Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 50

The chapter opens with an observation on dualism.

Going out into life, entering death

What causes this cycle of life and death?

Because attachment to life is intense

The character for intense has additional meanings of thick, solid, lavish. This contrasts with the description in the second part of the chapter, which is one of my favorite passages in the Tao Te Ching. The English translations cannot convey the rhythm, beauty, and poetry of the Chinese, but still there is a sense of wonder and intriguing mystery.

Those who sustain life well
Go forth without fear of wild buffalo or tiger
Enter battle without armor or weapons
Wild buffalo have nowhere to thrust their horns
Tigers have nowhere to sink their claws
Weapons have nowhere their blades can pierce
Why is this
Because there is no death place

The character for “place” means a literal place or location.

What could this mean, to have no place for death to enter? When I contemplate this passage, I’m reminded of the story about the young woman who wants to study martial arts but is afraid of getting hurt. The teacher stands across the room from her and asks, “If I’m standing here and you are standing over there, can I hurt you?” No, she says. He moves a few steps closer and repeats the question. Still no. This goes on until he is standing right in front of her and asks her one more time, “If I’m standing here and you are standing there, can I hurt you?” “Yes!” she exclaims. The teacher looks at her and says, “Then don’t be there.”

Does it mean that we should avoid danger and cower in a locked safe room? I don’t think so. The person described in this passage is not afraid, but walks boldly through life’s challenges with courage and joy. There is a sense of freedom, not fear.

This seems quite different from the solid thickness of an intense attachment to life portrayed in the first section. Does this mean that if we figure out how to live free of attachment, we will never die? There are Chinese legends of immortals, but I’m pretty sure that none of us will avoid the death of our physical bodies. All that manifests into form will return to formlessness. Our death is assured the moment we are born. This is the nature of duality.

There is a Buddhist practice of contemplating death and our own mortality. Our acceptance of the cycle of life and death allows us to live in freedom, without futile resistance to reality. Death has no place to enter, not because we won’t ever die but because we live in harmony with the movement of creation.

Like the monk, who sat serenely as a warrior brandished his weapon. “Why aren’t you afraid? Don’t you know I can run you through without blinking an eye?” demanded the warrior. The monk smiled and replied, “And I can be run through without blinking an eye.”

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Season of Darkness

The equinox has passed. Night is now longer than day. We are entering the gradual darkening until winter solstice calls the light to return.

Darkness gets such a bad rap. It’s scary, it hides secrets and shame, danger lurks in its shadows. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is gray and rainy much of the fall and winter. Darkness sometimes brings sadness and melancholy.

But I’ve been thinking about darkness in a different way. I have a new grandchild, born just a few weeks ago. She grew in darkness for months. The darkness was warm and soft and safe, shielding her from harm, nourishing her, preparing her.

Seeds are dropping to the ground, or getting buried by squirrels, where they will wait for spring in darkness under the earth.

We rest at night. Our bodies crave the regeneration of sleep and dreams in the dark.

Darkness is essential to life.

In the Tao Te Ching, darkness is the metaphor for mystery, the essence of the Way. It is the origin of all creation. The Bible tells us that in the beginning, “the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” From this darkness, God called forth the manifested universe.

The darkness is where we came from, like my grandchild from the womb. It calls us to love, to embrace mystery, to welcome its season. The fire of the heart burns most brightly in the darkness of night.

As we gather the harvest of our active months in the light, we prepare for the time of quiet, the time of unknowing. The darkness is the gate to mystery. And it stands open, inviting us in, welcoming us home.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait.... So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. ~T.S. Eliot

Thursday, September 20, 2018


I bow to the tree
The tree bows to me
Sitting back to bark
We breathe, we two
Giving life to one another
Receiving life in turn
We breathe as lovers do
Becoming one

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 49

I am good to those who are good
I am good to those who are not good
I am trustworthy to those who are trustworthy
I am trustworthy to those who are not trustworthy

The heart of this little chapter says it all. The Bible observes that the sun shines on the good and the evil, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Flowers reveal their beauty to any and all who pass by, and even when no one is passing by.

If nature does not discriminate, then who are we to do so? Whether we act with kindness, compassion, integrity, does not depend on others. In a world that has become so entrenched in dualistic, judgmental perspective, what a radical notion!

Does this mean that we never have an opinion? Or that we never take action to serve or protect? No, of course not.

I’m thinking of the three people who intervened on public transit when a person started shouting abuse at two young women of color, one wearing a hajib. These defenders did not question the worthiness of the young women before coming to their aid. They saw a need for help and they stepped up, even at the cost of their lives.

The sage aligns with the harmony of creation
Breathing ocean-like energy into the heart

This is not a perspective of weakness or helplessness. This is a position of power, not personal ego power, but the power of the universe manifested through us when we are willing to allow it. It is always available to us. We need not develop it or be worthy of it. We only need to not block it.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. ~Marianne Williamson

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Where the Lotus Roots Grow

Go up, she said
Go up to the mountain top
I think not, he replied
Instead he dove deep
Down down deep
Into the messy muck
Down into the mud
Where the lotus roots grow