Archive for September, 2005

I Have Been I Chinged

September 18, 2005


As you some of you might know, I am student at my local community college for the past few years. I am required to take is Humanities to complete my associate in anthropology, which will be completed this spring. Anyway, I thought I would share some of my thoughts, regarding my assignments for class….

I tossed the coins on the professor’s desk as he explained the various aspects of how to construct an I Ching hexagram. As I listened, it struck me, what we were doing as we performed the act of divination, that we were practicing Chinese mysticism. I tried to create within my mind, the elements, and the process, of the magical act[1]. This brought a faded recollection of days long gone by, a memory of a friend, fond of tarot and the I Ching. She told me, “Now remember to ask a question as you toss the coins…” Yes, I realized, I was performing the same ritual with my professor now. It was a queer feeling of familiarity.

So I asked myself, a series of questions: Will I be able to add another class? Will I able to find the focus to complete my degree? Will be able to buy a home before I finish school? And will I be able to go to China next year? And so on. I did this each time as I tossed the coins on the desk of the professor. I did notice that, however, the professor did not instruct me to do this, to ask questions, so I did it silently. I added this part of the ritual to the performance, which seemed to bring a state of confusion, analysis, creation, and finally completion to the “magical act,” which for me seemed to transform the experience.

The final copper ting sounded against the desk as the coins bounced one last time, I had tossed them a total of six times. My professor had drawn six lines on a piece of blank white copier paper as he had described the process of drawing an I Ching hexagram. Each line was either solid, or broken, depending on the toss: if two heads, and one tail—solid. If you toss two tails, and one head—a broken line, if three heads or three tails—also a broken line. So only a solid line can be drawn, if one had tossed two heads, and one tail. The lines are drawn from the bottom up, think of this act as building a foundation; an allegory, if you will, a metaphor for life, in which a person constructs a future: to act or not to act[2].

Let me clarify what I mean, by “to act or not to act,” when a person participates or performs in a ritual act, the process of creation does not necessarily have to be physically apparent in the perception of “reality.” The first step of creation whether it comes from the instinctual, intuitive, logical, or the rational are belied in thought—displaced[3] thought. Simply, that act of creation, divination, or what have you, need not be observable to the outside human experience of another. Furthermore, this process is belied in the initialization of thought of when an idea comes into being. In other words, we place those perceptions directly outside of ourselves in order to validate them. So, what does this have to do with to act or not act?

In order to take an action, one must first believe in the ritual experience, and second, that experienced ritual becomes eventually transmitted outside of ourselves to another. This process may not necessarily recognize, or better yet is “cognizant,” of that displacement taking place; but I simply refer you to the words of Rene Descartes, Cogito ergo sum, or “I think, therefore I am.” Some would say what Descartes really meant was “I doubt, therefore I exist.”[4] Therefore, our doubted existence embellished the egos’ confirmation of “reality.”

Consequently, our own egos were satisfied, when the professor and I had completed the “magical act,” what is referred to by anthropologist Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, as a “performative illocutionary act,”[5] our experience had transformed the mystical divination with a completed design—a hexagram. We had drawn from the bottom, three set of broken lines, and second set of three which had two solid lines from the bottom, and one broken. In the book of I Ching, and one other tool, which was a set of spinning wheels assisted in assigning a number value to the I Ching hexagram; in total, there are 64 hexagrams attached to a cryptic revelation. My particular hexagram number was 45 also known as “shui” (water, or fluid in Chinese), defined as “congregation, or gathering”[6]. The interpretative message, which offered the sage advice from book of I Ching, was:

“Above the earth a pool is gathering. The superior person, accordingly, makes ready the weapons, and is forearmed against the unexpected.”[7]

Obviously, the above message was an allegory for the person to wait, to standby, and let one gain more knowledge before taking action. Or, to put another way, “forewarned is forearmed” against the unexpected. Nevertheless, if one was to procrastinate too long, the aforementioned advice was also warning to know when to act. Thus, the confusion of my previous questions, if one was so inclined to believe, to attach meaning to my tossed coins was that a “outside” force, or an ancestor, or a divine being provided a solution, and the sage instruction to standby. In essence, the divination by the mystical force aided my coins to follow an arbitrary path to the provided the answer.

Some might considered this, the book of I Ching, nothing but cryptic, random, meaningless, subjective and scripted lines, to create, a fantastical, magical, and mystical act; in order, to instill set of rules, beliefs, values, and ideals. To others, the I Ching was set to establish teachings taught by Confucius. The founding Father of Humanistic ideals, in which, secularization of religious mysticism were transformed, yet this illocutionary moment, within the Chinese culture competed against another ethical system—Daoism.

Daoism dealt with the abstract, whereas I Ching and Confucianism dealt with instruction and structure. Daoism was and is mystically ephemeral, whereas Confucianism insisted and insists on permanence. Daoism was and is romanticism, whereas Confucianism was and is dependent on the rational. And, although Daoism has been bounded to nature, Confucianism was and is rooted in the antiquity of the environment. Meaning that, even the book of the I Ching used the symbols of nature to convey allegorical meanings and forms. Thus, the difference, of course, and I return to the anthropologist Tambiah, Daoism and Confucianism are both vehicles of “imperative and performative illocutionary acts”; nonetheless, they are separated in form of the perlocutionary acts[8]; that was the latter, the vehicle of Confucianism, took responsibility for both intended and unintended acts of a cultural and individual’s transformation. This was and is, of course, one of the first civil and social contracts for the ancient civilization and humanity. Simply put, Confucianism and Confucius provided the equivalence of the golden rule, and the question, “What would Jesus do?”, in this case; however, question was and is, “What would Confucius do?”


[1] See the work of Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, “Form and Meanings of Magical Acts” in A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Michael Lambek (341-357). He, Tambiah, discourses on certain rituals being “performative acts,” in that, they create illusory symbols of beliefs, ideals, and values. He says this can be accomplished by physical or emotive transformations. For instance, the tossing of coins provides the performers the vehicle of displacement, that is, the tools to set aside the perception of reality in order to facilitate the act of transformation. In the case of the I Ching, the ritual of divination is a function as an apparatus to bring order through metaphor of compliance and action.

[2] From class notes, Humanities professor Kurt Pond, defines the ritual of the I Ching as a set of instructions to either act or not to act on particular situation.

[3] In my thesis, “Just Another Day in Paradise: Science Fiction America—The Signs and Symbols of the American Life Mythology,” I define “displacement” as a setting aside, a dislocation, a projection of reality. In the sense that, we place outside of ourselves the perceptions we conceive, thereby “validating or invalidating” the perception of reality. Then, later “narrate,” telling a story of the experience, in which we then, finally (re)Deploy for diffusion from within ourselves or through and among the community: family, kinships, society and/or culture. The vehicle is known as DVND to divine our existence.

[4] David Eller, from the Metro State College of Denver, in a discussion in the nature of sentient and existence felt that what Rene Descartes really meant to say this, in describing empirical nature of the human condition.

[5] See Tambiah’s discourse in “Form and Meaning of Magical Acts,” that we as humans create and use ritual, or what have you, as a vehicle to validate a performance. Think of it this way, you are kneeling before Queen Elizabeth as Pulitzer prize writer or Nobel laureate and taps you with her scepter on both shoulder, and says, “You shall now be referred to as Sir Kurt Pond of Denver,” if the previous accolades had not already brought heir of respectability, this clinches your transformation. The act of transformation from doctor, master, or mister falls away to your “crowning” of your person to the title of Sir. The public, your friends, and family see you in a new light, a new birth, if you will; you are nee to them in how they perceive you. You are transformed by your knighthood and respect, hopefully, can not be torn down. It was a ritual, a performance, which has made you “magical,” even “mystical.”

[6] The Chinese spinning discs imparted the symbolic reference as congregation, or gathering, but I took these words as to mean to “collect,” to “accumulate” like a valley bowl amasses water to create a pond or a lake. These are a metaphor to have patience, to gather knowledge and information.

[7] This is a reference that can be translated, Sir Francis Bacon stated, “Knowledge is power.” But I also think of this as, “forewarned is forearmed.”

[8] Tambiah refers to perlocutionary act as being the spoken act of “connotation,” “persuasion” and transformation for the “hearer” to be transformed by the “intended and unintended consequences.” This is the final act of a performance vehicle. See Tambiah’s essay, the “Form and Meanings of Magical Acts” in the: A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, edited by Michael Lambek, p. 352.

Review of the Epic of Gilgamesh

September 1, 2005

Gilgamesh Lived Like a Man

How to begin? The story of Gilgamesh, a legend, a myth, or a parable gives us a vehicle to examine how we view our own humanity. In the beginning we see the arrogance and the abruptness of a young king. He was brash, egotistical, and was immortal, in the sense, that no man, woman or child can tame the shrew. He felt superior to all. He filled his days and nights with self-indulgence. He was vain yet happy. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and there was no one to oppose him. But his life was solitary, albeit filled with many pleasures of the flesh. He was a man, after all, who was two-thirds god and had achieved many feats through battle and learned the secrets of the gods that endowed him.

These feats made him legendary, and for a brief time the “darkness of mankind” ; an oppressor. He devalued his people; he violated their happiness, and usurped their own personal authority, because of his god-like power, and inequitable foes. His wants went unchallenged. No one could fathom his tempest passions, nor denied his desires. Gilgamesh thirsted for one as great as he—a companion. This need for a companion, to share his glory, left him as an empty vessel.

In comparison, the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” in some sense, can be reprised within the chronicles of democracy. In the view of the 1990’s, when the “end of history” tag line signaled the conclusion to the war for liberty. Democracy won. Communism failed. And the Western-American culture had prevailed leaving America as the lone super power willing to impart its might. A vacuum was born. And boredom followed the democracies of the planet. Old grudges that had been suppressed by the communism erupted. Western nations, especially the United States, were left to “police” the globe. In many ways, the US was the Gilgamesh of the 20th century, in that, some viewed America’s power as corruptive and bullying. Its culture, America’s, was considered crude, boorish, and wanton. The people of America seem to represent decadence; it had lost its opposite.

The United States’ counterpart equal in strength was the Soviet Union, at least in appearance, and its opposite in philosophy in how to tend to humanity. Nonetheless, the United States citizenry seemed oblivious to the global citizenry. Lost in its own pleasure and arrogance; living for only the moment, shorted sighted, the US thought that its tranquility was going to be immortalized.

The US like Gilgamesh needed an equal. He, Gilgamesh, found it in Enkidu. Desirable, beautified yet initially untamed by civilization. The “noble savage,” Enkidu, lived with nature, and was naïve in the works of man, but equitable in strength and arrogance. Gilgamesh had found a companion. The “wild beasts at water-holes,” of the forest had befriended Enkidu teaching him the ways of nature and he ran with them; he was brethren to the beasts. He knew not of sin and the ways of man and woman. The loss of Enkidu’s innocence and naivety resulted of being shunned by the animals because of the treachery of one man; who later became his companion. His comrade’s dream, vision of Gilgamesh’s, took away the happiness of Enkidu, but their love of one another replaced it.

In Gilgamesh, this love subdued his passion-of-the-moment and was transformed by Enkidu into “com-passion” . This companionship and compassion led to the feminization of Gilgamesh.

He, Gilgamesh, became the “source of light” for his people, and ultimately, Enkidu’s kinship led to the happiness of a king. In the case of Enkidu, however, the companionship of the king and the temple priestess; in the king, he found a love unfettered in competition and male bondage, in his woman, the wisdom of civilization. Yet Enkidu was lost without his brethren, the animals of the forest, his strength which was founded in nature later became his folly. Enkidu seeped into melancholy like a caged animal, but with Gilgamesh he found his salvation in the glory and the adventure for the conquest of the nature from which he was born. They together slay the “Bull of Heaven,” the protector of the forest, “Humbaba” bringing modernization of humanity to the great forest of cedar.

In parallel, Great Britain and the United States were similar to the epic poem. In bondage, the two countries wish to bring light to humanity, yet their ego and moralizing often left the planet cold. But the role of Enkidu, Great Britain, America’s companion, only tempered the US proselytizing. Britain survives, while Enkidu died for his loyalty; and the king grieved for his loss of his friend.
Nevertheless, the United States friendly attempts to democratize the planet have been a long arduous process, both in the cold war and for Fukuyama’s “end of history.” Thus, the latest round of “history” finds the globe embroiled between the choices of “active” libertarianisms and “active” theologies.

In my own personal life, I have come across many crossroads, and like Gilgamesh, I have found a life long friendship, who has taught me the meaning of compassion.

My best friend and I met several years ago, while I was working at local gas-convenience store. I have watched and envied him as he built his family and a successful career. He inspired me and I learned from him the true meaning of loyalty and empathy. And for the king, in the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” in the beginning, he was a chaotic adolescent, but by the end of his life he became a man. Gilgamesh learned that life was ephemeral but true immortality is found in the lives one touches.