Oh dear lord (or, err, dear somebody…)

 

As of 2012 Gallup survey 46% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so”. How does one even begin to sort out ones thoughts about that?

Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design | Gallup Historical Trends.

Humans evolved from Neanderthals

Interviewer: “Do you accept that humans evolved from something other than humans?”
Cardinal Pell (Australia): “Probably. Yeah, probably. From neaderthals.”
Richard Dawkins: “Neanderthals? (shocked face) Why from Neaderthals?”
Cardinal Pell (Australia): “Well, who else would you suggest?”
….Dawkins speechless, tries to educate mr Cardinal, gets:
Cardinal Pell (Australia): “Something in the evolutionary story seems to have come before humans… A lot of people say it’s neanderthals.”

 

Huh? Which people? If I’m forced to get a pass in study on religion in school, couldn’t Mr Cardinal be forced to get a pass in biology…

“Intangible religious benefits”

A statement indicating whether or not any goods or
services were provided in return for the gift; receipts
from religious organizations must include a statement
indicating that “intangible religious benefits” were
provided but they have no monetary value for tax
purposes

If you have donated to a religious charity in the US, said charity is to provide you a receipt which clearly states that you have received “intangible religious benefits” in return…

Trashed, or, the tough life of an Indian idol

P1981

Ganesh and Lakshmi was not having a good day that day.

Holy places #2: Hinduism

Varanasi seem to elicit all sorts of responses even in normally fairly sane travelers. It’s described by guide books as a sort of hell-on-earth cum awe-inspiring, exotic-India in overdrive. Annoying travelers on backpacker forums describe it as “the real India”.

 

With all these descriptions in mind (none of which I was very inclined to believe in), I had a sort of negative anticipation when arriving from Bodhgaya at 5:30 am. Some place described so vividly by all sorts of people can’t be anything but disappointing. Prepared to be screwed by the numerous auto-wallahs at the station, I was surprised to easily find a rickshaw taking me to my intended spot for less than 30 Rs. Furthermore, he only half-heartedly tried convincing me that I wouldn’t be allowed to carry my bag to my hotel and would need an extension of his services.

 

Arriving at this early hour to the city proved to be a great move. Not only could I start exploring without any people around, I also managed to catch the sunrise from the mandatory boat ride on the river.

 

Varanasi is located on the river Ganges, and is the holiest place on earth according to Hindus (less than 8 hours away from the Buddhist’s holiest place on earth…). It is a city you come to be cleansed (by bathing in the not-so-clean Ganges water), be cremated (at special cremation sites from which your ashes is spread into the river) as well as study and practice religion. It’s an incredibly old settlement, and somehow you can feel that in the air of the place – even though the buildings in the old city often aren’t older than 300-400 years (must be something oozing from the river then…).

 

After spending a few days walking the, albeit rather dirty, streets of Varanasi I neither hated nor particularly loved the place. The best part of it is the fact that the streets of the old city are so narrow that they’re practically reserved for pedestrians (and the occasional two-wheeler). The worst part is probably the old raja’s house – Ramnagar Fort – a museum patched together of unlit exhibits showing dusty rifles and the odd object from the life of the maharaja. There was a ban on all photography in the palace – I imagine that the reason must have been to stop people from showing what a complete and utterly horrible state the museum was in.

 

 

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Holy places #1: Buddhism

I must admit, there is some truth to the maxim one of my friends keep telling me – that “the amount of blog posts has an inverse relationship to how interesting your life is” – however in an attempt at not making that entirely true, I’ve got some blog posts coming up now even as my life is quite interesting indeed!

 

So, to start off, I’d figure that I post a bit of my backlog of travel pictures & places. As I wrote previously, during christmas I traveled to Bodhgaya and Varanasi, two holy places for buddhists and hindus respectively.

 

In my first post about Bodhgaya, I might have been a bit irreverent in describing it as a buddhist Disney Land, but that was indeed how it felt when arriving. Even after spending a couple of days there, I couldn’t quite shake that feeling, meaning that I mostly walked around with a bemused smile at all the various foreigners, buddhist monks, asian tourists and backpackers congregating.

 

The “Buddhist Disney Land” also showed it’s “underbelly” now and then – whether it was through 12 year old boys offering sexual services (clearly something they’re used to foreigners buying there) to fake schools that similarly aged boys would bring tourists in order to solicit donations. Main attraction however is not that (I hope), but rather the temples, with the big Mahabodi-temple next to the bodhi-tree being the greatest landmark. This temple was apparently built in 5th and 6th century, but the site was largely left to it’s own devices after the region was controlled by Islamic rulers from 12th century or so up until the British arrived.

 

After having chilled out in the city, eating Tibetan bread and hummus, for the first two days, I eventually ventured out of the city to the caves where Buddha medidated as an asketic for long years. Sure, there’s something special about visiting a place I remember fantasizing about when reading about buddhism as an 11-year old, though, in the end, the cave itself wasn’t at all as nice as the ~10 km rural walk to and from the main road (a walk most people miss as they come in tourist busses / go by rickshaws). I had planned on catching the sunset from the caves until I realized that this after all still is Naxal territory and described by local municipality as ‘unsafe’ post-sunset.

 

Back in Bodhgaya after my excursion, I managed a visit to the last temple (Myanamar) that I hadn’t seen. Starting after independence, it has become a trend for buddhist countries to each build temples in Bodhgaya, in honor of Buddha as well as to host the many pilgrim’s arriving. Each temple styled in national custom, temple-hopping becomes an interesting review of temple-styles across east Asia (see if you can guess all the temple styles from the pictures!).

 

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Is there a soul?

Well, at least the notion of a one, unified, mind doesn’t seem to hold
much ground.

Read about it here:
http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/from_divided_minds_a_specious_soul/