12/22/2014 02:48 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

Learning from the Silk Roads: Water and Tea

In my last post, Professor Rao and I decide to continue our conversation over dinner. We are debating the relevance of the ancient Silk Roads for addressing current crises. Professor Rao, an old friend and foil, remains skeptical. Thinking of how to respond to his sharp critiques, as we prepare to go to our favorite Bengali restaurant, my mind drifts to a discovery made last year, when I was reading about the Silk Roads. Recent archeological evidence has unearthed training manuals in the thousand-year-old caves that served as monasteries along the Silk Roads. There, novices were given exercises to enhance enlightenment in thinking and being, doing and relating. One involved writing poetry about seeming opposites, like water and tea. Intrigued, I tried it out. The poem below resulted:


"How about a dip?" Water splashes to Tea,
so cute in its jar,

Perfum'd and flowery,
made from fields afar.

"What?" rustles Tea,
turning to Water in a
nearby pot.
Who is this commoner,
this vulgar besot?

"The moon is out, the night is young,"
Water flows on with style.

The words and feelings
aim 'specially to beguile.

"Why should I?" Tea fans
and flares,
"Soaked and depleted, no
one would care.
Whilst now, I am neat and
dry and sprightly,
Safe from dangers, sealed so

"Yet who but I," Water laps smoothly,
"could coax from you a joy, taste, and beauty,

That the world, for all its craving,
Savors and never tires of raving?"

"Even so," Tea begins to
"You and I can't be a
You are liquid, I am not;
you so clear and I so
How could we ever create a

"You forget," Water slides to Tea.
"Without me, you cannot be.

My ancestors rained on you often,

From seedling to sprout,
To nourish and soften,

Pluck'd, you were sunn'd,
daily and long

'Til your fragrance grew
Sweet, pungent, and strong."

"Am I to pay, then, this
eternal debt?
Sighing a life of untold

"Nay," Water ripples in turn,

"I, too, have much to earn.

Without your tender shoots in motion,

How could Sun and Wind produce
a potion?

So you see,
My beautiful Tea,

We have much in common,
you and I,

From the Sea to the Earth
to the big, blue Sky."

Tea is moved beyond thoughts,
beyond words,
beyond the head...
Water's not shallow but
deep, deep, instead!
A noble spirit swims
Pulling Tea closer, wishing
to begin...

"Well," Tea sashays with a smile,
"Let's see what comes in a while."

And Water swills happ'ly in its plain, old pot,

Ready for Tea, ice cold or piping hot!

[To be continued.]

L.H.M. Ling teaches International Affairs at The New School where she directs the Silk Road Research Initiative (SRRI).