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Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

Category: Raymond’s Caravan (Page 1 of 3)

Postcard from Raymond: Cosmic Lotus

From bestyleshare.online

What will I see when I leave this world? Will my “sight” even be the kind of visual “seeing” that I’ve known all my life? What will I hear when I have no auditory organs?

What will I bring with me when I sigh farewell?

Nothing.

I will have nothing.

I can take zilch, nada with me to the grave, the crematorium, or the seas where I might be sprinkled like flakes dissolving into a great foam of abyssal waters.

I am nourishment-in-waiting for the creatures and bacteria that feed on expired engines of fluid and meat.

But I am also made from the cooled gas and minerals of exploded stars. I am stardust from cosmic entities that suffuse the universe. Suffusing spacetime and consciousness itself is the invocation “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” which was revealed to mysterious visionaries in the Indic wilderness. We’ve received a personal invitation from a place beyond existence and nonexistence. We respond with our devotion and faith in “Namo Amitabha Buddha” and await our welcome.

I have no eyes in the earthly sense. But I can glimpse the celestial, inner flesh of a bud. I have no mortal sense of touch, but I can feel its softness. I have no more human ears, yet I can hear the most delightful music and gentle intonations. I take no breath, yet I gasp in joy.

Postcard from Raymond: How interconnected do you feel?

This image is a simulation of the “cosmic web,” a network of the scaffolding holding together the structure of the universe. This structure constitutes galaxies, dark matter, the gas that coalesces into stars, and “filaments”: regions of galaxy clusters woven together through what resembles slender, cobweb-like threads. This image from UC Riverside highlights how these filaments’ galactic properties formed the backbone of the cosmic web and the stars we see throughout our reality.

If we think about it, isn’t it extraordinary that, we human beings that are literal constituents of the universe—we are made from it—able to map it, to chart it, to study it to even the limited extent we have? At the same time we congratulate ourselves as the beings that the universe has chosen to help it understand itself, we should remain humble in the face of the unfathomable interconnectedness that we share with not just all beings but with all matter seen and unseen in the cosmos, reaching back into the untraceable deep past and onward into the infinite future.

It is true that the endless darkness can be frightening. But doesn’t this “web” almost remind one of a cosmic incarnation of Charlotte the spider, weaving a beautiful gossamer lace of stars while nurturing and advising the lonely pig Wilbur?

And we haven’t even gotten into the profundity of what lies beyond—the life after our life in this inconceivable organism of the universe… and the insight that was briefly unveiled by a sage on this little blue and green planet.

Moonscape Riders: Moon Reverie

Raymond Lam

A young girl discovers a magical secret entombed within an ancient grotto in the Chinese desert. What wonders will reveal themselves to her as she sets out to discover a mysterious secret of the long-lost Tangut Empire?

(Link to part 1 here)
(Link to part 2 here)
(Link to Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower)

They set off from the caves of Yulin, and like snaking streams of light, four spectral horses exploded in the direction of the Tangut Empire’s Imperial Tombs. The entourage, winding its way through the starry night, was like four lanterns shining in the vast wasteland, a quartet of miniature comets streaking across the dark sandscapes.

Xiaomao’s freezing hands—she chastised herself bitterly for forgetting to put on her mittens— were shaking so much in excitement that she was terrified that she might accidentally release Rong Rong and tumble off. Teeth chattering uncontrollably, she hung on, watching the ghost of Laosuo intently as his steed rocketed across the dark desert plains below the empyrean. The skin of her palms were worn, flakes of it rubbed and scratched off painfully from her grip on her horse’s reins.

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Moonscape Riders: Horsemen of the Dream

Raymond Lam

A young girl discovers a magical secret entombed within an ancient grotto in the Chinese desert. What wonders will reveal themselves to her as she sets out to discover a mysterious secret of the long-lost Tangut Empire?

(Link to part 1 here)
(Link to part 3 here)
(Link to Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower)

Xiaomao could live with poverty. She could even endure living alone. She had survived by herself in backbreaking destitution all her young life, scavenging what she could from abandoned dwellings and stealing anything of value to peddle to the unsuspecting. Pieces of art, trinkets and jewelry, pottery and household items, anything that could feed her, or when she was lucky, afford her a few nights to stay somewhere with a roof over her head and a warm bed.

Perhaps it was karmic payback that it cost her so much more to be poor, for she spent everything she earned on scraping by, without any hope of something better or any prospect of leaving behind her dishonest life. Then again, if her parents hadn’t left her so early on, perhaps she would not have been forced to live so dishonestly.

So while she felt desperately lonely most nights, terrified that she would have to continue stealing until she was caught one day and beaten to death, she could tolerate her solitude as long as Rong Rong was around. He was the best listener and had served her well, rescuing her from many an angry pursuer. But even Rong Rong would leave her someday. And she didn’t want to die alone.

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Moonscape Riders: Spirit Steeds

Raymond Lam

A young girl discovers a magical secret entombed within an ancient grotto in the Chinese desert. What wonders will reveal themselves to her as she sets out to discover a mysterious secret of the long-lost Tangut Empire?

(Link to part 2 here)
(Link to part 3 here)
(Link to Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower)

It was nightfall when Xiaomao had reached her remote destination, a distance beyond the abandoned caves of Mogao in the desert. She was exhausted, sweating and sore in her baggy pants and furry coat, with strands of ebony hair flying loosely from loosened gaps in her turban. But when she finally glimpsed the edge of a deep and spacious canyon and the quiet trickle of a stream, she knew she had made it. Her weary pace quickened, suddenly imbued with new energy and hope. She felt close enough to unwind the cloth around her head. “Come on, Rong Rong,” she groaned, tugging gently at the nose peg of the sleepy camel behind her. “We’re almost there.”

Rong Rong, who had been raised by Xiaomao since his days as a calf, snorted tiredly but obeyed. He and his master hurried to the edge of the canyon. What Xiaomao saw took her breath away: a long, flowing river with the color of dark silt, with a long row of elm trees along the embankment. “This is why they call it Yulin,” she said to Rong Rong. “The grove of elms. And there—” She jabbed her calloused finger at the dark, human shaped holes strategically occupying various spots along the cliffs. “—are the Tangut caves. There must be a trove of treasures and art the old men back in Beijing would die for.”

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Postcard from Raymond: The Phoenix and the Lion

Medieval China. The Tang dynasty has been toppled and from the chaos rises an incredible woman with a monastic courtier helping to pull the strings. The brilliant, tenacious, and fearless Wu Zetian (624-705) was China’s first and only empress and her alliance with one of the most powerful monks of the day, Huayan preceptor Fazang (643-712), was a theocratic marriage unlike any other. Mindful of Confucian bias against her and in search of religious legitimation, she styled herself as a “chakravartin,” a Buddhist monarch, and Fazang helped sanction her sovereignty, promote her reputation as a bodhisattva, and undermine and suppress her enemies both in and beyond China.

Fazang personally taught to Wu Zetian a performative metaphor using a lion made of gold. The lion was the cosmos and its various parts the phenomena of reality. The gold represented emptiness. The lion clearly had a mane, teeth, claws and eyes, but the essential “what” of the lion, gold, was the same. Differences are all superficial in the integrated, interconnected universe of Buddhism.

This alliance ended unhappily when Fazang threw his lot in with his patron’s conspirators. In 705 he forced her to relinquish the Dragon Throne. For a while, this throne had been straddled by a true phoenix. On her deathbed, the former empress felt hurt and betrayed by Fazang, whom she had trusted for so long. Yet Fazang saw himself as saving Buddhism from being identified by the upcoming emperors as a rogue religion for a woman who would be seen by Confucians, however justly or unjustly, as an illegitimate usurper.

Their tragic story is a classic and emotional tale of Buddhism’s pressure under Confucianism, the “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” status of women, and how an ex-concubine and a monk tried to navigate the hypocrisies and fickleness of imperial power… even if it cost them each other.

Explore more with us at Buddhistdoor Global, your doorway to the Buddhist world and your source for Dharma journalism. Join our BDG Group on Facebook and follow our blog to brighten up your week with more postcards and light snippets of spiritual reflections!

The Fiction of the Self: Ruth Ozeki

Just a heads-up that our brilliant columnist Caitlin Dwyer has published a wonderful interview with acclaimed novelist Ruth Ozeki. Make sure to pop over to Buddhistdoor Global to have a look!

“Ultimately, all the creative arts are testaments to the foundational truths of Buddhist principles,” says Canadian-American writer Ruth Ozeki. Whether tracing the themes of interdependence and non-attachment, crafting characters who are Zen Buddhist nuns, or using her meditation practice as a springboard for new work, Ozeki has become a uniquely Buddhist voice in modern fiction.

Festival of Star Spirits: Or, a Visitation on Qixi Festival

Raymond Lam

(Link to Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower)

The stars were out tonight. The celestial partygoers were celebrating the seventh day of the seventh month, when the constellations of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd would be together for one blissful night. One observer of their reunion had come out on the porch, downing a cup of wine as he observed Vega and Altair, separated far away from each other at the opposite ends of the Silver River, that glorious galaxy above the palace.

Altair, Vega, and Deneb. From Armagh Planetarium

How could mere magpies ever form a bridge big enough to hold the fetching Weaver Girl or the handsome Cowherd? Liu Che could only wonder what the legend’s nameless, faceless authors were thinking when they handed this folk memory down to the Shang and Zhou kings. Now in the reign of the Han, all his people had joined the cosmos in hailing the divine couple’s embrace.

The seventh Han emperor sighed contentedly on his porch. How he’d like to swim in that galaxy! High above and beyond even the petty sky that watched over the even pettier affairs of his subjects! Perhaps he’d be able to see not only his ancestors, who would surely be proud of his family being conferred the Mandate of Heaven. He might also see the royal Shang forebears and the high gods of the northern celestial pole, up in the Big Dipper.

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Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower

Short Stories About the Dharma in China

Invoking the timeless and poetic themes of illusions, heartache, and dreams, Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower is a series of tales about Chinese Buddhist landscapes, characters, and events with a dash of magic and eeriness. Featuring diverse themes from over two millennia of Chinese history, some of the stories feel historical, while others do not, and some blend fantasy with history.

Buddhism’s story in China is one of emperors and monks, brave nuns, ambitious queens, prime celestials, and deep folk memories and archetypes. It’s not so much a story about good versus evil, but about insight and illusion. But, as we all know, the best tales aren’t so clear-cut about what’s true… and what’s unreal.

The stories will be posted on this blog and at the same time, our postcards will continue their usual format and highlight even more nuggets of historical and contemporary subjects. Please visit our main website for high quality and inspiring Buddhist news, features, and commentary.

STORY LIST

Festival of Star Spirits: Or, a Visitation on Qixi

Moonscape Riders

Postcard from Raymond: Tianzi’s Dream

Artwork by tree27, DeviantArt

“We saw the most extraordinary sight,” a disheveled Emperor Ming would exclaim to his courtiers at daybreak. A vision of a radiant, golden… man? A deity? Something like that. He had no idea what it could compare to. It certainly looked like a human, with some unusual features like curled tufts of hair in the shape of sea shells. And those eyes, those unearthly, almost ludicrously tranquil eyes that indicated a world beyond even the worlds of the spirits and ancestors! The Daoist priests couldn’t ascertain the origin of this golden man. But some astute advisors suggested that the being in his dream seemed to physically resemble men from the land of yogis and ascetics to the west. Murmurs began to circulate at court about some earthen-robed men who had followed the camels from Parthia and Kushan into Luoyang.

The son of heaven’s eyes brightened. “We dreamed this dream and saw this golden man after they arrived. It can’t be a coincidence. Where can We find these monks? Locate them at once. They will show Us their Way.”

It was then in the middle of the first century of the Common Era. The Way of the originally foreign faith, which had left faint and unfamiliar echoes even before the Han dynasty, would soon become the Way of the courtly Dharma in China – and rapidly spread from its imperial confines to the common subjects of Tianzi. It was the beginning of when China saw Buddhism, and Buddhism saw China. Their worlds would never be the same.

Discover more at Buddhistdoor Global, your source for Buddhist inspiration and journalism. And join our BDG group on Facebook to see more postcards!

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