This is one of those books that I have been wanting to read for a while, since it was often referred to in other spiritual books and articles which I have read. The beauty of this text is its simplicity. As humans, we excel at complicating things, especially when it comes to religion and spirituality. With this in mind, Suzuki reminds us that sometimes we just need to stop talking and thinking, and just be in the present moment.
“We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!”
In addition to simplicity and being in the present, the spiritual principle of acceptance is emphasized, especially in relation to the transiency of all existence.
The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. This is the teaching for all of us. Wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also understood as the teaching of selflessness. Because each existence is in constant change, there is no abiding self. In fact, the self-nature of each existence is nothing but change itself, the self-nature of all existence. There is no special, separate self-nature for each existence. This is also called the teaching of Nirvana. When we realize the everlasting truth of “everything changes” and find our composure in it, we find ourselves in Nirvana.
I found this book very inspiring, and suspect I will read it again at some point. I don’t feel there is anything else I need to say about this book at this point. I’ll just encourage you to have a cup of tea.
My words are very easy to understand, and very easy to practise: But the world cannot understand them, nor practise them.
My words have an Ancestor. My deeds have a Lord. The people have no knowledge of this. Therefore, they have no knowledge of me.
The fewer persons know me, The nobler are they that follow me. Therefore, the Sage wears coarse clothes, While keeping the jade in his bosom.
Although the translation of this text states that Lao Tzu’s teachings are “very easy,” I suspect that what is meant is that the teachings are “simple,” yet the understanding and application of those teachings are more challenging. I am very aware that the simplest lessons in life are often the most difficult. Then, to make matters worse, we often beat ourselves up for failing to grasp what is basic and obvious, telling ourselves “We should know better.” But growth and change are never easy, which is why it is important to be gentle with ourselves.
Something else that I gleaned from this passage is that individuals often approach teachings with preconceived ideas, and that these preconceived ideas often distort what is being conveyed. Additionally, we may have impressions about the teacher which may distort our understanding of the teachings. I was taught many years ago to “focus on the message, not on the messenger.” That is sound advice and I try to keep that in mind.
Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.
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The strategists have a saying: I dare not be a host, but rather a guest; I dare not advance an inch, but rather retreat a foot.
This is called marching without moving, Rolling up one’s sleeves without baring one’s arms, Capturing the enemy without confronting him, Holding a weapon that is invisible.
There is no greater calamity than to under-estimate the strength of your enemy. For to under-estimate the strength of your enemy is to lose your treasure.
Therefore, when opposing troops meet in battle, victory belongs to the grieving side.
I must confess, when I first read this, I was not sure I would have much to say about it. Military strategy is not really my thing. But I thought a little about the principles expressed through the passage, and I realized it is applicable to our broader society.
There is a socio-political trend right now which is to oppose anything that is contrary to one’s beliefs, and to staunchly refuse to compromise or give in on anything, regardless of how trivial it is or whether the opposing viewpoint has merit. This is a problem, and it is contributing to the stark divide in our society. No matter what the issue is, both sides seem poised to dig in and not give an inch. A society cannot function in this way, nor can a government. There has to be compromise, and compromise needs to be on both sides, not the version of “compromise” where we demand the other party change their views to align with ours.
Eventually, things will have to change. We will either learn to work together with respect and consideration, or our social structure will collapse. I personally am hopeful for the first option.
A good soldier is never aggressive; A good fighter is never angry. The best way of conquering an enemy Is to win him over by not antagonising him. The best way of employing a man Is to serve under him. This is called the virtue of non-striving! This is called using the abilities of men! This is called being wedded to Heaven as of old!
I love this passage, especially the lines: “The best way of conquering an enemy / Is to win him over by not antagonising him.” This conveys a sense of civility that really seems to be missing in our public forums. More and more, the way individuals are dealing with people who have opposing views is to shut them down, scream at them, threaten them, or worse, physically attack them. No one has ever changed another person’s mind through abuse. I feel that if people toned down the rhetoric, we would find common ground and accomplish more.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I hope it inspires you.
I have Three Treasures, which I hold fast and watch over closely. The first is Mercy. The second is Frugality. The third is Not Daring to Be First in the World. Because I am merciful, therefore I can be brave. Because I am frugal, therefore I can be generous. Because I dare not be first, therefore I can be the chief of all vessels.
If a man wants to be brave without first being merciful, generous without first being frugal, a leader without first wishing to follow, he is only courting death!
I originally read The Upanishads when I was in college. In fact, the old paperback copy I still have was my old college text, complete with highlighting and marginalia. Sadly, the binding is coming undone so I think this may be my last reading of this particular book. But it has served me well. Anyway, it had been many years since I read this, and considering all the material I have read in between, I suspected that this reading would be on a different level than my prior readings.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the text:
The Upanishads are late Vedic Sanskrit texts of religious teachings which form the foundations of Hinduism. They are the most recent part of the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, that deal with meditation, philosophy, and ontological knowledge; other parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. Among the most important literature in the history of Indian religions and culture, the Upanishads played an important role in the development of spiritual ideas in ancient India, marking a transition from Vedic ritualism to new ideas and institutions. Of all Vedic literature, the Upanishads alone are widely known, and their central ideas are at the spiritual core of Hinduism.
Much of the text discusses the Self, which is essentially that spark of the Divine that exists within each being.
The Self, whose symbol is OM, is the omniscient Lord. He is not born. He does not die. He is neither cause nor effect. This Ancient One is unborn, imperishable, eternal: though the body be destroyed, he is not killed.
There is a belief held by many on the spiritual path that the goal is to renounce the world and focus only on the spiritual. The Upanishads teach that not only is this incorrect, it is actually detrimental to one’s spiritual growth. Balance is needed, and polarity of any sort leads to darkness.
To darkness are they doomed who devote themselves only to life in the world, and to a greater darkness they who devote themselves only to meditation.
Life in the world alone leads to one result, meditation alone leads to another. So have we heard from the wise.
They who devote themselves both to life in the world and to meditation, by life in the world overcome death and by meditation achieve immortality.
(pp. 27 – 28)
For me, one of the most intriguing passages from this reading was a description of how to realize, or “see,” the Divine presence, God, the Self.
To realize God, first control the outgoing senses and harness the mind. Then meditate upon the light in the heart of the fire—meditate, that is, upon pure consciousness as distinct from the ordinary consciousness of the intellect. Thus the Self, the Inner Reality, may be seen behind physical appearance.
Control your mind so that the Ultimate Reality, the self-luminous Lord, may be revealed. Strive earnestly for eternal bliss.
With the help of the mind and the intellect, keep the senses from attaching themselves to objects of pleasure. They will be purified by the light of the Inner Reality, and that light will be revealed.
I have not even scratched the surface of this book. The wealth of wisdom and insight in this short text is staggering. I highly recommend that any of you who are on the spiritual path read and reread this text.
Thanks for stopping by. May you have a blessed journey.
In the old days, those who were well versed in the practice of the Tao did not try to enlighten the people, but rather to keep them in the state of simplicity. For, why are the people hard to govern? Because they are too clever! Therefore, he who governs his state with cleverness is its malefactor; but he who governs his state without resorting to cleverness is its benefactor. To know these principles is to possess a rule and a measure. To keep the rule and the measure constantly in your mind is what we call Mystical Virtue. Deep and far-reaching is Mystical Virtue! It leads all things to return, till they come back to Great Harmony!
First off, I have to say it feels a little strange to hear someone referring to “the old days” in a text that was written around 400 BC. But what this says to me is that people are always nostalgic about the way things used to be. I think that says something about human nature.
In this passage, Lau Tzu encourages leaders to govern through simplicity and with “Mystical Virtue.” Doing so will return a nation to a state of “Great Harmony.” Clearly, this is advice that many of our modern leaders could benefit from. When I look at the world, it seems to me to be the antithesis of a Great Harmony.
There is really nothing that I can add to this short passage. I hope you found it as insightful as I did. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading.
What is at rest is easy to hold. What manifests no omens is easily forestalled. What is fragile is easily shattered. What is small is easily scattered.
Tackle things before they have appeared. Cultivate peace and order before confusion and disorder have set in.
A tree as big as a man’s embrace springs from a tiny sprout. A tower nine stories high begins with a heap of earth. A journey of a thousand leagues starts from where your feet stand.
He who fusses over anything spoils it. He who grasps anything loses it. The Sage fusses over nothing and therefore spoils nothing. He grips at nothing and therefore loses nothing.
In handling affairs, people often spoil them just at the point of success. With heedfulness in the beginning and patience at the end, nothing will be spoiled.
Therefore, the Sage desires to be desireless, Sets no value on rare goods, Learns to unlearn his learning, And induces the masses to return from where they have overpassed. He only helps all creatures to find their own nature, But does not venture to lead them by the nose.
This passage reminds me of some simple tenets for leading a stress-free and productive life. Start out slow. Focus on the task and don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t procrastinate, but start things early and give yourself plenty of time to do what needs to be done. While these are simple, we so often fail to practice them, and as a result, we create unnecessary stress in our already hectic lives.
I have been making a conscious effort to simplify my life, focusing on single tasks instead of trying to multitask. Taking time for myself. Relaxing. Trusting that things will work out the way they are meant to, and not trying to force the results that I think are the best. As a result of these small changes, I feel happier and calmer, most of the time anyway.
Our world is stressful, and it is easy to get caught up in the turmoil. Lau Tzu teaches us the importance of slowing down and shifting our focus to what is really important. It is old wisdom, but certainly applicable to modern life.
Do the Non-Ado. Strive for the effortless. Savour the savourless. Exalt the low. Multiply the few. Requite injury with kindness.
Nip troubles in the bud. Sow the great in the small.
Difficult things of the world Can only be tackled when they are easy. Big things of the world Can only be achieved by attending to their small beginnings. Thus, the Sage never has to grapple with big things, Yet he alone is capable of achieving them!
He who promises lightly must be lacking in faith. He who thinks everything easy will end by finding everything difficult. Therefore, the Sage, who regards everything as difficult, Meets with no difficulties in the end.
My interpretation of this passage is that when faced with any situation, the goal should be to maintain balance and equilibrium. This is sage advice. When faced with a large, daunting task, it is best to take a small step. When you have a small, simple task, take a swift and sure step, taking care of it quickly and easily.
Too often, in our current society, individuals attempt to fight fire with fire, to apply Herculean effort when confronted with a difficult challenge. As Lau Tzu shows, this is not the way of the Tao, and if we are honest with ourselves, we are forced to admit that our default way of responding often fails to achieve the desired outcome.
Regardless of where each of us stands on the socio-political spectrum, we can all agree that things are not really working well right now. It seems that it would be in our collective best interest to explore other ways of dealing with situations. I for one like Lau Tzu’s approach.
I hope this inspires you as much as it does me. Thanks for stopping by and reading.