Rely on Reason

It is important for us to rely upon facts as the realm of mystic and faith is vulnerable to abuse and manipulation. To support this, I draw upon Galileo’s experience and the myth of Apophis.

Galileo

In 1615, Galileo discovered that “the sun remains motionless at the center of the revolutions of the celestial globes, and that the earth both turns on its own axis and revolves around the sun.”

As the discovery contradicted commonly held views, detractors began to “spread abroad the idea that these propositions are contrary to Holy Scripture and therefore to be condemned as heretical” and they found “others who were prepared to declare from the pulpit, with uncharacteristic confidence, that they were indeed to be condemned as heretical.” […]

In addition, “They pretend not to know that its author – or rather the one who revived and confirmed it – was Nicolaus Copernicus, a man who was not just a Catholic but a priest and a canon.” […]

Hence Galileo had no choice but to make a case for himself. He remarked, “It seems to me that the starting point in disputes concerning problems in natural science should not be the authority of scriptural texts but the experience of the senses and necessary demonstrations. For while Holy Scripture and nature proceed alike from the divine word…it is agreed that Scripture, in order to be understood by the multitude, says many things which are apparently and in the literal sense of the words at variance with absolute truth. Nature, on the other hand, never transgresses the laws to which it is subject, but is inexorable and unchanging, quite indifferent to whether its hidden reasons and ways of working are accessible to human understanding or not.” […]

“So I do beg these most prudent Fathers to consider very carefully the difference between statements that are a matter of opinion and those which can be demonstrated. If they keep in mind the strength of logical deduction, they will better understand why it is not in the power of those who profess the demonstrative sciences to change their opinion at will.”

The unbending spirit of Galileo in his maintenance of scientific observation and truth, reminds us that we should too be fact finders and defend truth with reason.

Apophis

In Ancient Egypt, Apophis or Apep was the spirit of evil, darkness and destruction who threatened to destroy the sun god, Ra.  It was associated with several frightening natural events, such as the unexplained darkness of the solar eclipse, storms and earthquakes. It was depicted as a huge serpent, all-powerful and impossible to overcome.

To defeat Apep, priests of Ra would conduct an annual ritual: “Banishing Apep”. An effigy of Apep would be taken into the temple and imbued with all of the evil of the land. The effigy would then beaten, crushed smeared with mud and burned.

After learning of this myth, I felt great sympathy for Apep. It was the scapegoat for all that it could not control; its name cursed and its image crucified for natural events that were bound to happen. Hence, it is important to have knowledge. We have come a long way from the times of Gods and myths, but our human nature remains the same. We still retain some irrational fear, some imagination; yet all must be in moderation and reason shall inform most of our modern lives.

What is Love?

The beauty of religion is the placing on pedestal, human ideals. With reference to Christianity, in Corinthians, the bible expounds on love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 

Certainly, most of us will fail at least one of the above ethos and that is why God’s love is so coveted; it is absolute and perfect. It is what humans cannot achieve and by this notion, God retains supremacy over our most innate need: love.

Compare the biblical definition of love to the song, “Love”, by late John Lennon:

Love is real, real is love
Love is feeling, feeling love
Love is wanting to be loved

Love is touch, touch is love
Love is reaching, reaching love
Love is asking to be loved

Love is you
You and me
Love is knowing
We can be

Love is free, free is love
Love is living, living love
Love is needing to be loved

This description of love is real as it is human. It is simple, yet it describes our common experience fully. For me, this is enough for human love.

For me, love is an active consideration for another. It is putting yourself in his shoes and understanding how he wants to be loved. As the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “understanding is love’s other name”; so one cannot give love without understanding the recipient’s wants and needs. Furthermore, one’s wants and needs change with time, over stages in life. Love is not a feeling suspended in clouds; it is supported in the form of a relationship. It is important to continually work on strengthening the structure of the relationship, so that love may be sustained; and in the process, friendship between two may flourish. 

Wilde’s Romantic Characterisation of Jesus

As Easter approaches, let us remember the romantic characterisation of Jesus by Oscar Wilde in De Profundis:

Christ’s place indeed is with the poets. His whole conception of Humanity sprang right out of the imagination and can only be realised by it. What God was to the pantheist, man was to Him. He was the first to conceive the divided races as a unity […] More than any one else in history he wakes in us that temper of wonder to which romance always appeals. There is still something to me almost incredible in the idea of a young Galilean peasant imagining that he could bear on his own shoulders the burden of the entire world; all that had already been done and suffered, and all that was yet to be done and suffered: […] : oppressed nationalities, factory children, thieves, people in prison, outcasts, those who are dumb under oppression and whose silence is heard only of God; and not merely imagining this but actually achieving it, so that at the present moment all who come in contact with his personality, even though they may neither bow to his altar nor kneel before his priest, in some way find that the ugliness of their sin is taken away and the beauty of their sorrow revealed to them.

I had said of Christ that he ranks with the poets. That is true. Shelley and Sophocles are of his company. But his entire life also is the most wonderful of poems. For ‘pity and terror’ there is nothing in the entire cycle of Greek tragedy to touch it. The absolute purity of the protagonist raises the entire scheme to a height of romantic art from which the sufferings of Thebes and Pelops’ line are by their very horror excluded, and shows how wrong Aristotle was when he said in his treatise on the drama that it would be impossible to bear the spectacle of one blameless in pain. […] The little supper with his companions, one of whom has already sold him for a price; the anguish in the quiet moon-lit garden; the false friend coming close to him so as to betray him with a kiss; the friend who still believed in him, and on whom as on a rock he had hoped to build a house of refuge for Man, denying him as the bird cried to the dawn; his own utter loneliness, his submission, his acceptance of everything; and along with it all such scenes as the high priest of orthodoxy rending his raiment in wrath, and the magistrate of civil justice calling for water in the vain hope of cleansing himself of that stain of innocent blood that makes him the scarlet figure of history; the coronation ceremony of sorrow, one of the most wonderful things in the whole of recorded time; the crucifixion of the Innocent One before the eyes of his mother and of the disciple whom he loved; the soldiers gambling and throwing dice for his clothes; the terrible death by which he gave the world its most eternal symbol; and his final burial in the tomb of the rich man, his body swathed in Egyptian linen with costly spices and perfumes as though he had been a king’s son. When one contemplates all this from the point of view of art alone one cannot but be grateful that the supreme office of the Church should be the playing of the tragedy without the shedding of blood: the mystical presentation, by means of dialogue and costume and gesture even, of the Passion of her Lord; and it is always a source of pleasure and awe to me to remember that the ultimate survival of the Greek chorus, lost elsewhere to art, is to be found in the servitor answering the priest at Mass.

Yet the whole life of Christ – so entirely may sorrow and beauty be made one in their meaning and manifestation – is really an idyll, though it ends with the veil of the temple being rent, and the darkness coming over the face of the earth, and the stone rolled to the door of the sepulchre. One always thinks of him as a young bridegroom with his companions, as indeed he somewhere describes himself; as a shepherd straying through a valley with his sheep in search of green meadow or cool stream; as a singer trying to build out of the music the walls of the City of God; or as a lover for whose love the whole world was too small. His miracles seem to me to be as exquisite as the coming of spring, and quite as natural. I see no difficulty at all in believing that such was the charm of his personality that his mere presence could bring peace to souls in anguish, and that those who touched his garments or his hands forgot their pain; […].

Renan in his VIE DE JESUS – that gracious fifth gospel, the gospel according to St. Thomas, one might call it – says somewhere that Christ’s great achievement was that he made himself as much loved after his death as he had been during his lifetime. And certainly, if his place is among the poets, he is the leader of all the lovers. He saw that love was the first secret of the world for which the wise men had been looking, and that it was only through love that one could approach either the heart of the leper or the feet of God.

And above all, Christ is the most supreme of individualists. Humility, like the artistic, acceptance of all experiences, is merely a mode of manifestation. It is man’s soul that Christ is always looking for. He calls it ‘God’s Kingdom,’ and finds it in every one. He compares it to little things, to a tiny seed, to a handful of leaven, to a pearl. That is because one realises one’s soul only by getting rid of all alien passions, all acquired culture, and all external possessions, be they good or evil.”

Oh God.

Can omniscient God, who knows the future, find the omnipotence to change his future mind?” – Richard Dawkins

Cultivate self-awareness

Words of wisdom from the meditation teachings of Ajahn Sumedho:

The sensory world has a powerfully strong influence. Having a body like this with the society we live in, the pressures on all of us are fantastic. Everything moves so quickly – television and the technology of the age, the cars – everything tends to move at a very fast pace. It is all very attractive, exciting and interesting, and it all pulls your sense out.

[…]

There is always something better, something newer, something more delicious than what was the most delicious yesterday…it goes on and on and on, pulling you out into objects of the senses like that.

But when we come into the shrine room, we are not here to look at each other or to be attracted or pulled into any of the objects in the room, but to use them for reminding ourselves. We are reminded to either concentrate our minds on a peaceful object, or open the mind, investigate and reflect on the way things are. We have to experience this, each one for ourselves. No one’s enlightenment is going to enlighten any of the rest of us. So this is a movement inwards: not looking outwards for somebody who is enlightened to make you enlightened.

[…]

As a human being, we have a mind that can reflect and observe. You can observe whether you are happy or miserable. You can observe the anger or jealousy or confusion in your mind. You might blindly react to it, but if you are more patient you can observe that this is a temporary changing condition.

This is using wisdom by watching that impulse, and understanding it. That which observes greed is not greed: greed cannot observe itself, but that which is not greed can observe it. This observing is what we call awareness of the way things are.

Stages of emotions

Zen teacher Seung Sahn Soen-sa advises his student who had found herself consumed with anger at her son. He wrote:

After sitting yong maeng jong jin (silent meditation), your mind was clear. A clear mind is like a clear mirror, so when anger appeared, you reflected with angry action. You love your son, so you were angry. Is this correct? Don’t check your mind – when you are angry, be angry. When you are happy, be happy. When sad, be sad. Afterwards, checking is no good.

Your previous anger and the anger you talked about in your letter are different. Before yong maeng jong jin, it was attached anger; after yong maeng jong jin, your anger was only reflected anger. If you do more hard training, the reflected anger will change to perceived anger. After more practicing, perceived anger will disappear. Then you will have only loving anger – inside you will not be angry, only angry on the outside. So attached anger, reflected anger, perceived anger, loving anger – all are changing, changing, changing. Anger is anger; anger is the truth. Don’t worry, don’t check yourself – it has already passed. How you keep just-now mind is very important.

Acceptance and reflection of one’s emotions will bring about greater inner peace.

Zen Buddhism in Fiction

I quote at length, wisdom with hints of zen buddhism from Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance. For those who doubt the value of reading fantasy novels, the following shall prove them wrong.

“Why?”

“Because,” Ym said, “you and I are One.”

“One what?”

“One being,” Ym said. He set aside that shoe and got out another. “Long ago, there was only One. One knew everything, but had experienced nothing. And so, One became many – us, people. The One, who is both male and female, did so to experience all things.”

“One. You mean God?”

“If one wish to say it that way,” Ym said. “But it is not completely true. I accept no god. You should accept no god. We are Iriali, and part of the Long Trail, of which this is the Fourth Land.”

“You sound like a priest.”

“Accept no priests either,” Ym said. “Those are from other lands, come to preach to us. Iriali need no preaching, only experience. As each experience is different, it brings completeness. Eventually, all will be gathered back in – when the Seventh Land is attained – and we once again become One.”

“So you an’ me…” the urchin said. “Are the same?”

“Yes. Two minds of a single being experiencing different lives.”

“That’s stupid.”

“It is simply a matter of perspective,” Ym said, dusting the boy’s feet with powder and slipping back on a pair of the test shoes.

“The things you’re talking about,” the boy said. “They sound dumb to me. I mean, if we’re all the same person, shouldn’t everyone know this already?”

“As One, we knew truth,” Ym said, “but as many, we need ignorance. We exist in variety to experience all kinds of thought. That means some of us must know and others must not – just like some must be rich, and others must be poor.”