Category: Religion

Andrew Lam

If It's Bleak On Earth, Look Up To The Heavens

By Andrew Lam, Dec 24, 2012 10:34 AM

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 Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for getdata.asp.html.jpeg  This Christmas season that bright distinctive star that once led the three wise men to Bethlehem takes on an extra meaning. Some astronomers have over the years speculated that the star might have very well been a comet, as comets can be extremely bright and visible for months in the night sky, moving against a background of stars. But none until now thought that it could also be the source of life itself -a cosmic pollen carrying possible genetic and organic materials; the primordial soup.

Latest scientific discoveries in astronomy suggest conditions for life is rife everywhere. The more science discover, the deeper the mystery of the universe,

Consider: A few years ago NASA’s press release on the comet dust brought back to Earth by the space probe Stardust: °These chunks of ice and dust wandering our solar system appear to be filled with organic molecules that are the building blocks of life.”

The finding surprised scientists because many predicted that the space probe would find mostly ice. Instead, the finding could lend support for the belief that comets could have “seeded” life on our planet as well as others.

Such a statement would have been unimaginable only a few decades ago. Traditionally humans have an egocentric tendency to explain our place in the universe.

But as astonishing discoveries are being made, that sense of self- importance had given way to a more humble assessment of our place in the cosmos.

Everywhere we look, peering as far as we can into our universe, we find tantalizing evidence that supports conditions for life. From evidence of water once flowed on Mars to ice on the moon or a giant ocean found on Titan, Saturn's moon.

Add to these findings the continual discoveries of exoplanets- those that orbit stars - a total of 854 such planets as of 2012, some in "habitable" zones where conditions are ripe for life.

In a sense, Science chips away at our ancient myths only to reveal even greater mysteries. The more science reveals, the more mysterious the revelation. Science, in other word, is at its best when it evokes, like art, the experience of wonder and awe.

War and strife seem endless on our little blue planet, but up above the heavens is sublime. We look at the Christmas star might very well be a comet whose dust might be full of the stuff that creates life. This gives new meanings to a very old story, and it leaves some of us who gaze upward breathless. 

New America Media editor, Andrew Lam is the author of “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” (Heyday Books, 2005), which won a Pen American “Beyond the Margins” award and where the above essay is excerpted, and “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.” His next book, “Birds of Paradise Lost” is due out in 2013. He has lectured and read his work widely at many universities.

Viji Sundaram

Astrologer Says Obama's Planetary Alignment Makes Him a Shoo-In

By Viji Sundaram, Nov 6, 2012 3:10 PM

President Obama can sit back and relax today. It ain’t gonna be a nail-biter. The White House is his until 2016. 

According to one Hindu astrologer from India, “Obama has Capricorn ascendant with Saturn in Capricorn, giving rise to Sasa Yoga (yoga in astrology means planetary configuration), one of the Mahapurusha (great man) Yogas, which confer high status and position, kingship, etcetera,” asserts Prasannan, a Jyotish astrologer from India, in a letter to India-West, a weekly newspaper based in San Leandro, Calif.

Obama could have kept himself from going gray had he consulted this astrologer before he began his re-election bid. He should have taken a leaf out of former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s book. Nancy peeked at the stars before she made important decisions. Obviously, she was not very discreet about it, and poor Ronald became guilty by association, resulting in his catching some heat from a delegation from the Federation of American Scientists.

“In our opinion,” they wrote to him, “no person whose decisions are based, even in part, on such evident fantasies can be trusted to make the many serious—and even life-and-death—decisions required of American Presidents."

To which The Gipper cordially responded, "Let me assure you that while Nancy and I enjoy glancing at the daily astrology charts in our morning paper, we do not plan our daily activities or our lives around them."

But rumor had it that Nancy changed the time and date of scheduled events, canceled trips and severely restricted activities outside the White House.

Be that as it may, but what of Mitt?

“Mitt Romney has Taurus ascendant, with Moon in Scorpio and Sun in Aquarius. His ascendant plus 7 of the 9 planets are in fixed signs; this provides power and stability, but also gives rigidity, and inflexibility,” said Prasannan.

Sadly, “no Mahapurusha Yoga is seen in his chart,” he added.

The astrologer also weighed in on the candidates’ performance in the debates in their race to the White House.

The planet Mercury, he said, was so well positioned last March that it gave Mitt a clear victory in the first debate in the Republican primaries against Rick Santorum.

And what of his victory against Obama in their first debate?

“From October 2 to 20,” Prasannan said, “he was in Sun-Mercury-Mars period, the same 3 planets which contribute to the strong Yoga in his chart. This gave him a clear victory in the first debate, and caused the gap to close between challenger and incumbent.”

Mercifully, the stars were in Obama’s favor in the next two debates.

So those of you who are planning to vote for Mitt Romney today should save your energy for better things or, as Jane Austen would have put it: “Keep your breath to cool your porridge.”

I hate to say it, but for those who have already voted for him, it was an exercise in futility.

Andrew Lam

Salad Days: Becoming A Vegetarian To Remember Grandma

By Andrew Lam, Oct 23, 2012 10:11 AM

 SAN FRANCISCO -- For a period of a month sometime ago I became a vegetarian. Some people won't eat meat because they think it's cruel to animals, or because of health concerns. My reason is a little different: it is love.

I simply wanted to honor my grandmother's memory by not eating meat. A devout Buddhist, grandma spent a large part of her life as a vegetarian, and some of my fondest childhood memories in Vietnam were sharing a meal with her.

In fact, as a child, I learned how to appreciate food not from fancy dishes my mother regularly whipped up, but from the simple meals my grandmother prepared. In her presence a piece of crunchy green pickled eggplant was incredibly delicious, and fried tofu dipped in sweetened soy sauce delectable.

Andrew Lam

Buddha in the West: Even Bill Clinton Turns Toward Meditation

By Andrew Lam, Aug 21, 2012 9:19 AM

Buddhism made a bleep in the news early this month when the Times of India, and other news outlets, citing an unnamed source, reported that Bill Clinton, has turned to Buddhism for mental and physical well-being. The former president went so far as hiring a Buddhist monk to teach him the arts of meditation.

This may come as a surprise to some but to many others it's only a natural course of how things transpire in the globalized world. In the last half of the 20th Century, America cunningly exported itself overseas, marketing its images, ideologies, products and religions with ingenuity and zeal, but what it has not been able to fully assess or prepare for are the effects in reverse. For if Americanization is a large part of globalization, the Easternization of the West, too, is the other side of the phenomenon.

I take it as some cosmic law of exchange that if Disneyland pops up in Hong Kong and Tokyo, Buddhist temples can sprout up in Los Angeles, home of the magic kingdom. Indeed, it comes as no surprise to many Californians that scholars have agreed that the most complex Buddhist city in the world is nowhere in Asia but Los Angeles itself, where there are more than 300 Buddhist temples and centers, representing nearly all of Buddhist practices around the world.

In October of 2009, CNN reported that, "programs and workshops educating inmates about meditation and yoga are sprouting up across the country." There are more than 75 organizations working with some 2,500 people, most of them prisoners, and they inspired a documentary called "The Dhamma Brothers." where inmates reached inner peace and spiritual maturity through meditation and the practice of compassion.

This was the same year that Thomas Dyer, a former Marine and one-time Southern Baptist pastor, became the first Buddhist chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army and he was sent to Afghanistan to administer to Buddhist American soldiers.

Over the past quarter-century, Buddhism has become the third largest religion in America behind Christianity and Judaism, according to a 2008 report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Evidence of Buddhism spreading deep roots in America is abundant. The UT San Diego newspaper estimated that there are at least 1.2 million Americans who are buddhist practitioners, the majority of whom live in California. Other scholars estimated that number to be as high as 6.7 million.

Even if small in population, the influence of Buddhist ideas are clearly strong on the cultural spheres. When the Dalai Lama visited the US three years ago, for example, he was a celebrity at every American institution. One scene in particular remains memorable: the most famous monk in the world sat on the dais, lecturing on wisdom in the modern world and exploring the concept of the soul, as hundreds of enthralled monks and laymen look on below. The scene harks back to the golden era of Tibet, with the halls festooned with hundreds of strings of colorful Tibetan prayer flags, except the event took place at American University.

Yet, despite Buddhism's message of inner peace and compassion, it, in its own way, is a very radical spiritual practice for its refutation of the existence of a creator. In essence, the serious practitioner aims to extinguish the self by defeating his own ego and, thereby, seeing beyond the illusion spun by the ignorant mind.

The ultimate Buddhist experience entails neither god nor self, neither "out there" nor "in here," for that membrane that separates the practitioner's being and that of the world, upon awakening, has been lifted. All that remains is - ohm - absolute awe and bliss. Imagine, if you will, Moses not turning his face away from the burning bush that is god but approaching it then fully merging with that terrifying fire. To reach spiritual maturity, the I must, at least temporarily in meditation, be dissolved.

"Buddhism," writes Diana Eck, professor of comparative religions at Harvard University, "challenges many Americans at the very core of their thinking about religion -- at least, those of us for whom religion has something to do with one we call God."

As ties deepened between the two continents, as immigration from Asia continues unabated, and as the Dhamma [Buddha's teachings] spreads beyond all borders, we are entering what many thinkers and philosophers call the second axial age, an age of pluralism where the various spiritual traditions co-exist.

In these global days, no single system can exist as a separate entity, nor can its borders remain impervious to change, all exist to a various degree of openness and exchange. And the old Silk Road along which so many religious ideas traveled has been replaced by a far more potent thoroughfare: unprecedented global migration, mass communications, and the information highway, which transcends geography.

I once kept on my study's wall two very different pictures to remind me of the way East and West have changed. One is an issue from a Time magazine on Buddhism in America. In it, a group of American Buddhists sits serenely in lotus position on a wooden veranda in Malibu overlooking a calm Pacific Ocean. The other is of Vietnamese-American astronaut named Eugene Trinh's space shuttle flight. The pictures tell me that East and West have not only met, but also commingled and fused. When a Vietnamese man who left his impoverished homeland can come very close to reaching the moon, while Americans are becoming psychonauts - navigators of the mind - turning inward, trying to reach nirvana with each mindful breath, I think that the East-West dialogue has come a long, long way.

New America Media's editor, Andrew Lam, is the author of "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres," and "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora." His next book, "Birds of Paradise Lost," is due out in Spring, 2013.

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Andrew Lam

Grandmother's Last Lesson -- Seeing Time As a Trick of the Mind

By Andrew Lam, Dec 30, 2011 3:30 PM

  The year zoomed by like comet Lovejoy that went near the sun and survived. It makes one wonder about mortality and time, and one's place in the world. here's an old essay that contemplates that... enjoy and happy new year...

Grandmother's Last Lesson -- Seeing Time As a Trick of the Mind

Nearing the end of her life and plagued with senility, my grandmother fell into a strange state of grace. At 95, she believed herself a young woman again living in her hometown in the Mekong Delta. One day when I visited her in her convalescent home in San Jose, California, where she had lived for the last decade or so, I asked grandma to name the names of her four children and she looked a bit astonished: "Children?" She said in her frail, hoarse voice, "Mister, but I am only 17."

Receding from her memories are the years in America, years full of longing and grief for her lost homeland. Lost, too, mercifully, are her memories of the war and the incredible suffering it had caused her. The garden outside her window teamed with life, butterflies and bees hovering over gardenias and roses, but her vision had begun to travel far beyond its walls. In her mind, Grandmother had already gone back to a happier time, rowing her boat down the river in the old country, singing some folksongs, watching white cranes fly above the green rich rice fields, celebrating Tet with relatives and neighbors -- to an unhurried world of long ago.

My parents and aunts sighed and shook their heads whenever they visited, feeling guilty for not being able to care for her at home, sad that their mother no longer knew them. I, on the other hand, took a different attitude altogether. I saw that there was a mixed blessing in her senility and forgetfulness. After all, grandmother had, in her own way, managed to conquer time.

Years ago, when she was still lucid, Grandma bought a wooden clock carved in the S shape of the map of Vietnam from a Vietnamese store in Little Saigon in Anaheim. Above her bed, the clock ticked mournfully, a constant reminder of how long she'd spent away from her home and hearth. Sometimes she would watch that clock tick as she counted her rosary and then cried silent, bitter tears.

Indeed, America's concepts of time only helped to confuse her. She did not know why, for instance, a grandson had to leave home at 18. When I left home for college, she wept. I overheard her protesting to my mother in an incredulous voice: "How can you let him go? He 's immature at 17 and now he's 18, somehow he's mature? Not everyone is a real adult at 18 or 21 either. It's not so simple."

Once, I remember, she asked me how far Vietnam was from California. I shrugged, "Well, I guess it's about 18 hours." Hearing this, grandma, made a scowling face and snapped: "If our country is only less than a day away by your measurement, then tell me how come I've been waiting for 15 years, seven months and eight days now and I am still here in America?"

If since her exile to America at the end of the Vietnam war time had been her enemy, telling her how long she'd been away from the country of her birth, it finally lost its grip on her that last year. That year before she died, she was no longer ruled by the clock. She traveled freely most of the time to the distant past and she seemed, if not happy, then at peace.

The last time I saw her alive, we held hands. Perhaps grandma thought I was a beau from the next village come courting or a distant relative, but she blushed when I told her that she was beautiful.

"Let's hurry," she said, her eyes staring at an impossibly far away place, "we're going to be late for the celebration at the temple."

Perhaps she is there now. As for me, since she passed away I am, I must say, not as fearful of old age as I once was. When I grow old and senile, I, too, should like to forget all the sorrow and sadness in my own life. Memories of heartbreaks and great losses will be dissolved like smoke in the morning wind. Like grandma, I'll relive instead all the moments of intense happiness: walking with my first love down Bankroft Street in Berkeley at dusk; singing silly songs with my siblings on Christmas eve when we were kids; luxuriating in my mother's arms as a child after a warm bath; watching the moonrise with my cousin over the ocean on a tiny island in Thailand.

And above all, I should like to return to that windblown pine hill of Dalat, Vietnam, a plateau of forests high above the sea where I grew up. I will sit again with my best friend in fourth grade, the two of us leaning against a pine tree and looking up at the clouds drifting by, our sweaters and hair stuck with pine needles after a game of hide and seek.

It was on that same hill that I later lost my first watch, a Mickey Mouse watch which I got for my seventh birthday, Mickey's arms pointing at the hours and minutes that slowly led me away from my childhood wonders and eventually my homeland. I had cried for days afterwards, but I now think that it's apt that the watch should lie decaying somewhere on that lovely hill.

For perhaps there is something that the adult forgets and only the very young and very old could know: That time and space are an illusion, a trick of the mind...

See me then as a starry-eyed child among pine trees, staring at the shifting sky, enraptured by an impossible sense of beauty, delighting simply to be in the world.

Andrew Lam is author of
Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora and East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.

Andrew Lam

Christmas in Dalat, Christmas in San Francisco

By Andrew Lam, Dec 23, 2011 8:39 PM

I wrote this a few years back but since it's Christmas time, here it is again.. enjoy..

 Wild orchids and colored, painted pine cones – these things I remember of Christmas in Vietnam. It was in Dalat, the mountain city with its persistent fog and whispering pine forests, that I first celebrated Christmas. My father had been transferred there after the 1968 Tet offensive, and he brought the entire family with him.

The distant bombing and the tropical heat of Sadec in the Mekong Delta were replaced by Dalat’s cool fresh breezes and romantic lakes. I was 5 years old, a child running free on fallen pine needles and tall green grass in the forest as I searched for wild mushrooms, pine cones and orchids for Christmas decorations. My older brother, sister and I would each carry a wicker basket and eventually fill them with all that nature had to offer. Those days we never bought any Christmas decorations.

We used to sing. And by singing, I mean spontaneously. As children we were not at all self-conscious and sang with gusto and often off key, but always with gusto. In the woods, early in the morning, we sang Christmas carols and chased each other, and sometimes the neighborhood kids would join in. Afterwards, our sweaters and hair would be embedded with pollen and pine needles. Dalat was a sparsely populated town then, and our laughter and singing echoed and resonated in the dew-covered forest.

At home we helped our mother decorate the Christmas tree. Its fresh pine fragrance brought the whole forest inside with us. My mother would roll cotton into shapes of little chicks and angels with wings and place them on the tree. The cones and mushrooms she painted green and red and blue and hung them everywhere in the living room. These ornaments were all the decorations we needed.

When my paternal grandmother came downstairs all dressed up in her ao dai dress, she would take us to mass. She held my hand and led me and my siblings on the dirt road to a local church whose bells rang out in the air. Though I wasn’t a Catholic, I remember feeling a spiritual devotion in that church. Everyone was smartly dressed and smiling. People sang and read their psalms. Afterwards the priest distributed candy for the children. I remember it was early evening, the sun had sunk behind a bank of fog as we walked home, the world was glowing in a lavender hue.

But before going home we would stop by the Hoa Binh market to buy some fruit and baguettes. Children with pink round cheeks held their mothers’ hands, and young adults in their best clothes walked around to show off their attire. The strawberries and plums we would eat on the way home.

At home, the best part of the Christmas dinner was dessert. My mother, a consummate baker, would make the traditional buche de Noel, a chocolate covered cake in the shape of a log with a tiny Santa Clause sitting on top. Then my father would open the champagne and pour each of us a glass. We didn’t receive any gifts as children did in America, but we didn’t need any and never felt the loss.

That was my favorite memory of Christmas in Vietnam. If you think that such a memory is out of place for a country whose image is full of conical-hatted figures working in the rice fields, then you haven’t been to Dalat. Dalat, built by the French as a hill station resort, was for the most part a peaceful town, until near the end of the war. For those of us who had the fortune to live there, the war was often at a distance. Unlike the popular American belief shaped by Hollywood films, Vietnamese did not always live under constant terror and in half-burned villages. Instead, what we had in Dalat was a gentle, small town life that I haven’t found again living here in America.

These days our Christmas is a big celebration in the San Francisco Bay Area. My paternal grandmother is long gone, but the Christmas trees are heavy with trinkets and baubles at my siblings’ households. We vie to show off to one another how well we decorate our homes. Santa on the roof; reindeer on the lawn. Our Christmas dinner is often replete with seafood and my father’s favorite dish, bouillabaisse, and, of course, roasted turkey and wines and champagnes. It is a testiment, I suppose, to how well we have fared in the land of plenty.

So many years have passed since the war ended, yet it is not the horrors of war that dwell now in my mind during Christmas time. It’s the transcending peace in a tranquil world that is now lost.

Dalat, too, like the rest of Vietnam, is crowded with people and the trees are fewer and the forests thinned. Even the weather had changed, growing warmer with fewer trees.

Still, I bet there are children running and laughing, as before, among the pine needles and singing brooks on that high plateau I once called home.

Andrew Lam is author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" and the upcoming "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres."  

Peter Schurmann

Sikh Diwali in Union City

By Peter Schurmann, Oct 27, 2011 3:21 PM

“Do you see that pole,” my friend asks as we approach a crowd gathered around a glowing bed of candles. “In the Punjab, you can see that pole for miles… travelers know it means food and shelter.” There’s one in front of all Sikh temples.

The candles illuminate a sea of faces, young and old, in flowing saris and neatly folded turbans. It is Diwali, and for the Sikh community in Union City, it is a time for prayer, reflection and of course food.

“You must come,” insists my friend, a native of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, his eyes glowing as he describes the festive atmosphere that attends the annual celebration.

Originally a Hindu festival marking the return of the Prince Rama from his banishment in the forest, Sikhs commemorate the release by the Mughal emperor of an imprisoned patriarch, who insisted that all the other inmates be freed along with him.

“Hindus come for the food,” my friend’s wife says, with pride or sarcasm it’s hard to say. And indeed there is plenty, enough to feed the throngs of people that continue to stream in from all directions. Lines ebb and flow, widening here and thinning out there, a pulsating river of light and fabric.

The sound of prayer echoes from within.

“No one wants to get on Laxmi’s bad side,” says my friend and guide, pointing out that during this time people come to pray to the Hindu goddess of fortune. Nearing the altar I place a dollar in the tray and then bow, touching my head to the floor. My son dips his fingers into a cup of sweet bean paste, wondering at the scene.

The aroma of spiced chickpeas and fried poori pulls at me like an unseen, irresistible force. We come to the communal eating area and file into line. “When I was young, I used to get really upset at those who tried to cut… see them there.” He points as a group of elderly women make their way toward the front.

We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore…

I wonder at the mix of old and new… at the coming together of a centuries-old faith, bearded and wise, with the childlike exuberance that is Silicon Valley, with its indoor skydiving and flood-lit soccer fields. Kids walk past, their accents clearly California, their faith rooted in the scene that envelops us.

It is community, the “We” that sustains and is sustained through sharing, through eating and praying together. “This is the heart of the temple,” my friend tells me, pointing to a room where volunteers are busy doling out an endless stream of food and water.

He introduces me to several friends, including a former journalist who took to radio after leaving Amritsar in the Punjab, and another who went from farming and driving trucks to sponsoring programs fostering the development of Sikh art and dance.

As we leave my friend tells me of another gathering in Yuba City, Ca., set to happen in a couple of weeks. He says it dwarfs today’s event, drawing people from Sikh communities around the state, a day-long event promising food, shelter and spiritual nourishment for all comers.

Peter Schurmann

How to Say 'Apocalypse' in Korean

By Peter Schurmann, May 20, 2011 9:13 PM

The message that Judgment Day is coming could be more persuasive when it's delivered in your own language.

Bay Area resident David Song, 50, recently found an email in his inbox proclaiming the world would end Saturday. Taken aback by the foreboding message, Song told the Korea Daily that what he found more curious was the fact that it was written in perfect Korean.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

ADVENTURES IN MULTICULTURAL LIVING--Taking the time to celebrate birthdays, African American History Month and other special times

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Feb 28, 2011 1:14 PM

I had nearly forgotten, until I received the Facebook post from my good friend James wishing me a happy birthday. James and I share the same birthday, so I immediately wished him a happy birthday, too, and then sent birthday wishes to my childhood friend, Hsiao Ma, who also shares the same birthday with me, but not before she beat me to it. Theirs are the only birthdays I ever remember.

Andrew Lam

We're Not Alone in the Universe, So it seems

By Andrew Lam, Feb 10, 2011 10:35 AM

 For as long as man has been gazing up to the heavens we have been, in away, searching for reflections ourselves. And increasingly, it seems, we are finding more and more evidence that say we are not alone.

UFOs and earthlike planets are in the news. The Kepler, NASA's space based telescope launched just two years ago, has found some serious possibilities for potential life out there. So far it found 1,235 planets orbiting nearby stars. But more tantalizing, it has found 54 planets in habitable zones –atmospheres and liquid water and - conditions that may support life. "It's very likely that life is common in our galaxy," said the chief scientist of the Kepler mission, William Borucki.

Meanwhile, UFOs are being spotted practically every week, and with the advent of portable cameras they can been seen. Whether many are hoaxes remain to be seen but these videos become viral on the internet. In Utah last week, witnesses saw a ufo – three red dots of light in a triangle shape - dropping bright lights. At the same time, a bright round spot of light could be seen hovering over the dome of rock Jerusalem. Four videos captured it and millions have viewed them on youtube. While some claim them to be hoaxes, Many are believers.

It may sound hokey in the past, but increasingly more and more people believe in extraterrestrial life. A Scripps Howard News Service poll in 2008 says that a whopping 56 percent Americans believe “very likely or somewhat likely that intelligent life exists on other worlds.”

“One in every 12 Americans has seen a mysterious object in the sky that might have been a visitor from another world,” According to the poll, conducted with Ohio Univeristy, “while nearly one in every five personally knows someone who has seen an unidentified flying object.”

Indeed, a radical shift in human psyche regarding our relationship with the rest of universe is taking place. Not so long ago, until Copernicus came along, we assumed our world was the universe's center -- and, for that matter, flat -- and that the sun orbited Earth. Last century we held on to the notion that our solar system was unique. Scientists just a generation ago assumed, too, that conditions on Earth -- a protective atmosphere, ample water and volcanic activity -- made it the only planet that could possibly support life.

That sense of self-importance has given way to a more humble assessment of our place in space. The conditions on our home planet may be unique, but solar systems are not at all anomalies. We are in the process of accepting that we are very much part of the larger universe.

Furthermore, by sending space probes to the edge of the solar system, by collecting moon rocks and comet dust, by landing probes on Mars to dig for soils and search for signs of life, and by planning manned missions to Mars, we are in constant exchange with the universe.

Consider these astonishing discoveries made in the past decade or two.

Using the Hubble Telescope to study Earth's atmosphere, astronomer Lou Frank proved that Earth is constantly hit by snowballs from space. The implications are enormous: If snowballs from outer space hit Earth regularly, it is raining elsewhere onto other planets, providing much-needed water for the primordial soup.

The two rovers found ice on Mars. If there's ice on Mars, the probability of ice on other planets has grown exponentially as well.

And then, in 2009 , we found water on the moon.

A quarter of century ago, a meteorite from Mars found on Earth, known as the Allan Hills meteorite (or ALH 84001 to scientists), astonished everyone when some scientists claimed they found tantalizing traces of fossilized life within it. Their findings have been contested, but the meteorite renewed enthusiasm for the idea of "panspermia."

The interstellar exchange of DNA was a theory championed by Francis Crick, who discovered the DNA molecule with two other scientists in the last century. If scientists laughed behind the Nobel laureate's back when he first suggested it, no one is laughing now.

Besides, there is such a thing as self-fulfilling prophecy: If Earth didn't receive DNA for a startup way back when, we are now actively sending out DNA through space with our spacecrafts and satellites and shuttles.

And what do scientists find when they analyze the comet dust collected by space probes? Organic materials, rich in biogenic materials with great varieties of organic molecules.

Roland Robertson, a social scientist, defines globalization as "the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole."

Taking Robertson's definition a step further, it seems inevitable that the universe, too, shrinks and compresses as we explore and measure it, and infer profound implications from our discoveries.

Perhaps it is why so many of us have changed our mind: We are not alone in the universe. Earth maybe unique, but only in the sense that every human being is unique. It’s harder, after to all, to claim the role of sole inheritor’s of god’s grace in a vast universe abundant with water and organic materials and planets with atmospheres orbiting stars like our own sun.

War and strife and revolutions and bloodshed seem endless on our little blue planet, but when man gazes up to the heavens it remains sublime. To paraphrase the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell, that sea on which humanity now sails is infinitely more vast than that imagined by Columbus. And the cosmic age, no doubt about it, has arrived.

Andrew Lam is author of
East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres. 

Parvez Sharma

Egypt Burns--But Not Because of Facebook

By Parvez Sharma, Jan 28, 2011 4:30 PM

Cairo is burning. So is Egypt. Twitter is exploding. Everyone seems to have an opinion—many who have never even been to Egypt but feel a strong sense of solidarity with the most remarkable revolution in a
generation, perhaps. A revolution which importantly is not really caused by Twitter or by Facebook—as much as the self-congratulatory social networking types in the West would like to believe.

Sandip Roy

Sikhs Hope for AG's Action on Bearded Guard

By Sandip Roy, Jan 18, 2011 9:45 AM

California's new attorney general acknowledged her Indian heritage by including a 10-minute Indian classical dance performance at her inauguration, but Indian-American advocates are keen to see if Kamala Harris will move on the case of a bearded Sikh man who wants to serve as a prison guard in California, reports Sunita Sohrabji for India West.

Tammy Kim

Why Korean American Churches Need a Makeover

By Tammy Kim, Jan 11, 2011 9:50 AM

This Blog is From Hyphen Magazine

Last year, I gathered with some two hundred other Korean Americans for a church wedding. I was perhaps one of three women who arrived without a date and one of two atheists in the entire crowd. The couple to be wed was, of course, Korean American: the groom, a youth pastor I knew from college; the bride, a bubbly woman he had met at church in California. As I lined up to tender my gift and find my seat in the pews, I already felt the chill of alienation.

Sandip Roy

A Tale of Two Assassins

By Sandip Roy, Jan 10, 2011 2:51 PM

 A moderate centrist politician who had taken some controversial stances is gunned down in broad daylight. The gunman is caught.

The parallels are striking but the similarities end there.

In Arizona the assailant is the crazy guy, the loner, the anti-social, the one everyone is quick to disown. The sigh of relief is that he acted alone.

In Pakistan, he immediately becomes proof of something systemic. Malik Mumtaz Qadri is just its apocalyptic messenger leaving behind a trail of guns and roses.

Jaski Singh

Mercury News Apologizes to Sikh Community

By Jaski Singh, Dec 22, 2010 1:10 AM

The local Sikh community is concerned that a graphic that appeared in a Bay Area English-language newspaper may have sent the wrong message about the origins of the faith, reports Punjabi newspaper Sade Lok.

Sandip Roy

Bay Area Jews Protest Netanyahu Speech

By Sandip Roy, Nov 15, 2010 11:35 AM

Two Bay Area Jews were among the five protesters who heckled Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu during his speech Monday to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans, reports j. weekly.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Sharing the Light of Diwali

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Nov 8, 2010 3:10 PM

My neighbor Leah is amazing with her leaves. Every Tuesday morning, she fills up her two big brown compost bins with leaves, then she fills two other big brown compost bins she has borrowed from her neighbors, then she stands on the sidewalk with her rake to wait for the city compost truck to come. As soon as they take her leaves, she quickly refills the four containers and pushes them across the street for when the truck comes back down the other side of the street. She is utterly amazing, she is so on top of her leaves.

Jaski Singh

Obama Itinerary Change Sets off Speculation Among Bay Area Sikhs

By Jaski Singh, Nov 8, 2010 2:30 PM

President Obama’s first trip to India, where he is expected to arrive Saturday, stirred up controversy among Sikh Americans even before it began.

First came reports that he was going to visit the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines, in Amritsar. Then the White House announced that that was off the itinerary, leading to much speculation in Punjabi media like the Amritsar Times and Sade Lok.

Bay Area Sikhs say they are especially disappointed since the California Assembly has designated November Sikh Awareness Month.

Sukirat Kaur, a junior at James Logan High School in Union City, was amused at media reports that the decision may have had to do with the requirement that all visitors to the temple cover their head with a cloth or scarf. Some speculated that Obama was worried that pictures of him with his head covered would feed into rumors that he was a Muslim. Many Sikhs believe they have been targeted in hate crimes since 9/11 precisely because people conflate the traditional turban and beard worn by Sikh men with that of Osama bin Laden.

But Dalip Singh, a Bay Area classical music teacher, notes that non-Sikhs may wear a cap or hat to enter the temple, according to the head priest of the Akal Takht, the Sikh religious authority.

Viji Sundaram

Hey, Obama--It's Only a Scarf

By Viji Sundaram, Oct 21, 2010 4:45 PM

Just a couple of weeks after the California legislature unanimously approved designating November 2010 as California Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month comes the news that President Obama will not be visiting Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, on his upcoming trip to India.

Jalal Ghazi

Putting US Hikers on Trial Gives Iran a Stronger Bargaining Chip

By Jalal Ghazi, Oct 20, 2010 4:02 PM

Iran’s decision to try three US citizens on November 6 indicates that it is planning to sentence them and use the sentence as a stronger bargaining ship.