Chuck & Beans
Chuck & Beans
How can divination
You may be contemplating a very bold move in your life. It might be taking a chance on love. It might be deciding to move across the world to begin a new career. It might be combining things that have never been put together before to make a new invention. What you’re contemplating is so surprising to you that you wonder whether or not to do it.
Traditionally, people turned to divination. But how can any system of divination really help you? Whether it is turtle shells, yarrow stalks, crystal balls, psychics, or spirit possession, are the forces “out there” really going to provide any true reassurance? Depending on divination means giving up control over your own life. It’s also avoiding responsibility — you are able to say it wasn’t your fault if things don’t work out.
Imaginative action is very important in life. Without it, we are less than human. For imagination to come into being, we need decisiveness and control. Unless we have these two factors, we cannot manifest the concentration to bring something new into being. We should not surrender our right to decide the course of our lives to vague propitiations of the unknown. We should explore every new possibility that appeals to us and, with wise action, build the force of our characters.
Mist and snow blot out the world.
Bony trees are thinly fleshed with ice.
A couple laughs below a stone monument,
But behind a bristled hedge,
A cloaked woman sings a dirge.
Old age is lonely.
Dreams of those I’ve buried haunt me.
Was I ever ready to shoulder this mantle?
It smothered a carefree youth.
Now neither parent, lover, nor friends have I,
And great fame is as distant as spring’s leaves.
Dear youth, do you ever think of getting old? If you did, then you might value your time even more. Dear oldster, do you ever think of your past? Of course you do. You wonder if you did the right things.
How ironic this life is! What a tremendous bind we are born into! When young, we do not understand the dreariness of old age. When we are old, we are not permitted to go back in time. When vitality flows freely, we haven’t enough wisdom. When we have gained wisdom, fate has made us too weak to take action.
Oh, I know. The purpose of following Tao is to be well adjusted. The secret of Tao is to know how to pass into old age gracefully. Yes, I know. But may I not still reflect on the poignancy of it all?
To be fully human is to know resignation.
Immortality does not beget wisdom.
Only mortality begets maturity.
There are people in this world who have had enough adventures for several lifetimes. They are the closest conception we can have of immortals. Yet some of these people are hopelessly immature. After all, whenever life became difficult for them, they changed to a new path and by luck the new one was always rich and fruitful. Life came so easily that they took more than one helping.
Unfortunately, maturity only comes from the threat of mortality. Success only comes from the threat of failure. Without pressure, we would not plan, utilize wisdom, or exercise care. We realize that we have only a very short time to make an achievement, to prove that our existence was worthwhile, and so we strive harder. An immortal can never conceive of such effort.
It would be good if our religious traditions provided us with a foolproof way through life. After all, we live somewhat haphazardly : Our lives are a tapestry woven of both mistakes and successes. Religion doesn’t always provide us with a meaningful pattern. We must make our decisions the best that we can, and as we mature, we can see our way better.
We are motivated by death. We are frightened by failure. We have to make our peace with this mysterious, sometimes hostile world. An immortal does not need to cope with any of this. But we mortals must, and we must strive to make a good showing for ourselves.
If I break down the walls,
I will be surrounded by the garden.
If I break the levee, water will inundate me.
Meditation is not to be separated from life.
The task of following Tao is to cease all distinctions between the self and the outside world. It is only a matter of convenience that we label things inside and outside, subjective and objective. Indeed, it is only at elementary stages that we should talk of a Tao to follow. For true enlightenment is the realization not that there is a Tao to follow but that we ourselves are Tao.
That understanding comes after a simple breaking down of a wall, a shattering of the mistaken notion that there is something inherent in this life that divides us from Tao. Once the wall is broken, we are inundated by Tao. We are Tao.
Do we continue to meditate once we come to this understanding? We still do, but it is no longer a solitary and isolated activity. It is a part of life, as natural as breathing. When you can bring yourself to the understanding that there is no difference between you and Tao and that there is no difference between meditation and “ordinary” activities, then you are well on your way to being one with Tao.
A deviation of a hair’s breadth at the center
Leads to an error of a hundred miles at the rim.
When the effort is so slight,
Why should you hesitate to set things right?
There are many people who endeavor to know Tao. In the greatest sincerity, they take music lessons, read scriptures, learn foreign languages, study nutrition, change their dress, and go to temples — all in the hopes that they will reach Tao. Sadly, they miss it by a hair’s breadth. For a person to awaken to Tao, someone must give them a spark. Perhaps this is what is called direct transmission. It is odd, but this is the only way that knowledge of Tao is passed on.
Book knowledge can help and give one a deep theoretical background, but the true understanding of Tao still comes person to person. There is no other way.
So if you have any true understanding of Tao, you got it from someone. If you meet someone else who needs that spark and you are in the position to give it, then do so. Don’t be selfish. There are so many people out there who want guidance and who cannot get it. If you can make a difference for at least one person, then you have tremendous merit indeed.
Fog makes the world a painting obscure.
Even close trees are half unseen.
But a lonesome crow won’t stop calling:
He objects to being in this dream.
Over and over, the sages tell us that this world is but a dream.
When one awakes on foggy mornings, with the mists obscuring hills and valleys and the trees and village buildings appearing as diaphanous apparitions, we might even agree with them. Didn’t we see this same uncertain mirage in the hills of Vermont? The hollow of the Yangtze River valley? The streets of Paris? Don’t the memories blend with the dream and turn reality into phantasmagoria?
The world is a dream from which there is no escaping.
In this still dream, there is a crow calling. He doesn’t stop. When everything else is frozen in the sepulchral dawn, the bird continues to scream. Maybe he realizes the same dream. He protests loudly.
The ancients hold the outer reality to be unreal. But there is the inner reality too. Some of us do not readily accept the conditions of this existence. We have eyes to see, but we also have voice to refute the existential delusion.
Unless you are pious,
You cannot gain a foothold in Tao.
Unless you go beyond rules,
You haven’t gained the middle.
Unless you can be creative,
You aren’t traversing Tao.
Unless the road always stretches out before you,
You are not walking the true Tao.
When people start on a spiritual path, they are anxious to learn all the rules. This is understandable, even necessary. Often we need stern measures to set ourselves right.
But dogmatism is not spirituality. Sometimes, it is necessary to break rules. The task is to know how to go against doctrine in a way that actually fulfills the spirit of that doctrine. It is only at this point that one matures as a follower of Tao.
The next stage is complete creativity. You have so internalized doctrine that you need not think of it, yet everything you do will be spontaneously correct. There are many stages after that, stages not documented but there for you to explore on your own.
Those who follow Tao recognize that all people go through stages of development. Many people leave their spiritual communities when they outgrow them. The path of Tao has been conceived so that one never outgrows it. One can outgrow a particular stage, but when that happens, there is another one to be entered. In this way, following Tao is always vital.
What is the difference between a monk and a husband?
What is the difference between a priest and layperson?
I accept that this world is terrible and full of suffering.
And I also enjoy happiness when it comes to me.
As long as I am with Tao, distinctions are superfluous.
A spiritual initiate should not feel smug. They have no greater chance of enlightenment than ordinary people. An ordinary person shouldn’t look down on the holy aspirant; everyday life is so full of distractions that finding spirituality is not easy. Frankly, neither being a religious initiate nor being a layperson is the deciding factor in whether a person finds Tao or not. Identities only get in the way.
I do not need to pretend that I am anyone other than myself. I do not need to feel insecure about my perceptions. The self-cultivation that I undertake is to perfect who I am, not to become someone other than who I am.
I pursue the spiritual because it gives me tremendous satisfaction. I do not pursue it because of threats of hell, ignorance, or suffering.
Life has its sad and happy moments. I accept them all. Life has its times of dispassion and utter serenity. Those are the moments that I seek. They give me my path through the myriad phenomena of this existence. I do not compare myself to ascetics and priests. Let them have their lives. I enjoy mine.
END Puppy Mills
Cartoons by John Atkinson. ©John Atkinson, Wrong Hands
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