40) Our Journey into Transcendence / Alan Watts and the essence of Zen – Part 1.

The Dazhuan and I Ching continues… Staying within the lines for eternity’s sake and what is the Dazhuan, but to imitate the patterns of Heaven? The 4101Chinese word for the line in a hexagram is hsiao. Another meaning of hsiao came to be “to imitate the patterns of heaven”. This is what was to become the Tao. That is that the lines could imitate the connection between the three primortals – man, heaven and earth. The shaman knew the Tao represented both movement and change.

It has been said that the highest wisdom lies in detachment, or, in the words of Chuang Tzu, ‘The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep.’

There is so much to talk about with Alan Watts that as with our lives there 4102seems no beginning or ending. What should be important to us, verses things of little relevance. What guided so much of his writing and books in the 1950’s and 60’s was how identifiable patterns in nature repeat themselves and correspond with our own soul’s journey. From the smallest things we  encounter to the immense. His books, works and writing contributed to the understanding of who we are and most importantly, who we are yet to become.

Painting by MARINA SOTIRIOU “no copyright infringement is intended”

In so many ways looking to Watts, is like entering the flow of universal thought and transcendence and saying thank you. The first challenge is getting into the right frame of mind and simply going there.

He would say “detachment means to have neither regret for the past nor fears for the future; to let life take its course without attempting to interfere with its movement and change, neither trying to prolong the stay of something pleasant nor to hasten the departure of things unpleasant. To do this is to 4103move in time with life, to be in perfect accord with its changing music, and this is called Enlightenment.

In short, it is to be detached from both the past and future and to live in the eternal Now. For in truth neither past nor future have any existence apart from this Now; by themselves they are illusions. Life exists only at this very moment…

You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now – otherwise you would not be here. Hence the infinite Tao is something which you can neither escape by flight nor catch by pursuit; there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it. So, become what you are.”

First, I am not an authority on Zen, I am a student. Simply a storyteller who tries to see how it all fits together. How is it we become transcendent in our thoughts and universal through our actions. The key for me and good writing is to allow others to see themselves and say “yes, can I come along too?” Not to try to own a particular way of thinking, but to sample our way through life finding shoes (transposed as our thoughts and actions through cause and effect) that fit.

I think Alan Watts speaks so well as to the essence of Zen that translates into the meaning of our lives.  It seems that on the one hand, it is necessary to be sympathetic and to experiment personally with the way of life to the limit of one’s possibilities. (As Larry did in The Razor’s Edge) On the other hand, one must resist every 4104temptation to “join the organization”, to become involved with its institutional commitments, that say we must work, get a job, and conform or comply with the status quo.

As Ram Dass taught us years ago, “The person we are from nine to five is not who we are from five to nine. That we get too busy doing not being….”

Residing or finding a friendly neutral position, we are apt to be disowned by both sides. For the relationship between two positions becomes far clearer when there is a third with which to compare them. Thus, even if this study of Zen does no more than express a standpoint which is neither Zen nor anything Western, it will at least provide that third point of reference. This is what Alan Watts was attempting to do… to take us there. To not only be willing to “change our thoughts”, but also “decide how to get there”.

As with the essence of the I Ching and what is reflected in Taoism teaches us… we must be willing to change from within ourselves. To adapt ourselves to and with the flow of universal thought and to go there acknowledging that the key to wisdom and IMG_0265 (2)transcendence is illumination, spontaneity, and to go or follow where our innermost thoughts want to take us. That it is as Franklin Roosevelt told America at the height of the depression back in the 1930’s, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” The context may be different, but the meaning is the same. To rise up out of where we are, we must be willing to do things differently and not to let fear of change itself or staying in the status quo define or overtake us.

The problem for many from the essential standpoint of Zen is that it refuses to be organized, or to be made the exclusive possession of any institution. If there is anything in this world which transcends the relativities of cultural conditioning, it is Zen – by whatever name it may be called. This is an excellent reason for Zen’s not being institutionalized, and for the fact that many of its ancient exponents were “universal individualists” who were never members of any Zen organization, and never sought the acknowledgment of any formal authority. They lived “outside the lines or box” of what was/is excepted at the 100_5087time. Today they would be called an “outlier”. This is the ultimate paradox we all live. Staying within the lines for eternity’s sake, while living outside the lines to find life’s true meaning.

For myself, it is as if happiness, i.e., our purpose, is always present in our life. It’s just a matter of connecting to it and allowing it to flow through us that’s challenging. That we stop trying to please and start respecting our values, principles, and autonomy. It is as if we live two lives as referred to above. Something I wrote in the beginning of the manuscript back in 1996 here on my website as My travels with Lieh Tzu expresses this, I think.


It is said that each of us is granted two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live 4105after 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.

4106I 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 4107on.

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, 4108but 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?     1/21/1996

Watts’s fascination with the Zen (or Chan) tradition—beginning during the 1930s—developed because for him, that tradition embodied the spiritual, interwoven with the practical, as exemplified in the subtitle of his Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work, and Art in the Far East. “Work”, “life”, and “art” were not to be demoted, but became the extension of a spiritual focus. In his writing, he referred to it as “the great Chan (or Zen) synthesis of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism after AD 700 in China.” Watts published his first book, The Spirit of Zen, in 1936. Two decades later, in The Way of Zen he disparaged The Spirit of Zen as a “popularization of Suzuki’s earlier works, and besides being very unscholarly it is in many respects out of date and misleading.” A mid-course direction as if now twenty years later, knowing more he needed to re-define his take on things.

Carl Jung said, “To rest in Tao means fulfillment, wholeness, mission done, the 4109perfect realization of the meaning of existence innate in things. Personality is Tao. The emergence of a new center in the personality, that with the Tao we can find the synchronicity of life. That synchronicity asserts that what appears as coincidence is actually connected by a similarity of meaning. What the Tao and I Ching represent is the continuous creation of a pattern that exists in all eternity”.

Watt’s continues: In contrast to spiritual teachings based on doctrine or divine revelation, the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism is based on thousands of years of observing nature, especially patterns of change and transformation. 100_5473

How it all fit together. What may be seen as divine, already exists within you. All that is necessary is to connect your pre-existing spirit with transcending universal rhythms and vibrations that speak to your own endeavor and destiny.

Over time, the Chinese came to see these patterns of change as resulting from a universal creative spirit, or energy, which they called the Tao. Similar to that found in air and water. That change is dynamic and always evolving. The Tao likened to the currents and vortices in air and water. Sometimes it was depicted as tightly coiled lines or threads; other times, as dragons, flowing along wave-like lines of change.

Carl Jung and Alan Watt’s contribution to understanding the human condition as we reconcile our “place” in nature was immeasurable once we see from where we are doing “it” from. What is important is to see knowledge and wisdom as the unending flow of nature. It’s as if there is a stepping stone of never-ending thought waiting for us to tap into.

                             Forever Meandering Downstream

Remain as a log adrift down a slowly meandering stream. At peace and harmony with 4110all. Knowing that as the river finds its end you will find your own place as well.

The Blue Dragon   British Museum in London

The log itself a beehive of activity with small creatures and bugs in and outside its core with birds forever flitting about. A blue jay landing to rest for a moment just to watch the scenery go by.

Forever finding ourselves. Finding our own place in the universe wholly within nature’s way for each to find and come to know. With no one’s place on the log or the log itself more important than the next.

Coming to know the seasons and the cycles they forever represent and finding comfort in the expectations that the elements constantly bring to the forefront. Always 4112reminded that the final call as to who gets their own way is nature’s alone. Always siding with the strongest as it must be in the end.   

Come to know boundaries and find the structure that is needed for everything to begin to make sense. Stay within those boundaries and be relieved of choices. As what comes forward will be only natural to your own desires. Simply by showing strength and by letting go.

There can be no river to travel or log to steady the way downstream without an awareness that we affect everything we touch and are affected by everything that touches us. As we remain forever on the journey, forever meandering downstream.   4/16/1994

Living beyond what is expected of you at the moment. Sometimes it’s like being 4113here, but not really present. For Taoist sages and Zen masters the universe that surrounds us is to be experienced as our “original face”. It’s the Source of all that exists, a living matrix of creativity that we all belong to that has brought each one of us into being. For myself, it is that we are to do the best that we can with what we have while we are here.

To begin to grasp Zen, we must first take a look at both Confucianism and Taoism, then to the I Ching and Mahayana Buddhism as our teachers.

Confucianism pre-occupies itself with maintaining social order. An individual defines himself and place in society thusly. I saw this play out with many of my friends in Qufu 4114over the years. The home of Confucius where everyone seemed intent on finding their place in what was seen as the norm. Whereas, Taoism resides more with the individual, and with older men who have the time to pursue a more inward liberation from the bounds of conventional patterns to thought and conduct. Seeing things in an unconventional way, understanding life directly instead of only rational, abstract thoughts, or ways of thinking. In short spontaneity, that may allude us when the rigors of life’s travails seem omnipresent.

What keeps us from opening our minds is that the Absolute cannot be confused with abstract thinking. What can be known – verses what will be forever unknowable. It was here through the use of the I Ching, one could use what might be call “peripheral vision”, or our ability to feel a situation and act accordingly. In doing so, we often see the need to move beyond who, and where, we are now because we’ve moved beyond our present thinking.

According to Watts, Taoism, is the original way of liberation, which combined with Indian Mahayana Buddhism produces Zen. It is the liberation from convention and of the creative power of te, or virtue. With te as the unthinkable ingenuity and creative 4115power of man’s spontaneous and natural functioning – a power which is blocked when one tries to master it in terms of formal methods and techniques.

In Zen, ensō (, , “circle”) is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.

As Alan Watts put it:

“If you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that…”

While this is not difficult to comprehend conceptually, it can be challenging to experience directly and frequently. Not buying into the rat race mentality of modern cultures is an essential first step. Training mindfully in an art form or sport, learning to meditate or do yoga, will provide us with a system of practice that assists greatly. With this we learn to grow beyond the emotional propensities of the past. To make the ordinary become extraordinary through the virtue that resides within each of us. Easier said than done, because in the West we become tied to the Christian concept of an Absolute, or accepted moral order. When we become at odds with this, we are denying our own nature or found rejecting God.

As we learn to meet the world like an empty cup, we allow inner and outer realms of our lives to flow together. Where there had been separation before, now there is 4116greater unity and love.  Every living being we meet, every experience we have, can be seen as magical in some way.

 Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as a deepening awareness of inter-being, the fundamental unity and interconnectedness of every “thing” in the Cosmos. In a flower exists water from clouds, energy from the sun, molecules from the earth, atoms created billions of years ago within stars…. Just like us.

This understanding is very important if one wishes to grasp Buddhist teachings about emptiness, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

“A flower cannot be by herself alone. To be empty is not a negative note… A flower is empty only of a separate self, but a flower is full of everything else. The whole cosmos can be seen, can be identified, can be touched, in one flower. So, to say that the flower is empty of a separate self also means that the flower is full of the cosmos.

Such an attitude and recognition bring greater peace and happiness in our lives (and wisdom in our actions) because instead of trying to manipulate outcomes and take from the world we become more aligned with Nature, moving in unison with life, like a musician or dancer. To even what embodies the true meaning of tai chi – not just to see, but to get things by the feel of them. Using intuition, our inner knowing, to decide for us how to proceed. It comes to us by what is known as ‘spontaneous action’”. 

“Zen professes itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all religions and philosophies. When Zen is thoroughly understood, absolute peace of mind is attained, and a man [or woman] lives as he ought to live.” ― D.T. Suzuki4117

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.  Rabindranath Tagore 

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 12), the materials from which the hexagrams have been constructed are explained. Continuing the story is the 9th and 10th Wings, the final numbers 11 and 12 will follow.  

The Dazhuan   6th Wing        Part II   Number 9

 Staying within the Lines for Eternity’s sake

For one to truly understand the I Ching within the context of the Dazhuan, you 4118must begin by staying within the lines of the hexagrams. It is a text about how any person can describe their own beginnings and foreseeable future that moves towards a knowable ending. Its purpose is simply to describe the true nature of things. How the six lines intermingle to match every occasion. In reading the hexagrams you must begin from the bottom and move up to the top or sixth line that usually serves to sum things up and tries to explain. They are considered to be the root and the tip. The bottom line makes a suggestion and the top line comes to a conclusion, as if defining cause and effect.

A judgment on the first line is tentative while on the last everything has gained completion and the answer is given. It is here in-between them that distinguishing details, determining powers, and dividing true and false that would not be possible without the intervening lines that define the two. Even the four interior lines can be seen as upper and lower trigrams that add further meaning. The qualities of the interior lines remain inseparable and are intrinsically connected to what is firm or yielding. These represent parts that are always going through gradual change and 4119movement that reveal their true character and identity. This allows either right or wrong, or yes or no to be distinguishable in the time in which a question is asked.

Imagine yourself the shaman knowing what is known at the time of Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou in 1000 BC living in Ji Dan’s hometown of Qufu, looking to the stars and the Big Dipper with the lines and seeing the answers spread before for you.

Contemplating and trying to decipher the judgment his father, King Wen, has added 4120to the lines while still in prison of the Shang. He can now think through the greater part of the statements and draw sensible meaningful conclusions from them. This was the defining moment of what the I Ching was to become. He would have had the sixty-four hexagrams and amended judgments spread before him and to have read and seen for himself the interaction of the lines. The answers would have been as clear as the night sky he used to light his way.

During my own years of living and teaching in Qufu, I often found myself looking to the night sky and thinking of what Ji Dan and what Confucius himself would have felt as they too looked to the Big Dipper.  The Big Dipper, within the constellation Ursa Major, is an important constellation in Chinese 4121mysticism and religion. It is known as Bei Dou, the Northern Bushel or Dipper. There are many different stories about these stars, as befits something of such significance that anyone could look up and see in the night sky all those year ago wondering about how all things were forever connected to each other, to us, and what for eternity’s sake it could all mean.

How the lines of the I Ching work… With the bagua, understanding the role of the 4122bottom and top lines, the shaman would move to the second and fourth lines and see that they have the same force but have taken different positions and that their values are not the same. With the second generally approving or praising, while the fourth threatening. The lines were always to be read from the bottom up.

After years of experience and counsel by their peers, they knew that the Tao of the broken line was advantageous if it is far from the center and that no misfortune would appear in the reading, the omen needed for the broken line. He also knew that the third and fifth lines have the same force, but took different positions as well. The third line is generally ominous and the fifth if usually propitious representing 4123levels of rank and loneliness. If broken they meant danger, if whole they meant one would be triumphant.

There were also the readings of the upper and lower trigrams (the top three and the bottom three) within each hexagram that would be read. It would take years of diligent practice and trial and error to perfect the reading of the lines of the hexagrams and understanding the basic tenets of the I Ching. But knowing the way of the Tao and keeping to it would be the key to understanding how to live. This would be the greatest contribution and gift of the Dazhuan. It has taken many generations and thousands of years of diligence by both the shaman and sage to bring forth the divine wisdom of the cosmos. Legend says the Yellow Emperor had also stood here in Qufu, two thousand years earlier than Confucius and wondered the same thing. Finding ways to mesh the internal with the external.

The Dazhuan   6th Wing        Part II   Number 10 

What is the Dazhuan, but to imitate the patterns of Heaven?

An explanation of the I Ching, a document that covers all matters under 4124heaven has covered centuries beyond measure showing the way to appreciate and honor the Tao. Vast and immense, it shows the way of the cosmos. It contains this and the Tao of earth and man. It combines all three and doubles them. This is why there are six lines in the hexagrams. The six lines are simply the ways of these three primal powers. The way of the I Ching, of change, is epitomized by perpetual motion or movement. The lines are constantly going through a process of change. It was always the rhythm of the drum and music, of the perpetual motion that brought the shaman in line with the power of the spirit world.

It was Fuxi, the great shaman and holy man, who first saw this connection in 4125Chinese early history. As the more in tune with the spirits he became, the better he could explain our connection with them. He became a great teacher at all the clan meetings up and down the Yellow River, primarily because he was a great storyteller. He learned his craft by understanding and putting words to the lines.

 Lines drawn on tortoise shells could move and tell a narrative, either true or imagined, in prose or verse, 4126designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader. The consistency of the lines and symbols brought meaning that could be relayed and understood.

Fuxi could fill with delight or wonder; enrapture his audience. His legacy was to have the tale to be told as the storyteller becomes the fulcrum of antiquity. Above all he was a teacher. As the centuries followed, the shaman became the conveyor of the lines. The Yellow Emperor, who lived in 2698–2598 BC, and many others learned how to convey the universal meaning that could have a meaning for everything found in nature, especially one’s beginnings and trends that foretold future events through cause and effect. But it always came back to the lines and symbols, their movement and what it all meant. Being present in the moment that opens the window to one’s past.

For generations beyond count before the shaman of Ji Dan’s time, the holy man 4128of antiquity covered himself with red ochre (the color red was also call Dan from the time of China’s pre-history), in order to identify and commune with nature and the spirit world trying to decide the makeup of these three doubled, or six lines to be known as the hexagrams. These lines were to be divided into three parts, the first and second lines as the places of earth, the third and fourth as man, and the fifth and sixth belonging to heaven. The lines have positions realized as events; events have mutual  relationships that come about as patterns.

 How the story was to be told depended on the situation at hand that portrays either good or bad things to come. Living within the realm, the whims of nature, there was always a foreboding of fire, floods and misfortune that dictated events. Knowing how to anticipate what may happen led to a knowledge that could be passed down first orally, then written.

 4129The Chinese word for the line in a hexagram is hsiao. Another meaning of hsiao came to be “to imitate the patterns of heaven”.

The image of the turtle became synonymous, or representative, of the dragon.

This is what was to become the Tao. That is that the lines could imitate the connection between the three primortals – man, heaven and earth. The shaman knew the Tao represented both movement and change.

Therefore, as the lines change their meaning through movement and a series of stages that one could see every day through nature and the evolving four 4101seasons every year, a person could modify his behavior accordingly. This diversity gives meaning and purpose to life, patterns to follow and characteristics that match them. It is here where both good and bad can occur. Unfortunately, these characteristics do not always follow or match with the way of the Tao. It would be through conscious observation and wisdom gained over the millennia that man could learn to anticipate the future and through practice develop the workings of the I Ching.

These are the ninth and tenth 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 thereby creating a chance, an unspoken trust, to build on who we are meant to become. 


By 1dandecarlo

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