The Gift of Immersion
A large part of the “Christmas spirit” for many is the hope of creating memories that immerse us into something bigger, or larger, than ourselves that are worth remembering. Our religious experiences during the holidays serve the purpose of helping us to define what that might be.
I often talk here on face book and my website about the paradox of the sage, as if living in two worlds. In my unpublished manuscript, My Travels with Lieh Tzu, the first line I wrote is that we each have two lives – the life we learn with and the life we live after that. And that it is from our memories that we hope to define ourselves. That we in effect become what we behold.
What we should ask ourselves is – are our experiences immersive enough that we can let our guard down? To be so fully engaged in the present, that we fuse our cognitive state with our dreams. The who I am that is yet to become. How do we balance the need for self-awareness by remaining in the moment, or state of becoming, with how we connect with our environment? Even more, how do we connect our passion and love of those around us to this? Ultimately can, or does this help to bring out our traits of virtue that defines us not only at Christmas, but every day? In my writing, I often refer to my own experiences, not so much to talk about myself, but as a way for others to see themselves as well and say if they could, yah me to.
Over the past several weeks and months we have added several new friends to the Kongdan Foundation here through the use of social media, for this I am grateful.
In this holiday season as we embrace and immerse ourselves in the spirit of the divine that resides within each of us, I am reminded of when I was growing up in Joplin and listening to shortwave radio in the late ’60’s and early 70’s (1967-71). Countries all over the world I listened to would send Christmas greetings with a card often expressing Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays in ten or twelve languages. As if there were no boundaries to the eternal spirit expressed around the world. Radio Peking, Radio Moscow, Havana, the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Ukraine, the Vatican in Rome, BBC, Radio Budapest, Bucharest, Radio Lisbon, South Africa, Quito, Ecuador, etc., etc.… all stations I listened to frequently as a teenager that beamed English language program to America. During the holidays, differences were set aside. As if only for a moment in time there was unity. I liked to think that regardless of country or persuasion, there was a prevailing sense of virtue that could see beyond borders and religion. It was as if every letter I would send confirming that I was listening was opening another door and for them responding it was always the same.
Many times, in China over the past several years I would take the train overnight from Beijing to Qufu, a ride that would take about ten hours. Every morning even during July and August, I would wake up on the train to American classic Christmas carols coming over the intercom and speakers. Jingle bells, Rudolph, they were all there. In every shopping center in China you will hear overhead Christmas carols now… today, and will through Christmas day. Christmas decorations are everywhere.
A favorite store window display I never quite understood was Santa playing the saxophone. When my foundation printed the Unity Daily Word in China, we always included the meaning of Christmas in the December issue with the idea that the Christ spirit was/is universal. We printed 5,000 copies a month for two years (120,000 copies in 2006-07 ) that were distributed throughout western Shandong Province. I was told last summer (summer of 2017) that those copies have now been seen by over 2.5 million people.
I found myself when teaching in the classroom, or with friends in China, in a position to often take others where they would not otherwise go.
They wanted to know what the world was like outside what they thought they already knew. To take them to places they otherwise would not/or could not go. Most felt that due to the cost, they would never see America, so I, as well as many other teachers, became their eyes and ears. When they learned I had written books about the I Ching, Taoism and Confucius, then they wanted my story about China to in some way tell theirs as well.
I found this even more so when I visited the countryside with my students and their village. Often a Saturday lunch that was to be with my student’s parents and grandparents, became a celebrated event with their foreign English teacher. Time and time again, it was playing the role of the storyteller to take them all to a place they would never otherwise go. Just as their telling their own story and history gave me a sense of China from the 1930’s onward would serve to do the same for me. Often their family history would go back more than five hundred years on the same plot of land. Their daughters i.e., my students who were to be English teachers as well, were often the first person in their family to go to college.
Giving someone else the ability to see beyond themselves and enabling them to tell their story through their own eyes, often in the countryside where their family has lived and died for hundreds of years can be a very humbling experience. It helps to define my own role, as well as, the role of my foundation. That it is in understanding this history, along with that of others we meet along the way, that we learn what it means to preserve and insure final outcomes for all. That the gift of immersion for ourselves and others can be our greatest gift, as we learn the true meaning of Christmas everyday. As we leave our own virtue behind.
As mentioned before, I wrote my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, was published in China in 2006. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, verses 10, 11 and 12 follows here. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught us along the way that what guides us. The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 10 – Exposing ever-present but forgotten traits of Virtue
Remember what you have always known. That it is our virtue that lights the universe. That it is your memory of who you once were and are yet to become that resides in your mind and intellect.
As you open your mind to see and know what comes forth, you are simply reminded of what you have forgotten.
That your energies are here to be replenished as you are transformed into the sage whose mind remains still. As you become still once again, you reflect and mirror heaven and earth and the ten thousand things.
You scoff as you know the best way to govern is without governing and using the efforts of others. If you don’t obstruct what the Tao begets at their source and suppress their true nature, things mature by themselves. Virtue remaining ever-present, its owner unknown until you appear along the way. ##
Wang P’ang says, “Life requires three things: vital essence, breath, and spirit”.
Chuang Tzu says, “The sage’s mind is so still, it can mirror Heaven and Earth and reflect the ten thousand things” (13.1).
Wang An-Shih says, “The best way to serve is by not serving. The best way to govern is by not governing. Hence Lao Tzu says ‘without effort.’ Those who act without effort make use of the efforts of others. As for Heaven’s Gate, this is the gate through which all creatures enter and leave. To be open means to be active. To be closed means to be still. Activity and stillness represent the male and the female. Just as stillness overcomes movement, the female overcomes the male.
Lao Tzu says, “The Tao begets them / Virtue keeps them” (51).
Verse 11 – Opening Doors while Staying Behind
Remaining empty to become full. Knowing your place is to put all the cards on the table so that the proper path becomes obvious for all to see. Becoming simply the vessel from which all that represents virtue is known, endured and followed as the way by all.
Reminded as our breath ebbs and flows we become full by remaining empty as our mind and thoughts remain the catalyst for change and enlightenment. Our usefulness only determined by the emptiness that fills us. Employing nothing to gain advantage that would allow ego to stand in the way.
As you seek only virtue and leave only vestiges of yourself behind. Your role is to open doors for others as you nurture and prepare them to walk through.
Giving birth to virtue and letting it grow. Nourishing what comes forth without claiming to own them. Remaining as the hub of a wheel… constant, reliable and still, yet ever-present and nonexistent. ##
Li Jung says, “It’s because the hub is empty that spokes converge on it. Likewise, it is because the sage’s mind is empty that the people turn to him for help.”
Te Ch’ing says, “Heaven and Earth have form, and everyone knows Heaven and Earth are useful. But they don’t know that their usefulness depends on the emptiness of the Great Way (the Tao). Likewise, we all have form and think ourselves useful but remain unaware that our usefulness depends on our empty shapeless mind. Thus, existence may have its uses, but real usefulness depends on non-existence. Nonexistence, though, doesn’t work by itself. It needs the help of existence.”
Huang Yan-Chi says, “What is beyond form is the Tao, while what has form are tools. Without tools we have no means to apprehend the Tao. And with Tao there is no place for tools.”
Verse 12 – Insuring Final Outcomes
Staying within the realm of what our natural abilities provide as if Chuang Tzu.
Drinking from the river of life only that which fills our stomach. Maintaining an even temperament. Letting events happen for their own sake and remaining unaffected by space and time.
Letting the natural course or order of events simply occur. Knowing the final outcome will be just as it should be. While sitting back as the knowing sage, seemingly unaffected but in control.
Choose internal reality over external illusion. As your eyes cannot truly see, your ears cannot truly hear, your mouth cannot truly taste, your mind cannot help feeling and your body cannot stop moving.
Let these attributes simply stay in the background and observe as you listen to the still small voice within as you have been taught and nothing can harm you. Do not lose your way because of what has caught your attention. ##
Te-Ch’ing says, “When the eyes are given free rein in the realm of form, they no longer see what is real. When the ears are given free rein the realm of sound, they no longer hear what is real. When the tongue is given free rein in the realm of taste, it no longer discerns what is real. When the mid is given free rein in the realm of though, it not longer knows what is real. When our actions are given free rein in the realm of possession and profit, we no longer do what is right. Like Chuang Tzu’s tapir (1-4), the sage drinks from the river, but only enough to fill his stomach.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “Desiring external things harm our bodies. The sage nourishes his health by filling his stomach, not by chasing material objects to please his eye. Hence, he chooses internal reality over external illusion. But the eyes can’t help seeing, the ears can’t help hearing, the mouth can’t stop tasting, the mind can’t stop feeling, and the body can’t stop moving. They can’t stay still. But if we let them move without leaving stillness behind, nothing can harm us. Those who are buried by the dust of the senses, or who crave sensory stimulation lose their way. And the main villain is in the eyes. Thus, the first of Confucius warnings concerns vision (Lunyu: 12.1: not to look without propriety), and the first of the Buddha’s six sources of delusion is also the eyes”.
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “The main purpose of cultivation is to oppose the world of the senses. What the world loves, the Taoist hates. What the world wants, the Taoist rejects. Even though color, sound, material goods, wealth, or beauty might benefit a person’s body, in the end they harm a person’s mind. And once the mind wants, the body suffers. If we can ignore external temptations and be satisfied with the way we are, if we can cultivate our mind and not chase material things, this is the way of long life. All the treasures of the world are no match for this.
Finding ourselves immersed in virtue. Knowing there is no end to it, only finding ourselves eternally attached to what defines us.