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August 11, 2010


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Thanks to my facebook friends for all the fun conversation! Will add a few of the poems that were offered on the theme of autumn-arriving below.

Long ago, A.C. Graham published a good translation of Ouyang Xiu (Ou-yang Hsiu)'s famous "Rhymeprose on the Sounds of Autumn", which might resonate with you:

One night when I was reading I heard a sound coming from the
southwest. I listened in alarm and said:
"Strange! At first it was a patter of drops, a rustle in the air; all at
once it is hooves stampeding, breakers on a shore; it is as though
huge waves were rising startled in the night, in a sudden downpour
of wind and rain. When it collides with something it clatters and
clangs, gold and iron ring together; and then it is as though soldiers
were advancing against an enemy, running swiftly with the gag
between their teeth, and you hear no voiced command, only the
tramping of men and horses."
I said to the boy, "What is this sound, go out and look."
The boy returned and told me:
"The moon and stars gleam white and pure, the bright river is in the
sky, nowhere is there any sound of man; the sound is over among
the trees."
"Alas, how sad!" I answered. "This is the sound of autumn, why has
it come? If you wish to know the signs which distinguish autumn,
its colours are pale and mournful, mists dissolve and the clouds are
gathered away; its face is clear and bright, with the sky high
overhead and die sun of crystal; its breath is harsh and raw, and
pierces our flesh and bones; its mood is dreary and dismal, and the
mountains and rivers lie desolate. Therefore the sound which
distinguishes it is keen and chill, and bursts out in shrieks and
screams. The rich, close grass teems vivid green, the thriving
verdure of splendid trees delights us; then autumn sweeps the grass
and its colour changes, touches the trees and their leaves drop. The
power by which it lays waste and scatters far and wide is the
unexpended fury of the breath of heaven and earth....
"Alas! The plants and trees feel nothing, whirling and scattering
when their time comes; but mankind has consciousness, the noblest
of all intelligences. A hundred cares move his heart, a myriad tasks
weary his body; the least motion within him is sure to make his spirit
waver, and how much more when he thinks of that which is beyond
the reach of his endeavour, worries over that which his wisdom is
powerless to alter! It is natural that his glossy crimson changes to
withered wood, that his ebony black is soon flecked with stars!
What use is it for man, who is not of the substance of metal and
stone, to wish to vie for glory with the grass and trees? But
remembering who it is who commits this
violence against us, why should we complain against the sound of
The boy did not answer, had dropped his head and fallen asleep. I
heard only the sound of the insects chirping from the four walls, as though
to make a chorus for my sighs.

Heading South

Spring returns to Peach Blossom River
and my sail is a cloud through maple forests.

Exiled, I lived for years in secret, moving on
farther from home with tear-stains on my sleeves.

Now old and sick, at last I'm headed south.
Remembering old friends, I look back north a final time.

A hundred years I sang my bitter song,
but not a soul remembers those old rhymes.

Hi Prashant,

One interesting thing about the really old Chinese and Japanese poems (and the same could be said of literati style Chinese art, I believe)is that it takes a rather different approach to human emotions than conventional Buddhist philosophy. That is, where Buddhist art and philosophy will take a position of negation of human emotions (as something which causes pain or is born out of ignorance/attachment), the ancient Chinese and Japanese poets, in contrast, saw emotions more positively as something to be both embraced and refined. Ultimately, emotions were viewed positively as something edifying. So that one didn't negate emotion as much as one sought to stand back just a bit from it enough to cultivate it throught art or literature or "shared" sentiment. And as an edifying experience, in its refining it was seen as enlightening. You could argue that this is still possible within Buddhism and I agree... This is also different from Western expressionism (which lacks perhaps the cultivation aspect of subjectivism and seeks just to express raw emotion as individual experience in art form, maybe?) but also it is quite different from later Medieval Japanese poetry as well, which has a negating subject. Emotion in the older poems I think is seen as something which ought to be embraced, cultivated and refined in art or literature in order to help generate insights into life, transience, love, etc..

Autumn Haiku

two fishermen bent
repairing nets
leaves rustle past

Yes, Autumn is announced by the wind. I noticed this on a Trip I Recently Made. The word “soughing” often comes to mind. But there is also a distinct smell associated with the coming of Autumn. Something astringent and bracing. Some perfume maker should bottle this stuff. By the way, I got my copy of the Silk Road magazine. Very nice. Thanks.

its funny, i have been re-reading Therigathas and my close friend Andrew Schelling's verses, connecting with you has opened a nice can of thoughts and feelings...
i totally relate with your feeling on the seemingly sterile experiences some forms"dominant" of Buddhism present...drawing from the rich landscape of bhakti and devotional thought and seeing the role of emotions in some of the "finer-higher-" Buddhist paths of vajrayana i do recognize the abundance of methods of communicating the real dharma through the realm of emotions...

Good Morning Prashant,

You also opened up a can of thoughts and feelings with that rainbow. Shimla and those hills are so beautiful. There is something so evocative about the lovely town and then hills covered in trees--deodar and pine-- apple trees. I would love to see it in the snow someday...

As to the other. Well, I just thought from a Buddhist point of view, when looking at the really old Chinese and Japanese poems, it is interesting to be aware that in the Chinese case, many pre-date Buddhism's real influence in that land while the post 9th, 10th century poems were influenced by a more emotion-embracing Buddhist idea... the stuff I love, from Japanese Court Poetry to Chinese Literati painting is still *Buddhist* but it is, as you said, a method of communicating dharma through the realm of emotions, which are cultivated and refined. Another interesting point is this idea of a "porous" heart that breathes. So, "outer" is brought in through breath and qi or spirits (in dante's language) while inner is then brought out through art.. absent is a self encapsulated ego in a body (or Cartesian theater as some call the mental equivalent?) Anyway, you and your rainbow... you are one lucky man!!!! Talk soon

Hi Sterling,

Thank you so much!! It is such a lovely image... something you don't see as much anymore... but what remains a common sight in a lot of tjhe world: fishermen unfolding and untangling their nets. Going to the Getty to see the Carpacchio today. Will probably revise this and re-upload it later but the Venetians of the Renaisaance fished with birds like in China and in Japan. Be sure to click on the links to see the beautiful pictures of birds...


I am always so happy to hear from you.... and so glad to hear the magazine arrived. Didn't you love the kite pictures? Thanks so much for everything!! And your trip to the onsen sounded really rustic :)

Are you in Autumn now too... I thought Mongolia used the Tibetan calendar, which is different from the Chinese but also solar-lunar? You'll have to tell me someday....? When I read your blog sometimes it seems like you are on the Chinese ancient caledar but most of the time it sounds totally Tibetan :)

What are you reading? I am reading the BEST book that I highly recommend called The Medieval Heart by Heather Webb (not on kindle yet, I wonder?) More soon.

Dear Peony,

I stumbled across your blog while wikiing/dogpiling/googling Tyrian purple and I just love this place. I would love to wander the world in search of ancient history/civilizations and people. I love finding people who know the little things about history that make it interesting and your purple blog is a great example. I will be back for more.

Thank you!

Hi Kim,

Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! You made my day!!! There is a lot of history in the Carthage category as well as Ancient Times....Please stop by again :)

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