Posts tagged ‘Taoism’

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

*******

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

Why I Wrote the 7th Python – Part 2

Reading my journals from 2005-2013 also reminded me of the impact that these 7 years had on my health, my finances, and on my relationships. Going to court is never a cheap option, and the fact that I had to pursue this claim for so long meant that my finances not only were stretched, but finally gave out. These financial worries in turn affected my health, and I had some stress related symptoms that were difficult to control. My stomach kind of rebelled, and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels both increased. I really didn’t need this kind of change in my health at this late stage of life. I’m sure the Pythons never thought about what I had to endure. I am a follower of the Tao, and I have been meditating for about 20 years, so when this struggle was at its worst, I had some tools of self-cultivation to use in order to stay sane and balanced under duress. The journals capture these times.

The legal battle was a bit lop-sided. After all, there were 5 of them (plus Graham’s estate) against me, and their money, fame and influence far outweighed my limited resources. I was suing them for £ 300,000, which is a significant amount of money, but given there were six of them this worked out to only £ 50k each. Given that the money I was owed was revenue from Spamalot, it was not even coming out of their pockets, but was derived from the box office. In this sense, the amount of money (for them) was insignificant. Why did they persist in pursuing it? I still don’t know.

But I knew that I had to pursue this case, partly for financial reasons, and partly for personal ones. I believe in standing up for myself, and not letting others cheat me. This was a wrong done to me, and I just couldn’t let it go. This attitude was instilled into me by my mother. For this reason I have dedicated the book to her for the lessons she taught me.

I thought my saga could be of interest to other people so I decided to write it up. Interestingly, I found that all of the puzzling unanswered questions that had disturbed me at the beginning of the dispute remained to the end. I wanted to share these questions with other people, since I think they offer revealing insights into contemporary celebrity. But I could also see a disturbing pattern in the behaviour of the Pythons during this 7 year struggle. During this entire period, not one Python rang or emailed me wanting to discuss the problem. I was forced to deal only with their lawyers and managers. And when I did reach out to Michael Palin and Terry Jones by letter, it didn’t make any difference.

The only way I could manage to get this kind of overview of the 7 year long ‘little life’ was by working my way through the legal events from start to finish, while charting my own reactions to them. This is what the book does. Along the way it reveals a lot about the Law, about celebrity culture, about Taoism, and about my character and that of the Pythons. As I thought about this legal/personal story, I realised that I would need to fill in quite a few areas that form the context of my time with the Pythons. One was the making of the film in 1973-5 and another was how I got to be the producer of the film. Lastly I realised that some people who bought the book might not know about the Pythons’ history, so I had to tell their own stories as well as the state of British comedy on film and TV in the early 70s. So the book is a mixture of many elements, which I think hold together and illuminate a specific area of contemporary culture.

Visit http://www.the7thPython.com for more information and to purchase the book
Visit The 7th Python on Facebook

November 16, 2015 at 10:48 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

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

A Cultivator’s Diary – Part 1- (My Journals 2007)

January 23 2007

Today I took this journal up to the yoga room, so that I could write when the inspiration strikes.

I was ‘standing’ (Chi Gong Standing Pole) in front of the window, trying to see if my arms were hanging down while at the same time my sternum was straight, my head upright and balanced on my neck, my lumbar spine curved and so on, when I had the feeling that I should give up.

This is an unconscious feeling which from time to time comes to me. You could say that it’s a defeatist, pessimistic feeling, and it would be easy just to ignore it, to say just carry on, what you are doing with your body/mind is good – continue with your practise. It’s the right thing to do, it will give you results.

The results I’m talking about are increased suppleness, flexibility and strength, as well as a proper functioning of the organs of the body, full and complete circulation of chi, blood and lymph etc. The aim is to age without pain and disease and to be able to let go of life in the easy manner of the old Zen monks: just to let life go, as you let everything else go. This is something important to strive for. But what that niggling voice is saying is that all your effort is wasted. You will die; you are a diminishing resource, no matter how much effort you put in your practice. Perhaps you’re trying too hard, are getting a bit obsessive about it, which is also not good. Do you feel like a deadline is approaching, time weighing heavy on you, putting pressure on you to release those hamstrings before it’s too late?

This is all bullshit. You have all the time you need. If you can loosen your hamstrings tomorrow or next month they will not tighten up on you again, even if your practice becomes more intermittent through work.

You are an arrow heading in one direction- towards health, suppleness etc, and you can not go in reverse or go back to unhealthy habits or ways of abusing your body.

Why? Because your mind won’t let you. In the end it is the mind that is changed first and this allows the body to change. People who know say get into the position you want and then imagine yourself into it better, without obstructions, tightness or difficulty and your mind will get your body to ease up and get you there.

Paul Brunton says that time is a mental construct, as is space. If you allow time to rule you, then you are letting your own sense of time have dominance over your thoughts and actions. Try to lose that sense of time and instead feel each instant as an eternal time, a now that extends through all of time. Stay in it but don’t be pushed or influenced by it.

How long will you live to? 85/90/100 ? You are 63 – that means you have at least 20 years and possibly 30 or 35 to live out your time. What can you accomplish, even in 20 years, if you want to do something in film or other work? In 30 years, you can be born, grow up, get educated, get married, start a career and a family- in other words you have vast amounts of time available to you. What you don’t have is youth, and energy, hunger and the enthusiasm born of youth. But you have experience and knowledge and it is the knowledge of the body and mind and how they work that you are using to make up for the missing youth factors. There is no doubt that you have more than enough time, and enough energy to do whatever you want to do. Admittedly what I want to do is very little –

This is the idea of Wu Wei – do nothing and everything gets done. Do less and less- do little. It’s so hard to follow the way of Wu Wei, but in fact you are doing it. You may have fallen into it, it wasn’t a deliberate policy or plan to work out how to live through Wu Wei, but in reality I think you are. So don’t feel guilty that you are doing nothing, don’t feel bad that you are becoming increasingly ‘idle’ – i.e. not hustling, not working hard to get movies made or finding new projects. You are doing all of this, but in a much more laidback way. Luckily your Holy Grail has given you the means to do this, and in this you are privileged. It’s an experiment with life, work and yourself, and you are trying to see if it can be self-sustaining. Live easily and openly just waiting to see what the outcome will be. Will Wu Wei succeed? Is it true? Watch this space.

December 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

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