Tag Archives: yin and yang

Thoughts on the Bhagavad Gita (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

I’ve been wanting to read the Bhagavad Gita for a while, but the copy that I had (provided to me by the Hare Krishnas at a Dead concert) seemed very long, so I was reluctant to start. But recently I did give it a shot and quickly realized that it was about 90% commentary, so I put it back and made the decision to find a different translation. So when I was perusing books at a bookstore recently, I discovered a translation by the poet Stephen Mitchell. I figured this would be a good version for me to delve into, and I was correct. The text flowed beautifully, and it was very easy to follow and digest the text.

As with all spiritual texts, there is such a wealth of wisdom that it is impossible to do it justice in a short blog post. With that in mind, I will share a few quotes that I connected with, as well as my thoughts regarding those passages.

Driven by desire for pleasure
and power, caught up in ritual,
they strive to gain heaven; but rebirth
is the only result of their striving.

They are lured by their desires,
besotted by the scriptures’ words;
their minds have not been made clear
by the practice of meditation.

The scriptures dwell in duality.
Be beyond all opposites, Arjuna:
anchored in the real, and free
from all thoughts of wealth and comfort.

(p. 54)

While mystical and spiritual texts are great sources of wisdom and inspiration, Lord Krishna points out the issue—they fall short of the wisdom and freedom gained from active spiritual pursuits. Scripture uses symbolic language to try to express the ineffable experience of direct connection with the Divine which is gained through yoga and meditation. Those who seek the Divine solely in text will never find what they seek. It is only through actively engaging in practices that one may catch a momentary glimpse of the Divine.

As fire is obscured by smoke,
as a mirror is covered by dust,
as a fetus is wrapped in a membrane,
so wisdom is obscured by desire.

Wisdom is destroyed, Arjuna,
by the constant enemy of the wise,
which, flaring up as desire,
blazes with insatiable flames.

(p. 69)

This made me think a lot about our current society. Social media, advertising, and even the news to some extent, all feed the human desire for what they don’t have, or what they don’t have enough of, or what will keep them safe, and on and on and on. This desire, this constant striving, is manifesting much of our current social and political problems right now. People are prone to react rather than think and respond carefully. I have made a conscious effort to minimize the amount of social media and advertising information that I am exposed to, and as a result, I have become much happier and calmer.

I am the father of the universe
and its mother, essence and goal
of all knowledge, the refiner, the sacred
Om, and the threefold Vedas.

I am the beginning and the end,
origin and dissolution,
refuge, home, true lover,
womb and imperishable seed.

I am the heat of the sun,
I hold back the rain and release it,
I am death, and the deathless,
and all that is or is not.

(pp. 116 – 117)

What I like about this passage where Lord Krishna is describing himself to Arjuna is that he uses a series of opposites to describe his essence. It is like a balancing of light and dark, yin and yang, life and death. The Divine must surly encompass all, for everything emanates from the Source and, therefore, everything must exist within the Source. This kind of echoes Revelation 22:13 where Christ says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

This is the soul-destroying
threefold entrance to hell:
desire, anger, and greed.
Every man should avoid them.

The man who refuses to enter
these three gates into darkness
does what is best for himself
and attains the ultimate goal.

(p. 173)

This is so true. If more people would replace desire with acceptance, anger with love and forgiveness, and greed with charity, what a different world this would be. How much happier we would be as a global society. There is still hope for us. Although I sometimes despair, I remember that humans have an incredible capacity to change. I will do my best to help promote change for the better.

Thanks for stopping by, and many blessings!

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“The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts

This book has been on my shelf for a really long time (price on cover is .60¢). In fact, this was my dad’s book, and I suppose I somehow came to possess it. Anyway, I reached the stage in my life where I felt now was the time to read it. I am a firm believer that we read books exactly when we are supposed to read them.

I have been maintaining a daily meditation practice for a while now, and I feel that this book has re-centered me on the path. There is a wealth of insight in this book, and regardless of where you are on your individual journey, I am certain that you will benefit from reading this book. That said, I want to share a few of the many quotes that I connected with.

Every positive statement about ultimate things must be made in the suggestive form of myth, of poetry. For in this realm the direct and indicative form of speech can say only “Neti, neti” (“No, no”), since what can be described and categorized must always belong to the conventional realm.

(p. 45)

The spiritual experience is ineffable. For this reason, we can only express an approximation of the experience through the symbolism of myth, poetry, and other art forms. I personally find music to be one of the best vehicles for expressing the mystical or spiritual, because it conveys pure emotion and energy, without the baggage of words and the associated interpretations. Although, there is no shortage of poetry that does an amazing job of expressing the inexpressible.

Another passage that I found deeply interesting discussed nonduality as defined by Buddhists and Hindus.

Thus his point of view is not monistic. He does not think that all things are in reality One because, concretely speaking, there never were any “things” to be considered One. To join is as much maya as to separate. For this reason both Hindus and Buddhists prefer to speak of reality as “nondual” rather than “one,” since the concept of one must always be in relation to that of many. This doctrine of maya is therefore a doctrine of relativity. It is saying that things, facts, and events are delineated, not by nature, but by human description, and that the way in which we describe (or divide) them is relative to our varying points of view.

(p. 50)

This was like a bolt of lightning for me. In everything that I had read which mentions nonduality, I always associated it with One. Now I understand that this is just another layer of illusion, essentially my mind using my limited set of symbols to try to grasp something that is well beyond the reach of my conventional thinking. Just as the yin cannot exist except in relation to the yang, so my concept of a divine One can only exist in contrast to my concept of many, and both fail to express the entirety of reality, which is the nondual. I can see that I will be spending a lot of time contemplating this in days to come.

The state of heightened awareness is something that is equally as impossible to describe as the One, but Watts includes a quote from Sokei-an Sasaki that does a great job in describing that indescribable sensation that one occasionally experiences while meditating.

One day I wiped out all the notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude. I felt a little queer—as if I were being carried into something, or as if I were touching some power unknown to me . . . and Ztt! I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin, of course, but I felt I was standing in the center of the cosmos. I spoke, but my words had lost their meaning. I saw people coming towards me, but all were the same man. All were myself! I had never known this world. I had believed that I was created, but now I must change my opinion: I was never created; I was the cosmos; no individual Mr. Sasaki existed.

(p. 122)

Reading this reminds me of the quote from William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”: If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. Everything, including ourselves, is infinite, and therefore, part of the nondual, and beyond our ability to express in this constructed reality.

To sum up, Zen, like all spiritual paths, is a journey, without beginning and without end. But the joy of being on the path is in the traveling of the path itself.

. . . Zen has no goal; it is a travelling without point, with nowhere to go. To travel is to be alive, but to get somewhere is to be dead, for as our own proverb says, “To travel well is better than to arrive.”

(p. 190)

Enjoy your journey!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 42” by Lao Tzu

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Tao gave birth to One,
One gave birth to Two,
Two gave birth to Three,
Three gave birth to all the myriad things.

All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their embrace,
Deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital Breaths.

What is more loathed by men than to be “helpless,” “little,” and “worthless”?
And yet these are the very names the princes and barons call themselves.

Truly, one may gain by losing;
And one may lose by gaining.

What another has taught let me repeat:
“A man of violence will come to a violent end.”
Whoever said this can be my teacher and my father.

As I began reading this passage, my mind was spinning with mystical symbolism. The first stanza, in my interpretation, presented occult idea of emanation as expressed in kabbalah, in Plotinus, in Christian mysticism, and so forth. I immediately began formulating my blog post in my mind, but as I reached the end, I knew that I would have to shift the focus of this post.

“A man of violence will come to a violent end.” How true. And it is a message that has been told over and over: “Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.” “We reap what we sow.” “Instant karma’s gonna get you.” And yet, we still read about mass shootings on a regular basis. Violence and weapons proliferation have never been successful deterrents against aggression. And violence is not limited to gun violence against other people; it is also violence against our planet and the environment. If we continue to decimate the earth, we will ultimately decimate ourselves. We will reap what we sow. Personally, I would rather sow something beneficial.

Thanks for reading my musings. May you do great things.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 41” by Lao Tzu

When a wise scholar hears the Tao,
He practises it diligently.
When a mediocre scholar hears the Tao,
He wavers between belief and unbelief.
When a worthless scholar hears the Tao,
He laughs boisterously at it.
But if such a one does not laugh at it,
The Tao would not be the Tao!

The wise men of old have truly said:

The bright Way looks dim.
The progressive Way looks retrograde.
The smooth Way looks rugged.
High Virtue looks like an abyss.
Great whiteness looks spotted.
Abundant Virtue looks deficient.
Established Virtue looks shabby.
Solid Virtue looks as though melted.
Great squareness has no corners.
Great talents ripen late.
Great sound is silent.
Great Form is shapeless.

The Tao is hidden and nameless;
Yet it alone knows how to render help and to fulfill.

This passage can be summed up in a single line from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “All that glisters is not gold—.” Things are never all they appear. But Lao Tzu is also incorporating the yin and yang into his metaphors. Everything by natures also contains its opposite. Great squareness has no corners. Great sound is silent. In other words, nothing can exist without the opposite to balance it. The wise scholar cannot exist without the worthless one. There can be no life without death, and no death without life. There can be no peace without war, and no war without peace. There can be no light without darkness.

I feel like this is all I need to say about this passage. It is simple and yet profound, which is the genius of Lao Tzu. Thanks for stopping by.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 35” by Lao Tzu

He who holds the Great Symbol will attract all things to him.
They flock to him and receive no harm, for in him they find peace, security and happiness.

Music and dainty dishes can only make a passing guest pause.
But the words of Tao possess lasting effects,
Though they are mild and flavourless,
Though they appeal neither to the eye nor to the ear.

This passage is a wonderful example of the beauty of this text. Lau Tzu expresses a wealth of wisdom in a mere six lines.

In the first stanza, we are presented with a leader who has incorporated balance into his life. The Great Symbol is the yin and yang, representing the balance of opposing energies and ideas. Because this ideal leader embodies balance, people feel comfortable and safe around the leader. They know that this person will govern from a place of fairness and not from ego or the desire for power.

In the second stanza, Lau Tzu uses “music and dainty dishes” as a metaphor for lavish entertainment intended to distract individuals from what is truly important. Truth and wisdom are often less enchanting to the casual observer, but this is the place from where lasting goodness and compassion spring. Sound and steady guidance may be less appealing to the eye or ear, but it is much more appealing to the heart and spirit.

While this passage was intended as guidance for a leader, on a personal level I find it applies to my own spiritual path. It is easy to be dazzled by transcendent visions, or ecstatic states of consciousness, but these can often distract a seeker from the path to wisdom and enlightenment. It is the steady practice of meditation, of incorporating spiritual values into everyday life, that will ultimately bring you the greatest spiritual growth. I have had some intense spiritual experiences in my life, but I try not to focus on recapturing those states. Instead, I do the less appealing spiritual work: study, meditation, self examination, and so forth. I see this passage as an affirmation of the path I am on.

Thanks for sharing in my musings. I would love to hear your thoughts on this passage. Feel free to post in the comments section below. Cheers!

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“A Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe: The Contrast of Light and Dark

Rembrandt

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed—
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted.

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?

That holy dream—that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding.

What though that light, thro’ storm and night,
So trembled from afar—
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day-star?

This is a poem of contrasts and opposites, most prominently the contrast of light and dark. But there are also contrasts between sleep and awakening, past and future, and happiness and sorrow. And while there is contrast, there is also balance. Even the fact that the poem is divided into four stanzas of four lines each generates a sense of balance, harmony, and stability. So this balance of opposites is the key to this poem, in my opinion.

In the final line of the poem, Poe mentions Truth—the big Truth with a capital T. This is the proverbial Holy Grail that philosophers, poets, and artists have sought after for millennia. Poe is asserting that the Truth lies somewhere in that nebulous space between the two opposites, between the darkness and the light. And the only way that one can glimpse that space where Truth hides is to embrace both the light and the dark and bring them into balance. Think of the Yin/Yang symbol. It is a balance of light and dark, of positive and negative. Both are needed in equal parts to achieve wholeness.

As we move into the dark period of the yearly cycle, we must be sure we maintain a balance of light.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 28” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

Know the masculine,
Keep to the feminine,
And be the Brook of the World.
To be the Brook of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without swerving from it,
And to return again to infancy.

Know the white,
Keep to the black,
And be the Pattern of the World.
To be the Pattern of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without erring a single step,
And to return again to the Infinite.

Know the glorious,
Keep to the lowly,
And be the Fountain of the World.
To be the Fountain of the World is
To live the abundant life of Virtue,
And to return again to Primal Simplicity.

When Primal Simplicity diversifies,
It becomes useful vessels,
Which, in the hands of the Sage, become officers.
Hence, “a great tailor does little cutting.”

The key to understanding this passage is to understand the basic symbolism of the yin and yang. The yin is the dark part of the symbol, while the yang is the light half. Yin is feminine and passive, while yang is masculine and active. While both aspects are requisite to be whole, Lao Tzu stresses the importance of focusing on the yin rather than the yang.

It is important to understand the audience to whom Lao Tzu was writing. He was writing to the leaders of China at a time when there was instability, and the usual way to deal with this would have been to attack it aggressively. Lao Tzu recommends the opposite approach. The sage leader does not rule with an iron fist, but is nurturing, calm, in tune with Nature, and at one with the flow of life through the world. A wise leader must understand strength, but rule from a place of compassion. That is the primary message contained within this passage.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 25” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

There was Something undefined and yet complete in itself,
Born before Heaven-and-Earth.

Silent and boundless,
Standing alone without change,
Yet pervading all without fail,
It may be regarded as the Mother of the world.
I do not know its name;
I style it “Tao”;
And, in the absence of a better word, call it “The Great.”

To be great is to go on,
To go on is to be far,
To be far is to return.

Hence, “Tao is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
King is great.”
Thus, the king is one of the great four in the Universe.

Man follows the ways of the Earth.
The Earth follows the ways of Heaven,
Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
Tao follows its own ways.

I wrestled with this passage this morning. For me, it was one of the more challenging. I do not know for sure if my interpretation if completely accurate, but it is the impression that I got from meditating on this.

The “Something undefined and yet complete in itself” I interpret to be the ineffable source of all that is, something which cannot be adequately expressed and yet encompasses all that is. I envision the yin and yang symbol when I think of this something, comprised of opposites, and complete in itself.

The third stanza depicts the progressions of emanation and spiritual development. It conjures an image of the soul emanating from the divine source, progressing on its journey, and then returning to the source. The symbol that I see associated with this is the yin/yang encircled by the ouroboros.

Image Source: scrapbookgraphics

Image Source: scrapbookgraphics

The fourth stanza was the most puzzling for me, but I think I understand it. The key again is the yin and yang symbol. The symbol contains four components that make up the whole: the pair of curved shapes, and then two circles, one within each of the curved spaces. So essentially, we have two pairs of opposites: Tao (Mother/divine feminine) and King (Father/divine masculine); then Heaven and Earth, contrasting planes of existence. Heaven and Earth are contained within the Tao and the King, symbolizing that they are manifestations within the divine. These four pillars are combined to create the Universe, which symbolizes the entirety of all that is.

As I said, this was a very challenging passage for me, and I make no guarantees on the veracity of my interpretation; but I sense that this may be at least part of what Lao Tzu was trying to express. If you have any thoughts or impressions, please feel free to share them in the comments space below. Thanks for stopping by and have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 19” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Drop wisdom, abandon cleverness,
And the people will be benefited a hundredfold.

Drop humanity, abandon justice,
And the people will return to their natural affections.

Drop shrewdness, abandon sharpness,
And robbers and thieves will cease to be.

These three are the criss-cross of Tao,
And are not sufficient in themselves.
Therefore, they should be subordinated
To a Higher principle:
See the Simple and embrace the Primal,
Diminish the self and curb the desires!

This passage appears to be related to Chapter 18. The difference appears to be that this chapter seems to be directed at leaders and how to apply the Taoist principles when governing.

By imposing one’s wisdom and cleverness upon others, you deny people the chance to learn and develop on their own.  By forcing one’s ideas of humanity and justice upon others, you deny them the chance to develop compassion and empathy. Finally, when ruling shrewdly and with sharp discipline, people will become resentful and will ultimately steal from you or openly rebel.

It seems counterintuitive that doing things which seem positive will foster negative results, but this is what the Tao teaches. Everything balances itself, and there must always be equal amounts of positive and negative energy. So, “diminish the self and curb the desires” and allow nature to guide individuals as it deems fit.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 18” by Lao Tzu

LaoTzu

When the Great Tao was abandoned,
There appeared humanity and justice.
When intelligence and wit arose,
There appeared great hypocrites.
When the six relations lost their harmony,
There appeared filial piety and paternal kindness.
When darkness and disorder began to reign in a kingdom,
There appeared the loyal ministers.

This is a very short but powerful passage describing something that I see manifesting every day. This chapter describes how nature is constantly adjusting itself to maintain a balance.

In the passage, Lau Tzu provides examples of instances where things happen—whether they be positive or negative—and as a result, the opposite occurs to a degree equivalent with the original occurrence. The reason for this is because yin and yang must remain in balance; one cannot assume dominance over the other. Nature maintains a perfect equilibrium, regardless of what we as humans do.

We see examples of this in our present world. Politically, one party moves farther to an extreme, and consequently, the opposing party moves farther to their extreme. Environmentally, humans attempt to subjugate nature, and nature in turn unleashes more powerful storms. Economically, wealth increases for some, and proportionally decreases for others. The examples go on and on.

I used to be very concerned about what was happening in the world; but now, I am less concerned. It is not that I am apathetic or do not feel sadness when I see what humans are doing to themselves and the planet, I just also see nature responding and correcting. Humanity may not survive in its current state, or may not survive at all, but nature will continue and maintain harmony. I hope we can realize this and learn to live in balance, but whether we do or not remains to be seen.

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