Tag Archives: reading

Thoughts on “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki

This is one of those books that I have been wanting to read for a while, since it was often referred to in other spiritual books and articles which I have read. The beauty of this text is its simplicity. As humans, we excel at complicating things, especially when it comes to religion and spirituality. With this in mind, Suzuki reminds us that sometimes we just need to stop talking and thinking, and just be in the present moment.

“We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!”

(p. 39)

In addition to simplicity and being in the present, the spiritual principle of acceptance is emphasized, especially in relation to the transiency of all existence.

The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. This is the teaching for all of us. Wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also understood as the teaching of selflessness. Because each existence is in constant change, there is no abiding self. In fact, the self-nature of each existence is nothing but change itself, the self-nature of all existence. There is no special, separate self-nature for each existence. This is also called the teaching of Nirvana. When we realize the everlasting truth of “everything changes” and find our composure in it, we find ourselves in Nirvana.

(p. 91)

I found this book very inspiring, and suspect I will read it again at some point. I don’t feel there is anything else I need to say about this book at this point. I’ll just encourage you to have a cup of tea.

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Thoughts on “Woolgathering” by Patti Smith

So I need to start this post by saying that, in my humble opinion, Patti Smith is as brilliant a writer as she is a musical performer. Her music has a rich literary quality, and her writing flows with musical cadence.

OK, I was recently in a local indie bookstore and happened upon this book while wandering the aisles. I didn’t even have to convince myself to buy it; I just picked it up and made my way to the counter (I also picked up Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, but that is for another day). Upon arriving home, the book took its spot at the top of the “to-be-read” stack, yet did not remain there long.

This book is a very quick read: under 100 pages which include some beautiful black-and-white photographs. Basically, I read it in a day. The book is a collection of memories from Patti’s childhood, which I can only classify as prose poetry. While the vignettes are definitely prose, they have a poetic rhythm to the language that is very evocative.

She opens the book by explaining that she had always imagined herself writing a book.

I always imagined I would write a book, if only a small one, that would carry one away, into a realm that could not be measured or even remembered.

(p. 3)

And this is exactly what Smith’s book does. Reading her words transported me back to my childhood, a magical time that now seems like a distant dream. I think the following brief excerpt is the most poignant example of how beautifully Smith captures the essence of childhood and contrasts it with the longing one feels in later years.

The air was carnival, responsive. I opened the screen door and stepped out. I could feel the grass crackle. I could feel life—a burning coal tossed on a valentine of hay. I covered my head. I would gladly have covered my arms, face. I stood and watched the children play and something in the atmosphere—the filtered light, the scent of things—carried me back…

How happy we are as children. How the light is dimmed by the voice of reason. We wander through life—a setting without a stone. Until one day we take a turn and there it lies on the ground before us, a drop of faceted blood, more real than a ghost, glowing. If we stir it may disappear. If we fail to act nothing will be reclaimed. There is a way in this little riddle. To utter one’s own prayer. In what manner it doesn’t matter. For when it is over that person shall possess the only jewel worth keeping. The only grain worth giving away.

(p. 75)

I hope you found this post inspiring, and if you did, I hope you will read Ms. Smith’s book. It is one of those literary gems that I feel offers something to every reader. Thanks for stopping by and keep reading interesting stuff.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 70” by Lao Tzu

My words are very easy to understand, and very easy to practise:
But the world cannot understand them, nor practise them.

My words have an Ancestor.
My deeds have a Lord.
The people have no knowledge of this.
Therefore, they have no knowledge of me.

The fewer persons know me,
The nobler are they that follow me.
Therefore, the Sage wears coarse clothes,
While keeping the jade in his bosom.

Although the translation of this text states that Lao Tzu’s teachings are “very easy,” I suspect that what is meant is that the teachings are “simple,” yet the understanding and application of those teachings are more challenging. I am very aware that the simplest lessons in life are often the most difficult. Then, to make matters worse, we often beat ourselves up for failing to grasp what is basic and obvious, telling ourselves “We should know better.” But growth and change are never easy, which is why it is important to be gentle with ourselves.

Something else that I gleaned from this passage is that individuals often approach teachings with preconceived ideas, and that these preconceived ideas often distort what is being conveyed. Additionally, we may have impressions about the teacher which may distort our understanding of the teachings. I was taught many years ago to “focus on the message, not on the messenger.” That is sound advice and I try to keep that in mind.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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Thoughts on “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury

As part of my quest to work through some of the books that have been on my selves for many years, I decided to read this one. I purchased it a long time ago through one of those book-of-the-month clubs and it has occupied shelf space ever since.

The book is a collection of short stories, most of which are science fiction, but there are a couple which could be classified as magical/fantasy tales.

For me, I see the Illustrated Man as a symbol for how humanity is shaped by the stories we share. Each story creates an image upon our being. They paint pictures inside us, and those inner pictures manifest themselves upon our physical existence.

How can I explain about his Illustrations? If El Greco had painted miniatures in his prime, no bigger than your hand, infinitely detailed, with all the sulphurous color, elongation, and anatomy, perhaps he might have used this man’s body for his art. The colors burned in three dimensions. They were windows looking in upon fiery reality. Here, gathered on one wall, were all the finest scenes in the universe, the man was a walking treasure gallery. This wasn’t the work of a cheap carnival tattoo man with three colors and whiskey on his breath. This was the accomplishment of a living genius, vibrant, clear, and beautiful.

(p. 3)

One of the short stories in the collection, “The Exiles,” deals with the subject of book burning and censorship. This tale echoes the importance of stories and how they are part of our very existence.

“God rest him. Nothing of him left now. For what are we but books, and when those are gone, nothing’s to be seen.”

(p. 132)

All the stories in this book are excellent and worth reading. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share in my musings. I hope you are reading something good today; “For what are we but books?”

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 9 – The Universe in a Grain of Sand

In “Chapter XXXV: The Theory and Practice of Alchemy, Part I,” Manly P. Hall states:

One of the great axioms is, “Within everything is the seed of everything,” although by the simple processes of Nature it may remain latent for many centuries, or its growth may be exceedingly slow. Therefore, every grain of sand contains not only the seed of the precious metals as well as the seed of the priceless gems, but also the seeds of sun, moon, and stars. As within the nature of man is reflected the entire universe in miniature, so in each grain of sand, each drop of water, each tiny particle of cosmic dust, are concealed all the parts and elements of the cosmos in the form of tiny seed germs so minute that even the most powerful microscope cannot detect them. Trillions of times smaller than the ion or electron, these seeds—unrecognizable and incomprehensible—await the time assigned them for growth and expression.

(pp. 499 – 501)

As I read this, I was reminded of the opening lines from William Blake’s poem, “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

What I find so fascinating about this is that both Hall and Blake expressed this concept long before modern physics would bring us chaos theory, the idea of a holographic universe, or the ability to view particles at the sub-quantum level. It almost seems like modern science is in the process of validating ideas that existed within the realm of metaphysical thought for centuries. For me, this is exciting. For too long, spirituality and science have existed in opposition to each other. I genuinely believe that humanity’s future lies in the possibility of uniting science and spirituality; essentially, an alchemical marriage of sorts.

That was all I had to share about this. I hope you found the quotes as inspiring and thought-provoking as I did. Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Stay safe.

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Thoughts on “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut

This is a book that has been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to reading it. Considering the state of things in the world right now, one might think that an apocalyptic tale might be a little too depressing, but that was not the case. The abundance of wit and satire which Vonnegut brings to this tale forces the reader to chuckle at the abundant idiocy that permeates our modern culture.

There is a lot in this text that I could discuss, but since brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll keep this post short and focus on just two passages. The first, which is a little long, is a discussion about what would happen if the writers of the world decided to stop writing, and how that might affect humanity.

“I’m thinking of calling a general strike of all writers until mankind finally comes to its senses. Would you support it?”

“Do writers have a right to strike? That would be like the police or the firemen walking out.”

“Or the college professors.”

“Or the college professors,” I agreed. I shook my head. “No, I don’t think my conscience would let me support a strike like that. When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”

“I just can’t help thinking what a real shaking up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems . . .”

“And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.

“They’d die more like mad dogs, I think—snarling and snapping at each other and biting their own tails.”

I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolations of literature?”

“In one of two ways,” he said, “petrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”

“Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.

“No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”

(pp. 231 – 232)

I am a firm believer that artistic expression is what defines our collective humanity. Books are important. Music is important. Visual arts are important. Without these our society becomes sterile and diseased. A healthy and vibrant artistic community has a direct correlation to the well-being of a community. As Vonnegut states, when an individual is deprived of literature, or any of the other arts, that person’s heart will petrify and turn to stone. The ability to empathize and connect with other human beings will fade, and that would be a symbolic death of all that is human within someone.

The other passage that stood out for me, because it is something I often think about, deals with what hope there is for humanity at this stage.

“What hope can there be for mankind,” I thought, “when there are such men as Felix Hoenikker to give such playthings as ice-nine to such short-sighted children as almost all men and women are?”

And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?”

It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.

This is it:

“Nothing.”

(p. 245)

While this may appear to be just a cynical and pessimistic view, I don’t see it that way. But there is definite irony. If one considers ice-nine to be a symbol of a technology which humanity is not yet ready for, then what Vonnegut is implying is that as long as humanity remains on its present trajectory, striving after technological advancement while neglecting to advance the arts and that part of us which defines our humanity, then there is no hope for us. But, if we can shift our collective focus and turn away from the latest and greatest gadgets designed to ensnare our attention, then new horizons become possible.

Thanks for taking the time to share in my thoughts. I hope you have an inspired day.

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The Library of Esoterica: Witchcraft

This is the third book in Taschen’s “Library of Esoterica” series. These are art books that explore esoteric fields of study through art. While this volume was not as good as the first two—Tarot and Astrology—in my opinion, it was still an interesting read.

The book is a collection of essays, which augment the artwork presented in the book. Pam Grossman sums the text up nicely in her Foreword.

What follows is a kaleidoscopic, wide-lensed look at depictions of witches throughout history – both as we’ve imagined them and as they self-identify. The tome spans time and space, gender, and geography. You’ll find real rites and contemporary rituals in its pages alongside wild, unbridled visions by artists through the ages.

(p. 6)

In the essay “Art is a Spell,” also written by Grossman, she establishes a parallel between artists and witches, which I found interesting.

Like a witch, the artist conjures, shapes reality, manifests. The practice of magick is sometimes referred to as “the arte magickal” or “the dark arts.” That there is a kinship between those who craft magick and those who conjure art is undeniable. And sometimes they may be one and the same, and the Venn diagram of artist and witch collapses and melts into its own magick circle.

(p. 446)

And this succinctly sums up what the strength of this book is—a blending of art and magick that demonstrates how one influences the other. Because, there is no question that throughout history, art has inspired those on the spiritual path, and likewise, spirituality and mysticism have been an endless source of inspiration for artists across all mediums.

I think that’s all for this post. Going to keep it short. Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired day.

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 8 – The Worst Disease

In “Chapter XXXII: Rosicrucian Doctrines and Tenets,” Manly P. Hall states:

The Rosicrucian medicine for the healing of all human infirmities may be interpreted as a chemical substance which produces the physical effects described or as spiritual understanding—the true healing power which, when a man has partaken of it, reveals truth to him. Ignorance is the worst form of disease, and that which heals ignorance is therefore the most potent of all medicines. The perfect Rosicrucian medicine was for the healing of nations, races, and individuals.

(p. 464)

At first pass, this might seem like a harsh statement, especially when one considers the plethora of physical ailments and the devastating effects they have on individuals. But if we step back and reflect, the veracity of this assertion becomes evident. The fact is, we do not know about that which we do not know. In other words, we are ignorant of our own ignorance. If you don’t recognize and acknowledge that there is a problem, then it is almost certain that you will not take any steps to rectify that problem. For example, an alcoholic who does not see that he or she has a problem with drinking will never take the first step toward recovery. Ignorance, therefore, like addiction, is one of the most insidious of diseases, and often individuals fail to become aware of the problem until the damage is done.

We see validation of this claim in our current world. Social media, biased news sources, and “smart web search” technologies have created information silos that keep people ignorant about the broader spectrum of views and ideas, the result being the fractured, angry, and mistrusting society in which we all live. Never, it seems, have we been in greater need for the “perfect Rosicrucian medicine” that would provide for “the healing of nations, races, and individuals.”

I challenge everyone to keep an open mind in these strange days. Things are changing, and they are changing rapidly, and it is in our best interest to be as thoughtful and reflective as possible. It is certainly OK to adhere to a belief, but at least validate it by considering an opposing idea.

Thanks for reading and thinking. Have a great day.

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The Library of Esoterica: Astrology

This is the second book in Taschen’s “Library of Esoterica” series. These are art books that explore esoteric fields of study through art. So far, I have been thoroughly impressed with these texts.

In addition to the stunning illustrations, the book provides an historical overview of astrology’s development, as well as some information about the symbolism behind the signs and planets.

Of all the esoteric practices, astrology is perhaps the most ancient, developed by the peoples of the earliest known cultures: the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians. Long-ago civilizations throughout Africa, the Islamic lands, Asia, and South America, documented their study of the stars and planets and created a shared and interconnected mythology. Astrology, in some form, has been ritualized in nearly every ancestral tradition around the world.

(p. 10)

It is not surprising that both astrology and astronomy developed along with calendar systems, which were important in agricultural societies.

For many, the advent of astrology – and astronomy – occurred alongside the development of calendar systems tied to agricultural seasons and their feasts. In ancient Egypt, for example, the annual flooding of the Nile created a discernable pattern of events: the star Sirius, the brightest in the sky, would appear in the east just before sunrise, heralding the arrival of the waters.

(pp. 18 – 20)

After Copernicus advanced the heliocentric model of our solar system, science distanced itself from astrology; but artists and writers continued to draw inspiration from the practice.

But all was not lost post-Copernicus. While astrology was cut loose from astronomy and science, its practices and lore spread to places where mystery was still permitted – literature, art, and psychology – where it animated and inspired the work of artists and thinkers including Goethe, Byron, Blake, and eventually, in the 20th century, Carl Jung.

(p. 41)

One fact that I found particularly interesting was that “during World War II, both the Axis and Allied forces used astrologers, especially for propaganda purposes.” (p. 45) Having studied propaganda in school, I can envision how governments could employ astrology to bolster their “information.”

I personally feel that practices like astrology are more valuable as tools of self-exploration than as predictors of events. This method of using astrology is tied to the field of psychology.

The advent of psychology in the 19th century changed the practice of astrology from being mostly a predictive tool that looked toward the future to an interrogative tool for exploring the inner, rather than outer world.

(p. 497)

To conclude, this is a beautiful book and a nice addition to any personal library. I suspect I will be returning to it again and again. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.

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“The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: Part 7 – Inaccuracies in Ancient Texts

In “Chapter XXVIII: Qabbalistic Keys to the Creation of Man,” Manly P. Hall cites the following:

Prof. Crawford Howell Toy of Harvard notes: “Manuscripts were copied and recopied by scribes who not only sometimes made errors in letters and words, but permitted themselves to introduce new material into the text, or to combine in one manuscript, without mark or division, writings composed by different men; instances of these sorts of procedure are found especially in Micah and Jeremiah, and the groups of prophecies which go under the names of Isaiah and Zachariah.” (See Judaism and Christianity.)

(p. 398)

The importance of this statement cannot be overstressed. Many ancient texts are considered to be absolute truths, either the exact words of the author, or sometimes, the exact words of the Divine. Add to that the fact that translations of text in ancient languages do not capture the details of the original words, and it becomes evident that what we read today in English translation may be vastly different from an original scroll that appeared on the desk of a scribe for copying over a thousand years ago.

Now, this does not mean that we should reject ancient texts, or dismiss reading them because they are in translation. We should of course read these texts. But, we should do so with the understanding that we may need to work a little harder to get to the essence of what the original author was trying to convey. In other words, we must always read critically.

I think that is all I have to share on this topic. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading interesting stuff.

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