To always write as if the last thing you wrote is the best thing you have ever written.
Te-Ch’ing says, “Those who guard their life don’t cultivate life, but what controls life. What has life is form. What controls life is nature. When we cultivate our nature, we return to what is real and forget bodily form. Once we forget form, our self becomes empty. Once our self is empty, nothing can harm us. Once there is no self, there is no life. How could there be death?
What could be a greater aspiration than to be so in tune with the Tao that you become the Way? To be like the Bob Dillon song… to be always “Knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s door”. As if we’ve been on a long trip and just can’t wait to get home. Or the song, “It’s no use to sit and wonder why babe. As we succumb to the notion as a natural extension of ourselves we don’t think twice it’s alright”. How is it we come to live day-to-day? Who do we spend our time with? What aspirations are worth paying attention to and how can they matter? Why are we driven by fear of the unknown… when there are things that can never be known? I think it has to do with what Joseph Campbell called the eternal quest and our bliss and Jack Kerouac, of the beat generation fame who expressed, what we do in finding and becoming one with our source. As if as relayed here later… how can death possibly matter except where we find ourselves as we return to our beginnings. If we are granted two lives as expressed below, that each of us have two lives, “The one we learn with, and the one we life after that” then how do we live our lives except to find our natural rhythm that brings us closer and in tune with the Tao? And just what is this bliss thing, but contentment found in the clouds with old friends once again.
There have always been warnings by writers, philosophers, and poets against getting too caught up in the mystical approach or search for “what may be possible”. A great philosopher known as Kierkegaard, wrote that too much “possibility” led to what he referred to as a “madhouse” in our thinking. This leads us to what can be called the “sickness of infinitude” as we wander from one path to another with no real recognition that we have even entered into or are embarking on a search at all. Or having even a clue as to what we were searching for to begin with. The key being that at the bottom of every breath there is a hallow place needing to be filled. One of Kierkegaard’s recurrent themes is the importance of subjectivity, which has to do with the way people relate themselves to (objective) truths. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, he argues that “subjectivity is truth” and “truth is subjectivity.” What he means by this is that most essentially, truth is not just a matter of discovering objective facts. While objective facts are important, there is a second and more crucial element of truth, which involves how one relates oneself to those matters of fact. Since how one acts is, from the ethical perspective, more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity.
What attracted me most to Kierkegaard, was comparisons on Eastern thought to Chuang Tzu, whose premise of challenging the status quo, especially Confucius was central to defining what could be seen as truth.
A whole “industry” rose up in China over two thousand years ago in the production of “commentaries”. Whereby analyzing what Confucius and other luminaries (the voices of status quo) really said or meant, was to become “what did they really mean”. The idea that truth is only subject to the eyes of the beholder holds much the same today. Many feel it was Chuang Tzu’s attitude toward death as simply a continuum that led to Chan Buddhism’s success in becoming a fixture in Chinese thought, religion, and philosophy.
The Dragons are Waiting
Yin and yang tell us to wait without anxiety. Earth and sky, water and heaven wait for the seasons and all things that will come.
Knowing that waiting brings change from spring and time to plant, to summer a time to tend and autumn a time to harvest. To winter and a time to rest before beginning the cycle once more. Again, again and again. Let nature and you garden be your teacher. Knowing what is now yields to what will be.
The Tao teaches us to be gracious, asking for help when needed and giving help when it is asked. Know to treat good and bad the same with indifference. Knowing what is now yields to what will be. Resolve to know the Tao and know courage and security.
Let the seasons teach you cycles. Knowing cycles brings patience. The earth and sky and all in between serve to show patience to those who watch, listen and learn. The dragons are waiting. Be patient, listen and learn.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (5 WAITING / Water over Heaven). 2/6/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
I wrote the below “Beginnings”, in January 1996 as the preface of what became a still unpublished manuscript that opened to door to what would come to define my own journey. The book became entitled “My travels with Lieh Tzu”, one of six books now (I’ve lost count).
The Book of Lieh Tzu, written more than two thousand years ago, was to become mandatory reading for Taoist precepts in Taoist monasteries over the centuries. Writing my own version was like a continual catharsis, as if the relieving or releasing of emotional tensions, especially through gaining appreciation of certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music. As if we need a benchmark, or starting point, as we begin to learn the meaning of meditation for ourselves. As if when one door closes through death of who we thought we were, the universe rushes in to get our attention to fill the vacuum. The challenge always asking are we ready? It is not something others can do for us, except maybe to help point the way forward. As if agreeing with Chuang Tzu that we never really die, only move on to new beginnings and endings needed to transcend into our highest version of ourselves simply waiting to unfold. Making room for new personas, or doors that are simply waiting for appearances sake to be opened and just maybe asked to stay.
When I wrote this, I had just finished writing my book about the I Ching and change and had lost a job that I had moved to Massachusetts to do not far from where my Italian ancestors had come more than a hundred years earlier. I thought this was where I was supposed to be, bought a house, settled in and became a master gardener in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But I had now gotten the dragons attention and of course they had other plans in mind. Their idea of returning to the place of my ancestors went a little further back in time. Imprinting on me that it was not where I am, but who I am in history that is important. As if saying okay, if you wanted to return to your source, your beginnings, you can’t stop here. My interpolations of The Book of Lieh Tzu was to serve only as a reminder, perhaps an initial roadmap, as I was about to begin my own quest in earnest.
It is said that each of us is granted two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live after that.
To perchance awaken midstream in our lives, as if we have been re‑born; given an opportunity to find and follow our true destiny and endeavor. That our ultimate task is not only to discover who we are but where we belong in history. Is not this the ultimate challenge? To simply rise up, traveling as one with the prevailing winds. Becoming one with the angels, or dragons, as they manifest before us. Letting our spirit soar. Freeing our mind, heart, and soul to go where few dare to wander.
I know my task as a writer will be complete when my writing is as indefinable as my subject. Just as I know my task as an individual, as I exist in the here and now, will be to simply tell the stories that I have learned along the way. That we each have a story to tell. As we free ourselves of attachments and ego and baggage we have clung to as we try to find our way. That the ultimate travel is the travel of our spirit. That the ultimate giving is to share our gift with others.
To become one with the ages. To bring forth the stories, myths and legends that tell the way. To stay interested in life, as I am in reality here only for an instant before moving on.
My task only to look for constant renewal. Finally, true expression of self is in losing myself through expressing the voices of the past. That I am here to relay that the fears and hopes of humanity rest not in where we find ourselves in the here and now, but in reality, to find and reflect our inner nature waiting to be re‑discovered and built upon again and again.
That all true learning is self-learning of who we ultimately are to become. That once we have awakened so that we can see beyond ourselves, then have not we found our spirits traveling the winds through eternity. This being so, could there be a more ultimate way of travel than to be found traveling with Lieh Tzu? 1/21/96
I wrote the above more than twenty years ago on January 21, 1996 when completing my own version of The Book of Lieh Tzu after moving to Boynton Beach, Florida to become a city planner. My job was to help with the city’s master plan. In reality, it was as if I had moved to south Florida to live in paradise while addressing my own. Knowing this how could I not pursue the unknown to get to a place where the pieces, like strands of pearls that would fit onto the same thread? Life becoming the process of finding and polishing pearls of virtue and wisdom brought to the surface within myself. As if life’s experiences are only an expression of time built on those who have come before us as we ourselves endeavor to become universal.
There is a saying that all great writing is autobiographical. That ultimately, what we think, say, and in turn write is emblematic of who we have been and are yet to become. That enlightenment first begins with acknowledging our origins or beginnings, then moves to how we respond or act accordingly. Only then, can we continue on course as we find ourselves and begin to challenge what might make us feel good at the moment. Or as Chuang Tzu would say in the Seven Inner Chapters of Chuang Tzu – The main themes of the seven chapters called the nei-p’ien that are an advocacy of creative spontaneity, the relativity of all things, transcendental knowledge, following nature, equanimity toward life and death, the usefulness of uselessness and the blessings of emptiness and non-existence. That living in spontaneity provides the essence to change and follow the Tao.
While Lieh Tzu represented the “everyday or common man”, Chuang Tzu was seen as the pivot to what would be known as the “perfected man.” Both were representative of what was to become and define Taoism for centuries to come. Much more on both yet to come in future posts.
Great writing and art, mainly as calligraphy, flourished over time in China where your brush stroke was indicative of your own perception of the eternal and how you intertwined with what was seen as what philosophers such as Kierkegaard, famous in western philosophy centuries later, would call indefinable. How you presented the form would be just as, or more important than, what was stated. Defining what was real behind the image was as important. It would be considered tai chi at it’s best.
Most of what was attributed to Lieh Tzu is actually considered a repository for numerous authors/writers who wanted their work to be considered but feared that under their own name might have otherwise been overlooked. Some scholars even question whether Lieh Tzu even existed at all. Of course, in my humble opinion he certainly did.
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 50 and 51 appear below. Verses 1 through 49 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 50 – Evolving with Ever-renewing Purpose
To the sage death is nothing more than an opportunity to return home once again. To assess his standing in the ten thousand things and be reassured that he remains no better or worse for the wear, that in the end only his eternal presence, or essence, in keeping with the Tao is insured.
Success or failure only determined by the number of lives he has touched and rather he helped others find their true way. In coming home, he transcends all boundaries and exudes the virtue and grace of one who has been everywhere there is to be, seen all there is to see and transcended the Tao to and fro, up and down and is utterly complete.
Cultivating his true nature his body is cast aside. As an innate knowing reminds him that once our body has been cast aside we are free to travel once again on the wind with dragons, as you are reminded of your eternal role in the universe and secret to your own longevity. Just as in life you guarded your real purpose, you now are ready to be renewed before returning to be born again. xx
Ch’eng Chu says, “Of the ten thousand things we all experience, none are more important than life and death. People who are cultivate the Tao are concerned with nothing except transcending these boundaries.”
Wang Pi says, “Eels consider the depths too shallow, and eagles consider the mountains too low. Living beyond the reach of arrows and nets, they dwell in the land of no death. But by means of bait, they are lured into the land of no life.”
Su Ch’e says, “We know how to act but not how to rest. We know how to talk but not how to keep still. We know how to remember but not how to forget. Everything we do leads to the land of death. The sage dwells where there is neither life or death.”
Chiao Hung says, “The sage has no life. Not because he slights it, but because he doesn’t possess it. If someone has no life, how could he be killed? Those who understand this can transcend change and can make of life and death a game.
Verse 51 – Honoring the Way
Honoring the Way means staying true to the Way. Staying true to the Way means remaining humble with your virtue guiding every thought, action and deed. You have taken form in this place as the essence of the Way of Virtue.
While challenges and stubbing your toe may occur, they are simply to remind you of your own personas that you are here to complete. Your affinity to nature and the natural order of things are simply ways to express and sort through those things you are here to do. Created as an image or extension of the Way, virtue guides and instructs while being shaped by events as the Tao completes them.
Thus, all things come forward to honor the Way. Remaining transparent, your role cultivates and trains, steadies and adjusts, nurtures and protects without possessing or presuming. Without the need to control events everything reaches its fullest potential. xx
Wu Ch’ing says, “What is begotten is sprouted in spring, what is kept is collected in fall; what is shaped is raised in summer from sprouts that were grown in the spring; what is completed is stored in the winter from the harvest in the fall. Begetting, raising, harvesting, and storing all depend of the Way and Virtue.
Hence the ten thousand things honor the Tao as their father and glorify Virtue as their mother. The Way and Virtue are two, but also one. In spring, from one root many are begotten: the Way becomes Virtue. In fall, the many are brought back together: Virtue becomes and is also the Way.
Lu His-Sheng says, “To beget is to bestow with essence. To keep is to instill with breath. To cultivate is the adapt to form. To train is to bring forth ability. To steady is to weigh the end. To adjust is to measure the use. To nurture is to preserve the balance. To protect is to keep from harm. This is the Great Way. It begets but does not try to possess what is begets. It acts but does not presume on what it does. It cultivates but does not try to control what it cultivates. This is ‘Dark Virtue’.
Ho-Shang Kung sys, “The Way does not beget the myriad creatures to possess them for is own advantage. The actions of the Way do not depend on a reward. And the Way does not cultivate or nurture the myriad creatures to butcher them for profit. The kindness performed by the Way is dark and invisible.”
Wang Pi says “The Way is what things follow. Virtue is what they attain. ‘Dark Virtue’ man’s virtue is present, but no one knows who controls it. It comes from what is hidden.”