Archive for History

Firmly grounded in the…

Posted in Buddhism, death, God(s), Happiness, health, History, Mysticism, New Age Baloney, Philosophy, Religion, Ultimate Reality, World of Emotions with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2009 by wizardsmoke

As other more astute and accomplished individuals have pointed out on their blogs, it seems that religious scenes and groups are more frequently populated by middle-aged and elderly folks. Sure — why not, right?

In angsty youth (and in angsty adulthood too, sometimes), many deride the religious for being fearful of the afterlife. But I think what is equally true is that people become fearful of the past as they age, athiests or not. If, supposing there is nothing after death, our life is all we did, why wouldn’t we want to reflect on living the best life possible? Errors are inevitable, but not necessary. If this life is all there is, well then what is the point of living a miserable nihilistic one? (Not to mention, only young people have the consistent energy to resist and deny feelings of remorse, regret, or guilt: denial leads to mental illness in older folks!)

The interesting thing is that this kind of thinking, where one questions the point of cruelty or despair when it has no purpose or punishment, actually leads toward a sense of compassionate martyrdom — later Greek philosophy and eventually Christianity.

However, basic ignorance does pervade all of this, for all concerned. The power of denial is undeniably strong with too many of us. And it’s a very fine line to cross at certain times in our lives between becoming total subconsciously self-loathing scumbags and people of integrity. Often it’s because we’re afraid of what we might lose: our family, our friends or social acceptance, our money or property, our rights, our anonymity, and so forth.

Compassionate acts are interesting, because in the wrong hands they easily become catalysts to vain behavior. I’ve had friends who did not believe in selfless charity (nor have I, at times in my life). In the early 20th century, after both World War I and World War II had ended, there were serious debates in the United States media and art communities over how best to honor fallen servicemen in the war effort. The big stand-off was between “Traditional Memorials” and “Living Memorials”. Traditional ones are like plaques and art pieces; living ones are like parks and dedicated buildings or facilities. The big debate commonly came down to which one better left a stoic message that all would respect and remember.

But who cares about that? A person who is proud of their legacy shouldn’t care about their personal data. Who cares if you are worshiped forever? None of this leads to anyone’s happiness or satisfaction. It is far better to leave something that improves the world (how exactly, I have no idea whatsoever). This is the preachy message Kurosawa’s film Ikiru is hammering into the viewer’s brain over it’s insanely long runtime.

Since everything fades from memory, and memory is such a transient and unreliable device (history is forgotten or unknown by most of the public, anyway), what does a concrete, identifiable legacy matter? That’s why I like the idea of gods of compassion, or virtuous people, or totally enlightened Buddhas and their badass retinues — everything such an individual would do would be selfless compassion. Not giving oneself up to others, but giving up the notion of one-self, individualism altogether — compassionate activity with no regard as to individuals whatsoever. A total generator of compassion.

Such generators do exist, but I suspect they are beyond identification and not worth discussing much more. And there are similar generators for every possible cosmic experience. So I don’t know if any particular experience “wins” or whatever, but if it’s a matter of looking back on one’s life in the future and being satisfied with how you lived it, it’s worth considering.

Symbols for Nothingness

Posted in Beauty, Buddhism, Christianity, Film, Folklore, History, love, Storytelling, The Arts, Ultimate Reality, World of Emotions with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2008 by wizardsmoke

How many states were founded by anarchists? Why every one, because every questioner of the old order is the founder of the new order. — Head Wide Open

Whether or not the stories of Jesus or the Buddha are real, I don’t care. If I had to take a firm stance, I’d just say they are fiction. Not because they can’t be “proved” but because everything is fiction. There are certainly facts that can be recorded, but all interpretations of life are still some manner of fiction.

I suppose I can understand the historian’s impulse to catalog everything, to make sure things are properly remembered and not spun romantically or forgotten completely. But don’t historians have some lofty dreams (kind of like scientists) that if they could only show people what is real, what can be touched, humanity could learn from its mistakes? You know, the whole thing about how “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” This is all fiction too.

Although it’s said that “truth is stranger than fiction”, often fiction is more real than truth. Or it is the “other side of truth.” No, it’s not more true in an empirical fashion — it’s just more true in that it actually has life to it. It is the breath of the body. The problem with most people’s fiction (here referring to the perceptions we allow ourselves) is that it becomes static, blind, unchanging — as though the breath had stopped or were not spreading throughout the body (and then some people even deny the relevance of the breath).

I often wonder why humanity is so obsessed with storytelling. If you break down stories, you’ll find that all plots often involve some disagreement between two characters or parties. Friction, schisms, drama are all the apple of the artistic eye. Mankind’s greatest moments are still the products of its errors. A great love story has more broken hearts than fulfilled romantic wishes, and great war stories have less to do with heroism than a melancholy fondness for senseless carnage and loss.

But in the world of truth, there is no pleasure or pain. It’s perverse that our lives become fiction and novelties which we tell ourselves — which we pamper our egos with. But that’s no surprise, considering humanity prides itself on illusions of being divine creator and destructor. What else can explain the microprocessor and atomic bomb?

Living up to the Past

Posted in History, martial arts, Religion, Stayin' Alive with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Let’s take a moment and ponder how traditions survive. Like ones started either in pre-historic or chaotic times: schools of philosophy, martial arts, religion, art or science. It is always amazing to us (or to me, at least) that various things have survived the ages.

I have two lines of thought in this area.

One – most of human culture did not or has not survived because it was destroyed or all its proponents were killed, died or failed to maintain their tradition. I mean that only a small fraction of humanity’s inventions and explorations have been passed on to us. Which brings us to my second point…

Two – traditions can only survive through exceptional diligence and perseverance.

Are the traditions passed on to us the best that humanity has had to offer? We know even from recent experience that the victors of war and political power, the dominating forces of the world, will write and thus censor records of events. However, there are many cases of traditions being passed on “underground”, in secret. Traditions which are thought to be extinct and still yet survive. What is interesting is the importance of historical documents. Historical documentation is the evidence used by third-person parties to recognize the tradition under examination. So without historical documentation from an “authoritative” source, traditions are not usually acknowledged by nations and cultural institutes. Documentation can be dated, a kind of time-stamp we can put on things, which can then hold up under scientific scrutiny.

Which leads us to recognize that gaining recognition of one’s tradition, while prestigious, is not the essential facet of it’s survival. Rather, survival has nothing to do with records, and more to do with day-to-day practice and repetition. Day-to-day practice is the key to mastery in any devotional art, and the real secret to passing on a tradition and lineage. Because here we can also see another similar idea: that each day is actually a generation, and a tradition only survives by being passed from generation to generation. In this sense, traditions are a vividly real link to our ancestors, of which one needs no outside verification. Survival is the message.

When a tradition is placed under the ill-fated circumstances of being persecuted by the country’s law, the dedication to tradition is put to the test. Dedication to tradition is measured by what it means to its practitioners. Which is all that really matters in a modern age. Old traditions no longer are the same key to survival, but their importance or enjoyment can indeed be proportionate to the level of significance they held in securing the survival of human or cultural lineages. In this same line of thinking, modern laws erode cultural artifacts by making them expensive and no longer necessary for the same reasons.

Modern technology puts a new spin on these ideas. As culture becomes more expensive to maintain in our modern life, our awareness of our culture and ancestry depends more and more upon historical recognition. A smaller number of people to uphold traditions in their daily lives means cultural preservation relies upon historical evidence more than ever before. Also a product of the modern world, is the criteria by which traditions are preserved. One can suppose that quality overcomes quantity in the end, which is similar to wondering whether the warrior who survives in battle is necessarily the virtuous one.

The modern era has given birth to an extreme plethora of cultural variety. A higher ratio than ever before is probably junk, and at the same time our methods of data storage are more precarious. It is interesting to consider what a failure or major shift in modern technology would reveal about our traditions and cultural heritage. Because the most important traditions lay beneath the surface of the historical radar and always survive, held the most steadfast by the smallest, most dedicated groups.