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Sunday, November 28, 2010

America's Consumerism and How It's Backwards From Faith

Guy Fawkes Effigy
After enduring Black Friday, I couldn't help but observe how we Americans love to indulge in purchasing material goods. The fine line between essentials and desires is undoubtedly crossed on Black Friday when the "herd instinct" is to put your life on the line (no pun intended) to get a few percents off on worldly products. And as Americans, we value these secular, ephemeral, and hedonistic "goods" more than spiritual treasures. Proof of that is seen in the overflow of Black Friday into "Cyber Monday" in which all the left over stuff (that apparently was left over stuff from 2010,) is sold online through sites like Amazon. This isn't to say all Americans participate in Black Friday, or the U.S. is the only country that consumes (though we rank fairly high on the consumer chart...) but you don't hear about the sales on the day after Guy Fawkes Night. Maybe that's because I'm here in the States, but still, where in the world did Cyber Monday come from?
I think looking to Hinduism's doctrine on consuming would be one of the more encompassing and straight forward teachings on the harm of consumerism. While the Christian philosophy is summed up in the line: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19.) the Hindu philosophy (coincidentally in the 6th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita titled The Science of Self Realization,) pertains to a more self oriented belief. And I find this somewhat more appropriate for American Christians because people really have "stored up their treasures on earth" during days like Black Friday and continue to do so through the Advent season leading up to Christmas Day. Lord Krishna, the Eighth Avatar of Vishnu, (the Ninth is Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama) tells Arjuna, an Abrahamic figure in the Gita, of the Vaisnava Sampradayas. In short, there are four of these sampradayas, or as Wiki says "traditions or religious systems." Kesava Kasmiri's commentary on the fourth sampradaya, known as Kumara Sampradaya, or "duality in unity," describes the harmful aftereffects of consumerism:
"It should be clearly comprehend that attachment to worldly pleasures locks one to samsara or the endless cycle of birth and death while contrarily detachment from the infatuation of worldly pleasures frees one from samsara."
Excessively buying into secular goods does not advance our path to moksha, or liberation from the cyclical dance, samsara. It does not lead us further down the narrow path to Heaven. One of the more profound and intricate Christian beliefs is that Jesus came into the world through Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord. And as  King of the Heavenly Hosts, He  wasn't clutching a scepter, wearing a signet ring, and indulging in excessive wealth. Similarly, raja yoga encompasses an assortment of practices; the one defining Jesus' rejection for worldly goods can be seen as tantrism. While tantrism contains metaphysical exercises, they focus the mind inwardly on speech and outer actions and reject physical surroundings. (That's a stretch to make that parallel,) but Jesus also placed emphasis more on action, dharma, rather than physical objects.
Another stretch would be to say to solve America's intense consuming rate would be to return HOLYdays and their true meaning, especially Christmas as Catholics begin the liturgical season of Advent, the waiting of the arrival of the Lord. The Spirit of Christmas hasn't been Jesus oriented for quite some time now, and with unbelievable days like Black Friday that seep into Cyber Monday, there seems to be no mass movement of trying to curb our intake of products; in fact it's apparently going the other way. It can be deduced, or maybe even induced, that the growth of American consumerism is a fear originating from the ultimate reality of samsara/salvation. Or vice versa, because the paths for either of these two are too demanding, people result in ignoring reality and submerse themselves in hedonism and secularism.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Things To Be Thankful For

I just finished helping out at a PACEM meal this evening. And the basis of the organization is helping the homeless. I went ahead and started my Thanksgiving vacation with some service, knowing that come this Thursday, I'll be enjoying more turkey and stuffing than I can eat in one sitting.
One of the first things I picked up with the men I was serving was that they were grateful for not only the food I was serving, but the simple act of serving them. And for many, to serve someone else in the smallest of ways can be easier said than done. I don't think one has to look far to look far to find reasons to serve; the beginning of the New Testament is nothing but Jesus serving the people; the Wedding at Cana, Feeding the Five Thousand, healing the blind man etc. But one can also look at the general lifestyle of the Buddha. After gaining awakening, he calls two disciples, similar to James and John, and begins 45 years of teaching and aiding the outcastes in modern day Nepal. Depending on the sect of Islam, zakat is a continuous act of giving. And looking at a Hindu figure like Hanuman, the monkey god who helps Rama find his wife Sita, one sees a story among the vast variety of stories of charity and aid.
(from right: Rama, Hanuman, Sita)
Rama and Sita: Path of FlamesNow, these random stories could be viewed as just separate examples of helping the less fortunate, but they all do point to a venerated figure helping those in need. By doing so for a couple of hours, I realized that those in need are very grateful, and their gratitude is really the goal of this holiday; not so much about what we are thankful for, but about how we can be helpful to those who have nothing and make them thankful for something, even if it is a small necessity like a meal. The time spent with those less fortunate then us is something to be thankful for in itself; because we take too much for granted, we need to see how life is lived in the rawest form: poverty, hunger, and those without homes. They may seem to have less material possessions than we do, but what they are grateful for is worth more just like the poor widow in Luke's gospel who "put in two small copper coins."  "Truly I tell you,”  [Jesus] said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others." Having less material wealth than the rich, the woman was able to gain the benefit of giving. So too are those who have little to nothing this holiday season.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Catholic Origins of Thanksgiving!

The Catholic Origins of Thanksgiving! ~ Canterbury Tales by Taylor Marshall:

"And let everyone remember that “Thanksgiving” in Greek is Eucharistia. Thus, the Body and Blood of Christ is the true “Thanksgiving Meal”."

Got to love that!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Comment on Safe, Legal and Rare

A follow up quote from the author Mark Shea: "We have to radically expand waterboarding RIGHT NOW TO SAVE LIVES!!!"

I think there is a parallel to what this quote encompasses, and it's right within our American heritage. The American Colonization Society within the mid 19th century supported the deportation of black Americans to Monrovia (named after yours truly, Little Jimmy Madison.) The Society encompassed concept of sending blacks back to Africa which to us now looks odd because hindsight allows for us to know the solution to the problem of freeing millions of slaves in the 1860s. But at the time, Lincoln, Thoreau, and Henry Clay were among other prominent supporters that were then-moderates. It was then-extremists like Henry Garrison and the first abolitionist martyr, Elijah Lovejoy, that spearheaded the "radical" opposition of slavery. And I would like to point out that Garrison's profound "Manifesto of the Anti-Slavery Society" was published in 1833. It wasn't until 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation was put forth. In between '33 and '63 that the radical abolitionist and end to racism movements became widely accepted.

I would like to single someone like Mr. Shea for being one of the "extremists" that demand for radical change. Without spearheading a controversial topic, like abortion, with an absolute conservative opposition, there would be no movement for this radicalism to become more mainstream and accepted.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thoreau Living Hinduism's Doctrine Through A Buddhist Lifestyle Part 2

To recap on my last post:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”-Henry David Thoreau
To fully undertake the Eight Fold Path in order to end dukkha, or lives of quiet desperation, one must cut off their ignorance. And so when something profound like transcendentalism appears to mainstream America in the late 19th century, only that which can coincide with our comfort is learned and accepted from that philosophy. 
Reasons why we tend to be surrounded by comfort are found within technology. Technology should never be condemned, and within Buddhism’s Three Components, prajna encompasses the benefits that inventions bring. Described as an accurate understanding of reality, prajna accepts technology because it is a part of reality; its transformation. But prajna isn’t found within a Westerner’s vocabulary. We have no discernment; our logic isn’t prajna. Nevertheless, we still find ways to justify gluttony and desire. Hedonism is now called “play;” we go to work and we come home on the weekends to play. Engaging in ephemeral pleasure and abusing technology delude what our true desires are and become factors that make pictures of Kali seem so shocking and primal. To have our ignorance that resides in our beautiful and omnipotent heads chopped off by a fierce female deity is abhorred by not only the arrogant, presumptuous, and self-righteous, but also the weak, lazy, and incompetent. I think that going straight after our egos, our tanhas, with a sword wielded by a higher being is something that completely contradicts our self-gratifying Western society.
I think looking at Thoreau’s radical movement really puts Hinduism’s ideology into perspective; it is not simple, it is not half-hearted, and it certainly isn’t a Sunday-only devotion. When you start looking into the Four Yogas, you realize how inclusive Hinduism is, especially when it engulfs Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. What is to be gained through the practice of yoga, particularly raja yoga that embodies psychophysical tests on a yogi, is similar to what Thoreau wishes to achieve at Walden Pond. However, even though Thoreau’s profound experience came across as a radical response to the 19th century, it is not radical enough. This isn’t to say that Hinduism trumps transcendentalism, but it does hint at how something profound in Western society is dwarfed by mainstream Eastern culture.
There are burdens that the First Amendment of United States Constitution instills. A common Hindu philosophy is discerning right from wrong, what is holy and divine, and ultimately what is atman or soul; “Neti…neti…” which translates into “Not this…not that…” And this is the complete opposite of freedoms that are given, particularly those within the First Amendment. Freedoms say “this is acceptable…this is acceptable.” And this isn’t necessarily suppose to be bad or limited, but look at how much precedes and follows the First Amendment, seven articles and nine amendments. And again, this isn’t to say that Hinduism’s “neti” discernment process is a one-size fits all moral law, but with prajna, one is able to make decisions and say no, rather than be tempted to test the legal restraints. I immediately think of the protesting at the Lance Corporal’s funeral in Kansas, it was within the restraints of the law, but what was ultimately gained from using the law in that way?
               I think that the idea of laws saying “this is acceptable, this isn’t” is another reflection of how gluttonous and self-assertive we are in the West, especially when our freedoms were initially instituted to protect our self-interests, our tanhas. Protecting our excessive wants and desires make it even harder to ever consider chopping our egos off for the sake of devoting time to someone else, much less a god, or God, or even our true selves. Our atmans, souls, aren’t reaping the benefits of our hedonistic indulgences. “Ephemeral” doesn’t mean anything when technology and innovations make it cheap for replacements. Our animas, to trump our weak English word for soul with an etymologically superior word coming from Latin, aren’t fueled by our tanhas, but are weakened drastically.
               As an aside, the Media plays into our tanhas. The availability of what news we want to hear, when want it, and how we are going to receive it are all now determined by the individual. This is just another example of how we are able to shape our worlds into what we want, and this is consequently the definition of gluttony. We may or may not need news, but since it is there, we might as well obtain it for what it is worth. However, instead of consuming it raw, uncooked, and pure, we begin to perceive reality in a skewed telescope. We no longer perceive the tangible reality of this world, which in Buddhist, Hindu, and transcendentalist contexts is not the ultimate reality. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Comment on The Pope is Darth Vader

I made a brief comment siding with the author of  this post, Eric Sammons.
The New York Times has repeatedly made out the Catholic Church to be the Intergalactic Empire...

My comment:

I probably should finish reading the article before I post a comment, but I really couldn’t help but laughing at the second comment you made on the grassroots movement. I mean, on that note, Catholicism could never really embody a “true” grassroots movement. Anything less than a legitimate mass is like you said, Unitarian or any other form of Protestantism.
As to the comment on resisting like Ghandi, I find that Rachel Donadio’s article ended on the scene of a “young girl watched the flame flicker in memory of the 475 Belgian victims of sexual abuse.” I think what Donadio was trying to attempt was make an analogy to Ghandi’s passivity. However, using hindsight we are able to see that his passive aggressive style, like the young girl’s in the article, still contradicts their opposition, in this case the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thoreau Living Hinduism's Doctrine Through A Buddhist Lifestyle

               “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The recognition of this statement as reality is Truth. It is also the first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. What Henry David Thoreau paraphrases into a simple sentence happens to encompass a much larger philosophy of dukkha, or suffering. Hinduism similarly points out that the human condition is samsara, which is life’s wheel of birth and death. The three beliefs, transcendentalism, Buddhism, and Hinduism prescribe medication, or rather certain rituals and practices to heal oneself of reality’s inflicting pain. The concept of life not being experienced fully is pointed out in Thoreau’s philosophy. Quiet desperation is prominent, hence “the mass of men lead” this short-sighted and ephemeral life style. Hinduism’s term samsara describes the limited life Thoreau mentions as innate; human beings are born with this dukkha, or the suffering of living in the veiled world.
Shiva Nataraja
               Hinduism’s definition of the human condition is the most complex of these three definitions. Samsara incorporates an identification of the unconscious because one is not able to recall previous lives. This belief that one has lead many lives through samsara is profound and seems irrelevant and foreign compared to Thoreau’s idea of quiet desperation. The dizziness that samsara can create, best depicted in the Hindu artwork of Shiva Nataraja sculptures does not encompass what the quiet desperation happens to embody. But if one was to look at these two concepts from a more general viewpoint, they both require the same medication. Quiet desperation calls for the recognition of nature as ultimately being God. The process through which one recognizes the ultimate reality of God is samsara’s opposite, moksha, or liberation from life’s repetative cycle. Moksha can be achieved through the Four Yogas which inevitably lead a yogi, the equivalent of a transcendentalist following Thoreau’s ideals, through several stages before reaching the final goal of moksha. These two medications are the same because “desperation” is in fact samsara; it is the fear of life’s unending cycle and consequently, the fear exclusively in desperation is a continuation of samsara.
               Thoreau’s prescription to cure a man’s life of his quiet desperation put in the simplest of terms is experiencing nature. It is crucial to understand that the quiet desperation derives from Thoreau’s previous life in New England life before becoming a transcendentalist. It’s also worth noting that the desperation is quiet because it is shameful. It is a weakness in Thoreau’s New England world to visibly wear the weight of life’s burden.  What Thoreau is escaping from in the “real” world, the world that is noisy, despairing, and hedonistic, is what yogis try to escape through the prescription of the Four Yogas. Raja yoga best exemplifies a transcendentalist’s escape from the world. Because a transcendentalist is not a reform worker or religious fanatic, he is not a karmic or bhakti yogi. The preliminary requirements for raja yoga are “one’s personal life needs to be in order by practicing the five abstentions that restrain one from injury, lying, stealing, sensuality, and greed.” (Huston Smith, 34.) This mirrors Thoreau’s previous life before escaping to Walden Pond; studying at Harvard University. There is a certain amount of preparation that both the yogi and transcendentalist undergo in order to fully experience moksha and nature.
               While these two types of believers follow strict rules, they in essence achieve what they are striving for in their work. “The object of…raja yoga is to unplug one’s sense receptors…or put them on hold so the clatter of the world’s boiler factory won’t disturb the yogi’s concentration.” (Smith, 37.) The escape a transcendentalist makes from society is this unplugging of one’s sense receptors. Both Thoreau and raja yoga point that too often are one’s surroundings and they are distracting and perverse. This establishes a need to perform rituals, such as raja yoga, to reach an ultimate truth above quiet desperation. This truth, found in nature and moksha, ultimately bring one to what is ultimately real. Realizing that there is in fact more to life than just quiet desperation is moksha, and to achieve it, one most consume and perform the necessary prescriptions that their medication calls for in healing.
               Buddhism prescribes explicitly what medication to take and in what dosage. Buddhism takes the Hindu term samsara a step further in explaining what it embodies. Known as the first of the Four Noble Truths, dukkha, meaning suffering, is what Thoreau coins as quiet desperation. The second of the Four Noble Truths is the cause of dukkha known as tanha, or thirst or craving. (Smith, 70-71.)This thirsting is fueled by kleshas, which are afflictive emotions and mental defilements. (Robert Clark.) Kleshas are divided into the Three Poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. Thoreau viewed these as the causes for a man to consequently live a life of quiet desperation. Quiet desperation, or kleshas, creates negative karma. In the Buddhist context, negative karma builds the amount of dukkha one undertakes.
The Four Noble Truths, however, don’t only echo the reality of dukkha; they also prescribe a cessation to its harm. Known as the Eight Fold Path, the Fourth Noble Truth is a course of training to end quiet desperation. The Three Components establish context for the marga, or path: sila meaning ethics, dhyana depicting concentration, and prajna, an accurate understanding of reality which translates into English as wisdom. (Clark.) Viewed as a pyramid, the Three Components are founded on sila. Ethics are ruled by the Five Precepts that hinder killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and the consumption of intoxicants. (Smith, 74.) By observing these laws, one is able to step to the next level of the pyramid known as dhyana. Concentration in this context refers to meditation, and through the practice of it, one can attain prajna, an accurate understanding of reality. Prajna is known as wisdom because wisdom allows for one to fully embody the Three Marks of Existence: dukkha, anicca, and anatman.
The Three Marks of Existence are the ultimate goal which Thoreau desires to reach, that is wisdom. Dukkha, or realizing that one does suffer, is the first step that leads one back to the beginning of the Four Noble Truths. Anicca means impermanence which encompasses the idea of an accurate understanding of reality. Anatman literally means “no-self.” Deriving from Hinduism’s term atman,
anatman rejects the egocentrism that a life of quiet desperation carries; self-centeredness, known as tanha, restricts one to fully partake in dhyana and prajna. (Smith, 71.) Hindu and Buddhist artwork depict the bloody rejection of egos, which inevitably derives from our ignorance. In certain portrayals of the Hindu goddess Kali, her necklace of severed skulls is the egos of her devotees. To fully undertake the Eight Fold Path to end dukkha, or lives of quiet desperation, one must cut off their ignorance.
This is where minute differences begin to appear between Thoreau’s ideal Walden Pond and Buddha’s strict teachings that derived from Hinduism’s seemingly sanguine doctrine. To an extent, it can be viewed that in the East, this shedding of hedonistic pleasures in a gory fashion are not warmly welcome in the West. If any change is to take place, even the “most dramatic” like Thoreau’s escape to Walden Pond, it is not painful. I think that there is too much gluttony and accessibility to comfort and the apparently profound idea of chopping this tanha, this “ego-oozing” desire as Smith puts it, from ourselves is too difficult and overly demanding. This can also be weighted with the West’s growing xenophobia, but I think there is more than just a fear for what is distant to us; there is a fear of dramatic change, even in this case when it is for the obvious better. It can be based on my opinion, but there is much to be gained from these outlying philosophies that reject the fulfillment of our egos. I think that much of what is coined with transcendentalism today is sustainable living, and thus it remains on the fringes of society. But in the East, both Hinduism and Buddhism thrive on the surface of Asian culture. I think that the “dramatic and bloody” baptism into a life of anatman is inevitably lacking within Western, fringe philosophy. Because we feel comfortable half-associating ourselves with certain ideals, we are able to pick and choose qualities of certain philosophies. And so when something profound like transcendentalism appears to mainstream America in the late 19th century, only that which can coincide with our comfort is learned and accepted from that philosophy.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Importance of Understanding Hindu Terminology and Concepts

Together, Hindu philosophy and scripture depict how “truth is one, paths are many.” One gives evidence towards the other; the philosophy derives from the scripture. Huston Smith’s Illustrated World’s Religions defines many of the Sanskrit terms that are key to understand within Swami Satchidanananda’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Within the Chapters 2 and 18 that have been analyzed, Krishna specifies Arjuna’s dharma, or duty. In addition to Krishna’s explanations, Satchidanananda’s commentary explains how the Hindu terms and beliefs from Smith’s texts fit into scripture and reality. It is crucial to understand Smith’s concepts before diving into the Bhagavad Gita; though Satchinananda’s comments are easy to understand, the broad Hindu terminology has to be learned and experienced to a degree that allows for the reader to relate to the scriptures. The Four Yogas are the philosophies that both Smith and Satchinananda write on; however, the Sanskrit words are better defined within Smith’s text while Satchinananda elaborates more on the concepts and beliefs that the same words have. This depicts the need to understand the diction before understanding how “truth is one, paths are many.” Both writers point to this significance of this philosophy through the shared medium of the Four Yogas. While learning the Hindu terms, one can follow their teaching through the steps prescribed by yoga and achieve what is true.   
            Within the quote “truth is one, paths are many,” the Hindu yogas are the paths. Hinduism’s inclusivity binds many variations of how an individual can become closer to God. “The result is…there are multiple paths to God, each calling for its distinctive mode of approach.” (Smith, 26.) While there are four paths called the Four Yogas, each believer is included in a branch of yoga. The goal of yoga is “to discern the self’s deep-lying divinity.” (Smith, 26.) Again, Smith defines the terms that are applied in the Bhagavd Gita; “The first step of every yoga involves the dismantling of good habits and the acquisition of good ones.” (Smith, 26.) The paths in “truth is one, paths are many,” are meant to be journeyed on while the truths are to be discovered.
In Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita, Sloka 41 rephrases the concept of “truth is one, paths are many” as: “If your mind is unsteady and wandering, many-branched and endless are the thoughts and choices. When your mind is clear and one-pointed, there is only one decision.” (2:41, Baghavad Gita.) To achieve a clear and one-pointed mind, yoga is prescribed. It encompasses the physical, mindful, and spiritual demands of Hinduism. While Smith states yoga’s ideal, Satchinananda follows the Bhagavad Gita and discerns the reality of one who is trying to live yoga. Satchinananda quotes Krishna telling Arjuna, “‘You haven’t harmonized your thought, word, and deed.’” (Satchinananda, 13.) At this point, Krishna begins teaching Arjuna the use of yoga.
The spiritual and mindful demands of yoga are best seen in the form of raja yoga. Known as the “royal way,” raja yoga encompasses the teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. According to Satchinananda, in raja yoga, also known as integral yoga, “You blend theory and practice. You apply the theory in your day-to-day activities.” (Satchinananda, 19.) The day-to-day activities can be seen as karma yoga, which is the way through action and work. To integrate truth while on one of the many paths of karma yoga, one needs to apply the said “theory” from Satchinananda’s quote. But in order to understand truth of that theory, one must incorporate jnana yoga, or the path of knowledge and discrimination. Because yoga literally means “yoking, or uniting together,” one needs to yoke the truths found in jnana yoga. “For those already enlightened, the scriptures are as useful as a water reservoir during a flood.” (Chapter 2:46, Bhagavad Gita.) While one can learn as much as possible from the teachings found in scripture, Hinduism does not stop at this point. Bhakti yoga signifies love and devotion. “The aim of bhakti yoga – the yoga of love and devotion – is to direct toward God the love that lies at the base of every heart.” (Smith, 28.)  Because love and devotion can both be continual, the combination of the Four Yogas is unconditional.
However, yoga does not call for one to rejoice in their accomplishments. Satchinananda is quick to point out that “one’s duty is to perform the act, but not for the fruit.” (Satchinananda, 23.) The fruits of one’s actions can delude yoga’s attempt to bring one’s atman, or soul, closer to God. Though there are many paths on which a yogi can follow to reach ultimate truth, there are also false paths that are distracting.  In Chapter 2:49 of the Gita says: “Work done for the sake of some results is much lower than that done in mental equilibrium, Arjuna. Wretched are those motivated by the fruits of their actions.” Instead of being led down the wrong path towards distractions, Satchinananda advises “equanimity of mind is yoga.” (Satchinananda, 23.) Equanimity has two Latin roots: eques, meaning equality, and animas, meaning soul or mind. While in philosophical terms, the word equanimity can refer to equal- mindedness, Hinduism combines this meaning with the idea of an equal or calmed soul. Equanimity enables a yogi to stay on the correct path to truth. “With minds full of desires and heaven as their highest goal, they speak mostly of rites and rituals, which they believe will bring more pleasure and power.” (Chapter 2:43, Bhagavad Gita.) Only with equal minds and souls can a believer truly practice the Four Yogas.
I think that Hinduism’s inclusivity is something that world religions lack today. While both Christianity and Islam require for a believer to be completely committed to their faith, I think Hinduism allows for some picking and choosing. This can be reflected in the multiplicity of deities. Hindis are able to pick an ishta, or one’s chosen ideal of God, and this allows for believers to worship a more appropriate deity that reflects their chosen path of yoga. Hinduism’s teachings are not loose and unrestricted. With many deities come multiple mythological stories that convey the same message of yoga and stress the significance of yoga. I find that some of the major concepts of Hinduism, such as the Four Yogas, can be applied to other faiths. I think that when reading Hindu scripture, such as the Bhagavad Gita, there can be an array of interpretations, all of which are accepted. I think Satchinananda’s commentary portrays how analyzed and complex simple terms such as yoga and dharma can hold so much meaning while at the same time, the same terms in Smith’s context can be used as simple building blocks to create a much larger picture. The quote “truth is one, paths are many” depicts how the same terms can be used with the same meaning, but explain an assortment of Hinduism’s traditions and teaching.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Zell Kravinsky, A Secular Saint

MescalitoZell Kravinsky is a saint. The New Yorker’s article “The Gift” portrays the classic story of sainthood. When looking at the story of famous saints such as Peter or Paul, the saint-to-be tends to be initially high in societal ranking. Achieving worldly greatness, the individual turns inwards in order to fulfill a driving need for moral satisfaction. Christendom is only a template for which an individual can look inward. Kravinsky’s story is a much more modern model of one’s path to sainthood without Christianity being the back drop on which his path to sainthood is painted on. A common theme across various saints’ lives is how shocking their defiance against societal norms derides a culture’s priorities and values. While some may view saints’ decisions to give away their financial as shortsighted, this action encompasses Kravinsky’s last comment in the article: “It’s not enlightenment. It’s the start of a moral life.” I think it’s crucial to look at who is judging Kravinsky’s decisions. The world is full of greed. And those within Kravinsky’s life’s story are blindly taken by the hand and dragged through life. Kravinsky’s actions are so shocking to a world based on wealth because he disregards its importance to himself as he donates millions of dollars as well as body parts. I think he is not short-sighted in refraining from using modern means to achieve his journey to sainthood. He takes full advantage of being able to use his body as a part of his wealth he wishes to give away. Again, looking at a saint’s life, such as Ignatius of Loyola’s, we can find how a saint’s alms-giving defines sainthood. A common story tells how Ignatius gives half of his cloak to a man on the battlefield, shortly before he is wounded and confined to his bed. I think modern technology is allowing for people to extend what they can give away. And quite frankly, the act of giving away a highly needed organ is not so bizarre if one can envision the body as part of our given, worldly wealth. Kravinsky understands that his body is a shell that surrounds his soul, and his kidney donation is not anything more than Ignatius of Loyola’s cloak that was given to a man on the battlefield.
               A quote that best displays Kravinsk’s thought process is: “But it’s a fact that our actions, in some sense our thoughts, let some people live and some people die.” He has achieved moksha; not blind to his surroundings, Kravinsky’s take on the world is wholesome and realistic. In a world that boasts how fast individuals can connect through the internet across the world, Kravisnky’s baffling quote shows how blind people are to see the needs of people directly in front of them. Instead of making broad, drawn out decisions, Kravinsky believes action is the right answer to any dilemma. Not acting is the equivalent of killing someone; passivity is unacceptable in the age of technology.
               Kravinsky’s defilement of his family’s concerns also shows a rare example of one’s devotion to morality above all else. While his family’s worries are natural and necessary, they are also selfish and fearful. To immediately question a husband’s sanity when he decides to do something moral and now outrageous depicts how limited society’s faith in piety. A biblical parallel of this essay is God’s call for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. While in modern Christian and Jewish tradition, God’s test for Abraham seems like a cruel and unusual demand, in historical context, human sacrifice was common. However, this did not keep Abraham from keeping the idea of sacrificing his son’s sacrifice on the “down low.” The father and son journey is not one of secrecy, but reading the story, one can find that both Sarah and Isaac are unaware of Abraham’s intentions. Isaac even asks his father where the sacrificial animal is at one point in their prophetic journey up Mount Moriah. Kravinsky also keeps his family in the dark about his intentions. Though well intended, both Kravinsky and Abraham know that they are driven by something much more than familial attachments to carry out seemingly obscure actions for the sake of morality and/or God. Both men are tested, and both men succeed in passing an examination of conscience. Abraham’s faithfulness is rewarded by God delivering a ram before Isaac is sacrificed, so too is Kravisnky’s selflessness rewarded with moksha, the realization of his inner being, atman. Kravinsky fully understands what he is made of, and it is not of material wealth, nor is it just layers of skin and organs; he realizes there is a soul inside of his body that is guided by morals. In both Hindu and Christian terms, this defines Zell Kravinsky as a saint.       

How I Wana Do This

I just wanted to start this blog for kicks and see what I can do with it.
I really enjoy reading what other people have to say, and I like commenting a lot on
their original posts. As much as I plan to write original content, I am not sure how
much I will produce right now as I am a full time student. I have
a lot to say, but I don't know how interesting that can be to whomever might read
this. I call the blog the Ramen Chef because I am indeed the best .99 cent chef
that cooks those delectable noodles the best way possible. However, that really
has nothing to do with what I hope to blog about. I've recently been to Japan,
love theology, philosophy, current events pertaining to the Middle East, and
read from Time, the Washington Post, and multiple blogs online.