Top 5 Searches 2012

People find The Endless Further in a variety of ways. For instance, from Facebook, or from seeing it listed on another blog’s blogroll. Quite a few folks find me through online searches. As my fellow bloggers know, every blog and website has access to statistical reports on “traffic,” i.e. how many visitors you have each day, how many subscribe to your feed, etc. These stats also give you information about the keyword searches used to find your blog.

Most of the keywords and phrases are about what you’d expect: “buddha,” “samsara is nirvana,” “shantideva,” and so on. Some folks have found The Endless Further by searching for such things as “was bruce lee a Buddhist” (not a practicing Buddhist, but Buddha-dharma had a significant influence), and since I am a rather eclectic blogger, with searches like “who was known as the poet laureate of harlem” (Langston Hughes). I’ve blogged about Bruce Lee and Langston Hughes several times. Some searches are a bit off the wall, like “cape wrath deckhouse,” which results in a post I did about Hurricane Irene that contained the three words but not in succession. And a few are downright bizarre. Someone was searching for “naga sex scene.” Naga is the Indian word for serpent or dragon, and while I’ve mentioned nagas on occasion, I don’t recall anything about them having sex. Another strange one: “cortical gyrification meditation.” I don’t even know what that is, and frankly, I’m not sure I want to find out.

I thought it would be interesting (at least to me) to post the Top Five Keyword Searches that brought visitors to The Endless Further in 2012. Here they are:

No-self? Nah, Invisible Man.
No-self? Nah, Invisible Man.

A tie for Fifth Place with “taiji” and “invisible man.” Taiji or Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art and a form of exercise. I wrote about the Eights Truths of Tai Chi in 2011. When I Googled “invisible man,” I did not see The Endless Further come up in any results, not in the first 20 pages at any rate. There are a few posts where I have the word “invisible” contained in the text, but I suspect that most people landed on the blog from Google images, finding a post from Nov. 29, 2012 titled “No-self.”

Number 4 is “Lao tzu leadership.” When I searched this on Google, The Endless Further was the third listing with Dictators and Lao Tzu’s Principles for Leadership.

“Po chu-i” comes in at Number 3. Po Chu-i was one of the great classical Chinese poets. I blogged about him in The Chan Poetry of Po Chu-i.

Weighing in at Number 2 is “heart sutra chant.” Again, The Endless Further came up as the third result when I Googled this phrase. The short video in Chanting the Heart Sutra in English that I originally posted on YouTube has been viewed at least 4,067 times. I’ve seen it embedded on other blogs and websites, and I’ve gotten some good comments about it. It is gratifying to know that many people have enjoyed it and found it beneficial. The video appears at the end of this post.

And now, the Number 1 keyword search that brought folks to The Endless Further in 2012 is (drum roll) . . . “charlie chaplin”!

Charlies as "The Little Tramp."
Charlies as “The Little Tramp.”

I’ve mentioned Charlie Chaplin quite a few times, as he is a historical figure I greatly admire. Chaplin first appeared on film nearly 100 years ago, in Mack Sennet’s 1914 short Making A Living, and the Little Tramp character he created soon thereafter lives on today, a universal icon. His films have endured as well, the best of which were silent, and because they were silent they spoke a universal language. In a post about The Religious Sect That Worships Charlie Chaplin, I wrote,

From the late teens of the last century and into the 1920’s, he was arguably the most beloved man in the world. Almost everyone could relate to Charlie in one way or another, especially everyday people, working class people, folks who were closer to the bottom than the top. Charlie represented them. When he kicked a cop, tricked a bullying boss, or hit a pompous rich man in the face with a custard pie, he was doing what they wanted to do – strike a blow against authority. Charlie’s Little Tramp character was usually  left with the short end of the stick, rarely got the girl he loved, and at the end of many of the films, he wandered off alone, lonely and a little sad.

Chaplin’s silent films were loved the world over because the title cards, which he used sparingly, could be easily translated into another language. Walt Disney based his most famous character, Mickey Mouse, a bit on Charlie. He once said, “I think we are rather indebted to Charlie Chaplin for the idea. We wanted something appealing, and we thought of a tiny bit of a mouse that would have something of the wistfulness of Chaplin — a little fellow trying to do the best he could.” Film critic Leonard Maltin has said, “Shakespeare wrote great plays that we’re still watching all these years later. Charlie Chaplin made great comedies and they are still as funny today as they ever were.” I couldn’t agree more.

Here is my video of the Heart Sutra chanted in English:

May you have a joyful, peaceful, and productive 2013!

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Buddhist New Year Song

The dates for the Buddhist New Year differ according to country and tradition. In some cases, it’s the first full moon day in January, and in others, not until the first full moon day in April. The time is not important for it is only a change in the calendar. However, that change can be significant if we use it to produce a change in ourselves. Almost all Buddhist traditions agree that a new year presents an opportunity for a new departure, a new beginning, which can transcend its symbolic aspect, if we use it as a time not only for celebration but also for contemplation, reflection, for practice.

The Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, for instance, suggests a practice of loving-kindness (metta) mediation for the first three days of the New Year. On the first day, we practice for ourselves. On the second day, we practice for people we love. On the third day, we practice for those who make us suffer.

Reflection is an important characteristic of poetry, and as well, the spirit of new departure, new directions. Diane di Prima, a poet who has studied Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, once said, “I think the poet is the first person to begin the shaping and visioning of the new forms and the new consciousness when no one else has begun to sense it; I think these are two of the most essential human functions.”

di Prima has written several poems with Buddhist themes. Here is one apropos for the season:

Buddhist New Year Song

I saw you in green velvet, wide full sleeves
seated in front of a fireplace, our house
made somehow more gracious, and you said
“There are stars in your hair”— it was truth I
brought down with me

to this sullen and dingy place that we must make golden
make precious and mythical somehow, it is our nature,
and it is truth, that we came here, I told you,
from other planets
where we were lords, we were sent here,
for some purpose

the golden mask I had seen before, that fitted
so beautifully over your face, did not return
nor did that face of a bull you had acquired
amid northern peoples, nomads, the Gobi desert

I did not see those tents again, nor the wagons
infinitely slow on the infinitely windy plains,
so cold, every star in the sky was a different color
the sky itself a tangled tapestry, glowing
but almost, I could see the planet from which we had come

I could not remember (then) what our purpose was
but remembered the name Mahakala, in the dawn

in the dawn confronted Shiva, the cold light
revealed the “mindborn” worlds, as simply that,
I watched them propagated, flowing out,
or, more simply, one mirror reflecting another.
then broke the mirrors, you were no longer in sight
nor any purpose, stared at this new blackness
the mindborn worlds fled, and the mind turned off:

a madness, or a beginning?

————————–

Copyright © 1990 by Diane di Prima

Diane di Prima, “Buddhist New Year Song” from Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems, City Lights Books, 1990.

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A Kuan Yin Christmas Story

Actually, this has nothing to do with Christmas, but it does involve Kuan Yin. If there are any morals to the story, I leave that up to you to discern. I offer the tale merely as entertainment, a small diversion from the usual storytelling heard and read at this time of year.

Fish Basket Kuan Yin, Ming Dynasty

As you may know, Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, the One Who Hears the Cries of the World, has many manifestations, and in art is depicted in a number of different poses, sometimes seated on a lotus blossom or in the “royal ease” posture; she might be standing, dressed in white, perhaps holding a willow branch or a child, or with a thousand arms. This is a tale of the origin of the Fish Basket Kuan Yin.*

In China, on the Yangtze River at Hunan, there is a waterfall called the Dragon Gate. Its waters cascade down from a great mountain for more than one hundred feet. Each year in the third month of the spring, a certain species of carp, known as Yulong, swim up from the sea and gather in the basin to climb the waterfall. It is said that any carp able to leap the falls will be transformed into a dragon. The large scales of Chinese dragons indicate they originate from carp.

However, the river’s current is strong, and as one sage wrote, “not a single carp out of a hundred, a thousand or even ten thousand can climb the falls, not even after ten or twenty years. Some are swept away by the rushing water, some fall prey to eagles and hawks, while others are netted, scooped up, or even shot with arrows by fishermen who line either bank of the wide falls.”

This myth was so well-known that throughout China the phrase “a student facing his examinations is like a carp attempting to leap the Dragon Gate,” was a common expression to indicate the difficulty of passing imperial examinations.

There was a man named Zhou, a youthful scholar who arrived at the capital one spring to take his examinations. While there, he stayed in a monastery. He was sincere student who maintained a pious devotion to the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma, and Community of Believers. He was also skilled at calligraphy, a talent that attracted the attention of Prime Minister Ching, who befriended him. The Prime Minister asked Zhou to tutor his daughter, a beautiful girl named Golden Peony. After a short time, Zhou and Golden Peony fell in love, and were engaged to be married.

Now, there was a golden Yulong carp in the pond on the Prime Minister’s estate, and this carp took the form of Golden Peony and seduced Zhou, and together they left the capital for a nearby city. Needless to say, the real Golden Peony was heartbroken over the disappearance of her fiancée, and soon she became gravely ill over it. The Prime Minister was concerned, not only for his daughter, but also for Zhou, as his sudden and mysterious departure seemed so out of character.

Judge Dee

Prime Minister Ching contacted the famous Judge Dee, a detective and magistrate whose adventures have been recorded in contemporary times through the novels of Robert van Gulik and in the recent film, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. The judge launched an investigation and soon uncovered the hidden truth of the affair. Accompanied by a squad of soldiers, he traveled to this other city to capture the false Golden Peony and return Zhou. However, the woman who was really a carp managed to escape. Although he sent out men to scour the entire South country, Judge Dee could find no trace of the golden carp in any form.

By now, Kuan Yin had heard the sorrowful cries of the real Golden Peony. Even though Zhou had returned, Golden Peony was still in agony. She could not get over her belief that Zhou had been unfaithful and had betrayed her. Not even the fact that the honorable Judge Dee vouched for Zhou and explained that the young man had been tricked helped to ease her pain. Judge Dee, a most wise man, counseled the girl and suggested that she recite Kuan Yin’s name to arouse the power of compassion within her heart and forgive Zhou.

Kuan Yin, wishing to relieve Golden Peony’s sufferings, used her mystic power of insight to discover the carp’s hiding place: beneath a lotus leaf in the South Sea. Kuan-yin went to this place, captured the carp, and placed it in a fish basket.

White-robed Kuan Yin, Ming Dynasty

Mr. Yang was 0ne of the Prime Minister’s neighbors, a humble man of modest means whose most valuable possession was a painting of White-robed Kuan Yin. One night he had a dream in which Kuan Yin told him the next day he would meet a woman carrying a fish basket. The next morning he did indeed meet such a woman, and he took her to Judge Dee and they turned the trickster golden carp over to him. The woman received a sum of money as a reward that she then gave to Mr. Yang on the condition that he should commission a painting of Kuan Yin carrying a fish basket. This is the origin of the Fish Basket Kuan Yin.

The carp confessed, and Golden Peony forgave Zhou, and they renewed their plans for marriage. However, there was still the matter of the carp’s punishment to consider. The carp had repented of its errors and begged for mercy, and while the fish seemed sincere, Judge Dee was nonetheless tempted to take the carp to the fish market to become someone’s meal. Kuan Yin suggested they test the carp’s sincerity by releasing it into the waters at the foot of the Dragon Gate waterfall. If, without resorting to magic, the carp could leap the falls and become a dragon then its sincerity would be proved. If not, then the carp would surely drown or be netted by fishermen.

Kuan Yin and Judge Dee traveled to the Dragon Gate, where they released the golden carp and immediately it climbed the falls and when it reached the top, became a dragon known as Chan-long, or “Remorseful Dragon.”

It is said that after hearing this story, the poet Bei Du composed the following poem:

Those who contemplate on this subtle
compassionate lady dressed in white
appearing everywhere
in infinite universes,
return to the original enlightenment,
attaining nothing,
empty and free.

————————–

* A slightly different version of this story appears in Kuan-yin: the Chinese transformation of Avalokitesvara by Chun-fang Yu, Columbia University Press, 2001.

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Approach of Winter

Commemorating the first day of Winter (Winter Solstice) 2012:

Approach of Winter

by William Carlos Williams

The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine,—
like no leaf that ever was—
edge the bare garden.

Happy Winter Solstice!

To see a Poem Flow of this poem, go here.

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The Children of Jizo

Sunday night in Newtown, President Obama asked, “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” His answer was a resounding “No.” How everyone else will answer in the comming days and weeks will remain to be seen, but I suspect that since Friday many have pondered this same question in one form or another.

In Buddhist mythology, the protection of children, especially deceased children, is the mission of Bodhisattva Jizo. While this Buddhist icon has a Sanskrit name, Ksitigarbha, meaning “Earth Store”  or “Earth Womb,” I believe that most scholars are of the opinion that the sutra in which he first appears is Chinese in origin. Jizo is how the Bodhisattva is known in Japan.

Kshitigarbha with his staff and mani jewel, from a Korean painting, c. 14th century

The Sutra of The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva relates how Jizo followed a path of filial piety in previous lifetimes and became a bodhisattva, making great vows to liberate other sentient beings. Jizo’s primary vow is that he will not attain Buddhahood until “all the Hells are empty.” This great determination is symbolized by the shakujo or sistrum, the “monk’s staff,” which the Buddha is said to have asked mendicant priests to carry. According to E. Dale Saunders “In China, the shakujo is used in the ceremony for the salvation of ancestors. It is carried by a monk who represents Jizo going through the Hells, forcing the demons to open the doors of cells where the dammed are caught.”*

In China, Jizo is called Ti-ts’ang, or Dizang, and the reverence afforded him is superseded only by Kuan Yin and the Buddha. Jizo is the protector of women and travelers. In Japan, ceremonies are offered to Jizo to help ease the suffering of women who have lost children. Evidently, it was only in Japan where Jizo also became the protector of children. Bodhisattva Jizo is said to help deceased children navigate the transition between life and death.

Children are considered too young and innocent to have a deep grasp of the Buddha’s teachings, and therefore they are unable to attain enlightenment. In Japanese Buddhist mythology, when they die at an early age, they are “in limbo” and go to a place called Sai no Kawara (“Children’s Limbo,” originally from Shintoism), a mystical riverbed where they stack piles of stones into small towers that symbolize help the children offer to their parents to accumulate merit for their own journey through the cycle of birth and death. Each night demons destroy these towers, and so each day the children must pile them again. The demons also appear during the day, scaring the children as they play or as they build their towers.

Bodhisattva Jizo helps the children on the banks of the Sai no Kawara. When they are frightened by the demons, they can jump into the sleeve of Jizo’s robe, where they feel safe.

Jizo statues in a Japanese cemetery. The wool hats and bibs are placed by parents in hopes that Jizo will cloth their dead child in his protection.

In Japan, Jizo statues are found outside of temples, in cemeteries, and at crossroads. The features of the statues are childlike to resemble the children Jizo protects. Often people will pile stone pebbles before them as an offering to departed children, or they leave toys, candy or fruit.

The Ksitigarbha Sutra contains a beautiful story, too long to include in this post, of how in a previous life, Jizo was a Brahman girl who became the Earth Store Bodhisattva. We may ask ourselves what relevance stories like this have for us today, how all this symbolism relates to real protection for children who seem to be under siege and, as Robert B. Reich wrote yesterday in the Chicago Tribune, “shortchanged on almost every issue we face as a society.”

The answer is fairly obvious. President Obama said it the other night: “[We] bear responsibility for every child, because . . .  we’re all parents, that they are all our children.”

We have to be the Jizos of the real world, the protectors of all children.

I can’t imagine what it is like to be a child in today’s world. Those of us, of a certain age, were lucky in that our childhoods were mostly innocent affairs. The only bad guys I ever saw growing up were on television. The only shootings I witnessed were not real.

“When [the] qualities of Jizo become our own, then . . . we do not know boredom or loneliness. We are always accompanied,” says Jan Chozen Bays in her book on Jizo.**

I would add that when we take on Jizo’s qualities, we then accompany others. When we assume the responsibility – when we share responsibility, for all living beings, that is when we are never lonely.

Every person can open the sleeves of their heart to become a Bodhisattva Jizo in the real world. There are myriad ways in which each of us can contribute to the protection of children. They are in limbo, for they are helpless without our support. In the spirit of the Metta Sutta, “just as a mother protects with the life of her child,” let us use the staffs of our compassion to unlock the cells that have caught our most precious treasure.

Two Jizo haikus by Issa:

suzume no ko jizô no sode ni kakure keri

baby sparrow
safe in holy Jizo’s
sleeve

(1814)

takenoko no ban shite gozaru jizô kana

kindly guarding
the bamboo shoots…
holy Jizo

(1821)

—————–

* E. Dale Saunders, Mudra, A Study of Symbolic Gestures in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture, Bollingen Foundation/Pantheon Books, Inc., 1960

** Jan Chozen Bays, Jizo Bodhisattva: Guardian of Children, Travelers, and Other Voyagers, Shambhala Publications, 2003

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