The Ultimate Storyteller

ACon my pictureWho am I but someone who has assumed the role as the storyteller.  Conveying the words of the ancients in such a way that lends understanding to our past that tells the future.  What can be considered an original thought when everything has already been either spoken or written before us. When all we do is tell the stories a little differently to convey their meaning today so that more people can appreciate and understand them. Understanding the true meaning of discernment and insight and that it is through clarity of intention that telling the story defines us.

The Common Man Shaanxi Museum

For thousands of years even before recorded history it was the person who could explain events in nature and among men who came forward to tell the story. It became the responsibility of the person who could connect how everything came together in our environment; to nature, to the stars and universe who became the chosen one. Through observation of what occurs in nature man was able to find his place in it. If man destroyed the natural environment around him he would die. If he lived in constant harmony with what he found in nature he would flourish. This was the fundamental truth found in all things. Conveying the story beyond oral history became essential, hens the birth of what would become the I Ching. That written history began in what was the Xia Dynasty and later with the Shang. The greatest leaders were either shaman themselves or those who looked the the shaman for guidance and direction. The trouble has always been man’s own ego and failure to see the world beyond what he saw was best for himself.

For the storyteller it is when you become one with your inner nature or highest self, you go beyond self. The storyteller becomes as much the story as the story itself and is one with it. It is not simply the art of reading, understanding and writing the words.  It is the process of capturing the essence of it all and becoming a part of the story.


On Horseback through the Trees       Shaanxi Museum

As if assuming or playing the role of who you really are and have always been in eternity. It is this that the earliest shaman knew and understood so well. You cannot just tell the story, it is much better to become the story yourself that captures the attention of others. For myself taking on the image of the dragon from the very beginning was the initial epiphany. Soon afterwards I wrote the line… what you write is who you are to become… is when I had to sit up and take notice. Ultimately you find yourself not being attached to any particular place and live instead  in the constant state of becoming.

It was this need to tell and convey the events, myths, and legends of the past that helped to guide others to see beyond themselves and to their own highest endeavor and destiny as the one who tells the story.


Giving Directions   Shaanxi Museum

It was during the Shang Dynasty between 1500  and 1000 BC that this inner turmoil came to a head. Man must speak to and see a source of power greater than himself. If not he would destroy both himself and all those around him. It was during this time that certain inalienable rights of the individual came to the forefront as something needed to be done. If no one thing was bigger or more important than another, then how could one have favor and another failure. It would be the person telling the story of past events that would guide things to the future to a peaceful place or end. It would be the I Ching that would convey cause and effect.  Our role was to see things as they were in the beginning and see them through to a foreseeable end. What occurred in the interim was man’s decision to make for himself and determine his own fate.


On fitting in with Dragons  Shaanxi Museum

The person who could best understand this in time became the sage. It would be when the sage connected everything to the sun, moon, stars and universe that he was to become the dragon.  The shaman told the story of how everything fits together in nature. The sage gave meaning to how it fit in the universe… Their ability to tell the story gave the ultimate meaning to it all. To assume the role of the dragon, perhaps simply as a metaphor to better tell the story, is for myself essential to understand my own role I may have played as I proceed.

It would be the Shang putting King Wen of the Zhou in prison for a year in which it is claimed during this time he put the words and the ultimate meaning of the lines of theChing to paper that would change Chinese history forever. It was here that his son, the Duke of Zhou or Ji Dan, who emerged to compile the first Book of Rites and assembled everything he could find to add structure to what was known at the time.


Rituals   Shaanxi Museum

He was from the city of Lu that later became modern day Qufu, my own hometown when I am in China. Scholars throughout history have questioned rather King Wen was the person who put meaning to the lines. But he was a convenient, respected repository and attributing to him gave the words credence or a legitimacy they otherwise might not have have. Who was the real author and did it matter?

What is the role of the ultimate storyteller?


The Sage  Duke of Zhou in Qufu

In Taoism, three of the greatest books in recorded history were the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Chuang Tzu,  and the Book of Lieh Tzu.  Legend says that Lao Tzu gave his book to a gate keeper as he headed west and the Book of Lieh Tzu is attributed to an individual who is questioned to have existed at all. Lao Tzu certainly did exist and almost all the writing in the book can be easily attributed to the same person. The Lieh Tzu is a compilation of stories attributed to early writers who wrote before there was even a name to the Way, or what would later be called Taoism. It was very common during this time to attribute your own writing to someone else who was famous so that the words you had written would be taken seriously.

The fate of the storyteller did not always have a happy ending.  After Emperor Chin who consolidated the building of the Great Wall had all writings and scholars burned and buried in Xian in about 100 BC everything had to be reconstructed later by the Han to try to convey what was said in what was lost from memory.  What Chin decided to keep burned in a fire ten years later. Finally, it was the process of the writing of “commentaries” by Wang Pi and many others that were to convey what was really meant that carried the day. Even Wang Pi who was a brilliant writer who wrote an updated version of the I Ching and Tao Te Ching that later became required study for the examination system died a mysterious death at the young age of twenty six.


Finding the Way    Shaanxi Museum

I have been to Xian and seen the terra cotta warriors. Xian was the capital of China for over a thousand years.  Years earlier when I had felt the chill when I saw a picture of the red guard in Qufu taken during the cultural revolution when they were about to destroy relics from the Confucius Temple and Mansion after hanging in effigy what was considered the skeleton of Ji Dan was the same feeling I felt stepping off the train in Xian. The red guard were stopped in Qufu only by the urging of Premier Zhou Enlai  from Beijing. No one had stopped Emperor Chin. The times don’t always sit well with the storytellers past or present. But the stories still need to be told.

Even with Confucius, most of what he said was conveyed verbally and committed to memory by his disciples. It was not until two hundred years after he died that his version of the “Analects” were accepted. What Confucius is most famous for is his interpretation of the “Five Classics” that outlined Chinese history before his time in about 500 BC.

With my own writing everything seems to come from sources with which I am most familiar.  My pen often flows with words I am seemingly unfamiliar with and have to look up after I have written them. To my own amazement the meaning is clear and what I intended. It is as though I am writing without thinking what I am to say… I just write and the words are there.  My own writing style seemed to begin over twenty years ago in what appears as poetry making getting published more difficult.


A Ming Dynasty portrayal of Cao Cao.

My first book published in China was an example of this writing style. What I did not know at the time was this was a similar style of writing made famous by an early Han writer in about 200 BC whose name was Cao Cao.

That I cannot speak or read Chinese is a bit of a hindrance, but after twenty-five years and writing literally hundreds of thousands of words dedicated to gaining a better understanding of Chinese history and philosophy this has not been a problem. What I need has been translated to English usually by numerous other writers and can be expanded upon. When I am in China it has been easy to identify other scholars who are familiar and happy to have another opinion of things… especially by someone not Chinese. Although for others, especially people in China, educators and those who have studied as I have, sometimes their feelings are restrained.  How could I know so much and so little at the same time? The paradox in which we all must live. But perhaps it is as it is expressed in Taoism. That some supposed weakness is in actuality our greatest strength.

It is also said when we open ourselves to the universe with our virtue intact that what we find are encounters that show the way that helps us with a story we then can tell.


Following in Silence   Shaanxi Museum

It is in the silence we can begin to hear again as we remember and recall the stories of eternity that we have always known but simply forgotten.

What greater endeavor could there be? It is in the silence we can hear the voices of the shaman and sage once again. Knowing that everyone has their own story to tell once they come forward to just listen as they too become the ultimate storyteller as well.




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