Category Archives: TRADITIONAL CULTURE

Shen Yun Principal Dancer Kaidi Wu’s Ethereal Grace

Dancer Kaidi Wu is a lady of few words. She expresses herself through dance, a language she makes so vivid and beautiful that it moves audiences to tears. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

BY IRENE LUO, EPOCH TIMES

January 28, 2019 Updated: January 28, 2019

In a bustling restaurant of excited chatter and shouting toddlers, Kaidi Wu is the opposite of her surroundings. Her voice is like a spring breeze—gentle and slow, serene and unhurried. She seems to emerge from a different world, a realm of tranquility and grace.

Kaidi first saw Shen Yun Performing Arts after she had immigrated from China to Toronto, Canada. Like many in the audience, she thought to herself, “Oh, how I wish I could become one of them!”

Now, Kaidi is a principal dancer with the performing arts company that inspired her dream, and she has come to embody the ethereal beauty that had mesmerized her when she first saw Shen Yun.

as Chang’e, the goddess of the moon, in New Tang Dynasty Television’s 2016 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

Inner Beauty

Dressed in a flowing white gown adorned with yellow and blue, Kaidi flurries a pink silk cloth and floats across the stage as if carried by a cloud in New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television’s 2012 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. There’s a twinkle in her eyes, a smile on her lips. Immersed in Kaidi’s self-choreographed piece, audiences can almost see the rippling waters in a turquoise lake, feel the gentle breeze of a balmy morning, and hear the chirping swallows in a secluded valley.

How does a dancer capture such beauty, we wonder. “This kind of beauty should be the natural reflection of your inner self,” Kaidi tells us. It’s not about outward appearances, but instead about the channeling of inner virtues. Thus, classical Chinese dance cannot be separated from the cultivation of a kind and virtuous character.
Kaidi Wu performs as Ban Zhao, the first known female Chinese historian, in New Tang Dynasty Television’s 2014 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

This past September, in NTD Television’s recent competition, Kaidi chose to perform the role of Wang Baochuan. From an aristocratic family, Wang Baochuan had fallen in love with the commoner Xue Rengui because he was a kind man of excellent character. After they married, he rose up the ranks to become a Tang Dynasty general and was away on the battlefield for many years.

Living alone in a crude cave dwelling, Wang Baochuan “had to overcome all kinds of hardships. But she was not fearful, and she simply persisted in waiting,” Kaidi says. Eighteen years later, she was finally rewarded when she reunited with her beloved husband, who had returned triumphantly from the battlefield. Kaidi says that in Wang Baochuan, she saw loyalty, perseverance, and selflessness—all characteristics she admires.

As part of Shen Yun Performing Arts, Kaidi is not only reviving traditional Chinese dance but also showcasing the values of the ancients. Back then, the paragon of a Chinese woman epitomized refinement, grace, and virtue, things swept under by the tides of modernity.


Kaidi Wu performs in the technical portion of New Tang Dynasty Television’s 2016 International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

A Tranquil Mind

When speaking about the challenges of learning classical Chinese dance, Kaidi reveals that her biggest challenge was mental, not physical. A teacher once told her that she was not steady enough as a dancer, as if holding her breath on the surface. She was like a leaf that drifted about at the whims of the breeze. “I easily became nervous,” Kaidi says.

Over time, she realized the source of the problem. “I worried about how others would view me. If I thought about myself, I would become more nervous.” She thus had to learn to calm her mind and dispel the insecurities that distracted her.

For Kaidi, handkerchief dances have always been especially challenging. One of the most impressive parts of the dance is when a dancer twirls her handkerchief into the air, performs a front aerial, and then successfully catches the handkerchief before it falls to the ground. As she worried about potentially failing to catch the handkerchief, she would do poorly. “When we perform, we shouldn’t think about ourselves. Just think about what you should do with a steady, unwavering heart,” Kaidi says.

Beginning in 2012, Kaidi was given lead roles in dances in Shen Yun’s world tours. Her new roles brought on more responsibility, and it became more important for her to maintain a steady mindset. “You can’t stand out by yourself,” Kaidi says. Instead, she strives to assimilate to the larger body, to perfect the performance as a whole.

“We are all doing the same thing. One person’s strength cannot match what the group has as a whole,” Kaidi says. Over time, she learned to focus less on herself and to adapt to those around her, putting their needs above her own. Only then could her performances truly move audiences.

Fulfilling Her Purpose

As a dancer, Kaidi evokes not only the grace of celestial fairies and imperial palace maidens but also the dignity of modern-day heroes. In Shen Yun’s 2017 world tour, in the piece titled “A Child’s Choice,” she played an orphaned girl who later discovers the truth behind her parents’ deaths. As practitioners of the Chinese spiritual discipline Falun Dafa, they had been brutally killed by the Chinese communist regime for their faith.

The dance’s storyline draws from real events occurring in China. The spiritual practice of Falun Dafa once had an estimated 100 million adherents in China. But in 1999, the Chinese Communist Party ordered a nationwide persecution, beginning 19 years of brutality and inhumanity that continue to this day.

Instead of succumbing to the pressure of the persecution, Kaidi’s character continues her parents’ legacy, standing up for what is right. At the end of the piece, she resolutely unfurls a banner with the Chinese characters for truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—the central tenets of Falun Dafa. Her determination and fearlessness move audiences to tears.

Growing up in a family of Falun Dafa practitioners, Kaidi had personally experienced the far-reaching claws of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution. When she was living in China with her grandparents (her parents had immigrated to Canada first), their home was raided by police because they practiced Falun Dafa. At elementary school, Kaidi was discriminated against, forcibly held back one year, and sometimes bullied by her classmates, who once hit her with a water bottle. At the time, young Kaidi was simply bewildered. It wasn’t until she was about to leave China that she came to realize she had been treated unfairly because of her family’s faith.

Kaidi speaks of these past circumstances lightly, and she laughs as she recalls how clueless she was back then. Although her own suffering was relatively minor, she feels for her fellow Falun Dafa practitioners in China who have lost their freedoms, their careers, and even their lives as a result of the persecution. She thus cherishes opportunities to portray these stories on stage. “Many people say they cannot believe this is happening in China. Many people also say they were moved to tears,” Kaidi says. At these moments, she feels in her heart, “We didn’t do this for nothing. Everything we do is worth it.”


Kaidi pulls off challenging dance techniques with poise and confidence, the hallmarks of a seasoned performer. (Larry Dai/The Epoch Times)

As our interview concluded, we set off for a photo shoot in a nearby park. At our last stop on the sandy beach of a lake, we asked Kaidi to perform a few dance poses and leaps. She found a nearby wooden pole to lean on as she stretched, and she pressed on it two or three times to check its sturdiness. In the next second, she had kicked her leg effortlessly behind her head to form a straight line pointing to the heavens.

As she took off her sneakers for the photo shoot, we saw that her toes and heels were covered in scars, the battle wounds of a professional dancer. But she seemed not to notice the existence of these wounds. Wearing an unadorned black shirt, she leapt into the air with the brilliant colors of sunset as her backdrop, blossoming in time that seemed to stop. Her silhouette was like an imprint of her many years on stage, a decade of stirring splendor. Through it all, we see the warm smile on her face, gentle and sincere, accompanied by the radiant hues of twilight.

Published with permission from Elite Lifestyle Magazine.

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2019: The Year of the Pig

BY LILY CHOO, EPOCH TIMES

January 29, 2019 Updated: January 30, 2019

The Chinese New Year is celebrated on Feb. 5, marking the beginning of the year of the Pig in the Chinese zodiac.

It is a time for reflection, for resolutions, and new hope in the year to come. Some believe the year of the Pig will bring wealth and prosperity.

According to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, the first day of the Chinese lunar year may fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February.

The Chinese lunar calendar incorporates both the lunar cycle and the position of the sun. According to legend, the calendar dates back to 2600 B.C., when the mythical Yellow Emperor started the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac and named an animal to represent each year in the 12-year cycle.

The 12 animal signs are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

A pig lantern displayed at the Yu Yuan Garden in Shanghai, China to mark the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Pig, which starts on February 5. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sign of the Pig

The Pig is the twelfth sign in the Chinese zodiac. If you were born in 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, and 2019 your Chinese zodiac sign is likely the pig. It is important, though, to consider the day of your birth in January or February in regard to the first day of the Chinese New Year.

Pig is perhaps the most complex symbol, since it has both positive and negative elements. The positive elements are wealth (symbolized by the piggy bank), good fortune, friendship, patience, popularity and peace.

Pigs are associated with stupidity in both Eastern and Western cultures. In English, the word “Pigheaded” means stupid or stubborn. In Chinese, the word “pig head” is used when scolding at someone who is stupid. The Pig represents negative personality traits such as being stubborn, careless, absent-minded, disorganized and mischievous.

New Year Wishes: A Year to Expect Wealth

The Chinese people believe the year of the Pig will bring wealth and prosperity. Besides having a stable income, they hope to make more money, and some believe it is an auspicious time to make new financial investments.

The year of the Pig is expected to bring joy, friendship and love for all the zodiac signs as the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.

Happy Chinese New Year! (過年好! guò nián hǎo)

The Golden Pig brings you good fortune! (金豬報福! Jīn zhū bào fú)

Lucky and joyful year of the Pig! (福豬頌春! Fú zhū sòng chūn)

Peace and good health in the year of the Pig! (豬年安康! zhū nián ān kāng)

The year of the Pig arrives and good fortune comes! (豬年到 好運到! zhū nián dào, hǎo yùn dào)

Year of the Pig brings luck and joy. (Catherine Chang/The Epoch Times)

New Year Traditions

Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese festivals. The celebration usually lasts 15 days, from New Year’s Day to the Lantern Festival, which is the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

There are many traditions and customs associated with the Chinese New Year. Families thoroughly clean their homes in order to sweep away any ill fortune and to make way for good luck. Windows and doors are decorated with delicate red paper cutouts and poetic couplets—pairs of corresponding lines of poetry that express people’s joy and hope for the New Year.

Fireworks, firecrackers, red packages, the lion dance, the dragon dance, and lanterns with riddles are other common customs and traditions observed during the Chinese New Year period.


Friends dine on a feast to celebrate Chinese New Year during a community activity in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China on Jan. 14, 2006. (China Photos/Getty Images)

Many families gather for a big family reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, and the Chinese people also visit their relatives as part of the New Year celebration.

Children learn traditional paper cutting with festive red paper, the Year of the Pig, in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, China on Jan. 30, 2019. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Lion dancers perform at a Chinese New Year celebration in a small community in upstate New York, U.S. on Jan. 31, 2016. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

Celebration with Couplet Verses

Couplet Verses or Chinese New Year Couplets, Chūn Lián (春聯) in Chinese, are an important part of the New Year celebration. Also known as antithetical couplet, it is often in traditional style and reflects hope, peace and prosperity for the year to come.

Chinese couplets are usually a pair of successive lines of verse, especially a pair that rhyme, and the number of characters in each line is the same. The structure is very strict and well-defined.

The first line is the “head” and the second line is the “tail.” In a couplet, a balance must be found between head and tail, between each character in one and the usually contrasting character in the same position in the other, and in tone, rhyme, and meaning.

A horizontal streamer (橫披, hénɡ pī), which normally has four characters, is added above the entrance and between the two vertical streamers to indicate the theme of the couplets.

A woman walking past a wall decorated with new year couplets at a traditional market on Di Hua street to mark the coming Lunar New Year—the Year of the Pig—in Taipei on Jan. 25, 2019. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

The founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368–1644), Zhu Yuangzhang, issued an order before the New Year’s Eve requiring every householder to write couplets on red paper and post them on entry door frames to welcome the New Year.

In the morning of the New Year, the emperor dressed himself in plain clothes and went door-to-door reading the couplets. Whenever he saw well-written scrolls, he was very happy and praised the writers’ talent.

With the emperor’s advocacy, the tradition of writing New Year couplets became a custom that has been continued to the present day.

Couplet Verses for the Year of the Pig:

The Pig is the most valued among the six farm animals [pig, cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog] (六畜豬為首 liù chù zhū wéi shǒu)

Spring takes the lead among the four seasons (一年春佔先 yī nián chūn zhàn xiān)

The Dog keeps guard for a peaceful 2018 (狗守太平歲 gǒu shǒu tài píng suì)

The Pig ushers in a prosperous 2019 (牽富裕年 zhū qiān fù yù nián)

Although the Pig is the last (Chinese) zodiac sign (雖屬生肖後 suī shǔ sheng xiào hòu)

The Pig is ranked first among the six farm animals [pig, cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog] (卻居六畜先(què jū liù chù xiān)

Traditional African-American Gospel Songs Deliver Message of Hope and Freedom

(L: Wikipedia | Dave Brinkman (ANEFO), R: Illustration)

BY SIMONE JONKER

January 17, 2019 Updated: January 17, 2019

African-American spirituals are a valuable part of American history. Born out of an oral tradition that reveals Christian values while describing the hardships of slavery from the period of 1600 to 1870, the music and melodies of these songs are still being performed and appreciated today.

The negro spirituals are usually sung as part of Black History Month, which is observed during February each year.

Mahalia Jackson (©Wikipedia | Dave Brinkman (ANEFO))

African cultural traditions, which include drumming and dance, were brought with them from West Africa.

As their music was forbidden by European masters, the slaves took to the hills and valleys, singing and playing their instruments by rivers and secret worship houses.

Lyrics are accompanied by plaintive melodies, and are created in a “call and response” format.

Themes of love, forgiveness, compassion, judgment, death, and eternal life weave a ribbon of faith throughout the music, and furthermore call upon slaves to “walk with God.”


Harriet Tubman (©Wikimedia | Horatio Seymour Squyer)

The songs were born from pain and a yearning for justice and freedom. Interestingly, secret code words in the songs’ lyrics were used strategically for the very purpose of obtaining freedom.

For example, the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” was used by Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and political activist, to warn slaves of danger or to tell them that it was safe to come out of hiding.

Tubman herself was an escaped slave and made around 13 missions to rescue family and friends using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.

Another example is the song “Wade in the Water,” which too was to warn escaping slaves to leave the trail and get into the water to deter the dogs of slave catchers.

To the slaves, “Crossing the River Jordan” meant crossing the Ohio River, going North, and gaining freedom.


Dvořák (©Wikipedia)

When classical Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was touring the United States in 1893, he conducted research on Negro melodies.

“In the Negro melodies of America I find all that is needed for a great and noble school of music,” he told the New York Herald.

“They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, bold, merry, gay, or what you will. There is nothing in the whole range of composition which cannot be supplied from this source…I am satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded on what is called the Negro melodies.”

On another occasion, Dvorak added that they were “as great a melody as any Beethoven wrote.”

John Hurt (©Wikipedia)

Many African-American spirituals have a melody and rhythm intended to be heard and felt.

Due to limited education, the lyrics are mostly repetitious and written in a slave dialect. Nevertheless, the message and charm are undeniable, such as songs like, “Is Massa Gonna’ Sell Us Tomorrow?” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

American spirituals are a captivating American art form and have been performed by musicians such as Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger, Bessie Smith, Marvin Gaye, and many, many more.

Moreover, this unique genre of music radiates healing and comfort to the brokenhearted, and delivers a message of hope and freedom to the oppressed.

Bao Xuan’s Magical Encounter

Image depicting the current-day Chinese saying which describes a united young couple who live happily even in poverty with the term “riding together in a carriage driven by deer”. (Internet photo)

BY JOYCE LO, EPOCH TIMES

January 7, 2019 Updated: January 7, 2019

Bao Xuan came from an impoverished family during the Western Han Dynasty, 2,000 years ago. His mentor appreciated his high morals and let his daughter Shaojun marry Bao, endowing them with a gorgeous dowry.

An Excellent Wife

Bao said to his bride: “You were born into a wealthy family and are used to luxurious ornaments. But I am poor, I could not accept such rich gifts.”

His bride answered: “My father saw that you paid attention to cultivating good conduct and virtue, leading a simple, thrifty life, thus he let me marry you so that I could serve you. As I’m your wife now, I will obey you.”

Bao Xuan laughed happily: “If you could think this way that is my wish.”

Shaojun put away all her luxurious dresses and ornaments and switched to simple attire, riding back to the village with Bao in a carriage drawn by deer.

After greeting her mother-in-law, Shaojun immediately started household chores, carrying out the duty of a daughter-in-law. As an excellent wife, together with her husband, Shaojun’s name was also recorded in the history book of the Han Dynasty.

People nowadays in China describe a united young couple who live happily even in poverty with the term “riding together in a carriage driven by deer”.

A Magical Encounter

Bao Xuan was later recommended to become a government officer.

Once on his way to the capital, Bao met a scholar who was hurrying alone on the road. The scholar suddenly had a heart attack. Bao tried to help him but could not save the man who died quickly.

Bao did not know the name of the scholar but saw that he carried a book of scrolls made of white silk together with ten pieces of silver. Bao used one piece of silver to arrange the burial of the scholar, placed the rest of the silver underneath his head, and the book of silk scrolls on his belly.

After saying prayers, Bao Xuan spoke into the scholar’s tomb: “If your soul can still work, you should let your family know that you are buried here. I now have other duties to attend to, I cannot stay here longer.” He bade farewell and carried on with his journey.

Upon arriving at the capital, Bao Xuan noticed a white horse following him. The horse would not allow anybody but Bao get close to it. It would not let anyone else feed it. So Bao adopted the horse.

After Bao completed his mission in the capital, he rode this white horse home but got lost on the way. He saw the residence of a marquis. As it was getting dark, he went forward to ask for lodging. He presented his name card to the master of the family.

The servant who saw the horse with Bao at the door reported to the Marquis: “This guest stole our horse”.

The Marquis said: “Bao Xuan is a man of good reputation. There must be reason for this. Do not say unfounded things.”

The Marquis asked Bao: “How did you get this horse? He used to be ours and we do not know why he disappeared.”

Bao told in detail his experience with the scholar and his heart attack. The Marquis was shocked: “That scholar, it was my son!”

The Marquis retrieved the coffin of his son. When he opened it, he saw the silver and the white silk scroll, all laying there as Bao described.

Sources: “Biographies of Exemplary Women” in “Book of the Later Han” or “History of the Later Han” a Chinese court document covering the years from 6 to 189 A.D.

“Lie Yi Zhuan,” a novel written by Cao Pi, the Emperor of Cao Wei.
Edited by Damian Robin

The ‘Why’ of Christmas

A traditional Nativity scene, in the Netherlands. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

BY JAMES SALE

December 25, 2018 Updated: December 25, 2018

The jolly season is with us. Those of a nonreligious disposition will probably go “bah humbug,” note that Christ wasn’t really born on Christmas Day, and that this is all one great fantasy; or perhaps, and more hopefully, shrug their shoulders and enjoy the festivities as much as anyone else might. Why, then, exactly, does Christmas matter, as in, really matter?

Certainly, “Christmas” seems to have been celebrated long before Christianity. The Roman god Saturn had his celebrations on the 25th of December. And the fact that the date preceded Christ does not invalidate it as our Christmas Day, for that would be to fall prey to a dreadful literalism that would mean we were not reading it properly.

The main source of light in “Nativity at Night” is the baby Jesus. By Geertgen tot Sint Jans, circa 1490, after a composition by Hugo van der Goes. National Gallery. (Public Domain)

On the contrary, the fact that Saturn was worshiped on this day only tends to make its importance greater. Why? Because it points to something deep within the human psyche that persists and is made manifest on the 25th of December.

According to the Last Trumpet Ministries, the Romans noticed that three days after the shortest day of the year (which varies in the Northern Hemisphere between Dec. 20, 21, 22, or 23), the sunlight started increasing! So the god had died and three days later had risen from the dead and begun to light the world again. Surely, a reason to celebrate. For how could this be understood other than that light had overcome darkness, and that chaos had been defeated by … by what exactly? By the god Saturn, of course!

The First, Second, and Third Lessons

“Adoration of the Magi,” circa 1530, Albrecht Altdorfer. (Public Domain)

The first lesson of psychic importance, then, is that life triumphs over death.

Secondly, how life triumphs over death is miraculous; it is not something a human being can devise to do. It happens of its own accord and by its own divine power. We do not set the laws that regulate when our days are long and when they are short. As the “Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead” states: “All the world which lies below has been set in order and filled in contents by the things which are placed above; for the things below have not the power to set in order the world above.”

Third, we owe thanks and gratitude for this wonder of life, and bizarrely, as we exercise thanks and gratitude, we feel even better and see even more wonder in life.

This wonder of life! Wonder of human life. What is it about, and why is Christmas important? Is it just so that we can express gratitude and share with one another? What if there were even more to it than that?

Questions by Man and Beast

The Nativity, circa 1350, by Master of Vyšší Brod. (Public Domain)

When I consider the life forms nearest to us, the mammals, I ask myself: “What do animals ask themselves?” and I come up with a surprising answer. Unselfconsciously, animals ask themselves two simple questions: What? and How?

They say, what is that I see coming toward me? Cat, dog, vacuum cleaner? Answer: run, freeze, attack! Or they ask: How do I get to that little sparrow chirping in the hedge? And at some instinctive level, their next movement is an answer to their own question.

So far, so good. But what question do they never ask?

They never ask “why.“ Why are things as they are? Why does cork float, water boil, or why does the universe exist at all? Why is there being, and not not-being? This last question almost gets us to thinking about our own existential angst.

The Nativity in the center of a late 10th-century ivory panel, in Constantinople. Musée du Louvre. (Public Domain)

The icecaps may be melting, and polar bears are attempting to survive, although not by experiencing existential angst about their status on the planet. And, of course, once “why“ has truly been removed from the reasoning of a human being, then he or she only asks “what” and “how.”

To limit one’s questions to “what” and “how” is, for a human, to be in hell. Sisyphus in hell cannot ask why he is rolling the stone up the hill perpetually, for if he could ask that question, he would stop.

Yes, we see people living in hell, and a sure sign of it is the repetitive task that need not be done, but constantly is being done. In hell, one never gets to the root of any issue or problem, or sees why it is as it is. Indeed, as Ingmar Bergman observed: “Hell is a place where no one believes in solutions anymore.”

A Greek Orthodox mural in the John the Baptist Church in Jordan. (David Bjorgen / CC BY 2.5)

Effectively, to be in hell is to be subtracted, as it were, from the total reality. Usually when humans ask only the “what” and “how” questions, they cannot accept reality as it is and prefer the false self-images that they have created, which become a protective physical and emotional shell.

Adoration of the Magi on the central panel of a sarcophagus in the cemetery of St. Agnes in Rome, fourth century A.D. (Public Domain)

The Logos at the Center

So why is “why” important? Because the “why” questions point to the reason human beings are different and unique, because “why” points to the centrality of meaning in our lives. No meaning, no real life.

What is it that has defeated the darkness and the chaos? Light and meaning. What we are celebrating at the profoundest level on Christmas Day is the advent of meaning in our lives; meaning, of course, gives purpose, and purpose presupposes destiny, and destiny, unlike fate (where we are trapped), involves greatness.

Possibly the earliest surviving example of a Western Madonna and Child, from the Book of Kells, circa 800 A.D. (Public Domain)

A German illuminated manuscript with two scenes of the Magi, circa, 1220. (Public Domain)

So, in the Christian tradition, light and meaning became identified with the birth of Christ. For one reason, a baby symbolizes every family’s hopes; and more specifically, this baby is—as all babies potentially are—destined for greatness. But there is more: The meaning at Christmas is personal, since the baby is a person.

Thus, meaning involves light, personhood, and an answer to the question “why?” Meaning and the question “why” are a hand-and-glove combination, as one layers the other. We have “why,” and covering it is the meaning. This the ancient religious traditions recognized. Perhaps the most famous example of all is the opening to John’s Gospel, where we read: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Importantly, “Word” in Greek is “logos,” and this not only means “word,” but also “meaning” or “reason”; we can see its etymological root in our word “logic” today. Logic suggests rationality, coherence, consistency, and order. So we have: In the beginning was the meaning, who was with God and the meaning was God.

How extraordinary, and how abstract—if it weren’t for the fact that on Christmas Day we also have the baby!

Christmas requires us to believe that meaning and order are at the root of life, not chaos and disintegration; that personhood and light overcome the animal in us, and the darkness; and that—if you will—one person transcendently represents this epic battle.

And here’s the thing: Meaning, or reason, cannot be proved by reason; it can only be accessed by faith. As G.K. Chesterton observed: “In so far as religion is gone, reason is going. For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof, which cannot themselves be proved.”

How stunning; we in the modern world like to think that reason dictates our behaviors. But reason is as irrational as faith is perceived to be, in the sense that reason cannot prove itself we have to believe in reason. And so in an important way, the foundation of science is faith, just as it is the foundation of religious beliefs.

Christmas invites us to celebrate not just a belief in a person, which may be optional for many, but also a belief in the order, the rationality, the meaning of the cosmos, and so of the meaning of our lives.

“L’adoration des bergers,” (“The Adoration of the Shepherds”), circa 1644, by Georges de La Tour. (Public Domain)

No matter how dark and cold it is outside (we are in the Northern Hemisphere, after all), and no matter how short the day (or our lives may individually be), there is a massive meaning at the heart of it all. And this meaning wildly celebrates life and invites us to give thanks for it.

In this series, Myths: Mapping Our Way Home, James Sale revisits why myths—all but discounted today—remain crucial to understanding our place in the universe, if not to our very survival.

James Sale is an English businessman and the creator of Motivational Maps, which operates in 14 countries. He has authored over 40 books from major international publishers, including Macmillan, Pearson, and Routledge, on management, education, and poetry. As a poet, he won First Prize in The Society of Classical Poets’ 2017 competition.

The Old Monk Who Got Drenched

The old monk asked the servant for shelter at the manor. (Illustration by Sun MIngguo/The Epoch TImes)

Stories about monks

BY SU LIN, THE EPOCH TIMES

December 13, 2018 Updated: December 13, 2018

Night was about to fall, and an old monk was on his way home to the temple. All of a sudden, there was rolling thunder, and rain came pouring down from the sky. It was a massive downpour, and there was no sign that the rain would stop anytime soon.

The monk looked around and saw a manor not far ahead. He ran towards it to seek shelter for the night.

The manor was huge. When the servant who answered the door saw that it was a monk, he spoke to the monk in a cold voice. “My master does not have any dealings with monks and priests. Please go elsewhere.”

The monk pleaded with him: “The rain is too heavy, and there isn’t any shop or residence nearby. Please have a heart and put me up for the night.”

The servant said, “I’ll have to check with my master.” He soon came back with a reply. The answer was still no.

The old monk asked if he could take shelter under the eaves. The servant shook his head. The old monk had no choice. After asking for the name of the manor owner, he turned around and ran back to the temple, soaked to the skin.

Three years later, the manor owner took a second wife and doted on her. The second wife wanted to go to the temple to pray for good fortune, and the manor owner went with her. When he reached the temple, he spotted his name written on a tablet on the altar. Puzzled, he checked with a young monk who was cleaning the temple.

The young monk smiled. “The abbot put the tablet there three years ago. One day he came back drenched and said there was no affinity between him and a particular man. He decided to write the man’s name on a tablet and chant sutras every day to transfer merit to the man in the hope of dissolving the feud between them. That’s all we know.”

The manor owner knew instantly that he was the man the monk was talking about. He was very ashamed of himself. From then on, he was a pious man and made donations to the temple on a regular basis.

The monk and the robber

There once was a monk who was diligent in his self-cultivation. Robbery was rife where he lived. One night, the monk dreamt of a deity who said to him: “You will die tomorrow. A robber called Zhu Er riding a white horse had bad blood with you in your previous life. He will kill you, and there is no way you can avert the disaster.”

The monk pleaded with the deity, “Please help me on account that I’ve done many good deeds in this life.”

The deity replied: “I cannot help you. The only person who can help you is yourself.”

Indeed, the next morning a robber came and dragged the monk out of the temple. He threatened to kill the monk unless the latter told him where the rich people and the women were in the area.

The robber was riding a white horse, just as the deity had said. The monk remembered his dream and thought: “I’m already a sinner that I deserve death. If I took you to others so that you could rob them and violate the women, I would have committed more sins.” He answered the robber loudly: “I’m not taking you there. Are you not Zhu Er? I’ll let you kill me. Take my life and no one else’s.”

The robber was shocked. “How did you know my name? You must be a divine monk!”

The monk told him about the dream he had had the night before.

It struck a chord with the robber. He threw his weapon on the floor and said: “One bad turn deserves another. The deity said he could not save you, but he already did. By refusing to take me to other people, you have saved yourself. I don’t see why we can’t resolve our bad blood right here.” He kowtowed to the statue of the deity three times and left.

Thanks to his benevolence, not only did the monk save others from being killed, but he also saved his own life. The robber Zhu Er was not totally without compassion. He realized that one bad turn deserves another, and he chose to resolve the bad blood by forgiving the monk. He also decided to turn over a new leaf. When a person truly believes in deities and looks up to them, he will be saved by their grace.

Life Exists Because of One’s Soul

Chinese flower painting by Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times
Chinese flower painting by Sun Mingguo/Epoch Times

Most people believe that we have souls, but know little about when and how a soul begins to dominate a human body. We may find some clues in a story in the book “Zibuyu Volume II” written by Yuan Mei, a scholar and writer who lived in the Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1636-1912).

According to the story, an old peasant lived in the Jinshan area of Shanghai during the Qing Dynasty. One night, on the first day of the month, he dreamed that a magistrate dressed in green visited him, bringing along an official document.

The magistrate told him: “Your life should end by the 17th day of this month. As you have been hardworking and scrupulous all your life without major faults, after death, you will be reincarnated and born into a well-off family as their son. You will be in relative comfort with no worries for life until you reach an old age.”

The magistrate also told the old peasant that he came especially to announce this to him so that he could settle the matters at home.

In the end, the magistrate said, “When the time comes, I shall come to bring you for reincarnation.”

The old peasant woke up, told his family about the dream, and gave detailed instructions to his sons. All was settled in a few days, and he waited for the magistrate to collect him.

On the 12th night, he dreamt again of that magistrate in green, who came to urge him to leave. The old peasant refused, as the time had not yet come.

The magistrate replied: “Of course I know. But the pregnant woman slipped and fell down three days ago, and the baby could not wait until the 17th and was born prematurely. A spirit must enter it to enable normal functioning like eating, drinking, and so on. It has been three days since this happened, and if you don’t go, the baby cannot survive.”

The old peasant understood that a body is only a piece of flesh without the soul. If his soul did not enter the baby’s body, the baby would probably be stillborn.

After telling his family, he lay down on the bed and died.

Edited by Sally Appert.

Politician Fan Zhongyan Put Others’ Needs First

Fan-Zhongyan picture by Epoch Times.
Fan-Zhongyan picture by Epoch Times.

Fan Zhongyan was a prominent politician and a famed poet and writer during the Northern Song Dynasty (A.D. 970-1127). A saying of his, “Be the first to feel concern for others and the last to enjoy yourself,” has become immortal in history and serves as a true reflection of his life.

During the second year of Emperor Renzong’s rule in 1033, there was widespread famine. Fan Zhongyan petitioned the court for assistance, but the court turned a deaf ear.

Fan asked Emperor Renzong face to face: “What would you do if there was no food in the court? A lot of people are starving right now.”

The emperor then sent him out to pacify the victims. Fan opened up the government food warehouse for the victims and partially exempted those areas from taxes.

Fan also brought back the weeds that victims of the famine had been feeding on, to present to the emperor so he could bring them to the privileged class in the courts for them to understand the hard times of the general public.

In 1035, when Fan was a governor in his hometown of Suzhou City, he bought a piece of land for home construction.

After a feng shui master checked the land, he congratulated Fan and said: “This is a blessed land, and if you build a house here, you will give rise to generations of high-ranking officers among your descendants.”

Instead of occupying the blessed land alone, Fan Zhongyan established a school there and hired outstanding lecturers to run courses. It generated a lot of talent and became a phenomenon for others to follow. Thus, in the generations to come, people called Suzhou the leading place for schooling.

Fan petitioned for people all his life. Because of his bold approaches, he was demoted many times and was sent to other places when he offended the ruler. Wherever he governed, people were grateful for his benevolent deeds, and they posted his portrait in temples to pay tribute to him even while he was alive.

One of his friends urged him to keep silent in order to hold on to his own position. In reply, he wrote that it is “better to remonstrate and die, than keep silent and live.”

This illustrates how ancient scholars kept their noble spirit, speaking out for the people as part of their moral responsibility and mission.

The usual saying is that “richness will not be passed down to more than three generations.” However, the family of Fan prospered for over eight hundred years. The four sons of Fan Zhongyan were all talented and virtuous, and Fan’s descendants always remember their ancestor’s teaching to “accumulate virtue through kind deeds.”

Edited by Sally Appert