We should help others to see themselves as the person they would hope to be.
In governing people and caring for Heaven, nothing surpasses economy. Economy means planning ahead. Planning ahead mean accumulating virtue. Accumulating virtue means overcoming all and overcoming all means knowing no limit.
Knowing no limit mean guarding the realm. Guarding the realm’s mother means living long. This means deep roots and a solid trunk are the way of long and lasting life. Verse 59 Lao Tzu’s TeTaoChing translated by Red Pine. Developing this by remaining humble and teachable, not dogmatic within our own view and limitations. Acknowledging that you might be wrong about something is I think the key. Raising our consciousness by being open to change and transformed by what we see, do, and hear as we are all simply expressions of the Tao (God).
What is it that a teacher does, but to take us on a great journey beyond the limitations of who we thought we were or knew? That inspiration literally means the act of breathing, of taking it all in. To look before we leap. With guarding one’s breath seen as protecting the body’s mother. Understanding ancient teachings helps us to recognize our path when we see it and knowing that when we are truly ready the teacher appears.
In China teachers are revered for what they do to inspire and prepare students in school, as well as, society in general. In Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, it has a special meaning. Teaching in Qufu, following the tradition of Confucius who was the ultimate teacher in Shandong Province, and especially in his hometown was amazing.
For me to live across the street from the Confucius Temple and Mansion and teach at the school where his descendants went to school was an honor. Many of my closest friends who live in Qufu and Shandong Province are his descendants.
There is even a special holiday every year in May for teachers in China. To have friends and students whose families have lived here for hundreds of years who could trace their family’s living in the same hutong (house in town), or village nearby is pretty remarkable. Visiting my students at home was always an experience for their family and many times their whole village or community.
Often when I was walking down the street in Qufu, people would stop and bow and say hello, or good morning teacher. Most knew me as Kongdan (my Chinese name), and that I had published the Unity Daily Word many years earlier in western Shandong Province.
The China Daily Word is considered a family keepsake for many of those who have a copy and has been seen by more than 3 million people. I was well known and people appreciated having foreign teachers who were there to prepare their children for the world they would later confront in the workforce and global society. It was as if China was preparing to step out of it’s ancient history and into the modern world. They wanted their kids to lead the way and education was the key to that occurring. China takes education much more seriously than we do here in USA. (It’s like the SAT in USA times a thousand). The competitive exams to get into the best high schools and universities are fierce and grades determine the student’s future. Banners often fly at all the schools in Qufu admonishing students to follow in the words of Confucius. One in particular I recall “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breed hope. Hope breeds peace.”
If parents can afford it, they often send their kids to schools far away from home in high school urging them to study hard for the college entrance exam they must ultimately pass for success. The ancient story below describing “The frog in the well”, describes this dilemma very well. In Qufu at Qufu #1 Middle School (high school) over 6,000 students live on campus, along with most of their teachers. Classes are six days a week from 8AM to 4:30PM. Then students return to their class from 6:30 to 9PM every day, yes six days a week. They are required to return Sunday evening to review and prepare for the coming week. USA cannot begin to compete with that and does not appear to even be trying.
Due to the one child policy, (recently amended), with only one child in the family, a family’s prospects for the future rides solely on their son or daughter’s ability to test well for high school or college.
Oftentimes, if they could not do well it would be back to the village and farm in the country-side. Today, because there are so many university graduates who want to be English teachers, the government has raised the bar even higher with the final exam after graduation from college. Fewer can qualify because there are so many of them.
Many of my students who intended to be teachers are now in import-export business, work for airlines in China, or even as tour guides. The exams are given twice a year. Some even quit their jobs to focus solely on preparing to take the exam next time. As if still at the bottom of the well unable to jump high enough to escape the inevitable.
I have been involved with the middle and high schools in Qufu for over eighteen years because of the Sister City Young Artist Program between Boynton Beach, Florida (where I lived from 1995 to 2015) and have also lived and taught in Qufu over the years.
My daughter Katie with several university students who volunteered to be “tutors” for her at her school
While I was teaching in Qufu, my daughter Katie, who was with me, attended 8th and 9th grade in Qufu as well.
Below is an original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (9 SMALL CATTLE / Wind over Heaven). 2/9/94 An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching. It can be found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
Prospects for Rain
New beginnings can often bring a sense of insecurity, apprehension and conflict. Lack of communication brings one to quarreling, misunderstandings and misfortune.
Waiting for dragons to bring forth good fortune and rain is tenuous at best and can lead to anxiety and false expectations if one is not prepared to venture out. Maintaining and forging trust and integrity within oneself determines both direction and one’s fate. In either rain or drought, or in sickness and health. All good things come to those who carry no guilt.
How one deals with misfortune reveals one’s true self and integrity. Punishments can be expected by those who exploit others. Keeping to false self interests thereby causing others misfortune will also lead to disaster.
Keep an eternal sense of oneself by understanding clarity found in your inner chi and know peace and come to know the way of virtue.
Step back and know the outcome of your actions. Nature will always find the true course. Anticipate and rely on the coming rain. New beginnings require it, integrity trusts it, and so it shall be. ##
While in Qufu, I marveled at the people who seemed to literally spend their days doing little if anything to what most would attribute to doing work or something that might be defined as work. It was as if they were beyond work.
It cost so little to live there that if you chose that particular lifestyle, then that life would come the greet you and you would decide to stay. And you would find comfort in this and say to yourself… this feels pretty good. At first, I thought this must be a Confucius thing. That knowing who you are and having over 2500 years of history to back it up meant “I can find happiness in being just who I am” without all the attachments living beyond oneself brings and be happy with who we are and as such aspire to nothing beyond this because this is the best life can bring…. or so it seems. I found the same attitude in other cities as well. I especially appreciate Chengdu in Sichuan Province and this feeling of “being beyond work”, and what it meant. People’s Park tea house which I will discuss in a later post, especially exhibited this laid-back feeling of “finding comfort within your own skin”, to the point of harmony with your environment that was pervasive as well as addictive.
There seemed to be an unwritten connection between Buddhism and Taoism in Chengdu that has flourished over the centuries in the way people go about how they lived every day. It was both invigorating and enlightening… and hard to describe. As if yes… the fabled Shangri La could not be too far away. (Shangri–La is a place described in the fictional book Lost Horizon by James Hilton. The British author created a mystical and utopian valley led by the gentle lamasery located in the western part of the Kunlun Mountains in China).
There is a similar phrase ‘La dolce vita’ meaning the good life, full of pleasure and indulgence popularized in Italy by a movie with the same title. Basically, having the means to live comfortably where you are with whatever you are doing. This phrase entered the language following the success of the 1960 film La Dolce Vita written and directed by Federico Fellini.
The Frog in the Well
This brings to mind the ancient story of the frog that lived in the bottom of a well. He was happy living an uneventful yet what he thought was a full life until he got the attention of another frog (some stories say it was a turtle) who happened one day to appear at the top of the well and learning what would appear as what his limited life brought him. Once he learned of what he was missing being stuck at the bottom of the well, he at first became quite miserable. The story could just as easily refer to my students when the distance to jump can appear as way too high. Too many of them and too few jobs that required knowledge of English. Or those living in Qufu or returning to the countryside happy to live within their means with just what they know and have.
Then for the students, most of them from villages in the country-side, a teacher, a philosopher as such who knew the teachings of the ancient sages appeared and reminded them of who they are and from where they came… as centuries earlier their predecessors had all come from the top of the well and they had made the choice to jump in and that they found themselves at the bottom of the well by choice. That they had become so comfortable here at the bottom of the well they had forgotten what lay outside the comforts of what they considered as home. This teacher was a new age philosopher whose task, or mission, was to rewrite the words of the ancients in order that they have life again after all the centuries that have gone by. He too had chosen to jump in and join them at the bottom of the well. He had mysteriously been able to join them many times in the past having the means they did not possess so that he could come and go as he pleased. His presence only to help them rise above limitations they had found and to teach them how to fly.
That in the end what would it matter if the happiness they found here at the bottom of the well was enough or not or so they may have thought. However, just in case they spent all their time learning the language spoken outside the well… but possessed a lack of ability to climb out of the well once and for all. That they should/could find the happiness they had known before being told what they were missing by doing nothing at the bottom of the well they now called home. Hadn’t they been taught by their greatest teacher Confucius that it was not where they are but who they are that was ultimately important. That they were to bring something to the table of life more important than what attachments and money could buy which was to find their niche, to have a sense of benevolence for all, and know and be thyself.
They knew the whole world looked to the teachings of the ancient sages. That their ancestors had originally been from this place. They knew all the stories about why they were here at the bottom of the well… that at some point they had been enticed to jump in. While now none of them thought they could leave, they must do more to entice other “friends from afar” to come join them at the bottom of the well who could help them to find a way to climb out.
They knew the teachings of Confucius by rote or so they thought. His teachings now but a shell of their former selves after being changed by commentaries over the centuries and adapted to suit whoever was in charge at the moment. But they in fact innately felt they lived by them by finding and doing nothing more than being themselves. To ultimately achieve a transformation of consciousness, that takes them to places they otherwise would never go.
(The story to be continued…. on the next blog post (July 21) in thekongdanfoundation.com)
The original ‘The Frog in the Well’ was written well over a thousand years ago. I wrote and adapted my own version in December 2010 and made additions later while teaching at Jining University in Qufu and Qufu Normal School teaching English to students who feel bound by where they now reside as they too endeavor to climb out of the well.
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 58 and 59 appear below. Verses 1 through 55 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 58 – Bringing the World along for the Ride
The sage understands that most things under the sun are temporal, things coming and going with no lasting impact or purpose.
That once a certain direction becomes popular, indirection is what succeeds and that those who can remain still and inactive ultimately come forth to have the final say.
The sage knows that it is when we attempt to conquer the world we lose it. That the greater the prohibitions, the poorer the people become. The sharper the weapons, the greater the chances we will live in darkness.
The more we scheme, the more complicated the outcome becomes. The greater the treasure, the more people strive for things outside themselves. Therefore, the sage changes nothing and the people transform themselves. He stays still and the people come to their senses. He does nothing, neither talking nor teaching and the people correct themselves thereby enriching themselves.
Wanting nothing, everyone around him simplifies himself or herself. By accepting the will of heaven, the sage brings others to enlightenment. By knowing the final outcome his virtue remains intact. With his virtue intact, the sage simply continues along on his way.
Hsuan-Tsung says, “To stand aloof is to be relaxed and unconcerned. To open up is to be simple and honest. The ruler who governs without effort lets things take care of themselves.”
Li His-Chai says, “When the government makes no demands, the people respond with openness instead of cleverness. When the government makes demands, the people use every means to escape. When government that stands aloof leaves power with the people. The government that steps in takes their power away. As one gains, the other loses. As one meets with happiness, the other encounters misery.”
Wang P’ang says, “Everything shares the same breath. But the movement of this breath comes and goes. It ends only to begin again. Hence happiness and misery alternate like the seasons. But only the sage realizes this. Hence, in everything he does, he aims for the middle and avoids extremes, unlike the government that insists on direction and goodness and forbids indirection and evil, the government that wants the whole world to be happy and yet remains unaware that happiness alternates with misery.”
Lu Nung-Shih says, “Only those who are free of direction can transcend the appearance of good and evil and eliminate happiness and misery. For they alone know where these end. Meanwhile, those who cannot reach the state where there is no direction, who remain in the realm of good and evil, suffer happiness and misery as if they were on a wheel that carries them farther astray.”
Te-Ch’ing says, “The world withers, and the Tao fades. People are not the way they once were. They don’t know direction from indirection or good from evil. Even the sage cannot instruct them. Hence to transform them, he enters their world of confusion. He joins their dust and softens his light. And he leaves no trace.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “The sage’s inaction is inaction that is not inaction. Edges always cut. But the edge that is not an edge doesn’t cut. Points always pierce. But the point that is not a point doesn’t pierce. Lines always extend. But a line that is not a line doesn’t extend. Lights always blind. But a light that is not a light doesn’t blind. All of these are examples of inaction.”
Verse 59 – Remaining as an edge the does not Cut
Traveling back in time when I was one with my contemporaries; Lao, Lieh, Chuang, and yes even Kong (Confucius), I am reminded of times spent debating the great thoughts of the day, serving the emperor only a way to expand the path that should be taken.
Facilitating order, eschewing the truth only found in cause and effect continually reminded that there is no right or wrong. That one’s destiny is only vaguely tied to our endeavors we become attached to in the here and now. Keeping happiness at arm’s length knowing it can only be followed by sadness. Both alternatives as if seasons.
Repeating through the ages the axiom that when either government or that governed stand aloof, the people remain relaxed and unconcerned as the sage remains in the background. Letting things take care of themselves, he is content to be free of direction as if blown along by the wind. Transcending uncertainty, he can see where everything begins and ends.
While the world withers and the Tao ebbs and flows, the sage remains content to remain as the edge that does not cut, as a point that does not pierce, as a line that does not extend and a light that does not blind.
By entering the world of seeming confusion he extends the Tao to the world and shows the way. Living in paradox and knowing where things end he begins to transform all those around him.
Li His-Chai says, “Outside, we govern others. Inside, we care for Heaven. In both, nothing surpasses economy. Those that are economical are economical in everything. They’re watchful within and on guard without. Only if we are still, does virtue have a place to collect.”
Mencius says, “The way we care for Heaven is by guarding our minds and nourishing our natures” (7A.1). Wang Tso says, “Caring for Heaven means preserving what one receives from Heaven. It means cultivating oneself.”
Li Jung says, “When the ruler maintains the Tao, the country is at peace. When he fails to maintain the Tao, the country is in chaos. The country is the offspring. The Tao is the Mother.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “The realm is the metaphor of the body. Breath is the body’s mother. Breath that has no limit can preserve the body. Someone who fills themselves with breath can conquer the world and remain unharmed. Breath rises from below as if from the roots of a tree. By nourishing the roots, the roots grow deep. Breath flourishes above as the trunk of a tree does. By nourishing the trunk, the trunk grows firm. Thus, the tree does not wither.”