TAO leaves falling, let fall

During the two-week meditation programme of August 2017 (see previous entry), quotations of others together with journal-notes and verse-exhortations of my own played a prominent part. In the days and weeks that have followed some of these persist so as to be often in my mind, blown there by autumn winds.

‘Just sitting’ is to get to our True Mind, the mind not accessible to thinking.
This mind cannot be consciously known by ordinary effort. An unusual effort is necessary.
This effort is ‘just sitting’.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.

Sit with Heart,
Sit with Marrow,
Sit with Tea.

The taste of Chan (meditation) is the taste of Cha (tea).
Chinese temple saying.

Truth not far, nearer than near.

Raise the posture in Faith.

Mind behind mind.

Empty like this! Empty like this!

 

NA-MO TA-PEI KUAN SHIH YIN PU-SA
Dedication: Sanskrit with Chinese.

Earth buries as
Ore despoils as
Water drowns as
Wood founders as
Fire blasts as
Fire comforts as
Wood contrives as
Water saves as
Ore conserves as
Earth unearths us

I aspire to One Mind, Dream Awakening, Without Boundaries,
and sometimes sitting on my black cushion I approach these states.
In the far more difficult ‘just sitting’ of daily life,
there remains a dismaying separation between what I know and what I am.
Peter Matthiessen.

Sit with WU 
Sit with MU  
Sit with This 
Sit with Living  
Sit with Dying 
Sit with End 
Sit with Beginning 

There you are! There you are! There you are!
Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?

If you were not born in this world, there would be no need to die.
To be born in this world is to die, to disappear.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.

The quotations of Suzuki are taken from
The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki
(biography) by David Chadwick.
Peter Matthiessesen quote is from his
Nine Headed Dragon River.
I have not sought permissions but hope that in the
spirit of companionship they would happily give them.
The temple saying and invocation
of Kuan Yin are traditional.
Other material: the author.
©September 2017

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two weeks in August

The seed of this two-week meditation programme was planted around five years ago, sometime in 2012; I found that I wanted to see if I could convey to a group, or allow to happen within a group, something of what I was experiencing in my own simply-structured sitting practice. The occasional MEDITATIONs Study Days were the result, although these included standing, lying and walking, alongside just sitting. Later, finding that the one-off days were very much worthwhile, both to myself and those who came to them, I started to wonder if I could offer the same kind of experience over a sustained period, say two weeks; this August 2017, it became possible. I decided to keep a journal.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD THE JOURNAL AS A PDF BOOKLET

©September 2017

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privileges

After the early practice a question comes:

How is it?

Wu Tao Hsin 無道信 raises his eyes.

You ask me this morning, how it is?

He adjusts the twist of scarf at his neck, takes a sup of the soft-amber tea.

The Buddhists would say:
There is Form and there is Emptiness, Emptiness and Form.

A Taoist, if she utters at all, might say:
Wu!.. Just this.

Today I say to you, and I think perhaps most practically:
There is love and there is mortality, these two inseparable privileges of HumanBeing.
Love and Mortality.
This is how it is.

He takes a further sup, adding,

And these three answers are each the same.

©December 2016

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sky flowers

In response Wu Tao-hsin道信 pointed;
Holding nothing back
He gives everything away,
Even his name.
Yet the seeker, ever looking,
Does not see the flowers –
And time grows short.

 

Go through this practice –
You can taste the one thing
And not be two, and not be three.
When you have tasted one, rinse your mouth
To be thirsty again.

 

©June 2016

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go deeper

Understand this: that I make these observations in order to let them go.

In the wrestling act of writing ‘on paradox’, companion piece to this (see previous entry), I experienced a series of felt, entirely natural, ‘openings’ – as though all the windows in the house, the road, the town, were suddenly thrown wide…
Light dazzles: tears come, irrepressibly.
To make clear at once: there is not necessarily a sense of personal advance here, certainly no sense of claiming such, but there is without doubt a sense of intuitive response, of going deeper; a response which, as karma, becomes inevitable rather than achieved. I draw attention to it as a means of encouragement therefore, offering a direction of travel.
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on paradox

Following a period of practice – and it may be counted in years – it will happen that the body begins to find a balance, naturally. It is at this liminal place, as between dawn and day that the mind, gradually or suddenly, is set free.

In treading the heavily wooded path toward the numinous, distant as a crystal mountain, I have recently found myself returning to the use of paradox as a means of cutting through: to truth not far – nearer than near… This for myself but also in the spurring-on of others. Or, put the other way around and therefore paradoxically: Paradox seems to be using me.
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three

Going out he met Master Tao;
Coming home he met Mistress Ch‘an –
Nothing out of the ordinary.

 

In opening a gap in her thoughts
She knew to release the captive monkey from her mind
To live where it should,
In tree tops.

 

Sky flowers, sky burial,
Both the same.

 

©February 2016

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alexandrine

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tea-friends

Imagine the delight, after the steep uphill trudge away from the town, to emerge upon the eminence of the moon-viewing platform, sap and scent of mountain pine all about you and the prospect of a few hours spent observing the haze and colour of a summer downing sun over the stepped paddies and distant temple eaves.
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Fable

How often we need to repeat things, repeat a teaching, even to ourselves… Is this is why fables are read to the young? They are not necessarily easy to comprehend but they are easy to hear and follow, with their many repeated words and phrases, where often the child may join in, half-chanting their favourite parts aloud.
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seventeen syllables

 

 

 

 

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on practice

Only meditate and awareness appears; then we must know that a human life – our own – is necessarily acted upon by that which is naturally occurring in the world – its obvious forms; yet also, from that which is naturally hidden – its mysterious forms. Then must we further recognise that our inclinations, in terms of mood, activity, health, are in their turn affected by the habit of the seasons, together with our maturing, beside the procession of Earth the Moon and Sun through the vault of Heaven’s Time.  Read the rest of this entry →

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on marking a passing

It is written in the Tradition* that Humankind follows Earth, that Earth follows Heaven, that Heaven follows Tao – the meta-matter of Nature entire.

Seen from here, in Earth and in our lives: This is the procession of Season by which we measure our span.

Seen from Heaven: This is the pattern of Form, that is elementary; our meagre comprehension of time and dimension falling away.

Tao has not regard of itself, as mind does not see Mind; is ineluctable, as dark as light, aware unknowing… and the wonder by which we, unaccountably, stir: taken in grief, taken in joy… taken in grief, taken in grief, taken in grief… and at the last, taken in love.

 

*from the brush of Lao Tzu, entry 25
©October 2014

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a banner

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bone matters

From elsewhere in these pages:

Imagination is valid awareness and may be as substantial as action…

It is relatively easy, given time, to develop awareness in the External ways of Tai Chi, by our senses and especially through partner work: the softest touch, an advance turned away, a cracking blow… Each of these leaving behind their resonance of energy – of their having been: as warm as breath, as cool as air, as bruise to the bone
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follow the Horse

The beginning of the year: waking in a cold room, and a dream so close that there is a moment to know it before the inevitable dissolve… the elusive meaning of Embrace Tiger, Return to the Mountain comes to me with a felt-in-the-body clarity… just as the Year of the Horse canters in…
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retreat, return, backwards-flowing

Much can be learned from Distance – in particular the distance allowed us by Time.

Needing a little distance just recently, a little wilderness, and following an inner prompt, I took myself to the north of England, to the skies and changeable autumn weather of the high Yorkshire moors; the journey there, the finding of an isolated cottage falling into place with wu wei ease.

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breathes in’s heels

From Chuang Tzu the sentence, ‘the True Man breathes in his heels’, has for a long time – and I mean many years – lain in my mind, occasionally rising to the surface, fish-like, to take a moment of air; and again just recently…

Chuang Tzu is full of these unexplained insights: twinkles in the overall master-work. Meanings are partially felt, only.

Those quick to claim certainty might exclaim: “Here! Here is proof of the well-spring of Taoist alchemy – the esoterica of heel-breathing, the mystic path to longevity. Let the teaching be freely expounded (or charged for!), its secret methods explained…”
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… it’s about faith. No, really!

Most years, at some point when I am teaching, I will hear myself repeating to the group words of my first teacher: ‘… the thing is’, he would say, ‘ you kinda just have to believe me…’. He was demonstrating the standing posture for Chi Kung, then correcting ours/mine.

I knew a little about Sitting in meditation at this time, but the Standing Jan Chung was new to me, perhaps even relatively new in Europe… (it being the early 1980s it had probably only been around in the West for twenty to thirty years). Yet something went into me, rooted me; at some level I did, indeed, believe. And belief, at a later stage, turned into trust: I trusted my teacher fairly easily (I’m like that), then I began to trust our Form… Read the rest of this entry →

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the Four Dignities

Standing Lying Walking Sitting

 

To live a retiring life, Taoist or otherwise, to follow hermitage ways, it might indeed be possible to embody the dictum: when hungry, eat – when tired, rest; although, as with any ‘way’, this too might take many years to master, or to make artless. For most of us it would not be practical; we cannot just retreat, leave off and take to the hidden hills. It is rather the case that if, in fact, we desire to bring something of that lost naturalness into our lives, we must track entirely differently; we must turn again, lace-up our stoutest boots, come down into the valley and with a wind at our backs wear our way with the world rather than seek to leave it.
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Spring breaking

Perhaps we most often think of the power/virtue of chi as being mysterious, soft, soundless, appearing from nature’s hidden side.

This isn’t always so: sometimes it is mundane, noisy, prosaic, very much in the here and now… and mischievous.
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out of our skins

The year of the Snake has crept in, close to the ground, yin in aspect, water and Earth. The snake has much to teach: about patience and then directness and of how these two abide together.

In our culture to say of someone that they are self-centred is to be pejorative, meaning that they are self-ish and see all that happens around them as actions and achievement reflective of themselves. They are sun and fire without the balance of moon and water.

Yet in our practice of Tai Chi we are most often encouraged to move from our Centre – to develop self-awareness. A Koan-like puzzle is thereby prompted:

Where is the Self centred?

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Tale: Leaving Lao Tzu

Crossing the open ground between the last of the buildings and the palisade, the low, broad form of the water-buffalo seemed hardly to disturb the fog of the air, other than with soft dust-eddies about her solemn hooves. It was the hour before dawn, judged the man riding her back, and as cold as it was likely to get. The tea of his gourd wrapped close under his robe had long since lost heat. What a place! … and the very end of night.

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knots in the thread

With the shortest day gone beyond*, and as a year in practice knots the thread of its ending to that now beginning, now continuing…

These informal notebook thoughts have taken a direction, a bearing, unexpected by their writer… How these traditional Forms – our training – begun largely as means of expressing a facility(?), an aesthetic, a moving; then becoming a way of skill – the martial virtue; now sublimating their maker/teacher/doer… as in a mighty wave that never drowns.
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on the Healing in Chi Kung

Inner-pattern, inner Stillness, inner Light: shadows fly!

Our times have become complicated, and evermore so. And yet, with the rapidity of change, and especially with the multiple cross-currents of mass inter-personal contact, it is words such as, Healing, Meditate, Retreat, Holism (among others), that catch our eye, appearing more in print now than they may ever have done before. How curious this is.

Is it that they offer comfort? Is it that they have an inherent talismanic power to ward-off anxiety, say; that their properties are as jewels that may be bought?
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on Letting Go

On letting go –in the Body

In practising Tai Chi, whether in learning patterns, Forms, or martial applications it is important to step with the whole body, whole foot: thence to walk on, without leaving a trace. (This is a skill developed by Hsing I training in particular)
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finding, following

Finding and then following ideas in Tai Chi, working on them by one-self, within a group or with a single other, may take many directions; we should be open to them. Sometimes it pays to explore and be discursive; at other times to be quick and straightforward. To be in good humour helps and is a characteristically Taoist approach. Here is a pattern of study that has emerged in my own practice.
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towards Solstice, Centre, Stillness

Three practical tips to guide any meditation, moving or still

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Mind-push

A Koan (Japanese: an expression still in common usage) was set at the conclusion of a recent class, non-compulsorily and as gift.

This is an ancient method of puzzle-question (or statement) designed to penetrate to the heart/mind of a particular teaching.
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on White Tiger, Green Dragon

  • Taoism has a fondness for symbols and patterns largely taken from the natural world and seasons. Presumably these arose as a means of passing on teaching and traditions; of simply having a conversation without misunderstanding. As in the ancient world, so now.
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Hares boxing: martial arts

Being Practical

  • Vertical Golden Thread swings: in the rise of the swing keep Earth under your feet, and in the fall of the swing keep Heaven at the top of you head. And the use of the word ‘thread’ here is not a misnomer: the energy that moves in the long bone (spine) is spiral, or, more accurately, helical: centrifugal, centripetal, and bi-directional.  Imagine a thread cross-section and you will see it.
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February leaps

There are many forms and variables of balance; even chaos has balance, this is what Tai Chi means.

It follows that there is a balance to be found within each of our senses, and then between or through them.
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on Dragons

 

  •  Chief among the attributes of the Dragon, in Chinese thought and mysticism, is the ability to move with ease between Heaven and Earth. In human terms this means to be at ease in all or most situations, and to deal with people evenly; to be socially skilful and to communicate well.
  • The Dragon also signifies Tao. Study and practice of Tai Chi/Meditation – a personal/spiritual training – seeds within us a clear-mindedness that allows movement between things and people, thoughts and disciplines, without disconnection.
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TAO leaves

Watching forest bamboo at a distance, on a hillside maybe, full of wind and swaying vigorously, it becomes difficult for us to discern a tree singly; a bough rising from earth to heaven; harder still to pick out an individual leaf. We have to move closer. Then we have it: shape, colour, manner of growing; blade edged and tongue supple. These we may consider leaves:

  • If our practice in awareness brings us to a place of intuition then it becomes practical to act in light of that intuition. Why would one not?
  • Draw on, gently to open the heart of our minds, and know at last the mind of our heart.
  • It begins in stillness.
  • There is patience and there is perseverance: both are needed.
  • An un-quiet mind, that which Ch’an calls ‘monkey’, cannot be subjugated into quietness. Rather, let it have its time of randomness. Quietness may steal in when you least expect it.
  • Our postures should have clarity outside and in, with the beauty of balance.
  • Understanding follows quietness.
  • Action is a consequence of consciousness; our practice is to make both right.
  • Truth understood changes truth perceived: be uncertain therefore of absoluteness.
  • Treat all gently.
  • Imagination is valid awareness and may be as substantial as action.
  • Rest in spontaneity. (Alan Watts: thank you)
  • Resist past and future, instead observe the seasons.
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on the composition of One-ness, way of Realization

In our study of Tai Chi, whether it be in learning Forms or making application of postures, it is most often the case that we are exploring their inherent fluid duality.  This is the Yin/Yang of things, as we have learned to pronounce: bravely assuming the ancient Chinese as a short-cut to discussion, its meaning borne out in testing, where each posture, either in movement or stillness, has indeed a combination of these two inseparable Virtues at its core. And yet… and yet…  Beyond satisfaction, where actually does that get us?

Well, certainly it assists our journey. There is no doubt that having an understanding of yin with yang – ‘knowing’ them, as writes Lao Tzu – is to have an insight into supra-universal nature, and we must surely thrill to its spark in us. Yet even that ‘knowing’ does not reveal the whole. It is but a component part. Knowledge alone cannot deliver the self to Oneness; we must have a means, a method.
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on Pa Kua Chang ~ Way of Eight Palms

Of the three Taoist ‘internal’ martial arts, Pa Kua Chang is probably the most recent in its formal development. Though its origins are hidden, it emerges from the mountains of Kiangsu province in the early 1800’s and as such has a partly documented history. However, it takes its premise, its famous ‘way of eight changes’, from China’s cultural past at its most ancient – indeed from a time quite lost to us. Its reference, and gateway of understanding, is born of the I Ching – oldest of seers – and of that oracle’s preternatural pattern of the primary eight tri-grams set out around a circle.
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Hsing I ~ on the Form of the Mind

Hsing I, as an expression of Mandarin Chinese, does not readily translate into English, which is hardly surprising as, in my experience, neither is it readily understood by speakers of the language – at lease in a general sense. But perhaps its very shadow of meaning gives us a clue to its nature.

For first it is there, and present; then it is gone, and past. It is entirely direct, yet may take any direction. It may pre-empt, or abide: lighten or darken.

It is the deep, formless form of the essential mind.
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on TUI SHOU ~ push hands

Tui Shou is an art of internal balance, and pre-eminently so; where two move together as one, either to maintain a continuity in each other’s locus of chi, or to find the centre of that energy and subtly disrupt it. Done with an honest heart, it cannot be faked; and where the physical skill is lacking, or not yet learned, an intellectual grasp alone will not be sufficient, will in fact be a barrier. In the first place, its usual translation – as ‘push hands’ – maybe misleading: our minds jumping far too easily, too roughly, to the verb, to the push. ‘Sensing hands’ or even ‘Playing hands’ might serve us better, especially in beginning; only later and by its regular and patient practice may we seek its revelation, the true depth of knowledge that it may bring.
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the heart of taiji


at the heart of our martial Art is Peace,

which also is Truth 

at the heart of peace is Self defence,
which also is being at one with our own Ground 

at the heart of self defence is regular Practice,
which also is Meditation

at whose heart lies our return to the Source 

Thus we tread the paths of tradition, the Old and wandering Way,
to find ourselves on misted Ascents that climb to the Pass of enlightenment

 

I have used the pinyin taiji here, in the title.
In lower case in particular it has a pleasing balance that, even
given my desire for consitencey, I find occasionally impossible to resist.
©2010

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San Ju Shi

Lights the warrior his lamp,
Shallow dish of fire
             In this high summer.

With such Illumination
Who can not perceive
            A way of Heaven.

Mountain rises, falling ground,
Breath of cloud touch’d pine –
             What a place to walk.

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Shan Tung Hsuan

And on the table of his hermit cell,
Where mountain light leaned in low diagonals,
Particulars of his mantic art set out: tree-tallow, jade, yarrow, water-compass,
And paper Talismans, ribbon-tied to the post at entrance –
Almanac of all to be and not to be… 

He came in felt-soled silence;
I had not known him there
Were it not for the chatter of his tame langur,
Slender companion of his refuge, of cinnabar tufts to ears and tail,
That leaped to the master’s mantle sleeve at my turning.

I slipped my pack, sat to the moss ground at his beckoning,
Took draught of steaming cordial of osmanthus –
Since… seven years have passed, and passed, and hands of clouds…

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Waka

One map of one world,
Eight dragons in compass lie ~
Seven lightning stars,
Three seas – heaven, earth, thee – and
Two ways ~ O! go gently there.



(Here, a verse – and accompanying image – waka in the Japanese style, following a very ancient form known as tanka – of 31 syllables or characters, in the pattern 5,7,5,7,7)

©2010

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Two

Knock in an arrow

On returning to the woods,
The familiar ways –
New moon, same old bow.

Brettes

Daze of willow green above
Water running through –
Silent orchids come.

These are not quite haiku,
though as they each have 17 syllables they
are perhaps my take on that form, but with an English sensibility.

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fragment

… to continue, walking the lake’s edge,
walking, fearful of falling,
the icy abysm of water, a wind that cuts open,
finding the upland path, penetrating stillness of
woods, mountain rises, closeness of clouds’
thunder;
clinging to the prospect of fire at dusk,
laid upon the earth; the heat-leaping joy of it,
and nearness of heaven…

 

(Here the eight tri-grams of Pa Kua derived from the I Ching are illustrated in a verse,
in which a fulfilling sense of roundness and of completion may be discernable.)

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Wu-Hsing


M
etal that is dull,

Water that nothing quenches,
Wood that is rotted,
Fire that is but smoking snuff,
Earth that has not peace ~ these fail.

Whet-edge the metal,
Let us pour silver water,
Plane fairest light-wood,
Tender, fan, blaze a white fire,
Rise to life ~ bind peace in earth.


(Here, two short verses, or tanka, which is a Japanese poetic form, each of five lines following the syllabic pattern 5,7,5,7,7 These are written to make a succinct point, sometimes in the guise of a word game or riddle. This contrary pair illustrates the Five Elements/Activities, or wu-hsing, and perhaps too, a wrong-minded and then a right-minded way of living.)

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