April 12, 2018

What is the ultimate price, or cost of Freedom… and can it matter?

 Chao Chih-Chien says, “To go back the other way means to return to the root. Those who cultivate the Tao ignore the twigs and seek the root. This is the movement of the Tao – to return to where the mind is still and empty and actions soft and weak. The Tao, however, does not actually come and go. It never leaves; hence it cannot return. Only what has form returns. ‘Something’ refers to breath. Before things have form they have breath. Hence, they all come from something. ‘Nothing’ refers to the Tao. Breath comes from the Tao. Hence, it comes from nothing. This is the movement of the Tao.”

Ultimately, the question becomes… how can we let our inner consciousness pass us by, AF1and does it truly matter if it does? Just what is it that defines us? What does it mean to be truly free? As Carl Sagan, the famous astrologer in his famous series on the cosmos once said “we are all made of star stuff”. While letting go of nothing that matters, everything simply returns to its beginning, to its source. Matter simply the substance of which any physical object consists or is composed. When do we know the freedom to find our “hearts” or soul’s desire? And most importantly do we know it when we see it and are we listening. Does freedom lie inside us or outside in the material world and in the end – can it matter, or perhaps are we here just passing time?

 Observers in several countries reported the appearance of a “new star” in 1054 A.D. in the direction of the constellation Taurus. Much has been learned about the Crab in the centuries since then. Today, astronomers know that the Crab Nebula is powered by a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar, which was formed when a massive star ran out of its nuclear fuel and collapsed. (Photo by NASA)

In The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiess writes… In the Book of Job, the Lord demands, “Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hath understanding! Who laid the cornerstone thereof, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Job and his followers

My answer would be that we all were there, I know I was… All matter that existed in the universe then at the time still exists today, even as it and we take shape in the present. Even Carl Sagan, mentioned above adds, “Man is the matter of the cosmos, contemplating itself.”  Just as when we ask “How are we to treat others?” We respond “there are no others”. (Ramana Maharshi)

I would add that there seems to be a common thread, like an eternal live nerve that connects us. We keep coming back as if we have unfinished business to find or complete the connection. As if the universe is not done with us just yet and we know it. That we are to live life in the moment free of attachments, finding as Confucius said… the simplicity in everyday life. It is true as the Buddhist says, that when we are ready the teacher appears. It’s the getting ready and watching for him/her that’s the hard part, and when the door opens we must be ready to walk through. To what some may call the resurrection of our spirit. It is something best expressed in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in Verse 41 called Contending for the Middle as expressed in my own interpretation below.

I am sure that there are things I say here that you want to just say, oh, it’s just Dan, or AF3Kongdan, if you are in China. That remaining an enigma or dwelling on the mystical to those who think they know him (me), seems the norm. That while he, Dan, is free to dwell on nothing (that’s a compliment), I live, or attempt to stay within my own reality. But as we begin to see beyond ourselves, to focus on our own place in the universe as if mapping the stars, we see that there are thousands of galaxies. That the known universe has no center or end and neither do we and AF4exist as a continuum of eternal spirit. This is something the shaman and mystic has always known. That questioning what we have always taken for granted is the key to knowing our next step and that the freedom we are searching for can only be found within ourselves. To never let pre-supposed conditions, or limitations, define who we are yet to become. It is as if we have acknowledged knowing that our origins come from the stars. As if, we acknowledge that our soul, our source, is one with all that has been and will ever be. That everything, including you and I are one. As if we are Dancing with Chi (chi is our eternal energy that never dies) as we continually are transformed by our own spiritual DNA.

It is gaining freedom in the skin we are given that often confounds us that keeps us in a state of bewilderment. I recently attended a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., at the Springfield Art Gallery on April 4th, the day he was killed fifty years ago in 1968. It was an excellent program. What struck me most was a talk given by an older gentleman focusing on the price, or cost of freedom. He spoke of pre-determined barriers imposed by others that kept him from what he felt was his highest endeavor only because of the color of his skin. Living a life without freedom that seems forever out of reach for people of color in America. What stands out at the moment is MLK’s s quote, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character”. As an historian, my take initially is where or what is it in human nature that leads us to define our individual values as not accepting others who may not look, act, or necessarily agree with us? Can freedom from bigotry exist when we see others as less than ourselves?

Ho-Shang Kung says, “The ten thousand things all come from Heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth have position and form. Hence, we say things come from something. The light and spirit of Heaven and Earth, the flight of insects, the movement of worms, these all come from the Tao. The Tao has no form. Hence, we say things come from nothing. This means the root comes before the flower, weakness comes before strength, humility comes before conceit.”

Why do we see the advancement of the “content of another’s character” so AF5threatening? How is my own economic empowerment more important than my neighbors if we all live in the same community? It seems as if a mystery of the universe that remains unsolved. Sometimes if you watch the news, it is easy to believe there is more that divides us than binds us together. Have we evolved all that much in the fifty years since King’s death? And more importantly, what is the ultimate price of freedom? Most philosophies teach us that it is the craving of attachments that bind us to the here and now. Does life have a singular purpose or plural? Is it “all for one and one for all?” Can we define resources so finitely, that we have to fight to obtain or keep them for only ourselves when in reality we live in an infinite universe? Is man here only to feed his own aggrandizement of his own expansion of power, wealth, rank, or honor?

Fighting against inequality is an age-old endeavor and knows no color. My own ancestors were there at the signing of the Magna Carta in England. No kidding. It was, however, the right of the first-born son to property that led younger sons to migrate, to travel to the new world. To Jamestown, Plymouth Rock and beyond. It seems as though AF6some things never change…

One of the four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta containing the famous clause ‘to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’.

Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England (1199-1216) as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.

Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of the Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). (Wikipedia)

Another of my ancestors, the First King of Scotland, rallied behind William Wallace who came back to life in the movie Braveheart.  Wallace fought and died for an independent Scotland with his own immortal words of… FREEDOM.  What is it that freedom means and why does it have to be singular and not universal? How can our own wants and needs be greater than another’s, why can’t we all be free? And what can it matter in the end.


  Reproduction of the Suzhou star chart (13th century)

The Yellow Emperor, also known as Huangdi, was a shaman, who in 2698 B.C. invented the Chinese lunar calendar, which follows the cycles of the moon. The Chinese lunar calendar begins with the reign of the Yellow Emperor.

Traditionally, he was considered to be from Qufu, more than 2,000 years before Confucius and that the I Ching began with him. The zodiac was based on Chinese astrology and was used as a way to count years, months, days, and hours in the calendar. Chinese astrology was elaborated during the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC) and flourished during the Han dynasty (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD).


Yellow Emperor

During the Han period, the familiar elements of traditional Chinese culture—the Yin-Yang philosophy, the theory of the 5 elements, the concepts of Heaven and Earth, and Confucian morality—were brought together to formalize the philosophical principles of Chinese medicine and divination, astrology and alchemy. The earliest intent of what would become astrology was to develop the concept of freedom. If you could know cause and effect you could predict the outcome. That if everything was tied to the sun, moon and stars some sense of predictability could be established. Over the centuries this became not just a theory, but how to structure society and a person’s individual life. That if you know what comes next you can imagine the outcome and are free to respond accordingly. We then create our world by and through our actions.

According to Chinese astrology, a person’s destiny can be determined by the position of the major planets at the person’s birth along with the positions of the sun, moon, comets, AF9the person’s time of birth, and zodiac sign. The Chinese Zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao, is based on a twelve-year cycle, each year in that cycle related to an animal sign. These signs are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It is calculated according to the Chinese lunar calendar. In other words, our fate has always been connected to our eternal vibrations with the stars, as they are seen as our ultimate source. Our connection to the universe can be traced to them in what was to become known as Heaven. Many feel that in death we are simply coming home to be made whole, to become, or be made free again. That ultimately, we are transformed by the quality of our thoughts and renewing of our minds. When I began writing all those years ago, as a part of the Preface in my first book about the I Ching and Taoism, I wrote the following:

Dancing with Chi


Taoist Ritual / Temple of the Eight Immortals

Everything that ever was, everything now and that ever will be is within you now to find. All that there ever was to know or that there will be to know is within you to find.

You have been everywhere there has been to see, have seen all that there is to see and, in the future will see all that there ever will be to see.

You are not a know-it-all. But you know all that there is to know. Simply come to know yourself and remember what you have forgotten. Simply to find again, again and again. 2/6/94

As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in B15May/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 40 and 41 appear below. Verses 1 through 39 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 others 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 40 – The Guardian Angel

If an angel came down from heaven to relay that what you thought were your weaknesses were actually your strengths and your strengths your weaknesses, would you have the courage to reach out and change the way you live each day.


To be found with Dragons   Linyi Museum

If an angel came down from heaven to relay that your only limitations were self-imposed and you could accomplish whatever you wanted as long as the beneficiary was not yourself, what would you do first?

If an angel came down from heaven and stood right here – and said that people only know the work of working and that the greatest work of all is the work of not working. Caught up thinking that everything comes from something. If they knew that something comes from nothing, they would not work so hard and enslave themselves to things. They would instead turn to God and the Tao and concentrate on cultivating spirit.


For whom the bells toll  Big Wild Goose Pagoda   Xian

Finally, it is when knowing that everything has its limit. That when their something gets way out here…. It has no choice but to come back the other way.  Ultimately when we do become balanced we become centered. When we become centered we can see beyond ourselves and we can discover why we are here.  God’s grace and his hand come forth to guide our way.

Those who cultivate the Tao act with humility and harmony. Those who cultivate virtue look to themselves for the truth, not to the words of others. For those who understand that what moves them is also the source of their life, they can begin to understand the gift of Heaven and live forever. ##

Confucius says, “To hear of the Tao in the morning is to die content at nightfall. (Lunyu: 4.8)

Wang An-Shih says, “The reason the Tao works through weakness is because it is empty. We see it in Heaven blowing through the great void. We see it in Earth sinking into the deepest depths.”

Te-Ching says, “People only know the work of working. They don’t know that the work of not working is the greatest work of all. They only know that everything comes from something. They don’t know that something comes from nothing. If they knew that something came from nothing, they would no longer enslave themselves to things. They would turn, instead, to the Tao and concentrate on their spirit.”

Verse 41 – Contending for the Middle

How is it that some can hear of the correct way and follow it with devotion, while others when hearing of it are content to argue whether it is real or not? And still others cannot seem to keep from laughing at such folly.


Turtle Stele    Duke of Zhou

However, if the latter did not laugh it wouldn’t be the way.

For contentment to find its middle both extremes must be shown.  The brightest path to some seems dark, the quickest path seems slow. The smoothest path remains rough. The highest virtue low.  The whitest white seems pitch black.  The greatest virtue wanting while the staunchest virtue timid.  The truest truth remains uncertain.  The perfect square will seem to lack corners as the perfect tool remains idle and does nothing.  The perfect sound is hushed and quiet, as the perfect form remains shapeless.

It is through these opposites that the two sides of everything become clear. Once clear, the Tao remains hidden from view, except to those who can truly see. Remaining hidden from view himself, the sage can easily find beginnings and endings and know when to start and how to finish as he already knows having seen both sides many times before.  ##


Garden  in Chongqing

Li His-Chai says, “When a great person hears of the Tao, even if people laugh at him, they can’t keep him from practicing it. When an average person hears of the Tao, even if he doesn’t disbelieve it, he can’t free himself of doubts. When a small person hears of the Tao, even the ancient sages can’t keep him from laughing. Everyone in the world thinks existence is real. Who wouldn’t shake his head and laugh if he were told that existence wasn’t real and non-existence was?”

Li Jung says, “The true Tao is not fast or slow, bright of dark. It has no form, no sound, no shape, and no name. But although it has no name, it can take any name.” Lu Hsi-Sheng says, “Name and reality are often at odds. The reality of the Tao remains hidden in no name.”

Yen Tsun says, “The quail runs and flies all day but never far from an overgrown field. The swan flies a thousand miles but never far from a pond. The phoenix, meanwhile, soars into the empty fault and thinks it is too confining. Where dragons dwell, small fish swim past. Where great birds and beasts live, dogs and chickens avoid.”

By 1dandecarlo

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