Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One-On-One with Adyashanti

In a far-ranging, in-depth interview Renate McNay, co-host of Conscious TV, explores the life and experiences of neo-Buddhist teacher Adyashanti. Starting from his childhood spiritual inklings, McNay draws out the story of this popular author and teacher's ongoing spiritual awakening.

Particularly interesting, for those who may have experienced their own awakening and yet continue their search for ultimate enlightenment, Adyashanti describes a plethora of ever-deepening experiences after what he calls "the honeymoon of awakening" wore off. Not for the faint-hearted, perhaps, Adyashanti explores the depths that exist beyond "the perfume of self" and describes (as far as such experiences can be described) what happened to him as he entered into what McNay describes as "the Divine Coma."

Trying to illustrate what happened when "consciousness completely woke up," Adyashanti describes it as being "like the 'knowing' that was dawning then was that 'knowing' arises from 'this,'  (then) that 'oneness' arises from 'this,' (and then) that 'knowing of oneness' arises from 'this.'" It is, he says, as if one experienced an infinity of nothingness and then got rid of the nothingness itself.

"What I would call the ultimate," says Adyashanti, "is that which is inconceivable, unexperiencable, it cannot come into any of the categories we usually put it in."

"If you take something and you then you take absolute emptiness, nothingness, and then you go really completely outside of duality - something and nothing - what," he asks, "is there when there is not even nothing?" Neither mind, nor experience, nor imagination can go there, he notes. But yet, he notes 'it' is there. "If there is a defining characteristic," says Adyashanti, "it is the 'unknowability' that is the defining characteristic."

And yet, Adyashanti points out, having realized this ultimate ground of being, the experiences of an ever-deepening understanding do not stop. "'It' itself has an infinite capacity to reveal itself," he notes. "We can call that revealing of itself  'deepening,' 'never-ending,' or as the Buddhists would say, 'always being, always becoming.'" "There is," he concludes, "never more nor less of it."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lower Self, Higher Self, No Self

Thirty spokes join at the hub;
their use for the cart
is where they are not.

When the potter's wheel makes a pot,
the use of the pot
is precisely where there is nothing.

When you open doors and windows for a room,
it is where there is nothing
that they are useful to the room..

Therefore being is for benefit,
Nonbeing is for usefulness.

-- Lao Tzu --
("The Essential Tao")
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"The image of the wheel that is not too tight on its axle and not too loose," says Allan Watts, "that is really with the axle, is the Zen principle of not being attached, not being sticky. It is very difficult for us to function in that way," he points out, "because we have been brought up to believe that there are two sides to ourselves. - one the animal side, and the other the human and civilized side."

"These are expressed," he observes, "in what Freud calls 'the pleasure principle' which he classifies with the animal side, the Id, and the other the 'reality principle' which he puts on the side of society and the Super-Ego. And man is so split, that he is in a constant fight between these two."

"Theosophists," Watts notes, "sometimes speak of our having two selves: the Higher Self which is spiritual, and the lower self which is merely psychic - the ego. And therefore the problem of life is to make one self, the higher one, take hold of the other like a rider takes charge of a horse."

"(However) in Zen," he points out,  "a duality between higher self and lower self is not made. Because if you believe in the higher self, this is a simple trick of the lower self. If you believe that there really is no lower self, that there is only the higher self but that somehow or other the higher self has to shine through, the very fact that you think it has to try to shine through still gives validity to the lower self."

On the other hand, he notes: "If you think you have a lower self or an ego to get rid of and then you fight against it, nothing strengthens the delusion that it exists more than that. So this tremendous schizophrenia amongst human beings of thinking that they are rider and horse, soul in command of body, or will in control of passions wrestling with them, all that kind of split thing simply aggravates the problem and we get more and more split."

"And so," he points out, "we have all sorts of people engaged in an interior conflict which they will never ever resolve. Because the true self, either you know it or you don't. If you do know it, than you  know that it is the only one, and the other so-called lower self just ceases to be a problem. It becomes something like a mirage, and you don't go around hitting them with a stick or putting reins on them, you just know that they are mirages and walk straight through them."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The "Fictitious Self" or Ego

The greatest insight in human history, according to spiritual teacher and best-selling author, Eckhart Tolle, may have been when the Buddha recognized that the "self" is an illusion. Calling this egoic sense of 'me' and 'mine' the "fictitious self," Tolle illustrates how this seeming separation of one from another is a form of "collective insanity" and the source, as the Buddha recognized, of all suffering.

"But there is a level within yourself," Tolle notes, "where you are already a full expression of the one life. You are already complete on the level of the timeless, the essence of your own being."

"It is quite a relief," he observes, "to realize that the world cannot make me happy. To demand that situations, people, places or attainments should complete me or make me happy is bound to be frustrating, whether I attain or I do not attain."

"(Life) loses its frustration," he notes, "when you do not look to the world anymore for your satisfaction or for your 'self.' When you give up demanding that people, places, (and) situations should make you happy and fulfill you - when you don't demand it anymore - then suddenly the ability arises to allow the forms of this moment to be as they are."

  "Because life at this moment," Tolle points out, "already always is as it is."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The New Biology: Where Mind Meets Matter

The attached two-part lecture by Dr. Bruce Lipton will fundamentally change your understanding of the human body, the process of evolution, and perhaps your life. It is that powerful.

Dr. Lipton, a prize-winning cellular biologist, is a pioneer in the field of epigenetics - the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

That we are not simply the product of our genes, but rather the product of our perceptions of the world is a crucial point that Dr. Lipton demonstrates by taking us through the entire cellular and biological mechanisms understood by "the New Biology" - a field informed by quantum rather than classical mechanics. The all-pervading consciousness that exists within our enviroment, it turns out - in biology as in physics - plays the central role in shaping our world, including our bodies.

Clocking in at roughly three hours, the attached video lecture is nonetheless a truly must-watch documentary, as Dr. Lipton clearly and lucidly explains how changes in the scientific paradigms of biology itself are impacting everything from neo-natal care and disease prevention, to the role of Big Pharma, to the role that spirituality has in optimizing the health and well-being of the individual.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Right Livelihood" versus "Right Living"

What is "right livelihood"? When first exposed to the teachings of the Buddha and the dharma of the Eightfold Path, I was under the assumption that "right livelihood" referred solely to the means by which one made one's living. For example, working as a hangman or in a slaughterhouse, or working as a pimp or pornographer, would be "wrong livelihood" as a result of the harm that such occupations causes to other beings as well as to the state of one's own being. Now, however, I wonder if "right livelihood" does not extend far beyond the mere way one earns a living, but rather extends to the totality of how one lives.

In the face of pollution, global warming and a man-made environmental crisis that has resulted in a thousand-fold multiplication of the rate at which whole species become extinct does not the whole impact of how one lives become relevant? If one commutes 100 kilometres a day just to work, does this not speak to whether one has right livelihood? If one eats food that is imported from countries thousands of kilometers away does this not impact others and constitute an unwise way of living? Certainly, these and so many other examples of daily activities that are essential to maintaining our "standard of living" in the West (and increasingly in the East) must impact whether or not we are living wisely.

There is, of course the traditional dharma strictures on "right action" which consists of avoiding killing, stealing, lying, sexual improprieties and ingestion of intoxicants, but are there not many gray areas that are very much a part of our day-to-day existence that fall outside of these traditional strictures? Perhaps, therefore, it is more relevant in the increasingly interrelated lives we live today to talk of "right living" instead of merely "right livelihood."

Living simply in harmony with one's local environment, it would seem, is the key to "right living." Taking public transport rather than one's own vehicle, or walking or bicycling rather than taking public transit, it would seem, is one factor to promote harmony and balance. Living in a small space, rather than a large house is another. Eating locally and organically would be a third of many wise strategies one might uses to maximize a truly wise way of living. Reducing, reusing and recycling the materials one uses is an obvious fourth. Yet, how differently we in the West typically live.

This is not a wholesale rejection of our modern, technological way of life. As Robert Pirsig observed in his classic work, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:"
" . . . (F)light from and hatred of technology is self-defeating. The Buddha, the Godhead resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a (motorcycle) transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha - which is to demean oneself."
When facing the existential crisis that would impel me forward on a spiritual quest for meaning in my life - a path that would open me to the dharma teachings of Buddhism, Taoism and the Advaita Vedanta, along with other spiritual traditions - I was sure of only one thing: unvoiced, I nonetheless I sensed that I wanted to "walk gently through the world and leave only shallow footprints." Yet, how difficult it is, I have found, to live up to that ideal.

When even the traditional strictures on "right action" and "right livelihood" prove difficult to live up to in this fast-paced, fast-lived, fast-food culture, making a vow to strive for radical "right living" is indeed challenging. Nevertheless, the necessity of a radical change in lifestyle if we are to survive the current existential problems we face makes such an individual (and eventually collective) intention seem inevitable.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly

Blessed are those who are humbled by life, for they may become meek. Blessed are the meek, for they are free of self. When we are suffering, we are being humbled, and in being humbled we are actually being blessed although it does not feel like it at the time.
"We each have a view of the universe," notes Thich Nhat Hahn. "That view may be called relativity or uncertainty or probability or string theory; there are many kind of views."

"Its okay to propose views," he notes, "but if you want to make progress on the path of inquiry, you should be able to be ready to throw away your view."

Chuang Tzu, the great Taoist master, was so amenable to changing his views of the ultimate 'realities' of life that he awoke from a dream unsure if he had been Chuang Tzu dreaming he had been a butterfly, or if he was then a butterfly dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu.

"If you worship something as a dogma, as absolute truth," Thich Nhat Hahn points out, "you are not a good practitioner. You must be totally free, even from the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings of the Buddha," he notes, are offered as instruments, not as absolute truth."

To the extent that I 'know' the truth I suffer, for I have not yet become truly humble. Yet, how often am I caught up in my view of what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'? Far too often, as it turns out, for I continue to suffer the pangs of my own 'righteousness.'

My spiritual mentor often told the following story:
"One day a man saw a butterfly shuddering on the sidewalk, locked in a seemingly hopeless struggle to free itself from its now useless cocoon. Feeling pity, the man took a pocket knife and carefully cut away the cocoon to set the butterfly free. To his amazement, it lay on the sidewalk, convulsed weakly for a while and died. Sometime later a biologist told him, "That was the worst thing you could have done. A butterfly needs that struggle in order to develop its muscles to fly. By robbing him of the struggle you made him too weak to live."
Never deny another of there struggle to be free. Do not rob them of the opportunity to be humbled by life. We all need to fulfill our own karma.

You do not have to reassure Chuang Tzu, that he is indeed Chuang Tzu. You may be mistaken. He may, in fact, be a butterfly dreaming that he is just Chuang Tzu.

"The truly Right View," notes Thich Nhat Hahn, "is the absence of all views. According to the teachings of the Buddha, we have to throw away all views, including the so-called right views. Reality, things as they are, cannot be described in terms of notions and views. That is why so-called 'right views' are only instruments to help us."

[Thich Nhat Hahn, "Beyond the Self," pp. 14-15.]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Tao of Understanding and Mystery

"The ways that can be walked are not the eternal Way;
The names that can be named are not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of the myriad creatures;
The named is the mother of the myriad creatures."

      Always be without desire
          in order to observe its wondrous subtleties:
      Always have desire
         so that you may observe its manifestations."

"Both of these derive from the same source;
They have different names but the same designation."

"Mystery of mysteries,
The gate of all wonders!"

-- Tao Te Ching, Verse 45 --

* * * * * * * *

 "The one who understands Heaven and understands the ways of humanity has perfection," writes Chuang Tzu. "Understanding Heaven, he grows with Heaven. Understanding humanity, he takes the understanding of what he understands to help him understand what he doesn't understand, and so fulfills the years Heaven decrees without being cut off in his prime. This is known as perfection."

"However, it is true that there are problems," he notes. "Real understanding has to have something to which it is applied and this something is itself uncertain. So how can I know that what I term Heaven is not human? Or that what I call human is not Heaven?"

"Only the true man has understanding," Chuang Tzu points out. "So what is a true man? The true man of old did not fight against poverty, nor did he look for fulfillment through riches - for he had no grand plans. Therefore, he never regretted any failure, nor exulted in success. He could scale the heights without fear, plumb the depths without difficulties, and go through fire without pain. This is the kind of person whose understanding has lifted him up towards the Tao."
-- Chuang Tzu, "The Tao of Nature, p. 27 --

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Ego, Identification and Attachment

Psychologically, the lower consciousness of the ego may perhaps be viewed as a learned attitude, an habitual way of thinking that the individual grows into as he or she grows towards adolescence. By adolescence, the vast, vast majority of individuals have taken the stream of thought generated by the ego as their identity.

Wholly identified with this "voice in the head" we are attached to the personas it creates for us, and then seek, in turn, further attachments to objects, conceptual structures, experiences and other people to reinforce this attachment to our egoic "self." This attachment process, robs us of the reality of the higher levels of consciousness which are nascent within us, but which are obscured by the wiles and wants of the ego.

"Whatever the ego seeks and gets attached to are substitutes for the Being that it cannot feel," writes Eckhart Tolle in "A New Earth," his best-selling treatise on higher consciousness. "You can value and care for things," he observes, "but whenever you get attached to them you will know it's the ego. And you are never really attached to a thing but to the thought that has 'I,' 'me,' or 'mine' in it. Whenever you completely accept a loss, you go beyond ego and who your are, the I Am which is consciousness itself, emerges."

"In the end," it has been said," what matters most is how well did you live, how well did you love, and how well did you learn to let go."

Letting go, however, necessitates our letting go of the egoic state, not only of our identification with he ego, but with the never-ending attachments and desires that the ego produces, the subject of the reading by Tolle, below.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lama Surya Das: The Bodhisattva's Vow

"Bodhisattva (Skt; Pali, Bodhisatta). The embodiement of the spiritual ideal of Mahayana Buddhism, in contrast to the earlier Arhat ideal advocated in the Hinayana. Bodhisattva literally means 'enlightened being' but the correct Sanskrit derivation may be 'bodhi-sakta' meaning 'a being who is oriented towards enlightenment'. The ideal is inspired by the lengthy career of the Buddha before he became enlightened, as described in the Jatakas. A Bodhisattva begins his career by generating the aspiration (prajnidhana) to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings, often in the form of a vow, which according to many Mahayana texts is often accompanied by a prediction of success (vya-karana) by a Buddha. He then embarks on the path leading to enlightenment (bodhi) by cultivating the Six Perfections (sad-paramita) and the four means of attracting beings (sam-graha-vastu) over the course of three immeasurable kalpas. The spiritual progress of a Bodhisattva is usually subdivided into ten stages or levels (bhumi). Many Mahayana sutras state that a Boddisattva foregoes his own final enlightenment until all other beings in samsara have been liberated, or else describe a special form of nirvana, the unlocalized nirvana (apratistha-nirvana) by virtue of which a Bodhisattva may be 'in the world but not of it'. Earlier Mahayana sutras are specific in their belief that a Bodhisattva can only be male but later texts allow the possibily of female bodhisattvas."
-- Damien Keown --
("Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism")
"How," asks best-selling author, Lama Surya Das, "do we apply impeccable intentions to the mundane, dog-eat-dog world that we perceive around us?"
"A real Bodhisattva," he notes, "has pure intentions toward everyone and everything. There is no selfishness, no neurosis, no rough edges and no hidden agendas. This is the ideal we strive to cultivate when we take the Bodhisattva's selfless altruistic vow. This is what we are hoping to achieve as we work on ourselves and set about purifying our intentions."
"Our internal thoughts and intentions ideally could reflect a purity of heart and a sincere sense of interconnectedness with all humanity," Surya Das points out. "Our lives can reflect generosity, tolerance, hope, forgiveness, honesty and commitment. This is true," he notes, "whether we're thinking about the survival of the rain forest, the person in the next room, or the snail struggling across a blacktop driveway."
However, he cautions the would-be post-modern Bodhisattva, "(s)ometimes its easier to feel this high-minded purity of intention toward the world as a whole than it is toward those in your own immediate environment."

[Lama Surya Das, "Awakening the Buddha Within," pages 146-147.]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Below, Lama Surya Das reads the Bodhisattva's vow from his book: "The Mind Is Mightier Than the Sword".

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Home," An Ecological History of Humanity and the Earth

In his best-selling environmental study, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," author Jared Diamond speculates about what went through the mind of the person who chopped down the last tree on Easter Island. One wonders what will go through the mind of the person who ploughs under the last hectare of tropical rainforest on Borneo, harvests the last fish off of Greenland, or burns the last gallon of gasoline in Los Angeles.

In the must-see documentary, "Home," (trailer attached, below) we are given a deep history lesson of life on Earth, our evolution, and the role that we are each now playing in changing the face of the Earth, perhaps irrevocably, And time is running out, we are warned, for us to ameliorate the collective damage we are doing.

An evocative film with spectacular aerial footage, and as poignant in its message as "An Inconvenient Truth," it directly addresses the horrendous impact mankind as a species is having on our shared environment and on each other, citing the following statistics:
  • 20% of the world's population consumes 80% of its resources.
  • The world spends 12 times more on military expenditures than on aid to developing countries.
  • 5,000 people a day die because of dirty drinking water.
  • 1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water.
  • Nearly 1 billion people are going hungry.
  • Over 50% of grain traded around the world is used for animal feed or biofuels.
  • 40% of arable land has suffered long-term damage.
  • Every year, 13 million hectares of forest disappears.
  • One mammal in 4, one bird in 8, and one amphibian in 3 are threatened with extinction.
  • Species are dying out at a rhythm 1,00 times faster than the natural rate.
  • Three quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted, depleted or in dangerous decline.
  • The average temperature of the last 15 years have been the highest ever recorded.
  • The ice cap is 40% thinner than 40 years ago.
  • There may be at least 200 million climate refugees by 2050.
"The costs of our actions are high," we are shown. "Others pay the price without having been actively involved."
"Must we always build walls to break the chain of human solidarity, to separate peoples and protect the happiness of some from the misery of others?"
And yet the message of "Home" is not pessimistic, but hopeful. "It is too late to be a pessimist," we are warned. . . . "(A) single human can knock down every wall. It is too late to be a pessimist. Worldwide, four children out of five attend school. Never has learning been given to so many human beings. Everyone from richest to poorest can make a contribution."

"It is time to come together," we are told. "What is important is not what is gone, but what remains. We still have half the worlds forests, thousands of rivers and lakes, and glaciers, and thousands of thriving species. We know that the solutions are there today. We all have the power to change."

"So what," we are asked, "are we waiting for?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To view the full documentary, click here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ram Dass: On Witnessing Life and Death

"To me," says Ram Dass in the attached video, "death is a process of just leaving what you thought you were - not what you are, but what you thought you were."

For Dass, witnessing the presence of simple being, of witnessing the spaciousness of what is, is the key to helping those approaching death. Dying to self in such an instance, it seems, is truly the process of dying. It is the awakening to the eternal life of what this moment is.

"For you to be of any use to someone who is dying," Dass notes,  "there is one simple rule: you work on yourself, you don't work on the other person."

"Every moment of your life, once you understand the purpose of it," he points out, "is your vehicle for awakening. This moment is your vehicle for awakening. If you are uncomfortable at this moment, okay. You are uncomfortable. Allow it. If you're fascinated, be fascinated. Allow it."

It is through being present for the person making the greatest transition, that one allows that person the freedom to be present to the whole process.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Alan Watts: A Modern Vedantist Examination of the "I"

In "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are," philosopher Alan Watts examines the delusionary way in which each of us looks as him or herself as a separate "ego" or "self" and the implications this has for society's development and its future. Critically examining the way that all of us are conditioned in this belief, Watts presents an Advaita Vedantist view on the question of our consciousness with a decidedly modern twist.
"The sensation of "I" as a lonely and isolated sense of being is so powerful and commonsensical, " Watts notes, "and so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought, to our laws and social institutions, that we cannot experience selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of the universe."

"I seem to be a brief light that flashes but once in all the aeons of time," he observes, "a rare, complicated and all-too-delicate organism on the fringe of biological evolution, where the wave of life bursts into individual sparkling, and multicolored drops that gleam for a moment only to vanish forever. Under such conditioning it seems impossible and even absurd to realize that myself does not reside in the drop alone, but in the whole surge of energy which ranges from the galaxies to the nuclear fields in my body. At this level of existence "I" am immeasurably old; my forms are infinite and their comings and goings are simply the pulses or vibrations of a single and eternal flow of energy."
 "As the ocean 'waves,'" notes Watts, "so the universe 'peoples.'"

For more on this topic: See "Einstein to Alan Watts and Beyond: Who Are We?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Oneness beyond Ego

"When I go within myself, I feel that I have discovered something over which had no power. Life and death are constant changes, but I have something that is one and unchanging." So says renowned contemplative monk Br. David Steindl-Rast.

Is this the deathless soul that survives the ego's death? Is this what we are all here to look for?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lama Surya Das: On the Dharma

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings. . . .

As the shadow follows the body,
as we think, so we become.

-- from the Dhammapadda --
"Dharma teachers," writes Lama Surya Das, "sometimes refer to the stream of consciousness of a person with an untrained mind (most of us, much of the time); as a continuous stream of delusion. This continuous stream is built up through years (or lifetimes) of deeply confused habitual and distorted thinking. We think so much, yet we truly know and understand so very little."

"A Tibetan saying," notes Das, "is that thoughts and concepts are delusions; awareness is wisdom. Self absorption acts as a veil of delusion that distorts everything."

[Lama Surya Das, "Awakening the Buddha Within," pp. 131-132.]

Like so many other spiritual teachers, in varied traditions, Das, notes the post-modern man and woman seem to be "narcissistic and self-absorbed," identified and ruled by the continuous stream of deceptive self-consciousness which is the human ego. Thus, he notes, "(t)o embody the Dharma, we have to learn to let go of self-deception and be honest with ourselves as well as the rest of the world. This level of honesty requires conscientious attention, discernment, emotional intellignece, self-knowledge, and sincere internal scrutiny."

"Everything," Das observes, "depends on motivation and intention. What you tell yourself about any situation reflects where you are coming from. It starts in your head, with what you tell yourself."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Right intentions . . . suggests to the spiritual seeker that it is in our own highest interest to be less selfish," Das notes.

"When our energies are taken up with thoughts of "me" or "mine," we are honoring neither our human dignity nor our innate Buddha-nature," he points out. "The Dharma urges seekers to develop an unselfish view of the world because the reality is that we are all interconnected; our fates are intertwined."

"It takes an entire community to raise a Buddha," he observes.
[Lama Surya Das, supra., p .135.]

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thomas Merton: 'The Birth of Man'

"Is there to be found on earth a fullness of joy, or is there no such thing? Is there some way to make life fully worth living, or is this impossible? If there is no such a way, how do you go about finding it? What should you try to do? What should you seek to avoid? What should be the goal in which your activity comes to rest? What should you accept? What should you refuse to accept? What should you love? What should you hate?"

-- Thomas Merton --
("Thoughts On the East," p. 16)
"The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.
     Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;
     The difficult and the easy complement each other;
     The long and the short offset each other;
     The high and the low incline towards each other;

     Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.
     The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority;

     It gives them life yet claims no possessions;
     It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
     It accomplishes its task yet claims to no merit.
It is because it lays claim to no merit
     That its merit never deserts it."

-- Lao Tzu --
( "Tao Te Ching," Verse II)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Taoism emphasizes balance. The feminine balances the masculine; rigidity balances suppleness; the yin balances the yang, and because of this everything returns to a certain equanimity, to the ease of being that lies in the center.
When there is an imbalance the world does not recognize the beautiful as beautiful, the good as good, or the bad as bad. Yet this is bound to be temporary, for everything is bound to return to the balance of equanimity that is the nature of the Tao. 

We are, it would appear, in a world that is out of balance; thus, as so many wisdom traditions note, we are in the process of returning - in this instance, returning to a center where there must be harmony between yin and yang, between man and nature, between the manifest and the unmanifest.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"What the world values is money, reputation, long life, achievement. What it counts as joy is health and comfort of body, good food, fine clothes, beautiful things to look at, pleasant music to listen to."

"What it condemns is lack of money, a low social rank, a reputation for being no good, and an early death."

"What it considers misfortune is bodily discomfort and labor, no chance to get your fill of good food, not having good clothes to wear, having no way to amuse or delight the eye, no pleasant music to listen to. If people find that they are deprived of these things, they go into a panic or fall into despair. They are so concerned for their life that their anxiety makes life unbearable, even when they have the things they think they want. Their very concern for enjoyment makes them unhappy."

"The rich make life intolerable, driving themselves in order to get more and more money which they cannot really use. In so doing, they are alienated from themselves, and exhaust themselves in their own service as though they were slaves of others."

"The ambitious run day and night in pursuit of honors, constantly in anguish about the success of their plans, dreading the miscalculations that may wreck everything. Thus they are alienated from themselves, exhausting their real life in service of the shadow created by their insatiable hope."

"The birth of man is the birth of his sorrow."

-- Thomas Merton --
("Thoughts On the East," pp. 16-17.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thomas Merton: On the 'Tao'

"The Tao, in the broadest sense, is the way the universe functions, characterized by spontaneous creativity or by regular alterations of phenomena (such as day followed by night) that proceed without effort."

"Effortless action can be seen in the conduct of water, which unresistingly accepts the lowest level yet wears away the hardest substance. Human beings following the Tao, must abjure all struggle  and learn the value of wu-wei (non-striving) through which one approaches a stage of creative possibility sometimes symbolized as a child or infant in Taoist writings."

"In a rough sense, what sin is to the Christian, cosmic disorder (or, at the local level, personal anxiety) is to the Taoist. The ideal state of being, fully attainable only by mystical contemplation, is simplicity and freedom from desire, comparable to that of "an uncarved block.""
[Thomas Merton ,"Thoughts On The East," p. 10.]
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Know the masculine,
Keep to the feminine,
And be the Brook of the World.
To be the Brook of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without swerving from it,
And to return again to infancy.

Know the white,
Keep to the black,
And be the Pattern of the World.
To be the Pattern of the World is
to move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without erring in a single step,
And to return again to the Infinite.

Know the glorious,
Keep to the lowly,
And be the Fountain of the World.
To be the Fountain of the World is
To live the abundant life of Virtue,
And to return again to Primal Simplicity.

When Primal Simplicity diversifies,
It becomes useful vessels.
Hence the greatest cutting
Does not sever.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them.
It stays in places loathed by all men.
Therefore, it comes from the Tao.

In choosing your dwelling, know how to keep to the ground.
In cultivating your mind, know how to dive in the hidden depths.
In dealing with others, know how to be gentle and kind.
In speaking, know how to keep your words.
In governing, know how to maintain order.
In transacting business, know how to be efficient.
In making a move, know how to choose the right moment.

If you do not strive with others,
You will be free from blame.

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[Lao Tzu, "Tao Teh Ching," Nos. XXVIII and VIII.]

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Sage and the Tao

The "Tao" is "the Way" - the way of all things, the fundamental principle of the universe. The feminine and the masculine meet in the Tao, yin meets yang in the Tao, the Four Cardinal Directions meet in the center, and this center is the Tao. He who knows the Tao, knows his own Being and the Way of all things.

"The sage has the sun and moon by his side. He grasps the universe under his arm. He blends everything into a harmonious whole, casts aside whatever is confused or obscured, and regards the humble as honourable."
-- Chuang Tse --

"If it

      is bent,
          it will be preserved intact;
     is crooked,
          it will be straightened;
     is sunken,
          it will be filled;
     is worn-out,
          it will be renewed;
     has little;
          it will gain;
     has much,
          it will be confused.

For these reasons,
     The sage holds on to unity
          and serves as the shepherd of all under heaven.

     He is not self-absorbed,
          therefore he shines forth;
     He is not self-revealing,
          therefore he is distinguished;
     He is not self-assertive,
          therefore he has merit;
     He does not praise himself,
          therefore he is long-lasting.

     Simply because he does not compete,
          no one can compete with him.

     The old saying about the bent being preserved intact
          is indeed close to the mark!

     Truly, he shall be returned intact."

-- Lao Tzu --

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thomas Merton: Zen and Direct Realization

"Zen has always assumed, as one of its basic principles, that the enlightenment of the proficient monk demands a certain freedom with respect to the authority of any canonical text," notes Thomas Merton, the revered Trappist monk. "What the Zen man seeks to realize in himself is a "self-sustaining independence," and here the entire question of religious authority is raised. The aim of Zen is, according to Zenists, simply the aim of Buddhism itself, "the ultimate emancipation from duality.""

"Living by the "basic authority which is the True Self," or metaphysically, in direct contact with the ground reality by "freedom from forms," the Zen man does not resolve all beings into a pure Void," Merton notes, "but rather (he) sees the Void itself as an inexhaustible source of creative dynamism at work in the phenomena that are seen before us and constitute the world around us."

"This world," Merton points out, "is only illusory insofar as it is misinterpreted to fit our prejudices about our limited ego-selves. This simple direct approach to reality, this unabashed apprehension of the One in the Many, of the Void in everyday life and in the ordinary world around us, is the foundation for Zen humanism in the world of today."

[Thomas Merton, "Mystics and Zen Masters," pp. 283-284]

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Lama Surya Das: The Buddha's Path

"The path to enlightenment and awakening is the opposite of squelching and containing yourself or trying to keep up a nice efficient, stainless-steel persona - very shiny but also very hard and cold. There is no substitute for living a juicy genuine life of Buddha activity. The Buddha is bubbling, happy, and sad. Waking up the Buddha is letting go of your fixed persona and becoming awake, liberated and aware."

"Starting on a spiritual path means leaving the superficial currents and getting into the deeper waters of real sanity. We're not just swimming against the stream here; we're actually plumbing the deeper waters of being in order to reconnect with our own innate nature. Where do we start? After he arrived in India in 1959, an old lama was asked, "How did you manage to escape from Tibet and cross the high and snowy Himalayas by foot?" He answered, "One step at a time.""

-- Lama Surya Das --
"The path, as always," observes Lama Surya Das, "begins beneath your feet with the first step you take. Where do you stand right now? This is where we begin."

[Lama Surya Das, "Awakening the Buddha Within," p. 21.]

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