Ripe fruit, crisp greens, live grain,
Vital roots, tender meat, spring water.
Growing essence nourishes your own.
Essence alloyed with breath makes you flexible but hard.
The sage’s body is armored.
The sage is impervious to death.
Those who follow Tao speak of three treasures in the body : essence, breath, and spirit. Essence is the biochemical aspect of your body, nurtured by the food you eat, and regulated by the quality of your hormones. Therefore, all your food should be packed and glowing with energy. Eat food as close to its source as possible. Pray before you eat, for everything that you take, whether plant or animal, is living. You must consume to survive, but when you die, acknowledge that you will become food for others.
To build the breath, work and exercise diligently. Build stamina and discipline yourself. You will gain great flexibility combined with hardened flesh, and you will be graceful. Immunity to minor physical traumas as well as many kinds of illness will be yours.
The ultimate training of the spirit begins with the question of death. The sages see beyond dying. Though they must die, they also know that nothing is lost because no one owns body or mind anyway. Those who follow Tao safeguard themselves and live their spirituality with a realistic appreciation of death. The establishment of essence, breath, and spirit is like wearing armor; the travails of the world mean nothing.
Ancient sages lived in forests and
Wandered from village to village.
Sharing openly, teaching the people
Without profit or ownership.
There were more holy aspirants in ancient times. These men and women cultivated themselves in the mountains or wandered among forests and streams. When they came to a village and saw that there was some knowledge that could be imparted to the people, they did so openly. Once they taught what was necessary, they disappeared, knowing that others would follow behind them. They did not establish religious schools, temples, or philosophies bearing their names. They knew knowledge did not belong to anyone. It could not be owned, parceled out for profit, or withheld selfishly.
Nowadays, many people regard knowledge as a mere commodity to be packaged, marketed, and sold. Their interest is not in benefit for others’ souls but for their own pocketbooks. For example, one contemporary master requires a thousand ounces of gold before he will teach a single technique. We live in a world where the selfless sharing of knowledge is no longer a virtue.
The more knowledge that you give away, the more will come to you. The more you hoard, the less you will accumulate. Be compassionate to others. What do you have to fear by being open?
Sit still and disengage normal activities.
Draw energy from the earth,
Admit power from the heavens.
Fertilize the seed within;
Let it sprout into a flower of pure light.
And let brightness open the top of your head:
Divine light will come pouring in.
Your mind is empty,
Light seeps into your whole body.
Sitting cross-legged, with hands clasped,
As if trying to embrace the brilliant flood,
Your skin turns transparent.
How can a bag of skin hold divine magnitude?
Your last vestiges burn away in a torrent of infinity.
Only after indeterminate time do you return.
Flesh, blood, bone.
Were you gone? Or were you never here in the first place?
Where is the torrent?
It is not gone;
You’ve only closed to it once more.
Those who consider their path superior are condescending.
A parrot who speaks of the totality of the self is absurd.
Many paths lead to the summit,
But it takes a whole body to get there.
Once I met a woman who was a lifelong Christian. She had two sons who practiced yoga. She thought that was wonderful, but they arrogantly considered their beliefs to be superior to hers and told her that she was not doing enough for her spiritual salvation.
No one has a right to condemn another person’s spiritual beliefs. No spiritual system is superior to another. Each one of us should have the philosophy and practices that work for us. We should be happy once we find it, we should help those who are interested in the spirituality we represent, but none of us should behave condescendingly toward others’ spirituality.
We are all trying to get to the summit of spiritual realization, and there are many valid paths leading to the top. Of course, the view and terrain on one side of a mountain will differ from the other, but the summit is identical no matter what your approach.
Whatever your path, all that matters is that you commit yourself totally to following it. Others will do the same. As long as we all climb, each from our own direction, and reach the summit of human spirituality, we can achieve complete totality in our lives. Then all the fracturing discussions of sects and different religions become unnecessary.
Deception occurs when you are divided,
Truth appears when you are whole.
Uniting male and female brings illumination,
The real master is a perfect light.
No one is ineligible to know higher truth. When concentration, energy, and thinking are scattered, we cannot break out of ignorance. The diversity and contradictions of existence confuse us, and appearances deceive us.
Do we need a master to help us in this struggle to know the truth? In the beginning we do. What is not often said is that the human master is but a temporary and imperfect manifestation of the ultimate truth. Without a master, you cannot make a beginning. If you never look beyond the person, you will never attain the entirety. A good master leads you to the true master within. Only that master, who is your own higher self, can adequately answer all questions.
Once you unite all elements within yourself, metaphorically referred to as the uniting of male and female, the light that dispels darkness appears. Just as all colored light together makes colorless light, so too does the combination of all our facets result in the integration of our polarities. When this happens, you will “see” a light in your meditations. This light brings knowledge. That is why it is called the true master.
Emperors uphold censorship,
But extreme repression leads to extreme reaction.
Individualists believe in freedom,
But extreme expression leads to extreme reaction.
The emperors of China and Rome punished any expression that displeased them. Whether it was dissent, unpleasant news, or a portrait that disgusted them, they were ready to destroy the perpetrators without hesitation. Today, there are democracies but no less a tendency to punish dissent, manipulate information, or castigate artists. Those in power should be careful : Push the people too far, and they will rebel.
Artists from early on have tried to push the limits of their expression. Driven by the desire to create, they have sought to strike down every boundary. But as long as they do this in a social setting, they should not outpace their audiences. Those who create must be careful : Challenge the people too much, and they will rebel.
So there are two extremes. The desires of the powerful, who feel that censorship is a just tool, and the tendencies of the creative, who feel that they should have no limits to their freedom. Those who follow Tao avoid these extremes. They avoid becoming the ruler, for such a position is fraught with danger, hypocrisy, and disappointment. Neither will they become the grandstanding artist; to arouse others is likewise dangerous. If they must rule, they use compassion as their standard. If they do create, they find satisfaction in self-expression. Above all, they avoid any extreme that will take them from Tao.
Do you know
Where you are
On your journey?
Tao’s movement has been compared to the flow of rivers. Its vastness has been compared to that of oceans. Some people are content to float here and there with the tide, but for others, such passivity is impossible. We have to navigate.
Like early explorers on the high seas, we know where we want to go. That’s when studying precedence is important. The wisdom of those who went before us is like a map. The truths regarding Tao are like the stars. We determine our goals, and we set out according to what we know and what we learn. The future is always uncertain; that is why it is important to objectively evaluate where we are on our spiritual path.
If you are confronted with a pivotal decision and cannot think of any other way to act, write down all the good things and all the bad things about a given situation. Also include how much more you want to do. See if staying your course will give you what you want. If not, change, no matter how deeply that will disrupt your routines. Some people never know where they are in life, and that is one of the biggest reasons that they are unhappy.
As long as the sun rises
And your heart beats,
Tao is at hand.
People think that Tao can only be known through fairy-tale stories of old men in the mountains or obscure poetry about gods riding dragons. Others declare that elaborate ritual, frightening talismans, and mumblings from the depths of spirit possession are necessary for understanding. This is simply not true. Why put another’s experience before your own? Tao is in each of us. Admittedly, an individual’s common ignorance usually obscures awareness of Tao, but this does not mean that there is no Tao or that it is not important. Tao is there for us to experience any time that we can open ourselves to it.
Is the sun shining? Does night follow day? Is the sky blue? Do you have feeling? Then it is possible to know Tao directly and immediately. Don’t delay, don’t think yourself too insignificant. Feel for it. Right now. As long as you are alive, Tao is right at hand.
The voices of ghosts are so familiar,
They whisper to me every day.
You, so young and rich,
Make assumptions with absolute assurance.
I vacillate between superstition and tradition.
You don’t need to question.
Tradition is the oral delivery of rites and customs from generation to generation. Superstition is belief inconsistent with what society generally considers true and rational. When tradition and superstition become bound together, it is a sign of trouble. For example, a woman was once taught not to wash her hair on anybody’s birthday. Whenever she protested this, the answer was “Don’t question!” Years later, she learned that in the old country, letting one’s hair down was a sign of mourning and thus inauspicious on a birthday. What was etiquette in one generation became superstition in another.
Those raised with traditions and superstitions are often torn between the extremes of biculturalism. Their inbred beliefs conflict with current knowledge and quickly changing culture, creating doubt and uncertainty.
There has to be informed revision to all tradition if it is not to degenerate into superstition. The true substance of any tradition will take new form without compromising its inherent character. If not, it will just become the outmoded beliefs of old people, and it will fade into ghostly whispers.
She withdrew into herself,
First writing just for one,
Then touching thousands.
She incarnated ghosts, hurt, and joy
Into paper-and-ink stories of wonder.
One author said, “I can get rid of anything by writing about it,” meaning that the process of externalization could liberate him from the pain in his soul. That realization produced a delicious dichotomy : to free himself, or to hold on to both joys and tortures by remaining silent about them.
Writer write because they must : They need to express something from deep within themselves. They hear voices that others do not. They listen urgently, and they must communicate what they hear.
People feel Tao in the same way that writers feel something unique. In the process of listening for mysterious voices and expressing the wonder that comes is a magic akin to the perfection of Tao.