Charter for Compassion

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Song Sending off Dan Qiuzi from Cloud Terrace on Mt. Hua by Li Bai

With School officially starting for teachers tomorrow, I spent the last day of summer translating a poem by Li Bai.  The poem mixes imagery of the river coming out of the mountains with mythology and the tradition of sending a friend off on a journey with a cup of wine.  Hoping you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed translating it. 

西嶽雲台歌送丹丘子  李白

Xīyuè Yúntái Gē Sòng Dān Qiūzǐ    Li Bai
A Song Sending off Dan Qiuzi from Cloud Terrace on Mt. Hua by Li Bai

Xīyuè zhēng róng hé zhuàngzāi!
Mt. Hua,  so lofty and majestic!

Huánghé rú sī tiānjì lái.

The Yellow River like a strand of silk descending from the boarder between sky and mountain.

Huánghé wànlǐ chù shān dòng,
The river moves ten thousand li at the touches of the mountain


pán wō gǔ zhuǎn Qín dì léi.
It thunders as it whirls and wheels through the land of Qin.

Róngguāng xiū qì fēn wǔcǎi,
A vibrant rainbow rests in its mist,

qiānnián yī qīng shèngrén zài.
Every thousand years a pure sage appears.

Jù líng páoxiāo bò liǎng shān,
A mighty spirit crashes splitting the two mountains,

hóngbō pēn jiàn shè dōnghǎi.
Great waves shoot arrow like to the Eastern Sea.

Sān fēng què lì rú yù cuī,
The Three Peaks stand yet ready to fall,

cuì yá dān gǔ gāo zhǎng kāi.
Emerald cliffs and red valley, a giant fist opening.

Bái dì jīn jīng yùn yuánqì,
The White Emperor taking golden essence and moving primal Qi energy,

shí zuò liánhuā yún zuò tái.
out of rock makes Lotus Blossom Cloud into a terrace


Yúntái gé dào lián yǎo míng,
Cloud Terrace Pavilion Path connects to deep mysteries

zhōng yǒu bùsǐ Dān Qiūshēng.
and within is the immortal Dan Qiusheng.

Míng xīng yùnǚ bèi sǎsǎo,
Shining Star, Jade Girl prepares to scatter and sweep

Mágū sāo bèi zhǐ zhǎo qīng.
Magu scratches the mountain's ridge lightly with her claws

Wǒ huáng shǒu bǎ Tiāndì hù,
The Heavenly Emperor holds open the door between Heaven and Earth

Dān Qiū tán tiān yǔ tiān yǔ.
Danqiu speaks with heaven in a heavenly language.

Jiǔchóng chūrù shēng guānghuī,
From the Ninth Heaven comes a radiance shining forth,

dōng lái pénglái fù xi guī.
East to Penglai then returning west.

Yù jiāng tǎng huì gùrén yǐn,
If you’d share this Jade Elixir with me my friend,

qí èr máo lóng shàngtiān fēi.
We would fly off to heaven on two straw dragons.

The following information comes from

Yunü 玉女, the "Jade Girl", was according to legend a daughter of the Jade Emperor 玉皇, a Daoist deity. She created nature and mankind.
According to a legend popular in the province of Jiangxi, Pan Gu 盤古, the creator of the universe, had separated Heaven and Earth but not produced any landscape or animals nor sun and moon. He therefore asked for support by the Jade Emperor, but the latter refused to provide help. Pan Gu therefore burst out in rage, destroyed the palace of the Jade Emperor, emptied his wine cellar and fell asleep. The Jade Girl thereupon be seeched her father to send her down to earth to support Pan Gu, but he continued refusing help. She so secretly slipped away, tore out her eyes to create sun, moon, stars and landscape, and used her own heart to produce man and woman. She also transformed her own intestines into rivers and swamps and her own bones to mountains and hills. He hair transformed into trees and bushes.

Following some local fairy tales, there are several mountain peaks (Yunü feng 玉女峯) named Yunü, like a summit in the Huashan range, the 華山玉女, and one in the Wuyishan 武夷山.

Magu 麻姑 "Mistress Hemp" is a female immortal venerated in Daoism. The oldest report of her ist to be found in Ge Hong's 葛洪 Shenxianzhuan 神仙傳 from the Jin period 晉 (265-420). In her biography it is said that once the immortal Wang Yuan 王遠 (courtesy name Fangping 方平, religious title Shangzhen yuanjun 上真元君 "Lord of the supreme perfect origin") dwelled with a certain Cai Jing 蔡經 he invited Magu for dinner. She reported from her travel to an island in the Eastern Sea where she saw mulberry trees and fields, which nobody believed. When Cai Jing saw that Magu’s feet were like birds’ claws the thought that they would be good to scratch his itching back. But Wang Yuan was able to read his thoughts and punished him for these frivolous thoughts by flogging his back with an invisible whip. When the dinner was over Wang Yuan and Magu climbed their coach and ascended to Heaven.
Wang Yuan’s biography in the book Shenxianzhuan 神仙傳 is very similar.
The late Tang period 唐 (618-907) Daoist Du Guangting 杜光庭 repeats this story in his Yongchengji xianlu 墉城集仙錄 and adds the information that Magu was Wang Yuan’s servant. Only later she was identified as Wang’s younger sister (Lishi zhenxian tidao tongjian houji 歷世真仙體道通鋻後集). Further information from the Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420~589) book Qixieji 齊諧記 is quoted in the Song period 宋 (960-1279) encyclopedia Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (131) where it is said that Magu lived during the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) in Fuyang 富陽.
 The local gazetter Dengzhou fu zhi 登州府志 says that she lived during the short-lived Later Zhou period 後趙 (319-350), came from Jianchang 建昌 and that she exercised Daoist practice on Mt. Guyu 姑余山 near Mouzhong 牟州, where she eventually became an immortal.
It can be seen that there are several traditions venerating a Mistress Hemp. Therefore there are also many place names including her name, like a Mt. Magu, a Magu Cave, or Magu temples, like during the Tang period when there was, according to the writer Yan Zhenqing 颜真卿, a Mt. Magu 麻姑山 with a small platform in Nancheng 南城縣. A furnace for the production of longevity pills was still visible at that time. In Jianchang was likewise a Mt. Magu. During the Song period Hong Mai 洪邁 mentioned a Magu Cave 麻姑洞 near Mt. Qingcheng 青城山 in Sichuan. The book Yiyuan 異苑 reports that during the Qin (?) period there was a Magu Temple 麻姑廟 (Meigu 梅姑廟) in Danyang 丹陽縣. Magu lived nearby and was able, through Daoist skills, to walk over the water. Her husband killed her and threw her body into the river which carried her to the place where the temple would be erected later.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Approaching the New Year, thinking about Les Misérables

I enjoyed watching  Les Misérables yesterday.  I hope you go to see it and beyond that, read or reread the book, I found both a call for transformation well worth my time.  I was particularly fascinated by the spiritual values imbedded in both works. I say spiritual, because Hugo's view of the church changed over time.1

Victor Hugo counsels us in Les Misérables that it is so easy for those of us who want a better world to get impatient, to get ahead of ourselves and find ourselves out there on the barricades with out people backing us up. Clearly, Hugo wants a revolution, he sees the oppression, the inequality, the degradation, but he wants the transformation to be thorough going, a spiritual revolution that takes place in each persons heart and soul, a revolution that helps us see, helps us be compassionate, helps us help each other.

Given the current state of our affairs, a revolution of this sort is no less a monumental task now than it was then.  So much to do, so many to be transformed especially ourselves.  And yet, Hugo took up this task. He wrote a monumental work that brings a God's eye view of his world, (one that still reflects our world when seen deeply), and within that, an encouragement for generations to stand up for humanity. It is not in taking up arms that the revolution is won, but in the small unnoticed, unrewarded, patient transforming work that we help each other with; it is not in cold calculation but in the loving heart that a new day dawns.

As we engage in our work this new year, may each one of us take up life's struggles with Victor Hugo's words in mind, “There is a determined though unseen bravery that defends itself foot by foot in the darkness against the fatal invasions of necessity and dishonesty. Noble and mysterious triumphs that no eye sees, and no fame rewards, and no flourish of triumph salutes. Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Building Something More Useful For Us All

Thousands of people marching to the Port of Oakland in hopes of demonstrating to the world that we do not accept that this is the way we have to live our lives. This is the awesomeness of what happened on Wednesday. The violence and destructiveness that came mainly after all these people went home was committed by an immature minority, I think less than 100 people, a minority at odds with our cause. As Slavoj Zizek says, "Violence is the weapon of choice for the impotent: those who have little power often attempt to control or influence others by using violence. Violence rarely creates power. On the contrary, groups or individuals who use violence often find their actions diminish what little power they have. Groups that oppose governments often try to compensate for their perceived lack of power by using violence. Such violence simply reinforces state power. A terrorist who blows up a building or assassinates a politician gives the government the excuse it wants to crack down on individual liberties and expand its sphere of control." Living in End Times by Slavoj Žižek chapter: The Infinite Judgement of Democracy

Knowingly or unknowingly, the minority that went on a spree of destruction in downtown Oakland is against us. Our power lies in persuasion based on the truth that big money is destroying democracy, the political system that we hold dear, and that the more the money is concentrated in the 1%, the more our society is affected in numerous negative ways. 

The power of persuasion that I am talking about was revealed in the thousands, and those thousands were far more than most of the media or police wanted to admit (they could carry this off because they could focus the next day on the images of destruction).  Experiencing that crowd, one knew, We are the 99%! 

These petty thugs bent on their fetish of property destruction  all too quickly become the focus of the media and especially those purveyors of fear in the media, aka Fox and friends. What we needed the next day were the images of the thousands, instead what most people saw was the images of destruction that told them our movement is something to be afraid of and despised... even something they need to be protected from.

Building the power of the 99% is accomplished in the protracted reasoned persuasions of consensus democracy. Ultimately it creates wisdom, but is a long process. This is why I argue against this urge by some for Occupy Wall Street to define itself, to have a set of policies. Yes, people are impatient. Our generations have been brought up on the delusion of instant gratification. This urge to have our needs met instantly is part of the problem. It is what leads the thug to break the window.  The errors of our ways take time to discern.  Occupy Wall Street is an opening for the millions of people in America and beyond who long for something deeper. It is a critique of what is. I am encouraged by the idea that people like Slajov Zizek, and Nobel Prize winning economists are going to Occupy Wall Street and taking part in the conversations of where we go from here.  I am  more confident than I have been for a long time that we will overcome these mistakes and begin to build something better, something more useful for all of us.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Hole in Democracy

Recently on facebook, I posted a series of comments to which a friend commented, "You are such a radical." I don't agree. I have included the recent relevant posts and my response.

A lesson in values: Governor Schwartznegger's budget for bodyguards has tripled from 14 million to 43 million while he has been in office, meanwhile school budgets have suffered from successive budget cuts. Lets study this in school. (source NPR)

More than $17 billion has been cut from California public schools and colleges in last two years.

The Detroit News reports, "48.5% of male Detroiters age 20 - 64 did not have a job in 2008"!!! This is what capitalism and political corruption can do. For those of you who don't know, this is where I grew up. It is a terror to know that half of the men you knew in a once vibrant community didn't/don't have a job. This is a major city in America. It is the Katrina of our time, and yet, it has been shuffled off and hidden. It is a crime/a sin/a scandal.

Who is the real enemy of democracy? Who are the banks, let alone those laughing all the way to the bank? Who creates the wealth? Why are we who are left with a job working so hard and getting so little?

Who is experiencing record profits while education goes wanting, people go unemployed, and communities are destroyed? Who resists the utilization of our country's wealth for medical care for all? Who causes these prices to rise? Wall Street, Big Pharma.

Doesn't asking these questions just seem like the honest truth right now? I mean, I'm not so radical. I'm not a communist, I don't think revolution will bring an answer. Revolution sinks toward violence, and Martin Luther King Jr. among others long ago pointed out its destructive consequences. I studied the course of the revolution in China... it turned me into a live and let live, freedom, justice, and human rights kind of a guy. I believe democracy is our greatest hope. But democracy is not working right right now. The twenty first century finds us polarized and confused. If democracy is to work, we need to find an answer to the interference of money. Money has ripped a hole in all of our checks and balances. To resist the destructive tides of the market forces is a matter of survival now. The arrogance of all those bonuses is just astounding to me. We've seen it before with oil companies, and the shame just doesn't seem to occur.

Is it working for us? I don't think so. I don't have the answers. Building a moral force strong enough to overcome the power of forces so flush with money takes time. I also believe we don't have a lot of time; China is waiting in the wings, with answers of its own that will not be satisfying. You have seen my posts about China. Then there's Mother Earth. How long can we go on doing not quite enough by her? Please think about these questions. Let's work together and build that which values people, education, employment, fairness, real democracy and a real future.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why I Write about China or a Series of Unfortunate Events

First they raped the woman who washes feet, but I am not a woman, so I did not say anything; they fished for more registration fees, but I have no car, so I did not say anything; they killed the prisoners Hurry & Scurry, I am not a prisoner, so I did not say anything; they beat the journalists who expose the truth, but I am not a journalist, so I did not say anything; they arrested the people who petition the government, but I did not petition, so I did not say anything; they demolished houses to make way for the Olympics, but I do not own a house, so I did not say anything; They arrested human rights activists, but I’m not willing to sacrifice myself to help someone else, so I did not say anything; they arrested scholars who criticize the government, but I am not a scholar, so I did not say anything; they gang raped a female high school student, and then let her transfer, but I have no daughters, so I did not say anything; they took away the cooking utensils of the man who sells baked potatoes, and beat this poor lame old man, but I do not sell potatoes, so I did not say anything; they caused housing prices to skyrocket, I do not buy houses, so I did not say anything; they suppressed the Uighurs and the Tibetans, I am neither Uighur, not Tibetan, so I said nothing; they arrested those young people who dared go to Tiananmen to bring flowers, I didn’t think of going, nor would I dare go, so I said nothing; they arrested Zhao Lianhai who had the baby who drank contaminated milk and got kidney stones, but my family didn’t have a baby with kidney stones, so I said nothing; they arrested the house church members, but I don’t believe in religion, so I said nothing; they arrested those political folk who talk online, but I’m not interested in politics, so I said nothing; they arrested Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren who spoke out for the victims of the earthquake, but there wasn’t any earthquake here, so I said nothing; They arrested the eldest son of the Liu family, the stutterer, who was just playing around, but I neither play those games, nor am I a stutterer, so I said nothing.
Then for no reason that I can explain they arrested me, and I discovered that there was no one left beside me who would say anything. (Credit for this post goes to the German Pastor Martin Niemoller, who first wrote, "First they came for ..." and to one of my friends in China who posted this series of events, but shall remain anonymous. The translation is my own.)

Monday, November 23, 2009


A call to bring the world together…


The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

在公共生活的私人生活中设身处地地对待他人,避免不断地给他人带来痛苦。 出于恶意,狂热的爱国主义或自私自利而出现极端言行; 剥夺他人基本权利,利用他人的基本权利或否定他人的基本权利;通过诋毁他人-甚至我们敌人-煽动仇恨都是有违于我们的基本人性的。 我们得承认我们的生活中缺乏仁爱,甚至一些人还以宗教的名义给人类增加更多苦难。

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.


We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

我们迫切需要 让仁爱成为我们已经极化的世界中一股清晰,引人注意的,动态的力量。因为作为一种本原上就可以超越自私自利的原则性力量, 仁爱可以打破政治,教条,意识形态和宗教藩篱。 生来就深深相互依赖的人类使得仁爱成为人类关系和完整的人性中的基本元素。仁爱是通往启蒙之路, 是创建公正的经济与和平的国际社会所必不可少的。

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.

The following arose in part out of a facebook comment I had from a friend, Charles Reynes. Charles is National Science Teacher of the Year. Hopefully, he will meet President Obama when he goes to Washington D.C. in January for a week of activities in connection with his achievement, a blessing well deserved. But I digress, last night I posted:
Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.
Charles responded:
When I first became a teacher, I had a principal who focused her attention on my deficiencies, which were numerous. She moved on. The next principal saw my weaknesses, I'm sure, but rather than trying to make me conform, she encouraged me to be innovative, to take risks.

Disabilities are often much easier to spot than gifts, in ourselves and others. We can squander a lifetime trying to become something we're not, to remediate or compensate for our disabilities. On the other hand, when we focus on our gifts, we become so brilliant that our disabilities seem to fade away.

As I heard Mister Rogers say one morning when my kids were small, "Look for what others can do, and when you find it, appreciate it." My life is so much better for the people who saw in me what I had yet to see in myself.

This is one reason you are such a great teacher, Todd. You are able to see what people can do. (Hey, I included this last paragraph not for reasons of vanity, but because it helped me see connections)

Charles' comments are a gift in themselves. As a fellow educator, I appreciate his constant effort to reflect on his own experiences in education. But I also appreciate his comments for more deeply allowing me to ponder even more and draw other connections. He took my thinking to another place, which is why I like talking with Charles so much. He has that gift for lifting thoughts, which is why I think he is a great teacher.

My original comment was generated last night after the Rabbi asked us to ponder why in Genesis 27:32, Jacob is tricking his father by pretending to be Esau in order to gain his father's blessing which "rightfully" belongs to Esau, and then in Genesis 28, Jacob is being blessed by God. Clearly, God can't be endorsing deception as the path to blessing. There are many possible explanations, and Rabbis of the past have not all agreed on one interpretation. My own explanation was that maybe God doesn't play the reward and punishment game; after all, the foremost patriarch, Abraham, also engaged in what appears as despicable behavior (when he went to Egypt for example and claimed that Sara was his sister, so that no harm would come to himself 12:11-). He too was blessed, with progeny (as many as the stars, and to become a father to many nations). I admit the idea that God doesn't engage in reward and punishment is somewhat tenuous given the tenor of some parts of Torah. On the other hand, I find the Torah to contains so much for so many. I take comfort in Rabbi Lawrence Kushner who said both, "If you try to make it all work together, you will 'crash and burn.'" and, "my choice is reverence".

At any rate, I found myself blurting out that gifts and disabilities seem pretty random, as part of my reasoning. For those who take a "God is all controlling view", I think this looks like a heretical claim for a believer. But in life, as in Torah, blessings do seem random, and the sufferings (for example in the case of Job), undeserved. Still, in our arguing with God (Genesis 18:25 Abraham: "The judge of all the earth-will he not do what is just?) and in our wrestling (Genesis 32:21-33 Jacob wrestling with the man/G_d on the verge of seeing his brother again.), God seems to learn and teach with us, granting us the blessing to see blessings. It may not be the only lesson, but it is a good one to take away from Torah. As Charles added later: "It's both a blessing to ourselves and to others when we are able to see blessings."

Which brings me back to my Rabbi, Rabbi Suzy Stone. I laugh as I consider that she changed around some of our local ritual (minhag) last night, so as to talk about what we are thankful for, on this, the last shabbat before a secular holiday, Thanksgiving. She then proceeded to go on about Jacob as if there was no necessary connection. I feel like I am in the presence of a Jewish Zen master when things like this happen. ... As I approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for good friends like Charles, Rabbis like Suzy, my children, my students, Marshall School, and Shir Ami, you all inspire my thinking, hopefully my actions, and are in so many ways, such a blessing.