Finding ourselves in the state of grace… and virtue
One of the first things I had to learn once I began this journey with study of the I Ching and Taoism… was that it’s not the job we have (Ram Dass’s – that the person I am from nine to five is not who I am from five to nine). And it is not where we are (physically), but who we are and the mindset from where are doing it from.
Once found they serve as a talisman, or object, holding magical properties that bring good luck to the possessor or protect the possessor from evil or harm. By any name, it’s simply something you can’t learn you just have to acknowledge to have it; to feel, then respond and just do. Knowing grace once found is both internal and eternal. That for each of us, it is just as five thousand years of complementary opposites with yin and yang has taught us. It is the same with grace and virtue, one cannot go forward without the presence of the other.
Talisman representing the mentor and teacher in China
The talisman simply a reminder of who we are and that it is those who follow the flow of nature that win. Those who cannot see it choose as if flying headlong into the wind.
As if the universe speaks to us through as what some would say divine mind, and it sometimes takes a traumatic life experience to get our attention. For me though, it is as if I alternate between the state of living in paradox (in the world with others present), versus living in the state of virtue (living within my own sense of enlightenment). Sometimes it’s easy seeing how the reclusive lifestyle of the sage becomes so attractive. Ultimately though, it is my writing that takes me there with my asking “where did that come from”.
Those who follow me here know I attempt to separate my daily activities on Facebook into two entities. One filled with personal input on the issues of the day, and the second for The Kongdan Foundation where I am honored to have more than five hundred followers (thank you).
Recent events regarding “politics” serve to remind me of why I left Springfield more than thirty years ago in 1987 and finding myself once again in the vagaries of the moment as life swirls around me. Where the ego of others seems to meet with the order of the day. When and how do people begin to see beyond themselves and acknowledge the imprint they leave behind? A challenge I have lived with for my entire life where a sense of grace and virtue seems to be in scant supply. This isn’t just a reality of the moment, but serves as a reminder as to why I am here and lessons to be learned this time.
It is like what my old friend Lao Tzu, who is said to have written the Tao Te Ching, came to understand. After being driven away once again from another city where self-aggrandizement ruled where he had served as an “advisor” to the powers that be. He was given a choice of leaving either with his head attached to his body… or not. Fortunately for the world tradition says he left his thoughts with Kuan-yin below before finding a mountaintop and disappearing into the clouds. (we should all be so lucky). Kuan-yin but the repository of great philosophy and writing through the ages. I wrote the following story many years ago that is included in my unpublished manuscript, “My travels with Lieh Tzu”, about great thinkers of the day expressing their similar sentiments very well. It can be found on my website.
The Corner Table
Wanting to continue the dialog with Kuan-yin, others come forward with the need to get involved in the discussion. To get in their own two cents worth. As many have come this way over the centuries and left with Kuan-yin bits and pieces of their knowledge and wisdom. The inn at the mountain pass the gateway to places where many have departed never to be seen as the person they were before. Many traveling this way. Not only the Taoists, but many who speak of the current thoughts of the hour. One’s entry only the desire to question authority and anything accepted by the standards or rules of the day.
Attention drawn to the table in the corner where many are speaking. Each taking his turn to add to the commentary at hand. Taoists, Confucians, Buddhists, Mohist, all. Each not questioning the legitimacy of the other, only adding to the discussion that which reaches the highest accord. Differences put aside for a while. Central themes the only point of discussion. As the plum wine flows and spirits reach higher and higher.
The discussion centering on the sage and his concern for knowledge, truth and falsehood, sincerity and where it all should lead. All agreeing on the principle that the sage knows what will go in by seeing what came out, knows what is coming by observing what has passed. This is the principle by which he knows in advance.
Concurring that when this knowledge is passed on to the world that those who cannot see beyond themselves cannot come forward to know the Way. That we judge by our own experience, verify by the experience of others. The Mohists present adding that if a man loves me, I am sure to love him; if he hates me I am sure to hate him. They all agreed that Teng and Wu became Emperors because they loved the Empire. While Chieh and Chou were ruined because they hated the Empire. With everyone nodding around the table shaking his head with this knowledge as their own verification.
Kuan-yin then adding that Lao Tzu had told him that when judgment and verification are both plain, refusing to act on them is like refusing to go by the door when you leave or follow the path when you walk. If you do this, will it not be difficult to get the benefit you seek? Nods of agreement going around the table, all present in awe still that Kuan-yin had had such a privilege to have been the one to have taken down the words of Lao‑tzu and could even now recite them so well. In the good-natured banter that followed, they all knew the above to be true as the red faced Kuan-yin tries to step back out of the limelight. As knowing glances around the table convey a togetherness they just for this moment all share and cherish.
Several then chiming in together that they had observed this in the virtue of Shennong and Yu‑yen, verified it in the books of Shun and the Hsia, Shang and Chou dynasties. That they had reached their own conclusions by the exemplary scholars and worthy men they had each met. That they had never found a case where survival or ruin, rise and decline did not derive from this principle. With this, all those left could do was to thank the innkeeper for such great hospitality as each of those present paid their tally, went upstairs to sleep or outside to catch the wind and wonder. 7/30/95
When I returned to Springfield more than three years ago, it was a returning home where I grew up here in southwest Missouri, graduated from then SMSU, served in the Missouri House for a couple years, and helped to found the Westside Community Betterment Association with my friend Virgil Hill. To what most people would refer to as my source… family, people, and places I knew while growing up, etc., etc. Now as I prepare to leave for China and maybe Tibet for a month, I feel the same disconnect I felt all those years ago when I left the first time. That I may be where it is considered to be my home, but I am not pursuing my own highest endeavor and destiny by being satisfied with where I am just now. Almost as if returning to Springfield was nothing more than “catching my breath on a cloud, or wind, before it passes me by”. That ultimately, it is not only where you are but who you are… and can you get to where you are going from the place you are now. And the bigger question – am I fulfilling my ultimate purpose in the context of where I now reside content to simply bringing others along for the ride through my writing?
As if asking how can I add more to what I have already written? Or what I have found in traveling to Qufu for almost twenty years with those present asking how to put this virtue into practice. In reality, it becomes the ultimate paradox. A question I will ponder later this month while in contemplation and reflection while sitting atop Huashan Mountain in China. The place where Lao Tzu is said to have frequented and maybe just follow the footsteps of my old friend and mentor…
With Lieh Tzu leading the Way
As always Lieh Tzu, my brother, has changed his tune in immortality. While a reclusive sage on earth he now leads the way. Laughing at the others.
Hoping as always to instill bits of wisdom into their eternal endeavors. As he is now found flying circles around the dragons all assembled. Ultimately showing up others who should know better than to challenge him to anything short of calling for a full accounting for anything.
The dragons are converging with Lieh Tzu leading the charge. While others, especially Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, stay behind taking up the rear guard finding humor in the procession. Looking down on lesser clouds they see many who have taken up the challenge over the centuries who have heard their inner voice and traveled far along the way to immortality’s doorstep and beyond. A newcomer has gotten their attention.
He has listened well and conveys the words of the dragons in his writings well beyond his years.
Everything coming natural to the one they refer to among themselves as Cloud Dancing, as he seems adept to the ways of nature and has become a well-respected Master Gardener. Always tending to the ways of his garden as one eternally linked to all that the cycles encourage and in fact require.
His journey in fact is just beginning. However, great strides have the attention of all assembled. 4/12/94
All these entries written from the past are like pearls on a string that convey a story that connects all to the Tao. Moving from our human frailties, our moral weaknesses and liability to yield to temptation – to our higher selves. Ultimately, it comes down to as I said before… where are you doing it from and can you get there from where you are now. As if your present purpose is to discover why it is you find yourself where you are just now. Truly the paradox living brings each day.
As Chuang Tzu’s Perfected Man
As Chuang Tzu’s Perfected Man begins by abandoning the ways of the world, you begin by simply letting go of that which is not significant to the Tao. As you are now seen traveling with old friends who guide you along an unknowable path or way.
Just as the dragons would have it, they are pleased.
Eternal sacrifice made to capture the moment knowing everything rests on your finding and staying on the road yet to be traveled. Searching for immortality and freedom to go where few have gone before. Just as a sage would find the true reality of all things. Always leading the way. Knowing that the Tao is everywhere to be found by simply looking and understanding what is and finding one’s own standard within the oneness found through both grace and virtue.
Eternity existing forever both before, now and yet to come. As you continually search for your place in the overall scheme of things. With a comfort known as something done repetitively over and over again. A great sense of satisfaction that all becomes and is second nature.
Remain simply within the oneness of everything and pursue nothing ethereal as the reclusive sage. Complete with the knowledge of the Tao and understanding what it means. Remember from where you have come. As we are here to remind you of where you will return with us. Everything is here within yourself to rediscover and relearn. Keep to the open road as the Perfected Man and know immortality can only follow. 4/12/94
Sometimes its necessary not to question what comes next on the journey. Just setting the stage is enough as stay simply with the flow open to where it might lead. Everything nothing more than coming to terms with my own reflection. Repeating again until ingrained that both inside and outside are the same your way is guided by desire to discover what comes next. For myself, it’s just to stay in tune with eternity and follow my instincts knowing that’s all I’ll ever need.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (13 GATHERING / Heaven over Fire) 2/11/94. The below is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
Forces staying in the Field
Seek refuge and gather your common forces. Nature provides character and patience. Know and use both and enhance your field of vision to your full advantage.
Maintain your forces but keep them busy growing vegetables and tending livestock in the field. The dragons gather to take counsel preparing for the inevitable attack. The call goes out for everyone to seek shelter.
Adhering to principle in a crisis unifies all to a common purpose. Stay alert and be prepared. Know the task at hand and know the enemy. When attacked repel with vigor and strength as one knowing the best way to preserve peace is to promote and know harmony.
Death and sadness bring both honor and victory. All are the same, only different to the eyes of the beholder. Continue growing vegetables and tending the livestock. Victory certain comfort your neighbors with knowledge of the eventual outcome. Fires burning high can be seen by dragons’ dancing on clouds in the sky.
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 68 and 69 appear below. Verses 1 through 67 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming weeks.
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 68 – Rising to the forefront with Compassion
Refraining from greatness is an obstacle the sage finds himself continually up against. As he goes forth in compassion others are drawn to his light. While he prefers to remain in the background, others are quick to recognize his virtue and vision. While he prefers not to distinguish or differentiate himself, he goes out of his way not to demean or glorify himself. Once the sage becomes useful to others, so does the means to be great. He therefore prefers to remain in the background and stay small.
The sage counters this rush to judgment by upholding his sense of integrity by treasuring inner patience, frugality and humility. He does this by living a simple life based on compassion, a sense of austerity and a reluctance to excel as if life were drifting through the world without opposing others.
Just as the sage is reminded of when at the age of eighteen he wrote something that has remained the underpinning of who he was yet to become… “That sorrowful feelings mean nothing if there is no compassion felt”.
He has now come full circle in gaining an understanding of where and how all things in the universe fit together. That all things serve a purpose and that if we renounce compassion for valor without recognizing that being soft allows us to overcome what is most difficult, anything seen as success would be shallow or non-existent. That the sage can be austere by learning when to stop and content with just what he has this moment, thereby living in both hardship and extravagance. By standing back, or aside, as if we are reluctant to excel no one excels us.
Since the sage does not compete, what he brings to the table allows him to understand the root of all problems, or underlying contradiction and do only that which must be done. The sage is moved by compassion as the ultimate expression of the Tao.
Compassion defined as protecting the ten thousand things under heaven and remaining prepared for and knowing any outcome that may follow.
Ho-Shang Kong says, “Those who honor the Way and Virtue are not fond of weapons. They keep hatred from their hearts. They eliminate disaster before it arrives. Hey are angered by nothing. They use kindness among neighbors and virtue among strangers. And they conquer their enemies without fighting. They command through humility.”
Lieh Tzu says, “He who governs others with worthiness never wins them over. He who serves them with worthiness never fails to gain their support” (6.3).
Wang Chen says, “You must first win their hearts before you can command others.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “Even though our wisdom and power might surpass that of others, we should act as if we possessed neither. By making ourselves lower than others, we can use their wisdom and power as our own. Thus, we can win without taking arms, without getting angry, and without making enemies. By using the virtue of nonaggression and the power of others, we are like Heaven, which overcomes without fighting and reaches its goal without moving.”
Verse 69 – Conveying the utmost virtue through non-aggression
The sage is careful not to proceed in anger or acrimony. As everything under the sun comes to pass is not it our responsibility to look for the perfect solution. He sets the example for others to follow.
He knows full well that as quickly that anger can turn to joy, that joy can respond in anger and to what end. As he follows his mentors, he is reminded that throughout the ages those who think means can justify the ends have accomplished nothing. This is why the age-old analogy that nothing can be right if it can be right for one and wrong for another. How can the Tao support one and not the other? This is why the sage leads by example with the foremost desire to remain empty and still. That “doing nothing” is simply emptying your mind and body of anything foreign to the Tao, as no one can fight against nothing.
In ancient times, long before Lao, Chuang, Lieh and even Confucius, everything remained perfect. The perfect army was not armed, the perfect warrior was not angry, the perfect victor was not hostile and the perfect commander acted humble.
It is the sage’s highest aspiration to remind others of from where they came and to convey the utmost virtue of non-aggression by using strength and weakness of others to show the way. To be reminded of from where he came, as if from above. While his heart remains below uniting all things under heaven and the Tao.
Is not this his ultimate purpose? Maintaining ties with his old friends to move all those around him towards their proper end.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “According to the Tao of warfare, we should avoid being the first to mobilize troops, and we should go to war only after receiving Heaven’s blessing.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “The host resists, and the guest agrees. The host toils, and the guest relaxes. One advances with pride, while the other retreats in humility. One advances with action, while the other retreats in quiet. He who meets resistance with agreement, toil with relaxation, pride with humility, and action with quiet has no enemy. Wherever he goes he conquers.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “In warfare the sage leaves no trace. He advances by retreating.”
Te-Ch’ing says, “When opponents are evenly matched, and neither is superior, the winner is hard to determine. But if one is remorseful and compassionate, he will win. For the Way of Heaven is to love life and to help those who are compassionate to overcome their enemies.”