Mahabharata, Comic Book

The Vedic texts of the Hindus were among the first texts ever written down, and some of the longest. The Mahabharata is the keystone epic and it goes on an on, an endless soap opera of gods, kings, loves, feuds, monsters, wars, good and evil, and spiritual lessons. The hundreds of long Indian names can exhaust a westerner’s patience fast. While I lived in India I found the easiest way to get into these stories was via the cheap comic book versions sold on every newsstand. Bright colors, action-packed, simple story-line and in English, these are the same comics that tens of millions of Indian kids also start with. The true classics are published by Amar Chitra Katha, the Marvel of Vedic literature. You can purchase these graphic novels online from the importer below. Some students have scanned the entire Ramayana comic online to give you a sense of what you have been missing.

— KK

Amar Chitra Katha comics
$3 per episode
Vedic Resource, importer of Vedic, Hindu, and Indian culture books and artifacts

The Ramayana, full scan of Amar Chitra Katha comic book

Amar Chitra Katha, Publishers of Indian comic books


Zen Flesh, Zen Bones


Zen riddles. No answers. A tiny “big joke” book.

— KK

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
By Paul Reps

Sample excerpts:

A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal. Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit me, ” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away. Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, ” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

Muddy Road
Tanzan and Ekio were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself.
“We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

Calling Card
Keichu, the great Zen teacher of the Meiji era, was the head of Tofuku, a cathedral in Kyoto. One day the governor of Kyoto called upon him for the first time.
His attendant presented the card of the governor, which read: Kitagaki, Governor of Kyoto.
“I have no business with such a fellow,” said Keichu to his attendant. “Tell him to get out of here.”
The attendant carried the card back with apologies. “That was my error,” said the governor, and with a pencil he scratched out the words Governor of Kyoto. “Ask your teacher again.”
“Oh is that Kitagaki?” exclaimed the teacher when he saw the card. “I want to see that fellow.”

Teaching the Ultimate
In early times in Japan, bamboo-and-paper lanterns were used with candles inside. A blind man, visiting a friend one night, was offered a lantern to carry home with him.
“I do not need a lantern,” he said. “Darkness or light is all the same to me.”
“I know you do not need a lantern to find your way, ” his friend replied, “but if you don’t have one, someone else may run into you. So you must take it.”
The blind man started off with the lantern and before he had walked very far someone ran squarely into him. “Look out where you are going!” he exclaimed to the stranger. “Can’t you see this lantern?”
“Your candle has burned out brother,” replied the stranger.


The Way of the Sufi

Sufism is the mystical third eye of Islam. The late Idries Shah, master sage, collected esoteric stories circulating among ancient Sufi communities, translated them into very fine English, and offered them to the world in this now legendary book. Half fairy tale, half parable, half koan, these sacred wisps of wisdom can still make one shout in the desert.

— KK

The Way of the Sufi
An Anthology of Sufi Writings
By Idries Shah

Sample excerpts:

The Dance
A disciple had asked permission to take part in the “dance” of the Sufis. The Sheikh said: “Fast completely for three days. Then have luscious dishes cooked. If you then prefer the “dance”, you may take part in it.”

The Five Hundred Gold Pieces.
One of the Junaid’s followers came to him with a purse containing five hundred gold pieces.
“Have you any more money than this?” asked the Sufi.
“Yes, I have.”
“Do you desire more?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then you must keep it, for you are more in need than I; for I have nothing and desire nothing. You have a great deal and still want more.”

A Tree Freshly Rooted
A tree, freshly rooted, may be pulled up by one man on his own. Give it time, and it will not be moved, even with a crane.

The Test
It is related of Shaqiq of Balkh that he once said to his disciples: “I put my confidence in God and went through the wilderness with only a small coin in my pocket. I went on the Pilgrimage and came back, and the coin is still with me.” One of the youths stood up and said to Shaqiq: “If you had a coin in your pocket, how could you say that you relied upon anything higher?” Shaqiq answered: “There is nothing for me to say, for this young man is right. When you rely upon the invisible world there is no place for anything, however small, as a provision!”

Tie two birds together.
They will not be able to fly, even though they now have four wings.


The Qur’an: A New Translation

Despite what has been said, the United States is not at war with terrorism in general, but with militant fundamental Islam; a clash of civilizations. At the heart of Islam is the Quran, and at the heart of the Quran is very difficult to translate oral poetry. Indeed Muslims often declare that the sheer beauty of the original Arabic verses is evidence of its divine origins. Translations of any sort are thus suspect, and so the English world is without great Quranic texts. Among the older, stiffer, and formal English translations, I have been unable to find a version with extensive annotations, a concordance, or even a decent modern paraphrase. For a book influencing current events to such an extant, this vacancy is a deep loss.

Your best bet to encounter the Quran — an effort I believe is essential these days — is via a recent translation by Thomas Cleary. Straightforward, unadorned, yet vibrant, this is the best modern English translation of the Quran to date.

— KK

The Qur’an: A New Translation
By Thomas Cleary

Sample excerpt:

81: The Rolling Up

In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful
1. When the sun is rolled up
2. and when the stars fall lusterless
3. and when the mountains are blown away
4. and when the pregnant camels are neglected
5. and when the wild beasts are herded
6. and when the oceans are flooded
7. and when the souls are matched
8. and when the infant girl who was buried is asked
9. for what offense she was killed;
10. And when the pages are opened,
11. and when the sky is stripped
12. and when the blaze is fired up
13. and when the garden is drawn near
14. each soul will know what it has brought about.
15. Yes, I swear by the planets that recede,
16. run, and disappear,
17. and the night as it darkens
18. and the dawn as it breaks
19. that this is the word of a noble messenger,
20. endowed with power, his rank established in the presence of the Lord of the Throne
21. obeyed and faithful there.
22. So your companion is not insane —
23. he saw him on the clear horizon.
24. And he isn’t grudging with the unseen;
25. and this isn’t the word of an accursed devil.
26. So where are you going?
27. This is a message to all peoples,
28. for any of you who want to be upright.
29. But you won’t want to unless it is the will of God, Lord of the universe.


The Message

At least once in your life you should read the Bible all the way through because it does not say what you expect it to say, no matter what you expect it to say.

Here is the translation of the Bible you want to read: The Message. This new street-wise paraphrase is looser than a translation and so irks purists. But it is storming Christian campuses and youth groups with its boldness, readability, and strong vernacular. Translated by one amazing guy, it’s as far from old King James as one can imagine. For those who find the Bible warmed-over old news, The Message is like reading it for the first time.

— KK

The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language
By Eugene H. Peterson
Available in various editions, among them: Small paperback, New Testement only, least expensive and a good start. Old and New in unorthodox design, The Message Remix, aimed at the MTV crowd. The one I would recommend is the full Bible in hardcover:

Also available as an audio book in several formats
MP3 CD, 78 hours
Available from Oasis Audio

Sample excerpts:

Genesis 1

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth — all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

Song of Songs 3

Restless in bed and sleepless through the night, I longed for my lover.
I wanted him desperately. His absence was painful.
So I got up, went out and roved the city, hunting through streets and down alleys.
I wanted my lover in the worst way!
I looked high and low, and didn’t find him.
And then the night watchmen found me as they patrolled the darkened city.
“Have you seen my dear lost love?” I asked.
No sooner had I left them than I found him, found my dear lost love.
I threw my arms around him and held him tight, wouldn’t let him go until I had him home again, safe at home beside the fire.
Oh, let me warn you, sisters in Jerusalem, by the gazelles, yes, by all the wild deer:
Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe — and you’re ready.

Matthew 6

Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or — worse! — stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion — do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives attention to the appearance of wildflowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.


Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done is a thoroughly practical method of handling the little things that over time comprise the big things in life. I’ve been chronically disorganized as long as I can remember. Within a month of following Allen’s advice – actually, within a few weeks – I was making better use of my day, getting far more done, and feeling happier and less anxious.

Allen’s not-so-hidden agenda in getting people organized is not simply to turn us into highly efficient bureaucrats. With a clearer mind, we can focus on our meaningful, long-term goals in a more creative way. I’m not sure if I’ve achieved Allen’s favorite state of “mind like water,” but I’m feeling a lot more fluid nowadays. This book is full of tricks to help you get things done, but it also offers an underlying challenge: Just what is it that you want to do?

— Marcel Levy

This is the third recommendation I’ve received for this book. It’s pretty good. On the blogs there is a lot of chatter about Allen’s system and its effectiveness for nerdlike people. I would have posted a review of the book earlier if I had actually practiced what it preached.

— KK

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
David Allen
2001, 267 pages

Sample excerpts:

Why Things Are On Your Mind
Most often, the reason something is “on your mind” is that you want it to be different than it currently is, and yet:

* you haven’t clarified exactly what the intended outcome is;
* you haven’t decided what the very next physical action step is; and/or
* you haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system you trust


Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.


Give yourself permission to capture and express any idea, and then later on figure out how it fits in and what to do with it. If nothing else (and there is plenty of “else”), this practice adds to your efficiency – when you have the idea, you grab it, which means you won’t have to go “have the idea” again.


In mind-mapping, the core idea is presented in the center, with associated ideas growing out in a somewhat free-form fashion around it.


The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future.


Most people don’t have a really complete system, and they get no real payoff from reviewing things for just that reason; their overview isn’t total. They still have a vague sense that something may be missing. That’s why the rewards to be gained from implementing this whole process are at least geometric: the more complete the system is, the more you’ll trust it. And the more you trust it, the more complete you’ll be motivated to keep it. The Weekly Review is a master key to maintaining that standard.


Finite and Infinite Games

The wisdom held in this brief book now informs most of what I do in life. Its key distinction–that there are two types of games, finite and infinite–resolves my uncertainties about what to do next. Easy: always choose infinite games. The message is appealing because it is deeply cybernetic, yet it’s also genuinely mystical. I get an “aha” every time I return to it.

-- KK  

Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility
James P. Carse
1987, 192 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.


Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.


To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.


The death of an infinite player is dramatic. It does not mean that the game comes to an end with death; on the contrary, infinite players offer their death as a way of continuing the play. For that reason they do not play for their own life; they live for their own play.


I can be powerful only by not playing, by showing that the game is over.


Infinite players do not oppose the actions of others, but initiate actions of their own in such a way that others will play by initiating their own.


Evil is the termination of infinite play.


No one can play a game alone.


There is but one infinite game.

Life Balance

Life Balance is just a to-do list, computer enhanced—an extremely smart to-do list. It is to normal to-do lists what word processing on a PC is to writing on a typewriter. The cynical, ultra-critical nerds at VersionTracker rain praise and thanks on the program— “cannot recommend enough;” “superb;” “elegant and ingenious;” “it’s a way of life.”

The “life balance” part comes at the start of using the software. You define a half dozen or so major life activities within which all your activities and tasks can be hierarchically outlined. Mine happened to be: Consolidate Long Now; Expand Long Now; Earn money; Keep fit; Maintain home; Explore. Then you break everything down into projects, tasks, and subtasks. The program keeps a tally of what you actually do (ie. check off your lists) and keeps you informed how your overall balance is developing. That’s fine, though to me it’s the least interesting feature of the program.

What’s interesting is how dynamic and nuanced the whole operation is. Tasks can be defined as repeating, with definable lead times. Relative importance is definable; so is relative difficulty. Subtasks can be made sequential (so only one at a time appears on your daily to-do list). Location is assignable, so you don’t trouble with home or shopping chores while at the office. Date-specific items appear on your calendar. And so on.

I thought at first that the program was too fussy. Now I think it’s just fussy enough. I make use of nearly all the features. The instructions with the program are rich and terse, worth reading closely. For instance, one is advised to define subtasks that take no more than an afternoon’s work.

Life Balance synchs happily with any Palm OS device, so I do the chore checking on my Treo 600 as readily as on my Mac. (The software works on Windows 98+, Mac OS 9/X, and PalmOS 3.0+)

It’s a fair amount of trouble to maintain a detailed to-do list like this. Is it worth the trouble? Probably not for everybody, but it sure is for me. Several malfunctions in my work life instantly got better. I no longer have to derive and re-derive what I should work on next. That’s huge. Also my desks got totally cleared, because I no longer need the piles as reminders of things I’m supposed to work on. That’s even huger—those piles were oppressive to the point of inspiring arson. I now can clear all sorts of backlogs—incoming email, pocket written and voice-recorded notes, unexamined new books, etc. just because I have daily check-offable items like “Clear day’s email.”

I do more and stress less. Can’t ask for more than that.

Writing this review was on my sequential subtask list for Kevin’s Cool Tools. I might not have gotten to it if it weren’t there. Now I can go check it off. One less thing in my head; one more thing in the world.

— Stewart Brand

Life Balance
$80, downloadable, one free trial month