Monday, May 31, 2010

Rainy Days and Rainy Nights

As I often do, here's my periodic weather report from South Bend. While the rest of the country is set to usher in summer, we're still trying to find springtime! The thermometer has struggled in recent weeks to break 60 degrees and the clouds seem to think it's still winter.

For example, for the month of May we've received over 4 inches more rain than the norm. I realize that 4 inches doesn't sound like THAT much, except when one considers that 4.03 inches represents a typical May. In other words, we've received slightly more than twice our normal allotment! And May is supposed to usher in our dry summer.

Looking at the forecast for the first week of June, it calls for rain every single day. It's a good thing that I love rain. :-)

The Wanderings - A Time in the Sun

Now at the departure of King Ching Chi there had been many tears and warm embraces, for it was no idle talk when he had declared Chen Jen as his father and Tzu-yu as his elder brother. Nor were his sentiments unreciprocated. Yet there was much joy as well for each one knew that for King Ching Chi it was a new beginning ripe on the vine and ready for harvest. “Long have you lived in our shadow,” said Chen Jen at their parting, “and now is your time to step into the sun and realize the unique wisdom that dwells in your heart. So go now and find harmony in the Tao within.”

Even as he made his way down the road, still his eyes streamed with tears — tears of joy for the prospect of his new adventure. For though he had learned much of wisdom in fellowship with the best, deep in his heart he knew he had still not found rest. And he saw that a life of peace and quiet joy lay before him.

It was not many days, at the set of the sun, that King Ching Chi was again in the rustic home of the farmer. And seeing their great pride at the return of a sage, he knew in his heart that he was no sage at all, and in this he was amazed that it could bring him such joy. For in their deep humility he realized openness, and that this and surrender to the great mystery were the key to it all. And only then did he understand that a sage who thinks himself a sage is no sage at all.

So given was he to tears that he needed a diversion, and so brought out his gifts which were accepted in wonder. For the family he had brought a tiny porcelain lamp of delicate beauty, and this was placed on their altar that before had seemed bare. And for the boys he had toys and for the girls ribbons.

In the morning he learned that it was time for the rice harvest and refusing all attempts to be coddled, he joined them in the fields from the dark of the morning till the dark of the night and learned quickly the rigors of life on a farm! And though he scarcely could move for the ache of his muscles, he faithfully joined them throughout a long week.

But thinking of the forest vale and the wild hermit who lived therein, King Ching Chi determined to be on his way. So after a few days to allow his muscles to recover, he set off down the road toward that hidden path. “I am going to the forest and hope there to remain,” he told the farmer and his family, “but if ere I return this way, it will be with the greatest of joy to see you again.”

It was a long path to the forest vale but an exciting one for King Ching Chi, for the deeper into the forest he went the more at one with it and the world he felt. And when he finally reached the wild hermit’s hut he was not at all surprised to hear him exclaim: “It gladdens my heart to see who you are, for you are a different man now than only recently left!”

At this King Ching Chi broke again into tears and said, “Forgive me, dear friend, for now oft do I cry and I do not know the why!”

“But there is nothing to forgive!” exclaimed P’o-tzu. “It is not only the sorrowful who are ready to tears, but also those being transformed by the touch of the Tao! Come then, and join me here on this log and tell me of your adventures and those of your companions.”

And so King Ching Chi told him of all that had come to pass and then gave him the gifts with which he had come laden. And seeing the ink and the silks upon which to apply them, the hermit was deeply moved and said, “If the inspiration arises and this hand is guided, the first effort will be yours to adorn your new walls!”

And though the hermit made clear that he was welcome to share his hut, King Ching Chi began that very day to search the forest there about for a suitable place to build one of his own. But when he did not return, not even in the morning, the hermit went looking and soon found what remained. For he had fed the tiger that very first day. “You were a lucky man indeed,” exclaimed P’o-tzu, “for no sooner had you found Tao then you became one with the forest!”

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Spotlight on Church of the Churchless

I first started paying attention to blogs back in 2004 and one of the very first ones I subscribed to was Church of the Churchless by Blogger Brian. I have been subscribed to his feed ever since (except for a brief period when we moved from Oregon to Washington). While I've made several virtual friends with bloggers over the years, Brian is the ONLY one I've met in person as, for a time, we both lived in Salem, Oregon. May I say he and his wife are good people!

So, what is Brian's blog about? Let him tell you:
If you are spiritual but not religious,
If you don't belong to an organized faith but sometimes wish you did,
Or if you do belong but sometimes wish you didn't,
Welcome to the Church of the Churchless.

If you are tired of dogma that divides rather than unites,
That demands blind faith rather than open-eyed investigation,
That proclaims "You'll see when you believe"
Instead of "You'll believe when you see,"
Welcome to the Church of the Churchless.
Almost without exception, every one of his posts is thought provoking. He's an avid reader and he often references one of the many books he's reading. His blog is about science, philosophy, atheism, belief, skepticism and so much more. His comments sections often provide one of the most lively you will find in this neck of the woods.

To offer a taste of the Churchless mindset, here are some links to recent posts:
As long as Brian writes, I'll read...and ponder.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Daodejing, Verse 14

Daodejing - Other Voices
Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible.
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.
From above it is not bright;
From below it is not dark:
An unbroken thread beyond description.
It returns to nothingness.
The form of the formless, the image of the imageless, it is called indefinable and beyond imagination.
Stand before it and there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
Stay with the ancient Tao, move with the present.
Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of Tao.
– Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, 14

You could labor ten years under a master
Trying to discern whether the teachings are true.
But all you must learn is this;
One must live one’s own life.

When one starts out learning a spiritual system, there are many absolute assertions that the masters make. They must be accepted with a provisional faith; each must be tested and proved to yourself before you can believe in them. You will be exposed to all types of esoteric knowledge, but you need only be concerned with whether or not you can make them work for yourself.

There will come an intermediate, joyous point where you find that certain techniques work even better than the scriptures claim. In the wake of these discoveries, you will also find that life continues to be just as thorny and problematic as ever. Does this mean that the study of Tao is useless? No. It only means that you have been laboring to equip yourself with skill. You must still go out and live your life to the end.

When you look back and realize that you have been absorbed the teachings so thoroughly that they have become routine, it is not the time to reject the system you have learned. It is time to utilize what you have learned. You must express yourself, take action in the world, create new circumstances for yourself and others. Only then does the long acquisition of skill become worthwhile.
Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

“Any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question…Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”
– Carlos Castaneda

I grew up in the Presbyterian church, and that was a church and faith that had a lot of heart. I’ve attended the Community Church near my home, which is a Unitarian church.

But I’ve studied a lot of other faiths as well – Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam – and eventually came to realize the message is always basically very much the same, what differs are which gods and which prophets the religion tells you to accept. And I got to the point where I realized that each of these various faiths posits itself as The One True Religion, and began to ask why they couldn’t *all* be equally “true”. Then I read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Karen Armstrong’s A History of God (all highly recommended), and realized that all the hero’s journeys of the various religions (Buddha, Christ, Mohammed) were very much the same.

Then I remembered what Jesus said about there being many paths. And thought about how many cultures have never heard of Jesus, or how many people lived well before that period in time. Christianity is so tied to western thought, so dismissive of eastern thought, even though the Jesus mythology is based on Egyptian mythology and other mythos. And I guess it kind of crystallized for me that this must simply be a way of filling the basic spiritual needs people have, and all the ways religion has been used as a tool for power and control.

What originally attracted me to Taoism is that Jesus referred to himself as “The Way, the truth, and the light”. Tao is translated as the way. I think of it as the process, the way things work, rather than an actual pathway. There is a process to finding one’s spirituality. The problem with religion is that it shortcuts the process, gives you an easy answer rather than making you think about things for yourself.

Taoism doesn’t do that. Taoism says, here’s an idea, think about it, go look for yourself in the world and see how this works. And that is how I think spirituality should operate. There are reasons all the religions come back to the same points over and over. They are operating manuals for life. And taken in this way, they work.

But trying to force others to operate in the world exactly the way you do is ridiculous. We are all different, and what works for one won’t work for all. If you use religion as a tool to run society, you can apply one rule to everyone — but you will still have rebellion, you will still have individuality and the special case, and eventually the society becomes corrupt. If you offer a spirituality that allows everyone to be spiritual in their own way, you give people a choice.

Of course, there are many who just want to be told what to do, and for them, religion is the answer. But for those who seek and need a choice to learn how the world really works, Taoism is a belief system that can work.
~ from Changing Places, author Donna Woodka, original post date: not listed ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

The Wanderings - The Way of a Fly

Now it came about, as Chen Jen so often found was the case, that the daughters excelled the sons in the question of studies, for the former felt privileged and the latter entitled. And of the daughters it was the youngest that was the most precocious by far.

And it was she who now said, “Respected Teacher, there are so many ideas and systems among men about how best to live and how best to govern that I am becoming so confused that with each new lesson I seem to learn less. I have become so confused that I know not which one is true and which one to choose.”

“Your confusion is just,” replied Chen Jen, “and the best news I could hear, for only a fool would think the ideas and systems of men to be true. For not the smallest thing, whether a grain of sand or an insect is within the grasp of our minds no matter how much knowledge we have.

But let me ask you this, and we will see if it helps: When you hear the honking of geese and see them going south, what does this tell you though you understand not what they say?”

“I know that winter is near, Respected Sir, for in the winter the geese prefer the South and in the summer the North.”

“Just so,” replied Chen Jen. “For were all the learning of the ages no more than the cacophonic honking of geese, still we would learn much about humanity by observing their flight. And what, do you think that we might learn?”

“Well, Respected Sir, I think first we would see the direction they travel and then we would ask why that is so.”

“And what do you think, having studied their flight?”

“That all the world seeks peace within and without, though they do not know what it is or how best to find it. And that the cause is that they do not have it either within or without.”

Speaking to them all, Chen Jen said, “Your sister has spoken wisely, so let us together pursue these thoughts. So I will begin by making enquiry of you. Observe this fly here upon the table: Now it sits calmly, now it grooms its wings, oops! And now it takes flight. Have you ever watched a fly and wondered why it does what it does? Why and how did it one moment decide to calmly sit, the next to groom and the next to take flight?”

“We cannot know, Respected Teacher,” they said with one voice.

“Indeed we cannot,” agreed Chen Jen. “Yet though we cannot understand the ways of a fly, any more than it understands its own self, we can see that it functions well and is perfectly what it is, a fly. Likewise, Reality need not be understood to find its perfect expression in you. And peace will be yours when you are most simply you. Do we understand the Source and principles of Life?”

“No, Respected Teacher!”

“Yet we live!” said Chen Jen. “Now, we have learned that when the Yellow Emperor built his great palace, that the work did not go easily and many thousands died in the effort. And the palace itself, though carefully planned, turned out not as envisioned, but was still a great wonder, and perhaps more wonderful still for not being as planned. So, in men in their blunders we see the working of wonders."

"Could it be, also, that in all these schools of philosophy, though none have found Truth, that men in their need have been moved by the Tao? Could it be that man cannot find Truth or the correct path to the Tao, but that the Tao itself finds its expression in man? So let us not study the philosophies of men in order to find Truth, but rather to find in ourselves what led them to seek. And finding both the lack and the promise of peace, let us simply surrender to the Tao which is just simply us.”

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

164 - The Midpoint

...So there are two extremes. The desires of the powerful, who feel that censorship is just a tool, and the tendencies of the creative, who feel they should have no limits to their freedom. Those who follow Tao avoid these extremes. They avoid becoming the ruler, for such a position is fraught with danger, hypocrisy, and disappointment. Neither will they become the grandstanding artist; to arouse others is likewise dangerous.
~ from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, Entry 164 ~
Of all the various concepts discussed within the confines of philosophical Taoism, staying away from extremes is repeated almost Ad nauseum. I believe the reason why the ancient Taoist sages felt it necessary to underscore this one point again and again and again is that we humans have a penchant for skating near (or off?) the edge!

There definitely are times in life when pushing the envelope is needed. Sometimes we just have to have faith in the flow of circumstances and allow ourselves to jump off into the abyss. However, most of us tend to alight on the extreme edge when the situation doesn't call for it and it's certainly not uncommon for some of us to bounce from one extreme to another like we're stuck to a metronome.

I don't know about you, but I find myself far more content and less stressed when I keep toward the middle of my path. When my anxiety level goes through the roof and I'm fretting about some imagery worry, I know in my heart that I have strayed which, of course, generates even MORE anxiety.

I'm slowly learning to nip my anxieties in the bud. When I refuse to allow them to push me toward the edges of sanity, I am better able to deal with situations as they arise. Put a different way, when I'm not flailing around in the waters of life, it makes it that much easier to float along with the flow of circumstances.

The Wanderings - The Surly Sage, Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1 of this story, you should go back to read it first.

After bathing, Tzu-yu found the surly sage in his humble hut tending his fire and boiling water for tea. “Sit here beside the fire, Sir,” said he, “for the day is crisp and the water for your bath was cold, as well I know. And soon we will have hot tea, though I regret it is but a bitter infusion of some nearby leaves.”

“But I have brought you some tea,” replied Tzu-yu, “for I know you are far from the valley below and your visitors, by design, are few. And more clearly still I am made aware that by your design it is so and that your surliness is feigned; for already your kindness is most apparent.”

“Ha,” answered the sage, “do not be too sure! For surliness I have and like to enjoy, and through surliness it is that I know the Tao!”

“But how can this be so?” asked Tzu-yu in surprise.

“Would you not agree,” responded the sage, “that the Tao is in all things equally; the great and the small; the noble man and the villain; the man that is joyous and man when he is angry?”

“It is so,” answered Tzu-yu.

“And in your life as a sage, wandering through the land,” continued the sage, “you learn and you grow through your encounters, whether with wise men or fools? And the generous and the thief? And of the two, by which are you most challenged and likely to learn?”

“It is in that which is less to my liking that I learn to transcend both liking and disliking and obtain the heavenly view,” answered Tzu-yu.

“And in yourself, by what are you most likely to grow? Is it in moments of joy in revelation or those moments when heaven seems closed?”

“It is in the things I dislike in myself that I best learn acceptance of all that is and thereby transcend all caring.”

“So it is, I say to you,” concluded the sage, “that I in my surliness am blessed beyond measure, for it is daily thereby I am challenged to accept all that is and care not at all. And in this am I led to the Tao!”

“Your insight is clear,” responded Tzu-yu, “and I would not debate, save only I would know whether this brings peace within. For it is my understanding that this peace is all that truly matters, though it matters not at all.”

“With this I heartily agree and can tell you, Sir, that in this experience of Tao I find inner harmony. For it makes no difference whether one is surly or gentle, for all things are equal and nothing greater than another. And if peace in the Tao required some bogus perfection, then no man living would know anything of harmony.

And I say this as well,” continued the sage, “that the self is like a hat, and one may put on any hat he will and it makes no difference which. Only he becomes a fool who thinks the hat is who he most truly is. We are a people who love hats, and funny ones at that! There are ceremonial hats and official hats. There are hats among the scholars and sages; the followers of Kung-fu-tzu have theirs, and the legalists, Mo-ists, Yangists all have theirs. And it is not the hats, nor the teachings they espouse, that lead them astray, but the folly of believing that the hats are who they are and that their teachings are pure and alone show the Way. Now I, Sir, don the hat of surliness and crazed mountain sage, but I do not believe for a moment that I am this or that my wisdom is more than a pale reflection of Reality.”

Thus the two sages shared a pleasant afternoon and evening of discussion and camaraderie in the Way. And in the morning, Tzu-yu descended the mountain with the tale that, yes, truly this was a Surly Sage!

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Voices Along the Path XVI

I've been adding so many links lately that I'm getting behind in introducing them to you. So, without further ado, here are some more new links added to the Taoist Wanderers section in the right sidebar.

All the Words of a Language
I'm Racheal Anilyse! I visually communicate, which means I'm an illustrator, graphic designer, and indie publisher. I am the creator of Underground Art School Magazine, I am a contributor on the art + illustration blog Pikaland and am working on a career in children's books. Hello! (Blog includes weekly image with text on Taoist themes.)

Annastao Blog
When I was in my early 20′s I met a person who introduced me to Chinese philosophy; I learned T’ai chi and how to use the I Ching. I read the “Tao te ching” by Lao Tze – over and over again in my efforts to understand the meaning behind the words. I could grasp that I was on to something bigger than I had hitherto known, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it – make it my own. I copied the book, by hand, into a note-book that still is with me, 26 years later. I have since that time studied Chinese philosophy and healing as part of my profession. During these years I had a yearning to actively live the Tao, but I didn’t know how until, 9 months ago, I realized that the time had come.

The Daodejing is a poem, a collection of aphorisms, that talks about the natural design of life, the Dao, and the way we humans can live in accordance with this design rather than oppose it. It celebrates simplicity and spontaneity, naturalness and freedom. Above all, perhaps, it shows us the way to a wholeness of vision.

Daoist Studies
The main items on the website can all be accessed from the menu bar on the top. Additional options become available depending on whether you are logged in. To create content you must be logged in, and then the relevant menu items will become visible on the right hand menu. The bibliography contains information on books and articles that are relevant to Daoist Studies. Of note is the complete index of Chinese and pinyin titles to the Ming Zhengtong Daozang. This index can be searched using the search function on any page, and the first 334 of the titles (so far) have been uploaded in PDF format. The bibliography database now features the 991 titles of the Zangwai Daoshu with links to PDF facsimilies of the texts.

Dynamic Tao
We have published the first attempt to understand Tao philosophy in the book: The Dynamic Tao and Its Manifestations in 2004, after an intensive study of the underlying principle of Tao.. We have further achieved significant understanding of the Tao Te Ching in the last five years. The principle behind the cryptic verses is rather simple as the Principle of Oneness. We are hopeful that we may be able to provide an ultimate interpretation of this Chinese classic without leaving much mystic speculations.

Tao Practice
The Tao Practice is a holistic philosophy and practice based on the culture and tradition of Tao, incorporating elements from Buddhism and other spiritual traditions from the East as well as the West. The Tao Practice offers a fresh perspective on these ancient teachings and provides practical methods and ideas to help us achieve more clarity and well-being.

Tao of the Day
Tao of the Day is a site for all things related to the Tao (also spelled Dao). We'll cover the entire Tao Te Ching several times each year, with one chapter being the center of attention each day. You can always comment on past days, but let's try to keep it flowing as the days progress.

Tao Te Ching Project
On Sunday, April 11th, 2010, we started a new series on You, Simplified where each week, we review and discuss a passage of the Tao Te Ching. You can follow all 81 passages as they get added on this page.

Taoism refer to many fundamental truths that have been observed in Nature. Some of these fundamental beliefs that influence the teachings: The Tao - The Path - understanding of the true nature of mind and reality and by application the way of living in harmony with the changes in Nature; Wu wei - The Natural order, harmony with which allows for effortless doing; P'u - openess; and Ch'i - fundamental energy that forms the Yin and Yang. The search for the Tao and application of Taoist practices leads to exercises both physical and mental.

The Taoist Center
Located in Portland, Oregon, The Taoist Center is a place where students of the Dao can gather to study, discuss and examine their connection to the Dao. The Taoist Center also provides practice space for acupuncturists, body workers and students of Asian influenced medicines.

Non-English Blogs
(I'm simply going to list them)
Tao in Image & Word (Dutch)
Taoisme (Dutch)
Taoismo en Espanol (Spanish)
365 Meditaciones Tao (Spanish)

The Wanderings - The Surly Sage, Part 1

During this time, as might be expected, Tzu-yu became somewhat restless. But not wanting to abandon the companionship of his friend Chen Jen entirely, he gave himself to wandering about the local environs, speaking with and learning from the people of the land. And as he frequently heard mention of the Surly Sage of the mountain, he decided that he would climb up and meet this enigma so much a part of the local imagination.

Thus, directed by villagers who lived at the foot of the mountain, he found a worn trail that bore him on up. And when nearly at the summit, he suddenly was rained on by a shower of dirt. And in the midst of this onslaught he heard a voice yelling loudly, “Get off my mountain and leave me in peace!”

But enduring the shower, Tzu-yu stood firm, and yelled in his turn: “Not until I have had an audience will I descend from this mount!”

Tiring of his dirt flinging the surly sage finally left off, but yelled again, “There will be no audiences, so be thee off!”

But Tzu-yu answered in his turn saying, “Sir, as I have been wandering about this vast valley below and being thought a sage, much mention is made to me of you. And so I have come to ask after the manner of your wisdom and to thereby learn from you.”

“Then learn abuse,” responded he, “for I have nothing else to teach you!”

“But surely, Sir,” replied Tzu-yu, “your abuse has an origin and it is this I would learn. For your manner is unique among sages, if it is a sage that you be. And if a man seeks honey, then he must be prepared to be stung. For is it not for the sweetness of their honey that bees have a sting? But if you are but an adder and a mad one at that, then I would understand the origin of that.”

“You liken me to an adder!? Then watch out for my bite! But I see that you are not as the rabble from below, so I will give you an answer and after that you will go!

Did you not consider the wide path upon which you even now stand? Did you think it was worn by the feet of ambitious farmers seeking a view from the heights? No, Sir, it was worn by those come to bother me! They came for divination, as if the Tao were our grandfather and cared to speak through me. They came to worship and honor and thereby fill me with shame. They came to learn wisdom as if it could be had for a song. Never leaving me in peace, they robbed me of peace.

Thus I have affected this great surliness to effect my release, though I gladly admit that it comes ready to hand. For the Way is not identifiable like beans in a pot, nor is the sage only what others would have him to be. So know that though I exaggerate my surliness, I am surly just the same, and make no apology to you or any in this land. For the garden snake is docile but the adder quick to strike, yet neither the one nor the other is more truly a snake.

And consider this, too, that the sages are many who affect great gentleness and serenity, but I ask you to what end? Is it not to seem sagacious and to impress other men? While my affected surliness has a much nobler end—to secure my rescue from a clamorous lot.

And what surliness is mine, I claim as my own, for he is a fool who thinks the expression of Tao must follow the expectations of men!”

“You gladden my heart,” responded Tzu-yu, “for it is clearly the case that you are a sage and a rare one at that. And if you be willing, I would converse even more to find our common ground and see new horizons where our paths have diverged.”

“So long has it been since I have met one such as you that I have forgotten it is possible to so converse. And truly it seems my surliness was today misapplied as were my manners that leave you on the path all covered in dirt! You will find a creek just there, and when you have bathed, you will find me in my hut, just over there.”

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Where Wisdom Comes From

Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu spend quite a bit of time referring to sages. Who are they really talking about? How does a person become sagacious?

I've been thinking about this query lately and it dawned on me that people who lead uneventful lives -- ones in which they incessantly toe the proverbial line -- rob themselves of the opportunity to gain wisdom. One of the best methods for learning is to misstep, mess up, screw up or take the wrong path. We grow the most when we make mistakes and then learn lessons from them.

So, a sage is NOT someone who has led a life of crystal clarity nor a person who has made few, if any, missteps along the way. People such as this might be smart, but they probably won't be very wise. No, a sage is someone who has lived their life to a full extent and has learned from all their disharmonious decisions.

The upshot of this is that ANY of us can don the robes of the sage. As long as we're each open to the learning opportunities that each life provides, we have the capability to become sagacious. Sagacity doesn't mean that we won't make any more missteps, but we will learn from each of them too.

Daodejing, Verse 13

Daodejing - Other Voices
As Buddhism also stresses, it is our attachment to the ten thousand things that bring us both great joy and great sorrow. When we expect that an event will occur (a job promotion, a second date, publication, etc.), we gain a greater sense of satisfaction by having predicted our success, and a much more depressing disappointment for having invested so much of ourselves in a failed event.

In Western societies, we rarely question the inevitable link of success and failure. It is a common reminder to the disappointed that they must "take the bad with the good," or accept that joy is impossible without risking pain.

But what if we didn't expect anything to happen? What if we continued in our wu wei way and were surprised by every turn of events? We would be more likely to accept each turn of events without being sidetracked by extreme emotions. The Taoist trades the highs and lows of a life of attachment for the mellower fluctuations of a detached attitude.

"Honors elevate,
Disgraces depress.
One receives them surprised,
Loses them surprised.
Thus, 'Accept honors and disgraces as surprises.'"
~ from Tao Manor, Original Post date: not listed ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

The Wanderings - What They Want to Be

On the very first day, with his five charges before him, Chen Jen asked them each one what they wanted to be. But the answers were but two.

The eldest son said, and the other sons agreed: “Respected Sir, I want to be rich and respected like my revered father.”

And the eldest daughter, with the other agreeing said, “Respected Sir, I want to be beautiful and wanted by a rich and respected man like my reverend father.”

Thereupon Chen Jen began to instruct them in the history and wisdom of the ancients. He taught them of the mystical beginnings of the Chinese people, of Fu His, Shen Nung, and the Yellow Emperor. Then he taught them about the Sage Kings, of Yao, Shun, and Yu. And he taught them of the Three Dynasties, of Chou, Western Chou and Eastern Chou.

After three months of this instruction, Chen Jen asked them again what they wanted to be. Again the answers were two.

The eldest son answered, and the other boys agreed, “Respected Sir, I want to be a good and noble man like the revered ancients.”

And the eldest daughter speaking also for her sister said, “Respected Sir, I want to be humble and obedient and always do my duty as we are taught by the revered ancients.”

Thereupon Chen Jen began to teach them of the Spring of the Hundred Philosophies. He taught them of Kung-fu-tzu, Mencius, and Hsun-tzu of the school of the Confucians and their teachings of duty and perfection through learning. He taught them of Mo-tzu and his tyranny of love. He taught them of Shang Yang, Kung-son Lung, and Han Fei-tzu and their School of the Legalists who taught of the priority of law and obedience to the state. And finally, he taught them of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu who had no school, but spoke of the intuitive understanding of Tao and harmony with Nature.

After six months of this instruction, Chen Jen again asked them what they wanted to be. But this time there was a great clamoring of voices yelling, “Sir, Sir, pick me, pick me!”

Passing in the hall and hearing this great clamoring, their father knocked on the door and entered exclaiming, “What’s this!? Are my children showing you disrespect, Sir!? Should I have them taken out and beaten!?”

“No, indeed, Lord!” replied Chen Jen. “Your children have only now just discovered their voices and this clamoring is but a consequence of the awakening in their hearts. And though, in their enthusiasm they have forgotten to use a more respectful title and have descended into this apparent anarchy, I have no doubt that they have come to respect me only more. But whereas it was expressed in a formal title it is now expressed in appreciation and truth.”

“I will accept what you say and forgive them on your behalf,” replied the father. “And I see, too, that education is both a wonderful and dangerous thing. But I know well that I have not erred in entrusting my children’s education to you, for I would have them think clearly and think for themselves, for therein lies true wisdom.” Then looking sternly, but lovingly, at his children, he said, “See to it that you treat your teacher with reverence and respect, however much he sets your minds free!”

“Yes, Revered Father!” they answered with one voice. And with that he departed, unsuccessfully trying to keep the smile of pride and love from his face.

“And now,” said Chen Jen, “let’s have your answers, but one at a time, the eldest first, then on down the line.”

“Respected Sir,” answered the eldest, “I want to pursue inner peace and harmony with the Tao.” And this was echoed in various forms by them all, though the youngest daughter added, “For this is the only true way to be noble and respected, beautiful and wanted, for all these things come, like true riches and honor, when we pursue them not nor care if they be.”

Satisfied that they were now ready to learn wisdom, Chen Jen continued to feed them knowledge, but instructed them to filter it well and teach him their own newfound wisdom.

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Yin and Yang of Life

Yesterday we (me 'n the wife) took our young Korean friend on a modest excursion to Long Beach in the southern portion of our county, then to Astoria, Oregon, across the Columbia River. She got to see the sights and we got in some needed grocery shopping.

At some point during the drive, we talked a bit about some of the rather unique things each of us has done in life as well as the variety of things we have never experienced. Since that portion of our conversation, I have thought about the topic a lot. So, here's some of what I came up with.

Some Things I've Never Experienced
  • I've never been scuba diving or skydiving;
  • I've never ridden on a horse or a motorcycle;
  • I've never been intoxicated nor have I ever tried pot or any other illegal drug;
  • I've never traveled to another continent nor really wanted to;
  • I've never earned more than $18,500 in any one year;
  • I've never been to the Empire State Building, Broadway, Wall St., Yankee Stadium nor the Statue of Liberty even though I spent nearly one week in metro New York City;
  • I've never eaten an oyster or a clam;
  • I've never consumed as little as one can of beer or one bottle of soda pop;
  • I've never been part of the "in" crowd.
Some Things I Have Experienced That the Average Person Probably Hasn't
  • I ran for Governor of Oregon (as a Socialist) in 1998;
  • I worked for one year as a firefighter with the US Forest Service;
  • I've spent many, many hours face-to-face with a convicted killer -- he murdered a police officer -- serving a life sentence;
  • I've hiked all over North, West and Hot Springs Mountain in Arkansas...almost always alone;
  • I've driven cross country (Arkansas to Oregon) by myself twice;
  • I represented myself for an an extradition hearing in superior court (material witness warrant) and won my case;
  • I bet I'm one of the few people in this world who has ALL of the following conditions: Klinefelter's Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, a congenitally dissolving left hip, an abnormally formed sinus cavity, an extra lumbar vertebrae AND a completely torn ligament/curved bone in my right shoulder;
  • As a teenager, I urinated on Jesse James' grave.
Of course, neither of these lists is exhaustive and most of the bullet points above contain a story to be told! Maybe, one day, I'll tell a few of them.

What about you? What are some of the rather unique things that differentiate your life from the norm?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Wanderings - A Time of Employ

Two days’ hard walking brought them to a small village where they were able to buy some rice and vegetables, but to properly provision King Ching Chi they needed a town. This they found after another three days. Being weary and footsore they took immediately to an inn where after bathing and dining, they entered the common room.

Here were fellow travelers, and many of the local worthies as well, and all wanted to know their business and news from afar. Though disappointed to hear nothing new or exciting, that they were wandering sages they quickly perceived and this they thought worthy of further pursuit. But as was their habit among the simply inquisitive, the three sages said little and tended to their wine. Not to be put off one local asked. “Sirs, is it not that you have come to visit our sage who lives alone on the mountain? And if not, you should do, for he is a man of great repute.” This seemed to bring smiles to his fellows.

“No, Sir, we have heard nothing of your sage,” replied Tzu-yu, “and if he lives alone on a mountain, then perhaps he had best be left so. And though most birds flock together, like ravens and crows, sages tend more toward the hawk or the solitary heron.”

“No doubt you know best, being yourself a sage,” replied the man, “only I thought that our sage might have a lesson for you.” At this his fellows smiled broader still. “For though we once knew his name, we now call him Surly. And an encounter with him is like to shatter your serenity. For, though I know little of sages, I hear they are ever in search of experiences by which to transcend in spirituality.”

“Perhaps you know more of sages than I,” answered Tzu-yu, “for I have never donned the appellation, nor can I expound on the path of any save myself. But we do, indeed, have business in your fair town and this will most certainly take all of our time.” And with this, he went on to ask the locals where they might best purchase the things they required. And though clearly chagrined to leave off discussion of their sage named Surly, they readily applied themselves to sharing their knowledge.

Thus, on the morrow, the sages soon found the establishment where the more rare of their needs might be found. But when asked for the ink and the silk onto which to apply it the clerk said, “These items, Sirs, I do not have in stock, but I will send this boy to my employer, Yi Chieh, for he may have them in his private store, for he has a great interest in the art of the brush.”

Presently, a man of obvious wealth and local prestige entered the store followed by the boy sent to find him. “Sirs,” said he, “these items I have and you are welcome to buy them, but I am much interested to know their intended use, for I have been seeking a teacher for my three sons who can instruct them in calligraphy and other arts of the brush. Might one of you be so qualified and interested in employ?”

“Sir, these items are for a friend far away and are to be sent to him with my companion, King Ching Chi,” answered Chen Jen. “But I have myself learned these skills, and taught them as well, though I cannot pretend to have mastered the art. My former vocation was that of teacher of philosophy and the wisdom of the ancients, and in this I can say, casting aside feigned humility, I have proven myself knowledgeable and capable, too. For in the teaching of wisdom, knowledge means nothing if the child being taught does not make it his own.”

“Then, Sir, if you will,” replied Yi Chieh, “kindly enter my employ and I will pay you generously and treat you with honor. For long have I sought help in the education of my sons, this town offering little in the finer things.”

“I accept your employ thankfully,” answered Chen Jen, “if you agree that it will have no fixed term, for as you can see, I am a man given to wandering. And if I might respectfully ask, does my lord not also have daughters who might profit from instruction? For though I know it is not the custom, I have found daughters equally worthy of instruction and though different in outward expression, their education makes for their fulfillment and this, to happier homes when they marry.”

“It shall all be as you say,” responded Yi Chieh. “Then you shall have five pupils, my three sons and two daughters.”

Thus, Chen Jen entered into employ for a full year, he being pleased with the receptivity and progress of his pupils. And King Ching Chi, laden with provisions and gifts for the wild hermit and the simple farmer, set off on a new adventure to live as a forest hermit in that magic vale.

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Derivations on a Theme - No Rhyme for Reason

Casey at Personal Tao Musings had a very nice post yesterday about the artistry of poetry. In it he writes,
Poetry is a state of experience, a place of spirit and mind you release into...

And this is key since you see "Release" is the core of any spiritual practice...
I used to be a poet. Not only did I write scores of poetry, but I also wrote short stories, plays, songs and two (movie) screenplays. I wrote in torrents and I filled up box upon box with all sorts of artistic words and images.

I don't write anything of that nature anymore and I'm pleased as punch with this development!!

You see, my artistic voice ONLY reared its head when I was filled with great angst. Once I shed the angst, my poetic voice dematerialized. So, I'd much rather be a contented fellow than a poet! I'd much prefer to expound on my take on philosophical Taoism than to pen the next great play.

Poetry served a great need in my life at one time. I'm thankful that need no longer exists...and I hope it stays that way! :>)

Daodejing, Verse 12

Daodejing - Other Voices
Greed and Disconnection
Late last week I was sitting at my desk at work over lunch, thinking about a complex and persistent work-related problem. I won't get into what the problem was, but I had this thought all of a sudden, which said: "Disconnection is the root of all evil." Then my thoughts said, well no, everyone says it's greed that's the root of all evil. So then I figured, "disconnection and greed must be related somehow."

So I pondered on that for a minute, imagining myself when I am greedy and what I'm doing and feeling and thinking at the time of the greed. (Since I was gobbling down my banana tofu pudding at the time, the imagining wasn't all that hard.) And it dawned on me then: greedy acts cut us off from everything and everyone except the immediate physical and mental sensations of the greedy desire being filled. It's almost like a trance state of some kind, that distances a person from outside awareness.

Greed is the ultimate in narcissism. Greed is being cut off from last part of the equation that more for me means less for you. Greed even separates me from the rest of myself, because I lose sight of the consequences of my greedy behavior while I focus only on the sensations that come along with immediate, selfish gratification. Like when I gulp down the pudding, and I'm just focussed on the tasting and gulping. When that's happening I don't think of the fact that I'm lucky to have pudding (or anything) to eat, or that there are people who will never taste pudding in their entire life.

I remember the same kind of thing happening when I would go shopping. I would get into a mindset where I was focussed just on the thing I wanted to buy, and I would dismiss any and all arguments against purchasing it. I have a five hundred dollar PDA device sitting unused in my backpack as testament to an episode of zombie-like consumption I had a couple years ago. I was convinced I needed that thing and no information to the contrary was going to dissuade me.

I think greed has such a distancing effect that at times we don't even know we are being greedy. We are so used to consuming what ever we want, whenever we want to, that it becomes normal to over-eat, over-buy, over-indulge in all sorts of ways. Eventually we become de-sensitized -- our senses become dulled from continuous over stimulation. We become disconnected from ourselves, and we don't know the difference between being fulfilled, and just being filled.

How can we recognize greed sooner, before the trance-mode of sensory over-stimulation sets in?

Lately I've been captivated by taking close-up pictures of things. Like the picture up there, of the little drop of water caught in the corn seedling after this weekend's rainfall. Who knew corn could catch rain and save it, directing it right down into itself? Stopping and looking at things, at the little small tiny things has helped me to re-sensitize myself. To look at what's right in front of me, and appreciate it and marvel at it. To recalibrate myself, somehow. When I consciously take time to look at the very ordinary, very humble things, it seems to lower my sensory threshold and I only need a little of any kind of sensation for it to register in my sensorium. This recalibration is helping me to be joyful in moderate circumstances. It is a meditative process that is helping me to reject greed, at least some of the time.

Edited to add Chapter 12 of the Tao Te Ching, which speaks to this issue well I think:

The five colors make one blind in the eyes
The five sounds make one deaf in the ears
The five flavors make one tasteless in the mouth

Racing and hunting make one wild in the heart
Goods that are difficult to acquire make one cause damage

Therefore the sages care for the stomach and not the eyes
That is why they discard the other and take this
~ from Pondering the Myriad Things, author Theresa, original post date: 6/9/08 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

The Sound of the Horn Goes BP

Gosh, whoever is in charge of British Petroleum's (BP) public relations effort should be fired! Almost every move they try to make is wrong and public confidence in this mega corporation ticks down by the day. In fact, each days' headline makes them look worse and worse.

The latest brouhaha is that they bused in temporary clean-up workers yesterday for photo ops with the President and then, as soon as he left, so too did the workers. According to CNN,
Early Friday morning, "a number of buses brought in approximately 300 to 400 workers that had been recruited all week," Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts told CNN's "Situation Room."

Roberts said the workers were offered $12 an hour to come out to the scene at Grand Isle and work in what he called a "dog and pony show."

...Roberts told CNN's Anderson Cooper the hundreds of workers who showed up early Friday wouldn't speak to local emergency management officials.

"The sheriff's office did manage to get one person to speak with them and that individual said they were hired yesterday and told to report to a staging area at 7:30 this morning," Roberts added. "It just doesn't add up."

The Wanderings - The Simple Farmer

For three days the sages followed a winding path through the forest until finally it met with a road on a plain like a plate. Down this straight and dusty road they plod, surrounded on each side by treeless paddies. And as the sun sank low, only the road seemed to offer a bed. “Tired are we, and hungrier still,” reflected King Ching Chi. “Yet this road seems endless and its prospects few.”

“True enough,” replied Tzu-yu. “But the rice nears fruition and is the greenest of green. And the crickets and frogs will serenade us the whole night.”

Even as they spoke, they espied a buffalo emerging from a paddy ahead, and soon a farmer moving it along. Seeing them, the farmer waited for them in the road. “Good day, Sirs,” said he, “I see you are weary and probably famished to boot. But you will find no inn for many leagues hence.”

“It is just as you say, Sir,” replied Chen Jen, “but we will sleep as we must and perhaps find an inn’s comfort on the morrow.”

“No need at all for you to sleep rough on this road,” replied the farmer, “for my home is nearby and there is room by the hearth.”

“Your kindness is great and we accept it thankfully,” answered Chen Jen.

“It is no great kindness at all, respected lord,” replied the farmer, “for I see you in want and it costs me but little. And it is clear you are no ruffians, but educated men of gentle spirit. So, let us be on our way, the sooner to share a meal!”

Thus the sages soon found themselves seated about the hearth in a rustic country home, surrounded by a large and smiling family. The meal, rice with a few bits of radish tops, seemed a banquet, and the hot tea, the very elixir of life, so hungry they were. Burping contentedly, Tzu-yu expressed the same. After some while of pleasing banter, one of the oldest sons mustered his courage to ask, “Please, can you tell us, Sirs, what it is you do to earn your bread?”

At this, his father rebuked him severely, declaring, “You have insulted our guests! Can you not see that these are gentlemen well-educated and wise who need not give account of their lives to the likes of you?!”

But Chen Jen answered the farmer gently saying, “Your discretion is correct and your sympathies true, but with your permission, dear Sir, I would answer all the questions your son might ask. For if my life were not transparent, I would hide it in shame, and his question, I think, is one of innocent curiosity and worthy of address. ”

“I apologize for the insolence of my son, nonetheless,” replied the farmer. “But my lord knows his business better than I, and so I leave you, Sir, to answer as you will.”

Speaking then directly to the shamefaced son, Chen Jen said, “Your father is correct and has much wisdom to teach, not only to you, but to me as well. For I am a man well educated, it is true, yet have come to understand that wisdom is not knowledge nor is it to be found in a book.

Now to answer your question: I do not rightly know. Long ago I was a teacher of no little repute, having taught young princes and lived well among the rich. But hungering for harmony my heart bid me wander and has brought me here now to this very same hearth. The best I can say, is that the Way always provides, whether through generosity as is found in this home or in the opportunity to teach or in the sweat of my brow. And though the way is not often easy and many the nights cold, wet and hungry, never would I return to my life of disharmonious ease.”

“Though I work daily from morning dark to evening dusk, still I would not trade places with you,” responded the farmer, “for there is great comfort in constant labor and the promise of home and family at the end of the day!”

“Nor should you indeed!” responded Chen Jen. “For I tell you, Sir, sincerely, that your choice is well made and the conditions of which you speak, speak too of harmony! And I will tell you this also, that I am often called a sage, yet no sage worth the name would not gladly learn from you.

Many are the so-called sages that know little of the Tao, yet great are the multitudes that walk in harmony with Tao yet with nary a thought of the Tao! Is it not those who are learned who must learn to unlearn? For it is the simple people who have all that true sages wish to achieve. We think ourselves sages because we fail of simplicity!”

“Sir, your words seem kind and generous though I confess I understand them not,” said the farmer. “But know that you are always welcome to find warmth at my hearth.”

And so passed a most pleasing stay. And in the morning, upon their departure, King Ching Chi tried to press a few coins in payment into the farmer’s hand, but he would not take them and feigned great slight. So, in parting, King Ching Chi said, “Sir, it is my hope to return by this way and should it come to pass I will be bringing you a gift. And the insult will be mine, if it be not graciously received!”

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Derivations on a Theme - Taking Credit

Ta Wan brought up an interesting point on his main blog -- Tao Wow -- yesterday. He has just started reading the Wen Tzu and his post centered around a portion of the Introduction.
In the intro to the Wen Tzu the writer is talking about the idea of all people working in unity, all doing what they are naturally good at and doing it for the common good and not in competition. The reason this hit home was that on my way home from work yesterday I was chatting to a workmate over the exact same point...
He later offers an example of one worker helping out another and then the person being helped -- who subsequently didn't do much or any of the work at all -- grabs "the completed task and claim[s] it as their own."

I don't know about you, but that's one of things my ego can't stand! When I was in the workaday world, that used to drive me right up the wall.

Unlike the majority of my coworkers, I was never into trying to score points with the boss or winning lots of plaudits from whomever. I worked hard to complete my responsibilities and I made myself available to help out my coworkers, especially the junior staff or volunteers. The way I looked at it is that, when the unit itself met expectations and beyond, it benefited the entire team.

I have never liked being singled out or congratulated for performing the work our unit or section is supposed to be doing in the first place. As long as the praise was heaped upon the group as a collective, I would be pleased as punch.

However, as I stated above, I just hated it when I performed the lion's share of the work and the laziest person in our group would stand up to take full credit. My colleagues almost always misunderstand the impetus for my anger. They would try to "set the record straight" and this tack would irritate me just as much as the other!!

It took me quite a long time, but I finally figured out the solution for this ongoing problem: stay away from group work. That's why I'm a lone wolf now.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Wanderings - The Wild Hermit, Part 3

If you haven't read Part 1 and Part 2 of this story, you should go back to read them first.

Once, while lounging in P’o-tzu’s home after breaking the fast, Chen Jen indicated to P’o-tzu the ink wash paintings which adorned the walls. “Tell me, friend, are these paintings your work? For their profound simplicity and sympathy seems one with your spirit.”

“Yes,” laughed P’o-tzu, “when first I came here my spirit was greatly moved to express the Great Harmony that enveloped my heart. But soon the ink and silk was exhausted and I was so moved no more.”

“Then would you not want now to give expression to this extraordinary gift should the tools be at hand?” asked King Ching Chi. “For truly, Mater P’o, these paintings are an invitation to surrender to Tao.”

“How could I say yea or nay, since the tools are not here? When they were gone I was moved no more. Were they to come again, I might be moved or no.”

“Tell me, friend,” said Chen Jen, “I can see there is a colophon on this painting here but in this light I cannot read it from where I now sit. Are the words ready at hand; can you recite them from memory, or must I stand?”

“The words are simple and the moment I remember well,” replied P’o-tzu. “There I have written:

This day a great eagle
overflew the vale
and spoke to my heart
of a transcendent view.”

“Even now it speaks to my heart!” exclaimed Tzu-yu.

“Please take it, my friend,” said P’o-tzu, “if it so pleases you.”

“You are generous indeed, but my way is that of a wanderer and I can carry little that’s non-essential,” replied Tzu-yu. “Yet this moment of revelation is lighter than air and I will forever carry it in my heart.”

“A worthy expression of the Tao,” answered P’o-tzu, “is the way of the wanderer! For the Tao is in all things equally and freedom knows no walls.”

Awakening as if from a vivid and happy dream, Chen Jen saw that their provisions were exhausted and that their continued presence strained the resources of their host. Consulting, therefore, with his companions it was decided they must be on their way.

And as they made their leave with great feeling and thankfulness for the gift of friendship, King Ching Chi surprised them and said: “My friends and companions, if you so agree, I would return to this vale when provisions are had, that I might here make a home in the forest nearby.”

“Your way is yours alone to know,” replied Chen Jen, “and you must follow your heart where it might lead. And here, perhaps, is your Forest of Dark Sages. No leave need be given by me or Tzu-yu, but it is P’o-tzu’s home and his leave might be due.”

“My home is my heart and all I possess,” said P’o-tzu. “King Ching Chi, you are welcome, as need not be said. Yet I am but one of the forest’s many creatures and of them and the forest you would do well to inquire. So return if you will, but with heart humble and open to what they might say. And know, too, that the great grandson of the tiger so ‘horrible’,” he added with a twinkle in his eye, “is lord of the forest and will make his decision clear.”

And so it was decided that King Ching Chi would return when properly provisioned. Thus, the three left by way of a path that would lead them to a tree fallen across the stream and eventually to a village many leagues distant.

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

The Wanderings - The Wild Hermit, Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1 of this story, you should go back to read it first.

“Tell us, Master,” asked King Ching Chi, “how long have you lived here in this wonderful home?”

“How long?” he mused. “How long? Long? Long. Yes, I have lived here long. But years and months and days—I count them not. Isn’t each moment all that lives in me?
Yes, I live each moment and count them not.”

“And have you always been alone?” asked Tzu-yu.

“Alone?” he mused again, “Alone? But I have never been alone. There is all this forest and its many friends. And the sun and moon and stars at night. And the Tao. Yes, the Tao! The Tao that is all these things and all the things that are! What is alone? I know it not.”

“I am deeply honored, Sir, to share of your spirit and presence,” continued Tzu-yu. “What I meant to ask was whether you have had the company of men such as yourself.”

“Ah,” said he. “Yes, I had a dear companion who helped me build this very home. But he fed the tiger long ago.”

“But that’s horrible!” exclaimed King Ching Chi.

“Horrible? Horrible? No, it was not horrible. The tiger was hungry and so he ate. My friend walked in the forest and so he was prey. This is how it is with tigers, as you must surely know.”

“But surely you must miss him?” continued King Ching Chi.

“Miss him?” he again mused. “Miss him? Well, Sir, I do not rightly know. When he left, I let him go. But is he not now as much as he ever was? He has returned to the Source and is as ever my companion in the Tao. But let us now gather our evening meal before it’s too dark to see what’s ripe or no.”

And so, standing, he led them behind his home to a well-tended garden where grew most every vegetable of which the sages had knowledge.

So mutual and unaffected was their fellowship and so accepting the forest, that the sages stayed long with the hermit, whom they took to calling P’o-tzu — for he seemed to embody the primal simplicity of the uncarved block. How long, they soon could not say, for they too fell into harmony with the eternal moment.

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

The Wanderings - The Wild Hermit, Part 1

The river roared on their left and the forest grew dense on their right and soon they found themselves in a vast wilderness. On the second day they came to a tributary and it also being too swift to ford and the path, narrower still, turning with it, they turned right and away from the river. Presently, they entered a deep defile where the stream fell in a great cascade and all about them grew immense ferns from which rose also great dogwoods awash in bloom. “All the world has beauty in its own way, but here is a beauty beyond all others!” exclaimed Tzu-yu.

“Ho! How nice of you to say so!” said a voice from amidst the ferns. “I’m sure the glen appreciates it!”

Jumping in fright, and discerning a head rising from the ferns, King Ching Chi exclaimed, “By the gods, Sir, you gave us a fright! And what are you doing hiding in the ferns!?”

“Hiding?” replied the head, wild as the vale in which it spoke. “Hiding? There is no need for hiding, as surely you must know. Being. I was being with my friends the ferns. Down here beneath their fronds. Watching them grow. Listening to their fiddles unfurl. Smelling the earth. Absorbing their presence.” And carefully stepping out from the ferns, he stood before them, a man of wildest aspect. Neither hair white as snow nor beard nor ear-hair tufts had seen a razor or scissors for years beyond count. Ancient he seemed, though eternally young. For clothes he wore rags and his belt was a vine. Yet both he and they were remarkably clean. “Ah,” said he, “the river and stream have brought me three sages, that is clear. And welcome you are, though it’s best left unsaid.”

“And you, Sir, are clearly a sage and hermit of the wood,” replied Chen Jen, “and honored we are to have been led to your vale.”

“Come then, my fellows, to my humble home,” said the wild sage, “if it so pleases you.”

And so they followed him further up the path and away from the roar of the falls to a home more forest than house, yet sturdy and snug and cunningly made. Taking strong ersatz tea, they sat about on a thick moss carpet and absorbed the moment and surroundings; or were the surroundings absorbing them?

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Daodejing, Verse 11

Daodejing - Other Voices
Thirty spokes
meet in a hub.
Where the wheel isn't
Is where it is useful.

Hollowed out
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot's not
Is where its useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn't,
there room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn't.
—Taken from Ursula LeGuin's version of the Tao Te Ching

The Uses of Not
Concerning the 11th poem of the Tao Te Ching, my mother wrote:

"One I really quite like is the one about … the bowl is most useful where it isn't– the room is really a room where it isn't.

It's so fun to think about. Although I've never quite gotten the wheel part - 8 spokes or something is where the wheel isn't."

I finally figured out the meaning of the wheel reference in this poem… alright, I must be honest, I picked up a new translation of the Tao (translated by Jerry Dalton, and this one had a note that explained it:

"A wheel has [a] solid form, but the hole for the axle is what makes it useful."

And now that I think about it, a wheel will still function, that is, it will still "roll" around. But without a hole for the axle, it doesn't do anything useful … it doesn't carry any weight.

Same with the room … a house with no rooms would be nothing more than a large block. Sure, it will still keep the rain off, but if there is no empty space, then it doesn't keep the rain off of anything useful. In fact, in Dalton's following note:

All these things have a practical form, but the emptiness at the center of each is where the usefulness lies.

I found it interesting that it is the hole at the center that is important… our center? I may be reading more into this, but it seems that it isn't about cleaning out enough of our garage to park a bike, but to clean it out to the very center.

Meditation in the Zen tradition (which was influenced by Taoism) describes sitting and attempting to clear everything from your mind. Once your mind is empty, you allow enlightenment to enter (See also the 10th poem in the Tao Te Ching). Most religious traditions have similar concepts … the Christian traditions talks about emptying the soul of sin in order to let the Spirit of God inside.

But to be "empty in the center" in both the Buddhist and Taoist tradition is to "get rid of all desire." Desire fills up our soul with longing, and when we don't get what we desire, we allow suffering to enter. And this cycle is what keeps us filled to the point where the "real" can't enter.
~ from Howardisms, author Howard Abrams, original post date: 2/20/07 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Tao in the Air

I've noted an interesting trend lately. As I perform my frequent searches of blogs mentioning and/or discussing aspects of Taoism, I've noticed that the number is increasing. It seems more and more people are feeling estranged and alienated by the ethos of modern society and are looking for an altogether different worldview. While Taoism certainly isn't the ONLY perspective of this nature, it does seem to be attracting more and more people.

Four scant days ago in my latest installment of New Voices Along the Path, I wrote that the Taoist Wanderers section in the right sidebar was up to 163 links. It is now 8 beyond that (171 for those of you at home keeping score) and there are a few more links in my saved folder that I will be checking out today or tomorrow. At the rate I'm going, it wouldn't surprise me at all if I pass the 200 link mark by the middle of summer.

As indicated at the top of the right sidebar, new links are denoted by an asterisk (*). If you haven't explored any of the new links recently, now might be a good time to do so. There are a lot of marvelous writers who are contributing thoughts and insights to the overall tapestry we call philosophical Taoism.

Let me simply point out one: Nothing Just Is. The blog was started by a group of folks in a book club who have been reading three different versions of the Tao Te Ching. The group decided to synthesize the three versions and they are posting the verses one-by-one. Sounds to me like an interesting project and I will certainly be checking them out daily.

The Wanderings - At a River Crossing, Part 3

If you haven't read Part 1 and Part 2 of this story, you should go back to read them first.

On the morrow, the crowd was further swollen by refugees from fighting in Li State. And hearing that three sages were amongst the crowd there gathered, they sought them out to enlist their aid.

“Sirs,” they entreated, “please, you must go to Li and help the people, for there is great death and suffering throughout the land! For the tyrant Jin Hsiang has been oppressing the people and despoiling the land! And his good brother, the noble Prince Jen, has revolted against him and there is much war in the land!”

“But are these not the normal affairs of men?” replied Chen Jen. “What would you have us do, that would change so great a torrent away from the Tao? Easier, indeed, to reverse the flow of this swollen river!”

“You could go and speak with the tyrant Jin Hsiang and convince him of his error! Surely he would listen to great sages such as you!”

“But he would not listen, friends. He would simply slay us as he has slain so many that have preceded us. But know, also, that the Tao is not shared in words but in a life lived; how then could our brief moment before him change his character, hard as granite?”

“Then, Sirs, you could go to the noble Prince Jen and give him your wise advice in the conduct of his war, for he is a good man and fights a noble cause.”

“You would have us despise one brother and embrace the other in their fratricidal war? You would have us swallow this war whole and make it our own! Then the war that we fought would be a battle within. Have I not spent these long hard years rising above the wars in my self? And you would have me bring in another? For I tell you with conviction that all wars begin and rise within the human heart, and the greatest of all wars is that which rages within. And is it not also the case that the tyrant Jen Hsiang not long ago overthrew his own father, a tyrant of great repute, and that he did so in the name of reform and with the title Noble Prince? Well is it said: ‘Violence begets violence and he who wields the sword will die thereon.’ You ask that we pass judgment and side with the one, but in the end they are equal and only what already is will come.”

“Are you not, then, just one more of these so-called sages that hide their selfishness in the cloak of fate? You care for yourself alone, Sir!”

“Were such the case, I would be a man most despicable, I will agree. But know, Sirs, that I care for nothing at all, least of all my own self! Does Nature, that gives life and being to all that is, care when the fledgling falls from its nest? Does Heaven weep when a child is born still? And when man has laid all the world to waste, will not the Tao but birth another or if not, does it matter? For all things will be as they will be and whatever Is is the Tao! And with the Tao alone I seek Harmony!”

“Your words are convincing and truly seem fair,” answered one of the refugees, “but what of compassion for the world which the greatest of teachers all teach?”

“What is compassion but the sharing of passion? And what is passion but the root of all suffering and the infliction of pain? But it’s a pity indeed that these ‘greatest of teachers’ are not with us here now that they might do as you say and come to your aid. But I and my companions are nowhere so great and must needs be refuse!

But as for the ‘cloak of fate,’ Sir, it is, as you say, a guiding light. For the Tao is All and to the Tao All must return. What difference then, do my opinions or doings make? Have you never had a dream, Sir, in which you have become enough aware to change some unpleasant detail and could thus finish it in peace? But when you awoke did you find that it had changed your life one wit? It is true that circumstances can be changed, but in the end they are of no consequence at all. And I tell you, Sir, that nothing matters more than your own true peace. Yet, that, too, matters not at all.”

With that the discussion came to a close. And the sages, sensing the anger and disquiet in the crowd, decided to follow a narrow path upriver to see what they might see.

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Wanderings - At a River Crossing, Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1 of this story, you should go back to read it first.

“Tell us, Sirs,” entreated a man in the crowd, “what is this emptiness in which the Tao is and is not? How do we obtain it and use it to go with the Flow?”

“You cannot obtain or use emptiness,” replied Tzu-yu, “for emptiness is the absence of ‘you’. In emptiness there is no self nor identity nor content to know or use.”

“But if I am not there in emptiness then how do I know that I am there?”

Turning to his companions, Tzu-yu exclaimed, “We have fallen in with a band of sages and keen logicians!”

“Indeed, and their questions are worthy of answers as much as we are able!” responded Chen Jen. And addressing the man he said, “The Way is not a science nor are we scientists of the Way. The true sage knows where knowledge ends and does not transgress this boundary in idle speculation which can lead to no good end. Nevertheless, I will venture to answer your question according to the insight I have received.

‘What is Emptiness?
Awareness set free.
Free of self and identity.’

In emptiness is awareness and awareness transcends all identity. More I will not venture to say, for I am no metaphysician, nor do I wish to be. Find and follow the teacher within and you will understand whatever is bequeathed to you.”

“How then do we find this teacher and by what method do we find emptiness?” asked the ferryman.

“Both are found in an open heart; but of methods I have nothing to say. Your path will rise before you when you leave off all grasping and surrender to the Flow,” answered Chen Jen. “But know you each one that the sage is not much good at instruction, being short of easy answers, but excels in the companionship of joy and freedom in the Tao. So let us then enjoy together this fine day where the Tao sings to us all in all that we are.”

And so the people all gathered together to share an afternoon meal with the sun on their backs and the world at their feet.

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.

Nothing New

One of the big stories making the rounds today is that the director of the US Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil rigs in places like...the Gulf of Mexico) has been fired or resigned. In their typical fashion, the mainstream media is treating the ousting as a big deal. More importantly, the media is acting as if the discovery of the agency's "lax oversight" both is shocking and an anomaly.

If we will remember just a few weeks ago, there was a deadly mine accident. One of the "revelations" that came out of this incident is that the federal agency charged with insuring the safety of mines hadn't been doing much insuring lately. There were charges of...lax oversight and agency officials being a bit too cozy with the industries they are supposed to regulate.

Everywhere we look in government -- both in the US AND abroad -- this manner of operation is commonplace. Here in the US, who has been overseeing all these financial bailouts to Wall Street? Many of our government leaders in this area are the very same people who caused the problem in the first place -- they were bigwigs in the various corporations they now supposedly regulate and, once they leave government service, most of them will return to the same industries.

So, what we're seeing played out today re the fallout from this historic ecological disaster, is not surprising at all. It represents the general pattern, not the exception.

As much as we common folk may wish to criticize, we tend to behave the same way in our routine lives. We give the benefit of the doubt (wink, wink) to ourselves as well as our friends, family and allies, while we may come down much harder on folks who are not members of our "tribe".

The Wanderings - At a River Crossing, Part 1

Coming to the river at the border of Wei, the sages saw that the river was mightily swollen and the ferryman unwilling to attempt a crossing. As a consequence many other travelers were stranded at the shore.

“The waters are in a hurry to return to their Source!” exclaimed Tzu-yu. “As all the universe yearns for the Tao!”

“The sea is below and these waters above, how then can they have their source in the sea?” asked a man in the crowd.

“Do you not know the source of the rain from whose waters this river was born?” answered Tzu-yu. “For all abides in the Great Circle of Perpetual Return. The Tao is the Source and all things are the Tao.”

“What then is this Tao?” asked the ferryman. “How can I know it? Help me to believe!”

“’There is no Tao,’” answered Tzu-yu. “This alone can answer such a question. As it is written:

‘There are no answers
in Emptiness.
Questions do not arise.’

‘The Tao is found in emptiness.
In emptiness there is no Tao.’

Tao is a name that has no meaning, for the Tao is nameless and beyond all knowing. How can you believe when there is nothing to believe?”

“You speak in riddles, Sir,” replied the ferryman. “One who speaks as you can say anything and foist it upon the ignorant as true.”

“And you, Sir, are clearly not an ignorant man!” replied Tzu-yu. “For it is just as you say and I would have you believe nothing I say. But know that the message is not in the riddle but is the riddle itself; for what in all this broad and wonderful world can we truly know? Is not all but one Great Riddle? And this being so, is it not the greatest of folly to live our lives bound by foolish beliefs and false knowing?”

“If it is indeed as you say, Sir, then how is it that you speak of the Tao and claim to follow that which you do not know?”

“Truly you have the makings of a sage!” replied Tzu-yu. “Behold this great river! Let us entreat it to stop its downward rush and debate with us the reason for its journey. Let us inquire of it how it knows where to go and why it does not rather turn this way or that. But it will not listen or pay us any heed! So too, my friend, do you and I flow to the Source, though we do not know what, where or why. Yet, unlike this mighty river, we ask and fret and would swim against the tide. Here alone is the source of our great suffering. How then do I follow the Tao that I do not know? I let go my hold on all knowing and all caring and let the Flow carry me where it will. This, Sir, is to follow the Tao and to experience freedom beyond all reckoning.”

At this the ferryman and all that stood about were greatly moved and entreated the three sages to enter the ferryman’s shelter and there further instruct them.

This post is part of a series. To view the index, go here.