The world has always been filled with nuance and distinction. After the shaman, it was left to the poet and music to convey the message in such a way that people could see themselves and want to follow.
It was the one who could convey the universal symbols showing connections that would define man’s yearning for love and understanding that would carry the day. It would be the sage, the metaphysician who wove it all together, who others looked to for guidance and direction that made it all seem so transcendental.
What today we would call mystical. It was the rhythm of life and death with symbols that conveyed the vibrations of love and compassion that connected it all together like the stars they followed every night. It was always the poet, the storyteller, the one who had a way with words and the music they hung to that defined their thoughts and feelings. They remind us of the way we once were. Times may change, but words that touch our heart never do. For the Taoist, it’s like being in tune with music, a harmonious vibration that leads to a natural life. Or as Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer would say, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” In my favorite Tolstoy quote, he adds, “A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.” The same idea speaks to the great writer. His novels “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”, took us to places we would have never gone without his storytelling, his art for writing and illustrating harmonious vibrations. As if when you think about history – our stories are all we have. Or as the famous writer Johann Goethe said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”
Several writers/poets, it could be hundreds, for me have served as examples of how words, music, and even dance can help to expand our thoughts and imagination that take us there. From the past people like Rumi known for the Whirling Dervishes and his poetry, Khalil Gibran and The Prophet, and As a Man Thinketh by James Allen all spoke to a higher reality. So many of the musicians of my generation going back to the 1960’s and 70’s were first poets. Smokey Robinson, Bob Dillon, the Beatles (John, Paul, George and Ringo) etc., were first great writers and poets who shaped and spoke to a whole generation with music that continues to do so. Even the Beach Boys sang about “Good Vibrations”. After going to India in 1966, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, changed the perception of Eastern spirituality forever in the West making us all transcendental with the song’s lyrics reflecting Harrison’s often stated desire for a direct relationship with God, expressed in simple words that all believers could affirm, regardless of their religion. John Lennon’s song Imagine – took us beyond the confines of religion to universality of spirit that originates from within.
Other singer/poets like Van Morrison took us Into the Mystic, “Where we were born before the wind – Also younger than the sun – Let your soul and spirit fly (or flow) into the mystic – and when that fog horn blows, I will be coming home.” Then of course to Woodstock and Joni Mitchell and her words “We are stardust, we are golden and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” So many more – too numerous to count. They inspire us to discover our own sensibilities, cosmic awareness and even perhaps awaken us to see beyond the reality of who we are and what we think is true. I love them all because they give me the freedom to wander back and forth where I can see where things began and to where they might end and most importantly the freedom to go there. As in living in the ancient Chinese sense of wu wei. With wu wei meaning rising to the true self effortlessly – in this case through our music. Again, with Morrison… “Just like the days of old I’ll be coming home.” Giving the ultimate meaning to living in the present moment as if you are already there.
Music takes us back to the stories – to our memories – as if we were always present just waiting to be reminded. Just as storytellers throughout history have been the ones who could best remember. I’ll never forget my second day of teaching in China in March 2011 at Jining University in Qufu. I was teaching English to a class of future tour guides and using audio-visual. The textbook I was using began the lesson with Mick Jagger’s “I can’t get no satisfaction”. No kidding. Later in the Spring there was a track meet at the university with nine other colleges/universities attending. Every school had cheerleaders in skimpy outfits dancing to Motown and rap music. Of course, Michael Jackson was the favorite. American pop culture (Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber) had captured the hearts and minds of all the students. It was the music first then the words that seized their imagination as they tried to interpret what was really meant. China would never be the same again. The music contributed to them becoming universal and wanting more and helped to see beyond themselves. Teaching English in that environment was mystical. The music serving to remind them of who and where they’ve been and who they are destined to become. It seems nothing ever changes as everything forever does. Simply following or knowing the past tells us the direction we need for the future.
Years later after graduation and seeing the girls who had come from the country-side wearing little or no make-up and worn clothes… who were now flight attendants and teachers who could pose on the cover of a fashion magazine was amazing. When asked how they made such a transformation – they all said it was easy – it was the music and their teacher that carried them to who they saw themselves becoming.
Nei-yeh — Inward Training
As for the life of all human beings:
the heavens bring forth their vital essence, the earth brings forth their bodies.
These two combine to make a person.
When they are in harmony there is vitality; when they are not in harmony there is no vitality.
If we examine the Way of harmonizing them, its essentials are not visible, its signs are not numerous. (The Way of Virtue – the Tao).
Just let a balanced and aligned breathing fill your chest and it will swirl and blend with your mind, this confers longevity.
When joy and anger are not limited, you should make a plan to limit them. Restrict the five sense-desires; cast away these dual misfortunes. Be not joyous, be not angry, just let a balanced and aligned breathing fill your chest.
As for the vitality of all human beings:
It inevitably occurs because of balanced and aligned breathing. The reason for its loss is inevitably pleasure and anger, worry and anxiety.
Therefore, to bring your anger to a halt, there is nothing better than poetry; to cast off worry there is nothing better than music; to limit music there is nothing better than rites; to hold onto the rites there is nothing better than reverence; to hold onto reverence there is nothing better than tranquility.
When you are inwardly tranquil and outwardly reverent you are able to return to your innate nature and this nature will become greatly stable.
The above translation of the Nei-yeh is by Harold Roth, and excerpted from his book, Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism.
By way of introduction to the text, Mr. Roth writes:
“Nei-yeh (Inward Training) is a collection of poetic verses on the nature of the Way (Tao) and a method of self-discipline that I call “inner cultivation” — a mystical practice whose goal is a direct apprehension of this all-pervading cosmic force. It contains some of the most beautiful lyrical descriptions of this mysterious cosmic power in early Chinese literature and in both literary form and philosophical content is quite similar to the much more renowned Lao Tzu (also called the Tao Te Ching).
The Nei-yeh is a Taoist scripture, believed to have been written in the 4th century BC, making it — alongside the 6th century BC Lao Tzu Te Tao Ching and the 4th century BC Chuang Tzu — one of the earliest articulations of Taoist mysticism. The Nei-yeh has been translated into English variously as: Inner Cultivation, Inward Training, Inner Enterprise or Inner Development. Though less known than the Te Tao Ching and Chuang Tzu, it is increasingly being recognized and honored as a foundational text of early Taoism. Though belonging primarily to the Taoist Canon, the Nei-yeh resonates strongly with other non-dual spiritual traditions, Chan / Zen Buddhism in particular. Mysticism and being transcendental know no boundaries. Part of being open to new and different thought and philosophy is exploring other ways of thinking. Knowledge does not equate with adopting what we choose not to believe. It often serves us by enhancing innate wisdom we are inclined to adopt more agreeable to us.
For myself, three people considered as metaphysicians or mystics in their own rite, have always been of interest. I have always liked Rumi’s poetry. Back in college here at SMSU in Springfield, I was given a copy of As a Man Thinketh by a friend who thought I should read. Khalil Gibran was also someone I read years ago who inspired me and I think ultimately led me to begin writing myself. Brief summaries of all three appear below.
Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions, Muslims especially have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats.
Three of my favorite Rumi quotes are:
- “We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.”
- “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet”.
- A third would be, “I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.”
Talk about becoming transcendental and taking us to places we would not otherwise go. It’s what connecting with spirit does, it’s letting go and letting the universe flow unimpeded through us.
Sufi practices have their foundation in purity of life, strict obedience to Islamic law and imitation of the Prophet. Through self-denial, careful introspection and mental struggle, Sufis hope to purify the self from all selfishness, thus attaining absolute purity of intention and act. “Little sleep, little talk, little food” are fundamental and fasting is considered one of the most important preparations for the spiritual life. Mystical experience of the divine is also central to Sufism. Sufis are distinguished from other Muslims by their fervent seeking of dhawq, a “tasting” that leads to an illumination beyond standard forms of learning. However, the insight gained by such experience is not valid if it contradicts the Qur’an.
The Sufi way of life is called a tariqah, “path.” The path begins with repentance and submission to a guide. If accepted by the guide, the seeker becomes a disciple (murid) and is given instructions for asceticism and meditation. This usually includes sexual abstinence, fasting and poverty. The ultimate goal of the Sufi path is to fight the true Holy War against the lower self. On his way to illumination the mystic will undergo such changing spiritual states as constraint and happy spiritual expansion, fear and hope, and longing and intimacy, which are granted by God and change in intensity according to the spiritual “station” in which the mystic is abiding at the moment. The culmination of the path is ma’rifah (interior knowledge, gnosis – that which is considered as mystical or spiritual knowledge), or mahabbah (love), which implies a union of lover and beloved (man and God). The final goal is annihilation (fana’), primarily of one’s own qualities but sometimes of one’s entire personality. This is often accompanied by spiritual ecstasy or “intoxication”. After the annihilation of the self and accompanying ecstatic experience, the mystic enters a “second sobriety” in which he re-enters the world and continues the “journey of God.”
In the mid-9th century some mystics introduced sessions with music and poetry recitals (samba) in Baghdad in order to reach the ecstatic experience. The well-known “Whirling Dervishes” are members of the Mevlevi order of Turkish Sufis, based on the teachings of the famous mystic Rumi. The practice of spinning around is the group’s distinctive form of sama. The whirlers, called semazens, are practicing a form of meditation in which they seek to abandon the self and contemplate God, sometimes achieving an ecstatic state. The clothing worn for the ritual and the positions of the body during the spinning are highly symbolic: for instance, the tall camel-hair hat represents the tomb of the ego, the white cloak represents the ego’s shroud, and the uplifted right hand indicates readiness to receive grace from God. Rumi’s poetry forms the basis of much classical Iranian and Afghan music.
As a Man Thinketh is considered a self-help book by James Allen published in 1903. The title is influenced by a verse in the Bible from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 23, verse 7: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”.
Additional quotes from As a Man Thinketh are as follows:
- “Men do not attract what they want, but what they are.”
- “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.”
- “Cherish your visions. Cherish your ideals. Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment, of these, if you but remain true to them your world will at last be built.”
- “The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors, that which it loves, and also that which it fears. It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations. It falls to the level of its unchastened desires – and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.”
Khalil Gibran (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931) was a Lebanese-American writer, poet, visual artist and Lebanese nationalist. He is primarily known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction including a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, gaining popularity in the 1930’s and again especially in the 1960’s counter-culture and served as inspiration the poets and music at the time (my generation – I recall reading this many times years ago). Gibran is considered the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu. The Prophet has been translated into over a hundred different languages, making it one of the most translated books in history and it has never been out of print.
Many of Gibran’s writings deal with Christianity, especially on the topic of spiritual love. But his mysticism is a convergence of several different influences: Christianity, Islam, Judaism and theosophy. He wrote: “You are my brother and I love you. I love you when you prostrate yourself in your mosque, and kneel in your church and pray in your synagogue. You and I are sons of one faith – the Spirit.”
Part 1 Number 3 of the 5th Wing of the Dazhuan last time focused on that it would be those who could successfully read the symbols that made consulting the spirit world central to what could be known and what could not be known. Just as we ourselves are in constant transformation, our spirit always advancing and withdrawing as we look for and to a change of heart. The ability to know the Way, or Tao, is through the words we speak and write. Anxiety occurs due to our innate desire to know what the Tao teaches – and staying within the limits of the Way. With this the Superior Man or Women will know how to act as their own divine return signals at both danger and ease. This is how the talisman became important as it defined one’s eternal connection with nature and the universe. (A talisman is a stone, ring, or other object, engraved with figures or characters supposed to possess power to connect one with the universe and worn as an amulet or charm. Its presence exercises remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions). I will continue with the Dazhuan and furthering of the I Ching another time.
Ancient spirits with talisman in hand often through myths and legends conveyed the impact of symbols that became associated with the words we sang and spoke as if transmitted in eternal rhythm – in tune with a higher source… as if only dancing with the stars through our spirit or soul. Like all those metaphysicians, mystics, and musicians above were doing and what we are here to do as well. My own Libra constellation is shown here to the left.
There are two famous stories from my manuscript… “My travels with Lieh Tzu” found here on my website. I couldn’t decide which one to include here, so I included both. I especially like the story of the lady musician Erh of Han.
Mastering the music of the Seasons
There once was a famous musician named Hu Pa who was considered an expert at playing the lute. (The pipa (Chinese : 琵琶) is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Sometimes called the Chinese lute, the instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12 to 26.)
When he played, the birds danced and the fishes jumped from the water with joy. A young man heard of this story and left his family to become an apprentice of the famous musician. The apprentice, whose name was Wen, practiced for three years laying his fingers on the lute’s strings to tune them, but could never finish the music that lay in front of him.
The master musician Hu Pa told him that he might as well go home. Wen put aside his lute and answered: “It is not the strings that I cannot tune nor the piece that I cannot finish. What I have in mind is not the strings. Unless I grasp it inwardly in my heart it will not answer from the instrument outside me. That is why I dare not to put out my hand to stir the strings. Let me stay a little longer and try to do better.” Soon afterward Hu Pa asked Wen how he was doing and Wen responded that he thought he had it.
As if the notes on the music scale were associated with the four seasons, Wen touched the Autumn note in Spring and suddenly the fruit ripened on the bushes and trees. When Autumn came, he touched the Spring string on his lute and warm breezes came gently forward and the bushes and trees burst into flower. During the Summer he touched the Winter string and frost and snow came with the rivers and lakes abruptly freezing over. And when winter came, he touched the Summer note and the sun shone brightly melting all the ice at once. When he played all four together a fortunate wind blew, auspicious clouds drifted, the sweet dew fell and fresh springs bubbled.
So masterful was his playing that Hu Pa responded: “Even the music masters who can cause droughts and warm the climates of the far north can do no better. They would have to put their lutes away and follow behind you. Your heart is pure and nature has responded and acted accordingly.” 4/26/1995
Woeful songs of Joy
Who can sing and bring forth the emotions and feelings of all so that others too are caught up in tone and rhythm?
The great musician and singer of songs Chin Ching allowed a young man named Hsieh Tan to study under him. Before long, after thinking he had learned it all, the young man left and set off for home. Chin Ching did not object. However, as he left, he sang such a sad song that the sound shook the trees in the entire province and the echoes stopped the clouds above. So, stirred by these events was Hseih Ten, that he returned to study under Chin Ching and never thought of going home again.
Relaying another incident to a friend, Chin Ching told of a woman who while traveling became hungry and traded her songs for a meal. So enthralled by her singing were the bystanders that for three days after she left, they all thought she was still there.
Chin Ching continued that as this singer and writer of songs, I believe her name was Erh of Han, passed a local establishment the innkeeper insulted her. She began singing woefully in long drawn out notes. Everyone upon hearing her song wept sadly and could not eat for three days. The citizens of the town ran after her, apologizing for the rudeness of only one man in their town. In her joy, Erh of Han sang and played another song which brought much happiness and dancing and hand‑clapping where only a short time earlier all were filled with sadness. Afterwards, as she left, they gave her many presents and food to eat along the way.
Even as we speak today, we remember this traveling minstrel at special occasions such as weddings and funerals by singing and playing her songs of joy and sadness. Everyone taking their cue from their memory of the Erh of Han.
Both the young man who remained to study under Chin Ching and the traveling singer of songs, Erh of Han were to become immortal. Because they could sing the songs that made everyone upon hearing them both laugh and cry, shake the trees around them and cause clouds to stop upon hearing them just to listen. Reminding spirits who heard them of their home once again. 4/27/1995