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Happy Holiday Season

Happy Holiday Season

01

This is a wonderful time of a year as families and friends gather in groups to celebrate the festive season. It’s also a great time to reminisce and share favorite stories around a feast laden table or by a kindled fire, warm and cosy while storms rage outside.

 

02

This story, one of my old time favorites, I would like to share.

THE GIFT OF THE MAGI

By O. Henry , (1900 An original version.)

 

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied.

03

Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas. There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger

 

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad. In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name ”Mr. James Dillingham Young.” The ‘Dillingham’ had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D.

05

But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

06

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the Window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim… Her Jim! Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him… Something fine and rare and sterling!

07

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art. Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

09

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the Worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

Where she stopped the sign read: ”Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too White, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. ”Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present. She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his Watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

12

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task. Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

”If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! What could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

At ‘7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

15

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, ”don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you‘? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– What a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

17

”You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

”Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. ”Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

18

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. ”It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, ”but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year what is the difference?

19

A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on. Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: ”My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!” Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

”Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

”Dell,” said he, ”let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last Word to the Wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

The End

Lisbeth Zwerger

Lisbeth Zwerger

 

Best Wishes to All

 

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HOW THE DUCKS GOT THEIR FINE FEATHERS

HOW THE DUCKS GOT THEIR FINE FEATHERS

 

Author: Frank Bird Linderman (1869-1938)

Published 1915

Public domain in the USA.

01

Another night had come, and I made my way toward War Eagle’s lodge. In the bright moonlight the dead leaves of the quaking-aspen fluttered down whenever the wind shook the trees; and over the village great flocks of ducks and geese and swan passed in a never-ending procession, calling to each other in strange tones as they sped away toward the waters that never freeze.

02

In the lodge War Eagle waited for his grandchildren, and when they had entered, happily, he laid aside his pipe and said:

“The Duck-people are traveling to-night just as they have done since the world was young. They are going away from winter because they cannot make a living when ice covers the rivers.

03

“You have seen the Duck-people often. You have noticed that they wear fine clothes but you do not know how they got them; so I will tell you to-night.

04

“It was in the fall when leaves are yellow that it happened, and long, long ago. The Duck-people had gathered to go away, just as they are doing now. The buck-deer was coming down from the high ridges to visit friends in the lowlands along the streams as they have always done. On a lake Old Man saw the Duck-people getting ready to go away, and at that time they all looked alike; that is, they all wore the same colored clothes. The loons and the geese and the ducks were there and playing in the sunlight. The loons were laughing loudly and the diving was fast and merry to see.

05

On the hill where Old Man stood there was a great deal of moss, and he began to tear it from the ground and roll it into a great ball. When he had gathered all he needed he shouldered the load and started for the shore of the lake, staggering under the weight of the great burden. Finally the Duck-people saw him coming with his load of moss and began to swim away from the shore.

06

“‘Wait, my brothers!’ he called, ‘I have a big load here, and I am going to give you people a dance. Come and help me get things ready.’

“‘Don’t you do it,’ said the gray goose to the others; ‘that’s Old Man and he is up to something bad, I am sure.’

“So the loon called to Old Man and said they wouldn’t help him at all.

07

“Right near the water Old Man dropped his ball of moss and then cut twenty long poles. With the poles he built a lodge which he covered with the moss, leaving a doorway facing the lake. Inside the lodge he built a fire and when it grew bright he cried:

“‘Say, brothers, why should you treat me this way when I am here to give you a big dance? Come into the lodge,’ but they wouldn’t do that.

08

Finally Old Man began to sing a song in the duck-talk, and keep time with his drum. The Duck-people liked the music, and swam a little nearer to the shore, watching for trouble all the time, but Old Man sang so sweetly that pretty soon they waddled up to the lodge and went inside.

09

The loon stopped near the door, for he believed that what the gray goose had said was true, and that Old Man was up to some mischief.

The gray goose, too, was careful to stay close to the door but the ducks reached all about the fire. Politely, Old Man passed the pipe, and they all smoked with him because it is wrong not to smoke in a person’s lodge if the pipe is offered, and the Duck-people knew that.

10

“‘Well,’ said Old Man, ‘this is going to be the Blind-dance, but you will have to be painted first.

 “‘Brother Mallard, name the colors–tell how you want me to paint you.’

“‘Well,’ replied the mallard drake, ‘paint my head green, and put a white circle around my throat, like a necklace. Besides that, I want a brown breast and yellow legs: but I don’t want my wife painted that way.’

11

“Old Man painted him just as he asked, and his wife, too. Then the teal and the wood-duck (it took a long time to paint the wood-duck) and the spoonbill and the blue-bill and the canvasback and the goose and the brant and the loon–all chose their paint. Old Man painted them all just as they wanted him to, and kept singing all the time. They looked very pretty in the firelight, for it was night before the painting was done.

12

“‘Now,’ said Old Man, ‘as this is the Blind-dance, when I beat upon my drum you must all shut your eyes tight and circle around the fire as I sing. Every one that peeks will have sore eyes forever.’

13

“Then the Duck-people shut their eyes and Old Man began to sing: ‘Now you come, ducks, now you come–tum-tum, tum; tum-tum, tum.’

“Around the fire they came with their eyes still shut, and as fast as they reached Old Man, the rascal would seize them, and wring their necks.

14

Ho! Things were going fine for Old Man, but the loon peeked a little, and saw what was going on; several others heard the fluttering and opened their eyes, too. The loon cried out, ‘He’s killing us—let us fly,’ and they did that.

15

There was a great squawking and quacking and fluttering as the Duck-people escaped from the lodge. Ho! But Old Man was angry, and he kicked the back of the loon-duck, and that is why his feet turn from his body when he walks or tries to stand. Yes, that is why he is a cripple to-day.

16

 

“And all of the Duck-people that peeked that night at the dance still have sore eyes–just as Old Man told them they would have. Of course they hurt and smart no more but they stay red to pay for peeking, and always will.

17

You have seen the mallard and the rest of the Duck-people. You can see that the colors Old Man painted so long ago are still bright and handsome, and they will stay that way forever and forever. Ho!”

18

The End

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween

Halloween-House-II-blog

The Haunted Pavilion

(An old Chinese tale retold by me)

A long time ago it was a norm for scholars, ‘wandering with sword and lute’ as it was known then, to travel the countryside, seeking knowledge from ancient sites and attaining wisdom from  men of learning.  

It so happens, one such scholar was trekking along a road south of Anyang, on rout to the city.   He’d arrived late at a village some twelve miles short of Anyang, and as night was closing in fast, he asked an old woman if there was an inn nearby.

Her response was that the nearest inn was some miles distant.

“That would not do.” The scholar hummed. “Oh well, I may as well stay the night at that pavilion I’ve just passed.”  

 Such pavilions were common in China at that time, used as resting places for weary travelers, and looked after by neighboring villagers. But hearing this old woman paled and at once barring his way, she cautioned, “You must not do that! The place is haunted by evil spirits and demons! No one who had stayed there had ever lived to tell the tale.”  

The young scholar however dismissed her dire warnings with wave of a hand and smiling said that he was quite adept at taking care of himself. No amount of protestation from the gathered villagers would deter his intention and he set off for the pavilion.

When pitch darkness blanketed the earth, far from going to sleep, the scholar instead, lit a small lamp and, retrieving his book, began reading the passages out loud. Time passed and, for a long while, nothing stirred until, on the stroke of midnight, the scholar heard loud footsteps on the road outside. Peering out of the door he saw a man dressed in black. The man stopped and called for the master of the pavilion.

“Here I am,” ejected a petulant voice from just behind the scholar, startling him so that he jumped in surprise. He turned but there was no one there.

 “What do you want?”  The huffy voice, emerging from thin air, asked.

“Who is in the pavilion?’ the man in black demanded.

“A Scholar is in the pavilion, but he is reading his book and not yet asleep,” the voice replied.

At this the man in black sighed, and turned his steps towards the village.

The scholar shook his head and, with a slight grimace on his lips, he settled back on his makeshift bed and resumed his reading. Some while later he was again interrupted by loud footsteps and this time, as he peered out of the door, he saw a man in a red hat halting on the road outside the pavilion.

“Master of the Pavilion!” the man bellowed.

“Here I am,” again the grumbling voice came from just behind Scholar.

“Who is in the pavilion?” the man in the red hat with a fiery voice demanded.

“A scholar is in the pavilion, but he is reading his book and not yet asleep,” the voice responded.

At this the man in the red hat sighed too and turned towards the village.

“It looks like I’m not going to get any peace tonight.” The scholar put aside his book and waited for a few minutes until he was sure there was no one else coming down the road. After a time he crept out of the door and, standing on the road, called out, “Master of the Pavilion!”

”Here I am,” came the same response from within.

“Who is in the pavilion?” the scholar asked.

“A scholar is in the pavilion but he is reading his book and not yet asleep,” the voice responded.

The scholar sighed and then asked, “Who was the man in black?’

“That was the black swine of the North,” the voice answered.

“And who was the man in the red hat?”

“That was the Red Cock of the West.”

“And who are you?” the scholar then demanded.

“I am the Old Scorpion,” was the reply. At this the scholar quietly snickered then slipped back into the pavilion. He did not sleep however; instead, he stayed awake the rest of the night reading his book, undisturbed.

The next morning the villagers who’d rushed to the pavilion to see if the scholar had survived the night were aghast to see him seated on the veranda with a calm composure and strumming his lute. As they gathered around him bombarding him with questions the scholar held up his hand for silence.

“Patience, soon all will be revealed.” He smiled and then rising, added,   “Follow me; I shall venture to remove the curse from this building.” He quickly went back inside the pavilion with many of the villagers trailing him. He fetched his sword, unsheathed it then, turning, signaled for them to stay back.  Advancing swiftly he pulled aside a rotting screen in the corner of the room. Many gasped as they witnessed a gigantic black scorpion behind it, poised to strike. With one sweep of his sword, the scholar split the creature from head to tail; the two parts collapsed lifeless to the floor. There was a hissing sound, then black coils of smoke rising from the ashes, it all simply evaporated into thin air.

Not in the least bit perturbed he next asked the villagers where they had kept a black pig.

 “In the house north of the pavilion,’ those finding their voice answered, and then showed him the place.

Black Pig blog

Indeed, exactly where they had directed the scholar, he soon discovered a huge black pig. He looked up, its eyes glinting with demonic fury. Being daylight however, the possessed beast’s powers were greatly diminished.  Before it could strike the scholar wielded his sword and struck a deadly blow dropping the pig stone dead at his feet.

“Now where do you keep a large red rooster?’ facing the quivering crowd, he asked.

“In a shed to the west of the pavilion,” some brave souls answered and pointed at the direction of the place.

Red Rooster blog

 Sure enough there was an enormous red cockerel there, with a huge red comb, and long, sharp talons.  Once more, with another swift strike of the blade, the scholar decapitated the demon disguised as the bird. He too lay dead at scholar’s feet.

Later, at a feast given in honor of the hero, the scholar graciously explained to the bewildered villagers how he had discovered the identities of the demons.

And so from that day on, with the demons vanquished, no harm ever came to anyone wanting respite at the pavilion south of Anyang.

Bo.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

The Sacred Tree

The Sacred Tree

“The useful declines to be used,

whereas the useless asks to be used.”   Tao.

 Once upon a time a well known carpenter named Shih, accompanied by his young and impressionable apprentice, was travelling through the untamed countryside, often taking shortcuts in order to reach the state of Ch’i on time.

 

Their travels at one point led them to the Shady Circle, where they observed a sacred Li tree in the temple dedicated to the God of Earth.  The tree was immensely huge, so large in fact that it provided shelter to a herd of several thousand cattle and still left room for more. It was a hundred spans in girth, towering up eighty or ninety feet over the hilltop, before it branched out. Countless admiring crowds with their faces turned up, stood there gazing in awe at this miracle on earth.

 

The apprentice too had halted briefly and fixed his eyes also on this magnificence, thinking how a dozen boats could be cut out of it. He hastened his steps to catch up to his master, who’d continued on his way quite unconcerned. Bit puzzled, he addressed his master tentatively, “Master, in all this time that I’ve been fortunate enough to have handled an adz in your service, I have never seen such superb example of timber. How was it that you, Master, cared not pause a step, to even perfunctorily observe it?”

“Forget about it, it’s hardly worth the mention,” the master shrugged smugly. Observing the puzzled look on the stubborn apprentice’s face however, he relented. “The tree is good for nothing. Made into a boat, it would sink; into a coffin, it would rot; into furniture, it would break easily; into a door, it would sweat; into a pillar, it would be worm-eaten. Despite its size the wood is of no quality, and therefore of no use. That’s why it has survived to attain its present age.”

By dusk of the fifth day, the carpenter and his apprentice had finally reached home. After unburdening themselves of their baggage and washing up, they partook of a satisfying repast. That evening, as he snuggled cosily under the quilts, the carpenter had an unsettling dream.

He dreamt that the displeased spirit of the tree appeared to him and spoke to him harshly, as follows:

“Your arrogance is unconscionable. What is it tell me you intend to compare me with? Is it with fine-grained wood? Consider the pear, the orange, the pomelo, cherry-apple and all other fruit bearers: as soon as their fruit ripens they are stripped and treated with such indignity. The great boughs are snapped off, the small ones scattered abroad.

Thus do these trees by their own value cause injury to their own lives. Sadly they cannot fulfill their allotted span of years, but expire prematurely; all because they are destroyed for bringing forth the admiration of the world.

“Thus it is with all things. In view of this, I’ve strove long and hard to appear useless. Even so, many a time I had a close brush with the peril of being cut down. My wits and my ways however in the end succeeded in deterring them from their aim, and so I endured and grew to these heights; being only useful to myself.

“My kindness now propels me to impart on you few facts:

“In your pitifully brief human history Tsech’i of Nan-po was once travelling on the hill of Shang when he chanced upon a huge tree that greatly astonished him. In his mind he accounted that a thousand chariot teams of four horses could seek shelter under its shade. Reining on his horse under it and pointing he therefore shouted: “What sort of tree is this? Surely it must bear an unusual fine timber.” Then as he looked more closely, he saw that its branches were too crooked for rafters; and looking down he noted that the trunk’s twisting loose grain made it valueless for coffins. Reaching he plucked a leaf and tasted it; at once his face crinkled for it took the skin off his lips. The odor meanwhile was too strong that it would make a man insensate for several days. “Ah!” said Tsech’i, “this tree is really good for nothing, and that is how it has attained this size. A spiritual man might well follow its example of useless.”

“You may also recall that in the State of Sung there is a land belonging to the Ching, where thrive the catalpa, the cedar, and the mulberry. Such as are of one span or so in girth are cut down for monkey cages. Those of two or three spans are harvested for the beams of fine houses. Those of seven or eight spans are cut down for the jointless sides of rich men’s coffins. Alas, they do not fulfill their allotted span of years, but perish under the ax, all too young. Such is the misfortunes that overtake the worthy.

“In contrast; for sacrifices to the River God neither pigs with high snouts, nor bulls with white foreheads, nor men suffering from piles, can be used. For every soothsayer regards these as inauspicious. To the wise, however, these are regarded extremely auspicious, if only to themselves.

 

“I’m reminded of an account of a certain hunchback named Su. His jaws touched his navel. His shoulders were higher than his head. His neck bone stuck out towards the ultimate sky. His viscera were turned upside down. His buttocks were where his ribs should have been. Yet he lived rather comfortably. By sifting rice, or tailing, or washing, he earned his keep and achieved enough to support a family of ten.

“When the orders for conscription came, whether for the army or for public works, the hunchback walked about unconcerned among his peers, for his deformity excluded him from all such. Meanwhile, when the donations of grain for the disadvantaged and the disabled were handed out, the hunchback received as much as three measures, and when firewood was allotted, ten faggots. If physical deformity was thus sufficient to preserve his body until the end of his days, how much more should a moral and mental deformity avail!

“Alas, it’s a sad fact that mountain trees invite their own cutting down, lamp oil invites its own burning up. Lacquer can be used, there the tree is scraped; cinnamon bark can be eaten; therefore the tree is cut down. All men know the utility of useful things; but they do not know the utility of futility.

“As you and I are both created things, I ponder on the soundness of this good-for-nothing fellow: you, who’s in imminent danger of death, passing so demeaning a remark on the supposed good-for-nothing tree.”


The subsequent morning the carpenter Shih awakened with a start, covered with perspiration, and sat up on his bed for a while collecting his thoughts. His mind fastened just then on the well known fact:

That when Confucius was in the Ch’u State, the eccentric Chieh Yu passed his door, saying, “O phoenix! O phoenix! How has thy virtue fallen! Wait not for the coming years, nor hanker back to the past. When the right principles prevail on earth, prophets will fulfill their mission. When the right principles prevail not, they will but preserve themselves. At the present day, they are but trying to keep out of jail! The good fortunes of this world are light as feathers, yet none estimates them at their true value. The misfortunes of this life are weighty as the earth, yet none knows how to keep out of their reach. No more, no more, show off your virtue. Beware, beware, and move cautiously on! O brambles, O brambles, wound not my steps! I pick my way about, hurt not my feet!”

Later on that day when the carpenter Shih, heard his apprentice exclaim, “If the tree aimed at uselessness, how was it that it became a sacred tree?”

“Hush!” he responded gravely. “Keep quiet. I was wrong. It merely took refuge in the temple to escape from the abuse of those who do not appreciate it. Had it not become sacred, how many would have wanted to cut it down! Moreover, the means it adopts for safety are different from that of others, and to criticize it by ordinary standards would be far wide of the mark.”

A lesson was well learned!

Abstract Art Exhibit by BoSt 8

Abstract Art Exhibit by BoSt 8

The Gates of Paradise

Once upon a time a mighty warrior Nobushige visited a temple where famed Zen master Hakuin resided. Having been received by him, Nobushige perfunctorily bowed than promptly took up a seat across from the worthy master. As he was not one to mince with words, he cleared his throat and immediately voiced his pressing inquiry: “Tell me master, is there really a paradise and hell?”

“Who are you?”  Hakuin looking directly at him, inquired.

“I am a samurai,” The warrior bit miffed, loudly ejected.

“You, a samurai?” Hakuin now scoffed. “What kind of a ruler would have you as his guard? Your demeanor resembles more that of a common, street beggar.”

Proud Nobushige was so incensed, scowling he began to unsheathe his sword, but Hakuin shaking his head calmly added, “I see you have a fine sword!  Still,” the master shrugged, “the blade is probably far too dull to sever my head.”

“I’ll show you how dull it is!” infuriated Nobushige at once rose his hand and was about to unleash his renowned deadly strike, when Hakuin, not in the least bit perturbed, loudly remarked: “Here, open the gates of hell!”

The Samurai, at once perceiving the master’s discipline, recoiled and after bowing respectfully to the master contritely sheathed his sword.

“Here open the gates of Paradise.” Hakuin, sporting a warm smile, now said.

Zen Story

Taming the Mighty Dragon

Taming the Mighty Dragon

Many cultures viewed the Dragon as a benevolent being, especially in the East where they held the belief that mighty Dragons once ruled the rivers, lakes, seas and skies. Dragons were well respected and even worshipped, especially in the agrarian settlements, for the welfare of men depended on the kindness of these supreme entities. The quantity of folklore that was spanned from their rich imagination has delighted generations of adults and children.

In ancient times it was the province of the immortals to intercede on behalf of humanity with the raw power of nature symbolized by the Water Dragon.

A folk tale: The Dragon Taming Lohan

Once upon a time in ancient India the people of a small kingdom, being incited by a demon, went on a rampage against the Buddhists and their monasteries. In the mayhem of destruction, some even stooped to steal the Buddhist sutras.

The Dragon King of the undersea, outraged by the unruly behaviour of these humans, punished them all, the innocent as well as the guilty, by flooding their entire kingdom. As he deemed them most unworthy of benefiting from the wisdom within the holy writings, he took custody of the sutras and stored them in his palace.

In time the repentant people, having suffered so long, wanted the sutras back but nothing would sway the Dragon King’s resolve.  It took an extraordinary being, Nantimitolo, to subdue the dragon guard and restore the sutras back to earth. Hence he is became a Buddhist immortal: the Dragon Taming Lohan.

(Here’s an interesting fact: In China at the end of the ninth century the Buddhist faith had suffered greatly, being subjugated to great persecution under the reign of Emperor Tang Wuzhong who preferred Taosm. A cult was born, out of this staunch resistance which incorporated the Lohan as the powerful guardians of the Buddhist faith.  The last two additions, the Taming Dragon and Taming Tiger Lohan were, in fact, thinly disguised swipes against the thriving Taoism of the time.   

The Taming Dragon Lohan’s Sanskrit name is Nantimitolo. Nanti stands for happy and mitolo, a friend. Together the name means happy friend.  He is called the Taming Dragon Lohan for his brave act of vanquishing the ferocious dragon.  There is a charming verse describes him thus:

“In the hands are the spiritual pearl and the holy bowl,

Endowed with power that knows no bounds,

Full of valour, vigour and awe-inspiring dignity,

He succeeds in vanquishing the ferocious dragon.”)

In modern times we are still entertained by accounts of Dragons through varied visual and literary means but we have also learned to harness falling water, the most powerful of the dwelling places of Dragons, to benefit mankind in yet another way: for what would man do today without the use of electricity?

These pictures tell the story of one such mighty waterfall, its might and how it has been tamed to benefit men:

 

The End.

No Attachment to Dust

No Attachment to Dust

Zengetsu was a great Chinese Zen master of the T’ang dynasty. He wrote the following advice for his pupils. Standing the test of time it certainly would hold true today.

-Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust of the world is the way of a true Zen student.

-Virtues are the fruit of self-discipline and do not drop from heaven of themselves as does rain or snow.

-Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbours discover you before you make yourself known to them.

– A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.

-When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself to follow his example. Hearing of the mistaken action of another, advise yourself not to emulate it.

– A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. He may only be guarding his wisdom carefully.

-Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.

-Some things, though right, were considered wrong for generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave an immediate appreciation.

-Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.

– Poverty is your treasure. Never exchange it for an easy life.

-To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Time passes but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.

-Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.