El-Branden Brazil

Photographer, Writer & Mystic Traveller

Posts from the ‘Thoughts About Our World’ category

The Illusion Of Separation

Great wisdom tells us repeatedly that concepts of “I”, “you”, “we”, “they” are irrelevant. They are illusory and divide us, creating frictions where there should be none. We need to get past labels of differentiation and move towards what unifies us and what cultivates our awareness of our shared humanity. Only together can we overcome the very serious threats that we share, such as global warming, poverty, war and famine.

To be truly compassionate is to see ourselves in others.

Dawn Prayers On The Shore Of The Ganga
Dawn Prayers On The Shore Of The Ganga
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Human Rights: An End To Struggle?

Struggle comes from not having the requisites to live well. Human rights are a barrier to hopefully protect people from the need to struggle.

As we all know, there are many expressions of struggle, some of which include extreme violence. If we can remove the struggle of ALL communities, perhaps we can remove the need for violence. This is why a universal application and acceptance of human rights is vital.

Human rights are not a convenience or a luxury for a few, they should be applied universally to all. Unfortunately, there are very big hurdles to be overcome for this ideal to be achieved.

In every country, every community and every ethnic group around the world, there are good and bad people. We have to accept this reality, but try our best to be one of the good people in whatever community we belong. We should be bridge-builders encouraging communication, banishing misunderstandings and encouraging a shared, mutual understanding of what human rights mean for everyone.

A Young Mother Begging In Yangon
A Young Mother Begging In Yangon, Burma
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

The Girl With The Scorpion Tattoo

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Khaosan Road, Bangkok – Photography by El-Branden Brazil

As I sat eating a meal at one of the small restaurants on Khaosan Road in Bangkok, a Japanese girl of about 25 years of age passed me by. Her hair was brushed back and tied in the style that is so prevalent of young travellers there. I could not help noticing behind her ear was a tattoo of a scorpion, and I wondered what the tale was behind it, and how she could possibly conceal it enough, so as not to damage any career path back in Japan, where tattoos are a taboo.

My imagination was sparked, conjuring up a tale about the day she decided to have it done and what followed since. It goes something like this:

One year ago…

‘A scorpion. Yeah, I like this one,’ Megumi pointed out to the Thai tattooist.

‘Behind the ear?’ he replied, ‘Are you sure about that?’

‘Yes. We only live once, right?’

The body artist started up a CD of hardcore Techno, and a rush of fear and excitement pulsed through her. As the needle scraped her skin, her boyfriend continued to encourage her by telling her that what she was doing was cool, rebellious and so very Khaosan Roadesque, as he lay beside her, while having his own tattoo etched upon him. Forever, they would be part of the global backpacking cult of tattooed sun-worshippers.

‘Daijobu, Megumi-chan. Daijobu,’ he repeatedly reassured her in Japanese, wincing each time the needle touched his skin.  He felt reborn, alive and transformed.

Once back at Narita airport in Japan, the idealised rebellion that seemed so very right on holiday, quickly became a nightmare, as people stared and pointed at the two travellers.  On the train into Tokyo from the airport, they sat next to a mother with an infant on her lap.  The woman stared them up and down disapprovingly, shielding her child’s eyes, before quickly fleeing to another seat further down the carriage.

During the time since returning, Megumi has spent most of the past year obsessively trying to conceal the scorpion image from her parents and co-workers. Her long black hair luckily curls passed her ears enough to hide it. Unfortunately, she suffers now from chronic self-consciousness, and has developed a very odd habit of continually pulling her hair forward at the side.

At night time, she uses paper glue to stick hair over the offending spot, so that it does not accidentally reveal itself to her conservative mother, who awakens her each day. She tries desperately to always lay on her left side.

Her ex-boyfriend, now long gone, has been less fortunate, as it soon became apparent that a tattoo of a bright pink Gandhi on his forehead was going to swiftly bring an end to his career as an accountant. He is now unemployed and plays a didgeridoo in Ueno Park, dreaming of when he can earn enough money to return to Thailand for an image of Bob Marley on his neck.

Smoke Screens Of A Commercial World

Old Japanese Advertising In Tokyo

Photography & Words by El-Branden Brazil

For the last few weeks, I have observed, on my way back home, the development of a new hair salon from its initial construction. As someone who clips his own hair, this new enterprise should really be of no interest, but my curiosity was piqued. How would this new business aim to attract customers in Tokyo, a city of thousands upon thousands of barbers, salons and beauty parlours that can be found on almost every street?

Today was the big opening. Gentleman, who I presumed were the owners, dressed in fine suits and chatting on their mobiles, stood outside. The salon, which had been the home to hairy bottom-bearing builders for the past month and a half, was now home to new clientèle, waiting to get their hair snipped, blown, dyed and permed. Certainly, if I had hair myself, I may even have found myself drawn by the hypnotic power of the modern-looking design of the shop. Indeed, the six plasma TVs in the shop window, that unrelentingly played scenes from a movie about skiing, was certainly tempting. However, it occurred to me that I was getting duped by the razzmatazz. Do six beautiful TVs really mean that I would get a better cut than if I went to a salon that does not have these TVs? The answer, of course, is no.

The nature of the modern consumer world we now inhabit, is entirely about image. Certainly, those six flashing screens, mirrored marble walls and neon lights have absolutely no bearing on the skill of the employees within. Whilst the superficial dressing may well entice initial customers, the hairdressers’ ability would be the final indicator on whether they returned or not.

Everywhere you look today, we are bombarded by imagery to invoke certain emotions about a product being offered. The reality is that we are being tricked into believing that one product is better than another through manipulation of colour, smell and design. Brand managers are playing a game of smoke and mirrors, convincing us through dressing that one product is better than another, even though the product may in fact be the same. This brings to mind my stalwart friend at university, Tesco’s Value Beans, which looked and smelled the same as Heinz, but cost 20 pence less. I could live with a less glamorously designed tin, as long as the contents managed to fill my stomach.

Medicines, drinks, news channels, clothes, restaurants, cars… the list goes on and on, all using design to manipulate us into thinking that the product is something we need. We are told that some products can even make us “cool”, whatever that adjective actually means. I have always been baffled at the promise that drinking a red can of fizzy fruit and vegetable extract can somehow make me become a “cooler dude” than I already am. Or, that a pair of denim pants embroidered with a familiar brand name are any more helpful in enhancing my life than that of another cheaper company. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Sadly, we now live in a world where the game of politics has, more so than ever, become a game of image and deception; where policy must be packaged to become palatable and even fashionable, however despicable it may be. The build up to the Iraq war, with all the spin and falsehoods that led us there, is perhaps the saddest example.

We have become Alice in a Wonderland, trying desperately to discern what is genuine, good and necessary. Many of us can’t help but to follow the trends and brands that pummel our minds incessantly. And like the zombies in George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, some of us spend countless hours wandering banally through malls in search of products we have been told we need.

There are some though, who have awakened to the bombardment and are asking, ‘Why?’

The Transition Of Seasons

Autumn Paints Its Mood At A Zen Temple
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Summers in Tokyo are extremely hot and humid. To the surprise of people outside of Japan, the temperatures here, match those in Bangkok and other tropical capitals. Japanese people often complain about the heat, but for me it beats the hell out of the British summer weather, and certainly I can live with the humidity over Winter’s chilly grip.

Unfortunately, Summer is now retreating, and the sound of the insects will also fade away shortly. The trees will change into their glorious red, orange and yellow spectacle, and then Winter will once again bring its misery upon me.

I wish that I could embrace Winter’s charms like other people, but I cannot: Skiing? Most definitely not. Christmas tackiness? Oh, God no! Snuggling up by a fire? Nah, I would prefer to be in the tropics. Spring cannot come soon enough.

The Semantics Of God

“Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is we would know everything that God would know if there was a God, but there isn’t. I’m an atheist” – Stephen Hawking

This word “God” is a semantic hurdle. The word can mean many things to many people, including simply or complexly, the universe itself in abstraction. It is just a label applied to the great mysteries that abound, just as the phrase “the Big Bang” is. Words try to find meaning in the darkness. They are conveniences.

I do agree that science can discover great, underlying truths, and perhaps the mind of “God”. We may even discover if the universe is a hologram, and that we are the universe itself, enfolded infinitely. We may even discover, as some maverick scientists postulate now, that the universe is a simulation. We may discover then, that in the beginning was, indeed, the word.

What the mathematics of science brings to Truth is accuracy over the flowery flourishes of metaphor used by mystics. Yet, we must not be mistaken in thinking that the insights of mystics are any less valid and valuable for understanding Truth. I see no difference between the Big Bang and the Aborigines’ Rainbow Serpent dreaming the world into existence. No difference at all, except the words used.

I have always believed that mathematics may well be the language of God. However, the words of great mystics should not be diminished any less in their value for understanding Truth. There is much wisdom, poetry and insight to be found in the metaphors of mystics. Even the mystics themselves though have repeatedly pointed out the inadequacy of words to express the insights they have gained from their experiences of the divine. The Buddha was himself reluctant to try and explain what he had gained, because he doubted that his awakening could be adequately expressed through words. The Sufi mystic, Rumi said, “If I could repeat it, people passing by would be enlightened and go free.”

Arthur C. Clark once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In defining something, we often fail to see things as they truly are. Indeed, if I must choose labels, I much prefer the poeticness of magic, over the coolness of technology, regardless of if they are an indistinguishable thing. Perhaps it is the poetry of the term God that makes it such an appealing label for the great unknown.

Dawn In Borom
Dawn In Borom, Indonesia
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Zen Reflections

Whilst sitting with my Zen Master, something suddenly occurred to me:

Human life is exactly like a leaf on a tree. In Spring, it buds into existence. In Summer, it reaches its full potential, bright and green. In Autumn, it begins to lose it’s vibrancy, turning brown and falling to the ground below. In Winter, it decomposes and becomes one with the earth again.

This metaphor is perhaps obvious, but the difference is in how a human life and a leaf go through these changes. A leaf is without consciousness, and passes through the process of existing, very, very quietly and being what it simply is. Humans, by contrast, manifest great anguish as we grasp desperately to what will inevitably be lost. If only we could remain silent like a leaf, being the thing as it is, with the sweet clarity of Truth and without the grandiose delusions of self.

Leaves & Tiles At A Zen Temple

Photography by El-Branden Brazil

Mutual Coexistence

I’m a Buddhist. I practice Zazen (Zen meditation) regularly, I read, I contemplate. I also acknowledge that I don’t yet know ultimate Truth. To pretend to do so would be arrogance in the extreme.

My faith connects with me and helps me find meaning through the mysteries of everyday life and beyond. I personally believe that Lord Buddha’s teachings offer a very practical path to finding peace.

…What I believe, doesn’t mean I am necessarily right. I can no more prove my beliefs to be true than anyone else of another faith. My beliefs alone make no difference to the world, other than give me a label. It is how I act in the world that matters.

I have Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Jewish, Hindu and many other friends of faiths, who are close friends. There is no question that they are very good people, trying to be a force for light, rather than darkness, in the world. We have mutual respect for each other, and share in a single goal for peace, understanding and love.

We all need to celebrate together our wide-eyed, shared appreciation for the mystery of the Universe. Together, we should hold hands and breathe in the brief moment that is allowed us to explore it. We should waste no time fighting each other.

A Burning Lamp & Lotus Leaves
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

The Nomadic Species

The world is not one of exactitudes of ethnicity, but rather one of fuzziness and blurring between groups of people, especially those living on the borders of countries.

Borders are illusions that have no geographical reality, but are constructed out of fear and perceived cultural biases/similarities. However, the truth is that humans have always been a nomadic species, transmigrating across the globe and intermingling, long before there were laws, visas and passports. This is most certain to continue, whilst we remain guests on our planet. Indeed, there is every likelihood that humans may one day migrate to Mars and beyond.

There are two ways to respond to this reality. The first is to take the response of Nationalists, who fear that there will be some sort of cultural/ethnic dilution of their group, if there is an influx of people with customs and ethnicity different to their own. And, most certainly, this is a two-way state of affairs, that can manifest on both sides, bringing with it racism, violence, segregation and hate.

The second and more preferable option, and the one that seems to wholly embrace the inevitable, is to just appreciate that everything is in a natural state of flux, including culture. Accept that nothing remains the same forever, including ethnic identity. Embrace diversity and look for common humanity in all.

A Camel In The Gobi
A Nomad Of The Mongolian Gobi Desert
Photography by El-Branden Brazil