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Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

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Musings on Mindfulness and Metta

Graham Lock

Last December, I took part in an 8-day metta meditation retreat at the Hong Kong Insight Meditation Society’s meditation centre at Fa Hong Monastery on Lantau Island.

The retreat was led by Visu Teoh, an experienced and well-respected teacher of vipassana and metta meditation based in Penang, and well known in Hong Kong as one of the Hong Kong Insight Meditation Society’s main teachers. The retreat was organised by Peta McCauley and others of the Hong Kong Mindfulness Teachers Network and intended primarily for teachers of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Many of the participants in fact turned out to be students on MBSR and MBCT courses at the Hong Kong Centre for Mindfulness.

I am not myself a teacher of mindfulness but I am of course aware of the enormous growth in popularity of MBSR and MBCT courses, not to mention the many far less rigorous mindfulness “products” on the market. I am also aware of the reservations some Buddhist teachers have expressed about them. As is well known, at least among Buddhists, the kinds of mindfulness practices taught on such courses developed from sati practices as introduced to the West by people like Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, and further popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others.

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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 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!

Ju Ming: Finding what has been thrown away

Grace Ko

Ju Ming, Tai Chi Series: Strike with Fists 1984 Bronze

“Hell is in the living world, but the living world also has a paradise. Which way would you go? It’s your choice entirely.” The eminent Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming wrote these thoughts about life at his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2014. His artworks are inspiring and the path in his artistic career has run parallel with his Buddhist education.

As with most successful people, Ju Ming experienced a tough period and invested effort and hard work into building himself up as an internationally recognized artist. He was an ambitious craftsman and ran his own flourishing carving business before the age of thirty. But his success didn’t last long, failing because of the over-expansion of his business. This blow to his career made him rethink his life but he decided to be an artist. He worked as an apprentice under a renowned Taiwanese sculptor Yuyu Yang. After an eight-year apprenticeship, his teacher Yang taught him the “throwing away” principal: throw away skills and styles in the mind; discard forms; banish reality; and preserve the spirit.

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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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Make Something

Ratnadevi

When I joined Facebook a few months ago I was slightly concerned that it might turn into another of those addictions, like binge watching television series on Netflix (something I have to watch!). But so far, it hasn’t turned out that way, I am glad to say. The holiday adventures of a distant friend just aren’t that much of a page-turner, as it were. But every so often I come across a little Facebook gem; a link to an interesting article or a witty exchange that stays in my mind. Like this one, about a week before Christmas:

G: Don’t buy anything.

Me: Make something.

A: Like, what???

Till very recently, people constantly made things. They sewed, knitted, wove, embroidered and darned their clothes. They carved, hammered and incised tools, toys and weapons. They shaped stone into houses; clay into pots; grass into baskets; flour into bread; fruit and vegetables into conserves and mammoth ivory into talismans. Their bodies, in turn were shaped by the repetitious actions; as were their minds and communities.

I am sure some of this shaving, whittling and pounding was a bit of a grind at times. People must have got repetitive strain injury. (In an experiment a stonemason using Stone Age tools took 400 hours to make a replica of the 30 cm high figure of the “Lion Man.”) Maybe it was a bit mind-numbing as well, even if it was done in community, with plenty of chatting, chanting and storytelling going on. But it was also an enviably healthy way to spend one’s time: rooted in sensory experience, with a sense of purpose and belonging. The writers Richard Maybe and Kathleen Jamie visited an exhibition of ‘Ice Age Art’ in London in 2013, and, looking at small sculptures bearing the imprint of their Palaeolithic makers, agreed that they ‘felt something strangely akin to homesickness’.

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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!

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