Going by way of the white Clouds
One of my most favorite books is by Peter Matthiess, The Snow Leopard. It references another favorite book entitled, The Way of the White Clouds. I never travel far without both in tow.
The Show Leopard, quotes Lama Govina as saying, “Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely flows from the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere – in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that… leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight”. The white cloud representing the wisdom and compassion of the guru and spiritual enfoldment, the way of the pilgrimage that leads one to the realization of final completion.
Continuing with The Snow Leopard, the mystical perception (which is only mystical if our reality is limited to what can be measured by the intellect and senses) is remarkably consistent in all places everywhere. To not merely see, but to do. The physician seeks to understand reality, while the mystic is trained to experience it directly.
That while both may have a limited view, or picture, of existence which transcends physical evidence, there remains the sense that appearances are illusionary, or illusory, i.e., temporary. It is as if finding the elusive snow leopard itself. You’ve heard of its existence in the high mountains of Tibet. But do you need to actually see it for yourself, to acknowledge it really exists. As if something needs to be seen to be believed. That in reality, everything found in nature including our own human nature, remains in a constant state of flux. That there is in effect, no real edge to anything and therefore remains open to endless interpretation. For the Taoist, it is attaching yourself to nothing, yet influencing all you touch. That this molecular flow of the universe, this cosmic energy we define as universal consciousness is all that has ever been and also includes us. It is how we learn to experience this reality for ourselves that we become enamored with nothing and become mystical as well.
A famous saying from Genghis Khan, the Mongol who raided across Asia pillaging the twenty great cities left by Alexander the Great five hundred years earlier was that “we should live under the laws of the blue sky”, and of course his word was the law. The Mongols had a strong body of laws, the yasaq, based on the decrees of Genghis Khan, and in many cases it remained in place for centuries in their conquered territories. Ten of those cities are noted here in a tab describing the overreaching impact of the Mongols from the Pacific Ocean to the east to the Caspian Sea to the west. An area in size never to be replicated in human history.
But this idea of “living under the laws of the blue sky” was ingrained in his grandson Kublai Khan as the first great Mongol ruler of China after the breaching of the Great Wall. It fit the Chinese mindset of the emperor as the embodiment of heaven. His Court embraced Tibetan Buddhism and existing Chinese culture and traditions transforming the war driven Mongol horde into a peaceful nation. He expanded China’s influence and solidified both boundaries and how multiple nationalities could unite under one banner.
A very old Chinese saying goes… “The world is not so calm. Through the ages all conquerors have become something of the past. All dignitaries are just passers-by. But my name is (fill in your own), and it will last for a thousand generations. We heal the world through our intentions.”
Who’s to say? Confucius was not seen as important until his own grandson, Zisi, conveyed the meaning of his words in such a way that he too was to become immortal more than a hundred years after Confucius died. It was the work of Zisi and Mencius who conveyed the value of Confucius teaching that lives on today. The Mencius Mansion and Temple (memorial) was not built for over a thousand years after his death in Zoucheng, an hour by bus south of Qufu. Now that’s immortality. What is it that lies beyond the horizon, except the white clouds that we all someday will return to? To have been and to return to live with the dragons (angels) once again. If knowing and adhering to ancient virtues are held on to as if only to live amongst the white clouds once again.
It is said that temperament which is soft and agreeable evoke similar memories, while trying to be a hero and making great achievement are just the same as a transient passing cloud.
We are often seen rushing forward regardless of what may lie ahead. Only asking not to perish before fulfilling the purpose for which it was created and to be able to deliver the message which is embodied in us as our own sacred purpose is fulfilled. As if only waiting to see if anything of merit has been left behind.
I’ve often wondered why my own passion, reminiscing the past, and fascination with ancient China seems to end with the return to Italy in 1293 by Marco Polo and his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo, after travelling through Asia and meeting Kublai Khan. In 1269, the three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa.
Upon his return, Marco was imprisoned and dictated his stories to a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married, and had three children. He died in 1324 and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Venice. Many times over the past more than twenty years of traveling throughout China, I too have been to places also visited by Marco Polo. None impacted me more so than Chengdu, near Tibet in southwest China, where Marco Polo visited and saw the same sites I have seen more than 800 years later with an eerie feeling that I have seen and done this all before.
I myself am a first generation Italian American, with my father and grandparents coming from Italy in 1906. Who’s to say we all are not riding the winds, traveling with the clouds always to new horizons… beyond what is known and the all too familiar. Here to tell a new story. To perhaps write as well of my impressions of where I too have been as he did and of remembrances along the way. As if simply just to see how things have changed. As if I have already been there and have now returned. Finally, perhaps only to see how ancient virtue has been either lost or gained.
- Pictured here are Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, the Buddha, Confucius, and Averroes (Wikipedia)
What is it that distinguishes us but the consciousness of the past, a consciousness that lies beyond who we identify with as an individual at this moment? From the west and ancient Greece, we think of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, to Descartes, and more modern-day, Hegel, and Kierkegaard. From the East we think of Lao Tzu, Confucius and the Buddha. All would say it is creativity that makes the difference. For myself, with thoughts leaning more to Eastern philosophy, it is as if the past speaks to us conveying that through knowing our past that we create our future. As if staying behind to impart immortality’s wisdom is in effect maintaining ancient virtue through the ages.
What is our obligation to the past, but our continuity based on a living tradition and a conscious connection with our origin. Not to oppose change, but to recognize change as the nature of all things, including us.
This is why in China the I Ching. the Book of Change, has provided the cornerstone for Chinese philosophical thought for more the 5,000 years. The shaman knowing to match the need to re-discover the true meaning of past teachings and symbols of the past with the present. As if through the experiences of the sage, knowing that things appearing as if a whim are often later to be conveyed as truth.
As I continue to go through 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, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important?
I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 28 and 29 appear below. Verses 1 through 27 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months. A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on this website.
Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught 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 28 – Maintaining Ancient Virtue
Showing the way can be likened to being the world’s maid. A job on the surface seeming too menial too even consider that success may follow.
Once you’ve recognized your task, the way becomes even more difficult. But it is only by experiencing the tediousness can you begin to advance and rule the day.
Advance as if you have the heart of a child without fear, without knowledge that the task is too big. Thereby always keeping your ancient virtue intact. Simply recognizing that which lies without you while holding onto the oneness within you. Acknowledging what is at its beginning always becomes something else at its end.
That once was hard must become soft. That if we are constantly referring to what appears to be black or white, we are in reality seeing them as dark or light and if we see things as pure verses defiled we are acknowledging it as either noble or humble.
Recognizing the above, the task of the sage becomes easy. By adhering to what is soft, humble and dark the essence of the Tao is always close at hand. Advance as if you were an uncarved piece of wood waiting to be molded into what is needed with no pre-conceived outcome of what may occur. Always guided by what comes forth without limits, with the Tao always in charge.
While acting as a master tailor, sewing without seams, the job of the maid suddenly comes forth with ease and grace. The job becoming second nature as you have mastered it fully with your virtue leading the way. ##
Te-Ch’ing says, “To recognize the Way is hard. Once you recognize it, to hold onto it is even harder. But only by holding onto it can you advance on the Way.”
Mencius says, “The great man does not lose his child-heart. (4B.12). Confucius says, “A great man is not a tool” (Lunyu: 2.12). Ch’eng Hsuan -Ying says, “What has no limits is the Tao”.
Wang Tao, says “The sage recognizes ‘that’ but holds onto ‘this’. ‘Male’ and ‘female’ refer to hard and ‘soft’. ’Pure’ and ‘defiled’ refer to noble and humble. ‘White’ and ‘black’ refer to light and dark.
Although hard, noble, and light certainly have their uses, hard does not come from hard but from soft. Noble does not come from noble but from humble. And light does not come from light but from dark. Hard, noble, and light are the secondary forms and farther from the Tao. Hence, the sage returns to the original: uncarved wood. Uncarved wood can be made into tools, but tools cannot be made into uncarved wood. The sage is like uncarved wood, not a tool. He is the chief official, not the functionary.
Verse 29 – Showing the way while remaining behind
It is in stillness that the sage comes forth to govern the world. He has learned that it cannot be controlled consciously and that we must learn to trust what comes naturally.
That human strength and/or knowledge cannot lead us and that it is our spirit must govern us.
That nothing can be governed by force, that it is in stillness that spiritual things respond and that which is considered spiritual does not act on its own, but is guided by the Tao. When force comes into play, what is real leaves the field.
Remain transitory with your surroundings only as temporary lodging. Having no stake in the outcome you are able to determine what is not yours, lose your way, or forget why you are here.
Staying at the highest point of mediation letting all things come forth to find their place, the sage is at his best when he does not oppose things. Simply by letting the spirit of oneness penetrate the nature of others, he responds to them without force and follows them without effort.
He eliminates what confuses them, hens their minds become clear and each person finds their place in the scheme of things to come. By remaining calm and still letting the spirit guide your way you focus on simplicity, remaining content and eliminate extremes. It is with kindness and humility you succeed and it is with all three every situation bows to your command. ##
Te Ch’ing says, “Those who would govern the world should trust what is natural. The world cannot be controlled continuously. It is too big a thing. The world can only be governed by the spirit, not by human strength or knowledge”.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Spiritual things respond to stillness. They cannot be controlled by force”.
Li His-Chai says, “The sage considers his body transitory and the world his temporary lodging. How can he rule what is not his and lose the true and lasting way”?
Su Ch’e says, “The interchange of yin and yang, high and low, of great and small is the way things are and cannot be avoided. Fools are selfish. They insist on having their own way and meet with disaster. The sage knows he cannot oppose things. He agrees with whatever he meets. He eliminates extremes and thereby keeps the world from harm”.
Wu Ch’eng says. “How does someone who gains control of the world keep the world from harm? The sage understands that things necessarily move between opposites but there is a way to adjust this movement. Things that prosper too much must wither and die. By keeping things from prospering too much, he keeps them from withering and dying.”
Wand Pi says, “The sage penetrates the nature and condition of others. Hence, he responds to them without force and follows them without effort. He eliminates whatever misleads or confuses them. Hence their minds become clear, and each realizes his own nature.”
Wang An-Shih says, “Resting where you are eliminating extreme. Treasuring simplicity eliminates extravagance. Being content with less eliminates excess.
Lu Nung-Shih says, “The sage gets rid of extremes with kindness. He gets rid of extravagance with simplicity. He gets rid of excess with humility. By means of these three, the sage governs the world”.