Friday, August 29, 2008

Dalai Lama exhausted. Anyone else worried?

Dalai Lama is currently at a hospital in Mumbai, India.

This is from a Guardian article, Thursday 28.08:
"A spokesman for Mumbai's Lilavati hospital suggested the visit was unexpected. "He comes every six months for a routine checkup. Around a month ago, a checkup was conducted and he was in perfect health," Mohan Rajan said."

That is, before the Olympics had begun.

Although Dalai Lama has been diagnosed with exhaustion before, in 2006, the recent incident strikes me as a wake-up call. Is it a complete coincidence that this happens right after the Olympics held in China? Can it be completely arbitrary that this man, who is not only well-informed and highly intelligent but also deeply tuned into the waves of energy on this planet, good and bad, suffers exhaustion at the end of an olympic arrangement which in many ways put a gloss over a deeply disturbing rule, and a seeming lack of respect for humankind in the world's largest country?

Dalai Lama has had to deal with the Chinese from their violent takeover in Tibet in 1959. Since then, he has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India. And despite his and the Tibetan government's repeated attempts to have serious and detailed talks with the Chinese leadership about how Tibet - as a part of China, something the Tibetan government is crystal clear about - shall exist both as a part of China and with more autonomy than now, they have not succeeded. At all. Their main interest is to secure their Buddhist culture in the way they wish, allowing it to continue its central place in Tibetan culture.

The exhaustion is probably partly a result of the Chinese hard stubbornness in this religious matter, which means that they for many many years have refused serious talks with the Tibetan representatives about how to work together. Such lowbrow behaviour compared with other two-faced attempts of tricking the Tibetans must certainly strain Dalai Lama. I know it does me.

He is a leader with a people and a geographical area, but who is forced to live away from both. He endures the deep pain this must create and has done so for nearly fifty years. No wonder he sometimes needs a three week rest.

You can read more about this matter here and here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lotus flower - and the Norwegian national flower

I have to say that I understand why the lotus flower holds such a special place in many Eastern cultures, like India and Vietnam. In India the lotus is the national flower, and both hinduism and buddhism honours it with a central and significant meaning.

The most evident quality of the lotus is of course its beauty, but that in itself would not be enough to make so many cultures and religions view it as such a special flower. The delicate beauty of the lotus flower is enhanced when compared with its place of growth, which is usually in a pond or river. Its roots are founded deep down in the mud or soil, while its leaves float on the top of the water. The flower itself rises on a stem above the water, and can in such a way be called unpolluted by the elements surrounding it.

From this unmistakably metaphorical state of existence the lotus has lent itself to symbolism in many of the cultures surrounding its natural habitat, and occurs in many a poem, painting, drawing or saying.
In Norway we actually have two national flowers, one, "bergfrue" (saxifraga cotyledon), meaning "mistress of the mountains", was chosen at an international botanical congress in Amsterdam 1935, probably without the participation of any members of the Norwegian people - except the botanists, of course. This plant I have no relation to, probably because it grows more widely in the mountains than in the woods, and it is in the woods that I have most frequently walked about.

The other one is called "røsslyng" (calluna vulgaris) - "ling" or "heather" in English, and in all of its minimalistic insignificance, this choice I can understand. Anyone who has wandered through the woods in the fall, or across the wide mountain plateaus, will have met this sweet-smelling, unpretentious little plant - and that includes most of the Norwegian population. Suitably, this one was chosen in a large radio programme in 1976 (a programme which still has the most listeners in Norway) and probably reflects a widespread fondness for nature and hiking.
This post took a most unexpected turn for me, I intended to write more widely about the wonderful and significant lotus flower, and then a kind of natural nostalgia caught up with me in the middle of the whole thing. And now I have to go back to what I am supposed to be doing; writing along on my masters thesis in comparative literature.
It was nice with a little break, though. So long, existent and non-existent readers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yeats on the art of life vs writing

This excerpt from a poem called "The Choice" by W.B. Yeats is highly interesting, coming from a man of letters in the middle of life:


The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the word
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark

Similarly he wrote this on life vs writing in his diary at some time in 1909:

"To keep these notes natural and useful to me I must keep one note from leading to another, that I may not surrender myself to literature. Every note must come as a casual thought, then it will be my life. Neither Christ nor Buddha nor Socrates wrote a book, for to do that is to exchange life for a logical process. "
I find these thoughts rather soothing as well as disturbing, as I find the balance between writing and living somewhat difficult. Not that I am a writer of any kind, but I recognize Yeats' fear of wrapping one's thoughts or insights into a larger logic, a logic aleady defined and lined up, ready to mould and melt your independent thought into a larger pattern of sorts.
This time I might actually take someone's advise and follow it. I think I will try to be conscious of this while writing in my journal - whenever that will be.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rumi for the people

Some Rumi wisdom on your way:

I swallowed
some of the Beloved's sweet wine,
and now I am ill.
My body aches,
my fever is high.
They called in the Doctor and he said,
drink this tea!
Ok, time to drink this tea.
Take these pills!
Ok, time to take these pills.
The Doctor said,
get rid of the sweet wine of his lips!
Ok, time to get rid of the doctor.

The image is from a Rumi festival in Sweden in September 2007 - looks like a female Nordic dervish to me.

Life can be so sweet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Silver Needle - Bai Hao Yinzhen

Almost as a followup to my previous posting of the Japanese-like poem "The Rider", I would like to devote a post to the delicious tea called Silver Needle, or Bai Hao Yinzhen. This is a white tea, and one of my favourites - I guess I can even say the favourite tea of mine.

If you have tasted this tea, you will have no problems understanding why I would like to write a hymn to it. The taste is more delicate than the smell of dewy roses in the morning, the texture smooth and supple as silk, and both its colour, taste and textuality is of such subtlety that you could almost miss it, if you are looking for a strong green taste to hit your palate.

Let's start with the way this tea looks: Like water with a little sunlight in it. The colour is so pale that you could almost mistake it for water, but there is a golden glow to the water that is unmistakable and hints at what it contains.

Next, if you bend down to sniff the pale gold water, you notice how ringlets of floral notes hit your nostrils, so sweet and watery that you could suspect someone for having opened a phial of eau de cologne in the other side of the room. But no, it is the contents of your cup that is producing this mild, sweet nose-tickling odour.

And then, when your curiosity as well as your mouth and body is intensely tuned into this surprise of a fluid, you raise the cup to your lips, sniff, and take a sip. What now? If you are not sufficiently fine tuned, the taste might pass you by. And this is part of the wonder with this tea! It demands something from you in order for it to reveal its secrets. "Why would I reveal my hidden landscape of white petals and flowery minerals if you behave like a brute and expect me to thunder your tongue with rude, grass-like tones" it whispers with a wry smile. But if you do meet the whiteness with a wide and ready mind, palate and senses, this tea will tell you stories! (I know I sound a bit exalted and exaggerating but the beauty and subtleness of this tea is so appealing to me that I have started a bit of a love affair to it. And haven't people in love always been a bit loud about their objet du désir?)
So, yes, this tea will tell you stories. It will tell you stories of rolling hills and slopes covered with the bush of camellia sinensis, hill after hill of green and juicy vegetation in the Fujian province in China. This is another element of why Silver Needle is such a gem: it is only grown and picked in this province, between March 15 and April 10 - taking care to pick them when it is not raining. Solely the top buds are good enough for this tea, and they are also supposed to be undamaged to be able to call its brew a real cup of Silver Needle. Does this not meet your standards for something rare, pure and refined? It certainy does mine.

Another virtue of this tea is that it is relatively low in caffeine. To me this is really an advantage, as I find it hard to sleep if I drink something close to coffee later than 3-4 pm. This tea I will at least dare to drink up to 5 pm ;-).

Did this post make you feel like trying a cup, or a bowl, or a glass of Silver Needle? Nothing would make me happier.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Rider, by Naomi Shihab Nye

There is a slight Easternness to this poem, a simplicity of sadness and lightness combined which appeals to me, particularily a Japanese feel towards the end with the pink petals silently falling. This is the image that remains with me after reading it, and the main reason why I want to go back reading the poem over - the slow, soft petals that are barely pink, existing next to nothing, held up by air alone in a waltz teasing gravity.

The overall feel of sportmanship to this poem (and what underlies the wish to win) is not at all unsuiting in these olympic times, either.

I have never heard of this poet before, though she might be very well known in the English speaking literary world. Sometimes being a Norwegian, a Scandinavian, makes me feel like sitting on the edge of the world, but then again that is often where I would like to be! No complaints here.

The Rider

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.
From Fuel, 1998
Can't you just smell the silence in the end of this poem?
I think it is wonderful. It equals to sipping a delicate brew of Silver Needle tea, with its hints of floral and mineral notes in the soft transparent golden liquid.