What always comes back to us is the question “from where are we doing it – as if needing to find a starting point, or even a continuation, needing to be reminded of who we have always been”. As if the sage is eternally waiting for the “circle of Life, i.e., others” who are trying to catch up. Maybe only here to help others find their way. In assisting others, he can’t help but find himself as well.
From the I Ching and our Sage Mind we are guided to move beyond both symbols and words to the shaman and sage of ancient China – to rediscover where is it that divine ideas and virtue originate? In doing so we must become the light they are teaching us to be. To find joy in the stillness, to find and know the joy and comfort in knowing we will always be enough.
From the East it’s the consensus choice of Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu (for me it was also Chuang Tzu and his quest for the Perfected Man and Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom), and the West, I look back to ancient Greece and several philosophers, to Jesus and the New Testament of the Bible, and more recently to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many more. Their words and actions serve to take us there too. Even the singer/poet Bob Dillon and our asking “what and who inspired them”. Conversely, what inspires us to find within ourselves what I also think of “activism”, as to how we put our essence in motion to reflect our innate selves and our actions that reflect our own transcendence. To reflect the essence of who we have always been and follow what we truly believe we are yet to become.
While every man is the hero of his own songs… or in this case words – I am often asked who and what inspires me? In my writing, I often look for parallels between past and present and who inspires others in a traditional sense of what may be called virtue and what it is that took them there. It has always been the uncertainty of what comes next, where our own next step should lead into our own arena. And importantly, what takes us there. It opens us to the most essential truth of our lives: the truth of impermanence, alternation and change, the causes of suffering, and the illusion of separateness. We have choices to make and it will be by that our own virtue will be defined.
One of the keys to understanding the I Ching is our first impression of the title the author gives to each of the sixty-four entries. Many authors come up with various titles. Four examples would be:
The I Ching by Kerson and Rosemary Huang… Number 55 entitled – Abundance
The Classic of Changes, A new translation of the I Ching as interpreted by Wang Bi (Pi) and translated by Richard John Lynn… Number 55 – Abundance
Total I Ching by Stephen Karcher… Number 55 – Abounding/Receiving the Mandate
Rediscovering the I Ching by Gregory Whincup… Number 55 entitled Abundance
Below is Number 55 from my own version, An American journey through the I Ching and Beyond that was published in China in 2004.
Finding Mirror Images
The weight of wealth and possessions can be as light as a goose down pillow. If things are given freely and shared with others one is allowed to sleep at night.
However, if one is driven by the need for more than what is required to lead a simple unassuming life the pillow can in turn be suffocating. Ultimately leading to one’s demise.
Trappings become necessities for those who have no sense of purpose and sense of self. Knowing and keeping to one’s inner voice and chi gives a sense of space and distance between oneself and things of material value which in truth have no real value to the journey at all.
Accumulating wealth and worldly possessions only serves to mask the inner self, reflecting in the mirror the distance still to be traveled. Strive to find the proper balance and harmony that mirrors the peace within oneself. Practicing perspective with the ever present I Ching.
Yellow Dragons Sichuan Museum
Keeping to the mirror image of one’s own reality is the key to learning true value. Discard yesterday’s things and find today’s. Learn that value is in finding the nothingness needed to understand tomorrow. There is strength to be found in character, sense of purpose and knowing the ultimate value of the balance to be found in all things.
Find this and be rewarded forever. Coming down to earth you recognize those who represent power and authority and the shadows in which they travel. Stay close and lead by example as you are counted on to lead the way. (3/21/1994)
With the two described at the beginning here, Theodore Roosevelt and Thich Nhat Hanh, we look to thoughts of remaining in the arena and doing so with compassion and discernment. Leading us to seeing a transcendent universe within our own innate nature, as we look upwards beyond the clouds to all we encounter.
That there is a symbiotic, interdependent relationship, or reciprocal connection between all things found in nature. Its who we have always been.
For ancient China though, what and who was it that inspired them to reflect on their beginnings and give account to this going forward that served as the benchmark that would serve to define them and much later us? Ultimately, it becomes moving beyond words and symbols that matter and who and what we look to for directions. For the sage however, it is often felt we are born into a world where we don’t fit in – but it is because we are here to create a new one.
Gaining an understanding of relationships and how everything comes back to recognizing a single universal source (either expressed as God, the Tao, or another source as our divine nature), we see as transcendental, and how we find ourselves going forward. As if the wisdom and virtue we simply are here to build on becomes the key to our growth and longevity.
From a purely historical perspective a famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt has always served as inspiration. What always comes back to me is the question “where are we doing it from”. Where is it that divine ideas originate? And what should our own contribution be?
To the left is the historical house of the former University of Paris-Sorbonne and main university building of the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter in Paris. I stayed nearby in one of my visits to Paris in 2009.
Citizenship in a Republic is the title of a speech given by the former President of the United States, at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910. One notable passage on page seven of the 35-page speech is referred to as “The Man in the Arena” as follows:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Someone who is heavily involved in a situation that requires courage, skill, or tenacity (as opposed to someone sitting on the sidelines and watching), is sometimes referred to as “the man in the arena”.
Ten years ago, in 2009, I made three trips to Paris and walked past the Sorbonne many times. I was intrigued by its history and most of all thoughts of what Roosevelt may have been thinking when he wrote the above. Where was he doing it from? What was it he aspired to that serves to inspire the rest of us with thoughts of being in the arena and what that really means?
My own thoughts always returned Lao Tzu, Confucius, and to virtue. From where does the man begin as the starting point and where does it lead? What becomes of the content of his character and context of his actions and for whom they are meant? What becomes of the ultimate benefactor.
Finding Character Chengdu Wuhan Museum
Up to this point I had been going to China for almost twelve years (our first trip to China was in 1997 to adopt our daughter Katie), and been published with thoughts of my own as to what it meant to lay the foundation of “being in the arena” as a writer, historian, and storyteller. Where are we doing “it” from and what is it we leave behind when we’re gone? How is it we are to be remembered if at all? How do we transcend our limitations to become the person that reflects our highest endeavor? To become as my own mentor Chuang Tzu would call “the Perfected Man”. The answer lies in asking ourselves if our words and actions are worthy of remembering by others once we are gone.
So much depends on understanding the motivation of our heart and mind; how they work, how attachment and desire arise and fall, how ignorance arises, and knowing where our emotions come from.
Far horizons Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province
And how our innate wisdom and nature can bring us joy and happiness, as Roosevelt conveys we should be the one “who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement – and daring greatly” by always bringing our endeavors back to the center through our consciousness, compassion, and actions, for ourselves and others. In other words, where are we doing it from? Or as some would say… living in our joy and finding contentment.
I saw this so often in China with the simple act of drinking tea among friends. It was a must that tea be presented first. As if all that followed in conversation was a symbol, or even common ritual, to the appreciation of nature and our own. As if setting the tone for what may follow.
Like many others, I follow the teachings and words of – Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, who stated the following relating to compassion:
“Compassion is knowing that we All hold the same emotional propensities, to some degree. ‘There but for the Grace of God go I.'” He continues:
“Practice until you see yourself in the cruelest person on Earth, in the child starving, in the political prisoner. Continue until you recognize yourself in everyone in the supermarket, on the street corner, in a concentration camp, on a leaf, in a dewdrop. Meditate until you see yourself in a speck of dust in a distant galaxy. See and listen with the whole of your being. If you are fully present, the rain of Dharma will water the deepest seeds in your consciousness, and tomorrow, while you are washing the dishes or looking at the blue sky, that seed will spring forth, and love and understanding will appear as a beautiful flower.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Even something I wrote back in a high school journalism class… “Sorrowful feelings mean nothing if there’s no compassion felt”.
For me, its life expressed as not only what we do, but who we are… It’s developing what we have acknowledged and learned through knowing our own Sage Mind. What is it that inspires us to see beyond what might be seen as simply ourselves to what may be seen as our becoming universal and assisting others to do the same? Ultimately, it has always been the one who tells the story that history knows as truth in the long run, provides context, or perhaps immortalizing for the rest of us. It is having a sense of history that counts. It is said history cannot be written for at least fifty years after events have occurred. Outcomes related sooner may be clouded by ego and personal intent of participants at the time and may not reflect natures response. That truth lies somewhere in the middle for us to find.
It would be best illustrated in the I Ching, and specifically, the 5th and 6th Wings of the Dazhuan, I have been covering here over the last few months. We have completed the 5th Wing… and with this entry begin to move on to the 6th Wing of the Dazhuan where we learn who inspired the great sage and shaman of the day. As we move beyond symbols and words to what can possibly define us and our purpose through our actions today. To an active participation defining our own arena to create the world they and we would want to live and leave behind. Nothing could be truer than the saying “Home is where the heart is”. Returning home, in effect to our own source – our destination and be able to say I did my best.
We begin with history and seeing how things began and progressed over time. As if asking the age-old question “Does man create the times… or do the times create the man”. And who picks up the torch from the fading embers of institutional memory, i.e., past wisdom to carry forward to light the way?
Part II The Dazhuan
The 5th and 6th Wings originally entitled Hsi Tz’u (the Dazhuan) appears in the ancient book of Chinese history, the Ssuma Ch’ien, and were said to be judgments written by King Wen and Ji Dan, the Duke of Chou who appended them to the hexagrams and their lines. They were the lines of the present text that were modified as commentaries by Confucius and explained as “appended judgments”. Part II is the attempts by later “Confucians” to re-define the I Ching (Yijing) to fit into their vision as to how the I Ching should be interpreted that fit their own vision of the scheme of things. The 5th Wing has been completed in the narrative preceding this entry. The twelve segments described up to this point have tried to detail beginnings of the I Ching with universal context relating to people and events to demonstrate how we are all connected. How do we move from both symbols and words to universal activism… putting our feet to what some what would call our actions? To find ourselves through the spontaneity of our everyday presence. We begin by looking to our mentors who we want to emulate and remember. It’s why the I Ching has stood for thousands of years of finding the way forward, by looking first to our past.
The 6th Wing of the Dazhuan Part II Number 1
The eight trigrams are arranged in such a way that the lines, and oracle, may become complete and tell the story of things to come. It is when the lines are doubled that the hexagrams emerge and become transformed. It is here, given a place to reside, that the sage begins to emerge as he moves within the flow of nature furthering the cause of the Tao.
What was to become known as the I Ching but his instrument foretelling his own claim to immortality and furthering the knowledge of what is known and can never be known except by one who speaks for the universe. As the alternation of whole and broken lines emerge what is firm and yielding moves constantly in ebb and flow displacing each other as change occurs and is recorded with explanations soon to follow. What the sage learned over eons of time was that movement gives way to judgment and judgments give their counsel through the oracle, or vessel, conveying either good or bad that was surely to follow.
The shaman and later sage learned that knowing the way of the Tao, of both heaven and earth, would bear the fruit of divination, i.e., the practice of foretelling future events or to discover hidden knowledge by prophecy, perception by intuition; or instinctive foresight found in the Yijing. It was through the perseverance of those that would later read the lines and put them into the context of the current situation that the sense of the oracle and divination was to gain true meaning. This perseverance became the byword for following the natural laws that sustains and gives support to everything in the cosmos.
The shaman knew that in order to be transformative, the lines would need definition and names. Therefore, opposites that served to complement each other had to be defined. Hundreds, even thousands of years, would be needed to refine through trial and error man’s efforts to follow the natural course of events and how man was to mirror this universal truth. Staying in the middle – avoiding extremes as the beginning of finding our ultimate nature. As if the ridgepole holding everything together, but generally hidden from view. The paradox of the eternal sage…
It would be the complementary aspect of the opposites that would define the essence of the true understanding of the Yijing (I Ching) and the one who could interpret that meaning would be the one who got to tell the story. The straight line would be known as yang, or ch’ien, and considered as creative, full of spontaneity and able to show what was easy. Complementing yang, its opposite would be yin, or Kun. Kun is receptive in nature, yielding, and thrives in simplicity. Doing what becomes simple. It would be through these lines and their symbols that the way ahead could be determined as either open or closed.
As the lines and symbols move accomplishments and tasks subsequently appear as alternations, or acts or processes of alternating, or moving by succession or repeated rotation. It was to be the shaman, the conveyor or precursor of the one who could foretell events through his innate intuition who could convey the great power and virtue of heaven and earth. It is in this way the sage learned to gain standing among men. It is through our own transformation and regeneration that this virtue of heaven and earth bestows life and it is within the power of the sage to stand and receive it. As we move to become the convener for others.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 2.1
From Shaman to Sage
It was the holy man of the clan, the shaman whose task it was from the beginning to try to make sense of it all that connected heaven and earth. By observing nature and seeing how everything is connected – the sun, moon, the constellations, heaven, the earth, thunder, wind, fire and water… everything – one and the same to later be referred to as the ten thousand things. Every occurrence a result of cause and effect and patterns that could be followed from their beginning to end that along the way tell a foreseeable future.
It would be Fuxi, who discovered the bagua or “eight trigrams” in about 2800 BC that became the symbolic basis for medical, philosophical, and astrological thinking, who after hundreds of years of oral tradition “prehistory” would be the one credited for putting it all together.
Looking upward in contemplation he wondered how one could change himself from one who saw things in a philosophical light as the shaman all depended on, to practical discovery of the movement of the sun, moon and stars and his own origin and to be able to tell the story as lines on a rock and later a tortoise shell.
The images of “everything under the sun” could now be depicted by the trigrams, three lines, he had devised along with an innate power to communicate with others and the spirit world.
Fuxi was more than a great shaman; he was an innovator and championed the tasks and fate of other men and women who followed him. He connected the spirit world with the eight trigrams and categorized the myriad things. He is said to have twined cords into nets that helped with fishing and hunting and to have partnered with Nüwa a goddess in ancient Chinese mythology who best known for creating mankind and repairing the pillar of heaven.
Fuxi, also known as Paoxi, is a culture hero in Chinese legend and mythology, credited along with his sister Nüwa with creating humanity and the invention of hunting, fishing, domestication, and cooking as well as the system of writing Chinese characters.
Depiction of dragon/horse found at the Confucius Temple in Qufu.
He is a culture hero in Chinese legend and mythology, It is said that the I Ching was revealed to him in the markings on the back of a mythical dragon horse (sometimes said to be a tortoise) that emerged from the Luo River.
Next was Shennong, considered the founder of Chinese medicine, who was known as the Divine Husbandman. He was also known as the “Red Emperor” because his patron element was fire; the first King to be called as Yan Di, meaning the “Emperor of Fire.”
Depiction of Shennong found at the Confucius College of Qufu
Shennong came forward shaping wood to make plowshares and plow handles teaching the benefit of plowing and tilling. He brought people together as a community in markets and assembled commodities to be bartered thereby making exchange become easy. Shennong the man, according to Chinese mythology, was the second of the ancient legendary Chinese emperors. Said to have been born in the 28th century BC, his mother a princess and his father a heavenly dragon. His name literally means “Divine Farmer”.
In Chinese mythology and culture, Shennong was the second of the legendary three emperors referred to as the “Three Sovereigns” namely: Fuxi, Shennong, and Hungdi, also known as The Yellow Emperor who then was followed by Yao and Shun.
The Yellow Emperor, also known by his Chinese name Huangdi, is a deity in Chinese religion, one of the legendary Chinese sovereigns and culture heroes included among the mytho-historical Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors and cosmological Five Forms of the Highest Deity.
Over the centuries of early China, they developed a simple continuity as to how people should live. They illustrated the power of the divine spirit that resides in each of us. The myths of their living are what made them immortal. These ancients served to illustrate the power of the spirit creating positive change. When change was affected there was alternation, alternation gave development which led to lasting progress. The connection between heaven and earth permeated throughout the ancient culture of China and came explicitly from Ch’ien and Kun.
The Yellow Emperor, Yao and Shun wore draped upper and nether garments and all under heaven was well ordered. It is said in wearing these clothes this way that these three sat quietly without stirring and as a result of their inaction things automatically righted themselves. A sense of blessing grew out of this and this quiet meditation led to the axiom of cultivating stillness.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 2.2
The first Practical application of the wisdom of the I Ching and Tao.
It is in the silence that the ancients found was to become meditation called cultivating stillness that was to lead to associating the hexagrams of the I Ching to specific actions.
By emulating and following the symbols representing the trigrams, what was considered either as myth or actual occurrences or actions, led people to carry out actual reforms. This would be a re-occurring theme throughout Chinese history – what came be called innate pragmatism, or as the Taoists would later refer to as cause and effect.
Re-making the past to fit the aspirations of the current generation would become an art form. To the right is the giant urn at the entrance of Wangcheng Park in Luoyang. Where the parks lies was the center of government for over a thousand years, the beginning of the Silk Road, and ten dynasties of ancient China. Not far away in the city is the Duke of Zhou Temple that commemorates the author of The Rites of Zhou, a book of bureaucratic theory outlining atrocities the previous five hundred years of the Shang dynasty, and more importantly how we as people should treat others and respect the natural world around us.
To the left is The Duke of Zhou, Ji Dan at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu.
The Rites of Zhou became the basis for one the The Five Classics updated by Confucius five hundred years later. The thread of his ideas can be traced through Chinese history to the present day. He was considered China’a first sage. His name was Dan…
Much later in the Han dynasty, modifying the intent of the I Ching was done with great effect. But in the period of pre-history when written records were not prevalent, following the shaman was essential. It would be the reforms they instituted that had the most lasting effect of Chinese civilization. They could begin to see beyond mere subsistence using the natural world around them to weave together what would combine innate wisdom with practical application of the world they lived in.
Always looking to the earth and sky for symbols to guide them through the seasons and to the shaman and sage, the superior person to show the way, but it would be the underlying Tao and intervening I Ching that was to give the appropriate answer and show the way.
They learned to:
- Hollow out tree trunks to make boats and shaved wood to make oars. The rivers next to where they lived provided transportation and enabled them to travel to distant places so they could communicate with others. The trigram wood over water would illustrate or show this.
- Tame the ox and yoke the horse so that heavy loads could be transported over long distances. An indication of the value in movement behind a superior force as the horse and ox could move ahead as they now could travel to distant places both by water on boats and on land as well.
- Protecting themselves using outer walls and double gates of their settlements that was seen as necessary in protection against robbers. The use of symbols and the trigrams is illustrative here with the trigram Chen, movement above and k’un, the earth below. The trigrams are K’an meaning danger and Ken meaning mountain. K’un symbolizes the closed door; hence the double gates. K’an means thief. Beyond the gates, movement with wood (Ch’en) in the hand (Ken), serves as the preparation against the thief. It would be the oral tradition of interpreting the lines that gave root to establishing a common written language.
- Next came splitting wood and making a pestle, a tool for pounding and grinding and a bowl shaped hole in the ground for a mortar. With this they could grind grain for baking bread. The mortar was a primitive mill that advanced the growing of grain in their diet.
- They strung a piece of wood for a bow and hardened pieces of wood in the fire and cut stone for arrows. This enhanced their power and awe in the opponents and added greatly to their hunting abilities.
- As more people lived longer lives they moved out of caves and into houses with a ridgepole for eaves to ward off wind and rain. It was the shaman and sage who now guided people to safety of communities and collective living arrangements.
- Dealing with death and the spirit world, i.e., the unknown, was always the realm of the shaman or holy man. In earliest time burial was performed by covering the corpse with brush with neither mound or grave with no set time for mourning. The shaman changed this to reflect the sense of the eternal spirit through the institution of rituals and ancestor worship which carries on even today in modern China. This connection to the eternal was essential the continuity of all things under heaven that manifested here on earth.
- Finally comes the knotting of cords to try to bring a sense of order to give a sense of what was right as a means of governing. In much later generations, once writing was more fully introduced, written documents would serve to regulate officials and supervising the people. Writing in the earliest of times was scratched on tablets of smoothed bamboo when the ability to govern the larger community became essential.
All of the above has been laid out continuously in various commentaries over the intervening centuries and can be identified as the period of history leading up to the beginning of the Shang dynasty and a written language in approximately 1600 BC and describes this early period. It was the Sage Mind that provided the even keel to furthering through trial and error that which gave structure to human life. Along with the power and virtue of heaven and earth that provided the essential principles of the natural world following what was to become essential philosophical Taoism.
This is the first two entries (for a total of twelve) of the Sixth Wing of the Dazhuan. The story continues as our journey in cultivating stillness. Knowing and using this induces a spiritual transformation. The lines of the I Ching, the Book of Changes becomes shorthand for transforming change that attracts the lights and energy of heaven, i.e., getting their attention thereby creating a chance, an unspoken trust, to become again who we are meant to be.