The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, an enchanting, beautifully crafted novel that explores a mystery only heaven can unfold. It is a tale of a life on earth. It’s a tale of life beyond it. It’s a fable about love, a warning about war, and a nod of the cap to the real people of this world, the ones who never get their name in lights.
This book is about the meaning of life. What do we humans live for? Eddie, the protagonist, thought his life was meaningless during his lifetime. After his death, he met five people in heaven. These five people, known and unknown, all played a pivotal role in Eddie’s life. They taught Eddie the meaning and value of life. At last Eddie was relieved. The originally heavy soul also became lighter. Each of us is running towards death. Death is not scary. The scary thing is that we do not know how to live.
Eddie is a grizzled war veteran who feels trapped in a meaningless life of fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. As the park has changed over the years — from the Loop-the-Loop to the Pipeline Plunge — so, too, has Eddie changed, from optimistic youth to embittered old age. His days are a dull routine of work, loneliness, and regret.
Then, on his 83rd birthday, Eddie dies in a tragic accident, trying to save a little girl from a falling cart. With his final breath, he feels two small hands in his — and then nothing. He awakens in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden, but a place where your earthly life is explained to you by five people who were in it. These people may have been loved ones or distant strangers. Yet each of them changed your path forever.
Eddie arrives in Heaven, where he meets “the Blue Man.” The Blue Man explains that Eddie is about to journey through Heaven’s five levels, meeting someone who has had a significant impact upon his life or someone on whom his life had a significant impact. Eddie asks why the Blue Man is his first person, and he informs Eddie that, when Eddie was very young, he caused the car accident that killed him. From this, Eddie learns his first lesson: there are no random events in life and all individuals and experiences are connected in some way.
Eddie meets his former captain from the army, who reminds Eddie of their time together as prisoners of war in a forced labor camp in the Philippines. Their group burned the camp during their escape and Eddie, while running away, remembers seeing a shadow move in one of the huts. The Captain confesses that he shot Eddie in the leg to prevent Eddie from chasing the shadow into the fire. This saved Eddie’s life despite leaving him with a lifelong severe limp. Eddie then learns how the Captain died: he stepped on a land mine that would have killed all the men had he not set it off.
Eddie finds himself outside a diner, where he sees his father through a window. A well-dressed woman named Ruby appears and introduces herself to him. Ruby explains that Ruby Pier was named after her by her husband Emile, who built it in tribute to her. Ruby shows Eddie the true cause of his father’s death, which is different from what he had always believed. She tells Eddie that he needs to forgive his father.
Eddie meets his late wife, Marguerite. They remember their wedding, and Marguerite teaches Eddie that love is never lost in death; it just moves on and takes a different form.
Eddie awakens to see children playing along with a riverbed. A young Filipina girl named Tala comes up to him. Tala reveals that she was the little girl from the hut that Eddie set on fire. Distraught, Eddie breaks down both cursing and asking God “why?” Tala hands him a stone and asks him to “wash” her like the other children in the river are doing to one another. Eddie is puzzled, but dips the stone in the water and starts to scrape off the injuries he had inflicted on her. Tala’s wounds begin to clear until she is freed of all the scars. Eddie asks Tala if she knows if he was able to save the little girl before his death. Tala tells him he did manage to push her out of the way. In this way, Tala explains, he also managed to atone every day for her unnecessary death.
In the end, it shows that Eddie’s Heaven is the Stardust Band Shell, where he met Marguerite.
One by one, Eddie’s five people illuminate the unseen connections of his earthly life. As the story builds to its stunning conclusion, Eddie desperately seeks redemption in the still-unknown last act of his life: Was it a heroic success or a devastating failure? The answer, which comes from the most unlikely of sources, is as inspirational as a glimpse of heaven itself.
Reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven helped me understand deeper about the law of cause and effect in Buddhism teaching. We live in the web of reincarnation of life and death woven by our own karma. Each one of us is connected by the threads in this vast web. Our thoughts, words, and actions all have a small or big impacts to others near and far. What we humans need now is more love, respect, kindness and compassion, and less conflict, fighting and argument.
1. Most of our life is spent chasing false goals and worshipping false ideals. The day you realise that is the day you really start to live.
2. You really, truly cannot please all of the people all of the time. Please yourself first and your loved ones second, everyone else is busy pleasing themselves anyway, trust me.
3. Fighting the ageing process is like trying to catch the wind. Go with it, enjoy it. Your body is changing, but it always has been. Don’t waste time trying to reverse that, instead change your mindset to see the beauty in the new.
4. Nobody is perfect and nobody is truly happy with their lot. When that sinks in you are free of comparison and free of judgement. It’s truly liberating.
5. No one really sees what you do right, everyone sees what you do wrong. When that becomes clear to you, you will start doing things for the right reason and you will start having so much more fun.
6. You will regret the years you spent berating your looks, the sooner you can make peace with the vessel your soul lives in, the better. Your body is amazing and important but it does not define you.
7. Your health is obviously important but stress, fear and worry are far more damaging than any delicious food or drink you may deny yourself. Happiness and peace are the best medicine.
8. Who will remember you and for what, become important factors as you age. Your love and your wisdom will live on far longer than any material thing you can pass down. Tell your stories, they can travel farther than you can imagine.
9. We are not here for long but if you are living against the wind it can feel like a life-sentence. Life should not feel like a chore, it should feel like an adventure.
10. Always, always, drink the good champagne/ Cacao and use the things you keep for ‘best’. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. Today is a gift that’s why we call it the present. Eat, Drink & Be Merry.
Established in October 2011, The International Art Museum of America(IAMA) is a charming and vibrant gallery, full of both exotic and familiar paintings, portraits, and sculptures. Its diverse collection of artwork and education programs promotes art appreciation, culture exchange, and communication between artists and guests. With these qualities, the IAMA hopes to nurture an important spiritual goal: that all people may have a deeper understanding of each other.
Tendergold Gallery was first introduced by IAMA in early 2018. The name pays homage to our ever-so-funky neighboring Tenderloin District. While it could undeniably be seen as dark and gritty, it also hosted some of San Francisco’s most exciting underground art scenes and nightlife. At Tendergold celebrated this by bringing art to the light of day from emerging artists, both internationally and from the Bay Area. Once at this room, a young Syria refugee artist, who live in Greece refugee camp, displayed her paintings, and the income from auction of the drawing was donated to Syria refugee camp. Tendergold Gallery was closed in early 2022 and replaced by Sip Art.
Besides collecting timeless and world-class art treasures, the International Art Museum of America is also mindful of contemporary art creations of all forms. The museum created a special exhibit dedicated to the modern art of our era. The quarterly rotating exhibit called Lightspace was conceived thereafter beginning in September of 2018. We select outstanding artworks to be on exhibit in the Lightspace Gallery, from photography to mixed media, sculpting, and installation art.
Culture and Entertaining Events
For ten years, the IAMA has brought the artwork and traditions of many cultures to the residents of San Francisco. It has embraced a mission of bringing happiness and cultural understanding through its various activities and artistic programs. We hope that our work will help bring people all over the world to a greater understanding and harmony.
If we could hear all frequencies of sound and see all spectrum of light, then we will have different view and deeper understanding of the world that we live in.
Only 5% of the stuff in our universe is made up of normal matter, but that is where most of us put 100% of our focus and attention. This creates an illusion of separateness where we believe we are alone and that when our material body dies, that’s the end. We even call this stuff “matter” because we believe it is all that matters. But, the other 95% of stuff in our universe is made up of energies and a mysterious dark matter, which actually govern our universe, our bodies, our experiences and our lives. This non-material universe can also be called the spiritual universe. As we tap into this spiritual dimension, we start to see how all things are connected, we see relationships, we feel energies, we sense intuition, and we discover the true nature of our mind. Todd Perelmuter takes us on a spiritual journey, from Aloneness to Oneness, where borders and barriers disappear, and open hearts and open minds take hold. It takes us to a place where anger, greed, hatred and fear cease to be, and only love, joy, peace and gratitude remain. Todd Perelmuter studied meditation and mindfulness from world-renowned teachers around the world for over 9 years. Upon his return to the States, he created EastWesticism, a nonprofit dedicated to helping everyone reach their highest potential and lead a peaceful, calm, and stress-free life.
It is a very beautiful narrated movie, delivered a profound life messages. However I can’t totally agree with some parts, such as the concept of oneness, because I haven’t had that experience yet, so don’t know what this “oneness” really feels like. To me this is still an abstract concept, and until I can experience it myself I cannot say I truly understand it. Base on my very shallow knowledge of Buddhism, the experience of oneness has many levels. basically there are four levels in Arahant , and 12 stages in Bodhisattva, the higher the stage the greater achievement. Buddha is the only one that has truly reached oneness with everything in the universe. Again, this is just my own understanding, I haven’t experienced any level of the holy being yet. But I hope this short movie will inspire you to find your own spiritual journey, and find the ultimate truth about life and universe.
Bill Porter lived for three years in the early seventies as a Buddhist monk in Taiwan where he began his translations of poetry by the famous Chinese poet-recluse Cold Mountain. Porter’s mentor in this undertaking was the Buddhist scholar and translator John Blofield. After leaving monastic life, he married a Chinese woman and continued his translation work. Years later, Porter began the first of many long journeys in mainland China that he chronicled for radio audiences in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He produced over 1,100 short programs about different Chinese locales, embellishing his narratives with details from Chinese history and culture. In recent years he has focused on China’s great Zen monasteries, traveling to scores of the remaining abodes of famous ancient Zen teachers.
Porter’s main books of translation, published under the name Red Pine, include The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma (North Point Press), The Zen Works of Stone House (Mercury House), The Clouds Should Know Me by Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China (Wisdom Publications), and his latest, The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain (Copper Canyon). Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits (Mercury House) is published under the name Bill Porter because it is not a book of translation. This interview was conducted in Ukiah, California, north of San Francisco, by ANDY FERGUSON.
Tell me about your background and how you became interested in Buddhism.
My dad was a bank robber. He and his gang were knocking off banks in the South and worked their way north to the Michigan area. There they got in a shoot-out with police. All the robbers were killed except my dad, who was wounded in the knee and lost his kneecap. Then, of course, he went to prison. In the meantime, the family farm down South got sold and when Dad got out he used his portion to get into the hotel business in Texas. He then became a top hotel magnate and the family got very rich. So my childhood was one of wealth, with maids and big homes. First we lived in L.A., then later we lived near Coeur D’Alene in Idaho.
Dad bought Bing Crosby’s house. He liked Democratic Party politics and actually became head of the Democratic Party in California. He toyed with the idea of running for office, but he had this problem with his background, so he’d just get himself nominated for different offices and then turn down the nomination. Eleanor Roosevelt nominated my dad, Arnold Porter, to be President of the United States on national TV at the 1956 Democratic Convention. The Kennedy brothers, Ted and Robert, used to visit our house. John never came there, but when he was in the White House Dad used to get drunk and call him on the phone. He’d just do it to show off to us kids. My sister and brother and I went to fancy private schools, but even at a young age I hated it all. It was so phony, with everyone caught up in wealth and ego and power. It all seemed to me to be so hollow. Later, my dad divorced my mother and subsequently we lost everything. It all went into receivership. My sister and brother had a very difficult time learning to live without lots of money. But as for me, I was actually relieved when this happened. After some unsuccessful stints in junior college I served for three years in the Army as a clerk in a medical unit in Germany, and when I got out the GI Bill paid for my college education at UC Santa Barbara. When I encountered Buddhism, I didn’t have any problem understanding exactly what it was talking about. The whole thing was quite clear to me. After four years of college, I could have gone further into graduate school, but at that point all I wanted to do was become a Buddhist monk.
You’re recognized as an authority on Chinese religious culture not only among many Westerners, but among Chinese as well. For example, the head of the mainland Chinese Buddhist Association, Abbot Jing Hui of Bailin Monastery, has directed his head monk Minghai to translate your English book Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits into Chinese. Many Chinese learn about their traditions from you. In this case, your book is a window on the phenomenon of Chinese hermits. Talk about the perception of hermits in China and whether it is very different from our regard for them in the West.
The hermit tradition is actually one of the most important parts of Chinese society. We [in the West] almost always think of hermits as misanthropes, as people who want to step out of, and have nothing to do with, society—whereas in China the hermit has always been seeking the wisdom with which to guide society. My conversations with hermits in China led me to conclude that [for them] seclusion was like going to graduate school. Afterwards they can teach. Seclusion did not necessarily mean individual seclusion. It could also occur in a relatively secluded monastery. Persons who could “break the mold” and become teachers almost always required a period of seclusion for maturation. The Zen tradition represented one aspect of this tradition by producing these individuals en masse. You almost never hear of anybody who became a teacher by just working their way up through the ranks of an organization. This was true not only in Zen, but among other Buddhist schools such as Pure Land or T’ien-t’ai. It was true in Taoism as well. There was an awareness that to bring the teachings they had learned to fruition, individuals needed to be alone with them, and so Chinese hermits have been doing that. Nowadays, when I visit my hermit friends, I often find Chinese Communist officials visiting them too. One woman hermit I visited had six Communist officials in her hut, seeing if they could do anything to help her out. The Chinese previously maintained, and have recently revived, an awareness that these people were doing society a lot of good. They’re like a mountain stream that brings fresh water down into town. The water eventually reaches the town, no matter whether you pipe it down or it comes down as a spring.
In your book, Road to Heaven, it’s notable that at least one-half of the hermits you interviewed were women. How do you account for there being so many women hermits in China?
One of the reasons is because of the inequality between the sexes in China. It was a major decision for a family to allow a son to enter the clergy, since a son represented the parents’ social security. For daughters to marry out of the family, however, was expensive. It also represented a loss of labor to the family. Plus, the family had to make a big dowry payment. So it’s been easier for women to leave home to become hermits or enter religious orders for this reason. Sixty to seventy percent of the hermits I interviewed were women. It was very unlikely for a family to let a single son become a monk because he wanted to become one. If there was an extra son, however, it might be considered a good religious investment to let him become a monk.
You have a new book on the poetry of Cold Mountain out now. How did your interest in Cold Mountain come about and how did you come to translate his work?
I lived at a monastery in Taiwan run by Dharma Master Wuming, Chiang Kai-shek’s personal teacher. He gave me a copy of Cold Mountain poems that he had published. I liked them so much that I translated them myself. After I had done 150 of them, I wanted to publish them but didn’t know how to go about it. An Australian friend saw a lot of books on my bookshelf by John Blofield and said, “Why don’t you send them to him and ask him what to do with them?” So I did. John Blofield kindly answered my letter and we then began a relationship. Eventually I published three hundred of the poems and John Blofield provided the foreword for the book. Now, with my latest book, I’m revisiting those poems. It hadn’t occurred to me when I did the first book that when you translate a poem you have to write a poem.
I know that seems obvious, but it hadn’t really occurred to me. Now, after fifteen years, I feel I can translate a poem as a poem.
A hermit poet you’ve written about who had profound influence, not only in China, but also in Korea, was the Chinese Zen master Stone House. Can you talk about his place in the hermit tradition and why he came to have such a widespread influence?
Well, he was one of the exceptional Zen students who became a poet. Stone House had a genius for poetry that is unique. I’ve always said that he was the greatest of all the Chinese Buddhist poets. And although he was a hermit, he was a Zen teacher, too, and he taught individuals through his poetry. Stone House loved the hermit tradition, but managed to attract people to his hermitage just as if he was living downtown. He is a good example of how the hermit tradition affects society. By staying up on his mountain, he was able to affect the course of Zen in Korea. A prominent Korean monk came and studied with him at his hermitage and then took the robe and bowl of Stone House back to his country and established the Chogye Order, Korea’s main Zen tradition.
So Stone House was able to affect people by being a hermit, and his influence as a teacher was bound up in his skill as a poet. There were Zen masters in China who were his equal or even his superior in their Zen understanding, but nobody wrote a better poem.
What was it like to visit the place where Stone House lived?
One of the things I always try to do in China is “revisit the scene of the crime.” I go to the sites associated with figures that I admire. On one trip, I sought out the mountain where Stone House lived as a hermit. In the last five hundred years a road was actually built to the top of the mountain and now there’s a military electronic relay installation there. Within a few minutes after we arrived we were surrounded by the authorities there. But as soon as I whipped out my published translations of Stone House’s poems along with the original Chinese, the officer in charge told the soldiers to put away their guns. He then got out his machete and personally led me through the undergrowth to an old farmhouse made of rocks on the mountain. He said, “This is where those poems were written. When we moved here it used to be a little Buddhist temple.” There was a farmer living there who confirmed that this was where Stone House lived. The spring was still flowing right behind the hut, the only spring on the mountain. It was just remarkable to go to a site where someone you know lived a long time ago and find the same old hut there, with only a few bricks replaced or the roof having been repaired after falling in six or seven times since he lived there. That’s what I love to do in China. I love to visit these old places.
It sounds like the Chinese officer in charge was quite interested in helping you.
Even though there’s religious oppression going on in China, it is mainly a political oppression. It doesn’t have anything to do with the underlying cultural appreciation that remains with the people of China, even with the Communist Party officials at the local level. It goes to show that despite fifty years of Communist rule, the Chinese people themselves have an amazing appreciation for their own culture, their history, and the religions of China.
This interesting old American man has no Chinese ancestry, but he loves Chinese traditional culture deeply.
He is the author of “The Orchid in the Empty Valley”, Bill Porter, an American writer who is influenced by Buddhist classics and obsessed with Chinese culture. He has visited China many times, lived a simple life in temples, and looked for a place for hermits and eminent monks. Be the Chinese Taiwanese wife of Zhuangzi’s research.
He also tried to pursue the ideal world in the minds of Chinese people for thousands of years-Peach Blossom Spring.
Published a series of books expounding Chinese culture in China and the United States: “The Orchid in the Empty Valley”, “Looking for People”, “The Heart Sutra” interpretation, etc. He also translated and published “Hanshan Poems”, “Shiwushan Residence Poems” and poetry by Wei Yingwu and Liu Zongyuan.
Bill Porter is a particularly interesting old urchin. He returned to China to follow in the footsteps of Su Shi and Tao Yuanming and wrote “Yi Nian Tao Hua Yuan”. When he flew over the sky over my hometown Leizhou Peninsula, he opened the collection of Dongpo poems and began to recite. Because Su Dongpo was demoted to stay in Leizhou Peninsula for too long and left a poem.
“The Orchid in the Empty Valley”, published in 2008, records his journey of searching for a Chinese hermit in Zhongnan Mountain, which has gained widespread attention for cutting into the most secret part of Chinese culture. He felt that “hermits are doctors in Chinese religion.”
Begin to visit the former residences and cemeteries of 41 ancient Chinese poets in 2012. Along the way, he always took two precious bottles of whiskey and three wine glasses, and he reverently served a glass in front of each poet’s grave.
The old naughty boy Bill Porter thought that when he traveled through time and space in front of the tomb and was drinking with the greatest poets in this land, he seemed to have met each other in the air. I remembered that my friend Yun called drinking “liquid meditation”. , Very advanced.
Bill Porter also hopes that after reading his book, Chinese readers can try to experience this kind of travel to find heroes in their own culture.
Poems translated by Bill Porter:
I built my hut beside a path but I hear neither cart nor horse
you ask how can this be when the mind travels so does the place
picking chrysanthemums by the eastern fence I lose myself in the hill to the south
the mountain air the sunset light birds flying home together
in this there is a truth I’d explain if I could remember the words.
Bill Porter assumes the pen name Red Pine for his translation work. He was born in Los Angeles in 1943, grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, served a tour of duty in the US Army, graduated from the University of California with a degree in anthropology, and attended graduate school at Columbia University. Uninspired by the prospect of an academic career, he dropped out of Columbia and moved to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. After four years with the monks and nuns, he struck out on his own and eventually found work at English-language radio stations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where he interviewed local dignitaries and produced more than a thousand programs about his travels in China. His translations have been honored with a number of awards, including two NEA translation fellowships, a PEN Translation Prize, and the inaugural Asian Literature Award of the American Literary Translators Association. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support work on a book based on a pilgrimage to the graves and homes of China’s greatest poets of the past, which was published under the title Finding Them Gone in January of 2016. More recently, Porter received the 2018 Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation bestowed by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
At 6:30 pm on June 12, 2014, the American writer, translator and Sinologist Bill Porter gave a lecture entitled “To Live, To Dance, To Translate” at the Auditorium of the CAFA (Central Academe of Fine Art) Art Museum. The lecture was jointly organized by the School of Humanities, CAFA, and CAFA Art Museum, the poet Xichuan presided over the lecture, and honoured guests included Xu Bing, Vice President of CAFA, Yu Fan, Jiang Jie, teachers of the Department of Sculpture, and poets Zhai Yongming, Ouyang Jianghe, etc., were also presentat the lecture.
Host Xichuan initially told the audience of his experience of his meeting with Bill Porter, whose pen name was Red Pine, his publications of the Chinese edition included “Road to Heaven”, “Zen Baggage”, “The Tour of Yellow River”, “Reading the Heart Sutra”, “Finding Tao in China”, “Silk Road”, etc.; his English translations include “Tao Te Ching”, “One Thousand Poems”, “Cold Mountain Poems”, “In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu”, etc. Xichuan said Bill Poter’s translation was distinctive and creative which also made a contribution to English poetry itself, and he called Bill Porter immortal.
Bill Porter gave a lecture starting from his childhood experiences. He was born into a rich family, but he felt rich people had a deceptive smiling face, so they weren’t “real people”. Instead, he thought the “real people” were the servants of his family. At the age of 15, his parents divorced, and his father soon became bankrupt which made him relaxed and happy. It also made him clear that money was not the target he pursued in his life.
In 1972 Porter went to the Fo Kwang Shan Buddhist monastery in Taiwan, to concentrate on studying Zen. During this period of practice, Bill learned and translated Chinese, and he thought through translating, he would be able to learn another foreign language. In addition, this experience brought him freedom which was the biggest harvest for him, because he found that, although he could learn a lot of knowledge at Columbia University, it seemed like“delusions”, his thinking was controlled by the system. But the practice in the temple helped him depose the “delusion”, and obtain freedom.
In 1989, funded by Wang Wenyang, the son of a rich man in Taiwan, Bill was able to travel in China, and he started an historical record looking for hermits in the Zhongnan Mountains, combining the experience and the historical anecdotes, he wrote a book Road to Heaven. In 2012, at 69, Bill began the last trip – “finding them gone”. This time, along the Yellow River and the Yangtze River, he followed the footprints of 36 poets including Chen Zi-ang, Cao Zhi, Ruan Ji, Ouyang Xiu, Su Dongpo, Li Qingzhao, Bai Juyi and was able to have a dialogue with them across time and space.
In the lecture, Bill Porter wittily told the story of his learning Chinese and practicing in the mountains, engaging in translation for almost 40 years, his discovery that translating was the best way to understand a culture. For Bill, translation was a kind of “dance”, and moreover, the dance relied on Chinese culture. He took the translating process as the metaphor of the story Jiang Ziya Fishing, sometimes he spends a lot of time on the translation, waiting for inspiration through meditation, and with the help of others’ strength.
In the following Q & A, Bill Porter shared the harvest on the road of translation, the feeling of China, and the understanding of Zen. Bill said there wasn’t any correct or wrong translation, as there wasn’t any perfect “dance”, but one needed to see the inner heart, because translation was a performing art which allowed the pursuit of your own happiness. Bill was like a practicing person, he thought Zen had no thought, and the so-called“enlightenment” was also a kind of delusion.
After the end of the lecture, Xichuan gave some small gifts to Bill on behalf of CAFAM, and he himself gave a set of ancient coins of the Tang Dynasty to Bill Porter.
Text: Ye Yuanfeng, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO