On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

September 22, 1999

Climbing a Mountain, Crossing a River

Liu I-ming (1737-?)

When you climb a mountain, you put forth effort with every step, not resting until you reach the summit. When you cross a river you take care with every step, not relaxing your attention until you reach the other shore. Even if you have climbed a mountain nearly to the summit, if you leave off that last step to rest your feet, you are still on the way, not yet there. Even if you have crossed a river nearly to the other shore, if you take a single careless step, there is still danger.

What I realize as I observe this is the Tao of physical effort to carry out the Way.

The Great Way is hard to know, so you are lucky if you come across it and know about it, and your efforts should be to really put it into practice, to actually tread the Way to its completion, thereby repaying your debt to whoever taught you about it.

Do not let a little bewilderment make you change your mind, do not let a little experience of its effect induce you to relax your work. Do not let a little material hardship divide your mind, do not be discouraged that your strength is insufficient. Do not have false imaginings about attainment of the Great Way, do not fear that the road is long. Keep going with steadfast determination, keeping your attention on the Way, going straight forward, and naturally a day will come when you arrive.

This is like putting out effort every step of the way when climbing a mountain, finally to reach the summit; like paying attention every step of the way when crossing a river, finally to reach the other shore.

Liu I-ming (1737-?)

excerpted from Awakening to the Tao by Liu I-ming, translated from the Chinese by Thomas Cleary

Awakening to the Tao is a collection of meditations formulated by Liu I-ming, one of the most adept Taoist writers of early modern times. Liu does not seem to have begun writing on Taoism until the 1790’s, when he was already nearly sixty. He continued to write until around 1826, nearly 30 years. Awakening to the Tao, dating from 1816, when he was nearly 80 years old encapsulates a lifetime of work and contemplation in over a hundred brilliant chapters.

Whether we live in the mountains, the city, or that place in between, many of us have felt the immensity of the natural world we live in and long to learn the principles of the Way from nature. Few have the receptivity and ability to truly quiet themselves to learn in this manner. Fewer still claim to teach in this way.

While the above selection approaches a kind of learning from nature, there is still a filter between natural phenomena and the perceiver. There is still an interpretation being placed on a nonverbal kind of learning. A step has been skipped. What about that which is so vast that the mind is stilled and finally becomes quiet enough to see and feel a new perspective?

The mountain was in the stream, both on the surface and in the glittering white of the polished stones in the streambed – reflecting easily despite the rapid flow of the current.

You looked up and its snowy white mass seemed to have doubled in size. You had to turn your head now to see it all. It was the purest white you had ever seen and it floated in the blue sky. The day was incredibly fresh and clear and you walked in it, step by step, each step complete in and of itself; each step the beginning of a leap into the infinite present.

The mountain enfolded you, and though you didn’t look back you listened back to hear the raven yelling in the meadow. The mind stopped, stunned and still. You walked through the silence toward the mountain, each step a leap into the deep silence, which is always present, always unfolding, always mutely offering its giant hand.

– Journeys on Mind Mountain

Let’s first loosen the skin barrier between us and the world; soften and learn to listen in a new way. While the natural world has become quite a playground for those with the time and resources to visit, what about the immensity of the teaching of mountains and trees? What about moving on now to a world so much larger than the last “experience” of the outdoors?

In this lies the greatest challenge outdoors.
Something hidden, go and find it. 

Listening to the evening breeze,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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