Tea House

Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

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

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?

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.”

Read More

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

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.

Read More

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 (Check back often for updated stories!)

Festival of Star Spirits: Or, a Visitation on Qixi

The City of Black Water

Moonscape Riders
Spirit Steeds
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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén