Blue and black, white and gold? The parable of the elephant, witness testimony, and the relationship of artist and critic.

Jardim Zoológico de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil. Source: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
Jardim Zoológico de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil. Source: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

One summer in my childhood I was forced to attend a Buddhist camp at a monastery where we woke up at the crack of dawn to do shaolin and meditate, ate vegetarian, prayed our gratitude to everyone we knew and ever met before we could eat said vegetarian food, and had to sit in uncomfortable cross-legged positions while listening to lectures.

There was one lecture I remember when a monk told us the parable of four blind men who came upon an elephant, felt it, and were describing the elephant based on what they were perceiving. I’m totally paraphrasing the details here, based on memory, but the point remains the same. One blind man came upon the elephant’s trunk, another the belly, another the leg, and another the tail, and each one concluded matter-of-factly about the whole character of the elephant based on that one part they were feeling. The elephant is long and cylindrical… No, are you crazy? The elephant is flat and wide… No, no, the elephant is like a column or pillar…

Continue reading “Blue and black, white and gold? The parable of the elephant, witness testimony, and the relationship of artist and critic.”

Pagan Practices and Chinese Folk Religions

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Left image of pagan Wheel of the Year from Biblical Connection.

Right image of a Taoist Fu sigil.

I don’t have educational degrees that would qualify me to write about any of this, so please understand that I am writing my observations within that non-expert context. Lately I’ve been fascinated with pagan and neopagan belief systems, mostly for how strikingly similar paganism is to Chinese Taoist-based folk religion.

Here’s how I understand paganism in context: Back in the day across Europe, Abrahamic religions rose to dominance, became institutionalized, and began setting up centralized bodies of authority that often started in the cities and spread its influence from there. At the fringes of the countryside, however, pagan faiths endured among the minority. These pagan faiths were polytheistic, though pantheist, strongly nature-based, and because they believed that everything was connected, it was thought that certain herbs, incantations of words, ritualistic conduct, and representations of elements could be harnessed to manifest intentions–in other words, magic exists.

Replace a few specifics from the previous paragraph and you could apply it to the relationship between Confucianism (and to a great extent Buddhism) and Chinese folk religions. These folk religions were looked upon in the same way pagan faiths were looked upon by the Christians. Those who practice pagan/neo-pagan religions (like Wicca, Druidism, Heathenry, or some form of pagan reconstructionism) tend to keep their faiths concealed or strictly private. That’s less of an issue among those who practice Chinese folk religions, and so you’ll see altars set up in Chinese businesses that still pay homage to the faiths of their [often agricultural] ancestors. However, like what pagans experience, those who still practice Chinese folk religions are considered fringe.

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What Buddhism Says About Magic

I met the Venerable Sheng-Yen, a Buddhist monk, teacher, and scholar, when I was too young and too immature to have appreciated the encounter. For that I will always be regretful for not being more open and receptive when I had the chance. Here, though, the Internet is a wonderful thing. Apparently, many of Ven. Sheng-Yen’s lectures have been recorded and posted onto YouTube. The lectures are in Mandarin Chinese, but there’s English subtitles. The one of highest interest to those in tarot practice might be what the Shi Fu had to say about magic, the supernatural, and psychic workings.

I highly recommend watching the video in the entirety, but if you can’t I’ll summarize.

A question is presented to the Shi Fu (Shi Fu is the honorific we use to refer to any master teacher): What are his thoughts on supernatural powers (in other words, magical practice or working with spiritual energies) and does he think it really exists?

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The Parable Sutra: Nihilist Twist on Noah’s Ark?

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Sutras are Buddhist texts that memorialize a particular teaching, not unlike Sunday school parables (which I got big doses of as a kid: Bible Study classes in some offshoot wing of a church, playing tag or hide-and-seek in said church, and daring one another to utter H-E-double-hockey-sticks in God’s house will forever be ingrained in my memory). Recently I got into reading sutras and came across one that I felt compelled to illustrate. In jest, I tell people this is the kind of bedtime story I’d tell my kid if I had one. Here’s how it goes:

Continue reading “The Parable Sutra: Nihilist Twist on Noah’s Ark?”