Leaden blankets weigh her down,
White hanks drape her leathery face.
Caught in the numbness of narrowing time,
Eyes blinded by gauze,
Robotic sights echo into her coma.
Metallic hiss of breathing machine is the
Strange violence of modern compassion.
What do we do when those we care deeply about are dying, while we go on living and working? We might be tempted to indulge in our own feeling of injustice, sadness, or fear, but we should think first of those who are dying. We have a responsibility to be with them.Don’t let others die lonely. No matter how ironic your living may compare with their dying, act for them as they can no longer act. If they reach out for some way to cope with their impending end, you need not have flowery words. Merely being with them, perhaps reaching out to hold hands, is eloquence enough. Death may be near, but any amount of time before it comes is precious.
Life’s moments are not cheapened by death. Just to observe and affirm is good. After all, death waits for all of us. Only the value we place on each minute determines the quality of life. If we can embrace that, then no one’s life is ruined by death.
If you are best in the morning,
Cultivate Tao in the morning.
If you are best in the evening,
Cultivate Tao in the evening.
Whatever the optimal time of day is for you, you should devote it to the cultivation of Tao. For example, dawn, when it is quiet, the world is fresh, and the mind is untainted by the day’s events, is an ideal time to devote yourself to study. Morning, the time of birth, should not be wasted on a quick breakfast, a hastily read newspaper, and a manic rush to work. If is far better to awake from peaceful sleep, wash yourself, drink clear water, and immerse yourself in the rising energy of the day.
If your optimal time is evening, there are two propitious intervals : twilight, when day and night come into balance, and midnight, when the first breath of the coming day arises. In the night, worldly cares are put aside, rest and relaxation are paramount, and the entire world withdraws into nocturne. Night is the time of regeneration, and it should not be wasted on wanton entertainment, indulgent sexuality, and too much sleep. It is far better to retire from the cares of the day, bathe, and immerse yourself in the gestating power of the dark.
Sleek sky of cobalt blue;
Water like nectar satisfies deeply.
Air sweeter than the best perfume;
Sunlight warms a grateful cat.
It is hard to believe life is all for naught. Can’t we take happiness when it comes?
There is admittedly a great deal of suffering and horror in this world. But if we are to accept life’s sad parts, we must also embrace its good parts. As long as we are in this world, we must accept it all. If what comes our way is occasionally wonderful, no one should deny our enjoyment. We all know that every rise is followed by a fall. Why dwell only on dread of the future? As long as we have behaved responsibly, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the best of what life has to offer.
Look at a cat as she stretches out contentedly in the sun. There is no thought of the next moment, only the sheer enjoyment of the present. Rest assured that she will still be able to clean herself, still be able to catch mice, and still be able to do all the things that a cat must do. But she is without anxieties, and so she is purely and totally who she should be. She acts as if she were nature’s favorite. And who is to say otherwise?
Outside is form,
Inside is thought.
Deepest is the soul.
Traditional sages describe a human being as having three sheaths. The outer one is the physical body and incorporates primitive drives and instincts. The inner one is the mind and includes discrimination, reasoning, and sense of individuality.
Both the body and the mind are enslaved to the outer world because they gain their knowledge from sensory input. They cannot know anything “intangible,” anything without a form or a name.
At the core of every person is the soul. This is a pure, virgin self. It does not think in the ordinary sense of the word, has no egotism, and is not concerned with maintaining itself in the world. Although the body has a shape and the mind is multi-faceted, the soul is completely without form or features. No markings, profiles, names, formulas, numbers, ideas, or conceptions can be projected upon it. It is pure, shapeless, and empty.
Any person with training can reach this soul. Only then can you be convinced of its presence. When you reach it, your body and mind will become irrelevant, for you are now in a state beyond the senses and beyond thought. The soul is called absolute because it is beyond all relativity.
Though others have faults,
Concentrate on your own.
Some people have the habit of blaming others. Perhaps all of us have this weakness. The list of scapegoats for our miseries is clever and endless. Parents, community, teachers, government, and even demons and gods are all invoked when we have problems. If difficulties truly come from the outside, the problem is not blame. For those cases, the course of action is very clear : Neutralize that influence. If the problem comes from within, the solution must come from within as well. Before you blame friends, relatives, or teachers for bad habits and shortsightedness, you should remember that no one is to blame but yourself.
It is an equal mistake to lose self-esteem simply because you have some flaws. Looking at your shortcomings and taking steps to eliminate them should be viewed as a dispassionate project. You are not worthless because you undertake to rise above your faults. That description is only for those who never attempt to perfect themselves. We all have a perfect core, a special self inside. That purity is perfect and holy; therefore, no one is worse than another.
We are all on this planet simply to reach back into that pure self. When we reach that spirit, there are no flaws and there is no blame.
Uphold precepts, but be merciful.
Gradually absorb, until there is no need for law.
Gain wisdom beyond right and wrong.
There was a young priest who returned to the community of his birth. Instead of the neighborhood he knew as a boy, the community was now predominantly homosexual. He was uncertain : On one hand, he had to serve the people. On the other hand, his sect forbade homosexuality and condemned it as a grave wrong. It would seem that whatever he did, he would be a hypocrite. He eventually decided to accept all who came to him but still uphold the doctrines of his sect. He saw his most important duty as mercy, and so he was able to help others without truly violating his precepts. When there are contradictions between beliefs, one must resolve them in favor of what one judges to be the higher principle.
We should not sell our ideals short for the sake of expediency or selfishness. Following a particular spiritual tradition means a full commitment to its rules in order to gain the essence of that tradition. But we cannot afford to be dogmatic. Human law is imperfect : There will always be unprecedented circumstances. Thus, we must go beyond rules and operate instead from pure wisdom. We must act with experience, flexibility, and insight. Let us so absorb integrity — experiencing both its triumphs and defeats — that we do the right thing intuitively.
Tradition is first. Mercy is greater than tradition. Wisdom is greater than mercy.
Some days, you and I go mad.
Our bellies get stuffed full,
Hearts break, minds snap.
We can’t go on the old way so
We change. Our lives pivot,
Forming a mysterious geometry.
Life revolves. You cannot go back one minute, or one day. In light of this, there is no use marking time in any one position. Life will continue without you, will pass you by, leaving you hopelessly out of step with events. That’s why you must engage life and maintain your pace.
Don’t look back, and don’t step back. Each time you make a decision, move forward. If your last step gained you a certain amount of territory, then make sure that your next step will capitalize on it. Don’t relinquish your position until you are sure that you have something equal or better in your grasp. But how do we develop timing for this process?
It has to be intuitive. On certain days, we come to our limits, and our tolerance for a situation ends. When that happens, change without the interference of concepts, guilt, timidity, or hesitancy. Those are the points when our entire lives pivot and turn toward new phases, and it is right that we take advantage of them. We mark our progress not by the distance covered but by the lines and angles that are formed.
Place the word Tao
Into your heart.
Use no other words.
Why do so many people seek foreign religions? Why are so many of our philosophies translations from other languages? Surely we are all human beings, with hearts and minds, two hands and two legs. Each of us needs spirituality, but why must we always look abroad?
People who investigate Tao ask whether they have to be Chinese to benefit from it. It is true that part of the study of Tao is strictly Chinese. It is also true that this Taoism has never been exported — unlike Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, or Judaism — and has never been preached beyond the Five Sacred Mountains of China. It is elitist, to protect itself from coarse unbelievers. But this Taoism is not the Tao you need.
The true Tao is of no nationality, no religion. It is far beyond the conceptions of even the most brilliant human being, so it cannot be the property of one race or culture. The need to understand Tao is universal; people just give it different names in their native languages. Tao is the very essence of life itself, so those who are alive always have the possibility of knowing Tao. It is meant to be found in the here and now, and it is within the grasp of any sincere seeker.
Dashes crowns of princely trees.
Perplexed travelers ask for reasons,
Huddling under worn eaves.
Those who follow Tao make much of knowing and acting in conformity to the cycle of seasons. They have made a science of studying the exact ways in which events progress. Some have become so skillful that their lives are admired as nearly magical. Yet when things happen out of turn, even these wise ones are surprised.
Such is the case with unseasonable rain. It is supposed to be hot summer, yet it is a day like midwinter. What is there to do but to accept it? Following cycles does not mean that you can then expect things to occur with precision and regularity. The actual ways that circumstances develop will always remain beyond complete regimentation. Nature doesn’t act according to human theories. Rather, our sciences are imperfect at analyzing nature.
The follower of Tao is always flexible and adaptable to circumstance. Even if there is personal desire to do something and advance preparation has been made, the follower must nevertheless bow to nature. Knowing how to put aside personal priorities in order to fulfill the demands of the time is among the greatest of skills.
Red sea through pine lattice.
Islands kneel like vassals before headlands.
Rain clouds snag on coastal ridges.
Yarrow stands spectral in the lighthouse beam.
It is difficult to take in the details of a landscape all at once. Our eyes can only focus on one point at a time. We look near, then we look far. We look left, then we look right. Our view of any one subject, if it is large, is never whole but is a composite image in our minds. The same is true in regard to our approach to Tao.
Tao is continuous, flowing, and changing, but there is no knowing it in a single view. We rely on composite images that we form in ourselves. For a beginner, glimpses of Tao will be random and fleeting. You will stumble on it from time to time, or you will see it in the brief spaces between events. For the mature practitioner, your composite view comes from training, technique, research, and the experience of self-cultivation. But even after years, it is impossible to take in the totality.
There is a way to know Tao directly and completely. It requires the awakening of one’s spiritual force. When this happens, spirituality manifests as a brilliant light. Your mind expands into a glowing presence. Like a lighthouse, this beacon of energy becomes illumination and eye at the same time. Significantly, however, what it shows, it also knows directly. It is the light that sees.