“Do androids dream of electric sheep?” famously asked science fiction writer Philip K Dick, obliquely hinting at a universal—and longstanding—human obsession with dreams and our relationship with them. Robert Ford Campany, in his The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE-800 CE, approaches the subject of dreams—as do many other people—in terms of personal psychology. It is difficult to overstate how influential Freud and Jung have been in framing our modern understanding of dreams as expressions of our anxieties, fixations and unconscious drives.
Like clockwork, every year around the spring equinox, as the ducks and egrets return to the rivers and sprigs of green grass begin sprouting in lawns, people in Japan take to the hills to pick mountain vegetables, herbs and other wild foods. As translator and writer Winifred Bird explains in her new book, Eating Wild Japan: Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes, there is no common Japanese phrase that corresponds precisely to the English terms “wild food” or “foraged food”.
“100 poems by 100 poets”: compiled in the 13th century by the famed poet, Fujiwara no Teika, (1162–1241) the Hyakunin-isshu (百人一首) is the most widely-read poetry anthology in Japan. Long celebrated in the arts, including in a famous woodblock series by Hokusai, the anthology is part of the curriculum of all Japanese school children, much as students in England might study Shakespeare.
Popular American writer and speaker Natalie Goldberg, best known for her 1986 best-seller Writing Down the Bones, has been a student of Zen for thirty years. A wonderful storyteller, her writing is full of wisdom from Asia. Her new book is a pilgrimage to the places in Japan close to the heart of her favorite haiku poets.
The Hōjōki, written in 1212 by the Buddhist monk Kamo no Chōmei, is one of the most beloved works of medieval literature in Japan. The opening lines of his chronicle are familiar to most people:
The flow of the river never ceases
And the water never stays the same.
Bubbles float on the surface of pools,
Bursting, reforming, never lingering.
They’re like the people in the world and their dwellings.
Buddhism would undergo profound changes as it was transmitted from its origins in India east into China, in the first century CE. Terminology had to be assimilated, for one thing. And when one language is translated and assimilated into another, it is inevitable that some conceptual connections will be lost and the meaning of ideas altered. Take Zen Buddhism. In his latest book, David Hinton says that we in the West are not just once-removed from the original Zen—but twice removed. This is because the Zen we know from Japan had already lost much of the original Daoist underpinnings of Chinese Zen—known as Chan—even before the religion traveled across the Pacific to America.