Friday, July 17, 2009

Funniest Buddhism joke ever.

I think I just found the funniest Buddhism joke ever. It's pretty dark, but if you're Buddhist, you should be used to at least a little bit of nihilism. And, you probably shouldn't take offense to it. =P

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cartoons - #769

Monday, July 13, 2009

A long-misplaced analogy

Operating systems have changed a lot from when computers first fell into the mainstream. Movies like "Hackers" and "The Pirates of Silicon Valley" are such that, despite their errors and inconsistencies, still popularize computer-culture (as well as the computer-related counter-culture).

For those of you who are really familiar with computers, there are a variety of operating systems out there to make things more convenient for the end user. They also provide major headaches when things go wrong. As if you couldn't tell by the premise of this blog, religious paths can work the same way.

[Let's take a moment to understand that any copyrighted names of software or anything else doesn't belong to me, but to their actual owners, stated here or otherwise. It's the internet; I'm using names and very clearly not trying to steal them, so don't sue me.]

Lets take a look at Windows. Windows is, more or less, a defacto standard for both business and pleasure. Consequently, Windows also has a lot going for it in the way of software. This is especially true for people who can't find applications for their purposes; they end up programming for Windows because that's what they use. In the business world, it's fairly easy to see why Windows wins. The customer support is provided world-wide, and to date, I have not encountered more diverse, more easily accessible, or more integrated language support. You also have a MUCH wider variety in things like hardware components and software utilizing them.

On the downside, Windows gets to feel really bloated after only a few months of use. Sometimes, with such a variety of hardware and software (not to mention parsing through drivers), you'll stuff that acts up, stuff that doesn't work properly, and stuff that just disappears. Let's not forget the fact that being a defacto standard means that most forms of malware are designed to exploit any and all vulnerabilities in the software. Fixes only provide temporary relief. I won't even begin to discuss Windows' paltry CLI.

There's also Apple. Mac OS, especially from Tiger onwards, is really, really easy to learn and to use. Nearly all aspects of the OS are fully integrated with each other. iTunes, the iLife Suite, and other software solutions all work together very well. And, being based on FreeBSD means that those who like Unix can jump into the Darwin prompt and do things in the "old-fashioned" non-GUI way. There's also an almost non-existent threat of malware. Things in general run more smoothly because Apple decides what hardware is supported, and so there's less bloat in terms of drivers and such.

This approach has its drawbacks, however. There's MUCH less flexibility in the way of hardware configuration. This also means you're paying more for what you're getting (for hardware), and can't configure a comparable system for less because the software is effectively tied down to the hardware. There ARE those who have gone the route of "Hackintoshes," but the practice remains to be deemed legal, and there's a whole slew of problems on that route, as well. Things often don't work perfectly and you really have to know what you're doing to fix those problems on your own. Other drawbacks of the Mac-platform include sub-par language support, occasionally restrictive software choices, and being bound to specific companies based on hardware configuration. This last one is a big deal to some people, as Apple doesn't support ATI or AMD up-front (buying a card for your desktop would be a slightly different issue, in my opinion).

And, then there's Linux, or Unix, or Solaris, or what have you. These are really interesting OSes because they come from antiquity and have their roots there. While the other two platforms are almost completely GUI-oriented, with the *nix group, you have a choice in the matter. Underlying Linux is a Command-Line Interface that allows you to directly interact with the OS in a very different way from the GUI. If you choose, you can have the GUI instead, or you can have both. And, the commands you learn, or the programs you learn to use via CLI can be used on other systems and other distributions of Linux. It's based on "old-school" ideas of freedom ('free' as in 'beer' as well as 'free' as in 'speech'). The community surrounding each distribution, and the platform on the whole, is amazing and is very supportive. And, if you have old hardware that you don't want going to waste, Linux can breathe new life into it.

The drawbacks here are numerous, though. The end-user at home doesn't get much in the way of technical support, at least not like you can with Windows or Mac OS. You often have to resort to the community to get some help, which isn't so much a bad thing is it is a waiting game. Sometimes you go through a lot before you find a solution. Sometimes you don't get proper answers. Sometimes the first suggestion you get works. It's not always consistent. Even Ubuntu - often hailed as the most newbie-friendly disro - doesn't always behave the same on every system. If you're buying or building and you plan on running this type of OS, you have to do your homework to know what exactly will work easily, what needs work, and what won't work at all. There's also a steep learning curve, not so much because it's hard but because there's so much to learn, and it all depends on what you're running and trying to do. One consolation is that as you learn, things get much much easier to a point. Some of what you can do is truly amazing; you just have to figure out what you're doing. You can eventually play around with things and you can get a feel for what things do. If you don't develop that type of approach, though, you face a significant disadvantage.

Religious paths work similarly. You have those approaches which offer diversity and are easily accessible, or are very mainstream. However, they're not always "user-friendly." Sometimes you get a lot of contradictions. Sometimes they appear counter-intuitive.

The least outrageous comparison is that of the Linux/Unix type of OSes to mystical paths. On mystical paths, like Wicca, New Age paths, Neo-Paganism, Zen/Vipassana/Tibetan Buddhism, Yoga, or even the Hindu Monastic sects, the community is a very integral part of the learning process. The learning curve is not the easiest, and finding good sources for guidance is often a trial in and of itself. Still, you really get a feel for direct, intuitive interaction with the Divine. If you choose to have some visual or ritualistic approaches, then those are available as well. Mainstream aspects are often found as-is or adapted for mystical paths. And, sometimes things like meditation find their way into more mainstream paths as well.

The Windows of the religious traditions would most probably be faith-based paths. Easily accessible, nearly universal in its approach, and at this point, a de facto standard for the approach to Divinity. At the same time, it has its flaws. It's much harder to preach faith to a group when you have some "free-thinkers" in the bunch. I'm not saying it's not possible, but it definitely requires significant effort and time to reach out to them, as opposed to those who take to faith unquestioningly. On the other hand, usually you get a high-volume of people who take to your "platform." Religions that fall into this category are mostly mainstream, like most Christian denominations, Islam and Judaism to a large extent, some 'Hindu' sects, like Swaminarayanism, and many MahaayaaNa Buddhism schools, such as Pureland.

There aren't many "Macs" in the slew of religions in the world. I'd argue that mainstream Hinduism falls into this category, as does Sufiism, some Judaic traditions (the study of Kabbalah comes to mind), and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Hinduism is very Mac-like because of the openness inherent in its paths. The Bhagavad Giitaa itself affirms the karma-yoga, jn~aana-yoga, raaja-yoga, and bhakti-yoga, so it has its easy-to-learn side, but also the tinker-under-the-hood side. Most schools generally agree that Sufiism is technically an offshoot of Islam, so as such, you are required to obey the five pillars of Islam. But, Sufiism also offers a mystical approach that's distinctly different from the Linux-like religions. Asceticism is kept to a minimum, and Sufis are encouraged to have families and marry, and to have jobs and contribute to the community. Instead of seeing those aspects as a hindrance to their path, they value the lessons learned from them and relish the added difficulty they provide. The Eastern Orthodoxy's approach is slightly different, with lay people encouraged to take spiritual, meditative retreats, and under proper guidance, use mystical means to add to their religious experiences. In contrast, though, you're definitely stuck in terms of "hardware." You'd be hard-pressed to dedicate yourself to most Sufi schools without converting to Islam. In order to properly understand the teachings of the Kabbalah, it's usually understood that not only should you be aware of the Judaic tradition, but also have Rabbinical training. Eastern Orthodoxy and Hinduism also have their baggage as well.

I'm not saying that one's better or worse. Ultimately, technology should work based on your needs. I feel that religion should, too. The trick is that while most of us can admit it to ourselves when we're indulging a little in a new computer, we don't always do the same with life as a whole. As such, we can't properly assess our needs.

It's a wise man who can differentiate between his needs and his wants, let alone choose to follow his need over his want.

Still, I think we should really try to think about religion as something that's meant to ultimately help us, even if we find ourselves restrained a little. It's also something that needs some sort of updating. We definitely face issues that we didn't face two-thousand-something years ago, and we also have knowledge we didn't have back then. Fixing bugs is important, and it also doesn't hurt to add new features.