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My Favorite Meditation: Part III

In these previous posts I described the first two parts of my favorite meditation, a three-part sequence which I use to find peace. The first part removes unpleasant feelings and attachments, emptying the mind; the second part fills the heart with compassion and kindness. This third part “locks in” the first two parts by bringing you into the present moment.

This is done by “tricking” your mind into letting go of the past and the future. I have found Zen koans to be effective here; a koan like this:

Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind. One said to the other, “The flag is moving.”
The other replied, “The wind is moving.”
Huineng overheard this. He said, “Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.”

…sends your mind waffling back and forth between impossibilities. If you wear yourself out on one of these puzzles, you are left feeling empty; which is part of the point. The mind is worn out, and you are left with nothing but yourself in the present moment.

ire54aI myself have found koans a little cynical and sarcastic at times, tending to focus on bantering between teachers and students. This probably just means I don’t really understand them.

But I can get the desired effect from reading the Tao Te Ching. The verses in that book twist your mind gently, leading you along with sentences that seem to make sense, until suddenly you realize that you have read two contradictory statements in a row, and you agree with both:
36
If you want something to return to the source,
you must first allow it to spread out.
If you want something to weaken,
you must first allow it to become strong.
If you want something to be removed,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to possess something,
you must first give it away.

I’m not going to try to explain these words. Let your mind find what meaning it can. I frequently find that some phrases go past like so many nonsense syllables, while others jump out at me and grab me by the collar. And I’m not always grabbed by the same ones. Anything in the Tao Te Ching can have this effect. I’ve pasted in some of my favorite verses below.
Once you have done the first two parts of the meditation, turn to these words and let your thoughts turn them over. When I do this, I’m left with a strange feeling of emptiness and fullness. I look around me and the colors seem brighter; sounds are louder; smells are sharper. I am here, but I am not, like an empty vessel filled with the pregnancy of the present moment. Maybe you will find the same.

Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that allows the wheel to function.

We mold clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes the vessel useful.

We fashion wood for a house,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes it livable.

We work with the substantial,
but the emptiness is what we use.

Those who lead people by following the Tao
don’t use weapons to enforce their will.
Using force always leads to unseen troubles.

In the places where armies march,
thorns and briars bloom and grow.
After armies take to war,
bad years must always follow.
The skillful commander
strikes a decisive blow then stops.
When victory is won over the enemy through war
it is not a thing of great pride.
When the battle is over,
arrogance is the new enemy.
War can result when no other alternative is given,
so the one who overcomes an enemy should not dominate them.
The strong always weakened with time.

This is not the way of the Tao.
That which is not of the Tao will soon end.

Those who know others are intelligent;
those who know themselves are truly wise.
Those who master others are strong;
those who master themselves have true power.

Those who know they have enough are truly wealthy.

Those who persist will reach their goal.

Those who keep their course have a strong will.
Those who embrace death will not perish,
but have life everlasting.

If you want something to return to the source,
you must first allow it to spread out.
If you want something to weaken,
you must first allow it to become strong.
If you want something to be removed,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to possess something,
you must first give it away.

This is called the subtle understanding
of how things are meant to be.

The soft and pliable overcomes the hard and inflexible.

Just as fish remain hidden in deep waters,
it is best to keep weapons out of sight.

When a superior person hears of the Tao,
She diligently puts it into practice.
When an average person hears of the Tao,
he believes half of it, and doubts the other half.
When a foolish person hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud at the very idea.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The brightness of the Tao seems like darkness,
the advancement of the Tao seems like retreat,
the level path seems rough,
the superior path seem empty,
the pure seems to be tarnished,
and true virtue doesn’t seem to be enough.
The virtue of caution seems like cowardice,
the pure seems to be polluted,
the true square seems to have no corners,
the best vessels take the most time to finish,
the greatest sounds cannot be heard,
and the greatest image has no form.

The Tao hides in the unnamed,
Yet it alone nourishes and completes all things.

The living are soft and yielding;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
the dead are brittle and dry.

Those who are stiff and rigid
are the disciple of death.
Those who are soft and yielding
are the disciples of life.

The rigid and stiff will be broken.
The soft and yielding will overcome.

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