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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.

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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:

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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?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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


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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?

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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.

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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.

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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 the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers

Friday, March 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- completing a post that began with On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries ]
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Having shown you a variety of (node-and-edge) graphs in the previous part of this post

— I’d now like to turn to the issue of board game design, in particular as it applies to the HipBone and Sembl games with which I’m associated.

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Since the basic idea of these games is to see the links between one idea and another, graphs of this kind are the simplest and most elegant boards on which to represent game moves. Accordingly our games boards, from the simplest Hop, skip and a jump board that I’d use to introduce kids to the games –

— via my standard HipBone WaterBird board –

— to the complex and still only part-played Said Symphony board –

— and indeed beyond, to Cath Styles‘ elegant Lotus Board for the Australian Museum Game

— all our boards are graphs — and any graphs that catch my eye are potential boards, waiting for me to figure out whether they’d actually work in play, or might suggest any new ideas for board design.

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I therefore felt very lucky indeed one day this week, when I ran across two striking, indeed dazzling graphs in quick succession.

Artist Ellen van der Molen makes a speciality of mandalas — those circular and often highly symmetrical images, common in Hindu and Tibetan art, that Carl Jung viewed as “the psychological expression of the totality of the self” — but it was this particular one featuring “graph” imagery, which she titles Lotus Grid, that dazzled me:

There’s an interesting and delicately balanced asymmetry to the graph in this mandala, and it makes me think of board design in less tightly controlled, more flowing ways.

More of Ellen’s work can be found here [link]: my “next favorite” of her works features simple, elegant calligraphy in an unknown language — here.

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So that’s from the art side of the house — while on the science side I ran across this graph at about the same time.

I have snagged it from an academic paper by Andrew D. Foote et al, titled Ancient DNA reveals that bowhead whale lineages survived Late Pleistocene climate change and habitat shifts, in Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1677, doi:10.1038/ncomms2714, Figure 3: Survival of bowhead whale lineages during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. I have removed only the words Late Pleistocene and early Holocene, which were relevant in the graph’s scientific context, but would only have been confusing in terms of my game design discussion here:

And that, my friends, is stunning for a whole other set of reasons — it suggests what a three-dimensional HipBone or Sembl game board might be like, and frankly it leaves me fumbling for ideas.

  • What might the upper (blue) and lower (green) levels signifiy, in terms of play?
  • What affordances would a 3-D board offer, that one of our simple 2-boards can’t?
  • Where can I take my thinking about graphical board design, once I have seen this, and allowed it to sink into my generative unconscious?
  • I don’t know the answers, of course. I don’t know what either of these two images will do to my own thought processes — but they’re like two pebbles dropped fortuitiously and almost simultaneously into my mirroring pool, and their ripples are surely spreading.

    My grateful thanks to both Ellen van der Molen and Andrew D. Foote and his co-authors.

    One idea leaps to another, and so the games proceed.

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    Jottings 11: self-immolators and suicide bombers?

    Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- on some aspects of religiously motivated suicide, and I'm not clear why I called this one a jotting, since it's quite long and detailed ]
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    I have been taking a couple of online courses on terrorism in recent months, and in one of them I ran across a Foreign Policy article titled Ultimate Sacrifice: What’s the difference between self-immolators and suicide bombers?

    … there is another form of deadly protest that has made a resurgence in recent years. Not only did Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s fiery suicide ignite the region and inspire subsequent self-immolations in Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco, but a growing number of Tibetans have also set themselves alight to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan region

    It’s an intriguing question, phrased by one of my fellow students as the question, “Can Tibetan Self-immolators be considered “terrorists”?

    **

    I did my “due diligence” research, and came up with some articles worth reading:

  • Tenzin Tharchen, 125 Self-Immonlations: why suicide by fire protests continue in Tibet
  • Tsering Shakya, Self-Immolation, the Changing Language of Protest in Tibet
  • Martin Kovan, Buddhist Self-immolation and Mahayanist Absolute Altruism
  • while my interlocutor offered this one:

  • Jose Cabezon, On The Ethics Of The Tibetan Self-Immolations
  • But you know, the mind has indirect back-channels as well as direct information freeways, and the question seems to have been percolating while I’ve been asleep.

    **

    Sonam Wangyal, Lama Sobha, was the first Tibetan lama to self-immolate, and left a cassette tape in which he explained his motives:

    I am giving away my body as an offering of light to chase away the darkness, to free all beings from suffering, and to lead them — each of whom has been our mother in the past and yet has been led by ignorance to commit immoral acts — to the Amitabha, the Buddha of infinite light. My offering of light is for all living beings, even as insignificant as lice and nits, to dispel their pain and to guide them to the state of enlightenment. I offer this sacrifice as a token of long-life offering to our root guru His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all other spiritual teachers and lamas.

    The full text of Lama Sobha’s message can be found at the bottom of an International Campaign for Tibet page titled Harrowing images and last message from Tibet of first lama to self-immolate — the “harrowing images” themselves are linked to, but not shown.

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    The Chinese come close to targeting Tibetan self-immolators as terrorists, using the terms “Splittist”– so often also used of the Dalai Lama — and calling their actions “intentional homicide”. This from the “>Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Tibet:

    Nonetheless, the response by the Chinese authorities to self-immolations by Tibetans has been extremely draconian, largely because of an assumption that all protest by Tibetans must be intrinsically “splittist” (that is, secessionist). In particular, it has involved the formulation of new laws that seem to target Tibetans specifically, and the imposition of collective punishments, and the application of the crime of “intentional homicide” to all those aiding, abetting, encouraging or even photographing self-immolations.

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    It occurs to me that sacrificing oneself for the benefit of other beings is symbolically enacted in the Tibetan Chöd ritual, in which one symbolically feeds the parts of one’s body to the pretas or hungry demons to satiate them and put them to sleep — and also in some of the Jataka Tales of the previous rebirths of the Shakyamuni Buddha.

    I’m thinking particularly of The Bodhisattva and the Hungry Tigress, and will quote here from Edward Conze‘s telling in Buddhist Scriptures, pp 24-26. On being told that self-sacrifice is difficult, Mahasattva (the future Buddha) replies:

    It is difficult for people like us, who are so fond of our lives and bodies, and who have so little intelligence. It is not difficult at all, however, for others, who are true men, intent on benefitting their fellow-creatures, and who long to sacrifice themselves. Holy men are born of pity and compassion. Whatever the bodies they may get, in heaven or on earth, a hundred times will they undo them, joyful in their hearts, so that the lives of others may be saved.

    His prayer before offering his own body and blood to feed an ailing tigress and her cubs is:

    For the weal of the world I wish to win enlightenment, incomparably wonderful. From deep compassion I now give away my body, so hard to quit, unshaken in my mind. That enlightenment I shall now gain, in which nothing hurts and nothing harms.

    Assuming the Jataka tales made it to Tibet, this one might be a potent influence on potential self-immolators.

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    A possible Tamil “comparable” — presumably Hindu rather than Buddhist, culturally if not religiously:

    When young Murugathasan Varnakulasingham (aged 26) committed self-immolation in front of the UN headquarters in Geneva on 19 February 2009 he was protesting against international failures of intervention in the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in northern Sri Lanka, where he believed that large bodies of Tamil people faced extinction by the Sri Lankan government. “The flames over my body will be a torch to guide you through the liberation path,” he wrote in his parting letter.

    There have been a few other protest suicides by Tamils in Tamilnadu and Malaysia, but Varnakulasingham’s altruistic act probably garnered the most attention.

    **

    Further thoughts:

    There’s always Samson, pulling down the pillars that upheld the roof of their temple on the Philistines, once he’d regrown his hair and strength…

    Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

    — Judges 16.23-30 — not quite self-immolation, not quite suicide bombing, but certainly suicidal warfare with a religious motive.

    Okay, When Christians quote John 15.13:

    Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

    surely they include in their understanding of that verse, those who throw their bodies on top of grenades to protect their comrades — which would seem in its own way to parallel the teaching of the Jataka Tale.

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    Likewise, when Muslims quote the hadith from Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 53, in which the Prophet says:

    Narrated Anas bin Malik:

    The Prophet said, “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause).”

    and from Sahih Muslim, Chapter 28, Book 020, Number 4626:

    It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace upon him) said:

    [ … ] By the Being in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s life, if it were not to be too hard upon the Muslims. I would not lag behind any expedition which is going to fight in the cause of Allah. But I do not have abundant means to provide them (the Mujahids) with riding beasts, nor have they (i.e. all of them) abundant means (to provide themselves with all the means of Jihad) so that they could he left behind. By the Being in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s life, I love to fight in the way of Allah and be killed, to fight and again be killed and to fight again and be killed.

    — how close are we to Nathan Hale:

    I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country

    — and behind that, to Joseph Addison:

    What a pity it is
    That we can die but once to serve our country.

    — that’s from Addison’s now obscure play, Cato, a Tragedy, Act IV, Scene 4

    **

    Of course, the way to stop self-immolations in Tibet is simple — put up a notice:

    See also New document sheds light on China’s campaign against self-immolations in Tibet

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