Saturday, 29 August 2015

Even Einstein Thought He was “No Einstein”

  The enduring mystique of world’s most famous 

The Wild Life of a Female Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish mate face-to-face, the female looming over the male.

This One is Coming Along Nicely

Somewhere between Barkley Sound and the Salish Sea lived the Stout Men who did the Megin river, and Tibet, and the Amazon. There was Tictac and Poldy, Cliffy and Madame, Captain and Gung, and Papa Smurf, who would die someday, but not yet.

These are the stories of where they all rushed headlong, towards adventure and suffering, and how it all took place. 

Taming the Mammoth

       Why You Should Stop Caring What Other 
        People Think

Bollocks Guide

It's Easy

I Like Richard Dawkins

  Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by 
  Richard Dawkins – review

I Don't Think Honesty is a Weakness

There is a Change in the Weather.

We awoke to rain and wind today. The summer has be graciously indulgent so far, and the pinot noir and chardonnay still think they're in California. I've just posted my 50th instalment of Narrow Road to the Deep North chapter of Samurai Road, and, quite frankly, it is not what I should be using this space for.
There is a Change in the Weather.
Today is the last time I will use this blog to serialize my work. Loyal readers know that they are less than half way through the 755 pages of Samurai Road, and that they can find the rest on Amazon.
Life is too short to use a tool like this, like this. Instead, I plan on posting influences that appear on my other social media sites (literary insights, the joys of art and science, history and human accomplishment, food and wine and all the other good things in life), and maybe some that don't.  There are other things going on in the world now, which I have not mentioned, or sanitized, so as not to offend. But those of you who know me well also know that this is not a major impediment to my sharing. You have been warned. Enjoy.

Narrow Road To The Deep North 50

After the riot of colors below, his tomb was simple. A pair of Korean dogs stood guard in front. The Inner Shrine was covered by brass plate and black lacquer. Inside was brighter, pillars decorated with gold foil, and a colorful phoenix. A nearby tree, Jinmenboku, had a human face on the trunk, another, Kanousugi, could make a wish come true. It seemed to have worked for Ieyasu.
Robyn and I were taken hostage on the way out. The monk demonstrating the 15-meter Crying Dragon on the ceiling of the Yakushido only spoke Japanese. But he spoke it roughly, and we had to wait for him to bang his clapper sticks under the dragon, the echo produced that resonated like a bell (rather than the roar of a dragon), and a long lecture he was determined to deliver in its entirety, before we could be liberated. 

                                      ‘The number two priest
                                       Looks as if he could do
                                       With a puff or two.’
                                                           Sixty Senryu

I left Robyn briefly, to Let’s beautifully use the rest room. Please neatly arrange and put shoes.
On my way out, I collided with a magnificent white stallion. Before being led around to the sacred stable by his attendant, he shook its head up and down at me, his mane flying a shiver up my spine.

   ‘You are in the desert. You are traveling with 5 animals: A Lion, 
    A Monkey, A Sheep, A Cow, and A Horse.
    It is a long way more to the safety of civilization, and one by 
    one, you are forced to release each animal, until you are left with 
    only one. In what order would you get rid of each animal from \  
    your possession? 
    Rank them and continue on below:
    The desert represents hardship. Each animal represents the 
    following: A Lion – Pride, A Monkey - Your Children, A Sheep 
    – Friendship, A Cow – Basic Needs, A Horse - Your Passion.
    So, in the face of hardship, you will sacrifice each of these things 
    in turn. Your last animal represents that thing which you cling to 
    at the expense of all others.’

Friday, 28 August 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 49

Honsha shrine has almost 2500 sculptures, some from Chinese legends, (including the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove), a crane that became the trademark for Japan Airlines, and another on the door, that consumes dreams and nightmares. Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. What began in China as a shy mythical chimera with an elephant’s trunk, rhinoceros eyes, an ox tail, and tiger paws, offering protection against pestilence and evil, evolved into a Japanese nightmare-devouring Baku tapir, a symbol of peace.
Robyn and I didn’t get to see the interior three halls of the Haiden Oratory, neither the one reserved for the Imperial family, nor the one for the shogun, not the central one for conducting ceremonies. We missed the mosaics, and the imported diamonds in the eyes of the phoenix. Instead we passed the of Hidari Jingorō’s other Tōshōgū carved masterpiece, the Nemurineko ‘Sleeping Cat,’ his sculpture of a sparrow on the backside of catnapping feline. The bird would be eaten if the cat was awake but they co-exist because, thanks to Ieyasu, the nation-wide chaos was over and peace had returned.
There was only one more gate, the Sakashitamon, the one with the crane on the transom and the peony and arabesque pattern carved on the wainscot, the one that only the Shogun was allowed to enter.
Beyond were 200 stone steps rising sharply, each big and heavy enough in order to survive the ice needles of severe winter. They lead to a peaceful flagstone path that carried us through an original grove of thirteen thousand dignified standing cedars (planted over a twenty year period during the 1600s), up and around a view of the sunlight lifting the rooftops of the shrines below, and the snow piles at the top, yielding reluctantly to April.

                   ‘Unawares, all grew old:
                    Even the mountain’s cypresses, standing like spears,
                    Grew moss thick at their feet.’
                                                                         Kamo Taruhito

Thursday, 27 August 2015

In One Week's Time...

Narrow Road To The Deep North 48

We came to a sign at the fifth portal, the Karamon Gate. Kindly take off your shoes here and put in the furnished locker. Please take off your raincoat and don’t bring in your umbrella. Please don’t take your pets.  Please don’t take photographs from here.
It was a small entrance, painted with white powder, and powerfully-faced dragons decorating the pillars. But we weren’t allowed in. Admission into the Honsha central shrine of Tōshōgū was once strictly limited to feudal lords and upper class retainers in the Edo period, and still now only to national guests during major celebrations. But today was crowded with patrons of the Yayoi Spring Festival, and there was very dignified company outside the Honden main hall. Two Japanese rising sun flags hung from the gate. From the interior came a procession of Shinto priests in oversized shoes and separate red and blue and white robed entourages, holding what looked like large wooden tongue depressors to match the spring-loaded black shoehorns on the back of their pointed shiny Shinto hats, and carrying crenellated carmine umbrellas and a shrine with a chrysanthemum logo. Nuns clutching small sticks of tinkling brass bells followed behind, filing past old men in flower-lapelled black suits, military uniforms, other dignitaries with bodyguards, and us.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 47

A jumping lion was frozen in its moment of landing, supporting a side of the single stone granite fence. 
To our left was the Shinyosha shed whose dancing angels painted on the ceiling were considered the most beautiful in the country. It was built to contain the three portable shrines of the most venerated rulers of Japan- the god of Ieyasu rode on the central sacred sedan chair, decorated with three hollyhocks in a circle, the Mitsuba-aoi crest of the Tokugawa. The sedan chair on the right was for the god of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the one on the left for Yoritomo Minamoto. Each chair weighed over a ton, and took 55 people to carry it, until after 1636, when the shrines were remade lighter.
The vermilion lacquered Kairou Corridor to the main shrine of the Nikkō Tōshōgū was carved and transparently painted with clouds on the transom, roses, bamboo, plum, peacocks, pheasants and other animals on the wainscoting, and waves, clouds and phoenixes on the crossbar. Sky, ground and water.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 46

The Yomeimon Gate is a national treasure, also known as the ‘Twilight Gate,’ because it takes all day until twilight to see everything on it’s 36 feet high double layers. Painted in red and blue and green, gilded and lacquered, the more than 500 carved dragons and birds, humans and flowers, and Chinese lions, phoenixes and other imaginary spiritual animals, are far too much to take in at once. The opulence is very un-Japanese.
The twelve pillars are alabaster white, and carved in scrolling patterns. One, the Mayokeno-sakabashira, is inverted, to indicate life’s imperfection, and the beginning of decline. A menukino-ryu flying dragon is carved on the white crossbar, flanked by two double-horned horse-dragons. Kanō Tan'yū’s paintings of two more dragons fly on the ceiling of the passage, one going up to the sky, the other coming down to the ground.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Back soon.

Narrow Road To The Deep North 45

Inside the Front Gate, after climbing a second flight of stairs, Robyn and I found an audience of moss-covered life-size stone lantern chess pieces on a gravel game board under a canopy of ancient cedars and swarms of pink cherry blossoms. Intricate shrines, royal rust and gold and grey, levitated above and around us like high ghost granaries. The Kouyamaki, a 360 year-old Black Pine planted by Iemetsu himself, ten feet in diameter, towered over a most moral motif, across the path. On the crossbar of the Shinkyu Sacred Stable, where the two Shinto-sanctified white horses from New Zealand are kept, were the guardians that were thought to protect them from disease. Ieyasu rode a white stallion. On eight picture book panels was an artistic phenomenon carved by Hidari Jingorō. Another of Jingorō’s sculptures was, according to legend, an exceptionally beautiful woman, who began to move with him, as he drank in the exquisiteness of his creation. But it had no emotion and could only imitate his movements, until he faced a mirror in front of it, the woman’s spirit entered the figure, and life arrived. But Jingorō’s carving above the stable door was no playboy Pinocchio, but a depiction of man’s life cycle, incorporating Confucius’s Code of Conduct. The Sansaru is the famous sculpture of the Three Monkeys, fixed in the poses of ‘hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.’ Blue clouds represent ambition, and life is tough like a tidal wave. 

                                            ‘Year after year
                                             on the monkey's face
                                             a monkey's face.’

Kitty-corner, across the compound, were the three sacred warehouses of the L-shaped Sanjinko, storing the Yabusame mounted archery equipment and 1200 samurai costumes for ceremonial processions. On the gable of the upper warehouse were paintings of two elephants, remarkable for their imaginative ears and tails, because the artist, Kanō Tan'yū, had never seen what a real one looked like. Nearby was the Saijo Sacred Restroom of the Gods, containing nine lacquered toilets in a line.
We purified our hands and mouths in the stream from the mouth of the bronze winged flying dragon, on the edge of the granite basin under the roof of the Omizuya Water House. The forty-foot high Showrow Bell and Korou Drum towers were gorgeous candy castles, sculpted into cranes and giraffes, and turtles and dragons, and clouds and waves. Up, beside the lotus flowers embossed on the pillars, and under the twenty-foot high Karadou-torii bronze gate, Robyn and I climbed the stairs to the south-facing central showpiece of Nikkō.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 44

We entered a world of towering green and brown cedars and blue sky and suffused sunlight. It could have been a slope of our own Mount Benson, but for the flagstones and gravel and big stone lanterns, and the riotous colors of intricate Disney log cabin wood puzzle shrines that floated up like magic mushrooms around us. To our left was an enchanted 115-foot five-story pagoda, radiating lichen and vermilion and gold and blue and white. Animal sculptures decorated the first layer in twelve different zodiac signs and directions. An interior central pillar floated inches above the ground, designed to stabilize shrinking wood and sinking roofs during any earthquake.
The second portal was the Omotemon Front Gate, whose eastern wall contained the Aboumaru, the biggest stone in the complex, over 10 feet high and 20 feet wide. 
North was considered the taboo direction, from where demons came. In order to protect Japan from evil, Iemetsu placed two big menacing pink and carnelian warrior guardians at the entrance. They were called Kongōrikishi or Niō, and the reason why the Omotemon used to be called Nioh-mon Gate. Over thirteen feet high, the pair of scaries is the oldest and most powerful Bodhisattva protector deities in the Mahāyāna pantheon. In the nightclub of Nirvana these wrath-filled muscle-bound wrestlers were Buddha’s bouncers.
The statue on the right is Misshaku Kongō. A symbol of overt violence, he brandishes a vajra-pāṇi mallet, diamond club, thunderbolt stick, or sun symbol, and bares his teeth. He wields the kongōsho and he can crush your enemies. Depend on him, pray to him that he will protect you as he protects the Buddha. He vibrates with energy and spiritual power which you can absorb in times of need. He is also called Agyō, after the shape of his mouth, open to form an ‘ah’ sound, the vocalization of the first grapheme of Sanskrit alphabet.
The statue on the left is Naraen Kongō. A symbol of latent strength, he is depicted as either barehanded, or wielding a sword. He is also called Ungyō, after the shape of his mouth, shut to form an ‘un’ or ‘hūṃ’ sound, the vocalization of the last grapheme of the Devanāgarī.
There may be syncretic Hellenistic influences in play here. Kongōrikishi may actually be avatar images of the Greek hero Heracles, transmitted to East Asia along the Silk Road, used in Greco-Buddhist art to represent Buddha’s protector, Vajrapāṇi. But there was an even deeper symbolism at work. These two Deva Kings together represented the birth and death of all things. Men are born speaking the ‘a’ sound with mouths open and die speaking a ‘ɦūṃ’ with their mouths closed. Not unlike Alpha and Omega in Christianity, they signify ‘everything’ or ‘all creation.’ The contraction of both is ‘Aum,’ which is Sanskrit for The Absolute- the jewel in the lotus. Aum mani padme ɦūṃ.
On the side of the gate were images of a Karajishi Chinese lion and tapir, and 82 other sculptures faced the passage, including giraffes and tigers.  The second tiger had circles instead stripes, because the Edo Japanese thought that leopards were actually female tigers.