The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
June 2008 -- Vol. 11 Issue 4
In the great swirl of Life, we find ourselves searching. We are searching for our Way, our Path through the labyrinth of Life. Winding to and fro we sometimes appear lost to the horizon, the ever-receding goal. But we are never lost. Wherever we are, is where we are supposed to be. Whatever comes to us, is just what we are supposed to receive. We are never lost, or ‘outside’ our perfect environs. We are always at that ‘sweet spot’ which is the very life of Life. This is because we are our Path, we are our Way.
Life with its dualities, love and anger, light and dark, hot and cold, is all around us. In fact, duality permeates us. Always a choice, always a decision to make. This way or that? Shall I do one or the other? How to act, how to feel, how to react? Just when we believe we are at the darkest, comes the greatest light. What we view as cross-purposes is actually bringing clarity to our souls. When we keep the sublime goal of goodness and perfection in view, all our choices become selfless, become easily discernable from the background.
One author wrote: “wherever you go, there you are.” How true it is. Sometimes we think that by traveling to some far-off exotic place that we will find what we have been searching for. Others believe that they need to find the perfect teacher, the perfect guru. I believe that life is our teacher and our guru; that as we ask for light, we will receive it. It may not always be in the form we want it to be, or believe it will come to us in, but it will come. It may not always be fun or easy or phat, but it will in the end teach us what we are trying to find out. The answer will come, however disguised.
The Buddha taught about treading the ‘middle way’: not going to the extremes, not too ascetic or too indulgent. The yin-yang symbol shows that to me also. The two halves being extreme in their opposition, each yet has a portion of the other in it, tempering it, reminding them that they are simply half of a whole, not separate halves which are completely independent. Much like the eye of a hurricane, which is calm amidst the fray of the storm, if we center ourselves in the yin-yang figure and walk the middle way, we will be out of the turmoil of extremes and better able to see through the chaos of everyday life into its core: that part of life which is important and enduring, that very center in which there is balance and harmony.
We are in the middle of duration. Time is irrelevant. The speed at which we move through our day now is supersonic. We seem to get more and more done every day with all the technology and appliances and machines we have accumulated in our civilization. We have more distractions today than at the beginning of my lifetime to be sure! The questions I would ask are, Are we really getting somewhere faster? And are we really going in the right direction? One can get somewhere very fast, but if it is in the wrong direction, or without thought and reflection along the way, is it really where we want to go? It takes time to inculcate the lessons of life. The less focused and mindful we are, and the more distracted we are, the less we see and can incorporate into our selves.
Let us take out time to reflect on our lives. Let us review our days and make sure the direction we are headed is the direction we really want to end at in the end. A calm, peaceful rendering of lives to our inner selves will reveal who we are to ourselves, and divulge who we want to be the next day. Our life is a series of moments strung together by our mind, a series of Nows. Now is when we can affect ourselves for change and alignment with the course of Nature.
Each of us does the best we can. We don’t always get it right the first time, but we keep trying, and that’s what’s important. Our goal always before us; we strive forward on our evolutionary journey but never really move. We are the center, which is everywhere and is always with us. We do not need to go anywhere to find ourselves, for we are already here. We are ourselves, we are the Path we seek. -- Scott Osterhage
"Tao, Yin, and Yang: Finding Our Path" is our next subject. We will be discussing such questions as: Is there one path that is good for all, or do people each need to find their own path? How can we discover what is right for us? What are the qualities of the wise, and how do they act in the world? What is the role of morality in spiritual search? Do we evolve because or in spite of duality? Is it useful to make value judgments between opposites such as dark and light, male and female, active and passive, good and evil, complex and simple? Are opposites complementary or in conflict? What is the fundamental principle underlying the universe? Can we know or describe it? How is it related to the natural world and to duality? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
July 10: Understanding, Tolerance, Respect
August 14: Ancient Mysteries and Monuments
September: The Path of the Mystic
Most of us feel a deep sense of unity at our core, yet our minds relentlessly process the world into contrasts: day-night, hot-cold, passive-active, subject-object, exterior-interior. We differentiate, name, define, analyze, categorize, and synthesize everything around or within us. Our sense of ourself originates in an awareness of separateness, and then is tied to the stories we each create and tell about our own lives. We fit everything that happens into this autobiography, altering and reinterpreting past and present events and ideas as needed to maintain our self-image.
We also tend to project values onto the world. We call things good or superior, bad or inferior. We arrange people and things in mental pyramids with the elect at the point, degrees of worthiness in the middle, and at the bottom the many seen as inferior and perhaps fully exploitable. In most times and places we have organized societies and viewed the natural world this way. Unfortunately our picture of the supernatural tends to be a continuation of this pattern.
In China the principle of duality is named yang and yin. Yang is the positive or male force, described as hot,, fiery, restless, hard, dry, excited, rapid, nonsubstantial, and corresponding to the day. Yin, the negative or female aspects of the cosmos, is characterized as soft, slow, substantial, wet, cold, conserving, tranquil, and corresponds to night. While both are recognized as necessary and interdependent, yang qualities were more highly valued culturally than those of yin, both in human life and in nature.
Much Chinese philosophy concerned Tao, which can mean way, path, method, doctrine, or art. The dominant Confucian system held that the Tao we should seek was the path of virtue and harmony, resulting in the well-ordered society. In his guidelines for living, Confucius gave precepts about the proper responsibilities and roles involved in life’s central relationships: between old and young, superior and inferior, men and women. When each person conformed to his or her appropriate roles and discharged responsibilities correctly, virtue and harmony would prevail in the family, community, and state. Even the smallest act in life was seen as a rite which needed to be carried out with care in the established way and with a sense of proper ceremony. Such ritualistic, deliberate, and prescribed living was the key to Tao.
Another great Chinese religious philosophy, Taoism, challenged this view. For it, Tao was the primordial principle, ineffable, incomprehensible, beyond duality, beyond human judgments and norms, beyond anything we can think, know, or imagine. But we can experience it directly – by letting go of duality, rational systems and explanations, and conventional moral dicta in order to get in touch with the underlying reality which is at the same time our own essential nature.
Reacting directly against Confucian hierarchical codes, instead of elevating the yang elements – what was masculine, active, warlike, controlling, erudite, and complex – Taoists praised yin elements such as the feminine, lowly, unformed, flexible, unresisting, and natural. They did not promote virtue, saying that as long as there were good people there would also be bad ones. By this they meant that good and evil, right and wrong, high and low, dark and light, are dualities that depend on each other to exist. If we wish to know reality – the fundamental principle of the universe, nature as it is in itself – we must transcend these dualities which originate in the mind’s love for patterns, systems, definitions, codes, and ritualized action. We need to act spontaneously from our primordial nature. We need to stop trying to control things and telling others what to do, and instead conform ourselves to nature and the Tao, which is our own essential self.
This is a tall order. How can we keep the limitations and qualities of our mind from distorting and rationalizing the unfathomable complexities of life? How can we progress or prosper without seeking to force our will on others or events? The writings of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, the two greatest Taoist philosophers, are full of paradoxes and teaching stories. They don’t create a system for overcoming rationality, or promote certain acts as spontaneous. Their writings seek to reach part of our awareness that is beyond rationality, using hints that sometimes include absurdity and the ridiculous.
Because we are different in so many ways, different paths appeal to us. Historically, most societies have stipulated the beliefs, values, and rituals that are permitted and required for their members. How fortunate we are to live in a time and place where we can freely explore whatever ways to truth and growth seem valuable and effective to us as we create our own life from day to day and moment to moment.