Taking the Pill of eternal life that leads to a covenant of eternal presence, mindfulness, grace, and gratitude.
Living in awareness of our never-ending continuous consciousness, as if you can literally take an imaginary, or philosophical “pill”, that will connect your mind and body to your immoral self. It was this “pill” that the Taoist philosopher/sage/shaman developed that through understanding, we could reach our highest endeavor and destiny above the clouds. Not as an elixir of potions that, more often than not, would bring about our end. But, internal change that would bring about our enlightenment and ultimate destiny.
This is not only a Taoist endeavor that serves as a reminder of our eternal connection with one’s source and to our divinity. The Buddhist prayer beads and Catholic rosary serve the same purpose. The Indigenous totem pole and the holy cross of Christianity often worn as a pendent around one’s neck. Symbols we use to celebrate our own divinity and connection with the eternal that helps to take us and others there as well.
In Taoism, taking the internal pill establishing and remaining one with our eternal presence assists to take us there. It becomes the ultimate cause and effect. The idea of “cultivating stillness”, is not only a Taoist religious or philosophical thing. Going within to connect with the eternal… our own divinity is a universal concept. It begins with our chi (Qi), commonly referred to as our breath, and for the Taoist and the concept of cultivating stillness as the process, or how to with: 1) wu chi, 2) tai chi, 3) Upper Heaven, 4) Lower Heaven, and 5) the bagua. Knowing that as truth emerges… the Seeds of Character that lead to change begins and continues with the I Ching.
As I have stated many times, it is sometimes important that we “suspend disbelief” (a semi-conscious decision to put aside what we think is rational thinking and assume a premise as fact ) in trying to see how others can come to different conclusions than our own. When knowledge is based on what we think of being either right or wrong. Almost unlearning what we thought we knew, as wisdom comes along to show us the way. While the shaman and sage learned and taught thousands of years ago that nature is best served by observing complimentary opposites, and that right and wrong are universal and show no favorites.
Finding and knowing our purpose, oftentimes it is as if our task is to serve as a window, a conveyor of universal intent – then to act as if its regenerative flow speaks through us. As if we too are procreators of both this intent and eternal wisdom. In doing so we become transcendent as our bliss becomes us.
Confucius taught that a man of virtue, embodying benevolence, is able to preside over others. Bringing together everything good, he is able to conform with the rites (laws reflecting collective wisdom), the teachings of the I Ching, Lao Tzu, and the Tao. Bringing benefits to all, he is able to conform with compassion and righteousness. Being steadfast and firm, he is able to manage affairs. A man of virtue acts in accordance with these four virtues, and hence it is said: Qian heng ti zhen
Qian is yuan (primal) and heng (prosperous), li (beneficial) and zhen (steadfast).
From the I Ching, Yuan symbolizes the beginning of all things, heng their growth, li their further development, and zhen their maturity. (from Cheng Yi’s Commentary on The Book of Changes)
“Cultivating Stillness” and the first steps to awareness
Cultivating Stillness is a text of the Taoist canon (the body of rules, principles, or standards accepted as axiomatic (self-evident or obvious) and universally binding in a field of study), whose author is attributed as Lao Tzu, but not the historical Lao Tzu. The authors wanted to show that internal alchemy could be traced to the spiritual origins of his philosophy. The definitive translation discussed here was done by Eva Wong. It is strongly recommended that you look to her book and beyond for further study. The flow of historic consciousness from generation to generation where some sense of what immortality means is obvious in studying the path of not only the shaman and sage, but also by others who knew that external elixirs and immortality pills would never be the answer. That it would be to the place similar to where the symbols above were meant to take us.
That it is the eternal pill taken from inside ourselves bringing forth what’s already present, yet unaccounted for, that provides the answer. How does this play out in practical terms? It becomes the process we use to plan our way through life. It seems success in any endeavor requires discipline, patience, and structure. Cultivating Stillness is no different. Bringing forward concepts thousands of years old to today’s understanding so that others can grasp their eternal meaning is not for the faint of heart… I think. Not always to necessarily follow and adopt for ourselves, but to appreciate, respect, and understand the path of others. Wisdom gained by our own path, often begins with knowledge another may take as their own… that if we are lucky may help or serve to define ours as well.
Trying to put this in context for those who are interested, have some knowledge, or just want to know more, in summary the five areas I want to review are: 1) wu chi, 2) tai chi, 3) Upper Heaven, 4) Lower Heaven, and 5) the pa-kua, i.e., the bagua. Plus, a brief review of four of the twenty-four chapters to give a taste of this “pill to enlightenment and immortality”.
For many, Taoism became the evolution of wisdom. Ultimately, it would be the historic relevance of the I Ching that defines our way and this is seen through the use of the bagua and feng shui – the way we live within the sixty-four trigrams that define all under Heaven and Earth and how we relate to the ten thousand things – of which we are simply one.
Practicing the art of tai chi became a way to live in the spirit of the Tao incorporating movements in sync with the Way.
For myself, this leads to an interpretation of Taoism that focuses on ideas of wu wei… simplicity, peacefulness, and harmonious living. Over the centuries, commentaries on Cultivating Stillness served to connect Taoism with Buddhism and Confucianism that attempts to synthesize the three into a common thread.
The wu chi diagram to the right, describes the Taoist theory of the universe as well as the process of cultivating the internal pill. The internal pill is the culmination of gathering, purifying, and storage of internal energy in the body. In my tour of mountains in China that is currently underway here on my website, in every instance there is the “mountaintop” experience where this elixir is searched for… both philosophical telling us how to live, and for the emperor (and those in charge) who wanted to literally live forever.
The diagram can be read from the top down or the bottom up. Read from the top down, the diagram describes the origin of the universe and life. Read from the bottom up it describes the process of transformation through internal alchemy, or returning to the Tao.
In reality, the pill is the seed of one’s divine spirit and the essence of health and longevity. The concept of wu chi is uniquely Taoist. Both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu are said to make reference to wu chi as the Taoist conception of the origin of all things.
While the concept of tai chi comes from Confucianism. Tai chi is first mentioned in the I Ching as – “from tai chi comes the two opposites (yin and yang), and the conception of all things.” It is believed that from wu chi comes tai chi. When tai chi moves it creates yang. When movement reaches its extreme, stillness emerges. In stillness yin is born. Thus, movement and stillness follow each other. Yin and yang, stillness and movement form the essence of creation. From yang and yin, the elements water, fire, wood, metal, and earth are created. From the Way of Heaven (chien) man is born and from the Way of Earth (Kun) female is born. From the union of the two, the ten thousand things emerge with their origin the wu chi. A complete understanding of the wu chi diagram would require further reading and if you are coming from a different “school of thought” simply first abandon ideas tied to a certain outcome and use your imagination to go there.
From wu chi (or wu ji) and tai chi (tai yi) we go to Earlier and Later Heaven. It is from the sixty-four trigrams and the internal flow of the I Ching that form the symbols and central ideas of Taoist internal alchemy. The pa-kua (the bagua) of Earlier Heaven describes an ideal state of existence, where everything is in harmony and connected to the Tao. The Later Heaven pa-kua (the bagua) describes the state of existence not so perfect or harmonious.
Ultimately it is through taking this “pill” described in Cultivating Stillness that there is a transformation of what is called the Later Heaven pa-kua into Earlier Heaven. Both the Earlier and Later Heaven pa-kuas – baguas, are discussed in later entries here of the 6th Wing of the commentaries.
There is so much to the book “Cultivating Stillness” that deserves our attention that reflect the basic premise of the Tao and how we should take the pill leading to our sense of the meaning of tranquility and longevity. Plus, much more written on the subject since Eva Wong’s book was published in 1992.
For now, I want to focus intuitively on four chapters, although all are exceptional guides that define the Taoist concept of Cultivating Stillness. Following the path of stillness and tranquility one can begin to sense how internal change can lead to inner peace.
Excerpts of how to proceed follows:
Chapter 12 – Stillness and Original Nature / Original nature can intuit all happenings. In original nature is the essence of goodness. Be natural in your actions and you will always be pure and still.
The sages say: The book Cultivating Stillness is about naturalness and intuitively understanding the true way. When you receive the golden pill, you will become immortal and exist in bliss.
In original nature there is no disturbance and no thoughts (similar to “clearing your mind and mindfulness”). When the spirit is not contaminated this is true nature. To be natural is to act appropriately. When events arrive, react to them naturally. When they are gone, return to stillness. Those who practice the Way of the Tao cultivate the pill every day and rid the heart of forms and appearances. They abandon insincerity and hold onto truthfulness.
A key image of one’s internal body as depicted in Taoism is shown on the right showing what is known as the tan-t’iens, the waterwheels, and the fires. When the fires are stoked, the golden pill is born.
The image shown here was from the Taoist Temple in Qingdao I visited in 2016.
The waterwheel is considered as the Wheel of Life and is sometimes called the Microcosmic Orbit. Within this orbit is the flow of the creation and nourishment of both spiritual and generative vital energy.
Chapter 15 – The Sacred Path / Help all sentient beings. This is attaining the Tao. Those who understand may transmit the teachings of the true way.
The sages say: Know the way you come and know the way to return. Do nothing and abide in inaction. The Origin lies deep and mysterious, whether you will be a mortal or a sage depends on it. If you can, spread the teachings of the Sacred Path and lead the way of compassion.
Help sentient beings to transcend the suffering of the mortal world. Those who understand the teachings live the principles of the Tao by their example, tirelessly teach others, and work hard to accumulate good deeds externally and internally. These people can become teachers who will transmit the principles of the true way. When you have accumulated enough good deeds, the Guardians of the Tao (often referred to as dragons in Chinese history) will allow you to transmit the teachings.
Immortal Lu says: “A mortal must transcend the realm of mortality and a dragon must penetrate through the mud (the experiences of one’s life). Before you receive the permission of Heaven, you cannot transmit the teachings of the Tao.”
The Confucians say: “Heed the way of Heaven, heed the great beings, heed the words of the sage.” What is the sacred path? It concerns your coming into the world by way of the underpinnings of the I Ching.
Chapter 17 – Virtues / Those who possess high virtues do not need virtue. Those that possess mundane virtues force themselves to be virtuous. Those that argue about virtues do not know virtue.
The sages say: The virtues of Earlier Heaven are of pure yang (as in the I Ching). If you are willing to cultivate them, they will be strong. The three philosophies/religions (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism) all come from the same origin, or source. You who are stubborn and hold your heads high, do not wait until you are in the realm of the dead to regret, for then it will be too late.
High virtue comes from Earlier Heaven. In Earlier Heaven all five virtues are complete. As such, Confucianism teaches uprightness, sacrifice, propriety, intelligence, and trust as virtue and regards dedication and forgiveness as moral actions.
Buddhism views abstinence from killing, robbery, sexual perversity, madness, and drunkenness as virtues and regards kindness and compassion as moral action.
In Taoism, virtue is the cultivation of the five elements (gold, wood, water, fire, and earth) and moral action in intuitive understanding. Those who possess mundane virtues need to make an effort to be virtuous, know what is wrong and make an effort to correct it through conscious effort. Those who argue about virtue do not know what is true virtue. They argue about everything and understand nothing. They do not know what uprightness, selflessness, propriety, intelligence, and trust mean when speaking of the Tao.
Chapter 24 – Transcendence / If you can see intuitively, you will live the true and natural way. If you understand the Tao intuitively, you will always be pure and still.
The Tao is wu-chi (refer back to the earlier diagram). The natural way is the Great Way of Heaven. The True Way fosters a virtuous and upright mind. The false ways lead to hidden and secretive actions.
Those who intuitively understand the Tao are those that understand the principles of life and original nature. They visit enlightened teachers who guides them in the ways of culminating life and original mind. They are ready to receive the Tao and return to the Origin. You must identify and believe your eternal essence, your soul, is never ending and you are here in this place and time to take the next step.
Ultimately, having the presence of “taking the pill to understand the Tao” becomes a commitment to our eternal chi, to our own longevity, and for some true immortality.
Not really defined as a religion, but for myself the philosophical benchmark that define our everyday actions that fit who we want to become. Getting there and the steps we take become our passion. So, what does this all mean and how do we “go there” if we chose to do so? For those reading the above, it hard to capture the meaning – the essence of it all – in one or two sittings. However, the general idea is here. Reading Eva Wong’s translation, plus exploring the more than dozen books she has written sense Cultivating Stillness, is worth your time.
That if our innate selves are governed internally as our breath (our chi) and actions, then a mechanism to monitor as internal alchemy (the transformation of body and mind toward health and longevity) becomes apparent as our presence. This “pill” is dedicated to our longevity, sense of awareness, and our highest endeavor and ultimate destiny.
Traditionally, it is said delving into a serious study of this requires the teaching of a Taoist Master. It is said a real Master creates other Masters… Just as a great Teacher creates other great Teachers. (I especially like this idea).
Although serious study today becomes difficult and finding a master or teacher is a challenge, depending on where you live. It’s as if all serious study must be self-directed and universally driven. Although, having a guide is best.
Remember the book “Cultivating Stillness” is attributed to Lao Tzu thought, but not actually written by him as a Taoist Manual for Transforming Body and Mind.
The book “Cultivating Stillness” would merit its own series, just as I am doing here on the 5th and 6th Wings describing the I Ching. Illustrating the connections to it all is the important thing as a segue to the I Ching – for now. We should be reminded that Cultivating Stillness is a Taoist text that for centuries has been used as an introductory curriculum in Taoist temples for initiates and for those serious about pursuing Taoism. Most of the beginnings of the text date back to 200AD in the Han dynasty and attributed to Lao Tzu who lived hundreds of years earlier.
The above is a brief (very brief) summary… It is felt that the first step in “cultivating stillness of one’s mind” is in tempering desire by helping others. A common thread is through meditation (the mind) and tai chi (the body).
There seems to be two schools of thought. The first is in cultivating your body before cultivating your mind, and the second is the opposite – focusing of cultivating your mind first then cultivating your body. As in any meditative practice, what is important is becoming a complete participant in the unfolding of our intuitive wisdom, and flow of internal events within ourselves as both body and mind – digesting “the pill” – that leads to our greater understanding of our role and the Tao. Becoming one with this sequence is the key to “knowing ourselves”.
Here in the Dazhuan, in the 5th and 6th Wings, it is assumed that they are not written in a vacuum and the earlier Wings especially The Commentary of the Decision, Wings 1 and 2, are already known and understood, and as with the remaining Wings (3 through 10), the materials from which the hexagrams have been constructed are explained.
Continuing the story is the 6th Wing Number 5… 6 through 12 that will follow with later entries describes in greater detail the central meaning of the I Ching as cultivating stillness, our chi, feng shui, and much more.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 5
On the Commentaries – Associating the I Ching with how to live a good Life
The Dazhuan, and the Ten Wings, purpose has over the centuries served in helping to explain how the symbols, lines, hexagrams and resulting oracle affect our daily lives and the results of what can come as cause and effect. References to the Master refer to Confucius.
- The I Ching says when a man is agitated or distraught and his thoughts and mind go hither and thither, only those friends on whom he fixes his conscious thought will follow. It is in assigning meaning to the hexagrams that they become relevant to everyday life. The Master says under heaven why are there thoughts and cares? In heaven all things return to their common source, to a starting point though in different ways along different paths. One resolution for a hundred cares. Under heaven what need has nature of thoughts and cares?
- When the sun goes, the moon comes; and when the moon goes, the sun comes. When the sun and moon alternate heat comes and goes with the moon. Cold and heat alternate and change places as the year completes itself. The past contracts and the future will expand, contraction and expansion act upon each other looking for advantage and that which furthers.
- A caterpillar contracts in order to extend and dragons and snakes hibernate in order to preserve their life and wake again. This rule extends to the spirit of life and demonstrates that the penetration of the germinal or original thought into mind promotes personal security and lead to the ennoblement of human powers.
- The Master continues – Over and beyond this nothing can be known and transcends all knowledge. When a man comprehends the divine and understands the transformation, he begins to see beyond the conscious world that has limited him as it is brought about through intention. Nature has no intention as if an underlying unity seems to lead to a goal as if perfectly planned down to the last detail. It is when this working furthers and brings peace to life that it elevates man’s nature to the divine.
- The I Ching says a man allows himself to be opposed by stone, as if held back by thorns and thistles. So, consumed that he enters his house and does not see his wife as such only disaster can follow. The Master responds by saying that being oppressed by something that is not oppressive will surely bring shame to one’s name. Leaning on or clutching in disgrace that which he should not will mean his life will surely be in danger. With his mind full of the calamity, how can he not miss his wife? (hexagram 47, K’un, Oppression – Wilhelm)
- A duke shoots a hawk from a city wall. He kills it and all seems favorable. Following this, the Master says the hawk is a bird. The bow and arrow are instruments at hand and the Duke who shoots it is a man. The superior man keeps his means to success to his own person. He bides his time and then acts and is free to go after his quarry. He proceeds by having the proper instrument and means ready for action. (hexagram 40, Hsieh, Deliverance – Wilhelm)
- A small man is not ashamed at not being benevolent or shrinking from injustice. If he sees no advantage to be gained and no threat, he makes no effort. If he is corrected in small matters and careful in large ones this will make a small man happy. The I Ching says he is soon to be shackled with leg fetters so that his small toes soon disappear – no matter. (hexagram 21, Shih Ho, Biting Through – Wilhelm)
- If goodness does not mount up or accumulate it will not be enough to earn a good name. If evil does not mount up it will not be strong enough to destroy a man. Therefore, a small man sees no advantage in doing good so he does not cultivate it and sees small evils as harmless and does not give them up. So that his evils cannot be hidden as his crimes increase and cannot be absolved. The I Ching says shouldering a long wooden collar worn by common criminals as a punishment often called a cangue thereby mutilating his ears becomes disastrous and very fitting. (hexagram 21, Shih Ho, Biting Through – Wilhelm)
- A man in danger looks to his safety, in ruin looks to his life and in a disturbance look to control. Therefore, a superior man when in safety does not forget danger, when life is good does not forget ruin, and when in control does not forget disturbance. Thereby, he can protect both the state and his household. The Master adds, danger arises when man feels secure in his position. Destruction threatens when a man seeks to protect his worldly or earthly estate, and confusion reigns once a man thinks he has put everything in order. The I Ching says, will it flee? Will it flee? Tie it to a mulberry tree. (hexagram 12, P’i, Standstill – Wilhelm)
- The Master says that when abilities are small and office high, wisdom small and plans large, strength small and burdens heavy then trouble is seldom avoidable. The I Ching says the legs of the cauldron are broken and the prince’s meal is spilled. This is one not capable of his duties. Penalty of death is due. (hexagram 50, Ting, The Cauldron – Wilhelm)
- The Master said that to know the seeds that is divine indeed. Discerning the first signs of a process is not that not the work of spirit? A superior man does not seek to flatter those above him and is not overbearing with those below him. Is this not awareness? Along with the first sign of movement comes the first trace of good or bad fortune. The superior man perceives the seeds and immediately takes action. (hexagram 16, Yu, Enthusiasm – Wilhelm)
- The Master said, the scion of the Yan clan, did he attain to discernment of first signs? If he had a fault, he never failed to recognize it and never commits the error a second time, thereby learning from experience. The I Ching says returning home from a short distance, he has no need for remorse. (hexagram 24, Fu, Return – Wilhelm)
- The Master said heaven and earth come together as the myriad things are transformed and activated, male and female blend their essence and all creatures take shape and are born. The I Ching says when three travel together and one is lost, the one who travels alone finds a friend or companion. This means the outcome is the same either way. (hexagram 41, Sun, Decrease – Wilhelm)
- The Master says the superior man sees to his safety before he acts, composes his mind before he speaks, and confirms his relationships before making a request. The superior man gives attention to these three things and therefore is safe. If he acts riskily people will not support him. If he speaks without confidence people will not respond. If he makes demands without first confirming relationships, people will not stand behind him. If no one stands behind him, ill-wishers will draw near. If a man is brusque in his movement’s others will not cooperate. If he is agitated in his words, they awaken no echo in others. If he asks for something without first established relations, it will not be given to him. If no one is with him, those who would harm him draw near. The I Ching says if one is not seen as enriching himself or others, misfortune will surely follow. (hexagram 42, Yu, Increase – Wilhelm).