Friday, June 12, 2009

When the Shoes Fit

For many years I struggled with internal conflicts.  Perhaps my melancholia has contributed to that constant sense of guilt and the quest for its resolution.  But often I was caught within the moral sense deep in my psyche and finding it difficult to get out, to look beyond, to transcend even meaningless guilts or conflicts.  Perhaps it is also from this very context that Chuang Tzu's nothingness becomes even more meaningful to me because through his paradoxical perspectives of life, I find a glimpse of freedom, a place and space for my soul's rest.  Here's one such an example.

"You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable.  You forget your wait when the belt is comfortable.  Understanding forgets right and wrong when the mind is comfortable.  There is no change in what is inside, no following what is outside, when the adjustment to events is comfortable.  You begin with what is comfortable and never experience what is uncomfortable when you know the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable" (translated by Watson).  

I think often we start with what we ought to be or socialized to think how life is to be lived.  Perhaps it is better that we start from where we are.  What fits for us.  Starting from what fits lead us to do what is best without the constant nagging temptation toward right and wrong dichotomy.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Caught in the Web of Illusion: Chuang Tzu in Hotel California

The more I ponder Chuang Tzu's the more I realize the profound wisdom and such spiritual insights into life and ways of living.  To understand Chuang Tzu is to finally realize what freedom really means, what it is like to live a true authentic life.  It is also coming to a gradual recognition that it is very difficult indeed to realize how caught we are in the web of illusion that he talks about, to laugh along with his analogy of the metaphor "three in the morning" and the monkeys and see that we are these monkeys, the object of our laughter.  The web is so intricate, so intertwined, so complicated that it is hard to see and realize.  It is the matrix that we find difficult to see in ourselves, let alone to disengage.  I am reminded of the song "Hotel California" where, once you are in you can check out but can never leave.  Once you are there, you are caught in the power of materialism be it literal or spiritual.  The wording of the song is so appropriate:

"Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'Relax,' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!'"

When we have a slight insight into Chuang Tzu's we will finally see traces of the door created from human imagination that isn't really there.  There is no place to run to.  There is no need to leave because the beast we can never kill is the ghost of our own device.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What is Driving You will Dictate Your Life

Today in class we had a discussion on love.  Can we really aim at attaining love and acquiring love or love is something that happens to you?  Do we do everything in order to get love and can we? Can love be achieved or is it something that has to happen on its own time within the right environment?  A couple of students stated that love has to happen.  I know a couple of people who is obsessed with gaining love.  Perhaps I'm one of them.  The lesson learned is that perhaps it is being liberated from our obsession with love may be the only way to find and experience that touch of love.  Chuang Tzu shares his wisdom:

"When you're betting for tiles in an archery context, you shoot with skills.  When you're betting for fancy belt buckles, you worry about your aim.  And when you're betting for real gold, you're a nervous wreck.  Your skills is the same in all these cases--but because one prize means more to you than another, you let outside considerations weigh on your mind. He who looks too hard at the outside gets clumsy on the inside" (Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, trans. Watson).  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Bad Review is a Good Review

Today I happened to look into Amazon and found a non-agreeable review of my book "Do Nothing." Although I have numerous positive responses from various sources who have read the book, some how I was feeling uneasy. And then I thought how ironical. When you look at the stars attached to the book, it is but Chuang Tzu's the 'this' and the 'that.' We are caught within a world filled with categories and we do naturally gravitate toward drawing lines and circles and grouping people and naming names. Sometime reflecting on my feeling evoked by these stars is a reminder that I'm still caught within the cycle. The things we do, the task we work toward, the form of ideas we expressed just is. And at times this isness can feel negative or positive. I think this is what it means to be P'eng. You can fly only when you can remain in the deepest and the darkest of life. In sickness and health, in life and death, in success and failure, in connectedness and the disconnect. These stars are reminder that life exists beyond the many circles people gravitate toward drawing. The Way is everywhere. It is in the lowest of the low and the peak of the highest point. Life is that journey toward a place beyond names and perhaps in this place we may be able to find people who forget words so we can have a word with them.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Simplicity, Stupidity, and Spirituality

I have to do a presentation on simplicity  to a group of middle-age professionals.  While it is an opportunity to share, it is also pretty difficult to speak of simplicity.  But here's a thought from Chuang Tzu that I find helpful.

"The sage leans on the sun and moon, tucks the universe under his arm, merges himself with things, leaves the confusion and muddle as it is, and looks on slaves as exalted.  Ordinary men strain and struggle, the sage is stupid and blockish.  He takes part in ten thousand ages and achieves simplicity in oneness" (translation by Burton Watson).  

Chuang Tzu seems to rely heavily on the view of nature as organic.  Nature lives, and moves, and drives, and orchestrates reality and hence within this existential understanding of that which is, one is able to lean on the sun and the moon.  Leaning on the sun and the moon also suggests the ability of its believers to take life as it comes because the sun is not always kind and the moon may not always shine.  It shrinks and reshapes itself and if life is to be lived, one may have to merge oneself with things and leave the confusion behind because if we try to understand that incomprehensible, we may not get anywhere.  The Way is not known.  Not only do we not know, we do not understand how the Way operates.  It does what it does.  

The way of the world places slaves in the lowest rank within societal hierarchy.  But the Way has rank life differently.  The slaves may be exalted because the Way does not interpret life within the categories that the norm decides.  The wisdom of the slaves may be that which we have to seek and understand in order to find us along the Way.  This goes along really well when Chuang Tzu speaks of the blockish and the stupid.  Who's stupid?  When stupidity is not even a category, one achieves simplicity in oneness.  

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly

"Chuang Tzu dreamt that he was a butterfly flittering and fluttering around as he pleased. Suddenly he woke up and realized that he was Chuang Tzu. But he did not know whether he was Chuang Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu. This is called transformation."

I love this story and when invited to lecture on the art of doing nothing, I often started with this story. I find it most fascinating but I did not quite understand the implication of the story. So today I sat down to contemplate and to read some interpretations focusing particularly on that of Kuang Ming Wu. I think this story is about how often we like to create division between dream and reality believing that we really understand what is real. And this understanding itself causes a form of rigidity that prevents us from flowing and being flexible. We are often held captive by what we believe to be real. And Chuang Tzu would have argued that these things we called real is nothing but "three in the morning" or the things of our very own imagination and creation. Our fixation prevents us from adapting to the flow of life and thus makes it difficult for us to be at a place where we can just enjoy being, flittering and fluttering around like a butterfly.