Feb 24, 2006

Apocalypse Not

The last time I blogged on the old site, I gave my first reactions to the mosque bombing in Samarra. Bad news for sure, with a whiff of apocalypse about it. Thinking more generally about the background, I think it shows up one of the key ways in which theistic religions are different from non-theistic ones like Buddhism or Taoism. That is their conception of time.

Theistic religions usually have a definite story-line for the universe with a clear moment of origin (creation) leading through some various struggles between good and evil, to a clear moment of ending (the millennium.) This was certainly the case with what may be the grand-daddy of the whole genre, Zoroastrianism where the whole of history is seen as a struggle between more or less equal Gods of good and evil. With a cataclysmic

(Odd linguistic digression: when the old Aryan tribes split into an Iranian (Iran = Arya) and an Indian branch they went their separate ways spiritually. And they took each others gods as devils and vice versa. The Zoroastrian good god is Ahura Mazda, and the servants of the bad god were devils. The Indians called one class of demons Asuras and their gods, of course, were devas.)

And what was true of Zoroastrianism has been true for the three great Semitic religions. Judaism is waiting for the Messiah, Christianity for the second coming and Islam, at least the Shiite form, for the Mahdi, the returned twelfth imam. Who, incidentally, is believed by some to be due to appear at the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra.

It's hard to get away from this conception. Even Marxism, which Toynbee called the "fourth great semitic religion" is at heart a millenarian belief.

Buddhism, on the other hand, doesn't generally concern itself with beginnings and endings. (But then, there's the Tibetan legends about Shambhala) In fact, the Buddha said that questions about ultimate origins, or about the infinity or otherwise of the universe, were pointless and unanswerable.

Instead of a story with a definite plot-line, Buddhism has mostly seen the universe as a beginingless and endless cycle. Sometimes westerners criticize Buddhism as having a negative attitude toward the world. This is misplaced. Buddhism doesn't see the world as evil, but as pointless. The key concept is samsara as a wheel, endlessly turning. Sentient beings are much like hamsters in a wheel, running hard and going nowhere. It's all been seen and done before, countless times. Another aeon as a Brahma god, feeding on bliss? How utterly tedious.

The theistic universe is like a bad movie; utterly predictable. It starts out happy and innocent and then something goes wrong, somebody messes up and eats an apple they shouldn't. Then there's various adventures leading to a scary and exciting climax with lots of action where the good guys are almost wiped out but triumph in the end to live happily ever after.

This would only be an anthropological curiosity, except that there are people out there who believe this stuff with a passion. And some of those people have nukes.

The Middle East is a specially charged cockpit of apocalyptic potential. All the theistic religions, passionate about their own one true stories, have points of reference all over the real estate there. And then there's the Americans.

We should be careful about being too self-righteous. It isn't unheard of for Buddhists to act intolerantly or aggressively. But at least, we don't generally think the end of the world might be a good thing. I guess it would be as pointless as everything else.

Brand New Start

I've received a lot of comments about my old blog over at tbaytel. "Why didn't you post my long rambling diatribe?" "Why don't you include permalinks, RSS, this that and the other?" "Get with the times already." Nicest thing anyone said was Buddhadhamma magazine calling my blog "quirky." OK, so here goes a new beginning. I'm trying out the blogger.com system to see how it flies. You can add your own comments directly, and will have grounds to gripe if I delete them. The posts are supposed to automatically archive themselves and there are all kinds of other neat gimmicks, I should say, features.

I don't see an easy way (as yet) to archive the previous posts - I've got them all on disk and could put them up as a stand-alone archive if anyone is interested.

This new start is part of a general revamp of the Arrow River site as we have finally gotten our own domain name: www.arrowriver.ca This is the fourth url we've had, and it should be the last - we can always move it over to a new host now without changing the address.

Anyone, how do you like the white on black minimalist look?