Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Iron Man and the Buddha

"No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. "

~ Buddha

“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

"I had my eyes opened. I came to realize that I had more to offer this world than just making things that blow up. And that is why, effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries. " ~ Tony Stark

Long time comics reader that I am, I was there when Iron Man first appeared in 1963. I just saw the movie and was pleased, and a little saddened, to see that -- except for changing the 60s Vietnam location to a more contemporary Afghanistan -- the story stuck to the original source mythology.

I left the show feeling a little sad when i remembered that Jack Kirby, the comics genius who created Iron Man -- and Spider-man, X-Men, the Hulk and more -- never lived to see his work made into multimillion dollar movies and become a part of our cultural awareness. Kirby used a lot of mythic ideas. He would have been pleased to know that his heroes are ingrained into modern mythic consciousness.

It wasn't until I saw the movie that I understood what myth Iron Man recalled. There are a lot of archetypal elements: on one level Iron Man is a knight in modern armor or the hero who is granted magical weapons. He's also the next step after Superman. If Hercules was stronger than anything manmade in his time, and John Henry outperformed early steam technology, and Superman overpowered modern technology, then Iron Man goes them one better. He owns the technology.

But there's one more myth that I was surprised to find in Iron Man. The story of the man behind the armor is the story of Buddha.

Buddha didn't wear jet-powered armor or fire missiles and repulsor rays, but compare the stories. Prince Siddhartha was raised in luxury and priveledge in a palace. He left the palace one day and saw all the suffering in the world. He became enlightened and built the philosophy of Buddhism to try and save the people. Tony Stark was raised in luxury as the heir to his father's fortune and a billionaire weapons manufacturer in his own right. He went to Afghanistan and and was captured by terrorists. He saw the suffering his weapons caused. He built an Iron Man suit and used it to help the victims of his weapons, redirecting Stark Industries to more peaceful pursuits.

I'll leave it to others to argue whether Buddha's teachings of freedom from desires or Stark's repulsors would be more effective.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


"The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead the life of continence … is Om. This syllable Om is indeed Brahman. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires. This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma." ~ Katha Upanishad I
“Ten or twenty billion years ago, something happened — the Big Bang, the event that began our universe. Why it happened is the greatest mystery we know. That it happened is reasonably clear. All the matter and energy now in the universe was concentrated at extremely high density — a kind of cosmic egg, reminiscent of the creation myths of many cultures — perhaps into a mathematical point
with no dimensions at all ... in that titanic cosmic explosion, the universe began an expansion which has never ceased." ~ Carl Sagan, COSMOS
“Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.” ~ Bill Bryson
The sound Om, or Aum, means different things in different cultures. In Vedanta, it symbolizes All. The sound, beginning with the mouth open and ending with it closed, contains all sounds. There is more to it than that, but even what I am about to describe is the tip of the iceberg.
Vastly oversimplified, the first part, Ao, represents the physical universe ... that which we call matter, from our bodies to the stars. The middle part, uu, represents the universe of the mind or the imagination, which is as much a part of the universe of awareness as the physical. It is not incorrect to say that our stories are as real as the physical world. The third, um, is the unconscious world. Again, the nothingness that we experience when we are unconscious is as real as the universe we can touch or dream of. Aum is the entire universe contained within our awareness. (1)
If you think of it that way, it resembles the cosmic egg Carl Sagan talks about. That's the first point where Eastern spirituality and quantum physics seem to blend. The universe started expanding with the Big Bang and, if conditions are right, it may eventually contract back into its original single-point cosmic egg state. It could repeat the cycle of expansion and contraction eternally.
To me it seems like a nice visualization for meditation. As you imagine the air expanding out of your body, then being inhaled back in, to the accompaniment of Aum, it is almost like a miniature version of creation and uncreation, cycling throughout eternity.
Not a bad metaphor.
(1) In more Western terms, Anais Nin wrote, “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Daredevil and the Green Lama

"Only when the mind is settled can it become quiet.Only when the mind is quiet can it become still.Only when the mind is still can it see.And only when the mind can see,Can it reach the mystery of mysteries."
~Yen Ch'eng

"Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” ~ Bruce Lee

"The most profound discoveries are not necessarily beyond that next star. They're within us, woven into the threads that bind us." ~ Captain Jonathan Archer, STAR TREK ENTERPRISE

I'm about to be a published writer! Wildcat Books has accepted my short story "A Voice for Ivy" for their anthology LEGENDS OF THE GOLDEN AGE VOL 1 due out later this month. It's a collection of stories about superheroes from the 1940s who are now in the public domain as far as copyright. Mine is about Daredevil; not the current Marvel Comics hero of the Ben Affleck movie, but a character by the same name from a defunct publisher, Lev Gleason. Daredevil, at least in his early stories, was mute. I tried to write fight scenes that read like a 40s comic book but then added some characterization and moral issues.

I promised to talk about Eastern spirituality and its relationship to quantum physics and stories. I'm going to start with something light, techniques for meditation. The seeds of much deeper concepts are planted here.


Before you begin a mental effort, such as taking a test, it is good to clear your mind. Just as you can recall where you put something as soon as you stop looking for it, blanking your conscious mind frees the knowledge you need to well to the surface of your mind.

Blanking your mind is as simple as taking a few seconds to think of nothing at all. On a test I do this by focusing on a blank spot on the paper, or on the wall.

Zen Buddhists use sayings called koans. A koan is a question that has no answer. They believe that by concentrating on a koan the chain of logical thought is broken and the mind reaches a clearer level. The two most well known koans are:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Freeing your mind to let the answers appear naturally is far more effective than any amount of last minute cramming or worrying.


There are several. Some people use a candle to lose themselves in the wavering flame.

Some experts say that you should use the word “Om” or "Aum." “Om” means many things in different aspects of Eastern thought; “Hail!” in Tibetan, from the chant “Om! Mani Padme Hum!” – “Hail the jewel in the lotus flower.” In keeping with the comic book geek theme of my blog, it should also be noted that the 1940s hero Jethro Dumont used the phrase as magic words to transform himself into the Green Lama. “Om” is also supposed to be significant because the word starts with the mouth open and ends with the mouth closed, so that it includes all sounds. The actual meaning of Om is way deeper, so I'll go into that next blog.

There is the koan. A riddle that makes no sense and has no answer. It is used to derail the train of conscious thought.

Use what works best for you. Remember the end you want is serenity, not effort. I tend to use none of the aids. That’s because I end up concentrating on the aid instead of the serenity.


Sit comfortably. You don’t need to assume any complicated lotus position with your legs tied in a knot. Just what is comfortable, but not comfortable enough to fall asleep.

Steady your breathing. Focus your concentration on your breath. Don’t try to control it. Just observe it. Follow your breaths from your nostrils to your lungs and back from your lungs to your nostrils. You may imagine a cloud of air just beyond your nose. Your breath will fall into a natural rythym. Just observe and let it do so.

Treat any distractions the same way. If you have an itch, observe the itch. If you have an urge to scratch the itch, observe the urge. If you have stray distracting thoughts, observe them and let them pass by. A friend of my cousin used to "entertain" distractions by imagining placing them in a room with snacks, magazines and a tv and leaving them alone there.

Observe as your whole body relaxes but see your body, breath, itches, urges and distractions as one.

The next step is the hard one. Observing your body, breath, itches, urges and distractions, now step back and observe the You that is observing you!
By Sri Chinmoy:
Nothing impresses me any more,save and except
My own deep meditations.

Meditation stops
The sound-loving mind.

To my greatest relief,I have silenced
My questioning mind.

When I pray,
I feel I am tiny,very tiny.

When I meditate,
I feel I am vast,very vast.

When I contemplate,
I feel I am neither tiny nor vast -I am just a playerWho plays hide and seek with God.

When I pray,I clearly see that God is coming down
From Above.

When I meditate,I clearly see that God is already seated
Inside my heart.

My Lord,When I most intensely pray and meditate,The world badly misunderstands me.My Lord, what shall I do?
"My child, you have only one world,And that world is all love.It needs neither understanding
Nor misunderstanding."

When we pray and meditate
Sincerely and soulfully,
We receive an open-hearted invitationFrom Heaven.