Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What's In A Name?

Carlisle Indian School, 1900
What’s In A Name?
©Kenneth Cohen

Native American prayers sometimes begin with a simple statement of one’s name--“My name is... I send a voice to you, Great Spirit.” I say my name because my words are a matter of honor; I take responsibility for what I say. Spirits and the Great Spirit recognize me by my name, especially by my sacred name, the name that I received in vision. Some names are public and may be shared. Others are secret, not spoken aloud, a kind of password by which one is recognized in the spirit world. To know a person’s sacred name is both a responsibility and a commitment. “Someone who knows my true name,” a Cherokee medicine man once confided, “will stand by my side in any storm. He will run through a hail of bullets if need be.” Words are a combination of breath and vibration or energy, the two most fundamental elements of life. A name is an expression of who a person is and is thus an especially powerful word. It must be used with care and respect. Among the many abuses inflicted on Native Americans by the residential schools were the cutting of children’s hair, the prohibition of Native languages, and the changing or denigration of names.

Native American jokes are often in the form of stories that convey deep truths. Below is one that illustrates cultural differences between indigenous and Euro-American, especially regarding names.

When the missionaries came to Native villages in the Pacific Northwest, they had many odd customs. They believed that truth could be found in books and put more worth in what other people said a long time ago rather than what they said now. They worshipped in buildings rather than in nature. They didn’t talk about dreams. They wanted people to dress in clothes that were made from animals they did not recognize. They demanded communication in a language with little song or poetry and disconnected from the land. The only sign language they knew was an insult: “the sign of the cross” they called it as they drew a vertical line crossed by a horizontal line, which to the Native people meant “Take down your home and get out of here!”

But two of the strangest customs of all had to do with names and diet. Missionaries would take tribal members to the river, dunk them in it and say, “Your name is no longer ‘Good Road’ but John. I don’t want to ever hear the name ‘Good Road’ again. Your name is not ‘Beautiful Wind Woman’ but Sarah. Your name is not ‘Bear Who Protects the People’ but Matthew.” And so on. They also required that all good Christians eat only fish on Fridays, even if the salmon were not running and deer were plentiful.

One Friday afternoon the priest was walking through the village, when he smelled something odd. “Seems like someone is cooking meat.” The scent was coming from the cedar hut of the Chief. The priest knocked on the door, announced himself, and then heard a scrambling noise inside. The Chief answered the door and asked, “How can I help you Father Luke?” “I thought I smelled meat cooking.” “Oh no,” the Chief replied, “We are good Indians. It’s Friday, and we only eat fish.” Satisfied, the priest wandered off. Next week, on the same day, the priest was again taking a walk, and as he passed the Chief’s home, he smelled something suspicious. He knocked, “Chief, I’d like to speak with you.” The priest heard a metallic sound, like the clicking of pots and pans, and after short time, the Chief opened the door. The priest could clearly see a fish on a large frying pan, and several tribal members sitting around a small table. “It’s nothing,” the priest said, and he continued on his way. A week later, again, the priest decides to check on his parishioners. This time there was no mistaking the aroma of roasting meat. Instead of knocking, he throws open the Chief’s cedar door and sees him grilling a side of venison. Outraged, the priest demands, “What is the meaning of this! You know the rules. Only fish on Fridays!” The Chief calmly declared, “Yes, we know the rules.” “Well what do you call that?” the priest demanded, pointing accusingly at the meat. The Chief continued, “We took the deer to the river, dunked it in and named it ‘Salmon.’”

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Is Life A Random Event?

Is Life A Random Event?
©Kenneth Cohen

Chan Si Gong may be translated Coiling Silk or Reeling Silk Qigong. The term refers to the slow turning of a silk cocoon (produced by the silkworm caterpillar) as one pulls the silk thread. By analogy, in Coiling Silk Qigong when parts of the body turn slowly on an axis, energy knots dissolve and qi flows. At the start of a recent Coiling Silk workshop in British Columbia, Canada, a group of ravens suddenly began to perform a concert of croaks, gurgles, caws, and some unusual melodious songs (which they probably learned from other birds that ravens are known to mimic). A beautiful affirmation from a bird sacred to the First Nations people of that area. Then, when the songs were over, a caterpillar suddenly dropped from the roof to the exact center of the teaching space, a relative of the Asian silkworm! A random event? I don’t think so.

Many qigong students have noted that the more they progress in qigong, the more inexplicable, meaningful coincidences (synchronicities) occur. You practice the Deer Animal Frolic in a meadow, and a deer wanders out of the forest to observe you. You learn a new qigong method, and without knowing about this, a friend gives you a book on the subject. You think, “I would love to meet that Tai Chi teacher people have been talking about,” and you realize you are standing next to her in the bookstore. In the Chinese language, such destined meetings are called yuan fen, a term that I like to translate as “karmic affinity.” The Swiss psychiatrist and author, Carl Jung had a great explanation for synchronicity based his theory of “archetypes”: images that arise from the depths of the collective unconscious. When archetypes are activated because of personal insight, powerful dreams, or a lesson that the universe intends to give you, these archetypes constellate to themselves meaningfully related events. The deer inside you draws the deer out of the woods. The wise elder in you attracts the elder you wish to meet, and so on.

The connections between synchronous events are not a result of cause and effect; they are thus “acausal.”  Synchronicity reminds us that causality is only one way of understanding connections between phenomena, and a very limited one at that, as it requires narrowing the field of vision and ignoring mysterious interconnections that exist between all phenomena (think of the Hollywood movie “Groundhog Day”). Rather than causality, perhaps events and phenomena are connected by “correspondence.” Spring flowers, hummingbirds, green color, the rising sun, the east direction, and the feeling of inspiration and new beginnings are all interconnected, but not because one causes the other. To put it simply, life is based on relationship not dissection or the meaningless movement that occurs when one billiard ball hits another. As Einstein said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Heaven & Earth in a Tea Cup

 Heaven & Earth in a Tea Cup
©2013 Kenneth S. Cohen

The Art of Tea, San Diego Chinese History Museum

From 1976 until his passing in 1999, I was the principle apprentice to Daoist (also spelled “Taoist”) Abbot Huang Gengshi (born 1910). In addition to his training in Daoism, Dr. Huang was an acupuncturist, qigong master, and martial artist. He had been a student of the famed Tiger-Crane Martial Arts Master Lam Sai Wing, who had learned from Wong Fei Hong. Dr. Huang was used to hard training and knew how to make the bone strengthening tonic wines as well as the tie da yao liniments necessary to treat martial injuries. But his real secret to health was in the little plastic bag he carried everywhere he went. If we were having lunch in a restaurant, he would order hot water, then take out his bag, and add the tea leaves in it to the cup. His favorite tea was a mixture of Pu-erh tea with Chinese dried chrysanthemum flowers. According to Chinese medicine, Pu-erh aids digestion and prevents bad cholesterol from accumulating in the arteries; chrysanthemum helps the liver spread qi, life force, throughout the body. Pu-erh is slightly yang and warming, chrysanthemum slightly yin and cooling—a perfect balance. But he drank other teas as well. From ancient times to the present, tea has been an important facet of every aspect of Chinese culture: cuisine, medicine, martial arts, poetry, and painting. There is a beautiful Chinese saying “The greatness of Heaven and Earth are in my tea. The longevity of the sun and moon are in my teapot.”

Today, scientific research confirms the extraordinary healing benefits of Chinese tea, whether white, green, oolong, black, or Pu-erh (all from the same plant camellia sinensis). Here are some recent reports:

An article published in The British Medical Journal in January 2013 analyzed black tea consumption in 50 countries and found that the more tea people drank, the less diabetes. See http://www.naturalnews.com/038667_black_tea_diabetes_flavonoids.html

A doctoral student from Curtin University, a leading university in Perth and Sydney, Australia, confirmed a reduction of ovarian cancer risk among women who drink green, oolong, or black tea. This study, from December 2012, is similar to many earlier studies that also show significant anti-cancer effects of tea.  http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20121112-23908.html

A study published March 6, 2013 in the peer-reviewed journal Plos/One showed that a combination of epigallocatechingallate derived from green tea, vitamin C, and the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine worked synergistically to effectively combat mesothelioma, a deadly cancer associated with asbestos exposure. The powerful combination was found effective in both human cell cultures and in laboratory mice infected with the disease. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0058051

Research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry on February 5, 2013 shows that tea can prevent or slow the progress of Alzheimer's. One of the main chemicals in green tea prevents amyloid proteins from clumping and sticking to neurons (brain cells). This protein causes degeneration and death of brain cells, which leads to Alzheimer's. An abstract of the published paper may be found at http://www.jbc.org/content/early/2013/02/05/jbc.M112.400358.abstract?sid=32c84dd4-36eb-4ca9-9ca2-c2946a34b2d3 

(Similarly, in 2006, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published “Green Tea Consumption and Cognitive Function” Among 1,003 subjects over age 70, an inverse relation was found between degree of cognitive impairment and consumption of green tea, with the highest effect at 4-6 cups/day.)

The medical industry and mainstream media (whose job is to guard the status quo) sometimes spin information about tea in an effort to keep pharmaceutical companies happy. For example in late March newspapers and websites blasted warnings like this one from the Los Angeles Times “Warning” Excessive Tea Drinking Can Be Hazardous to Your Health.” http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-tea-skeletal-fluorosis-20130322,0,4719810.story The article admits that the information is based on a New England Journal of Medicine study that found that a woman who drank the equivalent of 100- 150 cups/day had brittle teeth. So warn all your friends who are drinking 100 cups per day to cut back!

Here’s a Mexico-China connection from an unusual source. A study published in March, 2013 in Stroke: The Journal of the American Heart Association found that both coffee and tea have significant effects preventing stroke. But before you start drinking the two or mixing them into a rather unsavory brew, it is important to note that previous studies have “shown inconsistent connections between coffee and stroke risk.” (WebMD March 15, 2013)

Tea and sex seem unlikely bedfellows. After all, tea makes the mind calm and meditative, but sex only has this effect when it is over (at least for some men). Yet research published in January 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that the enzyme that causes ED (erectile dysfunction) weakens tea’s ability to suppress cancer. This would also suggest its opposite: the capacity to have an erection makes tea more likely to prevent cancer. In addition, both men and women benefit from the way sex promotes production of endorphins, the “good mood chemicals” that also stimulate the immune system. The bottom line: drink tea and enjoy the union of yin and yang!

There are many reasons why I believe that tea contributes to a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the well-researched benefits, tea encourages an attitude of relaxation, leisure, and grace. Learn more about tea on my website.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ancient American-Polynesian Connections

Ancient American-Polynesian Connections

Text and Photo By Kenneth Cohen

O Ke Au O Makali’i Ka Po
When the Pleiades was seen at night…
--from the Kumulipo, Creation Teaching/Chant of Hawai’i

On April 1, 2013 the scientific journal Nature published an article “DNA study links indigenous Brazilians to Polynesians.” (http://www.nature.com/news/dna-study-links-indigenous-brazilians-to-polynesians-1.12710) By analyzing the remains of indigenous Brazilians from the 1800s, researchers found “some support for the possibility that Pacific islanders traded with South America thousands of years ago.” Of course the scientists never think to use indigenous oral traditions as supporting evidence or to take their ancient knowledge as a starting point for scientific inquiry. If they had bothered to ask the elders, they might have saved a lot of time and expense. I wonder, also, if local indigenous people had given permission to hack up the bones of their ancestors?

The study reminded me of differences between original peoples and colonizers in anthropological research methods and values. To put it simply, colonizers rarely ask what I consider a fundamental question, “Is the research necessary, compassionate, and kind, that is, conducive to greater mutual respect and a better way of life?” Lest I be declared naïve, uneducated, or savage (from silva “a person of the woods”), let me elaborate.

Colonizers’ research is often based on what I call “entitlement inquiry.” This is a conscious or unconscious attempt to validate “Old World” (Euro-Asian) origins. When such origins are not found, there is often an apologetic tone to conclusions. For example, researchers delight at a discovery that aspects of American culture came from Europe or Asia, whether across the ocean or by way of the Bering Straits. By contrast, original peoples are often happy to find connections that demonstrate we are all related. Fact: Mayans and Chinese both practiced acupuncture. Chinese scientist: “We taught you.” Mayan scientist, “How wonderful that we discovered the same thing! And isn’t this natural? Since we are both human beings, with similar bodies and minds, ancient healers must have discovered the same truths.” After more than forty years of looking at origin theories, I have yet to find a boat that can go in only one direction or a one-way sign on the “land bridge.” Since charts and graphs prove one is smart, I humbly offer the following:

                                                 Research Perspectives

Original Peoples                                                Colonizers
Prioritize oral traditions                                      Oral traditions discounted
Research valued for community benefit             Research valued for itself
Ancestors are still “family”                                Ancestors treated as inanimate objects
Emphasis on connections                                   Entitlement Inquiry

Now, let’s return to the matter of Polynesian-American connections. I have met indigenous people from both sides of the ocean who spoke of ancient contact. Pre-Maori indigenous people from New Zealand may have been in contact with Salish and other original people in the Pacific Northwest (of the U.S. and Canada). Hawaiian colleagues describe Native people from Baja California in some genealogical chants. I learned of an extraordinary connection many years ago from the kahuna lapa’au (traditional healer) Kahiliopua, who was also my adoptive aunt. She told me that the Hawaiians had met the Cherokee in ancient times. She was familiar with the Cherokee word Elohi, which in Cherokee may mean the oral history of the Cherokee or it can mean the original sacred island home of the Cherokee. Pua said that Elohi was also an ancient word for Hawai’i. Many Cherokee say that they migrated to North America from an island, accompanied by Polynesians, and, before that, came from the Pleiades. Some Hawaiian elders also say that they came from the Pleiades. Certainly the Pleiades, Makali’i in Hawaiian, have an important role in the Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipo.

There may also be evidence for a Cherokee-Hawai’i connection from the name of one of the seven clans of the Cherokee, the Ani Gilohi, Long Hairs, Twisters or Twisted Hairs Clan. Is it possible that Gilo refers to Hilo? Hilo, in addition to being an area on the Big Island of Hawai’i, means twisted or braided. It is also the name of a Polynesian navigator. The Gilo-Hilo connection is controversial and by no means proven. However, when I spoke with various Cherokee elders about this, they commented that the Cherokee language has a rich vocabulary relating to the ocean, as one would expect from a sea-faring culture (which is not the academic view of the Cherokee). They also spoke about various clans of the Cherokee that were lost at sea during their travels from Elohi, possibly mingling with peoples in other areas.

From my viewpoint, the importance of these connections is not to suggest any one culture as the origin of another. Rather it is to point out that ancient peoples had far more contact with each other than previously assumed. Knowledge was shared for mutual benefit—a far more humanistic, holistic, and wise epistemology than we find in today’s hallowed and hollow halls of academia.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Wisdom of Chinese Poetry

Indian Peaks Wilderness, my backyard
The Wisdom of Chinese Poetry
© Kenneth Cohen

Western literary critics sometimes speak about “art for art’s sake.” Poetry and other arts are valued for their technical skill, without any need to reference topics outside of art itself. That is, according to this philosophy, art need not have a moral or social purpose nor any utilitarian value. Poetry is turned into a mere exploration of craft, an interesting and skillful manipulation of words, meter, image, and, sometimes, rhyme. Or when utilitarianism creeps in, many western poems seem to be a substitute for the evening news. They express the alienation, disillusionment, and frustrations of society, and this is euphemistically called “realism.” Well, it depends how you define “real.” Daoists prefer to use poetry to inspire us to a deeper and better way of life, to reflect the deepest wisdom rather than as a narcissistic wallowing in the decrepitude of our times.

By contrast, in ancient China, art is for life’s sake. As stated in The Classic of Poetry (Shi Jing), an anthology of poems from the 10th to 7th Century BCE, Shi yan zhi.  “Poetry is the expression of the wishes of the heart and mind.” These “wishes” may take the form of social criticism and moral exhortation.  But the Daoist view is that the heart’s deepest aspirations are for contemplation, tranquility, contentment, wisdom, and understanding of one’s place in the universe. The art of reading or writing poetry is a form of cultivation (xiu yang). It is the merging of self with nature, scene (jing) with feeling (qing). Poetry pulses with the qi, the life energy of nature. It has qi yun, qi rhythm. The poet, one with nature, is qualified to write about nature. The pine tree uses the poet’s eyes to see itself and his/her pen to express itself.

As an example of art for life’s sake, look at my translation of a poem by Wang Wei (699-759), who was said to have poetry in his paintings and paintings in his poetry (hua zhong you shi, shi zhong you hua):

Not knowing the way to Xiang Ji Temple
After a few miles, enter the cloud peaks.
Past ancient trees without a trail;
In mountain depths, a temple bell?
The sound of the river swallows the great rocks;
The sun is cool amidst the green pines.
At twilight by the bend of an empty pond
In tranquil meditation, I quiet my mind.

And another by Li Bai (701-762),

You ask me how I could live in these green mountains?
No reply, just the laughter of a heart at peace.
Peach blossoms flow on the water far away--
This is a heaven and earth beyond the world of men.

How, then, does a more emotional and personal element enter the poetic realm? The best examples come from a common genre of Chinese poems, one little known in the west—the poetry of friendship. The west may be famous for romantic poetry, but China is unsurpassed in its poetry of friendship. And as in all classical Chinese poetry, the beauty of nature is still present, as though the weeping willow tree or the flickering candle also regret the parting of a beloved friend.

I offered the following translations of Du Fu (712-770) as a gifts to two dear friends, the first for philosopher and author Alan Watts (1915-1973) shortly before he died, and the second to my Chen Style Taiji Quan teacher, Gao Fu (1916-2005).

Written for Scholar Wei

We have met rarely in this life,
Journeying like two distant stars.
What sort of night shall this be,
Together, now, in the candlelight?
Does the strength of youth ever last?
The hair at our temples has already greyed,
And inquiring after old friends, half are gone--
Cries of sorrow burn in our hearts.
Who would guess that it would be twenty years
Before I would again come to visit?
When we parted, years ago, you had not yet married,
And now, quite suddenly, this line of boys and girls.
They are pleased to honor their father's friend,
Asking from where I have journeyed.

Before all questions were answered
Your children brought out the wine.
In the night rain we picked spring chives,
And steamed them with rice and millet.

You say it is getting harder and harder to meet,
So we raise our goblets, one cup becomes ten;
Ten cups and we're still not drunk--
I thank you for the depth of these old affections.
Tomorrow, separated by mountains and peaks,
We will again be lost in the boundless affairs of the world.

Seeing off Duke Yan at Fengji Station

I have seen you off this far, but here we must part,
Where the green mountains emptily return our feelings.
When will we raise our wine-cups again
Or, like last night, walk together in the moonlight?

The people of this region regret your departure,
Through three reigns, you have served them with honor.
Now I return alone to my river village
To nurture with quiet solitude the remaining years.

We live in an age of science and technology. But what good are science and technology if life is not enjoyed, if technique becomes more important than meaning and value? The poetry of ancient China is neither superfluous nor a mere pastime. It is an example of the ancient heart and soul of humanity.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chinese New Year of the Snake

Fu De, Auspicious Spirit of the Earth

In the Chinese calendar, each year is ruled by an animal: year of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon snake, horse, goat (or ram), monkey, chicken, dog, and boar (or pig). Each year is also associated with one of the five elements (more properly translated "phases"): metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Take all possible combinations of animals and elements and you get a 12X5= 60 year cycle. Thus, although your animal year returns every 12 years, your unique element and animal combination only returns at age 60 and 120!

February 10, 2013 is the first day of the Water Snake (Gui Si) year. However, each animal is also associated with an element. Because Snake is Fire, this is a Water Fire year. The first element (water) symbolizes heaven and spirituality. The second element (fire) symbolizes the physical world, especially the environment and economy. Elements may be either in harmony or conflict. For example, water produces wood. If this year were a water wood year, it would be a good omen. However, water and fire are in conflict because water puts out fire. There will be even more polarization this year between the spiritual and the mundane, between, on the one hand, those fighting for social and environmental justice, and, on the other hand, corporate and governmental powers. Markets and plans will all be unstable, not a good year to take risks, but a good year to move slowly, methodically, and carefully towards your goals. Sometimes water and fire are a dynamic polarity: complementary rather than conflicting opposites. But I do not sense that this is the case for 2013.

The elements of the year also effect health. In Chinese medicine, water rules the kidneys; fire rules the heart. The kidneys are adversely affected by a quick pace of life and by stress. Nurture the kidneys by slowing down; mitigate the effects of stress by practicing Tai Chi (taiji quan) and qigong. The heart is damaged by excess (lack of moderation, especially in the emotional realm). Heal the heart by finding mental and emotional equilibrium. Practice peace.

The snake is intuitive, energetic, and-- no surprise-- close to the earth. Among the animals, the snake is the major Chinese symbol of qi, life energy. A great year for wilderness retreats and qigong as well as other yang sheng (life nurturing) activities such as poetry and art. 

San Sha-- "Three Killing Forces" For every year, there is a direction of bad luck (San Sha)-- including disasters, accidents, and financial loss. This year the killing forces are in the East. That means it is best not to travel east, do home renovation on the east side of your home, or disturb the ground by digging holes in the east side of your property. The latter would disturb the Lords of the Soil (Tu Di Gong and his wife, Tu Di Po), who rule prosperity and the well being of ancestral spirits. In general, be careful regarding any phenomena associated with the east. You can neutralize the san sha by placing representations of powerful animals such as the Chinese unicorn in various rooms. Also since east is wood and wood creates fire, you can draw away some of the negative east-wood energy by putting representations of fire (red colored items, red candles or decor lights) in your home. 

Wu Huang "The Five Yellow Sick Forces" This year illness is associated with the Center. Thus, it is best not to travel to the middle part of your country, add a new middle section to your home, spend a great deal of time in the center of your home, etc. In the Chinese language, China is called Zhong Guo, the "Central Kingdom [or Country]". Because it is associated with the center, this is not a good year to travel to China, and the country may experience difficult public health problems. Neutralize the wu huang by setting up a small altar near the center part of your home. Place symbols of your spirituality-- a statue, a holy book, candles, or flowers - on the altar and offer prayers for peace and health. 

Tai Sui-- a star that exists in a spiritual dimension, invisible to the eye or to the telescope. Tai Sui moves opposite to Jupiter and is sometimes considered Jupiter’s shadow. Each year this star oppresses the fate of certain natal signs. In 2013, Tai Sui may cause difficulties for people born in the year of the Snake, Boar (or Pig), Monkey, or Tiger. If you were born in one of these years, you may wish to burn a Tai Sui talisman on Chinese New Years Day-- yes there is such a thing - or go outside and offer incense and prayers for a harmonious and lucky year. This year Tai Sui resides in the southeast direction. For everyone, no matter what your animal year of birth, it is best not to renovate in the southeastern part of your home or business and be very careful about digging or disturbing the ground in the southeast. If your office or home chair faces southeast, it would be a good idea to re-arrange furniture. Even facing southeast for extended periods can attract bad luck.

Auspicious Directions (for travel, education, romance, and general good luck): Northeast, Southwest, South, and North.

Please don't fret about these predictions. They are only tendencies. You become free and less bound by the stars to the extent that you are grounded in the Source of Being, the Tao. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Philosophy and Falafel

Welcome to my blog. It’s taken me a long time to create one because, frankly, it sounded too much like "the blob," a sci-fi movie popular when I was a kid. But friends assure me that this is an important venue to share information. And since recently a fan letter came pouring in, I know that the whole world is interested in what I am thinking. Seriously, I am happy to share occasional reflections about Qigong, Tea, Native American (First Nations) spirituality, and related topics. Basically I am sharing my philosophy of life, and this brings me to a story.

In the early 1970s I was studying Japanese Tea Ceremony with a living legend, the great Tea Master Millie Johnstone. It was a beautiful idyllic time in my youth. Every week, for about five years, I would take the subway from Queens to Millie’s condo across the street from the United Nations. I would have my tea lesson, then serve her tea informally, then enjoy a delicious home made lunch, sip expensive port wine with Millie’s husband, and finish the afternoon by demonstrating Tai Chi for Millie. She loved watching the slow, flowing movements. On my way back to the subway station, I usually stopped at a falafel stand run by an elderly Egyptian gentleman (or he appeared elderly (he was probably younger than I am now!). I sat on one of the two or three stool-height chairs near the table, ate my delicious falafel with tahini sauce, and, when business was slow, conversed with the owner. He took a liking to me. One day, the gentleman, whose name I forget--but let’s call him Akbar, because he truly was (the word means "Great") - asked me, "Tell me, what is your philosophy of life?" Such a simple and deep question. "What do you mean?" I asked. "Everyone should have a philosophy of life based on their life experiences, whether good or bad, easy or difficult. What has life taught you? What does it mean to be alive and to live a good life?" I realized that in spite of years of study of meditation, Tai Chi, and Tea, I was tongue-tied. I replied, with some embarrassment, "I’m not sure." Akbar gave me a kind and compassionate look. He knew I would think about it, and I have for the past forty years. His question has encouraged my lifelong passion for learning and wisdom.

I think that questions are more important than answers. A poor question has one answer. A good question has many answers, and the very best, no answer at all.