Churches built in post-colonial India

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Vividly-coloured and shaped like stars, ships and castles, several churches in Kerala appear to defy one of the basic tenets of architecture as set by the influential American architect Louis Sullivan – “form follows function”.

Read Why are some Kerala churches shaped like stars, ships and castles?

The link between praying and writing

When acclaimed South African novelist and Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee was asked about the writing process, he compared it to the effort of praying.

“In both cases it’s hard to say to whom one’s discourse is directed. You have to subject yourself to the blankness of the page and you wait patiently to hear whether the blankness answers you. Sometimes it does not and then you despair.”

JM Coetzee

Of course, some writers believe the blank page is non-existent. They suggest that one should write poorly until they produce something of substance. Better yet, consider the work philosophy of Vincent Van Vough: “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile.”

Religion is an antidote to stress

American neuroendocrinologist and author Robert Sapolsky is a self-proclaimed atheist but he still believes in the health benefits of religion, with an emphasis on its benevolent and social qualities.

When you’re religious you have fewer lifestyle risk factors. The mere ability to perceive causality, reason, benevolence—“Benevolence especially for people like me if I say the right combination of words and fervently believe in it”—that’s wonderfully protective and there’s health benefits to it.

If it is a totally heartless indifferent apathetic universe out there you are far more at risk for all the logical things which is to conclude it is an utterly depressing universe out there.

Rates of depression are much higher among atheists… Go figure.

It feels good to believe

Religion is a useful tool that provides comfort against the unpredictable nature of life. If it works for you, keep practicing it.

 

In that dream of mine 


Whether through religion, materialism, or video games, the pursuit of fantasy is an inalienable right. We earn points in repeating rewarding behaviors: praying, shopping, or playing Half-Life.

Says Yuval Noah Harariof, the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind:

“The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.”

We’ll always be chasing the butterfly in our mind’s eye.

Alain de Botton — A School of Life for Atheists

On the latest On Being podcast with Krista Tippett, philosopher and best-selling author Alain de Botton talks about his new book Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion.

Alain de Botton is an atheist, but his perspective on religion is far more complicated. Instead of debunking religion in thinking that all pious people are idiots–as some atheists may presume–he shines a light on some of the things where religion excels: in values, wisdom, communions, and “the wonders of religious architecture.” As he says nearly eight minutes in:

“These religions at their highest points, at their most complex and subtle moments, are far too interesting to be abandoned merely to those who believe in them.”

His book is therefore not for atheists alone, but for the believers who may find Botton’s perspective reconfirming. Above all, Botton proposes toleration, not necessarily that we agree with each other but we “make space for the stranger” who holds different views and accepts them as is. ‘Developing emotion intelligence’ is at the heart of Botton’s own academy, The School of Life.

Trekking the Shikoku henro, Japan’s oldest pilgrimage route

Shikoku henro
A journey through the Shikoku henro

Financial Times writer Barney Jopson went on the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, a route founded and dedicated to commemorate the original 750-mile trek of Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi. Also known as Kūkai, Daishi returned from studying in China in the late 7th century AD to help import Buddhism in Japan. Jopson biked the route but given the age of many of the participants, most prefer to travel by bus while others walk.

“There are no definitive counts but each year between 80,000 and 140,000 pilgrims — known as o-henro — are estimated to travel at least part of the route. According to one survey, around 60 per cent of them are over the age of 60. The vast majority speed around on air-conditioned bus tours but a hardy band of 2,000-5,000 are estimated to do it on foot, usually completing the circuit in 40-50 days.”

The Japanese are more spiritual than religious. Taking the Shikoku henro route is an act of collective healing– coping with the death of loved ones, past failures, or nagging health problems. Some of the 88 temples serve a specific purpose.

“Certain temples specialise in blessings for getting pregnant, passing an exam or resolving eye problems. Some offer protection for people at unlucky ages: 42 for men and 33 for women. “If you’ve got 100 people, you’ll find 100 reasons for doing the pilgrimage.”

Nature nurtures. God(s) and spirituality help relieve stress. The Shikoku henro sounds fascinating, a mindfulness adventure, social experience, and digital detox wrapped into one.

A journey along Japan’s oldest pilgrimage route