Posts tagged ‘Lao Tzu’

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

A SPIRITUAL ALMANAC – JANUARY: SILENCE

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

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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.

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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.

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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 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


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Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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