21) The Longman (Dragon Gate) sect of the Complete Reality School of Taoism 

The Dragon Gate sect incorporates elements of Buddhism and Confucianism into a comprehensive form of Taoism. Complete Reality Taoism is generally divided into two main traditions, Southern100_5684 and Northern. The Dragon Gate sect is an offshoot of the Northern school. Its spiritual descent is traced to the thirteenth-century master Qiu Chang-chun, who was one of the original seven disciples of Wang Chongyang. Chang-chun means “Eternal Spring”. Genghis Khan appointed Chang-chun overseer of all religions in China, and the Dragon Gate sect thus played a critical role in the conservation of the Han Chinese culture. The entry here tries the show how it comes together in unison with common themes in Chinese history. 

The Quanzhen School is a branch of Taoism that originated in Northern China under the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). One of its founders was the Taoist Wang Chongyang, who lived in the early Jin. When the Mongols invaded the Song dynasty (960–1279) in 1254, the Quanzhen Taoists exerted great effort in keeping the peace, thus saving thousands of lives, particularly among those of Han Chinese descent.

Foundation principles

The meaning of Quanzhen can be translated literally to “All True” and for this AThe Way of Complete Perfectionreason, it is often called the All Truth Religion” or the “Way of Completeness and Truth”. In some texts, it is also referred to as The Way of Complete Perfection”. The Way of Complete Perfection” is a text/reference book I have had for some time and refer to it frequently.  

An excerpt from Discourse 7 is called “Sitting in Meditation” and reads as follows:

Sitting in meditation does not simply mean to sit with the body erect and the eyes closed. This is superficial sitting. To sit authentically, you must maintain a clear heart-mind like Mount Tai, remaining unmovable and unshakable throughout the entire day. Maintain this practice rather standing, sitting, or lying down, whether in ATiashan IChngmovement or stillness. Restrain and seal the four Gates – namely the eyes, ears, mouth,and nose. Do not allow the external world to enter in. If there is even the slightest trace of a thought about movement and stillness, this cannot be called quiet sitting. If you can practice like this, although your body exists in the world of dust, your name will be listed in the ranks of the immortals.

Then there is no need to travel great distances and consult others. Rather worthiness and sagehood resides in this very body. After one hundred years, with accomplishment complete, you will cast off the husk and ascend to perfection. With a single pellet of elixir (inner wisdom) completed, spirit wanders through the eight realms. (page 111 from Daily Practice)

Kunyu Mountain in Shandong province lies near the cities of Yantai and Weihai and Akunyinis the birthplace of Quanzhen Taoism. I have been to both cities and had several students from this area while teaching at Jining University and Qufu Normal School in Qufu. For centuries, the mountain has been popular not only with emperors and monks, it has attracted innumerable members of the literati – writers, poets, calligraphers, and painters – who built retreats on the mountain where they could pursue their respective artistic inspirations. Inscriptions and stelae are spread about the mountain, bearing witness to the presence of these scholars and artists.

With strong Taoist roots, the Quanzhen School specializes in the process of “alchemy within the body” or Neidan (internal Away of complete perfectionalchemy), as opposed to Waidan (external alchemy which experiments with the ingestion of herbs and minerals, etc.). The Waidan tradition has been largely replaced by Neidan, as Waidan was a sometimes dangerous and lethal pursuit. Quanzhen focuses on internal cultivation of the person which is consistent with the pervading Taoist desire for attaining wu wei, which is essentially unconscious action.

Like most Taoists, Quanzhen priests were particularly concerned with longevity and immortality through alchemy, harmonizing oneself with the Tao, studying the Five Elements, and ideas on balance consistent with yin and yang (I Ching) theory. The school is also known for using Buddhist and Confucian ideas.

The Wu Xing, also known as the Five Elements, Five Phases, the Five Agents, the Five Afive elementsMovements, Five Processes, the Five Steps/Stages and the Five Planets of significant gravity (Mars: 火, Mercury: 水, Jupiter: 木, Venus: 金, and Saturn: 土) is the short form of “Wǔ zhǒng liúxíng zhī qì” (五種流行之氣) or “the five types of chi dominating at different times”. It is a five-fold conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields used to explain a wide array of phenomena, from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs, and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicinal drugs. The “Five Phases” are wood ( mù), fire ( huǒ), earth (tǔ), metal ( jīn), and water ( shuǐ). This order of presentation is known as the “mutual generation” (相生 xiāngshēng) sequence. In the order of “mutual overcoming” (相剋/相克 xiāngkè); they are Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal.

The system of five phases was used for describing interactions and relationships 100_3170between phenomena. After it came to maturity in the first or second century BCE during the Han dynasty, this device was employed in many fields of early Chinese thought, including seemingly disparate fields such as geomancy or feng shui, astrology, traditional Chinese medicine, music, military strategy, and martial arts. The system is still used as a reference in some forms of complementary and alternative medicine and martial arts with the I Ching providing an over-reaching… or over-arching (as I call it), connecting point that transcends everything bringing understanding to it all. This is all a lot to take in at once. Just remember the Chinese have had thousands of years to “connect the dots, or stars, or planets” so to speak.

Xing:  of ‘Wu Xing’ means moving; a planet is called a ‘moving star’: 行星) in AplanetsChinese. Wu Xing:  originally refers to the five major planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, Venus) that create five dimensions of earth life. Wu Xing” is also widely translated as “Five Elements” and this is used extensively by many including practitioners of Five Element acupuncture. This translation arose by false analogy with the Western system of the four elements. Whereas, the classical Greek elements were concerned with substances or natural qualities – the Chinese xíng are primarily concerned with process and change”… along with balance, hence the common translation as “phases” or “agents”.  By the same token,  is thought of as “Tree” rather than “Wood”. The word ‘element’ is thus used within the context of Chinese medicine with a different meaning to its usual meaning.

It should be recognized that the word phase, although commonly preferred, is not perfect. Phase is a better translation for the five seasons (五運 Wǔ Yùn) mentioned below, and so agents or processes might be preferred for the primary term xíng. Manfred Porkert attempts to resolve this by using Evolutive Phase for 五行 Wǔ Xíng and Circuit Phase for 五運 Wǔ Yùn, but these terms are unwieldy. As one’s Amagwu textnature is constantly changing and evolving, nothing stays the same over time.

Some of the Mawangdui Silk Texts (no later than 168 BC) also present the Wu Xing as “five virtues” or types of activities. Within Chinese medicine texts, the Wu Xing are also referred to as Wu Yun: ; wǔ yùn or a combination of the two characters (Wu Xing-Yun) these emphasize the correspondence of five elements to five ‘seasons’ (four seasons plus one). Another tradition refers to the Wǔ Xíng as Wǔ Dé (五德), the Five Virtues (usually translated as “inherent character”, inner power, or integrity in Taoism). Also viewed important in Confucianism as: benevolence (rén 仁), righteousness (yì 义), propriety (lǐ 礼), wisdom (zhì 智) and fidelity (xìn 信) as the Five Constant Virtues (wǔ cháng 五常) which are important as traditional virtues of China.

Afive elementsThe phases – Referenced above it’s important to refer to again. The five phases are around 72 days each and are usually used to describe the state in nature:

  • Wood/Spring: a period of growth, which generates abundant wood and vitality.
  • Fire/Summer: a period of swelling, flowering, brimming with fire and energy.
  • Earth: the in-between transitional seasonal periods, or a separate ‘season’ known as Late Summer or Long Summer – in the latter case associated with leveling and dampening (moderation) and fruition.
  • Metal/Autumn: a period of harvesting and collecting…..
  • Water/Winter: a period of retreat, where stillness and storage pervades.

CyclesThe doctrine of five phases describes two cycles, a generating or creation (生, shēng) cycle, also known as “mother-son”, and an overcoming or destruction (剋/克, kè) cycle, also known as “grandfather-grandson”, of interactions between the phases.

Within Chinese medicine the effects of these two main relations are further elaborated: Inter-promoting (shēng cycle, mother/son)

  • Inter-acting (grandmother/grandson)
  • Over-acting (kè cycle, grandfather/grandson)
  • Counter-acting (reverse )

Generating – The common memory jogs, which help to remind in what order the phases are:

  • Wood feeds Fire
  • Fire creates Earth (ash)
  • Earth bears Metal
  • Metal collects Water
  • Water nourishes Wood

Other common words for this cycle include “begets”, “engenders” and “mothers”.


  • Wood parts Earth (such as roots or trees can prevent soil erosion)
  • Earth dams (or muddies or absorbs) Water
  • Water extinguishes Fire
  • Fire melts Metal
  • Metal chops Wood

This cycle might also be called “controls”, “restrains” or “fathers”.

Cosmology and feng shui

According to Wu Xing theory, the structure of the cosmos mirrors the five phases. Each phase has a complex series of associations with different aspects of nature, as DSCI0258can be seen in the following table. In the ancient Chinese form of geomancy, known as feng shui, practitioners all based their art and system on the five phases (Wu Xing).

To the left is one of the “celestial deities” found on twenty-four stone engravings dating back more than a thousand years at Qingyang Taoist Temple in Chengdu in Sichuan Province.   

All of these phases are represented within the trigrams focusing on “complimentary opposites”. Associated with these phases are colors, seasons and shapes; all of which are interacting with each other.  Understanding that along with innate knowing comes the grace of impermanence – everything changes – and that there is no separation. We are simply one with the ten thousand things… everything found in nature.

Based on a particular directional energy flow from one phase to the next, the interaction can be expansive, destructive, or exhaustive. A proper knowledge of each aspect of energy flow will enable the Feng Shui practitioner to apply certain cures or rearrangement of energy in a way they believe to be beneficial for the receiver of the Feng Shui Treatment.

Movement Metal Metal Fire Wood Wood Water Earth Earth
Trigram  in pinyin  qián duì zhèn xùn kǎn gèn kūn
I Ching Heaven Lake Fire Thunder Wind Water Mountain Field
Planet  Neptune Venus Mars Jupiter Pluto Mercury Uranus Saturn
Color Indigo White Crimson Green Scarlet Black Purple Yellow
Day Friday Friday Tuesday Thursday Thursday Wednesday Saturday Saturday
Season Autumn Autumn Summer Spring Spring Winter Intermediate Intermediate


West West South East East North Center Center

Dynastic transition – According to the Warring States period political philosopher 100_3421Zou Yan 鄒衍 (c. 305–240 BCE), each of the five elements possesses a personified “virtue” (de 德), which indicates the foreordained destiny (yun 運) of a dynasty; accordingly, the cyclic succession of the elements also indicates dynastic transitions. Zou Yan claims that the Mandate of Heaven sanctions the legitimacy of a dynasty by sending self-manifesting auspicious signs in the ritual color (yellow, blue, white, red, and black) that matches the element of the new dynasty (Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire, and Water). From the Qin dynasty onward, most Chinese dynasties invoked the theory of the Five Elements to legitimize their reign.


According to traditional legend, Wang Chongyang met two Taoist immortals in the summer of 1159 CE. The immortals, Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongbin taught him Taoist beliefs and trained him in secret rituals. The meeting proved deeply influential, and roughly a year later, in 1160, Wang met one of these men again. In this second encounter, he was provided with a set of five written instructions which led to his decision of living by himself in a grave (a cave) he created for himself in Zhongnan Mountain for three years. (The Zhongnan mountains have been a popular AZhongnan Mountaindwelling-place for Daoist hermits since the Qin dynasty. Buddhist monks began living in the mountains after Buddhism’s introduction into China from India in the early first millennium AD. Due to the mountains’ close proximity to the ancient capital of Xi’an, officials who incurred the imperial court’s wrath often fled to these mountains to escape punishment. It was from here that early Taoism left and went to Shandong).

Landscape painting of the Zhongnan Mountains by Huang Junbi

After seven years of living in the mountain (three inside the cave and another four in a hut he later called “Complete Perfection Hut”), Wang met two of his seven future disciples, Tan Chuduan and Qiu Chuji. In 1167, Wang traveled to Shandong Province and met Ma Yu and Ma’s wife Sun Bu’er who became his students. These and others 100_5699would become part of the seven Quanzhen disciples, who were later known as the Seven Masters of Quanzhen. After Wang’s departure, it was left to his disciples to continue expounding the Quanzhen beliefs. Ma Yu succeeded Wang as head of the school, while Sun Bu’er went on to establish the Purity and Tranquility School, one of the foremost branches of Quanzhen.

Another excerpt from The Way of Complete Perfection” I like to refer to is… 

The innate nature of heaven is humanity. The human heart-mind is the pivot. Establishing the Way of Heaven enables the stabilization of humanity.

The celestial nature of every human being has the capacity to be good or perverse, great or petty. It longs for cultural refinement over military activity, for the Dao (Tao) over ordinariness, for dignity over debasement, for loftiness over lowliness. From ancient times to the present, the innate nature of human beings has sought to cast forth the immortal embryo and exchange the husk, to change the bones and transform form. Like ants DSCI0139going out on their circuit, it has not ceased for a moment.

The pivot of every human heart-mind daily and constantly goes through myriad transformations. There are moments of ingenuity and awkwardness, alignment and perversion, as well as profundity and shallowness. There are moments of kindness and cruelty, loyalty and contrariness, broad-mindedness and narrow-mindedness, greatness and smallness, clarity and turbidity, worthiness and rudeness, love and hate, as well as correctness and falsity. If you examine this pivot of the heart-mind, you will know the innate nature of humans.

With respect to “establishing the Way of Heaven”, those who are ignorant about this way do not know that the grace of heaven is extensive. Spring is warm, and summer is hot; autumn is cool, and winter is cold. In each of these four seasons, there is a transformative influence. It produces and completes the myriad beings. Its assistance extends to the human world. (Scripture study / page 191).

Branches and sects

The seven disciples of Wang Chongyang continued to expound the Quanzhen beliefs. The seven Masters of Quanzhen established the following seven branches.

  • Ma Yu (馬鈺): Yuxian lineage (Meeting the Immortals, 遇仙派)
  • Tan Chuduan (譚處端): Nanwu lineage (Southern Void, 南无派)
  • Liu Chuxuan (劉處玄): Suishan lineage (Mount Sui, 随山派)
  • Qui Chuji (丘處機): Longmen lineage (Dragon Gate Taoism, 龙门派)
  • Wang Chuji (王處一): Yushan lineage (Mount Yu, 崳山派)
  • Hao Datong (郝大通): Huashan lineage (Mount Hua, 华山派)
  • Sun Bu’er (孫不二): Qingjing lineage (Purity and Tranquility Sect, 清静派)

Dragon Gate priests

The 11th generation Dragon Gate priest Min Yi-De (闵一得) combined three religions (Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism) together to develop the “Dragon convenience methods”. The principle is “learn from Buddhism, to comply with the precepts, diligently practice inner alchemy arts”, so that the Dragon Gate branch became thriving. Dragon Gate is currently the largest existing Taoism branch in the world.

After the decline of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of People’s Republic of China, people’s understanding of Taoism became more limited to the type of Taoism practiced in the temples located in major urban centers.


By 1dandecarlo

20) Shaolin – What the early Buddhists found in China and what became Chan, Pure Land and Zen Buddhism

The narrative continues from my last entry following the Silk Road from Xi’an and Ashao1the Big Wild Goose Pagoda to its end in Luoyang at the White Horse Buddhist Temple and Longman Grottoes. From there Buddhism was to find its true beginnings in China, many believe at Songshan Mountain and what would become known as the Shaolin Temple. The narrative generally follows my trip to China last September/October (2018). As a point of reference, I have been coming to China for more the twenty years, taught at Jining University in Qufu, am a published author on Chinese history in China, and have visited numerous Buddhists, Confucius, and Taoist historic and religious sites over the years. For myself, what I have learned is the essence of Buddhism, and Eastern philosophy in general,  is when we know that to take care of one life, we have to take care of all life – and that life includes what we say, how we act, what we do, and what we honor. This is the beginning of our spiritual growth and the sacred embodiment that leads to true civilization and becoming truly universal, i.e., transcendental.

My foundation published the Unity Daily Word in China for two years. Copies of Ashao2which have now been seen by more the three million people (or so I’ve been told). Ninety-nine percent of the pictures here on my blog and website I took myself. I do not profess to be an expert here, only give an introduction to Chinese influence in this entry on how the Buddhist religion and philosophy grew over the centuries. There are many people with greater insight. Helping others to cross over to greater understanding is my purpose here. I am not attempting to “convert” anyone to anything. You do not have to “believe” a particular religious path is right in understanding its founding, practice, and impact on the world. Dispelling fear and understanding our ultimate role should be the aim of all of us.

All religious and spiritual paths promote love and understanding at their core (love thy neighbor as thyself). It is when we “disrespect” the way of others that we sometimes get lost. Free will means we are free to believe what we choose to believe… just do so with respect of others – with compassion and love as they learn and try to do the same. The vibrations we send out from our inner selves equals those we get in return. The original intent of The Kongdan Foundation that I started over ten years ago was to simply be a conduit that leads to greater awareness, knowledge, mindfulness, and hopefully wisdom that assists others in finding their own path. What you see here is more from the prospective in Chinese history. Not the definitive definition of Buddhism. That would consist of volumes I am not really qualified to do. My writing is in more an “everyday” approach, so that more people can see themselves and come along for the ride.

Continuing from the Silk Road and Luoyang from my last entry… as if expected, Ashao3serendipity came along to change my plans that would take me to Songshan Mountain and the famous Shaolin Temple about an hour and a half away. He came in the form of a professional film maker who was staying at my hostel and planned to stop there on his way back to Shanghai. He invited me to come along so I changed my plans. I left my suitcase and computer at the hostel, gathered things for my backpack and away we went…

Buddhism from India and Tibet coming to China focused on assimilating with what was there over time. Buddhism had been coming to China for centuries prior to the influx created by more travel, but began in earnest in the second and third century. A key to Buddhism is moving people and their thoughts beyond contention to universal growth and understanding – remember the bodhisattva vow. It is for this reason that “non-contention” allows others to grow into Buddhist thought from where they presently are at the moment. In my previous posts here, I have stressed that you could follow another religious path and still adhere to Buddhist principles. It was the same then as now. So, what did the Buddhists find in China and how did they make such a lasting impression? Expanding beyond the Silk Road and Chengdu, Xi’an and Luoyang became essential. How did they make such in-roads with an already established population where Confucianism and Taoism had been prevalent for centuries? It is as the I Ching teaches – that change begins from within. To know what will be the outcome of things, you must return first to what went in – in the beginning… to its roots to see where the branches grow. (The idea of “roots and branches” is a central theme of Eastern philosophy and religion that has been cultivated to gain greater understanding for centuries).

Freedom comes with abandoning fear of change to become one with your ultimate self and innate spirit, or nature. Something quantum physics is beginning to teach us. As you acknowledge change must occur, you learn to adapt and become one with Ashao4the change itself. This made the connection between Lao and Chuang Tzu’s Taoism and what was to become Chan and Pure Land Buddhism a natural fit.

To the left is the famous Sanhuang Basilica dedicated to the three sovereigns – heaven, earthly, and human that sits at the top of Songshan Mountain.

There was no separation of thinking… as if both were on the same page, perhaps only a different paragraph illuminating ways to reach a common end. In China, it has been assimilation, convergence, and finding the middle way that has always succeeded. Finding the true essence of what was known as the Middle Kingdom. So, after reaching the end of the Silk Road in Luoyang, Buddhism went south to Songyang Mountain, in what is now Dengfeng, and focused on creating the Shaolin Temple that become the epicenter of what was to become their own Chinese version that would become Chan and later Pure Land Buddhism.

Songyang had for thousands of years prior to that time been considered a sacred place representing Taoism’s beginning because it was said that Lao Tzu had spent a great deal of time here. The teachings of antiquity and the shaman connected you to the stars and Taoism meant you had the freedom to discover for yourself how you Ashao5were connected to the universe and stars above by climbing and reaching greater heights yourself. Songshan Mountain is considered one of the five great mountains in Taoism in China… Buddhism has their mountains as well.

The famous “elephant rock” at Songshan. 

We were going to the Songshan Mountain Area that included the Songyang Temple this afternoon. On Friday, climb one of the mountains and visit the Shaolin Temple and Pagoda Forest at its base. And on Saturday climb to the summit of a second mountain that was adjacent to the first (we didn’t go because the tram was broken). Ashao6First, to clarify, I do not write under some false illusion of one day being published. I write simply for my own enjoyment and enlightenment because it is my writing that takes me there.

The Tang Stone Tablet at the entrance of Songyang Temple built in 744 AD during the time when it was used in honoring Lao Tzu and Taoism. (Depicted here as top and bottom)

If others choose to come along for the ride… you are welcome. Today on the bus to I wasn’t sure where… which is where I often find myself – I couldn’t help but think of Ashao7our divine presence and what that means for ourselves and others. Changing from within first to the alignment with the universe we came in with and the things we are here to work on or correct this time. As if coming into focus and letting our own light shine. Moving to who we are supposed to be. Simply to find and go with the flow I have always known with no pre-conceived intent or outcome and letting the spirit of the Tao (the universe) guide me. Ultimately, it is not for me to simply write down someone else’s impressions – but to add my own take on the environment I find with everything as context with connections that leads to the next step.

My travels in China are not simply going to these places for pictures. Pictures are but Ashao8a mirror, recalling scenes from a past I sense I have always known. It is in keeping with a personal journey whose purpose has not been fully revealed as yet. It is my reflecting what I see with what I write with what I already know (and be reminded of) with what I am here to learn and know or build on again. Leaving behind a cluttered mind while adding as much new wisdom as I can take. Being present every moment in meditation and remembering… As if I am seeing what has changed since my last visit and writing about the antiquity that lies within each of us. Often laughing at my own frailties. With times spent with the ancients who don’t want to be forgotten, so that even their own immortality might not come into question with me taking myself much to Ashao9seriously as I go.

To let these images from the past take you there. Each with a story to tell – just waiting to be told of when things or they were someone or something of importance. Something more than they are considered now. It is as if in the stillness they reside, they lie in wait with images and vibrations… for the storyteller. Not just being present only for your own story, but to tell the story of everything around you – with the older the story – the more there is to show and tell. And I don’t write fiction. With no pre-conception of where what you are here to learn may lead. As Ashao10doors are waiting to open for the stories just waiting to be told and fine-tuned again as history continues to tell the ultimate narrative of a never-ending memoir. As I’ve relayed before… many simply wanting to have their say in history. Tomes, or volumes of a much larger work, have been written over the centuries with commentaries and updating scriptures, or sutras, or re-reading Buddhist influence and writing. My question today is what were they thinking?

My efforts here are simply first to relay what the Buddhists found in China when they arrived and how they re-wrote history with their presence. In the present day, people you meet are here to take you to places you are needed – the stories are endless and your role never-ceasing. The more you write the more you need to write. It is as if my trips to China are always a form of meditation beyond where I find myself just now… saying you are a conveyor of ancient wisdom and to use your time wisely. It makes me wonder, how are we moved by Ashao11“divine order”. Or are we taking and receiving our que from what might be called “universal divine order” only to be conveyed when there is no contention or ego present. Who is to say? It’s the vibrations you know…

It was here at Songshan Mountain and Shaolin Temple where so much occurred where people came for centuries. Three religions and philosophies of life and death in one body (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism) were formed as what was seen as a “convergence” Ashao14in this area. Emperor Wudi and Empress Wuzetian came here to commemorate the mountain and convey its importance to this belief. As if life is about remembering who we are yet to become before we forget. Songshan Mountain has been famous as a place where people came with a desire to improve themselves and discover and find comfort with their inner virtue.

The Zhongyue Temple is not only a repository of ancient wisdom here, but also a Ashao12reminder that there was more to climbing mountains than the climb itself. It is the appreciation of the overwhelming nature you find with the mountain as you climb, just as life has its ups and downs your eyes remain on the horizon and the clouds above.   I am here at one of the five most famous mountains in China. Tomorrow I climb the mountain.

The mountain is one of the sacred Taoist mountains of China, and contains Ashao13important Taoist temples such as the Zhongyue Temple; however, the mountain also features a significant Buddhist presence. It is home to the Shaolin Temple, traditionally considered the birthplace of both Chan and Zen Buddhism, and the temple’s collection of the pagoda forest is the largest in China. The Zhongyue Temple (mentioned above) is also located here, and one of the earliest Taoist temples in the country. The Songyang Academy nearby was one of the four great academies of ancient China. The mountain and its vicinity are populated with Taoist and especially Buddhist monasteries.

Friday, September 29 we went to the Shaolin Temple and Buddha Forest at the Ashao19base of the mountain and then on Saturday I took the bus back to Luoyang and Lin headed for Shanghai. I’m reminded of the old TV series with Keith Carradine about the Shaolin Temple and Kung Fu. (I’ve been carrying around the cassettes from the early 90’s of the TV shows for almost twenty-five years… of course, you can now watch them on UTUBE). How he traveled the old west rescuing people from trouble and things they had gotten themselves into. Flashbacks of his time back in China at the Shaolin Temple and his mentor referring to him as “grasshopper”. I never thought at the Ashao20time I would someday be here… reliving history again.

We were walking in front of the temple and I saw someone with one of the wheelchairs our sister city committee had donated to Qufu back in 2007. Christiane Francois and I came to Qufu to facilitate donating two hundred wheelchairs from The Wheelchair Foundation and the Boynton Beach Sister City Committee. It was quite a surprise. The first wheelchair I had seen in more than ten years. It was in great condition too. As if coming full circle again and again.

Shaolin Temple Wushu (Martial Arts) Training Center

The Shaolin Temple Wushu (Martial Arts) Training Center comes after you Ashao21have visited the temple. The scenery adjacent to the temple makes it an ideal place for practicing the Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Shaolin monks have been practicing Kung Fu here for over fifteen hundred years. The system was invented to teach the monks basic methods to improve their health and defend themselves. The martial art performance shows (which I attended), illustrate the true Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. For example, Tong Zi Gong, performed by teenagers, as a kind of martial art to train one’s flexibility and strength. Shaolin Kung Fu has a great tradition in China. Today, the day I am here, there are more than 50,000 students in facilities across from the Shaolin Temple.

Shaolin Temple, in the region of Songshan Mountain in Dengfeng, Henan Province, Ashao22is reputed to be ‘the Number One Temple under Heaven’. Shaolin Temple history can date back to Northern Wei Dynasty (386 – 534), and it played an important role on the development of Chan and Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism in China.   Upon entering you first see Shanmen Hall. Hung on its top is a tablet reading ‘Shaolin Temple’. The tablet was inscribed by the Emperor Kangxi (1622 – 1723) during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). Under the stairs of the Ashao24hall crouches two stone lions made in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The hall enshrines the Maitreya Buddha. Two sides of the corridor behind the hall’s gate are paved with inscriptions on stone steles made during several different dynasties. Sometimes the less said the better to let the reader use pictures and their own imagination to take you there.

The Shaolin Temple has two main legacies: Chan, which refers to Chan Buddhism, Ashao25the religion of Shaolin, and Quan, which refers to the martial arts of Shaolin. In Shaolin, these are not separate disciplines and monks have always pursued the philosophy of the unification of Chan and Quan. In a deeper point of view, Quan is considered part of Chan. As late Shaolin monk Suxi said in the last moments of his life, “Shaolin is Chan, not Quan.” Zen Buddhism is said to have traveled from here to Japan. Although, Japanese Zen Buddhism can claim many origins and fathers.

On the Quan (martial) side, the contents are abundant. A usual classification of contents are:

  1. Basic skills (基本功; jīběn gōng): These include stamina, flexibility, and balance, Ashao23which improve the body abilities in doing martial maneuvers. In Shaolin kung fu, flexibility and balance skills are known as “childish skill” (tóngzǐ gōng), which have been classified into 18 postures.
  2. Power skills (气功; qigong): These include: Qigong meditation: Qigong meditation itself has two types, internal (nèi), which is stationary meditation, and external (外; wài), which is dynamic meditation methods like Shaolin four-part exercise (si duan gong), eight-section brocade; bā duàn jǐn), Shaolin muscle-changing scripture (yì jīn jīng), and others.                                             
  3. Combat skills (quanfa “skills”): These include various barehanded, weapon, and barehanded vs. weapon routines or styles and their combat (sàndǎ) methods.
    • The 72 arts: These Include 36 soft and 36 hard exercises, which are known as soft and hard qigong

In practice, beyond the martial arts aspects of Shaolin, was that the essence of enlightenment came to be identified with the interaction between masters and students. It was through Chan Buddhism that whatever insight, or dhyana, would occur as a series of cultivated states of mind which leads to a “state of perfect equanimity and awareness,” commonly translated as meditation, that would serve as one’s verification. In effect, enlightenment came to be understood not so much as an insight, but as a way of acting in the world with Ashao26other people present. Shaolin was the result of both purification of both body and mind. (some of the above from Wikipedia)

The Pagoda Forest

The Pagoda Forest, next to the Shaolin Temple, serves as a graveyard for Buddhist dignitaries through the ages. On average, the pagodas are about 50 feet high. The layer and the shape of a pagoda depend on many factors, such as one’s status, attainment and prestige during his lifetime. The Pagoda Forest here is the largest of China’s pagoda complexes.

Next, what became of Chan Buddhism in China from the beginning of the Shaolin Temple over the centuries? It begins with Bodhidharma, who was a Buddhist monk Ashao27who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan Buddhism to China and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch. (A patriarch has a lineage in Buddhism that is a line of transmission of the Buddhist teaching that is “theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself. The acknowledgement of the transmission can be oral, or certified in documents. Several branches of Buddhism, including Chan, plus Zen and Seon, and Tibetan Buddhism maintain records of their historical teachers. These records serve as a validation for the living exponents of the tradition)”.  According to Chinese legend, Bodhidharma also began the physical training of the monks of Shaolin Monastery that led to the creation of Shaolin kungfu. In Japan, he is known as Daruma. Little contemporary biographical information on Bodhidharma is known and subsequent accounts became layered with legend and unreliable details. Aside from the Chinese accounts, several popular traditions also exist regarding Bodhidharma’s origins. He was an energetic teacher who called all Buddhists, monks or lay people to make their best effort in this lifetime. He opposed the idea of earning merits by making donations. Instead, he affirmed that everyone has Buddha-nature and encouraged everyone to awaken. Bodhidharma’s  teachings and practice centered on meditation and the Lankavatara Sutra. The Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall identifies Bodhidharma as the 28th Patriarch of Buddhism in an uninterrupted line that extends all the way back to the Gautama Buddha himself. The Anthology was a Chinese text compiled by two Chinese Buddhist monks in 952 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-979). It is the oldest existing collection of Chan (or Zen) encounter dialogs, dating from about half a century before the much more well-known Transmission of the Lamp. After being lost for centuries, it was rediscovered by Japanese scholars in the 20th century at the Haeinsa temple in Korea, in a complete form with all twenty chapters. The Pure Land teachings were first developed in India and were very popular in Kashmir and Central Asia, where they may have originated. Pure Land sutras were brought to China as early as 147 AD, when the monk Lokaksema began translating the Buddhist sūtras into Chinese.

There is so much history its hard to know what’s important as it all seems important. The repositories of Buddhist sūtras and related history are scattered throughout China and elsewhere. I have now been to ten or twelve Buddhist monasteries and temples in China (and many Taoist and Confucius shrines for lack of a better word). Ashao28Perhaps Part 3… the next entry relating to Eastern philosophy and religion will begin to try to relay my visits and the take-away I had from them. I also want to spend more time on the foundations of the I Ching, and the “roots and branches of things”, especially the role of the shaman.  I seem to revert to my own comfort level… which always seems to be considered ancient China and Taoism. It is a journey and we are all teachers and students. With an open mind along with a thirst for knowledge and insight, we can gain a historical context to stay on a learning path – as foresight and wisdom comes our way. We are all metaphysicians on a transcendental journey through time and the universe.

For myself, still a novice in trying to get a more global view of Chan and what is called Pure Land Buddhism, I think of how it was transmitted over the centuries along the Silk Road initially, and how Buddhism blended with Taoism, and the teachings of Confucius which in practical terms became the structure and cornerstone of the examination system in the Han Dynasty in about 200 AD and was basically in effect until the end of the last dynasty in 1912 with the founding of the Republic of China.  This Confucian order, or structure, effectively kept religion and political order separate. It seems as though the Confucians ruled the head and governed, while the Buddhists and Taoists, Moslems to the west, and others, the heart and popular culture. Collectively, this convergence worked… in my opinion. Ashao30They’ve had more than five-thousand years of continuous history that through trial and error figured it out.

There is a famous painting done at the end of the Song dynasty and beginning of Tang (about 1000 AD) of the vinegar tasters. The Vinegar Tasters is a traditional subject in Chinese religious painting.

The illustrative composition depicts the three founders of China’s major religious and philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. The theme in the painting has been interpreted as favoring Taoism and critical of the others.

The three men are dipping their fingers in a vat of vinegar and tasting it; one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a sweet expression. The three men are Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu, respectively. Each man’s expression represents the predominant attitude of his philosophy: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddhism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state. Another interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, the three teachings are one.

In an excerpt from ‘The Tao of Pooh’, a book by Benjamin Hoff:

To Lao Tzu, the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time, but not by following the rules of the Confucianists. As he stated in his Tao Te Ching, the “Tao Virtue Book”, earth was in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws — not by the laws of men. These laws affected not only the spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and the fish in the sea. According to Laozi, the more man interfered with the natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.

To Lao Tzu, the world was not a setter of traps but a teacher of valuable lessons. Its lessons needed to be learned, just as its laws needed to be followed; then all would go well. Rather than turn away from “the world of dust,” Lao Tzu advised others to “join the dust of the world.” What he saw operating behind everything in heaven and earth he called Tao, “the Way.”

A basic principle of Lao Tzu’s teaching was that this Way of the Universe could not be adequately described in words, and that it would be insulting both to its unlimited power and to the intelligent human mind to attempt to do so. Still, its nature could be understood, and those who cared the most about it, and the life from which it was inseparable, understood it best.

In the Vinegar Tasters, Lao Tzu is found smiling, why? Well, as said before the vinegar found in the illustration represents life, and certainly in reality, must certainly have an unpleasant taste, as the expressions on the faces of the other two men indicate. Yet, living in harmony and accordance with life and the Tao, this understanding transform what others may perceive as negative into something positive. “From the Taoist point of view, argues Benjamin Hoff, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.”

By 1dandecarlo

19) Early Chinese Buddhism

Our journey follows the ancient Silk Road as it enters China at Urumqi. My family traveled to Urumqi twenty years ago in 1999 to adopt our oldest daughter Emily who was six at the time. 


Marco Polo’s map of Silk Road

The Silk Road that went from Venice in Italy to Xi’an and Luoyang in China was the primary connection for the exchange of not only goods, but acceptance and understanding differences in culture and religion along the more than thirty-five hundred mile journey. Marco Polo and silk seemed to be the main conveyors, but Buddhism from India also found its way to the Silk Road and headed east to China. Another way was by sea from India to Canton (now Guangzhou), then to Nanjing…

Christianity found its way from the Vatican and Jerusalem eastward too and was accepted as long as it respected other ways of thinking… just as today in the Christian Family Church throughout China.


Buddhist sutras leaving India for Xi’an

The Buddhist sūtras coming from India had to be converted from Sanskrit to Chinese. Buddhism also traveled by elephant over the Himalayas via Chengdu to Xian, Luoyang, and south to the Shaolin Temple where Chinese Chan Buddhism got its beginning. We’ll go there in my next entry. This was initially done by Taoist who could translate into the local language. This made the introduction of Buddhist ideas less threatening and more appealing to local Chinese. It was believed that even Chuang Tzu’s writings from centuries earlier were influential in adapting the first Buddhist ideals to Chinese culture. His ability to challenge Confucian orthodoxy demonstrated the strength of what was to become Taoism in combining various ways of thinking – showing that there was more than one way to get to your final destination by following your own nature. Taoist terminology was used to express Buddhist doctrines in the oldest translations of Buddhist texts, a practice termed ko-i, was called “matching the concepts”. This reasoning led others to Chan and later Zen Buddhism in Japan.  Much later Buddhist monks were able to do the translations of the sutras themselves beginning at the White Horse Buddhist Temple in Luoyang.

There were several stops and locations along the way that helped to fuse together existing thought with that of Buddhism that changed the landscape of how China saw themselves and who they were to become. 


Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an

After twenty-five years of study, travel, and writing, one word seems to define for me how philosophy, transcendental thought, and adapting to change, could make it all fit together. That word is convergence. The ability to convert old into something new into something better. The journey always beckons – not knowing where it leads almost as if our fear is only in being alive to paths that lead to places we cannot find or know that ultimately must define us. As if taking snapshots along the way in places we have seen and been before. Only curious as to what remains and changes over the time since we were there before, as if acknowledging past times spent in both joy and sadness. It’s the remembering and seeing what things have become that makes the trip memorable.

The Chinese intrinsically could do this because of the I Ching (yin/yang) and the basis behind the idea of “complimentary opposites”. Relying on the nature of things – not simply our initial idea of what outcome should occur, but to nature and ABud4what brings all things (the ten thousand things) into unison.

Emblem of the I Ching from the Temple of the Eight Immortals in Xi’an more than fifteen hundred years old.

The Taoist would say to wait patiently for nature to run its course that tells the inevitable answer. For the Buddhist, I think it is finding that perfect moment and staying there in an unfiltered life. It’s what the silence and mindfulness tell us in meditation.

What is it that keeps us from living an unfiltered life? When I travel around China, I always try to envision… what were they thinking and how they made the pieces all fit together. Four cities begin to tell the story – to a lesser extent Urumqi that serves as the gate to China, and more importantly Chengdu, Xian and Luoyang, the latter two both capitols of ancient China in different eras and dynasties. First Xi’an, and the Big Wild Goose Buddhist Pagoda.

In June 2014 I traveled to Xi’an. On a Tuesday afternoon I decided to try to see the Little Wild Goose Pagoda.  I walked following the map and directions of people ABud5along the way and finally arrived, but as fate would have it, it was closed on Tuesdays.

Mandala at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda 

Luckily a couple from Germany arrived about the same time and together we decided to find our way by bus to the Big Wild Goose Buddhist Pagoda instead. One of them had an IPhone with map of Xi’an and bus routes. I found that very interesting. He found the bus and it came by our street in a few minutes and we arrived about fifteen minutes later. After we arrived, we went separate ways, but another example of people coming into my life at just the moment I need help.


Presentation of Buddhist sutras

The Big Wild Goose Buddhist Pagoda is located in southern Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China. It was built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty and originally had five stories, although the structure was rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian and its exterior brick facade was renovated during the Ming Dynasty. One of the pagoda’s many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddhas that were brought to ABud7China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveler Zuanzang. Xuanzang started off from Chang’an (the ancient Xi’an), along the Silk Road and finally arrived in India, the cradle of Buddhism.

Over the next seventeen years he obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. Having gotten the permission of Emperor Gaozong (628-683), Xuanzang, as the ABud8first abbot of Daci’en Temple, supervised the building of a pagoda inside it. With the support of royalty, he asked 50 hierarchs into the temple to translate Sanskrit in sutras into Chinese, totaling 1,335 volumes. On my visit today, I am simply taking as many pictures as possible and getting “feel” for this place of such great influence on what would come to be known as Chan Buddhism and later Zen in Japan.

What I am mostly interested at this point is how Buddhism arrived in Xi’an from ABud9both the Silk  Road and coming up from the southwest in Sichuan and Chengdu where I had just been a week earlier. The continuing moderating influence of Confucius and Taoism as Buddhism became popular was significant.

Pavilion with Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Background

Also, the power and influence of Buddhism here in the ancient capital eventually led to its moderation or predominance, due to its growth in incorporating Confucian and Taoist Ideals into its religious practice. This becomes clearer as we move ahead to the end of the Silk Road in Luoyang, and eventually the Shaolin Temple and Songshan Mountain. But first, a visit to the Shaanxi History Museum here in Xi’an.

Wednesday morning, June 11th, I take a taxi and arrive at the Shaanxi History ABud11Museum. It was very crowded with what I would call swarms of tourists, school kids and locals. It was easy to see why. The breadth of history that is on display was hard to take in, especially with so many people wanting to see this great museum. Of course, this didn’t keep me from taking several hundred pictures, or in other words when both batteries were spent by 11:30.  While I still have the Temple of the Eight Immortals this afternoon and terracotta warriors ABud12tomorrow, I have taken about two thousand pictures so far.  These pictures are only one piece of how I assemble an impression of the times people lived through the centuries and corresponding dynasties. Almost as though I am an anthropologist and historian reliving history as I go. It’s the ABud13same feeling I get in Qufu and Shandong after so many years of being there. For my Chinese History and Philosophy Class for the Confucius Institute at Miami Dade College, I assembled almost two hundred “pages” for my Power Point presentations covering Chinese pre-history up through the Song Dynasty and Genghis Khan before this trip and visits to Qufu, Chengdu and now Xi’an. It is as though I already have a pre-ordained sense of time, space, and places I have seen and been many times in the past. (The power point presentation is here on my website. I was teaching at Miami Dade College at the time).

That is what makes today and these three days in Xi’an so different. For one thing I ABud14don’t sense or have the comfort level obvious to me in Qufu and Chengdu. While I find myself comfortable in places where there is little or no contention present, here in Xi’an there seems to be contention in the air on every street corner. Yet this feeling is hard to pinpoint. There is so much here that needs to be sorted out to be more fully appreciated and understood. It seems the spirit of Emperor Qin is never too far away…

So, as I entered the Shaanxi Museum, I knew I was literally taking a brief snapshot ABud15of something that would take much longer to try to digest and understand. Chang’an (Xi’an) stood at the epicenter of what was known as the Middle Kingdom for more ABud16than a millennium.  It is as if those present all want their story retold in such way that expresses what they felt were best intentions, not necessarily outcomes, or how they left things at their end. Or perhaps even the rest of the story.

Buddhism came to Xi’an and moved on to more hospitable locations. From Xi’an I move along the Silk Road to Huashan Mountain and Luoyang where I visited last year (2018).  First, to the White Horse Buddhist Temple, then to the Buddhist Longman Grottoes. I plan to return to Xi’an to take the fast train to Chengdu and then Tibet. Then on my trip home I had a stop over again in Xi’an on my way to Beijing and home.

Luoyang was home and capital of thirteen dynasties, until the Northern Song ABud17dynasty moved it east to Kaifeng in the 10th century.  Both the Tang and Sui dynasties were centered here in what was considered the height of Buddhist influence and demonstrate how the connection between Luoyang and ABud18early Buddhism became so important. At one point there were thirteen hundred Buddhist temples here.  Luoyang was home to many emperors and had lasting importance to early Chinese history. Luoyang was the capital city for the longest period, the most dynasties, and the earliest time compared with the other ancient capital cities. Luoyang lies in the Central Plain surrounded by mountains, which were natural barriers against invasions.

Apart from its favorable geographical location, Luoyang had an agricultural ABud19advantage as several rivers flow through it. Therefore, 105 emperors of 13 dynasties set their capitals in Luoyang during China’s history. Luoyang was the center of politics, economy, and culture in China for 1,500 years. Since the Xia Dynasty (2070–1600 BC), Luoyang had begun its history as a capital city. In the Western Han Dynasty, ABud20Luoyang was not chosen as the capital, but the ruler still attached great importance to the city. There is so much history here that I want to come back to Luoyang for further study. It is said Lao Tzu lived here for a while and Taoism got its beginnings at Mount Songshan to the south where I will visit while I am here. Where we will go on my next entry.

On Monday (9/24) I went with three students by bus to the Buddhist White Horse ABud22Temple. I took several pictures until my battery stopped then I used my phone camera for a few more. Many I encounter think I am brave to travel alone where I can’t speak the language. But I counter that I generally know them by their history better than they know themselves. After seeing my writing, they mostly agree.

What struck me was the continuing presence as if the joining or coming together ABud23of history with one’s natural environment and connecting this with the universe, or divine spirit within us and that which surrounds us as well. Continually coming home to visit something that is innately a part of yourself, i.e., your source. Something you have always known, but simply needing to be reminded. This seems to be the motive behind all these ancient “temples”. A desire to continue to return to be reminded innately of something we may not see at first, but as I said at the beginning.…  The ABud24journey always beckons – not knowing where it leads almost as if our fear is only in being alive to paths that lead to places we cannot find or know that ultimately must define us. As if taking snapshots along the way in places we have seen and been before that show, or tell us the way forward. I would call it having and keeping to the true transcendental spirit that I keep referring to with others I have highlighted here on my blog/web page. To places we in the west today would describe as “parks having great historical and religious significance”. They bring a sense of longevity and simplicity to it all spanning thousands of years and our being reminded that both the inner and outer are the same reality we each choose to live in the present every day. They become temples, as if paying respect or homage, defining the past in the best way of how we want to see them and ourselves.

The Buddhist White Horse Temple on the outskirts of Luoyang has always been on ABud25my bucket list here in China. It’s influence in the spread of Buddhism over the centuries has been immeasurable. At some point in our lives there is something more than just knowledge and understanding. It comes with wisdom, as acceptance, and an enduring presence. What is it we’re grounded too? Others may teach, but ultimately it is something that becomes innately ourselves. It is having the presence of self-assurance knowing that kindness and simplicity are the keys that opens all doors. (something I need to work on) Keeping things simple means there are fewer doors that need to be opened as well. As if “becoming simple minded” is a good thing.

Two other overreaching influences from Buddhism coming to China, was that Luoyang was the start of the Silk Road that headed back to Venice in Italy. It was by way of the Silk Road (and elephants going through Tibet to Chengdu and Xian), that Buddhism came to China, or by sea to Canton. By the time Marco Polo came here to Luoyang with his father and uncle in 1270 AD on their way to visit Kublai Khan in Beijing, the Silk Road had been a functioning means of transportation of goods and culture between east and west for almost fifteen hundred years.

The White Horse Temple and Long Man Grottoes have had the most lasting historical presence in this area of China. What Buddhism brought was a sense of permanence and presence that people could see as their own connection to what we would now call “becoming universal”. That you were more than your body, and a good life could lead to better things, as yet unknown, in the future. That we are one and there is no separation between the world we live in and what we might find for ourselves afterwards. It’s the convergence of thought I spoke of earlier.

There seems to be a progression in my travels, first to Beijing and the Llama Buddhist Temple, and knowing The Eight Protectors (to the left), then the opening of the gate with Confucius in Qufu.


 Finally, for now, coming to the famous White Horse Temple and Long Man Grottoes. Like stepping stones to greater appreciation, understanding, and hopefully wisdom of my own origins in Chinese history. As if both a progression and remembrance, retracing my steps – later heading back to Xian and Chengdu again before ultimately going to Tibet. With more than a week in between to discover new mountain vistas and clouds waiting for me to rise above.

The White Horse Temple, one of the oldest temples in China, is located about 6 ABud27miles from the city of Luoyang in eastern China’s Henan Province. It is a place that disciples of the Buddha school recognize as the palace of Buddhist ancestors and the place where Buddhist theory was taught. It was built by Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty (29 AD – 75 AD), and there is a legend about its establishment. The scholar Fu Yi told the emperor after his dream: “Your subject has heard it said that there is somebody who has attained the Dao (Tao) and who is called Buddha; he flies in the air; his body had the brilliance ABud28of the sun; this must be that god.” According to the historical book of records that after a dream, Emperor Ming sent an envoy to Tianzhu in southern India to inquire about the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhist scriptures were said to have been returned to China on the backs of white horses, after which White Horse Temple was named.

Two senior monks She Moteng and Zhu Falan, preached at White Horse Temple and jointly completed the translation of the 42-chapter Sutra, the first Chinese version of Buddhist scriptures. After She Moteng passed away, Zhu Falan continued to translate a number of scriptures. Their translations of the scriptures were all treasured in the Main Hall for the monks to worship. It was said that in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 – 534), when the Buddhist monks worshiped the scriptures, the scripture suddenly glowed with colored lights and lit up the Main Hall.

Longman Grottoes on the outskirts of Luoyang

 I think the trip is catching up with me… in more ways than one. I seem to have eaten something that didn’t sit well, or not eating enough. Today is Sunday, September 30th and I’m heading by taxi to the Longman Grottoes, although I’m not sure how long I’ll last. Hopefully not too much walking today. There is lots of information on the internet as to history, and I will add more later when I feel better. ABud29It didn’t dawn on me until the next day that I may have been experiencing a far greater hunger than just filling my stomach.

As I look at the side of the mountain and think of those who might have carved out of stone these caves and statutes south of Luoyang all those centuries ago, quite possibly after a long trek covering several months or even years to get here over the Silk Road or from the southwest and Xi’an. I can only marvel at their work and their religious veracity. And what was in all likelihood their mantra – repeated over and over again with every strike of the hammer and chisel as they did their ABud30life’s work. As they repeated those four magic words over and over again with every strike of the hammer.

OM MANI PODME HUMThese words can be translated and have a universal meaning:

OM – The Jewel in the Heart of the LOTUS! The deep resonate OM is all sound and silence throughout time, the roar of eternity and also the great stillness of pure being; when intoned with the prescribed vibrations, it evokes the ALL that is otherwise inexpressible.

ABud31The MANI is the “adamantine diamond” of the Void – the primordial, pure and indestructible essence of existence beyond all matter or even antimatter, all change, and all becoming.

PADME – In the lotus – is the world of phenomena, samsara, unfolding with spiritual progress to reveal beneath the leaves of delusion the mani-jewel of nirvana, that lies not apart from daily life but at its heart.

ABud32HUM has no literal meaning, and is variously interpreted perhaps simply as a rhythmic exhortation, completing the mantra inspiring the chanter as a declaration of being (like the stone carvers here at Longman Grottoes), symbolizing the Buddha’s gesture of touching the earth at a moment of enlightenment. As if saying all that is or was or will ever be is right here in this moment.

For myself, I am especially attracted to the mythical embodiment of the Buddha, ABud33called a Bodhisattva known as Avalokita Ishuara – who is seen as “The Lord that looked down in compassion”. He represents “the divine within” sought by mystics and has been called “The Lord that is seen within”.

Maybe this is the answer as to why the Buddha is always seen smiling. Could it be as though reaching the ultimate state of heart and mind within ourselves? Perhaps living within one’s own “true nature”. It is the Avalokita… i.e., the Presence within each of us.

Am I becoming a Buddhist? I don’t know. I still am a Taoist at heart. But I can see how they became intertwined in Chinese history, religion, and culture. I lived and taught in Qufu, home of Confucius for many years, now moving to Buddhism I think. There is a saying in China that goes – you are born a Taoist, live as a Confucian, and die a Buddhist… Its allegorical of course, but you can see the reasoning. I still have those two things called discipline and patience to work on – and a sense that I still have a way to go yet. For myself, it has always been about the freedom to breathe. Perhaps an anomaly – always the outlier. But maybe not – maybe it is the sense of ultimate freedom yet to be found – I’m just not there yet. Maybe I’ll find it on this trip. Perhaps I will look for Avalokita when I get to Lhasa in a couple weeks. Or maybe I should just ask the stone carvers here at the Longman Grottoes. They obviously knew the answer. (with excerpts from Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard).

To the right is a map of how Buddhism came from India to China showing the routes ABud35via the silk road (in red), and the blue to Chang’an (Xi’an) and Luoyang. This area in northern India southwest of Tibet is still the central foundational location for what is considered as Tibetan Buddhism described in my last entry. Once the weather cleared, I made it to the Long Men Grottoes and then south to the Shaolin Temple before heading to Xi’an, back to Chengdu and Lhasa next Monday. In the afternoon I decided to take a walk and get a foot bath, ABud36then walking further I came across Zushi Temple, dedicated to Lao Tzu.

It is as though now that I have entered this journey, there is an acknowledgment that there is no turning back to the person I was before I left. I’ve been gone for only a week, and it seems so long ago. I have always been enamored with the stars and cosmos… what is seen ABud37as universal. It makes sense now that what is changeless and immortal is not your mind/body, but rather the Mind that is shared by all existence. Stillness that never ceases because it never becomes more than the present. It simply is. I think this is helpful in releasing ego that then dissolves into nothing. It is here that we can enter the mystic nature of who we are. A commonality that enhances… as if a cosmic field of vision that becomes you. I know that’s all pretty deep, but going there is what literally helps me to focus and see beyond myself. It is where my Taoist beginnings are taking me now that means I must get my “mind right”. As if living a dream as the dream ABud38becomes me. All else falling away, this re-enforcement of Buddhist and Taoist thought moving me fearlessly into the mystic, becoming transcendent, even transcendental.

Finally, I am reminded of my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life. Just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important in bringing it all together? Lao Tzu was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism. I plan to continue this journey from the top of Huashan Mountain 100_5671made famous as a respite by Lao himself next week. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others along the way that guides us demonstrating how Taoist and Buddhist philosophies became so compatible before returning again to Chengdu, spending a few days in meditation and visiting the giant Leshan Buddha before going to Tibet on this trip.

Thoughts on becoming a Sage

Verse 78 – Following the way of Heaven

The sage endeavors to follow the way of heaven while only revealing everything for its true and natural place. Pulling down the high while lifting the low he stays on an even keel finding the natural balance of all around him.

Continually moving forward unsure or unconcerned if what he does is ultimately good or bad as long as the natural order of things are followed and are allowed to take their places.  Moving without presumption or staking claim to what may be perceived as personal achievement.


Dan at Heaven’s Gate on top of Huashan Mountain

Choosing to remain in the background and not displaying his skills, nothing can deter or get in his way.  His burden to keep his virtue to himself and not revealed to those who continually come running to his doorstep.

Modeling his actions after the way of heaven, the sage takes from the long and gives to the short so that the ten thousand things naturally find their places.  For all things under heaven to find their place, it is best for heaven to sit back and do nothing. Allowing the nature of all things to come forward unimpeded fulfilling its ultimate endeavor and finding its true identity and destiny.

My next entry here on thekongdanfoundation.com will be a continuation of what Buddhism found in China… Shaolin and what became Chan and Zen Buddhism – stay tuned.

By 1dandecarlo

18) Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism / My journey to Lhasa in October, 2018  

Before discussing Buddhism, its important to relay the common feeling in USA particularly, that Buddhism is considered by some a “practice” and not simply a “religion”. It can be – and is both. As if inwardly a practice and outwardly a religion… That discussion is for another day. 


Drepung Monastery

You can adhere to “Buddhist principles” and still follow a different religious path. With thousands of years of tradition and history in perspective in Tibet – Buddhism is simply way of life. A central tenet of Buddhism is that we are on a path of enlightenment. There is a joy in knowing who you are and in Lhasa, one can certainly feel the energy. A basic premise I have learned long ago and appreciate is that we are here for our “soul’s growth” and gaining spiritual maturity, discovering our inner sense of mindfulness that takes us there, and that there is no rush. And from the Buddhist perspective, that we don’t have to do it all this time.

What’s important is that we are on the correct path that fits our innate nature. For ATibet15me, as inspiration, I like to refer to the Bodhisattva Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, who is not confined to knowledge or concepts, he who is noble and gentle and works for the enlightenment of all beings.  It is the bodhisattva Ideal or some would say Vow – that one takes as directed consciousness, that guides one toward a spiritual goal which alone can convert consciousness into a unified vital force that can span more than a single life time. I go through this because this seems an innate quality of true mindfulness and to begin to see the people of Tibet as they might see themselves. Finally, I am a student who has barely scratched the surface in beginning to understand where it all may lead. As if it doesn’t matter where you are doing it from because you’ve already arrived at where you are supposed to be in taking the next step. But that’s the joy of it all. But from where do we leave a sense of worldly consciousness before entering the path – what the Buddhist calls sotapatti, to become one who enters the stream of consciousness that begins to take us there known as sotapanna? Excerpts of an article in the May 1995 issue of the Shambhala Sun by the 14th Dalai Lama with my own input and reflections helped to show the way. From where do we begin… or some would say continue?

Tranquil Abiding

Finding the peace of mind from within. Striving for contentment while staying wholly within yourself with simple simplicity and an innate sense of ATibet16modesty. Finding a certain strength of character so as to not be challenged nor surrender to the provocative that leads to an affluent or comfortable lifestyle or way of life.

As you find the natural temperament within yourself, the stronger your will and capacity to endure hardship. With this, you will gain enthusiasm and forbearance laying a solid foundation for spiritual progress to develop a singleness of mind and penetrating insight.

Aspire only to tranquil abiding. Strive for and achieve a sense of contentment and modesty and an ethically sound and disciplined way of life. In thinking about disciple, it cannot be imposed from outside. But must come from within yourself. Discipline should be based on a clear awareness of its value and also a degree of introspection and mindfulness. Once ingrained, it becomes automatic or self‑imposed. You then become free to develop alertness and mindfulness.

When you have developed these two basic factors of awakening, then you can attain singleness of mind. Have no personal involvements or obligations that will direct your attention from the path you must now follow.

Transcend the limits of your human existence.  Forever losing your identity and endeavoring to take care of your ultimate aspiration. Understand the role of attachments and clinging and use them in letting go. With little or no obligation and involvement remain free to fly away. (written in May 1995)

The feeling I get in Chengdu in southwest China is that it’s easy to understand how one comes to find the mythological Shangri La that all believe must be close by in the Himalayas, that separate the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. 


The Heming Tea House at People’s Park  in Chengdu

For myself, there seems a coming together and a comfort present that is not found elsewhere. I love coming here. I don’t want anyone reading this to feel they have to drop everything and rush off to China and Chengdu, but it’s a feeling of finding comfort in your own skin so to speak, as if nearing your source and becoming universal again… call it to God, the Christ presence, Allah, Lao Tzu and the Tao, Buddhism and the Buddha, etc. It’s where all paths are universally respected and equal. For me it’s living in convergence with all others in common practice. It’s where spiritually directed people can see themselves and others in the same way. Finding the place that speaks to the sanctuary from within and going there. Dropping the pretense that your way is the only way to God and that we have a responsibility for the divine presence of everything we see, do, and touch and all begins from within. For the Buddhist there is no separation and that we are all one. When we look upwards to the stars, we only see reflections of us. It’s what Rumi was talking about… as we too find ourselves dancing above the clouds.

Now on to Tibet… Early one morning I take the two-hour plane ride to Lhasa. I have ATibet1been blessed here by a guide. Not just someone who takes our group through two days of monasteries and temples (a talent for which he has few peers), but Tashi Delek, has agreed to augment my limited knowledge with his wisdom. So on to Tibet… and Tibetan Buddhism. Nothing here is meant to have or relay any political overtones. It is simply to relay its importance to history and provide an overview… my own.

Also I failed to mention sooner… you can only go to Tibet as a part of a tour group (you can’t go by yourself). Second, you must book with the travel agency with copies of your passport and Chinese VISA at least ten days prior to your planned entry, and third you must show that you have already booked your airfare 100_5925to and from Tibet.

First, a very brief sense of what you find when you arrive and brief history of Lhasa. And second, the highlights of the four monasteries and temples here that we went through together with our group. This will have an on-going “growth and change”, as additional information is added. For myself, it continues with the thought of developing mindfulness, that what and when I write it is from both my head and heart – that are listening to my soul’s eternal journey and my own steps into eternity. My heart tells me to be true to my own intrinsic essence towards Taoism, my head tells me that the Way will be made clearer with my serving, or being a conduit for others transformation, not simply my own and that I have far yet to go. Wisdom becomes universal when it is shared by all.

Lhasa Overview

I left Chengdu at 6 AM and arrived in Lhasa two hours later and make it to the Lhasa Gang Gyan Hotel on Beijing Road, where I will be for three nights (Sun/Mon/Tues), then leave Wednesday morning for Beijing and Missouri. Sunday after checking in was a free day and I did some shopping for Marie and Katie. The tour begins tomorrow. 


Scene from a shop in Old Town

Lhasa has a unique history unlike almost any other city. It’s been at the crossroads of human travel and has served as the spiritual mecca for what was to be known as Tibetan Buddhism for thousands of years. Most of it’s late history was shaped by the influence of the Mongols and connection with Mongolia. The Mongols recognized Buddhism early and how the Dali Lama’s influence shaped the entire region.

Coming here is one the most humbling experiences I have ever encountered. The breadth of commitment over the centuries to mindfulness, self-awareness, and what ATibet4are considered to be universal truths, (in Buddhism routinely called the four noble truths) is not something one can absorb in just a day or two beyond just appreciation in the highest possible sense. Tibetan Buddhism here in Lhasa, is all encompassing. It contains and is the fabric of all who have come before and permeates the local culture in the most positive way imaginable. It’s not something you do… it defines who you are. You can see this in the locals who take what can be called “ritual walks” around the city that is kind of ingrained in Tibetan culture, and without it and early morning rituals by pilgrimages to Jokhang Temple among ATibet2others, the Tibetan flavor would be lost. Another example is the yearly painting of the exterior of the Potala Palace that was to occur a few weeks here after our visit. Everyone either volunteers to help to paint, or provides food and money to help with the community effort.

You can’t get much closer to God physically, than here high in the Himalayas.  Lhasa has an elevation of about 3,600 m (11,800 ft) and lies in the center of the Tibetan Plateau with the surrounding mountains rising to 5,500 m (18,000 ft). The only thing I felt in the change in elevation was a severe headache the second morning after arriving. I think it was the lack of oxygen to my brain. After a couple cups of coffee and walking around outside I was fine. I was also helped by my having gone up and down Songshan and Huashan mountains in China in the weeks prior to coming to Tibet.

ATibet5One of the best explanations of the spinning wheel you see at every Buddhist temple and monastery was given by Tashi when he said each wheel contains copies of the Buddhist sutras. By spinning the wheel, bits and pieces of the sutras (sutras are comparable to Bible verses) are released to you… the person doing the spinning. As you focus on your highest endeavor and possible destiny, you hope to be noticed by your devout sincerity and compassion towards others on your own journey.

The four monasteries and temples below give a representative overview as to what that means to history and what Tibet has become today. There is ample additional information on all four on the internet. I asked Tashi to give me some specific details that may not be all that is considered “common knowledge”.

Drepung Monastery

The tour began Monday morning at Drepung Monastery. Drepung is the largest of ATibet6all Tibetan monasteries and is located on the Gambo Utse mountain, not far from the western suburb of Lhasa. It was the home of the Dalai Lamas before the Potala Palace was built in the 17th century. There were ten people in our group, plus our tour guide, Tashi. It can be a somewhat useful analogy to think of Drepung as a university along the lines of Oxford or the Sorbonne in Paris. The various colleges having different emphases, teaching lineages, or traditional geographical affiliations. The plan is to visit two monastery/temples today (Drepung and Sera) and then two more tomorrow, the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple. The rest of the group is going to a base-camp hours away from Lhasa and will be here seven to ATibet7ten days. My tour is for four days and I leave the group Wednesday morning and head for Beijing and home.

Drepung Monastery, also called Tashi-Megyur-Chahju-Ling, is one of the largest monasteries of the Gelupa Sect. It was built in 1416. It had more than 10,000 monks in the 1940’s… I think the mindset you should have is the pictures tell the story of what you see, the narrative from Tashi will be from the inside out.

Sera Monastery

After lunch at a local restaurant (yak dumplings and yak butter tea) we went to the Sera  Monastery also known as the “Wild Roses Monastery”. Then back to hotel a little after 4 PM. Sera Monastery was founded by Jamchen Choje Shakya Tesh, who was a disciple of Tsongkhapa in 1419. The Sera Monastery has three colleges and thirty-three houses. It is the second biggest monastery in Tibet. The two things that ATibet8got my attention were first, the afternoon debates in the courtyard. The daily debating is a class to practice and test the monk’s mastery of Buddhism. The second was the Circle of Life, or Wheel of Life, depicted here that describes Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Tashi would add… The Wheel of Life can be interpreted on several levels. The six major sections represent the Six Realms. These realms can be understood as forms of existence, or states of mind, into which beings are born according to their karma. The realms also can be viewed as situations in life or even personality types—hungry ghosts are addicts; devas are privileged; hell beings have anger issues.

In each of the realms the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara appears to show the way to liberation from the Wheel. ( A Bodhisattva is a person who has attained prajna, or enlightenment, but who has postponed Nirvana in order to help others attain ATibet9enlightenment).  But liberation is possible only in the human realm. From there, those who realize enlightenment find their way out of the Wheel to Nirvana.

The Wheel of Life is one of the most common subjects of Buddhist art. Mandalas are works of sacred art in Tantric (Tibetan) Buddhism. The word “mandala” comes from a Sanskrit word that generally means circle – hence the concept of circle of life – and mandalas are primarily recognizable by their concentric circles and other geometric figures. There were several to be found here at the Sera monastery. A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe.


A completed mandala at Sera Monastery

The detailed symbolism of the Wheel can be interpreted on many levels. The Wheel of Life (called the Bhavachakra in Sanskrit) represents the cycle of birth and rebirth and existence in samsara. In Buddhism, samsara is the process of coming into existence as a differentiated, mortal creature. Whereas, in Hinduism, it is considered the endless series of births, deaths, and rebirths to which all beings are subject. Tashi, our tour guide, explained the different parts of the Wheel and what they mean. The main sections are the hub and the six “pie wedges” depicting the Six Realms. Many Buddhists understand the Wheel in an allegorical, not literal, way. As you examine the parts of the wheel you might find yourself relating to some of it personally or recognizing people you know as Jealous Gods or Hell Beings or Hungry Ghosts.

The outer circle of the Wheel is the Paticca Samuppada. (Sanskrit, meaning ATibet9the chain, or law, of dependent origination, or the chain of causation — a fundamental concept of Buddhism describing the causes of suffering and the course of events that lead a being through rebirth, old age, and death). Traditionally, the outer wheel depicts a blind man or woman (representing ignorance); potters (formation); a monkey (consciousness); two men in a boat (mind and body); a house with six windows (the senses); an embracing couple (contact); an eye pierced by an arrow (sensation); a person drinking (thirst); a man gathering fruit (grasping); a couple making love (becoming); a woman giving birth (birth); and a man carrying a corpse (death).

The above explanation helps to understand in a brief way, the underlying concepts of the history of Buddhism. For those who follow the “teachings of Buddhism”, being here in Lhasa, seeing these principles put into practice and how others have incorporated this into their own lives often leads to a transformation, or furthering, of one’s own journey.


Face of Giant Buddha south of Chengdu

It’s also easy to see how religion and one’s own philosophy of life can blend into how every day should unfold and how we can/should adapt our lives into something much bigger than ourselves. Ultimately giving structure, context, and meaning to where and how everything fits together in the universe, i.e., what Sakyamuni, the Buddha intended.

On Tuesday we first went to Potala Palace, then after lunch we went to Jokhang Temple. Pictures were limited to outside both locations.

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace (presently a museum as well as a World Heritage Site), situated between the Sera and Drepung monasteries, was the former winter ATibet18residence of the Dalai Lama up to the point when Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama) escaped to India because of the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion. What struck me was its division into what is known as the red palace or section and white palace of the administrative complex. To the left is one of the famous wall hangings from the Thangka Museum. Going through the museum is a requirement prior to entering the Potala Palace. The jade carvings, esp. the Jade 19lhasaPhoenix, and Buddha statutes (the Maitreya statute, representing the future Buddha) were highlights for me. The palace, founded in the 7th-century, is an iconic structure that represents the role of Tibetan Buddhism in the administration of Tibet. It had been named after the Mt. Potalaka, which is believed to be the dwelling of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. The Heritage Site also comprises the Jokhang Temple, that I will be this afternoon.

The historic structure has been constructed over a palace that was erected on 100_6060the Red Hill by Songtsan Gampo. The Potala Palace consists of two chapels – the Chogyel Drupuk and the Phakpa Lhakang retain some of the portions of the original structure. Construction of the new palace was started in 1645 by the Fifth Dalai Lama (Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso) after the site was deemed suitable as the seat of the government. Gyatso was the first Dalai Lama to wield effective temporal and spiritual power over all Tibet. He is often referred to simply as the Great Fifth, being a key religious and temporal leader of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet. While the external structure took 3 years to complete, the palace interiors were completed in 45 years. The Dalai Lama along with his government shifted to the White Palace (Potrang Karpo) in 1649. The Red Palace (Potrang Marpo) as well as its ancillary buildings were added to the complex during 1690-1694. After seeing Potala Palace, we had lunch in Old Town, then continued to the Jokhang Temple.

Jokhang Temple

Jokhang Temple is considered to be the spiritual heart and holiest Buddhist site in ATibet14Tibet. We visited on a Tuesday afternoon on my last full day before leaving the next morning for Beijing and home. Situated in the heart of the Old Town and surrounded by Barkhor Street, this four-storied building was built in the seventh century by Songtsan Gambo. With roofs covered with gilded bronze tiles it demonstrates a combination of the architectural style of Han, Tibetan, India and Nepal, as well as, a Mandela world outlook of Buddhism. It was originally called the ‘Tsuklakang’ (Tsulag Khang) – ‘House of Religious Science’ or ‘House of Wisdom’ during the Bon period of Tibet, which is referred to as geomancy, astrology, and divination of Bon. Today, it is more commonly known as the Jokhang, which means the ‘House of the Buddha’. Most Tibetans go to Buddhist Temples in the morning hours, as tourists fill the sites in the afternoon. Another thing of interest is that the number of people going through the Potala Palace must be limited each day. The thousands of people streaming through the ancient corridors have caused them to be concerned about the structure’s ability to carry so much weight. Tickets to enter are measured and limited by the hour. Our time was scheduled for 12:45 (about noon) and our guide (Tashi) had to make sure we entered and left at the right time. One reason pictures are not allowed inside the monasteries and temples is that some people attempt to use photos to make copies of what they see inside and then ATibet13try to sell. They frown on this.

Another interesting note was watching the local people walking around the city, the ring roads, and the prayer path around the bottom of the Potala Palace. There you will find Tibetans from all walks of life, Lhasa folk and pilgrims, doing what many of them do every day or as often as they can, circling the Potala, praying for the long life and good health and return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and for all sentient beings. If I had more time, walking around the city on the paths taken for centuries by the local citizens would have been a must, just to get a better feel for Lhasa and its history.

Notes on the aspects of the “Ritual Walks” in Lhasa

At the Jokhang Temple and around Lhasa, all Tibetans take the statue of Sakyamuni as the core for the ritual walks, and any believer walking around Jokhang Temple clockwise can be viewed as following the center track. Tradition says you take the ritual walks in and around the Jokhang Temple three times. First, they walk the inner ring around the statue of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism, in the Jokhang Temple; second, they walk the middle ring along Barkor Streetskirting the temple; and third, they walk the outer ring around the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, the Yaowangshan Mountain and other parts of Lhasa. 


I am standing at the top of Yaowangshan Mountain as this picture is taken

While taking these group ritual walks in the clockwise direction, they count rosaries in their hands, spin prayer tubes, and chant the Six Syllable Prayer. As they recite OM MANI PADME HUM, the six negative emotions, which are the cause of the six realms of samsara, are purified. This is how reciting the six syllables prevents rebirth in each of the six realms, and also dispels the suffering inherent in each realm. (discussed above at the Sera Monastery as the Wheel of Life). Generally speaking, other names are referred to walking the outer ring, called “lingkor,” early in the morning, and they will walk the middle ring called “Barkor” in the evening. During the traditional Grand Summons Ceremony, which takes place in the first Tibetan month and during the Sagya Dawa Festival in the fourth Tibetan month, taking ritual walks is said to have a much better effect; as a result, many more people take ritual walks at those times.

Finally, many local Tibetans you see are here in Lhasa on a “pilgrimage”. Tibetans generally use the term nekor that means “circling around an abode”, referring to the general practice of traveling from one temple or monastery  to another. In the context of kora, one is rendered as “empowered”. The “sacred” or “holy” place/object, and the  (places you visit on your pilgrimage) is credited with the ability to transform those that are on the ritual walk, or path, that connect and encircle Lhasa. Thereby, you become a part of it as well..

Oct 18, 2018 / The Journey Home  

One thing coming to Tibet has shown me is I am not to become a Tibetan Buddhist just yet. That in many ways we become a conduit – initially unaware of 100_6091one’s own role – until we open ourselves to the universe and accept who we are truly yet to become. Having a sense of the underlying reason why and how Buddhism came to China, and it’s impact on Chinese religion and culture is though. Beyond just a cursory review, I have had an opportunity to expand my own knowledge and hopefully wisdom of some of the intricacies here on my website.  How it progressed over the centuries in both Tibet and China and what was to become Chan and Zen Buddhism is essential in understanding the convergence of philosophy and religion not only in China, but the entire world.

For myself, it is a key element in reminding us that we are all universal and that understanding our origins, as well as the origins of others and where it has taken them, is central to our own enlightenment, for lack of a better term or description, as well theirs. 


Himalayas from atop the Polata Palace

This “convergence” begins and continues within each of us. All of my entries here have additional thoughts, notes, and pictures in some cases to be added. My journey is never to be completed, only added on to… as if telling the stories that are here to tell, and teach, and learn as well.

It is as if all I need to know I already knew and I am simply to be reminded of my own origins and why I am here. Home is everywhere we’ve ever been and/or will be. It is not a physical place, except as we can define as what we create as our sanctuary, our source, or perhaps Shangri La. It is the place where our body, heart, and mind reside. Our role is simply how we have influenced all we have ever touched or will touch, as we go forth from the past, present, and future with compassion, virtue, and wisdom. That journey continues… and yes I have far yet to go. Coming to Lhasa was as if a remembrance and reminder of my own continuing pilgrimage as well.

By 1dandecarlo

17) Ralph Waldo Emerson / Who might have influenced him – how he us – and his essay Nature

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think about Emerson in context… what occurred before him that influenced him… how he used the flow of universal thought to create New Thought and Emer1transcendentalism… and our world today. How Emerson changed who we are and yet to become in the universal sense of man’s role both in nature and our own.

How did Emerson become so influential and have such a lasting influence of American thought and ideals? His ideas that became known as transcendentalism not only changed the direction of budding “American” values and thought in the 1840’s and 50’s to ultimately change the world. His “New Thought” served as the confluence of understanding how the universe – and man’s ultimate role in it fit together as one. The idea of moving beyond what we think we know and freedom to enter into what I like to call “the spirit of wonder” … and what can take others there was his forte. For Emerson, the discovery or adding to the knowledge – the wisdom we each possess – seemed to strike directly into his core. What was the “innate nature of man”. What is it that defines us and more importantly when we have an idea of what that is, then how do we become this? Emerson was able to take the next step that few had the sense to go but would if they knew how.

When thinking about the times in which people live, I try to think about what influenced them in their own thinking and writing. What I would have been doing at the time. Who would have influenced my own writing had I been the ultimate storyteller of the day… the chronicler of events on behalf of the universe – so to speak. Opening both my conscious and unconscious (what we Emer2innately know without thinking) mind to universal thought that transcended what may have been taken for granted as the status quo, and my role in challenging authority that always seems present and so self-serving. It’s why I loved the writing of Patrick Henry of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame, or my dear friend Chuang Tzu of the famous butterfly dream who loved to challenge the structure, status quo, and authority embedded in Confucian thought in ancient China.

 Even the character in the movie “Braveheart” who went to his death shouting FREEDOM, along with so many more throughout history who chose to brave the storm. I would have always been alongside shouting “ya me too”! It’s as if Emerson was there too.

All three would have been known and admired and had tremendous influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson as he became the premier writer, essayist, and orator of his time. Emerson knew that we shape our actions through our thoughts and Emer3most importantly how we share them with others, so why not know the role we are here to play.

Illustration of Emerson’s transparent eyeball metaphor in “Nature” by Christopher Pearse Cranch, 1836-1838. For Emerson the eyeball was to be absorbent not reflective, as if to absorb all one finds in nature.

What was he thinking? Who is it that influenced him and us as we move through our day? For myself, Emerson’s role in history was/continues to be to take us to places we would not otherwise go by discovering and knowing ourselves and deciding to stay present there within.

Emerson used spirituality as a major theme in his famous essay, Nature. Mainly to convey his thoughts of his day. He believed in re-imagining the divine as something large and visible, which he referred to as nature; such an idea is known as transcendentalism, in which one perceives both God and themselves as one as we become one with our surroundings.

Emerson exemplified what was to become known as transcendentalism, stating, “From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations: the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind, postulating that humans and wind are one.” He seemed to always be asking… “Who is it that will take the next step with these principles I am here to relay going forward?”

I often think of the aspect of nature as our own involvement as to how we (each of us) evolve. I often see myself in meditation rising a thousand feet in the air as if prepared to travel on the breeze or wind asking only… where do I go today as if I have seen and done it all before returning to the places and companions I’ve always known and lived and loved. Seeing reflections of ourselves not only in the present, but as our eternal nature over time. 


Dreaming the impossible dream

What was Emerson reading that influenced his thinking and writing as if he too was traveling on that wind as well. He devoured all philosophies, thoughts, and ideas that were available to him, as if there was a need to continue this flow of ideas – this wisdom and a freedom of thought that needed to be better understood, expanded on, and most importantly put into action.

Plato, Master Eckhardt, Kant, Confucius, the Bhagavad Gita, and so many more over time whose voices deserved to be repeated as a reminder of our collective responsibility to Nature… especially our own. That freedom, virtue and nature are one and the same. That freedom depends on the quality of attention that we bring to our interactions. Only to the extent that we can be fully engaged and present with ourselves, with our children, and with each other, are we free. It was as if Emerson had been designated by those before him to tell and convey universal truth. Giving us and others the comfort to go there. Permission to rise up as say – even to shout – there is a better way. He transformed us into what we could become by following the innate nature and virtue within who we have always been and that there is nothing to fear in going there. It was here – to this place – that Emer17we are destined to follow when we too rise up to become our true selves, to become present, and catch the winds of eternity.

It would be Emerson who provided the benchmark – the cornerstone for all who would follow in what would become known as “New Thought”. It was from his writing and ideas that Emilie Cady, a homeopathic physician and author would write Lessons in Truth, A Course of Twelve Lessons in Practical Christianity that is now considered one of the core texts of Unity teachings. It is the most widely read book in Unity and has sold over 1.6 million copies since its first publication.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was an Italian philosopher, writer and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Emer5Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic and educational thought. Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract, written in the 1750’s, is a corner-stones in modern political and social thought.

It was Rousseau, Emerson was inspired by and thinking about, when expounding on Rousseau’s writings on “the inherent rights and responsibilities of Man” and his desire to express this idea to thousands in speeches he gave across early America. He was a master orator and spoke eloquently about this passion for man’s eternal intent to find himself. For me, to connect with Emerson I must go back to his take on human nature and thoughts of the undefined – of what becoming transcendental meant to him. Having freedom to be “undefined as such”, so that we may define ourselves in conformity with our essence, our true nature. First and foremost, Emerson was all about showing the way for others. With Emerson we could all aspire to become the sage, once we find our innate nature and go there.

What was it that took Gandhi, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., to Emer6places they would not have otherwise gone as they inspired millions to seek freedom for themselves so that they too could find and nurture their eternal virtue and nature? It was by showing the way. It was the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, New Thought, and transcendentalism that had taken them there. When we think and speak of Joseph Campbell and the “hero’s journey and discovering our bliss”, looking to our source and search of our soul – it begins with knowing our history of who we have always been but forgotten. It is as if Emerson was leaving a trail, he himself had found to follow and knew the way forward knowing our past would continue to evolve into something greater beyond who we are at the present moment. He spoke to the vibrations intoned by those who had preceded him that remains constant, never-ending, and resides in nature… as the natural rhythm – that our collective universal soul sings to.

I go back to Lao Tzu and the basic premise behind the Te Tao Ching that exemplified man’s connection to nature and our responsibility to it. I am drawn to something I wrote almost twenty years ago from a verse in my own published book about the Tao Te Ching that helps to expand on this idea of connection between universal nature we find in both our surroundings and innately within ourselves. From the book I wrote about the Tao Te Ching in 2000 that was published in China in 2006:

Verse 63 – Becoming a Sanctuary to all you meet

The sage acknowledges and understands that there is nothing that is not in keeping with the Tao.

Especially true is that the Tao resides in each of us. Thus, in showing the way the sage is good at saving and directing those around him, while abandoning no one. Emer7Since the sage in essence is simply the embodiment of the Tao, abandoning or leaving behind another person could or would never enter his mind.

The Sanctuary within Oneself   TianHou Palace Temple  Qingdao

The sage’s surroundings are illustrative of how he sees his place in the ten thousand things. As though he is seen creating a sanctuary that reflects his innermost sense of who he is yet to become. Kind and reflective, still yet expansive, he competes with no one and no one competes with him. His strengths and weaknesses have become razor sharp as he uses them to cut through what is perceived to be truth and falsehood. While he remains on the edge pushing others to places, they would not otherwise go, he leaves no foothold for those who would follow except by accepting and following the Tao.

When he himself becomes the sanctuary for others to take refuge and follow, finding the comfort only found in the expression of the Tao, he is reminded that he who searches will find it and those who don’t only escape to wait until another day. (written June 2000)

Emerson referred to nature as the “Universal Being”; he believed that there was a spiritual sense of the natural world around him. Depicting this sense of “Universal Being”, Emerson states, “The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship”. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States. Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature. Excerpts are below.

Introduction of Nature

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres (the tombs containing relics of martyrs or even perhaps a structure or recess in some old church in which in Eucharist was deposited with ceremonies on Good Friday and taken out at Easter in commemoration of Christ’s entombment and Resurrection) of the fathers. 


Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (before the April 2019 fire)

It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature?


To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.


Libra Constellation

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood. When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects.


Whoever considers the final cause of the world, will discern a multitude of uses that result. They all admit of being thrown into one of the following classes;

Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline.


Monet’s Water Lilies

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

“More servants wait on man
Than he’ll take notice of.”

Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other’s hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man. The useful arts are reproductions or new combinations by the wit of man, of the same natural benefactors.

Beauty Of Nature

A nobler want of man is served by nature, namely, the love of Beauty.

The ancient Greeks called the world cosmos (kosmos), beauty. Such is the constitution of all things, or such the plastic power of the human eye, that the primary forms, as the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves; a pleasure arising from outline, color, motion, and grouping. This seems partly owing to the eye itself. The eye is the best of artists. By the mutual action of its structure and of the laws of light, perspective is produced, which integrates every mass of objects, of what character soever, into a well colored and shaded globe, so that where the particular objects are mean and unaffecting, the landscape which they compose, is round and symmetrical.


View from Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province in China 

 And as the eye is the best composer, so light is the first of painters. There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful. And the stimulus it affords to the sense, and a sort of infinitude which it hath, like space and time, make all matter gay. Even the corpse has its own beauty. But besides this general grace diffused over nature, almost all the individual forms are agreeable to the eye, as is proved by our endless imitations of some of them, as the acorn, the grape, the pine-cone, the wheat-ear, the egg, the wings and forms of most birds, the lion’s claw, the serpent, the butterfly, sea-shells, flames, clouds, buds, leaves, and the forms of many trees, as the palm.


Language is a third use which Nature sub-serves to man. Nature is the vehicle, and threefold degree.

1. Words are signs of natural facts.

2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts.

3. Nature is the symbol of spirit.

1. Words are signs of natural facts. The use of natural history is to give us aid in supernatural history: the use of the outer creation, to give us language for the beings and changes of the inward creation.


The I Ching – The beginnings of language in China

Every word which is used to express a moral or intellectual fact, if traced to its root, is found to be borrowed from some material appearance. Just as the ancient idea of the balance found on opposite sides of the ridge pole. In the end, nature taught that it was “complimentary opposites” that created the balance needed for all to prosper and survive. 

Right means straight; wrong means twisted. Spirit  primarily means wind; transgression, the crossing of a line; supercilious, the raising of the eyebrow. We say the heart to express emotion, the head to denote thought; and thought and emotion are words borrowed from sensible things, and now appropriated to spiritual nature.

Most of the process by which this transformation is made, is hidden from us in the remote time when language was framed; but the same tendency may be daily observed in children. Children and savages use only nouns or names of things, which they convert into verbs, and apply to analogous mental acts.


In view of the significance of nature, we arrive at once at a new fact, that nature is a discipline. This use of the world includes the preceding uses, as parts of itself.


Following the Path Qingyang Mountain

Space, time, society, labor, climate, food, locomotion, the animals, the mechanical forces, give us sincerest lessons, day by day, whose meaning is unlimited. They educate both the Understanding and the Reason. Every property of matter is a school for the understanding, — its solidity or resistance, its inertia, its extension, its figure, its divisibility. The understanding adds, divides, combines, measures, and finds nutriment and room for its activity in this worthy scene. Meantime, Reason transfers all these lessons into its own world of thought, by perceiving the analogy that marries Matter and Mind.

Nature is a discipline of the understanding in intellectual truths.Our dealing with sensible objects is a constant exercise in the necessary lessons of difference, of likeness, of order, of being and seeming, of progressive arrangement; of ascent from particular to general; of combination to one end of manifold forces. Proportioned to the importance of the organ to be formed, is the extreme care with which its tuition is provided, — a care Emer14pretermitted (neglected or omitted) in no single case. What tedious training, day after day, year after year, never ending, to form the common sense; what continual reproduction of annoyances, inconveniences, dilemmas; what rejoicing over us of little men; what disputing of prices, what reckonings of interest, — and all to form the Hand of the mind; — to instruct us that “good thoughts are no better than good dreams, unless they be executed!”

Heroic Idealism

Thus is the unspeakable but intelligible and practicable meaning of the world conveyed to man, the immortal pupil, in every object of sense. To this one end of Discipline, all parts of nature conspire.

A noble doubt perpetually suggests itself, whether this end be not the Final Cause of the Universe; and whether nature outwardly exists.


View of the sunrise  Huashan Mtn

 It is a sufficient account of that Appearance we call the World, that God will teach a human mind, and so makes it the receiver of a certain number of congruent sensations, which we call sun and moon, man and woman, house and trade. In my utter impotence to test the authenticity of the report of my senses, to know whether the impressions they make on me correspond with outlying objects, what difference does it make, whether Orion is up there in heaven, or some god paints the image in the firmament of the soul? The relations of parts and the end of the whole remaining the same, what is the difference, whether land and sea interact, and worlds revolve and intermingle without number or end, — deep yawning under deep, and galaxy balancing galaxy, throughout absolute space, — or, whether, without relations of time and space, the same appearances are inscribed in the constant faith of man? Whether nature enjoy a substantial existence without, or is only in the apocalypse of the mind, it is alike useful and alike venerable to me. Be it what it may, it is ideal to me, so long as I cannot try the accuracy of my senses.


It is essential to a true theory of nature and of man, that it should contain somewhat progressive. Uses that are exhausted or that may be, and facts that end in the statement, cannot be all that is true of this brave lodging wherein man is harbored, and wherein all his faculties find appropriate and endless exercise.


Raising Spirits    Big Wild Goose Pagoda   Xian

 And all the uses of nature admit of being summed in one, which yields the activity of man an infinite scope. Through all its kingdoms, to the suburbs and outskirts of things, it is faithful to the cause whence it had its origin. It always speaks of Spirit. It suggests the absolute. It is a perpetual effect. It is a great shadow pointing always to the sun behind us.

The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.

Of that ineffable essence which we call Spirit, he that thinks most, will say least. We can foresee God in the coarse, and, as it were, distant phenomena of matter; but when we try to define and describe himself, both language and thought desert us, and we are as helpless as fools and savages. That essence refuses to be recorded in propositions, but when man has worshiped him intellectually, the noblest ministry of nature is to stand as the apparition of God. It is the organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it.

Man the Reformer / Prospects

In inquiries respecting the laws of the world and the frame of things, the highest reason is always the truest. That which seems faintly possible — it is so refined, is often faint and dim because it is deepest seated in the mind among the eternal verities. Empirical science is apt to cloud the sight, and, by the very knowledge of functions and processes, to bereave the student of the manly contemplation of the whole. The savant becomes unpoetic. But the best read naturalist who lends an entire and devout attention to truth, will see that there remains much to learn of his relation to the world, and that it is not to be learned by any addition or subtraction or other comparison of known quantities, but is arrived at by untaught sallies of the Emer18spirit, by a continual self-recovery, and by entire humility. He will perceive that there are far more excellent qualities in the student than preciseness and infallibility; that a guess is often more fruitful than an indisputable affirmation, and that a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted experiments.

For, the problems to be solved are precisely those which the physiologist and the naturalist omit to state. It is not so pertinent to man to know all the individuals of the animal kingdom, as it is to know whence and whereto is this tyrannizing unity in his constitution, which evermore separates and classifies things, endeavoring to reduce the most diverse to one form. When I behold a rich landscape, it is less to my purpose to recite correctly the order and superposition of the strata, than to know why all thought of multitude is lost in a tranquil sense of unity


By 1dandecarlo

16)  Joseph Campbell – Don’t follow the path. Go where there is no path and take the next step in creating a new one.

(The content here follows the “World Religions” program I gave on Sunday, March 31st, 2019 at Unity of Springfield).

What is it that is waiting for us or perhaps what are we waiting for? It was Joseph Campbell, who made famous the idea of “following our bliss”. He was a strong believer in the psychic unity of Jos1mankind and its poetic expression through mythology. What is to become of the story of our lives. For myself, it is when we see, or think of our weaknesses becoming our greatest strengths. It is what I saw as an eleven/twelve-year-old in the movie Lawrence of Arabia, a movie following the life of T. E. Lawrence – Thomas Edward Lawrence, (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) who was a British archaeologist, army officer, diplomat, and writer. The movie was an epiphany that shaped who I was to become. Ultimately leading me to China, Confucius, Lao and Chuang Tzu and my writing. Beginning with the idea that our perceived Jos2weaknesses allowed to be nurtured can mature into our greatest strengths (a man had fallen off his camel and was going to be left to die. Omar Sherif’s character says “it is written that the man should be left behind”. Lawrence goes back, retrieves the man and returns with him alive saying nothing is written until we write it for ourselves). That allowed to flourish, our endeavors are what can lead to our ultimate destiny. Through the movie Lawrence of Arabia, T. E. Lawrence and his exploits rose to mythical proportions and seemingly immortal. His too was a great story worth telling.

I often feel like I can see people rolling their eyes, or saying… “that’s just Dan”.  But metaphysics, becoming transcendental through our everyday activities, and some sense of moving in the direction of enlightenment, is ultimately who we are and what we are here to embrace.


Man within the Circle of Life  Shaanxi Museum – Xian

Enlightenment is always grounded in our own direct experience of mind and “where we are doing it from” (our life), no matter what those activities may be.

When we trust our creative energy, we encounter a supreme kind of enjoyment – an amazement at the natural unfolding of life beyond our ordinary way of looking at things. All the meditation and mindfulness in the world you may do, is only meant to match your highest vibrations, your endeavors, with your ultimate destiny. Nothing more – nothing less just to be present for your own awakening. True happiness is an inside job. To become greater than who we see ourselves being at the moment. To go there. It’s who we are… it’s what we are here to do. Lawrence of Arabia took others places they could have gone themselves, but didn’t only because they feared going there.

Joseph Campbell made use of the idea that the whole of the human race can be Jos4seen as engaged in the effort of making the world “transparent to transcendence” by showing that underneath the world of phenomena lies an eternal source which is constantly pouring its energies into this world of time, suffering, and ultimately death. To achieve this task, one needs to speak about things that existed before and beyond words, a seemingly impossible task.  The solution to which lies in the metaphors found in myths. These metaphors are statements that point beyond themselves into the transcendent. Writing and expressing events, of people, and thoughts of the past convey and tell us the way forward. I often think of John C Fremont, a surveyor, who mapped the way west in the 1830’s across the continent Jos5ultimately to California. His maps showed the way for thousands…  

(image from Wikipedia)

For Campbell, The Hero’s Journey was the story of the man or woman who, through great suffering, reached an experience of the eternal source and returned with gifts powerful enough to set their society free or change the course of events that mirrored his or her vision. I am reminded again of the Sioux holy man, Black Elk and the grandfathers, and what was to be his ultimate fate. Could there be a greater purpose in our endeavors and this become our own final destiny that defines us and serves as a guide for others? Could there ever be a Final Chapter… or do we return again and again to keep adding to the wisdom we have always known? Could this be our ultimate purpose – to look to those who guide us and become the guide for others as well?

I was most intrigued and interested in Campbell’s book series on The Masks of God, that continued his life-long passion of studying the world’s mythological traditions. In one volume he looks at Asian mythology as it developed over the course of five thousand years into the distinctive religions of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and Japan that followed my interest in Chinese history and philosophy.


Following the path Shaanxi Museum

The Masks of God is a four-volume study of world religion and myth that stands as one of Joseph Campbell’s masterworks. On completing it, he wrote: “Its main result for me has been the confirmation of a thought I have long and faithfully entertained: of the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology, but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony, with its themes announced, developed, amplified and turned about, distorted, reasserted, and today, in a grand fortissimo of all sections sounding together, advancing to some kind of mighty climax, out of which the next great movement will emerge. It is in becoming one with this energy we, ourselves, come forth as our ultimate selves.”

It is this basis that is Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. That man – we are – the manifestation of God’s energy. It is moving to that point of “participation in divinity” that is our goal. It is why we wake up and face each day. It is this realization of wonder… of first being a part of something bigger than oneself, to becoming or having a sense of power to shape our world is why we are here. We see this in nature and the continuing flow of energy and keep coming back to this idea. That there is something much bigger than the human Jos7dimension.

In the West we think of God as the source, in the oriental or Eastern way of thinking, however, God is the manifestation of the energy found in nature. Therefore, it is only natural that this “divine energy already resides in each of us. Seeing God as not the source but as the vehicle… that the level of energy determines the character of the God within each of us. It is the source of the energy that is the mystery. It is in internalizing this ‘flow’ we become our authentic selves.”  For myself, this explanation of how we each relate with and to a “divine presence” is what defines us, as well as, those and what we have always known but perhaps forgotten. 

It is when “the hero within each of us” returns from a soul-searching visioning process that serves to peel away the “self or ego” (shown above) to discover both the divine and human nature within each of us that truth can reveal itself.


Letting our light shine Shaanxi Museum – Xian

The two being as different as night and day, life and death, even to the I Ching and yin verses yang. It is the journey we all eventually take when we can see beyond what we think we know what is true – to travel to find for ourselves what is – beyond basic assumptions. When we have an insatiable need to know our purpose and who we really are. This is what comes of Campbell’s hero who returns after discovering his true identity to create something better than what existed before.

He/she becomes the agent of change that serves to illuminate the world again and again. This is what explains the power of myth that he illustrates transcends our own continuing from generation to generation.


Helping others to take the next step   Shaanxi Museum – Xian

It is in our own “waking consciousness” that is seen as those not prepared for the journey that we each eventually must take. That we get lost in what I call “delusions” – an inconsistency between the wisdom or “flow” as I call it and our present circumstances. That true understanding begins with taking things back to their source and internalizing how things begin and end within us.

Moving beyond Campbell to the moment – There seems to be a new level of consciousness that emerges with every generation. A new blend of what was with what will be, maybe as Donovan sang as… “We are simply trying to catch the wind”. The question becomes where are we going when we do. As if we set out on becoming someone different from ourselves we think we know, as if we move from simply being spiritually awake to spiritually mature… What our memories keep reminding us is that being free of fear is not a matter of never feeling it, but of stepping out  of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves with what we think will occur when we do. We can feel it and know it is a natural phenomenon, also an impermanent one, which will have it’s say and be gone. When we become present Jos10in the flow. That it is in seeing beyond the illusion of fear that we grow to our full potential. As Stephen Covey says, “A moment of choice is a moment of Truth. It’s the testing point of our character and competence.”

Dragons drinking from the flow of eternity / Shaanxi Museum / Xian

What if it is as FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of USA) told the country during the depression of the 1930’s… “There is nothing to fear – but fear itself”. It’s like saying there’s no there there. Perhaps only an illusion that fits our notion of what is real that may never have existed in the first place, or may occur in the future. It is in seeing beyond fear to shape future events to fit our vision of what can be that shapes us. This is why knowing and understanding history is important. We don’t want to re-invent the wheel – only better serve ourselves and humanity by taking the next spin. What the metaphysician does giving purpose and meaning to our efforts as this manifestation of spirit, i.e., God’s energy. As we find ourselves dancing on the edge of mystery.

Joseph Campbell continues, “We want to think about God. God is a thought, God is an idea,  but its reference is to something that transcends all thinking. I mean, he’s Jos11beyond being, beyond the category of being or non-being. Is he or is he not? Neither is nor is not.

Transcending ourselves / Shaanxi Museum

Every god, every mythology, every religion, is true in this sense: it is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery. He who thinks he knows doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows.

And our way of thinking in the West largely is that God is the source of the energy. The way in most Oriental thinking, and I think in most of what we call primitive thinking, also, is that God is the manifestation of the energy, not its source, that God is the vehicle of the energy. And the level of energy that is involved or represented determines the character of the god. There are gods of violence, there are gods of compassion, there are gods that unite the two, there are gods that are the protectors of kings in their war campaigns. These are personifications of the energy that’s in play, and what the source of the energy is. What’s the source of the energy in these lights around us? I mean, this is a total mystery”.

There is so much of Campbell on UTUBE and his books it’s hard to describe his genius. His life’s work. But for now, I want to finish with an excerpt from his interview with Bill Moyers that appeared on PBS. The 1988 PBS series, mythologist and storyteller Joseph Campbell joins Bill Moyers to explore what Jos12enduring myths can tell us about our lives. In each of six episodes –“The Hero’s Adventure,” “The Message of the Myth,” “The First Storytellers,” “Sacrifice and Bliss,” “Love and the Goddess,” and “Masks of Eternity” — Moyers and Campbell focus on a character or theme found in cultural and religious mythologies. Campbell argues that these timeless archetypes continue to have a powerful influence on the choices we make and the ways we live.

I recommend watching all… Released shortly after Campbell’s death on October 30, 1987, The Power of Myth was one of the most popular TV series in the history of public television, and continues to inspire new audiences. Below is an excerpt of episode 6: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth — ‘Masks of Eternity’.

BILL MOYERS: Well, then, what is religion?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, the word religion means religion, linking back, linking back the phenomenal person to a source. If we say it is the one life in both of us, then my separate life has been linked to the one life, religion, linked back. And this becomes symbolized in the images of religion, which represent that connecting link.

BILL MOYERS: Your friend Jung, the great psychologist, says that the most powerful Jos13religious symbol is the circle. He says, “The circle is one of the great primordial images of mankind, that in considering the symbol of the circle, we are analyzing the self.” And I find you, in your own work throughout the course of your life, coming across the circle, whether it’s in the magical designs of the world over, whether it’s in the architecture both ancient and modern, whether it’s in the dome-shaped temples of India or the calendar stones of the Aztecs, or the ancient Chinese bronze shields, or the visions of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, whom you talk about, the wheel in the sky. You keep coming across this image.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Yes, it’s an ever-present thing. It’s the center from which you’ve come, back to which you go. I remember reading in a book about the American Jos18Indians, called The Indian Book, by Natalie Curtis, it was published around 1904, her conversation with a chief. I think it was a chief of the Pawnee tribe. And among the things he said was, “When we pitch camp, we pitch the camp in a circle. When we looked at the horizon, the horizon was in a circle. When the eagle builds a nest, the nest is in circle.” And then you read in Plato somewhere, the soul is a circle. I suppose the circle represents. totality. Within the circle is one thing, it is encircled, it’s enframed. That would be the spatial aspect, but the temporal aspect of the circle is, you leave, go somewhere and come back, the alpha and omega. God is the alpha and omega, the source and the end. Somehow the circle suggests immediately a completed totality, whether in time or in space.

BILL MOYERS: No beginning, no end.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, round and round and round. The year, well, this is November again, you know, and we’re about to have Thanksgiving again. We’re about to have Christmas again. And then not only the year, but the month, the moon cycle, and the day cycle. And this is we’re reminded of this when we look on our watch and see the cycle of time, it’s the same hour, the same hour but another day, and all that sort of thing.

BILL MOYERS: Why do you suppose the circle became so universally symbolic?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, because it’s experienced all the time. You experience it in the day and the year, just as we’ve said, and you experience in leaving home, going on your adventure, hunting or whatever it may be, and coming back to home.


Indonesian depiction of Prithvi in ancient regal attire  at the Indonesian National Monument

And then there’s a deeper one also, that mystery of the womb and the tomb. When people are buried it’s for rebirth, I mean, that’s the origin of the burial idea, you’re put back into the womb of Mother Earth for rebirth.

BILL MOYERS: And Jung kept returning to that theme of the circle as being the sort of universal symbol.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, Jung used it as a pedagogical (instructional) device, actually, what he called the mandala. This was actually a Hindu term for a sacred circle.

BILL MOYERS: Here is one of the pictures (below).

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That’s a very elaborate mandala. You have the deity at the center, with the power source, the illumination source, and these are the manifestations or aspects of its radiance. But in working out a mandala for oneself, what one does is draw a circle and then think of the different impulse systems in your life, the different value systems in your life, and try then to compose them and find what the center is. It’s kind of discipline for pulling all those scattered aspects of your life together, finding a center and ordering yourself to it. So you’re trying to coordinate your circle with the universal circle.

BILL MOYERS: To be at the center.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: At the center. The Navajo have that wonderful image of what they call the pollen path. And when you realize what pollen is, it’s the life source. Jos14And it’s a single, single path, the center, and then they were saying, “Oh, beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to the right of me, beauty to the left of me, beauty above me, beauty below me, I’m on the pollen path.”

Navajo pollen path

“So, the little cosmos of one’s own life and the macrocosm of the world’s life are in some way to be coordinated. Well, for instance, among the Navajo Indians, healing ceremonies were conducted by way of sand paintings, which were mostly mandalas, on the ground and then the person who is to be treated moves into the mandala. There will be a mythological context that he will be identifying with, and he identifies himself with that power”. Campbell adds, “this idea of sand painting with mandalas and used for meditation purposes appears also in Tibet in the great Tantric monasteries outside of Lhasa. For instance, they practice sand painting, cosmic images and so forth indicating the forces of the spiritual powers that operate in our lives”. (the end of interview)

Through my own journey and experience, I have been to Lhasa, and have seen this “Circle of Life” mandala firsthand. Both as the primary symbol and actual re-creation done by the monks at the famous Sera Monastery.

The Sera Monastery has three colleges and thirty-three houses. It is the second Jos15biggest monastery in Tibet. The two things that got my attention were first, the afternoon debates in the courtyard. The daily debating is a class to practice and test the monk’s mastery of Buddhism. The second was the Circle of Life, or Wheel of Life, depicted here that describes Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

The Wheel of Life can be interpreted on several levels. The six major sections represent the Six Realms. These realms can be understood as forms of existence, or states of mind, into which beings are born according to their karma. The realms also can be viewed as situations in life or even personality types—hungry ghosts are addicts; devas are privileged; hell beings have anger issues. In each of the realms the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara appears to show the way to liberation from the Wheel. (A Bodhisattva is a person who has attained prajna, or enlightenment, but who has postponed Nirvana in order to help others attain enlightenment).  But liberation is possible only in the human realm. From there, those who realize enlightenment find Jos16their way out of the Wheel to Nirvana. It is one of the most common subjects of Buddhist art.

Mandalas are works of sacred art in Tantric (Tibetan) Buddhism. The word “mandala” comes from a Sanskrit word that generally means circle – hence the concept of circle of life. There were several to be found here at the Sera Monastery. A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. Joseph Campbell understood the meaning of immortality and through his efforts helped to show us the way of our own hero’s journey – for ourselves.

By 1dandecarlo