Hate Will Not Heal You

Another post before the weekend. :)

While playing through the game Final Fantasy XIII lately, I’ve also been enjoying the excellent soundtrack. This small song is called “Serah’s Theme” (セラのテーマ), which you can also see here:

The lyrics1 are very lovely:

Make my wish come true, let darkness slip aside
Hiding all our hope, mocking what we treasure
Battles we can win, if we believe our souls
Hang in for the light, till dawn
Fate will not leave you, hate will not heal you
Pray and one day, peace shall flow everywhere.

When I heard the part “hate will not heal you”, I was really moved. It’s so true.

It reminds me of something the Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.
6. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

Anyhow, very lovely song.

1 This is the japanese version of the song, by the way. I think it’s great. There is an English version of the lyrics which is slightly different, but I actually like this version better. ;)

Posted in Buddhism | Tagged | 1 Comment

Pride Comes Before The Fall

Crac des chevaliers syria.jpeg

At a famous, old castle in Syria called the Crac de Chevaliers is a famous inscription in Latin (photo here):

SIT TIBI COPIA
SIT SAPIENTIA
FORMAQUE DETUR
INQUINAT OMNIA SOLA
SUPERBIA SI COMITETUR

One translation is:

Grace, wisdom and beauty you may enjoy, but beware pride which alone can tarnish all the rest.

Something to think about.

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Makuya: A Japanese-Christian Church

Hello,

Recently I had an opportunity to attend a religious service with a little-known but interesting group of Japanese-Christians called Makuya or kirisuto no makuya (キリストの幕屋). The word “makuya” (幕屋) is the Japanese word for Tabernacle, which is the name of the ancient, portable shrine the Hebrews used.

What makes Makuya interesting is that it is a native Japanese-Christian organization, unlike most Christian churches in Japan.  Typically in Japanese media, Christians are portrayed as foreign missionaries, since most Japanese never see Christians other than the street preachers who harass them in places like Shibuya or at Buddhist temples during New Year’s.  But Christianity in Japan is a more complex subject, and although Makuya is a small organization, it’s interesting to see how a foreign, Western religion has taken root in Japan.

Makuya arose out of a larger Christian movement called the Non-Church Movement which started in 1901 and has a presence in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The idea behind this movement is a focus on Bible study, pacifism, and informal structure (instead of a formal church, creed, etc).  Makuya continues this tradition.  Makuya focuses on the “Biblical experience” instead of learning a particular dogma or creed, so people are encouraged to explore and investigate both with their mind and their heart.  Thus, they are particularly tolerant toward other religions (more on that later).

Makuya is definitely Protestant Christianity in that it is devoted to the Holy Trinity, grace by God, and the Bible as the Word of God.  The Bible version typically used (in English) is the new King James Version, or other similar translations.  All pretty typical stuff.  However, when I went there I also noticed some differences.  First, the main symbol of Makuya is a Jewish menorah, not the cross.  I was surprised to see a lit menorah with 7 candles (not 9).  Indeed, Makuya distinguishes itself because of its strong affiliation with Israel and Jewish culture overall.  Makuya people often make pilgrimages to Israel, spend time in Jewish Kibbutzim, and maintain good relations with Jewish communities.

When the Makuya people prayed, it reminded me of charismatic, Pentecostal style prayer: very emotional and passionate.  People repeated “father” over and over again as other people prayed, sometimes they laid hands, others cried, etc.  If you have not seen this kind of prayer before, it can be somewhat intense.  While people were fervently praying, I admit that I just kind of passively took it in.1

Anyhow, the other thing that was different in the Makuya tradition is the emphasis on meditation.  The founder, Teshima Ikuro, emphasized the importance of meditation as a way to experience directly experience “the Word of God” or logos in ancient Greek.  The particular meditation-style taught by Makuya is as follows:

  1. Preparation of the Body – This means simple calisthenics to wake you up.
  2. Preparation of Breathing – This is the breathing exercise to calm and focus the mind.
  3. Preparation of the Mind – One reads and recites passages from the Bible.

The breathing exercise was fairly simple.  You breath in by pushing out your belly (hara 肚 in Japanese) then hold for 2 seconds.  Then you slowly, slowly exhale.  Then repeat maybe 10-20 times.  For some reason, I really struggled to do this because I am used to Buddhist-style meditation which seems fairly different. They mentioned the commonality between Makuya-style meditation and Zen, but I admit I didn’t quite see it.

Still, one other notable thing about Makuya is their tolerance toward other religions.  When we introduced ourselves, I didn’t mention that I was a Buddhist.  I just mentioned my upbringing in Christian churches and such, but somehow they knew I was a Buddhist (probably something a Makuya friend mentioned before).  I was worried that they would criticize me for this, but they were quite open about it.  For Makuya, the emphasis is on experiencing God, not adhering to a particular creed.  So although my beliefs are pretty different, they didn’t seem bothered by this. Most evangelical, Western churches I’ve experienced in the past would be eager to criticize my Buddhist faith or remind me that I am destined to go to Hell. It’s certainly happened before. :-/

Overall it was an interesting experience.  It was the first time I personally encountered one of the “New Japanese Religions” or shinshūkyō (新宗教) which started to appear in the late 19th-century.  It was also an interesting fusion of Western Christianity with Japanese-style applied practice.  It was also interesting to see how a Japanese-immigrant community here in the US could maintain these traditions across generations.

At any rate, thanks to Makuya for sharing their traditions with me, and being so friendly and open. Makuya people are very warm and community-oriented, and they definitely make you feel welcome. :)

1 When I was maybe 17 or 18 years old, I attended a church service which also had charismatic-prayer and back then I didn’t really feel anything either. Around me, people were crying, falling down, speaking in tongues, etc., but I just stood there praying, yet I felt nothing. At one point, the prayer leaders all stood around me and prayed fervently, but again I just stood there. They prayed even harder, but after a minute or so I pretended to “fall down” just to get them away from me. That kind of prayer isn’t for me, I guess. Buddhist chanting is kind of bland and dull, but I like it that way. ;)

Posted in Buddhism, Christianity, Japan, Religion | 4 Comments

Good Intentions

This is a fascinating article I found online recently about the history of Afghanistan and the US in the 1950’s. At this time, America wanted to help modernize Afghanistan to prevent Communism, but also to gain an ally in an important part of Asia. American engineers came to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, lived there, and helped build dams, roads, libraries, buildings, etc. People (American and Afghani) were optomistic and excited about the changes, and it seemed like things would succeed.

However, as the article shows, the plan was a huge failure. The dams worked too well, and the ground became flooded and too salty (which are great conditions for growing poppy plants, as in “opium”), and the attempts to educate nomadic Afghani people how to farm resulted in riots.

A long time ago, I read a book called Seeing like a State which talked about this same subject: good ideas and well-intentioned projects often have unexpected consequences.  Examples like Communist collective-farms, managed forests in Germany, “planned” cities, etc all show that ideas look really good on paper, but in reality they often encounter unexpected problems and fail, or look very different from the original plan.  Professor Scott isn’t discouraging projects, but warns people that good intentions often have consequences.  The story of Afghanistan in the 1950’s helps demonstrate this: American engineers sincerely wanted to help, but they underestimated things and the project had failures that still affect Afghanistan today.

Anyhow, I don’t want to say too much.  Read the article, it’s very fascinating.

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Finding Religious Communities in America

A while back, I read a fascinating article in Tricycle Magazine about religious communities in the US. The article talks about how religious communities are changing in America so that instead of social “communities” they are becoming “lifestyle enclaves”.

The difference between the two is important. As Professor Strand explains, in a traditional social community people in the group might come from different backgrounds, but they have something in common (religion, ethnicity, neighborhood, etc) that brings them together, and the religion helps keep them together during good times and bad. So, he uses the example of old ladies who bake casseroles1 for a family where someone has died. The emphasis is on community which means that they help each other out. This was my experience at a certain Japanese-American (日系, nikkei) Jodo Shinshu temple here in Seattle that my family and I attended for years. I was impressed how people worked together to keep the temple running for 100+ years.

The newer “lifestyle enclave” is more like “shopping for a religion”. You’re concerned about the religion first, and the community second. This has an advantage because you can find people who think and act like you, but the disadvantage is that there’s no real sense of community because the religion is the only thing bringing people together. People are there first and foremost to learn something or maybe to get answers for some questions. Because they’re “shopping”, they’re concerned with their own needs first. You’re not there because of the other people. It gives you a greater sense of freedom because you can pick and choose what temple or what group you want to attend, but you also don’t feel close as to anybody. When I visited a certain Buddhist “meditation centre” in Ireland,2 and some temples in the US, this is feeling I got. People were polite and friendly, but not really connected. Usually, it felt like a room of individuals, not a community.

Anyhow, the article is a good read. I don’t really have a solution myself. In fact, I am just as guilty of “shopping” for religion too. I believe that this change is a natural part of the modern countries experience, not just in religion, but it is kind of sad to see genuine communities going away. I think we’re now struggling to find a good replacement.

P.S. I believe this same trend is happening in Japan too based on my limited experience: older “communities” are being replaced with newer “enclaves”, so it’s not just the US and Western countries. It’s a problem of modern life: people can take care of themselves more easily, so they don’t need to depend on one another as much.

1 Funny story, but my wife, who is from Japan, never had them since Japanese food is different. Howeer, one of her favorite foods in American culture is a green-bean casserole, which is something I never liked. I still don’t really like them.

2 I thought I wrote a post about it, but I can’t find it anymore. I might have removed it, or I chose not to write about it, as the experience wasn’t very positive.

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The Problem Is Not Them, It’s You

XKCD comic number 1386

(alt text: To everyone who responds to everything by saying they’ve ‘lost their faith in humanity': Thanks–I’ll let humanity know. I’m sure they’ll be crushed.)

I read the online comic XKCD regularly each week for years and Wednesday’s is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. It sums up my own attitude toward a lot of smart and condescending people I work with in the IT industry.

People tend to have a self-centered view of how the world should be. We all do it. We all have our own particular viewpoint. We all think that people should do things our way, be more like us, etc. But when life doesn’t match our expectations, we get offended or assume the problem is somewhere else (or someone else). The problem is you. You have unrealistic expectations that don’t match reality. You can’t blame reality.

One of my favorite quotes from Frank Herbert’s novel Children of Dune is this one (also mentioned here):

The universe is just there; that’s the only way a Fedaykin can view it and remain the master of his senses. The universe neither threatens nor promises. It holds things beyond our sway: the fall of a meteor, the eruption of a spiceblow, growing old and dying. These are the realities of this universe and they must be faced regardless of how you feel about them. You cannot fend off such realities with words.

If you think life is good, you’re ignoring the painful, ugly parts of life. If you believe life is bad, you are blind to the beautiful things in life. If you think people are stupid, you do not understand other people. If you think people are smarter than you, you do not understand yourself.

The Universe is just there. Life just is.

Posted in Buddhism, Dune, Literature | 6 Comments

Final Fantasy: Then and Now

This is a video the original Final Fantasy game for the Nintendo system, which was released in the US in 1990, and which I often played as a kid:

And this is the trailer for Final Fantasy XIII, released in the US in 2010, and which I started playing recently on the PS3:1

Amazing how much has changed in 20 years! I am an “old-school” gamer (I even own the shirt), but I really do appreciate how much games have improved in that time. FFXIII is pretty different than the D&D-style games I used to play as a kid, but many of the changes have been positive. Characters are better-developed now, stories are more complex, the music is very professional, etc.

Although nostalgia is nice, it’s also nice to see new and better things. We can’t always live in the past. :)

P.S. Speaking of FF1, this is a funnier video that someone did where they played through with just a single character (the other three members of the party are left for dead).

P.P.S. On my upcoming trip to Japan, I have a feeling I’ll be hanging out in Akihabara district buying up Final Fantasy memorabilia.

1 I prefer buying games and new consoles long after they come out, so they’re much cheaper. I don’t need to have the latest and greatest. Some really good games are also very old ones. So although the PS3 is 4 years old, I finally purchased one for very cheap, and enjoying every minute of FFXIII. Truly an awesome game. Plus, I love the fact that the main character, Lightning, is a female.

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