Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Free Will Question

There is a very provocative article post on AlterNet, Why Does God Reveal Himself to Some People and Not to Others?, by Greta Christina. An avowed atheist, she has posted several articles that I think are spot on! While I suggest you utilize the link above to read the whole enchilada, here are some snippets that should provide great food for thought.
Imagine you're on a jury. You're asked to decide whether something is or is not real, whether it did or did not happen; whether the accused stole the diamonds, or set fire to their warehouse for the insurance, or shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. The prosecution doesn't offer much evidence at the trial -- it's all circumstantial at best, third-hand hearsay at worst, with excessive appeals to emotion and fear, and arguments based on faulty logic. So you decide to acquit.

And then, after you've reached your verdict, you're told there's a videotape, clearly showing the accused committing the crime.

You're baffled. You're outraged. You confront the prosecutor in the hallway, and ask, "Why didn't you show us this evidence at the trial? Why show it to us now -- when it's too late to do anything about it?"

And the prosecutor replies, "Because you had to be free to decide for yourself. If we gave you that videotape, it would have made your choice too obvious. Free will is a precious gift, a crucial component of the justice system -- and in order for the jury to have free will, we can't make the right verdict too obvious. That would have forced your hand."

Would you nod your head sagely in agreement? Would you think that was a sound and reasonable explanation?

Or would you think he was out of his gourd?

And if you think this was a ridiculous and outrageous explanation from the prosecutor -- then why on earth would you think it's a good argument when it comes to God?

...When people are trying to make a decision, not just about what's real but about how to act on it, denying us relevant information does not make us more free. It makes us less free. In every area of life other than religion, this is clearly understood. It's the foundation of the principle of informed consent: when relevant information is denied us, our consent is impaired at best, and negated at worst. Having the best possible information about reality is essential to making good decisions about how to act in that reality.

Why is God an exception to that rule? Why is it that with everything else in our lives, having more information makes us better able to make a free choice… but with God -- and only God -- clearly revealing the simple fact that he exists and has power to enforce his rules would somehow turn us into his mindless robotic slaves?

How does that make any kind of sense?

...If it would eradicate my free will for God to make his existence obvious to me… why doesn't it eradicate yours? Or your neighbor's? Why doesn't it eradicate your priest's free will, your minister's, your rabbi's, your imam's, your guru's? Why didn't it eradicate Paul's, or Moses', or Muhammad's, or Adam's and Eve's, or that of any of the prophets and figures in religious texts who God supposedly spoke to?

If clear visions of God's existence would eradicate our freedom to believe in him or not… why does anyone have them?

...I'm talking here strictly about the problem of free will. And I'm talking about the glaring contradiction in so many religious beliefs: the idea that, on the one hand, God reveals himself directly to some people and has done so many times in the past… and that, on the other hand, God can't reveal his existence to everyone, because doing so would somehow make us not free. I'm asking the question: Why are some people special snowflakes, able to communicate with God without it impairing their freedom to believe and obey him… while the rest of us aren't?

You can't have it both ways. Either God revealing his existence would undercut our free will -- or it wouldn't. If it would undercut our free will, then God must not be revealing himself to anybody… which means you can't count personal religious experience -- yours, or anyone else's, including the prophets who wrote your holy book --- as evidence of his existence. And if it wouldn't undercut our free will, then we're back to the question: Why isn't God making his existence clear?
In my mind, she makes a great case.

Derivations on a Theme - Between Two Poles

There's a very thought-provoking post this morning on Nothing Just Is. Entitled The Spectrum of Belief, the author talks about the similarities of theism and atheism.
Today I found an article on Agnosticism which is definitely worth a read. In it, the author makes a similar point: that both theism and atheism are, in the end, leaps of faith, each one lacking an ultimate proof. While we can argue endlessly over which one is less of a leap of faith (and therefore more valid), that — of course — is not the point. The article argues very well for Agnosticism being — rather than just “weak Atheism” — a much more balanced approach to life’s unanswered questions.

This “spectrum of belief” which would have us view theists and atheists as distant opposites is, to me, quite incorrect. The road away from theism has led atheists back to the same faulty peak of dogmatic insistence. They just happen to now be facing in the opposite direction.
Once I no longer identified myself as a Christian so many years ago, I struggled with questionnaires that ask what word best describes my religious perspective. Atheism seems too harsh, but agnosticism sounds wishy washy. I generally don't write down Taoist either as I'm a philosophical Taoist not a [institutional] religious one.

However, after reading the blog post cited above, it dawned on me (yeah, I can be kind of slow) that agnosticism really is no different than the middle road spoken about in Buddhism and Taoism. It is the middle position between the two extremes. I acknowledge that there is some mysterious force afoot in the universe. I call it Tao, but that doesn't define what it is.

The place in which I do intersect strongly with atheists is in my condemnation of the institution of religion. While I will grant that it has and does offer some beneficial aspects to society, on the whole, I think the negatives far outweigh the positives. Rather than serving as a bridge to bring people together, religion erects walls to keep us estranged from each other and all of creation.

So, if I had to choose words that describe my spiritual perspective, they would be anti-religious, agnostic, and philosophical Taoist.

Daodejing, Verse 74

Daodejing - Other Voices
Let It Be
When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.
--The Beatles, From the song "Let it Be"

Hi and welcome back to “A Dare a Day”! Today as I was working out in the gym, I was listening to a particularly powerful episode of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s podcast, “The Power of Intention” (Hay House radio). I’ve rarely listened to one of Dr. Dyer’s podcasts that has failed to move me in some way but this episode was notably powerful. During the show, a woman called in to ask Dr. Dyer’s input regarding a situation she was dealing with in which her sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given only six weeks to live. The caller sounded as if she was looking for a little bit of assurance from Dr. Dyer that her sister would be okay.

In a very sensitive manner, Dr. Dyer was able to convey to the caller that whatever the outcome, the situation was going to be okay. By “okay”, I do not mean that he implied she was not going to pass on but rather, that the situation would unfold just as it was supposed to unfold. As I listened to the caller respond, I could sense that on a cerebral level, she understood what he was saying but of course, she did not want her sister to die. I think most of us have experienced the death of someone close to us and can certainly understand how she was feeling.

During their conversation, he quoted the Beatles song “Let it be” and explained that so many times, we let our egos tell us that things shouldn’t be a certain way. How many times have you heard someone say (or even said yourself), s/he was too young to die? I know I have. In 1999, my stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given six months to live. He was married to my mother for 20 years so he was certainly a very big part of our family and we were all devastated with his diagnoses and prognosis to say the least. With a lot of prayer and support, he was with us until 2007 when he passed on at the age of 59.

Loss is never an easy thing to deal with, but the nature of the physical world that we are in is change. Verse 74 of the Tao Te Ching (Lao-Tzu) states, “If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.” That is truly a liberating statement if you can accept it on a deeper level. I say “deeper level” because I think most people would understand that on a cerebral level but it can be so difficult to practice.

Even in everyday situations, we can find ourselves saying, “S/he should not have treated me that way” or “I shouldn’t have to wait in this long line.” Why should it NOT be that way? These types of statements are perfect examples of our egos telling us that WE should be the ones in charge at all times. If we buy into this thinking, we are setting ourselves up for a lifetime of misery. One of my favorite prayers is the Serenity prayer because it speaks to this point. I’m sure most of you are familiar with it but I will quote it here anyway. It says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. “

This, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful ways one can hope to live. Being completely accepting of those things we cannot change gives us time to focus on the finding the courage to change the things we can...
~ from A Dare a Day, author Vickie, original post date: 2/21/09 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Is This Crazy or What?

Last June I began the process of having dentures made in anticipation of having all my teeth pulled. Over the next 13 months, I had numerous appointments. The first group of these involved the measurement portion. Once the dentures were made and my teeth were removed, there were another 5 or so that centered around the idea of getting them to fit properly.

My final appointment in this long, arduous process was scheduled for Monday, August 16. My dentures were going to be relined into their more or less permanent state. However, the operative word in the first sentence of this paragraph is the word "was." I received a telephone call today from the denture clinic. I was informed that, as of July 1, Medicaid no longer will pay to have immediate dentures -- the kind I received -- relined.

"I'm stuck with these incomplete dentures?" I asked. No, not at all, came the reply. Medicaid will allow for me to have a complete set of dentures made.

Is this crazy or what?

Here I am one appointment away from finishing this process and it will only cost the state around $100, yet they are nixing this for a process that will mean several MORE appointments and an outlay of funds in the neighborhood of $1500 - $2000!

If the state government wasn't facing a several billion dollar shortfall, this would seem mildly wasteful. However, in light of the massive deficit, this is egregious times ten. It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Look, I understand that the state bigwigs may have decided that the original policy was not the most cost-effective or it wasn't serving clients in the best way possible. I have no issue with the decision to change policies. What I do find absolutely mind blowing is that the new policy covers everybody, regardless of where they are in the process.

It would make perfect sense, as of July 1, to mandate that anyone on Medicaid faced with the removal of all their teeth follow the traditional trajectory of denture preparation and not be fitted with immediate dentures. It would even make some sense to switch clients over to the "new process" who were in the very beginning stages of the "old process."

But it makes no sense -- particularly no ECONOMIC sense -- to move someone like me from track 1 to track 2. But that's what they're doing!!

Mind you, I haven't been all that happy with my immediate dentures and I certainly don't mind receiving a full pair as a replacement. I simply think it doesn't make a lick of economic sense in these desperate financial times.

Derivations on a Theme - Naming Names

Oh, the things we humans can become frustrated with! Cecil at Rambling Without Bounds wrote about one of his frustrations this morning; one I used to share.
I feel like I let myself down every time I head into the woods. I get angry with myself because I can’t always identify the plants, weeds, and shrubs in my midst. I’ve been promising myself for years to rectify this situation by making a more in depth study of the subject. I know the shapes of the plants, I know where they grow, but I don’t know their names. This keeps me from fully enjoying the forest, which I consider to be my second home and refuge from society.
There are many majestic trees in the forest beyond my backyard. Many are towering evergreens over 100 feet tall. I spend a lot of time looking at them and walking beneath them. However, if you asked me to tell you what specific kind of tree each one is, I don't have much of a clue!

When we first moved to South Bend, I vowed to get a book about trees to study. I wanted to be able to point to each specimen and know its name and all sorts of trivial information about each type of tree. It's not so much that I wanted to dazzle others with my keen knowledge; it was more that I wanted to be able to name names for myself.

I actually did checkout a book or two of this nature from the local library, but I decided I really didn't need to study them after all. I hearkened back to the words of Lao Tzu in the first verse of the Tao Te Ching.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a biologist or a naturalist knowing the names of the plants they work with, it is not something that I personally need to know. The specific name of a plant does nothing to increase my experience of it. Knowing that this one is a cedar and that one is a spruce doesn't cause me to embrace them more.

Heck, knowing the name of poison ivy is of far less importance than recognizing a plant that will cause me to itch if it brushes against my skin. Knowing the name of a toxic mushroom is of much less importance than recognizing a plant that, if consumed, could cause severe intestinal distress or, possibly, death.

Names certainly can be useful in some situations, but they hold far less importance than we give them credit for. In my personal circumstance, the names are meaningless because they will do nothing to deepen the spiritual relationship I have established with the flora in the forest. We connect daily and naming names seems superfluous.

Besides, I really don't think any of the trees or other flora know my name and I have yet to experience one of them who showed any frustration in this happenstance.

Daodejing, Verse 73

Daodejing - Other Voices
Heaven's Net
If you are brave enough to do, you don't live.
If you are brave enough not to do, you live.
Of the two, one is merit and the other is demerit.
Who knows why heaven doesn't like what it hates.

Heaven's Tao doesn't compete and wins well.
It doesn't say and responds well.
It doesn't call any, but they come somehow.
It is relaxing and plans well.
Heaven's net is vast. Its mesh is not fine, but it doesn't lose any.

Rapid Decoded
True life is not in your hologram. If you act directly on the latter, you will be stuck there. You are not truly living.

"If you are brave" and wise enough not to act on your hologram (=the world) and leave it alone, you are one with Tao. You are truly living.

Don't be misled by the word "merit" and "demerit". The two are both sides of a coin. There is no discernment in Tao.

"Heaven" indicates your hologram (=the world). There is no reason behind when people seem to hate something. You are just projecting your interpretation.

True You are Tao, and omnipresent. Don't compete, and you will always "win" because there is neither win nor defeat. There is only your judgement. Don't judge.

You don't have to say anything. What you think is completely listened to. The world will respond to your thought consequently.

You don't have to act on any. Since your hologram (=the world) is created in the mind, everything comes to form itself as you like.

Don't be annoyed if your wish is not granted immediately. Tao's wisdom (=your true wisdom) is far more thoughtful than your superficial intelligence. In the long run, what is taking place will be the best for you.

"Heaven's net" suggests Tao. Tao is vast and omnipresent. It reigns over all your hologram (=the world). Just trust it.
~ from Tao by Matsumoto, author Naoto Matsumoto, original post date: not listed ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Chen Jen on Laozi - Chapter 5

Heaven and Earth are the named. We call them Nature — this vast, inexplicable up-welling of apparent existence of which we are a part. Its Source is Nameless.

Nature does not care.

A spring of endless giving,
Yet of giving nothing knows.

A fledgling falls,
A world dies.
Endlessly transforming,
Where is there a fixed identity?

Let us not impose our artificial values on Nature — purpose, meaning, benevolence. Let us rather harmonize with the way of Nature. Herein is peace.

If there is caring, let it be an expression of the up-welling within you, not a reified value imposed from without.

Straw-dogs are formed, have their day in the sun, pass into oblivion. Let us not assign them a fixed and lasting identity.

Yes, your precious self, too, is a transient thing — to release it from your fearful grip is to realize harmony with Reality.

How vast and unfathomable, this great up-welling of apparent existence! Our words are meaningless! You will find the fathomless much deeper within you.

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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Plan?

I don't remember exactly what I was reading, but the other day in a news article there was a quote from some fellow involved in the Tea Party movement about the Christian God's blueprint for humankind. The guy said something like, when good or bad things happen, it's all part of God's plan. So, when someone receives a windfall of cash or a tornado rips through a community, we simply need to understand that this is what God wanted to happen.

While I personally believe that such thinking is ludicrous, I would be more than willing to accept it as a respectful disagreement in perspective...except for the apparent contradiction it holds. This gentleman is involved in a POLITICAL movement that seeks to affect change. He urges voters to support certain candidates and policies. If everything that happens in this world is part of some divine plan, why bother? Why not simply leave everything to God's providence?

Taken further, why does this man and believers like him castigate those who oppose them? If God truly is the chief puppeteer, then it would stand to reason that those opponents are part of the plan too! Every one of us commie, pinko, tree hugging leftists must be playing a role that God has preordained. We are just as much part of the celestial blueprint as those who claim to be God's followers.

Taken even further, why proselytize nonbelievers? If everything happens according to the heavenly schedule, we will come to believe or not believe based on God's own timing. Do adherents have the audacity to believe that they can circumvent that which has already been foreseen?

Taken to its furthest extent, why pray? Whatever happens to you is going to happen to you one way or the other. It really doesn't matter if you independently decide to get with the program. Ya know, thy will be done?

So, if an individual genuinely accepts the notion that anything that happens in this world happens because of "the plan," why not sit back and let things unfold as they are going to unfold anyway? Why get involved in any sort of advocacy?

Advocating for what you believe in and lobbying against what you oppose clearly illustrates that you really don't believe in a divine plan at all. You really believe that YOUR involvement matters and that things actually could go either way!

Daodejing, Verse 72

Daodejing - Other Voices
Having it good.
I didn’t appreciate all the things I had before. The Friends, that fame, the fortune of being an artist, even my own art style. I don’t think up until this week have I appreciated anything very well in my life. I have been very fortunate in my time, and I am only now realizing what that means.

Before I always felt like a failure because nothing I had looked like this impossible vision of what success should look like (Big House, Big Money, Big Name, etc.). I was always comparing my self to others, and my situation to other “Better” situations. I wanted what others had, even though what they had was not necessarily for me.

It is funny because I have had success all along, I had contentment all along, I had happiness all along, but I was to selfish, and greedy to see it. Nothing was good enough because it didn’t look like I thought it should. What I was told it should be.

I believed in this crazy hyped up illusion that was feed to me by TV, the Internet, the Movies, My Mother, and the Illusion that others but up when they want to be looked upon as successful, rich, and/or famous. I admired those that had the career I wanted, and was jealous of them. I envied others that could what they did so well. Seeing them often filled me with regret for the direction my life went, and the decisions I made, and because what I did didn’t look like theirs.

Seeing this illusion but forth by everything and everyone around me would make me loath myself, and see no value in what I had in my hands. What I had in my soul. I would then treat my prosperity, and my life like trash. I would crawl into my self, and hide; wallowing in my inferiority as an artist, and as a person. I would just let things “Go” including my health. I have done this with my fame, my skill, my career, and my life numerous times.

When all the time I had a fortune of prosperity, skill, and luck; all I had to do was see it, and embrace it for what it was… Mine…

I have it good! I am successful! And I am damn Lucky! All I have to do is remember that I have greatness in me, and that I am great, and I don’t need what those illusions of fame, fortune, and success keep promising. I just need to do what I love to do, and find the joy in that alone. Everything else that I am meant to have will follow.

Life is good *Grin*

“The Master acts on what he feels and not what he sees. He shuns the latter, and prefers to seek the former.”
-- The Tao Te Ching
~ from Stickypaws, author Ryngs D. Ratt, original post date: 5/23/10 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Derivations on a Theme - Numbers One and Two

Hand it to Ta Wan on his blog, Pyjama Dharma, to post a lyrical ode to the water closet! He dares to explore, albeit briefly, that magical activity that most beings engage in on a daily basis: relieving ourselves!
Crazy day at work; starting one task, a list to do after, boss shouting new instructions for even more, machines misbehaving, raining outside, tired from the night before, walked upstairs, sat on the crapper, stared at the dirty wall and thought - "This, is incredible! My universe, magical - I was almost convinced for a moment there that it was real." Stared at the spiders web above as I dropped yesterdays food below, and was blown away by the magic.
We're taught at a young age that talking about such necessary bodily functions is a social taboo. How many parents become aghast when they shuttle out little Billy or Melinda to sing or dance for assembled guests and the little tyke proudly announces, "I poohed my pants" or, even worse, begins to regale others with their artistic expressions in dung!

Why is this routine topic considered so off limits? In the cinema and on TV, we can watch people make love, shoot up drugs and viciously maim and kill each other, but how often are urination and defecation integral parts of a story told? In all the years Ozzie & Harriet were on the telly (14 years), no one in their household EVER went to the bathroom!

I don't know about you, but that's a damn long time to hold it.

Let's face it. Bathroom duties are an important part of life. We routinely need to cast off that which we no longer need in order to make room for that we do. People who do not see to this need in the regular course of each day tend to get sick because maintaining waste generates internal stress and this tension impacts the rest of the body.

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the phrase, "He/she is full of shit." Generally, this comment is not meant literally as in full of bodily waste, though it may actually be true of some people. What most people mean by this common phrase is that the person's mind is full of excrement!

From a Taoist perspective, it is important not to allow ourselves to become filled up with waste -- physical, mental or otherwise. When our bodies and minds become filled with useless garbage, we tend to become bloated. A filled receptacle -- the bladder, intestine or mind -- is not in a position to be filled with the essence of Tao; too much other stuff is blocking the channel.

It would do us each a lot of good to remember to cast off that which is no longer necessary...oh, and don't forget to flush!

Pop Culture Tao - Hold On Loosely

You see it all around you
Good lovin' gone bad
And usually it's too late when you, realize what you had
And my mind goes back to a girl I left some years ago,
Who told me,
Just Hold On Loosely, but don't let go
If you cling to tightly,
you're gonna lose control
~ from Hold On Loosely by 38 Special ~
While books like the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi certainly will introduce you to the concepts of philosophical Taoism, it would be a tragic mistake to think that said concepts appear SOLELY in works from antiquity. In today's modern pop culture, many of these same concepts appear again and again in different forms.

To this end, I'm launching another of my many ongoing series: Pop Culture Tao. Posts predominantly will focus on the entertainment industry and how many of the themes one can read in the works of ancient sages are utilized in today's songs and movies. In many instances, we'll compare more recent words with that of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu.

In the song, Hold On Loosely, the lines, "Just Hold On Loosely, but don't let go. If you cling to tightly, you're gonna lose control" express the same kind of sentiments we find frequently throughout the Tao Te Ching. For example, the underlying meaning in Verse 9 is not all that dissimilar.
Better to stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.
The key message contained in both the song and the ancient verse is one of moderation. When we try to exert supreme control of situations or other people, things usually go straight downhill from there! When we try to gain more, we tend to wind up with far less than we bargained for!

Chen Jen on Laozi - Chapter 4

Tao is empty. Would you experience Tao? Be empty. Yet know, too, that in emptiness there is no Tao. This is Tao.

Always, to speak of Tao is to aspire to be Tao-like. This is to experience Tao.

Tao is fathomless. Return to the fathomless up-welling of life within you. This is to unite with Tao.

Tao is one with the dust. Be thou likewise. This is to follow Tao.

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Words All Around Me

Originally, I thought I might entitle this post, My Bedside Table. However, I sleep on the floor and so the carpet serves as my table! Anyhow, the area around my "bed" has become littered with books. Hardbacks. Paperbacks. Some mine; the others from the library.

As I've noted in this space before, I've become my mother. Gone are the days when I would religiously read one and only one book at a time. Now, I'm at various stages in several books. I have three copies of the Zhuangzi with different chapters bookmarked. I've got two books from blogging compatriots nearby. Scattered around are three books about Taoism and my newest book -- the one I've been reading for the past two days -- is Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett.

Here's a short blurb from
In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion. (Feb. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This is a topic -- the philosophy of religion -- that I've become quite interested in. Why do people feel the need to believe in something supernatural?

Hopefully, Dennett will provide a sliver of the answer. We'll see.

The First Line

(O Beloved!) Read (commencing) with the Name of Allah, Who has created (everything).
~ from The Qur'an ~

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
~ from the Bible ~

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
~ from the Tao Te Ching ~
If a person wanted to get an idea of how philosophical Taoism differs from the religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, one need look no further than the first line of their foundational texts. While the three religions mentioned make a definite proclamation, the Taoist text does not. In fact, the TTC states that the chief subject of the book is not a subject that a book can do any justice to!

These three religions seek to quantify the eternal mystery right off the bat. They offer parameters. They each set the stage for all that comes afterwards.

The Tao Te Ching makes no such claims. The first line is the antithesis of trying to quantify anything. It announces at the outset that, whatever is said or written, comes nowhere close to identifying or defining that which can never be specifically identified or defined.

Daodejing, Verse 71

Daodejing - Other Voices
The Tao of Healthy Living and Weight Loss
A few weeks ago I was flipping through the million channels on my TV trying to find just one thing worth watching (which isn't an easy task). Luckily I found Dr. Wayne Dyer on PBS.

I read my first book by Dr. Wayne Dyer (Real Magic) about twelve years ago, and I've been hooked ever since. So when I watched his seminar on PBS that was based on his latest book, of course I had to run out the next day and buy it. This one is called Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life, and it's his interpretation of the 81 verses of the Tao...

...Verse 71 - Living Without Sickness - Only when we are sick of our sickness shall we cease to be sick.

As someone who suffers with chronic illness, the notion of healing ourselves implies that we make a choice to be sick or to be well. And I just don't believe that. But this verse isn't about blame. It's about being aware. Basically, our symptoms are our body's way of talking to us, and we need to take the time to listen.

Could fatigue be a message to slow down and get more rest? Could high blood pressure be a message to make healthier food choices and lose some weight? Could a headache be a message that we are allowing stress and worry to steal moments of our life that we can never get back?


Each symptom may mean something different to each person. The goal is simply awareness.

I think with chronic illness, it's also about how we "perceive" it. We may need to accept our illness, while still listening to our symptoms and striving to be the healthiest version of ourselves that we can be. Remember that we are not our body, so we can stop seeing ourselves as our illness.

Practice this idea by taking some time to listen to what your symptoms may be trying to tell you.
~ from BlogHer, author Catherine Morgan, original post date: 1/14/09 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Tao on the Issues - Bipartisanship

Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.
Therefore followers of Tao never use them.
The wise man prefers the left.
The man of war prefers the right.
Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man's tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
~ TTC, verse 31 ~

When the Tao is present in the universe,
The horses haul manure.
When the Tao is absent from the universe,
War horses are bred outside the city.
~ TTC, verse 46 ~
Over the past week, the US Congress has passed two separate bills that each cost around $35 billion. The first one -- passed last week -- took nearly two months of wrangling, had almost no bipartisan support and ended with a price tag of $34 billion. The second bill -- passed yesterday -- involved little wrangling, enjoyed strong bipartisan support and ended with a price tag of $33 billion.

The latter legislation concerned continued funding of the war machine, while the former was in regards to an extension of federal unemployment benefits in a nation in which living wage jobs are becoming scarce!

In my humble opinion, the different manners in which these two bills were passed represents a sad commentary on the state of our nation. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are willing to join hands to fund the unnecessary killing of people, but refuse to find common ground when it comes to providing their own citizens with basic needs.

Chen Jen on Laozi - Chapter 3

Where does a sage now govern? When has one ever governed?

Is it not rather that when so-called sages — Confucian, Mo-ist, Taoist, or Buddhist — gain a foothold in the courts of power that they oppress all the others? And is not this but a further expression of what led them to seek this influence? This is the use of means. This is the way of power.

Rather, let the sage govern herself, and that, by non-governing. Abiding in spontaneity, her influence will also so arise.

There will be no Utopia that does not self-arise. This is the way of spontaneity.

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oil Spill Blues

Two news articles on Reuters caught my eye today. The first one, BP oil spill to cost U.S. taxpayer almost $10 billion, should really surprise no one. In fact, my guess is that it will cost all of us far more, both in economic and ecological terms. However, it may shock some people to understand HOW taxpayers will foot the bill.
Oil giant BP said it plans to offset the entire cost of its Gulf of Mexico oil spill against its tax bill, reducing future contributions to U.S. tax coffers by almost $10 billion.

BP took a pretax provision of $32.2 billion in its accounts for the period, for the cost of capping the well, cleaning up the spill, compensating victims and paying government fines.

However, the net impact on BP's bottom line will only be $22 billion, with the company recording a $10 billion tax credit, most of which will be borne by the U.S. taxpayer, a spokesman said.
If that isn't bad enough, I heard on CNN tonight that the vaunted $20 billion fund that BP agreed to bankroll remains bone dry because BP has yet to pony up any money!

The other article, For some, Gulf Coast is the land of opportunity, illustrates how one person's or region's calamity almost always another person or group's windfall. No matter how bad things are, somebody gets paid to clean-up and rebuild.
Hundreds of contractors and thousands of workers are swarming over the U.S. Gulf Coast, hoping to cash in on the country's worst oil spill...Although the spill has wreaked havoc on the fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast, others will benefit at a time of high unemployment in the United States.

Derivations on a Theme - I'm with the Big Guy

Today on NW Ohio Skeptics, Bruce shares a snippet of transcript in the post "God Said, Let there be 13,48,50 States, and it was so." It seems to these two evangelical fellows that their God draws borders and that he has a definite opinion on the immigration debate sweeping the country.
I think the first thing they have to understand, it is God and not man who establishes the borders of nations. National boundaries are set by God. If God didn’t want boundaries, he would have put everyone in the same world and there would have been no nations; we would have all been living together as one group and one people.
I know believers state that it is humankind that is created in their god's image, but it appears to be the other way around to me!

It's been this way from the beginning. Whatever a certain group of people believe in, that's what their deity believes in too. Utilizing Christendom in the US as an example, people who are pro-war say that God is on their side and people who are pro-peace say God is on their side. Each perspective can marshal citations and manipulate text to justify why they are in line with the Big Guy.

It seems to be the artificial nature of far too many people to desire to have their views on any given subject aligned with someone or something in a higher position of power. It's like they are terrified of standing on their own two feet.

In the case of the snippet shown above, these two gents don't want to come off as dime store racists. Their position is tenable, they say, because their God is a racist too!

You can't argue with the Big Guy, ya know?

Daodejing, Verse 70

Daodejing - Other Voices
Verse 70: So easy to understand and practice!
The Great Integrity is so easy to understand, and so easy to practice. Yet it is not understood. Nor is it practiced. It is not understood because people's heads are filled with 10,000 trivia and rationalizations, leaving no space for anything else.

It is not practiced because people are kept busy, though bored, with the 10,000 corruptions and miseries that leave no time for the Three Treasures.

The Great Integrity is so ancient, as old as the universe itself! How can we expect people to remember it after so many millennia of repression?

That is why sages dress in rags while they wear the Three Treasures deep inside their hearts.

Commentary: Lao Tzu point out here that although the Great Integrity is easy to understand and to practice, it is neither understood nor practiced. It is not understood because for so many millennia our heads have been filled with artificial trivia and rationalizations, with no room for knowing the natural world.

It is not practiced because most of us are so caught up in all kinds of unproductive, superficial, and unfulfilling activities. Many are busily carrying out corrupt or misery producing actions or are the victims of such actions.

Lao Tzu also reminds us that a further difficulty in understanding and practicing the Great Integrity is that it has been repressed for thousands of years. How can we expect people to remember it after so many millennia of repression?

So. we need to be open to this, be aware, awake to it, recognize it, acknowledge it, and then we will be able to discover what is truly, covered deep inside the cobwebs....empty the heads.... create much space to know the natural world of being human. Practice.

no more victims of our own repression, no more of busily carrying out corrupt actions which produces misery. stop it. and be productive, true and deep, and carry out fulfilling activities. Notice repression when it happens, be aware of it...focus actions on understanding the natural world around and within.
~ from Amoreadore, author dchannachung, original post date: 2/2/09 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Chen Jen on Laozi - Chapter 2

Is there ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on the moon? Or in the unfathomable reaches of empty space?

It is you who introduces opposition into the world.

But if you are to blame, so am I for calling you ‘you’. Without ‘I’ there is no ‘you’, Without ‘you’ there is no ‘I’. Yet we know and love each other because there is other. And without ‘you’ and ‘I’ there is no ‘moon, no ‘space’, no ‘world’.

Tao manifests. Manifestations are Tao. One generates Not-one. Not-one generates One. This is the human experience. This is Tao.

Wholeness is to dwell in both One and Not-one. The Whole Person lets One generate his Not-one and his Not-one generate One. This is to dwell in spontaneity. This is harmony. This is Walking Two Roads.

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

Monday, July 26, 2010

210 - The Essential Paradox

All of us want to be successful.

But once you hit on something that does work, it takes great courage to keep going beyond your limits...Spirituality is creativity. Only with creativity can you have the power to follow Tao.
~ from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, Entry 210 ~
The great paradox of Taoist philosophy is staying centered while pushing beyond limits. How does one keep to the middle path while exploding past predefined boundaries?

I understand this paradox intuitively, but, for the life of me, I can't figure out how to put it into words right now. Almost anything I could write would be a great injustice.

As you all should know by now, I'm generally NOT at a loss for words. I usually can yammer on for quite some time on most topics. As I sat down to compose this post, I knew what I wanted to share with you, but every attempt at putting it down in words, sentences and paragraphs seemed inadequate.

So, maybe one of you can explain what this paradox means to you...or it could be that it simply defies words altogether.

Daodejing, Verse 69

Daodejing - Other Voices
Another example of how to use the values expressed in chapter 67 is the way of the warrior, which you can translate into your life as just getting by in the modern world.

"Raise your hand, show no fist." and the well known
"Rather retreat a foot than advance an inch."

Defending yourself with openness this way is unstoppable yet is most well know when the opposite takes place and you attack an attack and see the repercussions of that for time to come. Truly it is the best way to yield, let it pass and move on.
~ from Meaning of Tao Te Ching, author Ta Wan, original post date: 1/09 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Ta Wan Mint

Since March -- when my odyssey with a malfunctioning computer began -- Taoist blogging compatriot Ta Wan has been urging me to give Linux Mint a try. It's a great Linux system, he said. His wife loves it!

It's not that I didn't believe my friend; my reticence in not giving it a try had much more to do with my RAM limitations. Most versions of Mint call for a bare minimum of 512MB and, until I got this new system, I simply didn't possess that capability. With my new system, I still didn't plan to try it because it has exactly 512MB and I had read a few reviews that urged folks not to use it unless they had at least 1GB.

But then I discovered a version called Mint LXDE 9. It's pared down a bit for older and slower computers. Since I was having a devil of a time getting Debian GNU/Linux to behave on my new machine like it did on my old machine, I thought to myself, "What the heck! Let's give it a try."

I'm here to say that Ta Wan was right!! Linux Mint is the easiest to understand of the Linux operating systems I've tried and I've tried several (Kubuntu, Ubuntu, Puppy, Debian GNU/Linux and Red Hat). After nearly 3 days of nonstop frustration, I have found a system I feel comfortable with.

I've loaded several desktop environments -- I'm using KDE right now -- and I've been trying each one out. I'll probably tinker with this new system a bit more today, then I can get back to my normal existence: reading and writing about Taoism.

Chen Jen on Laozi - Chapter 1

This is not about Tao. It is about you. What else asks after Tao? Where else could Tao be found?

The Ultimate cannot be conceived and thus has no name. To name It is to miss a way.

This gate yawns wide within you. You need look no farther. Surrender utterly into Mystery. Cast off every line. Drift in Flow. This is Tao.

There is only Tao. Being human, we see its manifestations. This too is manifesting. All that you are, all that you do, is Tao manifest. Your every thought, your every joy, sorrow, fear, trust, pride and shame, is Tao manifest. All that is you is Tao. You need seek no farther. This gate yawns wide within you.

Free from every desire, you are free to express them all. Free from every manifestation, you are free to wander joyfully among them all.

What is not Mystery? Tao and its expressions, all is Mystery. Mystery within Mystery, darkness within darkness, black on black—this is harmony. The way to the Unknown is Unknowing. This gate yawns wide within you. You need look no farther.

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

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Daodejing, Verse 68

Daodejing - Other Voices
Taoist views of war
Taoism (pronounced "dow" in the chemical company), is based on the concept of the Tao, or the path--the journey. Of course, the Tao is more encompassing than these words can convey. The Tao is the oneness of all reality, the origin and nature of the universe. The Tao Te Ching was written about 2,600 years ago, presumbale by Lao Tzu. It consists of only 5,000 Chinese characters and 81 verses.

The Tao Te Ching has several verses that address the nature of conflict between peoples and nations. Below are a couple of these passages from the modern interpretation by Ralph Alan Dale:

Verse 68
The best soldier fights
without vengeance,
without anger
and without hate.

He puts himself humbly
below his comrades,
thereby eliciting
the highest loyalty from them.

This is the power of non-belligerence
and cooperation.
It is the ancient path to the Great Integrity [Tao].

Verse 69
There is a saying among those wise in military affairs:
"We do not act as hosts taking initiative,
but would rather be the guest assuming the defensive posture.
Rather than advancing one inch,
we would rather retreat one foot."

This is called advancing without moving,
rolling up one's sleeves without baring one's arms,
fighting without weapons,
capturing the enemy without attacking.

There is no greater disaster
than boasting of one's invincilbility.
Such boasts lead to the loss of the Three Treasures.
[note: the Three Treasures, from Verse 67, are love, moderation, and humility]
Therefore, when two opposing sides meet in battle,
the one without an enemy
will be victorious.

As someone who served in the U.S. Navy for twenty years, I find these words to be sage advice. I contrast them to what I consider to be the dangerous doctrine of pre-emptive warfare as being carried out in Iraq and detailed in the current U.S. National Security Strategy, which says, "To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense."

I wonder how many of our military and political leaders have read the Tao Te Ching? I know many of them have read The Art of War by Sun Tzu , but they don't seem to have heeded its ancient wisdom either.

Sun Tzu believed that a strong military was an important tool in human relations, but that the conduct of warfare was an absolute last resort. Its consequences so potentially harmful that it had to be understood completely and practiced flawlessly when required. He began his treatise with an explanation that the most fundamental element of warfare was moral influence, as translated in English. The original Chinese uses Tao, to expain moral influence, that which causes us to be in harmony with one another, as Su Tzu explains.

The most famous excerpt from The Art of War can inform us today in our American culture war of red and blue, conservative and liberal, republican and democrat, pro-life and pro-choice, sin and salvation. He says, "Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril."

This is basically the golden rule in a different context. We can expand this beyond the adversarial nature of winning and losing into the creative and interdependent nature of human conduct. Love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, treat others as you wish to be treated. Know others and yourself, and you will always succeed. Know yourself and be ignorant of others and you have a 50/50 chance of success. Ignorant of others and yourself, and you will always fail. I would add that we have to know each other. Morality is about relationship and interchange and creating the best possible life for the most people even in a universe where justice is elusive. Something we seem to know, but aren't very good at implementing. We don't really understand what is of value to us because we are too busy squaring off against one another based on our own self-righteousness.

If religious liberals are to have a greater voice in the public square, we will have to set aside our victim cry, our love of self, the sanctity of individual belief, and fear of the other. We must come together in all of our diversity, stronger than any self-proclaimed moral majority, engaged in the sacred practice of loving kindness and moral action based on mutual understanding and interdependence with each other and all that exists.
~ from Keep the Faith, author Matt Tittle, original post date: 1/5/07 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Chen Jen Bonus

Well, after nearly two months, we've come to the end of the Book of Chen Jen. However, before he "shoves off" for greener pastures, I'm going to share with you five more posts (starting tomorrow morning) in which Chen Jen provides commentary for the first five verses of the Tao Te Ching.

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Gone Done and Did It

At times, dogged determination and persistence are laudable traits. When faced with daunting circumstances or emergencies, having someone in your corner who refuses to give up until the job is done certainly is something most of us admire greatly. At other times, however, it can be a wee bit the past 18 hours or so for moi.

As I mentioned earlier, I purchased a nice refurbished IBM computer that came pre-loaded with Windows XP. Upon booting it up for the first time, I immediately reformatted the disk and decided to try Kubuntu. This very popular Linux operating system appeared to hold promise and so I went about the process of both trying to add my backed up files and familiarizing myself with the set-up.

Part one of my task went very smoothly. In no time at all, I had my preferred programs with data back in place. Unfortunately, trying to personalize the system to meet my tastes was anything but easy. I would set-up a certain number of parameters for the desktop or window behavior and it wouldn't work as expected. At one point, for reasons I can't fathom, my main taskbar suddenly disappeared and I couldn't figure out how to bring it back.

After working on this problem for some time, I decided I didn't need this headache in my life, so I erased Kubuntu and reloaded the more familiar Debian GNU/Linux. Of course, this meant I had to reassemble my backed up data and set-up my personal preferences all over again!

Now, me thinks a NORMAL person would have set about to get all this accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. I am not a normal person; I am an autistic fellow with OCD. So, rather than do all this work spread over a day or two, I sat at my computer for nearly 9 straight hours!!

The process began shortly before 11 p.m. and I didn't roll into bed until a little after 8:00 a.m. this morning!!!

My computer clock shows the correct time, but my internal clock is now all out of whack. ;-)

Daodejing, Verse 67

Daodejing - Other Voices
Compassion, Restraint, Courage
I recently enjoyed this post from Language Log.

In it, the author translates and interprets a passage by Lao Tzu, from Chapter 67 of the Tao Te Ching:

I constantly have three treasures:
Hold onto them and treasure them.
The first is called "compassion" (zi).
The second is called "restraint."
The third is "not daring to be at the forefront of the world."
Now being compassionate, one can be courageous.
Being restrained, one can be expansive.
Not daring to be at the forefront of the world, one can be the leader of the things that are com­pleted.

It reminds us to be compassionate and courageous, and to exercise restraint.

It strikes me as particularly useful right now. I am not good at exercising restraint. I'm always telling people what I think. Wouldn't it be refreshing if I didn't need to impose my will so much?
~ from Fragmented Continuity, author J, original post date: 5/8/10 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Interview with the Author - Part 14

This last section of the manuscript for The Book of Chen Jen has been broken down into several posts and this post represents the final one. To see all the posts in chronological order, go to the Book of Chen Jen Index Page (scroll down to Section 3). For the sake of these posts, the questions posed by the interviewer, Sue-tzu, will be in bold and the answers by the author will appear as regular text.

You have suggested that we bring this interview to an end. Is there any way I could get you to summarize what your heart has taught you?

No. But I will say this: Knowing nothing, believing nothing, and surrendering therein — this is my gateless gate, my means and my end.

Might Chen Jen have a final imperative for us?

It’s all about letting go. It’s only letting go. Let go of everything until there is nothing left to let go and no more letting go. This is emptiness and rest and harmony with Flow.

Can we expect to hear from Chen Jen again in the future?

Who knows? But I expect not; I think he has said his piece and Tzu-yu had it right when he wrote: “Then Chen Jen was no more — just as he had never been.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

No Separation

The Tao, like a tapestry, cannot be separated into individual threads, otherwise the Oneness would be lost, the harmony destroyed.
~ from Chapter 1 of The Spirit of Tai-Chi: Essential Principles ~
I don't know about the rest of the world, but Americans love denim. Blue jeans -- though now they come in more colors than you can shake a stick at -- hang in most every closet in the nation. As I've remarked before, denim is very big in my life as I wear overalls ALL the time.

Though one can, of course, purchase jeans these days that are pre-ripped (never made a lick of sense to me), fraying is the enemy of denim and almost all other types of cloth and apparel material. When an article of clothing begins to fray, we soon find that the integrity of the whole will suffer. In a manner of speaking, "the harmony is destroyed."

While a pair of jeans is made up of thousands of threads, they mean nothing until they're sewn together. We certainly couldn't wear each thread as an article of clothing and think that we would cover our nakedness or provide a measure of protection from the weather. They only hold meaning when they are joined together to form a whole.

Life is like a pair of jeans.

Spinning Top or a Dreidel

The tapestry that is the Tao has a peculiar characteristic. Its threads are always moving, adjusting, and changing their relationships. Change is the only constant in the Tao. But in all this ceaseless change, the harmony of the threads is maintained.
~ from Chapter 1 of The Spirit of Tai-Chi: Essential Principles ~
If not for the advent of constant change, walking the middle path would be a cinch for those committed to it. All we would need do is to figure out the lay of the land and draw a line straight down the center. We could then skip merrily along the line and not have to worry if we strayed a little to the left or right.

Of course, the chief problem with this idyllic picture is that the "lay of the land" is not stationary in the least. It more resembles an earthquake! The ground always is shifting beneath our feet. What represents the center at this precise moment may be far off center in the next.

So, how do we stay centered in an ever changing world?
I feel like a spinning top or a Dreidel
The spinning don't stop when you leave the cradle
You just slow down
Round and around this world you go
Spinning through the lives of the people you know
We all slow down
How you gonna keep on turning from day to day?
How you gonna keep from turning your life away?
~from Dreidel by Don McLean ~

Daodejing, Verse 66

Daodejing - Other Voices
Incompetent Boss
If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.
Because he does not compete, He does not meet competition.

Everyone, most likely, has worked for a boss that it hot headed and seems to strive for putting people in their place. The University of California, Berkley has published the results of a study questioning 90 employed men and women about how aggressive they are in their career as well as how competent they feel in their position. The results demonstrated that incompetent people, through their own inferiority, would put their subordinates in their place. In a 2nd test they also chose severe punishments which people with good self-esteem and competence did not. There are other results in the article and I will post the link at the end for those that desire to read more.

I don’t know why I chose the 66th chapter for this post. There are many good chapters in the Tao Te Ching that focus on ruling and any one of them would have fit. The same logic and wisdom runs throughout the entire TTC, lead with a light hand, do not oppress people, do not be greedy, etc. The fact of the matter is that there are incompetent bosses that take the helm and treat everyone under them as dirt. A wise person would know their (I’m trying hard not to use him or her) limitations. With that knowledge they would move forward to obtain the skills necessary to maintain the position positively. After all, the sage knows to perform to their full ability. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
~ from A New Shade of Black, author Mr. Methodic, original post date: 10/16/09 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


The tree needs the rain in order to produce acorns. The wild pig needs the acorns for food. The droppings of the wild pig fertilise the soil. As a result, the surrounding vegetation flourishes, which enables the soil to retain water for the tree. Hence there is no dependence or independence in the universe, but only interdependence. The universe is a vast tapestry in which every star, every creature, every rock, and every drop of water is an essential thread helping to hold all the other threads together.
~ from Chapter 1 of The Spirit of Tai-Chi: Essential Principles ~
A little less than one year ago I wrote a book review on this wonderful book by John Lash. I had checked it out from my local library to use on the Tao Te Ching series. When the time came to return the borrowed book, I vowed that I would one day purchase a copy of my very own. That turned out to be a bit harder than I thought because the book is no longer in print and the few used copies I had found were beyond my very modest book budget.

I kept checking various online booksellers and finally found a copy within my price range at Powell's Books out of Portland, Oregon. The book arrived yesterday in pristine condition!

Over the next few days, I will feature several passages from Chapter 1. Don't be surprised if you see many quotes from this book in the coming weeks and months! For me, Lash's prose reads like poetry and he has a marvelous gift for expressing many of the basic concepts of philosophical Taoism.

Zhuangzi - Moving On

Chuang Tzu's wife died. When Hui Tzu went to convey his condolences, he found Chuang Tzu sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. "You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old," said Hui Tzu. "It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing - this is going too far, isn't it?"

Chuang Tzu said, "You're wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn't grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there's been another change and she's dead. It's just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.

"Now she's going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don't understand anything about fate. So I stopped."
~ from Chapter 18, Burton Watson Translation ~
The first time I read the Zhuangzi, this was one of the passages that took me aback. Making merry after the death of a loved one? What kind of a philosophy is this?

On further reflection, however, I began to realize that Chuang Tzu was doing nothing more than making a real life observation. In time, after the death of a loved one, most of us move on with life. If we want to live, there really is no other choice.

At the outset, we each mourn the passing in our own way. Some people -- like me -- are very weepy and appear inconsolable. Some people are stoic and reflective. Other reactions include anger, a sense of abandonment, supreme loss and a feeling that our existence has become surreal. It can often take quite awhile to reestablish patterns of normalcy.

Little by little, we reemerge into the flow of life around us. We return to our everyday lives of work, family, leisure and contemplation. When in the throes of anguish, we may feel as if we will never know laughter again, but, in time, we laugh. In time, we smile again and we rediscover happiness and joy. Except for cases of unexpected and/or gruesome death (e.g., murder, war, a heart attack or disease at a young age, etc.), most of us soon find that we don't think about the deceased everyday. Their memory remains etched in our hearts, but their passing no longer resembles an open wound.

In our own time and in our own way, most of us are just like Chuang Tzu. We mourn, then we bang a drum and sing.

Death is a fact of life. The longer a person lives, the more people we love and cherish will die around us. In order to continue living vibrant lives, we have to move on beyond death...until it claims us too.

To read more musings about the Zhuangzi, you can visit the index page for this ongoing series.

Interview with the Author - Part 13

This last section of the manuscript for The Book of Chen Jen is broken down into several posts. To see all the posts in chronological order, go to the Book of Chen Jen Index Page (scroll down to Section 3). For the sake of these posts, the questions posed by the interviewer, Sue-tzu, will be in bold and the answers by the author will appear as regular text.

Chen Jen shares a great deal more than you.

Yes. And this is one way in which we are dissimilar. There is a great deal of what I call ‘content’ in Chen Jen. He seems to have a message and a desire to share it. I have neither. Chen Jen is a finger pointing to the moon. His way has arisen from his heart, but it is his heart and his path — not that of his readers. The value of his book to his audience — if there is one — is by way of example; seeing that he has found his path, perhaps they can find their own.

Another thing about Chen Jen that I find curious is his extensive use of the imperative — especially in the Sayings. The imperative — telling others what to do — is not an attribute of indifference or of not-knowing. He redeems himself a bit in the Wanderings where he is much more careful to avoid such statements, although they appear there as well. But then, I suppose it is somewhat unavoidable if we answer enquiries about our way. I have only just now given you an imperative: ‘Follow your own heart.’

It struck me that oftentimes when Chen Jen is using the imperative he might be speaking to himself. For instance, when he says “Lay down the burden ...” or “Let your dragons be ...” he is instructing himself. He is grappling with his own experience, trying to follow the pointing of his own finger.

Yes. That is very insightful. And it points again for the need for the reader to see Chen Jen as an instructive example, not as some kind of realized guru whose teaching we are to adhere to.

I find it ‘curious’ — to use your word — that you sometimes disagree with Chen Jen even though you created him.

Forgive me for being pedantic, but I ‘created’ no one — but I think you have understood that. Just as Nature arises spontaneously from Mystery without apparent volitional intention and is thus not ‘created’, so what arises from spontaneous human endeavor is likewise not ‘created.’

But let’s look at this from a more psychological point of view. As you insightfully commented, Chen Jen might very well have been teaching himself, rather than any prospective reader. He was working it out for himself. Might it not be that Chen Jen’s finger pointing was my pointing, as well? And finger pointing, by its very nature — not being the reality itself — is necessarily a fallible activity? This being so, having seen my moon, the finger pointing is clearly seen in its fallibility.

Chen Jen in his writing was engaged in an exercise whereby he was in a process of realizing harmony with Mystery. I tagged along for the ride. Maybe.

Perhaps it might be worth mentioning at this point that I do not find all of Chen Jen’s writings — especially in the Sayings — to be of equal quality. Some of them, for me, facilitate ‘an experience of understanding’ — an experience of insight beyond mere understanding. But many others leave me uninspired. And although I will admit to having edited some out altogether, for the most part, I felt it was best to let them stand. They did, after all, arise. Those that did not seem to so arise are the ones I have discarded. And I might have missed some, having become enamored with their words or ideas.

Who Are You?

If truth be known, I don't think any of us can answer the simple question: Who Are You? We can provide some unimportant information like our name, occupation, where we live, our family and how we and others view us, but we can't truly define who we are.

The problem we face is that the core of who we are as sentient beings cannot adequately be put into words. We can describe aspects of ourselves, but that only represents the top layer or two. If we dig down a bit deeper, we move beyond the point of conceptualization. We move to a place that is unknown and mysterious.

About the only time in our lives when we can touch the ever elusive inner self is through meditation and/or deep reflection. As our friend Chen Jen might say, the only way we can really know who we are is when we move past the boundaries of the thing we call ourselves and embrace the entirety of the cosmos.

In other words, to know thyself on the deepest of levels, we must first lose ourselves completely in the ether.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Can You See Me Now?

For the past several days I've been dealing with an "ear situation." Not pain, mind you, but a lot of pressure and muffled hearing. I decided to go see the family doctor to head off potential complications down the road. Just as I thought, the problem is an inflamed zit (pimple) in the ear canal right in front of the eardrum.

Aside from a prescription of oral penicillin to guard against a nasty infection, my doctor also prescribed ear drops. The reason I'm sharing this information is because of those drops. You see, the drops my doctor chose generally are not prescribed for ears. They are eye drops. It turns out that these eye drops also can do double duty as ear drops, though the little readout that came with the prescription SOLELY includes a description of how they should be administered for the eyes.

My wife -- a woman with a keen sense of humor -- has spent a good portion of the last 30 minutes walking up to my right side just beyond my peripheral vision. Mimicking the voice of the Test Man for Verizon Wireless, she asks, "Can you see me now?" She then moves a little farther to the back and says, "Can you see me NOW?"

I'm going to have to put up with this little joke for the next 10 days!

Not to be outdone, I told her I would call the doctor tomorrow to report that, while my right ear is still clogged, I do have 20/20 vision out of it! :-D

Change Is Good (They Say)

I've been offline for the past 12 hours or so as I brought my new -- well, new to me -- computer up to speed. It's a refurbished IBM ThinkCentre with a bit more RAM and twice the hard drive capacity as my old machine. The new computer came with its own licensed version of Windows XP Professional...which I immediately erased.

Even though I have been satisfied with Debian GNU/Linux (Lenny), I decided to try something new. The operating system I chose for this go around was Kubuntu 10.4. Many aspects of Kubuntu seem a tad bit better than Lenny, but it still involves a learning curve.

So, if I seem a bit silent -- not writing in my usual torrent -- it's because I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate my way around this new system.

Change is good...I think. ;-)

Daodejing, Verse 65

Daodejing - Other Voices
The ancient Masters
didn't try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don't know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.

[For Personal development]
  • A fundamental principle of the universe is uncertainty; thinking you know separates you from the Tao.
  • Opening to not knowing expands the possibilities to the unknown; often that’s outside our comfort zone.
  • Keeping it simple makes life easier.
[For Coaching]
  • Thinking we know the answers disconnects us from ourselves and our clients.
  • Trust the coaching process; the clients will find their own answers.
  • We coach around the “who” and show clients the way back to their own true nature, not just the "what" which is about being clever or rich.
  • We are role models for our clients – embracing who we are helps our clients give themselves permission to do the same.
~ from Practice the Tao, author Julia Chung, original post date: 10/12/09 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.