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Master Oka in his tower
reads all night the great sutras

All night, too, the snow falls
Master Oka reads for us all

Fall, fall, snowflakes fall
The Master reads for us all

He doesn’t need wood,
he doesn’t need coal,
Master Oka has no fire:
he sees all by the light of the sutras
by the light of the sutras he sees all

Settle, settle, snowflakes settle
the sutras are for the people
The Master’s eyes on the sutras fall
The Master reads for us all

Master Oka, Master Oka
loves the people with the sutras
loves the sutras with the people
through the night the snowflakes fall
Master Oka reads for us all

Excerpt from The Lover in the Snow [v], Volume 20 of Dustless

Please consider…

Dustless | Volume 1


If you pursue the Way, and remain vigilant, you will maintain the Way | which is the Way of gentleness and non-engagement * You will abstain from self * This means, you will abstain from actions which depend upon the erroneous belief in a creature you call your self * This false creature supposedly possesses the quality of standing apart from, and superior to, the world * This erroneous belief in the creature of self | and the erroneous ascription of powers to this creature | is the root of all impure thought and of deviation from the simple Way * Therefore, wise men and women of the Way | abstain from thinking of themselves as creatures of power | standing apart from the world, with interests separate from, and superior to, the world

Consider: your heart is not your own | Your heart is inside you, but can you reach your heart? | If your heart sickens, with damaged blood or limping beats, what can you do? | You may not reach in and take out that sickened heart | or replace it with another heart | for you depend upon your own heart | and may not escape it * Is this not true? * Are you separate from your own heart? | Are you stronger than its beating? | Consider: you are clad in air | Air surrounds you, and holds you intact, giving shape to your body | permitting you life * Are you stronger than your body? * Are you separate from your own flesh? * Is this not true? * Air surrounds you, and is necessary to all human beings * You hang to a thread of air every moment of your life * Are you stronger than the air? * Are you separate from your own breath?

In the stillness of meditation, in the stillness of the Building which has no motion, in this stillness you will find that you are not a creature of power | but a cloud moving through space | a spider in a sparkling web of mist | or a stream which must flow…

Re-posted | Original post April 2013

Please consider…

Dustless | Volume 1


You did not wait for me.
Beneath the walls of the Temple of Ashes,
swallows flew low, screaming at dusk.

You did not wait for me.
At noon, the sun shone over the city,
and the rooftiles glittered like the scales of fish.

You did not wait for me.
In the morning, the river flowed slowly
as it always flows, being great and without end.

You did not wait for me.
At night, in the Utomi Gardens,
I saw red fireflies light the hair of a Lady of Shar.

Red fireflies float above the river with no end.
The river makes no sound, flowing slowly.
You did not wait for me.

The sun glared upon the roof of the Temple of Ashes,
where swallows hunted all day, and at dusk, flew low.
You did not wait for me.

In error, hoping, I merely turn the wheel of dreams,
and my life is without peace.

The wheel of dreams seems easy to turn,
yet leads only to exhaustion and pain.

Upon you, I hang the wheel of dreams:
you are the axis of all illusion.

You could not even wait for me,
one day, by the Red Gate, while I ran there, dreaming.

And still, I wait for you.

Formal song, from The lover in the snow (iv) | Volume 19 of Dustless

Unless all is known, nothing is known

TanZo (the “simple Way”) denies the supremacy of the world over the mind, and asserts human existence as the true object of life.

The famous dictum “Unless all is known / nothing is known” asserts that the pursuit of knowledge is futile, that knowledge itself is an illusion.

Unless one sees with the eye of a god – all times and all places in a single conclusion – then the nature of phenomena and of events must remain forever cryptic, enigmatic and without terminus.

Phenomena are understood as constructs of the human imagination. As such, they are permanently in the process of being imagined. Their condition is possible, not definite, and provisional, not fixed. It is always possible to re-imagine any phenomenon: indeed, it is impossible not to re-imagine phenomena.

We use words and systems of measurement to establish a sense of order in the world. However, words are in perpetual need of definition, and are subject to a constant process of re-definition. Change the meaning of one word in a language, and the relations between all words in that language are subtly shifted. Add a new word, allow an old word to be provided to oblivion, and the relations between all words in the language are subtly shifted. Alter one language, and that language’s relation to all other languages alters.

As for measurement, it is an empty hallway through which no one moves

Measurement is useless to us without interpretation and context:

Should we measure the height of a drowning traveller? Or measure the width of the flames burning a building?

Measuring phenomena in order to establish a system of quantification, and using such systems to assert mastery over the material world, is unproductive: TanZo rejects such illusions of power. By exploring the material world, one merely adds to the material world, that is to say, promulgates materiality. Notions of objects and places, times and distances, speeds, forces, are empty. All such “knowledge” could be frozen now, and the key problems of human life would be the same, before and after the end of the pursuit of knowledge.

For TanZo, these key problems may be reduced to one essential question: how do human beings live peacefully with each other, in an order of respect for life?

TanZo is a moral and pragmatic “order of respect for life”. TanZo concerns not the number of stars, the number of years, the place the universe was born, the place the universe will die, the distance between this city and that village, the speed the bird flies, the weight of the sun, but how to avoid the drives that lead to hatred and anger, to violence, vendetta, murder and woe.

Why measure the atoms in the blade of a murderer’s sword?

TanZo therefore rejects the project of establishing some mystical world of objects, a place equally available to all, with stable measure and fixed purpose, and insists upon the human presence in all human things. “Whether we wish it or not, for us, the world is human, even when it is inhuman”.

TanZo views the pursuit of knowledge as a mechanical and trivial activity. TanZo asserts the mind itself – and not the constructions of the mind – as the crucial arena of human endeavour.

People do not travel by ships or bridges, roads or sleighs: they travel by thinking, through mind.

The mind is arbiter over all things. “To each thing, the mind brings inspection, value, desire, intention, question, ephemera, obliteration”. “There is no pure, unadulterated world, and no pure, unadulterated mind, and no pure, unadulterated place in between… There is the world, in action.”

TanZo‘s central concerns are not progressive: they are not economic, they are not to do with expansion or domination of the material or the intellectual world. They are moral concerns: how can the human beings live together, gently, kindly, valuing life, wanting to live, and not hating life, rushing to die in “the struggle to obtain this set of atoms rather than that set of atoms”.

All the energy of life should go into cultivating the mind, so that one is aware one breathes, one touches, one sees, one feels. To be together, human being with human being, gently abiding, to dwell without impatience, to value the fact that one can breathe, touch, see, feel, this is the true Way.

To sit so still on a summer evening, you may hear the mountain sigh — that is TanZo.

The half-blind hermit lord, Sokosozuin, performs SeriaYi, the formal recounting of an episode from one’s life

…‘There is a play of the poet Aginsozura, from the Perfect Calm Era, which tells the terrible story of the RoMayZine Lord Ysokan of the Clouded Era: and in that bloody play, Ysokan, finding that in a fit of MalSol, he has put to death the members of his own blood family, gouges out his own eyes, so that he may never see the pure light of the wonderful day again – well, it is a harrowing story. To my imperishable shame, I would have wished to gouge out my own mind, in order to rid myself of the dirty illumination that had taken root there, and was continuing to grow like a fibrous and vigorous weed – but I could not, for one’s own mind is the very basis of the universe, and we are taught that the life of our own mind is the foundation of the Way.

Sai. It is so. It is like that.

And still, the rain fell.

Perhaps I slipped into a doze. The story of Lord Ysokan was on my mind. I remembered once, in a small town in Chian canton, a place of wool, in summer, seeing a group of travelling players performing Lord Ysokan for a ragged crowd of souls. The stage was a simple thing, and the make-up and acting loud and rude, with great clashing of swords and shields, when a battle was made out of yelled words, and five actors made up conflicting armies. The performance was beyond the perimeter of the town, in a clearing among the trees, held by night and lit by lanterns. Despite the crudeness of the stage, and the rough-and-ready talents of the troupe, Aginsozura’s poetry shone out and lifted all – actors and audience alike, and even the watching officers of KinChogan, who stood in attendance to ensure no impure scenes were played out there – all were taken from their present mind, and transported to the turbulent Clouded Era, and to the home of Shion Ysokan, over four thousand years ago. And when the time came for the shion to put out his own eyes, the bumpkin audience moaned and wailed, and called out to him to stop, pleading with the shion to show himself mercy, and to forgive himself. And when the play had finished, after the scene where the barbarian killers come, and find their great enemy blinded and helpless, and despatch him, such a silence fell on that clearing for a little while, it seemed as if we might have heard the needle from one of the nearby pines drop to the forest floor and make a soft noise as it landed.

At the time, I had been very struck by the power of art to transform the flow of our minds, to divert their courses, to canalise them along new directions, and to lift us from our substantial state into the world of imagination, where different laws apply.

Now, as I sat, slumped, leaning against the planking wall of that unoccupied beach house, listening to the sound of the rain and to the bash and drawl of waves as the tide heightened, images from that play played themselves across my wandering mind. The work was purely done, according to the legislation, in the old way, uncorrupted, in the Perfect Calm Era Style: the actors’ faces were masked in lurid facepaint, which shone in the hanging paper lanterns; the toy armour tinkled with a trashy sound during the acts of combat; and for long periods the actor playing Lord Ysokan wore a metal mask, which was only removed for the most tragic moments… The blinding scene was terrifying… Even there, shipwrecked on the coast of the MarIsQuess, destitute under an alien sun, I myself dreamily flinched when Ysokan raised his thumbs to his own eyes, and began to speak the words: World, too beautiful for these violent eyes of mine / and eyes which rage with sight of unforgiving blood / tender things, both, will this night meet no more / not even for one particle of a lonely moment…

I had begun to shiver. I saw in the theatre of my mind the tormented Lord of the Mountain Mark unlatch his visor, and the effect of seeing his naked face – and his eyes – so often hidden under the tin prop of his mask, and knowing his intention, seemed to suspend the blood in my veins.

A cold darkness fell across my soul. For a few moments, I assumed my feeling of approaching horror was related to the play. A sense of silence entered me, just like the silence of the audience as they held their breath, mesmerised by the scene before them.

My mind began to tingle. I can describe the sensation in no other way: there was a curious agitation in my mind, as if of wind chimes stirring at the approach of a breeze. And a shadow encroached upon my thought. I felt intensely sensitive. And yet, I also felt impersonal: it was as if my own thoughts were like insects in a nest, running here and there, organising themselves, making preparations for some coming event.

I opened my eye. Two riders were approaching through the dunes…

Excerpt from Comb, Volume 8 of Dustless

It was a book called The Three Attitudes. In it, the woman, an educated traveller, fascinated by the differences among the three main divisions of ShiO — ZirCong, RoMayZine and SurGaKu – organised her observations of the people of the ShiO clans who, within fifty years, had started the war that would unify the whole world of O.



ZirCong | Famously enigmatic, the ZirCong seem to consider the world neither ideal nor material, but in an unresolved state, or in a state that is constantly resolving towards both flesh and idea. They despise the “world of dust”, and strive for the Dustless condition. When they speak of the body, therefore, they speak of an illusion, a “thing of dust”. Even the mind, viewed from an unilluminated perspective, is to the ZirCong a thing of dust, an illusion. It is said that they do not feel pain — or, if pain is felt, they are not ZirCong. Their bodies do not belong to them: they have cast them aside.

To the ZirCong, as with all ShiO Marks, the MarIsQuess — the “building without motion”, or the “still building”, or, more simply, “the Building” — is the state or condition reached by meditation, with each ShiO division using meditation techniques peculiar to their own culture. The ZirCong use their celebrated, mysterious “Starless Darkness” techniques to achieve MarIsQuess. This is not a state ordinary people can attain. True ZirCong are said never to leave the Building, but always to dwell within it. Suspicious of language and of the “traps of definition”, the ZirCong insist that the Building can’t be described, but must be experienced. The Building must be built, through hours, days, years of arduous meditation. In this process of building, the weak eliminate themselves, as lacking the spiritual purity to maintain their path upon the Way. The foolish, the braggarts, the impatient, the greedy, all of these types of soul can never, without change, erect the Building within themselves, but must languish and perish, stranded in “the world of dust and donkeys”.

This constant striving to found and construct the Building within themselves has made the ZirCong admired, revered, feared and, by many, hated. One informal document, which has been publicly circulated, details the ZirCong attitude as follows:

What the common people call “body” and “mind”, these are merely pathways to the Building. They are gates of dust, leading to the Dustless state. Once inside the Building, all outside and inside ceases. New relations are inaugurated: all the old buildings and languages of dust, though they continue to float in the void, and are used by the common people as the limits of their world, for the Dustless one, are errors of matter and thought, imperfect perception, the toys of innocent children. People will live and die, will age and grow sick, just as they have always done — only, if you dwell in the Building, then living and dying, aging and sickening, these are changed, and their meanings are changed. The laws of sickness, the laws of age, of living, and dying, do not apply to true ZirCong. Life, death, tall, short, weak, strong, body, mind, above, below, finitude, infinity, moments, eternity, these are all categories of a diseased and limited vision: the perfect and entire vision of the Dustless ensures serenity, even as the sword goes through you, or the cancer grips. A healthy body and a diseased body are, within the Building, the same thing: an arrangement of dust.

RoMayZine | For the RoMayZine, the body is a source of struggle, the flesh is a piece of dust that may be caught hold of, polished, sharpened, hardened, quickened, improved. Men and women, both, are encouraged to exercise and to work their bodies until they are the perfect instruments of war. Both sexes swim, box, run, vault, lift weights, perform intricate ritual dances, practise with sword, bow, spear, lance, axe, they are keen horsemen, and work endlessly on their balance and speed of reaction.

There is a RoMayZine saying: The eyes for the arrow, the arms for the sword, the hands for fists, the legs for running.

For the RoMayZine, the body is very important in their philosophy. They adore action: they love to train their bodies and spirits until they are exhausted, and then they feel a tremendous peace. When they are in movement, they are irresistible; and when they are at rest, they seem sated, complete.

Life, on all levels, is a battle for them. Their Way is through action. It is not uncommon to see lords or ladies of RoMayZine clans with facial bruises, scars, misaligned bones, missing teeth.

They are warrior clans. Obviously, during war they are much sought-after as allies. In peace, their company is perhaps less pursued. It is said, among the houses of ZonO – “Society” – that when matrimonial alliances are made, then if you are not from a RoMayZine clan, but marry a RoMayZine partner, then there is often trepidation and anticipation regarding coitus. As lovers, both men and women of RoMayZine culture, are considered unsubtle, crude, demanding. A RoMayZine woman, with her strongly defined musculature and powerful limbs, is usually physically much stronger than most SurGaKu men. ZonO consider RoMayZine men as, frankly, brutes.

Love of the body is love of the Way, the RoMayZine believe. Enjoy the body, and make it do your will. But do not become obsessed with it. At the right moment, throw it away. Nothing is better than dying in battle. At such a moment, the tree both flowers and fruits: where the fruit falls, no one can say.

SurGaKu | A subtle and educated woman of ZonO explained to me that the divisions of ShiO can be broken down, very roughly, into three qualities: ZirCong, wisdom; RoMayZine, action; SurGaKu, beauty.

It is said that the SurGaKu, so concerned with beauty, find the body troubling. The SurGaKu TanZo is the effort to render the world beautiful through meditation and the practice of various forms of art. They are highly conscious of the passage of time, and of the mutability of all things. The moment has pitched its tent at the heart of every particle of dust, the SurGaKu explain, but the tent is empty.

Put simply, while the ZirCong deny the body any effective reality, and the RoMayZine treat the body with a kind of rude pragmatism, the SurGaKu are perplexed and uneasy with their bodies. They are more prone to romance, to melancholy, to dolour. They have purified their sensibilities so that they are sensitive to tiny nuances in the human and the natural world. Conscious that all pleasure and pain is fleeting, their TanZo is haunted by loss. Loss, though, is beautiful: it is the necessary condition for the existence of the world.

Their poetry, songs, prints, paintings, all celebrate the power of the ephemeral. The body, then, is a point of sensitivity, of vulnerability, of delicacy, to the SurGaKu. They know that bodies are fragile, can sicken, can break. They admit the tidal powers of sexual desire, the sweep and sway of it. Ironically, although in many ways the most refined of the three divisions of ShiO, the SurGaKu are in some ways the most fleshly, the most prone to lapse and delirium. They value tenderness and restraint, gentleness, patience, yet can be the most explosively ill-disciplined of all ShiO.

A SurGaKu love poem, from the Era of Storms, goes:

Between the room of parturition,
and the Temple of Ashes,
between the bleeding at birth,
the fire coming to death,
my body has swung, moment by moment,
like pearl beads strung
upon a wire, made into a necklace.

That necklace, my love, you wear.
Lying on your breast, my head
rises and falls,
in time with your breathing:
at sea, the waves also rise and fall,
and beneath the surface
on the shadowed bed
young pearls are forming.

Men and women
take pride in their beauty,
look long in the light,
and their years are like mirrors
under permanent skies:

but boys chasing dragonflies
are lost in a moment
and their lives are too short
for pride in their flight.

Excerpt from For Pride in Their Flight, Volume 15 of Dustless

In the Sounding Horn Era, a philosopher of silence, who rose to become the Master of the Chrysanthemum School, Dijirsozin on:zaka, a man of Subtle Rank and of the Sun Mark, was reported as saying: It would take longer to fully record a life than to live one, for words do not move as quickly as things.

That is a beauty of words. That is a beauty of things.

Of course, much later, Zasojen asked: Is not a word a thing too? Why do we insist on setting words left, and life right, as if words did not take place in life, and life did not take place in words?

Excerpt from The Dwellings [ii], Volume 5 of Dustless

How wonderful! To die in violence, the storm’s height,
like a flower just open. Praise the flowing blood! Praise death,
praise the enemy who leaves you to vultures and the dust.

What perfection! For the warrior, Pure in spirit,
swords and arrows are an offering. For other men,
the storm passes over, and the petals of the flowers fall:

but for you, Purity has made you nothing –
for you, there is nothing, beyond the vultures and the dust.

— ZirCong poem, inscribed upon a painted fan,
from the Dark Season Era

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

(Terribly hungover. Zozo is a monster! Why do I always let him convince me to carry on drinking? Well, but he is the most charming among us, it must be said. I love him, whether it is sun or moon.)

So: unwritten books, and unfinished books. These are books it must be said to have a rather precarious life. They are trembling things, insects just this moment left the egg, not yet even shaken out their wings to dry. But they exist in some way, tenuous in their latency.

Next in my catalogue of books, we come to the most grim and gruesome of them all: unpublished books.

O, by all the saints of TanZo, is there a class of book more heart-breaking, more soul-consuming, more spirit-flogging, than an unpublished book?

I, by the grace of my ancestors’ Karo, have only had one or two early works rejected by publishers. (Publishers are only greedy merchants, when all is said and done, and have no ultimate attachment to art, for all their snobbery and airs and graces, their love is for quints and ekels and zarels, as is proper in any case for those of mercantile preponderance, only when they fluff about and zephyr their good taste to the public gaze, it does rather annoy me. You are only interested in money? Well, and very good! Then your books are no different, in the end, to barrels of dried fish or pots of pepper. They are products, no more, no less. Don’t pretend you care for art, my dear. Baku, for example, is such a snob, you’d think he’d written Kayza’s words for him. But this is digression.)

I have seen people crushed by their own books. At least one poor soul — Sima, the poet from Libar — I am convinced was led to suicide by the failure of his novel to find a publisher. That boy had an awful Karo, it is true, and hadn’t learned the coldness of spirit you need in this game, and one sensed something haunting him from the very first, but still, it was the rejection broke him, I am sure. And much the same might be said for poor old Maira — she was so highly strung, everyone said it, and she had debts, and Gairo treated her abominably, but she was so convinced by the quality of that last book of hers, when she couldn’t get it out, it was the disappointment took her to hang herself in the garden that night, most undeniably. (Gairo is a demon, I was told he joked about it when he heard, making a pun on her being “highly strung”. I have never liked Gairo, he has a touch of the devil E-Tzhi about him, too much ice in the heart, no one who looks that good in a mirror should really be a writer, in my opinion…)

Well, this is a most digressive entry, all digression and no argument. What I meant to insist upon is this: that the unpublished book is the one which, in general, inflicts the most suffering on writers.

I have lost count of the number of would-be writers I have met over my prestigious career. It sometimes seems that everyone is a writer of some sort or other. Why they all fight and flounder so much to give themselves the honour of this title — “writer” — is quite beyond me. All the writers I know, say that writing is a kind of gilded drudgery. The purer the writer, the greater the drudgery. The best writer I know, Dumo, is an utter slave, a donkey pulling a water wheel: she is the quietest thing imaginable, a shadow has more noise in it than she has, all she does is work, and she is the most boring company (in a wonderful way, though — she has a kind spirit, that woman). But I would take her works above those of any other writer living.

For the rest of us, though, it is a world of vanity and niggle. You struggle to make a reputation, and then you struggle to maintain that reputation. How? By continuing to write good books, of course — in the main, at least. And there it is at once: drudgery. As soon as one book is finished, you must set out on the next. Will it be as good? Is it too derivative? Should you change your style? What do the wretched critics want, who only know the limits of their own discretion, who slum through literature, stealing houses? And the public, forever chasing after the new thing? The latest thing? Well, the public want what the critics tell them, mostly, or what Baku puts on his boards or in the news-sheets. The public has no idea of quality, it is quite terrifying, the amount of vision they waste, reading fashionable vapour, convinced by Baku’s adverts that the work is “magisterial to the peak of judgement”, or “without equivalent in current days” or some such tosh. Ah, what a world, where everyone agrees a work to masterdom, but none know why! Kayza, for instance, is a prime example of this… Well! I had better not think too much of Kayza, it will only give me boils and an even more brutal headache…

Months, years, decades, even, spent on a book, writing it into life. And then, at last, it is finished. Off to the publishers it goes. No: rejection. No word of explanation: no sign they have understood your genius. More fool them! On to the next publisher. What!? No?! Another rejection. And still no sign of recognition.

Ah, dismal, dismal condition. You deliver the manuscript again. No, I’m sorry, Mr Baku is too busy to see you in person. You wait. Nothing. You hope. You wait. Still nothing. You hope. But, your belief is waning. You hope less. And when the rejection comes, it is less unexpected. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Rejection. I think I took my second novel (The Orchard With No Trees) to a whole fifteen publishers — that is to say, every house in Sahil, and by all fifteen, I was rejected. (Actually, I think Misuzomas mislaid the manuscript, rather than legitimately rejecting it, but by then, I had entirely lost heart, and I took the world’s hint — but, oh, what tantrums in my spirit! What ulcers of bitterness blown, what plots of revenge I dwelt upon! When I was successful, when my alpine genius was undenied, when people viewed me from all around, admiring me, envying me, how I would despise them down, those snobbish oafs who had dismissed my work, and so distempered me)…

Even now, years later, I can feel the burn of those rejections, when I think of them. Of course, as you get older, you realise, it is nothing personal, they just don’t think your work is any good, or will bring them in their quints and ekels. They don’t sit around, laughing at you (unless your work is awful, I suppose)…

Well, it is a brutal mill, literature, that grinds us all down. Even Kayza, who is a permanent sensation at the moment, is secretly ground down: those who really understand art laugh at him behind his back, mock his prose, watch the empty bubble of his achievement floating past; we know he is not so good, his style is an elegant mirage, we think it funny he seems to take himself at the multitude’s estimate, when the multitude has no real care for literature (why should they?) but only form long queues to feel themselves significant, and will swallow any trifle if it has the age’s taste to it, ignorant of what it is they consume, unable, in the end, to take a book seriously

So, perhaps they are right, after all?

Old, old complaints, I know…

Yes, a gilded drudgery. Whores, fools, slaves, thinking we are kings and queens, and perhaps even sometimes that we might share the parameters of a god. But gold is wrong. It is not gold, at the heart of it. Better than gold. Like air, but air very slightly changed. Taken from us, given back to us, slightly changed. Yes, I do think it so — this literature. Not the lions, not the hurricanes or wars, or poisons, or seductions, but a slight change to the air.

I should sleep. This morning does not agree with me.