Thursday, May 12, 2022

Discovering another sacred text in the TAO TE CHING with maybe Lao-Tzu


"The Tao that can be understood cannot be the primal, or cosmic, Tao, just as an idea that can be expressed in words cannot be the infinite idea.

 

And yet this ineffable Tao was the source of all spirit and matter, and being expressed was the mother of all created things.

 

Therefore not to desire the things of sense is to know the freedom of spirituality; and to desire is to learn the limitation of matter. These two things spirit and matter, so different in nature, have the same origin. This unity of origin is the mystery of mysteries, but it is the gateway to spirituality."


This was a cosmic read more than a rocket read.  It was short and that is the most redeeming thing about it.  I still don't understand why timeless sacred texts have to be so big, long and hard to read.  This was none of those.  


What is the Tao Te Ching?


The Tao Te Ching  is a Chinese classic text written around 400 BC and traditionally credited to the sage Lao-Tsu. The text's authorship, date of composition and date of compilation are debated. The oldest excavated portion dates back to the late 4th century BC, but modern scholarship dates other parts of the text as having been written—or at least compiled—later than the earliest portions of the Zhuangzi.


The Tao, along with the Zhuangzi, is a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism. It also strongly influenced other schools of Chinese philosophy and religion, including Legalism, Confucianism, and Chinese Buddhism, which was largely interpreted through the use of Taoist words and concepts when it was originally introduced to China. Many artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and gardeners, have used the Tao Te Ching as a source of inspiration. Its influence has spread widely out and it is one of the most translated work in world literature.


When I read the Tao Te Ching... I feel like I'm in the tattoo parlour in Calgary with my friend Mike.  I am not there to get a tattoo, but I am there to learn and listen.  That is what I did with this read.  I had no intention to convert to Taoism (pronounced dowism)... but I understood there is wisdom in those pages.  So I downloaded a copy.  


"Neglecting to praise the worthy deters people from emulating them; just as not prizing rare treasures deters a man from becoming a thief; or ignoring the things which awaken desire keeps the heart at rest."


It has been a slow read, or rather a slow chew.  I felt like I needed to masticate a little more with this.  Before I swallowed, I needed to sit with the words and let them savour in my brain.  Wisdom always takes a little extra effort.  


Something else I like about the Tao Te Ching is that it isn't about the author, it's about the content.  Lao-Tzu may just be a legendary character that they ascribe the writings to.  It's not for certain that he even existed, much less authored this Chinese sacred text.  But it doesn't seem to matter.  What matters is the words.  


"Continuing to fill a pail after it is full the water will be wasted. Continuing to grind an axe after it is sharp will soon wear it away."


I hope I have that much humility one day to release my words without the need to have my name attached.  I still struggle with that.  I want notoriety for what I have written.  Maybe sacred texts aren't needing an author.  Maybe the words can speak for themselves.  Maybe one day I will even be able to read the bible again just for the words, because all the certainty in authorship is a sailed ship.  


"Therefore the wise man trusting in goodness always saves men, for there is no outcast to him. Trusting in goodness he saves all things for there is nothing valueless to him. This is recognizing concealed values."


What so I find inspirational about Tao?  


“ Tao is obscure and without name, and yet it is precisely this Tao that alone can give and complete.”


Maybe Tao is just another name given by a finite human to label that which was really beyond labelling, but as a human, we need names for things.  But there is a emphasis on the futility that Tao is limited by it's name.  As the first quote says... it isn't Tao if it can be understood.  


This concept isn't unique to the Tao Te Ching.  


“A God that can be understood is no God. Who can explain the Infinite in words?”


― W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge


I am still an ant in an anthill that doesn't have the job in measuring the back yard.  I am a poet.  I am not a scientist, a priest or a bible scholar.  There is a romance or attraction to the letting go of the need to have all the answers, understand everything, know it all, and be able to explain what is really beyond all explaining.  Call it the Universe, call it the Cosmos, call it God... or call it Tao.    


"Tao gives life to all creatures; Te feeds them; materiality shapes them; energy completes them. Therefore among all things there is none that does not honor Tao and esteem Te. Honor for Tao and esteem for Te is never compelled, it is always spontaneous. Therefore Tao gives life to them, but Te nurses them, raises them, nurtures, completes, matures, rears, protects them.

 

Tao gives life to them but makes no claim of ownership; Te forms them but makes no claim upon them, raises them but does not rule them. This is profound vitality (Te)."


Imagine an artist that paints a landscape.  The artist asks nothing of the painting.  It doesn't even sign it.  It just paints it and lets the beauty be enjoyed by others.  No one knows the artist, and maybe some wonder who that artist is, but the artist cares not about recognition.  It was never about recognition... it was only about beauty.  


One more bonus... I can quote the words and I don't need to mar the beauty of the wisdom with an address. 


"A tree that it takes both arms to encircle grew from a tiny rootlet. A pagoda of nine stories was erected by placing small bricks. A journey of three thousand miles begins with one step.

If one tries to improve a thing, he mars it; if he seizes it, he loses it. The wise man, therefore, not attempting to form things does not mar them, and not grasping after things he does not lose them."



Thursday, May 5, 2022

Coming home to Narnia: "A HORSE AND HIS BOY" by C.S Lewis



I have cats.  I don't own my cats, some might say that they own me.  This story is what is told in the fifth book in the Narnia series. "The Horse and his Boy".   

I think what I enjoy so much about this series is the life given to animals.  I wish I could share the same language with my cats.  But maybe it's better that I don't.  


How can I know? I bet this horse knows, if only he could tell me."

The horse had lifted its head. Shasta stroked its smooth-as-satin nose and said, "I wish you could talk, old fellow."

And then for a second he thought he was dreaming, for quite distinctly, though in a low voice, the Horse said, "But I can."

Shasta stared into its great eyes and his own grew almost as big, with astonishment.

"How ever did you learn to talk?" he asked.

"Hush! Not so loud," replied the Horse. "Where I come from, nearly all the animals talk."

"Where ever is that?" asked Shasta.

"Narnia," answered the Horse. 

* * * 

"Why do you keep on talking to my horse instead of to me?" asked the girl.

"Excuse me, Tarkheena," said Bree (with just the slightest backward tilt of his ears), "but that's Calormene talk. We're free Narnians, Hwin and I, and I suppose, if you're running away to Narnia, you want to be one too. In that case Hwin isn't your horse any longer. One might just as well say you're her human."

* * * 

"Ask on, my dear," said Aslan.

"Will any more harm come to her by what I did?"

"Child," said the Lion, "I am telling you your story, not hers. No-one is told any story but their own." 

* * *

I am not that romanticized anymore by the whole poor boy becoming a prince. With the news of recent events,  the whole royalty thing has left a bad taste in my mind.  In this story... the beautiful ending is for the horses who come home to Narnia.  

The whole king and queen motif of Narnia is not all that attractive to me now.  The dream is not a pretty one.  Reality is that royalty is just another prison.  Maybe a worse prison than poverty.  I don't know, but it seems that way.  So to add it to a child's fantasy seems cruel.  I guess maybe it is time to take a break from the world of Narnia.  

So what book finds me now... It is a story about a different kind of "Prince"... but that will be one of the next blog posts.  It is a big book, and may take a while to get through it.  

I am also reading another book along side... it is about a "Queen", but a different kind of Queen.  

Both books are not fantasy, but really show that the glamour of "royalty" is not all its cracked up to be.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Missing Lucy, but enjoying Jill in "THE SILVER CHAIR" by C.S. Lewis


 

Wow...  "The Silver Chair".  This was a different read than the first three books.  First difference... No Lucy.  I had grown attached to Lucy.  But she grew up and that made room for Jill.  

It is another journey.  I like journeys and unlike the first three books, I didn't have the movies to give me a sense of ease when the kids encountered challenges along the way.  I had not idea how it would end or how they would find their way home again, and even when Aslan would show his furry face.  

This book had less of Aslan's physical appearance and more of the children's faith in Aslan.  I wonder if that is on purpose.  Is C.S. Lewis guiding readers into the reality of a world where the lion isn't there to hug.  That lion becomes more of a belief to hold on to.  Especially when things get dark and they are enticed to believe that Aslan isn't real.  

I think I still like Aslan.  He doesn't come across as a beast to be messed with.  He can be cuddly, but he has his moments.  

* * * 

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.

"Then drink," said the Lion.

"May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

"Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion—no one who had seen his stern face could do that—and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realised that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all. She got up and stood there with her lips still wet from drinking.

* * * 

"We've got to start by finding a ruined city of giants," said Jill. "Aslan said so."

"Got to start by finding it, have we?" answered Puddleglum. "Not allowed to start by looking for it, I suppose?"

* * * 

Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.

* * * 

Jill held her tongue. (If you don't want other people to know how frightened you are, this is always a wise thing to do; it's your voice that gives you away.)

* * * 

Then they saw that they were once more on the Mountain of Aslan, high up above and beyond the end of that world in which Narnia lies. But the strange thing was that the funeral music for King Caspian still went on, though no one could tell where it came from. They were walking beside the stream and the Lion went before them: and he became so beautiful, and the music so despairing, that Jill did not know which of them it was that filled her eyes with tears.

Then Aslan stopped, and the children looked into the stream. And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass. His long white beard swayed in it like water-weed. And all three stood and wept. Even the Lion wept: great Lion-tears, each tear more precious than the Earth would be if it was a single solid diamond.

* * * 

A great hope rose in the children's hearts. But Aslan shook his shaggy head. "No, my dears," he said. "When you meet me here again, you will have come to stay. But not now. You must go back to your own world for a while."

"Sir," said Caspian, "I've always wanted to have just one glimpse of their world. Is that wrong?"

"You cannot want wrong things any more, now that you have died, my son," said Aslan. "And you shall see their world—for five minutes of their time. It will take no longer for you to set things right there."

* * * 

Here is the first book where Aslan sheds tears because someone had died...  almost like Jesus does at the tomb of Lazarus.  And why not?  Why does the ability to change the course of events have to remove the compassion and heart of the moment.  

I like the books better than the movies.  I am less traumatized by reading the story than by watching Hollywood's visual reenactment. 

Well... on to the next one... "The Horse and His Boy"  




Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Journey to Aslan's Country with THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER by C.S. Lewis


What has captivated me so much about this book, is the journey.  I adore journey stories.  Edmund and Lucy with their cantankerous cousin find themselves back in their magical land, but this time, they are on the Dawn Treader with their friend, Caspian.  

This is the last of the books, that come with movie memories. As I journey on through the Chronicles of Narnia, I won't have a Hollywood companion.  The stories will be fresh and the adventures unknown.  But this book has taught me the treasure of forging ahead even when you don't know what is coming.  Even the darkness is not a deterrent when the passion is in the continued journey.  There is no turning back, there is only going forward.  

I found so many great inspirations in this journey: 

The story begins on an afternoon when Edmund and Lucy were stealing a few precious minutes alone together. And of course they were talking about Narnia, which was the name of their own private and secret country. Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect. Their secret country was real. 

* * * 
What awaited them on this island was going to concern Eustace more than anyone else, but it cannot be told in his words because after September 11 he forgot about keeping his diary for a long time.

* * * 
Meanwhile Eustace slept and slept—and slept. What woke him was a pain in his arm. The moon was shining in at the mouth of the cave, and the bed of treasures seemed to have grown much more comfortable: in fact he could hardly feel it at all. He was puzzled by the pain in his arm at first, but presently it occurred to him that the bracelet which he had shoved up above his elbow had become strangely tight. His arm must have swollen while he was asleep (it was his left arm).
He moved his right arm in order to feel his left, but stopped before he had moved it an inch and bit his lip in terror. For just in front of him, and a little on his right, where the moonlight fell clear on the floor of the cave, he saw a hideous shape moving. He knew that shape: it was a dragon's claw. It had moved as he moved his hand and became still when he stopped moving his hand.
"Oh, what a fool I've been," thought Eustace. "Of course, the brute had a mate and it's lying beside me."
For several minutes he did not dare to move a muscle. He saw two thin columns of smoke going up before his eyes, black against the moonlight; just as there had been smoke coming from the other dragon's nose before it died. This was so alarming that he held his breath. The two columns of smoke vanished. When he could hold his breath no longer he let it out stealthily; instantly two jets of smoke appeared again. But even yet he had no idea of the truth.
* * * 
That dragon face in the pool was his own reflection. There was no doubt of it. It moved as he moved: it opened and shut its mouth as he opened and shut his.
He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.

* * * 
"Well, don't tell me about it, then," said Eustace. "But who is Aslan? Do you know him?"
"Well—he knows me," said Edmund. "He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor over Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia. We've all seen him. Lucy sees him most often. And it may be Aslan's country we are sailing to."

* * * 
At that moment she heard soft, heavy footfalls coming along the corridor behind her; and of course she remembered what she had been told about the Magician walking in his bare feet and making no more noise than a cat. It is always better to turn round than to have anything creeping up behind your back. Lucy did so.
Then her face lit up till, for a moment (but of course she didn't know it), she looked almost as beautiful as that other Lucy in the picture, and she ran forward with a little cry of delight and with her arms stretched out. For what stood in the doorway was Aslan himself, the Lion, the highest of all High Kings. And he was solid and real and warm and he let her kiss him and bury herself in his shining mane. And from the low, earthquake-like sound that came from inside him, Lucy even dared to think that he was purring.
"Oh, Aslan," said she, "it was kind of you to come."
"I have been here all the time," said he, "but you have just made me visible."

* * * 
"Look here," he said, "I hope I'm not a coward—about eating this food, I mean—and I'm sure I don't mean to be rude. But we have had a lot of queer adventures on this voyage of ours and things aren't always what they seem. When I look in your face I can't help believing all you say: but then that's just what might happen with a witch too. How are we to know you're a friend?"
"You can't know," said the girl. "You can only believe—or not."
* * * 
But between them and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the green grass that even with their eagles' eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a Lamb.
"Come and have breakfast," said the Lamb in its sweet milky voice.
Then they noticed for the first time that there was a fire lit on the grass and fish roasting on it. They sat down and ate the fish, hungry now for the first time for many days. And it was the most delicious food they had ever tasted.
"Please, Lamb," said Lucy, "is this the way to Aslan's country?"
"Not for you," said the Lamb. "For you the door into Aslan's country is from your own world."
"What!" said Edmund. "Is there a way into Aslan's country from our world too?"
"There is a way into my country from all the worlds," said the Lamb; but as he spoke his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.
"Oh, Aslan," said Lucy. "Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?"
"I shall be telling you all the time," said Aslan. "But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder. And now come; I will open the door in the sky and send you to your own land."
"Please, Aslan," said Lucy. "Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon."
"Dearest," said Aslan very gently, "you and your brother will never come back to Narnia."
"Oh, Aslan!!" said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."
"It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's OK. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are—are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

* * * 
I found it interesting that Eustace became a dragon on September 11.   How could C.S. Lewis have predicted that back in 1952?  I need to mull that one over in its significance.  

I think the hardest part of this journey is saying good bye to the kids.  First Peter and Susan got too old to come back to Narnia, now Edmund and Lucy have got too old.  Aslan gave them Narnia so they they could find him in their world.  It was never about staying in Narnia or becoming attached to that world.  It was always about helping them find Aslan in their world.  

I like the ambiguous nature of the story.  C.S. Lewis isn't writing another gospel, he is carrying you along with a story.   He doesn't change Jesus into Aslan or even change Aslan back into Jesus, but he lets the children know that they can find him in their world.  I am liking that freedom to explore.  I am not told how Aslan will show up to the children after they grow up... I am just invited into a continued adventure and journey, and that is the most beautiful part.  




Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Back to Narnia in PRINCE CASPIAN by C.S. Lewis


Wow.. Two book in two days.  I have been soaking up the story and have finished Prince Caspian.  I think the take away from this book was the whole "faith of a child" as portrayed in Lucy.  She saw Aslan when the others didn't.  But was it because she saw him that she had faith in him, or was it because she had faith in him that she saw him.  I think it was the later.  Because as the others started to let go of their skepticism, they found that they were invited to share in the revelation that their sister was a part of.  I think that part of the story really captured my attention and my admiration.  I don't think Aslan hid himself from the others, as much as the others were hidden because of their doubt. 

Here is what I highlighted during my read through.  

 

"Eh? What's that?" he said. "What old days do you mean?"

"Oh, don't you know, Uncle?" said Caspian. "When everything was quite different. When all the animals could talk, and there were nice people who lived in the streams and the trees. Naiads and Dryads they were called. And there were Dwarfs. And there were lovely little Fauns in all the woods. They had feet like goats. And——"

"That's all nonsense, for babies," said the King sternly. "Only fit for babies, do you hear? You're getting too old for that sort of stuff. At your age you ought to be thinking of battles and adventures, not fairy tales."

"Oh, but there were battles and adventures in those days," said Caspian. "Wonderful adventures. Once there was a White Witch and she made herself Queen of the whole country. And she made it so that it was always winter. And then two boys and two girls came from somewhere and so they killed the Witch and they were made Kings and Queens of Narnia, and their names were Peter and Susan and Edmund and Lucy. And so they reigned for ever so long and everyone had a lovely time, and it was all because of Aslan——"

"Who's he?" said Miraz. 

* * *

"As firmly as that, I dare say," said Trumpkin. "But who believes in Aslan nowadays?"

"I do," said Caspian. "And if I hadn't believed in him before, I would now. Back there among the Humans the people who laughed at Aslan would have laughed at stories about Talking Beasts and Dwarfs. Sometimes I did wonder if there really was such a person as Aslan: but then sometimes I wondered if there were really people like you. Yet there you are."

* * *

“That's the worst of girls," said Edmund to Peter and the Dwarf. "They never can carry a map in their heads."
"That's because our heads have something inside them," said Lucy.”

* * *

"Wouldn't it be dreadful if some day, in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you'd never know which were which?"

* * *

The only question is whether Aslan was really there."
"But I know he was," said Lucy, her eyes filling with tears.
"Yes, Lu, but we don't, you see," said Peter.

* * *

But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

"Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan," sobbed Lucy. "At last."

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

"Welcome, child," he said.

"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."

"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.

"Not because you are?"

"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."

* * *

"You mean," said Lucy rather faintly, "that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?"
"To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that."

* * *

Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, "Susan." Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. "You have listened to fears, child," said Aslan. "Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?"
"A little, Aslan," said Susan.

* * *

As for power, do not the stories say that the Witch defeated Aslan, and bound him, and killed him on that very stone which is over there, just beyond the light?"
"But they also say that he came to life again," said the Badger sharply.
"Yes, they say," answered Nikabrik, "but you'll notice that we hear precious little about anything he did afterwards. He just fades out of the story. How do you explain that, if he really came to life? Isn't it much more likely that he didn't, and that the stories say nothing more about him because there was nothing more to say?"

* * *

Thus Aslan feasted the Narnians till long after the sunset had died away, and the stars had come out; and the great fire, now hotter but less noisy, shone like a beacon in the dark woods, and the frightened Telmarines saw it from far away and wondered what it might mean. The best thing of all about this feast was that there was no breaking up or going away, but as the talk grew quieter and slower, one after another would begin to nod and finally drop off to sleep with feet towards the fire and good friends on either side, till at last there was silence all round the circle, and the chattering of water over stone at the Fords of Beruna could be heard once more. But all night Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.

* * *

"Yes—that and other things," said Peter, his face very solemn. "I can't tell it to you all. There were things he wanted to say to Su and me because we're not coming back to Narnia."
"Never?" cried Edmund and Lucy in dismay.
"Oh, you two are," answered Peter. "At least, from what he said, I'm pretty sure he means you to get back some day. But not Su and me. He says we're getting too old."
"Oh, Peter," said Lucy. "What awful bad luck. Can you bear it?"
"Well, I think I can," said Peter. "It's all rather different from what I thought. You'll understand when it comes to your last time.

What happens when I stand on the precipice of my fantasy.  I am returning to my world and leaving it all behind me.  

"Can you bear it?"  asks Lucy

Peter replies; "I think I can."

Yes, Peter... I think I can too.  I am enjoying my dip back into fantasy, but at the end of my time in Narnia, I will return home and leave Aslan behind.