Monday, March 09, 2015

Books read while holidaying in Dubai (1 of 2)


I am not a fast reader by any means but I was able to plough through quite a few books during my two weeks holiday in Dubai:

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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I'm surprised The White Tiger won the Booker Prize. I didn't find it gripping or particularly revealing but it was just about interesting enough to pass the time. 

2.5/5 (meh)

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 The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie

This is Hugh Laurie's only novel and it's pretty good. It's clear that Laurie is a fan of P.G Wodehouse and while the material here is way more serious than you'll find in a Wodehouse, Laurie keeps things light by injecting a dose of black humour. The Gun Seller does read like a first novel but it's still a fun ride with lots of originality, action and intelligent writing.

3.5/5

"I’m part of a team now. A cast. And a caste. We are drawn from six nations, three continents, four religions, and two genders. We are a happy band of brothers, with one sister, who’s also happy and gets her own bathroom. We work hard, play hard, drink hard, even sleep hard. In fact, we are hard. We handle weapons in a way that says we know how to handle weapons, and we discuss politics in a way that says we have taken the bigger view. We are The Sword Of Justice."

"I’ve always felt that humility before the facts is the only thing that keeps a rational man together. Be humble in the face of facts, and proud in the face of opinions, as George Bernard Shaw once said.
He didn’t, actually. I just wanted to put some authority behind this observation of mine, because I know you’re not going to like it."

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Treasure Island by Robert Louise Stevenson

This rollicking adventure on the high seas was the best read of the holidays. It is the benchmark pirate adventure story. The Collins Classic edition includes a nice introductory profile on Robert Louis Stevenson, who passed away at just 44 years old.


4/5

Quotes and phrases:

- Shiver my soul

- (Pew) And I'm to lose my chance for you! I'm to be a poor, crawling beggar, sponging for rum, when I might be rolling in a coach! If you had the pluck of a weevil in a biscuit you would catch them still."

- "you can't touch pitch and not be marked, lad" (Long John Silver to Jim Hawkins)

- by 'gentlemen of fortune' they plainly meant neither more nor less than a common pirate".

- Well, now," thought I to myself, "it is plain I must lie where I am and not disturb the balance; but it is plain also that I can put the paddle over the side and from time to time, in smooth places, give her a shove or two towards land." No sooner thought upon than done. There I lay on my elbows in the most trying attitude, and every now and again gave a weak stroke or two to turn her head to shore. 

- There never was such an overturn in this world. Each of these six men was as though he had been struck. But with Silver the blow passed almost instantly. Every thought of his soul had been set full-stretch, like a racer, on that money; well, he was brought up, in a single second, dead; and he kept his head, found his temper, and changed his plan before the others had had time to realize the disappointment. 

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Wit and Wisdoms of Epictetus - translated by T.W Rolleston

This one was good for many choice quotes but it didn't grip me on the whole.

2.5/5


- The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one's own mind. If a man recognises that this is in a weakly state, he will not then want to apply it to questions of the greatest moment. As it is, men who are not fit to swallow even a morsel, buy whole treatises and try to devour them. Accordingly they either vomit them up again, or suffer from indigestion, whence come gripings, fluxions, and fevers. Whereas they should have stopped to consider their capacity.
- When a youth was giving himself airs in the Theatre and saying, "I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men," Epictetus replied, "I too have conversed with many rich men, yet I am not rich!" 

- Remember that not the love of power and wealth sets us under the heel of others, but even the love of tranquillity, of leisure, of change of scene—of learning in general, it matters not what the outward thing may be—to set store by it is to place thyself in subjection to another. Where is the difference then between desiring to be a Senator, and desiring not to be one: between thirsting for office and thirsting to be quit of it? Where is the difference between crying, Woe is me, I know not what to do, bound hand and foot as I am to my books so that I cannot stir! and crying, Woe is me, I have not time to read! As though a book were not as much an outward thing and independent of the will, as office and power and the receptions of the great. 

- Keep death and exile daily before thine eyes, with all else that men deem terrible, but more especially Death. Then wilt thou never think a mean though, nor covet anything beyond measure. 

- Banquets of the unlearned and of them that are without, avoid. But if you have occasion to take part in them, let not your attention be relaxed for a moment, lest you slip after all into evil ways. For you may rest assured that be a man ever so pure himself, he cannot escape defilement if his associates are impure. 

- When you visit any of those in power, bethink yourself that you will not find him in: that you may not be admitted: that the door may be shut in your face: that he may not concern himself about you. If with all this, it is your duty to go, bear what happens, and never say to yourself, It was not worth the trouble! For that would smack of the foolish and unlearned who suffer outward things to touch them. 

- Asked, Who is the rich man? Epictetus replied, "He who is content." 

-  Diogenes, who was sent as a spy long before you, brought us back another report than this. He says that Death is no evil; for it need not even bring shame with it. He says that Fame is but the empty noise of madmen. And what report did this spy bring us of Pain, what of Pleasure, what of Want? That to be clothed in sackcloth is better than any purple robe; that sleeping on the bare ground is the softest couch; and in proof of each assertion he points to his own courage, constancy, and freedom; to his own healthy and muscular frame. "There is no enemy near," he cries, "all is perfect peace!" 

- The soul that companies with Virtue is like an ever-flowing source. It is a pure, clear, and wholesome draught; sweet, rich, and generous of its store; that injures not, neither destroys. 

- Keep neither a blunt knife nor an ill-disciplined looseness of tongue. ...Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak. 

-  None is a slave whose acts are free.

- No man is free who is not master of himself. 

- Fortify thyself with contentment: that is an impregnable stronghold.

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The Book of Five Rings by Miyamato Musashi


This one is re-read. The Book of Five Rings is a great 400+ year old book on strategy, written by a famed samurai and master swordsman. The emphasis on mastery through disciplined practice permeates the text.

There are too many quotes to post here so I'll save them for another entry.

4/5


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Siddartha by Herman Hesse

Having read and greatly enjoyed Herman Hesse's 'Steppenwolf', I had really high hopes for Siddartha. These hopes were a little dashed and the book proved to be a pretty good read but it didn't come anywhere near Steppenwolf, which is a shame. The below quotes provide much food for thought, however.

3/5

- These and other ways he learned to go, a thousand times he left his self, for hours and days he remained in the non-self. But though the ways led away from the self, their end nevertheless always led back to the self. Though Siddhartha fled from the self a thousand times, stayed in nothingness, stayed in the animal, in the stone, the return was inevitable, inescapable was the hour, when he found himself back in the sunshine or in the moonlight, in the shade or in the rain, and was once again his self and Siddhartha, and again felt the agony of the cycle which had been forced upon him. 

- And Siddhartha said quietly, as if he was talking to himself: "What is meditation? What is leaving one's body? What is fasting? What is holding one's breath? It is fleeing from the self, it is a short escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life. The same escape, the same short numbing is what the driver of an ox-cart finds in the inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine or fermented coconut-milk. Then he won't feel his self any more, then he won't feel the pains of life any more, then he finds a short numbing of the senses. When he falls asleep over his bowl of rice-wine, he'll find the same what Siddhartha and Govinda find when they escape their bodies through long exercises, staying in the non-self. This is how it is, oh Govinda."
Quoth Govinda: "You say so, oh friend, and yet you know that Siddhartha is no driver of an ox-cart and a Samana is no drunkard. It's true that a drinker numbs his senses, it's true that he briefly escapes and rests, but he'll return from the delusion, finds everything to be unchanged, has not become wiser, has gathered no enlightenment,—has not risen several steps."
And Siddhartha spoke with a smile: "I do not know, I've never been a drunkard. But that I, Siddhartha, find only a short numbing of the senses in my exercises and meditations and that I am just as far removed from wisdom


-  Might we get closer to enlightenment? Might we get closer to salvation? Or do we perhaps live in a circle— we, who have thought we were escaping the cycle?"
Quoth Govinda: "We have learned a lot, Siddhartha, there is still much to learn. We are not going around in circles, we are moving up, the circle is a spiral, we have already ascended many a level."
Siddhartha answered: "How old, would you think, is our oldest Samana, our venerable teacher?"
Quoth Govinda: "Our oldest one might be about sixty years of age."
And Siddhartha: "He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the nirvana. He'll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow just as old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate. But we will not reach the nirvana, he won't and we won't. Oh Govinda, I believe out of all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one, not a single one, will reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find numbness, we learn feats, to deceive others. But the most important thing, the path of paths, we will not find."  


- Thus Gotama walked towards the town, to collect alms, and the two Samanas recognised him solely by the perfection of his calm, by the quietness of his appearance, in which there was no searching, no desire, no imitation, no effort to be seen, only light and peace. 

- You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realizations, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And—thus is my thought, oh exalted one,—nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings! You will not be able to convey and say to anybody, oh venerable one, in words and through teachings what has happened to you in the hour of enlightenment! The teachings of the enlightened Buddha contain much, it teaches many to live righteously, to avoid evil. But there is one thing which these so clear, these so venerable teachings do not contain: they do not contain the mystery of what the exalted one has experienced for himself, he alone among hundreds of thousands. This is what I have thought and realized, when I have heard the teachings. This is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there are none, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal by myself or to die. 

-  "It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn. It was the self, I wanted to free myself from, which I sought to overcome. But I was not able to overcome it, could only deceive it, could only flee from it, only hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has kept my thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mystery of me being alive, of me being one and being separated and isolated from all others, of me being Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about than about me, about Siddhartha!"

- "Oh," he thought, taking a deep breath, "now I would not let Siddhartha escape from me again! No longer, I want to begin my thoughts and my life with Atman and with the suffering of the world. I do not want to kill and dissect myself any longer, to find a secret behind the ruins. Neither Yoga-Veda shall teach me any more, nor Atharva-Veda, nor the ascetics, nor any kind of teachings. I want to learn from myself, want to be my student, want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha."

- All of this had always existed, and he had not seen it; he had not been with it. Now he was with it, he was part of it. Light and shadow ran through his eyes, stars and moon ran through his heart. 

- there is never any passion in his soul when he conducts our business. But he has that mysterious quality of those people to whom success comes all by itself, whether this may be a good star of his birth, magic, or something he has learned among Samanas. He always seems to be merely playing with out business-affairs, they never fully become a part of him, they never rule over him, he is never afraid of failure, he is never upset by a loss."  .. When he made a profit, he accepted it with equanimity; when he made losses, he laughed and said: "Well, look at this, so this one turned out badly!"

- "Everyone gives what he has. The warrior gives strength, the merchant gives merchandise, the teacher teachings, the farmer rice, the fisher fish."
"Yes indeed. And what is it now what you've got to give? What is it that you've learned, what you're able to do?"
"I can think. I can wait. I can fast."
"That's everything?"
"I believe, that's everything!"
"And what's the use of that? For example, the fasting—what is it good for?"
"It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn't learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.


- However easily he succeeded in talking to all of them, in living with all of them, in learning from all of them, he was still aware that there was something which separated him from them and this separating factor was him being a Samana. He saw mankind going through life in a childlike or animallike manner, which he loved and also despised at the same time. He saw them toiling, saw them suffering, and becoming gray for the sake of things which seemed to him to entirely unworthy of this price, for money, for little pleasures, for being slightly honoured, he saw them scolding and insulting each other, he saw them complaining about pain at which a Samana would only smile, and suffering because of deprivations which a Samana would not feel. 

- And then, for an hour, he became aware of the strange life he was leading, of him doing lots of things which were only a game, of, though being happy and feeling joy at times, real life still passing him by and not touching him.

- Once, he said to her: "You are like me, you are different from most people. You are Kamala, nothing else, and inside of you, there is a peace and refuge, to which you can go at every hour of the day and be at home at yourself, as I can also do. Few people have this, and yet all could have it."

- "And now, Siddhartha, what are you now?"
"I don't know it, I don't know it just like you. I'm travelling. I was a rich man and am no rich man any more, and what I'll be tomorrow, I don't know."
"You've lost your riches?"
"I've lost them or they me. They somehow happened to slip away from me. The wheel of physical manifestations is turning quickly, Govinda. 


- . Property, possessions, and riches also had finally captured him; they were no longer a game and trifles to him, had become a shackle and a burden. On a strange and devious way, Siddhartha had gotten into this final and most base of all dependencies, by means of the game of dice. It was since that time, when he had stopped being a Samana in his heart, that Siddhartha began to play the game for money and precious things, which he at other times only joined with a smile and casually as a custom of the childlike people, with an increasing rage and passion. He was a feared gambler, few dared to take him on, so high and audacious were his stakes. He played the game due to a pain of his heart, losing and wasting his wretched money in the game brought him an angry joy, in no other way he could demonstrate his disdain for wealth, the merchants' false god, more clearly and more mockingly. Thus he gambled with high stakes and mercilessly, hating himself, mocking himself, won thousands, threw away thousands, lost money, lost jewelry, lost a house in the country, won again, lost again. 

-  I've had to experience despair, I've had to sink down to the most foolish one of all thoughts, to the thought of suicide, in order to be able to experience divine grace, to hear Om again, to be able to sleep properly and awake properly again. I had to become a fool, to find Atman in me again. I had to sin, to be able to live again. Where else might my path lead me to? It is foolish, this path, it moves in loops, perhaps it is going around in a circle. Let it go as it likes, I want to take it. 

- Siddhartha stayed with the ferryman and learned to operate the boat, and when there was nothing to do at the ferry, he worked with Vasudeva in the rice-field, gathered wood, plucked the fruit off the banana-trees. He learned to build an oar, and learned to mend the boat, and to weave baskets, and was joyful because of everything he learned, and the days and months passed quickly. But more than Vasudeva could teach him, he was taught by the river. Incessantly, he learned from it. Most of all, he learned from it to listen, to pay close attention with a quiet heart, with a waiting, opened soul, without passion, without a wish, without judgement, without an opinion. 

- The years passed by, and nobody counted them.

- It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting.

- Siddhartha bent down, picked up a stone from the ground, and weighed it in his hand.
"This here," he said playing with it, "is a stone, and will, after a certain time, perhaps turn into soil, and will turn from soil into a plant or animal or human being. In the past, I would have said: This stone is just a stone, it is worthless, it belongs to the world of the Maja; but because it might be able to become also a human being and a spirit in the cycle of transformations, therefore I also grant it importance. Thus, I would perhaps have thought in the past. But today I think: this stone is a stone, it is also animal, it is also god, it is also Buddha, I do not venerate and love it because it could turn into this or that, but rather because it is already and always everything— and it is this very fact, that it is a stone, that it appears to me now and today as a stone, this is why I love it and see worth and purpose in each of its veins and cavities, in the yellow, in the gray, in the hardness, in the sound it makes when I knock at it, in the dryness or wetness of its surface. ...let me speak no more of this. The words are not good for the secret meaning, everything always becomes a bit different, as soon as it is put into words, gets distorted a bit, a bit silly—yes, and this is also very good, and I like it a lot, I also very much agree with this, that this what is one man's treasure and wisdom always sounds like foolishness to another person."  


-  Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness." 

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