Chu Chai Tzu said to this teacher Chang Wu Tzu, “I have heard from Confucious that the sage does not involve herself with things of the world. She does not seek gain or try to avoid loss. She seeks nothing and does not even cling to Tao. She speaks without using words, and when using words does not say anything. Thus she travels beyond this world of dust. Confucious thinks these are just empty and fanciful words, but to me they seem like the very way of the mysterious Tao. What do you think?”
Chang Wu Tzu answered, “Even the Yellow Emperor himself would have been confused by these words; how can Confucious hope to understand them? I will speak to you a little recklessly and I want you to listen the same way. The sage floats alongside the sun and moon and embraces the universe, joining it all together into one great whole. She rejects distinctions and ignores social rank. Ordinary men struggle and toil while the sage seems stupid and blockheaded. To her ten thousand years are but one. To her the ten thousand beings are all one, forming a whole.
“How do I not know that loving life is a foolish delusion? How do I know if fearing death is like a man, who upon leaving home, cannot remember the way back and becomes afraid?”
from The Inner Chapters of Chuang Tzu by Solala Towler
Dao that cannot be named –that is called the Treasure House of Heaven. Pour into it and it will never be filled, pour it out and it will never be emptied. In the world, no one knows why this is so. This is called Inner Illumination.
Do You Believe in Magic?
I was driving today and saw a bumper sticker in front of me that said, “I brake for elves and unicorns.” It made me chuckle and it also made me think. I like the idea of being open to magic, miracles and wonder. Laozi said something like, when people lose their sense of awe Dao itself is lost. Or you could perhaps say, when people lose their sense of magic, they are lost.
Laozi says we need to become as children to enter Dao (or the as the other prophet said, into the kingdom of heaven.) What does he mean by this? Perhaps that a childlike sense of awe and magic is what we need to get us through the hard times as well as the good ones. Perhaps we need to remain open to miracles, the miracles of daily life as well as the once-in-a-lifetime ones.
I was very excited when I discovered the world of Daoism. I felt like I had come home. I still feel that way 25 years later. I have lost none of my excitement and wonder about this rich, endlessly fascinating life-long quest to experience myself as a living embodiment of Dao. Of course, you are also a living embodiment of Dao as are all living things, the “ten thousand beings.”
Words are not just blowing wind, they have meaning. But if we cannot agree on what they mean are we really saying anything? People think that their words are more meaningful than the peeping of birds, yet are they really any different? Dao is hidden behind partial understanding and the meaning of our words is hidden behind a screen of flowery rhetoric.
So how can we get beyond words, beyond “flowery rhetoric?” How can we become living embodiments of Dao? How can we remain open to the miracle of life and death and all that lies between? How can we not lose sight of the wondrous, the magical and the sublime? How can we wake up, more and more, deeper and deeper, vaster and vaster? How can we not lose sight of the amazing experience of students of the Way, in general and particular?
By practice, by going deep within, by meditating, by dwelling in the silence, by applying the words of Laozi, Zhuangzi and all the other great masters, now and before. By believing in magic and miracles and wonder, both within our own lopsided selves and in the world around us. By not thinking we know it all, by not thinking we know much at all.
Abandon sageliness, renounce (book) knowledge,
and people will be a hundred times better off.
Take this advice:
know the plain and embrace simplicity;
reduce your sense of self
and lessen your desires,
give up (book) learning
and you will have no worries.
If is when we give up our personal views that we see things as they truly are. In seeing things as they truly are we arrive at complete understanding. To reach complete understanding is to reach true happiness. To reach true happiness is to reach completion. To reach completion is to enter Dao
Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu)
Not long ago I came across an article about the passing of one of the baddest dudes in rock, Lou Reed. I used to see his early band, The Velvet Underground, in the late sixties in Boston. At a time when many of the bands, and the audience, wore flowing colors with flowers in our hair, the Velvet Underground wore black and played a fierce kind of music, with lots of feedback. I thought they were great.
Lou played on for many years, always staying true to his own vision and passion of music, most of which was too intense for me. A few years ago I heard that he was a serious taiji student, though I had no idea how serious. As it turns out he practiced for hours of every day and was a man of deep and generous heart who loved his music and his life, both with a fierce passion.
When I read the following description of his death I was moved to tears and so inspired by this old lion of rock, who’s transition was done with such elegance and grace. Here’s what his partner, Laurie Anderson, another renowned musician, said:
As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.
I would wish this kind of passing for everyone. I think it shows that Lou was indeed a master of taiji – of going with the flow and offering the least amount of resistance while achieving a very high level of practice. It is one thing to espouse the deep teachings of taji but quite another to actually apply them in such an amazing way.
We are born when it is our time and we die when it is own time, If we are able to just follow the flow of nature then we will transcend joy and sorrow. This is what the ancient masters called “true freedom.”
It is in our coming and going, in each lifetime, in each moment, that we are given the choice to flow with change or fight against it. Each new day, each new moment of each new day, there is a dying and a being born. The circle of life takes us all on a journey around birth, death, rebirth. We are given so many new chances, new opportunities, new “do-overs.” If we don’t get it right each time, no matter. What matters is that we are open to change, to each wonderful moment of rebirth, even in the moment of our death.
May we all go from this world to the next with such grace and courage as Lou Reed!