I do my utmost to attain emptiness;
I hold firmly to stillness.
The myriad creatures all rise together
And I watch their return.
The teaming creatures
All return to their separate roots.
Returning to one’s roots is known as stillness.
This is what is meant by returning to one’s destiny.
Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.
Knowledge of the constant is known as discernment.
“The myriad creatures all rise together, and I watch their return” describes what works best for me during meditation. Early on I used to think I had to control my mind and rid myself of thoughts, which led to an endless inner battle. Remaining “still” like a stone and watching my thoughts “return to their separate roots” brings the peace I seek.
I think of “the creatures rising” as anything that stimulates my emotional or rational senses. I experience the peace of purest consciousness when I “watch” without reacting to this external stimuli. It’s like ‘counting to ten’; this affords me time to keep to or “return to my roots”. Then, if I do respond, I’m far more likely to do so from “knowledge of the constant” and so avoid unnecessary “woe”.
My desires push forever more, be it for pleasure of productivity and success. It’s the thrill of moving forward that is so intoxicating. Somewhere toward middle age I started to realize that no matter how much success I won or how much ahead I got, in the end I always found myself back at “stillness” and “emptiness”; these in truth are my “destiny”. When I get caught up in desire, I waste life on an unnecessary detour to my “destiny”. That is why I “desire not to desire” [see ch. 64].
“I do my utmost to attain emptiness” when I really understand life’s process. “I hold firmly to stillness” when I know that remaining “still” enables me to “accomplish my private ends”[see ch. 7]. It’s not so much “returning to my roots” as not abandoning that “stillness” in the first place that helps most. Of course I have to continually “return” to gain deeper “knowledge of this constant”. This deepening “discernment” helps me “hold firmer” still… to “stillness”.
I used to think of “destiny” as leaving here and going forward to the future. Along with this was the notion that I would grow, change and succeed. Instead, as the years go by, I find myself “returning” to who I really was since birth. This is “return to my destiny”. It’s taking a lifetime to get to know myself as I am, not as I think I am, or wish I was. The beauty of this is that this “destiny” is my link with everything and everyone. We all share the same “constant”. When I “hold firmly to stillness” I’m connected.
They say, don’t judge people by their color. But truly, when I make any judgments I have to set aside my “knowledge of the constant”. Real “discernment” gives way to the “myriad” relative distinctions and emotion based biases.
I don’t want to be “empty”. However, the chaos of life comes from rushing about trying to fill the “empty” void. All my senses tell me that full is good. The “teaming creatures” are my desires which “rise” and clamor for immediate satisfaction, as Buddha’s Second Truth states. I can slow this futile process down if I remain “tentative, as if fording a river in winter” [see ch. 15]; this allows me to ask myself what hole within is my current “creature” filling. Then I can more easily rediscover the peace that “emptiness and stillness” offer.
The whole progress of civilization moves toward dividing reality into “myriad” separate distinctions. This all began with language -‘life and death’, ‘work and play’, ‘good and bad’, ‘true and false’, ‘student and expert’—and simple tools, and has, over millennia, brought us to our present state. Each generation added its own little “innovation, while ignorant of the constant”. In the process, we’ve created a clever squirrel cage on which we are destined to go round and round—at least until we have a general consensus on what we have done; I wouldn’t hold my breath!
I’m using the “teaming creatures” of language right now to speak. Correlating words into their “root” categories is a simple way to “watch the teaming creatures return to their separate roots”.
The “emptiness” of death is my “destiny”. Before I came to terms with this I struggled to live an ideal life. Reality never met my expectations—and so I wasted time and energy living for tomorrow. This becomes impossible when I “return to my destiny”. Suddenly I’m free to live here and now. I know what tomorrow holds for me… my “destiny”. Tomorrow becomes today.
Woe to him who wilfully innovates
While ignorant of the constant,
But should one act from knowledge of the constant
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness,
Kingliness to heaven,
Heaven to the way,
The way to perpetuity,
And to the end of one’s days one will meet with no danger.
I use “Woe to him who willfully innovates, while ignorant of the constant” more that any other precept in the Scripture. I’ve proven it true, over and over, by “willfully innovating while ignorant of the constant”. I think we have over rated ourselves as a specie with the ‘homo sapien sapien’ label. The wealth and freedom of modern times allow us to “innovate” all the more and evade the “constant”. Then to top it all, we commence to “innovate” yet again to solve the “woe” caused by past “innovations”. Is this not a classic vicious circle?
I don’t do well with in-between, nor does humanity as a whole. We see and do things in the extreme: ‘love-hate’, ‘feast-diet’, ‘war-peace’, ‘true-false’. The only time “impartiality” is valued is in judges, otherwise we’re emotionally compelled to go one way or the other. This must come from the on-off nature of the nervous system. The neuron has no neutral state. So, we have to overcome some basic biology to “act from knowledge of the constant”. No wonder we have such a hard time being prudent.
When I react decisively I know I’m losing “impartiality”. Instincts push me there, but wisdom tells me to “return”. It’s not that I know what the “constant” is; I know what it isn’t. Then some of my arrogant certainty gives way to “emptiness”.
A sense of “the constant” is all that stands between me and impulsive “willful” reactions to life events ( “teaming creatures” ). Without this sense, I act “willfully” and my actions always show “favoritism”. “It is the way of heaven to show no favoritism” [see ch. 79]. My actions only approach “impartiality” when I moderate my instinctual emotional reactions with the big picture—”knowledge of the constant”.
Actions that “lead to impartiality” feel gentle and measured. They nudge rather than either push or pull. And, they are much less likely to spring back and go off in the opposite direction; they have “constancy”. Knowing this also helps me discern the motive forces which underlie other’s actions. As Christ said ‘for the tree is known by his fruit’.
“Woe to him who willfully innovates” allows me to have my daily emotional reactions without “woeful” consequence, as long as I can evade “innovative” knee-jerk responses to them. Of course, I must still suffer through whatever inner agitation that might come with the emotion. But, if I start down the road of “action”, I’m likely to set in motion a string of reactions which end up amplifying the original incident, and wasting my life.