Archive for the ‘Eastern Philosophy’ Category
If you’ve walked or driven up Broad Street near the Mission in the last couple days, you can’t possibly have missed the new mural, now virtually completed, by the visual artist and bamboo aficionado known as Pacha. Thanks to her impeccable handiwork, the entryway to Bambu Batu is now adorned with a mesmerizing depiction of the Sanskrit symbol OM in the center of a spellbinding burst of orange and green rays. We can’t imagine a better way to say “Welcome Om.”
The next logical thing to do is explain the meaning behind this ancient Indian symbol, so often seen, so difficult to thoroughly understand. You could always peruse the original Mandukya Sutra of the Upanishads if you want to engage in some serious scholarship. But for a quick and accessible exposition, check here.
And, if you’re looking for something fun to do this Friday night, just remember, Om is where the Art is. The first Friday of each month, Bambu Batu showcases local wine, jazz and art at the Art & Craft Bazaar After Dark. Remember, there’s no place like Om!
To learn more about the meanings behind this sacred syllable, be sure to read our Om is where the Heart is: Meditations on the One.
A samurai warrior makes his way home after a long and arduous campaign against the barbarian tribes of the hinterlands. His robes are stained with the blood of enemies and allies alike, and the specter of death weighs heavy on his mind.
Before heading back to his own village, the weary soldier takes a detour into the forbidden forest to seek counsel with the wise Hermit of the woods. Making his way into an enchanted grove, penetrated only by the thinnest splinters of sunlight, the samurai swordsman comes upon the simple cabin of a solitary, old monk.
The hermit, taciturn, looks the warrior over and raises his eyebrows in expectation. “I come in search of your fabled wisdom,” says the visitor. The sage shrugs his shoulders, then nods, inviting his guest to continue.
“I’ve travelled to every corner of the kingdom, and beyond,” the warrior explains. “And I think I’ve come to know the ways of this world. But I keep hearing people speak of Heaven and Hell. Every battle I fight, I see more and more death. And with each battle it grows more senseless and more meaningless.”
“But,” he says, “I keep thinking about this business of Heaven and Hell, and I don’t understand. I can’t help thinking that Heaven and Hell are merely an empty promise and a hollow threat. Tell me, Wise One, are there truly such things?”
The wise hermit scratches his chin. Then he clears his throat. Then he looks his visitor in the eye and asks, “What kind of soldier are you? You don’t look very brave, and you certainly don’t sound very bright.”
Startled by this language, the samurai jumps to his feet and furls his eyebrows. The sage continues: “I don’t see the strength of a warrior in you. Who would possibly want the likes of you in their army?”
With his heart pounding and his blood boiling, the insulted samurai now reaches for his sword, and gripping it fiercely, begins to draw it from its scabbard. Noticing this aggression, the old man asks calmly, “And what do you intend to do with that? I doubt you even know the first thing about how to use such a weapon. You don’t frighten anyone.”
At this, the warrior raises his mighty sword over his head and drives a piercing glance into the hermit’s eyes. The wise old sage now raises his boney finger and says softly, “There, you see, you have reached the gates of Hell.”
The flummoxed warrior pauses to make sense of this. Then, finding his poise, he returns his blade carefully into its sheath and nods silently.
“And now,” the guru concludes, “you stand at the gates of Heaven.”
And so the soldier bows to the sage with gratitude and continues home.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sensō-ji, Taitō-ku, Japan (Unsplash)
Considering the rich foundation of Eastern and esoteric philosophy which underpins both our business model and our way of life, the imagery of Zen, Buddhism and ancient India are virtually inescapable at the House of Bamboo.
Few can overlook the wisdom of our inspirational scrolls imparting the words of timeless teachers like Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the Dalai Lama, as well as Einstein, Mother Teresa and Henry James. But not every Central Coast resident, Central Valley tourist, or Cal Poly engineering student is so intimately familiar with the subtleties of the Tao or the sensibilities of the Vedas.
One the most ubiquitous symbols of Eastern mythology, the Om, appears in tapestries, jewelry, clothing and all manner of yoga accessories. These days most people will recognize it, but not everyone can identify it, and even fewer can identify with it. For each person who asks, there’s surely a dozen more who wonder, “What is the meaning of this symbol?”
Volumes have been written about this sacred syllable, in the ancient Hindu texts as well as by more modern sages and comparative scholars like Joseph Campbell. Traditionally, this humming sound, written as either Aum or Om, is chanted as a mantra before and/or after the reading of holy vedic scriptures or a session of yoga.
Essentially, it is meant to represent the singularity of the cosmos, the single unifying sound of the universe and all its resonation. One might read it to mean the name of god, or even the voice of god (god in the very non-Western sense, that is).
Not unlike the New Testament divinity, however, this single Indian syllable is also divisible into three parts: a-u-m. These three phonemes are variously believed to represent the Hindu Trimurti, the Indian trinity of gods, i.e. Brahma (creator), Vishnu (maintainer) and Shiva (destroyer or transformer); or the three stages of life, i.e. birth, life and death. From this point, the range of interpretation is almost unlimited. Many, for example, believe in a vital fourth element: the silence which follows the a-u-m.
If the association with Indian deities is a little too esoteric, I have an even easier way to think about it. As you slowly chant the a-u-m, open with the A and imagine the first soft, green buds of spring. With the U, think of the lush vibrancy of summer, with all the trees and shrubs in full foliage. As you hum the M, picture the leaves turning and falling with autumn. Finally, take a moment to savor the silence, inhaling deeply as you think again of nature’s cycles, the bare branches of winter, the landscape blanketed with pure, white snow.
The way I see it, the four elements of the a-u-m, including the closing silence, correspond perfectly with the four seasons of nature. As I chant softly and focus my mind on the changing of seasons, I find myself drifting into a peaceful state of meditation, at one with nature, and one with all things.
Invoked in conjunction with prayer, yoga or meditation, the sacred Om syllable has a phenomenal capacity to elevate the practitioner’s state of consciousness, to transcend the world of the mundane and material, to open new doors of spiritual awakening, and enter the depths of the universal mind.
So clear a little floor space or find a nice patch of grass and try for yourself. Who says you can’t go Om again?
Song of the Day: Donovan’s “There is a Mountain”
As we prepare for the major undertaking of relocating the House of Bamboo, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on the fact — sometimes hard to swallow — that everything is always in a state of flux. Or as the ancient Greeks were wont to say, “Panta Rhei,” that is, everything flows. And as other philosophers have pointed out, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” The Tao, like a steady stream, is in constant motion, permanent transition.
Consider the following story, about a boy, the son of a hardworking peanut farmer in the inner Shandong province.
“The Boy and his Horse” | A Zen Parable from Bambu Batu
One autumn, at the annual harvest festival, the young lad is awarded a handsome young horse for having grown the largest peanut in all the province, some eight inches in length.
The boy gallops back to his village at top speed and shares the great news with his family and friends. Hearing the story and admiring the healthy steed, the boy’s father proclaims, “This is truly marvelous! What good fortune you’ve brought on our family.”
Overhearing this brief exchange, the local Zen master nods his head and surmises, “We’ll see.”
Over the course of weeks, the boy and his horse become inseparable companions. Productivity on the farm increases; the family is in high spirits. But one night, in a fierce storm, the horse gets spooked by thunder, breaks loose and disappears. The boy is devastated and grief stricken. “Oh, what a disaster,” his father declares.
Looking on, the Zen master scratches his chin and mutters, “We’ll see.”
Another week goes by, and one morning the horse is seen coming over the hillside, returning to the farm with a new mare at his side. The boy and his family are ecstatic. “What wonderful news, son!” “Yes, daddy, everything is awesome now!”
The Zen master, hearing the commotion, raises his eyebrows. “We’ll see.”
The boy now spends all his spare time — getting up early and staying out late — working in the stables to break in his new mare. She’s a healthy mount, but stubborn too. One evening after supper, the boy takes her on a run across the field. In the dim twilight she grazes an irrigation ditch and throws the boy from his saddle. A small crowd has gathered when the village doctor arrives. He makes a splint for the boy’s leg which has been broken. “He’ll walk again, but I’m afraid he’ll always have a limp.”
“Oh, what rotten luck,” says the father. And the Zen master sighs, “We’ll see.”
Another year passes, and kingdom is now in turmoil. Mongol hordes are raiding many of the provincial villages, and the emperor is recruiting soldiers from the countryside. When they come to the farm of the boy, now a young man, he is exempted from military service on account of his limp. “Oh, thank heavens!” his mother declares.
The Zen master, observing from a distance, just shrugs his shoulders and mumbles, “We’ll see.”
It is a fundamental tenet of far eastern philosophy that the mind is the forerunner of all things. The idea echoes in the words of the Buddha, above. Shakespeare, too, in all his Elizabethan wisdom, was well versed in this universal truth. “It is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” From the tradition of Zen Buddhism comes a parable, much older if not as well-known as Hamlet, which illustrates this point with profound clarity.“Mind is the Forerunner of All Things”
This is the story of another young prince, traversing the countryside in search of glory, romance and adventure. Having crossed rivers, climbed mountains, and made his way through deserts and forests, the young man finds himself nearly exhausted, as he treks over the sun-baked prairies of a high plateau. In need of shade and relief, he comes to a lone elm tree under which he takes his much needed respite.
After a short nap, he wakes up feeling rested, recharged and most contented. Then he thinks to himself, “After all this hiking, I could sure use something cold to drink.” And looking over his shoulder, he sees on the rock beside him, a great pitcher of ice-cold jasmine tea.
“Oh, how wonderful,” he says, and draws a long draft from the pitcher. For a good half hour or so, he enjoys himself in the cool shade, sipping from his tea and listening to the rustle of elm trees.
“This is truly idyllic,” he reflects, “but I could really use a bite to eat.” And just as he looks down, he notices a picnic blanket all laid out with a full spread of spring rolls, noodles, sauces, tempura and rice. “Fantastic!” he marvels, and quickly dives in. “This is just what I needed. Now I’m completely satisfied.”
After a good hour of feasting away on all manner of delicacies and quenching his thirst with refreshing jasmine tea, it occurs to him that he’d be much happier if he had some company here to share in these pleasures. And just as he thinks this, a lovely young maiden strolls across the prairie and joins him under the shade of the great elm tree. He offers her a cup of tea and bowl of sustenance. Soon they are laughing and smiling, and before long they are making passionate love in the rolling grass.
By now the young man is feeling perfectly contented. His belly is full, and he wears a wide smile on his face. He and his partner rise and see that the sun is getting low. Wondering what they’ll do as it gets dark, he thinks how nice it would be to have a small cabin with some furniture and a bed and blankets. No sooner does this thought enter his mind than a small cabin appears before them. So the two walk inside and make themselves at home.
Sitting by the window watching the sun set, the young man turns to his tender companion. “There’s something very strange about all of this. Ever since I arrived under this elm, each of my thoughts has been effortlessly fulfilled. I’m beginning to worry that this tree may be cursed.”
And just as he utters these words, the majestic elm transforms into a giant goblin and swallows them both.
For more enchanted Zen Parables to tickle your mind and soothe your soul, be sure to check out Heaven and Hell, The Magician and the Prince, and Everything Flows. You might also be interested in our article on Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology.
The picture above shows Mahatma Gandhi spinning his own cotton in protest of British Imperialism, similar to the more famous demonstration where he and his followers collected their own salt on the beaches of Dandi (Salt Satyagraha) in 1930.
Gandhi also made the following observations about the economics of Indian cotton and the systematic exploitation of Indian for her raw materials under British rule.
Step 1: English people buy Indian cotton in the field, picked by Indian labor at seven cents a day, through an optional monopoly.
Step 2: This cotton is shipped on British ships, a three-week journey across the Indian Ocean, down the Red Sea, across the Mediterranean, through Gibraltar, across the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean to London. One hundred per cent profit on this freight is regarded as small.
Step 3: The cotton is turned into cloth in Lancashire. You pay shilling wages instead of Indian pennies to your workers. The English worker not only has the advantage of better wages, but the steel companies of England get the profit of building the factories and machines. Wages; profits; all these are spent in England.
Step 4: The finished product is sent back to India at European shipping rates, once again on British ships. The captains, officers, sailors of these ships, whose wages must be paid, are English. The only Indians who profit are a few lascars who do the dirty work on the boats for a few cents a day.
Step 5: The cloth is finally sold back to the kings and landlords of India who got the money to buy this expensive cloth out of the poor peasants of India who worked at seven cents a day.
(Fisher, F.B., 1932 That Strange Little Brown Man Gandhi, New York: Ray Long & Richard Smith, Inc.)