Taoism is my favorite non-religious religion. I like it for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that it's the only philosophy I know of that comes with a built-in self defense and health promoting exercise system: Tai Chi.
When a philosophy can be expressed physically, that shows a pleasing rootedness in reality. I adore abstractions also, but like they say (or at least, I do) "Three bucks and a whole bunch of metaphysical concepts gets you a grande latte at Starbucks."
This morning I was reading Thomas Cleary's translation of "The Book of Balance and Harmony: A Taoist Handbook." It's about the Complete Reality School of Taoism, a great name.
Complete Reality. Bring it on! So long as it's nice to me, naturally. And includes my favorite TV shows, like Reno 911, Survivor, and The Colbert Report.
I came across mention of "The Opening of the Mysterious Pass." Also a way cool term. Images of Taoist sages treading solitarily through misty mountains seeking the Way ran through my head.
Actually, I was doing the treading at that very moment. As are you, right now.
"The opening of the mysterious pass is the most abstruse and most essential mechanism. It is not, as various practitioners of yoga say, in the forehead, or the navel, or the bladder, or the genitals, or between the kidneys and navel, or between the kidneys and genitals.
From head to heels, any spot on the body you may focus on is not it. Yet it is not to be sought externally, apart from the body.
Therefore sages just used the word "center" to point out the opening of the mysterious pass. This "center" is it. Let me give you a convenient simile.
When a puppet moves its hands and feet and gesticulates in a hundred ways, it is not that the puppet can move—it is moved by pulling strings. And though it is a strong device, it is the person controlling the puppet who pulls the strings.
Do you know this person who controls the puppet? The puppet is like the body, the strings are like the mysterious pass; the person controlling the puppet is like the innermost self. The movements of the body are not done by the body; it is the mysterious pass that makes it move.
But though it is the action of the mysterious pass, still it is the innermost self that activates the mysterious pass. If you can recognize this activating mechanism, without a doubt you can become a wizard."
I seek and find a "mysterious pass" image through Google. Who did that? How did the Who accomplish it? Where did the intention behind the Who's How come from?
Researchers stick subjects in brain scanning machines. They ask them to think of "running dog." Part of the brain lights up. A scientific paper about the neurological correlate of that sort of thought is written.
I wonder, But what other part of the brain told that part of the brain to activate itself? When I think to myself, "think about a running dog," what or who is doing the thinking about my thinking? Me? But then, what or who is behind all that? How many levels do I have? Where do I begin and end?
Science hasn't reached the other side of the Mysterious Pass. Neither have I, that's for sure.
During my morning meditation I've pretty much given up on trying to fathom the mysteries of the cosmos. I'd just like to understand where one thought of mine comes from.
Like, "Wu." A single syllable. It could be any other word, of any length, with any meaning or non-meaning.
Say it to yourself in your head. Your mind. Your mysterious pass. Whatever you want to call the place where we listen to ourselves speaking to ourselves.
Where does the silent sound come from? Where does it go to?
We can see the puppet moving. We can catch a glimpse of the strings being pulled. But the puppet master is hidden. Science is clueless. So is religion, notwithstanding empty claims to the contrary. So am I.
The Complete Reality School says that the mystery occurs at the meeting place of yin and yang, where stillness stirs into action. I'd say, "See you there." But we're already there.
Lao-tzu says, "Effecting utter emptiness, keeping complete silence, as myriad things act in concert, I thereby watch the return."
The I Ching says, "Return means seeing the heart of heaven and earth." The I Ching hexagram RETURN consists of one yang arising under five yins: yin is quietude, yang is movement; when quietude reaches its consummation, it gives rise to movement. It is this point of movement that is the mysterious pass.
Just apply your attention to the point where you rouse the mind and activate thought, concentrating on this constantly – then the mysterious pass will spontaneously appear.
Maybe the path of infinite regression to the origin of all being is a false path, looking at an optical illusion. I mean, sure you can spend time speculating about what came before, but it seems like a sort of "navel-gazing" activity.
A researcher asked an old woman what her cosmology was. She replied that the world was held up by four pillars. "What holds the four pillars?" the researcher asked.
She said, "Four elephants stand at the corners of the world holding the four pillars."
The researcher pushed, "What are the elephants standing on?"
"They stand on the back of a turtle."
"And what is under the turtle?"
"Another turtle," she said.
The researcher was getting impatient, and started, "What does that turtle..."
The woman interrupted, "Nevermind young man -- it's turtles all the way down."
The thing is, the question straddles the line between philosophy and rhetoric. Our proverbial old woman wraps up the line of inquiry because it is fruitless. Return proposes cyclic rather than linear movement. What comes before this? Why all this precedes all this!
Maybe what the Taoists were pointing to was that at the meeting place of yin and yang, where return is perceptible, is the rather humdrum actuality of creation. Traditional religions and social-circles usually have preposterous stories about creation, and posit the ultimate creation as having been finalized, once, a long time ago.
By using our total participation with the world, we are intrinsic parts of the eternal creation of the world that is happening right now. The mysterious pass that links the action with the intention: wouldn't it connect curiosity with desire, disaffection with doubt, wu with wu wang?
No separation among the ten-thousand things, and no time passes between stripping and return.
Posted by: Edward | June 14, 2007 at 08:40 AM
>the only philosophy I know of that comes with >a built-in self defense and health promoting >exercise system:
More like a 1000 exercise systems with all the variations of qigong
Taoism is the swiss knife of both religion and philosophy
Posted by: casey kochmer | June 15, 2007 at 12:27 PM
Casey, you're right. But you could take an expansive view of "Tai Chi," and then I'd be right also. My instructor views Tai Chi as the ultimate martial art from which the variations you mentioned derive.
Posted by: Brian | June 15, 2007 at 12:33 PM