Haruki Murakami and Buddhist philosophy

Over Christmas I read ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle’, a novel by Haruki Murakami, in the English translation by Jay Rubin.  The strange tale of the protagonist, named Toru Okada, seemed to have a loose affinity with concepts and themes from Buddhist philosophy, which I briefly sketch out here,  but whether or not this affinity is the intention of the author or not I can’t say.

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On the moment of insight

This description nicely illustrates something about how the brain works to generate new ideas, alternating between periods of focused intensity of thought and stillness in order to arrive at a sudden moment of insight or intuition.  A similar process is behind many such ‘eureka moments’, where the would-be inventor or discoverer sets aside his or her work and allows their conscious thinking to clear, seemingly so that the unconscious mind can do its own distinctive work.

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On poetic understanding

Just as scientists strive to crystallize deeper truths about the world, so too do poets.  However, whereas scientists further our understanding of reality through a process of abstraction, poets develop insights that resists abstraction and stays at the level of ordinary things.

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On monarchy in literature and life

Monarchy has been a feature of human societies since time immemorial, and is ensconced in our literary traditions.  The two passages above are both taken from the funerals of famous leaders depicted in literature, and remind us of recent scenes following the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  That is to say, they both display two profound elements that must come into play on any such occasion, namely, solemn ritual and sorrowful emotion.

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Adam & Eve & the Egyptian serpent

Ancient Egypt had an immense influence on the world, through trade links and cultural contacts, so it should be no surprise to see ancient Egyptian ideas being propagated into later civilizations.  Many Biblical figures in particular had very significant links with ancient Egypt, spending important and formative years there imbibing Egyptian ideas.  In the Book of Genesis, we read about Abraham and Sarah going to Egypt and staying with the royal court, presumably becoming steeped in Egyptian knowledge and culture.

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Family and society in the Vedic period

On the occasion of Guru Pūrṇimā, our thoughts may turn to the venerable lineages of successive teachers and students in India.  As we will see, the need to record and preserve genealogical details of family and pedagogical lineages was already recognized in India in the earliest times.  Indeed, this is very likely a continuation of the concerns of proto-Indo-European people.  For many ancient peoples, family would perhaps be the main source of personal identity, and the basis of all religious life.

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