29 October 2010

Do Good Today

When the Lord was forty-one, he traveled to the Tushita heaven, the heaven of the Thirty Three. His mother, Mayadeva or Mahamaya, had gathered tremendous merit and had been reborn there. To repay his mother for her kindess, he went to the heaven during the rainy season to give teachings to his mother and the host of gods present. But, there was tremendous concern that he would remain in the Tushita heaven and leave behind the world of men in darkness and decline without giving any teaching that may renew and transform life for us. With the intercession of the lord of the gods and his human followers on earth, the Lord decided, on this day, Lha Bab Duchen, to return to the human realm where he would give teachings that could liberate beings from the waves of birth, sickness, old age and death.

It is believed that all actions taken on this day are multiplied by ten million. A kind act is thus increased and an unkind act is thus increased. Do good today.

28 October 2010

Book Review: The Haunting Fetus

Marc Moskowitz is an anthropology professor in the United States. He engaged in field work to study the cultural phenomenon of fetus ghosts and fetus demons in Taiwan.

The only disappointment I had with this book was Moskowitz's preoccupation with the possibility of swindling by religious masters. And just perhaps, his failure to really look comparatively at the literature of the entire aboriginal area.

His central claim is that the practice of praying to and appeasing fetus ghosts is generally a new phenomenon in Taiwan that likely was imported from Japan. And that it took hold at a time when the nature of sexuality and family in Taiwanese society was very radically shifting -- culminating in the legalization of abortion in the early 1980s. He even cites to an informant that even goes so far as to say that fetus ghost appeasement was imported from Japan.

I found the symbolism as told in the stories of his informants -- together with what little affect he described -- to be highly rich. A richness that Moskowitz doesn't really mine. He got caught up in the materiality of the whole thing and was unable to fully differentiate the symbolic value from the literal value and it ended up as an echoing concern over religious masters simply hoodwinking emotionally vulnerable people out of money. He remains conflicted and uncommitted about this through out.

Naturally, this book got me to think more about the nature of ghosts and transmigration -- since I'm always correcting people on what karma is and isn't. On one level, Buddhists say that the realms of existence that consciousness transmigrates through are real places. When you die, you will be reborn in a real place like a hell, a hungry ghost realm, as an animal, as a human, as a demigod/demon, or as a god -- and you will suffer your karma there until you transcend it. On another level, however, we also say that the Buddha told us not to speculate about what happens after death and to focus really on this life that we presently have and that the realms of existence are just symbolic or metaphorical ways of describing present states.

A hell being suffers from anger and so what a human would see as water, a hell being sees as rotting pus and shit or molten copper or iron. A hungry ghost suffers from avarice and so what a human would see as water, a hungry ghost sees as liquid fire. Animals suffer from stupidity and are constantly exploited -- even if reborn among gods. Demigods and demons suffer from jealousy and would see water more valuable than we do and would suffer from fighting and quarreling over who exactly has the right to the water, etc.,. Gods suffer from pride and see water like a golden elixir. I wrote this poem several years ago about the tragic transmigration of a god, when he or she is confronted with death:

His lei wilted. The freshness that attended to him throughout his long life had dissipated into his old friend, the gentle wind. But now, this gentleness was a bit cold and slightly uncomfortable. He suddenly was overcome with fear.

His friends no longer came near. From a distance, they threw flowers at him and praised him.

'May you be born in the human realms, gather merit and return.' They said. In their expression there was not the slightest sadness or anger. There was a sense of loathing wafting subtly in the air. They carried on, without him.

In his last moments, he recollected his long life. Then, he turned to his mind's eye and would recollect his lives to come. His eyes welled up with tears. For eons he had sat in this sweet place, embracing beautiful gods and goddesses. He feasted on the most flavorful and pleasant dishes. Perfectly satiated, sedated.

He does not take birth again in this realm. He descends into the world of men and will never ascend again to this lonely place for all his lives.

But where do fetus ghosts, fetus demons, tiyanak, etc., play into this configuration? Moskowitz seems to presume that they do not exist, they are only an image of the psyche or the convergence of social change. But let's look a little more broadly at the issue. When someone meets an untimely death, throughout the world, there is always a tremendous concern that a ghost that will haunt the living will appear. If we take it on a psychological level, there is some energy from the psyche that was projected outside the psyche that is unable to be reintegrated into the psyche. Moskowitz describes this phenomenon with extreme clarity but not consciously. Most people who have had an abortion that he interviews feel tremendous guilt about it and when they meet with some misfortune, they ascribe it to the abortion (via the guilty feelings). And, you see now how karma works, it's a vicious cycle. Guilty feelings cause misfortune cause reactive action cause more guilty feelings cause misfortune, etc., etc.,.

I suspect, although I can't find any scriptural or commentary authority for it at the moment, that the answer is that the apparitions are clouds of karma that have formed below the clear light of the mind-sky of the individual. When one kills, the moralists say that one is reborn in the hell realms. But it has also been said by the liberals that one can rely upon the Dharma and transcend one's karma in this life time.

On another level, fetus ghosts and even tiyanak, in the Philippines, are a remainder between two belief systems involved in a process of social change where the synthesis requires extensive abstraction to resolve an apparent conflict between the two while also trying to balance this issue of untimely death and the potential consequences for psychic energy that is not reintegrated into the psyche.

There has been a two millennium dispute in Catholicism over the status of children not baptized and the belief in the limbo infantium. However, this contested belief has continued until present day among Catholic theologians and the most updated catechism of the Catholic church enigmatically says that baptism is necessary for salvation as a rule (caveat) but this is a rule of man and God is not bound to it as such. It almost sounds like a mystery is being born. Very complicated and unresolved. And, in the Philippines, this comes out as tiyanak -- from the pre-Catholic beliefs of demons caused by miscarriages, abortions, etc., -- untimely death. However, I am not aware of a ritual or practice that releases the tiyanak from their state -- only methods of returning them to the forest temporarily. I suspect that before Catholicism there were rituals which could heal these souls to the same level as people who died properly and in their right time.

If I had done the research, I would have turned in the direction of, why do Taiwanese go to these spiritual masters to perform incantations and prayer rituals as opposed to donating to an orphanage, etc., as one Moskowitz' informants had thought about doing. Why the rituals?

The version I read was a 216 page paperback published by University of Hawai'i Press (June 5, 2001), ISBN-13: 978-0824824280. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.

27 October 2010

Book Review: Sexuality and the Stories of Indigenous People

Jessica Hutchings is a Maori postdoctoral fellow in environmental studies in New Zealand and Clive Aspin is a Maori researcher at Nga Pae o te Maramatanga in New Zealand. They were the editors of this collection.

Upon hearing one the satirical song of Eskimo (I'm the Only Gay Eskimo), I contemplated long and hard about the nature of sexuality, globalization, modernity and economic complexification. This made me ask the question: What is life like a gay Aeta? Is there such a thing? In many of the very small and insular communities that I've had personal interactions with, 'gay' identity is something that is either like the purloined letter or is invisible.

The book shares a variety of experiences from every end of every possible spectrum I could think of in indigenous communities. One concern I had in one story was a criticism of Maori politicians and religious leaders who attempt to claim that same-sex relationships and desires did not exist before Western contact. Even anticolonialism people have homophobia issues just think of Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Mask famous footnote about how whites brought homosexuality to Martinique. I have never denied that type of claim, I just always felt it was homophobic in its selective incompleteness.

Whites brought heterosexuality and the perspective with them -- not just homosexuality. I also think, like a number of other peculiarities at the periphery of life, the identities and lives that eventually were swept into the homosexual bin by colonial means actually provide a glimpse into how exactly our ancestors really dealt with colonialism (without the postmodernist or legalistic jargon). I touched on this very briefly in my review of With Respect to Sex and Indian responses to colonialism.

Some of the stories in the book were way too intellectual and I found my affinity with the autobiographical stories that were not extensively footnoted with scientific journal citations or not significantly preferences by academic literature reviews. I am not fluent in Maori so the first chapter was almost entirely unintelligible. Once long ago, I had read the story of Tiki and Hinemoa, a famous Maori love story where Hinemoa (goddess) woos and gets the Tutanekai (god) by trickery. It was always an interesting story as many Polynesian stories I've been told or read are. What I didn't know, however, was that Tutanekai had a 'takatapui' friendship (takatapui is an ambiguous indigenous term that is sometimes used by gay Maori to identify as such) with another warrior named Tiki:
Tutanekai, with his flute and his favorite intimate friend, his takatapui [friend], Tiki, and Hinemoa, the determined, valorous, superbly athletic woman ... who took the initiatve herself, swam the midnight water of the lake to reach him, and interestingly, consciously and deliberately masqueraded as a man, as a warrior, to lure him to her arms.
Somehow Tiki and the female-t0-male transgenderism missed the version I was told long ago. This kind of Victorian revisions wasn't unique to Maori at all. Almost all of the same-sex intimacy was taken out of the English translation of the nineteenth century serialized stories of Hawaiian chiefs in Ruling Chiefs (collected and published in Hawaiian recently as Ke Mo'i Aupuni). The translator's purpose may have been much more complex than just homophobia. She may have felt that to include such a thing would have minimized the significance of the translation or its purpose for Hawaiian nationalism. These are things that every culture must work out for itself.

Neil Garcia, in Gay Philippine Culture, does address, to some extent, pre-Catholic forms of transgenderism and same-sex intimacy. In fact, he bases his claims to how best to view "gay" identity now on that understanding. I think this approach is useful, and must be done in a more wide-spread and systematic way. And in it, we can really answer the question if its possible to have a gay Aeta and if so, do they give up their residence in an Aeta tribe to have such an identity? (If we look to Micronesia, the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes something in between.)

The version I read was a 201 page paperback published by Huia Publishers (December 31, 2007), ISBN-13: 978-1869692773. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.

26 October 2010

Movie Review: Loose Cannon

Listening to Yolanda Be Cool's Papamericano on love radyo all the time, it reminds me of this struggle between the collective and individual (no I don't speak any of the Southern Italian dialects, but I researched the meaning of the lyrics from the original song by Renato Carosone's Tu Vuo Fa' L'Americano -- yes, he's actually saying Fa' l'americano). Anyhow, this movie is a great film about the healthy development of the individual from the collective and the main character also happens to be gay! It also has the kind of Hispanic/Latin comedy that we come to expect from locally produced comedies and teleserye, even though the story occurs in Italy and speak in Italian. There is the matrona, the womanizer father, the aunt, the maids. The kontrabida, the konsintadora, the tsimosa, etc., etc.,. It's quite a lovely film.

There are many twists and turns that a plot summary will only ruin much of the light-hearted surprise. The most risque the film gets is one or two passionate gay kissing moments. But you will laugh the whole way through. Especially if you ever felt it tough to come out to your father or mother. I recommend this for viewing. It's Italian name, which is perhaps the only way to find it online, is: "Mine Vaganti".

22 October 2010

Book Review: God Loves Bakla

Raymond Alikpala is an attorney working for the United Nations in Cambodia. God Loves Bakla is an autobiographical treatment of his struggles growing gay in the Philippines.

I would like to start this review by saying that, in fact, I rarely read autobiographies and especially ones written by our countrymen. Most autobiographies are written by retired politicians who are still trapped in the self-aggrandizing nature of popular politics. I definitely think that this book is an excellent read and would be really helpful to young Filipino men who are struggling with their sexuality. I won't go into too many details about the book or my criticisms of the narrative style because I find something much more interesting about the book and the story that will require us to really just wait and see.

First and foremost, Alikpala is a heretic. That is, he holds religious beliefs that are in conflict with the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the most dangerous type of heretic, naturally, because, by and by, he does not reject most of the dogma of the Church and he has found a way to coordinate the rejected parts with the accepted parts of Church dogma. This sets up the possibility that this book, may one day, become a hagiography. If the Church can use Alikpala and what he represents to renew itself internally, he may be on the path to sainthood. But, although Alikpala believes the Church makes historical mistakes and its views on sexuality are in that category, I think Alikpala actually advocates something more radical and in directly challenges the way in which the Church and religion itself interface in our lives.

Naturally, Alikpala discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in his life and from his descriptions of life's events it seems to be genuine. Taking a short stroll down Church history, it was the spiritual movements focused on the Holy Spirit that were most violently suppressed by the Church. The Free Spirit heresies are a good example of this.

Ultimately all collective religious attitudes are first founded on a numinous encounter with the Self. It is from this encounter that an image of the Self appears and the process of crystallization occurs. This happens to every religion -- including Buddhism. It is in this process that the numinosity dissipates. For most people, though, there is no problem. Most people are not called to have a direct, individual connection with the numinous. In our own cultural history, that was the job of the headman or ruler of a community.

Yet, because of the crystallization, the image begins to decline even for the masses and that is when renewal and transformation must occur. The Holy Spirit movements 1000 years ago are one example. Tantric developments of Indian Buddhism are another. St. Francis is another example. And now, after God Loves Bakla, we have to ask ourselves, whether Alikpala is not pointing to something bubbling up that even he himself is not consciously aware of.

It is this subversion that makes Alikpala's book so powerful and the contours of his individual struggle are worthy of reflection for those with their own struggles. However, if this will spark the kind of renewal that we need, we will have learn more about Albert and the images and feelings associated with him in more detail. It is this angel in which the Spirit spoke as Alikpala points out. Gomer was a central figure to Hosea and God's plan for Hosea and Israel. But we need to know more about Albert.

The version I read was a 274 paperback published by Central Books (2010) ISBN: 9789710111183. The book is written in English. I purchased my copy from Central Books, Mega Mall.

18 October 2010

Movie Review: Amphetamine 安非他命

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I attempted to learn Chinese calligraphy. Yes, it was in an embarrassing attempt to write poetry to impress a boy from Hongkong. Professor Tan, who has long since crossed to the other shore, spent my first three lessons on 我. In fact, I feel like I was more getting an introduction to the philosophy of the self than I ever learned in calligraphy. At such a young and tender age, I was too impatient so I ended my lessons after the fourth one and found a young woman from Macau who could focus on just the necessaries for the moment.

But yet, after watching this movie, I find myself remembering those lessons from Professor Tan. For those of you that do not know, 我 is the character for 'me' or 'I'. (我愛你 was naturally the focal point of my interests.) Professor Tan defined this character as being of the nature of two brothers in an eternal struggle. This is the nature of the I. Amphetamine is a story of this struggle as represented in a novel way.

We have Kafka, swim instructor and holder of a few other part time jobs, who crosses paths with Daniel, a financier. Kafka is straight and a drug addict while Daniel is gay and not a drug addict. Their story is one of deepening intimacy and trust as the two are locked into a struggle between chaos and stability and attraction and repulsion. Fate locks the two into a powerful and explosive relationship of love. It is a beautifully choreographed sword fight in the nature of the eternal struggle of 我. I also was not previously aware of how Amphetamine was translated into Chinese previously ( 安非他命 literally is security-not-his-life). But what does it mean to escape one's life into not-security?

This struggle repeats in fractal fashion throughout the film over and over again with increasing intensity until it finally exposes the final struggle of the soul -- between life and death, between love and time. When Kafka's comatose mother dies, the struggle comes to a climax, where everyone who has ever lost their mother is confronted with: do I follow my mother into death or can I live on without her in this world and let her go to the other shore without me? What is 我?

Pictures courtesy of http://www.amphetaminemovie.com/.

03 October 2010

Six Years

It has been six years since I began blogging as a part of a previous transition in my life. I recall in those early months spending hours every day at the netopia in Alabang Town Center writing long poetic prose in coded language. In this new transition, I offer an excerpt from the Prayer on the Intermediate State:

Bless us to engender the realization of the impermanence of this life in understanding that whatever is gathered will be separated, whatever is accumulated will be exhausted, whatever reaches a high state will fall to a low state, and whatever takes birth will die and that the time of death is uncertain.

01 October 2010

Call Me By My True Names

Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.