(It seems I am barely scratching the surface. There is so much here with Watts. We may be spending a lot of quality time with Alan for a while.) Continuing the I Ching – On the Commentaries / Keeping rhythm with the Big Dance in the Sky and final words of the Dazhuan and I Ching (Yijing).
One of the major differences in ‘Eastern verses Western thought’ is the act of creation. In the west, we often think of God creating or producing the world in seven days as relayed in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Verses in Taoism, for example, Tao produces “the ten thousand things” by not making anything. Because things already exist or occur like separate parts put together as if from within an indefinable infinite. It is as if all divine energy is already pre-existing waiting to come forth, change, and blossom from within every atom. That what exists in all nature occurs through a process of synchronicity as these atoms constantly emerge as building blocks from one thing to the next, coming forth over and over through time. First as one thing and then the next. A blending or coalescing together that originates from within as the natural universe works mainly on the principle of growth. What we, and all things found in nature are now and yet to become.
Dao and De (The Way of Virtue)
- The more we come to know quantum physics, the better we understand the science of how this works. Over thousands of years in both philosophical and practical terms, this grew in understanding to become the I Ching, to Taoism, to Chan Buddhism… to what we know as Zen. It became the culmination or consummation, “the blending” of all that came before it. It’s also who we are. With our essence, our soul as you might say and thoughts that take us there, co-mingling with eternity.
From the western view of things, I look to first understand perceived patterns and ideas of freedom as Sir Isaiah Berlin, a British social and political theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas tells us in the story, “The Hedgehog and the Fox”. A title referring to a fragment of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, that was one of Berlin’s most popular essays with the general public, reprinted in numerous editions.
Berlin expands upon this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (examples given include Plato), and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea (examples given include William Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt in your philosophy”. Hamlet 1.5 167–168).
Berlin argued that not all values can be jointly realized in one life, or in a single society or period of history, and that many ideals cannot even be compared on a common scale; so that there can be no single objective ranking of ends, no uniquely right set of principles by which to live. From this it follows not only that people should be free (within the crucial but rather broad limits set by the demands of sheer humanity), both individually and collectively, to adopt their own guiding priorities and visions of life.
In the East, and Zen Buddhism, it has always been to observe underlying contradictions and the synchronicity of all things found in nature as outlined above. Watts takes this idea of freedom to the next step. Our challenge in meditation, or to what some refer to as zazen, is moving beyond our “inner critic” to begin to enter the flow of our universal selves as we look to the ultimate freedom that exists and resides from within. To stop second guessing ourselves. Finding our path and staying true to it.
It’s when our spontaneity synchronizes with universal thought – our creativity that flows when we move beyond who we think we are that can begin to define our own transcendence. It is here that fear seems to envelop us. It is here that understanding the Tao and how we are to relate to it that becomes so important. History seems to tell us that when we think of man’s instincts, fear has no rival. The challenge always to be prepared to take the next step with the knowledge and wisdom of what I like to refer to as our “inner institutional memory the defines us”.
It was Robert (Bobby) Kennedy, who was my own earliest mentor in politics, who spoke of moral courage that is such a rare commodity. It was ultimately what Alan Watts taught us as to how we choose to connect the dots moving beyond fear for ourselves that made his writing about we know or refer to as Zen Buddhism that becomes so important. That it’s the shaman, the artist, the storyteller, who make the incoherent coherent and returns. In this Watts excels. It’s like innately scratching an itch that never goes away.
One forgets the self, Zen teachers say, by becoming one with the task at hand. At such moments, released from the burdens of selfhood, one glimpses, however briefly, a state of spiritual wholeness that underlies and supports one’s everyday consciousness. The secret is that it is what we do, the activity itself and the anticipation of its outcome, that better defines who we are that becomes the story.
It is that sense of knowing we are here to summon the freedom that Taoism first speaks to. It’s like the artist or writer who flirts with the unknown finding what is sacred within themselves as some might define as their niche, or even wu wei.
Interestingly, it is as the blind Taoist monk “Thousand Eyes” defines and describes the true meaning of kung fu in the Netflix series Marco Polo as follows:
Kung Fu is meant to summon the spirit of the crane and the tiger. Kung Fu means “supreme skill from hard work”.
A great poet or writer has reached kung fu. The painter and calligrapher they can be said to have kung fu. Even the cook – the one who sweeps steps – or a masterful servant can have kung fu.
The image of right or correct path or proper way.
Practice – preparation – endless repetition. Until your mind is weary and your bones ache. Until you are too tired to sweat, too wasted to breathe. That is the way, the only way one acquires kung fu… and I would add the secret of synchronicity and living in that state of grace.
Synchronicity only works with the spontaneity that enables change to take precedence. It becomes the experience of arriving at decisions spontaneously, letting our pre-determined approach to life (our mind) speak for itself as virtue, or even what may be called “conscious conduct”. (This is the essence of wu wei or what is known as non-action). What we often lose sight of is – it is not simply attempting to “calm and quiet our mind, it is the “not graspingness”, of what lies outside of us that is so difficult. With hopes that our thoughts eventually find insight that helps to define our authenticity.
It is the blending, or unity, of both the internal and external of who we have always been, with who we are now, and who we will ever be that matters. To what Zen calls wu-hsin or the principle that ‘true mind is no mind’. Almost what would be seen as unconsciousness, to a state of wholeness – or whole mind – in which the mind functions freely and easily, as if a second mind is almost non-existent. To be so in-tune with the Tao that original mind, or hsin, is so authentic, it works as if it isn’t present. To be integrated, spontaneous, and so natural as to show a special kind of virtue or power called Te, as with Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching verse 21…
Forever Replenishing our Virtue
What is this thing called virtue and value placed on emptiness and what might be called effectiveness, and how can they be so inter-related?
Remaining Hidden from View Confucius Temple in Qufu
That virtue cannot be found unless we are willing to remain empty, that the Tao remains hidden from view except as virtue found through emptiness. Following the Tao, we are continually subject to change and are redefined as our virtue waxes and wanes.
As if guided by the phases of the moon, I find structure through tending my garden just as Shen-ming, the divine husbandman, who discovered agriculture along with the healing properties of plants and a calendar to be followed by the sages of long ago. Could it be that virtue is the manifestation of the Tao, or Way, that should guide us? That the Way is what virtue contains and without it could have no meaning or power. That without virtue, the Way would have no appearance or ability to come forward.
Replenishing our Virtue Confucius Temple in Qufu
Taking no form, the Tao takes expression only when it changes into virtue. It is when the sage truly mirrors the Tao that virtue can be given an opportunity to manifest and grow and the natural course, or scheme of things, becomes apparent for all to see.
The Tao by itself neither existing or not existing. As if coming and going as the essence of one’s heart and soul – simply by maintaining its presence as… virtue. Everything in the universe held accountable to the Tao. Continually changing – with our identity the first to go. What was once true becomes false and what was once false slips into becoming true. It is only our essence expressed as virtue that is kept and continually replenished by the Tao.
Longevity and Virtue Completed – Confucius Mansion in Qufu
As the last line expressed above says, it is only our essence expressed as virtue that is kept and continually replenished by the Tao, while our personality (ego) dissolving into the essence of our soul is never-ending. Think about this for a moment.
It is the sense of becoming. That continual presence that becomes the key to knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, is not simply reading the words of others.
We are to capture the essence of what is said. It’s the challenge of my friends and storytellers through the ages. Its about being able to relate to others the context, the core meaning, so that there is an aha moment from them as well. Seeing yourself in what is written or said.
Continuing with Watts and Zen… While the Confucians prescribed a virtue which depended on the artificial observance of rules and precepts, the Taoist pointed out that such virtues were conventional and not genuine. The sage judges by the content of the experience at hand and not by actions that simply are to conform with the status quo.
It is this regard for virtue that serves to remind us of our transcendence and eternal essence that permeates the sense of te, or virtue. It becomes the freedom to think in terms of ingenuity and creativity that speaks to our spontaneity and ultimate nature… our own naturalness of who we are. By attempting to conform with preset rules and authority… we become bound by the artificial. It is this idea of conformity that I have always challenged and love Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), as his writing has always laughed at contradictions and convention. Not only for his writing, humor, and as a good friend. But almost as a brother, as he reminds me of who I have always been.
It is this sense of te, of virtue, that permeates Eastern thought and philosophy. The Confucian ideal of authority, structure, yet benevolence, combined with Lao’s and Taoism’s sense of individual freedom encapsulates what was to become Zen when combined with the Indian Mahayana Buddhism. As if by becoming yourself, almost by accident, you have arrived at the place that is like the staging area for liberation and true enlightenment.
Mahāyāna Buddhist triad, including Bodhiaattva Maitreya, the Buddha, and Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. 2nd–3rd century CE, Gandhara
A disclaimer… For purposes of discussion going forward, there are numerous volumes written about “Zen Buddhism” since Alan Watts wrote so much and had such significant influence following his book “The Way of Zen” in the 1950’s and 60’s. In layman’s terms, I am trying to carry forward, or convey Watts book for the semi or uninitiated… for those who want to know more about the meaning of Zen. Like putting together a puzzle that took thousands of years to design and develop with each of us responsible for adding the next piece.
It is how we begin to get there for ourselves that I want to spend time here with my foundation. How do we grow into what is unknown? Following Watts and many others, who blaze a trail of wonderment and joy. As both a teacher, and student, I have learned that the parameters of our innate wisdom are bound only by our ability to use our imagination. To be guided by those who contributed what they could, within the limits of where they found themselves in history. To pick up the pieces left by mentors and as the earliest shaman would look to the stars and ask the same question. Now that I understand my place in history, how do I make the most of it?
Throughout history, it has always come back to the liberation from convention, the accepted status quo and of the creative power of te i.e., virtue. As if the ultimate yin and yang. In the West, we struggle with the idea that going forward the outcome must conform with pre-existing norms of self-imposed limitations, or those placed by others bound by their own limitations defining norms to suit themselves. If one is truly to know thyself and our original nature, as Emerson reminds us, our first challenge is to move beyond the accepted.
It’s hard to explain in words, because the Way, the Tao, is distorted by words as if attempting to define the undefinable. As if we are here to make the undefinable definable only for ourselves.
In the words of Chuang Tzu:
“Were language adequate, it would take but a day fully to set forth Tao. It takes that time to explain material existences. Tao is something beyond material existences. It cannot be conveyed by either words or silence.” (25) Giles page 351.
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. Concluding this part of the story are the final numbers 11 and 12.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 11
Keeping rhythm with the Big Dance in the Sky
From the earliest of times, we are told of the Great Yu who had received a book entitled Shui-Ching, the Book of Power over Waters from sacred powers in the sky where he was able to travel to learn from celestial spirits. It would be the dance of power referred to by the ancients and called the Pace of Yu that had been passed down from the Xia to the Shang in Taoist rituals. These movements were danced for generations by the mystics, what we would call shaman. In ancient Chinese civilization the wu, or shaman, were key and central members of the community. It would be towards the end of the Shang dynasty (about 1000BC) when the shaman was inviting the spirits, reading omens, rainmaking, and celestial divination was to be at its zenith, or peak.
Song Dynasty depiction of Yu who was said to live from 2123 to 2025 BC living to be 98 years old. He was said to have been a descendent of the Yellow Emperor.
The Shang dynasty represented a time when the personal power of kings became paramount and the divine rights honoring man’s connection to heaven and earth took a back seat to this unyielding power. Into this stepped the need to convey the meaning of not only the lines representing the I Ching and its power, but it’s meaning through clear and concise statements to re-enforce this divine connection. It would be King Wen while he was imprisoned by King Zhou of the Shang (shown to the right) at Youli, who would produce the meaning of the lines. This had been the part that was missing that could expand and explain the meaning of the sixty-four hexagrams.
This had always been the paradox of the I Ching. Oftentimes, because of their connection with divine sources, the king, in this case King Wen, was seen as further personifying the connection to and with the will of Heaven. Both King Zhou of the Shang dynasty and King Wen saw themselves as this divine extension of God. Unfortunately, the Shang King was not and used his power in an unscrupulous matter. Fortunately for history’s sake, King Wen was a shaman first before becoming a king.
The statements prepared by King Wen were meant to be an appendage to the lines of the I Ching. They spoke clearly of this danger and from a caution illustrating the intent of remaining without blame and thus gaining success. This lesson became essential to Chinese history and the benchmark of how ancient China was to progress from this time forward. The Mandate from Heaven was now secure.
It would be this line of reasoning that so enamored Confucius more than five hundred years later and caused him to focus on the need for virtue and benevolence that were to direct all his teachings. King Wen, while in prison saw that danger encourages peace and that complacency provokes one’s downfall. He embodied this eternal spirit that had been passed down from Yu the Great (shown to the right) and saw the great potential of mankind and the I Ching and what would someday be referred to as the Tao. Nothing was to be omitted. It would talk of beginnings and endings and embraced the idea that we should live out our activities in life in such a way that we would be without blame. King Wen would add the statements to the lines that set the stage for so many that would follow.
For a hundred years after the fall of the Shang in 1070 BC, it was as if a renaissance of practical thinking led by Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou, and others to produce the Book of Rites and the principle idea behind the Mandate of Heaven which would one day become the sole property of the emperor that was to become the benchmark for China’s development. Five to eight hundred years later after Ji Dan, during the Warring Stated Period of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and so many others during a period called the One Hundred Schools, that this would be codified as the Ten Wings, of which the Dazhuan, this book, was to be a part of. Later the Han scholars and Wang Bi would codify into the Confucian dialectic and the I Ching would become a major element of the examination system that directed the fate of China for over two thousand years.
As we read this today, we need to think of the context of history as it developed over the centuries. Most importantly, how they would have seen themselves in light of what was known at the time.
The Dazhuan 6th Wing Part II Number 12
Final Words of the Dazhuan and I Ching (Yijing)
Both Ch’ien and Kun reign supreme under heaven. The ultimate in both firmness and compliance – Ch’ien or Qian applies its power spontaneously and is alert and weary of impending danger, while Kun tries to keep things simple and free from obstruction.
Qian is creative as it works from the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination; and strength downward as if from heaven, thereby mastering danger.
While Kun is working from below accomplishing heavy tasks, freeing things from obstruction, i.e., something that obstructs, blocks, or closes up with an obstacle or obstacles or hindrance. With thus the Yijing can rejoice in heart and examine any anxieties going forward. It is though this joy one can gain an overall view of good and bad fortune and know how to precede in the proper way.
With this change, alternation and transformation naturally occur and auspicious or promising success; propitious; opportune; or events that meet favorable omens are furthered and the oracle is made clear. The lines of the hexagrams give guidance so that you can act in accordance with the changes and know reality as the future becomes clear. Heaven and earth remain fixed to their places as the sage continues to perfect his skill. Working in union with both the counsel of humans and the spirits certain knowledge is gained that can be shared.
The eight trigrams (the bagua) show the way through images, symbols, and figures, the hexagrams and line statements then speak to circumstances. As the broken and whole lines are mingled, good fortune and bad auspices appear. In that the firm and yielding are interspersed and good fortune or bad can be discerned or known. This is the underlying basis of the I Ching.
Once known that heaven and earth know and determine the place we reside, the possibilities become endless. It’s always been the wisdom of the sage that has brought these possibilities into reality. It is the reconciling this reality into a collaboration of the thoughts of the spirits and men with the I Ching, that thing naturally occur.
It is said that when love and hate vie with each other good and bad auspicious are born; when far and near react to each other trouble and distress are born; and that when true and false influence each other advantage and loss are born.
The Lynx Confucius Mansion
In every situation of the I Ching, when two or more converge without mutual profit disaster emerges. When closely related to not harmonize, misfortune is a result; this gives rise to injury, remorse, and humiliation. Ultimately with the I Ching, it is the close relationship of the lines as illustrated by their correspondence with each other and how they hold together over time. It is according to whether the lines attract or repel one another that good fortune or bad fortune ensues. Finally, the Dazhuan ends with the following:
- Words of the rebellious are shameful;
- Words of the shifty are diffuse;
- Words of the fortunate are few;
- Words of the agitated are many;
- Words of the slanderous are evasive;
- And, words of the faithless are twisted.