Bringing our Sage Mind and Heart into coherence with the way of the Tao.
Following up from my last entry I want to talk about the Tao Te Ching, embracing change and that who we show up as is paramount. How is it we begin to be an authentic connection with who we are meant to be, to be present, and to live from the inside out? While there is much talk about mental health and anger today, what is the root cause? Is it because there is a lack of coherence, or meaning in our lives. How do we become true to ourselves? How do we learn to speak from our heart?
What does it mean to connect with and become our authentic selves? The Tao Te Ching is one of the most published books along with the Bible and Bhagavad Gita, and probably the most widely read and studied book in China along with the teachings of Confucius.
It has been interpreted hundreds of times in efforts to further reach an understanding of its meaning. Lao Tzu, it’s author, is recognized as one the greatest philosophers in history and is considered to be the founder of Taoism in China. It has deep roots in shamanism that go back to 3,500 B.C. and even earlier. It is as if time is giving us a chance or allowing us to be able to make sense of it all for ourselves. Bringing what we find in our thoughts and head, down into the actions spurred by our heart. To connect wholly within our consciousness and base our actions through them.
Instead of just posting from my own thoughts, references to others who over the centuries can better express the sentiments of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching are here. Helping me to do this, is a book of commentaries compiled by Red Pine entitled, Lao tzu’s Taoteching. You can find the book online at Amazon.com. The commentaries 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.
As mentioned before, I wrote my own version in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on Becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, was published in China in 2006. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, the prelude and first three verses follow here. Ultimately, it is what the sages have learned along the way that what guides us. Volume I includes verses 1 through 41 and Volume II will include verses 42 through 81.
Begin approaching the Te Tao Ching and your mentor Lao Tzu by seeing beyond life’s transparencies as if sorting through the clutter clouding your mind and your way.
Coming to understand that your final destination lies with the angels, or dragons, you have come to know over eons of time and space as you begin to contemplate returning home once again.
Not in the physical sense as if in the here and now, but taking steps to become the sage that belies your destiny. Knowing that true destiny can only be revealed by endeavoring to get it right this time.
It is in this spirit that I come forth to pursue my final unveiling.
Confucius says, “The Tao is what we can never leave. If we can leave it, it isn’t the Tao” (Chungyang:1).
Ho-Shang Kung says, “What we call a way is a moral or political code, while the Immortal Way takes care of the spirit without effort and bring peace to the world without struggle. It conceals its light and hides its tracks and can’t be called a way. As for the Immortal Name, it’s like a pearl inside an oyster, a piece of jade inside a rock: shiny on the inside and dull on the outside.”
Ch’eng Chu says, “A sage doesn’t reveal the Way, not because he keeps it secret, but because it can’t be revealed. Hence his words are like footsteps that leaves no tracks.”
Verse 1 – Just one big la ti da after another
Encountering constant renewal.
Understanding the paradox living brings each day. That once we find comfort in the way or direction we pursue today, we become aware that this is not the true way we are here to travel.
That when we are free of desire we can see where things begin and when we are subject of desire we can see where things end.
Li His-Chai says, “Things change but not the Tao. The Tao is immortal. It arrives without moving and comes without being called.”
Su Ch’e says, “The ways of kindness and justice change but not the Tao. No name is its body. Name is its function. The sage embodies the Tao and uses it in the world. But while entering the myriad states of being, he remains in non-being.”
Wang Pi says, “From the infinitesimal all things develop. From nothing all things are born. When we free of desire, we can see the infinitesimal where things begin. When we are subject of desire. we can see where things end.
The Shuowen says,” In Shensi province, where this text was written, doors are still painted black with a thin line of red trim. And every road begins with a door”.
Verse 2 – Transforming Realities
The sage transforms his feelings and returns to his true nature thus becoming one with the universe once again.
What displays beauty cannot be beautiful. What is hard must become soft.
He focuses on ending distinction, getting rid of name and form and making of himself a home for virtue.
Lu His-Sheng says,” What we call beautiful or ugly depends on our feelings. Nothing is necessarily beautiful or ugly until feelings make it so. But while feelings differ, they all come from our nature, and we all have the same nature. Hence the sage transforms his feelings and returns to his nature and thus becomes one again.”
Wang An-Shih says, “The sage creates but does not possess what he creates. He acts but does not presume on what he does. He succeeds but does not claim success. These three all result from selflessness. Because the sage is selfless, he does not lose his self. Because he does not lose himself, he does not lose others.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “Those who practice the Way put an end to distinctions, get rid of name and form, and make for themselves a home for the Way of Virtue.”
Verse 3 – Preparing the Way
The sage must begin again by daily ritual and purification. You must prepare an area for optimum meditation and reflection.
You must set aside all other activities and thoughts so as to be quiet, still, able to listen and be prepared to learn.
You must instill determination, release all desires, and come to find discipline. When you are ready all will flow unimpeded through you.
You are to become the vessel when and if you remain worthy of the mantle placed upon you. All is within you – everything you need is already here. We have been waiting for you to be fully prepared for the journey.
Clear your mind, cleanse your heart and open your mind and be prepared for the great and auspicious journey to come.
Use every moment to seek clarity. Paying attention to detail brings focus necessary for true learning. Come forward to know thyself and all will become clear.
Now go. But remain vigilant and dedicated to who you are to become. Your endeavors will bring forth your ultimate destiny.
Wang Chen says, “The sage empties the mind of reasoning and delusion, he fills the stomach with loyalty and honesty, he weakens the will with humility and compliance, and he strengthens the bones with what people already have within themselves.”
Yen Tsun says, “He empties his mind and calms his breath. He concentrates his essence and strengthens his spirit.”
Finally, Huang Yan-Chi says, “The sage purifies his ears and eyes, puts an end to dissipation and selfishness, embraces the one, and empties his mind.
And Liu Ching says, “This verse describes how the sage cultivates himself in order to transform others.”
For over two thousand years the words of Lao Tzu guided the Emperor and those who orchestrated dynasty to dynasty… Wang Pi in the Han dynasty did an interpretation that became required study for the Imperial Examination System. It was in the final sentence above… how the sage cultivates himself in order to transform others that became the order of the day. With all moving in the same direction the heart finds peace with relationships that brings the coherence that the Taoist understood and the sage found unifying…
Is it Values over Virtue… and why should it Matter
Many people pay little or no attention to history. Thinking all they need to know is within their own way of thinking today. Everything now seems driven by 24-hour news cycles and social media, and how it fits within our own ideas of “what is – and how things should become an image of our own beliefs”. We adhere to what fits with who we think we are, without truly knowing what or who that is. We seem to be lost in our own values and how our world, and everyone else’s must come into our own take on outcomes. And with positions on things without regard if virtue resides on our side or not. The problem being that our true nature and virtue do not take sides. Those who try to live with values without virtue seldom win the day. The shaman, Lao Tzu, and Confucius taught benevolence toward others leads back to ourselves and we should act with our virtue remaining intact.
This was always the first order of business in China for dynasty after dynasty and it is why the benevolence and virtue expressed by Confucius has permeated Chinese culture for more than 2500 years. Today there are more than 800 Confucius Institutes outside of China that dot the globe. They teach Chinese language, culture, and the importance of Confucian virtue. I think the USA has the equivalent in military bases. Think about that for just a moment. The Chinese see things first in five-year increments that lead to one hundred-year spans of history, while we are limited to social media and to what may happen today.
If our virtue is ultimately what defines us as individuals (and from the standpoint of the universe it is all we come into and depart with when we leave), then what values that support these virtues do we embrace? If we pre-suppose that we are a spirit having a human experience, then can we further our position in the universe by not understanding that everyone we meet, see, and yes touch… is also on a similar personal journey.
The Sage’s Ten Commitments
- Do not ruminate over trifles – things of insignificance in the scheme of things. Losing attachments the means of letting go.
- Reflect cause and effect – know what comes around goes around. Minimize all encounters not in keeping with your journey.
- Be who you are yet to become – reflect the image of your highest endeavor and destiny. Resting in the assurance and reminded of from where you came and to where you will return.
- Be the teacher of what should be done in every situation you encounter.
- Encourage and strengthen others in defining their role befitting their own endeavor and destiny.
- Never be the one bringing drama or self-interest to the situation.
- Do only the minimum – leaving no tracks as to your presence. Only wisdom others can reflect on and call their own.
- Let the world come to your doorstep. If it decides to go or look elsewhere then you were not needed or necessary to the final outcome. Remembering that the saga or circle is never-ending.
- Celebrate and acknowledge you are on the path you are meant to be on – stay tuned in as there will always be outside influences meant to test your resolve, perseverance and intentions.
- Stay in the moment – reflecting what is in front of you bringing it to what and where it should be as only the Tao and dragons and God would have it. 7/17/2010
A commitment is how the sage sees our place in the world and steps toward enlightenment. My last entry here focused to Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and its role on setting the stage for how we approach life.
Verse three ended with the paradox of the sage lies in rather to take action… or not. Wei Yuan explained it this way “The reason the world is in disorder is because of action. Action comes from desire. And desire comes from knowledge. The sage does not talk about things that can be known or display things that can be desire. This is how he brings order to the world.” For myself, it is this conundrum that defines the paradox living in the world and deciding how to live our lives.
Fortunately, life and things don’t end here. There are eighty-one verses of the Tao Te Ching to evaluate and study. Why? It represents the essence of personal transformation and how the perception and connection with some sense of enlightenment permeate who we are to become.
Rather we do so this time or the next, or the next… Truth be told, it addresses how we modify our own behavior in light of what we acknowledge as internal truths. What we are here to acknowledge is that life, and yes death, are a continuation. What Chuang Tzu called the pivot becomes how we learn to make the best if it. Awakening can occur in an instant or not at all. It is often how we are paying attention and who our travelling companions are, that determines our fate. We continue now with verse four of my interpretation and commentaries of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. The complete book entitled, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, can be found on my website. Selected commentaries are from Red Pine’s Taoteching.
Verse 4 – Remaining as the Ancestor of all Things
Reminded constantly to remain empty. To go with the flow letting events carry you onward with no sense of predetermined outcome. Yet shaping everything along the way.
Adjust your light to the crowd and merge with the dust of the world. All the while lifting those around you to otherwise unattainable heights.
Appear to have no ambition, dulling edges and not insisting on anything. Have no fear and display utmost courage thereby untying every knot and avoiding nothing. Remaining as the ancestor of all things. Clear and yielding yet ever-present. As if close by, but not making any appearances just the same. ##
Wang An-Shih says, “The Tao possesses form and function. Its form is the original breath that doesn’t move. Its function is the empty breath that alternates between Heaven and Earth.”
Li His-Chai says, “The ancient masters of the Way had no ambition, hence they dulled their edges and did not insist on anything. They had no fear, hence they untied every tangle and avoided nothing. They did not care about beauty, hence they softened their light and forgot about themselves. They did not hate ugliness; hence they merged with the dust and did not abandon others.”
Lu Nung-Shih says, “Clear describes what is deep. If it is deep, it is clear. The Tao comes from nothing. Hence the Tao is the child of nothing.”
Verse 5 – Remaining Empty Yet Inexhaustible
Again, reminded to remain empty.
Quiet and still, as if a bellows only responding to what fits. Not tied to the present or attached to the past, as if heaven and man were the same lineage. As you continue to guard your inner virtue, or voice from that which would drain you.
To know without needing to know, talk without needing to talk, hear all things without needing to hear. You are simply the essence of the one true spirit contained in all things yet remaining hidden from view.
Too many choices lead to lost chances. Divert not from the path the Tao would have you to follow. Remain in cheerful countenance to all you encounter. Empty yet inexhaustible thereby becoming the voice of eternity.
Huai Nan-Tzu says, “When we make straw dogs or clay dragons, we paint them yellow and blue, decorate them with brocade, and tie a red ribbon around them. (like a modern-day Christmas tree) The shaman puts on his black robe and the lord puts on his ceremonial hat to usher them in and see them off. But once they’ve been used, they’re nothing but clay or straw.” Similar description appears in Chuang Tzu: 14.4.
Wang P’ang says, “A bellows is empty so that it can respond to things. Something moves, and it responds. It responds but retains nothing. Like Heaven and Earth in regard to the ten thousand things or the sage in regard to the people, it responds with what fits. It isn’t tied to the present or attached to the past.”
Hsin Tu-Tzu says, “When the main path has many byways, sheep lose their way. When learning leads to many directions, students waste their lives” (Lieh Tzu: 8-25).
Verse 6 – Accepting My Fate and Ultimate Aspiration
Reflect on the words of the ancients when they remind you of the age-old axiom – you are not here to create… you are here to relate.
The ten thousand things all must have their beginning, middle and end. Yet as they continually evolve, they remain never-ending.
The cycle remaining true to form and the Tao. Remain as the valley always nourishing that which comes forth to be made new again. What remains empty continues to have form. What has form takes shape and what take shape becomes the ten thousand things.
Everything you need is here waiting to be revealed the moment you are ready to accept your role in filling in the details. Simply embody the Tao and grow. ##
Wang Pi says, “The valley is what is in the middle, what contains nothing, no form, no shadow, no obstruction. It occupies the lowest point, remains motionless, and does not decay. All things depend on it for their development, but no one see its shape.”
Yen Fu says, “Because it is empty, we call it valley. Because there is no limit to its responsiveness, we call it a spirit. Because it is inexhaustible, we say it never dies. These three are the virtues of the Tao.
Tu Tao-Chien says, “This verse also appears in the Lieh Tzu: 1,1, where it is attributed to the Yellow Emperor instead of Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu frequently incorporated passages from ancient texts. We see their traces in ‘thus the sage proclaims’ or ‘hence the ancients say.’ Thus, Confucius said, ‘I don’t create. I only relate. (Lunyu; 7.1).
These three verses (4, 5 and 6) of the Tao Te Ching, all are attributable to the process of setting the stage, or finding ourselves in the right frame of mind to proceed with our virtue intact. First, acknowledging who we are and that we are to remain empty. Then defining, questioning, and coming to terms with our place in the Tao. As if we are the bellows that lies in the valley. Remaining shapeless, we return to our vital essence and begin again as we learn to relate with the ten thousand things. Knowing innately what we already know, that there is no reason to create anything new. Only to learn how everything should relate with each other as our values have no place else to find. With this we become whole and become both student and teacher to our surroundings before returning home once again.
Is it time to create a new story and even more important – what story are we telling ourselves that we stand in?
A dear friend in Florida who knows me well asked me the following… as if bravely asking a historian, “Is it time to create a new story?” She was mulling over a book by Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World We Know is Possible, that encourages us to ask the question, “What story do I stand in?”
Very often Taoism speaks of the “obstacle of the writings”: when we get caught up trying to find truth in the words themselves, rather than traveling through the words to the place whence they arose. In today’s world of social media, we often have to ask ourselves… where does truth lie? That truth often shines like a backlight through the words. Where then do we find the Truth? For myself, it has always been this way. Initially I thought as a writer, how could these words that I have written be my own. That perhaps the words were in effect passing through me in order to match that which mirrors my soul. That all writing if true is autobiographical. The who I am yet to become, or perhaps to recall who I have always been. As if the transformation was underway and by writing the words they would become me. Scary thought… Then as if prompted I wrote. “what you write is who you are to become.” That my friends, will get your attention. As if in remembering the storyteller I have always been I would say… ah the stories I would or could tell. As if I was catching my breath and the words would simply be there.
Keeping to Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching, when I wrote Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life in May/June 2000, we had traveled to Qufu about six months earlier for the first time. Of course, Qufu is the home of Confucius.
I had no idea that Qufu would be like a moth to a flame to me now that I have made almost fifty trips and am planning to return next Spring. The first day we were there it hit me. I had been here before. Qufu is the home of the Yellow Emperor who lived in 2700 BC, Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou in 900 BC and Confucius in 450 BC. In Chinese history these three would come to be known as dragons and become immortal. Over time they have served to help make my own way clear… As if following my own “Three Wise Men”. Given a chance to live following my own highest endeavor and destiny.
After all those trips and later living and teaching at the school founded by the descendants of Confucius, adjacent to the Confucius Temple and Mansion in Qufu a little over ten years later, well there was more here than meets the eye.
It gave real meaning to what I had written in my book mentioned above and to the verses 7, 8, and 9 below. And further defining what may be my purpose. My friends in Qufu gave me the name Kongdan. Kong is the family name of Confucius… and of course my first name is Dan.
The idea of creating a new story for ourselves can appear to be presumptuous. As if bringing an end to a myth of who we thought we were. Perhaps it is simply updating an old story we have always known, but simply forgotten that needed updating that is what ultimately empowers us.
Even more so when we gain a sense of purpose and direction that gives meaning to the story we are here now to stand in as our original self. I think this is what Joseph Campbell meant when he referred to “finding our bliss”.
The first paragraph above speaks to the obstacle of the writings, especially when we get caught up trying to find truth and meaning behind the words themselves that reflect, or define us.
Below is the continuation of my book Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, as if following the guideposts laid down by Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. The commentary, as before, is from Red Pine’s Lao Tzu’s Taoteching. Ultimately, the question becomes… have we found and are we living in our own story? The following three verses were intended to keep me accountable to mine and to my peers, the dragons.
Verse 7 – Keeping to Heaven’s Promise
Keeping to Heaven’s promise through finding the immortality found on earth. Giving consent without expecting reward. Remaining humble – the only thing the sage seeking is virtue.
Forever creating an environment emulating and promoting the journey you must take to selflessness. As you have been given an opportunity to remain immortal simply by living for today. Truly living through grace.
Becoming adept at remaining in the background while setting the table for all who will come to eat their fill. Constantly reminded of your never-ending destiny as endeavors continue the process of your letting go.
As you remain content with who and where you find yourself. Living, dying and subject to change each moment. As you travel with no sense of age or time.
Reminded again and again that you can only move ahead by staying behind with a cheerful countenance with virtue to be shared by all. The utmost paradox living brings forth to greet you each day. ##
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “Heaven and Earth help creatures fulfill there needs by not having any needs of their own. Can the sage do otherwise? By following the Way of Heaven and Earth, the sage is revered by all and harmed by none. Hence, he too, lives long.”
Jen Fa-Jung says, “The sage does not purposely seek long life but achieves it through selflessness.”
Wang Pi says, “Those who live for themselves fight with others. Those who don’t live for themselves are the refuge of others.”
Wang P’ang says, “Although the sage is a sage, he looks the same as others. But because he embodies the Way of Heaven and doesn’t fight, he alone differs from everyone else. The sage is selfless because he no longer has a self.”.
Verse 8 – Taking Shape while Remaining Shapeless
Travel as if you were water taking on every shape that comes your way as you give life to everything and everyone you touch and meet.
Conveying the eternal spring that comes forth from you each day as if you were just passing by.
Being content to remain at the bottom of all things – free from blame. Avoiding competition while maligning no one.
Choosing humility and that which no one else chooses to do.
Travel like water as if approaching the unattainable Tao. Remaining clear and deep. Yet constantly emptying to give life to others. Reflecting but remaining pure as you cleanse all that you touch. Having no purpose of your own, assisting truth and helping others to find their natural way as if you were all encompassing, but not really here. ##
Wu Ch’eng says, “Among those who follow the Tao, the best are like water: content to be on the bottom and thus, free of blame. Most people hate being on the bottom and compete to be on the top. And when people compete, someone is maligned.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “The best people have a nature like that of water. They’re like mist or dew in the sky, like a stream or a spring on land. Most people hate moist or muddy places, places where water alone dwells. The nature of water is like the Tao; empty, clear, and deep. As water empties it gives life to others. It reflects without becoming impure, and there is nothing it cannot wash clean. Water can take any shape, and it is never out of touch with the seasons. How could anyone malign with such qualities as this.
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “Those who free themselves from care stay low and avoid heights. Those whose minds are empty can plumb the depths. Those who help others without expecting any reward are truly kind. Those whose mouths agree with their minds speak the truth. Those who make demands of themselves as well as others establish peace.
Verse 9 – Maintaining a Reservoir of Enthusiasm
Be careful of what you cultivate and prepared to let go of what fills you.
Know your obstacles before you enter the room or gate to further knowledge and understanding. As if you were a waterfall, only releasing that which does not define your true motives and destination.
Since fullness leads to emptiness – remain empty prepared to become full again and again. Since sharpness leads to becoming dull, avoid zeal and maintain a reservoir of enthusiasm. Since riches lead to worry and excess avoid calling attention to yourself and maintain value within so that it cannot be taken away. When your task is done treat it as though it were nothing and move on to be reminded of the knowledge of ten thousand things.
As you let your enthusiasm carry the day. ##
Liu Shih-Li says, “Since fullness always leads to emptiness, avoid satisfaction; since sharpness leads to dullness, avoid zeal; since gold and jade always lead to worry, avoid greed; since wealth and honor encourage excess, avoid pride; since success and fame bring danger, know when to stop and where lies the mean. You don’t have to live in the mountains and forests or cut yourself off from human affairs to enter the Way. Success and fame, wealth and honor are all encouragements to practice.
Wand Chen says, “To retire doesn’t mean to abdicate your position; rather, when your task is done treat it as if it were nothing.”
Ssu-Ma Ch’ien says, “when Confucius asked about the ceremonies of the ancients, Lao Tzu sad, ‘I have heard that the clever merchant hides his wealth so his store looks empty and that the superior man acts dumb to avoid calling attention to himself. I advise you to get rid of your excessive pride and ambition. They won’t do you any good. This is all I have to say to you’”
This is a very famous quote of what was considered the only meeting what may have occurred between Confucius and Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu is considered to have felt Confucius was to “full of himself and very ambitious”. His bringing him down a notch or two, was a very significant event in Chinese history. Coming from Ssu-ma Ch’ien the storied historian of ancient China gave it credence.
When I wrote the above verses of my own version of the Tao Te Ching, I went back and tried to compare what I had written over a few days in May 2000 with other translations, and I was happy with what I had written. I felt I had captured the essence of what Lao Tzu intended to say. It was as I mentioned in the first paragraph above, as if the conveyor of basic truths that were simply passing through me and whatever story I had been telling myself or standing in was to change.
The Gift of Immersion
A large part of the “Christmas spirit” for many is the hope of creating memories that immerse us into something bigger, or larger, than ourselves that are worth remembering. Our religious experiences during the holidays serve the purpose of helping us to define what that might be.
I often talk here on face book and my website about the paradox of the sage, as if living in two worlds. In my unpublished manuscript, My Travels with Lieh Tzu, the first line I wrote is that we each have two lives – the life we learn with and the life we live after that. And that it is from our memories that we hope to define ourselves. That we in effect become what we behold.
What we should ask ourselves is – are our experiences immersive enough that we can let our guard down? To be so fully engaged in the present, that we fuse our cognitive state with our dreams. The who I am that is yet to become. How do we balance the need for self-awareness by remaining in the moment, or state of becoming, with how we connect with our environment? Even more, how do we connect our passion and love of those around us to this? Ultimately can, or does this help to bring out our traits of virtue that defines us not only at Christmas, but every day? In my writing, I often refer to my own experiences, not so much to talk about myself, but as a way for others to see themselves as well and say if they could, yah me to.
Over the past several weeks and months we have added several new friends to the Kongdan Foundation here through the use of social media, for this I am grateful.
In this holiday season as we embrace and immerse ourselves in the spirit of the divine that resides within each of us, I am reminded of when I was growing up in Joplin and listening to shortwave radio in the late ’60’s and early 70’s (1967-71). Countries all over the world I listened to would send Christmas greetings with a card often expressing Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays in ten or twelve languages.
As if there were no boundaries to the eternal spirit expressed around the world. Radio Peking, Radio Moscow, Havana, the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Ukraine, the Vatican in Rome, BBC, Radio Budapest, Bucharest, Radio Lisbon, South Africa, Quito, Ecuador, etc., etc.… all stations I listened to frequently as a teenager that beamed English language program to America. During the holidays, differences were set aside. As if only for a moment in time there was unity. I liked to think that regardless of country or persuasion, there was a prevailing sense of virtue that could see beyond borders and religion. It was as if every letter I would send confirming that I was listening was opening another door and for them responding it was always the same.
Many times, in China over the past several years I would take the train overnight from Beijing to Qufu, a ride that would take about ten hours. Every morning even during July and August, I would wake up on the train to American classic Christmas carols coming over the intercom and speakers. Jingle bells, Rudolph, they were all there. In every shopping center in China you will hear overhead Christmas carols now… today, and will through Christmas day. Christmas decorations are everywhere.
A favorite store window display I never quite understood was Santa playing the saxophone. When my foundation printed the Unity Daily Word in China, we always included the meaning of Christmas in the December issue with the idea that the Christ spirit was/is universal. We printed 5,000 copies a month for two years (120,000 copies in 2006-07 ) that were distributed throughout western Shandong Province. I was told last summer (summer of 2017) that those copies have now been seen by over 2.5 million people.
I found myself when teaching in the classroom, or with friends in China, in a position to often take others where they would not otherwise go.
They wanted to know what the world was like outside what they thought they already knew. To take them to places they otherwise would not/or could not go. Most felt that due to the cost, they would never see America, so I, as well as many other teachers, became their eyes and ears. When they learned I had written books about the I Ching, Taoism and Confucius, then they wanted my story about China to in some way tell theirs as well.
I found this even more so when I visited the countryside with my students and their village. Often a Saturday lunch that was to be with my student’s parents and grandparents, became a celebrated event with their foreign English teacher. Time and time again, it was playing the role of the storyteller to take them all to a place they would never otherwise go. Just as their telling their own story and history gave me a sense of China from the 1930’s onward would serve to do the same for me. Often their family history would go back more than five hundred years on the same plot of land. Their daughters i.e., my students who were to be English teachers as well, were often the first person in their family to go to college.
Giving someone else the ability to see beyond themselves and enabling them to tell their story through their own eyes, often in the countryside where their family has lived and died for hundreds of years can be a very humbling experience. It helps to define my own role, as well as, the role of my foundation. That it is in understanding this history, along with that of others we meet along the way, that we learn what it means to preserve and insure final outcomes for all. That the gift of immersion for ourselves and others can be our greatest gift, as we learn the true meaning of Christmas everyday. As we leave our own virtue behind.
As mentioned before, I wrote my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, was published in China in 2006. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, verses 10, 11 and 12 follows here. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught us along the way that what 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 10 – Exposing ever-present but forgotten traits of Virtue
Remember what you have always known. That it is our virtue that lights the universe. That it is your memory of who you once were and are yet to become that resides in your mind and intellect.
As you open your mind to see and know what comes forth, you are simply reminded of what you have forgotten.
That your energies are here to be replenished as you are transformed into the sage whose mind remains still. As you become still once again, you reflect and mirror heaven and earth and the ten thousand things.
You scoff as you know the best way to govern is without governing and using the efforts of others. If you don’t obstruct what the Tao begets at their source and suppress their true nature, things mature by themselves. Virtue remaining ever-present, its owner unknown until you appear along the way. ##
Wang P’ang says, “Life requires three things: vital essence, breath, and spirit”.
Chuang Tzu says, “The sage’s mind is so still, it can mirror Heaven and Earth and reflect the ten thousand things” (13.1).
Wang An-Shih says, “The best way to serve is by not serving. The best way to govern is by not governing. Hence Lao Tzu says ‘without effort.’ Those who act without effort make use of the efforts of others. As for Heaven’s Gate, this is the gate through which all creatures enter and leave. To be open means to be active. To be closed means to be still. Activity and stillness represent the male and the female. Just as stillness overcomes movement, the female overcomes the male.”
Wang Pi say, “If we don’t obstruct their source, things come into existence on their own. If we don’t suppress their nature, things mature by themselves. Virtue is present, but its owner is unknown. It comes from the mysterious depths, Hence we call it dark.”
Lao Tzu says, “The Tao begets them / Virtue keeps them” (51).
Verse 11 – Opening Doors while Staying Behind
Remaining empty to become full. Knowing your place is to put all the cards on the table so that the proper path becomes obvious for all to see. Becoming simply the vessel from which all that represents virtue is known, endured and followed as the way by all.
Reminded as our breath ebbs and flows we become full by remaining empty as our mind and thoughts remain the catalyst for change and enlightenment. Our usefulness only determined by the emptiness that fills us. Employing nothing to gain advantage that would allow ego to stand in the way.
As you seek only virtue and leave only vestiges of yourself behind. Your role is to open doors for others as you nurture and prepare them to walk through.
Giving birth to virtue and letting it grow. Nourishing what comes forth without claiming to own them. Remaining as the hub of a wheel… constant, reliable and still, yet ever-present and nonexistent. ##
Li Jung says, “It’s because the hub is empty that spokes converge on it. Likewise, it is because the sage’s mind is empty that the people turn to him for help.”
Te Ch’ing says, “Heaven and Earth have form, and everyone knows Heaven and Earth are useful. But they don’t know that their usefulness depends on the emptiness of the Great Way (the Tao). Likewise, we all have form and think ourselves useful but remain unaware that our usefulness depends on our empty shapeless mind. Thus, existence may have its uses, but real usefulness depends on non-existence. Nonexistence, though, doesn’t work by itself. It needs the help of existence.”
Huang Yan-Chi says, “What is beyond form is the Tao, while what has form are tools. Without tools we have no means to apprehend the Tao. And with Tao there is no place for tools.”
Verse 12 – Insuring Final Outcomes
Staying within the realm of what our natural abilities provide as if Chuang Tzu.
Drinking from the river of life only that which fills our stomach. Maintaining an even temperament. Letting events happen for their own sake and remaining unaffected by space and time.
Letting the natural course or order of events simply occur. Knowing the final outcome will be just as it should be. While sitting back as the knowing sage, seemingly unaffected but in control.
Choose internal reality over external illusion. As your eyes cannot truly see, your ears cannot truly hear, your mouth cannot truly taste, your mind cannot help feeling and your body cannot stop moving.
Let these attributes simply stay in the background and observe as you listen to the still small voice within as you have been taught and nothing can harm you. Do not lose your way because of what has caught your attention. ##
Te-Ch’ing says, “When the eyes are given free rein in the realm of form, they no longer see what is real. When the ears are given free rein the realm of sound, they no longer hear what is real. When the tongue is given free rein in the realm of taste, it no longer discerns what is real. When the mid is given free rein in the realm of though, it not longer knows what is real. When our actions are given free rein in the realm of possession and profit, we no longer do what is right. Like Chuang Tzu’s tapir (1-4), the sage drinks from the river, but only enough to fill his stomach.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “Desiring external things harm our bodies. The sage nourishes his health by filling his stomach, not by chasing material objects to please his eye. Hence, he chooses internal reality over external illusion. But the eyes can’t help seeing, the ears can’t help hearing, the mouth can’t stop tasting, the mind can’t stop feeling, and the body can’t stop moving. They can’t stay still. But if we let them move without leaving stillness behind, nothing can harm us. Those who are buried by the dust of the senses, or who crave sensory stimulation lose their way. And the main villain is in the eyes. Thus, the first of Confucius warnings concerns vision (Lunyu: 12.1: not to look without propriety), and the first of the Buddha’s six sources of delusion is also the eyes”.
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “The main purpose of cultivation is to oppose the world of the senses. What the world loves, the Taoist hates. What the world wants, the Taoist rejects. Even though color, sound, material goods, wealth, or beauty might benefit a person’s body, in the end they harm a person’s mind. And once the mind wants, the body suffers. If we can ignore external temptations and be satisfied with the way we are, if we can cultivate our mind and not chase material things, this is the way of long life. All the treasures of the world are no match for this.
Finding ourselves immersed in virtue. Knowing there is no end to it, only finding ourselves eternally attached to what defines us.
You must first learn to breathe inside the happiness of your Life
(For my friends in England, Italy, Australia, China, wherever else you may be, and of course USA, who I know will be seeing and sharing this with others… Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays. May you each know the gift of immersion and kung fu).
What is this life-long pursuit of seemingly trying to find happiness? When you reach the age of sixty-five, which I have, then the definition changes as we often ask instead… what do we have to be happy about? And what do our children (if we are fortunate to have any) who follow us, have to be happy about as well?
The cliché has always been… well if we work hard and save our money for retirement then we will have something to retire to. At least that’s what we tell our kids. Why do we have to wait to be happy? Why do we have to work hard? Why do we think making money will be the answer when what we need already resides within us? Why have we spent our whole life doing what we do and not spending our time discovering who we are? Well, we must first learn how to breathe.
That we learn that we each eventually make a conscious attempt to experience the divinity that resides within us, as we find and follow a divine light to a holy place. In Christianity it was the star of Bethlehem and the Christmas story. It is here that we ultimately come into a place of peace. It was from the time of the earliest shaman, who studied nature and the stars that we learned cause and effect, and that we were all connected to everything else. The earliest Chinese called this “the ten thousand things”. That it was in connecting to this, we found our own divinity waiting to be acknowledged, built upon, and lived for ourselves. That this Christ spirit and divine light, whatever it’s name, was to be found within each of us just as holy men and women have been telling us through the ages. That we are all universal and our consciousness, the essence of who we are, comes from the stars and that we each have work to do while we are here.
Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Meditation
What is the meaning of kung fu… is it simply a form of martial arts… or is it so much more? Simplified for the common man/women it often becomes tai chi.
It begins with complimentary opposites (the concept of yin and yang) that exist in who we are as a person that defines balance. Calming these forces inside ourselves, so that they can be used to our best interest has been the focus of meditation for centuries.
Over time in Chinese history those opposites became referred to as crane and tiger. The most famous of these forms of physical self-defense became the shaolin martial arts form and over time became the kung fu as we know it today. This calming can also be used in finding what is called our “qi energy”, and is the basis of movements in tai chi. Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) is an ancient Chinese “internal” or “soft” martial art often practiced for its health-giving and spiritual benefits; it is non-competitive and generally slow-paced. Both center around discovering and using one’s breath going forward and knowing we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves.
However, the true meaning of kung fu means “supreme skill from hard work”. Everyone has the innate ability to achieve this. The painter, calligrapher, poet, or writer, they can be said to have kung fu. Even the one who cooks or sweeps the steps – can have kung fu. Or even the modern-day insurance or car salesman, athlete, nurse, attorney, musician, etc. For the physical kung fu it takes practice, preparation and repetition until your mind is weary and your bones ache. Until you are too tired to sweat, too wasted to breathe.
This is the only way to obtain kung fu. (This explanation was assisted by the blind Taoist kung fu Master in the mini-series “Marco Polo”). In other words, it takes hard work to excel in the talents we are given. It is in this hard work we find what can be defined as happiness, or find the peace within, as we live in the eternal state of becoming closer to who we really are. Sadly, we often let others define who we are, or should become, instead of discarding those things that don’t define us. No other person can do this for us. What we should be attracted to is being with others who are “complimentary opposites” as we learn to see beyond ourselves. We become “happy” when we can identify and move in this direction. It is as Walt Disney once said… “It’s what you do with what you got”. This becomes the ultimate “work” of our lives, and kung fu… It is truly what we give, we get in return.
Much of Chuang Tzu’s writings used humor and parables contributing to this early Taoist thought of refining our innate talents and using them to enable our highest endeavor and destiny. This is epitomized by his tales of Cook Ting and the butterfly. His concept of the “perfected man”, and combining early Taoism with Buddhist sutras from India was the beginning of Chan Buddhism as he described how we made the “pivot” of living through our work. But that’s a story for another day.
This idea of mastering your innate abilities through a skill that shows, or exhibits, your talents was exemplified by the efforts of those passing the Imperial examination system. And also those who tried, but failed to pass the exam necessary to move up in society, be recognized, and worthy of getting a job in China. One’s family’s future often depended on it.
Very few could pass the exam and were bound to find another way to show their talents and skill. Just as not everyone could develop the physical skill needed to be a kung fu master in the true shaolin tradition either. But could excel in music, as a painter, or calligraphy, or writer like Pu Songling an author from Zibo in Shandong. He could never get past the first tier of the exam, but became a famous writer during the Qing Dynasty. They all could demonstrate their own kung fu. Unfortunately for China, the examination system they viewed as their biggest strength for almost two thousand years, became over time their biggest weakness. As only those who passed the Imperial examinations moved up, while others with suitable talents in other areas were discouraged.
One of the concepts of tai chi is “rooting.” It’s fairly self-explanatory: imagine roots growing out from underneath your feet. You are a part of the ground, never losing balance, focus, or your centering.
Your limbs sway like branches in the wind, never hesitating for fear or apprehension. You become rooted and with this balance you take the text step from body to mind. This balance is the epicenter of coming to terms with self. The art of tai chi is said to improve the flow of chi (qi), the traditional Chinese concept of a physically intangible energy or life force. In scientific studies, tai chi has been proven to improve a host of medical conditions including, but not limited to: muscular pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular problems, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes and ADHD. Though its low-impact workout is especially helpful to seniors, tai chi is for everyone and is deceptively simple in appearance. I try to do tai chi first thing every day. This along with a meditation practice, help us to focus on what is important in our lives and discard what is not.
The thing to keep in mind about Taoism as we continue to follow Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, is that it is about an attunement with nature and when we don’t, in particular our own. Not just nature outside of us, but also the nature within us. This principle, in Chinese is called Tzu Jan, or Ziran in pinyin, and it is the principle of embodying one’s own nature.” Beyond the health benefits and stress relief, Tai Chi Chuan is also a means to tap into one’s inner self. This becomes the essence of remaining within your own virtue, of meditation, controlling your breath, and knowing happiness when you find it.
As mentioned before, I wrote my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, was published in China in 2006. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, verses 13, 14 and 15 follows here. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught us along the way that guides us. The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. Verse 14 below, goes a long way in revealing my own true identity. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Verse 13 – Skirting Disgrace and Disaster
Be careful not to curry favor with others, as disgrace is soon to follow. Favor and honor remain external from the true path of the sage.
He prefers to cater to neither, as both remain outside and away from the path he has chosen to follow. Possessing them can only lead to disgrace and disaster.
Seek only that which lies within yourself cultivating your own innate abilities. Remain within and all will follow. ##
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Those who gain favor or honor should worry about being too high, as if they are on a precipice. They should not flaunt their status or wealth. And those who lose favor and live in disgrace should worry about another disaster.
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “We all possess something good and noble that we don’t have to seek outside ourselves, something that the glory of power or position can’t compare with. People need only start with this and cultivate without letting up. The ancients said, “Two or three years of hardship, ten thousand years of bliss.”
Chuang Tzu (11.2) also speaks to this by saying “when favor and disgrace are used to praise the ruler whose self-cultivation doesn’t leave him time to meddle in the lives of his subjects.
Verse 14 – Staying behind to Impart Immortality’s Wisdom
Coming home to visit with old friends, I am made whole again. Everything there is to see I have seen and everything there is to do I have done. I am home again to rest among old friends.
Revisiting the thread that reveals my true identity, I rejoice in the oneness of the universe. I am at peace as one who has found the grace to see what I must do next in His name. Shedding my worn baggage, my friends are reminded of the light cast by my eternal coat as I sit beside them to honor our being together once again.
While most are happy to remain within the confines of enlightenment, others are a little jealous of my desire to return to the world. Where attachments hold one down and keep their owner from attaining their true identity. Just as you are reminded that your path leads back to a place where you can help others to perhaps come forth to seek their own ultimate destiny. As you leave, you catch glimpses that convey warmth and gratitude and knowledge of the ultimate paradox…
Upon my return I begin by weaving together the fabric of shreds of a vision that has yet to become reality. Knowing that neither my light nor my shadow will leave a lasting impression. While what is left behind for immortality’s wisdom will only be known once I have returned home once again. ##
Lu Tung-Pin says, “We can only see it inside us, hear it inside us, and grasp it inside us. When our essence becomes one, we can see it. When our breath becomes one, we can hear it. When our spirit becomes one, we can grasp it.”
Su Ch’e says, “People see things constantly changing and conclude something is there. They don’t realize everything returns to nothing.” Ch’en Ku-Ying adds, “Nothing does not mean nothing at all but simply no form or substance.”
Wang Pi says, “If we try to claim it doesn’t exist, how do the myriad things come to be? And if we try to claim it exists, why don’t we see it’s form? Hence, we call it the formless form. But although it has neither shape or form, neither sound or echo, there is nothing it cannot penetrate and nowhere it cannot go.
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “The past isn’t different from today, because we know what began in the past. And today isn’t different from the past, because we know where today came from. What neither begins or comes from anywhere else we call the thread that has no end. This is the thread of the Tao.
Verse 15 – Staying on Course
Taking stock, you stop to reflect why you are here in this place and time just now.
You have succeeded in getting the attention of many as your reflection has cast a long shadow. You have shown an uncanny ability to uncover the indiscernible and penetrated contradictions previously covered by darkness.
As you become concerned your ego is bringing you to the forefront, while your nature tells you it is better to stay behind.
You are reminded to remain empty and still. That you are not here to make a show of yourself and that you are to leave no tracks. To be so conscience of the correct action that needs to be taken that you simply flow with events. That the essence of the Tao consists of nothing more than taking care, as you know that inner truth cannot be perceived, only the outward form of your actions. That it is by intuitive understanding that the darkness becomes clear and by means of movement the still becomes alive.
That it will be by letting each thought remain detached and each action well considered that your ultimate success is determined with your virtue the only measure taken home. ##
Su Ch’e says, “Darkness is what penetrates everything but cannot itself be perceived. To be careful means to act only after taking precautions. To be cautious means to refrain from acting because of doubt or suspicion. Melting ice reminds us how the myriad things arise from delusion and never stay still. Uncarved wood reminds us to put an end to human fabrication and return to our original nature. A valley reminds us how encompassing emptiness is. And a puddle reminds us that we are no different from anything else.”
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “Lao Tzu expresses reluctance at describing those who succeed in cultivating the Tao because he knows the inner truth cannot be perceived, only the outward form. The essence of the Tao consists in nothing other than taking care. If people took care to let each thought be detached and each action well-considered, where else would they find the Tao? Hence those who mastered the Tao in the past were so careful they waited until a river froze before crossing. They were so cautious, they waited until the wind died down before venturing forth at night. They were orderly and respectful, as if they were guests arriving from a foreign land. They were relaxed and detached, as if material forms didn’t matter. They were as uncomplicated as uncarved wood and as hard to fathom as murky water. They stilled themselves to concentrate their spirit and roused themselves to strengthen their breath. In short, they guarded the center”.
Wang Pi says, “All these similes are meant to describe without actually denoting. By means of intuitive understanding the dark becomes light. By means of tranquility, the murky becomes clear. By means of movement, the still becomes alive. This is the natural Way.”
We should be the Rock others rub their lives against…
The shaman, the teachings of the I Ching, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and many others knew that it’s not so much as who we are, as who we aspire to become.
In doing so we look to the stars just as they did, and as Dorothy asked in the Wizard of Oz… If bluebirds fly, then why, oh why can’t I? That we use our time here as if we too are in a dream, mirroring who we think we are, instead becoming true to ourselves. This was the secret of the Great and powerful OZ… that the secret is already within us. Who are we but the image we create for ourselves and is it real? Our persona becoming the way we project ourselves on social media and with our family and friends. Can or do we consider that perhaps our success or failure is only determined by the number of lives we have touched and rather we helped others find their true way as well? That we in effect, pay forward conveying to others the same virtue we have always known. Interacting with others to remind us that we are here to overcome our own limitations and in doing so become transcendent. Bringing our focus into something we get and in turn give that’s still coming.
The story of Mulan was centered around an ancestor who was frowned upon who had to “earn his keep” so that he (Mushu) could enter the pantheon of respected ancestors. In the end he did. In reality, in China there is a national holiday every May to “honor our ancestors”. It’s like our Memorial Day in USA. In China, to die and become a respected ancestor, is a tribute to a life well-lived and to have been a rock for your family and others to have rubbed against.
We all have someone, either our mother or father, aunt or uncle, or maybe a teacher in high school or college who inspired us to reach for something inside us that appealed to our inner most nature. For myself it was Elaine Clugston, my journalism teacher when I was in the eleventh grade at Carl Junction High School, when I wrote a line in a poem that said “Sorrowful feelings mean nothing, if there is no compassion felt”. It was as if the line woke me up and spoke to me. Maybe a political or spiritual figure like Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., whose goal was to help us to see beyond ourselves.
That’s what great teachers do. Someone who moves us towards the highest aspirations of ourselves. We’ve all known them. I like to think it is what I left for my more than four hundred students when I taught in China. The question has always been… are we listening to that still small voice within? Are we the rock others rub their lives against? When we too become the teacher? To never settle for less than who we really are. To understand and appreciate our source and that we are here on purpose.
As I go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching here that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am amazed that now eighteen years later, it is as relevant even more so, as when I wrote it. The difference in time as if waiting to bring meaning to it all. To continue to make feeble attempts to live the Tao as I have written about it. To be given a chance now to humbly understand what it all meant. The ultimate meaning of paying forward. Even more so to consciously attempt to experience the divine and share my gift with others. To help others live inside their own kung fu, and being there, finding the happiness we have always known but perhaps forgotten. Being content in our own contentment and discovering other rocks we have learned to cherish along the way.
There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, verses 16, 17 and 18 follows here. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught us along the way that guides us. The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Verse 16 – Previous Encounters
Remaining on course, I return to the place of my youth to reflect on previously self- imposed limits as to who I am ultimately to become, as if a final cleansing of those things that made me full of myself.
Given an opportunity to further release those things that have held me back from identifying and knowing my final destiny. To free myself of endeavors that keeps me full of ego and self-interest.
The farm in Lamar
Once recognized, I can let go and let the dragons, or angels, lead the way without intrusion. Declaring my freedom and turning aside all those things that betray my true path as I declare “free at last, free at last, thank God and the Tao I’m free at last”. Finally letting go of all that has gone before me, I can see the way leads to stillness as the knowing sage. As I let go, my true path is unveiled and my enthusiasm, my greatest attribute that opens the door for all others, becomes totally and completely apparent.
In returning to my roots, I have unconsciously re-discovered the stillness I knew at the beginning. Thereby allowing me to become shapeless once again. Knowing that the path now followed and the endeavors now cultivated can now prevail; I am reminded of my travels with Lieh Tzu.
I feel a great swoosh… As if a great gust of wind has picked me up and carried me closer to my ultimate destiny.
(Written in June 2000 during a trip home to Joplin, Missouri where I grew up. I lived there from the seventh grade through two years of college. 1964-1973).
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing say, “Emptiness is the Way of Heaven. Stillness is the way of Earth. There is nothing that is not endowed with these, and everything rises by means of them”.
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “Heaven has its fulcrum, people have their ancestors, plants have their roots. And where are these roots? When things begin but have not yet begun, namely, the Dark Gate. If you want to cultivate the Great Way, but you don’t know where this opening is, your efforts will be in vain.”
Te-Ch’ing says. “To know what truly endures is to know that Heaven and Earth share the same root, that the ten thousand things share one body, and that there is no difference between self and others. Those who cultivate this within themselves become sages, while those who practice this in the world become rulers. Rulers become rulers by following the Way of Heaven. And Heaven becomes Heaven by following the Tao. And the Tao becomes the Tao by lasting forever.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “To know the unchanging course of the Way is to be free of passion and desire and to be all-embracing. To be all-embracing is to be free of self-interest. To be free of self-interest is to rule the world. To rule the world is to merge your virtue with that of Heaven. And to merge your virtue with that of Heaven is to be one with the Way. If you can do this, you will last as long as Heaven and Earth and live without trouble”.
Li Jung says, “The sage enjoys a life without limits.”
Verse 17 – Governing Wisely
Let your virtue lead the way with others convinced it is their own works that prevail. Lasting success can only occur when those who have looked to you for guidance conclude they have championed their own cause.
What the sage does to cultivate himself is what he does to govern the world. Your greatest virtue is to initiate no action that leave traces of your presence. So that when all goes well people can feel they are responsible.
As long as people think they have achieved greatness by themselves, they have no reason to love, praise or despise anyone.
Simply unveiling the truth and contradictions to virtue will allow others to come forward and for you to remain still. Instilling peace and harmony along the way you can prepare to take them to places they would otherwise forego. ##
Red Pine says, “The Chinese of Lao Tzu’s day believed their greatest age of peace and harmony occurred during the reigns of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, or nearly five-thousand years ago. These early rulers exercised power so unobtrusively, the people hardy knew they were there, as we hear in a song handed down from that distant age: ‘Sunup we rise / sundown we rest / we dig wells to drink / we plough fields to eat / the emperor’s might / what is it to us?’” (Kushihyuan: I).
Mencius says, “When the ruler views his ministers as his hands and feet, they regard him as their heart and soul. When he views them as dirt and weeds, they regard him as an enemy and thief”.
Huang Yuan-Chi says, “What we do to cultivate ourselves is what we do to govern the world. And among the arts we cultivate, the subtler of all is honesty, which is the beginning and end of cultivation. When we embrace the truth, the world enjoys peace. When we turn our backs on the truth, the world suffers. From the time of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, this has never varied.
Verse 18 – When Innocence prevailed and Formlessness endured
As you contemplate returning tomorrow to the place where it all began to attend a gathering of now distant relatives, you recall time spent on the farm.
Returning to the place you originally called home. Returning to the place where you first caught the attention of dragons as a small boy on the farm in Lamar. Back to the beginning, where innocence prevailed and formlessness endured. Before details could enter to cloud your way. You begin to wonder what drew you to the Tao and dragons that were searching for you even then.
You are reminded of the paradox that surrounded you. The beauty and comfort found in nature – found in an old farmhouse at the end of a long circle drive. Everything in nature finding its place. You were affected greatly by opposites that tore at your inner most being. Tearing away the self-identity as a small child that would reveal the formlessness of the sage. A difficult transition revealing inequities living seemingly always bring to the forefront. Living in a home with argument and distrust carrying the day, you were encouraged to find security and serenity deep within yourself.
Soon discovering an innate understanding that when names arise from discontent, we find distinctions like kindness, peace and harmony. Attributes formlessness can now find to spring forth and flourish. As such you have now become the conciliator, the mediator who can see through conflict brought forth by envy, ego, lack and mistrust. To those who are unsure of your identity a mystic, to those few who know, perhaps a prophet telling of things yet to come.
Opposites described above affecting you as if you were a blunt piece of metal being hammered into intricate form by blows coming from all sides.
Learning then to look away from good and bad and recognizing that both were the same. So that one day when the dragons would finally get your attention – to carry you to heights previously thought unattainable you would recognize their presence and acknowledge that they had been guiding you all along. Only waiting for the opportune time to show you the path you were to follow. Reminding you of your true identity and responsibility to the Tao.
Now that I have come full circle and returned, cognizant of the road I have traveled and the one before me that I am still to follow, I am assured and thankful that virtue will lead the way. ##
(Written in June 2000 during a trip back to Joplin and the farm in Lamar where I was a small child. I lived on the farm from 1952 through the third grade, the summer of 1961. We then moved to my grandma’s house for a year then into town (Lamar), and then to Joplin during the summer of 1964).
Su Ch’e says, “When the Great Way (the Tao) flourishes kindness and justice are at work, but people don’t realize it. Only after the Great Way disappears do kindness and justice become visible.”
Wang An-Shih says, “The Way hides in formlessness. Names arise from discontent. When the Way hides in formlessness, there isn’t any difference between great or small. When names arise from discontent, we get distinctions like kindness, justice, reason, and so forth.
Mencius says, “Kindness means dwelling in peace. Justice means taking the right road”.
Kongdan says, “To live as if an enigma. Somewhere between this world and another. Living and dying to be the one others break their own rocks against. And when they’re ready, perhaps show them the Way as well”.
Tao Te Ching verses 19, 20 and 21
We see ourselves through our intentions and judge others by their actions.
Why do we do this? Is it human nature or a learned response? Through what eyes do we see the actions of others. We presume to think their intentions are the same, or should be as ours. If we try to guide our actions through and by our inner virtue… then why doesn’t everyone else do the same. And can this thing called virtue be universally applied, as if one size fits all. When we can see disarray all around us. As many see the answer to what they perceive as life’s challenges as something outside themselves. When I look back on my own life and ask “if I only knew then what the consequences of my actions might have caused, I might or would have done things differently”. Don’t we all.
Through thousands of years of observing people’s actions and how they create the world around them, the Chinese and in particular what was the guiding factor for the shaman and what was to become Taoism… is the concept of cause and effect. The I Ching saying that what goes in in the beginning tells us what must come out. While events along the way show us the ultimate meaning of one’s fortunes that are yet to come. Knowing this Confucius taught if we are led by our inner virtue and benevolence, then chances are we’re going to be okay.
Why do some people seem to stumble through life and others appear to go as if scott free not experiencing the consequences of their actions? Or even benefiting or failing through no fault of their own. If the riches of a lifetime are but a flash of lightning in eternity, then why do we spend all our time chasing them? Perhaps it is all tied to our soul’s growth and understanding the purpose of why we are here.
Maybe we each keep coming back to lose the attachments and frailties we cling to that over time we accumulate (kind of like karma), that keep us from becoming who we really are. It’s the letting go that is difficult. Or perhaps we come back knowing the above, for the purpose of helping others overcome their strengths and weaknesses as well. We often hear the phrase to “let go and let God”, but is that not just us being guided by our own innate highest virtue that we ourselves project on others. Or as the Dali Lama tells us… we are to simply be guided by our prayers, not only for our own well-being, but for that of others as well. The ultimate test of becoming universal. Keeping to this as our mantra that defines us, our intentions and “who are we to judge others” becomes apparent. We are then guided by the virtue we already possess, as our own intentions, vis-a-vis our actions become clear.
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? 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. His Tao Te Ching written in 600 BC is considered to be the second most read and studied text in the world, after the Bible.
For well over a thousand years, understanding the Tao Te Ching was a prerequisite for passing the Imperial Examination in China. Almost all city governments in China today have a Department of Religious Affairs that monitor the activities of Confucian, Taoist, Buddhists, Moslem, and Christian religious activities in their community. Lao Tzu (Taoism), along with Confucius and Buddhism, have for centuries served as the moderators between religion and popular culture in China. The Vice Director of the Religious Affairs office in Qufu was a joint venture partner with me with a shopping center where I had an office in Qufu for many years. It was connections through him that allowed my foundation to publish the Daily Word in Shandong Province.
This respect for other philosophies and religions is best depicted by a painting in 1000 BC of Lao Tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha tasting from a vat of vinegar that represented all three religions in China. Today what is called the “Family Church”, serves the Christian faith in almost every community as well. Every which way is respected… with the Tao Te Ching remaining and being the core to understanding China. It was (is) no accident that city buses have logos on their side that say “Qufu – The religious center of China for a thousand years”. Truth be told it would say three times that number.
There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching, verses 19, 20 and 21 of my book follows here. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught us along the way that guides us. The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 19 – Truly Reflecting the Tao
As I look around to see reflections of the Tao, I am drawn to rediscover what is simple and pure and discard what is considered alien to my original nature.
That if wisdom and reason are only used for self-interest then they should be abandoned. Instead collective wisdom and reason should be used to take all to previously unknown heights.
That if kindness and justice are only shells to pursue selfish motives, then putting an end to arrogant kindness and treacherous justice will enable people to unite on their own.
That if our behavior with others is governed by cleverness and profits our innermost nature would be fulfilled more assuredly if we remain focused on that which remains undyed and uncarved as if driftwood washed up from the sea. Understanding the Tao leads us to understand what is real and unreal, what is artificial and inappropriate and remaining wholly within ourselves. ##
Wang Chen says,”Put an end to wisdom that leaves tracks and reason that deceives, and people will benefit greatly. Put an end to arrogant kindness and treacherous justice, and relatives will unite on their own and will once more love and obey. Put an end to excessive cleverness and personal profit, and armies will not longer appear. And when armies no longer appear, thieves will not exist.
Wang Pi says, “Wisdom and reason are the pinnacles of reason. Kindness and justice are the pinnacles of behavior. Cleverness and profit are the pinnacles of practice.
To tell us simply to get rid of them would be inappropriate. Without giving us something else, it wouldn’t make sense. Hense we are given the undyed and the uncarved to focus our attention on.
Chiao Hung says, “The ways of the world become daily more artificial. Hence we have names like wisdom and reason, kindness and justice, cleverness and profit. Those who understand the Tao see how artificial they are and how inappropriate they are to rule the world. They aren’t as good as getting people to focus their attention on the undyed and uncarved. By wearing the undyed and holding the uncarved, our self-interest and desires wane. The undyed and uncarved refer to our original nature.”
Verse 20 – On Becoming a Sage
When yes and no becomes the same answer, perhaps you are ready to discontinue this seemingly natural inclination to retreat into a shell like a turtle…
With virtue intact and your destiny assured perhaps it’s time to live out your true destiny as the sage you have become. Living up to the virtue you know. If inequities are but reflections of your desires – cleanse away those things no longer relevant and spring forth with dynamic hope and optimism. Assured that your next step is pre-ordained by dragons who have been waiting patiently for you to join them.
Fulfill your destiny and live the life of virtue that is so obvious to all you encounter. What others love the sage loves, what others fear the sage fears, but while others may not see anything beyond or outside their own minds – the mind of the sage wanders the Tao.
If you want to inspire others you must remain above what living brings each day. While they choose things, you alone must remain unmoved. Acknowledging all as the same, that there is nothing to be lost or gained. Coming forth you simply live within the Tao and accept becoming the sage. ##
Li Hsi – Chai says, “What others love, the sage also loves. What others fear, the sage also fears. But where the sage differs is where others don’t see anything outside their own minds. The mind of the sage, meanwhile, wanders the Tao.
Wang P’ang says, “Everything changes into its opposite. Beginning follows end without cease.But people think everything is either lovely or ugly. How absurd. Only the sage knows that the ten thousand ages are the same, nothing is gained or lost.
Ts’ao Tao-Ch’ung says, ” People all seek external things, while the sage alone nourishes himself on internal breath. Breath is the mother, and spirit is the child. The harmony of mother and child is the key to nourishing life.
Verse 21 – Forever Replenishing our Virtue
What is this thing called virtue and value placed on emptiness and how can they be so inter-related?
That virtue cannot be found unless we are willing to remain empty, that the Tao remains hidden from view except as virtue found through emptiness. Following the Tao, we are continually subject to change and are redefined as our virtue waxes and wanes.
As if guided by the phases of the moon I find structure through tending my garden just as Shen-ming, the divine husbandman, who discovered agriculture along with the healing properties of plants and a calendar to be followed by the sages of long ago. Could it be that virtue is the manifestation of the Tao, or Way, that should guide us? That the Way is what virtue contains and without it could have no meaning or power. That without virtue, the Way would have no appearance or ability to come forward.
Taking no form, the Tao takes expression only when it changes into virtue. It is when the sage truly mirrors the Tao that virtue can be given an opportunity to manifest and grow and the natural course, or scheme of things, becomes apparent for all to see.
The Tao by itself neither existing or not existing. As if coming and going as the essence of one’s heart and soul – simply by maintaining its presence as… virtue. Everything in the universe held accountable to the Tao. Continually changing – with our identity the first to go. What was once true becomes false and what was once false slips into becoming true. It is only our essence expressed as virtue that is kept and continually replenished by the Tao. ##
Wang Pi says, “Only when we take emptiness as our virtue can our actions accord with the Tao. Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “Sages have it. So does everyone else. But because others are selfish and constrained, their virtue is empty.”
Yen Ling-Feng says, “Virtue is the manifestation of the Way. The Way is what virtue contains. Without the Way, virtue would have no power. Without Virtue, the Way would have no appearance.
Chang Tao-Ling says, “Essence is like water: the body is an embankment, and virtue is its source. If the heart is not virtuous, or here is no embankment, water disappears.The immortals of the past treasured their essence and lived, while people today lose their essence and die.
Tao Te Ching verses 22 and 23
Bringing Others along for the Ride
Why do I do this? I just became friends with a very nice lady from Bucharest, Romania who saw my page. She loved the many pictures and what she read here. It is as Lieh Tzu and Bob Dillon say… The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. She said it made her smile and gave her the feeling of seeing beyond her difficulties with a young daughter and two elderly parents who both have been diagnosed with cancer. We talked for a long time and it gave me joy. After liking all my pictures on FB, she said she thought I had found my mission. Well, if that means leaving a little of myself along the Way, then I guess I have. As I wonder and ask…. how do we try to live up to the expectations we have for ourselves. Isn’t this where we sometimes get lost in our own inertia.
As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend and look back on his legacy, we give thought to his mission and divine presence, and how far we have come since his own immortal words… and ask ourselves if we too are bringing others along for the ride and living our own version of the dream.
First in his “I have a Dream” speech, and later in April, 1968 saying
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Then he was gone and Bobby too shortly after.
As we recall this, we are reminded of the music we heard back then. It helps us to remember those times of hardship as we continue to travel to find our own mountain to climb. Collectively in the world, as a country, and as individuals, as we too look to the Promised Land, the Way of Virtue, that already exists in each of us we have overlooked thinking it is something outside ourselves. When what needs to be overcome lies within us.
Rather simply a challenge we can’t see through, or lack of courage to open the door to the great I AM that we can then walk through. We often ask ourselves why life has to be so difficult and how we, as the Beatles sang, get by with a little help from our friends. Just as there are no accidents, music at times serves to show us the way. Like the Beatles song that they rode into our lives with all those years ago simply saying., “I want to hold your hand”, then saying “She’s got a Ticket to Ride”. Well we wanted a ticket too. John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “A Day in the Life”. Paul’s “Yesterday” with the lyrics, all my troubles seemed so far away, and “Let it Be”, George’s “Here comes the Sun”, and Ringo’s “Yellow Submarine”. Bob Dillon’s genius… “Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright”, and personal favorites, “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times they are A-Changin”. What makes the Beatles and Bob Dillon’s music timeless, even immortal, is that they spoke directly to our own hopes, dreams, and fears through their own and quite ably brought us along for the ride too. All great music, art and literature does this.
Why do we study literature and history, other than to see past visages of ourselves as we express our virtue through love and our relationships with others? The essence of what the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. was telling us as we remember him now.
Even in China, Confucius was famous for updating the five Classics of Chinese history, one was the Book of Odes, which included the music and poetry handed down for generations that proceeded him. It is as if in remembering who we were back when, that art, music and literature helps to remind us that we too are universal and helps to define and monitor who we are yet to become.
We spend time in the great museums and art galleries of the world to obtain a greater appreciation of what… how they viewed the world in time and to see and imagine what others might have left behind. Monet impressionist paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC are among my favorites where I have visited many times. To see and know where they were going and in turn, connect again with our own past.
Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil National Gallery of Art
Through a bit of serendipity, I stayed at a bed and breakfast in London for a book fair a few years ago. It was a block from the British Museum. Spending time there with history as a historian, reminded me of the places where I have been and being there changed my itinerary… as if I was reminded of times well-spent . As I too am re-living history through my own life and writing. Our appreciation for the above comes with an acknowledgement that they serve to assist us in becoming whole, seeking transcendence, and that it encompasses us when we seek and find our own highest endeavor.
It is why we celebrate the lives of those like MLK and others. What is it that great opera, Mozart and Beethoven, and for me – Marvin Gaye, the Beatles, Lao and Chuang Tzu, Confucius, and what so many others do? They take us to heights and places to where we would not otherwise go or might have forgotten. To only God knows where. Perhaps to a preview of our own mountaintop and the other side.
Maybe they are here to remind our soul how to sing again and know that what we struggle with today, is not meant to be the final stanza of the song we are here to write and play for ourselves and others. To find our stride, our gait, and yes even our own kung fu, once we have found our way as we too prepare to go. Their role simply to get our attention. Ah… the first job of any great teacher.
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 22, the addendum to 22, and Verse 23, appear below. Verses 1 through 21 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance can be found under the Taoism and Lao Tzu here on my website. Verses yet to appear here in my blog have not had additional commentary added yet.
Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught 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 22 – On Becoming Whole
When all has passed through you – everything becoming the same with no opposites pulling at your attention, then you are free to follow the way of virtue.
When you can think and act as if innately following the Tao, you can become whole.
Knowing virtue and honesty are one, you make a list of those things not in keeping with the path you have chosen to follow and begin removing them, as they have become stumbling blocks to completing your endeavors as the sage. Once encountered and accounted for, they disappear and cannot be traced back to their maker.
Continually redefining the role of the traditional sage. Mirroring the Tao, you become adept at sharing your vision instead of simply trusting the word of others. Instead of relying on the strength of others, you take all to otherwise unattainable heights through reluctantly displaying your own strength.
Your enthusiasm and vision carrying the day. Living in paradox, as in reality you prefer to remain hidden from view. You stand apart, not competing hens no one finding a foothold to compete with you. Remaining steadfast you become whole. ##
Chuang Tzu says, “Lao Tzu says everyone else seeks happiness. He alone saw that partial becomes whole.” (33-5).
Wu Ch’eng says, “By exploring one side to its limits, we eventually find all sides. By grasping one thing, we eventually encompass the whole. The caterpillar bends in order to straighten itself. A hollow in the ground fills with water. The renewal of spring depends on the withering of fall. By having less, it’s easy to have more. By having more, it’s easy to become confused.
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “Only those who find the one can act like this. Thus ‘less means content’. The reason most people cannot act like this is because they have not found the one. Thus ‘more means confused’.
Verse 22 Addendum – Becoming a beacon of light for All to see
Could it be that your ultimate role is to report back to the dragons the role of the sage in the here and now?
To take the thoughts of Lao, Lieh and Chuang and all the others to places they have not been before and to perhaps try them on for size in a different environment.
That it is not you becoming whole, as much as transitioning this ancient way into current thought and action. As your task remains internally to mirror the Tao, perhaps your role in the here and now is to rediscover for the ages how externally one can remain pure and whole in such a material world. Keeping to eternity’s promise, but making limited appearances just the same.
Challenging the order of the day, you have become the ultimate agent of change and virtue.
Coming forth to claim your place in the universe, you accept the mantle placed upon you with an ever present humble demeanor. As you prepare to move on to accept your greater destiny. ##
Li His-Chai says, “The reason the sage is able to be chief of all creatures is because he is able to hold onto the one. Holding onto the one, he never leaves the Tao. Hence, he doesn’t watch himself but relies instead on the vision of others. He doesn’t talk about his own strengths but relies instead on the strength of others. He stands apart and doesn’t compete. Hence no one can compete with him”.
Hsuan-Tsung says, “Not watching himself he becomes whole. Not displaying himself, he becomes straight. Not flattering himself, he becomes full. Not parading himself he becomes new”.
Tzu-Ssu says, “Only those who are perfectly honest can fulfill their nature and help others fulfill their nature. Next are those who are partial”. (Chung yung: 22—23)
Verse 23 – Defining True Objectivity
Finding yourself in the scheme of things so that there is nothing coming from you except the natural extension of the Tao.
Remaining quiet and speaking in whispered tones so that someone must strain to comprehend what is being said thereby confirming they are paying attention and listening. Letting the natural order of events simply occur with events just waiting in the wings to change what has become comfortable.
Remaining natural, or neutral in effect, your endeavors simply an extension of the Tao. The Way means knowing both success and failure and using them to become one. Becoming one by leaving yourself behind to rediscover your true nature ultimately simply a seamless extension of the natural order or scheme of things, as you remain one with the universe with your objectivity leading the way.
If you have looked beyond what success and failure may bring, you can begin to know the proper way! ##
Wu Ch’eng says, “Whispered means not heard. ‘Whispered words’ means no words. Those who reach the Tao forget about words and follow whatever is natural.”
Su Ch’e says, “The sage’s words are faint and his deeds are plain. But they are always natural. Hence he can last and not be exhausted.” Ch’eng Hsuan-Ying says, “If the greatest forces wrought by Heaven and Earth cannot last, how can the works of man.”
Te-Ch’ing says, “This verse explains how the sage forgets about words, embodies the Tao, and changes with the seasons. Elsewhere, Lao Tzu says. ‘talking only wastes it / better to keep it inside’ (5). Those who love to argue get farther from the Way. They aren’t natural. Only those whose words are whispered are natural. Lao Tzu uses wind and rain storms as metaphors for the outbursts of those who love to argue. They can’t maintain such a disturbance and dissipation of breath very long. Because they don’t really believe in the Tao. They haven’t learned the secret of how to be one.”
Chiao Hung says, “Those who pursue the Way are natural. Natural means free from success and hence free from failure. Such people don’t succeed and don’t fail but simply go along with the successes and failures of the age. Or if they do succeed or fail, their minds are not affected.”
Kongdan says. “To proceed as if unaffected by what happens around us. For myself this is the ultimate challenge, the paradox living brings to our doorstep every day. How could one write and internalize the above and proceed as if you were not confident of the Way.”
Tao Te Ching verses 24 and 25
Finding our eternal balance and rhythm
What was it that Mahatmas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we just celebrated, taught us to honor and accept, but our own sacred mission and immortality?
That showing the way was a personal endeavor that ties each of us to our eventual destiny once we accept the mantle of who and why we are here.
The Winding Path Qingyang Mountain
Teaching…. what if every person began their life knowing that they too were immortal? That we in reality come in with certain traits – strengths and weaknesses – this time to correct, or build on. That we are not here to be ordinary. That we can make our lives beautiful if we choose to do so. To live from the point of our highest expression or consciousness, through our own divine energy just as they did.
What I like to call reverberations or pulses connecting us to the universe, in effect or reality as living vibrations of the sun, moon, and stars. What can innate wisdom be, but that imparted as universal love that never dies, or as John Lennon said… that in practice all you need is love.
Resonances like tones in music, or electromagnetic waves that we eternally connect to when we are born and are pulled to follow every day as with by the seasons. That sadly we often come and go without acknowledging, finding, or attempting to even catch our own eternal rhythm.
Madame Sun Yet Sin (Soong Ching-Ling) meeting Gandhi in Nanjing in 1942
Or perhaps it is the opposite that is true… our eternal rhythm and history that is chasing after us. An example being the Soong sisters leaving an indelible mark on the 20th century when our memories serve us correctly. That what’s here to guide us over time is our own need for balance and following our personal intrinsic tendencies.
The key for me, being philosophical Taoism, that re-confirms our responsibility to and connection with all found in nature. That deep within, we too possess this idea that immortality is unending life. That our own divinity can direct us to this place. Certainly, there are those in ancient China who sought to achieve it.
Dan with terra cotta warriors in Xian
Elixirs and potions concocted by them led many to early death, and even by coincidence the invention of gun power. Most misguided, and best known was the excess of First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who had the terra cotta warriors built to serve and protect him in eternity.
His tomb in Xian of over two thousand years cannot be approached even today because of severe amounts of mercury encasing it. Today we often put a person’s name on material things thinking this may illustrate and feed their importance, their immortality. Their true legacy however, if self-centered, fading like Qin’s over the test of time. A note of interest… almost all the terra cotta warriors, horses, chariots, etc., were found broken into thousands of pieces. It is theorized that a wooden roof was put over the top of everything. It was later set, or caught on fire. It fell onto the terra cotta below and broke it, or so the story goes…
Instead could it be something we already possess within ourselves worth saving instead of simply pinning attributes onto someone else.
To the left is the Dunhuang Map now in the British Museum in London of what is known as the North Polar region from the Tang Dynasty. This map is thought to date from the reign of Emperor Zhongzong (705–710 AD) from Dunhuang, Gansu Province.
Constellations of the three schools were distinguished with different colors: white, black and yellow for stars of Wu Xian, Gan De and Shi Shen respectively. The whole set of star maps contained 1,300 stars. It was brought to the British Museum in London in 1907 and is the oldest sky chart ever recorded.
The north star and Big Dipper, depicted here, are central in the sky and following them has been universal in man’s quest to find meaning to it all… and his own origins.
Leading the Way Qingyang Taoist Temple
It was the balance seen in the sky’s panorama that has entertained us for millennia as stars coming around in the sky would always return to their place of origin once every year. The beginnings of the idea “what goes around – comes around”. That we could point to the stars and see home. Adjusting our own way of travel, just as a horse find’s his gait, and return again once more.
The point being we could always look to the stars to show us the way beyond the horizon that lead us to our highest aspirations of ourselves. To learn to see farther than who we think we are. Why mountain vistas have been seen as closer to Heaven.
As we rise and see ourselves above the clouds. As if in doing so we too could see and gain a sense of immortality. If what we look up in the sky and see every night is eternal and is always there, along with the sun and moon, then why aren’t we? But we are soon lost in attachments here of our own making, as we are often happy to stay within the confines of where we are just now. What if, as Carl Sagan said, we are all star stuff. Matter coming and going with a soul. Taking on different characteristics each time to fix the things that need correcting. Or maybe some are more advanced and come back by choice to move humanity in the proper way, or direction.
What if some souls, i.e. people coming into this life, were filled with misconceptions, or misdirected anger, not caused due to someone else’s shortcomings, but for their own inability to live up to intentions and expectations they have created for themselves.
Perhaps with issues, or things that need to be reconciled. Lacking the desire or sense of ability to see through universal falsehoods, hardships and negative attachments that keep them from their higher selves.
Dragon depicted at the Qingyang Taoist Temple in Chengdu
Seemingly unable to open the door when it appears. Prisons are filled the world over with those unwilling to release what… either anger or fear, or both. Usually directed at someone or something outside themselves. The worst prisons, of course, already existing inside oneself.
This idea of letting go, i.e., finding and staying within our own eternal rhythm, and truth be told often overlooked innate wisdom, is trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely enough to do nothing.
Something called living with wu wei that Chinese for thousands of years have known we can discuss another time.
Prayer Wheels Arhat Buddhist Temple in Chongqing
As if we are once again given an opportunity to return to our original self. To a nothingness where over-inflated egos go to die. Where what defines us as what is known, what can truly never be known, and to live in the balance we find in-between. It is this that is central to the theme I am following here with Lao Tzu.
It becomes the central core of what was to become the teachings of the shaman and of Taoism, and for many the practical application Confucius built on.
The Tao Te Ching becoming like a road map to better behavior. Wang Pi’s version became an integral part of the Imperial Examinations during and after the Han Dynasty. That Taoism and Buddhism, along with the virtue and benevolence taught by Confucianism became central elements of Chinese popular culture going now for thousands of years was no accident and continues to this day.
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. The 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 24 and 25 appear below and complete the first chapter. Verses 1 through 23 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 this website.
Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught 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 24 – Staying within my own Gait
Learning to shun those things not in keeping with the proper way. Oh, the challenges and paradox life come forth to greet me each day. As if life’s indulgences and excesses are extremely happy to continually get in my way and obscure my true path and identity.
Staying within the confines of who I am yet to become. Not standing on tiptoes to see over others or walking faster than my own natural gait. To act as if life’s reflections are translucent and bringing attention to your actions is alien from what motivates you.
Door ornament on Zhang Mansion Lane beside the Qinhuai River in Nanjing
Just as I have learned that it is said that he who watches himself does not appear, he who displays himself does not flourish, he who flatters himself achieves nothing and he who parades himself does not lead.
As you recall that the mind of the sage remains free of desire and selfless, you are reminded that those who cultivate the Tao yet think about themselves are like people who over eat or over work.
Food is to satisfy hunger, work should suit the task. Ultimately the way of heaven does not depend on offerings or prayers.
It is simply who follows the Tao will live long. Remember it is as Lao Tzu says and that those who lose their way do not. ##
Entry guarding Zhang Mansion Lane beside the Qinhuai River
Te Ch’ing says, “People raise themselves up on their tiptoes to see over the heads of others, but they cannot stand like this very long. People take longer strides to stay in front of others, but they cannot walk lie this very far. Neither of these are natural.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “Selfless and free of desire is the mind of the sage. Conniving and clever is the mind of the common man. Watching himself, displaying himself, parading himself, he thus hastens his end, like he who eats too much.”
Li His-Chai says, “Those who cultivate the Tao yet still think about themselves are like people who overeat or overwork. Food should satisfy the hunger. Work should suit the task. Those who keep to the Way only do what is natural.
Chang Tao-ling says, “Who follows the Way lives long. Who loses the Way dies early. This is the unbiased law of Heaven. It doesn’t depend on offerings and prayers.”
Verse 25 – Coming Home with the Tao
Returning to where you began you find nothing, yet remain complete and indivisible. You are simply one with the Tao.
No true beginning or end, pure and impure seem unimportant, past and future become one, good and bad the same. One with the Tao, you are unsure you exist yet are comforted by the knowledge you will live forever.
Celebrating with Dragons Confucius Temple Nanjing
As the sage you have learned to stand-alone unwavering, travel everywhere without leaving home as you have seen and done it all before. You have become as if you were everyone and everything’s mother. As you return to the root of where it all began, you have come home to the Tao. ##
Wu Ch’eng says, “Nebulous means complete and indivisible.” Su Ch’e says, “The Tao is not pure or muddy, high or low, past or future, good or bad.
Its body is a nebulous whole. In man it becomes his nature. It doesn’t know it exists, and yet it endures forever. Heaven and Earth are created within it.
Coming Home with the Tao Wuhan Temple
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “The Tao does not have a name of its own. We force names on it. But we cannot find anything real in them. We would do better returning to the root from which we all began.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “The Tao is great because there is nothing it does not encompass. Heaven is great because there is nothing it does not cover. Earth is great because there is nothing it does not support. The king is great because there is nothing he does not control. Man should imitate Earth and be peaceful and pliant, plant it and harvest its grains, dig it and find its springs, work without exhaustion and succeed without fuss.
As for Earth imitating Heaven, Heaven is still and immutable. It gives without seeking a reward. It nourishes all creatures and takes nothing for itself. As for Heaven imitating the Tao. The Tao is silent and does not speak. It directs breath and essence unseen, and thus all things come to be. As for the Tao imitating itself, the nature of the Tao is to be itself. It does not imitate anything else.”
One of my most favorite books is by Peter Matthiess, The Snow Leopard. It references another favorite book entitled, The Way of the White Clouds. I never travel far without both in tow.
The Show Leopard, quotes Lama Govina as saying, “Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely flows from the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere – in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that… leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight”.
The Hand of the Buddha Sichuan Museum in Chengdu
The white cloud representing the wisdom and compassion of the guru and spiritual enfoldment, the way of the pilgrimage that leads one to the realization of final completion.
Continuing with The Snow Leopard, the mystical perception (which is only mystical if our reality is limited to what can be measured by the intellect and senses) is remarkably consistent in all places everywhere. To not merely see, but to do. The physician seeks to understand reality, while the mystic is trained to experience it directly.
That while both may have a limited view, or picture, of existence which transcends physical evidence, there remains the sense that appearances are illusionary, or illusory, i.e., temporary.
Picture of snow leopard from Owlcation.com website
It is as if finding the elusive snow leopard itself. You’ve heard of its existence in the high mountains of Tibet. But do you need to actually see it for yourself, to acknowledge it really exists. As if something needs to be seen to be believed. That in reality, everything found in nature including our own human nature, remains in a constant state of flux. That there is in effect, no real edge to anything and therefore remains open to endless interpretation. For the Taoist, it is attaching yourself to nothing, yet influencing all you touch. That this molecular flow of the universe, this cosmic energy we define as universal consciousness is all that has ever been and also includes us. It is how we learn to experience this reality for ourselves that we become enamored with nothing and become mystical as well.
A famous saying from Genghis Khan, the Mongol who raided across Asia pillaging the twenty great cities left by Alexander the Great five hundred years earlier was that “we should live under the laws of the blue sky”, and of course his word was the law. The Mongols had a strong body of laws, the yasaq, based on the decrees of Genghis Khan, and in many cases it remained in place for centuries in their conquered territories. Ten of those cities are noted here in a tab describing the overreaching impact of the Mongols from the Pacific Ocean to the east to the Caspian Sea to the west. An area in size never to be replicated in human history.
But this idea of “living under the laws of the blue sky” was ingrained in his grandson Kublai Khan as the first great Mongol ruler of China after the breaching of the Great Wall.
Prayer wheels at the Arhat Buddhist Temple in Chongqing
It fit the Chinese mindset of the emperor as the embodiment of heaven. His Court embraced Tibetan Buddhism and existing Chinese culture and traditions transforming the war driven Mongol horde into a peaceful nation. He expanded China’s influence and solidified both boundaries and how multiple nationalities could unite under one banner.
A very old Chinese saying goes… “The world is not so calm. Through the ages all conquerors have become something of the past. All dignitaries are just passers-by. But my name is (fill in your own), and it will last for a thousand generations. We heal the world through our intentions.”
Who’s to say? Confucius was not seen as important until his own grandson, Zisi, conveyed the meaning of his words in such a way that he too was to become immortal more than a hundred years after Confucius died.
Picture to the left is of entrance to Mencius Temple with student Anne
It was the work of Zisi and Mencius who conveyed the value of Confucius teaching that lives on today. The Mencius Mansion and Temple (memorial) was not built for over a thousand years after his death in Zoucheng, an hour by bus south of Qufu. Now that’s immortality. What is it that lies beyond the horizon, except the white clouds that we all someday will return to? To have been and to return to live with the dragons (angels) once again. If knowing and adhering to ancient virtues are held on to as if only to live amongst the white clouds once again.
It is said that temperament which is soft and agreeable evoke similar memories, while trying to be a hero and making great achievement are just the same as a transient passing cloud.
We are often seen rushing forward regardless of what may lie ahead. Only asking not to perish before fulfilling the purpose for which it was created and to be able to deliver the message which is embodied in us as our own sacred purpose is fulfilled. As if only waiting to see if anything of merit has been left behind.
I’ve often wondered why my own passion, reminiscing the past, and fascination with ancient China seems to end with the return to Italy in 1293 by Marco Polo and his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo, after travelling through Asia and meeting Kublai Khan. In 1269, the three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa.
Upon his return, Marco was imprisoned and dictated his stories to a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married, and had three children. He died in 1324 and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Venice.
Marco Polo (Wikipedia)
Many times over the past more than twenty years of traveling throughout China, I too have been to places also visited by Marco Polo. None impacted me more so than Chengdu, near Tibet in southwest China, where Marco Polo visited and saw the same sites I have seen more than 800 years later with an eerie feeling that I have seen and done this all before.
I myself am a first generation Italian American, with my father and grandparents coming from Italy in 1906. Who’s to say we all are not riding the winds, traveling with the clouds always to new horizons… beyond what is known and the all too familiar. Here to tell a new story. To perhaps write as well of my impressions of where I too have been as he did and of remembrances along the way. As if simply just to see how things have changed. As if I have already been there and have now returned. Finally, perhaps only to see how ancient virtue has been either lost or gained.
- Pictured here are Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, the Buddha, Confucius, and Averroes (Wikipedia)
What is it that distinguishes us but the consciousness of the past, a consciousness that lies beyond who we identify with as an individual at this moment?
From the west and ancient Greece, we think of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, to Descartes, and more modern-day, Hegel, and Kierkegaard. From the East we think of Lao Tzu, Confucius and the Buddha.
All would say it is creativity that makes the difference. For myself, with thoughts leaning more to Eastern philosophy, it is as if the past speaks to us conveying that through knowing our past that we create our future. As if staying behind to impart immortality’s wisdom is in effect maintaining ancient virtue through the ages.
What is our obligation to the past, but our continuity based on a living tradition and a conscious connection with our origin. Not to oppose change, but to recognize change as the nature of all things, including us.
This is why in China the I Ching. the Book of Change, has provided the cornerstone for Chinese philosophical thought for more the 5,000 years. The shaman knowing to match the need to re-discover the true meaning of past teachings and symbols of the past with the present. As if through the experiences of the sage, knowing that things appearing as if a whim are often later to be conveyed as truth.
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.
Carving from Han Dynasty from Linyi
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 28 and 29 appear below. Verses 1 through 27 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 this website.
Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught along the way that guides us.
Dan on the step to top of Qingyang Mountain
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 28 – Maintaining Ancient Virtue
Showing the way can be likened to being the world’s maid. A job on the surface seeming too menial too even consider that success may follow.
Once you’ve recognized your task, the way becomes even more difficult. But it is only by experiencing the tediousness can you begin to advance and rule the day.
Advance as if you have the heart of a child without fear, without knowledge that the task is too big. Thereby always keeping your ancient virtue intact. Simply recognizing that which lies without you while holding onto the oneness within you. Acknowledging what is at its beginning always becomes something else at its end.
That once was hard must become soft. That if we are constantly referring to what appears to be black or white, we are in reality seeing them as dark or light and if we see things as pure verses defiled we are acknowledging it as either noble or humble.
The Heart of a Child Shaanxi Museum Xian
Recognizing the above, the task of the sage becomes easy. By adhering to what is soft, humble and dark the essence of the Tao is always close at hand. Advance as if you were an uncarved piece of wood waiting to be molded into what is needed with no pre-conceived outcome of what may occur. Always guided by what comes forth without limits, with the Tao always in charge.
While acting as a master tailor, sewing without seams, the job of the maid suddenly comes forth with ease and grace. The job becoming second nature as you have mastered it fully with your virtue leading the way. ##
Te-Ch’ing says, “To recognize the Way is hard. Once you recognize it, to hold onto it is even harder. But only by holding onto it can you advance on the Way.”
Temple of the Eight Immortals in Xian
Mencius says, “The great man does not lose his child-heart. (4B.12). Confucius says, “A great man is not a tool” (Lunyu: 2.12). Ch’eng Hsuan – Ying says, “What has no limits is the Tao”.
Wang Tao, says “The sage recognizes ‘that’ but holds onto ‘this’. ‘Male’ and ‘female’ refer to hard and ‘soft’. ’Pure’ and ‘defiled’ refer to noble and humble. ‘White’ and ‘black’ refer to light and dark.
Although hard, noble, and light certainly have their uses, hard does not come from hard but from soft. Noble does not come from noble but from humble. And light does not come from light but from dark. Hard, noble, and light are the secondary forms and farther from the Tao. Hence, the sage returns to the original: uncarved wood. Uncarved wood can be made into tools, but tools cannot be made into uncarved wood. The sage is like uncarved wood, not a tool. He is the chief official, not the functionary.
Verse 29 – Showing the way while remaining behind
It is in stillness that the sage comes forth to govern the world. He has learned that it cannot be controlled consciously and that we must learn to trust what comes naturally.
That human strength and/or knowledge cannot lead us and that it is our spirit must govern us.
To be in the clouds with Dragons Wuhan Museum
That nothing can be governed by force, that it is in stillness that spiritual things respond and that which is considered spiritual does not act on its own, but is guided by the Tao. When force comes into play, what is real leaves the field.
Remain transitory with your surroundings only as temporary lodging. Having no stake in the outcome you are able to determine what is not yours, lose your way, or forget why you are here.
Staying at the highest point of mediation letting all things come forth to find their place, the sage is at his best when he does not oppose things.
The Power of Ritual Wuhan Museum
Simply by letting the spirit of oneness penetrate the nature of others, he responds to them without force and follows them without effort.
He eliminates what confuses them, hens their minds become clear and each person finds their place in the scheme of things to come. By remaining calm and still letting the spirit guide your way you focus on simplicity, remaining content and eliminate extremes. It is with kindness and humility you succeed and it is with all three every situation bows to your command. ##
Te Ch’ing says, “Those who would govern the world should trust what is natural. The world cannot be controlled continuously. It is too big a thing. The world can only be governed by the spirit, not by human strength or knowledge”.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Spiritual things respond to stillness. They cannot be controlled by force”.
Li His-Chai says, “The sage considers his body transitory and the world his temporary lodging. How can he rule what is not his and lose the true and lasting way”?
Su Ch’e says, “The interchange of yin and yang, high and low, of great and small is the way things are and cannot be avoided. Fools are selfish. They insist on having their own way and meet with disaster. The sage knows he cannot oppose things. He agrees with whatever he meets. He eliminates extremes and thereby keeps the world from harm”.
Wu Ch’eng says. “How does someone who gains control of the world keep the world from harm? The sage understands that things necessarily move between opposites but there is a way to adjust this movement. Things that prosper too much must wither and die. By keeping things from prospering too much, he keeps them from withering and dying.”
Temple of the Eight Immortals in Xian
Wand Pi says, “The sage penetrates the nature and condition of others. Hence, he responds to them without force and follows them without effort. He eliminates whatever misleads or confuses them. Hence their minds become clear, and each realizes his own nature.”
Wang An-Shih says, “Resting where you are eliminating extreme. Treasuring simplicity eliminates extravagance. Being content with less eliminates excess.
Lu Nung-Shih says, “The sage gets rid of extremes with kindness. He gets rid of extravagance with simplicity. He gets rid of excess with humility. By means of these three, the sage governs the world”.
Tao Te Ching verses 30 and 31
Keeping our integrity intact – while we find freedom from who we thought we were.
It is said that it’s not enough only to return to our source, but once you have done so you become rejuvenated and become the source over and over again. The status quo henceforth never enough because you see what can be and want to go there. Who are those among us who refuse to reside in, or conform with, what are considered norms or society’s niceties. Or as I’ve heard and told – to be like a roman candle ready to explode across the blue sky.
Their non-conformity usually to be seen or expressed in word, poetry or song. Thoughts of Patrick Henry and the American Revolution and his call to arms… “Give me liberty or give me death”. Or Chuang Tzu in China from thousands of years ago, with his butterfly dream, that exhorts others to not fall head first into what is easiest, or conformity.
Saying that if there needs to be a revolution, then count me in. To not be boxed in by what remotely seems familiar to the status quo. Not only remaining outside the box, but defining it as well. To happily draw outside the lines, or even off the page itself. Acting as if every situation is unfinished until it’s your turn to speak up. As if accepting finality in any circumstance is not on the agenda. Even reminding us of Thoreau’s civil disobedience and his opposition to slavery and American imperialism. His writing influenced many prominent civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, combining and defining both transcendentalism and peaceful change through non-violence.
Mohandas Gandhi first read Thoreau’s book Walden in 1906 while working as a civil rights activist in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Gandhi photo from wikipedia) He first read Civil Disobedience while he sat in a South African prison for the crime of nonviolently protesting discrimination against the Indian population in the Transvaal.
With Gandhi spinning was poetry in motion
The essay galvanized Gandhi, who wrote and published a synopsis of Thoreau’s argument, calling it ‘incisive logic unanswerable’ and referring to Thoreau as ‘one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced’. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his autobiography stated that his first encounter with the idea of nonviolent resistance was reading “On Civil Disobedience” in 1944 while attending Morehouse College. Both finding change through illustrating our integrity and defining the true meaning of freedom of thought and our actions that follow. As if our task is to continually re-define the true essence of virtue with the sage remaining an enigma even to those who think they know him.
In China it was always the writer, painter and poet, who could express an internal sense of kung fu that others could see and find for themselves in appreciation of bringing what could not be known, into what could be… and to go there. Having a sense of spontaneity that you could identify with and do yourself. It was as if becoming one with what you do is a true realization of the Way of Virtue, or the Tao. It’s what we do when we move beyond identifying with who we thought we were, to who we really are.
We all seem to possess an instinct for survival, a fear of death that defines, or separates us, from some sense of happiness that conveys that body, mind, and spirit are one in the same. In China, it was the ability to express this as our nature in beautiful landscapes depicting yourself as the sage or hermit in the hut on the mountain landscape, that was the ultimate escape into meditation as you yourself could go there. As well as, through calligraphy that demonstrated through the “brush stroke” your ability to convey what could be transformational.
Wang Xizhi (303–361) was a Chinese calligrapher, traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy. Born in Linyi in Shandong, I have visited his home in Linyi …
Expressing yourself from within. Great calligraphy, paintings, and human expression we have defined as art, fill museums throughout the world saying this is how it has always been.
Intricate landscapes carried over into actual reality through principles that could be depicted in nature and carried out in practice.
In Chinese traditional culture, moral education took the place of religion. Grounded in Taoism, Buddhism and Confucius, society could move on to expressing this through how they lived. With the aesthetic thought of Confucianism always emphasizing inquiry into ethical and moral principles and finding ways to stay within them.
Confucius Temple in Qufu
Confucius made assessments through following ancient rites, virtue and benevolence towards others. This was often shown through landscapes and what was to later become of feng shui and became a major principle used in creating a traditional Chinese garden, or Temple dedicated to harmonizing with nature. Not to control, but that the man-made and natural scenes should blend together that seems to outweigh contradiction. To become complementary. This conveyed the realization that you understood the teachings of Lao Tzu who taught that the Tao gave free rein to nature. That there was no overriding, or overreaching element. That all things, including people, developed in their own way as their nature dictated.
Famous gardens of Suzhou. This is the Lion Grove Garden. I have given tours here, and taught at university to students who were to become tour guides.
Human elements, as shown in traditional Chinese garden design, are done at a minimum and not used to damage or change ecology. Garden design was especially prone to focus on allowing the natural, or original shapes of plants and trees to exist. In Shandong Province, where I have traveled extensively and visited many of the examples of temples/gardens where these traits are exemplified, I have seen how all the above demonstrates what I like to call a collective vision to virtue and integrity beyond oneself.
One of my favorite gardens in China is actually referred to as the Dai Temple, also know as Daimiao, at the foot of TaiShan Mountain in Shandong Province. The temple was first built during the Qin Dynasty. Since the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), its design has been a replica of the imperial palace, which makes it one out of three extant structures in China with the features of an imperial palace (the other two are the Forbidden City in Beijing and Confucius Temple in Qufu). The Dai Temple is surrounded by the 2,100‑year‑old Han Dynasty cypresses. The oldest surviving stair may be the 6000 granite steps to the top of the mountain. (Which I have climbed). The site contains a number of well-preserved steles from the Huizong reign, some of which are mounted on bixi tortoises.
Emerson, more than any other western writer comes closest to what I call Eastern philosophy, and opened the door for others to walk through. With ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for man to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world.
Emerson felt philosophically speaking or considered, “the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul”, rejecting views of God as separate from the world.” In my opinion, his thinking resembled the Taoist and shaman. He as much as anyone, opened us and the west to ideas espoused by Eastern philosophy. With Emerson we could all be ourselves and become transcendental. In America, it was the early transcendental writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who moved others to see that there was a world beyond oneself that fueled westward expansion.
Telling us that the further we get from who we are, we retreat into our future. As if following the stars that were to be plotted by the surveyor, John C Fremont, the pathfinder, who served as our guide west discovering as we went the wonder of the universe, the utter awe of nature and finding our place in it. As if we had no choice but to go. As a writer myself, I have long admired Thoreau and his saying that, “Nothing goes by luck in composition. The best you can write will be the best you are”. Just as I wrote all those years ago… “what you write is who you are to become”.
Both Emerson and Thoreau giving credence, or license, to the idea of anxiously awaiting departure to the unknown as the only path to be taken. The way once found to be defined only in order to take the next unknowable step, before then taking it. So that we too can make the unknowable knowable if only for ourselves.
To define the universe in terms of what the ancients found in stillness and go there.
Waiting for the bell to toll for us Confucius Temple Qingdao
To live and reside (without drugs) in an altered state of consciousness. As if no longer stuck in believing or thinking we can only live within what we know, then leaving what’s knowable behind…
For myself, it’s as if to be found appreciating those who have come before us. As if through their knowledge and wisdom we can gain our own. We’ve all known people like this as they have passed though our lives like a comet streaking through our own blue sky. Here today and gone tomorrow. Their purpose to be teachers of the Way, but most often not staying long, except only to maybe get our attention.
Not really, or much appreciated, until they are gone. Only here as if, as stated before, on a passing cloud. Finding joy in remaining an enigma as before. With no pre-conceived patterns. As if a snowflake celebrating its indifference. As if waiting to see if we too are ready to catch the coming wave. Or better yet, create the ripple that become a tsunami.
Looking back, it is those who we celebrate in hopes of latching onto their drawstrings as they pass us by. Their non-conformity our own ticket to ride in knowing the virtue that becomes us. It has been these throughout history in China we have called dragons. Our ancestors and mentors who have shown us the way. It truly is as if they reside on passing clouds encouraging us to come along for the ride. It’s as if remaining in silence, being drawn to our eternal rhythm and reverberations through music and meditation, that directions arrive to take us there. All that is required is to keep our integrity intact by discarding what isn’t to become of us. Thereby following and knowing final outcomes. As if we shouldn’t keep them waiting.
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 30 and 31 appear below. Verses 1 through 29 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 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 30 – Winning when you have no Choice
The Tao teaches us to win with our integrity intact. To let our spiritual fortunes, guide the way.
In keeping with your role as remaining at the foremost point of mediation you have come to a few basic tenants. First is an understanding of what it takes to win without using force.
Forever Young Dujian Waterworks
That it is better to win, then stop – letting common sense prevail. Next to win with your humility intact letting everyone take credit for the outcome. Third, to win without being cruel to another, giving them the victory as well. And finally, to win when you have no choice.To be so caught up in the final outcome that it is only natural that events and success will follow. That the foremost law of the universe is that we reap what we sow and that what we cultivate comes back to rule the day.
Ultimate victory occurring when you appear to prosper, but remain poor. Become full yet seem empty. Keep virility at arm’s length thus remaining forever young and allowing death to make no appearances.
The knowing sage ages without growing old. ##
Su Ch’e says, “Those who possess the Tao prosper and yet seem poor, become full and yet seem empty. What is not virile does not become old and does not die. The virile die. This is the way things are. Using an army to control the world represent strength. But it only hastens old age and death.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “To win means to defeat one’s enemies. To win without being arrogant about one’s power, to win without being boastful about one’s ability, to win without being cruel about one’s achievement, this sort of victory only comes from being forced and not from the exercise of force.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “Those who possess the Way are like children. They age without growing old.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Once a plant reaches its height of development, it withers. Once a person reaches his peak, they grow old. Force does not prevail for long. It isn’t the Tao. What is withered and old cannot follow the Tao. And what cannot follow the Tao soon dies.
Lao Tzu says, “Tyrants never choose their end” (42).
Verse 31 – Remaining Centered in the Tao
Learn not to expand your energies or passion on things of little or no consequence.
Remaining still and reserved as if you are pre-occupied with your own enthusiasm.
Living by the Tao Dujian Waterworks
To those around you, simply smile at what living brings to greet you each day and to trouble say ah so!
Not as one considered as self-centered, but as Tao centered spreading your joy and laughter to all you meet. Letting joy for knowing your place in the universe become your foremost point of engagement.
Learn not to let situations control you. Instead, remain in control by not allowing events to cloud your vision as you lead others with dispassion, humility and self-control.
When you can respond as if events were gnats, too small to even notice, then you may begin to see over the next horizon as your destiny becomes clear. ##
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “The system of ritual devised by ancient kings treated the right as superior and the left as inferior. Being superior, the right represented the Way of Victory. Being inferior, the left represented the Way of Humility. But victory entailed death and destruction. Hence those on the right were in charge of sad occasions, while those of the left were in charge of happy events.
Li His-Chai says, “Sun Tzu discussed in detail the use of strengths and weaknesses, of direction and indirection in warfare, but he did not understand their basis (5-6). Lao Tzu says dispassion is the best policy, for it secures victory without a display. This might seem odd, but dispassion means to rest, and rest is the root of victory. While passion means to act, and action is the basis of defeat.”
Li Jung says, “The ancients used weapons with compassion. They honored them for their virtue and disdained them as tools. Once the enemy was defeated, the general put on plain, un-dyed clothes, presided over a funeral ceremony, and received the mourners”.
Shang Kung says, “In times of decadence and disorder, we use weapons to defend the people”. Su Che says, “We take up weapons to rescue the distressed and not as a matter of course”.
Tao Te Ching 32 and 33
Emulating the five jades as our own aspirations and behavior
In ancient China the role of the importance of jade became very valuable. Like gold, its role in society became the real thing. As if possessing fine jade could extend its value through the virtue it’s holder had as well. Radiating that inner quiet, or quality, which is often associated with spiritual attainment. Gaining a feeling that there is a gaze, a watchful eye, watching over you.
The gaze seemingly open, calm, benign, without judgment of any kind, and yet, when we are confronted with it, it acts like a mirror and we can see what remains hollow in ourselves, all that is greedy, angry, and unwise. The jade reminding us that there is much more to ourselves than simply appearances.
As if having what was to be called the inner qualities of the “five jades”, you received praise and encouragement from your peers. This was clearly something the emperor and early kings tried to emulate and demonstrate and was a subject taught in “the art of becoming”. This also fit into the embodiment of Confucian ideals of benevolence as one attempted to modify his behavior to fit the norm. Exemplified by what became known as filial piety in Confucian philosophy, as a virtue of respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors.
It was the key to maturity in every level we might attain in our family, our life, and society. Cultured gentlemen always wore jade… In its highest estimation it would be as if you were ease-dropping on our soul’s place in the universe. As if the phoenix rising again, moving from where you find yourself to where you need to be. Becoming free of negativity and associating with our sense of connecting to vibrations beyond the here and now.
What could, or what is to become of, our eternal essence. To get to the point of “what shows up is who we are in relationship to our greatest endeavor and destiny”.
A great author whose writing I follow is Abraham Hicks. Several of his basic premises are that you (we) are a physical extension of that which is non-physical.
The Water Dragon Dujian Water work
Next, is that you are here in the body because you choose to be here, and third, that the basis of your life is freedom and the purpose of your life is joy. I spoke extensively about this idea of freedom in my previous blog here on my website. My sense of his ideas center around the notion that our emotions are what guides us and aligning with our desires sets in place our destination. That we are here to align with our greater truth. Finding and associating with these vibrations we allow this energy to flow through us. That when we connect to joy, and what we love, we discover the purpose of our lives. To even as Joseph Campbell would say, to discover or find our bliss. This equates even to kung fu, as I have written before, that with this we find our expansion.
That we cannot act in generalities, but find our own specific purpose. What the ancient shaman found and learned by following nature and what was to become of the I Ching, that the truth you know is the same truth you use in guiding your thoughts and actions. Once ingrained, this truth makes you unavailable to anything else.
Hicks basic premise of the “law of attraction” … is that choice is our greatest level of consciousness and fits well into what Wang Pi from the early Han Dynasty said when he updated both Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, and the I Ching, the Taoist ideals of Chuang Tzu’s perfected man and “cause and effect”. With their help we learn to live the Tao catching glimpses of ourselves, as we simply continue on our way.
It’s what the Buddhist conveys when he says that every day is new and that ultimately nothing takes us far from our path. That when we stray, we ultimately find the freedom to return to our path to find why we are here and where we need to be.
Going Forward Nanjing Museum
Our challenge as Chuang Tzu above was always conveying, is that it is as we learn to pivot and come back into alignment to who and what we are that counts. That it is as if our source keeps trying to reroute us… that we are never lost and that we should lean on from where we came. It is as if we are reminded that we are co-creators with the universe. It was this consciousness of choice that jade in ancient China became an emblem of life assisting us in creating our highest endeavors.
Accepting and wearing jade signified that you acknowledged your place in society. As if you had found kung fu and a life in wu wei, or your highest endeavor, assured of your ultimate destiny… As if you were somewhat sage-like yourself, yet bound to a humble and simple lifestyle.
As if you were the master of knowing your place in the universe, earth, people, and perhaps even heaven itself, and were living it. Jade could symbolize you had made it. Versus those who were afraid of not measuring up, who collected possessions and gold instead. Jade although was very rare, and those seen as the rightful owners were the very fortunate, the kings and emperor. While possessing the five jades represented the highest virtues one could obtain. They were as follows:
- That mildness shows morality.
- Graciousness shows righteousness.
- Modesty shows etiquette.
- Solidness shows wisdom.
- Lucidness means loyalty.
Xu Shen, from the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 221 AD), details the five virtues describing the makeup of jade in his work Shuowen Jiezi:
Jade broach from the Early Han / Shaanxi
Benevolence for its lustre and brilliance. Honesty for its translucent texture.
Wisdom for its tranquil and far-reaching tone.
Integrity and Bravery for it may be broken but cannot be twisted.
Cover of a modern reprint of a Song Dynasty edition the Shuowen Jiezi an early 2nd-century Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty. (Wikipedia)
In Chinese mythology there is a character known as Bixia Yuanjun, also known as the “Heavenly Immortal Lady of Jade” or the “Lady of Mount Tai”. According to some mythological accounts, she is the daughter or the consort of the Great Deity of Mount Tai. Statues of Bixia Yuanjun often depict her holding a tablet with the Big Dipper as a symbol of her authority.
Jade Emperor Peak on Mount Tai is the holiest of Taoist pilgrimage destinations in China. For over three thousand years Taoist pilgrims have journeyed up to this peak. Thousands visit Jade Emperor Peak daily, making Tai Shan one of the most climbed mountain in the world.
There are 7,200 stairs that lead to the eastern summit, and there are many ancient temples to visit on this route. Mount Tai is a world heritage site and is the holiest of Taoism’s Five Sacred Mountains. I have been here many times. Usually walking up to the peak, then riding the tram back down.
Palace of Heavenly Blessings at the top of Mt Tai Shan
Over thousands of years through the teachings of both sage and shaman alike these traits proved, or showed, how one’s life fit into the true meaning of longevity and a life well-lived. It meant the rise and fall of kings, emperors, and dynasties were tied to basic principles. That values mean nothing if not intrinsically tied to virtue and today’s pragmatism.
In China these virtues were illustrated by adhering to the principles expanded on by Lao Tzu and Confucius. Interestingly, it would be how Confucian philosophy was modified through commentaries that enabled those in power to convey what he really meant to say. By example, under a tab on my website is something called “The Dazhuan – The Meaning of the I Ching”. In history, it is considered to be a segment of the Ten Wings that conveyed how one should emulate the true path of one wishing to have influence in popular culture.
As if a road map to understanding how to “fit in” with the I Ching as the ultimate guide. But it was to be Confucius, and those who followed him, that were to show the ultimate way.
Dan and Chris at annual Confucius festivities held in Qufu
In the early Han Dynasty, the Han emperor, required every city in China to have what was to be called “a Temple honoring Confucius”. While trying to provide structure and “rites” that tied the present back to the past going forward. In reality, it was this philosophical glue or melding together, that tied the rights of the Emperor and his followers to the past that gave him authority to serve and act on the people’s behalf. Confucian doctrine held it all together.
Sage from Three Kingdoms Culture (AD 184/220–280) was the tripartite division of China between the states of Wei, Shu, and Wu, following the Han dynasty Jade statute from Chengdu.
Another source is my own experiences in China and Qufu found here on the website under the tab “Qufu and Confucius”. In my travels to Qufu since October 1999, I have observed many people in the birthplace of Confucius who have become close friends, as well as, traveled to many cities, towns, and villages of my students in Shandong Province. While the focus here is on Lao Tzu, most historians feel Confucius at heart was a Taoist. To the reader, some sense of Confucianism is important as we tell the story. There is a famous stone carving of Confucius meeting Lao Tzu in Jining dating from the Warring States Period (475–221 BC) although, most feel that they probably did not meet. It is said that Lao Tzu told Confucius that… “He should not be so full of himself”. I was given an etching of the stone tablet from the Han dynasty that depicted this meeting. I gave it to the Confucius Institute at Miami Dade College in Florida where I was an adjunct professor a few years ago.
Confucianism’s primary principles are:
- Jen – the golden rule
- Chun-tai – the gentlemanly man of virtue
- Cheng-ming – the proper playing of society’s roles
- Te – the power of virtue
- Li – ideal standards of conduct
- Wen – the peaceful arts (music, poetry, etc.)
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?
The Jade Dragon Protector Shaanxi Museum
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 32 and 33 appear below. Verses 1 through 31 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 this website.
Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught along the way that guides us.
Carving from Han Dynasty at Confucius Mansion in Qufu
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 32 – The River of Tao runs through Me
Going through each chapter of the Tao Te Ching is as if a river is running through me. Cleansing my heart, clearing my head and satisfying my soul.
As if I have become nameless and my body non-existent as I become one with the Tao. Living the life as the true sage as the Tao becomes me.
I am forever transformed.
The Way becoming simple and clear as the natural extension of your every action. Focusing on what remains small and beyond command by others except for appearance sake. When you expand, however, it is as if you are everywhere. You become both heaven and earth combining as one.
Embracing the simple and working without effort, my true nature remains unburdened as material things and desires run through me and dissolve as if they were never really there. Showing the way, but leaving others to discover the Tao for themselves.
You appear as if dew leaving no trace. Given a name you become distinct. Showing restraint and finding no trouble your true purpose has run its course. ##
Ho-Shang Kung says, “The Tao can be yin or yang, it can wax or wane, it can exist or not exist. Hence it has no fixed name.”
Chiao Hung says, “We call it ‘simple’ because it has not been cut or polished. We call it ‘small’ because it is faint and infinitesimal. Those who can see the small and hold onto it are rare indeed.
Wang Pi, “If someone embraces the simple and works without effort and doesn’t burden their true nature with material goods or injure their spirit with desires, all things will come to them on their own and they will discover the Tao by themselves. To discover the Tao, nothing is better than embracing simplicity.”
Jen Fa-Jung says, “In terms of practice, if someone can be serene and natural, free himself of desire, and put his mind at rest, his yin and yang breaths will come together on their own and penetrate every artery and organ. Inside his mouth, the saliva of sweet dew will appear spontaneously and nourish his whole body.
Verse 33 – Living Beyond Attachments
Proceeding unconsciously, as if you are only following the whims of the Tao and playing the role that you are here to play. Knowing your place is secure and you destiny to one day return to live with dragons is assured.
What then can occur in the here and now but to live fully enmeshed in the Tao and to be sure you complete the role you are here to play.
Living fully enmeshed in the Tao Huangshan Old Town
As if to live beyond attachments while continuing to pursue your final destiny The sage becomes wise by knowing himself and remaining perceptive of others by only being concerned about conquering himself and not others.
By striving to succeed at his endeavors and knowing contentment as his definition of being wealthy. Not losing his place thereby living forever. ##
Su Ch’e says, “Perception means to distinguish. Wisdom means to remove obstruction. As long as our distinguishing mind is present, we can only know others, but not ourselves.
Confucius says, “Those who govern with Virtue are like the North Star, which remains in its place, while the myriad stars revolve around it.”
Li His-Chan says, “Perception is external knowledge. Wisdom is internal knowledge. Force is external control. Strength is internal control. Perception and force mislead us. Wisdom and strength are true. They are the doors to the Tao.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing, “The strength of those who conquer themselves is of ten kinds: the strength of faith, the strength of charity, the strength of morality, the strength of devotion, the strength of mediation, the strength of concentration, the strength of illumination, the strength of wisdom, the strength of the Way, and the strength of Virtue.”
Lu Nung-Shih says, “Before we distinguish them, life and death share the same form, the ten thousand things dwell in the same house. Our body is like the shell of a cicada or the skin of a snake: a temporary lodging. The shell perishes but not the cicada. The skin decays but not the snake. We all have something that survives death.”
Ts’ao Tao-Ch’ung says, “Though the Great Way might be far off, if we persevere without pause, we advance. We get closer and closer, until suddenly we become one with the Way. Whoever has a role can do anything. Outside, be content with your lot. Inside, focus on the Way. And you cannot help but live long with devotion.”
Wang Pi says, “Those who strive with devotion reach their goal. Those who examine themselves and work within their capacity don’t lose their place and are able to endure. Although we die, the Tao that gave us life does not perish. Our body disappears, but the Tao remains. If our body survived, would the Tao not end?”
Wang P’ang say, “The natural endowment of all things is complete in itself. Poverty does not reduce it. Wealth does not enlarge it. But fools abandon this treasure to chase trash. Those who know contentment pay the world no heed. This is true wealth. Mencius said, “The ten thousand things are all with us (7A.4). How could we not be healthy?”
Tao Te Ching verse 34 and 35
Lent, the Art of Forgiveness and the Road Not Taken
All the qualities that the great masters found, we can attain as well. It all depends on our own efforts, our diligence, our deeper knowing, and our correct motivation. – Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
How do we learn to listen to, speak and write from our inner voice? How do we learn to act on our highest calling or endeavor? We do so innately, by and through discretion, insight and wisdom.
Modeling our thoughts and behavior from what we have learned and observed, and from this we know how to proceed. How do we inspire others to do the same?
How do we learn not to be fixed in our thoughts going this way or that, when we ourselves don’t know, or are not aware of what the final outcome of where a particular path may lead? When a basic law of the universe is that all things must change. Nothing ever remains the same and as we continue to grow neither do we. That the first step to change is learning forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves, as well as those around us, for not meeting expectations that were not all that important to begin with. That it is when we become fixed in a certain way, we too begin to die. It is nature’s way of replenishing itself.
As most of those following me here know, I recently posted something about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. In addition to several hundred “likes”, I received four or five comments from people who had terrible things to say about Gandhi. I could not understand such vitriol for a man who changed the world and the lives of millions of people for the better.
Mahatma Gandhi during the Salt March protesting against the government monopoly on salt production. (Image: Getty Images)
Even for myself, I have quoted him in my books and writing. His line attributed to him “We must be the change we want to see in the world”, is one of the most transformative statement’s one could make or say. Were either of them perfect – no. And then we look to our own frailties and have to ask… are we, and then acknowledge that perhaps it was their struggles and greatness that may have contributed to our own awakening. To maybe take the higher path, or road, that ultimately defines us as well. History ultimately always tells the story. Gandhi’s influence lives beyond him and he will be considered immortal because of it. Who and what is it that tells the memories of times gone by as we help others to remember what they too may have forgotten?
In ancient China, as with every civilization, we learned that our actions lead to consequences. If we start a fire… things will burn. If uncontrolled then the fire will burn everything in its path.
When the flood comes, there is no safely until or unless you reach higher ground. Nature re-constructs from what is left behind just as we do from those we follow. We build on the strengths and weakness of ourselves and others and gain wisdom, insight, and discretion along the way. Our words and actions express this every day. They serve to define us and have consequences as well. That it is what inspires us that guides our way. It’s like following directions will get us there so we take them.
It is as Robert Frost said, that it is the road not taken that leads us to a different reality that could have been our best way to go. Ultimately it is what we “take away” from the experience that guides us.
His poem “The Road Not Taken” begins with a dilemma, i.e., coming to a fork in the road and we have to decide which path to follow: One forest has replaced another, just as—in the poem—one choice will supplant another. The yellow leaves also evoke a sense of transience; one season will soon give way to another, just as with our lives. Wishing both paths could be taken, a choice must however be made. In the end Frost said, ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.’ Wow… now that’s inspiring. The point being, that we can be influenced or guided by his writing, but it doesn’t not necessitate our reflecting, or being judgmental on Frost’s character. Kind of like the line in the song by George Harrison… “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there”. As if it’s where the attributes they emulate take us.
Another great writer was Jack London, who wrote “Call of the Wild” and his ability to portray the wild, untamed Yukon. What he did in his life might cause some to disparage him, just do we judge him and not his contribution to the world through his writing? The list goes on and on. The point being we accept others through forgiveness and acknowledge their humanity. We seem to want to mold others into who we think they should be, instead of accepting their awesomeness as to who they really are… warts and all.
I give Desmond Tutu the final word below. I think a part of developing forgiveness in this time of lent before Easter, is understanding that we believe what we are taught to believe. It seems as though it is through our own acts of forgiveness we are asked now to take, that we are given an opportunity for spiritual transformation. To find and then follow a transcendent life as we learn to reverberate the energy that encompasses us and to see beyond ourselves. As if we are to be reawakened. With this we see the resentments we have grown accustomed to and remove them. It is through forgiveness we begin to see beyond personal attributes of those we look to that would demean their legacy. As if we want those we look up to be perfect, without modifying our own behavior that matches them. Since we fail to nourish the greatness in ourselves, we seem not to want to see it in others as well. Just as it is very common to have historical figures to have their personas amplified to match the cause they represent.
I especially like the words in a book by Desmond Tutu in The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
“Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability. It is not about turning a blind eye or even turning the other cheek. It is not about letting someone off the hook or saying it is okay to do something monstrous. Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed. Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation.”
A Desmond Tutu second quote I liked was “Transformation begins in you, wherever you are, whatever has happened, however you are suffering. Transformation is always possible. We do not heal in isolation. When we reach out and connect with one another—when we tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship—our suffering begins to transform.”
I would add that ultimately, it is in knowing who we are, that we can only desire the best for them. That we don’t contribute to spiritual degradation. That we become an expression of light with compassion and connectedness with all things.
That it is what we take away from our experiences with MLK, Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and others that helps us to remember what we have forgotten as to who we are for eternity’s sake. The reverberations of energy that serve to help us to be willing to show up as who we are meant to be. To become as the ancient Chinese have said through the millennia. That we are one with the ten thousand things. With this we find the blossoming of our soul.
To as Charles Fillmore, founder of Unity said, “We are to forgive and ask forgiveness. Seeing others as pure spirit is our own road to freedom. That with forgiveness everything becomes new again.” As though the open road awaits us.
The basis of Confucius teachings was thoughts of benevolence towards all. By definition, benevolence meant to forgive and move all to higher ground through our own actions.
The Buddha awoke by recognizing that all of creation, from distraught ants to dying human beings, are unified by suffering. Recognizing this, the Buddha discovered how to best approach suffering. First, one shouldn’t bathe in luxury, nor abstain from food and comforts altogether. Instead, one ought to live in moderation (the Buddha called this “the middle way”). This allows for maximal concentration on cultivating compassion for others and seeking enlightenment. Next, the Buddha described a path to transcending suffering called “the four noble truths.”
The first noble truth is the realization that first prompted the Buddha’s journey: that there is suffering and constant dissatisfaction in the world: “Life is difficult and brief and bound up with suffering.”
The second is that this suffering is caused by our desires, and thus “attachment is the root of all suffering.”
The third truth is that we can transcend suffering by removing or managing these desires. The Buddha thus made the remarkable claim that we must change our outlook, not our circumstances. We are unhappy not because we have become greedy, vain, and insecure, but that we see the world through eyes looking outward, not inward. By re-orienting our mind and actions, we can grow to be content.
The fourth and final noble truth the Buddha uncovered is that we can learn to move beyond suffering through what he termed “the eight-fold path.” The eight-fold path involves a series of aspects of behaving “right” and wisely: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. That wisdom is a habit, not merely an intellectual realization. One must exercise one’s nobler impulses. Understanding is only part of becoming a better person.
Seeking these correct modes of behavior and awareness, the Buddha taught that people could transcend much of their negative individualism—their pride, their anxiety, and the desires that made them so unhappy—and in turn they would gain compassion for all other living beings who suffered as they did. With the correct behavior and what we now term a mindful attitude, people can invert negative emotions and states of mind, turning ignorance into wisdom, anger into compassion, and greed into generosity.
The ancient Taoist Li Jung says, “The Great Image has no form. What has no form is the great and empty Way. To ‘hold’ means to focus or keep. Those who can keep their body in the realm of Dark Virtue and focus their mind on the gate of Hidden Serenity possess the Way. All things come to them. Clouds appear, and all creatures are refreshed. Rain pours down, and all plants are refreshed. And all these blessings come from such a subtle thing.”
The road always seemingly coming back full circle to Lao Tzu, and thoughts of Taoism. 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 34 and 35 appear below. Verses 1 through 33 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 34 – Knowing no borders you learn to lead the Way
Living each moment in virtue through grace, while remaining unrestrained in every thought, action and deed.
Coming across to others as neither weak nor strong or right or wrong, so that you may respond to all things and move them in any direction.
Knowing no borders and remaining neutral. In control but letting everything find its own course just the same. Simply doing what you do best as if you are drifting through time. With no predetermined destination you go everywhere, see everything using the Tao as your compass and oar. Continuing by grace so that you go without bringing attention to yourself, never speaking of your power or mentioning your achievements as you endeavor to remain small.
Never acting great but doing great things. Everything eventually coming before you as you let each go by seemingly out of your control. Recalling Chuang Tzu and his refrain that the Tao has no borders. As you sit back watching as the world comes to your doorstep. ##
Hsuan-Tsung says, “To drift means to be unrestrained. The Tao is not yin or yang, weak or strong. Unrestrained, it can respond to all things and in any direction. It is not one-sided. As Chuang Tzu says, “The Tao has no borders (2.5).”
Wang Pi says, “The Tao drifts everywhere. It can go left or right. It can go up or down. Wherever we turn to use it, it’s there.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “Outside of the Tao there are no things. Outside of things there is no Tao. The Tao gives birth to things just as wind creates movement or water creates waves.”
Wang P’ang says, “When the Tao becomes small, it doesn’t stop being great. When it becomes great, it doesn’t stop being small. But all we see are its traces. In reality, it isn’t small and it isn’t great. It can’t be described, t can only be known.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “The Tao hides in what has no name, and the sage embodies it through what has no name. He doesn’t consider himself great, and yet no one is greater. For he can go left or right. Hence, he is neither small or great. And because he is neither small or great, he can do great things.”
Ch’eng Hsung-Ying says, “The Tao produces all things, and all things turn to it. It’s like the sea. All streams empty into it, and yet it doesn’t control them.
Verse 35 – Remaining Humble Yet Inexhaustible
Holding onto the true image of myself with humility, comity and grace I remain humbled by what the Tao places before me. As I recommit my entire essence to only promoting that which comes forth as the greater image or vision that I am here to complete. All the while knowing that my highest aspiration can succeed only with the success of all around me.
As the world comes forth to greet me each day, I remain protected, as I have no form thereby beyond whatever harm may come my way. I remain safe, serene and as one with the Tao.
Eventually everything coming before me as an equal, I walk guided by selflessness as all things come to me. As I remain one with all things. While forgetting myself in others, others forget themselves in me. Therefore, everyone finds his or her place and no one is not at one with me.
Keep only to the plain and simple drawing people closer as you entertain with images of the Tao. Remaining at the point of inquiry, with no one quite sure how to love or hate, with no shape, taste or sound with which to please others. Remaining enmeshed in the Tao your role can never be exhausted. ##
Lu Tung-Pin says, “Unharmed our spirit is safe. Unharmed, our breath is serene. Unharmed, our nature is at one”.
Te-Ch’ing says, “The sage rules the world through selflessness. All things come to him because he is one with all things. And while he forgets himself in others, others forget themselves in him. Thus, all things find their place, and there are none that are not at one.”
Chuang Tzu says, “A great man’s words are plain like water. A small man’s words are sweet like wine. The plainness of a great man brings people closer, while the sweetness of a small man drives them apart. Those who would come together for no reason, separate for no reason” (20-5).
Ho-Shang Kung says, “If someone uses the Tao to govern the country, the country would be rich, and the people prosperous. If someone used it to cultivate himself, there would be no limit to the length of his life.”
Tao Te Ching 36 and 37
Living History – matching our own ultimate aspirations… with the stars.
The sage creates a sacred space around him. He emits an aura of compassion and mindfulness and seeks only to impart the wisdom of the universe to others. The sage releases what has blocked him in eternity, as he listens to signals from the dawn of time. The sage retires from unhappiness, worry, and the pursuit of possessions. The sage fills his life with the energy of abundance, defines prosperity as the positive energy from within, and withdraws from the strain of seeking security. As he admonishes others to retire from unhappiness, as you spend every moment creating and manifesting your own eternal vibrations. Enjoy the moments given you. Love the people around you. Live the life offered you. And know that it is when you show up as authentic, that you give others permission to do the same.
Living history is said to be the task of each successive generation. It’s something we all do. As if we are constantly reinventing ourselves to meet, or fit, the times. It is what we tell future generations what we have left behind. That we create the world as we go with what the ancients have taught us as cause and effect through the ages. We often forget that the most important thing is the evolving of our soul. The choice we have is what vehicle are we using for our personal growth. As we are not to forget, but instead build onto our spiritual identity. Becoming resilient to what we come in contact with becomes the key.
As the future speaks for itself, along with and what the memories of those who came before are telling us today. It is as the Taoists say, that what goes into something must equal what comes out as the universe teaches that there are no short-cuts. It’s what the shaman learned in following what was to become or known as following nature, the I Ching, or what we would call complimentary opposites. Just whose and what aspirations do we follow, if any? As we follow the clarion call to do no harm.
Knowing this, a wise man once said that you should never believe something simply because you want to believe it. Perhaps we all should examine what we think we know, as we acknowledge that the chaos and/or enlightenment we create is but a ladder. Both for ourselves and others that goes both up and down, or maybe static and remains as if glued in place. I recall visiting Stonehenge and Bath, England in 1995 with my wife Marie and going by the sculptures of angels climbing Jacobs Ladder on the west front of Bath Abbey, whose history spans well over a thousand years. With the local Roman baths, a thousand years prior to the church that had been hidden from view for centuries.
Stonehenge itself is perhaps one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments. It was built in several stages: the first monument was built about 5,000 years ago, with the unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC.
Stonehenge beginnings were about the same time of the Dawenkou culture in early Shandong Province in China, not too far from Zibo and even Qufu. The figure on the right is an ancient sunrise painting. The painting was a design inscribed on a big-mouthed pottery jar-a sacrificial vessel to the sun by primitive Chinese forebears in Shandong during the period when the Dawenkou culture thrived (4000-2000 BC). This painting, or design, consists of three parts: upper, middle and bottom. The upper part is a round sun. Below it is a moon. A huge mountain with five peaks is at the bottom. Some experts think this might be the original of “sunrise”, with the sun above a cloud (or perhaps above the setting moon), on top of a mountain. The same character appears in inscriptions on bone or tortoise shell, on ancient bronze vessels, in lesser seal characters, in official script and in regular script in later times. The origin of the character is shown in the picture. From the angle of calligraphy, we might regard the sun in the picture as round as a circle. The moon is a bit wavelike. The mountain is drawn with the brush exerting strength.
The parallels would be the shaman’s attachment to astronomy and telling the future based on man’s early connection to nature and the moon, following the stars, and earth’s rotation around the sun and our own pull and connection to it all. Just as with the astronomical finding around the history of Stonehenge.
The depiction to the left is the yin/yang symbol of the I Ching in front of the Hall of the Three Purities at the Qingyang Taoist Temple in Chengdu.
Reminded even then of the cosmic principles of yin and yang as we think of the ridge pole, up verses down, dark verses light, and things seen as opposites. Of thoughts of energy and matter and the flow of all existence that we are to stay in tune with and play the role we are given. Of transformation and what it all means, ultimately for ourselves and others.
Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory, also known as the Dengfeng Observatory, is a World Heritage site in Gaocheng Town, near Dengfeng in Henan province, China. This site has a long tradition of astronomical observations, from the time of the Western Zhou up to the early Yuan dynasty. There is also a gnomon used for the Da Yan calendar in 729 AD and the great observatory of the Yuan Dynasty. It is believed that the Duke of Zhou (c. 1042 BC) had erected at this place a Ceyingtai (observatory measuring the shade or gnomon) to observe the Sun. The great observatory was expanded extensively in 1276 in the early Yuan dynasty on the order of Kublai Khan. It is definitely on my own bucket list, the next time I’m in China.
The point here is that both ancient cultures were following vibrations, or signs of the universe, perhaps a higher power, to base and make their decisions. As if saying that eternity is already etched, or ingrained, in my soul and I am already home. That the more attuned, and in line with nature I find myself, the more I am in keeping with my path. That I am happiest when I am finding my way, as if I am found returning to my source. This is the essence of what Taoism was yet to be called and become. As stated earlier, we often forget that the most important thing is the evolving of our soul and following vibrations leading back to our source. The shaman has always directed us to look to nature, the universe, and the stars knowing they are the ultimate vehicle that connects us with our spiritual identity. Staying true to ourselves once we find the path, or way, has always been the key. That the way, becoming one with the Tao, has always been within us to find.
Today you can add an application to your cellphone called OSR – Star Finder that can identify your location in relation to the stars. Simply point your phone upwards and scan the stars on the horizon. The constellations will be pointed out to you. Amazing. (Aries, Cancer, Virgo, Sagittarius, I am of the Libra constellation… my own star is up there somewhere). We are all as you know simply as Carl Sagan said… “star stuff”.
Below is a portion of the Preface of my book that was published in China in 2006, that explains Taoism a little, for those who may be unfamiliar. “Thoughts on becoming a Sage” represents the author’s interpretation of the Tao Te Ching in a personalized style that illustrates the way of virtue and steps one would take in seeking out those attributes most resembling a “sage like” lifestyle and ways to live in the secular world.
The paradox being that one cannot see oneself as a sage in the here and now… This would be seen as presumptuous. That one should begin to see beyond and simply aspire to see beyond himself and whatever his shortcomings may be and in doing so he can catch glimpses of his highest endeavor and destiny.
Just as there is an underlying or unity of philosophical religious teachings throughout the world, as shown by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed of Medina, Hindu and the Bhagavad Gita, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mencius, Confucius, and others… one who emulates or strives to live a life of virtue sees past self-imposed religious differences and intolerance found in the world around him. They see the likeness in everyday activities where virtue, or man’s highest endeavors, are reflected and accepted as universal truths; i.e., that we are all God’s children. It is when one reflects on his or her place in the scheme of things reaching an understanding of where they fit into this unity found in nature that the journey begins for real.
In Chinese history there was an individual who lived in the sixth century during the Tang Dynasty that epitomized this universal sense of collective spirit and wisdom. Li Fang saw the need for Confucius teachings to be seen as compatible with Taoism, the teachings of Lao Tzu and Buddhism the teachings of Loashan Buddhism that was prevalent at the time. He professed to an understanding that all religions followed a core belief of a singular God. All religions simply served as the mechanism to help people get to a similar place and that no one process was necessarily better than another. Each simply the process of finding and following one’s natural inclination to nurture a personal relationship with God.
To begin to understand Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, you must first begin by understanding what he meant by the Tao, or what is commonly referred to as the way or path one should follow throughout one’s life.
The way defines one’s path to ultimate reality. Although Lao Tzu continually throughout the Tao Te Ching re-affirms he does not know it’s true name, without a name it simply becomes the way, or better known as the “way of virtue”. Albeit serving to find one’s ultimate path… That ultimate reality is to reach a commonality or understanding of one’s place in the physical universe, known as heaven and earth, and relationship with all things in it or what is commonly referred to or known as the ten thousand things.
The author’s understanding of Taoism as reflected in today’s culture and society, is illustrative of a sense that the Tao does not simply give birth to all things. It continues to remain present in each individual thing as a power or energy.
In a truly religious sense we refer to it as one’s eternal spirit or soul, or qi (chi). As the Tao manifests within an individual, it can remain static or awaken the person midstream to question his or her role, and what they are to be doing once they awaken to their true endeavor and destiny. Possibly even to grow in a certain way in tune with their true nature. Finding this one can develop their religious identity identifying with the path most comfortable for each individual.
What is it that more than five thousand years of uninterrupted history brings, but a collective consciousness from the days of the earliest shaman, that brings us or leads to a sense of pragmatism, i.e., choosing the middle way that serves the benefit of all?
Common wisdom grew around the needs of all in the community being met. This is not only true of China, but every culture. We seem to have a hard time with this basic principle of life when we think some of us are more deserving than others. That it is when we acknowledge and reconcile with the past that we learn steps going forward. And what could serve as both inspiration and aspiration that serves to guide us. One of Chuang Tzu’s greatest contributions as to the impact of Confucian ideology and what was to later become Taoism, was to question what you see or believe as given. That just because you want to believe something, does not make it true. That if it defies nature it cannot last… Who can know what lies beneath the surface of things, just as in Roman bathes in England, for what is seen and unseen, what may be unknown and all possible outcomes?
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 36 and 37 appear below. Verses 1 through 35 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 36 – Hoping weakness Prevails
What you would shorten you should lengthen instead. What you would weaken you should spend your time strengthening.
What you would topple, you should raise and what you would take you should spend your time giving.
Most importantly do not abandon your weaknesses as it will be through your weaknesses that your strengths will prevail and endure.
The sage hides his light so it can be kept safe and secure.
While cultivating the Tao he speaks softly and with care. Just as a fish cannot survive out of water, the sage’s greatest asset is not meant to be seen, but should remain in humble and non-intimidating surroundings. Keeping still as in a deep pool he remains unknown to the world. ##
Te-Ch’ing says, “Once things reach their limits, they go the other way. Hence lengthening is a portent of shortening. Strengthening is the onset of weakening. Raising is the beginning of toppling. Giving is the start of taking. This is the natural order of Heaven as well as for Man. Thus, to hide the light means the weak conquer the strong. Weakness is the greatest tool of the state. But a ruler must not show it to his people. Deep water is the best place for a fish. But once it is exposed to the air, a fish is completely helpless. And once a ruler shows weakness, he attracts enemies and shame.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “To perceive shortening in lengthening, weakening in strengthening, toppling in raising, taking in giving, how could anyone do this if not through the deepest insight?”
This is the hidden light. Moreover, what causes things to be shortened or lengthened, weakened or strengthened, toppled or raised, taken or given is invisible and weak. While what is shortened or lengthened, weakened or strengthened, toppled or raised, taken or given is visible or strong. Thus, the weak conquer the strong. People should not abandon weakness, just as fish should not abandon the depths. When fish abandon the depths, they are caught. When a person abandons weakness, he joins the league of the dead.”
Chuang Tzu says, “The sage is the world’s greatest tool, but not one that is known to the world” (10.3).”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “According to the way of the world. The weak don’t conquer the strong. But Lao Tzu’s point is that the weak can conquer to strong by letting the strong do what they want until they become exhausted and thus weak. Those who cultivate the Tao speak softly and act with care. They don’t argue about right or wrong, better or worse. They understand the harmony of Heaven and Earth, the Way of emptiness and stillness, and become adept at using the hidden light.”
Verse 37 – Upholding the Tao
Practicing the art of nameless simplicity, I go forth with no desires and nothing on my agenda. With the Tao as my anchor I am guided by the virtue of heaven.
The Tao itself doing nothing yet finding that there is nothing it does not do. Yet while following the Tao, I do everything that I should do.
Through effortlessness and following the natural course of events, change begins to occur. By upholding the Tao, others begin to emulate your actions and begin to see through their own desire and they too can begin to become still. In stillness, simplicity becomes nameless and seeing beyond oneself becomes self-apparent.
Stilled by nameless simplicity their desires become non-existent. Once gone the world begins to fix itself. ##
Chuang Tzu says, “The ancients ruled the world by doing nothing. This is the Virtue of Heaven”.
Lao Tzu says, “I do nothing and the people transform themselves.”
Te Ch’ing says, “If nobles and kings could only uphold the Tao, all creatures would change by themselves without thinking about changing. This is the effect of upholding the Tao. When creatures first change, their desires disappear. But before long, their trust fades and feelings well up and begin to flow until desires reappear. When this occurs, those who are adept at saving others must block the source of desire with nameless simplicity.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “’Nameless simplicity’ refers to the Tao, which all creatures use to transform themselves and which nobles and kings use to pacify those who engage in cleverness and deceit.”
Hsuan-Tsung says, “Once the ruler uses nameless simplicity to still the desires of the masses, he must then give it up so that they don’t follow its tracks and once again enter the realm of action. Once our illness is cured, we put away the medicine. Once we are cross the river, we leave the boat behind. And once we are free of desire, we must also forget the desire to be free of desire. Serene and at peace, the ruler does nothing, while the world takes care of itself.”
Cloud dancing with the Immortals, or perhaps just re-telling the world’s memories.
From the clouds dragons appear to those who have prepared.
To the I Ching, heaven is to found residing with dwellings of dragons who roam the sky resting in the clouds.
Do not look for me where you have found me before. You will not see me where you have seen me before. Dancing in the clouds with the immortals is where I am to be found.
To be seen with dragons. Cavorting above it all. Beyond earthly endeavors. A strong personality who with compassion and caring succeeds by seeing his destiny in the clouds.
Finding the Tao, finding oneness and finding myself floating across the ski with chi. Cloud Dancing across the sky is easy living with dragons is not. A group of dragons are seen riding the clouds disappearing through the sky.
As we disappear I look back and see dragons resting on clouds dwelling in the sky.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (1 HEAVEN / Heaven over Heaven). 2/3/94 (to be found on the website at I Ching – Voices of the Dragon)
In music duo Simon and Garfunkel’s song, from their Bridge over Troubled Water album, The Boxer there is a line “Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”. Like there is a confirmation bias believing what we see or hear that fits our persona of ourselves. Others that know me might refer to another Paul Simon song… “Still crazy after all these years”. But I digress. Or from the Graduate album, The Sound of Silence. What great writing and music. I write here a lot about coming to find our highest self.
Who is it we aspire to become, and as Joseph Campbell would say, we are to “follow our bliss”. For myself, what else could be the place other than to be seen with dragons resting on clouds in the sky. As if travelling through the clouds… finding and visiting the places where deities reside. To be or be seen beyond the brink of eternity. As if you too have been to the mountaintop and seen the other side. It’s the place I often go in meditation.
I’ve been watching Ken Burns “The West”, on Netflix and for me it is very depressing to watch America reach its manifest destiny securing the continent for white Europeans. I was especially moved by the eloquence of Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce when he said, “To not be changed by foreign beliefs that descend upon us as we adjust to other beliefs and opinions not our own, without first telling our own beliefs and opinions to others”. Chief Joseph spoke as if knowing the heart of everything, as if he too can be seen dancing across the sky with dragons with stories and ancient memories to tell. Another great storyteller. What a tragedy. I stopped watching at Wounded Knee… I had friends in college whose ancestors died there.
Almost twenty-five years ago, in February 1994, I wrote the above story about dancing in the clouds with dragons. The following year in 1995, I wrote below about finding Confucius. It would be two years before my first trip to China in 1997 to adopt our first Chinese daughter Katie in Guangdong Province and another two years after that before visiting Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius for the first time in October 1999, while on our way to Urumqi to adopt our second daughter Emily. A visit that would change who I thought I was and begin to be reminded of who I am yet to become.
This was followed by the publishing in China of my first book, An American Journey through the I Ching and Beyond in 2004, and my second book, both now here on my website and on facebook, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, the Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, two years later in 2006. Or the incorporation of The Kongdan Foundation that same year in January, 2006. Who knew… that when I wrote this “Finding Confucius”, and the city of Qufu he hails from, that it would alter so dramatically my life’s work and endeavors.
Asking the question, what is it that defines us? It was as if the ancient dragons had come looking for me and found me back in December 1993 while I was in Fall River, Massachusetts and there I was. As I concluded unknowingly back in March 1995… Where can all this possibly lead? Who can say? They knew and came to remind me who I had been and was yet to become and that it was time for me to get on with it… my ultimate purpose.
My first night in Qufu on October 25, 1999 was spent in the Queli Hotel that is adjacent to the Confucius Mansion and Temple. For years, previous to our visit accommodations for visitors to Qufu were in the annex of the Confucius Mansion itself. Due to tourism and promotion, the Queli Hotel was built. After a night in which I could not sleep, I got up very early and went outside to take a walk. I had this premonition that I had been here before.
Not once but many times. It was as if Qufu had always been my home and the place I would always return to. Not only in the past, but in the future as well. As I walked that morning, a block away on Gulou Street (where the Hotel was situated), on the north side of the street was the Confucius Normal School where I would teach more than ten years later, and on the south side of the street was where my daughter Katie and I would live in the apartment we would have while I was teaching in Qufu at Jining University.
My experiences in Qufu can be found in an unpublished manuscript here on my website in the tab Qufu and Confucius. From 1999 through last year, I have made almost fifty trips to Qufu, and China and Shandong Province. Most for sister city trips, my publishing and teaching, and adopting my two daughters from China (Emily and Katie). Last year (2017) I was there for six weeks (May 12 – June 23) and traveled to fourteen cities in five different provinces. The focal point was still Qufu and reunions with my students.
In the Book of Lieh Tzu, there is a chapter entitled Confucius. I wrote my own version of “The Book of Lieh Tzu” entitled, My Travels with Lieh Tzu in 1996. It is an unpublished manuscript that appears here on my website. The Book of Lieh Tzu has served as a primer and guide for all precepts entering Taoist monasteries and for those wanting to follow the historical foundations of what was in the past that may today exist – as if acting in conjunction with the present, and knowing this, having an understanding of what may come next over time. (The basis of I Ching). My initial entry in that chapter is as follows:
Just who is this man known as Confucius and what of his obsession with knowledge? Can he possibly equal the things brought forth by Chuang Tzu who can see through all to its true origin?
While Confucius may help guide those responsible for maintaining the overall scheme of things in their dealings with others, can he possibly know the true underpinnings of all there is to know that lead to logical conclusions? Can thoughts and ideas expressed outside the true essence of the Tao have any real significance? Looking for differences to trap unseemly paradox and analogies that can confuse those not serious about finding and true way of virtue.
Who can be true to his own thoughts? Swaying this way and that by the Confucian suspicion of speculation without practical or moral relevance or by the comfort found in the seeming irrationality of the Tao. The three tenants of higher consciousness, Buddhism, Confucius and Taoism always present. Ultimately pushing everything to higher ground. Moving all to places they would otherwise miss. Just as the seasoned traveler who breaks the mountain’s ridge to see the vast panorama spread before him. Every direction simply leading to destinations previously seen and known but forgotten.
Everything crystallizing over time. Can one move forward knowing the paradox found in all things that are allowed to advance in their own way? Knowing that Confucius is forever weighing benefit and harm and distinguishing between right and wrong.
Can there be a moral relevance to all things considered practical as found in the analytical comfort of knowing the results lie in the search for truth and knowledge? Can one following such a course of action be taken seriously? Who can know? Is not the ultimate to be born a Taoist, to live as a Confucian and die a Buddhist? Where can all this possibly lead? Who can possibly say? 3/5/95
When I wrote the above it was as if I had been preparing and studying Eastern philosophy for a very long time, as if since high school even earlier… my whole life. As if I was preparing for a long voyage from which there would be happily no return. Almost as if I was reawakened to inspire others to wake up through my own teaching, wisdom and writing.
As if to make sacred and be here simply to tell the world’s, specifically China’s memories. The paradox and conundrum of every sage throughout the ages. To keep to himself the wisdom he has learned, the ancient memories, or share them with the world. Why many retreat to become reclusive and out of the way or view of others. To mountaintops where the only voices heard are of old friends, as if knowing and conversing with dragons once again..
From my initial writing in December 1993 forward, it was first internalizing the I Ching, then Lieh Tzu, then Lao Tzu, and the essence of Taoism with Chuang Tzu as my mentor. Never really focusing on Confucius so much. (I was Dantzu long before I became Kongdan). It was as if I didn’t need to because I already possessed all I needed to know and simply preparing myself for a long journey. Long before the thought of ever going to Qufu ever occurred to me. As if setting the stage for what was to come next. That it was more important to chronicle the past, than to re-learn something I already knew. As if needing only to be reminded, or remember. Once finding my eternal rhythm, seeing things as they were so that they may be seen in their best light again. Capturing the essence of what I knew then, who I am to be now, and who I am still yet to become. To discover how it all is to be played out in the here and now going forward.
Socrates (470 – 399 BC) was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher, of the western ethical tradition of thought. (Wikipedia)
In Eastern philosophical thought, Confucius is comparable to the Socrates of the western world, and his teachings emphasize morality as a path to understanding and enlightenment. In a famous lesson, he told a student that “reciprocity” is the one word that sums up his philosophy on life. According to Confucius, “Wisdom, compassion and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.” In addition to instructions on how to be a moral person, many of his quotes are revered today as personal motivation and encouragement. For example, Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” Beyond his pleas to treat others with morality and respect and his encouragement to pursue a passionate life, the Confucianism philosophy can be summed up as, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
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 38 and 39 appear below. Verses 1 through 37 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 38 – Learning to see beyond Oneself
Instilling virtue within oneself requires neither thought nor effort or action if you are truly in sync with the way of virtue.
The Tao but a natural extension of who you have been, are now, and yet to become. Virtue simply the embodiment of an essence that embraces the way.
Your role is to remain empty with your every action an effortless dialog leading others along the Way. As you look inward to insure you are ready to proceed with kindness and compassion to all you meet. Yet the kindness of the sage cannot go beyond fulfilling his own nature. Since his every action remains effortless he does not think about it.
Seeing beyond what his senses tell him, he simply does what is the natural extension of himself.
His endeavors focusing on embodying the highest images of who he is yet to become and seeing beyond himself. Seeing beyond himself, he embodies the way and comes full face with his destiny.
Seeing his future, his vision matches things and names with reality. He remains humble and reveres harmony. Seeming beyond himself he becomes the connecting between all that should be between heaven and earth. As the sage he embodies the way. ##
Han Fei says, “Virtue is the Tao at work”.
Wang Pi says, “Those who possess Higher Virtue use nothing but the Tao. They possess virtue, but they don’t give it a name”.
Yen Tsun says, “The person that embodies the Way is empty and effortless, yet he leads all creatures to the Way. The person who embodies virtue is faultless and responsive and ready to do anything. The person that embodies kindness shows love for all creatures without restriction. The person who embodies justice deals with things by matching name with reality. The person who embodies ritual is humble and reveres harmony. These five are footprints of the Tao. They are not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is not one, much less five.”
Wang P’ang says, “Kindness is another name for virtue. It differs, though, from virtue because it involves effort. The kindness of the sage, however, does not go beyond fulfilling his nature. He isn’t interested in effort; hence he doesn’t think about it.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “The Tao is like a fruit. Hanging from a tree, it contains the power of life but its womb is hidden. Once it falls, it puts forth virtue as its root, kindness as its stem, justice as its branches, ritual as its leaves, and knowledge as its flowers. All od these come from the Tao. ‘That’ refers to flowers. ‘This’ refers to fruit. Those who embody the Tao choose the fruit over the flowers.”.
Verse 39 – Moving from finding the Way to living in Virtue
The sage takes no action but leaves nothing undone or behind as the Tao remains forever nameless.
Left alone to themselves, the ten thousand things find their own way and become transformed on their own.
Once awakened, the sage moves them with nameless simplicity. Remaining true to themselves they become quiet and tranquil. As if a single oneness, or purpose, has found each one with everything finding its place.
Finding himself alone to his liking, the sage becomes as one with heaven and earth as everyone finds him on the path to virtue.
Knowing he has now found the way, the sage clings only to his virtue ultimately showing the way for everything he has left behind. ##
Wang Pi says, “One is the beginning of numbers and the end of things. All things become complete when they become one. But once they become complete, they leave oneness behind and focus on being complete. And focusing on being complete, they lose their mother. Hence, they crack, crumble, collapse, dry up, and fall. As long as, they can preserve their form. But their mother has no form.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “It’s because Heaven becomes one that it graces the sky with constellations and light. It’s because Earth becomes one that it remains still and immovable. It’s because spirits become one that they change shape without becoming visible. It’s because streams become one that they never stop filling up. It’s because kings become one that they pacify the world. But Heaven must move between yin and yang, between night and day. It can’t only be clear and bright. Earth must include both high and low, hard and soft, the five-fold stages of breath. It can’t only be still. Spirits must have periods of quiescence. They can’t only be active. Streams must also be empty and dry. They can’t only be full. Kings must humble themselves and never stop seeking worthies to assist them. They can’t only lord it over others. If they do, they fall from power and lose their thrones.”
Su Ch’e says, “Oneness dwells in the noble, but it is not noble. Oneness dwells in the humble, but it is not humble. Oneness is not like the lustre of jade: so noble it cannot be humble, or the coarseness of rocks: so humble it cannot be noble.”
Tao Te Ching verses 40 and 41
What is the ultimate price, or cost of Freedom… and can it matter?
Chao Chih-Chien says, “To go back the other way means to return to the root. Those who cultivate the Tao ignore the twigs and seek the root. This is the movement of the Tao – to return to where the mind is still and empty and actions soft and weak. The Tao, however, does not actually come and go. It never leaves; hence it cannot return. Only what has form returns. ‘Something’ refers to breath. Before things have form they have breath. Hence, they all come from something. ‘Nothing’ refers to the Tao. Breath comes from the Tao. Hence, it comes from nothing. This is the movement of the Tao.”
Ultimately, the question becomes… how can we let our inner consciousness pass us by, and does it truly matter if it does? Just what is it that defines us? What does it mean to be truly free? As Carl Sagan, the famous astrologer in his famous series on the cosmos once said “we are all made of star stuff”.
While letting go of nothing that matters, everything simply returns to its beginning, to its source. Matter simply the substance of which any physical object consists or is composed. When do we know the freedom to find our “hearts” or soul’s desire? And most importantly do we know it when we see it and are we listening. Does freedom lie inside us or outside in the material world and in the end – can it matter, or perhaps are we here just passing time?
Observers in several countries reported the appearance of a “new star” in 1054 A.D. in the direction of the constellation Taurus. Much has been learned about the Crab in the centuries since then. Today, astronomers know that the Crab Nebula is powered by a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar, which was formed when a massive star ran out of its nuclear fuel and collapsed. (Photo by NASA)
In The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiess writes… In the Book of Job, the Lord demands, “Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hath understanding! Who laid the cornerstone thereof, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
My answer would be that we all were there, I know I was… All matter that existed in the universe then at the time still exists today, even as it and we take shape in the present. Even Carl Sagan, mentioned above adds, “Man is the matter of the cosmos, contemplating itself.” Just as when we ask “How are we to treat others?” We respond “there are no others”. (Ramana Maharshi)
I would add that there seems to be a common thread, like an eternal live nerve that connects us. We keep coming back as if we have unfinished business to find or complete the connection. As if the universe is not done with us just yet and we know it. That we are to live life in the moment free of attachments, finding as Confucius said… the simplicity in everyday life. It is true as the Buddhist says, that when we are ready the teacher appears. It’s the getting ready and watching for him/her that’s the hard part, and when the door opens we must be ready to walk through. To what some may call the resurrection of our spirit. It is something best expressed in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in Verse 41 called Contending for the Middle as expressed in my own interpretation below.
I am sure that there are things I say here that you want to just say, oh, it’s just Dan, or Kongdan, if you are in China. That remaining an enigma or dwelling on the mystical to those who think they know him (me), seems the norm. That while he, Dan, is free to dwell on nothing (that’s a compliment), I live, or attempt to stay within my own reality. But as we begin to see beyond ourselves, to focus on our own place in the universe as if mapping the stars, we see that there are thousands of galaxies. That the known universe has no center or end and neither do we and exist as a continuum of eternal spirit. This is something the shaman and mystic has always known. That questioning what we have always taken for granted is the key to knowing our next step and that the freedom we are searching for can only be found within ourselves. To never let pre-supposed conditions, or limitations, define who we are yet to become. It is as if we have acknowledged knowing that our origins come from the stars. As if, we acknowledge that our soul, our source, is one with all that has been and will ever be. That everything, including you and I are one. As if we are Dancing with Chi (chi is our eternal energy that never dies) as we continually are transformed by our own spiritual DNA.
It is gaining freedom in the skin we are given that often confounds us that keeps us in a state of bewilderment. I recently attended a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., at the Springfield Art Gallery on April 4th, the day he was killed fifty years ago in 1968. It was an excellent program. What struck me most was a talk given by an older gentleman focusing on the price, or cost of freedom. He spoke of pre-determined barriers imposed by others that kept him from what he felt was his highest endeavor only because of the color of his skin. Living a life without freedom that seems forever out of reach for people of color in America. What stands out at the moment is MLK’s s quote, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character”. As an historian, my take initially is where or what is it in human nature that leads us to define our individual values as not accepting others who may not look, act, or necessarily agree with us? Can freedom from bigotry exist when we see others as less than ourselves?
Ho-Shang Kung says, “The ten thousand things all come from Heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth have position and form. Hence, we say things come from something. The light and spirit of Heaven and Earth, the flight of insects, the movement of worms, these all come from the Tao. The Tao has no form. Hence, we say things come from nothing. This means the root comes before the flower, weakness comes before strength, humility comes before conceit.”
Why do we see the advancement of the “content of another’s character” so threatening? How is my own economic empowerment more important than my neighbors if we all live in the same community? It seems as if a mystery of the universe that remains unsolved. Sometimes if you watch the news, it is easy to believe there is more that divides us than binds us together. Have we evolved all that much in the fifty years since King’s death? And more importantly, what is the ultimate price of freedom? Most philosophies teach us that it is the craving of attachments that bind us to the here and now. Does life have a singular purpose or plural? Is it “all for one and one for all?” Can we define resources so finitely, that we have to fight to obtain or keep them for only ourselves when in reality we live in an infinite universe? Is man here only to feed his own aggrandizement of his own expansion of power, wealth, rank, or honor?
Fighting against inequality is an age-old endeavor and knows no color. My own ancestors were there at the signing of the Magna Carta in England. No kidding. It was, however, the right of the first-born son to property that led younger sons to migrate, to travel to the new world. To Jamestown, Plymouth Rock and beyond. It seems as though some things never change…
One of the four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta containing the famous clause ‘to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’.
Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England (1199-1216) as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.
Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial.
Some of the Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). (Wikipedia)
Another of my ancestors, the First King of Scotland, rallied behind William Wallace who came back to life in the movie Braveheart. Wallace fought and died for an independent Scotland with his own immortal words of… FREEDOM. What is it that freedom means and why does it have to be singular and not universal? How can our own wants and needs be greater than another’s, why can’t we all be free? And what can it matter in the end.
The Yellow Emperor, also known as Huangdi, was a shaman, who in 2698 B.C. invented the Chinese lunar calendar, which follows the cycles of the moon. The Chinese lunar calendar begins with the reign of the Yellow Emperor.
Traditionally, he was considered to be from Qufu, more than 2,000 years before Confucius and that the I Ching began with him. The zodiac was based on Chinese astrology and was used as a way to count years, months, days, and hours in the calendar. Chinese astrology was elaborated during the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BC) and flourished during the Han dynasty (2nd century BC to 2nd century AD).
During the Han period, the familiar elements of traditional Chinese culture—the Yin-Yang philosophy, the theory of the 5 elements, the concepts of Heaven and Earth, and Confucian morality—were brought together to formalize the philosophical principles of Chinese medicine and divination, astrology and alchemy. The earliest intent of what would become astrology was to develop the concept of freedom. If you could know cause and effect you could predict the outcome. That if everything was tied to the sun, moon and stars some sense of predictability could be established. Over the centuries this became not just a theory, but how to structure society and a person’s individual life. That if you know what comes next you can imagine the outcome and are free to respond accordingly. We then create our world by and through our actions.
According to Chinese astrology, a person’s destiny can be determined by the position of the major planets at the person’s birth along with the positions of the sun, moon, comets, the person’s time of birth, and zodiac sign.
The Chinese Zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao, is based on a twelve-year cycle, each year in that cycle related to an animal sign. These signs are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It is calculated according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
In other words, our fate has always been connected to our eternal vibrations with the stars, as they are seen as our ultimate source. Our connection to the universe can be traced to them in what was to become known as Heaven. Many feel that in death we are simply coming home to be made whole, to become, or be made free again. That ultimately, we are transformed by the quality of our thoughts and renewing of our minds. When I began writing all those years ago, as a part of the Preface in my first book about the I Ching and Taoism, I wrote the following:
Dancing with Chi
Everything that ever was, everything now and that ever will be is within you now to find. All that there ever was to know or that there will be to know is within you to find.
You have been everywhere there has been to see, have seen all that there is to see and, in the future will see all that there ever will be to see.
You are not a know-it-all. But you know all that there is to know. Simply come to know yourself and remember what you have forgotten. Simply to find again, again and again. 2/6/94
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 40 and 41 appear below. Verses 1 through 39 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
Verse 40 – The Guardian Angel
If an angel came down from heaven to relay that what you thought were your weaknesses were actually your strengths and your strengths your weaknesses, would you have the courage to reach out and change the way you live each day.
If an angel came down from heaven to relay that your only limitations were self-imposed and you could accomplish whatever you wanted as long as the beneficiary was not yourself, what would you do first?
If an angel came down from heaven and stood right here – and said that people only know the work of working and that the greatest work of all is the work of not working. Caught up thinking that everything comes from something. If they knew that something comes from nothing, they would not work so hard and enslave themselves to things. They would instead turn to God and the Tao and concentrate on cultivating spirit.
Finally, it is when knowing that everything has its limit. That when their something gets way out here…. It has no choice but to come back the other way. Ultimately when we do become balanced we become centered. When we become centered we can see beyond ourselves and we can discover why we are here. God’s grace and his hand come forth to guide our way.
Those who cultivate the Tao act with humility and harmony. Those who cultivate virtue look to themselves for the truth, not to the words of others. For those who understand that what moves them is also the source of their life, they can begin to understand the gift of Heaven and live forever. ##
Wang An-Shih says, “The reason the Tao works through weakness is because it is empty. We see it in Heaven blowing through the great void. We see it in Earth sinking into the deepest depths.”
Te-Ching says, “People only know the work of working. They don’t know that the work of not working is the greatest work of all. They only know that everything comes from something. They don’t know that something comes from nothing. If they knew that something came from nothing, they would no longer enslave themselves to things. They would turn, instead, to the Tao and concentrate on their spirit.”
Ho Shang Kung says, “The ten thousand things all come from Heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth have position and form. Hence we say things come from something. The light and spirit of Heaven and Earth, the flight of insects, the movement of worms, these all come from the Tao. The Tao has no form. Hence we say things come from nothing. This means the root comes before the flower, weakness comes before strength, humility comes before conceit.”
Verse 41 – Contending for the Middle
How is it that some can hear of the correct way and follow it with devotion, while others when hearing of it are content to argue whether it is real or not? And still others cannot seem to keep from laughing at such folly.
However, if the latter did not laugh it wouldn’t be the way.
For contentment to find its middle both extremes must be shown. The brightest path to some seems dark, the quickest path seems slow. The smoothest path remains rough. The highest virtue low. The whitest white seems pitch black. The greatest virtue wanting while the staunchest virtue timid. The truest truth remains uncertain. The perfect square will seem to lack corners as the perfect tool remains idle and does nothing. The perfect sound is hushed and quiet, as the perfect form remains shapeless.
It is through these opposites that the two sides of everything become clear. Once clear, the Tao remains hidden from view, except to those who can truly see. Remaining hidden from view himself, the sage can easily find beginnings and endings and know when to start and how to finish as he already knows having seen both sides many times before. ##
Confucius says, “To hear of the Tao in the morning is to die content at nightfall. (Lunyu: 4.8)
Li His-Chai says, “When a great person hears of the Tao, even if people laugh at him, they can’t keep him from practicing it. When an average person hears of the Tao, even if he doesn’t disbelieve it, he can’t free himself of doubts. When a small person hears of the Tao, even the ancient sages can’t keep him from laughing. Everyone in the world thinks existence is real. Who wouldn’t shake his head and laugh if he were told that existence wasn’t real and non-existence was?”
Li Jung says, “The true Tao is not fast or slow, bright of dark. It has no form, no sound, no shape, and no name. But although it has no name, it can take any name.” Lu Hsi-Sheng says, “Name and reality are often at odds. The reality of the Tao remains hidden in no name.”
Yen Tsun says, “The quail runs and flies all day but never far from an overgrown field. The swan flies a thousand miles but never far from a pond. The phoenix, meanwhile, soars into the empty fault and thinks it is too confining. Where dragons dwell, small fish swim past. Where great birds and beasts live, dogs and chickens avoid.”
This completes Volume 1 of the A living history of the Tao Te Ching… volume 2 continues.