It helps me to regard language as the smoke that arises out of emotion’s fire. You could say words are the cognitive reflections of human emotions. As such, they’re more fantasy than reality. For example, you can understand a volcano with words metaphorically, symbolically, abstractly, but you cannot truly know it through words. You can only know it emotionally by being there, or better yet, by becoming a volcano.
Yet I Keep Using Words!
I’ve been relentless in pointing out the fallibility of belief and the words and thinking that shape it. Even so, I keep commenting on what appear to be beliefs of mine. Surely, that’s hypocritical. Well, that depends on what constitutes belief and hypocrisy. Belief and its offspring hypocrisy become almost impossible as I truly grasp chapter 71, Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease… This counterbalances the drawbacks arising from the innate need of a thinking species like ourselves to have a paradigm to call home.
A paradigm is a cognitive framework, built from words and names, which plays a large role in interpreting and remembering life experience. Resting on a deeper, non-rational emotional base, the thinking brain requires a paradigm to “breathe”. A paradigm for humans is as the sky is for birds with wings. We mentally roam around our paradigm as a bird soars in the sky. Our difficulty here stems from the disease… We believe our beliefs are a reality ‘out there’ in their own right and trust their infallibility. Our problem lies not in the thinking, but in the trust we place in our thoughts and beliefs (1).
Mapping our Journey
Thinking is like looking at a map and planning your journey. “I’ll go here; I’d like to go there; I mustn’t travel here; I should go there”. Conversely, emotion is often the step-by-step, moment-to-moment slog you feel working your way through life’s jungle.
We feel a natural aversion to exertion and so generally seek the easiest way forward. Our aversion to making an effort is an innate and subtle fear. We fear wasting energy unless we know it will be worth the cost. As animals in the wild, we would viscerally know which energy expenditures were worth the cost. The advent of civilization began seriously disrupting that natural balance. Indeed, improving our ability to get the most benefit from the least expenditure is civilization’s raison d’être. Unhindered, this has become too much of a good thing!
The Journey Begins Beneath Our Feet
Civilization’s success in achieving its raison d’être — its “reason for being” — leaves us somewhat confused about life’s meaning and purpose. To remedy this, we imagine approaches to life that promise a more balanced life, such as letting go, love and kindness, and so on. Alas, it is only in the journey that it can happen. Not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. However, we fear “walking the walk” until we feel certain it will be worth our effort, and so we wait for the right moment… typically, that is frequently ‘tomorrow’.
We cannot hope to face and overcome our fear of effort via “talking the talk” kind of thinking. Indeed, much of the content of thought is the reflection and expression of fear. It is quite a problem for us. Ultimately, a balance life can only exist if and as we breathe life into it each moment. So, take a deep breath (2) and consider these ways that help “walk the walk”.
A Journey for Body and Mind
The following are a few ways to put one foot in front of the other. No matter how you plan it, chapter 64 reminds us, A thousand mile journey begins below our feet. Naturally, these are also superb ways to explore and cultivate Buddha’s Middle Path (p.604): Right Comprehension, Right Resolution, Right Effort, Right Thought, Right State of Peaceful Mind.
I’ve been doing yoga for over 50 years and over this time have found it to be much more significant than I can describe, although much less than some of the hyperbole about it I’ve come across. Take a look… google [Hatha Yoga: The Essential Dynamics].
I’ve been blowing Zen for 40 years, and like yoga, have found it to be more all encompassing than I can honestly describe. To be sure, reality is more awesome than we can possibly describe, and when attempted, it always becomes hyperbole. Take a look… google [Blowing Zen: Expanded Edition: One Breath One Mind]. To hear it, search for Honkyoku on YouTube.
Buddha’s Four Noble Truths
I review these each morning during headstand, which seems to help their insight permeate my subconscious feeling mind continually throughout the day.
The First Noble Truth is the existence of sorrow. Birth is sorrowful, growth is sorrowful, illness is sorrowful, and death is sorrowful. Sad it is to be joined with that which we do not like. Sadder still is the separation from that which we love, and painful is the craving for that which cannot be obtained.
The Second Noble Truth is the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is lust. The surrounding world affects sensation and begets a craving thirst, which that clamors for immediate satisfaction. The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things. The desire to live for the enjoyment of self entangles us in the net of sorrows. Pleasures are the bait and the result is pain.
The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of sorrow. He who conquers self will be free from lust. He no longer craves and the flame of desire finds no material to feed upon. Thus it will be extinguished.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path that leads to the cessation of suffering. There is salvation for him whose self disappears before truth, whose will is bent on what he ought to do, whose sole desire is the performance of his duty. He who is wise will enter this path and make an end to suffering. Eight steps on the Middle Path are:
- Right Comprehension, 2. Right Resolution, 3. Right Speech, 4. Right Action, 5. Right Living, 6. Right Effort, 7. Right Thought, 8. Right State of Peaceful Mind.
And, if I have only one chapter to know, remember, and put into practice, it would have to be chapter 71. (Fortunately, I get to embrace all 81 chapters.)
Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease.
Man alone faults this disease; this so as not to be ill.
The sacred person is not ill, taking his disease as illness.
Man alone has this disease; this is because to him there is no illness.
Words are insidious in how they allow us to think that we know. As I’ve pointed out many times, we only understand what we know (p.254). Chuang Tzu’s story of the Duke Huan and the wheelwright puts it beautifully. To see this, go to the end of I understand, but do I know?, p.70.
When you reach the farthest point that words and linear thinking can take you, it may be time to listen for “the sound of one hand clapping”. For this next step, I offer a do-it-yourself tool of Taoist thought: Correlations: Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions (p.572). The Correlations offer a way to confront the insidious word beast active between your ears. Although, you may need to be tenacious enough to push-on to the point of letting go.
Also helpful may be these posts, Grinding Out Correlations (p.26) and Correlation’s ‘Prime Directive’ (p.28), and even Couplets and the Co-generating Principle (p.566). Numerous other posts throughout this book offer examples of this process. In the end however, it is only through doing Correlations that you can know Correlations, as Duke Huan learned from the old wheelwright.
(1) Why this almost obsessive need to trust belief? From a Taoist point of view, it is an inevitable result of the empty space existing in the brain’s mind. This space compels the certainty that people express through their beliefs. Is this not the familiar dynamic that chapter 2 speaks to, “Hence existence and nothing give birth to one another”
This hints at why “Our words are very easy to know, very easy to do. [yet] Under heaven none can know, none can do.” This flip-side, heads-tails, vibration goes right back to before the Big Bang. We can never reach the end-beginning in a linear way because our logical daily-life brain is linear in nature. We have to go deeper into the non-linear, circular, and intuitive sense to catch a glimpse of this. To put it simply: It can’t be understood; it can only be felt in the realm beyond words and names. Embracing impartiality is the launch pad to reality’s empty fullness. As Chapter 56 reminds, This is called profound sameness.
(2) I think it is not coincidental that breathing is central to coping with pain. It helps with the pain of childbirth on one extreme, and the pain of insomnia on the other. Here again, fear plays a key role. We fear pain, and fear and pain are inextricably linked! We fear the pain of work and effort, the pain of not getting enough sleep, the pain of hunger, and ordinary physical pain. Breathing into fear and pain helps surmount the mind’s roadblocks. Turning down the mental story side of fear and pain improves our chances of facing fear and adapting to it.
Finally, a long-term, life-long practice, like yoga, gives one an opportunity to know one’s breath deeply enough to use it effectively — to breathe into it.