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Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki


My Rating★★★★★

 

 

 

If and when you meet The Buddha,
Kill him.
Then come back
And sit.
Sit
In Zazen.
Be.
Enlightenment is there,
Before it arrives.

 

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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Creative, Philosophy, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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Ah, Bartleby. Ah, Humanity.

Bartleby, the ScrivenerBartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

My Rating★★★★★

At first, as I tried to contain my surprise that Melville, who awed me in Moby Dick, was now writing with such humour and lightness, I felt that Bartleby was a Heroic figure, someone to be admired and emulated – and a welcome break from the complicated characters of the doomed ship.

On second thought, with a slight sinking feeling, I felt he might be a Romantic figure, someone to be eulogized and applauded.

Then, still upbeat about the simplicity of the novella, I was sure that he was meant to be an Ironic figure, someone to be understood and assimilated.

Soon, as the comic aspects faded into melancholy and unexpected depth started invading the short narrative, I started feeling that he might instead be intended as an Absurd figure, someone to be pondered and puzzled over.

Towards the end, as I too devolved with the spirit of the poor man, I felt that he must certainly be a Tragic figure, someone to be pitied and parodied.

Finally, along with the narrator, I was on the brink of concluding that he is a Villainous figure, someone to be excluded and ostracized.

But, in the end, in the tragic and evasive end, the novella had proved itself to be anything but simple and he was none of this and all of this, of course. He was probably the essential human present in the most inscrutable of strangers, in the inner life of the other. He might also be the scion of capitalism, a representation of its many wonders, and an idle. early sacrifice at the altar of pacifism and non-violence. He was some mysterious combination of the heroic and the ironic, and the rest too, in all probability – of the incongruous and the inevitable. A Gandhi without an audience.

He was Bartleby, the Scrivener.

I would prefer not to classify or understand him any further. It will be too discomforting.

.

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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Killing Time

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Once upon a midnight dreary,

I ambled upon those sands dreamy,

An hour behind the fleeting breath,

I rushed to catch Her fading truth …

The last slender strands of Time slips,

Through my fingers, through this hourglass slim …

 .

Time, such a shadowy being is She,

To be glimpsed only when least desired:

Passion’s startling antipode is She —

By whom when led She droops,

When leading, ascends …

 .

A good writer possesses not just his,

But also the spirit of all men’s thoughts —

Time is his commerce, Time his grave,

Time is what he will for always crave.

The slips and the streams, they drain, and they drain,

He is left alone, possessing not even his own;

With it the stream of words cease to flow,

With it all voices of melody turns mute …

… I do not wish to make me a laughing-stock,

Before these throngs of idle listeners.

 .

… Let not sloth dim my horrors new-begot,

Let me discover anew silence wherever I turn.

Help me find that silent thief,

Who steals from me my most precious treasure —

Procrastination, that thief of Time,

Let me collar him and hammer the stake!

 .

I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat,

And sneak in with my silent words …

“And form your noose around that neck,”

Said She, in the same hurried passionate whisper,

“And hang him till the fleeting breath flits no more”.

..

.

.

Composed onGoogle Docs Demo: Masters Edition, in collaboration with Edgar Alan Poe, William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. So a few quotes from these writers make up some lines here and there, all the better parts actually.

PS. Do share your own collaborations below if you find them interesting.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Creative, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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Bleakness Can Be Inspiring

Bleakness can be inspiring:
A bloated river, a ruined city,
Pictures in an old history text-book;
A metropolis blinded by fog,
  Deafened by apologetic airline announcements;
A manual projection camera displayed,
Outside a renovated theater, taking the leap;
Scores of employees in funeral attires,
Walking back from their own graves.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Creative, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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Book Appreciation: Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

Zen in the Art of ArcheryZen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

My Rating★★★★★

Are we all such helpless and inexperienced beginners with not the slightest clue on how to correct our aims or on to draw our bowstrings right?

This supposedly uplifting book has depressed me amidst its poetry and beauty into a realization that I will probably never ‘correct my own stance’ or ‘let the arrow fall at the moment of highest tension’, effortlessly hit any goal or even realize what the real goal is…

Why is there no art in life anymore? Isn’t it all that should exist? Can we please ban money and all its accouterments and live by the High Arts; that might then bring some insipid meaning back to our lives?

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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The Penelopiad or The Ballad of the Dead Maids

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and OdysseusThe Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

This has been my introduction to Atwood and I have to admit that I feel slightly underwhelmed. I went in with high expectations, wondering how Atwood will take the ‘waiting widow’ of The Odyssey and transform it into a full length novel. Turns out that she mostly indulges in recapitulating the bulk of the original with a few wild theories and speculations thrown in as supposed rumors that Penelope has gleaned in the after-life.

Which brings me to how the story is constructed and this happens to be the high water mark for this novel. Atwood starts with Penelope addressing us from the other side of River Styx, reaching us through the mysterious sounds of the night and the barks and hoots of unseen animals. Penelope has grown bold since her death and is no longer the meek woman we saw in the original but a bold one who doesn’t mind speaking her mind and spilling a few uncomfortable beans.

Penelope subjects all the popular characters of the odyssey to scrutiny but reserves a special attention for Odysseus, Telemachus and Helen. She convinces us with case-by-case analysis that Odysseus was no hero – he was a lying and conniving manipulator of men who never uttered one truthful word in his life. She talks of rumors that told her of what his real adventures were, stripped of the trappings of myth. Telemachus becomes a petulant teenager full of rebellion against his mother and Helen becomes the ultimate shrew, seductress and a femme fatale of sorts.

But the story that Atwood really wants to tell is not of Penelope, that story is hardly changed except to assert speculations on the original text whether Penelope really saw through Odysseus disguise or not. What if she did? It hardly changed the story.

The real twist, and the only reason to take up this book is to see Atwood’s exploration and reinvention of the twelve maids who were killed by Odysseus in punishment for betraying him by sleeping with the suitors. These twelve girls are the Chorus in this book and appear every now and then playing a baroque accompaniment to the text and giving us new perspectives on their story. This carries on until Penelope herself reveals to us that they were never betraying Odysseus, she had asked them herself to get acquainted with the suitors to get obtain information for her. They had never betrayed Odysseus or his kingdom. So their murder was just that – murder. This was Atwood’s plot twist and her intended question was about the morality of this ‘honor killing‘ as she calls the hanging of the slaves, which, she confesses in the foreword, used to haunt her when she was young – ‘Why were they killed?‘, she used to ask herself and tries to present their case in this modernized version (which even includes a 23rd century trial of Odysseus).

In the end though, the reader hardly gets anything beyond these idle speculations and supplemental myths and small factoids like how Helen was really Penelope’s cousin and that they have to eat flowers in Hades. Even the main point of the book, about the dead maids, too ignores the fact that Odysseus genuinely seems to believe that they betrayed him by helping the suitors in various ways and hence it becomes as question of misinformation than morality and the blame will fall back on the shoulders of Penelope herself, rendering this whole exercise moot. Just go read the original again; the short hops of imagination that Atwood has taken in this retelling can easily be overtaken by the leaps you might make yourself in a re-reading that you might treat yourself to on a leisurely sunday afternoon – and those will surely be more impressive as well as intellectually more rewarding.

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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Book Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon By Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, #1)Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

After promising Saladin that I’ll be reviewing the book within a week of its coming out, I stand ashamed that it took me this long to get to it. Probably the reason was that in spite of all the acclaim I had heard heaped on it, I knew in my heart that ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ is still an out and out ‘Sword And Sorcery’ fantasy genre novel and I had made a conscious decision to stay away from genre novels. But now that I have just finished reading it, I have to admit that I am reminded of why I love the fantasy genre above all others. It is because authors like Saladin can bring alive characters and situations and bathe them in all the fantastic magic imaginable and still make them all appear so real and so part of our world. The world-weariness of the fat old codger with the big belly, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and the internal conflicts of the scrawny zealot, Raseed and the other quirks of every character speaks directly to us and the characters come alive in vivid detail, especially since the author takes care to not spare us the coarser details as well.

There is a level of perfection in Ahmed’s style and narration that you can feel in every page. A tight, well polished reserve in the choice of words and in the slow construction of the plot. The plot is in reality not of central importance in the book. Ahmed spends more than three-quarters of the book developing his characters, making us inhabiting the heads of various characters as they travel about the city of Dhamsawaat, using these quiet spaces to put in vast details about the inner life of these characters and the outer complexity of the fictional city and its teeming complex life

Unfortunately, this strength of the book is also its weakness. The final climax can only be called anti-climactic in its lack of devoted pages as well as the lack of action, not to mention the lack of any real feeling of conclusion. There is no explanation provided for the existence of the evil they are battling or for the reason of its existence. I do not want to go into plot details here, but the fact that this is the first in the series should not be an excuse for so little to happen in the book. The characters are developed and primed for a series and the world-building is detailed and complete but the sense of anticipation or of denouement that would draw one back to a series or make one wait eagerly for the next edition is sadly lacking.

But then, as Ahmed makes clear in the last musings of Adoulla, this book was perhaps not intended to be an epic with world-changing climaxes and thundering, sky-splitting battles. Maybe the world-weariness and resignation of Adoulla is also the premise of the book – To remind us that no matter what you achieve, life still goes on with all the challenges still there, undiminished and after the night celebrating your greatest achievement, the next day again dawns and you have to trudge on.

If you are a fantasy fan who has been mourning the superficiality that permeates the genre and is on the lookout for a reflective and quiet but rich and satisfying read, this might be worth picking up. Don’t let the religious overtones and the constant allusions to God and the ‘Avenging Angel’ put you off too much, those are just a part of the magic world the characters inhabit and the book is not trying to convey any religious messages. The invocations from the Holy Book etc., serve as spells in Ahmed’s world and all are weapons of God in a drawn out struggle against the forces of evil which might reach an epic conclusion in some future book in the series. In fact, these religious allusions help in adding texture and credibility to the deeply arabic experience that Ahmed is trying to create. This adds to the rich Arabian atmosphere and the originality with which a glorious Muslim kingdom is painted along with the language, the addresses and the mannerisms will all provide for an authentic 12th Century Arabian Nights like experience.

For a debut author, Saladin Ahmed shows exceptional mastery of his craft and this book is unlikely to disappoint any serious reader who is looking for a bit more than a few swords slashing and spells misfiring. If nothing else, this book was a tuition class in plot and character development by Ahmed, maybe as a practical example to aid the people he helps through his Novel Critiques ad commentaries. This series and the world that Ahmed has created definitely has the potential to develop into something amazing. The groundwork has been lain in this first book and here is hoping that Saladin Ahmed manages to build a grand castle on it soon.

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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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