Jonathan Livingston Seagull wanted to master the art of flying. Soaring up in the sky, above the white ocean of clouds, he felt truly free.
Though very unlikely of a seagull, Jonathan flew high ever so high, he practised and failed umpteenth times, but he never gave up.
An outcast, he lived alone and happily spent his time in his quest to achieve perfection.
On reaching a higher level of existence, he meets gulls like him who wanted to enhance their flying skills. It was not heaven for everyone there were learners.
Chiang, the guru of them all, teaches Jonathan how to let go of the concept of time and space so as to travel freely in the Universe.
“Begin by knowing that you have already arrived”, said Chiang.
Wondering if someone else, one who dares to question and take risks, needs guidance on Earth, he returns.
“Devil” for some and “angel” for others, Jonathan teaches a few eager ones. Practising, failing, practising again, Jonathan’s students rise above the Flock, the mundane.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull then continues his journey to guide other gulls who must have been waiting for him somewhere else in the Universe.
Richard Bach’s fable is soothingly clear, and thus, appears too simplistic to many. Just like flying looks simple only until we give it a try.
He equates perfection with freedom, emphasising on practising and a thirst for knowledge as the golden path to it; a path where you walk ahead passionately and not cumbersomely.
Every little bud in nature rises high, soaking in sun rays, moving towards it. Rising high, shedding the old self, stepping forward to explore the unknown, dwindling before making a firm stand is what life’s journey is all about.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “a one-in-a-million bird”, if appears to be too perfect and his ideas if sound too far-fetching then you should look at your on-going journey and answer these questions – what are you looking for in life – perfection in some form or maybe a balance?
And what is balance if not a proportion of perfect this and perfect that?
Even better, you should meet Shelley’s Skylark.
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.
‘Blithe Spirit’ calls Percy Bysshe Shelley a Skylark that is soaring up in the sky (or Heaven, or near it), singing beautifully and gloriously that to him it is nothing but unprecedented ‘unpremeditated art’.
The Skylark, invisible to his eyes, has such power in its voice that the poet likens it to ‘a cloud of fire’.
Shelley beseeches the Skylark to teach him what it knows; a divine secret it must be for nothing on earth could outshine it. Joy so true, Shelley calls it ‘a star of Heaven’.
Nature’s bounty, the golden glow worms, the rainbows, the playful wind, a young maiden’s love and a poet’s grand verses, Shelley says the Skylark’s song, that flows in a ‘crystal stream’, is above them all.
What thou art we know not;
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.
Like a Poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:
Like a high-born maiden
In a palace-tower,
Soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:
Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Its aëreal hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:
Like a rose embower’d
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflower’d,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves:
Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.
The Skylark, above these mortal dilemmas, sings with pure love and delight. And in contrast we, humans, are locked in the past or the future.
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Shelley urges the Skylark to teach him just half of what it knows, this ‘harmonious madness’ so that he could capture it within and share it with the world.
The Skylark if not a gleaming reflection of perfection, then what is it? If its song is not a song of freedom, then why is the melody ‘a flood of rapture so divine’?
It must be that just like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the Skylark returned to Earth, to guide and share its knowledge, to remind the poet that ‘freedom is the very nature of his being’.
Unlike a miracle, both took time to convey what little they knew of the truth. The Seagull stays to make his students practice and the Skylark sings till the chosen one – the poet in this case – hears its joyous voice.
Showing what doors can perseverance open and how patience leads to strength, the Seagull and the Skylark leave it up to the individual to unfold the story further.
Birth and death are timed then and a fully lived life, with all its imperfections, aims for a balance, for perfection that guides it to fly high and well.
Certain things are meant to be, but while we are living a moment, we rarely understand this beautiful phenomenon.
I am calling it a beautiful phenomenon because sooner or later we are able to gauge its magnanimity and purity. Everything simply falls into place.
Early last year, I bought a book from a second hand street bookshop. The cover page captured my attention and reading a few lines here and there, I told myself that I am in for a treat. And happily, I wasn’t wrong.
‘The last time I saw Tibet’ took me to the land of the gods, to an eternal pilgrimage, to witness the serene beauty of the pious land and gave me a humbling experience.
Yes, the book is magical. There were times when a mere description of the icy winds blowing in a small village, Thokchen, at a height of almost 15,700 feet, made me quiver and a few lines about the picturesque valley that the author gazed upon left me in a trance.
His visits to the ancient and grand monasteries – Drepung, Sera and Ganden, to the fabulous Jokhang temple in Lhasa, to the royal palaces – Potala and Norbulingka – of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and especially his journey to the Kailashnath and Mansarovar offered me a spiritual spectacle, a chance to feel the presence of the Supreme One.
This fabulous travelogue by Bimal Dey along with presenting the reader with the wonderful scenic beauty of Tibet talks about its rich culture, about the mystical Lamas, about the simple, poor but happy people of Tibet.
What makes his journey to Tibet an immensely special tale is the fact that he traveled in the year 1956, when he was only 16, along with a group of lamas and theirs was the last group of pilgrims to do so until the dawn of the 21st century.
The glory of Tibet, the land that accepted Buddhism wholly and spread its enlightening knowledge everywhere in the world, is now a tale of the past. With the Revered Dalai Lama living a life of a refugee in India since 1959 and the maximum number of Tibetan lamas either living in India or abroad, the spirit of Tibet has weakened.
Tibet, under the rule of China, is not what it was. Can development now seen in Tibet be acknowledged when the soul of the land is quietly being crushed every day?
The number of monasteries destroyed in the past, the so called Cultural Revolution that took place in Tibet, the bloodshed of countless monks and nuns, the sudden disappearances of the religious leaders, the number of Tibetans who have given into self-immolation will shock you, it will dishearten you.
I was aware about the plight of the Tibetans before I read this book. Reading about their on-going fight troubled me as I felt helpless. But slowly something brought a change, my efforts to understand Buddhism through whatever means possible, made me realize that Buddhahood is present in everyone, it cannot be conquered, it cannot be oppressed.
Rather, if one starts recognizing it, such a person can achieve complete freedom. And I concluded and told myself that Tibet is free.
‘The last time I saw Tibet’ was meant to be read by me because after finishing this book I again felt that Tibet is free. How lovely this feeling is, how empowering! Such is the positivity with which this book has been written.
All the facts will defy this statement at the moment, but Tibet, its culture and its religion is not about facts, it is about the spiritual connection with the Ultimate One, with the Lord Buddha, the enlightened one, whose blessings are always there with every free mind.
Caught in the political drama some may not be able to understand this, Tibet –the roof of the world, where gods reside- is, was and will remain free.
Time, no matter years or decades, will seal this thought with grandeur that the peaceful land of Tibet deserves.
Jo loves kite flying and he is flying one right now. His kite is bright red and cheerful. Jo is a very skillful boy and he knows all the tricks needed to fly a kite high.
Dramatizing happily, he tells his friends, ‘Look at my kite…soaring high, up above the sky’. All the boys burst out laughing and Theo animatedly sings ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ while an out-of-tune chorus follows him.
These kids are full of fun at the moment. Life is beautiful for them.
The kite flies high. Wind is also playing with it; taking it high and low, twisting and tickling it.
A kite has a wonderful life. Everyone looks at it with awe when it glides and dances along with the wind and the kid holding the string also feels it. A kite is joyous by nature. It brings smile on the face that looks at it. It has only one purpose in life and that is to fly high in the free sky.
Jo knows nothing but one thing that kite flying on a holiday is his life’s purpose. He didn’t even know how to spell the word purpose correctly, his English dictation test is a non-living proof of this fact, but he knew this feeling very well.
It is something to do with passion and excitement and playing well and concentration. These big words are also a problem for him, especially to remember the spellings. Jo knows the feeling and not the spelling of such words, how silly and smart of him to be so.
Jo shouts, ‘I am flying…see I am flying… o twinkle twinkle little star oye, here I come oye’.
A sound of real, innocent, pure somewhat like the rustling of the leaves, laughter filled that lucky area.
Pleasure is all around here. It is a vanilla cake sweet moment.
Slowly the winds begin to get crazier; Jo understands immediately that now is the time to fight and stay alive. All the kites are ready for the battle. Who is their enemy? Not an outsider, they are against each other. Jo tells his kite, ‘Come on… fight hard… it’s an order!’
The bright red kite gets tangled up with the black one which is Mat’s kite. ‘It’s a knot!’ said a kid (who exactly spoke, we don’t know, anyway something more important is going on up above in the sky).
It’s the nature of the strings to get tangled, form knots and then break away.
Jo warns Mat and Mat challenges him. The mad winds knew it, Jo and Mat knew it, and the kites knew it- one will be defeated and it’ll fall.
That lucky area is now filled with exclamations, some funny, some ridiculous.
And without any final announcement it happened. Jo feels it, the string is now loose in his hand, and he looks at Mat for a millisecond. All of them stare upwards. His bright red kite is gliding away with the winds.
To his surprise, it is not alone as now the black kite is also gliding away.
Jo and Mat, half-glad, scream excitedly. Walking towards each other; their little gang members encircle them. Whatever the two say, the other boys find it entertaining.
The kites are gone, says their experience in kite flying. Like mirror images of each other, Jo and Mat begin the debate.
Possession is powerful, it can make enemies (but in this case, just for a while).
Let us leave the kids alone, they’ll be alright soon.
Life is very funny and very fickle minded. It jumps from one emotion to the other. But then this is how life is by nature. The interesting thing is that kites don’t copy life, kites always remain in one state and that is the happy state.
So look where the bright red kite is going. Colour is beautiful and this is a truth. One will naturally follow the colourful kite.
Oh! The way it matches with the dance winds do, is heavenly. It seems this kite wants to reach a selected place. It is driving for itself. But the trees are near now, will it get to rest on a tree?
No! It lands safely in a garden. Who lives here? Someone is pruning the plants there. It is Mr. James. The kite fell in Mr. James little garden.
Don’t know what will happen now. Mr. James is very old. See he walks with a limp and can’t see properly. Oh, he picked up the kite. He is checking it. Is he trying to read the kite? Maybe he thinks it is a newspaper or something.
Anyway, he’ll know what he is holding when he wears his reading glasses. Surely there is nothing to read in a kite.
He sits on the lawn chair, but without washing his hands? He is a clean freak and there is some dirt on his hands.
What is he trying to find in this kite? Perhaps he likes the material of the kite. He is rubbing his hands against the kite. And now he smells it. The kite must have been prepared using a high quality paper.
Mr. James is caught in a reverie. His eyes are looking bigger. Where ever he is, it is a good and happy place. There is a grin on his face. He suddenly looks peaceful.
A bicycle passes outside his gate and rings the cycle-bell. God knows why the bicycle rider did so, surely not to wake-up Mr. James. But see, he breaks out of his daydream. He looks around and gets up. His expression changed, though it isn’t that clear due to the wrinkles. He looks at the sky and then at the kite.
Moving towards the house leisurely, he bends slowly to keep the kite on the top staircase. Then he returns to work in the garden.
Even the flowers and the bushes and the leaves he was pruning could tell that Mr. James is still pondering about something.
After five or so minutes, Mr. James gets up, fixed on the spot, shares with his garden, ‘I know all the tricks to fly a kite high…up above the sky’.
He is now beaming, now humming something, it is not clear. But then it is the nature of the aged people, they have a smiling face, they answer in a mystical style (unclear to others) and they always chew the songs they enjoyed in their life.
When choosing my flower’s colour /
Blindly I pick all – the sun decides /
Which one suits me more.
A storyteller, following the ancient tradition of cave chroniclers, standing in vrikshasana (the tree pose) on a hill top (it is sunny, but windy), breathing in and out stories (relishing it all, but at times overwhelmed), declares animatedly that she will continue to – tell stories, share rare story gems, and connect with the pacy universe while also keeping the website ad-free.
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Chiming Stories (formerly Home Chimes)
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