The Journey Continues…
As I begin this trip I am reminded that the practice of self-reflection is not a result of intellectual analysis or complex theories. Our challenge is to just see reality as it is… how everything fits and connects together. Warren Buffett puts it this way, “You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and let everything pass.”
Controlling and managing our breath, or chi (qi), as it is referred to in China… learning to breathe as if all-encompassing from the soles of our feet, not simply our abdomen or stomach, the secret to finding inner peace. Setting the stage so that our mind and body follow the flow of who we are meant to be. Meshing the outer world with our inner selves while finding comfort in the details and rhythm that takes us there. As if tuning in means adapting only to what is considered to be our “highest endeavor and destiny’. Always setting the stage and tone for what must unknowingly come next. Letting go of any perceived idea of what outcomes may occur. Simply following what the universe and the Tao tells you along the way and to go where my writing takes me. I am reminded of William James and his work of metaphysics and especially Emerson who spoke of “the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related to the eternal One. And to Walt Whitman who said that no God could be found “more divine than yourself.”
In the end we must transcend our fear of meaninglessness. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a great trip. I hope you will want to tag along here on my blog.
In my previous post I mentioned this trip to China was a sabbatical. What is a sabbatical some may ask? By definition it is considered any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc. Writing and maintaining this website and Facebook page for my foundation is my work, further clarifying what is/should be my role would be my job description. That’s a great question. What is our life’s job description? How do we as Master Oogway says, become the “master of our chi”? Shouldn’t a sabbatical serve to further define the role of the sage? As with the Tao and life itself, everything is context.
As with the I Ching, you must know what comes at the beginning in order to find a rightful end. With everything in between occurring simply through cause and effect. It’s funny, after all these years of traveling to China, it is as if I live two lives. Here in USA I am simply known as Dan. In China, my friends and colleagues call me Kongdan. Amazing, one of the first things I wrote that serves as the preface of my unpublished book “My travels with Lieh Tzu” is as follows:
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 wonder.
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 and 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
Yes, I wrote the above twenty-two years ago. Almost six months before going to China the first time in May 1997 to adopt my daughter Katie in Maoming, in Guangdong Province. So, considering the above, I could say this trip to China, a sabbatical as such, is one in keeping with an eternal desire for “constant renewal”. As if even now letting the dragons lead the way forward.
Finally, in wrapping my head around my upcoming journey, I like to think about the Lotus Sutra from Buddhism and begin with a koan and frame of mind in what may include a trip to Tibet.
A koan is a nonsensical or paradoxical question from a teacher to his student for which an answer is required. If one is meditating on the question the answer can be very illuminating. In Buddhism we can choose to take refuge in the way, or sanity of enlightenment, the Buddha; trust the process of the path, the Dharma; and rely on the experience of those who guide us along the path, the Sangha. These three are often called “the three jewels”. In the Lotus Sutra the story “Manjushri Enters the Gate”, the first case from the classic collection The Iron Flute appears. In Buddhist mythology, the bodhisattva Manjushri is the embodiment of wisdom, and a statue of him sits atop the main altar in Zen Buddhist meditation halls. In the koan, the Buddha calls to Manjushri, who is standing outside the temple gate, “Manjushri, Manjushri, why don’t you enter?” Manjushri answers, “I don’t see a thing outside the gate. Why should I enter?”
He is saying he does not discriminate between inside the gate and outside. But still he chooses not to enter. Maybe he should accept the Buddha’s invitation to enter the temple. Truly entering the gate—truly connecting to the Buddha’s teaching—is to directly experience that there is no inside and outside. This is not just an idea: you can’t understand it from the outside. Having entered though, don’t think you are inside and others are still outside. Everyone enters with you.
Entering the gate means entering your life. Entering the Lotus Sutra means entering your life. This is a part of Buddhist practice. Practice means allowing the Lotus Sutra to enter you. To practice this way is to risk having your understanding of things overturned, again and again. This takes faith, faith enough to risk faith itself. So, we have a choice. We can complacently watch life from the sidelines, or we can risk our pride, our ideas, and whatever else we use to separate ourselves from others and leap fully into our life. Take that leap and you will find the Lotus Sutra wherever you go. ##
The key for me, in appreciating this story, is that there is there is a gate for each of us to open and that there is no separation between you, others, and all that is found in nature and the universe. Having faith enough to risk faith itself, and that we have a choice.
The Vinegar Tasters… Lao Tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha
Going forward in what comes over the coming month it’s easy to see the juxtaposition, how Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucius have existed closely together almost side by side for thousands of years in China. I hope to explore and write about this “connection”. That all life and that found in nature is sacred. From the smallest bee pollinating a flower to the largest galaxy with stars far beyond the horizon. That we are ultimately here to alleviate suffering not create more. I hope you will join me in this endeavor.
Remaining pretentious and keeping to ostentation in one’s actions brings unwanted attention.
Simplify! Simplify! When leaving one’s house and shutting the door to visit friends and neighbors it is important to wear and show the proper countenance about oneself. But first you must know without knowing to succeed.
Strive to be of no account and be truly accounted for by all you encounter. Others will seek your favor as you are soon noted for your wise counsel, knowledge of events and as a good teacher. Remain unpretentious and find sincerity and kindness knowing that if you forget today’s lesson the only thing you’ll meet is scorn.
Propriety well placed will be received modestly by all. Making your goals and ambitions the goals and ambitions of all will bring everyone to your doorstep seeking comfort in your shadow. But first you must know without knowing to succeed.
Know humility and restraint. Know how to become unassuming and know constraint. Refrain from entering the fray on the side of self interest and know your true self. Enjoy a reputation and retreat into the peacefulness of all things.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (15 MODESTY / Earth over Heaven). 2/12/94
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 72 and 73 appear below. Verses 1 through 71 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming weeks. Hopefully, I can complete this journey through Lao Tzu on this trip to China.
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 72 – Understanding one’s own affliction
What can it possibly mean to say we understand something when there can be no understanding as our attachments and afflictions keep coming forward for all to see? As we spend all our time thinking we don’t understand, when what we need has been before us trying to get our attention that brings us to understanding.
How can we understand when understanding depends on things independent of each other coming together for their own sake? What can there be to understanding when the answers seem to lie beyond us?
Can we understand our true place in the universe once we know we are only here to come to know our spirit’s true affliction? Treating our affliction, or hardship, as a result our of lack of ability to see ourselves as who we ultimately are to become? If we cannot see beyond our transitory ego and self, how can we come to know why we are here?
Or if as we say someone can awaken midstream to understand his or her place in the universe, as if suddenly seeing the light, can that understanding be understood?
Just as trying to understand the Tao through reasoning when there is no door or entrance that defines what remains indefinable. When often tried, the sage is seen as having an affliction. When in reality the sage is not afflicted, he simply remains above understanding so that hardship or difficulty cannot find him.
Wang P’ang says, “When people are simple and their lives are good, they fear authority. But when those above lose the Way and enact all sorts of measures to restrict the livelihood of those below, people respond with deceit and are no longer subdued by authority. When this happens, natural calamities occur and misfortune arise.”
Wang Pi says, “In tranquility and peace is where is where we should dwell. Humble and empty is where we should live. But when we forsake tranquility to pursue desires and abandon humility for authority, creatures are disturbed and people are distressed. When authority cannot restore the world. severed, and natural calamities occur.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “He knows what he has and what he doesn’t have. He doesn’t display his virtue outside but keeps it hidden inside. He loves his body and protects his essence and breath. He doesn’t exalt or glorify himself before the world.”
Verse 73 – Staying out of the way of our own Enlightenment
For the sage that is fully engaged, keeping ego at arm’s length is his reminder of how far he has yet to travel. As he steps back for a moment to review the road map that illustrates the starting point of his journey, the road he has traveled thus far and what he hopes to learn about himself in the days ahead. Letting go and letting his friends, the dragons, lead the way.
Two Famous Dragons London Museum
His journey through the Tao Te Ching is now almost complete. He’s come far enough to know that keeping his virtue in tact requires his simply knowing himself and remaining hidden from view as he leads the way.
Scoffing at the paradox that authority always brings to the table. That those who fear authority are usually better off than those who have authority to fear. Knowing that if there are no restrictions where people live and we don’t repress how they want to live, people won’t protest. If they don’t protest there is nothing to fear. Thus, the sage is mindful of his role. Careful to keep his ego in check as he knows his ultimate success will only be measured by what is left behind as he remains unattached to things outside himself.
Dragon wine decanter from Yongle and Xuande reign (1403-35) made at kilns in Jingdezhen London Museum
He focuses only his own journey letting events propel him forward to destinations as yet unknown.
His only challenge to stay out of the way of his own enlightenment.
Li His-Chai says, “Everyone knows about daring to act but not about daring not to act. Those who dare to act walk on the edge of a knife. Those who dare not to act walk down the middle of the path. Comparing these two, walking on a knife-edge is harmful, but people ignore the harm. Walking down the middle of the path is beneficial, but people are not aware of the benefit. Thus it is said, ‘People can walk on the edge of a knife but not down the middle of a path’” (Chungyung:9).
Wu Ch’eng says, “Because the sage does not lightly kill others, evildoers slip through his net, but not the Net of Heaven. Heaven does not use is strength to fight against evildoers as Man does, and yet it always triumphs. It does not speak with a mouth as Man does, and yet it answers faster than an echo. It does not have to be summoned but arrives on its own. Evil has its evil reward. Even the clever cannot escape. Heaven is unconcerned and unmindful, but its retribution is ingenious and beyond the reach of human plans. It never lets an evildoer slip through its net. The sage does not have to kill him. Heaven will do it for him.”
Wang An-Shih says, “Yin and Yang take turns, the four seasons come and go, the moon waxes and wanes. All things have their time. They don’t have to be summoned to come.”