THE DAOIST DAILY DIARY

08/30-31/2021

As Autumn fast approaches, we are going to close out the month of August by moving from yesterday’s Decrease to today’s Increase as indicated by Hexagram #42, I or Yi. The strong lowest line of the upper trigram has sunk down and taken its place under the lower trigram. So now we have SUN/THE GENTLE, WIND above and ZHEN, THE AROUSING, THUNDER below.

Fundamental to both Daoism and the “I Ching” is the idea that to rule is to serve. Sacrifice on the part of those above for the increase of those below fills the people with a sense of joy and gratitude that is extremely valuable for the flowering of the entire community or country. This exemplifies the type of generosity and giving of one’s self that pleases the spirit and alone has power to heal the world. Develop this compassionate trait of giving of yourself to help others, especially those less advantaged, and you will have made an ethical change that increases the overall dynamics of your personality and moves you a giant step forward in Self Cultivation…Good Practicing, People.

08/29/2021

Returning the “I Ching” and the personal qualities and character traits contained in specific hexagrams, today we focus on Hexagram # 41, Sun/Decrease. The upper trigram is KEN, KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN with TUI or DUI, THE JOYOUS, LAKE below. Sun is marked by a decrease of the lower trigram in favor of the upper. However, not all decreases are detrimental and not all increases are positive as observed by none other than Laozi in his “Dao De Ching.” In Chapter 42, Laozi says, “Things may be diminished by being increased, increased by being diminished.” Then in Chapter 48, he discusses his view of knowledge:
“To learn,
One accumulates day by day.
To study Tao,
One reduces day by day.
Through reduction and further reduction
One reaches non-action,
And everything is acted upon.”

By the same token, regardless of scarcity or abundance, Laozi believes that a simple life rather than diminishing one’s strength actually increases one’s inner qualities, virtues and strength of conviction as stated in Chapter 48 of the “Dao De Ching.” .

“Therefore, the sage says:
I live a simple life,
and the people change themselves.
I love quiet,
and the people settle down in their regular jobs.
I look to effortlessness,
and the people grow rich.
I have no desires,
and the people return to Simplicity.”

In his commentary on the IMAGE of SUN, Richard Wilhelm explains how siplicity and decrease enrich our lives: “The lake at the foot of the mountain evaporates. In this way it decreases to the benefit of the mountain, which is enriched by its moisture. The mountain stands as the symbol of stubborn strength that can harden into anger. The lake is the symbol of unchecked gaiety that can develop into passionate drives at the expense of the life forces. Therefore decrease is necessary; anger must be decreased by keeping still, the instincts must be curbed by restriction. By this decrease of the lower powers of the psyche, the higher aspects of the soul are enriched.”

That’s an inspiring dictum, one that deserves repeating: “By this decrease of the lower powers of the psyche, the higher aspects of the soul are enriched.” Work these thoughts into your life and its cultivation. Good practicing, everyone.

08/28/2021

I thought I would give you a little something different today. Tomorrow I will continue with looking at the qualities exemplified in the various hexagrams of the “I Ching.” But for now, I came across an incredible “OM” chant and an even more incredible mountain image. If you are having trouble clearing your mind so you can fall asleep at night, this is the chant for you. Likewise, if you are having trouble in the morning waking up and starting your day, this is the chant that will clear your head and get you out of bed and stirring. And, most importantly, if you jnjeed something to calm your mind while you sit still and contemplate your sense of self, this is the chant that will lead to calm abiding. Wishing all of you good practices…

08/27/2021

Today is one my favorite hexagrams, not necessarily because of the outcome, although it is favorable, but for the actions of the Sage or superior person in the commentary on the image. This is Hexagaram #40 Jie or Hsieh/Deliverance. The upper trigram is ZHEN, THE AROUSING, THUNDER and the lower one K’AN THE ABYSMAL, WATER.

Here, we have averted the obstruction in Hexagram #39 Chien with movement that has gotten us out of the sphere of danger. Though deliverance is not yet complete, the difficulties are being resolved. The stressful pressures of the situation are starting to lessen. Thus it is important to return to our usual way of life as soon as possible and not linger.

And now for my favorite passage from Richard Wilhelm’s commentary on the Image

“Thunder and rain set in:
The image of DELIVERANCE.
Thus the superior man pardons mistakes
And forgives misdeeds.”

A thunderstorm has the effect of clearing the air; the superior person produces a similar effect when dealing with mistakes and sins of men that induced the condition of tension from the previous two hexagrams. (And Here’s the important part.) Through clarity he brings deliverance. However, when failings come to light, he does not dwell on them; he simply passes over mistakes, the unintentional transgressions, just as thunder dies away. He forgives misdeeds, the intentional transgressions, just as water washes everything clean.

So, in your own lives, if you want to make your cultivation as strong as possible, CLEAR THE AIR, like a Spring thunderstorm. Do not dwell on your failings. Pass over mistakes, the unintentional transgressions and forgive misdeeds, those intentional transgressions, just as the rain washes everything clean. Good practicing, people!

08/26/2021

Today we move from bad to worse or so it seems…from Opposition #38 Kuei to Hexagram #39 Chien/Obstruction. The upper trigram K’AN THE ABYSMAL, THE ABYSS/WATER while KêN KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN is below. So essential we are caught between a Rock and a Hard Place with a dangerous abyss lying before us and a steep, inaccessible mountain rising behind us. But, since the mountain has is still and, therefore, immobile, there is a possibility of extricate ourselves over time. Thus, in the present we retreat, fall back with the idea of finding a way to extricate ourselves throught introspection.

The solution, we discover, lies with the Image of this hexagram, water on the mountain. Difficulties and obstructions throw a man back upon himself. While the inferior man seeks to put the blame on other persons, bewailing his fate, the superior man seeks the error within himself, and through this introspection the external obstacle becomes for him an occasion for inner enrichment and education.

So, that is the key quality that one must develop in our to succeed in personal Cultivation, introspection or, in other words, contemplation of our innermost feelings with regard to this obstruction in our daily lives or practices.

08/25/2021

Today we have Hexagram #38, Kuei/Opposition with Li, the Flame or Fire over Tui, the Joyous Lake. Thus we have Fire ascending over Water which is descending. Therefore, they represent opposition as they are moving in different directions and pulling away from each other. Here, Opposition shows a situation where people are not seeing eye-to-eye but hold views are seriously opposed. This is the very situation that we see being played out daily in Washington with the Republicans versus the Democrats. We even see it within the Democratic caucus where like-minded people hold contrary views on certain measures.

However, this opposition cannot exist indefinitely because Nature never allows stagnation to endure. Eventually, there will be concessions made by one or both sides, usually small incremental changes until a reconciliation can occur.

To quote Kari Hohne from her “I Ching” commentary on Cafeausoul.com: “When we can accept that there are many expressions of the right way, polarity gives way to a condition where Clarity can illuminate Joy.”

08/24/2021

I am going to skip over the Judgment or Statement as it is known in some texts on the I Ching for Today’s Hexagram #37, Chia Jen, The Family or Clan. SUN THE GENTLE, WIND forms the upper trigram ove LI THE CLINGING, FIRE below. As you can no doubt surmise from the title of the hexagram, Chia Jen, The Family, based on a book created in the societal structure of ancient China will have very little relevance to a modern American family, in which both mates more than likely work and hold positions of equal or nearly equal stature and require outside help such as nursery school and preschool or babysitters (sometimes a retired relative) to look after the children, normally a duty of the wife and mother. Also, both will usually share housework and other duties both in and outside the home.

So, instead, I am going to use Richard Wilhelm’s commentary on the Image, which in today’s hexagram focuses on our words, the very source of our ability to think and communicate…

“Heat creates energy: this is signified by the wind stirred up by the fire and issuing forth from it. This represents influence working from within outward. The same thing is needed in the regulation of the family. Here too the influence on others must proceed form one’s own person. In order to be capable of producing such an influence, one’s words must have power, and this they can have only if they are based on something real, just as flame depends on its fuel Words have influence only when they are pertinent and clearly related to definite circumstances. General discourses and admonitions have no effect whatsoever. Furthermore, the words must be supported by one’s entire conduct, just as the wind is made effective by am impression on others that they can adapt and conform to it. If words and conduct are not in accord and consistent, they will have no effect.”

I would suggest that you read that paragraph through several times to get the gist of how you can make your words more powerful. Without power, your words will lake any influence. If they sound anything less then true, then you are lying to yourself and everyone else. Your words must be consistent with your conduct, and your conduct must be consistent with what is true and just. Keep up the good practices, folks.

08/23/2021

Today’s hexagram marks a time of caution and reservation. Hexagram #36 Ming I/Darkening of the light with K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH above and LI THE CLINGING, FIRE below. Here the sun has sunk under the earth and is therefore darkened. The name of the hexagram means literally “wounding of the bright”; hence the individual lines contain frequent references to wounding.

According to Richard Wilhelm: “One must not unresistingly let himself be swept along by unfavorable circumstances, nor permit his steadfastness to be shaken. He can avoid this by maintaining his inner light, while remaining outwardly yielding and tractable. With this attitude he can overcome even the greatest adversities. In some situations indeed a man must hide his light, in order to make his will prevail inspite of difficulties in his immediate environment. Perseverance must dwell in inmost consciousness and should not be discernible from without. Only thus is a man able to maintain his will in the face of difficulties…

“In a time of darkness it is essential to be cautious and reserved. One should not needlessly awaken overwhelming enmity by inconsiderate behavior. In such times one ought not to fall in with the practices of others; neither should one drag them censoriously into the light. In social intercourse one should not try to be all-knowing. One should let many things pass, without being duped.”

Recapping the personal qualities necessary in a darkened and possibly hostile situation, one needs to be cautious and reserved, not falling in with this type of crowd. One should also persevere in maintaining your innermost light while remaining outwardly yielding and tractable. Hopefully all of you and your practices are still in the light. If so, then carry on!

08/22/2021

A little break today from examining the character traits in the 64 hexagrams of the “I Ching.” Instead, here is a worthy item for you to contemplate, a Tang Dynasty poem entitled 32 Words the Essence and Doctrine of Tai Chi

No shape, no form, no likenesses
The body formless, empty, void
Naturally spontaneous
Like chimes that hang in Western Mountain

The tiger roars, the monkeys call
The spring is clear, the brook is still
The rivers roll, the oceans swell
Surrender “self” and life prevails

Created by Li Dao Zi
Tang Dynasty
English translated poem By
Master Ho Nan Jie
James Petersen
Vicki Tseng

08/21/2021

Today we encounter a familiar theme, clarity, in Hexagram #35, Chin or Jin/Progress, Flourishing. The upper trigram is LI THE CLINGING, FIRE and below is K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH. The hexagram represents the sun rising over the earth. It is therefore the symbol of rapid, easy progress, which at the same time means ever widening expansion and clarity.

The Image of the light of the sun rising over the earth is by nature clear. The higher the sun rises, the more it emerges from the dark mists, spreading the pristine purity of its rays over an ever widening area. The real nature of man is likewise originally good, but it becomes clouded by contact with earthly things and therefore needs purification before it can shine forth in its native clarity. This is very much the same kind of analogy often used in Daoism of allowing the mud or sediment to settle to clear a container or pool of water. Only with the sun rising, the direction is up and with the sediment sinking the direction is downward. Nevertheless, both achieve the same result – clarity. But how do we achieve clarity?

Ultimately through discernment. And how do we achieve discernment. Like the muddy water, we must let our minds settle by stilling them. But not that meditative Samadhi kind of stillness. We are not looking for the Great Void, just for clarity. So, it is only necessary to calm the mind by not being so reactive. We step back and allow situations and thoughts to arise but don’t react to them. Nor do we necessarily watch them come and go. That is awful vipassana advice. We are not traffic cops. Okay, that thought can go; now this one can come forth. No! What we do is FEEL! That’s right, do not react, do not watch the thought, but look inside and see how it makes you feel. What feeling does it evoke? And where did that feeling come from? What is its source? This will give you insight into a true sense of self. So, as you replace reacting with feeling, your inner nature with its natural clarity becomes like the Sun rising above the clouds of the acquired, conditioned mind. So, my good friends, allow your practice to gain some clarity.

08/20/2021

Hexagram #34, Da Zhuang, Invigorating Power, Great Strength indicated that the retreat has definitely ended and one’s power has returned. With Zhen, The Arousing, Thunder on top and Qian/Chien, The Creative, Heaven below, Da Zhuang is the image of Thunder -electrical energy – mounting upward with four strong yang lines moving up from the bottom of the hexagram. The direction of this movement is in harmony with the movement of heaven and therefore produces great power. However, in order to persevere it must also be in harmony with virtue, and one must not do anything that is unvirtuous or risk losing one’s power.

The way to deal with strength, drive and invigorating power is to focus one’s strength through a central creative task or function, such as Cultivation or Qi Building. But as any Taoist Sage would tell you, the best way to use your strength is to help others who are less fortunate. Focusing on helping others is definitely the best way to go.

08/19/2021

Yesterday Hexagram 32, Heng, Enduring, Persevering, marked the half-way point in the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. Today, we start the second half with a not-so auspicious Hexagram #33, Tun/Retreat, Withdrawal. Chien/Qian, The Creative, Heaven is above and Ken, Keeping Still, Mountain is below. So, the power of the dark yin lines at the base of Mountain are ascending, causing the power of the light yang lines above to retreat so as to not exhaust its forces as the darkness encroaches.

Now there are two kinds of Retreat, passive and active. Passive is outright flight, a mindless, not well-conceived or organized retreat. Whereas an active one is mindfully constructed to keep its forces intact and oftentimes to obstruct the approaching forces as much as possible by destroying bridges, setting fires, planting land mines, etc.

A passive retreat can be seen in the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Vietnam, after the sudden collapse of Saigon, leaving hundreds of thousands of their Vietnamese allies behind, and the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan. If you have been watching TV news, you are seeing what appears to be an Active withdrawal as the U.S. military is negotiating safe passage for tens of thousands of Afghan allies following the sudden collapse of the Afghan government after its military had lost the will to fight any longer and surrendered.

But as Cultivators, we do not look at retreat in the same way. In fact, we don’t even use the term. We call it “stepping back,” which usually refers to our intent. As you can well imagine, this is not a physical retreat but a mental, emotional one. Some of us get so wound up trying to advance our Cultivation that we actually create stress around the very aspect we are trying to improve. For example, in building the dantien, instead of just letting the mind casually soak into the dantien area or anchoring the breath there as well, we put too much of our intention into it. So, instead of the process being wu-wei or non-governing or non-controlling, it is just the opposite, extremely intense. If we don’t “step back” our intent, we are bound to fail.

So, my friends, look at areas of your practice where you may need to step back and let the mind calmly abide.

08/18/2021

Today’s hexagram is the inverse of the previous one, Xian. In Hexagram #32, Heng, the upper trigram is Zhen, The Arousing/Thunder and the lower one is Sun, The Gentle, Wind. Persevering, Enduring, Durable are its key qualities. All are excellent qualities for Internal Arts Cultivators to acquire. But although they are often regarded as synonymous, Persevering and Enduring are actually quite different. How so?

Endurance is the more Yin of the two and is a form of acceptance no matter how great the pain, suffering or hardship. An enduring person is one who accepts that pain or hardship as a fact of life and is more inclined to tolerate it rather than fight against it, trying to change it. In other words, enduarence is the quality of acceptance combined with stillness.

Perseverance, on the other hand, is definitely the more Yang of the two. Whereas endurance embraces acceptance with a quality of stillness, perseverance, like the Wind below the Storm that moves the thunder and lightning across the sky, is the quality of acceptance combined with movement rather than stillness.

The Internal Arts Cultivator needs both. Endurance for those long periods where there is pain and hardship but no apparent progress internally or externally. Without the quality of endurance, most people are inclined to give up if they don’t experience significant progress after a couple months. Perseverance is the acceptance of greater pain and difficulty as one advances through the arts, expecting that the road will get tougher and steeper as one moves up the mountain. Nevertheless, one continues to move on. And so, my good people, I hope each of you can move up in your practice.

08/16/2021

Today we have another favorable hexagram with the strong being respectful to the weak rather than trying to dominate it, with the male being submissive as well as protective of the female, and thus, the way of Nature is fulfilled. This is Hexagram 31, Xian or Hsien/Influence (Wooing), Stimulation. Here The upper trigram is Tui, the Joyous; Lake, the lower is Kên, Keeping still, Mountain. By its persistent, quiet influence, the lower, rigid trigram stimulates the upper, weak trigram, which responds to this stimulation cheerfully and joyously.

In Xian, the weak element, Tui, is above, the strong, Ken, is below; thus, their influences attract one another and enable them to unite. This brings about success, for all success depends on the effect of mutual attraction. By keeping still within while experiencing joy without, one can prevent that joy from becoming overly excessive and turning to mania This is the meaning of the added admonition in the Judgment, “Perseverance furthers,” for it is perseverance that makes the difference between seduction and courtship; in the latter the strong man takes a position inferior to that of the weak girl and shows consideration for her. This attraction between affinities is a general law of nature. Heaven and earth attract each other and thus all creatures come into being. Through such attraction the sage influences men’s hearts, and thus the world attains peace. From the attractions they exert we can learn the nature of all beings in heaven and on earth.

A lake on top of a mountain is the ery image of influence. A mountain with a lake on its summit is stimulated by the moisture from the lake. It has this advantage because its summit does not jut out as a peak but is sunken. The image counsels that the mind should be kept humble and free, so that it may remain receptive to good advice. People soon give up counseling a man who thinks that he knows everything better than anyone else.

All important points today. We know that by calming the mind, we can experience joy without becoming manic. By setting aside any form of male dominance and being respectful of all others and listening to their views, we can forge not only a pleasing relationship but a stimulating one as well that with “Perseverence furthers” our Cultivation. Finally, as the Image of this hexagram tells us, we should keep our minds humble and free in order to remain receptive not only to fruitful advice but also to inspiration from without and beyond. All very good advice and very good qualities to add to your character. May each and everyone of you have a stimulating practice!

08/15/2021

Today, we have another hexagram with doubled trigrams. Hexagram #30, Li, the Clinging/Fire, although doubled up like #29 Kan, is nowhere near as dire. In fact, it portends a rather bright future. In this case, Richard Wilhelm’s commentary seems to be a nice fit.

Wilhem states: “The trigram Li means “to cling to something,” and also “brightness.” A dark line clings to two light lines, one above and one below–the image of an empty space between two strong lines, whereby the two strong lines are made bright…As an image, it is fire. Fire has no definite form but clings to the burning object and thus is bright. As water pours down from heaven, so fire flames up from the earth. While K’an (#29) means the soul shut within the body, Li (#30) stands for nature in its radiance.”

Wilhelm continues: “What is dark clings to what is light and so enhances the brightness of the latter. A luminous thing giving out light must have within itself something that perseveres; otherwise it will in time burn itself out. Everything that gives light is dependent on something to which it clings, in order that it may continue to shine. Thus the sun and moon cling to heaven, and grain, grass, and trees cling to the earth. So too the twofold clarity of the dedicated man clings to what is right and thereby can shape the world. Human life on earth is conditioned and unfree, and when man recognizes this limitation and makes himself dependent upon the harmonious and beneficent forces of the cosmos, he achieves success. The cow is the symbol of extreme docility. By cultivating in himself an attitude of compliance and voluntary dependence, man acquires clarity without sharpness and finds his place in the world.”

Wilhem’s commentary brings out several very important qualities absolutely necessary for cultivation. The first two are perseverance and clinging. But I thought we have been cautioned not to cling to anything. Almost anything. It is absolutely essential for Internal Arts Cultivators that we cling to the idea of Cultivation and persevere in clinging to our processes of Cultivation. Next, we need to “cultivate” an attitude of compliance and voluntary dependence in order to acquire discernment and clarity as to who we are and what is our place in this world.

Wilhelm concludes his commentary on the Image of Li with this: “The great man continues the work of nature in the human world. Through the clarity of his nature he causes the light to spread farther and farther and to penetrate the nature of man ever more deeply.”

Good advice, no doubt. Hopefully we can assimilate it into our practice. Good cultivation, folks, onward and upward!

08/14/2021

In Hexagram #28, Da Guo, we discovered that Disaster lay directly ahead. Now in Hexagram #29, Kan, The Abyssmal, The Repeating Pit, we realize that the crisis is already here. Kan is one of eight trigrams throughout the “I Ching” that double up on their trigrams. Both top and bottom are the same trigram, in this case, water. It represent a plunging into the imminent danger that surrounds us. Here a yang line has plunged into two yin lines and is surrounded by them like water in a ravine. Also, since the trigrams are doubled up, the hexagram has the additional connotation of repeated danger.

Thus, whoever has cast this hexagram lives a life of constant danger, either consciously or unconsciously. They could have a profession that brings constant danger: a soldier, a police officer, a government operative, a spy. Or, unconsciously creating dangerous situations by lack of attentiveness and awareness. If they were more attentive in their everyday lives, they would have been able to see the danger that lay ahead and avert it or deal with it early on their own terms.

Unlike most of the commentators, who are advising readers to plunge right into the danger and face it since there is no way to avoid it, all I can say is simply plunging into danger time after time is not the way of Cultivators. So, if you are going to plunge into anything, let that be your practice, my friends, and this will keep you out of danger. Ciao!

08/13/2021

DANGER! Disaster lies directly ahead! That’s the message from today’s Hexagram #28, Da Guo, Great Traverses, Crisis, Great Transition. It is composed of Tui, the Joyous, Lake, above Sun, the Gentle, Wind, Tree. With the lake rising above the tree, it represents a great flood, a major catastrophe. While it does not indicate any character traits that one should acquire, it does indicate one that a person has failed to acquire, namely Laozi’s precept in Chapter 63 of the Dao De Jing, which I have mentioned before. That is to attend to problems while they are small, not when they have risen to flood-size proportions.

Hexagram 28 consists of four strong inside lines and two weak outside lines. The Image of this hexagram is that of a ridgepole buckling in the middle and collapsing due to weakness at each end. It is also the image of a great flood with water (Tui, the lake) rising above the trees (Sun, the Tree). Both images portend disaster. So, what is one to do?

There is one quality, if previously developed, that of contemplation. In times of crisis, one must not panic or act rashly. Instead, just the opposite is required. One must calm the mind and still the thoughts as much as possible. One’s ridgepole is warped and giving way. One’s life is about to collapse. But there is a creative force at work within even in the midst of this crisis. One needs to impose a direction and have a place to go. What does this mean?

The place to go is one’s deepest inner space (and preferably it should be in an external place where one can concentrate.). Once there, one must calm and still the mind and begin to contemplate a solution by looking inside the current crisis. This is how one imposes a direction on the current situation. By contemplating deeply oh all aspects of the crisis, one solution will stand out above all the others. Let that strong creative force gathering in the center penetrate and stimulate a plan of action.

However, the crisis may have grown to such proportions that one needs to reverse course entirely and get out of the house before it collapses. In other words, say good-bye to the community, group or organization with which one has been associated because their internals have worsened to the point of sheer corruption. We see this today with a major political party in America. Their internal politics have been so corrupted that long-time members who can see no way out have left the party and have joined other political groups to work against their former party.

Sorry to end on this political note but the situation is so representative of Hexagram 28 Da Guo.  May your practice be strong and meaningful, people.

08/12/2021

The two trigrams in today’s hexagram are inverses of one another. Hexagram #27 Yi/The Tiger’s Mouth, Nourishing and Being Nourished, with Ken, Keeping Still, Mountain above and Chen, The Arousing, Thunder below, they form the image of an open mouth. Above and Below are firm Yang lines that form the lips and in between are the broken Yin lines that show an open mouth, the symbol of nourishment. Starting with the mouth, through which we take food for nourishment, the thought leads to nourishment itself. Nourishment of oneself, specifically of the body, is represented in the three lower lines, while the three upper lines represent nourishment and care of others, in a higher, spiritual sense. Two excellent ideals for Internal Cultivators to aspire to attain.

In bestowing care and nourishment, it is important that the right people should be taken care of and that we should attend to our own nourishment in the right way. This is a great lessons for all Cultivators to learn. Nature nourishes all creatures. The Sage fosters and takes care of those who are established with extraordinary abilities that they, in turn, provide care for all. We can follow this model by setting aside part of our income to donate to worthy charities that provide nourishment and care for people around the world as a practice. The more well-rounded a total practice, the better. Keep your practices well-rounded, people.

08/11/2021

Today we will look at Hexagram #26 Ta Chu/The Taming Power of the Great, Accumuate, Concentrate, Nourish. The trigram Ken, Keeping Still or Mountain is above and Chien, the Creative, Heaven below. So, the Creative is tamed by Keeping Still. This produces great power.

The hexagram has a threefold meaning, expressing different aspects of the concept “Holding firm.” Heaven within the mountain gives the idea of holding firm in the sense of holding together; the trigram Kên which holds the trigram ch’ien still, gives the idea of holding firm in the sense of holding back; the third idea is that of holding firm in the sense of caring for and nourishing.

The trigram Ch’ein points to strong creative power; Kên indicates firmness and truth. Both point to light and clarity and to the daily renewal of character. Only through such daily self-renewal can a man continue at the height of his powers. Force of habit helps to keep order in quiet times; but in periods when there is a great storing up of energy, everything depends on the power of the personality.

As for the image, Heaven within the mountain points to hidden treasures. In the words and deeds of the past there lies hidden a treasure that men may use to strengthen and elevate their own characters. Thus, the noble one or Sage acquires much knowledge of things said and done in the past and so domesticates and garners his virtue. It is this capacity held in his bosom that allows the Sage to prevent virtue from becoming dispersed and lost.

So, in our practice we want to work on acquiring firmness and truth and discernment and clarity and renew them daily to strengthen our character. We should also look to the past and study the great deeds and the great persons from history whom we can emulate. Keep up your good habits and drop the negative ones.

08/09/2021

Continuing with Hexagram #25, Wu Wang, Disentangling, Becoming Spontaneous, Pure, Innocent, Free from Confusion, as I mentioned yesterday, although this is a womderful quality or character trait to acquire, it is nearly impossible to achieve in so many aspects of one’s life. Why is that?

For one thing, that which one is using, the acquired mind, to disentangle from the web of worldly influences is the very thing that is causing one’s life to become entangled in the first place. Attempting to use one’s conscious mind will only entangle one’s life all the more. Secondly, one cannot disentangle from one’s everyday world while living in that very world. There are too many distractions and way too many involvements. One needs to spend some time away from that world and retreat to a much quieter one. It’s the meaning of the Daoist term: “One foot in, and one foot out.”

Nevertheless, even though a quiet retreat may help one’s conscious mind to disentangle from worldly desires and influences, what about the subconcious mind and ultimately the tainted unconcious. Those perversions, insecurities and fears are still there. And so are the desires to consume as well as the fears that we won’t be able to consume enough. Consume, consume, consume, that’s what we humans do, whether we need what we consume or not.

Thus, to disentangle, you need to get away for awhile from those things that you are always consuming, whether it be money, food, sex, drugs, possessions. Just get away from it all and chill out. Calm your mind and calm your desires. Take a time-out from everyday living to just enjoy living without consuming. Good practice, everyone.

08/07/2021

Today we look at perhaps the most auspicious and beneficial trait an internal artists or cultivator can possibly have. Hexagram #25, Wu Wang, Disentangling, becoming spontaneous, pure, free from confusion. With Chien, Heaven above and Zhen the Arousing, Thunder below. we have the idea of being released from entanglements, perverse influences or worldly attachments. It enables you to act spontaneously and successfully deal with whatever comes your way and to attract and welcome the unexpected. Disentangling yourself from the influences of worldly gains and being sucked into various perversions is the best way to remain innocent and maintain that purity that is your inherent nature or Xing.

But there is one problem. Developing disentangling as a character trait is not easy to say the least. In fact, the way the world comes at us, it is next to impossible unless you are a total recluse. More on disentangling tomorrow. Good practice, everyone

08/06/2021

When all the light has been pushed out or split apart and filled by the dark as in yesterday’s hexagram #23 Po/Eliminating, Splitting Apart, then reversion or change is close to starting. That is the point of today’s hexagram,
#24, Fu, the Turning Point or Return.

With K’un, The Receptive, The Earth above and Zhen, The Arousing, Thunder below, Fu marks the return of the light, a Yang line in the first position while all five positions above it are filled with dark Yin lines. But this is not the Yang forcing its return. As with all situations in Nature and in our lives, this change is natural. After a time of decay whether a year, a decade, a century, or an eon, comes the turning point where what was eliminated or banished now returns. The old is discarded and the new is eventually established. It will remain in prominence until it too grows old, and the cycle of reversion completes another turn.

08/05/2021

With KêN KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN above and THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH below, today’s Hexagram #23, Po/Splitting Apart, Stripping Away, Eliminating is not a favorable one. Why not?

The dark lines are about to mount upward and overthrow the last firm, light line by exerting a disintegrating influence on it. The inferior, dark forces overcome what is superior and strong, not by direct means, but by undermining it gradually and imperceptibly, so that it finally collapses. The lines of the hexagram present the image of a house, the top line being the roof, and because the roof is being shattered the house collapses. The yin power pushes up ever more powerfully and is about to supplant the yang power altogether. This often happens within our psyche, our deep subconscious and, deeper still, our unconscious.

THE JUDGMENT or STATEMENT says: SPLITTING APART. IT does not further one to go anywhere.

This pictures a time when inferior people are pushing forward and are about to crowd out the few remaining strong and superior people. Under these circumstances, which are due to the time, it is not favorable for the Sage to undertake anything. The right behavior in such adverse times is to be deduced from the images and their attributes.0 The lower trigram stands for the earth, whose attributes are docility and devotion. The upper trigram stands for the mountain, whose attribute is stillness. This suggests that one should submit to the bad time and remain quiet. For it is a question not of man’s doing but of time conditions, which, according to the laws of heaven, show an alternation of increase and decrease, fullness and emptiness. It is impossible to counteract these conditions of the time. Hence it is not cowardice but wisdom to submit and avoid action.

And taking one’s cue from the IMAGE:
The mountain rests on the earth:
The image of SPLITTING APART.
Thus those above can ensure their position
Only by giving generously to those below.

that may be good advice for those to whom securing a position is all important. But for the Sage and Internal Cultivators, stripping away or eliminating is a a better interpretation. Now is the time to work on yourself. Strip away and eliminate old habits and ideas that are keeping you stagnated and weighing you down. Strip away everything that is not an ideal character trait and replace them with traits that are.

08/04/2021

Today we take a look at Bi or Pi/Elegance, Grace, Beautify, Embellish, Reflect inner awareness. The top trigram is Ken, Mountain or Keeping still. The bottom one is Li, Clinging, the Fire. Here, Elegance means prevalence, but it is fitting only for small matters, should one set out to do something. The soft provides the hard with pattern, and this is the reason for prevalence. Rising to the top, the hard provides the small with pattern, and this is why it is fitting only for small matters.

Adorning or embellishing describes your situation in terms of outward appearance. By decorating, embellishing or beautifying the way things are presented, this increases intrinsic value. Let the way you present yourself address the changes in your life. Be flexible and adapt to what present itself to be done. In that way, you are in step with the flow of Dao and not acting out of preconceived motivations and self-interest. Contemplate the overall pattern and the pattern of the people involved. But, above all, contemplate the changes that are taking place within you. Good practice, folks!

08/03/2021

Today’s hexagram is nothing that a Daoist cultivator need be concerned about. It is Hexagram #21, Shih Ho/Biting Through, Gnawing, Tenacious, Determined, Punishment. If those nouns seems like something you would want to cultivate, go right ahead. Be my guest. But I’m not buying it. Why not?

The upper trigram is LI THE CLINGING, FIRE and below Zhen THE AROUSING, THUNDER. This hexagram represents an open mouth with an obstruction (in the fourth place) between the teeth. As a result the lips cannot meet. To bring them together one must bite energetically through the obstacle.

The Judgment or Statement for Shih Ho suggests, when an obstacle to union arises, energetic biting through brings success. This is true in all situations. Whenever unity cannot be established, the obstruction is due to a talebearer and traitor who is interfering and blocking the way. To prevent permanent injury, vigorous measures must be taken at once. Deliberate obstruction of this sort does not vanish of its own accord. Judgment and punishment are required to deter or obviate it.

First of all, we are humans not rats. We do not need to gnaw our way through anything. Nor do we need to take vigorous measures if we are truly Daoist cultivators who practice ‘wu wei’ and who study the Dao De Jing, especially Chapter 63, where Laozi states:
“Whether it is big or small, many or few,
Requite hatred with virtue.”
Notice, he did not say Judgment and punishmebnt are required to deter or obviate it. Further on in Chapter 63…
” Deal with the difficult while yet it is easy;
Deal wit the big while yet it is small.
The difficult (problems) of the world
Must be dealt with while they are yet easy;
The great (problems) of the world
Must be dealt with while they are yet small.
Therefore the Sage by never dealing with great (problems)
Accomplishes greatness.”

So, forget the gnawing, forget punishing others and just be mindful. That way you can see or feel when a problem is about to arise and deal with it while it is still in the nascent stage. Continued cultivation within your practice, everyone.

08/02/2021

Today’s I Ching hexagram has a double meaning. Hexagram #20 Kuan or Guan/Conteplate, Viewing, Examine, Divining, the Tower. The Upper Trigram is SUN THE GENTLE, WIND while K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH is below. It means both contemplating and being seen, in the sense of being an example. These ideas are suggested by the fact that the hexagram can be understood as picturing a type of tower characteristic of ancient China.

Richard Wilhelm goes on to comment that a tower of this kind commanded a wide view of the country and at the same time, when situated on a mountain, it became a landmark that could be seen for miles around. He then applies these two qualities to a ruler who contemplates the law of heaven above him and the ways of the people below, and who, by means of good government, sets a lofty example to the masses. So good so far. We want to develop the quality of contemplating the law of heaven or the Dao which is far above us. Also, we want to contemplate Nature in general as well as human nature. This will tell us a lot about ourselves and our fellow beings.

Then Wilhelm comments on the Image of Kuan, the Wind above the Earth. “When the wind blows over the earth it goes far and wide, and the grass must bend to its power.” He considers both of these qualities as beneficial and states: “The two images are used to symbolize a practice of the kings of old; in making regular journeys the ruler could, in the first place, survey his realm and make certain that none of the existing usages of the people escaped notice; in the second, he could exert influence through which such customs as were unsuitable could be changed. All of this points to the power possessed by a superior personality.” While true contemplation of the Dao or Heaven is a much desired quality, to use that quality to gain power or change customs and interfere with the Way (Dao) and its natural processes is not only non-Daoist, it is corrupt. It is not one of our precepts of to, as Wilhelm states, “impress the people so profoundly, by his mere existence and by the impact of his personality, that they will be swayed by him as the grass by the wind.”

The thing to remember here is the two main precepts of Daoism as stated by both Laozi and Zhuangzi are humility and being lowly like the flow of water. The two go hand-in-hand in Daoism. As my teacher says: “Liberation from ideas of becoming ‘special’ is the first step on the way to moving towards union with the Dao.” Being in the background rather than the limelight or towering over the world with a prominant personality should have prevalence in our lives. Again my teacher states: “Humility is an extremely Yin state of being. To be able to place yourself behind others is a difficult thing but important in Daoism.”

Therefore, don’t think of humility and being behind others or appearing lowly as detrimental but rather as something very special to attain, more so than prominence or fame.

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08/01/2021

We start the month of August with Hexagram #19, Lin/Approach, Nearing, New Arrival. It is composed of the upper trigram K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH and below TUI, THE JOYOUS, LAKE

The Chinese word “Lin” has a several meanings. The ancient explanations in the Book of Changes give as its first meaning, “becoming great.” What becomes great are the two strong lines growing into the hexagram from the base of Tui, position 1 and 2; the light-giving power expands with them. The meaning is then further extended to include the concept of approach from below.

THE JUDGMENT then states that APPROACH has supreme success, and Perseverance furthers.
But When the eighth month comes, There will be misfortune.

The hexagram as a whole points to a time of joyous, hopeful progress. Spring is approaching. Joy and forbearance bring high and low nearer together. Success is certain. But we must work with determination and perseverance to make full use of the propitiousness of the time. But one thing more: spring does not last forever. In the eighth month the aspects are reversed. Then only two strong, light lines are left; these do not advance but are in retreat. We must take heed of this change in good time. If we meet evil before it becomes reality-before it has even begun to stir-we can master it.

THE IMAGE of the earth above the lake:
The image of APPROACH.
Thus the Sage/Ruler is inexhaustible in his will to teach,
And without limits in his tolerance and protection of the people.

The earth borders upon the lake from above. This symbolizes the approach and condescension of the Sage in a higher position to those beneath him. The two parts of the image indicate what his attitude toward these people will be as well as the qualities we should try to acquire: Just as the lake is inexhaustible in depth, so the sage is inexhaustible in his readiness to teach mankind, and just as the earth is boundlessly wide, sustaining and caring for all creatures on it, so the sage sustains and cares for all people and excludes no part of humanity. Thus, be inexhaustible in your readiness to teach those in your charge, and be boundlessly sustaining and caring for all living creatures, both human and otherwise, and exclude no part of humanity like we see today in governments around the world and even in many states here in America.

THE DAOIST DAILY DIARY

07/30/2021

Today is an unfortunate day should you ask the “I Ching’ about your present situation, and the ‘I Ching” answers with Hexagram #18, Ku or Gu, Decay, Perversion, Corruption, Pestilence. The upper trigram is Kên KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN and the lower one, Sun THE GENTLE, WIND

The Chinese character Ku or Gu represents a bowl in whose contents worms are breeding. This means decay. IT is come about because the gentle indifference in the lower trigram has come together with the rigid inertia of the upper, and the result is stagnation. So, definitely not a qualities any of us want to acquire. Also, since this implies guilt, the causes that brought about the condition of stagnation and decay, namely indifference and inertia, must be removed. Thus, the hexagram not only embodies what has been decayed, but demands that one “works on what has been decayed,” in other words “Self-Improvement.”

07/29/2021

Yesterday, we looked at Hexagram #16 Yu, Contentment or Enthusiasm. As the saying goes, where there is Enthusiasn, there is certain to be Following, which is today’s hexagram, #17, Sui, Following. While Following, per se, is not a virtue, it can require certain qualities that are virtuous like Yielding. Yield to that path that fate has set out before you. Be guided by the way things are moving. Realize that all these events that you are going through are not disjointed or incongruous but are firmly connected. Have the restraint not to fight it and the courage to go with it. In other words, Follow the path wherever it may lead. But what is it that is guiding you?

To that, we must look to the Image of Sui for the answer. Sui is complosed of Zhen, thunder at the base and Dui, the Lake or Joy above. Here it is the thunder in the middle of the lake that serves as the image–thunder in its winter rest, not thunder in motion. The idea of following in the sense of adaptation to the demands of the time grows out of this image. Thunder in the middle of the lake indicates times of darkness and rest. Similarly, a superior man, after being tirelessly active all day, allows himself rest and recuperation at night. No situation can become favorable until one is able to adapt to it and does not wear himself out with mistaken resistance.

Good advice, no doubt, for all of us. Good luck with your practice.

07/28/2021

As we saw earlier with Hexagram #10, Lu, Treading, where the soft treads on the hard but avoids retaliation due to an attituide of “cheerfulness,” and this cheerfulness led to Hexagram #11 T’ai, Peace. So, to yesterday’s Hexagram #15, Ch’ien or Qian, Modesty, brings about today’s hexagram, #16, Yu, Contentment.

With Zhen, Quake or Thunder, above, and K’un, the Receptive, Earth, below, Yu symbolizes when action occurs out of compliance. Heaven and Earth act only out of compliance. Thus, the sun and moon never err, and the seasons never vary. The Sage acts only out of compliance. To prepare and gather what is needed to live fully within your means and yet be capable of modesty means that one must be content.

So, prepare and gather those qualities needed to extend your practice and rest in contentment.

07/27/2021

Today we look at one quality that hopefully all internal artists can aquire and one of the most important, so much so that it is stressed in all the major works of Daoism including the Dao De Ching and the Zhuangzi. This is Hexagram #15 Ch’ien or Qian, Modesty. It is made up of the trigrams Kên, Keeping Still, Mountain, below and K’un, the Receptive, Earth, above. Ken, the Mountain, dispenses the blessings of heaven, the clouds and rain that gather round its summit, and thereafter shines forth radiant with heavenly light. This shows what modesty is and how it functions in those who are great and strong. Lowliness, on the other hand, is a quality of K’un, the Earth: this is the very reason that it appears in this hexagram as exalted, by being placed above the mountain. As the Dao De Ching has stated: the Dao of Heaven is to make the full empty and to fill or bring increase to that which is modest. The Dao of the Earth is to transform what is full and to make what is modest flow and spread.

As stated in the Judgement to Ch’ien: MODESTY creates success; The superior person carries things through (without boasting of what one has achieved). Need I say more? Good luck with your training, and no matter how much you accomplish, don’t get full of yourself.

07/26/2021

Today we have another inverted hexagram, the reverse of the preceding one. It’s Hexagram #14, DaYou (Great Holdings/Great Possessions). With Li, Fire/Flame on top and Ch’ien, Heaven below, it is the inverse of #13, Tongren, Fellowship. DaYou is even more auspicious than Tongren. Why is that?

In Tongren, the ruler of the entire hexagram is the Yin line in the weak second position, the middle of the lower trigram, Li. However, in DaYou, the Yin line, which remains the ruler of the hexagram, is in a position of strength now that its trigram Li is on top. Thus, Great Holdings/Possessions is expressed by the way its ruler, the Yin line in the fifth place, obtains this noble position by its yielding nature and abiding in the Mean (commonality) and enjoys greatness as those above and those below all respond to it.

The Virtues of Great Holdings as expressed by the Yin line in the fifth place include hardness and strength but also civility and enlightenment or, as I mentioned yesterday, clarity based on discernment of the Mean. It is by resonating with Heaven’s Will that one achieves timely action, and this is how fundamental prevalence comes about. As the Virtues of Great Holdings work in response to Heaven’s will, one’s actions are timely and correct. One’s hardness and internal strength allow one to stay free of impediments while one’s civility and clarity keep one free of wrongdoing. Since one’s actions are also timely, they will not be in conflict with Nature.

So, work on trying to acquire the Virtues of DaYou by combining your practice with calm abiding throughout the day. Best of luck to you.

07/25/2021

Today we look at a positive trait, Fellowship, which is Hexagram # 13, Tongren. The hexagram consists of Qian, the Creative, Heaven, Yang in the upper trigram and Li, Fire or Flame and sometimes referred to as Radiance. So, it is Heaven over Fire, which has the flames of the fire burning up to heaven. Thus, in the same way, the weak Yin line in the second position reaches up to the strong Yang line in the fifth position, the middle of the upper trigram, Heaven. Thanks to its achievements of the Mean, the weak Yin line finds itself in resonance with the ruler of the upper trigram, the strong Yang in the fifth line. Such a situation is referred to as Fellowship.

Exercising strength through the practice of civility and enlightenment, the Second Yin and the Fifth Yang each respond to the other with their adherence to the Mean. Here the “Mean” refers to commonality while “enlightenment” does not refer to Nirvana but rather to clarity that is derived through the discernment of that commonality you have with other persons despite differences in status and social position. The exercising of strength should not be done with external force but instead with the internal qualities of civility and discernment.

In this hexagram, the lower weak Yin line and its opposite the higher strong Yang line respond to each other not out of dissent or conflict but out of adherence to that commonality they have as the rulers or central figures of their respective trigrams. So, the traits for us to aquire are civility and discernment. By finding places of agreement where common goals can be shared, we can develop a bond of common understanding and thus build Fellowship with an individual or within a group.

07/24/2021

Moving along to Hexagram #12, Pi/ Standstill (Stagnation). This is certainly not a quality an Internal Artist or Cultivator would want to aquire. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Speaking of opposistes, Pi is the very opposite of Hexagram 11, T’ai, Peace which had K’un the Receptive, Earth, above and Ch’ien, the Creative, Heaven below. But in Pi, Ch’ien is above and K’un is below. So, what is the problem with that? Plenty.

In his commentary, Richard Wilhelm points out that “Heaven is above, drawing farther and farther away, while the earth below sinks farther into the depths. The creative powers are not in relation. It is a time of standstill and decline.”

Heaven and earth are not on the same page. Their communication is way off and that has everything in a stagnant state of numbness. Again, Wilhem comments: “What is above has no relation to what is below, and on earth confusion and disorder prevail. The dark power is within, the light power is without. Weakness is within, harshness without. Within are the inferior, and without are the superior. The way of inferior people is in ascent; the way of superior people is on the decline.”

But even in the midst of all this stagnantion and meanness, there is a much needed quality that arises – Restraint. Wilhelm goes on to explain: “But superior people do not allow themselves to be turned from their principles. If the possibility of exerting influence is closed to them, they nevertheless remain faithful to their principles and withdraw into seclusion.”

From the image of Pi, Stagnation or Standstill, we get the idea of Heaven and Earth being unable to unite and drawing further away from each other. Then the I Ching tells us if we want to be superior, we must fall back on our principles, our inner values and act with restraint.

“Thus the superior man falls back upon his inner worth
In order to escape the difficulties.
He does not permit himself to be honored with revenue.”

Wilhem adds: “When, owing to the influence of inferior men, mutual mistrust prevails in public life, fruitful activity is rendered impossible, because the fundaments are wrong. Therefore the superior man knows what he must do under such circumstances; he does not allow himself to be tempted by dazzling offers to take part in public activities. This would only expose him to danger, since he cannot assent to the meanness of the others. He therefore hides his worth and withdraws into seclusion.”

From this reading, we learn there are three things that must be done to avoid stagnation. First, always keep your inner principles in mind and never compromise them. Secondly, try your best to avoid people with inferior morals and values. Finally, restrain from accepting money and other favors that would compromise your principles.

07/23/2021

Before moving on I would like to go over the last two qualities from Hexagram 11, T’ai/Peace and Hexagram 10, Lu/Treading. As I mentioned yesterday, Lu, Treading, carries the quality of “Cheerfulness,” and that, in turn, leads to the quality of Peace or Calm Abiding that we have in the internal Arts. I cannot emphasize enough how important both of these qualities are. If you can remain cheerful in the face of failure, mistakes and blunders, and other negative situations, not only will you attract the spirit of heaven as we said yesterday but also the hearts of other people. No one likes a sour puss or a cry baby. While some may empathize with this person, they certainly don’t want to remain around them for too long. All that sobbing and complaining gets old very quickly. But a cheerful person not only attracts good spirits from the Heavenly realm but good-hearted people as well. People want to be around a cheerful person, who feels so blessed just to be alive and appreciative of everything that life has to offer, even if some of it is negative. So, even if they do accidentally tread on the tiger’s tail, they know it may growl somewhat but it certainly won’t take a bite out of them.

This attitude, as we said yesterday, leads to a “Peaceful” inner nature, which is most important for advancing within the cultivation arts. In fact, you cannot advance at all if you are not at peace with yourself and comfortable with who you are and your situation in life. While cheerfulness is not the only route to a peaceful inner nature, it is perhaps the smoothest and most direct one. It may not guarantee bliss or nirvana, but being at peace with yourself, your circumstances and your environment and the world all around you makes each step along the road so much easier and fruitful.

07/22/2021

Next up is Hexagram #11 T’ai (Peace) above K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH and below CH’IEN THE CREATIVE, HEAVEN. Here, the Receptive, which moves downward, stands above; the Creative, which moves upward, is below. Hence their influences meet and are in harmony, so that all living things bloom and prosper.

This hexagram denotes a time in nature when heaven seems to be on earth. Heaven has placed itself beneath the earth, and so their powers unite in deep harmony. Then peace and blessing descend upon all living things. In the world of man it is a time of social harmony; those in high places show favor to the lowly, and the lowly and inferior put an end to all feuds. Inside, at the center, in the key position, is the light principle; the dark principle is outside. Thus the light has a powerful influence, while the dark is submissive. In this way each receives its due. When the good elements of society occupy a central position and are in control, the evil elements come under their influence and change for the better. When the spirit of heaven rules in man, his animal nature also comes under its influence and takes its appropriate place.

So, you can see how our last quality “cheerfulness,” implicit in #10, Lu, Treading, has led to T’ai, Peace. Cheerfulness naturally elevates one’s spirit by attracting the light with its powerful influence, which, in turn, diminishes the dark. One’s “cheerfulness” attracts the spirit of heaven, which reins in your animal nature and your peaceful inner nature will prevail.

07/21/2021

Hexagram #10, Lu, Treading. Although “Treading” is the name of the Hexagram, that is not the quality we are after. Instead, the real quality is implicit in the design and nature of its two trigrams – Qian (Heaven) above and Dui (Lake, sometimes translated as Joyous, Cheerful) below. Here, the treading is a matter of the soft (yin) treading on the hard (yang). It is because Dui responds to Qian with Cheerfulness that even if one treads on a tiger’s tail, one will not be bitten.

The third Yin line is the master of this Hexagram, Lu. Here it walks with a Yin’s softness and treads on the hardness of the Second Yang, and this is to tread on danger. That it treads on the Tiger’s tail and yet is not bitten is due to the way Dui responds to Qian with cheerfulness. And that is the quality that we want to consider acquiring. Being cheerful even when you make a mistake and accidently tread on the tail of fate. It will not turn around and bite you. Your very own cheerfulness will ease the sting of your mistakes.

07/20/2021

Hexagram #9 Xiao Xu is often translated as Small Accumulating, Lesser Domestication (Garnering), Taming Power of the Small. Here it could mean the force of the small that restrains, impedes or tame. The Image of Xiao Xu is that of the Wind crossing the Skies. Though merely empty air, the wind can restrain the clouds and make them grow dense. That in itself will not bring rain. Without a solid body, the wind does not produce great or lasting effects. So also an individual, in times when one can produce no great effect in the outer world, one can do nothing except refine the expression of one’s nature in small ways. Or, as Wang Bi, an ancient commentator on the I Ching, had put it: one can seek out “the accumulation of resources that lead to prosperity.”

Just as we saw yesterday in Hexagram 8, Pi, Grouping or Gathering, Xiao Xu doesn’t have a specific personality trait to acquire but allows us to examine our nature and search for inner qualities that will lead to prosperity. In our case, prosperity doesn’t refer to a wealth of money or external possession but rather internal possessions and resources. Best wishes for a successful cultivation.

07/19/2021

Hexagram #8, Pi or Bi, Holding Together, Grouping, Gathering is the inverse of the previous hexagram, Shih, the Army. In Pi, K’an Water is the upper trigram and K’un, Earth, is the lower trigram. Thus, instead of being ground water, the water becomes river and streams flowing upon the Earth to join together in the ocean. Then, just as streams flow into rivers and rivers flow into the oceans, so, too, humans gather in various groups of like-minded people be they political, religious, or social groupings. How does grouping effect your personality and allow you to be successful in your practice?

Grouping, itself, is not necessarily a personality trait. However, psychologists look at things like introverted and extroverted. If one is extroverted, that person will have a personality that is attracted to being a part of a group, while an introvert will tend to shy away from groups, especially large ones usually do to insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. What is helpful about Hexagram #8 and grouping is the way you look at who you group yourself with. What kind of people are they? This will tell you a great deal about your personality, especially the subconscious part that lies beneath the surface. This is true of things as well. How do you categorize your ideas? According to your work? Your family? Your friends? How do you categorize the objects that you use everyday. Taking a long look at these various groupings that you have put together over the years will tell you a great deal about yourself and especially the latent part of your personality.

07/18/2021

Some may think of Hexagram #7, Shih, the Army, as being too aggressive or forceful. We can see this by some of its other translations: soldiers, legions, martial artists, military forces, militants. But actually this is quite an auspicious hexagram on which to model our behavior and personality. Why is that?

Basically, there are two very important qualities an Army must have: discipline and organization. If we think of ourselves as generals in charge of our minds, bodies and lifestyles, these two qualities are essential for us to develop in order to have any kind of success, not only in the Internal Arts but in most of life’s endeavors. They are especially necessary when we are being attacked by outside influences: media, money matters, business and family demands. Think about it. Does a day ever go by when you are not besieged with a deluge of responsibilities? To wade through this flood of pressures and stress, one needs strict discipline and organization.

This is most interesting when you think of the Image of this hexagram. It is comprised of K’an, a muddy pool of water at the bottom, and K’un, the Earth at the top. Thus it symbolizes ground water stored up in the earth, which is very much symbolic of the situation I just described: worldly pressures and demands flooding our lives everyday.

A third quality also must emerge in our Inner General: obedience. An actual general of an army requires obedience as well as discipline in order to organize the troops. But in the case of our lives we cannot “force” this obedience upon bodies and minds. This is especially true of Daoism and the Daoist Internal Arts. Instead this is done by putting our hearts into those areas that our most important to us; eg., our practice, our diets, our mindfulness, and to warm our hearts with enthusiasm for them. This is how our inner discipline is built.

Hopefully, this has given you further insight into a dynamic and fruitful ways to enhance and strengthen your personality.

07/17/2021

The next hexagram is one that we definitely do not want to acquire. Or, if we have it, we should definitely work on eliminating it or at lease reduce its effect. That would be Hexagram #6, Sung, Conflict. Some other translations are quarrelsome, argumentative, contentious. Conflict here is comprised of two negative qualities: a deep cunning and a fixed determination on reaching an outward goal.

Both of these go firmly against the Way of the Dao. Neither the Dao nor those who are aligned with it are at all cunning. instead, they are completely opposite in that they do not think or plan ways to achieve a goal but instead let their inner nature attune to whatever life brings. Secondly, they have no outward determination. Whatever determination they might harbor, you can rest assured that it is certainly not fixed, but always moving, constantly changing with the conditions.

Thus, it would lead to greater Internal Arts success if we can allow our bodies and minds to nullify these two qualities by watching for and studying their effects.

07/16/2021

Next up is Hexagram #5 Xu, Waiting, Nourishment, Attending to What is needed, waiting for the right moment, Patience. That last one, Patience, is my own personal translation. However, Richard Wilhelm in his commentary on Hexagram 5 implies the idea of patience in waiting rather than giving in to the fight or flight reaction. Here’s what Wilhelm has to say…

“Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal. Such certainty alone gives that light which leads to success. This leads to the perseverance that brings good fortune and bestows power to cross the great water. One is faced with a danger that has to be overcome. Weakness and impatience can do nothing. Only a strong man can stand up to his fate, for his inner security enables him to endure to the end. This strength shows itself in uncompromising truthfulness [with himself]. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognized. This recognition must be followed by resolute and persevering action. For only the man who goes to meet his fate resolutely is equipped to deal with it adequately. Then he will be able to cross the great water–that is to say, he will be capable of making the necessary decision and of surmounting the danger.”

He goes on to comment on the Image of Xu – clouds mounting in the skies: “When clouds rise in the sky, it is a sign that it will rain. There is nothing to do but to wait until after the rain falls. It is the same in life when destiny is at work. We should not worry and seek to shape the future by interfering in things before the time is ripe. We should quietly fortify the body with food and drink and the mind with gladness and good cheer. Fate comes when it will, and thus we are ready.”

So, all in all, Xu, Waiting with Patience for the right moment and course of action, should be another trait you can enfold within your personality.

07/15/2021

Today we look to Hexagram #4, Meng, Youthful Folly to see if we can find a personality trait that may be helpful to us. Some other terms used by translators and commentators of the I Ching for Meng are Juvenile Ignorance, Immaturity, Foolishness.

It is not at all unusual for youth to act foolishly out of confusion or immaturity. Young persons simply lack the wisdom that age and experience bring. However, once a person has gone beyond their teenage years and early twenties, foolishness and an ignorance of how life works is something one should want to shed and not develop. The psychological term, the Peter Pan complex, applies to that person who is now in their thirties and forties but have never actually grown up or matured. They keep making the same foolish mistakes over and over. Or, in some cases, they simply refuse to mature but want to retain the aura of youth as long as they can. So, unless they go into some form of entertainment like music or movies, most of their ventures are doomed to failure.

07/14/2021

Today we look at Hexagram #3, Zhun or Chun. It’s title has been translated many ways: Birth Throes, Sprouting, Difficulty at the Beginning, Begin to Grow, Constancy. So, how does this fit in with the concept of chosing character traits that can eventually lead to success in the Internal Arts as well as integrating a personal sense of self within the higher levels of your practice.

The image most often associated with Zhun is that of a tree on a mountain. It shows what can transpire from constantly applying oneself. That huge tree began as tiny seed that turned into a sprout that had to constantly push against the hard, crusty soil at the top of a mountain before finally pushing through. This is an example of the difficulties at the beginning of almost any worthwhile endeavor. While it may look easy for some, we know it really isn’t. It requires that constancy of applying one’s talents and skills until one finally reaches a breakthrough and then carrying on from there. So, while there are many difficulties at the beginning, the costancy of continuous resolve despite setbacks can not only engender ultimate success but increase your sense of self-worth and confidence.

Hopefully, you can see how valuable a character trait Zhun is accomplishing whatever it is that you set out to do.

Tomorrow we will look at Hexagram #4 Meng, Youthful Folly. What do you think that is all about?

07/13/2021

Yesterday we looked at Hexagram #1, the Creative. Today it’s Hexagram #2, Kun, The Receptive, the Earth.

Just like the Earth is receptive, welcoming sunlight and rain from Heaven, we can all afford to be a little more Receptive, and some of us perhaps a lot more receptive. When people are interacting with us, do we give them our full attention? Good listening skills are definitely a vital part of being receptive. Some other words that are synonymous include nourish, welcoming, open, yield, enfolding to name a few.

However, we should also look at one important antonym – reactive. When you hear or learn something disturbing, do you immediately react? Or can you be receptive to problems and situations that befall you, realizing they are just as much a part of life as pleasures and enjoyment? Can you put some space between the initial event and your immediate reaction? Receptivity rather than reactivity is a most valuable personality trait to acquire, especially for higher cultivation of the Internal Arts.

Good luck with your practice. Tomorrow we will look at Hexagram #3 Chun or Zhun, Sprouting.

07/12/2021

Last week I attended an online Internal Arts workshop, where we looked at many aspects of orienting a sense of self into the higher levels of our practice. One of the essential qualities necessary for success in doing this is having the right personality traits. Your personal qualities can make a massive difference between success and failure. So, just what is a proper personality for advancing wthin the Internal Arts? What traits mark that personality which can attain the higher levels of cultivation?

I thought I would let the I Ching answer that question. So, what I will do is look at each hexagram individually to see which ones seem fitting to be woven into our personalities and which ones should be stricken if we unfortunately have acquired them. Then you can contemplate each quality as we go and see how that can be integrated or removed from our sense of self. Here goes then with the first one…

Hexagram #1 Chien, The Creative, Heaven. Obviously creativity is great personality trait to possess or acquire. No, it doesn’t mean you need to paint or sculpt a masterpiece or write a best-selling novel. Creativity can be about simple, everyday things that get your creative juices flowing. You can start with your environment and the space you dwell in by getting rid of the clutter in a particular part of the spece and finding something colorful or uplifting to put there instead. It could be something you made or something you might buy in a shop that feels just right for that space. You can also develop more creativity in the kitchen with the way you prepare your food. Try blending the colors of the various vegetables and fruits that you have at a meal. Try adding different spices or the way your prepare and serve a meal. You can paint a room in a different color, hang curtains, buy a throw rug. Try changing the clothes you wear or the way you comb your hair. There are so many little touches that will revive and strengthen your creativity. Go for a walk in a park or some other natural area and open the camera on your cell phone then start snapping. The many small ways you find of being creative will eventually make creativity a mainstay of your personality.

Tomorrow we will look at Hexagram #2, Kun, the Earth, the Receptive.

07/01/2021

Attending Internal Arts Workshop – No Diary for a few days. Return 07/12.

06/30/2021

Summer Reading from the Zhuangzi, Chapter 18

“Zhuangzi’s wife died. When Huizu went to convey his condolences, he found Zhuangzi sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. “You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old,” said Huizu. “It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing – this is going too far, isn’t it?”

Zhuangzi said, “You’re wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn’t grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there’s been another change and she’s dead. It’s just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.

“Now she’s going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don’t understand anything about fate. So I stopped.”

To honor the progression of the four seasons, on this last day of June here is the Daoism view of Summer…

 

 

06/29/2021

“The student of knowledge acquires day by day.
The student of Tao loses day by day.
Less and less, until nothing is done.
Do nothing, and everything is done.
The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.”
– Translated by Ned Ludd, Chapter 48, Tao Te Ching

I think I have actually lost much more knowledge with my current teacher than I have gained. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact it is very Taoist. As Laozi reminds us in Chapter 48: “The student of knowledge gains day by day, but the student of Tao loses day by day” until one reaches wu wei, the action of no action. In other words, no premeditated action based on acquired knowledge which is hampered by emotional tinting that renders it confusing or ineffective. Yet, there is nothing left undone. This is due to the spontaneous action of one who is aligned with the Dao and the discernment and clarity it brings to one’s awareness.

What my teacher has been able to do is strip away so much of my biased acquired knowledge that has filled my head over the years especially in regards to the internal arts as well as to life in general. No easy task to say the least. Where has all faulty acquired knowledge come from? It is everywhere – on your smart phone, your laptop or tablet, your TV, the various social media outlets. It’s in lecture halls, online lectures, seminars and workshops, and in books. It exists wherever egoic minds are. Usually it is nothing more than biased opinion labelled as fact. Remember, in ancient times, it was preached that the sun and stars rotated around the stationary Earth and that very same Earth was considered flat not round. It would be quite difficult to land a man on the moon or send a spacecraft to Mars if that same ancient knowledge had not bee debunked.

Even worse today, educators in all fields are being coerced to publish and give that priority over educating their students. The world is becoming cluttered with one tome after another filled with unproven opinions. It is no different in the Internal Arts. With discernment comes clarity. This means keeping an open mind if not a dissatisfied one that refuses to accept someone’s biased opinion as fact. If you are trying to search for Truth, you won’t find it. It isn’t about acquiring the Truth; it’s about eliminating the incorrect and the false. This will lead you to the Truth. This then is the discernment that brings about clarity.

Here’s an error you can eliminate right now. It’s one that many internal artists and meditators often make…

 

06/28/2021

“Life is the companion of death, death is the beginning of life. Who understands their workings?”
– The Zhuangzi, Ch 22, “Knowledge Wandered North” – Translated by Burton Watson

Zhuangzi continues the conversation between Knowledge, who has wandered north, and Huang-Ti, the Yellow Emperor, who continues his answer to Knowledge’s questions00 about the Way (Tao)…

“Man’s life is a coming-together of breath. If it comes together, there is life; if it scatters, there is death. And if life and death are companions to each other, then what is there for us to be anxious about?

“The ten thousand things are really one. We look on some as beautiful because they are rare or unearthly; we look on others as ugly because they are foul and rotten. But the foul and rotten may turn into the rare and unearthly, and the rare and unearthly may turn into the foul and rotten. So it is said, You have only to comprehend the one breath that is the world. The sage never ceases to value oneness.”

Knowledge said to the Yellow Emperor (Huang Ti), “I asked Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing and he didn’t reply to me. It wasn’t that he merely didn’t reply to me – he didn’t know how to reply to me. I asked Wild-and-Witless and he was about to explain to me, though he didn’t explain anything. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t explain to me – but when he was about to explain, he forgot what it was. Now I have asked you and you know the answer. Why then do you say that you are nowhere near being right?”

The Yellow Emperor said, “Do-Nothing-Say-Nothing is the one who is truly right – because he doesn’t know. Wild-and-Witless appears to be so – because he forgets. But you and I in the end are nowhere near it – because we know.”

Wild-and-Witless heard of the incident and concluded that the Yellow Emperor knew what he was talking about.

 

06/27/2021

“The marks of great Character (Te or Virtue)
Follow alone from the Tao.”
– Laozi, Tao Te Ching, Ch 21, Lin Yutang translation

Why is that? Why can someone achieve great Character only by following the Tao and its manifestation as Te. Read the rest of Chapter 21 and see if you can discover why that is.

“The thing that is called Tao
Is elusive, evasive.
Evasive, elusive,
Yet latent in it are forms.
Elusive, evasive,
Yet latent in it are objects.
Dark and dim,
Yet latent in it is the life-force.
The life-force being very true,
Latent in it are evidences.

“From the days of old till now
Its Named (manifested forms) have never ceased,
By which we may view the Father of All Things.
How do I know the shape of the Father of All Things?
Through these (manifested forms)!”

Laozi is making several vastly important points about the Tao but, more importantly, about ourselves. First, great Character can only be achieved by following the Tao because the Tao is all there is. But if it is evasive and elusive as well as intangible, invisible, and inaudible, how can we follow it? Because latent in it is the life-force, and the life-force being very true or real, latent in it are the evidences we need to follow.

Now, here are the vital points about ourselves. We are the forms that are latent in it. We and all the objects around us (the 10,000 things) are latent in it. Thus, we are not who and what we think we are. We are not people, humans, walking around on the Earth as we know it or driving around in cars or watching birds fly through the air or cattle grazing on hillsides. We are appearances – the animate forms and inanimate objects that are latent in the Tao. The Tao and, more specifically, its Te, the life-force, is that invisible source in which we and all the myriad things, including Nature and all the realms of Heaven and Earth, have arisen and in which we appear to dwell. As Laozi is reminding us in the last paragraph, we are the Tao’s manifested forms. Not really flesh and blood, but, through the Tao’s manifestation as Te, the life-force, we are instead appearances (spiritual rather than physical in nature) of that same life-force and, by extension, the Tao manifested.

So, the question becomes: if we are truly spiritual and not flesh and blood, should we ignore what appears to be the physical/material side of ourselves? No, not at all. Care for it as best you can like you would a valuable artwork or exquisite antique. Not to do so would be to discredit the Te and thereby the Father of All Things, the Tao.

06/26/2021

“Thunder comes resounding out of the earth:
The image of ENTHUSIASM.”
– I Ching, Hexagram 16, Yu (Enthusiasm) – Commentary by Richard Wilhelm

above CHêN THE AROUSING, THUNDER
below K’UN THE RECEPTIVE, EARTH

The strong line in the fourth place, that of the leading official, meets with response and obedience from all the other lines, which are all weak. The attribute of the upper trigram, Chên, is movement; the attributes of K’un, the lower, are obedience and devotion. This begins a movement that meets with devotion and therefore inspires enthusiasm, carrying all with it. Of great importance, furthermore, is the law of movement along the line of least resistance, which in this hexagram is enunciated as the law for natural events and for human life.

ENTHUSIASM. It furthers one to install helpers
And to set armies marching…

(Have you ever wondered how some people have gotten to become presidents, prime ministers, governors, etc.? It’s their Enthusiasm, which is aligned with the spirit of the people.)

The Wilhelm commentary continues…

The time of ENTHUSIASM derives from the fact that there is at hand an eminent man who is in sympathy with the spirit of the people and acts in accord with it. Hence he finds universal and willing obedience. To arouse enthusiasm it is necessary for a man to adjust himself and his ordinances to the character of those whom he has to lead. The inviolability of natural laws rests on this principle of movement along the line of least resistance. Theses laws are not forces external to things but represent the harmony of movement immanent in them. That is why the celestial bodies do not deviate from their orbits and why all events in nature occur with fixed regularity. It is the same with human society: only such laws are rooted in popular sentiment can be enforced, while laws violating this sentiment merely arouse resentment. Again, it is enthusiasm that enables us to install helpers for the completion of an undertaking without fear of secret opposition. It is enthusiasm too that can unify mass movements, as in war, so that they achieve victory.

(Not only in war but in politics as well. One only has to look at the January 6th assault on the Capitol in Washington to understand how Former President Trump’s “enthusiasm” ignited the fire in his followers. Again, “Thunder comes resounding out of the earth.”)

 

06/25/2021

“Since (the Sage) doesn’t have the feelings of a man, right and wrong cannot get at him. Puny and small, he sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.” – Zhuangzi, Ch. 5 THE SIGN OF VIRTUE COMPLETE

The past two days, we looked at Laozi’s personal philosophy, both his likes (Yang) and dislikes (Yin). Today we switch back to Zhuangzi and his concepts regarding feelings in relation to likes and dislikes.

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, “Can a man really be without feelings?”

Chuang Tzu: “Yes.”

Hui Tzu: “But a man who has no feelings-how can you call him a man?”

Chuang Tzu: “The Way gave him a face; Heaven gave him a form – why can’t you call him a man?”

Hui Tzu: “But if you’ve already called him a man, how can he be without feelings?”

Chuang Tzu: “That’s not what I mean by feelings. When I talk about having no feelings, I mean that a man doesn’t allow likes or dislikes to get in and do him harm. He just lets things be the way they are and doesn’t try to help life along.”

Hui Tzu: “If he doesn’t try to help life along, then how can he keep himself alive?”

Chuang Tzu: “The Way gave him a face; Heaven gave him a form. He doesn’t let likes or dislikes get in and do him harm. You, now – you treat your spirit like an outsider. You wear out your energy, leaning on a tree and moaning or slumping at your desk and dozing – Heaven picked out a body for you and you use it to gibber about `hard’ and `white’!”

Zhuangzi is telling Hui Tzu and us as well that life does not need to be helped along. It is what it is. Just accept what comes. If you have no feelings toward the external world, then likes and dislikes cannot get to you and make you angry, sad, or frustrated by a situation that has come up. Don’t waste the good energy Heaven has given you by ‘gibbering about’ in the external world of the ‘hard’ and ‘white'” Enjoy the world with its vast beauty, abundance and fascinating creatures. But don’t get caught up in it. In other words, be in the world but not of it.

 

06/24/2021

“He who stands on tiptoe does not stand (firm);
He who strains his strides does not walk (well)”
Ch. 24, Tao Te Ching, Laozi

Yesterday, in Chapter 8, we looked at the Yang (positive) side of Laozi’s personal philosophy, based on the qualities he loved. Today, in the remainder of Chapter 24, we will look at the darker (Yin) side of his personal philosophy – the qualities he greatly dislikes.

“He who reveals himself is not luminous;
He who justifies himself is not far-famed;
He who boasts of himself is not given credit;
He who prides himself is not chief among men.
These in the eyes of Tao
Are called “the dregs and tumors of Virtue,”
Which are things of disgust.
Therefore the man of Tao spurns them.”

For those of us who may be trying to follow the Way or the Path of the Tao, Laozi gives us a clear picture of the qualities we need to develop in Chapter 8 and the ones we need to dispel in Chapter 24 above. Good luck on your cultivation, and keep practicing, keep meditating.

 

06/23/2021

“The best of men is like water;
Water benefits all things
And does not compete with them.
It dwells in (the lowly) places that all disdain –
Wherein it comes near to the Tao.”
– Ch. 8, Laozi, Tao Te Ching, Translated by Lin Yutang

This is perhaps the easiest chapter in the Tao Te Ching to decipher. There can be no doubt as to Laozi’s comparison of the best of men (the Sage) to water. By so doing, he perfectly describes his own personal philosophy. One side note as to his use of the term “the lowly” is the translator’s (Lin Yutang’s) term, not Laozi’s. Other translators use words like disdain, shun, loathed. It doesn’t mean that the Sage lives in a low river valley. In fact many of the ancient Sages dwelled in the mountains of China. However, the places that they picked for shelter were caves and dugouts that most persons would definitely disdain. The point is they did not select a place based on comfort or exterior style and richness. Their shelters were more or less an extension of their own natures. Being closed to the earth meant they were close to the Tao.

So, let’s go on and look at the rest of Laozi’s personal philosophy as exemplified in Chapter 8.

“In his dwelling, (the Sage) loves the (lowly) earth;
In his heart, he loves what is profound;
In his relations with others, he loves kindness;
In his words, he loves sincerity;
In government, he loves peace;
In business affairs, he loves ability;
In hi actions, he loves choosing the right time.
It is because he does not contend
That he is without reproach.”

From that, it’s easy to see that Laozi believes people should try to emulate the Sage. Not only are these Laozi’s personal beliefs and philosophy, he expressed them in the hopes that all those who follow his teachings would do well to emulate the Sage or Laozi himself.

06/22/2021

“These postures should each be trained one at a time until mastered before moving on to the next posture. Never be impatient for more. It does not matter which of the thirty-seven postures precedes or follows, only that they link together naturally, so that the postures all transform from one into another continuously. That is why it is called “Long Boxing.” – TEACHINGS OF SONG SHUMING – Translated by Paul Brennan

While teaching the Yang 37 short form, my teacher from time to time slips in a posture from the Tang Dynasty 37. The Tang Dynasty preceded the Song Dynasty, when Zhang Sanfeng was said to have developed the art of Tai Chi while watching a fight between a Crane and a Snake. However, the Tang Dynasty 37 already existed at that time. In fact, according to documents in the archives of the Yang and Wu families, it was Xu Xuanping, a Tang Dynasty poet and founder of the “37,” who taught his art to Zhang Sanfeng. Xu Xuanping’s “37” was also known as Chang Quan or Long Boxing as a reference to the flowing power of the Yangtze River (which is also known as the Chang Jiang or Long River). He had a disciple called Song Yuanqiao who passed the Song Family T’ai chi ch’uan system down through the generations to Song Shuming.

So, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Song Shuming’s Song family version of the history of taijiquan. Here is the link to the Paul Brennan translation. Good Reading. Enjoy.

The Teachings of Song Shuming

06/21/2021

“If virtue is preeminent, the body will be forgotten. But when men do not forget what can be forgotten, but forget what cannot be forgotten – that may be called true forgetting.” – Zhuangzi, Ch. 5, THE SIGN OF VIRTUE COMPLETE

I’m always forgetting things. A sign of Alzheimer’s? Maybe. At least, that’s what doctors and Big Pharma would like us to believe. But it may not be a disease at all. It could just be that I simply forget what can be forgotten. You know, all the mundane things that we think about all day or give a few moments attention to before we move on to thinking about some other mundane thing. For me, it’s usually about food. What should I make for lunch? What about dinner? What do I need to get from the markets? Should I go to Trader Joe’s or Ralph’s? What about Sprouts or Bristol Farms? But maybe instead of the Food of Man, I should be thinking about the Food of Heaven. Then perhaps I won’t forget.

Zhuangzi tells us that the Sage instead sets his spirit free. “For him, knowledge is an offshoot, promises are glue, favors are a patching up, and skill is a peddler. The sage hatches no schemes, so what use has he for knowledge? He does no carving, so what use has he for glue? He suffers no loss, so what use has he for favors? He hawks no goods, so what use has he for peddling? These four are called Heavenly Gruel. Heavenly Gruel is the food of Heaven, and if he’s already gotten food from Heaven, what use does he have for men? He has the form of a man but not the feelings of a man. Since he has the form of a man, he bands together with other men. Since he doesn’t have the feelings of a man, right and wrong cannot get at him. Puny and small, he sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.”

Zhuangzi is reminding us that, because the Sage doesn’t have human passions, the feelings of man – the questions of right and wrong – do not touch him. Small and puny, in other words infinitesimal are the things that men think about and attach themselves to. On the other hand, infinitely great is that of Heaven.

So, we have a choice. Stick with man, simply because one has a human body, or join with Heaven and the Way of the Tao.

 

06/20/2021 (FATHER’S DAY)

“Thanks to my parents, I can come to this world, to know myself in this body. My parents went through all the hardships in bringing me up, but they never complained. Now I start to grow old, start to convert back to “nothingness”. I am grateful for this body, this life.” – Grandmaster Wang Liping, 18th Lineage holder, Longmen Pai branch of Quanzhen Northern Daoism

Yes, that’s right, another Longmen Pai (Dragon Gate) lineage holder. No doubt there are more Dragon Gate branches of Quanzhen Daoism than there are official Yi Jin Jing exercise sets. In any case, I thought Grandmaster Wang’s quote would be appropriate on this Father’s Day. It comes from his introduction to a Taoist exercise called “Listen and Memorize Parents.”

Grandmaster Wang continues in his introduction: “When I practice the Taoist exercise ‘Listen and Memorize Parents’, I discovered their miseries and suffering, and also realized just how deep their love is.”

Wang wishes he had supernatural power so he could become a child and live with his parents once more. Then he says, “If I have magical power, I would turn back to pre-birth, and go to my parents’ wedding as wind. How wonderful it would be to see my parents joining hands to start a happy family, and pass life down generation by generation. All I want to say to them is “Thank you, and I love you.”

According to Wang, here is how the “Listen and Memorize Parents” exercise is performed:

“Everyone should use one day a month to do this exercise. Also in the three days before Chinese new year, pick one day to do this exercise. This is the best way to truly benefit our parents. Even if our parents already passed away, this exercise can still benefit them.

“During sitting exercise, when your celestial eyes opened, think about your parents’ images with your eyes closed(Only do one at a time, pick father or mother). Think carefully and in as much detail as possible. Then slowly merge the space where your parents are with the space where you are. Pull this image into your body with the celestial eye, and slowly pass it down to your lower Dantian. Then breath slowly using lower Dantian, and your energy in the lower Dantian will nurture your parents. When you do this right, your parents’ images will become bright and clear in front of you, and you will also truly able to feel how they feel.”

And to all you fathers out there, Have a Happy Father’s Day and keep practicing.

 

06/19/2021

“Through hardness and selfishness the heart grows rigid, and this rigidity leads to separation from all others. Egotism and cupidity isolate men. Therefore the hearts of men must be seized by a devout emotion. They must be shaken by a religious awe in the face of eternity” – Commentary by Richard Wilhelm on Hexagram 59, Huan, Dispersion/Dissolution

We looked at attachment yesterday. Attachment is the early stage. In the later stages attachment leads to alienation and isolation. Though we may go freely from place to place, internally we cannot get away from ourselves. In this case as Wilhelm points out, it is the result of egotism and cupidity, which is the excessive desire for wealth or power, that deep pocket of greed and avarice that alienates us from others. So, I wholeheartedly agree with the first part of Wilhelm’s statement but not the second. The hearts of men must be seized not by a devout emotion, but by a fervent devotion, and not one shaken by a religious awe in the face of eternity. That trapped individual who cannot let go of his/her greed and avarice is already filled with a sense of religious awe for whatever it is that they crave so deeply.

Letting go of that religious awe for power or wealth will be impossible. If they let go of one form of power, another one will pop up in its place and take hold of their ego. They need instead to turn that religious awe on its head with nothing short of a devotion to and for a cause, one that will benefit humanity in general. They must turn away from always honoring their selfish cravings to generating a deep concern for a selfless cause. The greater their concern for that cause the more their alienation and isolation weakens and eventually falls away. As always, until next time, good luck with your practice.

06/18/2021

“Therefore the Sage:
Manages affairs without action;
Preaches the doctrine without words;
All things take their rise, but he does not turn away from them;
He gives them life, but does not take possession of them;
He acts, but does not appropriate;
Accomplishes, but claims no credit.
It is because he lays claim to no credit
That the credit cannot be taken away from him.” – Laozi, Ch. 2

What Laozi is teaching Chapter 2 is the Daoist concept of Non-Attachment. The Sage gives life to all in the form of his/her teachings or examples, just as Laozi has given us the spirit to live a righteous and purposeful life in accordance with the doctrine of the Tao. Yet he did not take possession of that doctrine or claim it as his own. He simply said, here it is and road off on his ox into the West never to be heard from again. Nevertheless because he did not lay claim to the Tao Te Ching, credit cannot be taken away from him although many scholars have tried. So, it’s not just what they preach, but it is what Sages like Laozi and Zhuangzi do and how they have lived their lives that puts makes their “doctrine without words” come alive for us.

Then in Chapter 9 Laozi looks at this concept from the other side, namely Attachment:
“When gold and jade fill your hall,
You will not be able to keep them safe.
To be proud with wealth and honor
Is to sow seeds of one’s own downfall.
Retire when your work is done,
Such is Heaven’s way.”

Here a person is so attached to gold and jade that they must live nearly every waking hour worrying over how to protect it from would-be thieves. Another person takes so much pride in their wealth and honor that their attachment will lead to their downfall. Others are so attached to their work in a prideful way that they spend every moment they can putting up photos of their latest achievement on Instagram and Facebook.

We, too, in our internal arts training get so attached to our successes that we want everyone to know about it. That motivation becomes a goal in itself, and we lose sight of the simple act of dispassionate, quiet progress, a progress stripped of all the bells ‘n whistles. On the other hand, sometimes we get completely attached to our failures or seeming inability (one of the serious problems that I had) that we come to believe it is permanent and impossible to overcome.

So, what’s the antidote. Simply letting go. Let go of your attachments to the positives as well as the negatives.

06/17/2021

“If there is not inner repose, then the mind will be galloping about though you are sitting still. Let your ears and eyes communicate within but shut out all knowledge from the mind. Then the spirits will come to dwell therein, not to mention man. This is the method for the transformation (influencing) of all Creation.” – Zhuangzi, Ch. 4, This Human World

Another quote from the Zhuangzi, Ch. 4, This Human World, this one is very similar to the quote used yesterday from Laozi, Chapter 52, “Block the passages, shut the doors…” Both of these much respected and often quoted ancient masters are giving us the same advice. Calm yourself and sit quietly in repose. It’s okay to have thoughts in your mind as long as they are focused on what is going on inside, not outside in this present moment, not in the future or the past. And there should be a lot going on within in this present moment.

We should bring our mind to the lower abdomen and focus on our dispersed dantian, trying to consolidate the yin qi of which it was comprised. Once the mind is positioned in the field of the dantian, next we must focus on guiding the breath to where our mind is. Once mind and breath are in position, then the work of consolidating the yin qi can begin. There’s no place for external thoughts or interruptions or worldly interjections in this kind of work. It’s purely internal. So, get to work and Good luck with it.

 

 

06/16/2021

“Concentrate your will! Hear not with your ears, but with your mind, not with your mind, but with your spirit. Let your listening stop with the ears, and let your mind stop with its images. Let your spirit, however, be empty- passively responsive to externals. In such open receptivity only can Tao abide. And that open receptivity – that emptiness – is the fasting of the heart.” – The Fasting of the Heart, from Zhuangzi, Ch. 4, This Human World

When you were a child every experience was new. This newness made Life so full, so vibrant and zestful. New pleasures, new food, new tastes, new toys, new games, new places to go and things to do. But as you grew into adulthood and experienced more and more, Life began to lose some of its luster. By the time you are forty, new experiences and pleasures are few and far in between. Our heart-mind – the emotional mind – has learned that pleasure isn’t so easy to come by anymore. It really has to work at it and becomes more willing to make an effort to obtain it. Thus, one becomes addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex or greed. When you finally open up to the fact that your addiction is the only thing that can stimulate your senses, and even that is starting to decline.

Life at this point has not only become dull but quite problematic. Your brain is overwhelmed from all the judging, analyzing, criticizing and fantasizing that it has been forced to do, trying desperately to find new experiences so one can enjoy Life once again. When the body has become overwhelmed from eating too many high-caloric, super-rich foods, there’s only one thing to do. Detox! Detoxifying the body usually entails some form of fasting to bring the body back to ground zero, where it can once again find pleasure in normal everyday foods.

It is no different for the heart-mind. It needs to come back to ground zero as well, which means it needs to reset. And it can only do that by detoxifying. This is where “Fasting of the Heart” comes in. As Laozi advises in Chapter 52 of the Tao Te Ching:
“Block the passages, shut the doors,
And till the end your strength shall not fail.
Open up the passages, increase your doings,
And till your last day no help shall come to you.”

This does not have to be a long-term commitment. Abstaining for even a short period can weaken the grip our addictions have on our emotions, which are the motivations that drive us. Detoxing our mind from these external influences and the whirlwind of pressures we put on ourselves trying to revitalize our lives with TV, movies, video games, sweets, sodas, binge eating, alcohol, drugs, etc., can be mind expanding as well as restorative. Just like our bodies, it is vital to let our minds rest. As Laozi points out, silencing our senses and mental faculties for a period will not only replenishes our energy, but brings us closer to being aligned with the Tao.

 

 

06/15/2021

“The Sun rises over the Earth:
The image of PROGRESS.
Thus the superior man himself
Brightens his bright future.”
– I Ching, Image of Hexagram 35, Chin/Progress

Here’s an exercise for cultivators and non-cultivators alike to help you make progress in your mental training and brighten your future as Hexagram 35 suggests. I like the fact that this exercise develops several much-needed mental qualities. First, it develops discernment and clarity. Secondly, it also develops and strengthens your awareness. Thirdly, it helps you make adjustments and add variety to your lifestyle. And finally, it just may strengthen your mind against Alzheimer’s as you age.

This is what you do. Simply recall any 15-minute segment of your day. You can start out with this morning and recall the things you did once you got out of bed. Maybe you stretched a little or a lot. Maybe you went to the bathroom and brushed your teeth and took a shower. Or maybe you skipped the shower and combed your hair or shaved. You may instead want to recall what you made for breakfast over a 15-minute time span. Or maybe you delayed breakfast and exercised instead. Whatever it was, just sit comfortably and recall as much as possible.

That’s it. Easy, no? No! Here’s the catch. You do not simply recall what you did but recollect it in real time along with all the “physical” sensations – temperature, smells, tastes, tightness or openness in the joints or muscles. You are recalling in realtime a somatic experience linked to the physical “body” mind. You are not recalling an intellectual or emotional experience linked to our everyday heart/mind which has the emotional subconscious mind attached. So, you don’t think about or attach emotional feelings – likes and dislikes, satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

So, you do this every day for a week. Pick the same segment every day. You will notice by the end of the week how much more aware you are during that segment because your body knows it will need to recall the total somatic experience. You will not do everything the same exact way each day. Fine, that’s to be expected. Now the following week go back to the previous week and pick out the next to last day. So, let’s say today is Monday. So, the last day of the previous week was yesterday, Sunday. Then Saturday was the next to last day. You are now recalling the segment of a day that was two days ago. Keep doing this, picking the day before yesterday, and try to recall everything in that 15-minute segment. Do this for about a week. Then go out a week. What did you do that first morning a week ago? Recall as much as you can in real time.

Do you see how this challenges your physical awareness as well as your memory and how much better your memory functions with those interfering emotions stripped away. This is a major step in developing the discernment and clarity of an ordered mind. Also, seeing how your body automatically adjustments to what it does on each successive day will help you break routines and maybe even some old habits that you can do without. More about this in another lesson. So, give it a try, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Remember, have fun!

 

06/14/2021

“Deal with the difficult while yet it is easy;
Deal with the big while yet it is small.” Laozi, Ch. 63

Again I am using a Laozi quote from the Tao Te Ching to conclude my thoughts on stress. Always try to deal with stressful problems before they become stressful. This means you must add discernment and clarity to your awareness so you can recognize that a situation is about to become problematic. Usually, you can tell when someone is about to dump a load on you by the way they carry themselves as they approach you. This is the time to excuse yourself, “I’m sorry, Bob or Susan, but I can’t talk right now. Got to run. I need to…(Fill in the blank). In the case of a spouse, you can usually discern a problem by the look in their eyes as he/she approaches with a… “Honey, I can use your help for a second.”

If you analyze that request, what he/she is really saying is: “Honey, I would like you to deal with this problem I have, so I can relax for a while and then do something easier.” But it’s not only the problems that others put on you; it’s the problems you put on yourself. The solution, however, is the same. Use your discernment and clarity to see that you are about to make a problem for yourself or find an easy solution before this minor problem grows into something larger.

Tomorrow, I will take a look at a method for developing your discernment  and clarity.

06/13/2021

“Life arises from Death and vice versa,
Possibility arises from Impossibility and vice versa.”
– Zhuangzi, Ch. 2, Leveling All Things

Receiving force as we do in the tui shou (push hands) aspect of tai chi has been misinterpreted over the years by both teachers and students alike. In some forms of tai chi, it has been taught that the “receiving” of force is sent down through the body to the feet. Then the pressure on the feet releases and the force that was received now moves upward through the connective tissue and issues back through the contact points into your partner. While this is true for practicing with willing partners or actually pushing with inexperienced beginners and unskillful partners.

But when pushing with an advanced practitioner, “receiving” becomes “spreading.” We need to spread that incoming force in two directions. First, we spread it throughout our body not just down to the feet. Secondly, we spread it through the contact point and into our opponent’s body, locking it in the opponent’s lower abdomen (dan tian area) and into the hips, locking the opponent, who will be unable to move away. As always, keep practicing and above all have fun, enjoy!

06/12/2921

“Stretch a bow to its fullest,
and you will wish you had stopped in time.
Temper a sword to its very sharpest,
and the edge will not last long.”
– Laozi, Ch. 9

One of the worse things we as internal arts practitioners can do is to take on too much stress. Avoiding stress altogether is impossible. There’s plenty of it all around, much more than enough for every man, woman and child. There’s stress from our environment: tornadoes, hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, floods and the like. There’s stress from mechanical breakdowns: vehicles, washers and dryers, air conditioners, and a host more. Then there’s stress from the people around us: significant others, bosses, fellow employees, neighbors, relatives, even friends. Like any good tui shou (push hands) proponent knows, these are the ones you need too neutralize. You need to limit how much and how deeply you let them get into you. This is where setting limits comes in, which leads to the most important stressor of all.

That stressor is exactly what Laozi’s quote is referring to. This is the stress we put on ourselves by not setting limits on the people around us, especially the ones we interact with the most, and allowing them to stretch our bow to its fullest. Don’t wait until it reaches that point. Actually, you are not neutralizing them but instead you are neutralizing the pressure or stress they are putting on you. So realize “it’s no big deal.” That’s true, it isn’t. Most people are usually in the fight or flight mode and tend to blow situations up way out of proportions. So, they take the stress they have put on themselves and are trying to force it on you. Don’t fall for it. Use the discernment and clarity that you have gained from mindful awareness and meditation and kindly show them how illogical their reasoning is. But always be cordial and non-combative as you decline to take on their stress. If they are still being unreasonable, then have an escape route planned and use a viable escape line to make your exit.

Most importantly, you can use the above methods on the greatest stressor of them all – yourself – your egoic mind whenever you find it trapped in that same flight or fight mode, demand that you keep going. Take a few deep breaths and relax into the parasympathetic nervous system. Then see the illogic in your need to keep going trying to do too much. Remember, “there’s always tomorrow”…unless you kill yourself today with the stressful demands you are putting on your body. Enjoy life and have fun. What the world most definitely doesn’t need is one more workaholic.

06/11/2021

“Attain the utmost in Passivity,
Hold firm to the basis of Quietude.” – Laozi, Ch. 16

It is extremely hard to attain passivity or hold firm to quietude when workmen are banging away right above your head. But that’s what I was faced with this week, and today I am grateful. I guess you could call me a jumpy person. I am usually startled by loud sounds. All week workman have been putting in a new roof on our building, and my condo unit is on the third floor, the top one, with the roof just overhead. So, all week I have been dealing with this extremely loud and abrupt banging, grinding, chiseling. The suddenness of the noise had me flinching and jumping as I tried to work on Daoist mental training and meditation. Needless to say, I was extremely agitated and angered by the constant disturbances.

However, by today, I was getting used to the noisy interruptions, and at one point my angered subsided and I gave thanks for those interruptions. Without them, I would not have learned to control my nerves and realize the deep meaning of Laozi’s words: “Hold firm to the basis of Quietude.”

Here’s hoping that all of you can go through life holding firm to the basis of Quietude. Have a great weekend, and keep up your practice.

 

06/10/2021

“Conduct free from the ambition of being distinguished above others is what is called being Generous” – Zhungzi, Chapter 12

Here Zhuangzi is pointing out that the superior person remains free of arrogance and self-pride, no matter how great his/her accomplishments. Instead, the superior person is quite generous in praising others for their roles and support in those accomplishments. Of course, I’m sure many of us know practitioners and even so-called masters steeped in the pride and glory of accumulating honors and trophies, that project just the opposite. But instead of being truly distinguished they have fallen away from the Tao and by doing so have actually dishonored themselves.

So, as we continue our practice in the internal arts, let us recall Zhuangzi’s words and not assume a false sense of pride in our accomplishments or criticize others for theirs.  Remember, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

 

06/09/2021

“Mountains standing close together,
The Image of Keeping Still.
Thus the superior man (the Sage/Master)
Does not permit his thoughts
To go beyond his situation.”
– I Ching, Hexagram 52, Ken, Mountain, Keeping Still

Yesterday, we looked at the first part of the quote from the Image of Hexagram 52, Mountains standing close together, the Image of Keeping Still, which is also the Image of Wuji, standing still like a mountain. I mentioned how important standing in Wuji is for internal arts practitioners. Wuji conditions the body via the Huang or connective tissues. Thus the body becomes dynamic, elongated and uses qi rather than muscle force, so that the qi moves through the stretched connective tissue as jin.

Today, I want to mention the second part of the above quote: “Thus the superior man (the Sage/Master)does not permit his thoughts to go beyond his situation.” The keyword here is ‘situation.’ Richard Wilhelm in his commentary states: “The heart thinks constantly. This cannot be changed, but the movements of the heart-that is, a man’s thoughts-should restrict themselves to the immediate situation. All thinking that goes beyond this only makes the heart sore.”

Wilhelm is referring to the Daoist practice of Mental Training. It is not meditation where a practitioner will try to slow the mind and even eliminate thoughts, but it could lead to deeper meditation and certainly keener awareness. Here’s how it works. Sit straight up on the floor or in a chair but do not use the back rest. Instead, move to the front of the chair and straighten. Close your eyes and listen internally to your body and externally to the world outside for anything that is “immediate.” Now, unlike meditation, you are going to think rather than trying to stop thinking. So, you hear a car passing and think “What direction is it going, to my right or to my left?” “Does it sound large, like a van or SUV?” Then, “I’d like to get a newer car. Mine’s getting old…STOP! Not immediate! Discard and go back to listening. You feel a twitch in your spine and think “My body’s making an adjustment. I need to sit up straighter. There’s a twitch in my shoulder near the collarbone. Relax, let go.” Then another car passes and you think “Car passing…to the left…sounds like it’s moving pretty fast.” Then your stomach gurgles. “Ah, there goes my stomach. I’m getting hungry. Wonder what I should make for lunch. Or maybe I should go out for lunch…STOP! Not Immediate! Discard and go back to listening. “I hear a bird chirping. Do I know what kind of bird makes that sound? It’s not raspy like a crow. Maybe it’s a robin or blue jay. I used to date a girl named Robin, she was…STOP! Not Immediate! Discard and go back to listening.

That’s it, the Daoist Mental Training method to build awareness. It doesn’t have to be very long, ten or fifteen minutes. You can even do it while driving or standing in a checkout line. So, add it to your practice and see if it improves your overall awareness.

06/08/2021

“Mountains standing close together,
The Image of Keeping Still.
Thus the superior man (the Sage/Master)
Does not permit his thoughts
To go beyond his situation.”
– I Ching, Hexagram 52, Ken, Mountain, Keeping Still

Today, I want to touch on the first part of the I Ching quotation – standing and keeping still – as it relates to the Daoist internal arts. We can take a look at that second part which focuses on the superior man and his thoughts tomorrow.

Most tai chi, baguazhang and qigong practitioners have heard of “Zhan Zhuang,” standing like a tree. It’s a form of qigong where one encircles the arms outward as though hugging a tree and remains standing as still as possible. But the practice I want to look at is standing in Wuji, the primal posture. In my particular Nei Gong and internal arts practice, we don’t stand in Zhan Zhuang but rather in Wuji. Why?

Both postures require stillness over a certain period of time, and both condition the body if practiced diligently. However, Zhan Zhuang conditions the body via the muscles. But Wuji conditions the body via the Huang or connective tissues.
So, in turn, we get two different shaped bodies. The Zhan Zhuang body is muscular and able to generate power by contracting the muscles. The Wuji body is dynamic, elongated and uses qi rather than muscle force, so that the qi moves through the stretched connective tissue as jin, is issued outward through various parts of the body.

Standing in Wuji, a practitioner’s body is only still externally. Internally, there is a lot of very subtle movement occurring as the body makes its own internal adjustments to eventually condition itself into the most efficient shape for conducting qi. The practitioner actually releases or separates the large action muscle groups from the bones. We call this “hanging the muscles from the bones.” We do this to get the muscles out of the way. When contracted, as in Zhan Zhuang, the muscles actually compress the Huang, preventing it from opening up and stretching. Ideally, with the large action muscles out of the way, the body’s mass will drop through the connective tissues, stretching and opening them as it descends to the feet. Then a very unique thing happens in the feet.

When the body’s mass drops into the forward section of the feet, the metatarsal bones around the Yong Quan (the Kidney 1 point in acupuncture) spread out from the pressure, opening the whole area around the Yong Quan. This allows the Yin Qi from the Earth’s Qi Field to enter the feet and move up through the Huang in the legs and into the lower Dan Tian area where it joins with the dispersed Yin Qi from childhood and adolescence to rebuild the Dan Tian. Once this happens, a practitioner is in position to begin filling the Dan Tian with Yang Qi, the first step in becoming proficient in Daoist internal arts.

Hopefully, you can now see why it is so important to stand in Wuji often in your weekly practice sessions.  Good luck with your training.

06/07/2021

“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” – Zhuangzi

Yesterday I met my partner at a park where our former group & master meets. One of the groups most accomplished tai chi exponents came back. Now an out-of-towner, he hadn’t come for over a year due to the pandemic. With no tai chi people around, he spent over a year at his park working with external martial artists (systema, jiujitsu, etc) and got trounced at first. Once he got hit so hard that his childhood and early life flashed before him. Not about to back down, he kept going to the park and continued sparring. Determined to make his tai chi work against his opponents, he contemplated it a lot in his spare time and was finally able to hold his own against these external martial artists.

As we worked together yesterday, he kept “swallowing” me like the last gulp of Key lime pie. During the past year, he realized the problem most tai chi masters have sparring with external fighters is that they are double-weighted and don’t know it. They don’t move their center, their zhong ding. It gets caught, and they get “swallowed.” They’re too used to moving slowly. But the external exponents move quickly, and we need to move our center as quickly as they move or our tai chi skills are useless. And, above all, you can’t tense up or you will be double-weighted. In other words, we must get into the same flow as our opponent, keeping the Zhong Ding flowing with each move he makes. But as he pointed out, before you can flow, you must “Fang Song.” The same with throwing a punch. Your fist can’t be tightly closed or your muscles will tense. Basically, he used the laogong to stretch his palm but left his fingers lose enough to wiggle so he could close his hand into a relaxed fist.

Before leaving, he said the same exact thing that my teacher said in one of his instructional videos. You can’t have any anger or maliciousness toward your opponent even when you are losing. He did have anger, but it was toward himself because he couldn’t figure out how to solve the problem. But when he eventually did, he became calm and “Song,” no matter how intense the sparring, whether he was winning or losing.

Hope this helps with your training and advancement. Good luck with your practice.

 

 

06/06/2021

We have fears because we have a self (body and mind).
When we do not regard that self as self, what have we to fear?” – Laozi, Chapter 13

Continuing our thoughts from yesterday, we go deeper into finding those fears and insecurities that have driven us to take up martial arts in the first place, whether internal or external. So, ask yourself: Is your training tackling those fears and insecurities. If the answer is no, then your training is not working. First, you must identify those insecurities. What are they? Like Laozi suggests, the fears center around your body. Feeling that is your real self, you are fearful of injury, pain or even death. Are there insecurities surrounding your abilities to protect your body, to avoid pain or any kind of suffering? Can you find them? No? Then look deeper because everyone has them. There are no exceptions, not for kings, presidents, movie and recording stars, sports heroes, multi-billionaires. They are the root for what you do and especially for those things you have done that make you feel ashamed or guilty.

If your training is improving your confidence at facing these insecurities, then it’s working. If you see these fears disappearing, then it’s working. If, when you face a confrontational or stressful situation, no matter what it is – a lost job, an unfaithful lover or spouse, a failing business, or a heated argument, can you remain calm and settled? Then your training is working. If those kinds of situations are becoming less and less stressful and you feel more and more confident with them, then your training is working.

Do you manage to remain true to yourself when faced with temptation or difficulty? No? Then your training isn’t working and neither is your introspection. You must go deeper in both. Go deeper into your xin (the heart/mind) into your emotions and find what is not letting you remain true to yourself when faced with difficulty. And go deeper into your practice to become as efficient as you possibly can. Then you must realize that all techniques will lose their efficiency when fueled by anger or other emotions. Can you spar with someone and have no maliciousness, spite or anger aimed at that person, especially if your are losing? Then both your training and personal cultivation are going very well. And I wish you continued success

06/05/2021

“What does this mean: What we value and what we fear are within our Self?”
We have fears because we have a self (body and mind).
When we do not regard that self as self, what have we to fear?” – Laozi, Chapter 13

What are you afraid of? You know the answer. It is right there, lurking under layers of suppression. But no matter how hard you have tried, it is still there. It won’t go away – not if you keep letting it dictate your life. In all of your big decisions and even many small ones, it is there. You might not recognize it, but your mind can sense it.

The reason I ask is the fact that many of us, no actually, most of us who have become involved in some form of martial arts have done so out of this fear that is driving us. In my case, I’m an abject coward and came to martial arts hoping to change that. I wasn’t always a coward. When I was young, I got into a few fights basically to prove to myself that I wasn’t a coward and could handle myself. But after a few major defeats and getting hit hard, it was time to own up to the fact that I just couldn’t handle myself or just about anyone else my size or larger. And so I entered into martial arts, thinking I could make myself into something I really wasn’t – a fighter.

So, that’s my greatest fear, and I will ask again: What’s yours? And can martial arts, and especially the internal arts help in any way, shape or form? I will have more on this tomorrow when we will go deeper.

06/04/2021

“If there is still something where one has to go,
Hastening brings good fortune.” from Hexagram 40, I Ching, Hsieh/Deliverance

This quote from the I Ching is about something that we all need to do – tie up the loose ends. When we make a decision to take action, and it turns out to be in harmony with our fate, we should not press on any further. According to Hexagram 40, returning to but our “regular order of life as soon as the task is achieved bring good fortune. However Deliverance also points out that, if there are any residual matter that ought to be attended to, it should be done as quickly as possible. In that way a clean sweep is made and no relapses occur.

So, if there are no loose end, then there is no need to press on. Simply return to your normal order of life, which should be as Daoist sages would recommend, peaceful introspection. But if there are some loose ends, don’t let them dangle; they will only grow larger and more difficult to handle. Take care of them as quickly as possible, so they cannot come back to hurt you. Then return to your “regular order of life.” Good advice from the I Ching.

06/03/2021

“To stop leaving tracks is easy. Not to walk upon the ground is hard.” – Zhuangzi

When I contracted prostate cancer some 26 years ago, I shed about 25 pounds with various diets. Ten years later when I had recovered from the cancer, I was well into my tai chi practice. But I found it was impossible for me to put on the lost weight. Refusing to do anything drastic, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be forever thin and frail. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided it might be best to return to resistance training to build up my strength, which I would definitely need should I become infected with the virus. With my gym closed due to the pandemic, I did the best I could at home with some dumbbells, hand weights, a weight vest, and one-gallon water bottles. While I didn’t put on any weight, I did feel stronger and perhaps a bit more muscular.

Then I decide to return to internal arts training, joining an online academy with an absolutely incredible teacher. Needless to say, I gave up the weight training to focus on tai chi, nei gong, baguazhang and meditation six days a week anywhere from 2 to 4 hours daily. It’s usually not a good idea when you are first building your dantian and working with your qi. My teacher advised against it until the jin was more available and the connective tissues were mostly open. However, a few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis (severe bone loss). My doctor and many experts recommended resistance training to build the bones. So, now I was faced with a decision: qi or bones. But I decided I would do qi and bones.

Here’s what I did. Our teacher is a proponent of classic tai chi and nei gong where one hangs the muscles from the bones and drops the flesh while holding the bones up. If one follows the “bones up and flesh down” method, sinking the weight mass through the connective tissue and down to the floor, it is very much like resistance training. So, I do this with slow moving Ba Men exercises and in the form, pausing at key postures to really sink the flesh, and the resistance becomes intensive.

As for actual resistance training, I keep that separate from my internal arts practice. I takes breaks during the day where I put on my 20-pound weight vest, a pair of hand weights and some fast shuffle music to combine aerobics with resistance. I will do this while cooking in the kitchen or cleaning up, and especially when jumping and shuffling on my mini trampoline.
Either before or after my internal arts practice, I work with dumbbells, hand weights, water bottles and resistance bands keeping tai chi and the yi jing jin principles in mind. How?

First I stand in Wuji opening my kua and my joints, aware of hanging my muscles from the bones like well-cooked meat hanging on a spit and sinking my flesh through the connective tissue. Next I listen to my limbs making sure there is no weight in the joints. I lift my head as though held by a meat hook and alternate raising the head and dragging the kua and pelvis; then lowering the pelvis and dragging the head and shoulder. After a few of these, and my weight mass has sunk through my connective tissue and landed on my feet, I let my mind soak through my body like a sponge. Then I feel the resistance of the weight before slowly lifting or pulling as you move from the kua, keeping my shoulders in line and head straight. Making sure my mind and body are completely connected, I slowly initiate the movement.

06/02/2021

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” – Laozi

In the above quote, Laozi is talking about “release.” Release or letting go is such an important concept in everyday life as well as our internal arts practice. In taiji, for example, when you work on the form, you send your body mass downward through all the connective tissue stretching them as your mass drops. Then when your mass presses into your foot, you simply release the pressure in the foot and then send the energy of the weight mass upward through the stretched tissue. When working with a partner, you do the same thing. The only difference here is that instead of releasing the weight of your body mass, you are sending your partner’s force downward through the connective tissue, then releasing that force by relaxing your foot, thus effectively sending that force upward, returning it into your partner.

In life, it is much the same. When you feel that pressure, which we often call stress, you need to release it. You don’t need it, and you certainly don’t need to keep it. So, release it. Let it go. Simply tell your Mind that you want to breathe it away. Then relax, take a couple of deep breaths and then sit comfortably, let your breathing return to normal and just observe the breath for a short while. It’s not magic; it’s just body-mind conditioning or what I like to call re-positioning.

Today, I was doing tui shou (push hands) with my training partner and noticed that I could not release his pressure if it was into my heel. So, what did I do? The next time he position, I re-positioned myself to make sure his pressure would fall on either the center or the forward part of my foot, where I could easily manage to release it. This was not only a good lesson for tai chi; it was a great lesson for everyday life.

Remember yesterday, I wrote about limitation. Not only are there the limits that life in general poses for us, but there are limits we unconsciously place on ourselves. Now, just as I would not have noticed the pressure on my heel and being unable to release it in the push hands drill unless I was observant of my whole body and not just the spot where my partner was pushing. So too, with limitations in life. You first need to be observant, aware. Don’t be so anxious to break through those limits or find a way around them. It’s more important to calmly look at what they are and where they come from. The ‘How?’ will arise on its own accord from what you have discovered. Then re-position and make your adjustment.

Here’s wishing you a stress-free, pressure-free day.

06/01/2021

“Limitation. Success.
Galling limitation must not be persevered in” – I Ching #60, Chieh, Limitation

Do you know your limits? Why do the I Ching and Daoist sages and masters consider limitation indispensable? Why does the I Ching seem to imply that it will lead to success. Basically, limits are necessary. I won’t say that they are a necessary evil. Instead, perhaps, I can say they are a necessary benefit. They tell us so much about ourselves and our world. They let us know how much we can spend and help us to live frugally within our budget as most Daoist sages will attest to They let us know when we have gone too far physically through exhaustion or physical pain like that of an overworked muscle. They let us know when we have eaten too much or, for that matter, drank too much. They let us know when we need more sleep. They even help us to learn what we much avoid. Knowing your limits is possibly the first step on the path to success. It is certainly the first step on the Path of the Dao. After all limitation is basically a synonym for the reciprocal action of Yin and Yang, which, when followed, tells us when conditions are about to change, whether in our personal life or in the physical world around us. So, be thankful that you have limitations and accept them rather than trying to avoid or defeat them. Work with them rather than against them. By persevering, the conditions that set those limitations will eventually change. So be patient and let wisdom be your guide.

 

05/31/2021

“He who knows does not speak,
He who speaks does not know.” Laozi

Have you spoken to your mind recently? All day long our minds chatter away, speaking to us whether we care to listen or not. The fact that we are usually listening is the problem Rather than trying to quiet the mind or worse yet, trying to silence it completely, why not butt in and tell your mind what you want it to do. No, I don’t mean telling it to shut up or be quiet. Look, various parts of the mind via the nervous system control 99 percent of the body if not more. The mind controls our breathing, our blood flow, our hormones, digestion, elimination, lymph fluids and much more. The mind regulates all of these. It even tells the limbs how much strength and pressure to use when walking or jogging and lifting or pulling objects. Why not talk to your mind and tell it what you would like it to do with regard to whatever physical needs you might have? Have trouble falling asleep? Talk to your mind about it. What about that high blood pressure? Talk to your mind about improving blood circulation. Every morning when you first wake up, you need to talk to your mind and tell it what physical adjustments need to be made. At night before going to be, go over the things your mind did that were conducive and those that were not.

But here is the most important aspect of talking to your mind and working with it – your personality and overall mental wellbeing. It is the heart mind (in Chinese, the Xin) and its subconscious nature that rules over the mental state of your being. When you pop off in anger at someone or at something unexpected that happened, when you criticize or try to control a situation, ask yourself if you really wanted to do that. When you use abusive language, ask yourself why? Are you trying to hurt someone? If so, why? Because they hurt you or were mean to you? So? Is it really necessary to pay them back that way? You need to have a long talk with your mind about correcting your speech. Thoughts are words. Change your words, the way you speak about yourself and others, and you will change your thoughts, and thoughts will change your mind and your whole personality. Talk to your mind about choosing a kinder, more intelligent vocabulary. Before you pop off the next time, instruct your mind to step in, hit the pause button, and ask you if this is beneficial to the other person. Will my popping off really change things? Will it make a difference? What satisfaction will I get from being abrupt and abusive?

Change your language and the way you speak, and you will change your entire personality as well as your outlook on life, itself.

05/30/2021

“Human life is limited, but knowledge is limitless. To drive the limited in pursuit of the limitless is fatal; and to presume that one really knows is fatal indeed!” Zhuangzi

Today I worked with my training partner and again came to realize the importance of having not an opponent but a cooperative partner to develop tui shou (push hands). It is vital to work with someone with whom you can share feedback. Without that, your efforts may indeed lead you away from tai chi principles and into an external style of martial arts. I have seen it many times. In fact, I recently left a group of tai chi friends that I have known for several years. But they were working with a teacher who is very technique oriented. As a result, his students are always working on techniques, one right after the other. The same with forms. As soon as they learn one form, they try to perfect it externally but not internally. And once they have the externals, they are onto the next form. It doesn’t seem like they are interested at all in tai chi principles. I guess they enjoy their practice the way it is. But if you are going to become an external martial artist, why bother with tai chi at all? The external arts have far better techniques for fighting and self-defense than tai chi will ever have. But what tai chi does have is the sheer internal power of jin and the ability to develop the internal protection of peng. But this can only happen if you adhere to the tai chi principles and work closely with partners who understand those principles and can exchange vital feedback.

Here’s a look at tai chi principles at work in both the form and push hands.

05/29/2021

“The superior man pardons mistakes and forgives misdeeds.” I Ching, #50, Deliverance

One of the things I have come to realize now that I’m getting up there in years is something the Buddha realized millennia ago and Laozi as well. One does not need to go into a monastery or visit temples to gain enlightenment. The ancient mystics came to discover that the body is our temple. It is a self-contained vehicle that can take us to our ultimate goal. It is the very path that it walks.

But before we can get very far along that journey – the path to clearing and stilling the mind – we must first do the body work that enables us to sit up straight and still and gives us the strength to hold that posture possibly for hours. That is why all the Eastern traditions have physical systems like yoga, qigong and tai chi to stretch and strengthen our connective tissues so the body can maintain the correct posture.

In qigong and tai chi, we must set up the path that the Qi must follow in order to strengthen the connective tissues as we relax the muscles. The importance, therefore, of our center of gravity must not be ignored or taken for granite. Before the dantian can be consolidated and shaped, before we can sink the mind or the breath or most importantly the Qi, we must be certain that we can properly position the center of gravity in the lower abdomen to coincide with the area where we will build the dantian or the Yin Qi will never consolidate and the Yang Qi will remain scattered. It requires keeping our attention on the center and allowing it to adjust and move down into the correct area as we release it usually from a spot above the diaphragm. This may take a little time, but it is a necessary first step.

05/28/2021

“Who is firmly established is not easily shaken.
Who has a firm grasp does not easily let go.” Laozi, Ch. 54

Today, I worked on Dao Yin stretches that emphasized the stretching of the connective tissue rather than the muscles as I had learned yesterday. Why is it so important to stretch the connective tissue and not the muscles? It’s very simple. Qi is an extension of our consciousness, our Mind. Qi is a bridge between the Mind and the body. However, Qi cannot be conducted through muscles. It can only be conducted through the connective tissue. While we can easily feel our muscles, it is way more difficult to feel our connective tissue – the sinews and fascia – because muscle contraction keeps the tissues compacted and tight and also holds up our mass, preventing it from sinking to the floor That’s the reason we are told to “hang the muscles from the bones.” Thus, by hanging the muscles, we release that contraction and our mass is able to sink to the floor, stretching the tissues. Once the tissues are stretched, they are able to conduct the Qi to all parts of the body, thus nourishing our organs. Stretching the tissues, when combined with stressing them as in Dao Yin exercises, the tissues actually strengthen and over time we will have very little need of muscles as the tissues become the main source of strength for the body.

Here’s an example of Dao Yin stretches, a brief series of four stretches for the spine.

05/27/2021

“Content with the coming of things in their time and living in accord with Tao, joy and sorrow touch me not. This is, according to the ancients, to be freed from bondage.” Zhuangzi

It has been a couple months now that I have been wondering what to do with this website as the Daoist Daily Notes no longer seemed appealing. At the same time my Internal Arts teacher in one of his online videos suggested keeping a daily journal of our practices. So, I took out my journal and saw that it had been over a year since my last entry. Suddenly, the light bulb flashed, and the Daoist Daily Diary was born: a journal of my thoughts as I negotiate the readings, teachings, practices, and general thoughts on Daoism as well as everyday life. And, so, here is my first entry.

The fact that I’m writing anything at all makes this a most beneficial day. In addition, my internal arts practices – Taijiquan, Nei Gong and Bauguazhang – have been engaging. Mistakes and inconsistencies not withstanding, I am able to keep my mind engaged in all of our standing exercises, but not so much with the seated ones. The Mind either jumps around or dozes off. However, in the past two days, I have been able to recover and get back into focus for a bit and finish strong.

Speaking of strong, today I realized that, like many of us, I overuse power or strength in my daily life: mixing a salad, pouring a cup of coffee or hot water for tea, opening a can of beans. I need to learn to “hang my muscles from my bones,” a phrase often used in tai chi, to get the contracted muscles out of the way, so my mass can separate from the bones and actively sink to the floor, stretching my connective tissues as it passes, so the tissues can conduct the Qi into the various channels.

Here are the videos of the two seated exercises where I found myself dozing. You can skip the opening interview if you like and click on the 22-minute mark where the actual exercise begins.

This second one is a Qigong to Nourish the Kidneys while it also builds and strengthens the dantian.

“RBG, Pray for Us and Our Democracy”

Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not have saints. Nevertheless, the Jewish religion must find a way to honor a Giant of Constitutional Law that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She should be honored among those courageous women of Biblical times and named as a “Woman of Valor,” a monumental matriarch of justice and equality in modern times.

Meanwhile, other religions that do honor the righteous, both living and the dead, as saints should definitely consider canonizing Ruth Bader Ginsburg for all she did for all of mankind, for men and women alike, and especially under-served and underprivileged minorities.

If the Roman Catholic Church can canonize both Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa as saints, why not RBG, who did more to raise the level of justice and equality for all than either of the other two? A tireless champion of not only women’s rights but those for all minorities, RBG continued to the end fighting for all of us despite being ravaged by cancer in her later years.

But most religious leadership is dominated by men, so don’t expect any such movement as canonization any time soon. Of course some conservative fundamentalists, whether Hebrew or Christian, may consider what I’m asking as blasphemy. However, the real blasphemy is for Trump and McConnell to nominate a person who is fully unaware, unable or unwilling to fill the shoes of RBG in an honorable and righteous manner with equality and justice for all. Though tiny in stature, those shoes took such huge strides in changing the views on Constitution Law.

So, what can we the people do? Well, after this time of mourning when we pray for RBG and those she left behind, we can then pray to her. Yes, that’s right, pray to Saint Ruth whenever you see those disgusting tweets and hear the hypocritical soundbites from White House staff, cabinet members, unqualified temporary heads of agencies and, last but certainly not least, Senators. And you will see and hear tons of them leading up to a vote on the Supreme Court nominee and the general election.

It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just something simple but sincere: “Dear Saint Ruth or Dear RBG, please look after the health and welfare of our nation in these trying times and protect our beloved democracy. Thank you.” Or even simpler: “RBG, pray for us and our democracy.”

That’s it. If you have any prayers that you personally would like to mention, you’re welcome to add them to the comments below. Poetry, as always, is more than welcome.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Passionate About Judaism’s Concern for Justice

11/28/2019 Thanksgiving Day

My one and only commentary this month comes appropriately on Thanksgiving Day. It is not exactly a commentary but commendation to all those ancient masters whose voices from antiquity speak and touch me deeply. It is their voices, their observances of which I read, absorb and comment on throughout the year. Therefore, I am most thankful to Laozi, Zhuangzi and those very ancient ones that came long before them who looked at the configurations of the Heavens and read their Signs and observed our Earth and uncovered its Patterns. Thus they came to understand the axiom of Life and Death and passed it along to the sages who succeeded them.

And I, too, would like to pass along my heartfelt thoughts to all of you as I wish you and all humanity (yes, including the President) a Happy and Joyous Thanksgiving.

In Stillness

One crow streaking across the overcast sky
in a damp and gloomy rain.
Then stillness
Moments later, two crows come together
and fly off in unison over the valley.

The young trees stand in perfect stillness,
then a sudden wind jolts them back and forth.
Moments later, they return to stillness,
as thought never disturbed.

A perfected heart-mind must be like this.
Resting in stillness and never moving
until inspired by “THE CHANGES”
in the flow of the Tao,
and always returning to stillness.

A perfected heart-mind never waits,
but rests in stillness.
For in waiting there is anticipation.
But in resting, there is a joyous stillness,
undisturbed by the machinations of an egoic will.

In that resting there is an intuitive knowing,
Not of knowledge,
but of a deep inner trust.
Only a restful heart-mind at peace
can sense the subtle fluctuations
in the flow of the Tao
In that inner trust there is virtue and power.

See Hexagram #61 Inner Trust and have a Happy and Joyous Thanksgiving

OCTOBER, 2019

 

10/30//2019

I thought we would end October with a little diversion from Laozi and Zhuangzi and take a brief look at the most ancient Taoist text of all, the “I Ching” (the Book of Changes). Laozi, Confucius and Zhuangzi were all greatly inspired by the Changes. We might say that the Changes was the very root of their works and Chinese philosophy in general.

From Wang Bi’s Commentary on the I Ching (“Changes”) Appended Phrases, Part I, Section 4:

“The ancient sages created the “Changes” (the I Ching) to provide a paradigm of Heaven and Earth, and so it shows how one can fill in and pull together the Dao of Heaven and Earth. Looking up, we use it (the Changes) to observe the configurations of Heaven, and, looking down, we use it to examine the patterns of Earth. Thus, we understand the reasons underlying what is hidden and what is clear. We trace things back to their origins then turn back to their ends. Thus, we understand the axiom of Life and Death.” (The hidden and the clear involves images that have form and do not have form. Life and Death are a matter of fate’s allotment for one’s beginning and end.”

Wang Bi’s Commentary on Chapter 35, Dao De Ching:

The “Great Image” is the mother of the images of Heaven. (The images of Heaven are the sun, moon, planets and constellations. The “great Image” image is another way to refer to the Dao.) It is neither hot or cold, warm or cool. Thus, it can perfectly embrace the myriad things, and none suffers any harm…The great image is formless. As soon as there is a form, distinctions exist, and with distinctions, if something is not warm, it must be cool, if something is not hot, it must be cold. Thus, an image that has a form is not the great image (the Dao)”

Continuing Wang’s Commentary on the I Ching, Part 1, Section 4

“When material force consolidates into essence (jingqi), it meshes together, and with this coalescence, a person comes into being. When such coalescence reaches its end, disintegration occurs, and with the dissipation of one’s spirit (youhun), change occurs. If one thoroughly comprehends the principle underlying coalescence and dissipation, he will be able to understand the Dao of Change and Transformation, and nothing that is hidden will remain outside his grasp.”

In Section 5 of Wang’s Commentary, he analyzes the reciprocal process:

“The reciprocal process of yin and yang is called the Dao. What is this Dao? It is a name for non-being (wu); it is that which pervades everything and from which everything derives. As an equivalent, we dll it Dao. As it operates silently and is without substand, it is not possible to provide images for it. Only when the functioning of being reaches its zenith do the merits of nonbeing become manifest. Therefore, even though it so happens that the numinous is not restricted to place and change and is without substance, yet the Dao itself can be seen: it is by investigating change thoroughly, that one exhausts all the potential of the numinous. and it is through the numinous that one clarifies what the Dao is. Although yin and yang are different entities, we deal with them in terms of the unity of nonbeing. When the Dao is in he Yin state, it does not actually exist as yin, but it is by means of yin, that it comes into existence, and when it is in the yang state, it does not actually exist as yang, but it is by means yang that it comes into being. This is why it is referred to as ‘the reciprocal process of yin and yang.

(It is important for me to point out that the choice of the word “state” is not quite right. The Dao, the infinite, absolute Oneness, doesn’t have any “states,” and for that matter neither does a process. A phase or stage may be a better choice of words. As an analogy, we can liken the reciprocal process of the Dao to our own phases of waking and sleeping. which like yand and yin, are different phases. Thus, when the Dao is in its Yin phase, it is dormant. Unlike our own sleep phase, the Dao’s dormancy can last for eons. Does this mean that the Dao is completely still, empty. No, that is why Wang Bi states “it does not actually exists as yin.” Let’s use the analogy of breathing to explain. When we are in our sleep phase, Yin, usually at night, are we completely empty and still? Do we exhale as we enter our Yin phase then never inhale and fill up? No, not at all. Though we are dormant, we continue our breathing cycle throughout the night despite it being an unconscious process. The same is true for our waking phase, Yang. Our breathing cycle, though usually not a conscious process unless there is a problem, continues from exhale to inhale throughout the day. The same is true for the Dao. At this moment, the Dao is in its Yang phase, having manifested as the living Universe or Nature. Still, the Dao cannot be said to actually exist as yang because its energy cycle of Yin stimulating Yang and vice versa continues through the present eon.)

Continuing Wang’s Commentary on the I Ching, Part 1, Section 5:

That which allows the Dao to continue to operate is human goodness (shan), and that which allows it to bring things to completion is human nature (xing). The benevolent see it and call it benevolence; the wise (zhi) see it and call it wisdom. It function for the common folk on a daily bases, yet they are unaware of it. This is why the Dao of the noble man is a rare thing! {Here, Richard John Lynn, the translator comments: The noble man embodies the Dao and applies it as function, but if it is merely the benevolent and wise, then they are limited to just what they see of it, and if it is the common folk, then it functions for them on a daily basis, but they are unaware of it. Those who truly embody this Dao are they not indeed rare! Thus, as it is said, “always be without desire so as to see its subtlety.” This is how one can begin to talk about its perfection and address its ultimate meaning.}

(Again, I must point out that the last line which Lynn quotes – “always be without desire so as to see its subtlety” – is the exact wording he uses for Wang Bi’s translation of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1, paragraph 3. Then in the very next paragraph, Lynn’s translation has Laozi stating “And always have desire to see their ends.” Confusing? Wang Bi explains: “Subtlety is the absolute degree of minuteness. As the myriad things reach completion only after originating in minuteness, {Think back to how each of us started as infinitesimal fertilized cells in our mothers’ wombs}, so they are born only after originating in nothingness. Thus always be without desire and remain empty, so that you can see the subtlety with which things originate.” Then after the fourth stanza, he adds, “Ends here means the ends to which things revert. If anything that exists is to be of benefit, it must function out of nothing. Only when desire is rooted in such a way that it is in accord with the Dao will it prove beneficial. Thus always have such desire that you can see those ends to which things finally arrive.”)

Have a Happy and Safe Halloween, and see you in November.

10/13/2019

We start off October with one of Zhuangzi’s famous parables, the story of Cook Ting (Ding)

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”

COMMENTARY: This is a follow up to Zhuangzi’s other classic parable in Chapter 1, the Butterfly Dream, in which Zhuangzi co-stars as the lead character in his own parable along with a butterfly. Uncertain as to whether he is really Zhuangzi dreaming that he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he is Zhuangzi, he doubts his own existence. Instead, this Self that he has always known himself to be, may actually be a completely different Self. Or, perhaps there is no self. It is obvious the parable points out a stage of self-doubt in Zhuangzi’s life. However, some have said the point is that Zhuangzi actually finds himself in a Buddhist-like state of No-Self, the final goal. But is it? Is that what Zhuangzi really intended?

Well, in the very next Chapter, we find the parable of Cook Ting (Ding) above and realize that this No-Self phase is not a final goal, but to Zhuangzi and Cook Ting. it is only a transition toward the final goal?

Cook Ting says: “When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. (This is the state of ordinary mind or Cheng Xin) After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. (This is the Butterfly Dream stage of No-Self) And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. (This stage is the real final goal of discovering the True Self or Chang Xin.)  I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. (This is following Nature or following the Tao, which is how we reach the Ultimate Self.) So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.” (Laozi advice of not allowing small problems to turn into huge ones).

The final two paragraphs with Cook Ting explaining how he cares for his knife is, as Lord Wen-hui points out, an analogy of caring for one’s life. In the last paragraph Cook Ting alludes to Laozi’s account of sages in antiquity who were adept at practicing the Tao (Chapter 15, Tao Te Ching) as being cautious and vigilant. Practicing wu-wei and following the flow of the Tao, Cook Ting uses caution and vigilance when he approaches a complicated section of the ox.

This parable then is a transition from the Butterfly Dream to a summary of how to reach the final goal or Chang Xin, the True Self which Zhuangzi unveils in full detail a few chapters later in the discussion between Confucius and his disciple Yan Hui in an exercise called the Fasting of the Mind.

The first part where Kungzi (Confucius) instructs his disciple, Yan Hui and details the “Fasting of the Mind” occurs in Chapter 4. The follow-up, where Yan Hui returns having completed the full practice is written in Chapter 6. Bear in mind that the Cook Ting parable which appears in Chapter 2 is actually a very brief summary of the entire process.

The prelude to the actual detailing of the Fasting of the Mind in Chapter 4 is quite long, so I will summarize. It begins with Yan Hui coming to Kongzi (Confucius) to ask permission to take leave after years of studying with him. Yan Hui explains that he wants to go out into the world and put what he has learned from Kongzi into practice.

Kongzi asks him how he intends to do this. Yan Hui replies that he wants to go to the State of Wei, where the ruler has become an autocratic tyrant and has wrought great devastation upon the people of Wei. Yan Hui wants to see if he can restore Wei and save the people. Kongzi asks him how he plans to do this.

Yan Hui tells him that he wants to take what he has learned from Kongzi and derive some standards and principles from it to apply to the situation in Wei. Kongzi tells him that he is more than likely to get himself killed. If he is following a certain course, it is best not to mix in anything extraneous which will lead to multiple courses because that will cause anxiety and confusion. Kongzi then proceeds to give Yan Hui a lengthy lecture on real Virtuosity and Cleverness. Then he asks Yan Hui how he plans to get around these all of these problems.

With each solution that Yan Hui puts forth, Kongzi has a wise rebuttal, detailing why each one will not work. Finally, in total frustration, Yen Hui said, “I have nothing more to offer. May I ask the proper way?”

“You must fast!” said Confucius. “I will tell you what that means. Do you think it is easy to do anything while you have [a mind]? If you do, Bright Heaven will not sanction you.”

Yen Hui said, “My family is poor. I haven’t drunk wine or eaten any strong foods for several months. So can I be considered as having fasted?”

“That is the fasting one does before a sacrifice, not the fasting of the mind.”

“May- I ask what the fasting of the mind is?”

Confucius said, “If you merge all your intentions into a singularity, you will come to hear with the mind rather than with the ears. Further, you will come to hear with the vital energy rather than with the mind. For the ears are halted at what they hear. The mind is halted at whatever verifies its preconceptions. But the vital energy is an emptiness, a waiting for the presence of beings. The Course alone is what gathers in this emptiness. And it is this emptiness that is the fasting of the mind.”

Yan Hui said, “Before I find what moves me into activity, it is myself that is full and real. But as soon as I find what moves me, it turns out that ‘myself’ has never begun to exist. Is that what you mean by being ‘empty’?”

Confucius said, “Exactly. Let me tell you about it. With this you can play in his cage without impinging on his concern for a good name. When he’s receptive, do your crowing, but when he’s not, let it rest. Do not let him get to you, but do not harm him either. Seeing all possible dwelling places as one, let yourself be lodged in whichever cannot be avoided. This will get you close to success. It is easy to wipe away your footprints, but difficult to walk without touching the ground. It is easy to use deception when you are sent into your activities at the behest of other humans, but difficult to use deception when sent into activity by Heaven. You have learned how to fly with wings, but not yet how to fly without wings. You have learned the wisdom of being wise, but not yet the wisdom of being free of wisdom. Concentrate on the hollows of what is before you, and the empty chamber within you will generate its own brightness.

“Good fortune comes to roost in stillness. To lack this stillness is called scurrying around even when sitting down. Allow your ears and eyes to open inward and thereby place yourself beyond your mind’s understanding consciousness. Even the ghosts and spirits will then seek refuge in you, human beings all the more so! This is the transformation of all things, the hinge on which Shun and Yu moved, the lifelong practice of Fu Xi and Ji Qu. How much more should it be so for others!”

(Fu Xi was one of the early proponents of the I Ching. Ji Qu or sometimes Ji Zi was a semi-legendary Chinese sage who is said to have ruled Gija Joseon in the 11th century BCE.)

So there we have it. Zhuangzi full From Chapter 6, the co

 

Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

Confucius said, “What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten benevolence and righteousness!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten rites and music!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving! ”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I can sit down and forget everything!”

Confucius looked very startled and said, “What do you mean, sit down and forget everything.’-”

Yen Hui said, “I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and forgetting everything.”

Confucius said, “If you’re identical with it, you must have no more likes! If you’ve been transformed, you must have no more constancy! So you really are a worthy man after all! 23 With your permission, I’d like to become your follower

Thus both Cook Ting and Yan Hui realized their True Selves.

Be well. See you next time.

 

SEPTEMBER, 2019

09/08/2019

Chapter 51 Tao Te Ching

As I promised last month, we would start off September with Chapter 51. This is not only one of the most significant chapters in the Tao Te Ching, but in all of spiritual literature, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Holy Bible. Below are several translations of Chapter 51 to give you a feel for the different way it has been interpreted.

 

Here you will find commentaries on the meanings of verses and stories from Laozi, Zhuangzi and other early Taoists regarding their philosophies and practices. At the end of each month, all of the commentaries for that month will be posted in our BLOG.

AUGUST, 2019

08/16/2019

Let’s return now to Laozi’s Tao de Ching. Today we shall take a look at Chapter 9, a very important chapter that illustrates one of the main principles of Taoism. Next, to Wu Wei, moderation and knowing when to stop are vital to most sincere Taoists.

“A bow that is stretched to its fullest capacity may certainly snap.
A sword that is tempered to its very sharpest may easily be broken.
A house that is full of jade and gold cannot remain secure for long.
One who proudly displays his wealth invites trouble.
Therefore, resign from a high position when your mission is complete.
This is the Universal Way of a life of deep virtue.”

Translation by Ni Hua-Ching, 1995.

Again Laozi is telling us to use moderation in all things, and, above all, know when to stop. Whether it’s food or drink. Moderation means don’t try to fill yourself to capacity. Stop when you are 70% or 80% full, not 100 or beyond.

Whether it’s jade or gold, jewelry, furniture, paintings,cars don’t go overboard. Whether it’s your body or your home, instead of looking stately and refined, it will look garish, opulent – two words that are synonymous with “ugly.” Did you ever see a person who has a large ring on every finger? If so, then you know what I mean by garish, opulent, ugly. Furthermore, when you go overboard, you take away from items that look truly exquisite when given prominence, but are totally lost in a sea of acuterments and are appear no different from a hoarder’s place littered with junk. Not to mention the fact, that such a display of wealth, like Laozi says, invites trouble.

The same is true of money. People who hoard money and work their butts off to make deals and make more money are truly pathetic. Whether it’s money they constantly seek or praise or fame, the result is the same, a sadly pathetic, self-centered nerd. It isn’t wealth, per se, that is damaging. It is seeking wealth for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement that destroys love, friendships and other relationships. There are many wealthy financiers that have amassed fortunes and have established foundations to help others share in their wealth. They regularly pay their fair share of taxes and give to charities. So, here it is the intent that makes seeking wealth a detriment or a worthwhile activity. By asking the Universe, the Tao, how may I serve and how can the wealth I earn benefit others, your work and your financial acumen become tools for the Tao and the Te to distribute and spread the wealth to the rest of mankind.

Remember, none of this is truly yours, not your money, your possessions, your businesses.not even your very life. All of this belongs to the Tao. The Tao is responsible for everything in the Universe and beyond.

Next up is Chapter 33 of the Tao Te Ching, a verse of comparisons and contrasts that, like Chapter 9, expound further on the Taoist lifestyle.

08/22/2019

As promised, Chapter 33 of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching: Self-Denial versus Self-Criticism.

He who knows others is knowledgeable.
He who knows himself is wise.
He who conquers others is physically strong.
He who conquers himself is truly mighty.
He who is contented is rich.
He who acts with persistence has a will.
He who does not lose his root will endure.
He who dies but is not forgotten has longevity.


COMMENTARY: Before I begin, I would like to say that some of you are not going to like this. Perhaps, most of you will not like this. So, I must apologize in advance should I offend anyone.

Many study this chapter and concentrate on the last two lines. Here Keping Wang has translated the very last line correctly as it was written in the oldest versions of the text discovered in the MaWangDui Caves just last century. Prior to those versions, some translators assessed the line differently and combined it with the previous line, building a case for immortality. The translations would be something like “He who keeps to his root will endure and will not perish but remain eternally present.” That would certainly make Laozi roll over in his grave, for he had no uncertainty that death would befall each and every one of us no matter how enlightened. The last two lines are about cultivating one’s “heart,” in other words, one’s daily living, not immortality. Thus, living from one’s “root,” the Tao, will leave a lasting impression on others in one’s everyday affairs, one’s writings, one’s art, friendships and relationships, and on nature, itself, which, in a way, is a form of immortality.

The true emphasis in this chapter is not on the ending but on the beginning, the first four lines. Despite many variations, the general semantics of these lines for the most part have been kept intact. However, Laozi’s true intent has been confused. Martial artists, in general, and tai chi and qigong players, more specifically, are partly responsible for this distortion, not to mention meditation gurus. There is a line in the Tai Chi Classics: “I know you, but you don’t know me.” This line generally means that you know where your opponent’s center is at all times, but he/she does not know where yours is because you are able to hide it quite skillfully. Well, this is not the “know” Laozi had in mind. In fact, he would say that you don’t truly know your opponent or yourself.

Laozi here is emphasizing that deep inward knowledge that goes to the very heart of our character. Back in his day, life was complicated enough. People were not so easy to discern. They by no means wore their hearts on their sleeves but kept it hidden deep underneath all the layers with innuendo, deceit, selfishness, not only hidden from the world but hidden from themselves by a facade of benevolence and generosity. In this case, if one were to somehow discern the true character of others, he/she would be considered quite knowledgeable, truly intelligent.

So, by “knowing,” Laozi is referring to discerning one’s true character, ours or others. And, as difficult as that was in his day, imagine the complexity and illusiveness in our modern world. We have so many technical innovations to hide from and hide behind that it is virtually impossible to discern a person’s true character. Add to these, the psychological shadings, the self-denials and the repressions, the Freudian concepts of infantile sexuality, libido, the Oedipal complex, transference or the Jungian archetypes: the shadow, the wise old man, the child, the mother, the maiden, and the anima and the animus. Is it any wonder that you need to be a genius to truly know someone? Laozi says that a person who can do that, such as Freud or Jung, is knowledgeable, which means highly intelligent – but not necessarily wise.

Wisdom, on the other hand as Laozi tells us, arises when we are able to dig deeply inside and cut through all the self-denials and buried feelings that we have repressed over the years and truly come to know ourselves. It is not sitting on a mat and taking deep breaths as some meditation gurus advise or visualizing beautiful, calming scenes or vibrating light rays. It is not following your thoughts until they dissipate, leaving your mind empty. It is not your mind that needs to empty. It is your heart, the very core of your being. That is exactly why Laozi says: He who conquers others is physically strong. But…He who conquers himself is truly mighty. 

Emptying and clearing out our hearts requires an enormous amount of intestinal fortitude, persistence, and spiritual strength to cut through all those self-denials and repressed feelings that we have not only hidden from the world but have hidden from ourselves. It requires a supreme act of self-criticism rather than the self-denial we have become used to.  Reciting affirmations and platitudes are nice. Going around feeling you are pure awareness, consciousness or emptiness is just another form of self-denial, one more case of avoidance. None of these things can take the place of self-criticism and deep introspection.

Refusing to accept responsibility is another form of self-denial. Often, we are aware of things that we have done that we are not so proud of. But we shift the blame to others – parents, siblings, teachers, close friends, lovers – as though they were responsible for our actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one can force you to do anything unless they are holding a gun to your head. You chose to follow the crowd and do what they were doing. You chose not to be an outcast. Years later, looking back on those actions, we tell ourselves it was not our fault. So emptying the heart is as much about accepting responsibility as it is about plunging into the depths of one’s heart of hearts.

Once you have toughed it out and emptied your heart, then the final four lines of Chapter 33 will fall into place. You will naturally feel contented with what you have. After persisting to empty the heart, you will feel that your will is strong enough to persist in anything. Finally, you will know yourself and, therefore, know your root, which is the Tao, and that will endure for the rest of your life. Everything you do will be in harmony with the Tao and Nature, thus leaving a legacy that will endure far beyond a long life.

I hope this commentary helps you to better understand Chapter 33 and what needs to be done.

Until next time…Peace.

 

08/28/2019

We end August with a look at Chapter 52 of the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 52 seem like a natural thematic progression from Chapter 33 above. So, we will circle back and cover Chapter 51 in September.

Chapter 52

There was a beginning of the universe
Which may be regarded as the Mother of the Universe.
From the Mother, we may know her sons.
After knowing the sons, keep to the Mother.
Thus, one’s whole life may be preserved from harm.

Stop its apertures,
Close its doors,
And one’s whole life is without toil.

Open its apertures,
Be busy about its affairs,
And one’s whole life is beyond redemption.

He who can see the small is clear-sighted;
He who stays by gentility is strong.
use the light,
And return to clear-sightedness –
Thus cause not yourself later distress.
– This is to rest in the Absolute.
Translation by Lin Yutang

COMMENTARY:

In the Lin Yutang edition, he titles this chapter “Stealing the Absolute,” which refers to the final verse. Discussing the opening verse, he states:”In this chapter, Mother refers to the Tao, source of all things, and her sons refers to the things of the universe, which are Tao in its manifested forms. By recognizing that all things come from the same source and by keeping to the unity, one achieves an emancipation of the spirit which overcomes the individuality of things.”

There are several astounding insights in this opening verse. First of all, Laozi unequivocally asserts that Tao is the source of all life, simply by referring to it as the Mother of the universe. Also, as Lin Yutang contends, the Tao actually manifests itself in all the things within the universe. Laozi then instructs us to keep to the Mother (the Tao, the Unity) rather than the individual appearances.

However, it is by scrutinizing, observing the sons’ appearances that we get to know the Tao as their origin and “Thus, one’s whole life may be preserved from harm.

As in Chapter 33, the second verse advises us to go inward by stopping the openings (the apertures). In other words, our five senses. Then Laozi adds “close its doors”  – to seeking external knowledge “And one’s whole life is without toil.”

In the third verse, Laozi describes what will happen if we do not take his advice and leave the apertures and doors open, busying ourselves with external affairs. “And one’s whole life is beyond redemption.”

In the final verse, Laozi again uses contrasts and comparisons “He who can see the small…” is another reference to turning within and scrutinizing both ourselves and others. “He who stays by gentility”  mean knowing how to yield is strength. Finally, to use your inner light for understanding ourselves and others is actually using the light of the Tao – the Absolute. This is the reason Lin Yutang decided to title the chapter “Stealing the Absolute.”

I hope this commentary has made it easier for you to understand the chapter and to better follow the Tao. As I mentioned in the beginning, we will circle back and cover Chapter 51 in the September edition.

 

Here you will find commentaries on the meanings of verses and stories from Laozi, Zhuangzi and other early Taoists regarding their philosophies and practices. At the end of each month, all of the commentaries for that month will be posted in our BLOG.

JULY, 2019

07/03/2019

We start July off with the first two verses of Chapter 47 from Laozi’s Tao Te Ching. Although most of the accepted translations are consistent, their meaning has certainly been misinterpreted by both Western and Eastern scholars alike. Chapter 47 begins with: Without going out-of-doors, one may know all under Heaven. Without looking out one’s window, one may know the Dao of Heaven. Many Western scholars have called this pure bunk. Taking Laozi quite literally, they wonder how anyone can know everything there is to know. Can a sage tell you who will win the World Series or the Super Bowl? Can he or she know all the answers to the most perplexing questions facing quantum physicists? No, of course not. But Laozi, when he writes all under Heaven, was not referring to mundane, worldly things. To Laozi, all referred to only those things that truly matter. To illustrate the point, there is a quotation from the great martial artist, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, which is the Japanese equivalent of Tai Chi. Sensei Ueshiba states: Keep to your Path, and nothing else will matter. When you lose your desire for things that do not matter, you will be free. To both Ueshiba and Laozi, those things that we see or study or imagine are eye and mind candy – things that do not matter. They are the externals of this world. What matters to a true sage is Li, the Chinese term for Principle. So, when Laozi uses the term all, he is referring to the principles that have created and set in motion all under Heaven. If you understand the principles underlying matter, you can infer what will happen. That creator and master of the entire cosmos is, of course, the Tao, and one of the Tao’s underlying principles is its constancy. Because the Tao is constant, it is possible for us who live in the present and an ancient sage, who lived 2500 years ago, to know how things were at the beginning to time without stepping out-of-doors. Wang Bi, who commented on both the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching, some 2000 years ago in the 3rd Century wrote: The Tao has its great constancy and Principle has its perfection, so hold on to the Tao of old to preside over what exists now. Although we live in the present, it is possible for one to know how things were at the beginning of time. Another underlying principle is the congruence of all things under Heaven.  No matter how disparate beings are, no matter how varied our paths in life, we all come to the same end. Therefore, commenting on Section 5 in the Commentary on Appended Phrases, Part Two of the I Ching, Wang Bi writes: The Master said: “What does the world have to think and deliberate about? As all in the world ultimately comes to the same end, though the roads to it are different, so there is an ultimate congruence in thought, though there might be hundreds of ways to deliberate about it. So what does the world have to think and deliberate about? (Both Wang Bi quotes were translated by Richard John Lynn.) There is as well a subtle subtext running through the Tao Te Ching, which is somewhat evident in Chapter 47, that of isolation. Whether one runs off to a mountain cave or shuts himself/herself off in their home, the intent is the same – to isolate oneself from the myriad distractions of society and to develop an inner sense of contentment and quietude. Only then can we hope to unite with the Tao. Zhuangzi, on the other hand, has a completely different attitude. His is a sense that “I live in the world but not of it.” There is yet another way of looking at Laozi’s remarks in this chapter. Keping Wang, a present day author and commentator on the Tao had this to say regarding Chapter 47: “With more and more people practicing qigong as a form of traditional Chinese breathing with stylized movements for spiritual meditation and as more of its effects have come to be rediscovered, some scholars have come to realize the implications of what Laozi says here.” Wang goes on to mention Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, and how he reached supreme wisdom or enlightenment after sitting under a tree for 49 days. “Since then such notions as ‘inner or heavenly enlightenment for attaining Buddhahood’ have come to be used in Buddhism. Correspondingly, in early Daoism, there are such similar notions as ‘understanding without seeing’ and ‘contemplation in depth’.”  Here are a couple you can try. This first one is  Bone Marrow Cleansing, Xi Sui Jing.

 

This next one is Qi Gong Breathing from Shaolin Temple Europe

 

07/06/2019

The final two verses of Chapter 47 seemed even more preposterous to Western scholars than the first. However, if one understands the concepts behind Laozi’s opening verses, then these final ones naturally follow.

The further one goes out, the less he will know. This simply means that one does not live in the One, trusting it and following the Tao, but instead he follows society and places his trust in the many outside. He can never discover the inner principles working the Universe with all the diversified theories, opinions and beliefs floating around outside his door. They will only bring him confusion, not true knowledge.

Thus the sage knows without moving about (in the external world),
Understands without seeing,
Accomplishes without doing.

Here Laozi is basically stating what I have explained above. The sage doesn’t need to run around out in the world or look about to see what sights he can find. Instead, he focuses within where he finds his true nature and thus understands the nature of things without seeking it externally. This verse also alludes to Taoist meditation, which Keping Wang explained in his commentary on Chapter 47. The early Daoists were quite familiar with meditation and the value of contentment and quietude as were the Rishis of India even before Shakyamuni. The final line, “Accomplishes without doing,” refers to another subtext that runs all through the Tao Te Ching – Wu Wei – often translated as the practice of non-doing.or non-action. What wu wei really means is take no conscious or deliberate action but instead act spontaneously with the flow of life, the flow of the Tao and not with the urges of an egoic mind. Speaking of flow, next time we will stay with the Tao Te Ching and look at Chapter 48, which flows naturally from the concepts explained here in Chapter 47. So, until next time, Be Well and Go with the Flow…

07/11/2019

Like Chapter 47 which proceeds it, Chapter 48 has been misunderstood by some Western scholars. Why would anyone want to pursue the Tao if it makes one lose more and more each day, they ask. So, let’s have a look: The pursuit of learning means having more each day, The pursuit of Tao means having less each day. Having less upon less, one eventually reaches the point where one takes no action, yet nothing remains undone. Again, the is typical Laozi, where the statements at first seem rather contradictory. However, upon closer look, we see what the Master intended. If he were, like many self-help gurus, trying to stoke our ambitions and the pursuit of worldly success in the form of greater wealth, position and esteem, then, by all means, one should pursue worldly knowledge. But Laozi’s focus is on our spiritual well-being and eventual discovery of who and what we truly are. In Chapter 47, Laozi advised that it was not necessary to go out into the world to learn all you needed to know. One could discover the truth about oneself and the principles underlying the world by staying right at home. So too, in Chapter 48, he tells us that it is not necessary to run off to a university to gain more knowledge in order to live the perfect life. In fact, he suggests that we lose what we know – the concepts, beliefs, opinions and preconceived notions – in order to know the Tao. Thus, it is not a matter of gaining more and more each day but losing more and more until we are at the point of wu wei (non-action) or taking no deliberate action. Laozi realizes that conscious, deliberate action, which is often quite rash and always egocentric, can lead to mistakes and sometimes utter failure. However, no conscious action (wu wei) is spontaneous and natural and will result in nothing being undone. Laozi then closes the chapter, this way: One who takes all under Heaven as his charge always tends to matters without deliberate action. But when it comes to one who takes conscious action, Such a one is not worthy to take all Heaven under his charge. Because one tries to implement actions from his own egocentric pursuits, he is not fit to lead, manage or govern. He is trapped by his own ambitious concerns and enslaves his very soul and eventual salvation with the padlocks and chains of insufferable advancement. I remember years ago, it was the standard to have a high school diploma for employment. A few years later, a high school education was of much less value. A college degree became the standard. Then a few years later, it was necessary to have an advanced degree, especially a doctorate. So what if you were up to your neck in student debt? Now it’s not only an advanced degree but a dual major, and student loan debt has gone through the roof. So, it is not only ourselves, but society as a whole that drives us. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with advertisements on billboards, on TV, on the internet. All encouraging us to buy more, to acquire more for our own good, it would seem. But what about our spiritual well-being? How can we acquire that? What price salvation? Well, in Chapter 48, Laozi gives us the answer. The price is everything we have acquired – not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Give up everything that is not essential and especially all those concepts, beliefs and ambitions that keep us chained to the powertrain of society. Next time we will step away from Laozi and take a look at some of Zhuangzi’s work, particularly a story that follows up Laozi’s admonitions in Chapter 48. Thank you and Be Well.  

 

07/27/2019

From the Zhuangzi, the Book of Zhuangzi Section EIGHTEEN – PERFECT HAPPINESS “IS THERE SUCH A THING as perfect happiness in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate? This is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. This is what it finds bitter: a life that knows no rest, a mouth that gets no rich food, no fine clothes for the body, no beautiful sights for the eye, no sweet sounds for the ear. People who can’t get these things fret a great deal and are afraid – this is a stupid way to treat the body. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use – this is a superficial way to treat the body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right – this is a shoddy way to treat the body. Man lives his life in company with worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that much time worrying instead of dying, a bitter lot indeed! This is a callous way to treat the body.”

COMMENTARY: I think you get the picture without much explanation from me. Zhuangzi’s message is quite clear: the things we chase after that we think will make us happy cause us much more harm than good. Those who live a life of wealth and luxury usually wear themselves, “piling up more wealth than they could ever use. In the end, our health deteriorates from all the stress and pressure and drives us to an early grave. The outcome, though the path is very different, is the same for those who worry and fret because they do not have the so-called finer things in life. As Zhuangzi intimates perhaps an early death would be much better than a lifetime of worrying. So, whether one is rich or poor it does not matter. In the end it is all the same. The poor struggle and die trying to get what they don’t have. The wealthy struggle and die trying to get even more of what they have, searching and striving constantly for more pleasure and more comfort. But what about those people we look up to and consider good human beings? Do they ever find true happiness? Let’s hear what Zhuangzi has to say…

“Men of ardor are regarded by the world as good, but their goodness doesn’t succeed in keeping them alive. So I don’t know whether their goodness is really good or not. Perhaps I think it’s good – but not good enough to save their lives. Perhaps I think it’s no good – but still good enough to save the lives of others. So I say, if your loyal advice isn’t heeded, give way and do not wrangle. Tzu-hsu wrangled and lost his body. But if he hadn’t wrangled, he wouldn’t have made a name. Is there really such a thing as goodness or isn’t there?”

COMMENTARY: Here Zhuangzi is speaking of good officers and ministers of the government, “Men of ardor.” like Tzu-hsu. But we can apply this to the politicians, missionaries, doctors and nurses, soldiers and general volunteers and do-gooders of today. Tzu-hsu spoke out against the unjust policy of his sovereign. When his advice wasn’t heeded, he did not stop there as Zhuangzi suggests. Instead he continued to wrangle with his king and was eventually put to death. In the end, he stood up for what he believed in but lost his life. Was the honor he gained by his actions worth it? Did it bring him happiness? What about Mother Teresa in the modern era? Did her years of charitable work bring her happiness? Yes, she helped many, and maybe even saved a few lives. But her personal writings revealed a crisis of belief, her loneliness, her desolation. How should we think about that? Zhuangzi leaves that decision to us…

“What ordinary people do and what they find happiness in – I don’t know whether such happiness is in the end really happiness or not. I look at what ordinary people find happiness in, what they all make a mad dash for, racing around as though they couldn’t stop – they all say they’re happy with it. I’m not happy with it and I’m not unhappy with it. In the end is there really happiness or isn’t there? I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: perfect happiness knows no happiness, perfect praise knows no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. Perfect happiness, keeping alive – only inaction gets you close to this!”

COMMENTARY: Actually, that is pretty good advice. Now I must remind you, as I mentioned in my earlier comments on Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, by “inaction” Zhuangzi is not speaking about no-action, but rather no deliberate, premeditated action, no scheming day and night and wondering if you are doing the right thing and how it could turn out or what could go wrong. Instead, he means “ziran” natural, spontaneous action, action which is initiated by nature and the natural Way of things. Then Zhuangzi concludes…

“Let me try putting it this way. The inaction of Heaven is its purity, the inaction of earth is its peace. So the two inactions combine and all things are transformed and brought to birth. Wonderfully, mysteriously, there is no place they come out of. Mysteriously, wonderfully, they have no sign. Each thing minds its business and all grow up out of inaction. So I say, Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. Among men, who can get hold of this inaction?”

COMMENTARY: If this sounds familiar, it should. Zhuangzi is reminding us of Laozi’s advice in chapter 37 of his Tao De Ching: “The Tao invariably takes no action. And yet there is nothing left undone.” And again in chapter 38: “The man of the superior De (Virtue, Character) takes no action. And thus nothing will be left undone.” More from the Zhuangzi next time.  

07/30/2019 The next two stories are from section 18 of the Zhuangzi “Once a sea bird alighted in the suburbs of the Lu capital. The marquis of Lu escorted it to the ancestral temple, where he entertained it, performing the Nine Shao music for it to listen to and presenting it with the meat of the T’ai-lao sacrifice to feast on. But the bird only looked dazed and forlorn, refusing to eat a single slice of meat or drink a cup of wine, and in three days it was dead. This is to try to nourish a bird with what would nourish you instead of what would nourish a bird. If you want to nourish a bird with what nourishes a bird, then you should let it roost in the deep forest, play among the banks and islands, float on the rivers and lakes, eat mudfish and minnows, follow the rest of the flock in flight and rest, and live any way it chooses. A bird hates to hear even the sound of human voices, much less all that hubbub and to-do. Try performing the Hsien-ch’ih and Nine Shao music in the wilds around Lake Tung-t’ing when the birds hear it they will fly off, when the animals hear it they will run away, when the fish hear it they will dive to the bottom. Only the people who hear it will gather around to listen. Fish live in water and thrive, but if men tried to live in water they would die. Creatures differ because they have different likes and dislikes. Therefore the former sages never required the same ability from all creatures or made them all do the same thing. Names should stop when they have expressed reality, concepts of right should be founded on what is suitable. This is what it means to have command of reason, and good fortune to support you.”

COMMENTARY: The moral of this story is fairly easy to see. I could some it up in one brief cliche: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” The point is everything, man, beast, bird or fish, should live according to its nature. Though we are all equal, we are not all the same. In fact, each one of us is different from everyone else. We speak different languages, eat different foods, read different books, enjoy different sports, different music, practice different religions. Realizing this will help each of us accept what others are doing according to their nature, not ours. And acceptance has a tremendous healing effect on us and on those around us. Just remember the title of that popular Ray Stevens’ song: “Everything is Beautiful…in its own way.”  

This next one has a key lesson for all martial artists… Chi Hsing-tzu was training gamecocks for the king. After ten days the king asked if they were ready. “Not yet. They’re too haughty and rely on their nerve.” Another ten days and the king asked again. “Not yet. They still respond to noises and movements.” Another ten days and the king asked again. “Not yet. They still look around fiercely and are full of spirit.” Another ten days and the king asked again. “They’re close enough. Another cock can crow and they show no sign of change. Look at them from a distance and you’d think they were made of wood. Their virtue is complete. Other cocks won’t dare face them, but will turn and run.”

COMMENTARY: The true warrior must drop all emotionality before they get into the ring. They need to let their competitive nature take over and drive them, not their wills or their their desires to win or the fear of losing face. All of these must be dissolved until only their fearless nature is reached. The same is true for sages as well. They must drop all emotionality and all worldly desires. Like a sculptor cutting away at marble, chipping off chunks and pieces here and there until the correct image appears, all must be cut away until one’s De (Virtue or True Character) is reached.