I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage “to swim against the tide”. And also have the courage to be happy.
— Pope Francis (from his address to the volunteers of the 28th World Youth Day)
Of course this is somewhat taken out of context, but even so… There’s no denying, this current Pope, he’s a bit odd, isn’t he?
Hotei is an Asian folkloric figure originating in China where he is called Budai. His name 布袋 basically means cloth bag, and refers to the sack he always carries with him. In Japan he is one of the Seven Lucky Gods (七福神) and one tradition is that rubbing his belly will bring you good luck.
Traditionally, Hotei is depicted as fat, bald, wearing a simple robe and carrying a cloth bag. He is poor, carrying his few possessions in his sack, but always happy and content. When he meets Zen practioners he immediately demands of them a coin, but all the money he gains he uses to buy candies for children.
Kōan: Hotei would wander through the marketplace handing out candies to children. Once Hotei was confronted on the street by a Zen scholar who challenged him with the question: “What is the meaning of Zen?”
Hotei’s reply was to stop in his tracks, throw down his sack and remain motionless.
Dissatisfied with this response the scholar questioned him further: “What is the expression of Zen?”
Hotei immediately picked up his sack and carried on his way, laughing and handing out candies to the children that swarmed about him.
The Hotei sculpture above is part of an extensive collection belonging to Randy Channell and can be found at his cafe, Ran Hotei.
Oddly enough on the day that I visited the Ran Hotei cafe a large party of costumed children came in trick or treating for Halloween, and there in the midst of them all was Randy, for all the world just like Hotei, with a big smile on his face, handing out his candies.
Lately, I can’t help noticing that the walls of the city are being plastered with political posters by The Happiness Realization Party (幸福実現党 or HRPs as I like to call them). Here’s a picture I took today of HRPs posters heavily outnumbering the poor chap on the Komeito Party poster. You can practically see the happiness slipping through his fingers.
There were actually even more HRPs posters on the next wall but I couldn’t fit them in the shot. I’ve been wondering about these people for a while now as they parade up and down in their vans, waving their white gloved hands and promising us all HAPPINESS… They seemed suspiciously cultish. Could it be that they have combined the creeping hypocrisy of organized religion with the snide corruption of politics to create a new breed of überwankers?
So I did a bit of a search on the interwebs and it turns out that yes they are the new political wing of Japanese religious sect “Happy Science” (幸福の科学). I’ve come across these people before. Once upon a time in Fukushima, a co-worker, who seemed like a nice enough sort, handed me one of their books with the words “This might interest you. It’s Buddhism.”
“Oh, thank you, ” says I innocently, “I’m interested in Buddhism.”
Well, it’s not Buddhism. Not even remotely. More like very badly written science fiction. I think I managed to get through about a chapter of “The Laws of The Sun” before I just couldn’t take it anymore and threw it away (and I like Science Fiction). I don’t remember too much to be honest, just something about Venusians and Atlantis and how their leader Ryuho Okawa is the reincarnation of the Buddha. Judging by his writing style it’s more likely he’s the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. There are plenty of other wacky beliefs though. Just look them up on wikipedia. Anyway, I was a bit taken aback that my co-worker, this seemingly rational, kind, caring lady (she worked with handicapped kids) believed all this nonsense. But then people who set themselves up as prophets do seem to have this power to feed off and thrive on people’s insecurities. Bit sad really when you think of each individual victim, but scary when you think of vast numbers of people supporting this sect and the kind of power this gives their leaders. It seems that Mr. O. studied International Finance in New York before realising his higher calling: you can make heaps more money inventing your own religion. And he has. And he has a lot of power and influence as a result.
And now he’s got his spooky looking wife (that’s her on the posters) leading a political party and clearly has funding for a massive propaganda advertising campaign. So what are their policies? Basically, we are all doomed and North Korea is going to bomb the crap out of us unless Japan drops “the pacifist Article 9 of [Japan’s] constitution and prepare to defend itself against North Korea and China“. It’s worth remembering that the leader of HRPs is married to a prophet so she knows what she is talking about. Current Buddhist teaching it seems, is “flawed”. In an interview last year, the Stepford wife explained:
“If you take the ‘thou shalt not kill’ precept too far, you cannot protect your country. Historical fact shows that weakness in Buddhism,” Kyoko said. “That’s why we wanted to develop Buddhist teaching.”LINK
I was in a pharmacy/chemists yesterday, and I saw this on the shelf and it got me thinking.
It’s a diet supplement, yeah? You take it and the idea is – you get thin. So why the name? I have no idea, so I’m looking for clues. The model advertising it is Kaori Manabe, a fairly average looking girl-next-door type. I’ve no idea about her religious persuasion. Her involvement is probably due to her everyday girl quality and the fact that she is rake thin. I’m thinking they went with her simply because they couldn’t get hold of the man himself. As for the packaging, it depicts a woman in work-out attire swooning in some kind of a mystical red haze. Perhaps she exercised too hard and had some kind of anaerobic revelation? Is the implication that once you take this product people will look at you and gasp “Jesus! What a body!”. Or are they suggesting that you might want to get a body like Jesus? I guess Our Risen Lord is typically represented as being a bit of a skinny. But he also has that mad look in his eyes, gaping holes in his hands, feet and midriff and quite the scabby forehead. So, that can’t be right. Oh, and there’s some English on the packaging too, and it reads as follows:
New discovery to be kept secret from others
This discovery is a secret
I can lay it down because I am correct
We will not make you sorry
Pleasure to have the real thing
I really longed for this
Yep, that sounds like the sort of thing he would say all right. But still, what’s the link? A miracle product? Heavenly bodies? What can it be? Enlighten me! Anyone!
A couple of links for you. The Vatican has declared it’s opposition to Amnesty International on the basis Amnesty opposes abortion in cases of rape or incest. Read more here: BABYLON FIGHTS FREEDOM
Also, here’s a link to a video of President Bush in Albania where he was given a hero’s welcome earlier this week. A couple of odd things here; first off Albanians love Bush (maybe he should move there) and secondly… it looks like somebody nicked his watch. Really, in the first few seconds of the video he has a watch clearly visible on his wrist, then he moves to greet the crowd, many of whom clasp his hands, wrists and arms in greeting. After about 60 seconds his watch has vanished! Nice one. See it for yourself here: BUSH IN ALBANIA
The rainy season began today here in Kansai. Appropriately, it was raining this morning when I got up, it rained throughout the afternoon and it is still raining this evening. Tomorrow’s forecast? More rain. Now, today should be my day off but I have a heap of marking to get on top of before next week and the weather doesn’t encourage me to venture out much, so while correcting student’s papers I’ve been staying sane by listening to good tunes like this:
Happy Saint Piran’s Day! Way back in the Dark Ages, when Ireland was overrun with saints working miracles, raising the dead, and generally showing off and making nuisances of themselves, the High King at Tara decided saintly standards were slipping and set up some quality controls. Saint Piran, was thrown (literally “thrown” mind you) out of Ireland for not having impressive enough miracles. “Change water into wine my Royal Irish Arse! You couldn’t even make a daycent cup of tay!” Ironically, however, having been tied to a massive block of stone and cast amongst the fishes, poor Piran finally cracked the whole miracle thing and proceeded to float like a cork all the way to Cornwall where he set up home amongst the pixies and and was warmly welcomed by the pasty-munching Cornish folk. He then discovered tin, invented the Cornish flag, became drinking buddies with King Arthur and lived to be 200 years old, SO WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF HIM?
And no, I’m not making this up.
Click on this next link to see David Tennant’s video diary and a trailer for the next series of Doctor Who. Looks exciting!
In my first week of work at the Junior High this week I managed to catch a nasty stomach bug that had me riding the porcelain train much of Wednesday night, and from which I’ve still not fully recovered. God knows what brought it on, apparently something matching my symptoms (shakes, sweats and shits) has been going around, but then the spicy Korean hot-pot and amber beverages enjoyed on Tuesday evening probably exacerbated it a tad. Anyway, I worked through it (it being my first week and all) and was rewarded with high praise indeed by one of my new co-workers who told me my class was “brilliant” because I was so calm and quiet and all those noisy little girls still listened to me. I managed not to have any nasty accidents in the classroom too, which was a relief.
As said I’m still not fully myself so I’m taking it easy this weekend and just reading lots to pass the time. I came across this wacky article on Z-net by Robert Jensen, explaining why or how he is a Christian AND an Athiest: LINK.
His argument is that though he doesn’t believe in God or that Jesus was the son of God he does believe in certain “core principles” that the Gospels tell us Jesus preached, i.e. compassion and empathy for one’s fellow man. The problem is that the Gospels tell us quite a lot of other rather more wacky stuff too. Jensen is pretty much doing what everyone does who comes to these books. They have their own agenda and pick out the stuff they like and edit out the stuff they don’t. This might mean picking out the peace, love and harmony as the like and editing out the fire and brimstone and race hatred as the don’t like (or vice versa depending on one’s agenda). I fear Jensen is trying to please all people at once but he does put forward a thought provoking argument: that if religious people spent more time promoting the fundamental values of their faith rather than quibbling over what separates them from the unbelievers, yes boundaries would be blurred, but that would be a good thing, and that in fact the ultimate aim of all religions should be to bring about a world of justice based on true love, compassion and solidarity in which religion itself would be happily irrelevant.
The question for me is; why do we need a religious figurehead or authority to show us the way toward compassion and solidarity anyway? Figureheads and authorities tend to preach absolutes and discourage questioning. I don’t trust them. Why can’t we come to these values ourselves as a community of equals?
I was brought up religiously and so naturally the Gospel story intrigues me but I think whatever interpretation of Christ one has is basically a fiction of some kind. As the writer A. N. Wilson wrote; looking for the historical Jesus is like entering a room a moment after its occupant has gone; a cigar still smoking in an ashtray, an impression still left upon a chair, all the signs but nothing you can really pin down. So I believe imaginative accounts of Jesus’ life are valid explorations of who or what he might have been or of what he represents. They are entertaining too. So here are some books I can and can’t recommend:
In this is stupendously tedious book Jesus comes across as a complete pompous and humorless ass, which he may well have been, but I don’t want to read about it. Didn’t get past Chapter 12 (the chapters are short too).
This was kind of fun. The conceit is a man goes back in time seeking the historical Christ, finds a drooling idiot and ends up stepping into his sandals so that history is fulfilled. It’s very 60s though, and Moorcock does tend to overdo the Jungian thing. Some of the dream sequences had me laughing.
There’s a lot to dwell on in this book. It’s very dark and very rich and I really should find the time to read it again and puzzle out some of the deeper symbolism. One thing it brought home to me was the bloodthirsty nature of the God of Israel. Historically, thousands of animals were sacrificed daily at the Temple in Jerusalem to appease the wrathful divinity. Saramago (a Nobel Prize winner) depicts a cruel God demanding the endless sacrifice of the innocent and a rather kindly and sympathetic Devil. Poor Jesus is caught up in between and ultimately sacrificed himself. I found the way things tied up at the end dissatisfying personally, but still it’s a good story told well.
In this book Jesus never gets past his 40 days in the desert and in fact he isn’t even a central figure in the book, merely a misguided youth starving himself in a cave. This is a wonderfully written book, and very, very dark; a study of evil and in some ways of redemption too. This guy Crace is good. I recommend his “Gift Of Stones” too.
A very brave book. Kazantzakis’s theme is the human struggling towards the divine and it really is a desperate struggle in his writings. Jesus is a very human figure in this book and full of failings but ultimately… well you know the story. I love this book and last year I read his “Saint Francis” too. Both books are beautifully written. Here’s a choice quote from “Saint Francis”:
“Night was falling. The western sky was dark, the color of wild cherries; odd-looking, compassionate clouds began to rise and to cool the earth, which was still boiling from the great heat of the day. The fruitful plain of Umbria was resting. It had accomplished its duty, had given wheat, wine, and olive oil to men. Now in repose, it gazed at the sky, waiting with confidence for rain so that the seeds beneath its soil could once more grow and form fruit.”
Wonderful stuff. And that’s in translation too. And if none of that grabs your fancy then you can find more typically Christian books here. The next book I want to read is about another kind of savior however: Zorro! What little boy doesn’t want to be Zorro? Or a ninja？ LINK
Now, (moving on) last night I watched Al Pacino’s The Merchant of Venice. LINK
This is a troublesome play. There’s no getting away from the fact that our lad Shakespeare, (possibly the greatest literary genius ever to grace God’s sweet earth), didn’t like Jews. And despite careful editing it’s still clear watching the movie that the play is anti-semitic. However, some of the hated Shylock’s speeches present a valid counterpoint to the general thrust of the play and Al Pacino does a good job in showing us his humanity. At the end of the movie, poor Shylock in trying to better those who have so long persecuted him is boxed in on all sides and his wealth, his daughter and even his faith are taken from him. The makers of the movie do a good job in arousing our sympathy and showing how hate breeds yet more hate. It’s a troublesome play alright but perhaps it is good to be troubled.
We live in troubling times. Apparently the body-count in Iraq is steadily increasing year by year:
“In terms of average violent deaths per day this represents:
20 per day in Year 1
31 per day in Year 2 and
36 per day in Year 3”
Here’s a nice quote from “A Merchant of Venice” on music:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
(Shakespeare – A Merchant of Venice Act 5)
And with that in mind I urge you all to listen to Sufjan Stevens and mark his music as soon as possible. Here’s a review to give you an idea of what he’s about: