Slowing Down to See Our Place–Beyond Solipsism

Here’s another musing from my morning pages that I thought worth sharing.

It’s interesting how some mornings just feel awkward and clumsy. It’s almost like the entire world is out to get you. I just had a pile of clumsiness a moment ago. What to do? I noticed that the first instinct is to blame things–as though my phone could be actively choosing to defy me–or in a more general way, we can say that today is a “bad day”–as though the stars were aligned in the sky in such a way as to make everything bad for us today. However, how often are such things a sign that we are not paying full attention to what we are doing or that we are doing things poorly–half-assed?

I just slowed down and tried to be mindful, and guess what? The world wasn’t out to get me. Stuff remained stuff, lifeless, obeying the laws of physics, but my interpretation changed from making the world about “me” into looking at my action in the world. Suddenly, it was easier rather than harder. The separation of victimhood disappeared, and I flowed with it all again.


How often do we interpret the world and our lives like this? It seems a more or less constant thing, and I don’t say any of this in judgment, merely in measurement of the banality of all this. We see the world through our own two eyes, always within our own perspective. Is it really any wonder then that we so readily see it in terms of me?

Even Western metaphysics struggles with this solipsism. The one thing that Descartes could not doubt was the existence of his thinking self. Thus, the I that thinks, that feels, that experiences is the ground for all truth. Yet, is this even sensible? This has not answered what “I” is as thinking thing and assumes that the grammatical description of subject doing activity to object (in this case: “I doubt everything”) is an accurate description. In this sense, I mean that it is accurate that there is a separate “I” from the doubts. What if the doubts are the “I”? What if the thinker is not separate from the thinking–unfolding together?

What I would add to this fragment is that we take our position as solid, enduring identity which the world revolves around far too seriously. Then, everything becomes our own personal world, and we see ourselves both as separate from our actions and as the center of a drama/tragedy/set of happenings. In truth, you stubbed your toe, dropped your phone, and spilled your coffee. None of these were out to get you. You weren’t mindful. Your mindfulness slips even more when you get angry at these things and say that life is too hard, that it all sucks, etc. You could instead choose to laugh at yourself for your various slips and goofs, taking ownership of them as your own missteps, and if the world is responding to you, it’s reminding you to wake up to yourself and what you are doing.

May this help you look at even the smallest of your interactions and engagements differently. May such new insight bring you the ability to laugh instead of being angry and be attentive and purposeful instead of continuing to be clumsy.



Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

Clarification: As I wrote at the beginning of the last post, I’ve broken this entry into two pieces. The first was about my personal healing experience. This piece is a long quote from Lama Surya Das’ Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be. It’s taken from the opening section of the final chapter: “Spiritual Renewal — Healing Our Wounded Hearts”. Reading this section felt very resonant with what I have been experiencing, and it was great to find that understanding and affirmation. I thought that others could benefit from his words as well.

To one degree or another, we all have wounded hearts etched with at least a few of life’s infinitely variant scars. But if that is the case, how can we find peace? How can we release our sorrow and move beyond negative memories and hurt? How can we alter and release our attachment to the past? How can we come unstuck? How can we let go of the person we used to be?
Men and women trying to recover from disappointment and loss tend to hear a wide variety of well-meaning advice. “You need healing,” their friends tell them. “You need closure.” “You need resolution.” “Move on.” Sometimes this facile, though well-intentioned advice, is the last thing that someone wants to hear. “Change your life.” “Okay, sure. Will do. Thank you!” It is easier said than done, isn’t it?
Almost twenty years ago, while I was in three-year meditations retreat, I received a letter from an old friend who told me that her talented and beloved son was gravely ill; he was only in his mid-twenties, and I remember being very saddened by this news. She asked if we would pray for him. Later I received word that he had died. I knew that my friend suffered grievously from the loss of her son. But I was still young and I probably didn’t fully understand what she was experiencing. About two years later I visited her in upstate New York and gave her some platitudinous advice.
“Maybe it’s time to let go and move on,” I said.
“Maybe it isn’t,” she replied. “Maybe I’m not done.”
The truth and authenticity of her statement were pretty startling in the face of my well-meaning, albeit useless, chiches. Maybe she wasn’t done with her mourning; maybe she would never feel done. My dear old friend is not unique in her response to major loss. Many have told me that they have never really “gotten over” some of their experiences.

Mourning is a necessary process as well as a deep and significant spiritual experience. It brings us closer to the ground of our being and our felt sense of authenticity. We need to intelligently process our most difficult experiences in order to regain balance, harmony, and inner peace. But there comes a time when it is helpful to seek and find ways to release the pain. Yes, certain losses remain with us; they are part of our history and our karma. But that doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for us to spend our lives grieving. We need to find ways to peacefully coexist with our sadness. We can embrace our pain and our losses and be greater and more authentically real for doing so.
I am not alone in saying that a broken heart is often the beginning of healing and renewal; many wiser men and women have spoken these words. Sometimes it is only desperation that can drive us out of a rut. When we are sad, we need comfort; we need to find new hope; we need spiritual renewal. These are attainable goals; these are all possible. Everything is possible to those who seek and persevere. In the New Testament, Jesus spoke the following beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Spiritual transformation and renewal are forms of healing, of rectification, of rebalancing. Such renewal restores us to wholeness and to peace through new beginnings. Our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are revived, and we are able to make fresh starts. Sometimes all we need to do to make a fresh start is to begin seriously questioning ourselves–our assumptions and beliefs and what we are doing. This kind of self-examination helps us think “outside the box.” When we do this, it can help us view the world in such a different way that we are sometimes able to make dramatic changes. Seeing differently is believing differently and leads to different ways of living.
Buddhism teaches that the reason we are unhappy and experience difficulty is mainly due to ignorance and our false sense of incompleteness and separation. Out of this ignorance and feelings of separateness comes all kinds of unsatisfying unfulfilling behavior and effort. A pop example that comes to mind is the all too human tendency to look for love in all the wrong places. We do well to renew our outlook and our efforts toward more intelligent and fulfilling directions and modes of seeking what we really want and need. Remember that one definition of insanity is doing what we have always done and expecting different results.
Few of us carefully examine whether or not our current pattern of desires and habits are producing the results we want. Too often we just continue as we have always done–“same old, same old”–just as our friends, colleagues, and elders have always done, thought, reacted, hoped, and believed. We do this without thoroughly, conscientiously, and deeply scrutinizing for ourselves how well these strategies work for us.
Rebirth is one form of renewal and regeneration. This may happen in the afterlife or in heaven, or it may happen through reinventing oneself or one’s career and relationships in this life. Or it can happen moment by moment by taking a good deep breath and taking a fresh and renewed look at life in the immediacy of the present moment. This moment-to-moment rebirth is a practice of both love and freedom. It allows us to embrace reality right now, as it is; it allows us to be as we are without being burdened or conditioned by the past.


May this resonate with you who need this as it has with me. May it help you let go of your past, the person you used to be, so that you may move forward in reinventing yourself for the good of yourself and all the world. May you find liberation in stepping from your sloughed off old skin.


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 1)
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 8: Reclaiming Shards of the Past

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 1)

Clarification: I’m splitting this piece into two parts. The first is my own personal experience of late, and the second is a related long quote that goes well with this, but I feel it best to let them both stand on their own, yet connected and in a harmonic resonance with each other.

Last weekend, I went down to the city I used to live in with my ex. I stayed with mutual friends–the first time seeing them in months. It was eye-opening. After all this time and change, I’ve still been carrying some ideas that this home has some elements that are the same, but like me, really, so much has shifted. I went, in part, to feel this connection again and to weigh the opportunity of returning there. It was odd, unhemlich really: some things still felt like the home I miss and love–homey=heimlich, but there was an overarching foreignness alongside this familiarity–unhomey=unheimlich: that bizarre feeling when the familiar is unfamiliar. The saddest part was how distant others were when I saw those other connections beyond the friends I stayed with. All of this made me realize that if I go back, it will have to be completely on my own steam and without expecting the familiar to be there. As sad as that may be, seeing things clearly, especially even the most subtle layers of desire and hope–unconscious ones, can be liberating. Seeing clearly what you are holding onto can gently open the hand, letting those things fall away.

The hardest thing was that I almost saw her. Even just hearing her voice from a distance brought up all the little idiosyncrasies about her that I still miss. I lost a partner and a best friend so many months ago with this breakup, and it is very often, still, that I hear her voice in my head, saying certain things just that particular way that only she would say them, or I can almost hear and see her responding to the goofiness that I regularly bring into the world.

Yet, the gusto of her voice, also recalled all those bizarre relationship-ending conversations, galvanized with that sentiment of self-righteousness, as though the point of this life-changing decision were distinguishing right and wrong. That voice, those eyes, that cold feeling of being disconnected from reality with overlays of denial… I’m glad that I chose not to go say hello. I don’t see any benefit in facing that now, if any of it remains at all. If that is the case, certainly she wouldn’t be interested either. She wanted my presence cut from her life, wanted me dead in a certain sense, and she’s never reached out again afterward. She could just as readily have walked down to say hello to me as well; the decision did not have to be made by me, and clearly, she didn’t want to. That’s fine. Ultimately, one of the largest parts of moving on in the kind of situation I’m in is accepting the choice of a person you love to not love you anymore. In a certain sense, it’s dying with grace. It’s letting go of the person you used to be.

I came back home to my life in the Seattle area, after this whirlwind trip, and I began the work week again. It was a bit jarring making this transition… For the week previous to the trip, I had been doing a Healing Bootcamp of sorts, described in The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, but I didn’t finish the closing of the last day due to leaving on my trip to see my friends and my old home. The middle of the relief program requires a journalling of the beginning, middle, and end of the relationship–piece by piece, and then, you write down points of gratitude for each of these stages and offer them upon your altar. At the end of the program, you perform loving-kindness meditation for your ex and burn the offered gratitude while stating that for now this relationship is over, and you are a better person for having experienced it.


A simple altar that I set up for this recovery program — sans the written offerings described in this post

After returning from a trip of letting go, I belatedly did this final ritual–opening my heart with loving-kindness and burning the past with a cleansing fire. I stood on the bricks in the backyard, lighting each piece and feeling the warmth of the fire sharing my joy at the gifts I’ve been given (and was offering as gift over to the flames) but also burning them away–past and gone. Unlike a rebound or more aggressively “moving on”, this whole process was so kind, loving, gentle, yet affirming. It has been a completely mindful way of growing through heartbreak with acceptance, even gratitude, for pain and change. It’s not a denial of the past or the present in the slightest. On the contrary, it’s showing up for it: taking the path of the spiritual warrior–knowing that even this, maybe even especially this, is an opportunity for practice.

I still have a lot of healing to go, so there may still be several other entries in the Heartbreak Wisdom Journal, but this experience was definitely a turning point, and I feel some liberation from showing up to the person I used to be and tenderly, yet bravely, letting go of him.

Here is what I had to say about the ritual in my Morning Pages earlier this week:

I spoke to each note, reading them all aloud and emphasizing how wonderful each point of gratitude was but emphasizing also, like everything, these pass too. These moments were gone. The points of gratitude–the experiences–have shaped me. Their karmic consequences have begun blooming, yet, their cause, and the connection associated with them, has been severed and crushed. Now, it has also been burned. The fire was beautiful–flickering flames lapped at my words of gratitude, embracing them and celebrating them with the burning joy they deserved. Now, those words are dissipated, spread on the wind. Who knows what comes next? Not I.
This has given me some small amount of emotional clearance, yet there is much more healing to come.

May this help you find your own ability to let go of the person you used to be.

Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 6: Forgiveness
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

The Patterns that Bind

The following is a piece from a new journalling practice: Morning Pages. I approach these without any real agenda beyond writing three pages every morning. This entry began with questioning what to write and not wanting to stick in going on and on about negative feelings. I didn’t want to share that intro here and the personal details of what I “could” talk about, as the shift at the end is the point.

…Why grab onto negativity like that if not expressing to someone else, getting it out, or resolving? I’ve talked about it at length with others.

No, we all too readily fall into the patterns that bind, defining ourselves–struggle by struggle, habit by habit. We’d rather invest our time and energy in these than step out into uncharted waters or develop more positive habits that open our hearts and our vision–like meditation.

Is uncertainty–facing the fact that our selves hold a blank canvas of possibility–really so terrifying? Would we really rather pin ourselves down in our identity: I’m defined as such and such, and it explains everything about me?

There’s a lot of wonder in us. We’d prefer to dilute it with something safe–something known. The known here, however, is but a mask, a creation, not the discovery from investigation.

One of the beauties of meditation is the opportunity to face ourselves in an open space of self-reflection. Seeing the flowing nature of our thoughts, experiences, feelings, and ourselves, all these things we hold dear as definite. They emerge, shift, shine, and pass moment by moment: a dance of unfolding wonder, no matter how much we might try to staticize them.

I’d like to use this journal for that open exploration, allowing the words to flow through me, offering my mind in its open potential as creative unfolding.


What I’ve written here fits well with the title of this song (at least I think so):

May you find your own creative unfoldings and steps beyond the patterns that bind.

Ayn Randian Dreams (Nightmares?) — A Philosophical Mosaic

I saw a clip–
A grey, hazy time capsule,
Chronicling our past
Yet so present…
Still a specter
Which dominates our minds

Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson???
She expounds,
In a gratingly brittle voice:
The virtue of greed
The reason in selfishness
Only a system
In which
Every man pursues
His own “Reason”
Is one
In which
Humanity can be
Capitalism is this system?
Surely a jest!
Each man is not free
Nor guided by his reason
In our system
Of markets
Of money
Of subjugation
–All for profit…


She says at the outset:

Man’s proper ethics, or morality, is a morality of rational self-interest. Which means that every man has a right to exist for his own sake, and he must not sacrifice himself to others or sacrifice others to himself (brief pause) that the achievement of his own rational happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. As a consequence of that, the only system, the only political system, that expresses this morality is the system of laissez-faire capitalism, by which I mean full, unregulated, uncontrolled capitalism, a system based on the recognition of rights, including property rights…

Yet capitalism seeks
To subvert fellow men
Sacrificing others to one’s reason
In the name of Profit,
The almighty God
–The only self-interest
Which receives worship,
The singular idol
Sitting atop
The altar of industry
Do you not believe me?
The annals of history
Surely show
Such systemic sacrifice of others
Upon the altar of Profit

The “Reason” of true Philosophers
Would not aim at this
As Wisdom, the Good, or Love
Those are the true aims
Of “Reason”;
Not this solipsistically myopic,
Self-serving materialism
Should we see this
As worthy successor
To profound analyses of eudaemonia?
I laugh
What other response is fitting?
As Nietzsche once said:
“Not with anger, rather with laughter does one kill.” *

What of the “Reason” of the Stoics?
Would they not scoff as well?
Laughing at how poorly,
How childishly,
You, lady with delusions of grandeur,
Have misunderstood
The entire Universe
And our place in it
Those who vouch
For other such
Individualistic notions
Of Truth and Wisdom
Are equally lost.
No authentic seekers of Truth…
Merely idealistic demagogues
Preaching greed from soapboxes,
Rather than providing wisdom
Or anything of substance.
They are lost
Yet declare it insight
Seeing shadows on the wall
As deep, whole, and true
Rather than with the wise sight
That has seen the sun
The sight that sees them
As empty figures

The immature are their own enemies, doing selfish deeds which will bring them sorrow. That deed is selfish which brings remorse and suffering in its wake. But good is that deed which brings no remorse, only happiness in its wake.

Sweet are selfish deeds to the immature until they see the results; when they see the results, they suffer. Even if they fast month after month, eating with only the tip of a blade of grass, they are not worth a sixteenth part of one who truly understands dharma.

As fresh milk needs time to curdle, a selfish deed takes time to bring sorrow in its wake. Like fire smoldering under the ashes, slowly does it burn the immature.

Even if they pick up a little knowledge, the immature misuse it and break their heads instead of benefitting from it.

The immature go after false prestige – precedence of fellow monks, power in the monasteries, and praise from all. “Listen, monks and householders, I can do this; I can do that. I am right and you are wrong.” Thus their pride and passion increase.

Choose the path that leads to nirvana; avoid the road to profit and pleasure. Remember this always, O disciples of the Buddha, and strive always for wisdom.  — The Dhammapada; Chapter 5, Lines 66-75

A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few person nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  — Albert Einstein, found in The Places that Scare You by Pema Chödrön

May this bring you to think differently about yourself and your place in society and the universe. May it bring you to desire authentic wisdom and reason. May it inspire you to the love of wisdom (philosophy) and lead you down the path of many questions and insights.

*”Nicht durch Zorn sondern durch Lachen tödtet man.” — Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra; Vom Lesen und Schreiben

Letting Go and Generosity: Some Tales of Buddhist Ancestors

I’ve recently finished a wonderful book by Lama Surya Das called Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be. Just before the ending of the book, he shares a couple of tales about Buddhist ancestors, letting go, and generosity. I’d like to share this passage. I’ll also write another post related to the closing chapter of the book as it fits well with some of the difficulties of growth and healing that I have been going through recently.

Patrul Rinpoche’s life exemplified generosity; whenever he was given money or offerings, he quickly handed them over to others, giving generously to the poor and the homeless. It is said that there was little that Patrul Rinpoche loved more than being able to give to others. A favorite story my teachers told concerns a man who approached the learned teacher and begged him for some money.
“Oh my poor friend,” Patrul said. “Just say to me, I don’t need any money, and I will give you some.”
The beggar thought that he had been misunderstood, so he repeated his request for money. Once again Patrul answered, “Just say to me, I don’t need any money, and I will give you some.”
Finally the man uttered the sentence Patrul had been requesting. “I don’t need any money,” he said. Patrul in turn rewarded him with a handful of silver coins.
Then Patrul told the beggar the following story about Lord Buddha.
It seems that one day as the Buddha traveled through India, a poor man came up to him and gave the Buddha the only gift he had, a single piece of milk sugar candy. As the Buddha was looking at the candy and wondering what to do with it, another man, known for his greedy inclinations, saw the candy in Buddha’s hand and asked if he could have it. The man, of course, knew that the generous Buddha never said “no” to such a request.
The man was quite surprised when the Buddha did not immediately hand over the candy. Instead the Buddha spoke to the man, saying:
“Just say to me, I don’t need this milk sweet. And then I shall give it to you.”
The man did as the Buddha requested, and he got the candy which he promptly popped into his mouth.
Later the Buddha’s disciples asked the Buddha why he wanted the man to say these words.
“Because,” the Buddha replied, “through hundreds of lifetimes this man has never even once said the words, I don’t need. By saying these few simple words, he may have momentarily experienced the feeling of needing nothing. These words undermine greed and may help plant the seeds of generosity.”


I don’t need any candy…

Padma Sambhava, the great Indian master who introduced Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century, told his disciples that when asked, they should say, “I don’t know, I don’t want, I don’t need.” I try to remember that.
This is a lesson in nonattachment and acceptance. It is a lesson in learning to love unconditionally without expecting results, rewards, or payments of any kind. It may feel counterintuitive, but acceptance does have a transformative effect. Nonattachment and acceptance have their own magic and can transform anything. Letting go is the ultimate act of generosity and faith. And every good deed is a gift to both giver and recipient.
– pp. 209-210 Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be, Lama Surya Das

Try it yourself. Say: “I don’t need …” and let the attachment slip away. An even better practice: give away some small thing (you can work up to bigger things later) that you feel attached to. Give it to someone who would be happy to have it. This is a very mindful experience of attachment and its hooks. If you can do this and say to yourself I don’t need this, you’ll find the peace of liberation after the pangs of attachment pass.

May this inspire your own ability to let go and to be generous to others.

Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – 2nd Precept: Faith

Just for today:
Don’t hold on to anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things
– Reiki Center App, Windows Phone

– My shortened mantra of the precepts


At the end of my last post, I spoke of hope and fear as opposites rather than love and fear. This will open the door for the discussion of this precept and my interpretation of it as faith.

The more traditional translations of this precept are “Don’t focus on worry”, or more simply: “Don’t worry.” Worry and fear are closely related–anxiety and terror. Let’s use a couple sentences to see just how close these are in our conceptual/semantic/experiential space:

  1. I’m worried that I may have left the burner on at home.
  2. I’m afraid that I may have left the burner on at home.
  3. I worry that I might never find the love of my life.
  4. I fear that I might never find the love of my life.
  5. I’m worried about the spider across the room.
  6. I’m afraid of the spider across the room.
  7. I worry about my sister.
  8. I fear my sister.

The last few sentences were chosen to show where the similarities in our usage/semantics/experience diverge. #5 is ambiguous: am I afraid that the spider will come to get me, or am I concerned about its well-being (perhaps my roommate will notice it and smash it to bits, and I won’t be able to save it from such a squishy demise)? The last pair take this further to show that “worry about” can have the connotation of “concern” and “fear” does not make sense as a replacement. What do we see here? Being afraid of something is fear of it– an object is seen as a threat as in #6 (and #8???) or there is fear that the threat of an unwanted situation will arise: a “could” or “what if” type of hypothetical extension. In a sense, they are the same thing: an object as a threat is the potential “could” of that object harming us. That spider might come over and bite me! Being worried is similar in terms of the hypothetical extension. We worry about things that could go wrong (or could be going wrong/have gone wrong, depending on the situation). Again, there is an aversion to an unwanted situation. Even worry as concern holds this: we are worried about somebody because we think something bad may happen to them, may currently be happening to them, or may have happened to them. To summarize: this is all about aversion. Worry and fear are about experiencing things that we want to avoid. On a simple level, there is an aversion to being harmed or dying, and such fear can be helpful or good in the right circumstances, but there is a lot of aversion that pulls our monkey minds hither and thither, drawing us to continually react to the world as we think it is.

Now, let us compare hope. Again, let’s take up a few example sentences:

  1. I hope that he’ll show up on time!
  2. She held the hope of seeing her son again until the end of her days.
  3. He hopes that with practice he will improve.
  4. We’re hopeful that she’ll pull through.

I won’t compare these with the much more complicated and nebulous/term/concept/experience “love”, but both have to do with desire (as I mentioned at the end of my last post). Notice how clearly hope stands in contrast to fear/worry: I hope for a desired situation to come to be. Again, in a “could”/”what if” hypothetical extension, I look toward what could be this time with desire instead of aversion. These are things that I want to happen rather than don’t want to happen.

Pointing out these general motivations of desire and aversion is intentional. From the Buddhist analysis (remember here that Usui-sama was a Tendai Buddhist priest), the three roots of suffering (“dukkha“: suffering is the standard translation, but it does not capture the full range of meaning in the original word) are desire, aversion, and ignorance. You could say that desire and aversion spring from ignorance. This ignorance is not ignorance in the sense of being unaware of another’s virtues, equalities, etc. or being unaware of an idea, i.e. uneducated or closed-minded. This ignorance, in contrast, is a basic confusion about existence. It is the groundwork of delusion–the opposite of enlightenment. The push and pull of our desire and aversion, two mundane aspects of our existence that send our monkey mind running back and forth are rooted in an underlying misunderstanding of the way things are. For further description, see Chögyam Trungpa’s The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation

With these considerations of Buddhist analysis in mind, we return to the precept; “Don’t worry” gets us beyond the ego-laden motivations of desire and aversion. “Don’t worry” also implies “Don’t hope”. In hoping for an outcome, there is always the attached possibility that it won’t turn out to be. Worry carries the same hope that the bad thing won’t happen, albeit a small shadow under the impending doom. “Don’t worry” tells us not to reach out with energy about how things could happen, one way or the other. Rather, we should be right here in now: seeing and accepting all just as it is and trusting the process of unfolding.

Thus, I changed the precept into “faith” as a shortened version. Having faith in this sense is not about believing in salvation through a higher power. Rather, faith is a fundamental trust in and acceptance of the world just as it is. Here, faith is an affirmation of the world in its glory and mystery, its agony and ecstasy, its banality and wonder. Faith is both the way of the bodhisattva who seeks enlightenment for all and the stillness of the Sage who cultivates Te in accordance with Tao.

The simple injunction of “Don’t Worry,” calls us to be present to the world and to pursue it as practitioners with acceptance of our place in it, with faith; getting past hope and fear–the ego’s pulls of desire and aversion. Let your desire be to practice well–cultivating true happiness and spiritual health–and to help all sentient beings achieve peace and enlightenment. Let your aversion be the various traps and pitfalls of ego’s constant attempts to turn even the noblest of intentions into self-aggrandizement and the stagnant cocoon of I, me, and mine.

May this inspire your own faith.

Previous Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 1st Precept: Peace
Next Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 3rd Precept: Gratitude

Tao a Day – Verse 63: Doing without Doing

Let’s approach this verse in two pieces. We’ll compare the Red Pine and Jonathan Star translations for each piece in that order:

Act without acting
work without working
understand without understanding
great or small[,] many or few
repay each wrong with virtue
– Trans. Red Pine

Act without acting
Give without giving
Taste without tasting

Tao alone becomes all things great and all things small
It is the One in many
It is the many in One

Let Tao become all your actions
then your wants will become your treasure
your injury will become your blessing.
– Trans. Jonathan Star

It’s always interesting to see how different translations of this classic have been approached, and the power of Red Pine’s translation is to get it down to one without artistic interpretation: a simple, bare-bones, as close to the original as possible translation without embellishment. The quote from his translation here boils this down; act without acting in all instances and with everyone, no matter how they treat you. Do this by repaying wrong with virtue. However, what are we to make of the very enigmatic opening lines? Luckily, his book also has chosen commentary from Chinese masters throughout the ages. I found these two bits of commentary quite helpful. Ho-Shang Kung, a Taoist master from around 100 B.C., says: “To act without acting means to do only what is natural. To work without working means to avoid trouble by preparing in advance. To understand without understanding means to understand the meaning of the Tao through meditation.” Sung Ch’ang-Hsing, a seventh patriarch of the Dragon Gate and Taoist master from the 1700s, says: “To act without acting, to work without working, to understand without understanding is to conform with what is natural and not to impose oneself on others. Though others treat sages wrongly, the wrong is theirs and not the sages’. Sages respond with the virtue within their hearts. Utterly empty and detached, they thus influence others to trust in doing nothing.”  These two pieces of commentary make this short section shine. It fits well with my previous discussion of Verse 8 (What I called: “In Accordance with Nature”), and it also fits with a previous post (in terms of doing what is natural and not imposing oneself on others and the world): Control and Letting Go. The doing without doing, wu wei, is acting in appropriate resonance with the nature of things–situations as they present themselves. It is not about imposing your own will on the world and making it conform to you. The Sage does not see such a separation, and the Tao Te Ching speaks in passage after passage about how that which is gained by force does not last very long: it comes to an early death. Hence, the way to live forever (or live longer and at peace) is to develop the virtue, Te, which goes along with the emanations of the 10,000 things (one aspect of Tao). Acting through force and reactive vengeance is not only ego-centered, it does not embrace Tao. It embraces “me”. That’s all. Acting in that very standard sense of pursuing your own motivations to make the world the way you want it to be, to form it in your own image as some creator-God-wannabe, is not virtuous, not wise, and not seeing the universe and its mysterious origins for what they are. We could look to the comments on Verse 26. Jonathan Star’s translation says pretty much the same thing as everything I just explicated but in a more succinct and poetic manner. As he closes, letting Tao become all of your actions is to act without the intention of promoting yourself. Instead, it is to act in accordance with Tao, the ever unfolding beauty of All, and by so doing, you act without acting. It’s not about complete inaction. It’s about acting through Tao rather than through your “self”.

Here is the second passage from the verse:

Plan for the hard while it’s easy
deal with the great while it’s small
the world’s hardest task begins easy
the world’s greatest goal begins small
sages therefore never act great
they thus achieve great goals
who quickly agrees is seldom trusted
who thinks things easy finds them hard
sages therefore think everything hard
and thus find nothing hard
– Trans. Red Pine

Take on difficulties while they are still easy
Do great things while they are still small
Step by step the world’s burden is lifted
Piece by piece the world’s treasure is amassed

So the Sage stays with his daily task
and accomplishes the greatest thing
Beware of those who promise a quick and easy way
for much ease brings many difficulties

Follow your path to the end
Accept difficulty as an opportunity
This is the sure way to end up
with no difficulties at all.
-Trans. Jonathan Star

Let’s take one more piece of commentary to handle these lines. Te-Ch’ing says (again from Red Pine’s book): “When I entered the mountains to cultivate the Way, at first it was very hard. But once I learned how to use my mind, it became very easy. What the world considers hard, the sage considers easy. What the world considers easy, the sage considers hard.” Controlling the mind in Buddhism is mindfulness. This is showing up to each moment just as it is without concept. Taoism’s stories of insight are meant to produce the same result: non-conceptual understanding. We might understand the Sage here as the mindful one of Tao’s unfolding with each moment. A task, no matter how large, is always right now. For instance, the next verse is the one with the famous line “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The thing is: it begins with a single step, it continues with a single step, and it ends with a single step. The task is always the small, easy task of just one step. The Sage approaches doing by not looking at the goal which sees the task in its entirety: huge, hard, insurmountable. Rather, he sees it as this small, single step in this moment. Each moment of doing is a step. Again and again. Yet, the Sage sees it just as the step of this moment, not all the steps that lie ahead. The Sage recognizes the greatness of the task, but he is not daunted, as he approaches it in accordance with the task and with flexibility in each and every step, moment by moment: just this. Through such a mindful engagement with the present action that is in accordance with nature, the Sage will surely accomplish the greatest of things.

May this help you achieve the greatest things without acting.