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Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

Category: Raymond’s Caravan (Page 1 of 2)

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

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 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 (Check back often for updated stories!)

Festival of Star Spirits: Or, a Visitation on Qixi

The City of Black Water

Moonscape Riders
The Sand Riders
Horsemen of the Dream
Moon Reverie

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!

Postcard from Raymond: Pax Buddhica

Apparently it had only been a few centuries, a mere heartbeat in the eternally present minds of the holy men he had been hosting. How did one fellow – one gentle, wandering teacher – found this new religion? How did he establish a movement so great that long after his death, lords and kings would be prostrating before his image alongside his clean-shaven followers?

Huvishka, emperor of the Kushans, Maharaja of all Central Asia, equal of the Caesars in the west and Tianzi to the east, was still pondering that question as he listened to his monastic guests chanting briskly before his newly built Buddhist shrine.

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Uncle Toby and the Fly: Compassion for Animals in Tristram Shandy

Raymond Lam

Caption: Uncle Toby and the Fly, 1847. By Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1822-88).

On my way to the office I was listening to my favorite podcast, the BBC’s almost-peerless In Our Time. I was on the episode where Melvyn Bragg and his guests were discussing the idiocsyncratic and bonkers novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Written by the clergyman Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy is the 18th-century version of a troll post on social media thread or a discussion forum: deliberately frustrating, distracted, and meandering. The novel is playful, filled with double entendres, puns, and almost insufferably long digressions (indeed, when it was first published some reviewers thought it was a joke or prank). Its many quirks, including its intentional plagiarism and bawdiness, made it one of the most reviled and well-received books of its age. It also mastered the art of the novel and established the novelist in England as a respectable and formidable profession.

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Postcard from Raymond: The View from Afar

Artist Pablo Carlos Budassi has put together a stunning “logarithmic scale conception” of the observable Universe, with the Solar System at the centre. Thanks to discoveries by physicists, mathematicians, and many others in the 20th century, we know that time and space are interrelated, and that the universe is expanding every second, with galaxies, stars, and planets racing apart from each other.

But what lies at the event horizon, beyond the universe (the white space beyond the cosmos’s border? A blank whiteness? Many more universes? Personally, I believe the Buddhas’ traceless cosmic fields lie in the unseen, visible only to those who have attained Buddhahood.

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

What to Look Forward to This Year

Raymond Lam

Our BDG contributors and columnists, our Tea House bloggers, and I wish you a very happy new year (both Gregorian and Lunar!), and all the best of health and happiness for 2017.

As I’m writing this, Donald Trump has moved into the Oval Office, fresh off his inauguration ceremony as president of the US. At Davos, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, unveiled a new vision of China’s leadership role as a fulcrum of stability and maturity in an unstable world. Theresa May is preparing for the UK’s greatest peacetime challenge in a generation: the act of leaving the EU. The world waits with bated breath for whatever will rapidly follow on from these landmark events. Few other periods in human history have been more interesting (be it exciting or frightening) to live in.

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The Harp in the Crisp Wind: Intersections of Buddhism and Celtic Christianity

Raymond Lam

"The Way into the Woods," by Angela Jayne Barnett

“The Way into the Woods,” by Angela Jayne Barnett

In July 2015, I wrote a book review of Laurence Cox’s Buddhism in Ireland: From the Celts to the Counter-Culture and Beyond. “Celtishness” has fascinated European and global culture, from influences in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to historical accounts of sacred places like Lindisfarne. There is an earthly, grassy, hearty beauty about everything Celtic, including contemporary Celtic Christianity. From what little I know, there was no formal institution that could call itself the Celtic Church, although the term historically denotes the beliefs of the early Christians of Britain and Ireland. It flourished from the 5th to 7th century, lasting until the 11th as an intellectual force.

The vastness and openness of the Scottish highlands, the windswept fields of Ireland, and the shimmering Welsh coast have lent the amorphous idea of Celtic spirituality some consistency, in self-understanding if not in formal doctrine. Celtic Christianity invokes romantic ties to the natural landscape that transcend the old pagan ways and a creative articulation of spiritual and artistic expressions unique to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. And there are two persistent affinities with Buddhism: love of the monastic way of life, from Saint Cuthbert to Saint Finnian of Clonard, and love of nature.

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Weaving Stories of Dharma and Joy

Raymond Lam

From visitmeadow.com

From visitmeadow.com

Stories have been a beloved pastime of mine since I learned to read. In my childhood I devoured fiction of all kinds: from fantasy novels based on pop culture franchises to my favourite genre of world myths and legends retold in modern prose. Odin, Hathor, and Trickster Raven were my companions as much as my high school friends and classmates. As I became more involved in the great religions of the world I discovered that Buddhists, Christians, and practitioners of all faiths regularly explore the depths of meaning in their traditions’ stories. I’ve always thought of life itself as a tale in progress, and that a life well lived was, in essence, a story that could be told with a sense of poignancy and meaning. How beautiful, even if sometimes impossible, is the simple wish for a happy ending?

The human impulse to produce and consume stories is universal, even if we know those stories are fictitious and can be deconstructed, taken apart, dismissed. In my interview with Sri Lankan poet Ramya Jirasinghe, she made the emphatic point that “artistic creation and working through the Eightfold Path can’t be linked as they have contradictory goals and processes,” since artists and writers need to work from their self and experience and the Buddhist must see through the illusion of the self. No self, no story, just a process that is misinterpreted as a story.

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