August 12, 2018

We are stardust. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

One of my all-time favorite lines in a song by Joni Mitchell from 1970 after she AAWoodstockmissed Woodstock from a year earlier that was held in August 15-17, 1969 and wrote the song Woodstock in tribute. I listen to this song at least once a day and the words above. We are stardust… Two others who missed Woodstock were John Lennon who was in Canada and couldn’t get a visa due to opposition to the Vietnam war, and Bob Dillon who was home with a sick child. However, her song takes us all there again and for me much further. (Woodstock poster from Wikipedia)

Speaking of gardens and a few of my favorites are the the gardens of Suzhou (about 62 miles northwest of Shanghai) in China. The city of Suzhou is along the famous Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is a man-made waterway that runs north and south in eastern China. It is the longest man-made waterway in the world. The canal stretches over 1,100 miles from the city of Beijing to the city of Hangzhou. (I’ve been to both cities). It is sometimes called the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal. Besides connecting these two major cities, the canal also connects the two major rivers of China: The Yellow River and the Au2Yangtze River.

(These two pictures were taken at the Jining Museum. Jining is about an hour from Qufu and is considered the midway point between the two cities on the canal. I taught at the Cambridge English School in Jining for a few months in 2010 before teaching at Jining University). When I am in Jining, I often meet with friends and my students at the Grand Canal Mall. When I lived in Qufu, I would often go to a supermarket in Jining that had a much greater selection of western food than I could find in Qufu… like tomato paste I used in making spaghetti for my students. It was visiting Jining and members of the City Planning Department back in October 1999 that I first saw the plans for the new Jining University that was to be built in Qufu. Little did I know I would begin teaching at this school in March 2011.

It was then that this life-long connection would change me and cause an epiphany. It was at lunch with the city planners in Jining that I told them I kept having visions of a flying horse that somehow seemed to be close by. After lunch they took me to a place in the country-side about ten miles out of town and stopped at what appeared Au3to be just an old shed. We looked inside and there were two-thousand-year-old stone tablets from the Han Dynasty. One depicted Confucius meeting Lao Tzu. They did an etching and gave to me. I had it framed and years later I gave to the Confucius Institute in Miami, Florida where I was teaching… Anyway, we went to an even smaller outbuilding and they gave me a small iron horse that seemed to be floating on a cloud that had been originally cast back then or even earlier more than two-thousand years ago. This is what I was looking for. I had been here before. This was not the first time and showed me that we were somehow connected. It was as if my origins were here in western Shandong. Now almost twenty years later I will return again next month to China, Jining, and Qufu (September 2018). The stone tablets were later moved to what was to become the Jining Museum mentioned above. Yes, we are stardust… we are golden when we can find our way back to the garden. Which is nothing more than identifying and becoming one with our ultimate source once again. But then again, being able to traverse the length and breath of China on the Aucanalcanal all those years ago, I could have been from anywhere and probably was.

Jining was the half-way or mid-point on the Grand Canal and has great food. I love the restaurants in Jining. Over the years I have often been asked what city in China has the best food. I always say, for me, it is Jining. I think it comes from the city’s historic place on the Grand Canal. People from all over China would travel this route to and from the capital, Beijing. At least that’s my story. I think the food serves to simply take me back as a reminder of who I am and the places in China I have seen and been. Most seem to be along the rivers and this canal that stretches over a thousand miles.

The canal was initially built in order to easily ship grain from the rich farmland in southern China to the capital city in Beijing. This also helped the emperors to feed the soldiers guarding the northern borders. The ancient Chinese built early canals to help with transportation and commerce. One early section was the Han Gou Canal built by Kin Fuchai of Wu around 480 BC. This canal stretched from the Yangtze River to the Huai River. Another ancient canal was the Hong Gou Canal which went from the Yellow River to the Bian River. These ancient canals became the basis for the Grand Canal over 1000 years later.


Emperor Yang of Sui, son of Emperor Wen of Sui, who completed the project. Painting by Yan Liben

It was during the Sui Dynasty that the Grand Canal was built. Emperor Yang of the Sui wanted a quicker and more efficient way of transporting grain to his capital city at Beijing. He also needed to supply his army that guarded northern China from the Mongols. He decided to connect the existing canals and expand them to go all the way from Beijing to Hangzhou. Between 604 and 609, Emperor Yang Guang (or Sui Yangdi) of the Sui dynasty ordered a number of canals be dug in a ‘Y’ shape, from Hangzhou in the south to terminate in Beijing and in the capital region along the Yellow River valley. When the canal was completed it linked the systems of the Qiantang River, the Yangtze River, the Huai River, the Yellow River, the Wei River and the Hai River. (from Wikipedia)

Suzhou… the home of gardens and living in high style.

Many years ago, when I was a city planner in Boynton Beach, I researched the possibility of building a Chinese designed “friendship Park/Garden” using this style of southern Chinese architectural design (this would have been in the Spring of 1999) in south Florida. It was in my research I found a firm that specialized in this style of construction from Qufu who traveled all over the world building this style of Chinese designed parks similar to that found in Suzhou. It was this that took me to Qufu in October 1999 for the first time. The park was never built, but friendships for a lifetime were made. Little did I know what the next twenty years would bring leading up to today. Ah… a reminder of one’s eternal steps I guess. It was on the way to Qufu that I visited Suzhou and its famous gardens for the first time. Years later when I was teaching students English who were to become national tour guides, several ended up as guides at the gardens of Suzhou.

The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are a group of gardens in Suzhou region, Jiangsu province that are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.


Lingering Garden in Suzhou

I first visited here the first time in October 1999, nineteen years ago, on my second trip to China. Always an avid gardener myself and interested in landscape design, these gardens were made famous during the period of almost one thousand years. From the Northern Song to the late Qing dynasties (11th-19th century), these gardens, most of them built by scholars, standardized many of the key features of classical Chinese garden design with constructed landscapes mimicking natural scenery of rocks, hills and rivers with strategically located pavilions and pagodas.

The elegant aesthetics and subtlety of these scholars’ gardens and thier delicate style and features have often been imitated by various gardens in other parts of China, including the various Imperial Gardens, such as those in the Chengde Mountain Resort. According to UNESCO, the gardens of Suzhou “represent the development of Chinese landscape garden design over more than two thousand years,” and they are the “most refined form” of garden art.

These landscape gardens flourished in the mid-Ming to early-Qing dynasties, resulting in as many as 200 private gardens. Today, there are 69 preserved gardens in Suzhou, and all of them are designated as protected “National Heritage Sites.” In 1997 and 2000, eight of the finest gardens in Suzhou along with one in the nearby ancient town of Tongli were selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site to represent the art of Suzhou-style classical gardens.

When I was teaching at Jining University I taught English to several students who Au4were studying to be national tour guides. A couple were to go to Suzhou. I’m not sure they are still there or not. First among my favorite gardens was the Humble Administrator’s Garden. The garden contains numerous pavilions and bridges set among a maze of connected pools and islands. It consists of three major parts set about a large lake: the central part Au5(Zhuozheng Yuan), the eastern part, Dwelling Upon Return to the Countryside), and a western part (the Supplementary Garden). The house lies in the south of the garden. In total, the garden contains 48 different buildings with 101 tablets, 40 steles, 21 precious old trees, and over 700 Suzhou-style penjing.  Penjing, also known as penzai, is the ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature. (similar to bonsai in Japanese gardens).

For me, my personal favorite is the Master of the Nets Garden. Ownership passed Au6to Qu Yuancun, a scholar well-versed in the classics and literature, in 1795. He added and remodeled buildings, planted trees, and arranged stones. The garden acquired the nickname of Qu’s Garden during this period as well as its first acclaim by critics. Ownership passed to Li Hongyi, an imperial official and master calligrapher in 1868. About half of the steles in the Au7garden are inscribed by him. Ownership passed to He Chang in 1940, who restored both the garden and returned the name back to Master of Nets Garden. He stipulated in his will the garden should be donated to the government. In 1958 his daughter He Zehui gave the garden to the Suzhou government.

During the late 18th century it was recognized for its herbaceous peonies. In his Notes on the Master of Nets Garden, Qian Daxin stated, “A good integration of the delights of the village and town.” Modern critic Chen Congzhou feels that the Master of the Nets Garden is the best representation of all classical Chinese garden art, as stated in Famous Classical Gardens of China.

My third most favorite is the Lion Grove Garden. This is probably one of the most Au8famous rock-gardens in Chinese garden design. It has been copied repeatedly over the centuries. This is the so-called Lion Garden’ in Suzhou. The Lion Grove Garden was built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty by a Zen Buddhist monk, Wen Tianru, in memory of his teacher Abbot Zhong Feng.


Nine lion peak

At that time the garden was part of the Bodhi Orthodox Monastery. The name of the garden is derived from the lion-shaped taihu rocks, which in turn were built as a reference to the symbolic lion in the Lion’s Roar Sutra.

I recall taking hundreds of pictures of the gardens in Suzhou in the early days of my travel to China almost twenty years ago… where are all those pictures now? I found a few… A great story of China from more than five hundred years ago is about two brothers who were famous for making glazed tile used in construction of buildings using the ancient style and Au11design. They were originally from southern China, but moved north. One to Qufu and the other to Beijing. Their glazed roof tile (commonly seen as yellow, gray, green, and blue (blue was reserved for Beijing) was used in Qufu for the Confucius Temple and Mansion, as well as, numerous other locations around Shandong Province. Over the centuries there emerged two distinct 100_1876garden designs often referred to the northern and southern styles. The southern style was epitomized by the classical water, rock, and buildings seen above in Suzhou. And the northern style that is identified by ancient pine trees and buildings using the glazed roof tiles. A favorite of mine of the northern style garden design is the Daimiao Temple in Tai’an north of Qufu at the base of Mount Taishan.

Au10This is a picture of a tour of the glazed tile factory from my first visit to Qufu in October 1999.

The second brother’s glazed tiles were used in the construction of the Forbidden City and other landmarks in Beijing. One of their descendants became a good friend of mine in Qufu. For years he was there to greet me when I arrived and see me off when I left. Their glazed tile became the premier emblem of garden design throughout China. Glazed tile from the factory used in building the Confucius Mansion and Temple in Qufu was the same used in my own garden pavilion in Boynton Beach that was destroyed by Hurricane Irene in 2004. The loss of my pavilion was very depressing… Plus the more than $20,000 I had spent to have it shipped from China and re-constructed in my backyard. Afterward, looking at the debris of what was my pavilion, I could only think of Joni Mitchell’s song and how – We are stardust. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Succumbing to Hysteria 

Speaking softly and smoothly where others must crane their neck to listen is best. Always speak calmly knowing that that fear and reality are the same to find. Ever conscious that hysteria leads to dread of the unknown.


Speaking of the Way     Huangshen Old City

Hold the attention of all those involved. Varying one’s voice relieves tension that may assist in finding the solution. Be brief, simply uncomplicated. Finding your rhythm brings forth changes overcoming all setbacks. Sincerity must provide the rhyme and reason of any true voice before it is heard. Much is expected of those who know dragons.

Beware of treachery or bringing attention to oneself by shouting, I am here! The noise overshadowing what is not said so nothing important is heard. Instead of finding your rhythm in the Tao and being heard for miles and miles forever. Continually refining your actions always knowing simply what is needed.


The Way of Virtue Huangshen Old City

Internal rhythm, the chi, reverberating throughout the elements, the earth and sky, waking dragons to their delight. Stay calm and listen to the one you can hardly hear. He speaks softly as he knows the way of virtue.

An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (12 OBSTRUCTION / Heaven over Earth). 2/10/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.

As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found Au12in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching.  Verses 64 and 65 appear below. Verses 1 through 63 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.

A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others 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. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.

Thoughts on becoming a Sage

Verse 64 – Finding everything too Easy

The sage knows that doing what comes naturally is not work. Therefore, he works without really working. He acts without really acting, thereby not exhausting himself and tastes without really tasting the true meaning of the Tao through meditation. He goes forth knowing that rather we are great or small, many or few it is important to repay any slight or wrong with virtue.


It’s not Working   Qingdao  TianHou Palace Temple

What the world considers hard the sage considers easy. Just as what the world considers easy the sage considers hard. How can that be so?


In achieving great Things   TianHou Palace Temple

If one can plan for the hard when it is easy and work on the great when it is small, the hardest task in the world becomes easy. The greatest goal in the world begins or becomes small.

Because the sage never acts he achieves great things. He responds to others knowing instinctively that he who quickly agrees is seldom trusted and those who make it all look easy finds the way hard. Therefore, the sage travels in virtue making everything appear hard, while he himself finds nothing hard.

Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “We should act before things exist, while they are peaceful and latent. We should govern before they rebel, while the are fragile and small. But to act before things exist means to act without acting. To govern before things rebel means to govern without governing.”

Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “From a sprout, the small becomes great. From a basket of earth, the low becomes high. From here, the near becomes far. But trees are cut down, towers are toppled, and journeys end. Everything we do eventually results in failure. Everything we control is eventually lost. But if we act before things exist, how can we fail? If we govern before they rebel, how can we lose?”

Wang P’ang says, “Everything has its course. When the time is right, it arrives. But people are blind to this truth and work to speed things up. They try to help Heaven and end up ruining things just as they near completion.”

Ho-Shang Kung says, “Others seek the ornamental. The sage seeks the simple. Others seek form. The sage seeks Virtue. Others study facts and skills. Te sage studies what is natural. Others study how to govern the world. The sage studies how to govern himself and how to uphold the truth of the Way.”

Verse 65 – Learning to act before something Exists

As one who is recognized by his peers for his vision and all things ethereal having found where all things meet and reflecting on the common purpose or rhythm of the universe, what can be more important than knowing when to act before something exists?


Dongyue Buddhist Temple     Beijing

Knowing when to proceed and when to wait letting patience be your guide. It’s easy to rule when it’s peaceful. It’s easy to plan before something arrives. It’s easy to break when its fragile and as we have learned, easy to disperse when its small. Be the one who prepares the master plan.

But know to act is to fail and to control is to lose. The sage therefore doesn’t act he thus does not lose. Living in the paradox that life brings forth to challenge him each day ultimately simply the reminder of why he is here.


The Great Bell   Dongyue Buddhist Temple

Does not the sage seek what no one else looks for turning to what others pass by? To remind others that everything must simply run its course. That when the time is right it arrives and that the truth of all things is in doing what comes natural. The sage therefore knows to simply act naturally before something exists.

Chuang Tzu says, “When the knowledge of bows and arrows arose, the birds above were troubled. When the knowledge of hooks and nets proliferated, the fish below were disturbed. When the knowledge of snares and traps spread, the creatures of the wild were bewildered. When the knowledge of argument and disputation multiplied, the people were confused. Thus are the world’s troubles due to the love of knowledge” (10.4).

Liu Chung-P’ing says, “Those who rule without knowledge turn to Heaven. Those who rule with knowledge turn to man. Those who turn to Heaven are in harmony. Those who are in harmony do only what requires no effort. Their government is lenient. Those who turn to man force things. Those who force things become lost in the Great Inquisition. Hence their people are dishonest.” Liu’s terminology here is indebted to Chuang Tzu: 19.2 and Mencius 4B.26).

Su Ch’e says, “What the sage values is virtue. What others value is knowledge. Virtue and knowledge are opposites. Knowledge is seldom harmonious, while virtue is always in harmony.”

By 1dandecarlo

August 1, 2018

A Taste of Taoism for Unity

(The entry below mirrors the Power Point presentation (with some modification) given at Unity of Springfield on Sunday, July 22, 2018). The actual Power Point will appear here on the website in the future.

Taoism in China has a very long history. Although the essence of what would be known or become Taoism came thousands of years before it had a name. The Tao by it’s nature is undefinable.


Near the Top of Qingcheng Mountain in Chengdu

Historically and even today the ultimate for most Chinese is the idea of being born a Taoist, to live as a Confucian, and to die as a Buddhist. It’s not something you think about. It’s just who you are and how you live every day. Like an innate knowing. Taoist ethics in general tend to emphasize wu wei (action without intention), “naturalness”, simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: “compassion”, “frugality”, and “humility”. As if tuning into nature’s essential rhythm.

The River of No Return

What is the Tao, but a blade of grass or a daffodil blooming after a Spring rain? Simply the essence of nature’s way and our own connectedness to it and to all things.


Yu Garden in Shanghai during Ming dynasty (1366- 1644)

What is the Tao, but the pebbles in a stream bed and the water flowing overhead as the trout breathes through its gills finding oxygen only in the water itself?

What is the Tao, but that that seems irrational to all those unknowing of the ultimate way of virtue? Of the inner desire to find peace and to know a certain contentment known only in the journey itself and knowing where the road leads to and where it does not.

What is the Tao, but the beginnings and endings of all things that were comprised of yesterday, occurs today and will happen tomorrow? Everything and nothing together as one in an instant and forever.


The eternal dragon

What is the Tao, but dragons bringing both good and bad as there must be in all things? Strive to do the right thing by all knowing that the clouds and elements both lead and get in the way of what may fleetingly be considered progress.

What is the Tao, but the abandonment of all things seen as necessary to succeed in the world as we live it with others present?

Yu Garden in the rain

Restored Yu Garden building as seen above today in June 2017

What is the Tao, but the ultimate quest for perfection and immortality and finding mirror images of the sage in ourselves and our everyday actions now and forever yet to come?

What is the Tao, but to flow as a droplet of water down the river of no return? Knowing all the while that in the end you will simply arrive and that in itself will be forever simply enough.    (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon 4/10/94)

Basic difference between Eastern and Western Philosophy

In Eastern philosophy for over 5,000 years the relation between man, nature, the DSCI0385sun, moon and stars has created the impression of a universal connection with all things. Traditionally this is called “the ten thousand things”, with the Ching saying everything revolves around yin/yang and complimentary opposites. Man is simply one of the ten thousand things and the universe shows no favorites.

Dao or Tao literally means “way”, or one of its synonyms, but was extended to mean “the Way”. This term has been used by many Chinese philosophers including Confucius, Mencius, and many others. It has special meaning within the context of Taoism, where it implies the essential, unnamable process of the universe. For practical purposes, there are two concurrent threads in Taoism. First those who see themselves as adherents to philosophical Taoism, and others who take a more religious approach towards the Tao called religious Taoism. This maturation is thousands of years in the making and corresponds with other teachings throughout Chinese history.

In Western philosophy it’s always been everything found in nature is here for the benefit of man. The beginning of Taoism is first found in shamanism, the I Ching, and over five thousand years of history.

The Eternal Spirit

Medicine men and shaman giving way to Lao Tzu and the others with their quest for immortality putting the finishing touches on the way to be forever followed.

Many false starts by many with good intentions and some sense of direction from signposts they have read and heard along the way. Starting strong, enthusiasm high with motivation found to follow what they feel is the way of virtue.

In the end few succeed as the centuries pass as the dragons look to add more to their company. The entry list is very short as those coming this way often fail to see the Tao as it should be seen. Thinking that it can be turned on and off like a faucet. Each 100_4311wanting to come this way running. First hot, then cold and then hot again for the strength and comfort found only in the inner self along with the Tao.

The desire for immortality and desire to return home again to live with dragons the driving force behind the effort that must be made.

The journey is not one that can begin and end over and over at one’s leisure. The immortal ones do not have time to waste on half-hearted efforts. They cannot be bothered. Keeping to one’s eternal spirit is the motivation to continue the journey. Learning and teaching others along the way.

Be happy with the road to be traveled and find comfort solely within the details.  (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon) 4/13/94

The Wu – Shaman of Ancient China 

Their relationship to the cosmos was a shamanic one. At least some among them Ancient riverswere able to communicate directly with plants, minerals, and animals; to journey deep into the earth, or visit distant galaxies. They were able to invoke, through dance and ritual, elemental and supernatural powers, and enter into ecstatic union with them. The class of people most adept at such techniques became known as the wu – the shamans of ancient China. Early China was developed mostly along the Yellow River to the north and the Yangtze River delta around current City of Shanghai.  It was the Yellow River that divided China north and south that played a major role in clan and major family development.  And it was the shaman of the various clans who served as the glue who ultimately made sense of it all and pulled it all together.

The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

The leaders of this pre-dynastic era were the legendary Three Sovereigns, or “August Ones,” and the Five Emperors – morally perfected sage-kings who used their magical powers to protect their people and to create conditions for peaceful and harmonious living. The wisdom, compassion and enlightened power of these beings was considered beyond mortal comprehension; and the benefit they bestowed upon those they governed, immeasurable.

Fu Xi

The Heavenly Sovereign, Fu Xi, is said to have discovered the eight trigrams – the bagua – which is the foundation of the I Ching, Taoism’s most well-known system of divination.


The Human Sovereign, Shennong, is credited with the invention of farming and the introduction of herbs for medicinal purposes.

Yellow EmperorThe Yellow Emperor, Huang di, is known  as the father of Chinese medicine. He is credited with numerous inventions and innovations – including the calendar and is regarded as an initiator of Chinese civilization. Traditionally it is said he is from Qufu in Shandong province.

The Dragon in Chinese Culture

Dragons are deeply rooted in Chinese culture. The Chinese sign for the dragon first appeared upon turtle shells, a tribal totem, ages before the Xia and Shang dynasties, and was eventually emblazoned on the national flag during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). Chinese mythology is rich with the artwork, tales and depictions of dragons.  Equating figures such as Fu Xi, Shennong, and the Yellow Emperor with the dragon gave them heavenly and mystical qualities as the sage.

An Early I Ching

Brass emblem of I Ching found on sunken ship from 1400’s in Indian Ocean

Later, especially the Taoist figures Lao, Chuang and Lieh Tzu, Confucius, Mencius among others were said to achieve immortality as the dragon, a celestial being who rests on clouds in the sky. The emperor later became the “Son of Heaven” as the dragon.

Dragons are thought to give life; hence their breath is called “sheng chi” or divine energy. They are essentially benevolent and associated with abundance and blessing, helpful, wise and generous with their gifts when people encountered them.

The Age of Enlightenment – The Dragons

During the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty, the origins of native Chinese philosophy developed its initial stages beginning in the 6th century BC. The greatest Chinese philosophers, those who made the greatest impact on later generations of Chinese, were Confucius, founder of Confucianism, and Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu founders of Taoism.


Dragon found at entrance of Wuhan Temple Chengdu

Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were Mozi, founder of Mohism; Mencius, a famous Confucian who expanded upon Confucius’ legacy; and Xun Zi, who was arguably the center of ancient Chinese intellectual life during his time, even more so than iconic intellectual figures such as Mencius.

What is man’s place in the world and the cosmos?

This was the basic question of Chinese Taoist philosophy. Lao Tzu was born during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 to 476 BC) , but it is said he came from a very old shaman family dating back to the late Xia or early Shang. He was the first philosopher who tried to explain the Tao in Eastern Zhousuch a way that it could be commonly understood. According to Lao Tzu, Tao, or “the Way”, is the source and root of the earth, heaven and everything between. The Way has no starting point and no end. That the Way is nature itself and nature itself is the Way.  He actually wrote the Te Tao Ching in frustration because he got tired that no one would take his “oral” advice.

Lao Tzu borrowed the notion from the I Ching and the shaman that “the Way D13follows nature” to reveal a common yet profound truth in his book the Te Tao Ching: that all things found in the universe including man, and his society, have a natural character. Humans must obey the law of nature and should not put incessant demands on nature. That there was a “universal connectedness” with all things and that what was seen as government and man’s role should reflect this truth. That the powers of those in control of others should answer to this and not their own sense of importance and sense of ego. This paradox between the roles of Confucian and Taoist advocates became the pivotal argument in mainstream rule and in Chinese philosophical and politic outlook in the world. Do they “obey the laws of nature” or nature, or of humans, and why and how the two be so different?

Chuang Tzu (369-286 B.C.) was a leading thinker representing the Taoist strain in Chinese thought. Using parable and anecdote, allegory and paradox, he set forth the early ideas of what was to become the Taoist school.


Depiction of Chuang Tzu Qingcheng Mountain

Central in these is the belief that only by understanding Tao (the Way of Nature) and dwelling in unity can man achieve true happiness and be truly free, in both life and death. Witty and imaginative, enriched by brilliant imagery, making sportive use of both mythological and historical personages (including even Confucius), the book, which bears Chuang Tzu’s name, gave real legitimacy to Taoist thought in China beyond Lao Tzu.

Chuang Tzu espoused a holistic philosophy of life, encouraging disengagement from the artificialities of socialization. Promoting the cultivation of our natural “ancestral” potencies and skills in order to live a simple and natural, but full and flourishing life. He was critical of our ordinary categorizations and evaluations, noting the multiplicity of different modes of understanding between different creatures, cultures, and philosophical schools, and the lack of an independent means of making a comparative evaluation. It is said his writings provided the inspiration and connection to what was to become Chan Buddhism in China. He advocated a mode of understanding that is not committed to a fixed system but is fluid and flexible and that maintains a provisional, pragmatic attitude towards the applicability of this attitude and how we are to live. (This best describes my own personal way of thinking. I identify with Chuang Tzu’s attitude more than any other way of life. My own feeble attempts at understanding tell me I still have far to go).

Remaining Indefinable

Forever indefinable, an ageless knowledge beyond unity found in the oneness in all things.

Two Dragons

Two dragons on the Wall at Beihai Park in Beijing

How can one possibly hope to discuss the inner workings of the Tao? How can one hope to express what cannot be said? And finally, how can one hope to write about something that cannot be described or known?

As the sage studies many years before a glimmering of knowledge and understanding comes to the surface, he approaches what was before him the first instant. Learning is simply that which is brought to the exterior of oneself. There is nothing new. Only new ways to see nothing.

The Tao is simply the ultimate source of all. The origin and beginnings of everything that forever has roots and foliage, flowers and reseeds itself. Only to begin and end over and over again. Being present at the start and being there in the end. How can one hope to come to know what cannot be known or even desire to know such a thing as the oneness of Tao?

White Dragn

Dragon bracelet worn by favorite of Chinese emperor – Shaanxi Museum in Xian

What other role is there to have? Why have a reason to exist at all?  The answer is that the Tao gives true meaning and purpose to finding one’s way through the origins of the universe. Simply coming to know yourself and how you fit into the overall scheme of things is worth the cost of admission. Remain indefinable and know that the answer is in the journey itself.   (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon) 4/17/94

Disappearing Fences

The dragons prefer peace and take no action otherwise. Turning their heads to all knowing that conflict defeats all.

Neighbors may build good fences. However, it will be fences that good neighbors build together that remain standing against common enemies. Expect hardship even among friends knowing what important and what obstacles  are to be expected. Encounter difficulties in peace and success is assured.


The Dragon  of Ji Dan Temple in Qufu

Do not proceed alone in times of controversy. Surround yourself and be protected and protect others as well. Act appropriately with both friends and neighbors always maintaining close relationships.

Being at peace within oneself insures that those close by will not become enemies but instead are simply waiting for an opportunity to become your friend. All the while not taking advantage of another’s downfall.

At the same time knowing that your own carelessness and lack of judgment may be your own. Find peace and the fences good neighbors build may ultimately disappear like dragons riding on clouds in the sky.                                  

An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (11 TREADING / Heaven over Lake). 2/9/94. The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.

As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for Jul11leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching.  Verses 62 and 63 appear below. Verses 1 through 61 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.

A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others 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. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.

Thoughts on becoming a Sage

Verse 62 – Cultivating Humanity

Remaining at the lowest point of mediation where everything else comes to meet.  As if the confluence, or gathering point, of great rivers that all come together to create a united front or way.


The Lynx  Confucius Temple in Qufu

Acting as if this great river of life sustaining water irrigates your life and your garden. Remaining humble, as if the needs of others are shared and understood by all as each becomes nourished through your enlightenment.

Standing alone each is like a turnip found in the garden of the sage. Picked while still small they are tender and sharp, if allowed to get to large, the turnip becomes tough and bitter. Like the gardener, the sage cultivates humanity as if picking the turnips while they are small, thereby saving him much misunderstanding in the end.

The sage becoming simply a watershed making people content with the way they are. Showing the way, he attains the highest by remaining the lowest. By uniting and leading others, he succeeds by joining and serving others.


The Immortal Ones

In the truest sense he is cultivating humanity simply by tending his garden as he tends to all around him.

Wu Ch’eng says, “’Sanctuary’ means the most honored place. The layout of ancestral shrines includes an outer hall and an inner chamber. The southwest corner of the inner chamber is called the ‘sanctuary’ and the sanctuary is where the gods dwell.”

Su Ch’e says, “All we see of things is their outside, their entrance hall. The Tao is their sanctuary. We all have one, but we don’t see it. The wise alone are able to find it. Hence Lao Tzu says the good treasure it. The foolish don’t find it. But then who doesn’t the Tao protect? Hence, he says it protects the bad. The Tao doesn’t leave people. People leave the Tao.”

Wang Pi says, “Beautiful words can excel the products of the marketplace. Noble deeds can elicit a response a thousand miles away.” Te Ch’ing say, “The Tao is in us all. Though good and bad might differ, our natures are the same. How then, can we abandon anyone?”

Lao Tzu says, “The sage is good at saving / yet he abandons no one / yet the good instruct the bad / the bad learn from the good” (Verse 27).

Verse 63 – Becoming a sanctuary to all you meet

The sage acknowledges and understands that there is nothing that is not in keeping with the Tao. Especially true is that the Tao resides in each of us. Thus, in showing the way the sage is good at saving and directing those around him, while abandoning no one. Since the sage in essence is simply the embodiment of the Tao, abandoning or leaving behind another person could or would never enter his mind.


The Offering    TianHou Palace Temple    Qingdao

The sage’s surroundings are illustrative of how he sees his place in the ten thousand things.

As though he is seen creating a sanctuary that reflects his innermost sense of who he is yet to become. Kind and reflective, still yet expansive, he competes with no one and no one competes with him. His strengths and weaknesses have become razor sharp as he uses them to cut through what is perceived to be truth and falsehood. While he remains on the edge pushing others to places they would not otherwise go, he leaves no foothold for those who would follow except by accepting and following the Tao.

When he himself becomes the sanctuary for others to take refuge and follow, finding the comfort only found in the expression of the Tao, he is reminded that he who searches will find it and those who don’t only escape to wait until another day.


Finding the Sanctuary within Oneself  TianHou Palace Temple  Qingdao

Ho-Shang Kung says, “To act without acting, means we only do what is natural. To work without working means to avoid trouble by preparing in advance. To taste without tasting means to taste the meaning of the Tao through meditation.”

Li Hsi-Chai says, “When we act without acting we don’t exhaust ourselves. When we work without working, we don’t trouble others. When we taste without tasting, we don’t waste anything.”

Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “To act without acting, to work without working, to taste without tasting is to conform with what is natural and not to impose oneself on others. Though others treat him wrongly, the wrong is theirs and not the sage’s. He responds with the virtue that is in his heart. Utterly empty and detached, he thus moves others to trust in doing nothing.”

Chiao Hung says, “Action involves form and thus includes great and small. It is also tied to number and thus includes many and few. This is where wrongs come from. Only the Tao is beyond form and beyond number. Thus, the sage treats everything the same: great and small, many and few. Why should he respond to them in anger?”

Te-Ching says, “When I entered the mountains to cultivate the Way, at first it was very hard. But once I learned how to use my mind, it became very easy. What the world considers hard, the sage considers easy. What the world considers easy, the sage considers hard.


By 1dandecarlo

July 20, 2018

Joseph Campbell meets the Frog in the Well (continued from previous post) and the transformation of our consciousness  

If you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you should. Even if short-term. There is a D13phenomenal interview done between Bill Moyer and Joseph Campbell you should watch over and over again. It is well worth your time. It is about the power of myth and its role in our discovering who we are and how our consciousness transforms, shapes, and commits us to change. Campbell ultimately is a teacher. It is here I continue our story.

What is it a teacher does, but to teach a new way of consciousness and how to think AM7for ourselves. That it is the trials of the journey we see in the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, that propel each of us to our transformation and ultimate destination, often even meaning the return to our source.

That it is the trials one faces on the journey knowing that there can be no reward without renunciation, paying a price. This is often the process of losing who we thought we were. We can see this in the Frog in the Well story where the frog initially only thinks of himself through his limited knowledge due to his environment. That for us our primary task is to stop thinking only of ourselves, our own self-protection. Often this means giving ourselves to another. We see this in others jumping down in the well without regards to their own safety.

What Campbell is speaking to is this transformation of consciousness. In effect, moving from one way of thinking to another.


Looking to Heaven’s Gate   Big Wild Goose Pagoda      Xian

To the point that you now have to think differently. This transformation is caused by trials and illumination, i.e., seeing the light. That it is through trials and revelations that we move forward thinking… ya, I can do that. The power of myth is that it has always been the hero figure who we model ourselves after. Ultimately it is when we act on instinct (look within) that we achieve our goal and in the case of the frog (my students), they learn seeing beyond ourselves (who we think we are), to who we are yet to become. Campbell uses the analogy, the myth of Star Wars, to show how we are all connected ultimately to what he calls finding our bliss and not being afraid to follow it.


Inward Thinking Shaanxi National Museum

For the teacher it is helping others see the vitality within themselves. That it is out of your center that has to be known and held – that the action comes. In Buddhism we often refer to nirvana. Nirvana is a psychological state of mind. It’s not like heaven, it is here in the midst of our daily turmoil (called samsara), your life’s conditions. Nirvana comes when you are not compelled by desire or by fear. When you hold to your center and act out of there. The Buddha doesn’t show you the truth, he illuminates the way YOU are to follow. All a teacher can do is give you a direction… as if a lighthouse with a beam of light you must follow for yourself. The whole idea of the frog in the well myth is to bring us into a consciousness that is spiritual that speaks directly to us as we move into the light.


Telling the Whole Story  Jiming (Rooster) Buddhist Temple Nanjing

The key is letting go and using the force of our imagination to take us there. To remain where we are or look upward and move towards the light. To be prepared and ready for it when we see it. Campbell calls it a manifestation of your character. However, the conditions have to match the readiness of someone who can then find this for themselves. The key is the achievement must be one we are ready for. The desire to step out and say, “yes I can do this”. Hence the value of the teacher showing the way. It becomes what you are ready for is what you get. Some will find a way to get out of the well and some will not. The transformation becomes something they did not know or had forgotten they already possessed within. What I have just said is very important that relates ultimately to our spiritual growth. The power of myth helps to take us there. Raising our consciousness up to a different, or higher, level.


The Ultimate Tally          Confucius Temple   Qingdao

To associate with the powers of nature that for the Chinese has always been the yin and yang, the I Ching. With this they can leave the well by learning how to fly. Hadn’t Confucius begun his quest all those centuries ago by studying the five ancient classics and the I Ching, the Book of Change?  Wasn’t it by looking back at what had occurred that one could know what was to come next when similar circumstances presented themselves… and who was this modern-day teacher/philosopher who kept coming and going. What could he possibly teach them they did not already know? Now he appears having written a new version of the I Ching, claims to being a Taoist philosopher and having written extensively about the Tao and Lao,Chuang, and Lieh Tzu… and knew the history of the frogs at the bottom of the well better than they knew themselves… or better said what they had always known and taken for granted or simply forgotten.


The sage at the Gate

Perhaps he was here simply to remind them.   But then isn’t all true learning re-learning what we have always known and simply forgotten. Ultimately, the true test is do we serve the system or do we change the system for the better. An even bigger question is this why we return over and over again. That if a person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and follow a certain path, he will surely find trouble. He soon finds himself out of alignment with whom he is yet to become. That the creative spirit lies out there beyond the boundaries of the norm. As if on the edge of what is known verses what is yet to be discovered.

What a paradox living had brought their cold dark home. What was the true meaning of happiness? They had thought everyone wanted what they had… An endless supply of bugs to eat and lots of relics from their past they had brought with them to admire. Who needed a future when they had their past? Why couldn’t living in your past be enough to give you a future.


Embracing the Past       Wuhan Temple Chengdu

Was it the role of this new teacher to somehow show them the way? They had learned you could be as complete a frog, or person as your spirit had taken you by embracing the past and that in itself had always been enough.  Others from outside had come along and taken the finer points of Confucius for themselves, because they could do so without the need to join those in the bottom of the well.   Leaving them with a few crumbs that others infrequently threw down to seemingly make them happy with what they had left from memories of who they once were.  Having nothing to do, they had learned the happiness of doing nothing except to wait and watch for the sun to pass by each day or wishing on a star seen but for a moment overhead at night. Being left to be content with just what they had.

But then they had known the sweetness, or happiness of doing nothing and wondered why or how change could possibly bring them something they felt they already possessed. They began to understand that it was nothing more than not living beyond oneself. To not become enamored or attached to things you really have no use for. Over time it seemed everyone else wanted what they had without having to take the plunge into a deep dark well that was only lit an hour or so a day when the sun was directly overhead. They knew they must bring others to someplace they would go, if only they could go themselves without their leaving home.


Embracing the Light        Nanjing Museum 

Otherwise to be left in the dark…  to be as complete a person as your spirit has taken you thus far but now frozen, or found, in the bottom of the well as if waiting for change that must inevitably occur.  Your memories however reminding you of what you are here to contribute that will lead you back to your ultimate endeavor and destiny beyond where you now find yourself in the bottom of the well.

Their new teacher or the philosopher telling them they must first overcome their fears so that they too could learn how to come and go as he does, but they can’t or won’t because they have lost the desire or knowledge of how to do so.  It seems they were not always a frog whose jump was just a few inches. That this being enamored with Confucius and looking inward had blinded them to other abilities they had always had but now never used.  That their comfort in doing nothing but rest on the laurels of Confucius had made them into something they were not… that their fear of failure was more than their need for success that the venture out of the well would lead them too. It was just too easy to stay where they were.   They just thought they were happy…  a prevailing innocence that kept them… well innocent.


The Garden  Nanjing

But wasn’t that what following Confucius had taught them all these centuries? Just as it is said to get to the castle you must first cross the moat… the same goes for the thoughts you have each day. They are like the clothes you decide to wear each day.


Dan on Confucius Hill in Qufu where Confucius met with his students

That in reality the well they were in was an illusion they had created for themselves. As if they had intentionally dug it and then jumped in… Thinking that knowledge and Confucius would forever give them the cover they needed to maintain this happiness of doing nothing. An unaccounted-for love of being unaccountable to and for themselves except as they have been taught by the innate presence of Confucius everywhere they look.  As if he is always looking over their shoulder. As a look back shows he is always gaining on you when you are there in Qufu.

They had forgotten a neighbor of Confucius named Mencius who taught only love. That we are forever surrounded by grace and are here to be filled with love. To love the whole world and to allow our enthusiasm fill us with our gift and that we are to share that gift with everyone we meet.  Mencius lived a few centuries after Confucius and could see the hole people were digging for themselves.


Bells of Zeng Zi  Temple in Jiaxiang

Embracing the sage who would one day overshadow all they were to become. As the philosopher, you are continually reminded that you are here to do the work…. and to make things right.  That the happiness of doing nothing begins with knowing that to forgive oneself is the first step to happiness.  That God dwells within each of us as us… Just to be happy as we meet others smiling with our mind.

To treat everyone, you meet as a member of your universal family wherever they are. Knowing when you help yourself that you are actually helping others.  Understanding that to lose your balance is sometimes just living your life you are here to live. Accepting everyone you meet as a teacher. As you spend your time crossing over to who you are yet to become by always looking through your heart all the while knowing that it will be in this way we know God.

Coming back to Qufu and the frog in the bottom of the well…  finding the sweetness of doing nothing and enjoying where that leads as you begin by knowing others as you come forward to find yourself in the Tao.  Acknowledging your role as one responsible for bringing forth the words of the ancient sage as a member of the I Ching/Confucius Society in Qufu. To be the teacher and philosopher conveying that the only limits are self-imposed. Bringing the thoughts and works of Confucius and my friends (Lao, Chuang, and Lieh Tzu) forward as I endeavor to help others climb or even fly from the well themselves.

Below is an original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (10 TREADING / Heaven over Lake). 2/9/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.

Finding One’s Step

The day of great importance has arrived. A great journey is commencing. The dragons are curious.


Stepping Out  Temple of the 8 Immortals

Is there sincerity present? Is peace and harmony ever apparent?  The day has arrived.  Draw no attention to yourself  keeping to the back  woods, the mountains, streams and lakes.

Your feet must not stumble. It is important that you have worn the right shoes. With beating heart and trembling hands the way ahead requires endurance.

Concentrating on one step at a time. Focusing only on the path ahead. When trouble arrives remaining alert to peril, looking ahead and watching one’s step as one with nature secure in following the way of knowledge.


Following Dragons  Temple of the 8 Immortals

The dragons interest has peaked. Others have come this way and failed. these footprints appear to be true. A great journey is commencing.

As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Jul11Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching.  Verses 60 and 61 appear below. Verses 1 through 59 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.

A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others 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. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.

Verse 60 – The Way of long and lasting Life

Calmness and economy, two traits the sage follows instinctively. In becoming still, the sage turns to his breath and then his thoughts. When his thoughts are calm, his virtue remains within. When his breathing is clear, he is reminded of his center and being at one with the Tao and all things. By embracing economy, the sage can possess what he needs without using more than his spirit requires thereby keeping his virtue intact.


Accumulating virtue  Confucius Temple

Planning ahead the sage accumulates virtue, accumulating virtue means that he overcomes all. Overcoming all he knows no limit. Knowing no limit, he can return to the Tao as if guarding what is real. Knowing this, he takes care of his body and breath. Caring for his body he remains unharmed.

He stays behind as if one thousand years old. His roots nourished by the breath of ten thousand things. Maintaining deep roots and a solid trunk the sage prospers adhering to the way of virtue letting his branches and leaves breathe through eternity.

Ho-Shang Kung says, “If you cook a small fish, don’t remove its entrails, don’t scrape off it’s scales and don’t eat it. If you do, it will turn to mush. Likewise, too much government makes those below rebel, and too much cultivation makes vitality wither.”

Wang Chen says, “The government that takes peace as its basis doesn’t lose the Way. When the government doesn’t lose the Way, yin and yang are in harmony. When yin ang yang are in harmony. When yin and yang are in harmony, wind and rain arrive on time. When wind and rain arrive on time, the spirit world is at peace. When the spirit world is at peace, the legions of demons can’t perform their sorcery”.


Stele to Confucius ancestors   Confucius Temple

Su Ch’e says, “The inaction of the sage makes people content with the way they are. Outside, nothing troubles them. Inside, nothing frightens them. Even spirits have no means of using their powers. It isn’t that spirts have no powers. They have powers, but they don’t use then to harm people. The reason people and spirits don’t harm each other is because they look up to the sage. Ans the sage never harms anyone.

Verse 61 – Harmony finding the Way

Bringing harmony to all around him, the sage is reminded of cooking a small fish. Too much attention and the fish turn to mush, too little and it soon burns. Harmony can only flourish when each is allowed to find its own way. Some fish will become mush and others will burn. But in the end, if it is to be eaten a consensus or middle ground will be found.


In Harmony     Confucius Temple

In governing the world by following the Tao, the sage displays no powers. Just as the world learns to eat fish, he remains inactive or seemingly behind the scenes. He governs but does not act his virtue remaining intact with harmony always finding its way.

As the sage is the essence of virtue disharmony can never enter the picture. Neither can the people do him harm, nor him harm others, as he too finds the world’s middle and a place for everyone at the table.

Lao Tzu says, “The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers is because it has mastered being lower” (60).

Ho-Shang Kung says, “To lead a great state we should be like to sea: and we should be at the bottom of a watershed and not fight even the smallest current. A great state is the meeting place of both the high and low. The female refers to everything yin, weak, humble, yielding, what doesn’t lead.”

Wu Ch’eng says, “The female doesn’t make the first move. It is always the male that makes the first move. But to move means to lose. To wait means to gain. To move means to be above. To wait means to be below. The great state that doesn’t presume on its superiority gains the voluntary support of the small state. The small state that is content with its inferiority enjoys the generosity of the great state. The small state doesn’t have to worry about being lower, while the great state does. Hence the great state needs to be lower.”

Wang Pi says, “By cultivating humility, each gets what he wants. When the small state cultivates humility, it preserves itself, but that is all. It can’t make the world turn to it. The world tuns to the great state that cultivates humility. Thus, each gets what it wants, but it is the great state that needs to be more humble.”


By 1dandecarlo

July 12, 2018

We should help others to see themselves as the person they would hope to be.

In governing people and caring for Heaven, nothing surpasses economy. Economy means planning ahead. Planning ahead mean accumulating virtue. Accumulating virtue means overcoming all and overcoming all means knowing no limit.


The Teacher   Qingyang Taoist Temple

Knowing no limit mean guarding the realm. Guarding the realm’s mother means living long. This means deep roots and a solid trunk are the way of long and lasting life. Verse 59 Lao Tzu’s TeTaoChing translated by Red Pine. Developing this by remaining humble and teachable, not dogmatic within our own view and limitations. Acknowledging that you might be wrong about something is I think the key. Raising our consciousness by being open to change and transformed by what we see, do, and hear as we are all simply expressions of the Tao (God).

What is it that a teacher does, but to take us on a great journey beyond the limitations of who we thought we were or knew? That inspiration literally means the act of breathing, of taking it all in. To look before we leap. With guarding one’s breath seen as protecting the body’s mother. Understanding ancient teachings helps us to recognize our path when we see it and knowing that when we are truly ready the teacher appears.

In China teachers are revered for what they do to inspire and prepare students in school, as well as, society in general. In Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, it has a special meaning. Teaching in Qufu, following the tradition of Confucius who was the ultimate teacher in Shandong Province, and especially in his hometown was amazing.


Dan and students at Qufu Normal School

For me to live across the street from the Confucius Temple and Mansion and teach at the school where his descendants went to school was an honor. Many of my closest friends who live in Qufu and Shandong Province are his descendants.

There is even a special holiday every year in May for teachers in China. To have friends and students whose families have lived here for hundreds of years who could trace their family’s living in the same hutong (house in town), or village nearby is pretty remarkable. Visiting my students at home was always an experience for their family and many times their whole village or community.

Often when I was walking down the street in Qufu, people would stop and bow and say hello, or good morning teacher. Most knew me as Kongdan (my Chinese name), and that I had published the Unity Daily Word many years earlier in western Shandong Province.


The China Daily Word

The China Daily Word is considered a family keepsake for many of those who have a copy and has been seen by more than 3 million people. I was well known and people appreciated having foreign teachers who were there to prepare their children for the world they would later confront in the workforce and global society. It was as if China was preparing to step out of it’s ancient history and into the modern world. They wanted their kids to lead the way and education was the key to that occurring. China takes education much more seriously than we do here in USA. (It’s like the SAT in USA times a thousand). The competitive exams to get into the best high schools and universities are fierce and grades determine the student’s future. Banners often fly at all the schools in Qufu admonishing students to follow in the words of Confucius. One in particular I recall “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breed hope. Hope breeds peace.”

If parents can afford it, they often send their kids to schools far away from home in high school urging them to study hard for the college entrance exam they must ultimately pass for success. The ancient story below describing “The frog in the well”, describes this dilemma very well. In Qufu at Qufu #1 Middle School (high school) over 6,000 students live on campus, along with most of their teachers. Classes are six days a week from 8AM to 4:30PM. Then students return to their class from 6:30 to 9PM every day, yes six days a week. They are required to return Sunday evening to review and prepare for the coming week. USA cannot begin to compete with that and does not appear to even be trying.

Due to the one child policy, (recently amended), with only one child in the family, a family’s prospects for the future rides solely on their son or daughter’s ability to test well for high school or college.


Student artwork from Qufu #1 Middle School

Oftentimes, if they could not do well it would be back to the village and farm in the country-side. Today, because there are so many university graduates who want to be English teachers, the government has raised the bar even higher with the final exam after graduation from college. Fewer can qualify because there are so many of them.


Student artwork from Qufu #1 Middle School

Many of my students who intended to be teachers are now in import-export business, work for airlines in China, or even as tour guides. The exams are given twice a year. Some even quit their jobs to focus solely on preparing to take the exam next time. As if still at the bottom of the well unable to jump high enough to escape the inevitable.

I have been involved with the middle and high schools in Qufu for over eighteen years because of the Sister City Young Artist Program between Boynton Beach, Florida (where I lived from 1995 to 2015) and have also Jy6lived and taught in Qufu over the years.

My daughter Katie with several university students who volunteered to be “tutors” for her at her school

While I was teaching in Qufu, my daughter Katie, who was with me, attended 8th and 9th grade in Qufu as well.

Below is an original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (9 SMALL CATTLE / Wind over Heaven). 2/9/94 An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching. It can be found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.

Prospects for Rain

New beginnings can often bring a sense of insecurity, apprehension and conflict. Lack of communication brings one to quarreling, misunderstandings and misfortune.


The Threshold Temple of the Eight Immortals

Waiting for dragons to bring forth good fortune and rain is tenuous at best and can lead to anxiety and false expectations if one is not prepared to venture out. Maintaining and forging trust and integrity within oneself determines both direction and one’s fate.  In either rain or drought, or in sickness and health. All good things come to those who carry no guilt.

How one deals with misfortune reveals one’s true self and integrity.  Punishments can be expected by those who exploit others. Keeping to false self interests thereby causing others misfortune will also lead to disaster.


Becoming one with Nature / Wild Goose Pagoda

Keep an eternal sense of oneself by understanding clarity found in your inner chi and know peace and come to know the way of virtue.

Step back and know the outcome of your actions. Nature will always find the true course. Anticipate and rely on the coming rain. New beginnings require it, integrity trusts it, and so it shall be. ##

While in Qufu, I marveled at the people who seemed to literally spend their days doing little if anything to what most would attribute to doing work or something that might be defined as work. It was as if they were beyond work.


Memories of the Sages   Qufu

It cost so little to live there that if you chose that particular lifestyle, then that life would come the greet you and you would decide to stay. And you would find comfort in this and say to yourself… this feels pretty good.  At first, I thought this must be a Confucius thing. That knowing who you are and having over 2500 years of history to back it up meant “I can find happiness in being just who I am” without all the attachments living beyond oneself brings and be happy with who we are and as such aspire to nothing beyond this because this is the best life can bring…. or so it seems. I found the same attitude in other cities as well. I especially appreciate Chengdu in Sichuan Province and this feeling of “being beyond work”, and what it meant. People’s Park tea house which I will discuss in a later post, especially exhibited this laid-back feeling of “finding comfort within your own skin”, to the point of harmony with your environment that was pervasive as well as addictive.


Kunlun Mountains near Tibet

There seemed to be an unwritten connection between Buddhism and Taoism in Chengdu that has flourished over the centuries in the way people go about how they lived every day. It was both invigorating and enlightening… and hard to describe. As if yes… the fabled Shangri La could not be too far away.  (ShangriLa is a place described in the fictional book Lost Horizon by James Hilton. The British author created a mystical and utopian valley led by the gentle lamasery located in the western part of the Kunlun Mountains in China).

There is a similar phrase ‘La dolce vita’ meaning the good life, full of pleasure and indulgence popularized in Italy by a movie with the same title. Basically, having the means to live comfortably where you are with whatever you are doing. This phrase entered the language following the success of the 1960 film La Dolce Vita written and directed by Federico Fellini.

The Frog in the Well

This brings to mind the ancient story of the frog that lived in the bottom of a well. He Jy11was happy living an uneventful yet what he thought was a full life until he got the attention of another frog (some stories say it was a turtle) who happened one day to appear at the top of the well and learning what would appear as what his limited life brought him.  Once he learned of what he was missing being stuck at the bottom of the well, he at first became quite miserable.  The story could just as easily refer to my students when the distance to jump can appear as way too high. Too many of them and too few jobs that required knowledge of English. Or those living in Qufu or returning to the countryside happy to live within their means with just what they know and have.

Then for the students, most of them from villages in the country-side, a teacher, a Jy12philosopher as such who knew the teachings of the ancient sages appeared and reminded them of who they are and from where they came… as centuries earlier their predecessors had all come from the top of the well and they had made the choice to jump in and that they found themselves at the bottom of the well by choice. That they had become so comfortable here at the bottom of the well they had Jy13forgotten what lay outside the comforts of what they considered as home. This teacher was a new age philosopher whose task, or mission, was to rewrite the words of the ancients in order that they have life again after all the centuries that have gone by. He too had chosen to jump in and join them at the bottom of the well.  He had mysteriously been able to join them many times in the past having the means they did not possess so that he could come and go as he pleased. His presence only to help them rise above limitations they had found and to teach them how to fly.

That in the end what would it matter if the happiness they found here at the bottom Jy14of the well was enough or not or so they may have thought. However, just in case they spent all their time learning the language spoken outside the well… but possessed a lack of ability to climb out of the well once and for all.  That they should/could find the happiness they had known before being told what they were missing by doing nothing at the bottom of the well they now called Jy15home. Hadn’t they been taught by their greatest teacher Confucius that it was not where they are but who they are that was ultimately important. That they were to bring something to the table of life more important than what attachments and money could buy which was to find their niche, to have a sense of benevolence for all, and know and be thyself.

They knew the whole world looked to the teachings of the ancient sages. That their ancestors had originally been from this place. They knew all the stories about why they were here at the bottom of the well… that at some point they had been enticed to jump in. While now none of them thought they could leave, they must do more to entice other “friends from afar” to come join them at the bottom of the well who could help them to find a way to climb out.

They knew the teachings of Confucius by rote or so they thought. His teachings now but a shell of their former selves after being changed by commentaries over the centuries and adapted to suit whoever was in charge at the moment.  But they in fact innately felt they lived by them by finding and doing nothing more than being themselves. To ultimately achieve a transformation of consciousness, that takes them to places they otherwise would never go.


The origins of I Ching  Qingyang Taoist Temple Chengdu

(The story to be continued…. on the next blog post (July 21) in

The original ‘The Frog in the Well’ was written well over a thousand years ago. I wrote and adapted my own version in December 2010 and made additions later while teaching at Jining University in Qufu and Qufu Normal School teaching English to students who feel bound by where they now reside as they too endeavor to climb out of the well.

As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote Jy17in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching.  Verses 58 and 59 appear below. Verses 1 through 55 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.

A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others 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. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.

Thoughts on becoming a Sage

Verse 58 – Bringing the World along for the Ride

 The sage understands that most things under the sun are temporal, things coming and going with no lasting impact or purpose.

That once a certain direction becomes popular, indirection is what succeeds and that those who can remain still and inactive ultimately come forth to have the final say.

The sage knows that it is when we attempt to conquer the world we lose it. That the greater the prohibitions, the poorer the people become. The sharper the weapons, the greater the chances we will live in darkness.


Guardians     Wuhan Temple

The more we scheme, the more complicated the outcome becomes. The greater the treasure, the more people strive for things outside themselves. Therefore, the sage changes nothing and the people transform themselves. He stays still and the people come to their senses. He does nothing, neither talking nor teaching and the people correct themselves thereby enriching themselves.

Wanting nothing, everyone around him simplifies himself or herself. By accepting the will of heaven, the sage brings others to enlightenment. By knowing the final outcome his virtue remains intact. With his virtue intact, the sage simply continues along on his way.

Jy19Hsuan-Tsung says, “To stand aloof is to be relaxed and unconcerned. To open up is to be simple and honest. The ruler who governs without effort lets things take care of themselves.”

Li His-Chai says, “When the government makes no demands, the people respond with openness instead of cleverness. When the government makes demands, the people use every means to escape. When government that stands aloof leaves power with the people. The government that steps in takes their power away. As one gains, the other loses. As one meets with happiness, the other encounters misery.”

Wang P’ang says, “Everything shares the same breath. But the movement of this breath comes and goes. It ends only to begin again. Hence happiness and misery alternate like the seasons. But only the sage realizes this. Hence, in everything he does, he aims for the middle and avoids extremes, unlike the government that insists on direction and goodness and forbids indirection and evil, the government that wants the whole world to be happy and yet remains unaware that happiness alternates with misery.”

Lu Nung-Shih says, “Only those who are free of direction can transcend the appearance of good and evil and eliminate happiness and misery. For they alone know where these end. Meanwhile, those who cannot reach the state where there is no direction, who remain in the realm of good and evil, suffer happiness and misery as if they were on a wheel that carries them farther astray.”

Te-Ch’ing says, “The world withers, and the Tao fades. People are not the way they once were. They don’t know direction from indirection or good from evil. Even the sage cannot instruct them. Hence to transform them, he enters their world of confusion. He joins their dust and softens his light. And he leaves no trace.”

Wu Ch’eng says, “The sage’s inaction is inaction that is not inaction. Edges always cut. But the edge that is not an edge doesn’t cut. Points always pierce. But the point that is not a point doesn’t pierce. Lines always extend. But a line that is not a line doesn’t extend. Lights always blind. But a light that is not a light doesn’t blind. All of these are examples of inaction.”

Verse 59 – Remaining as an edge the does not Cut

Traveling back in time when I was one with my contemporaries; Lao, Lieh, Chuang, and yes even Kong (Confucius), I am reminded of times spent debating the great thoughts of the day, serving the emperor only a way to expand the path that should be taken.

The Eternal Dragon   Wuhan Temple

Facilitating order, eschewing the truth only found in cause and effect continually reminded that there is no right or wrong. That one’s destiny is only vaguely tied to our endeavors we become attached to in the here and now. Keeping happiness at arm’s length knowing it can only be followed by sadness. Both alternatives as if seasons.

Repeating through the ages the axiom that when either government or that governed stand aloof, the people remain relaxed and unconcerned as the sage remains in the background. Letting things take care of themselves, he is content to be free of direction as if blown along by the wind. Transcending uncertainty, he can see where everything begins and ends.

While the world withers and the Tao ebbs and flows, the sage remains content to remain as the edge that does not cut, as a point that does not pierce, as a line that does not extend and a light that does not blind.


The Immortal Turtle    Wuhan Temple

By entering the world of seeming confusion he extends the Tao to the world and shows the way. Living in paradox and knowing where things end he begins to transform all those around him.

Li His-Chai says, “Outside, we govern others. Inside, we care for Heaven. In both, nothing surpasses economy. Those that are economical are economical in everything. They’re watchful within and on guard without. Only if we are still, does virtue have a place to collect.”

Mencius says, “The way we care for Heaven is by guarding our minds and nourishing our natures” (7A.1). Wang Tso says, “Caring for Heaven means preserving what one receives from Heaven. It means cultivating oneself.”

Li Jung says, “When the ruler maintains the Tao, the country is at peace. When he fails to maintain the Tao, the country is in chaos. The country is the offspring. The Tao is the Mother.”

Wu Ch’eng says, “The realm is the metaphor of the body. Breath is the body’s mother. Breath that has no limit can preserve the body. Someone who fills themselves with breath can conquer the world and remain unharmed. Breath rises from below as if from the roots of a tree. By nourishing the roots, the roots grow deep. Breath flourishes above as the trunk of a tree does. By nourishing the trunk, the trunk grows firm. Thus, the tree does not wither.”




By 1dandecarlo

July 1, 2018

When we have no choice but to become the Light of the world

I think faith, or having faith, must be tied intrinsically to as Confucius would say Jul1benevolence and virtue, that we demonstrate this by how we treat others, and seeing things through to the change we seek. Or as the poet John Donne (1572-1631) a Jacobean poet and preacher wrote that we must know that “No man is an island unto himself” as a paraphrase of the Biblical quote of Jesus when he was said to have said “I am the Light of the world” and that each of us are capable of doing far greater works than He. Donne is referring to the principles of truth. That for a man or woman to find truth and connect to others, they must become less of themselves and more of this Light by allowing their own self-interests, desires, and thoughts, to be subservient to truth and reality. It makes one wonder just what Ronald Reagan famously meant with the reference and vision of America as a shining “city on a hill”. With such symbolism, it makes you wonder where we got lost along the way. Perhaps even asking the question – shining hill for whom? As we ask ourselves, how could thoughts of “nationalism” or “religion, race, creed, sexual Jul2orientation, or color”, get in the way of what should be seen as our “better angels and divine judgment?”

The basic premise of life as saying that something cannot be good for me unless it’s good for you as well that fits all into nature’s sway. In other words, we must share the Light. Or as Donne concludes “… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  Or as Earnest Hemingway was later inspired in his writing… it is for whom the bell ultimately tolls. I would add benevolence and virtue is ultimately contagious, rings true and tolls for each of us.

Like a cornerstone, a benchmark, or piece of a puzzle, in which we tie our own lives to. Getting the wake-up call as Eric Butterworth tells us in, “The Universe is Calling”, and opening ourselves to the divine. Or as the baton President Obama says that we each must catch, not fumble, and do our part before handing off. Why, Jul3regardless of commentaries, or dynasties and emperors in Chinese history, it becomes a bell weather that always rings true. Or as Confucius says, “The virtue of the ruler is like the wind. The virtue of the people is like grass. When the wind blows, the grass bends” (Lunyu:12.19). In what direction does that virtue blow today? That in reality the light of the world is simply a multi-colored rainbow we all inevitably bend to. Or, as I’ve said before in the George Harrison song, philosophy and religion is nothing more than “the road that takes you there”. It’s not the journey… it’s keeping to the destination that matters. And more importantly, what we do and who we have become after we have arrived.

Benevolence and virtue. How is it we learn to listen to that still small voice within and to live this way? And why can’t we live in a world of shared abundance? That without virtue, values have no place or lasting meaning. Tell me a story that shows the way and I will follow. It has always been that the one who could tell the greatest story is most likely to be remembered and believed. That the story must appear as if coming from a sense of lasting benevolence… from the light within us, in other words from the inside out. Speaking from eternal truths as nature, the universe, and our soul dictates.

As a university teacher at Jining University and teacher at the Qufu Normal High Jul4School in China, I used to always ask my students who themselves were destined to be teachers, to write a one-page essay as to what the meaning of this line meant, “to always live as if cause and effect becomes you”. We would pick three or four and have the student come up and read their essay and then the class would discuss. My classes were always about not only learning English as a second language, but also expressing ourselves as what we really mean. That life is about measuring up to expectations we have for ourselves and investing that in others.

I am often amazed at the use of allegory and parables in storytelling used to convey what can be considered as true or false, or even something we would define as “fake news” today. From the beginning of time, especially as language developed and Jul5the written word was used to convey meaning and context to events, using one thing to demonstrate another has been commonplace. Examples of this is best demonstrated by the Bible in western thought and philosophy, and in the teachings of the Buddha in Buddhism and Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu in Taoism in eastern thought and philosophy. Other religions have multiple stories to tell as well. Ultimately, we mirror the image of who we think we are yet to become in the grand scheme of things with faith in what is generally considered as unknowable. Ah… the greatest conundrum and parable of all.

One of the principle purposes of this blog, website, and my foundation is to demonstrate the universal connection we all share. A common Christian analogy is “having the faith of a mustard seed”, that nature and God will provide assurances of success. Both references below are thousands of years old and show the reason and purpose of having perseverance and being guided by or having faith.


Christian Church of Jining in Shandong

For myself, as a mystery of the universe, is asking why the belief that we do not encounter God through all religions? How can we ourselves become universal without an appreciation for all paths to God? An example would be that Christianity was not introduced in China until the sixteenth century and then only along the coastal and river cities (Canton, Nanjing, Peking and Shanghai). Prior to 1949 and the Communist government taking over, almost all cities in China had a Christian and/or Catholic church.

Does that mean everyone prior to this time was destined to hell? For a country like China with millions of people and thousands of years of history prior to that time… I don’t believe so. Today, the Christian “Family Church”, is commonly found in almost every city in China and baptism is frequent. What is frowned upon is not recognizing and accepting the path another person has chosen to follow.

Matthew 17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Later in Mark 11:23-24 – Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Stories, something conveyed as a myth, can be used to tell a truism that helps us to understand why or how things occur. Can simply asking for something in prayer or meditation by itself make something occur without our taking steps ourselves to make it happen as if in magic?


The bell tolls for Thee         Big Wild Goose Pagoda   Xian

As in reality, we are simply opening ourselves up to the universe and letting the eternal wisdom that already resides within come to the surface as us. As we develop confidence in our innate abilities and qualities and believe that these can be brought to fruition. We already have all the qualities needed for the path once we have found comfort in the shoes in which we walk. Why or how should we fear or feel challenged by the path another has chosen to follow? As I have relayed in my previous posts… things occur because and due to cause and effect. We always seem to want to know the outcome before it arrives and then bend to our personal favor. The same as, asking believing you already have it, and it is yours. Along with asking comes doing. (cause and effect) This theme runs concurrently with all ancient traditions and teachings with all things being equal in nature (the ten thousand things) and what is known as complimentary opposites (yin and yang) that answer to “universal law”. Why staying in tune with vibrations learned from the Tao are meant to become us. Why meditation, silence, and listening to that still small voice inside us are important to our ultimate destination.

I wrote a similar story to the mustard seed over twenty years ago that is famous in Taoist history in China from Chinese to English that appears in my book “My travels with Lieh Tzu”. The original pre-dates the above verse from the Bible and goes like this:

The mountains of tenacious Sincerity

After a lifetime of going around the mountains to get to a place directly in front of him, an old man decided that this was much too far to come and go.  That the mountains should be leveled and thrown into the surrounding sea. So that a road straight through could be built and travel to places a distance away could be made much closer.  All agreed, except the man’s wife who argued that at the age of ninety he was too weak to raze even the smallest hill.

Soon the work began as he and his sons broke up the stones one at a time and began carrying them to the sea. Those passing by scoffed at the idea. Asking how a man in declining years could damage mountains several thousand feet high, he responded: “Certainly your mind is set to firm for me ever to penetrate it. Even when I die, I shall have sons surviving me. My sons will beget me more grandsons, my grandsons in their turn will have sons, and these will have more sons and grandsons.


A partial reprint of the painting by Xu Beihong

My descendants will go on forever, but the mountain will get no bigger. Why should there be any difficulty in leveling it?”

All those doubting the old man’s tenacity were at a loss for words. The mountains spirit began to get irritated at those pecking at their feet and upon checking it out, heard about what was going on and were afraid the old man would not give up.

They reported the story to God, who was overwhelmed by the sincerity of the old man and his efforts. God commanded that the mountains be moved, one the Shuo Tung the other to Yung Nan. Since that time the area where the old man’s descendants remain is as flat as can be and can be traveled across with ease. The forbidding mountains long gone. With the strength of one’s sincerity what task can possibly be too overwhelming.   4/19/95

NOTE: The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains is a well-known fable in Chinese mythology about the virtues of perseverance and willpower. The tale first appeared in Book 5 of the Liezi (Lieh Tzu), a Taoist text of the 4th century BC, and was retold in the Garden of Stories by the Confucian scholar Liu Xiang in the 1st century BC. The Shuo Yuan, variously translated as Garden of Stories, Garden of Persuasions, Garden of Talks, is a collection of stories and anecdotes from the pre-Qin period to the Western Han Dynasty. The stories were compiled and annotated by the Confucian scholar Liu Xiang. (from Wikipedia) It can also be found here on my website in tab entitled, “My travels with Lieh Tzu”.


 Be careful the dragons are at play. With integrity comes peril. There is danger in knowing and conveying the truth. For those who need to hear the truth often cannot see it.


Zigzag Bridge Eight Immortals

Always convey the truth. Honor will only come to those with courage to say and do what is right verses saying what others simply want to hear. Reality will always be tested by those who question what is real. Support can be given in many ways. Self-preservation is arduous to maintain.  As both good and bad are exposed be careful the dragons are at play.

Teach others by doing the right thing. Be careful in conduct and illustrious of sound judgment. Know the oneness of Tao and be effective with others. Get and maintain the attention of others before speaking. Good advice wasted on someone not listening can lead to one’s own demise.


The Onlookers Eight Immortals

Be careful. Be careful.                        

But show support for those who endeavor to do the right thing.

An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (8 SUPPORT / Wind over Heaven). 2/9/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.

Why finding the silence, clearing our thoughts and mind just to be ourselves becomes so important. To live as if cause and effect becomes you.


To be with Dragons

As if simply showing up… away from distractions (we call monkey mind in Buddhism) becomes our first step and final call.  But where are we doing it from? It’s a matter of connecting to and with a universal presence that is always here, there, and everywhere and in everything. It is the Tao. It is emblematic of all things and shows no preference. In earlier posts I discussed matter, and how everything is here that was present from the beginning of time, only taking on different shape as nature determines what is needed. It is our connecting with the universe and having a clear picture or map of the road ahead that determines the future.

D13That connection has always been to and with the stars and understanding from where we came and most important our being ready to change. The universe needs us to be awake and to do our part. Being ready to listen in silence first, observe, then to act accordingly. It truly is that the stars are waiting for us to become one with them again. Finding the right mix between ambition and humility, vision and pragmatism seems to be the eternal challenge. We are here for just a moment. It’s up to us to find the reason.

As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching.  Verses 56 and 57 appear below. Verses 1 through 55 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.


A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others 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. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.

 Thoughts on becoming a Sage

 Chapter 3

 Verse 56 – You must be the Change you want to see in the World.

Should the path of the sage be drawn to only finding his own place in the scheme of the universe once he becomes the embodiment of the Tao, or should he depart from his first inclination and devote himself to bringing others along the way to find it for themselves?


Learning to speak with one voice while following dragons

Following his instincts, he knows he must first find comfort in where he has been, where his path leads and where his final destination will take him.

Once he is self-assured that he speaks with one voice and his actions speak for themselves, he can begin preparing for the greatest challenge the Tao and the universe can offer.

For thousands of years the sage has taken the back seat in the development of the world. Preferring to follow the traditional path to enlightenment concerned only with his own path, his own voice and his own actions.


Ji Dan  The Duke of Zhou

His virtue alone carries his spirit from past encounters along destiny’s doorstep. How much greater his role could be if he could use his place in the Tao to lead the way.

Giving others his light, they too can perhaps begin to shine their own and find their own path as well. To be the door others can use to open their own spirit to find their way. This could be the ultimate role of the sage, his highest endeavor. To lead without harming others and to live as Gandhi said…

“To be the change you want to see in the world”, by doing nothing more than by simply showing the way.

Ho-Shang Kung says, “Those who know value deeds not words. A team of horses can’t overtake the tongue. More talk means more problems”.


The Yellow Emperor

Ts’ao Tao-Ch’ung says, “Those who grasp the truth forget about words. Those who don’t practice what they talk about are no different from those who don’t know.”

Wang Pi says, “If something can be embraced, it can be abandoned. If something can be helped, it can be harmed. If something can be exalted, it can be debased.”

Te-Ching says, “The sage transcends the mundane and the superficial, hence he cannot be embraced. His utter honesty enables others to see, hence he cannot be abandoned. He is content and free of desires. Hence, he cannot be helped. He dwells beyond life and death; hence he cannot be harmed. He views high position as so much dust, hence he cannot be exalted. Beneath his rags he harbors jade, hence he cannot be debased. The sage walks in the world, yet his mind transcends the material realm. Hence he is exalted by the world.”

Wei Yuan says, “Those who seal the opening and close the gate don’t love or hate, hence they don’t embrace or abandon anything. Those who dull the edge and untie the tangle don’t seek help, and thus they suffer no harm. Those who soften the light and join the dust don’t exalt themselves, and thus they are not debased by others. Forgetting self and other, they experience Dark Union with the Tao. Those who have not yet experienced this Dark Union unite with ‘this’ and separate from ‘that’. To unite means to embrace, to help, to exalt. To separate means to abandon, to harm, to debase. Those who experience Dark Union unite with nothing. From what, then, could they separate.

Verse 57 – Becoming one with the dust of the World

The words of the sage cannot be heard. It is through his actions that he leads the way.


Images from the Wall  Qingyang Taoist Temple

Leading with simple virtue he remains quiet and unassuming.

When he talks he does so in almost a whisper so that others have to listen carefully so that nothing is missed. By controlling his breath, he focuses on self-control and stays away from extremes. To bring forth the virtue in the world he begins by transcending his human frailties and accepting his destiny and where it takes him.

In mirroring those around him, he begins by knowing when to enter and when to exit. As if he were sealing an opening or staying behind to close the gate. He focuses on dulling the edges and untying tangles to still the spirits.


Yellow Dragon  Duke of Zhou Qufu

He softens the light and joins the dust to adapt all things to the proper way. He unties all things but leaves no trace as if he was never there.

Transcending himself the sage cannot be embraced, cannot be abandoned, cannot be helped and cannot be harmed.

He cannot be exalted or debased. While uniting with nothing, there is nothing that does not unite with him. Yet there is nothing he does not do or has not done.

Sun Tzu says, “In waging war, one attacks with direction, one wins with indirection” (5-5).


Two Dragons Qingyang Mtn

Su Ch’e says, “The ancients sages were kind to strangers and gentle to friends. They didn’t think about warfare. Only when they had no choice did they fight. And when they did, they used indirection. But indirection can’t be used to rule the world. The world is a mercurial thing. To conquer it is to lose it. Those who embody the Tao do nothing. They don’t rule the world, and yet the world comes to them.”

Ho-Shang Kung says, “In cultivating the Tao, the sage accepts the will of Heaven. He doesn’t change things, and the people transform themselves. He prefers not to talk or teach, and the people correct themselves. He doesn’t force others to work, and the people become rick in their occupations. He doesn’t use ornaments or luxuries, and the people emulate his simple ways.”

Wang Pi says, “Prohibitions are intended to put an end to poverty, and yet the people become poorer. Weapons are intended to strengthen the country, and yet the country becomes weaker and more confused. This is due to cultivating the branches instead of the roots.”



By 1dandecarlo

June 22, 2018

Living beyond illusion… Can we simply be an allegory of ourselves?

Ho Shang Kung says, “We cultivate the Tao in ourselves by cherishing our breath and by nourishing our spirit and thus by prolonging our life.


Cultivating the Tao                        Confucius Temple   Qufu

We cultivate the Tao in the family by being loving as a parent, filial as a child, kind as an elder, obedient as the younger, dependable as a husband, and chaste as a wife. We cultivate the Tao in the village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in the state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders. Lao Tzu asks how we know that those who cultivate the Tao prosper and those who ignore the Tao perish. We know by comparing those who don’t cultivate the Tao with those who do.”

What is an allegory but a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; as if, through our mind’s eye it must be the real thing. Perhaps even as a metaphor used to suggest a resemblance with something else. With the adage seeing is believing is the real thing. It’s what great writing does in taking us there. For me it is as the sage with my best times remembered as the dragon as intoned by the ancients. To give figurative treatment of one subject under the guise, or semblance, of another. As if our highest endeavor can only be found as our true selves above the clouds – again.  As we use ourselves as the symbolical narrative in telling the story that conveys even our own ultimate destiny. As if in living each day can we know what is real or something we imagined and even question if it can really even have mattered in the end.

If nothing more, it helps or guides us to find a place we may not have otherwise Ju2known asking if we were really present, or just acting as some semblance of ourselves. Or as in that old Lone Ranger episode we watched as kids all those years ago, often the only question remaining was “who was that masked man?” As if he too was only an allegory simply chasing after his own highest endeavor and destiny. In the end until the next episode always saying, “Hi Ho Silver… away”. But aren’t we all simply re-defining who we are meant to become.

Keeping with “My Travels with Lieh Tzu”, something I wrote many years ago seems to fit the universal nature we all eventually find and embrace.  The below entry seems to fit the times.

Changing Clothes

Forever reaching for the next rung on the ladder that must be followed. Beyond earthly endeavors. Attachments strewn about like dirty clothes waiting for their place in the right laundry basket.

One’s life simply the process of cleaning the clothes previously worn that must be recycled over and over again. To be constantly reborn. Anything that is seen of paramount importance only a test to be mailed in after you have found and corrected your own mistakes.

Outcomes only determined by lessons learned with only yourself checking and knowing the right answers. Mistakes although constantly repeated. Leading only to an eternity of self‑fulfilling prophecies of our own unwillingness to follow the ultimate path we know must be taken.


The Eternal Dragon Confucius Temple  Qufu

Finding the courage to change. Leaving behind patterns filled with adversity we have come to know as a life support. Forever keeping us down as a one-thousand-pound weight around our shoulders. Continually given the eternal chance to change. To keep living until we get it right as we live and die simply by letting go.

Finally finding the ladder. Cautious steps of optimism leading to places previously unheard of and unseen.  Knowing that eternal truth lies only in the steps that must be followed. Never looking back, thereby losing your balance the constant order of the day.

Be forever the agent of change. Knowing that the content found by others with everything as it remains is not the way things ultimately will be. Remaining forever unattached, letting go and finding yourself in clothes that are eternally clean.     12/30/94

What is the purpose of seeing things in allegorical terms, except to take or see things beyond the norm, or how we see ourselves in context with what cannot be seen or perhaps even known. Questioning what we think is given as a premise for what we believe is true. Great writing has always done this. As a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

An example can be seen in the poem ‘Harlem’ about the African American Ju4experience during the first half of the 20th century, Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) uses objects like ‘a raisin in the sun’ and a ‘festering sore’ to describe what he thinks happens when dreams are put off or Ju5deferred. The images are powerful because they give a memorable and concrete idea of the ill effects of unrealized dreams. Writers, like Langston Hughes, frequently feature symbolism in their work, using an object, person, animal or even color to stand in for an abstract idea. His poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of the working-class blacks in America, lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music. Hughes was from Joplin, Missouri where I grew up, but lived many places in his professional life, mainly in New York.


The chess pavilion, from the top of the East peak of Hu Shan Mt.

It is said that measuring the stature of great men by the yardstick of the small is difficult at best.  As if raising the bar never becomes too much to expect as we become guided by our peers, our becoming worthy of what I like to refer to as dragons. Almost to the point of saying… are we asking too much of ourselves and those around us to have that mountaintop experience. For the Taoist and Lao Tzu, the answer can only lie in “are we being true to ourselves”. For the sage the question becomes in seeing beyond our feeble ego, we see a world that nature provides as it asks “are we to make the most of it.” I always liked Hughes writing because he saw beyond what was a given, to what could become real if only we could see it in ourselves, perhaps if only in our dreams.

Finding the perfect segue for what comes next is a challenge, in that it presupposes a leap of faith to what I call the storyteller’s dilemma. It’s not simply telling the story but becoming the story as well. To be outside the limitations living brings you to allow others to see themselves in the story as participants. You don’t simply tell the story of dragons resting on clouds in the sky. You become one with the dragons, beyond earthly endeavors where much is expected and appreciation for how far you’ve come has been acknowledged and you are humbled as you take your next step. For thousands of years the shaman perfected and prepared others for the journey. Some got it as if innately knowing the next step, others never did.

One must have Merit

To be one with dragons requires great strength and demands discipline. Leadership requires courage based simply on merit. A cause pursued for or by dragons must be pursued with merit.  If not, the cause must be abandoned.


The ancient Dragon   Chengdu Wuhan Temple

Arise from obscurity and retirement. Find your place in the Tao and find a oneness with the universe. Requests from Heaven are difficult to comprehend on both land and water.


 Five Tier Pagoda Wuhan Temple

Without strength, the most sincere and righteous cause will not prevail. Find patience and your inner chi, or breath, and you will find strength. Find strength in the Tao and you will come to know dragons in the sky.

Once merit is found discipline can follow. Finding courage brings respect from friends and neighbors.

To find balance and harmony one must be worthy of dragons. To be one with dragons one must have merit to be seen dancing on clouds in the sky.

An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (7 THE ARMY / Earth over Water). 2/8/94   The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.

Another common use of allegory in language is what is called the parable.


    Zhuangzi  Qingyang Mountain

Described as a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. Usually a statement or comment that conveys a meaning  indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like. One of the most famous in Chinese Taoist history is attributed to the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) (369 BC to 286 BC), and the story of the butterfly dream, which serves as an articulation of Taoism’s challenge toward definitions of reality vs. illusion. The story, as translated by Lin Yutang, goes like this:

“Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called transformation of material things.”

This short story points to a number of interesting and much-explored philosophical issues, stemming from the relationship between the waking-state and the dream-state, and/or between illusion and reality: How do we know when we’re dreaming, and when we’re awake?


The Retreat    Shaanxi Museum

How do we know if what we’re perceiving is “real” or a mere “illusion” or “fantasy”? Is the “me” of various dream-characters the same as or different from the “me” of my waking world? How do I know, when I experience something I call “waking up,” that it is actually a waking up to “reality” as opposed to simply waking up into another level of dream? Or as Langston Hughes I think would remind us… that when awakened from the dream of our current state of affairs, we should be ready to move beyond the dream to the reality of to as he says, fixing the broken wing and being prepared to fly to what is awaiting us.

I have read and written about Chuang Tzu’s butterfly dream for more than twenty years. One of my favorite descriptions is Robert Allison’s “Chuang-tzu for Spiritual Transformation”. Employing the language of western philosophy, Robert Allison, in his book Chuang Tzu for Spiritual Transformation: An Analysis of the Inner Chapters (New York: SUNY Press, 1989),  presents a number of possible interpretations of Chuang-tzu’s Butterfly Dream parable, and then offers his own, in which he interprets the story as a metaphor for spiritual awakening.


Leshan Buddha    Chengdu

In support of this argument, Mr. Allison also presents a less well-known passage from the Chuang-tzu, known as the Great Sage Dream anecdote. In this analysis rare echoes of  Advaita Vedanta’s Yoga Vasistha, and it also brings to mind also the tradition of Zen koans as well as Buddhist “valid cognition” reasonings. It also reminds one of the works of Wei Wu Wei who, like Mr. Allison, uses the conceptual tools of western philosophy to present the ideas and insights of the nondual eastern traditions. Mr. Allison begins his exploration of Chuang-tzu’s Butterfly Dream anecdote by presenting two frequently used interpretive frameworks: (1) the “confusion hypothesis” and (2) the “endless (external) transformation hypothesis.” For myself, it is the “endless transformation” each of us endeavor to travel that is most intriguing and worth following.

As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote Ju12in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching.  Verses 54 and 55 appear below. Verses 1 through 53 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.

A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others 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. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.

Thoughts on becoming a Sage

Verse 54 – While cultivating his garden the world comes forth to meet the Sage

What is this thing called virtue and this personal quest we each must come to know? Where does virtue begin and how does it grow and manifest to guide us once we see ourselves in the Tao?  Once found, how do we let our virtue transcend our everyday desires so that we may see beyond ourselves to discover our rightful place in the universe?


Birds of Chongqing

To the sage the world reaches no further than his garden. He remains guided by planting things right so they cannot be uprooted and knowing what is nurtured cannot be ripped away.  He cultivates his garden as if tending his virtue.  He then cultivates others by reaching out to bequeath what is noble, pure and found only in the Tao.

Cultivating ourselves our virtue becomes real, cultivated in our family it multiplies, in the place we live virtue only increases and we prosper.  In the world virtue thus expanding everywhere.

In both perceived beginnings and endings, the sage looks no further than within himself. Staying completely still, within his true self the world comes forth to emulate him.


From seedlings flowers grow

Wu Ch’eng says, “Those who plant it right, plant without planting. Thus, it is never uprooted. Those who hold it right, hold without holding. Thus, it is never ripped away.”

Wang An-Shih says, “What we plant right is virtue. What we hold right is oneness. When virtue flourishes, distant generations give praise.”

Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “In ancient times, ancestral worship consisted in choosing an auspicious day before the full moon, in fasting, in selecting sacrificial animals, in purifying ritual vessels, in preparing a feast on the appointed day, in venerating ancestors as if they were present, and in thanking them for their virtuous example. Those who cultivate the Way likewise enable future generations to enjoy the fruits of the cultivation.”

Yen Tsun says, “Let your body be the yardstick of other bodies. Let your family be the level of other families. Let your village be the square of other villages. Let your state be the plumb line of other states. As for the world, the ruler is its heart, and the world is his body.”

Verse 55 – Gaining a firm grip on lasting Abundance

What does it mean to have lasting abundance when we leave our virtue behind?  How can we be full of breath, yet not know how to make our breath endure? If our essence remains within us, why does our virility stand in the way?


The Extension    Chongqing Museum

When you become simply an extension of the Tao, you go as if mindless through your endeavors. Without a mind, you have no thoughts or desires. You proceed fearless unaware of what may harm you or that you could possibly harm another.

Once you become aware that you are a part of something bigger than yourself and have a firm grip on the direction you must take, only then can you begin to focus your mind and cultivate the Tao. When your mind does not stray and a certain serenity surrounds you, then your breath can become balanced.

The sage focuses on his breath because when it becomes balanced his essence is stable, his spirit serene and his true nature is restored.

Controlling his breath, he endures and finds his true nature. Understanding his true nature, he is able to impart wisdom to others. He becomes unconcerned and extending his life as his spirit is uncluttered and has already rediscovered its place in what has been what may occur now and where he will spend eternity.  The sage has no fear of death because he knows his essence, or spirit, remains eternal.


With no thoughts or desires    Images of the Han      Confucius Mansion   Qufu

Wang P’ang says, “The nature of virtue is lasting abundance. But its abundance fades with the onset of thoughts and desires.”

Te-Ch’ing says, “Those who cultivate the Tao should first focus their minds. When the mind doesn’t stray, it becomes calm. When the mind becomes calm, breath becomes balanced. When breath becomes balanced, essence becomes stable, spirit becomes serene, and our true nature becomes restored. Once we know how to breathe, we know how to endure. And once we know how to endure, we know our true nature. If we don’t know our true nature but only know how to nourish our body and lengthen our lives, we end up harming our body and destroying our lives. A restless mind disturbs the breath. When the breath is disturbed, the essence weakens. And when the essence weakens, the body withers.”

Hsun-Tzu says, “Everything must breathe to live. When we know how to breathe, we know how to nurture life and how to endure”.

Sung Ch’ang says, “The basis of life rests on this breath. If someone can nourish the pure and balanced breath within himself for fifteen minutes, he will discover the principal of Heaven and Earth’s immortality. If he can do this for half an hour, he will gain the gate of eternity. But if he tries to extend his life or force his breath, he will create the womb of his destruction.”

Mou-Tzu says, “Those who attain the Way don’t become active and don’t become strong. They don’t become strong and they don’t become old. They don’t become old and don’t become ill. They don’t become ill and don’t decay. Thus, Lao Tzu calls the body a disaster” (32).

By 1dandecarlo