We are stardust. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
One of my all-time favorite lines in a song by Joni Mitchell from 1970 after she missed Woodstock and wrote the song Woodstock in tribute. I listen to this song at least once a day and the words above. We are stardust… Two others who missed Woodstock were John Lennon who was in Canada and couldn’t get a visa due to opposition to the Vietnam war, and Bob Dillon who was home with a sick child. However, her song takes us all there again and for me much further.
Speaking of gardens and a few of my favorites are the gardens of Suzhou (about 62 miles northwest of Shanghai) in China. The city of Suzhou is along the famous Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is a man-made waterway that runs north and south in eastern China. It is the longest man-made waterway in the world. The canal stretches over 1,100 miles from the city of Beijing to the city of Hangzhou. (I’ve been to both cities). It is sometimes called the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal. Besides connecting these two major cities, the canal also connects the two major rivers of China: The Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
(These two pictures were taken at the Jining Museum. Jining is about an hour from Qufu and is considered the midway point between the two cities on the canal. I taught at the Cambridge English School in Jining for a few months in 2010 before teaching at Jining University). When I am in Jining, I often meet with friends and my students at the Grand Canal Mall. When I lived in Qufu, I would often go to a supermarket in Jining that had a much greater selection of western food than I could find in Qufu… like tomato paste I used in making spaghetti for my students. It was visiting Jining and members of the City Planning Department back in October 1999 that I first saw the plans for the new Jining University that was to be built in Qufu. Little did I know I would begin teaching at this school in March 2011.
It was then that this life-long connection would change me and cause an epiphany. It was at lunch with the city planners in Jining that I told them I kept having visions of a flying horse that somehow seemed to be close by. After lunch they took me to a place in the country-side about ten miles out of town and stopped at what appeared to be just an old shed. We looked inside and there were two-thousand-year-old stone tablets from the Han Dynasty. One depicted Confucius meeting Lao Tzu. They did an etching and gave to me. I had it framed and years later I gave to the Confucius Institute in Miami, Florida where I was teaching… Anyway, we went to an even smaller outbuilding and they gave me a small iron horse that seemed to be floating on a cloud that had been originally cast back then or even earlier more than two-thousand years ago. This is what I was looking for. I had been here before. This was not the first time and showed me that we were somehow connected. It was as if my origins were here in western Shandong. Now almost twenty years later I will return again next month to China, Jining, and Qufu (September 2018). The stone tablets were later moved to what was to become the Jining Museum mentioned above. Yes, we are stardust… we are golden when we can find our way back to the garden. Which is nothing more than identifying and becoming one with our ultimate source once again. But then again, being able to traverse the length and breath of China on the canal all those years ago, I could have been from anywhere and probably was.
Jining was the half-way or mid-point on the Grand Canal and has great food. I love the restaurants in Jining. Over the years I have often been asked what city in China has the best food. I always say, for me, it is Jining. I think it comes from the city’s historic place on the Grand Canal. People from all over China would travel this route to and from the capital, Beijing. At least that’s my story. I think the food serves to simply take me back as a reminder of who I am and the places in China I have seen and been. Most seem to be along the rivers and this canal that stretches over a thousand miles.
The canal was initially built in order to easily ship grain from the rich farmland in southern China to the capital city in Beijing. This also helped the emperors to feed the soldiers guarding the northern borders. The ancient Chinese built early canals to help with transportation and commerce. One early section was the Han Gou Canal built by Kin Fuchai of Wu around 480 BC. This canal stretched from the Yangtze River to the Huai River. Another ancient canal was the Hong Gou Canal which went from the Yellow River to the Bian River. These ancient canals became the basis for the Grand Canal over 1000 years later.
It was during the Sui Dynasty that the Grand Canal was built. Emperor Yang of the Sui wanted a quicker and more efficient way of transporting grain to his capital city at Beijing. He also needed to supply his army that guarded northern China from the Mongols. He decided to connect the existing canals and expand them to go all the way from Beijing to Hangzhou. Between 604 and 609, Emperor Yang Guang (or Sui Yangdi) of the Sui dynasty ordered a number of canals be dug in a ‘Y’ shape, from Hangzhou in the south to terminate in Beijing and in the capital region along the Yellow River valley. When the canal was completed it linked the systems of the Qiantang River, the Yangtze River, the Huai River, the Yellow River, the Wei River and the Hai River. (from Wikipedia)
Suzhou… the home of gardens and living in high style.
Many years ago, when I was a city planner in Boynton Beach, I researched the possibility of building a Chinese designed “friendship Park/Garden” using this style of southern Chinese architectural design (this would have been in the Spring of 1999) in south Florida. It was in my research I found a firm that specialized in this style of construction from Qufu who traveled all over the world building this style of Chinese designed parks similar to that found in Suzhou. It was this that took me to Qufu in October 1999 for the first time. The park was never built, but friendships for a lifetime were made. Little did I know what the next twenty years would bring leading up to today. Ah… a reminder of one’s eternal steps I guess. It was on the way to Qufu that I visited Suzhou and its famous gardens for the first time. Years later when I was teaching students English who were to become national tour guides, several ended up as guides at the gardens of Suzhou.
The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are a group of gardens in Suzhou region, Jiangsu province that are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.
I first visited here the first time in October 1999, nineteen years ago, on my second trip to China. Always an avid gardener myself and interested in landscape design, these gardens were made famous during the period of almost one thousand years. From the Northern Song to the late Qing dynasties (11th-19th century), these gardens, most of them built by scholars, standardized many of the key features of classical Chinese garden design with constructed landscapes mimicking natural scenery of rocks, hills and rivers with strategically located pavilions and pagodas.
The elegant aesthetics and subtlety of these scholars’ gardens and thier delicate style and features have often been imitated by various gardens in other parts of China, including the various Imperial Gardens, such as those in the Chengde Mountain Resort. According to UNESCO, the gardens of Suzhou “represent the development of Chinese landscape garden design over more than two thousand years,” and they are the “most refined form” of garden art.
These landscape gardens flourished in the mid-Ming to early-Qing dynasties, resulting in as many as 200 private gardens. Today, there are 69 preserved gardens in Suzhou, and all of them are designated as protected “National Heritage Sites.” In 1997 and 2000, eight of the finest gardens in Suzhou along with one in the nearby ancient town of Tongli were selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site to represent the art of Suzhou-style classical gardens.
When I was teaching at Jining University I taught English to several students who were studying to be national tour guides. A couple were to go to Suzhou. I’m not sure they are still there or not. First among my favorite gardens was the Humble Administrator’s Garden. The garden contains numerous pavilions and bridges set among a maze of connected pools and islands. It consists of three major parts set about a large lake: the central part (Zhuozheng Yuan), the eastern part, Dwelling Upon Return to the Countryside), and a western part (the Supplementary Garden). The house lies in the south of the garden. In total, the garden contains 48 different buildings with 101 tablets, 40 steles, 21 precious old trees, and over 700 Suzhou-style penjing. Penjing, also known as penzai, is the ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature. (similar to bonsai in Japanese gardens).
For me, my personal favorite is the Master of the Nets Garden. Ownership passed to Qu Yuancun, a scholar well-versed in the classics and literature, in 1795. He added and remodeled buildings, planted trees, and arranged stones. The garden acquired the nickname of Qu’s Garden during this period as well as its first acclaim by critics. Ownership passed to Li Hongyi, an imperial official and master calligrapher in 1868. About half of the steles in the garden are inscribed by him. Ownership passed to He Chang in 1940, who restored both the garden and returned the name back to Master of Nets Garden. He stipulated in his will the garden should be donated to the government. In 1958 his daughter He Zehui gave the garden to the Suzhou government.
During the late 18th century it was recognized for its herbaceous peonies. In his Notes on the Master of Nets Garden, Qian Daxin stated, “A good integration of the delights of the village and town.” Modern critic Chen Congzhou feels that the Master of the Nets Garden is the best representation of all classical Chinese garden art, as stated in Famous Classical Gardens of China.
My third most favorite is the Lion Grove Garden. This is probably one of the most famous rock-gardens in Chinese garden design. It has been copied repeatedly over the centuries. This is the so-called Lion Garden’ in Suzhou. The Lion Grove Garden was built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty by a Zen Buddhist monk, Wen Tianru, in memory of his teacher Abbot Zhong Feng.
At that time the garden was part of the Bodhi Orthodox Monastery. The name of the garden is derived from the lion-shaped taihu rocks, which in turn were built as a reference to the symbolic lion in the Lion’s Roar Sutra.
I recall taking hundreds of pictures of the gardens in Suzhou in the early days of my travel to China almost twenty years ago… where are all those pictures now? I found a few… A great story of China from more than five hundred years ago is about two brothers who were famous for making glazed tile used in construction of buildings using the ancient style and design. They were originally from southern China, but moved north. One to Qufu and the other to Beijing. Their glazed tile was used in Qufu for the Confucius Temple and Mansion, as well as, numerous other locations around Shandong Province.
This is a picture of a tour of the glazed tile factory from my first visit to Qufu in October 1999.
The second brother’s glazed tiles were used in the construction of the Forbidden City and other landmarks in Beijing. One of their descendants became a good friend of mine in Qufu. For years he was there to greet me when I arrived and see me off when I left. Their glazed tile became the premier emblem of garden design throughout China. Glazed tile from the factory used in building the Confucius Mansion and Temple in Qufu was the same used in my own garden pavilion in Boynton Beach that was destroyed by Hurricane Irene in 2004. The loss of my pavilion was very depressing… Plus the more than $20,000 I had spent to have it shipped from China and re-constructed in my backyard. Afterward, looking at the debris of what was my pavilion, I could only think of Joni Mitchell’s song and how – We are stardust. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
Succumbing to Hysteria
Speaking softly and smoothly where others must crane their neck to listen is best. Always speak calmly knowing that that fear and reality are the same to find. Ever conscious that hysteria leads to dread of the unknown.
Hold the attention of all those involved. Varying one’s voice relieves tension that may assist in finding the solution. Be brief, simply uncomplicated. Finding your rhythm brings forth changes overcoming all setbacks. Sincerity must provide the rhyme and reason of any true voice before it is heard. Much is expected of those who know dragons.
Beware of treachery or bringing attention to oneself by shouting, I am here! The noise overshadowing what is not said so nothing important is heard. Instead of finding your rhythm in the Tao and being heard for miles and miles forever. Continually refining your actions always knowing simply what is needed.
Internal rhythm, the chi, reverberating throughout the elements, the earth and sky, waking dragons to their delight. Stay calm and listen to the one you can hardly hear. He speaks softly as he knows the way of virtue.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (12 OBSTRUCTION / Heaven over Earth). 2/10/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 64 and 65 appear below. Verses 1 through 63 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others along the way that guides us.
The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 64 – Finding everything too Easy
The sage knows that doing what comes naturally is not work. Therefore, he works without really working.
He acts without really acting, thereby not exhausting himself and tastes without really tasting the true meaning of the Tao through meditation. He goes forth knowing that rather we are great or small, many or few it is important to repay any slight or wrong with virtue.
What the world considers hard the sage considers easy. Just as what the world considers easy the sage considers hard. How can that be so?
If one can plan for the hard when it is easy and work on the great when it is small, the hardest task in the world becomes easy. The greatest goal in the world begins or becomes small.
Because the sage never acts he achieves great things. He responds to others knowing instinctively that he who quickly agrees is seldom trusted and those who make it all look easy finds the way hard. Therefore, the sage travels in virtue making everything appear hard, while he himself finds nothing hard.
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “We should act before things exist, while they are peaceful and latent. We should govern before they rebel, while the are fragile and small. But to act before things exist means to act without acting. To govern before things rebel means to govern without governing.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “From a sprout, the small becomes great. From a basket of earth, the low becomes high. From here, the near becomes far. But trees are cut down, towers are toppled, and journeys end. Everything we do eventually results in failure. Everything we control is eventually lost. But if we act before things exist, how can we fail? If we govern before they rebel, how can we lose?”
Wang P’ang says, “Everything has its course. When the time is right, it arrives. But people are blind to this truth and work to speed things up. They try to help Heaven and end up ruining things just as they near completion.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Others seek the ornamental. The sage seeks the simple. Others seek form. The sage seeks Virtue. Others study facts and skills. Te sage studies what is natural. Others study how to govern the world. The sage studies how to govern himself and how to uphold the truth of the Way.”
Verse 65 – Learning to act before something Exists
As one who is recognized by his peers for his vision and all things ethereal having found where all things meet and reflecting on the common purpose or rhythm of the universe, what can be more important than knowing when to act before something exists?
Knowing when to proceed and when to wait letting patience be your guide. It’s easy to rule when it’s peaceful. `It’s easy to plan before something arrives. It’s easy to break when its fragile and as we have learned, easy to disperse when its small. Be the one who prepares the master plan.
But know to act is to fail and to control is to lose. The sage therefore doesn’t act he thus does not lose. Living in the paradox that life brings forth to challenge him each day ultimately simply the reminder of why he is here.
Does not the sage seek what no one else looks for turning to what others pass by? To remind others that everything must simply run its course. That when the time is right it arrives and that the truth of all things is in doing what comes natural. The sage therefore knows to simply act naturally before something exists.
Chuang Tzu says, “When the knowledge of bows and arrows arose, the birds above were troubled. When the knowledge of hooks and nets proliferated, the fish below were disturbed. When the knowledge of snares and traps spread, the creatures of the wild were bewildered. When the knowledge of argument and disputation multiplied, the people were confused. Thus are the world’s troubles due to the love of knowledge” (10.4).
Liu Chung-P’ing says, “Those who rule without knowledge turn to Heaven. Those who rule with knowledge turn to man. Those who turn to Heaven are in harmony. Those who are in harmony do only what requires no effort. Their government is lenient. Those who turn to man force things. Those who force things become lost in the Great Inquisition. Hence their people are dishonest.” Liu’s terminology here is indebted to Chuang Tzu: 19.2 and Mencius 4B.26).
Su Ch’e says, “What the sage values is virtue. What others value s knowledge. Virtue and knowledge are opposites. Knowledge is seldom harmonious, while virtue is always in harmony.”