Archive for December, 2013

The Seeker – Pt 3

The Seeker is taken from the writings of Chuang Tzu and appears in my book The Spiritual Teachings of The Tao. Nan Jung Chu was an older student who wanted to become a Real Person. His teacher suggested he visit Lao Tzu, who tried to teach him:

7. Fourth Teaching: Preserve Inner Freedom

One who preserves his inner self doesn’t act for the sake of fame. One who lives for the world has his will set on whatever he can take. One who acts without thinking of fame may seem ordinary, but shines brightly. One whose will is set on gain is just a trader.

People see how he stands on tiptoe, while he thinks he is naturally superior. A person attached to things becomes possessed by them, while one indifferent to things just lets them pass by.

Attached to things, you lose concern for other people. Unconcerned with others, everyone becomes a stranger. In this way a person becomes alienated from others.

There is no weapon deadlier than the will — even the sharpest sword is inferior to it. There is no robber greater than Yin and Yang, from whom nothing es-capes. But it’s not Yin and Yang that do the robbing – it’s your own heart that does it.

8. Fifth Teaching: Hide In Non-Existence

Tao is in everything, found in the complete and the divided. To divide something is to create something else. To create something is to destroy something else.

So when people emerge and are born, if they don’t know how to return to their previous non-existence, they are little more than ghosts. Everything that is born also returns – they die, as we say. They may be killed off and gone, but their life is like that of ghosts.

If the formed can learn from the unformed then true understanding can take place. We emerge, but not from a root. We return, but not through an opening. We have a real existence, but it’s not located in a place. We have duration, but it has nothing to do with beginning or end.

We have a real existence, but it has nothing to do with place: that’s our relation to space. We have duration, but it has nothing to do with beginning or end: that’s our relation to time.

We have life, we have death; we emerge, we return. To emerge and return without showing our form is called the ‘Gate of Heaven’. The Gate of Heaven is Non-being.

All forms of life come from non-being. The first beings couldn’t bring themselves into being – they must have come from non-being. And non-being is just the same as non-existing.

So the sage hides himself in non-existence and this is his secret.”

9. Sixth Teaching: Find Real Knowledge

Lao Tzu continued his teaching, “Among the ancients there were those whose knowledge reached the extreme point. What was that point? There were some who thought that in the beginning there must have been nothing. This was the extreme point, the furthest reach of their knowledge, to which nothing could be added.

Next were some who supposed that in the beginning there was existence, and they considered life to be a gradual ebbing, and death a return to the original state. And there they stopped, but made the division between life and death.

And there were those who said, ‘In the beginning there was nothing. Later there was life. And in a while life was succeeded by death. We believe that non-existence is the head, life the body, and death the buttocks. Any-one who understands that existence and non-existence, death and life, are all under One keeper, will be our friends.’

Although these three views are different, they belong to the same family. They are one, even though they seem to be diverse.”

10. Seventh Teaching: All Life Is One

Lao Tzu continued, “The possession of life is like dirt that collects under a cooker. When this is distributed in different forms, we consider it different. But to try to talk about these differences is a waste of breath. There is always something we don’t understand.

For instance, at the Winter Sacrifice the intestines and hooves of the sacrificial animal are placed on separate dishes, but we don’t consider them parts of different victims. The animal is one.

Again, when you inspect a house to buy, you go over all of it in detail – bedrooms, shrines and toilets – making estimates of different parts of the house. But the house is one.

Let me speak about how people make distinctions. Life is the root, and knowledge is applied to it. Using knowledge, people examine life, and debate right and wrong, trying to determine what will bring fame and fortune. Their conclusion is that only they know what’s right, and they try to make others adopt them as a model, even prepared to die to defend their views.

These people believe being an official is a mark of knowledge, and not being in office a sign of stupidity. They think success entitles them to fame, and failure is a disgrace. The people of the present day who follow this method are like the cicada and the little dove — there’s little difference between them.

If you tread on someone’s foot in the crowd, you apologize. If an older brother steps on his younger brother, he comforts him. If a parent treads on a child’s foot, no need to ask forgiveness.

Hence it’s said:

‘Perfect politeness shows no special respect;
perfect justice takes no account of things;
perfect wisdom makes no plans;
perfect good shows no emotion;
perfect loyalty gives no oath of sincerity.’”

11. Eighth Teaching: Keep A Calm And Stable Mind

Lao Tzu concluded his teaching to Nan Jung Chu,

“Suppress the impulses of the will;
unravel the errors of the mind;
untie the knots of virtue;
unblock the free flow of Tao.

Glory and riches,
prominence and position,
fame and profit;
these six are the impulses of the will.

Personal appearance and style,
beauty and cleverness,
excitement and memory;
these six are errors of the mind.

Hatred and desire,
pleasure and anger,
sadness and joy;
these six are the knots of virtue.

Rejection and acceptance,
receiving and giving,
knowledge and ability;
these six obstruct the free flow of Tao.

When these four conditions,
and their six causes,
no longer disturb your heart,
then you will be correct.

Being correct, you are calm;
being calm, you are clear;
being clear, you are empty;
empty –
the state of doing nothing,
in which everything gets done.

Tao is revered by all the virtues.
Life is when their power can shine.
Nature is the substance of life.

Nature’s movement we call action.
When action is false,
it fails to strike home.

People who are knowing attach themselves to things outside and always have a plan. With all their knowledge there’s always something they miss – they can’t see straight.

When you act because there is no alternative, it’s called ‘virtue’. When you act from your deepest self, it’s called ‘governing’.

You may think these two terms are opposed to each other, but in reality they are in agreement.”

So ended the Master’s teaching.
Did Nan Jung Chu ever find Tao?
Did he keep his health and guard his life?
We shall never know.

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December 28, 2013 at 11:50 am Leave a comment

The Seeker – Pt 2

The Seeker is taken from the writings of Chuang Tzu and appears in my book The Spiritual Teachings of The Tao. Nan Jung Chu was an older student who wanted to become a Real Person. His teacher suggested he visit Lao Tzu:

4. First Teaching: Close The Gates

Nan Jung Chu entered Lao Tzu’s school and the Master suggested he try to develop the things he liked, and dismiss all unpleasant thoughts.

For ten days he meditated and fasted, and went again to Lao Tzu, who said to him, “Even though you’re purifying yourself, you still seem anguished. You’re still clinging to things you dislike.

When external influences trouble you, you may try to control them, but you’ll find that very difficult. Better to stop their invasion by protecting your inner core. Likewise, when internal impulses bother you, it’s difficult to hold them in check. Better to close the gates of your self against their leaving. A master of the Tao and its power wouldn’t be able to control these two influences acting together, and how much less can one who is only a student!”

5. Second Teaching: Thaw The Ice

Nan Jung Chu said, “A villager fell ill, and when his neighbours asked about it, he was able to describe the symptoms, even though it was an illness he hadn’t had before. When I ask you about Grand Tao, it’s like taking medicine which only increases my sickness. It will be enough for me if you can just explain the Tao of keeping good health.“

Lao Tzu replied, “You ask about keeping good health.

Can you embrace the One?
Can you keep from losing it?
Can you know good and bad fortune without consulting the oracle?
Can you rest where you ought to rest?
Can you stop when you have enough?

Can you leave others alone and seek it in yourself alone?
Can you flee from desire?
Can you be sincere?

Can you become like a little child? A child can cry all day without becoming hoarse- so perfect is its harmony. It can clench its fists all day without relaxing its grip – such is the concentration of its power. It can stare all day without moving its eyes -so unconcerned is it by the outside world. It walks but doesn’t know where. It rests where it’s placed, but it doesn’t know why. It unconsciously mingles with things, and just follows their flow. This is how to guard life.

Nan Jung Chu said, “And are these the characteristics of a Real Person?”

Lao Tzu replied, “No. This is called thawing the ice, and melting the frost.

Can you do it?

The Real Person, along with others, shares food from Earth, and happiness from Heaven. But unlike others, he doesn’t relate to considerations of profit and loss. Unlike others, he doesn’t do strange things, form plans, or have projects. He flees the allure of desire, and pursues his way with a complete simplicity.

This is the way he guards his life.”

“And does this constitute perfection?”, asked Nan Jung Chu.

“Not quite,“ said Lao Tzu. “I will ask again whether you can become like a little child, a newborn who acts without knowing what it’s doing, and walks without knowing where it’s going. Its body is like dried out wood, and its mind like cold wet ashes. Because of this, good and bad fortune don’t affect it. Experiencing neither good nor bad fortune, how can it suffer human calamities?”

When your mind reaches such spontaneity, its emits a Heavenly light, and in this light everything is revealed: humans reveal their humanity and things their substance. When a person has cultivated himself to this point, he becomes constant. When he is constant, others will seek refuge with him, and Heaven will help him. Those in whom others take refuge we call the People of Heaven. Those whom Heaven helps we call the Children of Heaven.

Those who seek this by study look for something that can’t be learned. Those who seek it by effort, attempt what effort can never achieve. Those who seek it by reason, use reason where reason has no place. Knowledge of when to stop when you can’t arrive by knowledge is perfection. Those who can’t grasp this will be destroyed by Heaven.”

6. Third Teaching: Maintain Inner Sincerity

Lao Tzu continued, “When everything is done to maintain the body; when the mind is aware of possible dangers; when inner reverence is cherished and given freely to others; if all this is done, and bad fortune still arrives, it’s due to Heaven, and not to humanity.

These misfortunes aren’t enough to disturb your serenity, or to invade the Spirit Tower of your heart and mind. This Tower has a Guardian but unless you know this Guardian he won’t recognize you.

If you try to accomplish anything without this inner sincerity, every attempt will fail. Malign influences will enter, and you will be unable to free yourself from them. Then with every fresh attempt there will be still greater failure. If you do evil in daylight, people will punish you. If evil is done in darkness and secrecy, then spirits will inflict punishment. Understand your relations both to people and spirits, and then you’ll know what to do in the solitude of yourself.”

Part 3 to follow.

December 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

The Seeker – Pt 1

The Seeker is taken from the writings of Chuang Tzu and appears in my book The Spiritual Teachings of The Tao:

1. The Reluctant Sage

Among the students of Lao Tzu there was one, Keng Sang Chu, who understood some of his master’s teaching, and wanted to put it into practice with his followers in the north, at the hill of Wei Lei.

Students he judged pretentious know-it-alls he sent away, and concubines who were overly kind he kept at a distance. He decided to live only with those who were off-hand and rude, and employed only the rough and ill-mannered.

After three years there were great harvests in Wei Lei, and the people remarked, “When Master Keng Sang first came here, we were alarmed by his strangeness. We thought he couldn’t do us any good, but now we’ve known him for three years, his presence is extremely beneficial. Surely he must be a sage? Why don’t we revere him as the representative of our departed ancestors, and build an altar to him as our god of the earth and grain?”

Keng Sang heard about this and was unhappy. His students thought this odd, but he said to them, “Why do you think this strange? When spring’s breath arrives, vegetation grows; when autumn arrives, fruits of the earth ripen. Do spring and autumn do this without a cause? It’s just the processes of Great Tao in operation.

I was taught that the Real Person keeps calm deep within his house, while the people rush around, unthinking and crazy, not knowing what they are doing.

Now these petty people of Wei Lei want to present their offerings to me and place me among the wise men. But should I be set up as a model? This is what makes me unhappy, especially when I think of the teaching of my Master.”

His students said, “You mustn’t think like this. In a ditch eight yards wide, a big fish can’t turn around, but minnows and eels find it very congenial. On a small hill a large animal can’t hide, but foxes find it excellent cover. Besides, the wise should be honoured, and the able rewarded, while preference should be shown to the good and beneficial. The ancient Emperors Yao and Shun acted like this. How much more should the people of Wei Lei do so! Please Master, indulge them!”

Keng Sang replied, “Come nearer my children, and listen. Suppose there was an animal so big that it could grab a carriage in its mouth. If it left the hills, it wouldn’t escape the danger of being trapped in a net. Or if a whale that could swallow a boat was left stranded on the shore, then even ants would be able to bother it. That’s why birds and animals aim to be as high as possible, and fish and turtles dive as deep as possible. In the same way a person who wants to preserve his body and life keeps concealed, and does so in the remotest place possible.

Besides, what did those Emperors do to deserve your praise? In their arguments it was as though they reck-lessly tore down walls to plant wormwood and brambles in their place, or thinned their hair before combing it, or counted the grains of rice before cooking. They did everything with finicky discrimination, but how did that help the world?

If you promote the talented, you create disorder, making the people compete with one another. If you employ the wise, the people steal each other’s reputation. Those who calculate life can’t make the people good and honest. Indeed, the people are very eager for gain – a son will kill his father, and a minister his ruler for it. People steal in broad daylight, and at midday tunnel through walls. I tell you the root of this great disorder was planted in the times of Yao and Shun. The branches of it will remain for a thousand ages, and after a thousand ages people will surely be found eating one another.”

2. The Perplexed Student

Nan Jung Chu was an older student and seeker of Tao, and he asked Keng Sang Chu, “What means can an old man like me adopt to become a Real Person?”

Master Keng Sang said,

“Keep your body intact,
hold on to your vital energy,
don’t let your thoughts be turbulent.

Do this for three years, and you may become a Real Person.”

Nan Jung replied, “Eyes are all formed the same, there’s no difference between them, but the blind can’t see. Ears are all the same, no difference between them, but the deaf can’t hear. Minds are all the same nature, no difference between them, but the insane can’t use theirs.

My body and mind is formed like yours but somehow there is a gap between us. I’d like to find myself, but I’m not able to do it. You’ve now said to me,

‘Keep your body intact,
hold on to your vital energy,
don’t let your thoughts be turbulent.’

With all my efforts to learn Tao, your words reach only my ears.”

Keng Sang replied, “I have nothing more to teach you.”

Then he added, “There is a saying, ‘Small flies can’t transform the bean caterpillar; fowls from Yueh can’t hatch geese eggs, but fowls from Lu can.’ It’s not that the power of these fowls is different, but their ability or inability comes from the differences of big and small. My ability is small and isn’t sufficient to transform you. Why don’t you go South to see Lao Tzu?”

3. The Three Dilemmas of Nan Jung Chu

Nan Jung Chu prepared some food, and walked seven days and nights, arriving alone at the house of Lao Tzu.

The Master said to him, “Have you come from Keng Sang Chu?”

“I have,” said Nan Jung.

“Why have you brought this crowd with you?”

Nan Jung was shocked, and swung his head round to look behind. Lao Tzu said, “Don’t you understand my meaning? You’ve come here with your mind stuffed full of ideas and problems, instead of coming here empty.”

Nan Jung lowered his head and sighed, then lifted it up, and said, “I didn’t understand your question, and I’ve now forgotten my own question.”

“What do you mean?”, asked the Old Master.

‘I have a predicament. If I’m not wise, people say I’m stupid, and if I’m knowledgeable, this disturbs my body. If I’m not good, then I harm others, while if I am good, I cause myself distress. If I’m not just, I’m accused of injuring others, while if I am just I upset myself.

These three dilemmas bother me and I walked here to ask your advice.”

Lao Tzu replied, “When I first saw you and looked into your eyes, I understood you, and your speech confirms my judgment. You look bewildered and confused, as if you’ve lost your parents, and are using a pole to try to find them at the bottom of the sea. You’ve gone astray and you’re at wit’s end. You want to restore your original nature, but don’t know the first step to take to find it. You’re in a sorry state!”

December 26, 2013 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

What is Cultivation?

On October 22nd I posted In Praise of Hardship which was about a British Taoist Association retreat led by Meng Zhiling, a Taoist priest from China. He impressed me very much. In the latest edition of The Dragon’s Mouth, the journal of the BTA, is an interview with him, and he says some interesting and unusual points about cultivation.

Meng had been working as a teacher at the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, but he felt the need to find some of the old Taoists and to seek a quiet spot to cultivate himself. He ended up at a cold region called Dongbei and he carved out a cave to live in. He accepted no donations, but earned money to survive. He said “It was difficult, but it was the life I had chosen. If there was anything that could make my life easier, I would reject it.” This is the true spirit of the Tao.

After a while local villagers came to ask him about the Tao. He told them he didn’t know anything, but they didn’t believe him and kept coming, which disturbed his tranquillity. So he decided to find somewhere even more remote. He found an abandoned hut at the foot of a mountain and started living there. “It was in a bad state but I managed to fix it up enough to live there. My clothes quickly turned to rags, the palms of my hands were thick with callouses and my fingertips were often bleeding. Some of the tasks I set myself were really unnecessary, but I would just do them to make my life more difficult. I would spend my days working and meditating, just those two things.”

Incredibly, he kept on looking for ways to make things more difficult! “I began to see that difficulties in life have no end, but we just need to put them aside and forget about them. Then eventually you will reach a state where nothing is difficult, nothing is impossible. Once you’ve reached such a state, no matter where you go or what you do you will not find it difficult. Nothing can affect your heart/mind any more. So this is when your heart/mind becomes more clear and your original nature is radiant again.”

Meng says this about original nature: “Our original nature is like a glowing pearl but through our day to day lives, with all our thoughts and desires, we accumulate dust which covers its original condition. But if we remove this dust then the pearl will be able to shine again. The term for this method of cultivation is to stabilize our heart and transform our nature (xiangxin huaxing). To stabilize our heart means that we stay tranquil. When we stay tranquil we stop accumulating more dust. And by removing the old dust that we have already accumulated we transform our nature. So once we’ve removed all the dust from our heart/mind then our true nature is revealed. And our true nature is Tao.”

His advice to us sounds basic, but is profound: “Keep your heart simple and clear. Don’t get caught up in too many theories of cultivation, that just creates more ideas. Just keep your heart simple and clear.”

This sounds easy, almost too easy, but you can’t find one person in a million who can do it.

December 24, 2013 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

A Cultivator’s Diary – Part 5 (From my journal 2007)

February 12, 2007 – Berlin

Tired today travelling to Berlin for the Film Festival. Here in the hotel I feel a headache coming on, and during the day my legs hurt.

With so little to do here, it would be easy to say fuck it- give up. You are getting few responses to your emails, your schedule is light, and its an uphill battle getting people to take your projects seriously. Travelling on Easyjet is no joke too.

It would be very easy to give up, to stop trying, to avoid the hassle of travel and the frustration of fighting to get projects off the ground. But you should see it as a test of character. If you feel that you had the ability but lost it due to circumstances (including your own errors) then that ability must still be there 30 years later. As Epictetus said, the ox only knows its power when it is attacked by a lion. Until that time, its ability is in potential, there is no evidence that this animal has the strength to take on and defeat a lion until the event actually takes place. Until that time it is a slow and placid animal, but inside it is an essence, a power, a ‘de’ which it can call on in moments of danger. If this is how you see yourself, then you must continue, no matter how much frustration you feel.

It’s clear that your feelings of yesterday were due to a cold coming on. Tuesday I went for my meetings, but started to feel chilled inside the Film Market building and after lunch I went back to the hotel, bathed and crept into bed. Today I am still cold, but my nose isn’t dripping any longer so I’m doing to go to the sauna to try to clear my chest.

February 16, 2007 – London

Still low in energy, coughing a bit, and with muscle ache in my back. Thought this flu would have gone away by now, but it’s still here.

Living in Berlin with such a weak body, one chilled by the damp, cold and wind, gave me a preview of what it must like to be old – the slow deliberate walk, wrapping up in layers to try to keep warm, the inability to pick up a heavy suitcase and move it around – these are all signs of future times, what life will be like for you one day. The thing is, you don’t know when that will be – by 70, 75, 80, 85, 90?

It can happen at any time- a stroke that takes away function from half your body or reduces you to a senile vegetable. This should really make you appreciate your good health even more.

A few years ago, when you got the flu you found it almost impossible to walk across the park – each step was an enormous undertaking, and the energy was just not there to propel you down the path. You had to keep stopping to recapture breath and strength. This too was a premonition, and the two give you a picture and an experience of what it will be like to be an old man.

December 24, 2013 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

A Cultivator’s Diary – Part 4 (from my journal 2007)

January 26, 2007

Last night I decided to try Lucid Dreaming, as taught by Liu Ming. He explained that to get to the point of perceiving yourself falling asleep, you should lie on your back in ‘sleep’ meditation, visualise or allow white light to gather in your head, and then send it down to your liver. This I did and had the following experience:

As I lay there breathing, taking the white light down to the liver, after a period of time I became aware of images and their voices infiltrating my consciousness. My eyes were closed, so my mind was not in communication with the visual world, and the house was silent, so no sounds entered either. I tried to ‘look’ inward, to allow my eyeballs to sink into their sockets, so that the energy that came in on an in breath was felt in the 3rd eye area entering into the back of the head and then travelling down to the liver. While doing this I tried to relax my muscles as much as possible and I also held my breath for long periods of time.

I had just read Master Nan who said if you control (hold) your inbreath then the chi in your body will naturally take over. Indeed there were gurglings and releasing sounds in my belly, chest and kidney area when I did this. After some time I realised that I was ‘seeing’ a figure and having a conversation with someone. The realisation was my conscious mind, my waking state, becoming aware that I had entered the twilight zone, that time/space/mental state between waking and sleeping, while dream elements started to encroach on my waking state and take it over.

As I continued in this state, more images and voices seemed to come in, a real confusion of noises and sights. It felt like what a mental patient might experience, what would be called a ‘deluded’ state. This is also a disturbing state to be in. When you dream the pictures seem to be in your head front and centre. You must ‘place’ them there because of the habit of vision – using the eyes to see what is in front of us.

But these ‘deluded’ images seemed to appear from the side of the head as if emerging from behind me. Was it that they were coming from another place in the brain and that the mind had to give them a ‘spatial’ aspect that made sense- or are these ‘hidden’ images that one can only come out once one enters this twilight zone?

It seems that there are two types of sleep- Nrem and Rem. There are 4 stages to Nrem and the first 2 stages could well be the twilight zone where there are ‘hypnagogic hallucinations’. With many people there is fear associated with these hallucinations. and also the fear of death. Presumably the practise aspect of this type of dream practise must be to go into these images and sounds without fear and without fear of death. This is to learn to exist happily in a strange death-like state, and also to learn to be comfortable in both waking, dreaming and intermediate states.

December 23, 2013 at 10:18 am Leave a comment

A Cultivator’s Diary – Part 3 (From my journal 2007)

January 25 2007

In the morning, when everyone has left the house to go to work or school, there is a great silence and peace in the house. But at the same time, because there is so little for me to do, a great lassitude comes over me. This reluctance to move but only rest (the desire to read a book or contrarily to go out and buy a newspaper) needs a certain discipline to get me into the yoga room to practise. Once there it is easier- force of habit and the feeling in my body that moving and stretching are what I really need take over and I am into it.

I want to see if my arms/shoulders have changed since yesterday’s work. Is there as much pain in those specific points? Is there more mobility? What effect did this work have on other parts of the body, if any?

Evening:

Reading To Realise Enlightenment by Master Nan Huai-Chin. He talks of how you have to understand that Form is Emptiness and Emptiness Form. Quantum physics also says that Form is Emptiness, that atoms, which make up the Form of the material world, are 99.9% empty once you open them up. What we take to be solid and stable is actually dancing and ultimately empty, separating out into vast areas of emptiness in a tiny space. Since space is relative a tiny space can be a vast space. Inside the atom it certainly acts like one.

So if my body, my Form, is Empty, then as Nan says it is birthless and deathless. What is born is a Form, a baby, developed from a smaller Form, an embryo which grew from a sperm and egg. But if all of these are Forms, however small or large, then all of them are also Empty and once they are all resolved to Emptiness, how is Emptiness ‘born’ and how does Emptiness ‘die’? If we are all Empty then we are all unborn, and our births and deaths just transformations of Form, something which the elements we are made of have been doing from the beginningless beginning of time.

Can you live with a mind that sees that all is Emptiness? Can you put that into practise? How does that relate to your law suit with the Pythons? That is certainly part of the world of Form – it exists as a concept and a thing so must be Empty. I suppose the attitude should be: I’ll pursue my case because people have cheated me and I should not allow myself to be cheated. However if I lose the case I should just walk away from it with no regrets, bitterness or anger. And while it is going on I should feel no anxiety about the outcome, no matter whether I win or lose. In fact Emptiness means that winning and losing do not exist. They dissolve away into an equality of Empty Form.

December 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

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