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View Joe Singer’s art on “media” nodule below

“Athena visits Hawaii” (1/10).JPG
“Farewell” (unsigned).JPG


“Prana” (1/1).JPG

“Dark Night” (Apopthatic way, Juan delacruz.JPG
“Hail all Navigators”.JPG

“Times Past” unnamed copy, (1/10).JPG
Child in Jerusalem (1/10) unnamed copy.JPG

Heiau, Oahu (1/27).JPG

Jerusalem visit (unnamed copy).JPG

Kahana, the irresistable bay.JPG

Midnight in Paris (1/12).JPG

Night Marchers (2).JPG
The King Returns to his Palace (1-10).JPG

well-trod paths 1 (unnamed copy).JPG

Lucy at 20.JPG
“Of Land & Sea”, Kane’ahi & Hoku’lea.JPG
“Einstein” (unsigned copy, 1/10).JPG
Maunawila Pohaku Heiau, Oahu.JPG

Nikas Kazantzakis, Crete (unnamed dopy).JPG
unnamed copy (well trod paths 2).JPG
Hale Opapa Heiau, Eva, Oahu.JPG
“The Blue Hole”.JPG
Jewish cemetery in Prague.JPG

“Heart Sutra”.JPG
Zen circle.JPG

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Daoist Mijue manuals available at last

Well kept secrets At last, Daoist Master Zhuang’s mijue

One of the best kept secrets of modern Daoism is the content of the Mijue 秘訣 Esoteric manuals which the Daoist Master uses to teach his closest disciples, and children. These manuals may be transmitted, in hand written form, only once during the Daoist master’s lifetime, just before he dies.

Though mijue manuals can still be found in Taiwan and Hong Kong, very few survived in China Mainland proper, due to the devastating years of the Cultural Revolution. Here is a list of 3 such manuals, where they came from, and how readers of this website may obtain copies, for scholarly or Daoist “Inner Alchemy” use.

The Mijue manuals listed here come from a collection preserved in Hsinchu City, north Taiwan. In a final request made by Daoist Master Zhuang (see illustration), just before his death in 1976, I was asked to return them to the sacred mountains from which they originated. This process, begun in 1986, is due to be completed this month, November 2011. The history of the manuals, and how to acquire the first 3 DVD/CD presentations, is as follows:

A Daoist named Lin Rumei brought these 3 sets of Mijue manuals, with seal of the 61st Celestial Master of Longhu Shan on them, to Hsinchu city in 1868. After his untimely death, they were kept in the library of Zhuang’s maternal grandfather Chen Jiesan. When Lin Rumei acquired these manuals, the 61st Celestial Master of Lunghu Shan made a prophetic request. 100 years from 1868, he told Lin Rumei, there would be a great tragedy in China. All of the original hand-written manuals would be burned. Lin Rumei, following the Celestial Master’s request, asked his disciple to have these manuals returned to Longhu Shan, Mao Shan, and the other great centers Daoist centers, when China was safe from the predicted “devastation.”

The preservation, printing in digital format as well as hard copy, and attainment of an ISBN number for each manual (to insure their proper distribution as a “not-for- profit” sacred obligation), has at last come to fruition.

The Mijue manuals in the Zhuang-Lin collection number some 35 hand written documents, preserved in microfilm as well as jpg image format. The three most important sets, preserved in manuscript form and on DVD are as follows:

1. The 25 Volume Zhuanglin Xu Daozang 莊林續道臧. An earlier, incomplete version of these documents was first published by Chengwen Press in Taipei, in 1975. The first edition having sold out, a new, 2nd edition from the original copies of Zhuang is now available in DVD or CD format, here on this website, with a brief English and Chinese printed Index and directions for use. An entire 3 day jiao 醮 liturgy of renewal, a Zhai 齋 rite of burial, the Mijue directions necessary to use them, and samples of the popular Shenxiao and Lv Shan rites 神霄,閭山 小法 make up the 1st DVD/CD set.
2. A rare, never before published manual called 道教源流 “Daojiao Yuanliu” (The Origins of Liturgical Daoism), consisting of 150 pp. of text, with sacred dance steps, lists the Major Daoist schools, each with nine grades (“jiu pin” 九品) of liturgical and meditative perfection (2nd DVD/CD set). The schools include the Shangqing, Qingwei, Beidou, Zhengyi Mengwei, Lingbao Sanwu Dugong, (上清,清微五雷法,北斗法,正一盟威,靈寶三五都攻,among others registers/lists of mijue legerdemain.
3. A unique, precious and widely sought after ordination manual, with the seal of the 61st Generation Celestial Master of Longhu Shan, is the third DVD/CD mijue manual made available for the first time for scholars and Daoist masters to use. The manual, called “Ji Lu Yuan Ke” 給籙元科 is presently used again at Mao Shan, Gezao San, Longhu Shan, and other great Daoist centers of China. (Note that the first character 給, which is usually pronounced “gei” in modern Putong Hua, is given the sound “Ji” when used in Daoist context).

These manuals may soon be purchased for cost-only price either through the University of Hawaii press, or by contacting Professor Michael Saso through the website, where images of the texts can be found.

Michael Saso
Los Angeles and Beijing, Nov. 2011

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Sacred and Profane

“Sacred and Profane” – a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto
Oct. 8-9-10, 2011

The great French thinker Emile Durkheim, (1858-1917), is called “the father of modern sociology,” because of his ground breaking work The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. First published in 1912, in this work Durkheim coined the phrase “Sacred and Profane,” as a way to describe the primitive festivals and totemic art, found in Australian Aboriginal and Native American rituals.

Durkheim used the term to understand modern, as well as primitive religious practices. “Sacred” defines ideas and values imposed by the society and culture we live in. “Profane” refers to concrete, individual goals and practices, free for the individual to choose, not imposed by outside authority, religious or secular.

Some scholars opposed Durkheim’s choice of words, saying that “sacred” and “profane” were words used only by European-in-origin languages. Such ideas did not exist in Asian or Native American languages and cultures.

Another great and influential scholar, Mircea Eliade, wrote an equally famous work The Sacred and the Profane, defending and expanding on Durkheim’s words. Eliade’s work (summarized on line, see the Wikipedia article), helps immensely in understanding Asian “festive ritual” practice. “Western” religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are based on sacred books, which the adherents must accept and declare belief in. One must choose only one of these belief systems; it is not possible to be Jewish, Christian, and Islamic all at once.

But for Asians, Native Australians, and Native Americans, religion is a festive system, defined by the Rites of Passage, (birth, puberty, marriage, burial), and seasonal festivals. The “Sacred” part of religious practice is festive. The “Profane” part is daily living, work, cooking, eating, and sleeping. Religious festivals in Asia celebrate annual changes in nature, as well as life’s passages. Spring plowing and planting, summer nourishing, autumn harvest, and winter rest, are secular pursuits, made “sacred” by festivals. During the annual seasonal changes, over a twelve month period, Asian societies celebrate the sacredness of family (New Year festival) on 1/1, girl’s day on 3/3, boy’s day (children in general) on 5/5, teenagers on 7/7, and old folks on 9/9. The end of the old year and coming of the new is celebrated during the 11th and 12th months, ending in the solar “Winter Solstice.” Thus Durkheim was correct, Eliade agrees – helping us to understand far more deeply the spiritual aspects of Asian and non-European-in-origin cultures. Festivals, by nature sacred, are for rejoicing and celebration. They need not be constrained or changed when introducing western belief systems.

Illustrations: a Shinto shrine festival in Kyoto, Japan.

1. The people of Kyoto purify themselves with water and prayer, before attending a Shinto shrine festival.

2. The Shinto priests also purify themselves with water before the sacred ritual.

3. Shinto priests “send off” profane petitions in the sacred Agni Hottra fire ritual.

4. A sacred “Noh” masked dance is offered for people and spirits in attendance.

5. Shinto shrine musicians accompany the sacred Noh dance.

By Michael Saso
In the hills of Sonoma,
Amidst sacred pine and redwood forest
Once Sacred to Native Americans

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quote from Ghandi: a complete person

Mahatma Gandhi was asked,
what are the factors that destroy and build a person.

He replied:
Politics without principles, 

Pleasure without obligation, 

Wealth without work, 

Wisdom without character, 

Business without morality, 

Science without humanity
Prayer without charity,
Destroy the person.

Life has taught me that
people are friendly, if I am kind; 

people are sad, if I’m sad; 

they are all bad, if I hate them; 

there are smiling faces, if I were to smile; 

sour faces out there, if I’m bitter. 

The world is happy, if I’m happy; 

people are angry, if I’m grumpy; 

people are grateful, if I am grateful!

Life is like a mirror:
If I smile, the mirror smiles back at me!
Whoever wants to be loved, has to love!!!

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The 42 Chapter Sutra

The 42 Chapters Sutra ( 四十二章經) is said to have been “translated” (adapted with Daoist undertones) into Chinese by two Yuezhi monks, Kasyapa-Matanga (迦葉摩騰) and Dharmaraksha 竺法蘭), in 67 CE. There is no extant Sanskrit or Prakrit version. It is cited in Daoist works of the 4th-5th century. 10 influential sentences, taken from the Taisho Canon version, are presented below:

Ch. 1. “The 4 noble truths: [suffering is caused by selfishness; eradicate selfishness; practice the way/Dao of compassion]; use the 8 fold path to do this: (good view, good intention, good speech, good action, good livelihood, good effort, empty the judgmental mind, look with compassion] — and become Buddha’s disciple (Arhat)!”

Ch. 7 A foolish person cursed the Buddha. The Buddha did not reply… The cursing stopped. The Buddha asked, “Sir, if someone were to send a present and that person did not receive it, to whom would it go?” The man said, “It would return to the sender.” The Buddha said, “The cursing that you send to me I also do not accept. It returns for you to keep! In the end, anger only hurts one’s self.”

Ch. 11. Providing provisions to ten-billion disciples of Buddha cannot be compared to providing provisions to one Buddha. Providing provisions to one-hundred-billion Buddhas cannot be compared to being without thought, without craving, without cultivation, and without attainment.

Ch 12 (2 of 20) “difficult practices”: Do not speak about the wrongs of others;
when suffering disgrace, do not become angry.

Ch. 13: purify the mind, like rubbing a mirror to remove the dirt, and reveal its brightness. Then you can see the true Way, and know past lives!”

Ch. 18 The Buddha said, “My Dharma consists of thinking without thinking, acting without acting, speaking without speaking, cultivating without cultivating. ..My Way cuts off all spoken words. “

Ch 23 The Buddha said, “People who are (selfishly) attached to wives, children, treasure and home are more unfortunate than those in prison. Prisoners can be pardoned, but there is no reprieve from satisfying the desires of wives and children, like throwing oneself into the maw of a tiger.”

Ch. 29 “If you see an old lady, look on her as mother; If an older woman, regard her as an older sister. If a younger woman, see her as a younger sister; if a young girl, see her as one’s daughter. Give honor to all, with due courtesy.”

Ch. 31 Selfish desires are products of our will, which is activated by thinking and judging. If these two aspects of mind are still and quiet, then selfishness ceases.

Ch. 42 The Buddha said of his kingly origins, “I look upon a prince waiting to assume the throne as only a passing guest. I look upon treasures of gold and jewels as rubble and stones. I look upon sheets of fine white silk as nothing more than cotton rags.”

These spiritually motivated statements (among many others in the 42 Chapter Sutra), were used to attract ordinary Chinese villagers, farmers, scholars, and temple goers to see Buddhism as a complement and companion to the two other great Asian systems, Confucian ethics, and Daoist Yin-yang structured nature, as part of a “One system with three teachings” tradition.
If Judaism, Islam, and Christianity were seen in this light, the world would be a much more preaceful place.

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Chinese and Asian Spirituality

Basic Chinese spirituality

There are 9 basic spiritual/cultural values, recorded by Lu Cunyang Zhu Shi吕存阳 祖师 (Daoist Master Lu Dongbin); Jesuit Fr Matteo Ricci wanted them to be a part of Christianity too:

1. 忠 (Zhong), heart in the center; be loyal to cultural-spiritual values
2. 孝 (Xiao), child-parent reciprocal love, “family centered”
3. 廉 (Lian), moral integrity, in human behavior
4. 戒 (Jie), observing rules, laws; “keeping spiritual vows”
5. 義 (Yi), friendship that is reciprocal
6. 信 (Xin), believe in, trust; i.e., let inner self and words coincide
7. 仁 (Ren), human encounter; with benevolence and compassion
8. 慧 (Hui), wisdom; “now” awareness (focused in the belly)
9. 礼 (Li), (禮) respect for all others, (offer food, drink, and a song of welcome to all whom one meets)

Laozi added 3 precious jewels

三寶 (The three most precious things, from Laozi Dao De Jing Ch. 67
慈、compassion (to others)
儉 frugal life style (for oneself)
不敢為天下先 never put self before anyone/anything under heaven

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Art as Sacred Encounter

Preserved in Kyoto, and the Daoist Center

Kyoto, a city modeled after the Tang dynasty Eastern Capital Luoyang, has from the 8th century until now treasured and preserved for all who come to visit, the sacred beauty of ancient Chine. Like the great Western capital Changan (today”s Xian), and the Forbidden City (i.e., the Imperial Palace) in Beijing, a Buddhist temple (Mt Hiei) guards the northeast mountaintop over looking Kyoto city proper. Just south of the Imperial Palace in the very center of Kyoto are “Temple Street” (Teramachi) and “Sanjo” (3rd street), the cultural hub of ancient and modern Kyoto. The road from Kyoto to Edo (modern Tokyo) depicted in the 52 wood block prints of Hiroshige, began here.
28 temples are located along Teramachi Street, representing the major Buddhist schools that came to Japan from Tang and Song dynasty China, many of which no longer exist in China today. As one proceeds from the intersection of Temple Street westward on 3rd street, a tall red brick building, the Kyoto Cultural museum looms up on the north (right hand) side of the street. A smaller 3-story stucco building with a pine-frost green gate is to the south (left) side. The name of this outwardly modest building is “Tohgendo” or Tao Yuan Dong 桃源洞 “Peach Garden Pavilion” in Chinese. It is named after a poem written by the famous 5th century Chinese poet Tao Yuanming 陶淵明.
Tohgendo museum is famous for its rare, very precious collections of Asian sacred art. Jade from Neolithic (New Stone Age) China, jade and “green bronze” from Shang dynasty China, along with the best of Buddhist and other sacred art of Korea, Tibet, and Japan are preserved here.
Pictured here are jade pieces from 5000-3000 BC China, and green bronze from 1700-1100 BC Shang-Yin dynasty. Those who come to visit the collection are allowed to respectfully pick up the jade items, and hold them in their own hands. It is an amazing experience, prompting the motto given to the collection by its curator, Dr. Morimoto, “Art is a sacred encounter.”
1. The Tohgendo entrance with a gourmet coffee shop “Club David,” offering space to enjoy and discuss the first floor, of Tohgendo’s “Sacred Art” collection.
2. 25 pound green jade ‘belt buckle” of the Sun spirit, with a Taotie bird mask “liaison spirit” inscribed on top. From the 3000 BC Liangzhu Neolithic site.
3. A white jade ‘Dragon pig” that rescues the soul of the deceased from the grave. From the Hongshan Neolithic site, the “Pig’s head” symbol is still used by Altaic and Korean shaman to locate and free souls from the underworld.
4. A 20 pound white jade cong 琮 from Liangzhu near Hangzhou in central China, that helps conduct the soul of the deceased from square earth to circular heaven.
5. Shang dynasty green bronze “wine heating” cups and goblets. The images of cicada for rebirth, dragon for “yang” and tiger for “yin” are inscribed on them.
6. 3 jade pieces from the Qijia Neolithic site, north Tibet, recently found buried under a Tibetan temple foundation, now in the Daoist Center, Beijing;
7. A rare yellow jade Bi circular disc, from a western Zhou nobleman’s burial site (ca. 750 BC). The Bi disc is encrusted with hardened, rusted iron, from the armor buried with the nobleman’s coffin (also from the Beijing Daoist center collection).

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Daoist Master Zhuang #3

“Religion as a Path to Emptiness/Transcendent Presence”

American Zen (Sayings found on the US web): (Laozi also has e-mail)

1. Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.
2. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
3. If you think nobody cares whether you’re alive or dead, try missing a mortgage payment.
4. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.
6. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
7. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably well worth it.
8. Some days you are the bug; some days you are the windshield.
9. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
10. Generally speaking, you aren’t learning much when your lips are moving.
11. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
12. No one is listening until you fart.

Buddhism and Daoism are cultural systems, not religions, in the sense of that word in Indo-European language usage. Religion, in Semitic, English, Arabic, Latin, Germanic, Turkic, and Hindi languages, means a “faith or belief” system to which one must subscribe, in order to belong. Thus, in all Indo-European cultures, one must “belong to”, or “believe in” only one system. It is unthinkable, for instance, to be Christian, Judaic, and Islamic, all at once.

In East and Southeast Asia, on the other hand, wherever religion is defined as the celebration of “rites of passage” (sacraments) and “annual festivals,” at least three (and sometimes more) religious systems provide rituals, moral ideals, and festivals. In China, for instance, Confucian social values, Buddhist rites for the Deceased, and Daoist annual festivals, are all celebrated as essential elements in a healthily functioning society. One must be Confucian for human encounter, Buddhist for burial services, and Daoist when harmonizing with the great seasonal changes in nature. Confucian mind, Buddhist heart, and Daoist belly, is another way of expressing the “Three teachings, one culture” proverb that defines Asian religious culture.

When Matthew Ricci and the other pioneering Jesuits lived in China (1580-1762+-) an attempt was made to convince European missionaries as well as merchants and politicians, that one must be Confucian (respect filled human-to-human encounters), and pray for one’s ancestors, to survive in China. Buddhism’s grand success in China, and all Asia, was due to providing the very best burial and ancestor memorial services. The Jesuit success was due to bringing science to China. The idea of adapting to any Asian spiritual values was found unacceptable to Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, and other colonial interests, (including 19th and 20th century American missionaries as well). The Jesuits were suppressed in 1762 for their attempts at enculturation, but after their restoration in 1810, never again attained the pre-eminent intellectual position they once had in Europe or Asia.

Today Buddhism and Daoism, in forms often quite different from Asian origins, are paths that “westerners” choose to follow. Zen, Tantric Buddhism, and Daoism as spiritual practice in western languages and cultures, are quite different from Asian origins. And, indeed, so it must be, to succeed in any context. The American and European fascination with “Zen sitting” is simply not found in Asia. Zen sitting as a disciplined practice is only used in the training of novice monks in Japan. Once ordained (given Kancho or Abhiseka license to practice), it is not used again in the local temples that the monks go home to manage, and support their families by performing ritual. Buddhism in Japan consists for the most part in chanting and offering prayers for good fortune, blessing, healing, and ancestor memorial.

Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd Edition

The same is even more apparent for Tantric Buddhist, and Daoist practice. The oral tradition, called Kuden in Japanese, Kouzhuan in Chinese (口傳) (口伝)is not taught to foreigners, nor in its fullness to most of the young monks and nuns who go for training to Hieizan (in Kyoto), or Mt. Koya, then return to practice ritual in their home temples. For instance, the “Goma” (Agni Hotra) Fire ritual is performed as a chant for blessing, wealth, good health, or freeing ancestors from hell-like punishments in the afterlife. Very few of the Tendai or Shingon monks or nuns actually practice the esoteric visualizations, the burning away or emptying of all images, and the experience of Transcendent union, that was the original intent of Tantric practice, before it was adapted to East Asian Ancestor memorial, and prayers for blessing.

The same is even more acute for Daoist esoteric practices. Foreign scholars, and even less-than spiritually minded Daoist novices, are not taught the Qingwei 清微雷法 Daoist equivalents of Vajra-Thunder ritual visualizations, or the Beidou Pole Star contemplative imagery, (北斗法) that share the same mudra, mantra, and mandala structure of Tantric Buddhist practice. Even less are they allowed to share in the self-emptying, apophatic aspects of Daoist meditation (Zhuangzi, Ch. 4). Instead they are given popular Shenxiao 神霄 and Lu Shan 閭山 manuals, which do not have strict requirements of personal purity, selfless dedication to help others, and respect for all, friend or enemy (Laozi Ch. 67), that are pre-requisites for learning the higher grades of Daoist emptying practice.

Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd edition, will soon be published, with these more esoteric aspects of Daoism, in its “tantric” (similar to Tibetan Buddhist) practices. The 3rd edition will sell for cost-only, the rule for esoteric teaching requires rejecting the notion of “Dao for Dollars.”

Michael Saso
Los Angeles – Kyoto – Beijing

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Report from Kyoto, the Japanese Earthquake

Ian writes from Kyoto about the earthquake in Japan

(Samurai compared life to cherry blossoms in spring, a brief, fleeting moment, but the fruit of the cherry blossom is everlasting, like the culture of Japan, imbued with omoiyari and compassionate care for others–michael’s comment).

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. No, we probably shouldn’t build nuclear reactors on major fault lines. Yes, we should have better warning systems to avoid these types of natural disasters in the future. And yes all foreign nationals probably should have left Japan yesterday to avoid the ongoing nuclear calamity playing out before our eyes.
Unfortunately, the Japanese don’t have this latter option: this is their home, this where their families are and this is where they have companies where they work. In fact, from the Japanese perspective, it would be slightly selfish to tell your co-workers that you are going to live with your great aunt in Miami where it’s much safer. Although not openly talked about, the average Japanese is a bit taken back by foreign nationals jumping ship while the country is taking on some slightly tainted nuclear waste water.
So what is the end game in Japan? The real problem is that you can’t tell a population of thirty six million people in the greater Tokyo area that they are in the midst of three nuclear meltdowns and that this is going to be a very dangerous game going forward, for a very long time. You can’t expand the exclusion zone to the recommended seventy to one hundred kilometers because it would displace too many people and there are not enough facilities to handle them all. And finally if you really did tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God, you would have a human catastrophe on your hands because of the panic. Arm chair pseudo professional nuclear journalists will jump in to stir the pot every time because that is what they get paid for. And that is why the story has shifted rapidly in the western press from the people affected in the earthquake area to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Some of the ongoing stories you hear in the Japanese domestic media, however, are truly heart breaking. Stories like an old man being found after three days floating on the roof of a house some fifty kilometers off shore. Stories about young children returning to opening day ceremonies at their make-shift elementary schools in shelters far away from their homes, but delighted to be playing with their friends again, that is if their friends made it through this tempest. Stories about a seventy year old woman who lost everything: house, husband and child and remarking that, ”we are all in this together because we have all suffered in some way or other”. Stories like a young girl who had just graduated from university, bought a new car, drove it for only one day and was about to join her new company. The car was was swallowed up by the tsunami and her prospective company was completely destroyed so her employment offer was rescinded. Oh yes … there’s just one more thing: the loan company reminded her that she was still responsible for car payments because natural disasters do not preclude repayment.
Unlike the foreign media, the Japanese press continues to be focused on the people most affected like the eight hundred workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant still working under clearly life threatening conditions. There is enormous sympathy for these workers and their families. Some workers have been tweeting on their mobiles that they are near the end of their endurance having worked three weeks with very little sleep. During a recent press conference, a Tokyo Electric Power Company line manager explained the current situation inside the nuclear facility and then with tears welling up in his eyes, extended his thanks to the workers and deep condolences to their families. When the final toll is calculated from this nightmare and it will probably exceed thirty thousand or more, you can be sure that there will be a few of the above mentioned workers, maybe not immediately, but not too far into the distant future. That is one of the many stories not being talked about enough in the foreign press.
A case in point: a recent story on prime time U.S news reported that trace amounts of radiation had been found in cows milk in the U.S Pacific Northwest. Young mothers were being quoted as saying they were debating whether to switch to powdered milk to avoid any possible side effects for their offspring even though the actual quantities measured were minuscule. In contrast, a European report cited the fact that a weekend excursion to Hong Kong to have some fun in the smog would nicely fill up your radiation tank. In short, there is a fundamental information disconnect happening because nuclear fallout can’t be seen, smelt or tasted. And that is very scary.
To return to the discussion of hindsight, ultimately we still need to have a bit more compassion for the Japanese people and perhaps worry a bit less about our own survival.

cherry blossoms last but a few weeks in spring
spring rain washes away the blossoms, but their beauty remain in the contemplative heart filled with compassion.

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Neolithic Jade: communicating with spirits

The Spiritual Power of Jade in Ancient China

From the Neolithic period (6000 BCE) until today, jade has provided one of the most profound expressions of strength and beauty in Chinese culture. From its earliest use, until today, jade was used as a gift for nobility, emperors, and beautiful women.

Long before written history, (i.e., 1700-1100 BCE oracle bone inscriptions) jade was also used as a special means to contact the world of spirits. The invisible rulers of nature were given indescribably beautiful, finely carved jade, to bring peace, prosperity, and release the souls of deceased relatives from the underworld.

The Neolithic jade pieces shown here were carved as gifts for the “spirit world.” Found in two ancient archeology sites, (two ancient kingdoms), they deeply influenced Shang (1700-1100 BCE) and Zhou dynasty (1100-480 BCE) court ceremonies and burial rites. Treasured by emperors, they are prized acquisitions for art collectors until today.

The first kind of jade carving pictured here is the cong 琮 (pronounce tsong), a square or six sided object with a circular hole drilled down the middle. Cong can be as short as 4 inches, or as tall as 4 ft. They were found, for the most part, in the graves of rulers and their royal families. The kings and queens of the succeeding Shang dynasty collected them, and reburied them in their own gravesites. The Cong of the north and west Neolithic China are quite colorful, simple in decoration, with multiple colors. The Cong found in the Liangzhu 良諸 culture sites (in central China) on the other hand, have exquisite bird face like carvings on their corners. Scholars believe that these bird faces are the precursors and models for the so called “Tao Tie” 饕餮 (pronounce “tao-tye”) images found on the green bronze ritual utensils used in Shang and Zhou dynasty burials. The “Tao Tie” bird carved into jade pieces is thought to be a symbol of the phoenix, or “spiritual bird,” that flies up to the sun on the summer solstice, and brings back a drop of pure green “Yin” jade from the solar center, to insure a plentiful harvest in autumn, and restful contemplation in winter.

Some jade dealers claim that the Cong is a “phallic” symbol, a phrase that assures a higher price when sold to western collectors. More careful analysis of the place that the Cong is given in the tomb shows it was actually used as a funnel conducting the souls of the deceased from the “square” (symbol) of earth into the circular heavens. The archeologist Mou Yangkang points out a passage in the Confucian classic Zhou Li (Rites of the Zhou dynasty 周禮) stating that jade Cong as well as the circular jade Bi were used from ancient times for burial ritual: “Use a green Bi to worship the heavens, and a yellow Cong to worship earth.” All of China’s most developed Neolithic cultural sites, from Liangzhu in the south, Hongshan in the north, Qijiai in the northwest (Gansu), Daxi and Shijiahe , and many other middle and lower Yangtze areas, used Cong and Bi for burial, as well as kingly ritual.

The Yue Jue Shu 越絕書 Lost Records of the Jue Kingdom, which was composed after 475 BCE states: “In the age of emperors Xuan Yuan, Shen Nong, and He Xu weapons were made of stone: in the age of Emperor Huang Di (Neolithic era) weapons were made of jade; in the age of Emperor Yu, (the equivalent of the Xia and hang dynasties) weapons were made of bronze; at the present time, weapons are made of iron.” This Warring States Period text (474-221 BCE), is used by 20th and 21st century scholars to confirm the accuracy of early Chinese myth by using archeological findings.

Along with the square or hexagonal Cong are found in even greater quantities, the circular Bi 璧 form of Neolithic jade, the symbol of heaven. Bi jade pieces were symbols of the king’s heaven given right to rule. They were placed under the head and heart of the deceased during burial ritual. Like the ancient Cong, they remain a popular collector’s item until today. Pictured here are examples of these two ancient jade styles, preserved in the “Art as sacred Encounter” collection of the Tohgendo 桃源洞 (Taoyuan Dong) museum in Kyoto.

Michael Saso Beijing, Los Angeles, Honolulu 3-3-2011