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Two very different pieces of possible interest

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — one for those who follow apocalyptic strands in RL and media, one for those who follow Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and the Glass Bead Game — recommended ]
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Tim Furnish reviews the Netflix series, Messiah:

An Iraqi Refugee Trained in Illusion Who Works Miracles — Christ or Anti? Masih or Dajjal? That’s the situation posed by the Netflix series, Messiah, and it’s presented with sufficient subtlety that the answer’s not as obvious as it may seem from that quick condensation — and indeed, at the end of the series, there’s still sufficient ambiguity to keep you guessing, and the producers in line for a renewed contract and second series..

It’s not quite subtle enough to please our friend Tim Furnish, however, who gives a fine overview of the series, then takes the details of eschatological hadith and Biblical writings a step further into accuracy, and thus depth. His opening paragraphs:

“One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.” That’s the opening line of my first book on Islamic messianic figures. It’s also an apt summary of Netflix’s excellent new show Messiah. Its 10-episode first season was released on Jan. 1. Let’s hope it gets renewed. We need to know how this story of a charismatic Middle Eastern miracle worker, who not only attracts Christians, Muslims and Jews but sways the U.S. President, plays out. Here’s a brief (as possible) summary.

A Modern-Day Messiah?

A long-haired, thinly bearded man appears in Damascus and accurately predicts the destruction of besieging ISIS forces. Many Palestinians there follow him into the desert, believing him to be al-Masih, “The Messiah.” He leads them to the Israeli border. The movement gets on the CIA’s radar screen. The group reaches the Israeli border, and al-Masih crosses. He’s arrested and interrogated by a Shin Bet agent, about whom he knows personal details. He then disappears from prison (later we find out the prison guard let him go, believing him the Messiah) and reappears on the Temple Mount. In a confrontation near the Dome of the Rock, Israeli soldiers shoot a young boy — whom al-Masih heals. He then disappears again, showing up soon after in Dilley, Texas. He is caught on cell phone cameras stopping a tornado about to destroy the Baptist church. This goes viral and many flock to the town. The church pastor believes him to be Jesus returned and becomes his spokesman and handler.

Well there’s plenty more, obviously, and I highly recommend Tim’s commentary — they should have hired him as a consultant.

To read more, go to Netflix’s Messiah Reviewed: Who’s Your Messiah Now?

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Very different indeed is JustKnecht‘s exquisite weaving of ideas around Basho, Vimalakirti and a whiff of Chick Corea in his Notes on a winter journey to the interior, subtitled (and subtled) “on a treadmill facing north” — the reference is to Basho‘s Narrow Road to the Deep North which you really ought to know already.

And that’s a bit of a point. You really ought to know already: Basho and Vimalakirti, Heraclitus and Tamsin Lorraine, heaven and earth, and as it is in heaven, so it already and always is on earth, for as above, so below.

For myself, I know each of these with glancing blows, while JustKnecht knows each in depths I cannot match. Reading the whole is, for me, a sustained flight in the Absolute as viewed through thr world’s cultures, with butterflies a particular point of reference — and a long-tailed bired in seven syllables that’s almost an angel — or an apsara?. — ah, peacocks, too.

In any case, an education — and a delight.

Late afternoon, cooling down after a hard run in the condo gym, Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly breezes onto my playlist. We breathe together deeply, and I don’t know whether it is I dreaming that I am the bass clarinet, or the bass clarinet dreaming that it is I.

The music and the vision fades, and I’m sitting in my armchair doing mental exercise. From high school trombonists and collegiate level cello students to elite athletes and surgeons, cognitive rehearsal in the absence of physical movement has been shown to improve physical performance. In the same way, listening to one of my 5K run playlists gives me a perfectly good workout without the inconvenience of even moving a muscle.

Reade more: Notes on a winter journey to the interior — ah yes, the interior!

Thank you: I bow .

A Dream of Two Headlines

Friday, December 13th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — a meeting of the opposites in the Lutheran and Catholic martyrologies ]
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I dreamed of two headlines, one occupying most of the page with its sub-head, author’s name, and first few paragraphs, enough to tell the tale — “Naval Academy Midshipman Charged With Setting Fire to Historic Documents” — and in the margin, that other — “Scottish church suspects some lillibethians among its martyrs.”

I’m not interested, today, in the Naval Academy outrage, though maybe on another day.. What interests me today is the possibility that some saints, martyrs indeed, venerated by the Catholic church in Scotland, home of my male forebears across the centuries, may turn out to be found to be “lillibethians” — a word I believe I coined, meaning “followers of Elizabeth” in the Catholic times of Queen Mary.: martyrs indeed, but for the wrong, Protestant faith.

Now the thing is, it might be difficult for the current church to admit that some of its venerated saints who, remember, were killed by the hated, heretical Protestants for their fortitude in holding the true Catholic faith even unto death were, in historical fact, martyred one might say, by right-minded, rigorous, righteous Catholics, for their fortitude in holding the true Protestant faith even unto death..

So.

My dream has me wondering, can one switch religions, from Catholic martyr to Protestant martyr, while still retaining the same respect, veneration indeed, for fortitude in holding the true faith even unto death? Can a venerated Protestant martyr become a venerated Catholic martyr (other team), or vice versa?

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Could a Catholic pope canonize, as one novelist has suggested, a Protestant Johann Sebastian Bach?

Astonishing, the fertility and freshness of his mind, and as the centuries roll on, the fresh brilliance of this virtuoso performance..

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Recognizing that the same tale was told from India along the trade routes to Europe, with Bodhisattva becoming Iodasaph, then Ioasaph, then Josaphat, how can we avoid acknowledging that the saints Catholics have venerated for centuries as Barlaam and Josaphat were originally and thus are in fact, Bodhisattva (the apprentice Buddha) and his teacher?

Thus a priest might call the 27th of November, the Feast of St Buddha… Fr Thomas Merton OCSO would very likely have approved.

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Oh, and the Scottish martyrs. I recall Jorge Luis Borges‘ story, The Theologians, in which the heresiarch and the arch-orthodox duke it out, the definitions of heresy (a death penalty offense) and orthodoxy even shifting at one point — it’s final paragraph is the killer:

It is more correct to record that in Paradise Aurelian knew this: in the unfathomable divinity of God he and John, the heretic and the rector of the Faith, the abhorring and the abhorred, the victim and his accuser, in God these two had ever been one person only.

So may it be with the damned Lutherans and the blessed Catholics — and their respective martyrs!

Ayodhya, a remarkable change of heart

Monday, November 18th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — religious India is divided over the question of the Babri Basjid / Ram Janmabhoomi — was the mosque built over a Ram temple in Lord Rama’s birthplace? and who deserves the land where the masjid was destroyed? The Supreme Court has ruled — but here’s a story that sets the Ayodhya question in a different light ]
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The headline in India Today reads:

Kar sevak from Haryana who was part of Babri Masjid demolition, now preaches Islam, builds masjids

That’s from February 2018, but I only caught wind of it via a Brownpundits post by Dr Hamid Hussain yesterday.

Balbir Singh; a Rajput of Panipat was active member of right wing Hindu organizations Shiv Sena and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He had vowed to demolish Babri mosque and built the Ram temple at its site. In early December 1992, Balbir was part of the large crowd that had gathered at Babri mosque to demolish it. He was one of the first who climbed on the central dome of the mosque and removed brick after brick with pick axe.

He was given a heroes’ welcome when he came back to his town. He had brought back a brick from the destroyed mosque to be kept at local Shiv Sena office as victory trophy. However, his father Daulat Ram; a school teacher denounced his actions. It was time for reflection for Balbir and he was crushed with the guilt.

He found a novel way to atone for his actions. He converted to Islam (he was renamed Muhammad Ameer) and vowed to restore one hundred decrepit and abandoned mosques. So far, he has cleaned and rebuilt over ninety abandoned mosques in north India.

The message of this simple man is as powerful as that of a sage. Even if he had not converted to Islam, remained Hindu and repented in any other way to atone for his destructive act, he would have been a wonderful human being. He became exceptional by his conduct regardless of how rival communities view him.

That’s quite some story.

The Indian Supreme Court has ruled on the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi / Babri Masjid affair, giving a Hindu committee the disputed 2.7 acres on which the Babri Masjid was demolished, holding that an earlier Ram temple had been torn down and its columns repurposed to build the Masjid — and awarding 5 acres elsewhere for the building of another Masjid.

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I like Dr Hussain‘s idea:

This is the story of Ram Mandar/Babri Masjid. If it was up to me, I would convert this property into a peace garden where everybody is welcome to reflect and pray in whatever way he wished to whatever God he wished.

This mother and child might be on their way to such a garden:

And look who they’ll meet when they arrive:

The wandering poet-saint Kabir “in discussion with persons of differing faiths”.

Joshu and the poets

Monday, November 18th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — From Joshu, Japanese zen master who recommends having a hot coal caught in your throat, metaphorically speaking, to Isaiah, Hebrew prophet, to whose lips it is said an angel pressed a burning coal ]
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Said Joshu, proffering the word “Mu” in answer to the question “Does a dog have buddha nature? in one of the great koans of the Zen text, The Gateless Gate”:

If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel as though you have a hot iron ball in your throat that you can neither swallow nor spit up. Then your previous conceptualizing disappears. Like a fruit ripening in season, subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one.

You have a hot iron ball in your throat that you can neither swallow nor spit up. That’s how you must feel, so that by means of this koan, “your previous conceptualizing disappears” and “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one.”

There are few barriers in our contemporary western world so difficult to pass — “the first responders running towards the burning Twin Towers as everyone else was running away” would surely qualify.

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And yet and yet.

And yet, the thing is, “buddha nature”, or”original face” as another koan names it, the condition in which “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one” is prior to the condition in which they are experienced separately as “subjectivity” and “objectivity” — it’s “original”.

So if yo find yourself suffering from “subjectivity” and “objectivity, you’ll need that “hot iron ball in your throat” to get back to origins. But if you’re there, where “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one” — no problem.

In fact, after you’ve “solved” — “resolved” might be better — a koan, your zen master is liable to suggest you look through a book of “capping verses” such as this one, Zen Sand, kindly published by the University of Hawaii Press, to find one verse that caps or sums up your experience.

The thing being that some poet wrote that verse, after experiencing something very close to what you experienced.

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Which suggests that either:

literally hundreds of poets arrived at “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one” without going through the “hot iron ball in your throat” stage by being poets, in other words, they simply kept to the “original” state beyond dualism — in which case poetry sounds like a fine route by which to avoid all that throat-blistering terror or..

the poets routinely go through the “iron ball” barrier on their way to poetic clarity — a possibility which would oleave traces, surely, in their poems..

Such as:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.

That, as you may know, is Rilke, in the first of huis Duino Elegies.

Or this:

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring. ..
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing…

World sorrow — can there be any greater?

But those words are the words of a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins — and I left out the two most remarkable lines in that poem, lines in which he despairs of the Holy Spirit or Comforter, and the Virgin Mary, Mother of the world in Catholic theology:

Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

Coming from a Catholic pruiest, those are noteworthy, certainly surprising lines.

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Or this, from Rilke again, triggered by Hopkins’ speaking of “world-sorrow” — here Orpheus speaks of Eurydice:

A woman so loved that from one lyre there came
more lament than from all lamenting women;
that a whole world of lament arose, in which
all nature reappeared: forest and valley,
road and village, field and stream and animal;
and that around this lament-world, even as
around the other earth, a sun revolved
and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-
heaven, with its own, disfigured stars —:
So greatly was she loved.

It may be the poets ahve swallowed more grief than that “hot coal” could muster — but then consider the story told in Isaiah 6. 5-7,. Isaiah speaks:

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

One may always wish, trembling, for an angelic visitation.

Angels and the Quest for ExtraTerrestrial intelligence [QETI]

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from my POV, quests are more interesting than searches ]
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Jibreel — we’ll get to him later:

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Okay. I was reading a New Yorker article about the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and came across a phrase that stopped me short:

Judging by their sizes and temperatures, many of these exoplanets could be capable of supporting life.

That’s from Intelligent Ways to Search for Extraterrestrials by Adam Mann, and it strikes me as astonishingly short-sighted for a piece that hopes for more intelligent ways to search for ETs than looking for radio signals. The piece begins:

Suppose you’re a space-faring alien society. You’ve established colonies on a few planets and moons in your solar system, but your population is growing and you’re running out of space. What should you do? Your brightest engineers might suggest a radical idea: they could disassemble a Jupiter-size planet and rearrange its mass into a cloud of orbiting platforms that encircles your sun. Your population would have ample living area on or inside the platforms; meanwhile, through solar power, you’d be able to capture every joule of energy radiating from your star.

Does an alien intelligence really have to have a “population”? With “engineers”? Do you suppose they have Coors, too?

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I’m interested in Rilke‘s angels, as described in the Duino Elegies:

Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it, through both realms forever,

The year before he died, Rilke wrote to his translator Witold Hulewicz:

The Angel of the elegies has nothing to do with the angels of the christian heaven (rather with the angelic figures of Islam).

Further, from the point of view of Rilke‘s angels:

all the towers and palaces of the past are existent because they have long been invisible, and the still-standing towers and bridges of our reality are already invisible, although still (for us) physically lasting. . . . All the worlds in the universe are plunging into the invisible as into their next-deeper reality

IMO, Rilke’s angels are intelligent, and just a tad alien, no?

Or consider Muhammad‘s angel Jibreel, whom the Prophet saw at the horizon of the humanly knowable, near the place of repose — one report describes him thus:

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah exalt his mention) saw Jibreel in his true form. He had six hundred wings, each of which filled the horizon, and there were multi-coloured pearls and rubies falling from his wings.

Muhammad was apparently in contact — why not us? And what would be a “more rational way to scan the heavens” (quoting the New Yorker subtitle here) for such a being?

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But ETs wouldn’t have to be “spiritual” or even “poetic” entities to be of interest to those looking for other intelligences.

What if galaxies (or galaxies plus) are intelligent entities, and we’re in the middle — well, out on a spiral arm — of one, ourselves? What if our planet’s just going from 1 to 0? What if there’s an intelligence that sees time as we see a snake — rattle at the tail end, forked tongue at the beginning?

I’m no physicist, so I’m on firmer ground with Rilke and Muhammad than I am with Bohr or Bohm or Everett, let alone David Deutsch.

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In Intelligent Ways to Search for Extraterrestrials we read:

In 1623, Johannes Kepler wrote that, through his telescope, he had observed towns with round walls on the moon. In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli reported seeing what might have been massive canals on Mars. The same year that Dyson described his spheres, the astrophysicist Frank Drake started Project Ozma, an attempt to detect radio signals from aliens living around two nearby stars—the first modern experiment in the enterprise now known as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or seti. Like his forebears, Drake was influenced by his times: he was born during the golden age of radio. Kepler spent his days in walled European cities; Schiaparelli witnessed a worldwide canal-building spree. Their efforts were simultaneously cosmic and provincial. It’s hard to say anything about organisms on other worlds that doesn’t reflect life on ours.

So if we’re influenced by our times, what will we see? Extraterrestrial advertising? I think it depends on the window of imagination that we possess — and a whole lot of our imagination goes to “space” as the “final frontier”. My imagination is trained inside me, where I find a lifetime’s mystery to explore.

What if D Streatfeild is right, when he writes in Persephone

there exists an inner world, which lies ‘outside’ our personal minds, and in which they are contained in exactly the same way as our bodies are contained in the outer world revealed by the senses

Maybe that’s where a more intelligent search will find Rilke‘s angels?

Not a Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence [SETI], but a Quest for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence {QETI]. Far more intelligent, if you ask me.


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