What is Cultivation?

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

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.

Entry filed under: Thoughts, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , .

A Cultivator’s Diary – Part 5 (From my journal 2007) The Seeker – Pt 1

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Reflections on an age of anxiety.


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