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Friday, July 20, 2012

Asparagus and the God part of it all [Final]

asparagus 1 | asparagus 2

OK, I've been putting this off, for a number of reasons, but I'll have this last go at it and then I've done with it. At least, I think I'll be. I suspect a number of my friends are now so terrified they might say the wrong thing that they won't even write to me, let alone visit me.

It's funny how a little article – and a good one as far as it goes – that's called "What to Tell a Friend Who Has Cancer" is actually about five things not to say. Five, well put, so please go there and see what they are. I've referred to a couple already and don't want to rehash more than necessary.

Just two quick points on her Points 4 and 5 and I'm done.

No 4. Don't cite research you've read online.

This one I don't agree with. To reject everything out of hand is the height of arrogance. I've never minded people pointing me to articles and giving me the chance to consider them, but in many cases the contents simply do not fit my case, even if they seem to make sense in general. Often it's like suggesting how the average Australian should dress.

No 5. Don't suggest new ways to treat the cancer.

I agree, unless you really, really know what you're talking about. The drugs I am on have been finely balanced over a period of thirty months. I've often been given the suggestion to have massive doses of some vitamin or supplement or food type. To do this could hasten my death. But, let me add, I do love fresh asparagus.

  Find one view and another pops up in opposition. Look e.g., at this as a counter to conventional views. Do I know who's right? No. Do you? How? Do you know how it would affect the balance of my prescribed drugs? You suggest these as an alternative to my current treatment? Hmmm.

  So that leaves me with just one other thing I want to tackle, from the 14 mentioned in the other article.

The God part of it.

"Don't cry over your diagnosis, because God only gives us what we can handle."

Really? What gives you the right to instruct me on what God "gives" us?

  In my work teaching comparative religions, and Asian cultural history, it was my duty as an academic for forty years to find out as much as I could on what "God" means to Hindus, Buddhists of all brands, Jains, Jews, Christians, Confucians, Taoists, Muslims, Parsees, Sikhs, atheists, agnostics and non-theists. I avoided the more recent sects and cults. Most of them give me the shivers.

  What I learned from comparative religions is that I wouldn't dare try to tell anyone what God wants, and it's egregiously presumptuous for any human being to speak on God's behalf – even backed by a text they believe with all their heart is final and absolute truth.

  Hinduism has a wonderful way of approaching God, if you have a dilemma. I know most people in the west have this vision of Hinduism as lots of gods and pilgrimages and gaudy images and temples. That's only on the surface. Hinduism over millennia has absorbed every known way of looking at Godhead; all sorts of theisms through to no theism at all. This isn't the place to discuss it.

  All I'm saying is that in Hinduism you can view the idea of God through every window. To Hindu philosophy, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are forms of yoga – bhakti yoga, to be precise. You'll see Jesus as avatar in the Hindu pantheon, along with countless others. Accepted, not just tolerated.

  If you want to have the notion of a personal God, that's fine with Hinduism. That's your way. That's your truth. All roads lead to the top of the mountain. Ultimately.

  Hinduism also accepts that the purest philosophical form of Godhead is as an Ultimate Truth or Reality, beyond a personal God.

  Science shows us that reality is a elusive thing. It also shows us that we have little idea of the nature of this world and what it's made of. It has dimensions that we can only theorise about. The enchantment of string theory and the reported discovery of the sadly misnamed 'God particle', the Higgs boson, drive this home. So to me it's a foolish person who thinks they have all the answers, especially about God.

  Religion has many comforts, but it has inexplicable paradoxes. If someone makes a statement about God giving us only what we can handle, I thank them for trying to comfort me, but I find it ridiculous. For if God gives me only what I can handle, then explain to me how the child with leukaemia, or one who was a happy eight-year-old one minute and now has her body half shattered and burnt and lives disfigured and in agony till the day she dies has been given by God what she can handle.

  You aren't allowed to have one without the other. Not in my book.

  Of course, I am caught in the paradox of my own logic. If I say we don't understand God because science and reason cannot tell us the nature of reality then I have to admit to the possibility of an eternally compassionate God who allows the child to be tortured and the innocent to suffer horribly.

  This admission is why I have said before that I gladly accept the heartfelt prayers of well-wishers, just as long as that is not just a token exercise. If God is present then it is through the action of carers, family, friends, medical staff, researchers, [shall I go on?] so don't replace them in the acknowledgment list by something more esoteric. Give them their due.

  My vision of Godhead is far broader than anything envisaged by a personal deity. I can't conceive of a heaven as described by the fundies because I don't understand the plumbing [hyperbole, OK?], or what I'd do up there for all eternity. I can't believe that any compassionate God is going to let His creatures suffer forever the tortures of Hell with no hope of redemption. How could I be happy in Heaven [naturally I have a ticket] knowing that my best friends are suffering the torments of Hell for all eternity?

  It doesn't sit well with me, though I accept that everyone else has their view. If you want to know how I feel, then you're going to have to understand Taoism, or what I understand to be the original philosophy of Buddhism stripped of its complications due to accommodating reincarnation, or a monistic view as in the Vedanta of Hinduism, all of which make sense to me. They satisfy me completely as to my relationship with the entire cosmos and its infinite mysteries.

  As usual, I've said too little and too much. So be it. Maybe at least I've pointed my finger at the moon, to steal a zen phrase.

I tried explaining some Eastern religious concepts in various blog bits such as on Taoism [or Daoism if you prefer] Making sense using Eastern logic and Illusion, truth and reality (Part 1)


  1. Gosh Denis, I agree. I mean how can I have faith in a God who not only seems to lack compassion for, but also seems not to understand, technology. You see, after reading your blog and thinking deeply - which is not easy for some of us - I set out to record my immortal thoughts in your 'Post a Comment' box. Forty minutes later (and ignoring your advice) I pressed the "Preview your literary masterpiece' button and 'Bingo' I went straight to a Google page that asked me, quite politely as it happened' if I would like to create my own blog. Well, at that particularly moment, I didn't want to do that, so pressed the back button and - guess what - I got taken straight back to your 'Post a Comment' page only to find the comments had been posted into cyber-space.
    So, for a while I sat and thought about non-attachment, acceptance, and what a nasty person God could be on occasions. Then I took a deep breath, went away and had a cup of tea, and came back to try again.
    Your post, above, was exactly what I would have said ... at least, what I would have said after you had said it. But back to God and godless computers.
    I am not attached to my computer. I love it much of the time, hate it a lot of the time, but basically enjoy it while it works. Computers involve suffering and the way to handle that is to avoid an 'attached dependence' on them.
    Then there is acceptance of the moment. It is not always easy, but it helps. When you have lost - completely lost - your entire identity and raison d'etre in a computer crash, and when the technician phones up to say unfortunately the external back-up drive is corrupted. You have to stop awhile and think. You can't 'not accept' it, so you close your eyes and dream of being somewhere else.
    I am rambling. Losing my posting to your blog is the consequence of downloading Google chrome. It didn't replace my previous Google browser, it works in tandem with it ... or should I say, it fights with it. Dodging backwards and forwards between the two is like trying to play cricket with two bats.
    And so to reality, illusion and the meaning of life.
    I was about 50 years old before I could believe that heavier than air machines could fly ... even today I am not that sure about it. Then there was television, and scientists telling me exactly what happened in the milli-second that followed the Big Bang (somewhat before my time).
    And now I can sit at my desk and fume because it takes more than five seconds to access 17.5 million articles on fungal infections of the foot.
    Can I really believe this is happening? Can this world of information all be accessed through a chip the size of a pea? Is living in a virtual reality any more or less real than living through my own thoughts in what I take to be the 'real world'?
    Back to your post. After involvement over decades with Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism and atheism, I didn't quite 'come out the same door by in I went', but very nearly. I find The Tao - sometimes elusive but somehow sensed, a comfortable companion to life's journey. Along with a very basic unadulterated Buddhism, and Krishnamurti's 'Truth is a pathless land' - these are all that I have retained.
    I cannot substitute faith for reason when reason fails me. And faith cannot offer me the joy of an open mind and the endless possibilities of an unknown reality.
    Cheers Denis. Hang in there. (I will now copy and paste this before I start arm-wrestling with the Google twins again).

    1. Bob – first of all, I have to admit that Blogger's 'Comment' section has some wicked idiosyncrasies, and many people, me included, have lost their comment for somewhat the same reasons as you did.

      Well, I guess you experienced the law of karma at work! Ignore my advice about saving elsewhere e.g., to WordPad on a PC or TextEdit on a Mac, and you gonna get burned some time or another. Ouch! I hate that!

      I don't see what you said about losing stuff on a computer as rambling. On the contrary, when something's gone forever, you can only accept it and move on. I am amazed at the number of people who bury themselves in regrets and can't move on. They're tearing themselves apart when they should be saying, what can I learn from this and/or how can I stop it happening again?

      So, you did. Oldies are better at doing that, I reckon. Not always, though – we do have our Miss Havershams, intent on now making everyone as miserable as they are, bitterly resenting a past that can't be changed or is irretrievable.

      I find faith-based religion an endearing thing. I know that comment looks paternalistic, but it's not meant to be. It solves the dilemma about the obvious faults in logic of we humans - those who are stuck in a sensory-intellectual bind of this form of consciousness that we live in for 99+% of the time.

      I don't take it to be simplistic. On the contrary, I have friends whose faith is unshakeable and they are scientists and/or philosophers; highly intelligent people who are far from blind, ignorant or intolerant.

      I've never thought that human compassion is only the province of religious people, though I've experienced much from them. But no less than from avowed atheists. Compassion is a human trait and it does not depend on religion. Not in the slightest.

      Enough for here and now. There's much more to be said - but would it change anything?

  2. Etymologies:

    Probably from French dialectal Perrot, diminutive of Pierre, Peter.

    "Parrotting" words / concepts, in my opinion, is a passive activity - an activity indulged by sentient beings searching for the internal satisfaction of being able to say "yes, I provided a response/suggestion".
    Denis, my friend, priorities are constantly evolving and continue to do so. A desire to express appreciation for your confirmation that "Life Science" is separate and distinct from "Applied Life Science".
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you once again. Parroting words has no meaning if the person doing so doesn't understand or feel what they mean – just like the parrot.

      I think I understand what you're getting at re Life Science and its application.

    2. Oblio presents a paradox ... (!) - your experience, existence, and reflections make the point.
      Without being too maudlin, as always...
      Best wishes

  3. Thank you Denis. Much to think over and chew on here. I'm in that group that always want more. Always pleased there are multiple parts. And yet you have in many ways written enough. Enough to inspire a broadening of the mind and another wee step towards understanding our own part in this universe. Which of course we must know.
    Enough to provoke thoughtful questions and a larger view of the world, our part of the world, and the me part of the universe.
    I appreciate your words. As I said above "given me much to think on"

    1. Sometimes I stop writing about what's beyond our immediate experience because I think, who am I to lecture anyone?

      It's a fair question. But if something I say makes anyone think, then it serves a purpose, because there is nothing quite so irritating to me as complacency – especially when it's smug. Obviously neither of these terms apply to you.

      So many comments make me stop and think, and make me aware I know practically nothing at all. That's OK. I've learned to come to terms with that. :)

    2. Knowing that I know so little is one of things that keeps my eyes ears & mind wiiiiide open. And one the things I love most about life & my part (or not) in it.
      Thanks again Denis - you are the kind of imparter/ Inspiror/teacher I hope my children come across in their lives many times.

  4. As Blaise Pascal once exclaimed, "Not the God of the philosophers, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!!!" That was a surprise to him.

    You never know what's around the corner.

    I've read discussions on whether Buddha was completely enlightened or not. To some, what he is reputed to have said comes from an intermediary state.

    As far as I'm concerned, some truths aren't worth knowing. I'll turn my mind towards what gives me comfort, courage, and hope. I also give more credibility to what people experience when close to death than to what the rational mind might postulate.


    1. I think that's very wise. Let's face it, when people around us talk about the experience of death, not a bleedin' one of them have ever done it, however close they've been to dying people and understand its stages.

      This applies even to those who've had near-death experience, though I am inclined to be more interested in them than most; far more so than the jolly happy fully-healthy people who think they have an idea what they're pontificating on.

      I was one of those, before the time Dylan Thomas described beautifully and painfully as, 'A grief ago.'

    2. As you say, Denis, "those who are stuck in a sensory-intellectual bind of this form of consciousness that we live in for 99+% of the time"

      It's the 1-% that interests me, especially when the stories they tell are so consistent with each other, even those coming from children. Although science would and does dismiss them, relegates them to the looney bin, they seem to stand up to some form of scientific rigour, if one bothers to look. As for the looney bin, if science had been around at the time of Buddha and the Taoist sages, they'd be in there too.

      Stay looney. On this issue, be on the side of the 1%.

  5. I love thinking and reading about religions and spirituality and openness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Denis :)


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