My First Step onto the Taoist Path

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To be honest, I never thought that anyone would be interested in how I got started on the Taoist path.  It never seemed to be that interesting a process to me, but since I have had several queries by separate individuals asking about my own personal journey, please allow me to share my story with you, my precious fellow travelers.

This was how I became a Taobabe.

girlSadLet me be perfectly clear.  I wasn’t always a Taoist.

In fact, I was born into a Catholic family and was baptized (with special holy water) at a bona fide Catholic church.  My saint name was (still is) Maria, and my godmother was none other than a Catholic nun.

I was a good Catholic.  I went to church every Sunday with my family, and while everyone sat stupefied, with drool running down their chins, I would earnestly listen to the priest drone on and on about the sins of mankind and how we were all going to hell in a handbasket.

It was often quite boring, but I did my best to comprehend what I was hearing because as young as I was, I had decided that it was important to understand the Words of a most sacred Deity.

The knowledge was so important to me that I taught myself to read Vietnamese just so that I could read the bible cover-to-cover.  I wanted to understand the bible because, for some God-damned stupid reason, I felt the need to verify what the priests talked about every Sunday.

You see, I had learned early on that even adults sometimes got things wrong, and I could not afford to believe an adult’s version of the Words of a most sacred Deity without double-checking the exact same passages for myself.

It was a serious labor of love because I did not know how to read, and so I had to teach myself as best as I could, using a dictionary and asking my parents when I got stuck.  I had not yet attended formal schooling, you see.  I was only five years old at that time.

maryEven at that young age, I had determined that my favorite color was blue.  Not just any old blue, mind you.  It had to be the exact shade of a deep sky blue that Maria, the Mother of Jesus wore on her cloak.

I loved the color, not because of the color itself but because Mother Mary wore it.  I loved her white skin, her blue eyes, her light brown hair, and her European features.

I thought she was the most beautiful woman ever to have been born on the face of the Earth.  She was even more beautiful than my own mother, whose skin was not as pale, and whose hair was so much darker than hers.

You have to forgive me.  I was so very young and so very brainwashed.

But slowly, as my reading comprehension grew, I began to realize that she was of a different race than I was.  I also became aware that Mary, and everyone who was ever mentioned in that holy book, was from Israel.  Furthermore, they were all Jewish.

At the wizened and weary age of seven, I renounced Catholicism  after I grocked onto the fact that I was not, and could never be, part of the Christian God’s special chosen children, the Israelites.  I was born in the wrong area of the world to the wrong race of people, and no amount of amelioration from those around me could convince me otherwise.

Since I KNEW that I was a special kid, I didn’t want to be one of his leftover children, someone who was not his chosen, but was accepted out of pity or forbearance.  My reasoning was simple, and as it turned out, quite brilliant.  I deduced that if the Israelites had their own God, my own people must also have our own God, someone who had chosen us to be his special people.

It was then that I made a conscious decision to look for a God who would accept me as I was, a little Asian girl with no special skills, or great beauty, or amazing powers.  I didn’t know if there was such an entity as an Asian God, but I was going to go searching for him.

I started by asking my family about our family’s past and about our ancestral religions, and I found out some pretty cool stuff.

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First, I found out I was the grandchild of a courtier.  My paternal grandfather was an herbal medicine man who worked for the royal court due to the fact that he was the younger of two sons in the family of a royal bureaucrat, a mandarin, if you will, with a now-defunct title similar to that of a duke.

The paternal family had three major religions, intertwined with each other.  The first was Ancestor Worship (more on this later), the second was Confucianism, and the third was Taoism.  Of the three, Ancestor Worship was the only one that actually had any type of formal ceremony.

The other two (C and T) were philosophical bents that the family ascribed to through thousands of years of adherence by word-of-mouth teachings.  My family were court scholars and so were very well-versed in both Confucianistic and Taoist thinking.

Since I knew my ancestors were not gods of any sort, this religion was the first to be discarded.  Confucianism was the second religion to go because although the man was a smart cookie, I knew he wasn’t a god either.

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That left Taoism as the final avenue for me to explore, but it was not easy to seek out information about Taoism because approachable books on this subject were very rare (emphasis on approachable).  They were also not left in every hotel nightstand around the country like bibles are.

girlHandFaceSince I could not find much on Taoism, I started searching through Buddhism, thinking perhaps it was similar to Taoism.  This was when I began going to the Nichiren Shōshū  temple and learning the Gongyo Lotus Sutra.

I was sincerely hoping that I could find the God that would regard me (and others like me) as his special chosen people.  But once again, I hit that same realization regarding Nichiren as I did Confucius.

Nichiren was no more a god than Confucius was.

Furthermore, I found Buddhism’s ideology to be quite pessimistic, and as a child who was more often than not, full of joie de vivre, its teachings of suffering did not resonate with me.  To put it simply, I was vibrating on a different wavelength, and constant suffering was not within the range of my amplitude.

By this time, I was 13 and a confirmed atheist.  I was convinced there was NOTHING out there.

NOTHING to find.  NOTHING to discover.  NOTHING to see.

I was barely a teenager, and I had given up on finding the divine in life.

tao-of-pooh-book-coverThis went on for a few more years until the 80s when, by a chance happenstance, I was in the library returning some books when I ran across a slim volume called The Tao of Pooh.

Something in me came alive and I grabbed the book.  Although I no longer believed in anything godly, I was still a curious kid and wanted to know what the heck Taoism was.

I zipped through the book in a very short time and a smile began to form on my face.  In very basic English, using very approachable colors and characters, the tenets of Taoism were presented in simple to understand language with nothing to mar its clean elegance.

To be fair, The Tao of Pooh was not an in depth study of Taoism, but it was not missing anything major.  The book explained in black and white, the basics of Taoism, and while there were no shades of grey in such a simple book, it was enough to kickstart my adventure into Taoism.

Those missing shades of grey, I would spend the next couple of decades trying to discern.  Even so, I did not think of myself as a practicing Taoist until I met my brother Derek Lin.  When I visited him at his temple, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a Taoist temple because to me, it always seemed as if it should be a philosophy, as opposed to a religion.

My decision to forego joining a formal Taoist temple was mostly due to my early experiences with formalized religion–experiences which had left a bad taste in my mouth.  I could no longer accept being taught about God in that primary school, memorization methodology.  I wanted to explore and find God for myself, in a more organic manner.

And find God, I did.

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The highest goodness resembles water ~ Lao Tzu

In that one line, I had found the God that I was looking for.

A drop of water in an endless ocean is not only part of the ocean, it also contains the ocean within the boundary of its droplet form, held together by its surface tension.  This completely satisfies that duality requirement of Taoism I wrote about in one of my posts, Change (Part 5):  Sequent Change.  I didn’t have to go looking for God in any temple, or religion, or plane of existence called heaven.  God was not only within me, God was also all around me.

Furthermore, unlike Confucius or any of the Buddhas, none of whom ever claimed to be God, the Tao is actually another word for God.  In fact, we can use any word to replace the word God–the Tao, the Universe, the Force, the Source–it’s all the same entity that flows through us, and is contained within us.  I can call myself a Taoist or a Universalist or a Forcist or a Sourcist.  It really does not matter because it is nameless, and the nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.

144 Billion Bottles of Beer on the Wall

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144 billion bottles of beer on the wall, 144 billion bottles of beer.
Take one down and pass it around, one hundred forty-three billion nine hundred ninety-nine million nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.

I wonder how long it’s going to take to sing this song until we get to ‘one bottle of beer’.  It’s an academic question, certainly, since nobody would be crazy enough to try and sing the whole blasted song.  But that’s my point exactly.  We have no idea how absolutely huge 144 billion is until we are forced to think of it as a single bottle of beer for each count.

Now, expand the mind and think of each bottle of beer as an Earth-size, Earth-like planet.  This means that all Earth-sized planets that do not have an atmosphere, or with an atmosphere that cannot support carbon life forms, have been rejected.  Likewise for planets that are too large or too small, or too close to the sun, or too far from the sun, or are single roving wanderers without a solar system to call their own.

This list is so exclusive that if I, a single frail human being, cannot walk around on that planet without suffering undue physical ailments, it is summarily struck from being included as part of that 144 billion exoplanets that can support life within the Milky Way galaxy.

The rejection list must have numbered in the hundreds and thousands of billions of planets, I’m sure, with the end result being that there are estimates upwards of around 144 billion (> 1011) habitable Earth-like exoplanets (FYI:  an exoplanet is a planet outside of our own solar system) just in our galaxy alone.

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We’re not even talking about the other (in far excess of) 100 billion galaxies in the Universe THAT WE CAN SEE, each with their own hundreds of billions of suns and planets.  Obviously, there are many more that we just don’t have the capability to see yet with our poor limited telescopes.

This is the gist of what Dr. Kopparapu, expert with the Kepler Mission, estimates [1] :

  • Stars in the Galaxy : 400 billion
  • The number of habitable earth-like exoplanets in our Milky Way Galaxy : 144 billion (> 1011).
  • The OORT Cloud around our Sun (it is also hypothesized by some astronomers that most suns have OORT clouds) is estimated :
    • to contain : several trillion individual asteroids (objects) larger than 1 km (0.62 mi).
    • to reach 1 light year towards the next closest star just 4 light years away – Proxima Centauri.

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I’m not a mathematician, but this kind of number boggles my brain and makes me want to know:

What is the chance that at least ONE of these planets would be harboring intelligent life?  Is it that far-fetched to think there is intelligent life out there?  After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

But even then…I’m not too sure about that so-called ‘lack of evidence’.  I’m sure evidence turns up everywhere we look.  Many of the world’s leaders are just not admitting publicly at this time, but I have a very strong feeling that there is probably much more out there than they are willing to admit.

People around me laugh when they hear someone talk about aliens from outer space.  They think that folks who believe there might be intelligent life outside of Earth can’t have all their marbles in the correct order, but does having the ability to line up marbles in matching rows indicate mental stability, or does it just indicate an obsessive compulsive nature?

Furthermore, once we intellectually grasp the sheer volume—the mind-boggling number of possible Earth-like planets out there, can we even consider ourselves mentally stable if we DON’T believe or CAN’T contemplate the possibility of intelligent life outside of Earth?

My point in belaboring this is, if even just ONE of these planets harbor intelligent life, that means we are not alone and that everything we think we know about life has just instantly vanished to be replaced by a new paradigm of thought.  This new inclusive though process is one that will demolish and then replace every single philosophical ideology we currently hold dear.  If we think it is difficult to love our fellow human beings, we will find the next step to be herculean.  But it would be an ultimate labor of love, a hurdle that we must overcome and embrace, or we will find ourselves sliding backwards into barbarism and eventually, into oblivion.

But I have great hopes for humankind.  We simply need enough critical mass to hit that tipping point.  It would be a new chapter in the book of Humanity.  We would have to learn how to view all the different races of sentient beings as being part of the Universe that we are also a part of.  We would have to begin to grasp the concept of true Universal love and then apply it towards living entities that may or may not even look remotely human.

For the sake of humanity’s future, I sincerely hope we are able to find enough love within our hearts to cross that great divide and find a common ground with those who are very different from us—those whose only connection to us is the fact that they are created from the same star-stuff that we are also composed of.

Ultimately, we are all children of the stars.

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1.  www.bcmeteors.net

Karma Is so Passé

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Karma—the heart and soul of the idea of cause-and-effect in action—is also one of Taoism’s most basic tenets.  There is no arguing its validity.  Its footprint is seen in all aspects of physics and chemistry and mathematics.  Newton’s third law eloquently states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  Of course, he is talking about gravity, but as the scientific community has been finding out, piece-meal and in spurts and starts, gravity is part-and-parcel of something far grander, with huge sweeping implications about everything, including our own existence (but more on this later).

For dyed-in-the-wool Taoists, karma is not even a debatable point.  It is a ‘point of non-contention’.  It is one that, should I wish to contest with any serious Taoist, will result in either a verbal duet or, if I’m lucky, a serene, polite, loaded smile from the Taoist who has decided that I am not a worthy opponent to waste time on.  My seriousness as a Taoist will be forever questioned by those who know all about Taoism and the Taoist tenet.  I would be viewed as a trouble-maker, a troll (if I were to bring this up in a Taoist forum), or worse yet, an extremely unenlightened soul who has somehow gotten lost amongst the weeds.  My spiritual brother, Derek Lin, would probably be mortified but gentle in his approach of coaching me through ‘the vagaries of my tormented soul’.  (Thank you for putting up with me all these years, Derek).

shorthaircropIt is then, for the practicing Taoist, a straightforward blasphemy to question the efficacy and truth of karma.  To be fair, I am not questioning karma’s scientific reality.  I accept that there are truths which are self-evident, and karma is one of them.  If you don’t believe me, try punching a boxer’s punching bag and you will see karma in action.

What I am questioning is the need to use karma as a reward/punishment tool in order to live one’s life and to travel on one’s path.  As Arthur Paliden so eloquently stated:  True morality is doing what is right without the threat of divine retribution nor the possibility of divine reward.

This concept of ‘true morality’ is not singularly aimed at the straight-and-narrow Taoists (you know who you are).  This applies to non-Taoists too—all the conservative, entrenched, dogmatic non-Taoists—the ones who smile at me in such sweet ways as I talk about esoteric topics like this, all the while thinking they have been cursed with walking part of life’s path alongside one gnarly, bombastic, intellectually inferior blonde female.

I want to know what would happen if we woke up one day and found that karma was a lie—that nothing untoward would happen to us in any other reality or plane of existence should we decide to commit some atrocity (like throwing trash out the window of a moving car, or stealing twenty dollars out of our spouse’s wallet).  Would we still do what is the morally right thing to do, or would we throw all cares to the wind and commit all sorts of crimes just because we know there would be no ramifications to our actions?

Since the Tao means ‘the path’ or ‘the way’, how far have we managed to crawl on the path if the hope of some nebulous reward or the fear of some horrible retribution is the only thing keeping us from doing what is morally right?  Isn’t following some reward/punishment model a rather juvenile mode d’existence?  As students of Taoism, shouldn’t our goal be to eliminate the need to follow that reward/punishment model?  Shouldn’t we be ignoring any and all karmically-induced possibilities and just—LIVE?  Shouldn’t we just live and TRUST in the idea that all our actions and what we do, we are doing because our soul needs to do them in order to advance forward?

Damn straight—you heard me right.  I’m saying just throw karma to the wind.  Blow it off.  Wipe it out of your conscious and subconscious mind.  Live free and unfettered of its influence.  Throw off its yoke.  Embrace a world without karma.  Do what you normally do and trust in yourself because maybe—just maybe—we are put here to test-drive and try out what it feels like to live and make choices, and that all those choices are valuable experiences, ones that can only be experienced in the 3-dimensional world.  Some choices will be rather poor, resulting in desultory results, while other choices will be much better, with a more positive outcome, but they will all be there with only one raison d’être, and that is to allow us to fully explore what it is to be human.

I say this because looking back on my life, the biggest advancements that I have made to my spiritual growth have mostly been from those times when I have made serious, grievous mistakes.  Without committing those mistakes, would I have ever understood why they were not the correct courses of action to take?  I don’t think so.  No amount of philosophizing on paper, or verbal discourses of the merits of those actions would have impacted me as quickly or as deeply as having lived through those actions and appropriately equal reactions.

Insofar as how far along the path I’ve traveled, I think I probably need to do a few more rounds of life training before I can honestly say that I’m ready to join the adults upstairs, not because I seriously need karma to remind me to be morally honest, but because I need to think about it at all.

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The Copper-Nickel Alloy Oracle

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Suprahuman intelligence has from the beginning made use of three mediums of expression—men, animals, and plants, in each of which life pulsates in a different rhythm.  Chance came to be utilized as a fourth medium; the very absence of an immediate meaning in chance permitted a deeper meaning to come to expression in it.  The oracle was the outcome of this use of chance.  The (I Ching) is founded on the plant oracle as manipulated by men with mediumistic powers.  ~ Shuo Kua as translated by Richard Wilhelm

Plants.  The basis for almost all life starts with plant growth and photosynthesis.  True, it is the sun which provides this energy, but the sun’s energy cannot be utilized without this powerhouse, able to generate light rays into something that can be absorbed by other life forms.  From this process, we get our food and oxygen, neither of which we can do without.  In essence, we, as beings of light, cannot internalize and absorb the light that we need to maintain our physical bodies without the aid of these light-processing-machines.  It is, therefore fitting that the I Ching be founded on the plant oracle as this is most likely the most basic of the oracles.

I have always been fascinated by the idea that the I Ching uses the plant oracle.  Of course, I knew that yarrow stalks were used in ancient times to do divinations.  I just never saw the yarrow-stalk/plant-oracle connection until fairly recently, when I was reading through the Shuo Kua carefully, trying to discern a few puzzling oddities which I could not grasp fully.  For those who may not be familiar with the various wings (or commentaries) which were used to explain more fully, the form and function of the I Ching, the Shuo Kua is the eighth wing (out of ten).

I have done divinations using yarrow stalks, but let’s face it, I live in a jungle made up of concrete and silicon (Silicon Valley that is) and yarrow stalks are really hard to come by.  I tried for the longest time to at least maintain the traditions and use old Chinese coins to do divinations but even that fell by the wayside when I misplaced them due to a previous move where all my belongings got packed up and warehoused in a storage unit.  So what’s a girl to do if she needs to do a divination and cannot get her hands on either yarrow stalks or old Chinese coins?

Why…she uses brand new shiny American quarters, that’s what she does!!!

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I admit, the first time I did it, I was a bit on the hesitant side.  I felt as if I was doing something that a pure Taoist would frown on.

And then I laughed.

Why would a pure Taoist care about such surface things?  Taoists go with the flow.  We swim with the dolphins and we swim with the sharks.  We bend with the ebb and flow of time.  Ancient Taoists used yarrow stalks because they grew everywhere and was easy to access.  If one didn’t have money (and most folks back then didn’t have much in the way of hard currency), yarrow stalks allowed for divinations to be done without much fuss.  They simply used what was handily available.  Later, when coins became more commonly utilized, it was simpler to use coins, so yarrow stalks began to fall out of favor.  Now that Taoists occupy the world over, the international scene makes it difficult for us to have, on-hand, a stash of old Chinese copper coins.

And besides, my stash of old Chinese coins are so old that the greenish black stuff rubs off on my hands.  They also smell funny, which brings to mind the thought that once the Taoists switched over to using old Chinese coins, would that now change the basis of the plant oracle into the Copper Oracle?  And if I use American quarters, would it then be considered the copper-nickel alloy Oracle?

If so, then what, pray tell, is the man or animal oracle, as indicated in the Shuo Kuo where it states that there are ‘three mediums of expression—men, animals, and plants’?  Does that mean we have to use animals or humans as a method of divination?  Do we throw an animal into the air and see if it lands on its back or its feet?  Better yet, do we throw a man in the air and see if he lands on his head or his feet?

Or does it mean something completely different?

Hmmmmmm…..

(…to be continued)

 

Chu Dynasty I Ching

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Yet another sojourn through space and time, into the vast distant reaches of the I Ching’s various interpretations and compilations.  I finally got a chance to crack open the two-volume Chu-Dịch written by Phan Bội Châu, which means The I Ching, during the era of the Chu Dynasty (周朝) Chou Ch’ao.

zhoumapThe two short words that make up the title of the book, Chu-Dịch, is deep in meaning.  The Chu (Chou) Dynasty lasted between 1122–256 BC within the modern-era region of central-northern China.  It was at this time that perhaps the most comprehensive I Ching was compiled and consolidated into the form that is used today.

There were many allusions to this feat, which I had found in other books, but never got the chance to read the entire compilation.  In the Tam Tự Kinh (Three-Word Book), there is written, Có Dịch nhà Chu bĩ bàng, Sáu mươi bốn quẻ để trang sách hào.  These complex words, shortened to six hanzi characters mean: There is a comprehensive I Ching compiled during the Chou Dynasty of the sixty-four hexagrams created during the golden illustrious eras long past. 

The Tam Tự Kinh is a wonderful book, deserving of its own titled page, but today, I am only going to utilize it as source material to discuss the Chu Dịch volumes.  With the Chu-Dịch, I come as close as possible to the least modern stages of the I Ching, meaning that I am no longer reading a modern-day I-Ching that was translated into English for me a mere 100 years ago.  I am digging into a I Ching that was compiled two-thousand years ago from much earlier texts.

It is clear that the compilers (for they have clearly stated that they are not the original authors of these works, merely the compilers) based their work on much more ancient texts written in an ancient language long since lost to modern scholars.  They compiled the work into their modern-day written language, Hanzi, of which I cannot read, but a family member from the same clan as myself, the ancient house of Phan, has done the translation from ancient Han to ancient Việt court language, which has moved little from its Nôm roots.  This means I gain an even more intimate understanding of the I Ching than I could just by reading the English version of the I Ching.  It also means I can compare and contrast Richard Wilhelm’s definitive translation and gain a fuller understanding of how and where the Eastern and Western mind meets.

As I have pointed out in various other postings, the ancient land of the Việt people existed in the far distant past from the southern areas of present-day Việt Nam to the south banks of the Sông Trường Giang (Yangtze River).Yangtze_River_Map

This means that the compilation was done during the time when the Chu Dynasty was making huge conquests southward, claiming areas that were previously Việt, and also claiming as spoils of victory, the Việt Kinh (I Ching) for the Chu Dynasty.

Already, the first chapter of the Chu-Dịch has stated that the three largest philosophies (and it is stated as philosophy, not religion) of the Orient (the Eastern World) were Buddhism, Taoism, and Vietism.

OK, so there is no such English word as the I-Chingism, so I had to make up a new word to take the place of it.  I think Vietism works because the translation for I-Ching is Việt Kinh.  The word I is a rough mispronunciation of the word Yi, or Yiet, or Yuet, or Việt.  The word Ching is Kinh which means either book or religious writing such as a bible or holy book.

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Now, before anyone tears into my new terminology and goes for my jugular, I will emphatically state that this has absolutely nothing to do with nationalism and everything to do with my attempt to be as close to ancient etymology as possible.

Vietism is no longer a word or a philosophy because it has been erased from history by around 43AD, after the defeat of the Trung Sisters, when most of the area between the Sông Trường Giang (Yangtze River) and the Sông Hồng (Red River) was lost to the Han Chinese to the north.

I am going to attempt to recreate this philosophy, and henceforth, this word.

(…to be continued)

Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn

Per a request from a reader:

After I posted an article which featured this song, I was asked to translate it, so I happily obliged.  It also gives me the chance to tell you an ancient tale about Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn.

Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn

Ngọc Điện chốn kim môn cô ra vào
Ngọc Điện chốn kim môn danh thơm ngoài cõi tiếng đồn trong í í i i ì í i í trong cung
Sinh thay một thú cô đôi ngàn, bầu trời cảnh vật í i i ì í i,
Phong i quang bốn mùa ì trên bát ngát í trăm hoa đua nở dưới cảnh bầy cầm thú đua chơi
í i hi hì í a ới a a à à , ơi ới a a a à

Chim bay phấp phới mọi nơi cá treo ngược nước í i i ì í i
Lượn bơi vẫy vùng trên rừng tùng gió rung xao xác đỉnh sườn non đá vách cheo leo,
kìa dòng sông thương nước chảy trong veo í i ì í a ới a a à ới a à

Sông thương nước chảy trong veo
Thuyền xuôi người ngược í i i ì í i
Có tiếng hò reo vang lừng, nhìn đá núi mây hồng cao thấp
chứ ngàn cỏ hoa tăm tắp màu xanh

í i hi hì í a ới a a à à , ơi ới a a a à

Cô chơi bốn mùa gió mát trăng thâu i hoa thơm cỏ lạ í i i ì í i
mấy mầu ấm êm, nhìn cảnh vật rừng sim ao cá,
chứ đợt măng sang măng nứa măng tre, các bạn tiên đủng đỉnh ra về i ì ì i

Bài sai đố triệu lục cung, nàng ân nàng ái vốn dòng sơn trang
Tính cô hay măng trúc măng sang á a a á à à a

Hào quang sáng tỏ lưng trời
Một mầu xuân sắc tốt tươi rườm rà
Trên ngàn xanh lắm quả nhiều hoa á a a á à à a

ngàn xanh lắm quả nhiều hoa Cô đôi dạo gót vào ra sớm chiều.
Chiếc Gùi mây nặng trĩu lưng đeo
á a a á à à a (3)

The Translation:

The palace at Kim Môn (金門縣)[1], where she wanders about
The palace at Kim Môn, famous far and near
Reincarnate into a creature, the sky, the forest creatures,
Gentle winds blow all four seasons over fragrant flowers
on a meadow where tiny creatures play

Birds fly everywhere and fish jump upstream
Hawks glide over forested dale, atop the mountain ridge,
above the flowing crystal clear river Thương

The river Thương with its crystal clear flowing waters
Canoes going up stream, down stream
Along with the song of the people, look at the pink-cloud adorned mountain,
its ridges high and low, with its thousand trees and flowers, in various shades of green

She frolics through the four seasons, in gentle winds and clear moonshine,
on fragrant flowers and wondrous grasses
All colors warm and soft, the picture perfect paradise,
with ponds and  bamboo forests, along with her celestial fairy friends, go dancing home

A summons comes from the six palaces
she lovingly reincarnates into the village of Sơn Trang
Is it her or is it a bamboo bud?

Bright white aurora shines in the distant skies
A vibrant intense multi-faceted green
Above the skies showers many flowers and fruits

Above the skies showers many flowers and fruits
The Lady Đôi places her footprints on mortal lands
On her back a basket full of clouds

The Tale:

Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn is the youngest daughter of Lâm Cung Thánh Mẫu Thượng Ngàn (林宮聖母) King of the Forest aka Princess La Bình,  who was, herself, the daughter of prince Mountain Spirit and Princess Mỵ Nương, the daughter of one of the Hùng Vương kings.

Cô Đôi Thượng Ngàn was granted the name Sơn Tinh Công Chúa (Mountain Spirit Princess).  Her days at the palace were joyful and simple, her only job was to be the personal assistant to her mother, the King of the Forest.

After a certain amount of time, in order to develop her spiritual self, she was given the order from the palace to reincarnate into the family of a landlord in present-day Ninh Bình, in the area of Sơn Lâm.  As a human child, She is described as very pretty, pale-skinned, raven-haired, with a perfect round face.

She grew older and when it came time, she asked to be placed within a temple which worshiped her celestial mother, the  Forest King Mẫu Thượng Ngàn.  There, she was taught the magiks and the celestial language to help the people of Sơn Lâm.

During her time incarnate, she could often be seen running through the forest with her celestial fairy friends, their voices often carried on the winds, singing strange songs in their wondrous celestial language.  She was a gifted and talented singer and poet; often appearing alongside noted famous people, quoting poetry and carrying on conversations with them.

Her color is green.  She wears flowers on her hair and gives lucky fruits to her followers.

[1] Kim Môn is a small archipelago of several islands off the coast of present-day China, in the region of Fujian.

Ancient Việt: Matriarchy and the Female Lineage

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Vietnamese Women Rule.

OK, so maybe not at this time, but in the past we did…kinda, sorta, in a way.  Even as early as two-thousand years ago, we were a Matriarchal society.  In my previous post on the Trưng sisters, I noted that not only were they twin queens of a huge geographic area, their generals were also women of great note.  But they were hardly the first—nor were they the last—great Việt female queens.  Their mother, who ruled over Mê Linh (present-day Hunan) was the famed Man Thiện, aka Trần Thị Đoan, who was also the maternal grand-daughter of one of the Hùng Vương Kings.  I will tell her story in a future posting, but again this was not an anomaly, merely the way that a matriarchal society worked.

In a matriarchal society, the most powerful ruling entity was always the mother of the king.  The mother was the head of household.  She was the teacher, the wise woman; she guided the family and the state.  She appointed the king and if needed, she impeached the king.  Sometimes, the king was a man, but quite often, it was a woman.  This mostly had to do with talent and abilities and not the sex of the child.  It was truly an egalitarian mindset.  The most capable child of her brood was the de-facto king who ruled the region under the Matriarchal Mother who was there to be the counselor, or ‘wise woman’.

This was how all the regions of Âu Việt back in those days were ruled.  If there were any border disputes between the various kingdoms, the kings dealt with the small stuff.  If things got out of hand, which was often the case, the problem was escalated to the Matriarchal Mothers who got together, drank some tea, talked about the old days when they played together as sisters/cousins/in-laws/ and then gave a joint decree to solve the various issues.

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Sometimes, it was to arrange the marriage of two offspring who seemed to fit each other well in temperament and intellect (as Trưng Trắc’s marriage to Thi had been arranged).  Sometimes, it was to join forces for huge construction projects such as dams, bridges, and common thoroughfare.

This was how Matriarchal society usually worked.  There was no single Emperor to head the various Việt clans.  Indeed, the understanding of the day was that several heads were always better than one.  All the old ladies just got together and gabbed.  They gabbed and drank hot tea and traded gossip, much like what women do today.  In the process of gabbing, they smoothed over potential tensions, gave counsel to the kings and the generals, and basically had a nice afternoon visit with each other and then went home.

This vestige of matriarchy still shows up today, in modern Việt Nam, through all sorts of ways.

Linguistic Vestiges

The main component of anything in my language is always denoted with the word cái, which actually means female, like đường cái (main road),  or con cái (children).  Cái is also used as the word (the) for ordinary everyday objects, as in cái tô (the bowl), or cái hộp (the box).  It can also be used for the word (a), such as cái cách (a method) or cái điều (an idea).

Lineage Vestiges

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Matriarchal societies may sound unfair to the males in the family, but appearances are deceiving.  Being female only gave one advantage in a matriarchal society.  Land rights.

Family land was split between the girls within the family because it was recognized that future progeny came from the wombs of the girls, hence the word đất mẹ (motherland) or quê mẹ (homeland).  Boys were married off to families with the land and wealth suitable to support a male and his subsequent children.  This is why the girl’s family pays for all wedding costs.  They were not losing a daughter, they were gaining a son.  Children of the resulting marriage took on the mother’s family name, which was also the name of the land where they came from.

Confucianism and Patriarchy

The period of female ruling lasted at least twelve-thousand years.  Sadly, when Confucius came around, he spear-headed the patriarchal movement, couched into a philosophy and a religion, which took the ancient Taoist idea of a balanced yin/yang relationship and changed it completely into one where yin was no longer the balancing force of yang.  In the physical sciences, the negative and the positive poles must be balanced to remain stable.  Instability occurs when one pole is stronger than the other.  Likewise, under the patriarchal way of life, the very structure of the Việt communities began to become unbalanced.

Taoism became unbalanced.

The matriarchal society finally succumbed to the Confucianistic way of thinking and women lost the throne to the patriarchs of the world.  Once that happened, women became objects to be owned.  They were deemed less important than the children they bore.  The yin began to be subjugated.  Girls began to be undervalued.  Boys were given preferential treatment.  We lost all our wise women.  We lost the gabby old women who ruled as a clan.  More importantly, we lost an egalitarian society.

In my next post, I will delve further into the philosophical and religious implication of the loss of the matriarchal society.