Monday, July 28, 2008

Go Ceanada an chéad rud eile

Rachaidh mé go dtí gCeanada go luath. Tabharfaidh mé paipear faoi scríobhneoir as An Bhreatain Bheag. Léigh "Fáilte Romhat go Uladh" nuair go raibh suim agam a ceangail na phobhlachtachas Ceilteach leis scéaltái Éireannach. Scríobh Menna Gallie é i 1970. Bhí úrscéalai í ina Seascaí go hairithe. Níl eolas móran fúithi fós.

Mar sin, caitheann muid ag taistil go An Ollamh Thoironto. Cruinneoidh dream scólartha Bhreathais ansin. Is mian Léna eile, ar ndóigh! Iarraidh sí a feiceáil an Iarsmalann Bhrógannaí.

B'fhéidir, beimid ag dul go dtí Eas Niagara. Chuaigh mo tuismeitheori ar feadh a mí na meala. Bhí sé fadó, i 1941. Níor chuaigh siadsan féin trasna ag imeall Mheircea aríst.

Go cinnte, tá rud difríul agam inniu. Tá an t-ádh liom ábalta cur cuairt ar gcathair nua leis mo bhean chéile. Bíonn ag súil go mbeadh go maith.

Chonaic mo chlann an tír mhór ó thuaidh amháin sular. Bhíomar Bhancoubher deich mbliana ó shin. Tá sé go halainn ann. Is cuimhne liom an radharc na cuan leis báirseach. D'iompaigh bád tráchta laistais aisteach. Ní fhaca mé go leor. Ach, bhí mé go raibh a feichthe pirimid ard rhuibh. Ní bhfaighidh bui chomh geall as amharc sin, creidim.

Off to Canada the next thing

I will go to Canada soon. I will give a paper about a writer from Wales (="The Little Britain"). I read "You're Welcome to Ulster" when I was interested to tie the Celtic republicanism with Irish stories. Menna Gallie wrote it in 1970. She was a novelist in the 1960s mainly. There's not a lot of information about her still.

Therefore, I must travel to the University in Toronto. A scholarly group of Welsh will gather there. Layne wants different! She seeks to see the Museum of Shoes.

Perhaps, we will go to Niagara Falls. My parents went there during their honeymoon. It was long ago in 1941. They did not go across the American border again.

Certainly, it's a different thing for me now. I'm lucky to be able to visit a new city with my wife. I hope that it will be well.

My family saw the great land to the north once. We had been to Vancouver. It's lovely there. I remember the panorama of the harbor with a barge. The cargo-boat carried a strange load. I did not see much. But, there was seen by me a high pyramid of sulphur. I will never see so yellow a brilliance as that sight.

Griangraf/Photo: "The Sulphur Refinery from Stanley Park, Vancouver BC"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Iseult Gonne's portrait

I was pleased to see this colorful illustration of Iseult Stuart (née Gonne) in the New York Times article, Yeats Meets the Digital Age, Full of Passionate Intensity," July 20, 2008, by Bill Dwyer. I'm a long-time reader of the man she married, Francis Stuart, as well as a befuddled follower of the artist and her mother Maud Gonne's own alternately seductive and repellent personality. I share with my wife a curious draw towards Maud, so lovely in her youth, so forbidding in her dotage. I never saw this depiction of her daughter in its original hues before. It looks like a page from a fairytale anthology. Until this example, I'd only found a black-and-white version, even in the collected letters of Yeats, herself, and her other lover Ezra Pound-- she moved in rarified circles-- published a few years ago.

Around six summers ago, I'd been at the University of Ulster, looking for her letters in the archive at Coleraine. They were missing, along with some of Stuart's manuscripts. Since there'd been a researcher based at UU who published a critical study of FS, I suspected they may have gone missing intentionally. I'd always wanted to find out more about Iseult than the few footnotes referring to her mother, Maud, and her would-be suitor, Yeats. The intricacies of this quadrilateral, if you count Pound, became a pentagon with young Stuart's arrival into this shape-shifting set-up.

As so often in my stillborn scholarship, my ideas about compiling Iseult's correspondence stalled. Others had also nosed about Co. Antrim's epistolary treasures. Two years after my Coleraine visit, I found as a new arrival from Palgrave "The Letters to W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound from Iseult Stuart." Note who gets first and second billing. Shades of Woolf's "A Room of One's Own." Even the publisher's blurb explains her more in relationship to her men:

Who was Iseult Gonne?

Iseult Gonne, daughter of Maud Gonne and the French politician and journalist Lucien Millevoye, attracted many admirers - among them distinguished authors such as W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Arthur Symms, Lennox Robinson, Francis Stuart and Liam O'Flaherty. Yeats proposed marriage to her, Ezra Pound had a secret, passionate love affair with her and she married Francis Stuart. This book contains her hitherto unpublished letters to Yeats and Pound, edited and annotated by Anna MacBride White (Maud Gonne's granddaughter), Christina Bridgwater (Iseult's granddaughter) and A. Norman Jeffares, the distinguished Yeats scholar. It also features photographs, paintings and drawings of Iseult, some of which have not been published before.

Still, I mean to look more at this intriguing woman, and the man who married her, if imperfectly, in Kevin Kiely's new authorized biography of FS. As a young poet, Kiely met FS and struck up a friendship. As a conference attendee in Tacoma last fall, I met Kiely in a buffet line but only two days later, by accident when I got home, did I find that Kiely had just published the biography. My conversation would have been much longer than small talk if I'd known.

Dwyer's travel piece links to an amazing exhibition on Yeats. I never "got" WBY, and find him often as dull as I do Milton, as puffed up as Shelley, or as baffling as Blake. My visit to Thoor Ballylee came on a quiet Sunday morning as I drove back from Galway city to Shannon for my flight. It was blessedly empty. The speakers that I heard thundered the oracular one were silent. Only a friendly orange cat mewled politely but insistently for food. I had none, but apologized to him profusely.

It occurs to me only now. I forgot, yes, to go to the Yeats extravaganza even when I was standing outside a poster hawking it next to the entrance for the National Library of Ireland. It was about a year ago. I trudged about in my big black clodhopper shoes, comfortable but hard to navigate the crowds, the sun glaring into my face, and the signs for the buses that all seemed the same. Hemmed in by narrow streets, no way to establish north and south easily despite my pocket map, central Dublin appears south of the Liffey a warren in its older districts.

I kept looking for the 10b bus to Belfield and UCD, weary after nearly an hour, with little dinner but wine and cheese at the Chester Beatty reception for the IASIL conference I'd been attending. I imitated the "Wandering Rocks" episode of "Ulysses," a month after Bloomsday, even passing Davy Byrnes at one bewildering corner. My Joycean long trek around central Dublin, unlike Stephen at UCD, proved more frustrating. At least I did not find any whores in Monto, for better or worse, that lingering summer night. I roamed in vain hunting for the bus stop. I had already boarded the bus in the wrong direction, clunking in my 1.80 euro or whatever before the Polish driver informed me of my mistake.

These elements are especially helpful in tracing the poet’s elaborate romantic entanglements. “I don’t know how he could have done all of it and wrote so much at the same time,” said Sharon Callaghan, a visitor.

At their center was Maud Gonne, whom Yeats met in 1889, when, as he wrote, “the troubling of my life began.” With her in mind for the lead role, he composed a play, “The Countess Kathleen.” It took him 10 years. “The play was performed at the opening of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899,” the exhibition notes. “Maud Gonne refused to take part in it.”

Unknown to Yeats, Gonne had an affair with a French journalist and secretly gave birth to a boy, who died at the age of 2; she returned with her lover to the child’s tomb to conceive again, believing that reincarnation would bring back the lost son.

The ordinary brushstrokes of life glow in their links to Yeats’s art. She kissed him on the lips for the first time in 1899, then immediately confessed the truth about the affair and the children she had told the world were adopted. Their friendship survived her regular refusals to marry him, but he was devastated after she took another nationalist, Major John MacBride, for her husband. When that marriage went bad, Yeats comforted her. They apparently were physically intimate near the end of 1908, but she ended it a few months later.

In 1916, at 51 and still a bachelor, he consulted an astrologist, then turned again to Gonne with an offer of marriage. She declined. With her permission he proposed to her 22-year-old daughter, Iseult, who had been conceived at her brother’s grave. She too said no.

Besides being barking mad, everyone in this circle, it seems, could paint. “She is just fabulous looking,” Ms. Callaghan said, gazing at a portrait of Iseult by Maud.

The Life & Times of William Butler Yeats Exhibition Caption: "A pastel portrait by Maud of her daughter, Iseult. Yeats had, at various times, asked both women to marry him."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Paranoia Strikes Deep

"Into the heart it will creep," so sang Stephen Stills fronting Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." Any rock geek knows how the band got its name from a bulldozer, as well as how Stills & Richie Furay caught in traffic on the Sunset Strip leapt out of their car when they saw a hearse driving the other direction, and knew that only one person in L.A. circa '66, piloted such a contraption, Neil Young. The allusions to construction, death, and traffic all apply to my blogpost.

I've commented here earlier this month ("Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature") about the appearance of the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center Blog. This activist site protests the erection of what MHCCC and MHCamps boasts as the largest tree canopy platform in the country. In the hills above Santa Cruz, spanning the headlands that feed into its San Lorenzo River, over towering trees and welcome solitude, MH's profiteering preachers push chainsaws, hoist cables, and hammer bridges.

They want, reading between the frownlines of their button-down contacts (at least when it comes to ignoring their neighbors who were never informed), to open this forest sanctuary to the public. Not only campers but any old extreme-sports fanatic, it appears, will be able to swing and yammer high above what used to be a quiet canyon, a place for hikers and families looking for a few moments of respite. Now, the noise comes along with the price of admission to no longer a getaway but a place to get off. In the most obnoxious way. This insults the trees. And, the very spirit upon which such centers have been established. Why bring the city to the countryside?

You can find out more about the riparian damage, the violations of civil codes, and the lack of an environmental impact report. MH Camps never responded to my letter. They've refused to listen to those who raise legal and moral objections to this enterprise. It's all about the almighty dollar. Visit this informative combination of photos, maps, and text: Desecration.

This attack on its own century-old patrimony by a purportedly Christian center that supposedly's heard about not only the imperative to have dominion over all the earth but also to provide stewardship, disturbs me. I and my family worship it-- not at-- there. Last visit, the silence was shattered by the construction of these canopies. I fear that Mount Hermon may be as bereft of its redwoods in future times as its Lebanese namesake is now of its cedars.

I'll end with a quote that struck me as I read the book reviewed immediately before this, Stephen Hodge & Martin Boord's "The Illustrated Tibetan Book of the Dead." It's at pg. 91, amidst their explanation of "The Wrathful Visions of the Eighth Day." I found this commentary about the ego. Maybe my friends who live nearby on the Mount are learning that all things must pass. A little Buddhist example in practice. But, expounding as I am, I add that the Christians owning this property, spanning two watersheds, forget the reasons why their founders had the foresight not to slash and burn at the junction of Bean and Zayante Creek. Perhaps you can transform this medieval Tibetan text and modern Western interpretation, ecumenically, into a relevant depiction of what happens a hundred years on when Mammon trumps Jesus.

"At this level of dissolution, as body and soul are fast decaying and there is almost nothing left of the former personality to cling to, the ego-self goes into a state of intense paranoia. Formerly, it held fast to the mistaken notion that itself and its world were permanent, stable entities. Now, however, all basis for that belief has been destroyed through the process of death, and the ego experiences overwhelming fear and panic in the form of terrifying hallucinations. Always fearful of being caught out, this false ego-self has had to struggle constantly to maintain its conceit in the face of the natural openness of the world. The forces of nature have always run counter to it and this is why so many people seek to conquer nature and strive to overthrow its rule. In order to protect their fragile egos, they have no wish to cooperate with nature and live with it in harmony and peace. Instead, they choose to fight against it and subjugate nature to the rule of ego."

Photo from: Mount Hermon Adventure

Stephen Hodge & Martin Boord's "Illustrated Tibetan Book of the Dead": Book Review

I found this right after I'd finished another translator-commentator, Francesca Fremantle's, own advanced study of the so-called "TBoD," titled "Luminous Emptiness." (It's also reviewed by me.) I understood much more of Hodge & Boord's briefer, simpler, and more ecumenically accessible short text packaged with down-to-earth explanations. Well, as earthy as a guide to the afterlife's visions of self-projected terrors and wonders can be. While I did the reverse, I'd recommend beginning here, and then perhaps going on to Fremantle & Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's version (get the full edition, not the pocket-sized one), or Robert Thurman's scholarly version.

The authors, as Westerners trained in the East, can pinpoint such difficult notions as the illusory self or the patterns of literal enlightenment that form in the bardo realms clearly. Our ego's "our so-called self," only "a parasitical illusion without any substantial existence, something that has been constructed as a defense mechanism to deal with the experience of impermanence. It is this illusory self that suffers the full onslaught of our emotional turmoil. As it strives to create itself out of empty space and become solid, the ego-self always feels paranoid that it will be discovered for what it is-- a hollow illusion." (47) Hodge & Boord manage to make this philosophy no less rarified, yet they do so in a manner that's compact, terse, yet directly relevant to our understanding.

The authors also caution that this text may not be all accessible to those who in this life have not attained the proper levels of meditative preparation to perceive its impacts, but they also suggest that we can learn from its teachings to apply on a less daunting, everyday level in becoming kinder, more patient, and more calm. Hodge & Boord also urge us to withdraw more from the hubbub, and focus on what's truly meaningful. They show how we can adopt the more familiar panoply of what religious figures or symbols from our own tradition, and how the Tibetan renderings stand ultimately as any do-- for nothing at all.

The illustrations do often seem, as others here remarked, taken from a gallery of images, but they are credited at the back from a variety of photographers. They may be subtle, but a close reading of the text and comments, matched with the pictures, often shows a more careful pairing than a quick skimmer might expect. And, this is not a text to race through. It's not lengthy, in the concise, handsomely produced layout here, but it does reward reflection. Frequently during my reading of it, I'd pause and look out the windows of the train or bus, lost in thought without realizing it. This is the state that the blend of illustrations, text, and explanations invite you to share.

Hodge and Boord provide a less forbidding introduction, and stress that the complex mandalas and intricately arranged references to hosts of deities ultimately rest in our own encounter with our primordial truth, our grounding in that which is not ground but emptiness. The rainbow mandalas are only "embodiments of the deceased's spiritual energies,, and array themselves in mandala-like patterns that reveal the structure of the universe and form the great mandala of primordial enlightenment. They are like facets of a diamond, each unique in itself yet all belonging to the whole." (49) Profound when you think about it, or not think but meditate, and that's what this book can move you towards. A short list of readings, and contacts, follows, and an introductory set of one-page sections takes you through the context and sets up the essential background information.

It's an appealing first step towards this often overwhelming text. Unfamiliar to most Westerners, misleadingly named, and formidably dense, the TBoD deserves our concentration. But, it's from a centuries-old tradition totally outside of our heritage. It will disappoint those looking for easy mantras or pop-psychological inspiration. Full of polysyllabic titles, compressed into repetitive warnings, packed with esoteric lore that it expects its Tibetan adepts to already know, it's not a beginner's scripture. Yet, in a form of Pascal's wager, what if some exposure to its message will help us now and in the future? Therefore, before progressing if you're interested to Fremantle & Trungpa or Thurman, why not consider Hodge & Boord as your initiation?

(Posted to Amazon US today.)

Leonard Susskind's "Black Hole War"

Here's where things get weird. I read in today's Los Angeles Times, despite its inexorable descent into diminishing satisfaction, this interview with a quantum physicist who appears to be rivalling his rival Stephen Hawking for self-promotion. The Bronx-born plumber's son may lack Hawking's gee-whiz wheelchair and robotic voice decoder for attention-getting, but he appears to be doing well in getting his argument out there, going so far in his chutzpah as printing in his book Hawking's letter of concession. Here's the L.A. Times review of the book: "Black Hole War" review by Jesse Cohen.

By the way, their Sunday Book Review, rumor has it, will be axed. I concocted a "Not the L.A. Times Book Review" blogspot name as a backup, on my wife's suggestion, for the nones. It's a pity when the second-largest city in the nation cannot give even half-- in sixty-nine fashion now spooning with the Op-Ed section on the Lord's Day-- of ten or so pages to a few titles worthy of interest. The attempted intellectual elevation of the LATBR (not that it'd be recognized on the level of NYTBR or NYRB) under former editor Steve Wasserman's but a memory now. I recall fondly him giving over a whole issue to new studies of the Spanish Civil War. So much for smarts in this city. No wonder we get stereotyped. Better that the Times devote, today, column inches to one columnist's trouble with her cellphone, vying with last Saturday's guest writer's Volvo repairs for scintillating absorption in this burg of the same.

Back to headier content, however briefly condensed for laymen like me, I found myself intrigued by this conversation. Susskind's clearly hawking his rivalry with Hawking, sort of trash-talking his opponent to set up a grudge match, but I suppose he'd never survive a round in the ring without some cheering from his Caltech and MIT and Oxbridge peers in what surely must be a grueling battle of brawny brains.

Here's the excerpt from: "Hawking Nemesis Leonard Susskind Speaks" with Jim Johnson.

What is the great resolution you referred to?

One result is something called Black Hole Complementarity. Let's say Alice falls into a black hole while Bob stays on the outside and watches. Nothing drastic happens to her when she crosses the event horizon [the point of no return around a black hole]. Of course she's eventually going to get it. On the other hand, there is another picture of the black hole, where every bit of information that you throw onto the horizon of a black hole gets sort of stuck on the horizon and builds up a soup of information bits. And this soup is hot, about a 100 billion billion billion degrees.

So Alice would get burned up?

We have a dilemma. One theory, based on general relativity, simply says Alice just floats past the horizon. That would be Alice's view of things. But Bob's view of things, if he believes in quantum mechanics, is that Alice falls into this soup of hot bits and her molecules are ripped apart. So, which one is correct? Alice can't both be killed at the horizon and not killed at the horizon. The answer is they are both correct.

How can that be?

These two ideas are not in conflict because to be in conflict, there has to be a contradiction. Well, nobody can see a contradiction for the simple reason that nobody can send a message from the inside of a black hole. Alice can't send a message saying, "Bob, I'm OK, don't worry about me," because the message can't get out of the black hole. Yet everything Bob sees is consistent with saying that Alice was thermalized.

It's difficult to see how both can be true.

We've had these things before in Einstein's thought experiments. Einstein, in the special theory of relativity, proved that different observers, in different states of motion, see different realities.

There's another strange theory that's come out of this battle, isn't there?

Yes, the Holographic Principle. A hologram is a two-dimensional sheet, such as film, which codes three-dimensional information. A simple way to say it is that the black hole horizon is like a hologram. The horizon of the black hole is like the film, and the image is the stuff that falls into the black hole. It's extremely unintuitive. According to this theory, the exact description of a region of space -- no matter how big -- is like a film on the boundary, where complicated and extremely scrambled versions of that space are going on. So in that sense, the universe is like a hologram.

I wonder if Susskind mentions Teilhard de Chardin. His concept of the noosphere might bridge the religious-rational divide elegantly. Here's a quote, thanks to Wikipedia, from 1959's "The Phenomena of Man" that jibes well with physics, Buddhists, post-Christians, and our secular age's search for meaning:
Our century is probably more religious than any other. How could it fail to be, with such problems to be solved? The only trouble is that it has not yet found a God it can adore.

Teilhard constructed his model upon Julian Huxley's notion that humanity is consciousness becoming aware of itself. In turn, building upon this Jesuit's intricate phenomenology, which suggested an "totalizing" imminence of the divine plan with our own human culmination as we built atoms and cells into a gradually more spiritual being that would merge with an Omega Point that pulls us towards Itself, I read Tipler's "The Physics of Immortality." Even more advanced than Teilhard's "Phenomenon"-- which I recommend to my wife and anybody inspired by her blogpost on whether there was a divine power that'd save us and our planet from our own destructive drive. I did manage to not only finish Tipler but I snuck in a citation to my dissertation. Surely the only book on physics I ever made it through.

I've never taken "Physics for Poets," but there's an imaginative dimension to Omega Point and singularity that complements what I've been pondering in my recent forays into learning about Buddhist concepts of primordial mind, continuing existence, and the lack of a start or finish to creation. Driving along today, I was flipped off after I honked when cut off dangerously by a young Asian woman in an SUV. This is the second such age-ethnic-gender bird-saluter I've encountered lately, by the way. I took it as a chance not only to toot to protect me and my sons, but to hope that she'd find instant karma further on down the 405. Still, I've been trying to be patient and more forgiving on and off the road. Not at my Omega Point yet, I linger in limbo.

Stuck in traffic earlier this afternoon I wondered where bardos met paperbacks, as the Omega Point certainly's fertilized pulp's pages. All I could guess: Arthur C. Clarke's "Nine Billion Names of God" story or Philip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle" novel. However, Clarke's "Childhood's End" deserves a shout-out as a supreme example of humanity's progress towards alien-directed deification. inter alia. [Cf. this Religions in Literature website, updated last 2002: Tibetan Buddhism & the Dalai Lama in Science Fiction.]

Last night, less entertainingly but more instructively, I began Thubten Chodron's "Open Heart, Clear Mind," a primer applying Tibetan Buddhist ideas to psychology and everyday life as we Westerners encounter it. She remarked how life's seen in this eternal light as unending, and she alluded to the fact that science itself does not sustain a notion that my medieval forebears called "ex nihilo." Now, I hesitated, this can't be true, can it?

This led me this morning, after I found out about Susskind, to recall Dennis Overbye's June 5, 2007 article "The Universe, Beyond All Understanding" in the New York Times. He thinks that as the universe grows colder and larger, we on earth will gradually lose our perspective on the rest of the universe, as it recedes from our vision and our comprhension. Are we meant not to find any Grand Unified Theory?

Overbye mentions how pre-Big Bang, astronomers posit that some background radiation must have existed. This led me back in my thoughts to Chodron's remarks and then this morning to Susskind's explanation of how information may be erased from our computer, say, but it never vanishes. Perhaps we do endure as a consciousness, not a carbon-based shell. Science insists upon the extinguishing of our spark when the last EKG flatlines. Yet, the clear light, the entry into a kaleidoscopic thrill ride, the explosion of our soul into space as we die: is this not as probable for us as afterlife Alices as what mortal Bob sees? Energy and matter, as Chodron agrees, exchange forms but they do not create themselves from nothing. As with Buddhism, she tells us that it's like a buffet table where we can roam freely, taking what we like. It's not a set of dogmas.

For physicists, so long shackled by their own immutable laws, they too perhaps find themselves freed after Einstein (see Rodger's comment below this post) to graze at a groaning smorgasbord of possibilities. Susskind tells how Bob and (Carol and Ted and?) Alice are both correct. Susskind again, as this dilemma bears repeating:
One theory, based on general relativity, simply says Alice just floats past the horizon. That would be Alice's view of things. But Bob's view of things, if he believes in quantum mechanics, is that Alice falls into this soup of hot bits and her molecules are ripped apart.

It's Schrödinger's Cat all over again, if not Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cousin. The smile's there and the cat's no longer there. Life's vanished from the corpse yet the spirit lives. The mind's in the body but not of it.

Perhaps death can be conquered, as Tipler-- one of the co-formulators of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle that argues how we emerged to understand a universe designed for us to evolve to understand it-- over a decade ago hoped for, in a book with a hundred pages appendixed for his colleagues, crammed with formulae. Tipler suggested that at an event horizon, our information dispersed at our death could be reconfigured and we could be resurrected. Susskind sees our data boiled and bubbling but not exactly eradicated at this horizon. Chodron believes we survive our death in altered form. We can, she and Susskind and Tipler might agree, merge into luminous emptiness after all, the force that's always emanated beyond reason or calculation.

The "Tibetan Book of the Dead" presents the astral body-soul with its own self-projections that if recognized as such-- floating into space towards nirvana vs. the illusion of being thermalized-- will bring the spirit into an awakened merging with the universal unity. The medieval visions I studied surely terrified my ancestors with everlasting torments or inspired them with endless bliss. Even their equivalents scared me, growing up post-Vatican II, ineradicably marking my formative years. Perhaps that accounts for my determination to face these overwhelming vistas, despite my own ignorance. We all, with diagrams or doctrines, dogma or "dzogchen," build our models of what awaits us beyond our own horizon, observing like Bob our own version of inexplicable events to come, and like Alice enduring what we cannot articulate in language, mathematics, or ideas in our present earthly form.

Illustration: 1899 page from "Alice in Wonderland," from

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ars Moriendi

Lately I find myself adrift in a liminal state. Overworked, drained, and needing what my wife annoying but accurately calls "a rebirth of wonder." It's that feeling of waiting for a momentous moment. I stumbled upon Francesca Fremantle's "Luminous Emptiness" commentary on "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" somehow on Amazon, I have no recollection how. Its slow study took me half this month to complete, matching the twelve-day bardo! Suitably, perhaps, as this awakened my dozen-years dormant interest in posthumous conceptions. Understandably slumbering, wearied as I was by my dissertation on "The Idea of Purgatory in Middle English Literature."

That's the attenuated, weary "afterlife" with scholarship on such a massively mandated level. If you don't grasp a tenure-track post or don't garner a leisurely life as an independent (and/or independently wealthy) scholar who can then delve into the depths of one's doctoral expertise, well-- for cohorts disdained by au courant search committees for Ph.D's in English Lit-- you must survive teaching remedial and frosh comp, intro to lit surveys, and speech or study skills classes. The wandering scholar of the Middle Ages; today's freeway flyer. We still talk about rhetoric, logic, grammar-- our version apparently comes disguised as "critical thinking, reading, and writing"-- but callow youth still regards this triple threat to their majors and their first-year experience, now as then, as often undergraduate trivia!

These intensive types of hands-on, meticulously assessed courses for students far outside of the liberal arts present a culture shock as one moves from the ivory tower to the inner city. They resist Scantrons, cannot be compressed into a one-month course with effective results, and they endure even in the most career-beholden institutions. Despite all the lip service to inclusion and diversity on elite campuses, I never met a professor who traded an endowment to teach where I do. These classes for the truly disadvantaged and those trying to make their way up from the underclass consume mental energy and physical stamina. The essays pile up. Grading never eases. Rarified reflection in a year-round, accelerated curriculum such as I've persisted in ever since my doctorate does elude me for weeks on end.

I wonder if monks, Catholic or Zen, had to deal with similar cognitive leaps, moving from manuscript copying in scriptorium or the calm-abiding of "samatha" to beg for alms or bandage lepers. Friars must have stepped out of the Sorbonne to kneel down to clean gutters. At least the first few years, flush with their saintly Founder's charism. Their zeal faded quickly; they retreated into calmer cloisters. No wonder Francis inveighed against Frenchified learning; Dominic's hounds of God appeared to surrender more quickly. No longer lean mendicants but the caricatures from Chaucer or Langland-- or Dante let alone Rabelaisian-- lusty plump monastics. Still, some persisted, as they always do, with the ideal. Buddhists are enjoined to combine compassion with wisdom; Christians lay or vowed to join contemplation with action. How do you keep your intellectual and prayerful composure, interrupted so often, and how do you sustain "samatha"?

I remember in the documentary "Into Great Silence" about Chartreuse's charterhouse how the routine deliberately changes no more than every two-and-a-half hours, so as to keep the mind and body alert. It's difficult to move from considerations of Carthusian mysticism at Sheen or Mount Grace to walking into a barrio elementary school's art supply room to coach a small circle of adult ESL-level one students. Or, descending from a desk where I drill myself on irregular futures of Irish verbs to command the attention in a corporate office park of two-dozen post-teens on conforming to English punctuation, regularly spelled.

As I get older, I've taken to seeking out a chance for quiet, amidst the city. At UCLA, I used to go to the Botanical Garden and more than once sat under the Bo Tree. Until construction encircled our home, I'd trot up the hillside to a vista. Now, I employ music as a miniature method to conjure up another world for me to rest within. On a bus or train, my iPod does for me what a mantra or rosary might-- it keeps me separated by a chant. It's translated into an underlying sound and varied rhythm to align my thoughts and moods.

Friars chose municipal residences to care for the poor filling the new cities. Monks sought the countryside. I can see why the Order of Preachers and Friars Minor both wearied of their noisy establishments and began retreating to the forests as the Benedictines and Cistercians had preceded them. It's like Benedict leaving Rome, Bruno resigning Cologne, Bernard turning away from Paris. It's hard to be a saint in the city, a later troubadour during my own adolescence warbled.

After nearly half a century in one of the fastest growing places on earth, I long increasingly for the woods. Wherever I am, I'm reflecting again on my interest in death and its terrors. It's less academic and more personal, this decade around. Reading aloud to a sullen Niall and a somnolent Layne "War & Peace" in Anthony Briggs' (more spirited than Constance Garnett's but not drastically less British and elegant) translation, I noticed twice in a few pages characters nattering on about how they were getting ready to kick the bucket. Why? They had passed the age of fifty.

I mused to doubtlessly bewildered engineers and accountants-to-be (although I just got an e-mail from one of them asking my advice on poetry that he'd like!) yesterday about the Tolstoy passages. These I contrasted with Ray Kurzweil's futurist utopia of "near-immortal" (who'd be happy with that? Tiresias wasn't.) life expectancies by "reverse-engineering" our brains to fool our metabolism. A century ago, in Garnett's time, 48 was the average span; it may have been less in Tolstoy's 1860s and probably around 35 during the reign of Napoleon, I surmise.

Now, the age of forty-five, half-a-decade past what's the usual moment of truth already, really had hit me hard. Perhaps because my father was nearly ninety, and I'd passed that halfway mark, this seemed to bring all the contemplation of memento mori that supposedly others gained at forty. That year dragged by, and I was filled with discontent, winter and summer. Sleep often came only grudgingly after I'd pondered my fate in the midnight silence. I've tried two years since then to seek a more positive mental condition, brought about not by pills but by mindfulness (as my friend Bob put it), not by nostrums but by nachas (as my wife would put it). I have not succeeded totally nor will I ever.

Yet, my soul's gravitation towards enlightenment and my mind's tilt towards skepticism contend in a psychomachia to rival medieval Everyman's. (I played a bespectacled and schoolboy-capped "Knowledge" in my high school production of this drama, one of the last consolers of the protagonist to leave him as he succumbs.) However, I have tried to look within for my potential power to overcome a deeply and perhaps largely genetically imprinted pessimism. They say Irish suffer greatly from this malady-- despite or in spite of drink-- and Catholicism no doubt enhanced the impact of this ancestral predilection. My upbringing with a family of dour, insular, and stoic misfits undoubtably did not assist my natural bent.

So, my rather divergent reading on "the art of dying" lately tells me that I still seek my path through my own middle-aged dark forest. It's perhaps a dozen years after Dante's journey-- adjusted for my longer lifespan?
"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/ mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,/ ché la dirrita via era smaritta." (I:1-3).
"In the middle of the journey of our life,/ I found myself in a dark wood/ for the straight way was lost."

Note that Dante first speaks for us all, with the biblical, non-Mosaic, estimate of three score and ten for a good run in the old days. You live long enough, you begin to understand what you were assigned in college or grad school to trudge through. My erudition may be as arcane as Alighieri's, my verse far poorer, my heart much less certain of redemption's hope. Yet, I hear songs and see sights he never had despite all his imaginary skill and political experience. But, I myself, as perhaps some of you who read this, share his sense of exile. Perhaps we must never quite fit into the secular realm, as we fumble towards the shadow, the glow, and the grey state of in-between, searching for the way out. The awakened state, paradise with angels or nirvana with buddhas, we still long to behold.

Gustave Doré's engraving from a fine collection of Dante's Images of the Inferno, Jennifer Emick, Alternative Religions. The Dark Forest

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Francesca Fremantle's "Luminous Emptiness": Book Review

This commentary on "Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead" combines an extended introduction to the fundamentals of Vajrayana philosophy-- an advanced form of "dzogchen" Tibetan teachings-- with the medieval text itself, interspersed with her explanations. The misleadingly titled TBoD directs the departed soul which finds itself in need of listening to a posthumous recital by a living guide to acheive its "Great Liberation by Hearing in the Bardo-- or Intermediate or Transitional Realm." You can see even from such vocabulary how this book discusses terms beyond the level of absolute beginners to Buddhism. Fremantle, as an English Sanskrit scholar who then came to translate Tibetan and practice at an elevated level its instruction, does enable those with no previous exposure to follow her fascinating insights and elegantly composed discussion. However, I'd suggest that one may wish to begin with Stephen Hodge & Martin Boord's concise translation with an ecumenically accessible brief commentary, published as "The Illustrated Tibetan Book of the Dead," for an overview. Such preparation would assist the learner; I found Hodge & Boord only after finishing Fremantle, but I'd recommend progressing the other way around!

I faced many conceptual difficulties as I began this work. Like a philosophical treatise, Dr. Fremantle's exegesis builds inexorably, but sentence stacked on sentence. It demands slow, careful, active engagement. This work cannot be skimmed, used as a time-filler, or as light inspirational encouragement. It's of one of the most serious, formidable, and valuable books I've encountered. Fremantle, except for a few paragraphs in her preface, self-effaces herself entirely from the text. She makes her presence transparent, filtering her academic knowledge and her own dharma elucidation into a complimentary study that explores the TBoD as a book for the living, not only the dead-- for the latter group already may be beyond its appeals.

We, however, can learn from it how to recognize the manifestations of what she calls our "buddha-nature," our primordial state that combines the emptiness of constancy beyond time or space with the luminosity of an actively generated matrix of energy. This all sounds arcane, but Fremantle strives to keep her focus accessible, and if you persist with what may be one of the most important books you'll ever find, gradual enlightenment will begin. Trust me, it's a challenge if, like me, you know little about Buddhism. Yet, it's such a bracing intellectual and psychological trek.

You begin slowly to comprehend Buddhism's message from the TBoD: "like the moon reflected in water," (253) visions of the deities as peaceful or wrathful, colors and sounds generated in these bardo journeys, and fractured space and time all represent only our own nature. All's illusory in the sense that nothing's permanent. Our minds, the TBoD implies, are nine times sharper in the afterlife, so Fremantle interprets this to show how much more powerful imagery will be and also how much more capable we may be-- if prepared by meditation and "creation" and "deity yoga" under a guru's supervision-- to recognize all the TBoD tells us reduces to our own "self-display." No gods threaten or cajole outside of our own qualities. These become analogues, to be heard and seen. The TBoD is recited so the dead person's soul can learn to take advantage and overcome fear so nirvana-- "passing beyond suffering" in Tibetan rendering-- can occur and enlightenment can free us by extinguishing our ego, which keeps getting lured in the bardo into another subsquent round of life in "samsara."

TBoD, Fremantle emphasizes, expresses our own imminence. We can begin to see glimpses of this awakened state here, on earth, if we try. Our everyday choices can be linked to the symbols of the TBoD, and here, as with the realm of hungry ghosts and the "four false views," she articulates the mundane equivalents to these overwhelming otherworldly immersions well. Our own qualities, powers, and functions, she stresses, provide the true counterparts for the deities imagined. The visions in the bardo turn "samsara" inside out, the daily phenomena we witness but may not perceive in its transformed quality. It's aimed at "sacred vision," and while we're trapped in language to convey its meaning, ultimately the TBoD pushes us beyond its symbolic forms into inexpressible magic. Again, this may all sound too proverbial or platitudinous until you make your way with awareness and concentration, and it will begin to become clarified if you have the stamina to remain on this arduous but rewarding narrow path to wisdom. A good summation late in the book, pp. 340-44, may serve as a resting place and a point to pause and recoup near the summit.

She warns us against what her guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, castigated as "spiritual materialism," our tendency to hang on to a particular state of our soul's evolution, rather than to accept "hopelessness," to let ourselves with a trust in "crazy wisdom" let go into seeing the TBoD as representing, as if in a funhouse mirror, our own present possibility, unveiled. It's a daunting task, but Fremantle's example, with learning to anchor her counsel, may prove the goad we need to delve further. You might try her earlier translation with Trungpa, the versions of the TBoD by Robert Thurman or Hodge & Boord, and the similar elaborations on its meaning as Sogyal Rinpoche's "Tibetan Book of Living & Dying."

The book has been prepared with great care. It's written beautifully, yet without the author interfering with her teaching. This skill must be credited to her own practice of its teaching, and she avoids what I assume for lesser scholars might be the impulse to assert her own theories. Instead, she tells us about them. While her book does not go into any real detail about how we can do this according to specific meditation practices, this undoubtably can be obtained from other sources. I'd have liked a glossary rather than an index with a few terms in parentheses, and the endnotes are not always as helpful as I'd wished. These remain minor shortcomings in a text that on every page tells of its depth and mindfulness. The sun is always, she urges us, behind the clouds, and the chance to reach our fulfillment waits for us.

(Posted to Amazon US today.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dzogchen i mBéarra

Tá teach sa tuaithe i mBeara. (Is "Dzogchen" cleachtadh ard Bhúdaoicht Thíbead.) Tá sé ina gContae gCorcaigh. Níor chuir mé cuairt ar an ceantar sin na hEireann fós. Mar sin féin, thiomaint mé ar trasna ag imeall na gContae Cheinnearcach mór nuair tháinig mé triu na Sleibhte Bhailehoura. Ach, níl fhíos agam an ciall na lhogainm seo. Ní bhfuil eolas agam. Lhorg me ina mo leabhair agus ar an idirlíon seo, ach níor fuair mé na sanasaíocht shainmhíniú seo. Gheobhaidh me a thuilleadh.

Bhuel, foghlaimíonn mé teacs le Sogyal Rinpoche, "Na Leabhar Thíbeadach Bheo agus Bhás." Léigh mé seo deich mbliana go ham seo. Bhí sé riamh go raibh fuair mo máthair bás. Tosaigh mé aríst anois. Chríochnaigh mé gluais le Proinseascha Fremantle faoi "Saoradh Mór trí bhithin Chloisteáil ina hIdirthréimhse." Áistraigh mé ina leagan Gaeilge an teideal leis cruinneas níos mionne.

Is cuimhne liom inniu an ionad "Rigpa." Chonaic mé ina sanas le obair Shogyal go raibh an áit ina gCorcaigh Thiar. Is bunaitheoir é féin. Bhí iontas agam air. Chúardaigh mé ar an ghreásan faoi an dúiche timpeall. Is an tír máguaird go halainn.

Cruinníonn duine ansin. Déanann siad cúrsa spioradáilte. Scríobh Bean Ghreagoir-- agus le déanaí Kuno Mayer-- rann shean-Gaeilge i mBéarla le "Cailleach Bheara" chomh fada siar le céad bliain. Is "Aithne damsa bés mora" as Gaeilge ina shaol atá inné ann. Is ceathrú d'amhrán go laidir. Chaoineadh sean-bhean i bpian an ghrá. Tá granna uirthi. Chaill sí go leor. Measaionn fír léinn uirthi go mbeidh sí dealbh na Chruinne.

B'fhéidir, tá duine níos fearr ansiud an t-am i láthair. Téann oilithreach ar turas freisin chomh anallód go mBéarra. Tá duine ina "Dzogchen" i gcónaí i bhfad í láthair. Tá sé céad míle go an cathair na gCorcaigh. Tá sé seacht míle go dtí na hAillichí. Tá fhíos agam an ciall shráidbhaile ar scor ar bith. Tá aillte bheaga. Ach, tá áille leis fada. Tá sí "áilleacht" seo. Tá sé beagán dhá chiall leis fuaim seo go tráthuil.

"Dzogchen Beara"

There's a country house in Beara. ("Dzogchen" is an advanced practice of Tibetan Buddhism.) It's in County Cork. I have not paid a visit to that district in Ireland yet. All the same, I drove across over the border into the big Rebel County when I drove through the Ballyhoura Mountains. But, I don't know the meaning of that place. I don't have information. I looked in my books and online, but I did not find the etymology of this placename. I will seek further.

Well, I am studying a text from Sogyal Rinpoche, "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying." I read this ten years ago. It was after my mother had died [="found death"]. I started it again now. I finished the gloss by Francesca Fremantle about "The Great Liberation by means of Hearing in the Transitional Period." I translated into the Irish version the title with closer exactness.

I remember today the center "Rigpa." I saw in the glossary of Sogyal's work that the place was in West Cork. He's the founder. I was surprised at this locality. I searched on the web about the surrounding country. It's beautiful land around the region.

People gather there. They make spiritual retreats. Lady Gregory-- and later Kuno Meyer-- wrote from old Irish a poem into English as "The Hag [Old Woman in our PC age] of Beare" as far back as a hundred years ago. It is "Aithne damsa bés mora" in Irish style as it was in former times. It is a strong verse from song. An old woman lamented her loss of love. She is ugly. She lost a lot. Scholars think about her that she may be an earth-figure.

Perhaps, happier people are over there at the present. Pilgrims go on journey still as in ancient times to Beara. The people at "Dzogchen" are living far away. They are a hundred miles from the city of Cork and it's seven miles until Allihies. I know the meaning of this village, however. It is a "little cliffs." But, there's "áille" with a long accent. This is "beauty." It's almost a double meaning, fittingly, with this sound.

Photo by/Grianghraf le Dzogchen Beara
Alt faoi/ article about Cailleach Bheara: Julian Cope Presents the Modern Antiquarian

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blog Nua faoi Nuacht

Tá sé an blog nua anseo. Lascaoidh mé air. Tá an teideal ann: "Nuachtán Príomhalt Tráchtaireacht." Scríobhann Raife Mac Shéoinigh é.

Cuir séisean féin léirmheasannaí agus líostaí leis eagarfhocal ina tri nuachtán. Leirionn sé na hAmannaí Nhua-Eabhrac, Amannaí ina gCathair na hÁingeal, agus Iris Shráide Bhaile. Thosaigh sé blog nua go deireanach.

Tháinig mé agus mo chlann aniocht ar a theach. D'ith dinear leis an clann Rhaife. Rinneamar cócaireacht ar bhia leis gráinne coirce, rís bhán, agus pónairí ghlas. D'ól muid fionn rua, beoir nó uisce sóide.

Le déanaí, fuair muidsan féin uachtar oighir. Thug mo bhean a ti ceithre na mblasanna. Cheannaigh sí reoiteog éagsúlaí. Líon mé féin leis caramal. Bhi mian Lhéna ar piorra. Bhí maith Niall fanaile. Bhi maith páistí Rhaife agus Áiní céann eile. Rug Áine óg agus Eoghan sú talún, b'fheidir. Níl fhios agam.

Cá raibh mé? Bhí me ag lorg ar an leabharlann thuismeitheoirai ann. D'inis Raife agam go bhfuil trí míle leabhair ann. Creidim é. Dúirt duine fásta faoi reiligiún, obair, agus scoíleannaí. D'aointaigh muid go mbeidh go ard a fás páistí go furasta ina gCathair na hÁingeal.

Nuair d'éirigh Léna agus mo mhic nios óg a imeacht go raibh tráthnóna. Thug Rafe agam leabhar le Seoirse Santayana ar iasacht. Chonaic mé ainm aisteach air: "Sceipteachas agus Creideamh Ainmíocht." Léifidh mé é, ach go mbeidh fhios agam go mbeadh is deacair!

A New Blog About News

There's a new blog here. I linked to it. It's the title: "Newspaper Editorial Comment." Rafe Jenney writes it.

He himself puts reviews and lists editorials in three newspapers. He reads The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He started a new blog recently.

I and my family went there to his house last night. We ate dinner with Rafe's family. We cooked a meal with corn, white rice, and green beans. We drank red wine, beer, or soda water.

Later, we got ourselves ice cream. My wife brought four flavors. She bought different frozen (treats). I filled myself with caramel. Layne wanted pear. Niall liked vanilla. The children of Rafe and Annie liked other ones. Hannah and Owen got strawberry, perhaps. I don't know.

Where was I? I was looking in the library of the parents there. Rafe told me that there were three thousand books there. I believe it. Grown-ups talked about religion, work, and schools. We agreed that it'd be hard to raise children easily in the City of the Angels.

When Layne and I and our younger son rose to go away it was evening. Rafe lent me a book by George Santayana. I saw a strange title on it: "Skepticism and the Animal Faith." I will read it, but it know it will be maybe most difficult.

Griangraf/Photo: Confused Capitalist Blog

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We make the world with our thoughts

I came across this reflection from (The) Buddha: "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." It reminded me in typically tangential fashion about a response posted by "Lorax" to my response to my wife's response to my Obama response on her blog. Clear enough?

The point made by our Seussian avatar: isn't it better to vote for the liberal version of the conniving pol rather than the alternative, come November? Relating this practical decision to my concerted attempt to finish-- not yet-- Francesca Fremantle's "Luminous Emptiness," which rekindled my interest in scholarship on the liminal afterlife states combined with my own efforts to rise out of despondency by my own powers-- I will try to wrestle with this logical question.

The wonderfully named British advocate of Buddhism, magistrate Christmas Humphreys, concisely defined this dharma as
a system of thought, a religion, a spiritual science and a way of life which is reasonable, practical and all-embracing. For 2,500 years it has satisfied the spiritual needs of nearly one-third of mankind. It appeals to those in search of truth because it has no dogmas, satisfies the reason and the heart alike, insists on self-reliance coupled with tolerance for other points of view, embraces science, religion, philosophy, psychology, mysticism, ethics and art, and points to man alone as the creator of his present life and sole designer of his destiny.

Humphrey's remarks stuck with me when I first encountered this condensation in Damien Keown's "Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction" a few months ago (reviewed here and on Amazon by me). Today I found it repeated on an Amazonian who cited it in her review of an Tibetan Buddhist explicator's accessible works by an American nun, Thubten Chodren. I've finally figured out that one barrier to my understanding of Buddhism, at least in its Himalayan-situated elaborations as opposed to its Zen, has been all those deities, all those peaceful and wrathful spirits, copulating and gesturing. One reviewer on Amazon compared, in looking at Bruce Newman's "Intro to Tibetan Buddhism," that form as Catholic compared to Zen's Presbyterian simplicity. That's on the mark. It also allows an analogy that clarifies what intriguingly differentiates Catholicism from Buddhism, as Humphrey suggests between his lines.

Humphrey concludes: "man alone as the creator of his present life and sole designer of his destiny." Compare a frequent TB Amazon reviewer, Neal J. Pollock, quoting Chodren's book about the devi: "Although we seem to be praying to Tara, we are invoking our internal wisdom and compassion." (57) Similarly: p. 37:
"Like a child who dresses up and pretends to be a fireman, thereby developing the confidence to become one, we image ourselves to be a Buddha who relates to people as a fully enlightened being does-without ignorance, hostility, or clinging attachment and with immeasurable wisdom, compassion, and skill...Identifying ourselves with our Tara-nature, we gain invigorating confidence that spurs us to make our life more meaningful."
p. 56: "Tara is not a self-existent, independent deity or god. Like all persons and phenomena, she exists dependently and is empty of independent or absolute existence."

How does this relate to the presidential race? Many who back Obama come from a mix of the old New Left, of Hillary's youth, and Obama's own wired generation: both cohorts wish to foment a more humane world, less beholden to capital, more open to caring. During the past forty years, many Christian and perhaps even more Jewish people have migrated into Buddhist practice as a non-theistic method to realize their inner capacities, while aligning their own evolution with social transformation.

Fifteen years ago, my wife and I heard a former Berkeley radical, who in the late 80s founded Tikkun. In the 90s, he became a rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement. Michael Lerner, Layne and I agreed, might have had the right message although we thought due to his own evident self-aggrandizement he appeared the wrong messenger. His heart may have been genuine, but for me, his own promotional drive, from his labor organizing and SDS formation, appeared to overwhelm his ethical articulation. Still, he emphasized for many of his peers who might have been more likely to listen to a American-born Buddhist nun, the ways in which "tikkun olam", the healing of our world, could energize ourselves from a more mature understanding of Jewish moral teachings that amplified Eastern dharma.

This approach intersects with others who in the West strive to teach us about the East. Obama represents the hopes of many who listened to Lerner, SDS, Tikkun (we gave a good chunk of change to it to keep it going when ML's deep-pocketed wife left him!), or the likes of the only political candidate I approved my deep-pocketed wife to keep his campaign going around the same time, Jerry Brown. To many, such efforts appear quixotic, or stereotypical. The New Jersey firebrand made good in the Bay Area's coddled mix of appealing to our better nature fueled by our discretionary income to Save the Planet. Tikkun's fund-raiser at a mogul's Hollywood Hills gated community BigMacMansion, found its leader celebrating his soundbites with Hillary. Fifteen minutes of the "politics of meaning" registered in a pre-blog, pre-Move On, pre-Huffington Post era of the Clinton boom.

And, I admit, I observe such efforts with my own coddled mix of impressions. These irritate my spouse no end, as any reader of her blog (or mine!) can follow. Part of me, the intellectual, understands them and supports the progressives. Part of me, the boy who never had the clout or the connections or the cash to aspire to the tenured, trust-funded, terminally-hip milieu, stays skeptical, selfish, or severe.

Serentity eludes me, but Buddhists appeal to a Westerner's (and the doubled nature in California) determination to kick over the tired system, the karmic accrual of samsaric debt, the mired routine. The Tikkun foundation sought to galvanize aging hippies and hipsters with rabbinical morality, self-actualization, ecumenical outreach, and sophisticated transformation into a more equitable society. Part of my ingrained Catholicism resides, both to say go for it and to sigh, yeah, right.

The sub-title of "Blogtrotter" echoes the Irish Proclamation of Independence in 1916, which addressed "her exiled children in America." This reverberates from an appeal in the rosary prayer "Salve Regina": Wikipedia notes that (in Europe, "mourning and weeping in this vale of tears" is the more traditional form of the 5th line)
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

My conception of life persists always as an exile from somewhere we were once, and to which we long to return. Buddhism sounds as if it beckons us back into a primordial condition, beyond time or space. I always wondered if we do not return to a place where we where before our lives, a Platonic, Wordsworthian, or pre-created fulfillment. Perhaps that's why I've long studied the literary idea of purgatory, and why I suspect that this earthly system can be truly renewed. Eden feels unattainable on this planet. But, the Jewish tradition tells us that the messianic renewal can build here New Jerusalem. And, plenty of aspirants wish to be anointed its king. This disturbs me, but it may be why Jewish radicals rather than such as Irish revolutionaries have been better at edging us closer to a fairer society.

Obama's followers, funded often by those in sympathy with such social transformation as Lerner's, bring this decade's version of the New Media into the Beltway. The media cheers on with posters of "Hope" and "Believe" a rather two-toned Obama, who unlike Lerner, has coffers, charisma, and suffrage to rule a fair chunk of the world if he gets, as I predict, the vote. Like the Buddhists who urge us to look away from the sky if we want to save the earth, to reach out to others while we conduct our own self-renewal, to recognize that the deities only emanate from ourselves rather than any external welfare state on high, there's a very Jewish anti-nominalism within the common ground where JuBu's congregate.

I'm not sure if we've glimpsed the Promised Land. Although there's an eagerness to tear down one idol, another's being erected. Obama's image, nobly lording itself over us from loft balconies, postcards pinned up in cubicles, and stickers in the corner of tinted car windows, irritates me. It violates my First Commandment.

The people snapped in his crowds look so optimistic, clean-scrubbed, and polished, legacies from Harvards and valedictorians to Berkeleys. Whatever their complexion, immigrant or preppie, they exude a creature comfort I cannot embrace. They express a "noblesse oblige" sense of entitlement excluding temperamental me. The one who hangs out on the fringe, watching, listening, meditating, but finding my own company, or that of a book, better than enduring the pitch from an earnest proselytizer no matter my interest-- on paper perhaps-- in his or her cause.

I never like it when we have to circle around our chairs to face each other at some mandated meeting. The analytical side of me wrestles with my intuitive bent. My linear organization collides with my trains of thought. Solutions never solve it all.

I'm also the legacy of generations of Irish Catholics-- who battered by another form of social transformation coupled or raped by religious fanaticism and political chicanery-- tend to be a rather cynical lot. Are we setting up a liberal graven image to worship in our globally warming, desert wanderings? Or, are we tearing down the Golden Calf of brazen conservatism? Must we follow leaders as our only way to exit our vale of tears, nationally and as a species?

This makes for an intriguing, and certainly curiously Californian, melange. It turns me half in sympathy towards everyone around me who supports Obama and half away in my own tendencies towards distrusting elected authority. Perhaps such restlessness characterizes one of the few common ties between three failed theocracies where past imperial rule complicates present religious unrest: Éire, Zion, and Tibet.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not Nice to fool Mother Nature

As Imperial Margarine used to warn me as a kid with its ubiquitous commercial. The crown Mother wore was about as big as that by Elizabeth Windsor. I wondered if it was made of plastic and wire, and how it perched on top of the matronly coiffure.

"Lorax" débuts with this blog watch about: "Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center". Vote now about whether "extreme sports" should take the place of solitude. As "Lorax" observes, since the camp was founded in 1906, it did preserve much of what now would look as inviting as soulless suburban Scotts Valley adjacent, given our rapacity. Yet, now the stewards of this redwood forest where Bean Creek flows down from the mountain summits overlooking San José into Zayante Creek and then forms the river that flows into Santa Cruz immorally-- and perhaps illegally-- insist on building enormous platforms upon which screaming teens and sobbing parents can whoosh on ropes. This enriches the coffers of this sprawling conference center. It perhaps-- same argument as those in our government who "utilize" state and national forests-- trades a few sylvan trunks for the long-term financial solvency of the greater spread.

Yet, as Christians, they need not act like former Secretary of the Interior Watt, with his assumptions to rape Gaia (a pagan term he'd never countenance) since the Messiah's on his way. Or the millenialist rule, Great Dispensation and/or rapture, depending on your sect. "Lorax" knows whom to ask about these denominational doctrines. And, even Jim Willis, Sojourners, and so I've heard maybe a few of the anti-war, peace tradition, non-violent advocates whose members pray-to-play at Mount Hermon might well weigh in about rendering unto Nature's Theme Park. Talk about a "burned-over district" in the Great Awakening. Borrow Peter to pay Paul.

I encourage you to cast your vote against the desecration at a place that I and my family love. We frequently stay near the Conference Center. We heard the saws and shouts constantly on our last trip. They shattered much of the silence. This will only intensify once the young campers scamper and scurry through, and above, the woods. The trails wind under sensitive terrain. Fires threaten. Floods lurk. This watershed cannot handle thousands of treads. This change dismayed us. While we sneak about the Mount's fringes-- if not beyond the amplified guitar hymns, than far beyond the closed circle of the paid-up name-tagged elect-- we do admire the original idealism of its founders.

On my last morning recently, across from the Center's domain, I listened to the crews as they sawed and yelled and banged. Sitting there, I discovered in Margaret Koch's 1973 well-written local chronicle, "Parade of the Past: Santa Cruz County," about Zayante. Billy Wade, an Irish immigrant, married Twyeenya, last of the riparian maidens, and they dwelt down by the creek. When the Mount's early establishers investigated the area, they heard about where the couple had lived from an old pioneer. Nothing of their cabin remains. Nearby, "Mountain Charley" McKiernan arriving in the 1840s fought and drank and lived up to the Hibernian stereotype as he worked at the mill built where the two creeks meet. I wondered about how far the Irish settlers had travelled to come to a place still under the rule of a newly independent Mexico, meeting and mating with members of a tribe with an hispanized name, "Zayante," we don't know the real meaning of.

In a place so full of mystery, we need to respect what another native people, from Hawai'i, would call "mana," the spirit of the place. Gaspar de Portola's expedition marvelled when they found the arching groves. Billy Wade's ancestors knew the mystery that comes with the numinous as much as his wife's people. Yet, we often only have the names. They last, if a river like "Zayante," longest to mark the divides of water or rock that precede endless waves of immigrants or invaders. Irish forests, anti-British tellers claim, fell to construct ships that spanned the empire. I recall biblical stories about Lebanon's deforestation. Like the namesake Mount Hermon, its cedars may have long been cut. Native peoples no longer Phoenician or Philistine. All we have: a few verses, an attenuated tradition from dead or struggling languages. When we destroy the golden bough or the green branch, we hasten our own spiritual, cultural, natural deaths.

I've written earlier this week about Tara and "dindshenchas," or topynomic place-name lore still potent to those who seek it in a likewise dwindling rural Irish landscape. That site's under the bulldozers that push a motorway. More commuters, more holiday makers, more tree-climbers. I've also published an article on how learners of Irish connect the threatened yet resilient voices within the land to their wisdom: "Making the Case for Irish Through English: Eco-Critical Language Politics." It's more fun than it sounds. I analyze nipples.

Can't romanticize the Celts! Consider eager emigré Mountain Charley. He's famed for killing one of our state's totems decades after he would have seen the Bear Flag fly over a brief Republic. Meta-symbolism apparent without post-colonial frame here.

But we, a century after the Mount's founders planted and encouraged redwoods to grow after Henry Cowell and so many loggers Irish and otherwise there hacked and burned these slopes, cannot leave them be as awesome (dude!) companions. While Druids venerated trees, and the Celts derived the very way they counted time and kept records from names related to what grew tall around them, we Americans, Christians or otherwise, appear to dominate all things that bear fruit and multiply, as we engender more appetites for assaultive adventure than a fragile earth can sustain.

Caption to photo: Black-and-white portrait of Charles Henry "Mountain Charley" McKiernan. McKiernan was one of the first white settlers in the Santa Cruz mountains, and was noted for having survived an attack by a grizzly bear. photo by A. P. Hill of A.P. Hill - original painting at Los Gatos Museum.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Budh-Hills & Irish Buddhists?

An uncredited aside in this week's earlier post "Green Tara" in my excerpt from Dharmachari Purna commented on "budh-hills in Co. Tyrone & Co. Mayo." Intrigued by this neological supposition, and not wanting to plow through hundreds of pages of John Moriarty's Blakean effusions (however mythopoeically promising they are textually wearying), I googled this phrase. Moriarty, I suspect, has meditated over similar etymologies, mixing caution with enthusiasm in its root sense. I found only one direct hit, if a tangentially loaded one. This toponomic terrain's loaded with traps for hunters.

"The Early Religions of the Irish: Round Tower Creed" opines:
Windele thus expresses his views--"Their Irish names, Tur-aghan or adhan, Feidh-neimhedh and Cileagh, are of themselves conclusive as to their pagan origin, and announce at once a fane devoted to that form of religion, compounded of Sabæism or star-worship and Buddhism of which the sun, represented by fire, was the principal deity."

Buddhism is here a sort of sun-worship, and not aft the teaching of the Founder. However pure the sentiments originally taught, and now professed in Esoteric Buddhist and Theosophy, all travellers admit that ancient pagan ideas have come through to the surface of Buddhism, and largely represent idolatrous action. Yet, they who recognise in the Irish Towers the former presence of Buddhist missionaries, fancy the buildings might have contained relics of Budh. H. O'Brien regards the Sacred Tree of Budh to have been primarily a lingam, and secondarily a tree. He reads in the Irish Budh-gaya an allusion to generativeness. Forlong looks upon the tower as a deposit for lingam articles in secret recesses.

Anna Wilkes in Ireland, Ur of the Chaldees, writes--"There can be no doubt the Towers in the interior of Hindostan bear more than a striking likeness to those remaining in Ireland. These resemblances are to be found in such great quantities in the latter place, that it is impossible but to believe that Ireland was the centre from

p. 273

which a great deal of the religion of Budh developed. This will not appear strange when we consider, in connection with the point, that many of the Saints bear Aryan and Semitic names."

The bells, asserted by tradition to have belonged to the Towers, furnish an argument for the advocate of Buddhism, so closely associated with bells.

Glendalough, in its sculptures, appears also to favour this idea. No one can visit St. Kevin's Kitchen there without being struck with such resemblances. Ledwich has pointed out some of these. As among the most ancient structures in Ireland, and singularly allied to the Tower near, St. Kevin's Kitchen peculiarly aroused the attention of the writer. It was not only the position occupied by the serpent, the bulbuls or doves, the tree of life, or Irish Aithair Faodha, or tree of Budh, but the stone roof and the peculiar cement of the walls bore witness to its antiquity.

The Buddhist form of the Crucifixion, so different from anything in early Christian art, is another singular feature. In the Tower of Donoughmore, Meath county, is one of these sculptures; as Brash describes--"very diminutive rude figure with extended arms, and legs crossed."

In Irish we read of the Danaan King, Budh the red; of the Hill of Budh, Cnox Buidhbh, in Tyrone; of other Budh hills in Mayo and Roscommon; and, in the Book of Ballymote, of Fergus of the Fire of Budh. Buddhism was a great power in remote ages; and, as Allanson Picton points out, "not so much in its philosophical conclusions, as the feeling out of the soul towards an unlimited loyalty to the infinite." Still, if Round Towers owe anything to Buddhism, why are they only in Ireland

Good question! As the website explains in introducing this work: Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions by James Bonwick--[1894]. This scholarly, but very readable, book covers what was known about Druids and Irish Paganism at the end of the nineteenth century. It discusses many of the concepts which later would be utilized by the Wiccan movement to construct Celtic Neo-Paganism. It's easy, and fun, to tempt the derision in turn of our progeny a century hence by citing our elders' "fanciful" scholarship. Joseph Lennon's "Irish Orientalism" critique tracks the "Aryan" attempts to connect the Irish West with the Indian East; Mairead Carew's monograph on the British Israelites' eager excavations at today's beleaguered Tara documents not only how one's era's learning turns our era's laughing. It's also a humbling testimony to how we long to find answers and truths in our ancestral origins and spiritual yearnings, however inchaote or insane they appear to professors and historians whom we will never hear.

So, in that more generous spirit, sharing what makes today's Neo-Pagans, druids, re-enactors, theosophists, versifiers, anthropologists, and Celticists uneasy bedfellows in this quest, here's another segment from Bonwick. He, no less than our Old & Middle Irish experts, archeologists, geneticists, and post-colonial historiographers, must make educated guesses from the footnotes of others, the scraps of manuscripts, and the bits of lore that come our way through Google and his way came from diligent searches in musty archives.

As the population of Ireland is, perhaps, the most mixed, in racial descent, of any in the world, it is not surprising that this Island should exhibit a greater variety of religions, several of which have left their traces in the traditions and superstitions of out-of-the-way localities.

p. 152

That Buddhism should have found a foothold there is not surprising, since Buddhist missionaries at one era had spread over much of the Northern hemisphere. Though the reader may find in this work, under the heading of "Round Towers," references to this Oriental faith, some other information may be here required.

Whenever it came, and however introduced, Buddhism, as it was taught in its early purity, was a distinct advance upon previously existing dogmas of belief. It was a vast improvement upon Baal worship, Hero worship, or Nature worship, as it carried with it a lofty ethical tone, and the principle of universal brotherhood. Though there is linguistic as well as other evidence of its presence in Ireland, it may be doubted if the labours of the foreign missionaries had much acceptance with the rude Islanders.

Cnox Buidhbh, Budh's hill, is in Tyrone. A goddess of the Tuatha was called Badhha. Budhbh, the Red, was a chief of the Danaans. Buddhist symbols are found upon stones in Ireland. There are Hills of Budh in Mayo and Roscommon. Fergus Budh or Bod was a prince of Brejea. He was Fergus of the fire of Budh. Budh or Fiodh was the sacred tree.

Vallencey, the fanciful Irish philologist, was a believer in the story of Buddhist visitations. He found that Budh in Irish and Sanscrit was wise; that Dia Tait was Thursday, and the day between the fasts (Wednesday and Friday), Wednesday being a sacred day in honour of Budh in India, showing that "they observed Budhday after Christianity was introduced." La Nollad Aois, or La Nollad Mithr, December 24th, was sacred to Mithras the Sun; to which he quotes Ezek. iv. 14. Eire aros a Niorgul alluded to the crowing of Nargal, the cock of Aurora, which was sacrificed on December 25th, in honour of the birth of Mithras, the Sun.

p. 153

He further shows that the Oin-id lamentation for the Dead was kept in Ireland on the eve of La Saman, the day of Saman, the Pluto or Judge of Hell, November 1st (All Saints), as in several other heathen lands of antiquity. He sees a new reckoning on Mathair Oidhehe, the eve before La Nollah Mithr. The Sab-oide, or festival of Sab, the Sun, was held on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 23rd of the month, as with the Sabbaths of the Persian Magi. He was not then aware that Sabbath, day of rest, was an old Chaldæan word. He recognizes Christmas Eve in Madra nect, or Mother night.

Buddhism abolished caste and sacrifices. The Tripitaka, or Bible, contains 592,000 verses. The last Buddhist council was held 251 B.C.

Dr. Kenealy observes, in his Book of God, "The Irish hieratic language was called Ogham (pronounced owm), which is the same as the Buddhist and the Brahmin Aum, and the Magian and Mexican horn, or ineffable name of God. This last, the Greek changed into A O M, Α Ω, or Alpha and Omega." W. Anderson Smith, in Lewisiana, reluctantly acknowledges, "We must accept the possibility of a Buddhist race passing north from Ireland." Thus he and others must trace the relics of Buddhism in Scotland and the Hebrides through Ireland. Truly, as Fergusson writes, "Buddhism, in some shape or other, or under some name that may be lost, did exist in Britain before the conversion of the inhabitants to Christianity."

Hanloy, Chinese interpreter at San Francisco, who claims the discovery of America for his countrymen, that left written descriptions of the strange land, has this additional information--"About 500 years before Christ, Buddhist priests repaired there, and brought back the news that they had met with Buddhist idols and religious writings in the country already. Their descriptions, in

p. 154

many respects, resemble those of the Spaniards a thousand years after."

In the vaulted stone building at Knockmoy, Galway Co., assumed by some to have been a temple of the Tuatha, and next which sacred spot an abbey was subsequently erected, is a figure, taken for Apollo, bound to a tree, pierced with arrows, yet slaying the Python with his dart. Other three figures represent, in their crowns and costume, Eastern divinities, before whom another person is approaching. These have been conjectured to be the three, Chanchasm, Gonagom, and Gaspa, who obtained the perfect state of Nirvana before the birth of Godama, founder of Buddhism.

The good news: others as I figured must have pursued the labyrinthine Tara thread, so to speak, between two minotaurs, Irish and Sanskrit. The bad news, as I anticipated, was that such earnest folks as Vallancey led the way into such investigations. Can't blame them, and later scholars find at least a trail blazed if rather carelessly kindled. He did, for all his blundering about Ériu as if a fox with a brand tied to his tail, spark what John Waddell's "Foundation Myths: The Origin of Irish Archaeology" investigates, half-arson, half-illumination, within the recent past. You can read my review of this book here: Epona 2(2007): 1-6 "Rooted in the Body, Hidden in the Ground: Searching for the Celt." Or you could, as the link's down, so I gave the URL. Try the Wayback Machine to retrieve the dormant website.

Here's "Buddhists and Druids in pre-Christian Britain and Ireland" that exists a few places on the Net; I cannot identify its writer, but it originates from a site promoting the Lake District charms of Ulverston, near Furness. It makes a pithy comparison from the scanty evidence we must accept. Non-essentialist "process" philosophy, perhaps, ghosted in Eriugena faintly, an assertion of Caesar, missionaries from King Asoka, or a startling quote. "Origen's statement that Buddhists and Druids co-existed in pre-Christian Britain"; this is footnoted "Mackenzie, Donald A. (1928), Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain" with links to somewhat less-related websites.

There's, as I also predicted silently would come to transpire in my investigation, Celtic Buddhism founded by none other than crazy wisdom Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's "butler" (with his memoir for sale) who worked at least a biblical seven year span for the notoriously free-spirited (to say the least) master. John Riley Perks in Letterkenny and his associates in Maine have founded what they call a "lineage." This resembles the laying on of hands from one teacher to another of the dharma, a sort of Buddhist confirmation of episcopacy! This apostolic succession, the practitioners explain, comes now from Tibet to Ireland. Perks served his evidently demanding apprenticeship under the same guru to whom his student Francesca Fremantle with more reticence dedicates the "Luminous Emptiness" commentary on the "Tibetan Book on the Dead" I'm finally finishing. As long as it took me to labor over "The Satanic Verses"-- ten days! Almost the total bardo passage, for the unliberated blockheads we all evidently descend from, trapped in the samsaric same-old same-old.

Examine some intriguing exercises in a Celtic thangka on this small site. These blend, our versions artistically as "fanciful" as Vallancey's conjectures of another distant realm, at least perceived from our mortal perspective. A later cautionary tale: once-Father Matthew Fox in his "Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen" conjectured Hopi iconography making its way to 12c. Disibodenberg by some long navigation in immram fashion. ("Bo" at the linked blog "The Expvlsion of the Blatant Beast" has an typically incisive appraisal on Hildegard & Fox . "Bo" responded wisely there when I quoted Fox's Hopi hope: Poor MF. An intelligent and well-meaning man who has made himself stupid by a titanic effort of will.)

Brendan's pre-Columbian perigrinatio aside into liminal lysergia if not peyote-fueled visions himself, it's perhaps a first expression of Tibetan and Celtic styles mingling as the line of arcane blessing attenuates and alters. My favorite-- my choice bolstered by Fremantle's clear explanation of what "wrathful deities" represent about our own self-display, our own buddha-nature made visible-- is here: Vayrayogini Thangka . They ask that these images not be copied without permission, so I honor their wishes.

The site where I found the Druid-Buddhist link features the provocative, Blakean conundrum: "Did the Wheel of Dharma turn in Ancient Celtic lands?" Here's information under this picture of the triskele, three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man, Sardinia, and, I found, the Buddha's conies.
Buddha's bunnies - the three hares symbol. In the beautiful three hares triskelion, the aspect of motion is especially apparent, emphasising that all phenomena arise from the three dependencies and are thus inevitably impermanent and devoid of any essence. This symbol was originally Buddhist, but is believed to have travelled westwards along the silk routes and can be found in medieval church ornamentation (See photos by Chris Chapman), where it probably symbolised a mystical interpretation of the Holy Trinity.

Photo via Ulverston-linked site. The Laskey Wheel Triskelion, Isle of Man. But it could adorn a stupa from Bhutan, lacking any caption to indicate otherwise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ag dul ar an traein leis Búda.

Bhí mé ag dulta ar an traein inné. Léamh mé an teacs seo le Phroinseascha Fremantle faoi ag tuigeadh "An Leabhar Tibéadaigh na Mairbh." Ainmním sé "Folús Solasmhar." Ar ndóigh, dúirt Doctuir Fremantle orainn, bheadh leabhar sin féin chugainn atá beo fós. Insíonn sí againn cleachtannaí a éisteacht de anois. Nuair tuigimid faoi ciall ar taobh istigh, osclóimid slí go dúiseacht ár nádúr fíor.

Tá teacs úr go raibh treoir a tugtha do dhuine na mairbh agus na heasláin. Ní féidir a shéanadh nach paidreacha ar son na ndaoine atá ag fáil bhás go rabhthar go fóinteach. Mar sin féin, bím fear amhrais go minic. Is deacair agam a chreidiúint ní raibh mé am gan anam go deo. Bhinn creideamh a bheith agam i nDia trócaireach. Anois ní bhíonn mé muinín air. Tá sé sean-cath orm.

Iarraidh mé a fáil fuascailt agam ó chuing saothar saoil, freisin. Aointaim go raibh teachtaireacht leis eagnaíocht anallód. Feictear dom go Na Hionduch agus duine na Hiomalaetha go raibh ag foghlamtha go fírinneacht. Tá scéalaí rúndaí acu go bhfuil linn obair achrannach go maith, go cinnte. Déanaim iontas fúthu.

Chuaigh mé go mall triu an leabhar sin faoi ciall cheannaithe Búdaíochaí. Faigheann mé idir-riaradh na n-idéithe idir an India, Tíbead agus saothar an lae againn ar tir i gcéin. Is cosuil é tráchtas fealsúnacht. Mar sin, bhí sé go scríofa de réir oird. Caithfidh tú a tuigeann gach abairt. Ní féidir leat adhmad a bhaint as an bpíosaí airde seo ar chaoi.

D'fhoglaim mé faoi saothar an bháis. Deir leabhar seo go bhfuil seachran air. Ghlac scáth mé, bíodh sin mar áta. Tá eagla orm faoi ábhar bhásmhaireacht. Tá scanradh m'anama orm, b'fhéidir! Ansin, rinne mé smaointe a bhfuil dlúthbhaint acu le cheile.

Bhuel, mheas mé faoi an búdaithe ar domhan eile. Phlé Fremantle de réir Avalokiteshvara, búda truach. Thug sé cabhair ar duine ina tríblóid. Is mian mór leis féin a thabhairt cúnamh ar lucht lágu. Cuidím sé duine a briseadh as rúdaí saolta atá ar an intinn. Chaill siad cian acu. Ní bhfaighidh stát ciarfartach. Fanfaidh siad ciaramáboc iarbháis. Feicfidh siadsan féin saoirse ina aoibhneas priomhordúil níos luath.

Bhí cuimhne agam faoi idirghabhálaí seisean féin go tobann. Fuair mé iómhá air ar feadh Aibreán seo caite ar an alt bhlog go raibh ag lascaidh leis anseo, "Saoirse Bhreatain Bheag". Chonaic mé ar ball beag radharc aisteach. Chaith cailin ghorm óg bhrógaí chorraí ina traein go tobann. Ní fhaca mé an sonra go follasach. Tháinig sí ní ba beise dom. D'fhan sí ar an Líne na hUaine.

Thuig mé anois. Bhí dhá bróg leis cluaisin bróige "Skechers." Rionnaidh siad an mana amháin acu: "Buddhalicious." Bhí siad an líníocht céann orthu. Shuím Búda romhar leis míongháire bídeach air féin.

Taking the train with Buddha.

I went by train yesterday. I was reading this text by Francesca Fremantle about understanding "The Tibetan Book of the Dead." It's titled "Luminous Emptiness." Of course, Dr. Fremantle tells us, that book itself should be for us who are alive still. She tells to us lessons to listen to in it now. When we understand about its meaning on the inside, a way will open to wake us up to our true nature.

The original text was for giving instructions to the dead and the dying. It is difficult to deny that prayers for the dying may be beneficial. All the same, I am usually often a skeptical man. It is difficult for me to believe that there will not be for me a time without a soul forever. I used to believe in a merciful God. Now I do not have confidence (for this). It's an old battle for me.

Yet I want to get liberation for me from the yoke of a life's labor. I agree that there may be lessons with the wisdom from ancient times. It appears to me that the Hindu and the people of the Himalayas were learning truly. The esoteric stories from them are work of some difficulty for us, certainly. I wonder about them.

I go slowly through this book about Buddhist teachings of experience. I find an interconnection of ideas between India, Tibet and the daily grind of ours in a land faraway. It is like a philosophical treatise. That is, it was written in sequence. You must understand each sentence. It is not possible for you to extract the elevated meaning of these sections otherwise.

I learned about the death-throes. This book tells that it is a delusion. I was scared, however that may be. I am frightened about this mortality material. Perhaps I am frightened to death! Then, I made an intellectual connection between ideas.

Well, I was thinking about the buddhas in the other world. Fremantle discussed Avalokiteshvara, the compassionate buddha. He brings aid to people in trouble. He has a great wish to give assistance to groups of the weak. He helps people to break out of being engrossed in material things. They will lose their sadness. They will not find a state of melancholy. They will leave the posthumous hurly-burly. They will see freedom in the primordial bliss sooner.

I remembered about this same intercessor suddenly. I had found an image of him during this last April on the blog entry that's linked from here, "Independence Cymru". I saw a bit of a strange sight at that instant. Suddenly there was a young black girl wearing odd shoes on the train. I couldn't see the detail clearly. She drew close to me. She left at the Green Line.

I understood now. There were two shoes with the shoe-tag "Skechers." They shared the same motto on them: "Buddhalicious." They had the same drawing on them. Fat Buddha sat with a tiny chuckle on himself.

Griangraf/Photo: "Lucky Buddha image on front of the shoe."