Meditation 2: Shen Guan

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 — 

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