published August 31, 2002
Cover: Waterfall in Gumma Prefecture, by Tetsu Koichi
KJ 51 picks up on what contributor Andy Couturier characterizes as “the abundance of less” — otherwise known as voluntary simplicity. Choosing one’s focus. In an extract from A Different Kind of Luxury , Andy profiles woodblock artist Nakamura Osamu, whose formative experience was living in a Himalayan village through most of the 1980s. Red Pine discusses his frugal life dedicated to translation of Chinese classics in an interview by Roy Hamric. Zang Yu Huan and Ken Rose outline “Qi in the Arts of China,” an excerpt from the book A Short History of Qi . Robert Brady’s blog excerpts tell of various joys of rural life, with paintings by Alan Chong Lau. Arthur Sze writes on the art of translation, in “Between Heaven and Earth,” from his book The Silk Dragon. Poet Gary Snyder retells Chuang-tzu’s 3rd century BC “Discourse on Swords” in “Coyote Man, Mr. President and the Gunfighters.” David Loy explores “Getting Beyond Good Vs Evil: A Buddhist Perspective on the New Holy War.” Our first-ever full-color section features “Balinese Canoes” by Dustin W. Leavitt.
Nakamura has lived in this house for almost eleven years now, since returning from Nepal at age 42. When I first visited him here, I imagined that his apparently austere way of life was based on some moral or ethical philosophy. “No,” Nakamura says, “everything I do is because I completely enjoy doing it this way.”
I spend great stretches of time alone up on the mountain with the sky on my hands, tending soil and plants and seeds and rearranging rocks the better to suit their natures vis-a-vis my need for stone walls, and stare out at the Lake and its majesty, get as involved as I humanly can in thunderstorms and whirlwinds, learning from them the many small things there are about myself, and my past, and my path, and the vortex of truth and illusion. There is no greater teacher than solitude, as anyone who makes it back from the desert knows.
“What I do now is more of a performance,” he says. “Before, I was usually sort of reading the lines like an actor, but now I perform the book — what I do now is closer to dance. The words have to follow along my physical feel for the rhythm, the feeling of what’s happening in the Chinese poem. I don’t see the Chinese as the origin anymore. The Chinese was what the authors used to write down what they were feeling.
Our understanding of good and evil cannot be simply identified with any religious worldview, but the two are intimately related. …. This essay originates in the curious fact that the al-Qaeda understanding of good and evil — the need for a holy war against evil — is also emphasized by the administration of George W. Bush.
Mr. President was at an utter loss. “So what is the revolver of mankind?” “The revolver of mankind? The twelve races are the grip; the three thousand languages, the barrel. Forged in the Pliocene, finished in the Pleistocene, decorated with culture, it aims for knowledge and beauty. The cylinder is the rise and fall of nations, the sights are the philosophies and religions and sciences, the bullets are countless men and women who have pierced through ignorance and old habits, and revealed the shining mirror of true nature. It takes its model from life itself, and trusts in the four seasons. Its secret power is the delight of the mind.
One day, still glutting myself on the latest news and still utterly confused, I came across an AP Wire photo of an Afghani balloon guy. In the middle of a desert village, with death and rubble and unexploded ordnance everywhere, a little boy walked along the road with a rainbow batch of shiny, helium-filled balloons. He was smiling. The people were buying. There would be food on the table tonight…
Boats had long captivated me — or more correctly, what boats represented loomed large in my imagination. To me, boats were small worlds unto themselves, roving islands of purposefulness in which the discipline of self-reliance passed for the law of the land. They projected order and utility. Yet, they remained compliant, ego-less, if such a thing may be said of an inanimate object, for they had existed among men for a very long time.
Honesty and righteousness have long been fundamental requirements of Chinese art. They arise from an understanding of the forces involved in the process of artistic creation and reflect the profound roots of morality in Chinese culture. This morality is not based in the Western dichotomy of right versus wrong or good versus evil. It develops from inspection of nature and an understanding of how life should be lived to harmonize human action with the forces of the natural world.
“No, I mean, geez. Listen babe, what kind of person do you think I am? Can’t use chopsticks. Hello. You think I’m some kind of uncultured white guy?” She pauses. He looks awkward with his bent knees, his loud voice shouting in English. Was he like this all along? She can’t remember.
Conrad country. At last. I can see why his imagination fed so greedily on this place. There are two splendid rivers — the Kelai and the Segah — flowing together to form the Berau where, on the spit of land between the tributaries, the town of the same name sprawls (pop. 105,000). The houses along the Kelai still crowded the bank, and, as if to get away from the unhealthy shore, stepped boldly into the river, shooting over it in a close row of bamboo platforms elevated on high piles, amongst which the current below spoke in a soft and unceasing plaint of murmuring eddies.
The gently undulating cornfields of South Africa’s vast interiors hardly suggest the archetypal setting for a Buddhist temple. Yet 90km northeast of Johannesburg, in the conservative Afrikaans farming community of Bronkhorstspruit, sits the ornately decorated Nan Hua Temple. Despite its grand scale, few South Africans are aware that it is the first Buddhist seminary in Africa.
If ever two countries would seem to be destined not to know each other, it would appear to be Japan and Brazil, and not only because they are thousands of miles apart and share virtually no common political, religious, or cultural history. The one country is an island; the other comprises half a continent. The most celebrated Japanese writer wrote haiku; the most celebrated Brazilian one wrote an epic.
The village of Iya has always been a refuge. In the 12th century, fugitives of the defeated Heike clan fled across the Inland Sea, through the mountains of Shikoku, until they reached the protection of the Iya Valley. The area is now famed as being one of the three most remote, inaccessible places in Japan.
When I saw the plane crash into the Twin Towers, I thought it was special effects. When convinced that the destruction was real, I recalled its foreshadowing in countless apocalyptic films. Horrified, I was not however truly surprised, for we had been warned by Hollywood. Who could believe that such an attack could not happen, that America was inviolate?
The Yin-Yang Journal: a Critique of the Social Ego, by RC Allen — Ken Rodgers
The Blue Cliff Record: Zen Echoes, by David Rothenberg — Roy Hamric
Naikan — Gratitude, Grace , and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, by Gregg Krech — Stewart Wachs
One Hundred Years of Japanese Film, by Donald Richie — Christopher Tate
China: Empire of Living Symbols, by Cecilia Lindqvist — Ken Rodgers