Necrography of Paris: An Introduction

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Necrography of Paris

There are a multitude of reasons for visiting Paris: the museums, the food, the cultural significance, but one of the primary reasons I propose you visit Paris is the necrography. The cemeteries of Paris are their own set of museums of the rich, famous and infamous. From Napoleon at Les Invalides, to Victor Hugo at The Pantheon, to Edgar Degas at Montmartre, to the unknown multitudes in the catacombs, but first A few words on Edith Piaf, Moliere, Jim Morrison, and the many other at Paris’s largest cemetery Pere Lachaise which I lived a few blocks from and wandered many times.

Pere Lachaise the oldest of the current cemeteries of Paris opened in 1804 under the direction of Napoleon. Later the same week Napoleon crowned himself emperor. At the time Paris was in dire need of a new cemetery’s with skeletons protruding from churchyard grounds. The old Cimetiere des Innocents was overloaded with corpses breaking through the walls of an adjacent apartment house spilling into the basement. The scandal that resulted, as well as the odor, led to laws that forbid the burials in the city’s cemeteries and churchyards. In 1786 a quarry south of Paris had been opened for the overflow of bones.

At the start people did not flock to the new cemetery. In an effort to give the cemetery more distinction they performed reburials of two noted authors Moliere and La Fontaine. Soon Pere Lachaise was considered the most prestigious as other cemeteries were built. To this day if you can afford the heavy price it is the preferred burial plot in Paris. Its 118 acres of famous men and women from France and the world can be explored in a multitude of fashions with several different entrances, my preferred entrance can be accessed from the Rue de la Roquette which turns into Avenue Principale. All of the roads within the grand cemetery are named and posted like a small city of the dead all their own. Picking up a free map at the entrance or downloading it is highly recommended. ( https://api-site.paris.fr/images/74643)

Following Avenue Principale leads you to some renown grave sites the first of which is Colette. Sidonie Gabriella Colette (b. January 28, 1873, Saint-Sauveur; d. August 3, 1954, Paris). The author of Gigi and Claudine at School among others. It wasn’t until 1904 that she was allowed to use her own name on her stories. She was never much into conventional morality. After separating from her first husband she toured the country working as a mime, approvingly baring her breasts when the script required it. She would go on to have two further marriages. She wrote, “It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

Within this section are many other notable figures among them Georges Eugene Haussmann (1809-1891) a prefect who modernized and widened the streets of Paris. Interestingly he wished to do away with all cemeteries in Paris and instead have a huge (5,000 acre) cemetery 14 miles outside Paris and employ funeral trains to transport the coffins and mourners. The people of Paris resisted this idea. Eventually you will pass Camille Pissaro, Frederic Chopin and many others before arriving at one of the most visited and which a cult following of teens and early twenties make a vigil to nearly everyday.

James Douglas Morrison (b. December 8, 1943, Melbourne, Florida; d. July 3, 1971, Paris). Coming from a patriotic military family and with an IQ of 149 he dallied as a gifted philosophy student, poet, heavy drinker before finding the medium for which he would become infamous lead singer of the rock group The Doors. His fame soared between 1967 to 1970, yet he spent his final months in Paris while attempting to become a serious poet. His official death was a heart attack in his bathtub, but conjecture started immediately. There was no autopsy and he was secretly buried at Pere Lachaise. Of course Morrison had fantasized about faking his death and starting a new life under the name “Mr. Mojo Risin.” One of his more famous lyrics,

“ This is the end / Beautiful friend / This is the end / My only friend, the end. / Of our elaborate plans, the end / Of everything that stands, the end / No safety or surprise, the end / I’ll never look into your eyes…again”

Mindfulness Training

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Other than meditation how should I practice mindfulness?

 Walking Practice

  • “Kinhin” is Sanskrit
  • Slowly walk, a step on a three count
  • “Walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Chanting

  • Mantras or whole Sutras are chanted
    • Attunes the mind and body

 Bowing

  • Expression of respect or veneration
  • Greeting, thank you, or to take leave
    • Palm-to-palm, slight bow from the waist
  • Gratitude
    • Bow at waist, drop to knees, forehead to floor
  • Prostrations
    • Full Body Bow
      • “The act of unself-conscious prostration before a Buddha is … possible under the impetus of reverence and gratitude. Such “horizontalizings of the mast of ego”cleanse the heart-mind, rendering it flexible and expansive, and open the way to an understanding and appreciation of the exalted mind and manifold virtues of the Buddha and patriarchs. So there arises within us a desire to express our gratitude and show our respect before their personalized forms through appropriate ritual”  ~ Phillip Kapleau

Zen Practices of Mindfulness:

  • Akido
    • A dynamic defensive activity involving body movement and sparrinh with a short staff or sword.
  • Brush Painting
    • The fully engaged process of tapping and releasing energy to create an especially powerful composition.
  • Haiku
    • A seventeen-syllable poem (3 lines of 5-7-5) capturing the essence of a subject.
  • Ikebana
    • The arrangement of flowers in a spiritually and aesthetically satisfying manner.
  • Karate
    • A weaponless form of self-defense aimed at disarming an opponent or rendering his hostile motions harmless.
  • Kyudo
    • A form of archery combining spiritual and physical training.
  • No Drama
    • A style of theatre aimed at the direct communication of experience and emotion.
  • Pottery Making
    • An approach to making pottery that conveys special respect for the materials and process.
  • Shakuhaci
    • The playing of a bamboo flute in harmony with the breath and the emotional force moving the breath.
  • Tea Ceremony
    • An especially graceful and aware preparation of tea and management of the tea-partaking interchange between host and guest.
  • Zen Gardening
    • A meditative approach to creating, tending, and enjoying a garden

Phryne the Thespian

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Phryne the Thespian:

Phryne the Thespian was a notable hetaira, or courtesan, of Athens, who has been remembered throughout the millennia for her dramatic trial which she won by baring her breasts.

According to Athenaeus, Phryne was prosecuted on a capital offense, and was defended by the orator Hypereides, one of her lovers. Athenaeus does not specify the nature of the charge, though some other historical sources state that she was accused of profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Although there is great debate among scholars about what really happened that day in court, Athenaeus wrote that Hypereides tore off Phryne’s dress in the middle of the courtroom to show the judges her beautiful body. His reasoning was that only the gods could sculpt such a perfect body; thus killing or imprisoning her would be seen as blasphemy and disrespect to the gods.

What appeared to be an unfavorable verdict for Phryne turned into a glorious victory for her after the inspired action of Hypereides. Phryne walked out the court triumphant, and her story went on to inspire many works of art, including the iconic painting Phryne before the Areopagus by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1861).

#PhryneTheThespian #AncientGreece #Athens #Trial

Nine Realms of Norse Mythology

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Asgard: Home of the Gods

In the middle of the world, high up in the sky is Asgard (Old Norse: “Ásgarðr”). It’s the home of the Gods and Goddesses. The male Gods in Asgard, are called Aesir, and the female Gods are called Asynjur. Odin is the ruler of Asgard and the chief of the Aesir. Odin is married to Frigg; and she is the Queen of the Aesir. Inside the gates of Asgard is Valhalla; it’s the place where half of the Vikings “Einherjer” that died in battle will go for the afterlife, the other half goes to Fólkvangr.

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Alfheim: Home of the Light Elves

Alfheim (Old Norse: “Álfheimr or Ljósálfheimr”) is right next to Asgard in the heaven. The light elves are beautiful creatures. They are considered the “guardian angels” The God Freyr, is the ruler of Alfheim. The Light elves are minor Gods of nature and fertility; they can help or hinder humans with their knowledge of magical powers. They also often delivered an inspiration to art or music.

Midgard: Home of the Humans

Midgard (Old Norse: “Miðgarðr”) “middle earth” is located in the middle of the world, below Asgard. Midgard and Asgard are connected by Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge. Midgard is surrounded by a huge ocean that is impassable.

The Ocean is occupied by a huge sea serpent, the Midgard Serpent. The Midgard serpent is so huge that it encircles the world entirely, and biting its own tail. Odin and his two brothers Vili and Ve created the humans from an Ash log, the man and from an elm log, the woman.

Muspelheim: The Land of Fire

Muspelheim (Old Norse: “Múspellsheimr”) was created far to the south of the world in Norse mythology. Muspelheim is a burning hot place, filled with lava, flames, sparks, and soot. Muspelheim is the home the of fire giants, fire demons and ruled by the giant Surtr. He is a sworn enemy of the Aesir. Surtr will ride out with his flaming sword in his hand at Ragnarok “Ragnarök” “the end of the world” Surtr will then attack Asgard, “the home of the Gods” and turn it into a flaming inferno.

Vanaheim: Home of the Vanir

Vanaheim (Old Norse: “Vanaheimr”) is the home of the Vanir Gods. The Vanir Gods is an old branch of Gods. The Vanir are masters of sorcery and magic. They are also widely acknowledged for their talent to predict the future. Nobody knows where exactly the land, Vanaheim is located, or even how it looks like. When the war between the Aesir and the Vanir ended, three of the Vanir came to live in Asgard, Njord and his children Freya and Freyr.

Niðavellir/ Svartalfheim: Home of the Dwarves

Svartalfheim (Old Norse: “Niðavellir or Svartálfaheimr”) is the home of the dwarves, they live under the rocks, in caves and underground who are also synonymous with the Dark Elves (“Dökkálfar”) and Black Elves (“Svartálfar”).  Hreidmar was the king of Svartalfheim, Svartalfheim means Dark fields. The dwarves are masters of craftsmanship. The Gods of Asgard have received many powerful gifts. Like , the magical ring Draupnir and also Gungnir, Odin’s spear.

Jotunheim: Home of the Giants

Jotunheim (Old Norse: “Jötunheimr or Útgarðr”) is the home of the giants (also called Jotuns). They are the sworn enemies of the Aesir. Jotunheim consists mostly of rocks, wilderness, and dense forests, and it lies in the snowy regions on the outermost shores of the ocean. Because of this, the giants live mostly from the fish from the rivers, and the animals from the forest, because there is no fertile land in Jotunheim.

The giants and the Aesir are constantly fighting, but it also happens from time to time, that love affairs will occur. Odin, Thor and a few others, had lovers who were giants. Loki also came from Jotunheim, but he was accepted by the Aesir and lived in Asgard. Jotunheim is separated from Asgard by the river Iving, which never freezes over. Mimir’s well of wisdom is in Jotunheim, beneath the Midgard root of the ash tree Yggdrasil. The stronghold of Utgard is so big that it is hard to see the top of it. And there the feared Jotun king Utgard-Loki lives. Utgard is carved from blocks of snow and glistening icicles.

Niflheim: The World of Fog and Mist

Niflheim (Old Norse: “Niðavellir”) and it means (“Mist home” or “Mist World”) is the darkest and coldest region in the world according to Norse mythology. Niflheim is the first of the nine worlds and Niflheim is placed in the northern region of Ginnungagap. The eldest of the three wells are located in Niflheim which is called Hvergelmir “bubbling boiling spring” and it is protected by the huge dragon called Nidhug (Níðhöggr).

It is said that all cold rivers come from the well called Hvergelmir, and it is said to be the source of the eleven rivers in Norse mythology. The well Hvergelmir is the origin of all living and the place where every living being will go back. Elivagar “ice waves” are the rivers which existed in Niflheim at the beginning of the world. They were the streams floating out of Hvergelmir. The water from Elivagar flowed down the mountains to the plains of Ginnungagap, where it solidified to frost and ice, which gradually formed a very dense layer. This is the reason that it is very cold in the northern plains. As the world tree Yggdrasil started to grow, it stretched one of its three large roots far into Niflheim and drew water from the spring Hvergelmir.

Helheim: Home of the dishonorable dead

This is where all the dishonorable dead, thieves, murderers and those the Gods and Goddesses feel is not brave enough to go to Valhalla or Folkvangr. Helheim is ruled by Hel, Helheim is a very grim and cold place, and any person who arrives here will never feel joy and happiness again. Hel will use all the dead in her realm at Ragnarök to attack the Gods and Goddesses, which will be the end of the world.

What Is Meditation?

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What is meditation?

“Meditation is a conscious effort to change how the mind works. The Pali word for meditation is ‘bhavana’ which means ‘to make grow’ or ‘to develop’.”
~ Buddhanet.net

Well that was an easy and painless post… not quite. What really is it? How do you do it? What different types are there? I get so many questions about this subject when it comes up that I am a practicing Zen Buddhist. Let’s hope what follows will make it a little more clear as we briefly cover these questions while discussing five different types of meditation. I practice Zazen, so it is the one I know the most about but I have experimented with the other forms and am pretty familiar with all of them to a degree.

First, how do you meditate? All of them in general have the same basic form:
1. Sit comfortably in one of the following positions (The uppermost being the most ideal, but whatever is comfortable):
a. Full Lotus (legs crossed with each foot resting on the opposite thigh)
b. Half Lotus (legs crossed with one foot resting on the opposite thigh; the other foot on the floor)
c. Burmese (thighs spread so that the knees are resting on the floor and both feet are close to body)
d. Kneeling with a cushion or bench
e. Sitting in a chair (feet flat on floor and the back away from back of the chair)
2. Spine straight.
3. Head up.
4. Hands in proper mudra.
5. Eyes slightly open and unfocused.

Zazen
This is the form of meditation I personally practice and is practiced by Zen Buddhists and means “just-sitting”. The goal is to free the mind of ANY kind of thinking. Beginners are often suggested to follow their breath or count their breaths. This helps in allowing you to clear the mind.

The Soto school of Zen practices what is known as shikantaza, which means “nothing but sitting.” While the Rinzai school practices Zazen and Koan study. “Koans are a paradoxical teaching question or story designed to confound linear, rational thought, and therefore to help condition the mind for enlightenment” (Essential Buddhism by Jack Maguire) The koans serve as a meditation catalyst and not purely the focus of the meditation.
For a more detailed explanation watch the following video by the late great John Daido Loori of Zen Mountain Monastery describe Zazen:

I will briefly discuss the other forms of meditation:

Samatha Meditation
Translated as calm abiding meditation practiced by Theravada school. You focus the mind on something in particular: observe the breath at the tip of your nose, sound of the rain, sound of traffic, etc. Additionally some focus on a virtue such as compassion or loving-kindness.
Vipassana Meditation
This is what is known in this country as insight meditation and is practiced by the Theravada school. Your primary focus is on your own thoughts and feelings.
Mantra MeditationUse of a power laden syllable or series of syllables, such as Om. You use a constant still repetition such as the more complex myoho-renge-kyo (glory to the lotus sutra).
Visualization Meditation
This form of meditation is practiced by the pure land school. You mentally envision an image, often a Buddha or a particular bodhisattva.

In an upcoming post I will cover ways to be mindful besides meditation in your everyday life and your spiritual practice.

 

Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths

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  1. All life is suffering.
  2. The cause of suffering is desire.
  3. Suffering can be ended.
  4. The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

Commentary:

All life is suffering.  

The common translation of the Sanskrit word duhka is suffering.  It also has several other translations including: unsatisfactory, imperfection, bothersome, incoherence, and possibly most importantly impermanence.  These words are important to keep in mind while considering the Four Noble Truths.  It basically comes down to we are mortal, hence we age, get sick and die eventually.  You must also consider the fragility of our possessions and the instability of our relationships, fortunes, moods, thoughts and convictions.

The cause of suffering is desire.

Desire.  The cause of suffering is desire.  One can simply rationalize that upon reading those lines.  To fully understand it in a Buddhist context you must consider the word desire comes from the Sanskrit word trishna, which also means thirst and craving.  Additionally the concept in Buddhism of no-self is important here especially how it breaks away from the Hindu concept of a self that is passed on in a soul-like form from one lifetime to the next.  This touches on the break in how Buddhists consider you are reborn from one lifetime to the next with some casual influence depending upon your past life, whereas Hindu believe in reincarnation with the soul being passed on between lifetimes.

Why is this important?

The Three poisons are: greed, anger, and ignorance which all feed into desire and the urge to win, or to overpower.  Buddha’s teaching was the self does not exist as a spiritual entity, but is the name given to a temporary personality made up of five important factors.  Buddhism taught these factors or aggregates are: matter (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind), sensations (raw data of these senses), perception (naming of the sensations), Mental formation (best summarized in the Buddha’s words, “We are what we think.”), and consciousness (awareness of the perceptions).  From which you can conclude, “suffering exists, but not the sufferer” as Buddhaghosa did in the fifth century.

Suffering can be ended.

This is the good news, which moves us on to four with little explanation needed.

The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

  1. right understanding
  2. right thought
  3. right speech
  4. right action
  5. right livelihood
  6. right effort
  7. right mindfulness
  8. right meditation

This is not a list that can be broken down and followed in a linear path.  Most people will find right speech much easier than right thought for instance.  It may be the most difficult.  I will explain the Eightfold Path in an upcoming post in detail.

“Someone whose faith is not grounded in reason is like a stream of water that can be led anywhere” ~ Tibetan Proverb

Discovery Of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb

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The Knot To King Tutankhamun’s Tomb

Today in Egyptian history —> In 1915, George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the financial backer of the search for and the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, employed English archaeologist Howard Carter to explore it. After a systematic search, Carter discovered the actual tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) on November 4th 1922.

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On November 26, 1922, Carter and fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon entered the interior chambers of the tomb, finding them miraculously intact.

Thus began a monumental excavation process in which Carter carefully explored the four-room tomb over several years, uncovering an incredible collection of several thousand objects. The most splendid architectural find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, which was made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for more than 3,000 years. Most of these treasures are now housed in the Cairo Museum.