Facing the Blank Page–The Unfolding of Tao

Here’s another interesting set of thoughts from my Morning Pages. It speaks to creativity, wu wei, and insight around our interdependent arising with everything.

Eating brunch–well, soon to be. It’s been a couple days, journal. I hope that this day is beautiful for all sentient beings out there and that those going through the wakes of storms and disasters suffer not at the misfortunes of the world’s changes.

Anyway, I don’t know what to write about again. That’s the first time I’ve said that in a while. Isn’t that wonderful: the thrill and anxiety of the blank page? What will come out? Who knows! As long as one resides in this appreciative, open view, it’s truly a joy to face the blank page. Then it becomes an act of faith in the process, a creative lightning bolt of positivity, and an easy flow along with the unfolding of what is in this moment. That’s right (write? ūüôā )–it’s an action of wu wei. Mastery is only important insofar as to have the skill to flow along without resistance.

So the question is not: what do “I” create (i.e. what do “I” as masterful agent do?)? Rather, it is a letting be of the creative process.

My thoughts and easy smile seem at odds with the liveliness of the little cafe right now, but that just invites me to smile wider. How many creative moments will unfold today as I go through the ebb and flow of deeds and feelings? How many people’s lives will I come into contact with, even just in passing as two apparent egos passing in the night? Such moments of pause are truly a wonder–if thoughts about consumption, desires, aversions, etc. don’t pull you away from the thought experiment.

Stop. Contemplate: how many myriad lives are in this room with me right now? Don’t stop at the obvious–you and other people. There are bacteria, insects, dust mites! Billions of little specks of life pop in and out of existence around and¬†inside¬†of you all the time. They come and go–emptiness manifested and reformed to another manifestation. This is¬†Tao–the 10,000 things and the mother of the 10,000 things. On a larger level, there are 100s, 1,000s, 1,000,000s of people in your city, state, country, and 1,000,000,000s around the world. Then, there are countless planets, stars, galaxies. Don’t worry about your little passing desires. Stop and see your unfolding in this miracle, and hold this insight in your engagement with all of the unfolding. One mind–no separation.


“It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call¬†your own should have sprung forth into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically¬†one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. But not in¬†this sense–that¬†you are a part, a piece, of an eternal, infinite being, an aspect or modification of it, as in Spinoza’s pantheism. For we should have the same baffling question: which part, which aspect are¬†you? What, objectively, differentiates it from the others? No, but inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you–and all other conscious beings as such–are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but it is in a certain sense the¬†whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in a single glance. ”

The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the universe–only the “single glance” of our spotlight, narrowed attention, which has been taught to confuse its glimpses with separate “things” must somehow be opened to the full vision, which Schr√∂dinger goes on to suggest:

“Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not¬†once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you thousands of times over. For eternally and always there is only¬†now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”

–From Alan Watts’¬†The Book¬†pp. 98-99;¬†Quoted sections herein originally from: Erwin Schr√∂dinger’s¬†My View of the World pp. 21-22.

May this help you see beyond you as an island, an ego amidst all–controlling creativity as a forceful act of “I”, “me”, and “mine”.


The Tile/Mirror Paradox

Here’s another unexpectedly delightful swim through deep waters in a set of Morning Pages. I added the last paragraph to pull out that one missing piece (due to the page-length restriction of the original writing), but it’s otherwise just a free flow of thoughts (with one quote I¬†really wanted). Enjoy!

No expectations. Can you let go of them? This moment is rife with possibility, with intricacy, with intensity. Can you experience it without mental filters of what it should be?

Sounds easy enough: right? It isn’t. We are always already running with “should”, concepts, and fantasies. They are the norm so much that we do not even realize their constant operation and that there is an alternative to it.

Yet we are also always already living right in the middle of enlightenment. It’s all around us. We’re part of it–no separation, but we have to stop and see it.

“When Baso told his teacher that he sat in zazen because he wanted to become a buddha, his teacher immediately picked up a tile and began to polish it.
–“How can your polishing make that tile a mirror?” asked Baso.
–“How can your zazen make you a buddha?” asked his teacher.””
–Dainin Katagiri, from You Have to Say Something

This zen parable lights the way. The point is not that zazen is pointless. Rather, zazen is the only point. It is the actualization of the fundamental point. It is enlightenment itself–yet it does not make us buddhas. How so?

What is the difference between the tile and a mirror? What is the difference between a person and a buddha? This much is clear: one does not become the other–as though some alchemical transformation of lead to gold, two fundamentally different elements. If zazen does not make one into a buddha, what does it do?

Is it “doing” anything–this practice of just this, just sitting? –What does a buddha “do” for that matter? Is he some great transcendental subject that obtains the knowledge of the ultimate Object–the Universe, Life, Death, Suffering, Happiness? If we think of it this way, we will labor on, polishing, polishing, polishing, not realizing that we can never make that tile into a mirror.

Yet this zen paradox is more subtle and more elaborate than that. We see the need to polish the tile, deluded into thinking it will become a mirror. What we don’t recognize is that we are already a mirror. The action, the not-doing, the¬†wu wei is seeing this and reflecting the light as one process–no separation, just enlightenment, contained as it might be with the rim of confusion and delusion (as Dogen would tell us–enlightened ones still live in delusion). The point is that we need to see that we are dusty, unreflecting mirrors already. Then the question is no longer–how do I become a mirror as a tile (an impossible task), rather what is shining enlightenment? It is¬†prajna; it is compassion. It is right here, right now–everywhere, always. Then, the path is just sitting with this. It is precisely: not polishing.


May this elucidate practice as not doing.
May All be happy.
May All be healthy.
May All be at peace.
May All live with ease.


A Musing on “Wu Wei”

Here’s another trip through the musings of Morning Pages. Enjoy!

Anyway, there is a lot to be thankful for in this moment. I’m in a gorgeous part of the world. I have great coffee at hand as well as delicious Greek yogurt. I’m young. I’m smart, and I have the good fortune of being able to learn of the¬†Dharma. There is no time to waste getting caught up in hormonal chaos. I could die at any moment. Practice is paramount.

That makes me think about¬†wu wei. Most think of this as inaction or a bit more subtly, “doing without doing”. The thing is, it doesn’t mean “doing nothing”. It’s more like a rethinking of proper action. For the most part, we think of ourselves as Masters of the Universe, and by the power of Greyskull, anything that opposes our sense of the way things should be must be smote through “MY” action as agent who shapes the universe to “MY” will. The Tao Te Ching says multiple times that those things built by force and will come to an early end. They come to be from delusional thought–a cosmological navel gazing that puts undue importance on my place in the universe and overlooks how I am a part of it all–it’s a view that aspires for permanence, security and grandness. “I”, in truth, am just a momentary coming together of stardust, dancing and shining on this small orb in a backwater solar system. “My existence” lasts for what would be less than a heartbeat from the universe’s perspective.

Unlike this agent-centered push to dominate nature,¬†wu wei is action that flows along with the universe’s unfolding. It is¬†action, but action that correctly sees “my” place in the universe and acts along with the universe, rather than against it.


May this help you see how to act in accordance with the Truth of the universe–wu wei.


“Whatever arises”

This is another passage taken from a recent morning pages session. Again, I’ve skipped past some initial words to get to the insightful part.

So, I feel a bit tired this morning–also due to a couple extra hours at work last night. However, I’m glad to show up again today, no matter what arises. “Whatever arises” is a mantra I’ve had in mind a lot recently. Ultimately, I feel that it captures the liberation from samsara of the Buddha way. The Buddha resides in the burning house. The Buddha’s path doesn’t lead to some special place beyond the world we live in or transcend it through some sort of sleight of hand: appearing here but residing elsewhere. No, the Buddha experiences nirvana in samsara. He merely presides with joy, with loving-kindness, calm-abiding,¬†no matter what arises. In explaining equanimity like this to friends, they misunderstood it as complacency. I understand why one might think that, but that’s not it. The Buddha is not telling us to not walk a path, to not cultivate certain ways or positions. Reading¬†The Dhammapada quickly makes it clear that the Buddha way requires an ongoing engagement that prefers the greater joy over the lesser. However, a great part of this joy is in meeting the challenges of change and the snares of Mara with a peaceful smile–nonattachment to conditions being any particular way. Come what may; whatever arises.

It may be easy to rail against this again, but a look at the¬†Tao Te Ching or even the Stoic works of Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius would bring us to similar, if not the same, conclusions. Equanimity does not mean non-action or passivity: complacency. Imagine Buddha walking across India again and again for 45 years after his enlightenment, teaching everywhere he went. Imagine Marcus Aurelius writing his “Meditations” at night on the battlefront.¬†Wu wei, the right action of skillful means, requires seeing reality as it is–the unfolding flux of¬†Tao, emptiness’ dance–and flowing with that change without attachment. This is doing without doing: not forcing the world, rather acting along with whatever arises. It’s not inaction or reactivity; rather, it’s working in accordance with nature, a properly attuned action with¬†Tao. This is a key to the Way of the Sage, the Way of the Buddha, and the Way of the Lover of Wisdom (a¬†philosopher).


For comparisons with the comments on¬†wu wei at the end, look at my posts on the¬†Tao Te Ching, particularly: Tao a Day–Verse 8: In Accordance with Nature, Tao a Day–Verse 26: Inner Virtues, and Tao a Day–Verse 63: Doing without Doing.

May this inspire you to be at peace, whatever arises.


Nothing to Do…

If, if, if…
A set of checkboxes
Mark them all, and…
Get happiness?
Even a spiritual path–
A pursuit of spiritual materialism
An accumulation of ego
The doing of an “I”
“My attainment”
A misperception
Of Truth
“I” am not solid–an illusion
The word, a placeholder,
A Transcendental Unity of Apperception
My “Higher Self”?
Not like anything conventionally conceived:
The ebb and flow of everything
Not separate from it-
A divine chaos–unfolding
The beautiful, empty, mysterious Tao
Emerging-abiding sway of all difference
The path: There’s nothing to “do”
Nowhere to “go”
Enlightenment is here: in this moment
Nirvana in samsara
Just live: realize this one step.


Inspired by a wonderful meditation this morning and all the wise things I regularly read: in this case, I’ve been particularly moved by Dainin Katagiri’s You Have to Say Something. This passage clarifies some of the final lines:

So, how can we practice zazen as an end in itself? All you have to do is take a step. Just one step. Strictly speaking, there is just one thing we have to face, and nothing else. If you believe there is something else besides this one thing, this is not pure practice. Just take one step in this moment with wholeheartedness. Intellectually, we think about the past and the future, but if we take one step, this shore and the other shore are now. Taking one step already includes all other steps. It includes this shore and the other shore. This one step is zazen.

I’ve also been amazed by a recent find of Loy Ching-Yuen’s The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao. I would put it up alongside the¬†Tao Te Ching¬†and the¬†Dhammapada; it’s a beautiful intertwining of Taoism and Buddhism written by a true master from about a century ago. I plan on writing about several passages in the future. For now, enjoy these selections from the sections On Tao:

3. Life is a dream,
the years pass by like flowing waters.
Glamour and glory are transient as autumn and smoke;
what tragedy–for with the sun set deeply in the west,
still there are those
lost among paths of disillusionment.

Our heart should be clear as ice.
Forget all the worldly nonsense.
Sit calmly, breathe quietly, heart bright and spotless as an empty mirror.
This is the path to the Buddha’s table.

5. What labor we expend sorting out our mundane chores year after year.
But doing them without regret or tears,
without resistance,
that’s the real secret of¬†wu wei
like the mountain stream that flows unceasingly:
Elsewise, all we do goes for nought.

We can hold back neither the coming of the flowers
nor the downward rush of the stream;
sooner or later, everything comes to its fruition.
The rhythms are called by the Great Mother,
the Heavenly Father.
All the rest is but a dream;
We need not disturb our sleeping.

To see his brilliant fusion of Buddhism and Taosim better, compare this quote with my analysis of¬†wu wei here and my analysis of the¬†famous lines about flowers falling in DŇćgen’s¬†GenjŇćkŇćan¬†here.
Finally, my words here make subtle references to Ch√∂gyam Trungpa, Immanuel Kant, Martin Heidegger, and Gilles Deleuze, and this meditation and wordplay would never have come to be if I hadn’t recently read the Dalai Lama’s¬†How to See Yourself as You Really Are, all of which (these myriad sources!) I highly recommend to anyone willing to begin a spiritual path with heart.

May this inspire your own investigations and journeys along the path, fellow wanderers. May you find ideas to play with and solace in the beautiful words of all these masters who have brought these insights into my life.


Tao a Day — Verse 63: Doing without Doing

Let’s approach this verse in two pieces. We’ll compare the Red Pine and Jonathan Star translations for each piece in that order:

Act without acting
work without working
understand without understanding
great or small[,] many or few
repay each wrong with virtue
– Trans. Red Pine

Act without acting
Give without giving
Taste without tasting

Tao alone becomes all things great and all things small
It is the One in many
It is the many in One

Let Tao become all your actions
then your wants will become your treasure
your injury will become your blessing.
– Trans. Jonathan Star

It’s always interesting to see how different translations of this classic have been approached, and the power of Red Pine’s translation is to get it down to one without artistic interpretation: a simple, bare-bones, as close to the original as possible translation without embellishment. The quote from his translation here boils this down; act without acting in all instances and with everyone, no matter how they treat you. Do this by repaying wrong with virtue. However, what are we to make of the very enigmatic opening lines? Luckily, his book also has chosen commentary from Chinese masters throughout the ages. I found these two bits of commentary quite helpful. Ho-Shang Kung, a Taoist master from around 100 B.C., says: “To act without acting means to do only what is natural. To work without working means to avoid trouble by preparing in advance. To understand without understanding means to understand the meaning of the Tao through meditation.” Sung Ch’ang-Hsing, a seventh patriarch of the Dragon Gate and Taoist master from the 1700s, says: “To act without acting, to work without working, to understand without understanding is to conform with what is natural and not to impose oneself on others. Though others treat sages wrongly, the wrong is theirs and not the sages’. Sages respond with the virtue within their hearts. Utterly empty and detached, they thus influence others to trust in doing nothing.” ¬†These two pieces of commentary make this short section shine. It fits well with my previous discussion of Verse 8 (What I called: “In Accordance with Nature”), and it also fits with a previous post (in terms of doing what is natural and not imposing oneself on others and the world): Control and Letting Go. The doing without doing,¬†wu wei, is acting in appropriate resonance with the nature of things–situations as they present themselves. It is not about imposing your own will on the world and making it conform to you. The Sage does not see such a separation, and the¬†Tao Te Ching¬†speaks in passage after passage about how that which is gained by force does not last very long: it comes to an early death. Hence, the way to live forever (or live longer and at peace) is to develop the virtue,¬†Te, which goes along with the emanations of the 10,000 things (one aspect of¬†Tao). Acting through force and reactive vengeance is not only ego-centered, it does not embrace Tao. It embraces “me”. That’s all. Acting in that very standard sense of pursuing your own motivations to make the world the way you want it to be, to form it in your own image as some creator-God-wannabe, is not virtuous, not wise, and not seeing the universe and its mysterious origins for what they are.¬†We could look to the comments on Verse 26. Jonathan Star’s translation says pretty much the same thing as everything I just explicated but in a more succinct and poetic manner. As he closes, letting¬†Tao become all of your actions is to act without the intention of promoting yourself. Instead, it is to act in accordance with¬†Tao, the ever unfolding beauty of All, and by so doing, you act without acting. It’s not about complete inaction. It’s about acting through¬†Tao rather than through your “self”.

Here is the second passage from the verse:

Plan for the hard while it’s easy
deal with the great while it’s small
the world’s hardest task begins easy
the world’s greatest goal begins small
sages therefore never act great
they thus achieve great goals
who quickly agrees is seldom trusted
who thinks things easy finds them hard
sages therefore think everything hard
and thus find nothing hard
– Trans. Red Pine

Take on difficulties while they are still easy
Do great things while they are still small
Step by step the world’s burden is lifted
Piece by piece the world’s treasure is amassed

So the Sage stays with his daily task
and accomplishes the greatest thing
Beware of those who promise a quick and easy way
for much ease brings many difficulties

Follow your path to the end
Accept difficulty as an opportunity
This is the sure way to end up
with no difficulties at all.
-Trans. Jonathan Star

Let’s take one more piece of commentary to handle these lines. Te-Ch’ing says (again from Red Pine’s book): “When I entered the mountains to cultivate the Way, at first it was very hard. But once I learned how to use my mind, it became very easy. What the world considers hard, the sage considers easy. What the world considers easy, the sage considers hard.” Controlling the mind in Buddhism is mindfulness. This is showing up to each moment just as it is without concept. Taoism’s stories of insight are meant to produce the same result: non-conceptual understanding. We might understand the Sage here as the mindful one of Tao’s unfolding with each moment. A task, no matter how large, is always right now. For instance, the next verse is the one with the famous line “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The thing is: it begins with a single step, it continues with a single step, and it ends with a single step. The task is always the small, easy task of just one step. The Sage approaches doing by not looking at the goal which sees the task in its entirety: huge, hard, insurmountable. Rather, he sees it as this small, single step in this moment. Each moment of doing is¬†a step. Again and again. Yet,¬†the Sage sees it just as the step of this moment, not¬†all the steps that lie ahead. The Sage recognizes the greatness of the¬†task, but he is not daunted, as he¬†approaches it in accordance with the task and with flexibility in each and every step, moment by moment: just this.¬†Through such a mindful engagement with the present action that is in accordance with nature, the Sage will surely accomplish the greatest of things.

May this help you achieve the greatest things without acting.


Tao a Day – Verse 26: Inner Virtues

Heavy is the root of light
still is the master of restless
thus a lord might travel all day
but never far from his supplies
even in a guarded camp
his manner is calm and aloof
why would the lord of ten thousand chariots
treat himself lighter than his kingdom
too light he loses his base
too restless he loses command
– Trans. Red Pine

I present this translation first to show how mysterious the¬†Tao Te Ching can be. Translators often turn it in their own way to express their understanding of it to readers. Let’s ponder this translation which attempts to get as close to the original text as possible before moving on to another translator’s expression of the meaning.

I feel that the first four lines are key to the meaning of the verse. The first two lines tell us that light comes from heavy and that stillness supersedes restlessness. The¬†Tao Te Ching¬†emphasizes time and again this distinction about how certain qualities are primary and represent the more primordial nature of potential — of¬†Tao.¬†A good example is that hardness comes from softness. Here, it seems that the secondary qualities of lightness or restlessness lead away from the virtue of the primary qualities, and it’s implied that a follower of the Way will cultivate the primary qualities of heaviness and stillness. What’s so important about these two qualities? They’re not readily moved. In other words, they are not reactive to the external changes of the world. They work along with the ways of the world without reacting in either the senses of being swept along with them or fighting back against them. Lines three and four complete this personal teaching of¬†Te (virtue) in saying “thus” (not that this implies a conclusion from the first two lines) the lord travels at length without leaving his supplies. The supplies are these qualities which keep the lord stocked for any situation that life brings, no matter how far he may go or what he may do. These virtues are internal strengths of proper relationship with¬†Tao,¬†and no matter what happens, the walker of the Way can bring these along and act in accordance with the Tao.

The rest of the passage emphasizes that the ruler has the proper relationship of treating himself well (treating himself no less than he does his kingdom). This means that he cultivates these inner supplies of stillness and heaviness: not being swayed by reactivity–rather, acting in accordance with his kingdom from this fundamental inner stillness of the potential for perfectly attuned action in all situations, the action in accordance with nature–wu wei. Rather than being reactive and trying to rule her kingdom through force, she sees the¬†Tao and rules in a way that flows with its unfolding. Such virtue is not about imposing his ends or acting in order to impose his story upon the world; rather, her stillness mirrors the manifestation of the world–this is precisely the path of one who walks the Way. The one who walks the Way cultivates the proper relation with the external world of the “kingdom” by developing the virtues of the internal qualities of stillness and heaviness. Being a Sage entails a perfection of understanding of the¬†Tao in one’s own personal character. The¬†Te,¬†your virtue, is a personally perfected mirrored manifestation of the¬†Tao, the origin and nature of everything.¬†Te¬†mirrors¬†Tao. The microcosm displays the secret of the macrocosm.

Now, for comparison, Jonathan Star strengthens this analysis through his own poetic translation:

The inner is foundation of the outer
The still is master of the restless

The Sage travels all day
    yet never leaves his inner treasure
Though the views are captivating and beg attention
    he remains calm and uninvolved
Tell me, does the lord of a great empire
     go out begging for rice?

One who seeks his treasure in the outer world
    is cut off from his own roots
Without roots, he becomes restless
Being restless, his mind is weak
And with a mind such as this
     he loses all command below Heaven
-Trans. Jonathan Star

May you cultivate your own stillness in studying the Way.


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