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Friday, December 30, 2011

29 December

29 December
A birthday is hailed
from the future
by its inscriptions.
It is not of one’s choosing
nor does it belong to anyone
neither decision nor possession.

A birthday is recognised
only in retrospect
by its traces.
Like clockwork it turns
as if invited from the past
to announce yet again
—arrival or departure? 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Repetition and Habit, 'Merry Christmas!', Demand and Response

Once again we greet and gift to those we love dearly, to others whom we may love but maybe not as dearly, and also to some whom, by choice or otherwise, we simply put up with, ‘Merry Christmas!’ Is this not, one wonders, an affirmation, a manifestation, an attestation, or a promise, a commitment—a profession or performative declaration of faith, or ‘good faith’ at any rate, without which there is no possibility for hospitality, relationality, fidelity, trust, hope, and love? And yet again, for better or worse, we celebrate (how might this honour or fulfil?) the promise of peace and joy by repeating, as if by force of sheer habit (or expectation?), what we have done before, over-imbibing, over-ingesting, over-indulging. 

Repetition and habit seem to mark this event called ‘Christmas’—I’m not making a derisive statement. It would appear, then, that repetition and habit impose a demand. Yet, without repetition and habit how may any demand be met or refused? It would appear, then, that repetition and habit equally invite a response.

I’ve shared this song before and shall share it again. 'Merry Christmas!'

I know everything changes
Yeah, it's strange how time marches on
Maybe there'll be some time in the future
Oh, tell me I'm not wrong

Oh, if I could stop time
It would be a frozen moment just around Christmas
When all of mankind reveals its truest potential
And there is sympathy for the suffering
Yes, there is sympathy for those who are suffering

And the world embraces peace and love and mercy
Instead of power and fear
And as sure as I'm standing here
I swear it really does appear that a change comes over us
Yes, some kind of change comes over us

And it's glimpsed for one shining moment
And this change feels like a change that's real
But then it passes along with the season
And then we just go back to the way we were
Yes, we just go back to the way we were

Say it isn't so
Tell me I'm not just a dreamer
I'm talking with a friend and he knows how it ends
He says it's easier, that's just the way we are
That's human nature and that's just the way we are
Oh, say it isn't so!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A serene gaze. 'She was the kindest, most benevolent person I've ever known'

Have been working on the autoethnographic essay which reflects on my experience as a postcolonial 'Western Buddhist' practitioner-scholar who is moving in the interstitial spaces of 'East' and 'West', religion and academia, to bring my sacred and scholarly pursuits into a mutually supportive relationship. This is something I wrote a week ago. For whatever reason, thoughts about my late paternal grandmother keep coming up when I work on the paper. She died 15 years ago, I think, around this time of the month; gosh, I don't even know the exact date, but I remember that it was during the festive season, and very close to my birthday which is coming up shortly after Christmas. It wasn't a happy birthday. So this is perhaps a good time to pay my respect. While I don't know what to make of past lives and rebirths, I've come to believe that the karmic merits, however they work out, which have brought me to Buddhism are the blessings she had bequeathed, a gift difficult to refuse. Thanks, grandma. With boundless love and gratitude.

A serene gaze
‘Buddhism’, he had thought, was merely a part of his cultural heritage as a third generation Chinese migrant in Singapore. He still recalls the smell of burning incense in his grandmother’s flat, wafting from an altar where a figure of Kuanyin sits amongst offerings of fruit and rice cake, watching over him with an ever serene gaze as he chucks yet another tantrum after losing a game to his elder brother. ‘She was the kindest, most benevolent person I’ve ever known’, he often tells his partner. ‘She’ll sometimes slip us small amounts of money together with a small amulet she got from the temple for our blessings.’ He always accepted the gift even though he had learnt at the Christian primary school he attended that those things were superstitious practices of misguided beliefs. It was a gift difficult to refuse, not least because of the monetary incentive. Their grandmother’s was where the extended family gathered most Friday evenings; while the adults chatted about adult stuff, he and his cousins would re-enact with what props they could conjure from household items, scenes from the mythical worlds of Journey to the West and Shaolin kungfu films. If he had known anything about this ‘cultural thing’ he inherited, it was a world of imagination and fun, of fond memories but also grief. 

The monks have started their chants again
A singsong litany 
of words he does not understand
The night closes in hot and humid

His sits cross-legged, head bowed
A sigh
that greets the plumes of incense smoke
Hanging heavy in the air

A farewell no one wanted
A departure not expected
This is a wake 
He must stay awake

‘She was the kindest, most benevolent person I’ve ever known’
he often tells his partner

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Assalamu alaikum, Mr Hitchens

"Words are things; and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions think."

A Muslim friend posted these words on Facebook this morning. I wonder if Christopher Hitchens would agree with them, for he did dedicate his life to writing many words, speaking about a great deal many things to encourage people to think. Yet, my Buddhist and academic beliefs teach me that in making people think, words can easily solidify a belief in the capacity of thought to know what is beyond its limits, a belief that fails to see how it is itself a belief, how it is an act of faith--or at the very least, a 'wrong view'. 

Mr Hitchens wrote many words, and spoke about a great deal many things. Very often his words speak of hate. 

For a lot of people, their first love is what they'll always remember. For me it's always been the first hate, and I think that hatred, though it provides often rather junky energy, is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning and keeping you going. If you don't let it get out of hand, it can be canalized into writing... I think it should be (religion) treated with ridicule and hatred and contempt. And I claim that right.
Yes, it is unfair to highlight these quotes out of the broader context of his work. But with the pervasiveness of Google and what not, such is reality today. These words are the results of his actions of mind, body, and speech. The effects of these actions reverberate beyond what Mr Hitchens himself could foresee. This is what I've learnt in Buddhism about Right Speech. This is what I've learnt from the Dharma, this is what I've learnt about karma: heedfulness and responsibility. I claim this right.

Mr Hitchens' words are read by thousands, possibly millions. I cannot say what thoughts his words would prompt in others. But it would appear that he was, as his words themselves proclaim, prompted by anger and hate. Now he is gone. But he is not silenced, because his words remain. The millions he spoke hatefully against, however, remain silent. I'm thinking of those 'religious folks' (including, of course, those Buddhists he criticised) who do not have the opportunity or privilege to lead the life he led, those countless people living under abject conditions whose faith (stupid and misguided as Mr Hitchens might think) is their only horizon of hope. I cannot imagine how it is like to live the lives they lead, just as I cannot imagine how it is like to wake up angry every morning. 

Mr Hitchens, you wrote many words, and you spoke about a great deal many things. Very often your words speak of hate. Mr Hitchens, I hope you did not depart in anger. It is likely you would not accept this, but nevertheless I'm tempted to say, and not without sincerity, 'Assalamu alaikum, Mr Hitchens. Peace be with you.'

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Where from

Yayoi Kusama: Gleaming Lights of the Soul.

where from
as if outside or wholly other;
not of time but space
as movement
movements open space.

ebb, flow;
the “where from” of this
perceived reality
—or vanishing point?

               Of infinite speed
                  and indefinite grace;
                      "Time", they say, 
                     "is out of joint".     
                                                             Heedful in uncertainty. Attentive in dream.
                              These burdens.
                              These refuges.
                             This very life.

                        A wait.

                 A wake.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Vox populi, (vox Dei?)...

Image source: Guardian
(Source: Guardian, Action Press/Rex Features)

Wrote this post in my other blog (link above). It picks up on what I discussed in the previous post on Phil Spector.

Really, really enjoyed this interview with Alan Moore about how the Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta has been adopted by Occupy protestors and other popular movements. A wonderful concluding paragraph about how the mask (and by extension those popular movements which have adopted it) represents:
...Vox populi. "Voice of the people. And I think that if the mask stands for anything, in the current context, that is what it stands for. This is the people. That mysterious entity that is evoked so often – this is the people."
The idea of Vox populi has of course been appropriated and misused by the media/entertainment industry as 'vox pops', that sort of clichéd man on the street interview/soundbites sequence that is so common in contemporary news programs. Here's a funny video that illustrates how clichéd vox pops have become:

But in light of what Moore says, how may we reclaim the term, how may reclaim the voice of the people?

My partner reminded me last night that the phrase 'Vox populi' was originally coupled with 'vox Dei': Vox populi, vox Dei. Why not? Why not revive the second part of the phrase... 'the voice of God'? The voice of the people, the voice of God. If the popular uprisings that are taking place around the world today--from Wall St to Tahir Square--indicate a certain cosmopolitan awakening in consciousness, and if some of the people participating in this awakening are doing so in honour of the sacred, are giving themselves over in the name of the sacred, then, as a gesture of solidarity, to take a collective stance against oppression, why not entertain the possibility that the voice of the people may indeed echo the voice of God? Or better (since I'm not arguing for a monotheistic entity as such), what if we consider what John Lennon wrote in the song 'God': 'God is a concept by which we measure our pain'? God under erasure, as it is said in deconstructive philosophy?

Vox populi, vox Dei . The voice of the people, the voice of God.