Monday, April 28, 2008

Roman fortitude

Roman fortitude used to be a proverbial expression but we rarely come across it these days. I would not have known why the expression existed until a few years ago when I read Livy’s account of Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 218 BC. Hannibal crossed the Alps into Italy with his Carthaginian army, including elephants, and later defeated huge Roman armies sent against him. At the battle of Cannae, the main Roman army was utterly destroyed: 70,000 Romans were killed, including 80 senators. Rome seemed to be Hannibal’s for the taking. The story of how the Romans never gave up but picked themselves up out of the dirt when all seemed to be lost makes for a gripping read. How did they do it? What was their strength? How did they think?
I found a very clear, concise, and meaningful exposition of the Roman soul in my dad’s old notebook (again). It comes from the book ‘The Romans’ by R.H. Barrow. Notice how often the word ‘respect’ comes up.

Self-subordination marked the Roman mind. ‘Because you bear yourselves as less than the gods, you rule the world’… Through obedience comes power. The great gift of Roman obedience flowered in due time into the great ideals of Roman law. By learning at infinite cost that lesson, Rome has set those ideals upon succeeding ages. The Romans were a ‘law-inspired nation’ but the law was of their making and they imposed it on themselves…
Respect for eternal values, the will of the gods and their expression as objective ‘right’ in the practical things of human life (Pietas).
Respect for human personality and human relationships (Humanitas), whether in the family or the state or the circle of friends, springing from a regard for the personality of each individual and issuing in the maintenance of his freedom (Libertas).
Respect for tradition (Mores) that holds fast to what has been handed down because it contains accumulated wisdom which no one moment and no one man can supply.
Respect for authority (Auctoritas), not as obedience to a superior power, but as regard for the judgment of men whose experience and knowledge deserve respect.
Respect for the pledged word (Fides) and the expressed intention, the faith of the Romans by which, with their friends and such as relied on them, they kept amity, and ‘the most sacred thing in life’.
Respect for these things presupposed training (Disciplinas), the training of the home, of public life, of life itself, and the training which comes from the self (Severitas). And training of this kind creates a responsible cast of mind (Gravitas) which assigns importance to important things, so that, when once the hand is placed to the plough, a man does not look back and falter, but keeps to his purpose (Constantia). These are the qualities which make up the genius of the Roman people.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Seven Cups of Tea

The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat,
The second shatters the walls of my lonely sadness,
The third searches the dry rivulets of my soul to find the stories of five thousand scrolls.
With the fourth the pain of past injustice vanishes through my pores.
The fifth purifies my flesh and bone.
With the sixth I am in touch with the immortals.
The seventh gives such pleasure I can hardly bear.
The fresh wind blows through my wings
As I make my way to Penglai. - Lu Tong 790-835

Friday, April 18, 2008

The importance of tea

I have been a tea-drinker all my life. In England where I grew up, tea-drinking is an institution. But I have only been drinking green tea for the last 8 or 10 years, since about the time that I discovered eastern philosophy. I tried it once, preparing it in the same way I would prepare an ‘English’ tea: a heaped teaspoon in the pot and wait until it becomes a dark colour. Needless to say, it was undrinkable. Green tea, I later found out, has to be handled more delicately. There is an art to preparing tea. The Chinese have many treatises on preparing and drinking tea and the Japanese have their Way of Tea and the Tea Ceremony. Fortunately for me, I discovered later how to make a decent cup of green tea. Otherwise I would have missed out on one of life’s great pleasures.
I will not set myself up as an expert: I will let you make the discovery of green tea for yourself, in your own way. I will only say that with green tea, the water must not be boiling and the quantity used and time of infusion are much less than with our ‘western’ teas. The taste must be delicate, light, subtle. Then it is incomparably the best drink in the world. Try it, and then you will tell me about your discovery and how you now love green tea.

In ‘The Importance of Living’, Lin Yutang offers us a better understanding of how and when to drink tea, as such a delicate, sensual enjoyment can be ruined by many things:

For tea is invented for quiet company, as wine is invented for a noisy party. There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life…. Since the Sung Dynasty, connoisseurs have generally regarded a cup of pale tea as the best, and the delicate flavour of pale tea can easily pass unperceived by one occupied with busy thoughts, or when the neighbourhood is noisy, or servants are quarrelling…

He later gives us examples of proper moments for drinking tea:

In accordance with the Chinese practice of prescribing the proper moment and surrounding for enjoying a thing, Ch’asu, an excellent treatise on tea, reads thus:

Proper moments for drinking tea:
When one’s heart and hands are idle.
Tired after reading poetry.
When one’s thoughts are disturbed.
Listening to songs and ditties.
When a song is completed.
Shut up at one’s home on a holiday.
Playing the ch’in and looking over paintings
Engaged in conversation deep at night.
Before a bright window and a clean desk.
With charming friends and slender concubines.
Returning from a visit with friends.
When the day is clear and the breeze is mild.
On a day of light showers.
In a painted boat near a small wooden bridge.
In a forest with tall bamboos.
In a pavilion overlooking lotus flowers on a summer day.
Having lighted incense in a small studio.
After a feast is over and the guests are gone.
When children are at school.
In a quiet, secluded temple.
Near famous springs and quaint rocks.

Reading this ancient list, we are reminded perhaps of our need to reconnect with friends, with art, with nature and to relax. How long is it since you read a poem, looked at paintings, drank tea in a forest? Not to mention the charming friends and slender concubines.

Moments when one would should stop drinking tea:
At work.
Watching a play.
Opening letters.
During big rain and snow.
At a long wine feast and a big party.
Going through documents.
On busy days.
Generally conditions contrary to those enumerated in the above section.

In these activities, our attention is distracted or engaged on a task; therefore we cannot fully appreciate our tea. Better to keep it for later, when we have leisure to appreciate it, and let it become part of our personal ‘relaxation ceremony ’.
Photo by Jerneja Varsek

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tea quotations

There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea. Bernard-Paul Heroux

It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon it says, "Work!" After beefsteak and porter, it says, "Sleep!" After a cup of says to the brain, "Now rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature, and into life: spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!" Jerome K. Jerome

If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty. Japanese Proverb

Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things. Okakura Kakuzo

Friday, April 11, 2008

How to forgive

To err is human, to forgive divine. So goes the saying. Why divine? It is divine because it is hard to do, almost impossible where our emotions run high. When we are angry with someone, when we hate someone who has done us harm, we would have to be angels to forgive him (or her).
In my experience, I think this has to do with a sense of injustice. We judge the person, we condemn him, and we want him to pay for what he has done. The only trouble with this approach is that the only person suffering here is ourselves.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mathew 7:1-2

To hate, judge and condemn the other person we must first fill ourselves with hate, anger and negative energy. Our thoughts are creative and by harbouring them we bring about, we manifest the negative situations we condemn in the other. From 'The Power of your Subconscious Mind' by Dr Joseph Murphy:

This means that in applying standards and criteria to others, you create those standards and criteria in your subconscious, which then applies them to you. Once you know this law and understand the way your subconscious mind works, you will always be careful to think, feel, and act right toward others, for in doing so you are creating a situation of right action, feeling, and thought toward yourself.

In other words it is in your own best interest to forgive. You forgive for yourself. You forgive in order to let go of the negative energy that is poisoning your subconscious and your life. Anyone who has genuinely forgiven knows the liberating feeling that comes with it.
When you forgive, you are not saying that what that person did to you was right. You are not agreeing with that person’s actions. You are simply letting go of the negative emotions you feel for that person, for your own good.
To let go of those negative emotions we must replace them with other positive emotions. Whenever we think of that person, we must replace any hateful emotion by a positive thought. Dr. Murphy suggests this affirmation:

I fully and freely forgive (the name of the offender). I release him (her) mentally and spiritually. I completely forgive everything connected with the matter in question. I am free and he (she) is free. It is a marvellous feeling.

Another major obstacle to our ability to forgive, I have found, is our inability to understand the other person and what has happened. How could that person do such a thing? Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, offers us this advice (from 'The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius' translated by George Long):

Whatever man thou meetest with, immediately say to thyself:
What opinions has this man about good and bad? For if with respect to pleasure and pain and the causes of each, and with respect to fame and ignominy, death and life he has such and such opinions, it will seem nothing wonderful or strange to me, if he does such and such things; and I shall bear in mind that he is compelled to do so.

When we understand ‘where a person is coming from’ we will have more appropriate ‘expectations’ and we will be better disposed to be tolerant. This is another way of saying, to understand all is to forgive all. And if we are able to understand all, it will be easier for us to forgive.
But we should not wait to understand all before forgiving. This reminds me of the Buddha's parable:

It is as if a man is hit by a poison arrow. His friends hasten to the doctor. The latter is about to draw the arrow out of the wound. The wounded man however cries: `Stop, I will not have the arrow drawn out until I know who shot it. Whether a warrior or a Brahmin, or belonging to the agricultural or menial castes... his name and to which family he belonged...'

Such a man would be a fool not to have the arrow pulled out immediately in order to save his life.
Similarly, it is more important for us to forgive now to get the poison out of our system, than to wait until we understand the situation more completely.
Even if we cannot always ‘understand all’, we can understand that if we could understand all, we would forgive all. Therefore, we will not go far wrong by forgiving now, ‘on faith’.
God always understands all and he always forgives all. If we do the same, wouldn't that be divine?

Forgiveness quotations

Do not think about whatever service you may have done for others; think about what you may have done to offend them. Don’t forget what others have done for you, forget what others have done to offend you. Huanchu Daoren

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Ghandi

The stupid neither forgive nor forget, the naïve forgive and forget, the wise forgive but do not forget. Thomas Szazs

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much. Oscar Wilde

There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness. Josh Billings

When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive. Alan Paton

To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness. Robert Muller

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hara and the Last Samurai

The following except is from the book ‘Hara – The Vital Centre of Man’ by Karlfried Graf Durkheim (Harper Collins).
Hara in Japanese means ‘belly’ and refers to a ‘state in which the individual has found his primal centre’. Durkheim here explains one of the references to Hara in the Japanese language and what it means:

Only with connection with more mature man, the Hara no dekita hito, can one speak of the Hara no okii hito, the man with the big belly. Here the word okii, big, has its special accent only in connection with Hara. It means, as mentioned above, generous, magnanimous, and warm-hearted without any implication of weakness or indulgence. In connection with the phrase Hara no okii hito, there is also the saying seidaku awase nomu, literally, ‘to swallow the pure together with the impure,’ in the sense of ‘accepting’ even ‘welcoming everything’ and giving everything its due place. Saigo Takamori is always cited as one who exemplified this attitude. He was famous for never saying anything disparaging about another. He knew how to give the right place even to the basest of men and to learn something from him. For that reason he was able not only to endure personal ill-fortune but even to welcome it. He could profit by any experience.
Photo: Kanazawa Castle, Japan

The Way of the last samurai

You have probably seen the Tom Cruise film 'The Last Samurai', inspired by historic events and figures in the last days of feudal Japan. The last samurai was in fact Saigo Takamori, (played brilliantly by Ken Watanabe in the film), who was at first a loyal supporter of reforms for the 'westernisation' of Japan. But when the privileges of the samurai class were abolished, notably the traditional carrying of the two swords, he was torn between loyalty to his country and loyalty to his samurai ideals. (You can find a good overview at Wikipedia).
Here is a beautiful and profound exposition of 'The Way' by Saigo Takamori.

The way is the way of Heaven and Earth, man's way is to follow it; therefore make it the object of thy life to reverence Heaven.
Heaven loves me and others with equal love; therefore, with the love wherewith thou lovest thyself, love others.
Make not man thy partner but Heaven, and making Heaven thy partner do thy best.
Never condemn others; but see to it that thou comest not short of thine own mark.
Photo: Kanazawa Shrine, by Martin Drew

Monday, April 7, 2008

On being a gentleman

We very rarely hear talk about what it is to be a gentleman these days. But that does not mean that gentlemen no longer exist, or that there is no longer any need to be one. In my definition, being a gentleman is simply being gentle and being a man. Or perhaps I should say it is being gentle but being a man, because often people confuse gentleness with weakness. A gentleman is gentle because it is right, not because he is weak. This is what others have to say:

We are gentlemen that neither in our hearts nor outward eyes envy the great, nor shall the low despise. Shakespeare

There is no such thing as being a gentleman at important moments; it is at unimportant moments that a man is a gentleman. At important moments he ought to be something better. G.K.Chesterton

A gentleman is one who understands and shows every mark of deference to the claims of self-love in others, and exacts it in return from them. William Hazlitt

A gentleman understands what is moral; a base man understands what is advantageous or profitable. Confucius

This is the final test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him. William Lyon Phelps

A gentleman is like the Pole star that stays in place while all the other stars pay homage to it. Confucius

Like the eclipses of the sun and moon, the mistakes of a great man are clear to everyone. But when he corrects them, all men will hold him in higher reverence. Confucius

Never cheat, but do not be soft. It is a hard world. Be harder. But, and this is the test, at the same time, obviously, be a good fellow. Gerald Sparrow

A man has to live with himself; so he should see to it that he is always good company. Mencius

If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him. Oscar Wilde

Saturday, April 5, 2008

In the garden

All gentlemen are gardeners

I’ve made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I’m convinced of the opposite. Bertrand Russel

As soon as the plants and trees have withered, they show sprouts at the roots. Even though the order of the seasons brings freezing cold, eventually it brings back sunny energy. In the midst of purging and killing, the sense of continually renewing life is always in control. Thereby one can see the heart of heaven and earth. Huanchu Daoren

There is beauty in the migration of birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter. Rachel Carson

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better. Albert Einstein

The earth has music for those who will listen. Shakespeare

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. Lao Tzu

Money and happiness

Money is good. Money is not the root of all evil. As long as you think like that you will never have any. Greed is the root of all evil. Money is just a convenient form of storing energy, products, valuable ideas, work done, services rendered. It is more convenient than carrying livestock or produce around to barter with. (‘Do you have change for a sheep?’) We all need some money on a daily basis to live comfortably and to store away for a time when we can no longer work. And there is plenty of it in the world. So with that in mind here are some interesting quotes:

If you would know the value of money, go and borrow some. Benjamin Franklin

Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Ayn Rand

Money can’t buy you love, but it can put you in a good bargaining position

Money can’t buy you happiness but you can be miserable in comfort

Money is better than poverty if only for financial reasons. Woody Allen

There are few ills in this world where a good income is of no avail

If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning. Aristotle Onassis

If you are struggling with debt, I highly recommend Jon Hanson’s book ‘Good debt, bad debt’. In it he opens your eyes to the ‘consumerati’ life-style many of us are living, shows you the pitfalls, and helps you to work toward the light at the end of the tunnel. This book can change your financial life.
For a more spiritual approach to money, I recommend ‘The Feng Shui of Abundance’ by Suzan Hilton.
Also, be sure to read ‘The Power of your Subconscious Mind’ by Dr. Joseph Murphy for improving all aspects of your life. Here is an affirmation for attracting money from his book :

‘I like money. I use it wisely, constructively and judiciously. I release it with joy, and it returns to me a thousandfold’.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A trip to the sea

In 2003, I returned to England to visit my family. I had not seen my parents for a long time. I was also looking forward to visiting various historic sites, but especially I was looking forward to seeing the sea.
I had not seen the sea for a very long time. Not the water of a river, or even a big lake: I wanted to see The Sea, smell and taste the salt, see the waves, hear and feel the rollers crashing on the sand, pick shells on the beach, feel the breeze on my face. It was more than a desire. The more I thought about it, the more I needed to see the sea.
In the plane, looking at my Green Guide, my eye fell on Whitby, right on the coast of the North Sea. The North Sea: you can’t get more sea than that.
A few days later I was driving up a steep, curving road to the height of a hill on the northern side of Whitby that I thought would afford me a good view. I stepped out of the car and almost ran to the edge of the hill.
The vista opened, and I stood there transfixed.

Below, a small harbour protected by a mole, a headland opposite with an old monastery, the old fishing village huddled on both sides of the harbour and then, beyond, filling the horizon, the longed-for sea.
I don’t know how long I stood there, in a wondering daze, taking deep breaths of sea air.
I made my way down to harbour level. There was a pier, a big, old pier stretching out into the sea with a lighthouse in the middle.

I walked along the pier to a kind of round battlement made of immense blocks of stone with the lighthouse in the centre. It was a blustery September day and the sea was choppy. The waves came crashing against the battlements like the furious assaults of some unknown enemy, only to recede before trying again.

I looked up at the lighthouse. A metal wire, a lightning conductor perhaps, led from the summit to the pier. I saw a little, old sign next to it. I had to step closer to read what it said.

See also Whitby revisited and find more about England by clicking the England label.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My dad's old notebook

My dad was born near Vilnius, Lithuania. Whilst learning and reading English in England as a young man, he compiled philosophy quotes in a notebook. Here are my favourites. There is a freshness about some of them, even though they are old. Others have an ancient ring, but could have been written yesterday. Can you imagine what my dad is like?

They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.
A man's best possession is a sympathetic wife.
Attitudes are more important than facts.
A peaceful mind generates power.
Behaviour is a mirror in which everyone shows his image.
Ask nothing, expect nothing, accept everything.
When gods were more human, men were more divine.
For tragedy forges the will into a mighty instrument of power.
Cynicism is the weapon of the wounded.
You cannot win Heaven if you betray earth.
He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.
To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it.
Good manners cost nothing but add enormously to the quality of everyday living.
How sad that being well-mannered is often regarded these days as a weakness.
Intellect is invisible to the one who has none.
The trouble with being tolerant is that people think you don't understand the problem.
Forgive seventy times seven.
Gratitude is the fruit of a great cultivation. You do not find it among gross people.
Waste no tears over the griefs of yesterday.
No one can be called unhappy if he acts in accordance with virtue.
When you are good to others you are best to yourself.
A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.
Knowledge is gained by learning; trust by doubt; skill by practice; love by love.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond