Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Tuesday, September 30, 2008



The days are getting shorter. It’s cooler. It’s definately cooler at night. We enjoy building a fire in the backyard on a cool evening to wind down from the week. The leaves are starting to change color. Autumn is certainly here.

My youngest daughter had a volleyball tournament over the weekend. After struggling a little in the morning, they mowed everyone down in their path to win the whole thing; repeating as champions of this particular tournament.

A friend who is a dad on one of the other teams later posted the tournament results on a local volleyball message board. At the end of his post, he stated that between his two daughters, he had been following high school volleyball for the last 6 years, and with his youngest being a senior, this was his last visit to that venue. He went on to thank the organizers for their hospitality over the years.

For years I’ve been saying that with my first daughter, we’ve been accumulating a lot of first, and with the younger one, we were accumulating lasts. It was with his note that it really struck me that unless she does indeed play in college, she’s almost done playing organized volleyball. Even if the team should make it’s way all the way to the State Championship in the post season tournament, it’ll all be over and done with in approximately six weeks.

This fact hasn’t sunk in yet with the seniors. When it does, I expect to see a lot of tears. My daughter has been playing since 5th grade, and has invested a lot of herself into becoming a very good player. If she plays in college, she’s only delaying what is as certain as the sunrise and sunset.

Firsts, lasts; the pages turn and we get on with our lives.

My oldest daughter is still trying to land a job. The economy in general, and particularly here in Michigan is just very bad for a job seeker. I can’t fault her on her efforts. She’s doing the work; it’s just that even doing the work, you can’t guarantee the outcomes. She keeps grinding away. With any luck she’ll land something soon. She is getting a lot of life lessons now which will stick with her for a long, long time.

Many of my customers have had really severe headcount reductions, and some have been very brutal in the way they were handled. Many of the young men and women have only known relative prosperity in their working lives. It’s not uncommon for a young engineer and spouse to have both been working and bringing home a good check, in a large brand new house, with two new vehicles in their driveway. Now, well, there’s a lot of stress in the air.

She’s seeing the tough times now, and will have a better chance to be prepared in the future, when the next cycle comes around. All’s well that ends well. I would rather she tastes the bitter before the sweet, rather than the other way around.

Speaking of the economy, I’ve just recently reread Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This book, and Taleb’s second, The Black Swan, are most appropriate for our current economic times. It’s not often that a book really effects the way you look at things. These two have for me.

Speaking of books, as we’re heading to October, I wanted to read something for Halloween. I’m starting a little early, because things come up and I don’t always get through books as quickly as I would like. Right now I’m reading an annotated edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker. It’s called The Essential Dracula, and the annotator is Leonard Wolf.

My Taijiquan training is going well. It’s nothing for some of the young guys who have nothing else really going on to make several classes a week, and get very good, very quickly. For myself, I go once a week at the most. Sometimes I have to miss for various reasons. I just attended my 50th class. In that time, I’ve learned and begun to refine the 108 Standard Form; the 54 Round Form; the standard supplementary exercises of Wu style, the 24 Forms, some other supplementary exercises; and at least the outward form of 5 of the 12 types of push hands. Not too shabby. When I get to 100 classes, I think I’ll be well on my way in my practice.

When I practice regularly, I feel great and my mind is clear. When I don’t, my knees hurt and I find my monkey mind becomes pretty active.

Several years ago, I went through a period where about every other month I was going to a funeral. The parents of my friends were all getting up in years. Over the past year, most recently a few weeks ago, I’ve gone to several more. There aren’t many of the parents left. This is the passing of generations. For some of us, we are now the older generation of our families. It takes quite a bit of doing to wrap your head around that one.

The job is going well. I’ve been there a little over six months. Low car sales is hurting our billings, but we’re picking up new future business. When people start buying cars again, we’ll be fine. I had the one trip to Japan during the summer. Now management wants us to go to Japan or Europe twice a year.

Finally, this fall my wife and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. We had a beautiful Indian summer day at the end of October when we were married. At our reception, the band picked a song on their own for our wedding dance. The one they picked was “If It Don’t Work Out.” No kidding. Who needs fiction?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Self Defense for Ladies

Below is an excerpt from an online magazine named InYo. It's about the early exposure of jujitsu to the West. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. Below that is a link to a video clip I stumbled on a long time ago. It's a martial arts demostration from the early part of the 20th century. The way the young woman moves in heels is something I continue to marvel at. Enjoy.

Training the Helpless Flapper to Fight Her Own Battles

From Literary Digest 94, August 27, 1927, pp. 47-48.

President Roosevelt was looking over some ju-jutsu pictures presented to him by Capt. J. J. O’Brien, the man who introduced that Japanese art of self-defense to America. The President halted at one of the pictures and regarded it at length. Looking over his shoulder, Captain O’Brien saw that it was a picture of a woman straight-arming a man with her stiffened fingers jabbing his eyes. A little worried lest this maneuver should make an unfavorable impression, the Captain stammered:

"Mr. President, a dangerous situation requires a desperate defense. That was invented to give a woman protection against a thug who suddenly attacked her."

Colonel Roosevelt’s response, according to a writer in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, was reassuring.

"I think, Captain," he is reported to have said, "that this is the best thing in your repertory."

To-day, with the greater freedom claimed by girls in their teens, and with new and menacing conditions introduced by the automobile and other modern factors, it is considered more important than ever that young women should be trained to defend themselves in an emergency. For this purpose Captain O’Brien has worked out a system of what he calls "modified" ju-jutsu, consisting holds and tricks by which the frailest girl can being an assailant to the ground and make him beg for money." There is no need for a woman to be defenseless, says Captain O’Brien, "when the practice of several easy methods will give her ample protection against any thug, strangler or flirt who seems to have the advantage of her. Girls don’t have to suffer mauling or the unwelcome arm of a sheik when the knowledge of modified ju-jutsu will give them complete command of the situation."

The Ledger writer tells us that Captain O’Brien is "a graduate of the old navy of wooden ships," and that he served as police inspector in Nagasaki for some years before returning home and teaching President Roosevelt ju-jutsu. Moreover:

Captain O’Brien numbers among his people some of the most prominent people in the country, among them, Secretary of War Dwight Davis , former Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell and Dr. John B. Deaver the famous surgeon. He has taught instructors of the police force of various cities, and also members of the Pennsylvania State Police. He has also taught many women of social prominence his system of defense.

During the war [World War I] he demonstrated that part of his method which would be effective against the enemy, to hundreds of instructors, and the treatment to which he has been subjected by the vigorous application of his technique by his students has resulted in the partial atrophy of his left arm.

"The system is based upon knowledge of mechanical principles which function in the human body and upon rules of leverage," said Captain O’Brien. "One time R. Tait McKenzie , sculptor and supervisor of physical instruction at the University of Pennsylvania, tried these principles out on bodies in the dissection room at the University, and proved that full application of the force which can be exerted in defense will break bones and tear apart the muscles."

"The reason this method is so successful is that it catches the assailant unawares. A man who gets set for it could avoid close contact with his victim, but when he gets near enough, there is no defense."

"Take a very common occurrence where a man attempts to flirt with a girl, walks up alongside her and, starting a conversation, takes hold of her arm. She slides her arm under his as if about to draw him nearer to her. The sheik wouldn’t object to that. He probably would be delighted to think he had made such a hit that that the girl was ready to embrace him."

"As her arm goes under his, she brings it on top of his arm above his elbow and puts on a little pressure. His arm straightens out and he is at her mercy. As she puts on more force she moves as if to straighten her arm, but what she is doing is to bend his arm in the direction opposite to the natural swing at the elbow."

"He can not extricate himself. His arm is caught in a vise from which he can not withdraw, and if he attempts to reach her with his other arm, he is prevented from turning to face her by the fact that her position bars him from swinging his free arm toward her."

"She can punish him more severely by gripping the hand on his arm with her free hand and pulling down on it. This will force the sheik toward the pavement, and she can give him a jerk, sending him head over heels, and go calmly on her way. A quick pull will break his elbow."

"This is a long explanation, but practice it with a friend and see how quickly and simply it can be done with hardly any effort."


The video link:

Old School Jujutsu 2

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 36 Strategies: #28, Let them climb the roof, then take away the ladder

The 36 Strategies is a widely known guide to learning the art of strategy, which is second only to The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Where the Art of War is an overview of the entire subject of strategy, The 36 Strategies seeks to teach strategic thinking by way of 36 maxims divided into six categories of six maxims each.

#28 Let them climb the roof, then take away the ladder.

You maneuver enemies into a point of no return by baiting them with what looks like advantages and opportunities.

Here's an example. A co worker of mine once had a cell phone plan that he liked. The cell phone company called him up one day and offered him a different plan. This new plan sounded like it would be a good move, and so he did indeed move. After a couple of months, he decided that he actually preferred the old plan.

He called the cell phone company back and asked to be moved back to the old plan. What they told him was that the old plan was no longer available.

The company moved him off of a plan when it was no longer in THEIR interest for him to be there. They offered an incentive for him to move, which he did. Once he was on the proverbial roof, they took away the ladder.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September 11th, 1683

This is a reprint of an article I posted in 2006.

Over 300 years ago, Western Civilization was nearly overrun by Islam. The seeming unstoppable tide of Islam paused at Vienna. On September 11th, 1683, the king of Poland, John Sobieski, at the head of his Winged Hussars, the last heavy calvary in Europe, led an army down upon the besiegers. They swept the Muslim army from the field, and from that day, the grip of Islam upon Eastern Europe weakened.

This battle was the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the orgininal article on, together with more links, pictures, and so on. ----------

Battle of Vienna Part of the Habsburg-Ottoman Wars of 1683-1697 The Battle of Vienna (Turkish: İkinci Viyana Kuşatması) (as distinct from the Siege of Vienna in 1529) took place on September 11 and September 12 1683 after Vienna had been besieged by Turks for two months.

It was the first large-scale battle of the Habsburg-Ottoman Wars, yet with the most far-reaching consequences. The siege itself began on 14 July 1683, by the Ottoman army commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. The decisive battle took place on 12 September, after the united relief army of 70,000 men had arrived, pitted against the Ottoman army of approximately 138,000 men - although a large number of these played no part in the battle, as only 50,000 were experienced soldiers, and the rest less motivated supporting troops [1].

King Jan III Sobieski of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been made Commander in Chief of his own 30,000-man Polish forces and the 40,000 troops of Habsburg and their allies, led by Charles V, Duke of Lorraine. The battle marked the turning point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the Central European kingdoms, and the Ottoman Empire. Over the sixteen years following the battle, the Habsburgs of Austria, and their allies gradually occupied and dominated southern Hungary and Transylvania, which had been largely cleared by the Turkish forces.


To capture the city of Vienna had long been a strategic aspiration for the Ottoman Empire, due to its inter-locking control over Danubean (Black Sea-to-Western Europe) southern Europe, and the overland (Eastern Mediterannean-to-Germany) trade routes. During the years preceding the second siege, under the auspicies of grand viziers from the influential Köprülü family, the Ottoman Empire undertook extensive logistical preparations this time, including the repair and establishment of roads and bridges leading into Austria, and logistical centers, as well as the forwarding of ammunition, cannons and other resources, from all over the Empire to these logistical centers, and into the Balkans.

Emperor Leopold I On the political front, the Ottoman Empire had been providing military assistance to the Hungarians and to non-Catholic minorities, in Habsburg-occupied portions of Hungary. There, in years preceding the siege, widespread unrest had become open rebellion, upon Leopold I's insistent pursuit of Counter-Reformation principles, and his burning desire of crushing Protestantism.

In 1681, Protestants and other anti-Habsburg forces, led by Imre Thököly, were reinforced with a significant force from the Ottomans, who recognized Imre as King of "Upper Hungary" (eastern Slovakia and parts of northeastern present-day Hungary, which he had earlier taken by force of arms, from the Habsburgs). This support went so far as explicitly promising the "Kingdom of Vienna" to the Hungarians, if it fell into Ottoman hands. Sultan Mehmed IV

Yet, before the siege, a state of peace had existed for twenty years between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire, as a result of the Peace of Vasvár. In 1681 and 1682, clashes between the forces of Imre Thököly and the Habsburgs' military frontier (which was then northern Hungary) forces intensified, and the incursions of Habsburg forces into Central Hungary provided the crucial argument of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha in convincing the sultan, Mehmet IV and his Divan, to allow the operation of the Ottoman Army. Mehmet IV authorized Kara Mustafa Pasha to operate as far as Győr (Turkish: Yanıkkale, German: Raab) and Komarom (Turkish: Komaron, German: Komorn) castles, both in northwestern Hungary, and to besiege them. The Ottoman Army was mobilized on January 21 1682, and war was declared on August 6 1682. "Jan III Sobieski at Vienna" However, the forward march of Ottoman Army elements did not begin until April 1 1683 from Edirne in Thracia.

This strategic mistake provided ample time (almost 15 months) for Habsburg forces to prepare their defense, and to set up alliances with other Central European rulers. During the winter, the Habsburgs and Poland concluded a treaty in which Leopold would support Sobieski if the Turks attacked Kraków; in return, the Polish Army would come to the relief of Vienna, if attacked. In the spring, the Turkish Army reached Belgrade in early May, then moved toward the city of Vienna. About 40,000 Tatar Forces arrived 40km east of Vienna on 7 July, twice as many as the Austrian forces in that area. After initial fights, Leopold retreats to Linz with 80,000 inhabitants of Vienna.

The King of Poland prepared a relief expedition to Vienna during the summer of 1683, honoring his obligations to the treaty. He went so far as to leave his own nation virtually un-defended when departing from Cracow on 15 August. Sobieski covered this with a stern warning to Imre Thököly, the leader of Hungary (then an Ottoman satellite), whom he threatened with destruction if he tried to take advantage of the situation - which Thököly did.

Events during the Siege

The main Turkish army finally invested Vienna on July 14. Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, leader of the remaining 11,000 troops and 5,000 citizens and volunteers, refused to capitulate. The Viennese had demolished many of the houses around the city walls and cleared the debris, leaving an empty plain that would expose the Turks to defensive fire if they tried to rush the city.

Kara Mustafa Pasha solved that problem by ordering his forces to dig long lines of trenches directly toward the city, to help protect them from the defenders as they advanced steadily toward the city. As their 300 cannons were outdated and the fortifications of Vienna were up to date, the Turks had a more effective use for the gun powder: undermining. Tunnels were dug under the massive city walls to blow them up with explosives, using Sapping mines.

The Ottomans had essentially two options to take the city: the first, an all-out assault, was virtually guaranteed success since they outnumbered the defendants almost 20-1. The second was to lay siege to the city, and against all military logic, they chose the second. Historians have speculated that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact for its riches, and declined an all-out attack in order to prevent the right of plunder which would accompany such an assault. [2]

Additionally, the Ottoman siege cut virtually every means of food-supply into Vienna, [3] and the garrison and civilian volunteers suffered extreme casualties and fatigue became such a problem that Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg ordered any soldier found asleep on watch to be shot.

Increasingly desperate, the forces holding Vienna were on their last legs when in August, Imperial forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine beat Imre Thököly of Hungary at Bisamberg, 5km north east of Vienna.

On 6 September, the Poles crossed the Danube 30km north west of Vienna at Tulln, to unite with the Imperial forces, and additional troops from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia which had answered the call for a Holy League that was supported by Pope Innocent XI.

Only Louis XIV of France, Habsburg's rival, not only declined to help, but used the opportunity to attack cities in Alsace and other parts of southern Germany, as in the Thirty Years' War decades earlier.

During early September, the experienced 5000 Turkish sappers repeatedly blew up large portions of the walls, the Burg bastion, the Löbel bastion and the Burg ravelin in between, creating gaps of about 12m in width. The Austrians tried to counter by digging their own tunnels, to intercept the deposition of large amounts of gun powder in subterranean caverns.

The Turks finally managed to occupy the Burg ravelin and the Nieder wall in that area on 8 September. Anticipating a breach in the city walls, the remaining Austrians prepared to fight in Vienna itself.

Staging the battle

The relief army had to act quickly, to save the city from the Turks, and to prevent another long siege in case they would take it. Despite the international composition and the short time of only six days, an effective leadership structure was established, undisputedly centered on the King of Poland and his heavy cavalry.

The motivation was high, as this war was not as usual for the interests of kings, but for Christian faith and even God. And, unlike the crusades, the battleground was in the heart of Europe. Kara Mustafa Pasha, on the other hand, was less effective despite having months of time to organize his forces, ensure their motivation and loyalty, and to prepare for the expected relief army attack.

He had entrusted defence of the rear to the Khan of Crimea and his cavalry force, which numbered about 30,000. There is serious questions as to how much the Tatar forces participated in the final battle at Vienna. Their Khan felt humiliated by repeated snubs by Kara Mustafa, and reportedly refused to make a strike against the Polish relief force as it crossed the mountains, where the heavy cavalry would have been vulnerable to such an assault from the lighthorse Tatars. [4]

Nor were they the only component of the Ottoman army to openly defy Mustafa, and to refuse assignments. This left vital bridges undefended and allowed passage of the combined Habsburg-Polish army, which arrived to relieve the siege.

Critics of this account say that it was Kara Mustafa Pasha, and not the Crimean Khan, who was held responsible for the failure of the siege.

The Holy League forces arrived on the "Kahlen Berg" (bare hill) above Vienna, signalling their arrival with bonfires. In the early morning hours of 12 September, before the battle, a mass is held for King Sobieski.

The Battle

The battle started before all units were staged. Early in the morning at 4:00 , Turkish forces opened hostilities to interfere with the Holy League's troop deployment. A move forward was made by Charles, the Austrian army on the left, and the German forces in the center. Mustafa Pasha launched a counter-attack, with most of his force, but holding back parts of the elite Janissary and Sipahi for the invasion of the city.

The Turkish commanders had intended to take Vienna before Sobieski arrived, but time ran out. Their sappers had prepared another large and final detonation under the Löbelbastei, to provide access to the city. While the Turks hastily finished their work and sealed the tunnel to make the explosion more effective, the Austrian "moles" detected the cavern in the afternoon. One of them entered and defused the load just in time.

At that time, above the "subterranean battlefield", a large battle was going on, as also the Polish infantry had launched a massive assault upon the right flank. Instead of focusing on the battle with the relief army, the Turks tried to force their way into the city, carrying their crescent flag.

After 12 hours of fighting, Sobieski's Polish force held the high ground on the right. At about five o'clock in the afternoon, after watching the ongoing infantry battle from the hills for the whole day, four cavalry groups totalling 20,000 men, one of them Austrian-German, and the other three Polish, charged down the hills. The attack was led by the Polish king in front of a spearhead of 2000 heavily armed winged Polish lancer hussars.

This charge broke the lines of the Ottomans which were tired from the long fight on two sides. In the confusion, the cavalry heads straight for the Ottoman camps, while the remaining Vienna garrison sallied out of its defenses and joined in the assault. The Turkish army rapidly lost spirit after the failure of the sapping attempt, the denied invasion of the city, and the turning of the tide of battle against them. They accordingly retreated to the south and east.

In less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna.


"Return from Vienna" by Józef Brandt, Polish-Lithuanian army returning with loot of the Ottoman forces The Turks lost about 15,000 men in the fighting, compared to approximately 4,000 for the Habsburg-Polish forces. On 25 December 1683, Kara Mustafa Pasha was executed in Belgrade by order of the commander of the Janissaries.


Although no one realized it at the time, the battle shaped the outcome of the entire war as well. The Ottomans fought on for another 16 years, lost control of Hungary and Transylvania in the process, before giving up, which was finalized by the Treaty of Karlowitz. The Battle of Vienna is seen by many historians as marking the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The Battle also marked the historic end of Turkish expansion into southeastern Europe. Also, the behaviour of Louis XIV of France set the stage for centuries to come: German-speaking countries had to fight wars simultaneously in the West and the East.

While German troops were fighting for the Holy League, Louis ruthlessly used the occasion, before and after the battle of Vienna, to annex territories in western Europe, like Luxembourg, Alsace with Strasbourg etc. Due to the ongoing war against the Turks, Austria could not support the interest of German allies in the West. The biography of Ezechiel du Mas, Comte de Melac illustrates the devastastions of large parts of Southern Germany by France.

In honor of Sobieski, the Austrians had erected a church atop a hill of Kahlenberg, north of Vienna. Also, the train route from Vienna to Warsaw is named in Sobieski's honor. Legends related to the Battle of Vienna Several Culinary legends are related to the Battle of Vienna: One legend is that the croissant was invented in Vienna, either in 1683 or in an earlier siege in 1529, to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish siege of the city, as a reference to the crescents on the Turkish flags. Although this version is supported by the fact that croissants in French Language are referred to as Viennoiserie and the French popular belief that Vienna born Marie Antoinette introduced the pastry to France in 1770, there is no evidence that croissants existed before the 19th century.

Another legend from Vienna, made the first bagel as being a gift to King Jan Sobieski to commemorate the King's victory over the Turks that year. The baked-good was fashioned in the form of a stirrup, to commemorate the victorious charge by the Polish cavalry. The truth of this legend is more uncertain, as there is a reference in 1610 to a similar-sounding bread, which may or may not have been the bagel.

After the battle, the Austrians discovered many bags of coffee in the abandoned Turkish encampment. Using this captured stock, Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki opened the third coffeehouse in Europe and the first in Vienna, where according to legend Kulczycki himself or Marco d'Aviano, the Capuchin friar and confidant of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, added milk and honey to sweeten the bitter coffee, thereby inventing cappuccino.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Deadly Art of Capoeria

Nemesis, the Goddess of implacable justice, visits divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Bucket List

One of my daughters brought home a great movie, which I hadn't seen before: The Bucket List.

It stars Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It's about two old men (one of whom is fabulously rich) who both find out that they are terminally ill. Nothing will save them.

They make a list of things to do before they "kick the bucket." Travel to exotic places, do thing like sky dive and drive fast cars.

It's a wonderful movie. It left me wondering though, if I knew that I didn't have much time, and money was no object, what would I do? What would be on my list?

For quite a while I was stumped. It's a big question.

I would move to a house on a large body of water. I would continue to practice taijiquan because it makes me feel good; especially the standing practice for an hour each day, because that clears my mind. I'd listen to all manner of music, especially classical music, which I particularly love.

I'd get through as many books as I could. I'd also leave the people at Netflix with blistered fingers, sending me movies. I really like watching movies with my kids (my wife doesn't particularly like movies).

That's it. Besides the lake house, I'd do pretty much what I'm doing now, except more of it since I wouldn't have to work.

You know, that's a pretty reassuring thought: I'd do what I'm doing now, just more of it.

What's on your Bucket List?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Who Needs Fiction?:I Swear!

A lot of things leapt to mind when I came across this one. Be careful of what you ask for. There's a certain amount of hubris in taking the Lord's name in vain. You get what you ask for.

Mostly, who needs fiction?

From several news sources. Click on the title of this post to find one.

A Chinese man who swore to God that he didn't owe money to a neighbor was hit by lightning a minute later.

The man held an iron bar over his head and said that if he owed his friend money, God would punish him. Almost immediately, he was struck by lightning.

The man was taken to a hospital. His injuries are not serious.

The friend claims he was owed a little more than $73.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Cucumber Sage

A blast from the past. The story of the Cucumber Sage. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original page.


Compiled by Master Tung-Wang
Abbott of Han-hsin monastery in the
Thirteenth year of the Earth Dragon period (898)

My dear friend, the most reverend master Tung-Wang,

Old and ill, I lay here knowing that writing this note will be my last act upon this earth and that by the time you read it I will be gone from this life.

Though we have not seen each other in the many years since we studied together under our most venerable Master, I have often thought of you, his most worthy successor. Monks from throughout China say that you are a true lion of the Buddha Dharma; one whose eye is a shooting star, whose hands snatch lightning, and whose voice booms like thunder. It is said that your every action shakes heaven and earth and causes the elephants and dragons of delusion to scatter helplessly. I am told that your monastery is unrivaled in severity, and that under your exacting guidance hundreds of monks pursue their training with utmost zeal and vigor. I've also heard that in the enlightened successor department your luck has not been so good. Which brings me to the point of this letter.

I ask that you now draw your attention to the young man to whom this note is attached. As he stands before you, no doubt smiling stupidly as he stuffs himself with pickled cucumbers, you may be wondering if he is as complete a fool as he appears, and if so, what prompted me to send him to you. In answer to the first question, I assure you that Wu-Ming's foolishness is far more complete than mere appearance would lead you to believe. As for the second question, I can only say that despite so benumbed a condition, or perhaps because of it, still more likely, despite of and because of it, Wu-Ming seems to unwittingly and accidentally serve the function of a great Bodhisattva. Perhaps he can be of service to you.

Allow him sixteen hours of sleep daily and provide him with lots of pickled cucumbers and Wu-Ming will always be happy. Expect nothing of him and you will be happy.

Respectfully, Chin-Mang

After Chin-mang's funeral, the supporters of his temple arranged for Wu-Ming's journey to Han-hsin monastery, where I resided, then, as now, as Abbott. A monk found Wu-ming at the monastery gate and seeing a note bearing my name pinned to his robe, led him to my quarters.

Customarily, when first presenting himself to the Abbott, a newly arrived monk will prostrate himself three times and ask respectfully to be accepted as a student. And so I was taken somewhat by surprise when Wu-ming walked into the room, took a pickled cucumber from the jar under his arm, stuffed it whole into his mouth, and happily munching away, broke into the toothless imbecilic grin that would one day become legendary. Taking a casual glance around the room, he smacked his lips loudly and said, "What's for lunch?"

After reading dear old Chin Mang's note, I called in the head monk and asked that he show my new student to the monk's quarters. When they had gone I reflected on chin-mang's words. Han-hsin was indeed a most severe place of training: winters were bitterly cold and in summer the sun blazed. The monks slept no more than three hours each night and ate one simple meal each day. For the remainder of the day they worked hard around the monastery and practiced hard in the meditation hall. But, alas, Chin-mang had heard correctly, Among all my disciples there was none whom I felt confident to be a worthy vessel to receive the untransmittable transmitted Dharma. I was beginning to despair that I would one day, bereft of even one successor, fail to fulfill my obligation of seeing my teacher's Dharma-linage continued.

The monks could hardly be faulted for complacency or indolence. Their sincere aspiration and disciplined effort were admirable indeed, and many had attained great clarity of wisdom. But they were preoccupied with their capacity for harsh discipline and proud of their insight. They squabbled with one another for positions of prestige and power and vied amongst themselves for recognition. Jealousy, rivalry and ambition seemed to hang like a dark cloud over Han-shin monastery, sucking even the most wise and sincere into its obscuring haze. Holding Chin-mang's note before me, I hoped and prayed that this Wu-ming, this "accidental Bodhisattva" might be the yeast my recipe seemed so much in need of.

To my astonished pleasure, Wu-ming took to life at Han-shin like a duck to water. At my request, he was assigned a job in the kitchen pickling vegetables. This he pursued tirelessly, and with a cheerful earnestness he gathered and mixed ingredients, lifted heavy barrels, drew and carried water, and, of course, freely sampled his workmanship. He was delighted!

When the monks assembled in the meditation hall, they would invariably find Wu-ming seated in utter stillness, apparently in deep and profound samadhi. No one even guessed that the only thing profound about Wu-ming's meditation was the profound unlikelihood that he might find the meditation posture, legs folded into the lotus position, back erect and centered, to be so wonderfully conducive to the long hours of sleep he so enjoyed.

Day after day and month after month, as the monks struggled to meet the physical and spiritual demands of monastery life, Wu-ming, with a grin and a whistle, sailed through it all effortlessly. Even though, if the truth be told, Wu-ming's Zen practice was without the slightest merit, by way of outward appearance he was judged by all to be a monk of great accomplishment and perfect discipline. Of course . I could have dispelled this misconception easily enough, but I sensed that Wu-ming's unique brand of magic was taking effect and I was not about to throw away this most absurdly skillful of means.

By turns the monks were jealous, perplexed, hostile, humbled and inspired by what they presumed to be Wu-ming's great attainment. Of course it never occurred to Wu-ming that his or anyone else's behavior required such judgments, for they are the workings of a far more sophisticated nature than his own mind was capable. Indeed, everything about him was so obvious and simple that others thought him unfathomably subtle.

Wu-ming's inscrutable presence had a tremendously unsettling effect on the lives of the monks, and undercut the web of rationalizations that so often accompanies such upset. His utter obviousness rendered him unintelligible and immune to the social pretensions of others. Attempts of flattery and invectives alike were met with the same uncomprehending grin, a grin the monks felt to be the very cutting edge of the sword of Perfect Wisdom. Finding no relief or diversion in such interchange, they were forced to seek out the source and resolution of their anguish each within his own mind. More importantly, and absurdly, Wu-ming caused to arise in the monks the unconquerable determination to fully penetrate the teaching "The Great Way is without difficulty" which they felt he embodied.

Though in the course of my lifetime I have encountered many of the most venerable progenitors of the Tathagata's teaching, never have I met one so skilled at awakening others to their intrinsic Buddhahood as this wonderful fool Wu-ming. His spiritual non-sequiturs were as sparks, lighting the flame of illuminating wisdom in the minds of many who engaged him in dialogue.

Once a monk approached Wu-ming and asked in all earnestness, "In the whole universe, what is it that is most wonderful?" Without hesitation Wu-ming stuck a cucumber before the monks face and exclaimed, "There is nothing more wonderful than this!" At that the monk crashed through the dualism of subject and object, "The whole universe is pickled cucumber; a pickled cucumber is the whole universe!" Wu-ming simply chuckled and said, "Stop talking nonsense. A cucumber is a cucumber; the whole universe is the whole universe. What could be more obvious?" The monk, penetrating the perfect phenomenal manifestation of Absolute Truth, clapped his hands and laughed, saying, "Throughout infinite space, everything is deliciously sour!"

On another occasion a monk asked Wu-ming, "The Third Patriarch said, "The Great Way is without difficulty, just cease having preferences." How can you then delight in eating cucumbers, yet refuse to even take one bit of a carrot?" Wu-ming said, "I love cucumbers; I hate carrots!" The monk lurched back as though struck by a thunderbolt. Then laughing and sobbing and dancing about he exclaimed, "Liking cucumbers and hating carrots is without difficulty, just cease preferring the Great Way!"

Within three years of his arrival, the stories of the "Great Bodhisattva of Han-hsin monastery" had made their way throughout the provinces of China. Knowing of Wu-ming's fame I was not entirely surprised when a messenger from the Emperor appeared summoning Wu-ming to the Imperial Palace immediately.

From throughout the Empire exponents of the Three Teachings of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism were being called to the Capitol, there the Emperor would proclaim one to be the true religion to be practiced and preached in all lands under his rule. The idea of such competition for Imperial favor is not to my approval and the likelihood that a religious persecution might follow troubled me greatly. But an order from the Emperor is not to be ignored, so Wu-ming and I set out the next day.

Inside the Great Hall were gathered the more than one hundred priests and scholars who were to debate one another. They were surrounded by the most powerful lords in all China, along with innumerable advisors, of the Son of Heaven. All at once trumpets blared, cymbals crashed, and clouds of incense billowed up everywhere. The Emperor, borne on by a retinue of guards, was carried to the throne. After due formalities were observed the Emperor signaled for the debate to begin.

Several hours passed as one after another priests and scholars came forward presenting their doctrines and responding to questions. Through it all Wu-ming sat obliviously content as he stuffed himself with his favorite food. When his supply was finished, he happily crossed his legs, straightened his back and closed his eyes. But the noise and commotion were too great and, unable to sleep, he grew more restless and irritable by the minute. As I clasped him firmly by the back of the neck in an effort to restrain him, the Emperor gestured to Wu-ming to approach the Throne.

When Wu-ming had come before him, the Emperor said, "Throughout the land you are praised as a Bodhisattva whose mind is like the Great Void itself, yet you have not had a word to offer this assembly. Therefore I say to you now, teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow." Wu-ming said nothing. After a few moments the Emperor, with a note of impatience, spoke again, "Perhaps you do not hear well so I shall repeat myself! Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Still Wu-ming said nothing, and silence rippled through the crowd as all strained forward to witness this monk who dared behave so bold a fashion in the Emperor's presence.

Wu-ming heard nothing the Emperor said, nor did he notice the tension that vibrated through the hall. All that concerned him was his wish to find a nice quiet place where he could sleep undisturbed. The Emperor spoke again, his voice shaking with fury, his face flushed with anger: "You have been summoned to this council to speak on behalf of the Buddhist teaching. Your disrespect will not be tolerated much longer. I shall ask one more time, and should you fail to answer, I assure you the consequence shall be most grave. Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Without a word Wu-ming turned and, as all looked on in dumbfounded silence, he made his way down the aisle and out the door. There was a hush of stunned disbelief before the crowd erupted into an uproar of confusion. Some were applauding Wu-ming's brilliant demonstration of religious insight, while others rushed about in an indignant rage, hurling threats and abuses at the doorway he had just passed through. Not knowing whether to praise Wu-ming or to have him beheaded, the Emperor turned to his advisors, but they were none the wiser. Finally, looking out at the frantic anarchy to which his grand debate had been reduced, the Emperor must surely have realized that no matter what Wu-ming's intentions might have been, there was now only one way to avoid the debate becoming a most serious embarrassment.

"The great sage of Han-hsin monastery has skillfully demonstrated that the great Tao cannot be confined by doctrines, but is best expounded through harmonious action. Let us profit by the wisdom he has so compassionately shared, and each endeavor to make our every step one that unites heaven and earth in accord with the profound and subtle Tao."

Having thus spoken the Son of Heaven concluded the Great Debate.

I immediately ran out to find Wu-ming, but he had disappeared in the crowded streets of the capitol.

Ten years have since passed, and I have seen nothing of him. However, on occasion a wandering monk will stop at Han-hsin with some bit of news. I am told that Wu-ming has been wandering about the countryside this past decade, trying unsuccessfully to find his way home. Because of his fame he is greeted and cared for in all quarters with generous kindness; however, those wishing to help him on his journey usually find that they have been helped on their own.

One young monk told of an encounter in which Wu-ming asked him, "Can you tell me where my home is?" Confused as to the spirit of the question. The monk replied, "Is the home you speak of to be found in the relative world of time and place, or do you mean the Original Home of all pervading Buddha nature?"

After pausing a moment to consider the question, Wu-ming looked up and, grinning as only he is capable, said, "Yes."