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.
Just as the dragons would have it, they are pleased.
Eternal sacrifice made to capture the moment knowing everything rests on your finding and staying on the road yet to be traveled. Searching for immortality and freedom to go where few have gone before. Just as a sage would find the true reality of all things. Always leading the way. Knowing that the Tao is everywhere to be found by simply looking and understanding what is and finding one’s own standard within the oneness found through both grace and virtue.
Eternity existing forever both before, now and yet to come. As you continually search for your place in the overall scheme of things. With a comfort known as something done repetitively over and over again. A great sense of satisfaction that all becomes and is second nature.
Remain simply within the oneness of everything and pursue nothing ethereal as the reclusive sage. Complete with the knowledge of the Tao and understanding what it means. Remember from where you have come. As we are here to remind you of where you will return with us. Everything is here within yourself to rediscover and relearn. Keep to the open road as the Perfected Man and know immortality can only follow. 4/12/94
Sometimes its necessary not to question what comes next on the journey. Just setting the stage is enough as stay simply with the flow open to where it might lead. Everything nothing more than coming to terms with my own reflection. Repeating again until ingrained that both inside and outside are the same your way is guided by desire to discover what comes next. For myself, it’s just to stay in tune with eternity and follow my instincts knowing that’s all I’ll ever need.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (13 GATHERING / Heaven over Fire) 2/11/94. The below is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
Forces staying in the Field
Seek refuge and gather your common forces. Nature provides character and patience. Know and use both and enhance your field of vision to your full advantage.
Maintain your forces but keep them busy growing vegetables and tending livestock in the field. The dragons gather to take counsel preparing for the inevitable attack. The call goes out for everyone to seek shelter.
Adhering to principle in a crisis unifies all to a common purpose. Stay alert and be prepared. Know the task at hand and know the enemy. When attacked repel with vigor and strength as one knowing the best way to preserve peace is to promote and know harmony.
Death and sadness bring both honor and victory. All are the same, only different to the eyes of the beholder. Continue growing vegetables and tending the livestock. Victory certain comfort your neighbors with knowledge of the eventual outcome. Fires burning high can be seen by dragons’ dancing on clouds in the sky.
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 68 and 69 appear below.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 68 – Rising to the forefront with Compassion
Refraining from greatness is an obstacle the sage finds himself continually up against. As he goes forth in compassion others are drawn to his light. While he prefers to remain in the background, others are quick to recognize his virtue and vision. While he prefers not to distinguish or differentiate himself, he goes out of his way not to demean or glorify himself. Once the sage becomes useful to others, so does the means to be great. He therefore prefers to remain in the background and stay small.
The sage counters this rush to judgment by upholding his sense of integrity by treasuring inner patience, frugality and humility. He does this by living a simple life based on compassion, a sense of austerity and a reluctance to excel as if life were drifting through the world without opposing others.
Just as the sage is reminded of when at the age of eighteen he wrote something that has remained the underpinning of who he was yet to become… “That sorrowful feelings mean nothing if there is no compassion felt”.
He has now come full circle in gaining an understanding of where and how all things in the universe fit together. That all things serve a purpose and that if we renounce compassion for valor without recognizing that being soft allows us to overcome what is most difficult, anything seen as success would be shallow or non-existent. That the sage can be austere by learning when to stop and content with just what he has this moment, thereby living in both hardship and extravagance. By standing back, or aside, as if we are reluctant to excel no one excels us.
Since the sage does not compete, what he brings to the table allows him to understand the root of all problems, or underlying contradiction and do only that which must be done. The sage is moved by compassion as the ultimate expression of the Tao.
Compassion defined as protecting the ten thousand things under heaven and remaining prepared for and knowing any outcome that may follow.
Ho-Shang Kong says, “Those who honor the Way and Virtue are not fond of weapons. They keep hatred from their hearts. They eliminate disaster before it arrives. Hey are angered by nothing. They use kindness among neighbors and virtue among strangers. And they conquer their enemies without fighting. They command through humility.”
Lieh Tzu says, “He who governs others with worthiness never wins them over. He who serves them with worthiness never fails to gain their support” (6.3).
Wang Chen says, “You must first win their hearts before you can command others.”
Wu Ch’eng says, “Even though our wisdom and power might surpass that of others, we should act as if we possessed neither. By making ourselves lower than others, we can use their wisdom and power as our own. Thus, we can win without taking arms, without getting angry, and without making enemies. By using the virtue of nonaggression and the power of others, we are like Heaven, which overcomes without fighting and reaches its goal without moving.”
Verse 69 – Conveying the utmost virtue through non-aggression
The sage is careful not to proceed in anger or acrimony. As everything under the sun comes to pass is not it our responsibility to look for the perfect solution. He sets the example for others to follow.
He knows full well that as quickly that anger can turn to joy, that joy can respond in anger and to what end. As he follows his mentors, he is reminded that throughout the ages those who think means can justify the ends have accomplished nothing. This is why the age-old analogy that nothing can be right if it can be right for one and wrong for another. How can the Tao support one and not the other? This is why the sage leads by example with the foremost desire to remain empty and still. That “doing nothing” is simply emptying your mind and body of anything foreign to the Tao, as no one can fight against nothing.
In ancient times, long before Lao, Chuang, Lieh and even Confucius, everything remained perfect. The perfect army was not armed, the perfect warrior was not angry, the perfect victor was not hostile and the perfect commander acted humble.
It is the sage’s highest aspiration to remind others of from where they came and to convey the utmost virtue of non-aggression by using strength and weakness of others to show the way. To be reminded of from where he came, as if from above. While his heart remains below uniting all things under heaven and the Tao.
Is not this his ultimate purpose? Maintaining ties with his old friends to move all those around him towards their proper end.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “According to the Tao of warfare, we should avoid being the first to mobilize troops, and we should go to war only after receiving Heaven’s blessing.”
Lu Hui-Ch’ing says, “The host resists, and the guest agrees. The host toils, and the guest relaxes. One advances with pride, while the other retreats in humility. One advances with action, while the other retreats in quiet. He who meets resistance with agreement, toil with relaxation, pride with humility, and action with quiet has no enemy. Wherever he goes he conquers.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “In warfare the sage leaves no trace. He advances by retreating.”
Te-Ch’ing says, “When opponents are evenly matched, and neither is superior, the winner is hard to determine. But if one is remorseful and compassionate, he will win. For the Way of Heaven is to love life and to help those who are compassionate to overcome their enemies.”
Dancing with Chi
Verses 70 and 71 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
Confucius says, “I study what is below and understand what is above. Who knows me? Only Heaven” (Lunyu: 14-37).
Everything that ever was everything now and that ever will be is within you now to find. All that there ever was to know or that there will be to know is within you to find.
You have been everywhere there has been to see, have seen all that there is to see and, in the future, will see all that there ever will be to see.
Taoist Ritual / Temple of the Eight Immortals
You are not a know-it-all. But you know all that there is to know. Simply come to know yourself and remember what you have forgotten. Simply to find again, again and again. 2/6/94
(From The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon found here on my website. From the contents of my book I wrote in 1994 and published in China in 2004 by Blue Wind Publishing in Beijing. The book, An American Journey through the I Ching and Beyond, can be found online in China at http://www.ecph.com.cn).
I love the Kung Fu Panda movies. The second sequel not so much, but the first and third versions were right on the mark. People laugh when I tell them, but they don’t understand the context of inner peace, tai chi, and most importantly, finding and identifying with your inner self, your chi. In western parlance we would say your soul. Discovering who we are and identifying with our highest purpose, or endeavor, is the reason we’re here that defines our destiny. It is always a choice and takes courage to go there. The thought that it is in teaching others that helps you become who you really are… and that if you only do what you can do you will never be more than you are now. That means when you can identify with what comes naturally to you, you follow it always assured the next step will become known to you. Master Oogway saw in the panda something he himself didn’t know existed, but was able to manifest through kung fu and becoming a master of his chi. An inherent trait that exists in all of us. Or even as Don Henley sang when we come to The end of the Innocence. The problem with chi is that what is given can be taken away and that you can only master chi by first knowing who you really are. The essence of kung fu, as if wishing upon a star, is knowing your half-way home and taking that next step.
Entering the Matrix of ultimate change/helping others to know who they were meant to be… Knowing the above, I leave for China, and hopefully Tibet on what most people would call a sabbatical. No Facebook, no TV, no family. Only doing things that are geared to take me and my writing to the next step. As if nothing is in my backpack except the camera, paper, pen, and the Tao.
Regardless of rather I return in a month or not, my only promise is not to return as the person I am now. It is as Eric Butterworth said in the title of his book… The universe is calling. It is as though mountaintops simply are again waiting for my arrival. Arrangements to go to Tibet are always uncertain until arriving in China and doing paperwork and securing travel. Passport and visa must be submitted at least ten days in advance prior to entry. You must travel with a group. Individual travel is frowned upon. I would not be traveling to Tibet until after the October 1st national holiday where eating moon cakes is the most common tradition. (This is the time when the annual Moon Festival is held in China) and would not go until after October 8th (my birthday). I will return to USA on October 18th, so there is time. I had planned to go last year to Tibet when I was in China for six weeks, but it proved too complicated and my planning ahead should have been better. If I do not go to Tibet (I did), I’ve been invited to teach at the Confucius College in Qufu instead. Maybe I can do both. I cannot use Google or Facebook while in China. I will however be doing a daily blog from here on my website. I hope you will check in while I’m gone.
I begin this trip (I’ve been to China almost fifty times and in and out of Beijing what seems like a hundred) in Beijing for two days before heading for Qufu highlighted by a visit to the National Museum. I have been to many other national museums (Chengdu, Xian, and Shanghai), but this is my first visit to the museum in Beijing. I like to try to attach items to the different time periods and dynasties I’m studying and writing about.
I wanted to stay three days, but could not get a train ticket for Friday, September 21st because all train tickets had been pre-sold for the weekend, several weeks prior to the holiday and purchasing a ticket was not possible.
Da Yu (ding) from the Early Western Zhou 11th-10th BC
Fortunately, I was able to get a fast train ticket for Thursday evening the night before. Two years ago, on October 1st, due to a problem with my passport at the train station in Beijing, the only ticket was a “standing ticket”, Yes, that meant a ten-hour overnight train ride standing up in the isle. I thought then… I’m too old for this. I’ll turn 66 on this trip.
Once you have been a teacher, especially at a university in another country in my case China, others look and perceive you differently. Especially for many in China who consider me a scholar regarding Chinese history and philosophy. When I was teaching (I have more than 400 students most of them now teachers themselves), who while looking at me as their foreign teacher, ultimately my classes were about “how do I become a better person through being able to better express myself”. And for them, if I hope to become a teacher, how do I become a better citizen of the world through learning English as a second language?
This coming from students coming from all over Shandong Province and Qufu, where Confucius was the ultimate teacher, and respect for teachers is considered paramount.
Dan with students at Jining University
There is even a national holiday every May to celebrate the role of teachers in China. Because of Confucius, it begins with benevolence and virtue and culminates with respect for your elders. When I was teaching, while it was ostensibly about learning English it was more about how to become a better person. How to discover and find your niche, and “mastering your chi”, that focuses on your strengths and knowing your weaknesses and then to build on that with virtue. In The Book of Lieh Tzu expressed here on my website as My Travels with Lieh Tzu, there is a chapter entitled Confucius and the following story:
What sort of man follows Confucius? Four men who served him are looked upon as examples. The first, superior in kindness, the next better in eloquence, the third stronger in courage, and the fourth exceeding in dignity. All a cut above Confucius in their endeavors. Yet they chose to serve him, why is this so?
What is virtue, but that which springs forth from one’s eternal chi or soul? How can one man judge another when he has his own journey he must follow, his own destiny to find? What is there to possibly come to understand and know except the inner workings of ourselves and the loving kindness that subsequently follows?
Confucius explains: “The first is kind, but cannot check the impulse to act when it will do no good.
Confucius with his students Confucius Painting Society
The next is eloquent but knows not when to speak. The third is brave, but is impulsive and knows not when to be cautious, and the fourth is dignified, but cannot accept others opinions when it is their turn to speak. Even if I could exchange the virtue of these four, why would I, when they are less than my own? This is why they have chosen to serve me without question? Each person must learn their own way in the world. Can mine possibly be better than the path another has chosen to follow?”
Have not those who have decided to follow the ways of Confucius done so without questioning right and wrong, benefit and harm? Letting everything play out to its rightful end to discover their own true destiny. Since the establishment of government destroys the path for all but the true sage is it not best to find the way to govern properly for the benefit of all. Looking you cannot find it, listening you cannot hear it. In the end, there is nothing to be found again and again. 3/14/95
I’ve been asked many times the meaning of the comparison between yin and yang and grace and virtue since my last post. In China, when one thinks of virtue, you automatically think of Confucius and benevolence. To me, benevolence and the true meaning of kung fu and tai chi, combine both grace and virtue as one. Flowing with the movements of tai chi is not a thirty-minute exercise, but a way of life. Identifying with your chi and letting it take you there, while grace opens us to our higher consciousness and becoming translucent. As when going through every day experiences. The more self-aware you become the more you notice and recognize grace when it happens and you flow with it. Our task is to remain within this flow that connects us to the ten thousand things, to nature, and the universe.
To my thinking, they are inseparable. Asking the same question. As if able to unite both sides of the yin and yang, as if inherently becoming the residence of complimentary opposites yourself. Once you have it – what do you do with it? It’s like the hermit who lived on the mountain with no amenities just the silence found in his cave. Once discovered he was implored to come down to the village where others were seeking spiritual guidance to teach them for the benefit of all he had learned. The hermit knew that the time of his return to the world was upon him.
As a practicing Buddhist, and with his bodhisattva vow, he must renounce the bliss of solitude for the welfare of the many. He did so and the world became a better place for it. While I consider myself a Taoist, I am pulled to the filling of the senses I find in Buddhism.
Buddhist sutras on their initial trip via elephants to China from India. Big Wild Goose Pagoda Xian
When traveling around China I seem to go to as many or more Buddhist Temples as Taoist and memorials to Confucius. It seems as though they serve as if a re-discovering of what lies in every human heart, as well as, showing the journey ahead as if a road map. That its not enough to bask in the glories of the past, but to take active part in shaping the future. What is our ultimate role to be? The task as with us seems never done. Maybe even to the pull of going to Tibet this time.
Can you go back to who you were so you know what to do going forward as the shaman, I Ching, and Tao have always said? Or do we start anew each time? Maybe just filling in the blanks of inequities we are here to correct this time. Or perhaps simply coming in tune with our chi once again. Knowing that you have always roamed the sky with dragons… that mastering your own chi will be the key to doing so again. Or maybe even to just relay to the dragons what you have learned this time as you bring them and others along for the ride too.
Giving and receiving directions Huangshan Mountain
What is it each of us seek, but the stability of a sanctuary until we have fulfilled our own sacred purpose with energy and compassion. Perhaps to inspire, uplift, and empower others in their own journey. Maybe to become both the student and the teacher again. Or perhaps reaching the conclusion that realization can only be found in the stillness and solitude of nature.
Maybe it is as Joseph Campbell described as “the stream of bliss that flows once one comes in-tune or finds his rhythm with the universe”.
It is here that one finds an unspeakable peace and happiness. That the dormant powers of light are buried in every soul just waiting to come forth as our chi to find and sing out once again. As with Autumn, and this time of year, celebrating the harvest and knowing that with patience we can wait for new growth and new beginnings that begin again in the Spring.
A Plum Abundance
Learn, value and know the ways of your garden. Nature tends to care for those who tend to it. A celebration coming!
Mother earth is plentiful. Having patience and knowing the seasons brings forth a reason to celebrate. Keeping victory close to the chest throwing defeat through an open window.
Girl in Bloom Sichuan Museum
Tending to nature has determined if we are hungry or if we will eat well until the ground thaws in the Spring. As the plums are picked know that harmony brings forth the fruits of our labors. Reminders that patience and discipline are but part of the cycle down the correct path.
Building great fires once again put the dragons on notice. Remembering that if failure is to be avoided, sacrifice must be made to satisfy the heavens. Remain astute following those who follow the symmetry of the seasons.
The Lynx Sichuan Museum
An important occasion. Apples, peaches, plums and pumpkins signify abundance. Be grateful and know that success is riding on coattails through the sky.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (14 GREAT HARVEST / Fire over Heaven). 2/12/94
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating.
Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 70 and 71 appear below.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 70 – Putting things in Divine Order or being the Guest at a fine Banquet
In greeting those who would oppose him, the sage proceeds as if at a fine banquet. He responds only after his host sets the table and blessings have been received from heaven.
He advances innately ready to retreat with the slightest provocation.
Coming to Terms Home of the Eight Immortals Xian
While the host may resist, the guest remains free to compromise. While the host toils to improve his position, the guest relaxes. While the host appears busy with much activity, he retreats in quiet. The sage remains prepared to meet resistance with agreement, toil with relaxation, pride with humility and action with quiet. Knowing in reality he has no opposition or enemy as he remains fully enmeshed in whatever outcome that may arrive.
The Sage meeting resistance with agreement At home with the Eight Immortals
While the sage works to bring all together under the sun, as if an umbrella out of harm’s way, he is often evenly matched by those who are happy with leaving things just the way they are.
While they may be content to only expand their treasure, he is concerned with illustrating the traits of compassion and the Tao.
While remorseful about where he may find himself, the sage knows no fate is worse than having no enemy. As opposites are required for either him or the Tao to proceed, he quickly thanks his host for the sumptuous meal and then quickly and quietly recedes.
Wang P’ang says, “Because the sage teaches us to be in harmony with the course of our life, him words are simple, and his deeds are ordinary. Those who look within himself understand. Those who follow their own nature do what is right. Difficulties arise when we turn away from the trunk and follow the branches.”
Li His-Chai says, “The Tao is easy to understand and put into use. It is also hard to understand and hard to put to use. It is easy because there is no Tao to discuss, no knowledge to learn, no effort to make, no deeds to perform. And it is hard because the Tao cannot be discussed, because all words are wrong, because it cannot be learned, and because the mind only leads us astray. Effortless stillness is not necessarily right. And actionless activity is not necessarily wrong. This is why it is hard”.
Su Ch’e says, “Words can trap the Tao, and deeds can reveal its signs. But if the Tao could be found in words, we would only have to listen to words.
Image at entrance to Confucius Temple in Qingdao
And if it could be seen in deeds, we would only have to examine deeds. But it cannot be found in words or seen in deeds. Only if we put aside words and look for heir ancestor, put aside deeds and look for their master, can we find it.”
Ten Tsun says, “Wild geese fly for days but don’t know what exists beyond the sky. Officials and scholars work for years, but none of them knows the extent of the Way. It’s beyond the ken and beyond the reach of narrow-minded, one-sided people.”
Verse 71 – Proceeding with little or no Fanfare
The sage’s motives are seldom understood and no one is usually very quick to employ them. Even though his words are easy to understand and put into practice.
Comprehending the Tao The Eight Immortals
He is reminded of the old proverb. “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand”. Confucius adds that one should study what is below and understand what is above. Besides, who can know the motives of the sage, except heaven? Understanding something that cannot be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or heard seems beyond comprehension.
However, all things have ancestors and nothing can begin unless something else moves out of the way and ends. The sage remains an enigma to those around him as he is somehow different than others.
The ultimate arbiter The Eight Immortals
He does not simply see himself only in terms of the here and now. But acknowledges his presence in what has come. Up to now since antiquity and that he has seen it all before as he is assured that his destiny is to one day return to be one with the dragons.
While it is the Tao and one universally referred to as God that is to be exalted, the sage is often considered in high esteem because he can be seen. Knowing this he strives to wear plain clothes and attempt, however difficult, to remain unseen and let others lead the way. He remains difficult to know because he seldom reveals his true self, as once revealed his opposition would request equal billing. But then again, who could oppose the sage for long.
Confucius says, “Shall I teach you about understanding? To treat understanding as understanding and to treat not understanding as not understanding, this is understanding” (Lunyu: 2.17).
Remaining Unseen Sichuan Museum Chengdu
Te-Ch’ing says, “The ancients said that the word ‘understanding’ was the door to all mysteries as well as the door of all misfortune. If you realize you don’t understand, you eliminate false understanding. This is the door to all mysteries. If you cling to understanding while trying to discover what you don’t understand, you increase the obstacles to understanding. This is the door to all misfortune.”
Ts’ao Tao-Chung says, “If someone understands, but out of humility he says he doesn’t understand, this is when reality is superior to name. Hence, we call it transcendence. If someone doesn’t understand but says he does understand, this is when name surpasses reality. Hence, we call this an affliction. Those who are able to understand that affliction is affliction are never afflicted.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “To understand the Tao yet to say that we don’t is the transcendence of virtue. Not to understand the Tao and to say that we do is the affliction of virtue. Lesser people don’t understand the meaning of the Tao and vainly act according to their forced understanding and thereby harm their spirit and shorten their years. The sage doesn’t suffer the affliction of forced understanding because he is pained by the affliction of others.”
The Journey Continues…
Verses 72 and 73 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries
As I begin this trip I am reminded that the practice of self-reflection is not a result of intellectual analysis or complex theories. Our challenge is to just see reality as it is… how everything fits and connects together.
Warren Buffett puts it this way, “You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and let everything pass.”
Controlling and managing our breath, or chi (qi), as it is referred to in China… learning to breathe as if all-encompassing from the soles of our feet, not simply our abdomen or stomach, the secret to finding inner peace. Setting the stage so that our mind and body follow the flow of who we are meant to be. Meshing the outer world with our inner selves while finding comfort in the details and rhythm that takes us there. As if tuning in means adapting only to what is considered to be our “highest endeavor and destiny’. Always setting the stage and tone for what must unknowingly come next. Letting go of any perceived idea of what outcomes may occur. Simply following what the universe and the Tao tells you along the way and to go where my writing takes me.
I am reminded of William James and his work of metaphysics and especially Emerson who spoke of “the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related to the eternal One. And to Walt Whitman who said that no God could be found “more divine than yourself.”
In the end we must transcend our fear of meaninglessness. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be a great trip. I hope you will want to tag along here on my blog.
In my previous post I mentioned this trip to China was a sabbatical. What is a sabbatical some may ask? By definition it is considered any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc. Writing and maintaining this website and Facebook page for my foundation is my work, further clarifying what is/should be my role would be my job description. That’s a great question. What is our life’s job description? How do we as Master Oogway says, become the “master of our chi”? Shouldn’t a sabbatical serve to further define the role of the sage? As with the Tao and life itself, everything is context.
As with the I Ching, you must know what comes at the beginning in order to find a rightful end. With everything in between occurring simply through cause and effect. It’s funny, after all these years of traveling to China, it is as if I live two lives. Here in USA I am simply known as Dan. In China, my friends and colleagues call me Kongdan. Amazing, one of the first things I wrote that serves as the preface of my unpublished book “My travels with Lieh Tzu” is as follows:
It is said that each of us is granted two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live after that. To perchance awaken midstream in our lives, as if we have been re‑born; given an opportunity to find and follow our true destiny and endeavor. That our ultimate task is not only to discover who we are, but where we belong in history. Is not this the ultimate challenge? To simply rise up, traveling as one with the prevailing winds. Becoming one with the angels, or dragons, as they manifest before us. Letting our spirit soar. Freeing our mind, heart, and soul to go where few dare to wonder.
I know my task as a writer will be complete when my writing is as indefinable as my subject. Just as I know my task as an individual, as I exist in the here and now, will be to simply tell the stories that I have learned along the way.
The Eternal One Shaanxi Museum Xian
That we each have a story to tell. As we free ourselves of attachments and ego and baggage we have clung to as we try to find our way. That the ultimate travel is the travel of our spirit and that the ultimate giving is to share our gift with others.
To become one with the ages. To bring forth the stories, myths and legends that tell the way. To stay interested in life, as I am in reality here only for an instant before moving on. My task only to look for constant renewal. Finally, true expression of self is in losing myself through expressing the voices of the past. That I am here to relay that the fears and hopes of humanity rest not in where we find ourselves in the here and now. But in reality, to find and reflect our inner nature waiting to be re‑discovered and built upon again and again.
That all true learning is self-learning of who we ultimately are to become. That once we have awakened so that we can see beyond ourselves, then have not we found our spirits traveling the winds through eternity. This being so, could there be a more ultimate way of travel than to be found traveling with Lieh Tzu? 1/21/96
Yes, I wrote the above twenty-two years ago. Almost six months before going to China the first time in May 1997 to adopt my daughter Katie in Maoming, in Guangdong Province. So, considering the above, I could say this trip to China, a sabbatical as such, is one in keeping with an eternal desire for “constant renewal”. As if even now letting the dragons lead the way forward.
Finally, in wrapping my head around my upcoming journey to Lhasa, I like to think about the Lotus Sutra from Buddhism and begin with a koan and frame of mind in what may include a trip to Tibet.
A koan is a nonsensical or paradoxical question from a teacher to his student for which an answer is required.
The Buddha at rest Wuhan Temple in Chengdu
If one is meditating on the question the answer can be very illuminating. In Buddhism we can choose to take refuge in the way, or sanity of enlightenment, the Buddha; trust the process of the path, the Dharma; and rely on the experience of those who guide us along the path, the Sangha. These three are often called “the three jewels”. In the Lotus Sutra the story “Manjushri Enters the Gate”, the first case from the classic collection The Iron Flute appears. In Buddhist mythology, the bodhisattva Manjushri is the embodiment of wisdom, and a statue of him sits atop the main altar in Zen Buddhist meditation halls. In the koan, the Buddha calls to Manjushri, who is standing outside the temple gate, “Manjushri, Manjushri, why don’t you enter?” Manjushri answers, “I don’t see a thing outside the gate. Why should I enter?”
He is saying he does not discriminate between inside the gate and outside. But still he chooses not to enter. Maybe he should accept the Buddha’s invitation to enter the temple. Truly entering the gate—truly connecting to the Buddha’s teaching—is to directly experience that there is no inside and outside. This is not just an idea: you can’t understand it from the outside. Having entered though, don’t think you are inside and others are still outside. Everyone enters with you.
Entering the gate means entering your life. Entering the Lotus Sutra means entering your life. This is a part of Buddhist practice. Practice means allowing the Lotus Sutra to enter you. To practice this way is to risk having your understanding of things overturned, again and again. This takes faith, faith enough to risk faith itself. So, we have a choice. We can complacently watch life from the sidelines, or we can risk our pride, our ideas, and whatever else we use to separate ourselves from others and leap fully into our life. Take that leap and you will find the Lotus Sutra wherever you go. ##
The key for me, in appreciating this story, is that there is there is a gate for each of us to open and that there is no separation between you, others, and all that is found in nature and the universe. Having faith enough to risk faith itself, and that we have a choice.
The Vinegar Tasters… Lao Tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha
Going forward in what comes over the coming month it’s easy to see the juxtaposition, how Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucius have existed closely together almost side by side for thousands of years in China. I hope to explore and write about this “connection”. That all life and that found in nature is sacred. From the smallest bee pollinating a flower to the largest galaxy with stars far beyond the horizon. That we are ultimately here to alleviate suffering not create more. I hope you will join me in this endeavor.
Remaining pretentious and keeping to ostentation in one’s actions brings unwanted attention.
Simplify! Simplify! When leaving one’s house and shutting the door to visit friends and neighbors it is important to wear and show the proper countenance about oneself. But first you must know without knowing to succeed.
Strive to be of no account and be truly accounted for by all you encounter. Others will seek your favor as you are soon noted for your wise counsel, knowledge of events and as a good teacher.
The Calling Shanghai Museum
Remain unpretentious and find sincerity and kindness knowing that if you forget today’s lesson the only thing you’ll meet is scorn.
Propriety well placed will be received modestly by all. Making your goals and ambitions the goals and ambitions of all will bring everyone to your doorstep seeking comfort in your shadow. But first you must know without knowing to succeed.
Know humility and restraint. Know how to become unassuming and know constraint. Refrain from entering the fray on the side of self interest and know your true self. Enjoy a reputation and retreat into the peacefulness of all things.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (15 MODESTY / Earth over Heaven). 2/12/94
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 72 and 73 appear below. The balance will be seen here over the coming weeks. Hopefully, I can complete this journey through Lao Tzu on this trip to China and Tibet.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 72 – Understanding one’s own affliction
What can it possibly mean to say we understand something when there can be no understanding as our attachments and afflictions keep coming forward for all to see? As we spend all our time thinking we don’t understand, when what we need has been before us trying to get our attention that brings us to understanding.
How can we understand when understanding depends on things independent of each other coming together for their own sake? What can there be to understanding when the answers seem to lie beyond us?
Ann at Mencius Temple in Zhoucheng
Can we understand our true place in the universe once we know we are only here to come to know our spirit’s true affliction? Treating our affliction, or hardship, as a result our of lack of ability to see ourselves as who we ultimately are to become? If we cannot see beyond our transitory ego and self, how can we come to know why we are here?
Or if as we say someone can awaken midstream to understand his or her place in the universe, as if suddenly seeing the light, can that understanding be understood?
Tributes to Mencius in Zhoucheng
Just as trying to understand the Tao through reasoning when there is no door or entrance that defines what remains indefinable. When often tried, the sage is seen as having an affliction. When in reality the sage is not afflicted, he simply remains above understanding so that hardship or difficulty cannot find him.
Wang P’ang says, “When people are simple and their lives are good, they fear authority. But when those above lose the Way and enact all sorts of measures to restrict the livelihood of those below, people respond with deceit and are no longer subdued by authority. When this happens, natural calamities occur and misfortune arise.”
The School of Mencius Zhoucheng
Wang Pi says, “In tranquility and peace is where is where we should dwell. Humble and empty is where we should live. But when we forsake tranquility to pursue desires and abandon humility for authority, creatures are disturbed and people are distressed. When authority cannot restore the world. severed, and natural calamities occur.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “He knows what he has and what he doesn’t have. He doesn’t display his virtue outside but keeps it hidden inside. He loves his body and protects his essence and breath. He doesn’t exalt or glorify himself before the world.”
Verse 73 – Staying out of the way of our own Enlightenment
For the sage that is fully engaged, keeping ego at arm’s length is his reminder of how far he has yet to travel. As he steps back for a moment to review the road map that illustrates the starting point of his journey, the road he has traveled thus far and what he hopes to learn about himself in the days ahead. Letting go and letting his friends, the dragons, lead the way.
Two Famous Dragons London Museum
His journey through the Tao Te Ching is now almost complete. He’s come far enough to know that keeping his virtue in tact requires his simply knowing himself and remaining hidden from view as he leads the way.
Scoffing at the paradox that authority always brings to the table. That those who fear authority are usually better off than those who have authority to fear. Knowing that if there are no restrictions where people live and we don’t repress how they want to live, people won’t protest. If they don’t protest there is nothing to fear. Thus, the sage is mindful of his role. Careful to keep his ego in check as he knows his ultimate success will only be measured by what is left behind as he remains unattached to things outside himself.
Dragon wine decanter from Yongle and Xuande reign (1403-35) made at kilns in Jingdezhen London Museum
He focuses only his own journey letting events propel him forward to destinations as yet unknown.
His only challenge to stay out of the way of his own enlightenment.
Li His-Chai says, “Everyone knows about daring to act but not about daring not to act. Those who dare to act walk on the edge of a knife. Those who dare not to act walk down the middle of the path. Comparing these two, walking on a knife-edge is harmful, but people ignore the harm. Walking down the middle of the path is beneficial, but people are not aware of the benefit. Thus it is said, ‘People can walk on the edge of a knife but not down the middle of a path’” (Chungyung:9).
Wu Ch’eng says, “Because the sage does not lightly kill others, evildoers slip through his net, but not the Net of Heaven. Heaven does not use is strength to fight against evildoers as Man does, and yet it always triumphs. It does not speak with a mouth as Man does, and yet it answers faster than an echo. It does not have to be summoned but arrives on its own. Evil has its evil reward. Even the clever cannot escape. Heaven is unconcerned and unmindful, but its retribution is ingenious and beyond the reach of human plans. It never lets an evildoer slip through its net. The sage does not have to kill him. Heaven will do it for him.”
Wang An-Shih says, “Yin and Yang take turns, the four seasons come and go, the moon waxes and wanes. All things have their time. They don’t have to be summoned to come.”
September 18-20 / Beijing and the National Museum
Verses 74 and 75 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries. A narrative of my trip to China and Tibet – part tour guide / part sojourn.
al style: the water of Beihai (Northern Sea) with Zhongnanhai (Central and Southern Seas) is the Taiye Pool; the Jade Flowery (Qionghua) Islet, the island of the Circular City and the Xishantai Island represent the three magic mountains. It was initially built in the Liao Dynasty (916 – 1125) and was repaired and rebuilt in the following dynasties including Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing (1115 – 1911). The large-scale rebuilding in the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) generally established the present scale and pattern.
To the northwest in the park is the Nine-Dragon Wall, which is the only screen having nine huge dragons on both sides and is among the most famous three Nine-Dragon Screens in China (the other two are located in the Forbidden City and Datong, Shanxi Province). Built in 1756, the Nine-Dragon Wall is about 90 feet (27 meters) long, 21.8 feet (6.65 meters) high and 4.7 feet (1.42 meters) thick. It is composed of 424 seven-color glazed tiles that embossing the screen. There are nine huge coiling dragons on each side of the screen and big or small dragons in different postures decorating the two ends and the eaves, making a surprising total of 635 dragons.
I have this thing about Chinese dragons – as if they are my own guides. Every time I see this depiction of dragons I think of Chinese history about the sage who embodies heavenly qualities.
Adjacent to both the Forbidden City and Tienanmen, the park is extremely popular… When I am in Beijing and have an afternoon free I like coming to Beihai. In Spring you can almost feel the immortality they were seeking in the air.
National Museum in Beijing
Opposite Tienanmen and the Forbidden City is the National Museum. This morning I begin here. Thursday (9/20) was primarily spent at the National Museum. I had forgotten that more than ten years ago I regularly visited a friend whose government office was in the restricted access area adjacent to the museum. I was most impressed with the Buddhist collection and ancient roll paintings.
Beijing’s premier museum is housed in an immense 1950’s Soviet-style building on the eastern side of Tienanmen Square, and claims to be the largest in the world by display space. You could easily spend a couple of hours in the outstanding Ancient China exhibition alone, with priceless artifacts displayed in modern, low-lit exhibition halls, including ceramics, calligraphy, jade and bronze pieces dating from prehistoric China through to the late Qing dynasty. You’ll need your passport to gain entry. The museum is located at Guangchangdongce Lu, Tienanmen Square. The hours are from 9 am to 5 pm Tue-Sun, last entry 4 pm.
What first got my attention today is the 2000-year-old jade burial suit in the basement exhibition. I believe this is the same jade suit that I saw at the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City in Spring 1975 when it was a part of the traveling exhibit from China. It was made for the Western Han dynasty king Liu Xiu. Many highlights including the life-sized bronze acupuncture statue dating from the 15th century. A 2000-year-old rhino-shaped bronze zūn (wine vessel) is another standout.
The Ancient Chinese Money exhibition on the top floor, and the Bronze Art and Buddhist Sculpture galleries, one floor below, are what I especially liked.
The museum was established in 2003 by the merging of the two separate museums that had occupied the same building since 1959: the Museum of the Chinese Revolution in the northern wing (originating in the Office of the National Museum of the Revolution founded in 1950 to preserve the legacy of the 1949 revolution) and the National Museum of Chinese History in the southern wing (with origins in both the Beijing National History Museum, founded in 1949, and the Preliminary Office of the National History Museum, founded in 1912, tasked to safeguard China’s larger historical legacy).
The building was completed in 1959 as one of the Ten Great Buildings celebrating the ten-year anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It complements the Great Hall of the People that was built at the same time. The structure sits on 16 acres and has a frontal length of 1,027 feet, a height of four stories totaling 130 ft, and a width of 489 feet. The front displays ten square pillars at its center. After four years of renovation, the museum reopened on March 17, 2011, with 28 new exhibition halls, more than triple the previous exhibition space, and state of the art exhibition and storage facilities. It has a total floor space of nearly 200,000 square feet of display.
The museum, covering Chinese history from the Yuanmou Man of 1.7 million years ago to the end of the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty in Chinese history), and has a permanent collection of over a million items, with many precious and rare artifacts not to be found in museums anywhere else in China or the rest of the world. I have visited many so-called National Museums in China including ones in Chengdu, Xian, Chongqing, and Shanghai… but this is my first visit to the National Museum in Beijing. We went to the museum honoring the Silk Road in Urumqi in 1999 went we were there to adopt our daughter Emily. Any pictures I took are long gone. Visiting museums helps to remind me of my past and assists in taking me there through my writing.
Among the most important items in the National Museum of China are the “Simuwa Ding” from the Shang Dynasty, the square shaped Shang Dynasty bronze zun decorated with four sheep heads, a large and rare inscribed Western Zhou Dynasty, bronze water pan, a gold-inlaid Qin Dynasty bronze tally in the shape of a tiger, Han Dynasty jade burial suits sewn with gold thread (mentioned above), and a comprehensive collection of Tang Dynasty tri-colored glazed sancai and Song Dynasty ceramics. They are depicted below.
I am often asked, what is this passion and affinity for Chinese history that I seem to relate to… it is something that has always been present. When I was a junior in college (1975) there was a Chinese exhibit in Kansas City at the Nelson Art Gallery and I took a Chinese art class in preparation of going to the museum. It was as if when I got there I was taken back, catching a prevailing wind. As if brushing up against who I have always been and known and needed to be reminded. It was as if the Han dynasty jade burial suit and other artifacts of the time were speaking to me. Afterwards before returning home I purchased some Chinese tea (could have been green or jasmine)… and I knew there was more here than I could comprehend at the time.
When I visit museums and historic sites around China it is often as if I am reflecting on times past. I get this feeling especially around Qufu and Jining in Shandong, and Chengdu in Sichuan Province. It is as if I am re-living history I have always known. My travels and almost fifty trips to China are often spent as if I am simply visiting with old friends, both past and present. Rather seen as real or imagined, it doesn’t matter. It is my innate self acknowledging and honoring people and places I have always known. Perhaps even the underlying purpose of this trip to China and Tibet.
A Western Han Dynasty jade pillow from the tomb of the Prince of Chu in Shizishan, Xuzhou, and Jiangsu province
A Song Dynasty copy of the Portraits of Periodic Offering of Liang, dated to the 6th century, depicting ambassadors from various tributary states.
Since visiting the Lama Temple last year here in Beijing, I have gained a better appreciation of it’s importance. Nature seems to be the focus where this connecting the inner with outer where roofs, frescoes, arches, tapestries, Tibetan prayer wheels, and tantric statues mingle with dense clouds of incense.
Today is no exception. When you arrive you are handed incense and are encouraged to use it. This is considered the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. The Lama Temple was converted to a lamasery in 1744 after serving as the former residence of Emperor Yong Zheng.
I have often talked about the influence of Confucius, Taoism and Buddhism, but now still in Beijing having gone to the Lama Temple I think I should talk a little more about Buddhism, especially since over the next few weeks Confucius will take center stage before I get to Huashan Mountain, the Shaolin Temple, Luoyang and Chengdu, and finish in Lhasa, Tibet . It was inspiring to see so many people worshiping at the Lama Temple here in Beijing. In what is not meant to be definitive by any means, it is following what is known as the “Eight Fold Path” that focuses on three things that begins to move a person in the right direction and gain appreciation for Buddhist thought. Many people feel we can follow another religion and still live a life adhering to these principles. Those three are right speech, right action, and right livelihood.
We all live in one world. When on the path, it becomes a thoughtful world acting as if vibrations of energy. Our words we speak serve as a blanket for those people around us. As if saying words of loving kindness through the power of our tongue. It is important that as we give right speech, we remember the good and harm we can cause by thinking first. Think – Is it true, helpful, important, kind, and necessary. That we travel on a journey not concerned with the destination. With this we walk in a centered way. It is important that we treat ourselves with loving kindness and know the value of right speech. With this we can begin to understand the ultimate nature of reality by speaking with integrity and truth. We become an observer of those around us and our environment and speak with words of appreciation. Our role becomes one not to add to negative or bad energy. That we are here to uplift the world.
How do we do this, through right action. By doing no harm and understanding the laws of karma, i.e., the measure we give is what we get. It is not enough to know the truth, you have to begin by having control over your dominion. Staying aware as if called to a higher path and practicing consciousness. We make the right choices as if witnessing our own actions. We do this through service to others. We find ourselves in the right livelihood that helps to train us to be in conscious awareness and live through loving kindness.
I leave this evening to go to Qufu. My friend Maria will meet me at the airport.
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 74 and 75 appear below.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 74 – Acceding to the will of Heaven
Everything under the sun must take its turn. Impatience and ego the only deterrent from our recognizing our good when heaven comes forth to greet us. It is in daring to act without virtue that we fail when keeping still defines who will benefit and who will be harmed.
Who can know the will of heaven? Can only those who accept the path to enlightenment who live under the auspices of the Tao come closer than any other? It is as if two people are confronted with the same choice.
One will follow the instincts of heaven and the other the instincts of self-interest. Why does one see the way beginning within himself ultimately leads to virtue and the will of heaven through detachment from the world. While the other cannot see beyond himself and the material world he covets. The sage knows that all things under heaven eventually come to pass to find each one of us. It is what we grab onto that determines our way.
That is why cause and effect and yin and yang of everything imaginable must occur. Light must become dark, just as the four season’s change. All things have their time that leads to their ultimate unfolding. This underlying truth is the path to reason. The way of heaven wins easily without a fight because it already knows the outcome and will see things through to their end.
It answers with a word as the natural progression of cause and effect, comes quickly without a summons protecting those who, with grace, follow the way and plans ingeniously without a thought as the natural extension of the Tao. It’s net is all embracing and nothing escapes it.
Each beginning must follow with its rightful end just as every end is simply the beginning of something else. Death following life and life following death as we continually leave our spirit to find its own ultimate endeavor and destiny.
Tin Wen says, “Lao Tzu says if people are not afraid to die, what good is threatening to kill then? If people are not afraid to die, it is because punishments are excessive. When punishments are excessive, people don’t care about life. When they don’t care about life, the ruler’s might means nothing to them. When punishments are moderate, people are afraid to die. They are afraid to die because they enjoy life. When you know they enjoy life, you can threaten them with death” (2).
Li Hsi-Chai says, “This implies that punishments cannot be relied upon for governing. If people are not afraid of death, what use is threatening them with execution? And if they are afraid of death, and we catch someone who breaks the law, and we execute them, by killing one person we should be able to govern the rest. But the more people we kill, the ore break the law. Thus punishment is not the answer.”
Ming T’ai -Tzu says, “When I first ascended the throne, the people were unruly and officials corrupt. If ten people were rescued in the morning, a hundred were breaking the same law by evening. Being ignorant of the Way of the ancient sage kings, I turned to the Tao Te Ching. When I read: ‘If the people no longer fear death / we do we threaten to kill them,’ I decided to do away with capital punishment and put people to work instead. In the year
Verse 75 – Finding our Place in Heaven
For those who have not taken up their personal journey; for those who have not awakened midstream to find themselves embracing something beyond themselves that cannot be explained but makes perfect sense; for those who fail to pass judgment on themselves and all around them, yet see clearly, does not the final answer come forward with how they perceive their own death and innate fear of losing what life they have until they figure it out.
Throughout the ages and passed along from each generation and centuries too numerous to mention has not this overriding question of immortality and the efforts to embrace it been the endeavor of even the most devout sage with thoughts of death and destiny and questioning who are we to judge the will of heaven.
The sage is guided by the knowledge that as long as people fear death, forces close by will always be near to do them in. If we in turn substitute the will of heaven for our own, are we ourselves likely to meet our own untimely end?
If as stated earlier, the net of heaven is all-embracing its mesh remaining wide so that nothing escapes it, then does not everything eventually find its rightful place under heaven?
Li Hsi-Chai says, If those above take too much, those below will be impoverished. If those above use too much force, those below will rebel.This is a matter of course. When someone thinks his own life is more important, and he disregards the lives of others, why should others not treat death lightly. The sage doesn’t think about life unless he is forces to.”
Ho-Shang Kung says, “Only those who do nothing to say alive, who aren’t moved by titles or sinecures, who aren’t affected by wealth or advantage, who refuse to serve the emperor or run errands for lesser lords, they alone are more esteemed than those who love life.”
Ten Tsun says, “The Natural Way always turns things upside down. What has no body lives. What has a body dies. To be alive and to seek advantages is the beginning of death. Not to be alive and to get rid of advantages is the beginning of life. Those who don’t work to live live long.”
September 21 – 23, 2018 / Qufu
Verses 76 and 77 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries. A narrative of my trip to China and Tibet – part tour guide / part sojourn.
As a preface for continuing my journey, I am first directed back to the Beijing Museum and my thoughts going forward. There was an immense presence from the Buddhist statues and spirit of Chinese antiquity. I asked about my pilgrimage to connect Buddhist/ Confucius/Taoist thought with the world and “who am I supposed to be” the answer was to simply be who I am supposed to be. Simplify to nothing and continue on your way.
It is through sincerity and compassion that your innate traits of goodness appear – Keep to the Tao. Don’t let lack of attention by others to your writing slow you down. You write only for your own enlightenment and to share this with others. Keep to your path and always remember, it is not where you are that is important. It is who you are and how your essence reflects on those around you. Go to Tibet. Continue to be inspired letting the dragons take you to new heights and know that they are pleased.
Sincerity, discipline, and patience; your “work” is only these three and keep to the path as you were told in the beginning. Have faith and let your grace and goodness be your guide – love and you will be loved.
From here, continue on your retreat and be filled with who you are yet to become letting go of all other things. Keep to the open road as you are living in dolpo – in the middle – when it is time to go one way or another you will know and the path will be made clear. Don’t despair or get caught up in your daydreams. Just share your goodness through your writing. This way the message to others and yourself will be evident. Follow the path you have laid out all these year ago. There can be no rush. There is nothing to rush to – just acknowledge who you are and go there.
I arrived last night by fast train from Beijing and was met by my friend Andy. (Shu) Initially my plans are to be here for three days (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), then on Monday morning leave for Luoyang. I will return to Qufu for the Confucius festivities on Thursday, September 27th. Planning for the rest of my trip will happen this weekend, especially arrangements to go to Tibet. Stay tuned…
When I am in Qufu it is as if I walk on sacred ground. It is as Ekhart Toll, the great English philosopher said… “We are one with the universe and the universe is one with us, or better said I am one with God, and God is one with me”. It is as though we are living history when we can accept our role and to become one with it. The dragons, or sages, all came through here.
Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou in 1000 BC, was here five hundred years before Confucius in 500 BC, and the Yellow Emperor, Huandi, the great shaman and instigator of what would become the I Ching one day more than a thousand years earlier in 2700 BC. All were from Qufu. How am I to add to what has already been said and written? Maybe it to to transcend the limitations of language. I am reminded again of the three things I need to work on – sincerity, discipline, and patience. But then, I am blessed to have many friends and acquaintances I have made as a teacher and my activities in the almost twenty years I have been coming to Qufu.
Today was a day for catching up with old friends and making travel arrangements. I met with the headmaster of the Confucius College, Mr. Buan Yan Ping on Friday morning (9/21) being one. After first going by to see another friend, Dr. Hua and updating my membership in the Confucius/I Ching Society, I served as Vice President of the national association last year. I then went to visit the Confucius College where they asked me to teach a couple classes and have lunch with the students.
As we got ready to have lunch, the students all rose and said the following:
感恩父母的养育之恩 Thank parents for their upbringing.
感恩老师的辛勤教导 Thank teachers for their teaching.
感谢同学的帮助与关心 Thank classmates for their help and concern.
感谢农民的辛苦劳作和所有付出的人 Thank farmers for their hard work and all those who give.
对饮食，勿拣择 Don’t pick up the food.
食适可，勿过则 Don’t over eat.
或饮食，或坐走，长者先，幼者后 Eat or sit, the elder first.
一粥一饭当思来之不易 Food is hard to come by.
食不语，请老师先吃 Eat quietly. Teachers first.
Later, after lunch, I met Chris and his wife Vicky at the Shangri La Hotel where they both work and with another friend Maria who helped me to book my train tickets for Luoyang for Sunday evening. Later I spoke to my friend Jenny who is a teacher. Jenny did the translation from English to Chinese for the Daily Word which we published here in Western Shandong Province in 2006 and 07. Finally, I spoke to Yak in Chengdu about my travel arrangements to go to Tibet, especially getting to Lhasa and the best dates for the tour. I am to send copies of my passport and visa information tomorrow to begin the paperwork. (We sent over Andy’s phone). My plans later changed because of holiday. I was not able to get a return train ticket to Qufu to see Jenny and her family on this trip.
There is a naturalness here. I felt it the first time I came almost twenty years ago. Acceptance and who you are is self-evident and plain to see for everyone you meet. As if I am finding my own step following the footsteps of Confucius and so many others before me. It seems I have always been a living embodiment of an anomaly never really fitting in or caring as if there is someplace else I am meant to be.
Rarely satisfied with the way things are, always seeing through to what can or should be. It seems as though the more I attempt to have the outer world be a reflection of my inner self – the less the outer world caught up with the status quo and “outer stuff” appeals or relates to me. In Qufu, it is connecting with your inner spirit that makes you “attractive” to others on a similar journey. A feeling that is universal to not just Qufu. As if I don’t have to detail the history here of Confucius because it is on the face of all you meet. Over half of the more than 80,000 people here have the last name Kong. Confucius family name and are descendants. Hence, here I am simply Kongdan. Over the centuries it doesn’t matter where I am – this will always be home.
Just being here in Qufu with old friends is enough. On Saturday morning (9/22), I do what I always do in Qufu and that is to walk. I found myself at a tea shop I often visited with the owner Mei. We had lunch over a bottle of wine and I bought a dragon/phoenix tea holder. We will have dinner again after I return from Luoyang over the holiday. ( As stated above, I was unable to return to Qufu on this trip. I asked Andy to convey my disappointment to Mei).
That in following the Tao we have no plans. We learn to go with the flow of life and do what comes naturally in unison with our essence, or soul.
That being present is always enough. What I like about Qufu is the is no pre-supposition as to what outcome will occur – just be yourself and the universe comes to greet you – those you see and meet are on a similar path – you are here for them and they are here for you. Where you find yourself you can’t stay there for long. As if fleeting your light travels fast and shadow never lingers. Your essence only left behind for those to ponder their own fate and what can be seen as important in where they see themselves just now, and where it takes them. In every circumstance you are present for only an instant before moving on. The status quo is not for you to bother. Others caught up in their day dream must come to the light within and wake up mid stream in their own life. That everyone is coming from the same place. It it not necessary to expand further on Confucius or others just now, because you are the essence of everything – the Tao is you and you are the Tao.
There is a symmetry, a certain flow of or lives we all seek. A sense of connection to what appears as universal that answers who we are and what it is we seek. Something all great artists, philosophers and writers have found to some degree. What Monet and DaVinci found and knew, what Edison, Einstein, Emerson,and Walt Whitman knew. In China it was what Lao Tzu, Confucius, and many others found. It was the ultimate meaning in the Shangri La story that so invigorates us, our soul, or essence, our chi. It is what the shaman knew all those centuries ago from following the stars, the heavens above – then going there.
It’s what I was returning to the instant I knew I found, or re-discovered it, on my first trip to Qufu in October 1999. Yes, it was represented in a place, but it only serves to remind me of what I am here to do. For years everyone has wanted to know why I keep coming to Qufu (especially the security bureau and police). It was this trip and just a couple days here spent in Qufu that the sense staying in flow of where I have been takes me to my next step… to Luoyang via fast train. Tonight I arrive in Luoyang for my next step in my journey.
Pictures from this trip to Qufu…
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 76 and 77 appear below.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 76 – In death the Tao acknowledges the Sage
Before there was considered to be a force in the universe that would be known as God there was the Tao. Before there existed the myriad of shamans, saints, priests and holy men considered to be here to lead the way, there was the Tao.
As the ten thousand things came forth from antiquity to manifest and begin the cycle of being born, dying and being born again continually as the natural extension of the way, the sage ultimately came forth as one protected by dragons. The dragons, but those who have been chosen to impart simple virtue as those who follow the correct path or way of heaven.
The sage coming forward to find that the reason there is suffering or hunger for life is that others impose too many restrictions on how we should live, therefore people remain unfulfilled. That the reason people are hard to get along with is that those who would lead the way have forgotten the path in which all should follow. However, when death follows as the natural course of events after everything has passed through him and acknowledges his ultimate place in the universe, the loving life becomes secondary as eternal life comes forth to greet the great sage.
Loving God and what He and the Tao teaches, he simply lets his enthusiasm come naturally as the centuries have shown him the proper way.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “When people are born, they contain breath and spirit. This is why they are soft. When they die, their breath ceases and their spirit disappears. This is why they are hard”.
Lieh Tzu says, “The world has a path of perennial victory and a path of perennial defeat. The path of perennial victory is weakness. The path of perennial defeat is strength. These two are very easy to recognize, but people remain oblivious to them.”(2.17)
Lao Tzu says, “The weak conquer the strong” (36).
Wang P’ang says, “In terms of yin and yang, yin comes before, and yang comes after. In terms of Heaven and Earth, Heaven is exalted, and Earth is humble. In terms of Virtue, the soft and the weak overcome the hard and the strong. But in terms of material things, the hard and the strong control te soft and the weak. The people of this world only see things. They don’t understand Virtue.”
Verse 77 – Letting your Enthusiasm open every door
Fortunate again to be born into weakness, we are soon caught up in what may be perceived as making us strong.
Lieh Tzu, my friend and mentor, tells the world that t.”he path to victory is weakness. As the hard and strong lead people away from the Tao, they do so with great effort. Confused into thinking that our strength is needed to help us find our way when just the opposite, our weakness, will bring us victory.
They refuse to remain still letting events come to them. Convinced that controlling what occurs they will find their direction. Remaining oblivious to what remains effortless may just appear as weakness.
Observing the simple, letting everything play out to its own conclusion, the sage appears soft and seemingly weak. When things become hard and stiff they can only be close to their end. Remaining supple and bending with the wind the soft and weak can stay in tune with life.
Staying within the confines of his own virtue, the sage easily converses with his mentors bringing nothing hard and fast to the table. He confines himself to his humble beginnings letting the Tao lead the way. Letting his enthusiasm remain his signature that softens every encounter he is not bound by things seemingly apparent in the world as he opens every door that finds him.
Kao Heng says, “In attaching the string to a bow, we pull the bow down to attach the string to the top. We lift the bow up to attach it to the bottom. If the string is too long, we make it shorter. If the string is too short, we make it longer. This is exactly the Way of Heaven.” (this is based on the Shuowen, which says, “Chang means to attach a string to a bow.”
Lu Hui-Ching says, “The Way of Heaven does not intentionally pull down the high and lift up the low. It does nothing and relies instead on the nature of things. Things that are high and long cannot avoid being pulled down and shortened. Things that are low and short cannot avoid being lifted up and lengthened. The full suffer loss. The humble experience gain”.
Wang P’ang says, “The Way is Heaven is based on the natural order. Hence it is fair. The Way of Man is based on desire. Hence it is not fair. Those who possess the Way follow the same Way of Heaven”.
Lu Hsi Sheng says, “Who can imitate the Way of Heaven and make it the Way of Man, take what one has in abundance and give it to those in need? Only those who possess the Way. The Yiching (the I Ching) says, ‘To take means to take from the low and give to the high (41). To give means to take from the high and give to the low’ (42)”
Sept 24 – Oct 1, 2018 in Luoyang…
Verses 78 and 79 of the Tao Te Ching and commentaries. A narrative of my trip to China and Tibet – part tour guide / part sojourn.
I am posting my tentative schedule so we can book the train schedule and airfare between cities. Maria is trying to help with the fast train tickets. Very hard over the holiday. Currently I am staying at the Luoyang Anximen Hostel until Thursday (9/27) then the Luoyang Heartland Hostel until Monday, October 1st. I would travel from Luoyang to Xian on Monday 10/1 and stay at the Xian Hentang House until Friday, October 5th. First thing I learned in all the years I have traveled here in China is you must be flexible. Second, I should stop coming during holiday when travel is difficult.
Everything changed for the balance of my trip this afternoon (Tuesday 9/25). Travel to Tibet was moved from October 10th-13th to 14th-17th. I checked flights and I can get a flight from Lhasa to Beijing on the 17th. All of the dates are tentative due to difficulty in getting tickets, summary: 10/1 Luoyang to Xian and hotel there is all that is confirmed for now. I need to cancel Chengdu Flipflop booking and reschedule for later in the month if needed. Airplane tickets summary: 10/14 Need to be in Lhasa; 10/17 Lhasa to Beijing and 10/18 Beijing to USA.
Luoyang was home and capital of thirteen dynasties, until the Northern Song dynasty moved it east to Kaifeng in the 10th century. Both the Tang and Sui dynasties were centered here in what was considered the height of Buddhist influence and demonstrate how the connection between Luoyang and early Buddhism became so important. At one point there were 1300 Buddhist temples here. Luoyang was home to many emperors and had lasting importance to early Chinese history.
Luoyang was the capital city for the longest period, the most dynasties, and the earliest time compared with the other ancient capital cities. Luoyang lies in the Central Plain surrounded by mountains, which were natural barriers against invasions. Apart from its favorable geographical location, Luoyang had an agricultural advantage as several rivers flow through it. Therefore, 105 emperors of 13 dynasties set their capitals in Luoyang during China’s history.
Luoyang was the center of politics, economy, and culture in China for 1,500 years. Since the Xia Dynasty (2070–1600 BC), Luoyang had begun its history as a capital city. In the Western Han Dynasty, Luoyang was not chosen as the capital, but the ruler still attached great importance to the city. There is so much history here that I want to come back to Luoyang for further study. It is said Lao Tzu lived here for a while and Taoism got it’s beginnings of Mount Song where I will visit while I am here.
On Monday (9/24) I went with three students by bus to the Buddhist White Horse Temple. I took several pictures until my battery stopped then I used my phone camera for a few more. Many I encounter think I am brave to travel alone where I can’t speak the language. But I counter that I generally know them by their history than they know themselves. After seeing my writing they mostly agree.
What struck me was the continuing presence as if the joining or coming together of history with one’s natural environment and connecting this with the universe, or divine spirit within us and that which surrounds us as well. To be treated as if you are coming home to visit something that is innately a part of yourself. Something you have always known, but simply needing to be reminded. This seems to be the motive behind all these ancient “temples”. What we in the west today would describe as “parks having great historical and religious significance”. They bring a sense of longevity and simplicity to it all spanning thousands of years and being reminded that both the inner and outer are the same reality we each choose to live every day.
The Buddhist White Horse Temple on the outskirts of Luoyang has always been on my bucket list here in China. It’s influence in the spread of Buddhism over the centuries has been immeasurable. At some point in our lives there is something more than just knowledge and understanding. It comes with wisdom, as acceptance, and an enduring presence. What is it we’re grounded too? Others may teach, but ultimately it is something that becomes innately ourselves. It is having the presence of self-assurance knowing that kindness and simplicity are the keys that opens all doors. (something I need to work on) Keeping things simple means there are fewer doors that need to be opened as well. As if “becoming simple minded” is a good thing.
Two other overreaching influences from Buddhism to China was that Luoyang was the start of the Silk Road that headed back to Venice in Italy. It was by way of the Silk Road (and elephants going through Tibet to Xian), that Buddhism came to China. By the time Marco Polo came here with his father and uncle in 1270 AD on their way to visit Kublai Khan in Beijing, the Silk Road had been a functioning means of transportation of goods and culture between east and west for almost fifteen hundred years. The White Horse Temple and the Long man Grottoes have had the most lasting historical presence in this area of China. We will visit both later in the week. What Buddhism brought was a sense of permanence and presence that people could see as their own connection to what we would now call “becoming universal”. That you were more than your body, and a good life could lead to better things, as yet unknown, in the future. That we are one and there is no separation between the world we live in and what we might find for ourselves afterwards. This connection was what the Taoist Chuang Tzu expressed so well in what would become known as “Chan Buddhism”. (maybe even becoming a butterfly being heard the world over)
There seems to be a progression in my travels, first to Beijing and the Llama Temple, then the opening of the gate with Confucius in Qufu. Finally for now, coming the the famous White Horse Temple and Long Man Grottoes. Like stepping stones to greater appreciation, understanding, and hopefully wisdom of my own origins in Chinese history. As if midway – later heading back to Xian and Chengdu before ultimately going to Tibet. With more than a week in between to discover new mountain vistas and clouds waiting to rise above.
The White Horse Temple, one of the oldest temples in China, is located about 6 miles from the city of Luoyang in eastern China’s Henan Province. It is a place that disciples of the Buddha school recognize as the palace of Buddhist ancestors and the place where Buddhist theory was taught. It was built by Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty (29 A.D.–75 A.D.), and there is a legend about its establishment. The scholar Fu Yi told the emperor after his dream: “Your subject has heard it said that in there is somebody who has attained the Dao and who is called Buddha; he flies in the air, his body had the brilliance of the sun; this must be that god.” According to the historical book of records that after a dream, Emperor Ming sent an envoy to Tianzhu in southern India to inquire about the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhist scriptures were said to have been returned to China on the backs of white horses, after which White Horse Temple was named.