Posts filed under ‘Ancient wisdom’

From: The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao – Part 2

Qualities Of The Sage

The ancient teaching says, “The sage is entirely peaceful, so his mind is evenly balanced and at ease. This even balance and ease appears in his serenity and de-tachment. In this state of balance and ease, of serenity and detachment, anxieties and anguish don’t affect him, and no harmful influences assault him. His Te, or power, is complete, and his spirit continues undiminished.

The life of the sage can be compared to the action of heaven, and his death is the transformation common to all things. In his stillness his power is the same as the Yin, and in movement his actions are like the Yang. He takes no initiative in producing either happiness or calamity.

The sage responds to the influences acting on him, and moves only when he feels the pressure. He acts only when he has no other choice. He discards knowledge and memories, and merely follows the pattern of his heaven-given nature. Therefore he suffers no calamity from Heaven, no attachment to things, no blame from people, and no disapproval from the spirits of the dead.

The sage’s life seems to just drift along;
his death seems to be a resting;
he doesn’t have anxious thoughts;
he doesn’t make plans;
his enlightenment is hidden;
his good faith isn’t contrived;
he sleeps untroubled by dreams;
he wakes untroubled by cares;
his spirit is simple and pure;
his soul is never weary.

Empty and selfless, calm and detached, the sage is in harmony with the qualities of Heaven.”

Therefore the teaching says, “Sorrow and joy are distortions of virtue; goodness and evil are transgressions of virtue; likes and dislikes show a failure of the mind. So for the mind to be free from sorrow and joy is to have perfected virtue. For the mind to be unified and unchanging is the perfection of stillness. To be conscious of no opposition is the perfection of emptiness. To have no attachment to external things is the perfection of indifference. And to have no feelings of dissatisfaction is the perfection of purity.

If the body is overworked and not rested, it becomes worn out. If the spirit is used ceaselessly, it becomes weary, and when weary, it becomes exhausted.

It’s the nature of water, when not mixed with other things, to be clear, and if not disturbed, to be level. But if it’s blocked and can’t flow, it won’t preserve its clarity. This is an image of the virtue of Heaven.”

To be innocent and pure, free from all contamination;
to be still and uniform, never changing;
to be detached and do nothing:
this is to move like Heaven and nourish the spirit.

Now the person who possesses the finest sword preserves it carefully in a box, and doesn’t dare to use it, because it’s considered the peak of perfection. But the subtle human spirit is even more perfect, and it radiates in all directions, flowing on without limit, rising to heaven above, and circling round the earth beneath. It transforms and sustains all things, and cannot be represented by any form. We call it the Supreme Harmony.

It’s only the Tao of pure simplicity which guards and preserves the Spirit. When this Tao is preserved and not lost, you become one with the Spirit and in this ethereal communion, you’re in harmony with the orderly operation of Heaven.

There is a proverb which says, “People consider gain to be the most important thing. Scholars – fame. Those who are wise and able value ambition. But the sage prizes essential purity.’

Therefore simplicity implies no mixing. Purity means the spirit is not impaired. It’s the one who can embody simplicity and purity whom we call the Real Person.”
(15.2)

September 10, 2014 at 6:42 am Leave a comment

From: The Spiritual Teachings of The Tao

The Guru and His Disciples

Lieh Tzu went on a journey to Chi, but after travelling only halfway he came back. On his return he met the teacher Po Hun Wu Shan who wondered why he had come back so suddenly.

Lieh Tzu said, “I was frightened.”

“What scared you?”

“On the way there I went into ten soup shops, and in five of them the soup was set down in front of me before anyone else.”

“But why should that frighten you?”

Lieh Tzu said, “Although the inner quality of a person can be hidden, the body, like a traitor, lets it shine through. This display awes people, who then treat you as noble or a sage, and from this treatment problems arise.

You see, soup sellers sell food simply as a matter of business, and however much they sell, their profit is small, and their power nil. So if they treated me as someone special, think how a king would view me! His body worn out with the cares of ruling, his knowledge overwhelmed by his affairs, he would want to hand these affairs to me, and expect me to successfully conduct his government. This is what frightened me.”

Po Hun Wu Shan replied, “Very perceptive! But if you persist in carrying yourself as you do, people will come to you as disciples.”

Not long after, Po Hun Wu Shan went to visit Lieh Tzu, and found his doorway full of visitors’ shoes. He stood there, holding his staff upright, leaning his chin on it until his skin puckered. After standing like this for awhile, he went away without saying a word.

The doorman went in and told Lieh Tzu, who immediately grabbed his shoes, and ran barefoot after the visitor.

When he overtook him at the outer gate, he said, “Since you’ve come for a visit, won’t you give me some good advice?”

Po Hun Wu Shan replied, “It’s too late. I told you that people would flock to you, and so they have. It’s not that you cause them to gather, they simply can’t stop coming. What good did my warning do? What attracts them and makes them pleased is your extraordinary qualities. But you, in turn, will be influenced by this crowd, your inner nature will be disturbed, and nothing can be done about it.

These people will not tell you this. The small words they speak are like poison to you. They don’t perceive this, nor do they understand it. How will you separate yourself from them?

September 8, 2014 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

Concerning the I Ching (from my journals 2007)

March 10, 2007

I have been reading The Taoist I Ching, starting at Hexagram 1 to hopefully the end, and as I read it, I realise that my understanding of it before was totally selective and subjective, in fact discriminating in the extreme. Because I was reading it then to understand yin and yang, to understand how the changes occur and how to read them and respond to them. In other words I was reading the I Ching looking for personal advantage, and I was also consulting it (as everyone does) for answers to personal questions. That must be a valid approach to the I Ching: ask it questions that concern or bother or intrigue or baffle you. The I Ching supplies a cryptic answer. But when you just read it (The Taoist I Ching being a specific Taoist interpretation of the book) you realise how you did not understand it before, because you ignored some of what the book was saying and concentrated only on those bits that you felt you could use, put into action etc. But the bits you read but really skipped over were (are) the important parts: they are about living your own truth and if you can’t do that then all the other stuff in the book really can’t help you.

First you must be able to tell the truth from the false and then you have to live that truth. It’s obviously as simple as that, but somehow we can’t seem to live that simply. We like to follow obscure deviations, or believe there is some arcane secret that will reveal to us how to live well, when all the time it comes down to what the simplest child knows deep in its heart: it is better to tell the truth than to lie. And if you can tell the truth you must live with and by that truth no matter how inconvenient it may be for your ideas of personal advantage (ideas of benefitting the self), which all your life you have acted on. Acting like this is just wrong, and it’s now time to set aside personal advantage (the self) and follow the truth wherever it leads, this being a selfless action. It’s taken you a long time to get to this place, but better late than never. Time after all is relative. and can go back as well as forward.

January 5, 2014 at 12:35 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

Advice from a Sage

Lieh-Tzu, the Taoist sage who rode the wind, was a student of Hu-Tzu and he prided himself on his learning. But one day he realised that he had actually learned nothing, and all the time he had spent with Hu-Tzu was wasted. It was not that Hu-Tzu was a bad teacher. No, it was Lieh-Tzu’s problem. He realised that he wore learning like a blanket, that it was too external and superficial, and that it had not penetrated inside. He was not fulfilling his true capacity and needed to do something about it.

So the story goes,

He went home, and for three years did not leave his house.

He cooked meals for his wife,

Served food to his pigs as though they were human,

Treated everything as he did his family,

From the sculpted jade he returned to the uncarved block,

Till his original self stood forth, detached from all things.

He was free of all tangles

Once and for all, to the end of his life.

This story contains good advice for everyone, but especially parents in how they treat their partners and children. If you imitate Lieh-Tzu you too can have his outcome. Why is that ?

When we read a story like this, we assume that Lieh-Tzu was a sage and therefore a good person. A sage is wise, so he should know what he wants from life that will truly satisfy him. And someone like that would be happy, we assume. But here we see that Lieh-Tzu does these things out of unhappiness. He does not like himself, and wants to change. He leaves his teacher and goes home because he has an intuition that he needs to do this to become whole again. And it is the doing that does it.

The paradox is that Lieh-Tzu undertakes these totally selfless actions, serving only others, and yet the result is that he returns to his original self. This renewal removes all the tangles, obstructions and blockages of mind and body that were stopping him from finding his true capacity.

He did not act selfishly, but his self gained immeasurably, by becoming renewed through his actions. There is a good lesson here. I hope to learn it.

August 18, 2013 at 4:56 pm Leave a comment

Dregs And Sediments

I’m preparing my book, The Spiritual Teachings Of The Tao (long out of print) as an e-book, and came across this story from Chuang Tzu that I have always loved. I’d like to share it with you. I title it Dregs:

The world thinks the most valuable exhibition of Tao is found in its classic books. But books are only a collection of words. Words are valuable: what is valuable in them is the ideas they convey. But those ideas are a sequence of something else, and that something else can’t be conveyed by words.

When the world, because of the high value it attaches to words, commits those words to books, the thing it so values them for may not deserve to be valued. Because what the world values isn’t really what’s valuable.

That’s why what we look at and see is only the outward form and colour, and what we listen to and hear are only names and sounds. How sad that people should think that form and colour, name and sound, are enough to give them the real nature of Tao.

Form and colour, name and sound, are certainly not sufficient to convey its real nature, and that’s why ”the wise do not speak and those who speak are not wise.” How can the world know the real nature of Tao?

Duke Huan, seated high up in his hall, was reading out loud, and the wheelwright Pien was making a wheel in the courtyard below. Laying aside his hammer and chisel, Pien walked up the stairs, and interrupted him,

“May I ask your Grace what words you are reading?”

The Duke said, “The words of the sages.”

“Are those sages alive?”, Pien asked.

“No, they’re dead,” was the reply.

“Then”, said the wheelwright, “what you, my ruler, are reading are only the dregs and sediments of dead men.”

The Duke, a lover of wisdom, became upset at this and said, “How can you, a wheelwright, have anything to say about my book? If you can explain yourself, well and good. If you can’t, you shall die!”

The wheelwright said, “Your servant will look at the subject from the point of view of his own craft. In making a wheel, if I go at it gently, it’s certainly pleasant enough, but the workmanship isn’t very strong. If I have to push forcefully, that’s an effort and the joints won’t fit well. Neither too gentle nor too forceful: my hand knows how to do it in harmony with my heart, and a fine wheel is produced. But I can’t tell you how to do it in words – there’s a certain knack to it. I can’t even teach this knack to my son, nor can my son learn it from me. That’s why I’m seventy years old and am still making wheels.

Now these ancient sages of yours must have been just like me – they also had a certain knack that it wasn’t possible for them to convey in words. If you’d been able to sit and learn from them, then perhaps you could’ve picked up that knack. But now they’re dead and gone, and all you’re reading is their dregs and sediments!”

Like the wheelwright, I am nearly 70 years old and am still at the coalface.

August 8, 2013 at 8:54 am Leave a comment

The Secret Of The Wise Kings

There is a famous story in the Book of Chuang Tzu of Confucius’ advice to his disciple Yen Hui. Yen Hui planned to go to the Prince of Wei to try to reform this ruler’s wild and wicked ways by using Confucius’ teaching. After Confucius shoots down all of Yen Hui’s proposals, and tells him that the Prince will probably kill him for his intervention, he offers him some advice,

You must fast. I’ll tell you why. Is it easy to work from pre-conceived ideas? Heaven frowns on those who think it is easy.”

Yen replies that his family is poor and he hasn’t eaten meat in ages, but Confucius explains that the fasting he is talking about is not fasting of the body but fasting of the mind. Yen asks him to explain what fasting of the mind is,

“Your will must be one. Do not listen with your ears but with your mind. Do not listen with your mind but with your chi. Ears can only hear, mind can only think, but chi is energy, receptive to all things. Tao abides in emptiness. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.”

He goes on to say,

“It is in emptiness that light is born. There is happiness in stillness. Lack of stillness is called sitting while wandering. If you are open to everything you see and hear, and allow this to act through you, even gods and spirits will come to you, not to speak of men. This is the transformation of ten thousand things, the secret of the wise kings. “

Yen Hui was going to Wei to apply the ‘pre-conceived ideas’ that he had learned from Confucius. But Confucius wanted to teach him how he could find new and spontaneous ideas, applicable in the moment,  to use with the Prince. We see in this dichotomy between pre-conceived ideas and spontaneous ones, the difference between reaction and response. In reacting to events we use our conditioned mind, the pre-conceived ideas that experience and learning have taught us. But this isn’t fresh enough. We need to respond not only from experience, but also to be alive to emptiness, to the spirit of the event unfolding in front of us. This is why Confucius tells Yen that he must use his chi to listen to what is happening, and not just his eyes and ears.

This story is similar to the well known story of the Professor who comes to visit a Master to discuss Zen. The monk offers tea and when he starts to pour he continues until the cup overflows. The Professor asks him what he is doing, and the monk replies that the cup is just like the Professor’s mind, overflowing with pre-conceived ideas and knowledge. The fasting of the mind is to empty it of old and stale ideas so that it can respond with fresh insights to what is happening in the moment.

We assume that the Confucius story is about sitting meditation, since Confucius says that ‘lack of stillness is called sitting while wandering.’ When we enter into a deep meditative state we enter stillness, but if our mind fails to settle then although we are formally sitting in meditation our mind is actually wandering all over the place and it’s not really meditation, it’s agitation.

The Fasting of the Mind is a Taoist meditation practise called Zuowang- sitting and forgetting. We sit and forget, but what is it that we are forgetting? Shi Jing, in an article from Issue Number 1 of the 2006 Dragon’s Mouth, says about Zuowang,

A meditation retreat is not about acquiring and filling, but is a process of releasing and emptying. What we forget is the thing we hold most dearly: self, with all its opinions, beliefs and ideals. We can be so caught up in the concept of self that we only see the world as a place to fulfill personal ambition and desire.

To forget the self means to forget the mind and body, since our ideas of self come from our awareness of having a body and of being conscious. So when we sit in meditation we forget our self, our body and our mind  – we empty out, but what is it that we are trying to empty? And what is this emptiness for?

In the West, the influence of Descartes has led us for 300 years to separate the body from the mind. The body was seen as low, crude and inert and the mind as the higher repository of thoughts and emotions. This dualistic view was never part of Eastern thought, so the Chinese view has always been to see the human organism as a unity, with body and mind working together. This is reflected in the old Chinese medical texts where the heart – hsin- was the seat of both thoughts and feelings, emotions and sensations, so that it was really the ‘heart-mind’, an inseparable compound of the body and the mind. The heart is the link between the body and the mind, and is the only organ with two meridians relating to it- the heart meridian and the heart protector.

In their books, Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee write about this view of the heart/mind. They say that Chinese classical literature sees the heart as the mind, the intelligence and the spirit. There are two aspects to the heart. It has a double meridian and a double presentation. It is both a void or place of quietness which allows the spirits to dwell within, as well as the activity which allows the spirits to circulate everywhere throughout the body via the blood and chi. It is the latter aspect which reflects the heart as the governor or master of the body. So the spirits reside in the heart and it is the heart’s function to send the spirits flowing and spreading out to the other organs of the body.

I recently attended a few Transformational Breathing (TM) workshops. Transformational Breathing uses a technique of sustained circular breathing through the mouth to attempt to open up your respiratory tract to the largest possible extent. In doing this it has to break through any blockages or obstructions that are stopping you from having a full open breath. These blockages are both physical and emotional. When I was going through this process, the facilitator asked me to try to open my heart.

After the session, I thought about the process of opening the heart, and how to go about it. Obviously it’s possible through breathing control to direct chi into the heart area, as well as to force breath into it to try to expand the heart and loosen or free it. But that’s purely on a physical level. What is it on a mental or emotional level?

I decided to ask the I Ching, ‘Will I be able to open my heart?’. Throwing the stalks I got the answer hexagram 35: Advance, but with no moving lines. The commentary of the 5th    and 6th lines, in the Taoist I Ching reads,

Regret comes from the heart/mind not being open. If one knows how to empty  and open the heart, one can thus seek from others, and so be able to fill the belly. Once one has filled the belly, fortune, misfortune and stopping at sufficiency are all in the palm of one’s hand. One can thereby be free from worry about loss or gain, and go straight  ahead without doubt, going ahead in advancing the fire and working, with good results beneficial in every way. This is the illumination  of becoming empty to bring fulfillment.

The sixth yang line says,

The work of overcoming oneself is to conquer the heart/mind. If one does not empty the heart/mind but relies on adament strength alone, strength must overcome strength – there is bound to be danger before getting good results and becoming blameless.

The Taoist I Ching is quoting the Tao Te Ching (Ch 3),

Thus the rule of the sage
empties the mind
but fills the belly

So to empty the heart/mind is to lose regret, make oneself open to others, cease having anxiety about loss and gain, as well as losing rational discrimination and  intellectual knowledge. Instead we fill the belly with breath, lose self doubt, gain will power and strength, which enables us to live out our destiny.

I thought about the line,

Regret comes from the heart/mind not being open

Where does regret come from? To me regret is made up of frustrated desires, the things you wanted to accomplish but could not, or the things or people that you desired but could not hold on to. It is in a sense the past tense of desire. We know that desire is always a problem. Eastern religions ask us to reduce our desires in order to find contentment and tranquillity. But desire is always present, firstly because we have a primary desire to live, and this means that the desire for food and drink are basic desires necessary for survival. But even if we reduce or sublimate our desires we remain in the grip of desire. Any spiritual desire – to be one with the Tao, or to be enlightened, is still a desire.

We always think of desires as in the present tense, of the desires that we either have or are trying to control and reduce. When we think of desires it is usually the obvious ones, which the Taoists call the Three Poisons: greed, anger, and stupidity; And you can add to that list a couple of others: hatred and  lust. But to see the reduction of desire as something negative, as a renunciation of the self, misses the mark. The Tao te Ching says (Ch 1),

Empty of desire, perceive mystery.
Filled with desire, perceive manifestations.

Lao Tzu says that if we can reduce desire we are able to perceive the subtle, whereas if we stay obsessed with desires we can only see the surface of things. We remain in the world of form and cannot break through to the world of emptiness and of essence. A life made up of endless desires is too shallow and can never get deep.

If my heart is not open enough, then it must be full of desires both old and new, and to open my heart means that I have to empty it. When you desire something or someone, you either feel fulfilled or unfulfilled. Either you accomplish that desire or fail to achieve it. The failure to achieve a desire leads to feelings of loss, lack, bitterness and regret. Even if we manage to accomplish our desires and have a feeling of joy these feelings do not last, do not remain for all time. Life is transient and impermanent. We lose even the things we have gained, so that loss is also part of success. All desires, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled, lead to feelings of attachment and dependency, to a sense that we can only feel whole when we can bring outside or external things into our being, our heart.

So the heart is full of the corpses of desire. We harbour past feelings of hurt and betrayal, as well as the seeds of new desires that we want to pursue. In such a state our heart overflows like the cup the Zen monk poured. If we can empty the heart of these old feelings and reduce our present desires, then we make room in the heart. Through this fasting of the heart we create an emptiness that will allow other and better feelings, like compassion and love, to take up residence.

We need to transform our hsin, our heart-mind, and the way to do this is through Zuowang, sitting and forgetting. What we need to forget are old slights, pains, hurts and betrayals, so that the heart empties out of old attachments and can become a storehouse for new feelings. Unless we houseclean our heart, we are being dragged down by our past, and are not able to move forward in a unified way. We are victims of self-doubt and self-esteem, and can’t utilise our energy in a powerful way. This is what Confucius means when he says,

“Your will must be one.”

Mencius said (2a2),

When will is unified, it moves the breath.
When the breath is unified, it moves the will.

And Chuang Tzu tells us,

There is no weapon deadlier than the will.

So my aim in emptying my heart is to unify my will and breath, so that breath and mind act as one, and my spirit can become liberated. This is the job of overcoming myself by overcoming the heart/mind.

In The Heart Claude Larre and Elizabeth Rochat de la Vallée talk about the role of the spirits,

We exist in a way that develops. We have a future. As long as we are living, we are living for something, we are living for tomorrow, and for the years to come. However long, life is not without prospect. Is there any power to take care of this ‘becoming’ (our future, our development). Yes, there are leaders within us, and we call them spirits.

The role or function of the spirits is not to give us some spiritual high or a wonderful transcendant experience but to utterly infuse our waking and sleeping being, so they are able to give us specific guidance for every moment and activity in daily life. This is what Confucius was advising Yen Hui, not to rely on his learning and knowledge but to rely on his spirits. And the reason we sit in meditation, the reason we sit and forget, is that we want to empty the heart of all the old and outworn ideas and emotions that we have stored there, in what WB Yeats called  “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart”. Once we have emptied it out we have created a home for the spirits to take up residence. This is the same idea as in ancient Greek religion. They created a beautiful temple, made an altar, devised rituals and sacrifices in the hope that the God would come down and make it his worldly home, to protect and guide their life. For the Chinese the hsin, the heart-mind, is a kind of fleshy temple. Keep it empty of desires, void of regrets and the spirits will have a suitable resting place.

So the advice Confucius gave to Yen Hui was: sit in meditation until you find stillness, and remain in stillness until you find happiness or joy; continue sitting until you find emptiness, and at some point light will emerge from emptiness, the light of awareness. At this point you will have transformed yourself, and you will be a sage, able to advise the Prince of Wei without having your head chopped off.

This is ‘The Secret of the Wise Kings’.

Copyright 2010 Mark Forstater

July 23, 2013 at 8:50 pm 1 comment

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The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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