'Lofty Hermitage in Cloudy Mountains', ink on paper by Fang Fanghu
The great Tao flows everywhere, to the left and to the right All things depend upon it to exist, and it does not abandon them. To its accomplishments it lays no claim.
It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
(Laotse, tr. Alan Watts)
That is another thing so nice about the Tao; it is not bossy! It loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them. Thus the Tao is something purely helpful—never coersive!
In the Judeo-Christian notion of God, one thing which is so rigidly stressed is obedience to God! The great sins are “disobedience, rebellion against God, pride, self-will”, etc. The Christians are constantly stressing the infinite importance of “total surrender of one’s will to God”. They say, “Let thy will, not mine, be done”.
How very different the Taoist! He never speaks of “obedience” to the Tao but only of “being in harmony” with the Tao—which seems so much more attractive! And being in harmony with the Tao is not something “commanded”, nor something which is one’s “duty”, nor something demanded by “moral law”, nor something sought for some future reward, but is something which is its own reward; it is in itself a state of spiritual tranquility. In this respect it does resemble the Judeo-Christian notion of “communion”.
Another thing, it would seem sort of odd to the Taoist to speak of “surrendering one’s will to the Tao”. In the first place, it doesn’t sound quite right to say that the Tao has its own “will”. The Tao is certainly not willful, and I think the Taoist would tend to regard things having their own will as somehow “willful”—but let that pass! At any rate, the idea of “surrendering” one’s will to the Tao would seem inappropriate since an individual’s so-called “will” is but part of the Tao. It’s not that the Taoist denies free will (nor would he affirm it, for he would tend to regard the whole free will- determinism controversy as a confusing duality), but he would rather say that whatever it is which we call “free-will” is but part of the activities of the Tao. Goethe expressed a similar sentiment when he said that in trying to oppose nature we are only acting according to the laws of nature. Similarly Suzuki has said that Western man thinks he is controlling or conquering nature; he does not realize that in so doing, he is only acting according to the laws of nature.
I must confess that all my life I have reacted with the utmost horror to the idea of “obedience to God”—and even more so to “surrendering one’s will to God”. Some Christians would tell me that I find this idea so horrifying because of my own pride, disobedience, egotism and self-will. But is this really so? I could see some merit in that argument if I objected only to myself surrendering my will to God, but did not mind other people surrendering their wills to God. But this is not the case. I hate the idea of anyone surrendering his will to God. Indeed, I am repelled by any situation in which one sentient being surrender’s his will to another sentient being. I just cannot accept situations in which one commands and the other obeys.
There is, however, one mitigating feature of the situation which I only realized quite recently, as a result of reading some of the writings of Alan Watts. And that is that if a person decides to surrender his will to God, and spends several years undergoing the inner discipline, self-mortification, purgation, etc., he finally reaches a stage in which he suddenly realizes that the issue he has been so violently struggling with is purely illusory! That is to say, he suddenly realizes that his will has been part of God’s will all along and that even his so-called “rebellion” has been but part of God’s activities. In other words, he realizes not that he “shouldn’t” rebel against God, but that he simply cannot. Put in less theological terms, it is like the man who suddenly has a Satori-like realization that he is not controlling Nature, as he had thought, but rather that Nature is controlling him to think that he is controlling Nature—or better still, that neither is he controlling Nature nor is Nature controlling him, but that he and Nature are one. [Who knows, perhaps that is what Jesus really meant when he said in the fourth Gospel, “The Father and I are one.”]
Now, if “surrendering one’s will to God” really does lead to this wonderful state—so close to Taoistic harmony or Zen Satori—then there is of course something to be said for it. But must one go through these horrible spiritual gymnastics to attain this end? Is there not a saner path?
I can only think again of the Taoist Sage by the river stream, not worrying about “obedience” or “surrendering his will” or not even conceptualizing the notion of “being in harmony with the Tao”, but simply being in harmony with the Tao and enjoying it to his hearts content.
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Cool Koi Fish Yin Yang Tattoo Art by Rachel Martin
"The fundamental philosophical principle of yin and yang is reflected in every aspect of Chinese calligraphy. [...] The study of Chinese calligraphy is not only a study of Chinese writing. In many ways, it is also a study of Chinese philosophy and the Chinese worldview. Aesthetic principles and standards are rooted in cultural and philosophical tenets, and Confucianism and Daoism form the basis of Chinese culture. Of the two Daoism has the stronger influence on art. It is no exaggeration to say that Daoism, from its place at the core of Chinese culture, is the spirit of Chinese art. Many characteristics of Chinese calligraphy reflect Daoist principles." - Wendan Li, Chinese Writing & Calligraphy (University of Hawai‘i Press. 2009), p175
"You can buy the ink, the rice paper, the brush, but if you don't cultivate the art of calligraphy, you can't do calligraphy." - Vietenamese Zen teacher and mindful calligrapher, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power (2007), p81
"The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as if you were a beginner, not trying to make something skillful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time; then your full nature will be in your writing. This is the way of practice moment after moment." - Richard Baker Roshi, Introduction, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p14.
A Zen Calligraphy piece by Japanese Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki painted using a plant from outside. It reads: "Beginner's Mind”.
When practising writing Insight Calligraphy, there are so many things for the beginner to consider and bring together as one flowing whole. As when learning to coordinate one's body in order to ride a bicycle, the intended outcome can seem like an impossible endeavour - that one is attempting to achieve some supernatural feat that one's teacher cannot explain. However, with persistence those moments of balance do come, and one feels the flow of the process more and more.
This is something which appears to be at the core of Chinese artistic disciplines, and it comes from ancient philosophies which encourage practitioners to go beyond concepts and instead seek harmony with nature. The author of the book Chinese Writing and Calligraphy, Wendan Li, points to this when he says (p180):
"Without the Daoist principle of diversity in harmony, there would be no Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy is often likened to Chinese Zen in that it does not lend itself very well to words and can only be experienced and perceived through the senses.”
As with seated mindfulness meditation, Insight calligraphy has an apparent subtle yogic physical dimension to it. My calligraphy teacher here in Beijing, Paul Wang, said to me last week: "One must use one's whole body to write. If there is tension anywhere, then the expression will be limited, and so a whole-body focus needs to be maintained". Wendan Li supports this by saying (p184-5):
"Writing involves almost every part of the body, from the fingers and shoulders to the back muscles and the muscles involved in breathing. Similar to Taiji, calligraphy is based on a typical Chinese philosophy that emphasizes moderation and detachment. Through slow, moderate movements, the energy... passes through the writer’s back, shoulders, arms, wrists, palms, and fingers, onward to the brush tip and, finally, is projected onto the paper.[..]...the initiation of writing is usually accompanied by a decrease in heart rate and lowered blood pressure. When a high degree of concentration is reached, the heart rate significantly decelerates and blood pressure drops significantly. These responses are similar to those created by meditation with one major difference: Meditation seeks tranquillity in a state of rest, whereas calligraphy seeks tranquillity in motion. [...] Prolonged practice of calligraphy can play a significant role in keeping one fit and improving one’s health. This explains the well-known fact that, in traditional China, most calligraphers lived to an age well beyond the average life span.”
During my private class with Paul Wang yesterday, we discussed the role of the Daoist Classics; the DaoDeJing and JuangZi in writing Insight Calligraphy. In the DaoDeJing, LaoZi writes (Chapter 25):
"Imagine a nebulous thing here before Heaven and Earth, silent and elusive it stands alone, not wavering it travels everywhere unharmed, it could be the mother of us all,
not knowing its name, I call it the Tao, forced to name it, I name it Great,
great means ever-flowing, ever-flowing means far-reaching, far-reaching means returning,
the Tao is great, Heaven is great, Earth is great, the king is also great, the realm contains four greats, of these the king is one,
Man imitates Earth, Earth imitates Heaven, Heaven imitates the Tao, the Tao imitates itself.”
Writing Insight Calligraphy is the Dao (or Tao in the old Wade-Giles Chinese romanization) expressing itself. To see this positively, we allow for an expression of our inherently positive being to manifest itself through skill, thus giving rise to a positive piece of art.
In the case of Insight Calligraphy, this artistic expression is in the form of characters written with black ink on paper. The apparent similarity between some Chinese cursive calligraphy strokes and the Daoist TaiJi (YinYang) symbol is not coincidental. As Wendan Li points out, there has always been a link between Daoism and calligraphy (p178):
"The way of calligraphy and the way of nature, although differ in scope, share similar principles. Calligraphy best illustrates Daoist philosophy when the brush embodies, expresses, and magnifies the power of the Dao. Thus, an adequate understanding of the concept of yin and yang and its manifestations in calligraphy, and how various techniques are implemented to create contrast and unity in writing, is essential to your grasp of the core of the art."
In China, art is often seen as an expression of the human heart - a positive creation that brings happiness to the lives of others. It is also worth noting here that the Chinese considered heart and mind to be one thing - Xīn (心).
The Chinese character for heart/mind carved into the wall of a Buddhist temple on KongTongShan, China, and into the rock at the Buddhist temple complex of PuTuoShan, China. The author visited both of these locations in 2006.
The beauty of this innate positive heart/mind is considered to be reflected in the natural world around us, and the calligrapher's practice is to render that beauty visible in a symbolic format. Li states (p179):
"The beauty of Chinese calligraphy is essentially the beauty of plastic movement, like the coordinated movements of a skillfully composed dance: impulse, momentum, momentary poise, and the interplay of active forces combine to form a balanced whole. The effect of rhythmic vitality rests on the writer’s artistic mind as well as training in basic techniques and composition skills [...] Generally speaking, Running and Cursive styles have stronger rhythm than the more traditional scripts. This is why many artists favor these two styles. When a piece is created with the vital forces of life and rhythm, the result is fresh in spirit and pleasing to the eye."
An Insight Calligraphy piece by the author's teacher Paul Wang. It reads: "Kong You Bu Er" (Form is not other than Emptiness).
The inherently positive human heart/mind is something the Chinese have generally considered true since ancient times. In Junior schools all over the country, Chinese children are once again learning to recite the Three Character Classic (三字經) - a philosophical teaching attributed to the disciples of KongZi (Confucius). For many children, as was the case over the past two thousand years, this is the first book learnt upon beginning formal education. The book begins:
" 人之初 (rén zhī chū) People at birth
性本善 (xìng běn shàn) Are naturally good (kind-hearted).
性相近 (xìng xiāng jìn) Their natures are similar,
習相遠 (xí xiāng yuǎn) (But) their habits make them different (from each other).”
The practice of honing skill in order to render works of art is considered, by the Daoists, a Sagely path in itself. In order to truly and repetitively render the positive mind's perception, one must manifest a seamless connection between heart and hand. This is apparently the highest level of skill - no matter the practice, whether painting, dancing, sculpting, doing KungFu, or even cutting meat from an animal. In the JuangZi, LaoZi's Daoist disciples relate the skill of a Butcher who practices Daoism thus (Chapter 3):
"whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I'm doing, work very slowly [...] At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee - zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music. "Ah, this is marvelous!" said Lord Wen-hui. "Imagine skill reaching such heights!". Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, "What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. [...] I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, ... and follow things as they are"
JuangZi - A student of Daoist Master LaoZi.
Bringing all this together - the desire to calmly express a positive heart/mind, and the pursuit of higher skill - the epitome of which is an appreciation of the Dao, or True Nature, it can be seen that Insight Calligraphy is a traditional and well-established kind of mindful practice. Even authors, such as Wendan Li, who do not primarily present and encourage calligraphy as a meditation practice, highlights the positive psychological benefits in the same way a mindfulness teacher would (p184):
"During writing, the writer refrains from talking and concentrates on the task at hand. By so doing, he or she is able to project the characters in his or her mind accurately onto the paper through precise muscle and brush control. At the same time, the writing process also exerts a stabilizing influence on the writer’s mind, resulting in an even more transcendent sense of peace and clarity of thought. Thus calligraphy is commonly recognized as an effective way to remove anxiety and discover calmness and emotional grace."
A calligraphy piece by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh
featuring a photograph of him.
As I practice Insight Calligraphy I can feel an unfolding - judgements, attachments, and intense emotions arising - all to be accepted and let go of in exactly the same way as during seated meditation. Here is a video of myself writing the character for 'Dao':
Getting the feeling for the character itself takes a long time, never mind the brush skill and mindful focus. This is the character I wrote in the above video placed next to the calligraphy teacher Paul Wang's (mine is on the left). There are plenty of places I made 'mistakes':
I think mine lacks the confident dynamism and general structural integrity that Pauls has, not to mention some of the more detailed technical aspects of the strokes. Paul says that in order to capture the essence of the character as one looks at it, one must 'listen' to it before copying. He says it is the same kind of listening as the famous zen koan: "What is the sound of one hand clapping" - it brings one to a state of awareness that is beyond conceptual understanding - a 'don't know' mind that is receptive to wholeness; to the Dao.
Another mindful calligraphy piece
by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
The subject of this seminar is going to be Taoism as contained in the teachings of Lao-Tzu and Chuang Tzu who lived approximately 400 years or more before Christ, separated probably by 100 years from each other. And as is often repeated, Lao-Tzu started out by explaining that "The Tao which can be explained is not the eternal Tao," and then went on to write a book about it, also saying "Those who say do not know; those who know do not say." Because there's nothing to be explained. You must remember that the word "explain" means to lay out in a plane. That is, to put it on a flat sheet of paper.
All mathematics is done on a flat sheet of paper until very recent times. But it makes a great deal of difference, because this world isn't flat. If you draw a circle on a flat sheet of paper it has an inside and an outside which are different. On the other hand if you draw a circle around a doughnut the inside and the outside are the same. So what we are first of all saying is that the Tao - whatever that is - cannot be explained in that sense.
So it's important, first of all, to experience it so we know what we're talking about. And in order to go into Taoism at all we must begin by being in the frame of mind which can understand it. You cannot force yourself into this frame of mind, any more than you can smooth disturbed water with your hand. But let's say that our starting point is that we forget what we know - or think we know. That we suspend judgment about practically everything, returning to what we were when we were babies. When we have not yet learned the names, or language, and although we have extremely sensitive bodies - very alive senses - we have no means of making an intellectual or verbal commentary on what is going on.
Now can you consider that as your state? Just plain ignorant, but still very much alive. And in this state you just feel what is without calling it anything at all. You know nothing at all about anything called an external world in relation to an internal world. You don't know who you are. You haven't even got the idea of the word "you" or "I." It's before all that. Nobody has taught you self-control. So you don't know the difference between the noise of a car outside and a wandering thought that enters your mind. They're both something that happens. You don't identify the presence of the thought, which might be just an image of a passing cloud in your mind's eye, and the passing automobile. They happen. Your breath happens. Light all around you happens. Your response to it by blinking happens.
So you simply are really unable to do anything. There's nothing that you're supposed to do. Nobody's told you anything to do. You're unable, completely, to do anything but be aware of the buzz. The visual buzz, the audible buzz, the tangible buzz, the smellable buzz, all buzz that's going on. Ha ha. Watch it! Don't ask who's watching it. You've no information about that yet, that it requires a watcher for something to be watched. That's somebody's idea. You don't know that.
And Lao-Tzu says, "The scholar learns something every day. The man of Tao unlearns something every day... until he gets back to non-doing." And that's what we are in at the moment.
Just simply, without comment, without an idea in your head, be aware. What else can you do? Don't try to be aware. You are. You'll find, of course, that you can't stop the commentary going on inside of your head. But at least you can regard it as interior noise. Listen to your chattering thoughts as you listen to the singing of a kettle. We don't know what it is we are aware of. Especially when you take it all together. And there's this sense of something going on. I won't even say that. This. You see? This.
Well, I said it was going on. That's an idea. It's a form of words. Obviously I wouldn't know if anything was going on unless I could say something else wasn't. Huh. I know motion by contrast with rest. So while I am aware of motion I am also aware of rest, so maybe what's at rest isn't going on and what's motion is going on. So I won't use that concept because I've got to include both. And if I say, "Well here it is," that excludes what isn't - like space. And if I say "this" it excludes "that." Ha ha ha, I'm reduced to silence!
But you can feel what I'm talking about, can't you? That's what's called "Tao" in Chinese. That's where we begin.
Tao means basically "way" - and so "course" - the course of Nature. Of which Lao-Tzu says "Tao fa tzu yan," which means - the "fa" - "Tao fa" means the way of functioning of the Tao. "Tzu yan" is of itself, so. That is to say, is spontaneous.
Watch again what's going on. If you approach it with this wise ignorance you will see that you are witnessing a happening. In other words, in this primal way of looking at things there's no difference between what you do on the one hand and what happens to you on the other. It's all the same process. Just as your thoughts happen the car happens outside. The clouds. The stars.
When a Westerner hears that he thinks of fatalism or determinism. That's because he still preserves in the back of his mind two illusions. One is that what is happening is happening to him, and therefore he is the victim of circumstances. But when you are in primal ignorance there is no you different from what's happening, and therefore it's not happening to you. It's just happening. Ha ha. So is you, you know, what you call "you," what you later call "you" is part of the happening. You're part of the Universe. Although the Universe, strictly speaking, has no parts. We only call certain features of the Universe parts of it, but you can't disconnect them from the rest without causing them to be not only nonexistent but never to have existed. Ha ha.
So when you have this happening the other illusion that a Westerner is liable to have is that it's determined in the sense that what is happening now follows necessarily from what happened in the past. But you don't know anything about that in your primal ignorance. Cause and effect? Why, obviously not! Ha ha ha! Because if you're really na•ve you see that the past is the result of what's happening now. It goes backwards into the past like a wake goes backwards from a ship. All the echoes are disappearing, finally, going away and away and away. And it's all starting now. What we call the future is nothing, the great void. And everything comes out of the great void.
That's the way a na•ve person - and as I explained if any of you were at my lecture last night, if you shut your eyes and contemplate reality only with your ears you'll find there's a background of silence and all sounds are coming out of it. They start out of silence. If you close your eyes - listen, just listen. [rings meditation bell] You see the bell came out of nothing, floated off, off, off, off, and then stopped being a sonic echo and became a memory, which is another kind of echo. A wake. It's very simple!
It all begins now. And therefore it's spontaneous. It isn't determined. That's a philosophical notion. Nor is it capricious! That's another philosophical notion. As we distinguish between what is orderly and what is random. Of course we don't really know what randomness is. If you talk to a mathematician about randomness he'll make you feel quite weird.
What is so of itself? "Sui generis" in Latin. That means coming into being spontaneously on its own accord. It's the real meaning of "virgin birth." Sui generis. And that's the world. That is the Tao. That makes us feel scared. Perhaps. Because we say "Well if all this is happening spontaneously who's in charge? I'm not in charge, that's pretty obvious! Ha ha ha! But I hope there's God or somebody looking after all this." Though why should there be someone looking after it? Because then there's a new worry that you may not have thought of. Like who takes care of the caretaker's daughter while the caretaker's busy taking care? Who guards the guards? Who supervises the police? Who looks after God? Well you say "God doesn't need looking after." Oh. Oh, then nor does this!
Tao. Because Tao is a certain kind of order. And this kind of order is not quite what we call order. When we arrange everything geometrically in boxes or in rows that's a very crude kind of order. But when you look at a plant it's perfectly obvious that this bamboo plant has order. We recognize at once that that is not a mess. But it is not symmetrical. And it is not geometrical looking. It looks like a Chinese drawing. Because the Chinese appreciated this kind of order so much that they put it into their painting. Non-symmetrical order.
In the Chinese language this is called "li" and the character for li means originally the markings in jade. Also means the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle. We could say too that clouds have li, marble has li, the Human body has li. And we all recognize it, and the artist copies it whether he is a landscape painter, a portrait painter, or an abstract painter, or a non-objective painter. They all are trying for li.
And the interesting thing is that although we all know what it is there's no way of defining it. But because Tao is the course we can also call li the watercourse, because the patterns of li are patterns of flowing water. And we see those patterns of flow memorialized as it were in sculpture, in the grain in wood (which is the flow of sap), in marble, in bones, in muscles. All these things are patterned according to the basic principles. That is the fa, Tao fa, the Tao's principle of flow.
There is a book called "Sensitive Chaos" by Theodore Svenk with many many studies and photographs of flow patterns. And there in the patterns of flowing water you will see all kinds of motifs from Chinese art. Immediately recognizable, including the S-curve in the circle, the yang-yin, like this.... See?
So li means then the order of flow, the wonderful dancing pattern of liquid. Because Lao-Tzu likens Tao to water. "The great Tao," he says, "flows everywhere, to the left and to the right. [Like water]," - I'm interpolating that - "it loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them." "Because," he says elsewhere, "water always seeks the lowest level, which men abhor." Because we're always trying to play games of one-upmanship and be on top of each other. Well, Lao-Tzu explains that the top position is the most insecure. Everybody wants to get to the top of the tree. But then if they do the tree will collapse.
That's the fallacy of American democracy. You too might be president. The answer is, no one but a maniac would want to be president! [Laughter] Who wants to be put in charge of a runaway truck? [Laughter]
So, Lao-Tzu says that the basic position is the most powerful. And this we can see at once in Judo, or Aikido, which are wrestling arts or self-defensive arts where you always get underneath the opponent, and so he falls over you if he attacks you. The moment he moves to be aggressive you go either lower than he is, or in a smaller circle than he's moving. And you have spin if you know Aikido. You're always spinning, and you know how something rapidly spinning exercises centrifugal force. So if somebody comes into your field of centrifugal force he gets flung out, but by his own bounce. Huh, it's very curious. So, therefore, the watercourse way is the way of Tao.
Now, that seems to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Irish Catholics... lazy... spineless... passive. And I'm always being asked when I talk about things, "If people did what you suggest wouldn't they become terribly passive?" Well, from a superficial point of view I would suggest that a certain amount of passivity would be an excellent corrective for our kind of culture. Because we are always creating trouble by doing good to other people. [Laughter] You know, we wage wars for people's benefit. [Laughter] And educate the poor for their benefit, so that they desire more things which they can't get. I mean, that sounds rather callous. But our rich people are not happy, whereas the poor people of Haiti are - to judge by the way they laugh. And we think-- we're sorry, really, not for the poor but for ourselves. Guilty.
So a certain amount of doing nothing, and stopping rushing around, would cool everything. But also it must be remembered that passivity is the root of action. Where do you suppose you're going to get energy from, just by being energetic? No, you can't get energy that way. That is exhausting yourself. To have energy you must sleep, but also much more important than sleep is what I told you at the beginning. Passivity of mind, mental silence. Not-- you can't, as I tried to explain, be passive, as an exercise that's good for you. You can only get to that point by realizing there's nothing else you can do. So for God's sake don't cultivate passivity as a form of progress. That's like playing because it's good for your work. [Laughter] You never get to play! [Laughter]
PHILOSOPHY OF THE TAO BY Alan Watts
(Lecture by Alan Watts, circa 1970 transcribed by Scott Lahteine)
In the Judeo-Christian religions, one hears much of “fear of God” and “love of God”—also “obedience to God”. In early Chinese Taoism, one speaks not so much in terms of “love of Tao”—and certainly not “fear of Tao”!—but rather of “being in harmony with the Tao”.
Fear of Tao is completely ludicrous! Tao loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them! Tao is something totally friendly and benevolent—friendly to all beings, not just those who believe in it or “accept it as their Savior!” Thus Tao is the sort of thing which is impossible to believe in without loving. But the loving of Tao is not stressed for the simple reason that it is so obvious. To command love of Tao would be as silly as commanding one to love his closest friend!
By contrast the Bible commands us to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy might”. We are also enjoined to seek salvation; it is our duty to seek salvation, our very purpose is to be saved. Indeed some Protestant sects say that the purpose of man is to “love God and enjoy Him forever”.
Now, is it not strange that the Taoist Sage abides in the Tao, not because he is “commanded” to nor because it is his “duty”, but simply because he loves to! He is not seeking anything from the Tao; he is not striving to “save his soul”, nor does he seek any “future reward”; he has no purpose in abiding in the Tao; he is in the Tao simply because it is delightful to be there.
The situation is like that of the many children and friends who visit us—sometimes for extended periods—in our country house in Elka Park. They abide with us not because they are commanded to, or because it is their duty, nor do they “discipline themselves” for some future good. They come because—to use the children’s words—“we like it here”.
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Raymond Smullyan's "THE TAO IS SILENT"
And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!
You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?
How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!
Why would you wish not to have free will?
Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!
Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?
Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.
All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?
Mortal (after a pause):
No, I am afraid not.
Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?
With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin!
If you don't want to sin, then why do you?
Good God! I don't know why I sin, I just do! Evil temptations come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.
If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not sinning at all.
No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly wills not to sin, then one won't.
Well now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid sinning or don't you?
I honestly don't know! At the time, I feel I am trying as hard as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn't!
So in other words, you don't really know whether or not you have been sinning. So the possibility is open that you haven't been sinning at all!
Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me!
Why does the thought of your sinning frighten you?
I don't know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation for meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!
Oh, that's what's bothering you! Why didn't you say so in the first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and responsibility? Why didn't you simply request me not to punish you for any of your sins?
I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly grant such a request!
You don't say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I will grant, eh? Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do! I will grant you a very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you my divine word of honor that I will never punish you for it in the least. Agreed?
Mortal (in great terror):
No, no, don't do that!
Why not? Don't you trust my divine word?
Of course I do! But don't you see, I don't want to sin! I have an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may entail.
In that case, I'll go you one better. I'll remove your abhorrence of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have no regrets, no abhorrence and I still promise you will never be punished by me, or yourself, or by any source whatever. You will be blissful for all eternity. So here is the pill!
Are you not being irrational? I am even removing your abhorrence of sin, which is your last obstacle.
I still won't take it!
I believe that the pill will indeed remove my future abhorrence for sin, but my present abhorrence is enough to prevent me from being willing to take it.
I command you to take it!
What, you refuse of your own free will?
So it seems that your free will comes in pretty handy, doesn't it?
I don't understand!
Are you not glad now that you have the free will to refuse such a ghastly offer? How would you like it if I forced you to take this pill, whether you wanted it or not?
No, no! Please don't!
Of course I won't; I'm just trying to illustrate a point. All right, let me put it this way. Instead of forcing you to take the pill, suppose I grant your original prayer of removing your free will -- but with the understanding that the moment you are no longer free, then you will take the pill.
Once my will is gone, how could I possibly choose to take the pill?
I did not say you would choose it; I merely said you would take it. You would act, let us say, according to purely deterministic laws which are such that you would as a matter of fact take it.
I still refuse.
So you refuse my offer to remove your free will. This is rather different from your original prayer, isn't it?
Now I see what you are up to. Your argument is ingenious, but I'm not sure it is really correct. There are some points we will have to go over again.
There are two things you said which seem contradictory to me. First you said that one cannot sin unless one does so of one's own free will. But then you said you would give me a pill which would deprive me of my own free will, and then I could sin as much as I liked. But if I no longer had free will, then, according to your first statement, how could I be capable of sinning?
You are confusing two separate parts of our conversation. I never said the pill would deprive you of your free will, but only that it would remove your abhorrence of sinning.
I'm afraid I'm a bit confused.
All right, then let us make a fresh start. Suppose I agree to remove your free will, but with the understanding that you will then commit an enormous number of acts which you now regard as sinful. Technically speaking, you will not then be sinning since you will not be doing these acts of your own free will. And these acts will carry no moral responsibility, nor moral culpability, nor any punishment whatsoever. Nevertheless, these acts will all be of the type which you presently regard as sinful; they will all have this quality which you presently feel as abhorrent, but your abhorrence will disappear; so you will not then feel abhorrence toward the acts.
No, but I have present abhorrence toward the acts, and this present abhorrence is sufficient to prevent me from accepting your proposal.
Hm! So let me get this absolutely straight. I take it you no longer wish me to remove your free will.
No, I guess not.
All right, I agree not to. But I am still not exactly clear as to why you now no longer wish to be rid of your free will. Please tell me again.
Because, as you have told me, without free will I would sin even more than I do now.
But I have already told you that without free will you cannot sin.
But if I choose now to be rid of free will, then all my subsequent evil actions will be sins, not of the future, but of the present moment in which I choose not to have free will.
Sounds like you are pretty badly trapped, doesn't it?
Of course I am trapped! You have placed me in a hideous double bind! Now whatever I do is wrong. If I retain free will, I will continue to sin, and if I abandon free will (with your help, of course) I will now be sinning in so doing.
But by the same token, you place me in a double bind. I am willing to leave you free will or remove it as you choose, but neither alternative satisfies you. I wish to help you, but it seems I cannot.
But since it is not my fault, why are you still angry with me?
For having placed me in such a horrible predicament in first place!
But, according to you, there is nothing satisfactory I could have done.
You mean there is nothing satisfactory you can now do, that does not mean that there is nothing you could have done.
Why? What could I have done?
Obviously you should never have given me free will in the first place. Now that you have given it to me, it is too late -- anything I do will be bad. But you should never have given it to me in the first place.
Oh, that's it! Why would it have been better had I never given it to you?
Because then I never would have been capable of sinning at all.
Well, I'm always glad to learn from my mistakes.
I know, that sounds sort of self-blasphemous, doesn't it? It almost involves a logical paradox! On the one hand, as you have been taught, it is morally wrong for any sentient being to claim that I am capable of making mistakes. On the other hand, I have the right to do anything. But I am also a sentient being. So the question is, Do, I or do I not have the right to claim that I am capable of making mistakes?
That is a bad joke! One of your premises is simply false. I have not been taught that it is wrong for any sentient being to doubt your omniscience, but only for a mortal to doubt it. But since you are not mortal, then you are obviously free from this injunction.
Good, so you realize this on a rational level. Nevertheless, you did appear shocked when I said, "I am always glad to learn from my mistakes."
Of course I was shocked. I was shocked not by your self-blasphemy (as you jokingly called it), not by the fact that you had no right to say it, but just by the fact that you did say it, since I have been taught that as a matter of fact you don't make mistakes. So I was amazed that you claimed that it is possible for you to make mistakes.
I have not claimed that it is possible. All I am saying is that if I make mistakes, I will be happy to learn from them. But this says nothing about whether the if has or ever can be realized.
Let's please stop quibbling about this point. Do you or do you not admit it was a mistake to have given me free will?
Well now, this is precisely what I propose we should investigate. Let me review your present predicament. You don't want to have free will because with free will you can sin, and you don't want to sin. (Though I still find this puzzling; in a way you must want to sin, or else you wouldn't. But let this pass for now.) On the other hand, if you agreed to give up free will, then you would now be responsible for the acts of the future. Ergo, I should never have given you free will in the first place.
I understand exactly how you feel. Many mortals -- even some theologians -- have complained that I have been unfair in that it was I, not they, who decided that they should have free will, and then I hold them responsible for their actions. In other words, they feel that they are expected to live up to a contract with me which they never agreed to in the first place.
As I said, I understand the feeling perfectly. And I can appreciate the justice of the complaint. But the complaint arises only from an unrealistic understanding of the true issues involved. I am about to enlighten you as to what these are, and I think the results will surprise you! But instead of telling you outright, I shall continue to use the Socratic method.
To repeat, you regret that I ever gave you free will. I claim that when you see the true ramifications you will no longer have this regret. To prove my point, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I am about to create a new universe -- a new space-time continuum. In this new universe will be born a mortal just like you -- for all practical purposes, we might say that you will be reborn. Now, I can give this new mortal -- this new you -- free will or not. What would you like me to do?
Mortal (in great relief):
Oh, please! Spare him from having to have free will!
All right, I'll do as you say. But you do realize that this new you without free will, will commit all sorts of horrible acts.
But they will not be sins since he will have no free will.
Whether you call them sins or not, the fact remains that they will be horrible acts in the sense that they will cause great pain to many sentient beings.
Mortal (after a pause):
Good God, you have trapped me again! Always the same game! If I now give you the go-ahead to create this new creature with no free will who will nevertheless commit atrocious acts, then true enough he will not be sinning, but I again will be the sinner to sanction this.
In that case, I'll go you one better! Here, I have already decided whether to create this new you with free will or not. Now, I am writing my decision on this piece of paper and I won't show it to you until later. But my decision is now made and is absolutely irrevocable. There is nothing you can possibly do to alter it; you have no responsibility in the matter. Now, what I wish to know is this: Which way do you hope I have decided? Remember now, the responsibility for the decision falls entirely on my shoulders, not yours. So you can tell me perfectly honestly and without any fear, which way do you hope I have decided?
Mortal (after a very long pause):
I hope you have decided to give him free will.
Most interesting! I have removed your last obstacle! If I do not give him free will, then no sin is to be imputed to anybody. So why do you hope I will give him free will?
Because sin or no sin, the important point is that if you do not give him free will, then (at least according to what you have said) he will go around hurting people, and I don't want to see people hurt.
GOD (with an infinite sigh of relief):
At last! At last you see the real point!
What point is that?
That sinning is not the real issue! The important thing is that people as well as other sentient beings don't get hurt!
You sound like a utilitarian!
I am a utilitarian!
Whats or no whats, I am a utilitarian. Not a unitarian, mind you, but a utilitarian.
I just can't believe it!
Yes, I know, your religious training has taught you otherwise. You have probably thought of me more like a Kantian than a utilitarian, but your training was simply wrong.
You leave me speechless!
I leave you speechless, do I! Well, that is perhaps not too bad a thing -- you have a tendency to speak too much as it is. Seriously, though, why do you think I ever did give you free will in the first place?
Why did you? I never have thought much about why you did; all I have been arguing for is that you shouldn't have! But why did you? I guess all I can think of is the standard religious explanation: Without free will, one is not capable of meriting either salvation or damnation. So without free will, we could not earn the right to eternal life.
Most interesting! I have eternal life; do you think I have ever done anything to merit it?
Of course not! With you it is different. You are already so good and perfect (at least allegedly) that it is not necessary for you to merit eternal life.
Really now? That puts me in a rather enviable position, doesn't it?
I don't think I understand you.
Here I am eternally blissful without ever having to suffer or make sacrifices or struggle against evil temptations or anything like that. Without any of that type of "merit", I enjoy blissful eternal existence. By contrast, you poor mortals have to sweat and suffer and have all sorts of horrible conflicts about morality, and all for what? You don't even know whether I really exist or not, or if there really is any afterlife, or if there is, where you come into the picture. No matter how much you try to placate me by being "good," you never have any real assurance that your "best" is good enough for me, and hence you have no real security in obtaining salvation. Just think of it! I already have the equivalent of "salvation" -- and have never had to go through this infinitely lugubrious process of earning it. Don't you ever envy me for this?
But it is blasphemous to envy you!
Oh come off it! You're not now talking to your Sunday school teacher, you are talking to me. Blasphemous or not, the important question is not whether you have the right to be envious of me but whether you are. Are you?
Of course I am!
Good! Under your present world view, you sure should be most envious of me. But I think with a more realistic world view, you no longer will be. So you really have swallowed the idea which has been taught you that your life on earth is like an examination period and that the purpose of providing you with free will is to test you, to see if you merit blissful eternal life. But what puzzles me is this: If you really believe I am as good and benevolent as I am cracked up to be, why should I require people to merit things like happiness and eternal life? Why should I not grant such things to everyone regardless of whether or not he deserves them?
But I have been taught that your sense of morality -- your sense of justice -- demands that goodness be rewarded with happiness and evil be punished with pain.
Then you have been taught wrong.
But the religious literature is so full of this idea! Take for example Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." How he describes you as holding your enemies like loathsome scorpions over the flaming pit of hell, preventing them from falling into the fate that they deserve only by dint of your mercy.
Fortunately, I have not been exposed to the tirades of Mr. Jonathan Edwards. Few sermons have ever been preached which are more misleading. The very title "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" tells its own tale. In the first place, I am never angry. In the second place, I do not think at all in terms of "sin." In the third place, I have no enemies.
By that do you mean that there are no people whom you hate, or that there are no people who hate you?
I meant the former although the latter also happens to be true.
Oh come now, I know people who have openly claimed to have hated you. At times I have hated you!
You mean you have hated your image of me. That is not the same thing as hating me as I really am.
Are you trying to say that it is not wrong to hate a false conception of you, but that it is wrong to hate you as you really are?
No, I am not saying that at all; I am saying something far more drastic! What I am saying has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong. What I am saying is that one who knows me for what I really am would simply find it psychologically impossible to hate me.
Tell me, since we mortals seem to have such erroneous views about your real nature, why don't you enlighten us? Why don't you guide us the right way?
What makes you think I'm not?
I mean, why don't you appear to our very senses and simply tell us that we are wrong?
Are you really so naive as to believe that I am the sort of being which can appear to your senses? It would be more correct to say that I am your senses.
You are my senses?
Not quite, I am more than that. But it comes closer to the truth than the idea that I am perceivable by the senses. I am not an object; like you, I am a subject, and a subject can perceive, but cannot be perceived. You can no more see me than you can see your own thoughts. You can see an apple, but the event of your seeing an apple is itself not seeable. And I am far more like the seeing of an apple than the apple itself.
If I can't see you, how do I know you exist?
Good question! How in fact do you know I exist?
Well, I am talking to you, am I not?
How do you know you are talking to me? Suppose you told a psychiatrist, "Yesterday I talked to God." What do you think he would say?
That might depend on the psychiatrist. Since most of them are atheistic, I guess most would tell me I had simply been talking to myself.
And they would be right!
What? You mean you don't exist?
You have the strangest faculty of drawing false conclusions! Just because you are talking to yourself, it follows that I don't exist?
Well, if I think I am talking to you, but I am really talking to myself, in what sense do you exist?
Your question is based on two fallacies plus a confusion. The question of whether or not you are now talking to me and the question of whether or not I exist are totally separate. Even if you were not now talking to me (which obviously you are), it still would not mean that I don't exist.
Well, all right, of course! So instead of saying "if I am talking to myself, then you don't exist," I should rather have said, "if I am talking to myself, then I obviously am not talking to you."
A very different statement indeed, but still false.
Oh, come now, if I am only talking to myself, then how can I be talking to you?
Your use of the word "only" is quite misleading! I can suggest several logical possibilities under which your talking to yourself does not imply that you are not talking to me.
Suggest just one!
Well, obviously one such possibility is that you and I are identical.
Such a blasphemous thought -- at least had I uttered it!
According to some religions, yes. According to others, it is the plain, simple, immediately perceived truth.
So the only way out of my dilemma is to believe that you and I are identical?
Not at all! This is only one way out. There are several others. For example, it may be that you are part of me, in which case you may be talking to that part of me which is you. Or I may be part of you, in which case you may be talking to that part of you which is me. Or again, you and I might partially overlap, in which case you may be talking to the intersection and hence talking both to you and to me. The only way your talking to yourself might seem to imply that you are not talking to me is if you and I were totally disjoint -- and even then, you could conceivably be talking to both of us.
So you claim you do exist.
Not at all. Again you draw false conclusions! The question of my existence has not even come up. All I have said is that from the fact that you are talking to yourself one cannot possibly infer my nonexistence, let alone the weaker fact that you are not talking to me.
All right, I'll grant your point! But what I really want to know is do you exist?
What a strange question!
Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.
I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most strange question to ask of me!
Because I am the very one whose existence you doubt! I perfectly well understand your anxiety. You are worried that your present experience with me is a mere hallucination. But how can you possibly expect to obtain reliable information from a being about his very existence when you suspect the nonexistence of the very same being?
So you won't tell me whether or not you exist?
I am not being willful! I merely wish to point out that no answer I could give could possibly satisfy you. All right, suppose I said, "No, I don't exist." What would that prove? Absolutely nothing! Or if I said, "Yes, I exist." Would that convince you? Of course not!
Well, if you can't tell me whether or not you exist, then who possibly can?
That is something which no one can tell you. It is something which only you can find out for yourself.
How do I go about finding this out for myself?
That also no one can tell you. This is another thing you will have to find out for yourself.
So there is no way you can help me?
I didn't say that. I said there is no way I can tell you. But that doesn't mean there is no way I can help you.
In what manner then can you help me?
I suggest you leave that to me! We have gotten sidetracked as it is, and I would like to return to the question of what you believed my purpose to be in giving you free will. Your first idea of my giving you free will in order to test whether you merit salvation or not may appeal to many moralists, but the idea is quite hideous to me. You cannot think of any nicer reason -- any more humane reason -- why I gave you free will?
Well now, I once asked this question of an Orthodox rabbi. He told me that the way we are constituted, it is simply not possible for us to enjoy salvation unless we feel we have earned it. And to earn it, we of course need free will.
That explanation is indeed much nicer than your former but still is far from correct. According to Orthodox Judaism, I created angels, and they have no free will. They are in actual sight of me and are so completely attracted by goodness that they never have even the slightest temptation toward evil. They really have no choice in the matter. Yet they are eternally happy even though they have never earned it. So if your rabbi's explanation were correct, why wouldn't I have simply created only angels rather than mortals?
Beats me! Why didn't you?
Because the explanation is simply not correct. In the first place, I have never created any ready-made angels. All sentient beings ultimately approach the state which might be called "angelhood." But just as the race of human beings is in a certain stage of biologic evolution, so angels are simply the end result of a process of Cosmic Evolution. The only difference between the so-called saint and the so-called sinner is that the former is vastly older than the latter. Unfortunately it takes countless life cycles to learn what is perhaps the most important fact of the universe -- evil is simply painful. All the arguments of the moralists -- all the alleged reasons why people shouldn't commit evil acts -- simply pale into insignificance in light of the one basic truth that evil is suffering.
No, my dear friend, I am not a moralist. I am wholly a utilitarian. That I should have been conceived in the role of a moralist is one of the great tragedies of the human race. My role in the scheme of things (if one can use this misleading expression) is neither to punish nor reward, but to aid the process by which all sentient beings achieve ultimate perfection.
Why did you say your expression is misleading?
What I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is inaccurate to speak of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of things. Secondly, it is equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process of sentient beings attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancient Taoists were quite close when they said of me (whom they called "Tao") that I do not do things, yet through me all things get done. In more modem terms, I am not the cause of Cosmic Process, I am Cosmic Process itself. I think the most accurate and fruitful definition of me which man can frame -- at least in his present state of evolution -- is that I am the very process of enlightenment. Those who wish to think of the devil (although I wish they wouldn't!) might analogously define him as the unfortunate length of time the process takes. In this sense, the devil is necessary; the process simply does take an enormous length of time, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. But, I assure you, once the process is more correctly understood, the painful length of time will no longer be regarded as an essential limitation or an evil. It will be seen to be the very essence of the process itself. I know this is not completely consoling to you who are now in the finite sea of suffering, but the amazing thing is that once you grasp this fundamental attitude, your very finite suffering will begin to diminish -- ultimately to the vanishing point.
I have been told this, and I tend to believe it. But suppose I personally succeed in seeing things through your eternal eyes. Then I will be happier, but don't I have a duty to others?
You remind me of the Mahayana Buddhists! Each one says, "I will not enter Nirvana until I first see that all other sentient beings do so." So each one waits for the other fellow to go first. No wonder it takes them so long! The Hinayana Buddhist errs in a different direction. He believes that no one can be of the slightest help to others in obtaining salvation; each one has to do it entirely by himself. And so each tries only for his own salvation. But this very detached attitude makes salvation impossible. The truth of the matter is that salvation is partly an individual and partly a social process. But it is a grave mistake to believe -- as do many Mahayana Buddhists -- that the attaining of enlightenment puts one out of commission, so to speak, for helping others. The best way of helping others is by first seeing the light oneself.
There is one thing about your self-description which is somewhat disturbing. You describe yourself essentially as a process. This puts you in such an impersonal light, and so many people have a need for a personal God.
So because they need a personal God, it follows that I am one?
Of course not. But to be acceptable to a mortal a religion must satisfy his needs.
I realize that. But the so-called "personality" of a being is really more in the eyes of the beholder than in the being itself. The controversies which have raged, about whether I am a personal or an impersonal being are rather silly because neither side is right or wrong. From one point of view, I am personal, from another, I am not. It is the same with a human being. A creature from another planet may look at him purely impersonally as a mere collection of atomic particles behaving according to strictly prescribed physical laws. He may have no more feeling for the personality of a human than the average human has for an ant. Yet an ant has just as much individual personality as a human to beings like myself who really know the ant. To look at something impersonally is no more correct or incorrect than to look at it personally, but in general, the better you get to know something, the more personal it becomes. To illustrate my point, do you think of me as a personal or impersonal being?
Well, I'm talking to you, am I not?
Exactly! From that point of view, your attitude toward me might be described as a personal one. And yet, from another point of view -- no less valid -- I can also be looked at impersonally.
But if you are really such an abstract thing as a process, I don't see what sense it can make my talking to a mere "process."
I love the way you say "mere." You might just as well say that you are living in a "mere universe." Also, why must everything one does make sense? Does it make sense to talk to a tree?
Of course not!
And yet, many children and primitives do just that.
But I am neither a child nor a primitive.
I realize that, unfortunately.
Because many children and primitives have a primal intuition which the likes of you have lost. Frankly, I think it would do you a lot of good to talk to a tree once in a while, even more good than talking to me! But we seem always to be getting sidetracked! For the last time, I would like us to try to come to an understanding about why I gave you free will.
I have been thinking about this all the while.
You mean you haven't been paying attention to our conversation?
Of course I have. But all the while, on another level, I have been thinking about it.
And have you come to any conclusion?
Well, you say the reason is not to test our worthiness. And you disclaimed the reason that we need to feel that we must merit things in order to enjoy them. And you claim to be a utilitarian. Most significant of all, you appeared so delighted when I came to the sudden realization that it is not sinning in itself which is bad but only the suffering which it causes.
Well of course! What else could conceivably be bad about sinning?
All right, you know that, and now I know that. But all my life I unfortunately have been under the influence of those moralists who hold sinning to be bad in itself. Anyway, putting all these pieces together, it occurs to me that the only reason you gave free will is because of your belief that with free will, people will tend to hurt each other -- and themselves -- less than without free will.
Bravo! That is by far the best reason you have yet given! I can assure you that had I chosen to give free will, that would have been my very reason for so choosing.
What! You mean to say you did not choose to give us free will?
My dear fellow, I could no more choose to give you free will than I could choose to make an equilateral triangle equiangular. I could choose to make or not to make an equilateral triangle in the first place, but having chosen to make one, I would then have no choice but to make it equiangular.
I thought you could do anything!
Only things which are logically possible. As St. Thomas said, "It is a sin to regard the fact that God cannot do the impossible, as a limitation on His powers." I agree, except that in place of his using the word sin I would use the term error.
Anyhow, I am still puzzled by your implication that you did not choose to give me free will.
Well, it is high time I inform you that the entire discussion -- from the very beginning -- has been based on one monstrous fallacy! We have been talking purely on a moral level -- you originally complained that I gave you free will, and raised the whole question as to whether I should have. It never once occurred to you that I had absolutely no choice in the matter.
I am still in the dark!
Absolutely! Because you are only able to look at it through the eyes of a moralist. The more fundamental metaphysical aspects of the question you never even considered.
I still do not see what you are driving at.
Before you requested me to remove your free will, shouldn't your first question have been whether as a matter of fact you do have free will?
That I simply took for granted.
But why should you?
I don't know. Do I have free will?
Then why did you say I shouldn't have taken it for granted?
Because you shouldn't. Just because something happens to be true, it does not follow that it should be taken for granted.
Anyway, it is reassuring to know that my natural intuition about having free will is correct. Sometimes I have been worried that determinists are correct.
They are correct.
Wait a minute now, do I have free will or don't I?
I already told you you do. But that does not mean that determinism is incorrect.
Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't they?
The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.
What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!
You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.
So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?
It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase "determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this" synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction. Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow who is exerting the "force." In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.
You said a short while ago that our whole discussion was based on a monstrous fallacy. You still have not told me what this fallacy is.
Why, the idea that I could possibly have created you without free will! You acted as if this were a genuine possibility, and wondered why I did not choose it! It never occurred to you that a sentient being without free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no gravitational attraction. (There is, incidentally, more analogy than you realize between a physical object exerting gravitational attraction and a sentient being exerting free will!) Can you honestly even imagine a conscious being without free will? What on earth could it be like? I think that one thing in your life that has so misled you is your having been told that I gave man the gift of free will. As if I first created man, and then as an afterthought endowed him with the extra property of free will. Maybe you think I have some sort of "paint brush" with which I daub some creatures with free will and not others. No, free will is not an "extra"; it is part and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.
Then why did you play along with me all this while discussing what I thought was a moral problem, when, as you say, my basic confusion was metaphysical?
Because I thought it would be good therapy for you to get some of this moral poison out of your system. Much of your metaphysical confusion was due to faulty moral notions, and so the latter had to be dealt with first.
And now we must part -- at least until you need me again. I think our present union will do much to sustain you for a long while. But do remember what I told you about trees. Of course, you don't have to literally talk to them if doing so makes you feel silly. But there is so much you can learn from them, as well as from the rocks and streams and other aspects of nature. There is nothing like a naturalistic orientation to dispel all these morbid thoughts of "sin" and "free will" and "moral responsibility." At one stage of history, such notions were actually useful. I refer to the days when tyrants had unlimited power and nothing short of fears of hell could possibly restrain them. But mankind has grown up since then, and this gruesome way of thinking is no longer necessary.
It might be helpful to you to recall what I once said through the writings of the great Zen poet Seng-Ts'an:
If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.
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Private "I," Private Property
The name that can be named is not the real name.
The primary or original consciousness, the Tao—the innate intelligence of the universe—is there all the while, whether we are aware of it or not. The man who has amnesia has not become someone else—he has simply forgot-1 ten who he is. In the Western world, which is today (in a cultural sense) ] most of the world, we have a collective amnesia regarding the unnameable Tao—we have lost touch with a consciousness that is prior to the ego. It is j not only that we have failed to open the Wisdom Eye; we have forgotten that it even exists. As a result, the field of consciousness available to us is limited to that defined by the ego.
One manifestation of our collective amnesia regarding transcendence is ' our unwavering commitment to the concept of private property. Like the ego, private property may well serve a useful social function. Yet if we take a man-made social convention and confuse it with the underlying reality, we are sure to go astray. Standing out in the middle of the desert, a sign marks an imaginary line that separates the states of Arizona and New Mexico. Nothing in the landscape distinguishes this side from that. The boundary [line is clearly arbitrary and imaginary. In truth, this is the case with all property. The boundary lines are always arbitrary and imaginary. They exist as a function of belief—not in the physical world, and much less in the transcendent unity of all things. This is an obvious and easily demonstrable fact of life, yet one which, in our daily living, we choose to ignore.
We fail to understand that a particular thing is merely an artificial definition by our senses, of some indefinable . . . infinitely surpassing that thing.
—P. D. Ouspensky
Despite the implications that our belief in private property has on our 1 experience of abundance or lack, we seldom, if ever, hold it up to critical analysis. The concept of ownership is meaningless without a name to attach the object to. Name is, as we have said, the original seed of the ego. It bis through names that we distinguish differences, and it is by identifying \ with and clinging to our own names and their associations that we stake tout our personal territory. (We forget too easily that persona means "mask," which implies both an illusion and a cover.) Having marked the territory, Live look for how what is inside the boundaries can be distinguished from [what is outside. This territory is the original, and the most private, property. Name (and its associations) is the first thing that we own.
Since name is the core of the ego, we seek to enlarge, protect, and prepare our names. We feel pleasure when "good" things are said about our names, and pain when "bad" things are said about them. From this comes the sense of gain and loss, the psychological origins of credit and debt. iMentally attaching an object to your name gives the sense of possession. ^Preserving possessions is a way of preserving your name, that is, the ego. [Since we realize that we as egos are destined to die, we want somehow to [extend our ego identities beyond the scant seventy, eighty, or perhaps ninety [years we are normally allotted. One device for achieving an illusion of ego [life-extension is the conception of the inheritance of private property. It allows us to pass on the possessions (objects attached to our names) to our offspring, and in so doing, preserve our names and ego identities beyond the grave. It is an attempt of the ego to find security and permanence in a world of constant change.
The universal human problem of recognizing, transcending, and integrating the ego is compounded by the artificiality of modern life. One who lives in nature is constantly in touch with, and immediately aware of, a field of power and experience transcendent to the life of ego and society.] People in most traditional cultures tried to live in accord with the cycles! seasons, and powers inherent in the natural world. Today, we try as much as we can to insulate and isolate ourselves in an artificial man-made world. I Like no other in human history, our society tries to project and protect the illusion that we are separate from nature and its universal life processes! Wrapped up in the complexity of modern technological society, we find it difficult to see that the order of nature governs our own lives collectively and individually, and therefore to put our trust in the Tao.
The Taoists, then, condemned the differentiation of society into classes. Rightly they associated the process with increasing artificiality and complexity of life. . . .
If there is anything like a law of consciousness, it is this: whatever we focus our attention on expands in our lives. Every major spiritual tradition in the world employs this fundamental principle of consciousness a an essential part of its path to liberation. The first of Christ's two commandments is to love (focus on) the Lord with all of thy mind and heart and strength. The yoga tradition of India, from the sutras of Patanjali to the Bhagavad-Gita, tells us that awakening is achieved through the focus of attention—be it on the individual's own higher self, or Atman, the impersonal universal Brahman, or the personal deity forms of God, Bhagavan. Similarly, the Taoist teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu instruct us that we are to cultivate (become more aware of) the Tao.
In traditional cultures, myth, ritual, and art provided points of focus on transcendent symbols as means of projecting or pitching the consciousness beyond the field of the ego. For the society, this served two primary functions: First, it provided the mass of people with authentic rituals that promoted a temporary release from the ego state—a peek into the beyond. Second, it gave a relative few individuals a general blueprint for, or path to, enlightenment. The awakening of these individuals in turn enriched the whole society.
Lawerence Boldt - “EmpowerYou.com
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---“Misty Paradox” by Robert James Hacunda
“We can only do the best we know how to do.”
by William Martin
Once, long ago in ancient China, a drought of many years' duration was bringing great misery to a small province. Year after year the people of the province waited for the rainy season to come and bring the needed nurture for the rice crop. Each year the season produced very little rain and the rice crop dwindled. Many were on the verge of starvation. Indeed, some elderly people had died of illnesses brought on by their hunger-weakened condition.
The people turned to the superstitions of their ancestors in an attempt to influence the rain. They performed rituals designed to stir whatever gods there were who might control the rain. They weren't sure these rituals would work, but they were desperate. They needed the rain.
Finally, just when the province was about to be devastated by yet another failing crop, the rainy season came with torrents. Day after day the rain poured down and the rice seedlings thrived in the flooded paddies. The crop was the biggest in memory. The people of the province once again felt the beneficent power of the Tao.
"Now," the Master asked, "do you think this was indeed a beneficent rainy season?"
"It would seem that it was," answered his student.
"So it would seem," said the Master. "The neighboring province, whose villages were situated along the banks of several rivers, experienced the worst flash floods of their history that year. The water came pouring suddenly down steep canyons and washed whole villages away, killing hundreds of men, women, and children. What do you suppose their view of that rainy season might have been?"
"That it was very harmful," said the student.
"So—benefit or harm? Can you ever know?"
I can write myself into endless circles trying to describe the complexity of the harm/benefit continuum. In the same way, the conditioned mind can tie me into knots of guilt by pointing out the harm I do no matter what course of action I choose. Are the chickens who laid these eggs living a cage-free, non-antibiotic,
vegetarian life? If not, should I be buying these eggs? (Never mind the messages when I sit down to an actual chicken dinner!) And the coffee sitting by my hand here at the Naked Lounge Cafe-—fair-trade? No. Shade-grown? No idea. Delicious? You bet. Does my next sip doom a struggling farmer in Brazil?
I remember the look on the face of a woman with whom I had a long-term intimate relationship many years ago when I told her I was leaving the relationship. How could I cause such pain, such feelings of betrayal, such grief? From that relationship I entered into love and marriage with my beloved Spouse. Benefit for me? Beyond measure. Harm for the former lover? Yes, or ... ? She went on to have an interesting and satisfying life. Benefit? Harm? Both?
To this day, twenty years later, personalities in my head occasionally bring up that look on her face and shake their ghostly heads in disapproval. "How could you? And here you are, happy. How dare you be happy?" Well, like all of us, I did the best I knew how with what and who I was at the time. I put one foot in front of the other, causing harm and benefit willy-nilly as I went, my conditioned moral judges always quick to point out what they see as the harm done, no one really acknowledging the benefit.
The Tao Mind uses both harm and benefit as the raw materials that are used to build compassion. They are as necessary to each other as are the proton and the electron. They are part of a greater whole, of a compassionate life that cannot come into being without the interplay of the two. They seem to be opposed to each other, yet the Tao Mind is constantly using forgiveness to transform harm into empathy, openness, acceptance, compassion, and wholeness. Whether harm is intentional or unintentional, the forgiveness within the Tao Mind allows it to be integrated into the great Dance of Life in ways that bring unexpected benefit, allowing the surprises of grace to occur.
My conditioned mind argues, "Are you suggesting that a cruel, callous act is excusable just because the universe is complicated?"
No. But remember, "cruel and callous" is a label, not a fact. It may seem accurate but we might choose other ways of describing the act that would be more helpful in allowing forgiveness to facilitate appropriate reactions. Being willing to look at the act without the labels can lead us to certain helpful steps.
We can look with clarity and courage at the act itself with a desire to understand just what happened and what factors might have led to that act. We may find that the "cruel and callous' labels are no longer necessary.
With a clearer understanding we can take steps to heal the wounds that the act may have caused.
We can put appropriate structures in place to prevent continuing harm.
Remember, in the Tao Mind, the act is accepted as "having happened." The Tao Mind contains the forgiveness necessary so that we might be aware of the most compassionate healing act possible in the moment. No effort is wasted in judgment upon persons or actions. All energy is directed to the present-moment, naturally arising, compassionate action.
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--309 Earthling by Dracorubio
...Generally speaking, we have two kinds of consciousness. One I will call the "spotlight," and the other the "floodlight." The spotlight is what we call conscious attention, and we are trained from childhood that it is the most valuable form of perception. When the teacher in class says, "Pay attention!" everybody stares, and looks right at the teacher. That is spotlight consciousness; fixing your mind on one thing at a time. You concentrate, and even though you may not be able to have a very long attention span, nevertheless you use your spotlight: one thing after another, one thing after another . . . flip, flip, flip, flip, flip. However, we also have floodlight consciousness. For example, you can drive your car for several miles with a friend sitting next to you, and your spotlight consciousness may be completely absorbed in talking to your friend. Nevertheless, your floodlight consciousness will manage the driving of the car, will notice all the stoplights, the other idiots on the road, and so on, and you will get there safely without even thinking about it.
However, our culture has taught us to specialize in spotlight consciousness, and to identify ourselves with that form of consciousness alone. "I am my spotlight consciousness, my conscious attention; that is my ego; that is me." Although we very largely ignore it, the floodlight consciousness is working all the time, and every nerve ending that we have is its instrument. You can go out to a luncheon and sit next to Mrs. So-and-So, and you go home and your wife asks you, "Was Mrs. So-and-So there?"
"Yes, I sat next to her."
"Well, what was she wearing?"
"Well, I haven't the faintest idea."
You saw, but you did not notice. Now, because we have been brought up to identify ourselves with the spotlight consciousness, and the floodlight consciousness is undervalued, we have the sensation of ourselves as being just the spotlight, just the ego that looks and attends to this and that and the other. So we ignore and are unaware of the vast, vast extent of our being. People, who by various methods become fully aware of their floodlight consciousness, have what is called "a mystical experience," or what the Buddhists call bodhi, an awakening. The Hindus call it moksha, or liberation, because they discover that the real deep, deep self, that which you really are fundamentally and forever, is the whole of being—all that there is, the works, that is you. Only that universal self that is you has a capacity to focus itself at ever so many different here-and-nows. So, as William James said, "The word T is really a word of position like 'this,' or 'here.'" Just as a sun or star has many rays, so the whole cosmos expresses itself in you and you and you in all the different variations. It plays games: it plays the John Doe game, the Mary Smith game. It plays the beetle game, the butterfly game, the bird game, the pigeon game, the fish game, the star game. These are games that differ from each other just like backgammon, bridge, poker, or pinochle; or like the waltz, mazurka, minuet, and tango. It dances with infinite variety, but every single dance that it does—that is to say, you—is what the whole thing is doing. However, we forget and we do not know who we are. We are brought up in a special way so that we are unaware of the connection, and unaware that each one of us is the works, playing it this way for awhile. So we have been taught to dread death as if it were the end of the show because it will not happen any more.
Therefore we are conditioned to be afraid of all the things that might bring about death: pain, sickness, suffering. If you are not really vividly aware of the fact that you are basically "the works," chances are you have no real joy in life, and you are just a bundle of anxiety mixed in with guilt.
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“An Evil Man” by Tooned
Taoism essentially means to follow the path of least resistance while always maintaining respect and consideration for the welfare and freedom of all other beings. Fascism means to control the behavior of others and manipulate them to comply with your particular model of reality, by force if necessary. If you're particularly charismatic or plausible you can gather a following fairly easily because, perversely, many people like to be controlled by someone else. It makes them feel safe and for a while gives the illusion of having no responsibility for their lives. These unfortunates are the anti-warriors.
Fascistic tendencies are to be avoided both in yourself and others as they constrict your energy flow and eventually lead to disease of individuals and entire societies.
Fascists come in many guises, not just in dodgy, erotically suggestive uniforms. Perhaps more alarming are the spiritual fascists, the cultists who believe theirs is the only way. The "enlightened" masters, mistresses and spiritual leaders, with their entourages of henchmen and hit men, who hypnotize their followers into seeing things their way using fear and threats of excommunication; the healers who tell you to follow only their advice or your life won't work; and the husband who tells his wife she'd be nothing without
him; I could go on.
Fascism is following the way of making, i.e., forcing, whereas Taoism means following the way of allowing what arises of itself, otherwise known as love. As an antidote to fascism, visualize the idea of individual freedom arising from your heart and pouring out of you like a fine vapor that proceeds to envelop everyone on the planet, with double doses for those you consider to exhibit the greatest fascistic tendencies.
Obviously what they do with it is up to them. If you were even to visualize them responding in a way you think proper it would amount to metaphysical fascism on your part.
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CHENG-TAO-KO [Zhengdaoge] (C.); (J. Shodoka (J.); Song of Enlightenment, Song of Immediate Satori, Song of Realization, Song of the Realization of the Way, Odes on Enlightenment
There is the leisurely one,
Walking the Tao, beyond philosophy,
Not avoiding fantasy, not seeking truth.
The real nature of ignorance is the Buddha-nature itself;
The empty delusory body is the very body of the Dharma.
When the Dharma body awakens completely,
There is nothing at all.
The source of our self-nature
Is the Buddha of innocent truth.
Mental and physical reactions come and go
Like clouds in the empty sky;
Greed, hatred, and ignorance appear and disappear
Like bubbles on the surface of the sea.
When we realize actuality,
There is no distinction between mind and thing
And the path to hell instantly vanishes.
If this is a lie to fool the world,
My tongue may be cut out forever.
Once we awaken to the Tathagata-Zen,
The six noble deeds and the ten thousand good actions
Are already complete within us.
In our dream we see the six levels of illusion clearly;
After we awaken the whole universe is empty.
No bad fortune, no good fortune, no loss, no gain;
Never seek such things in eternal serenity.
For years the dusty mirror has gone uncleaned,
Now let us polish it completely, once and for all.
Who has no-thought? Who is not-born?
If we are truly not-born,
We are not un-born either.
Ask a robot if this is not so.
How can we realize ourselves
By virtuous deeds or by seeking the Buddha?
Release your hold on earth, water, fire, wind;
Drink and eat as you wish in eternal serenity.
All things are transient and completely empty;
This is the great enlightenment of the Tathagata.
Transience, emptiness and enlightenment --
These are the ultimate truths of Buddhism;
Keeping and teaching them is true Sangha devotion.
If you don`t agree, please ask me about it.
Cut out directly the root of it all, --
This is the very point of the Buddha-seal.
I can't respond to any concern about leaves and branches.
People do not recognize the Mani-jewel.
Living intimately within the Tathagata-garbha,
It operates our sight, hearing, smell, taste, sensation, awareness;
And all of these are empty, yet not empty.
The rays shining from this perfect Mani-jewel
Have the form of no form at all.
Clarify the five eyes and develop the five powers;
This is not intellectual work, -- just realize, just know.
It is not difficult to see images in a mirror,
But who can take hold of the moon in the water?
Always working alone, always walking alone,
The enlightened one walks the free way of Nirvana
With melody that is old and clear in spirit
And naturally elegant in style,
But with body that is tough and bony,
Passing unnoticed in the world.
We know that Shakya's sons and daughters
Are poor in body, but not in the Tao.
In their poverty, they always wear ragged clothing,
But they have the jewel of no price treasured within.
This jewel of no price can never be used up
Though they spend it freely to help people they meet.
Dharmakaya, Sambogakaya, Nirmanakaya,
And the four kinds of wisdom
Are all contained within.
The eight kinds of emancipation and the six universal powers
Are all impressed on the ground of their mind.
The best student goes directly to the ultimate,
The others are very learned but their faith is uncertain.
Remove the dirty garments from your own mind;
Why should you show off your outward striving?
Some may slander, some may abuse;
They try to set fire to the heavens with a torch
And end by merely tiring themselves out.
I hear their scandal as though it were ambrosial truth;
Immediately everything melts
And I enter the place beyond thought and words.
When I consider the virtue of abusive words,
I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.
If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.
To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression,
And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.
Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the some way.
The incomparable lion-roar of doctrine
Shatters the brains of the one hundred kinds of animals.
Even the king of elephants will run away, forgetting his pride;
Only the heavenly dragon listens calmly, with pure delight.
I wandered over rivers and seas, crossing mountains and streams,
Visiting teachers, asking about the Way in personal interviews;
Since I recognized the Sixth Founding Teacher at Ts'ao Ch'i,
I know what is beyond the relativity of birth and death.
Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen;
Speaking or silent, active or quiet, the essence is at peace.
Even facing the sword of death, our mind is unmoved;
Even drinking poison, our mind is quiet.
Our teacher, Shakyamuni, met Dipankara Buddha
And for many eons he trained as Kshanti, the ascetic.
Many births, many deaths;
I am serene in this cycle,--there is no end to it.
Since I abruptly realized the unborn,
I have had no reason for joy or sorrow
At any honor or disgrace.
I have entered the deep mountains to silence and beauty;
In a profound valley beneath high cliffs,
I sit under the old pine trees.
Zazen in my rustic cottage
Is peaceful, lonely, and truly comfortable.
When you truly awaken,
You have no formal merit.
In the multiplicity of the relative world,
You cannot find such freedom.
Self-centered merit brings the joy of heaven itself,
But it is like shooting an arrow at the sky;
When the force is exhausted, it falls to the earth,
And then everything goes wrong.
Why should this be better
Than the true way of the absolute,
Directly penetrating the ground of Tathagata?
Just take hold of the source
And never mind the branches.
It is like a treasure-moon
Enclosed in a beautiful emerald.
Now I understand this Mani-jewel
And my gain is the gain of everyone endlessly.
The moon shines on the river,
The wind blows through the pines,--
Whose providence is this long beautiful evening?
The Buddha-nature jewel of morality
Is impressed on the ground of my mind,
And my robe is the dew, the fog, the cloud, and the mist.
A bowl once calmed dragons
And a staff separated fighting tigers;
The rings on this staff jingle musically.
The form of these expressions is not to be taken lightly;
The treasure-staff of the Tathagata
Has left traces for us to follow.
The awakened one does not seek truth--
Does not cut off delusion.
Truth and delusion are both vacant and without form,
But this no-form is neither empty nor not empty;
It is the truly real form of the Tathagata.
The mind-mirror is clear, so there are no obstacles.
Its brilliance illuminates the universe
To the depths and in every grain of sand.
Multitudinous things of the cosmos
Are all reflected in the mind,
And this full clarity is beyond inner and outer.
To live in nothingness is to ignore cause and effect;
This chaos leads only to disaster.
The one who clings to vacancy, rejecting the world of things,
Escapes from drowning but leaps into fire.
Holding truth and rejecting delusion--
These are but skillful lies.
Students who do zazen by such lies
Love thievery in their own children.
They miss the Dharma-treasure;
They lose accumulated power;
And this disaster follows directly upon dualistic thinking.
So Zen is the complete realization of mind,
The complete cutting off of delusion,
The power of wise vision penetrating directly to the unborn.
Students of vigorous will hold the sword of wisdom;
The prajna edge is a diamond flame.
It not only cuts off useless knowledge,
But also exterminates delusions.
They roar with Dharma-thunder;
They strike the Dharma-drum;
They spread clouds of love, and pour ambrosial rain.
Their giant footsteps nourish limitless beings;
Sravaka, Pratyeka, Bodhisattva--all are enlightened;
Five kinds of human nature all are emancipated.
High in the Himalayas, only fei-ni grass grows.
Here cows produce pure and delicious milk,
And this food I continually enjoy.
One complete nature passes to all natures;
One universal Dharma encloses all Dharmas.
One moon is reflected in many waters;
All the water-moons are from the one moon.
The Dharma-body of all Buddhas has entered my own nature,
And my nature becomes one with the Tathagata.
One level completely contains all levels;
It is not matter, mind nor activity.
In an instant eighty-thousand teachings are fulfilled;
In a twinkling the evil of eons is destroyed.
All categories are no category;
What relation have have these to my insight?
Beyond praise, beyond blame, --
Like space itself it has no bounds.
Right here it is eternally full and serene,
If you search elsewhere, you cannot see it.
You cannot grasp it, you cannot reject it;
In the midst of not gaining,
In that condition you gain it.
It speaks in silence,
In speech you hear its silence.
The great way has opened and there are no obstacles.
If someone asks, what is your sect
And how do you understand it?
I reply, the power of tremendous prajna.
People say it is positive;
People say it is negative;
But they do not know.
A smooth road, a rough road --
Even heaven cannot imagine.
I have continued my zazen for many eons;
I do not say this to confuse you.
I raise the Dharma-banner and set forth our teaching;
It is the clear doctrine of the Buddha
Which I found with my teacher, Hui Neng,
Mahakashyapa became the Buddha-successor,
Received the lamp and passed it on.
Twenty-eight generations of teachers in India,
Then over seas and rivers to our land
Bodhi Dharma came as our own first founder,
And his robe, as we all know, passed through six teachers here,
And how many generations to come may gain the path,
No one knows.
The truth is not set forth;
The false is basically vacant.
Put both existence and non-existence aside,
Then even non-vacancy is vacant,
The twenty kinds of vacancy have no basis,
And the oneness of the Tathagata-being
Is naturally sameness.
Mind is the base, phenomena are dust;
Yet both are like a flaw in the mirror.
When the flaw is brushed aside,
The light begins to shine.
When both mind and phenomena are forgotten,
Then we become naturally genuine.
Ah, the degenerate materialistic world!
People are unhappy; they find self-control difficult.
In the centuries since Shakyamuni, false views are deep,
Demons are strong, the Dharma is weak, disturbances are many.
People hear the Buddha's doctrine of immediacy,
And if they accept it, the demons will be crushed
As easily as a roofing tile.
But they cannot accept, what a pity!
Your mind is the source of action;
Your body is the agent of calamity;
No pity nor blame to anyone else.
If you don't seek an invitation to hell,
Never slander the Tathagata's true teaching.
In the sandalwood forest, there is no other tree.
Only the lion lives in such deep luxuriant woods,
Wandering freely in a state of peace.
Other animals and birds stay far away.
Just baby lions follow the parent,
And three-year-olds already roar loudly.
How can the jackal pursue the king of the Dharma
Even with a hundred-thousand demonic arts?
The Buddha's doctrine of directness
Is not a matter for human emotion.
If you doubt this or feel uncertain,
Then you must discuss it with me.
This is not the free rein of a mountain monk's ego.
I fear your training may lead to wrong views
Of permanent soul or complete extinction.
Being is not being; non-being is not non-being;
Miss this rule by a hair,
And you are off by a thousand miles.
Understanding it, the dragon-child abruptly attains Buddhahood;
Misunderstanding it, the greatest scholar falls into hell.
From my youth I piled studies upon studies,
In sutras and sastras I searched and researched,
Classifying terms and forms, oblivious to fatigue.
I entered the sea to count the sands in vain
And then the Tathagata scolded me kindly
As I read "What profit in counting your neighbor's treasure?"
My work had been scattered and entirely useless,
For years I was dust blown by the wind.
If the seed-nature is wrong, misunderstandings arise,
And the Buddha's doctrine of immediacy cannot be attained.
Shravaka and Pratyeka students may study earnestly
But they lack aspiration.
Others may be very clever,
But they lack prajna.
Stupid ones, childish ones,
They suppose there is something in an empty fist.
They mistake the pointing finger for the moon.
They are idle dreamers lost in form and sensation.
Not supposing something is the Tathagata.
This is truly called Kwan-Yin, the Bodhisattva who sees freely.
When awakened we find karmic hindrances fundamentally empty.
But when not awakened, we must repay all our debts.
The hungry are served a king's repast,
And they cannot eat.
The sick meet the king of doctors;
Why don't they recover?
The practice of Zen in this greedy world --
This is the power of wise vision.
The lotus lives in the midst of the fire;
It is never destroyed.
Pradhanashura broke the gravest precepts;
But he went on to realize the unborn.
The Buddhahood he attained in that moment
Lives with us now in our time.
The incomparable lion roar of the doctrine!
How sad that people are stubbornly ignorant;
Just knowing that crime blocks enlightenment,
Not seeing the secret of the Tathagata teaching.
Two monks were guilty of murder and carnality.
Their leader, Upali, had the light of a glow-worm;
He just added to their guilt.
Vimalakirti cleared their doubts at once
As sunshine melts the frost and snow.
The remarkable power of emancipation
Works wonders innumerable as the sands of the Ganges.
To this we offer clothing, food, bedding, medicine.
Ten thousand pieces of gold are not sufficient;
Though you break your body
And your bones become powder, --
This is not enough for repayment.
One vivid word surpasses millions of years of practice.
The King of the Dharma deserves our highest respect.
Tathagatas, innumerable as sands of the Ganges,
All prove this fact by their attainment.
Now I know what the Mani-jewel is:
Those who believe this will gain it accordingly.
When we see truly, there is nothing at all.
There is no person; there is no Buddha.
Innumerable things of the universe
Are just bubbles on the sea.
Wise sages are all like flashes of lightning
However the burning iron ring revolves around my head,
With bright completeness of dhyana and prajna
I never lose my equanimity.
If the sun becomes cold, and the moon hot,
Evil cannot shatter the truth.
The carriage of the elephant moves like a mountain,
How can the mantis block the road?
The great elephant does not loiter on the rabbit's path.
Great enlightenment is not concerned with details.
Don't belittle the sky by looking through a pipe.
If you still don't understand,
I will settle it for you.
Song of Immediate Satori, Song of Realization, Song of the Realization
of the Way, Odes on Enlightenment is a Zen Buddhist didactical poem in
64 verses basic tenets of the Ch'an (Zen).
Its authorship is traditionally attributed to Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh
[Yongjia Xuanjue] - one of the most gifted teachers of the Ch'an (Zen)
school during the T'ang Dynasty China.
Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh [also known under the names of Yung-chia
Hsuan-chio, Great Master Chen-chio, Yoka Genkaku (J.), Yoka Daishi (J.)]
was a scholar and a monk who lived in the years 665-713. He was a Dharma
heir of the 6th Zen Patriarch, Hui-neng (J. Eno) and Dharma brother to
such personalities as Ch'ing-yuan Hsing-ssu (J. Seigen Gyoshi), Nan-yueh
Huai-jang (J. Nangaku Ejo), Nan-yang Hui-chung (J. Nan'yo Echu) and
Ho-tse Shen-hui (J. Kataku Jinne).
The Cheng-tao-ko poem was published 1924-1934 in Japan as a part of the
Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo (Buddhist Canon Published in The Taisho Era) [
No. 2014, Vol. 48].
It was also translated from the Chinese into English and given extensive
commentaries by the Ch'an Master Sheng-Yen in his 1990 book The Sword of
Wisdom: Lectures on 'The Song of Enlightenment'. Elmhurst, N.Y.: Dharma
This translation from Japanese was prepared in the 1960s by Mr Robert
Aitken and Eido Shimano Sensei for the Diamond Sangha Zen Buddhist
Society, Koko An, 2119 Kaloa Way, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA 96822. Their
translation was subsequently re-printed in a book: Daily Sutras for
Chanting and Recitation. n.d. New York: New York Zendo of the Zen
Studies Society Inc.
In December 1991 the Aitken-Shimano's translation was revised by Robert
Aitken Roshi and incorporated (under its japanese title 'Shodoka') into
a collection of the Daily Zen Sutras in use by the Diamond Sangha itself
as well as by other affiliated Zen centers and communities, including
the California Diamond Sangha; Sydney Zen Center and the Zen Group of
The text below has been also used to construct a
"ANU-Cheng-Tao-Ko-Verses" WAIS database accessible world-wide via the
standard WAIS client software and the Coombsquest gopher at
coombs.anu.edu.au, port 70.
- T.Matthew Ciolek <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(19 November 1993)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice if Christians Became Taoists? "Hope for the Emerging Christian Church" By Bruce Epperly and Jay McDaniel
The emerging church in the West – the church of spiritual seekers who seek to share in the journey of Jesus but not impose it on others -- is already Taoist in tone. What remains is for participants in this new and emerging church to turn eastward, learning from Asian Christians and the cultural traditions they bring with them, and thus learning to gentle their enthusiasm with the humility of stardust. What remains is for them to realize that one of the best ways to “proclaim the gospel” is not to proclaim at all, but rather to travel a path of gentleness, which is its own proclamation, its own good news.
This good news need not be named. Like the lilies of the field it becomes and shows itself in humble actions, like faith itself. The Taoist-inclined Christian is one who trusts (1) that Christianity is a way of living not a set of answers; (2) that the winds of the spirit blow in many directions, and that humans can be refreshed by these winds even if they are not Christian; (3) that we live and move and have our being within the larger context of the Ten Thousand Things, each of which deserves respect, (4) that the good life lies in living simply and honestly, without pretense and needing to be noticed; (5) that spontaneous actions, which are natural and devoid of self-consciousness, can be a form of spirituality in their own right; (6) that one key to understanding life is to imitate water, with its freedom to adapt to new circumstances in fresh ways, (7) that blind ambition is a dead end and gentleness of spirit a high ideal, (8) that the people who are closest to truth are those who don’t speak about it at all, because they know the wisdom of silence.
These Christians have a process metaphysics, too. They find themselves a little troubled by the wordiness of Christianity and find themselves rephrasing the Gospel of John to read: “In the Beginning was the Tao and the Tao was with God and the Tao was God?” Along with Taoists they find themselves thinking of all things – even God – not simply as nouns or even as verbs that we behold in our mind’s eye, but also as adverbs: that is, as entities whose being is partly formed by how they become. Here they resemble Whitehead, who writes: “How an actual entity becomes constitutes what that actual entity is.” (Process and Reality, 23)
Wouldn’t it be nice if all Christians became ever more sensitive to howness and not so preoccupied with whatness, especially with what people believe? Wouldn’t it be nice if they, like Jesus, learned from the lilies of the field and became more flexible and spontaneous, without regard for tomorrow? (Matthew 6:28) Wouldn’t it be nice if, in learning from Taoism, Christians became more….Christian? We can hope.
We find grounds for this hope in the small but growing group of Christians in the West called the emerging church. We stress in the West because we realize that Christianity is now a post-Western religion, with more Christians living in Asia, Africa, The phrase “emerging church” is now used by a variety of well-known thinkers: Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell, many of whom begin in evangelical or conservative Christianity, but discovered that being a Christian required a more flexible understanding of faith. This church is not denominational; its participants come from many traditions: Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Non-Denominational, and Post-Denominational. Admittedly only a few of these Christians draw upon East Asian traditions in an explicit way, yet their spirit is East Asian -- and perhaps even Taoist -- in certain ways. They see themselves as transforming Christianity from the inside in dialogue with postmodernism, social networking, and the arts. Here is a description:
New Religious Worlds
“All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born. All around us life is dying and life is being born….Look well to the growing edge!” These words from African American Christian Howard Thurman capture the spirit of the emerging church. It is different from the old Christian world in many ways.
The old Christian world sometimes saw faith and spirituality in terms of clearly articulated doctrines, purely rational understandings of scripture and theology, a focus on one path to salvation, and a clear distinction between orthodox and unorthodox and saved and unsaved. The answers were clear, and applied to everyone, regardless of culture and ethnicity. Authorities knew what was best; ordained by God, they spoke God’s unchanging world, meting out God’s rewards and punishments like little gods themselves.
The old Christian world provided a tradition, a boundary, an identity, and a universal narrative that shaped Christians for centuries, and there is much good to the wisdom of the past. But, many people today are discovering that they must go beyond the old worlds – old worlds whose claims of authority, universality, and absoluteness are dying. New worlds are emerging, claiming the creative spirit that animated institutions of the past, often energizing them in spite of their traditionalism. Even dry bones can rise again, clothed in new colors and shapes.
A new Christian world is being born, emerging from the experiences of seekers, mystics, synthesizers, and globally sensitive Christians. Even the old ways are being claimed with a new spirit. The experiences that gave birth to traditions are being birthed in ways appropriate for our time. As Howard Thurman emphasizes: “Look well to the growing edge!”
The growing edge, emerging and emergent and bearing fruit, calls those of us who are Christian to “make it up as we’re going along,” like the warm and windy faith of the first followers of Jesus, described in Acts of the Apostles. The growing edge, always in process and always building on the past, like the Tao flowing through old structures in new ways. The growing emerging faith recognizes the promises of post-modernism and goes beyond them in a faith that can be experienced and shared without fear of punishment or exclusion.
Emergent faith takes seriously the post-modern critique of absolutes and universality and discovers an affirmative faith within what first appears as destructive of the foundations of faith itself. Postmodern critics challenge universal stories; emerging faith discovers the power of personal and community stories. Postmodern critics revel in relativism; emerging faith rejoices in relativity that allows a thousand flowers to bloom. Postmodern critics deconstruct old ways; emerging faith creatively transforms old ways in light of God’s dynamic new creation. Postmodern critics challenge abstract rationalism; emerging faith seeks holism in which knowledge embraces mind, body, spirit, and relationships and affirms that to know is to love and heal. “Location, location, location” -- cry out postmodern critics; emerging faith rejoices in the holy here and holy now, the intimacy of seeing each place as a revelation of the divine. Location is everything, but each location emerges from the universe that gives it birth. We are not alone isolated in the universe; we are children of stardust and divinity. Look well to the growing edge!
Emergent faith embraces the senses: mind is embodied, and bodies are inspired. Worship involves color and taste, word and silence, touch and smell. Preaching invites dialogue and inspires the community to taste, see, and practice what is preached. Christ-centered faith – finding Jesus on the thoroughfares of life – centers everything and enlivens the wisdom of koans, yoga postures, and Tai Chi. Jesus is here, traveling the path of Christianity but also companioning Buddha and Lao Tzu, Mohammed and the Earth Mothers. Ruling by humility, Jesus lets go of power to uplift all creation, and all creation discovers its glory.
Emergent faith joins mysticism with mission. Experiencing God in the quiet hour, we discover burning bushes everywhere and see God in the least as well as the greatest. God speaks to us in the cries of creation, grieving parents in the wake of earthquakes and aftershocks. God feels the frustration of the marginalized, inspiring our own prophetic restlessness. God speaks in our hungers and we discover our meager provisions – perhaps just a few loaves and fish – can feed a multitude. Emerging faith is healing faith – healing hearts and minds, sharing in God’s dream of healing the earth and all its creatures. This is the growing edge incarnate! But maybe it’s not really an edge. Maybe it’s more like a river that flows, or a lily that bends with the wind. Maybe it is soft rather than hard. Maybe its name is love. We can hope.
Wouldn’t It Be Nice if Christians Became Taoists? Hope for the Emerging Christian Church By Bruce Epperly and Jay McDaniel
In modern Western society, many people turn away from the Christianity of their formative years because they find its truths smothered under an unreal kind of religiosity. They see that the people in the churches are not changing and becoming better, but rather are comforting themselves and each other la their unregenerate state. They find that the Spirit of the Western churches is, at its Core, little different from that of the world around them. Having removed from Christianity the Cross of inward purification, these churches have replaced a direct, intuitive apprehension of Reality and a true experience of God with intellectualism on the one hand and emotionalism on the other.
In the first case, Christianity becomes something that is acquired through rote learning, based on the idea that if you just get the words right—if you just memorize the key Scripture verses, intellectually grasp the concepts and repeat them, know how to act and to speak in the religious dialect of your particular sect—you will be saved. Christianity then becomes a dry, word-based religion, a legalistic system, a set of ideas and behaviors, and a political institution that operates on the same principles as the institutions of this world.
In the second case, the Western churches add the element of emotionalism and enthusiasm in order to add life to their systems, but this becomes just as grossly material as religious legalism. People become hypnotized by their self-induced emotional states, seeing a mirage of spiritual ascent while remaining bound to the material world.
This is not direct perception of Reality; it is not the Ultimate. It is no wonder, then, that Western spiritual seekers, even if they have been raised in Christian homes, begin to look elsewhere, into Eastern religions. It is also not surprising that so many are turning to the profound and enigmatic work of pre-Christian China, the Tao Teh Ching. In reading Lao Tzu, they sense a spirit similar to that of Jesus Christ. They see a poetic glimpse of Christ in Lao Tzu—a reflection that is faint, but somehow still pure. And to them, this faint but pure image is better than the more vivid but tarnished image of Him that they encounter in much of what now passes for Christianity.
In the traditions of ancient China, the Western spiritual seeker can learn the basics of spiritual life which the churches failed to teach him: how to be free of compulsive thinking and acquire stillness of thoughts, how to cut off desires and addictions, and how to conquer negative emotions.
Some are satisfied to stay on this path. In others of us, however, a strange thing occurs. In one sense, we are making more spiritual progress than ever before, but at the same time we are inexplicably unfulfilled. In our newfound apprehension that there is something more than the realm of the ego and the passions, we become aware that there must be something even more—more than even the authentic Chinese tradition supplies. And we find that although we have left behind the Western Christian confessions, we cannot leave Christ behind.
Why is this? Some would say that, as Westerners, we have Christianity in our genes, as it were. But we would say more: that, even though we were exposed to an attenuated form of Christianity, still we were exposed to 'the Christ Ideal”—as the great transmitter of Native American religion, Ohiyesa, called it. The very seed of the idea of Jesus Christ—God Who became flesh, Who emptied Himself into the creation, Who spoke the words that He spoke, Who died on the Cross to restore mankind to its original nature and thus to Paradise—is so powerful in itself that the tales and teachings of all the worlds religions pale in comparison. But if Christ is so much greater as to be in a class by Himself, why is the Western religion based on Him in such a sorry condition? Why is it so externalized, materialistic and worldly? Surely, we believe, there must be more to Christ than that.
But it is more than just the idea of Christ that works in our souls. Christ Himself is at work in them. Having heard the revelation of Christ, we are now responsible for it, and now He helps us fulfill that responsibility. He helps us come to Him.
Our path to a true experience of Christ is often long and arduous. We in the modern West have become too sophisticated, too complex. When people talk to us of Christianity, we’ve heard it all before: we’ve already become conditioned to react in certain ways to Christian words and concepts. The reflexes they evoke in us are sometimes connected with an emotional trauma from the past that causes us to either cling to them or rebel against them. Clinging and rebellion are only two sides of the same coin: both are predicated on emotional involvement in words and concepts which claim to be Reality itself, but are not.
Moreover, these Christian words and concepts we have learned must vie with thousands of others from all the worlds religions and philosophies, which have now become available to us sophisticated moderns. This presents us with a paradox. Knowing that differing religions and philosophies cannot all be true at the same time, we tend to relativize truth. That is what our logical minds tell us to do. But, in the final sense, we are always wrong when we trust our logical minds.
How do we get past this? How do we become uncomplicated and unsophisticated? Can we simply unlearn all that we have learned? No, we cannot, but what we can do is to separate ourselves from it in order to look at it with new eyes. For us Westerners to truly enter into the ancient Christian transmission and catch the essence of Christ's teaching, it is necessary for us to crucify our rationalizing minds and rise above the level of thought and emotion. For a society founded on Descartes proposition “I think, therefore I am,” this of course means a kind of suicide; and it is to precisely such an ego-death that Christ calls us. Contemporary Western Christianity trains us how to think and what to think; whereas Christ Himself, as did Lao Tzu before Him, taught us how not to need to think.
The only way to get past a merely external apprehension of religious words and concepts is to seek, without compromise and self-pity, the Reality behind them. If our rapidly diminishing Western Christendom has become too jaded by intellectualized or emotionalized religion to see the essence of Christianity, then we must, as it were, start oven.
In this book we will look at Christ and his message as would Lao Tzu, who, although he lived five hundred years before Christ, intuitively sensed the presence of Christ in creation. We will seek to become like Lao Tzu’s image of 'the infant that has not yet smiled' who has not yet learned to react to words and ideas, who knows without knowing how it knows. And then, from the point of Lao Tzu’s simplicity, innocence and direct intuition, we will receive the message of Christ from a new source: not from the modern West—which has distorted it into thousands of conflicting sects and philosophies—but from the ancient Christian East, which has transmitted to modern times the essence of Christ’s teaching in a way that resonates with the teaching of Lao Tzu, not denying Lao Tzu’s intuitive realizations but bringing them to a new dimension.
In the Chinese tradition, the direct transmission of wisdom from teacher to disciple is of vital importance. The Eastern Christian Church has that transmission all the way back to Christ Himself: an unbroken historical line of development with no fundamental shift in viewpoint such as happened in the West after the Schism of A.D.1054.
In the Christian East, we find clear guidance on acquiring stillness, overcoming the passions, dealing with thoughts, and cultivating the virtues, as well as precise teachings on spiritual deception which guide us more safely and surely on the path to God.
Most important of all, we find the Undistorted Image of Christ which we had not beheld in other churches . In Him, Whom the ancient Akathist hymn calls the "Sunrise of the East,"1 we find the Beginning and End of our souls desire, and the door to eternal life. In the mystical and contemplative tradition of Eastern Christianity—which we will discuss in Part III of this book—we are able to go beyond any realizations we may have had in the Eastern religions. The end of this is deification, total illumination, perfect -communion with our Creator, and the birth of Christ Himself within us.
In Christ is the fulfillment of the expectation of the ancients. Christ does not abolish what came before Him; instead, He brings it to fulfillment by disintegrating the false and upholding the true in the Light of His ultimate revelation. The truths in all ancient religions and philosophies shine forth in this Light, but they are not this Light, nor are they equal to it. If seen with the eyes of faith, they can bear witness to the Light of revelation, just as can the souls of todays seekers when, through the eyes of Lao Tzu, they find and behold the Undistorted Image of Christ, shining with all His brilliance in the ancient Christian East.
Let us now look through those eyes. To the people who lived before Christ, Lao Tzu showed how to rise above thoughts and emotions so that they could know of the Mind Who is beyond thought, hear the Word Who makes no sound, and follow the Tao Who leaves no footprints. To us who have come after Christ, Lao Tzu can do the same so as to help us begin the path to a true, non-conceptual experience of Jesus Christ, of Him Who is the incarnation of the Logos of the Greeks, the Wakan Tanka of the Native Americans, and the Tao of the God-seeking ancient Chinese.
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Introduction (from EVERYDAY TAO by Deng Ming Dao)
Following Tao means following a living path. It is a way of life that sustains you, guides you, and leads you to innumerable rich experiences. It is a spiritual path of joy and insight, freedom and profundity.
Tao is everywhere. It is literally the movement of all life. It is endless and flows in all directions. Since Tao is the total ongoing process of the universe, it makes sense to go along with it. If we swim in a river, we should make use of its current.
The study of Tao originated in China; its history spans thousands of years. Its methods, doctrines, and practices have evolved to a sprawling and complicated system that cannot be completely grasped even with a lifetime of study. Some individuals still I Initiates into religious Taoism, having both the calling and the opportunity, follow an arduous and devout life. But Tao flows for ordinary people and ascetics alike. After all, everyone is faced with the same struggles: the sun rises and sets on all of us, the seasons change for everyone, everyone ages. No matter who we are, e process of Tao affects us. The only question is whether we become aware of it and live in accord with it.
We all can live a life according to the principles of Tao, and we need not defer our study until some future time when we think we n enter into isolation solely for spiritual inquiry. There is nothing we do that is not part of Tao. All it takes to begin living a life harmony with Tao is a commitment to ongoing awareness, after that, there is only the thrilling process of learning more and ore about Tao.
Here are some of the special qualities of those who follow Tao:
Simplicity: Those who follow Tao keep life simple. They conserve their energies; they are content with what they have. Since they don't hanker after the dazzling goals of others who are ambitious, they are able to maintain their equilibrium.
Sensitivity: Those who follow Tao are observant of others, avoid the aggressive, and help those in need. They love nature and spend time in the wilderness learning from the seasons, studying animals, and absorbing the lessons of nature's creativity. Nature is not wholly synonymous with Tao, but it is completely a part of Tao and thus a perfect way to glimpse Tao.
Flexibility: This is the aspect of Tao people of other disciplines often have the most trouble accepting. Since Tao holds that everything in the world is relative, it does not espouse any absolutes. Followers of Tao rarely rule anything out, because they believe any choice they make is dependent upon circumstance rather than preconceived notions.
Independence: Those who follow Tao seldom care about society's dictates, fads, trends, political movements, or common morality. They find these too limited, too imperfect, and too petty. It is not that those who follow Tao are immoral. It is just that they act from a far more profound level of the spirit. For this reason, followers of Tao have often been accused of being dangerous both to religion and society. But those who follow Tao affirm wisdom and experience over government, conventional morality, and etiquette.
Focused: Those who follow Tao learn an inner direction in their lives. They accept who they are, and they first ascertain and then accept the details of their lives. They take advantage of who they are and do not try to be someone they are not. They accept that they were born, they accept that they will die, and they take the distance traveled between those two points as their personal path. They accept that each stage of their lives has certain advantages and disadvantages, and they set out to work with those advantages.
Cultivated: Since a life of Tao is one of simplicity, observation, and action, people strive to refine themselves in order to follow Tao-more perfectly.
Disciplined: Those who follow Tao are disciplined. This discipline is not a harsh structure imposed upon one's personality, but the taking of orderly actions toward specific goals. That requires concentration of the highest order.
Joyous: Once one gains Tao, there is absolutely no doubt about it. It's like seeing a god, or paradise: no matter what anyone says or does, the experience cannot be erased. So top is it with those who have seen Tao and who live within its flow: They have a joyous sense of the deepest sustenance. They feel directly connected with the source of life. They do not fear tyranny, because no tyrant could ever destroy their faith in Tao. They do not fear poverty, because Tao brings them wealth overflowing. They do not fear loneliness, because Tao surrounds them constantly. They do not fear death, because they know in Tao there is no death.
Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmon by Deng Ming Dao
Tao: The Watercourse Way
by Alan Watts
At the very roots of Chinese thinking and feeling there lies the principle of polarity, which is not to be confused with the ideas of opposition or conflict. In the metaphors of other cultures, light is at war with darkness, life with death, good with evil, and the positive with the negative, and thus an idealism to cultivate the former and be rid of the latter flourishes throughout much of the world. To the traditional way of Chinese thinking, this is as incomprehensible as an electric current without both positive and negative poles, for polarity is the principle that + and —, north and south, are different aspects of one and the same system, and that the disappearance of either one of them would be the disappearance of the system.
People who have been brought up in the aura of Christian and Hebrew aspirations find this frustrating, because it seems to deny any possibility of progress, an ideal which flows from their linear (as distinct from cyclic) view of time and history. Indeed, the whole enterprise of Western technology is “to make the world a better place”—to have pleasure without pain, wealth without poverty, and health without sickness. But, as is now becoming obvious, our violent efforts to achieve this ideal with such weapons as DDT, penicillin, nuclear energy, automotive transportation, computers, industrial farming, damming, and compelling everyone, by law, to be superficially “good and healthy” are creating more problems than they solve. We have been interfering with a complex system of relationships which we do not understand, and the more we study its details, the more it eludes us by revealing still more details to study. As we try to comprehend and control the world it runs away from us. Instead of chafing at this situation, a Taoist would ask what it means. What is that which always retreats when pursued? Answer: yourself. Idealists (in the moral sense of the word) regard the universe as different and separate from themselves—that is, as a system of external objects which needs to be subjugated. Taoists view the universe as the same as, or inseparable from, themselves— so that Lao-tzu could say, “Without leaving my house, I know the whole universe.” This implies that the art of life is more like navigation than warfare, for what is important is to understand the winds, the tides, the currents, the seasons, and the principles of growth and decay, so that one’s actions may use them and not fight them. In this sense, the Taoist attitude is not opposed to technology per se. Indeed, the Chuang-tzu writings are full of references to crafts and skills perfected by this very principle of “going with the grain.” The point is therefore that technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe. Our overspecialization in conscious attention and linear thinking has led to neglect, or ignore-ance, of the basic principles and rhythms of this process, of which the foremost is polarity.
"What, then, is the Tao, the Way that is its own goal?" (excerpt) THE WISDOM OF THE ZEN MASTERS by Irmgard Schloegl
“Woman Walking on Beach” by Daryl Urig
What, then, is the Tao, the Way that is its own goal? A ‘true man of the Way’ is another way of describing the ‘man who has nothing further to seek’, the ‘independent man of the Way’ who leans on nothing and who has the ‘single eye’ or has come to see clearly.
The classic Taoist text is the Tao Te Ching, ‘The Way and its Virtue’ also translated as ‘The Way and its Power’. It is a short text, and perhaps no other of comparative length has been translated so often and so variously.
Tao, the Way, has the connotation of a physical path actually to be walked. As theory only, it would not affect a practical mentality. But it is not a processing machine from which, neatly packed, identical products emerge. Bodhidharma, traditionally the founder of the Zen school, is supposed to have said: ‘All know the Way; few actually walk it.’
So the Way exists for the one who actually walks it as best he can, and keeps walking whether the going is smooth or rough. By this exercise the walker gets the use of his legs and develops strength of muscle as well as endurance. His eyes get used to recognizing stumbling blocks, slippery ground, pitfalls, quagmires, and other obstacles. When his strength and surefootedness are well developed, the Way ends—in nowhere. From now on he can be trusted to make his own way. Well used to the Way and to himself, he is sure to find one, making it as he goes along.
The second term in the title Tao Te Ching refers to the strength that develops from walking the Way. If translated as ‘virtue’ it is in the sense of ‘by virtue of.’ Hence it does not connote a moral value but it is that depth from which morals and moral strength arise.
Tao and Te are complementary. In man, Te is the function of Tao. Both are intimately related and inseparable.
By virtue of walking the Way, the childish ‘I want’, the passions or emotions, are transformed. What in fact happens is that the energy (strength) loses the blind compulsion of a drive and becomes amenable to conscious choice. In this lies the virtue of seeing clearly and of being able to act in accordance with that seeing. This embraces all the truly human qualities, such as responsibility, justice, consideration, warmth of heart, joy, tolerance, compassion, awareness of strength of personality and its power and limits. For nobody has the right to manipulate anybody or to impress anybody with his stronger personality, not even for the other’s imagined good, for nobody can know what that good is. This is courtesy rather than callousness, for the other’s dignity is thus acknowledged, or the dignity of his grief is respected. If and when he is ready, the other will of himself reach out for consolation and feel free to ask for a hand to point out the way.
This is the place where the man of Tao and Te stands, and his way is ‘action by non-action’, refraining from all meddling in or interfering with things small or great. He is acting rightly because he acts with the whole of himself just when action is called for, instead of throwing himself like a spanner into the wheel of things, blindly, for the sake of doing something. A meddler has no rest and is prone to bring destruction in his wake. With whatever good will, to shout and awaken a sleep-walker on top of the roof will not help. It is better to wait quietly till he comes down and awakes. Then a gentle suggestion is in place so that precautions can be taken, the arrangements being left to him. The other is not a baby; he has his dignity and needs it sorely.
Such is the virtue of the man of Tao, by virtue of which he is free and this is his strength. Obviously this is not brute strength of muscle or mind which always imposes. Brute force is the reverse of the strength of restraint, of doing nothing when nothing is required.
While the walker follows the Way, the Way itself is the discipline which produces clear seeing and the strength to act in accordance with it. Then the Way ends; the walker is free of the Way, free of his own I-biased and deluded seeing. He himself has become the Way. So he acts out of his own nature.
Purchase—THE WISDOM OF THE ZEN MASTER by Irmgard Schloegl
---“Path to Wisdom” - By LEONID
Talking about a path is not walking that path.
Thinking about life is not living.
Lao-tzu was neither a priest nor a follower of any religious belief system. He was a patient observer of the flow of life. He watched the wind move the clouds across the sky and the rain soak the earth. He watched rivers flow through wide valleys and tumble down mountain canyons. He watched the crane stand patiently by the lakeside, waiting on one leg until the water cleared to reveal a fish. He considered the contentment of the turtle sitting in the mud. He observed crops flourish one year and fail the next. He watched the seasons come and go. He saw the wonder of all things rising and falling, coming and going, living and dying. He came to understand that this wonder cannot be captured by words and concepts. It can be talked about, yet never captured. It can be thought about, yet never fathomed. It can only be experienced.
The legends that surround the formation of the Tao Te Ching illustrate Lao-tzu's reluctance to put his teachings into written words. One such legend speaks of a time when he became so fed up with the politics of repression in the China of his day that he got on his ox and left the country. But the border guard would not let him leave until he wrote down his wisdom for all to share. Lao-tzu said, "If I write it down it will no longer be the Tao." Nevertheless, the guard would not let him leave until he wrote something. So Lao-tzu dismounted his ox, sat in the shade of a tree, and in one afternoon wrote the short text of poetic wisdom you now have in your hands.
Legend? Undoubtedly, but a legend that speaks to the very nature of this path. It is a path of direct experience, not of abstract philosophy. It is a way of looking with clarity at the processes of life as they are, not as we think they should be. It is a path that must be walked moment by moment, and not discussed in endless words.
Yet using thoughts and words to make sense of our experience is what we humans do. It is part of our nature. Lao-tzu uses words in short poetic stanzas so that they may serve as guides and gateways to direct experience rather than as mere abstractions and distractions. This sometimes frustrates our Western conditioning, which has come to expect things to be explained without ambiguity or paradox. Such an approach forces us again and again to return to our own experience of life rather than rely on the words and teachings of others.
Directly experiencing life is not something we do easily. By the time we are adults, our experience is mediated through a multitude of conceptual filters that provide a constant commentary about our life, but that ignore the thing itself. This process is so deeply conditioned in most of us that we don't even notice it. We wander through day after day with our minds spinning an endless stream of thoughts, judgments, hopes, fantasies, critiques, and plans, all mixed with a babble of advertising jingles and fragments of television shows.
Lao-tzu suggests that this habitual commentary on life, though a natural part of being human, is not the same thing as a fully lived life. At the same time, he does not totally discount the conceptual thinking process. We make a certain kind of sense out of our life through the use of categories, thoughts, and words. But, as he suggests in chapter 1, these thoughts and words are gateways to life, not life itself.
How is it for you? Does the commentary in your head serve as a gateway to the deeper mystery of life? Or are you, like most of us, deeply caught in the never-ending round of judgment, effort, worry, striving, comparing, desiring, hoping, dreaming, and all the other distractions that keep you from the actual, sometimes frightening, intensity of a direct experience of life?
William Martin — A Path and a Practice: Using Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an --Awakened Spiritual Life
Mastering the Present Era of Private Property (excerpt from THE TAO OF ABUNDANCE) by Laurence G. Boldt
---The Responsibility of Forms by Cora Cohen
The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world
in which it is overestimated. —H. L. Mencken
In our modern commercial culture, we have effectively done away with all of this. The world of symbols is no longer the realm of artists yearning to lead us to transcendence, but of advertisers yearning to make a buck. The symbols they employ refer us back to the ego, not beyond it. The symbolic images of our daily lives are those supplied by the commercial media, which most recently have taken to employing even traditional symbols of transcendence in their efforts to promote consumption. Their purpose is to excite us to buy, and in order to do so, they must stimulate the feeling that we are lacking something, which ownership of the products being promoted will give us. As a consequence, our imaginative lives are filled with images that reinforce the illusion of ego, and are nearly devoid of those that ' point toward its transcendence.
What is true for the inner landscape, if anything, applies even more to the physical environment. The urban environment, in which (now, for the first time) most human beings live, is a landscape of virtually constant ego-reinforcement. Think of the psychological effect of the vast sense of space in which most beings lived throughout human history. To be in the fields and forests, the vast deserts and open savannas, to behold above you the vast canopy of the clear night sky is to feel a sense of expansion. In traditional civilizations, sacred architecture dominated the landscape, as sacred rituals dominated the calendar of events. Whether they lived in ancient cities or in remote jungles, people were in their daily lives being reminded of levels of reality transcendent to the life of the ego.
Do you imagine the universe is agitated?
Go into the desert at night and look out at the stars.
This practice should answer the question. —Lao-Tzu
Alternatively, consider the psychological effect of the modern urban environment. We move in a crowded environment, where space is at a premium, the horizon is blocked, and everything around us is owned bJ someone. Large glass towers dedicated to banks and insurance companies dominate the skylines of the major American cities. If the suburban communities can be said to be organized around anything, it is the shopping malls. Life in the modern world is awash in a sea of paperwork, all of which reminds us of our names and positions in society.
Both in our imaginative lives, filled with images supplied by the commercial media, and the physical environments in which we move, we are constantly being reminded of our position, place, and status in society. AM much as anything, getting away from it all means forgetting who we are as! egos. When I am hiking and camping alone in the woods, there is precious little to remind me of who I am in society (once, of course, I have filled out the necessary forms and received the appropriate license or permit). This allows for at least the possibility of a deeper experience of reality.
Lawerence Boldt - “EmpowerYou.com”
As days turn to months, then years, a blurring of all that once appeared axiomatic becomes the ground for a germinating process of the heart, an upward flight to freedom—the flowering of a hungry soul. In part, this gift is an ongoing process of seeing/learning beyond the tentacle-like cultural biasses that seem to haunt so many of us so much of the time. From “getting ahead at any cost” to “sacrificing one’s own authenticity for personal gain,” to hiding from a monarchical god whose judgement is precarious at best.“ We can find great solace in the infinitude of the Tao. Not as another ideology, religion or movement “to get the world right,” but simply what intuitively settles the mental dust, allows the bullfrog to bellow at night and leads to right-mindedness.
-Bei Kuan Tu
Below Alan Watts gives a rather artistic perspective on the inconceivability, yet wonderful buoyancy of the Tao.
...to conceive the Tao as an unconscious energy is as much off the point as to conceive it as a personal ruler or God. But if, as is the case, the Tao is simply inconceivable, what is the use of having the word and of saying anything at all about it? Simply because we know intuitively that there is a dimension of ourselves and of nature which eludes us because it is too close, too general, and too all-embracing to be singled out as a particular object. This dimension is the ground of all the astonishing forms and experiences of which we are aware. Because we are aware, it cannot be unconscious, although we are not conscious of it—as of an external thing. Thus we can give it a name but cannot make any definitive statement about it—as we saw to be the case with whatever it is that is named "electricity." Our only way of apprehending it is by watching the processes and patterns of nature, and by the meditative discipline of allowing our minds to become quiet, so as to have vivid awareness of "what is" without verbal comment.
-Alan Watts (from Tao: The Watercourse Way)
---Graphics by Kervin Brissdeaus
Lao Tzu - a feminist? If you were in a light-hearted mood, you could call the Tao "the oldest extant feminist book." Written during a violent period in Chinese history, is urges rulers to "embrace the feminine way".
The Tao sees the world as male (yang) and female (yin) energies constantly in motion. Since the nature of male energy is so obvious (action, stubbornness, speaking), it extols the virtue of the female way of doing things (patience, flexibility, listening).
As Taoism's popularity grew, so did women's status in Chinese society. It is hard to say how much of this was caused by the Tao and how much by other factors, but there is certainly no sense of female inferiority in any part of the Tao. On the contrary, there are dozens of passages advocating people "get in touch with their feminine side" to use the modern vernacular.
Political Correctness in 300B.C. Many translations of the Tao have sections like: "A wise man follows his belly" or "A good man is a bad man's teacher". These gender specific words were added during the translations process. The original Chinese is always neutral. Usually the original word is person () or sage (), neither of which specifies male or female.
It is a little difficult not to choose "he" or "she" in English, but there are several translations that have managed it. In many cases assuming the sage or person is male is a symptom of the age of the translation. Many of them originate in the 1930's to 1950's. Other translations are based on these earlier, famous ones and have copied their inaccurate style. This is particularly ironic, because the Tao is probably the most pro-woman treatise outside of modern times.
Two gender specific items stand out though.
Yin Positive references to Yin, as typified in Chapter 6:
"Yin" energy is like a Valley Goddess who never dies. She should be called "Mystical Female" The door of this "Mystical Female" is the root of Heaven and Earth. This power is always with us. Using this power is effortless.
It is generally believed that the Tao was written to advise the ruler on good government. At the time, all the rulers were kings, so the word king is frequently used.
The Tao that is spoken of is not the Eternal nature of the Tao.
In its eternal aspect, the Tao cannot be spoken of. Eternal means transcendent to time and space and, therefore, beyond the reach of the physical senses and the intellections of the mind. The Eternal Tao cannot be seen, tasted, or touched. It cannot be spoken of or reasoned about. It is a transcendent mystery. If we try to speak of it, we get jumbled up in words, and it comes out sounding like a paradox. We could say that the Eternal Tao exists, quite apart from existence, that It lives beyond life and death, or that It is and yet, both is and is not. Yet statements such as this communicate nothing unless one has experience of the transcendent, and if one has the experience, what point is there in talking about it?
Many are familiar with the saying attributed to Lao Tzu that "those who know do not speak, and those who speak do not know." Nevertheless Lao Tzu himself is purported to have written the five thousand characters we call the Tao Te Ching. We have as well, preserved in writing, the saying attributed to the Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Hebrew Prophets, Zarathustra Shiva, and Krishna, among others. Presumably, at least some of these "knew.” Or are we to think that all of these "teachers" were charlatans and all their"students" fools?
The fundamental difficulty lies, not with the veracity of the scriptures or the realization of the teachers', but with the limitations of language communicate or express Eternal Reality. As Lao Tzu put it, "The name that can be named is not the true name." Name, words, and language are on symbols of the Reality they seek to represent. This is an obvious point; know that the word dog is a not the living, breathing animal. Yet in practice, and especially in dealing with more abstract concepts, we forget the difference between the word and the reality it stands for. Why then do \ bother with the scriptures and the teachers? In Picasso's statement, "Art a lie that leads to truth," we find a clue. The scriptures, like all great art, are not to be thought of as "truth" but as "lies that lead to truth." So long as we cling to the literal meaning, the letter of what is being said, the Eternal Tao eludes us.
Yet if we can listen with an empty mind and open heart, we may hear the Word (Spirit, Tao) from which the words have originated. The words are gateways to the Mystery. Yet whether or not they swing open for us depend on how we approach them. Chuang Tzu described spiritual teachings and the words used to convey them as fishing baskets. "Fishing baskets are em ployed to catch fish; but when the fish are got, the men forget the baskets. .. Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are grasped, mei forget the words."4 The point is not to collect baskets but to catch fish.
The Eternal Tao by any other name is still the unutterable Eternal. Taoists have no particular claim on the Transcendent Reality that all spiritual traditions have pointed to. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were not members of any formal religion or philosophical school. Indeed, the chief articulator; of Taoist philosophy would not have thought of themselves as "Taoists.' They were simply enlightened individuals around whom students gathered and whose sayings were in some way preserved.5 It was only much later that they were classified as belonging to the "Tao Chia," or Taoist school of philosophy.
While there are elements unique to Chinese culture and history within the teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, these texts are better understood as representations of what has been termed "the perennial philosophy" than as the scriptures of a particular religion or culture. In many of the world's great spiritual traditions, we find alongside the popular religion an esoteric or mystic teaching, reserved for a rather more dedicated few. (For example, within Taoism, the "Tao Chiao," or what might be termed "popular Taoist religion and magic" developed alongside the esoteric Tao Chia, or Contemplative School of Taoist philosophy.)
The striking parallels and correspondences within the world's esoteric teachings—across cultures and historical eras—has led some scholars to view these teachings as local representations of a single universal, or perennial, philosophy. Like a single melody fashioned into numerous musical arrangements, the perennial philosophy takes on different inflections in different cultural contexts and historical periods, but is always recognizable as the same tune. As Thomas Aquinas put it, "All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said, has its origin in the Spirit." We could, for example, quite easily confuse the description of the Eternal, given by Jesus in the Gnostic text, The Secret Book of John, with Lao Tzu discoursing on the Tao:
I simply believe that some part of the human Self. . . is not subject to the laws of time and space.
It is the invisible Spirit. One should not think of it as a god or like a god.
It is greater than a god, because there is nothing over it and no lord
above it. It is unutterable, since nothing could comprehend it to utter it.
It is unnameable, since there was nothing before it to give it a name.
The Eternal Tao cannot properly be equated with the Western notion of God as interpreted by orthodox Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Still, there are many parallels with the notion of God as understood in the Western esoteric tradition. There are Greek philosophers, Christian and Jewish mystics, and Islamic Sufis, who speak of God in ways not unlike those Lao Tzu might use to refer to the Tao. Yet the Eternal Tao most closely parallels the Hindu notion of "Brahman." Like the Tao, Brahman is recognized as transcendent and immanent, that is, as both prior to, or beyond, the realm of time and space, and manifest in it. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Brahman is described as "beginningless, supreme: beyond what is and is not."7 Chuang Tzu described the Tao as "the changing changeless and changeless change."
Lawerence Boldt - “EmpowerYou.com
Striving, we become exhausted.
Ceasing to strive, we find astonishing energy.
Tranquility rests within us, "softening our edges and bringing us peace.
Where does it come from? ;
Someplace we can't name.
What is its source?
What does it do?
Everything that needs to be done.
We have been taught not to trust our true nature and to look outside ourselves for peace, tranquility, and wisdom. Yet at the core of who we are lies an ancient, innate wisdom. This is our natural connection with the Tao.
This connection is called by many names. We talk of returning to our "own hearts" or coming back to "center." We speak of our "true nature," which is compassion. In all these ways we point to something that cannot be named. It can only be rediscovered through direct experience.
We recognize it when we are doing well in the midst of the challenges of caregiving. We see it when we know deep within that all truly is well, even in the middle of the most distressing day. We sense it when we find tenderness welling up to soothe our frustration and despair when we feel we are failing at our task.
Watch for these experiences. They are available to all of us, to remind us of the trustworthiness of our own hearts.