Friday, August 21, 2009

I see dead people

Yay, its ghost month again!!! Chinese Halloween, except there's no trick or treat in this one. No this is deadly serious business if you believe in the woo-woo part of Taoism (not to be confused with Buddhism). Its that time of year when the gates of hell supposedly fling open and the dead visit the living unlike Qingming when the living visit the dead. Its when the living organize pantomimes, concerts and even karaokes to bring a bit of cheer to the dead. Yeah, ghosts love to party too. ^_^

There's one part of the belief that, to me, sounds kinda mixed up with Buddhism. Specifically how hungry ghosts - a Buddhist idea - have gotten dragged into the picture.

If you are a Buddhist, you'll know that hungry ghosts are said to be pitiful creatures living in limboland. They have very big bellies and a very tiny mouths, the size of a pin prick. They roam the earth looking for food, trying desperately to satisfy their hunger but are unable to because of their mouths. They are locked in a perpetual state of suffering.

I haven't seen one yet of these creatures yet but I seen better. I seen tons of 'em who are living.

Say what?? You may ask.

Well, I know someone who collects a mountain of porn. More than he can ever view in a lifetime but he keeps on collecting them. Why, I have no idea and as it turns out, neither does he. But he can't stop. He can't go through a day without doing that.

I also know many people who mindlessly chase after money, and I mean more money than they can ever use in their lifetime. I mean, what would anyone do with $30 billion dollars? That's a billion a year for 30 years, or $83 million a month, or $2.8 million a day, or $233,000 an hour of spending money 12 hours a day. But that's not enough - they continue to plough on, trying to get every deal they can get their hands on and drive everyone else out of business.

I can go on and on. These types of people aren't satisfied with what they have. They can never be. No matter how much porn or money or whatever they amass, as long as there's more out there, they'll go after it. Life is as constant stream of dissatisfaction. Forever hungry and thirsty and forever longing, they are condemned to a life of constant moving, swimming forever in search of something like a shark until they die.

So yeah. I see "dead" people. They're everywhere. And I don't need a ghost month to be able to see them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why be good when you can just be forgiven?

Its been a while since I updated this blog. Too many things going on all at once. One of the things that's chewing me up big time is the plan for my possible relocation to Europe in the next 6-10 months, for business reasons that's getting harder and harder to turn down.

Anyway, back to boring spiritual topics. There is a question that hit me a few years ago when was I reading up on Abrahamic religions. Why be good when you can just be forgiven?

I'm sure you've read about famous deathbed confessions, penance and so on by rapists, murderers and the like. After a lifelong pursuit of sin, they decide to turn over a new leaf just before they check out. Which isn't hard to do I suppose, upon realizing that you're about to leave behind all your ill-gotten gains and when it finally hits that you will burn down there for a long time. Not unlike the kid who cries after looking at the rod he's about to be spanked with.

Non Abrahamic practices have similar histories. The Buddhist story of Angulimala for instance. Being a notorious gangster he murders scores of travelers who pass through his section of the woods in ancient India until he chances upon one traveler who turned out to be the Buddha himself. After some deft "kung fu" Angulimala realized he had found his match, his mind suddenly just went in reverse and he repented, becoming a monk himself.

Both Abrahamic and non Abrahamic recognize that people can change and that's cool. I believe in that. But there is one thing that bothers me. If I am a bad person who knows that I can be "forgiven" in the last 20 seconds of my life, provided I think and say the right things at the time, why should I bother being good?

I know what you're going to say. You don't know when you'll check out so isn't it better to just be good now so that you got yourself covered, just in case?

The problem I have with that is the human penchant for contrivance. The feeling that goodness is something you barter like insurance just to save your ass, something you can hold back until you've reaped maximum benefit, rather than something that grows out of genuine compassion for self and others. In our society, man seems more interested in self-benefit than well, being good.

"I'm still young. Its not like I'm gonna die tomorrow," they'll think, "and I know I will be forgiven if I repent in the last few seconds of my life, so why shouldn't I spend the next 40 years of my life having fun raping and plundering everything in sight?"

It wouldn't so tragic if I haven't personally met people like this. Just talk to a worshipper who also happens to be a foul-mouthed conniving schemer and you've found your man. Or woman.

So, why be good when you can just be forgiven?

Friday, July 17, 2009

I am so going to get this book

Finally, someone who speaks my language!

Someone who attempts to bridge the very big (relativity) to the very small (quantum physics).

Well actually, a few people already described the same a few thousand years ago. Lao Tze, Siddharta, a few Greeks. I just couldn't understand the gobbledigook.

But its gonna be fun seeing the woo woo stuff through the eyes of physics and neurology so I'm going to be busy reading this weekend. ^_^

This is the abridged summary by the author.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On faith as belief without evidence

I had the biggest scare of my life a few days ago when I spotted what I thought was a dead body lying under a tree near my condo. No joke. It was 7am in the morning. The body lay motionless and looked pale, as if all the blood had drained from it. And it was partially covered with dried leaves.

I went over, heart thumping. I prodded the body, hoping its not dead. After about a minute, the eyes slowly opened. It was a young male caucasian (no wonder the pale skin) and he was pissed drunk. I wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or tell him off for giving me a fright. By that time, other joggers had come over to see what was going on and I left it to them to sort it out.

For a brief moment, the incident did make me pause and think about the ultimate question. No, not where to have breakfast but if he were actually dead, where would he be? The Catholic heaven, the Mormon heaven or whatever heaven he believed in?

The same thoughts ran thru my mind years ago when I saw some people gunned down (gang fight) in L.A.

Some of my friends don't believe in heaven or anything God related. Too many inconsistencies and contradictions, they say. No evidence, no belief.

It's a loaded statement that invites a whole nebula of arguments that I won't get into here. One of the things that I'm glad about though is to have studied astronomy as a subject in college. You know what was the greatest lesson I learnt from it?

That I should take my eyesight, my mind and other biological senses with a pinch of salt.

Look at the night sky with your naked eye. What do you see? Probably nothing but black and a few stars. So you tell yourself its mostly empty space up there. You don't see nuthin', you assume there's nuthin'.

And then you look at the output of an x-ray telescope and suddenly your whole perspective changes. Damn, those things weren't there before. You saw nuthin' but there's a whole bunch of somethings there now!

A scientific journal estimates that 9 billion neutrinos from outer space pass through your thumbail every second. That's a lot of particles. Yet we can't see or feel a thing.

Your eyes, it turns out, are woefully incapable of seeing everything out there, which kinda makes the phrase, "I'll believe it when I see it" sound rather narrow and self-serving.

But this sets up an interesting proposition for everyone.

No one can disprove there isn't a flying invisible teapot orbiting between the earth and the sun. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. Just like the neutrinos and the nebula in the picture, maybe you haven't got the right instrument to see it. You can replace the teapot with anything you like. A giant chicken, a green alien, or a God of your choice.

It does throw a spanner in the works for me as far as beliefs go. Why do you believe what you believe? Because it feels so "right?" just like how others believe their beliefs feel so "right"?

Did you see something they didn't? Or did they see something you didn't?

What instrument did you use to see what you saw? Are you sure that's all there is to see? What if I could come up with a more sophisticated instrument to see beyond what you saw, like the x-ray telescope?

Still, as sophisticated as x-ray telescopes are, there's only so much they can reveal so I'm not going to say it gives me the final definitive picture of reality. 'Coz I'll be the moron if some guy comes up with a subspace gravitronic telescope tomorrow and sees everything x-rays can see plus a whole lot more. Yes, maybe even an invisible orbiting teapot speeding around the sun.

The point is, we don't know a lot of things and its silly to act as if we do. And worse, to believe that what we're told as "truth" is the ultimate truth. Obviously I have my principles for survival reasons but I keep an open mind, knowing that if I don't see the evidence, it may simply be because I haven't found a technology sophisticated enough to see it yet.

As astrophysicists say, the universe and by extension, existence, is a lot weirder than we think.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Current affairs

I dislike politics because after following the last US elections closely, I've come to generalize politics (maybe unfairly) into one sentence.

May the best liar win.

What I read from Iran and Italy recently merely strengthened this.

But to those who want change and didn't get it through the voting process, let me ask you one question. Who do you think is the problem - the politician or the people who voted him in?

Of course its the politician you might say. Stupid question. However everyone ignores the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the 60% of the people who voted the scoundrel in.

Okay, lets say 20% of the vote was rigged as is the usual complaint. Still, that means 4 out of 10 people are honestly convinced that this openly corrupt, lying, even murderous scumbag is the right leader for them.

Don't you get the shivers if you knew that every other person standing around you support an openly sick psychopath?

I know that's how some people felt when America voted in G W Bush not once but twice as president, after proving himself not once but many times to be one of the most incompetent leaders in its history. I am seeing a resurgence of that in ex-Gov Sarah Palin, a clueless but pretty airhead who've created a fan base of horny Republican males who might just succeed in pushing her to be US President in 2012.

Now statistically, to have 5% of a country's population be fanboys of a famously incompetent leader is normal. The same no. of people are inclined to scrawl "Mickey Mouse" on the ballot paper and put a tick there anyway. But to get 50-60% support for an openly sick or retarded bastard?

Something's not right here. Either the people who support him are also sick bastards or the bastard is not as sick as the press makes him out to be.

And that's the thing I dislike most about politics. You can be served many versions of the truth but you can never get the real truth.

Or maybe, there's no such thing as truth and that politics is a battle of perception, not the truth.

I like what my friends say. Forget politics, its more fun to download porn.

Hmmm. Maybe they have a point.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Being normal. Is there such a thing?

Would you consider yourself to be a normal (= average) person?

Normal as in you'd melt into the crowd because you dress like everyone, talk like everyone, harbor the same hopes and dreams as everyone?

Boys want the 6 C's. Girls... I dunno what they want. Nice clothes? Everyone's so predictable you could take any random person, write a description about him or her and find that most of what you wrote is true. That's how similar we all are despite our valiant efforts to be different.

Ok, so we've grown up getting whacked if we don't conform. It starts from home where you're told how to behave and follows you to school and work where you're told how to behave. Yeah, from parental pressure to peer pressure. That's why I laugh at books that tell you to dare to be different when society whacks you the moment you actually try to be different. In my age group for instance, one of the things you do not want is to be called "gay." If you wear a pink shirt, you're gay. If you're born with super smooth skin, you're gay. And if you drive at slower than daredevil speeds on the streets, boy you're definitely gay.

So we insecure dudes avoid wearing pink anything, we culture trophy scars on our faces and we endanger other people's lives on the road in bursts of machismo driving in our bid to be "not gay" (=normal).

I can't tell you how silly that is, having grown up in the San Francisco area and used to seeing people who do all these macho things and they are gay as a fly.

Anyway, sexual orientation is not what this post is about. Its about this whole business of conformity, about how we expect - no, demand conformity from others. Its about how we are quick to take down anyone who doesn't talk, dress and think like us even if they come to us in good faith. Its about how in our rejection of such types, we are helping to reinforce the creed of "be normal or else," the very thing we dislike about our peer-pressurists.

Back at school I'm not ashamed to say I was the odd guy out, a weirdo. When kids were busy thronging around their favorite alpha male, I'd sit alone. No amount of bullying would make me grovel at some jock's feet. Even the girls shied away because they couldn't deal with someone who wasn't an alpha or wasn't a slave to one.

So I learnt very early on that there is a steep price to pay for not being Mr. Popular or Mr. Groupie. But I survived. The result: my tolerance to "deviants" is a lot higher than your average jock who cries "gay" to everything he doesn't like. Some see that tolerance as a weakness. I see it as a strength, because I can live in strange cultures in different countries and not mess up my mind as much as the guy who believes that only he defines what's normal or cool.

On the question whether its good to be normal (I've been asked that question before), the question actually makes no sense to me because "normal" in Hachioji, Japan is not the same as "normal" in Hammond, Indiana. When you travel that much, normal ceases to carry a meaning. That's why I've come to conclude that people who make fun of "abnormal" people tend to mentally insular and small-townish. But that's okay. If they haven't been out of their hometowns, who can blame them for not having any idea that from a big picture perspective, there is no such thing as normal.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Avoid or engage?

So... people say we shouldn't dwell on the negative. Life is too short. Live it up. Don't worry be happy. Lets treat life as one big happy hour.

It looks to me like if you have an opinion about something that isn't amusing or mindless or if you go near anything thought-provoking, then there's something wrong with you. At least that's what I gather from comments in other people's blogs.

I think that's a fair representation of not just blogosphere but society as a whole. Hip-and-happening lifestyle blogs outnumber thought provoking ones by something like 500 to 1. That's normal. I remember in school, if you enrolled in philosophy or theology class or anything that requires you to think about the human condition, you're pretty much a freak. Outside of school as grown ups, saying anything thought provoking still makes you a freak. The only exception is when you're guessing who's gonna win the season's American Idol.

But no sweat... I understand people need a defence mechanism to protect their fragile minds from life's harmful ugliness. We only want to see the pretty flowers and keep quiet about the rotting ones. If not we'll lose all hope in life, at least according to one blogger.

Hmmm... if I didn't know any better the dude just admitted that life is indeed hopeless (since no one lives forever) so the only good way to deal with it is to stick our heads in the sand. Oh, and to say happy things all the time.

If that hits close to home, then there are more delusional people than I thought. No wonder they call mental institutions "happy" places, where everything is always happy 24x7. XD

I'm kidding. But I can see that a vast majority of us prefer avoidance rather than enlightened engagement. Along the way we developed a new ideal - that we can "buy off" our problems with money. It leaves us free to pick and choose "happy" things only.

Wait... let me get this right. We prefer to drag ourselves through 30 years of torturous employment - wrestling with the pigs in the office mud pool just so we could have enough $$ to qualify for a bank loan to buy off our problems - than learn to neutralize them with enlightened engagement at no cost. Yeap, got it.

Yes I am weird. I depart from the majority when it comes to engaging life. Perhaps my exposure in social work and martial arts taught me something. It certainly has made me a happier person (I think) than the guy whose life is dedicated to getting a hotter chick than his friends.

Just to share, these are a few simple lessons I learnt.

Lesson 1: No matter how much money I have or how good I am at avoiding, I can never outrun problems.
Lesson 2: A problem is not always a problem. Sometimes it is a teacher that teaches me patience and humility.
Lesson 3: The satisfaction from engaging a problem can be more enriching than avoiding one.
Lesson 4: Its far cheaper to understand life, predict its difficulties and not do stupid things to cause them to happen than to barge headlong like a bull and then look for money to buy off the problems I create.

This is why in spite of life's little knocks and bumps, I can smile.

And if you ask me if it feels good being able to "walk" anywhere I want to and be the 20-something guy I am without needing to hide my head anywhere, the answer is YES!! ^_^

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