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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Ethics in the Upanishads

Literature from across the world engages with ethical questions and moral quandaries, and plays a role in cultivating our moral sensibilities.  Religious literatures often present ethical teachings indirectly, such as in the form of parables, or more directly, such as moral commandments.  In the Upanishads of late Vedic India, we find both ethical and metaphysical teachings set out in contexts of lineages of teachers and students. 

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On stealing from the gods

wisdom, forbidden knowledge, and access to divinity itself.  Divine trickery may be involved.  And the theft may be followed by divine anger and punishment.  This article will briefly review and compare three such myths, that of the eating from the ‘tree of knowledge’ in the Garden of Eden, the Greek myth of the theft of fire on behalf of humanity, and a similar Vedic myth about the stealing of fire.

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