Posts filed under ‘Thoughts’

The Book I’d Like To Write – Part 2

In 2003/4 the British Library put on an exhibition called Chinese Printmaking Today. It featured a dazzling array of printmaking skills, but to me the most impressive piece was a collection of four traditionally-bound Chinese books, printed on rice paper with indigo covers, string binding, and packed into beautiful walnut boxes. They looked like beautifully preserved examples of 15th  and 16th century volumes. The work was called Tianshu (The Book From The Sky) and what was remarkable was that it was all an elaborate cultural joke. All of the 12,000 elaborately carved Chinese characters that made up the content of the book were all invented by the artist, Xu Bing, and they had no meaning at all. The books looked like the real thing, but were just elaborate nonsense.

It got me thinking what a real book that fell from the sky might reveal to us. The sky (tian) is Heaven for the ancient Chinese, and it’s where the ancestors, with all their accumulated wisdom and knowledge, go when they have died. What would our ancestors, looking down on our puny efforts, have to tell us about how we are living our lives. They must have made similar mistakes to us, but now they are unaffected by them, whereas we still have to live out the karma of our days contending with the results that we have caused. Perhaps such a book, told from this elevated POV, could give us guidance about how to conduct ourselves, how to avoid or at least deal with pain, troubles, and problems. This would be a great book to own. I decided (this is a joke) to ‘translate’ this book, since it is the only Chinese book I am capable of translating. I actually wrote to the artist asking him for the right to translate the book. He never wrote back. He must have thought I was mad. Maybe I am.

That’s how I got the idea of The Book That Fell From The Sky, a users guide for earthlings, full of advice from the past and the present, from the dead and the living, about how to look after your body, mind and spirit in this lifetime. This would be a great book to write, amazingly useful to people now. Of course I never got around to writing this book (yet), so I decided to re-title it The Blog That Fell From The Sky and since 2009 I have been posting messages about some of my concerns and ideas and projects.

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January 12, 2016 at 12:22 pm Leave a comment

The Book I’d Like to Write

Reading Somerset Maugham’s book on his life and craft, The Summing Up, I was intrigued by a story he quoted:

A Young King of the east, anxious to rule his country justly, sent for his sages and ordered them to gather the wisdom of the world so that he might learn how best to conduct himself.

After 30 years they returned with a string of camels laden with 5000 books. Here, they told him, is collected everything that wise men have learnt of the history and destiny of humanity. But the king was too busy with affairs of state to read 5000 books, so he ordered them to condense the knowledge.

Fifteen years later they returned with 500 books which they told the King contained all the wisdom of the world. But still there were too many to read and again he sent them away.

Ten more years passed and they returned with just 50 books. By now the king was old and tired and he said that even this amount was too much to consider. Go and condense this knowledge into one volume which would give me the epitome of human knowledge so that at long last I can learn what is most important for me to know.

Five years later they returned. By now these were old men who laid the result of their labours into the King’s hands. But now the King was also old and dying, and he did not have the strength to even read this one book.

How I would love to have this book, but I have never been able to find it. So I thought this would be a great book to write. Of course, I probably never will, I don’t think I have the ability. But I did conceive of a book like this once, and it was called The Book That Fell From The Sky. I never wrote it, and eventually decided to use the title for this blog – The Blog that Fell From The Sky.

Maybe one day I’ll try it again.

January 10, 2016 at 2:14 pm 2 comments

A SPIRITUAL ALMANAC – JANUARY: SILENCE

I am the secret of silence and the wisdom of the wise. Bhagavad Gita, Ch.10

*******

Hexagram 24: RETURN (FU)

i_ching_24_fu

Earth
over
Thunder

Short days; long nights;
The earth is silent;
Rest in the darkness.

At this time of year the yang energy is renewing itself; it is fragile and needs rest, nurturing and protection. This is a time to examine yourself, refine yourself, cultivate your virtue and master your mind, waiting for the right time to act in the days to come.

Lao Tzu said,

Attain utter emptiness;
Maintain the deepest stillness,
While all creatures rise and fall,
I silently watch their return.

*******

Silence is sacred; silence is our refuge; silence is our peace. Modern life is an assault of sound, a blast of brute noise designed to grab our attention and hold it entranced by sound so that we can be sold things we don’t need. TV commercials, muzak, the constant background hum of cars, trains and planes all distract us away from our inner peace.

Remember that the core of yoga is silence. When you can find that silent space within and stay in it, then you are in tune with yourself and the world: safe, secure and at home within your own skin. In this state you have no need to worry about the quality of your asana positions, or to wonder how someone else is getting along, or to fret about your work or other activities. You merely are. Existence itself is knowledge and bliss wrapped up in one, and you are that – you are one with all.

The earth, too, is silent in January, the generative power sunk deep within the ground. No birds sing, no insects buzz, and life sleeps in hibernation.

In Taoist alchemy this dead of winter represents the utmost quiescence, when real knowledge can emerge from primal emptiness. The alchemists call this the Living Midnight or Lead meets Winter, since winter followed by spring is like midnight followed by dawn, when the culmination of the cold dark yin energy is followed by the rising of the hot light yang energy. Slowly the yang energy emerges from its long winter sleep resting in the ground, and the potential for new life begins again.

It is a turning point in the year’s cycle. When things proceed to the extreme of the deepest darkness, they naturally alternate to the opposite: the dimmest light returns. This is a law of Nature. The time of darkness passes. The winter solstice brings back the banished light. And just as light returns, so we too must also return to our inner light. In the depths of our being we must seek the self, the one, our essence or origin- that ascending force of life.

*******

Prime Minister Pei Hsiu brought his written interpretation of Chan Buddhism for his master Huang Po to read. Huang Po accepted the text but put it aside without opening it, and remained silent. Pei Hsiu waited patiently for the words of his master, but Huang Po stayed silent. His silence lasted for a very long time. It filled the space between the two men and began to fill the entire hall. When the silence seemed loud enough to burst, Huang Po leaned towards the Prime Minister and said sofly, “Understand?”

Consider the meaning of this silence against the words rumbling on this page.

*********
When practicing asanas, or doing Tai Chi Chuan, we enter this meditative state of silence and in that quietness we are able to find our true selves, the inner essence, the kernel of who we really are.

The Person who in movement finds rest, and who understands that movement grows from stillness and rest, sees the light, and finds peace in all his actions. Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 4.

In Chinese the word for mind is hsin, which means the mind/heart. It can literally mean kernel or essence. Mind in a state of quiescence is similar to Christian innocence, the primal mind of humanity before the fruit of knowledge was eaten. To find this mind is to see your original face before you were born.

One secret of a successful life is to find a way to extend this silence into the other parts of life, into the busyness of life away from the yoga mat , where the stresses and conflicts of mundane existence can easily drag us away from our inner peace. Finding inner peace and maintaining inner peace are two separate practices.

*********

Silence is a place of great power. When we find those fleeting moments of silence our meditation can then undo our bodies from the inside, in subtle ways that the asanas cannot reach. The silent state of meditation is a healing state, providing a balance and harmony to all of our existence.

Periods of silence within a relationship indicate trust, love and peace – those moments when we have no need to talk, and are just able to accept the other person as they are – without criticism, judgement or withdrawal.

*******

In silent meditation, we put to rest our worries and cares, but meditation is not the ultimate answer. It is only a raft to get us to the distant shore:

The Master Huai-Jang asked Ma-Tsu, “Why do you sit all day in meditation?” Ma-Tsu answered, “I want to become a Buddha.” Hearing this, the Master picked up a brick and started rubbing it on a stone. “What are you doing?” asked Ma-Tsu. “I am polishing this brick to make a mirror.” “How can you make a mirror by rubbing a brick?” Ma-Tsu asked. “How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?”

In the end we must return to the activity of life, to the crossroads and the marketplace, and share with others the insights and power we have discovered in meditation:

bull10

Barechested and barefooted he comes into the marketplace.
Muddy and covered in dust – how broadly he grins!
Without resorting to magical powers,
Withered trees begin to bloom.

*******

In the end silence brings us closer to our true nature and to God. It is in that silence that we can be present in the moment.

When we observe our breath we can find silence and stillness at that lovely pause at the end of the in-breath and before the breath turns at the end of the out-breath. These pauses, if we let them, can be our entry into the eternal.

December 31, 2015 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

My ‘vote’ for Jeremy Corbyn

I’m not a member of the Labour Party and I missed the voting Deadline, but I’d like to cast my ‘vote’ for Jeremy Corbyn. Why?

Like many people I’m not happy with the way this country is going. It has lost some of its soul. We are no longer the more caring and compassionate society we once were. Today we are not too concerned that our fellow citizens are going to food banks to feed themselves, or that parents are missing meals so at least their children can eat. If this is the way we treat our neighbours (who are in reality our friends) then how do we treat our enemies? David Cameron says let’s promote British values to the world. What values are we to promote? Inequality, Greed, Indifference? These are not values that will convince anyone, let alone Isis.

And they don’t convince all Brits either. People want change, they believe the current economic and social model is life-negating and not life enhancing. They want change and no politician is offering it – except for Jeremy Corbyn. He terrifies the Labour establishment because they think electing Corbyn will plunge the party back into its 1980s internecine conflicts. They believe he is unelectable. But 1980 was 35 years ago. It is a different world now, and a different world needs a different approach. Only Corbyn is expressing this, and this is why people are flocking to him. This is the first true grassroots movement that the party has seen for many years. The last time people were energized like this was the march against the Iraq war in 2003.Then over a million people took to the streets to say no to the war, but a Labour government went ahead with it anyway, lying to the people. So when Tony Blair gets up to diss Corbyn what do you think those millions will say: if Blair’s against Corbin, then he must be good.

Politicians are like heads of film studios. The studios keep producing versions of whatever movies are successful now. They always miss what is new and upcoming, like sleeper movie hits which the studios would never make. The studios only copy fresh ideas when they are proved successful in the market place. Politicians do the same. They all repeat (with minor variations) the policies that they see as viable in the marketplace of voters. Since Cameron and Osborne were so successful in winning the last election with their austere and damaging policies, politicians from the other big parties believe that surely it would be mad to go too far against these policies, because of their great electoral success. They don’t understand that in the marketplace of voters there are millions of people who want to see a change. These people are appalled at the hidden suffering they see around them, and they (like millions of others) are also suffering reduced living standards. They demand a different approach, and their numbers will grow. The sooner Labour politicians realise this, the better it will be for the Labour Party and for the country. Inequality will kill us unless it is stopped.

This is why I am ‘voting’ for Jeremy Corbyn.

September 10, 2015 at 6:19 pm Leave a comment

The Real Deal- Why Exercise is Good For You

Exercise is good for you because it makes you feel good.
How does it do this?

1. Open Air – It gets you outside rather than in a gym
2. Movement – Your body likes to move, your body wants to move
3. Pulse Rate – Movement increases your heart rate
4. Blood Flow – Your heart pumps more blood
5. Circulation – The blood flows all over the body, into the extremities (for males, the penis is an extremity)
6. Oxygen – The blood carries oxygen into your cells, nourishing them
7. Alive – You feel alive, vibrant
8. Good – You feel good

And it costs nothing

August 16, 2015 at 11:27 pm Leave a comment

Yang Chu’s The Vanity Of Celebrity

When he was young, Yang Chu lived only for pleasure.
Once he was travelling in the state of Lu and stayed at the house of Mr. Meng. Meng asked him, “A person is just a person. Why do people strive for fame?”

Yang Chu replied, “If they do, it’s because they want to become rich.”
Meng said, “But when they’ve become rich, why don’t they stop?”
Y: Then they are after high status.
M: Why don’t they stop once they are honoured?
Y: It will help when they are dead.
M: But what good is fame when they are dead?
Y: It will help their descendants.
M: What good is fame to their descendants?
Y: For fame’s sake they have endured all kinds of hardship and pain. But one person’s fame can benefit their family, and even their fellow citizens. Their descendants will benefit even more.

However it’s better for those who desire real fame to be disinterested in becoming famous. But to be disinterested in fame means you live in poverty. And to be disinterested means you have to show restraint, and this is equivalent to being humble.

Meng was puzzled, and asked, “How can one be disinterested in fame, and yet fame arrives by itself?”
Yang Chu replied, “The ignorant strive so hard to maintain their fame, that they sacrifice reality. Doing this they eventually regret that nothing can rescue them from illness and death. They also regret not knowing the difference between ease and pleasure and sorrow and grief.

September 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm Leave a comment

From: The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao – Part 2

Qualities Of The Sage

The ancient teaching says, “The sage is entirely peaceful, so his mind is evenly balanced and at ease. This even balance and ease appears in his serenity and de-tachment. In this state of balance and ease, of serenity and detachment, anxieties and anguish don’t affect him, and no harmful influences assault him. His Te, or power, is complete, and his spirit continues undiminished.

The life of the sage can be compared to the action of heaven, and his death is the transformation common to all things. In his stillness his power is the same as the Yin, and in movement his actions are like the Yang. He takes no initiative in producing either happiness or calamity.

The sage responds to the influences acting on him, and moves only when he feels the pressure. He acts only when he has no other choice. He discards knowledge and memories, and merely follows the pattern of his heaven-given nature. Therefore he suffers no calamity from Heaven, no attachment to things, no blame from people, and no disapproval from the spirits of the dead.

The sage’s life seems to just drift along;
his death seems to be a resting;
he doesn’t have anxious thoughts;
he doesn’t make plans;
his enlightenment is hidden;
his good faith isn’t contrived;
he sleeps untroubled by dreams;
he wakes untroubled by cares;
his spirit is simple and pure;
his soul is never weary.

Empty and selfless, calm and detached, the sage is in harmony with the qualities of Heaven.”

Therefore the teaching says, “Sorrow and joy are distortions of virtue; goodness and evil are transgressions of virtue; likes and dislikes show a failure of the mind. So for the mind to be free from sorrow and joy is to have perfected virtue. For the mind to be unified and unchanging is the perfection of stillness. To be conscious of no opposition is the perfection of emptiness. To have no attachment to external things is the perfection of indifference. And to have no feelings of dissatisfaction is the perfection of purity.

If the body is overworked and not rested, it becomes worn out. If the spirit is used ceaselessly, it becomes weary, and when weary, it becomes exhausted.

It’s the nature of water, when not mixed with other things, to be clear, and if not disturbed, to be level. But if it’s blocked and can’t flow, it won’t preserve its clarity. This is an image of the virtue of Heaven.”

To be innocent and pure, free from all contamination;
to be still and uniform, never changing;
to be detached and do nothing:
this is to move like Heaven and nourish the spirit.

Now the person who possesses the finest sword preserves it carefully in a box, and doesn’t dare to use it, because it’s considered the peak of perfection. But the subtle human spirit is even more perfect, and it radiates in all directions, flowing on without limit, rising to heaven above, and circling round the earth beneath. It transforms and sustains all things, and cannot be represented by any form. We call it the Supreme Harmony.

It’s only the Tao of pure simplicity which guards and preserves the Spirit. When this Tao is preserved and not lost, you become one with the Spirit and in this ethereal communion, you’re in harmony with the orderly operation of Heaven.

There is a proverb which says, “People consider gain to be the most important thing. Scholars – fame. Those who are wise and able value ambition. But the sage prizes essential purity.’

Therefore simplicity implies no mixing. Purity means the spirit is not impaired. It’s the one who can embody simplicity and purity whom we call the Real Person.”
(15.2)

September 10, 2014 at 6:42 am Leave a comment

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The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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