Zen Talk: Sayings of Buddha about Pleasure

“When a person long absent from home returns safely from afar, relatives, friends and well-wishers rejoice at his return. In the same way, when one who has done good is gone from this world to the beyond, his good deeds receive him, like relatives receiving a returning loved one.”

This is from the Dhammapada, the sayings of Buddha.

Though it is not actually about travel, the opening lines reminded me (for obvious reasons) about traveling and since I am away this weekend, I thought it was appropriate. I’m off to L.A. for Labor Day Weekend (no real connection other than having Monday off really). Do you have any good plans for Labor Day Weekend?

What do you think about this saying of Buddha? Do you have a favorite Buddhist saying? Share it with us.

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Religion in the News: The Dead Sea Scrolls, One of the Greatest Finds of All Time, Are Coming to the Internet

I know, it’s exciting, but we’ve all go to keep our pants on.

Okay, okay. This may not be as exciting to some of you as it is to me, but this is a really big deal.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 in caves above the Dead Sea by a Bedoin, are perhaps one of the most amazing discoveries of all time. Not only are they the oldest Hebrew copies available of the books of the Bible (except the book of Esther) but they contain numerous other writings that tell us all about a fascinating, ascetic, Jewish sect from the first century of the Common Era (the time of Jesus, in case you were wondering).

This find and the information derived from it have had a profound impact on scholarship since its discovery, seriously affecting our understanding of Judaism in this period, arguably shedding light on earliest Christian theology, general history, biblical studies and so much more.

However, there’s always been a debate about who should have access to the scrolls, both because of scholarly dibs but also because of the difficulty of preserving the scrolls and keeping them intact. Finally, that problem is solved.

Now all scholars will be able to look at the Dead Sea Scrolls in their original form on the internet, opening up the world of scholarship to all who may wish to partake. This project, in my eyes, is similar to others that seek to put very old materials on the internet that are otherwise only available in particular archives (EEBO, SSB, etc.) so that everyone who wants to browse the originals can do so.

The decentralization and dissemination of knowledge is awesome and I, for one, frickin’ love it. The more people who have access to more information, the better our world becomes. I say, great call putting the Dead Sea Scrolls online.

What are your thoughts on the dissemination of knowledge? Have you ever read parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls or are you familiar with the Qumran sect? Do you think this will matter?

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Irvine Welsh’s Glue, Though Long, is a Fascinating Character Piece

This was a crazy long book – nearly 500 pages. Now, 500 pages is often manageable, no problem, but these 500 pages are all written in varying Scottish accents. It’s an incredible feat, I think, that Welsh can write like this so accurately and consistently, but good lord can it be taxing to read. Certainly it makes the reader feel like he’s more a part of the story and makes the entire situation more tangible but that’s often at the expense of getting through the book in a reasonable amount of time.

I’ve read a lot of Irvine Welsh books, but this is the only one I ever started 5 times over the course of as many years. This last time, however, I was determined to push through the beginning and make it into the meat. And it was worth it.

The book is about 4 friends, and in each of four decades, the 70s when they are about 6, 80s when they’re in their teens, and the 90s when they’re in their mid-20s, we get a chapter from the perspective of each of these four friends. The fourth section, in 2000, is written differently, introducing new characters and bringing it all back around in a way I never expected. It’s a fascinating way to write a book, and I really enjoyed reading it once I understood what was happening and everything fell into a rhythm.

It’s hard, for a long time, to see the plot of this book. Honestly, I don’t know that the plot really registered with me until the end. Mostly, I considered it to be a character piece that told the tale of the lives of these four friends, their trials and travails growing up lower-class in Edinburgh. By the end, though, you realize that there was a story going on underneath, even if it wasn’t presented in standard plot, rising action, climax, falling action fashion.

All in all, it was very well done, and like I said, though long, quite good. If you’ve never read any Welsh I’d recommend starting elsewhere (classic Trainspotting perhaps?) and if you love his stuff then I’d give this one a ride and see if you can’t get your hole.

Have you read it? What’d you think? Wanna get your own copy of Glue? What’s your favorite Irvine Welsh book?

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A Joke: Finkelstein and Jesus

Jesus was wandering around Jerusalem when he decided that he really needed a new robe.

After looking around for a while, he saw a sign for Finkelstein, the Tailor.  So, Jesus went in and made the necessary arrangements to have Finkelstein prepare a new robe for him. A few days later, when the robe was finished, Jesus tried it on and it was a perfect fit!

He asked how much he owed. Finkelstein brushed him off: ‘No , no, no, for the Son of God? There’s no charge! However, may I ask for a small favor? Whenever you give a sermon, perhaps you could just mention that your nice new robe was made by Finkelstein, the Tailor?’

Jesus readily agreed and as promised, extolled the virtues of his Finkelstein robe whenever he spoke to the masses.

A few months later, while Jesus was again walking through Jerusalem, he happened to walk past Finkelstein’s shop and noted a huge line of people waiting for Finkelstein’s robes.

He pushed his way through the crowd to speak to him and as soon as Finkelstein spotted him he said: ‘Jesus, Jesus, look what you’ve done for my business! Would you consider a partnership ?’

‘Certainly,’ replied Jesus. ‘Jesus & Finkelstein it is.’

‘Oh, no, no,’ said Finkelstein. ‘Finkelstein & Jesus. After all, I am the craftsman.’
The two of them debated this for some time.

Their discussion was long and spirited, but ultimately fruitful — and they finally came up with a mutually acceptable compromise.
A few days later, a new sign went up over Finkelstein’s shop:

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Around the World Pic of the Day: Sacrificial Temple We Built at the Beach

Our Very Own Sacrificial Alter!

Our Very Own Sacrificial Altar!

I love building sand-castles – always have. When I was a little boy, my dad taught me the art of the drip castle. Later, I moved onto other things, like building my very own sacrificial altars out of sand. Hooray!

This sacrificial alter was constructed on the Jersey Shore, near a town called Tom’s River. Though I’m not in the picture (I’m taking it) my friends and I did build this great temple together, replete with wall, mote, and sacrificial altar in the center. On it, we put little sand crabs (though we didn’t kill them or eat their hearts believing that they would give us strength – or abilities to burrow into the sand with great success).

To be fair, unlike many of the other Around the World pics of me at religious sites, this one is not frequented by pilgrims and I daresay it may no longer be standing, destroyed by the conquering armies of generations (read: tides for the last three years). However, it’s glory will always be preserved by this photo.

On an interesting side note, I did spend that entire evening debating the fine points of a man’s theology since he insisted on screaming it to everyone on the boardwalk.

Have you ever been to the Jersey Shore? What’d you think? Get stuck by any needles while you were there?

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Al Gore and Global Warming Lambasted in “Manbearpig,” South Park episode 1006

“Look, we didn’t plan on a freak river flood. God must really want those kids dead,” a rescue worker says when the boys get trapped in a cave that’s flooding because Al Gore is nuts. I love people’s attribution of bad things to God – especially when it comes to dead children.

This episode, released shortly after An Inconvenient Truth, makes fun of Al Gore for his desperation to have the spotlight turned on him and to discuss global warming until he’s blue in the face. The creation of Manbearpig, Al Gore’s made-up global terror that must be stopped, is obviously equivalent to global warming (in case you missed that) and the lines he utters at the end really drive the point home.

My feelings on global warming aside, I would like to say that Al Gore has a pretty good sense of humor about some things. First, his episode of Saturday Night Live after he lost the 2000 election was great, especially considering that it guest-starred Phish, and when he did an episode of 30 Rock, it was pretty funny how he left under the guise of hearing a whale somewhere calling for help. Good-natured fellow, it seems.

However, this episode makes him look like a loony and it’s pretty funny to boot. Read about another South Park episode that really tears into global warming.

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Quran Day: The Story of Adam and the Angels in The Cow 30-39

The Quran and the Bible – Influence, Harmony and History

I loved reading this section, but as many of you are probably figuring out, I love to talk about the Quran’s relationship to the Bible.

On a basic level, reading Genesis 2-3 alongside these verses provides a great comparison of two texts telling the same (but a different) story. Next, you get to extrapolate to a comparison of Judaism and Christianity v. Islam based on their respective texts, all the while wondering to what degree the Quran is influenced by the actual biblical story or by the people who believe in the biblical story (i.e. Christians and Jews). And then you have to wonder what stage of their religious development those Christians and Jews were at; what I mean is that Christians and Jews didn’t just believe the biblical story as is (by the first to sixth centuries CE) but had all sorts of theological interpretations and alternate understandings by the rise of Islam – some which are more visible and some less in the Quranic text. So where are the influences coming from and how!?

That I find this ridiculously fun is like lifting up my dress to reveal my nerdiness, but I think that religious interplay and influence between peoples and their texts is the bees’ knees – one of the coolest and most fascinating things to study.

So what do I have to say about these verses then…

I wonder why the angels are such a large part of the story of the creation of man. Admittedly, it adds a fascinating element if one knows enough about “angelology.” The angels here reflect a common theme whereby angels are jealous of men, because men sin and don’t worship God constantly as angels do yet are still given so much by way of paradise (Garden) and forgiveness/mercy and access to Heaven. These knowledgeless angels are not unexpected – Angels always seem to be simple peons of God who do what they’re supposed to not because they should but because it would never occur to them to do otherwise.

Some interesting contrasts with the biblical story are that no particular tree is mentioned at this point in the Quran (is it later?). Plus, there’s only one tree. The Garden of Eden in the Bible had two forbidden trees (Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Adam and Eve ate from, and the Tree of Life, which gave immortality). It stands to reason that God would not want Adam and Eve to eat from those trees (all-knowing and immortal people could be problematic – though in the Quran God gives knowledge of reality and all things before the tree scene!) but in the Quran we have no reason for this tree being a no-no. It’s simply an injunction that Adam cannot eat from a certain tree. Why? What does this teach more pointedly that the Bible does not? Obedience?

Also, the biblical story doesn’t have Satan as the tempter. Sure, Christians will tell you that the snake was Satan, but as you may have learned with me on Fun with the Bible day, we must believe the Bible for what it says and not what we want it to say. There is no Satan in the biblical story of creation – only a snake and the original author intended that this be a snake. I imagine that the story, by the composition of the Quran, was long since one with Satan and not a snake and that is why we have what we have here.

I also find this element of male-female antagonism fascinating. Is this etiological (that is, a story about history meant to explain the present)? Why do men and women not get along? As a punishment from God when they ate from the wrong tree and were kicked out of the Garden, of course. Fortunately, God only gives this punishment for a specific time period, a luxury the biblical reader was not privy to.

Really fascinating things here and so much I just can’t get to!

Questions and Other Posts

What did you notice in these verses? What did I leave out when comparing this passage to the Bible? What do you think of the theological elements in these verses? Please feel free to answer the other questions I’ve posed above.

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The Cow 30-39

30. Remember, when your Lord said to the angels: “I have to place a trustee on the earth,” they said: “Will You place one there who would create disorder and shed blood, while we intone Your litanies and sanctify Your name?” And God said: “I know what you do not know.” 31. Then He gave Adam knowledge of the nature and reality of all things and every thing, and set them before the angels and said: “Tell Me the names of these if you are truthful.” 32. And they said: “Glory to You (O Lord), knowledge we have none except what You have given us, for You are all-knowing and all-wise.” 33. Then He said to Adam: “Convey to them their names.” And when he had told them, God said: “Did I not tell you that I know the unknown of the heavens and the earth, and I know what you disclose and know what you hide?” 34. Remember, when We asked the angels to bow in homage to Adam, they all bowed but Iblis, who disdained and turned insolent, and so became a disbeliever. 35. And We said to Adam: “Both you and your spouse live in the Garden, eat freely to your fill wherever you like, but approach not this tree or you will become transgressors. 36. But Satan tempted them and had them banished from the (happy) state they were in. And We said: “Go, one the antagonist of the other and live on the earth for a time ordained and fend for yourselves.” 37. Then his Lord sent commands to Adam and turned towards him: Indeed He is compassionate and kind. 38. And We said to them: “Go, all of you. When I send guidance, whoever follows it will neither have fear nor regret; 39. But those who deny and reject Our signs will belong to Hell, and there abide unchanged.”