Tag Archives: buddhism

Review: Among Warriors: A Woman Martial Artist in Tibet, by Pamela Logan

Just finished Among Warriors: A Woman Martial Artist in Tibet by Pamela Logan.

Toward the end, she talks about the things she tried to see, but didn’t. She takes inspiration and hope in the things left undone. They are the reason she keeps going. The reason she tries again.

She compares this undone-ness brilliantly to kata practice — and the experience of practicing the same sequence with absolute focus and enthusiasm 20 times, 50 times, 100 times in one session without flagging. That’s the thing left undone — the 200th time. The thousandth time. Something impossible to keep striving for.

Even though you’ve done it a thousand times; this time is the first time at this age,
in this light,
at this level of experience.
It is the first and the only time.

That’s what being present is all about. Eternity exists, but it will only ever be now.

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Story is Everything and it is Nothing

I first encountered “The Jewel Net of Indra” in a class on Chinese Religions. My understanding is that it came from the Mahayana sect, and it’s attributed to a Buddhist named Tu-Shun (557-640bce). The Avatamsaka Sutra explores the idea through a question-and-answer format between the teacher and the student. I like sparkly things, so it was easy for me to fall in love with the image. That net is so constantly on my mind I’m thinking of weaving it and pinning it to the ceiling, much the way others would put a cross on the wall.

Picture, affixed to the sky, a vast net. At each juncture of the strings, there’s a little dangly jewel. As this jewel dangles, twisting in the breeze, it reflects and re-reflects off every other jewel. It is constantly changing as a response to its environment. So too, its motion appears on the surface of all the other jewels. Each jewel creates, and is co-created by every other jewel by virtue of these reflections.

This is the the Buddhist concept if intercausality. We simultaneously cause each other to come into being through our words, our actions, our nonverbal communication, all of it. As we exist, we change each other.

On board so far?

One more time: The jewel is mutable and intimately connected to all the other jewels. A change in one gem affects all the others.

Storytelling is much the same way. It is a livelihood. It is a lifestyle. It’s a vocation and a career. The stories we tell will survive longer than our laws. Story is the most honest way we can communicate who we are as a people across 4,000 years, and 4,000 miles. It is life.

And yet, story is also Futurama. It is a Wikipedia entry on the early life of Kim Kardashian. It is a jaunty adventure to entertain and delight. It is The Oatmeal and XKCD. It is a dirty joke, an empty boast, an erroneous Facebook meme, and a one-shot tabletop RPG session over pizza.

Story is everything, and it is nothing.

In light of this, I understand why people are upset about the Hugos; but I fail to see why broadening the field presents a threat to anyone’s livelihood. I agree that there are problems with representation and narrow worldviews within the genre. I agree we must do the work to address this; but I don’t agree that we should feel threatened, afraid, or guilty as a default mindset. Awards, like story, are both everything and nothing.

There’s a difference between honoring someone’s state of fear, and taking that fear on yourself. That isn’t the kind of light I want to cast on the people around me. You can do the work without stealing someone else’s thunder (or tissues).

We have always fought. Diverse voices have always been there. As new and old stories are brought to light, we will be changed. As we acknowledge the existence of those beyond our echo chamber, we will be changed. We will lose nothing but ignorance… and that’s perfectly fine.

Yeah, so I don’t necessarily see me or any one artist standing on top of a pedestal and changing the world from the soapbox, but we are pulling together, and I think it does pull consciousness towards something more enlightened.”

— Peter Kunshik Chung (Jeong Geon-Sik), creator of Aeon Flux and co-designer of Rugrats

Death, Antiquing, and Why I Don’t Buy Souveniers

Impermanence has been on my mind lately. There’s a certain freedom that comes with a lack of attachment, but sometimes I want to forget this truth.

I went to an antique show for the first time this past weekend. It was sunny and windy, and I got amazingly sunburned. There was a wide array of stuff — as you might guess — everything from 70s kitsch to ‘ancient’ coins to furniture in various stages of refinishing. The crowning glory of all of this was a medical model for giving birth. As my friend and I walked through the twenty-six aisles of history, we came across more energy-loaded objects. Piles of children’s shoes. Chipped bayonets and spearheads. Finally, a case with hundreds of diamond rings inside.

As I looked at the case, (I love sparkly things, one of my dearest friends calls me Magpie for this reason) I started to feel some kind of resonance off them. These had belonged to someone, once. How many broken marriages — or refused proposals — were sitting under this case? How many had been sold by happy couples, raising money for something greater than themselves? How many had been stolen, or lost, or trickled down from estate sales?

From then on, being in the presence of these precious objects became intensely surreal.

All these antiques, from jewels to dressers to road-signs were plucked from time. They’re imbued with their own stories and history even if they’re valueless otherwise. I can’t participate in collecting the way my friend and the other shoppers can, because I’m averted to souvenirs. I’m afraid of losing them.

Whenever I travel, I don’t keep things for myself. I’ll either leave them for the next person, or give them to my family. All the scrolls I brought back from the monastery are in different states — storing my memories in the safety of my loved ones’ homes. I move around a lot, and I’m concerned anything precious I collect will be lost or destroyed. My brother and sister are rooted, with families of their own; whereas I flit around, digging and exploring.

I can’t become attached to these objects without knowing — to my bones — that they will be destroyed in the fullness of time. I feel as ephemeral as they are, and I know that I too, one day, will be destroyed.

I only keep small things, sentimental things. I brought two stones back from China. One was for a friend by request (a chip of the training ground that Sifu threw at me in good-natured abuse). The other was a piece of stone from the mountaintop.

There had been so much mica on the mountain that the dirt and tree-roots glittered halfway up it. Once we had ascended, I remember looking out and watching the leaves blowing in the wind — rustling so loudly they sounded like waves crashing on a beach. The walkway to the temples are long stretches of stone that look like melted silver. I have a chip of that silver.

I feel so close to the knowledge that everything dies that it sucks the meaning from objects… Except for small things. Sentimental things. I’ll lose a souvenir, but I’ll always remember a scent, or a bit of music.

All of my stories have a character who experiences this. Someone so old, or so deep into the truth that they can’t cope with it. They can’t remember how to be human anymore. I’m grateful for their company, and the warning of what I could become if I’m unable to turn away from death now and then.

I can collect and lose objects. I have befriended, loved, and lost people. My memories of experience endure, like scent, like sight; but I’ve never found a way to capture and store the feeling of bonding with another person. My characters help me understand what it means to be detached — not only for them but for the friends and family they leave behind.

The ability to connect with others is as vital as food and water, to me — and I think it’s why I would never choose enlightenment. I think that’s what keeps us from losing ourselves in the sea of time. The ring is nothing. Attachment is nothing; and yet it is everything.

 

Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
― Miyamoto Musashi

 

Nothing endures but change.
― Heraclitus

 

shoes

 

The Unbreakable Strength of Humility

What would you like to do?

There are a million bazillion writers out there, it’s true. It’s an intimidating thought, but it doesn’t have to be. The reason for this fear is a sense that we won’t be able to distinguish ourselves. Fact is, there’s something you have to say, in a particular way, that no one else can. Your writing (like all your other life choices) are influenced by your experiences and perception. That’s entirely yours. One way to mitigate this fear is to think of your end game. What would you like to do?

In your wildest most whimsical fantasies, what would you like to do? What kind of stories do you want to tell, and what kind of reader would you like to reach?

This is a marketing question also, but that aspect is for another day over another beverage.

This is the time to consider what you’re immersing yourself in. What are you reading? What kind of feedback are you getting? Are you enjoying yourself? Most importantly, are you challenging yourself, learning and growing?

Echo-chambers, whether they’re full of encouragement or full of disdain, don’t really serve you. The truth and reality of your skill is as valuable as the “you are here” sticker on a map. It sucks at first, but the value is immeasurable. Look at yourself and your abilities. Look how far you’ve come. Now look where you want to go. The only way to get there is to keep an eye on the goal. To use the parlance of the earthy, holistic practitioners I’ve been hanging out with lately: The quality of what you consume affects the quality of crap you produce.

You consume your environment. Not just the location; but the weather, the people and the energy there.

The right environment and access to the tools you need are smack-dab at the intersection of luck and boldness. Sending out query letters isn’t the only brave thing you have to do. You have to seek out new stories, and other writers. Listen to short-story podcasts in your genre. Sign up for Duotrope and see what else is out there. Blog. Get on Google+. Look for those you want to emulate. You’ll find a lot of material that’s much better than yours.

That’s what you want. Seek it out with sincerity.

Read. Study. Ask. When you encounter something you like, find out how it was made. Ask to see more. Acknowledging the gulf between your talent and theirs is only the beginning. It doesn’t end there. Lift your eyes. It’s much easier to build a bridge across that span if you can see the other side – and even easier if you have a buddy over there to catch the first rope.

 

It is much more valuable to look for the strength in others. You can gain nothing by criticizing their imperfections.”

― Daisaku Ikeda

 

In the land where excellence is commended, not envied, where weakness is aided, not mocked, there is no question as to how its inhabitants are all superhuman.”

― Criss Jami