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a waning “C” crescent and a waxing “D” crescent

I was out last night with a friend who commented that there was a clear “crescent Moon.” People commonly use that term when a sliver of Moon is showing, but there are two versions of the crescent sliver.

The Moon is always waxing (growing in the lit area we see) and waning, and moving closer and farther away from us. It is surprising how many people have never really noticed that the Moon looks like a looks like a “C” crescent, and later looks like a “D” in its waxing phase.

moon phases

The phases of the Moon as viewed looking southward from the Northern Hemisphere. Each phase would be rotated 180° if seen looking northward from the Southern Hemisphere. The upper part of the diagram is not to scale, as the Moon is much farther from Earth than shown here.

In Hinduism, every part of the cosmos is seen as an action of a god and time is the endless repetition of the same long cycle. In Hindu mythology, Soma represents the god of the Moon.

Soma rides a sky chariot drawn by white horses. Soma was also the name of the elixir of immortality that only the gods can drink. The elixir is stored on the Moon. When the gods drink soma, they draw away from the Moon and it becomes smaller. (I wrote about soma earlier in another context.)

Most people know that the Moon changes its distance from Earth continually because the orbit of the moon is not a perfect circle. It is more like an ellipse, so it will have a point of perigee (closest point to Earth) and apogee (farthest point) each month. Today, May 6, it is at apogee and it is 251,318 miles or 404,457 km away from us.

Back on April 20 perigee, it was  229,108 miles or 368,714 km away. In cosmic terms, a difference of 22,210 miles or 35,743 km is not that much and only astronomers take note of the diference. But occasionally the media will decide to write a story about the “biggest Full Moon of the year” or something similar.

There is a nice animation at that shows the movement of the Moon in your area and illustrates nicely why we see a Full Moon and how it appears when waxing and waning.  You can set it to any date, so I know that on my next October birthday the Moon will be waxing gibbous and approaching full. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow you to go back before 2000 or I would take a look at what the Moon was up to when I was born.

I guess I have always considered the question “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” to be a kind of joke.  But I was reading a reference to it that said that ancient philosophers actually considered it quite seriously. To them it was a way of considering how life, and even the universe, began.

Today that question has also morphed into a more general term of a “chicken-and-egg problem.” That is a problem that seems futile to consider because it is a circular cause and consequence situation. A contemporary example I found online is getting Americans to switch to electric cars. In order to make those cars economical, we need many recharging stations. But it’s not economical to open stations if there aren’t sufficient electric vehicles.So…

But those ancient philosophers caught my attention. I very easily identify with their questions because I feel like we still are asking those questions today.

Aristotle wondered about whether it was first a bird or an egg. His rather unsatisfying answer was that both the bird and egg must have always existed. The question also applied to man. Was there a first man without a father or mother? That was an idea they could not accept.

Plato seems to have believed that before something appeared on earth, it had first its being in spirit. That’s a head-scratcher.

Plutarch actually seems to be the first to record in writing the questions as chicken (hen) or egg and saw this “small problem” as being one way to consider the creation of the world.

There have been many responses to this dilemma and scientists continue to take a shot at it. Related terms are the “vicious circle” and “circular reference.”

One modern answer that is acceptable to some is that there was an egg-laying species that pre-dates the existence of “chickens.” The ancients weren’t living in a world that knew about evolution. Of course, some people today still don’t live in that world. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species would tell us that the egg came first. For Darwin, the term “egg” isn’t necessarily just an egg that hatches into a chicken but a more generalized “egg” including the one that “hatches” a human.

This question inevitably moved from philosophy into theology. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the chicken and all the rest of God’s creation of the universe comes first.

In Hindu mythology, there are first birds, but also a “cosmic egg” from which the universe as we know it originated. This cosmic egg is known as Brahmanda (from “Brahma, creator” and “anda”, egg)  and hatches all creatures.

Many religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, and some cultures such as the Aztecs and Mayan and some Native Americans believe in a cyclical wheel of time with repeating ages. For them, the eternal repetition means there is no first and therefore no question or dilemma.

If you want to stick to modern science and the modern chicken, then the chicken probably evolved from a related species and is a hybrid descendant and so the egg came before the chicken.

Why that first chicken crossed the road is still open to debate.


A classical Tantric “Yab-Yum” position on the wall of the Tantric Temples of Khajuraho

So,  Valentine’s Day is upon us again. Tired of cards, candy, overpriced dinners at overcrowded restaurants and just the effort of trying to do something that makes you seem like a good lover? I saw three mentions online recently of Tantric approaches to this make believe holiday.

Tantrism, which appears in both Buddhism and Hinduism, influenced many religious trends and movements from the 5th century ce, but some of it was meant for esoteric circles. Claiming to show in times of religious decadence a new way to the highest goal, Tantrism bases itself upon mystic speculations concerning divine creative energy and ritual means —in part magical and orgiastic— which are also supposed to achieve other supranormal goals.

Tantra in itself is neither a religion nor an ‘ism’. Tantra is a fundamental spiritual science.

Many westerners, if they have heard of it at all, have heard about tantric sex, an ancient sexual discipline inspired by Buddhist philosophy. As a general rule, tantric sex it is a much longer, slower, more conscious and more spiritual version of typical approaches to lovemaking.


Male on top attempting the difficult Tantric Yoga position (with some helpers)

Somehow, Buddhism in the bedroom sounds… wrong.  In  Introduction to Tantra : The Transformation of Desire it is explained what the spiritual foundations of tantric practice are and it addresses Buddhist theories on desire, purity and happiness. You learn that the practice began some 2,500 years ago. Tantra is both a transformation of human desire, and a direct route to enlightenment.

Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century  is more on the physical sex side and for those “in search of the great cosmic orgasm.” Learn to breathe properly, identify your chakras, cultivate resistance and work on your “firebreath” and “the clench and hold.”

And if you are somewhere in between physical and spiritual, you can try the mystical via The Tantra Experience: Evolution through Love. Spiritual teacher, Osho, examines tantra’s mystical side and the how the practice helps us to feel more present in our bodies and enables us to contact ultimate truths.

It seems like a lot to expect from sex. One of my favorite tantric anecdotes came from the singer Sting. He got some abuse after saying in an interview that his tantric lovemaking could last six hours. When pressed for details in a later interview, he said that he was including dinner and a movie. That seems like a reasonable East meets West approach.


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