Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Fabulous Book

     We now call into session our latest fan club meeting for the wonderful author, Deng Ming-Dao.  Wow, have I got a book to recommend to you.

     I just finished Deng's Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master.  It is comprised of three novellas, The Wandering Taoist, Seven Bamboo Tablets of the Cloudy Satchel, and Gateway to a Vast World.  It was one of those books I just didn't want to end.  It taught me so much.

     It follows Saihung, who, as a young boy, was recognized as having special gifts by a Taoist master and who was given to the monastery for training.  The first novella explores how Saihung learned not only Taoist doctrine, but also meditation techniques and martial arts training, along with the everyday duties of a young monk serving his master.  The second novella shows how he became more mature in Taoism, but was sent on a mission which threw him into the low places of China.  The last novella followed him on his travels into the United States.

     What I love about this book is that the main character is so believable, with his doubts and anger issues and desires on full display, while seeing how he learned about Taoism and tried, not always successfully, to incorporate Taoist principles into his everyday life.  It gave me hope, and a sense that we all struggle with balancing our outer and inner lives.

     I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you're interested in learning about Taoism, or just want to understand 20th century Chinese history or the treatment of Chinese immigrants in the United States, get this book.  Fabulous.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Pretty Good Book

     Have you ever ordered a book, picked it up and starting reading it, only to find out it was nothing like you expected?  That could be a good thing, as in engaging in an engrossing read or learning something completely new, or it could be not so good, as in when you just can't connect with what the author is trying to say.

     I experienced more of the latter than the former while reading Alan Watts' Tao: The Watercourse Way. I'm sure it's just me.  It came highly recommended on Amazon, so perhaps I just wasn't in the mindset to wander and ruminate with the author.

     Alan Watts, the British author who came to California in the 60s and became a kind of a hippie guru, has written extensively on Zen Buddhism.  This was his only foray, I believe, into Taoism.  He uses each chapter to explore an aspect of Taoism, whether it be the difficulties of translating from the Chinese, or what wu-wei could mean, the yin-yang polarity, or the Taoist conception of virtuality.  However, when presenting the information or concept, he pulls in references from all sorts of places -- from Thoreau to Zen writings to Confucianism -- in an academic way.  It reminded me of a book I read years ago about Emily Dickinson, which read like a scholar's exploration in abstraction, but lacked any sort of point.  Give me the point, please.

     Sadly, Mr. Watts died before completing this book, so perhaps it lacked a fair amount of editing.  Or perhaps this is just how he wrote.  In any case, his co-author, Al Chung-liang Huang contributed an additional chapter, but the book, to me, felt incomplete.  But like I said, it did come highly recommended, so it probably is me.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Quote for Today

     From John Perkins, in a 2005 interview:
     We all must remember one thing: that civil movements create change.  We need to be involved in these movements, whether they be environmental, anti-corporate, animal rights, or any other progressive cause.  In this way we have managed many times to create change: women's right to vote, civil rights, saving endangered species, cleaning up polluted rivers -- the list is impressive.  
(photo courtesy of

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Quote for Today

     From Starhawk, in a 2003 interview:
     It's easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless, but we need to remember that all of these [economic] systems rest on the compliance of millions of ordinary people like you and me.  If we withdraw our consent, if we stop feeling isolated and helpless and start reaching out to friends and neighbors who feel the same way, then we have enormous power.     
     One of the key ways these institutions take away our power is by making us think our voices are small and worthless.  It's an important political and spiritual act to say, "My voice is worth something."  We have to take civic responsibility and not be stopped by fear or a sense of powerlessness.  Democracy is like a horse: you can't keep it healthy when it's locked in the barn; you have to exercise it regularly.
(image courtesy of

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Pretty Good Book, Part 2

     Here is a delicious quote from Dan Brown's latest book, Origin: A Novel.  This is from the character of the king of Spain, speaking to his son:
'Most importantly,' he said, 'this museum must celebrate the other lesson history has taught us -- that tyranny and oppression are no match for compassion . . . that the fanatical shouts of the bullies of the world are invariably silenced by the unified voices of decency that rise up to meet them.  It is these voices - these choirs of empathy, tolerance, and compassion -- that I pray one day will sing from this mountaintop.' 
     Amen to that.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Pretty Good Book

     I recently finished reading Dan Brown's latest thriller, Origin: A Novel.  It finds expert symbolist and Harvard professor Robert Langdon enmeshed in another mystery, in this case, solving the murder of his friend, tech wunderkind Edmond Kirsch.  Kirsch was brutally killed while presenting to the world his latest finding on the topic:  Where do we come from?  Where are we going?  While being chased by mysterious forces, Langdon must avoid being killed himself while trying to reveal Kirsch's discoveries.

     It's a very good book, but not his best, I think. While he has perfected the art of creating tension and pulling you on to the next page or next chapter, I found myself thinking, This feels like The Da Vinci Code.  Offshoot Catholic sect?  Check.  Unknown bad guy pulling the strings in nefarious ways?  Check.  Wondering how on Earth the protagonists do all they do while seriously injured or without going to the bathroom?  Check.

     I also have a beef with one of the chief theses of the book -- that technology is our ultimate destiny and savior.  It would have been nice if there had been more discussion or reflection on that.  But, I tend to be a bit of a techno-avoider, so perhaps that's my bias.  I also believe that there are forces in this world that cannot be explained by a linear world-view, so that runs contrary to Brown's thesis.  Be that as it may.

     If you want a good, escapist read that features some of the best sites in Spain, grab this book.  You may find yourself arguing with the ending, but that might be a good thing.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Thought For Today

From Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States:
No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country . . . and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level -- I mean the wages of decent living.
(photo courtesy of