A book review by C.M. Darensbourg
On the day I met Shen Guang, I was
Nodding off to sleep after a long time
Entertaining some friends people forgot.
Of course, no one knew how important this
Favorable encounter would become.
How differently people seem to think
It went, with me sitting on holy clouds,
Saying wise utterances while praying.
Enlighten yourselves, clear your hopeful minds,
And come down to Earth for the truth of it.
Right then, I was more concerned about drink.
Likewise, he wanted some proper vintage too.
I will tell you this about Zen philosophy:
Even though it was great fun way back then,
Suffice to say it did not cover bills
That piled up at banker’s establishments.
Forced to think about common day labor,
Obviously I waxed distraught, finding
Little enthusiasm in plans for
Lowering myself to lecture among
Others who could graduate college and
Would soon be competing with me for my
Earnings (Like them, I was fond of eating.
Rarely had I gone without, but now I
Stared poverty full its face — and cringed.)
Within hours of sharing similar woes,
And coming to imminent conclusion
Something better needed finding, we grinned.
A little cleverness goes a long way.
Fighting was in people’s baser natures.
Otherwise, why the perceived need to hire
Roaming mercenaries? Young and strapping
Men — often built like water buffaloes —
Entered into militia daily,
Regrettably quickly finding their graves.
Getting into farm boy’s heads they could fight —
Easy enough! Shen moaned. Dreams of conquest,
Names destined for Roles of Public Honor …
Everybody knew recruiter’s speech.
Rarely was it mentioned, those who retired
All had one thing in common: peaceful minds
Like still, deep, pools seldom rippling in breeze.
Not to claim they were cowards! Far from it!
Any man who served the Chinese Empire’s
Military aquianted himself with
Enemies killing panicked, ill-prepared
Dolts lacking courage to stand and fight them.
Shen was no dolt — his sword had made ghosts of
Hundreds conspiring against Royalty.
Enough so that few brave souls drank with him
Not that they were cowards — just respectful.
Going against foolish social custom,
(Unless you agree with ox-strong farm boys
After a few military battles
Not wanting to drink with him who sent and led
Grim soldiers to war) I had lunch with him.
Wary glances were not his way, or fear.
However, he was a man who carried
Onerous sorrow for long dead comrades.
How was he different? Why so long lived?
And for what purpose was he now still spared?
Drink after drink alone made him think thus …
Before too long, my thoughts turned righteous.
Either there was no point to his dark life
Continuing as it currently was,
Or it made warped sense Shen was like an ox
Made to till the field, then be slaughtered by
Events out of the control of heroes.
And that truly made no sense for this man.
But he was a soldier — wise but growing Uneasy at sending soldiers to doom,
Deciding which families would hear their
Dead sons would not write home about conquests.
Having served the Emperor by that time
In a career spanning sixty years,
Shen wanted no more the day we met than
To see a waiting family himself.
Life has twists and turns, for I knew right then
Eternity head our plight, gave answer!
Come the next day, we had both settled on
Training new students in ways of battle
Unheard of. They were not to be food for
Ravens on military fields but were,
Expected to survive, return home, and
Raise their own sons to live proud, noble lives.
— End MEDITATION 02 —