(selections from the the ancient taoist classic hua hu ching by lao tzu. this version/translation was originally by brian walker but has been rendered almost unrecognizable by adjustments and additions from bill.)
"the mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."
-van der leeuw
3<<< those who wish to embody tao should embrace all things. (some versions adjust this line slightly by saying "...should embrace all things equally." other variations include "...should accept all things", "...should ponder all things", "...should remain detached from all things", and "...should groove on and/or completely dig all things." ) ("should" is of course a complicated word that people usually do not like to hear and I for one completely understand and share their suspicion. the word "should" has been partially responsible for enormous ugliness and mischief in the world as we have known it thus far. vulnerable and gullible people have been taken in by advice and injunctions that were either poorly conceived, poorly formulated, or poorly explained to all parties concerned. and even if the advice givers sincerely did not mean any harm or deception, harm or deception still often occurs, and this is then oftentimes followed up by a new round of more complicated "should" statements. at a certain point the situation becomes so hopelessly tangled and compromised that people often resort to one of two desperate courses: either they shut down completely and stop taking words like "truth" and "should" seriously, or they do the opposite- become dogmatic and fanatical about a particular worldview and/or code of belief and behavior to the point where their entire lifestyle and point of view is swallowed up by a "should," either one of their own creation or one that has been presented to them by another person or group.
nonetheless, this word "should" has been lightly sprinkled in here and there within these passages. ultimately, it is just a word like any other, of neither greater nor lesser importance. take it in its traditional sense or take it with a mere grain of salt- the choice is entirely yours. the situation being presented here is designed to be as fluid and open-ended as possible.)
to embrace all things means first that one holds no anger or resistance or obsession or craving towards any idea or thing, living or dead, formed or formless. acceptance is the very essence of the tao. broad, across-the board appreciation and perpetual open-mindedness are also very much in line with the tao.
to embrace all things means also that one more or less rids or divests oneself of any concept of separation: male and female, self and other, mine and yours, hope and fear, life and death, good and bad, full and empty, strong and weak, smart and stupid, sick and healthy, etc. this perhaps sounds crazy, impossible, ill-advised, and irresponsible, and at a certain level, yes, it is probably all of those things. nonetheless, the basic principle stands: division is contrary to the nature of tao.
4<<< every departure from tao contaminates one's spirit to a certain degree. anger is a departure, resistance is a departure, self-absorption is a departure, obsessions and fetishes and judgments and expectations of all kinds may comprise a departure. even the most seemingly innocent daily habits sometimes comprise a departure. over many lifetimes the burden of contamination can become very great. there is only one way to cleanse oneself of these contaminations, and that is to cultivate, embody, and practice integrity/compassion/humility.
what is meant by this? to cultivate, embody, and practice integrity/compassion/humility is to selflessly offer assistance to others, giving without limitation one's time, abilities, and possessions in friendship and service, whenever or wherever needed, without prejudice concerning the identity of those in need. it is also to receive gracefully these same things from others as necessary. it is to elegantly participate in what is sometimes referred to as a "circle of care," one that includes the entire human, animal, plant, mineral, and celestial realms. no one entity in this circle is to be regarded as closer or further, more or less important/deserving, better or worse, etc. this impartial view is of course almost impossible to maintain in practice so it is just mentioned here briefly as a general principle to keep in the back of one's mind.
5<<< do you imagine the universe is agitated? go into the desert at night and look out at the stars. this practice should answer the question.
a perceptive person settles her mind as the universe settles the stars in the sky. by connecting her mind with the subtle origin, she calms it. once calmed, it naturally expands, and ultimately her mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky.
7<<< the teaching and demonstration of tao will go on as long as there is a tao and somebody who wishes to embody it; that could very well comprise a significant or substantial chunk of time; or it could be pretty much wrapped up by tomorrow. what is painted in these scrolls today will most likely appear in different forms in many generations to come.
these things, however, will never change: those who wish to attain oneness must cultivate, embody, and practice undiscriminating integrity/compassion/humility. they must dissolve all ideas of duality: good and bad, beautiful and ugly, high and low, success and failure- really, there is no end to a list such as this. I could go on and on for many hours conjuring up these endless pairs of opposites but instead I'll just assume that you grasp the general concept. it's not a complicated concept.
they will be obliged to abandon any mental bias born of cultural or religious belief. indeed, they should hold their minds free of any thought or feeling which interferes with their understanding of the universe as a harmonious oneness. of course, such interfering thoughts and feelings will almost certainly present themselves on occasion- maybe even on many occasions- and yes, there will be plenty of seeming evidence that the universe, or at least our little corner of it, is not the least bit "harmonious," insofar as we interpret that word in its traditional sense. in fact, the opposite of harmony seems to prevail much of the time: conflict, tension, dissonance, ugliness. again, it is a larger principle that is being suggested or emphasized here: simply, that if one could get far back or far forward enough in time, space, or spirit, a perspective or pattern might emerge that could be regarded as somewhat "harmonious." this word often connotes a sense of over-all balance- what is chaotic at one moment might just be part of of an ongoing process of homeostasis- it gives way to calm, perhaps, or maybe emptiness, and then maybe things build up again, and get crowded, and agitated, until yet another reversal occurs- given enough time, this process, seen from a great distance, could possibly resemble something like "harmony"- this word is of course being used in its broadest possible sense, as something which is so vast and inscrutable that it can contain all things; that it can find a place for all things; that it can accept, embrace, and even utilize all things in some manner. it may indeed be a somewhat wild and untidy harmony, but we might still call it "harmony." at least this is one possible explanation.
8<<< I confess at the outset that there is nothing specific to teach: no religion, no science, no mantra, no body of information which will lead your mind back to tao. if it was that cut and dried you'd probably fall over dead of boredom before you even reached the age 11 or 12. today I speak in this fashion, tomorrow in another, but the tao itself is always way, way beyond words and way, way beyond mind and/or concrete identification. it is in fact one of the most fluid and elusive things that exists in the universe. again, I come back to this basic suggestion: simply be aware of the oneness of things.
10<<< without even stretching the point very far, the ego could be likened to a monkey catapulting thru an immense expanse of open jungle: totally fascinated by the realm of the senses, it swings from one desire to the next, one conflict to the next, one self-centered idea to the next. and if you threaten it, even in the most casual or sarcastic way, it actually fears for its life. that's how high and mighty monkey ego actually is.
let this monkey go.
let the senses go.
let desires go.
let conflicts go.
let ideas go.
let the fiction of life and death go.
just remain in the center, watching.
and then forget that you are there.
13<<< the tiny particles which form the vast universe are not tiny at all. neither is the vast universe vast. these are notions of the mind, which, like a young lad with a shiny new pocketknife, is constantly chipping or whittling away at the tao, trying to render it graspable and manageable.
but that which is beyond form is ungraspable, and that which is beyond knowing is simply unmanageable. we don't necessarily like this, but there it is: simple facts.
there is, however, this small consolation: she who lets go of the knife will instantly discover the entire depth and breadth of the tao at her fingertips. some commentators would argue that in fact tao was there all along, and from a certain perspective they're right. tao is everywhere, at all times, and all beings, formed and unformed, are comprised of nothing but tao. good ol' tao doesn't take sides. it doesn't just pack up and leave. both the clenching and the releasing of the knife are pure tao. however, it is the releasing which allows the tao, and you, to flow with less hindrance and find expression in more diverse combinations- more and better options open up. it is difficult to argue against these kind of simple advantages.
18<<< there is no one method for attaining realization of the tao. to regard any method as the method is to create a duality, a hierarchy, an instant sense of opposition. the words "good," "better," and "best" suddenly appear on the scene. these are usually distortions, distractions, mistakes, accidents, biases, and personal preferences, and all of them highly temporary to boot- investing any of them with too much favor, disdain, or some combination thereof could very well turn out to be counter-productive. who knows? chances are that you would eventually learn from your mistake or misconception, if there indeed was one, so it's really difficult to start assigning hierarchies- they all tumble down in due course. the perceptive person perceives the fruitlessness of rigid, external methodologies; remembering this, she keeps her attitude more or less open and unstructured at all times and thus is always available and receptive to whatever "the random moment" might bring. "the random moment," if we would but let it, is highly potent and charged with incredible and truly unspeakable mystery.
she closely studies nature, teachings, other people, and herself. they all contain invaluable lessons. they contain unavoidable lessons.
22<<< how can the divine oneness be seen? in beautiful forms, breathtaking wonders, awe-inspiring miracles, great adventures? perhaps, but the tao is not obliged to present itself in this way. if anything, the tao prefers what is ordinary and what might be termed "inconspicuous." it is always present and always available. when speech is exhausted and identity/mind/drama dissolved, it appears. it emerges. again, it was most likely there all along, but the mind and the talking and the drama may have sort of elbowed it off into the background. the tao never objects to this. it is a very fluid and flexible medium. it won't try to argue with you. most of the time it gracefully defers to our own wishes and energies. it is said that if you are willing to be lived by it, all these matters become so glaringly obvious that there is no need for proofs or tests of any kind.
24<<< subtle awareness of the truth of the universe should never be regarded as some sort of "achievement." to think in terms of "achieving" it is to place it outside your own nature. a pretty massive but not terribly uncommon mistake, believe it or not.
your nature/essence and the nature/essence of the universe are pretty much one and the same: indescribable, inscrutable, impossible to track or pin down, but eternally present and eternally flowing in, thru, around, beyond and then back to each other.
25<<< not all spiritual paths lead to the harmonious oneness. indeed, quite a few are detours, distractions, freak-shows, ego trips, sanctimonious horseshit- why not trust the plainness and simplicity of the good old-fashioned tao? I say this partly in jest, because the tao is sometimes described as nothing other than this very moment- neither old nor new. just right now- however things are right now- that's tao. good ol' tao. some commentators object, and point to so-called deep history and the vast, allegedly eternal time-space continuum, shooting off or hovering or fossilizing in all conceivable ways and directions . . .it's hard to argue about these abstract matters one way or another. many of the ancients and modern scholars have in the end just wearily thrown up their arms and conceded that the tao is most likely incredibly comprehensive and vast. so comprehensive and vast, in fact, that our attempts to discuss it take on something of the comic or outright absurd. the practice suggested earlier regarding the desert and star-gazing would certainly seem to suggest that there is something more afoot than we can clearly comprehend or articulate.
34<<< all things in the universe move from the subtle to the manifest and back again, on and on. whether the form is that of a galaxy, empire, person, insect, or water molecule, the process is pretty much the same.
first, the subtle energy exists. next, it becomes manifest and takes on life. after a time, the life passes away, but the subtle energy goes on, either returning to the subtle realm, where it either remains, or simply lingers, or moves on again towards entirely new spheres or familiar, old favorite haunts- perhaps manifesting and taking on life again, perhaps just existing as pure tao for awhile- there have always been multiple options available and this will probably continue to be the case for quite some time to come.
it is said that the character of your existence is determined by the energies to which you connect yourself. if you attach or fixate yourself to very dense, specific energies- this or that person, hating or loving or scheming, this or that project or value or party, rejecting out of hand one particular type of experience or habitually indulging in another- this could lead to a series of very heavy and fixated lives, and it could quite possibly go on for a very long and tedious time. this doesn't appear to bother certain people- the types that seem to enjoy dense attachments and the drama/thrill/disappointment that inevitably goes along with dense attachments-
a taoist orientation tends to be lighter, more flexible, and more varied in terms of contacts and experience- an image of clear and flowing water is sometimes compared to a mud puddle. the basic ingredients are all more or less exactly the same- it's merely the environment, proportions, and sense of flow that are different.
35<<< intellectual knowledge exists in and of the brain, and because the brain is part of the body, which one of these days will expire, this collection of facts, however large and impressive, will expire as well.
insight, however, is a function of essence, and because essence just sort of floats around eternally, one has the opportunity, if one so chooses, to cultivate insight in an ongoing or cumulative fashion. refined over time, insight becomes pure, unwavering, familiar, and friendly. and once again, if one is so inclined, this can lead to a larger and more diverse range of options.
38<<< why scurry about looking for the truth? it vibrates in every thing and every not-thing. it is in the room or subway car in which you might be reading this as well as the hallway or alley outside that room or subway car. the city center? the ball park? the north pole? the white house? deep space? the maximum security prison? yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. moving from a loud place to a quiet place sometimes does promote a more obvious calm and the opportunity for a more thorough and sustained review of the facts, as it were, but the loud place partakes no less of the truth, the tao, and the calm. it is simply a matter of orientation.
and please- for you thinkers and book readers out there- don't imagine that you'll discover it by accumulating more fun phraseology or what strikes you as bona fide knowledge. even if it is solid knowledge, the best knowledge, the true knowledge, the very summit of knowledge- knowledge oftentimes creates doubt, and doubt makes you ravenous for yet more knowledge. you can't get full eating this way! the perceptive person is said to dine on something more subtle: in a manner of speaking, he eats the plain understanding that the named was born from the unnamed, that all being flows from non-being, that the describable world emanates from an indescribable source. he finds this subtle truth inside his own being, and learns to let certain things go.
so who can be still and watch the chess game of the world? the foolish are always making impulsive moves, but the perceptive know that "victory" and "defeat" are decided by something more subtle: they realize that something utterly perfect exists before the first move is even made.
41<<< good and bad, mine and yours, life and death, full and empty: as noted before, this list goes on and on to infinity. why affirm these concepts? why deny them? to do either is to exercise the mind, and a fan of the tao knows that the manipulations of the mind are dreams, delusions, and shadows. maybe they're fun dreams, fun delusions, fun shadows- for awhile at least. I suppose we all have our own tipping point in this regard.
hold one idea, and another competes with it. soon the two will be in conflict with a third, then a fourth, and in no time at all your life is completely avalanched by chatter, contradiction, and conflict.
some people hear these suggestions and say- "hey dude- your goofy 'harmonious oneness' is just too boring!"- and honestly, there's a part of me that completely understands what they're saying. it is a little bit boring, in fact. there's no reason to try and deceive you about this. the tao is a little bit boring. may as well get it all out in the open.
does the tao secretly wish that it was a little bit more exciting? my guess is that it probably doesn't- but that's just pure and wanton conjecture.
the tao probably doesn't give a rat's ass what we call it! I guess that's why it's the tao. it can pretty much take care of itself.
44<<< this is the nature of basic or garden-variety insanity: the sense organs, which are highly limited in scope and ability, randomly gather information, and a lot of the time, let's be honest- it's pretty weird or sick information. our culture almost seems to be obsessed with the rat's nest of warped and biased information flying at us from virtually every point on the compass. I know, I know, I should be celebrating along with everyone else the glories of this, the globalized-information-and-all-of-it-in-a-finger-snap-era; oh well; maybe I will. maybe I already am. but to get back to my point for a second- this partial information is oftentimes arranged into judgments, which are oftentimes based on previous judgments, which are in turn oftentimes based on someone else's foolish ideas or judgments from thousands of years ago. (and by the way- some of the ideas being elaborated here are probably not any exception. just being honest.) these warped concepts and ideas are then stored in a highly selective memory system.
distortion upon distortion: the mental energy flows constantly through contorted, disjointed, corrupted, and absolutely inappropriate channels, and the more one uses the mind, the more confused or insane one becomes.
to eliminate the vexation of the mind, it doesn't necessarily always help to just do something, nike commercials notwithstanding. this oftentimes desperate and impulsive just doing something usually reinforces the already deeply tangled-up mind-mechanics.
I will be roundly criticized for saying this but to dissolve the vexation it is sometimes advisable to try instead not doing something. I know all the arguments against this and in fact I agree with many of them- but again, I suppose it's more of a principle that I'm sketching out here: simply avoid becoming attached to what you see, feel, think, do, and are. c'mon- is that really such a unreasonable request? try to relinquish the notion that you are separated from the all-knowing mind of the universe.
48<<< do you wish to free yourself of mental and emotional knots and become one with the tao? well, if so, there are generally two paths available.
the first is the path of acceptance. most people, in their heart of hearts, would really much prefer this one. affirm everyone and everything. freely extend your goodwill and virtue in every direction, regardless of circumstances. embrace all things as part of yourself, part of the harmonious oneness, and then you will in turn begin to perceive and imbibe it.
the second path is that of denial. this is for your more misanthropic or solitary personality type. recognize that everything you see and think is partial, fragmented, biased, illusory, cartoonish, and a veritable "veil over the truth". peel all the veils away, whatever that means, and you will arrive safe and sound at the good ol' harmonious oneness.
though these paths seem and maybe are entirely different, they will deliver you to the same basic place- spontaneous awareness of what I have been calling, for lack of any better term, the harmonious oneness.
it's a little boring, yes, but we've already been over that.
if you do arrive there, and you want to hang out for awhile, remember: it isn't necessary to struggle to maintain unity with it.
the opposite, in fact. you just go with it. you just relax and totally go with it.
52<<< do you think you can clear your mind by sitting constantly in silent meditation? sorry. this makes your mind narrow, not clear. awareness and appreciation of tao is fluid and adaptable, present in all places and at all times. that is true meditation.
who can attain clarity and simplicity by avoiding the world? the tao is clear and simple, and it doesn't avoid the world. indeed, it is the world! the world is nothing but tao, thru and thru.
why not simply honor your parents, love your children, help your brothers and sisters, be faithful to your friends, care for your mate with devotion, complete your work cooperatively and joyfully, assume responsibility for problems, cultivate/embody/practice integrity/compassion/humility without first demanding it of others, access the sublimest truths and paradoxes and still retain an ordinary, relaxed, everyday manner?
59<<< greed for "enlightenment," "genius," and "immortality" is no different than greed for material wealth. it is self-centered and dualistic, and hence a positive obstacle to anything associated with awareness and appreciation of tao. therefore these states or qualities are never achieved by those who covet them; rather, they are the subtle and oftentimes not-even-noticed result of an honest and untainted commitment to integrity/compassion/humility.
62<<< do you wish to attain pure tao? don't just say "yes" automatically! pure tao is not for everyone and it is not even necessarily better or more desirable than "impure" tao. all degrees exist, and they all serve an important celestial function. but for theoretical purposes, there are three primary energies, and integrating them properly does for some reason become a priority for certain people now and again.
the first is the earth energy. centered in the belly, it often expresses itself as sexuality and/or dynamism. those who cultivate and master the physical energy attain partial purity.
the second is the heaven energy. centered in the mind, it often expresses itself as insight and/or wisdom. those whose minds merge with the universal mind also attain partial purity.
the third energy is harmonized energy. centered in the heart, it often expresses itself as compassion and/or kindness. those who tap into this also attain partial purity.
only those who achieve all three and can integrate them in a sustainable way can be said to have attained something along the lines of pure tao.
understand this if nothing else: spiritual freedom and oneness with the tao are not randomly bestowed gifts, but the rewards of conscious self-transformation and self-evolution. while it is true that tao is everywhere and everything simultaneously, a unified field of and in which you are entirely comprised and immersed, the awareness and appreciation of this does not usually happen or come automatically.
75<<< would you like to liberate yourself from the lower realms of life? would you like to save the world from the degradation and destruction it seems destined for? then step away from all these second-hand instructions and expert analyses and quietly go to work on your own self-awareness.
if you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. if you want to reduce the suffering in the world, then reduce all that is dark and negative in yourself. honestly, the greatest gift you have to give the world, if you really do in fact want to give something, is that of your own self-transformation.
78<<< there are many, many partial religions and worldviews, and then there is the plain, unvarnished tao. partial religions and worldviews are usually desperate, clever, one-sided human inventions, and most humans are pretty wacky, you'll have probably noticed- hence the questionable nature of their little religious fantasias. the tao is a deep expression of the pure, whole, universal mind. this includes humans, certainly, but it is in no way limited to or by humans and/or what humans can or can't fathom, express, embody, attain, or transmit. humans are pretty simple creature, really. that is why they are so funny and lovable. it is also why they are so easily disappointed, defeated, and tricked. partial religions rely on the hypnotic manipulation of underdeveloped minds; the tao is founded on the free transmission of the plain, natural, immutable rhythm or way of the universe. this truth isn't something complicated, esoteric, or special. it is, in essence, nothing other than the actual air that we breathe. it is that abundant and available. anyone can breathe if they want to. in plain point of fact, there's not really a choice. most people simply cannot or will not believe or accept that the fundamental truths are so close to hand.