We should be the Rock others rub their lives against…
The shaman, the teachings of the I Ching, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and many others knew that it’s not so much as who we are, as who we aspire to become.
In doing so we look to the stars just as they did, and as Dorothy asked in the Wizard of Oz… If bluebirds fly, then why, oh why can’t I? That we use our time here as if we too are in a dream, mirroring who we think we are, instead becoming true to ourselves. This was the secret of the Great and powerful OZ… that the secret is already within us. Who are we but the image we create for ourselves and is it real? Our persona becoming the way we project ourselves on social media and with our family and friends. Can or do we consider that perhaps our success or failure is only determined by the number of lives we have touched and rather we helped others find their true way as well? That we in effect, pay forward conveying to others the same virtue we have always known. Interacting with others to remind us that we are here to overcome our own limitations and in doing so become transcendent. Bringing our focus into something we get and in turn give that’s still coming.
The story of Mulan was centered around an ancestor who was frowned upon who had to “earn his keep” so that he (Mushu) could enter the pantheon of respected ancestors. In the end he did. In reality, in China there is a national holiday every May to “honor our ancestors”. It’s like our Memorial Day in USA. In China, to die and become a respected ancestor, is a tribute to a life well-lived and to have been a rock for your family and others to have rubbed against.
We all have someone, either our mother or father, aunt or uncle, or maybe a teacher in high school or college who inspired us to reach for something inside us that appealed to our inner most nature. For myself it was Elaine Clugston, my journalism teacher when I was in the eleventh grade at Carl Junction High School, when I wrote a line in a poem that said “Sorrowful feelings mean nothing, if there is no compassion felt”. It was as if the line woke me up and spoke to me. Maybe a political or spiritual figure like Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., whose goal was to help us to see beyond ourselves.
That’s what great teachers do. Someone who moves us towards the highest aspirations of ourselves. We’ve all known them. I like to think it is what I left for my more than four hundred students when I taught in China. The question has always been… are we listening to that still small voice within? Are we the rock others rub their lives against? When we too become the teacher? To never settle for less than who we really are. To understand and appreciate our source and that we are here on purpose.
As I go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching here that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am amazed that now eighteen years later, it is as relevant even more so, as when I wrote it. The difference in time as if waiting to bring meaning to it all. To continue to make feeble attempts to live the Tao as I have written about it. To be given a chance now to humbly understand what it all meant. The ultimate meaning of paying forward. Even more so to consciously attempt to experience the divine and share my gift with others. To help others live inside their own kung fu, and being there, finding the happiness we have always known but perhaps forgotten. Being content in our own contentment and discovering other rocks we have learned to cherish along the way.
There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, verses 16, 17 and 18 follows here. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught us along the way that 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 16 – Previous Encounters
Remaining on course, I return to the place of my youth to reflect on previously self- imposed limits as to who I am ultimately to become, as if a final cleansing of those things that made me full of myself.
Given an opportunity to further release those things that have held me back from identifying and knowing my final destiny. To free myself of endeavors that keeps me full of ego and self-interest.
The farm in Lamar
Once recognized, I can let go and let the dragons, or angels, lead the way without intrusion. Declaring my freedom and turning aside all those things that betray my true path as I declare “free at last, free at last, thank God and the Tao I’m free at last”. Finally letting go of all that has gone before me, I can see the way leads to stillness as the knowing sage. As I let go, my true path is unveiled and my enthusiasm, my greatest attribute that opens the door for all others, becomes totally and completely apparent.
In returning to my roots, I have unconsciously re-discovered the stillness I knew at the beginning. Thereby allowing me to become shapeless once again. Knowing that the path now followed and the endeavors now cultivated can now prevail; I am reminded of my travels with Lieh Tzu.
I feel a great swoosh… As if a great gust of wind has picked me up and carried me closer to my ultimate destiny.
(Written in June 2000 during a trip home to Joplin, Missouri where I grew up. I lived there from the seventh grade through two years of college. 1964-1973).
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing say, “Emptiness is the Way of Heaven. Stillness is the way of Earth. There is nothing that is not endowed with these, and everything rises by means of them”.
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “Heaven has its fulcrum, people have their ancestors, plants have their roots. And where are these roots? When things begin but have not yet begun, namely, the Dark Gate. If you want to cultivate the Great Way, but you don’t know where this opening is, your efforts will be in vain.”
Te-Ch’ing says. “To know what truly endures is to know that Heaven and Earth share the same root, that the ten thousand things share one body, and that there is no difference between self and others. Those who cultivate this within themselves become sages, while those who practice this in the world become rulers. Rulers become rulers by following the Way of Heaven. And Heaven becomes Heaven by following the Tao. And the Tao becomes the Tao by lasting forever.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “To know the unchanging course of the Way is to be free of passion and desire and to be all-embracing. To be all-embracing is to be free of self-interest. To be free of self-interest is to rule the world. To rule the world is to merge your virtue with that of Heaven. And to merge your virtue with that of Heaven is to be one with the Way. If you can do this, you will last as long as Heaven and Earth and live without trouble”.
Li Jung says, “The sage enjoys a life without limits.”
Verse 17 – Governing Wisely
Let your virtue lead the way with others convinced it is their own works that prevail. Lasting success can only occur when those who have looked to you for guidance conclude they have championed their own cause.
What the sage does to cultivate himself is what he does to govern the world. Your greatest virtue is to initiate no action that leave traces of your presence. So that when all goes well people can feel they are responsible.
As long as people think they have achieved greatness by themselves, they have no reason to love, praise or despise anyone.
Simply unveiling the truth and contradictions to virtue will allow others to come forward and for you to remain still. Instilling peace and harmony along the way you can prepare to take them to places they would otherwise forego. ##
Red Pine says, “The Chinese of Lao Tzu’s day believed their greatest age of peace and harmony occurred during the reigns of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, or nearly five-thousand years ago. These early rulers exercised power so unobtrusively, the people hardy knew they were there, as we hear in a song handed down from that distant age: ‘Sunup we rise / sundown we rest / we dig wells to drink / we plough fields to eat / the emperor’s might / what is it to us?’” (Kushihyuan: I).
Mencius says, “When the ruler views his ministers as his hands and feet, they regard him as their heart and soul. When he views them as dirt and weeds, they regard him as an enemy and thief”.
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “What we do to cultivate ourselves is what we do to govern the world. And among the arts we cultivate, the subtler of all is honesty, which is the beginning and end of cultivation. When we embrace the truth, the world enjoys peace. When we turn our backs on the truth, the world suffers. From the time of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, this has never varied.
Verse 18 – When Innocence prevailed and Formlessness endured
As you contemplate returning tomorrow to the place where it all began to attend a gathering of now distant relatives, you recall time spent on the farm.
Returning to the place you originally called home. Returning to the place where you first caught the attention of dragons as a small boy on the farm in Lamar. Back to the beginning, where innocence prevailed and formlessness endured. Before details could enter to cloud your way. You begin to wonder what drew you to the Tao and dragons that were searching for you even then.
You are reminded of the paradox that surrounded you. The beauty and comfort found in nature – found in an old farmhouse at the end of a long circle drive. Everything in nature finding its place. You were affected greatly by opposites that tore at your inner most being. Tearing away the self-identity as a small child that would reveal the formlessness of the sage. A difficult transition revealing inequities living seemingly always bring to the forefront. Living in a home with argument and distrust carrying the day, you were encouraged to find security and serenity deep within yourself.
Soon discovering an innate understanding that when names arise from discontent, we find distinctions like kindness, peace and harmony. Attributes formlessness can now find to spring forth and flourish. As such you have now become the conciliator, the mediator who can see through conflict brought forth by envy, ego, lack and mistrust. To those who are unsure of your identity a mystic, to those few who know, perhaps a prophet telling of things yet to come.
Opposites described above affecting you as if you were a blunt piece of metal being hammered into intricate form by blows coming from all sides.
Learning then to look away from good and bad and recognizing that both were the same. So that one day when the dragons would finally get your attention – to carry you to heights previously thought unattainable you would recognize their presence and acknowledge that they had been guiding you all along. Only waiting for the opportune time to show you the path you were to follow. Reminding you of your true identity and responsibility to the Tao.
Now that I have come full circle and returned, cognizant of the road I have traveled and the one before me that I am still to follow, I am assured and thankful that virtue will lead the way. ##
(Written in June 2000 during a trip back to Joplin and the farm in Lamar where I was a small child. I lived on the farm from 1952 through the third grade, the summer of 1961. We then moved to my grandma’s house for a year then into town (Lamar), and then to Joplin during the summer of 1964).
Su Ch’e says, “When the Great Way (the Tao) flourishes kindness and justice are at work, but people don’t realize it. Only after the Great Way disappears do kindness and justice become visible.”
Wang An-Shih says, “The Way hides in formlessness. Names arise from discontent. When the Way hides in formlessness, there isn’t any difference between great or small. When names arise from discontent, we get distinctions like kindness, justice, reason, and so forth.
Mencius says, “Kindness means dwelling in peace. Justice means taking the right road”.
Kongdan says, “To live as if an enigma. Somewhere between this world and another. Living and dying to be the one others break their own rocks against. And when they’re ready, perhaps show them the Way as well”.