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Donald Richie on Reading Noh Drama


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Noh Theatre

Each note, each word must be savored, weighed, calculated, and then put again into context; the context and never the word alone creating the image.

The Text

It is not impossible to read the Noh as literature, but it is difficult. It requires the kind of imagination essential to anyone who sits in complete silence and reads a score. It also requires a like amount of skill—whether the text is translated or not. Going to the Noh in Japan is very like going to a chamber music recital elsewhere. Many have the text open in their laps. Since the language is so obscure, the delivery so slow, the syllables so drawn-out, most Japanese could not otherwise understand a word. Even with the text, as with the score of a Schoenberg quartet, one must study it both before and after performance for the subtleties to become apparent. The pleasure lies in comprehending the form, in discovering the retrogrades, in uncovering the canons; or in tracing the allusion, in understanding the ambiguity, in finding the richness of the associations. The text of Noh is a collection of poems, some by the author of the play, some not; it is a repository of popular songs of the day; language and often action turn on the pun, the pillow-word, the invented portmanteau, pivot-words, conceits. Reading Noh is like reading late Joyce, like reading St. John Perse, like reading Webern. Each note, each word must be savored, weighed, calculated, and then put again into context; the context and never the word alone creating the image. Noh defies translation, as Chinese poetry, as Donne defy translation. Properly, Noh should include two pages of commentary for every two lines of text. When Hagoromo dances for her robe and sings of the heavens, she does much more than just this. What we are given is a created cosmography in which float bits of T’ang poetry, pieces of earlier Japanese, traditional refrains, and transient songs of the day. The language turns, convolutes, rears back upon itself. A near approach is Middleton, Webster, Ford; or, in Shakespeare, the echoing poetry of Measure for Measure, the subjective rant, all association, of Thersites in Troilus. The language of Noh is like music of the Elizabethan period, like the parade of reminiscences—controlled but seeming not—in the Cries of London; like the drinking-rounds and canons, cunning and lapidary. The Noh is mannerist drama.

From: Richie, Donald. “Notes on the Noh.” The Hudson Review 18, no. 1 (spring 1965)

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Review: Auspicious Good Fortune by Sumangali Morhall


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Article first published as Book Review: Auspicious Good Fortune: One Woman’s Inspirational Journey from Western Disillusionment to Eastern Spiritual Fulfilment by Sumangali Morhall on Blogcritics.

Auspicious Good Fortune by Sumangali MorhallAuspicious Good Fortune is English writer Sumangali Morhall’s first published work, a novice author and student of an Indian spiritual master writing more than adeptly of her lifelong journey from spiritual novice to adept. Or as such things are put on lush, inviting book covers, “One woman’s inspirational journey from Western disillusionment to Eastern spiritual fulfilment.” For once you really can judge a book by its attractively designed, accurately described cover.

Morhall is from an arguably unique generation in history, a generation which grew up taking the fruits and freedoms of feminism for granted. Coming of age in the late 1980s, she literally had the world at her feet, and like few women before her, was able to study, travel and work in almost any field of her choosing. In the pages of her autobiography, she literally does.

To borrow the mantra of Joseph Campbell, completely unhindered in the ability to follow her personal bliss, Morhall seeks happiness and satisfaction in multiple jobs, countries, relationships and experiences: gaining an art degree, lead singer of a band, teaching English in Thailand, partying in London, scuba diving and nearly marriage in Mexico, shoplifting and retail store manager, business degree from a prestigious university, job in a London fashion house; she tries it all and willingly walks away from it all, including a model-musician boyfriend, to wear a sari and join what is traditionally one of the most patriarchal, male dominated realms — a spiritual community — where by her own compelling account, she undeniably blossoms.

Amongst the near horizonless flotsam and jetsam of our internet age, the sea of world-weariness, cheap cynicism, aimlessly drifting intellectualism and obscure speculation, the sincere, affecting, beautiful words with which Morhall describes her sometimes stumbling, sometimes running search for enlightenment are like a life-raft floating far beyond, and the depth of wisdom on board, pearls from deep beneath.

Auspicious Good Fortune is potentially an instant classic of the world of spiritual literature. Like the writing of Christopher Isherwood, an English author better known as the father of modern gay writing, but also a lifelong member of the Ramakrishna Order, and author of several seminal works on spirituality, Morhall’s book possesses the rare distinction of being the product not just of an authentic devotee and spiritual insider — Morhall a student with a rare close access to the recently belated New York guru Sri Chinmoy — but a genuinely talented writer as well. Also like Isherwood, Auspicious Good Fortune surprises with its candour and willingness to throw back the cloister curtains, the search for inner truth speckled equally with tears of frustration and jewels of bliss.

Heart on sleeve and on page, Morhall writes directly from the heart, with endearing honesty and captivating charm. Hers is the pure, unaffected voice of child, but a child who has meditated for over two decades, and whom possesses piercing insight and depth of both spiritual and worldly experience. Morhall may be a novice author, but in Auspicious Good Fortune she is no novice of the spiritual realm. If Eat, Pray, Love were to become serialised, this would be concluding edition.

A subtly emotive, poetic writer, with a keen eye for the delicate and minute, so well written and metaphorically masterful is Auspicious Good Fortune, it is as if Emily Dickinson herself has entered the realm of biographical prose. By her own admission more adept at poetry than prose, Morhall is at her lyrical and transcendent best when discussing her genuinely inspiring — and at times genuinely miraculous — experiences with Indian meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy, whom on the basis of this heart-felt account, one can’t help but want to know better.

Morhall presents us with a conclusion that echoes the wisdom of ancient sages quoted within her very pages: to find a spiritual master and to follow the life of inner truth is the most auspicious path of all. Auspicious Good Fortune is the highly recommended tale of that search, and furthermore, the tale of what is found.

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Walt Whitman: Make no puns


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Make no puns
funny remarks
Double entendres
“witty” remarks
ironies
Sarcasms
Only that which
is simply earnest
meant, —harmless
to anyone’s feelings
—unadorned
unvarnished
nothing to
excite a
laugh
silence
silence
silence
silence
laconic
taciturn.

–Walt Whitman instructs himself in an 1855-56 notebook about the Second Edition of Leaves of Grass.

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Donald Richie’s The Japan Journals: 1947–2004


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Article first published as Book Review: The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 by Donald Richie on Blogcritics.

Donald Richie, The Japan Journals: 1947–2004This is what every memoir should be. Unhindered by any attempt to be self-serving, Donald Richie’s The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 is about the most unflinchingly honest opening of the tightly turned lid of self you’ll ever read. You can’t help but like an autobiographer willing to welcome you this deeply into his 510-page heart.

Not that there’s a paucity of things to like about Donald Richie. One of the most underrated writers of the last 50 years, Richie wields his pen with a depth of insight that more famous writers would swap Booker Prizes for, and his command of detail and emotion are on par with the best—even here in a ‘journal’.

Although journal in name, The Japan Journals is more than nighttime afterthought, for Richie realised early on that the detritus of his daily life was destined for the shelves of others, and therefore wrote accordingly—with concentration and abundant skill.

Richie isn’t just an interesting writer—he’s an interesting human being, a person who has lived a life filled with fascinating and often famous others—Yukio Mishima, Marguerite Yourcenar, Emperor Hirohito and Francis Ford Coppola to name a few. Included is perhaps the most insightful assessment of the internal life of the near impossible to comprehend Mishima, while it is highly likely that Richie is the inspiration for Bill Murray’s character in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, for he tells of spending time with the teenaged director-to-be in Tokyo.

Better known as the leading Western authority on Japanese film, the beyond erudite Donald Richie could also be subtitled the ‘Gore Vidal who chose to live in Japan’. Equally talented and insightful as the American polemicist, Richie is more heartfelt to Vidal’s glib, and therefore on final reckoning, even more rewarding.

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Long White Cloud by Alan Spence


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My stories often have their origin in something that actually happened – an incident, a memory, something heard. (In this case it was the leap out of a plane at 12000 feet – one of the scariest things I’ve ever done). It’s then a case of finding a voice, letting characters take shape, coalesce round the incident. Then I see how they deal with it, where it leads, and in the process I figure out what the story’s really about. (Usually it’s mortality, that great resounding bass note that’s always present in our lives).

So writes Alan Spence, award winning poet, playwright and author about his short story Long White Cloud, and what a story it is, a sketch descending at terminal velocity from personal experience, a death-defying, fear-facing leap from a plane evoking cloud covered memories of other lives lived, lake surface below reflections on mortality and what may lie beyond.

Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen, Spence clearly knows from cover to cover the topic he teaches. He takes the stuff of personal experience—a trip to New Zealand, a leap from a moving plane—and gives it voice, clothing, personality; characters and narrative germinated from the seeds of emotion and memory, a flower beautiful to behold, story compelling to read the final, blossoming result.

“The kind of thing that had happened to him before. Memories that were not his own. Once in Japan, he’d looked at himself in the mirror, seen someone else entirely looking back at him,  a Japanese man with the intense gaze of a warrior.  Someone else, and yet.”

Reincarnation, memories of past lives, visions of samurai warriors encountered in a 12,000 foot plunge into nothingness and empty space? Not so far-fetched when your next life is getting closer at 200 kph, and not so far-fetched when the airbourne author runs a meditation centre—the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Edinburgh—where presumably he practises daily the cross-legged, back upright and breath relaxed equivalent of descending from the heavens at a rate of knots. “All paths lead to Rome”, as Sri Chinmoy himself once said, “but one may get us there a little quicker or easier.”

In his mid 50s, Spence writes as if he is the same age as the students he teaches every day, as if 50 is the new 30 as his opening lines muse, energetically merging lyrics from a song by Blur and prostrate checks with meditations on mortality and the vapid thrill-seeking of youth, as if the author’s practise of meditation has infused his writing then spilled beyond, branched out from the meditation cushion and taken root in every life and situation met.

His most recent long player, The Pure Land, “a modern epic, at once a rattling good adventure, a heart-wrenching love story and a journey of the spirit”, was translated into 19 languages and his most successful book, but if this recently written short story is any indication, Spence is warming up, building momentum for an even greater work.

Read the short story: Long White Cloud by Alan Spence.

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Inspiring letters and no few words


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Strangely and very much disconcertingly absent from pen and desk, writing paper blank now curling at the edges these past few months, I’ve finished and submitted a story nay epic 4000 word behemoth to the soon to be published Episode 17 of Inspiration-Letters at the Sri Chinmoy Centre.

Here is a sneak peak, teaser and few opening words from a wagon-load of writing which I near shed tears and lost sleep over—it’s no joke trying to write after several months not, not to mention write with significant quantity and hoped for quality…

Across the Ocean to Swim or Sink

Sri Advaita AcaryaHe was a bear of a man, with a bear-like, straggly grey beard, the last vestige and visage of the Rabbinical life-path his Hebrew parents had probably intended, in a preacher-like occupation—Religious Studies professor and faculty head—secular Rabbi to the hundreds of truth-seeking youth who passed through his lecture theatres and tutorial rooms each year. Post lecture, sermon from the mount of Intellectualism, dozens would congregate around him for curriculum advice or, just as likely, words of learned wisdom. For a while, those many years ago while I was under his tutelage, I felt it my mission in life to tread the knowledge-paved road of academia, climb the spiral staircase of learning’s ivory tower, one heaped stack of books at a time.

Thus I found myself in his office one afternoon discussing a post-graduate pathway, when a throw-away comment made more of an impression than all the academic advice combined. Like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle only I was building, something about this comment fit into place, rang true within the broader tapestry of my life’s finely woven experiences.

“I left home and went to India when I was a teenager, convinced that the world was an illusion. I soon found out that it was very real…”

I was far more interested in this apparently banished, near-forgotten youthful self than the mature one behind the desk before me—the version of my Religious Studies professor that could be ambitious, audacious enough to believe that everything around him, everything he knew might be wrong, than the version convinced that everything he knew was right. You see, I too used to think the world was an illusion, and I too found out that it is real, or at least not to be lightly, easily denied.

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Inspiration-Letters: Destiny Edition


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sri-chinmoy-authorThrift stores, cheap chocolates and masterpieces by Van Gogh and Cezanne—so begins the 16th edition of Inspiration-Letters, magazine style forum for inspired writers of the Sri Chinmoy Centre. A fitting beginning it is too, for all the authors are koan-carrying members of a meditation group espousing a philosophy of merging the heights of spirituality with the here and everyday, and what could be more lofty and lowly than the two masters of post-impressionism rubbing shoulders in a one dollar shop? All the world may well be a stage, and we the players therein, but some of the sets are truth be told, less than top-drawer.

The Inspiration-Letters editor, in possession of red pen and hugely discounted bargains, proceeds to the check-out, continues his introduction:

“As the cashier was checking me out, I happened to glance at her name tag: ‘Karamvir’ it said.

I knew ‘vir’ means hero in many Indian languages. I asked her what ‘karam’ meant. She told me that ‘karam’ means fate.

So ‘Karamvir’ means ‘she who is the master of her destiny, the one who is victorious over her fate!’

Apparently she had never thought about the meaning of her name before, so she just nodded, smiled shyly and handed me my merchandise.”

checkout-operatorI am reminded of a supermarket closer to home, where checkout operators are likely as not to be Indian, lowly in station but sweeter in nature than the most expensive chocolates, and names hand-picked from the loftiest spiritual literature. While shopping for bread and milk I have been charmed and served by the entire pantheon of Indian goddesses—Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga included.

The topic for this latest issue of Inspiration-Letters is “Destiny”, and it was the destiny of seven writers and myself to contribute, stories all of the moving and workings of nature’s most mysterious force—fate, and its invisible hold on our lives.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Inspiration-Letters opens with top-drawer writer Sumangali Morhall’s Home Is Where The Heart Is, a tale of time spent in Thailand and the titular lesson learned: home is where the heart is, no matter where mind or body may roam. Sumangali is a master of poetry and lyricism—her gentle evocation of landscapes inner and outer sing a tale of destiny as sweetly as a nightingale’s call, and moved one reader to comment “no one describes nature better than her. Her description of monsoon rains will rise like steam in your memory every time you get caught in heavy rain ever again.”

“I arrived at the start of monsoon. From a veranda I would watch the sky as it jealously gathered navy blue cloud with long grey fingers, until its arms could hold no more, and the whole hoard was spilt on the earth at once. The traffic thickened and curdled, borders between road and path were eaten away by hungry torrents, where sandalled feet sloshed towards any cover they could find. It was at those times I liked to go for a walk.”

It Is Written

Alaskan Palyati Fouse weaves in It Is Written the working of destiny with film of the moment Slumdog Millionaire, and recounts a recent discussion with someone described only as a genius:

“I had a lengthy discussion with a genius recently about destiny. I asked many questions because, at first, I did not agree with what he had to say.”

I for one am highly curious to discover the name of the genius, for it is not written. Perhaps he is unnamed deliberately by the author, lest lost sheep like myself beat a grassy path to his isolated mountain top.

Telling of living alone like a beacon in the dark, just her and destiny on the uppermost edge of the American continent, Palyati talks and inspires with her account of swimming against the spiritual tide, and deserves more than just the respect of some distant shaper of destiny in doing so.

There Was A Child Went Forth

A reader of my own story, There Was A Child Went Forth—title lifted directly from Whitman—commented that he found me to be a good writer, but my stories somewhat depressing. While not ego-shattering, his feedback was certainly unexpected, and from far enough left field to make me pause and reflect. Am I a depressing person; is there less joy in my writing than there should be; in my life as well?

“The journey from child to man is said to be a passage, but for me childhood and adulthood were separated not by distance but a straight line, worlds cleaved apart as if by sharpest knife.”

There is a simple answer to both question and self-doubt—the true story of my life is a tale far more intense than any written. The experiences I went through before joining the spiritual life were more harrowing than any yet related, and while as prone to exaggeration as any writer, in the case of my own backstory, I am not writing larger than reality.

With admirable honesty, Palyati Fouse in It Is Written follows the very same thread:

“Recalling life experiences and my reactions to them before joining this path makes my stomach knot up. There is nothing for me there in the deepest sense. It is the continual inner urge to progress spiritually that keeps me alive.”

Destiny may at times be a blunt instrument, but none can deny the necessity of its scalpel-like role, its work and operation, through trial and tribulation, needed for our ultimate good. Yes this is an intimidating truth, but it is one anything but depressing, for it speaks of perfection, promises a happiness never-ending.

Magical Mystery Tour

In Magical Mystery Tour, professional writer and published author Noivedya Juddery tells of his new preoccupation as film screenwriter, and how the casting of a young aspiring actress really is an act of destiny. At times a treatise on the millennia old debate on determinism, Noivedya writes and winds to the conclusion that life is the greatest mystery tour of them all.

“Occasionally, airlines and tour organisers speak of mystery tours, for which adventurous travellers pay for a tour to a place unknown. It might not be where you wanted or expected to go, but you will hopefully enjoy the destination. Life, of course, is the greatest mystery tour of them all – and however much you might influence your pilot, you never know where he will take you.”

How I Came To The Spiritual Life

In How I Came To The Spiritual Life, Abhinabha Tangerman relates with a Zen-like directness how he came to the spiritual life. To approximate an old Zen saying, if you see the Buddha on the road, you see the Buddha on the road, and in getting lost on a dark Dutch road Abhinabha found his own path to enlightenment—a lecture that would change his life forever.

“The speaker was a Belgian man of about forty years, exuding a marked inner poise. As soon as he started speaking my disappointment vanished. He talked about a spiritual life, a life of peace, love and happiness and the ways to bring these qualities to the fore through meditation. The man was very nice, humble and likeable. And his words were like music to my ears.”

Courageously, Abhinabha shares two dreams of Sri Chinmoy which convinced him to become a full time student of meditation, and concludes that he guesses it was destiny. For me there is no guesswork in this convincing, inspiring story.

Some Thoughts On The Way Forward

In Some Thoughts On The Way Forward, Jogyata Dallas waves the banner and writes a ringing call to arms on karma yoga—the yoga of action and work, and his forceful words are like an Emersonian edict for a new spiritual age. Jogyata is at his best writing of nature inner and outer, poetically intertwining the idyllic landscape of Bali with the sometimes smooth, sometimes rocky contours of the human soul:

“Horizoned and other-worldly, magnified by haze, the grey pencil sketch of Mt. Agung soars up to improbable altitudes, its ragged bulk cloud-garlanded, mysterious and remote from the far-below, scrambling destinies of man. Beyond the shoreline grey skeins of wrinkled seas crest and break—long ocean rollers at their journey’s end. Away from our usual melodramas, Bali’s peace and languor and the heavy gravity of the afternoon conspire, press you down supine.”

Overcoming Destiny

Mahiruha Klein writes in Overcoming Destiny of his first personal message from Sri Chinmoy, and of the message received the very eve of his Guru’s passing: “Hope is sweeter than the sweetest. Sweeter than ambrosia.” Chasing hope like a bee to nectar, Mahiruha is all parts sincere and heart-felt, and his words possess the silent width and weight of the best, other-world inspired writing.

“That was the last time I ever saw Sri Chinmoy. He passed away the following morning, quite early. But his last words to us, that hope is sweeter than ambrosia, touched me deeply. My Master told me in that phrase to keep a positive attitude, to stay happy and well, and to remain hopeful. Sri Chinmoy’s first message to me was to forswear anxiety about what people think of me or how I am judged in the eyes of society. His last message to me was to keep hope alive forever.”

In my case, it is tempting to dwell upon the fact that I had few personal messages from Sri Chinmoy, but like doubt itself this is the path and fiat of a false, never profitable coin. I was one of Sri Chinmoy’s students who had very little outer contact with him—I can count literally on fingertips the times he spoke to me—but to flail now for what will never be would be to miss totally an inner contact that has always been. I can write books of all the messages that have come in quiet moments and dreams, and it this inner communication that is the true currency of spirituality, a wealth of heart and soul that can never be spent, now or when the flickering flame of human life finally burns out.

Again where doubt is concerned, memory is without doubt the quickest, easiest to reach for antidote, and I need look no further than my own submission to Inspiration-Letters to be reunited with Destiny’s eternal, inner communion:

“I remember a vivid dream not long after I returned to New Zealand, of a most beautiful young woman who took me to house where many people were meeting, and above the head of each a small, shining speck of light. The woman, whom I instantly felt a deep, wordless love for, explained this point of light as the soul. Her name may well have been Destiny, for that was what I found upon joining Sri Chinmoy’s path.”

There is a sense now that we students of Sri Chinmoy are swimming in lonely seas, all coming to terms with a sudden, unexpected change of course. But how much and what has changed, and what exactly has been lost? In vanishing from sight it can be said that the boatman has merely charged garments, shed his human appearance to become the ocean and sea itself. In staying the course and continuing to sail, even though upon seas uncharted, are we not in the heart of where we have always been? In the Master’s boat. On board an immortal journey of the soul.

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On Journeys Through the Australian States


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Time passed writing about passing time in an airport coffee shop…

Coffee at Melbourne AirportTravelling. Again. In Melbourne Airport, for four and half hours, but not my final destination, or even second to final in this marathon, budget airline leapfrog across the Pacific, Tasman and Indian Oceans. I am in an airport café sipping the oh so treasured caffeinated chocolate beverage I swore yet again to give up. And shall swear again, once the well of heart-quickened words dries, trails to a final period, final drop of coffee swallowed at the end of this page…

I am flying to Bali today, a Christmas holiday come a month late but not a moment too soon. A break from work and yet more work, a break of some considerable force to my cheerfully forgotten, paid just on time bottom line. Work to live or live to work? In truth I would prefer neither, but forced to choose I am working to be alive, and right now is the time for living.

It is not such a bad place to be stranded, this sun-burned, lucky land. I have always liked Australia—more so than anywhere else on Earth save the United Kingdom, it is just like home—albeit a sun-drenched, sun-worshiping version of such. Hotter of temperature and temperament than New Zealand, it is our louder, brasher “across the ditch” own.

I admire the self-confidence and assertiveness here, rare in my home of birds that do not fly and single lone predator—the Katipo spider, a pint-sized beast of passive-aggressive hostility at best, likely to bite only when pushed into corner or shoe. New Zealanders, more like the sheep who outnumber us twenty to one than killer spiders, tend to follow the herd, herd instinctively to the back of a pen. Like the damp, green pastures from mountains to sea, we are softer round surface and edge than Australians; we shrink from a person of loud, sure hand.

Australia has a vastness not just of its land, although perhaps learned of it; of wide open spaces and limitless, continental horizons—a vastness of heart and mind less sighted in smaller, skinnier isles. “Mateship,” the word for universal friendship between blokes really exists in Australia. The airport security officer who gave directions not with authority but airless amity; the student who made my coffee neither embarrassed to be serving me, or by way of compensation, haughty—such is far from common in less secure, narrow lands.

It took a while, several hours in fact, and all of the previous words, before untold Australian flags, t-shirts and hats of yellow and green led me to realise that today is January 26, Australia Day, the one day of three hundred and sixty-five that Australians take even more pride in being themselves than their unabashed norm. Serendipity has a way of following me around, especially when writing…

Salutation To The Soul Of Australia
My aspiring heart is saluting you.
My illumining soul is loving you.
In you I see the perfect combination of the
body’s service and the vital’s dynamism.
Your soul is at once the embodiment
of the ancient sun and revelation
of tomorrow’s dawn.
Your body’s consciousness is the expansion
of vastness.
Your heart’s delight is the perfection
of illumination.
Slowly and steadily your body walks.
Pointedly and unerringly your mind runs.
Devotedly and unconditionally your heart
dives.
Eternally and supremely your soul flies.
Your life’s greatness-dream is humanity’s
transcendental pride.
Your life’s goodness-reality is humanity’s
universal treasure.
Sri Chinmoy, My Heart’s Salutation To Australia, Part 1.

* * *

During my first year of university, a time now so long ago tales of such begin increasingly to sound like they belong in the history books I read there, one of the highlights of each week was the student newspaper, more read by the student community than any tiresome book or text. I would in maturity and time end up working for this newspaper—my first ever graphic design and typesetting role, and my first ever writing—but for now, unaware of greater horizons ahead, I admired those vaster in others. In the writing of the editor and staff of this newspaper there was an assuredness of thought and pen that I, just out of high school not yet out of teenage angst, desperately, instinctively craved—an assuredness of self I sought the words for but could not actually name. Meditation would eventually provide that name.

That year the editor wrote the same editorial twenty-six times, every week of publication drafted different versions of the same theme—how to get to the end and find the words to fill his long past due, inspiration long past gone editorial. It was an editorial on writing an editorial if you will, and was often surprisingly funny.

Some fifteen years later I am reminded of this editor’s confident, stream of consciousness notes about nothing, for it seems I too am writing a story about writing a story—a feat I literally thought myself incapable of once upon a distant time.

Like running a race I expect this story will have an ebb and flow, tired and energetic patches, and in time, one foot and word in front of the other, a second wind. Then, hopefully and finally, second cup of coffee consumed, an end.

* * *

Hours are passing slowly, words less easily in this airport coffee shop, sitting in a corner surrounded by no-one, monopolising a power outlet meant not for laptop but lamp. My coffee is finished, once confident pen not so loud or bold, its flight near grounded and my plane, hours yet to board, not yet departed.

They say the most common opening sentence in blogging is “Sorry I haven’t written for a long time…” Is this the internet era version of every English teacher’s most hated closure, “And then I woke up”? I certainly hope, as my pen leans into a drifting doze, that unlike newspaper reading students in a university lecture, my readers are still half awake…

It’s a funny thing, the waxing and waning of creativity, writing’s ebb and flow. When you ”want” words they often do not come, for writing is a horse that can be ridden but not controlled, a ship to be sailed rather than boat to be rowed. Like meditation, you don’t “do” it—it is a state that comes to you when you forget to ”do,” cease to strive and struggle, control and command.

Becoming a good writer is often described as a process of finding your “voice;” an analogy to the meditative discipline of listening to the still small voice within. Like true meditation, good writing comes from a place deep within, beyond the noisy, scattered and often directionless voice of the mind.

So am I doing good writing? I hope so, but can a writer truly judge his own cover? Such is surely the prerogative of his readers, not pejorative of a caffeine-addled ego, and to know the answer to this question it surely would not hurt to listen longer to the writer’s voice within…

“We can listen to the dictates of the soul, or feel the presence of the inner voice, without being guided by a very deep meditation. Even in the hustle and bustle of life we can hear the inner voice, but if we meditate, then it becomes extremely easy to listen to the voice within. Without practising spirituality we may hear the inner voice, we may even see the soul, but we will doubt our experience. We will say, “This cannot be the soul; this voice is not coming from the soul.” But if we have a very good, deep meditation, we can hear the voice, we can see the soul with inner certainty.”
Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 13.

January 26th, Australia Day, 2009.

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The Most Shocking Ending in All Literature


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“How oddly situated a man is apt to find himself at the age of thirty-eight! His youth belongs to the distant past. Yet the period of memory beginning with the end of youth and extending to the present has left him not a single vivid impression. And therefore he persists in feeling that nothing more than a fragile barrier separates him from his youth. He is forever hearing with the utmost clarity the sounds of this neighboring domain, but there is no way to penetrate the barrier.”
–Yukio  Mishima

A Biography of Author Yukio Mishima

Three times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Yukio Mishima is considered the most important Japanese novelist of the twentieth century, and until the arrival in more recent times of Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana, was the writer with the largest readership outside Japan.

Extremely prolific despite a comparatively short life, he produced forty novels, at least twenty books of essays, poetry, eighteen plays—including modern Kabuki and Noh dramas, some of which he also acted in—and one libretto. He was an astute critic—his talent rated higher by some than his fiction—and appeared in four films as an actor of some ability, one of which he also directed and produced. Mishima was considered to be the only author of his time talented enough to write Kabuki plays in the traditional manner; a professor from Kyoto University described him as a man of “frightening talent.”

Born Kimitaké Hiraoka, he was seized from his parents and raised by his Grandmother, the only one of the family of samurai descent, who both instilled in her grandson a love of literature, and according to some biographers, sickness and neuroses. Many trace his literary themes and later actions to these early, difficult beginnings.

At sixteen he assumed the pen name Yukio Mishima, a move alternatively explained as hiding his writing from an anti-literary father and hiding his true age. Yukio comes from the word yuki, which means snow, and Mishima is a town known for its view of the snowy peaks of Mt. Fuji.

Mishima avoided being conscripted by the army during World War II after being falsely diagnosed with pleurisy. While a student of law at Tokyo Imperial University he published his first collection of short stories, and the following year in 1944 published his first major work, The Forest in Full Bloom, a great achievement for any Japanese writer as few books were being published during the war. The first edition of 4000 copies sold out within a week.

All of his novels contain paradoxes: beauty contrasted with violence and death; the yearning for love and its rejection when offered; the dichotomy between traditional Japanese values and the spiritual barrenness of contemporary life; paradoxes he himself embodied—his writing was in all cases semi-autobigraphical, sometimes fully.

Mishima’s best known works include the autobiographical Confessions of a Mask, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and the tetralogy The Sea of Fertility, regarded by many as his most lasting achievement—he sent the final volume to his publisher on the day of his suicide.

At the end of The Decay of the Angel, the last volume of The Sea of Fertility, Mishima turned the entire series upside down, a single, blinding burst of prose undermining the very foundation of all that has gone before, a stunning plot-twist that the author pulled off brilliantly. Some reviewers suggest that committing seppuku immediately following writing such a passage is understandable—how could one continue living after writing something so brilliant?

The ending to The Decay of the Angel has been called possibly the most shocking ending in all of literature; it was followed by one of the most shocking endings of all real life—an author who vehemently didn’t want grow old or decline bowed out at the very top of his game, aged 45; following an elaborately planned yet guaranteed to fail coup attempt aimed at restoring traditional values to a Japanese society he deigned bereft of them, he committed ritual suicide, 25 November 1970.

“The whole of Japan was under a curse. Everyone ran after money. The old spiritual tradition had vanished: materialism was the order of the day. Modern Japan is ugly.”

Toshiro Mayuzumi, close friend of Mishima’s for twenty years, explained: “He was a man of action. His suicide death was an attempt to change the world, at least to spur it by alerting the sensible population to the inconsistencies surrounding postwar Japan, the Constitution, the Self-Defense Forces, education, moral decay.”

Friend, former follower and fellow novelist Yasunari Kawabata honored Mishima with the statement “a writer of [Mishima’s] calibre appears only once every 200 to 300 years.” Ironically Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature two years earlier in 1968, the first Japanese to receive an award long expected to be Mishima’s.

His funeral was attended by 10,000, the largest of its kind ever held in Japan, and his commentary on the Hagakure—the moral code taught to samurai—immediately became a best-seller.

Mishima wrote in his diary “All I desire is beauty.” A dedicated body-builder, practitioner of karate and kendo master, he sought throughout his life to make himself more beautiful, and strong. He saw beauty as a form of purity which could also be realised through noble action, and death.

“If we value so highly the dignity of life, how can we not also value the dignity of death? No death may be called futile.”

Video of Yukio Mishima conducting the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra

Recommended books about Yukio Mishima

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What Matter Age?


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What goes around, comes aroundThere’s a funny saying about things that go around coming around. Usually it’s karma, an eye for an eye and a sow for a reap—the great spiritual law of the universe that dictates bad things for things done badly, good for that done gladly.

But inspiration goes around as well, and more like a fire than the predictable arc of an arrow—leaping, dancing, taking light as it spreads; a force that creates and multiplies rather than destroys.

A blog comment by a reader inspired me to write an entire post in return, a list of childhood memories which beget and became My First Meme, a charming, illumining anecdote on age, meditation and self-transcendence at Sumangali.org:

Age does not matter. Until his passing at age 76, Sri Chinmoy proved that to me. Through his life of meditation and self-transcendence he showed me that perhaps I am not as limited as I think. I hope to continue forgetting how old I really am. I hope to feel amused, rather than bound, if I do happen to remember, and grateful to Sri Chinmoy, especially if others find it funny too.

The torch is passed, the wheel turned. And so it goes

What Matter Age?

I can relate to the sentiments above in so many ways.

At age thirteen, and in my first year in High School, I would at times be mistaken for sixteen or older, not because of my size, but my attitude and demeanour. I was overly serious and “adult,” something of an grown up trapped in a child’s body, and for the most part related to my elders better than my peers. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it is making you miserable. It was and then some.

Now twenty years on and thirty-three, I find age to be a bit of a joke. I have reached a kind of dim, twilight zone, like a purgatory between youth and senility, where I have to stop and think to remember my age. I still can not believe I am in my thirties, and for that matter during my twenties I could not believe I was not a teen.

This is only because of meditation.

With the regular practise of meditation—in which I am certainly no expert, but hopefully an advertisement for: a poster-child for meditation’s slow-dawning felicitation to experience life in the ever present, ever lasting now—I again feel as I did before those forgettable, teen-aged years.

Like a child. Like myself once more.

Musing upon the inevitable forward march of age, I am reminded of learning to drive recently—several years ago in fact—in which getting over the insistent feeling that I was an impostor acting as a grown-up—driving seeming like such a grown-up thing to be doing—was far harder than getting a handle on the rules, firm grip of the wheel.

John Gillespie, postmanLikewise my career. After years striding the streets as a postman—a card-carrying job for loners, introverts and others who wish to drop out of the ‘nine to five,’ or in my case, approximate a wandering, meditating monk, composing poetry while roaming up to thirteen kilometres a day, I exchanged hair shirt for one starched, press-ganged into a pre-press job with a design company, and rejoined my last seen at university, career-making peers on the cusp of their thirties, threshold or over of marriage, mortgages and children.

What a joke it all was. Feeling like a child trapped in a far too big body I had to get head around idea of being an “adult,” or at least its outer appearance; joining serious colleagues in serious decisions about heavy responsibilities and pressing problems—not to mention getting in line for performance appraisals and promotion, a necessary evil when regular, expensive overseas trips to supply my meditation habit—or self-enlightenment sanity excursions as I subtitle them—were a necessity.

Throughout my extended tour of the five-days-a-week world of adult duty, I was always keenly conscious of the illusory nature of it all, of its secondary status to the pursuit of my ageless, real identity.

Funnily enough, and this is a very real letter of recommendation for meditation, I find that people value a person who can bring a child’s touch to a serious situation, a person able to laugh and to joke, remain good-natured and even-tempered when others do not. I was genuinely moved by the extent my colleagues showed their appreciation when it was time to move on from that job—their sincere, heart-felt sentiment running to pages on hand-made leaving card. Not to mention all of the hugs I had to dodge.

In feeling like a child still, I in truth should be grateful to my mother, whose raising of me was anything but conventional—I am “old” enough, or at least wise enough to appreciate this now. Now sixty-five and looking barely fifty, she is a guileless, child-like woman, and as far away from adult politics and game-playing as is possible; it is I her child who has to point out the alternative interpretation of occasional, unintentional faux pas. Her youth-like, light of heart qualities I once mistakenly sought to uproot in myself, leave behind in a wrong-headed, head-strong rush to “grow up”—early, regrettable attempts at self-transformation with a labourer’s pitchfork, rather than the meditation’s gentle pruning.

Sri Chinmoy by Pavitrata TaylorBut most of all, I can relate to Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of self-transcendence—transcendence of mind, belief, achievement and of age. In this respect alone I have so much to be grateful to my meditation teacher for.

Initially self-taught in meditation—I am something of an autodidact in most things; a good quality when one remembers to be humble, or the much that one does not know—I have come to learn that meditation is so much more than a moment of peace, or a silent mind only in a silent room. Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of the child-like heart, of living as a child rather than living childishly, has re-invented my life in the most remarkable ways, transformed me in a fashion I once could not imagine.

Compared to my former self, you could say I am re-born.

Photo Credits

  1. Teh Google
  2. Mail model John Gillespie, Post News, Dec 2003
  3. Pavitrata Taylor

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