Turtle Planet author Yun Rou has released his latest newsletter, take a look!
|Greetings, Daoist Masters, Adepts, and Dabblers,
There’s nothing like gratitude to usher in a new month in this Time Of Covid. We’re lucky, for example, not to be living in the slums of Kolkata, the favelas of São Paulo, or a rural Amazon village, where people are suffering and dying from high population density and a lack of resources.
We’re fortunate to have support systems—and even limited government programs—to help us stave off mortal challenge, social upheaval, stress, and financial challenges, and to have books and digital devices to entertain and distract us. We should appreciate the fact that this pandemic is not the Black Plague or a global blooming of such deadly viruses as Marburg or Ebola, which would already have left hundreds of millions quickly dead. As Daoists we recognize that variations in health are normal, and that is better to suffer smaller things than bigger ones, to live a long life with flus and aches and pains and colds than a short life free of those. Too, we can be grateful to science for the forthcoming vaccines and treatments and for this “trial run” that better prepares us for the inevitable next pandemic.
|I appreciate being connected to all of you through my books, this newsletter, a forthcoming selection of online videos, and the online classes, which I hope more of you will join. Note that the Tuesday class is now a philosophy class in which we discuss Daoist texts and concepts in addition to meditating on lessons learned at the conclusion of the session. So far, this class has been very well received.
As a reminder, the class schedule is:
Tuesdays, 8PM New York City time—philosophy and meditation
Thursdays, 8PM New York City time—qigong
Saturdays, 11AM New York City time—tai chi
We use the Zoom platform and require a minimum class fee of $10. Use this link to receive a Zoom invitation.
This will likely be the last free issue of this newsletter. If you enjoy it, please share it. The larger the subscription base, the lower the monthly fee to read it will be.
The relationship between China and the world appears to be rapidly changing, although those of us who have been studying China’s history for a while recognize that what appears new to the international eye is actually a return to the narrative of China-as-Superpower the Middle Kingdom has long held dear. I have often written that the last 175 years of Western hegemony in East Asia will prove to be nothing but a blip on the radar of China’s 5000-year history. For better or worse, China sees the gradual reassertion of its central global role as necessary and normal. This lesson in perspectives on world history is clearly and compellingly elucidated in this new book.
A less sweeping and introductory take on China’s climb to world hegemony is this new work, which has now been banned in China. It gives an almost encyclopedic summary of the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy for global domination. It is by all accounts a triumph of painstaking reporting but I cannot say it makes for reassuring reading.
Speaking of Chinese bans on books, Buddhist and other religious titles are under CCP siege now, in a move reminiscent of the book burnings of Qin Shi Huang Di, China’s ruthless first emperor, as well as Maozedong’s so-called Cultural Revolution. Those of us in favor of liberty and human rights recognize such moves as classical steps towards tyranny and oppression.
In closely related news, this famous and beautiful Hong Kong bookstore has closed its doors after 100 years. I mourn. I loved the place.
If book burning isn’t a strong enough sign of a paranoid, power-hungry regime, then perhaps stealing people’s DNA, the ultimate step in universal surveillance, surely is.
A novelist’s take on what’s happening in society can be more piercing, more trenchant, and more insightful than other views. After all, novelists raise such observations to the level of art. Here a famous Chinese novelist has some thoughts. Hopefully, they will inspire a look at his novel of Chengdu, Leave Me Alone.
The links above focus on China, but to be fair, it saddens me to report that tyranny is on the rise elsewhere on Planet Earth. What’s interesting to watch is the overlap between authoritarianism and the viral pandemic, with surveillance and government interference being increasingly (and erroneously, just look at New Zealand) justified as being the only path to public safety. Tyrants, of course, will use any excuse or tool to exercise control and cement their power, including otherwise legitimate law enforcement agencies.
If all this reality is a bit much for you, then it might be time to escape to another world. Reading fantasy novels is more immersive than watching fantasy movies or shows because active rather than passive cerebral involvement is required. In other words, when we watch a screen we don’t have to think, but when we read a book we enter into a partnership with the writer. That cooperation makes the experience deeper, more convincing, more lasting, and more real. This series will demand your full attention and concentration. The good news is that the reward is commensurate with the effort.
If real-world fantasy living is more your style, Hawaii is about as close as it gets, especially while strict quarantine measures keep it cut off from the world. The most remote island chain in the world is a fascinating melting pot of culture as well as the home to the high spiritual ideas of the island natives. In page-turning fashion my old, dear friend, Tom Peek reveals what he has learned from a life there.
|Look and Listen RIP movie star John Saxon, who passed recently after giving us all many fun action roles, but none arguably iconic as “Mr. Roper” in Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon”.
Another actor who worked with Bruce Lee (and once outsold him at the box office) is Angela Mao, whose athleticism and expressive performances won her roles in many now-famous Hong Kong films. It’s more than high time to give female stars of HK cinema their due.
Action-film fans will rejoice in the prospect of an upcoming martial arts blockbuster starring Max Zhang, who appeared opposite Donnie Yen in the Ip Man franchise.
Tom Peek’s wife, Catherine Robbins has her own form of devotion to America’s 50 th state and gateway to Asia, capturing the archipelago’s unique and spectacular geology in her original paintings. Worth a look and a great choice for that spot on the wall calling for something really special.
I’ve been watching Korean movies, and some streaming series as well, for years. In the wake of Boon Jong-Ho’s Parasite, Korean cinema is now most emphatically on the map of savvy viewers everywhere. A particularly interesting director, although one whose work requires a steely eye and a tough stomach, is Park Chan-wook, perhaps best known for his unflinching work, Oldboy, which for better or worse features some of the most memorable scenes in recent Asian cinema.
I spent time in Paraguay in my youth and came to enjoy that country’s harp music. Talk about something completely different. If you like the sound you can use this album as a jumping off point to explore different artists and their work.
If you’re a jazz fan, this reunion album will ring your chimes. Great energy, great sense of mood and timing.
This Nashville trio has a unique sound. Just when you think it’s one thing, it turns into another. Interesting lyrics, nice melody lines, creative arrangements that don’t quite fit into bluegrass or rock and roll or country.
|Tai Chi News There’s a world of difference between performance wushu and real martial arts. The first is designed to entertain, and features beautiful, flexible, graceful players competing against each other for the awarding of points based on their interpretation of fixed forms. Think of it like figure skating but without ice, without skates, and sometimes with a sword.
The latter invariably look rough and violent, not pretty at all. In fact, in the words of my tai chi grandmaster, Chen Quanzhong, the better they are the more “homegrown” they appear, even when there is a big, heavy pole in the game.
Sometimes we can be duped into believing that something is violent and real when it isn’t at all. Hollywood action films specialize in that, though rarely with a spear and even more rarely with jumping men in silk suits.
If you really want to know what it’s like to fly across the tops of roofs and trees with a sword in your hand and flowing robes making you look as graceful as a swan, there’s a place in China that’s just waiting for you. Once we can travel again, that is.
There are more than 1000 scientific studies on the benefits of tai chi registered with our own National Institutes of Health. The number may actually be much higher than that, as it has been a while since I checked. What I can say is that the evidence is steadily growing that tai chi helps us live better and live longer.
The enemies of success in practice are well known to all of us who devote ourselves to traditional Chinese kung fu, no matter what style. They are, of course, our inner demons.
|The Practical Daoist
Long before there were Daoist monks and nuns and temples, long before the term Daoist was even applied to the philosophy, religion, and community to which I belong and which many of you find a fascinating source of insight and succor, there were shamans plumbing Planet Earth for her secrets. These spiritual voyagers could be found in the Amazon, on remote islands, and in what would later be called Mongolia. Mongolia’s shamanic wisdom was adopted across borders and across time, but it still exists today.
Fast forward a few thousand years and we can use technology not only to predict and evaluate disease, but also to assess brain function at higher and more specific levels. We can see the effects of meditation on the brain, something I explored with Harvard researchers during a documentary I made years ago, and much more.
The information available from brain scans, as well as my work on my forthcoming novel about artificial intelligence, have me preoccupied with conundrum of consciousness, with both its hard and soft problems. We’re getting closer to having some understanding of the phenomenon, or maybe we’re not.
I started working out at the gym again, particularly when the temperatures here in the American Southwest exceeded 100°F. It seemed like an okay idea because the place was a ghost town and the gym employees were assiduously and constantly disinfecting machines. Then I found out about this.
There are all kinds of ugly rumors about the pandemic circulating right now, ranging from the idea that wearing masks is a sign of weak-minded social complicity that does no good at all (absolutely false on both counts) to the idea that Covid-19 is a bioweapon engineered in a lab in Russia and China as a prelude to global invasion. What we can say for sure is that it is a bat virus. Nature made it. Evil scientists did not.
California’s Big Sur Coast holds a special place in my heart. I so enjoyed a quarter century of motorcycling California’s the areas magnificent roads and hiking its most memorable trails that I even got married there. I wasn’t the only one so entranced. Famed conservationist John Muir (whose legacy is tainted by his racism) cherished the place, and iconic American photographer, Ansel Adams chose it for his home. Now a piece of the Big Sur pie, once appropriated from indigenous people, has been returned, a piece of news I find uniquely satisfying.
Say goodbye to the Chinese white dolphin, another species falling to shrinking habitat, our greedy overuse of resources, our notions of the right to hegemony, and the pollution of waterways planet-wide.
A cornerstone of the animal rights movement—and a feature of a non-dual philosophy like Daoism, which is built upon an understanding of the interdependence of nature—is that human beings are not the only creatures with thoughts and feelings, not the only animals that find meaning in life and have a concept of self. New work on the great apes known as bonobos, long famous for being sexual libertines, shows that the hard line between Homo sapiens and other species, the line we call language, may not so hard after all.
The risk of global thermonuclear war is both amusingly and terrifyingly portrayed in the 1983 film War Games. It turns out that fictional portrayal was not so far off the mark. Due to the presence of bad actors, growing obsolescence of weapons systems, the complex and vulnerable nature of command and control, and the fact that one man can set the whole thing off, we are creeping ever closer to doomsday. Strangely, nobody seems to either care or to be paying attention to this existential threat.
To end on a happier note, let’s find a quantum of solace in the fact that reality, according to the latest cutting-edge research, is self healing! Reality is self healing.
“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold;
they change the world into words.”
William H. Gass
Compassion, Conservation, and the Fate of the Natural World
Turtle Planet is a work of philosophical fact and fiction by ordained Daoist Monk Yun Rou. This beautifully written work of thought deeply explores the bond between humans and animals―the wisdom they teach us, the wounds they can heal, and the role we play in their destruction.