River of Stars

-a dispatch from the grief process

I haven’t felt like writing here much this past week. Today I saw something really impressive though that triggered a whole cascade of memories and thoughts.

A photographer has created images of some of the world’s most well known cities showing what their night sky would look like without light pollution.

Rio in the dark.

Tokyo in the dark.

Paris in the dark.

There’s a whole bunch more you can see here http://imgur.com/gallery/Yrb9S

This is beautiful.

If you’ve ever been in remote mountains or out in the desert anywhere you’ve seen what the night sky really looks like. It’s fabulous.

In the villages in the Himalaya in Uttarakhand local people call the Milky Way "assi ganga" which means literally sky ganga or river of stars. This may be Garhwali dialect, not Hindi. The Hindi word for sky generally is “aakaash” (आकाश)

There is a small tributary of the Bhagirathi River (the main tributary of the Ganga) that is also called Asi Ganga which mythologically has the same origin as the "Sky Ganga" according to local people. This Asi Ganga is just a little north of Uttarkashi on the way to Gangotri and the Gangotri glacier which is the origin of the Ganga (Ganges River). I have been many times to the Asi Ganga and to Gangotri, including climbing the glacier to Tapovan and Shivling base camp, with Manoj. Whenever we went to Uttarkashi, which was at least twice a year, we’d picnic by the Asi Ganga.

So these night skies are wonderful. I wonder if I will ever see them again.

We should ban electric light from midnight onward. At least.

In Mussoorie (India, where I have lived for much of the time for the past 10 years with Manoj) they turn off the street lights at night. The timing depends on whether it’s tourist season or not. When it’s not tourist season, like in the winter, they go off at about 11PM. In tourist season they don’t go off until about 1AM.

Here’s a couple of my pictures of Mussoorie, Uttarakhand in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya in winter when we used to live on the hill above the Mall Road.

DSC00185

That’s looking to the west and down to the Doon Valley in the distance.

DSC00183

This is looking towards the east along Mall Road towards Gun Hill.

I will miss this place so much.

But it’s not the same now.

Buddhist Book 2012:The Buddha’s Doctrine of Anatta

The most useful [rather than best] Buddhist Book I read in 2012 was Buddhadhasa Bhikkhu’s The Buddha’s Doctrine of Anatta:A Comparative Study of Self and Not-Self in Buddhism, Hinduism and Western Philosophy.

Originally written in 1939 in Thai, an English translation was produced in 1990 in Thailand. It was reproduced in The Collection of Buddhadhasa’s Long Writings but that book is rare.

It can be a quick read, done in a day, but it’s a little better to take one’s time over it to absorb some of the finer points the author makes. Anatta is not that complicated to understand if we can remove some of the misunderstandings that get introduced from other sources. That is the whole point of the book.

Continue reading

Raelians, Swastikas and You

I’ve written about Raelians before in Wikileaks, Raelians, Reincarnation and The Possibility of an Island. I admit a certain sociological fascination with this group. How it has lasted as long as it has is a little beyond me.

Today I ran across an article on AOL News (there is actually such a thing) discussing The Raelians,who have declared June 23 “World Swastika Rehabilitation Day,”. They are requesting Buddhists, Hindus and other traditional users of the swastika symbol to support them in order to reclaim the symbol for good.

This topic has gone around countless times, sometimes in a reasonable fashion and sometimes rather hysterically so I’ll not recapitulate all that.

In the AOL article the author writes,

At the turn of the 20th century, Americans used the swastikas on postcards to express congratulations, said Kaenzig. They have also symbolized good luck, harmony and well-being at different times.

Scott Selby, author of the forthcoming “The Axmann Conspiracy: The Nazi Plan for a Fourth Reich and How the U.S. Army Defeated It” (Penguin) agrees that swastikas’ original meaning has been abused, but he’s against trying to rehabilitate its image.

“Some things are so debased that they can’t be redeemed,” Selby told The Huffington Post.

Menachem Wecker, who blogs about art and religion for the Houston Chronicle, understands why the event may cause a furor.

“The swastika has longstanding meaning as a symbol of peace, and nothing the Nazis did can change that,” Wecker told The Huffington Post by email. “The reality is, however, that it also carries Nazi baggage now, and anyone who thinks they’re going to ‘take it back’ or ‘own it’ by holding some kind of public forum without offending a lot of people is deeply mistaken.

“Regardless how careful and intellectually honest the hosts of a ‘Swastika Rehabilitation Day’ are, it’s very hard to imagine that not offending a lot of people.”

There seems to be a trend in terms of methodology to mute certain offensive symbols and words by taking them back. From the same article:

Selby, who is also a trademark attorney, said that a comparison can be made between what the Raelians are proposing and African-Americans taking back the “N-word,” but only to a point.

“The use of the ‘N-word’ in that community has been very controversial,” he pointed out. “In this case, if a group of Holocaust survivors decided to take back the swastika, it would be wrong. In the case of these people, it’s offensive and wrong.

We see this happening with events like Slutwalk as well, which was a reaction to police practices of shaming women who had been victims of rape by victim blaming. While these reactions act as a catalyst to discussion there can be unforeseen consequences to these reclamation processes. If symbols, be they actual or in the form of words become muddied as to their meaning in particular contexts it provides easy grounds for denial of what the symbols actually meant in that context. If the popularity of slut-shaming among misogynists can somehow be excused “because they never meant it that way” then misogyny becomes further entrenched and that much more difficult to identify and address.

My view is that holding official sorts of events and expecting only positive results is pretty naïve. In the case of the swastika, the people who have traditionally used that symbol continue to use it in the context in which it is familiar to them. They have no need of reclaiming anything since it was never let go of even though it was culturally appropriated by the Nazis in a quite different context. That kind of cultural appropriation sans context was rampant at the turn of the 20th century and one of many characteristics of imperialist and oppressive colonialism practiced by Europeans at the time.

At one time I somewhat agreed with this reclamation idea, but in doing further research and examining my own privilege more closely I’ve found there is another point that has to be addressed.

It is not for white people to reclaim the swastika for other traditional cultures. That smacks of exactly the same kind of disempowering attitude that led to it’s co-opting in the first place. The White Savior Complex rearing it’s ugly head once more. It is not unlike what Teju Cole wrote in his Atlantic magazine piece called The White Savior Industrial Complex when discussing Africa

From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of “making a difference.” To state this obvious and well-attested truth does not make me a racist or a Mau Mau.

Much of what passes for contemporary spirituality, including Buddhism among whites in America and Europe is very similar to this. [Finally I agree with Žižek on his other points as well] One can enter a spiritual arena erected by others and project all kinds of fantasies upon it without any sort of due diligence or even basic knowledge. One can reap a certain kind of social capital by exploitation. One can satisfy one’s ego as well as reify cultural dominance all under a fuzzy banner of do-goodism. The Raelians swastika project is an extreme example of this.

Now if some particular group of traditional users of this symbol were getting hassled for it’s use in their own context, such as on a Hindu temple or a Buddhist statue, I might ally with such a cause. It comes down to intention and meaning.

In cross-cultural, as well as in any other cross-boundary dialogue presuming to take the lead, particularly if one is in the dominant position, is often a sign of far more serious underlying structural issues.

Buddhist monks held in India for defamation

In Karnataka India a well known Buddhist monk and his associates has been arrested and charged with defamation and offending the religious sentiments of others. The Hindu newspaper, one of the largest in India reports that Bhante Bhodhidamma and four others are being detained without bail. These monks are associated with the Bijapur Indosan Sogenji India Community School and other projects which are designed to help Dalits, known previously as “untouchables”, under the International Buddhist Youth Organization which is affiliated with One Drop Zendo directed by Shodo Harada Roshi who is listed as their root teacher.

These charges under sections 153 (A), 295 and 504 of the Indian Penal Code are often used when one person or group feels some sense of offence or one person or group would like to censor another or as a form of legal harassment. It is one of the most over used and abused sections of the Indian Penal Code.

The original law has been around since the first Penal Code was codified in 1860 and has had little revision. It is also part of the basis for some of the thinking behind some of the censorship provisions that appear in the Internet Technology Act. A discussion of that aspect is available at the Bar and Bench blog which covers legal issues.

At present it is being used to attempt to get large social media and Internet companies to censor the content they provide. It has been cited numerous times to attempt to silence Salman Rushdie and other writers as well as journalists covering topics of religious sectarianism.

At the recent Jaipur literary festival four authors read from Salman Rushdie’s work and have now been charged with the same charges as the monks. From the Index on Censorship website’s article India: How to silence a nation the very same sections of the Code are being used:

The relevant sections under the Indian law are:

295-A (which deals with deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings)

298 (uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings),

153-A (promoting enmity between groups on religious grounds),

153-B (imputations prejudicial to national integration)

120-B (criminal conspiracy).

And section the related section 504:

504. Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace.

As the New Statesman puts it,

Mass outrage and censorship in India have a long history, thanks to Section 295a of the penal code, which outlaws "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs". This creates a situation where anyone can claim that anything is offensive and the government is obliged to act.

The law is incredibly vague and ill defined which leaves it wide open for all kinds of abuse. Once the accusation has been made the onus is on the defendant to use legal maneuvers as well as public pressure in order to demonstrate innocence. With most laws related to censorship it operates in a fashion that is backwards to the normal course of criminal prosecution in democratic countries.

With regard to the situation with the monks, they have garnered a lot of support. There are demonstrations on their behalf as well as being covered in one of the largest national newspapers.  The full report from The Hindu Monk’s arrest turns into a controversy

I&I

“There is no ‘I’ existing as some substantial thing; there is only the ceaseless flow. This is true not only of me, but of all things.” — Kosho Uchiyama, “Opening the Hand of Thought”

Listening to so much Bob Marley over the past few days has renewed my interest in the philosophy, faith and beliefs of the Rastafarians.  As someone perpetually interested in what goes on in the world and why, the Rastafari movement was one that I found interesting as soon as I came into contact with it many many years ago. 

The Rastafari movement is not called “Rastafarianism”. The “ism” is somewhat offensive for quite a few reasons, mostly to do with Babylon things.

They especially reject the word “Rastafarianism”, because they see themselves as “having transcended -isms and schisms.” This has created conflict between some Rastas and some members of the academic community studying Rastafari, who insist on calling this faith “Rastafarianism” in spite of the disapproval this generates within the Rastafari movement. Nevertheless, the practice continues among scholars, though there are also instances of the study of Rastafari using its own terms.

from Rastafari movement

There is a well developed religious philosophy and several major sects within Rastafari. For a brief time there was a Black Supremacy aspect to some of the Rastafari philosophy. This tended to coincide with civil rights issues in other places at the time. However after a speech in 1963 by Haile Selassie Emperor of Ethiopia (who is considered to be the second coming of the Christ by the Rastafarians) at the United Nations in which he said:

“That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil….

We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”

much of the issue was reoriented away from dominance thinking back to a more egalitarian viewpoint.

I won’t go into all of that but one thing that really strikes me, as a Buddhist, is the concept behind Iyaric or particular vocabulary used in Rastafari.

I&I (or I and I or InI)

From Rasta-ites Question and Answer

I&I signifies I&I unity with JAH the Most High. As in I and I God, it is also used to signify I&I Rastafari bredren and sistren, also signifying I&I unity with the Most I. So it can mean I or we or even you, although now more I’s would say “the I” for you.

The dictionary definition below is from the Rasta Patois Dictionary

“I and I, I&I:
I, me, you and me, we (1)Rastafari speech eliminates you, me we, they, etc., as divisive and replaces same with communal I and I.  I and I embraces the congregation in unity with the  Most I (high) in an endless circle of inity (unity).”

From Rastafarian vocabulary

I replaces “me”, which is much more commonly used in Jamaican English than in the more conventional forms. Me is felt to turn the person into an object whereas I emphasises the subjectivity of an individual.

I and I is a complex term, referring to the oneness of Jah (God) and every human. Rastafari scholar E. E. Cashmore: “I and I is an expression to totalize the concept of oneness, the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we’re one people in fact. The bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of God, of man. But man itself needs a head and the head of man is His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I (always pronounced as the letter ‘I,’ never as the number one or ‘the first’) of Ethiopia.” The term is often used in place of “you and I” or “we” among Rastafari, implying that both persons are united under the love of Jah.

The recognition of the oneness and unity of people, people with their god concept and people as equal expressions of a god or as maintaining a “sameness within difference” has appeared in many religions. Hinduism is the example that first comes to mind.

Within monotheistic traditions one might mark the differences between the god concept as either “transcendent” or “immanent”. Transcendent gods are differentiated from people and unreachable. Immanent gods dwell within or can be reached by human beings. Sufism, gnostic traditions within Christianity and Judaism all have the element of the immanent which sets them apart from the mainstream which views a god as something “other” or “out there” somewhere.

With traditions that don’t maintain such god concepts there is still this sense of unity. Buddhism exhibits that.

The I&I expression strikes me as quite similar to a lot of Buddhist concepts.

Interdependence (another I word) in the English language doesn’t go far enough to really capture how we are all in this together.

Intermersion if there is such a word might be more apt.

There is no end of one I and beginning of another.

I and I.

Links

A little history and background of the Rastafari movement

Musical Interlude-Niyabinghi chants

Reggae music is not the only music associated with the Rastas. Burra style drumming, which influenced Hip-Hop appears. Of more central importance in the expression of the Rasta beliefs are Niyabinghi chants. Niyabinghi is also the name of one of the major “houses” or “mansions” (groups) of Rastafari.

Niyabinghi chants

are played at worship ceremonies called grounations,[14] that include drumming, chanting and dancing, along with prayer and ritual smoking of cannabis. The name Nyabinghi comes from an East African movement from the 1850s to the 1950s that was led by people who militarily opposed European imperialism.

Here is a grounation in South Africa which includes Niyabinghi chants, preaching, worshipful dancing and group walking chants in circumambulation.

And here is a much larger grounation with onlookers in Jamaica.

 

Someone in YouTube comments has written down some of the words for this latter video.

Them gi wi basket fi go carry water. Them gi wi basket fi go carry water. Ohhhh Jah Rastafari rule this land. Ethiopia land, Waa go home a Ethiopia land . Waa go home a Ethipian lan land oooh. Jah Rastafari rule the land. Repartriate, Go get a dread mek wi repartriate whaooo, Jah Rastafari rule the land…..