You must first learn to breathe inside the happiness of your Life
(For my friends in England, Italy, Australia, China, wherever else you may be, and of course USA, who I know will be seeing and sharing this with others… Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays. May you each know the gift of kung fu).
What is this life-long pursuit of seemingly trying to find happiness? When you reach the age of sixty-five, which I have, then the definition changes as we often ask instead… what do we have to be happy about? And what do our children (if we are fortunate to have any) who follow us, have to be happy about as well? The cliché has always been… well if we work hard and save our money for retirement then we will have something to retire to. At least that’s what we tell our kids. Why do we have to wait to be happy? Why do we have to work hard? Why do we think making money will be the answer when what we need already resides within us? Why have we spent our whole life doing what we do and not spending our time discovering who we are? Well, we must first learn how to breathe.
Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Meditation
What is the meaning of kung fu… is it simply a form of martial arts… or is it so much more? Simplified for the common man/women it often becomes tai chi.
It begins with complimentary opposites (the concept of yin and yang) that exist in who we are as a person that defines balance. Calming these forces inside ourselves, so that they can be used to our best interest has been the focus of meditation for centuries.
Over time in Chinese history those opposites became referred to as crane and tiger. The most famous of these forms of physical self-defense became the shaolin martial arts form and over time became the kung fu as we know it today. This calming can also be used in finding what is called our “qi energy”, and is the basis of movements in tai chi. Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) is an ancient Chinese “internal” or “soft” martial art often practiced for its health-giving and spiritual benefits; it is non-competitive and generally slow-paced. Both center around discovering and using one’s breath going forward and knowing we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves.
However, the true meaning of kung fu means “supreme skill from hard work”. Everyone has the innate ability to achieve this. The painter, calligrapher, poet, or writer, they can be said to have kung fu. Even the one who cooks or sweeps the steps – can have kung fu. Or even the modern-day insurance or car salesman, athlete, nurse, attorney, musician, etc. For the physical kung fu it takes practice, preparation and repetition until your mind is weary and your bones ache. Until you are too tired to sweat, too wasted to breathe.
This is the only way to obtain kung fu. (This explanation was assisted by the blind Taoist kung fu Master in the mini-series “Marco Polo”). In other words, it takes hard work to excel in the talents we are given. It is in this hard work we find what can be defined as happiness as we live in the eternal state of becoming closer to who we really are. Sadly, we often let others define who we are, or should become, instead of discarding those things that don’t define us. No other person can do this for us. What we should be attracted to is being with others who are “complimentary opposites” of ourselves as we learn to see beyond ourselves. We become “happy” when we can identify and move in this direction. It is as Walt Disney once said… “It’s what you do with what you got”. This becomes the ultimate “work” of our lives, and kung fu… It is truly what we give, we get in return.
Much of Chuang Tzu’s writings used humor and parables contributing to this early Taoist thought of refining our innate talents and using them to enable our highest endeavor and destiny, epitomized by his tales of the butcher and butterfly. His concept of the “perfected man”, and combining early Taoism with Buddhist sutras from India was the beginning of Chan Buddhism as he described how we made the “pivot” of living through our work. But that’s a story for another day.
This idea of mastering your innate abilities through a skill that shows, or exhibits, your talents was exemplified by the efforts in Chinese history also by those passing the examination system, and also those who tried, but failed to pass the exam necessary to move up in society, be recognized, and get a good job in China.
Very few could pass the exam, and were bound to find another way to show their talents and skill. Just as not everyone could develop the physical skill needed to be a kung fu master in the true shaolin tradition either. But could excel in music, as a painter, or calligraphy that demonstrated their own kung fu anyway. Unfortunately for China, the examination system they viewed as their biggest strength for almost two thousand years, became over time their biggest weakness. As only those who passed the examination system moved up, while others with suitable talents in other areas were discouraged.
One of the concepts of tai chi is “rooting.” It’s fairly self-explanatory: imagine roots growing out from underneath your feet. You are a part of the ground, never losing balance, focus, or your centering.
Your limbs sway like branches in the wind, never hesitating for fear or apprehension. You become rooted and with this balance you take the text step from body to mind. This balance is the epicenter of coming to terms with self. The art of tai chi is said to improve the flow of chi (qi), the traditional Chinese concept of a physically intangible energy or life force. In scientific studies, tai chi has been proven to improve a host of medical conditions including, but not limited to: muscular pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular problems, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes and ADHD. Though its low-impact workout is especially helpful to seniors, tai chi is for everyone and is deceptively simple in appearance. I try to do tai chi first thing every day. This along with a meditation practice, help us to focus on what is important in our lives and discard what is not.
The thing to keep in mind about Taoism as we continue to follow Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, is that it is about an attunement with nature and when we don’t, in particular our own. Not just nature outside of us, but also the nature within us. This principle, in Chinese is called Tzu Jan, or Ziran in pinyin, and it is the principle of embodying one’s own nature.” Beyond the health benefits and stress relief, Tai Chi Chuan is also a means to tap into one’s inner self. This becomes the essence of remaining within your own virtue, of meditation, controlling your breath, and knowing happiness when you feel, and see it.
As mentioned before, I wrote my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on Becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, was published in China in 2006. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, verses 13, 14 and 15 follows here. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught us along the way that guides us. The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. Verse 14 below, goes a long way in revealing my own true identity. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Verse 13 – Skirting Disgrace and Disaster
Be careful not to curry favor with others, as disgrace is soon to follow. Favor and honor remain external from the true path of the sage.
He prefers to cater to neither, as both remain outside and away from the path he has chosen to follow. Possessing them can only lead to disgrace and disaster.
Seek only that which lies within yourself cultivating your own innate abilities. Remain within and all will follow. ##
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Those who gain favor or honor should worry about being too high, as if they are on a precipice. They should not flaunt their status or wealth. And those who lose favor and live in disgrace should worry about another disaster.
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “We all possess something good and noble that we don’t have to seek outside ourselves, something that the glory of power or position can’t compare with. People need only start with this and cultivate without letting up. The ancients said, “Two or three years of hardship, ten thousand years of bliss.”
Chuang Tzu (11.2) also speaks to this by saying “when favor and disgrace are used to praise the ruler whose self-cultivation doesn’t leave him time to meddle in the lives of his subjects.
Verse 14 – Staying behind to Impart Immortality’s Wisdom
Coming home to visit with old friends, I am made whole again. Everything there is to see I have seen and everything there is to do I have done. I am home again to rest among old friends.
Revisiting the thread that reveals my true identity, I rejoice in the oneness of the universe. I am at peace as one who has found the grace to see what I must do next in His name. Shedding my worn baggage, my friends are reminded of the light cast by my eternal coat as I sit beside them to honor our being together once again.
While most are happy to remain within the confines of enlightenment, others are a little jealous of my desire to return to the world. Where attachments hold one down and keep their owner from attaining their true identity. Just as you are reminded that your path leads back to a place where you can help others to perhaps come forth to seek their own ultimate destiny. As you leave, you catch glimpses that convey warmth and gratitude and knowledge of the ultimate paradox…
Upon my return I begin by weaving together the fabric of shreds of a vision that has yet to become reality. Knowing that neither my light nor my shadow will leave a lasting impression. While what is left behind for immortality’s wisdom will only be known once I have returned home once again. ##
Lu Tung-Pin says, “We can only see it inside us, hear it inside us, and grasp it inside us. When our essence becomes one, we can see it. When our breath becomes one, we can hear it. When our spirit becomes one, we can grasp it.”
Su Ch’e says, “People see things constantly changing and conclude something is there. They don’t realize everything returns to nothing.” Ch’en Ku-Ying adds, “Nothing does not mean nothing at all but simply no form or substance.”
Wang Pi says, “If we try to claim it doesn’t exist, how do the myriad things come to be? And if we try to claim it exists, why don’t we see it’s form? Hence, we call it the formless form. But although it has neither shape or form, neither sound or echo, there is nothing it cannot penetrate and nowhere it cannot go.
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “The past isn’t different from today, because we know what began in the past. And today isn’t different from the past, because we know where today came from. What neither begins or comes from anywhere else we call the thread that has no end. This is the thread of the Tao.
Verse 15 – Staying on Course
Taking stock, you stop to reflect why you are here in this place and time just now.
You have succeeded in getting the attention of many as your reflection has cast a long shadow. You have shown an uncanny ability to uncover the indiscernible and penetrated contradictions previously covered by darkness.
As you become concerned your ego is bringing you to the forefront, while your nature tells you it is better to stay behind.
You are reminded to remain empty and still. That you are not here to make a show of yourself and that you are to leave no tracks. To be so conscience of the correct action that needs to be taken that you simply flow with events. That the essence of the Tao consists of nothing more than taking care, as you know that inner truth cannot be perceived, only the outward form of your actions. That it is by intuitive understanding that the darkness becomes clear and by means of movement the still becomes alive.
That it will be by letting each thought remain detached and each action well considered that your ultimate success is determined with your virtue the only measure taken home. ##
Su Ch’e says, “Darkness is what penetrates everything but cannot itself be perceived. To be careful means to act only after taking precautions. To be cautious means to refrain from acting because of doubt or suspicion. Melting ice reminds us how the myriad things arise from delusion and never stay still. Uncarved wood reminds us to put an end to human fabrication and return to our original nature. A valley reminds us how encompassing emptiness is. And a puddle reminds us that we are no different from anything else.”
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “Lao Tzu expresses reluctance at describing those who succeed in cultivating the Tao because he knows the inner truth cannot be perceived, only the outward form. The essence of the Tao consists in nothing other than taking care. If people took care to let each thought be detached and each action well-considered, where else would they find the Tao? Hence those who mastered the Tao in the past were so careful they waited until a river froze before crossing. They were so cautious, they waited until the wind died down before venturing forth at night. They were orderly and respectful, as if they were guests arriving from a foreign land. They were relaxed and detached, as if material forms didn’t matter. They were as uncomplicated as uncarved wood and as hard to fathom as murky water. They stilled themselves to concentrate their spirit and roused themselves to strengthen their breath. In short, they guarded the center”.
Wang Pi says, “All these similes are meant to describe without actually denoting. By means of intuitive understanding the dark becomes light. By means of tranquility, the murky becomes clear. By means of movement, the still becomes alive. This is the natural Way.”