November 2016

Dan’s thoughts for Sunday, November 27th, 2016

I am reminded of what my dear friend Chuang Tzu says about death as relayed by Po Chi’i from the Tang Dynasty in Musings of a Chinese Mystic from a book by Lionel Giles:

                          Peaceful Old Age

Chuang Tzu said, “The Tao gives me this toil in manhood, this repose in old age, this rest in death”.

Swiftly and soon the golden sun goes down.                                                                                             The blue sky wells afar into the night.                                                                                                     Tao is the changeful world’s environment.                                                                                             Happy are they that in its laws delight.

The Tao gives me toil – youth’s passion to achieve.                                                                               And leisure in life’s autumn and decay.                                                                                                   I follow Tao – the seasons are my friends.                                                                                               Opposing it – misfortune comes my way.

Within my breast no sorrows can abide.                                                                                                   I feel the great world’s spirit through me thrill.                                                                                     And as a cloud I drift before the wind.                                                                                                       Or with the random swallow take my will.

As underneath the mulberry tree I dream.                                                                                               The water clock drips on, and dawn appears.                                                                                         A new day dawns over wrinkles and white hair.                                                                                   The symbols of the fullness of my years.

If I depart, I cast no look behind.                                                                                                                   If still alive I still am free from care.                                                                                                           Since life and death in cycles come and go.                                                                                             Of little moment are the days to spare.

Thus strong in faith I wait and long to be                                                                                                   one with the pulsings of Eternity.

Chuang Tzu had a great understanding of what death means as an end of body and mind, but not the spirit, or soul. We are eternal. The other major philosophical schools of ancient China, such as Confucianism, Legalism, and Mohism, were all concerned with concrete social, political, or ethical reforms designed to reform people and society and thereby alleviate the problems and suffering of the world.  His writing inspired Chan, or Zen Buddhism, to take hold in China. Most of the Buddhist sutras (religious writings) as they entered China were translated into Chinese by the Taoists who were heavily influenced by the writings of Chuang Tzu. However, Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) believed that the key to true happiness was to free oneself from the world and its standards through the Taoist principle of “inaction” wu wei, action that is not based on any purposeful striving or motives for gain.   His ideas of separation and service and questioning authority when it did not make sense through the use of humor and paradox, would permeate philosophical and religious practice and teachings to this day.

But it was his understanding that death was not simply an end, but a continuation of our meandering or wandering through the cosmos, or universe that was for many most significant.The term “wandering” (yóu 遊) is used throughout the stories of the Zhuangzi to describe how an enlightened person “wanders through all of creation, enjoying its delights without ever becoming attached to any one part of it.” Our service here is to honor the eternal nature of both ourselves and the universe… to better understand our own transcendence,  do no harm and contribute to it’s well being without being attached to any outcome that may follow.

What is it that gives us or makes us have a feeling of separation from those around us that keeps us from fulfilling our sense of service to others, to nature and the universe? What can be the last conscious thought of the individual soul on its journey through life and death as we try to justify how we lived? What is it that obliterates, or takes away, our sense of self as we stream back into the One? As we helplessly hang on to our sense of delusion as to who we thought we were and attachments we have clung to along the way.  When putting things in divine order is the key to our longevity.

What can be our ultimate goal and realization of what we are here to do or accomplish? How can we be separate from others and have a duality of purpose? To by chance become a beacon of light for others to follow. How are we to act and show others the way? What comes of it all is a sense of service to our own inherent universal nature. How good, how worthy – or how not – will be the question we have to answer when it comes in that moment.  What will we have done for this world as we go back into the eternity that define us?

When I taught at the university in Qufu, my primary focus besides teaching English, was to convey to my students the importance of service to their community and others. That we are here to discover our innate talents and utilize them to find our niche, or place, in the world. Since almost all of the more than 400 students would become teachers themselves, it was a message that resonated.

Dan’s thoughts for Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Out of sincere appreciation and respect for my Buddhist friends who frequent this website, and acknowledgement that the melding of Confucianism, Taoism.and Buddhism play a central role in Chinese philosophical and religious thought, I feel compelled to add Buddhism practice concepts occasionally. Below are a few basics adherents to Buddhist routinely follow. An excellent book I routinely refer to is The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt. You should check it out.

Buddhist Practices Will Instantly Change Your Life

  1. Consume Mindfully – Be thankful for the nourishment good food provides, and be aware of what you put into your body. Think about it before you buy it. Is it really something you need, or just a transient desire? Pay attention to the effects of negative media you consume. Ask yourself: is it helping you to grow or learn, or is it a form of distraction? Does it take away from your mindfulness, and is it even worth it to do so? These are really important small decisions that impact us more than we realize.
  2. Take a Moment – Your words have an impact on your life and others. You should ask yourself if your words foster love or bring harm. This is so important. Let your mind settle before you start work, school, or walking into your home. This will set a different tone that can make all the difference. Listen to the people you encounter. If we talk to others and listen, we create the possibility of mutual sympathy, understanding, and tolerance.
  3. Discover Gratitude – One of the most powerful things we can do is practice gratitude. This consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to your life and being connected to a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Some people get confused…they think practicing gratitude is a denial of life’s difficulties. Obviously, we live in trying times, and no doubt you’ve experienced challenges and disappointments. But gratitude frees you from being lost of identified with either negative or positive aspects of life; allowing you to simply meet situations with mindful awareness. Rejoice in the good fortune of others and your own happiness multiplies – it’s the best cure for envy.
  4. Cultivate Compassion & Kindness – Helping others can make all the difference in your happiness and in other’s lives. If you notice someone needs help, be quick to jump in. Try to alleviate suffering wherever you see it, and consider others perspectives deeply. It can be hard, but observe your reactions with genuine interest and non-attachment. You will find your compassion and patience will naturally spring up out of nowhere. Your heart will begin to guide your decisions. Even if your circumstance is personally challenging (maybe even insulting), it is not always necessary to understand the origins of an experience or a reaction in order to come to peace with it. Just take a step back and become more of a witness. You’ll notice your entire thought process will change.
  5. Attune to Wisdom – Wisdom is considered to be one of the most important aspects to develop. It’s almost just as important as compassion, actually. Why? Because life is a gigantic gray cloud. It’s not black or white. It’s a big mess that involves complicated decision-making, often choosing things that are really the lesser of two evils. Be open to what arises in every moment. The mind can focus in so many directions: past, present, future, abstract notions or analytical problem solving, to name a few. All forms of thought have a useful role. But try to prioritize awareness of the present moment. Once again, if you slow down your mind, wisdom will naturally spring up, just like compassion.
  6. Embrace Change – This saying really is true: the one constant in the universe is change. What is real is the existing moment, the present that is a product of the past, or a result of the previous causes and actions. Because of ignorance, an ordinary mind conceives them all to be part of one continuous reality. But in truth they are not. If you make peace with this simple truth, your life will be much easier.

Dan’s thoughts for Sunday, November 13th, 2016

In light of recent events (trump won…), my thoughts turn to the Doctrine of the Mean. A great treatise of the path a superior man attributed to Confucius…

How great is the path proper to the Sage! Like overflowing water, it sends forth and nourishes all things, and rises up to the height of heaven. 

All-complete is its greatness! It embraces the three hundred rules of ceremony, and the three thousand rules of demeanor. It waits for the proper man, and then it is trodden. Hence it is said, “Only by perfect virtue can the perfect path, in all its courses, be made a fact.” 

Therefore, the superior man honors his virtuous nature, and maintains constant inquiry and study, seeking to carry it out to its breadth and greatness, so as to omit none of the more exquisite and minute points which it embraces, and to raise it to its greatest height and brilliancy, so as to pursue the course of the Mean. He cherishes his old knowledge, and is continually acquiring new. He exerts an honest, generous earnestness, in the esteem and practice of all propriety. 

Thus, when occupying a high situation he is not proud, and in a low situation he is not insubordinate. When the kingdom is well governed, he is sure by his words to rise; and when it is ill governed, he is sure by his silence to command forbearance to himself. Is not this what we find in the Book of Poetry,-“Intelligent is he and prudent and so preserves his person?” 

The Master said, Let a man who is ignorant be fond of using his own judgment; let a man without rank be fond of assuming a directing power to himself; let a man who is living in the present age go back to the ways of antiquity;-on the persons of all who act thus calamities will be sure to come.

The thoughts and words of Confucius rings as true today as 2500 years ago.  I am especially concerned about climate change and the natural divine order found in the environment and if we destroy it. If as Gandhi said “we must be the change we want to see in the world”, then how do we do this? Climate change should not be a political issue.

Yesterday morning (Saturday) I went to the Dinh Quang Buddhist Temple here in Springfield. I was impressed. There were about forty people there, many of which have been to China.  This next week… three priorities. 1) Physical therapy begin on my lower back, 2) Kongdan Foundation hopefully will make debut on Facebook, and 3) attorney here in Springfield will begin updating paperwork for foundation so I can open bank account…

Dan’s thoughts for Sunday, November 6th, 2016

I seldom post about events in the world outside my place here discussing Chinese history and philosophy, but the election on Tuesday is I think a watershed moment in history. Rather Clinton or Trump wins will have a profound impact on the future. Whatever happens does not bode well for USA as the country is evenly split and the divisions run deep. I think it signals the beginning of the end of American dominance in the world. There is no middle here. A further reminder that my place, where I need to be, is in China, the Middle Kingdom. Do I stay or do I go? The only thing seemingly in question is the timing of my departure. I feel I already have one foot here and one foot in Qufu…. that’s quite a stretch.

It brings further into focus the question… are we only living and in my case writing for today. Or is it that we live to bring attention to words of the past that help to guide us in the future. I think Meng Zi (Mencius) gives us the example. He was such a powerful influence after Confucius that his Mansion and Temple dedicated in his name, was not constructed until twelve hundred years after his own death. Who is to say what we will or will not do, or write, or say will not have a lasting impression after we are gone as we too are found only meandering through time… and can it matter in the end.

Furthering this point I added to Chuang Tzu’s tab in clarifying the role of the pivot as to who we are to become this week following my visit last month to Huangshan Mountain. Also my last major entry of my previous writing that took forever to find on my computer that I wrote in 2011 while I was teaching in Qufu entitled, appropriately  Irreverently Meandering in Time.  I finally found and added here.  I also added another tab entitled Taoist teachings and traditions in China  that I felt necessary to put everything in a more secure footing and understanding of the role Taoism has played in Chinese history.

I’ve decided to follow the advise of my friends in Qufu who have admonished me for many years to “write about Confucius”‘ Now that after five months of intense retrospection having put everything I have written here on this website… it’s time. Having immersed my thoughts in Taoism all these years, Confucius has always been present. In China I am known as Kongdan. Kong is of course the family name of Confucius. Two things initially stood out this morning. First, Confucius mother, Yen Cheng Tsai, was a direct descendant of Ji Dan. the Duke of Chou (Zhou)… I wonder if he knew that. The historian that he was, I’m sure he did. And second was a line in the first chapter in the Confucius Analects that read “Have no friends not equal to yourself”. That explains a lot…

By 1dandecarlo

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