Because Zen makes sense

Archive for the category “Tao Te Ching”

Your Yin Yang Mind and Inner Child

DavidJamesLees2013_zpsb1e6644eHow to identify when your Yang Inner Child is affecting you emotions, thoughts, words and actions and life purpose and potential.

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I’ll offer you a range of proven and practical spiritual tips and techniques to take control of your Yang InnerChild and your life.

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End of a Vacation


The  Nordic summer is fading, – slowly, but unstoppable. We are hoping for a warm start of the Autumn, but mindfully we have to accept whatever emerges. This summer is the first in years that I have not travelled away, except for some minor “excursions”.

The Master understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.

Tao Te Ching, McDonnald translation

This summarizes my summer pretty well. Apart from being a part time naturist this summer, i a very suitable weather for dropping the clothes, the summer has been a time for mindful approach towards all those minor incidents and experiences that we meet in our own houses and gardens.

Healthy food, physical fitness training, social life with friends, some relaxed gardening, fixing the house, emjoying the nature around my place (both dressed and undressed), sleep, being together with my family, reading and listening to music have made up my weeks away from my job. And the result is well being, a restoration of mind and body, and a longing for work and the usual daily rhytm.

I have all summer tried to remember a lost password, without sucesess until this morning. What happened today, was that I had accepted that I the password was gone for ever, but with that acceptance suddenly the password popped up in my memory. It was just like it had never been lost at all. Perhaps leaving all our efforts makes everything more possible, just as expressed in the last cited line for the Tao Te Ching.

My summer has been a wonderful summer, even without leaving home.

The Zen of .., the Tao of .., and mindfulness


Before the universe was born
there was something in the chaos of the heavens.
It stands alone and empty,
solitary and unchanging.
It is ever present and secure.
It may be regarded as the Mother of the universe.
Because I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao.
If forced to give it a name,
I would call it ‘Great’.

Because it is Great means it is everywhere.
Being everywhere means it is eternal.
Being eternal means everything returns to it.

Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
Humanity is great.

Within the universe, these are the four great things.
Humanity follows the earth.
Earth follows Heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

This is from Tao Te Ching, the McDonald translation.

We read about the Zen of …, the Tao of …, and it sometimes seems that the terms are used interchangeably. And also the terms Zen and Mindfulness often seems to express the same thing. That’s right, and that’s wrong. With the figure above, I have tried to sort things out a bit.

As a firm foundation we find the Tao, the way, or the principles behind everything that exists. Tao is the eternal laws, the sustaining force of the universe, of the earth, and of all life. We can not avoid it, because it is everywhere. We can try to fight it (humans do all the time, just look at what we do with the Earth), but we shall always loose in the end. What can seem like a victory, is a deception. It’s called Tao, some would say physics, others would call it God. Whatever it’s called, our existence is based on it, our daily life is controlled by it, and in that sense we are all “taoists”. And to my opinion the good life originates from harmony with the Tao.

The “Tao of ..” is unavoidable, but in daily use the term means how to live in accordance with “the Way”. That everything is interconnected, is not any longer just “eastern philosophy”, but reflected in the quantum physics. I shall not go in to the links between Tao and physics in this post.

But since “Humanity follows the earth”, we somehow should try to catch or own reality, and not live in deceptions governed by our experiences from the past, or our worries about the future. All there is, is this moment. Everything else is mental constructs with no actual or inherent reality. And to grasp our own reality, we have to be aware. If that awareness is open-minded, with no judgments, we call it mindfulness. Remember my definition of mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an unconditional awareness of whatever emerges

To reach that kind of awareness that we name “mindfulness”, we have to train our mind. Our brain is hard-wired to accept deceptions as reality, blocking the real experiences. The mind has to be trained, just as our bodies need physical training. And that training needs focusing, on the breath, on our body, on our thoughts etc. That is Zen meditation. Zen meditation require focus, not a forced focus, but an effort to stay in a focused mode, not letting the thoughts wander freely. Zen means a deliberate focusing. The “Zen of ..” means focusing on, and trying to grasp the reality behind whatever we focus on.

But there is a continuum between zen and mindfulness, and we can not experience the one without the other. There is awareness is zen, and there is focusing in mindfulness. The circles overlap to a large degree, and in practical life we usually shift between them, with the formal meditation being more of zen, and a life filled with awareness being more of mindfulness.

I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone but myself. This reasoning helps clearing my own thoughts, and to me that is the most important.

Not Belief, but Relief

skogI do not know where I read “no belief, but relief”. It sure is not mine words originally, but they express what I feel to such a degree that they could have been mine. I identify myself with the words, and what they express in my interpretation of what Tao means to us. And if I feel I touch Tao in a special way, it is in the nature. Whenever I can, I go for a walk in the forest, in the mountains, or on the seashores. I experience that stress and discomfort vanish with the whispering wind among the tress, the birds singing, or, as today, the sounds from a moose up on the hill. As one translation of the Tao Te Ching expresses:

Nature is like a bellows
Empty, yet supplying all needs,
The more it moves, the more it yields;
The sage draws upon Tao in the same way
And can not be exhausted.

This morning I woke up to snow outside. Not so much that I had trouble getting out, but enough to experience a special kind of stillness in the forest. I hardly could hear my own steps.


Sitting by the fire, I got the opportunity to contemplate about nature, and my part in it. When we sit like this, with a cup of coffee, we are able to practically sense the oneness, the connections between ourself and the nature around us. But what I most thought of, was this:


We have had som storms in Norway the last days, and this was one of the results. A big pine tree had lost for the wind, and now crossed the road. It was once tall and strong, but also stiff. And because it was stiff, it had to rely on its own strenght.  That was not enough to fight back when the storm attacked. Let’s listen to Lao Tzu, as expressed in Chapter 76 of Tao Te Ching:

The living are soft and yielding;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
the dead are brittle and dry.

Those who are stiff and rigid
are the disciples of death.
Those who are soft and yielding
are the disciples of life.

The rigid and stiff will be broken.
The soft and yielding will overcome.

The flexible shall overcome the stiff and strong. The one winning a boxing match, is not the one who hits hardest, but the one capable of avoiding being hit. And the tree on my way was a perfect reminder of this principle for a wise living.

Lecturing is about Competence, not Knowledge

Yesterday I kept a lecture, lasting a couple of hours. I was supposed to clarify what was demanded from the participants regarding competence in their work, as presented in laws and other official documents. And since I have reflected quite some time about the scepticism towards knowledge in Eastern philosophy, as expressed again and again in Tao Te Ching, I had to share with my audience some of my thoughts.

One who seeks knowledge learns something new every day.
One who seeks the Tao unlearns something new every day.
Less and less remains until you arrive at non-action.
When you arrive at non-action,
nothing will be left undone.

There are, according to my understanding, several aspects to this anti-intellectualism. I have also made some notes about it in connection with Zen, which I consider more or less like Taoism in this regard. The more philosophical approach will be that simplicity is better than complexity, and that an empty mind is a simple mind. And an empty mind is bound to be more aware, since there are no obstacles to our experiences in the moment, here and now.

From a practical point of view, I know that my lectures increase the knowledge in audience. I am a fairly good lecturer. But I also know that my lectures in lesser degree make any difference regarding new practices. Most shall listen to me, appreciate what they hear, – and go back to work and continue doing things the way they have done things before. The goal og my lecture is to implement new practice in accordance with new knowledge, and I know I often fail making this change. New knowledge is necessary, but it does not by itself fight traditions. And there are reasons for this.


First of all I know that new knowledge has to challenge the knowledge that is already there. They don’t meet me with an empty mind, and my audience always measure me up against their own experiences. And if they can’t somehow harmonize what I say with their old experiences, they might turn their back to my message. That critical view is in fact essential, both for not being manipulated, but also for putting new knowledge into a frame of usefulness.  Or as is expressed in this quote, attributed to Buddha (probably not correct):

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts.”

“Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.””Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”

“Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”

So for new knowledge to be accepted, I have to take into account the knowledge that is already there. But still I talk about knowledge, not competence. I have thought of the difference between knowledge and competence, and the difference is immense.

Knowledge is always limiting reality. It is always in the way of receptivity, and it blocks new input. Knowledge is like putting reality into a box. If knowledge is true knowledge, it is at its best only a fragment of that reality it tries to explain, and it is always full of limitations. Knowledge is alway some sort of pre-conditional facts about the reality it aims to describe. And if we cling to much to the knowledge we already have, there shall be no room for any alternative views. So it is really true that we shall have to renounce some knowledge to be able to develop and widen our understanding of reality. The “empty mind” makes sense. And in the empty mind lies the experienced reality.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?

So, as a lecturer, I somehow have to deal with this challenge, and one way to do it, is in fact to discuss what I discuss here, and perhaps focus on mindfulness as a mean for personal development.

My second point in this reflection is that when knowledge meets experience, it transforms to competence. While knowledge alone limits reality, and therefore the usability, knowledge plus experience break through the limits, and the mental and practical landscapes both become wide and open, in an inspiration for us to use. And that creates a change, in attitudes, in thinking, in practice.

So there are many reasons why we should put knowledge aside from time to time, and open ourselves up for new inputs. And I think that when I manage to move my audience in that direction, my lectures shall become new knowledge turned into real competence, – and a real change. My awareness of the immense difference between knowledge and competence, together with a mindful approach in my lectures shall make it worth listening to me. And I can hope that my lecture becomes more than a single stunt, and that my work can be traced in retrospect.

Acting in accordance with Tao, even in intellectual work, could both be rewarding, – and Zensible.

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