Thursday, December 30, 2010

Le Petit-Principle

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Recette pour Le Petit Prince (à partir de Mes Recettes Préférées Français, par le Chef Ultimate):
Pour le shell:
23,4 kg d'oxygène
6,48 kg de carbone
3,6 kg de carbone
1,08 kg d'azote
540 grammes de calcium
432 grammes de phosphore
72 grammes chacun de potassium, de soufre, de chlore
36 grammes de sodium
18 grammes chacun de magnésium et de fer
juste une pincée de ce qui suit: le cobalt, le cuivre, le zinc, l'iode, le sélénium, le fluor, le manganèse, le molybdène, le nickel, le chrome, le bore

Pour la garniture:
Deux poignées Divine de l'Amour
Une grosse poignée d'Innocence
Une bonne dose de Loyauté
Une partie importante de Candor
Un peu de Courage, avec la variété Mannaz particulièrement favorisée
Une boule de Bougeotte
Un chaudron de la Passion (peut également être substitué avec une Ardeur si équilibrée dans un rapport de 9 à 1 de Nettoyage-par-Pleureur)
Questionnement fortifiée par la Persistance (Masa'il préféré, si disponible)

Dans un grand bol, tamiser les ingrédients secs à coquilles et de gaz, puis les mélanger dans un bain d'eau salée, la suppression d'éclairs de temps en temps pour assurer une bonne combinaison. Cuire sur un volcan bien ratissé jusqu'à consistance ferme. Comme la coquille se refroidit et se fige, combiner des éléments de la garniture. Une fois qu'ils sont unis, l'utilisation de votre tube de pâtisserie plus grande entreprises de faire sauter le remplissage dans le réservoir. Saupoudrer de la poussière des étoiles à remplir.
Mai garnir de pétales de rose et baobob crudités. Ne servez jamais de viande de mouton, ni la côtelette d'agneau. Sert millions.

Recipe for the Little Prince (from My Favorite French Recipes, by the Ultimate Chef):

For the shell:
23.4 kilograms of oxygen
6.48 kilograms of carbon
3.6 kilograms of carbon
1.08 kilograms of nitrogen
540 grams of calcium
432 grams of phosphorus
72 grams each of potassium, sulfur, chlorine
36 grams of sodium
18 grams each of magnesium and iron
just a pinch of the following: cobalt, copper, zinc, iodine, selenium, fluorine, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, chromium, boron

For the filling:
Two Divine fistfuls of Love
One heaping handful of Innocence
One healthy serving of Loyalty
One substantial portion of Candor
A dash of Courage, with the Mannaz variety especially favored
A scoop of Wanderlust
A cauldron of Passion (may also be substituted with Ardor if balanced in a 9-to-1 ratio of Cleansing-by-Weeping)
Persistence-fortified Questioning (Masa’il preferred, if available)  

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the shell dry ingredients and gases, then stir them into a salt water bath, striking with lightning occasionally to ensure proper combining. Bake over a well-raked volcano until set. As the shell cools and congeals, combine elements of the filling. Once they are unified, use your largest-sized pastry tube to blow the filling into the shell. Sprinkle with stardust to complete.
May garnish with rose petals and baobob crudite. Never serve with mutton nor lamb chops. Serves millions.]
*    *    *
On December 30, 1935, French aviator Antoine Saint-Exupéry and his navigator André Prévot crashed in the Sahara desert while attempting to break the world record for the Paris-to-Saigon flight. They survived the crash, only to face dehydration in the desert. Their lives were saved four days later by a camel-riding Bedouin. (No matter how hung over you are on New Year's Day this year, nothing compares to what those must have felt on New Year's, 1936!) Saint-Exupéry’s experience led him to write the world-famous children’s book, The Little Prince. Since 1943, teachers around the world have used The Little Prince to teach French to students of all ages. 

Even more than the lessons it offers in language, the story gives a moving contemplation of the nature of what it means to love and to be loved. From his book we can learn a lot about the aggregate virtue represented by the Prince, which I heretofore christen Le Petit-Principle.

If you have never read the tale, do so. It is like holding up a mirror to your own face, finding a reflection in which the most essential remains invisible.

Saint-Exupéry dedicated his book to his best friend in the whole world, apologizing to children everywhere that his friend happened to be a grown up. “This grown-up understands everything, even books about children,” he explained as justification.

Likewise, I’m dedicating my post today to my best friend in the whole world, Carol Stevenson, who happens to love cooking in the French style and has shown me the virtues of True Friendship, Loyalty, Compassion, Mirth, Erudition, Humility, Equanimity, and about a dozen others. And besides, she’s Magic!

May we see the gates of Le Petit-Principle, and perhaps make a home there.

And Bonne Année! Happy New Year, everybody!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The value of a thinker is not about what problems he solves, but what kind of problems or questions he presents, because a new question means a new start and new development.
--Liu Xiaobo, translated introduction to Hallucination of Metaphysics

Today is the birthday of Chinese philospher and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. In 2008, Liu helped write a document known as Charter 08, an exhortation to the people of China to bring true democracy and respect for human rights to their nation’s governance. For taking part in this declaration, Chinese authorities arrested Liu. On Christmas 2009 they sentenced him to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” To me he is a natural evocation of the Confucian virtue of Yi (Righteousness).
On December 10, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." The photo above shows Liu's image projected across the Nobel ceremonial hall. The last time the Nobel Committee had to give an award in absentia was in 1935, when Adolf Hitler prevented Count Carl von Ossietzky from attending. Count von Ossietzky was imprisoned in a concentration camp.
Rather than write about Liu, I wanted to let him speak in his own words. Here, then, is a portion of Charter 08, which I think speaks volumes about Liu, about the virtues, and about Yi:

“At this historical juncture that will decide the future destiny of China, it is necessary to reflect on the modernization process of the past hundred and some years and reaffirm the following concepts:
“Freedom: Freedom is at the core of universal values. The rights of speech, publication, belief, assembly, association, movement, to strike, and to march and demonstrate are all the concrete expressions of freedom. Where freedom does not flourish, there is no modern civilization to speak of.
“Human Rights: Human rights are not bestowed by a state; they are inherent rights enjoyed by every person. Guaranteeing human rights is both the most important objective of a government and the foundation of the Legitimacy of its public authority; it is also the intrinsic requirement of the policy of “putting people first.” China’s successive political disasters have all been closely related to the disregard for human rights by the ruling establishment. People are the mainstay of a nation; a nation serves its people; government exists for the people.
“Equality: The Integrity, Dignity, and Freedom of every individual, regardless of social status, occupation, gender, economic circumstances, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief, are equal. The principles of equality before the law for each and every person and equality in social, economic, cultural, and political rights of all citizens must be implemented.
“Republicanism: Republicanism is “joint governing by all, peaceful coexistence,” that is, the separation of powers for checks and balances and the balance of interests...
“Democracy: The most fundamental meaning is that Sovereignty resides in the people and the government elected by the people... [D]emocracy is the modern public instrument for creating a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
“Constitutionalism: Constitutionalism is the principle of guaranteeing basic freedoms and rights of citizens as defined by the constitution through legal provisions and the rule of law... In China, the era of imperial power is long gone, never to return; in the world at large, the authoritarian system is on the wane; citizens ought to become the true masters of their states...
“[O]f all the great nations of the world today, China alone still clings to an authoritarian way of life and has, as a result, created an unbroken chain of human rights disasters and social crises, held back the development of the Chinese people, and hindered the progress of human civilization. This situation must change! We cannot put off political democratization reforms any longer.
“Therefore, in the civic spirit of daring to take action, we are issuing Charter 08. We hope that all Chinese citizens who share this sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether officials or common people and regardless of social background, will put aside our differences to seek common ground and come to take an active part in this citizens’ movement, to promote the great transformation of Chinese society together, so that we can soon establish a free, democratic, and constitutional nation, fulfilling the aspirations and dreams that our countrymen have been pursuing tirelessly for more than a hundred years.
*    *    *

The organization PEN is sponsoring a letter writing campaign and petition to free Liu Xiaobo. Consider joining in this effort today as a way to bring to mind the hard road of Righteousness, of Yi, traveled by those who bring Courage to the quest for Justice.

May we see the gates of Yi, and perhaps make a home there.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I'd like to set down the political and ideological frame of reference under which I try to live. Simply stated, it is that Everything is Everything. We are all interrelated and interdependent; either everybody owns everything or nobody owns anything.
--Melvin H. King, from A Professional and Personal Agenda (1976), quoted in the Boston Phoenix, June 26, 1979 

Today marks the first day of Kwanzaa, the week-long African-American cultural festival. Tonight, the central candle of the kinara is lit to celebrate the first of the Seven Principles or Nguzo Saba of this holiday, the virtue of Umoja (Unity). We can find this idea in the vibrant work of a founder of the community development movement, technology activist Melvin King.

As with all the Nguzo Saba, Umoja takes its name from the Swahili. The founder of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Ronald Karenga, originally defined Umoja thusly: “to strive for and to maintain Unity in the family, community, nation and race.” Critics of Kwanzaa have noted its separatist overtones, especially in its early days, when co-celebrating the festival with other holidays, such as Christmas, was discouraged.

Today, though, most who mark Kwanzaa do so in an ecumenical spirit, and modern celebrations hew more to the idea of joyful Remembrance of roots and Self-Empowerment rather than of separation. Just last year Dr. Karenga remarked on the “inclusive freedom” of Kwanzaa, and the broad application of Umoja:

Surely, in a world ravaged and ruined by war, defined by division, oppression and varied forms of greed, hatred and hostility, the principle of Umoja (Unity) invites an alternative sense of Solidarity, a peaceful Togetherness as families, communities and fellow human beings. It teaches us the Oneness of our people, everywhere, the common ground of our humanity with others and our shared status as possessors of Dignity and Divinity. But it also encourages us to feel at one with and in the world, to be constantly concerned about its health and Wholeness, especially as we face the possibility of climate change and other disasters around the world. [caps mine]

Indeed, I see in Umoja echoes of similar virtues from around the world, such as the Zulu virtue Ubuntu and the Tswana-speaking people’s principle Botho, both of which have to do with finding one’s worth through one’s place in a larger community. The Hindus take this idea even further, describing unity with the family of the enitre world in the term Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Kinship with the Earth). The Lakota, too, have this virtue, which they call Otaku'ye (Kinship); the Lakota prayer which starts “mitakuye oyasin” (“all my relations”) addresses all the world, including not just the humans but the rocks, plants, and animals--the entire landscape of Nature.

Seeing and strengthening the Interconnectedness of human lives across a landscape certainly describes the life of Melvin King, who has brought together people across lines of race, class and education. By teaching the use of the internet to the working poor of Boston’s South End, this M.I.T. professor has given people a cybernetic Umoja. His South End Technology Center describes its mission as moving people “from being consumers of information to producers and creators of knowledge.”

A Southie native, King got a mathematics degree before returning to teach high school there. In the late 50’s through the 1960’s he worked in community organizations, insisting on putting urban renewal programs in the control of community residents rather than government or even NGO officials.

King gained national attention in 1968 when he led neighbors to build a tent city on a site the Boston Redevelopment Association had cleared of homes in order to make a parking lot. Ultimately the place became a low- and mid-cost housing development called... Tent City. (!) King told reporters that the key to the project was convincing ordinary Bostonians that they “had to play a role in the development of their neighborhood.”

Last year King released a book of poetry, called Streets, about his life and work in community organizing. (This once again reminds me to someday discuss how art and activism intertwine in the Confucian virtue of Wen, the Arts-of-Peace.) At a reading for his students and neighbors, one audience member commented that "The sense of family and togetherness that filled the room... reminded me why I love the South End-Lower Roxbury community so much." An Institute founded in his name continues to work with him to realize his vision.

So think about the marvelous story of Mel King and the virtue of Umoja tonight, even if you don’t pass around the Kikombe cha Umoja (Unity Chalice) or light a kinara. Consider how to increase your sense of Unity with your own community, whether connected by streets of concrete, paths of rich soil, or gossamer waves of light and silicon.

May we see the gates of Umoja, and perhaps make a home there.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


A merry place you may believe, tiz Mouzel 'pon Tom Bawcock's Eve.
To be there then who wouldn't wesh, to sup o' sibm soorts o' fish.
--Robert Morton Nance, “Tom Bawcock's Song” (1927)

In a small corner of Cornwall, in a seaside village called Mousehole (pronounced MOWZ-el), the villagers celebrate a local hero, known as Tom Bawcock, whose abundant fishing nets saved their ancestors from starving during one particularly stormy winter. As Tom’s boat returned to them on December 24, they mark the night before, December 23, as “Tom Bawcock’s Eve,” with a lantern-lit parade and a local delicacy called “Stargazy Pie.” Today, then, we shall toast to Tom’s memory by recalling a Cornish virtue, Annedhy (Providing).

"Annedhy" (pronounced ANN-eh-thih) can be translated both as “to provide” as well as “to dwell in,” i.e. “to furnish.” The word captures the sense of nurturing, as well as of creating a home. To me, the word brings to mind a similar value we recently explored, the Baoulé virtue of giving one’s talents back to one’s family and community, N’giouele.

And Tom Bawcock's tale teaches us something about Annedhy. The story has it that, once upon a time, the Cornish fishermen of Mousehole were (ahem) holed up due to brutal and relentless storms. The people (and cats!) of the village were starving. None of the captains would take their boats out, but one man, Tom Bawcock, braved the dark and icy waves, accompanied by no other men, just one scrappy cat.

One version of the story says that Tom’s cat magically calmed the waters; others say Tom just got lucky. Either way, he returned with nets full of seven kinds of fish, sufficient to feed the people (and their furry felines!) To this day, to celebrate his Courage, Faith, and Selflessness, the children of the village parade to the water’s edge on Tom Bawcock’s Eve, singing in his memory:

One of the seven fish Tom brought back were pilchards, also known as sardines, and so Mousehole cooks this time of year make a fish pastry of pilchards served whole. I’ll let you guess the origin of the name of the dish (hohoho): 

A Kentish lad named Jeff Hickmott gives his recipe for this treat here. The folks at Practically Edible also divulge more details of the story.

I’m sure many of us this week heard the stories about Operation Santa. This year’s volunteers have found that children are asking not so much for toys, as for necessities such as clothing--for themselves, and for their parents. It brings to my mind the Cornish villagers, surrounded by a harsh and forbidding sea, hungry and anxious.

Some say “Tom Bawcock” refers not to an historical person, but symbolizes a sort of Cornish Everyman: records show the term “bawcock,” meaning “fine fellow,” being used as far back as Elizabethan England.

And so, if Tom signifies “Everyman,” what do we make of his familiar calming the waters of the ocean, so that he could feed his starving kith and kin?

We, too, sail the stormy dark waters. We are the villagers. But when we put aside our concern for our own safety or well-being for the sake of others, we achieve Peacemaking and Abundance. We achieve Providing and Homemaking. We are Tom Bawcock. We achieve Annedhy.

May we see the gates of Annedhy, and perhaps make a home there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


When we strive to act, the forces of Nature do their will with us; when we grow still, we become their master.
--Sri Aurobindo, The Harmony of Virtue

“Shhhhhhhh! My Sun is asleep.”

The Mother looked up at them, expectantly. The baby was swaddled tightly in linen, entirely at peace, and adrift in her arms. She looked small, and she looked young--until she lifted her eyes, which held a Tenacity, and Rootedness, that belied her stature.

“What have you brought to us?”

The Scholar from the East stepped forward. He was dressed in a bright blue silk brocade, decorated with birds and blooming peonies. He smiled and spoke: “Stillness is the body. The ocean is not equal to the wave, the ocean is equal to Stillness. Stillness is the origin of the Tao, of the cosmos.” He paused for a moment, seeming uncertain, then added: “For one who has dispatched desires, this is itself true Stillness.” He stepped back, satisfied.

The Sadhu from the South stepped forward. Clothed in rich reds, marigolds, and ochres, his face smeared with mud from the Ganges, he leaned upon a trident, and crooned in a voice barely audible: “The quality called Sattva accounts for the luminosity and clarity of the phenomenal world... In profound Stillness, with consciousness at its most reflective, discrimination begins to appear.” He pulled at a coarse black braid, brittle with dried clay, tilted his head, nodded, stepped back.

The Hesychast from the West stepped forward. His brow, buckled like the steep cliffs of his homeland, slid into a prominent nose and a cascade of mist-colored beard. His voice rang like a bell: “To Silence, the virtue of Stillness adds both Tranquility and Concentration... It means Openness to the Divine presence and to Prayer... As Paul the Apostle insists, 'It is not we who pray, but the Spirit who prays within us’-- Romans 8, verse 26." He bowed, and withdrew. 

The Mother looked at all of them. “It is very good, this Stillness you have brought to us. We receive it with Gratitude, and Delight.” She held forward the Babe, to each of them, and they gave to the Sun their blessing.

They held out their hands in benediction. “May your Brightness grow with every passing day,” they murmured.

No matter which holiday we celebrate at this time--the reappearance of the Sun, or the Son--we find ourselves buffeted by frenzy, distraction, perhaps storms of disappointment.

Take a moment, then, to swaddle yourself in Stillness, the Fruitful Darkness, the Silence that sings out with Divine potential. Make friends with the Dark.

 May we see the gates of Stillness, and perhaps make a home there.