“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring”

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.

“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring,” by Wu-Men (tr. Stephen Mitchell)
The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Harper Perennial, 1993

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robot pathos

There’s something almost unbearably sad for me about the video embedded below (especially when listening with the sound off). Of course it’s funny too, but really sad-funny, I think. Somehow it reminds me just a little of a scene in Clive Barker’s original Hellraiser, which I saw ages ago and remember poorly. But there is a moment in it when some hideous creature or other is crawling on the floor struggling for its very life, and despite the horror we feel and the danger that this being poses for others in the film, still the pathos arises: this is universal, this is the yearning to be alive and to stay alive, and it’s achingly painful to watch.

My reaction to this video snippet here isn’t quite the same, as the robot playing the starring role is obviously not sentient or self-aware. The union of funny and tenderly sad here arises for me more out of a contemplation of our magnificently unquenchable desire for ever greater knowledge — and also from a reminder of our hubris. I imagine educators of another civilization somewhere playing this to their students, who merely find it silly. But the prof has something to say about it:

“The dear earthlings, so clever, and so proud of their intellects, became enamored of a concept they called ‘transhumanism’ or ‘post-humanism.’ Somehow the challenges of self-cultivation in all their fascinating profundity and brilliance weren’t interesting enough for them. They seem to have found them, in the end, not very dramatic or exciting, maybe too difficult. So, more and more, they spent their energies inventing increasingly powerful machines. They never stopped doing so, never felt the need to justify any invention whatsoever, never pulled back to ask the larger questions about life and value, sanity and balance. ‘In the scheme of things, what will this bring about? Where will it take us? Why do we want it? Do we even know?'”

“Eventually their machines destroyed their world. As we will see over the course of this semester, this is the most common pattern…”

on inspiration

The Chronicle Project site, a tribute to the life and teachings of the extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist lama Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, has a “quote at random” feature, and the other day when I visited this one came up (from “One Stroke” in Dharma Art, page 100):

Genuine inspiration is not particularly dramatic. It’s very ordinary. It comes from settling down in your environment and accepting situations as natural. Out of that you begin to realize that you can dance with them. So inspiration comes from acceptance rather than from having a sudden flash of a good gimmick coming up in your mind….Inspiration has two parts: openness and clear vision, or in Sanskrit, shunyata and prajna. Both are based on the notion of original mind, traditionally known as buddha mind, which is blank, nonterritorial, noncompetitive, and open.

a contemplation for the day

“Only a single person was created in the beginning to teach that if any individual causes a single person to perish, Scripture considers it as though an entire world has been destroyed, and if anyone saves a single person, Scripture considers it as though a whole world had been saved.” — Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5

lashon ha-ra (gossip): a Hasidic parable

“Lashon ha-ra” literally means “bad tongue,” ie gossip. Buddhism views it quite seriously as an infringement of harmful speech, but I especially love this Hasidic story used to illustrate it in Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy. Here’s the first part of the entry:

The biblical commandment forbidding gossip is probably the most widely disobeyed of the 613 laws of the Torah. Leviticus 19:16 teaches: “Do not go about as a talebearer among your people.” This basic principle forbids saying anything negative about another person, even if it is true, unless the person to whom one is speaking or writing has a legitimate need for this information (for example, in submitting a reference for a job applicant).

In the Talmud, the rabbis greatly elaborated on this biblical verse, arguing that destroying another’s name is akin to murder (Arakhin 15b), and like murder, the deed is irrevocable. The impossibility of undoing the damage done by harmful gossip is underscored in a Hasidic tale about a man who went through his community slandering the rabbi. One day, feeling remorseful, he begged the rabbi for forgiveness, and indicated that he was willing to undergo any penance to make amends. The rabbi told him to take several feather pillows, cut them open, and scatter the feathers to the winds. The man did so, and returned to notify the rabbi that he had fulfilled his request. He was then told, “Now go and gather all the feathers.”

The man protested. “But that’s impossible.”

“Of course it is. And though you may sincerely regret the evil you have done and truly desire to correct it, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it will be to recover the feathers.”