Tag Archives: religion

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 56” by Lao Tzu

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He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Block all the passages!
Shut all the doors!
Blunt all edges!
Untie all tangles!
Harmonize all lights!
Unite the world into one whole!
This is called the Mystical Whole,
Which you cannot court after nor shun,
Benefit nor harm, honour nor humble.

Therefore, it is the Highest of the world.

In Buddhist thought, there is a concept called maya, which roughly means illusion, that basically what we perceive is a construct of our mind. If one accepts this tenet, it stands to reason that reality is something that exists beyond the limited grasp of our senses. It appears that Lao Tzu is expressing a similar idea in regard to the Tao, that it is the “Mystical Whole” that lies beyond the scope of our normal consciousness.

In the opening couplet, Lao Tzu warns against those who profess to know the Tao. To speak of the Tao is to attempt to use words to convey the ineffable. It does not work. All that one can do is provide guidance as to how one may glimpse the unseen reality of existence, and this is what Lao Tzu does in the second stanza.

By blocking passages and shutting doors, we are essentially turning off the stories that our minds tell us about what is real. Our brains are a tangled knot of information that dictates how we perceive everything. But as we begin to silence the noise of our minds, our focus shifts and we can glimpse the harmony and connection of the world around us, as well as our connections to this world.

As we all grapple with our rapidly changing world, it would serve us well to pause and reflect. By silencing our overwhelmed minds, we may be able to get a clearer perspective on what is really happening in these times of uncertainty.

Pause, and breathe.

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Spring Equinox: Ostara and Temperance

Today is the Spring Equinox, symbolic of balance and rebirth, themes that seem even more important as we grapple with the rapid changes that COVID-19 is bringing to our world. Anyway, after my morning meditation and journal writing, I read a short essay entitled “Ostara and Temperance” published in Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2020, and figured I would share part of it in today’s post.

At Ostara, the Goddess returns from the underworld, bringing with her a celebration of miracles, spring, new life, and balance. The Temperance tarot card beautifully represents these themes. Birth is considered a kind of miracle, a mixing of life and death (for the minute anything is born, it begins to die) that creates our experience on this planet. The angel in Temperance holds two cups, their liquid blending at a scientifically impossible angle, representing an alchemical mystery. Although equinoxes represent balance, and at this time life and light are becoming stronger than death and darkness, each equinox contains the seed of its opposite. Like an eggshell—which is strong enough to protect new life but at the right moment is weak enough to be broken through—something is destroyed and the old existence of the newly born creature dies.

(Barbara Moore)

For me, it is evident that our old way of life has cracked like a fragile eggshell, and is dying to make way for something new. It is a scary time, because all birth and all things new are scary. None of us can envision what our new world will look like. But clearly, our consumer-driven capitalist society is the thing that is actually dying right now as a result of this virus. That said, we all have a role in manifesting what will rise from these ashes. It is crucial that we nurture the new growth, and not let fear and self-centeredness dictate our actions in the coming days.

Have a blessed Equinox, and may you be a conscious participant in the change to come.

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Thoughts on “The Impact of Awakening” by Adyashanti

I have been meditating on a daily basis for about three years now, and as part of my practice, I’ve been reading more books and listening to podcasts that are supportive of my practice. I had heard the name Adyashanti mentioned in some podcasts and when I was unpacking all our books, noticed this one. I asked my wife about it, since I had not bought it, and she said that she read it and that I would enjoy reading it too.

The short book teaches some profound Zen Buddhist concepts through dialogue, where the student is asking questions of Adyashanti, and the teacher conveys his wisdom through the responses. The format works really well, and it does not seem contrived, as is often the case with this style of writing.

While there is a lot of wisdom in these pages, and I encourage you to explore on your own if you have an interest, I figured I would share a couple passages that resonated particularly deeply for me.

If you choose Freedom, life will become magical. The life you’ll step into is one in which the Self is in hidden agreement with your humanness. The Self begins to harmonize with your life, and it may proceed in a way that you could never have predicted. The magical part is that the more you let go, the better it feels. The more you step into insecurity, the more you notice how secure and safe it is. Where you stepped out of was unsafe. Everyone is so miserable because they seek security in things that are always moving and changing unpredictably.

(p. 21)

We all want to feel secure, because we are conditioned to believe that this will increase our happiness. The problem is, as Adyashanti points out, is that we seek security in things that are ever changing. Relationships, jobs, money, etc. Like everything else in the universe, these are changing all the time. If we can loosen our grip on these things, and not rely on them for our happiness, then we are sparing ourselves from a world of anxiety and stress. It is freeing to embrace the uncertainty which is life.

The other passage I want to share is somewhat long, but I feel is incredibly important for anyone practicing meditation.

True meditation has no direction, goals, or method. All methods aim at achieving a certain state of mind. All states are limited, impermanent, and conditioned. Fascination with states leads only to bondage and dependency. True meditation is abidance as primordial consciousness.

True meditation appears in consciousness spontaneously when awareness is not fixated on objects of perception. When you first start to meditate you notice that awareness is always focused on objects: on thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. This is because the mind is conditioned to focus and contract upon objects. Then the mind compulsively interprets what it is aware of (the object) in a mechanical and distorted way. It begins to draw conclusions and make assumptions according to past conditioning.

In true meditation, all objects are left to their natural functioning. This means that no effort should be made to manipulate or suppress any object of awareness. In true meditation, the emphasis in on being awareness; not on being aware of objects, but on resting as primordial awareness itself. Primordial awareness, consciousness, is the source in which all objects arise and subside.

(p. 25)

This reminds me of the famous quote by William Blake: If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. Our minds construct our realities, based upon our trained conditioning. It is only by letting go, not allowing the endless internal dialogue to dictate how we perceive the world around us, that we begin to see the true essence of all that is.

I believe we all read what we need to read at certain stages in our lives. I opened this book at exactly the right time.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 55” by Lao Tzu

One who is steeped in Virtue is akin to the new-born babe.
Wasps and poisonous serpents do not sting it,
Nor fierce beasts seize it,
Nor birds of prey maul it.
Its bones are tender, its sinews soft,
But its grip is firm.
It has not known the union of the male and the female,
Growing in its wholeness, and keeping its vitality in its perfect integrity.
It howls and screams all day long without getting hoarse,
Because it embodies perfect harmony.

To know harmony is to know the Changeless.
To know the Changeless is to have insight.

To hasten the growth of life is ominous.
To control the breath by the will is to overstrain it.
To be overgrown is to decay.
All this is against Tao,
And whatever is against Tao soon ceases to be.

Lately, I have been practicing mindfulness meditation on a regular basis. This has caused me to read this passage from a mindfulness perspective.

What makes the “new-born babe” the embodiment of perfect harmony? It is because the child lives in the present moment, and is not distracted by thoughts of the past and future, with the phantoms of the mind that draw our attention away from the only thing that is truly real—this moment.

Someone told me years ago that if you live with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you end up peeing on the present. While the truth of this is evident to me, I am still guilty of tumbling down the rabbit hole of obsession, lost in dreams of the past and concerns of the future. Even as I write this, my mind wanders off to thoughts of what else I need to do today, what others will think about when they read this, blah blah blah. But at least I can recognize this now, and I suppose that is a small step in the right direction.

I don’t expect to ever become totally free of my obsessive thoughts, but if I can be just a little more present, that would be enough.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a mindful day.

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Thoughts on “Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn” by Karen McCarthy Brown

This book has been on my shelf for a few years. I purchased it along with Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen (click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of my review of Deren’s book). I bought these books because they were recommended to me by a close friend who was initiated into the Vodou tradition in Haiti, and I was interested in learning more about the religion. I would later learn that Mama Lola was the manbo who initiated him.

The book is an excellent academic work. Ms. Brown is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology of Religion, so not only does she explore the mystical practices of the Vodou religion, but she also presents a moving look at the challenges that face Haitian immigrants in the US who struggle with poverty, racism, and discrimination. Having known many Haitians from my years living in Miami, I was able to relate to a fair amount of the personal stories presented in the book, having seen friends deal with the same types of struggles. Professor Brown does a great job explaining how popular culture, institutionalized racism, and organized religion all contribute to the negative stereotypes associated with Vodou.

American popular culture dwells on images of Vodou’s malevolence, an attitude as nonsensical as equating Catholicism to Satanism. The understanding most North Americans have of Vodou is derived mainly from its portrayal in novels, films, and television, where images of sorcerers, zonbi, snakes, blood, and violence abound. In the United States, the word voodoo is used in a casual and derogatory way to indicate anything on a spectrum from the deceptive to the downright evil. If it were not so clear that racism underlies these distortions, it would be hard to understand why this kind of stereotyping is tolerated for an African-based religion when it would not be tolerated for other religions.

The negative portrayal of Vodou in the press, in novels, and in travelers’ accounts began in earnest shortly after the Haitian slaves won their freedom, a period in which slavery was still practiced in the United States and in many European colonies. The argument was often explicitly made that the barbarism of their religion clearly demonstrated that Haitians were incapable of governing themselves—an argument used by the United States and several countries in Europe to justify their refusal to recognize the fledgling black republic. Racism is more covert and convoluted these days, but the stereotypes of Vodou still serve their purposes. One of the central ways such propaganda works is by characterizing Vodou as in every way the opposite of “true” religion, that is, of Christianity. This description is ironic, for people who serve the Vodou spirits consider themselves good Christians.

(pp. 110 – 111)

It is important to remember that Vodou is a rich spiritual tradition, and like any spiritual tradition or religion, when practiced in earnest, will instill the practitioner with spiritual values and promote individual growth. I love the way Maggie, who is Mama Lola’s daughter, explains this, emphasizing how having Vodou in her life helps her live in the world, and elevates her above mundane and meaningless human existence.

“You know, maybe if I wasn’t part of Vodou, I would not know so much about people. Maybe if I did not grow up in it, I would be just, you know, just like ordinary people . . . walking . . . like everybody else walking on the streets, up and down . . . and don’t know right from wrong.”

(pp. 298 – 299)

There is profound wisdom here, and something we can all learn from. So many of us are guilty of “walking,” and being lost in our self-importance while cut off from reality through the constant stream of digital noise. We have forgotten that we are spiritual beings having a worldly experience. I can still picture my old Haitian friends, and I remember distinctly how deeply spiritual they were, how caring and charitable. I think the world could learn from the Haitian people, about the importance of community, family, tradition, and spirituality.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this post inspired you.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 54” by Lao Tzu

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What is well planted cannot be uprooted.
What is well embraced cannot slip away.
Your descendants will carry on the ancestral sacrifice for generations without end.

Cultivate Virtue in your own person,
And it becomes a genuine part of you.
Cultivate it in the family,
And it will abide.
Cultivate it in the community,
And it will live and grow.
Cultivate it in the state,
And it will flourish abundantly.
Cultivate it in the world,
And it will become universal.

Hence, a person must be judged as person;
A family as family;
A community as community;
A state as state;
The world as world.

How do I know about the world?
By what is within me.

This passage is pretty straight-forward. A good and spiritual life must be cultivated and tended. You must nurture that which you want to flourish in your life. The closing couplet, though, seems to express a little bit more.

In the last two lines, it appears that Lao Tzu is asserting that an individual’s view of the world is based upon the sum of his or her experiences. I wholeheartedly agree with this. I know that personally I am the culmination of all the things I’ve read, all the people I’ve met, all the places I’ve been, all my joys and sorrows, and on and on. And my understanding of the world is constantly evolving, as I continue to travel the path of life. As long as I am alive and conscious, I suspect that the way I see the world will continue to change.

This past year, I have seen a lot of change in my life. Some of it was painful, but they were all experiences that I can learn from, and that’s what life is about, learning and growing.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have an amazing day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 53” by Lao Tzu

If only I had the tiniest grain of wisdom,
I should walk in the Great Way,
And my only fear would be to stray from it.

The Great Way is very smooth and straight;
And yet the people prefer devious paths.

The court is very clean and well garnished,
But the fields are very weedy and wild,
And the granaries are very empty!
They wear gorgeous clothes,
They carry sharp swords,
They surfeit themselves with food and drink,
They possess more riches than they can use!
They are the heralds of brigandage!
As for Tao, what do they know about it?

The first stanza of this passage is a beautiful expression of humility. One does not need to seek lofty goals of some grandiose idea of enlightenment; all that is needed is one tiny grain of wisdom to keep you on the spiritual path.

The idea of simplicity is put forth in the second stanza. Lao Tzu asserts that while many people seek the paths of dogma and structured religious practice, the simpler way is preferred. All one needs to do is sit alone quietly, or gaze upon a stream, or walk along a forest path, and one can discover the Great Way.

The third stanza is more of an admonishment to those who strive after riches and material overabundance. These become such all-encompassing obsessions that those who follow the path of material gain become blind to the Way of the Tao. Basically, in common terms, dying with the most toys does not make one the winner.

I hope you found this post inspiring. Have a blessed day, and keep reading and thinking.

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