Wednesday, November 30, 2005

tao teh ching 46

When the Tao is present in the universe,
The horses haul manure[1].
When the Tao is absent from the universe,
War horses are bred outside the city[2].

There is no greater sin than desire[3],
No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

[1] Lau has his fleet-footed horses ploughing the fields, but both the Ma wang tui text and Wang Pi have their horses manuring them, which makes much more sense. Cheng reads that stray horses are kept away from the tilled fields.
[2] Lau has '... on the border', the Ma wang tui text and Wang Pi, like Gia-fu Feng, ' the suburbs', but Cheng reads, '... in fields grown wild'.
[3] This line is missing in the Wang Pi version.

Wang Pi's commentary reads: 'When the Tao prevails amongst all under Heaven' means contentment and knowing when to stop. Avoiding all ventures abroad, each one cultivates that which is at home, thus relegating even coursers to the manuring of the fields.
When covetousness becomes insatiable, this is not cultivating what is at home but rather engaging in ventures abroad.

Cheng is equally brief: When the Tao prevails, everyone knows what is enough. The fields are cultivated and stray horses chased out. However, 'there is no disaster greater, etc...' This chapter continues the idea expressed in the previous chapter, that knowing what enough is is to always have enough.

But there's more to it than that. The 8th. c. Indian Buddhist teacher, Shantideva, says in his Bodhisattva Charya Avatara - 'Entering the Path of Bodhisattva Activity' - that all misfortune stems from seeking one's own well-being, and all good fortune from seeking the well-being of all others. This is a fairly radical idea until one remembers that the single most obstructive thing to the free flowing of the Tao is one's idea of selfhood with its 'me' and 'mine', its needs, wants, likes and dislikes, and its singularly limited and limiting point of view.
ANYthing that can be done to open up this 'tight fist of grasping' is worth the time.
The lama who taught me my first steps in Tibetan once taught me an exercise for generating open-handedness and and open-hearted generosity. 'Take a stone in your left hand,' he said, 'and then say to your right hand "Here. Please take this. I would really like you to have it". Let your right hand receive the stone and thank the left hand for it. A little while later, having examined and enjoyed the stone, let the right hand offer this same stone back to the left hand in the precisely same manner.
'When you can do this with some ease, take something a little more valuable, a small coin, for example, and then a larger one... maybe a note or two, something precious like your favourite book or your guitar, a statue of the Buddha, and so on.
'When you can do this with perfect ease, start with the stone again and a beloved member of your family or a close friend...'
Completely blew my head.
I was discussing the Merleau-Pontian idea of chiasm with my friend Mike Cope the other day. 'Put your hands together in prayer', he said. 'Which one is the toucher, and which one the touched?'
A fair old exercise for a swift tumble into non-duality. And particularly if practiced with a friend.

Knowing one has enough! What a wondrous idea in this consumer universe!
And how strange it is that those who have most are almost invariably those who have the least 'enough'!

Not that any of us escape this.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

tao teh ching 45

Great accomplishment seems imperfect
Yet it does not outlive its usefulness.
Great fullness seems empty
Yet it cannot be exhausted.

Great straightness seems twisted.
Great intelligence seems stupid.
Great eloquence seems awkward.

Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Stillness and tranquillity set things in order in the universe.

Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text bear out this reading for the most part, except that they read the last line as meaning if you are still and tranquil then you can rule the whole world. Reading this as I generally do, I would say, if you are resting with full confidence upon the openness of the Tao, all the rest - whatever it might be - will simply take care of itself.

Wang Pi says: Because it completes things as the come up, it never forms one complete image...
Great fullness is filled with emptiness, and because it provides for things as they come up, none are treated with special consideration...
In straightening things as they come up, there is no single basis for straightening...
Great skill completes the physical objects of existence with the natural and does not work to any other standard...
Great eloquence speaks to things as they come up and does not engage in any artfulness of its own...

He reads the last two lines as:

Although the heat of activity conquers cold, it is quietude that conquers heat,
So pure quietude is the right way to govern all that is under heaven, ...

and comments: Only when the heat of activity ceases does it conquer cold, and it is in acting without conscious effort that quietude conquers heat. Pursuing this line of thought, we come to understand that that 'pure quietude is the right way to govern all under heaven'. Practicing quietude, one fully realises the authenticity of the people, but if one engages in activity, this will violate their nature. Thus it is only through pure quietude that one achieves all the forms of greatness mentioned above.

Cheng says: The first five sentences (the first seven in our text) parallel the idea that 'something seems like nothing' and 'the substantial seems insubstantial'. Both cold and heat are overcome by their opposites, so, no matter how confused and noisy the world is, it can be set aright by peace and quiet.

Peace and quiet! Utter confidence in 'the mind that is unsupported anywhere'...

Actually, there are several levels to attaining peace and quiet. For most of us, just relaxing at home after a hard day's work is already peace and quiet, and, indeed, it is!
But it's a peace and quiet that is relative - fragile even - and utterly dependent on causes and conditions, which, if not met can create quite the opposite effect. It's also true that this kind of peace and quiet can often be anything but clear-witted, and is, indeed, even quite soporific. One shuts down.
Then there are the peace and quiet of certain types of meditation, and here too, there are many different kinds and, if you like, 'grades' of peace and quiet. There are also many side trips and specific obstacles that need to be avoided by both beginners and even fairly 'experienced' meditators until such time as they have transcended the need to either still or occupy the mind.
Meditation is a vast subject which I am not going to try and cover here, but there is a brief text I translated a couple of years back that may explain some of it, so I will give that here as it very succinctly explains the nature of the moving, unmoving and aware aspects of mind. It's by the great 19th. century Lama Mi-p'am.

An Explication of Unmoving and Moving Mind and the Recognition of their Capacity in the Mahamudra System

by Mi-p'am Rinpoche

For those capable of putting it into practice, here are the essential points of the Mahamudra teachings on the unmoving and moving aspects of mind and how to recognise them and their capacity, leading by stages to a direct perception of the truth of the innate nature of emptiness.
The innate nature of mind is the Buddha–Nature — the Quintessence of Those Who Course in Bliss
(bde gshegs snying po, sugatagarbha) — and this is the pith–instruction pointing out its essence.
Having fully understood that mind is the root of all phenomena, when you look for the essence of mind and come to understand its secret nature you will recognise the selfless nature of all phenomena as understood by those versed in Dharma.
So, when you give up constantly searching after external phenomena and establish yourself in the view of the pith–instructions of the accomplished meditators, when you turn your attention inwards and look into your own mind and there is nothing arising in it, this is what is called ‘the unmoving’, whereas when there are various discursive thoughts arising from it, this is ‘the moving’. In either case that which knows them to be of the actual nature of the innate lucidity of your own mind is what is known as ‘the pure awareness’ or
Meditating in this way, you will come to know the essence of the various hosts of good and bad appearances arising from and dissolving back into your own mind in an uninterrupted manner. Knowing this is meeting face–to–face with all appearance as the inherent radiance of your own mind.
Having nakedly perceived the essence of moving and unmoving mind in this way, you will come to a clear understanding that, though they appear in various guises, they are utterly devoid of essence and are ‘void’. This so–called ‘voidness’, however, is not at all like the empty voidness of space.
Knowledge of all things does not obscure the clarity aspect of omniscient pure awareness and certainty arises as to the emptiness of the myriad objects in which an inherent nature can never be established. Furthermore, when you recognise the secret essence of mind where subject and object are without the least difference, the inherent nature experiencing the radiant luminosity of the quintessential nature of mind, this is what is called ‘meeting one's own pure awareness face–to–face’.
This is the very substance of the pointing–out teachings of both
Mahamudra and Maha–Ati. If you can maintain it, these experiences will arise.
As Saraha says:

Gazing and gazing into the sky of the eternally pure inherent nature,
Vision comes to an end.

And the
Prajñaparamita says:

There is no mind in mind; the nature of mind is radiant luminosity.

These point to the same thing.
Since this is by no means easy, it's extremely important that you put it into practice.

This is by Mi-p'am. May it be auspicious.

The emphasis in this chapter seems to be on not having any set schemes and techniques and on dealing, instead, with the present... maintaining a fresh and present wakefulness...

Monday, November 28, 2005

tao teh ching 44

Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more precious?
Gain or loss: Which is more painful?

He who is attached to things will suffer much.
He who saves will suffer heavy loss.
A contented man is never disappointed.
He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble.
He will stay forever safe.

This is somewhat more elegantly expressed (and with minor differences of sense) by Lau, as follows:

Your name or your person,
Which is dearer?
Your person or your goods,
Which is worth more?
Gain or loss,
Which is the greater bane?
That is why excessive meanness
Is sure to lead to great expense;
Too much store
Is sure to end in immense loss.
Know contentment
And you will suffer no disgrace;
Know when to stop
And you will meet with no danger.
You can then endure.

This is borne out by the Ma wang tui reading, which differs from the standard text only in shifting the 'That is why...' phrase from where it is to the start of the sentence about knowing contentment, and reads 'excessive meanness' as 'great desire'... Wang Pi, however, bears out Lau's reading on this: he, too, has 'excessive meanness'.

Wang's commentary reads:

When one values reputation and craves high position, one's person surely becomes a matter if indifference to one.
When one's covetousness for possessions becomes insatiable, one's person surely diminishes.
If one gains reputation and material advantage but loses one's own person, what is harm?
When in the grip of extreme meanness, one does not identify with the people, and, when addicted to much hoarding, does not share with them. The more one tries to get, the more numerous those who seek to attack one, which means that one will be harmed by the people, thus suffering great expense and heavy loss.

Cheng says: To have excessive love of fame and possessions will certainly result in great loss of health. The text raises the question: what is gain and loss? Knowing that proud ownership inevitably preceeds an unbearable loss brings on understanding of what sufficiencey is and when to stop, thus avoiding both shame and danger which then results in durability.

Knowing much about many things, they tell me, is not as useful as knowing the one thing that would liberate all. But what is this one thing? It is, I am assured, both by my teachers and by the screeds of texts I read, a certain and direct - that is to say, non-discursive, non-theoretical - knowledge of who and what I am. Techniques exist, even, whereby the practitioner continually questions him or herself as to this... 'Who am I?' one asks, and continues to ask, regardless of all apparent 'answers', until such time as no further answers are forthcoming... and then still persists in asking...
One examines where and what and how and why this persistent sense of 'I-ness' might be, examines its attachments, examines its emotions, examines its cleverness and stupidness, its anxious hopes and fears and all its projections, positive, negative and of indifference and lack of interest, its manner of colouring its universe. And then one attempts to rest for a while - even a very brief while - in a state beyond hanging on... clinging...
It's generally suggested - at least for beginners - that one relax into this state and then immediately let it go before one has the chance to start making it into yet another 'something', yet another conquerable domain... One relaxes like someone shrugging off a heavy load at the end of a long and wearisome day, and then immediately lets go of that, then relaxes again, lets go, relaxes... One does not attempt to 'maintain a state of rapt meditation', an exercise that generally only leads off into the phantasmagoria of hope and fear, anyway, and into the side-trip of psycho-somatic sensations and 'lights'... The radiance of meditation has nothing to do with coloured lights for all that these do appear here and there along the way. The radiance we are talking of is the innate lucidity that is the ultimate nature of mind.
What arises within this lucidity is no more than surface phenomenon... Fascination with it is like taking the dust motes floating in a beam of sunlight and forgetting the space in which both dust mote and sunbeam are momentarily manifest. This is like the host of an inn becoming confused and thinking he's the guest, like the child of a rich family wandering off confused amongst beggars...

When one knows the host, one can gracefully receive the guest, but where the host is lost, all there is - however careful, however structured, however kindly, even, and intelligent - is just confusion.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

tao teh ching 43

The softest thing in the universe
Overcomes the hardest thing in the universe.
That without substance can enter where there is no room.
Hence I know the value of no-action.

Teaching without words and work without doing
Are understood by very few.

Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text agree with this in substance, although Lau groups the six lines slightly differently (3 and 3) and reads the third line of the first group as a continuation of the other two, '... That which is without substance entering, etc.'. Both use the term 'ride rough shod over' rather than 'overcome', while both Wang (as read by Lynn) and Cheng interpret this as 'galloping through' or 'controlling a galloping steed'. I think this interpretation is a touch too literal, though.

Wang Pi says:

There is no place that air cannot enter, no place that water cannot flow through.
Emptiness is so soft and pliable that there is no place it cannot penetrate, for that which has no physical existence is inexhaustible and the perfectly soft is unbreakable. It is by pursuing this line of thought that we come to understand the advantage of acting without conscious purpose (wu wei).

And Cheng: Water and wind are among the softest things in the world, but when their force is concentrated, it is enough to topple mountains and overturn the sea... In its minutest form, softness allows the insubstantial to penetrate where there is no opening. The wind erodes copper and dripping water bores through stone in just this way. Extending this description, we can include ch'i with its ability to penetrate and moisten everywhere. These are all examples of natural phenomena and if one holds to this precept one will naturally discover just how true it is. This, then, is the benefit of non-action just as it is of the wordless teaching, but few in the world can attain it.

Interestingly, we are discussing teh here - the manifest energy and power - and yet it is consistently the emptiness and open-endedness of tao that is being emphasised. Things come into and pass out of being as the day decides, but the tao of them is endless (this, of course, is the very basis of the I Ching, expressed as such, even, in hexagrams such as 32, Hêng, 'Duration'). And, as we have seen, the tao is endless only in that it does not exist as anything at all; the moment it does, that is not the tao. Tao as such is formless, nameless, and - in fact - utterly inconceivable, and yet here we see again that it precisely this that incarnates in and enlivens the 'becoming'.
And it does so, without the least fuss, instant by instant... The arising is seamless and perfectly continuous. Everything is always happening. And yet it is only the nothingness becoming. It's stunning. It's so extraordinary and yet we take it for 'only this', 'just another that'... Our vision is 'privative': we steal value from what appears before us and turn it into 'the ordinary', the dull and the grey, the already seen, already allotted... Yet even this is nothing but another sacred manifestation of the infinite display... It has no preferences. If we want it grey, it's quite happy to be grey.
It's up to us.

The wordless teaching.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

tao teh ching 42

The Tao begot one.
One begot two.
Two begot three.
And three begot the ten thousand things.

The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang[1].
They achieve harmony by combining these forces[2].

Men hate to be 'orphaned', 'widowed' or 'worthless'[3],
But this is how kings and lords describe themselves.

For one gains by losing
And loses by gaining[4].

What others teach, I also teach, that is:
'A violent man will die a violent death.'[5]
This is the essence of my teaching.[6]

[1] Lau and the Ma wang tui text state, 'carry yin on their backs and wrap their arms around the yang'.
[2] Lau says: '... and are a blending of the generative forces of the two.'
[3] Lau uses 'solitary', 'desolate' and 'hapless'. The Ma wang tui text has 'orphaned, widowed and have no grain'.
[4] Lau says: 'Thus a thing is sometimes added to by being diminished or diminished by being added to.
[5] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text say rather, '... will not come to a natural end', which is not quite the same thing.
[6] The Ma wang tui text has '... as the father of my studies', and Lau '... take this as my precept'.

Wang Pi (at least in Lynn's translation, I wouldn't know about the original unfortunately) again divides his commentary on the first section (excluding only the last three lines) into three sections as follows:

1. Although the myriad things exist in myriad forms, they all revert to the One. What is it that causes them all to ultimately become One? It is due to nothingness (wu). Because it is from nothingness that the One comes, the One can be called 'nothingness'. Because we already call it 'One', how can there not be a word for it? Because we have this word and because we also have the One, how can there not be two? Because we have the One and these two (the words 'one' and 'two'), this consequently gives birth to three. The numbers involved in the transition from nothingness to existence are thus all accounted for here. If one passes this point and keeps on going, any such path is not the course of Tao.(*)

(*) Fascinatingly here, we are reminded of Aleister Crowley's contention that 0 = 3 inasmuch as, if you have nothing, understand that there is nothing and then go on to symbolise that nothing you are already at a third order of things.

2. Therefore the myriad things are begotten, and I know the master controlling this. Although they have myriad forms, it is the fusion of the vital principles that makes One out of them all. each of the common folk has his or her own heart/mind and customs differ from state to state, yet any lord or prince who attains the One becomes master over them all. Since he becomes master thanks to the One, how could this One ecver be discarded?

3. The more one has, the further removed one is from the One, but being diminished gets one closer to it. When diminution reaches its limit, its ultimate value (the One) is attained. Since calling it 'the One' already brings us to three, how much less likely is it that someone rooted in something other than the One will ever get close to the Tao? The saying that one is 'augmented by being diminished and... diminished by being augmented' is not just empty talk!

Of the remaining three lines he says:Teaching others I do not force them to follow what I teach but help them to make use of the natural which I cite as the perfect principle, and that compliance with this means good fortune while opposition to it brings misfortune. Thus, as regards what people teach each other, if one opposes it, one will certainly bring misfortune upon oneself. Thus I also teach others in such a way as not to oppose them.
If one is dangerously bold, one will certainly not die a natural death...

Cheng Man-ch'ing, however, gets to nub of the matter. I shall base my own commentary around his, changing and/or augmenting his (which I'm not convinced his translator understood fully) to suit my own understanding. (Please bear with me!)

Because it is invariant and continuous like light, yang energy is represented as a solid line: ___. When yang energy peaks, yin energy arises, and, since yin is the embodiment of the yang, its manifestation in the discrete and intermittent, it is represented by the broken line _ _.
These lines are what inspired the words 'unity gives birth to duality".
In the I Ching, yin-yang is symbolised by these two lines one on top of the other, thus:

_ _

which is, of course trinity.
The broken yin line, too, is already a trinity in itself (line-space-line), and the solid yang line may also be regarded as a trinity in that it enlivens and 'fills' the three sections of the yin line.
When yin peaks, yang arises, and this is 'returning' and the cycle of continuous change.
This is the interplay of yin-yang, or 'the marriage of heaven and earth'.
If one adds another line, yin or yang, and above or below, to the above combination, one gets the six 'offspring' trigrams:

_ _ _ _ ___ _ _ ___ ___
_ _ ___ _ _ ___ _ _ ___
___ _ _ _ _ ___ ___ _ _

which, along with the mother and father trigrams

___ _ _
___ _ _
___ _ _

represent the 5 stages of change, fire, water, wood, metal and earth. These in combination (any trigram can combine with all eight of the others thus making 64 hexagrams, each of which can then either remain itself or change into any one of the 63 others through the mutation of lines moving from old yang to young yin or vice-versa, giving 4096 possible 'combinations') are the 'trinity giving birth to the ten thousand things' which then, in turn, reproduce.
This trinity is then also sometimes symbolised by a threefold broken line, _ _ _, and possible 'combination' at that point also becomes somewhat mind-boggling...
'The breath of heaven and earth blend and nature quickens', 'male and female unite and nature is impregnated'.
The trinity.
As Wang Pi says, stepping beyond this is to lose the path.

As regards 'all things are wrapped in yin and contain yang', yin makes up the external form of the yang that it embodies - that is contained within and enlivens it. The mutuality of this interplay between them - the yin enfolding the yang --->, and the yang indwelling the yin <---, can also be seen as a third element <--->.
'Their pulsating ch'is marry' is the circulating current of ch'i producing the one and the other energy by turns in what the I Ching calls the processes of 'transfer' and 'transformation'. According to these processes, all things are born of the energy of earth - are 'wrapped in yin' - and hence yin and softness are the dominant characteristic of earth.
'The stiff and the hard are the moribund ones' describes the situation where overabundant strength goes against the energy of the ch'i and must inevitably fail because of this. It results in 'untimely death'. The Shuo Wen, the earliest compiled Chinese dictionary from the 2nd. c. CE, defines 'proper behaviour' as 'the everyday household rules of good behaviour'.
Lao-tze is a proponent of yin and of softness, the exact opposite of overweening strength, and therefore 'chooses this' and teaches proper behaviour.

This last is a blend of my own reading and what I think is a slightly garbled version of Professor Cheng. For any errors in it, please forgive me.

Friday, November 25, 2005

tao teh ching 41

The wise student hears of the Tao and practices it diligently.
The average student hears of the Tao and gives it a thought now and again[1].
The foolish student hears of the Tao and laughs out loud.
If there were no laughter, the Tao would not be what it is.

Hence it is said[2]:
The bright path seems dim;
Going forward seems like retreat;
The easy way seems hard;
The highest Virtue seems empty;
Great purtity seems sullied;
A wealth of Virtue seems inadequate;
The strength of Virtue seems frail;
Real Virtue seems unreal[3];
The perfect square has no corners;
Great talents ripen late;
The highest notes are hard to hear;
The greatest form has no shape;
The Tao is hidden and without a name;
The Tao alone nourishes and brings everything to fulfilment[4].

[1] Lau expresses this as the idea that it seems to be there one moment and gone the next. Both these ideas are rather intriguing. The Ma wang tui text reads it as '... some things they retain and others they lose...'
[2] Lau says: Hence the Chien yen has it... The Ma wang tui text reads chien yen as ' a set saying' which is borne out by Wang Pi who says, 'Chien (established) is similar to li (established)'.
[3] The Ma wang tui text has '... The simplest reality appears to change...'
[4] Lau's version of these lines differs slightly in expression, for the third, for example, he gives '... The way that is even seems rough...' and, for the fourth, '... The highest virtue is like the valley...', but generally speaking the sense is the same. He reads the last six lines as:

The great square has no corners;
The great vessel takes long to complete;
The great note is rarified in sound;
The great image has no shape.
The way conceals itself in being nameless.
It is the way alone that excels in bestowing and in accomplishing.

which gives a slightly different flavour to things.
The Ma wang tui text, however, reads the last two lines as:

The Way is great but has no name.
Only the Way is good at beginning things and also good at bringing to completion.

Wang Pi points out that the reason the best student practices diligently is because he has the will to do so.
On the lines beginning (in Gia-fu Feng's translation), 'The bright path seems dim...', and right down to the end, he comments, line by line, as follows:

He is bright but does not shine (cf. ch. 21).

The sage places himself in the rear yet finds himself in the forefront. He puts aside his person, yet his person is preserved (cf. chs. 58, 14 and 20).

Lei (knotted) here means k'uai (rough). The great and smooth Tao follows the nature of things and does not grasp the carpenters level in order to make them smooth. Because its own smoothness and evenness cannot be seen, people take it for the complete opposite...

Because it does not regard virtue as virtue, it is devoid of content.

It is only by 'knowing the white yet sustaining the black' (cf. ch. 28) that great whiteness can be achieved.

Vast virtue is not filled with anything - it is so formless and capacious that it cannot be filled.

... Established virtue follows the natural bent of the peaople and does not set itself up and work on them. Thus it appears secretive and congenial.

It is square but does not cut, and this is how it has no corners (that is to say, it does not attempt to 'square' others).

The great vessel forms all under Heaven without holding on to anything as completely separate from it or setting itself up as a model to follow, thus it is necessarily slow to form.

'When we listen for it and do not hear it, this is what is called inaudible' (cf. ch. 14). The great note is the note we cannot manage to hear. If it had a sound, it would be distinct, and, once distinct, if it were note the note kung, it would be the note shang (these being the equivalents of our doh and re). If it were distinct, it would be able to govern all the other notes. Thus, if it has a sound, that is not the great note.

As soon as there is a form, distictions exist, and, with distinctions, if something is not warm it must be cool. Thus an image that has a form is not the great image.

All these manifestations of excellence are achieve by the Tao. When it exists as an image, it is the great image, but the great image is formless. When it exists as a note, it is the great note, but the great note is inaudible. Things are completed by it, but they do not see its form. Thus it is hidden and nameless. When it bestows, this is not limited merely to supplying what something specifically needs. Its bestowal complete, this is sufficient to cause the virtue of that something to endure until its end... The way it brings to completion is not like the carpenter making something. With it, not a single thing fails to fulfil its form to perfection.

Professor Cheng mentions that, if 'great wisdom seems like stupidity', poor scholars are bound to laugh at it. How would they ever understand?

The basic warning here, of course, is that study of the Way is subtle. Extremely subtle.
Also that it is only the Way that brings things into being and then brings them to perfection. The Teh is always and only the manifest energy of Tao.

The fact that, for middling students - ourselves, for example - the Tao 'seems to be there one moment and gone the next', and that they retain some things while losing others, giving thought to it only now and again brings us to the question of Taoist meditation and what meditation actually is.
Meditation as defined by the Oxford English Reference Dictionary ('exercising of the mind in [esp. religious] contemplation; focussing upon a subject in this manner') plays a very small, if extremely important but preparatory part in what is generally referred to by this term (by occidentals) as practiced in the Extreme Orient (India, China, Tibet and so on).
Generally speaking, one first learns (by listening or, less optimally, reading) what the particular meditation entails. One then reflects upon these teachings until such time as one fully understands them, going back and checking details with one's teacher or source text as necessary, and committing them fully to memory such that one will not forget the particularities while engaged in, the third stage, profound transic meditation. This has outer, inner, secret and extremely secret dimensions, generally arranged in ever-deepening order of profundity but sometimes tossing one in at the deep end or at some other point along the path.
From outer to inner, these facets may be described, for example, as 'shamanic', 'tantric', 'yogic' and ultimate, or, in terms of their content and intention, as

* external rituals dedicated to pacifying non-conducive conditions and creating situations of support for the practitioner or for the person for whom the ritual is being conducted
* rituals of external invocation and worship of deiform energies in order to purify intention
* rituals of viusualising oneself and one's environment as the deity and its mandala in order to purify ordinary (and very often negative) grasping to what one assumes is 'reality'
* internal practices working with the subtlest energies of the body in order to dissolve blockages in and - ultimately - also attachment to these
* concurrent with all of these, meditations intended to dissolve increasingly subtle attachments to 'relative reality'
* extremely subtle practices to reveal the identity of relative and ultimate reality and how this identity manifests.

Each of these phases has its own technical name - a technical term which refers to precisely that sort of meditation and no other.
Some meditations entail concentration on outer objects, some, concentration on internally generated images and 'visualisation', and some concentrate only upon openness or are said to have 'no object', but all of these are known as 'contrived' meditation.
Ultimately, meditation is simply relaxing into what is as it is, which is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

tao teh ching 40

Returning is the motion of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
The ten thousand things[1] are born of being.
Being is born of not being.

[1] The Ma wang tui text has only wu (things), not wan wu (the ten thousand things).

Wang says: Nobility has humility as its foundation, and loftiness has lowliness as its root. What exists becomes useful by taking advantage of what does not exist. This is what is meant here by 'reversion'. As for action, if one always understands its state of nothingness, all things will go smoothly(*)...

(*) I have reinterpreted this sentence more or less following Richard Lynn.

Because its softness and pliancy embrace all things equally, its capacity is infinite.
All things under heaven achieve life because of existence, but the origin of existence has nothingness at its root. If oner would have things achieve their full existence, one must allow them to revert to nothingness.

Cheng says: Describing the greatness of the Tao, chapter 25 says: 'great' can be described as going ever onward. 'Going ever onward' can be described as going far. 'Going far' can be described as returning. That which does not return is worn out, finished. Cyclical return gives the Tao its motion. The feminine principle (yin) is the focus of reference for heaven, softness is the reference point for earth, the mother and infant form the reference for mankind, water is the reference in nature. Each has connection with the function of the Tao. The first chapter states, 'That which has no name is the origin of heaven and earth; that which has a name is the mother of all things'. Both 'the mother of all things' and 'the origin of heaven and earth' result from ch'i attaining Oneness the same way 'the heavens attained Oneness and became clear; the earth attained Oneness and settled'. This illustrates 'unity gives birth to duality'. When 'heaven and earth merge in harmony and a sweet dew rains down', nature reproduces and 'duality gives birth to trinity, and trinity gives birth to all things'. Therefore 'something is born of nothing'.

This refers back to my commentaries on chapters 25 and 28 and their accompanying diagrams (q.v.), the ideas contained in these being - of course - at the very root of all of traditional Chinese science, yoga and alchemy.
The point being emphasised here is that if one does not have perfect confidence in ultimate non-being, the very nature of the Tao, already skewed by dualism and its multiplications, everything else one builds is destined to fail. Even 'meditation' and 'enlightenment' are simply paths of delusion
Where, however, such confidence does exist, everything that arises from it naturally works out in perfect harmony. Whatever arises is sustenance for naked awareness–emptiness, all fluctuation of happiness, sorrow and all possible mental ups and downs is simply the creativity of the sovereign dimension of the absolutely real, is spontaneously self–purified and leaves no karmic trace.
Things - the arisings - do not change as such, but the opening out of one's attitude allows them free play without leading them off into dead-end 'ends-in-view'. As Dza Pältrül Rinpoche says:

The mode of arising is the same as before
But there is an immense and crucial difference in the mode of liberation.

Knowing this is the dimension of absolute reality, far beyond all contrived 'meditation'.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

tao teh ching 39

These things from ancient time arise from one:
The sky is whole and clear.
The earth is whole and firm.
The spirit is whole and strong.
The valley is whole and full.
The ten thousand things are whole and alive.
Kings and lords are whole and the country is upright.
All these are in virtue of wholeness.

The clarity of the sky prevents its falling.
The firmness of the earth prevents its splitting.
The strength of the spirit prevents its being used up.
The fullness of the valley prevents its running dry.
The growth of the ten thousand things prevents their dying out.
The leadership of kings and lords prevents the downfall of the country.

Therefore the humble is the root of the noble.
The low is the foundation of the high.
Princes and lords consider themselves 'orphaned', 'widowed' and 'worthless'.
Do they not depend on being humble.

Too much success is not an advantage.
Do not tinkle like jade
Or clatter like stone chimes.

Lau (confirmed by Wang Pi) reads this somewhat differently, and - I think (although I have my doubts about the last section) - slightly more cogently. His version is:

Of old, these came to be in possession of ther One:
Heaven in virtue of the One is limpid;
Earth in virtue of the One is settled;
Gods in virtue of the One have their potencies;
The valley in virtue if the One is full;
The myriad creaturesin virtue of the One are alive;
Lords and princes in virtue of the One become leaders in the empire.
It is the One that makes these what they are.
Without what makes it limpid heaven might split;
Without what makes it settled earth might sink;
Without what gives them their potencies the gods might spend themselves;
Without what makes it full the valley might run dry;
Without what keeps them alive the myriad creatures might perish;
Without what makes them leaders lords and princes might fall.
Hence the superior must have the inferior as root;
The high must have the low as base.
Thus lords and princes refer to themselves as 'solitary', 'desolate' and 'hapless'. This is taking the inferior as root, is it not?
Hence the highest renown is without renown,
Not wishing to be one among many like jade
Nor to be aloof like stone.

The Ma wang tui text is significantly different from both of these, omitting, for example, the lines concerning 'the myriad things' in both of the first two verses.
The second verse (following on the line concerning princes and lords above) commences with the line: 'Taking this to its logical conclusion we would say...' rather than the later 'It is the One that makes these what they are' as we have here.
The final verse (which is apparently problematic in that the word for 'praise' (yü) and that for 'carriage' (yü) seem to have been interchanged by scribal error) reads:

Therefore they regard their large numbers of carriages as having no carriage
And because of this, they desire not to dazzle and glitter like jade
But remain firm and strong like stone.

Wing-tsit Chan translates the first of these lines as: 'Therefore, enumerate all the parts of a chariot as you may, and you still have no chariot'.
This is an intersting translation for me, personally, inasmuch as it comes very close to the Madhyamika idea (also found in the Chinese Buddhist Hua-yen School), that 'things' are always reducible to their endlessly smaller parts and inevitably form part of ever larger wholes, none of which has any of the essence of the thing as such.
To illustrate this, the so-called 'hand' is a composite of fingers, thumb, palm, back, knuckles and wrist. These, in turn, are a composite of skin, flesh, blood, bones, marrow and so on. These again are made up of cells, atoms, atomic particles and the like, ad infinitessimum. And the hand is part of a forearm, arm, upper body, person, etc., ad infinitum. No one part of these can be pointed at as the independent, permanent and partless entity 'hand', as such, to the extent that - in fact - it is only the name 'hand' that seems to be of any reality at all - until we remember that 'hand' is only the Germanic variant of the word which is variations of manus in the Latin-based languages and utterly different again in the tongues outside the Indo-European fold.
The purpose of this sort of analysis is not to negate the relative reality of things as such, but to cut through our unconscious clinging to them as monolithic, 'solid' and absolutely 'real' in what they seem to be, or, as we would say, 'are'.

However, I digress...

Wang Pi's commentary is as follows:

'Long , long ago' means at the beginning. One is the beginning of numbers as well as the ultimate number of things. Each thing, as such, is produced by the One, and this is why it is the master of them all. All things attain completeness by obtaining this One, and, once complete, the exist as complete entities by separating themselves from the One. Once they exist as complete entities, they lose the mother, and this is why all things deteriorate, disintegrate, terminate, dry up, expire and collapse.

Each of the entities mentioned in the text respectively attains purity, stability, capacity to be filled, life and constancy thanks to its access to the One.
Heaven attains purity by making use of the One; it is not pure through making use of purity. Because it holds to the One, its purity is not lost, but if it tried to make use of purity, 'it would, we fear, deteriorate'(*). Thus one must not separate from the mother, the source of efficacy. For this reason, if all these did not adhere to this source of efficacy, it is to be feared that they would lose their roots - the basis of what they are.

(*) This idea - 'we fear ' - is expressed in the Ma wang tui text as well.

Purity cannot provide purity, fullness cannot provide the capacity to be filled. As long as they all keep to their mother, the preserve their forms accordingly. Therefore purity is unworthy of being thought noble and fullness is insufficient to be considered much. Nobility resides with the mother, but the mother is without noble form. Thus it is that 'nobility uses humility as its roots and loftiness uses lowliness as its foundation'. 'Therefore the ultimate number of praises' is really 'no praise'. Jadestone is lustrous and as hard as can be, but what it embodies is found entirely in its form. Thus one should not seek to be praised as if one were jadestone.

Professor Cheng's commentary says: Chapter 22 says, 'The Sage embraces the Oneness of the Tao and becomes a guide for the whole world'. Later, in chapter 28, it says, 'to be a guide for the world, follow your innate nature without changing'. Here, to attain Oneness is to become clear, settled, numinous, filled, reproductive and a true leader, all of which illustrates 'the Sage embraces the Oneness of the Tao'.

Reading the second verse as:

In the heavens, that which is not clear eventually settles.
On earth, that which does not settle dissipates.
Spirits which are not numinous disappear.
Valleys not filled will dry up
Creatures thatdo not reproduce become extinct.
Kings and officials, if not honoured and esteemed, will fall.

he says: 'The heavens attained Oneness and became clear' refers to ch'i (breath) or Tao. If the heavens were not in a stae of Oneness, they would not be clear, they would be turgid. That which is turgid has weight, which is not the quality of the heavens but that of earth. Therefore it is obvious that 'in the heavens, that which is not clear eventually settles'. The sense of the text harmonises with 'the Sage embraces the Oneness of the Tao...' and '...follow your innate nature without changing'. That what is not numinous disappears and what is not filled dries up also accords with the same idea. It is ch'i that fills valleys. Without ch'i they are arid.

Reading the line concerning officials as, 'That is why officials call themselves the lonely, the hubless', he continues: The Ho-shang Kung edition says, 'the analogy of lonliness and hublessness describes the iability to be like a hub, a centre for converging spokes'. Our text continues, explaining, 'therefore it is better to consider the vacancy of the vehicle rather than its appearance'. This reference to a hub echoes that in chapter 11: 'thirty spokes converge at a single hub; it is its vacancy that begets the vehicle's usefulness'. Wang Pi changes 'hubless' to read 'grainless' (*) which in this context makes no sense at all. He uses 'carriage' instead of 'vehicle', and he uses 'hardness' in place of 'ordinary'. His efforts are not as well-directed as those of Ho-shang Kung, who goes on to say that without a foundation or a trunk neither the high nor the honourable can succeed; that officials who are 'lonely' cannot become 'hubs'; and that to be 'shiny and attractive' puts a premium on rarity, while the 'ordinary' is so commonplace that it is quite inexpensive and available to all.

(*) This is certainly not the case in Richard Lynn's translation, which - I am assured - is not bad at all.

Here, again, we are brought face-to-face with the idea that 'reality' is not in things as such, but in their connection with the open-endedness that is the Tao... That what makes things what they seem to be is this connection and nothing else. The Tao is the nameless source and guardian of the life-energy of all that exists. It is their emptiness - their open-endedness - and, as such, 'begets their usefulness'.
There is much talk, in psychology, of 'projection', and projection is generally regarded as a self-deception, but the truth of the matter is that the entire universe is actually just a projection... It's not just the projection of a positivie, negative or nugatory quality onto certain persons and things that is off the mark: our entire reading of the data of our senses is completely shot through with it. The idea that 'concensus reality' is 'normal' - or even that there is such a thing as concensus reality - is purely wishful thinking.
The contemporary Dzogchen teacher Künzang Dechen Lingpa expresses this quite clearly in a brief teaching-poem of his, as follows:

It's like this: All phenomena of the world of appearances and possibilities, be they of cyclic existence or of ultimate peace,
Utterly transcend the extremes of either having or not having substantial existence.
No matter what manifests or how you perceive it, its inherent nature is that of a magical illusion
And clinging to it as actually possessing material characteristics is simply the error of wishful thinking.
Beyond acceptance or rejection, just remain in an uncontrived and effortless state of total relaxation.
Even if the waves that are the self–expression of the vast and swirling expanse of the ocean of ultimate reality
Should rise up to stream through the very heavens,
They never depart from being of the nature of the great ocean itself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

tao teh ching 38

A truly good man is not aware of his goodness
And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good
And is therefore not good.

A truly good man does nothing
Yet leaves nothing undone.
A foolish man is always doing
Yet much remains to be done.

When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone.
When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done.
When a disciplinarian does something and no-one responds,
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order[1].

Therefore when the Tao is lost, there is goodness,
When goodness is lost, there is kindness,
When kindness is lost, there is justice,
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of the Tao.
It is the beginning of folly.

Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real and not on the surface.,
On the fruit and not on the flower.
Therefore accept the one and reject the other.

[1] For this section Lau (who translates the 'good' and 'bad' men above as men of 'highest' and 'lowest' virtue) has: A man of highest benevolence acts, but from no ulterior motive. A man of highest rectitude acts, but from ulterior motive. A man most conversant with the rites acts, but when no-one responds rolls up his sleeves, etc.'

The Ma wang tui text, however, says (and this is the reading as understood by Wang Pi too): The highest virtue takes no action, yet it has no reason for acting in this way.

In a note Henricks points out that the 'foreknowledge' mentioned in the next to last section probably means to have one's mind made up before entering a new situation as to what is 'right' and 'wrong', 'proper', 'acceptable' and so on.
He also points out that, moving from the 'highest virtue' down to the 'highest propreity', and from 'taking no action and having no reason for doing so' down to 'taking action and using force to enforce it' is the author's way of ranking what he thinks of the so-called 'Confucian virtues'.

Wang Pi (who has commented on this chapter at great length, dividing his commentary into 14 different fairly extensive sections!) says (in part):

1. Virtue (teh) consists of attainment (teh). Because this means constant attainment without loss and benefit without harm, we use the word 'virtue' as a name for it. Where does one attain virtue? One attains it from the Tao. How does one fulfil the Tao? One fulfils it by functioning out of nothing. If one's functioning stems from nothing, there is no-one who will not be upheld by it... This is why, though Heaven and Earth are vast, they have nothingness for their heart/mind, and why the sage sovereign, though great, bases his rule on nothingness. Therefore I say that if one looks at it in terms of (the hexagram) Fu ('Return'), the heart/mind of Heaven and earth is seen, and if we think of it in terms of the solstice, the perfection of former kings is witnessed(*). Therefore, if one is able to extinguish one's self-interest and nullify personal existence, no-one within the four seas will fail to look up to one, nor anyone near or far fail to gravitate toward one.

(*) Richard Lynn's note here extends over two: For the first section, concerning the heaxagram Fu (Return), please refer to the note in ch.26

Then in the Commentary on the Images for the same hexagram, we read: Thunder within the Earth: this constitutes the image of Return. In the same way, the former kings closed the border passes on the occasion of the winter solstice, merchants and travellers did not move about and neither did kings go out to inspect their domains'. Wang's commentary says:

The winter solstice is the time when the yin principle commences its Return (i.e., begins to become quiescent). Thus, to undergo Return as such means to reach perfect stillness and great tranquility. The former kings behaved in such a way as to act as do Heaven and Earth. For activity to be subject to Return means that it becomes quiescent; for movement to be subject to Return means that it comes to a halt; and for matters to be subject to Return means a disengagement from matters.

2. If one regards oneself as something special possessing a heart/mind of one's own, this one body one has will fail to remain whole, its flesh and bones rendered incompatible. This is why a person of superior virtue functions only in tandem with the Tao. He does not regard his virtue as virtue, never holds on to or makes use of it. Thus he is able to have virtue and nothings fails to be done. He attains it without seeking it and fulfils it without conscious effort. Thus, although he has virtue, he has no reputation for virtue.

3. A person of inferior virtue attains it by seeking it and fulfils it with conscious effort, then establishes 'goodness' as a means of keeping the people in order. Thus he has a reputation for virtue, but if one attains it by seeking it, one will surely lose it, and if one tries to fulfil it by making conscious effort, one will surely fail. Once the name 'good' appears, there will also be a 'not good' corresponding to it... One who acts out of nothing remains free of all bias. Those who cannot act without conscious effort are always persons of inferior virtue, that is to say, are concerned with benevolence, righteousness, propreity and etiquette.

4. ... A person of inferior virtue who still has the lowest capcity for acting out of nothing turns out to be a person of superior benevolence. That is, he is still someone whose capacity is such that he can act out of nothing, but (when he does so),... those who act out of something regard this disinterested benevolance as a calamity.

5. The root of action is found where there is no conscious effort (i.e., in wu wei), and the mother of action is found in the nameless (the Tao). If one rejects the root, casts off the mother and turns, instead, to the child, though one's merit may indeed become great because of it, there will surely be instances where benefit fails, and though one might thus attain a praisworthy reputation, falsehood will surely arise too.

6. ...There appear those who promote sweeping applications of benevolence and kindness, and such love may well be free of biased self-interest...

7. Since love of this nature cannot be applied universally, there appear those who - with a little more truing here, a little less straightening there - try to apply righteousness and moral principles. They rage against the crooked and bless the straight, assisting that one and attacjking this, for they act with something in mind when dealing with matters.

8. As straightening cannot make people sincere, there appear those who turn cultural institutions and ceremonial etiquette into superficial ornamentation. Since those who esteem cultivation and etiquette interact by wrangling and fault finding, anger arises with the conflict of opinions...

9. How can the greatest thing possible be anything else than the Tao? How could any lesser expression adequately serve to honour it? Thus, although virtue (teh) may be replete, its enterprise great, its rich abundance embrace the myriad things and each thing stil have access to its own virtue, none of these can, in itself, embrace all of it. Thus Heaven cannot serve to uphold it, Earth to cover, or man to support it. Though the myriad things are noble, their functioning is based on nothing, and they cannot reject having nothingness as their embodiment. If one were to reject nothingness as one's embodiment, one would lose one's power to be great. This is what is meant by 'One resorts to virtue only after losing the Tao'.

10. If one's functioning is based on nothing, one has access to the mother and it is then possible, without one's labouring at it, for all people without exception to live in an orderly manner. If one falls from this, however, one loses the mother that gives birth to functioning. One who is incapable of unconscious effort will value sweeping applications of benevolence. One who is incapable of even such sweeping application will value truing, straightening and regulation. One who is incapable of regulation will value ornamental etiquette... Propreity as such gets its start when loyalty and trust have become insincere. The frank and unconventional, refusing to go along with such pretense, heap scorn on such superficiality, while sticklers obssessed with minutae wrangle over its application. If even acting out of the benevolence and righteousness that emerge from within is still wrong, how much less likely is it that efforts at external ornaent will endure for long?...

11. 'Foresight' means knowing something before others do and refers to those of inferior virtue. Such people dry up their intelligence in the quest of foresight and apply their 'knowledge' in schemes devised to deal with the masses. They may get at the innate tendencies of things, but will be responsible for the spread of treachery; they may enrich their reputations, but, in so doing, will augment loss of honesty and sincerity. The harder they work, the more obscured situations become.; the more effort they make, the more entangled with weeds and filth government becomes. The more they dry up their sovereign's sagehood and intelligence, the more harm befalls the people. If one discards the self and leaves things alone, peace will arrive without conscious effort. If one holds fast to simplicity and the uncarved block, there will be no need for any system of criminal law. The problem is that one becomes besotted with what wins one a reputation and forgets and rejects what the uncarved block holds for one... All this is 'the origin of duplicity'.

12. When one has access to the mother who provides success, 'the myriad beings model their behaviour upon one, yet one does not lay claim to authority', and, though one does not work at it, the myriad affairs all simply come to completion. It is because one functions by not using forms and rules and not using set names that it becomes possible for benevolence, righteousness, propriety and etiquette to display themselves. If one upholds the people with the Tao and subdues them only with nameless simplicity, they will have nothing to exalt and their hearts and minds will have nothing to scheme about.. Each person tending to his or her own affairs and acting out of their innate sense of sincerity, the virtue of benevolence will deepen, the practice of righteousness rectify itself, and propriety and etiquette become pure of themselves.

13. When the Tao is rejected as a support and discarded as a means whereby to support life, use is then made of the concrete forms it assumes and application are based on what ordinary intelligence perceives. If it takes the form of benvolence it is shown esteem; if it takes that of righteousness it becomes a cause for wrangling. When it takes the form of propreity, it becomes the object of dispute. Thus, the deepening of the virtue of benevolence is impossible for one who uses only the form of benevolence, rectification of the practice of righteousness cannot be achieved by one who uses only the form of righteousness; and the purification of propriety and etiquette will never be attained by one who uses only the form of propriety.

14. When one upholds all things with the Tao and unites and controls them with the mother, then benevolence may manifest but there is no particular esteem for it, and righteousness and propriety may be displayed but there is no wrangling over them. It is use of the nameless that allows names to become honest and appropriate, and use of the formless that permits forms to come to their perfection. If one preserves the child by holding fast to the mother and makes the branch tips flourish by enhancing the roots, forms and names will all exist, but anomalies will not occur. Such great beauty will make a companion worthy of Heaven, and the superficial will not arise(*). Therefore it is important not to keep the mother at a distance nor lose contact with the roots. Benevolence and righteousness are born of the mother and should not be mistaken for the mother herself. Implements are produced by the artisan, but are not mistaken for the artisan himself. Discarding the mother to make use of the child, rejecting the roots and taking only the tips of the branches, if this manifests in names, there will be distinctions, and, if in forms, there will be limits. Though one enlarge their forms to the utmost, there is sure to be something they do not encompass. Though one make them as praisworthy as possible, it is certain there will be those who cause calamity and distress. If success depends on making such conscious effort, how can it be worth engaging in?

(*) In the Ch'uang-tze it says: Heaven and earth have their great beauties, but never speak of them; the four seasons have a clear-cut regularity, but never discuss it; the ten thousand things each have their principles but do not hold forth as regards them. The wise person seeks out the beauties of heaven and earth and masters the principles of the ten thousand things. Thus it is that the perfect person does not act and the great sage does not move. One must admit that they have perceived the Way of heaven and earth.

Cheng's commentary says: Concerning 'if Tao is lost Teh appears', Tao and Teh cannot be parted, nor can yin and yang, nor can male and female. If they could be separated, what would become of nature, of the human race? Superior Teh and inferior Teh are as different as natural and unnatural. Humanism and justice are naturally different: the basis of justice is right and wrong. When superior etiquette acts and gets no response, it goes to the extreme of resorting to violence, and is thus far distant from the Tao...
Chapter 26 states, 'not daring to be first, one can direct all instruments', so Lao-tze does not consider foreknowledge of events a serious matter. Those who are prescient compete among themselves to be first much as the stupid blithely undertake matters of consequence, and they are thus equivalent to a mere blossom of the Tao. One treats such desires by keeping them in their place with 'the original uniqueness of the Nameless'.
One must seriously respect the fruit, taking generosity as one's locus, and 'not dwell on the blossom'.
One should also assiduously avoid 'that', which is merely a 'small instrument', and cleave to 'this', into which 'that' will then naturally be transformed by the Tao.

I do not see that I have much to add here, except - perhaps - to point out once again that what we are looking at here is not a political text, but a text dealing with the most profound reaches of Chinese yoga.
'Quiescence' is, in my somewhat overweening opinion, not really a good translation. Emptiness - nothingness - is not 'quiescent-as-opposed-to-active'. On the contrary, it is the very substance of activity - the very stuff of which all activity is woven.
Cheng is quite right when he says that Tao and Teh, yin and yang are inseparable. And his invoking here of superior and inferior Teh as not at all the same thing is most telling. Throughout Taoist yoga and alchemy we come across the ideas of 'new' and 'old' yin and yang - yin and yang that are fresh and vibrant, and yin and yang that have played out their energy. We shall probably hear more on these as the section on Teh progresses, but some very useful books on the subject are:

Cultivating Stillness - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
The Tao of Health, Longevity and Immortality - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Harmonizing Yin and Yang - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Cultivating the Energy of Life - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Awakening the Tao - Thomas Cleary [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
The Inner Teachings of Taoism - Thomas Cleary [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Undertsanding Reality - Thomas Cleary [UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII PRESS]
Immortal Sisters - Thomas Cleary [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]

Nuff said!


Monday, November 21, 2005

tao teh ching 37

The Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this[1],
The ten thousand things would develop naturally[2].
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formles substance.
Without form there is no desire.
Without desire there is tranquility.
And in this way all things would be at peace[3].

[1] Lau has 'hold fast to this'.
[2] Lau has 'be transformed of their own accord'.
[3] For this last section, Lau has:

After they are transformed, should desire raise its head,
I shall press it down with the weight of the nameless uncarved block.
The nameless uncarved block
Is but freedom from desire,
And if I cease to desire and remain still,
The empire will be at peace of its own accord.

The Ma wang tui reading is subtly different, so I give it here:

... I would subdue them with the nameless simplicity.
Having subdued them with the nameless simplicity,
I would not disgrace them.
By not being disgraced they will be tranquil
And Heaven and Earth will of themselves be correct and right.

Wang Pi's commentary reads:

It complies with the natural.
In either getting its start or achieving its completion, every one of the myriad things, without exception, stems from what is done in this way.
In 'once nurtured, should desire arise', 'arise' means the formation of desire. 'I would press down on it with the uncarved block' means that I would not play the master.
There would be no desire or contention.

Professor Cheng says: This chapter is similar to chapter 32 ... When all beings change and they desire to act, the ruler uses the'original uniqueness of the nameless' to curb them. Eventually there will be non-desire. Having no desires will bring serenity, and eventually the world will also naturally settle down. Hence, 'the Tao is always without a name, yet there is nothing it does not do'.

Amongst other things, I find it rather fascinating that the Ma wang text (the Teh Tao Ching) comes to a close with this. As pointed out yesterday, this chapter is the final chapter and summing up of the section on Tao.

'Not playing the master', as Wang Pi puts it, means trusting 'original sanity'... Allowing the ten thousand things to arise as they will, without creating problems concerning them. We, quite naturally, expect things to run more or less in line with the way we imagine they're going, but the Tao, of course, has no such predelictions. It manifests what happens next, whatever that might be; any surprises we might get from that have to do only with the fact that we're necessarily unaware of the whole picture. The tao is 'ocean'; we see only 'waves', or even just 'details of foam on waves'.
Here, once again, Grandfather Lao brings us back to his opening statement. What can be done, named, thought, understood, brought into being, is not the Tao, and yet all that ever happens in any direction is only because of it. There is nothing outside it - even itself is not outside it! - and yet it has no palpable somethingness except in its myriad manifestations - it has no 'otherness'.
I feel that Gia-fu Feng's reading really is closest here. It's not a question of 'subduing', but simply that of returning to simplicity - allowing the simplicity to simply unfold as it will.
This is not so easy.
And yet, nor is it difficult in the slightest.
The only problem is that it seems too simple to us, to close to see clearly or properly understand. We want it to be some 'thing' - some special 'state' or extraordinary 'understanding', but it's not. It's just what is. Vast beyond our wildest dreams, present before our very noses, totally embracing all of time-space and our most subtle and infinitessimal instants of awareness. It is, in fact, what the Buddhist call awareness - that pure awareness that is totally untrammelled by anything that might arises within it.
'Desire', here, is equivalent to - identical with, I think - the Buddhist notion of attachment - getting stuck in the thingness of one's thoughts and observations - reifying them and extrapolating upon them till they are totally unrecognisable for what they actually are.
The solution to this is to 'let the mud settle', which cannot possibly be achieved by constantly stirring up the water in which it is suspended... You have to leave it be... 'Leaving it be' does not mean becoming insensitive to what is happening - becoming 'detached' and 'feelingless' which are just other forms - negative forms - of attachment anyway. It means simply to allow things to have their course in the perfect certainty that, although they are very important and very 'real' within the relative realm of their manifestation, and demanding, even, of swift and very clear intervention at times, ultimately they are just 'the stuff of dreams'... 'Meditation', to use Niguma's term.
What appears to each of us is not 'ordinary', not 'normal', it is utterly and without the least question unique. No-one else anywhere, at any time, is experiencing, has experienced or will experience exactly what each of is experiencing now. Each one of us is wrapped in (if not rapt in) and part and parcel of an infinite and exquisite fountaining of lights, colours, sounds, smells, tastes and bodily sensations, and of positive and negative emotions ranging from the simplest to the most profound, some of them easier to deal with and others less so... We are each enfolded, as it were, in the gentle hands of the Thousand-Armed Lord of All-Encompassing Compassion, carried forward and cared for by the mere fact of being, and yet we do not know this and pull at our imagined bonds like a puppy on a chain, reaching for the moon in the water and falling back horrified when we realise that it's not there.
There is a poem - a vajra song - written by an extraordinary lama who used to live here in France until his death a couple of years ago. Here is my translation of it:

free and easy: a spontaneous song of indestructible reality

by Gen'dün Rinpoche

happiness is not to be found
through great effort and willpower
it is already present in open relaxation and letting go

don't strain
there's nothing to do or to undo
whatever momentarily and adventitiously arises in body–mind
has no real import at all
has very little reality at all
why identify with it and become attached to it,
passing judgement on it and on yourself and others?

far better simply
to let the entire game just happen of itself
springing up and falling back again like waves
without 'rectifying' things or manipulating things
just noticing how everything vanishes
and then magically reappears, again and again and again
time without end

like a vivid rainbow one runs after but can never catch
or a dog chasing its own tail
it's only our searching for happiness
that prevents us from seeing it

though peace and happiness have no existence
as some actual place or thing
they are forever at hand —
one's constant companion at every instant

just don't be taken in by the apparent reality
of good and bad experiences
they're like today's passing weather
like rainbows in the sky

wanting to grasp the ungraspable
you exhaust yourself in vain
but as soon as you open up and relax the tight fist of grasping
infinite space is right there — open, inviting, comfortable

use this spaciousness — this freedom and natural ease
don't look anywhere else
don't go off into the tangled jungle
searching for the elephant of great awakenedness
when he is already at home
quietly resting in front of your own hearth

there's nothing to do or to undo
nothing to force
nothing you have to want
nothing missing

emaho — how marvelous

everything just happens of itself

Sunday, November 20, 2005

tao teh ching 36

That which shrinks
Must first expand.
That which fails
Must first be strong.
That which is cast down
Must first be raised.
Before receiving
There must be giving[1].

This is called perception of the nature of things.
Soft and weak overcome hard and strong.

Fish cannot leave deep waters[2],
And a country's weapons should not be displayed.

[1] Lau reads all of this more in the style of, 'If you you would have such-and-such, you must first...'
[2] And he reads this as, 'A fish must not be allowed to leave the deep', citing as his reasoning the Han fei tzu (cf. the notes to the Wang Pi commentary below) where the fish is said to symbolise the ruler and the deep his power. The weapons of the state are reward and punishment and should not be revealed in case the dispensing of them in the wrong hands turns into a source of power.

The Ma wang tui text is subtly different, here, so I give the whole thing:

If you wish to shrink it,
You must certainly stretch it.
If you wish to weaken it,
You must certainly strengthen it.
If you wish to desert it,
You must certainly work closely with it.
If you wish to snatch something from it(*),
You must certainly give it something.
This is called the Subtle Light.
The submissive and the weak conquer the strong.

Fish should not be taken out of the depths;
The state's sharp weapons should not be shown to the people.

(*) I really detest (and contest) the translation of this particular line.

Wang Pi's interpretation again, is totally different. I give it in its entirety along with his commentary and some of Lynn's notes.

If you would like to gather him in, you must resolve to let him aggrandise himself. If you would like to weaken him, you must resolve to let him grow strong. If you would like to nullify him, you must resolve to let him flourish. If you would like to take him in, you must resolve to let him have his way. Such an approach is called subtle and perspicacious.

He comments: If you would remove the dangerously bold and get rid of the rebellious, you should do so by these four methods. Take advantage of the nature of the man involved, allow him to destroy himself, and do not rely on punishment as the major means for getting rid of such harmful elements. Thus the text characterises such an approach as 'subtle and perspicacious'. Let such a fellow find satis faction in hisaggrandisement, for, if you allow him satisfaction, he will seek even great aggrandisement and will then be gathered in by the mass of common folk(*). Rather than prevent him from aggrandising himself to the point where it is satisfying and divert him from trying to aggrandise himself as such, it would be better let him keep increasing it so that he brings danger back upon himself.

(*) Lynn's note: 'Gather in' translates shê, the base text reading. Ma wang tui text A has shih (grab, gather in, harvest); text B has chien (bind, grab, gather in, harvest); Fu Yi's composite text based on old manuscripts has hsi (gather in, harvest). The translation of shê as 'contract' or 'shrink' favoured by many recent English translations because these words are the opposite of 'expand' which they use to render chêng (aggrandise), seems forced and unlikely in the light of early textual variants. It is certainly not how Wang read the text of the Lao-tze. I settled on 'gather in' instead of simply 'grab' because I think it fits well with the theme of this passage that trouble-makers should be allowed to swell, ripen or mature to the point where, like ripe fruit or grain, they can be 'gathered in' or 'harvested' by the irate common folk, or, in other words, that they should be given enough rope to hang themselves.

His text continues: Softness and pliancy conquer hardness and forcefulness. Fish must not be allowed to escape to the depths. The sharp instruments of the state may not be disclosed to the people.

And his commentary: 'Sharp instruments' are devices used to profit the state. Act only in accordance with the nature of the people and do not rely on punishment to keep them in order. It is in ensuring that these devices cannot be seen, thus allowing everyone to obtain their proper place, that they are 'the sharp instruments of the state'. Disclosing them to the people means relying on punishments. If one tries to use punishment to profit the state, it will bring loss. If fish escape into the depths, they are certainly lost. If one establishes punishments as devices to profit the state and discloses them as such to the people, this also will surely mean loss(*).

(*)Lynn's note: Just as an inept fisherman scares away fish by letting them see his tackle (his 'devices'), using punishment to keep the people in order will make them hide and avoid authority...

The Han fei tzu (late 3rd. century BCE), which differs sharply in its reading from Wang Pi says:

Strong central power is the 'deep' (depths) of the ruler of men. Ministers are the 'fish' of this power. When the fish is lost to the deep, it cannot be regained. When the ruler of men loses his power to the ministers, he will never get it back... Reward and punishment are the sharp weapons of the state. On the side of the king, they keep the ministers in check. On the side of the ministers, they overpower the king. If the king is the first to show the reward, then the ministers would diminish it by claiming it to be their own virtuous action. If the ruler is the first to shoiw punishment, the ministers would add to it by claiming it to be their own forceful action. The king show reward and the ministers make use of its power; the king shows punishment and the ministers ride on its force. Thus it is said, 'Sharp instruments of the state must not be shown to anyone'

Cheng Man-ch'ing's commentary says: (The whole first part of the text) stresses a single functional principle: Wei ming (Henricks' 'subtle light', cf. above), which means 'wonderfully minute and obscure, yet brilliant...
Chapter 78 states, 'nothing in the world is softer and more supple than water, yet, for attacking the hard and strong, nothing can match it. No matter how strong a fish may be, it cannot escape the ocean filled with soft, supple water. Stretching in order to shrink, giving so as to gain, weakness overcoming strength, all indicate unorthodox strategy. Just so, a nation must not display its most potent weapons.

This chapter refers directly back to the very first, where, as you will recall, we were advised to always rid ourselves of desires in order to observe the secrets of the Tao, but always allow ourselves to have desires in order to observe its manifestations...
It also comes very close to the Vajrayana Buddhist idea of using poisons to against themselves and ultimately as a cure for themselves... Niguma says (and I quote again!):

If you don't understand that whatever appears is meditation,
What can you achieve by applying an antidote?
Perceptions are not abandoned by discarding them
But are spontaneously freed when recognized as illusory.

'Understanding whatever appears as meditation' is precisely dwelling centred within the Tao, and is the only real 'antidote' possible.
According to Wilhelm in his translation of the I Ching, a similar idea is expressed in hexagram 33, Tun, 'Retreat', and in the Gospel of Matthew, 5:39, 'But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil'.
This, however, is only part of the point. The idea here is that, as ideas and notions arise within the mind (and arise they always will), be they positive, negative or a mixture of both, if one can simply recognise them for what they are, which is to say as manifestations of the infinte and overflowing abundance of becoming, and then just leave them be, they arise, continue on their way for a while and then dissolve again without trace. If we attach to them, judging, refusing or indulging them, they take on an apparent life of their own and set up camp, creating past, presents, futures, mirror images of themselves, sub-thoughts, after-thoughts, further extrapolations and all the hundred thousand myriad possibilities of mental juggling that are our daily fare.
Left to themselves, they dissolve light drawings on water, clouds disappearing into space.

This is the last chapter but one of the first section of this book - the part that deals specifically with the Tao as ultimate reality - and it's therefore fitting that Grandfather Lao should come back to this point and emphasise the fact that all interference in the natural flow of things can only make things worse. There is only the one 'antidote', and that is to give things the space they need and then simply let them be.
A cat shut in a room with its doors and windows closed will forever be nosing about, looking for its way out, but just open those doors and windows for it and it will soon lie down in today's favourite spot and go off to sleep, not so? Our minds are just like that.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

tao teh ching 35

All men come to him who keeps to the one,
For there lie rest and happiness and peace.

Passersby may stop for music and good food,
But a description of the Tao
Seems without substance or flavour.
It cannot be seen, it cannot be heard,
And yet it cannot be exhausted.

Lau is significantly different:

Have in your hold the great image
And the empire will come to you.
Coming to you and meeting withe no harm
It will be safe and sound.
Music and food
Will induce the wayfarer to stop.
The way in its passage through the mouth is without flavour.
It cannot be seen,
It cannot be heard,
Yet it cannot be exhausted by use[1].

[1] Henricks reads the Ma wang tui text which agrees with Lau in most other particulars including terminology slightly differently here. He interprets the last six lines as:

Music and food - for these the passing travellers stop.
Therefore, of the Tao's speech we say:
Insipid it is! It lacks of flavour.
When you look at it, it is not sufficient to be seen;
When you listen to it, it is not sufficient to be heard;
Yet when you use it, it can't be used up.

In this it comes very close to the Ch'an saying that whereas the intoxicating wine of excitement always leaves us thirsty for more, the Way is like water, has no special taste as such, and yet it definitely quenches the thirst.

Wang Pi says:

The 'great image' is the mother of the images of Heaven. It is neither hot nor cold, neither warm nor cool, thus it can perfectly embrace the myriad things and none suffers any harm. If a ruler could grasp it, all under Heaven would turn to him(*).

(*) In the Commentary on the Appended Phrases in the I Ching, we have 'Heaven hung images in the sky revealing good fortune and bad, and the sages regarded thes as meaningful signs'. The 'images of Heaven' are the sun, moon, planets and constellations. The 'great image', however, is another way to refer to the Tao.
In his commentary to chapter 41, Wang says of the passage , 'the great image is formless': As soon as there is 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 form is not the great image' (cf. also his commentaries to chs. 16 and 55). In his Introductory Outline, he says, 'The formless and nameless (the Tao) is the progenitor of the myriad things. It is neither warm nor cool... Try to capture it as an image, and it is utterly formless... If it were warm, it could not be cold... Thus an image that takes an actual form cannot be the great image'.

Such a one is formless and without consciousness, has neither predelictions nor outer signs and characteristics, thus the myriad beings can turn to him and stay free from harm.

...Speaking of the profundity and greatness of the Tao, when one hears the words of the Tao, one doeas not find them at all like wine and fine food, which, when one responds to them, cause a reaction of heartfelt pleasure. With music and fine food one can detain a passing visitor, but the words that come out of the Tao are so bland that they are utterly without flavour. We look for it but there is not enough there for us to see anything, so not enough to please the eye. We listen for it but there is not enought there for us to hear anything, so there is not enough to delight the ear. It is as if it has nothing at all within it, and this is why - in using it - it is inexhaustible

Cheng's commentary here is rather facinating. He says: From the beginning of this chapter up to the words 'the passing guest pauses for sweetmeats and music', the language is unusual and the sentence construction extraordinary. It does not conform with Lao-tze's claim, 'my words are very easy to understand'. Ho-shang Kung, Wang Pi, et al., give rather forced explanations about which I am at a loss to comment. I feel it is better to suspend judgement and avoid overdoing things by 'adding legs to a snake' (i.e., not knowing when to stop).

I, however, am unfortunately nowhere near as wise as Professor Cheng, and will thus stick my neck out here and say that - particularly as it seems to be in line with the Ch'an saying cited above - I believe Wang Pi's interpretation to be correct, not least since he himself insists upon it in his own introduction to the text... As he says (in his Introduction quoted above): 'You can listen for it, but it is impossible to get a sense of its sound; you can look for it, but it is impossible to get a sense of its appearance; you might try to understand what it is like, but it is impossible to grasp it wthin the terms of understanding; you may try to taste it, but it is impossible to get the flavour of it'.
Oddly enough, though, it is not impossible to touch... In fact we touch nothing else.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

tao teh ching 34

The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right.
The ten thousand things depend upon it; it holds nothing back[1].
It fulfils its purpose silently and makes no claim.

It nourishes[2] the ten thousand things
And yet is not their lord.
It has no aim; it is very small.

The ten thousand things return to it
Yet it is not their lord.
It is very great[3].

It does not show greatness
And is therefore truly great.

[1] Lau has '... yet it claims no authority'
[2] This seems to generally be read 'It clothes and nourishes...'
[3] From 'It has no aim...' down to '... it is very great', Lau reads as follows:

Forever free of desire, it can be called small; yet, asit lays no claim to being their master when the myriad creatures turn to it, it can be called great.

The Ma wang tui text has a completely different reading which I give here in toto:

The Way floats and drifts;
It can go left or right.
It accomplishes its tasks and completes its affairs, and yet for this it is not given a name.
The ten thousand things entrust their lives to it, and yet it does not act as their master.
Thus it is constantly without desires.
It can be named with the things that are small.
The ten thousand things entrust their lives to it, and yet it does not act as their master.
It can be named with the things that are great.

Therefore the Sage's ability to accomplish the great
Comes from his not playing the role of the great.
Therefore he is able to accomplish the great.

Wang Pi says: In other wordsd, the Tao floods in such a way that there is nowhere it does not go
Its function has the ability of operating anywhere, left, right, up or down, thus there is no place it does not reach.
The myriad things all derive life from the Tao, but, having life they do not know where it came from. (*) Therefore, when all under Heaven are without desire, each of the myriad beings will find its place and it will be as if the Tao had done nothing for them.
Thus it is named amongst the small.
All the myriad things return to it for life, but it assiduously ensures that they do not know where they come from, which is no small matter. Thus one can again name it among the great.
'Plan for the difficult while it is still easy; work on the great while it is still small.' (cf. ch.63)

Cheng says: 'All pervasive' describes vastness and breadth. The tao is so gereat that one cannot speak of right or left, up, down or any of the four directions. It's sphere is everywhere. Everything depends on it, but it requires nothing, neither recognition nor fealty. The same though is expressed in chapters 10 and 51: 'produce but do not possess; act but do not control'. Non-desire includes elements which might be styled 'the lesser'.
That 'all things return to it, yet it does not control them' is called 'the greater', and this refers to non-action. The line 'because it never insists on its greatness, its greatness becomes a reality' expresses the same idea as chapter 63.

Once again we are brought back to the idea that the open-endedness and 'emptiness' of the Tao actually what is necessary to bring things to their natural and proper conclusion. Anything added to or subtracted from it only detracts from that goal. And yet the Tao itself is not insisting that everything is empty, that everything is mere froth and a dream. The Tao insists on nothing at all. Indeed, the Tao itselft is utterly unknowable by ordinary mind - inconceivable even.
And yet, it is in this very inconceivability that everything arises as this and that.
Nagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamaka or 'Middle Way' school of Buddhism based around the texts of the so-called 'Perfection of Wisdom' (or of 'Transcendent Peerless Insight') and the teaching of 'emptiness', said:

It is because of emptiness
That all things and events can be established.
Without emptiness, nothing can be established

He also says (Madhyamika Karika 13:7):

If there were something that were not empty,
Then emptiness would have to exist.
Since there is nothing at all that is not empty,
How can there be be something else called emptiness as such?
The Victorious Lord proclaims emptiness
Only in order to refute all viewpoints.
He who holds that emptiness exists of itself
The buddhas all call incurable.

Emptiness/Tao is thus not some thing that exists somewhere outside of its manifestations. That is to say that both emptiness and the Tao are not philosophical doctrines but therapeutic devices for cleansing us of our innate clinging.
Chinese Buddhism has ten similes for emptiness which are quite germane here:

* Emptiness is non-obstructive like space or the void, existing within everything but hindering or obstructing nothing
* It is omnipresent, ubiquitous like space, embracing everything everywhere
* It is fundamentally equal throughout, equal to all and making no discrimination anywhere
* It is vast, broad and infinite
* It is formless and has no particular shape or characteristic mark
* It is pure, like space, and knows not the least defilement
* Like the void, it is motionless, always at rest, and it utterly transcends all coming into or passing out of existence
* It is the negation of all that is limited or has a finite end
* It also negates negation, derstroying the clinging to both the idea of a finite self and to that of emptiness as something 'existent'
* And - like space or the void - is completely ungraspable or attainable

The Monk Shao, disciple of the Indian master and translator Kumarajiva (344-413 CE), expresses the non-abiding nature of the Tao as follows:

All things have their companion
But the tao stands alone.
Outside of the Tao there is nothing;
Within it there is no duality.
Without inside or outside,
It includes the primordial oneness
And embraces the eight realms and ten thousand things...

It is not one, not many, not dark, not bright
It does not arise or cease, is neither empty nor existent,
It is not up, not down, not creation, not destruction,
Not moving, not at rest, not going, not coming,
Not profound, not shallow, not wise, not ignorant,
Not contending, not harmonious...
Neither new nor old, good nor bad...
Neither alone nor with a companion...

But why is this so?

Because, if you say it has an inside,
It embraces the entire universe,
If you say it has an outside,
it accomodates and etablishes all things.

If you say it is small,
It embraces everything, far and wide,
If you say it is large,
It penetrtaes the realms of the atoms.

Call it one - it has all qualities;
Call it many - it has neither body nor form.

Call it light - it is obscure and dark;
Call it dark - it illumines and brightens all things.

Say it arises - it has neither shape nor form;
Say it becomes extinct - its radiance glows throughout all eternity.

Call it empty - it has a thousand functions
Call it existent - it is silent and knows no shape...

Call it high - it is level and has no form;
Call it low - there is nothing that equals it.

Say it creates - it scatters the stars;
Say it destroys - things exist from the depths of time.

Say it moves - it remains in silence;
Say it stands still - it runs with all things.

Say it returns - it leaves without saying farewell;
Say it leaves - when the time is ripe, it returns.

Call it deep - it merges with all beings;
Call it shallow - its roots cannot be seen.

Call it poor - it has a thousand treasures and merits;
Call it rich - nothing exists in the vast ultimate...

Say it is alone - it is the companion of the ten thousand things;
Say it pairs - it is empty and without a second...

Thus the Tao cannot be encompassed by a single name and truth cannot be illustrated through a single doctrine. This discription here is merely a brief explanation, for how would it be possible to actually plumb the depths of the Tao?

That's enough for one day, no?