Tag Archives: ” Taoism

Literally

I just finished reading the book of Genesis this morning.

I’m not impressed.

My mother, who is my spiritual mentor, told me not to. She told me we’d go through it together soon. She understands that it’s difficult.

Incest. Infanticide. Polygamy. (Which I actually have no problem with, assuming it’s amongst consenting adults!) Lying about a woman being your sister so that your wife ends up in bed with someone else. Floods wrought by God to destroy most of the world. Etc.

I’m cool with myths. I’m cool with parables, with literary interpretation, with grappling with cosmic issues.

But now that I’ve read these stories thoroughly, stories that I’d only heard piecemeal or in children’s stories, now I realize: if you take the Bible LITERALLY, word for word, I-can-quote-it-and-claim-it-as-literal-truth, then I have nothing to say to you.

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

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Guilty by Association

I quit the Catholic Church when I was 13. Hadn’t really been into it for a few years at that point.

Just joined a Christian church, which is essentially alternative Methodist, a couple of weeks ago.

How much responsibility can I take for the horrors that have occurred in the name of Jesus?

My mother has been a devout and practicing member of the Catholic Church since she joined as a teenager.

How much responsibility must she assume for the horrors done by the decrees or the turned eye of the Pope?

The guilt of the individual as member of a religious group is something I hadn’t considered until recently.

First let me state the ways in which I feel I myself have been harmed in the name of Christianity (mostly by way of Catholicism):

  1.  soul-crushing guilt
  2.  a very dysfunctional and unhealthy view of sex
  3.  an image of a demented, angry, vengeful God who is an old man bent on tricking, coercing, threatening and bribing people to bow down before him. Or else.
  4.  the fear that truth comes from outside, that one cannot listen to one’s own inner voice, that one cannot trust
  5. the guilt and hopelessness that come from the belief that any negative/bad/unpleasant thing that happens is my punishment for being so wicked
  6. a focus on the negative, hell, the evil one, sin, the essential badness of humanity, etc.

I’m sure there are other effects I haven’t even thought of. But I have lately read enough about Jesus by people who seem to genuinely understand him to realize that throwing Jesus out with the bathwater is wasteful for me. For me. Allow me to emphasize, for me. I do not and will not subscribe to the belief that it’s my way or the highway. It’s my way for me, your way for you. If there is some kind of a judgment day, I’m going to have to answer for what I’ve done, and that’s going to be a big enough task without my having to answer for what others have done.

My goal in aligning myself with a Christian church at this point is to have an outlet for the deep desire I have for togetherness, for observable manifestation of Oneness, for the opportunity to serve the community at large through established channels. As much as I profoundly enjoy my solitary study and communing with the One, I know that I must at some point enter the world and apply what I have learned.

Just this morning I read this in the Hua Hu Ching as translated by Master Ni, Hua-Ching:

“My venerable teacher, should one spend all of his time and energy in quiet sitting meditation in order to remain above all worldly conditions and maintain absolute mindedness?

Kind prince, one who spends all of his time and energy in quiet sitting meditation for this purpose is establishing his mind to do something in a certain, definite way. By doing this, he clearly does not practice absolute mindedness, but instead demonstrates the narrowness and partiality of his mind. He cannot reach anywhere or become any kind of super-being. You see, the practice of absolute mindedness is not the practice of stiffness. That which is stiff belongs in the company of the dead, whereas that which is supple belongs in the company of the living. The mind should be like clear water that is always flowing smoothly. One should not designate a specific time or place in which to practice absolute mindedness, but should practice it in all aspects of life, whether essential or trivial.

My venerable teacher, should one intentionally and completely avoid all worldly troubles and activities for the purpose of practicing simplicity and keeping the mind clear?

Kind prince, if there are no worldly troubles and activities, where can one practice simplicity? Simplicity is the key to handling the troubles and activities of daily life. Simplicity is the law; the manifold, multiple forms are the events. Use the law to govern the events. This is the meaning of simplicity in the larger sense.

I want to expand my spiritual studies out from the realm of me, sitting in the early quiet hours of the morning by myself, reading and contemplating, and put them into action in the realm of Us.

Christ Church is, from my current point of view, my best option to achieve this goal.

But I recognize that by entering into association with a group, I am assuming responsibility for things done in the group’s name. Past things I had nothing to do with? Present things that I wasn’t in on the planning of? Future things that my input is not solicited for?

An interesting issue that I will revisit as more insight and information becomes available.

Selfless Service, Unconditionally

The Hua Hu Ching, as written by Lao Tzu and translated by Ni, Hua-Ching, states very clearly throughout the text that we are to serve the world selflessly and unconditionally:

One who practices virtue and selflessness should not hold any particular idea in his mind about how to fulfill his virtue, for virtue is the very nature of one’s being. One should always be willing to assist others selflessly and unconditionally by offering one’s skills and achievements to serve them. One should be willing to give away the things one cherishes most or even offer one’s life to assist others. One should not restrict one’s service by distinctions of color, nationality, family or social relationships, sensory perceptions, or any other relative condition. To restrict the ways in which one would render service to others to suit one’s personal preference is potentially harmful. If one relates to others and serves them only according to his own design, it is as if he has entered the darkness and can see nothing. By chance he may help some people, but he may also injure others. However, if one does not limit himself by imposing special terms on his serving others, he is like someone with good vision who enjoys the brightness and sees clearly. His influence is purely positive.
One Love.
Love the One in All.
Can we do what’s in front of us but keep in mind the big picture simultaneously?

Sharing

Can you imagine a world of unconditional selflessness?

Can you imagine yourself participating? Agent of Love? Engaged indiscriminately?

Whose fault?

Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching, as translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, reads thus:

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.

I think this is one of the most beautiful, simple yet profound things I’ve ever read, and if I had to issue one memo of wisdom to the world (or, if I were being high-tech, if I were to tweet one message across the globe), this would probably be it.

I had such an eye-opening experience yesterday which showed me how I am still so quick to assign blame and swell with righteous anger, even though I abhor the idea in theory.

Some background: kids are mischievous. The kids in our neighborhood are normal in that respect. There have been scooters “borrowed” and abandoned in far away places, big wheels trashed, balls purposely thrown into the woods, cars egged, etc.

So yesterday I was returning from a quick errand, and as I’m turning off the main road and onto the little road that goes through our neighborhood, I see the metal box that we keep our sidewalk chalk in, and it’s laying on its side just at the intersection of the white line on the edge of the main road and the line that would divide the middle of the little road, and the chalk is strewn.

My first thought… What little punk did this?

I pull over the van, retrieve the box and chalk, ready to drive through the neighborhood and interrogate every kid I see. Why would someone do such an annoyingly mean thing? That’s the last time I let anyone play with our chalk… or anything else for that matter…

As I’m driving, and luckily not encountering any kids, I remember how we were outside earlier, me and my friend and our four little ones. I remember how my 2 year old was carrying around the box of chalk around the driveway, occasionally stopping to scribble something.

I remember how the van’s back bumper is wide and flat for stepping on to put stuff on the roof.

I remember how my 2 year old loves to put stuff on the bumper, despite my pleas for her not to.

My imagination re-members, connects, puts back into place the pieces of the truth, which is that a few minutes ago I drove out of the neighborhood slowly, then accelerated onto the main road, which would have caused the box to slip off the bumper in the exact spot I found it.

In a second I go from arrogantly angry to humbly grateful that no one ran over the metal box with its sharp corners, which could certainly have done some damage to their tires, at least.

The fault was mine, and it was an innocent mistake, but I was so ready to assign not only blame but a malicious intent to someone else.

How often to we approach a situation with an angry heart and a judgmental attitude, when we truly don’t know what’s going on?

No fight: No blame.

We can at least start there, right?

The Kybalion

I had never heard of this book, The Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece by Three Initiates (originally published in 1908, I’ve got the Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin edition of 2008). I’ve studied several schools of thought on spirituality (I hesitate to call them all “religions” as I don’t think it accurately applies to some) and this book seems to be kind of a summary of the most important points of them all. That’s not what it’s MEANT to be, of course, but that’s my impression.

For example, it seems that many spiritual systems acknowledge that “God” or divinity is beyond our understanding. Even Christianity seems to agree to the idea that to look upon the face of God would turn one to toast, or something to that effect. In other words, to behold (or at least express) the whole truth is impossible.

The Kybalion speaks to this on page 28: “The Hermetists believe and teach that THE ALL, [their term for “God,” divinity, the Great Spirit, etc.] ‘in itself,’ is and must ever be UNKNOWABLE.” They then go on to the logical conclusion,

They regard all the theories, guesses and speculations of the theologians and metaphysicians regarding the inner nature of THE ALL, as but the childish efforts of mortal minds to grasp the secret of the Infinite. Such efforts have always failed and will always fail, from the very nature of the task. One pursuing such inquiries travels around and around in the labyrinth of thought, until he is lost to all sane reasoning, action or conduct, and is utterly unfitted for the work of life.

Quite a damning analysis, but it is stated similarly in other spiritual texts.

The Hua Hu Ching, written by Lao Tzu around 2697 B.C., explains (as translated by Master Ni, Hua-Ching):

Because the absolute Truth is unspeakable, unexplainable and cannot be thought of, the one who tries to talk about it deviates from it. The one who tries to explain it makes it obscure. The one who thinks about it loses it. Therefore, all we can do is show the way to the traveler. We cannot walk it for him. We can write the prescription, but we cannot drink the herb tea for him. All teachings are an herbal medicine which are given to the sick, according to what kind of disease they have. But there is not one word which can be held as the total truth. There is only the absolute Way of life. The absolute being lives quietly. He connects himself with the wordless truth of life undividedly, selflessly and harmoniously.

Thich Nhat Hanh, as usual, puts things in very accessible terms when he talks in his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching about the dangers of getting caught in “signs:”

If water, for example, is in a square container, its sign is “squareness.” If in a round container, its sign is “roundness.” When we open the freezer and take out some ice, the sign of that water is solid. Chemists call water “H2O.” The snow on the mountain and the steam rising from the kettle are also H2O. Whether H2O is round or square, liquid, gaseous, or solid depends on circumstances. Signs are instruments for our use, but they are not absolute truth, and they can mislead us.

If this is true for a material object, how much more so for spirit?

In the book Essential Sufism, edited by James Fadiman and Robert Frager, the idea is expressed thus:

Those who adore God in the sun behold the sun, and those who adore Him in living things see a living thing, and those who adore Him in lifeless things see a lifeless thing, and those who adore Him as a Being unique and unparalleled see that which has no like. Do not attach yourself to a particular creed exclusively so that you disbelieve in all the rest: otherwise you will lose much good; nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited by any one creed. Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allah. –Ibn ‘Arabi

I find the parallels between the schools of thought beyond fascinating, because if what they say in their various fashions is true (as far as “truth” can be told!), then the best way to approach the Unknowable might just be to look at it from every possible perspective, like you can’t truly know a gem until you’ve examined every facet.

If you walk a similar path, you might find this book a helpful angle to investigate.

Receive – Embrace – Transform

At times along the path of my spiritual study I come to a place where I feel like many of the truths I have encountered will coalesce into a gold nugget that I can carry around in my awareness.

The latest one: Receive (with aimlessness), Embrace (with emptiness), Transform (with signlessness).  I have to credit Thich Nhat Hanh with these terms, and most of the ideas as well.  I have read many of his books, and continue to reread The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching as an endless source of wisdom.

Based on my study of Taoism, I find that organizing things by 3’s helps me remember as well as process new information.  One might at times, for convenience sake, label these 3 categories as Body, Mind and Spirit.  Being connected, the categories are extremely fluid in my understanding, and I am constantly aware of the fact that I am trying to glue a nametag onto things that are beyond labels.  As always, I do not mean in any of my written meditations to pretend to have anything figured out.  I am simply swimming joyfully among the words as they harmonize.  I am always open to hearing someone else’s impressions of what I discuss.

To remain in mindfulness, as Hanh recommends, I am experimenting with a process triggered by reciting to myself the words receive – embrace – transform.

Receive begins with mind, to receive sensory perceptions, to be aware of thoughts, feelings, impressions.  Hanh adds “with aimlessness” because if we have a goal or objective in mind as we receive input from a variety of sources, then we will color this input and not see clearly.  We must be aimless in order to be open to seeing things as they truly are and not how we want/expect them to be.  Though the stimulus may originate in the body, heart or thoughts, I associate this step with mind because that seems to be the final processing area.

Embrace is the step of accepting what is.  This process happens in the spirit or heart, where we can become aware of the oneness that exists between our own self soul and whatever it is we have just received.  Even if it is something negative, to embrace does not help perpetuate, it simply acknowledges what is real, which is an essential step to move forward.  If you are being attacked by someone, it is not helpful to pretend it’s not happening.  To embrace what is in front of you simply means to acknowledge that it is there.  “With emptiness” gives room for reality to be as it is.  If I hold something by smashing it against the pavement, it will be contorted and I won’t get a good look at what it is.  I will be manipulating it and possibly causing conflict or suffering.  If I hold my hands in an empty cup, I can embrace without interfering too much with the form or movement of whatever I hold in my attention.

Transform is the step I associate with the body, although we can take the information of an input or the energy of a situation and simply perform a mental or emotional transformation.  However, the body, and by extension the earth and physical manifestations, seems to be the realm in which change is most easily observed, in which a metamorphosis stops being a fluid and ephemeral process and becomes a solid move forward in time.  Ideally we take this step with signlessness, in other words, without a preconceived notion of exactly what it’s going to look like, simply moving in the direction suggested by events, environment, further input, etc., because I believe an openness to possibilities leads to the best possible outcome.

So the idea is, if during the day I find myself scattered, lost and/or overwhelmed, reciting these three possibilities, to receive, embrace and transform, can pull me back to a place where I pay attention, I acknowledge what’s happening, and I participate in the wisest, most loving activity possible, given the circumstances.

That’s the plan, anyway!

Meditation on Breathing

I wrote this ten years ago- luckily breathing is still in fashion, so it isn’t too terribly dated!

There’s one thing I know about you, even if I’ve never met you: you have just taken another breath.  And so have I.

This air we inhale exists as one atmosphere stretching from where you are to the plains of the Savannah where a giraffe even now exhales with a bad case of leaf breath.

Approaching storm clouds lighten the atmospheric pressure on our knee joints almost imperceptibly, though some people “know” when rain is coming.  I whistle “Camptown Races” and sound waves of “doo-dah!” vibrate into my son’s ears in the other room.  As I write this, the carbon dioxide I exhale is enriching the air for the aloe plant in my living room, which might someday return the favor by healing my skin the next time I accidentally burn myself on the toaster oven.

In countless ways, every second, we swim through a sea that encompasses us all, bringing us new things on its diverse currents while carrying the energy and bi-products of our own selves into another’s space.

My interaction with this obvious, yet invisible, sea is perpetual, eternal in the brief span of my life.  Between my first newborn inhalation and my last, hopefully well-aged expiration, there is rarely an interruption to my breathing.  But unlike our other automatic, lifelong functions – heartbeat, digestion, hormonal function – I can have immediate influence over my breathing with no training or chemical interference; I can hold my breath, breathe deeply or pant myself into hyperventilation.

We can manipulate this natural flow like we try to dam a river or build a jetty into the sea.  We assume control for a while, but still the earth and moon pull the water with greater force; the tide will overcome – the breath will fall back to its own rhythm.  If we pay attention, we can move with the natural forces, ride the wave if it’s the right size or dive beneath it like a surfer who decides, this one is too big!  Inside the breath/wave, we discover the calm below the everyday, where we exist as swallowed by the One.

As well as manipulating my breath, I can choose “not-control.” I can sit quietly, not interfering, just watching my breath come and go. “Inspiration,” according to Webster,  means both “the act of inhaling” and “the act or power of moving the intellect or emotions.” Just as my blood uses the influx of oxygen to give my muscles power and regenerative health, my mind and heart can use the inspiration of energy from all around me to good purposes.

Between “in” and “out,” there is a moment of quiet unmoving.  This space between is the nothing that contains the Everything, like the cold emptiness of space contains the swirling hot star dots.  As the Taoists say, it is not the substance of the cup but the nothing inside that makes it useful.  It is the silence of the room which allows a voice to be distinguished.  The restful pauses of my breath teach me to value what is not there as the context of what is.

“What is” consists of in-out as the bellows of my lungs open-close, air rushing cold-warm past my nostrils, draw-push, my ribcage feeling light-heavy, in seesaw duality.  I am defined by a spot on a continuum somewhere between beautiful and ugly, rich and poor, right and wrong.  The in-out of my breath teaches me that neither pole of a spectrum exists without its opposite, and thus the world is divided by our distinctions.

But my breath does not stop at in-out.  It circles in-out-in like the cycle of day-night-day.  These circles do not meet exactly end to end but spiral into the future so that each inhalation, each sunrise happens at a unique point in time.  To find the special power of the moment, I must be inside it, follow it as I embrace, then let go of each breath, not with effort but attention.

Many of us are not in the habit of paying attention to the Now.  We are always rushing past the present moment, plotting far up the freeway or career ladder for the next strategic maneuver.  Our attention runs on ahead of us as we live out our belief that power and pleasure exist in tomorrow.  When we do this, then the power is truly lost to yesterday, its value already spent like the next year’s worth of paychecks would just about cover the average person’s debt.  Yet, with each breath we can own where we are, right now.  We can accept our daily bread as the pleasure of being alive: of tasting food, of watching today’s sunrise, of taking another breath.

By giving our attention to the breath, even just a few breaths a day, we develop the habit of paying attention to today and all the riches it has to offer.  We remain mindful of the invisible sea that connects us all, of our fundamental Oneness and of the power available to us, you and me right this minute, because of this connection.

Do you pay attention to your breath?  Do you use your breath to connect to Oneness, to find the power of Now?