Lafcadio Hearn, born June 27, 1850, was an Irish-Greek author, translator, and teacher most famous for his writings about Japan.

Hearn with wife, Koizumi Setsu
Hearn with wife, Koizumi Setsu

He was born on Lefkada, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, and educated in Ireland, England, and France before immigrating to the United States in 1869. For a decade he lived in New Orleans, reporting on street life in the Vieux Carre and Creole and Cajun culture. In 1890 Hearn moved to Japan, where he took the name Koizumi Yakumo, became a citizen, married into a samurai family, held a chair in English literature at Tokyo University, and authored over a dozen books on Japanese life, literature and religion.

In 1897 he published Gleanings in Buddha-Fields Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East, a collection of sketches on Japanese Buddhism. In his introduction to The Buddhist Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (1977), Kenneth Rexroth wrote,

Hearn’s role in the spread of Buddhism to the West was a preparatory one. He was the first important American writer to live in Japan and to commit his imagination and considerable literary powers to what he found there. Like the “popular” expressions of Buddhist faith that were his favorite subject, Hearn popularized the Buddhist way of life for his Western readers.”

Hearn had lost faith in his native religion before he reached the age of 20. He did not convert to Buddhism, however, and as Rexroth mentions, “he remained skeptical about certain of Buddhism’s key doctrines — such as the relationship of karma and rebirth — but he passionately believed that Buddhism promoted a far better attitude toward daily life than did Christianity.” And he wrote about the Buddhism of the masses, popular Buddhism, not what he termed “Higher Buddhism,” although he probably felt more comfortable with this latter form of dharma, which he thought comparable in certain respects to the “evolutional ideas of our own time.”

In honor of the 164th anniversary of his birth, here is a excerpt from the chapter “Dust” in Gleanings in Buddha-Fields. In this lyrical selection, Hearn muses over death and emptiness:

Let the Bodhisattva look upon all things as having the nature of space,—as permanently equal to space; without essence, without substantiality.”—SADDHARIMA-PUNDARÎKA.

hearn1897I have wandered to the verge of the town; and the street I followed has roughened into a country road, and begins to curve away through rice-fields toward a hamlet at the foot of the hills. Between town and rice-fields a vague unoccupied stretch of land makes a favorite playground for children . . .

And they play at funerals,—burying corpses of butterflies and semi (cicadæ), and pretending to repeat Buddhist sutras over the grave . . .

Children in all countries play at death. Before the sense of personal identity comes, death cannot be seriously considered; and childhood thinks in this regard more correctly, perhaps, than self-conscious maturity. Of course, if these little ones were told, some bright morning, that a playfellow had gone away forever,—gone away to be reborn elsewhere,—there would be a very real though vague sense of loss, and much wiping of eyes with many-colored sleeves; but presently the loss would be forgotten and the playing resumed. The idea of ceasing to exist could not possibly enter a child-mind: the butterflies and birds, the flowers, the foliage, the sweet summer itself, only play at dying;—they seem to go, but they all come back again after the snow is gone. The real sorrow and fear of death arise in us only through slow accumulation of experience with doubt and pain; and these little boys and girls, being Japanese and Buddhists, will never, in any event, feel about death just as you or I do. They will find reason to fear it for somebody else’s sake, but not for their own, because they will learn that they have died millions of times already, and have forgotten the trouble of it, much as one forgets the pain of successive toothaches. In the strangely penetrant light of their creed, teaching the ghostliness of all substance, granite or gossamer,—just as those lately found X-rays make visible the ghostliness of flesh,—this their present world, with its bigger mountains and rivers and rice-fields, will not appear to them much more real than the mud landscapes which they made in childhood. And much more real it probably is not.

At which thought I am conscious of a sudden soft shock, a familiar shock, and know myself seized by the idea of Substance as Non-Reality.

This sense of the voidness of things comes only when the temperature of the air is so equably related to the temperature of life that I can forget having a body. Cold compels painful notions of solidity; cold sharpens the delusion of personality; cold quickens egotism; cold numbs thought, and shrivels up the little wings of dreams.

To-day is one of those warm, hushed days when it is possible to think of things as they are,—when ocean, peak, and plain seem no more real than the arching of blue emptiness above them. All is mirage,—my physical self, and the sunlit road, and the slow rippling of the grain under a sleepy wind, and the thatched roofs beyond the haze of the rice-fields, and the blue crumpling of the naked hills behind everything. I have the double sensation of being myself a ghost and of being haunted,—haunted by the prodigious luminous Spectre of the World.

There are men and women working in those fields. Colored moving shadows they are; and the earth under them—out of which they rose, and back to which they will go -is equally shadow. Only the Forces behind the shadow, that make and unmake, are real,—therefore viewless . . .

Read all of Gleaning in Buddha-Fields here.


The Circle Time Parade of Changes

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall
To brown and to yellow, they fade
And then they have to die
Trapped within the circle time parade of changes

Phil Ochs, “Changes”

Responding to an April post, “Sameness and Nonsameness“, which dealt with Taoist and Buddhist uses of the I Ching (“Book of Change”), a reader commented that the book is a Confucian text. I agree this is a common understanding, but I don’t think it is a complete understanding. Actually, as Taoist master Alfred Huang notes in his translation*, “Both Confucianism and Taoism originated from the philosophy of the I Ching. They both followed the Tao of Earth, but they diverged.” To me the separation between the two seems rather slight, but that may be a matter of perspective and opinion.

I Ching 02bThe “Book of Change” consists of 64 hexagrams or gua (two trigrams of 3 broken and unbroken lines) and related judgments and commentaries. In the traditional account of I Ching history, King Wen of the Zhou (1152-1056 BCE) developed the hexagrams from eight trigrams created by a legendary folk hero named Fu Xi. However, modern scholarship has tracked back the origins to China’s first recorded history during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1046 BCE) when divination was accomplished by studying the cracks in animal bones, tortoise shells, metal, and stone heated in a fire. Even in this crude method, we can see the traces of the four oldest pictograms (Yuan, Heng, Li, Chen).

The judgments are thought to have been composed sometime between the 7th to 9th centuries BCE, and while Confucius (551-479 BCE) has been identified as the author of the commentaries, Wing-Tsit Chan (1901-1994), one of the world’s leading scholars of Chinese philosophy, noted that some scholars believe the commentaries are the work “unknown writers three or four centuries later.”**

During the Ch’in (221-206 BCE) and Han (206BCE-220CE) dynasties, the I Ching emerged as a complex philosophical system that sought to clarify the patterns, structures, and forces of existence.

The I Ching was a text used by all three major philosophies in China, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, and there was a great deal of cross pollination between these schools of thought. As far as Buddhism is concerned, while the influence of the I Ching was limited, Thomas Cleary writes***, “When Buddhism came into China, it picked up certain key phrases from the Chinese classics to put forth its message in the local idiom.  Among the classics Buddhism drew from was, naturally, the I Ching.  Eleventh-century Ch’an Buddhists used well-known lines referring to effective adaptation, an axial Buddhist theme.”  It’s also important to mention that Buddhism in China was heavily influenced by Taoism.

Within the I Ching there is an understanding of change and a non-dual view of existence generally consistent with Taoism and Buddhism. According to the I Ching, interaction between the two opposite principles, yin and yang, is the primary cause of all change. I or “change” is symbolized by the advance or retreat of the dragon. As in Buddhism, all things are impermanent, subject to change, but change is not one-dimensional, rather it is cyclical. The purpose of consulting the I Ching should not be to divine one’s fate or to engage in a form of entertainment, the aim lies in gaining insight into the ebb and flow of life, with an eye toward creating harmony between the individual and the constant movement of the cycles of change.

In his book, The Inner Structure of the I Ching, Lama Anagarika Govinda calls the text “The Book of Transformation,” for ultimately that is what it is, a tool for transformation, self-development – we might even call it the world’s first self-help book. The I Ching is sometimes referred to as “The Oracle,” but as Lama Govinda tells us,

When we consult the I Ching, we do not renounce our free will, but we seek clarity for our decision. Thus, the I Ching helps us to exert our free will, not to suppress it, as most people think who look for easy solutions and want to avoid responsibility by treating the I Ching as a soothsaying book. The I Ching is not there to predict the future, but to show you the possibilities that lie before you. But you yourself must decide your fate.”

To learn more, I Ching on the Net has a compressive list of related links.

– – – – – – – – – –

* The Complete I Ching, Trans. Alfred Huang, Inner Traditions International, 1998, 51

** Wing-Tsit Chan (Ed.), A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 1963, 262

*** Chih-hsu Ou-i, The Buddhist I Ching (Chou i ch’an chieh), Trans. Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987.


The Good, the Bad, and Four Guys from Jersey

A number of interesting birthdays today: Ann Wilson, of the rock group Heart, in 1951; actresses Kathleen Turner (1949) and Phylicia Rashad (1948); Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses, 1947.

Also born on this day, in 1935, Tommy Devito, guitarist with the Four Seasons. I see where the film version of the play Jersey Boys, based on the story of the Four Seasons, one of the great 60s groups, is hitting the theaters this weekend. One of the big problems with movies about rock and roll is that the vast majority have been made by people who don’t understand rock and roll. The Jersey Boys book is by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and the music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and they’re all rock and roll guys, but the director is Clint Eastwood, more of a jazz guy.  Now maybe back in the early 6os when he was playing Rowdy on Rawhide, Eastwood really dug the Four Seasons, who knows? Jon Favreau was to direct the movie originally . . . that I could see. Unfortunately, I’m not holding out much hope for this film.  I have liked a few of Eastwood’s directorial efforts, but I think he makes too many of them just for the money.

Other birthdays include, in 1903, Lou Gehrig aka “The Iron Horse,” immortal first baseman for the New York Yankees, and in 1897, Moe Howard, and I shouldn’t have to tell you what group he was in . . . but just in case, here’s a clue: “Oh, a wise guy, eh?”

Last but not least: Aung San Suu Kyi was born June 19th, 1945. She has taken some flak lately about the situation in Burma. Some feel she should be more outspoken. I shared my opinion about that here.

In an interview last March at the Irrawaddy Literary Festival she was asked, “I’ve learned to understand Buddhism is a peaceful and serene religion. But how does Buddhism play out politically?”

Suu Kyi gave this response:

Reuters photo

I don’t think Christians are quite Christian in their political lives. So Buddhists are not necessarily Buddhist in their political life, or even in social life. People ask me, ‘Are you a Buddhist?’ My answer would be I’m studying to be one, to be a better Buddhist. I’d like to say I’m a good Buddhist, but I’m not in a position to say I’m a good Buddhist as I’m trying to learn to be one . . .

Meditation has taught me tremendous awareness of getting annoyed, getting tired and feeling better. I meditate unless I’m lazy or tired, mostly once a week . . .

I was born into a Buddhist family. Buddhism is rooted in a practical cause. It’s about the discovery of what the human mind and human beings are like. The more I meditated, the more I learned of how true to life Buddhist teachings were.

For example, I’m very fond of the teaching that explains how to distinguish a good man from a bad man. A bad man always exaggerates his good points and minimizes the good points of others. A good man does it the other way around. And a bad man will always exaggerate everything people say to him in gratitude. It’s a very simple bit of teaching. I’ve found that very human. And believe me, I can tell a good man from a bad man.”

Here is the full article.

Finally, this song is sung by the guy who plays Frankie Valli on the soundtrack of Jersey Boys, but there is no substitute for the original:


Sages and Dreams

In Buddhism, buddhas and bodhisattvas are held up as ideal models of human behavior. In Taoism, it is the sage.

Sagehood is the perfected state of being, a state like Buddhahood that is achievable through self-development. And also like Buddahood, sagehood is a way of seeing the world in its harmonious original nature. Sagehood is a the state of being one with all things.

The sage has many other characteristics, some of which are discussed in this passage from the so-called “inner chapters” of Chuang Tzu:

Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly.
Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly.

One day Chu Chuai Tzu said to his teacher, Chang Wu Tzu, “I have heard Confucius say that a sage does not get involved in the world. A sage does not seek gain or try to avoid loss. A sage does not seek anything, and does not even cling to the Tao (the Way). A sage does not use words and when speaking has nothing to say. In this way, a sage is able to go far beyond this world of dust. Now, Confucius thinks these are empty and fancy words, yet I feel they are much like the mysterious Tao itself. What do you think?”

Chang Wu Tzu replied, “I think these words would confuse even the Yellow Emperor . . . The sage floats with the sun and moon and joins the universe, embracing it as one great whole. A sage has no use for distinctions and ignores social status. Ordinary men toil and struggle while the sage seems stubborn and dull-witted. To the sage a thousand years is one, the myriad beings of the universe are but one, forming a great whole.

“How do we know that loving life is not a delusion? How do we know that in fearing death we are not like someone who gets lost on the way home like a child?

“Lady Li was the child of a border guard who was taken prisoner by the Duke of Chin. When first captured, she wept so much her clothes were soaked. But after she adjusted to her new surroundings and luxurious new life, she regretted her tears. How can we know that the dead do not regret their previous longing for life? One who dreams of drinking wine may in the morning weep; one who dreams weeping may in the morning go out and hunt. When dreaming we do not now we are dreaming. We may even dream of dreaming a dream. Only when we awaken do we know it was a dream. Only after our great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream.

“And yet fools dream and think they are awake. They pretend to know what is going on, and distinguish between kings and slaves. How stupid! I think both you and Confucius are dreaming. Of course, I am dreaming, too. My words may seem like nonsense, but after ten thousand years, a sage may come along who can explain them and then it will seem like morning.”

It is said that the ancient sages of China traveled the country, sharing knowledge with everyone, never asking for anything in exchange. They established no institutions, religions, schools or temples. They did not bother to give their teachings a name, except to say that what they taught was consistent with the great Tao.

It is also said that these sages understood the nature of dreams and delusions and that they understood that delusions disappear while one sits quietly and recognizes the original nature.


Time Is

Yesterday, June 12th, was the one month anniversary of my transplant. My recovery is progressing well, and in fact my doctors, nurses and coordinators all tell me that my progress is nothing short of spectacular, something I am not ashamed to admit that I love to hear.

And yet, it is not quite as fast as I would like.  I wish I were back to normal already, or better than normal, as I was told would be the case. I’m tired of being tired, sick of being cold (I feel cold all the time), and everything else that has come with this recovery. Even though they say what I am experiencing is typical and to be expected . . . I’m impatient for the healing process to be over and done with.

I know it’s the wrong attitude. I should just let go and let time heal.

Recently I read where a Buddhist teacher or blogger said time does not heal. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who it was, nor did I bother to read the article and discover the context in which that statement was offered. Now, some reason it’s stuck in my mind, and taking the statement as it is, literally, I couldn’t disagree more.

It is important to pay careful attention to the timeless reality of now, but it is equally as important to understand the passage of time, the cycles of time. As always, the first and best Buddhist solution is to find the chu-do, the middle way.

To deny time or simply remain in the mindfulness of now is as bad as living in the past, or living only for the future. Time brings change, and since the Buddha taught everything is transient, we should have faith that change can be our friend, our ally, if we choose to let go and flow with it.

We should also try to understand the cycles of time and just where certain situations stand and where they intersect with other situations, forces, and qualities, in the complex pattern of life.

In my situation, allowing time to heal forces me to work on my practice of patience, which I’ve noted more than once is not my particular forte in life. Being patient with healing, being patient with my medical team, with myself . . . for me, it’s a struggle, but I am armed in this fight with confidence, for as Shantideva wrote, “Even while I remain in this world of suffering, through the practice of patience, I shall have beauty and good health and long life, and even the extensive joy of a universal king!”

Allowing time to heal our wounds is about having confidence about acceptance, something we probably don’t think about too often, so I’ll say it again . . . have confidence about, with, and in acceptance.  It is good to accept things, to trust in the virtue of letting go, being patient . . . after all, it’s really just that old wu-wei, the natural way of things . . . it’s understanding that time does heal . . . that all things change with time and acceptance is not rushing change or being unduly concerned about time . . . you see, for some people . . . for those who love . . . who really love . . . time is . . .