The sage’s mind is not set in stone

The people’s hearts and minds

Are his own heart and mind

To the good

I am good

To those without goodness

I am also good

For that is Integrity’s goodness!

To the sincere

I am sincere

To the insincere

I am also sincere

That is Integrity’s sincerity!

The sage’s presence

Brings harmony into the world

His heart and mind are universal

Undifferentiated from the actions of the world

All beings are his children


Tao Te Ching: The Mysterious Female


“The Valley Spirit never dies

It is called The Mysterious Female”

The entire of Chapter Six is of one of my favourite passages in the whole of The Tao Te Ching. From the moment I first read it at the age of twenty-one, it has never ceased to exert a deep influence on me.

A valley is empty, the empty-space between two mountains. Emptiness can never be destroyed. It adapts its formlessness to harmonize with the form of all things. Once these forms are destroyed, they return to her formlessness. In truth they never left.

The personification of this matrix of nurturing emptiness is The Mysterious Female. A mother to all things, she fills up every hollow with her energy and compassion, never stopping. In Bill Porter’s Road to Heaven, Master Ch’en identifies the ancient Chinese goddess Nu Wa with The Mysterious Female:

“She represents ultimate emptiness. We’re all children, everything is from the womb of her emptiness. It’s only through her power that we have Heaven and Earth, the Sun and the Moon, all things . . . Nu Wa is just a name for the nothingness from which time and space and all creation come. Everything comes from nothing. This is Nu Wa. And everything returns to nothing. This is the Tao. This is my understanding.”

The Mysterious female is the feminine core of the Tao. She is the Tao.



The eternal Tao has no name

Though simple and subtle

No one below Heaven can subjugate it

If kings and rulers would abide by it

All beings would naturally yield to them

Heaven and earth united together

Would drip sweet dew accordingly

Men would naturally get along

Without laws to order them

At first regulations and institutions

Exist only in name

But keep on naming

And existence is exhausted!

Truly, in following things

We must perceive their limits

And know when to cease

Knowing when to cease

And danger is averted

In the same way

Tao’s presence in All Below Heaven

Is like rivulets and streams

Flowing into rivers and seas

Tao Te Ching Teachings: Straw Dogs Part Two


“The Sage is without bias

Regarding the mass of men

As if they were straw dogs”

As The Sage – The Taoist – aspires to mirror Heaven and Earth in all things, so does he mirror them in their dispassionate sobriety – their undifferentiated awareness. In Chapter Two, it was said that The Sage nurtures all beings, and rejects none. But, if The Sage were biased or predisposed to partiality, how would this be possible? He would nurture some, and then leer at others; show special affection to some, and then scorn others. Thus, it is because the sage is free from bias that he is also free to disseminate his compassion in all directions.

But what of The Sage regarding men as straw dogs? How benign could it be to compare someone to a sacrificial object? A straw dog is assembled from separate parts. But, once it is burned, all those separate parts become one, dissolving into immaterial smoke. The Sage understands men to be the same. We are assembled together from assorted aggregates: our parents’ DNA and chromosomes, individual atoms, cells, organs, organelles, bones, senses, nerves and specific colorations of awareness. It is amazing we are even considered a ‘single’ entity – even each of the individual organelles within our cells could all be considered living beings in their own right!

But, once we are burned up by the experience of life, all of those unique aggregates of ours that were carefully woven together begin to unravel. Burned to ashes, worthless as even maggot food, it is only the smoke of the Tao that enlivened us that still remains. That is the dog behind the straw dog – the changeless symbol behind every ephemeral life.

Seeing men like this, The Sage is able to love all beings without being deceived or attached to them. Unattached and with a clear mind, he is completely free, and thus, capable of freeing others. This is what Don Juan Matus would call ‘ruthless kindness.’ A kindness that always helps, but does not indulge people.

Tao Te Ching Teachings: Straw Dogs


“Regarding The Ten Thousand Things

As if they were straw dogs”

Straw dogs were objects used in ancient Chinese rituals, burned as offerings to ancestors, spirits, or demons. There are references to sacrificing dogs to mountain spirits in The Classic of Mountains and Seas, so, it is quite likely that straw dogs was substituted in place of live dogs, so that the practice could continued, without cruelty.

So straw dogs are objects that are made for a specific purpose, and then disposed of once that purpose is fulfilled. They are not kept out of sentimentality, fear or habit – only for as long as they are required.

The same is true with human lives. We are assigned to these earthly bodies with a specific purpose. Once we have achieved that purpose, we die, and return to eternity, perchance to be allotted more tasks to carry out in the cosmos. That Heaven and Earth allows beings to suffer and die may seem barbarous to us, but, to The Eternal, life and death are meaningless – all the sufferings of the aeons are just a single pinch we soon forget. Heaven and Earth do not weep for the dead, any more than we would if one of our best friends gave away all their clothes. The body and illusory self are the only things lost at death. But eternity is gained.

Though Heaven and Earth may be without partiality, they love us more than we can ever know. But they are wise enough to love us, not for what we think we are, but for what we actually are. That is the supreme distinction.



On tiptoes you cannot stand firm

Straddling and divided

You cannot move forward

Perceiving a self

One is not enlightened


One is not glorious


One has no merit


One cannot endure

Indeed, in this presence of The Way

This is called wasteful activity and eating to excess

It is apparent that this is loathsome to all beings

Therefore the Taoist abides elsewhere

Teachings from the Tao Te Ching: Killing The Competition of Competition


“Do not exalt great men over others

And people will not compete”

Taoists, like most mystics, are anti-hierarchical. As soon as we designate one thing as ‘superior’ that automatically makes something else ‘inferior.’ With such tiered thinking as this, how could we ever achieve true unity in the world?

Hierarchies make men and beasts compete with one another. In a communion of equals, everybody co-operates with one another, and functions in accordance with their own natures. But, as soon as hierarchies are introduced, and, with it, the possibility of being better or worse off than one’s neighbours, co-operation and integrity go out the window. People fight, debase and kill one another, all in the hopes of winning a higher position, or being able to lord it over others. So, the concept of being ‘better off’ than someone else does not make for a ‘better off’ world.

In contrast, many indigenous peoples, such as the Australian Aborigines and Native Americans, were completely without hierarchy. European invaders were frustrated to discover they had no ‘chiefs’ or ‘kings’ with whom they could negotiate. They would perfunctorily nominate some member as ‘the leader’ and use that conceit to enable their insidious dealings. But amongst the Australian Aborigines, even great elders, who might be respected for their wisdom and spiritual attainment, would be considered as essentially no greater than anyone else. It was no one’s right to rule over any other, for the only just rule is self-rule. When beings rule themselves, and see all others as their equal, there is no opportunity for divisive conflict to arise.

Nourishing the Mind

Food brain

I was reading Liu I-ming’s commentary on the hexagram ‘Nourishment’ in the I Ching, when I was struck by his definition of what nourishment really is:

“Nourishment is what is beneficial to body and mind – 

What is not nourishing is not beneficial to body and mind.”

I was very struck by his insight that nourishment is not restricted to the vitamins and nutrients we gain from the food and fluids we consume. It also refers to anything that we actively allow to enter into our consciousness. The nourishment of the body and mind are not separate. You cannot nourish one without nourishing the other. You cannot harm one without harming the other. They are completely unified in every way.

The insight I gained from this is that the wholeness of our happiness is hugely influenced by what we allow our minds to eat. Just as many people eat themselves into sickness by nourishing themselves with fast food, chocolate, and sugar, how many of us think ourselves into sickness by nourishing our minds with conflict and hatred, manipulative media stories, negative conversations, and films and TV shows espousing violent, divisive, and materialistic values?

It’s very easy to shrug off all of these things as being too marginal to have an effect on us. It’s just entertainment, right? But the culture we imbibe – the books we read, the films we watch, the sources of information we trust – ultimately determines our wordview, and, in due course, how we respond to that world. If you are repeatedly exposed to media glorifying violence, anger, resentment, jealousy, revenge, and conflict, such behavior begins to seem to be permissible and reasonable to your mind. Monkey see, monkey do doesn’t turn off just because we’re being passive. If you fill your mind with bad things, you will be more likely to do bad things. Corruption doesn’t spontaneously appear in a pristine mind – the seeds of the idea have to be placed there by an external precedent that seems to justify it.

Conversely, if we feed our minds with positive content, we will bear the fruit of positive actions. Buddhists refer to this practice as ‘planting the seeds of the Buddha Mind.’ Likewise, positivity won’t arise spontaneously in a corrupted mind. You have to plant the right content into it, before happiness takes root, and weeds out suffering.You can’t grow an oak tree by planting a landmine. So, if you want to be happy, don’t feed your mind with the mental equivalent of psychological fast food. Nourish your mind with that which is likely to benefit it. Then wholeness can be achieved.