Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 103

from Verse One Hundred Three
So no humaneness is greater than loving people, no knowledge is greater than knowing people. If there is love for people, no one is punished because of a grudge; with knowledge of people, there are no random policies.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Isn't this what the world is missing the most? Love?

If we each loved the world as much as we love ourselves, justice would reign. There would be no discrimination and prejudice. War would never be considered and poverty would vanish overnight.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love. (Yes, it sounds corny, but...)

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

Such a Silly Observance

In three hours, it will magically become next year. People the world over will celebrate the clock moving from one minute to the next. Many will do so by getting stone cold drunk and acting like imbeciles. In my rural neighborhood, several of my neighbors will shoot off fireworks (in the rain) or fire guns in the air.

Since we each can only live in the moment, if we want to get technical, each moment begins a new year from that moment on. So, why all the fuss about one particular moment?

I have nothing planned for the time when 11:59 pm turns to midnight. I may be asleep or I may be typing away on my keyboard. Who knows? Maybe I'll be sitting on the toilet.

For all of you who celebrate clock movements, HAPPY NOW!!

Lao Who?

I've spent the better part of the last 6 months or so sharing passages and offering commentary -- both my own and from others -- of the mythic father of philosophical Taoism, Lao Tzu. I've also shared with you all my opinion that Lao Tzu probably never existed. In response to a recent post, The Crow had this to say on this overall subject:
Can you see the absurdity, though, of dedicating an entire blog to the writings of a man who you believe never existed, and who probably didn't write them?

Absurdity isn't quite the right word.
Python-esque might be better.
The very nature of the blog is an exercise in abstraction...

"The man we are here to discuss, didn't actually exist, and so the words we are discussing don't exist either. But we will discuss them anyway, as if he did exist, and as if he did write them."
To my way of thinking, it's really immaterial who wrote most or all of the Tao Te Ching, Hua Hu Ching and Wen Tzu! Supposedly, each represents the thoughts of a man named Lao Tzu. However, that moniker doesn't tell us much of anything since it often is translated to mean "Old Master Lao". That's about as nondescript as suggesting some ancient work was written by someone named John, James or Bartholomew.

What is far more likely is that the works attributed to this legendary figure represent a generalized school of thought developed by many people over many generations. As is not uncommon in the annals of history, a myth was created to merge these congruent ideas together into a belief system. As more information was added to the overall school of thought, it provided the authors with a better sense of legitimacy by ascribing it to the mythic founder.

Consequently, whenever I write I believe that Lao Tzu's point is this or his main focus is that, I don't mean so literally. If nothing else, it's a form of shorthand. I'm merely trying to highlight a specific idea that I feel is congruent with this overall school of thought.

For me, deciding whether Lao Tzu ever walked the earth or he is solely a mythic figure is silly. The point cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt one way or the other. What matters to me are the ideas that congealed over several centuries in antiquity and still find much resonance today.

So, I will continue over the next month or two to focus on the words ascribed to Lao Tzu -- whether or not a solitary person by that name ever existed at all.

Wen Tzu - Verse 102, Part II

from Verse One Hundred Two
A lute does not make any sound, but its twenty-five strings each resound through it; an axle does not turn itself, but the thirty spokes of a wheel revolve by virtue of its power. The strings of a lute must have a balance of relaxation and tautness in order to play a tune. A car needs a balance of work and rest in order to travel far. What enables there to be sound is itself soundless; what makes turning possible does not itself turn.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
As a young child I was fascinated by the internal workings of clocks. I liked to watch all the gizmos turn and click into place. Mind you, I do not possess a mechanical mind; I had no clue how it all worked, even when someone took the time to explain it to me. The movement itself fascinated me.

I don't think I'm alone. Most people I know are fascinated by movement. At least, I think this is a shared value since most people I know constantly are moving from one task to the next or one activity to another. So many of them never seem to slow down to catch their breath.

And yet, many of these same people wonder why they don't seem to get much accomplished! With their noses pressed firmly against the grindstone, they wonder out loud why they seem to be forever pushing the same stone up the same hill.

As this passage highlights, there needs to be an interplay between activity and non-activity. Music only occurs when sound is punctuated with silence. The lack of sound may seem imperceptible, but without it every song would be one long never-ending note.

In this same vein, the person who always is on the move is not really moving as the first step becomes the whole step. To accomplish things in life, we need to act AND not act. It is the interplay between the two that leads us to successful endeavors.

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 102, Part I

from Verse One Hundred Two
When the people know writing, their virtue deteriorates. When they know calculation, their benevolence deteriorates. When they know contracts, their trust deteriorates. When they know machines, their substantiality deteriorates.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
At first blush, this passage makes Lao Tzu sound like a Luddite! The Luddites were members
of organized groups of early 19th-century English craftsmen who surreptitiously destroyed the textile machinery that was replacing them. The movement began in Nottingham in 1811 and spread to other areas in 1812. The Luddites, or “Ludds,” were named after a probably mythical leader, Ned Ludd. They operated at night and often enjoyed local support. Harsh repressive measures by the government included a mass trial at York in 1813 that resulted in many hangings and banishments. The term Luddite was later used to describe anyone opposed to technological change.
However, if we look at the passage more closely, the mythic Taoist sage isn't arguing against technology at all. His argument goes far deeper.

What I think he's trying to address is the concept of morality. When external rules are established, people naturally try to find ways to skirt them. So the rules themselves encourage disharmonious thought and behavior -- the exact opposite objective of their aim!

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

On Pins and Needles

In less than one week, I will have all of my teeth removed. The procedure will be performed under general anesthesia, so I will go to sleep with a mouthful of broken teeth and awaken with an empty mouth! Once the bleeding stops, I will go home with my new set of dentures in place.

Needless to say, as a very anxious person anyway, I'm already on pins and needles!! I can feel the nervousness now centered in the pit of my stomach. I will be a nervous wreck by next Tuesday morning (surgery day).

However, the thing that has me the most nervous is not what you might think. While I realize that any surgical procedure carries risks, I'm not very nervous at all about the procedure itself -- If it's my time to go, then it's my time to go. No, what has me wound up in a ball of anxiety is the 8 hours prior to the surgery.

As I'm sure most of you know, a patient is not to partake of any food or liquid for the eight hours before surgery. The food part is of no concern to me at all, but the inability to consume liquid is! During my routine waking hours, I drink liquid constantly -- juice, water, tea, milk. More importantly, when I'm nervous, I tend to drink even more.

The chief reason I drink more when I'm nervous is that my mouth tends to go dry and that makes it more difficult for me to swallow. Since I have a swallowing difficulty anyway (one of the weird parts of my fibromyalgia), liquid helps to alleviate the situation. But beginning at midnight on Monday, I won't be allowed to make use of my mitigation strategy, hence my anxiety!!

In addition, I'm a bit anxious about what it will feel like to a) have a toothless mouth and b) wear dentures for the first time. That said, if it weren't for the 8-hour prohibition of food/liquid, I don't think I would be anywhere near as anxious as I am.

All this illustrates is how those of us on the autism spectrum hate to have our routines interrupted. When you get down to it, that's the part that has me discombobulated. I'm used to my set daily patterns and as little as the knowledge that one such pattern will be altered for a few brief hours has me tied up in knots.

Wen Tzu - Verse 101

Verse One Hundred One
In the Way there is no correct, and yet it can be used for correctness. For example, you need forests for lumber: so lumber is secondary to forest, forest is secondary to clouds and rain, clouds and rain are secondary to negative and positive energies, negative and positive energies are secondary to harmony, harmony is secondary to the Way. The Way is what is called a stateless state, an image with nothing in it, unfathomable; yet by it the world can be molded and transformed.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
We humans seem overly preoccupied with hierarchies. Who is number one? Which idea is the most important? Who gets to sit at the head of the table?

As this verse underscores, all things are connected. Each variable plays an important role and, if we remove one element from the equation, the entire process is affected. So, how can we deem one part of an equation as being more important than any other part?

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

Linking Up

One thing I really dislike is finding a site or a blog with out-of-date links. Maybe I've spent a good deal of time searching for something in particular and, when I think I have FINALLY found it, all I've really found is a dead link! Arghhhh!

To this end, I did some work this morning on the links in the Taoist Wanderers section of the right sidebar. I've removed the dead links and I've italicized the old links (i.e., blogs or sites that have not been updated for 6 months or more). I will continue to list some of these outdated links solely because they contain good information. In time, I will check all the links in the right sidebar.

I've mentioned this before, but if any of you would like the entire set of links in the Taoist Wanderers section, you can email me and I will send them to you as an excel file.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 100

from Verse One Hundred
When laws proliferate ostentatiously, there are many bandits and rebels.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Let's examine this passage by dropping it down a notch or two from the laws of nations to the rules of parents.

In my experience as a social worker -- I have no experience whatsoever as a parent -- I noticed that the households with a rule for everything tended to be the same households in which there were "problem" children. The kids felt hemmed in and were always trying to devise schemes and strategies to skirt the rules. When they succeeded, it only made them feel more emboldened. When they failed, the punishments meted out often far exceeded the "crime" and only made the children more determined to hatch better schemes!

In homes in which the children are granted greater independence to develop at their own pace, there is far less scheming. This is not to suggest that such homes don't have rules -- they do -- but they aren't excessive and as punitive.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 99

from Verse Ninety-Nine
Those who know what words mean do not speak with words.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
An interesting quote to feature on a blog that is all about words!!

Including this post, there have been 1,735 total posts on this blog over a five-year period with the majority posted within the past two years. That means you can find tens of thousands of words here -- both mine and those of countless others in the comments section. Add to this, thousands of sentences and hundreds of paragraphs!

For all the words thrown about, you won't find Tao here because the Way cannot be encapsulated in a blog or a book. All my blog represents is my attempt, in conjunction with many of yours, to be a few fingers pointing at the moon.

If you've arrived at this blog in the vain hope of discovering the Way, you're looking in the wrong place! It's not here nor will you find it on any other blog, website, book or video. It's not a something you can see, hear, or read about. If you try to find it through words, you will never find it.

This is not to suggest that it's not within your reach. It is, but you must look closer to home; inside yourself.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 98, Part II

from Verse Ninety-Eight
Knowing it is shallow, not knowing it is deep. Knowing it is external, not knowing it is internal. Knowing it is coarse, not knowing it is fine. Knowing it is not knowing, not knowing is knowing it. Who knows that knowing is not knowing and not knowing is knowing?
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
At first glance, one would think we were reading the words of Chuang Tzu, not Lao Tzu!

What we think we know always is dwarfed by what we do not know. Those who think they know a lot, know far less than they think. Those who know they know little, know more than those who think they know. And those who know nothing, probably know just as much as the other two.

In essence, I believe Lao Tzu is trying to point out that rational knowledge is of lesser importance than intuitive knowledge. No matter how much one studies, there will always be more to study than any of us have the time or energy to undertake. Even if you or I was the most knowledgeable person on the planet, our understanding of the grand mystery would be so small as to be infinitesimal!

Besides, knowing the Way isn't really knowing at all. Knowledge is something that fills us up; to embrace the Way is to be empty.

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 98, Part I

from Verse Ninety-Eight
The Way can be used for weakness or for strength, for flexibility or for firmness, for passivity or for activity, for darkness or for light. It can be used to embrace heaven and earth, it can be used to respond to the times without fixed convention.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Our world is filled with self-anointed gurus who will charm you with their one-size-fits-all approach. Follow these 4, 10 or 100 easy steps and you too will reach the realm of enlightenment!

They will dazzle you with their commitment to passivity or aggressiveness and they will beseech you never to touch the other. They offer a very narrow path that leads more to their door than anywhere else.

The beauty of yin and yang is that both energies are needed in the world. If we choose completely to eschew one for the other, we will quickly find ourselves hopelessly out of balance. As The Byrds sang in the 1960s, to everything there is a season.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 97

from Verse Ninety-Seven
Those who plant wheat do not harvest millet; those who sow resentment are not repaid with gratitude.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Here we have yet another passage -- one that echoes Verse 95, Part IV -- that underscores the point that what we put into life is generally what we get out of it.

I think we all know what it's like to be in a great mood, only to watch it deflate in the presence of another person's negativity. We might be whistling as we walk through the living room and then a housemate storms in with a foul mood. "Hey, what's wrong?" we might ask and the reply hits us in the face like a hailstorm. The other person may shriek at us or let loose with a string of profanities. It then becomes very hard to feel at ease; it's like someone let all the air out of the room!

If we want to be surrounded by love, WE must first be loving. If we desire peace, we must first be peaceful. If we strive for contentment, we must first be contented. We must serve as the catalyst for the world we want to live in.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 96

from Verse Ninety-Six
If one turns to goodness, there is no resentment even if one goes too far; if one does not turn to goodness, even if loyal one brings on hatred. Therefore resenting others is not as good as resenting oneself; seeking from others is not as good as seeking from oneself.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
One recurrent theme in the works of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu is to concentrate on the internal, not the external. While there is no question that humankind is a social animal, becoming centered is a personal process. No other person's words, experiences, observations or support can move another sufficiently to find their own internal harmony.

Yet, despite the personal nature of each journey, people too often cast aspersions or give credit to others for their own difficulties or success.

When we meet with struggles or failures, most of us are too eager to point at things around us. We squarely place the blame for our misfortunes on a myriad of criminals: family, friends, coworkers, supervisors, community, government. How rarely we look in the mirror!

By this same token, a lot of people treat success in the same manner.

If you want to know why your life leans toward the positive or negative, the first place to look is inside yourself. While other people and circumstances certainly bring things to bear in any given situation, it is how we each react to those other people and circumstances that more determines how the river will flow.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 95, Part IV

from Verse Ninety-Five
Positive energy can be disbursed only after it has accumulated; negative energy can exert influence only after it has been built up. Nothing can exert influence without having been accumulated and built up. Therefore sages are careful about what they accumulate.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
I don't know if Norman Vincent Peale could have said it any better! This same line of reasoning appears in the adage: You reap what you sow.

Back when I was a licensed social worker, I often worked with clients who would lament that they were surrounded by so much negativity. Everywhere they looked, they saw obstacles. Every relationship was troubled. Every day beheld a new struggle to overcome.

Of course, they blamed this sorry situation on fate, bad luck or all the people they came in contact with. People were out to get them!! Nature or God had it in for them.

Sometimes gently and sometimes not, I would point out that the only constant in their perceived negative life was the client her/himself. I would suggest that, before they cast aspersions on every other aspect of their lives, they should look in the mirror. People who exude negativity generally surround themselves with the same energy.

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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 95, Part III

from Verse Ninety-Five
The way of heaven is a pattern, the way of earth is a design; unity harmonizes them, time works for them, thereby developing myriad things. This is called the Way.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
This passage really speaks to me. I like the use of the words pattern and design. That said, in all honesty, I would reverse the usage to say the way of heaven is the design and the way of earth is the pattern.

The way I see it is that the universal whatever it is -- Tao -- provides the framework of life and its implementation in this realm -- earth -- works via patterns that derive from that framework.

You may see it differently or more in line with Lao Tzu's conception. I simply may be splitting hairs.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 95, Part II

from Verse Ninety-Five
The way of heaven is to reduce what is much to add to what is little; the way of earth is to decrease what is high to augment what is low...The way of humanity is not to give to those who have much.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
To be quite candid, this passage baffles me. While I agree with the observation that nature itself always seeks to balance, I certainly would not say this is the way of humanity!

In present society -- I think the same is true throughout human history -- those who have are given more and those who have not are given less. In fact, I would say that the little the many have often is redistributed to the few who have in excess.

If things were not this way, then we would not live in a world marked by vulgar opulence versus grinding poverty. We would not live in a world in which some people live on thousands of dollars per day while others live on a few pennies per day.

So, if one of you would like to explain what I'm missing, please be my guest!

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 95, Part I

from Verse Ninety-Five
The activity of Nature does not cease; coming to an end, it starts over again. Therefore it can go on perpetually. When a wheel has a place to turn, it can thereby travel far. The activity of Nature is one, without deviation; therefore it has no error.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
It is difficult for a finite being to understand fully the infinite. It is difficult for a thing with parameters to understand fully something without parameters. It is next to impossible to define something that exceeds definition.

Human life is demarcated by time: beginnings, duration and endings. We're born. We live. We die. Start. Finish. Arrive. Depart.

So, it's natural for each of us to look at the universe in this same way. Before there was something, how could there be nothing? If there was nothing, what then could have sparked life? When life on earth ends for all, does life end or does it begin anew? How does one measure forever?

As a child and young adult, these questions would bedevil me in the silence of the night. No matter how I tried, I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around the concept of forever. Whenever such concepts arose in my mind, it left me with a queasy feeling.

I don't go there now. One way in which philosophical Taoism has truly impacted my life and outlook is by teaching me to look more closely at the world of nature around me. In nature, I don't see any strict beginnings and endings, only perpetual cycles that blend into one another.

Different steps of different beings; all taking the same journey on congruent paths.

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part VIII

from Verse Ninety-Four
In winter, ice can be chopped up; in summer, wood can be tied in knots. The right time is hard to find and easy to lose. When the trees are in full flourishing, you can pick from them all day and they still produce more; but let the autumn wind deposit frost, and they will wither in one night.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
This passage offers imagery in line with the idea that there is a right time and place for action. Strike the chord at the right moment and you produce music. Strike it at the wrong time and all you end up with is noise.

Of course, the challenge for each of us is in trying to figure out when the time and place is right. This deducement is made far more difficult by the fact that it is overlaid with our own unique desires and expectations. The ego distorts what we see, hear, think and feel. Consequently, if the ego is the filter we use to determine the right place and time, more often than not, both will turn out wrong.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part VII

from Verse Ninety-Four
Farmers toil, rulers live off it. Fools speak, the wise choose. When you see things clearly, you can put them in the appropriate places, as you would jewels and stone. When you see things dimly, you must keep a plan.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
In western society, planning is viewed as a noble attribute. If we want to accomplish an objective, we're told to develop and implement a plan. Conversely, when someone fails in an endeavor, it's often said that the failure is due to inadequate planning. Consequently, this passage seems a bit perverse by suggesting that the process of developing a plan itself illustrates a failure of sorts.

For Lao Tzu, the problem with plans is that they involve expectations. We plot out lines to take us to a certain outcome. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for that outcome not to flow with the circumstances and situation.

The person who fully embraces the Way does not need a plan because the individual reacts to life as it comes. Without preconceived notions and expectations, the Tao person is fully creative. Without expectations, there can be no roadblocks or hurdles to overcome.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part VI

from Verse Ninety-Four
The power of metal overcomes wood, but a single blade cannot cut down a whole forest. The power of earth overcomes water, but a handful of dirt cannot dam a river. The power of water overcomes fire, but a cup of water cannot put out a carload of kindling.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
In Part IV of this verse, I mentioned that for a tree to grow, a seed must first be planted. In response, The Drifting Jester pointed out that "Laying the groundwork does not make the endeavor a success...but rather it greatly increases the chances of any endeavor resulting in a favorable outcome."

One thing that frequently tends to thwart many of us in pursuing a successful outcome is overestimating some aspect of a situation. Often, the thing overestimated is ourselves. We think a little of our smarts, savvy, speed or strength will carry us a long way and so we try to skate by without investing ourselves completely in the endeavor. How surprised we are when we come up short!

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part V

from Verse Ninety-Four
An insect on a swift horse travels a thousand miles without flying; it carries no provisions, yet does not get hungry.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The above sentence really jumped out at me! It tells me that, aside from some initial planning, I need to learn to let go and not to attempt to organize every facet of my life. The insect puts itself into a favorable environment (the horse) and then rides with it wherever it may go.

For me, this provides a very apt description of wu wei in application. The insect obtains all it needs without putting forth continuous effort. It goes without going.

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

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part IV

from Verse Ninety-Four
Those who wish to catch fish first dig a channel, those who wish to lure birds first plant trees. When water has accumulated, fish gather; when the trees flourish, birds gather.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Often, when we don't meet with success, the key reason is that we did not cultivate the necessary elements with which to be successful with. Instead of reading the situation and figuring out how we can seamlessly move with it, we try to force our will upon it.

Success simply doesn't pop up from nowhere. If I want to grow a tree, I can't just walk to a spot and order the ground to produce what I want. No, I must first plant a seed and that seed must be planted in a place that will receive adequate moisture and sun.

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

New Voices Along the Path XI

Here are some recent links added to the right sidebar in the "Taoist Wanderers" section.

Aspiring Taoist
I’m not a Taoist, but I aspire to be one — to approach life as a Taoist approaches life. I’d love to be able to deal with the craziness of life, its ups and downs, its stresses and demands, and still maintain a sense of inner serenity, relaxation, quiet, tranquility. I live a hectic life, with a terrific wife (Good Enough Mom, GEM) and 2 wonderful, very young sons, and a very demanding job, and constant busyness, emails, deadlines, rushing, time crunches etc….like many people in America….at least those lucky enough to have a job.

Daily Tao
The Tao Te Ching was written some 2,500 years ago by a man named Lao Tzu. It is one of the oldest texts still in existence and certainly one of the wisest. Its wisdom is timeless and its message is as relevant and important now as it was back then - if not moreso. It is vital that we learn to come back into balance with the natural world, to live in a more harmonious and selfless way...and the Tao Te Ching beautifully instructs us in bringing ourselves and our lives into alignment with the 'Tao'.

Finding the Li
A few years back, I began working on my first novel, Requiem of the Human Soul, which was published early in 2009 by Libros Libertad. I wanted to write about where I saw our world going, and what it means for our human soul. Not the Judeo-Christian immortal soul, but the kind we mean when we say: “That’s got soul, man.” I wanted to explore how genetic engineering may put the final nail in the coffin that Western civilization’s been building around our soul for the past 500 years. I tried to make the story believable – not some angst-ridden dystopia, but a realistic view of our future may hold for our species.

How to Win Without Fighting
A wise man once said "When trouble is solved before it forms, who calls that clever? When there is victory without battle, who talks about bravery. How to Win Without Fighting is a posting of Taoist based strategic management strategies mixed with Urban street sense designed to assist individuals and organizations in winning while avoiding the stress of conflict.

Tao Are You?
Taoist Thoughts, Poetry, Artwork, Guidance.

Tao Manor
Tao Manor is a place on the Web where you can read about Taoism (especially philosophical Taoism) and find places to meet Taoists and read even more.

Tao Te(a)Ching
Wit and Erudition? I think you've got the wrong number.

The Jade Cove
Taoist writings and realizations.

Zen and Taoism
I feel drawn towards Eastern philosophy, art, architecture, food and martial arts. I am exploring Zen Buddhism and Taoism at the moment. I'll be writing in this blog about the books I read, CDs I listen to and DVDs or programmes that I watch. I hope it's of interest to other people.

Can't Get It Out of My Head

For much of the western world, today is a very special day. Children probably were up at the break of dawn to rush to see what presents they have under the Christmas tree. Relatives will get together to share a meal and some carols. Some will trot off to church.

At our house, it's a typical Friday, except all the stores are closed and that means no trip to the grocery store! It's a good thing that today is not a special day for us because I've caught a really bad head cold. No one likes to be laid up on a special day. (I hope this runs its course by the middle of next week as I am scheduled for oral surgery on Jan. 5. If I haven't gotten much better by this time next week, I'll have to reschedule. Arghh!)

When I was younger, I used to catch at least one cold every winter. However, this is the first cold I've had in I don't know how long -- maybe 10 years or more. I hope I don't catch another one for a long time.

My posting frequency has slowed down and probably will remain so until my head clears a bit. I'm having a lot of vertigo issues because, about once every hour, I have violent sneezes and each one seems to throw my equilibrium out of whack.

So, if you celebrate today, have fun. I'm going to be huddled in bed most of the day. :(

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Guest Post: New Book on Taoism

New Book on Taoism
Around the Tao in 80 Days by Trey Smith & Alex Paul
Guest Post by Alex Paul

The Book
Around the Tao in 80 Days was a project that I initiated because I saw the value in Trey's simple take on the Tao Te Ching. I contacted him and offered to format the text and deal with the publisher, (in this case, "self-publishing" company Xlibris Publishing). He told me to go for it, so I went ahead and started putting the manuscript together. When it was finished, I sent it off to Xlibris who made an interior galley for me and Trey to approve. The cover image is a picture I took of some clouds here in Brandon, Manitoba. I used an oil paint effect on the image to make it look a little more interesting. Two test copies were made, and once those were approved, the book was officially put into print. You can try it out at Smashwords, or buy online it from, Powell's Books or Barnes & Noble.

The Alex
I've had an interest in Taoism and Zen Buddhism for two years now, and I've read a lot of texts on both. Eventually, once I knew quite a bit about what they were all about, I noticed something. There were parts of both 'doctrines' that I didn't agree with. Neither seemed to be an end-all dose of one hundred percent truth. So I came to realize that the truth is the truth, regardless of whoever popularized it. There are shreds of actual reality in both Taoism and Zen Buddhism, but neither are really fully perfect.

So what it's all lead me to is a balance between Theory and Practice. You can only spend so much time reading and thinking about everything. After a while it's useless, because reality can't be expressed by words, ideas or theories. We need to live Taoism, otherwise we have missed the point completely!

After a long time of reading, reflecting, theorizing, and wondering, only now am I really starting to live and see truth as it really is in everyday life. The message here I want to get across is that you have to find a good balance between thought and action, mind and body. Wisdom is both knowing and being.

Note from Trey
The text for the book is taken from the Tao Te Ching series on this blog. A few of the verses weren't developed very well by me and so Alex wrote the commentaries for those verses. I just figured that, since Alex did a good share of the work and he IS a writer, he should share the byline.

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part III

from Verse Ninety-Four
Yin and yang cannot be permanent; it is winter for a time, and summer for a time. The moon does not know the day, the sun does not know the night.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
There are two sides to everything in life. The Chinese call these forces yin and yang, but what we choose to label them is of little consequence. To understand one aspect, we must understand the other.

For example, a coin has its "heads" side and its "tails" side. Neither can exist without the other and both are part of the same coin.

In this same vein, each of us is passive and aggressive, focused and unfocused, loving and hateful, serious and playful. As long as we can maintain a balance between our opposing aspects, we will maintain a healthy body and spirit. It is when we allow ourselves to fall out of balance that our bodies and minds become sick.

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part II

from Verse Ninety-Four
No one uses flowing water for a mirror, still water is used for a mirror. By keeping thus inwardly, you become still and are not scattered outwardly.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
It is pointless for you or I to stand at the base of a waterfall and order it to stop flowing -- because that's not the way things work! It will flow or not flow based on its own nature and the rhythms of the universe.

No, the only thing we can hope to control is our own mind and that can be a tall order! This is why meditation is an important part of Taoist philosophy. It is only when we are able to still our own fast flowing waters that we can experience clarity.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 94, Part I

from Verse Ninety-Four
The substance of the Way is nonbeing: you cannot see its form when you look at it, you cannot hear its sound when you listen for it. This is called the mysterious unknown. The "mysterious unknown" is a way of talking about the Way, it is not the Way itself.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
So begins the longest verse of the Wen Tzu; in the book I have, it spans eight and one-half pages!! Due to its length, this verse will be presented in many parts over the course of the next day or two.

In some ways, it's a quasi-midpoint summarization of the themes discussed to this point. The passage shown above is merely a rephrasing of the first lines from the Tao Te Ching. Its central thesis is that all of our talk, writings and conceptualizations about this unknown quantity called life neither define nor describe the mystery itself.

We can give the mystery any name we desire and we can describe the manifestations of it in a multitude of ways, but that's about as far as we can venture. Anything beyond that point is pure folly because it is too broad, expansive and encompassing for a feeble human brain to comprehend.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 93

from Verse Ninety-Three
A ringing chime ruins itself giving sound, a tallow candle burns itself out giving light. The patterns of tigers and leopards bring hunters, the quickness of monkeys brings trappers.

Thus brave warriors die because of their strength, intellectuals are stymied because of their knowledge; they are able to use knowledge to know, but they are unable to use knowledge not to know.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Talent can be a good thing, but it can also be a person's Achilles' heel.

In western society, we are taught that it's a good trait to stand out from the crowd, to maximize our talents to be the best we can be. While the Taoist sages certainly believe we must each maximize our talents (internal nature) to the fullest, they concurrently warn that standing out has one unintended consequence -- it makes us a target for others to want to knock down.

In a world beset with competition, no one can be number one for long. People will either try to surpass or dethrone the person seen as the pinnacle. Just take a look at the recent travails of golfer Tiger Woods. The media has gone to great lengths to expose his every character flaw and peccadillo.

Of course, one of the prime reasons the media has been so fervent in its reporting is that Woods and his team of advisers have spent the past decade creating a ubiquitous image and, now that it's been discovered that the real person and that image are at great odds, the media and public has reacted gleefully by knocking Woods off of his public relations throne.

If the current revelations about Woods and his many infidelities had been about fellow golfer Steve Stricker instead, I can't imagine there would have been near the public firestorm. Though Stricker is ranked as the third best golfer in the world, he is relatively anonymous to people outside of the golfing world.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 92

from Verse Ninety-Two
The ruler is the heart of the nation. When the heart is well, the whole body is comfortable; when the heart is anxious, the whole body is disturbed.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The message in this passage is a continuation from the previous verse, but in Lao Tzu's voice. However, this time around the imagery is, I think, much easier for us to see that it applies to each of us as well as to nations.

When our heart/spirit is troubled or tense, it affects the function of our body. Physical ailments appear out of nowhere or ones that we're already aware of become magnified.

The reverse is true as well. When our heart/spirit is not troubled and we do not feel tense, our body feels healthier. Sometimes the body can be very sick (e.g., cancer), yet an uncluttered mind can see the beauty of life beyond the sickness in the body.

For me, this helps to explain why some people can be in the throes of a horrendous illness or injury and yet they possess good humor and a bright outlook. Many know death is imminent, but they continue to embrace all things like a newborn child.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 91

from Verse Ninety-One
When virtue is reborn, the world is at peace. The pivot is the leader, who is the guide for the people. Those above are models for those below. What those above like, those below will consume. If those above have the virtue of the Way, those below will have humanity and justice.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Here we are 91 verses into this text and this is the first passage that originates with Wen Tzu, not Lao Tzu. Almost every verse up to this point begins with the words "Lao-tzu said" or something similar. In the present case, however, Wen Tzu is addressing King P'ing.

While there is no question that much of the emphasis for living a life in balance with the Way is the responsibility of each of us as individuals, as social beings we also look to our leaders -- legal, governmental, religious, civic, philosophic -- to provide guidance. It should also be noted that, since each of us serves in the roles of follower and leader to others, the message contained above applies to everybody.

If enough people modeled the virtues of humanity and justice, society would begin to turn in that direction as well. If nothing else, there would be peer pressure to be fair, peaceful and simple. Peer pressure would morph into societal mores and, in time, these mores would be better reflected in our laws.

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Lady and the Dog

Della and I spent a good deal of the day in Olympia because she had an appointment with a rheumatoid arthritis specialist. While there in the big city, we also decided to get two new tires for our car. So, while Della did a little clothes shopping, I trotted off to get the tires installed.

I'm sitting by my lonesome in the little waiting area when a lady and her dachshund came in. The little doggie made a direct beeline for me. However, as the dog approached, his human companion warned me, "Be careful. He growls at strangers."

The dog didn't growl. In fact, he immediately stood on his back legs and placed his front paws on my leg. As I started to pet him, his human companion warned me, "Be careful. He nips and bites."

The dog neither nipped nor bit me. He allowed me to pet his head and rub his ears. And then he did something that caught both of us humans off guard -- He jumped into my lap!

By now, his human companion was dumbfounded. "He's acting very strange," she said. She apologized for him jumping on me, but I told her it was not a big deal; I'm a dog person. He curled up on my lap and allowed me to pet and rub him at will.

After awhile, the lady made him get down and put him in her own lap. He only stayed for a minute or two, then he jumped out of her lap and jumped back into mine. And that's where he stayed until it was time for me to leave.

I share this, not because there is some philosophic lesson, but more because it was sort of weird in a really nice way. It was a sweet dog and we seemed to bond instantly. Interestingly enough, when two other people came into the waiting area, the dog growled at them.

Go figure.

Wen Tzu - Verse 90

from Verse Ninety
When it fights repeated wars and wins repeated victories, a country will perish. When it fights repeated wars, the people are wearied; when it wins repeated victories, the rulership becomes haughty. Let a haughty rulership employ a weary people, and few countries would not perish.

When rulers are haughty, they become indulgent, and when they become indulgent they use things up. When people are weary they become resentful, and when they become resentful they reach the end of their wits. When rulers and ruled have both gone to such extremes, destruction is inevitable.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
If you asked most people, I'm certain the opinion would be that repeated defeats, not victories, is what will bring a nation to ruin. Actually, both are true -- endless war is the problem and, as John Lash indicated in the series on the Tao Te Ching, entering into conflict at all is a failure of sorts.

One of the problems with success -- whether speaking of nations at war or each of us in our routine lives -- is that it becomes an insatiable desire. Being successful or victorious makes us feel good about ourselves and so we want to feel it stronger and more often. Not only that, but a lack of success or defeat can be excruciating and may well cause us to ensure -- by any means possible -- that we don't suffer those negative feelings again.

And so, we're ever striving to be the best or to avoid being the worst. Whichever we focus on at any given moment, it creates stress and tension because we're always one step away from the other. No matter how successful we are, we know in the deepest recesses of our mind that we could fall in an instant.

Of course, another problem with success is that we become too full of ourselves. We think we can do anything and so we tend to cease being careful. We leave the middle path and skate on the very edges in the unrealistic belief that we can avert from falling off the path all together.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 89, Part II

from Verse Eighty-Nine
If you want to be in emptiness, then you cannot be empty. When you do not contrive emptiness but are spontaneously empty, this is what is desired, and it brings everything. So communion with the Way is like the axle of a carriage, which does not move itself yet enables the carriage to travel thousands of miles, turning in an inexhaustible basis.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
I understand the above passage through the many years I tried in vainly to mediate. I would find a quiet place in our house, sit on the floor and say to myself over and over again, "Don't think about anything." Of course, thinking that sentence over and over again was thinking of something!

After awhile, it dawned on me that thinking not to think was thinking. So, as stated in the passage, I tried to concentrate on being empty. But that didn't work either because fixating on emptiness was still fixating on something and that something wasn't empty.

Another problem I frequently ran into was the random thought. There I would sit emptily and, then all of a sudden, a thought would inadvertently cross my mind. "Get out of there!" I'd scream. "You're messing this whole process up." Then I'd think about how the random thought needed to vamoose and this tended to cause another random thought to present itself!! Arghh!!

In time, I simply gave up on the whole endeavor. I figured it wasn't meant to be for a guy like me -- someone whose mind ran at one million miles per second. And so, I forgot about trying to meditate...

...and then one day I realized that I had been meditating for the previous few minutes. I now meditate (of sorts) a few times each day. It happened because I quit trying to do it and simply did it.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 89, Part I

from Verse Eighty-Nine
There are no fixed judgments of right and wrong in the world. People each judge as right whatever they consider pleasant and judge as wrong whatever they consider unpleasant. Thus the search for right is not search for truth, but search for those who agree with oneself; it is not a departure from wrong, but a departure from those who disagree with one's feelings and ideas.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
How different this is from those who hold that morality and absolute truth exist!

One of the aspects of morality that continuously puzzles me is that, on the one hand, it is supposed to be fixed and universal, yet, on the other hand, there always are loopholes that believers drive trucks through.

For example, one major precept of Christianity is to love thy neighbor as thyself. That seems very clear and straightforward. However, its application tends to leave a lot to be desired. Church leaders and believers alike supported the institution of slavery as well as traveling to distant lands to murder "heathens". That doesn't sound to me like loving one's neighbor, but, according to Christendom, it was somehow a-ok.

In the present time, some of the most avid supporters of the "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan are those who identify themselves as religious fundamentalists. Their motto seems to be "Kill for Jesus," yet, as far as I know, Jesus never advocated killing anybody.

So, what gives?

As the passage above indicates, right and wrong aren't absolutes; we define them based on our own subjective opinions. More often than not, we consider what we each support to be right and what we don't support to be wrong. If we later change our minds, then right and wrong flip-flop.

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 88

from Verse Eighty-Eight
When rulers like benevolence, people are rewarded without having achieved anything of worth, and people are allowed to go free even if they have committed crimes. When rulers like punishment, worthy people are neglected and innocent people are charged.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
While I understand the philosophic thrust of this passage -- that the middle path through life is the safest and most just -- I see both of the elements Lao Tzu mentions above playing out in the world today!

Particularly in my country, the well-to-do are granted a lot of benevolence by the powers-that-be, while the average person sees more punishment than reward. For example, within the last 18 months, those who have laid waste to our economic system have been treated with kid's gloves; billions upon billions of public dollars have been showered upon them and few have been held responsible for the mess they created.

On the other hand, average folks have lost their jobs, pensions, health care, homes and self-respect. More people are on the Food Stamp program than ever before. Bankruptcy laws have become more stringent and, when Congress had the opportunity to reign in the credit card sharks, they yawned.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 87, Part II

from Verse Eighty-Seven
To let concerns produce concerns, and then take concern to stop concerns, is like brandishing fire and trying not to burn anything. To let knowledge produce troubles, and then use knowledge to prepare against them, is like stirring water in hopes of making it clear.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The United States has the highest murder rate amongst the nations in the western industrialized world. We also seem to suffer from the most gun-related violence. On top of this, we have the highest prison population.

We're also one of the few so-called civilized nations which still employs the death penalty. The ostensible reason for the death penalty is to hold down the crime rate because, when people consider committing heinous crimes, they supposedly should think twice, knowing they could be put to death.

But, viz-a-viz Lao Tzu's logic stated above, using violence to quell violence makes no sense and our high murder rate seems to prove this point out.

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 87, Part I

from Verse Eighty-Seven
When laws are intricate and punishments severe, then the people become devious. When those above have many interests, those below do a lot of posturing. When much is sought, little is gained. When prohibitions are many, little gets done.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
Here, in the US, the size of federal legislation has become mind-boggling. It's not uncommon for bills to number in the thousands of pages. Not surprisingly, our representatives who vote for or against these monstrosities often will later admit that they cast their vote without reading the whole thing.

Hand in hand with the mammoth size of legislation is a new industry -- people who are hired to figure out all the ways to get around the wording in new laws. These lobbyists and lawyers are tasked with finding or creating loopholes which, if successful, render the new laws rather moot. So, the next time someone contemplates new laws to fix the loopholes, the legislation becomes even more wordy in the attempt to guard against the further bastardization of the legislative intent.

It's a symbiotic relationship at its worst! Both sides reinforce the others' existence and each causes the opposite side to work harder to try thwart each other. And so, what should be a simple and straightforward process becomes a convoluted nightmare!

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

Wen Tzu - Verse 86, Part II

from Verse Eighty-Six
Even the ignorant do not harm those they love. If you could truly have all people in the world embosom a heart of human love, where would calamity come from?
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
The message contained in the passage above is one of the central theses of philosophical Taoism and what differentiates it from many other belief systems. While our world emphasizes an us versus them mentality -- with the us and them representing a wide diversity of individuals and groups -- Taoists view the entirety of the world as one solitary us. We are each manifestations of the One, this mysterious force called life.

If every rock, tree, butterfly and person is in kinship with each other and everything else, then there is no them apart from us. So, if we love those of our "kind" and our kind is everything this world contains, it would greatly alter the manner in which we relate to anything and everything.

War would be obsolete.

Discrimination would evaporate.

Poverty would be blotted out.

Justice would be commonplace.

Love would rule.

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