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.