Names and Forms are Provisional

The Tao can’t be perceived.

Smaller than an electron,

it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women

could remain centered in the Tao,

all things would be in harmony.

The world would become a paradise.

All people would be at peace,

and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,

know that they are provisional.

When you have institutions,

know where their functions should end.

Knowing when to stop,

you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao,

as rivers flow to into the sea.

#32 Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell)

The Tao Te Ching – 38 (Stephen Mitchell Translation)

Thought this fit with the ordinary and the heroic in Miller and Nietzsche . (Those who strive toward the Ubermensch strive to be masters of themselves, their environment, etc.)   Not sure about the Master having “no will of his own”, but depending on how will is used, it isn’t necessarily a clash with Nietzsche.

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;

thus he is truly powerful.

The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;

thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,

yet he leaves nothing undone.

The ordinary man is always doing things,

yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,

yet something remains undone.

The just man does something,

and leaves many things to be done.

The moral man does something,

and when no one responds

he rolls up his sleeve and uses force.

When the Tao is lost there is goodness.

When goodness is lost, there is morality.

When morality is lost, there is ritual.

Ritual is the husk of true faith,

the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself

with the depths and not the surface,

with the fruit and not the flower.

He has no will of his own.

He dwells in reality,

and lets all illusions go.

Confucianism (Bill Moyers with Huston Smith)

From The Wisdom of Faith series

Huston Smith was born in China to Methodist missionaries. Confucianism and Taoism are among his favorite topics, and also considered to be what he most eloquently writes about.

Smith says it is not accurate to think of Confucianism and Taoism as different religions. If asked which religion do you belong to, most religious Chinese would reply, “The Great Church” which is made up of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and a good smattering of monism folk religions. Every Chinese is a Confucianism on state days, but when illness fell, you’d best go to the Taoist sages. And when death comes, then the Buddhist priest becomes necessary.

This is the equivalent of saying you are Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox Jew, and Church of Religious Science which is completely inconceivable in the western world, but would be perfectly normal according to Chinese thinking. Different religions service different components of the self.

Confucianism and Taoism could be seen as part of a whole, but overlapping and intertwining like the ying yang.

Five constant relationships:

  • Parent and Child
  • Spouse and Spouse
  • Elder brother and younger brother
  • Elder friend and younger friend
  • Ruler and subject.

We work out our humanity in these cross currents of relationship. Wren is the ideal relationship between any two human beings and the heart of this relationship is empathy. Can I empathize with your feelings and your interests? To the extent that I can, my wings are tipped up and I can maneuver skillfully. To the extent that I cannot, my wings are tipped down and I will likely spiral out of control.

First step is to be able to empathize within the family. But this can create nepotism if you go no further. So the next step is to empathize beyond the family to the community. But if you stop here, then you have provincialism. Then you should extend this empathy to your own people. But if you stop here, you have nationalism. So you have to extend this empathy to the entire world. It is a mistake to think that because Confucius taught that we should empathize with humanity it should stop there. Confucius believed that we need to empathize with all of the universe/cosmos.

At one point in Smith’s career, he was listed as the associate minister at the local Methodist Church and was also President of the Vedanta society of St. Louis which was teaching him metaphysical profundities that his church was not teaching. It all came to a head on Christmas eve. Christmas in Methodism was all about the happiness of the family together. But when it came to spiritual depth, what the Swami Satprakashananda said about the incarnation fed his soul more than anything he learned at the Methodist Church. The title of his sermon was always: Jesus, the Light of the World. The reason is because the Swami fully believed in the incarnation and the church did not. His church had been diluted by modernism so the Swami was more true to original Christian teachings than the Methodist church was.

I think what is really interesting about this is that Smith was receiving missionary help and claimed this was a very good thing. His parents were Christian missionaries in Asia and he feels that his parents offered equally crucial help. We get stuck in the notion of having to belong to “one” religion, but all of the religions inform one another and so the missionaries, by bringing their religion into the traditional religion of a country, provide a fresh approach to the traditional religions. Smith claims to be in favor of the missionary enterprise but claims that has to be accepted both ways. It’s not just about Christian missionaries informing other traditions but about other traditions informing Judeo/Christianity. This is especially helpful for those who have experienced the negative features of the religions they were brought up with.

Smith says the world’s historical religions divides into three families, each with a distinctive characteristic: the west (Judeo-Christianity) is more oriented toward nature. The Chinese are more oriented to the social structure (relationship to other human beings rather than to nature). And the South Asians (Indians/Buddhists) are more oriented toward the inner self.

Somehow – the interview ends up being about yoga. Smith introduced yoga to America in the 1940s and the 1950s through a television program (where he was introducing all of the world religions). He sat on his desk in a suit and tie and a fashionable crew cut in the lotus position. He has done yoga all of his life since the 1940s.

Yoga comes from “yoke” so basically means to unite. By extension it means to unite the human spirit to the ultimate spirit. This involves 4 stages. 1) Moral preliminaries – if your life is in chaos and you have troubles with other people, that must be worked out first because otherwise you won’t be able to have a still mind so you have to straighten out your basic morality first; 2) Body – we are psychosomatic people. The asanas (postures) have various roles, one being to provide flexibility into older age and the other to help quiet the mind; 3) Breath – the doorway between the mind and the body; 4) Mind – if it wanders, notice that it wanders and bring it back; 5) you lose awareness of yourself and are 100% focused upon what you are doing and eventually even that disappears.

Hindu prayer – “Oh thou before whom all words recoil”.

China: A Century of Revolution

While reading Bill Porter’s Road to Heaven, I decided I needed to learn more about China’s Cultural Revolution.

Thankfully, my library had the DVD series, China: A Century of Revolution. It was actually three 2 hour films: "China in Revolution" (beginning in 1911 with the fall of the last emperor through 1949 with the rise of Mao Zedong and Chang Kai-shek); "The Mao Years" (1949 to 1976 – The People’s Republic of China); and "Born Under the Red Flag" (Mao’s death in 1976 to leadership under Deng Xiopang).

I had no problem encouraging myself to watch this documentary at all. In fact, I looked forward to it – which isn’t always the case with long series like this. I guess most of us don’t know that much about the history of China because it is so well guarded by the Chinese authorities. That was one thing I realized from Bill Porter’s book. He and his photographer were just taking pictures of temples and got arrested because the government thought he was a spy.

Anyway, I have a much better understanding of the political turmoil and changes going on in China than I did previously. The capitalistic communism is a very interesting experiment, too. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

According to the hermits Porter interviewed in Road to Heaven, they have more freedom now than they did during Mao’s rule. During Mao’s rule, religion was completely outlawed, religious texts burned, sacred temples and burial sites destroyed. But hermits were always revered in China and so still maintain a certain amount of freedom that other citizens don’t have. They are the uncontrollable few because they cannot be coerced by the material lures that most citizens are lured with.

Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits by Bill Porter

I wish I had the energy and courage of Bill Porter. He just took off to the Chungnan Mountains in China searching for Hermits and found them. Some of the climbs to get to them were excruciating. And he was actually arrested as a spy while taking pictures of a temple.

A few things I want to hold on to:

Difference between Taoism and Buddhism (p. 88):

While Taoists sought to create a deathless body, Buddhists sought liberation from all bodies. Nirvana, it turned out, was not the same as the Taoist goal of immortality. Meditation practices differed too. Taoists reduced their breathing to the barest minimum and concentrated on the circulation and transformation of the body’s inner breath, while Buddhists emphasized regulated breathing and detachment from the workings of the body. Also, Buddhists recognized a commonly held set of rules, or precepts, by which to regulate their conduct, while Taoists, for the most part, pointed themselves in the direction of virtue and otherwise left each other to their own devices.

By the 3rd century, Buddhism was on its own, as Taoists either became converts or rejected what was now branded a foreign faith. Over the following centuries, Buddhism not only flourished but gained new schools of thought and practice which extended it’s appeal to the Chinese. There were 8 major Buddhist schools that flowered in China, 7 of which began in the Chungnan Mountains: Three Treatise, Mind-Only, Precept, Pure Land, Huayen, Tantric and Zen.(The 8th school is Tientai and began on Hengshan and Tientaishan in southern and Eastern China).

The Pureland School was the most important. Instead of teaching that liberation depended solely upon their own effort, the Pure Land doctrine taught faith in the power of Amita Buddha to bring devotees to his paradise, where liberation was more easily attained than in this world of impurity.

Hsu-tung’s (68 year old abbot at Hsiangchi Temple)

Explanation of the Differences between Zen and Pureland (p. 95):

In Zen, we keep asking who’s chanting the name of the buddha. All we think about is where the name of the Buddha is coming from. We keep asking, until we find out who we were before we were born. This is Zen. We sit with one mind. And if the mind runs off somewhere, we follow it wherever it goes, until the mind finally becomes quiet, until there’s no Zen to Zen, no question to question, until we reach the stage where we question without questioning and without questioning we keep questioning. We keep questioning until we finally come to an end, until we can swallow the world, all its rivers and mountains, everything, but the world can’t swallows us, until we can ride the tiger, but the tiger can’t ride us, until we find out who we really are. This is Zen.

In Pure Land practice, we just chant the name of the Buddha, nothing more. We chant with the mind. We chant without making a sound, and yet the sound is perfectly clear. And when we hear the sound, the chant begins again. It goes around and around. The chant doesn’t stop, and the mind doesn’t move. The sound arises, we hear the sound, but our mind doesn’t move. And when our mind doesn’t move, delusions disappear. And once they’re gone, the one mind chants. The result is the same as Zen. Zen means no distinctions. Actually, Pure Land includes Zen, and Zen practice includes Pure Land Practice. If you don’t practice both, you become one-sided.

There is no right or wrong dharma. It’s a matter of aptitude, your connections from past lives. Once people start practicing, they think other kinds of practice are wrong. But all practices are right. It depends on the individual as to which is more appropriate. And all practices are related. They involve each other. They lead us to the same end….

Kumarajiva (p. 98) 344 CE -413 CE wrote translations that sixteen hundred years later remain unsurpassed in both style and phrasing. His Vimilakirti Sutra, Diamond Sutra, and Heart Sutra are the most quoted Buddhist texts in China

Yuan-chao (88 year old nun – hermit by Kunyin Temple)

On Tantric Practice (p. 109) Tantric practice is closer to Zen. It’s the pinnacle of Zen. But it’s not for ordinary people. It’s like flying an airplane. It’s dangerous. Pure Land practice is like driving an ox cart. It’s safe. Anybody can do it. But it takes longer.

When asked to write the essence of Buddhism, Yuan-chao responded: goodwill, compassion, joy, detachment.

Te-ch’eng (69 year old abbot of Chingyeh Temple and Fenge Temple)

On Zen and Pure Land (p. 158): It’s like making a fire. You need more than a spark. You need wood and air too. If one of them is missing, you can’t make fire. It’s the same with enlightenment. It’s a system. All practices are related. You can’t leave one of them out. The mind encompasses everything. You can’t leave anything out. You can’t have anything outside the mind. The mind has to be one. There’s only room for one thought, no delusions, nothing else. In Zen, you have no thought. In Pure Land, you have one thought. They’re both the same. They’re both aimed at showing you who you are.

Ch’en (Taoist abott of Taoist Temple Honoring Lao-mu/Nu-wa) (p. 184): Lao-mu and Nu-wa are just names for the nothingness from which time and space and all creation come. Everything comes from nothing. This is Nu-wa. And everything returns to nothing. This is the Tao. This is my understanding. (Which he claims is different than that of other monks because it doesn’t come from books.)

People lose the Tao when they try to find it. They confuse existence with nonexistence. All we can do is cultivate Te [virtue, spiritual power]. Te includes our spirit, our mind, our thoughts. True Te leads to true Tao. But what most people cultivate isn’t true Te. They cultivate powers and thoughts, and they think they’ve realized the Tao. But they’re wrong. To cultivate true Te is to get rid of all powers and thoughts, to be like a baby, to see without seeing, to hear without hearing, to know without knowing. First you have to cultivate Te. The Tao comes naturally.

Yung (72 year old Taoist monk)

When asked what books on Taoism he liked the most (p. 216): Of course the Taoteching. After Liberation, people criticized the Taoteching a lot. But not now. Now they agree it’s the most profound book in the Taoist canon. Most Taoist books reveal themselves as deep or shallow as soon as you read them. But not the Taoteching. The Taoteching is only for people of deep understanding. It’s not for ordinary people. It was the first Taoist book. After that came Huanti’s Yinfuching, which is even briefer than the Taoteching in explaining the essentials of Taoist philosophy. But the most important, most precious of all Taoist books is the Jade Emperor’s Hsinyiching which is the most essential part of the Huangching.

Chinese saying (p. 220): “The small hermit lives on a mountain. The great hermit lives in a town.”

When Porter was arrested, he said the problem was that the authorities were “somewhat concerned that the purpose of our trip was to talk with people over whom they had no control, no matter that they were harmless hermits.”

The life of the Hermit is fairly amazing. We in the west tend to look down on those who move themselves out of society. But it’s important to know that people can live, and live happily and fully, on almost nothing and with minimal social contact.

Tao Te Ching and the Gnostic Myth of Creation

I’m no expert in either the Tao te Ching or Gnosticism although I have read several translations of the Tao te Ching and have gotten through most of the Gnostic gospels. But I haven’t studied either of them. It seems apparent, however, that both have at their core, the idea that rather than God being in opposition to evil, God (the Tao) transcends both good and evil. (In Gnosticism, the creator God is considered to be flawed and is not to be confused with the transcendent God.)

As I’ve been discussing, we’re so used to taking everything as factual truths in the West that we have lost our sense of imagination and so have difficulty relating to the myths of ancient cultures. Myths were not written as factual truths, they were written as a symbolic means to explain man’s relationship to the cosmos. With all of our scientific understanding and need for facts to believe something as truth, we can barely understand what these myths meant to them and tend to write them off as rediculous or non-important. Or worse, we adhere to them as literal truths.

I’ve written that I hold to a panentheistic view of Christianity rather than a monotheistic one because I just can’t figure out what to do with evil in monotheism. I can’t make it work. To think that evil will be wiped out by good just seems the perfect set-up for religious wars and hatred of the “good” against the “evil”. (President Bush uses the word evil all the time about the terrorists. And the terrorists teach that the U.S is evil.)

The problem of evil is a really big problem. Not just philosophically, but how it plays out in the world. We want to get rid of what we think is bad. And there are whole religions just waiting for a savior to come and wipe that out for them. The “evil doers” will be hurting and we (the good, of course) will be rejoicing because it’s finally been proven that we believed in the “right” thing and they in the wrong thing. Our good will triumph over their evil. The only problem is those we see as evil think it’s the other way around – that we’ll be hurting and they will be rejoicing because they believe their good will triumph over our evil. It never ends.

Gnosticism has an interesting way of soling this problem of evil. Gnosticism is not a religion. It is simply the philosophy of salvation through knowledge. This philosophy shows up in a lot of different religions. The Persian form tends to be very dualistic. The Platonistic form is more about transcendence. Manichaaeism adopted the dualistic Persian form, and Christianity adopted the Platonistic form. (Manichaeism believed there was a battle between the spiritual and material realm. This aescetic dualism is often associated with Gnosticism but this is a false association. Gnosticism did not view flesh as evil, but rather as further away from the transcendent God than the spirit.)

I wrote this back in 2002 for an Ancient Spiritualities class. I’m not sure exactly where this Gnostic creation myth came from, but I really like it because it is from early Christianity and ties in so well with world religions from completely different areas. I especially noticed similarities with the Tao te Ching.

(Try looking at the True Ultimate Transcendent God as Tao, The Only Begotten (son/daughter) as Ch’i, the aspects of the Only Begotten (Aeons) as Ying/Yang, and the aspects of the Aeons (humanity, the universe, and all of the material realm) as the ten thousand things. I’ve paraphrased quite a bit, but hopefully it will make sense!)

The Gnostic Myth of Creation:

The True Ultimate Transcendent God wished to know himself. And so through self-limitation, acquired self-knowledge. This self knowledge is known as the Only Begotten (Mind/Truth). The Only Begotten was the comprehensible (Ch’i) aspect of the incomprehensible (Tao).

In order to know itself better, the Only Begotten began emanating aspects of itself in masculine/feminine pairs known as Aeons (Ying/Yang). These Aeons longed to know the father/mother (transcendent God).

Sophia (Wisdom) was assigned the task of finding the transcendent God. Agitation began to grow at not being able to do so until it gained power and clouded the Only Begotten (mind/truth).

Sophia had made the error of not going through the son in order to know the father (or through the daughter in order to know the mother). Because truth was clouded by the power of Agitation, Sophia substituted beauty and from beauty, she emanated a being of flawed consciousness known as the creator God. From this creator God came the material realm which was created in the flawed image of the creator.

Human beings and the universe and all that is material are aspects of the creator God who is an aspect of Sophia (Wisdom) who is an aspect of the Only Begotten (comprehensible) aspect of the ultimate Transcendent God (incomprehensible).

Human beings ARE the ultimate transcendent God, but because we were created in the error of the Aeons we remain human because we have forgotten that we must first go through the only begotten son (fullness) to get to the father (emptiness).

And this is why Christ, a unification of ALL of the aspects of the Only Begotten – Love, Beauty, Wisdom, Understanding, Justice…… was created and made manifest to save humanity from the error.

From the Tao Te Ching #42

The Tao gave birth to Ch’i,

Ch’i gave birth to Ying Yang,

Ying Yang gave birth to trinity,

Trinity gave birth to the ten thousand things.

The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang.

They achieve harmony by combining these forces.

What men dislike is to be orphans, to have little virtue;

and yet these are the designations which the noble ones use for themselves.

So it is that some things are increased by being diminished,

and others are diminished by being increased.

What other men (thus) teach, I also teach.

The violent and strong do not die their natural death.

Another Translation:

The Tao begot one.

One begot two.

Two begot three.

And three begot the ten thousand things.

The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang.

They achieve harmony by combining these forces.

Men hate to be “orphaned,” “widowed,” or “worthless,” But this is how kings and lords describe themselves.

For one gains by losing and loses by gaining.

What others teach, I also teach;

that is:

A violent man will die a violent death!

This will be the essence of my teaching.