Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Tue Dec 04, 2012 5:09 pm

This is quite a detailed analysis of the story and some philosophical implications:

Reality and Perception in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas
by Mark Woodring


David Mitchell’s postmodern exploration of perception and its influence on reality, the story within a story (within a story…) Cloud Atlas. Mitchell combines six distinct narratives in an interlaced storyline, nesting each section within the others, each section directly referencing the one preceding it while also hinting those that lie ahead.
Whether revolutionary or gimmicky, this presentation of intertwined narratives demonstrates that human reality is not determined by actuality or factuality, but rather by the perception of events and how those perceptions are presented and interpreted. Cloud Atlas clearly demonstrates the fragility of reality, which is manipulated both by perception – eyewitnesses – and by time...
The idea that an individual’s perception can be made to change by forces outside of themselves, regardless of how much time elapses between the event and the individual perceiving it, is both a powerful and disturbing one. The idea is very explicit here: what we see, or hear, or read, is always what we get, but may not be what actually was. When our interpretation of the world is dependent on information not directly ours, we must accept that the resulting perception of reality is not accurate.
The use of the phrase “elastic moment” reinforces the idea of the fluidity of time and perception, and the idea that the “ends” disappear “into the past and the future” is another method of shifting our perspective. Here, the past and future that are the beginning and ending of the novel, both adrift on a ship in a more primitive time than those eras related between them. By completing this circle of time and events, the “ends” of time disappear into one another, which drives us to examine the cyclical nature of the realities of the novel.
In “An Orison of Sonmi-451,” Mitchell presents a bleak future in which cloned workers called fabricants perform various undesirable tasks for humanity while being kept in a mentally oblivious state designed to keep them from questioning the system in which they serve. Because their owners control the clones memories, they rob them of unique experiences, leaving them with no past and with only hope for a future. That future is solely dependent on what the masters of their society grant to them and is based solely the information provided by them. When pressed by Sonmi about his role in the charade that is her trial, it is the archivist who ironically makes the most telling declaration yet about the fluidity of perception and history: “A duplicitous archivist wouldn’t be much use to future historians” (Mitchell 189). The young archivist never stops to consider that an archivist could be loyal to something other than the truth of an event. This is the fallacy of recorded history. Since future history is dependent solely on what is recorded in the present and on its recorder, how can we believe anything, much less know it, to be accurate? The Utopia that all societies hope to achieve exists only as an idea, living among the virtual past and future, but becoming lost among the actual.
Clearly, then, what we see in Cloud Atlas is an interrogation of the accuracy of reality, specifically due to man’s tendency, consciously or unconsciously, to mold it to conform to his current needs or expectations. As a result, no version of reality is able to function as anything but a story which may or may not be accurate to any significant degree.
Or put more simply: “does it matter?” That answer can only be: no, for regardless of the reality in which we find ourselves, virtual or actual, it is the reality in which we find ourselves, and is thus the reality in which we must live. Fenced in by perception’s assumptions and assertions, we can only act on what we believe we know. All other action is irrelevant.

http://faculty.weber.edu/vramirez/mark's6010.htm
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby Monkey Mind » Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:27 am

JeffR wrote:I just did a search for the book/movie at my local county library: 45 copies of the book and there is a waiting list of 431 requests. Clearly in demand. They don't have the movie.


Jeff, the movie is playing in theaters now. It will be awhile before it comes to your local library.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby sanblvd » Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:24 am

This is such an epic movie, this is actually the reason that brought me here to learn more.

For those that uses bit torrent, you can already find this on blueray quality download with subtitles.
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Thu Dec 27, 2012 8:23 am


Cloud Atlas’ Postmodern Take On Freedom


“All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended,” intones one of Cloud Atlas’ ubiquitous voiceovers. It sounds trite or, worse, meaningless, a point the film’s harsher critics have delighted in making. But for all of Cloud Atlas‘ bombastic presentation, its actual argument is a subtle meditation on the tortured relationship between power and emancipation, one that marries two seemingly inconsistent approaches to the world into a novel notion of human freedom. That the film dunks this argument in a vat of sentimentality obscures the point, but it’s there. And it’s entrancing.

If this analysis of power sounds familiar, that’s because it’s straight out of influential social theorist Michel Foucault’s work. Foucault’s mantra is that “power is fluid,” by which he means that it’s a mistake to think that force, constraint, and privilege are the only avenues to change the world. In his view, the power to change the world can be found anywhere; those who seem beaten down often have unexpected and unpredictable ways to turn the tables. But there’s a dark side as well — because power (understood as the ability to direct the behavior of others) is everywhere in human interactions, it also can constrain those who believe themselves to be free. Methods of domination, for Foucault, can often be as unexpected and invisible as opportunities for freedom.
Foucault’s understanding of power is nearly omnipresent in Cloud Atlas; many of the stories critically involve finding power in unexpected places.

Human nature is at its core a desire to be free. Cloud Atlas represents this abstract idea quite literally, by taking six stories involving people of different races, classes, and genders, and making every hero’s quest about freeing themselves and others from bondage and oppression.

So Cloud Atlas, then, is doing something quite ambitious – attempting to sympathize two competing strains of 20th century thought into one consistent strain; developing, in essence, a universal Foucaultian theory of human freedom, opposed by the declarations from Hugo Weaving’s various villains that “there is a natural order to things” where one group of people control the fates of the rest. That’s hardly the intellectually anemic film some critics would have you think!

http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/11 ... n-freedom/


Sonmi-451 and Yoona-939, born into slave labor, limited to service, and destined for a future in which they’re recycled as meat, are genuinely oppressed in a way that and by means of technology Cavendish couldn’t possibly imagine. Asserting their humanity takes courage he never could have mustered.
A cloned servant who’s been raised with the maxim “Honor thy consumer” as the first commandment that governs her life, Sonmi-451′s world is radically expanded first by her colleague, who shows her the fragment of the movie based in Timothy Cavendish’s life, and then by Chang, who takes her away from the restaurant that’s been the center of her world, giving her clothes of the kind reserved for humans born through biological means, and even more importantly, the opportunity to learn. “Knowledge is a mirror, and for the first time in my life, I was allowed to see who I was and who I might become,” she says.
The closest Cloud Atlas comes to an argument about the purpose of these reincarnations is a suggestion that many of us are working towards personal and social liberation, while a few remain tragically and influentially resistant to change.

http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/10 ... oud-atlas/



About halfway through the epically-long (and straining epic) movie, a character played by Jim Broadbent off-handedly says the line, “Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.” It’s a nice little, easy to overlook piece of dialogue, and considering the entirety of the film, with its plot is set across five time periods, loosely telling the story of a recurring moral choice reenacted by a number of individuals played by the same recurring actors – a kind of reincarnation metaphor straight out of central casting – it is an appropriate bit of dialogue. After all, in the moment Broadbent’s character Timothy Cavendish is trying to begin his life “afresh, afresh, afresh,” sneaking up on the home of a lover from his youth he let get away. And in the wider context of the film, all of these characters, in one way or another, are searching for new beginnings. They all run up against the same obstacle: oppression loosely write, and manifested alternatively as slavery; homophobic bigotry; a corporate conspiracy; a nasty, vindictive family member teamed up with a health institution; a dystopian, Orwellian government; and a Darwinian, primordial social order set in a post- apocalyptic future.

http://frontrow.dmagazine.com/2012/10/m ... hievement/



Cloud Atlas and Essential Human Nature

Some films beg to be discussed philosophically. But many of these films are dismissed by professional philosophers as pseudo-philosophy.
The filmmakers are rejecting what is called gender and racial “essentialism” in favor of the view that gender and race are “social constructions” – not surprising given the fact that one of the filmmakers is transgendered.

This is all pretty standard queer theory, which makes use of the postmodern method of deconstruction. And, yes, Cloud Atlas is postmodern, despite its claim to objective truth. In the novel one character responds to a query about her “version of the truth”, by saying “truth is singular. Its ‘versions’ are mistruths” (p. 185). Another character affirms that “the true true is diff’rent to the seemin’ true” (p. 274). This sounds like an odd thing for a postmodernist to say, but, contrary to popular belief, postmodernism is not all about rejecting truth claims; it is fundamentally about the pursuit of justice, which deconstructs power plays that mask themselves as truth claims.

Film critics have been stumped trying to follow the different characters played by the same actors in an attempt to discern some pattern of progress across the stories. But the point is that there is no progress. Human nature is unchangeable. Cloud Atlas argues that we may try to “civilize” ourselves and adopt new technologies in the name of “progress”, even eventually acquiring the ability to genetically alter our bodies and create “fabricant” clones, but we can never leave behind the (fallen) human nature of the will to power.

http://christianthought.hbu.edu/2012/10 ... an-nature/



Three-View Review: Cloud Atlas Swirls With Ambition

How ambitious is Cloud Atlas, the cinematic adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel that weaves together six seemingly unrelated stories from across space and time? The film spans the globe — and multiple centuries, from the 1800s to the distant future — as it unreels its cosmic message of interconnectedness.



http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/10/ ... as-review/



Postmodernist Intertextuality in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas


Martina Hrubes, Thesis (M.A.), 2008, 129 Pages

Introduction
The title of this study is “Postmodernist Intertextuality in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas” and is based on the following hypotheses:
1. There is a particular kind of intertextuality specific to postmodernist literature that differs from previous uses of intertextual references.
2. Postmodernist intertextuality is deconstructive, self-reflexive and critical of Western hegemonic discourses and metanarratives.
3. This specific kind of intertextuality is a key element of postmodernist art.

http://www.grin.com/en/e-book/94473/pos ... loud-atlas

:reading:
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby mirco » Sun Dec 30, 2012 12:50 am

In my opinion, if a Bhikkhu starts recommending media with no obviously Buddhist contents, something is really going wrong.

What's wrong about teaching Dhamma with not more than some simple analogies instead of advancing dilution?

Regards :-)
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby Yana » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:19 am

http://entertainment.time.com/2012/12/2 ... le-movies/

Voted the Most Terrible Movie of the Year..jeez..some people just "don't get it".

sooo narrow minded.Putting movies like Twilight as great hits.

Read the comments also!Most people agree it's a great movie!
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby Yana » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:22 am

mirco wrote:I believe, when a Bhikkhu starts recommending media with no obviously Buddhist contents, something really really is going wrong.

What's wrong about teaching Dhamma without non-Buddhist crap?

Regards :-)


well that's just it ..the Dhamma (True nature of existence) doesn't belong to Buddhism,Religion or any other crap.

It's everywhere.

And when we have enough discernment we can see it like Bhikku here.Thank you Bhikku :anjali:
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Thu Jan 03, 2013 4:46 pm

I would propose to see Cloud Atlas as a "modern Jataka tale" fulfilling very much the same purpose as the birth stories have done in popular Buddhism over many centuries: showing how good and bad deeds create a kind of karmic resonance which bind individuals together in positive and negative ways in successive lifetimes. This is the widely shared outlook on life in Buddhist cultures, a context that is largely missing in our Western culture.

Some quotes from the book:
“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, and though a cloud's shape nor hue nor size don't stay the same, it's still a cloud and so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud's blow from or who the soul'll be tomorrow?"
- The pivotal part of the book missed out in the Cloud Atlas movie. (Read citta for "soul".)

"This world spins from the same unseen forces that twist our hearts." (Kammuna vattati loko - The world is led by action.)

“If losers can exploit what their adversaries teach them, yes, losers can become winners in the long term.”

"Freedom, the fatuous jingle of our civilization. But only those deprived of it know the very inkling of what it really is."

"The world will do business with dictators, perverts, and drug barons of all stripes, but being slowed down it cannot abide."

"True, all true, but they got somethin' else. A hunger in their hearts, a hunger that's stronger than all their Smart. A hunger for more..."

“... in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only "rights", the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.”
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby daverupa » Thu Jan 03, 2013 4:54 pm

“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, and though a cloud's shape nor hue nor size don't stay the same, it's still a cloud and so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud's blow from or who the soul'll be tomorrow?"
- The pivotal part of the book missed out in the Cloud Atlas movie. (Read citta for "soul".)

---

is this saying that it is just this citta that runs and wanders on, not another?
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Thu Jan 03, 2013 5:41 pm

The purpose of Jataka-type stories is to emphasize continuity and the fact that "we are the owners of our kamma, heirs to our kamma". This kind of narrative-objectification is used by the Buddha in some contexts when he discusses the ethical aspect of action. (There are Suttas which say things like "The mind well developed in virtue, after the body breaks up, will rise upwards to the heaven world.") But in other contexts, such as dependent arising, he goes beyond this kind of objectification and does not speak of any entity which acts or receives results of actions.
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Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby mirco » Thu Jan 03, 2013 6:49 pm

gavesako wrote:I would propose to see Cloud Atlas as a "modern Jataka tale" fulfilling very much the same purpose as the birth stories have done in popular Buddhism over many centuries: showing how good and bad deeds create a kind of karmic resonance which bind individuals together in positive and negative ways in successive lifetimes. This is the widely shared outlook on life in Buddhist cultures, a context that is largely missing in our Western culture.

For me that seems a bit too far-fetched. If there at least would be any cross reference at all to Buddhism literally. But thus... no one leaves the cinema thinking, "ahhh, that's what the Buddhas teachings are about."

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby daverupa » Thu Jan 03, 2013 6:53 pm

So, are jataka-type tales saying that it is this citta which runs and wanders on & not another?
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Thu Jan 03, 2013 7:20 pm

The way that the 6 stories of Cloud Atlas are interwoven and how certain animosities between the characters seem to continue life after life is very much like the narrative structure of the Jataka tales (which according to scholars are not particularly "Buddhist" in themselves, they are part of ancient Indian folklore):


Anathapindika raised his clasped hands to his forehead, praised the Buddha, and asked him to tell that story of the past.

"In order to dispel the world's ignorance and to conquer suffering," the Buddha proclaimed, "I practiced the Ten Perfections for countless aeons. Listen carefully, and I will speak."

Having their full attention, the Buddha made clear, as though he were releasing the full moon from behind clouds, what rebirth had concealed from them.

Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the Bodhisatta was born into a merchant's family and grew up to be a wise trader. At the same time, in the same city, there was another merchant, a very stupid fellow, with no common sense whatsoever.
One day it so happened that the two merchants each loaded five hundred carts with costly wares of Baranasi and prepared to leave in the same direction at exactly the same time. The wise merchant thought, "If this silly young fool travels with me and if our thousand carts stay together, it will be too much for the road. Finding wood and water for the men will be difficult, and there won't be enough grass for the oxen. Either he or I must go first."
...

Just as the merchant had predicted, his caravan soon came upon the five hundred carts with the skeletons of men and oxen strewn in every direction. He ordered his men to arrange his carts in a fortified circle, to take care of the oxen, and to prepare an early supper for themselves. After the animals and men had all safely bedded down, the merchant and his foremen, swords in hand, stood guard all through the night.

At daybreak the merchant replaced his own weak carts for stronger ones and exchanged his own common goods for the most costly of the abandoned merchandise. When he arrived at his destination, he was able to barter his stock of wares at two or three times their value. He returned to his own city without losing a single man out of all his company.

This story ended, the Buddha said, "Thus it was, laymen, that in times past, the foolish came to utter destruction, while those who clung to the truth escaped from the yakkhas' hands, reached their goal in safety, and returned to their homes again.
"This clinging to the truth not only endows happiness even up to rebirth in the Realm of Brahma,[3] but also leads ultimately to Arahantship. Following untruth entails rebirth either in the four states of punishment or in the lowest conditions of mankind." After the Buddha had expounded the Four Truths, those five hundred disciples were established in the Fruit of the First Path.

The Buddha concluded his lesson by identifying the Birth as follows: "The foolish young merchant was Devadatta,[4] and his men were Devadatta's followers. The wise merchant's men were the followers of the Buddha, and I myself was that wise merchant."

Apannaka Jataka: Crossing the Wilderness (Jat 1)
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl135.html



Just as in Cloud Atlas, we see the never-ending struggle between good and evil in the Jatakas:


So that a disheartened bhikkhu would have no regrets in the future, the Buddha told him this story at Savatthi to encourage him to persevere. "If you give up your practice in this sublime teaching which leads to Nibbana," the Buddha told him, "you will suffer long, like the trader of Seriva who lost a golden bowl worth a hundred thousand pieces."

When asked to explain, the Buddha told this story of the distant past.
...

The frustrated trader could only stand there on the river-bank and watch his rival escape with the bowl. The sight so infuriated him that a fierce hate swelled up inside him. His heart grew hot, and blood gushed from his mouth. Finally, his heart cracked like the mud at the bottom of a pond dried up by the sun. So intense was the unreasoning hatred which he developed against the other trader because of the golden bowl, that he perished then and there.
The honest trader returned to Seriva, where he lived a full life spent in charity and other good works, and passed away to fare according to his deserts.

When the Buddha finished this story, he identified himself as the honest trader, and Devadatta as the greedy trader. This was the beginning of the implacable grudge which Devadatta held against the Bodhisatta through innumerable lives.

Serivavanija Jataka: The Traders of Seriva (Jat 3)



Some characters in Cloud Atlas, in particular Sonmi-451, have a strong spiritual and ethical side to them. In fact, she becomes revered by future generations as a prophet revealing the truth who also died for the truth. When asked about her belief in the afterlife, she says:

"I believe death is only a door. One closes, and another opens. If I were to imagine heaven, I would imagine a door opening. And he would be waiting for me there." - Sonmi 451



Now compare this to the Buddha's description in this Sutta:

Recollection of Past Lives

"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes). He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details. Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, 'I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives... in their modes and details.

"This, too, great king, is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime.

The Passing Away & Re-appearance of Beings

"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the passing away and re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, and mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, and mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.' Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — he sees beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma. Just as if there were a tall building in the central square [of a town], and a man with good eyesight standing on top of it were to see people entering a house, leaving it, walking along the street, and sitting in the central square. The thought would occur to him, 'These people are entering a house, leaving it, walking along the streets, and sitting in the central square.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the passing away and re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma...

"This, too, great king, is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


For more on the Jataka and multiple-life stories see this thread:
viewtopic.php?f=19&t=13943&start=0

Also this blog:
Jonathan Geen and Brian Black have been pioneers in the study of characters that cross the boundaries between South Asian religious traditions, and their introduction to this volume lays out the rationale for such study. They highlight four issues: (1) Stability: the impressive stability exhibited by characters that have multiple appearances; (2) Flexibility: the ability of characters to also be adapted or even inverted to make new points; (3) Inter-textuality: since the same characters appear in different texts, examining literary characters is a good way to explore connections and dialogue between traditions; (4) Demonstrability: the ability of characters to demonstrate (or, as Lindquist prefers, embody) a particular ideal or teaching.

http://storyofstoryinsouthasia.wordpres ... character/
Last edited by gavesako on Mon Jan 21, 2013 3:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Wed Jan 09, 2013 10:18 pm

Mapping the Ineffable: The Nebulous Flow of History in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas
BY RYAN REFT

If only we could have some sort of “never changing map of the ever constant ineffable?” Yet, would not such a map only be relevant for a brief moment? The ineffable maybe indescribable but is it fixed? In David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, souls flow across time and space inhabiting different physical bodies but encountering their spiritual counterparts repeatedly, revealing that our actions in the future might influence ours in the past. For Mitchell’s characters, time exists more as an abstract open space within which our spiritual selves flow backwards and forwards, often intertwining with others. Even the structure of the novel suggests that our linear progressive understanding of history may be flawed. Mitchell tells six different stories, in six different time periods, in six different genres, unfolding in ascending and then descending order, visiting each story twice except for the sixth which takes place in one sitting (think of it this way, the stories are told in this order: 1,2,3,4,5,6,5,4,3,2,1). Throughout, Mitchell’s characters experience not only deja vu from the past but also evoke feelings or memories from actions their souls commit in the future. If anything the future seems to disrupt the past as much as the opposite. ...
Clearly, Mitchell wants to challenge concepts of time, history, and reality. In his earlier novels, Mitchell frequently employed Joycean techniques to create dream like sequences in which discerning reality from fantasy proved difficult. Determining what is real in Cloud Atlas and what is “fiction” can be difficult. ...
If all this seems highly theoretical, it is. Mitchell’s skill lay in his ability to interweave these intricate ideas into a text that fluidly explores issues of time, reality, and collectivity. From a historian’s point of view, Mitchell’s world remains a troubling comment. The soul that each of these characters represents fights against various forms of subjugation. Though each character seems to recognize their apparent vulnerability, they nonetheless engage in acts that doom themselves but also their reincarnations to subservience. This permanence pushes back against historian’s belief in contingency. ...

http://tropicsofmeta.wordpress.com/2011 ... oud-atlas/
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby alan » Thu Jan 10, 2013 2:33 am

He's a good writer, but not without flaws. The middle chapter in Cloud Atlas, for example, is stylized to the point of unreadability. His last book was a failure. Brilliant guy, no doubt. But I see no reason to think of him as a Buddhist, or that he offers any new thoughts on the subject.
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:30 pm

Whether a book is a success of a failure is hard to tell, sometimes it takes generations before certain books are fully understood and appreciated. Reading some of the reviews of the book and the film, the negative ones are often written by authors who state quite bluntly that they find the idea of rebirth/reincarnation incomprehensible or simply nonsense, and therefore the whole plot of the 6 stories is confusing for them. This is not very surprising in a Western cultural context largely shaped by Christian and, more recently, materialist-scientific views on the nature of the individual (soul or no soul).

Some commentators try to approach it from a different -- political -- angle:


Discussions about the meaning of the film on http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1371111/board/threads/

I cannot remember the last time I saw such an explicitly left wing film. For a start the two communities which Tom Hank's Zachry character experiences (the primitive and the futuristic) are marxist, collectivist and cooperative societies.
Next, it appears to me that each of the character strands represents some ideology or value although there are exceptions that do not fit. Here are my thoughts (I've only watched the film once and I need another watch to complete some character strands):
Hugh Grant's characters mostly represent the amoral, Randian, self-interested individualist (the oil executive, the self-interested brother, the slaverer etc)
Tom Hank's characters mostly represent altruism, selfless sacrifice and cooperation (the oil exec who sacrifices his career for the greater good, Zachry)
Halle Berry's characters represent freedom, knowledge and liberty (Luisa Rey, Meronym)
Doona Bae's characters represent enlightenment and the power of ideas (Sonmi 451, Tilda)
Hugo Weaving's characters represent fascism, totalitarianism and order (assassin, executioner, slaverer, demon)
Jim Broadbent's characters are a little more ambiguous,maybe greed? They're broadly amoral but will do the right thing if it furthers their own self-interest.
Capitalism is broadly represented by the Taylorist clone production process/life cycle (also a take on our industrial food manufacturing, animal slaughtering processes) and manifested in the emptiness of the consumer experience of the digitized restaurant.
There are exceptions to the character strands but this is what I perceived as the most powerful themes in the character strands that stuck with me. Additionally, themes of interconnectedness and lines such as 'your life is not your own' are common amongst left wing thought so the film represents a very unsubtle trashing of right wing ideas. If you're not left minded I doubt you would enjoy this movie, it trashes conservatism when the reality is a little more ambiguous. Saying that, it's spurred me to read the novel which I'm sure will explore the themes in greater depth.


The novel is much better than the film (surprise!) as it really fleshes out the worlds that the characters inhabit and is structured in a much more disciplined way. But the theme of the story is generally the same - it's about predacity.
I think to assign an overtly political stance limits the scope of the narrative, although I do agree that the actors seem to be assigned roles representing certain forces/ideals (although I'm tempted to say that there is a lack of consistency in these choices. There's apart of the formula that determines who play's whom that is missing).

A) Zachry lives in a community based on trade and cooperation - not a cooperative or a collectivist society. Trade happens between villages as well as individuals with different skill sets, and hosting the "prescients" is traditional.

B) Hugh Grant's characters are usually big corporation, yes; however, in the book (and the movie, subtly) it is made clear that he is a big corporation heavily tied with both gas corporation interests and government lobbyist interests (one of the new members of the board was part of the government's energy department, and it's made pretty clear that the entire Swannake project is an attempt to discredit the validity of nuclear energy to refocus the energy market on oil).

C) Tom Hanks is exposing corruption that would have killed thousands of people purposefully; the same corruption that Sixsmith was trying to eradicate by publishing his report.

D) Capitalism and the Corpocratic Unanimity have very little in common with one another, unless you believe that Capitalism is inherently fascist. That future represents a combination of Big Business and Big Brother - spiced up with a little agit-prop culture and guys in leather - that is strangely reminiscent of the Nazi regime. Capitalism requires free trade, and when everything you do is regulated by the Corpocratic principles (such as "honor thy consumer," lol) I don't think you can claim free association.
Exactly, Unanimity/corpocracy was shown not to be truly capitalist but totalitarian. It was a weird mix of pseudo-capitalism and pseudo-communism with a dash of general totalitarian governments (Nazi, black shirts, Soviet, etc.). The novel dove much more into how the society is structured, but I thought it was pretty clear, even in the movie, that the government wasn't really a capitalistic one.


"A common theme is how people can become either more good or more evil throughout their lifetimes. We start out with Tom Hanks as a really villainous and greedy guy, but by the end of the movie, he’s ultimately good. We witness him transform again and again along his own spiritual path. So some people end up OK in the end and get a second chance.

This is especially the case with the love between Tom Hanks and Halle Berry at the end of the movie. But some characters just can’t become good. The filmmakers have talked about how the soul Tom Hanks plays is able to transform itself, even as he clearly struggles in the postapocalyptic scene. But Hugh Grant does not — he becomes a barbaric, cannibalistic murderer."


Basically, the movie is designed as the Wachowski's brother's anti-conservative manifesto. That is the unifying theme of the movie(as much as it sounds like a cliche criticism instead of a unifying theme, but you'll see). Each of the 6 stories represents 6 different distinct assaults on conservatism. That is why those particular 6 stories were chosen.

Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing(1849): This one is about race and about how people in society get wealthy by exploiting minorities and those that benefit defend it as a natural order. By itself no one would think its designed as an assault on conservatism, but when you add in the other 5 themes it's clear that Wachowski's believe conservatives are racist.

Letters from Zedelghem 1936: This story is about homosexuality, and about society's treatment of homosexuals once they become known. The background letters to his lover is what really drives this point home, and the key moments are when composer to threatens to out him and tells him about how his reputation and work will suffer if it ever gets out.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery: This story is about energy(particularly oil) and about how companies are okay with harming anyone as long as they can continue to exploit the resources of the earth.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish: This story is about the treatment of the elderly and how society prefers to lock them up and leave them to die. It's also about the lack of compassion towards the hardships of the elderly.

An Orison of Sonmi~451: This story is about the 'horrors' of capitalism its use of people as nothing more than tools to keep 'the system' running.
An Orison of Sonmi~451 is most definitely anti-capitalist. It's the focus on the technology, machinery, assembly lines, efficiency in killing, feeding themselves to themselves, your life is your job reality, etc. that really drive that one home.

Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After: This story is the assault on organized/traditional religion. A key aspect to solidifying this is the constant presence of Old Georgie and the symbolic presence of having an alien with special technology come down. But the real kicker to this one is when they finally get into the observatory building at the top of the mountain. When Halle Berry asks Tom Hanks if he wants to hear "the true true", and then informs him that the messiah-like person they have been worshiping is actually a woman that lived a harsh life 200 years prior and has been dead since.

See? It should now be painfully obvious. The unifying theme of the movie is politics, and while some of the sub-stories could be construed as not that political when taken as a whole it's obvious they just represent different planks of the brothers' politics. And given the nature of the subjects this isn't a movie showing the Wachowski's political desires exactly, but instead opposition to a different ideology--conservatism. This becomes obvious when you realize that the main themes of the each of these segments are anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-dirty energy, anti-abandonment of the elderly, anti-capitalism, and anti-organized religion. Which makes this movie probably the most political movie ever made and was the goal of the Wachowski brothers.

--------

Interpretation 1: The secular way of talking about Cloud Atlas' themes, which might include things like the participant-observer effect, determinism, game theory, wave function collapse, and (in in a very general way) quantum entanglement.

Interpretation 2: Or the spiritual lens, which might include such Buddhist concepts as different formulations of karma, soul families (jati), liminal spaces between lives (bardo), and hungry ghosts (preta).


Neo from "The Matrix" was The One. Get it? "Neo" is an anagram of "One". Neo-Seoul is "New Seoul", as in the city that was built next to "Old Seoul" when it flooded. Of course, one of the themes of the movie is possible reincarnation, so "Old Seoul" sounds just like "old soul".
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Thu Jan 24, 2013 8:42 pm

Interesting background information regarding the philosophy of Cloud Atlas:

DP/30: Cloud Atlas, screenwriter/directors talk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MXR4MCuA0o

Thai cook during Cloud Atlas filming provided the food for the crew! :popcorn:
Audience has to participate in the construction of meaning while watching the film.
Karma: our actions have consequences - the underlying message is about reincarnation.
Tom Hanks and his enormous enthusiasm for his many roles, he really put his heart in it.
The filming process was a communal art project, different from other types of Hollywood movies which often lack the spirit.



David Mitchell talks about his book "Cloud Atlas" to Michael Silverblatt.
The role and form of narrative story-telling. Predacity and greed of humanity. Cycle: the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning. Stories are not out there but rather they are what we are made of. The writer must have integrity to write what is true, which people can also detect. The story could not have been made easier for the reader. The future episode should be a warning for us.
http://youtu.be/8pvhJy1dagw



DAVID MITCHELL, NOVELIST
Translating 'Cloud Atlas' Into the Language of Film

... Fourth, just add music. Musicality in novels is only figurative: Books don't (yet) have speakers, though e-books are working on it. Music is an extra character that can amplify emotion or subvert it or stitch a narrative together. A gifted score-composer can somehow transform the essence of a book into music and have it waft through, like the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, and last for now: All roads lead to closure. The unwritten contract between author and reader does not contain a clause saying, "I, the author, do faithfully promise to reveal the ultimate fates of the major characters," but films do, which is why so few of the films with four or five stars from the review of posterity end in uncertain futures for the principle players.

Adaptation is a form of translation, and all acts of translation have to deal with untranslatable spots. Sometimes late at night I'll get an email from a translator asking for permission to change a pun in one of my novels or to substitute an idiomatic phrase with something plainer. My response is usually the same: You are the one with knowledge of the "into" language, so do what works. When asked whether I mind the changes made during the adaptation of "Cloud Atlas," my response is similar: The filmmakers speak fluent film language, and they've done what works.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000087 ... 58076.html
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby Viscid » Thu Jan 24, 2013 10:07 pm

I hope you're getting some dana from the producers for all this endorsement, bhante.

There are a lot of movies with Buddhist themes which aren't specifically Buddhist-- Groundhog Day (one of my all-time favourites) and Jacob's Ladder come to mind (that quote about Hell is magnificent!) which also deserve recognition.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby gavesako » Fri Jan 25, 2013 9:58 am

No dana coming my way yet, but if we follow the suggestion in the book -- Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others. Past and Present. And by each crime; and every kindness, we birth our future. -- somehow good kamma should manifest its results in a corresponding way.

I am collecting all useful references and interpretations of 'Cloud Atlas' which are related to my primary interest, which is the Buddha's use of narrative story-telling in order to illustrate some points of Dhamma. When we read the early Suttas (unlike the Abhidhamma) we will find many metaphors but also stories involving fictional characters. This is the earliest division of the Buddha's teachings which his disciples would study:

Navaṅga-buddha-sāsana, the ninefold Dispensation of the Buddha consists of Suttas (Sutta), mixed prose (geyya), exegesis (veyyākaraṇa), verses (gāthā), solemn utterances (udāna), sayings of the Blessed One (itivuttaka), birth stories (jātaka), extraordinary things (abbhutadhamma), and analysis (vedalla). This classification is often found in the Suttas (e.g. M. 22). It is a classification according to literary styles, and not according to given texts or books.

My strong impression is that 'Cloud Atlas' could work well as a 'modern birth story' or jātaka tale which could be widely shared and understood by many people. The fact that the plot involves places and people not connected to ancient India should not present any difficulties, because so-called 'apocryphal jātaka tales' have been written in south-east Asian countries until very recently (18th century, Thailand and Laos), mentioning local places and characters. This is called the 'localization' effect, see viewtopic.php?f=19&t=13943

However, especially when reading the book (the film misses many details), it becomes obvious that Buddhist ideas are directly and indirectly referred to in several places:

* The people living on Hawaii island in the distant future when civilization has collapsed have a firm belief in reincarnation and can recollect past lives (more akin to shamanic traditions of the native Americans for example).

* They go into an old Korean Buddhist monastery with a few remaining traces of Buddhism, with an old nun who does not know the teachings of Siddhartha anymore, but says that he was teaching the way out of the cycle of rebirth. There is also a crumbling old statue of the Buddha made from rock near the monastery. Here is a quote from this chapter:

On an xposed rock shelf, Hae-Joo pointed across a gulf. “See him?”
Who? I saw only a rock face.
Keep looking, he said, and from the mountainside emerged the carved features of a cross-legged giant. One slender
hand was raised in a gesture of grace. Weaponry and elements had strafed, ravaged, and cracked his features, but his
outline was discernible if you knew where to look. I said the giant reminded me of Timothy Cavendish, making Hae-
Joo Im smile for the first time in a long while. He said the giant was a deity that offered salvation from a
meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth, and perhaps the cracked stonework still possessed a lingering divinity. Only
the inanimate can be so alive. I suppose QuarryCorp will destroy him when they get around to processing those
mountains.
Why did Im take you on this field trip to the middle of nowhere?
Every nowhere is somewhere, Archivist. Past the cross-legged giant and over the ridge we came upon a modest grain
bed in a clearing, clothes drying on bushes, vegetable plots, a crude irrigation system of bamboo, a cemetery. A
thirsty cataract. Hae-Joo led me thru a narrow cleft into a courtyard, walled by ornate buildings unlike any I ever
saw. A very recent xplosion had cratered the agstones, blown away timbers, and collapsed a tiled roof. One pagoda
had succumbed to a typhoon and fallen on its twin. Ivy more than joinery kept the latter upright. This was to be our
lodging for the nite, Hae-Joo told me. An abbey had stood there for fteen centuries, until corpocracy dissolved the
pre-consumer religions after the Skirmishes. Now the site serves to shelter dispossessed purebloods who prefer
scraping a life from the mountainside to downstrata conurb life.
So U nion hid its interlocutor, its ... messiah, in a colony of recidivists?
Messiah: what a grandiose title for a Papa Song server. Behind us, a creased, sun-scorched peasant woman, as visibly
aged as a senior from Cavendish’s time, limped into the courtyard, leaning on an enceph-scarred boy. The boy, a
mute, smiled shyly at Hae-Joo, and the woman hugged Hae-Joo a ectionately as a mother. I was introduced to the
Abbess as Ms. Yoo. One eye was milk-blind, her other brite and watchful. She clasped my hands in hers in a
charming gesture. “You are welcome here,” she told me, “most welcome.”
Hae-Joo asked about the bomb crater.
The Abbess replied that a local U nanimity regiment was using them for teething. An aero appeared last month and
launched a shell without warning. One man died, and several colonists were badly injured. An act of malice, the
Abbess speculated sadly, or a bored pilot, or perhaps a developer had seen potential in the site as a healthspa hotel
for xecs and wanted the site cleared.
My companion promised to find out.
Who were these “colonists” xactly? Squatters? Terrorists? U nion?
Each colonist had a different story. I was introduced to U yghur dissidents, dust-bowled farmers from Ho Chi Minh
Delta, once respectable conurb dwellers who had fallen foul of corp politics, unemployable deviants, those
undollared by mental illness. Of the seventy-five colonists, the youngest was nine weeks old; the oldest, the Abbess,
was sixty-eight, though if she had claimed to be three hundred years of age I would still have believed her, such
gravitas she had.
But ... how could people there survive without franchises and gallerias? What did they eat? Drink? How about
electricity? Entertainment? What about enforcers and order? How did they impose hierarchy?
Go visit them, Archivist. You can tell the Abbess I sent you. No? Well, their food came from the forest and gardens,
water from the cataract. Scavenge trips to landfills yielded plastics and metals for tools. Their “school” sony was
powered by a water turbine. Solar nitelamps recharged during daylite hours. Their entertainment was themselves;
consumers cannot xist without 3-D and AdV, but humans once did and still can. Enforcement? Problems arose, no
doubt, even crises from time to time. But no crisis is insuperable if people cooperate.
What about the mountain winters?
They survived as fifteen centuries of nuns had before them: by planning, thrift, and fortitude. The monastery was
built over a cave, xtended by bandits during the Japanese annexation. These tunnels gave sufficient shelter from
winter and U nanimity aeros. Oh, such a life is no bucolic U topia. Yes, winters are severe; rainy seasons are relentless;
crops fall prey to disease; their medicine is sorely limited. Few colonists live as long as upstrata consumers. They
bicker, blame, and grieve as people will, but at least they do it in a community, and companionship is a fine
medicine in itself. Nea So Copros has no communities now, only mutually suspicious substrata. I slept soundly that
nite against a backdrop of gossip, music, complaints, and laughter, feeling safe for the first time since my dormroom
in Papa Song’s.
So what was U nion’s interest in the colony?
Simple: U nion provides hardware, such as their solars; in return, the colony provides a safe house, kilometers from
the nearest Eye. I woke in my dorm tunnel just before dawn and crept to the temple mouth. The guard was a
middle-aged woman nursing a colt and a stimulin brew; she lifted the mosquito net for me but warned me about
coyotes scavenging below the monastery walls. I promised to stay in earshot, skirted the courtyard, and squeezed
between the narrow rocks to the balcony of blacks and grays.
The mountain dropped away; an updraft rose from the valley, carrying animal cries, calls, growls, and snufles. I
could not identify even one; for all my knowledge of censored arcana, I felt impoverished. And such a sky of stars!
Ah, mountain stars are not these apologetic pinpricks over conurb skies; hanging plump they drip lite. A boulder
stirred, just a meter away. “Ah, Ms. Yoo,” said the Abbess, “an early riser.”
I wished her a good morning.
The younger colonists, the old woman confided, worry about her wandering around before sunup, in case she fell
off the edge. She produced a pipe from her sleeve, stuffed its bowl, and lit it. A raw local leaf, she admitted, but she
had lost the taste for refined marlboros years ago. The smoke smelled of aromatic leather and dried dung.
I asked about the stone figure in the escarpment across the gulf.
Siddhartha had other names, she told me, mostly lost now. Her predecessors knew all the stories and sermons, but
the old Abbess and senior nuns were sentenced to the Litehouse when non-consumer religions were criminalized.
The present Abbess had been a novice back then, so U nanimity judged her young enough for reorientation. She was
raised in an orphans’ bloc in Pearl City Conurb, but she said, she had never left her abbey spiritually. She returned
years later and founded the present colony in the wreckage.
I asked if Siddhartha was indeed a god.
Many called him so, the Abbess agreed, but Siddhartha does not influence fortune or weather or perform many of
a divinity’s traditional functions. Rather, Siddhartha is a dead man and a living ideal. The man taught about
overcoming pain, and influencing one’s future reincarnations. “But I pray to the ideal.” She indicated the meditating
giant. “Early, so he knows I’m serious.”

I said I hoped that Siddhartha would reincarnate me in her colony.
Lite from the coming day defined the world more clearly now. The Abbess asked why I hoped so.
It took a little time to form my answer. I said how all purebloods have a hunger, a dissatisfaction in their eyes,
xcept for the colonists I had met.
The Abbess nodded. If consumers found fulfillment at any meaningful level, she xtemporized, corpocracy would be
finished. Thus, Media is keen to scorn colonies such as hers, comparing them to tapeworms; accusing them of stealing
rainwater from WaterCorp, royalties from VegCorp patent holders, oxygen from Air-Corp. The Abbess feared that,
should the day ever come when the Board decided they were a viable alternative to corpocratic ideology, “the
’tapeworms’ will be renamed ’terrorists,’ smart bombs will rain, and our tunnels flood with fire.”
I suggested the colony must prosper invisibly, in obscurity.
“Xactly.” Her voice hushed. “A balancing act as demanding as impersonating a pureblood, I imagine.” ...



The scenario of the cyclic pattern of humanity's evolution and decline is clearly modelled on Aggañña Sutta (DN 27) which is nicely illustrated here:

Beginnings - Endings
http://sites.google.com/site/beginningsendings/home

See also:

BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS: The Buddhist Mythos of the Arising and Passing Away of the World
http://www.changesurfer.com/Bud/Begin.html
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

ajahnchah.org - Teachings of Ajahn Chah in many languages
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Re: Cloud Atlas - epic film about karma and reincarnation

Postby perkele » Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:45 am

Yes, it was a really great read. Thanks very much for the recommendation. The best novel I've read in a long time. I gave one to my brother. He will enjoy it. It's always nice being able to give good presents.

I made quite the same observations regarding the connection with Buddhist teaching that you presented here in so much detail.
The Abbess nodded. If consumers found fulfillment at any meaningful level, she xtemporized, corpocracy would be
finished.

:reading:

Let's see where it's all going here with us in this world.

:shrug:

Rohitassa Sutta wrote:But neither do I say, friend, that without having reached the end of the world there could be an ending of ill. It is in this very fathom-long physical frame with its perceptions and mind, that, I declare, lies the world, and the arising of the world, and the cessation of the world, and the path leading to the cessation of the world.


:meditate:
Those who are ashamed of what they should be ashamed of, and are not ashamed of what they should not be ashamed of -- upholding true views, they do not go to states of woe.
(suggested by SamBodhi)
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