Ancestral lanterns

lanterns (12 February 2015)

Ancestral lanterns (12 February 2015)

A week before this year’s Chinese New Year (19 February 2015), I noticed these red lanterns hanging outside the Ancestral restaurant in Courtenay Place, Wellington. I was glad I stopped to photograph them: they were gone again following day.

“Although some people decorate their houses several days before the festival, most people do it at New Year’s Eve. Houses are decorated with red lanterns, red couplets, New Year paintings, and red lanterns. 2015 is the year of the goat, so goat images will appear” (China Highlights: Activities for New Year’s Eve).

“Six is the number of strokes that comprise the character 羊, the forthcoming [Chinese] lunar year’s name. Pronounced yang, the character can mean either sheep or goat” (The Guardian).

In late May 2011, Wellington’s grandest Chinese restaurant emerged “in all its sinister elegance”. Ancestral is aptly located at the heart of Courtenay Place, the capital’s erstwhile Chinatown.

“Allistar Cox, designer of Matterhorn, has brought his characteristic style to this multi-million-dollar extravaganza – restaurant, garden bar, whisky bar, private dining room and takeaway outlet – using satin-finished dark wood to good effect with hard, thinly padded Chinese-style banquettes,” wrote David Burton in Cuisine issue #149 | Wednesday, 30 November, 2011

“If the opium poppy logo, gold leaf letterhead, doormen and heavy curtains partly screening out the dark interior all convey the impression of a triad-owned outpost from 1930s Shanghai, then this is fully intended,” explains Burton, who goes on to describe the garden bar out the back: “old brick walls also exude the ambience of the era.”

This curious world

……………….“… to wake is to lift up
Again on one’s shoulders this curious world

Whose secret cannot be known by any of us
Until we enter Te Whiro’s kingdom.”

(from Autumn Testament by James K Baxter) 

Generally speaking, I’m a tolerant and compassionate person – it takes a lot to make me mad. But Thursday was an exception. My tolerance was decidedly out of order, and my compassion … who knows what happened to that?

Atlas sculpture on Collins Street, Melbourne

Atlas sculpture on Collins Street, Melbourne

Incipient civil war in Egypt, neurotoxins in Syria, anti-gay laws in Russia, gun-crazed killers in American schools, contaminated baby formula in China, beggars on our streets, cruelty to animals … a never-ending story of inhumanity and misery and fear. And the painkillers I’d taken seemed to be doing me no good.

“There is no mystery so great as misery,” Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince declares. And he’s pointing to a transcendent truth.

All the great religions attempt to tackle the problem of suffering – in a variety of ways. Humanists, rationalists, and atheists too, all find themselves facing the same sorts of questions – because, of course, we all live in the same world.

In the Buddha’s words: “Suffering I teach and the way out of suffering.” (See The Buddhist Society web-site)

In a blog calling itself Wild Mind, Sunada Takagi explains that “The Buddha’s teaching on suffering is that we need to accept the things we can’t control, such as loss, sickness, aging, and death. But for things we can affect, he advised that we change our conditions so that they’re more conducive to our happiness and spiritual growth.”

Islam exhorts the faithful to endure suffering with hope and faith. They are not expected to resist it, or to ask why. Instead, they are taught to accept it as God’s will and live through it with faith that God never asks more of them than they can endure. However, Islam also teaches the faithful to work actively to alleviate the suffering of others. Recognizing that they are the cause of their own suffering, individuals work to bring suffering to an end. (Patheos Library, adapted)

Jesus, according to St John, said: “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Baxter’s reference to “this curious world” calls to mind the words of Henry David Thoreau: “This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” And, like Thoreau, Baxter draws his reader’s attention to the inevitable and inescapable burden of human responsibility, human caring, human accountability: “to wake is to lift up / Again on one’s shoulders this curious world …”

I didn’t get swamped by my grumpiness. Neither did I grant it permission to assault anyone else. In the end, I simply had to lighten up and get over myself.

And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered, (Qur’an 15:28, translated by M M Pickthall)



1/ Baxter, James Keir; Millar, Paul (editor). 2001. James K Baxter : New Selected Poems. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
— The passage from poem 7 in Autumn Testament is on page 141. 

2/ “Te Whiro’s kingdom” – According to Te Ara / The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Māori saw themselves as guardians of the earth, and the focus of their existence was to remain at one with the natural (and supernatural) world. Rather than a medical problem, sickness was often viewed as a symptom of disharmony with nature.” In a section dealing with the medicinal use of plants, Te Ara describes the god Whiro as  “a personified form of sickness, disease and death. Māori believed that sickness and disease often had spiritual roots.” 

3/ In Greek mythology, Atlas was the primordial Titan who held up the celestial sphere. He is also the titan of astronomy and navigation. (Wikipedia, adapted)

4/ The first publisher to associate the Titan Atlas with a group of maps was the print-seller Antonio Lafreri, on the engraved title-page he applied to his ad hoc assemblages of maps, Tavole Moderne Di Geografia De La Maggior Parte Del Mondo Di Diversi Autori (1572). (Wikipedia, adapted) 

5/ It has been suggested that Jesus was a Buddhist: see thezensite. But “Buddhism and Christianity have inherent and fundamental differences at the deepest levels.” (Wikipedia)

In spiritual practice all religions are connected


If you examine the great religions of the world, you can discern philosophical and metaphysical views, on the one hand, and daily spiritual practice, on the other. Although the philosophical views differ and sometimes contradict each other, in spiritual practice all religions are connected. They all recommend inner transformation of our stream of consciousness, which will make us better, more devout people. (His Holiness The Dalai Lama)

No third thing

… experiencing runs of bad luck is part of life’s rich pattern. The key thing is to see them for what they are: an entirely predictable consequence of unpredictability. (Robert Matthews, in Matt’s stats: Why disasters come in threes

Three sisters

Three sisters

This morning, I carelessly lit a votive candle and placed it on a lacquered cabinet. If I hadn’t (later in the morning) noticed a smell of burning, there might have been a fire.

This morning, I opened my front door carelessly, and a boisterous wind-gust slammed it on my finger. If I hadn’t been quick to pull my hand away, there might have been a bruise.

So far this morning, there is no third thing. Before long, of course, there will be the next thing. Life being what it is, there is always the next thing – whether fortunate or unfortunate.

Perhaps the “rule of threes” helps divide the ongoing stream of mishaps, misadventures, miseries and demises into manageable chunks.

When a light-bulb blows, I tend to buy three … after replacing the old one from the ample stock I already have in the cupboard under the sink.

To end, here – courtesy of Wikipedia’s Rule of three (writing) – is a nice little Latin motto “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete).


Thanks to The Book of Threes, which reports that “The ancient Native American technique of growing Corn, Beans, and Squash together in an arrangement called the Three Sisters is the ultimate in companion planting and helps increase harvests, naturally!” 

For readers who suspect a veiled Monty Python reference, here’s a link to the Comfy Chair / Sound Quiz from “Another Monty Python Record”.  

The taste of clouds

"I am Forbidden" – cover

“I am Forbidden” – cover

On the crest of the Pont des Arts, they leaned over the bridge’s railing and turned up their palms for the first drops of rain. The sky unleashed itself and they whirled as they had as children, arms stretched wide as their tongues searched their lips for the taste of clouds. (Anouk Markovits, in I am Forbidden [p138]) 

As I read I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits – pen and paper always at the ready – the text drew me, deeper and deeper, into a profound experience. There is much to share … but not all at once.

Anouk Markovits was raised a Hasidic Jew in France, but at 19 she fled her community to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to get a master’s degree in architecture and a PhD in romance studies. “I Am Forbidden,” her first novel in English, centers on two Hasidic sisters: one who leaves, and one who stays, shunning modernity. (from a review published in The New York Times (15 May 2012)

There’s a succinct synopsis on GoodReads, and a review with links to related material on The Telegraph.


Markovits, Anouk. 2012. I am forbidden. London: Hogarth

There is no try

“Be the person you are,” Osho urged his followers. “Never try to be another.”

“Do or do not,” Yoda told Luke Skywalker. “There is no try.”

Osho talked about “accepting the responsibility of being oneself, whatsoever the cost. Risking all to be oneself …”

But take careful note: no way do I see this as an excuse for behaving badly! Accepting responsibility for my actions is crucial.

And do you remember how the scene ends?

“I don’t …  I don’t believe it,” Luke admits.

“That is why you fail,” says Yoda.


If you doubt God’s intentions — and God’s ability to produce this ultimate result — then how can you ever relax? How can you ever truly find peace? (Neale Donald Walsch, in Conversations with God : an uncommon dialogue : book 1)

Walsch, Neale Donald. 1996. Conversations with God : an uncommon dialogue : book 1. Sydney, Australia: Hodder Headline. [p14]

Whistle-blower is a street preacher

That defiant whistle-blower had somehow seemed familiar. Today it all became clear: his stalwart (and silent) wife stood by him today as he blew his thin, sad songs.

And she was the clue; I had several times seen her, plainly dressed and stony faced, standing beside him as he gestured with his Bible and shouted at the passers-by – alternately railing against sinners and advertising the power of evil.

No love. No joy. No peace. Not so much as a smile from either of them.

On those occasions, I had restrained myself from stopping to remind him that St Paul had determined to preach only Christ crucified. Today, I had the urge to suggest that at least he might play something cheerful.

Dance around the ring

We dance around the ring and suppose.
The Secret sits in the middle and knows.

(Robert Frost)

The unmanifest is the source of the manifest. (Deepak Chopra)

If you’re into psychology, there’s an interesting site – one that calls itself a “freewill site with no advertisements” – that treats of psychology within a Catholic frame of reference. Written by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, PhD, it is called
Guide to Psychology. (By the way, this link will take you to the section that deals with death.) 

Hidden truths

Those of us who want to believe in hidden truths are amazingly easy to bamboozle. (Alexander Jablokov, in Brain Thief)

Nothing new here. But it struck a chord with me. So I started having a look around the internet.

Here’s one of my favourites from today’s little sortie: “Top Ranking CIA Operatives Admit Al-qaeda Is a Complete Fabrication“, on

Jablokov, Alexander. 2009. Brain thief. New York: Tom Douherty Associates [p231]

Confession: I’m in two minds about Brain Thief: it’s not quite riveting enough, now that I’ve got the gist of the plot. But I’m persevering.