Category Archives: Taoism

Alan Watts on “The Real You” and Death

That question, of what happens after we die, has always mystified me. The question that is almost impossible to answer with any level of certainty.

The idea of going away into oblivion, into the “dark room” that you can never emerge from, as Watts said, is indeed horrifying. It makes my stomach turn, just at the thought of it. On the other side of the spectrum, the idea that we somehow persist afterwards seems convenient; but a bit too easy. It seems like its just my “ego” wanting to exist forever, when it may not really be practical.

The idea, however, the “you” are “everything”, or that you are the “universe experiencing itself”; means that, in a manner of speaking, you are like a thought in the mind of the universe, one of a countless array of thoughts that it thinks in infinite permutations. I feel much better thinking of it that way. It seems far more balanced and correct.

Still, there is a sadness inside me, that thinks, this individual me should go on existing forever. Who knows? Maybe the Buddhists who speak of reincarnation of the soul were correct. Perhaps our individual soul is reborn, to a point, so as to evolve over many lifetimes, with the eventual option to “return to source.”

On the Sustainment of Tai Chi Chuan

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the way the art of Tai Chi Chuan sustained in today’s world. While many important arts and traditions have carefully curated curricula and well maintained lineages, to pass on the wisdom from generation to generation in tact, it seems as if much of the Tai Chi wisdom is already lost on many; only carried by a few who were fortunate/wise enough to find the right teacher; many of the rest pass on a corrupted form of the art and will probably never realize it. Perhaps it has always been like this to some extent.

There is some beauty to this; perhaps it is nature’s way of eventually sorting the matter out effortlessly. Perhaps there will come a time when Tai Chi will again flourish without all of these things we normally associate with success; when the consciousness of the people on this planet evolve to the point that they can intuitively understand Tao.

I’ve always had this feeling that, even if your teaching is imperfect, practice and understanding of the principles can still refine our understanding of the art. Although it may not be enough for most to achieve in one lifetime, the fact that Tai Chi exists at all should tell us, even if it is someday lost, it will be rediscovered; because the source of Tai Chi is not something which can be destroyed; we merely have become disconnected from it and are finding our way back.

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 sleeves 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.

–Tao Te Ching (ch. 38 — S. Mitchell Translation)

The Brevity of Conscious Life

by Yang Chu | Yang Chu’s Garden of Pleasure | Chapter III

“One hundred years is the limit of a long life.  Not one in a thousand ever attains to it. Yet if they do, still unconscious infancy and old age take up about half this time.

“The time he passes unconsciously while asleep at night, and that which is wasted though awake during the day, also amounts to another half of the rest. Again pain and sickness, sorrow and fear, fill up about a half, so that he really gets only ten years or so for his enjoyment. And even then there is not one hour free from some anxiety.

“What then is the object of human life? What makes it pleasant? Comfort and elegance, music and beauty. Yet one cannot always gratify the desire for comfort and elegance nor incessantly enjoy beauty and music.

“Besides, being warned and exhorted by punishments and rewards, urged forward and repelled by fame and laws, men are constantly rendered anxious. Striving for one vain hour of glory and providing for the splendour which is to survive their death, they go their own solitary ways, analysing what they hear with their ears and see with their eyes, and carefully considering what is good for body and mind; so they lose the happiest moments of the present, and cannot really give way to these feelings for one hour.

“How do they really differ from chained criminals?

“The Ancients knew that all creatures enter p. 40 but for a short while into life, and must suddenly depart in death. Therefore they gave way to their impulses and did not check their natural propensities.

“They denied themselves nothing that could give pleasure to their bodies; consequently, as they were not seeking fame. but were following their own nature, they went smoothly on, never at variance with their inclinations. They did not seek for posthumous fame. They neither did anything criminal, and of glory and fame, rank and position, as well as of the span of their life they took no heed.”

The Tao of Principle

Principle is originally there; just call it to mind and it is there of itself. Desire is originally not there; if you can just see through it, it disappears of itself. Stopping desire and keeping to principle are basically not two things; to the extent that you have stopped desire, to that extent you keep to principle. Nothing benefits people more than principle, yet those who keep to principle are few. Nothing harms people more than desire, yet those who indulge desires are many.

When people have desires, it is like trees having insects; consumed within unknown, before long they collapse. Those who think desire is fun do not realize desire is like fire; if you do not put it out, you will burn yourself. Your spirit will suffer from irritation, alcohol and sex will wear out your vital energy, producing illness and ulcers, so you cry out in pain day and night. Buddhists who say you suffer from your sins after death do not realize you already suffer while still alive.

–Thomas Cleary

Lao Tzu on Continuity

“Looked at but cannot be seen – it is beyond form;
Listened to but cannot be heard – it is beyond sound;
Grasped at but cannot be touched – it is beyond reach;
These depthless things evade definition,
And blend into a single mystery.

In its rising there is no light,
In its falling there is no darkness,
A continuous thread beyond description,
Lining what can not exist,
Its form formless,
Its image nothing,
Its name mystery,
Meet it, it has no face,
Follow it, it has no back.

Understand the past, but attend the present;
In this way you know the continuity of Tao,
Which is its essence.”

–Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching – Peter Merel’s Interpolation)

Lao Tzu on Love

“Embracing Tao, you become embraced.
Supple, breathing gently, you become reborn.
Clearing your vision, you become clear.
Nurturing your beloved, you become impartial.
Opening your heart, you become accepted.
Accepting the World, you embrace Tao.

Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
Controlling without authority,
This is love.”

— Lao Tzu (Tao te Ching — Peter Merel’s Interpolation)

Lao Tzu on Utopia

“Let your community be small, with only a few people;
Keep tools in abundance, but do not depend upon them;

Appreciate your life and be content with your home;
Sail boats and ride horses, but don’t go too far;
Keep weapons and armour, but do not employ them;
Let everyone read and write,
Eat well and make beautiful things.

Live peacefully and delight in your own society;
Dwell within cock-crow of your neighbours,
But maintain your independence from them.”

–Lao Tzu (Tao te Ching — Peter Merel’s Interpolation)

The Value of Worthlessness

The trees on the mountain can be used to build and so are cut down.

When fat is added to the fire it consumes itself.

Cinnamon can be eaten and so is harvested.

The lacquer tree can be used and so is slashed.

Everyone knows the usefulness of the useful

But no one knows the usefulness of the useless!

— Chuang Tzu

A certain carpenter was traveling with his helper. They came to a town where a giant oak tree filled the square. It was huge, with many limbs spreading out; large enough to shade a hundred oxen and its shade covered the entire square. The helper was amazed at the potential lumber contained in this one tree but the carpenter passed it by with a mere glance. When his helper asked him why he had passed up such a magnificent specimen the carpenter replied that he could see at once that the great oak’s branches were useless to him.

“They are so hard,” he said, “that were I to take my ax to them it would split. The wood is so heavy that a boat made of it would sink. The branches themselves are so gnarled and twisted they cannot be made into planks. If I tried to fashion house beams with it they would collapse. If I made a coffin from it you would not be able to fit someone inside. Altogether it is a completely useless tree. And that is the secret of its long life.”

— Chuang Tzu