Thursday, September 30, 2010

Strugatsky: Reason

Excerpt from 'Roadside Picnic' by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the book on which Andrei Tarkovsky's haunting film 'The Stalker' is loosely based on.

Tarkovsky really takes the story to another plane altogether. He builds in layers of philosophical meaning on a story about an extraterrestrial visitation. I got the book from here -


"...All right, I'll tell you. But I must warn you that your question, Richard, comes under the heading of xenology. Xenology: an unnatural mix of science fiction and formal logic. It's based on the false premise that human psychology is applicable to extraterrestrial intelligent beings."

"Why is that false?" Noonan asked.

"Because biologists have already been burned trying to use human psychology on animals. Earth animals, at that."

Forgive me, but that's an entirely different matter. We're talking about the psychology of rational beings."

"Yes. And everything would be fine if we only knew what reason was."

"Don't we know?" Noonan was surprised.

"Believe it or not, we don't. Usually a trivial definition is used: reason is that part of man's activity that distinguishes him from the animals. You know, an attempt to distinguish the owner from the dog who understands everything but just can't speak."

"....Or how about this hypothetical definition. Reason is a complex type of instinct that has not yet been formed completely. This implies that instinctual behaviour is always purposeful and natural. A million years from now our instinct will have matured and we will stop making the mistakes that are probably integral to reason.

And then, if something should change in the universe, we will all become extinct - precisely because we will have forgotten how to make mistakes, that is, to try various approaches not stipulated by an inflexible program of permitted alternatives."

Page 100.

Pliancy and the Freshness of Being

"…And most importantly let them believe in themselves
Let them be helpless like children.
Because weakness is a great thing
And strength is nothing.
When a man is just born,
He is weak and flexible
When he dies, he is hard and insensitive.
When a tree is growing,
It is tender and pliant
But when it is dry and hard, it dies.

Hardness and strength are death's companions.
Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being
Because what has hardened will never win…"

The Stalker's prayer at the well, before he takes the two men into the Zone.

from the film 'The Stalker'
Andrei Tarkovsky

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poets of the Fall

Poets of the Fall (POTF) are an independent rock band from Helsinki, Finland that was formed by Marko Saaresto (lead vocals, songwriter), Olli Tukiainen (lead guitar) and Markus "Captain" Kaarlonen (keyboards, production) in 2003. On tour they're being supported by Jani Snellman (bass guitar), Jaska Mäkinen (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Jari Salminen (drums, percussion).

The band's fourth album, named Twilight Theater, was released on 17 March 2010. The first single from the album, Dreaming Wide Awake, was released in Finland on February 3.

Late Goodbye

Carnival of Rust

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pine Forest

This reminded me so much of that Russian film set in Siberia, I cannot remember the name, but the forest was so alive, so dense, and watching you quietly.......

Pine Forest
by Gabriela Mistral

Let us go now into the forest.
Trees will pass by your face,
and I will stop and offer you to them,
but they cannot bend down.

The night watches over its creatures,
except for the pine trees that never change:
the old wounded springs that spring
blessed gum, eternal afternoons.

If they could, the trees would lift you
and carry you from valley to valley,
and you would pass from arm to arm,
a child running
from father to father.

I remember you as you were

I remember you as you were in the last autumn.
You were the grey beret and the still heart.
In your eyes the flames of the twilight fought on.
And the leaves fell in the water of your soul.

Clasping my arms like a climbing plant
the leaves garnered your voice, that was slow and at peace.
Bonfire of awe in which my thirst was burning.
Sweet blue hyacinth twisted over my soul.

I feel your eyes traveling, and the autumn is far off:
Grey beret, voice of a bird, heart like a house
Towards which my deep longings migrated
And my kisses fell, happy as embers.

Sky from a ship. Field from the hills:
Your memory is made of light, of smoke, of a still pond!
Beyond your eyes, farther on, the evenings were blazing.
Dry autumn leaves revolved in your soul.

Pablo Neruda

Taken from here -

Friday, September 10, 2010

Just look at September, look at October!

"...From the Buddhist point of view, reality itself has no meaning since it is not a sign, pointing to something beyond itself. To arrive at reality - at "suchness" - is to go beyond karma, beyond consequential action, and to enter a life which is completely aimless. Yet to Zen and Taoism alike, this is the very life of the universe, which is complete at every moment and does not need to justify itself by aiming at something beyond.

In the words of a Zenrin poem:

"If you don't believe, just look at September, look at October!
The yellow leaves falling, falling, to fill both mountain and river!"

To see this is to be like the two friends of whom another Zenrin poem says:

"Meeting, they laugh and laugh-
The forest grove, the many fallen leaves!"

To the Taoist mentality, the aimless empty life does not suggest anything depressing. On the contrary, it suggests the freedom of clouds and mountain streams, wandering nowhere, of flowers in impenetrable canyons, beautiful for no one to see, and of the ocean surf forever washing the sand, to no end."

Page 146, 'The Way of Zen', by Alan Watts

The Three Wishes

"....As they say, be very careful of what you wish for, because you may get it.

One of the problems when people ask for miracles is that they never know what the miracle they ask for ultimately involves. That is why magicians and genies always grant three wishes, so that after the first two you can always use the third one to get back to where you began.

What invariably happens is that with the first wish, things never quite work out as you expected. You may not realize what it may involve if you wish for a glass to be changed into gold, for instance. If we change the arrangment of the universe in such a way that glass becomes gold, you may suddenly find that your eyesight fails or you lose all your hair, because that might go with it.

We do not understand all the interconnections between things, because in reality what we call "things" are not really separate from each other. The words and the ideas about them separate them from each other, but they are not separate. They all go with each other, interconnected in one vast vibratory pattern, and if you change it at one point it will be changed at all sorts of other points, because every vibration penetrates through the entire pattern."

'Still the Mind'
Alan Watts

Thursday, September 9, 2010

River Wisdom

Listen, O Lord of the meeting rivers,
Things standing shall fall,
But the moving shall ever stay.


To lift the blinds

"To shed the ego is to lift the blinds that blur the vision sublime,
The veiled beauty discards its veil, otherness gets disarmed.

Oblivious of our own faults, we find fault in others,
Once we see the flaws within, none else seems deformed."

[Diya apni khudi ko jo hum ne mita, woh jo parda se beech mein tha na raha,
Parde mein ab na woh pardah nashin, koi doosra uske siwa na raha.

Na thi haal ki jab hamen apne khabar, rahe dekhte auron ke aib-o-hunar,
Pari apni buraion par jo nazar, tau nigah mein koi bura na raha.]

Bahadur Shah Zafar [1775-1862]

Page 23. "Bahadur Shah Zafar and his Contemporaries - Zauq, Ghalib, Momin, Shefta"
Text, Translation, and Transliteration [from Urdu] by K.C.Kanda
Sterling Publishers 2007

A Ramzan Gift

16 Sep 2008

There is this this Muslim electrician guy who's been doing all our repairs since a few years - Barkhat bhai. Very honest, reliable, and hardworking. My husband talks to him in Hindi and makes tea for him when he comes to work, and they get along very well. Barkhat struggles to make both ends meet, and travels huge distances on his bike to do multiple jobs the same day. Sometimes he brings his young son along too.

I remember the day after the Bangalore bomb blasts, he and his son were here repairing a lamp in the drawing room, talking to my husband, while the TV news was on. The contrast was so jarring - on the TV, much to my embarrassment, the newsreader started speaking about rising Muslim fundamentalism in India and the increasing mistrust between religions - while this poor illiterate Muslim man was inviting us Hindus home for Ramzan, telling us that we must taste his wife's biriyani, a man who can hardly afford to splurge on such generosity - though I know for a fact that generosity is a prominent Muslim trait.

Last night he comes home with his son, with a huge multi-layered tiffin box full of the promised mutton biriyani, along with curry, salad, kheer, and some home-made sweet.

The news on the TV, when they walked in, was yet again about bomb blasts, this time in Delhi.

And yet, in the room, so much of positivity, that will stay with us for a long time to come, and will show in our actions. See, I am already tempted to spread it around.

Perhaps, as Borges said in his poem, "These people, unaware, are saving the world"....

Wrong Turn

I took a wrong turn the other day.
A mistake, but it led me to the shop where I found
the very thing I'd been searching for.

With my brother I opened a packet
of old letters from my mother and saw a side of her
that sweetened what had been deeply sour.

Later that day the radio sang a song from
a time when I was discovering love,
and folded me into itself again.

"Wrong Turn" by Luci Shaw, from What the Light Was Like. © WordFarm, 2006

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Way

"...The Buddha's enlightenment is the most important single moment in Oriental mythology, a counterpart of the Crucifixion of the West. The Buddha beneath the Tree of Enlightenment (the Bo Tree) and Christ on Holy Rood (the Tree of Redemption) are analogous figures, incorporating an archetypal World Savior, World Tree motif, which is of immemorial antiquity.

...The point is that Buddhahood, Enlightenment, cannot be communicated, but only the way to Englightenment. This doctrine of the incommunicability of the Truth which is beyond names and forms is basic to the great Oriental, as well as to the Platonic, traditions.

Whereas the truths of science are communicable, being demonstrable hypotheses rationally founded on observable facts - ritual, mythology, and metaphysics are but guides to the brink of a transcendent illumination, the final step to which must be taken by each in his own silent experience.

Hence one of the Sanskrit terms for sage is muni, "the silent one." Sakyamuni (one of the titles of Gautama Buddha) means "the silent one or sage (muni) of the Sakya clan." Though he is the founder of a widely taught religion, the ultimate core of his doctrine remains concealed, necessarily, in silence."

Page 25, 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' the seminal work of comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell

Sunday, September 5, 2010


"...From fullness, fullness comes.
When fullness is taken from fullness,
Fullness still remains."

Isha Upanishad. Invocation

The Weight of Miracles

What happened to Lazarus after Jesus brought him back from the dead? Did he get back to life with renewed wonder and passion, was it all light? Or like those once visited by Death, did he wake up on dark nights, a cold hand on the back of his neck reminding him to return?

Did people treat him differently, this man who had been where no one has returned from? Did the weight of this miracle pull down his shoulders, isolate him from the rest?

And did he realize that he was just placed in Jesus' path so that people would recognize the Messiah? That it could've been anyone else in his place, it did not really matter? That his resurrection was perhaps not deserved, but just accidental?

And then you come across this German poem.

for Lene Nimbsch

"We saw Lazarus arise and walk. Took off.
And was not seen thereafter.
No one saw him die the second time."

Th Garden of Epicurus and Other Poems
Ulla Hahn

Oct 2004

Sunday Neurosis

"He is thought to have coined the term Sunday Neurosis referring to a form of depression resulting from an awareness in some people of the emptiness of their lives once the working week is over. This arises from an existential vacuum, which Frankl distinguished from existential neurosis.

The existential vacuum - or, as he sometimes terms it, "existential frustration" - is a common phenomenon and is characterised by the subjective state of boredom, apathy, and emptiness. One feels cynical, lacks direction and questions the point of most of life's activities. Some complain of a void and a vague discontent when the busy week is over (the "Sunday neurosis")."

Viktor Frankl


A short beautiful piece someone uploaded on YouTube, of Dhrupad, my favorite form of Indian classical music.

Bhawalkar is one of the greatest musicians in this genre. It is an absolutely spiritual experience listening to him live.

"Dhrupad is a vocal genre in Hindustani classical music, said to be the oldest still in use in that musical tradition. Its name is derived from the words "dhruva" (fixed) and "pada" (words)."

Each piece has three parts, the slow reflective aalap, the jod where the pakhawaj(the drum) comes in with its energy, and then the exuberant uplifting dhamaar.

My other favorite is the Gundecha Brothers. Their sheer power and range is awe-inspiring. A live performance makes your hair stand on end. Here's one of their great pieces:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W. H. Auden

And yet

A mysterious force, a "dark energy",
is pushing the universe to expand,
flinging galaxies
away from each other.
Less sunlight is reaching the earth
with every passing year.
Still no answers,
To Spontaneous Human Combustion.
The Arctic Ice Cap is melting.
Old values are disappearing.

And yet,
Coiffeuse holds your face in old veined hands,
and says: "It is so good to see you again".
The strains of a loved tune return from nowhere,
filling the empty spaces in your head.
And at the familiar dull street corner,
suddenly, a lone tree,
in luminous yellow blossoms...

29 Jan 04, Thursday

Mysterious Energy

"......The studies of distant supernovae by the two teams (led by Saul Perlmutter, an astrophysicist at the University of California) had shown that the expansion of the universe, first observed by Edwin Hubble in 1929, was accelerating - not, as many had predicted, slowing down. It was as if some mysterious energy were creating a repulsive force to counter gravity. Unsure of its exact nature, cosmologists call it dark energy. More important, it seems to constitute nearly three-quarters of the total matter and energy in the universe.

Dark energy is the latest and most daunting puzzle to confront cosmologists, adding to another mystery that has haunted them for decades: dark matter. Nearly 90 percent of the mass of galaxies seems to be made of matter that is unknown and unseen. We know it must be there, for without its gravitational pull the galaxies would have disintegrated.

Perlmutter pointed out that cosmologists in particular, and physicists in general, are now faced with the stark reality that roughly 96 percent of the universe cannot be explained with the theories at hand. All our efforts to understand the material world have illuminated only a tiny fraction of the cosmos."

from 'The Edge of Reason, Dispatches from the Frontiers of Cosmology', (Penguin Books, 2010) by Anil Ananthaswamy (he was a software engineer in Silicon Valley before moving to science writing)

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