Zen Talk: What’s the Point of Seeking to Understand?

“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

Ha! That sucks. Sort of. It’s also nice to know. Our understanding of something and something being so are independent of one another. Whether or not you know or don’t know, nothing different is happening outside of your head about what you do or don’t know. A bizarre separation of seemingly related things.

Does that make you want to know more or make you realize the futility of learning more? Presumably there’s a separate issue at hand here, which is, what do you do with that knowledge once you have it? Sure, if you don’t do anything with what you understand then that understanding can’t affect anything. However, use your knowledge for the benefit of others and things will no longer be as they are.

What do you think about this quote or my thoughts on it?

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Zen Talk: For How Long Will I Be a Fool?

He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.

– famous Chinese proverb

I consider myself to be a very curious fellow. I have lots of questions, and I’m always reading a dozen books and learning whatever I can. Does that make me a life-long fool or a life-long learner? Maybe both.

I accept that there is tons that I don’t know and tons I will never know. Compared to what there is to know, I know nothing. I feel very much like Socrates in that fashion – no, not like a brilliant philosopher, but like Socrates claimed he felt: as if he knew nothing and that was all he knew for sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I know plenty, but that plenty is plenty of facts about certain subjects that I fancy myself savvy in. Bigger picture, though, and bigger issue, I think that I know so little that it’s disturbing. That doesn’t stop me from consuming whatever knowledge I can with a voracious appetite, but it is somewhat humbling to realize that I will never know as much as I would like.

Then again, I know certain things that I wish I didn’t – that I truly wish I had no knowledge of. And that’s, perhaps, more disturbing still: to know that I would rather remain in absolute ignorance until the day I died than to know, when I value knowing and knowledge so highly.

Life-long fool it is, I suppose.

What do you think about this quote?

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Zen Talk: Getting What We Need to Get What We Need

“When you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough. When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much.” – Fen-Yang

I love the extremes provided in this quote, considering that it comes from a religion and school of thought so steeped in moderation. But in essence, isn’t it telling us the value of moderation?

In the first place, these aren’t extremes. They are steps one shy of extremes. That is, when a thousand books of scripture are not enough, we have not reached the extreme we desire. Will more do it? Similarly, when we have achieved understanding, one word is too much, but the extreme – not a single word – is that actually going to be the right path?

In short, no words and all the words are never the solutions because in a certain mental state, neither has the value we need it to have. Scripture is always there, but understanding is not about the scripture. It is about us – what is within us. When we are deluded and full of doubt we have nothing, but when we understand we need nothing. But we always know something in either state and can’t forget to separate the two – knowledge and understanding – in order to achieve the latter and appreciate the former.

When we have buried ourselves in our books of faith and still struggle, it is important to remember that the struggle is within us and not about the knowledge and the book and the faith and the scripture. Likewise, when we have achieved understanding with calm and certitude we cannot neglect that which now has value to offer us because we are not looking to it for things that are not about it. We have looked to ourselves and found what we needed.

What do you think about this quote? What does it make you think about?

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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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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.”