July 31, 2002

Specifity - the bane of religion

Note to the worldy wise: If you intend to start your own religion and have any expectations for its success, avoid details. Try to remain vague. Prophets who have proclaimed the end of the world at specific times have seen the strength of their following wane drastically after the passage of such time. Remain purposefully vague when describing the physical phenomenon that your Gods are responsible for. The Greeks told us the Sun was nothing but Zeus's son Apollo riding his chariot across the sky. When we finally figured the planetary alignments we said no dice and moved on. As a consolation prize we did take along with us some of the superstitions and rituals.

If your God is about to give a sermon only invite selected people. Discourage participation by claiming that God's presence will be overwhelming for the non-prophets. For example when God asked Moses to ascend Mt. Sinai with Aaron he asked the common people not be invited lest they be overcome with God's magnificence. (However later when God decides to send his son out into the world, he has no problems impregnating a common woman). When God decides to talk to Muhammed he sends Gabriel to a remote cave. When Muhammed takes a guided tour of the heavens its a trip for one.

Keep the eschatology powerful and imminent. Christianity and Islam make ample use of the thunderous phrase "The day of judgement". This keeps your followers on their toes. When times get worse it will be easier for your followers to generate a revival by pointing to your forecast. Do provide ample description of the rewards and punishments that await your subjects.

Keep your metaphysics as simple and confusing as possible. Islam kept it simple with one God and a human as the prophet (oh and by the way everyone who came before him was also sent by God just seemed to have trouble communicating). Christianity unfortunately failed the simplicity test but made it up by making it hellishly (note the use of the adjective) confusing with a trinity that is inexplicably interlinked (Father, Son and the holy Spirit). Hinduism blamed you for not achieving your goals by claiming that when the atman (soul) became one with the brahman (universal truth) then you reached liberation. Buddhism won this round hands down - You will be enlightened when you hear the sound of one hand clapping!

Posted at 08:52 PM

Faith. Only Faith

Wandering in a vast forest at night I have only a faint light to guide me A stranger appears and says to me: "My Friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly" This stranger is a theologian.

Denis Diderot

Posted at 05:17 PM

July 28, 2002

overview of Judaism

God created Adam. From Adam's rib came Eve. Adam and Eve had the son's Cain and Abel. Somewhere down the line Noah shows up. When Noah is 600 years old the flood comes and he builds an ark and loads up 2 of every species.

Abraham son of Terah brother of Lot has two sons. Isaac through his wife Sarah. Ishmael through Sarah's handmaiden Hagar. Ishmael and Hagar are sent away to modern day Mecca where they estabilish the beginning of modern day Arabs.

Abraham is later asked by God to sacrifice his son. Just when he is about to sacrifice his son God sends a ram. Abraham's son Isaac has two sons. He confers the lineage of Abraham on his son Jacob. Jacob changes his name to Israel and claims to have seen and spoken to God. Israel has two wives and several concubines. He has 12 sons (hence the 12 tribes of Israel). His favorite son is Joseph.

Joseph's half brothers sell him into slavery. He ends up in Egypt and is thrown in prison for resisting the sexual advances of the pharoah's wife. In prison he earns the reputation for interpretting dreams. He interprets the Pharoah's dream to mean 7 yrs of famine, 7 yrs of plenty and finally 7 yrs of famine. Helping the prophet earns him the title of vizier of the kingdom. There is reconciliation with the family and Israel proclaims the line through him.

Some time passes. The pharaoh is alarmed by rapid spread of the children of Israel. He decrees that all hebrew male children must be thrown into the Nile. This is where Moses enters the picture. The Pharaoh's daughter takes pity on a baby floating on the Nile and rears him. Moses ends up in a conflicting situation where he takes the side of the Hebrews agains the Egyptians. God then approaches Moses and tells him to take the children of Israel out of Egypt. God tells Moses his name "YHWH". The word is not pronouncible. Only the high priest of the temple was allowed to pronounce it. Modern day Jews side step the issue by using "Our Lord" or "the Name" instead.

Moses returns to the Pharaoh and asks him "to let my people go". The Pharaoh refuses and Egypt is sent 10 plagues (one for each time he refuses). The Pharaoh lets Moses and his people go. They encounter a sea of Reeds (however people take this to mean the Red Sea). Moses parts the "Red Sea" and the people are delivered to Israel.

Once in the Sinai Moses climbs Mt. Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments. The interesting note here is (Exodus 19:19 - 19:24) God tells Moses not to let the other people and priests (besides Aaron) ascend the mount lest they be overwhelmed by God.

Posted at 02:51 PM


The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most destructive to the peace of man since man began to exist.

Thomas Paine
--The Age of Reason

Thoman Paine's work was the basis for the constitution of America. His work is instrumental in our quest towards understanding the social contract that exists between humans in society. Further, it helps refine the contract and enable us to relate to each other in a civilized manner.

Posted at 10:58 AM

July 17, 2002

Heaven - where unanswered questions go to live

I've developed an acute awareness of how we as a community of humans banish our intellectual honesty to the dungeon and let our denial run the gauntlet. This particular rant centers around our treatment of the subject of death with children in particular. Intelligent adults run screaming into the comfort of "heaven" at the first possibility of discussing death with children.

Where did the Fein kitty go mommy? To heaven dear. Is she going to be God's kitty mommy? Yes dear.

Cant kids handle the concept of death? Or is it that we cant handle the concept of being unable to answer the questions that follow. Why do we think we need an answer for every question. Why do we fear that when asked where do people really go when they die cant be answered and thats ok.

So when asked "Where did kitty go?" say "She ran away. We're getting a dog though"

Posted at 02:22 PM

July 16, 2002

The search for Satori

My innate mistrust of the organizational trappings of religion has always kept me wary of any classifications or scriptures. When I started studying Zen Buddhism this kept me away from reading the sutras or exploring the more "hokey" tantric branches of this philosophy.

However now I think it might be useful to explore the more formal Zen philosophy in order to learn from it. Zen has come to mean different things to different people. The most dominant view is that of bompu Zen. Bompu Zen is focussed on helping people control their mind and as a consequence lead better lives. The quest for the meaning of life is not the goal of Bompu. Gedo Zen deals with the psycho-kinetic forces and the cultivation of Joriki.

The Zen that hits closest to home is Shojo Zen which in some ways fits with the objectivist philosophy of life. Shojo (or small vehicle) is all about you using Zen to get to your destination viz figuring out the meaning of life.

Daijo and Shaijo Zen deal with true enlightenment and the Zazen aspect of it. Satori is the experience of enlightenment (a deeper feeling than kensho, which is also enlightenment). You continue to experience different satori till you achieve true enlightenment. It is at that point that you have achieved Nirvana or Nibbana. The important point to note that zazen(sitting meditation) or kinhin(walking meditation) are but means to get there. There are several koans explaining how we must always be mindful even when not in zazen.

How do we get there from here? Continue practising in order to achieve Satori. It will eventually take you there. The beauty of Satori is that once you experience it you cannot choose to go away from it. It makes too much sense. As the soto sect of Zen buddhism says, we all have buddha nature within us. Satori exposes it to us and we go on the path. The practice can be hard and troublesome.

The movie Why did bodhidharma come from the West? explored the extent of physical hardship monks will subject themselves in order to achieve enlightenment. It is ironic because satori comes not from striving for it but when letting go of expectations of getting it. Simmer down, settle down. It will come. Seek it not like a drowning man grasps at reeds. Let it encompass you like wind does a cliff. It flows through you and becomes one with you and you suddenely find yourself in another place. You see you seeing you and then you smile at seeing you, seeing you.

Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T.Suzuki
Zen Enlightenment

Posted at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2002

And then they created life

Scientists have created a virus in a lab. Its alive. Man has created life?
Read more here [via Metafilter]

Posted at 11:48 PM


Divine command - from the bible (religious base)
Ethics of conscience - follow your conscience (again religious base)
Ethical egoism - watch out for your own self interest (Ayn Rand - selfishness)
Ethics of duty - do the right thing (Kant, position you hold)
Ethics of respect - dont piss me off (cultural relativism)
Ethics of rights - everyone has rights (constitution of America)
Utilitarianism - do so that it is good for everyone (JS.Mill )
Ethics of Justice - do the fair thing
Virtue Ethics - be a good person (Plato , Greek philosophy)

Posted at 12:39 PM

Hinduism Reader

The term Hindu allegedly derives from a mis-pronunciation of Sindhu by the Greeks when referring to the people dwelling to the East of the Sindhu river. Most modern religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Ba'hai, etc) are messianic religions. A prophet or offspring of God visits Earth and informs us of our duties to God in these religions. Hinduism is not revelation, it is realization. Hinduism is essentially the realization of the ancient seers about the self-evident truths of the Universe. Hinduism is a henotheistic faith. Henotheism is when one God takes many forms. Its conceivable to be an atheistic Hindu.

In this entry I'll explore some of the basic concepts of Hinduism.
disclosure: Rather than treat the subject matter independently I've interspersed my knowledge of Zen buddhism. This has the potential to confuse the reader.

4 goals in life
dharma: appropriate living
artha: pursuit of material gain by ethical means
kama: delight of senses
moksha: liberation from samsara

Hindu scriptures are broadly classified into Shruti (heard), Smriti(remembered) and nyaya (logic). Vedas are the oldest of the scriptures and they are classified under Shruti (as they were heard from seer's who've had spiritual experiences). The four vedas are Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva.

Misc other info:

Given that Hinduism is a way of life and most modern Hindu literature stresses the oneness of humanity and how all religions lead to the Brahman you'd think converting to Hinduism would be a simple step. Turns out, in order to become a Hindu you must perform the namakarna samskara (name giving ritual) whereby you are given your new Hindu name and you join your sect within Hinduism. Here is some more info, you'll find useful:

When seeking out a liturgist who will perform the name-giving rite, or namakarana samskara, it is necessary to approach a priest from within the sect that one wishes to enter (note: Smarta priests most likely will not give namakaranas). Bring with you to the ceremony an offering basket of incense, fruit, coconut, candy, loose flowers and a beautiful flower garland for Lord Ganesha. Dakshina, a love offering for the priest, is traditional in appreciation for his services in bringing you into the Sanatana Dharma sect of your choice. A generous dakshina, a sum of $900 or more is appropriate by 1995 standards in the US, depending upon the number of priests attending. It is estimated that such a Vedic ceremony will take one to two hours and require many more hours of strict preparations. The presiding priest would be given us$301 or more, his second helper $201 and other helpers $101. Traditionally, cash is wrapped in a betel leaf or its equivalent, and handed personally to the priests right after the ceremony. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the cost of the giving should not be a consideration. Of course, when the rite is performed in a temple, the management should also be given $100 to $200 for the use of their facilities, which would be arranged in advance with the management and could be paid by check. In general, generosity is preferred to miserliness when it comes to rewarding our priests for these enormously important sacred ceremonies and passages. Such appreciation in the form of equitable payment ensures the gratitude and good feelings of the priests for the life ahead. If more than one family member is receiving the namakarana samskara, the amount paid to the priests and the temple would not necessarily be increased. This depends on the protocol of the particular temple. Any reception held afterwards would, of course, involve additional costs. You may elect to give gifts to the temple, such as a picture of your guru and his books and other publications, in thanks for the assistance and services

note: this is just one view point and view points diverge more often than they merge.

What do Hindu's believe in? Here is one view point:

Sri K. Navaratnam enumerates a set of basic beliefs held by Hindus:

A belief in the existence of God.
A belief in the existence of a soul separate from the body.
A belief in the existence of the finitizing principle known as avidya or maya.
A belief in the principle of matter--prakriti or maya.
A belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation.
A belief in the indispensable guidance of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization.
A belief in moksha, or liberation, as the goal of human existence.
A belief in the indispensable necessity of temple worship...in religious life.
A belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and external, until one realizes God.
A belief in ahimsa as the greatest dharma or virtue.
A belief in mental and physical purity as indispensable factors for spiritual progress.

Gayathri Mantra: Om Bhur Bhuva Suvah Tat Savithur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi Dhiyo Yonah Prachodayat
We meditate on that most adorable, most desirable and most enchanting luster (effulgence) of our supreme Lord, who is our creator, inspirer and source of eternal Joy. May this light inspire and illumine our intellect (and dispel the darkness).

The stages of a man (male) according to Hinduism are:

1. Brahmacharya (celibate)
2. Grihastha (householder)
3. Vanaprastha (recluse)
4. Sanyasa (renunciation).

Importance of Sankaracharya
Sankaracharya holds a special place in Hindu philosophy. His interpretation of the Vedanta has contributed greatly to the corpus of exegesis available on the subject. Authors seem to find no bounds for their admiration for this apparent prodigy. He has is also considered an avatar in some circles. He estabilished five religious centers called mutts.

I have my own prejudices over Sankaracharya's real intentions. They are likely to be betrayed in the following paragraphs. Please keep this disclosure in mind during your journey. Sankaracharya is most renowned for his formulation of the advaita interpretation of the Vedas. The Brahman is generally accepted as nirguna (without gunas or attributes. Some people like to say without negative attributes. My belief is that nirguna refers to the ultimate truth that has no attributes (yes this is a specious argument)) or saguna (with attributes). Sankaracharya believed in the final status of Jnana (knowledge) as the ultimate state.

Brahma Satyam. Jagat Mithya. (Brahma is the truth. the universe is unreal). The vast majority of Hindus refer to this statement when they talk about how Maya (illusions) dominate the universe. My personal opinion using the sophisticated duck test (if it walks like a duck , quacks like a duck then it is a duck) is that Sankaracharya was referring to the same ultimate truth as Buddhism, where the self doesnt exist and the samsara (universe) is an illusion. There are some astounding disagreements on the time frame of Sankaracharya's existence. The generally acknowledged time frame appears to be 8th century A.D. (about 1100 years after Buddha). However Kamakoti.org claims to have unbroken lineage dating back to 486 B.C. which would put Adi Sankara 100 years after Buddha.

In anycase Adi Sankaracharya's paramaguru was apparently influenced greatly by a certain branch of Buddhism. Given the similarities and the actual pronounciations of the Sankaracharya I have a tough time coming to terms with the dichotomy of the different branches of Hinduism. While in the common case Hindu's regard Sankara greatly and accept his advaita, the concept of soul remains a central theme of Hinduism.

Adi Sankara's theory stresses the universality of the Brahman. To use an example (pg 231. Ten Commandments of Hinduism by V. Krishnamurthy) the Brahman is like a movie screen upon which the "reality" of our lives plays out. The screen is the ultimate reality. It exists but is not affected by our reality. Further we know not the true state until we have woken up from our "dream-reality". Sankara also uses the analogy of a rope mistaken for a snake because of poor lighting.

Everything is in me. Nothing is in me This phenomenon of Brahman not being visible but something else, the universe being visible is called Maya in the Upanishads and is exploited by Sankara to the hilt. Maya has two powers: one to hide the Brahman from you and the other to project a false thing. The declaration that this is what is happening clearly comes forth from the Lord himself in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Everything that is perceptible is pervaded and permeated by Me, who is unmanifested; all the beings are estabilished in Me but not I in them; they are not in Me either, this is my divine Yoga. He remains unmanifested while what is visible is basically a permeation by him. While he remains unchanges, and imperceptible, the universe is what is perceptible. Everything visible is supported by Him as the only substratum, whereas He Himself is not supported by anything. He is his own support. The snake appears on the rope, the rope does not undergo any change, but the snake is supported by the rope (meaning, without the tope there is no snake). But in reality the snake was never there and so it is also true to say that the snake is not in the rope. To the question: Where is the snake? the answe is: it is in the rope. To the question, Is the snake there? the answer is: there is no snake, the snake was never in the rope. It is in this strain that the Lord gives out, almost in the same breath, what appears to be two contradictory statements. Everything is in me; and nothing is in me. This is the cosmic mystery of the Universe. It is and it is not - sad-asad-vilakshana

Upon reading this paragraph I was immediately reminded of a koan (Johu's dog from the Gateless Gate by Mu-mon (Ekai) - (excerpted from Zen Flesh, Zen bones))

A monk asked Joshu a Zen master: "Has a dog buddha-nature or not?" Joshu answered: "Mu"

The essence of this koan is that Mu means "is" and "isn't" at the same time. (This explanation is currently sparse)

Advaita Bhakti
All this brings up an obvious question. Given that advaita says that the atman and the brahman are the same how does one resolve the conflict that this philsophy with the rest of Hinduism which advocates dualism. There are three schools of thought in modern Hinduism:

1. Advaita - Adi Sankara's philosophy that we have discussed at length. Practised by Iyers and other Shaivites (followers of Shiva)
2. Vishitadvaita - Ramanuja's philosophy. Iyengar - Vaishnavite (followers of Vishnu)
3. Dvaita - Madhwa.

The author of the book (Ten Commandments of Hinduism) copped out of giving an answer to the question. He claims we're not equipped to understand the answer.

Sankara also says that Jnana (knowledge) alone will result in the achievement of Moksha. He however recommends the use of unattched work (Nishkama - karma) to help you achieve Moksha. This is pretty much what buddhism says. Knowledge alone will help you achieve Nirvana and mindfulness will help you get there.

Sankara does not ask you to throw away Works or Devotion. These wil drop off by themselves. The very consciousness that one is foing works is enough to make it obligatory on you to do the works. It is the same thing with Devotion. In the ultimate analysis devotion has to take you to that state when you are no more conscious of the difference between you and the worshipped. When this duality dissappears nothing more is desired. What remains is only the subject, the worshipper in whom has merged the objective world of duality.

Here are some more interesting parallels between Buddhism and Advaita.
Sankara says Brahmana-bhava (or being brahman) results in brahmana-ananda a blissful feeling. (akin to Satori / Nirvana?).

It does not come out of studies or scholarship. It does not come out of studies or scholarship. It is a state to be enjoyed internally, not by the external apparatus. It blosseons when one is no more alive to any worldly distraction or glamour. Just like waking up from a fream, you know when you are awake, not before. It is a divine perception of equanimity, that sprouts forth intuitively. When that experience crystallizes there is no more knowledge, no more ignorance, no perceiver, nothing perceived, no perception.

While I will not quote him here I recommend the reader read Zen Buddhism: Selected writings of D.T. Suzuki for a strikingly similar description of satori.

Prakriti - Cosmic Energy
Prakriti has three strands Satva, Rajas and Tamas.
Samadhi: altered state where one becomes one with the Truth
Atman/Brahman: Reality, Absolute Consciousness
Avatar: When humanity loses its realization the Reality takes human form to lead us to the Truth again
Samsara: continuous cycle of birth and death
Moksha: liberation from Samsara
Jeevanmukti: One who has been liberated while embodied (i.e. like one who has experienced Nirvana)
videmukti: one who has achieved Nirvana on death becomes a videmukti and is freed from the cycle of re-birth

Int'l forum for NeoVedantins
Himalayan Academy
Indian Philosophy Page
Bhagavad Gita

To the reader: All factual errors in this entry are mine. While the text may carry the tone of confirmed factual evidence it is wholly not the case. The constant apologetic interjection of "I think", "it appears" and other mechanisms of informing the lack of unalloyed conviction are unappealing to the author. If you wish to contribute constructively and reform any questionable facts please use the comment forum. Your response will be absorbed and your contribution duly noted.

Posted at 11:04 AM

July 05, 2002

Goodbye Dualism

It was the first day of class for the 7th grade class. I turned and enquired of my friend "What is your name?". His tone of voice betraying a sneaking suspicion he replied with the accepted "My name is John Doe". My body language conveying agreement I pointed to his hand and asked "Is this your hand?". His face now revealing the same incredulity as his voice, he said "Yes".

My head nodding in agreement my inquiry continued. "If this is your hand and this is your body. Then who are you?". What followed was a sophistry that outlined the fact that the soul inhabited the body. The soul answered to the intangibles such as hate, fear, anger while the body displayed the gaugeable characteristics of weight, height and speed. Thus with out much ado I entered the world of dualism.

Dualism is the de facto assumption of most people today. Most of the world's major religions rely on dualism to entice their followers and to retain their believers' loyalty. The Judaeo-Christian religions promise the sweet rewards of heaven and the harsh punishments of hell to their followers. Even hinduism (in most forms) needs dualism to allow for re-birth. (The atman(soul) is re-born in a cycle till moksha(liberation) is achieved).

Why is dualism so appealing? Because it's simple. In general our physical manifestation is always subject to comparision and derision. Ever notice how its a great compliment to call someone a beautiful person or look for what's inside and that beauty is only skin deep. Since what's inside can't be measured and made to stand in a line up it's preferable to think that the inside is of more significance. Obviously if the physical were a result of the inside I would be a 6'4" towering work of art!

Dualism also allows the priests to guarantee that we would enjoy a wonderful life in the hereafter without the inconveniences of the current world. Which donor to a religious institution would like to learn that the chronic back pain and arthritis will accompany them to their next life. Questions of the form "Will I be young or old in the hereafter" are responded to by saying that those concepts are once again related to the physical world and have no bearing in heaven. However, conveniently we are left with our ability to sense physical pain in case we end up in Hades and have to face the wrath of Satan.

What we fail to realize is that a lof of our so called intangible nature is a result of our physical. We adjust to accomodate our physical world and the two are intertwined in more ways than we would like. We walk differently to counter a mishap to our foot. We communicate differently to accomodate a lisp. The separation of the soul is not a cleave and part operation on a butcher's block.

So what then? Monism? Your body and your soul are intertwined they are one and the same. Go a little further and let Buddhism tell you that there is no self. There is only consciousness (many different kinds of consciousness).

Posted at 03:25 PM

hot dog!

Attached is the text of a report from the International Hot Dog eating contest. I wonder if the folks at the Onion wrote this up.

Accusations hurled at hot dog contest
By Darren Rovell

NEW YORK -- On Thursday, competitive eating made a lot of progress in proving that it is indeed a sport. Like the NFL, NHL and NBA, it apparently needs instant replay.

Takeru Kobayashi, center, won the title with 50 hot dogs, while Eric Booker, right, finished second with 26.
Japanese professional speed-eater Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi destroyed the competition for the second consecutive year at the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July international hot dog eating contest, scarfing down 50 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes.

The 24-year-old Kobayashi, who weighed 113 pounds before the contest and almost 120 pounds after, bettered his 2001 world-record performance by half a hot dog despite having to fight off the 100-degree heat. He also covered the spread of Internet gamblers, who favored him to win by 20 hot dogs.

But in the final seconds, with many of the 20 competitors already satisfied with their effort, Kobayashi's body heaved as his cheeks ballooned with remnants. Since visible regurgitation during competition means a disqualification, many in the crowd cried foul and waited for the title to be given to Eric "Badlands" Booker, who finished second with 26 hot dogs.

Seconds after the contestants were told to put down their hot dogs, Kobayashi's individual judge, Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Post, and Mike Devito, the commissioner of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (which sanctioned the contest), ruled that the victory was official.

"It's the Raiders-Patriots game all over again," joked Rich Shea, president of the IFOCE.

But instant replay would not overturn the fumble, as it did during the AFC divisional playoffs.

Kobayashi captured the coveted Mustard Yellow Belt for the second consecutive year.
"If you suffer a roman-method incident (the IFOCE's term for regurgitating) during the contest, it's an immediate DQ," said Rich's brother George, the chairman of the federation, which would later review the tapes as a formality. "My understanding is this not only happened after the contest, but that none of the hot dogs and buns actually hit the table or the floor."

Footage captured by ESPN confirms that some hot dog slush did spill through Kobayashi's fingers and pieces of liquid bun spouted out of his nose, but footage shows time had already expired.

"I feel good I got over the 50 mark, even by a half," said Kobayashi, through an interpreter. Others weren't as satisfied.

"He should be disqualified, period," said "Hungry" Charles Hardy, a 5-foot-11, 360-pound New York City corrections officer who had 20 hot dogs. "Eric should have that belt. I mean, I had people in Atlanta call me on my cell phone saying they saw it on TV." While eating a 15-foot sushi roll during the Glutton Bowl on Fox in February, Hardy was disqualified for regurgitating.

"I was standing right next to him, but I was too focused on my game," said Booker, a 6-foot-5, 400-pound New York City transit conductor. "I didn't want to suffer the mistakes I had last year, where I was looking around to see what everyone was doing. It was just me and the dogs."

Eating only 26 hot dogs was a somewhat disappointing effort for Booker, who set a new U.S. record of 28 on June 2. Three hours before the competition, Booker boasted that he hoped to "eat one for every state in the union." After seeing Kobayashi use his "Solomon" method -- where he splits the hot dog in half and puts both pieces in his mouth at the same time -- Booker employed a new method this year: "The Double Japanese" (putting two hot dogs in his mouth at one time, then dipping two buns in water and putting them in his mouth at the same time).

Controversy and the international hot dog eating contest actually go hand-and-hand.

Last year, there was another controversy surrounding Kobayashi.

"These (American) guys last year were yelling and screaming drugs, drugs, drugs," said Rich Shea, who noted that contestants accused Kobayashi of using muscle relaxers. "I was with him all morning, and I've seen no evidence of it. As the international federation, it would be our duty to bring drug testing into this sport, but there's just no evidence."

In 1997, when the first of three Japanese champions came on the scene at Coney Island, Shea said competitors complained he had two stomachs. "No one has two stomachs," Shea said. "We're all born with the same stomach."

Posted at 01:18 PM | Comments (0)

An Islamic reader

Several practices in Islam have always befuddled my weak religious mind. In this entry I am going to try to list the rituals and their Koranic basis and origin. A glossary is at the end.

The black stone(aswad) During the hajj Muslims venerate a black stone. There is no Koranic basis for this act. A mixture of tradition and pagan(?) tradition have continued the execution of this act.

Stoning the Shai-tan (Satan): Muslims symbolize their rejection of polytheism by stoning 7 pebbles at the earthen symbols of the Devil. This practice has no Koranic basis. The prophet confirmed this practice.

Zam Zam: The so-called holy water collected and distributed around the world packaged with tall-tales of therapeutic values. Once again, no Koranic background. Legend has it that when Hagar and Ismael were abandoned by Abraham on Sarah's insistence, Hagar prayed to God for sustenance and the spring of Zam Zam came forth.

Animal Offerings: This practice has a Koranic background. God requires Muslims to offer the sacrifice and partake in the meat and distribute the meat to the less fortunate. My impression is that this follows the tradition of Abraham where this practice was/is common place.

Kaaba: The cube (60' x 60' x 60') shaped building in Mecca considered the house of God. The Koran says it was raised by Abraham.

Prayer (Salat) An interesting issue. The manner or content of Salat was never detailed in the Quran or the Hadith. Salat (as well as Zakaat (tithe/charity), Roza (fasting), Hajj) comes to Islam from Abraham. Salat was performed by the idolators of the Quraish. The implication spelled out is that Salat was secular and utilized by all the religions of the descendants of Abraham. That's why when you see a time-in-motion graphic of the jewish prayer you will see a striking similarity to the Muslim Salat!

Women:Hijab The most often quoted verse from the Quran regarding women is one that asks that women dress modestly. The wearing of the veil is more tradition (and misguided efforts to score brownie points with Allah) related than religion.

Women:inheritance In the absence of a will (this is a subtle but very important point) daughters get only half what the sons get. This is not a earth shattering revelation considering the partiarchial society we live in.

Women:trustworthiness Women are equal to men with respect to the law with one exception. In Financial matters two women are require to collaborate what would be accepted by one man.

Women: separation from Men Interesting enough the world over in muslim countries it seems to be the norm to separate the women from the men in social gatherings. This has no basis in the Quran as exemplified by the ritual of Haj where men and women perform the rites together.

Women:sex It is forbidden to have sex when a woman is menustrating. The Quran appears to have a very temporal and negative view ("unclean") of menstruation. Not a stretch considering the practice at the time.

Women: abortion It doesnt appear that Quran deals explicitly with abortion. Most "scholars" use verses relating to "children" to form their opinion. However, they fail to realize that in order to derive that equality you need to determine that the fetus is indeed alive and is a child. Abortion during the first 3 months seems to permitted.

Over all the Quran is quite progressive in its dealing with the female gender. There are plenty of verses that reveal an understanding of how relationships work (for eg: divorces have cooling off period during which retraction of divorce is simple). However, today the prophet would not have won support from any feminist groups.

The Islamic law codified from the Quran and the Sunnah constitute the Shariah. Unfortunately (or obviously. please choose the lesser offensive of the two) the meaning gleaned from the Shariah is not unanimously accepted. This has resulted in the Shariah being interpreted and caused disputes. The Shariah can be considered as one of the foremost achievement of early Islamic society. The strength of Islamic law kept Muslim society free of chaos and unrest. However 1300 years later at the dawn of the 21st century Shariah threatens to keep Muslims entangled and backward because of their unquestioned faith in it.

Fiqh is based on four rules (usul):

1. Quran
2. Sunnah
3. ijma: consensus of the community
4. qiyas: analogical reasoning.

The first two components are superior to the rest. The system never attained perfect unanimity. Four schools (madhabs) formed that argued over the merits of their systems. The four were:

1. Hanifi: this school was more open to reasoning and interpretation. They use qiyas analogy to derive solutions.

2. Maliki: the most conservative of the schools. Example: marriages could only be contracted by parents and guardians (divorce was easy for the male). Their solutions were based completely on the Hadith

3. Shafi - this school attempted compromise between the Quran and aql (human reasoning)

4. Hanbali - this school focusses solely on the hadith with no room for use of reasoning.

A couple of interesting points. Early in the development of Islam Ijtihad(creative interpretation) was used. Later it was outlawed as bida (creation of new perversions). From this point onwards changes in law could only be according to the principle of taqlid (imitation of earlier rulings). This appears to be similar to the rules of precedence and introduces scholasticism into Islamic society. Fiqh classified all human actions into the following categories:

1. fard: obligatory and required acts. Omission of these acts is a sin.
2. haram: forbidden acts. performance of these acts is a sin
3. mandub: recommended acts to gain brownie points
4. makru: undesirable acts
5. mubah: all other unspecified acts of unknown quality (good or bad)

bi la kayf: without questioning why. This is another concept within fiqh which requires unquestioned obedience. (side note. Plato's Euthyphro questioned if something was good because God commanded it or did command it because it was good).

Example of the Shariah: If someone is found guilty of stealing their hand is lopped off. The proponents of Shariah claim that such punishment is a great dissuading force. They claim that when a theif is sent to prison the children in the house are deprived of a father figure and are without a bread winner. The logic is quite easily assailable. While I am tempted to leave the counter points as an exercise to the reader I'll try to enumerate a couple of my observations:

1. If stealing constituted a part of the cash flow to the family then the father was not an effective breadwinner.
2. The simplistic manner in which this issue is addressed leaves no room for distinction between simple crimes to serious ones.

I concede the point that a person could only be found guilty of stealing twice under Shariah. After that the thief becomes dependent on the state for his/her every need.

Islamic scholars make a big issue of how Islam appeals to the intellect while other religions require unquestioned faith. Here is something to think about. The punishment for renouncing Islam (and converting to another religion) is punishable by death under Shariah. I can see how an intellectual man would hesitate before commiting apostacy.

Punishment in Islam:
Punishment in Islam falls under the following categories:
1. Hudud (fixed penalties)

The offenses under Hudud are adultery, fornication, drinking alcohol, theft, rebellion against Islamic authority and apostacy. Punishment ranges from lashes, stoning, amputation and death. Progression of punishment in theft is as follows. First offence results in the loss of 4 fingers of the right hand. Second offence will cause the loss of the left foot from the ankle joint. A third time will result in imprisonment for life. Theft in prison will earn the death penalty.

The prescribed treatment of homosexuality and adultery is death.

2. qisas (retribution)
The offences are premeditated murder, seemingly premeditated murder , erroneous murder and intended and unintented other offenses. The victime has the option of retribution, blood money or neither.

3. ta'zir (discretionary sentences )
All other crimes allow the judge to decide what punishment can be prescribed.

Intercession is undesirable according to the Quran.

eschatology: branch of theology concerned with the final events of mankind. for eg: the day of judgement in the Christian faith
weltanschauung: comprehensive understanding and conception of the world from a specific point. Essentially Quranic weltanschauung would refer to the understanding Islam displays of the whole world.
manichaean: a believer of religious or philosophical dualism

5 pillars: The essential practices of a Muslim
Hajj: Once in a lifetime visit to Mecca required by Islam as part of the 5 pillars.
Abraham: Ibrahim in the Koran
Ishmael: Ismael
Hijab: the term used for the veil worn by muslim women.
Quran/Koran: Quran is the preferred reference to the holy book. It contains 114 chapters
Tafseer: exegesis (explanation) of Quran
Sunnah: denotes the way the prophet lived his life. Islamic jurisprudence uses the Sunnah as the second source of knowledge.
Hadith: Narrations about episodes in the prophet life. Used as parables.
Fiqh: Islamic jurisprudence.

Misc info:
"Researchers" have tried to find a mathematical framework in the Quran. The recurring theme appears to be the number 19.

The number of chapters is 114 = 9 x 6
The total number of verses is 6,346 = 19 x 334
The number of times the word "Allah" appears is 2,698 = 19 x 142

The claim is that nothing in the Quran can be modified without altering the mathematical authentication built into the text. While I applaud the zeal of these Quranic number crunchers I find that none of their "authentication scheme" work on the total number of letters or words! If I were to add more text to a verse without altering the number of chapters or mentioning Allah (or mentioning Allah 19x times) then the change would not be detectable.


The Koran (Quran) pays a lot of attention to Abraham. Abraham received the covenant from God.

Further reading:
Shalom and Salaam: Judaism and IslamI and II: A comparitive study of the two monotheistic religions.
Islamic Finance
Islam exposed is an anti-Islam site that may have a contrarian perspective
Info on Shariah
Itjihad- Muslim freethinking
Secular Islam A movement to modernize the religion. The testimonials of the people who have left Islam are enlightening.
Alternative views on Islam
Information on Hadith
Virtual Library at the Witness-Pioneer
muslim philosophy

Islam in the World - Malise Ruthven
Islamic Law in the contemporary world - Sayed Hassan Amin
Riyad-us-Saliheen - compilation of Hadith.

To the reader: All factual errors in this entry are mine. While the text may carry the tone of confirmed factual evidence it is wholly not the case. The constant apologetic interjection of "I think", "it appears" and other mechanisms of informing the lack of unalloyed conviction are unappealing to the author. If you wish to contribute constructively and reform any questionable facts please use the comment forum. Your response will be absorbed and your contribution duly noted.

Posted at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2002

The rise and fall of the red hairline

Here's a thought.
Receding Not Receding
Lenin Stalin
Khrushchev Brezhnev
Gorbachev Yeltsin
Posted at 12:27 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2002

McKinsey and Enron

Business week examines the McKinsey angle in the whole Enron debacle. Over all Business week explores the decisions of McKinsey during the big dot-com bubble. It would be hard to fault any manager who decided to enter the dot-com stock option craze. At that point in time if you were'nt singing praises of the bubble you would have been derided as a dinosaur. I think I prefer not going back to those times. I'd rather wish the world rewarded hardwork, decent idea and unrelenting passion. Even in today's market there are some companies that are doing quite well. It just so happens they're not in the limelight (and sigh! not in my portfolio). Take Limited (LTD) for example. Since Sept they've gone up 40%. NCEN (New Century Financial) has gone up 3x since Sept.

Posted at 09:24 AM

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