Divination: Art or Science? (3) The Blind Archer

The archer stands before our target. His skill is deadly; he never misses, but there’s a catch: he’s also blind… and he never speaks, except with his arrows. No-one knows how he does what he does, but if you ask him a question, he will fire his arrow at the target. The place where the arrow lands is his answer to your question.

The target looks like this:

(Figure 1: the mysterious archer’s matrix of 8 x 8 = 64 squares)

You are allowed to touch him, once, before he fires the arrow. You touch him with your sincerity; with your voice if you wish – though your focussed thoughts will do fine. After that the arrow flies into one of the 64 squares of the matrix of truth.

He never misses because his arrow always lands in the middle of one of the sixty-four squares. The squares represent the Hexagrams of the I Ching – the ancient Chinese book of Changes discussed in the previous parts of this series – see references at the end of this post.

You may not see him (or her) as a Divine Archer. This is just how I have chosen to illustrate the process; but it does represent how I see him when I cast my own coins.

If you look at the archer’s matrix, you will see the same words written along the top as are written down the side. The words are: Heaven, Thunder, Water, Mountain, Earth, Wind, Fire and Lake.

Casting the coins is how I know what the Archer has done in response to my question. As with other oracles, there are various methods for arriving at (in this case) one of the 64 squares, but throwing three coins is the most commonly used I Ching method.

Here are all the possible ways that three coins having heads and tails can fall. The values are explained, below.

(Figure 2: the values derived in the coin method range only from six to nine)

How we consult the Archer from the coin drop:

We count heads as value three. Tails as value two.

We shake three coins in our closed hands and drop them, together, onto a flat surface.

From these number values, we are going to construct a series of horizontal lines to form our hexagram. Each line is derived from the value of the coin-drop. We begin these lines at the bottom of our space and add each new one on top of the previous.

If the number is odd (seven or nine) we draw a line that is continuous, and we write the value of the coin-drop next to it.

If the number is even (six or eight) we draw a line that is broken in the middle, then write the value of the coin-drop next to it.

(Figure 3: working from the bottom upwards, we threw totals of 8, 7 and 9. Odd is an unbroken line, Even is a broken line)

The lines we are drawing are the yin and yang lines. Yin is broken – ‘Yielding’; and Yang is whole – ‘Active’. What we have created, above, is half of a hexagram, which is known as a trigram. But a trigram is far more than just half of the whole, it is the essence of the I Ching.

Consider the diagram, below:

(Figure 4: So far, we have formed a trigram (three lines) from the three-coin drop. The trigram is only half of a hexagram)

A hexagram is made from six of these lines stacked together in two groups of three. In Figure 4, if we look down the emphasised left column, under the word ‘Lower’, we can identify our lower trigram as SUN – meaning Wind. Within the archer’s matrix, we can see a (red) row of squares next to SUN. Our target square lies somewhere within this line, but to find where it is we have to complete our hexagram by adding the ‘Upper’ trigram. Both, together, will then point to the ‘address’ of our answer.

(Figure 5: Completing the Upper trigram creates the final hexagram)

We can now return to our Archer’s matrix and add the vertical line to find the intersection:

(Figure 6: Our hexagram is resolved to a ‘target square’)

From the above, we can see that the union that resolves our ‘reading’ is the intersection of two variants of the same eight figures. Each of these is reached by casting three coins to determine the balance of Yin-Yang and hence the whole or split nature of the line.

It is worth pointing out that the Yin and Yang lines are a binary system. They result in only one of two possible states, and therefore can be indexed as a simply binary number of ones and zeros. I am indebted to Michael Graeme for pointing this out in his (free) summary of the I Ching which can be downloaded from his website: The Rivendale Review.

(Above: The Rivendale Review offers an excellent and free PDF book on the I Ching. Check out his other books while you’re there…)

Back to our Archer’s matrix… We have made our sincere request for insight; have created the ‘wings’ of our bow using two arms of eight figures, and the arrow has been fired by the blind archer. Where did it land and what does it mean for us?

(Figure 7: The final table – from three coins to an answer)

Cross-reference the combination of Wind below and Mountain above and you will come to the square marked in red in Figure 6. This is now revealed to be Hexagram 18. To obtain our answer we look this up in a reputable table of I Ching wisdom. The classic text is Richard Wilhelm’s book ‘I Ching or book of changes‘.

(Richard Wilhelm’s classic book on the I Ching)

I’ve had my copy (above) for nearly thirty years. It’s battered but much loved. We mentioned Michael Graeme’s free PDF book before. He has had decades of experience with the I Ching, so let’s see what his highlights are for this Hexagram. Bear in mind that, like last week, I did this divination on the day of preparing the blog – Wednesday.

Michael’s text for Hexagram 18 reads:

———-

18

Decay

Poison

Renovation

Work on what has been spoiled

~Keywords: Obsession, Narrow Minded, Dogmatism, Degeneration, Old Fashioned, Corrupt, Rotten, Decaying… Renovation, Cleaning Out, Purging.

When we follow something with a sense of enthusiasm, we may sometimes forget to ask what is right, or we may become careless and allow corrupt influences to assert themselves, So, after Following comes Renovation.’

———-

I can’t think of a better summary of what we’ve been watching from America over the past few days… and also the spirit of the thousands of brave people standing in front of lines of bewildered soldiers who have orders to kill citizens if necessary…

Got to Micheal’s website and look up Hexagram 18 for a full reading. It’s a free PDF text.

A final technical note about the figures in red on Figure 5. The dropped-coin values of 6 and 9 are considered worthy of special attention in a reading, and will be given special notes in the hexagram text. They are representative of the periods of greatest change, like the peaks and troughs of the classic waveform. It is also customary to change these lines to their opposites and create a new hexagram, one which is then read in the context of providing further emphasis to the primary hexagram.

Copyright notice: All diagrams used in this post have been created by the author and are copyrighted 2020.

Previous posts in this series:

The Old One and the Gatekeeper: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Divination – Art or Science?: Part One, Part Two This is Part three, the final post.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Divination: Art or Science? (2) : An Old Fire

(Above: image Pixabay – originated by Adesala)

The man, still distinguished though his hair and moustache were now silver, sat before the fire. Once more, he was alone in his home by the lake. Before him, the old kettle, as black with age as he was white, rattled on the small iron grate beneath it. The flames from the burning wood flickered up around its sides and the noise from within said the water was approaching the boil.

Carl Gustav Jung kept his retreat primitive. Here was where he came to be alone, not to entertain. Here was where he experienced life as it was before the modern world fabricated its layers of comfort and distraction. There were no wires, no heating, or lighting. Running water was taken from a mountain stream. Burning wood, like that in the fire, was the only comfort. Each morning and evening, he bathed in the icy waters of Lake Zürich.

He looked again at the kettle on the fire… and smiled. ‘Chi Chi’. It came to him quickly, bringing a smile.”No-one in their right mind would put water over fire, surely?”, he mused to the morning’s sunlight, filtering in elongated patterns through the old window shutters.

His mind raced over the numbers and meanings of the I Ching Hexagrams to locate the one triggered by the kettle and the fire. ’63 – After Completion’. A very strange notion to the western mind… How could you have anything meaningful ‘after’ completion? “Live happily ever after,” he smiled into the cold morning air. “But life’s not like that, is it? It goes on, round and round. What rises falls, what falls rises.”

(Above: The traditional Tai Chi symbol, depicting Yin and Yang – the eternally dancing polarities of creation)

His memory took him deeper into the meaning of the hexagram. The water in the kettle was now boiling, rocking the vessel on its narrow base. He knew it would not fall; knew that he had designed the iron support well, allowing most of the heat from the surrounding burning wood to get to the kettle and heat the water. The Chi Chi hexagram told of the need for intelligence in the control of such potent forces – brought together in sophistication, even in this simple technology. Everything the mind of man was good at… if only the heart of man would catch up..

He probed deeper, letting his eyes gaze into the middle distance, a kind of trance state he found creative.

The luxury of something completed was dangerous – especially if the stakes were high, such as a societal upheaval, like a war, or a rift in the population. Healing that was long and hard, and required mediators who could bridge both sides. When people were exhausted with hatred and division, they turned to such wisdom… and the wholeness came back; allowing differences, seeing differences as an essential part of the whole. Then came the greatest danger – when the pot came to the boil and the tea was ready to make and drink. The potent forces of fire and boiling water had not gone away. The stewardship into the making of tea was filled with danger – something no-one would entrust to a child…

The wise one would extend their vision beyond the fire, beyond the tea, into the field of tranquility and know that only vigilance and the continued drinking from the fountains of wisdom would hold it that way… for a while, at least. For the universe knew no permanence. The universe was change.


The above is part fiction, yet wholly true. Carl Jung did have a ‘primitive’ dwelling on the shores of Lake Zürich. He was so influenced by his personal discovery of the I Ching (via his strong friendship with Richard Wilhelm, the scholar and renowned sinologist who carried out the classic translation of the Book of Changes) that he described it as ‘the end of my loneliness’. His idea of ‘synchronicity’ exactly mirrored the I Ching’s concept that the well-crafted oracle could become a ‘purse of the now’ (my phrase) into which we delve for help, comfort and advice.

In the previous post of this series, I promised to carry out a reading in preparation for this post. The question posed was: what is the relevance of the I Ching to the readers of this blog?

The method of the reading will be discussed in the next post. The answer I got was that quoted in the semi-fictional story, above: ’63 Chi Chi’. The content of the story is an attempt to give a first-level understanding of its implications.

Personally, I find it describes well the nature of our slow emergence from the tragedy of the Covid-19 virus, and the folly of ‘rushing back to the beaches’. The wise ones will go inside their wisdom and wait until their inner senses tell them the time is right. Then the wheel will turn, again, and we will be on with the next set of challenges. There are many that await us. You may find your own, individual meanings in the readings of Chi Chi. I hope you do.

The I Ching comforts us that, no matter how horrific the face of the tyrant, they are not bigger than the Cosmos and its wheel. Their arrogance and power will be the seed of their own undoing. There are many parallels of undoing in the world at the moment.

Carl Jung was a sincere and dedicated investigator of the inner nature of mankind. His concepts of synchronicity, archetypes, and the nature of extroversion and introversion fitted well into the deep and parallel map of life on Earth as given in the I Ching. In his introduction to Richard Wilhelm’s classic translation he says many things. For me, the most profound is:

“The method of the I Ching does indeed take into account the hidden individual quality in things and men, and in one’s own unconscious self as well.”

In the next and final post in this series we will look at the method of taking a reading from the I Ching.

Previous posts in this series:

The Old One and the Gatekeeper: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Divination – Art or Science?: Part One, This is Part Two

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Divination: Art or Science? (1)

(Above: The Yin Yang symbol depicting polar opposites united in their life)

For as long as there have been humans on Earth, we have sought to find answers. Wise women and wise men have been cherished throughout history for their ability to throw ‘light’ on complex problems and situations. In our modern age, more people than ever find at least comfort and, often, guidance in some kind of fortune telling. My grandmother used to read tea leaves, using the pattern left when the (leaf) tea was swirled out of a cup at the end of a routine or ritualised consultation. Her advice was often sought.

I had a interesting childhood. I was raised in a mystically-active family, but felt the pull of a scientific career – ending up in computing. I never had any trouble reconciling the two, but was always hesitant to talk about it to other scientific types… There is a ‘religion’ of despising such things among the purists of science. Their prejudice is a strong as any of history’s zealous priests. Having said, that, the scientific method has brought immense benefits to mankind.

I was comfortable with divination because I could always see a bigger picture… Let me try to describe the basis of this:

What happens ‘inside me’, in terms of consciousness, is not really separated from the ‘out there’ of the world and its constant changes. I felt this long before I could offer any explanation for it. I knew that if I changed how I felt about someone, their behaviour to me would miraculously change, too. This doesn’t mean that I always did this, far from it…. our emotions are very strong with those we dislike and often override the still small voice of inner guidance.

We began this consideration of ancient Chinese wisdom by looking at the work of Lao Tzu (The Book of the Way – Dao Je Jing); (see The Old One and the Gatekeeper series).

The other great ‘book’, older than the Dao Je Jing, is the Book of Changes, otherwise known as the I Ching. Adopted by pop culture in the 1960s, the Yin Yang symbol was seen on everything from notebooks to tee-shirts. The Yin-Yang symbol is a later development, and has been associated with I Ching because its elements representing Yin – black, and Yang – White, are found in the broken and unbroken lines of the Hexagrams that are the ‘divined’ basis of the reading.

The Yin Yang symbol illustrates an idea from ancient times that the ‘whole’ is in constant motion – change. And that change, itself, is the real nature of the world. Things can be opposite yet still exist harmoniously. Each thing contains its opposite. Each thing becomes its opposite when it has reached its fullness and begins to decline.

We must learn to ride that constant change and be at peace with this. This is quite a statement. We are used to reality being the solidity of what is – and endures. Within the I Ching, the reality is shifted ‘upstairs’ to that process of change from which we take snapshots of our reality, much like, in quantum physics, how an electron in an atom obligingly reveals itself under quantum measurement, but is otherwise indeterminate in velocity and position.

Evolved and educated to seek stability as a basis for survival and prosperity, human nature finds this idea of harmony through change a difficult concept to embrace. Without stability, we reason, ‘fortune’ may be a fickle companion.

This idea has its parallel in Newton’s older and simpler non-quantum physics. Objects that move seldom do so with constant speed (velocity) – unless they are spacecraft. Newton showed, through a maths process called differentiation, that the derivative of a formula for velocity (speed) would produce a formula for acceleration. The latter is far more revealing, since it is linked to the real world of force. Force gives rise to motion, in the first place.

To slow an object requires force – imagine the sting of catching a well-struck cricket ball! Equally, to make an object move away from you with a throw requires the force of an uncurling arm. The ‘speeding up’ – acceleration, is equal to the force divided by its mass: the amount of substance it possesses.

Driving a car is, for example, a continuous process of acceleration and deceleration; controlled through exploding petrol in an engine moderated by the right foot. No wonder driving takes a while to grasp… Perhaps the difference between a driver and a watcher of fortune is that the driver is following a short-term goal of getting somewhere, whereas the ‘fortune hunter’ just wants to feel secure.

It’s a dramatic conclusion, but the universal Sea of Being does not offer security. Instead, it offers a science of personal change and an opportunity to learn how to sail.

All this may seem academic. However, in order to see that there is a ‘higher science’ of existence that lives happily in a dimension of ‘change’, we need to have these proven models to align us, correctly, with the potential to see differently.

This is the goal of the I Ching…

If we see the ‘out there’ as divided, we are not in harmony with the inevitable currents of change. If we see it as a fluid medium which must change, we begin to bring our consciousness into the ‘now’, taking new nourishment from the fact that its sparkling presence is the result of that constant ‘replenishment’. The present state cannot do anything put ‘perish’ to make way for the next packet of the new…

Science has shown us that both matter and energy cannot be destroyed. We can only change the form – the organisation – of its substance. Nor can we know that substance as something separate from our own consciousness.

The I Ching is a ‘book’ of collective wisdom, drawn from truly ancient times, and refined over the centuries. One of the most insightful teachers I know refers to it as a ‘Solar Work’ and uses it, herself, to describe the inner detail of a pattern of events. She has done this for many decades and views the I Ching as a constant and reliable companion.

This ‘book’ has been condensed into 64 ‘cores’ of wisdom, rendered as hexagrams, as in the image, below. The process of consulting the I Ching is one of ‘drawing’ a randomised reference to these hexagrams and reading the wisdom it offers, at various levels of detail.

(Above: A hexagram as used by the I Ching)

You can even buy an App for your mobile phone…. good ones, too. The best give you a choice of having random numbers generated for you or letting you throw three coins and entering the results to get the reading.

We will look at this, the consulting process, in the next post. For now, it is important to consider the idea of divination, itself…

The elements of effective divination are:

  1. To have a repeatable process of consultation – ‘looking up’ a guiding text or picture in response to a question, a feeling, or just to set a reflective theme for the day.
  2. To actively feel a connection to the external actions. In the sense of my explanation, above, to know that there is no real separation from in-here and out-there, other than what we are taught about the pre-eminence of reason over everything else.
  3. To loosen the faculty of reason and let something else speak, by way of inspiration.
  4. To open and close the process with respect… and a certain feeling of love for something that is letting us ‘touch’ another reality.

Next week, I will consult the I Ching before writing the Thursday blog. We shall see what it has to offer us in terms of describing itself!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Old One and the Gatekeeper (3) non-action

37

The Dao abides in non-action but there is nothing it does not do.
When the leaders abide,
The myriad of things transform by itself;
Transformed yet desire to act,
I lead the community by not naming the simplicity of things;
Without naming the simplicity of things, thus lead to no desire;
Without desire, with tranquility,
The world correct by itself.

——-

The above is chapter 37 of Lao Tzu’s Book of the Way (Dao Je Jing) quoted from the Wikipedia Opensource project Wikisource.org. Further extracts are quoted below from the same source.

In Part One and Part Two we set the scene for the Lao Tzu’s approach to life and how to live it using the Dao (The Way). It’s a method which seems alien to the west in our so-called modern age. Perhaps the great thoughts of the world simply cycle round from age to age? One of Lao Tzu’s principle tenets is the noble art of ‘not-doing’, a concept very difficult for the western mind to grasp.

It could be said that technology’s advancement merely gives us the idea of progress. Perhaps in the heart and mind of mankind there remains the same hunger for a different truth as when the New Testament quoted Jesus as saying people should ‘turn the other cheek’.

Resistance is something we live with daily. Something happens – arises in our lives, for it has no meaning unless it affects us – and we either like or dislike it. If I like something I will want more of it; I will want to be closer to the source of it.

If I dislike something, I will want to oppose it – to arrest its motion or progress. The spectrum of my response will vary all the way to outright hatred; something currently felt by millions of people with respect to the polarised state of world politics. Such polarisation is fed by a new generation of vastly wealthy ‘disruptors’, who have seen how easily the intelligence of the public can be misfed and misled, particularly with complex economic and social topics. Fear is a reliable ally for those who have the power to manipulate…

The Book of the Way does not advocate us being passive for its own sake. Nor does it really advocate doing nothing. But it does propose a response that seems utterly radical and revolutionary: It says we should be conscious of the whole and protect the whole, while not taking a side and injecting our energies; energies that may disrupt the whole, which knows how to change its shape with the changes – no matter how powerful the villains.

(Above: Figure 2 – The wholeness of the Dao and its origination and place in the perceived world of mankind)

Consider Figure 2, above. It shows the origin of our world – really the origin of the consciousness of our world. If ‘I’ am not here then this world is not here, either. ‘A world’ may be present, but it is not the world I know, nor would I be part of it… The greater question might be: would there be an I without the world to externalise?

If ‘I’ have power to do, then I can push the pendulum towards what I consider to be evil or good. Usually, people believe they are doing good despite the opposite opinions of others. The creation is the whole cone within the diagram.

When I push the pendulum, part of the creation with a sense of ‘I’ (separateness) is altering the internal balance of the creation, but not altering the container of the whole creation. The part of the creation with a sense of ‘I’ may think it knows better than the whole of the creation, but its real duty is to be a fully conscious part of the whole – the Dao – the ‘flowing way of rightness’.

34

Implications of the Tao are broad and extensive. Ubiquitous!
Capable of contravening and swaying anything left or right.
The myriad things depend on it yet it never turns its back away,
Fulfilling without recognitions.
Submitting to the myriad things without assuming ownership,
Always undesirable,
Thus be called modest;
Submerged by the myriad things without accepting ownership,
Thus be called great.
Hence the master foregoes greatness,
Therefore is capable of accomplishing great deeds.

(source)


Lao Tzu says that there is a loving intelligence flowing in the world – in creation. This loving intelligence is always in contact with the whole of the creation. It is like saying that there is a flowing medium that is the substance of the world – a very alchemical notion – and our ‘right’ relationship to it will only be shown us when we learn to SEE it as it IS, not as an abstract and habitual picture to react to.

In the Wilhelm translation, the person who achieves that seeing is named ‘The Man/Woman of Calling”, who ‘never makes himself look great’ and thus achieves a noble goal by being in harmony with the Dao.

This philosophy has caused great confusion over the ages since it was written (six hundred years BCE). Comprehension of it is based upon an understanding that ‘not-doing’ is not doing nothing. Not-doing might be re-termed not-reacting; or waiting to see what the world does with it without our intervention – yet remaining fully aware and empathetic to what is happening.

As though we were an (as yet unconscious) intrinsic part of this intelligent and loving energy. Which just might be the truth…

There are no definitive opinions, here. We are all free to decide that the Book of the Way means for us. These are my personal views. Like the I Ching, the Book of the Way (Dao Je Jing) makes for a wonderful daily dose of radical wisdom in what seems to be a tired world… or is it?

In the next post, we will consider the nature of the I Ching and its remarkable powers of divination.

13 May 2020

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Old One and the Gatekeeper (2)

The story of the Old One and the Gatekeeper told in Part One may be just that – a story. Or it may be the truth, turned into legend. Classical Chinese history places Lao Tzu as a 6th century BC contemporary of Confucius, and there are reliable records of their meetings. They were said to have great respect for each other’s work.

But, beyond his book, very little is known about the mysterious sage Lao Tzu, other than he was an imperial archivist in the outgoing Zhou dynasty in the 6th century BC.

In contrast, the story of Confucius is set (by himself) in a well-documented historical milieu. His heroes are the legendary figures of the past. In comparison with Lao Tzu who left no historical basis of his own existence, The Analects, compiled by Confucius’ disciples after his death, presents twenty volumes of work that weave their teacher’s life into China’s history.

Lao Tzu, the author of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) had no interest in such temporal things… he had other matters on his mind and in his heart. His quest was what we would now call a mystical one, and that is the reason I embarked on this difficult project – to put forward some hopefully helpful comparisons between the Book of the Way and modern mysticism. Lao Tzu is credited as being the father of Daoism, but scholars of philosophy find little similarity between his provocative and enigmatic writings and the animistic religion of present-day Daoism.

In terms of spirituality, Chinese antiquity focuses on the two great teachers Confucius and Lao Tzu. Our first posts will look at the work of the latter. Later, we will consider the part that the I Ching (Book of Changes) played and continues to play in the transmission of ancient oriental wisdom. Confucius did not create the I Ching, which was already an old and established system of divination when Lao Tzu wrote his book in the sixth century BC, but it was said he drew heavily on its for his own philosophy.

A detailed consideration of the life and work of Confucius is beyond the scope of this series of posts.

The two books: the Book of the Way and the older Book of Changes were not related and were different in their intentions. Confucius did not write the Book of Changes – I Ching – but it is considered to be far more Confucian than the Book of the Way written by Lao Tzu. There is a tendency in the west to consider the two traditions as related or even the same. But they are different.

However, the mixture of wisdom from the two sources informed Chinese thought and life for hundreds of years to such an extent that later extrapolations of meaning carry the flavour of both. The spirit of Confucianism was focussed on effective and moral behaviour, and good government. The spirit of Lao Tzu’s teachings was to step aside from traditional explanations of the world and look at it in an entirely different and radical way.

Lao Tzu was a spiritual revolutionary – though he sought no notoriety – and, in my opinion, was more similar to the much later mystical Sufis than any of his contemporaries. Tradition says he left China heading west, and is believed to have settled in India. There is no suggestion that he was instrumental in the establishment of Buddhism, which sprang from that region at the same time, but there are certain similarities of approach in how the two systems see our relationship with the world.

Nothing in Lao Tzu’s work suggests that he wanted himself to be remembered, but everything in his work is aimed at the retention of the thoughts, ideas and practices put forward in the 81 aphorisms of the Book of the Way – a set of wisdom texts that were to be consulted as such, and not used as the basis for divination in the way the I Ching was.

Richard Wilhelm, one of the most famous translators and interpreters of China’s ancient traditions, divides Lao Tzu’s translated work into three sections based on the the sage’s naming of the book, itself.

Dao De Jing translates, literally as Way-Life-Meaning

The three divisions are: The Way and The Life and then their combination, the Meaning. As a prelude we might consider two of the core considerations of the work: the nature of our relationship with the world; and, by inference, the nature of duality.

Lao Tzu’s work begins by instructing us in the nature of consciousness and the nature of its inherent duality.

Lao Tzu’s work begins by instructing us in the nature of consciousness and the nature of its inherent duality. These are necessarily subjective, as we each gain insight from the aphorisms appropriate to our understanding at the time:

The universe is undivided.

Only our way of perceiving it is divided.

Such division is necessary for us to come into the world and see it because we are of the world.

We are the world seeing itself and are capable of gradually realising our true relationship with it.

The societies into which we are born may resist our attempts to do this; and insist that we adopt the ruling dogma. This can be the hardest of tasks.

The diagram – my own – illustrates these points in terms of the establishment of duality. The universe – the whole – establishes ‘existence’: a field within which there will first be chaos. There is a purpose in the manifestation of the universe and this is served by the establishment of order over chaos. Mankind’s intelligence is expected to play its part in this task. S/he has been given a brain in order to use it in service to the universal cause, this is the primary belonging that should be borne in mind.

Mankind has been given a heart so that sympathy will be felt and become a motivator to assist others

We belong to this quest, not to our self-aggrandisment.

The One therefore divides itself, as seen from below. To itself it is whole and undivided; but chaos must now be mastered with order, with symbolic ‘light’.

The children of the One exist at their own levels, but they are also of the One and seen from above are undivided; that is, they carry the seed of greatness within them, a seed designed to germinate in the spirit of service to the group quest.

A ‘child’ looking back up at the universe sees only duality: it and the world. To see beyond this requires the intervention of the spark of the One within the child. There are certain conditions under which this will be favourable.

To be continued…

6 May 2020

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Old One and the Gatekeeper

Part One

The Old One crested the rise in the road and turned to look back at the land he had loved. If all went to plan, it would be the last time he saw his home.

The breeze that should have been summer-warm was cold and frigid, yet carried the warm stink of corruption. He could no longer breathe its air. He had to leave; had to find a new home for the few years that remained. The low nature of man had triumphed. Now, only nature, herself, could return the rotted civilisation to the country’s soil and make it fit for fresh seeds.

Ahead of him the final barrier to his exile loomed in the near darkness. The old tower that guarded entry and exit along the western road spanned the track, its heavy wooden gate lowered to forbid the unbidden. High up in a recess in the black stone, a single light burned. Had he been seen? The skin on the back of his head began its familiar sensation of ripples in the sand, as though an incoming tide was patterning his mind, as in the paintings he had seen of beaches…

There was no escaping the onset; in the other world, he was being eaten by the way, the path, the track… In the other world; the one that flowed over and alongside this seemingly fixed and rigid one. The one that was more real than this land of rocks could ever be.

Ahead of me a lamp in one of the high windows burns. The thought would not leave, the rippling scalp remained. Its signature was on this moment. There would be no escape from the payment demanded.

Before he could cross the short distance to the gatekeeper’s door, the heavy portal opened and a kindly face – at least as old as his – peered out, straining to see in the half-light.

“Is it you?” the voice croaked at his approach.

The Old One was startled… and began to laugh at the sentiment. Is it me, indeed?, he mused, tripping over an unseen stone by the roadside and landing in the dust at the other’s feet.

“It would appear to be me… arrived in all my diminishing glory.”

The Gatekeeper smiled down at him, extending his hand to a man he did not know, but had wanted to all his life. The Old One took it, grateful, and they came face to face.

“I saw you once, passing through the royal courts. You’re the Royal Archivist, yes?”

“I was…” The Old One replied, returning the gentle fire in the other’s eyes. Glad to be with a man he hoped would not only understand but become a friend. “Now I am nothing… and hope to stay that way…”

The Gatekeeper nodded. “Many now leave the realm by this west gate. Have no fear. My respect for you is as great as my thirst for your knowledge of the Way.” He looked down, embarrassed at what he was about to say. But the old eyes blazed with fire and resolution.

“I will give you food and shelter and in return I ask that you teach me a little of that understanding.”

“You cannot teach understanding,” the Old One said. “But I will pass to you some knowledge and we will see if you can begin the Way… for those whose first steps are firm may find the Way teaches them.”

The Gatekeeper nodded and they climbed the wooden stairs together – slowly, for the four legs had seen younger days…

——-

The warm fire smouldered in the grate. The wooden bowls contained only crumbs – and few at that. Before them, the two wooden goblets of huangjiu, the local yellow wine, lay untouched; to be savoured during the discourse to come. The Gatekeeper’s eyes were fixed on the Old One, but he said nothing to his guest, who appeared to be sleeping in his chair.

“I am not asleep,” the Old One remarked, eventually. “I am listening to the Way, and how it will approach the task of leaving you something meaningful.”

The Gatekeeper bowed and remained silent.

“Do you remember how I fell over the rock in the road?” The Old One smiled at the memory.

The Gatekeeper shook with mirth. “Solid things, rocks…”

The Old One’s head nodded. “More sense to go around it, had I seen it at all!”

The Gatekeeper was seized with a sudden depth of understanding. “And you speak, not just of that rock, perhaps Lǎoshī!”

The teacher smiled at the use of the formal name. “Good. The Way is a flow, it does not resist, for to resist is to increase the ‘me and it’ : the opposition of the situation. Action belongs to The Way, and so, in any situation, it will seek the flow by which the resistance is made small…When we are aligned with The Way, then we become it, in action – which is its own fulfilment.”

The Gatekeeper bowed his head, again, understanding. He was silent for a while, while the Old One watched. Then he asked, “How do I come to know The Way, Lǎoshī?”

“You must talk with it, Gatekeeper.” said the Old One. “You must read its thoughts and let them guide the changes in your life.”

“And how will I read those thoughts, Lǎoshī?”

“You will consult a book of its wisdom, and in that way become a Man of Calling.”

“And where will I find this book, Lǎoshī?”

“When you wake in the morning, you will find it waiting for you… Now drink your yellow wine and sleep.”

“And what will you be doing, while I sleep, Lǎoshī?”

“I will be writing the book!” said the Old One, furrowing his brows in mock anger.


When he awoke in the morning, the Gatekeeper found what became known as the Dao Book of the Way (Dao De Jing) on his table. There was no sign of his guest, whose last action was inaction – leaving no trace. No-one ever met Lao Tzu, (literally, the ‘Old One’), again, though many, including Confucius, had known and respected him.

In the next few posts, we will explore Lao Tzu’s astonishing legacy, beginning with some of the fundamental principles that informed his view of life, the universe and the meaning of ‘meaning”.

We will also look at the second such ‘book’ of ancient Chinese wisdom, the more familiar ‘I Ching’ – Book of Changes, and consider the process and power of divination using such treasure-chests of wisdom.

We’re all going to need access to wisdom in the coming years of turmoil – much as Lao Tzu did in the face of a collapsing society whose values had become meaningless.

30 April 2020

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Marking the Horizon

Our garden is south-facing, which is lovely when the sun shines, as we benefit from its rays through most of the day.

I’ve begun to write about the history of our ‘gunpowder’ village of Sedgwick in other posts. The old (drained) canal bed that runs through our garden has been a challenge to incorporate into a coherent design, but, a decade on, we seem to have achieved it.

One benefit of the garden’s orientation is that the evening sun sets along a ridge about a mile away. In winter and early spring we have a clear view of this progression, as each day gives it a little more clockwise distance along the horizon line. As the foliage on the far side of the canal grows with the maturing summer, the ridge becomes more difficult to see, but is always there to our right – given that the sun is visible at all…

The approach to midsummer is, for me, the most emotionally powerful time of the year. As a mystically inclined person, I marvel each year at the level of sheer ‘aliveness’ that permeates the summer air, particularly as the sun is setting over that far ridge and filling the Cumbrian world with a last blaze of gold as it sinks between the distant trees.

I take a lot of photographs, as you may know from previous posts. One of the delights of the summer is to poke a long lens towards that sunset and let the blends and reflections create Their own work of art. It doesn’t matter if the photo is not technically good. What matters is to bathe in the beauty of the blazing reds and oranges as they project through the wooden branches of the near and far trees and shrubs.

Beginning in late March, if the day is clear, I will often be found nurturing a final cup of tea on our patio (occasionally, something stronger) and snapping dozens of shots of the moments just before, and just after, the sunset. I throw away most of these, but the odd few are worth keeping… and on a correspondingly dark day in winter, provide some fuel for the soul and a sense of ‘hang on in there’. Cumbria has long, dark and wet winters, which makes the spring and summer all that more precious. Summer, itself, is not guaranteed, though we always have the intense green and the knowledge of summer.

I’ve often tried to express that glorious feeling of the gentle months. It’s not just the obvious warmth, though that is pleasant. There is also a softness to the air, and the sense that it is filled with a kind of creative energy. There is the sense that you are being pulled out of the body and into a state of merged being… I suspect that we all, as children, do this naturally, and that is why kids go crazy with energy and fun when the sun shines.

Really, it’s a state of just being. As a verb it doesn’t need an object: In that golden state, I don’t need to be anything… It’s bigger than that and I will dilute it if I restrict it to a something. That golden feeling of summer captures this. Just to be is the most powerful thing possible. Throughout mystical history, people have sought to express and symbolise this in different ways. The Christian world, for example, names the longest day the Feast of St John. John is viewed as the most mysterious and the most mystical of the Christian fathers, and, for me, the attribution fits well.

This year, Bernie and I have decided to create a permanent marker in the garden to show the alignment with the solstice and the Sun’s final point of zenith on the horizon. One of my sons and his wife bought me, for my birthday last year, an armillary sphere, otherwise known as a spherical astrolabe. This is a model of objects in the sky, based on the the celestial sphere above us, rather than the celestial globe, which is a smooth sphere that maps the constellations.

The armillary sphere consists of a spherical framework of rings, centred on the theoretical Earth or the Sun. It shows lines of longitude and latitude and other important features such as the ecliptic. Our intention is to design a setting for it whereby the arrow can point to the point of farthest progress of the Sun as it crosses the far ridge in its final moment of setting.

This marking of the horizon of the longest day is, of course, an ancient practice. The solstice has been associated with festivals of ‘full-nesss’ for as long as mankind has gazed at the heavens and given thanks for the energy than enables us to have food for our bodies. The harvest comes later. The energy of the Sun is, by then, embedded in what keeps our bodies alive.

We hope our marking of the horizon in this way will provide us a little ‘food for the soul’ as we inch towards the third week in June. This simple act of marking the horizon, will become very special in the weeks to follow.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Joyous Photograph

(Above: the first of four simple photographic techniques for making local walks very special…)

From a photographic perspective, we live in a wonderful age. Even the most humble of today’s mobile phones boasts a decent camera. Used within their limitations, we can achieve an amazing record of our days – even locally to our homes – with the use of a few simple techniques.

My wife and I, plus our cat and dog, are lucky to live in the countryside, just south of Kendal, in Cumbria. Like everyone else we are ‘locked down’ except for buying food and exercising our Collie dog. The emergence of the spring has been a welcome respite, and has enabled a wider choice of photographic opportunities.

In my experience, taking photographs is a deeply therapeutic activity. It gets you out of the house, and makes you focus on something very positive. For the shots I’ve used in this blog my criteria were:

1. To walk only a short distance from home. A typical morning dog walk takes us about two hours and sees us less than two miles away, as we meander and the collie gets lots of ball-chucking.

2. To photograph only objects that are commonplace. The essence of this kind of challenge is to find something special in the ordinary.

3. To use only my mobile phone to take the shots, leaving cameras with more sophisticated lenses at home. Generally this means that the emphasis will be on the close-up shot, but, as we shall see, there can be exceptions.

The opening shot, above, is at the farthest point of our walk. The path along the old canal bank takes a sharp left and dives down into a field with sheep. This removes the middle ground and opens up the perspective available. A few seconds spent exploring the composition through the viewfinder can reveal a pleasing mix of foreground and distant background – in this case, a faded view of the Lakeland hills to the north-west, contrasting with the old limestone and aged wood of the fence.

(Above: Sedgwick House – once a gunpowder mangate’s mansion)

The second image, above, is of Sedgwick House, in the middle of the village. Once the palatial home of a local gunpowder magnate, the gothic-style mansion has seen many roles; including army base and children’s home. Following a recent building conversion, Sedgwick House is now divided into luxury apartments.

I’ve photographed it many times, but today was the first time I’ve seen the light so perfectly balanced between the dappled area beneath the trees and the brighter approach to the building. The two tall trees should have interfered with the shot but, due to their helping frame the light effects, they have actually enhanced it.

(Above: the ‘skewed bridge’ in the centre of the village – this once carried the full weight of the canal across the main road)

The third shot is of the ‘skewed’ aquaduct in the centre of Sedgwick. What is now known as the ‘Lancaster’ canal once ran all the way into Kendal. The canal-carrying bridge was built using advanced stonemason techniques that allowed the shape to be bent. This avoided having to reshape the road into a ‘z’ bend. The photo deliberately emphasises the skewed right arm of the structure, thereby demonstrating its length. The tiny view into the continuing main street is a visual surprise in something so massive and dense.

(Above: the final shot – nature bursts out in the very special hue of spring green)

The final photo is simply a tree bursting with the unique green hue of the spring. It’s impossible not to feel joy in its presence – especially after such a long and muddy winter. Always look for the dappled light at the base of the tree – it’s a joyous as the green on a lovely day like this.

Four simple techniques and sample shots. Anyone can take such photos, and come back home feeling something deliberate and mindful was achieved in the daily exercise walk. In addition, the air is clear and beautiful, given that there is so little traffic on the roads. Get your camera out and take advantage while it lasts… It will give you a record to discuss with your grandchildren, if nothing else!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Line across the Moon

(Above: photo by the author)

The neighbour and I were speaking softly, last night, looking through the spring buds at the rising of the full moon. We were talking about the Covid-19 epidemic and its lockdown.

“I’ll be glad when this is over,” he mused

I nodded my agreement, but privately held other thoughts…

What exactly is ‘this’ I wondered? Have we really thought through what we are all going through?

Many things have come to a ‘harvest’ over the past few years, among them are:

The state of world politics has grown bleak. Particularly in the USA and the UK – which, not surprisingly, seem to be linked by far more than a common language and historic genes. So much that we took for granted as ‘the normal state of civilisation’ has been swept aside by the force, abuse of information and the power of the super-rich. We all seemed to take a breath and wait for the natural intervention of hidden guardians who would keep the faith with kindness and the kind of liberal values many of us thought were the established bedrock of our societies.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, that ‘old order’ seemed weak in its ability to do anything. Stronger, perhaps, in the home and communities that watched with horror as so much that had been hard-won was torn apart, as a wild dog might destroy a fine meal.

On another important issues, the general concern about ecology and looking after the Earth seemed subsumed by the single focus on a gas – carbon dioxide – now increasingly dubbed ‘evil’ despite being an utterly essential molecule of life. The complex relationships being modelled as ‘climate change’ have become so polarised that no alternative viewpoints are possible without being pilloried. I’m content to let the experts agree that their simulations, plus ‘much faster than ever before’ warming is taking place. But I’m not going to declare war on a gas that, until the start of the industrial revolution (1760 – 1840) had declined to such an extent that oxygen-breathing life on Earth was about to be threatened with extinction. Global warming may well be central, but our concern for the planet should be on a wider front…

Ironically, this is happening despite politics. Electricity generated from renewables (especially wind power) has now developed to such an extent that nuclear power is generally reckoned to have no future at all. I can only see this as an example of a much more potent ‘will of the people’ than the manipulation of political opinion during a once-in-five-years election that supposedly represents democracy. The alternatives to democracy are terrible, but are we really sure we have democracy in the first place?

And, now we have Covid-19. It’s a deadly ‘novel’ virus believed to emanate from bats via pigs in the ‘wet-markets’ of China. It has cut through the world’s societies without regard to any kind of status, wealth or privilege – though, like any illness, it infects the poor first, and hits them hardest. Most of the jobs being lost are lower paid ‘caring’ jobs that we’ve suddenly found so essential.

As I write this, the British Prime Minister is in intensive care in one of London’s top NHS hospitals, suffering from the deadly virus… in a country which has yet to begin to face the difficulties of ‘Brexit’ that lie ahead in our severed world.

And, it was this more that any other thing that has happened that made me think of a different level of meaning to what is changing all our lives.

My neighbour was staring at a beautiful full moon that had just emerged from behind the trees. It was so clear you could see its features with the naked eye. Quietly, he said, “It’s like someone has drawn a line across the moon… no-one can take their eyes off it.”

In that moment, I saw a new meaning to the Covid virus and its world-wide epidemic of misery and death. It was forcing us all, young and old, rich and poor, to think differently and as a single life-form.

The most potent part of this thought is the fragility of our world; not ‘world’ in the sense of nature – that will go on regardless of man’s waste, greed and folly – but ‘world’ as the way we live our daily lives.

The shock we are all feeling is a result of our previous way of life coming to an end, and of all of us staring into this face of the unknown ‘land’ where almost everything we took as inviolate is gone or dramatically changed… No longer will any British politician – regardless of ‘left’ or ‘right’ affiliation – be able to say that state money on a vast scale should not be spent from the country’s reserves to help people in need. That is already happening under the Conservative government’s own plan; recognising that those needy people are the very molecules of the economic system, itself – its life-blood.

All it took was a threat bigger than politics and more immediate than ‘climate change’.

That state of ‘gone’ may be temporary…or it may not. For the first time in living memory, nature has looked us in the face and dared us to survive. The scientific bits of how this happened are important. I’m not looking for some action of ‘God’ in this catastrophe. But, collectively, we are awakening in a world changed beyond belief in the shortest of timeframes. The power of this change makes politics look irrelevant. But perhaps the politics that might replace the stagnation of our present systems of government will find their birth in what the philosopher Gurdjieff would have called a ‘necessary shock’ to the system of regular rotation of events.

The archetypal ‘bully’ is on the floor, struck by a chance blow as we fell. But we can be first on our feet, and a changed and dramatic future may await those who can ride this energy of the new as the spectre of the world-virus fades from sight…but not from memory.

A ‘line across the moon’ indeed. Here’s to the sunrise…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.