Soft Cloud News
From the desk of Daoist Monk Yun Rou
Compassion, Frugality, Humility
There is nothing so shallow as human intelligence.
Warmest and Wettest Greetings, Everyone,
I’m so happy to report that the monsoon season continues after a few years of drought and meek and irregular appearances. It’s been a healthy season indeed for the Tucson Valley, although rain and floods have spelled a very different outcome and experience for other parts of the country and the world. Just a few examples are a recent major typhoon in Tokyo, Bangladesh, where 7.2 million people are at risk due to catastrophic storm events, flooding in Cambodia, drought in Somalia and other places in Africa where tens of millions are at risk for starving to death, and last but not least, never-before-seen floods and loss of life in Kentucky.
What does loss of life mean, exactly? More and more often now we here about the burgeoning environmental costs of climate change. In fact, climate change is an obfuscatory term. Climate change is but a symptom of overpopulation, over-development, and the fundamental world view we have all come to after going totally off the rails of sanity, sensitivity, awareness, and connection with the rest of the natural world. We don’t want to live on Earth; we want to dominate and devour it, even if that means that the phrase “loss of life” has come only to mean our own.
I came across this First People’s poem and thought it apt for this issue. I wish I could be more specific and confident of its attribution. In any case the sentiment it contains serves the point. That sentiment pertains to the way nature works and feels very much in synch with Daoist thinking. Perhaps that’s because First Peoples in the Americas are thought to have come here across a land bridge well in advance of the disastrous move from hunting and gathering to agriculture. I like to think of this as thought ancestral to shamans and their ilk in the Americas and Asia, too.
Nothing in Nature lives for itself
Rivers don’t drink their own water
Trees don’t eat their own fruit
The sun doesn’t shine for itself
A flower’s fragrance is not for itself
Living for each other is the rule of Nature
One of the great attractions of Eastern thought in general, Daoism in particular, is the non-dual nature of life, nature, the 10,000 things, the known universe, and all of unknown reality, too. If one believes (and after some practice, personally and directly perceives) our indivisibility from all that is, it is difficult to behave the way most of us so often do. Without being complete hypocrites we ought to feel pain at the extinguishing of even the life of a harmless house spider. Daoism sees every living thing, from a fungus to an elephant, as part of the very same fabric to which we also belong—one and only Dao. Such a view exhorts us not only in the direction of wei wu wei, it guides us to live with compassion, frugality, and humility; it demands greater interest and commitment to the preservation of each and every sentient being on the planet, plants included.
Half a century ago, well before I began studying Daoism per se, long before I knew what it was and pursued a specific and classical Daoist curriculum, I was already convinced that other species of animals understood and behaved in far more intricate and aware ways than we give them credit for doing. I’ve written a lot about this idea, including in several recent titles, Mad Monk Manifesto and Turtle Planet.
A series of startling experiences, both in the wild and in my own home, have only hardened my conviction that we exist inside a veritable sea of consciousness and that every transgression against said sea is not only a violation of natural law but immediately wounds us. Seeing things this way, I am forced to conclude that fracking, drilling, murder, rape, ocean destruction, political corruption, genocide and global thermonuclear war are tell-tale signs that most people don’t. I hate to say this, but until we can see the world differently and see each other differently, it will not help the legions of abused, tortured, wild and domestic animals to treat them as we treat each other because they are more like us than not.
Laozi exhorts us to face Nature’s cycles with equanimity and to approach even cyclical extremes with acceptance and poise. You might expect that this description of a sage would apply even more sharply to a monk, and indeed this humble one is working on exactly that every hour of every day.
I remain committed to cultivating my own relationship with nature and with non-human consciousness, too. Those experiences include entering the world of hunting nocturnal lizards, in the moist, loud jungle, holding in my hands the world’s most venomous snakes, (I was the same fool I am now, but younger) rehabilitated abandoned birds, matched wits with a crow and lost, raised giant tortoise from the size of half a tennis ball to 400 pounds, swam with man-eating sharks and, perhaps most memorably, found myself eyeball to eyeball with a Great Blue whale. Among experiences are some (i.e. killing a tamandua in the name of science) that haunt me to this day.
The takeaway? I care for animals daily. I feed birds constantly. I rescue wildlife whenever I can, and I exhort anyone who will listen that all the things we do to the Earth do not come without cost. Please become involved in conservation, re-wilding, environmental causes of all kinds. Please join so many caring, open-minded, compassion people by supporting their efforts (projects and charities abound, though kindly stay away from PETA) by supporting their efforts against factory farming and habitat destruction, against putting short-term profit before long-term right action. By putting conservation before profit—a novel idea I may flesh out in the next issue. Most of all, be compassionate to all living things. This is the Daoist way, for Daoism was the first and most coherent environmentalist philosophy in human history.
As I hope you can see, I use this newsletter to help share ways in which Daoism—while certainly not the only method—provides a beacon for that leap. That’s my message, and I advance it in books, classes and talks. I take the strong and clear extreme position that I do because the pendulum has swung perilously to the opposite extreme and needs to be brought back to center, or perhaps better, the ongoing rush of Dao has drifted off axis in order to take care of business and we’re not much going to like the direction in which it is headed.
Speaking of messages, I am currently putting together a workshop for the last weekend in October here in Tucson. I give updates every week on the details in the Monday mailings. If you’re interested, please respond ASAP to email@example.com. Please also join me for Daoist wisdom class on Zoom every Wednesday of the week (just checking to make sure you’re not skimming) at 8pm East Coast time, along with Zoom tai chi class on Mondays also at 8pm East Coast time. Both are all-levels gatherings, as are the Tuesday and Thursday tai chi classes running from 6:30 – 8:00 PM at the Unity Church in Tucson, AZ and the Saturday class at 9AM at the same location. In October, Saturday class is held instead at McDonald Park on Harrison Street in Tucson. Harrison street is a left turn off Catalina Highway as you head up to Mount Lemmon, not long after you turn onto the highway from Tanque Verde Road. If you are in Florida, please remember that Saturday class with Sifu Jennifer Beimel is ongoing at Shall We Dance in Pompano Beach. I hope you all enjoy more images of primordial paradises in this issue. May they spur you to dream of great beauty and give you hope for what we can gently nurture back into the world.
To Read and Watch
In a collection of selected essays and talks, physicist Carlo Rovelli offers us his Western view of the world and comes to the conclusion that kindness trumps (sorry) the rules sometimes. This is joyous news to every Daoist, of course, and makes enlightening and entertaining reading. I went from mentally applauding the author to clucking and shaking my head where it struck me he got things dead wrong. Even so, this book is a great read.
Lars Horn has written a most inventive book that combines the feel of a memoir with a book about fish. In this regard, but not in any way with respect to style, it reminds me of my own title Turtle Planet. Please order a copy of my own title, which was nominated for some heavy prizes. Actually, Horn’s book is in some ways more complex and perhaps demands less suspension of disbelief. It’s a particularly beautiful read and I highly recommend it.
Another startling tome about the reality of animal consciousness, language, senses, and more has been written by a Pulitzer-Prize-winner and most definitely demands a read. Science journalism about more than one species, it’s a treat from start to finish.
A week ago, I went to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo locally in concert here in Tucson. The South African all-male singing group founded in 1960 by Joseph Shabalala (his kids still sing in the choir) was made famous internationally by Paul Simon on his album Graceland. If you want to experience what makes the platinum and gold record winners and what led them to be banned from African competitions for being too good, try this retrospective/celebration/reissue of one of their finest albums. Watch them on Youtube, too, for their dancing, Rockette-like high kicks, and facial expressions are part of the magic.
Another amazing collection of music is the work of Grammy-award winner blues artist Christone Kingfish Ingram. As far as I can tell he inherits the blues mantle from BB King and Buddy Guy—whom I saw in concert in Chicago in the early 1980 and who also contributes to the album. Rockin’ stuff.
I became Neil Gaiman’s fan when he was rose to prominence as a graphic novel author in the 1990s. This was the time when some of the very best creative work, including the best fiction writing, was to be found in what had formerly been called comics. Netflix is now streaming a series based on Gaiman’s legendary Sandman series, with the master of fantasy himself at the helm. It’s a faithful yet divergent iteration of one of the greatest characters in the history of graphic novels, which is saying something. Have a watch and enjoy the wonderful story, the beautiful art that passes as scene after scene, and best of all the character of Morpheus, King of Dream.
Other stunning works from the print period include Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Maus, which chronicles the Holocaust in a totally unexpected and gut-wrenching way. A must-read if you’ve not already done so.
Enter the world of the Hernandez’ brothers’ Love and Rockets, a chronicle of latino life back in the 1990s but also relevant today. There are many links to different versions and editions to be found on Amazon, (including this soon-to-be-released $400 compendium if you just have to have it, new and clean) but you might want to look on eBay for less expensive examples.
Ditto for the legendary work of Frank Miller, whose Dark Knight series epitomizes graphic novels that demand to be taken seriously as art. Again, eBay is likely the best source but here’s an example on Amazon.
Last but not least, my novel Mistress Miao was released right smack at the beginning of Covid’s explosion. The result was that the publisher, enthusiastic about my work and with the best of intentions, was caught up in process and algorithm changes at Amazon and a drop in book sales globally. Bottom line, I’m sorry to report, is that the title got lost in the shuffle and sales were weak. Not wanting to waste what we consider a beautiful novel, we gave it a new title and a new cover and spent some time on a polish edit. The result is something I’m quite proud of, and the vanguard of a series of new books debuting this year and next.
Dream Realism and The Great Wall
Dream realism is a category of fiction that becomes more and more relevant in this age of AR and VR, and Yun Rou is a master of the genre, weaving together stories from different eras of China’s history, linking the present into the past in mesmerizing dreamscapes. In Wasp Warrior, there are aspects, including the wasps and a woman whose power can change the world, which transcend time, and connections which resonate in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Called "the new Alan Watts" for his teachings and non-fiction books and "the Zen Gabriel Garcia Marquez" for his fantastical novels of magical realism, Yun Rou is an officially ordained Daoist monk whose his tai chi classes, Daoist teachings, and books are enjoyed around the world. His hit national public television show "Longevity Tai Chi" reached nearly 200 million households.
Asian Martial Arts and Monthly Knife Review
As we tai chi practitioners get older, and hopefully wiser, we come up against the reality that we can’t do the same things with our bodies that we were able to in our younger days. At the same time, if we’re lucky, we discover that tai chi is much more relevant and important as a health practice than a martial one, especially given that violence is the lowest common denominator of human interaction. All the same, it is great fun to watch athletic young people perform the routines we know so well, even if we wouldn’t sell them knee insurance.
Here’s the competitor who lost to the one above on tie-breaker rules. Gotta love the green-dragon silk set. Perhaps he will soon emerge from the water. Great strength and flexibility (check out the jumps) and lovely low cross stances, but oh how those knees are going to plague him by 40.
This group A competitor does a beautiful sword form. There’s a spot where she goes low on one leg that should make those of you who crave lower work sit up with bulging eyes. What a performance.
If I were coaching her, I would ask this young woman to fill mingmen a bit more but this is wushu not practical arts and she’s lucky she doesn’t have to listen to me. Still, really relaxed and lovely.
Benchmade is a company that has been making knives since at least 1979, when it was known as Bali-song for their focus on Filipino-style flipping knives. The company has been through a few iterations and now offers a wide catalog of well-constructed knives. When I was actively collecting knives years ago, I found their quality high, their designs interesting, and most of all I liked that they didn’t follow industry trends as many other companies do, but rather stuck to how they thought a good knife should look, feel, and perform. At the moment, I very much like their “Bugout” model, which is available in a variety of steels including high-performing S90V (more on knife steels in another issue of SCN) and a carbon fiber handle with anodized blue liners. Quite the lovely piece.
The Global Daoist
Rejoice! Scientists at Harvard (ptui!) have finally determined just how important they think spirituality really is. As if we’ve been waiting for their endorsement… Since many scholars and techies are often so deep down their rabbit holes and so disconnected from the non-human world, it really is great to see academics edge toward acknowledging that compassion, frugality, humility, and a sense of connection with the fabric of Nature really is the Way.
Grieve! Author Salman Rushdie is fighting for his life (he may survive minus an eye) after being stabbed by a 24-year-old, on stage in New York. Motives for the attack have not yet been made clear, and Iran, whose leader issued a death warrant for Rushdie after the release of his novel The Satanic Verses years ago denies any connection. All the same, it does seem that the mind virus of religious fundamentalism remains at play in unexpected places. Please keep this great writer in your heart and mind and take this as a cue to engage his entire oeuvre.
What better way to separate church and state than to remove the Bible from school reading lists? Go ahead and ban it, along with mandatory school prayer and any agitation for a “Christian Nation”. Don’t want a Jewish one or a Muslim one, or Hindu one either. That pesky separation again. But an adaptation of Ann Frank and 1586 other books? What’s going on in our once pretend-to-be free (unless you were poor, black, or any other old thing) country anyway?
There are Daoists who concentrate only on the major texts like the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi and Liezi. Then there are religious Daoist, often priests and monks, who may add religious rituals and interact with the community, leading to the Daoism’s global presence and porosity, often by including aspects of competing religions. We can trace religious items and icons, such as dragon bones and turtle shells, all the way back to Neolithic times. Now it turns out that such practices weren’t only happening in Asia. Special objects and rituals were popular in the West, too, and any trip to Sedona, Arizona will convince you that they still are!
Asia Then and Now
In addition to suffering a resurgence of Covid in key cities, climate change (likely the source of covid anyway) is causing temperatures to rise across China. Compounding this is a severe drought similar to the one that we are enduring here in the American Southwest, where key reservoirs are drying up. I give credit to Chinese inventiveness and persistence, though, as I have not yet seen anyone trying to seed the clouds to make rain. Yahweh, where are you? Thor?
Japanese former premiere Abe’s assassination refocused attention on the role of religious cults and politics in Asia. There is a lot going on in the Far East as cults vie with unwanted attention from other elements of society and, of course, from governments.
Quite some years ago, I visited the Taipei jade market during the time of the Hungry Ghost festival. It was a great time to be in Taiwan and I was much taken by a little piece of jade carved into the shape of the ghost killer, Zhong Kui, who even plays a role in our Chen tai chi straight sword form. I only wish I could be in China for this fun holiday right now!
Parallel tracks? The new face of global authoritarianism? While we’re banning books here in the US, China is requiring school kids have to read their fearless leader’s speeches. No choice in the matter. As it was under Mao.
The religious landscape in China is, as I have chronicled here for the last couple of years, changing fast. Communism has been announced as the state religion, Buddhist text has been expunged of Buddha references and more, the word Christianity can’t be used in international conferences lest government minders terminate the festivities in favor of some stage-approved propaganda instead of scholarly work. Daoist temples are being turned into folk museum, and worse. That’s why we are so fortunate to be able to see these Daoist murals and enjoy them. Perhaps copy the image files and then back them up somewhere, ‘cause, well, you never know when they will be said to never have existed, along with all those pesky intellectuals sent off to camps during the ironically-named Cultural Revolution under Mao.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, captive breeding of vanishing species was all the rage in zoos around the world. Since then, the programs have been tapering off as zoos run out of space to house the animals they are saving in favor of profiting from zoo-goers who buy t-shirts and stuffed toys. That revenue model begs to be replaced with federal funding for propagation, as in many cases zoo populations may be the only ones left on Earth. If we eventually come to our senses and start protecting wild places rather than raping them, at least saved species will have a chance at survival through rewilding. Unlikely as this option appears to be, it is the only one we have. I tried to explain this to PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk some years ago and was met by stony silence and no further communication. There is much that I applaud about PETA’s work, specifically in the legal arena, but the natural world cannot survive such rigid and uninformed thinking. Concern for the welfare of individual animals is a high goal indeed, but so is doing our best to guarantee the continued existence of their kind. In the vacuum created by the withdrawal of zoos from captive breeding of endangered species, private foundations and even individuals with special knowledge must step up, even when the rules hamstring them.
There is sometimes talk of the Earth’s magnetic poles shifting, but did you know that continental drift is slowly affecting life in the deepest reaches of the ocean? All further evidence that Dao works in strange and mysterious ways.
When you think altruism, do you think about the tiny bacteria in your gut? Do you think about your dog? Surely you don’t think about your cat. Perhaps you think about selfless insects that pollinate to preserve our global grain supply as well as beautiful flowers and delicious fruit? What about Chinese box turtles who selflessly offer up lives so we can grind them to dust for folk medicine? Hmm. Maybe not them, either. And I’m pretty sure you don’t think about elephants, though, do you? I mean after all, we’re constantly killing them for their teeth. And yet, where we cannot manage any kind of species-wide compassion….
Long before I could articulate why, I realized that I could never be happy living in a place where reptiles and amphibians were absent or even in short supply. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t just about “herps” but about biodiversity in general. A new study explains what I suppose I have intuited all my live, which is that biodiversity prefers the tropics and why the collapse of rainforest ecosystems and the like are so catastrophic.
Speaking of diversity, the continent of Australia enjoys some of the greatest diversity of reptiles and amphibians on the planet. That might be way it’s one of my favorite places to visit. Worldwide, roughly 15% of snakes are venomous. In Australia the number is closer to 75%. Of course, even Australia has its hot (sorry) spots.
Back to my habit of ending with a laugh, try this.
Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly…
It’s not all about us.