Friday, December 30, 2016

Bardo Thodol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead

I find this book exceedingly engaging because of the solid justification it makes, while also drawing many parallels with science. It is my first book on religion, but I often hear that Buddhism is not a religion. One of its fundamental teachings is that ‘in reality there are no such beings anywhere as gods, or demons, or spirits, or sentient creatures – all alike being phenomena dependent upon a cause.’

In its original form, or what we refer to as poti or folio, the editor Evans Wentz says that the book of the dead was ‘first committed to writing in the time of Padma Sambhava, ‘the lotus born’ in the eighth century, it was subsequently hidden away and then, when the time came for it to be given to the world, was brought to light by Rigzin Karma Lingpa.

We see its rendition during the Tshechu, the dance of the Judgment Day, where the Lord of the Dead, (Shin Jei Cho Kyi Gyalpo), The Good Genius (Lha Karchung) and The Evil Genius (Due Nagchung) decide the fate of the deceased. The judgment, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead takes place during the final stages of the bardo, called the Sidpai bardo.

When we die, we enter a fourth dimension of space. Deprived of our nervous system, we cannot differentiate between day and night. Only a twilight-like primordial light shine upon us. We go through various stages of the bardo meeting face to face with peaceful deities and the wrathful ones. If you haven’t gained liberation at the Chikhai Bardo and the Chonyid bardo, you enter the Sidpai bardo where the final judgment takes place.

The book describes the after death plane ‘as a prolonged dream like state in the fourth dimension of space filled with hallucinatory visions. These visions will be happy and heaven like if the karma be good and miserable and hell like if the karma be bad.’

Ultimately, one must meditate upon the subject of voidness, the visions are all void, reality is void, everything ultimately is void, your being and the visions you see are all void and thus voidness cannot injure voidness.  

The following is a short excerpt from the book explaining the experiences of the deceased during the Sidpai bardo at the judgment. It is read to the deceased thus:

 “O nobly-born, listen. That thou art suffering so cometh from thine own karma. It is not due to anyone else’s: It is by thine own karma. Accordingly, pray earnestly to the Precious Trinity; that will protect thee. If thou neither prayest nor knowest how to meditate upon the Great Symbol nor upon any tutelary deity, the Good Genius (lha Karchung, Little White God) who was born simultaneously with thee, will come now and count out thy good deeds [with white pebbles] and the Evil Genius (Due Nagchung) who was born simultaneously with thee will come and count out thy evil deeds [with black pebbles].

Thereupon thou wilt be greatly frightened, awed and terrified and wilt tremble and thou wilt attempt to tell lies saying, ‘I have not committed any evil deed.’

Then the Lord of Death will say, ‘I will consult the Mirror of Karma.’

So saying, he will look in the Mirror, wherein every good and evil act is vividly reflected. Lying will be of no avail. Then, one of the Executive Furies of the Lord of Death will place round they neck a rope and drag thee along; he will cut off thy head, extract thy heart, pull out thy intestines, lick up thy brain, drink thy blood, eat thy flesh, and gnaw thy bones (these tortures symbolize the pangs of the deceased’s conscience) but thou wilt be incapable of dying.

Although thy body be hacked to pieces, it will revive again. The repeated hacking will cause intense pain and torture. Thy body being a mental body is incapable of dying though beheaded. The Lords of Death are thine own hallucinations. In reality, thy body is of the nature of voidness and thus voidness cannot injure voidness, and the qualityless cannot injure the quality less.”

The scripture from the book is read in this way to the deceased, to guide him to liberation. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Science is a delight, much like art

And yet again, after a much needed break, I take delight in re-evoking my passion for science. For the last few months, I had completely stopped reading and took to watching only science documentaries. But the problem with documentaries is that it seeks to entertain more than educate and I won't remember much about it later. 

My romance with science is pretty recent, I wanted to take up science as a hobby after I first read the Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking three years ago. I had read around 16 books on science since the beginning of 2016 but I have yet too many to read. And then on April, my little Jigme Jorden entered the world. Since then I had devoted completely to my child. Now I have my beautiful wife, sisters, mothers and aunts taking turns to care for him.

So I decided to start the habit of reading again. And I held this book, by Carl Sagan which I had already read once and enjoyed thoroughly.

The book is a story of cosmic evolution and the development of consciousness. The book begins from the shores of the cosmic ocean and dares to embrace the vast immensity of the universe. So far, we have only, ‘waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or at most wet our ankles.’

Some 300 years ago, it was in the shores of the same ocean that Newton once avowed, “I’m just a little kid collecting shells besides the vast and unexplored ocean of truth.”

The universe is unimaginably large. If we were to be randomly inserted into the cosmos, the chance that we would find ourselves on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion, (1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).These scales confound me.

When we consider how ancient and how vast the universe is, human endeavors seem trivial. If we were to compress the age of the Earth in a 12 month calendar, Human beings had arrived on this planet only in the last ten minutes of the last day of the month. And yet the universe is much older than the earth

Intergalactic distance is so huge that conventional measures such as meters and kilometers become useless. Here distance is measured by the speed of light or how long it takes for light to travel in one year.

For instance, it takes eight minutes for light from the sun to reach earth. Which means the sun is eight light minutes away from earth. If the sun died at this very moment, we have eight minutes to say our last prayers.

My idea of taking science as a hobby was never to solve a complex mathematical problem, or construct a new theory that will change mankind’s understanding of the universe, although it is fascinating to think of the possibility. I am no astrophysicist. I leave that to the Great Minds and Scientists.

The idea of taking delight in science is simply because it has so much romance, fascination and wonderment. There is art in science. Mother Nature is an artist on the grandest of scale. The following picture of the Horse head Nebulae is perhaps Mother Nature’s masterpiece.
Source: Google

We live in a very unpopular neighborhood on the Milky Way, a tiny speck of dirt in the vast metropolis of the universe. 

There are more planets and stars in the universe than all the grain of sands we can see on the ocean shore.

How can we not believe that the universe is brimming with life but we don’t know that yet?

We look back towards the ocean from whence we came and yearn to return. We are a part of the cosmos. The stars gave birth to us. We are all precious, we are all star stuff. My journey to the edge of the universe begins again with this book, the Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Could there be more dimensions?

Warning: Don’t try to imagine how people see in a two dimensional world, it will injure your brain.

A Square living in a two dimensional world is in a hot argument with a Point living in just one dimension. Each one believes his own world is complete and that the world was the world and there was nothing bigger than it or beyond it.

Enter Cube from a three dimensional world, the world that we live in now. Cube takes Square to the 3D world and manages to convince him that there is a third dimension. To show him, he moves sideways and up and down.

Square is convinced there are other dimensions and that they are infinite. Cube believes his is the ultimate world while Square thinks there could be millions of other creatures living in millions of other dimensions infinitely.

I was discussing this book called Flatland with a friend, who’d already read it and suggested I not even try because it’s difficult to imagine a world in 2D. I said, I will give it a try and since then I am yet to order a copy of the book.

But then I saw a movie based on the book and couldn’t help but watch it.

To think of a fourth or a fifth dimensional space from the lens of our own existing laws of Physics and Mathematics would be problematic. But there could be other laws in other dimensions, which makes it more compelling and interesting to think of the possibilities.

Hollywood movies and films have restricted our imaginations of extraterrestrial life. We think of aliens having huge round head with antennas and long slimy fingers. But possibilities are, as always, infinite. We could very well be living among aliens right now and not even know about it, - a reality crossover.

It is fascinating to simply consider diverse possibilities such as those that tell us we are mere characters in an alien computer simulation and that the whole universe that we know today is an infenetissamliy tiny microscopic dot within a whole new level of universe.

Stephen Hawkins in his famous Brief History of Time offers a visual analogy. If a creature from a three dimensional space where to live on a two dimensional world, it would divide the creature into two halves, since we have a passage right through our body for eating and excreting. Perhaps the picture below would help you understand what exactly Hawkman meant.

Could there be infinite dimensions with their own laws of physics and mathematics quite different from ours? Are we living among creatures from other dimensions, completely unaware of each others’ existence? Well, these are just some interesting things to wonder upon.