In traditional Chinese folk religion, the historic Robin Hood-like hero, General Guan Yu (died 220 AD), came to be revered as the patron saint (or guardian angel or god) of literature. This, it is said, is because the serenely brilliant general could read an entire page of Confucius without going cross-eyed!
Guan Yu is the guardian spirit of peace as well as of literature, as he was famous for using his considerable strategic intelligence and writing skills to compose highly effective letters persuading warring factions to accept and sign brokered peace treaties and work together for the benefit and protection of the people. He also once promised his arch enemy that should the man be killed in battle, he would care for and marry the man’s beloved and defenseless widow—a woman notorious as a most unattractive and argumentative person.
I often contemplate the lessons contained in Guan Yu’s example when I sit to write. It helps remind me to heed the implied sage advice to aspire always to write on behalf of the peace and welfare of all people, and to make my text so intelligible and rewarding that even a general on the battlefield could get to the end of at least one page without going cross-eyed, or worse. To encourage myself to be receptive to Guan Yu’s guardian patronage and divinely heroic assistance, I keep a small votive figure of the saintly general on my writing desk. Before starting to compose my first page of the day, I offer incense with a request for guidance & support from his benignly ego-less spirit of compassionate generosity and dedicated clarity of purpose.
Thomas Merton, American radical hermit poet-monk
Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaraguan revolutionary poet-priest
“The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies.”
—Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American Catholic monk, priest, & peace activist; Letter, November 17, 1962, to Ernesto Cardenal (born 1925), Nicaraguan priest & liberation theologian
“I felt miserable all day…for the fact that such a person exists. But still we know that all Kings and Emperors and Presidents and Prime Ministers and Heads of Universities and Companies and Popes and bishops and priests and even editors are liars and hypocrites and robbers, and, as Christ said, not one of these “rich” men shall set a foot into Heaven — so why feel miserable? You may say, “They all stand (or fall) together, so why should not we?” That’s just the point, and just the difference between us and them. We stand each many by himself, in the style of Thoreau.” —R.H. Blyth (1898-1964), English-born scholar, author of Zen In English Literature; Last letter, September 1964, to American poet James W. Hackett
Eyes of Compassion observing Sentient Beings,
Assemble an ocean of Blessings beyond measure.
The eyes of compassion see the many beings,
The ocean of happiness and endless life is boundless.
—Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769), Japanese Zen master & poet-painter
signed self-portrait as Kuan-yin, quoting the Lotus Sutra
[deep, deep, things of the mind
empty, empty, vast affinities
a hundred of those evil-doers (demons)
all in silence (stillness) see]
The deep clarity of the awakened mind
is vast as the boundless sky.
See and apprehend all these malicious and evil men
in the silence of contemplation.
—Gao Qipei (1672-1734), Chinese diplomat
& eccentric Ch’an (Zen) literatus painter
signed self-portrait as Guan Yu (d.220),
divinized hero of peace & literature
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