February 27, 2005 at 5:22 pm #2964
Sorry, another long post.
Another point of contention between Plato and Winn is Daoisms apparent self-centeredness. What I mean by this is the seemingly constant focus on ones own increase in skill and power (physical, sexual, energetic) and the seeming lack of any focus or even concern about outward compassion, good works, etc.
Michael Winns view seems to be what I would call the deer in the woods defense. A deer in the woods is neither good nor evil. It does neither good deeds nor evil acts. It just is. It lives completely in tune with nature. It doesnt need a rule book on how to act, and any concept of morality is irrelevant to its actions.
Michael might say that the self-centeredness that disturbs Plato and I actually allows the practitioner to move along on his spiritual progression. And, as he does progress, he will naturally become, like the deer, more attune with nature (the Dao) and thus more likely to act spontaneously in ways that further the Dao.
Many of these ways would fall into the modern conception of companionate Buddhist living, but not all. Indeed, there might be instances where to live according to the Dao would entail not being companionate, generous or turning the other cheek. In such instances indeed in all instances the practitioners actions would be neither moral nor immoral, for those characterizations would be irrelevant. Rather they would simply be aligned.
I think its a fine theory. And, whether Michael is aware of it or not, one can even find strains of this theory in various good works religious traditions (e.g., the Book of Job, or Paul and other Christian mystics pronouncements that there is no right or wrong in Christ, etc.).
But I also think there are two forces at work that can subvert the Deer in the Woods theory into little more than a justification for truly selfish acts.
First is the endemic self-centeredness of western culture, where Daoism can be seen and is marketed as just another form of power yoga or tai bo, a tool for vain empowerment. For instance ALTHOUGH I AM SURE THAT YOU ARE ALL A BUNCH OF ALTRUISTIC MONKS the reason I started on this path was to attain better health, sex and longevity rather than to merge with the Dao. And many Daoist materials on this and other sites are sold with just that hook.
The second force at work is the unfettering of these ancient practices from lineages that contained both a strict code of conduct and formalized and long-term master-pupil relationship. Theres been a lot of lineage bashing on this board of late, but its worth remembering that the reason most lineages and schools exist is NOT because of the self aggrandizing machinations of a cult leader, or in order to maintain an economic franchise. Rather, most lineages and schools stand the test of time because they have both something valid to teach and know a good WAY to teach it, a way that involves rules, supervision and codes of conduct.
So where do these two forces (western emphasis and no lineage) leave us?
The general availability of these practices allows the 21st century man to start on this path in order to attain ego-centered power, and the inherent value of these practices will in fact enable him to become stronger and more powerful. But the same general availability allows such attainment without any real relationship with a teacher/mentor and without any clear tradition of proper conduct to keep him in check.
The Deer in the Woods Theory then enables this empowered and essentially guideless practitioner to act in any way he sees fit, because his only responsibility is to act according to his true nature, whatever he deems it to be.
One is left to hope that each increase in personal power will bring with it an increase in alignment with the Dao, so there will be a natural check on doing any harm to himself or others. (Indeed, that hope is in essence the Deer in the Woods theory).
But my own personal experience is that this is not the case. Indeed, my own personal experience (and my observation of others) leads me to believe that the easy availability and mixing of practices from multiple traditions and the lack of real day to day supervision from a knowledgeable mentor should counsel the prudent practitioner to adhere to a GREATER external moral code than the average person.
So while Deer in the Woods and my only responsibility is to the Dao are fine theories, I would caution anyone whose not in a monastery to consider some of the more traditional rules of moral conduct, if for nothing else than as an external check on your own potential for selfishness and abuse.
Finally, and perhaps MORE IMPORTANTLY, I think Michaels posts below fail to recognize that good works and moral codes of conduct are NOT emphasized in all major spiritual traditions in order to foster mind control or to package someone elses forced notion of compassion.
Rather, there is, if I may use the word, an ALCHEMICAL reason behind this emphasis.
Practicing compassion and good works is, in fact, just what it says it is, a practice. It is a practice just like Fusion or tai chi, and it transforms and evolves the practitioner just like those other practices. To quote Jesus (and why not?): it is through giving that we receive.
The rational for practicing good works like all aspects of religion can be simplified (and bastardized) into do this because God/Buddha/Allah/etc. tells you to. But the emphasis on the transformative power of good works is clear in, at the very least, most scholarly Buddhist and Christian writing that I have read on the subject.
Also and I could be wrong about this I think most Daoist lineages place some emphasis on good works, probably for similar reasons.
We take other peoples instruction as to how to practice tai chi and Fusion. There is no reason why we should not take their instruction as to how to practice compassion.
In sum, external codes of conduct whether imposed on you by the Catholic Church, Buddha or your grandmother have value, precisely because they come from traditions that are, collectively, older and wiser then you; traditions that take the long view of both the human race and your own spiritual development. You ignore such teachings to the detriment of yourself and the rest of humanity.
spyrelxFebruary 27, 2005 at 7:25 pm #2965
this is my first post and i’d like to start with that this forum really needs updating, the layout is quite chaotic and hard to follow, which is a shame because there is a lot of fantastic debates going on… particularly this one.
the penultimate “in the red corner buddhism and in the blue corner taoism”.
why must there be such a conflict between the two? i can see and agree that many of the practices of taoism, in particular the healing tao system, seems to be very self-centred and aimed at self realisation or even pleasure to an extent. whereas buddhism (and i do know from experience as i have been raised as a buddhist by two long term tibetan buddhist practicing parents) seems to be very selfless and non-pleasure oriented.
ill start with buddhism first, yes buddhism is all about compassion and giving sometimes even to the detriment of the practitioner. the lack of emphasis on physical and energetic health (the gulf between mind and body) sometimes results in not so desirable effects. for example my fathers teacher died of a heart attack whilst he was doing a long retreat in india, not helpful for my father as he was not able to get a lot of the guidance he was hoping for. sometimes buddhist lamas are in such a poor state of health that they can hardly teach the students who have come to learn. this also leads to the idea that it is impossible to give what you dont have, a poor man cannot give money to a beggar because he doesnt have any.
buddhist practitioners have also taken on the idea that they will not rest until all beings are enlightened, thus they give up their own experience of nirvana in awaiting for everyone else to join them. a noble cause. yet with all their “everything is mind/illusion” talk, i sometimes get very confused by this concept. buddhists recognise that all existance is an illusion, yet they perpetuate this illusion by refusing to accept it is all an illusion until everyone else does too….??? if nothing exist and no beings exist, why do you need to help them?
perhaps my train of thought seems a little chaotic itself, but ill come back later on it after there are some replies.
now, buddhists and taoists do in fact have some things in common. first and foremost is the emphasis on self-development. on developing good emotions and happiness within yourself. for to have these things is to be able to give them out.
now the argument against taoists here is that they are selfish in pursuing enlightenment for only themselves. buddhists, you shouldn’t fret over this… it’s one less person you have to worry about!!! the other argument is that taoists will not have any sense of moral right and wrong. this i argue against… if the kind of practices outlined here (inner smile, fusion, etc) are practiced, all are aimed at control of negative emotions and developing positive emotions. how can someone who is full of love, kindness, openess, courage, stillness do bad things? such a person is bound to be a gentle and caring person… it is inherent in the practices and unless you are doing something wrong in the practices… it will occurr.
just because one of the outstanding philosphies of taoism isn’t “do good to all beings” does not mean that it is not recognised or desirable to a taoist. the natural way of things benefits all beings, whether they recognise it or not.
however the fear of buddhists in this forum is that the taoist, who becomes a rich man, through being selfish in his accumulation of wealth will be too tight fisted to give anything to the beggar at all. dont fear, because it seems as if the aim of the taoist is to become so rich that the money is falling out of his pocket as he walks anyways…
the last little point brought up is the disconnection from a teacher now apparent in the taoist practices… being able to learn from books, dvd’s etc. however it is only the basics that are taught this way… and it is a very urgent time on planet earth, with sickness and cancer skyrocketing, destruction of the environment, and the now apparent presence of an occult, oppressive, manipulative and deceptive world order (world governments/military organisations/corporations), it is lucky that many people who may not get a chance to find a teacher can have access to teachings that may make them recover from or avoid illness and make them strong enough to survive the coming terror (believe me or not, it IS coming, watch wars and death and sickness and destruction increase).
how about we have a little look at the good aspects of both ways of life, we will probably see that they really are very similar after all… and we can borrow from each other. the buddhists borrow some health techniques, the taoists borrow some compassionate techniques. the world is becoming too scary a place for silly religious fundamentalisms…
p.s. i also thought buddhists were supposed to be tolerant and accepting of ALL religions and beings?February 27, 2005 at 8:37 pm #2967
i am puzzeled by many of these comments.my experience in studying the healing tao – opening my heart. and discovering being. and identifying and valuing core states of kindness of trusting, and, of compassion-conscience.February 27, 2005 at 10:54 pm #2969
again a very rational objective and thought provoking discussion.
i think what spyrelx said about the hooks as a marketing tool for HT is correct. but i am not opposed to that. havng spent several years with a “coyote” teacher, i’m used to these things. what a coyote teacher does (among other things) is trick you into learning what you need to learn by making you think you’re going to learn what you want to.
people are drawn to HT (or whatever) for reasons like those described by spyrelx. then, some day, they wake up realizing that they’re actually on a different path than they thought they were and it is magnificent. so i’m not against using these hooks.
some people also enter the path for validation and take up an evangelical attitude seeking converts not because the path ios right, but because they need validation from numbers. these people are as asleep as the ones seeking power or sex. but eventually, they wake up one day too realizing its not about conversions or validation or self-righteousness but aligning oneself withthe dao ortheinfinite or whatever label you care to put upon it, and that that in itself will produce the desired effects of doing good and being righteous.
all of us come tothe path in a state or sleep. i moved to china cuz its full of the hottest tightest asian chicks i’ve ever seen and wanted a piece of the action. i live in a nation of perfect asses, bite-sized titties, and svelt women. and i enjoy every moment of it.
that was the hook that the universe used to draw me towards my destiny. the reality is i camehere to be away from home, to be isolated, to contribute to an awakening culture, and learn countless lessons for my own growth and development and contribute back in turn from that grtowth and development. in short, i came here to get closer to the dao and develop “virtue,” not the reason i origianlly thought. so i’m all about hooks.
i gave up powers a long time ago. i remember having a bif breakthrouh in my alchemny one day and discussing it with michael winn. then i asked him, “so when does the zapping in and zapping out of places begin?” his reply: “when that becomes a necessary part of your soul mission.” in other words, it aint about that.
my work here has taken off without the distractions i had back home. instead of living other people’s visions, i’m finally living my own, with or without the hot asian chicks.
we’ve discussed a lot of probelms that exist onthe path for everyone from what is best for each individual to the pitfalls we all encounter. on this path MOST PEOPLE FAIL. that is the course of history. the people who achieve the dao or the philospher’s stone or the holy grail are precious few. it might be the fault of the seekers, it might be teh fault of teachers and systems. or it may just be the nature of the path.
in all of camelot, just three knights found the grail. of the 1.3 billion people in china, there are precious few immortals, and about 1.3 billion people who dont believe in them. its not the fault of daoism or buddhism or christianity. it’s merely the nature of the path we’re all on.
i hope everyone on this list succeeds in their path. i really do. but i know most of us will fail. i myself may fail. and i need the awareness fo that fact to reduce my chances of doing so. after so seeking, searching, practicing and playing for so long, i wonder sometimes if i’ll ever make it. but i can’t imagine life without it, so i go on. all of you must go on too, no matter how discouraged you get ro no matter what obstacles are thrown your way. from this discussion perhaps new ways will appear to us that we can take to further our journey, and perhjpas we eill see the improbablitity along other ways we were contemplating.
that’s my two fen worth (chinese cents, worth a lot less than a penny)March 1, 2005 at 4:40 am #2971
I agree that codes of ethics are a good and even necessary practice.
I’m all for chivalry! I like this sufi idea: javanmardi=”spiritual chivalry”
Sakyamuni (“Buddha”), and also Nagarjuna, Saraha, Padmasambhava, etcetera, believe in intrinsic goodness though (so tuning into it really is literally considered to guarantee that you become a good guy, without needing to remind yourself of your code of ethics), unlike the picture the catholic church has generally painted (the inquisition is not that far away in time… Did you know that the insult “faggot” came from the inquisition practice of throwing, almost as an afterthought, alleged homosexuals onto the fire they’d lit to burn some witches? The word faggot was then a common word meaning “peice of firewood”… Kindling); and buddhism, though rarely sinking to the nazi-like depravity of the inquisition, has also become cramped and limiting in it’s view of the general person, by times, just as daoism (and actually buddhism too) has become by times a glorifying cover for the pursuit to become a darth vader-like sorceror, or a just plain powerful so that one can lord it over others, get lots of sex, etc. But plenty of individual practicioners of these systems have realized the genuine fruit.
There’s a difference, sometimes small, but sometimes very great, between what a tradition teaches, and what the founder(s) of that tradition intended, and what individuals manage to attain now.
SimonMarch 1, 2005 at 9:00 am #2973
I appreciate your penetrating questions about the issues, you have a deep grasp of many of the issues involved not always apparent to the outsider’s eye. You, along with a number of other posters here, have a genuine openness that is not always displayed by someone who has adopted a particular religious theology. Tao is an open ended process, not a fixed dogma or judgement on the way things are, and I find your questions well suited to that spirit.
I also ntend to reply to the questions – the nature of the greater self, etc. in some of your earlier posts as I find time, I’m in the middle of writing a book chapter and preparing summer retreat material, but I will get to your questions. I also sometimes don’t reply right away because I want others to feel they have room to voice their ideas.
A reply to your Deer In the Woods theory. It is only partly accurate.
Truth (from my understanding of Tao) is neutral, it never judges good or bad, it just seeks to keep the “light” and “dark” in balance, just as you hypothesize the deer sniffs the wind and moves appropriately to keep its balance with nature. That is its “te” (pinyin “de”), the derr’s manifest virtue/spiritual power.
That would be a good example of the outer Way, the exoteric Tao: go with the flow, everything is inherently in balance and if I don’t make it worse and I just keep my balance in every moment then I will glide effortlessly through life. I will be in harmony with the flow of what is manifesting around me. But my options are limited to responding to my sensory environment.
The Taoist alchemical and esoteric teaching is that the deer’s neutral awareness state is the first stage of development, but that it does not lead to immortality. At this stage, some of the practice methods (One Clouds first formula) include Inner smile as unconditional acceptance of what is, that allow one’s outer layer of struggle to dissolve.
Or its outer applications, known traditionally as the practice of “sitting in forgetfulness”, where you simply let go of your rigid personality patterns and open to whatever flows through. Or you do medical qigong or tai chi movements that emulate the flow of chi in nature, and help you embody it.
In fact, this fisrst level of achieving harmony is also described in the texts as the Way of Death. They are talking about the post-natal creation cycle here – the cycle of nourishing life used in chinese medicine and part of Fusion practice – it is also the Way of Death. Because whatever grows will also die, you are just moving smoothly with that particular cycle so as to not struggle against it.
Result is a certain level of peace and happiness, moving with the currents of the life force – in the post-natal realm. But the end point of that cycle is death and entering blindly into what is beyond that. Do the Deer dies, as all deer must. But it had a better and happier life for not being so reactive and in struggle.
But the alchemical Deer wants to intervene in the creation cycle, and use its free will to accelerate and intensify the process of restoring harmonious to flow in the creation cycle stage, which can be slow if we wait for external events in life. So they are no longer a neutral deer in the woods: they are sniffing the wind in all directions, and calling those powers in to accelerate what is called the” return to origin” portion of the cycle.
For this the deer must peer into the pre-natal realms, and ultimatesly into the primordial realm. This is equivalent to entering into “death” – the formless state that existed before the Deer was born” – and do it consicously. This requires greater virtue/spiritual power than the first Deer in the Woods – they must ue their INTENTION to consciously navigate what is mythologically called the underworld and the above world. In Taoist terminology, this is the micro-cosmos and the macrocosmos.
The Yi, translated as Miind Intent, Creative Imagination, Integrated Will, must fuse all five streams of its natural virtues/spiritual powers to enter into the pre-natal realm, the structured formless realm that invisibly shape the microcosmoc (patterns hidden within our body) and the Macrocosmos (patterns hidden within the sensory appearance of the world/Nature). Depending on the soul pattern that one is born with, this Inner Journey will be mirrored in one’s Outer Journey by unique challenges that will elicit unique strengths.
So the Taoist sense of “te” virtue is not moralistic in nature, and cannot be predicted or pre-defined as THE good (which would limit that individual’s unfoldment). The ” five lesser body spirits” – the wu jingshen – each embody general tendencies that are described as the five virtues – wisdom, kindness, spirtual joy, strength, balanced openness.
These spiritual powers arise from the Tao, they from the pre-natal formless into the post-natal. They are innate and spontaneous. Yes, cultivation of the Way strengthens them, but they cannot be accumulated as externally countable merits – a pile of golden beans – that will then entitle one entry into the pre-natal and primordial heavens.
Moral sense is situational, and cannot ultimately be known by others not involved in that situation, although certainly every society will pass judgement to maintain the integrity of its particular culture. The sage/immortal may be balancing things that they see on the inner planes when they spontaneously act in the outer planes that do not make sense to others.
That is why some Taoists are sometimes accused of being amoral, they refuse a fixed cultural idea of moral behavior because it does not match the fluid reality of the Life Force. Rigid moral ideas become evil when they flock the flow of the Life Force and kill its spontaneous virtue of sustaining balance and integrity in the present moment. Cultivation of tao was traditionally done in pairs or small communities to ensure feedback in the beginning to developing cultivators so they are not deluded by stray impulses.
Plato’s pronouncement that I am self-centered and that all taoists are selfish in their internal cultivtion focus can be seen in this light – as a gaeneralization not worthy of his intelligence. Its a hack reptition of religious dogma – the kind articulated by missionary religions to promote their spread and sell their church to the uninitiated. Taoism is not a missionary religion, because they don’t want to enforce a fixed idea on someone else of how to be. That would violate their central tenet of natural unfoldment of one’s individual “te”, their virtue.
There may be what appears to be selfish buddhists and selfish taoists, depending on their inherited nature and their level of cultivation and ability to integrate inner and outer. Just read the newspapers in Thailand about Buddhist monks being arrested for drug dealing and numerous other crimes and you will get the picture of what is happening in probably one of the most buddhist of modern societies.
Virtue has nothing to do with someone externally pronoucing, “I am compassionate”. Those are just words, which a mass religion might require you to wear on your sleeve in order to be accepted in the religious community, similar to “Jesus saves”. That all buddhists are out in the world doing good works is contradicted by their propensity to take long retreats and live in monasteries separated from the struggle of making a living and dealing with the problems of modern life.
I think historically mass religions have served a useful function as a repository for spiritual values for their community. But because they cast the world in a good-evil struggle and ignore the third factor of neutral truth, the dualism produces a shadow that reveals itself sooner or later in holy wars, judgements against the non-believers, guilt at not meeting someone else’s standard, etc.
A more sophisticated understanding of what is going on with high level cultivation is Lao Tsu’s gem:
“The Sage stays at home, does nothing, yet nothing is left undone.”
My interpretation: those busy doing good works to change the outer world may be too busy to change their inner world, the real work that needs doing.
In alchemy, the inner world is not just your personal lesser self. That is just first stage. As you progress, you take on the inner world of the outer reality and the task of harmonizing it internally.
That is known as The Great Work in western alchemy, and in Taoist alchemy you are working with the “da shen”, the Greater Spirit. You thus do the work of integrating the “collective unconscious” of humanity with the impersonal streams of heaven and earth consciousness.
This is the inner work of the sage “who stays at home”. Alchemical work is invisible to worldly people, because they lack the sensitivity to perceive directly those levels of reality.March 11, 2005 at 1:29 am #2975
Right on, Brother!
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