Sunday, August 31, 2008

Zen of Blind Art (Seeing Sound)

New scientific discovery: Humans can see sound (story below).

The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (overview) by Robert Pirsig holds out as one of its central premises that it is possible to flow effortlessly, to become natural and childlike (Zen mind/Beginner's mind) in every action. Zen, in terms of the art of archery, speaks of the possibility of developing enough skill to hit a bulls-eye in the dark.

Is it literally possible to "flow" and "feel" one's way in the dark -- or is it only a metaphor? The following artist (blind from birth) is turning brain science on its head, suggesting that Zen was being literally all along. And a new neuroscience study seems to confirm it.

Turkey's Esref Armagan is a blind painter who does the impossible.

Scientists Say We Can See Sound
Robin Nixon (LiveScience, 8/18/08)

Your brain's visual system can be employed to hear, according to a study of monkeys. Scientists figure this might be one reason blind people develop keen hearing. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

Turning conventional neuroscience on its head, new research suggests the human visual system processes sound and helps us see.

Here are the basics of what was Neuroscience 101: The auditory system records sound, while the visual system focuses on visuals, and never do they meet. Instead, a "higher cognitive" producer, like the brain's superior colliculus, uses these separate inputs to create our cinematic experiences.

The textbook rewrite: The brain can, if it must, directly use sound to see and light to hear. The study was published last week in the journal BMC Neuroscience. More >>

Extra-sensory power?
The discovery is likely un-related to the rare experience of synesthesia, a bizarre condition experienced by a few people who can feel, hear and taste colors. In synesthesia, for example, more complicated sensations combine at later stages of brain processing, so that just the mention of a color, a letter, or a shape can automatically trigger the perception of a certain note.

DEVAS: radiant beings

Models wearing body painted art by John Vargas from the United States, right, and Jinny Houle from Canada during the 2008 World Body Painting Festival in Daegu, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 29, 2008 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon).

Devas are "deities, "divinities," or "godlings" -- luminous body entities born as a result of skillful karma. Most of the 31 Planes of Existence are inhabited by different grades of devas. On the human plane, bhumi-devas are "earth angels," "faeries," "sylphs," and "dryads."

They live in, above, or dependent on trees. Judging by artists renditions over many centuries, they are similar to young girls with delicate facial features and waifish (or Rubenesque, pre-Raphaelite) bodies.

They inhabit sylvan locations, ocean depths, mountain ranges, and are often found (or at least worshiped) at the confluence of rivers, waterfalls, places of immense natural beauty, and in "enchanted forests," which is only to say "perceived to be inhabited by supernatural beings."

There are, of course, celestial devas in both the Fine Material World as well as the Immaterial Planes. Like brahmas ("gods"), devas are glorious, radiant, resplendent and marked by signs of beauty. They, however, differ one from the other in terms of radiance, longevity, beauty, influence, powers, wisdom, and fortune. This is because all devas are still bound by karma.

In lower heavenly worlds (deva-lokas), when a being is reborn, it is referred to as a devaputra, literally a "son of god." Of course, it's not necessarily a "son," just a being born among devas, much as one born in this world might be called a "son of man." God (Maha Brahma, or "Great Brahma") has a retinue, and beings reborn into that retinue (i.e., "angels") would be devaputras rather than simple inhabitants of that heavenly realm (devas).

There they inhabit celestial mansions, vimanas (UFO-style platforms that are both home and vehicle) or palaces based on their karma. Female devas (devis) are also known as "celestial nymphs."

Lesser celestial devas have a chief or king known as Sakka. However, it is important to note that none of the named characters in this cosmology are individuals so much as posts or positions occupied (through karma) by individuals. Nor are they unique, but rather features of countless world-systems spreading out in all directions.

It is not difficult to make obvious connections to other world-religions. This view of devas -- living in sport, enjoying powers and beauty but plagued by petty jealousies and exploits -- is in line with Indian, Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Pagan pantheons. (Even monotheistic traditions understand that while there may be one ultimate godhead, God, or source, it has countless expressions).

Finally, since devas are superior to humans in many ways, the Buddha is frequently eferred to as a "teacher of gods and men [i.e., devas and humans]." More devas made spiritual attainments than humans even though only human realms give rise to buddhas.

In light of what is known of devas, and inasmuch as artists have acquainted us with bhumi-devas and lower celestial-devas, the following incarnations may suggest the extraordinary results of karma. (Noting that our bodies are results of our past karma).

Digital Dictionary of Buddhism

Digital Dictionary of Buddhism
(password access)
(Update Notes to the 3/26/02 Release)

Compilation started in September, 1986. First placed on the Internet on July 15, 1995. Updated daily based on user contributions.

What is it? (Skip down for limited free access information)

This dictionary is a compilation of Buddhist terms, texts, temple, schools, persons, and so on found in Buddhist canonical sources. Its compilation was initiated in 1986 during my first semester of graduate school, upon my realization of the near-nonexistence of comprehensive English language reference works for Buddhist technical terminology. Since my basic area of interest concerned the Chinese Buddhist canon, the orientation of the dictionary has been toward East Asian sources, and therefore the dictionary was known during its first 15 years of existence, as the Dictionary of East Asian Buddhist Terms (DEABT). Realizing, however, that a large portion of the content was actually concerned with Indian and other cultural manifestations of Buddhism, and not wanting to discourage potential collaborators with other orientations, we renamed it, in 2001, to the present Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (DDB). Thus, while there is a basic layer of East Asian terminology, since much of what East Asian Buddhists have written about is the Buddhism of India, Central Asia, and Tibet, the content of this database / dictionary / encyclopedia / translation glossary is intended to be pan-Buddhist in character.

I originally began the compilation of the DDB simply as a personal glossary to aid in translation work. But as time passed, seeing the need for the availability of a broad range of information on Buddhist concepts, persons, places, practices, schools, and so forth, I gradually began to add essay-length materials derived from my own research. While the initial target audience of this compilation was for the most part specialists like myself who were working directly with Buddhist textual sources, and while the information contained his is, for the most part aimed at professional researchers, as the project grows in scope and in technical sophistication, the information contained here gradually becomes as useful to beginners and casual browsers as it is to professional scholars.

I began the project at a time (1986) before anyone had conceived of the World Wide Web as we know it today. In 1995, however, I found my way onto the web, and after learning the basics of creating an HTML document, I immediately saw the value of placing these materials on the web. This made them available more freely, more quickly, and more cheaply, to a wider range of people than one could have ever imagined with a print reference work. It also allowed for easy and continuous correction, enhancement, expansion, and refinement of the information contained within. And of course, it enabled the kind of collaboration not heretofore conceivable. Within a year after my placing of this compilation on the web in a simple and rough HTML format, it was discovered by Christian Wittern (presently employed at the Humanities Institutes at Kyoto University), a scholar of Chinese Chan Buddhism, who also happened to be (and still is) one of the most advanced users of digital technology in the Humanities fields. Christian quickly converted the data to SGML format, and I was over time, able to learn from this and study enough about SGML to figure out the basics, and the underlying format continued to develop from there. After this time, a few of the earliest contributors, including Gene Reeves, Jamie Hubbard, Charles Patton, and Iain Sinclair contacted me to offer their own digitized research data. More >>

Charles Muller
Toyo Gakuen University


We have established a password/quota system in order to: (a) encourage regular users to feel a sense of responsibility to make their own contributions to this shared resource, and (b) block access by abusers of the dictionaries who send in search robots to download all of the data (which, in the process, obstruct access by honest users). This system operates at two levels:

  • FREE Limited Use (no user $ contribution): Any user may access the dictionary by entering "guest" as the username with no password. This will allow a total of 10 searches in each of the DDB and CJKV-E dictionaries in a 24-hour period.
  • PAID Unlimited Use:
    User Data or Technical Contributions - While our most basic aim in putting these dictionaries on the web is to make this material readily available to everyone, the larger purpose of this project is to bring about a collaborative effort that will lead to the eventual development of a comprehensive body of data. In order to accomplish this, we need contributions toward content development from users. Thus, you may obtain an unlimited-use password by becoming a contributor to the DDB. For details, see here.

  • Paid Subscriptions - Those who are unable to make a contribution, but need unlimited access may pay for a two-year subscription to the CJKV-E and DDB dictionaries, at the rate of U.S. $110 for individuals and U.S. $500 for institutions. Please write to acmuller[a] for application information. [Subscribing Libraries]


Book Review: "Enlightenment for Idiots"

Reviewed by Karen Macklin (5/9/08) YOGA JOURNAL BLOG: SAMADHI & THE CITY

I first went to India when I was 22. I knew nothing about yoga, but I had a transformative experience nonetheless, complete with my first contact with saddhus, a visit to the temple where Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, and a visit to the Ganges River to see the bodies [being cremated] on the ghats. My trip felt deeply spiritual...but, as a recent college grad in a tumultuous love affair with a guy I met while traveling, it also felt completely confusing, raw, and, at times, ridiculous.

So, when I heard about local writer and former Yoga Journal editor Anne Cushman's new book, Enlightenment for Idiots, I was excited to pick up a copy. The book, which she calls a cross between a spiritual journey and a dysfunctional romance, is about a San Franciscan writer and yogi who can't seem to practice in life what she practices on the mat. Her relationships are a mess, and she's financially broke and emotionally ungrounded.

Finally, she gets an assignment to go to India and write a book called Enlightenment for Idiots, for which she must hit all the big and small ashrams throughout the country. Like the trip I took at 22, hers is a wild journey during which she tries to find deeper meaning while simultaneously dealing with a completely unenlightened romantic situation and uncertain future.

While there is satire in Anne's story, there is also insight—and a lot of research. She actually visited all of these places in 1998 when researching a prior nonfiction book on spiritual sites and centers in India, From Here to Nirvana, and used these experiences as the basis for her main character's travels.

Anne's main interest lies not in some arbitrary idea of enlightenment but rather in how modern day life (specifically romantic life) and yogic ideals intersect. Or how they don't. She says that many yogic practices were designed for Eastern celibate men—not single, Western women.

She also says that our love lives are the most challenging places for us to act with mindfulness and employ yogic principles. As a Western yogini slowly navigating my way through a new relationship, I can relate!

Finding the Best Job for You

Livelihood (gainful employment) tends to follow family lines. One is born into a groove, and inertia wins out. However, a better way to take charge of your destiny is direct experience. The following opportunity is an excellent and fast route to experience.

WORK LIFE: A little bit of everything

Can't decide what to do with your work life? Who says you have to? We meet Sean Aiken, who is trying 52 jobs in 52 weeks. This week: stock picker. (Marketplace Money)

Listen to this Story

Regarding jobs, Buddhist teachings are that doing work that harms others, harms oneself, or harms both should best be avoided out of compassion (for oneself and others) and karma. The results of not avoiding a wrong-livelihood are catastrophic but not immediately apparent. Right-livelihood* for skillful, ordinary people involves avoiding trade in:

  1. arms (weapons, military)
  2. living beings (prostitution, slavery, ranching)
  3. meat production/butchery (slaughtering, selling, promoting)
  4. intoxicants and poisons (drugs, alcohol, pesticides, chemicals) [and any practice involving fraud or deception]

*Right Livelihood
is earning a living in an ethical manner, gaining wealth not only legally and peacefully but also without doing harm. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and should therefore be avoided: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings, 3. working in meat production and butchering, 4. selling intoxicants and poisons. Any occupation that would violate the principles of right speech or right action should be avoided.

Applicants may also want to consider the open-ended vocation of Saddhu (Sanskrit shramana; English shaman; Pali samana; "wandering ascetic"), a position with great prestige, excellent (otherworldly) pros-pects, a medical benefits package limited to medicinal cannabis and fermented cow's urine. Positions now available in Nepal. Pay: tips, donations, meals.

"Sane Asceticism"

Ascetics (saddhus) in the Himalayas, Durbar Square, Katmandu, Nepal (

The purpose of ascetic austerities (Sanskrit, tapas) before the Buddha was self-abnegation. This view was predicated on a dualism of flesh and spirit, or body and mind in contemporary terms. Ascetics (saddhus) mortified the body to release the spirit and to develop magical powers. The Buddha, who had practiced to the extreme for six years, ultimately found them NOT conducive to enlightenment.

It was not, in and of itself, even conducive to Samadhi (concentration manifesting as serene mastery of the Eight Jhanas). Many yogis followed gurus and their own train of thought on the matter: they tortured the body in the mistaken assumption that it was the cause of lust. Since the mind is the cause, with the body simply following suit, many ascetics ultimately failed to do more than simply suppress the spiritual defilements that obstruct insight.

With the suppression of defilements (e.g., nivarana, kilesa, asava to be specific), they developed psychic hearing, seeing, and otherwise sensing. These were called developing the "divine eye" and so on by the Buddha. But insight, and the karma-that-ends-karma, eluded them.

Nevertheless, for ordained individuals who chose, the Buddha did recommend thirteen practices. These were "sane ascetic practices." They are never practiced all at once, nor are they even all practiced. Instead, they are chosen and practiced for a limited time with the intention of overcoming some deleterious habit, tendency, or character trait.


These are the thirteen kinds of ascetic practices have been allowed by the Budda to recluses who have given up the things of the flesh and, regardless of body and life, are desirous of undertaking a practice in conformity [with their aim].
  1. refuse-rag-wearer’s practice
  2. triple-robe-wearer’s practice
  3. alms-food-eater’s practice
  4. house-to-house-seeker’s practice
  5. one-sessioner’s practice
  6. bowl-food-eater’s practice
  7. later-food-refuser’s practice
  8. forest-dweller’s practice
  9. tree-root-dweller’s practice
  10. open-air-dweller’s practice
  11. charnel-ground-dweller’s practice
  12. any-bed-user’s practice
  13. sitter’s practice

For details on these practices

Traveling through Nepal and Tibet on the "Abode of God Kings" tour (Rusty, Picassa)

Recommended picturebooks:

  • Sadhus: the Holy Men of India by Rajesh Bedi
  • Sadhus: India's Mystic Holy Men by Dolf Hartsuiker
  • Spanish blogspot site (excellent video clips) on practices

American Couple Go Green-Extreme

"Travel, my son, giveth experience, and experience wisdom, and wisdom every good thing: the sword cannot gleam in the field of victory till it leaves the scabbard, nor the pen discourse of eloquence and poetry, till it is taken from the kullumdan"

-- Asiatic Journal of British India

American couple takes green to new level @ Yahoo! Video

The Buddha enjoined male and female recluses to be wanderers. Not only was it a frugal and environmental way to live, many spiritual benefits come to the practitioner. Samanas ("wandering ascetics") were going against the grain, in the opposite direction of settled, temple-bound brahmin priests.
Bhikkhus ("monks") and bhikkhunis ("nuns") live dependent on discarded cloth sown together and recycled as robes and alms gathered the way "a bee gathers nectar -- without harm to flowers in the collection process," that is, without begging or insinuating. The benefits of the mendicant path were never limited to monastics, as this environmentally-conscious American couple are proving.

More Karma? Latest Chinese Earthquake

Seismograph reading. Thirty-two dead/missing; 258,000 homes destroyed in latest quake in China, state media said today (AFP/File/Olivier Morin). See slideshow

Actress Sharon Stone is staying quiet this time as the latest... China quake kills 27, destroys 180,000 homes
Gillian Wong (AP)

BEIJING -- Chinese rescue teams carrying tents, quilts, and sacks of rice rushed Sunday to reach survivors of an earthquake that killed at least 27 people, turned tens of thousands of homes into rubble, and cracked reservoirs.

Sharon Stone said she "cried" after the Tibetan Foundation asked her to come to the assistance of Chinese quake victims and added: "They wanted to go and be helpful, and that made me cry....It was a big lesson to me that sometimes you have to learn to put your head down and be of service even to people who aren't nice to you" (

The 6.1-magnitude quake struck Sichuan province on Saturday along the same fault line as the May 12 quake that killed nearly 70,000.

Dozens of evacuees were assembled on a primary school field in Panzhihua, footage from state broadcaster China Central Television showed. Wrapped in quilts, the evacuees, including children and the elderly, lay on plastic sheets and mats on the ground.

Saturday's quake killed 22 people in Sichuan and five in the neighboring province of Yunnan, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The quake damaged major bridges and cracked three reservoirs, the agency said.

Another 362 people were injured, and three were missing after the quake hit 31 miles southeast of Panzhihua City in the southwestern corner of Sichuan on Saturday afternoon, the report said.

About 40,000 people were evacuated and relief efforts were under way, despite being hampered by heavy rains and the region's rugged terrain, Xinhua said. It said 6,200 tents, 3,500 quilts, and 55,000 pounds of rice were sent to the quake zone.

Since the 7.9-magnitude temblor on May 12, the region has been hit by scores of aftershocks.

A woman who answered the phone at Sichuan provincial seismological bureau said the region was hit by about 300 aftershocks on Sunday morning. She declined to give her name, saying she was not authorized to speak to the media.

Later on Sunday, a 5.6 magnitude aftershock was recorded in the same location as Saturday's quake, the administration said in a separate statement posted on its Web site. It was not immediately clear what damage the aftershock caused.

Earth-Witnessning Mudra

Shakyamuni in stone with gold leaf applied in adoration, Sukhothai, Thailand

Saturday, August 30, 2008

India floods strand hundreds of thousands

Rescuers help people to safer areas in Patna, India, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008. A rescue boat filled with flood victims capsized and killed 20 people in northern India, where monsoon flooding grew worse because of heavy rain and water flowing from neighboring Nepal, officials said Saturday (AP Photo).

India floods strand hundreds of thousands
Gavin Rabinowitz (AP) Sat Aug 30, 2008

SAHARSA, India - The deluge came and turned his world to water, so Umesh Kushyaha decided to build a boat.

Kushyaha squatted Saturday hammering nails into his rickety-looking wooden row boat on the side of the road, a lone strip of dry land that cuts across miles of water. He was preparing for what authorities say will be months more of life submerged under flood waters.

About 1.2 million people have been left homeless and scores have been killed in the impoverished state of Bihar in the two weeks since the monsoon-swollen Kosi river in neighboring Nepal burst its banks, dramatically changing course and spilling billions of gallons of water into the plains of northern India.

Authorities say hundreds of thousands remain stranded after their homes and villages were inundated, clinging to the roofs of houses or whatever dry speck of land they can find. An estimated 3 million residents of Bihar have been affected.

Those who could flee fled, piling their families, goats, chickens and sacks of grain into boats and heading for safety. Some waded for miles through the waters, carrying bundles of their belongings on their heads as they sought refuge.

But as the waters rushed in and flooded more than 750 villages and towns, many were unable to escape. Twenty people drowned Friday when their rescue boat capsized.

By Saturday, some 330,000 people had been rescued, said Prataya Amrit, secretary of the state's disaster management department. Many of them were being housed in state-run relief camps.

But while rescue efforts — buoyed by a $200 million Indian government relief fund — were finally picking up steam, officials warned the flooding was spreading to new areas and the high waters would last for months.

Authorities say the breach in the Kosi embankment is more than a mile wide and growing every day, and they will be able to fix it until late November, when the monsoon ends and the torrent begins to subside.

"Since they say the waters will be here until the end of October, I'm making a boat," said Kushyaha, a 49-year-old farmer from the badly hit Saharsa district, some 750 miles northeast of New Delhi.

"We will be able to use it to get to the market and come back with supplies," he said.

At a nearby relief camp set up in a four-room high school, teachers said the government had asked them to look after people for two months.

"From tonight, we will begin supplying them with cooked food," said Rameshwar Prasad Mandal pointing to sacks of rice and lentils stored in a classroom under the watchful eye of a portrait of Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister in the 1970s.

For many of the 800 people in the camp, it will be the first hot meal since the floods.

"We have had nothing to eat except some rice cakes and palm sugar," said Lalita Devi, a 28-year-old mother of four, who grabbed her children and two goats and fled when the waste-high water swept through her village.

Since then, they have been living with thousands of others camped out on the sides of the roads or railway, which are built on high embankments to prevent them being washed away.

India's monsoon season, which lasts from June to September, brings rain vital for the country's farmers but also often causes massive destruction.

This flooding, however, is different from the annual monsoon deluge.

Apart from the roads, the vast plains have been turned into a massive lake, with only an occasional tree or rooftop breaking the surface.

The waters are deceptively placid in places but swirling and menacing in others where dozens of workers pile sandbags and rocks on the road embankments, trying to strengthen them and prevent these last vital links from being washed away.

Those who have made it to the few points of high ground consider themselves lucky. The government has some 900 boats carrying out rescue operations but they have not even penetrated some regions.

D. R. Ayub was trapped on the roof of his home for more than 10 days until he managed to get word to his brother-in-law who owns a boat.

"We did not see anything of the government," he said as he wearily clambered out the rescue boat, which he had shared with 100 others people and several goats.

The boat was heading back to the village where about 1,000 more people were waiting, he said.

But not everyone wanted to leave their homes.

Nearby, a government worker was loading relief packets — each containing 5.5 pounds of rice, 9 ounces of sugar and a matchbox and a candle — into a boat along with 300 polyester sheets to use for shelter.

They were for people who were refusing to leave their homes, fearing looters, said the worker, Binod Senha.

The government says it has not yet been able to asses the extent of the devastation, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as a national calamity.

"We will only be able to tell the extent after the water recedes," said Amrit. "But it is colossal."

Thai prime minister asks lawmakers to end crisis [after sixth day of protests]

Sutin Wannabovorn (AP)

Anti-government protesters cheer at a rally at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday night, Aug. 30, 2008. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej faced mounting pressure to resign Saturday as anti-government protesters occupied his headquarters for a fifth day and disrupted rail and air service in some of the country's most popular tourist destinations (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit).

BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand's prime minister acknowledged that his administration cannot control spiraling anti-government protests and urged Parliament to find a political solution during an emergency session Sunday.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej once again refused to resign as thousands of protesters camped out at his official compound for a sixth day. "I will not bow. I will not step down and I will not resign — despite the pressure mounting on my government," said Samak, speaking in his weekly television program Sunday, hours before the joint session of Parliament.

Samak said his government and the courts were unable to restore calm after they tried and failed to evict the protesters. The crowd size has ranged from 2,000 to about 30,000, and protesters have turned the government's headquarters into a disheveled campground with tents, portable toilets and piles of garbage. "Since the government cannot resolve the problem — even the courts cannot resolve the problem — the joint session of Parliament is the best choice for finding a solution," Samak said.

The prime minister has received the backing of his six-party ruling coalition, which said it would not dissolve parliament to call new elections. More than 1,000 government supporters staged a counter-rally Sunday in front of Parliament, about a half-mile from Government House. The unrest peaked Friday when police fired tear gas to stop thousands of protesters from attacking the city's police headquarters, which is near the prime minister's compound.

In other parts of the country, rail workers joined the protest by halting service on dozens of trains. Protesters forced airports to shut at some of the country's most popular beach destinations.

Phuket airport remained closed Sunday, with protesters blocking the runway for a third day. Authorities said they had no idea when flights would resume. Krabi airport reopened after a two-day closure. Protesters say that Western-style democracy has allowed corruption to flourish and they want a new government with a parliament in which most of the lawmakers are appointed and only 30% elected.

The protest organizers, the People's Alliance for Democracy, accuse Samak's government of corruption and of serving as a proxy for ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup. Thaksin was banned from public office until 2012 and recently fled to self-imposed exile in Britain to escape an array of corruption charges.

Samak led Thaksin's political allies to a December 2007 election victory, and their assumption of power triggered fears that Thaksin would make a political comeback on the strength of his continued popularity with Thailand's rural majority.

Samak had requested a Saturday meeting with Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej at his seaside palace in Hua Hin, south of the capital, Bangkok. There was no immediate confirmation from either Samak or the palace on whether the meeting took place. Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch with no formal political role, but he has repeatedly brought calm in times of turbulence during his 60 years on the throne.

An anti-government protester cheers in front a billboard denouncing ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Potjaman Shinawatra in the Royal Plaza in Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej faced mounting pressure to resign Saturday as anti-government protesters occupied his headquarters for a fifth day and disrupted rail and air service in some of the country's most popular tourist destinations (AP Photo/Vincent Yu).

Burning Man Buddhists

Burning Man participants compete in the swimming leg of the annual Black Rock City triathalon at the Burning Man festival near Gerlach, Nevada, on Saturday, 8/30/08. Burning Man is an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert (AP Photo/Brad Horn).

Center Camp is seen from an experimental airplane during the Burning Man festival on Friday, 8/29/08 (AP Photo/Brad Horn).

An aerial view of Black Rock City during the Burning Man festival 8/ 29/08 (AP Photo/Brad Horn).

A camel powered by two men travels across the playa at the Black Rock Desert 8/29/08, during the Burning Man festival (AP Photo/Brad Horn).

A fire dancer performs on Wednesday morning, 8/27/08, on the playa of the Black Rock Desert during the Burning Man festival (AP Photo/Brad Horn).

Dust storm causes some to leave Burning Man early
Martin Griffith (AP)

RENO, Nevada -- A dust storm chased away some participants -- including the Buddha installation -- from the counterculture Burning Man festival before its traditional climax Saturday night on the northern Nevada desert, authorities said. Roger Farschon, incident commander for the federal Bureau of Land Management, said the dust storm on the Black Rock Desert about 110 miles north of Reno began early Saturday afternoon and continued into the evening.

"We are in (a) total whiteout," he wrote by e-mail. "A similar cold front caused a major dust event on Monday. The rest of the event has been relatively dust-free." The annual celebration of radical self-expression was scheduled to climax Saturday night with the torching of its 40-foot signature effigy.

The crowd on Saturday morning reached a record 49,599, up from 47,097 last year, authorities reported.

Farschon said he was unaware of any fatalities or major arrests during the weeklong event leading up to Labor Day. "Overall, the event is going smoothly with no major problems," he wrote. "Medical cases are very consistent with last year with daily patient loads of 0.5 to 0.7% of the population."

The BLM had made six arrests and issued 129 citations to participants through early Saturday morning, many for drug violations. Burning Man, an eclectic art, music and performance festival, began in 1986 at San Francisco's Baker Beach and was moved to the Black Rock Desert in 1990.

Yeti: Japanese Team Searching (Video)

Japanese decorator goes to Himalayas in search of the elusive yeti
Julian Ryall in Tokyo (15 Aug 2008)
A Japanese decorator will set off from Tokyo on Saturday on an expedition to the Himalayas in search of the elusive yeti.

Yoshiteru Takahashi, 65, claims to have seen a group of three yetis on his last visit to Nepal, in 2003, but maintains that the light quality during the evening sightings was too poor for him to take photographs.

This time -- his fifth such mission -- his seven-strong team is equipped with state-of-the-art motion-sensitive photographic equipment and they plan to position it along a ridge at an altitude of 4,800 metres in a range of mountains some 200 km from Kathmandu.

"The ones that I saw were small, around 85 cm tall, but it was getting dark and it was difficult to see them properly," said Mr Takahashi.

"I don't know what they are, but they appear to be some sort of hybrid of chimp or orangutang without a tail."

Mr Takahashi and his team plan to stay at their base camp for six weeks to catch a glimpse of a creature, which he described as "shy".

He traces his obsession with a creature that many believe is mythical to his first visit to the Himlayas, in 1971.

"I have climbed the Dhaulagiri (White Mountain) massif four times, and every time, I saw footprints of the yeti," he said.

"In 1971, one of my expedition members saw one of these creatures.

"It looked like a gorilla," he said. "It was only 15 metres away from him and watching for about 40 seconds," he said.

"It was about 150 cm tall and stood on its hind legs, like a man. Its head was covered with long, thick hair and he was certain it was not a bear or a monkey."

In another visit to the region in 1994, Takahashi discovered what he describes as a "bolt-hole," a natural cave that stretched back 5 metres into a rock face at 5,000 metres above sea level.

"Animals had definitely visited the cave and there were more of the footprints in the snow around the mouth of the cavern," he said.

Unfortunately, his camera failed and he couldn't record his find.

"The footprints that I saw were similar to the one photographed by British explorers Eric Shipton and Michael Ward in 1951," Takahashi said.

Found in the Gauri Shankar pocket, those prints were fresh when the mountaineers chanced upon them. The trail continued for nearly 2 km until it finally disappeared on hard ice.

"The ones I found were smaller and thinner, more like a human foot, with an arch between the heel and the toes," Takahashi said.

"There are no animals that leave that sort of track."

He says the creature is known locally as the "migou" or "bongamanche," meaning "man of the forest," and local people regularly bump into the species on their travels in the region.

Japanese Team to Search for Yeti

An aerial view of the Himalayan Mountains. A team of Japanese adventurers hope to prove the existence of the mysterious yeti in Nepal's mountains, focusing on an area they are convinced is home to the legendary creature (AFP/Prakash Mathema).

The third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga, is home to yakkhas or rudras ("ogres," "roarers/howlers," Yetis) -- bipedal primates of ancient lore dubbed the "Abominable Snowman." They are well known to locals and mocked as fairytale to outsiders. Except now one Japanese team (with members who have already seen the creature) hopes to find irrefutable empirical evidence to confirm their existence for science.

Still from video footage (available here at WQ and YouTube) taken by Himalayan mountain climbers

Over the next two months, a team of Japanese explorers hopes to obtain indisputable video evidence confirming the existence of the legendary Yeti, the mysterious apelike creature long believed to inhabit the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet.

A seven-member crew of experienced climbers, led by veteran Yeti hunter and mountaineer Yoshiteru Takahashi, will depart Japan on August 16, 2008. At their destination in the Dhaulagiri Mountains in central Nepal, they will establish base camp at an elevation of 4,300 meters (14,000 ft) and set up an array of automated infrared cameras along a ridge. For six weeks, the men and their state-of-the-art motion-sensitive cameras will monitor the area for signs of the Yeti.

The expedition is Takahashi’s third attempt to find the elusive creature. The 65-year-old mountaineer first became interested in the Yeti while on a climbing expedition in the Dhaulagiri region in 1971, after fellow climbers saw a mysterious humanoid creature covered in gray fur that appeared to be about 150 centimeters (5 ft) tall and walked upright.
In 1994, when Takahashi returned to the region on his first mission to find the Yeti, he reportedly found small humanoid footprints in a mountain cave that had a strong animal scent. In 2003, on his second expedition, Takahashi and his crew found more mysterious footprints and observed the silhouettes of unidentified humanoid creatures from a distance.

In a written statement on the Yeti Project Japan 2008 website, Takahashi describes the Yeti sighting that took place in 2003. “Three dark silhouettes were observed at 12:25 PM on September 27, 2003 on the southeast ridge of Gurja Himal,” he writes. “They looked almost human and walked upright on two legs.”

According to Takahashi, the expedition crew had long expected to lay eyes on a Yeti, but the sighting shocked them nonetheless. At the same time, however, the incident brought a sense of relief because it confirmed that the creature was indeed out there somewhere.

Over the years, numerous Yeti sightings have been reported in the region. Takahashi’s 2003 encounter — the 4th sighting known to have occurred on the southeast ridge — strengthened his convictions about the yeti. In a recent interview with the Asahi Shimbun (who, along with Suntory, is a co-sponsor of the current expedition), Takahashi said, “The Yeti is not a bear or a monkey. It is definitely an unknown creature that walks on two legs.”

Unfortunately, however, the 2003 expedition (whose sponsors included Pepsi, Suntory, Nikon, and the Asahi Shimbun), failed in its goal to produce visual evidence of the Yeti’s existence.

But now, five years later, Takahashi and his crew are better equipped than ever to capture the Yeti on camera, and they are sure they will succeed this time. Takahashi, who believes clear photographs or video of the Yeti will pave the way for future scientific research, says, “We are confident we can prove its existence this time, and once we do, we can start working to protect it.”

Naga: Real-life Sea Monster in Sweden

Close up underwater photo of creature (

Sweden's Loch Ness monster possibly caught on camera

STOCKHOLM (AFP, 8/29/08) -- Sweden's own version of the Loch Ness monster [in Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain terms, a Naga], the Storsjoe or "Great Lake monster," has been caught on film by surveillance videos, an association that installed the cameras said Friday.

The legend of the Swedish beast has swirled for nearly four centuries, with some 200 sightings reported in the lake in central Sweden.

"On Thursday at 12:21 pm, we filmed the movements of a live being. And it was not a pike, nor a perch, we're sure of that," Gunnar Nilsson, the head of a shopkeepers' association in Svenstavik, told AFP.

The association, together with the Jaemtland province and local municipality of Berg, installed six surveillance cameras in the lake in June, including two underwater devices.

The project, which has so far cost some 400,000 kronor (43,000 euros, $62,500 dollars), is aimed at resolving the mystery of the Swedish Nessie.

The first sighting dates back to 1635 and the most recent to July 2007, with most speaking of a long, serpent-like beast with humps, a small cat or dog-like head, and ears or fins pressed against the neck.

The association employs one person full-time to review the recorded video footage each day.

In the images filmed Thursday and posted on a website dedicated to the Storsjoe monster (, a long serpent-like being is seen swimming in the murky waters.
  • See eerie VIDEO FOOTAGE of a creature that appears more spiritual than physical

"A highly-advanced system on one of the cameras detected heat produced by the cells," indicating that it was a live being, Nilsson said.

"It's very exciting and quite spectacular," he said.

He readily admitted however that the project was also "aimed at improving business around the lake."

"The monster has helped us," he added.

Some 20 more cameras are due to be installed soon, including one at a depth of 30 metres (100 feet) to catch any movements under the winter ice.

A photo provided by the Florida Keys News shows New York artist Cameron Gainer with his interpretation of the Loch Ness monster in a Key West lagoon, January 2008. Sweden's own version of the Loch Ness monster, the Storsjoe or Great Lake monster, has been caught on film by surveillance videos, an association that installed the cameras said (AFP/HO/File/Rob O'neal).

Nepal Annual Worship, Disaster; Two-Headed Boy

Hindu devotees worship Ganesh, the Elephant God, while celebrating Father Ganga (Reuters/Gopal Chitrakar, Nepal).

Tibetan nuns walk towards the office of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Kathmandu August 29, 2008. The Tibetans submitted to the organization their petition against Chinese actions in Tibet (Reuters/Shruti Shrestha, Nepal).
In other man-made disasters (stemming from chemical use contaminating the environment, turning on genes epigenetically), there is the tragic story of a two headed baby born at the end of the Ganges, in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi baby Kiron rests in a blanket at a hospital in Jessore, on August 26. The baby boy in southwestern Bangladesh died after his parents decided to take him home because they could not afford adequate medical care, a doctor said Thursday (AFP/File).

Bangladeshi boy with two heads dies: doctor (8/28/08)

DHAKA (AFP) – A baby boy born with two heads in southwestern Bangladesh died after his parents decided to take him home because they could not afford adequate medical care, a doctor said Thursday.

The boy, named Kiron, was born Monday by Cesarean section and died at home late Wednesday after developing a fever and breathing difficulties, paediatrician KS Alam told AFP.

Kiron had attracted such attention that 150,000 people gathered at the clinic where he was cared for after his birth in Keshobpur, 135 kilometres (85 miles) from the capital Dhaka.

Police were called in to control the crowds and Kiron was transferred to a hospital in nearby Jessore city.

But his parents decided, against doctors' advice, to take him home, Alam said.

"We wanted to refer him to a hospital in Dhaka but the family was so poor that they could not afford to take him there, so they took him home where he died," Alam said.

"It was a very unusual case. The boy had one body but two complete heads."

He weighed 5.5 kilogrammes (12 pounds 1 ounce) at birth.