Daily TAO – March 31st – Longevity

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Contemplate in the morning.
Pull weeds in the afternoon.
The joys and labor of a single day
Are part of a whole journey.

If all you want is spiritual realization, it isn’t that difficult.  For the average person, a dozen years under the guidance of a good teacher will probably give it to you. That’s shorter than what it takes to be a good musician, athlete, or artist. It’s even shorter that the time it will take you to collect your pension. If you have the good fortune to study with the right person, you can succeed in a relatively short amount of time.

But after you get it, then what? Many of us place such an emphasis on attaining realization that we may forget to put it in context. What actually matters is to walk Tao, maintaining vitality until we meet our end in a timely way. Spiritual realization is essential, but it is not everything.

A starving person dwells inordinately on the thought of food.  Likewise, a spiritually hungry person can only think of realization. One who has food can place it in the right context, just as one who has understanding can place it in the correct perspective. Followers of Tao therefore do not emphasize enlightenment as an ultimate goal. For them, realization is a means, not an end. Their emphasis is on the act of living. They use the word longevity, not because they want to live forever, but because it symbolizes their determination to live the entire course of their lives well.

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Daily TAO – March 30th – Disengagement

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Wearily I open my prayer book,
Sepia photograph of sage on amber page,
Flaming raven Sanskrit, strange syllables,
Intone, chant, repeat.
Number vows with beads:
Every resolution is inspiration petrified.

There are some days when one is disengaged from Tao, not interested in devotion, and everything just becomes an empty form. Gone are spiritual bliss, deep insight, and integration with the rhythm of the universe. Instead, there is duty, form, and stiff discipline. One can try to remember the reasons for one’s quest, think of the achievements of the past, reaffirm one’s goals, and still not be inspired to do one’s practice. What do you do?

Every once in a while, it is permissible to skip things for a day.  If you are angry, under great stress, or ill, then it is best simply to rest. But if one has made vows, if it is only a matter of laziness or indifference, then you must exert your discipline and practice even if it means that you are just going through the motions. In at least half the cases, something significant will happen. The rest of the time, going through your forms is in itself a good practice. It builds a tremendous momentum that will manifest itself in later times.

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Daily TAO – March 29th – Interpretation

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The sage whose words are ambiguous you call great.
Those who advocate discipline you shun.
With one, you treat words the way you want.
With the other, you resent having no quarter.

It is unfortunate that we need the words of the wise. Though they are essential to our beginnings on a spiritual path, they can cause problems because they must be interpreted to be understood. Because words are imperfect, every generation rewrites itself.

People love ambiguity, especially when it comes to religion. They can interpret things any way they want. If they are unhappy with the cast given to a particular teaching, they invent ways to circumvent it, which is why we have so many authorities, schools, and sects.

It is no accident that the most revered sages are dead. They aren’t around to correct our misguided notions, to change their teachings, or even to make mistakes that might mitigate our reverence. Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Lao Tzu — how many of us are actually devoted to the wisdom that they embodied? Or have we made them mere screens upon which we project our own ideas?

It is important to spend time with a living teacher, one who can correct mistakes and discipline you. But the object of such study should not be the creation of a new orthodoxy. Rather, your goal should be to bring yourself to a state of independence. All teachings are mere references. The true experience is living your own life. Then, even the holiest of words are only words.

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Daily TAO – March 28th – Intergration

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Be still to know the absolute.
Be active to know the outer.
The two spring from the same source,
All of life is one whole.

In stillness, one seeks the absolute Tao. There is neither beauty nor ugliness in it. Because it has no opposites, it is called absolute.  By contrast, nothing of this world is absolute, because all things that we experience are relative.

Seeking the absolute may be among the greatest goals, but you cannot remain on your meditation cushion forever. You must go out and explore life as well. This is the investigation of the outer Tao — that aspect of Tao that flows through all existence. You must not fail to explore anything that interests you. Any skill you want to master should be learned. Any subject that arouses curiosity should be examined. Every insecurity should be overcome. Every question should be answered. If you do not do this, then you cannot freely flow with the outer Tao: Every one of your uncertainties will be an obstacle.

Initially, it will seem as if there is no connection between your time meditating and the outer things in your life. After all, the masters themselves constantly stress the difference between the spiritual and the social. But eventually, you will reach a point where the quiescence of contemplation and the activeness of living are integrated. Then there is no anxiety about whether one is living a spiritual life or not. You realize that it is all part of the same seamless whole.

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Daily TAO – March 27th – Images

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Sound, smell, taste, image, touch, sleep.
Can you think without clinging to these forms?
A thought without shape is rare,
Knowledge of Tao rarer still.

Our mind needs to cling to some object in order to function in its usual modes. If you look at your memories, you will find that most are tied to some sensory image. The thought of being in the country brings up a certain fragrance. You “see” relationships in a certain way. We may do math problems, or compose something to say to our companions, but we will still think in numbers and words.

Some people make the mistake of rejecting this type of thinking, but we need to use these modes in order to function in the everyday world. When it comes to knowing Tao, thought tied to sensory images is not enough to bring complete realization. Dualistic thinking cannot be used to know Tao. But don’t discard it as long as ordinary functioning in the world is necessary.

When one meditates, one must use an aspect of consciousness that does not cling to external forms. This type of consciousness is beyond the senses. Some call these states of mind superconsciousness, samadhi, nirvana, or enlightenment. These are mere names. All that matters is getting to these states. Then all labels fall away.

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Daily TAO – March 26th – Retrospective

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You could labor ten years under a master
Trying to discern whether the teachings are true.
But all you might learn is this:
One must live one’s own life.

When one starts out learning a spiritual system, there are many absolute assertions that the masters make. These must be accepted with a provisional faith: Each must be tested and proved to yourself before you can believe in them. You will be exposed to all types of esoteric knowledge, but you need only be concerned with whether or not you can make them work for yourself.

There will come an intermediate, joyous point where you find that certain techniques work even better than the scriptures claim. In the wake of these discoveries, you will also find that life continues to be just as thorny and problematic as ever. Does this mean that the stud of Tao is useless? No. It only means that you have been laboring to equip yourself with skill. You must still go out and live your life to the end.

When you look back and realize that you have absorbed the teachings so thoroughly that they have become routine, it is not the time to reject the system you have learned. It is the time to utilize what you have learned. You must express yourself, take action in the world, create new circumstances for yourself and others. Only then does the long acquisition of skill become worthwhile.

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Angelina Jolie vamped things up at the LA premiere of Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2005

 

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Daily TAO – March 25th – Intellect

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Scholars, drunk on words and obscure meanings,
Weave a tangled web of concordances.
Simple practice never occurs to them.
Give up education, and the world will be better.

There are many who seek Tao through the intellect. They revel in thousands of concordances, seek similarities in all the world’s religions, conduct learned discourses for enthralled audiences. But they would reach the truth faster if they tied their thoughts to experience.

The intellect is inherently dualistic. It makes distinctions and creates new connections between concepts and calls that “meaning.” This type of analytical thinking is extremely limited in the face of Tao, which is not fully rational, not fully quantitative, not fully describable. Though most followers of Tao are learned, they also realize that the intellect is but one aspect in what must be a multifaceted approach to Tao.

It is said one must give up on education, not because we should be dumb, but because we must seek a level of consciousness beyond the intellect. We must study, but not to the point that emphasis on experience and meditation is lost. If we can combine the intellect and direct experience with our meditative mind, then there will be no barrier to the wordless perception of reality.

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Daily TAO – March 24th – Parting

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You and I assumed forever
When we became companions.
But now, unhappy, you are leaving.
The sky turns to bitter candescence
Unslaked by resignation.

There are times when we have been lucky enough to have companions on our spiritual path, but the time of parting often comes without welcome. When our friends decide to leave, we are often left with doubt, confusion, and sometimes guilt. Anyone may leave the path. They won’t suffer damnation; they will only walk a different path.

The rule for those who follow Tao is this: Walk the path together as long as you can, and when you must part, never hold your companion back.

Should one seek to have no feelings at all regarding friends? After all, the sages constantly warn against attachment. Yet emotion is part of what makes us human. We may understand philosophically why a companion must leave, but we need not deny our feelings as we walk on alone.

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Daily TAO – March 23rd – Attunement

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Traversing sun leads to a new season,
Vernal breath attunes the leaves.

Tao is here. It is we who are not always in harmony with it.
Tao proceeds on its own way. It is we who are not ready to follow.
Tao is absolutely sure in its movement. It is we who involve ourselves in amusements.
Tao has no consciousness, yet it is supreme. It is we who think compulsively.

Therefore, tuning ourselves to Tao is the basic task. We must make ourselves the perfect instrument, much in the way a beautiful harp has all its strings adjusted. If we are less than perfect, how will we harmonize with the universal music? Once we are attuned, we can become open to Tao. Where it leads, we follow without hesitation. Just as a musician expresses individual talent and understanding and yet blends with the swelling magnificence of the orchestra, so too does the follower of Tao remain human and yet in harmony with the universal.

When the sun begins its new pattern, spring follows. The air warms, and the world rejoices. A new breath comes over all things, and even the trembling leaves are attuned to the vernal rhythm. Turn your face to the sun, as flowers know how to do. Turn your face to Tao, as we should all do.

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Daily TAO – March 22nd – Sailing

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Infinite expanse, sleek ocean teaming with life,
Turbulent, virile, ever-moving spread,
Seamlessly laid to the brilliant sky,
I float on you in my fashioned womb,
Sustained against your green-black depths.
Those on land never understand maritime life.
Those of the sea are intimate with your moods;
They navigate but are ultimately helpless.
Destinations become useless, drifting the sole reality:
A sailor’s fears dissolve into acceptance.

Tao is sometimes compared to the ocean. Its depth is immeasurable, its power rules all who enter it. We seek to sail it with our knowledge of knots, direction, mathematics, and charts, yet our understanding is incomparable to its vastness. The young have great ambitions about exploring both above and below the surface, while the old have given in:  They know that there is no other alternative than to accept the ocean and float upon it. One who accepts is sustained. Those who go beyond its terms meet death. Thus the wise say that they float here and there without care; they trust in the overwhelming power of Tao.

 

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