TAO TE CHING: Vitality and Spirit

taoist art

“Cultivating vitality and spirit

Embrace this unity”

Vitality is the totality of energy of your physical being. Spirit refers to transcendental energy – the part of your energy that inhabits and vivifies your body, but is not dependent upon it, only visiting it as a guest.

For the Taoist, it is essential to nurture these two things. Taking care of our physical being, we live easier, and make ourselves more receptive to the spirit, aligning ourselves with the earth. Cultivating spirit, we align ourselves with heaven, learning to control our body without becoming attached to it.

Cultivating one, we enhance the other. What is good for spirit, is good for vitality – what is good for vitality, is also good for spirit. They are a unity – no difference should be made between them.

But, because of the materialistic philosophies of our culture, we only think about the vitality of the body, and ignore the crucial role the mind and spirit have in regulating it. Only cultivating vitality through physical exercise, with no concomitant refinement of the mind, will exhaust you, and be of little purpose. Only cultivating spirit through meditation and psychological practice, without also flexing our bodies, altering our lifestyles, and improving our diets, then all our spiritual achievement will be impractical, and our relationship with our bodies will be unhealthy and out of balance.

Many mystics were serious haters of the body. The body is a walking coffin, a ticking time-bomb, a prison for the spirit. It can seem like our greatest impediment to growth at times. But, the very difficulty of having a solid body is what enables us to make so much spiritual progress while we are in it. Our body can feel our resentment and hatred for it. We have to love it, or it will not comply with us, any more than a dog will return loyally to an owner who beats it.

Tao Te Ching Teachings: The Importance of Timing

folk

“The best actions are well-timed”

The universe has rhythm. It has beats, breaths, spans, cycles, grooves and a gradually reoccuring network of ever-evolving revolutions. Though on a transcendent level all things are timeless, on a practical level we still have to function within the confines of linear time, even if we no longer feel its restrictions. So, for this reason, it is essential to investigate and comprehend the overlapping cycles of life so that we can harmoniously align ourselves to them.

It is not just enough to act in the right way; we must also act at the right time. The right time is when all of the appropriate factors are properly in place; though, sometimes, when these factors our lacking, if our aim is s selfless one, then it is necessary to create these salubrious factors through our own doings.

In living life, it is necessary to respond to life. But a large portion of our response is based not just in responding to what arises, but in being prepared for their arising to begin with, and so cultivating a sense of vigilant alertness; always remaining in a state of fluid alacrity, ready and prepared for any circumstances we might have work with.

A good example would be a martial arts battle. Naturally, you need to respond to the blows your opponent throws at you. If you only defend after you’ve been hit, then you’re doing things in the wrong order! In order to be effective, it is not only necessary to respond, but to be prepared to respond. If you have this prescience, then you can see the arising of things before they actually arise, thanks to your comprehension of the simple natural principles that cohere everywhere.

A man who does not see a blow coming, or even suspect one is coming, will be completely overcome, because it will have occurred when he was most vulnerable. Not being prepared for sudden swift changes in life keeps you in a state of perpetual vulnerability. However, if you make one move, and know your opponent is likely to respond to this in a given way, then you can use the momentum of his response against him. Being prepared for the sudden swift transformations of life, we ride the wave instead of being overcome by it, using it to our advantage.

For those who want to search out these transformations further, study and use The I Ching, astrology, tarot, and any other relevant divinatory practices, in addition to regular meditation.

 

 

 

Tao Te Ching Teachings: Being Efficient

mah jonh

“The best work is efficient”

The reason Taoism has survived for so long, despite its secrecy and obscurity, is because of how practical and pragmatic it is. In our deeds, tasks, duties, and all the other manifold actions of our daily life, we should always strive to be as efficient and competent as possible.

We hear the word ‘efficiency’ a lot. But what does it really mean? Efficiency means doing everything as directly and accurately as possible, with no superfluity or wasted effort. Directing all your energy to one purpose, and performing your function in a gentle, detached, concise and skilful way – this is true efficiency.

If you want to be efficient, analyze your own actions and practices. Always ask yourself ‘Is everything I’m doing necessary? Are certain things slowing me down? What can I do to cut away the excess fat, and keep everything taut and lean?’ If you get into the habit of asking and applying these questions to everything in your life, you will lessen energy expenditure, function more fluidly, and prevent the arising of obstacles before they’ve even occurred. So many obstacles are generated from oversights made early in the game. If you learn to follow your intuition, and are mindful of dangerous possibilities in advance, you avoid a lot of trouble and hardship by being prepared for it.

Of course, just because efficiency helps you accomplish things quicker, that does not mean always doing things quickly is necessarily efficient. I’m sure your lover would find that very disappointing if that were the case! It is more important to do things slowly and carefully than in a self-conscious rush. Things that take a long time to build up and come to fruition are also those that tend to last the longest. Those that are swiftly set up, are swiftly knocked down. According to cosmologists, the universe took billions of years to reach its current state. After all that time, and earth is still here! Why? Because earth does not rush things. She just let’s things take as long as they take.

Humans, however, seldom live older than a century. Rushing around, afraid of death, trying to achieve as much as possible to try and appease their frightened egos, they wear themselves out through constant striving which they think will get them somewhere, but which only further entrenches them in misery.

Be efficient and concise. Work when you need to. Rest when you need to. Stick to these two things, and then you will be close to The Way.

 

 

 

 

Tao Te Ching Teachings: Speaking the Truth

lady tiger

“The best words to speak are the truth”

Truth is the only thing we should allow to lead our lives. But how often does it just seem like too much of a tall order? How often are we too cowardly or closed off to say what we really mean, instead just resorting to those convenient stock phrases, the artillery of etiquette? Telling people what they want to hear?

But, if we only tell people what they want to hear, and only hear what we want others to say, then the whole world will be clouded by delusion. Somewhere along the line, someone has to give, take the lead, and just tell the raw, honest truth.

This takes practice. It takes a lot of deprogramming – getting rid of all the fear, adherence to social norms, and self-repression that has allowed us to live and speak dishonestly for so long. But, once we get more confident and certain of ourselves, the truth will flow more readily. We have to be true to ourselves before we can be true to others. Then the internal will naturally be reflected in the external.

What’s the best way to speak the truth? Be direct, forthright, gentle and equanimous. Tell the truth as soon as it becomes too clear. Speak too rashly, and you might be telling a lie, inadvertently formulated on ephemeral feelings that passed as quickly as they arose. Speak too late, and the damage may be too entrenched to reverse.

We are often frightened of telling the truth, because we’re afraid of how people might respond. But, I can vouch from my own experience, that when you learn to tell the truth concisely and without artificiality, your communication and communion with others will become infinitely more effective and intimate. The people you speak to will be so relieved to hear the truth for once, that you will be doing them a greater kindness than all the false words in the world combined.

Tao Te Ching Teachings: Living in Compassion

beautiful ducks

“The best relationships are compassionate”

Our conception of what the word ‘relationship’ means is rather limited today. We tend to think of it as a designation exclusively used for those we love or are close to. But, as we exist relative to all things, in an interconnected and interpenetrating web of life, we have a relationship with absolutely everything. Some of those relationships are intense, obvious, and immediate; others are much more subtle and distantly removed.

Our relationship with The Way is the same. To begin with it is weak, erratic, and unstable, only here now and then, but seemingly absent much of the time. These numinous concepts seem so lofty and far-off. But the more one practices and perseveres, the more stable, regular and close at hand our relationship with the Tao appears, until it is, indeed, everywhere we look. We realize it was not Tao that was distant from us – how can the omnipresent ever be distant? Rather, our distorted and deluded consciousness was far-off from seeing it. This is how a relationship with the unknown can become the most immense and intimate thing we will every experience.

The word jen which I have rendered as compassion, here includes all the concepts of humanity, benevolence and kindness, which were strongly associated with Confucianism. When we allow these qualities to be at the root of our relationship with everything, then all of our relationships will be the best they can be.

This might sound too obvious to state, but how many of our relationships are actually rooted in humanity and kindness? How often do we associate with other beings only out of self-interest, personal gain, hostility, or bitterness? If you can cherish that which you share with others, and not that which distances you from them, then you will automatically feel closer to all beings.