We should help others to see themselves as the person they would hope to be.
Verses 58 and 59 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
In governing people and caring for Heaven, nothing surpasses economy. Economy means planning ahead. Planning ahead mean accumulating virtue. Accumulating virtue means overcoming all and overcoming all means knowing no limit.
Knowing no limit mean guarding the realm. Guarding the realm’s mother means living long. This means deep roots and a solid trunk are the way of long and lasting life. Developing this by remaining humble and teachable, not dogmatic within our own view and limitations. Acknowledging that you might be wrong about something is I think the key. Raising our consciousness by being open to change and transformed by what we see, do, and hear as we are all simply expressions of the Tao (God).
What is it that a teacher does, but to take us on a great journey beyond the limitations of who we thought we were or knew? That inspiration literally means the act of breathing, of taking it all in. To look before we leap. With guarding one’s breath seen as protecting the body’s mother. Understanding ancient teachings helps us to recognize our path when we see it and knowing that when we are truly ready the teacher appears.
In China teachers are revered for what they do to inspire and prepare students in school, as well as, society in general. In Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, it has a special meaning. Teaching in Qufu, following the tradition of Confucius who was the ultimate teacher in Shandong Province, and especially in his hometown was amazing.
For me to live across the street from the Confucius Temple and Mansion and teach at the school where his descendants went to school was an honor. Many of my closest friends who live in Qufu and Shandong Province are his descendants.
There is even a special holiday every year in May for teachers in China. To have friends and students whose families have lived here for hundreds of years who could trace their family’s living in the same hutong (house in town), or village nearby is pretty remarkable. Visiting my students at home was always an experience for their family and many times their whole village or community.
Often when I was walking down the street in Qufu, people would stop and bow and say hello, or good morning teacher. Most knew me as Kongdan (my Chinese name), and that I had published the Unity Daily Word many years earlier in western Shandong Province.
The China Daily Word is considered a family keepsake for many of those who have a copy and has been seen by more than 3 million people. I was well known and people appreciated having foreign teachers who were there to prepare their children for the world they would later confront in the workforce and global society. It was as if China was preparing to step out of it’s ancient history and into the modern world. They wanted their kids to lead the way and education was the key to that occurring. China takes education much more seriously than we do here in USA. (It’s like the SAT in USA times a thousand). The competitive exams to get into the best high schools and universities are fierce and grades determine the student’s future. Banners often fly at all the schools in Qufu admonishing students to follow in the words of Confucius. One in particular I recall “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breed hope. Hope breeds peace.”
If parents can afford it, they often send their kids to schools far away from home in high school urging them to study hard for the college entrance exam they must ultimately pass for success. The ancient story below describing “The frog in the well”, describes this dilemma very well. In Qufu at Qufu #1 Middle School (high school) over 6,000 students live on campus, along with most of their teachers. Classes are six days a week from 8 AM to 4:30 PM. Then students return to their class from 6:30 to 9 PM every day, yes six days a week. They are required to return Sunday evening to review and prepare for the coming week. USA cannot begin to compete with that and does not appear to even be trying.
Due to the one child policy, (recently amended), with only one child in the family, a family’s prospects for the future rides solely on their son or daughter’s ability to test well for high school or college.
Oftentimes, if they could not do well it would be back to the village and farm in the country-side. Today, because there are so many university graduates who want to be English teachers, the government has raised the bar even higher with the final exam after graduation from college. Fewer can qualify because there are so many of them.
Many of my students who intended to be teachers are now in import-export business, work for airlines in China, or even as tour guides. The exams are given twice a year. Some even quit their jobs to focus solely on preparing to take the exam next time. As if still at the bottom of the well unable to jump high enough to escape the inevitable.
I have been involved with the middle and high schools in Qufu for over eighteen years because of the Sister City Young Artist Program between Boynton Beach, Florida (where I lived from 1995 to 2015) and have also lived and taught in Qufu over the years.
My daughter Katie with several university students who volunteered to be “tutors” for her at her school
While I was teaching in Qufu, my daughter Katie, who was with me, attended 8th and 9th grade in Qufu as well.
Below is an original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (9 SMALL CATTLE / Wind over Heaven). 2/9/94 An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching. It can be found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
Prospects for Rain
New beginnings can often bring a sense of insecurity, apprehension and conflict. Lack of communication brings one to quarreling, misunderstandings and misfortune.
Waiting for dragons to bring forth good fortune and rain is tenuous at best and can lead to anxiety and false expectations if one is not prepared to venture out. Maintaining and forging trust and integrity within oneself determines both direction and one’s fate. In either rain or drought, or in sickness and health. All good things come to those who carry no guilt.
How one deals with misfortune reveals one’s true self and integrity. Punishments can be expected by those who exploit others. Keeping to false self interests thereby causing others misfortune will also lead to disaster.
Keep an eternal sense of oneself by understanding clarity found in your inner chi and know peace and come to know the way of virtue.
Step back and know the outcome of your actions. Nature will always find the true course. Anticipate and rely on the coming rain. New beginnings require it, integrity trusts it, and so it shall be. ##
While in Qufu, I marveled at the people who seemed to literally spend their days doing little if anything to what most would attribute to doing work or something that might be defined as work. It was as if they were beyond work.
It cost so little to live there that if you chose that particular lifestyle, then that life would come the greet you and you would decide to stay. And you would find comfort in this and say to yourself… this feels pretty good. At first, I thought this must be a Confucius thing. That knowing who you are and having over 2500 years of history to back it up meant “I can find happiness in being just who I am” without all the attachments living beyond oneself brings and be happy with who we are and as such aspire to nothing beyond this because this is the best life can bring…. or so it seems. I found the same attitude in other cities as well. I especially appreciate Chengdu in Sichuan Province and this feeling of “being beyond work”, and what it meant. People’s Park tea house which I will discuss in a later post, especially exhibited this laid-back feeling of “finding comfort within your own skin”, to the point of harmony with your environment that was pervasive as well as addictive.
There seemed to be an unwritten connection between Buddhism and Taoism in Chengdu that has flourished over the centuries in the way people go about how they lived every day. It was both invigorating and enlightening… and hard to describe. As if yes… the fabled Shangri La could not be too far away.
Shangri–La is a place described in the fictional book Lost Horizon by James Hilton. The British author created a mystical and utopian valley led by the gentle lamasery located in the western part of the Kunlun Mountains in China.
There is a similar phrase ‘La dolce vita’ meaning the good life, full of pleasure and indulgence popularized in Italy by a movie with the same title. Basically, having the means to live comfortably where you are with whatever you are doing. This phrase entered the language following the success of the 1960 film La Dolce Vita written and directed by Federico Fellini.
The Frog in the Well
This brings to mind the ancient story of the frog that lived in the bottom of a well. He was happy living an uneventful yet what he thought was a full life until he got the attention of another frog (some stories say it was a turtle) who happened one day to appear at the top of the well and learning what would appear as what his limited life brought him. Once he learned of what he was missing being stuck at the bottom of the well, he at first became quite miserable. The story could just as easily refer to my students when the distance to jump can appear as way too high. Too many of them and too few jobs that required knowledge of English. Or those living in Qufu or returning to the countryside happy to live within their means with just what they know and have.
Then for the students, most of them from villages in the country-side, a teacher, a philosopher as such who knew the teachings of the ancient sages appeared and reminded them of who they are and from where they came… as centuries earlier their predecessors had all come from the top of the well and they had made the choice to jump in and that they found themselves at the bottom of the well by choice.
That they had become so comfortable here at the bottom of the well they had forgotten what lay outside the comforts of what they considered as home. This teacher was a new age philosopher whose task, or mission, was to rewrite the words of the ancients in order that they have life again after all the centuries that have gone by. He too had chosen to jump in and join them at the bottom of the well. He had mysteriously been able to join them many times in the past having the means they did not possess so that he could come and go as he pleased. His presence only to help them rise above limitations they had found and to teach them how to fly.
That in the end what would it matter if the happiness they found here at the bottom of the well was enough or not or so they may have thought. However, just in case they spent all their time learning the language spoken outside the well… but possessed a lack of ability to climb out of the well once and for all. That they should/could find the happiness they had known before being told what they were missing by doing nothing at the bottom of the well they now called home. Hadn’t they been taught by their greatest teacher Confucius that it was not where they are but who they are that was ultimately important. That they were to bring something to the table of life more important than what attachments and money could buy which was to find their niche, to have a sense of benevolence for all, and know and be thyself.
They knew the whole world looked to the teachings of the ancient sages. That their ancestors had originally been from this place. They knew all the stories about why they were here at the bottom of the well… that at some point they had been enticed to jump in. While now none of them thought they could leave, they must do more to entice other “friends from afar” to come join them at the bottom of the well who could help them to find a way to climb out.
They knew the teachings of Confucius by rote or so they thought. His teachings now but a shell of their former selves after being changed by commentaries over the centuries and adapted to suit whoever was in charge at the moment. But they in fact innately felt they lived by them by finding and doing nothing more than being themselves. To ultimately achieve a transformation of consciousness, that takes them to places they otherwise would never go.
The original ‘The Frog in the Well’ was written well over a thousand years ago. I wrote and adapted my own version in December 2010 and made additions later while teaching at Jining University in Qufu and Qufu Normal School teaching English to students who feel bound by where they now reside as they too endeavor to climb out of the well.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote 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 58 and 59 appear below. Verses 1 through 55 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
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 58 – Bringing the World along for the Ride
The sage understands that most things under the sun are temporal, things coming and going with no lasting impact or purpose.
That once a certain direction becomes popular, indirection is what succeeds and that those who can remain still and inactive ultimately come forth to have the final say.
The sage knows that it is when we attempt to conquer the world we lose it. That the greater the prohibitions, the poorer the people become. The sharper the weapons, the greater the chances we will live in darkness.
The more we scheme, the more complicated the outcome becomes. The greater the treasure, the more people strive for things outside themselves. Therefore, the sage changes nothing and the people transform themselves. He stays still and the people come to their senses. He does nothing, neither talking nor teaching and the people correct themselves thereby enriching themselves.
Wanting nothing, everyone around him simplifies himself or herself. By accepting the will of heaven, the sage brings others to enlightenment. By knowing the final outcome his virtue remains intact. With his virtue intact, the sage simply continues along on his way.
Hsuan-Tsung says, “To stand aloof is to be relaxed and unconcerned. To open up is to be simple and honest. The ruler who governs without effort lets things take care of themselves.”
Li His-Chai says, “When the government makes no demands, the people respond with openness instead of cleverness. When the government makes demands, the people use every means to escape. When government that stands aloof leaves power with the people. The government that steps in takes their power away. As one gains, the other loses. As one meets with happiness, the other encounters misery.”
Wang P’ang says, “Everything shares the same breath. But the movement of this breath comes and goes. It ends only to begin again. Hence happiness and misery alternate like the seasons. But only the sage realizes this. Hence, in everything he does, he aims for the middle and avoids extremes, unlike the government that insists on direction and goodness and forbids indirection and evil, the government that wants the whole world to be happy and yet remains unaware that happiness alternates with misery.”
Lu Nung-Shih says, “Only those who are free of direction can transcend the appearance of good and evil and eliminate happiness and misery. For they alone know where these end. Meanwhile, those who cannot reach the state where there is no direction, who remain in the realm of good and evil, suffer happiness and misery as if they were on a wheel that carries them farther astray.”
Te-Ch’ing says, “The world withers, and the Tao fades. People are not the way they once were. They don’t know direction from indirection or good from evil. Even the sage cannot instruct them. Hence to transform them, he enters their world of confusion. He joins their dust and softens his light. And he leaves no trace.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “The sage’s inaction is inaction that is not inaction. Edges always cut. But the edge that is not an edge doesn’t cut. Points always pierce. But the point that is not a point doesn’t pierce. Lines always extend. But a line that is not a line doesn’t extend. Lights always blind. But a light that is not a light doesn’t blind. All of these are examples of inaction.”
Verse 59 – Remaining as an edge the does not Cut
Traveling back in time when I was one with my contemporaries; Lao, Lieh, Chuang, and yes even Kong (Confucius), I am reminded of times spent debating the great thoughts of the day, serving the emperor only a way to expand the path that should be taken.
Facilitating order, eschewing the truth only found in cause and effect continually reminded that there is no right or wrong. That one’s destiny is only vaguely tied to our endeavors we become attached to in the here and now. Keeping happiness at arm’s length knowing it can only be followed by sadness. Both alternatives as if seasons.
Repeating through the ages the axiom that when either government or that governed stand aloof, the people remain relaxed and unconcerned as the sage remains in the background. Letting things take care of themselves, he is content to be free of direction as if blown along by the wind. Transcending uncertainty, he can see where everything begins and ends.
While the world withers and the Tao ebbs and flows, the sage remains content to remain as the edge that does not cut, as a point that does not pierce, as a line that does not extend and a light that does not blind.
By entering the world of seeming confusion he extends the Tao to the world and shows the way. Living in paradox and knowing where things end he begins to transform all those around him.
Li His-Chai says, “Outside, we govern others. Inside, we care for Heaven. In both, nothing surpasses economy. Those that are economical are economical in everything. They’re watchful within and on guard without. Only if we are still, does virtue have a place to collect.”
Mencius says, “The way we care for Heaven is by guarding our minds and nourishing our natures” (7A.1).
Wang Tso says, “Caring for Heaven means preserving what one receives from Heaven. It means cultivating oneself.”
Li Jung says, “When the ruler maintains the Tao, the country is at peace. When he fails to maintain the Tao, the country is in chaos. The country is the offspring. The Tao is the Mother.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “The realm is the metaphor of the body. Breath is the body’s mother. Breath that has no limit can preserve the body. Someone who fills themselves with breath can conquer the world and remain unharmed. Breath rises from below as if from the roots of a tree. By nourishing the roots, the roots grow deep. Breath flourishes above as the trunk of a tree does. By nourishing the trunk, the trunk grows firm. Thus, the tree does not wither.”
Joseph Campbell meets the Frog in the Well (continued from previous post) and the transformation of our consciousness
Verses 60 and 61 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
If you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you should. Even if short-term. There is a phenomenal interview done between Bill Moyer and Joseph Campbell you should watch over and over again. It is well worth your time. It is about the power of myth and its role in our discovering who we are and how our consciousness transforms, shapes, and commits us to change. Campbell ultimately is a teacher. It is here I continue our story.
What is it a teacher does, but to teach a new way of consciousness and how to think for ourselves. That it is the trials of the journey we see in the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, that propel each of us to our transformation and ultimate destination, often even meaning the return to our source.
That it is the trials one faces on the journey knowing that there can be no reward without renunciation, paying a price. This is often the process of losing who we thought we were. We can see this in the Frog in the Well story where the frog initially only thinks of himself through his limited knowledge due to his environment. That for us our primary task is to stop thinking only of ourselves, our own self-protection. Often this means giving ourselves to another. We see this in others jumping down in the well without regards to their own safety.
What Campbell is speaking to is this transformation of consciousness. In effect, moving from one way of thinking to another.
To the point that you now have to think differently. This transformation is caused by trials and illumination, i.e., seeing the light. That it is through trials and revelations that we move forward thinking… ya, I can do that. The power of myth is that it has always been the hero figure who we model ourselves after. Ultimately it is when we act on instinct (look within) that we achieve our goal and in the case of the frog (my students), they learn seeing beyond ourselves (who we think we are), to who we are yet to become. Campbell uses the analogy, the myth of Star Wars, to show how we are all connected ultimately to what he calls finding our bliss and not being afraid to follow it.
For the teacher it is helping others see the vitality within themselves. That it is out of your center that has to be known and held – that the action comes. In Buddhism we often refer to nirvana.
Nirvana is a psychological state of mind. It’s not like heaven, it is here in the midst of our daily turmoil (called samsara), your life’s conditions. Nirvana comes when you are not compelled by desire or by fear. When you hold to your center and act out of there. The Buddha doesn’t show you the truth, he illuminates the way YOU are to follow. All a teacher can do is give you a direction… as if a lighthouse with a beam of light you must follow for yourself.
The whole idea of the frog in the well myth is to bring us into a consciousness that is spiritual that speaks directly to us as we move into the light.
The key is letting go and using the force of our imagination to take us there. To remain where we are or look upward and move towards the light. To be prepared and ready for it when we see it. Campbell calls it a manifestation of your character. However, the conditions have to match the readiness of someone who can then find this for themselves. The key is the achievement must be one we are ready for.
The desire to step out and say, “yes I can do this”. Hence the value of the teacher showing the way. It becomes what you are ready for is what you get. Some will find a way to get out of the well and some will not. The transformation becomes something they did not know or had forgotten they already possessed within. What I have just said is very important that relates ultimately to our spiritual growth. The power of myth helps to take us there. Raising our consciousness up to a different, or higher, level.
To associate with the powers of nature that for the Chinese has always been the yin and yang, the I Ching. With this they can leave the well by learning how to fly. Hadn’t Confucius begun his quest all those centuries ago by studying the five ancient classics and the I Ching, the Book of Change? Wasn’t it by looking back at what had occurred that one could know what was to come next when similar circumstances presented themselves… and who was this modern-day teacher/philosopher who kept coming and going. What could he possibly teach them they did not already know? Now he appears having written a new version of the I Ching, claims to being a Taoist philosopher and having written extensively about the Tao and Lao,Chuang, and Lieh Tzu… and knew the history of the frogs at the bottom of the well better than they knew themselves… or better said what they had always known and taken for granted or simply forgotten.
Perhaps he was here simply to remind them. But then isn’t all true learning re-learning what we have always known and simply forgotten. Ultimately, the true test is do we serve the system or do we change the system for the better. An even bigger question is this why we return over and over again. That if a person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and follow a certain path, he will surely find trouble. He soon finds himself out of alignment with whom he is yet to become. That the creative spirit lies out there beyond the boundaries of the norm. As if on the edge of what is known verses what is yet to be discovered.
What a paradox living had brought their cold dark home. What was the true meaning of happiness? They had thought everyone wanted what they had… An endless supply of bugs to eat and lots of relics from their past they had brought with them to admire. Who needed a future when they had their past? Why couldn’t living in your past be enough to give you a future.
Was it the role of this new teacher to somehow show them the way? They had learned you could be as complete a frog, or person as your spirit had taken you by embracing the past and that in itself had always been enough.
Others from outside had come along and taken the finer points of Confucius for themselves, because they could do so without the need to join those in the bottom of the well. Leaving them with a few crumbs that others infrequently threw down to seemingly make them happy with what they had left from memories of who they once were. Having nothing to do, they had learned the happiness of doing nothing except to wait and watch for the sun to pass by each day or wishing on a star seen but for a moment overhead at night. Being left to be content with just what they had.
But then they had known the sweetness, or happiness of doing nothing and wondered why or how change could possibly bring them something they felt they already possessed. They began to understand that it was nothing more than not living beyond oneself. To not become enamored or attached to things you really have no use for. Over time it seemed everyone else wanted what they had without having to take the plunge into a deep dark well that was only lit an hour or so a day when the sun was directly overhead. They knew they must bring others to someplace they would go, if only they could go themselves without their leaving home.
Otherwise to be left in the dark… to be as complete a person as your spirit has taken you thus far but now frozen, or found, in the bottom of the well as if waiting for change that must inevitably occur. Your memories however reminding you of what you are here to contribute that will lead you back to your ultimate endeavor and destiny beyond where you now find yourself in the bottom of the well.
Their new teacher or the philosopher telling them they must first overcome their fears so that they too could learn how to come and go as he does, but they can’t or won’t because they have lost the desire or knowledge of how to do so. It seems they were not always a frog whose jump was just a few inches. That this being enamored with Confucius and looking inward had blinded them to other abilities they had always had but now never used. That their comfort in doing nothing but rest on the laurels of Confucius had made them into something they were not… that their fear of failure was more than their need for success that the venture out of the well would lead them too. It was just too easy to stay where they were. They just thought they were happy… a prevailing innocence that kept them… well innocent.
But wasn’t that what following Confucius had taught them all these centuries? Just as it is said to get to the castle you must first cross the moat… the same goes for the thoughts you have each day. They are like the clothes you decide to wear each day.
That in reality the well they were in was an illusion they had created for themselves. As if they had intentionally dug it and then jumped in… Thinking that knowledge and Confucius would forever give them the cover they needed to maintain this happiness of doing nothing. An unaccounted-for love of being unaccountable to and for themselves except as they have been taught by the innate presence of Confucius everywhere they look. As if he is always looking over their shoulder. As a look back shows he is always gaining on you when you are there in Qufu.
They had forgotten a neighbor of Confucius named Mencius who taught only love. That we are forever surrounded by grace and are here to be filled with love. To love the whole world and to allow our enthusiasm fill us with our gift and that we are to share that gift with everyone we meet. Mencius lived a few centuries after Confucius and could see the hole people were digging for themselves.
Embracing the sage who would one day overshadow all they were to become. As the philosopher, you are continually reminded that you are here to do the work…. and to make things right. That the happiness of doing nothing begins with knowing that to forgive oneself is the first step to happiness. That God dwells within each of us as us… Just to be happy as we meet others smiling with our mind.
To treat everyone, you meet as a member of your universal family wherever they are. Knowing when you help yourself that you are actually helping others. Understanding that to lose your balance is sometimes just living your life you are here to live. Accepting everyone you meet as a teacher. As you spend your time crossing over to who you are yet to become by always looking through your heart all the while knowing that it will be in this way we know God.
Coming back to Qufu and the frog in the bottom of the well… finding the sweetness of doing nothing and enjoying where that leads as you begin by knowing others as you come forward to find yourself in the Tao. Acknowledging your role as one responsible for bringing forth the words of the ancient sage as a member of the I Ching/Confucius Society in Qufu. To be the teacher and philosopher conveying that the only limits are self-imposed. Bringing the thoughts and works of Confucius and my friends (Lao, Chuang, and Lieh Tzu) forward as I endeavor to help others climb or even fly from the well themselves.
Below is an original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (10 TREADING / Heaven over Lake). 2/9/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
Finding One’s Step
The day of great importance has arrived. A great journey is commencing. The dragons are curious.
Is there sincerity present? Is peace and harmony ever apparent? The day has arrived. Draw no attention to yourself keeping to the back woods, the mountains, streams and lakes.
Your feet must not stumble. It is important that you have worn the right shoes. With beating heart and trembling hands the way ahead requires endurance.
Concentrating on one step at a time. Focusing only on the path ahead. When trouble arrives remaining alert to peril, looking ahead and watching one’s step as one with nature secure in following the way of knowledge.
The dragons interest has peaked. Others have come this way and failed. these footprints appear to be true. A great journey is commencing.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao 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 60 and 61 appear below. Verses 1 through 59 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others along the way that guides us. The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Verse 60 – The Way of long and lasting Life
Calmness and economy, two traits the sage follows instinctively. In becoming still, the sage turns to his breath and then his thoughts. When his thoughts are calm, his virtue remains within. When his breathing is clear, he is reminded of his center and being at one with the Tao and all things. By embracing economy, the sage can possess what he needs without using more than his spirit requires thereby keeping his virtue intact.
Planning ahead the sage accumulates virtue, accumulating virtue means that he overcomes all. Overcoming all he knows no limit. Knowing no limit, he can return to the Tao as if guarding what is real. Knowing this, he takes care of his body and breath. Caring for his body he remains unharmed.
He stays behind as if one thousand years old. His roots nourished by the breath of ten thousand things. Maintaining deep roots and a solid trunk the sage prospers adhering to the way of virtue letting his branches and leaves breathe through eternity.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “If you cook a small fish, don’t remove its entrails, don’t scrape off it’s scales and don’t eat it. If you do, it will turn to mush. Likewise, too much government makes those below rebel, and too much cultivation makes vitality wither.”
Wang Chen says, “The government that takes peace as its basis doesn’t lose the Way. When the government doesn’t lose the Way, yin and yang are in harmony. When yin and yang are in harmony, wind and rain arrive on time. When wind and rain arrive on time, the spirit world is at peace. When the spirit world is at peace, the legions of demons can’t perform their sorcery.”
Su Ch’e says, “The inaction of the sage makes people content with the way they are. Outside, nothing troubles them. Inside, nothing frightens them. Even spirits have no means of using their powers. It isn’t that spirits have no powers. They have powers, but they don’t use then to harm people. The reason people and spirits don’t harm each other is because they look up to the sage. Ans the sage never harms anyone.
Verse 61 – Harmony finding the Way
Bringing harmony to all around him, the sage is reminded of cooking a small fish. Too much attention and the fish turn to mush, too little and it soon burns. Harmony can only flourish when each is allowed to find its own way. Some fish will become mush and others will burn. But in the end, if it is to be eaten a consensus or middle ground will be found.
In governing the world by following the Tao, the sage displays no powers. Just as the world learns to eat fish, he remains inactive or seemingly behind the scenes. He governs but does not act his virtue remaining intact with harmony always finding its way.
As the sage is the essence of virtue disharmony can never enter the picture. Neither can the people do him harm, nor him harm others, as he too finds the world’s middle and a place for everyone at the table.
Lao Tzu says, “The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers is because it has mastered being lower” (60).
Ho-Shang Kung says, “To lead a great state we should be like to sea: and we should be at the bottom of a watershed and not fight even the smallest current. A great state is the meeting place of both the high and low. The female refers to everything yin, weak, humble, yielding, what doesn’t lead.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “The female doesn’t make the first move. It is always the male that makes the first move. But to move means to lose. To wait means to gain. To move means to be above. To wait means to be below. The great state that doesn’t presume on its superiority gains the voluntary support of the small state. The small state that is content with its inferiority enjoys the generosity of the great state. The small state doesn’t have to worry about being lower, while the great state does. Hence the great state needs to be lower.”
Wang Pi says, “By cultivating humility, each gets what he wants. When the small state cultivates humility, it preserves itself, but that is all. It can’t make the world turn to it. The world tuns to the great state that cultivates humility. Thus, each gets what it wants, but it is the great state that needs to be more humble.”
A Taste of Taoism for Unity
Verses 62 and 63 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
(The entry below mirrors the Power Point presentation (with some modification) given at Unity of Springfield on Sunday, July 22, 2018). The actual Power Point will appear here on the website in the future.
Taoism in China has a very long history. Although the essence of what would be known or become Taoism came thousands of years before it had a name. The Tao by it’s nature is undefinable.
Historically and even today the ultimate for most Chinese is the idea of being born a Taoist, to live as a Confucian, and to die as a Buddhist. It’s not something you think about. It’s just who you are and how you live every day.
Like an innate knowing. Taoist ethics in general tend to emphasize wu wei (action without intention), “naturalness”, simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: “compassion”, “frugality”, and “humility”. As if tuning into nature’s essential rhythm.
The River of No Return
What is the Tao, but a blade of grass or a daffodil blooming after a Spring rain? Simply the essence of nature’s way and our own connectedness to it and to all things.
What is the Tao, but the pebbles in a stream bed and the water flowing overhead as the trout breathes through its gills finding oxygen only in the water itself?
What is the Tao, but that that seems irrational to all those unknowing of the ultimate way of virtue? Of the inner desire to find peace and to know a certain contentment known only in the journey itself and knowing where the road leads to and where it does not.
What is the Tao, but the beginnings and endings of all things that were comprised of yesterday, occurs today and will happen tomorrow? Everything and nothing together as one in an instant and forever.
What is the Tao, but dragons bringing both good and bad as there must be in all things? Strive to do the right thing by all knowing that the clouds and elements both lead and get in the way of what may fleetingly be considered progress.
What is the Tao, but the abandonment of all things seen as necessary to succeed in the world as we live it with others present?
What is the Tao, but the ultimate quest for perfection and immortality and finding mirror images of the sage in ourselves and our everyday actions now and forever yet to come?
What is the Tao, but to flow as a droplet of water down the river of no return? Knowing all the while that in the end you will simply arrive and that in itself will be forever simply enough. (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon 4/10/94)
Basic difference between Eastern and Western Philosophy
In Eastern philosophy for over 5,000 years the relation between man, nature, the sun, moon and stars has created the impression of a universal connection with all things. Traditionally this is called “the ten thousand things”, with the I Ching saying everything revolves around yin/yang and complimentary opposites. Man is simply one of the ten thousand things and the universe shows no favorites.
Dao or Tao literally means “way”, or one of its synonyms, but was extended to mean “the Way”. This term has been used by many Chinese philosophers including Confucius, Mencius, and many others. It has special meaning within the context of Taoism, where it implies the essential, unnameable process of the universe. For practical purposes, there are two concurrent threads in Taoism. First those who see themselves as adherents to philosophical Taoism, and others who take a more religious approach towards the Tao called religious Taoism. This maturation is thousands of years in the making and corresponds with other teachings throughout Chinese history.
In Western philosophy it’s always been everything found in nature is here for the benefit of man. The beginning of Taoism is first found in shamanism, the I Ching, and over five thousand years of history.
The Eternal Spirit
Medicine men and shaman giving way to Lao Tzu and the others with their quest for immortality putting the finishing touches on the way to be forever followed.
Many false starts by many with good intentions and some sense of direction from signposts they have read and heard along the way. Starting strong, enthusiasm high with motivation found to follow what they feel is the way of virtue.
In the end few succeed as the centuries pass as the dragons look to add more to their company. The entry list is very short as those coming this way often fail to see the Tao as it should be seen. Thinking that it can be turned on and off like a faucet. Each wanting to come this way running. First hot, then cold and then hot again for the strength and comfort found only in the inner self along with the Tao.
The desire for immortality and desire to return home again to live with dragons the driving force behind the effort that must be made.
The journey is not one that can begin and end over and over at one’s leisure. The immortal ones do not have time to waste on half-hearted efforts. They cannot be bothered. Keeping to one’s eternal spirit is the motivation to continue the journey. Learning and teaching others along the way.
Be happy with the road to be traveled and find comfort solely within the details. (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon) 4/13/94
The Wu – Shaman of Ancient China
Their relationship to the cosmos was a shamanic one. At least some among them were able to communicate directly with plants, minerals, and animals; to journey deep into the earth, or visit distant galaxies. They were able to invoke, through dance and ritual, elemental and supernatural powers, and enter into ecstatic union with them. The class of people most adept at such techniques became known as the wu – the shamans of ancient China. Early China was developed mostly along the Yellow River to the north and the Yangtze River delta around current City of Shanghai. It was the Yellow River that divided China north and south that played a major role in clan and major family development. And it was the shaman of the various clans who served as the glue who ultimately made sense of it all and pulled it all together.
The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
The leaders of this pre-dynastic era were the legendary Three Sovereigns, or “August Ones,” and the Five Emperors – morally perfected sage-kings who used their magical powers to protect their people and to create conditions for peaceful and harmonious living. The wisdom, compassion and enlightened power of these beings was considered beyond mortal comprehension; and the benefit they bestowed upon those they governed, immeasurable.
The Heavenly Sovereign, Fu Xi, is said to have discovered the eight trigrams – the bagua – which is the foundation of the I Ching, Taoism’s most well-known system of divination.
The Human Sovereign, Shennong, is credited with the invention of farming and the introduction of herbs for medicinal purposes.
The Yellow Emperor, Huang di, is known as the father of Chinese medicine. He is credited with numerous inventions and innovations – including the calendar and is regarded as an initiator of Chinese civilization. Traditionally it is said he is from Qufu in Shandong province.
The Dragon in Chinese Culture
Dragons are deeply rooted in Chinese culture. The Chinese sign for the dragon first appeared upon turtle shells, a tribal totem, ages before the Xia and Shang dynasties, and was eventually emblazoned on the national flag during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). Chinese mythology is rich with the artwork, tales and depictions of dragons. Equating figures such as Fu Xi, Shennong, and the Yellow Emperor with the dragon gave them heavenly and mystical qualities as the sage.
Later, especially the Taoist figures Lao, Chuang and Lieh Tzu, Confucius, Mencius among others were said to achieve immortality as the dragon, a celestial being who rests on clouds in the sky. The emperor later became the “Son of Heaven” as the dragon.
Dragons are thought to give life; hence their breath is called “sheng chi” or divine energy. They are essentially benevolent and associated with abundance and blessing, helpful, wise and generous with their gifts when people encountered them.
The Age of Enlightenment – The Dragons
During the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty, the origins of native Chinese philosophy developed its initial stages beginning in the 6th century BC. The greatest Chinese philosophers, those who made the greatest impact on later generations of Chinese, were Confucius, founder of Confucianism, and Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu founders of Taoism.
Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were Mozi, founder of Mohism; Mencius, a famous Confucian who expanded upon Confucius’ legacy; and Xun Zi, who was arguably the center of ancient Chinese intellectual life during his time, even more so than iconic intellectual figures such as Mencius.
What is man’s place in the world and the cosmos?
This was the basic question of Chinese Taoist philosophy. Lao Tzu was born during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 to 476 BC) , but it is said he came from a very old shaman family dating back to the late Xia or early Shang. He was the first philosopher who tried to explain the Tao in such a way that it could be commonly understood. According to Lao Tzu, Tao, or “the Way”, is the source and root of the earth, heaven and everything between. The Way has no starting point and no end. That the Way is nature itself and nature itself is the Way. He actually wrote the Te Tao Ching in frustration because he got tired that no one would take his “oral” advice.
Lao Tzu borrowed the notion from the I Ching and the shaman that “the Way follows nature” to reveal a common yet profound truth in his book the Te Tao Ching: that all things found in the universe including man, and his society, have a natural character. Humans must obey the law of nature and should not put incessant demands on nature. That there was a “universal connectedness” with all things and that what was seen as government and man’s role should reflect this truth. That the powers of those in control of others should answer to this and not their own sense of importance and sense of ego. This paradox between the roles of Confucian and Taoist advocates became the pivotal argument in mainstream rule and in Chinese philosophical and politic outlook in the world. Do they “obey the laws of nature” or nature, or of humans, and why and how the two be so different?
Chuang Tzu (369-286 B.C.) was a leading thinker representing the Taoist strain in Chinese thought. Using parable and anecdote, allegory and paradox, he set forth the early ideas of what was to become the Taoist school.
Central in these is the belief that only by understanding Tao (the Way of Nature) and dwelling in unity can man achieve true happiness and be truly free, in both life and death. Witty and imaginative, enriched by brilliant imagery, making sportive use of both mythological and historical personages (including even Confucius), the book, which bears Chuang Tzu’s name, gave real legitimacy to Taoist thought in China beyond Lao Tzu.
Chuang Tzu espoused a holistic philosophy of life, encouraging disengagement from the artificialities of socialization. Promoting the cultivation of our natural “ancestral” potencies and skills in order to live a simple and natural, but full and flourishing life. He was critical of our ordinary categorizations and evaluations, noting the multiplicity of different modes of understanding between different creatures, cultures, and philosophical schools, and the lack of an independent means of making a comparative evaluation. It is said his writings provided the inspiration and connection to what was to become Chan Buddhism in China. He advocated a mode of understanding that is not committed to a fixed system but is fluid and flexible and that maintains a provisional, pragmatic attitude towards the applicability of this attitude and how we are to live. (This best describes my own personal way of thinking. I identify with Chuang Tzu’s attitude more than any other way of life. My own feeble attempts at understanding tell me I still have far to go).
Forever indefinable, an ageless knowledge beyond unity found in the oneness in all things.
How can one possibly hope to discuss the inner workings of the Tao? How can one hope to express what cannot be said? And finally, how can one hope to write about something that cannot be described or known?
As the sage studies many years before a glimmering of knowledge and understanding comes to the surface, he approaches what was before him the first instant. Learning is simply that which is brought to the exterior of oneself. There is nothing new. Only new ways to see nothing.
The Tao is simply the ultimate source of all. The origin and beginnings of everything that forever has roots and foliage, flowers and reseeds itself. Only to begin and end over and over again. Being present at the start and being there in the end. How can one hope to come to know what cannot be known or even desire to know such a thing as the oneness of Tao?
Dragon bracelet worn by favorite of Chinese emperor – Shaanxi Museum in Xian
What other role is there to have? Why have a reason to exist at all? The answer is that the Tao gives true meaning and purpose to finding one’s way through the origins of the universe. Simply coming to know yourself and how you fit into the overall scheme of things is worth the cost of admission. Remain indefinable and know that the answer is in the journey itself. (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon) 4/17/94
The dragons prefer peace and take no action otherwise. Turning their heads to all knowing that conflict defeats all.
Neighbors may build good fences. However, it will be fences that good neighbors build together that remain standing against common enemies. Expect hardship even among friends knowing what important and what obstacles are to be expected. Encounter difficulties in peace and success is assured.
Do not proceed alone in times of controversy. Surround yourself and be protected and protect others as well. Act appropriately with both friends and neighbors always maintaining close relationships.
Being at peace within oneself insures that those close by will not become enemies but instead are simply waiting for an opportunity to become your friend. All the while not taking advantage of another’s downfall.
At the same time knowing that your own carelessness and lack of judgment may be your own. Find peace and the fences good neighbors build may ultimately disappear like dragons riding on clouds in the sky.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (11 TREADING / Heaven over Lake). 2/9/94. The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for 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 62 and 63 appear below. Verses 1 through 61 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others along the way that guides us. The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Verse 62 – Cultivating Humanity
Remaining at the lowest point of mediation where everything else comes to meet. As if the confluence, or gathering point, of great rivers that all come together to create a united front or way.
Acting as if this great river of life sustaining water irrigates your life and your garden. Remaining humble, as if the needs of others are shared and understood by all as each becomes nourished through your enlightenment.
Standing alone each is like a turnip found in the garden of the sage. Picked while still small they are tender and sharp, if allowed to get to large, the turnip becomes tough and bitter. Like the gardener, the sage cultivates humanity as if picking the turnips while they are small, thereby saving him much misunderstanding in the end.
The sage becoming simply a watershed making people content with the way they are. Showing the way, he attains the highest by remaining the lowest. By uniting and leading others, he succeeds by joining and serving others.
In the truest sense he is cultivating humanity simply by tending his garden as he tends to all around him.
Wu Ch’eng says, “’Sanctuary’ means the most honored place. The layout of ancestral shrines includes an outer hall and an inner chamber. The southwest corner of the inner chamber is called the ‘sanctuary’ and the sanctuary is where the gods dwell.”
Su Ch’e says, “All we see of things is their outside, their entrance hall. The Tao is their sanctuary. We all have one, but we don’t see it. The wise alone are able to find it. Hence Lao Tzu says the good treasure it. The foolish don’t find it. But then who doesn’t the Tao protect? Hence, he says it protects the bad. The Tao doesn’t leave people. People leave the Tao.”
Wang Pi says, “Beautiful words can excel the products of the marketplace. Noble deeds can elicit a response a thousand miles away.” Te Ch’ing say, “The Tao is in us all. Though good and bad might differ, our natures are the same. How then, can we abandon anyone?”
Lao Tzu says, “The sage is good at saving / yet he abandons no one / yet the good instruct the bad / the bad learn from the good” (Verse 27).
Verse 63 – Becoming a sanctuary to all you meet
The sage acknowledges and understands that there is nothing that is not in keeping with the Tao. Especially true is that the Tao resides in each of us. Thus, in showing the way the sage is good at saving and directing those around him, while abandoning no one. Since the sage in essence is simply the embodiment of the Tao, abandoning or leaving behind another person could or would never enter his mind.
The sage’s surroundings are illustrative of how he sees his place in the ten thousand things.
As though he is seen creating a sanctuary that reflects his innermost sense of who he is yet to become. Kind and reflective, still yet expansive, he competes with no one and no one competes with him. His strengths and weaknesses have become razor sharp as he uses them to cut through what is perceived to be truth and falsehood. While he remains on the edge pushing others to places they would not otherwise go, he leaves no foothold for those who would follow except by accepting and following the Tao.
When he himself becomes the sanctuary for others to take refuge and follow, finding the comfort only found in the expression of the Tao, he is reminded that he who searches will find it and those who don’t only escape to wait until another day.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “To act without acting, means we only do what is natural. To work without working means to avoid trouble by preparing in advance. To taste without tasting means to taste the meaning of the Tao through meditation.”
Li Hsi-Chai says, “When we act without acting we don’t exhaust ourselves. When we work without working, we don’t trouble others. When we taste without tasting, we don’t waste anything.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “To act without acting, to work without working, to taste without tasting is to conform with what is natural and not to impose oneself on others. Though others treat him wrongly, the wrong is theirs and not the sage’s. He responds with the virtue that is in his heart. Utterly empty and detached, he thus moves others to trust in doing nothing.”
Chiao Hung says, “Action involves form and thus includes great and small. It is also tied to number and thus includes many and few. This is where wrongs come from. Only the Tao is beyond form and beyond number. Thus, the sage treats everything the same: great and small, many and few. Why should he respond to them in anger?”
Te-Ching says, “When I entered the mountains to cultivate the Way, at first it was very hard. But once I learned how to use my mind, it became very easy. What the world considers hard, the sage considers easy. What the world considers easy, the sage considers hard.
We are stardust. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
Verses 64 and 65 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
One of my all-time favorite lines in a song by Joni Mitchell from 1970 after she missed Woodstock from a year earlier that was held in August 15-17, 1969 and wrote the song Woodstock in tribute. I listen to this song at least once a day and the words above. We are stardust… Two others who missed Woodstock were John Lennon who was in Canada and couldn’t get a visa due to opposition to the Vietnam war, and Bob Dillon who was home with a sick child. However, her song takes us all there again and for me much further. (Woodstock poster from Wikipedia)
Speaking of gardens and a few of my favorites are the the gardens of Suzhou (about 62 miles northwest of Shanghai) in China. The city of Suzhou is along the famous Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is a man-made waterway that runs north and south in eastern China. It is the longest man-made waterway in the world. The canal stretches over 1,100 miles from the city of Beijing to the city of Hangzhou. (I’ve been to both cities). It is sometimes called the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal. Besides connecting these two major cities, the canal also connects the two major rivers of China: The Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
(This picture was taken at the Jining Museum. Jining is about an hour from Qufu and is considered the midway point between the two cities on the Grand Canal. I taught at the Cambridge English School in Jining for a few months in 2010 before teaching at Jining University).
When I am in Jining, I often meet with friends and my students at the Grand Canal Mall. When I lived in Qufu, I would often go to a supermarket in Jining that had a much greater selection of western food than I could find in Qufu… like tomato paste I used in making spaghetti for my students. It was visiting Jining and members of the City Planning Department back in October 1999 that I first saw the plans for the new Jining University that was to be built in Qufu. Little did I know I would begin teaching at this school in March 2011.
It was then that this life-long connection would change me and cause an epiphany. It was at lunch with the city planners in Jining that I told them I kept having visions of a flying horse that somehow seemed to be close by. After lunch they took me to a place in the country-side about ten miles out of town and stopped at what appeared to be just an old shed. We looked inside and there were two-thousand-year-old stone tablets from the Han Dynasty. One depicted Confucius meeting Lao Tzu. They did an etching and gave to me. I had it framed and years later I gave to the Confucius Institute in Miami, Florida where I was teaching… Anyway, we went to an even smaller outbuilding and they gave me a small iron horse that seemed to be floating on a cloud that had been originally cast back then or even earlier more than two-thousand years ago. This is what I was looking for. I had been here before. This was not the first time and showed me that we were somehow connected. It was as if my origins were here in western Shandong. Now almost twenty years later I will return again next month to China, Jining, and Qufu (September 2018).
The stone tablets were later moved to what was to become the Jining Museum mentioned above. Yes, we are stardust… we are golden when we can find our way back to the garden. Which is nothing more than identifying and becoming one with our ultimate source once again. But then again, being able to traverse the length and breath of China on the canal all those years ago, I could have been from anywhere and probably was.
Jining was the half-way or mid-point on the Grand Canal and has great food. I love the restaurants in Jining. Over the years I have often been asked what city in China has the best food. I always say, for me, it is Jining. I think it comes from the city’s historic place on the Grand Canal. People from all over China would travel this route to and from the capital, Beijing. At least that’s my story. I think the food serves to simply take me back as a reminder of who I am and the places in China I have seen and been. Most seem to be along the rivers and this canal that stretches over a thousand miles.
The canal was initially built in order to easily ship grain from the rich farmland in southern China to the capital city in Beijing. This also helped the emperors to feed the soldiers guarding the northern borders. The ancient Chinese built early canals to help with transportation and commerce. One early section was the Han Gou Canal built by Kin Fuchai of Wu around 480 BC. This canal stretched from the Yangtze River to the Huai River. Another ancient canal was the Hong Gou Canal which went from the Yellow River to the Bian River. These ancient canals became the basis for the Grand Canal over 1000 years later.
It was during the Sui Dynasty that the Grand Canal was built. Emperor Yang of the Sui wanted a quicker and more efficient way of transporting grain to his capital city at Beijing. He also needed to supply his army that guarded northern China from the Mongols. He decided to connect the existing canals and expand them to go all the way from Beijing to Hangzhou. Between 604 and 609, Emperor Yang Guang (or Sui Yangdi) of the Sui dynasty ordered a number of canals be dug in a ‘Y’ shape, from Hangzhou in the south to terminate in Beijing and in the capital region along the Yellow River valley. When the canal was completed it linked the systems of the Qiantang River, the Yangtze River, the Huai River, the Yellow River, the Wei River and the Hai River. (from Wikipedia)
Suzhou… the home of gardens and living in high style.
Many years ago, when I was a city planner in Boynton Beach, I researched the possibility of building a Chinese designed “friendship Park/Garden” using this style of southern Chinese architectural design (this would have been in the Spring of 1999) in south Florida. It was in my research I found a firm that specialized in this style of construction from Qufu who traveled all over the world building this style of Chinese designed parks similar to that found in Suzhou. It was this that took me to Qufu in October 1999 for the first time. The park was never built, but friendships for a lifetime were made. Little did I know what the next twenty years would bring leading up to today. Ah… a reminder of one’s eternal steps I guess. It was on the way to Qufu that I visited Suzhou and its famous gardens for the first time. Years later when I was teaching students English who were to become national tour guides, several ended up as guides at the gardens of Suzhou.
The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are a group of gardens in Suzhou region, Jiangsu province that are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.
I first visited here the first time in October 1999, nineteen years ago, on my second trip to China. Always an avid gardener myself and interested in landscape design, these gardens were made famous during the period of almost one thousand years.
From the Northern Song to the late Qing dynasties (11th-19th century), these gardens, most of them built by scholars, standardized many of the key features of classical Chinese garden design with constructed landscapes mimicking natural scenery of rocks, hills and rivers with strategically located pavilions and pagodas.
The elegant aesthetics and subtlety of these scholars’ gardens and thier delicate style and features have often been imitated by various gardens in other parts of China, including the various Imperial Gardens, such as those in the Chengde Mountain Resort. According to UNESCO, the gardens of Suzhou “represent the development of Chinese landscape garden design over more than two thousand years,” and they are the “most refined form” of garden art.
These landscape gardens flourished in the mid-Ming to early-Qing dynasties, resulting in as many as 200 private gardens. Today, there are 69 preserved gardens in Suzhou, and all of them are designated as protected “National Heritage Sites.” In 1997 and 2000, eight of the finest gardens in Suzhou along with one in the nearby ancient town of Tongli were selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site to represent the art of Suzhou-style classical gardens.
When I was teaching at Jining University I taught English to several students who were studying to be national tour guides. A couple were to go to Suzhou. I’m not sure they are still there or not. First among my favorite gardens was the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
The garden contains numerous pavilions and bridges set among a maze of connected pools and islands. It consists of three major parts set about a large lake: the central part (Zhuozheng Yuan), the eastern part, Dwelling Upon Return to the Countryside), and a western part (the Supplementary Garden). The house lies in the south of the garden. In total, the garden contains 48 different buildings with 101 tablets, 40 steles, 21 precious old trees, and over 700 Suzhou-style penjing.
Penjing, also known as penzai, is the ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature. (similar to bonsai in Japanese gardens).
For me, my personal favorite is the Master of the Nets Garden. Ownership passed to Qu Yuancun, a scholar well-versed in the classics and literature, in 1795. He added and remodeled buildings, planted trees, and arranged stones. The garden acquired the nickname of Qu’s Garden during this period as well as its first acclaim by critics. Ownership passed to Li Hongyi, an imperial official and master calligrapher in 1868. About half of the steles in the garden are inscribed by him. Ownership passed to He Chang in 1940, who restored both the garden and returned the name back to Master of Nets Garden. He stipulated in his will the garden should be donated to the government. In 1958 his daughter He Zehui gave the garden to the Suzhou government.
During the late 18th century it was recognized for its herbaceous peonies. In his Notes on the Master of Nets Garden, Qian Daxin stated, “A good integration of the delights of the village and town.” Modern critic Chen Congzhou feels that the Master of the Nets Garden is the best representation of all classical Chinese garden art, as stated in Famous Classical Gardens of China.
My third most favorite is the Lion Grove Garden. This is probably one of the most famous rock-gardens in Chinese garden design. It has been copied repeatedly over the centuries. This is the so-called Lion Garden’ in Suzhou. The Lion Grove Garden was built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty by a Zen Buddhist monk, Wen Tianru, in memory of his teacher Abbot Zhong Feng.
At that time the garden was part of the Bodhi Orthodox Monastery. The name of the garden is derived from the lion-shaped taihu rocks, which in turn were built as a reference to the symbolic lion in the Lion’s Roar Sutra.
I recall taking hundreds of pictures of the gardens in Suzhou in the early days of my travel to China almost twenty years ago… where are all those pictures now? I found a few…
A great story of China from more than five hundred years ago is about two brothers who were famous for making glazed tile used in construction of buildings using the ancient style and design. They were originally from southern China, but moved north. One to Qufu and the other to Beijing. Their glazed roof tile (commonly seen as yellow, gray, green, and blue (blue was often reserved for Beijing) was used in Qufu for the Confucius Temple and Mansion, as well as, numerous other locations around Shandong Province.
Over the centuries there emerged two distinct garden designs often referred to the northern and southern styles. The southern style was epitomized by the classical water, rock, and buildings seen above in Suzhou. And the northern style that is identified by ancient pine trees and buildings using the glazed roof tiles. A favorite of mine of the northern style garden design is the Daimiao Temple in Tai’an north of Qufu at the base of Mount Taishan.
This is a picture of a tour of the glazed tile factory from my first visit to Qufu in October 1999.
The second brother’s glazed tiles were used in the construction of the Forbidden City and other landmarks in Beijing. One of their descendants became a good friend of mine in Qufu. For years he was there to greet me when I arrived and see me off when I left.
Their glazed tile became the premier emblem of garden design throughout China. Glazed tile from the factory used in building the Confucius Mansion and Temple in Qufu was the same used in my own garden pavilion in Boynton Beach that was destroyed by Hurricane Irene in 2004. The loss of my pavilion was very depressing… Plus the more than $20,000 I had spent to have it shipped from China and re-constructed in my backyard. Afterward, looking at the debris of what was my pavilion, I could only think of Joni Mitchell’s song and how –
We are stardust. We are golden. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
Succumbing to Hysteria
Speaking softly and smoothly where others must crane their neck to listen is best. Always speak calmly knowing that that fear and reality are the same to find. Ever conscious that hysteria leads to dread of the unknown.
Hold the attention of all those involved. Varying one’s voice relieves tension that may assist in finding the solution. Be brief, simply uncomplicated. Finding your rhythm brings forth changes overcoming all setbacks. Sincerity must provide the rhyme and reason of any true voice before it is heard. Much is expected of those who know dragons.
Beware of treachery or bringing attention to oneself by shouting, I am here! The noise overshadowing what is not said so nothing important is heard. Instead of finding your rhythm in the Tao and being heard for miles and miles forever. Continually refining your actions always knowing simply what is needed.
Internal rhythm, the chi, reverberating throughout the elements, the earth and sky, waking dragons to their delight. Stay calm and listen to the one you can hardly hear. He speaks softly as he knows the way of virtue.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (12 OBSTRUCTION / Heaven over Earth). 2/10/94 The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 64 and 65 appear below.
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 64 – Finding everything too Easy
The sage knows that doing what comes naturally is not work. Therefore, he works without really working. He acts without really acting, thereby not exhausting himself and tastes without really tasting the true meaning of the Tao through meditation. He goes forth knowing that rather we are great or small, many or few it is important to repay any slight or wrong with virtue.
What the world considers hard the sage considers easy. Just as what the world considers easy the sage considers hard. How can that be so?
If one can plan for the hard when it is easy and work on the great when it is small, the hardest task in the world becomes easy. The greatest goal in the world begins or becomes small.
Because the sage never acts he achieves great things. He responds to others knowing instinctively that he who quickly agrees is seldom trusted and those who make it all look easy finds the way hard. Therefore, the sage travels in virtue making everything appear hard, while he himself finds nothing hard.
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “We should act before things exist, while they are peaceful and latent. We should govern before they rebel, while the are fragile and small. But to act before things exist means to act without acting. To govern before things rebel means to govern without governing.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “From a sprout, the small becomes great. From a basket of earth, the low becomes high. From here, the near becomes far. But trees are cut down, towers are toppled, and journeys end. Everything we do eventually results in failure. Everything we control is eventually lost. But if we act before things exist, how can we fail? If we govern before they rebel, how can we lose?”
Wang P’ang says, “Everything has its course. When the time is right, it arrives. But people are blind to this truth and work to speed things up. They try to help Heaven and end up ruining things just as they near completion.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Others seek the ornamental. The sage seeks the simple. Others seek form. The sage seeks Virtue. Others study facts and skills. Te sage studies what is natural. Others study how to govern the world. The sage studies how to govern himself and how to uphold the truth of the Way.”
Verse 65 – Learning to act before something Exists
As one who is recognized by his peers for his vision and all things ethereal having found where all things meet and reflecting on the common purpose or rhythm of the universe, what can be more important than knowing when to act before something exists?
Knowing when to proceed and when to wait letting patience be your guide. It’s easy to rule when it’s peaceful. It’s easy to plan before something arrives. It’s easy to break when its fragile and as we have learned, easy to disperse when its small. Be the one who prepares the master plan.
But know to act is to fail and to control is to lose. The sage therefore doesn’t act he thus does not lose. Living in the paradox that life brings forth to challenge him each day ultimately simply the reminder of why he is here.
Does not the sage seek what no one else looks for turning to what others pass by? To remind others that everything must simply run its course. That when the time is right it arrives and that the truth of all things is in doing what comes natural. The sage therefore knows to simply act naturally before something exists.
Chuang Tzu says, “When the knowledge of bows and arrows arose, the birds above were troubled. When the knowledge of hooks and nets proliferated, the fish below were disturbed. When the knowledge of snares and traps spread, the creatures of the wild were bewildered. When the knowledge of argument and disputation multiplied, the people were confused. Thus are the world’s troubles due to the love of knowledge” (10.4).
Liu Chung-P’ing says, “Those who rule without knowledge turn to Heaven. Those who rule with knowledge turn to man. Those who turn to Heaven are in harmony. Those who are in harmony do only what requires no effort. Their government is lenient. Those who turn to man force things. Those who force things become lost in the Great Inquisition. Hence their people are dishonest.” Liu’s terminology here is indebted to Chuang Tzu: 19.2 and Mencius 4B.26).
Su Ch’e says, “What the sage values is virtue. What others value is knowledge. Virtue and knowledge are opposites. Knowledge is seldom harmonious, while virtue is always in harmony.”
Lin Hsi-Yi says, “‘Perfect harmony’ is whatever is natural.”
Jumping the Dragon’s Gate
Verses 66 and 67 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
To paraphrase the Van Morrison song Into the Mystic:
“We were born before the wind / Smell the sea and feel the sky.
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic / Just like way back in the days of old.
Then magnificently we will float into the mystic…. you know I will be coming home.”
What does it mean to become mystical, or better said a mystic? To be characterized by esoteric, otherworldly, or symbolic practices or content as seen in certain religious ceremonies, as with art, writing, or personal behavior.
The Azure Dragon was on the national flag of China during the Qing dynasty during 1889-1912. The Four Symbols discussed here literally mean “four images”. They are four mythological creatures in the Chinese constellations. They are the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Turtle of the North. Each one of them represents a direction and a season, and each has its own individual characteristics and origins.
The Four Symbols were given human names after Taoism became popular. The Azure Dragon has the name Meng Zhang (孟章), the Vermilion Bird was called Ling Guang (陵光), the White Tiger Jian Bing (監兵), and the Black Turtle Zhi Ming (執明).
Why discuss this here, many in my audience are in China and Europe not just the USA. I have learned that many Chinese are not that familiar with Chinese history. This website serves to inform wherever people reside. In most cases this brings back memories of stories they heard when they were young. Especially in the Chinese countryside where storytelling is more common. It follows the tradition of the shaman who made everyone feel universal.
It is as if we make the connection to the universe taking on something spiritually significant, or even ethereal, as in heavenly or celestial. As if an enigma, one with the cosmos. Knowing where you have been and will return is more important than where you find yourself just now. What is it about the seeming struggle of adhering to the stability of ritual and tradition that serves to guide us as our inspiration that leads us home?
To the left is the Azure Dragon on a road sign at the Yangshan Quarry, an ancient stone quarry on Yangshan Mountain near Nanjing, China.
Do we become spectators of our past or acknowledge it and move on to what is to be of our future as we fill in the details of a self-fulfilling prophesy? As if looking back in order to make progress, or move forward. For myself, between spiritual freedom and wisdom of my heart, or be pulled by knowledge of my thoughts and brain? Moving away from the herd-instinct to faith in a higher destiny through inner development and seemingly lost discipline I am here to finally find and accept. My age-old quandary… maybe to stop only listening to my friend Lieh Tzu and to follow Chuang instead. From what is considered the ‘everyday man’ epitomized by Lieh Tzu, to Chuang Tzu’s ‘perfected man’. Their text and your own writing drawing you into an experience that is to change who you think you are and understand that your life is your work… and your work is your life. As if eternity is simply waiting for a decision on your part.
That life is truly a pilgrimage. Moving away from the mundane and to just be present as we move beyond fear and develop courage as our true self.
Not as ego, but as authentic to our divinely guided inner recognition of who we are, have been, and are yet to become. The vision quest so often referred to here over the past several entries we all seek to find in our own way.
As the symbols of the I Ching help to define us and guide our ultimate path, we are to stay in tune with our own varied nature and the stars that show us the way.
Knowing the outer space (that found in nature) we see is simply the inner reflection of our own development or enlightenment, directed towards a still unknown, or distant aim as if intrinsically tied to the very movement we seek. That there is no separation found in the universe. That by our very nature we are connected to the stars we see above. It is from here we cross over from what is known and familiar, and we accept others and new environments as our ultimate endeavor and destiny.
In doing this we grow in confidence of the significance of all that happens to us as we find the courage and harmony that defines us. With this, we become secure with our ultimate source, the depth of our being and the universality of a greater life. This concept helps us to understand the essence of what has come to be known as Tibetan Buddhism. And why the synthesis of Buddhism and Taoism together in Eastern philosophy becomes so important.
I especially like the analogy of a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth, freely floating in 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 wells up from the depths of his being and leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight. (The above is written with inspiration from The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Anagarika Govinda.)
Finally, I am reminded that the efficacy of what Lama Surya Das says “Our actions will be determined by the quality of the contemplation that precedes them.” I think what precedes the whole idea of “I think I can, therefore I am”.
An example of perseverance would be a story in Chinese mythology, the Dragon’s Gate is located at the top of a waterfall cascading from a legendary mountain. Many carp swim upstream against the river’s strong current, but few are capable or brave enough for the final leap over the waterfall. If a carp successfully makes the jump, it is transformed into a powerful dragon. A Chinese dragon’s large, conspicuous scales indicate its origin from a carp. The Chinese dragon has long been an auspicious symbol of great and benevolent, magical power. The image of a carp jumping over Dragon’s Gate is an old and enduring Chinese cultural symbol for courage, perseverance, and accomplishment.
You know, it’s always the picture you didn’t take that you later see its value. The small rise the koi had to go over is just to the left of the bridge… At the Dufu Thatched Cottage in Chengdu there is a small stream with stepping stones you have to traverse – as the large koi fish swim upstream and go over a small rise against the current. At first, watching the koi I thought little of their attempts. It was the larger fish who could “jump the gate” to go upstream that had little difficulty and became in affect dragons. The smaller fish struggled as if not quite ready to make the great leap forward just yet. Next time I’m in Chengdu this stream and koi jumping the dragon’s gate will be on my list again…
Historically, the dragon was the exclusive symbol of the emperor of China and the expression, Liyu Tiao Long Men, was originally used as a metaphor for a person’s success in passing very difficult imperial examinations required for entry into imperial administrative service, as in they too had jumped over the dragon’s gate themselves.
To this day, when a student from a remote country village passes the rigorous national university examination in China, friends and family proudly refer to the “Liyu Tiao Long Men.” More generally, the expression is used to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved. Similar to the salmon in the northwest along the Pacific Ocean in North America where they “jump the ladder” to lay their eggs. Once done they die. In death, they have succeeded with what was important to their life.
Once acknowledged, the question becomes where does that leave us? The difficulty of man is the seeming sense of self-importance that comes with ego. That’s the paradox living with others bring each day. As if, what is it we fill our days with but a test only we can find answers to with no answer ultimately better than another, except that found simply by cause and effect by simply letting nature find its true course. It is what lessons tending one’s garden teaches us and helps us to discover our true path, or way in letting go. Not in the typical sense of procrastinating, but waiting intuitively as if by second nature, for events themselves to convey the best way to proceed. It was this sense of patience that taught Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, to wait and let events foretell the future and only then to respond accordingly. To become like a leaf floating along in the breeze knowing the eventual outcome is assured and the results will be the same either way. Knowing what I know now, how could I become anything but an enigma to those who think they know me? Perhaps only here to describe the indescribable and in the end to be known as unknowable myself. Maybe a mystic…
Daimiao Temple TaiShan Mountain Entrance Once inside is the Peitian Gate and saying that is derived from Confucius, “The virtues match the heaven and the earth.” “Azure Dragon” and “White Tiger” – two of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations are enshrined here in the Main Hall of the Daimiao Temple in Tai’an north of Qufu at the base of Mount Taishan.
I wrote the below “Becoming Irrelevant” in April 1994, almost twenty-five years ago with no idea that ever actually going to China would be on the horizon. Any measure of success since then only found when others I meet don’t remember my name or if I was really present or not. Only the virtue I have left behind as I go by. I guess you could say I’ve been working on it ever since.
Know that inside and outside are the same. That truth and falsehood are not the issue and begin to travel with dragons on clouds in the sky. Know that there is no way to discuss the ultimate joy found in finding the true path of virtue and the oneness to be found in all things.
Physical descriptions become irrelevant to explanation of how all things fit together in a unifying purpose to be found as one yesterday, today and forever for all things to be found in the universe. The Tao teaches that the essential elements making up all things are to be found in everything only shaped in different ways. That sameness is the essential Tao. Coming to know this basic tenant is the underlying reason for one’s journey.
The journey is long and arduous. It is difficult to bear, hard to continue and only more impossible to endure. You are forever blown along with the wind. As a leaf with no real destination. Only a sense of purpose brought along for the ride into eternity as the crane and tortoise are to longevity and beyond.
Final destinations unknown. With nothing brought along as an itinerary except as the elements dictate things to come. A randomness that foregoes any relevance to anything not essential to the true way.
Assist only with the collapse of reason and find the path blocked for everything except what can begin again to be built on a true foundation. Built solid in the words and images of the Tao and by God himself as all that will be needed to succeed. 4/11/94 An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching. The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 66 and 67 appear below. Verses 1 through 65 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 66 – Reaching Perfect Harmony
In the middle of all lies perfect harmony. When you go to extremes you lose the natural balance found in all things. It is for this reason that knowledge is frowned upon for those who have not found their way. Knowledge in the hands of a person not grounded in the way of virtue is lost to the vagaries of the moment.
Knowledge leads to deception and deception to definitions of right and wrong that are self-serving and can become secretive and divisive.
Those who remain unconcerned about knowledge look to heaven and harmony with the world around them. Once in harmony with heaven, they learn to only do that which requires no effort. Once you see that everything you need to know already lies, or exists, within yourself you can begin to understand that the lack of knowledge spreads virtue. It is by governing himself, cultivating the virtue he shares with heaven, that the sage’s place in the scheme of things becomes clear.
The sage becomes so deep that he cannot be reached and is always found to be doing the opposite of others. He goes so far as to reach perfect harmony, an image mirroring the Tao.
Te-Ch’ing says, “All rivers flow to the sea, regardless of whether they are muddy or clear. And the sea is able to contain them all because it is adept at staying below them. This is a metaphor for the sage. The world turns to him because he is selfless.”
Ten Tsun says, “Rivers don’t flow toward the sea because of its reputation or its power, but because it does nothing and seeks nothing.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “When the sage possesses the kingdom, he speaks of himself as ‘orphaned, widowed, and impoverished,’ or ‘inheritor of the country’s shame and misfortune.’ Thus, in his speech, he places himself below others. He does not act unless he is forced. He does not respond unless he is moved. He does not rise unless he has no choice. Thus, in his actions he places himself behind others.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “When the sage rules over the people, he doesn’t oppress those below with his position. Thus, the people uphold him and don’t think of him as a burden. When he stands before them, he doesn’t blind them with his glory. Thus, the people love him as a parent and harbor no resentment. The sage is kind and loving and treats the people as if they were his children. Thus, the whole world wants him as their leader. The people never grow tired of him because he doesn’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something. But no one struggles against a person who doesn’t struggle against anything.”
Verse 67 – Thoughts on remaining a lower Presence
The sage’s challenge is to be present, but act as if he is not really here. Possessing the way, he sees himself as an orphan widowed and impoverished staying below those around him. He is as if the banks of a great river allowing everything to run through and past him, while he guides the way. He is like the receptacle of everything as it meets its end, as if the ocean remaining lower and capturing the water of a hundred rivers. While they pour into him, he barely notices except to be raised up by their presence.
For those who would benefit by the sage he must maintain a position lower than everyone around him.
If thrust to the forefront he must act as if he were behind. If seen as above others he must see that others remain unburdened by him.
While those around him continually push him forward he simply flows with events taking care not to struggle. Because he does not struggle no one can struggle against him. As no one can struggle against him he takes everything to new heights and places they would not otherwise go.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Lao Tzu says the world calls his virtue great. But if his virtue were great in name alone it would bring him harm. Hence, he acts stupid and useless. He doesn’t distinguish or differentiate. Nor does he demean others or glorify himself.”
Wang Pi says, “To be useful is to lose the means to be great.”
Su Ch’e says, “The world honors daring, exalts ostentation, and emphasizes progress. What the sage treasures is patience, frugality, and humility, all of which the world considers useless.”
Te Ch’ing says, “’Compassion’ means to embrace all creatures without reservation. ‘Austerity’ means not to exhaust what one already has. ‘Reluctance to excel’ means to drift through the world without opposing others.”
Wang An-Shih says, “Through compassion, we learn to be soft. When we are soft, we can overcome the hardest thing in the world. Thus, we can be valiant. Through austerity, we learn when to stop. When we learn when to stop, we are always content. Thus, we can be extravagant. Through reluctance to excel, we are excelled by no one. Thus, we can be chief of all tools. Valor, extravagance, and excellence are what everyone worries about. And because they worry, they are always on the verge of death.”
Mencius says, “He who is kind has no enemy under heaven” (7B.3).
Finding ourselves in the state of grace… and virtue
Verses 68 and 69 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
One of the first things I had to learn once I began this journey with study of the I Ching and Taoism… was that it’s not the job we have (Ram Dass’s – that the person I am from nine to five is not who I am from five to nine). And it is not where we are (physically), but who we are and the mindset from where are doing it from.
Once found they serve as a talisman, or object, holding magical properties that bring good luck to the possessor or protect the possessor from evil or harm. By any name, it’s simply something you can’t learn you just have to acknowledge to have it; to feel, then respond and just do. Knowing grace once found is both internal and eternal. That for each of us, it is just as five thousand years of complementary opposites with yin and yang has taught us. It is the same with grace and virtue, one cannot go forward without the presence of the other.
Talisman representing the mentor and teacher in China
The talisman simply a reminder of who we are and that it is those who follow the flow of nature that win. Those who cannot see it choose as if flying headlong into the wind.
As if the universe speaks to us through as what some would say divine mind, and it sometimes takes a traumatic life experience to get our attention. For me though, it is as if I alternate between the state of living in paradox (in the world with others present), versus living in the state of virtue (living within my own sense of enlightenment). Sometimes it’s easy seeing how the reclusive lifestyle of the sage becomes so attractive. Ultimately though, it is my writing that takes me there with my asking “where did that come from”.
Those who follow me here know I attempt to separate my daily activities on Facebook into two entities. One filled with personal input on the issues of the day, and the second for The Kongdan Foundation where I am honored to have more than five hundred followers (thank you).
Recent events regarding “politics” serve to remind me of why I left Springfield more than thirty years ago in 1987 and finding myself once again in the vagaries of the moment as life swirls around me. Where the ego of others seems to meet with the order of the day. When and how do people begin to see beyond themselves and acknowledge the imprint they leave behind? A challenge I have lived with for my entire life where a sense of grace and virtue seems to be in scant supply. This isn’t just a reality of the moment, but serves as a reminder as to why I am here and lessons to be learned this time.
It is like what my old friend Lao Tzu, who is said to have written the Tao Te Ching, came to understand. After being driven away once again from another city where self-aggrandizement ruled where he had served as an “adviser” to the powers that be. He was given a choice of leaving either with his head attached to his body… or not. Fortunately for the world tradition says he left his thoughts with Kuan-yin below before finding a mountaintop and disappearing into the clouds. (we should all be so lucky). Kuan-yin but the repository of great philosophy and writing through the ages. I wrote the following story many years ago that is included in my unpublished manuscript, “My travels with Lieh Tzu”, about great thinkers of the day expressing their similar sentiments very well. It can be found on my website.
The Corner Table
Wanting to continue the dialog with Kuan-yin, others come forward with the need to get involved in the discussion. To get in their own two cents worth. As many have come this way over the centuries and left with Kuan-yin bits and pieces of their knowledge and wisdom. The inn at the mountain pass the gateway to places where many have departed never to be seen as the person they were before. Many traveling this way. Not only the Taoists, but many who speak of the current thoughts of the hour. One’s entry only the desire to question authority and anything accepted by the standards or rules of the day.
Attention drawn to the table in the corner where many are speaking. Each taking his turn to add to the commentary at hand. Taoists, Confucians, Buddhists, Mohist, all. Each not questioning the legitimacy of the other, only adding to the discussion that which reaches the highest accord. Differences put aside for a while. Central themes the only point of discussion. As the plum wine flows and spirits reach higher and higher.
The discussion centering on the sage and his concern for knowledge, truth and falsehood, sincerity and where it all should lead. All agreeing on the principle that the sage knows what will go in by seeing what came out, knows what is coming by observing what has passed. This is the principle by which he knows in advance.
Concurring that when this knowledge is passed on to the world that those who cannot see beyond themselves cannot come forward to know the Way. That we judge by our own experience, verify by the experience of others. The Mohists present adding that if a man loves me, I am sure to love him; if he hates me I am sure to hate him. They all agreed that Teng and Wu became Emperors because they loved the Empire. While Chieh and Chou were ruined because they hated the Empire. With everyone nodding around the table shaking his head with this knowledge as their own verification.
Kuan-yin then adding that Lao Tzu had told him that when judgment and verification are both plain, refusing to act on them is like refusing to go by the door when you leave or follow the path when you walk. If you do this, will it not be difficult to get the benefit you seek?
Nods of agreement going around the table, all present in awe still that Kuan-yin had had such a privilege to have been the one to have taken down the words of Lao Tzu and could even now recite them so well. In the good natured banter that followed, they all knew the above to be true as the red faced Kuan-yin tries to step back out of the limelight. As knowing glances around the table convey a togetherness they just for this moment all share and cherish.
Several then chiming in together that they had observed this in the virtue of Shennong and Yu‑yen, verified it in the books of Shun and the Hsia, Shang and Chou dynasties. That they had reached their own conclusions by the exemplary scholars and worthy men they had each met. That they had never found a case where survival or ruin, rise and decline did not derive from this principle. With this, all those left could do was to thank the innkeeper for such great hospitality as each of those present paid their tally, went upstairs to sleep or outside to catch the wind and wonder. 7/30/95
When I returned to Springfield, it was a returning home where I grew up here in southwest Missouri, graduated from then SMSU, served in the Missouri House for a couple years, and helped to found the Westside Community Betterment Association with my friend Virgil Hill. To what most people would refer to as my source… family, people, and places I knew while growing up, etc., etc.
Now as I prepare to leave for China and Tibet for a month, I feel the same disconnect I felt all those years ago when I left the first time. That I may be where it is considered to be my home, but I am not pursuing my own highest endeavor and destiny by being satisfied with where I am just now. Almost as if returning to Springfield was nothing more than “catching my breath on a cloud, or wind, before it passes me by”. That ultimately, it is not only where you are but who you are… and can you get to where you are going from the place you are now. And the bigger question – am I fulfilling my ultimate purpose in the context of where I now reside content to simply bringing others along for the ride through my writing?
As if asking how can I add more to what I have already written? Or what I have found in traveling to Qufu for almost twenty years with those present asking how to put this virtue into practice. In reality, it becomes the ultimate paradox. A question I will ponder later this month while in contemplation and reflection while sitting atop Huashan Mountain in China. The place where Lao Tzu is said to have frequented and maybe just follow the footsteps of my old friend and mentor…
With Lieh Tzu leading the Way
As always Lieh Tzu, my brother, has changed his tune in immortality. While a reclusive sage on earth he now leads the way. Laughing at the others.
Hoping as always to instill bits of wisdom into their eternal endeavors. As he is now found flying circles around the dragons all assembled. Ultimately showing up others who should know better than to challenge him to anything short of calling for a full accounting for anything.
The dragons are converging with Lieh Tzu leading the charge. While others, especially Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, stay behind taking up the rear guard finding humor in the procession. Looking down on lesser clouds they see many who have taken up the challenge over the centuries who have heard their inner voice and traveled far along the way to immortality’s doorstep and beyond. A newcomer has gotten their attention.
He has listened well and conveys the words of the dragons in his writings well beyond his years.
Everything coming natural to the one they refer to among themselves as Cloud Dancing, as he seems adept to the ways of nature and has become a well-respected Master Gardener. Always tending to the ways of his garden as one eternally linked to all that the cycles encourage and in fact require.
His journey in fact is just beginning. However, great strides have the attention of all assembled. 4/12/94
All these entries written from the past are like pearls on a string that convey a story that connects all to the Tao. Moving from our human frailties, our moral weaknesses and liability to yield to temptation – to our higher selves. Ultimately, it comes down to as I said before… where are you doing it from and can you get there from where you are now. As if your present purpose is to discover why it is you find yourself where you are just now. Truly the paradox living brings each day.
As Chuang Tzu’s Perfected Man
As Chuang Tzu’s Perfected Man begins by abandoning the ways of the world, you begin by simply letting go of that which is not significant to the Tao. As you are now seen traveling with old friends who guide you along an unknowable path or way.