Monthly Archives: May 2005


Rubens, The Judgment of Paris

The accused stands helpless before the judge.
Pen is poised to determine right from wrong.
In one arbitrary stroke,
Life is suddenly decided.

Do judges have Tao? Dispassionate to the point of cruelty, making distinctions on the basis of arbitrary rules, can they be a part of a humanistic view of Tao? The answer depends on the context. If you are speaking of the Tao of nature-loving hermits, the answer is no. No one has the right to pass judgment on another. If you are speaking of society, however, those who follow Tao accept the necessity of set rules.

Those laws are the Tao of the society. Once you are in the world of people and away from the world of nature, you are immersed in dualistic distinctions. Then concepts such as righteousness and mercy have meaning. Judgment is the process of comparing ideas in order to find agreement or disagreement with the Tao of society. The facts must be thoroughly examined. Judges trust clearly and wisely apply distinctions. that which agrees is the truth.

In the same way, we are all compelled to examine the ongoing circumstances of our lives. That is part of the responsibility of being human. Embracing Tao will not exempt you from the need to render judgments and make decisions. We are both the ultimate judge and the accused. When your final day comes, you yourself must be the examiner. Did you do well? Or did you squander your precious existence? You must decide.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.” — Paulo Coelho

“We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience.” — Howard Zinn

I’m not much of one for judging others. I tend to go more from my perceptions than my judgments. I can be very judgmental of myself at times, although I’ve pretty much gotten over that. I hate being judged by others. They can never see more than their own side of things, just as I can never see more than my side. But I think others see me as judgmental and critical at times, even when I’m trying not to be that way. I need to work more on my delivery, I guess.

As for judgment in our society right now, I think it’s crucial that we maintain judges who are as impartial as possible. Recent events have shown that impartial judgment is critical in our society right now, as evenly divided as it is by the moralistic side and the more liberal side.

But these are the kind of judges the right wants appointed now:

Justice Owen, along with Justice Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court, is now at the center of the partisan battle in the Senate over changing the filibuster rules. Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, said Friday that the two state justices, whose confirmations have been blocked by Democrats, would be brought to the Senate floor as part of the fight over changing the rules.

Justice Owen was, by all accounts, a respected but little-known lawyer in Houston in 1994 when she was first elected to the State Supreme Court with Mr. Rove’s support and tutelage. Her experience up to then largely involved obscure legal cases involving pipelines and federal energy regulations.

At the time, Mr. Rove was helping to make over the Texas Supreme Court from a bench populated by Democrats widely viewed as favorable to the plaintiffs’ bar – the lawyers who sue companies – to the business-friendly Republican stronghold it is today.

Ms. Owen would probably never have had a chance to run for the Supreme Court, because everyone considered it a hopeless task to oppose the enormously popular incumbent, Justice Lloyd Doggett. But when a Congressional seat opened up suddenly, Justice Doggett, a Democrat, decided to leave the court and run for the House. Ms. Owen found herself the Republican nominee in a state turning increasingly Republican.

Mr. Rove, who had helped select her as the Republican candidate, helped raise more than $926,000 for her campaign, almost half from lawyers and others who had business before the court, according to Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group in Austin that tracks Texas campaign donations. Mr. Rove’s firm was paid some $247,000 in fees.

Even on the conservative, all-Republican bench that the State Supreme Court had become, Justice Owen occasionally stood out among her colleagues, sometimes in tandem with another justice, Nathan Hecht. In no situation was this more so than in cases involving the interpretation of a state law providing for a teenage girl to obtain an abortion without notifying her parents if she can show a court that she is mature enough to understand the consequences.

In one dissent, Justice Owen said the teenager in the case had not demonstrated that she knew that there were religious objections to abortion and that some women who underwent abortions had experienced severe remorse.

Speak out about how you feel about the importance of impartial judges in our society today by signing this petition


Is total peace.

When you relax completely, there is total silence. No thought enters the mind, no problems arise from the body, no memories grip the spirit. This overwhelming sense of tranquility is really all meditation is about. The neutral stillness of the mind renews the tired soul, and this is regeneration.

Even if you don’t follow a formal meditation program, it is good to sit quietly for a little while every day. This form of rest should be as regular as sleeping each day. If you can sit still and just relax completely, you are actually meditating. All the various forms of complicated techniques and visualization exist because people can’t bring themselves to this very simple state of relaxation. Their minds are constantly racing, their bodies are out of balance, and the worries of the day weigh heavily upon them. They cannot let go, so they need a formal routine to follow. But if you can simply sit down and empty yourself, you will experience a wonderful silence and a deep, satisfying sense of peace.

One should try to return to a relaxed state on a regular and periodic basis. The simple reason for relaxation is that it renews us, purifies us, and leaves us with a profound feeling of serenity. It is not a ritual. It is not a religious obligation. It is a wonderful state away from problems. In it, we are poised in our natural state.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I guess I should have posted this photo for cat-blogging Friday… oh well, a bit late.

However you relax today, have fun!

About that Fish on your car…

Fish Symbols

The pre-Christian history of the fish symbol:

The fish symbol has been used for millennia worldwide as a religious symbol associated with the Pagan Great Mother Goddess. It is the outline of her vulva. The fish symbol was often drawn by overlapping two very thin crescent moons. One represented the crescent shortly before the new moon; the other shortly after, when the moon is just visible. The Moon is the heavenly body that has long been associated with the Goddess, just as the sun is a symbol of the God.

The link between the Goddess and fish was found in various areas of the ancient world:

In China, Great Mother Kwan-yin often portrayed in the shape of a fish.

In India, the Goddess Kali was called the “fish-eyed one”.

In Egypt, Isis was called the Great Fish of the Abyss.

In Greece the Greek word “delphos” meant both fish and womb. The word is derived from the location of the ancient Oracle at Delphi who worshipped the original fish goddess, Themis. The later fish Goddess, Aphrodite Salacia, was worshipped by her followers on her sacred day, Friday. They ate fish and engaging in orgies. From her name comes the English word “salacious” which means lustful or obscene. Also from her name comes the name of our fourth month, April. In later centuries, the Christian church absorbed this tradition by requiring the faithful to eat fish on Friday – a tradition that was only recently abandoned.

In ancient Rome Friday is called “dies veneris” or Day of Venus, the Pagan Goddess of Love.

Throughout the Mediterranean, mystery religions used fish, wine and bread for their sacramental meal.

In Scandinavia, the Great Goddess was named Freya; fish were eaten in her honor. The 6th day of the week was named “Friday” after her.

In the Middle East, the Great Goddess of Ephesus was portrayed as a woman with a fish amulet over her genitals.

The fish symbol “was so revered throughout the Roman empire that Christian authorities insisted on taking it over, with extensive revision of myths to deny its earlier female-genital meanings…Sometimes the Christ child was portrayed inside the vesica, which was superimposed on Mary’s belly and obviously represented her womb, just as in the ancient symbolism of the Goddess.” Another author writes: “The fish headdress of the priests of Ea [a Sumero-Semitic God] later became the miter of the Christian bishops.”

The symbol itself, the eating of fish on Friday and the association of the symbol with deity were all taken over by the early Church from Pagan sources. Only the sexual component was deleted.


Bronze Okimono by Toyoaki , ca 1885

Barrel maker planes staves to exact angles.
His shavings glow in the afternoon sun.
He joins fragrant wood together,
Fitting shoulders like building an arch.
Until the bands, there is no barrel.

There is no barrel until the cooper builds it. Until then, there are pieces of straight-grained wood, shavings, a round bottom, and metal bands, but there is no barrel. All parts are there, but they need to be composed in order to take shape. It is the same with the facets of our personalities. Until they are held tightly together as a single unit, there is no completeness, and usefulness will not be forthcoming.

Spiritual practice can be the outside order that the personality needs. While such an order can be initially restricting, perhaps even feel artificial in its arbitrariness, it is absolutely necessary. It is a means to an end. Perhaps at the end we will not need such structure, but neither will we reach the end without the means. Before we leave the image of the barrel, there is one more thing to notice about it. A barrel encloses only one thing : void. That is the way it is with us, too. All the pieces of our personality, no matter how perfectly formed, only enclose what is inside us. All spiritual practice, while it may bind us into a cohesive whole, points to the emptiness of the center. This emptiness is not nihilism but the open possibility for Tao to enter. Only with such space will we have peace.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I’ve spent a lot of my time the last few weeks creating empty space. We cleared out all the bedrooms for new carpeting, rebuilt a couple of walls that had molded due to a leaking door, fixed the door, painted rooms and ceilings, and finally, had three lovely empty rooms with brand new carpeting and paint. Ah. Such a lovely feeling of empty space!

Of course they are now all being filled up again with our stuff, and the kids rooms are a mess while they figure out where everything will go. But the kids rearranged their rooms and we created some new empty space for them, and less furniture is coming back into the rooms than left so there is more open space in all the bedrooms now. My youngest decided to ditch his bed and just have his mattress on the floor, so his room looks bigger. They’ve both ditched their dressers in favor of a smaller storage bin arrangement. Well they are teenagers so permanence isn’t an issue for their furniture, anyway. In our room a bookcase is coming out, but makes way for our dresser to emerge from the closet, freeing space in the closet.

So that is a way of dealing with physical space. But how do we clear out our mental space, to make way for the Tao to flow more freely? My own way is through these meditations I do each day, clearing my thoughts, making space for a small bit of thinking about life as a whole rather than in isolated bits and pieces. I wander through my garden and see what new thing is growing, what needs to be trimmed back a bit, what needs more water or a bit of attention, and find my mind has calmed. I don’t really think of these things I do as a spiritual practice, but they are about as close to one as I get these days.

I spent my Sundays in church as a kid, and found it didn’t add a lot to my life, really. I have tried a couple of times as an adult to go to churches and found much the same. The saying of “You are nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on the earth” holds more truth for me. That is where I feel spiritual, happy, at home and at peace with the world. People think my garden must take a lot of work, but to me it is a pleasure and not a chore at all.

I think a fine craftsman finds much the same thing. The cooper or craftsman who knows their craft well finds the pleasure in doing the work, and it is truly art for them and not a chore. When I wrote software, there was a very zen-like feeling in getting into the flow of coding, re-working the lines of code until they achieved a state of perfection. It was my own perfectionistic nature at that time that made it a pleasure to do the work.

There is a pleasure in doing things well, in knowing the barrel you’ve created holds water or wine or whatever without leaking, or in knowing you’ve created a space where things can grow or where people can live their lives in a wonderful space you’ve created for them. There is a pleasure in crafting a fine product, or any kind of lasting work. It’s worth taking the time to do things well, and worth taking the time to make space in your life both physically and mentally in order to renew yourself.


Julie Squires - recognition
Julie Squires – Recognition

Spokes on the heavenly wheel
Keep rotation constant.

Those who follow Tao believe that Tao progresses through phases. They apply this principle to all levels of their outlook, from cosmology to the stages of growth in a person’s life. On the microcosmic level, they point to the rotation of the stars as evidence of smooth progression. In a person’s life, they recognize the stages of aging beginning with childhood and ending with death.

Each one of us must go from phase to phase in our development. If we stay too long in one stage, we will be warped or stunted in our growth. If we rush through a stage, then we will gain none of the rewards of learning experiences of that phase. Subsequent growth will be thrown off-balance; we will either have to go back and make it up, or, in the case of experiences that can never be repeated, lose out on them forever. The proper discerning of these transitions is essential.

As we go through our various stages in life, it is important to mark the shift from one stage to another. Recognition is very important. We must understand that we are leaving behind one part of life and entering another. Sometimes, we mark this with a rite of passage such as graduation or marriage. At other times, it may be a personal declaration made privately. Whatever the reason, it is important to know exactly when to close one phase and when to open the next. That is why it is said that one counts the spokes on the heavenly wheel as it turns: It is the measure of our lives.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

In our society, we tend not to focus too much on rites of passage. We have graduations, marriage ceremonies, and funerals, true, but we don’t really give ourselves the time to appreciate these changing stages of our lives. We rush back to our jobs or whatever without fully appreciating what has changed in our lives. We don’t recognize the real stages of moving from childhood to adulthood, to becoming parents, to becoming elders. We lack respect for the fact that people are going through these changes, encouraging children to “grow up already” instead of respecting that a young adult needs time to adjust, encouraging people to “get over it” when they experience a loss, without taking the proper time to grieve. We treat older women especially as irrelevant to society, failing to recognize their wisdom and what we can learn from their experiences.

Americans look constantly to youth, without appreciation of the wisdom of elders. In our own lives, we deny the changes of our bodies, wanting to stay young-looking, fighting the lines and wrinkles and balding of aging, without embracing the new-found wisdom we might experience as we age. The passage of time is seen as a bad thing, instead of a natural thing.

Much of our society seems geared around impermanence. We move rather than letting our houses grow with us, into spaces that are impersonal and lack reflection of who we are as people. We want the bigger house or car, instead of appreciating the value of a house that we know well and that our children have grown up in. We move them to a new place rather than letting them remodel their own space, creating a changed version of their own space to grow with their ives. We lack the joy of seeing a garden grow and mature into an elegant reflection of ourselves, settling for a characterless patch of lawn and a few trees or shrubs. Where are our rich gardens, full of the flowers we love, that mean something to us? The lilies we ourselves have cut to give to friends in honor of thier birthdays or the loss of a parent, the roses we cut and give to the people we love? Where are the joyous patches of wildflowers changing with the seasons?

We need to mark our own personal passages in life and honor them. We need to design our society to honor all the phases of our lives, instead of ignoring or disparaging them, and give ourselves and others the time and space to truly experience our lives fully, richly and honorably.


Lightning tears temple asunder.
Divine wrath, or natural disaster?

There was a seaside temple in India that was struck by lightning. That minor storm was the vanguard to a full hurricane that eventually ravaged the entire countryside. The old temple was split from its roof line to its foundations. One entire end of the building was parted from its body like a severed head. Was this karma? Was this the punishment of the gods? Or was it simply an old building and an unfortunate accident?
What you say shows your attitude about nature, reality, and whether you believe gods intervene in human affairs. If you insist that there was some reason that lightning cleaved the temple, then you live in a world where uncertainty is the by-product of some supreme being’s emotional whims. If, however, you accept this incident solely as a natural disaster, then you also accept random occurrences in life. Such a viewpoint does not preclude any notion of the divine, of course. It merely states that not everything in nature is administered by some heavenly bureaucracy.

It is a simple fact that lightning split the temple. The meaning of this incident — if there is any — is determined by each person. One person regards it as a disaster, another as a good thing, while a third views it dispassionately. There is nothing inherent in the incident that dictates its meaning. It is enough that we all recognize that it happened.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Perhaps we all waste far too much time wondering why things happened to us, or to people we know. Regardless of how we feel about God or fate, we all have to deal with the reality of what happens in our lives What does it all mean? We will only be able to determine for ourselves what it means to us as individuals.


Every river has its banks,
Every ocean has its shores.

Constant expansion is not possible. Everything reaches its limits and the wise always try to identify these limits. In the environment, they do not willfully expand civilization at the expense of natural wilderness. In economics, they do not spend beyond the market. In personal relationships, they do not demand more than others can fairly give. In exercise, they do not strain beyond their capacities. In health, they do not go beyond the limits of their age. With such attitudes, the wise can even exploit what others think to be barriers.

When one senses that one has come to the limits of the time and situation, one should conserve one’s energy. Often, this will be in preparation for a challenge to the limits, or a changing over to a new set of constraints. Whenever one comes upon the circumference, it is best to consider carefully and marshal one’s resources before crossing the line. There is always uncertainty, and we must be wary.

We can also utilize limits for our own purposes. We can trap someone because we know of the limits ahead. Defense is possible by utilizing given limits, as a wall protects our backs in a fight. Work is easier when we know that we will be working for a limited time. We can take advantage of opportunities because we know that they are only there for the moment. Limitations should not always be seen as negative constraints. They are the geography of our situation, and it is only right to take advantage of this.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Knowing our limits is wisdom,
Not knowing our limits is ignorance.
The Wise One knows his limits,
Thus he knows always what is possible to be done.
— Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching 71

How often do we push ourselves too hard, only to collapse in exhaustion? Well, not so often for me these days. I have learned my limits pretty well, and try not to take on too much at a time anymore. But I think a lot of us are pushed to the limits these days, and find ourselves without the time we need for renewal. Even when life is at its busiest, take a few minutes each day just to rest and renew yourself. Then, when you are pushing the limits, learn to recognize it, and see if that thing which seems so important is really worth risking a relationship, your health, or your sense of well-being.

But a lot of what we think of as limits really aren’t as solid as they seem, either. I pushed my limits yesterday and went to learn from people I thought I had little in common with. But what I found is that I could learn from them, even so. While I may not always agree with people, or think they have much to give me, they do. So I have to learn not to take the limits I set on myself and others so seriously, and find where it is our interests merge. Often those limits are not as well-defined as they appear to be.


Hide what you know.
Conceal talent.
Shield your light.
Bide your time.

Once you can follow Tao with skill, hide your abilities. Privately accumulate extraordinary knowledge and skill, but keep a plain appearance.

There is great wisdom in being inconspicuous. Do not brag or try anything beyond your means. Don’t let yourself become unbalanced before you have fully mastered an art. Thus, you will not be expected to use your talents on behalf of others unless you yourself volunteer, you will not become the victim of others’ resentment, and the depth of your character will not be judged. When you know how to hide, you avoid the attention and scorn of others, but retain the strategic advantage of surprise. You need to do this not for personal advantage, but to manage yourself and your skills well.

Knowledge and skill are neutral. They are meant to be used. That is all. Mastery should not be used to bolster self-image. We should not allow ourselves to be categorized by what we do know. It is far better to simplify ourselves and free ourselves from the limits of tightly defined identities.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Whoever keeps to Tao
Does not want to be full.
Not full, he can practice
Concealment instead of accomplishment.

— Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

Are you what you know, or defined by what you know? Are you a job title, a job description, a role, a duty? You know that you are something other than the things you do, the things you know. You are more than just a collection of experiences, more than just the services you provide to other people, more than the roles you play for others.

When you meet people, do you ask what they do, or do you try to find out who they are? Do you experience them as individuals, or look for what they can do for you? Do you try to learn what you can from others, or catalog them and decide you can’t possibly learn anything from someone you think you must disagree with?

There is something to learn from everyone.

But you don’t have to tell them everything about you.


Envisat image of a plankton bloom of the coast of Spain. Image credit: ESA.

Spirituality is
Applied poetry.
Metaphysics is
Applied metaphor.

All the methods that we have for knowing Tao came from observing the outside world and then applying it to the human dilemma. In the past, the body was seen as a microcosm of the universe, spiritual energy was compared to the sun, the duality of the body was matched to the duality of day and night, the habits of animals were copied for their innate wisdom, and the psychic centers of the body were imagined as opening flowers. Even if we apply these ideas today, they yield results.

Metaphor is essentially a way to shape thoughts. The insights of poetry can often guide us out of our problems; the imagery of an opening flower is often used in meditation. Yet poetry is only a sensation of the mind and there is no opening flower inside of us. Human beings take objective reality and absorb it partially through a poetry of the mind. Without this, there could be no sense of humor, no creativity, and no spirituality. For until we make the connection between all things, we have no way out of the isolation that often infects us.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Row, row, row, your boat
Gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream….

Who knew that little ditty we learn as kids was life’s best little instruction?
If we just go with the flow, merrily down the stream of life, won’t we be happier?

Poems are indeed great little metaphors for how we live. The Japanese love to write haiku, little short poems, about nature and life.

So what is the metaphor for my life today? A photo, a bit out of focus, of a sunny day interrupted by spring showers…..