Monthly Archives: August 2004

Withered

Ku. Withered, dried, decayed.On the left of the symbol for ku is a picture of a tree, here representing wood in general. On the right is a phonetic, the word for “ancient.” That which is old is stiff. That which is young is soft.

That which is old grows stiff and then decays. That which is young is pliant and soft. Therefore, those who follow Tao follow the way of softness in order to avoid death.

There are many ways to apply this ideal. You could interpret it literally and so try to maintain whatever limberness you have. Or you might understand it to mean that to harden your position toward others inevitably leads to your downfall: the dogmatic — the stiff — are often the first to be undermined.

The tree in the word ku gives us a hint of how to proceed. A tree, on the inside, is hard but flexible. Without the bone of its interior, the tree could not stand. But neither is it so stiff that it has no life: on the outer layer, the tree is soft, and there it channels life.

The tree is often used as a metaphor for meditation. It is still, but inside, there is great movement. So too must we understand how to combine hardness and softness. If we do, then we can avoid the withered state.

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Well, I’m off to the spa today to try and keep some things soft (like my skin!). I’m taking my sister-in-law with me to give her a treat on her day off. Should be fun. So what are you doing to stay soft and supple?

I had to learn several times to stop being so hard and dogmatic in my positions. I think I’m pretty open to new ideas, and I try never to believe I know the best way to do things. There’s always more to learn from other people. Sometimes I will rest a bit, like trees in winter, and kind of withdraw into myself, but usuually I return to growing and there is a flourish of new learning and life. I take yoga and pilates to try and maintain my body, both its hard (strength) and soft (flexible) qualities, and read a lot to try and strengthen and stretch my mind. I’m off to the spa — stay soft!

Belly

Du. Belly, abdomen. On the left of the symbol is the character for “flesh.” On the right is the phonetic meaning “earth. The belly, our base and center.

How many people think of their bellies? How many people are aware of what goes on down there?

Why think that spirituality is a matter of the head? Why think that abstract and academic speculations of philosophers will give you answers?

Our bellies are where we were connected to our mothers.
The bellies of women can give life.
Without the belly, you could not digest food — you’d be capable of precious little philosophy on an empty stomach.
Without the belly, you could not sit up straight.
Without the belly, you could neither twist nor turn.

Why do we ignore the belly? When we are under stress or disappointed, it is often in our bellies that we feel pain. When we are consumed with laughter, we laugh until our bellies hurt. When we are threatened, we instinctively protect our bellies.

Just as the word du combines the body and the earth, so too is the belly the true foundation of our efforts.


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How often do you trust your “gut feel”? Just for today, try going with your instincts and see what the results are. Listen to your belly to know when you are really hungry instead of just eating out of habit or boredom. Do some exercise to stregthen your belly and see if it doesn’t help you stand up straighter and feel better. See if your back doesn’t feel better as your belly becomes stronger. Oh, and thank your mother for all those months carrying you around!

Offering

Offering, sacrifice, worship. On the left side of the symbol is the sign meaning a revelation from heaven. On the right side is the phonetic representing abundance by depicting many plants with beans.
If you would want a revelation from heaven, you must first make an offering.

The first act of devotion is offering.

We are each on a spiritual path, and we each hope to gain the abundance of that path. But how can we gain spiritual gifts unless we are receptive? After all, nothing spiritual can occur if we are occupied with self-regard. Therefore, worship needs an act that will signify a willingness to put aside self-centered occupations in favor of receptiveness to the divine. That is why all worship involves offering.

Devotion is a commitment. Through our daily acts of devotion, we demonstrate our determination to live a holy life. We cannot predict the time of our death, but we know we will die. That makes the time between the present and our death all the more important. Although that time will pass whether or not we do something valuable, it is far better to lead a positive life. That is why we need offering; it signifies the committment to lifelong devotion.

Ackowledgement becomes an act of humility and a very real understanding that what comes to us is not simply a result of our work, but a gift from Tao. Certainly, we cannot live without work, but equally, work alone will not sustain us. We live by the good fortune of what heaven and earth provide. We make our offering to show our gratitude.

Offering shows that we are receptive.
Offering shows that we are devoted.
Offering shows acknowledgement.

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Offering. An appropriate topic for a Sunday. I suppose what I think of as an offering is a bit different from a lot of people. Most think of it as money given at church. I think offerings can be made in alot of different ways. An unexpected kindness. Letting someone into traffic. Last night I met a woman who had been refused a refund on some batteries she bought from a store and I gave her the money the store had refused to give her. So there are many ways to make an offering. I garden organically and have vastly improved the soil around my house, introducing worms and getting rid of toxic chemicals in the water system. That is an offering. I put out healthy seed for the birds and grow sunflowers. That is an offering.

What kind of offerings do you make? Are you taking more than you need? Do you have some things you could spare? Why not offer them to others? Is there someone you need to thank for your success? A friend who needs your call or visit? An animal that needs to be adopted?

Make an offering. Today and every day.

Vomit

Tu. To vomit, to spit. The word for “mouth” is on the left side of the symbol for vomit, the word for “earth” is on the right and is a phonetic. One spits or vomits upon the earth. There is a wise immediacy to vomiting.

As uncomfortable as vomiting is, it can be very instructive. Usually some indiscertion or illness brings us to the point of throwing up, and if we have to throw up, we might as well learn something from it.

There is a certain genius in the quickness of vomiting. Somehow, a body knows when it has to get rid of something offensive. Once it has decided, there is no holding back. Regardless of whether it is socially acceptable, or smart, or a good time for it to happen, the vomit will come. It doesn’t matter if we use all our might and all our concentration to try to stop it.

In the throes of whatever brings on such nausea, all others concerns are blocked. It doesn’t matter what work you have or where you are. Maybe you don’t even hear what someone is saying to you. This is akin to perfect concentration.

And when vomiting happens, it happens mightliy. It is forceful and complete. Retching can be so powerful, it will leave your abdomen sore for days. Again, perfect concentration. Perfecr action, with nothing left undone. Ahh – don’t we feel better?

It’s astounding how many years we will put up with bad relationships and horrible jobs and stupid social obligations, all because we think we must. It’s amazing how we smoke and drink and eat bad food and stay out too long in the sun, even though we know it’s bad; we do it over and over again anyway. Isn’t it because we don’t let our innate genius take over? If we did, we would not tolerate what is bad for us even for a second. We should take this as a challenge. If we know bad things have come into our lives, we should forcefully expel them as quickly as possible. Without a doubt, we will feel much relieved.

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Dubya and his administration make me want to vomit. Perhaps this country can get smart enough to vomit him out this fall.

Laughter

Xiao. Laughter. The symbol is the word for “bamboo” above the word for “dog”. Just as wind shakes the leaves of the bamboo, so too do we shake in reaction to the world.

Some ascetics do not believe in laughter. They believe laughing is a sin. Tao, hoever, excludes nothing, including laughter.

It is very important on understanding Tao that we perceive the transient nature of life. Everything is in a state of constant change. Therefore, we can never be complacent. We can never expect places, things, or people to remain static. If we understand that, then we have the opportunity to learn more of Tao. If we do not accept that, then madness quickly overtakes us.

The ancients understood the ephemeral and advised their students not to take life too seriously. Life changes too quickly for us to dwell overly long on any single aspect. Things may go one way for a while, only to change quickly and unpredictably. Therefore, the wise realize that there is nothing to be gained by regarding life as immutable. It is far better to accept and work with its ephemeral quality. Then, no matter how difficult things are, we can laugh.

As nothing is permanent, there is nothing to take seriously. As there is nothing to take seriously, we should laugh at the world. As we laugh at the world, we should realize that understanding the changeable nature of life is the swiftest way to joy.

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Laughter is truly the best medicine. In taking care of your health, it’s important to relax and enjoy life as much as possible. Drink some green tea in the morning instead of that coffee, and see if your spirits don’t lighten up. Practice meditation and yoga. Make time for yourself, and plan special outings that you look forward to and enjoy. It doesn’t have to be fancy – a trip to the fabric store to admire different fabrics. A walk in your neighborhood, taking care to smile and greet your neighbors. A visit to a garden center to admire the flowers in bloom.

Take time for laughter – the laughter of nature, the laughter of your own spirit, the laughter of your friends and family. Not sarcastic or cynical laughter, but real, honest, friendly healthy laughter. Namaste.

Flowers

Hua. Flower Flowers are a token of life.

For all the important moments in our life, we can hardly do without flowers. When we marry, when we die, when we are honored, when we honor others, when we console each other, we have flowers with us. When someone is ill in the hospital, we bring flowers. Isn’t it because we have some sense that flowers can bring cheer and encourage life?

Flowers are beautiful. They are fragrant. They are the first burst of laughter on the plum tree at winter’s end. They are the pure and seductive magnificence of the peony, opening in layer after layer of exquisiteness. They are the velvety loveliness of the rose, which protects itself with sharp thorns. They are the upright character of the chrysanthemum, which blooms even as winter approaches.

A flower. The dandy twirls one in his hand, the ascetic enters into stillness while gazing at the center of one, the gardener cultivates it with love and care, the painter will lavish years in painting it, the poet will strain to describe it. Flower. So delicate. So easy to crush. So short a life.

Flowers are ephemeral. They represent life’s cycles. By having them as part of our worship, we offer a part of life itself.

Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao

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Flowers are a very important part of my life. As a gardener lucky enough to live in San Diego, I try to always have something in bloom. I’m fortunate that whatever the time of year, I can usually look around the garden and find a flower. When there are few, I find my spirits are lower, and a trip to the nursery often ensues, just to see if there is anything in bloom.

Outside my window right now, the delicate flowers of a basil plant are in bloom, with a small bee sipping their nectar. I can see the blue flowers of a chaste tree in bloom. I can turn to my kitchen, and see the calendar with sunflowers on it, and the pictures of sunflowers and poppies I have painted. I see the painting I did with the lotus blossoms and other small flowers. I see the silk sunflowers over my kitchen cabinets.

I still have a small frame with a picture of the first rose my husband gave to me. My wedding flowers where a mix with roses, which became a slight problem when I learned my sister in law was allergic to her bridesmaid’s bouquet! I remember picking out the flowers for my mother’s funeral. All the designs looked the same to me and I was so depressed anyway that nothing was special. Then I turned to the page with the tropical display. I remembered my mother’s love of Hawaii and the choice became suddenly easy and joyful.

I have a friend going through tough times, and took her a plate that was my mother’s with the peace rose design on it, becaue my friend was the one who convince dme that I could grow roses in my garden. She broke down and cried.

Do you have special stories about flowers in your life? Do you have anyone in your life who could use some flowers now?

My flowering plum is indeed one of the first things to break from winter’s sleep. Along with some daffodils and a few other flowers, they break winter’s spell. Alas, it is too warm here for peonies. Roses I have in abundance, and I love them. And the mums, which bloom in late spring and then again in the fall.

My favorite flower? I really couldn’t choose just one. Perhaps freesias, for their lovely scent of spring at the end of winter. Or roses, for their deep, rich, fragrance. Or lilies, for their stunning beauty and fragrance. My favorite perfume scents are pikake, lily, and jasmine. I love the scent of jasmine bringing in summer. I love the dayliliy, that lives only a day and that reminds us life is precious. What is your favorite flower, and what does it mean to you? Have you sent someone their favorite flowers lately?

Take time and admire and appreciate the flowers in your life, and watch your life become richer. Namaste.

Verify

Shi. To verify, to test. Verify what you learn.

Life is very short. We all want to live it well. We study spiritual systems in search of techniques and traditions to help us live our lives better.

While there is no shortage of people purporting to be sages, there is certainly ongoing confusion about which system to follow. Why? After you subtract all the false masters interested only in their own veneration and support; after you subtract all the religions paralyzed by dogma, ritual, and politics; after you subtract the systems where secrets are not readily shared; after you subtract the traditions ruined by supposed reform; and after you subtract the teachings subverted by people who never learned how to put theory into action – after you subtract all these things, there is very little left. To find the kernels of truth is hard indeed.

That is why you must look beyond mere fame. Do the teachings work or not? If the masters say practice this and the gods will appear before you in a hundred days, see if it happens. If they tell you to practice ten years to achieve enlightenment, then wait the ten years. The point is, however, that the teachings must work for you in your life and in your time. It is absolutely worthless to accept a teaching on mere faith, or because a book says to, or becuase everyone is doing it. None of that matters. All that matters is that the teachings work for you. And if they do, then faith is never a difficult matter.

Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao

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Does it work, or not? More important, does it work for you? I wonder how many people actually ask this about their belief system.

But I would add even more. Even if something does work for you, if it brings harm to others, it harms you. If it does not help others, it does not help you. This is a hard thing for a lot of people to understand. They think because they are getting richer, or having more, that makes things better for them, even if others are hurt by not having enough and they could help.

But material wealth is not worth the price of spiritual poverty. I often say these kinds of people are hurt simply by being the kind of people they are. It doesn’t seem like it; it seems those who have a lot would be really happy. And sometimes they are. For a while. But then they need the next fix, the next high, and they grow dissatisfied and want even more.

This is not a path to peace. True peace and fulfillment only comes from lightening the attachment to material wealth and using what you need, giving what you can of your skills and talents to others without thought of material gain. Does this mean you shouldn’t ask for money in return? Of course not – you have needs that must be met. And often others must pay something to feel they have gained something of value from you, or that they have benefited you in return for the benefits you have given them. The key is knowing what are your needs and what are just material things you have been led to believe you need.

If you want wealth, fine. Just don’t expect that it will satisfy you. If you want to be satisfied and fulfilled, learn what you need, and what is just the manipulation of your desire to get you to buy things that will add nothing of real value to your life, instead of products and services that will serve you well.

What things do you really need? One of my favorite things lately is a small magnet we got while in San Francisco with one of the rules from Alcatraz prison. It reads:

“Regulation #5
You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.”

Now. Don’t you live a privileged life? And wouldn’t that be a great motto for our nation to live by? Well, perhaps I would add education to that list then. What would you add?

Return

Fan. To return, to turn back, to turn over, to rebel, polarity, opposites. The symbol is two hands held opposite one another.

One needs to understand cycles to understand Tao.

Days and nights, summers and winters.
Waves curling up, consumed by new waves.
The ongoing march of generations,
The vapor of water congealing into clouds –
Tao is cyclical, not linear.

The multitude of things are innumerable,
But they travel circularly.
Those who accord with Tao
Understand rise and fall
And gain clarity and insight.
Those who do not accept rise and fall,
Ride recklessly with misfortune.

Thus it is said: the secret of Tao lies in returning.

Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Dao

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Two hands help opposite one another. In the right hand, the old order of things, those who would hold to the past and not understand that the cycle must turn. In the left hand, those who know the cycle will turn, and want to direct that turning towards the next cycle rather than allow the descent into chaos that results from trying too hard to cling to the old ways.

America is at its fourth turning, the place and time where we must return again to the first turning, a place in the cycle following upheaval, change, and the creation of a new order. Those on the right do not understand that the existing order cannot hold, a new one must be created that fits with its place and time.

We can close off to the world, become its enemy, or we can open up and embrace the world. We can reward the wealthy and create an entire generation of poor, impoverished, hostile workers, or we can care for all people and provide them health and a good standard of living. We can try and foist empire on the world, whidh will fail and fall and perhaps take down the entire world economy, or we can work with other nations to control terrorism, help to heal the deep wounds between nations and religions, allow all to join in the prosperity of this age, and share our great wealth and wisdom to provide health and aid to those who need it. We can give up America to our Chinese and Japanese financiers, or we can restore our economy to vibrancy and health by cutting our reckless defense spending and building smarter, leaner, better military systems for protection and not domination.

These choices are ours to make. They are not for those with money and power to make, however they may try to manipulate us or rig our voting systems. We can go to the polls and make sure votes are counted. We can talk with our friends and neighbors and make sure they are not victims of manipulation and deceit. We can demand honesty from our press. We can demand clean, monitored elections. We can let our representatives know we will not support them if they cater to special interest, especially when they deny that they do so and then hold multi-million dollar fund raisers with their “friends”.

Let’s return to a strong America, but one that works with the world. Stregth is not just military might and domination. It is the ability for subtle negotiation with opposing interests, and intelligent handling of sensitive issues. A strong person fights only when absolutely neccessary, not because they can. A strong nation is respected, not feared or loathed. A strong nation cares for all its people, not only those with power and wealth.

The wheel turns, as it must, but we can choose the direction we are traveling. Are you spinning your wheels, or going somewhere?

Interval

Jian. Interval, space, partition. No matter where you are in life, you still have an interval of time to use wisely.

“When I die, I will rot in the ground like anyone else.” There. If you say that, no priest or minister has any power over you.

So many religious leaders simply want converts. They want to build grand temples. They want obedience. They want glory. And to get that, they promise you great rewards and a guaranteed place in heaven. But we don’t want that.

We want insight into this life. We want freedom to walk our way.

Therefore, we must all seek a clear, free, open path with no encumbrances. We all accept that we will die, but that means we still have to make decisions for the interval until then. We don’t know how long, but that doesn’t matter. The fact is, we have time, long or short. What are we going to do with that? That is the most valuable wealth we have. What will you do?

Time is made up of many intervals strung together.

Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao
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I think about time a lot lately. When I have a few minutes of time available, with no interruptions, I like to meditate or read. When I am stressed by others demands on my time, I try to remember that soon enough, today or tomorrow, I will have my own time again to do with as I choose. It helps to believe there is enough time for everything, rather than get into the trap of “I don’t have enough time.” It slows you down, lets you really listen to people and be able to focus on their needs for a few moments rather than just your own.

I try to keep a book or a sketchpad in my care for those moments when I’m waiting for someone and they are late, so it never really bothers me too much when others are late. For myself, I try to be on time when I have appointments, because I want others to know their time is as valuable as my own, and if I have made a commitment to use their time, I try my best to honor it.

I used to get x’s instead of checkmarks in school (do you remember those?) for “Uses Time Wisely” because teachers would think I wasn’t listening to them when I was daydreaming or writing. It’s interesting that I still managed to ace their tests and assignments. Hey, the last minute is there for a reason.

I love the way my golden retriever Chance uses his time. His typically attitude is “The sun, is shining, it’s a beautiful day, and I have plenty of food. Let’s play”. Unless, of course, there is more food to be had. Then he is very attentive. My cats are even better. For them it’s “Take over the world, or nap?” Typical of cats, they will choose to nap.

Heck, offer me chocolate, and I’ll make my time available for you. I’m easy. Dark, of course, the darker the better. And with raspberry… well, you’ve got my attention and all the time you want!

How do you use your time here in this world? Or you chasing after your dreams, or the ones you think you should have? Do you make time for yourself? For those you love? For friends? For meditation?

Time is all we have… and there will always be enough. There is all of your life – however long it is, and however you choose to use the intervals.