Kit-Kats (2 Poems)
Mad Swirl is an on-line creative outlet that features an ever-changing swirl of art,poetry and prose from all parts of the globe, including St George and Ever Still Ever Then, two new poems by J H Martin, which you can read here.
Mad Swirl is an on-line creative outlet that features an ever-changing swirl of art,poetry and prose from all parts of the globe, including St George and Ever Still Ever Then, two new poems by J H Martin, which you can read here.
Posted in News & Updates, Poetry | Tagged Bangkok, Beijing, Burma, Cambodia, England, Ever Still Ever Then, J H Martin, Kit-Kats, London, Mad Swirl, Phnom Penh, Poem, Poems, Poetry, St George, Thailand, Yangon |
IN THE YEAR of Keng Shen, I happened to visit Yangchow. One evening a friend introduced me to a famous ventriloquist named Kuo Mao-erh. I invited Kuo and my friend to my quarters at the inn, where we dined and drank together until a late hour. After the meal, Kuo agreed to favour us with a display of his talents. A large silk screen was placed to the right of our table. Kuo took his position in the shadows behind the screen, while my friend and I sat in pleasant anticipation…
A long silence is broken suddenly by voices; two men are meeting on the road. The greetings are loud and boisterous. One of the men, older than the other, invites the young man to his house. They walk down a rough road, enter a gate and cross a small courtyard to a house. A door slams shut. Wine is poured. The two men talk and joke.
The young men protests. “Too much drink,” he pleads. The other laughs. More wine is poured. Cups clink. The wine is sipped and guzzled. The guest gets to his feet. He moves unsteadily and his host assists him to the gate. Laughter. Goodbyes. The young man staggers down the road. The gate is closed. The bolt slips into place.
The young man stumbles along. He slips, sprawling to the ground. Silence. A second set of footsteps approaches. The newcomer’s foot strikes something soft. A curse. A drunken groan. The newcomer reaches down, assisting the drunken man to his feet. He helps the man walk down the road.
They halt. The drunken man is half-dragged forward, then propped against a wall. The other steps back. “Ho! Watchman! Open the city gates!” No reply. Somewhere in the distance a dog barks. Others join in. Still more dogs add to the chorus – some young, others old; some close by, others a long way off.
The watchman shuffles along the wall. He climbs down. A large gate swings open. The newcomer assists the drunken man along. At a house, they pause. The newcomer pounds on the gate. Nothing stirs. He pounds again. Louder. The gate creaks open. A man curses. Wrong house. More dogs join in the barking.
The drunken man is helped to a second house. The newcomer pounds again. The gate opens. A young woman thanks the man for helping her husband home. The man chides the drunkard and then he takes his leave. The gate closes. The bolt slides into place.
The young woman, panting, struggles with her drunken husband. She drags, pushes, cajoles him across the courtyard and on into the house. She helps him into bed.
“Tea!” he moans.
The woman goes into the kitchen. A fire crackles; the tea hisses and it steams. It is poured into a cup. The woman returns to the bedroom. The drunken man has passed out. He snores. His snores rise and fall with a thunderous din. The woman sighs. She grumbles. She returns to the kitchen where she pours the tea back into the pot. Back to the bedroom. She blows out the lamp. She slips off her clothes. Now there are two sets of snores.
A temple gong breaks up the serenade of snores. The hour of the Rat. A cow moos. The bed creaks. The young man groans. He vomits, groans again, then he vomits again. “Tea!” he wails. The woman snores on. He mutters. Curses. The bed creaks a second time. Once again – two sets of snores rise up.
The cocks crow. First one, and then another, and finally many others, each one crowing in a different key. The bed creaks. The woman yawns. She pulls her slippers from next to the bed. They squish. She shakes them and a slippery, watery bile plops onto the stone floor. An angry cry. Curses. The woman reaches over; finds a second pair. She gets up, dresses and goes into the kitchen. Kettles clack, fire crackles and food is sliced and chopped.
Outside a pounding, on the gate. “Almost dawn,” a voice shouts out. “Get that lazy son of mine up. It’s time to slaughter the pigs.”
The woman shakes her husband. He grumbles, dresses and leaves the house to accompany his father to the pig pens. Food is thrown in for the swine. Grunting and squabbling, they fight over the slops. Sounds of slurping and of gulping. Water being drawn up from a well. Water being poured into a kettle. A fire crackles. Later, water boils.
A pig now squeals. The young man grunts and curses. The squeals grow louder. “Tie him good!” the old man warns. A knife is being sharpened on a whetstone. Now an axe. A desperate final squeal – cut off midway. Silence. The soft sound of blood flowing. Now an axe chopping bones. Now a knife slicing meat. Finally, meat being washed.
“Dawn,” the old man announces, “Time to set up the counter.”
In time, there are sounds, distant at first, then growing nearer. The shuffling of feet. Loud voices rise. “I’ll have the ribs.” “How much?” “Did you save the feet?” “No, too much!” “Where’s the kidney and the liver?” “No, not that cut.” “When was the pig slaughtered? Last week?”
Coins clatter on the wooden counter. “Where is the head?” More coins clatter. “Some pork for a roast?” Fresh meat slaps against the wood. “Yes! That’s the piece.”
The sounds grow in intensity. Many voices join in. The voices and the sounds all blend – cutting, chopping, the clatter of coins, questions, answers, laughter, cries, insults – until they are all running together in a great, unintelligible jumble. Then…
At last the act of the ventriloquist is finished.
Master of the East Pavilion
Translated by Gene Z. Hanrahan
‘Master of the East Pavilion’ is a nom de plume, which has successfully cloaked the identity of the author ever since this tale was written; shortly before the end of the nineteenth century.
Unbound Journeys with the Storytellers of Myanmar
In a five year journey all across Myanmar, Lucas Stewart travels from Yangon in the south to the northern limits of Kachin State in search of the literary luminaries of the country’s recent past. He bonds with censored and jailed writers, poets, publishers and booksellers, recording their stories of heritage and resilience. In his conversations with students at an Aung San Suu Kyi rally or sharing stories with a Kayah farmer in his village house, the long-suppressed literatures and languages of minorities such as the Chin, Kachin, Shan and others shine through. The People Elsewhere is a vivid tableau of time and place, and an ode to the ethnic richness of Myanmar.
…This book isn’t a memoir but a weaving of two stories. On the one hand it is a simple journey through the writers of a country that is undergoing a transformation many thought would never come; this is a story set in the ‘now’, where change can be seen and touched. The other story is much more complicated: it tells of a country in which the ‘now’ is not as important as the ‘before’, where history and the lessons learnt from it, cannot be easily set aside or forgotten…
‘Lucas Stewart’s book is an exquisite map of the many literatures of Myanmar, of the human impulse to express oneself through story and song… In scenes alternately warming and harrowing, it braids travel, history and literary criticism in a most ingenious way to give us an unforgettable portrait of a country long forgotten by the world.’
‘The People Elsewhere is a vigorous and compelling travel parable … In a vivid and tenacious tour through some of the country’s militarily-sealed borderlands, Lucas Stewart explores with great generosity and kinship how previously banned or censored languages are still being preserved in some of remotest and educationally-marginalised areas in the world.’
James Byrne, Co-editor of Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets
‘Lucas Stewart’s journey across Myanmar offers a fascinating insight and a rare glimpse of life through its storytellers … Anyone wanting to discover Myanmar’s rich cultural heritage and how these endearing, diverse and remarkable peoples did more than just survive will find this an important and essential read.’
Posted in Golden Shadows, News & Updates | Tagged Asia, Asian literature, Aung San Suu Kyi, Books, Burma, Burman, Burmese, Burmese literature, Burmese writers, Cha, Chandrahas Choudhury, Chin, James Byrne, Kachin, Literature, Lucas Stewart, Ludu U Hla, Mr White, Myanmar, Nick Danziger, non-fiction, Penguin, Rangoon, Shan, The Caged Ones, The Diplomat, The Dissident Blog, The Irrawaddy, The People Elsewhere, Travel, U Khin Maung Saw, U On Pe, Yangon |
Master Nan Huai-ch’in Performs Tai Chi Ch’uan (1969)
In his youth, Master Nan Huai-ch’in [Nan Huaijin] was well known for his martial arts skills, skills which he retained well into his old age, as can be seen from a number of recordings available online. In early 2012, during a memorial talk, an early recording of Master Nan performing Tai Chi Ch’uan [taijiquan] was mentioned, and described as being difficult, if not impossible, to find. The speaker, Mr Zhou Xunnan, had this to say:
“Master Nan was recorded performing Tai Chi on videotape as an American student of his wished to learn and had specially asked Master Nan to come to Yehliu [for the shoot]. In those days, Yehliu was a rather desolate place, not at all like the tourist attraction it has become now. Master Nan greeted the sun rising from the sea with a Tai Chi form. He wore a long scholar’s robe and performed most beautifully. This recording must be very difficult to find in Taiwan nowadays because the only copy of this video of Master Nan demonstrating martial arts was sent to America for teaching purposes.”
However, the recording in question, has recently been placed online courtesy of the filmmaker, Tom Davenport.
Mr Davenport describes the history of this recording as follows:
“This film was the one of the first (if not the first film) made on T’ai Chi in the USA. In 1969, very few Americans knew anything about it. I had been in Taiwan as a Chinese language student with the East West Center at the University of Hawaii and had returned for another year there as a photographer. During that year, I met Nan Huai-Jin who was a Buddhist scholar living in Taipei, and like many others from mainland China, was a refugee who had fled there in 1949 when the communists took over China. I had become interested in Zen Buddhism (Ch’an) Buddhism — an interest and a practice that has continued since — and had met Professor Nan through another American friend who had attended a seven day Ch’an retreat with him. I was about 28 years old.
My interest in T’ai Chi at this time was mostly as a form of meditation. Americans who were interested in modern dance were also interested in T’ai Chi, and this film was picked up by the Donnell Library in New York City which was one of main collectors of new independent films. It was my first film and was funded by the John D Rockefeller III foundation.
The audio track was done by my Yale Classmate Tom Johnson, who is a minimalist composer now living in France. He was experimenting with electronic “white noise” which here sounds like the sea, and used clappers and wind chimes to punctuate the white noise.
The film was made on 16mm black and white film and shot with an old Bell and Howell camera, that was designed as combat camera during WWII. In those days, the Nationalist Chinese were fearful of a communist invasion. We shot the film on the northeast coast about a half day from Taipei. I remember that a soldier who was guarding the coast tried to stop us, but Professor Nan knew someone high-up in the military and he talked to the soldier and eventually we got permission from him.”
The location where the film was shot, Yehliu [Yeliu], in northern Taiwan, now a national park, is the site of some very distinctive rock formations. The island visible in the background is Keelung Islet.
View another short piece by Tom Davenport, ‘Bodhidharma’s Shoe’, an account of a seven-day Zen retreat.
View another recording of Master Nan demonstrating Tai Chi:
Peach Blossom Springs
In the Taiyuan period of the Jin Dynasty (AD 376-396), there was a man from Wuling, who was a fisherman by trade.
One day, he was fishing his way up a stream in his small wooden boat. Not paying attention to how far he’d gone, he suddenly came upon a wood of peach trees that he had never seen or heard of before. On both banks for several hundred yards there were no other kinds of trees either, and the fragrant grasses beneath their boughs, were patterned with peach blossom, and peach blossom only.
Surprised yet filled with curiosity, the fisherman went on further, determined to find out more about this wood. He found that the end of the wood and the source of the stream both came together at the foot of a cliff, and in this cliff there was a small cave, in which there seemed to be a faint light. Leaving his boat, the fisherman went in through the mouth of the cave. At first, it was very narrow, only just wide enough for a man, but after forty or fifty yards, it then widened out again, and the fisherman found himself back out in the open.
The place that the fisherman had come to was level and spacious. There were houses and cottages, all arranged in a planned order; there were fine fields and beautiful pools; there were mulberry trees, bamboo groves, and many other kinds of shrubs and trees; there were raised pathways round the fields; and the fisherman could hear the sound of chickens and dogs, in all the four directions.
Going to and fro in all of this, were people, both men and women, busy working and planting vegetables, herbs, flowers and spices. Their dress was not unlike the people who lived outside, but all of them, whether they were old people with white hair, or children with their black hair tied up in a knot, all of them wore smiles that spoke of their contentment, not only with their surroundings but also with themselves and the other people there.
When they saw the fisherman, they were amazed and asked him where he had come from. Intrigued by where that was, and what people did there, they then asked him other things about his daily life. Delighting in the fisherman’s answers and in his good company, the villagers then asked him to join them in their homes, where they put jugs of wine in front of him, killed chickens and prepared a sumptuous array of spice laden dishes in the fisherman’s honour.
When the other people in the village heard about this visitor, they also came to ask the fisherman questions. They told him that their ancestors had escaped from the wars and confusion in the time of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). Bringing their wives and children with them, all the people of their district had reached this inaccessible place, and had never left it since. Because of this, they had lost all contact with the world outside. They asked the fisherman what dynasty it was now.
“What?” they said. They hadn’t even heard of the Han, let alone the Wei or Jin. So, the fisherman then explained to them everything he could of the world he knew, and on hearing about all these changes and upheavals in the world outside, the villagers all sighed with deep sorrow.
Afterwards, yet more villagers invited the fisherman to visit them in their homes and to talk with them more. Accepting their offers gladly, the fisherman stayed on in the village for several more days, feasting on freshly prepared food and enjoying their generous hospitality.
Finally, the time came for the fisherman to return home. Before he departed, the villagers all gathered round the fisherman and implored of him, “Please, never speak to anyone outside, about this place or us!”
Nodding, the fisherman bade them all farewell.
Heading out through the cave, the fisherman found his small boat and then set off for home, following the same route as he had taken there. However, this time, he left marks, as he traveled home, to ensure that if he wanted to, the fisherman could find his way back to that wood of peach trees, and, in turn, the village and its people.
When the fisherman got back to the provincial town he called on the prefect and told him all about his experience. More than intrigued, the prefect at once sent for a group of men to accompany him on his own journey to this wondrous place. Yet, even though the fisherman was with the prefect and his men, they could not follow the marks he had left. Completely confused, as to which way was what, and what way was which, they had no choice but to give up their search and return to their small town.
Upon hearing of this matter, Liu Ziji, a highly reputed scholar from Nanyang, quickly offered, with the utmost enthusiasm, to go out with the fisherman and try once more to find a way back there. But this, alas, came to nothing either, for he fell ill and died.
After that, no one went to look for the stream anymore.
Translation: Gladys Yang
John Blofeld on the Chan School and the Heart Sutra
Excerpts from The Jewel in the Lotus: An Outline of Present Day Buddhism in China, published by Sidgwick & Jackson for The Buddhist Society, 1948, and Gateway to Wisdom, published by Allen & Unwin, 1980, by John Blofeld.
Chapter X: The Meditation Sect
This sect, more generally known in Europe by its Japanese name of Zen, is called Ch’an Tsung in Chinese, Ch’an being the equivalent of the Sanskrit word dhyana (meditation) and tsung meaning a sect. It has for over a thousand years been one of the most influential sects in the country and has played a great part in the development of Chinese philosophy and art, as well as making a peculiar impression of the psychology of the Chinese people. The interest which its doctrines have aroused in certain circles in the West is partly due to the labours of Dr. D. T. Suzuki, but mainly to the extreme freshness of its doctrines and the attitude to life of its adherents, which is in such sharp contrast to that of other religious groups.
The principle doctrine of the sect is that Nirvana can be attained in this life as the result of an experience known as sudden Enlightenment, which connotes sudden apprehension of our real nature and of the fact that this nature is identical with that of the ultimate reality underlying the appearances of all phenomena. […]
The word ch’an (dhyana) can be rendered into English as “meditation” or “pure thought”. Adherents of the Meditation Sect emphasise the importance of attaining Enlightenment through carefully directed concentration of mind and certain mental exercises, holding that the study of the scriptures is a much more uncertain road to that goal. Having little belief in the efficacy of words and acquired knowledge, they call their doctrine “a teaching beyond teaching”. Their method is to practise the eradication of wayward thoughts by concentration and to open their minds to that intuitive knowledge, which, they believe, will come to them as the result of prolonged mental efforts to obtain it. They hope to be able to recognise and understand the “intrinsically pure essence of mind” which is the common possession of all, though few are aware of it. This “essence of mind” is said to be our Buddha-nature, our true nature, obscured by the darkness of desire, aversion and ignorance, but of unchanging and unchangeable purity in itself. By intuitive wisdom, the fruit of rightly performed meditation, we can grasp this nature and realise that the individual is in reality a Buddha, or looked at from a wider point of view, “one with Buddha” and, indeed, the whole Universe. This method is still practised today by millions of people throughout the Far East, but often accompanied by the methods for obtaining Enlightenment advocated by other Buddhist sects.
Moreover, though Ch’an is called a wordless teaching, several books are now popular with the adherents of the Meditation Sect, especially the Diamond Sutra (Vajrachedikka Sutra), the Heart Sutra (Smaller Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra), and the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, the Exalted Teacher and Treasure of the Law. […]
The Heart Sutra contains the essence of the teachings of the Meditation Sect in a very few words, and is given here in full as an example of Ch’an philosophy. It runs as follows:
* * *
When Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was practising the profound Prajnaparamita (1), he perceived that the five congregates (2) were all void; and by so perceiving liberated himself from all sorrows. (3)
Sariputra (he said), matter differs not from void, nor void from matter. Indeed, matter is void and void is matter. And such also is the case with sensation, perception, discrimination and consciousness. (4)
Sariputra, all of these are of the nature of void. They are neither existing nor non-existing; not impure nor pure; neither growing nor decaying. Therefore in the void there is no matter, neither is there sensation or perception, discrimination or consciousness. And in it there are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind. There is no form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch and no knowledge. There is no that which is seen by the eye, heard by the ear, etc. up to no that which is conceived by the mind; no ignorance nor ignorance exterminated; no decay and no death, nor are they extirpated; no sorrow nor cause of sorrow, nor extinction of sorrow nor way to its extinction. There is no wisdom, nor anything to be gained by it. Because nothing is gained, so one is a Bodhisattva. Because of the Prajnaparamita, the mind is liberated. Because the mind is liberated, so one is free from worry and ignorant thoughts and can attain to the supreme Nirvana. (5)
All the Buddhas of the three periods attained supreme Buddhahood by way of Prajnaparamita. Therefore it is known that Prajnaparamita is the most divine mantra, the unsurpassed mantra, the peerless mantra. It can assuage all sufferings and is the Truth. Therefore I teach you the mantra of the Prajnaparamita, thus:
“Gati gati paragati parasamgati bodhi svaha.”
* * *
This translation is based on one made by the Teacher of the Dharma, Wei Huan (惟幻法師), a disciple of the Venerable T’ai Hsü (太虛法師). The meaning of the Sanskrit words of the mantra at the end is: “O wisdom, gone, gone to the other shore, arrived at the other shore, svaha,” but mantras are not supposed to be thought of in relation to the exact meaning of the words of which they are composed, some of them having no apparent meaning at all; they are valued and used for the sake of their esoteric meaning and particular sound, which, it is said, help to establish contact between human beings and the spiritual being to which the mantra employed is specially appropriate.
The Heart Sutra carries to extreme length the doctrine that not only form but the Dharma itself is void. Even the Four Noble Truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the existence of a way to end suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path, which are often considered the keystones of Buddhism, are denied, though they are, of course, considered to hold true in the relative sense that anything exists at all. Thus it will be seen how the Meditation Sect emphasises the fundamental voidness of everything, including the Buddhist teaching itself, and even postulates that the consciousness of the thinker himself is void. The Buddha is represented in this sutra as having pondered over the existence of sorrow, sickness, decay and death, prescribed as an antidote in the Four Noble Truths and then, speaking as from a higher plane, to have stated emphatically that sorrow, death and the Four Noble Truths do not exist, in order to emphasise that absolutely nothing exists except in a relative sense.
Notes: For the sake of clarity, John Blofeld’s notes on the Heart Sutra, originally inserted directly into the text, have been relegated to the end of this post and are as follows.
* * *
In a later work, ‘Gateway to Wisdom’ (1980), John Blofeld returned to the Heart Sutra and its teaching:
All the ordinary teachings of the Buddha are here transcended in the light of intuition of the void nature of existence. The five skandhas or components of an individual’s seeming personality are proclaimed to be void, as are the six sense organs (including mind), the six forms of sense perception, and the six types of consciousness to which they give rise. Even such fundamental teachings are negated as the twelvefold chain of causation leading from primordial ignorance, through becoming, etc., to decay, death and rebirth; the Four Noble Truths (that existence is inseparable from suffering/frustration; that the cause of suffering is inordinate desire; that the remedy is cessation of inordinate desire/aversion; and that this results from treading the Noble Eightfold Path requiring right attitudes and conduct of both body and mind); and the attainment of Nirvana through the exercise of wisdom. All these teachings, though absolutely valid at the level of relative truth apparent to us all, are found to have no pertinence once the void nature of reality has been fully realised and conceptualisation transcended. The reference at the end of the sutra to uttering the mantra of Highest Wisdom means not that the one just utters it, but that he lives the mantra by perceiving the voidness of all concepts, entities and beings without exception. The exoteric teachings of the Buddha must most certainly not be abandoned until the intuitive experience of voidness leads to brilliant, unwavering perception of the pure, boundless, shining void. The words to be recited are as follows:
Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, while engaged in deep practice of the highest wisdom, perceived that all the five aggregates are void, and thereby passed beyond all forms of suffering.
O Sariputra, form differs not from void, nor void from form. Form IS void; void IS form. With feelings, perceptions, conditionings and consciousness it is the same. Sariputra, all these are marked by emptiness, neither coming into being nor ceasing to be, neither foul nor pure, neither increasing nor diminishing.
Therefore within the void there is no form, no sensation, perception, discrimination or consciousness; no eyes, no ears, nose, tongue, body or mind; nor form, sound, smell, taste, touch or thought; nor any of the others from eye-consciousness to mind-consciousness.
There is neither ignorance, nor extinction of ignorance, nor any of the others [twelve links of causation] down to decay and death. There is no suffering, no cause, no remedy, no path [thereto]. There is no wisdom, no attainment. Because there is nothing to be attained, Bodhisattvas, relying on this highest wisdom, are free from hindrances of mind. Being rid of these hindrances, they have no fear, are free from all upsets and delusions, and in the end attain Nirvana. It is by relying on this highest wisdom that all Buddhas of the past, the present and the future achieve Supreme Enlightenment.
Therefore do we know that the highest wisdom is a great and sacred mantra, a great mantra of knowledge, a mantra unsurpassed, unequalled. It can terminate all suffering truly and unfailingly. Therefore utter this mantra of Highest Wisdom thus – Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, bodhi svāhā. [gone, gone, gone beyond, wholly gone beyond! Enlightenment! Svāhā!]
* * *
Read another translation of the Heart Sutra by Red Pine (Bill Porter):
Lokanīti – The Nîti Literature of Burma
‘The Lokanīti was one of the most venerated works in Burma. It belongs to the Pāli non-canonical literature; to the gnomic literature of Burma. Today it is known more by its name than by its contents. It is most probable that it was prepared for a king’s ācārya (religious instructor), in order to help him discourse on ethics and polity, to pronounce moral maxims and give advice. Since it was in use in the royal courts of India, it could have been introduced into the court of Ava…‘
Ludwik Sternbach – S.O.A.S Bulletin, Vol. 26, No.2, 1963
‘The Lokanîti and Dhammanîti embrace a miscellaneous collection of subjects, and serve as suitable handbooks for the general reader for the study of prudential rules and principles of morality. The former is taught in almost every monastic school in Burma, and printed editions of it have helped considerably to extend its popularity. That a work of the kind should have charms for the Buddhist is not to be wondered at. He firmly believes that his future happiness depends upon his behaviour in this present life, and relies more on practical deeds rather than on the faith which his religion demands; and nothing could be more suitable to his wants than a literature which lays down for him, in pithy stanzas, and often in metaphoric language, a number of simply-worded apophthegms which are to shape his career in this world and fit him for a better sphere of existence when he leaves it ..’
James Gray – Lokanîti, Trübner & Co, 1886
Posted in Golden Shadows | Tagged Andrew Huxley, Burma, Hla Pe, James Gray, Literature, Lokanīti, Ludwik Sternbach, Mabel Haynes Bode, Myanmar, Nîti, Nîti Literature, Pali, Ryuji Okudaira, SOAS, The Royal Asiatic Society |