Tag Archives: Religion

“Do you believe in God?”: 4 meta-questions

Do you believe in God?” is a question we have all heard.  Most people take this to be a straightforward question, but readers know that I take every opportunity to discuss the unquestioned assumptions hiding behind common sense.

Here are four big activities hiding behind “Do you believe in God?”:

  1. You” (“You” are not who you think you are.)
  2. Believe” (Beliefs are not what you think they are.)
  3. God” (There are different sorts of contrary gods)
  4. ?  (The question is not asking for facts, but offering a signaling opportunity.)

Understanding these four meta-questions, can help unravel the illusion spun by the apparently simple question of “Do you believe in God?”

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I-Ching Party: Year of the Monkey

Monkey2016Happy Year of the Monkey!

Tonight, by the Chinese lunar calendar, it is New Year’s Eve.  Everyone born this coming year is suppose to have the Monkey traits of being quick-witted, charming, lucky, adaptable, bright, versatile, lively, smart. 

According to Western Astrology, from January 20th to February 18th is sign of Aquarius and children born during this time are suppose to be witty, clever, humanitarian, inventive and original. 

Sounds like an Aquarian Monkey may be fun.  Of course there are more complicated readings of these signs, but those are the positive ones.  They are nonsense of course, but fun nonsense.

At my home, to extend the bright lights of Christmas, in late January and February we have decorated for the Chinese New Year and today had an I-Ching party.  Below are worksheets I made to help people in asking direction from the I-Ching.  The top is the empty sheet and below it is a sample completed sheet. If you are interested in how to use the I-Ching, ask me in the comments and I will expound on how to use these worksheets in another post.

Throwing the I-Ching with all our guests was all very good fun, for as I wrote here, the I Ching can act like tofu.

Happy New Year Folks!

I-Ching Worksheet Final

I-Ching Worksheet Final sample

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Sanskrit Transliteration: Sabio’s system

Sanskrit_Transliteration_Sabio

Indian Sacred Texts are written in Sanskrit which uses the devanagari script.  General public translations of these books use transliterations which obscure correct or even tolerably-correct pronunciation of the original Sanskrit.  They obscure even the way modern Hindi speakers would pronounce these words when talking about their scriptures.

However, there are two main scholarly transliteration systems which preserve the correct pronunciations: the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (iast) and the Harvard Kyoto (kyoto).  Kyoto uses capital letter and adds a few odd letters (z and G) to its transliteration system, and so is ugly and hard to read.

I prefer the IAST.  And though some may consider the diacritics of IAST as cumbersome, they may be largely ignored and still be close-enough to the original.  But even with that, I see two problems with IAST:

(1) IAST uses the letter “c” to represent the “ch” sound and the letter “ch” to represent its aspirated version.  To avoid this, the transliteration system I will use (SES) in my glossary and occasionally in my texts will use a “ch” and a “chh” for these sounds (see the chart).

(2) Sanskrit has three “sibilants” — s’s.  Two of these are very close to each other and sound like “sh” though IAST only uses s’s with diacritics to differentiate between them. So I added h’s to those two s’s to make them easier to read while keeping the diacritics.

Sanskrit DiacriticsCommon books (as in “Jaya”) avoid the capitals in Kyoto and keep the “ch” and the “sh” (as my system also does) but they do not use diacritics thus losing many sounds.

So, SES (my transliteration system: Sabio’s Easy Sanskrit) is easier to read and still preserves subtle sounds if the reader wishes to know them.  But I suggest that due to difficulty of pronunciations, the reader ignore all diacritics except the long marks over the vowels which are probably the most important pronunciation issues.

Remember, an “h” in IAST and SES just means to aspirate — to add breath to the sound. And retroflex (symbolized by a dot below a letter) means the tongue is in the back of the throat when pronounced.

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Notes:

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Jaya: who is Devdutt Pattanaik

Devdutt-PatnaikThis is part of my series of posts to aid in the reading of Devdutt Pattanaik’s book:  Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata. See my Mahabharata index for more.
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I will use this page to keep links to information on Devdutt Pattanaik. But first, some quick information I have learned:

Devdutt was born in 1970 in Oriya India and brought up in Mumbai. He was a physician who did pharma and healthcare industry work for 14 years with an avocation on researching and writing on mythology which has now become his full-time profession. He is a fun illustrator and speaker also.

Sr-Krishna-and-Arjuna-blowing-their-conchshellsMeaning of the author’s name

Since Indian names are, well, foreign to Westerners, I thought I’d have some fun and research the meaning of Devdutt Pattanaik’s name.

Devdutt (also, Devadatta) means “God given” and is the name of the conch (shankha) of Arjuna.  In Hinduism, the conch shell is used as a war trumpet in the past and is a symbol for the god Vishnu. Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu and is here shown as Arjuna’s chariot driver and both of them blowing the war conch. Krishna’s conch is called “Panchjanya“.

thewheel-sudarshan

“Jaya” illustration by Pattanaik: Krishna’s gopis, sad to lose their love, try to block his departure.

Pattanaik (also Patnaik) is an Indian Kayastha caste surname. Kayasthas are considered to be members of the literate scribe caste, and have traditionally acted as keepers of records and public accounts, writers, and administrators of the state. Interestingly, Pattanaik is a writer!

Links:

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Jaya: why read this book

Jaya_book_coverThis is part of my series of posts to aid in the reading of Devdutt Pattanaik’s book:  Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata. See my Mahabharata index for more.

Readers can either buy the book now and read it slowly with each post, wait until the series is over and then buy the book or just read the posts without reading the book.

Why read the Mahabharata:

(1) Understand Hinduism: The Mahabharata is one of the classic Hindu you need to read to understand Hinduism. It is not the dry philosophy of the Upanishads or the hard to read Vedas, and it is more complex that the simple good-vs-bad Ramayana (the other Hindu epic, see my posts here.)  And just reading books about Hinduism won’t help you feel the complexity of the faith as reading the Mahabharata will.

(2) Understand Religion: One of my agendas is to help Christians perhaps see their own religion by comparing and contrasting to Hinduism. Perhaps some Hindus will also enjoy learning about Christianity this way. And then for both the secular and religious readers, I hope to point out some of the deep structures in religion.  And all of this done in a very lay fashion — because I can do no differently! 🙂

Why read Pattanaik’s Version:

The actual Mahabharata text is about 5,000 pages long so most translations are short retellings.  I list many of the translations and retellings available here. Pattanaik’s retelling is easy reading with lots of fun illustrations and thus an easy way to learn the story. Simply put — I like this version.

 

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The Theist-to-Mystic Sidestep

Let’s start by defining terms. As you know, I don’t believe in fixed definitions, so obviously these are my definitions, made to help us communicate on this post:

A Theist: a person who believes is a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, intervening in the world and who responds to prayer.

A Mystic: a person who believes the possibility of union or communion with some god, or absolute or higher level of truth or some such thing. Mystic who believe in a god, don’t necessarily believe in the Theist’s god. (see my post “Monkey God vs. Cat God“)

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When I left Christianity, I tried Reformed Judaism for a year — a stripped down Christianity. Then I started reading Christian mystics: Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross and especially Thomas Merton. But I could tell that all these mystics were trying desperately to hang on to their Jesus. So I started reading Buddhism and Taoism — as filtered through the Western forms of these. (see my post on “The Making of Buddhist Modernism“)

Both of these (my Christianity and my mysticism) were largely fed by my weird experiences in life. (see my posts on “My Supernatural/Mystical Experiences“)

But slowly I began to realize that I was trying to add an extra layer of wonder, an extra layer of meaning, an extra layer of hope to both my ordinary and my extra-ordinary experiences. I was valorizing my experience — I was creating a fantasy of deep meaning and hope. Finally, I came to rest with not taking this extra step. And with such a move, my habits of mind became more clear and both the ordinary and not-so-ordinary became more brilliant.

Theism is hard to escape and mysticism offers a much more benign ground to live in. But mysticism comes with its pitfalls of idealism and romanticism all built to support our fears. But heck, all positions come with pitfalls, don’t they.

Mystic Pitfalls:

  • feel that real meaning, real knowledge comes from union with the absolute (be that a god, the universe, Buddha-mind, The One or any such thing).
  • homogenizing, idealizing, romanticizing the world of a myriad of things
  • negating or minimizing the body, normal mind, or normal experiences
  • judging others as not having your amazing connections, perspective and insight
  • valorizing your experiences and your temperament

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Please feel free to criticize or try to correct or add to my thoughts above.

 

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How a god can both exist and not exist?

Does God Exist

Does “God” exist”?  Well, it depends how you define your word “God”.

The classic theist way is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving invisible being that intervenes in the world and after death.

Well, we have absolutely no evidence of an invisible being intervening in the world.  The problem of Theodicy (see Wiki) has made this clear for millennium.

Now, if a person’s definition of “God” means: “that invisible being who causes me to have peace and happiness (or awe or dread or whatever emotion the believer weighs strongly)”, and offers no way to test such a thing, then we could say, ‘Sure, if you want to call that feeling “God”, and since I am willing to assume you indeed are having that feeling, then, using your specialized vocabulary, I am OK saying “your God exists”.  But I am not saying that the theist god exists, of course.

So sure, a believer may believe a god like Krishna or Yahweh or Jesus or Allah moves their hearts and fills their life with meaning and I would be happy enough for them.  Yeah, I don’t think any of those people/gods exist in reality but in those person’s minds, that is the word they use to label their experiences and feelings.  So sure, as long as they don’t push their god on me, on my politics, on my children, on my science, they can have their god.  I am glad they have a word for what makes them happy.
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Notes:

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