If people want to do the finest thing in the world, nothing compares to learning. If they want to be the best of learners, nothing compares to learning the Way. Master Zhu said, “Learning is for seeking the Way; what is the use of learning otherwise?” Even professional promotion is something extraneous; what a pity is has corrupted so many people! The Tao Te Ching says, “To establish an emperor and set up high officials, one may have a great jewel and drive a team of horses, but that is not as good as advancing calmly on the Way.”
The Way is undefined, but when used, it is inexhaustible. Therefore superior people only study the Way: they look upon merit and fame, wealth and status, as floating clouds, letting them go and come without being moved by them while in their very midst.
If superior people only study the Way, is it because they gain some benefit? Yes, it is. What is that benefit? Those who study the Way study what is in the self. The mind can be broadened, the body can be benefited; sickness can be cured, death can be avoided. No benefits are greater than these.
Do people who study the Way actually gain these benefits and pleasures? If they do, then why do people of the world all get irritated when they see people who study the Way, considering them eccentrics or phonies? The Tao Te Ching says, “When superior people hear of the Way, they travel it diligently. When mediocre people hear of the way, they seem aware, yet are as if oblivious. When lesser people hear of the Way, they laugh at it out loud. What they don't laugh at couldn't be the Way.”
The Way is one and only one. On the celestial level it is called destiny; on the human level it is called essential nature. On the phenomenal level it is called principle.
This principle circulates throughout the world, appearing in daily activities. Every event and every thing has a natural principle, which cannot be dispensed with. Thus there is a principle whereby things are as they are; it cannot be altered, only followed.
Superior people observe things in terms of principle- right or wrong, good or bad, they deal with them accordingly. This is called selflessness. Selflessness results in objectivity; objectivity results in clarity. Clarity results in dealing with events accurately and comprehending the nature of things.
If you view things through your ego, then love and hatred arise uncontrollably, and you cannot avoid indulging feelings. When you indulge feelings, then you are being subjective. When you are subjective, you are ignorant. When you are ignorant, you are mixed up and confused; you are only aware of yourself, not of principle.
When there is principle, there is energy; when energy is manifest, principle is hidden. When there is energy, there is form; when form is manifest, energy is hidden. Principle is always balanced, whereas energy is partial; form is even more partial. Balance is good in all respects; there is something that is not good in partiality. If you want to convert what is not good in partiality to return to the goodness of balance, you must examine yourself closely on the brink of action.
Expand and fulfill what emerges from the balance of principle; cut off and eliminate what comes from the partiality of form. After a long time, principle will naturally remain, while desires will naturally disappear.
The principles of the world must be investigated, yet they cannot all be investigated completely. There is an essential point, which is to discern confusion in one's own mind. With discernment comes clarity; with clarity comes truthfulness. With truthfulness, the principles of the world are apprehended and centered poise is attained.
To know that the one good is balance and yet not to reach balance, to know all phenomena are mind and yet not to understand mind-this is confusion. To know the matter of birth and death is serious and yet not to realize birthlessness; to know impermanence is swift yet not to realize there is fundamentally no speed-this is confusion.
Principle is originally there; just call it to mind, and it is there of itself. Desire is originally not there; if you can just see through it, it disappears of itself. Stopping desire and keeping to principle are basically not two things; to the extent that you have stopped desire, to that extent you keep to principle. Nothing benefits people more than principle yet those who keep to principle are few. Nothing harms people more than desire, yet those who indulge desires are many.
When people have desires, it is like trees having insects; consumed within, before long they collapse. Those who think desire is fun do not realize desire is like fire; if you do not put it out, you will burn yourself. Your spirit will suffer from irritation; alcohol and sex will wear out your vital energy, producing illness and ulcers, so you cry out in pain day and night. Buddhists who say you suffer from your sins after death do not realize you already suffer while still alive.
Author unknown, 1739 Product of the Ming Dynasty
Excerpted from Taoist Meditation – Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body Thomas Cleary
The lines between Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen blur at times. When studying the essence, at heart they seem very much the same. What is clear is to stay true to one's original intention throughout a lifetime of practice. Practice comes in many more forms from life itself than any one teacher can provide. The test of one's strength in training is staying true to principle in each situation as it arises.
When we stray too far to the right, we just need to come back more to the left to balance ourselves. It's not as difficult as many make it out to be; it's also not as mysterious as many make it out to be. Probably that is why so many relate to Layman P'ang's words:
My daily activities are not unusual,
I'm just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing,
In every place there's no hindrance, no conflict.
What supernatural power and marvelous activity-
I draw water and carry firewood.
And as our anonymous author above states:
Nothing benefits people more than principle yet those who keep to principle are few.
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen