Yesterday I learned about Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. This particular bit about, Chenrezig, one of the forms of the bodhisattva stood out to me:
The bodhisattva vowed to clean up samsara once and for all. He put in a heroic effort. He thought he’d done it. But when he turned around again, the mess was back, unapologetically.
Chenrezig was so devastated by his failure to fix things that he shattered into a thousand pieces… What to do when even a bodhisattva of compassion can’t bear it any longer?
The story takes an instructive term. Amitabha, the Buddha of Boundless Light, comes down from his Pure Land and converts Chenrezig’s thousand shattered pieces into a thousand arms (plus eleven heads, so he can look in all directions). I find it hugely instructive that Amitabha gives Chenrezig a thousand tools and says, Hey, keep going.
Chenrezig’s thousand arms are a token expression of the patience and fortitude essential to the bodhisattva vow. As our world prepares to blow itself apart yet again, Chenrezig becomes more than just a symbol; the bodhisattva is an absolute necessity, a guide and refuge.
Another excellent Brain Pickings piece, this time on Albert Camus who offers a pragmatic balance between idealism and reality. Popova summarizes this piece (as she does so well) with the excerpt: If he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstance is a coward.”
I’ve previously noted my interest in Stoicism and Buddhism which share various philosophical similarities. This is a modern take on classic Stoic dialogue where we see two speakers (ostensible Epictetus and Seneca) discuss the intricacies of wanting, desire and acceptance. Without giving much away, I can say that it ends on the interesting note: The more understanding and acceptance you have of the reality of living, the less you are impacted when circumstances knock you down.
An intriguing, slightly unbelievable and at times heart-breaking look at the Japanese industry of “renting” family members for both major occasions and day-to-day life. Told from multiple perspectives, peppered with historical details and finalized by the author’s own unique observations and reactions, this is may be the best piece of non-political non-fiction I’ve read so far this year.
I’ve started using a physical field notebook more often in the last few months. As a computer scientist, I don’t exactly go out into the field, but I have found the process of getting away from the computer and writing things out on paper (especially if I can do it outdoors in the sun), to be a good way to get my mind into a state of deep work. This a good piece on the practice on science in different areas, and different times.
In the last few years, I’ve become a big fan of pen (and pencil) and paper for taking notes, journaling and sketching out ideas. More recently, I started carrying around a Field Notes pocket notebook all the time and using it to write down and keep track of all kinds of things about my day-to-day life. This is a wide-ranging and very interesting article about how Field Notes got started and kept going, along with a healthy dose of context to understand the why paper notebooks seem to making a comeback.
I’m very grateful to work in a field and environment where I have to deal with very little “business bullshit” on a regular basis. But this is an interesting look at how differences in language can shape the way we think and act and can spread unchecked through society at large. Pair this with an older article on the phenomenon of bullshit jobs.
I am a big fan of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog and this is, in my opinion, the best article she’s written so far this year. It contain’s excerpts from an out-of-print by Lilian Lieber of the above name interspersed with Popova’s commentary. The book starts off using the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry to explain how science progresses, and then extends that line of reasoning to understanding the human condition, ending with a set of postulates that I think deserves to sit right beside Utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperative as foundational moral principles. A long, interesting and inspiring read. I hope to get my hands on a copy of the book itself someday.
I started this year wanting to read one book a week, but it looks like I might end up at one book a month instead. Oh well, I think I picked a good one to start with. Without going into details, this book blends together magic, time travel, politics, and a wide range of curious characters into a gripping and hard-to-put-down read. This book has made me stay up past my bedtime reading for the first time in a long while.
The original Pacific Rim is one of my favorite movies. As far as movies go, I would it’s very good, but not excellent, but it is a whole lot of fun with a lot of great and unconventional characters. I’m really looking forward to the second installment, and to seeing more of Guillermo del Toro’s excellent work.