Tao Te Ching Teachings: Resolving Confusion

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“It blunts sharpness

Resolves confusion”

Tao is the ultimate liberator. Resolves confusion is also translatable as ‘unties knots; unravels complexity; undoes turmoil; subdues complications.’ This confusion and complexity is what emerges when we get entangled in all the variegated phenomena of the world. We get so caught up in intricate details that we forget to see what those details make up. But Tao, whilst harbouring all convolutions and complexities, is really very simple.

People often tell me that they think life is chaotic, because they are out of touch with that background of simplicity. Getting caught in the constant change of existence, they fail to acknowledge the changeless force behind it. If we want to find that, we must meditate and introspect, and stop expecting to find the answer to all our difficulties outside. When we come to the realization that the experience of that difficulty is all generated by the mind, we begin to make things a lot easier.

To erase this confusion, we need to investigate the underlying pattern of transformation, of yin and yang, cause and effect. Once of the reasons the principles of yin and yang are still with us today, is because they are so effective. Though very simple, and comprised of the interplay of just two qualities, their interactions can readily account for and explain the occurrence of everything. Learn the rhythm of these patterns, and you will see things coming, a long time before they happen, as ineluctably as an elastic must spring and then become flaccid after being stretched to its point of maximum of tension. For that is the basic pattern behind the universe – the waveform flow of rise and fall, tension and release

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Tao Te Ching: 6

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The Valley Spirit never dies

It is called The Mysterious Female

The opening of The Mysterious Female

Is The Source of Heaven and Earth

Lingering forever like a ceaseless thread of silk

Draw upon her effortlessly without end

The Classic of Mountains and Seas: In The Muddle Thick of it All!

Classic-of-Mountains-and-Seas

One of my favorite books is the ancient Chinese ‘Classic of Mountains and Seas.’ The character depicted in the picture above is the deity, Muddle Thick. The Classic has this to say about him:

“There is a god here who looks like a yellow sack. He is scarlet like cinnabar fire. He has six feet and four wings. He is Muddle Thick. He has no face and eyes. He knows how to sing and dance. He is in truth the great god Long River.”

On the face of it, such descriptions may make the classic seem like a ridiculous bestiary. But, when we remember that it is a Taoist sacred text, and that Taoists loved to hide profound, mysterious teachings underneath absurd surfaces, the symbolic, shamanic richness of the text begins to become clear. The various gods described in the classic are just symbols for the variegated attributes of the Tao, which itself, can never be illustrated or described.

Let’s start with Muddle Thick. Muddle Thick is just a middle. Like eternity, has no beginning, no end, just a never-ending present; and, being the middle, he is also a symbol for the moderate mind and lifestyle of the Taoist Middle Path.

His very name is itself a perfect example of Taoist humour. Whilst Taoists advocate cultivating wisdom, spiritual power, undying strength and flexibility, eventually attaining spiritual immortality, they know that the more great power and wisdom are flaunted, the more readily will they be lost. Thus, they recommended wayfarers to ‘hide their enlightenment’ appearing to be ordinary, even dumb, absent-minded, and dull, so that their light could be preserved, only displaying and using it when beneficial and necessary. As it says in the I Ching, Hexagram 36:

“Light enters into the Earth, illumination is concealed. Thus do superior people deal with the masses, acting unobtrusively, whilst in fact illumined.”

And Hexagram 38:

“Above is fire, below is a lake, disparate. Thus are superior people the same yet different.”

So, Muddle Thick, embodiment of sagacious wisdom, gives himself a stupid form and a stupid name, saying he is confused and dense, when he is actually clear and enlightened. If you walk around wearing jewels, everyone will want to rob you. But if you hide your gold within, and robe yourself like a beggar, no one will touch you or harass. They think you have nothing to offer them, when in fact, you have it all. Muddle Thick is following the same principle, increasing his infinite greatness by countering it with lifelong humility. Trees with the best wood are chopped down. Great statesmen attract assassins. Who would want to bother a lifeless torso?

That he is a yellow sack shows that he is earthy, grounded, and receptive, capable of being filled with infinity, and receiving all wisdom – yellow being the color of the Earth in the Chinese philosophy of the Five Elements, located in the centre – in the very Muddle Thick of it all!

Cinnabar is a substance much prized by Taoists, and constantly mentioned in the classic. A scarlet rock containing mercury sulphide, it was an ore of transformation. Mercury is unstable, volatile, elusive, changeable. This is just like Tao, which is impossible to pin down or grasp, always changing so as to transcend all definitions. Fire has the same qualities, and also represents the heart – the need for compassion and silently roaring joy.

Having six wings shows that he has risen above the five elements by combining them into one; his four feet show that he flows in all directions. With no face, eyes, or distinguishing features, he has completely renounced the shackles of selfishness by making himself faceless, unknowable, incapable of being seen. Having no face, he can take on all faces. Having no eyes, he can see through all eyes, beholding everything, everywhere.

Though mouthless, he sings and dances, because his silence makes him capable of singing every possible song, and making every possible noise in the entire universe. Dancing, moving and shaking, he demonstrates the movement and change that arises from stillness and constancy. Being in truth, a Great River, he flows on into eternity.

So, we see how the profound can be hidden within the seemingly stupid; how sobriety and sagacity can be hidden in sheer absurdity. Be like Muddle Thick. Belong to The Way.

 

Tao Te Ching Commentary: Long and Short

 

tule-tree

“Long and short contrast one another”

What is considered long or short, is, again, a matter of perspective. Time and length are entirely relative according to one’s specific placement within the infinite manifestation of things. To an ant, a tree must seem like a ladder to the stars. But, to a giant in another dimension, all the variegated lights from the stars within our galaxy may just seem like so many compacted photons in the tip of a candle flame. The Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu was very fond of saying that man’s lifespan must seem like that of insect compared with trees that can live for thousands of year. How much smaller our lifespans must look when compared with the eternity of The Tao! The point being that we should not trick ourselves into thinking we know everything, when we are share a tiny blip of consciousness in an endless expanse of suchness. Only when we become one with everything will we know everything, because that knowledge will be what we are.

Book Blog: ‘Road To Heaven’ by Bill Porter

Bill POrter

ROAD TO HEAVEN: ENCOUNTERS WITH CHINESE HERMITS

China’s history has long been feted with legends of mysterious recluses and hermits, living in the remote mountains of The Middle Kingdom’s fairy-tale landscapes. These recluses have traditionally been Taoist non-conformists, who have removed themselves from the inequalities and dust of the world, to pursue The Way, and cultivate spiritual immortality. Occasionally, these hermits have appeared from their seclusion to offer wisdom and political advice. But since the persecution of Buddhists and Taoist by Communists during The Cultural Revolution, it was believed that this institution had largely been destroyed.

But was that really the case?

Driven on by rumors and uncertain testimony, Bill Porter – (translator of many esteemed Chinese Poets and Buddhist/Taoist sutras)  – travels into the mysterious sacred mountains of China, hoping to meet some modern-day hermits, who are keeping this tradition alive.

Along the way, he meets myriad Zen and Taoist hermits, living in remote and inaccessible locations; and passes such sacred locations as the observatory tower commemorating the place where Lao Tzu penned The ‘Tao Te Ching’ before disappearing into the West on his ox. He meets  monks and nuns with whom he discusses nothingness and the uneasiness of spiritual practice within modern China, whilst dispersing the accounts of his journey with tales from Chinese history, mythology, and mystical exegesis.

In one amusing account, Bill visits a Taoist temple, where he jokes that his rather wizened looking photographer is at least 700 hundred years old. Given that Taoists take such matters as immortality and longevity seriously, he did feel quite guilty when he had to confide to them that he was not even a-hundred.

And yet, even in spite of the fruits of his search, I can’t help but feel that their must be myriads of  Taoist sages of high attainment, living in locations so remote, no ordinary mortal could possibly access them, untouched by the ravages of time, or the catastrophe of The Cultural Revolution.

An inspiring and exciting read, I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in Taoism, Zen, or Chinese History and Mythology.

Taoist Phrasebook: Martial Refining

Samurai

The phrases used in Taoist literature can often seem very recondite and abstruse, if not nonsensical. But these strange, mysterious phrases are very useful, for they teach us to think symbolically. And once we’ve mastered that, we can go beyond thinking all together to a higher state of being. I will do a series of posts of important phrases for you to ponder over, which I hope will help you in your own meditation practice, and commitment to refining your mind.

MARTIAL REFINING: The term is all about keeping the mind pristine, and refusing to allow to be corrupted by negative influences, either externally or internally. Once we have achieved calm and stability through practice and cultivation, often all it takes is one tiny negative thought or occurrence to dislodge our harmony,and send up back to imbalance, making us vulnerable to stress and delusion. But, through Martial Refining, like a warrior, our spirit is always alert and on guard. As soon as we notice the slightest inkling of vulnerability within us, where a negative thought or state could possibly arise, we go straight to it; patching up the spot, forcibly killing the negative thought, and possibly replacing it with its opposite. With something as sacred as the pristine mind,  we cannot be so foolhardy as to leave it open for attack, anymore than we would leave a priceless jewel in open display, or neglect to lock the doors of an expensive car. Stay receptive to the truth; slaughter untruth – then your purity of mind will be safer than any bank vault.

On Spiritual Alchemy

Alchemy

One of alchemists’ favorite quotes from the Tao Te Ching is Lao Tzu’s injunction to:

“Empty the mind, fill the belly,”

But what does this mean? In Chinese, the ideogram for heart and mind is the same. The heart and mind are one – there is no division between them. When the heart and mind are filled up with thoughts and desires, then reality it distant from us. We cannot sense the Tao, because our cravings and thoughts on the world are getting in the way.

You cannot clearly perceive what things are, when you try and understand them via intellectual categories. You cannot clearly see reality for what it is when you are desiring it to be something else. Both of these qualities obscure the heart and mind, and divorce us from nature.

So what do we do? We empty the heart and mind of these thoughts and desires. We do this through meditating, and using every experience as an opportunity to refine our consciousness.

But once we begin to experience emptiness, then there is danger, because there is the possibility of false awareness returning once again. Once you have emptiness, you must fill the belly.

Filling the belly does not mean eating lots of food! Nor does it mean accumulating energy in just the lower energy center around the navel.

The belly is the inherent void of our existence. Every particle of our being is empty by nature. Every physicist will be able to tell you that.

So, now that you have apprehended emptiness, fill it – “the belly” – with the pure, original energy of The Tao. Visualizations are the best way to do this. Fill yourself with light, with jewels – however you best perceive that pure energy – and let it illuminate every last part of your being. Advanced practitioners don’t even need to visualize. Abiding in non-doing, they can return to the original being

The Science of Spirituality

Freemasonry

Spirituality and mysticism are generally regarded by modern thinkers as being backwards and ‘unscientific.’ And yet, it should be understood, that spirituality was the very first science.

Pythagoras – considered by many to be the father of mathematics and music – was a deeply mystical person, who believed in the inherent oneness of all things. All of the Grecian philosophers who have so heavily influenced the tenor of Western thinking, were all deeply religious people, often members of spiritual Mystery Schools.

Taoism was the scientific system of ancient China. Martial arts, calligraphy, poetry, art, craftsmanship, mathematics, herbology, medicine, and many other inventions we take for granted simply would not exist in the forms we know them today without it.

If we go back even further, to our hunter-gatherer roots, shamanism and animism were the prevailing world views. And yet, if we were to place their wisdom against our own biologists, we would find them to have a knowledge of botany and animals that would rival that of many naturalists and botanical experts.

Even if we were to take many of the modern scientists who have become the demi-gods of our time, we find that many of them were alchemists – like Isaac Newton  – or were members of Freemasonry, a secret tradition that has kept alive rituals and esoteric knowledge almost unchanged since the dawn of man. David Bohm, and other Quantum Physicists, were deeply influenced by dialogues they shared with the Dalai Lama, Krishnamurti, and other Eastern mystics.

Science did not exist in spite of spirituality – spirituality is science.

We cannot expect to have a fully comprehensive view of the universe and ourselves until the two are re-united.