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World Cup Numerology, Sacred Stuff, and Skepticism of Signs

World Cup Numerology, Sacred Stuff, and Skepticism of Signs July 8, 2010

Just stumbled across this and half-laughed/half-cringed:

World cup numerology : Why Germany will win

*Brazil won in 1994; they also won in 1970.
Adding 1970 + 1994= 3964

*Argentina in 1986; before that in 1978.
1978 + 1986= 3964

*Germany won in 1990; before that in 1974. 1974 + 1990= 3964

*Brazil also won the Cup in 2002; before that in 1962. 1962+ 2002= 3964

Therefore subtracting 2010 from the magic number 3964 = 1954…
In 1954 the World Cup was won by Germany

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Last night Julie and I  watched Bolivian children making sacrifices to a clay deity/idol deep inside a cave – supposedly beyond where their Catholic God could be counted upon for protection – in the excellent movie The Devil’s Miner. She asked me if I were superstitious about anything and I replied pretty immediately, “no” and then jokingly knocked on the wood coffee table.

Buddhism has its fair share of superstition, in my opinion. Most of it evolved from customs of some sort, little signs of respect that lost their original meaning and became blind faiths. Like not putting a holy object on the floor. This I’ve experienced mainly with Tibetan Buddhists, and it extends to holy books and paintings and of course statues and the likes. So if you’re meditating on the floor and you have a book, find a shirt or pillow to put the book on. I can see both sides of this. On the one hand you should show respect for these things. I think you should respect all possessions and treat all as somewhat sacred, in opposition to the ‘disposable’ culture around us where people endlessly consume stuff they think they need and then never use… But sacred objects especially; we can develop a reverent relationship toward them which extends to their deeper meaning and significance and then to the community and teachers we share them with.
On the other hand they’re just things.  In this age, many of us have more books and devotional objects than we have shelves to put them on. Or we’re lazy. Or, hey, the floor ain’t so bad. (okay, so this side of the argument is a little shaky; maybe you’ve got better ideas).

I did hear and enjoy a “famous Zen story” (apologies for the butchery) about two monks in China who spent their winters in caves high above the nearest village. One year the snow was so bad that villagers couldn’t get to either of the monks for many weeks and they were feared dead. First the villagers made their way to one monk and found him frozen in his cave in perfect meditation posture with his small library of books neatly composed beside him. “Wow,” they thought, “what amazing devotion to the Dharma, this is a truly wise and venerable monk.” Then they reached the next one, fearing that he too was frozen. But they found him snoozing next to a small smoldering fire, his books completely gone but for a few pages sticking out of the ashes.

Better to be alive and in need of a new library (one just became available, I hear) than pious and dead.
On the personal side, superstition is one of the things that catapulted me out of Christianity (Catholicism) at a young age. Transubstantiation? Really? My feeling then was that if you believe that – a fact which seems to be impossible to even begin to verify in experience – you can be led to believe in pretty much anything (virgin mary grilled cheese sandwich, anyone?). Thanks to the good folks at Tricycle, we see that some Buddhists aren’t much different.
I also dated a woman, too, who was amazingly wrapped up in signs of all kinds. That was fine, as long as the ‘signs’ were positive and affirming. But when the signs became bizarre, contradictory, and unfathomably vague, I had my worries. Eventually it began to seem that whatever her psyche needed at the moment was the sign she would see. Sometimes it was simple things, a bird sighting or a special number on a licence plate; other times it was more complex like the “Germany must win” prediction above.
I’ve come to see these signs as things some people simply need for comfort. Did the Buddha really possess the 32 signs of a great man? Does it matter? I should confess (haha) that I’m reading Batchelor’s Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist and loving it. Like a lot of things in the world, I cannot say that numerology or venerating termite nest Buddha’s are bad things or inherently wasteful. But, like Batchelor, I see so much of the ‘thrust’ of the Buddha’s teachings – and the real nature of our worlds – going in a different direction that I cannot find much use in these things myself. A lot of very good people are also very superstitious. And a fair number of skeptics are obnoxious jerks. C’est la vie. 
Go Spain!
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