Lao Tse | 李耳 – The Founder of the Philosophy of Taoism

"Konfuzius-laozi" by Shih K'ang - http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln471/pix.htm. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Konfuzius-laozi.jpg#/media/File:Konfuzius-LaoTse.jpg

Lao Tse, The First Taoist

Lao Tse, Laozi, Lao-Tzu, Lao-Tze, or Laozi was a philosopher and poet in ancient China who is best known for founding Taoism by writing the Tao Te Ching. He is a deity in certain traditions and probably lived around 4-500 BCE, but is often dated to the time of Confucius  at 600 BCE. Lao Tse is one of the great teachers and influencers of early eastern philosophy and helped to give foundation to the great traditions of the East. He famously said, “Be still like the mountain and flow like a great river.” (his work is riddled with allegory and word plays)

Lao Tse is a title meaning “venerable” “master. Many scholars argue that he was many people rather than one, but most ancient texts mention him in 600 BCE. The first copy of the Tao Te Ching is from 400 BCE. In any case, Lao Tse is said to have spent his life revealing the Tao. Much of his work after his death was used by anti-authoritarian establishments throughout history.

Er Li was a scholar and Alan Watts believes that he was the man that we know as the great master, but other scholars have argued that the figure of Lao Tse must have been many people. He was mentioned by several historical texts after his death.

According to tradition, Laozi studied in the royal court of Zhou and attracted large numbers of people, legends tell of an encounter with Confucius, but Lao Tse never opened a school.

One story says that Laozi is a hermit who lived in the woods until he was 160 years old. One day he was stopped by Yinxi at a gate and Yinxi asked Laozi to record his wisdom. He wrote the Tao Te Ching in response. Many stories then tell of Laozi traveling all the way to India to teach the Buddha. Some say that he was the Buddha.

The Tao Te Ching is one of the most powerful works in Chinese history. It describes the Tao as the source and ideal of all existence and all of nature flows from it, so when humans defy their nature, they separate themselves from the flow of the Tao.

Laozi said that technology brings about a false sense of progress and taught about a method of existence called Wu-Wei, or non-action. What it really means is flowing with the moment, not forcing, acting spontaneously, not doing anything, or creating nothingness.

Zhuangzi was Laozi’s disciple and was a central authority to monastic life amongst normal populations and drifting anonymously though society. Some modern politicians think that Laozi was the first libertarian, believing that people should be allowed to govern themselves loosely and without much governmental structure.

The True Meaning of Yoga

yoga_dancer's_pose

Yoga provides exercises and experiences that allow you to experience life more fully and vitally. This means that the breathing exercises, stretches, calisthenics, abdominals, standing poses, back-bend, inversion, spinal twists, and hip-openers that you do during a yoga class are pretty useless by themselves. The idea is that they free you up inside to be present to everyday life and can therefore appreciate everything a little bit more and make you healthier to enjoy them. I think this is why looking at pictures of people doing yoga can feel so hollow, there is so much going on in that simple picture and you can’t really see the after effects of what the yoga is doing.

A human being performing an asana, or a positive postural alignment of their body is an incredible thing, if simply because the human being is alive and functioning in the compromised position, especially if they are doing ujjayi breathing. When you start to combine muscular stretches and skeletal alignments to focused the consciousness of that human in asana, postures can assist their body in realigning, strengthening, increasing flexibility and endurance. Yoga does this by innervating muscles that may not normally be flexed or contracted and distributing weight evenly among muscle groups while inversions provide your circulatory system with some much-needed filtration and release from gravity’s constant pressure. Yoga can help your body to recover from intense exercise and to stay young by keeping the fluid systems functioning properly.

Yoga is much more than an ancient Indian philosophy because it has evolved alongside American culture in today’s world, even if it is very romanticized in much of the western world’s culture of yoga studios, classes, teachers, etc. It is a part of the West’s culture now in a way that people really do appreciate and take advantage of in a good way. It is also a part of Hinduism and may be very old in India.

From science we have learned that the biggest benefits of yoga are usually the stress releases. Yoga is a powerful tool for mental and physical sensitivity, meaning that it gives you a good idea of how functional parts of your body are and how much endurance you have. It is especially useful in aligning nerves, which is why lots of people with sciatica find relief in yoga. We are just beginning to explore the effects of exercises such as headstand, shoulderstand, back-bends like camel pose, reclined hero pose, wheel pose, bow pose are all extremely powerful postures that science still has a lot to learn about. But it seems to have huge effects on nearly every system in the body because of the controlled levels of stress input and release and overall stimulation and fitness of the body’s muscular systems.

Yoga becomes an aspect of appreciating life. Sometimes yoga may come and go and I really think everyone experiences a little of this from time to time and that it isn’t a big deal. Sometimes life is just good and we are very happy and yoga can be in the background for a while, especially if everything is really good. But yoga is something that doesn’t really leave you. When you stand up straight, when you stretch your back while standing in line, the yoga is still a part of how you do things if you internalize it. The #yogaeverydamnday hashtag is kind of funny because I don’t think anyone does yoga 365 times a year. Even Ashtangis are supposed take the full moon of every month off.

Yoga doesn’t have to be something very formal, we don’t even really know much about the origins of what we practice now. Its not super religious, or ultra sacred, or anything more than what you want to make of it. You can practice in small quantities by yourself at home to really get things moving for your body in terms of flexibility and mobility. Teachers are good for more advanced things like inversions, breathing exercises, or advanced arm balances and advising you on how to advance in your practice. But its also something you can learn on your own and that can provide stability or whatever you may need it to be.

The 5 Major Problems with Hinduism (esp. the Caste System)

Biggest Hindu Temple: Akshardham (the Hindusim & the Caste system)

Modern Hinduism

As humans, we like to idealize about things that we don’t necessarily experience. The grass is always greener where you aren’t.

Recently, this has occurred quite often in the way that Westerners view eastern religions in the yoga community. I definitely experienced this before I saw the religions in action when I visited southeast Asia.

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions on the planet and is the primary religion in Southeast Asia and India. It is the world’s third largest religion, after Islam and Christianity with one billion followers.

Hinduism is far more of an aggregation of diverse traditions, rituals, and philosophies rather than an organized religion. Despite this traditional disparity, which has unified since ancient times, modern Hindu philosophers have helped to universalize the religion into several core concepts:

  • There is a divine nature in all beings
  • Dharma and right living
  • Social Justice
  • Peace
  • Shared sacred literature

Together, these concepts combine to make up the modern philosophical view of the Hindu religion, which is really more of a category of rituals and traditions than an organized religion. The diversity of the religion is astounding.

Hinduism has had a profound effect upon India and has helped to form the social and cultural norms that have spread throughout southeast Asia. In reconciling the religion’s philosophical ideals with the modern culture of India and other Asian countries we can start to see some major problems with the religion’s traditions in regards to the functioning of humanity within their society.

These problems begin to show up in the structure of a society, as well as cultural tendencies, individual habits, and norms that are commonly accepted by the population. The following are the six major problems with the philosophical tradition:

  1. The Caste System
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Samsara
  4. Moksha
  5. Marriage
  6. Responsibility

The Caste System

The caste system, or separation of classes is probably the largest problem within the Hindu philosophies. People are born into their caste and cannot change it. There are five social classes defined by the Vedic philosophies: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and Dalits. Varna, meaning class, and Jati, meaning caste, will help us to understand how the caste system is structured and implemented.

Brahmins are priests and teachers and are engaged in obtaining the “highest” spiritual knowledge. They are traditionally holy men with training from the age of 5, but can also be warriors, fishers, or other such professions. One usually continues the profession of their father and ancestors.

Kshatriyas are military elite and rulers. During wartime they protect and during peaceful times they rule. These were typically not chiefs, but the ruling elite.

Vaishyas were the class of farmers and cattle rearers until the more modern period where they transitioned to become money lenders, traders, and land-owners. There are lots of sub-castes in Vaishyas and there have been revolts by the class throughout history.

Shudras are the final caste in the system besides untouchables, or Dalits. Their duty and function is to serve the other castes, which has many potential problems for the members of the class. Some scholars believe that members of the caste were rejected by the other classes and therefore became the lowest class on the metaphorical totem pole.

Dalits are arguably not a caste, but rather untouchables and those rejected by society at large and make up about 20% of the population. India has passed several laws to protect this group of people because they are historically very discriminated against. They are also known as the casteless people.

One is born into a caste based on their family and are derived based on their occupation, though it wasn’t always the caste (get it?). The modern version of the caste system is a result of the colonial British Empire and served to provide administrative structure for the regime. It is essentially similar to slavery and modern India’s government has fought this discrimination with affirmative action, job reservations, and government jobs for the lower castes.

It’s pretty easy to see how the caste system promotes slavish living conditions and discrimination. It has influenced other religions and other countries, especially in the Indian subcontinent and is very visible in the social structures of most of the southeast asian countries. The promotion of the caste system is the biggest problem in Hinduism.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is the concept of non-harm and means not to injure and applies to all living beings. Although the concept has many positive functions in human society, it promotes passivity for injustice and is probably one of the largest contributors to the reason that the caste system exists at all. Non-harm in nature is not possible, as the consumption of living matter is completely necessary for the sustenance of life. I am not saying that peacefulness isn’t possible, but life itself is somewhat of a violent process.

Certain individuals require meat for optimal nutrition. Animals shouldn’t feel guilty about living according to their nature, which humans have defined as immoral. So Ahimsa is a great ideal and peace is something we all should strive for, but it’s not necessarily possible in the reality we live in. Even your body is a battlefield for bacteria and micro-organisms. It is simply the way of things in the world.

The concept itself beckons respect for all of life. This is something that is very positive, as it denotes appreciation and promotes consideration of the divinity of all beings. Therefore, if you hurt a living being, you hurt yourself, according to the concept. However, in practice, you must injure other beings to feed yourself. Plants, trees, fish, and all of life is used for humanity to prosper so why are animals different?

Essentially, Ahimsa renders people very peaceful, which is positive, but it can also lead to passivity and acceptance of things that probably should not be acceptable. An example of this is the caste system. As we go down this list, you will start to see some patterns arising that play off of each other and contribute to a climate that is the Hindu religion in modern India. Gandhi was one of the primary promoters of Ahimsa.

Samsara

Samsara is the repeating cycle of birth, death, and rebirth believed by most eastern religions. The idea is that your current life is one of many past and future lives that all affect what you are experiencing now. Karma is what affects your destiny, but the Buddha taught that there was no beginning to the cycle, just an end that comes with Moksha, or liberation from the cycles of deaths and rebirths.

Obviously, this can breed complacency in life as well. There is no evidence to suggest that any of this is real (subjective data is not evidence) and it can lead, again, to acceptance of behaviors and circumstances that might otherwise be fought against. It also takes away from the present moment and can allow an individual to blame circumstances outside of reality for their current predicaments.

Moksha

Moksha is the concept of liberation from Samsara. This is the end goal of the Hindu ascetic’s karma and life. This is essentially an equivalent to heaven for the Hindu and denotes enlightenment, though it differs from the Buddhist ideals of enlightenment because in the Hindu religion, Moksha requires death. It represents self-knowledge, self-realization, and freedom, but also the completion of a fulfilled life of Dharma.

Again, this can create complacency, but on the flip side it can create acceptance for difficult circumstances and hope for the future. It also lends itself to an idealization of the end of life, rather than the present which can be negative. Moksha is a powerful idea, but again there is no evidence to suggest that reality does in fact work this way, so it can lead to delusional behavior.

Marriage

Hindu marriage is a traditional union where two individuals join together to pursue Dharma and Moksha and is recognized by law. Consummation is normally required for the marriage to be validated and most rituals lead to the consummation of the marriage. Marriage is normally arranged by the family, but is not necessarily an indicator of higher divorce rates, or unhappiness in the relationship. Modern India is changing this, as individuals are starting to appreciate choosing their spouse, rather than having their marriage arranged.

Marriages are arranged according to a variety of factors including: astrology, genealogical records, parental relationships, and wealth. Normally, parents arrange the marriage, but in modern urban India, this is changing rapidly.

There are eight types of Hindu marriage, but their differences are mostly ritualistic in nature. Divorce is supposedly extremely rare in Indian marriages.

The biggest problem with Hindu marriage is that there is almost no choice in the relationship. Though many individuals are happy, there are certainly those that aren’t and that are required by their culture and religion to maintain the relationship. If you take the view that marriage should always be eternal this might be a positive thing, but if you believe in free-will and individual happiness you might think this is negative. Hindus tend to be very accepting of their marital circumstances so normally they don’t disclose the circumstances of their relationship freely and tend to be oppressed because of gender roles in India.

Conclusion

There are always positive and negative aspects of philosophical concepts, depending upon how they are implemented. Many of these problems can also be very positive, such as increasing acceptance of circumstances and ability to cope with harsh realities. However, some also lead to very negative things, such as not caring about the environment, massive pollution, separation of people by genealogy, and extreme poverty for those who are not accepted by the culture’s standards. Discrimination is relatively normal in the Hindu religion and especially in southeast Asia and the Hindu religion definitely contributes to this.

Many aspects of Hinduism are positive, but these are the major negative issues with the religion. Philosophy is often paradoxical, so if anything is unclear please comment below. Additions are also always welcome!

Acceptance

rickshaw Dhaka

There is a certain point where I realized that there was nothing I could do to save anyone. There’s no saving. There’s always suffering. And thinking otherwise is simply idealizing and overgeneralizing.

Suffering is an unavoidable aspect of this world. You are not a victim, but instead an inhabitant; viewing suffering as against you or attacking you will only increase its power.

Instead we should acknowledge our state of suffering and enjoy it; if everything was easy, life would be so boring, so monotonous, so pointless. We wouldn’t have to learn, adapt, change our behaviors, or do all of the amazing things that humans do.

Accepting the state of suffering is the only freedom we have in the world. To enjoy the sun, a nice meal, the people around you, despite where you are, the ailments you have, or the desires that go unfulfilled. No one can do it for you. And the experiences of others are pretty irrelevant to you; you are a world in and of itself. A consumer of the highest order, no matter what you forego when you eat or the type of lifestyle you live. Accepting this leads is a key to realizing what you are. To know the truth is to set yourself free from the hatred of suffering, instead you are able to enjoy it.

When times get hard, appreciate them. This is the forge of character, shaping your being into what you need to be here. When times are easy, be grateful. Ultimately, gratitude is the greatest gift you can give yourself. With it, you are free to accept your suffering as an aspect of reality instead of fighting and pushing your self deeper into states of anger, frustration, greed, and jealousy.

Acceptance and gratitude together are freedom that only we can give ourselves. No one is going to save you or do it for you. Eventually, we will all be gone. Clinging never helped anyone that was too heavy. We will all fall in the end. Enjoy the climb.

Diamonds in the Rough

"Rough diamond" by Unknown USGS employee - Original source: USGS "Minerals in Your World" website. Direct image link: [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rough_diamond.jpg#/media/File:Rough_diamond.jpg

“A diamond has the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material; it can be contaminated by very few types of impurities. Most natural diamonds are formed at high temperature and pressure. A material with superlative physical qualities, most of it original from the strong bonds between its atoms.” -Wikipedia

Sometimes, people rise above their circumstances to greatness. They are forged, hardened by pressure and time to rise above their surroundings and to become more than anyone thought they could become. I’ve been lucky to witness this in several people from all over the world. People all over the world have the capacity to be greater than their circumstances would “normally” dictate.

There’s a popular saying going around now: “Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.” I have come to believe that this is completely untrue and a complete idealization; all you have to do is look at the amount of corruption in much of our species to know that people often take the easy way out. Look at the US senate, can you really say they are doing the best they can with what they have?We are lazy beings, like all other mammals we want to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sun and the food it grows. (in balanced quantities of course)

This isn’t to say that people will always take advantage of everything they can; instead, its acknowledging that there will always be both sides to the equation; those that take complete advantage and those that take none and in fact give willingly with no thought of receiving. I’ve witnessed a lot of both lately while I’ve been traveling.

Yesterday was a rough day for me; the traveling and budget have gotten to me and I’m exhausted (you can read yesterday’s article on my mental fatigue here. But the equation will always balance itself out. Today I met an absolute gem of a woman on my way to the Minh Mang tomb. Her name was Rei Nguyen.

Rei was a farmer and told us that she and her husband made around 5 million dong per month (about $250). She sent her kids to a school that cost about 2 million per month, in the city of Hoi.

My girlfriend and I rented a scooter for $4 and headed to the tomb this morning, pretty excited to see the most renowned tomb in what appears to be the cultural center of Vietnam. Largely affected by the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War), we were able to see a lot of the effects of the war in our travels, most particularly the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). There was a good amount of propaganda at the museum, especially geared towards the use of illegal chemicals such as agent orange, the US’s involvement in the war, and Vietnam’s victims. This is not to say there wasn’t massive effect from illegal chemical weapons used by the US, but there was no mention of Russia, or of the civil war in Vietnam. As usual, there was a scapegoat to take the blame and the US took full brunt force of it; it’s probably deserved. (again, I’m not saying I know the situation, but I’ve seen this before in WWI & WWII propaganda, Civil War propaganda, and pretty much every war in history is necessarily affected by propaganda where one country is blamed for the entirety of the war)

Rei’s english was incredibly good for anyone in Vietnam, let alone a farmer with an education that ended when she was 12. She works 10 hour days out in the fields with her husband and eats mostly rice and noodles, though she wasn’t malnourished as far as I could tell. She was extremely kind to us, showed us a shortcut to the tomb and then invited us to her small house by the river to talk and have some tea.

The tomb was incredibly peaceful; death has a way of making the life so powerful.  We walked around the tomb for a couple of hours in the scorching heat and humidity, then returned with her to her home.

Happy_in_Vietnam

I noticed she was lucky enough to have electricity and running water; he house was small, with wooden walls and a tin roof and she graciously offered us tea while we spoke about her life and how my life was very different from hers. She ultimately ended up asking for money for her children’s school, but it was far more of an afterthought than most of what I have experienced in Vietnam. Most will ask for money, then turn their back and mutter under their breath when you refuse their service. She offered us a kind smile and sharing of words and experiences that has been unique in my trip to Vietnam.

In this trip, I’ve met people poorer than you can imagine that still show kindness and refuse to take extra money no matter how hard you try. I’ve met people who I’ve gotten along with like I’ve known them my whole life.

One sterling example of this is one of my Muslim friends from Yemen; probably the one of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met. He owns about six AK47’s at his home and Yemen and left to pursue a more peaceful education in Mysore. Yemen is currently in Civil war and he has been directly affected by it with the death of some of his immediate family members, yet still he pursues kindness and happiness relentlessly. I was with him while it started and there was definitely a lot of swearing and frustration, but it didn’t change his outlook. He goes against any stereotype I could have held against someone of the Muslim religion.

The owner of the Chakra house, Rajesh was like this as well; one of the nicest and most relaxed people I have ever met. He and I will be friends just like the day I left if I ever return to Mysore (which is highly probable). It’s funny how you meet people who you feel like you’ve known your whole life when you travel.

People are individuals and that’s how they should be treated. One is not representative of the whole, because there is so much variation in our species. So at the same time that there are all of these awesome people I have met, there are also some abominable ones.

Let me give you some examples, from history. I don’t like to talk about negatives in reality because people can change and who am I to judge them. With that said, world leaders are different and I feel at full liberty to judge their decisions. There are some terrible people in our world: Kim Jong Il, definitely not doing the best with what he has especially after his most recent execution; neither did Stalin, or Hitler, or Mussolini. Even American leaders smell of stank corruption that can ruin the people: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Nixon, Ulysses S Grant, Kennedy. Even the greatness of America has such powerful potential for corruption because of the essence of its power.

The truth is, humans will look out for themselves before others and in our modern world we absolutely HAVE to expect this from everyone. Think about it this way; even if you are about self-sacrifice, you would give to your children first and foremost the greatest opportunity to succeed in the world. We look out for ourselves before others and this isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply the reality of humanity. This is why the US is struggling right now, our system of checks and balances has become completely unbalanced in the wake of our economic prosperity in the 80s and 90s and leaders continue to take advantage of the people they rule just as they have since the beginning of time.

Unfortunately, this can even apply to our immediate family. You see celebrities with major mental and stability problems, likely because they can’t even trust their support systems and families anymore (this is just my observation, feel free to comment on it). It’s really sad, but that’s how money can corrupt people. Greed, it seems, is simultaneously the great human strength and weakness.

But on the other side, there are people who will give without even caring about what they receive; they give kindness freely and love as often as they can, as long as their basic needs are met. Sometimes, they even defy those. Remember to think of it as an equation, because that’s what the world we live in requires.

Writing yesterday made me feel so much better, today the same. I really hope that these comments are misunderstood, I am trying to be very objective and am applying my experiences to the greater scope of the world we live in together. I walked around today with a big smile and decided that I would kill my fatigue with kindness and it has worked. I feel a hell of a lot better.

Please let me know what you think of this article in the comments, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/padayoga

I always love to hear from readers.

Idealization in the Psyche

jesus&buddha

A core function of the human mind is dreaming, or imagining events that haven’t actually taken place. This can occur while sleeping, while bored during the day, while exercising, pretty much any time when your attention is free, this is possible for the mind. If you are intensely focused on something, for instance your breath, then the mind cannot create these abstractions or false realities. This is part of the Maya that Buddhists and Hindus believe is the illusion of this world.

I’ve heard a lot about spirituality in the last 3 months; I’ve heard that the Buddhas enlightenment meditation was about 4 hours long, I’ve learned that the mind will ceaselessly process events for seemingly no reason, I’ve learned that Buddhism is absolutely a religion, and I have come to the conclusion that the Western and Eastern spiritual religions are two sides of the same coin; the quest for power.

The Buddha and Jesus Christ are treated very similarly in their respective religions of Buddhism and Christianity. Each is somewhat of a key holder to salvation from the world; the Buddha through enlightenment, and Jesus through heaven. Being educated by Jesuit priests has its advantages; I believe it is a requirement to have a PHD in both Theology and Philosophy. Eight years at Jesuit schools has taught me a lot about how to understand and interpret mythology, which religion can effectively be compartmentalized under.

Proper understanding of any literature requires analysis of three major factors : historical events, cultural rituals, and most importantly language. It is impossible to understand what writers were attempting to say in ancient times without understanding their lifestyle, educational background, and historical circumstances. These three things cross over into each other (ie language is a cultural phenomenon and history consists of many important rituals and customs), so having a decent understanding of all three circumstances is important to understand the meaning of what is being said.

If we look at most modern-day christianity, a lot of this contextual information is forgotten, therefore disregarded which causes us to completely lose the meaning of the original text. You need this contextual information to understand what the author is trying to express.

A lot of people don’t understand the bible but quote it regularly; I hesitate to say most, but I don’t think I would be wrong. It is an ancient book written for ancient times and most of it was passed orally before it was ever written, including all four books about Jesus’ life. Even with all of the available knowledge regarding historical, cultural, and linguistic circumstances, we still have a very small picture into the life of someone like Jesus. So we idealize about the individual person in nearly every way, because we allow our brains to construct “the perfect” human. This is essentially what the ideal of Jesus epitomizes in Christianity, an individual that sacrifices everything for his community, even though he receives no recognition for it.

The buddha is very similar to eastern traditions. A lot of the knowledge passed from the Buddha was also passed down orally; but instead of the 70-100 years gap before Jesus’ teachings were written, the Buddha’s teaching were first written about 400 years after he died. This leaves a rather large margin for misinterpretation in the writings of both holy books. He was also a “perfected” human, though his path was different he achieved enlightenment and unison with the divine.

Most scholars accept that the Buddha lived and founded a monastic order and that he was a younger contemporary of Mahavira (the Jain teacher). But very few are hesitant to say much more than this, because of the convoluted theologically influences historical events. The same is true with Jesus, most scholars accept that he lived, died, and founded an order in the process. But scholars of both traditions believe that the traditional texts are not at all historically reliable.

Both the Buddha and Jesus led tremendous cultural revolutions that were anti-establishment; Jesus against rabbis and Jewish pharisees, and the Buddha against Hindu ascetics and Brahmins that constructed the caste system. Both taught about freedom that can’t be obtained externally and both were very misunderstood then, and now. And both were lost to time, never to be truly understood because of lack of reliable information. This has created a complete idealization of both figures, so much so that individuals consider them to be the gateways to the divine.

Why am I writing about this? To exemplify a constructive process of the mind, called idealization. We do this with people we look up to, idolizing and making up idealistic personalities for them. Modern music, movies, acting, etc creates plenty of this. It is part of how we dream, we look up to the individuals we think of as the most successful, or the highest quality. Then we try to be more like them to improve our functioning within society.

We need to step away from these ideals and understood the people around us as humans, rather than idealizing about your favorite artist, a model whose body is unforgettable when photo shopped. Jesus and the Buddha were both humans. There really isn’t any evidence to show otherwise, so that is my position that I am sticking to, because instead of creating an impossible ideal to strive towards, now you have a concrete human that you can measure your own progress against.

Being anti-establishment is important; it’s what allows the establishment to grow and evolve to better fit the needs of the unfortunate underprivileged. Both leaders were completely anti-establishment, in my opinion. They were leading revolutions. Remember that the next time you go to church, or a temple. Jesus literally taught against established religion. I don’t remember Jesus ever going to church, nor the buddha building a temple where he wanted to meditate. The Buddha was enlightened under a tree! And both were focused on being and existence and you can tell because they didn’t write anything about themselves! They were busy teaching people how to stop thinking about how virtue can make you happy. So focus on being happy now, like these awesome dudes!

 

The Wanderer, Part 18

Taoist_Temple

This story can be read alone, or as the 18th section of the wanderer story.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 17

Tas woke up slowly, rolling to his side to nurse his aching stomach. He slept soundly, but his body was stiff as a board. He began to slowly stretch to wake his muscles and joints and eventually headed to the shower room. It was hard to walk.

Tas took his time washing, running cold water over his face and clearing his eyes. He looked down at his hands and began to feel like they were falling away, as if an immeasurable distance was separating them and he was completely overwhelmed. He shut his eyes, remembering to think on his breath like Shu taught him. Eventually, the feeling of falling subsided and he looked down to a floor that wasn’t moving. With a sigh and a big breath in, he returned to his chamber, dressed, and walked outside to join the morning ceremony.

For the first time Tas was late and walked by himself down the solitary halls filled with small amounts of sunlight that trickled through the stone walls. He was just trying to make it up the stairs when a pain in his stomach stopped him, taking his breath away. Tas wouldn’t give up, he only had to make it up another four flights; it wasn’t that far. He never remembered the walk being tiring at all, but toward the end of the second flight of stairs he began to shake a bit and he knew that he would have to stop and wait.

His breathing was shallow and he felt weak. But he wasn’t kneeling over anymore so he was happy. But he would have to wait to regain his strength.

He made his way slowly up the last flights of stairs and walked into the main courtyard, fully in bloom and radiating green and all other sorts of colors. Tas sat far from the balcony by himself, resting.

Once the ceremony was finished, Yao came up to Tas and walked with him to Fei. Fei looked at Tas, weakened and tired. He sighed and gave Yao a look that Tas couldn’t even begin to understand. He looked frustrated and sad and angry all at the same time.

“You look tired Tas, are you sick as well?”

“No, not sick. Just very tired. Like I walked up a mountain yesterday.”

“We will begin your training now.” Yao said swiftly, taking over the conversation and leading Tas towards Fei’s chambers. “Master Fei, we will be requiring your chamber for the day, we will be finished at 5, when Tas will go with master Paj and continue to study astrology and walking.” Tas sighed when he head it all; a full day of work, today? He was so tired. Tas entered the room ready to pass out.

“Your first task, which will continue throughout the day is to fight your fatigue.” Yao raised his eyebrows at Tas, who weakly lifted his head. He was still out of breath from entering the room. Yao slapped him, hard.

Tas felt blood rushing to his face, it hurt, but he also alive again in a way that he hadn’t before. Yao’s gaze was hard.

“You must get used to fighting. I want to see anger!”

He slapped Tas again, but this time Tas blocked it. He found his energy returning as his anger towards Yao increased.

Now Yao attacked Tas and pushed him towards the floor, wrestling the young boy with ease. Tas struggled, found his arms becoming stronger again, as well as his legs when he push Yao back with a shove. He crouched down low, ready to take the old man’s weight and throw it back at him.

Suddenly, the old man stopped and sat, then motioned for Tas to do the same. Cautiously, he sat, ready to regain his feet if he needed to. But Yao looked very calm and began to speak again.

“The lingering shadow in you will be strongest after you wake. You have to stay active in the day and… use your anger to fight it. Or else it will take you, as it had you in its grasp before.

Now today will be a long day, because if you are allowed to sleep, Melkar will be able to enter your dream and take control. As he did two nights ago. You must stay awake during the day and sleep only at night. Paj will also assist you in shielding your mind against Melkar, but understand that he is powerful. He may find ways around the rules that govern the normal use of this type of magic, if you want to call it that. He is old and wise, and despite his sinister inclinations, is very learned.

But you should not fear him, Tas.” He looked into the boys eyes, his own were full of light and life, Tas couldn’t help but be mesmerized. “Fear has no place for you, understand? If you feel fear, take a deep breath in and remember your mother. You are fighting for her sake.”

Yao words resonated deeply, Tas felt as though the old man were showing him the truth of things; lives of people like his mother were surely the ones at stake here.

“What is Melkar? I don’t understand how he can be so powerful. And what does he want?”

“Melkar is a demon of sorts. His original body died and a very long time ago and he has taken another in its stead.” As Yao talked, Tas could see lines of disgust forming on his brow.

“So he was once human, but now he is… something else?”

“Yes, now he is part of the shadow. It fuels him as much as it enslaves him to its limits. That’s why he seeks its growth you see, because he grows with it.”

“Tas, he is powerful, but nothing that you need to fear. You are balanced between light and dark, so we must simply focus on the light within you to counter the excess of shadow.” Yao spoke as if it were simple, but Tas really had no idea what he was talking about.

“So I must become more light?”

“Yes,” Yao said happily. “So we will learn martial arts, do conditioning training, hill training, weapons training, and proper running, rolling, dodging, and throwing.” Tas had never seen a bigger smile on the old man; it was like he had just finished harvest and realized the final load was double what it was normally.

“Now, we will start with hill training.” Yao said gleefully. Tas was slowly becoming utterly terrified.

They walked outside into a cool morning breeze and began to run towards the hillier parts of the monastery’s grounds, finding areas that were particularly vertical and pushing Tas’ body to its limits. They began to practice sparring and Tas fell time and time again. Then they did sprints, with rolling training in between the sprints. Then they moved on to weapons where Tas learned about bow staffs and bows. He was completely exhausted by the time he returned to the monastery before the sun set, ready to eat, then spend the night with Paj, studying ways to clear his mind and shield it from intrusion.

He was completely spent and exhausted by the time he returned to the monastery, but he felt so alive. Like his body was used in the best possible ways and his strength was completely gone. He ate his rice vigorously, asking for a second portion and fighting the fatigue in his body and mind. Gritting his teeth to stand, he walked towards the stairs, prepared for his nightly lesson with Paj and resolved to become stronger.

 

The Wanderer, Part 17

tao_monastery

This story can be read alone, or as the 17th section of the wanderer story.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 16

Tas woke up on a table in the middle of Fei’s chamber, his stomach was in agony and he could barely move except to go deeper into the fetal position. He realized suddenly that Yao was chanting above him, locked in concentration. The pain was slowly leaving his body and Yao was holding something, Tas had to put his head back down to cope with the massive waves a pain from his gut. He felt like he was dry heaving, but without any result except the contraction in his abdomen.

Yao began to chant a bit more loudly now, and Tas managed to look up and see the black wyrm wriggling in his hand, nearly dried up of its dark liquid and covered in a mucky slime that seemed to partially disappear into vapor before hitting the ground. The Tas was slowly feeling the pain leave, he could breathe again and the tears stopped streaming from his eyes. Yao’s voice was steady in the background, he had never been so grateful for the old man in his life. Fei began to help Tas to drink some water as the waves of pain faded more and more. After a minute of recovering, Tas could see that Yao was still locked in concentration, eye fixed on the wyrm in his hand.

Yao continued for the next 5 minutes, then stopped once the wyrm was motionless for a few minutes. He threw the carcass into the fireplace for Fei to burn later in the afternoon.

Once Tas could breath normally, he asked, “Melkar said it was from the north and so was he. What does that mean?”

“It means they have both died,” Yao said, careless, as usual. “And come back with the power of the shadows.”

Fei looked at Yao disapprovingly, as if he had ruined a surprise or something of the sort. After a quick gruff, he spoke, “The North is a place without as much light, Tas. Darker things thrive there and people who have spent extended periods of time there come back different than when they left.” Fei turned to Paj, “My theory, or hypothesis excuse me, is that Melkar’s remains were taken into the north by Grethatch, sometime after Melkar’s first death.” Fei looked at Yao now, who was picking dirt from under his fingernails.

After a moment, Yao realized they were waiting for him and gave a shrug, “what do you want me to say? I killed that bastard, tore his head from his shoulders with a morning star.” He looked at Tas now, “it was quite the swing,” winked, and returned to picking his fingernails. Fei looked deeply disturbed for a moment, then resumed his normal smile.

Paj spoke now, “Tas, you have been entangled in something older than your self, as we all are when we are born into this world. Your dream, rather, nightmare last night was no accident. Melkar knows you now and so does Grethatch for that matter,” He looked alternately at Fei and Yao now.

Yao spoke now, “there is no use terrifying the boy.”

“Wait,” Tas copied the way Yao spoke on occasion, heightening his voice then softening it to get the others to listen. “What is happening to me?”

Yao laughed now, “Your mind was under attack by a shadow wyrm, or something along those lines, no one can know what Melkar has been creating in the shadow. Without my extraction, you would have entered into a permanent nightmare. And in the process, become Melkar’s slave.” He looked more seriously at Tas now, “You must be careful for the next few days. It may take up to a week for your body to process and get rid of the shadow.”

Fei nodded, “meditation will help.” He looked at the others, “But we must be careful now. There is no telling how much control Melkar might have over the boy.”

Yao locked eyes with Fei, “I disagree. The boy is resilient and powerful. We should continue his training.”

Fei’s eyes now darkened, in a way that Tas hadn’t seen before, “You would fling his life around like a plaything, teaching him that which can kill him, harm him, put him in the way of death?”

“Do you suddenly believe in accidents Fei? This is the boy’s destiny. He has chosen to walk the path towards god, he said so himself! Who are we not only to stand in his way of his path, where-ever he is being led.”

Fei sighed, “your way is so detached. Do you have no compassion for him?”

“I do, that is why I wish to arm him with all of the skills necessary to defend himself.” Yao was resolute, Tas could feel it, not only from looking at his eyes.

Paj remained silent as Fei scanned the room for support. Tas finally got up the courage to speak, “Do you think he will come back?”

“Do wolves give up their hunt? How about when they smell blood? He smells a soul to reap, he will be back sure as the sun rises.”

“Then I have no choice.” Tas said, knowing his mind was made. “We should train starting tomorrow.”

Paj sighed, shook his head, then spoke, “I am sad to say it. But we should certainly. Your life will not be an easy one Tas. This is only the beginning of the terrible darkness that a black reaper can bring.” He looked at Fei and Yao to make sure they understood. “His warlock friend is also a nuisance, but I will teach you how to shield your mind against both of them. You will sleep soundly within the week.” He said it jauntily, but Tas wasn’t so excited for a week of sleepless nights.

Fei spoke now, “I will put the best resources the temple can provide. You will be ready to defend yourself when the time is right, Tas.”

Yao just sat, but Tas would wait. Finally, he spoke, harshly and barely audible, “Wake up before the sun. Meet me in the central grounds, that’s when we start your physical training.”

Tas was surprised with himself, but he was excited to train with Yao again, more than anything else.

“After morning ceremony, meet me on the balcony,” Fei said with a smile.

Paj took Tas by the hand and led him away, “For now, you can rest. We will talk some more when you wake up. Be careful; do not forget about what was inside of you this morning…”

Tas nodded, nearly asleep again and let himself be led back to his room, when he fell onto the mattress and let himself fade into the dark of sleep.

The Wanderer, Part 11

wandering_stars_in_the_sky

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3
The Wanderer, Part 4
The Wanderer, Part 5
The Wanderer, Part 6
The Wanderer, Part 7
The Wanderer, Part 8
The Wanderer, Part 9
The Wanderer, Part 10

Tas woke up comfortably, soft cushions and a mattress supported him on the cool stone floor of the monastery. He was excited; today was his first day of training with Fei at the monastery.

He woke slowly and stretched, then dressed and prepared for the day. Fei said that he would begin training today, so he was excited to get started.”

He moved with the sea of monks from the lower levels of the monastery up to the ground level. They rose on the steps slowly, each taking their time and moving fluidly together while Tas walked awkwardly, accidentally bumping shoulders and occasionally walking a some toes on accident. But the monks didn’t seem to mind, a few even smiled when he miss-stepped. Tas had never seen men that were so peaceful.

He watched and waited during the morning ceremony, Yao was missing from the balcony this time and only Fei stood alone, reciting incantations and chants for the rest to follow. After they were done, Tas climbed the stairs to the balcony to meet Fei for training as he had requested the day before.

As he approached, Fei resumed his wide smile, looking happy as could be. Tas was very excited, though he had no idea what the old master had in mind for training. He had trouble sleeping the night before because he was thinking about what how Fei would be training him.

“Good morning Tas!” the monk said gleefully. His smile was unwavering, but it was comforting. This man didn’t seem to have any worries.

“Good morning, master Fei.”

Fei’s smile faded for a moment, “You do not need to call me master, Tas.” His smile returned in full force. “Are you ready to begin your training?”

“Yes, of course!” Tas said exasperated.

“Good! I am glad to see you are excited. You will spend the morning with Shu. He will train you in meditation. At lunch, you will eat with a very old man name Paj. He will train you in clairvoyance and astrology for the afternoon and night.” Tas looked up to see Fei suddenly look very serous, “Don’t take his lessons lightly. Master Yao told me that you should pay special attention to the astrology lesson.” Fei looked curious at his own words and Tas’ grinned. Even though the old man had left, Tas could still feel his presence, a lingering shadow.

“Thank you,” Tas said, bowing his head to the master, Fei’s smile fully resumed and was beaming.

As Tas finished walking down the stairs, a tall man with a long, dark beard approached him. His head was bowed until Tas reached him, then he abruptly raised his head to a huge watermelon shaped smile with only one tooth at the center top of his mouth. Tas almost fell over in surprise.

He regained his composure and smiled back at the monk, sure that he had made a weird face at the man. But he simply continued to smile, then took Tas by the hand and led him from the front entrance, into the grounds of the temple. Tas had spent a little time walking through the flowers the day before, but Shu led him past the garden into a thicket of trees. Sitting against the trees, monks were meditating, their eyes closed and many were using prayer beads. Some were making small rumbling sounds to themselves, others lay on the roots looking up at the leaves of the trees. They seemed to form a kind of big circle and Tas almost felt guilty breathing in it. It was so quiet here.

He slowly moved following Shu, mindful of each step, each breath, each thought. He felt as though he had entered into a different world.

One monk caught his attention, he was upside down on his head, with his feet up on the tree. He was so still, his legs did not waver or sway, but held firm, risen against the trunk of the tree. Tas took a slight right from Shu to take a closer look; he had never seen anyone standing on their head before. Tas realized suddenly that the man’s head wasn’t touching the ground. Tas was shocked when Shu took his hand again and led him further into the circle of monks. When they arrived at the center, Shu showed Tas a tree and asked him to close his eyes. Shu explained that he would return after a little while of letting Tas be by himself. “In the meantime,” he said, “close your eyes and try to feel your breathe only. Focus on it and let your thoughts pass as distractions. Return, always, to breath. I return soon.”

So Tas sat under his tree, closed his eyes and focused on his breath. It seemed to come so easily here, in the deep silence, with the monks all around him. Occasionally, he would open his eyes when he was distracted, but he felt the time slip away as he drifted into the small breeze, the rustling of life on the forest floor, and his own breath. He felt free for the first time since the night when Yao had first taught him meditation, while he was starving up in that ancient tree.

After a bit longer, when Tas was starting to get restless, Shu returned. “This time,” he explained, “You will keep your eyes open, but only on the floor. Try not to look up. Focus on your breath.” And again, Shu left him in the peace and quiet of his own breath.

For the next period of unknown time, Tas looked at the floor, seeing all manners of ants, little flies, pincer bugs occasionally, and found this meditation to be a bit easier than the first. The ants were the most interesting, constantly moving, constantly working, building, gathering, never stopping. Tas wondered why they never rested. It seemed like such a waste to work so hard and never rest.

After more time had passed, Shu returned to Tas. “Now, I will teach you how to flow with the wind.” Tas’ interested peaked. “Now you will control your breath. Count to 5 on each inhale, and 5 on each exhale. After 500 breathes, you can walk back to the temple.” and suddenly as he had appeared to Tas, Shu disappeared into the forest. Tas was a bit startled because Shu hadn’t seemed to move, but he stayed seated and began to breath.

The last meditation was by far the most tedious and at the end Tas was exhausted, but felt so free. He understood what Shu meant by flowing with the wind now, he felt as light as a feather. He left the circle of monks to return to the temple grounds. On the way, he looked to see if the man standing on his head was still there, but he was gone. Tas was so happy with his morning; surely he would learn about god here, surely this was it! The power and concentration of these men was incredible, Tas was inspired and felt as though he couldn’t wait for his meditation the following day. He wondered if that was what he would be doing.

He took his time to walk back to the monastery, but felt his feet moving much faster than he was used to. Flow with the wind indeed, he felt as though he must be moving twice as fast as usual.

He arrived into the upper dining hall to find it empty. He wondered when these men ate, he had never seen a single one eat so much as a grain of rice.

He was served a bowl of rice and some vegetables by a monk who seemed very friendly, but didn’t talk. As he was finishing, an older man with a beard down to his belt and hair as long a wispy as the clouds. Tas saw him slowly limp over, his back was hunched and his age obvious simply from the way that he walked. This was the oldest man Tas had ever seen.

He sat across from Tas without warning, and looked directly into Tas’ eyes. Tas felt himself getting pulled into the old man’s watery blue eyes, almost like he couldn’t look away. Suddenly, he saw his father, his mother, then his friends and the other villagers he had left behind, glimpses of the old man, and the city, then the jungle and finally he re-arrived where he was. All of this happened in the course of 5 seconds, but Tas felt his breath leave his body. He had just relived his entire life in 5 seconds. The old man made a crooked smile with no teeth, but his eyes seemed to show that he knew. Tas was shocked, he had not expected anything like this.

“So Tas,” the old man said warily and tired. “I know you now, thank you for being open to me. It seems as though you are on somewhat of a quest!” He said that last part with a bit of humor and awe. Tas was still recovering from shock.

“Well, I suppose I am, sir” Tas said slowly.

“Good!” the old man said enthusiastically. “Don’t you forget it!”

“Did you see my entire life? In just five seconds?”

“Kind of,” the old man explained. “a glimpse of your life. The events, but not the effect of them, if that makes sense.”

“How?” Tas asked, exasperated. He had to learn how.

“I cannot explain my gifts, as you will not be able to explain yours, my boy.” The old man laughed. Tas thought he seemed much younger when he did.

“Now, follow me. Fei said that you could use some lessons in clairvoyance and astrology. So we will learn together for the afternoon and as long as I can stay awake.” He chuckled a little, but with a heaviness that Tas couldn’t explain.

They walked to the tallest tower of the monastery, the entrance was concealed in the lower levels so it took them some time to arrive. Once they did, the old man sat in a chair and mentioned for Tas to do the same. The room was filled with books and charts, most were depictions of the stars.

“Paj, what are clairvoyance and astrology? I’ve never heard of such things before.” Tas talked in a depressed tone, he felt stupid.

“Of course you haven’t boy!” Paj said louder than he had talked before. “Not just any twat can look at the stars and the sky and know what is happening in the heavens! It takes mastery and skill, the type of which your master has in handfuls.” He grinned.

“Yao knows astrology?” Tas asked. He had no idea if he was right, but was what the old man must have meant when he said he had found Tas with the stars?

“How do you think he found you, Tas? He is completely clairvoyant, he sees what he wishes to see in the world. As I taught him to,” the old man said with a small “hmphf”.

Now Tas understood. This was one of Yao’s masters! He quickly grew enthusiastic and was impatient to get started.

Paj could tell and said, “good, now that you’ve realized that, let’s get to work.” He sighed, as if he were going into a long lecture. Now, clairvoyance and astrology and intricately related my boy. You can’t have one without the other, but clairvoyance is the obvious desire for most people. This, however, is an illusion. Clairvoyance is both a gift and a burden. As you will soon learn.”

“How do I know that I want this burden? Paj, what if it makes me unhappy and sad and angry?” Tas said the obvious answer that came to his mind, but Paj laughed.

“You are here, aren’t you?” Paj spoke as if the answer were obvious. “It is not so much of a burden, unless you use the gift poorly, for your own means.” He smiled, “do not worry Tas. I will teach you enough control so that it won’t affect you if you don’t want it to.” Paj’s eyes glinted.

Tas trusted the old man, but he knew that this would change him. He wasn’t so sure that he was ready, but he trusted Paj and Yao, so he decided that he would continue and learn the stars.

Despite the introductory conversation, the work was extremely boring. Tas spent all of his time mapping stars and planets and trying to figure out where mercury was, where Mars was, where the andromeda galaxy was. Nothing special occurred that night, except Tas got a huge headache and went to sleep exhausted from trying to memorize names, figures, charts, and movement patterns of the stars. Paj wished him a good night and told him to just return to the tower tomorrow after lunch, that they would continue their lessons. He seemed satisfied, but Tas didn’t care. He stumbled down from the tower and found that his room was not to far from the stairway to the tower. He fell on his cot and was instantly asleep, the world around him forgotten until morning.