Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

I want you to imagine that you’re sitting at your desk. Maybe you imagine something in your mind’s eye. You might have a track of music you like on your mind.
Suddenly, the visions in your mind start to become more vivid. They start to take a life of their own, out of your conscious control. The music becomes louder, almost real, and takes its own direction and movement, nothing quite like you’ve heard before. The visions in your mind become progressively more fantastic, realistic, and detailed. For a moment you thought you saw one of the characters in your mind’s eye darting across the room in your peripheral vision, and you can now almost smell that you’re there. You hear the background noises of the scene in your mind. You feel someone tug your sleeve and urge you to pay attention to them. The music is becoming like a score to a movie playing in your head, and you’re the protagonist. People, objects, things, start shifting in size and perspective. Someone’s head looks massive and funny, the wall seems an infinite distance away, and that ant looks way larger than it should do.
You’ve likely experienced this many times before, ever since childhood, and you know that these are hallucinations. But they are compelling and they don’t leave you alone. The longer they stay with you, the more you want to engage with your hallucinations, to be the hero of your mind’s own movie, which of course isn’t socially acceptable behaviour if you don’t want to be instituted. As this goes on, perhaps after a few minutes, the hallucinations might start to come more and more out of your mind’s eye and senses and into your real perception of the world. Of course, you know they are still hallucinations, but they are compelling, and they are demanding your attention. You are in Wonderland, in space, on a faraway planet, on a spaceship, it doesn’t matter. You are seized by your imagination, you are in a fit of fantasy. You might talk to your characters, act out the weird things occurring, and people trying to bring you back to the real world can only do so for a few seconds before your mind becomes captivated – seized, again.
By the time this starts to end and you return to the real world, you can feel the most horrific migraine setting in. You may feel dazed, slightly out of touch with reality. You won’t usually be up for conversation for a while. Alternatively, you might come back to the world with brilliant and clear insights – whether relating to your own life, to work you need to do, or just more broadly about philosophical ideas or world events and politics.
This condition isn’t schizophrenia, but it is still, sadly, often misdiagnosed as such. It is temporal lobe epilepsy, and it is the condition the author Lewis Carroll almost certainly had, and which he gifted to his most famous character, Alice. It is also the condition I was diagnosed with in my late teens. Epilepsy, like autism, is not one disorder but a collection of them with often different underlying causes, a spectrum of severity, and often characteristic personality traits that form parts of the syndromes for specific types of epilepsy. Epileptics are very obviously non-neurotypical, but the term is still very rarely applied to epileptics as opposed to autistic people in mainstram discourse.
Some types of epileptiform neurological condition are still intensely difficult to discuss because they can present like psychosis or a psychedelic trip. The stigma attached to epilepsy is still very much real, and especially in the forms of epilepsy that present in superficially psychotic-like behaviour the stigma can be different to someone who suffers only tonic-clonic (grand-mal) seizures. The particular stigma attached to them arises simply because the discussion of hallucination is still taboo in our society.
Epilepsy, like autism, is seen by modern Western medical science as purely pathological, and something to be treated and cured. But as many autistic people report developing an appreciation for some features of their autism – the attention to detail, the cases of savantism and genius – some epileptics have come to see the medical model of attempting to suppress epilepsy through the use of medication and even surgery regardless of the cost to the individual and whether medical goals meet the goals of the patient, as being just as offensive and misguided.
While I absolutely agree that my epilepsy needs managing medically (there are situations where it is totally inappropriate to be seized in this way, and in my teens they did occasionally become secondary generalised seizures), I have absolutely no desire to cure myself entirely of this condition. I credit this condition, as many others who live with it, or have lived with it, for my brilliant imagination. I credit it with my gift (nay, even compulsion) for writing, and my lifelong love of philosophy and spirituality. And I also credit anti-convulsant medications for robbing me of these things for quite a few years of my life.

I share this condition with some brilliant minds – Lewis Carroll and Fyodor Dostoyevsky to name just two. And I want to ask you a question in ending this; I want you to suppose Lewis Carroll and Dostoyevsky lived in the modern era and used anti-convulsants for most of their lives. Would their works be anywhere near as remarkable or famous?

Sunday, 10 July 2016

A few questions and answers for things I've been asked about Buddhism

A while ago I posted this, where I tried to explain some of the misconceptions about Buddhism that are commonly held in the West. Since then I've had people asking me a few questions that I think would be interesting to look at in some depth here.

In this piece I'll be trying to address four major points:

  1. The differences between the branches and traditions of Buddhism
  2. What distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from other Buddhist traditions
  3. Do Buddhists believe in God?
  4. What's this whole Book of the Dead thing?

The differences between branches/traditions of Buddhism

Traditionally, there are three broad branches of Buddhist tradition:
  1. Theravada (School of the Elders)
  2. Mahayana (Great Way)
  3. Vajrayana (Diamond/Thunderbolt Way)
The differences between the three traditions is broadly speaking, based more on emphasis within the teachings and practice, but there also exist some very important differences in philosophy and belief/view. The cultures within which each branch evolved are also of importance, as Theravada teaching is conventionally kept in the Pali language, while Mahayana has a long tradition with the Chinese languages, and Vajrayana is probably most well-known for its voluminous teachings in the Tibetan language, which is the largest tradition of Vajrayana to survive to the present day, although Shingon, a Japanese form of Vajrayana, is currently undergoing something of a revival.

Thervada

Theravada's teachings are, in fact, still the basis for the philosophies of the other two branches of Buddhism. Theravada's philosophical background comes directly from the spiritual tradition that Siddharta Gautama himself was a part of at the time, the Śramaṇa tradition of ancient India. The Śramaṇa monks (bhikkus) were men and sometimes women who had cast of domestic life and were addressing the primary existential question of spirituality and religion of the time: Is there a way out of samsara?

Samsara is a term used in many religions with a belief in reincarnation/rebirth and translates to English roughly as "wandering about" or "keeping going". It refers to the uncontrolled way in which we pass from one life to another, pointlessly passing from one life only to be compelled into the next. A lot of people today would say the idea of rebirth or reincarnation is just a way to assuage fears of death, but in fact, this was not at all the case. Ancient India was a culture with many monks, yogins, and Brahmins (the priestly caste of society), and many people reported greater or lesser degrees of past-life awareness as a result of meditation practice. This was, believe it or not, not in itself a source of solace regarding the mortality of mankind, but something of an existential problem.

You see, on first inspection, it might seem wonderful to imagine that life just keeps going on and on and on in form after form after form, but is it really? You are then actually confronted with the fact that each life will be plagued with both joy and suffering, gain and loss, praise and censure, status and disgrace. This is the nature of Samsara, which is often depicted as a wheel turned by our base instincts of desire, ill-will and ignorance, and a cycle of people climbing only to fall again. Moreover, at the conclusion of each life, one is forced to give up everything one loves, ones' family, ones' possessions, ones' very body, and this is, as we all know, a painful experience to bear. While definitely not from the Theravadin tradition, the Tibetan Book of the Dead reminds us "This is what death is". Certainly, being spiritual and believing in some form of afterlife doesn't in itself liberate one from the pains of death. To throw a third spanner into the works, the Śramaṇa monks had reformulated the law of karma (kamma in Pali) from the "significant action" preached by the Brahmins to incorporate all decisions and actions taken by a person, no matter how petty or how grand - indeed, karma itself translates literally as "action", and in Buddhist thought refers to anything performed with mind, speech or body. A human or animal lifetime would almost certainly rack up some negative karma, how could it not? We've all done things we regret. People yearned after a spiritual or religious teaching that could guide them to abandoning the accumulation of negative karma and to help them gain positive karma, often referred to as "virtuous action" or "merit". However, it was recognised that positive karma would only help one to take a happy rebirth in one's next life, or later in this life, it could not in itself free one from samsara.

This existential understanding of life was not something seen as blissful by people; indeed it was responsible for the rise of the Śramaṇa movement to begin with, especially as the social changes of the time started to diminish peoples' faith in the Brahmin caste which seemed to many primarily out to maintain its privileged status in society and maintain the caste system itself (which, by heredity, they were on top of), rather than to pursue and teach anything of real spiritual value (I think a lot of people today can relate to this looking at mainstream religious institutions). Vedic religion of the time was therefore in rapid decline, and this, in time, gave birth to the three main modern Indian religions that have survived to this day: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The primary, overarching spiritual concern of the Śramaṇa movement was the discovery of a path that led to salvation from samsara, usually referred to as "liberation" - one is liberated both from the intense sufferings of this life (not by becoming dissociated from life, but from merely being able to accept them as a part of it), and from having to go through them all over again and again and again.

While this might seem a bit of a history lesson, it's important cultural context as the Buddha himself was initially a part of this Śramaṇa movement, seeking liberation from samsara and enlightenment. Additionally, his first followers, as well as his closest disciples throughout his life, were all Śramaṇa bhikkus and bhikkunis (fem.). It is from this very Indian tradition that the Theravada tradition springs and has done for 2,500 years. For laypeople and ordained monks/nuns alike, the Theravada tradition (as well as the Jain tradition) keeps the Śramaṇa movement's spirit alive into the modern day in its approach to human spirituality, but being the Buddhist middle-path, softens out all of the harsh ascetic practices that are advocated by some branches of Śramaṇa. Its scriptures are primarily accounts of events in the Buddha's life and his teachings, called Suttas, and are recorded in the Pali language, which is almost certainly the closest modern language to that which Siddhartha Gautama himself spoke. The final goal of a Theravadin practitioner is to reach the level of an Arhat, one who is liberated from rebirth and redeath.

Mahayana

The Mahayana tradition is thought to have begun as a distinct tradition around 100 years after the Buddha's death, when philosophical disagreements regarding the preferred goal of the path led to a schism following the Second Buddhist Council. On the one hand, the Theravardins preferred the path towards arahantship - simply liberation from rebirth in samsaric realms, while practitioners of what became Mahayana preferred the path of the Bodhisattva, a being that continues to be reborn again and again within samsara until reaching full Buddhahood. The emphasis in the Mahayana's Bodhisattva path is on the cultivation of compassion and wisdom across potentially many lifetimes, until attaining full Buddhahood. In the Mahayana tradition, accomplished Bodhisattvas and those who achieve Buddhahood within their lifetime often fulfil a similar role to saints in the Christian tradition, and are commonly, but not always, renowned teachers whose teachings or feats were recorded or memorised by disciples who create an oral lineage, which takes us onto...

Vajrayana

Vajrayana Buddhism is sometimes viewed as a sub-sect of Mahayana Buddhism, but is, in fact, a distinct tradition derived from the Mahayana. Vajrayana Buddhism is most widely practised around the Himalayas where it takes the form of Tibetan Buddhism, and Mongolia, as well as a tradition from Japan named Shingon which is currently undergoing a revival in the US.

Vajrayana is sometimes "interpreted" into English as Esoteric Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, and even "Mystical" Buddhism, the correct translation is "Diamond Way" or "Thunderbolt Way". Although clearly and self-admittedly a development on the Mahayana/Bodhisattva path, there are several distinctions from conventional Mahayana practice.

Firstly, the emphasis here is on the student-teacher relationship, here usually described as the lama and the disciple. Although this exists in some form in all branches and sects of Buddhism, the student-teacher relationship as well as the blessings and empowerments given from student to teacher in Vajrayana Buddhism is the basis of the lineage. This is something that has to be transmitted from generation to generation, orally, as the innermost secret teachings in Vajrayana are given only within the context of this relationship. There is usually a structure of teaching and practice, from outer, to inner, to secret, that also follows a progressively deeper understanding of a scripture or teaching beyond its literal, face-value interpretation. Outer teaching can generally be almost entirely learned from primary scripture and commentary, although a teacher's guidance can still be invaluable. Inner teaching is often written in more esoteric texts and will almost invariably require oral guidance to assist in interpretation, and secret teaching is entirely passed orally from teacher to student, although literature may reference its contents, and the broad scope of the contents may be widely known. Additionally, most branches of Vajrayana Buddhism have a form of meditation called Guru Yoga, which involves meditating on a past or present spiritual teacher.

Vajrayana practice and philosophy is not so much distinct from Theravada or Mahayana as much as it builds even further upon them. Vajrayana Buddhists believe there to have been three distinct "Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma" during the historical Buddha's (Siddhartha Gautama) lifetime. The first focused on cause and effect (karma) and the need for personal discipline to attain enlightenment (Theravada), the second focusing on universal compassion and emptiness (Śūnyatā) (Mahayana), and the third focused on Buddha's "Diamond" or "Thunderbolt" (Vajra) teachings which were a continuation of the Mahayana, but using particularly effective practices and ideas that are impossible to grasp without the pre-requisite understanding of the first two schools of thought (Vajrayana).

What distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism?

Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Vajrayana, and was first introduced to Tibet by Padmasambhava, an Indian Buddhist saint, in the 8th Century. Padmasambhava is also referred to as "Guru Rinpoche" by Tibetan Buddhists, which roughly translates as "Most precious guru", and is seen as a second Buddha. Padmasambhava converted the indigenous Tibetan shamanic deities to Buddhism and gave them roles in the Buddhist religion. This means that Tibetan Buddhism is actually essentially a fusion of Buddhism with Shamanism. In essence, Buddhism itself actually evolved out of polytheistic shamanism - the Vedic religion of India. From my own view, Tibetan Buddhism takes Buddhism back towards its shamanic roots, which are all but lost in some other variants of Buddhism - although it's likely all meditation practice began as a form of shamanic practice.

Do Buddhists believe in God?

If your conception of God is a creator deity that made the world and the universe exactly the way it is and all life as it is then no, Buddhists don't believe in anything like this. Buddhists believe we live in a cosmos of minds, from deities and devas down to humans and animals, all the way down to hell. Tibetan Buddhists believe all minds and matter exist primordially, since beginningless time. Mind is also a creative and destructive force in itself, so there's no need in this view of reality for an ultimate creator deity to do it all.

On the other hand, Tibetan Buddhists do believe in something called the Primordial Buddha, a mind that has been pure since beginningless time. This is not a creator god that one day decided "let there be light". This is where Tibetan Buddhist philosophy gets very abstract and something you have to reflect upon beyond the mere meaning of the words, because Tibetan Buddhism explicitly describes such things as mere linguistic reflections of the ineffable.

The Primordial Buddha is often described as the Clear Light of the substratum of the mind. While the Primordial Buddha has existed in this form of light for all time and has seen infinite passings of the expansion and collapse of the cosmos, they did not create it. Furthermore, the nature of mind found in each individual sentient being, from gods, to hell beings, to humans and animals, asuras and ghosts, is the reflection of this mind, the Clear Light or Buddha Nature. Since all thoughts, actions and words of sentient beings emanate from this essence or substratum, everything can be considered to emanate from the Primordial Buddha. Mind itself is the creative force of the universe, there is no need here for a creator deity.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead and teachings about death and rebirth/reincarnation

All major Buddhist traditions teach that after death, an individual undergoes reincarnation or rebirth. In most Mahayana and all Vajrayana Buddhist schools, there is a literal consciousness or, from the Western conception, "soul", that transmigrates between existences.

One of Padmasambhava's major original works was a text known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or Bardo Thodol in its original Tibetan. This book aims to describe the experiences encountered by each individual in the run-up to the moment of death, death itself, and the after death state until taking a new incarnation. Its purpose is to be either learned during life and remembered during the bardo, the states of consciousness between lives, or read for a person on their deathbed and after death. People who studied the text during life will also often request that it be read for them after death to assist them in remaining mindful during the bardo state, which, understandably, can be terrifying for an individual.

The Bardo Thodol describes three essential states of consciousness, or bardos, at and after death:
  1. The bardo of the moment of death (occurring at the moment of death and lasting "up to the time taken to eat a meal". Consciousness becomes naked and unsupported by the brain and sense inputs, and while at this time it usually remins inside the body, the body's support for the consciousness shuts down and the subtle energies that supported the consciousness within the body break down. Consciousness experiences itself as Clear Light, which in those with negative karma will cause them to faint and enter a coma-like state, while those with good karma, and particularly those who are spiritually experienced, can abide in this state. After 3 and a half days, the consciousness emerges from the body, preferably through the crown of the head.
  2. The bardo of the intermediate state of reality, during which the individual encounters archetypal beings (deities) emerge from their own consciousness. These beings are manifestations of the being's own mind, but can be confused as being from "outside" themselves. The second half of this bardo is dominated by the appearance of so-called "wrathful deities", which are manifestations of the enlightened nature of one's negative emotions, but which are difficult and terrifying for those who don't understand what they are.
  3. One experiences a scene of judgement by Yama, the Lord of Death, who is also a manifestation of our own minds. Our good and bad consciences plea on our behalf and for our prosecution, respectively, as Yama piles up white pebbles for our good deeds in life, and black pebbles for our evil deeds. He pities those destined for hell, but reminds them that nobody is responsible for this lot but themselves. After our meeting with Yama, we are pushed forwards by our own impulses towards the bardo of rebirth. If we are destined to be born a human, we will have visions of our karmic attachments which draw us to locations, people, things. Our status among the world of the living is dictated by our karma on a more subtle level than that which dictates which of the six realms we enter - one must already have pretty good karma to be reborn human. At the end of the bardo of rebirth, after up to 7 weeks, one has visions of all of one's potential parents in sexual union, and can choose between them. While not entirely conscious but certainly governed predominantly by our subconscious and an element of our own choice, a Tibetan Buddhist would reject the saying that nobody chooses their birth. Once parents are chosen, the consciousness enters the man's body and follows the sperm down their path towards the egg, and enters the egg with the sperm.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Elect me as Prime Minister

What would I do if elected as Prime Minister?

  1. I would tear up the referendum result. The time has come for the end of the media and irresponsible politicians whipping democracies up into an emotive frenzy to cast a vote many of them profoundly regret just hours later. There is no longer any place for the likes of Gove or Johnson in our national politics.
  2. I would go to Brussels and walk into meetings with the other 27 countries. Sit down, Merkel. We're still paid members of the EU with every right to be in these meetings, and only we have power to invoke Article 50 - no European nation can invoke it on our behalf. If Britain voted for something, it's to no longer feel pushed around by the likes of her, and I'd make sure that's seen in our talks with European nation states after this.
  3. Immediate electoral reforms - towards some form of proportional representation. This result happened because so many people in our country believed their votes don't usually count, and they wanted to be heard the one time they had an opportunity to cast a vote that would be heard. First past the post is long past its expiry date in this country and it needs to be ended immediately. This vote probably would never have happened in the first place if we'd gotten rid of it when we had the chance.
  4. No more national referenda on complex issues. We elect representatives to make complex decisions for us. The only problem with this is when people feel like their vote doesn't really count for shit when they cast it, which would be repaired by electoral reform.
  5. Less time in Westminster, more time with constituents. Constituents feel their voices aren't being heard and MPs do their best to listen to constituents and take their voice to Parliament. I would release cross-party guidelines on the amount of time MPs spend in constituencies and with constituents.
  6. Weaken the party whips. MPs should represent their constituents first and their parties second. I would also abandon cabinet collective responsibility and allow cabinet (and shadow cabinet) MPs to speak in the House of Commons in backbench debates on behalf of their constituents.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The EU is a threat to our culture

We all know the arguments about how the EU is a threat to our culture - certain commercial products have to be named in a specific way for trade, blah blah, red tape, cultural diversification through immigration, etc.

What you probably weren't told was about how much the EU funds things like minority languages at schools. If you were a Scottish Gaelic teacher, say, you'd probably have noticed a lot of the resources you get are funded by the EU. You'd come to notice your textbooks have the EU flag stamped onto them, indicating it's been funded or sponsored by an EU scheme. Your job's salary might come from a body that implements regional language teaching by giving grants to schools so that they can hire someone to teach Scottish Gaelic. But barely a HM Government stamp on the bank account can be found. The Scottish know who invest in their future and their culture, and it's not Westminster.

Liverpool was the Capital of Culture for the EU in 2008. In the years before it, I saw Liverpool transformed. When I moved here in 1998, a decade before we were Capital of Culture, Liverpool was a mess. Honestly, it was a bit of a shithole and a throwback to the 70s. Starting in the early 2000s I started seeing EU plaques going up all around the place and the city looked to be on the up. And then we were announced Capital of Culture for 2008 and I saw our city really get transformed into a 21st century city.

We were back on the map, and they invested in businesses that would attract tourists to our own cultural heritage. When I first moved to Liverpool, the idea of visiting Liverpool as a tourist, to me, seemed a bit crazy. "I can understand it for The Beatles" I said. "But you'd go on holiday *here*?" The EU invested in everything from The Beatles to a slavery museum and made our city centre look a lot more appealing and modern.

Now, I can see why you would come here for a holiday, and I'm actually proud to be from here.

Liverpool voted to remain in the EU.

But not all Leave voters are racist...

Of course not. But when you joined them in the polls on Thursday, they became, in their minds, the voice of the silent majority. Now we have reports of escalated racial and ethnic tensions in just about every English district that voted to leave, all across the media and by official police bodies.

Friday, 6 May 2016

A bit about Buddhism

I often see, or am approached with, what I consider to be very erroneous misinterpretations of Buddhism and have thought for a while now of writing my own piece (or maybe eventually pieces, who knows? We'll see how this one goes down) explaining Buddhist beliefs and philosophy. I feel it right to start with a disclaimer that I am, personally, a Tibetan Buddhist, so my own views, practices and beliefs are derived from this tradition and my knowledge of some traditions is sketchy at best - Buddhist traditions are as disparate as Christian denominations - a Tibetan Buddhist temple and its practices are as different from those practised in Theravada Thailand as a Catholic church is from a Gospel church, although obviously both also share some core elements that distinguish them as Christian.

So, let's get started, shall we? I'll address three points here, but if people want to see more written then feel free to ask me questions in the comments, or on Twitter or Tumblr.

Buddhism isn't a religion

This strand of thought often goes along the lines of "Buddhism is more of a philosophy/way of life/etc. than a religion", and there's some truth to this. But Buddhism absolutely is also a religion. Spiritual beliefs are central to almost all traditions of Buddhism, and include beliefs in karma and rebirth/reincarnation. If, in a survey, you asked the question "Does the Dalai Lama have verifiable memories of past lives?" it would very much be the mainstream Buddhist view to agree. While belief in reincarnation or rebirth is, I hold, a spiritual belief rather than a religion-specific one (the vast majority of religions, including early Christianity, have or had a doctrine of rebirth/reincarnation), it seems disingenuous to hold the institutions and teachings which channel these kinds of spiritual beliefs as being something other than religion.

I would totally agree with the statement that Buddhism is not only a religion, but calling Buddhism not a religion at all has always, to me, seemed a bit foolish.

Buddhists don't believe in a soul


While Buddhists typically would never use the term "soul" except when talking to non-Buddhists who might be more familiar with that term, there certainly is an equivalent concept in Buddhist thought. It is variously translated to English as "self"*, "consciousness", "consciousness principle", "spirit", "psyche", or "mind". It's perhaps important to note here that while Buddhists consider the brain important for integrating sensory experience and providing us with an intellect that can form a sensible interpretation of the reality around us (it's also this intellect that's responsible for the greatest illusion of our existence, the illusion that we are our body), the brain itself is not the source of consciousness or mind. The idea of the non-existence of a soul in Buddhism is taken from a misinterpretation of the statement that all that is reincarnated is causes and conditions - that is, karma. But the body is also an aggregate of causes and conditions, a form of karma in itself. If the body forms the causes and conditions for life, then the mind, or soul, forms the causes and conditions for experience, and just as our body is conditioned by our lives (we may have an athletic lifestyle, we may have had injuries that have permanently altered it, we may even have changed it dramatically through surgery and other means), our mind is dependent on mental causes and conditions in the same way the body is dependent on physical causes and conditions, and this, along with the imprints left on it, is what survives after the cessation of the body.

So in summary: Yes, Buddhists do absolutely believe in an equivalent of the soul, but this is not the term preferred by most Buddhists to describe it as it differs from the Judeo-Christian conception.

* A common objection to the concept of a self is that "in the doctrine of Anatta (not-self), the Buddha denied the existence of a self", but this is itself one of the more grievous misinterpretations of Buddhism. The Buddha's doctrine of not-self is a doctrine on where to stop looking for the self, or soul, not the denial of the existence of one. He states that the self, or soul, cannot be found in any of our phenomenal experience of the world, because all phenomena are transitory (impermanent) and selfless, as they are formed from the composite of causes and conditions beyond their own existence.

Therefore, the body cannot be the self. How could it? We inhabit our bodies for the duration of this lifespan, before we are forced to leave the body behind. The word for the body in Tibetan translates to English roughly as "something that's left behind". A large portion of the Buddha's teaching is directed at moving our identity away from our bodies and our current lives to a much broader sense of identity that incorporates the knowledge that while our current lives and bodies are transitory, we are not.

Reincarnation is blind faith

Reincarnation or rebirth is, to people who have had a variety of types of spiritual experiences, not an item of faith but an item of experience. While it is beyond the scope of what I'm writing here to get too bogged down on the evidence for both the existence of verifiable past-life memories and near-death experiences that are held by millions of people around the world, I challenge you to do what a true skeptic would, and do your own research and reading on the topic. But there is certainly enough evidence, both on near death experiences and on past life memories, that a person well-educated on the topic would embarrass the likes of Dawkins who reject the concept out of hand as mere "hallucination", despite the objections of the researchers in these fields themselves, many of whom started out themselves as skeptics.

Dusting off the blog

I've recently finished my final third year university exams and I'm waiting for the results, which means I have some more free time to do stuff like write blog posts that I've wanted to write for ages. I realised today that I haven't actually posted on the blog for coming up to a year now, sadly.

Stay tuned here and I'll hopefully post some interesting stuff soon!