Keeping our integrity intact – while we find freedom from who we thought we were.
It is said that it’s not enough only to return to our source, but once you have done so you become rejuvenated and become the source over and over again. The status quo henceforth never enough because you see what can be and want to go there. Who are those among us who refuse to reside in, or conform with, what are considered norms or society’s niceties. Or as I’ve heard and told – to be like a roman candle ready to explode across the blue sky.
Their non-conformity usually to be seen or expressed in word, poetry or song. Thoughts of Patrick Henry and the American Revolution and his call to arms… “Give me liberty or give me death”. Or Chuang Tzu in China from thousands of years ago, with his butterfly dream, that exhorts others to not fall head first into what is easiest, or conformity. Saying that if there needs to be a revolution, then count me in. To not be boxed in by what remotely seems familiar to the status quo. Not only remaining outside the box, but defining it as well. To happily draw outside the lines, or even off the page itself. Acting as if every situation is unfinished until it’s your turn to speak up. As if accepting finality in any circumstance is not on the agenda. Even reminding us of Thoreau’s civil disobedience and his opposition to slavery and American imperialism. His writing influenced many prominent civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, combining and defining both transcendentalism and peaceful change through non-violence.
Mohandas Gandhi first read Thoreau’s book Walden in 1906 while working as a civil rights activist in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Gandhi photo from wikipedia)
He first read Civil Disobedience while he sat in a South African prison for the crime of nonviolently protesting discrimination against the Indian population in the Transvaal. The essay galvanized Gandhi, who wrote and published a synopsis of Thoreau’s argument, calling it ‘incisive logic unanswerable’ and referring to Thoreau as ‘one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced’. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his autobiography stated that his first encounter with the idea of nonviolent resistance was reading “On Civil Disobedience” in 1944 while attending Morehouse College. Both finding change through illustrating our integrity and defining the true meaning of freedom of thought and our actions that follow. As if our task is to continually re-define the true essence of virtue with the sage remaining an enigma even to those who think they know him.
In China it was always the writer, painter and poet, who could express an internal sense of kung fu that others could see and find for themselves in appreciation of bringing what could not be known, into what could be… and to go there. Having a sense of spontaneity that you could identify with and do yourself. It was as if becoming one with what you do is a true realization of the Way of Virtue, or the Tao. It’s what we do when we move beyond identifying with who we thought we were, to who we really are.
We all seem to possess an instinct for survival, a fear of death that defines, or separates us, from some sense of happiness that conveys that body, mind, and spirit are one in the same. In China, it was the ability to express this as our nature in beautiful landscapes depicting yourself as the sage or hermit in the hut on the mountain landscape, that was the ultimate escape into meditation as you yourself could go there. As well as, through calligraphy that demonstrated through the “brush stroke” your ability to convey what could be transformational.
Wang Xizhi (303–361) was a Chinese calligrapher, traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy. Born in Linyi in Shandong, I have visited his home in Linyi …
Expressing yourself from within. Great calligraphy, paintings, and human expression we have defined as art, fill museums throughout the world saying this is how it has always been.
Intricate landscapes carried over into actual reality through principles that could be depicted in nature and carried out in practice.
In Chinese traditional culture, moral education took the place of religion. Grounded in Taoism, Buddhism and Confucius, society could move on to expressing this through how they lived. With the aesthetic thought of Confucianism always emphasizing inquiry into ethical and moral principles and finding ways to stay within them.
Confucius made assessments through following ancient rites, virtue and benevolence towards others. This was often shown through landscapes and what was to later become of feng shui and became a major principle used in creating a traditional Chinese garden, or Temple dedicated to harmonizing with nature. Not to control, but that the man-made and natural scenes should blend together that seems to outweigh contradiction. To become complementary. This conveyed the realization that you understood the teachings of Lao Tzu who taught that the Tao gave free rein to nature. That there was no overriding, or overreaching element. That all things, including people, developed in their own way as their nature dictated.
Famous gardens of Suzhou. This is the Lion Grove Garden. I have given tours here, and taught at university to students who were to become tour guides.
Human elements, as shown in traditional Chinese garden design, are done at a minimum and not used to damage or change ecology. Garden design was especially prone to focus on allowing the natural, or original shapes of plants and trees to exist. In Shandong Province, where I have traveled extensively and visited many of the examples of temples/gardens where these traits are exemplified, I have seen how all the above demonstrates what I like to call a collective vision to virtue and integrity beyond oneself.
One of my favorite gardens in China is actually referred to as the Dai Temple, also know as Daimiao, at the foot of TaiShan Mountain in Shandong Province. The temple was first built during the Qin Dynasty. Since the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), its design has been a replica of the imperial palace, which makes it one out of three extant structures in China with the features of an imperial palace (the other two are the Forbidden City in Beijing and Confucius Temple in Qufu). The Dai Temple is surrounded by the 2,100‑year‑old Han Dynasty cypresses. The oldest surviving stair may be the 6000 granite steps to the top of the mountain. (Which I have climbed). The site contains a number of well-preserved steles from the Huizong reign, some of which are mounted on bixi tortoises.
Emerson, more than any other western writer comes closest to what I call Eastern philosophy, and opened the door for others to walk through. With ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for man to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world.
Emerson felt philosophically speaking or considered, “the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul”, rejecting views of God as separate from the world.” In my opinion, his thinking resembled the Taoist and shaman. He as much as anyone, opened us and the west to ideas espoused by Eastern philosophy. With Emerson we could all be ourselves and become transcendental. In America, it was the early transcendental writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who moved others to see that there was a world beyond oneself that fueled westward expansion.
Telling us that the further we get from who we are, we retreat into our future. As if following the stars that were to be plotted by the surveyor, John C Fremont, the pathfinder, who served as our guide west discovering as we went the wonder of the universe, the utter awe of nature and finding our place in it. As if we had no choice but to go. As a writer myself, I have long admired Thoreau and his saying that, “Nothing goes by luck in composition. The best you can write will be the best you are”. Just as I wrote all those years ago… “what you write is who you are to become”.
Both Emerson and Thoreau giving credence, or license, to the idea of anxiously awaiting departure to the unknown as the only path to be taken. The way once found to be defined only in order to take the next unknowable step, before then taking it. So that we too can make the unknowable knowable if only for ourselves.
To define the universe in terms of what the ancients found in stillness and go there. To live and reside (without drugs) in an altered state of consciousness. As if no longer stuck in believing or thinking we can only live within what we know, then leaving what’s knowable behind…
For myself, it’s as if to be found appreciating those who have come before us. As if through their knowledge and wisdom we can gain our own. We’ve all known people like this as they have passed though our lives like a comet streaking through our own blue sky. Here today and gone tomorrow. Their purpose to be teachers of the Way, but most often not staying long, except only to maybe get our attention.
Not really, or much appreciated, until they are gone. Only here as if, as stated before, on a passing cloud. Finding joy in remaining an enigma as before. With no pre-conceived patterns. As if a snowflake celebrating its indifference. As if waiting to see if we too are ready to catch the coming wave. Or better yet, create the ripple that become a tsunami.
Looking back, it is those who we celebrate in hopes of latching onto their drawstrings as they pass us by. Their non-conformity our own ticket to ride in knowing the virtue that becomes us. It has been these throughout history in China we have called dragons. Our ancestors and mentors who have shown us the way. It truly is as if they reside on passing clouds encouraging us to come along for the ride. It’s as if remaining in silence, being drawn to our eternal rhythm and reverberations through music and meditation, that directions arrive to take us there. All that is required is to keep our integrity intact by discarding what isn’t to become of us. Thereby following and knowing final outcomes. As if we shouldn’t keep them waiting.
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 30 and 31 appear below. Verses 1 through 29 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 my 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 30 – Winning when you have no Choice
The Tao teaches us to win with our integrity intact. To let our spiritual fortunes, guide the way.
In keeping with your role as remaining at the foremost point of mediation you have come to a few basic tenants. First is an understanding of what it takes to win without using force. That it is better to win, then stop – letting common sense prevail. Next to win with your humility intact letting everyone take credit for the outcome. Third, to win without being cruel to another, giving them the victory as well. And finally, to win when you have no choice.To be so caught up in the final outcome that it is only natural that events and success will follow. That the foremost law of the universe is that we reap what we sow and that what we cultivate comes back to rule the day.
Ultimate victory occurring when you appear to prosper, but remain poor. Become full yet seem empty. Keep virility at arm’s length thus remaining forever young and allowing death to make no appearances.
The knowing sage ages without growing old. ##
Su Ch’e says, “Those who possess the Tao prosper and yet seem poor, become full and yet seem empty. What is not virile does not become old and does not die. The virile die. This is the way things are. Using an army to control the world represent strength. But it only hastens old age and death.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “To win means to defeat one’s enemies. To win without being arrogant about one’s power, to win without being boastful about one’s ability, to win without being cruel about one’s achievement, this sort of victory only comes from being forced and not from the exercise of force.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “Those who possess the Way are like children. They age without growing old.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Once a plant reaches its height of development, it withers. Once a person reaches his peak, they grow old. Force does not prevail for long. It isn’t the Tao. What is withered and old cannot follow the Tao. And what cannot follow the Tao soon dies.
Lao Tzu says, “Tyrants never choose their end” (42).
Verse 31 – Remaining Centered in the Tao
Learn not to expand your energies or passion on things of little or no consequence.
Remaining still and reserved as if you are pre-occupied with your own enthusiasm. To those around you, simply smile at what living brings to greet you each day and to trouble say ah so!
Not as one considered as self-centered, but as Tao centered spreading your joy and laughter to all you meet. Letting joy for knowing your place in the universe become your foremost point of engagement.
Learn not to let situations control you. Instead, remain in control by not allowing events to cloud your vision as you lead others with dispassion, humility and self-control.
When you can respond as if events were gnats, too small to even notice, then you may begin to see over the next horizon as your destiny becomes clear. ##
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “The system of ritual devised by ancient kings treated the right as superior and the left as inferior. Being superior, the right represented the Way of Victory. Being inferior, the left represented the Way of Humility. But victory entailed death and destruction. Hence those on the right were in charge of sad occasions, while those of the left were in charge of happy events.
Li His-Chai says, “Sun Tzu discussed in detail the use of strengths and weaknesses, of direction and indirection in warfare, but he did not understand their basis (5-6). Lao Tzu says dispassion is the best policy, for it secures victory without a display. This might seem odd, but dispassion means to rest, and rest is the root of victory. While passion means to act, and action is the basis of defeat.”
Li Jung says, “The ancients used weapons with compassion. They honored them for their virtue and disdained them as tools. Once the enemy was defeated, the general put on plain, un-dyed clothes, presided over a funeral ceremony, and received the mourners”.
Shang Kung says, “In times of decadence and disorder, we use weapons to defend the people”. Su Che says, “We take up weapons to rescue the distressed and not as a matter of course”.