The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, May 28, 2007

Yin and Yang

Under Heaven, Kingdoms cleave together and fall asunder. It has been so since antiquity.
- the opening sentence from the Chinese Classic, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The opening words of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms captures the essence of Yin and Yang. For a more lengthy explanation, see the article below, which is excerpted from If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

The dual concepts of yin and yang – or the single concept yin-yang – originate in ancient Chinese philosophy and metaphysics, which describe two primal opposing but complementary principles said to be found in all non-static objects and processes in the universe. The concept is the cornerstone for Taoism and traditional Chinese medicine.

Yin (Chinese: 陰 or 阴; pinyin: yīn; literally "shady place, north slope (hill), south bank (river); cloudy, overcast") is the dark element: it is passive, dark, feminine, downward-seeking, and corresponds to the night.

Yang (陽 or 阳; yáng; "sunny place, south slope (hill), north bank (river); sunshine") is the bright element: it is active, light, masculine, upward-seeking and corresponds to the day.

Yin is often symbolized by water or earth, while yang is symbolized by fire or wind.

Yin (the receptive, feminine, dark, passive force) and yang (the creative, masculine, bright, active force) are descriptions of complementary opposites rather than absolutes. Any yin/yang dichotomy can be viewed from another perspective. All forces in nature can be seen as having yin and yang states, and the two are in movement rather than held in absolute stasis.

In Western culture, the dichotomy of good and evil is often taken as a paradigm for other dichotomies. In Hegelian dialectics, dichotomies are linked to progress. In Chinese philosophy, the paradigmatic dichotomy of yin and yang does not generally give preference or moral superiority to one side of the dichotomy, and dichotomies are linked to cyclical processes rather than progress. Excessive yin or yang state is often viewed to be undesirable[citation needed]; however, Taoism often values yin above yang [1], and Confucianism often values yang above yin.

Summary of yin and yang concepts

1. Yin and yang do not exclude each other.

Everything has its opposite: although this is never absolute - only relative. No one thing is completely yin or completely yang. Each contains the seed of its opposite. For example, winter can turn into summer; "what goes up, must come down".

2. Yin and yang are interdependent.

One cannot exist without the other. For example, day cannot exist without night. Light cannot exist without darkness. Life cannot exist without death.

3. Yin and yang can be further subdivided into yin and yang.

Any yin or yang aspect can be further subdivided into yin and yang. For example, temperature can be seen as either hot or cold. However, hot can be further divided into warm or scorching; cold into cool or icy. Within each spectrum, there is a smaller spectrum; every beginning is a moment in time, and has a beginning and end, just as every hour has a beginning and end.

4. Yin and yang consume and support each other.

Yin and yang are usually held in balance: as one increases, the other decreases. However, imbalances can occur. There are four possible imbalances: excess yin, excess yang, yin deficiency and yang deficiency. They can again be seen as a pair: by excess of yin there is a yang deficiency and vice versa. The imbalance is also a relative factor: the excess of yang "forces" yin to be more "concentrated".

5. Yin and yang can transform into one another.

At a particular stage, yin can transform into yang and vice versa. For example, night changes into day; warmth cools; life changes to death. However this transformation is relative too. Night and day coexist on Earth at the same time when shown from space.

6. Part of yin is in yang and part of yang is in yin.

The dots in each serve:
  1. as a reminder that there are always traces of one in the other. For example, there is always light within the dark (e.g., the stars at night); these qualities are never completely one or the other.
  2. as a reminder that extreme yang at some point transforms instantly into yin, and vice versa, or that the labels yin and yang are conditioned by an observer's point of view. For example, the hardest stone is easiest to break. This can show that absolute discrimination between the two is artificial.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The 36 Strategies: #22 Shut the Door to Catch a Thief

One of the Chinese Classics on Strategy is The Thirty Six Strategies. It is second only to the famous Art of War by Sun Tzu. Where Sun Tzu is an overview of the entire topic of Strategy, the 36 Strategies attempts to teach strategic thinking by way of 36 examples.

What follows first, is an excerpt from the page on the Thirty Six Strategies, followed by #22. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full page from

The name of the collection comes from the Book of Qi, in its seventh biographical volume, Biography of Wáng Jìngzé (王敬則傳) [1]. Wáng was a general who had served Southern Qi since the first Emperor Gao of the dynasty. When Emperor Ming came to power and executed many members of the court and royal family for fear that they would threaten his reign, Wáng believed that he would be targeted next and rebelled. When Wáng received news that the Marquess of Donghun, son of Emperor Ming, had escaped in haste after learning of the rebellion, he commented that "檀公三十六策,走是上計,汝父子唯應急走耳", which can be translated literally as "of the thirty-six strategies of Lord Tán, retreat was his best, you father and son should run for sure". Lord Tán here refers to general Tan Daoji of the Liu Song Dynasty, who was forced to retreat after his failed attack on Northern Wei, and Wáng mentioned his name in contempt as an example of cowardice [2].

It should be noted that the number thirty-six was used by Wáng as a figure of speech in this context, and is meant to denote numerous strategies instead of any specific number. Wáng's choice of this term was in reference to the I Ching, where six is the number of Yin that shared many characteristics with the dark schemes involved in military strategy. As thirty-six is the square of six, it therefore acted as a metaphor for numerous strategies [2]. Since Wáng was not referring to any thirty-six specific strategies however, the thirty-six proverbs and their connection to military strategies and tactics are likely to have been created after the fact, with the collection only borrowing its name from Wáng's saying [3].

The Thirty-Six Strategies have variably been attributed to Sun Tzu from the Spring and Autumn Period of China, or Zhuge Liang of the Three Kingdoms period, but neither are regarded as the true author by historians. Instead, the prevailaing view is that the Thirty-Six Strategies may have originated in both written and oral history, with many different versions compiled by different authors throughout Chinese history [3].

22. Shut the door to catch the thief (Traditional Chinese: 關門捉賊; Simplified Chinese: 关门捉贼; pinyin: Guān mén zhōu zéi)

  • If you have the chance to completely capture the enemy then you should do so thereby bringing the battle or war to a quick and lasting conclusion. To allow your enemy to escape plants the seeds for future conflict. But if they succeed in escaping, be wary of giving chase.
It should be remembered that the first 18 strategies have to do with offense, and the second 18, with defense; broadly speaking.

If you don't catch the thief before he escapes, and give chase, you must be careful not to leave your home unguarded, lest the thief's companion plunders your undefended home.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bonsai Aesthetics

This article is copied from an article by the same name at If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to that article where there is much more information, links, pictures, etc.

Bonsai Aesthetics vary according to the style of bonsai which is sought and according to individual tastes. The discussion of bonsai characteristics may be discussed in two parts: general aesthetics and aesthetic schools.

General Aesthetics

The following characteristics are desirable in many Japanese bonsai and other styles of container-grown trees, whatever the style:


By definition, a bonsai is a tree which is kept small enough to be container-grown in while otherwise fostered to have a mature appearance. One way in which bonsai are classified is according to size. Mame are ideally less than 10 cm (4 inches) tall and can be held in the palm of the hand. Shohin are about 25 cm (10 inches) tall, while other bonsai are larger and can not be easily moved.[1]


This is the trait which all of the remaining points of aesthetics seek to create. It is a sense of physical weight, the illusion of mass, the appearance of maturity or advanced age, and the illusive quality of dignity.

Leaf Reduction

Leaf reduction is a related to the general miniaturization described above but is something which varies over the life cycle of a particular bonsai. For example, a bonsai’s leaves might be allowed to attain full-size for many years in order to encourage vigor and growth of some other aspect of the bonsai. It is usually desirable to attain a degree of leaf reduction prior to exhibiting a bonsai. Leaf reduction may be encouraged by pruning and is sometimes achieved by the total exfoliation of a bonsai during one part of its growing season. Conifer needles may be more difficult to reduce than other sorts of foliage.


This refers to the “woody-ness” of a bonsai’s trunk and branches so that they have a mature appearance. This typically means the surface is encouraged to become rough and brown. In some cases this aesthete will vary, such as in a birch tree bonsai attaining the white colour and exfoliating bark of a mature specimen.


Also known as "buttressing", nebari is the visible spread of roots above the growing medium at the base of a bonsai. Nebari helps a bonsai seem grounded and well-anchored and helps a tree look old, mature, and more akin to a full-sized tree.[1]


Ramification is the splitting of branches and twigs into smaller ones. It is encouraged by pruning and may be integrated with practices that promote leaf reduction.


Bonsai artists sometimes foster certain types of deadwood to be produced by and remain on a bonsai tree, just as such things as bare, dead branches may occur on full-sized trees. Two specific types of deadwood are jin and shari. The presence of deadwood is more optional and less typical than most of the other points mentioned here.[1]


Like deadwood, curvature is optional. Bonsai that achieve a sense of age while remaining straight and upright can be especially impressive, but many bonsai (including the stereotypical bonsai illustrated above) rely upon curvature of the trunk to give it the illusion of weight and age. Curvature of the trunk that occurs between the roots and the lowest branch is known as tachiagari.[1]

Aesthetic schools

The art of artistically growing small trees in containers may be divided into two primary "schools" of practice:

Japanese (bonsai)

The term "bonsai' properly refers only to this, the Japanese art of growing miniature trees. The Japanese aesthetic is centered on the principle of "heaven and earth in one container". In its perfection, bonsai is an expression of Zen Buddhism and expresses how the past, the present, humanity, the elements and change all are intertwined into this unique method of meditation and expression.[2]

The Japanese bonsai are meant to evoke the essential spirit of the plant being used: in all cases, they must look natural and never show the intervention of human hands. However, the art of bonsai also has strict criteria for success and rigid rules which are rarely broken. For example, tree branches must never cross and trees should bow slightly forward, never lean back.[3]

Chinese (penjing)

The Chinese art of growing miniature trees, properly called penjing, seeks to capture the essence and spirit of nature through contrasts. Philosophically, this craft is influenced by the principle of Taoism, specifically the concept of Yin and Yang: the conceptualization of the universe as governed by two primal opposing but complementary forces. Inspiration is not limited to nature, but also from poetry and visual art, of which factor similar aesthetic considerations. Common themes include dragons and the strokes of fortuitous characters. At its highest level, the artistic value of penjing is on par with that of poetry, calligraphy, brush painting and garden art.[3]

Penjing has less emphasis on technical perfection, and the art is not as rigidly categorized as the art of bonsai, and such things as tangled roots or pruning scars (which are against the bonsai aesthete) are allowed if it fits the overall design. Miniature images places next to a miniature tree (such as miniature pagodas and tiny men with fishing rods) belong strictly to the realm of penjing and are anathema to the realm of bonsai.[3]

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Who Needs Fiction: Character Building

You can't make this stuff up. I think there's a Darwin Award here. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole story.

Man Dies of Thirst During Survival Test

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

(05-02) 10:44 PDT Boulder, Utah (AP) --

A man died of thirst during a wilderness-survival exercise designed to test his physical and mental toughness, even though guides had water. They didn't offer him any because they did not want to spoil the character-building experience.

By Day 2 in the blazing Utah desert, Dave Buschow was in bad shape. Pale, wracked by cramps, his speech slurred, the 29-year-old New Jersey man was desperate for water and hallucinating so badly he mistook a tree for a person.

After going roughly 10 hours without a drink in the 100-degree heat, he finally dropped dead of thirst, face down in the dirt, less than 100 yards from the goal: a cave with a pool of water.

But Buschow was no solitary soul, lost and alone in the desert. He and 11 other hikers from various walks of life were being led by expert guides on a wilderness-survival adventure designed to test their physical and mental toughness.

And the guides, it turned out, were carrying emergency water on that torrid summer day.

Buschow wasn't told that, and he wasn't offered any. The guides did not want him to fail the $3,175 course. They wanted him to dig deep, push himself beyond his known limits, and make it to the cave on his own.

Nearly a year later, documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act reveal those and other previously undisclosed details of what turned out to be a death march for Buschow. They also raise questions about the judgments and priorities of the guides at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School. What matters more: the customer's welfare or his quest?

"It was so needless. What a shame. It didn't have to happen," said Ray Gardner, the Garfield County sheriff's deputy who hiked six miles to recover Buschow's body. "They had emergency water right there. I would have given him a drink."

Family members are angry.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


This is an excerpt from a news story. For the full story, click on the title of this post. Do you have such faith?


A Tibetan monk who was tortured for his religious beliefs shares his thoughts about compassion

Monday, April 23, 2007

Last week, as the news broke about the attacks that killed 33 people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, I was editing this week's interview with Phagyab Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama who survived torture by Chinese officials. Amid the incessant drone of televised experts, each one loudly advocating his or her pet project or policy as the antidote for the unbelievable horror in Virginia, Rinpoche's peaceful response to the terror and violence in his own life struck a singular chord.

Born in 1966, almost 20 years after the People's Republic of China invaded Tibet, Rinpoche grew up amid the chaos of Chairman Mao's communist collectivization experiment and the Cultural Revolution. He became a monk at 12 and fled Tibet at 18 in search of an advanced monastic education. Monasteries in occupied Tibet are barred from teaching the core of the traditional monastic curriculum, which includes philosophy, debate and logic. So he made his way to Dharmsala, India, where a diaspora community has coalesced around the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled political and spiritual leader.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama asked him to return to Tibet to help revive Buddhism. He agreed to go, and as the abbot of Ashi Monastery in eastern Tibet he soon became known for his ability to perform Tantric obstacle-clearing rituals to assist individuals in their physical and emotional healing. Despite warnings from the Chinese government, Rinpoche continued these activities and was arrested, imprisoned and tortured. He escaped to New York in 2003 and was later granted full political asylum.

These days, Rinpoche maintains a seven-hour daily Tantric meditation practice and regularly teaches and performs Buddhist services in the New York metropolitan area, where he lives. At present, he is collaborating with the Helen Graham Park Foundation in Miami, Fla., a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering collaboration between the modern sciences and the world's wisdom traditions to help humanity meet the challenges of the 21st century. Rinpoche, who ran a workshop on transformation and healing in Occidental last weekend, spoke with me through an interpreter, Marina Illich. Our interview took place before the tragedy at Virginia Tech, but I later asked him to share his thoughts on how we can heal and prevent such horrors from happening again.

You grew up in a traditional nomad family based in the Nyagchu region of Kham, in eastern Tibet. Was it difficult for you to adjust to life in New York City?

When I first came to New York, the hectic and fast-paced climate was certainly a challenge for my daily practice of meditation and contemplation, but ultimately it wasn't really a problem. As long as I kept focused on my main goal, which is to help others and to be able to share what little knowledge I have, I felt relaxed.

When you arrived in the United States, you were not in good physical shape. Among other serious health conditions, you were told by doctors that your foot needed to be amputated. How are you doing now?

I had a whole series of health difficulties, starting with my foot, which was severely injured due to torture by Chinese authorities. When I first arrived, I could barely take two steps or put any pressure on my leg. I also experienced severe damage to some of my vertebrae due to tuberculosis and subsequently developed diabetes.

Now, however, I can walk [as] freely as I could before I was injured. As for the diabetes, it's pretty much cleared up, and I can tolerate sweets just fine when I choose to have a few. I'd been told I'd need to be on medication and a strict diet all of my life, but that seems to not be so now. I am tremendously relieved and thrilled!

I read that you credit meditation with helping you heal. Can you tell me about that?

I believe that the healing came as a result of the deep conviction that I have in the power of the practices that I do day after day, including meditation, visualizations and recitations. These practices were instrumental in healing the conditions I experienced.

What's an example of a particular practice?

I think the main one that helped me is the practice of tsa-lung, which refers to meditating on the subtle wind as a means to mobilize the subtle mind. Our body is made up on a subtle level of many channels through which winds run -- the three main ones running through the center of the body. And in an ordinary individual, that main channel that runs through the center of the body doesn't actually operate optimally. As long as this central channel isn't opened, it won't be able to function, which means that the two subsidiary channels on the right and left side of it also cannot do their work properly. But through practice one can actually open up the central channel, which allows the winds of the body, or "lung" [prana], to flow freely. And when this happens, one can dispel all kinds of diseases in the body, which are the result of imbalances in the winds.

When you say "wind" -- would that be the energy that flows through the body? This obviously isn't an easy concept for the average Westerner to grasp.

Yes, wind moves the body's energy and keeps it flowing. It takes years and years to master. In the 42 years of my life thus far, I have had the opportunity to spend a good 27 to 28 years honing these skills. The more one practices, the more one develops conviction in the power of these methodologies. I've been able to experience for myself how this works and how it is beneficial to the body and the mind.

As the Buddha instructed, we should always check any teachings based on our own personal experience. The more experience I have been able to gather, the more I have been able to compare that experience with what's written in the [sacred] texts and teachings. My conviction in the power of these methods has grown tremendously over the years.

You have been through some incredibly challenging times in your life. How do you move past all of that and live a life that is dedicated to love and forgiveness?

The main practices I observe are compassion, loving kindness and trying to develop the mind so that it is singularly focused on helping others. This is called the Bodhisattva vow. I also contemplate the teaching of karma, the fact that everything that happens to me that I don't like -- that I perceive as an obstacle -- is actually the result of karmic causes that I have planted in the past.

When I'm thinking about compassion, I'm thinking about how all suffering that happens to me is happening to others. We are all the same in that we have to go through such extensive hardships in this life. Then I imagine taking all of their suffering and giving back to them all the joy that there can be in the world. And so I meditate: May I take upon myself all the suffering of these beings and, as a result of that deep-seated intention, may they become completely free of all the suffering that is afflicting them. By doing that practice, I find my heart really lightens and opens up.

Some people might think that you have had enough suffering to focus on in your own life.

Everything that we experience -- all the suffering in this life and in this body -- is due to karma we have created in previous lifetimes. If we can use this life and these obstacles as a means to completely purify our minds and grow spiritually, then we get closer to the final goal, which is full enlightenment. There is no way to achieve [that goal] until we have purified all the causes of negativity inside of us.

So we have to apply ourselves with our body and our actions, with our words and our thoughts, and with our intentions. And when we do that, then we think: "These problems I'm experiencing, they are actually invaluable to me in growing, and more so if I can actually visualize taking on other people's problems. Then I'm really developing the Bodhisattva mind, which is the main goal."

Do you ever feel angry toward the people who tortured you?

[He begins to cry.] How could I have that thought, the thought of anger? The people who tortured me and hurt me, they were not acting under their own control. They were acting under the influence of a mind filled with a misunderstanding of the nature of reality.

The first thing I think about is actually how grateful I should be to these people, because in our Buddhist tradition we accept the concept of rebirth. And by that logic, everybody has been our parent at some point in this cycle of samsara, or suffering.

When I think about my parents in this life, how much love, how much gratitude do I feel towards them for all that they have done for me! By that logic, these people, these same people who are hurting me now, were the source of my sustenance in countless lives before. They nurtured and nourished me and took care of me, so actually, they were the source of such immense grace and kindness to me. And when I think about that, I can only feel gratitude in return.