On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

August 16, 2005

Heaven and Earth

Author unknown, 1739

The Great Way is formless; the universe is the Way with form. The universe itself does not speak; sages are a universe that can speak. I did not get to see the sages, but I have read their classic writings. By reading their classic writings, one can understand their principles; how is that different from seeing the sages?

The One creates our bodies and bestows our nature. Inside and outside both emanate from the One. We are within the Way, and the Way is in our hearts. If we observe the universe and emulate its wisdom, this is not different from the Great Way.

The path of humanity is always coordinated with heaven and earth in the alternation of movement and stillness. Human energy is always in communion with heaven and earth in the alteration of exhalation and inhalation.

Human Life

People today only know they are offspring of their parents; they do not realize that they and their parents are all offspring of the Way. Therefore superior people invariably seek to attain the Way.

Master Geng said: “The Way of the wise kings Wen and Wu has not yet collapsed; it is in people. It was not only in the people of the past; it is also in people of the present age. It is not only in people of the present age; it will also be in people of the future.” When a person is born, a person has one body; in each body is a real human being. The spiritual subtlety of a real human being communes with heaven and earth; the clarity and calm of a real human is free from dust. The real human has never grown more or less; the real human being has never died or been born. If you can just nurture the real human being, this will be better than a pauper obtaining ten thousand pieces of gold.

Mencius said, “The difference between human and animals is slight; common people obliterate it, superior people maintain it. Those who maintain it become sages; those who obliterate it become beasts.” When they obliterate it, they turn into beasts right away, not in another life after death.

Old Age

People all say that after sixty you age year by year; after seventy, you age month by month; after eighty, you age day by day. I am more than eighty years old, now what? From now on, each day I live is a day lent by Heaven for the Way. How dare I waste it? Even if I attain the Way right now, it is already late; how could it be admissible to delay any further?

A long time ago three elders were talking about impermanence. One elder said: “Of those who attend this year's party, who knows who will be missing next year?” Another elder said, “What you're talking about is far away. When we take off our shoes and socks tonight, we don't know whether or not we will put them on again tomorrow.” The third elder said, “What you're talking about is still remote. When we exhale each breath, we don't know if we will breathe in again.”

The wise do not lose time, the brave do not think twice. If you get to know the Way today, you should set to work this very day; when you know, that is the time to start. If you say do not have the leisure today and will wait for another day, I'm afraid that when you want to do it, you won't be able to anymore.

Human beings have three treasures: Vitality, Energy, and Spirit. In old age, beware of exhausting vitality; when vitality is exhausted, you die. In old age, beware of leaking energy; if energy is drained, you die. In old age, beware of dissociation of the spirit; if the spirit is gone, you die.

How can you avoid exhausting vitality? Is it necessary to stay away from sex? How can you avoid leaking energy? Is it necessary to speak little? How can you avoid dissociation of spirit? Is it necessary to be desireless? The spirit cannot be stabilized by force; when the mind and breathing rest on each other, then the spirit naturally stabilizes. Energy is not to be drained casually; forget words and keep centered and energy is not drained. Vitality is not to be lost through leakage; recirculate vitality to replenish the brain, and vitality does not leak.

Some ask, when people age and their physical energy has deteriorated, how can it be replenished? By being careful of your speech you can replenish your lungs. By moderating food and drink you can replenish your stomach. By stopping worry you can replenish your heart. By getting rid of anger you can replenish your liver.

Look at the plants and trees; their foliage flourishes, then drops in late autumn, returning to the roots, as a natural pattern. Returning to the root, it does not die but regenerates come springtime. From this principle we can see that endless regeneration is the Way of nature, while returning to their roots is the inherent pattern of beings. Those who know the inherent pattern and do not violate the Way are real people. That is why “real people breathe from their heels.” The heels are like the root. During the three months of winter, which is the season of return to the root, you should quietly nurture this.

Author unknown, 1739

Excerpted from Taoist Meditation – Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body Thomas Cleary

Like native people everywhere the Taoists learn from nature and seek to be in harmony with Flow. Learning from Nature for them is not like applying principles of Darwinism, but something that incorporates a sense of mystery and oneness. For “civilized” people learning from nature can sound quaint or primitive, but it is more a reflection of how far we have come from living in harmony with the natural world.

Each of us is attracted to a different doorway of learning about the Way. Some yearn to return to a more grounded sense of Being through direct experience; some are content with pathways that have been laid down by others through the years. Tried and true techniques seem guaranteed to work on our paths to Enlightenment. So it depends on one's vasanas which path will draw one forward. However, whatever path one chooses, we need to keep our lights on in our quest. Too often a practice can become stale or more habitual rather than vital.

Whatever our practice we want to stay alive and present in it….

It was almost dark on an early summer evening, and the forest was never more enchanting than now, at dusk. At dusk the mountain begins to withdraw its force back into itself and become quiescent. If you too become quiescent, so still that you can't even think of your name, you can feel this as a palpable fact.

Just become so still that your mind won't be bothered to remember the mundane, and then you'll feel it like the shifting of the winds. Then you'll know when the mountain changes from exhaling to inhaling. That's not so important in itself, but the mind that is quiet enough to notice, is.

The mind that is not always caught up in detail is your only treasure. Stop chasing details and become still. The mind that sees details clearly but is not caught by them is like a vast, borderless mirror. That mind does not oppose itself.

Journeys on Mind Mountain 

Listening to the breeze,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

Recent Journals

Journal Archives