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March 2018



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Life of Pi

I got off to a bad start because I was offended by the pretense that this really happened. I know that all fiction pretends to be true. But this book started off with an author explaining how he met Pi and learned this story and wrote this book. It just put me off.

Now that I'm reading it again I'm finding lots of things to like.

This was tougher read than I was expecting for a popular book. The middle boggs down a lot. It is really boring to be lost at sea. It picks up around chapter 84, when he sees a whale. And there is lightning storm in chapter 85. In Chapter 92 he finds a floating island. That was pretty cool. There are exactly 100 chapter. That helped.

This is a religious book, in a non-denominational way. The main character is a practicing: Hindu, Catholic, and Muslim. People from all three faith keep telling him that he isn't supposed to do that. But he does it anyway. And his faith does comfort him in his ordeal. As a Wiccan I'm OK with that. I can really relate to the Hinduism.

The theme, as opposed to the plot, is that religion is a better story than dry, yeastless factuality. Although he does praise Atheists, over Agnostics, as at least having faith in something. Although I doubt any Atheist would thank him for that. Ironically, Atheists like to think that they are strong in their faith in the non-existence of God and would never sincerely convert in times of stress. I think he got Atheists and Agnostics backwards.

"If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams." (p xii)

"Sometimes I got my majors mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students--muddled agnostics who didn't know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool's gold for the bright--reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God" (p5)

"But religion is more than rite and ritual. There is what the rite and ritual stand for. Here too I am a Hindu. The universe makes sense to me through Hindu eyes, There is Brahman, the world soul, the sustaining frame upon which is woven, warp and weft, the cloth of being, with all its decorative elements of space and time. There is Brahman nirguna, without qualities, which lies beyond understanding, beyond description, beyond approach; with our poor words we sew a suit for it--One, Truth, Unity, Absolute, Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being--and try to make it fit, but Brahman nirguna always bursts the seams. We are left speechless. But there is also Brahman saguna, with qualities, where the suit fits. Now we call it Shiva, Krishna, Shakti, Ganesha; we can discern certain attributes--loving, merciful, frightening--and we feel the gentle pull of relationship. Brahman saguna is Brahman made manifest to our limited senses, Brahman expressed not only in gods but in humans, animals, trees, in a handful of earth, for everything has a trace of the divine in it. The truth of life is that Brahman is no different from atman, the spiritual force within us, what you might call the soul. The individual soul touches upon the world soul like a well reaches for the water table. That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing. The finite within the the infinite, the infinite within the finite." (pp 48-49)

"I can well imagine an atheist's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God!"-- and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, "Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain, " and to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story." (p 64)

"People move because of the wear and tear of anxiety. Because of the gnawing feeling that no matter how hard they work their efforts will yield nothing, that what they build up in one year will be torn down in one day by others, Because of the impression that the future is blocked up, that they might do all right but not their children. Because of the feeling that nothing will change, that happiness and prosperity are possible only somewhere else." (p 79)

"To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one's life away." (p 169)

"Doesn't the telling of something always become a story"
"The world isn't just the way it is. it is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make it life a story?" (p302)

"I know what you want. You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality." (p302)

"So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with the animals or the story without animals?"
"And so it goes with God." (p 317)