Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Which Calendar to Follow in 2009 and 2010?

The clock ticks, the hands of the timepiece move on. The pages on the wall calendar are turned. 2008 makes way for 2009.

Have you ever thought which calendar system do you follow?

There are many calendar systems in the world. Some are in more widespread use than others.

The Year 2009 in Different Calendar Systems is:
  • 6244 in the Ancient Egyptian calendar
  • 5769 in the Hebrew calendar
  • 5122 in the Maya calendar
  • 5106 in one of the Hindu calendars (there are 30 different systems)
  • 4706 in the Chinese calendar – the year of the Ox in Chinese astrology
  • 1430 in the Islamic or Hijri calendar
  • 163 in the Bahá'í calendar
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Yes, there are many calendar systems used in the modern world. But if we try to group them in a logical manner, we find that basically there are two types of contemporary calendar systems in use: the Lunar calendar, like the Islamic calendar and the Solar calendar like the Gregorian calendar used all over the Western world. 

Lunar calendars are the most ancient ones. These were used by the Cro-Magnon human ancestors about 35 000 years ago.

The Origin of the Word 'Calendar'

We don't know the Cro-Magnon name for the calendar but we know the etymology of the word 'Calendar'. The word ‘calendar’ comes from the Roman custom of referring to the first day of each new month as Kalends or Kalends from their word calare (to announce solemnly, to call out).

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Ancient Calendar Systems

In the ancient world, there was also the Lunisolar calendar system, used by the Hebrew, the Hindu, Babylonian, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, pre-Julian Roman calendars as well as pre-Julian Germanic calendars.

About 5000 years ago, the ancient Egyptian civil calendar had a year with 365 days, divided into 12 months of 30 days each, plus 5 extra days at the end of the year. The months were divided into 3 "weeks" of ten days each. Rather than the sun or the moon, Sothis or Sirius (a star) was the fixed point.
It is based on the heliacal rising of Sothis, or when Sothis is first visible over the eastern horizon at dawn. Like many other ancient people, the Egyptians knew that the earth takes 365.25636 days to complete one revolution around the sun. Copernicus used the extremely accurate Egyptian data to construct his tables for the motion of the planets. According to the famed Egyptologist J. H. Breasted, the earliest date known in the Egyptian calendar corresponds to 4236 B.C.E. in terms of the Gregorian calendar and the year 2009 would then be 6244.

Maya Calendar System Does Not Predict the End of the World in 2012

The Mayas in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica had a fascinatingly accurate and complex calendar system of Venus-cycles, 365-day Haab or solar calendar and the Tzolk'in or 260 day calendar. The popular version that the world will end catastrophically on October 12th 2012 according to the Maya calendar is nonsense. They even have distance dates like October 21st 4772 A.D. on their calendar.

The Dogon people living in Bandiagara and Douentza in Mali, West Africa use a calendar based on a fifty year cycle, which is the time the star Sirius B takes to circle the primary star Sirius A every 49.9 - or 50 years.

People with No Calendars

American Indian tribes did not have a true calendar or a single integrated system of marking days and longer periods of time.

The remnant of the monotheistic Himba people in Ekambu, Namibia, who survived the great massacre of 1904-07, live in relative isolation by a different calendar. For them each year begins when the thunderstorms start and leaves grow from the ground.

2009 is the International Astronomy year as it is the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei first using a telescope and Johannes Kepler publishing his Astronomia Nova in the 17th century.

What would the ancient Maya, Egyptian, Hindu and Chinese astronomers have said to this?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Hidden Message of Christmas

Christmas celebrations all over the world drive economies, producing jobs for millions of people as well as being the major annual festival for about 2 billion people.  People buy, give and get lovely presents. People sing and listen to lovely songs and cook tasty food to share with loved ones.

The commercial aspect of Christmas is so overwhelming that the deeper meaning of Christmas often gets lost.  With all the buying and preparing, many people are dead tired by the time Christmas finally arrives.

Is Christmas a secular cultural event or is it still a religious happening?

As a cultural event, Christmas produces an astonishing variety of customs from New Zealand to Khirghistan, from Tonga to Sweden. Commercial Christmas products seem to become similar due to globalisation. Made in China cheap Christmasware flood the markets everywhere.

Religious traditions vary across the spread of the Christian faith. Different Christian faiths ascribe different significance to Christmas. 
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas at all. 
  • The Mormons celebrate Christmas though they believe that the actual birthday of Jesus was April 6th
  • The Amish people actually fast, meditate and pray during Christmas day.
  • Over 350 000 Jews belonging to Messianic Judaism celebrate Christmas as the birth of their Messiah. 

Every religion has two aspects: 
  • an exoteric aspect, which focuses on traditions, observance of rituals, social structures and communal activities etc. 
  • The second aspect of every religion is esoteric. This is the hidden message, the deeper significance and the answer to the question why religions exist, in fact why we exist.

What Does the Birth of Jesus Signify to You?

Jesus’s actions show a joyful and willing participation in the sorrows of the world. Going to the cross voluntarily, liked a bridegroom going to the bride shows an acceptance of life without judgement. Rejecting someone or something as it disagrees with preconception only narrows down life. Growth means accepting a higher potential.

So, the hidden message of Christmas is really is about a spiritual birth in each person.

How is Spiritual Birth Different from Biological Birth?

Biological birth happens, without anyone asking the opinion of the child being born. But spiritual birth requires a wilful commitment, a desire to break the narrowness of one’s tiny ego.

A person who experiences a spiritual birth becomes more than just a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist or a Mormon. When this spiritual birth happens, the darkest day of the winter solstice is over and we move towards the light.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Photo credit: Ajay Kumar Singh 

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Protesting Naked Against the State - Stephen Gough

Would you go to jail for your principles? Or would you rather give in and do what you are told? When you publicly challenge the system, how far are you allowed to go before the empire strikes back?

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When thinking about governments that tolerate no challenge from strong willed individuals, you would automatically think of countries like Burma, which has kept the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest for 19 years already or Uzbekistan, which put opposition leader Sanjar Umarov under arrest for basically opposing the regime.

When talking about prisoners of conscience, you would think of people like Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for protesting against apartheid in South Africa, Mohandas Gandhi, who spent 6,5 years in prison for protesting against the British government or Chia Thye Poh of Singapore, who was imprisoned without trial for 23 years.

Can this sort of thing happen in a contemporary free Western democracy?

The Strange Case of the Naked Protester Stephen Gough

No one knows this better than the Naked Rambler, a former Royal Marine Stephen Gough also known as Steve Gough. He walked the entire length of Great Britain (1,407 km) from Land’s End in the south to John o' Groats in northern Scotland in 2003-2004 totally naked except for shoes, socks, and a hat to protect himself from the sun. 

On Thursday 18th December 2008, he was again sentenced to two years in prison for breach of the peace. Gough is protesting against the British people’s attitudes to the human body. 
"This is just one step in the whole process of making people aware about our bodies because we are so paranoid about them." Gough says. 

Stephen Gough was again arrested at Edinburgh airport for removing his clothes during a flight from Southampton to Edinburgh and got a seven-month jail sentence. Characteristically, he again refused to dress up when he was released into Saughton Prison car park in Edinburgh. This time the judge, Isobel Poole was lenient and found that there was no evidence of "actual alarm or disturbance," adding 
"I can understand this conduct could be considered unpleasant to passers-by had there been any but there is a lack of evidence to that effect."

What is the Fear of Nudity? Gymnophobia

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Gymnophobia is the fear of nudity. Serious and respectable people admire ancient Greek culture and pay fees to visit museums filled with naked statues. 

Nudity in art and sculpture is considered a part of higher expression of the aspiration of the human spirit. But, these same people consider seeing nudity in vivo as revolting and outrageous.

Sexual Appeal is Everywhere

The majority of Internet traffic, as revealed by search engine keywords, is geared toward pornography and searching for sex. 

  • Why do people spend time, money, and energy staring at flesh on a screen, when seeing human flesh in a non-erotic or sensual context is considered disgusting? 
  • Why do South Koreans spend $526.76 per year on pornography when the country with one of the highest number of PhD’s in the world spends per capita $360 per year on education?
  • Why is pornography is a $ 27 billion industry in China (double that of the US)?
One fundamental pillar of Western democracy has been the institution of love marriage. The concept of romantic love as a basis of marriage differs totally from the concept of arranged marriage, where parents try to consider the compatibility of partners marrying in addition to furthering the business interests of families. 

When marriages go sour, the most heard complaint is:
 “I don’t love her/him any more” 
 “The fire has gone out, there is no sexual attraction any more.
The majority of marketing messages use sexual appeal to promote goods and services. But then those, who provide sexual services, and instant love, the prostitutes and courtesans, the rent boys and escorts, are not valued in society. Obviously, people use them or they’d have been out of business centuries ago. Is Stephen Gough yet another eccentric crackpot or does Stephen Gough have a valid point in claiming that Western societies should reexamine their relationship to the human body?

Gandhi’s method of Satyagraha has inspired leaders like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Barrack Obama, and countless others but Gandhi always exercised savoir fair, the instinctive ability to know how to deal with any situation that arises. In 1931 when Gandhi went to meet George V, the King and Emperor, Mr. Gandhi was not in "morning dress" as the royal invitation had requested but he was wearing his customary loincloth, and a shawl of homespun.

Viscount Templewood's Nine Troubled Years, describes Gandhi's meeting with the King Emperor. Just, as Gandhi was taking leave, His Majesty warned. 
'Remember Mr. Gandhi, I won't have any attacks on my Empire'. 
Gandhi replied. 
'I must not be drawn into a political argument in Your Majesty's palace after receiving Your Majesty's hospitality'.

  • Alexander, H. (1969), Gandhi Through Western Eyes, New Delhi: Asia Publishing House p.82
  • Nine Troubled Years: Viscount Templewood by Sir Samuel Hoare Publisher: Collins ,1954, London

Sunday, 14 December 2008

A Pig, a Dog or a Cabbage for a Lover! Terms of Endearment!

How would your beloved react if you called her/him a little flea, a snake, a puppy, a dog or a cabbage?

People love to play with words and give compliments to their beloved person. There is infinite variety in how people use words as terms of endearment. Terms of endearment or what names you give to your beloved varies from culture to culture.

Photo credit: G. Carrillo

Terms of Endearment Used by Lovers in Different Cultures

You can find a South American lover in Chile or Peru whispering to the ear of his/her beloved perrita (a little dog) while she calls him gallo (cockerel). Oso/osito (bear or little bear), gato/gatito (cat or little cat) and even mono/monito (monkey or little monkey) are rather common names for lovers.

The Mexican way with words might be hard for North American women to understand. The Mexican man might call his beloved wife gordita (fat woman) though she might be slim or his wife as mi vieja (my old woman) though she might be young. Mi vieja implies much respect and affection and doesn’t mean my old hag, as someone with less insight might interpret.

Some French and Belgian men associate love with gastronomic delight by calling their beloved mon chou (my cabbage) as men do in Somalia qaali. In France there are many animals joining in the amorous pursuits of humans. The amorous French man might call his lover ma biche (my doe), ma puce (my little flea), ma cocotte or ma poule (my little chicken) or ma petite caille (my little quail). She responds by calling the gallant Gaul mon gros loup (my big wolf) or mon lapin (my rabbit).

The Poles bring an entirely different menagerie into the bedroom. In Poland the beloved woman might be called a rybko (fish), zabeczko (a frog), muszko (a tiny fly), króliczku (chick), ptaszku (little bird) or even musczeczko (tiny sweet fly).

The Serbs also invite an entire zoo into the bedroom. Misˇu (a mouse), Pile malo (little chicken), prase (piglet), konj (horse), kobila (mare). The Serbian man might call his beloved dragana, while she will call him a dragan. You might imagine a dragon but it means beloved. 

The Russians also have all kinds of animals in their embraces - Legushka (little frog), rybochka (little fish), kissochka (little snake), svinochka (piglet), krysochka (little mouse) or sokol (falcon). 

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Terms of Endearment Not For Mothers-in-Law

There are all kinds of expressions for mothers-in-laws in different languages, most of them pretty harsh on the poor ladies. 

Is that why the Aboriginal societies in Australia had customs prohibiting people from directly talking to their mother in law? 

To reduce friction, both men and women needed to communicate via a third person.

Do you know any animal names used between lovers?

Monday, 8 December 2008

How to Deal With A Message from God?

Can an e-mail stop you in your tracks? 

Last week I got a very exciting e-mail. 

Dear Friends,

Due to the current financial crisis facing the world at the moment, the light at the end of the tunnel will be switched off to save on electricity costs, until further notice.


How does one react? The first reaction is to be amused by the ingenuity of it. Lovely humour, very witty! 

Much of everyday humour is at someone else’s expense. We make fun of other people’s characteristics, mishaps, or doings. But, this message is laughing at a situation without insulting anyone. 

I have been fortunate to know some people who have this crispy and delectable kind of humour. You can experience this also in the Dalai Lama, who puts people at ease quickly by bringing out the funny side of things.

My hilarity was very short-lived when I decided to share this e-mail. Humour is not a universal quality shared and appreciated by all. As the American doctor and author, David Seabury said, “Good humour isn't a trait of character, it is an art which requires practice.”

Now, I don’t know of anyone getting divine communication by e-mail, so I forwarded this to some religious people of different faiths I know, and tried to anticipate their reactions. Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, New Age, Mormon –a colourful bunch of people were forwarded the “divine” e-mail.

One person, who had lived years under a repressive regime, chuckled with delight as he explained that humour is a coping mechanism when things are really bad for people and they can’t do anything about the situation. 

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The English philosopher, statesman Francis Bacon 1561-1626 got it right 

Imagination was given man to compensate for what he is not, and a sense of humour to console him for what he is.” 

This chuckling gentleman also said that after moving to a rich welfare state, where many of the things he could dream of before, are provided for, he has become dour and sullen and is often depressed. He tried to find jokes about depression, but noticed that this wasn’t much appreciated. 

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Blasphemy, they yelled when they saw the e-mail from God 

20% of the people got very angry yelling “Blasphemy,” and gave me a piece of their mind for sending such a thing to insult their faith. Out came different religious versions of the third commandment 

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” Exodus 20:7.

Now, this is rather serious and heavy stuff and I started visualizing flames licking my feet as I was tied to the burning stake. 

Fortunately, I had the words of an American preacher Henry Ward Beecher,  

A person without a sense of humour is like a wagon without springs-jolted by every pebble in the road.” to console me. 

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Many other people who got the e-mail from God wouldn’t comment anything. They just refused to “be drawn in” as they try to live according to the dictates of political correctness. 

Humour seems to be a sworn enemy of PC or political correctness.

Messages of Hope Abound

The best thing I experienced was with three unlikely non-professionals. By non-professionals, I mean that they did not have jobs as priests or preachers or positions to defend, only their personal faith, life experience, and vast learning to guide them. 

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With them, I had very invigorating discussions about the current financial crisis, how one nourishes hope, especially in situations when divine e-mails or other signals don’t appear. 

Divine messages abound in our everyday lives, e-mail or not; we just choose not to notice these signals of hope, they taught me.