2. Must be the time of year that makes me want to reread Point of Dreams. Ghost-tide and all that, and wouldn't it be nice if there was more about that season than there is. The world building in the series (if two books can be called a series) is stunning but also extremely frustrating for the would-be fan writer. Everything, including geography, must be inferred from chance remarks. It's AU 17th century Europe, close but not nearly close enough to us. Where is Astreiant? or possibly, what is Astreiant? A republican version of France, with its Grand Bourgeoises? But the names are as often Dutch-ish-- Trijn, Leenderts, Meening-- as they are French--Voillemin, Fourie, Amireau. (Plus the odd Italian: Duca, Caiazzo.) Belgium then? without the religious and political conflict?
What's the League? The Baltic states? What's with this remark: 'Rathe wondered if the boy's father was Chadroni or a Leaguer, that he was so nervous about necromancers.' Because the Chadroni and the League are Puritan and distrust magic? But the one necromancer we meet is Chadroni, with the unplaceable name of b'Estorr, and all we know about his country is that it's colder than Astreiant.
Some people say maps are unnecessary in fantasy series. For their kind of reader they may be; but I'm the other kind.
3. Just as Catholicism and Communism vary-- often quite drastically-- by country, so evidently does Buddhism. Was talking to a maintenance guy at work once about meditation, though god knows how we got onto the subject, and he said he'd tried various temples around the city. 'The Koreans are very doctrinaire and rigid. The Thais are more relaxed.' I'm beginning to see that the Japanese Zen writers are, well, Japanese, even when they're not.
Japanese Zen is all about ganbaru-ing: if your knees hurt, good. Overcome the pain. You *must* sit in the Full Lotus position, or at any rate in seiza, because your knees *must* touch the floor because zazen doesn't *work* if your knees aren't touching the floor. And count your breaths. You must count your breaths. If you lose count, start again. That's the only way to meditate. Yes, you're working towards something else where you don't have to count, but you can only get there by years of mechanical and mindless counting.
Oh, and you need someone whacking you with a stick because that's necessary too. This isn't supposed to be *fun*.
Thich Nhat Hanh is much more reasonable. Meditation is supposed to be light and easy, the breath in and out, but he too wants you to get your knees on the floor eventually even if there's no point in making yourself suffer trying to do so, and he too thinks counting breaths is the only way to go. 'Don't force the breath, just be aware of it. This will lead to mindfulness in all your actions.'
However, when I start counting my breaths, I stop breathing. This eventuality is not dealt with by any authors I've read. And being mindful about which number the current breath is makes it very difficult to be mindful of anything else. Counting doesn't shut the mind up, it keeps the mind fretfully busy.
But then I started on something picked off the sidewalk a good eighteen months ago: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. And what a world of common sense opens up there. Breathing? 'Rest your attention, lightly and mindfully, on the breath.' Much better. That's far more natural. 'Each time you breathe out, and before you breathe in again, you will find that there will be a natural gap, as the grasping dissolves.' *Thank* you. 'Do not mistake the running commentary in your mind ("Now I'm breathing in, now I'm breathing out") for mindfulness; what is important is pure presence.' This is clearly the man for me.
Also: 'Sit with your legs crossed. You do not have to sit in the full-lotus position, which is emphasized more in advanced yoga practice.' Advanced, yes indeed. 'You may also choose to sit on a chair, with your legs relaxed, but be sure always to keep your back straight. (The future Buddha, Maitreya, is in fact portrayed sitting on a chair.)'
So sensible. He thinks there's 'a spark of hope, a playful humour' in meditation, a light-heartedness I've never come across with the dictatorial Japanese roshi, or with know-it-all westerners like Brad Warner. (Really, she sniffs, the Japanese will ordain *anybody*.) Tibetan Buddhism may be the way to go for me. Except that culture is culture, and Sogyal says 'You cannot learn meditation from a book. You must have a master to teach you.'
And I really need a 'religion' tag.