Thursday, May 21, 2015

From ‘Full Circle’ by Michael Palin


The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of the world’s surface and around it lives one-third of the world’s population.

The spontaneity, the music and the infectious need to share feelings is very Russian. Its what makes them great huggers, great embracers, great celebrants of either joy or gloom. Mood-swings are part of the national character and I know of few countries where they are so unconcealed.

……..sixty-seven per cent of Japan remains either forest or woodland

Korean is a central Asian tongue, which has more in common with Hungarian and Finnish than anything oriental.

Korea…. Intense commercial competitiveness (Japanese cars, films and music are banned in Korea) and an almost manic drive to modernize in the international way. (As of last week it became official government policy to convert all Korea’s toilets from squat to Western style.)

….a joke which sums up the national stereotypes.
The scene is a restaurant.
‘Excuse me,’ says the waiter, ‘there is no more beef.’
The North Korean replies, ‘What’s “beef”?’
The Japanese, ‘What’s “no more”?’
And the South Korean ‘What’s “excuse me”?’

As the coach moves off some of the Japanese are already asleep (I’ve never come across a nation which falls asleep so easily)

China …. We are treated to an official banquet tonight. The banquet here, as in Korea and to a certain extent Japan, is a vital part of any business relationship. Unless you can drink a lot in the company of other men who drink a lot you are not really to be trusted.
Our host is the vice-head of the local Foreign Relations Department, which keeps an eye on overseas guests to make sure they have everything they want, except what you don’t want them to have.

The Chinese may tolerate bad surroundings but they won’t tolerate bad food.

Birds are pretty rare in China – outside soup and cages.

John, who’s particularly partial to a bit of stomach, admits that the Chinese will eat most things if they’re cooked properly..

The famous observation on Philippine history: ‘Three hundred years in the convent, fifty years in Hollywood’ …. The Spanish took a firm hold of the islands in 1565. The Americans bought them from the Spanish in 1898. The Filipinos had to wait until 1946 to run their own affairs. Culture, traditions and social attitudes reflect Europe and America. Not the East.

….Manila … a city of ten million, forty-four per cent of whom are officially homeless.

…..the owner…a jolly Filipino (not that I’ve met a Filipino who isn’t jolly)

….Malaysia ….a country run politically by Muslims and economically by the Chinese.

….the famously smelly delicacy durian which, as they say here, ‘smells like him, tastes like her.’

In Java there were eight hundred and fifty people for every square kilometer of land, in Australia, just two.

While its near neighbor Java is one of the newest, least stable and most fertile lands in the world, Australia is one of the oldest, driest, and the most inhospitable.

New Zealand …They [Maoris] called the place Aotearoa – ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ (which has been adapted by some Maori activists to ‘Land of the Wrong White Crowd’).

As the early European settlers flourished on the rich, well-watered grasslands, Maori numbers fell – by the end of the nineteenth century, from over a hundred thousand to less than forty thousand. Since then they have grown to half a million, and the Europeans to around three million

…Auckland (where almost one in three New Zealanders live)

Chile is not a densely populated country, its just that everyone wants to live in the middle. Santiago and its surrounding heartland are home to seventy per cent of a population of thirteen and a half million. The capital itself has five million people……

The Chuquicamata mine …..Copper production is a hugely wasteful process. Five hundred and fifty thousand tons of rock are extracted every day, of which only 160,000 tons are processed, and only one per cent will contain copper.

….I remember reading in Charles Nicholl’s fine novel, The Fruit Palace: ‘Fifteen million people live in Mexico City and it smells as if they all farted at once’

You’re never alone in Mexico. Never.


From ‘The Myth of Wu Tao-Tzu’ by Sven Lindqvist


Few deserts are so well taken care of as the Australian. Every stone, every bush, every waterhole has its specific owner and custodian, its sacred history and religious significance. Every holy place has its own holy picture.
The eternal truths of Aboriginal religion are expressed in the surrounding landscape…..

‘Following the summer of 1902 came a hard winter. Great numbers of the unemployed formed into processions, as many as a dozen at a time, and daily marched through the streets of London crying for bread.’
That I had never seen in Stockholm. I had never seen ‘tottery old men and women searching in the garbage for rotten potatoes, beans, and vegetables.’

……..Hermann Hesse…….. wrote an article on the task of intellectuals in war……..
The first casualty of war is the truth. Does a Japanese drama become worse because the Japanese fleet has shelled Tsingtao? Has a bad German book become superior to an English book because those countries are at war? …..
That is what they want us to think. We must refuse to participate in this deceit.
It is understandable that politicians and soldiers are blinded by hatred of the enemy. But when intellectuals are also seized by warmongering and write battle poems, boycott ‘enemy’ art and defame whole peoples – who will then defend the truth?
Goethe did not write war poems in 1813. He retained his own inner freedom and followed his intellectual conscience. Anyone who has once believed in the idea of humanity, in the universality of science, in art with no national boundaries, must not betray his conviction now that it is being put to the test. If intellectuals betray spiritual values, war will destroy the foundations of Europe. Someone must uphold peace even if the whole world is at war. Someone must attempt to preserve as much peace as possible – that is the task the future poses today.

Each stroke is irretrievable. Alteration is a mortal sin and a child can spot it. So in calligraphy it is often a matter of waiting, but never hesitating.

Calligraphy is not an art for the rebel. It is based on disciplined spontaneity, inconceivable without rules and doctrine. The doctrine is the sum of tradition: a way of performing. Mastery consists of achieving freedom in relation to tradition. And freedom consists of a kind of assimilation of the rules agreed on, so that no decision from above is necessary. Judgement can be left to the hand.

You no longer support the arrow once it has left the bow, runs an old saying.
So write nothing on the first day. Just look at the character and let it sink into your consciousness. Don’t write on the next day either. Just wait and let your desire work until the knowledge has penetrated throughout your entire body.
Wait until your hand knows it.
And nothing else.
Wait until your hand is empty and everything else has fallen out of it.
But when your entire consciousness embraces the character ande nothing else – then grind the ink, pick up the brush and give your hand the freedom of your heart. And with one strong blow, as if from the tail of a fish, your ‘self’ has vanished.
It is in your hand that everything has to be. At every moment it chooses between a thousand possibilities. It is too late to issue orders. It is not the time to explain. Whatever does not exist stored as experience in your hand is useless. What at that moment does not go up into the movement is irrelevant. Your will can only block. It is useless to draw in air and pump yourself up. It can happen only by itself. We want to draw inside what is beyond our control and thus force it. But what is best will never allow itself to be forced. That can be achieved only in the way the calligrapher achieves it.

Although my arms, legs, head and body still obeyed me, at the same time they added something extra, something quite unnecessary. I wanted to place my hands and feet naturally, but they made certain flourishes of their own, and that resulted in a pose – like at a photographer’s.
Strange! Although I am an ordinary, natural person, I simply couldn’t sit still, and behaved like a bad actor. Theatrical falseness was closer to me than genuine naturalness. They said afterwards that my expression turned stupid and I looked guilty.
‘Lets go on now’, said Tortsov, after I had been tormented enough. ‘But we’ll eventually come back to these exercises and learn to sit still.’
‘Teach us to sit?’ the pupils said in wonder. ‘Wasn’t that what we were doing?’
‘No,’ replied Tortsov firmly. ‘You weren’t content just to sit still.’
‘What should we have done, then?’
Instead of answering, Tortsov quickly got up and walked in a businesslike manner over to the chair, then sank into it as if he were back at home.

Afghanistan – an old tribal society where man is still not subdued. Everyone I meet considers himself to be just as much a human being as I am. After India, this is wonderful, refreshing, an almost unbelievable experience.
Is it their religion? Or is it the mountains? Or that they have never been colonized? It is certainly not a high standard of living and modern civilization. The poverty is profound. Here as everywhere the big farmer, the usurer and the merchant form a steadfast trinity. But there is counterbalance.
‘The rich have traditional duties to the village and the family. That has an economically levelling effect.’

It is said that a travelling foreigner can get shot in Afghanistan. No such risk in India, but I would rather be afraid myself than see others cringe.
The British brought peace and order to India. They created a kind of rule of law, but that also entailed the right of the landowner, the usurer, and the merchant to oppress. It made the masses helpless in the hands of those who had the economic and social advantage.
Guns and a wild determination to use them were what saved the Afghans from being civilized by the British Empire. And nothing but guns and determination will, in a pre-democratic, pre-organized society, guarantee that the interests of the people are to some extent satisfied.
I am a pacifist. But after seeing the fear, the mad fright in Indian eyes, that unnatural abasement both ostentatious and ashamed, but most of all cowed, humiliated and broken – after having been in India, I am glad to see armed peasants.

It must be possible. The prospect of a clearer and freer way of living has always been held out to me. It must exist. I’ve seen it in poetry and pictures. I’ve heard it in music. There’s a fearlessness there which makes my life foolish. There are opportunities for happiness there which frighten me more than unhappiness. There’s an abyss in reverse, and one falls upwards.
Why, then, do I live as I do?


……India ……… But if you don’t hang yourself in your hotel room on the very first evening – and what use would that be? – then a creeping dehumanization occurs. The simplest humanity demands that you try to save the life of another person. In a city where the cleansing department collects the bodies of the dead off the streets at dawn and in uncertain cases turns the sleeping over with a foot to see if they are still alive – in a city of that kind, even the simplest humanity demands too much. You lose faith in it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

From ‘Things can only get Feta. Two journalists and their crazy dog living through the Greek Crisis’ by Marjory McGinn

George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote: ‘I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.’




Greeks pour onto the beaches in August as this is the month when they take their holidays en masse. Greeks have no issue about crowds and space, unlike the British. We like our personal space and exclusivity, whereas they adore parea, company and closeness, which is why there is no word in the Greek language for ‘privacy’ as we know it. The Oxford Learner’s (Greek English) Dictionary translates privacy with the Greek words for ‘loneliness’ or ‘secrecy’.



….in a culture where dogs are chained to trees night and day, often standing in their own excrement. It was the most frustrating part of the Greek culture for us – the attitude to animals.

From ‘The Wisdom of Compassion. Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights’ by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan

“Some mysterious things certainly there,” the Dalai Lama continued his reply to the rabbi. “We believe that these so-called higher beings have more energy than us. At a practical level, much depend on our own effort. If our effort comes, then some of these positive energies, I think, we can connect. From the Buddhist viewpoint, these higher beings develop higher energy because of their practice of altruism….”




“……reincarnation………If you ask me what explanation Buddhism? Then I will say: life after life. This physical body, together with our grosser mind, cease to exist. But our main mind, this means our more subtle mind, will continue. Another life begins.”



…the Dalai Lama has himself witnessed certain phenomena that his rational mind finds hard to explain…..the death of his senior tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who died at the age of eighty-one …… Although Ling Rinpoche was clinically dead – his breathing had stopped and there was no pulse – he remained in some form of meditation for thirteen days. During this time, the area around his heart remained warm, and his body, unmoving in a meditative pose, showed no signs of deterioration. On the last day, his head dropped and a small amount of blood escaped from his nostrils. The Dalai Lama believed that it was only then that Ling Rinpoche’s consciousness finally left his body.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

From ‘Editor Unplugged. Media, Magnates, Netas & Me’ by Vinod Mehta


Malcolm Muggeridge ……. ‘Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time.’ ….Enoch Powell edict: ‘All political careers, unless they are cut off midstream …end in failure.’

It is common knowledge that investing in a media company yields very low, if any, returns. In fact, the corporate owner invests precisely because he longs to influence editorial policy. And for such influence he is prepared to risk a few million rupees.

Groucho Marx quipped, ‘Of course I have principles, and if you don’t like those, I have others.’

The precondition for a successful love search required, and I use [Bertrand] Russell’s worlds, ‘all passion to be quenched’

George Orwell: ‘Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.’

In the introduction he was excessively eulogized. [Malcolm] Muggeridge began his speech saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, when people tell me who I am I can hardly wait to hear myself speak.’

In Bertolt Brecht’s acclaimed play Galileo, one of the characters makes an excellent point, ‘Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’ …. F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘Show me a hero,’ he said, ‘and I will write you a tragedy.’

We, the middle class, have concurrently created ‘pockets of California and sub-Saharan Africa’. ….Half of India’s population (600 million) defecates in public, 50 per cent of Indian children are stunted due to malnourishment, 50 per cent of women are anaemic…..


Whether it is fair to label the BJP as communal is debatable. What is not debatable is the fact that at the heart of the Sangh Parivar communal elements prosper. They become less or more vocal depending on how the Lotus is blooming.

From ‘Baba Amte. A Vision of New India’ by Hans Staffner S J


When asked whether he had drawn inspiration from any particular school of thought or leader Amte replied: “Yes, from several: Marx, Ruskin, Mao, Kropotkin, Tagore and Gandhi.”

The particular image under which Gandhiji chooses to worship God is Truth. In later years he does no longer say that God is Truth, but rather, that Truth is God. Gandhiji is not so much a theorist as a man of action. He prefers to define God in terms of a practical method of approaching Him rather than in terms of an abstract idea. We experience God by experiencing what is best in us. …..Gandhiji intends to state we can approach God by clinging to the Truth, by being true to what is best in us….being faithful to the voice within, to the voice of conscience, to the voice of God…clinging to the sanatana dharma….the law which is imprinted in man’s heart. Clinging to the sanatana dharma is not necessarily the same as clinging to the written dharma, the traditional law. The sanatana dharma is higher than all traditional or written law.
It is an ancient Indian insight that on account of human weakness errors may creep into the traditional law. From time to time people with deep spiritual insight will discover such errors and condemn them in the light of their insight into the sanatana dharma…..
….Though orthodox Hindus maintain that untouchability is prescribed by the Hindu dharma, and the law of Manu seems to bear them out, the reformers agree with Gandhiji, who following in the footsteps of Yudhishthira declares. “I decline to be bound by any interpretation of dharma, however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason and to moral sense,” and he declared untouchability to be an ineffaceable blot which Hinduism carries with it”, and insisted that it be abolished.

In his reply to the Templeton Foundation Baba Amte states: For me there is no better religion than the one that builds inside human beings a sense of dignity and self-esteem. I am glad this definition of religion seems acceptable. I am not religious, traditionally speaking, but I feel religion is that force which builds a stronger and more righteous human being.” 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

From ‘Travels with Epicurus. Meditations from a Greek Island on the Pleasures of Old Age’ by Daniel Klein


It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness.
-          Epicurus

Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance
-          Epicurus

The islanders say that on a man who has weathered challenging experiences, a finely seasoned face will emerge in old age. It is the face he has earned, and its raw beauty is in the fully lived life it expresses.

What Epicurus mainly had on his mind was the question of how to live the best possible life, especially considering that we only have one of them – Epicurus did not believe in an afterlife.

….Epicurus….aphorism…. “Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”

Epicureans consider communal silence a hallmark of true friendship.

… [Epicurus] wrote, “Of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.”

…Epicurus believed that choosing with whom one eats dinner is far more significant than choosing what the menu should be. “Before you eat or drink anything, carefully consider with whom you eat or drink rather than what you eat or drink, because eating without a friend is the life of a lion or the wolf.”
By the joys of friendship, Epicurus meant a full range of human interactions ranging from intimate and often philosophical discussions with his dearest companions ….to impromptu exchanges with people, known and unknown, in the street. The education or social status of those with whom he conversed mattered not a whit; in fact the height of true friendship was to be accepted and loved for who one was, not what station in lie one had achieved. Loving and being loved affirmed one’s sense of self and conquered feelings of loneliness and alienation. It kept one sane.

Michel de Montaigne, the sixteenth-century French essayist….wrote, “And with Epicurus, I conceive that pleasures are to be avoided if greater pains be the consequence, and pains to be coveted that will terminate in greater pleasures.”

….Epicurus’s dying words to his friend Idomeneus: “On this blissful day, which is also the last of my life, I write this to you. My continual sufferings from strangury [bladder spasms] and dysentery are so great that nothing could increase them; but I set above them all the gladness of mind at the memory of our past conversations.”

In every real man a child is hidden who wants to play.
-          Friedrich Nietzsche

…the bedouin saying, “Beware of what you desire, for you shall always get it.” ….Oscar Wilde: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst”

Memory is the mother of all wisdom
-          Aeschylus

Charles Dickens begins his masterwork David Copperfield, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.
-          Jean-Paul Sartre

….Friedrich Nietzsche…wrote, “When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory.”

Kierkegaard….wrote, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”

…Aristotle’s observation, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

The best remedy for anger is delay
-          Seneca

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds to religion
-          Francis Bacon

Take more time, cover less ground

-          Thomas Merton