Category Archives: Zelazny

Dune in Japanese 砂の惑星

「ここにあるのはあんたに使う新しいもの、ゴム・ジャバール。これは動物のみ殺すのだよ。」誇りがポウルの恐怖にうちなった。「公爵の息子が動物だというのか?」「まああんたは人間かもしれねぬということにしておこう。。。静かに!」

“…here’s a new one for you: the gom jabbar. It kills only animals.” Pride overcame Paul’s fear. “You dare suggest a Duke’s son is an animal?” he demanded. “Let us say, I suggest you may be human,” she said, “steady!”

Because I am a huge nerd, I thought it would be fun to try to read one of my favorite books in a foreign language, Japanese. I found a copy of Dune online at Amazon JP. In Japanese the title is either 砂の惑星 (suna no wakusei “Sand Planet”) or just デゥーン which is a transliteration of “Dune”.

Cover of Dune in Japanese

This book belongs to a science-fiction series called the Hayakawa Series (ハヤカワ文庫), which includes many other English-language science-fiction books translated into Japanese. I was surprised to see most1 Roger Zelazny books translated into Japanese and sold by Hayakawa too! I might buy some of those next. It seems like something I might do on my trip to Japan soon.😉

Anyhow, like most Japanese books, it’s much smaller than American-printed books. This makes it easy to carry on trains and such I assume. I’ve been reading it on the bus, which is helpful because the bus gets very crowded. In fact, this book is only the first part of the novel. There are at least two other parts. I believe that if they published it as a single novel, it would be too thick for Japanese-style books, so they decided to break it up.

Also, the book features scenes from the 1984 movie Dune, including the cover above. The cover photo is the same scene I quoted above, which you can also see here on Youtube:

There are other scenes inside the book too from the movie, usually one per chapter or so. Some in color, but most are black and white.

So, you might ask: is it difficult to read?

Oh yes, it is difficult, but it’s still very interesting to me. Dune is difficult to read in English, so reading in Japanese is even harder. However, it’s a story I like very much, plus I already know the story, so even though there are many difficult words, I can still follow along. Plus, I learn many new words in the process like 老婆 (old woman, crone), 領土 (territory, dominion), 公爵 (Duke), 視線 (gaze, glance), 香料 (spice) etc. :)

I’m only on page 25, but it’s a good start for only 2 days.

1 I am unable to find Zelazny’s Isle of the Dead in Japanese so far which is unfortunate. That’s one of my favorites too.

Other Worlds Than This?

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(My bookshelf. I have a whole section devoted to Roger Zelazny novels I collect)

“Go then, there are other worlds than these.”
— Stephen King’s, The Gunslinger

Lately, I’ve been re-reading Roger Zelazny’s classic series, the Chronicles of Amber. It’s Roger Zelazny’s most well-known series, and I enjoyed it years ago, but lately I decided to read it again.

The basic story is this: there is only one true world: Amber. Amber “casts” infinite shadows of itself, and these worlds all resemble Amber. Some resemble Amber very closely, some only a little. Our earth is a shadow of Amber. Also, some things on our Earth are different than Amber, for example gunpowder doesn’t work in Amber, and the sky is a somewhat different color.

The world of Amber is ruled by a royal family that is almost god-like. They can live forever, heal severe damage to their body (eyes, missing arms, etc), have super-human strength, use magic, etc. Also, when a member of the royal family dies, their death-curse is extremely powerful and always works. But the most important ability they have is to be able to walk through shadow worlds whenever they want. The process is described as concentrating on where you want to go, and slowly adding or subtracting things around you until you reach the world you want.

Because the royal family is so powerful, and rules Amber plus all shadow worlds, there is a lot of competition between the members of the royal family, and they often distrust each other and try to sabotage one another, though they are all loyal to Amber itself. There are currently nine princes of Amber, and four princesses, and the King of Amber has mysteriously disappeared.

The nine princes of Amber, as drawn by Ayej, courtesy of Deviant Art:
http://ayej.deviantart.com/art/Nine-Princes-in-Amber-371803441

In the first story, one of the princes, Corwin, awakes from a car accident on Earth (our Earth) can can’t remember what happened. Eventually he meets some of his other family members, and discovers that one of his brothers has taken the throne while his father is missing. As Corwin restores his memory, he decides to launch a war against Amber to take the throne for himself, and what happens afterwards is quite interesting to read.

Anyhow, it’s a fun concept to think about: is this world we live in a shadow of another one? If so, what is the true reality?

If you do enjoy Fantasy books, I highly recommend the Amber series, especially the first five books. If you do read the Amber Chronicles, I highly recommend the Visual Guide to Castle Amber as it does a nice job showing maps of Amber, drawings of the different characters, and other interesting bits. It’s not in print anymore, so you may have to find a used copy instead, or even a collectible one.

Breadth versus Depth

I like to keep myself busy, as readers probably noticed. :) But since Little Guy was born, I’ve been even more busy, so I’ve been trying to manage my time better. So, I started writing down all my little hobbies, and here’s what I found:

  • Main blog (the one you’re reading right now😉 ).
  • YouTube videos (Beginner Buddhism series)
  • Learning Korean: listening and vocabulary.
  • Learning Japanese: listening, Heisig kanji, vocabulary.
  • C++ programming, more on that in a later post
  • Classic Video games
  • Writing short stories, such as this one
  • Playing around with FreeBSD
  • Buddhism: meditation, devotionals, books/study, etc.
  • Reading books by Roger Zelazny

When I wrote this down I realized I have a lot of projects!

Then, I tried to manage all these projects by scheduling different “nights” to do different projects. Thursday I would read Zelazny books, Friday I would write the blog, etc. Within a week though, I started ignoring this schedule. I spent three days playing video games, and two days reading Zelazny’s Amber series.

Then, I started thinking I might have to reduce my projects. I was inspired by this great post by Khatzumoto at AJATT. He argues that the key to success in any project is to really want it and to do that project exclusively. He had a couple good quotes that I wanted to re-post here:

  • “Discipline is remembering what you want.” — David Campbell
  • “Effort over time to the exclusion of other pursuits.” — Steve Martin (more on Steve Martin here, a good read)

So, if I wanted to get really good at a language like Japanese (or Korean or C++ programming), or a better writer, or a better, more professional blogger, then I would have to give up other projects and focus on that project only. The only way this would work is if I really, really liked that hobby. Because, if I don’t really like that hobby, I’ll get bored or burned out in a few weeks or months.

But now, this brings a new problem: what do I like and what should I focus on?

This is a silly question in a way: if I really like something, I won’t be asking that question right? I’ll just be really passionate about something and keep doing it. That narrows things down to Japanese language (been studying since 2009), blogging (been blogging since 2005) and studying Buddhism (also 2005). The other things are nice, but a distraction.

On the other hand, why should I give up all my other hobbies? It’s ok to suck, especially if I am happy. Sometimes small happiness is better than big happiness (e.g. success).

So, I’m in a quandry I guess. I guess I’m not dedicated or passionate about any one thing, so I am not very good at any one thing. But I would like to be good at something though. On the other hand, I enjoy many different subjects and experimenting with things.

So it’s an question of breadth (many hobbies, shallow understanding) or depth (one or two hobbies only, deep understanding).

Maybe I’m just thinking too much though. My wife often tells me that). 😉

A Life Well-Lived

Recently, I found this great quote from the famous 13th century Japanese-Buddhist text, Essays in Idleness, or tsurezure-gusa (徒然草) which I’ve written about before. It’s also the namesake of this blog of course. 😉

Anyhow, the translation below is by Donald Keene, section 7:

If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, but lingered on forever in the world, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty. Consider living creatures—none lives so long as man. The May fly waits not for the evening, the summer cicada knows neither spring nor autumn. What a wonderfully unhurried feeling it is to live even a single year in perfect serenity! If that is not enough for you, you might live a thousand years and still feel it was but a single night’s dream. We cannot live forever in this world; why should we wait for ugliness to overtake us? The longer man lives, the more shame he endures. To die, at the latest, before one reaches forty, is the least unattractive. Once a man passes that age, he desires (with no sense of shame over his appearance) to mingle in the company of others. In his sunset years he dotes on his grandchildren, and prays for long life so that he may see them prosper. His preoccupation with worldly desires grows ever deeper, and gradually he loses all sensitivity to the beauty of things, a lamentable state of affairs.

It reminds me of science-fiction novel, Isle of the Dead by Roger Zelazny. In that novel, the main character, Francis Sandow, was born in the early 20th century, and has lived over 1,000 years through a combination of luck, technology and cleverness and is now one of the richest men in the galaxy. Because of his long-life though, he’s more and more paranoid about dying, and because of his wealth, he’s more and more paranoid about people trying to get him:

There’s me and maybe a few Sequoia trees that came onto the scene in the twentieth century and have managed to make it up until now, the thirty-second. Lacking the passivity of the plant kingdom, I learned after a time that the longer one exists the more strongly one becomes infected with a sense of mortality.

It’s one of my favorite classic scifi novels of all time because of its look into mortality, etc.

Anyhow, something to think about.

A Look At “The Awakening Of Faith In The Mahayana”

The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana

Hello,

Recently, after a visit to the doctor, I stopped by the local University of Washington (transferring buses) and stopped off at my favorite used-bookstore: Magus Books. I stop there about once every 1-2 years to look for rare and hard to find books by Roger Zelazny, but I also look at the Buddhist books sometimes.

I was fortunate to find a nice, used hardcover translation of a 6th Century Buddhist text called The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, known as daijō kishinron (大乗起信論) in Japanese, and daeseung gishinron (대승기신론) in Korean. The translation is by Professor Hakeda, who also did a great translation of the writings of Kukai. The book was published in 1969, so it’s probably out of print.

Anyhow, the Awakening of Faith is a famous, but unusual text in Buddhism. It is not a sutra. It is a śāstra (shastra), which is a kind of thesis or essay in Buddhism. Shastras were often written by famous Buddhists in India like Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Asanga and so on, as a way to expound their particular understanding of the Buddhist doctrine. Shastras were useful as a way of “summarizing” Buddhist sutras into a single teaching.

Shastras are not well known now, but in the ancient days when Buddhism was imported from India to China (and then Korea, Japan, Vietnam) they were critically important in the development of Asian Buddhism because they helped provide a kind of “structure” to the Buddhist teachings. The shastras of Nagarjuna helped found the Sanlun School (三論宗, “Madhyamika”), the shastras of Asanga helped found the Fa-xiang (法相宗, “Yogacara”) school and so on. They were often valued as highly as the sutras themselves.

The trouble is that Shastras in general are very hard to read and understand for modern readers, because they were written for an audience long ago that already understood the concepts and vocabulary. There’s a lot of “implicit” language that is hard to understand now, and requires a lot of commentary. This is probably why they’re not widely studied anymore except for scholars. I purchased a copy of Nagarjuna’s shastra, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (中論). The translation is great, but the content of the book is really, really terse and cryptic. Reading a few chapters gave me a headache. ;p

Anyhow, the point of all this is that the Awakening of Faith is unusual because:

  • It is a shastra, but it was likely composed by someone in China, not India, who attributed it to the Indian monk Ashvaghosa.
  • No original Sanskrit version has been found (hence people think it was composed in China) and it is not found in Tibetan Buddhism.
  • The shastra is popular in East Asia because it is more practical and less cerebral.

Modern Buddhists might not know about the Awakening of Faith, but it was pretty standard reading for all East Asian Buddhists throughout history. Many famous Buddhists you might know have all quoted from, or provided commentary, on the Awakening of Faith. This includes Kukai, Wonhyo, Fa-zang, Shinran and many others.

The copy I have is pretty short, about 78 pages total, and has 5 sections. The early sections are very short, but very cryptic. Section 2 is only 4 pages, but reading it made my head hurt. However, each section is easier and more practical than the last. So, Section 3 explains section 2, and section 4 explains how to put section 3 into practice, etc.

The purpose of the Awakening of Faith is to provide a single, comprehensive explanation of the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism (大乗仏教, 대승 불교). It’s like a “textbook of Mahayana Buddhism”, but the order is kind of reversed from a modern book: the hard stuff is at the beginning, and gets easier as you read it.

Many of teachings you find in Zen, Shingon or Yogacara Buddhism are explained in this text such as:

The principle [of Mahayana] is “the Mind of the sentient being.” This Mind includes in itself all states of being of the phenomenal world and the transcendental world. (pg. 28, section 2)

and:

The triple world [past, present, and future], therefore, is unreal and is of mind only. Apart from it there are no objects of the five senses and of the mind. (pg. 48, section 3)

and finally:

After reflecting in this way [the suffering of all beings], he should pluck up his courage and make a great vow to this effect: may my mind be free from discriminations so that I may practice all of the various meritorious acts everywhere in the ten directions; may I, to the end of the future, by applying limitless expedient means, help all suffering sentient beings so that they may obtain the bliss of nirvana, the ultimate goal. (pg. 101, section 4)

The first two quotes sound very similar to things you might read or hear from Zen or Shingon teachings. The third quote sounds similar to the Four Bodhisattva Vows, doesn’t it?

That’s because many of the things we know about East Asian Buddhism were heavily influenced by the Awakening of Faith.1 Whoever wrote this shastra did a very effective job of summarizing Mahayana Buddhist thought into a short, concise text that inspired many generations that came later.

I haven’t finished the book yet (more than halfway through), but I hope to post more quotes later. Anyhow, if you would like to learn more about The Awakening of Faith, there are many other translations available, so definitely pick up a copy if you can. Although it is not easy to read, I highly recommend to anyone interested in the deeper aspects of Mahayana Buddhism.

1 Arguably, the other major influence is the Lotus Sutra.

Getting Ready for Halloween

Hi Everyone,

Autumn is my favorite season, and I really enjoy October and November. October has Halloween, and my birthday is early November, and late November is Thanksgiving. Plus I enjoy a lot of good Autumn poetry in the Japanese poetry anthology, the Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首).

Last weekend, the weekend before the baby was born, my wife, daughter and I went to Bob’s Corn, which had a large pumpkin patch:

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First, we walked through a maze of corn:

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I’ve never walked through a corn-maze before, but it was a lot of fun. This maze was smaller and simpler for kids, so we solved the maze in about 20 minutes. My pregnant was very tired by that point and wanted to sit down.

So, my daughter and I picked some pumpkins for Halloween:

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Bob’s Corn was a great pumpkin patch. Not too far, not too big and crowded and not too expensive. People were very friendly too. We had a great time.

Also, I started my yearly tradition again of reading Roger Zelazny’s Halloween novel A Night in the Lonesome October. This is a fun story that includes Dracula, the Werewolf, Frankenstein’s monster in a story that is similar to H.P. Lovecraft. Because the book is divided by days, one chapter for each day in October, I read one chapter a day. On October 10th, I read the chapter for October 10th. The early chapters are short, but the later chapters get longer and longer.

Speaking of Dracula, I also started reading the original novel Dracula by Bram Stoker.1 It’s a little difficult to read, because it is written like a diary, but it’s still a great story to read.2

If you’re looking for other things to read, I highly recommend the original novel Frankenstein too. It’s somewhat different than modern images of Frankenstein’s monster, but the book is pretty thrilling, even though it was written in the 1800’s.

Every year I plan to buy or make a Halloween costume, but I never have the time. My goal is to dress like Nintendo’s Mario (or Luigi), but I probably won’t have time this year either with the new baby in the house. We’ll see.

Anyhow, hope you have a fun, safe and spooky Halloween!

1 One of many famous authors from Ireland. Ireland has a truly impressive history of excellent authors.

2 I remember watching the 1992 movie also in the theater with my mother when I was 16. Bad idea. Unlike the novel, there was a lot of sex in that movie which was very awkward to watch with my mom. Still, Gary Oldman’s acting was really awesome, and I liked Anthony Hopkins too.

Tired of Religion Sometimes

It’s ironic that I blog about religion a lot, but lately, I was reminded of this old post and this one after visiting a certain Buddhist temple close to home.

Then I found an old comedy sketch by George Carlin on religion:

You can read the transcript here too. :) Apologies for the bad words in the video.

A lot things in religion seem really silly or ridiculous when you think about it. Worse, people can become obsessed with orthodoxy, and create a lot of harm.

When I think about all this, I get really tired of religion, even Buddhism. Professor Yao in his book points out that in Chinese culture there’s a difference between religion (dogma, superstition, etc) and the teachings of the sages.

I re-read the ending of Roger Zelazny’s science-fiction novel Isle of the Dead too. I still think about this quote often:

Even if they had been real gods, what did it matter? What was it to me? Here I was still, right where I was born a thousand or so years before, in the middle of the human condition—namely, rubbish and pain. If the gods were real, their only relationship with us was to use us to play their games. Screw them all. “That includes you too, Shimbo,” I said. “Don’t ever come to me again.” Why the hell should I look for order when there wasn’t any? Or if there was, it was an order that did not include me. I washed my hands in a puddle that had formed nearby. It felt good on my burnt finger. The water was real. So were the earth, air and fire. And that was all I cared to believe in. Let it go with the basics. Don’t get cute and sophisticated. Basics are things you can feel and buy.

But then the main character, Francis Sandow, thought about his past career creating planets:

I had hurled something into the pit. Where there had been darkness, I had hung my worlds. They were my answer. When I finally walked that Valley [of Death], they were would remain after me. Whatever the Bay claimed, I had made some replacements, to thumb my nose at it. I had done something, and I know how to do more.

So, a part of me still believes that the path of the sages that Professor Yao describes is still true, and that rather than just giving up, I should focus on the here and now:

Also, remember, Joe Pesci loves you! ;p

Taboo in the Heian Period of Japan

Fengshui Compass

Recently, while reading reading the Gossamer Years, I found the book contained a thorough explanation of the notion of “taboo” and “purification” in the Heian Court in Japan. I wanted to share this with others.

Aristocrats and the Heian Court had a very complex system of purification ceremonies, periods of abstention, and other rules that derived from Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, and in particular Chinese geomancy. This system was called onmyōdō (陰陽道) in Japan. These rules and restrictions were taken very seriously by the Emperor and his court, and often helped dictate policies, or help deify angry spirits. These rules and rituals also appear regularly in works from the time such as the Pillow Book, the Gossamer Years, the Diary of Lady Murasaki, etc.

For example, one of the biggest taboos involved travel. The kami Taihakujin (太白神), also known as Hitohimeguri (一日回り), was the kami of directions. Every day, he would move to one of the 8 directions, and it was forbidden to travel in that same direction that day. Thus if Taihakujin was dwelling in the northwest, travel toward the northwest was forbidden. As stated before, the literature of the time frequently mentions travel bans and such. Also, Taihakujin would sometimes travel to the sky or the earth, and on those days, travel was free in all directions.

But, it got more complex, because there were other gods too. For example, the kami Tenichijin (天一神) also known as Nakagami (中神) stayed 5-6 days at each of the 8 directions, and travel was banned in that direction depending on the year you were born. Yet another kami, Daishōgun (大将軍), stayed in each direction for 3 years, and although small errand were fine, larger projects were considered inauspicious. And yet another kami Dokujin (土公神) would dwell in different parts of the home depending on the season (the oven in spring, the gate in summer, etc) and doing repairs where Dokujin dwelled was forbidden. So if you had a broken gate in the summer, you had to wait until fall to fix it.

But it wasn’t just the movement of the gods. Births and deaths were considered “traumatic” events, and there were bad days for cutting hair, for visiting sick people, etc. For this reason, there were many kinds of “abstinences” or monoimi (物忌み) that involved elements of Buddhism and Shinto. In the case of Shinto, these were intended to to purify oneself in a Shinto context to avoid misfortune caused by evil spirits. In a Buddhist context, these abstinences would also repay any past, bad karma, create merit, etc. Some abstinences were quite strict and one had to essentially shut themselves in a room for a day and see no one. Other abstinences were less-strict, but usually such people couldn’t receive guests or travel during such times. Pilgrimages to holy sites (Shinto and/or Buddhist) were common. Fasting and other activities were often required. Women who were having their period were automatically subject to abstinences and were not allowed to enter Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines due to the defilement of blood.

Lastly, every one night in 60 was a special night called kōshin no hi (庚申の日) where people had to stay up all night without sleep, or they risked death from certain poisons in the body. These “all-nighters” were mentioned in the Pillow Book a few times.

It’s amazing anyone got anything done back then.

When I first watched the famous Japanese film Onmyoji, a lot of it didn’t make sense to me. But once I started reading about Heian Period culture, and the beliefs back then, the film was a lot more interesting to me. Plus, I like Nomura Mansai and Sanada Hiroyuki anyway. :)

But in any case, the world of the Heian Court was a real world of demons and evil spirits, taboos and angry kami. Because I am a computer-engineer living in 21st century USA, it’s hard to imagine living in a world like that, but people from that era would find my world just as strange. It reminds of the Zelazny book Jack of Shadows and the dialogue about seeing reality (posted here):

“You were both correct,” said [the demon] Morningstar. “It is the same thing that you both describe, although neither of you sees it as it really is. Each of you colors reality in keeping with your means of controlling it. For if it is uncontrollable, you fear it. Sometimes then, you color it incomprehensible. In your case, a machine; in theirs, a demon.”

21st century man, like the men of the Heian Period in Japan, each struggle to control reality around them, and to label the unknown.