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Buddha said: “I consider the positions of kings and rulers as that of dust motes. I observe treasures of gold and gems as so many bricks and pebbles. I look upon the finest silken robes as tattered rags. I see myriad worlds of the universe as small seeds of fruit, and the greatest lake in India as a drop of oil on my foot. I perceive the teachings of the world to be the illusion of magicians. I discern the highest conception of emancipation as a golden brocade in a dream, and view the holy path of the illuminated ones as flowers appearing in one’s eyes. I see meditation as a pillar of a mountain, Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime. I look upon the judgment of right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and fall of beliefs as but traces left by the four seasons.”

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I just finished reading this amazing book. It’s written by American novelist Dave Eggers and is a fictionalised autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. To write the book, Eggers collaborated with Deng, listening to and recording his remarkable and tragic story. The book follows Deng, one of the Sudanese “Lost Boys” who lived through the recent civil war and became a refugee living in America. It bounces back and forth between his present life in America and his long journey to get there.

Deng spent his early childhood growing up in a small village in southern Sudan until a civil war erupted around him, starting a long fight for survival. After his village is attacked by Arab militia he flees alone and joins thousands of other children as they journey across Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and finally Kenya before he is accepted as a refugee in America. Along the way he must overcome almost insurmountable obstacles such as wild animal attacks, starvation and attacks from military forces. It’s an amazing story, brilliantly told which shows what humans are capable of, both good and bad, when the fragile fabric of society breaks down. Well worth a read.

ontheroadI’ve just started reading Jack Kerouac again. Having my ipod out of action and a long train ride south of the river to bear I dug into the mountain of books piled high in the corner of the lounge room, sifted through yellowed pages to find the cover of Big Sur looking up at me. It was like meeting an old friend. Kerouac is an author I always find myself re-reading and never tire of. His words never fail to inspire and amaze. Like all his novels Big Sur is Autobiographical and follows Jack after the publication of his breakthrough novel On The Road as he struggles to deal with the pressures and expectations of success and fame. It begins with Jack waking from an alcoholic daze in a cheap hotel. His friends have given up waiting for him and have headed up the coast from San Francisco to a shack on a beach in Big Sur. Jack, desperate to escape the City follows them up and eventually finds himself alone at the shack. Here, before heading back to the City to see old friends, he meditates on his life and his initial peace of mind slowly unravels until he is once again left to struggle with his demons and self-destructs into an alcoholic delirium.

Here is a recording of Kerouac reading the first section of his book Old Angel Midnight, a collection of spontaneous prose pieces first published in 1959.

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal. Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away. Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.” – Excerpt from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones edited by Paul Reps.

Mukaiji-Reibo excerpt by Goro Yamaguchi

I often find that when looking for a new book to read that the right book finds you and not the other way around. Such was the case last week during my lunch break from work. I had just finished reading Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh and having nowhere else to be I slipped into the Oxfam shop just off the Hampstead High Street. It was here that I found a cheap secondhand copy of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. An author I had heard much about and seen one or two film adaptations but never read. Two pounds forty-nine later it was mine. Suffice to say from the first paragraph to the last any spare moment was spent devouring it’s lovely prose. Chandler’s first book, originally published in 1939, it follows the private eye Philip Marlowe as he attempts to solve the blackmail case of a dying rich widower and his two wild daughters. An essential read! 5/5.

An excerpt – I braked the car against the curb and switched the headlights off and sat with my hands on the wheel. Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.

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