When the superior man hears of the Tao
He diligently practices it
When the average man hears of the Tao
He sometimes holds it and sometimes loses it
When the inferior man hears of the Tao
He laughs aloud at it
If he did not laugh, it would not be the Tao
When the superior man hears of the Tao
A truly remarkable book, Ten Methods of the Heavenly Dragon is profound and deeply moving! This first person account of a lifelong seeker Robert Sheaffer’s apprenticeship with Shun Yuan, a gentle, Western-born Adept of the Tao and Taiji martial arts, enthralls the reader both as a teaching story and an introduction to as remarkable a man as any hero out of fiction. In the end, though I did not want it to end, I was left with a sublime sense of inevitability and peace. A truly amazing achievement!
The unfolding of the 10 Methods of the Heavenly Dragon are beautifully told within the intricacies of Bagua, the “eight symbols” used in Taoist cosmology and the elegant, deadly forms of Chinese martial arts, each method translated into hard learned lessons of everyday life. The Tao emphasizes getting past your preconceptions and your ego; in effect, getting out of your own way. I for one am very grateful for the lesson.
Shun Yuan, the author of the lovely poem above, is a student of the Tao (also called the Way), an Adept of Taiji martial arts, and the primary subject of Robert Shaeffer’s truly remarkable forthcoming book, 10 Methods of the Heavenly Dragon. I asked him to enhance the experience of the poem with his commentary, which is below:
As a novice I was convinced that I was living in darkness. I was “looking” everywhere for “enlightenment”. I knew intellectually that I was “in the forest of the Tao” and might even have had a vague sensation of the forest all around me, but this was drowned out by the insistent urge to “keep looking”, caused by the notion that “I haven’t found it yet”. Even while making progress forwards I berated myself for the fact that it was “stumbling” and blamed my own “blindness” for the state of darkness I was living in. If only I could “see” the truth!
It was through an entirely unexpected avenue that the first hint of awareness came. As far from my preconceived notions as my foot is from my eyes. So strange and unexpected it was that it felt as if it had happened by “pure luck”. I did not then have the understanding that my every step and my stumbling gait were intimately part of my foot meeting that root. Even less did I understand the significance of a seed falling in a certain place ages ago and the effect on the growth of the tree that the passage of the seasons ever since had had. Nor did I have the experience of long years of reliance on the Tao to recognize that these moments of magnificent good fortune are all around and demonstrate the abundance of the Tao.
Stopped in my tracks, stillness came to me then at that perfect moment. I still name it a magnificent gift!
Penetrating deep into me in that quiet state, yet another blossoming of awareness, yet again through an entirely unexpected but intoxicating way. Then suddenly the life of the forest is revealed all around me and in that same instant I gaze upon the shining star which had always been there for the eye to see, had my head not been lowered to the dirt looking for “something precious”.
In the physical methods of my Order, one talks of three “levels” or perhaps more correctly “modes” of work. The tree represents the first mode called the “fixed way”. Novices spend a lot of time working on their physical structure. The exercises are strictly defined and “feeling wooden” is a very common statement to hear from them.
After some time, the body learns to relax into the new form which it is taking on. The movements become much looser and more fluid. This “living way” is represented by the leaping stag.
Ultimately, one sheds any notion of a predetermined form and allows the energy to flow freely. This “changing way” is represented by the light of the star.
With much love,
The cloud does not insist upon its form,
The wave does not force its way over the ocean,
So why should you clutch so tightly
Your little map?
Follow your heart
And know joy in all things.
The path of freedom
Has no markers,
Yet it leads to fulfillment;
The path of confusion
Is crowded with signs,
Pointing in all directions.
The Great Way is a humble, solitary path,
Follow it closely and be guided.
How do you know you are on the Way?
When your map no longer serves you.
- Taken with thanks from dear Sister Krishna’s Deciphering Spirituality blog.
Salaam and Greetings of Peace:
Gold dawn disk edges purple cliffs.
Old woman bends to sweep temple steps.
She bathes each stone with loving care.
How many worshippers think of her work?
I went at dawn to a magnificent temple. Its architecture was such a supreme expression of the human spirit that it was a treasure. Generations of worshipers had left offerings at the shrines, hundreds of monks had reached their enlightenment on the consecrated grounds, and thousands had been blessed in life and death in the venerable halls.
Yet my most moving observation was an old woman silently sweeping the steps. Her concentration was perfect. Her devotion was palpable. Her thoroughness was complete. Her uncelebrated act showed a true holy spirit.
Later in the day, wealthy people came to worship. Children with brightly colored toys ran over the gray stones. The abbot walked to his ceremonies. Monks passed in silent prayer. Of all who passed, how many were aware of the saintly service that had made their own devotion possible?
When the way is all we have to walk, those who prepare the way should be truly honored.
Alhamdulillah! This beautiful observation is indeed worth remembering during Eid. Watch the women – the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts - in the kitchen preparing the food, cleaning the home, setting the table or the sufreh. Observe the care they take, the devotion and love they put into the tasks, and remember to thank them.