The Practice

We go through
Day by day
Expecting…
More of the same
Routines, comfort
–Both good and bad,
“The same” returns

Yet, Life is full
Of happenings
–Unforeseen,
Unwanted
Chaotic
In a word:
Change

In a moment,
All can turn
That is the Truth
Such is All
The Universe:
Impermanent
Flowing–in flux

buddha-statue-378137_1280

All changes. Practice embraces this.

The Practice:
To accept this
As Truth and Path
Without attachment
To the way things were
Or the way things could be
Find comfort in the
Emptiness
And show up
With Compassion
For it All
Impartial:
Bearer of
Awakened Heart
Fearless and open

Flashes of insight

After having begun a regular practice of meditation, sometimes I have fleeting moments of insight. They aren’t during meditation rather during the day. Suddenly, briefly, I see and understand reality as it is on an experiential rather than a conceptual level.

For instance, I’ve been reading about dream yoga from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. An important part of the practice is to regularly tell yourself that “All this is just a dream”. This is done for your waking life, not your dreaming one (ultimately, this aims at being able to lucidly recognize dreams as dreams while in them, by cultivating insight during waking life). The point is to recognize the fluctuating impermanence of existence. There is no underlying essence that endures–all changes and is ephemeral, like in a dream. This is easy enough to explain and understand conceptually. It is basically the same as the Buddhist concept of emptiness or shunyata, but this dream yoga manner of touching the concept presents it through a familiar, intimate life experience.

However, this is still conceptual. The practice is meant to be experienced, rather than just thought. Well and good, but it is harder to experience “This is all just a dream” about your waking life than you might think.

Recently, I was struggling with some turbulent emotions. I went to the bathroom mirror, looked myself in the eye and brought a meditative focus to all I was feeling. Then, I said “This is all just a dream”. Instead of understanding this, I felt it. All of the roiling emotions appeared as so many dreamlike images with no underlying substance, glowing and dissolving. The sense of realization was charged and powerful: it was felt, not thought. The experience was deeper than I can express in words. Such moments of lived flashes of insight are opened, I believe, from regular meditation, and I encourage all you readers out there to take up meditation for yourselves.

May this inspire you to seek wisdom and insight through meditation.
Gassho


The Waking Dream

We grasp
Unrelenting
This cannot go…”
“Please…”

Yet every moment
Comes & Goes
Seasons change
The world turns
Days are born & die
Everything passes

Like a dream,
The substantiality
–an illusion
With focus
This ephemeral emptiness
Shines

Figments of experience
Life = Dreaming dreaming dreaming
(That is: dream dreaming itself)
Ironically
There is nothing to grasp onto
Not even yourself
What security do you seek?
Certainty in the face of death?

Even those
Embracers of “change”
Declaring its greatness
Its wholesomeness
Move on only
To their next set of certainties
Another structure
To cling onto
A shelter in the storm?
There is no storm.
That fear
–just another part of the dream


One line above reminded me of this song:

pablo

Tao a Day – Verse 16: Emptiness

A couple weeks ago, I began a practice of reading one verse from the Tao Te Ching everyday. I will continue until I finish the whole book. I’ve read it before and consider it a masterpiece of both metaphysics and spirituality. There are few works as simple, inspiring, and profound. I will try to post a reading on a verse or a passage from a verse from time to time to share the beauty of this work. The following is Verse 16.

Become totally empty
Quiet the restlessness of the mind
Only then will you witness everything
unfolding from emptiness
See all things flourish and dance
in endless variations
And once again merge back into perfect emptiness-
Their true repose
Their true nature
Emerging, flourishing, dissolving back again
This is the eternal process of return

To know this process brings enlightenment
To miss this process brings disaster

Be still
Stillness reveals the secret of eternity
Eternity embraces the all-possible
The all-possible leads to a vision of oneness
A vision of oneness brings about universal love
Universal love supports the great truth of Nature
The great truth of Nature is Tao

Whoever knows this truth lives forever
The body may perish, deeds may be forgotten
But he who has Tao has all eternity
– Trans. Jonathan Star

Emptiness

Recently, I read some of Alan Watts’ book on Taoism (Tao: The Watercourse Way). In his chapter on wu wei, the well-known “doing without doing”, he contrasts Zen Buddhism and Taoism in that both aim at getting a deeper understanding of reality and then acting in accordance with it. He claims that the difference is that Taoism tries to get the student there through an intuitive understanding pulled out through poetic descriptions and paradoxical stories, whereas Zen approaches it through long and thorough meditation. I think this is accurate to an extent, but I think that Watts is a bit disparaging in his treatment of Zen in his discussion. Both approaches try to get us to see the way things are. The Buddhists guide us toward prajna (knowledge) in realization of Dharma (reality, the truth, the way things are, the law), and with the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu tries to get us to grasp the insight of Tao (the Way, the totality of all, the way things are and their source). The approach may differ, but the goal is roughly the same! I think this verse speaks to the parallels between these paths. Meditation is a way of realizing the emptiness and stillness that Lao Tzu emphasizes here–it is a way of getting an intuitive understanding beyond concepts. Both aim at getting past the duality of conceptual thought. The Taoist aim of transcending conceptual thought is stated very clearly in the following passage from Verse 1 as well as the already quoted Verse 16:

A mind free of thought,
     merged within itself,
     beholds the essence of Tao
A mind filled with thought,
     identified with its own perceptions,
     beholds the mere forms of this world.

The emptiness in 16 and “essence of Tao” in 1 are the metaphysical aspect of reality, of Tao, and I find the expression of it here and elsewhere in the Tao Te Ching quite inspirational. Tao is both the origin of the 10,000 things and those 10,000 things as well. In other words, Tao goes beyond the “mere forms of this world”, as their dynamic source of never-ending unfolding and change. Here’s an example in Verse 1:

Tao is both Named and Nameless
     As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
     As Named, it is the mother of all things

Here, we see that our concepts–our thoughts of forms and the words with which we name them–are not the source of the forms which we experience. The things we name are not that which creates those things, yet Tao is both the things named and that which cannot be named–that is, their source. This focus on origin or source and its distinction from the forms of the world leads us to philosophy’s most fundamental question (according to Heidegger’s take): “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” Lao Tzu answers without further explanation of why: “There is Tao.” Tao is both this mysterious, ungraspable origin that fluctuates all beings, pulsing with new forms–the ebb and flow of change–as well as those changing forms.

From a very different philosophical background, Wittgenstein delineates the world of forms in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as all that can be said. That which cannot be said must be passed over in silence: it must be shown; moreover, this inexpressible dimension is the mystical (i.e. the metaphysical). [Please note that these quotes have numbers. It’s just a numbering system in that book. I keep it here for you to look them up on your own] ” 6.522 There is definitely something inexpressible. The inexpressible shows itself. It is the mystical” (Es gibt allerdings Unaussprechliches dies zeigt sich, es ist das Mystische.). Previous to this, Wittgenstein points out that the mystical (i.e. metaphysical) nature of the World is not in the how of it–the facts of it–rather in its existing at all: “6.44 The mystical is not how the world is, rather that it is. ” (Nicht wie die Welt ist, ist das Mystische, sondern dass sie ist.) The world–the set of forms that can be perceived and named, i.e. that which can be spoken–is not the mystical, the metaphysical. The metaphysical must be shown as it is beyond that which can be said; this is done through words, but the words themselves do not represent this aspect of reality–they merely indicate it, pointing towards it. Here, in the first verse of the Tao, the indicated mystical aspect of existence is the Nameless, TaoLao Tzu’s masterpiece tries to show us this metaphysical origin beyond the forms we perceive and can express, and much like the paradoxes of Zen koans, he stretches language’s expression to point the way to that intuitive understanding, showing it as a Sage–inviting us to empty our mind and experience the ever-unfolding emptiness of the eternal process of return.

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