This is an extract from ‘Beyond the Gods’ by John Blofeld, which is a really beautiful book on Buddhist and Taoist mysticism. Highly recommended if you can get your hands on a copy. Written in a lyrical, inspiring style.
This extract is about what Blofeld calls Taoist ”quietists”. He differentiates these from the Taoist ‘mystics’. They both ultimately experience the same thing, but the quietists are not as concerned as the mystics about the after-life. The mystics tend to practise various yogas with the intention of cultivating immortality or an essence for beyond life. The quietists are not as concerned about whether there is a soul, or an afterlife, or God. They practice present-moment serenity.
Blofeld describes his arduous journey in the early 1930s to the ‘Moon Terrace Hermitage’, spending days on the river and then walking over rolling hills and then climbing jagged harsh rocky trails that exhausted him. Finally he emerges in a beautiful upland region of pine forests, and waterfalls, and huge strange rocks covered in moss and flowers. There are gorgeous hidden gardens around the hermitage that have been subtly trained over hundreds of years by the hermits. Makes one want to leave immediately and go live there!
7 old hermits live there, and they garden and grow their food and live simply, but they are not bound to any practices. It used to be a hermitage for those practising Green Dragon White Tiger yoga but the authorities chased the monks away and so now it had only these quiet men who in early life had been bankers and merchants and so on. Towards the end of his visit he speaks to the one who is considered the sage among them, Bamboo Pin Recluse, ”a homeless one since childhood, he is a veritable cloud-riding immortal”……….
(Tsang / Chang O ~ Goddess of the Moon, the temple goddess in the hermitage.)
Blofeld asks Bamboo Pin Recluse to expound on the mysteries of the Tao. This is what the recluse says…
”Mysteries? Viewed properly, every detail of life, of nature, is a mystery as profound as any you can name, so how should our doctrine be especially mysterious?
Let me tell you what we do here in our community…not do might be a better term for it, since a distinguishing characteristic of Taoists is refraining from all calculated action, responding only to the needs of the moment.
From the Tao Teh Ching : ‘The Universe had its beginning in what is called the mother of the universe. Know the mother that you may know the child. Know the child that you may hold fast and return to the mother; then as long as life lasts nothing can harm you.’
The mother is the formless Tao, the child is the Tao of a myriad transformations. Or, as Lao Tsu puts it, ”Voidness is the name for that in which the universe had its origin; actuality is the name for the mother of the myriad objects. Therefore, empty your minds to view the secret source; and observe actuality in order to view its manifestations. These two arise together, though separate in name. Both are mysterious – mystery upon mystery! Such is the gateway of all secrets.”
I shall explain. Voidness and the actuality one sees all around are simultaneously one and the same thing.. Therefore, one must sometimes empty the mind of thought and sometimes contemplate the world of form. Neither has meaning apart from the other. To fix the mind always on emptiness would be to become as wood or stone. To fix it always upon the form realm would be to become a simpleton.
We are not philosophers lost in speculation. Direct perception takes the place of concepts. Now we rest in the mother, the pure undifferentiated Tao; now we rest in the child, observing the rhythms of the seasons, the objects of nature, the flux of change in which our lives are passed.
Learning to dwell above duality, we perceive no contradiction between the void which is also form and the form which is also void.
Secure in this knowledge we view gain and loss, meetings and partings, the rise and fall of circumstances, life and death with cheerful equanimity. What then can harm us? If we live another twenty or thirty years, well and good; if death must be faced tomorrow or today, well and good.
You must open the inner chamber of your mind and experience it there as you experience the sun’s heat and water’s wetness by direct perception.
How to set about this? Pare away wants and superficialities, follow a simple regime free from poisons to mind and body. Anxiety, covetousness and irritation recede as wants grow fewer and energy increases; thus the first taste of tranquility is won. In tranquility the mind perceives its inner stillness; contemplate that stillness that you may attain perception of the all-pervading void.
Yet, since voidness is not the truth if the non-void is excluded, alternate the hours you spend in inward contemplation with hours spent in observation of the myriad processes and forms…
Why aim (at immortality)? What would be the use of that? If there is a spirit apart from the body, it will undergo cycles of change just like everything else, whether one aims at that or not. If there is no spirit, what good would aiming do? Faced with this unresolved enigma, as in all other circumstances, it is best to reflect that things always take their natural course, whether one likes it or not…”
So Spoke Bamboo Pin Recluse.