • University of Exeter, Can’t count sheep? You could have aphantasia
  • Adam Zeman, Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia
  • 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

    **

    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.

    **

    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.

    Aesthetics of love & death

    Friday, March 4th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — relics of a catacombs martyr, St Valentine and more ]
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    SPEC DQ valentine catacomb martyrs

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    There are times when the DoubleQuote format is confining, and the comparative method it is based on could be uswed effectively with more than two examples. Here consider also:

    The Tamil Tiger martyr Jenny, as discussed in a fascinating article by anthropologist Michael Roberts aka Thuppahi, Death and Eternal Life: contrasting sensibilities in the face of corpses:

    jenny-dead-ltte-female-11

    The Al-Qaida martyr al-Zubayr al-Sudani as screencapped by Chris Anlazone:

    al-Zubayr al-Sudani

    And the Irish Catholic martyr Michael Collins as portrayed in death by Sir John Lavery:

    michael_collins_by_john_lavery1

    **

    Buddha is reported to have said:

    Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.

    The cover of American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky‘s book of poems, Gulf Music, features a Tibetan Buddhist Dance of Death:

    Gulf Music Pinsky

    Likewise, the Jesuit St Peter Faber meditates on the crucifixion and death of Christ:

    Jesus Christ, may your death be my life
    and in your dying may I learn how to live.
    May your struggles be my rest,
    Your human weakness my courage,
    Your embarrassment my honor,
    Your passion my delight,
    Your sadness my joy,
    in your humiliation may I be exalted.
    In a word, may I find all my blessings in your trials.
    Amen.

    while Hans Holbein invites us to contemplate death behind the varied appearances of human life:

    Holbein Dance the Nun

    Nuclear sites and religion, flags and clouds

    Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Oak Ridge, Albi, Bushehr, a Sinan mosque, clouds formation, the Karmapas ]
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    Cheryl Rofer very kindly suggested a DoubleQuote to me today, comparing and contrasting the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, Oak Ridge:

    HEUMF at Oak Ridge

    and the Cathedral of Albi — heart of the district in which the Albigensians / Cathars briefly and most interestingly flourished:

    Albi Cathedral

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    I particularly appreciate this juxtaposition because of an earlier DoubleQuote I posted, drawing a similar comparison between Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant:

    bushehr 600

    and the Mosque of the Conqueror in Istanbul:

    mosque-of-the-conqueror 600

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    Also notable as a DoubleQuote today is this image at the top of a Lion’s Roar post titled Is that the Karmapa’s Dream Flag over Colorado?:

    Karmapa Dream Flag DQ

    The Karmapa Lama is the holder of the oldest lineage of reincarnated high lamas in Tibetan tradition, and head of the Karma Kagyu stream of teachings. The flag of the Karmapas can be seen below:

    flag of the karmapas 600

    Here’s the brief video from which that cloud-image was taken:

    h/t Jacob DeFlitch

    Note also the resemblance to what is probably my personal favorite DoubleQuote, comparing & contrasting van Gogh‘s night sky and von Kármán‘s vortex street:

    **

    It may be worth adding that the Buddha is not above using cloud metaphors, as this celebrated verse from the Diamond Sutra, here in Red Pine‘s translation, illustrates:

    As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space
    an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble
    a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
    view all created things like this.

    Sunday surprise: kundalini’s rising and the jukebox blows a fuse

    Sunday, October 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — some examples of deep dreams, mechanical and spiritual ]
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    In the upper panel, a claim made for the Deep Dream Generator:

    SPEC kundalini deep dream

    In the lower panel, an image of the chakras or lotuses in the subtle body, through which the kundalini serpent rises from deep sleep to full spiritual awakening.

    The “sixth level” in the chakra system would be the Ajna chakra:

    The Ajna chakra is positioned in the brain, directly behind the eyebrow center. Its activation site is at the eyebrow region, in the position of the ‘third eye.’

    **

    Deep Dreams:

    Here’s what Google’s Deep Dream Generator comes up with:

    Deep Dream

    Here’s an early statue of Arya Lokeshvara from the Potala Palace, dating to the 7th century and described as the Potala’s most sacred statue:

    Bhairava thangka 600

    This is a detail from Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony:

    detail, the-temptation-of-st-anthony-1516-1 bosch 600

    From one of the marvellous array of manuscripts of the Beatus commentary on Revelation:

    Beatus 600

    Here’s a deep dream in words, from Hermann Hesse..

    GBG as organ 600

    Another, from Shakespeare:

    shakespeare 600

    A secular deep dream..

    Alice red queen 600

    and a deep dream — as surreal as all the rest, yet capturing “no more than” simple reality — in a photo posted today by Bill Benzon:

    Benzon coke 600

    **

    Roll over, Beethoven:


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