Posts filed under ‘Ancient wisdom’

A Spiritual Almanack – June: Radiance

Hexagram 30: Brightness

Fire

over

Fire

The sun illuminates the sky while our inner illumination is the radiance of self-awareness, spreading thoughts and feelings from our deep heart’s core to the endless expanse of the universe.

The projects we start in spring begin to develop and blossom in summer. How can we nurture them so that they continue growing and do not fail prematurely? What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow. What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow, like the story of the famous Chinese farmer,

When the family sat down to dinner, the grandfather was missing, and his grandson reported that he was in the fields ‘helping the rice to grow’.

When the family rushed out to the paddies they saw how the old man was helping the rice to grow: by pulling on the rice stalks, tearing out their roots.

The Taoist way of acting is to act without acting, and this is called wu-wei. It means not interfering, and has been translated as non-striving, not trying, or doing nothing. It is a principle of the Tao, as the Tao Te Ching says,

The Tao does nothing

And yet nothing is left undone.

How can things get done when there is no doing? Wu wei does not mean literally doing nothing, but it implies not forcing things, being willing to sit back and watch as things develop naturally by themselves before making a move, rather than jumping in nervously and disturbing them. We must give up the sense that we can control things; all we can do is what needs to be done, and to let go at that point, trusting in the power of nature and the universe.

Vanda Scaravelli teaches that we can practise yoga with action in non-action, doing the asanas without the slightest effort.

Movement is the song of the body. Yes, the body has its own song from which the movement of dancing arises spontaneously.. In other words the liberation of the upper part of the body produced by the acceptance of gravity in the lower part of the body is the origin of lightness and dancing is its expression. This song, if you care to listen to it, is beauty. We could say that it is part of nature. We sing when we are happy and the body goes with it like waves in the sea.

We often believe that someone must be sitting in silence in the middle of a mountain retreat before we can say he or she is practising non-action. But taking no action does not mean folding one’s arms and closing one’s mouth. If we are simply content to let everything act by itself, then all things will be contented with their own nature and develop on their own. If we only embrace Tao and cherish simplicity, and allow everything to run its maximum course, then the world will naturally be contented with itself.

The idea that all things are accomplished without our control is described in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna tells of the three gunas, or forces of nature,

The forces of nature are three: sattva, the light, clear, and serene harmony of pure intelligence and goodness; rajas, the fiery restless energy of anger, hatred, greed and lust; and tamas, the darkness of dullness and inertia.

Although the harmonious force of sattva is pure, giving light and health without obstructions, it still binds your mind through an attachment to happiness and knowledge. The restless active force of rajas is of the nature of passion, creating a thirst for acquiring worldly things and thus leading to the bondage of selfish attachment and compulsive behaviour. The dark lethargic force of tamas arises out of ignorance and deludes all creatures, binding them to sleepy dullness, carelessness and laziness.

Sattva binds you to happiness, rajas binds you to incessant activity, while tamas leads to confused thinking and bad judgement. The light harmonious Sattva is dominant when the light of wisdom shines from all the gates of the body. When the fiery Rajas is dominant, we see greedy behaviour, busy activity, restlessness, discontentment and desire. When the dark Tamas is dominant, there is a disinclination to act, ignorance, laziness, delusion and confusion.

The yogis who understand that the forces of nature are only the actors in the drama of life and can transcend Nature, attain the Supreme. When a yogi goes beyond the three forces of nature which constitute her mortal body, she enters into immortality, free from the cycles of birth and death. She is aware that the forces of Nature are merely playing their part, so she is able to be unperturbed by changing conditions, remaining steady and unmoved. She dwells in her inner Self, viewing pain and pleasure alike, seeing stones or gold or earth as one and the same, maintaining equanimity in the midst of pleasure and pain. She is beyond praise and blame and keeps a steady and quiet mind. For her honour or disgrace is the same; and she has the same love for her enemies as for her friends. Surrendering all selfish actions, she has gone beyond the three forces of Nature.

We need to find a way of inner silence and peace that will allow us to trust the universe enough to let it dictate what happens, and not to force the world to fulfil our demands. This is what the Tao Te Ching means when it says,

Attaining utter emptiness,

maintaining single-minded stillness,

as things act together,

I thereby watch their return.

By maintaining stillness and emptiness, we trust that the world will support and sustain us. This kind of stillness transforms our striving mind into a perfect mirror, which reflects life perfectly, but doesn’t attempt to grasp anything. It becomes like a still lake high up in the mountains on a clear day, its surface unruffled by wind or rain.

Chuang Tzu explains:

Heaven does nothing, and so maintains its serenity.

Earth does nothing, and so it has its peace.

By the union of these two non-ac­tive forces, everything is produced.

How vast and imperceptible is this process!

Things seem to come from nowhere!

How imperceptible and vast!

We can’t begin to see it!

All things in all their variety grow from this inaction.

Hence the saying, “Heaven and Earth do nothing, and yet there is nothing that remains undone.”

But can we find anyone who trusts the universe enough to live according to “doing nothing”?

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June 1, 2016 at 10:38 am Leave a comment

The Book I’d Like To Write – Part 2

In 2003/4 the British Library put on an exhibition called Chinese Printmaking Today. It featured a dazzling array of printmaking skills, but to me the most impressive piece was a collection of four traditionally-bound Chinese books, printed on rice paper with indigo covers, string binding, and packed into beautiful walnut boxes. They looked like beautifully preserved examples of 15th  and 16th century volumes. The work was called Tianshu (The Book From The Sky) and what was remarkable was that it was all an elaborate cultural joke. All of the 12,000 elaborately carved Chinese characters that made up the content of the book were all invented by the artist, Xu Bing, and they had no meaning at all. The books looked like the real thing, but were just elaborate nonsense.

It got me thinking what a real book that fell from the sky might reveal to us. The sky (tian) is Heaven for the ancient Chinese, and it’s where the ancestors, with all their accumulated wisdom and knowledge, go when they have died. What would our ancestors, looking down on our puny efforts, have to tell us about how we are living our lives. They must have made similar mistakes to us, but now they are unaffected by them, whereas we still have to live out the karma of our days contending with the results that we have caused. Perhaps such a book, told from this elevated POV, could give us guidance about how to conduct ourselves, how to avoid or at least deal with pain, troubles, and problems. This would be a great book to own. I decided (this is a joke) to ‘translate’ this book, since it is the only Chinese book I am capable of translating. I actually wrote to the artist asking him for the right to translate the book. He never wrote back. He must have thought I was mad. Maybe I am.

That’s how I got the idea of The Book That Fell From The Sky, a users guide for earthlings, full of advice from the past and the present, from the dead and the living, about how to look after your body, mind and spirit in this lifetime. This would be a great book to write, amazingly useful to people now. Of course I never got around to writing this book (yet), so I decided to re-title it The Blog That Fell From The Sky and since 2009 I have been posting messages about some of my concerns and ideas and projects.

January 12, 2016 at 12:22 pm Leave a comment

The Book I’d Like to Write

Reading Somerset Maugham’s book on his life and craft, The Summing Up, I was intrigued by a story he quoted:

A Young King of the east, anxious to rule his country justly, sent for his sages and ordered them to gather the wisdom of the world so that he might learn how best to conduct himself.

After 30 years they returned with a string of camels laden with 5000 books. Here, they told him, is collected everything that wise men have learnt of the history and destiny of humanity. But the king was too busy with affairs of state to read 5000 books, so he ordered them to condense the knowledge.

Fifteen years later they returned with 500 books which they told the King contained all the wisdom of the world. But still there were too many to read and again he sent them away.

Ten more years passed and they returned with just 50 books. By now the king was old and tired and he said that even this amount was too much to consider. Go and condense this knowledge into one volume which would give me the epitome of human knowledge so that at long last I can learn what is most important for me to know.

Five years later they returned. By now these were old men who laid the result of their labours into the King’s hands. But now the King was also old and dying, and he did not have the strength to even read this one book.

How I would love to have this book, but I have never been able to find it. So I thought this would be a great book to write. Of course, I probably never will, I don’t think I have the ability. But I did conceive of a book like this once, and it was called The Book That Fell From The Sky. I never wrote it, and eventually decided to use the title for this blog – The Blog that Fell From The Sky.

Maybe one day I’ll try it again.

January 10, 2016 at 2:14 pm 2 comments

A SPIRITUAL ALMANAC – JANUARY: SILENCE

I am the secret of silence and the wisdom of the wise. Bhagavad Gita, Ch.10

*******

Hexagram 24: RETURN (FU)

i_ching_24_fu

Earth
over
Thunder

Short days; long nights;
The earth is silent;
Rest in the darkness.

At this time of year the yang energy is renewing itself; it is fragile and needs rest, nurturing and protection. This is a time to examine yourself, refine yourself, cultivate your virtue and master your mind, waiting for the right time to act in the days to come.

Lao Tzu said,

Attain utter emptiness;
Maintain the deepest stillness,
While all creatures rise and fall,
I silently watch their return.

*******

Silence is sacred; silence is our refuge; silence is our peace. Modern life is an assault of sound, a blast of brute noise designed to grab our attention and hold it entranced by sound so that we can be sold things we don’t need. TV commercials, muzak, the constant background hum of cars, trains and planes all distract us away from our inner peace.

Remember that the core of yoga is silence. When you can find that silent space within and stay in it, then you are in tune with yourself and the world: safe, secure and at home within your own skin. In this state you have no need to worry about the quality of your asana positions, or to wonder how someone else is getting along, or to fret about your work or other activities. You merely are. Existence itself is knowledge and bliss wrapped up in one, and you are that – you are one with all.

The earth, too, is silent in January, the generative power sunk deep within the ground. No birds sing, no insects buzz, and life sleeps in hibernation.

In Taoist alchemy this dead of winter represents the utmost quiescence, when real knowledge can emerge from primal emptiness. The alchemists call this the Living Midnight or Lead meets Winter, since winter followed by spring is like midnight followed by dawn, when the culmination of the cold dark yin energy is followed by the rising of the hot light yang energy. Slowly the yang energy emerges from its long winter sleep resting in the ground, and the potential for new life begins again.

It is a turning point in the year’s cycle. When things proceed to the extreme of the deepest darkness, they naturally alternate to the opposite: the dimmest light returns. This is a law of Nature. The time of darkness passes. The winter solstice brings back the banished light. And just as light returns, so we too must also return to our inner light. In the depths of our being we must seek the self, the one, our essence or origin- that ascending force of life.

*******

Prime Minister Pei Hsiu brought his written interpretation of Chan Buddhism for his master Huang Po to read. Huang Po accepted the text but put it aside without opening it, and remained silent. Pei Hsiu waited patiently for the words of his master, but Huang Po stayed silent. His silence lasted for a very long time. It filled the space between the two men and began to fill the entire hall. When the silence seemed loud enough to burst, Huang Po leaned towards the Prime Minister and said sofly, “Understand?”

Consider the meaning of this silence against the words rumbling on this page.

*********
When practicing asanas, or doing Tai Chi Chuan, we enter this meditative state of silence and in that quietness we are able to find our true selves, the inner essence, the kernel of who we really are.

The Person who in movement finds rest, and who understands that movement grows from stillness and rest, sees the light, and finds peace in all his actions. Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 4.

In Chinese the word for mind is hsin, which means the mind/heart. It can literally mean kernel or essence. Mind in a state of quiescence is similar to Christian innocence, the primal mind of humanity before the fruit of knowledge was eaten. To find this mind is to see your original face before you were born.

One secret of a successful life is to find a way to extend this silence into the other parts of life, into the busyness of life away from the yoga mat , where the stresses and conflicts of mundane existence can easily drag us away from our inner peace. Finding inner peace and maintaining inner peace are two separate practices.

*********

Silence is a place of great power. When we find those fleeting moments of silence our meditation can then undo our bodies from the inside, in subtle ways that the asanas cannot reach. The silent state of meditation is a healing state, providing a balance and harmony to all of our existence.

Periods of silence within a relationship indicate trust, love and peace – those moments when we have no need to talk, and are just able to accept the other person as they are – without criticism, judgement or withdrawal.

*******

In silent meditation, we put to rest our worries and cares, but meditation is not the ultimate answer. It is only a raft to get us to the distant shore:

The Master Huai-Jang asked Ma-Tsu, “Why do you sit all day in meditation?” Ma-Tsu answered, “I want to become a Buddha.” Hearing this, the Master picked up a brick and started rubbing it on a stone. “What are you doing?” asked Ma-Tsu. “I am polishing this brick to make a mirror.” “How can you make a mirror by rubbing a brick?” Ma-Tsu asked. “How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?”

In the end we must return to the activity of life, to the crossroads and the marketplace, and share with others the insights and power we have discovered in meditation:

bull10

Barechested and barefooted he comes into the marketplace.
Muddy and covered in dust – how broadly he grins!
Without resorting to magical powers,
Withered trees begin to bloom.

*******

In the end silence brings us closer to our true nature and to God. It is in that silence that we can be present in the moment.

When we observe our breath we can find silence and stillness at that lovely pause at the end of the in-breath and before the breath turns at the end of the out-breath. These pauses, if we let them, can be our entry into the eternal.

December 31, 2015 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

The 2500 Year Old Breath Exercise

This advice on breathing is from Chinese characters inscribed on a piece of jade:

Hold the breath and it collects,

When collected it expands,

When expanded it sinks down,

When it sinks down it gets quiet,

When it becomes quiet it solidifies,

Solidified, it begins to sprout forth,

After it has sprouted it will grow,

As it grows it will be pulled back above,

Pulled back above it will reach the crown of the head,

Above it presses against,

Below it presses down

Whoever follows this will live,

Whoever acts against this will die.

August 19, 2015 at 2:58 pm Leave a comment

From: The .99c Guide to Enlightenment

The Art Of Nourishing Life

Yen Ping Chung asked Kuan Yi Wu about nourishing life.

Kuan replied, “It’s enough to give life its free course, neither blocking nor obstructing it.”

Yen said, “How do I do that?”

Kuan replied, “Let the ear hear what it likes, the eye see what it likes, the nose smell what it likes, the mouth say what it likes, the body to enjoy the comfort it likes, and the mind to do what it likes.

Now what the ear likes to hear is music, and prohibiting that is what I call obstruction of the ear.

What the eye likes to look at is beauty, and if it is not permitted to view beauty I call this obstruction of sight.

What the nose likes to smell is perfume, and it’s not being permitted to smell I call obstruction to scent.

What the mouth likes to talk about is right and wrong, and if it is not permitted to speak I call it obstruction of the truth.

The comforts the body enjoys is to have rich food and fine clothing. And if this is not permitted, I say this is obstruction of the senses of the body.

What the mind likes is to be at peace. If this is not permitted I call this obstruction of the mind’s nature.

All these obstructions are a source of the most painful irritation.

Morbidly to cultivate this cause of irritation, unable to get rid of it, and so have a long but very sad life of eighty to a hundred years, is not what I call nourishing life.

But to stop this source of obstruction and with calm enjoyment to await death – for a day, a month,a year or ten years – is what I understand by enjoying life.

Now that I have told you about cherishing life, please tell me about the burial of the dead?

Yen said,
Burying the dead is of little importance. What shall I tell you about it?

Kuan replied,
I really would like to hear it.

Yen answered him,

What can I do when I am dead? They may burn my body or cast it into deep water or bury it or leave it exposed or throw it wrapped up in a mat into some ditch or cover it with princely apparel and embroidered garments and rest it in a stone sarcophagus. All that depends on mere chance.

Kuan said,
Good. Both of us have made some progress in the principles of life and death.

October 2, 2014 at 8:52 am Leave a comment

Yang Chu’s The Vanity Of Celebrity

When he was young, Yang Chu lived only for pleasure.
Once he was travelling in the state of Lu and stayed at the house of Mr. Meng. Meng asked him, “A person is just a person. Why do people strive for fame?”

Yang Chu replied, “If they do, it’s because they want to become rich.”
Meng said, “But when they’ve become rich, why don’t they stop?”
Y: Then they are after high status.
M: Why don’t they stop once they are honoured?
Y: It will help when they are dead.
M: But what good is fame when they are dead?
Y: It will help their descendants.
M: What good is fame to their descendants?
Y: For fame’s sake they have endured all kinds of hardship and pain. But one person’s fame can benefit their family, and even their fellow citizens. Their descendants will benefit even more.

However it’s better for those who desire real fame to be disinterested in becoming famous. But to be disinterested in fame means you live in poverty. And to be disinterested means you have to show restraint, and this is equivalent to being humble.

Meng was puzzled, and asked, “How can one be disinterested in fame, and yet fame arrives by itself?”
Yang Chu replied, “The ignorant strive so hard to maintain their fame, that they sacrifice reality. Doing this they eventually regret that nothing can rescue them from illness and death. They also regret not knowing the difference between ease and pleasure and sorrow and grief.

September 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm Leave a comment

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Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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