Monday, 26 July 2010

religion vs wider society

China Post editorial:
(the last with a VftH connection for some time)

This Buddhist tradition does animals more harm than good

Earlier this month, some non-indigenous birds were discovered in Miaoli County and, after successful capture, were transferred to a local zoo. By coincidental timing, also this month, the Executive Yuan released for public discussion the pre-draft version of a proposed law covering the release of animals into Taiwan's aquatic environments.

Although this legislation will cover academic researchers and commercial enterprises, its primary target is without a doubt Buddhist practitioners, some of whom practice the “release of living beings.”

This religious activity started in earlier times as a benevolent deed by which devotees went to local markets, bought wild animals, fish and birds that had been caught and were destined for human consumption, and returned them to their forest, river or lake homes.

This is in line with Buddhists' belief that all animals, from the lowest bug to the smartest mammal, are part of the same cycle of endless life-death-rebirth, and therefore are capable of eventual enlightenment. Saving them from the pot was thus considered an act of compassion to another living creature and so, like vegetarianism, was said to earn its practitioner karmic merit.

Unfortunately, somewhere over the intervening centuries, the reason behind this well-intentioned act has become largely forgotten, and today's “release of life” is at best an ossified part of religious ritual. At worst, it is concerned more with seeking personal merit and enhanced karmic standing than with any benefit to the animals involved.

On the contrary, environmentalists and academics argue that such indiscriminate release is detrimental to animals. Many of the species used in such rituals today are captured for release and not for consumption, or are reared specifically for this purpose. Unavoidably, these processes result in the mistreatment and even the unintentional death of many creatures. Moreover, once for-profit commercial interests are involved, animals' living conditions become even less of a priority.

Most worryingly, species have been too-frequently released into alien or inappropriate environments in which they have little or no chance of survival, and even less chance of meeting their own kind for companionship and reproduction. (It should be noted, however, that there is no indication that the above-mentioned birds came to be in Miaoli as the result of Buddhists' actions.)

Such mistreatment of and disregard for the lives of animals are the inevitable results when religious rituals become divorced from the ideas behind them, or are exaggerated following social and economic changes over the centuries.

The proposed legislation will require all individuals and organizations, whether academic, commercial or religious, to apply for permission before releasing animals into the wild. They must state the species to be released, as well as the location and time.

Of course, progressive Buddhist organizations are among those taking a lead in this regard, and others are quick to respond to social and media criticism. Dharma Drum Mountain, whose late founder Master Sheng Yen put environmental protection at the core of his teachings and practice, initially instructed its followers to be careful only to release animals into their natural environments. More recently DDM further advanced its policy to recommend abandoning the practice of “releasing life” altogether.

Not all Buddhist groups are so forward-looking, however, and some go so far as to misrepresent environmentalists — criticisms including other issues such as pollution from burning incense and joss paper or noise pollution from religious parades and festivals at all hours of the day and night — as attacks on their religious traditions.

But this is to divorce religions from the societies that gave birth to and nurture them. Taiwan's religions thrive because they provide for a variety of social needs. Certainly, some of these are related to their rich traditions and claims to continuous transmission through countless generations of sacred teachings and ancient wisdoms.

But in fact, many so-called traditions are not actually very traditional. There is no mention of this current issue of “release of life” in the teachings and life of the historical Sakyamuni Buddha around 500 B.C., for example. In fact, the practice is an interpretation “in the spirit of the Buddha” which seems to have really taken off only in the Ming dynasty around two millennia later.

Appeals to traditional precedent without any attempt to take on board new knowledge sometimes merely represent a clinging to ignorance and even an attempt to use the name of religion to resist change.

But all Taiwan's main religious organizations have prospered because, in addition to meeting people's needs for tradition and ancient wisdom, they have also developed and adapted as social conditions have changed.

Indeed, like Dharma Drum Mountain, they are often at the forefront of change, and represent the ideal marriage of thousands of years of humankind's learning with the latest discoveries of science and humanitarian philosophy. And when it comes to “release of life,” science and humanitarianism clearly indicate it is now time to act.

does this work

another chapter heading photo
but is it too close

and a farmer watering her crop in Kinmen's afternoon heat:

jbb progress

another couple of county-by-county title pages for JBB

one small step forward; food-wise

well that's a whole week and what did i get?
frankly; not one photo per day for "Jia Ba Bwey"
here's a possible title page photo for Yunlin County

Monday, 19 July 2010

I will finish

back on bicycle tour ("of the hilly bits")
hoping for some (is one per day too much to ask?) photos for JBB book
(which i WILL finish next year; though i say this every year)
here's the best from today:
rice harvesting in Taoyuan County

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

fish of the day

and over at the taipei times:

Fish rallies when the chips are down to grab title

Mardy Fish captured the Hall of Fame Championship on Sunday, rallying for a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over fourth-seeded Olivier Rochus of Belgium.

Fish overcame his frustration at a close line call at the end of the first set to win his fourth career title. The fifth-seeded American entered the week ranked 79th.

On the final point of the first set, Rochus hit a return to the back corner. Fish appeared ready to play the ball and let it go. The chair umpire said Rochus won the game and set. Fish argued and waved his racket to the chair.

Fish took control in the best game of the match, breaking in the ninth game of the third set to go up 5-4. He squandered three break-points, before closing it out with a forehand cross at the net.

“I wanted to play this match on my terms. I wanted to win it or lose it on my racket,” he said of the key game. “I’ve certainly lost a lot of heartbreak finals. It certainly feels great to win one.”

In the final game, Rochus failed on a pair of break-point chances. On the final point, Rochus lunged on a wide serve, barely getting a backhand over the net, before Fish put an easy forehand cross in to end it.

The 29-year old Rochus entered the week ranked 65th. He hadn’t lost a set this week until the final.

“I can’t say I did play a bad final, didn’t go for it,” Rochus said. “I went for it. The last two games were so close. Mardy was pushing hard at the end.”

read all about it

China Post editorial:

Enjoy the final soccer game and enjoy reading about it too

When this paper went to print last night, the outcome of the soccer World Cup Final between The Netherlands and Spain in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium was still not known. And given the contrasting styles of the two teams, predicting the result would be courageous for anyone with a brain larger than that of an octopus.

One thing that can be said with a fair measure of confidence, however, is that record numbers of television viewers in both countries — and in many non-partisan nations around the world — will have watched the game. In Taiwan, where the final kicked off at 2:30 a.m., this will have led to some bleary eyes at work this morning, or perhaps even higher-than-average rates of sick leave as soccer fans nurse their hangovers.

Holland's semifinal game against Uruguay already set television history in the low-lying country best known in Taiwan for its clogs, windmills, tulips and Heineken Beer. Around 12.3 million viewers, slightly more than three-quarters of the total Dutch population of 16.8 million people, are said to have tuned in. Indeed, the all-time 10 most viewed television programs in Holland all featured the national soccer team, so it is safe to say last night's game will have set yet another record.

While this is understandable, it is also slightly sad. Television is a great invention that, at least until emergence of the Internet, provided a unique blend of information, education, entertainment and leisure content.

Over the last decade, a wide range of news and current affairs could have stimulated mass interest from Dutch television viewers. These might have included social issues such as the 2001 world's first same-sex marriage, glamour-by-proxy issues such as the 2002 marriage of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander to Argentine Maxima Zorreguieta, international issues such as the 2003 establishment of the International Criminal Court in the Dutch capital of The Hague, domestic political issues such as the 2004 killing of director Theo van Gogh on an Amsterdam street after his making of a film critical of Muslims, or even odd items such as the televised 2005 world record of a 4,002,146-domino chain, though this event was upstaged by a sparrow which entered the studio and knocked down 23,000 dominos before being shot.

Probably Holland's biggest contribution to television history, however, was creation of the Big Brother reality TV show. This went on to be a big hit in more than 70 countries worldwide and made its original producer, John de Mol, into one of the 500 richest people in the world.

Taiwanese television watchers are among a minority that resisted the Big Brother bug. Indeed, the whole genre of reality TV, which is rapidly dumbing down programming in many Western nations, is largely eschewed here.

We should not be too complacent, however, for Taiwan's scheduling is mainly filled with its own many genres of lowest-common-denominator shows, and informational and educational content is becoming increasingly lowbrow.

This evidently gives people what they want, however, as audience figures are rising, as is the proportion of leisure time spent watching television. One recent survey found that Taiwanese watch an average of 17 hours of television each week. In addition they surf the Internet for another 7 hours 30 minutes, and spend just 2 hours 40 minutes per week reading.

The figures for young people were even more marked, with those aged between 18 and 24 spending around 19 hours 30 minutes watching television, 17 hours surfing, and 3 hours 30 minutes reading. That is more than 5 hours per day looking at a screen compared to about 30 minutes looking at printed words.

Perhaps this is not a cause for concern and merely evidences a historical shift in the sources from which people obtain their information and enjoy their leisure time. But perhaps we should be concerned. Research indicates that watching television tends to be a passive activity, while reading is more active. The latter thus stimulates imagination rather than providing visual gratification, and enables the readers to maintain, rather than surrender, their objectivity and critical judgment (hence advertisers' preference for TV slots). Reading requires more focus, but rewards by paying greater attention to detail and enriching readers' vocabularies.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which reading will never compete with television, and that is in the coverage of live sporting events. However good The China Post's coverage of the Holland-Spain game is, reading it on Tuesday morning will pale hugely compared to cheering one side or the other in a local bar or in one's living room in the small hours of last night.

So if you watched, we hope you enjoyed the final match, will enjoy reading our analysis of the game tomorrow, and will think about picking up a novel or other book for more than 3 hours 30 minutes over the coming week.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

fish of the day

Want Daily's front cover:

Monday, 5 July 2010

not my blog

unlike those of most Mondays over the last year, today's China Post editorial: "The ECFA makes rapprochement irreversible" is not connected to this blog

(as might be clear from its content; or indeed verb use)-->

Cross-strait relations entered a new era last week with the signing of an economic cooperation pact that would liberalize trade and investment between the two erstwhile adversaries and would make the ongoing cross-strait rapprochement an irreversible process...

... Though controversial, the agreement is seen by many pundits at home and abroad as a plus for Taiwan, given the island's urgent need to break its economic isolation that has made it a regional pariah, like North Korea, which has been excluded from any free trade arrangements in the region...

... As if by a quirk of history, the signing of the historic document took place in Chongqing, ... the place where Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chairman Mao Zedong of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a historic meeting right after the war ended in 1945...

... The agreement was one of President Ma Ying-jeou's biggest achievements since he assumed office two years ago...

(and so forth)