Thursday, December 31, 2015

Tibetan Sky Burial

Today is the time where we celebrate yet another completion of the Earth's orbit around the Sun.

The New Year celebration is recognized around the world & symbolizes the continual process of renewal. Along with that renewal of all things on an ever-occurring basis, there is also decay & dissolution. These are simply subjective distinctions for the eternal process of change in all forms.

Destruction & Creation are inherent in all phenomena. The Universe is in a continual state of oscillation- in which things arise, change, and dissolve.

So, as we look forward to a New Year & new beginnings, we should also be mindful of the impermanence of all things. It is inevitable that all things we can currently experience will eventually be no more.

These are Buddhist notions of non-attachment, used to free the spirit from suffering in this human realm. It is a difficult & almost impossible practice for emotional beings such as humans.

For both practical & spiritual purposes, Tibetans who live in the Himalayas practice "sky burials" for their dead. The bodies are chopped up and allowed to be consumed by the vultures & other living creatures that are nourished by it. Part of the reason for this is because the ground is rocky & hard, so burial in the dirt isn't possible. In the spiritual sense, Buddhists believe that the dead body is an empty vessel, so there is no reason to give it any preservation.

I saw this article recently, that made me think about this ritual in the context of the passing of the current year and the unstoppable flow of time.

Daily Mail:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Robot Buddha

I saw this interesting clip from the movie "Doomsday Book". The story is referred to in the film as 'Heavenly Creature'. In the movie, an A.I. is depicted that is recognized as an enlightened being- a 'robot buddha'.

It raises ponderous questions about the nature of mind. How we would be able to know if an artificial intelligence or even a non-human intelligence were able to experience consciousness? Would an A.I. be able to attain "enlightenment" and provide spiritual insight to people?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens" Review

This past Sunday, I had a special outing with my entire immediate family, our significant others & kids, and my parents, to see "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens". My sister-in-law ordered us a block of tickets to see the movie in reclining chairs. We all loved the movie & really enjoyed it.

In this review, I'll give my brief opinion without any spoilers, and with some spoilers afterwards.

• First, here's my spoiler-free review:

It was awesome & had the best of everything that someone can appreciate about the richly detailed fictional Star Wars universe. So, if you haven't seen it, stop reading this & go see it- NOW!!!

• Ok, now there may be **SPOILERS** from here on:

First of all, I was born around the release of the first Star Wars, now known as "Episode IV: A New Hope". That singular movie has expanded into a much larger story that has captured the cultural imagination for decades. The Star Wars saga has always entertained & deeply inspired me. I loved the original trilogy as a kid, & even as an adult I'm continually amazed by the creative forces that could form such epic artistic creations. Most importantly, the spiritual elements communicated in the movie are unlike anything that someone in the Western world otherwise encounters through pop culture.

"The Force Awakens" successfully carries on this tradition of entertaining storytelling, coupled with deep insight into the nature of the human soul and it's relation to the world. It is a movie with everything good about the Star Wars movies, and very little of the negative.

First of all, the cast is solid in this movie. To me, the most important thing for this movie has been the inclusion of the characters from the original trilogy. The fact that Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids appear in the movie give a true sense of continuity to the overall story.

Although we don't get to see much of the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker in this episode, his appearance is powerful enough to satisfy me for now, until his larger role in the next movie. In the beginning of the movie, both the heroes & the villains in this film are searching for Luke, who has gone missing after a tragedy surrounding his attempts to establish a new Jedi order. They are all trying to connect pieces of star map that will lead to an ancient Jedi temple where Luke is believed to have exiled himself.

As great as it was to see the existing characters again, the new characters really shined in this movie. FN-2187, who is later called Finn, is a stormtrooper who does not fit into the mindless mode of death and terror that his training requires. The transformation of the faceless soldier into a friendly, personable hero was an interesting and effective transition. His authentic demeanor & sense of humor made him an extremely likable character, who thankfully survived to see future adventures. The rolling droid BB-8 is a fun & personable robotic character who is just as expressive as the older R2-D2, who is in power-down mode until there is a sign that the galaxy is ready to find his master.

Kylo Ren is the masked Dark Side villain, who is one of the leaders of the First Order. After the rise of the new Republic, this powerful organization has continued the pursuit for galactic military domination, begun by Palpatine's Empire. Kylo has a rank outside the normal military chain of command, similar to Darth Vader's unique position of authority in the Imperial Fleet. Kylo is portrayed as a deeply conflicted and emotionally unstable maniac, with an uncontrollable temper that leads to some frightening & disturbing confrontations. Early in the movie, it is revealed that Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo, the Force-sensitive son of Han & Leia. This means his grandfather was Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader. On his ship, Kylo tries to commune with the spirit of his ancestral Sith Lord through Vader's iconic helmet, which is now just a charred relic. Although he apparently trained under Luke Skywalker with a new Jedi order, Ben was turned to the Dark Side & into Kylo Ren by a enigmatic figure called Supreme Leader Snoke.

Snoke is the seemingly disfigured Dark Side master, who is pulling the strings behind the scenes. His appearance was one of the surprising visual aspects of the story. He is shown as a seated 25ft tall giant, a towering figure looming over Kylo Ren & General Hux, the military leader of the First Order forces. His voice echoes throughout the dark, cavernous chamber in which he communicates with his minions. However, it is revealed that this enormous image is just a holographic projection. The Emperor appeared holographically in the same larger-than-life way to Darth Vader in "The Empire Strikes Back". Therefore, it seems reasonable to think that the huge projection of Snoke is not his actual size. In fact, I'd guess he appears physically small and frail in person. However, that does not mean that he does not have tremendous power from The Dark Side. After all, "Size matters not," as a diminutive (yet powerful) character once said.

All of these characters were compelling and in their own right. The dynamics of their stories set up an arc with tremendous potential for an interesting narrative covering the next 2 movies.

The main protagonist of this new series, who is pivotal to the story and experiences drastic changes over the course of the film, is a girl named Rey. Abandoned at a young age on the desert planet of Jakku, Rey is a lonely and struggling scavenger. She visits the wrecks of Imperial & Rebel Alliance ships that were scattered throughout the sands after a battle that happened on Jakku decades ago. She is forced to survive by trading in mechanical parts she finds in the ruins for small rations of food. Rey literally comes from nothing, but by the end of the movie she has the potential to be one of the greatest Force users in the Star Wars galaxy.

Throughout the events of the movie, Rey unlocks latent powers that allow her to survive impossible circumstances and directly challenge the dark power of Kylo Ren. During the course of her adventures with Finn, BB-8, Han Solo, & Chewy, she comes into contact with the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker from his time as a Jedi. After he turned into Darth Vader and was defeated by his master Obi-Wan Kenobi, this weapon was held by Obi-wan. He watched over Anakin's son, Luke until he was old enough to receive his father's weapon. Luke used this lightsaber until it was lost at Cloud City, when his hand was sliced off by Darth Vader before revealing their true connection.

Somehow this lightsaber ended up in the hands of Maz Kanata, a millennium-old alien who lives in a palace that's a bar & a hangout for space pirates. Maz is visited by the group of heroes traveling aboard the Millennium Falcon. Rey is eventually attracted to a basement area, which holds the Skywalker lightsaber in a small chest. Contact with this lightsaber triggers a hallucinatory vision in Rey. The sequence went by so fast & had so much going on, that it was hard to perceive everything that was happening. It seemed to be a flashback showing the history of the users' experiences while in possession of the lightsaber, mixed in with Rey's own buried memories. I'm sure these visions will be expanded upon in the story to come. Like many heroes, she first refuses the call of her journey when she refuses to take the lightsaber from Maz.

After this initial trigger from finding the lightsaber, Rey's Force powers begin to grow quickly. When she was captured by Kylo Ren and interrogated, Rey not only resists his mind probe to find the rest of the Skywalker map, but she actually begins to mentally fight back & pull information from Kylo's thoughts instead. She taunts him with what she had sensed in his mind- that he is plagued by doubts about whether he will be able to become as powerful as his icon, Darth Vader.

Although Finn goes into combat with the lightsaber against an injured Kylo Ren to defend Rey, he is quickly taken out. After being incapacitated during this battle, she eventually emerges to take possession of the lightsaber to fight Kylo. Drawing on her natural abilities & what little she has been taught about the nature of The Force at this point, Rey puts up a considerable fight with the unmasked Kylo. She becomes mentally still & focused in the face of a raging Kylo Ren, drawing on The Force to overcome her antagonist as he attempted to lure her onto his side. It was a great contrast in the different aspects of The Force, as well as their relative power & effectiveness. They are separated by their surrounding environment crumbling around them before a clear victor can be determined, ensuring a future confrontation.

Although Kylo Ren was badly injured, Rey's ability to harness The Force, wield the lightsaber, and hold her own against a more experience opponent is an indication of the potential she possesses. After her ordeal with Kylo, she finally is able to track down Luke Skywalker on an isolated island in a remote star system, where she presented him with the weapon of his father in a powerful, silent ending to an amazing movie.

Considering that the entire Star Wars saga has been the story of the Skywalker family, it's hard for me to think that Rey is not Luke's daughter. My brother said he saw what looked like a gravestone at Luke's dwelling. Perhaps Luke fell in love, but ended up losing the mother of his child. This combined with his failure at reviving the Jedi was enough to make him regretfully withdraw to his current location. Even though Kylo/Ben is the only definite descendant of Anakin Skywalker we know of, I can't see him becoming the focus of the hero's journey that defines the Star Wars stories. This leads me to believe that Rey will be the new Jedi, who perhaps brings further balance to The Force. As many people have noticed, her use of a long staff in fighting aggressors on Jakku could eventually lead to a fighting style that uses a double-bladed lightsaber, similar to Darth Maul's, which would be pretty awesome.

Obviously, I enjoyed the characters, old & new, in "The Force Awakens". I have read many criticisms about the plot of the movie being a rehash of "Episode IV: A New Hope". I'm not going to repeat all the similarities, and although I see many familiar aspects of the original, this movie was so good that it doesn't really bother me. Instead of a Death Star, the First Order builds Starkilller Base, an entire planet that is weaponized by somehow drawing energy from a star to blast away planetary systems. This is completely unimaginable technology, but, hey, this is science fiction.

I went into the movie trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible. I tried not to get my expectations too high, but "The Force Awakens" exceeded them in every way! I thoroughly enjoyed it the whole way through, with no cringe-worthy moments- such as Jar-Jar's character or Darth Vader's "NOooooooo!!!" at the end of "Revenge of the Sith". Usually I pick movies apart, even ones like Star Wars, of which I am a fan. However, this movie brought back all the best things that the Star Wars series had to offer. My family spent hours discussing it afterward, and everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

This is the movie every Star Wars fan has wished for, and was an incredible lead-in to the new trilogy. The Star Wars story is a mythology for the modern age, and I am deeply inspired to be able to continue experiencing such a wonderful work of storytelling and visual creativity.

The Official Monkey Buddha Rating: 9+ out of 10!

Friday, December 18, 2015

"The Force Awakens" Trailer- Final Thoughts

Like so many people, I am anxiously anticipating seeing "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens" this weekend.

My sister-in-law reserved a block of tickets for my immediate family for Sunday, so I'm trying to remain spoiler-free until then. Until now, I have been absorbing all the trailers & information I could find. Now I'm going to patiently wait, until I see the latest movie in a legendary series that has inspired me since I was a young child..

The people who have seen the movie already have given it overwhelmingly positive reviews, which is confirming my high hopes. Just from the trailers & footage I've seen, I knew it looked like a faithful continuation of the Star Wars legacy.

I previously posted my impressions of the official trailer, which was masterfully done & succeeded in driving the hype train full-steam ahead!

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

After I wrote that post, I thought of some other things that I wanted to say about it. While I'm waiting to see the movie, I figured I'd share some additional observations.

The one thing I love about the entire Star Wars saga is how it speaks to the human desire for expansion, of both the self & of all life. Specifically, the movies speak to the human (& alien) desire for traveling into outer space and among the stars.

This sentiment is captured in the trailer when Rey looks up to see the spaceship flying upwards through the atmosphere of her home planet Jakku. You can see the look in her eyes that reflects the longing to travel outside your own boundaries and experience all the Universe has to offer.

The other thought I had was about the relationship of man & machine, which is a constant theme throughout the movies. The scene that brought this to my mind was the brief glimpse of a hooded figure, reaching out to touch R2-D2 with a robotic hand. I'm assuming the person is Luke Skywalker, who no longer wears a glove to cover the replacement for the hand that was sliced off by his father, Darth Vader. It look like they are in a fire-lit cave or a secluded rocky area. One thing I have heard is that Luke has been missing for awhile, so maybe this is him reuniting with his friendly droid.

This brings up the interesting dynamic of humans & robots being friends, and truly trusting each other. I've always said that the droids, C-3PO & R2-D2, are really the central characters, who remain throughout the generations of human lives in the story. In fact, R2-D2 could be the biggest hero of the series, who saved his biological companions in many, many seemingly impossible situations. 

Because it's memory has not been wiped, R2 is an artificial intelligence that could be said to have developed a personality, and perhaps even a conscious mind. This raises several questions- How does The Force affect or influence electronic beings? Can the power of The Force be utilized or experienced by a droid? Perhaps these are questions that will be answered in the coming stories.

Finally, the image of Luke's cybernetic hand led me to think about the use of technological prosthesis or augmentations to the physical body. In the original trilogy, Luke was aware that having this robotic part represented the possibility that he could eventually become "more machine than man" like his father, if he lost his sense of humanity. 

However, a life form can obviously have mechanical additions without becoming evil or soulless.  The question becomes, how much can a living being be replace by technology & still be a conscious individual? Darth Vader was still a human, but disfigured & encased within a suit that double as life-support. General Grevious was mostly machine, except for his central nervous system & viscera.  Perhaps as long as you have a biological nervous system & brain, you can be considered to be a living person. Then, how does droid intelligence and personality factor into the idea of something being "alive"?

This is why I love Star Wars, it makes us confront deep questions about ourselves, life, the world, and our place within it. I look forward to seeing "The Force Awakens" with an excitement that no other cultural phenomenon can match. It is a story that has inspired me & countless others for our whole lives, and ignites the imagination of every person who truly engages it. It is truly the mythology of our age.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How to Build a Lightsaber

With my tickets to the opening weekend of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" already secured, I figure it's only appropriate to share some Star Wars posts while waiting anxiously to see the movie.

One of the most iconic aspects of the Star Wars saga is the preferred weapon of the Jedi & the Sith- the lightsaber. The beauty of science fiction is that the elements of the story don't necessarily have to be based in current scientific understanding.

Although we don't have the technology to develop a working lightsaber, that hasn't stopped people from imagining ways to bring this legendary melee weapon to life. Here's a post I made in 2010 about building this deadly energy blade:

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

I recently saw this article which discusses some of the problems & possible solutions involved with creating a working lightsaber.

The Conversation:

Here's a video from the excellent series FW: Thinking that also explores the possibility of building a lightsaber. The lightsabers in the movies are plasma weapons, however, not lasers.

Since I'm talking about lightsaber construction, I have to include my own crude schematics that I drew as a high school student, back in 1996. I knew just enough about physics to let my mind go wild thinking about how to solve this perennial problem in sci-fi tech.

In reality, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but it was fun to think about...

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Monkey Buddha Bazaar

I don't usually run ads, ask for donations, or try to earn money through this blog. This is something I do for my own enjoyment & creative release.

However, I do have a Cafepress store, with products featuring many of my own designs, photography, and abstract art. I appreciate anyone who purchases items from my shop, any time of year:

Cafepress Shops:

Some of the designs have been featured in previous posts on The Monkey Buddha blog:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nebulous Nightmares

This is a truly frightening image, of imposing beings that are able to grasp a planet in their fingertips.

The idea of a threat on a cosmic level is something that humans are completely unable to face. We tend, collectively, not to consider our narrowly-occupied place in the endless size & scale of the Universe.

by Matthew Attard

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Hilarious Knock-off Toys

I've posted many times about horrible graphics & poor product design. Absurd items with crappy artwork always amuse me.

Recently I saw this gallery which had a nice collection of truly awful & funny items:


There are a couple that I've posted about before.


Here some other ridiculous items I've shared here:

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Cyber Monk

I saw this cool illustration on Rude Mechanicals. I'm not sure who the artist is, but the original source appears to be the Tumblr blog Inner Cosmos.

It is an image of what looks like a cyber zen monk, or perhaps a digital buddha.

I am always interested in how digital technology will augment or merge with conscious expansion and mindfulness training. Many people believe computers and tech are distracting us from our inner nature. This is true in many cases, but I also think it's possible that our minds will be unlocked or understood in certain ways that were impossible before the digital revolution.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Mayan Math

 The ancient culture of the Maya people have been a continual source of interest for me.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

I recently came across an article on Ancient Origins about the re-introduction of Mayan numbers & math concepts to the indigenous children of Mexico, with positive results.

Ancient Origins:

It takes a little bit of effort for someone (like me) who grew up learning the Western numerals and decimal Base 10 system to wrap their head around the use of bar & dot symbols in a Base 20 configuration.

It appears that the use of bars & dot symbols in the Mayan number system may have originate with the physical representations of sticks and rocks, as seen in this video linked in the article. The use of the labeled grid really helped me visualize the Base 20 system.

The article also has a link to the online game below, that teaches the fundamentals of Mayan numbers & mathematics. I've played it and found that I was able to get better at using the symbols & vigesimal counting system.


This chart shows the number symbols & the placement grid below:

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Life is a Hallucination

I saw this animated GIF on fUSION Anomalog that describes the state of our mental experience.

"This Whole Life is a Hallucination"

In Buddhism, the phantasmagoric array of perceptions that make up our conscious experience is called "Maya".

The external sensory input, that our body processes as sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, create the illusion in our minds of independent existence. Actually, experienced phenomena are manifestations of The All- the underlying, pervasive source of the reality that we perceive.

The light & sound show going on inside our head is a hallucination of sorts, a mere representation of the energies and processes that cause them. We can never know "reality" as it is- only how it is translated through the filter of our senses into our consciousness.