Temple Grandin and McDonald's [en]

Épiphanie [en]

The Lord of the Rings [en]

I have just finished reading The Lord of the Rings. If I remember correctly, this must be my fourth or fifth attempt to read the books. The furthest I have reached seems to be the very first pages of the third book, if my bookmark does not lie. My memory of those pages read many years ago has dimmed to near to nothingness.

I am one of the many people for whom the film saved the books. I had given up on reading them.

I am coming to the conclusion that The Lord of the Rings is not a book most enjoyed when first read. On the first reading, one is swamped with strange names and places, riddles and comments on the unfamiliar lore and history of Middle-earth. (Information overload, anyone?) The story unfolds slowly, too slowly, and one loses track of the complex plot and dozes off to sleep amidst poetic descriptions of beautiful land or fair deeds.

The Lord of the Rings seems written for those already familiar with a marvellously complex world Tolkien created. In any case, some familiarity with the world in question seems required to thoroughly enjoy the epic.

The film did not put me to sleep. They gave me a reasonably clear view of the plot, allowing me to dive into the books and enjoy the tale being told without feeling too lost. I am looking forward to reading the books again. But counting my previous attempts, it really took me hundreds of pages to learn to enjoy Tolkien.

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Games People Play: Alcoholic/Addict [en]

Alcoholism can be analyzed through social games theory, which leads to the interesting realization that most support groups (like AA) encourage alcoholics to play another role in the game (Rescuer instead of Victim), and don’t actually help the alcoholic to pull out of the game and learn to relate to people differently.

If you have never heard of Eric Berne or his best-selling Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships I strongly encourage you to lay your hands on this book, or at least scoot off to this site, which briefly presents some important social games.

Games are played to varying degrees, and with consequences of varying severity (from benign to lethal):

  1. A First-Degree Game is one which is socially acceptable in the agent’s circle.
  2. A Second-Degree Game is one from which no permanent irremediable damage arises, but which the players would rather conceal from the public.
  3. A Third-Degree Game is one which is played for keeps, and which ends in the surgery, the courtroom or the morgue.

Coming back to the game of ‘Alcoholic’, here is the complete quote concerning the role of support groups in continuing to play the game:

There are a variety of organizations involved in ‘Alcoholic’, some of them national or even international in scope, others local. Many of them publish rules for the game. Nearly all of them explain how to play the role of Alcoholic: take a drink before breakfast, spend money allotted for other purposes, etc. They also explain the function of the Rescuer. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, continues playing the actual game but concentrates on inducing the Alcoholic to take the role of Rescuer. Former Alcoholics are preferred because they know how the game goes, and hence are better qualified to play the supporting role than people who have never played before. Cases have been reported of a chapter of A.A. running out of Alcoholics to work on; whereupon the members resumed drinking, since there was no other way to continue the game in the absence of people to rescue.

There are also organizations devoted to improving the lot of the other players. Some put pressure on the spouses to shift their roles from Persecutor to Rescuer. The one which seems the closest to the theoretical ideal of treatment deals with teen-age offspring of alcoholics; these young people are encouraged to break away from the game itself, rather than merely shift roles.

The psychological cure of an alcoholic also lies in getting him to stop playing the game altogether, rather than simply change from one role to another. In some cases this is feasible, although it is a difficult task to find something else as interesting to the Alcoholic as continuing his game. Since he is classicly afraid of intimacy, the substitute may have to be another game rather than a game-free relationship. Often so-called cured alcoholics are not very stimulating company socially, and possibly they feel a lack of excitement in their lives and are continually tempted to get back to their old ways. The criterion of ‘game cure’ is that the former Alcoholic should be able to drink socially without putting himself in jeopardy. The usual ‘total abstinence’ cure will not satisfy the game analyst.

Both quotes: Eric Berne, Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships

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Harry Potter, Book 5 [en]

The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery [en]

Many people interested in Japan or the martial arts have certainly read Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Fewer are those who have equally read Yamada’s very interesting article titled The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery (Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 2001, 28/1-2).

Before reading Yamada’s article, I had always taken Herrigel’s account pretty much at face value. When you consider the impact of Herrigel’s book on our understanding and interpretation of martial arts, what Yamada puts forth will definitely make one think.

Eugen Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery” has been widely read as a study of Japanese culture. By reconsidering and reorganizing Herrigel’s text and related materials, however, this paper clarifies the mythical nature of “Zen in the Art of Archery” and the process by which this myth has been generated. This paper first gives a brief history of Japanese archery and places the period at which Herrigel studied Japanese archery within that time frame. Next, it summarizes the life of Herrigel’s teacher, Awa Kenzo. At the time Herrigel began learning the skill, Awa was just beginning to formulate his own unique ideas based on personal spiritual experiences. Awa himself had no experience in Zen nor did he unconditionally approve of Zen. By contrast, Herrigel came to Japan in search of Zen and chose Japanese archery as a method through which to approach it. The paper goes on to critically analyze two important spiritual episodes in “Zen and the Art of Archery.” What becomes clear through this analysis is the serious language barrier existing between Awa and Herrigel. The testimony of the interpreter, as well as other evidence, supports the fact that the complex spiritual episodes related in the book occurred either when there was no interpreter present, or were misinterpreted by Herrigel via the interpreter’s intentionally liberal translations. Added to this phenomenon of misunderstanding, whether only coincidental or born out of mistaken interpretation, was the personal desire of Herrigel to pursue things Zen. Out of the above circumstances was born the myth of “Zen in the Art of Archery.”

Yamada Shoji, The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery (Abstract)

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Harry Potter in Marathi! [en]

The first book of the Harry Potter series has been translated into Marathi.

I’m really keeping an eye open for a Hindi translation. I promise I’ll buy it and try to read it if it is published in Hindi. Reading a book you know and like in a foreign language you are learning is a great way to improve your skills: it makes you read a lot, and it’s not as discouraging as reading an unknown text: you know the story already, so you’re not reaching for the dictionary at every line.

[via The Leaky Cauldron]

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Non-Religious Buddhism (Batchelor, closing words) [en]

How to create an authentic community, which provides a sound basis for the emergence of a culture while optimizing individual freedom, may be the single most important question facing those practicing the dharma today.

One of the strengths of religious Buddhism is its ability to respond unambiguously to this question through continued establishment of hierarchic institutions which have weathered centuries of turmoil and change. While such institutions may provide excellent settings for sustained training in meditation and refection, it is questionable whether they alone can provide a sufficient basis for the creation of a contemporary culture of awakening. The democratic and agnostic imperatives of the secular world demand not another Buddhist Church, but an individuated community, where creative imagination and social engagement are valued as highly as philosophic reflection and meditative attainment.

An agnostic Buddhist vision of a culture of awakening will inevitably challenge many of the time-honored roles of religious Buddhism. No longer will it see the role of Buddhism as providing pseudoscientific authority on subjects such as cosmology, biology, and consciousness as it did in prescientific Asian cultures. Nor will it see its role as offering consolating assurances of a better afterlife by living in accord with the worldview of karma and rebirth. Rather than the pessimistic Indian doctrine of temporal degeneration, it will emphasize the freedom and responsibility to create a more awakened and compassionate society on this earth. Instead of authoritarian, monolithic institutions, it could imagine a decentralized tapestry of small-scale, autonomous communities of awakening. Instead of a mystical religious movement ruled by autocratic leaders, it would foresee a deep agnostic, secular culture founded on friendships and governed by collaboration.

Stephen Batchelor, in Buddhism Without Beliefs, pp. 114-115 [end of book]

[emphasis mine]

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Freedom (Batchelor) [en]

Instead of creatively realizing their freedoms, many choose the unreflective conformism dictated by television, indulgence in mass-consumerism, or numbing their feelings of alienation and anguish with drugs. In theory, freedom may be held in high regard; in practice it is experienced as a dizzying loss of meaning and direction.

Part of the appeal of any religious orthodoxy lies in its preserving a secure, structured, and purposeful vision of life, which stands in stark opposition to the insecurity, disorder, and aimlessness of contemporary society. In offering such a refuge, traditional forms of Buddhism provide a solid basis for the ethical, meditative, and philosophical values conducive to awakening. Yet they tend to be wary of participating in a translation of this liberating vision into a culture of awakening that addresses the specific anguish of the contemporary world. Preservation of the known and tested is preferable to the agony of imagination, where we are forced to risk that hazardous leap into the dark.

Stephen Batchelor, in Buddhism Without Beliefs, p. 110

[emphasis mine]

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Self as Narrative (Batchelor) [en]

This passage reminded me of one of my French linguistic classes a couple of years ago. We were talking about autobiography—and to what extent our lives are constructed. Reflecting on our personal history is a way to give meaning to it, thus creating the narrative of our life.

I find it interesting how Batchelor puts forth the contingency of who we are. We often spend time thinking or worrying about the “determined vs. acquired” debate: am I something determined from the start, or am I a blank slate on which life and experiences have imprinted something? I think it is incomplete to put the question so simply: we are also what we make ourselves, at the same time cause and consequence—and this is an important point in the exerpt reproduced below.

And we too are impressions left by something that used to be here. We have been created, molded, formed by a bewildering matrix of contingencies that have preceded us. From the patterning of the DNA derived from our parents to the firing of the hundred billion neurons in our brains to the cultural and historical conditioning of the twentieth century to the education and upbringing given us to all the experiences we have ever had and choices we have ever made: these have conspired to configure the unique trajectory that culminates in this present moment. What is here now is the unrepeatable impression left by all of this, which we call “me”. Yet so vivid and startling is this image that we confuse what is a mere impression for something that exists independently of what formed it.

So what are we but the story we keep repeating, editing, censoring, and embellishing in our heads? The self is not like the hero of a B-movie, who remains unaffected by the storms of passion and intrigue that swirl around him from the opening credits to the end. The self is more akin to the complex and ambiguous characters who emerge, develop, and suffer across the pages of a novel. There is nothing thinglike about me at all. I am more like an unfolding narrative.

As we become aware of this, we can begin to assume greater responsibility for the course of our lives. Instead of clinging to habitual behavior and routines as a means to secure this sense of self, we realize the freedom to create who we are. Instead of being bewitched by impressions, we start to create them. Instead of taking ourselves so seriously, we discover the playful irony of a story that has never been told in quite this way before.

Stephen Batchelor, in Buddhism Without Beliefs, pp. 82-83

[emphasis mine]

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