Friday, April 27, 2018
The first part of this chapter carries its deepest meaning. It begins with a brief version of creation.
Tao gives birth to one
One gives birth to two
Two give birth to three
Three give birth to the ten thousand things
Using symbols, this progression can be illustrated by the movement from wuji, or unlimited potential,
to taiji, commonly recognized as the yin yang symbol.
It is the separation of oneness into the complementary energies of yin and yang that creates form from the formlessness of One. This reminds me of the Buddhist teaching: “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.”
The union of yin and yang then produces the manifested universe, referred to as the ten thousand things.
The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang
These two energies exchange in the middle creating harmony
The character for carry suggests carrying something on one’s back. Thus carrying yin and embracing yang (in front) give a sense of yin and yang circling through us and around us in perfect balance, one fading as the other manifests.
This also reflects our breathing. We breathe in and manifest; we breathe out and release. The point of exchange is that moment when we are neither inhaling nor exhaling. There is a moment of balanced stillness as the two energies meet in the center before exchanging places and repeating the cycle. Within that stillness is the eternal harmony.
In Shambhala training, this point between the breaths is called the gap. It is the gateway of the holy instant described in A Course in Miracles. Within that tiny portal in time is the transcendence of time into the vastness of infinity.
This is our practical way to practice something mysterious and indefinable. We breathe. And as we reach that point of exchange, when we have fully inhaled or exhaled and are poised to reverse , we can be aware of the perfect harmony in the stillness.
A law professor, speaking English as a second language, once gave us an instruction to turn to a particular page and “be amazed.” Our breath is like that. It seems ordinary and we take it for granted. But within each breath is all the wisdom teaching of the universe.
Monday, April 23, 2018
The story is told of Milarepa, an 8th century Tibetan Buddhist, who came back to his cave one day to find it filled with demons. He didn’t know how to get rid of them. He got angry and shouted at them to leave. They just laughed. He regained his composure and tried to teach them Buddhism. They yawned and ignored him. Finally, he gave up and said, “I’m not going anywhere and it seems that you are not either. I guess we will have to live here together. Let’s have tea.” He turned to make tea at which point the demons promptly left.
A lot has happened in the last few months that has stirred up feelings. Deep feelings relating to things that happened long ago. Disturbing feelings. Even scary. Churning up long settled silt to muddy the clear water of the present.
What to do with these feelings?
First I dismiss them.
How silly to be upset about things that happened so long ago. I know better. I’m not even upset about things that really happened, because who really knows what happened? As A Course in Miracles teaches, “the only wholly true thing you can say about the past is that it is not here.” I’m upset about the stories I’m telling myself about the past. Stories I’m telling myself right now about times lost in the mist. Why am I doing this to myself? I can simply change the stories and not be upset. Of course, that is just substituting stories. The feel good stories are no more true than the feel bad stories. They are all just stories. Drop them all. Why are those feelings still hanging around?
Next I try to analyze them.
What are these feelings really about? If I can understand them, I can control them. I can put them in a properly labeled container and be done with them. So I think and think. But my thinking gets me nowhere and I find myself circling by the same thoughts repeatedly, like seeing the same tree over and over when lost in the woods. I am hopelessly confused. I cannot think my way to peace with these feelings.
So I invite them to tea.
I remember the story of Milarepa. Okay, feelings, sit down and have some tea. Sit right here. Drink this. But no one comes.
And finally I give up.
A good host does not command her guests. She prepares the table and welcomes who shows up.
I remember the little tea set that someone gave my daughter years ago. It is covered with hearts. It sits on a heart shaped tray, and the four tiny cups are shaped like hearts. Seems like a gift from destiny.
I fill the little pot with water and sit down to wait.
One by one, they arrive – pain, anger, fear, sadness. As each one arrives, I bow in welcome. I think of the teapot as representing the courage to open my heart to these guests, and the water is the nectar of mercy and compassion. I pour water into the cups and offer one to each guest with another bow.
And I listen to what each has to say.
I would like to tell you that they each spoke their piece and then left, but the truth is that they are still here. They are not finished yet. And that’s okay.
We are all friends here.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Monday, April 16, 2018
In the Bible, Jesus and his followers encountered the funeral procession of a widow’s only son. Jesus had compassion for her and told her son to rise. The dead boy came back to life and was returned to his mother.
The story is told in Buddhism of a mother who brought the body of her dead son to Buddha and begged him to bring the boy back to life. Buddha told her that if she could bring him a mustard seed from a house that had not been touched by death, he would grant her wish. So off she ran, going from house to house, but nowhere could she find a family that had not suffered death. She returned to Buddha, understanding that death comes to us all. She was released from her emotional struggle and went to bury her son. Buddha, in a different way, also had compassion for a grieving mother.
Two stories of healing. In one the boy was healed; in the other the mother was healed. These stories fascinate me, especially because as the mother of an autistic son, I spent much of his childhood praying for him to be healed.
Interesting that a mustard seed appears in the Bible and in Buddhism. In the Bible, Jesus says that if we have faith even as much as a tiny mustard seed, we could command mountains to move and they would. So imagine how I felt – apparently I could not summon even a mustard seed’s worth of faith to heal my son. What a failure I was.
Later I came to realize that my son did not need healing. He thinks he is terrific. I needed healing from my own grief and anger and despair. I came to understand that I am not alone in suffering as a mother. I turned to Mary, who might have been mother to the son of God, but still had her maternal tribulations.
I began to look more deeply at the Bible story of the mustard seed of faith. If faith is wanting things to be other than what they are, that is, imposing my own will on the universe, is that faith or denial or just wishful thinking? If faith is trusting in the innate order and basic goodness of the universe, then perhaps even a tiny mustard seed of faith will align me with God’s will. When my will yields to God’s will, then indeed all things are possible.
For me, moving the mountain meant releasing my own resistance, making my peace with James’s autism, accepting him just the way he is. Terrific.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
I love this chapter because it starts with several lines that reveal a lot more about the reader than whatever point the author was trying to make.
The high scholar hears Tao and diligently practices it
The middle scholar hears Tao and sometimes keeps it, sometimes forgets it
The low scholar hears Tao and has a great laugh
Without laughter it wouldn’t be Tao
What do you first think when you read these lines? Do you identify with the high, middle, or low scholar?
I always loved school, and I was a diligent student. I worked hard and enjoyed my academic success. So I gravitate toward wanting to be the good student at the top. Indeed, many commentators and translators appear to place more value on being the high scholar. “High” and “low” are sometimes translated here as “superior” and “inferior.”
But as I considered this chapter more deeply, I began to question the assumption that we should strive to practice Tao diligently like the high scholar. Nowhere else in the Tao Te Ching are we encouraged to make such effort. On the contrary, we are taught that the way to harmony with Tao is not to learn, but to unlearn. Not to practice diligently, but to flow effortlessly.
Perhaps we have missed the point in these opening lines by so quickly admiring the high scholar. The low scholar hears Tao and laughs. This seems more in keeping with other descriptions of the sage as innocent like a child, without ambition, acting without effort, even appearing foolish to others.
The image of the person hearing Tao and laughing reminds me of the Dalai Lama. He laughs a LOT! True, he does have a diligent practice of meditation, but I get the sense that he never takes himself too seriously.
The second part of this chapter revisits a familiar theme in the Tao Te Ching of opposites, listing twelve contrasts. For example,
Bright Tao seems dark
High virtue seems like a valley
Genuine truth seems uncertain
To me, this supports the consideration of the first lines as not meaning what they first appear to mean. That is, what seems like high achievement is not necessarily in harmony with Tao. And what we might dismiss as the fool’s laughter is really the sage’s deep awareness of Tao’s essence.
My quick identification with the high scholar has given me a great laugh ... at myself!
Thursday, April 5, 2018
When I’m up at my cabin, I have no TV, internet, or phone service. I don’t miss it. I don’t even think about it. Or if I do think about it, I think about how glad I am to be free of all these things for a few days.
However, yesterday at home I ran into TV problems and was told that no technician is available till next Wednesday. No TV for a week. Okay, I thought, this will be good. Maybe I will find that I don’t even want TV anymore. I don’t even watch it that much.
Or do I?
Around 5:00, I walked into the living room to flip on the news. Oh right. Then came dinnertime – I usually eat in front of TV. How will I eat? Later in the evening, I wanted to watch a favorite show. Couldn’t.
Got up this morning and I don’t even watch TV in the morning, but the TV was just sitting there all silent, and even though it’s silent every morning, this felt different. I noticed and felt uneasy.
Do you ever walk into a room when the electricity is off and still reach for the switch? That’s what this feels like. Habit.
So I’m becoming aware of how I feel when a habit is disrupted. It is interesting to watch. I wonder where else in my life habits run their programs below my conscious awareness. I wonder if I have behavior habits, or belief habits, or thinking habits that dictate my experience. How do they affect my interaction with others and the world around me?
I’m not suggesting that habits are bad. Some habits are undeniably beneficial. I’m suggesting that now and then, it might be good to just take stock of the habits that are in the driver’s seat and watch how they operate.
About that TV, I’m curious about how I will feel after a week of adjusting to not having it. Is that long enough for the habit to loosen its grip? We’ll see.
Have you had a habit disrupted recently? What was that like?
[I’ll be at the cabin this weekend, so please excuse the delay in posting your comments. I look forward to hearing your habit stories when I get back!]