Xi’an was and is no different from all ancient cities in China, in that there were three constants that brought order to people’s lives. First, a wall around the city to protect against intruders, and both a drum and bell tower to tell us it’s time to get up in the morning or retire at night. To tell us of coming danger and then when it is all clear. Beijing still has their ancient drum and bell towers. The wall around Beijing was removed when Mao came in in 1949.
In Qufu, a replica of exact dimensions of the ancient wall was re-constructed several years ago. While living within the wall in Qufu, I could step out onto Guluo Street from my apartment, look to my right and on a clear day see the ancient drum tower built in the Ming dynasty a couple blocks away. The bell tower was just around the corner. I could close my eyes and imagine the bell or drum tolling for me.
Why bring this to light now… this bit of trivia? If you are safe and the structure you need to get on with your life is apparent, you can do so with out worry. It’s what we unconsciously do… we look for and spend time creating our environment and structure to take us there. It is the sanctuary we create from within that saves us. The ancients knew this as how we connect with the sun, moon, stars, and nature. That connection was the I Ching, and knowing you can tell what comes out of something by knowing what went in (cause and effect). Who are we, but an extension of these – here now to expand the universe by and through our talents for and by beneficial means. To live in a place where our own permanence and enlightenment becomes a foregone conclusion. That we each have a purpose. It’s what the ancient shaman long past told us about the connection, how a confluence appears, and that we are one with it to discover and find within ourselves. As we travel over the next horizon, perhaps to our own Shangri La. To something we simply forgot already resides within us.
In Xi’an, Mingcheng Wall is located in the downtown area of Xian, Shaanxi Province. It is the largest and most preserved ancient city wall in China. The wall is 18 meters high, the top width is 12-14 meters, the bottom width is 15-18 meters, the outline is closed rectangle, and the circumference is 13.74 kilometers. People in the city walls are used to call the ancient city, covering an area of 11.32 square kilometers. The famous Xi’an Bell and Drum Tower is located in the center of the ancient city. There are four main gates of Xi’an City Wall: Changle Gate (East Gate), Yongning Gate (South Gate), Anding Gate (West Gate), and Anyuan Gate (North Gate). These four gates are also the original gates of the ancient city wall. Since the beginning of the Republic of China, a number of city gates have been newly opened for the convenience of access to the ancient city. So far, there are 18 gates in the Xi’an city wall.
I am walking parts of the wall here in Xian later this afternoon, to contemplate this idea of living in a place where our own enlightenment becomes a foregone conclusion, yes it is a state of mind and living in the presence. And reminded of water surrounding the wall as extra line of defense. The water also provided drinking water for the inhabitants inside the wall.
First, a review of my journey thus far before heading tomorrow for Hua Mountain, Chengdu, and Tibet. All three to taking my spirit to places I’ve been waiting or longing for. As if a quiet comfort and excitement is just around the corner and I am ready for it.
But first three highlights thus far. It’s as if there is nothing new and nothings changed except faces in the crowds. I have to admit, I only give Confucius a cursery view here, but in fairness I have visited, lived and worked in Qufu over half of the past twenty years… I am Kongdan. Confucius contribution has been providing a sense of benevolence, structure, and virtue to Chinese culture and society for 2500 years. And equally important to me was “the first Sage”. The Duke of Zhou commonly known as Ji Dan, who resided here in Qufu five hundred years before Confucius who codified what was to become the “Book of Rites”. Think about that. Add to that Taoism and Lao and Chuang Tzu and you have the connection to the shaman, I Ching, your environment, nature and understanding you are one with all… everything. There is no separation. We saw this on Songshan Mountain where Emperor Wuding came and announced that China’s past, present, and future depended on reliance on all three. That there was a confluence between Confucius, Taoism, and Buddhism. Then to Longman Grottoes and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda here in Xian, where Buddhism could take you there as your ultimate self. That it is in becoming universal you are one with it all and there is nothing to fear.
Getting to Huayin and Huashan Mountain
After checking out of the Han Tan Hostel, I made it by taxi to the bus station to go to Huashan Mountain and the Huashan Lanyue Youth Hostel. After a harrowing experience at the bus station where there was three options, first the bus loop for local stops, the train station, and some distance away the station I needed, I got a ticket and headed for the mountain. After a two hour bus ride we arrived and I got to my hostel. The proprietor, Ms. Yan, was great. She booked me for two nights (tonight Friday night and Monday night October 8th. She also reserved a bed for me at the East Peak Hotel at the top of the mountain for tomorrow night Oct 6 and Sunday, October 7th… I’ll have two chances at seeing the sunrise from the highest peak. Awesome. Tomorrow (Saturday morning) at 7 AM I begin with breakfast here at hostel / then go to the Huashan Visitors Center a few blocks away to 1) purchase my mountain and cable car tickets, then 2) buy bus ticket for 40 minute ride to the cable car. 3) Take the Western Cable way to the West Peak of mountain. 4) Walk up the mountain to 5) the East Peak Hotel where I will walk among all the peaks and stay Saturday and Sunday nights and see the sunrise. 6) On Monday I will make my way back down the mountain to, 7) where I will take the bus back to hotel where I will spend Monday night. 8) On Tuesday, October 9th, I will take the fast train (thanks Maria) back to Xian and go by fast train later that evening to Chengdu. That’s it – sounds like a plan.
Unfortunately, I will not be taking my computer to the summit. It’s too heavy and I have many steps to climb. But I will be taking lots notes and pictures. When I get to my next stop in Chengdu I will spend a day updating my mountain travels.
My initial thoughts before climbing the mountain
Just a little about Huashan Mountain and why I am here. So hard to express in words before making what is for me a lifetime achievement. As one who is a Taoist through and through, coming here is like the passageway on the mountain called Jinsuo Pass that serves as the hub of the East, West, North and South Peaks. I will crossover the pass this weekend. It is literally referred as “the Gateway to Heaven”. No kidding. The near and distant peaks seeming to reach beyond the sky. The peaks appear through the clouds as if visionary – as if all-knowing. I think this lends attraction to the Taoist nature seeing nature as all encompassing with clouds as the ultimate benchmark between heaven and earth. The seasons on the mountain appearing as a baptism of man’s spirit and place, as if here there is an experience of immortality. As you go up there is a sense that the pine trees are walking in the clouds. As if being present, using your breath as an anchor to the present moment, to cultivate ease and well-being, as you climb the mountain.
The ultimate for me is that the spirit of the dragon lives here as if rising above the clouds finding time glittering in the sun. It is as if there is no end to it. You can sense the spirit of the mountain joining as one with the sun, moon, and stars. The wind becoming music to your ears. As if time has carved memories into your heart and you have come to sing. Adjusting your temperament to what is your ultimate endeavor as your destiny becomes assured. The mountain becoming nothing more than a reminder of your own never ending conversation with nature and time. Walking up the path, climbing perilous peaks, seeing the sunrise, you are made whole once again. You have found the reason for the journey.
What remains constant here is the mountain, pine trees, and clouds. Ah the clouds. When I first began writing all those years ago, the dragons, my mentors called me“Cloud Dancing”. As if my highest endeavor now lies before me. Having dialogue with dragons is perilous at best. Always testing your mettle and simply asking are you ready and worthy. What is it we are here to do but to make the pledge to become our true selves and stay emboldened in the presence of our peers. As if we come to the mountain and entertain the peak to make a clear sound across heaven. The mountain’s role to show us piousness and to what lies ahead for us. Knowing the Tao we find the way along the footpath to the top and the sunrise, and hope, that awaits us.
The night before and I wonder “do I make the climb up the thousand foot precipice, and in doing so whatever fear that remains just evaporates like fog in the rising sun.” As if among the floating clouds and mist your mind opens and you no longer feel a separation as you become one with them. You have come home. Leaving behind a smile, a knowing, your own claim to the presence you now understand and become one with. The mountain here but a haven, a paradise for Taoism where immortality reigns supreme as your spirit is seen riding the endless sky…
I haven’t taken a step up the mountain yet – ask me again why I’m here.
As I complete 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, on this journey, 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 81 verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verse 81 appear below. Verses 1 through 80 were seen here on my most recent posts. I complete this journey through Lao Tzu ( with verses 80 and 81) from the top of Huashan Mountain made famous as a respite by Lao and his Furnace.
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 81 – Remaining in High Style
Remaining satisfied with just what you have as you are content to live as the extension of the Tao which has become the reflection of who and where you are.
Living within the Tao, the sage soon becomes aware that he is nothing more than an extension of what occurs in nature. Enabling all to come forward to find their true place, not as the substitute for their action, but as one who empowers others to see beyond themselves as the sage stays in the background doing nothing.
Envisioning a place where there are tools that remain unused, where people have no need to move far afield, are easy with death and where it takes them, with places to go but no reason to travel, and defenses in place but no reason to defend them. Satisfied with the fruits of their labor and content with where they find themselves as they go restfully to sleep each night. Content with their homes and happy with their customs as they know the taste of the Tao and remain adorned with virtue. Even though others may live close by they have no reason to visit as all they need they already have.
Su Ch’e says, “What is true is real and nothing more. Hence it isn’t beautiful. What is beautiful is pleasing to look at but nothing more. Hence it isn’t true. Those who focus on goodness don’t try to be eloquent, and those who focus on eloquence aren’t good. Those who have one thing that links everything together have no need of learning. Those who keep learning don’t understand the Tao. The sage holds onto the one and accumulates nothing”.
Chuang Tzu says, “When Lao Tan and Yin Hsi heard of people who considered accumulation as deficiency, they were delighted’ (33.5).
Wu Ch’eng says, “Help is the opposite of harm. Where there is help, there must be harm. But when Heaven helps, it doesn’t harm. because it helps without helping. Action is the start of struggle. Where there is action, there must be struggle. But when the sage acts, he doesn’t struggle, because he acts without acting.”