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Torture, a Rolex, & the Dalai Lama

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- torture by photographic means, and compassion as exchange ]
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It is the image above, not the Dalai Lama himself, that has been “tortured” photoshopically. It is featured, along with similarly “tortured” images of Iggy Pop and Karl Lagerfeld, in a Belgian ad campaign from Amnesty International — in which each “iconic” figure’s tortured image is accompanied by an unlikely quote to illustrate the series theme, “Torture a man and he will tell you anything.”

I know nothing of Lagerfeld, and only enough about Iggy Pop to agree he likely wouldn’d admit that Justin Bieber “is the future of rock’n'roll” — but yes, I am pretty confident that if you ever hear or see the Dalai Lama claiming that anyone who doesn’t have a Rolex by the age of 50 has failed in life, His Holiness has been tortured — either for real or, as here, in an ad.

**

I can’t easily speak for Iggy Pop or Karl Lagerfeld, but the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist, and it is worth noting that Buddhism addresses the question of “who suffers” in a manner that is relevant to the use of the Dalai Lama’s image above.

From a Mahayana Buddhist point of view, as Dr John Makransky puts it in his chapter on Compassion in Buddhist Psychology in Germer & Siegel’s Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy:

Another renowned 8th century Indian teacher, Santideva, by pointing out the constructed nature of concepts of “self” and “other,” shows us how to re-employ those concepts to re-configure our world into an expression of compassion and wisdom, entering into the bodhisattva path. “Self” and “other” are merely relative, contextual terms, Santideva argues, like “this bank” and “the other bank” of a river. Neither side of a river is intrinsically an “other bank.” (Harvey, 2000). Similarly, it is a cognitive error to think of other beings as intrinsically “other.” For all are “self” from their own perspectives; all are like oneself in their deepest potential, desire for happiness, and deluded patterning; and all are undivided from oneself in the empty, inter-dependent ground of all things (Wallace and Wallace, 1997). By reflecting on the sameness of self and others in such ways, and the tremendous benefit to our mind that would come by reversing the usual constructs of “self,” “other” and associated feelings, we explore viewing others as our very self while sensing our self as a neutral other. Through such practice, we discover, the great burden and suffering of clinging to our self over others is relieved, and we can increasingly give rise to the compassion and wisdom that feels and recognizes all beings as like ourselves (Wallace and Wallace, 1997).

and:

In Tibet this practice of “exchanging self and other” is commonly given the form of tong-len meditation, in which we exchange self for other by imagining that we take others’ sufferings into the empty ground of our being while freely offering others all of our own virtue, well-being and resources. This imaginative pattern helps conform our mind to the wisdom of emptiness that recognizes others as ultimately undivided from our self, and gives that wisdom its most fundamental compassionate expression.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama teaches the practice of tonglen — literally, “the practice of giving and taking” — himself, and explains it thus:

“Exchanging ourselves with others” should not be taken in the literal sense of turning oneself into the other and the other into oneself. This is impossible anyway. What is meant here is a reversal of the attitudes one normally has towards oneself and others. We tend to relate to this so-called “self” as a precious core at the center of our being, something that is really worth taking care of, to the extent that we are willing to overlook the well-being of others. In contrast, our attitude towards others often resembles indifference; at best we may have some concern for them, but even this may simply remain at the level of a feeling or an emotion. On the whole we are indifferent we have towards others’ well-being and do not take it seriously. So the point of this particular practice is to reverse this attitude so that we reduce the intensity of our grasping and the attachment we have to ourselves, and endeavor to consider the well-being of others as significant and important.

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It is instructive to compare the “tonglen” form of practice and insight described here with two comments I quoted recently in my post on dehumanization and its consequences

Archbishop Tutu:

when we dehumanize someone, whether you like it or not, in that process you are dehumanized. A person is a person through other persons. If we want to enhance our personhood, one of the best ways of doing it is enhancing the personhood of the other.

And Jonathan Shay:

Restoring honor to the enemy is an essential step in recovery from combat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While other things are obviously needed as well, the veteran’s self-respect never fully recovers so long as he is unable to see the enemy as worthy. In the words of one of our patients, a war against subhuman vermin “has no honor.” This in true even in victory; in defeat, the dishonoring makes life unendurable.

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From yet another perspective, isn’t what all these writers are getting at– from the Lama via the Archbishop to the psychiatrist — exactly the different the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber pointed up in his classic book, I and Thou?

Love does not cling to the I in such a way as to have the Thou only for its “content,” its object; but love is between I and Thou. The man who does not know this, with his very being know this, does not know love; even though he ascribes to it the feelings he lives through, experiences, enjoys, and expresses.

and again:

Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity.

And isn’t this also the core of Charles Williams‘ teachings of Substitution within the Co-Inherence — a practice which, as he writes:

exchanged the proper self, and wherever need was, drew breath daily in another’s place, according to the grace of the Spirit ‘dying each other’s life, living each other’s death’. Terrible and lovely is the general substitution of souls…

I have added a couple of commas to make Williams’ dense text a little more accessible here, but his thought in these matters is profound, and not too distant from that of tonglen: that Christians, acting within the will of God, can offer themselves to take on themselves each other’s specific burdens, perils and illnesses, in an “exchange” of love.

For those wishing to dig deeper into Charles Williams — the sadly neglected and no less brilliant friend of Tolkien and CS Lewis — and his doctrine of Substitution in particular, Susan Wendling‘s paper Flesh knows what Spirit knows: Mystical Substitution in Charles Williams’ Vision of Co-Inherence seems a good place to start, and her bibliography offers further sources to explore.

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All of which, it meseems, is a far cry indeed from the lure of the Rolex

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Michael Yon discussing “possibly one of the largest peaceful uprisings in history”

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- catching up on Thailand ]
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Michael Yon calls it “possibly the largest or one of the largest peaceful uprisings in history”. As Zenpundit readers know, it’s the religious side of things I am most interested in, but “peaceful uprisings” also catches my attention.

The peaceful uprising in question is that of the Whistleblowers in Thailand — a loose assortment of groups protesting government corruption, whose November 2013 protests derailed an amnesty bill that would have allowed former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return from exile with immunity from prosecution.

According to Yon’s text, and as partially illustrated in the above DoubleQuote built from two of his own images, Whistleblowers and their supporters include “Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs”.

And given that Thailand is officially a Buddhist country and the CIA World Factbook gives its population as 93.6% Buddhist, Buddhists can no doubt be found in many groups — but Yon specifically cites two Buddhist groups among the six or seven he lists as associated with the larger Whistleblower movement:

  • Buddha Issara group: non-violent (guards repel attacks in self-defense)
  • Dhamma Army (Santi Asoke): non-violent.
  • The monk in the upper panel is Dhamma Army leader Pra Phothi Rak.

    **

    Let me return to that opening quote of Yon’s. Here it is in context:

    One of the great untold stories of this uprising is that it must be one of the largest peaceful uprisings that the world has ever seen, yet it has been poorly covered by mainstream media. The lack of violence from millions of Whistleblowers is one probable explanation.

    Michael Yon has done his share of war reporting, as evidenced for instance in his book, Moment of Truth in Iraq, so it’s a pleasure to see him reminding us of those working for change by peaceful means. What’s not so great is the general media concept that if it bleeds, it leads. The result, in Michael’s words?

    Practically no conventional media corporation would afford to dedicate high-end journalists full-time to a subject that garners little readership. We saw the same in Afghanistan. Quality costs money. The money is not there. So we get garbage in and garbage out.

    Hence Michael’s mission — to bring us the under-reported news.

    **

    Recommended reading:

  • Are Thai Protestors Violent?
  • Whistleblowers: a Meta-Organization
  • Anatomy of Current Thai Protests
  • Michael is a former Green Beret reporting in depth from conflict zones around the world. You can follow his work by signing up for his mailing list. It is funded by donation.

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    The Bosching of John Hagee and the reddening of the moon

    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in mental preparation for tonight's lunar eclipse, together with some quick eschatology, plenty of blood, and an Incan jaguar ]
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    The upper panel, above, shows a detail of Hieronymus Bosch‘s Ghent representation of Christ carrying the Cross to his crucifixion, the focus here being on three of Bosch’s contemporaries depicted as citizens of Christ’s Jerusalem, mocking Christ as he moves through the crowd…

    … while the lower panel has substituted for one of them the face of John Hagee, televangelist, senior pastor of the Cornerstone megahurch in San Antonio, TX, and (eventually disowned) endorser of Sen. John McCain‘s 2008 presidential bid.

    **

    Hagee is in the news at the moment as a major promoter of the “Four Blood Moons” end times theory, according to which tonight will witness the first of four total lunar eclipses announcing — like four dots the style-books suggest when an ellipsis follows a period — the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord referred to in Joel 2.31:

    Hre is Hagee, interviewed on this subject:

    **

    There are numerous biblical references to Joel 2.31:

    The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

    I shall not list all of them, but have selected those which most closely address the topic at hand.

    Luke 21:25 picks up the theme:

    And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

    And in Acts 2:20, the same author specifies these signs:

    The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:

    Unsurprisingly, the Revelation of John, 6:12 locates the blood moon in the sequence of Seven Seals that David Koresh was so concerned with…

    And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

    And lest there be any doubt, Joel himself in the same chapter at 2:11 makes it clear that the Great and Terrible Day will in fact be both Great and Terrible…

    And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?

    **

    It is something of a relief, then, to turn to NASA, where “signs in the skies” are considered more as opportunities for star-gazing than as precursors of Doom.

    These things happen, NASA might say — tongue in cheek, perhaps — once in a blue moon

    **

    NASA’s eclipse website draws its data from Goddard astrophysicist Fred Espenak, whose “Mr Eclipse” website offers the following diagram of tonight’s eclipse and blood moon…

    Espenak takes a long, long view of the “four blood moons” phenomenon:

    April’s eclipse is the first to two total lunar eclipses in 2014. The second eclipse is on October 08 and it too is visible from the USA. In this case, the western USA sees the entire eclipse while the eastern USA misses the end of the eclipse because the Moon sets while the eclipse is still in progress.

    These two eclipses of [2014] are the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses (each separated by six months) – a series known as a tetrad. The third and fourth eclipses of the tetrad occur on April 04, 2015 and Sept. 28, 2015 .

    During the 5000-year period from 2000 BCE through 3000 CE, there are 3479 total lunar eclipses. Approximately 16.3% (568) of all total eclipses belong to one of the 142 tetrads occurring over this period. The mechanism causing tetrads involves the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit in conjunction with the timing of eclipse seasons. During the present millennium, the first eclipse of every tetrad occurs during the period February to July. In later millennia, the first eclipse date gradually falls later in the year because of precession.

    Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first pointed out that the frequency of tetrads is variable over time. He noticed that tetrads were relatively plentiful during one 300-year interval, while none occurred during the next 300 years. For example, there are no tetrads from 1582 to 1908, but 17 tetrads occur during the following 2 and 1/2 centuries from 1909 to 2156. The ~565-year period of the tetrad “seasons” is tied to the slowly decreasing eccentricity of Earth’s orbit. Consequently, the tetrad period is gradually decreasing (Meeus, 2004). In the distant future when Earth’s eccentricity is 0 (about 470,000 years from now), tetrads will no longer be possible.

    Far from seeing them as signs of Doom, Espenak views them as inherently lovely:

    Although total eclipses of the Moon are of limited scientific value, they are remarkably beautiful events

    Nota bene: If Hagee is prophecy’s Espernak, Espenak is science’s Hagee.

    **

    Tibetans, like those from many other cultures, take eclipses seriously, though they seem to see them more as opportunities than as prophecies of doom. A dear friend pointed me to this invitation to practice from the Tibetan meditation master, Chojje Rinpoche:

    On a lunar eclipse, please accomplish practice because whatever you do at this time, good or bad, multiplies many, many times over. It is therefore a great opportunity for you to accumulate merit which is really needed for the betterment of our lives and for our enlightenment. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes, we should not waste it but rather focus on practice, charity and all good works.

    According to National Geographic, on the other hand, the blood red moon seen during a total lunar eclipse was attributed by the Inca to a jaguar attacking and eating the moon:

    The big cat’s assault explained the rusty or blood-red color that the moon often turned during a total lunar eclipse.

    **

    Okay, enough. There’s positive contempt dripping on Pastor Hagee from whoever placed him in that photoshopped version of Bosch’s painting:

    Gary DeMar is President of American Vision, where this headline and a more recent attack on Hagee — Why John Hagee is certainly wrong about “blood moons” — can be found. DeMar, following Rousas John Rushdoony, hopes for the eventual imposition of “Biblical Law” in America, and like Rushdoony holds a post-millennialist view of the end times. Wikipedia gives this brief explanation:

    Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.

    You can see, then, why post-millennialists hold the pre-millennialist enthusiasms and “soon coming” expectations of the likes of Harold Camping and John Hagee in low esteem…

    **

    Let’s return to the Bosch painting itself. Arguably missing both from the detail (upper panel, above) and its use by American Vision (upper panel, below) is the face of Christ — which in fact appears twice in Bosch’s original painting…

    … once just above and to the left of the three who mock Christ, and once more imprinted on the veil with which Veronica — according to a legend enshrined in the sixth of the Stations of the Cross — wiped Christ’s face, lower left. In the mind and heart of Bosch, too — amid all the brute human throng he sees so clearly — that one face leaves its unforgettable imprint…

    **

    I leave you with Albrecht Durer‘s images of the Veronica:

    and of the Madonna and the Moon

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    Never bring a sword to a pen fight?

    Monday, March 24th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in which I suggest that reality may be more like a river, our understandings more like canals ]
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    Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, "Moon of Enlightenment" from One Hundred Views of the Moon


    **

    I read a couple of things this morning that struck me. The first was in Zen’s post, Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have:

    Getting your adversary to negotiate with powerless and ill- informed representatives while the real decision makers sit at a remove is a time-tested tactic in bargaining.

    The side that uses this approach gets at least two bites at every apple which means the other side increasingly has to give further concessions to secure what they thought had already been agreed to. It is a classic example of negotiating in bad faith. Furthermore, the side using it is the one interested in winning or at best, in buying time, not in reaching an agreement.

    When presented with this dynamic the smart move is to walk away and immediately implement whatever the other side would rather you not do or give up the game and move on to something else. Agreements and treaties have no intrinsic value unless they advance, or at least preserve, interest. If the other party has no intention of abiding by the terms at all then they are less than worthless, being actively harmful.

    There’s this business about words and realities, or maps and territories if you prefer. The word is not the thing, the finger pointing is not the moon, the name that can be named is not the true name… and gaming a war is not the same as fighting it.

    And yet troop movements near a border “in an exercise” are still troop movements, and thus threatening. And a threat is what? — an implicit form of violence?

    Alex Schmid, in his Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, #3, writes of “physical violence or threat thereof employed by terrorist actors”…

    A threat, a promise, a plan, a scenario, a prediction, a prophecy, a self-fulfilling prophecy — words and images have impact, the pen can be mightier than the sword, just as it can be cut down by it. How does the saying go? Don’t bring a pen (or sketch-pad) to a swordfight? or should it be — never bring a sword to a pen fight?

    So how do we talk about the disjunction Zen mentions, the “negotiating in bad faith” mechanism, in game theoretic terms? What kinds of maps allow us to note the positioning of minds as well as mortars?

    And what if the minds themselves are split — how do we model that?

    **

    Which brings me to the second thing I read today — this one in Graeme Smith‘s The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, p 96:

    Like many Afghans, my translator’s extended family included both government workers and insurgents. Not all of them disagreed with each other ideologically; sometimes they followed the pragmatic tradition in which Afghan families hedge their bets, sending their sons to serve in a variety of factions in a conflict.

    I’d seen this division of familial labor mentioned some years ago, and today a review of Smith’s book brought the memory back to me, and again I wondered — what does that do to all those network maps that show who knows who?

    I guess what I’m saying is that reality is inherently fluid — like a river if you will, with its shifting banks and oxbow lakes — while our categories for thinking about reality tend to be as straight and inflexible as a canal.

    **

    How do we transition, in understanding, from the neat, crisp idea to the rumpled reality? From the finger pointing, to the moon?

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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.

    **

    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.

    **

    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.

    **

    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

    **

    Here’s Leonard Cohen on the same general topic:

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