Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BHAGAVAD GITA AS IT IS, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada


Some monk dude gave me this, and I've been curious about the Hare Krishnas ever since my hardcore days (anyone remember Shelter?), so I figured I'd give it a try.

First impression: Krishna is sort of like a Hindu Christ, and this book in many ways apes Christianity. I'm not a big fan of Christianity, and (big surprise) I'm already having ideological problems with this book.

The first and most serious problem I'm having so far is with the whole blind faith mandate. Prabhupada, the guy behind the version I'm reading, states in his introduction that "the person who is trying to understand the BHAGAVAD-GITA should [...] at least theoretically accept Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and with that submissive spirit we can understand," (page 7). Every time I've gotten into a conversation with a Christian, I've been told the same thing: don't rely on rational thought; you have to have faith, you have to believe. But if I'm supposed to blindly put my faith in something in order to understand it, how am I supposed to know what I should put my faith in? Most of the major religions want you to make a choice--you can't hedge your bets, you've got to choose just one. But which should I choose? Should I listen to the Christians and have faith in Christ, or should I listen to the Hare Krishnas and have faith in Krsna? Or what about the Muslims? Why shouldn't I have faith in Allah?

It's sort of a catch 22: you have to choose, but you can't think about your choice. Because if you really think about it, none of this stuff makes any sense. For a lot of people, intellect is a major tool in the choice-making process, but intellect is anathema to faith.

How do you make your choice then, if not with intellect, if not with some rational decision? Are you supposed to just intuitively feel that one religion is the right one? For me, so far, my intuition has always told me to trust my intellect, and my intellect has always told me that none of this stuff makes sense.

Another similarity I'm noticing between the BHAGAVAD-GITA and the Bible is that both books seem chock full of contradictions. In the Bible, which is comparatively a much larger work, the contradictions are chock-a-block. I'm only 70 pages into the BHAGAVAD-GITA so far (which is a little less than a tenth of the way through the book), but I've already come across a few contradictions in it, too. The one that stands out right now relates to compassion and willingness to kill.

See, the BHAGAVAD-GITA is set up like this: two opposing armies are on a battlefield, preparing for war. One army has God (Krsna) on it's side, working as a charioteer for the warrior Arjuna. Just before the start of the fight, Arjuna has Krsna drive him out to the middle of the battlefield, where he is struck by the fact that people he loves are in both armies, and family and friends are going to die no matter who wins. He tells Krsna he doesn't want to fight, and then Krsna lays the whole meaning of life, the universe, and everything else on him, which constitutes the bulk of the text. After that, Arjuna realizes it's his duty to fight, despite the fact that he'll be fighting with people he loves.

The contradictions come in because Arjuna's compassion, and his unwillingness to fight, are viewed as both a supreme virtue and also a sign of unworthiness. Krsna wasn't looking for just any random dude to deliver the universe's secrets to; he chose Arjuna, out of every living person on the planet at the time, because Arjuna was special. One of the reason's he was special, and worthy of Krsna's knowledge, is because of the ambivalence he feels when confronted with the notion of killing people from the opposite army. And yet he is given Krsna's sermon in part to provoke him to kill, because to not fight in the war is "degrading impotence" and a "petty weakness of heart" (page 67).

WTF?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Death Year

It's turning out to be a bumper year for death. Since my last post, two other people I knew have died. Both of them were acquaintances made through my last job: working as a groundskeeper for an apartment complex. The first death was a suicide. An old guy who lived in one of the apartments, who's wife had died the year before, found out he had cancer. He lay down in his bed and shot himself. I'd only seen him once since I left my last job. Normally he was a very friendly, chatty personality; the sort of fellow you liked having around, but also kind of dreaded seeing--he'd talk your ear off if you let him. The last time I saw him he walked right past me and didn't even seem to notice me; like he was lost in a haze. When I heard he'd killed himself, that last encounter took on a whole new meaning.

The other death was accidental. One of the boiler-room workers burned to death in his own home. He'd been scheduled to go in for knee surgery the next day. I don't know if his knee problems contributed to him not being able to escape the fire, but his death caught everybody by surprise. He was only in his 40s, and in good health other than his knee problems.

Also, yesterday I learned that author Howard Zinn died recently, and so did emcee Guru of Gangstarr. I haven't heard much about Zinn's death, but Guru's--which only happened Monday--has received decent publicity. He died at 43, from cancer. From his hospital bed, shortly before his death, he wrote a letter for the public, much of which has since been made available online. The letter seems like a bitter-sweet mix of gratitude for the life he's lived and for the friendship of his business partner Solar, and contemptuous furtherance of his desire to not be associated with DJ premier, the other half of Gangstarr. Interesting, and kind of sad, that he'd hold on to his grievance even at death's door.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Murdered Friend


Yesterday I got an email with a bunch of old photos from a childhood friend's birthday party like 20 years ago. In the photos me and my old friends are running rampant, fighting, wrestling, mouths open yelling, arms flung out wildly. The friend who originally posted the pictures did so because one of the kids in that group, who appears in the far left of the picture above, was murdered on March 16. Apparently he'd become a member of the SD chapter of one of the big 1%er biker gangs. He died of multiple stab wounds to the head, neck, and chest.

I've been in a funny state of mind since seeing those pictures, and learning about the murder. I drifted away from that group back in our early teens (when a lot of them started playing at being gangsters) and I hadn't heard anything about the murder victim since high school. Now that I've learned of his death, my mind is flooding with thoughts of those childhood times. I've been musing over the different paths we take, and how far from each other those paths take us.

It's stunning to think of the importance childhood choices have on our eventual fates. It's even more stunning when you think about how wild and ill-prepared for serious decisions we are as children. In the picture above you can see some of the kids flashing gang signs. We probably didn't even have any body hair yet, and already some of us were showing fascination with gangs. For my recently deceased friend, that fascination led to a lifestyle that resulted in his early death.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

spider


Yesterday, as I was eating lunch, a spider started building a web between the bench I was sitting on, and my head. At first I didn't notice at all--the spider had anchored one end of his web in my hair, behind my right ear, and I couldn't see it out of my peripheral vision. I did notice, sort of subconsciously, a very minor sensation on my right cheek once or twice, when the breeze blew and web tendrils dragged across my skin. Finally, with a larger gust, the spider's web bowed into the edge of my vision, and I saw the gossamer shine in the sun. It still didn't occupy a lot of my attention, I just sort of brushed it away. Then I felt something crawling on my neck. I batted at that with my hand, and caught a glimpse of the spider crawling along my upper arm, seeking shelter in the folds of my jacket. The spider started toward my face, and since I didn't want to risk a bite, I flicked it off of me. The wind blew again while the spider was airborn, and carried it a good seven or eight feet away. I saw it land on the bricks off to my right, a tiny little speck on the red.

The spider didn't move for a few moments, and I got up to look at it, hoping I hadn't hurt it. When I got near, I actually saw it lift its head to look up at me. It was such a tiny little thing--probably less than a half centimeter long--that the idea of it regarding me--so massive in comparison--made me wonder about the spider's thoughts. How would it's brain grapple with being confronted by another living thing so immense? What would go through my mind if I were face to face with some living thing as much larger than myself as I was to the spider? Is there even anything alive on earth that could match that scale?

The spider started crawling in little circles, as if to get his bearings. All his legs seemed to work fine, though he dragged his abdomen in a way that didn't seem very spider-like to me. He was an example of the type of spider we called "Jumping Wolfs" when I was a kid, and looked sort of like a very very tiny tarantula, his body stocky and hairy, his legs thick and blunt. I saw him lift his head to look at me a few more times as he circled his landing spot.

I went back to the bench and sat down. The spider seemed to watch me as I left, but I didn't really feel confident that he could see me at any distance. If you're that tiny, wouldn't your eyes also be set up for seeing things on a smaller scale?

But, as I continued to eat my lunch, the spider continued to walk toward me. Remember that I said the thing was only a half a centimeter long, so seven feet was comparatively a massive distance. It kept on toward me, stopping every now and then, veering slightly to the left or the right as it walked, but showing remarkable orienting abilities.

When the spider got within twenty inches of my feet, he changed his walk. Where before he had crawled along six inches at a time or so, then seemed to rest and re-orient, now he began stopping every inch, stopping stock still for a millisecond, and then moving again. The stops seemed to happen at random points in his gait, so that different legs would sometimes be caught in the air, and he changed from moving to still so completely with each stop that it looked like nothing any human could do. The best way I can describe it is to compare it to watching a film in which every tenth frame has been tripled, so that the image in the tenth frame freezes for just a flash.

Eventually, the spider crawled right between my feet, lifted his head again, and looked at me.

The thing was too tiny for me to feel frightened, so none of the experience struck me as creepy, but it certainly was uncanny. My emotional mind toyed with the idea that the spider wanted my company, even my camaraderie. Another part of my mind wondered if the thing had left an egg-sac on me, and wanted to return to its young. In either case, it seemed too unerring in its path to have arrived back at my feet by coincidence.

By this time my lunch hour was nearly over--the spider's walk had taken nearly twenty minutes--so I left the bench and went back to my office. Today, though, I've been thinking about returning to the bench, to see if the spider is still about. It seems impossible that he would be, and yet all of the experience yesterday seemed impossible, too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

LYNEE BREEDLOVE'S ONE FREAK SHOW


Basically, this is an attempt to put Breedlove's comedy show into book format, but it doesn't quite manage to totally bridge the gap between the live and printed forms. For example, the cover makes me think that Lynn's puppet skits--in which he uses stuffed animals to act out interactions between various identities within the queer community--are a highlight of the stand-up act, but they come across as one of the weakest parts of the book. There are a couple of songs in the book that are sort of lame, too. I bet the songs and puppetry would be pretty funny live, where they'd have Breedlove's voice and body-gestures to help them float, but they're not that funny on page, and they don't give the impression of having been modified to play to the strengths of the printed word. On the other hand, there are a few parts of the book that do manage to provoke a laugh, like the "Wrong Bathroom" section, and I definitely appreciate the light-hearted approach to topics that often get people all up in arms. At its best, this book can be thought-provoking too, like when it touches on the complications that arise when lesbian-feminist outlooks meet with transman identities ("When we had feminism, we could blame men for all the lousy things...now we're all becoming men..."). In the end, though, I'd probably recommend using your cash to see Lynn Breedlove live, instead of using it to buy this book