Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Tao of "What Is Real"

A good man is not aware of his goodness, 
And is therefore good. 
A foolish man tries to be good, 
And is therefore not good. 
A truly good man does nothing, 
Yet leaves nothing undone. 
A foolish man is always doing, 
Yet much remains to be done. 

When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone. 
When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done. 
When a disciplinarian does something and no one responds, 
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order. 

Therefore when the Dao is lost, there is goodness. 
When goodness is lost, there is kindness. 
When kindness is lost, there is justice. 
When justice is lost, there is ritual. 
Ritual is the dead shell of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion. 
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of the Dao. 
It is the beginning of folly. 

Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real and not what is on the surface, 
On the fruit and not the flower. 
Therefore accept the one and reject the other.
-- Lao Tzu, 'Tao Te Ching', Verse 38

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More so than most of the world's great religious or wisdom traditions, Taoism (or Daoism) as expressed in Lao Tzu's classic "Tao Te Ching" is unrelentingly paradoxical. ("A truly good man does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.") Like quantum mechanics, it's "methods" are expressible but an ultimate "understanding" or "meaning" are beyond the rational capacity of our ordinary consciousness and language. Famously, Lao Tzu starts the "Tao Te Ching" by declaring: "The Dao that can be told is not the essential Dao."

Even the greatest of enlightened teachers - the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, etc. - can only offer a flavorful "taste" of what the ultimate "essence" of "reality" is like. The essence of "what is" - the Universe, God or Allah, Buddha-nature or Nirvana, Brahma, the Dao, however one wishes to describe "It" - remains "ineffable" and beyond the power of pictures, poetry, or prose to fully describe.

The danger of such "ineffability" is that over time even the greatest religions and wisdom traditions, almost inevitably it seems, devolve and become to most of their adherents mere "dead shell(s) of faith and loyalty." The generation of religious belief, religious faith, religious knowledge, even religious adherence, are in most instances relatively good things for both individuals and society, but unless a religious or spiritual path generates transformational inner and holistic religious experiences it becomes "a dead shell" (above) in which "the salt loses its savour." (Matthew 5:13). This, Lao Tzu observes, "is the beginning of confusion."

The spiritual seeker who aspires to a truly transformational religious or spiritual experience will not be satisfied with the rote teachings and empty rituals offered in many a dormant religious community which seeks to promote merely outwardly-focused behaviour and moral conformity. He or she must, exercising great discrimination, first find and then dwell upon and in "what is real and not what is on the surface."

"Every object, every being," Rumi points out, "is a jar full of delight. Be a connoisseur," he advises, "and taste with caution."

"Any wine will get you high," the great Sufi poet notes. "Judge like a king and choose the purest, the ones unadulterated with fear, or some urgency of 'what's needed.'"

Just as the pollinated flower of an apple tree turns into the fruit, so the seemingly outer rituals, teachings and practices of a true wisdom tradition, when seeded by true experiential insight, will effect an inner transformation and the attainment of a new state of consciousness and being.

Therefore, advises the great Daoist master, one should dwell "on the fruit and not the flower . . . accept(ing) the one and reject(ing) the other."

Friday, October 5, 2012

The 'Normalcy' of Suffering

"The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors, which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss."
-- James Allen, "As a Man Thinketh"
Suffering, the Buddha said, is the normal, unenlightened condition of all sentient beings. That our ordinary self-consciousness is a state of suffering, that there are specific causes of such suffering, that there is the possibility of ending suffering, and that there is a path which can lead to the end this suffering and the bliss of nirvana are the Four Noble Truths, the essence of all Buddhist teachings. Indeed, the idea that facing and overcoming one's passions - i.e., one's suffering - leads to the 'salvation' of a wider and deeper consciousness is a lesson that can be found in virtually all of the world's great religious and wisdom traditions.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

“Sometimes we must undergo hardships, breakups, and narcissistic wounds, which shatter the flattering image that we had of ourselves, in order to discover two truths: that we are not who we thought we were; and that the loss of a cherished pleasure is not necessarily the loss of true happiness and well-being.”
Jean-Yves Leloup

“There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”
Mother Teresa

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”
Orson F. Whitney

“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”
Byron Katie

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Buddha Nature . . . As It Is

"The real problem," states renowned Dzogchen master, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, "is the state of mind of the ordinary person, which is always changing from one thing to another. Sentient beings are totally unstable, but someone who has truly recognized mind essence . . . is completely free from suffering. Even in this lifetime one can be totally free of pain, and progress further and further on the path of happiness."

". . . It is never pleasant to maintain the state of mind of an ordinary person, which is always changing," he observes. "When unhappy, one is totally overcome by that feeling. Better to recognize the wide-awake empty cognizance and remain like that."

In describing Dzogchen's "pointing-out" instruction - i.e., that our inherent Buddha nature is an "unconfined empty cognizance" - and the accompanying spiritual discipline to effectively stabilize one's being in that state, the Rinpoche observes:
"Basically there is nothing to do in all this practice. Simply allowing our mind to be, without having to do anything, is entirely against our usual habits. Our normal tendency is to think, 'I want to do this. I want to do that.' Then we actually go do it. Finally, we feel happy and satisfied when it's all neat, all accomplished, accomplished by ourselves. But that type of attitude is totally wrong in this type of practice. There is nothing whatsoever to do. Anything we try to do becomes an imitation, something made up by our thoughts and concepts."
"As a matter of fact," he notes, "it may feel utterly dissatisfying, extremely disappointing, to allow our original nature to be as it naturally is. We might much rather do something, imagine something, create something, and really put ourselves through a lot of hardship. Maybe that is why the Buddha did not teach Dzogchen and Mahamudra openly - because this not-doing is in some ways contrary to human nature."
"Buddha nature is free of the three times of past, present, and future, while our mind is under the power of the three times. Wakeful knowing is free of the three times. The three times involve fixating, thinking. Wakeful knowing is free of fixation and thought."
"The Buddha," he says, "realized that different beings had various capacities, so out of great compassion and skillful means he gave teachings that were right for different individuals. Although the essence of all teachings of all enlightened ones is to simply let be in recognition of one's own nature, the Buddha taught a lot of complex instructions in order to satisfy people on all the different levels. . . . It seems to be human nature to love complications, to want to build up a lot of stuff. Later on, of course, they must allow it all to fall away."

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
As It Is, vol. 1, pp. 63-64