The following is a work in progress, a rewriting of an old essay. The rest of the essay, additional footnotes, and appendices, will be added as time and weather permit.
Tranquillity, Tumult, and Transformation: Practice of Lao-Zhuang Taoism
What struck me some years back was that I was not going to find a satisfactory answer to the question of Cosmic Meaning. But at the same time it was clear that there were verifiable spiritual dynamics operating in the world around me. I could either find harmony with these principles or not, and accordingly my life would then flourish or not. Authentic spirituality is not a series of philosophical patches pasted together to mask the true nature of the human condition. It rather describes the dynamic elements of the world we are in. The Taoist work of xiu shen (cultivating one's person) brings these dynamics into a powerful harmony. In Taoism I have found a wisdom that describes a most productive means of confronting and fully inhabiting the richness of the human world.
There are two contrasting emphases found in the approaches of the various philosophical and religious schools to the process of spiritual realization. One is gnosis, trying to examine and determine the constitutive elements of human experience and then rationally/logically developing a perspective, path, and goal accordingly.
The other approach is based almost entirely on a practice, here one follows a mystical path and after much time and effort, realizes an intuitive grasp of how the world works in each moment. In this latter case, exactly what one has found cannot be articulated into a theology. This is Tao, one's "mouth cannot make words for it" (Zhuang Zi), one simply has peace and satisfaction (often richness and joy) in the present moment, which becomes sufficient unto itself. What one finds in this rarefied moment is not irrational, but it indeed is "extra-rational." It is a 'truth" that does not violate logic, but moves far beyond its bounds.
I find a phrase I learned from a Taoist named Kun Hock very useful: Yi xing lian Shen: "from form extract spirit." One develops a practice, a form. And then after much concentrated effort what one needs to thrive is realized spontaneously (Zi ran). Just why one is at last satisfied, and what one has reached, is an exquisite but unspeakable knowledge.
Welcome to this page and a discussion on the unspeakable art of Taoism. Permission is given for readers to copy any of the words in this document and to share them with others; the purpose of the copyright is only to identify authorship.
The following is a consideration of Lao-Zhuang Taoism. The
writing is a practical interpretation of one practitioner and
it is hoped that it will be of use to others in the discipline.
I am not presenting an "official" version of Taoism
here. And I would, on the contrary, encourage readers to avoid
the restrictions that various academic and ecclesiastic authorities
would impose on those interpreting Taoism; and rather advise that
one seek that singular meaning that will fit one's own evolving
understanding of reality. The heart is the only compass needed
in this process; the recommendation of Zhuang Zi is "to take
heaven (as revealed in nature) as (final) authority."
I am not a member of the Taoist church. I do not call myself
a "Taoist", a term employed by the Taoist church and
accepted by most Chinese people as specifically indicating a person
who has been initiated into the mysteries of the Taoist religion
by a priest. Incidentally the sages Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi (often
spelled "Chuang Tzu" in English) did not call themselves
"Taoists". I am simply one of many who follow a discipline
that is based of the Way (Tao) of the Lao-Zhuang Taoists. However,
in this writing I will use the terms "Taoist" and "Taoism"
in a non-formal sense, that is to indicate the followers and the
teaching of Lao-Zhuang Taoism.
In Taoism one finds both the iconoclasm of Zhuang Zi and, on
the other hand, the institutional formality of a lineage tradition
employed by various Taoist schools and by the Taoist Church. My
own temperament markedly favors iconoclasm, although I realize
the historical vitality of Taoism can be found in its uncanny
synthesis of the two apparent opposites.
Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi were among the first of a number of radical mystics in history of spirituality who emphasized finding the efficacy, rather than the identity of spirit; their quest was to grasp the creative power of the unknown forces, not to discover and reify their source. They are two ancient members of a genre of seekers who surprisingly have little concern with defining the nature of the world, but rather direct full attention to seek an intimate integration into its endless creativity. Such individuals are called natural mystics and often are not members of religious institutions.
In my late twenties I found that my mind was resting on furniture it had outgrown. I noticed awkward flaws in my assumptions about life, my intellectual foundation was proving incapable of providing the coherent spirituality that I needed. Although I knew there was more to this world than the limited reality described by science, neither traditional religion nor newly evolving religious forms could provide meanings that struck a cord of authenticity. I decided to refuse to accept any ideology, be it scientific, philosophical, political, or theological, if my assent was based on primordial fear or social pressure. I wanted to accept only that which "rang true" and I was willing to take the repercussions that might come.
I was a slow learner; it was not until the late 70's that I began to explore many of the ideas and experiences that the more precocious members of my generation had famously indulged in during the 1960's. Years of inept wandering about those fields led me to consider the Taoists.
The practice of Lao-Zhuang Taoism is the art of self-transformation
(zi hua). This is
the Taoism described by Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi about 2,300 years ago in China. It includes the writing of Lieh Zi (some hundreds of years later) and is often called philosophical Taoism. In China this is called the Taoist School (Tao Jia). Because of its psychological and even neurological dimensions, I think the term philosophical is inadequate. Livia Kohn places Lao-Zhuang Taoism apart from both religious (Tao Jiao) and philosophical Taoism.(1)
This practice is philosophical in that it describes the relationship between the human beings and the universe they live in. Additionally, it is mystical in that it employs preconscious mental processes to nurture this relationship. It has little or no eschatological concerns, nor doctrines of faith, and so is not generally considered a religion. Lao-Zhuang Taoism is an elemental description of psychic reality, it describes how the world we find ourselves in works.
In writing this paper I have confined my interest to "Lao-Zhuang" Taoism, because the approach it takes is universally accessible; no esoteric or cosmological beliefs are a prerequisite to make use of its teaching. The reader, no matter what her cultural or belief system, can directly relate what she reads to her daily psychological and interpersonal experience.
Lao-Zhuang Taoism is an approach to being without an ideological agenda. It is an engagement of daily life without a predetermined philosophy or theology. This approach is empirical; meaning is formed and reformed on the basis of the individual's experience. Our world becomes what works for us.
Related to ideological accessibility, is that as Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi indicate, close supervision by a master teacher is not required to learn their approach to the Tao. The dynamics of Lao-Zhuang Taoism are relatively simple, the difficulty lies in maintaining the quality and quantity of protracted attention that is needed to work successfully. With determined effort, one will be able to understand and test what one reads in the texts with one's own innate devices.
Compared with "religious Taoism" (Tao Jiao), a rich historical religious tradition which is still practiced today, Lao-Zhuang Taoism is less inclined to institutionalize spiritual authority. Rather than closely following sacred texts, esoteric formulas, and masters, it is calling the seeker to make a self-directed effort to discover the authentic Tao as it is "inscribed" on his soul. The explorer will have to authenticate truth and practice it directly as it is revealed to him, to "take heaven (as revealed in nature) as (final) authority." (yi tian wei shih) (ZZ24)
Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi realized that the ciphers needed to penetrate the underlying patterns of the reality that surrounded them, were imprinted upon each individual mind at birth. By clearing this mind of later culturally imposed filters, one could see transparently into "the way (Tao) of heaven"; one could perceive reality exactly as it was designed to work most effectively. Seeing clearly (qing) with an open (xu) mental posture, the psyche can then respond flexibly and efficaciously to the reality it inhabits. In this way an individual will thrive.
The practice of Lao-Zhuang Taoism involves discipline and transformation of self, but will not work if one becomes mired within an entirely self-absorbed introversion. The work to be done is intended to more fully open human consciousness to the external world and the other beings within it. And if one makes positive changes within, one becomes a non-intrusive catalyst for positive change in this surrounding world.
By transcending a superfluous view of self/other, good/evil, and benefit/loss, one obtains a clear vision of reality. With clarity, our response to life's events dramatically changes, our psyche now spontaneously (zi ran) "makes a springtime it shares with everything".(GZZ80) We find that the extravagant richness of this world we inhabit is everywhere, every time.
How does one deepen one's understanding of Tao? What is the method or methods one might use to visit the profound depths of this mysterious art? In chapter sixty-four of Lao Zi, one finds there is nothing esoteric to study, "Learn not to learn". There is no special place to begin: "The thousand mile journey originates under your foot.
The entire art of this Taoism is state of mind. We are to develop a psychological posture that has inner calm (jing) and produces a clear (qing) image of our inner and outer world; that gives a concentrated attentiveness (shen ning) to and a gracious reception (ying) of the world, and all the beings who come into our immediate reality.
These are skills that one's own mind can teach if the time is taken to sit quietly and very intently with this mind. School is an empty room or a hillside under the sky.
There are no tenants of faith in Lao-Zhuang Taoism. No sanctioned written or institutional structure exists for it. There is no authority recognized other than that which resides within each of us. Lao-Zhuang is an approach, not a dogma. The essence of Lao-Zhuang Taoism is the validity of an approach to the world which proceeds from the individual's innate wisdom. In this writing I can only paint my picture of Taoism and do not doubt the reader's ability to accomplish her/his own authentic version.
The living Tao is a mystery too close to see with the eye and can scarcely be described in words; it is not to be found in these pages or in any other writings. Words cannot describe the ineffable, and indeed most of the Taoist writing is not pedagogic. But words can provoke exploration. The scriptures are Taoist incantations, they were spoken among followers to awaken their hearts to the hidden wonder of the immediate world.
Shen Ren: Spirit Person
"The Spirit person does not labor."
Zhuang Zi, Chapter One
One afternoon in the hallway of a Los Angeles building, I saw a white man walk out of a doorway cursing in anger. Life must have crashed down upon him and he was rapidly disintegrating. He stopped for a moment looking down this corridor of walls lined with glass-covered posters. Then he pulled one down and smashed it with the base of his fist. At that point a black man walked into the hallway and approached the distraught man; he said nothing, but accompanied him down the hallway and watched as he shattered eight or nine more frames. Having exhausted the artwork, he turned to the black man. The two stood there over the glittering stillness of shattered glass and began to talk quietly. By the time the police arrived five or six minutes later, the man had become quite calm and no one was hurt during the arrest. I realized I had just watched a spirit-queller at work; I saw that his kind are able to "get a lot accomplished with little force." (ZZ12)
I am not a scholar; my purpose in reflecting upon the texts of the Taoists is not academic. My attempt here is to interpolate their ideas and transpose them to our moment in time. Any translation is a reformulation, however the Scholar's work is an effort to interpret ancient Taoism within the limits of its historical context. In contrast, my writing here seeks to interpret/reformulate the meanings for a modern application.
I have translated many of the quotations I use in this writing so that I would not lean too heavily on the work of others. But for the more difficult passages, I have cited the translations of the experts. I also have depended on these remarkable scholars in my efforts to obtain an over-all understanding of the texts; for the most part, I have studied the works in English translations. I refer the reader to these authoritative translations which I list in the bibliography.
The traditional Chinese scholar (before the 20th century) treated philosophy as the ancient Greeks did: both as an object for study and as a practical method to cultivate personal wisdom. The modern scholar is required by today's academic culture to restrict his treatment of Taoism to the study of historical sources. Any attempt to analyze the material psychologically, or even worse to speculate on its practical use, is frowned upon.
The academic viewpoint holds that if the scholar internalizes Taoism, he will lose objectivity. But the practitioner's view is that if he fails to incorporate the Tao within his psyche, he will cannot access its power. Indeed the latter must cultivate a very intimate interaction with Tao, his aim is to embody its pattern and dynamics. The antagonism shown by an occasional scholar toward non-experts who seek the intrinsic essence of Taoism, is a phenomenon worth considering from many sides. I discuss the topic in the "Appendix"A1 of this writing.
The original Taoists were primarily explorers not inventors. As Newton discovered laws of gravity, the Taoists found principles that describe the nature of human reality. They present a generic description of how the human mind interacts with its world and how it can find a more powerful and productive harmony with that world.
There are specialists who object to Lao-Zhuang Taoism being portrayed as such a model, that is to say, as a generic description of universal patterns. I agree with other scholars such as Fung Yu-lan who holds that the Taoist writings do indeed present the "natural laws underlying phenomenal change." (Y183) I believe Lao-Zhuang Taoism is the description of the elemental processes that explain how the human psyche interacts with its external reality. That the Taoist writings represent such a generic formulation is implicit in the documents. Evidence of this is brought out explicitly in A. C. Graham's translation of the following passage from Zhuang Zi:
"Down below in the empire there are
many who cultivate the tradition of some
formula, and all of them supposes that there is nothing to add to what they have. In
which of them is it finally to be found, that which of old was called the tradition of
the Way (Tao)? I say it is to be found in them all." (GZZ274)
Reading from the works of the multitude of translators of Lao
Zi and Zhuang Zi, one may wonder, at times, how they could be
reading from the same Chinese text. This wide disagreement in
interpreting words and meaning is not limited to the non-Chinese
scholar. The subtlety of the writers undoubtedly baffled many
of their contemporaries as well.
Even reading within a single Lao-Zhuang text, one finds apparent inconsistencies. At one point desire (yu) seems to be useful, at another it is something to be avoided. Apart from problems of context and the strong probability that each text may have had multiple authors, there are at least three other possibilities for conflicts among and within the texts.RI One, the scribes and others who copied and recopied the texts made errors. Two, the translators may have failed at times. And three, the original writer/compiler has used words and symbols with multi-layered meanings. The practical solution of these incongruities lies in the fact that the authentic Tao can still be found as it was then, within one "Whose heart approves its own judgment". (GZZ51) This approach is like that of the Jewish Rabbis who employ midrash; midrash describes an interpretation of scripture that is congruent with immediate psychological and social reality.
Shen: Spirit, psyche
"The completed one has no ego,
The Spirit person does not labor,
The enlightened one has no fame."
Zhuang Zi, Chapter One
Lao-Zhuang Taoism is one of the most ancient examples of spirituality conceptualized within psychological dimensions. In Chinese literature before the Yijing, the term spirit (shen) was generally used to refer to ancestor ghosts and other-worldly beings. (CS266) In the Yijing and another pre-Taoist writing, the Guan Zi, a trend toward a more psychological understanding of shen appears. The "Spirit Woman/Man" in Taoism is the one who endeavors to undergo a radical heart-mind (xin) transformation and thereby achieve intimacy with the Tao.
Spirituality is a word usually associated with religion, and is often taken to be a cultural phenomenon. But at an elemental level it is a description of innate rather than learned behavior. As Marcea Eliade wrote, "...the sacred is an element in the structure of consciousness, not a stage in the history of consciousness." (EH) Although environment greatly influences the forms it takes, spirituality is a natural dimension of human existence. It describes the innate patterns of consciousness that operate during the mind's encounter with the external world. Carl Jung compared the archetypal behavior of the human mind with the new born chick's use of instinctual knowledge to get out of the egg. Expanding on Jung's thought: only the specific form spirituality takes depends on culture, i.e. the nature of the particular egg shell one comes up against. (2)
Some dances rather than others are a more natural expression of the movements of the human body, and thus more effectively apply human movement to the physical world. Some spiritual paradigms are more accurate than others; they better describe and apply those fundamental dynamics that are universally at work within and about the human spirit.
If spirituality is defined in an operational manner, setting aside theological doctrines, one can relate it to Taoist power (de). Spirituality is simply the relationship between a conscious being and the reality it inhabits. The Taoist interest is to assure the intimacy of this relationship: "The one who does not separate from the essential is known as a spirit person." (ZZ33) The human psyche, aware only of its being, finds itself in a strange land: a world of an unknown origin, an existence with unknown metaphysical imperatives. "All things are brought into life but none knows what life is." (ZZ8) The psyche only knows that it wants to prosper. Spirituality describes its attempt to determine the subtle dynamics of the relationship it has with the world it inhabits, and how it might cultivate this relationship in order to thrive. Lao-Zhuang Taoism outlines this spiritual pursuit. It is about achieving de, the power to utilize the underlying patterns (Tao) of reality for an effective existence.
For those interested in Taoist practice, using the term "psyche" for Shen makes a useful working definition for applying the Taoist principles. I use the word psyche and psychic here, not to indicate extra-natural abilities, but rather to suggest a more inclusive term than "mind" or "soul" for this preeminent agent. It is this entity that subsumes all aspects of human awareness. "Psyche," and "psychic" perception are used to indicate that what humans understand of their reality is a function of multiple faculties of the mind/body. As the master butcher in Zhuang Zi says, "Today when its time (to butcher the ox) I use my spirit and not my eye. I hold back perception and knowledge and let the spirit walk where it wants." (ZZ3) Psychic knowledge is what consciousness and unconsciousness know, what the hands and feet understand, what the stomach and chest are able to intuit from this world. The psyche is that which on all levels, is our awareness of being.
The term "psyche" implies a being that is aware of its individual existence; it is one that is able to theoretically posit the idea of itself in time past, present, and future. The psyche is this entity that calls itself "I". "I" is able to conceptualize its existence (and its absence) apart from the physical world it inhabits; its symbolic parameters are as fundamental to its experience of reality as are its material parameters.
Spirituality is concerned with the wholeness of the human psyche. Lao-Zhuang Taoism presents a spirituality which completely integrates the visceral, emotional, conceptual, and the ethical experiences of the psyche. It is the psyche's ability to grasp a coherent perception of its world that allows it to effectively engage that world. Unity (tong) of spirit is the source of the Taoist power (de).
"Ji Che bent over in laughter and said,
"that's like the mantis
who raised its arms angrily as the cart came at it."
Zhuang Zi, Chapter Three
The mysticism of Zhuang Zi is transported across his thirty-three chapters with a robust, often rollicking humor. Besides making the texts delightful to read, the humor is a subtext alerting the reader that enlightenment will not come to one who takes himself too seriously: "Sincere beginnings commonly end in vulgarity." (ZZ4) Furthermore Zhuang apparently realizes the process of self-transformation will be rendered more effective by laughing at ones foibles, rather than by enduring the guilt and blame so typically found in other genres of wisdom literature. To change behavior it is better not to condemn one's sins but to grasp one's folly, to "roar with laughter" like the Marquis Wu did when chided by the wit of Xu Wu Gui. (ZZ24)
Metaphysics in Lao-Zhuang
"That a cock has crowed or a dog barked
a man knows well enough but, however
great his knowledge, he cannot in words trace back to the source out of which they
have transformed or measure in thought what they will become." Zhuang Zi (GZZ152)
It is natural that humans are interested in the meaning of existence. However, the Taoists, true to Chinese philosophical tradition, are primarily interested in the utility, not the essential meaning of reality. And so with regard to metaphysics, the Taoists were primarily interested in how one best drinks from the river of life, not in describing the agent who made the river, or its motives. They held that pursuing theories of metaphysics distracted one from the drinking.
In this ethic the only imperative is that if one wishes to
thrive (zao), to reach one's greatest potential,
one must undergo a transformation of the mind (xin).
This internal transformation begins with the cultivation (xiu)
of mental presence, a practice which perfects one's ability to
respond effectively to the world outside. Such a state of mind
spontaneously (zi ran) summons forth the great creativity
hidden within the fabric of our reality.
Metaphysical ideologies that concern the future divert the psyche from attention to its immediate course. Confucius is thought to have said, "If you wish to know whether the dead have knowledge or not, delaying until death to know for yourself you still won't be too late." (GAD:16)
With any idea of eschatology there is always the implication that some of us are going to climb the spiritual ladder and some are not, that some of us are more important than others in a special task of promoting heaven's agenda. Whether these sectarian ideas are true or not, they are a distraction from the attentiveness required to attain the richest enterprise, the realization of full spiritual power. The Taoist empties (xu) herself of such distractions. It is precisely because she wants to achieve her highest creative potential, that she discards the conceit that her enterprise has more gravity than that of any other being.
Supernatural powers, beliefs in ghosts, angels, ancestor spirits, and other such forces, are not inconsistent with, nor are they required, in the practice of Lao-Zhuang Taoism. These entities are potent interpretations of reality, and their essence need not be dogmatically defined. In Lao-Zhuang there is no official pantheon of Gods. It is useful not to limit the power of such archetypal images by restricting our understanding of them to static conceptions. Insisting on restrictive definitions limits one's opportunities to fully engage their primordial vitality, whatever they are.
The strength (and some would say weakness) of Lao-Zhuang Taoism is that it does not attempt a comprehensive world-view. The few metaphysical discussions that are found in the documents point to the stubborn unknowability of the "big picture". The cosmic origin and purpose remain mysteries. And so it follows that the writing lacks a theology one might have hoped to rely on to explain the ultimate meaning of life.
Rather than providing a diagram that could explain reality, Lao-Zhuang humbly offers the seeker a small toolbox. For better and sometimes worse, these tools will allow one to begin to unfold and explore a vast mystery. The visitation of such a broad vision to the psyche can be transporting and/or quite alarming. It alerts one that it will now be necessary to shape and create meaning for what one previously had been confidently told was Reality.
In Lao-Zhuang Taoism, there is no certain good, no clear evil. No eschatology, no definitive ultimate meanings nor outcomes. Religious doctrine always degenerates into idolatry; only process can reach essence. The Taoist emphasis is clearly on function, not content, how the world works, not what its fundamental substance or meaning might be. The gift of Taoism is a perception of the remarkable wonder of the immediate.
De Chong Fu: The mark of full power
"There is something I prize more than
preserving my foot;
that is what I regard fundamental to keeping whole."
Zhuang Zi, Chapter Five
In the early 60's when I scrambled onto the side of the boxcars on Wheeling and Lake Erie trains, I occasionally saw a one-armed clerk tagging cars for Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Detroit, and other distant yards. The missing limb revealed that he too was once a brakeman; the arm's absence cautioned me to respect the lethality of the railroad's steel wheels and tracks.
The title of Zhuang Zi's fifth chapter (above) is perhaps an ironic allusion to the achievement ("full power") of some individuals who have been "marked" by physical flaws and yet attain excellence. Zhuang Zi jars the reader's sensibility with a series of stories about men with amputated feet who are sages. Many of Zhuang Zi's contemporary readers would have been appalled, if we consider the importance Confucian society placed on the wholeness of one's physical body. (GZZ24) This irony is furthered by the fact that the removal of a foot was a punishment given to criminals.
Zhuang Zi's deformed adept is more concerned with spiritual wholeness. "He notes the loss of his foot as if he were relinquishing dust." (ZZ5) His worry is not with having chopped feet (wu zhe) but chopped (xi) reasoning; "he won't injure his inner being over concerns about preferences and distastes." (ZZ5)
For Zhuang Zi, maintaining wholeness was the natural result of freeing oneself from external conventions and finding an internal compass. With this natural guide one could discern the changing pattern of heaven and follow it: "Simply conform perfectly with your innate potential. Complete joy is realizing your ambition." (ZZ16)
Zi ran: autonomously directed
Zi ran means naturally, spontaneously, self-directed,
so of itself, autogenous, etc.
The human psyche absorbs information from its environment and can automatically (unconsciously) integrate it with previously memorized data. This process of integration is directed by innate subconscious psychic structures and the psyche's perceptual field. Zi ran indicates the natural and spontaneous directing of such body-mind processes.
It is important to note, as someone has recently reminded me, that the specific agent which is operating autogenously , is not the individual human, but is rather an interactive system that consists of the individual psyche and the other actors it encounters in its field of perception. The individual has made a decision to willfully act to let this system (zi ran) guide what then becomes an intra-actively responding gestalt. This gestalt is allowed to have nearly complete hegemony over the individual's conscious will. However, the process is initiated by the act of a conscious will; one whose willfulness has been enhanced by a regimen of very intense self-discipline.
The normal integration by the psyche of much internal and external information is a spontaneously (zi ran) occurring, (autogenous) process. This autogenous process can be greatly accelerated and enhanced by an individual who makes a willful intention for it to proceed as such. This willfulness includes the intentional reduction of superfluous mentation (wu xin: "no conscious minding"). Superfluous mentation, sometimes called "discursive thought," hinders the activation and operation of the zi ran (naturally self-regulating) phenomenon.
A simple example of such an autogenously directed process was demonstrated to me when I was in military training. We trainees were each given an air-rifle ("beebee gun") and told that we were going to shoot at two inch diameter aluminum discs that would be tossed into the air. We responded with hilarity to the proposition that we would be able to hit any of these small flying objects.
The trainer told us not to aim our rifles by using the weapon's sights, but rather to extend the rifle in one arm from shoulder to hand, and then simply point at the flying disc with our index finger which lay extended along the far end of the barrel. He said we should rid our minds of any thought of success, and just concentrate on pointing the designated finger at the flying object and squeezing the trigger (not abruptly pulling it).
We were indeed surprised when it turned out that nearly all of us could hit three or four out of ten throws of these tiny flying discs by using this technique, and without previous practice. Some of us were able to hit five or six out of ten attempts. To add further surprise to the remarkable phenomenon, when our practice was over, the sergeant instructor took up a rifle and had someone throw quarters (coins) into the air. He was able to hit eight out of ten in the series.
A task demanding a complex level of skill far beyond that needed for such rifle marksmanship, is that of cultivating an ability to accurately and effectively relate to the entire project of human existence. Challenging readers with an instruction somewhat more surprising than the one given by my marksmanship instructor, Lao Zi said, "Simply clear and still the mind, and everything in your entire world will fall into place."
In a mental state of clarity and inner stillness, one has immediate access to a multitude of internal and external data. One has varying degrees of access to everything one has ever learned. But in order to give proper weight to what one has learned (and to give no weight at all to the many false notions that one has been taught), everything one remembers must somehow be correctly edited, adjusted and integrated into the immediate context. And at the same time, there must be a perception and integration of the germane new circumstances which are arising in each fleeting moment. Although it seems implausible, with intense and non-specfic attentiveness, the clear and still mind will accomplish this task. It will unconsciously consumate an effective integration of the salient aspects of one's entire internal and external perceptual fields. And almost simultaneously, an effective response to this perception will arise, effortlessly and spontaneously (zi ran).
Allowed to proceed in this manner (zi ran), the psyche, by a continual reintegration of the constant changes perceived in the external field, will continually generate accurate and spontaneous responces to each alteration in this field. Thus a finely resonant, and therefore highly effective feedback system is established between each of the two active agents, psyche and field.
The most important key to success in life (success is to thrive at a level that satisfies oneself) consists of the ability to allow this "zi ran" perceiving/processing/responding mode of mentation to proceed during every moment one is able to do so. In the example of the rifle exercise, the rifle positioning and the technique of trigger squeezing were important predisposing elements which set up the predominant factor that resulted in a hit. The predominant factor itself, was the act of psychologically letting go: allowing an innate psychic integrative ability to proceed interacting with its field of perception, without undue interference (zi ran). Such interference would have resulted from any attempt to consciously micromanage the task.
This same dynamic (zi ran) is of preeminent importance
in the complex task of effectively perceiving, processing, and
responding to a volatile changing pattern of a myriad of interacting
circumstances. Such an exquisitely rich pattern is found in each
moment of human life.
G.D. Wilder and J.H. Ingram explain that the right side of this character is made of xin, the "heart", below the line; and zhi, "straight", the character above the line. Zhi consists of a pair of eyes and two crossed perpendicular lines indicating the number ten. "Before the days of the square and plumb line, ten eyes were called on to test the straightness of the frame of a house." (WI:38) With imagination, one sees that the character de depicts the ability of the heart (mind) to follow the nature of reality correctly. A.C. Graham describes de as the "potentionality to act according to the Tao." (GAD13) Both Graham and Arthur Waley translate de as "power" rather than "virtue" as some other translators do. It is simply ability, it does not express pedigree, moral excellence, or honor.
De is not a passive force, it is definitely an intervening force, but it acts only at that strategic point and moment when the leverage is so high that the manifestation of the intervention is nearly imperceptible. De requires little energy (cf. wu wei) to effect changes in the field around it because it actualizes, and then collaborates with the field's own nascent power.
De is the power to catalyze (without controlling the outcome of) changes in one's environment. It gives one the creative power to catalyze (but not specify the details of) positive changes in other beings.
De empowers us to fully engage and enjoy life.
This force arises spontaneously by allowing the psyche to naturally
(zi ran) conform to the dynamic underlying patterns
of circumstances, the Tao. Transformed by this process, one's
own psychic structure becomes the key to the effective engagement