November 8 can't come soon enough for most of us. The presidential election campaigning feels like it has been going on for years. Because, really, it has.
We're stressed out.
Whether someone is a Clinton fan, a Trump supporter, a third party embracer, or a "none of the above" advocate, this 2016 election has gotten most Americans into a frazzled state of mind.
Me definitely included.
I obsess over the latest poll results. I worry whether I've done enough to help my favored candidate win the White House. I fret about what will happen to this country after the election is over.
So I thanked Tao for a feeling this morning that led me to walk over to my bookcase and pick up a book that I'd read years ago: Ray Grigg's "The Tao of Zen." (I see that Amazon has used hardback copies priced at one cent, plus shipping; this is a marvelous book, and that's an astounding bargain.)
Below I've shared the first 2 1/3 pages.
Griggs does a pretty damn brilliant job of encapsulating a lot of philosophy in just a few paragraphs. I was tempted to write "Chinese philosophy," but the problem of how we deal with the tension between what is and what will be (plus what we want being to be) is universal.
I felt much better after reading what Griggs wrote. He gave me a fresh perspective on how it is possible for me to be actively involved with politics without going any crazier than I already am.
My thoughts on these passages are shared in green below, interspersed with Griggs' words.
As the consciousness of the early Chinese moved from superstitious defensiveness to volitional empowerment, what Arthur Waley refers to as the evolution from a "pre-moral" to a "moral" culture, people began to realize that direct action was more effective than religious ritual in influencing events.
Well, duh. This seems obvious to me now. But since I embraced a form of Eastern/Indian religiosity for over thirty years, where a daily ritualistic meditation practice was required of devotees, I understand the appeal of ritual.
In early China this option of personal assertion as a response to unfolding circumstances first appeared in The Book of Changes, the I Ching.
I bought a copy back in my college days, 1966-71. We'd throw coins, as I recall, to find out what advice the I Ching had for us.
Its essential subject was the interplay between a constantly changing world and a self-conscious individual who was seeking options within these shifting circumstances. How was such a person to act within perpetual change and uncertainty, between what is and what will be?
This. Is. The. Big. Question. Right now we're getting lots of news about what's happening with the presidential election. But on November 9 we'll wake up to what actually did happen. The countless changing circumstances leading up to November 8 will produce a singular outcome: a President Clinton or a President Trump.
The obvious answer was to anticipate the changes by attempting to read the movement of circumstances, and then change them, avoid them, or be prepared for them.
Long ago, this was the job of the I Ching. Now we've got pollsters, analyzers like FiveThirtyEight, prognosticators, talking heads on cable news. More: everybody on Facebook has opinions, with supposed facts to back them up. We're addicted to trying to figure out what is going to happen before it happens, and what we need to do before there is a need to do it.
For a culture closely connected to the soil and the rhythms of the seasons, the Chinese became aware that all changes were linked to the ordered change of natural processes. Changes were not random or meaningless; they were bound by the character of the world itself and could be read in the images of rhythms of Nature.
A very scientific attitude in a pre-scientific world.
Human nature was part of Nature. Together the two rose and fell in patterns and cycles of growth and decay, birth and death. The similarities between inner and outer movement were noticeable and clear.
The ancient Chinese were ahead of their time. There's a good reason why The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters were written. Chinese philosophy is largely in accord with the basic principles of modern naturalistic science.
The I Ching measured these movements so they could be harmonized with each other. But it also measured something else. The insight that defined individual volition became the first conscious separation between inner self and outer circumstances. The spiritual integrity of all being was consequently divided, and the magical wholeness of a solely religious existence was fractured by the effort to control events directly.
Well, we're still fractured. Most people believe in free will, even though 21st century neuroscience strongly argues against its existence. We feel like there is a "me," a "self," that floats around independently inside our head, somehow disconnected from the goings-on of the physical brain and able to make decisions unaffected by prior experiences or external influences.
Attention shifted from passive ritual toward active influence. Although The Book of Changes recorded and then described this newly emerging relationship between the inner and the outer, it did not offer a resolution to the resulting split that now divided the sense of spiritual oneness.
People today still struggle with the same question: if I'm part of the world, why does the world so often seem to be at odds with me?
A more sophisticated thinking was required to resolve this dichotomy. In the structure of the I Ching and within its underlying assumptions was the resolution.
Now we start to get to why I'm so attracted to Taoism, and enjoy my Tai Chi practice so much (Tai Chi basically is Taoism in motion).
The condition that evolved from the I Ching held that two interactive elements influenced events. The first was the great force of circumstances, the universal principle that pervaded everything. This omnipresence was soft and nurturing but it was also hard and unfailing, both an energy of creative generosity and an inflexibility of order that was determined by the integrity of itself.
Poetic words that seem absolutely scientifically correct. The laws of nature can't be altered. Even when we think we're doing something unnatural, our ability to do that is part of what nature allows. Yet the natural world also is extremely appealing: beautiful, alluring, seductive.
Although immediate and obvious, this principle was also beyond thought and knowing. Because it was beyond words it was simply called the Way, the Tao.
Something is making everything be what is is, and do what it does. That something can't be separate from nature, unless we embrace some sort of nonsensical dualism. So why not call it the Way?
The second element was the virtue-power of individual character, the Te. It could be reached through tso-wang, "sitting with blank mind," by finding "the mind within the mind, or hsin tsung, the still place in the center of consciousness that was somehow connected to the Tao through the oneness of the inner and the outer -- a relationship somewhat like the Atman to the Brahman in Hinduism.
OK, this does sound sort of woo-woo. But I look upon what Griggs is saying here simply as a recognition that the human mind can experience the world more clearly, or less clearly. We all know this to be true. Some days our mind seems to be in such frantic motion that it can't discern what is happening in the ever-moving outside world. Becoming calmer, more centered, helps us gain a clearer perspective. If I read or watch too much political news, I get information overload. Relaxing, I realize that there isn't any sort of objective presidential election reality. How things appear in our pre-election day perspective depends on what enters our minds, and how we look upon it.
When this connection was entered, when the Te became one with the Tao, the result was a synchronistic accord between the inner person and the outer world. Thus people could live harmoniously within the bounds of natural order by becoming one with it.
Far out! Make me feel like I'm one with everything. Then there won't be so much of a Me that gets pissed at what Not-Me is up to.
They could be joint partners in the unfolding of circumstances, exerting their influence by taking part in the larger ordering process while remaining compliant to the larger ordering principle. Individual volition could become soft and cooperative, compliant rather than willful.
Wise advice. When I'm impelled to be politically active, to care about the presidential election, to help a chosen candidate, I need to realize that it is the World, the Way, that's bringing this about. Sure, I may feel like I'm making choices to donate money, vote a certain way, and such, but this is illusion. I, along with everybody else, am just a small cog in the Great Machinery of the Cosmos. My doing ultimately doesn't come from me, it comes from everything.
By cultivating inner character, people could influence events but still be in accord with the great order of the Tao. Thus the inner-outer dichotomy was resolved. This school of thought and practice became known as Taoism.
Like the saying goes, it is what it is. Dude. (see here and here) This isn't a bumper sticker slogan. It's the truest thing that can be said.
Almost certainly, either Trump or Clinton is going to be elected president in a few days, an Electoral College tie being very unlikely. To deny the November 9 result is to deny reality. To believe "this wasn't supposed to happen" is to embrace an utterly crazy worldview, one which posits a schism between the what should be mind of the believer and the what is of existence.
I, like you, am part of the Way, the Tao, that also can be called Nature or the Laws of Nature. There isn't us and the world, or us and the presidential election. We're all in this together. We're all producing this together. We're all responsible for what happens together.
...Taoism is the resolution of the subject-object, active-passive paradox that was invented by self-conscious deliberation. It puts together the wholeness that personal willfulness took apart. In simplest terms this is done by entering the dichotomy and becoming the empty stillness in the center of the paradox.
Good words to stop commenting on.
Sounds like Lincoln's religion, from the forward of his biography. I noticed this coincidence too, zao means "life" or "I am alive" in ancient Greek, pro ounces dzao. Nice read.
Posted by: andi | November 09, 2016 at 07:14 PM
"...Taoism is the resolution of the subject-object, active-passive paradox that was invented by self-conscious deliberation. It puts together the wholeness that personal willfulness took apart. In simplest terms this is done by entering the dichotomy and becoming the empty stillness in the center of the paradox." There is great wisdom in these words, in my humble opinion...but I find it a constant discipline to find the elusive "eye of the hurricane", which is still and is in the center of the great storm (dichotomy/paradox)! Thanks for a nicely written article, Brian.
Posted by: albert medina | November 11, 2016 at 08:55 AM