It often occurs to me while studying English translations of Daoist alchemical texts that I am a Westerner who can not read or speak the language in which these texts were written. That said, these texts seem to carry a message that transcends the very language from which they sprang into life, much less the cultural maxims. Appreciate for a moment the fact that these texts can be considered a form of “scripture” – even though this means something quite different to the Westerner. Many of the authors of these texts are revered as xian, or “immortals”.
Make no mistake, the limit cases of applied Daoism are daunting – akin to the Monastic tradition in Western culture – but, given our modern predilections, what would the non-monastic, non-ascetic approach be to these texts and their wisdom? When I approach this tradition through the lens that I’m offered in translation, I find – again and again – a can-do attitude. Thankfully (in the Wuzhen Pian in particular), we are admonished to quit “roasting seeds” and “swallowing mist” and “fiddling with our noses”.
We are told to “experience the reversal while you are in the marketplace.”
As stated in a prior episode, this reversal is the return to the Source of all being. And the marketplace is… well, the marketplace. Do you feel at touch with the ground substance of all reality while you’re choosing between canteloupes in the grocery store?
This sentiment is often expressed, especially in the Wuzhen Pian, from which the Zhong-Lu tradition is based – one that points to the universal accessibility of the healing, spiritual power inherent in the body, and points us away from techne and self-abnegation.
What in the world is a Westerner doing reading translations of Awakening to Reality and the Secret of the Golden Flower? What would it even mean to somehow mix these lifeways into mine? I submit to you that it’s a question of experience and a certain form of knowing (or even, gnosis). What is it I experience for fleeting moments during meditation or simply in cognition, in passing, when I am reminded – “oh” – of the deeper nature of things and point my Heart in this direction?
When I sense the tug of this state approaching, I sometimes, as if habitually, close my eyes to orbit closer into some kind of mental singularity, but when I feel like I brush upon it, my eyes find themselves wanting slowly and gently to re-open and drink in what they see. Why would this be? Do my sensory apparatus know something that my mental constructs about the nature of reality don’t? How could the true nature of things be apprehended with the our limited senses anyway? Can it be apprehended at all? Or merely brought nearer to some semblance of truth?
Yawn! This is a perennial question in philosophy – one that has been beaten to death in Western thought over millenia. But in this podcast, and as a result of what seems to be already baked in to the very object of our study, we find ourselves recapitulating the philosophy of Lao Tzu or even – to our Western tastes, Parmenides of Elea – when we say: All is One.
“The Dao” is quite ubiquitously translated as “the Way” – but what is the “way”?
I invite you to ask yourself absent a Daoist context and openly with your English-speaking mind…
What is the way? — the way in which all things must go?
I am reminded by these teachings to consider my life’s path and see it for what it is; and to appreciate uncertainty; and surrender to process; and to relish in the subtle flowing movement of the cycle of life and death of which I am a part; and to take time in all ways; and be reassured in some eternal faith.
If we are to take the Buddhist and Daoist notion at face value that emptiness is form and form is emptiness, then what really is? That which is must be both and neither of these things. Spontaneously through the Eastern mystical mode of thought we enter a world which is neither here nor there, but somewhere in between. A world which is phenomoenologically the projection of some kind of paradox. Yet, we are here – now – and the actual, contemporary understanding of our world in mathematical and physical terms dictates that the light with which this projection is made must be infinitely self-similar and isotropic in every way.
We’ve been peering behind this veil in different ways since the dawn of human cognition (whatever that means), and with particular mathematical abstraction since Max Planck discovered his “ultraviolet catastrophe” in 1894, and the entire time the world reveals itself for what it truly is – one. It just can’t show us on it’s own terms, of necessity.
But if you wanna feel it, all you have to do is close your eyes, and breathe, really.
Take it all in.
What does it truly mean for emptiness and form to be the same? From the Dao to the ten thousand things we have this absolute irreconcilability of the one and the many, but this is not a case of chicken or egg. From the perspective of the manifest world, the Dao is primary in every way. Antecedent to this is, literally, nothing.
Yet, something is running the show.
Therefore, developing a taste for the entertainment of Spirit – for the playful coming into being of awareness – is, I submit to you, the deepest purpose of the soul’s journey.