Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Turkey | Istanbul | Mehmed II and Hagia Sofia

I suppose everyone has had the experience of waking up in a place other than one’s usual abode and experiencing momentary befuddlement as to where one actually was. Such a feeling often happens while traveling. The period of mental discombobulation lasts five or at most ten seconds and then it suddenly dawns on one that of course you are in this or that place. But this experience was lasting longer. I awoke in a small room, laying full clothed in narrow single bed on top of a red bedspread. The windows were covered by white curtains and there was a tall dresser of blonde wood along one of the walls. On a floor was a large suitcase with the top flung open. Obviously this was not my sleeping den in my beloved hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi. But where was I? My mind drew an absolute and complete blank. I tried to concentrate my thoughts. When I had last been in Zaisan Tolgoi? Why was I no longer there? My immediate past seemed to have disappeared completely. A disconcerting panic began to well up in my mind. I threw back the curtains at one of the windows and beheld a courtyard surrounded by large trees bedecked with fully grown leaves. Obviously this was not Mongolia where I imagined that I should be. Again I tried to focus. Why was I not in Mongolia? How had I left Mongolia and where could I possibly be? The thought suddenly arose that perhaps I had died. Was I in Heaven? Or perhaps, Heaven forbid, Hell? My panic crescendoed as this state of utter mental confusion went on for at least forty-five seconds, possibly even a minute.

Then it dawned on me very suddenly. I was in Istanbul, Turkey, in a room at the Kervan Guesthouse, next to the entrance to the Basilica Cistern, directly across the street from Hagia Sofia, for over thousand or so years the largest church in the world, and now the axis mundi of the tourism in the city.  I had flown here from Ulaan Baatar via Beijing. The plane from Ulaan Baatar to Beijing was three hours late and I had caught the Beijing to Istanbul flight when it was already boarding. For ten hours we had flown westward following very roughly the course of the main trunk of the old Silk Road: from Beijing westward over the Gansu Corridor, then over Xinjiang and southern Kazakstan, passing right over the Aral Sea and the northern part of the Caspian Sea, then Georgia and the Caucasus to the northern shore of the Black Sea, which we then followed the whole way into Istanbul. 

I soon discovered that my luggage had not made the transfer to the final leg of my flight, which was not surprising, since I myself had barely made it. It was still in Beijing. As I was sitting in Turkish Airlines office filling out a lost luggage report a public service announcement came on: “Don Croner please report to the Information Desk. Don Croner please report to the information desk . . .”  I got the forms filled out as quickly as possible and hurried to the Information Desk. The owner of the Kervan Guesthouse, the esteemed Mr. Turgut Bataray, had sent someone to pick me up but having waiting almost an hour for me this person concluded that I was not coming and had already left. I took a cab to  the Sultanahmed district of Istanbul where the questhouse is located and checked in. It was still very early in the morning so I thought I would just lay down and rest for a bit before going out to look for breakfast. Not surprisingly, since I had taken only a brief catnap on the all night flight, I immediately fell asleep, later waking in my befuddled state. 

It was May 29th, the day Constantinople had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. I had flown to Istanbul to commemorate this day with a visit to Hagia Sofia, which played a special role on that fateful day. As you know, Hagia Sofia was dedicated on December 26, 537, by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. For 916 years it served as an Orthodox cathedral and had acquired a reputation as one of the great architectural monuments in the world. On the late afternoon of May 29th, 1453,  the twenty-one year-old Sultan Mehmed II at the head of the Ottoman armies which had just conquered Constantinople after a prolonged siege rode through the street of the defeated city to the doors of the Hagia Sofia. Here he dismounted and gathering a handful of dust sprinkled it on his head as an act of humility before the Face of God. That very day he converted Haghia Sofia into a mosque, and Constantinople, the city  named after the Byzantine emperor Constantine, became Istanbul. 

The guesthouse is full and all the nearby cafes are packed with people. I asked the waiter if many of these people had come to Istanbul to commemorate the fall the old city in 1453. He seemed a bit surprised that I would ask about this. Almost everyone—here he indicated the patrons of his restaurant with a sweep of his arm—are with tour groups who are attending the Formula I motor car races being held this weekend on the Asian side of the Bosporus Strait. They take ferries over in the morning, spend the day watching the races, then return to the European side in the evenings. Was I here for the Formula I races, the waiter asked me? No, I said, I did not know about the Formula I races. I had flown from Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia the night before to commemorate the day Constantinople had fallen to Sultan Mehmud  and the Ottomans. The waiter just shrugged and walked away. He no doubt meets a lot of strange people working in a place like this. 
Hagia Sofia
Interior of Hagia Sofia
Pulpit installed in Hagia Sofia after it became a mosque
The Blue Mosque, across the square from Hagia Sofia

Sunday, May 2, 2010

AppleWorld | Shambhala | George Gurdjieff

Who Will Replace Steve Jobs as Gestalt Fuehrer When He Dies? manages to mention Steve Jobs, George Gurdjieff, and Shambhala in the same breath. Interestingly, speculation on Stephen Jobs re-incarnation has already began, even though he has not transmigrated yet (assuming his last appearance at the iPad Wingding was not a hologram):
Jobs may have subscribed to the Buddhist school of egotism, exemplified in George Gurdjieff's book Life is Real, Only When I Am. According to that school, a place called Shambhala, in Tibet, is where the Masters (Fuehrers) of the marketing universe held sway . . . Is he like the Dalai Lama, and someone will find a creature somewhere in the world who shows all the characteristics of a Steve Jobs by seeing whether his fingers do the walking past the Beatles' albums and Xerox Palo Alto ideas? 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

World | Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On | Update

Update: Never let it be said I was not on top of this story!  See How I Started a Boobquake and Earth-Shaking Cleavage. And now Boobquake Aftershock: Iran Cracks Down On Suntanned Women.

Here’s my original post of April 20:
As I have mentioned, there was an Earthquake in Ulaan Baatar on January 9, 2010, and since there was been a spat of earthquakes elsewhere, the Latest One in the Tibet-China borderlands (see Tibet Earthquake Emergency and Updates). Clerics in Iran have now come up with an explanation for these earthquakes: Promiscuous Women:
A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear immodest clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes. Iran is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and the cleric's unusual explanation for why the earth shakes follows a prediction by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that a quake is certain to hit Tehran and that many of its 12 million inhabitants should relocate.  
"Many women who do not dress modestly . . . lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran's acting Friday prayer leader.  
"What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?" Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon Friday. "There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."
 Wearing veils will hopefully cut down on Earthquakes
Different Approach: Let’em Shake! 
Lady Gaga: Don’t let her near the San Andreas Fault! She is also probably to blame for the Iceland Volcano, to say nothing of the Johnstown Flood

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Full Moon| | Shambhala

Yesterday, April 28 (Gregorian Calendar), was the Full Moon of Caitra (March-April), the first month of the year according to  the much more relevant Kalachakra Calendar. As you know, this was the day on which the Buddha taught the Kalachakra Tantra to Suchandra, the first of the Kings of Shambhala
Suchandra (reigned 977 BC – 877 BC)
Wandered on up to Gandan Monastery for the All-Day Puja held to celebrate this auspicious day. 
Approaching Gandan
Lama on his way to Puja
Wandering into the Kalachakra Temple, where the Puja was held, I viewed the Kalachakra Mandala Made of Sand and the Kalachakra Thangkas, then sat for two hours listening to the chanting. 
Kalachakra Temple (right) and Janraisig Temple
According to tradition, while the Buddha was in his physical body at Vulture’s Peak in India delivering the Prajnaparamita Sutra he bi-located in south India, at a place called the Dhanyakataka Stupa, and taught the Kalachakra to Suchandra, who had traveling to India from The Kingdom of Shambhala somewhere in the north specifically to receive these teachings.
Vulture’s Peak in India 
It is generally believed that the name of the capital of Mongolia, Ulaan Baatar (Red Warrior), refers to the Bolshevik fighters who established socialism in Mongolia in the 1920s. This is only the exoteric meaning of the name, however. According to local Shambhalists the name actually refers to the Red Warrior (sometimes identified as Jamsran) who guards the Portals to Shambhala. Thus the city itself, and by extension most of Mongolia, is considered by some to be a Portal to Shambhala. This is why the Full Moon of Caitra (April 28 this year) is such an important day in Mongolia. There are, of course, those who maintain that there are also Portals to Shambhala in Istanbul

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mongolia | Persecution of Buddhism

See a documentary, made in 1991, about the killing of Buddhist monks in Mongolia during the communist-era repressions: Part One of Five. Here’s the blurb on
Documentary investigating the evidence now coming to light of a major persecution and massacre of over 100,000 people in Mongolia during the 1930s and 1940s under the leadership of the Mongolian dictator Marshal Choibalsan, a protege of Stalin's. Most of these were Buddhist lamas, and the film includes eye-witness reports of the killings, shots of some of the graves and skeletons found, and the present slow relaxation of religious freedom and the return of some monastaries and lamas.
Venerable Dude Shravasti Dhammika at the ever-enlightening Dhamma Musings has also posted on this.

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Ugliest City on Earth?!?

Wandering by the website of the London-based Newspaper the Telegraph I was startled to see a photo taken just a couple hundred yards from my own hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi.
View of Downtown UB from near my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi
I was even more flabbergasted to read this:
If there was a competition to find the ugliest city on Earth, then the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator [sic] would be the leading contender for the title. The combination of grim, Soviet-style concrete high-rises, rambling slum-shanties and towering coal-fired power plants belching out smoke over the city reeks of the depression and decay that was a legacy of decades of communist rule.
Ulaan Baatar the “ugliest city on Earth”? I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As I have stated in the past, I consider Ulaanbaatar to be on par with Istanbul and the Pyramids of Egypt as one of the world’s most alluring places. And by the way, isn’t it about time newspapers update their style books to reflect the correct English transliteration of the city’s name, which is Ulaan Baatar or Ulaanbaatar, and not “Ulan Bator,” a holdover from the Soviet era? 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

World | Lady Gaga and Jihad

A Wall Street Journal Editorial poses an interesting question:
“What does more to galvanize radical anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: (a) Israeli settlements on the West Bank; or (b) a Lady Gaga music video?”
 Lady Gaga: Can the Mahdi be far behind?
Then the folks at weighted in with Blame It On Lady Gaga, managing at the same time to invoke Pat Buchanan and Sayyid Qutb, the  “intellectual godfather of al Qaeda,” who said: 
“The American girl knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs and sleek legs, and she shows all this and does not hide it.”
Sayyid Qutb went on to denounce  “this [American] music the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires” (He must have had  in mind Little Richard).

So now it appears that Lady Gaga is to blame for everything, including the Cult of the Assassins, the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, and the Johnstown Flood. Give the girl a break!