11. Eyecandy: Festivals

Jan-27-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Fine photos of celebratory festivals. Not much else needed to be said really.

* Chinese Lunar New Year 2012   In Focus

* Kalachakra: A Tibetan Buddhist festival of teachings and meditations   The Big Picture

* Pow Wow



8. Deepen Your Life

Jan-13-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Pico Iyer is a favourite travel writer, and this piece is a moving ode to regaining what our busyness costs us in deep connection. A fine accompaniment is the latest in a series of studies showing that mindfulness meditation can change you, for the better.

* The Joy of Quiet Pico Iyer New York Times (Thanks, Denis)

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

Maybe that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation. Finding myself at breakfast with a group of lawyers in Oxford four months ago, I noticed that all their talk was of sailing — or riding or bridge: anything that would allow them to get out of radio contact for a few hours.

Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.

* Eight Weeks To A Better Brain Harvard Gazette

Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue ofPsychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior authorSara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”



12: Quote of the Week

Sep-09-2011 | Comments Off

“Logically, if you criticize Islam due to a few mischievous Muslims, then you have to criticize all world religions,”

H.H. the Dalai Lama, at a post 9/11 conference



6. Religious News

Jun-03-2011 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A sightly scattered selection of interesting pieces on religion. Two articles point out the extent to which the “New Atheists” support the interests of the powerful, a fascinating NYT study shows linkages between economic success and religion (Max Weber would be proud), and a Big Picture feature on Buddha’s birthday, which you might have missed in the past month.

* Same Old New Atheism: On Sam Harris The Nation

The New Atheists did not bother with such nuance. Hitchens and Harris, in particular, wasted no time enlisting in Bush’s crusade, which made their critique of religion selective. It may have targeted Christianity and occasionally Judaism, but hatred and fear of Islam was its animating force. Despite their disdain for public piety, the New Atheists provided little in their critique to disturb the architects and proselytizers of American empire: indeed, Hitchens and Harris asserted a fervent rationale for it. Since 9/11, both men have made careers of posing as heroic outsiders while serving the interests of the powerful.

…Harris claims he is committed to the reasonable weighing of evidence against the demands of blind faith. This is an admirable stance, but it conceals an absolutist cast of mind. He tells us that because “the well-being of conscious [and implicitly human] creatures” is the only reliable indicator of moral good, and science the only reliable means for enhancing well-being, only science can be a source of moral value. Experiments in neuroimaging, Harris argues, reveal that the brain makes no distinction between judgments of value and judgments of fact; from this finding he extracts the non sequitur that fact and value are the same. We may not know all the moral truths that research will unearth, but we will soon know many more of them. Neuroscience, he insists, is on the verge of revealing the keys to human well-being: in brains we trust.

* Support Christian missions in Africa? No, but . . . Richard Dawkins

Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa? My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn’t any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy’s enemy be our friend?

* Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny? New York Times (see full chart here)

The economic differences among the country’s various religions are strikingly large, much larger than the differences among states and even larger than those among racial groups.

The most affluent major religions — including secularism — is Reform Judaism. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jewish households made more than $75,000 a year at the time the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life collected the data, compared with only 31 percent of the population as a whole. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent. On the other end are Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists…..

* How to Be a New Atheist Be Scofield Tikkun Daily Blog

The first and most important thing to do when writing about the religulous is to conflate all religion with the belief in a supernatural god. By identifying all religion with an abusive and cruel “celestial dictator” it will ensure the maximum ability to attack and ridicule your target. It also provides the advantage of avoiding the complexity of various religious people who use the words God, sacred or divine but do not mean an omnipotent personal being or anything outside or above the laws of the universe. To help make your case you can borrow this line from popular anti-religious atheist blogger Greta Christina, “The thing that uniquely defines religion is belief in supernatural entities. Without that belief, it’s not religion.” Or this one from Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), “To be religious is to be a theist.” Following this definition it’s crucial that you primarily focus on the Abrahamic faiths and ignore things like the Buddhist Churches of America (the oldest Buddhist group in the U.S.) Sure they meet on Sunday mornings, sing hymns, sit in pews, use sacred texts, send their children to Sunday school and listen to a reverend or minister. But they don’t believe in a supernatural god so they don’t really count and you can safely ignore them. It’s better to take the Buddhists off the “religion can be harmful radar” because a lot of liberal Westerners see Buddhists as pure, esoteric, spiritual and enlightened, so it’s best not to confuse these good people by including Buddhists among the religulous.

* Vesak Day 2011 The Big Picture Boston Globe



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