Monday, May 16, 2016

The Yoga of the Golden Flower

The Yoga of the Golden Flower
by the Wanderer

“There are ways but Way is uncharted
There are names but not Nature in words

Nameless indeed is the source of creation

But things have a mother and she has a name.

      Thus begins a Chinese poem. Authorless as it has come down to modern times, eighty-one stanzas comprising the Tao Te Ching or the Way of Life introduces the reader into the teachings of Taoism. The poem presupposes an attitude toward existence that the average person, caught up in his daily preoccupations, seldom appreciates. For hidden behind the lines is a cosmology that situates man and Cosmos intimately together. Human consciousness and the vast complex universe are viewed as the inner sphere and the outer sphere of the same existence. Both spheres are inseparable from mutual influence. Both, in the last analysis, obey the same laws. The moving shapes of the phenomenal world respond to the actuated laws, and yet these laws derive from a common, immovable and silent origin: the undivided One.
      Only the way of Nature is the derivative of the One. Someone living through the four seasons is hardly aware of their gradual transitions. Nature is still while it affects and directs control over all. Nature’s way of acting without action became the foundation for the esoteric vision of Taoism.

the way is always still, at rest,
And yet does everything that is done

Taoism intuits the One mysteriously as the cosmic, ultimate, absolute principle underlying form and substance, being and change. Omniscient, though beyond reason to comprehend, it remains immanent and yet transcendent, omnipotent and eternal. As inexhaustible, it stays nameless. In poetry and experience only can one hope to brush against its presence.
From sticks and stones to men and meteors, everything in the fluctuating world achieves its goal by following its natural path. With one’s feet on the ground, one can still see that the star-filled sky exposes constellations moving in their convoluted and distinct ways. The expanding order and beauty of the evening heavens persistently whispers within the heart the echo that one too has an inexorable path to travel. All things, then, in heaven and earth are governed by path, the Way of Tao.
human conforms to the earth
the earth conforms to the sky
the sky conforms to the Way
the Way conforms to its own nature

      Since heaven and earth are the human terrain, one participates in their phenomenal activities, subject to the multi-colored drama of Nature. Success along any path depends upon discerning the laws of life and returning oneself to them just as the stars, knowing their course, proceed along it.

the movement of the Way is a return,
in acceptance lies its major usefulness,
from what is all the world of things was born
but what is sprang in turn from what-is-not?

The Way is not concerned with the Chinese moralism of the School of Confucius (551-479 BCE) In the Analects, Confucian though, together with the Way, places emphasis upon order and returning to the roots of life. But these similarities are only temporary; the more one compares the works, the earlier their directions part. Confucius was preoccupied with civil living. His writings are the formation of codes of conduct and deportment. He stipulates more than 3,000 rules for attending to life’s complications, informing the community on how to perform daily protocol with a codified humanism. While brilliantly pragmatic, he never ventures beyond the moral sphere.
      The Way, on the other hand, serves neither a culture nor a moral code. These latter human creations easily become self-contained in academia and political systems, each momentarily enjoying favor from the reigning court before falling into historical oblivion. These prescriptions are limited, artificially contrived, halting the pursuit of life. Nature’s secret, the constant, normative Way from which no event and no pretext is exempt, is disclosed only to those who can be rid of inhibiting ambitions or cultural prejudices about life. Obsessive preoccupation with accomplishments only obscures the Way.
      While expressive of the Way, the phenomenal world is not the One. You can easily abstract a particular cycle in nature and rearrange its energies for his external goals. By imposing the laws of his ambition upon nature’s plasticity, you merely forestall the inevitable. Grasping a fraction of nature’s laws, one identifies a portion as the whole of life and settles into its brief pattern. A rich man lingers with his wealth as a beggar preserves his poverty—both in their ambitions straying and dissipating their life’s energies, competing without finding the One. In Nature’s eyes we are rebels inducing eventual bankruptcy. Yet Nature compassionately gives humans, in more ways than one, a chance to breathe. The sense of loss may lead one closer to the Way, for loss gives pause and restful reflection. Not the lingering of the weary, the repose of the apathetic, but the bright rest of the unborn.    Becoming unborn from the prickly pursuit of competing in the phenomenal world, affords a gradual return to one’s pristine spirit. This return to the unborn state enters one into the silent ground that seeds the mysterious Golden Flower. Normally, man scatters his energies through his senses into the flux of life, producing ever more epicycles of action. Pursuing these cycles attracts in turn the birth of convoluted desires vying for external completion. With action and desire compelling one another, the irresistible inertia of life wears on endlessly.

the secret waits for the insight
of eyes unclouded by longing,
those who are bound by desire
see only the outward container

      Nature, however, can hardly avoid action; it fulfills its seasons through inexorable action—the action of its essence. To the contrary, wayward action subverts the human essence. Humans disconnect from Nature. Exactly how does one disconnect? What action is our concern here? The inexorable action that underlies and sustains every human action, that connects us to Nature herself—the action of breathing. Thought, muscular activity, local motion, any mental or bodily activity of a living human is inconceivable without breathing. The human problem is not action of itself but the restless action that provokes irregular and excessive outflow of breath.
      As Nature circulates through the four seasons fulfilling its path, so the circulation of breath allows one to live through the year. By studying the movement of breath, one discovers the natural laws of breathing. The first awareness is that one can patiently bring it under control; for controlling the breath controls external action. Returning into one’s breath is the crucial process of being unborn from the restless world. At the time of his physical birth, the primal conscious spirit inhales the vital energy and thus dwells breathingly in the phenomenal world. Now the primal consciousness pulsates the breathing. Then the bodily-spirit pursues movement, and by those actions remains bound to its feeling for them. Desires abound. Night and day one wastes the primal energy by excessively discharging it in desired, ever restless movements.

What is to be shrunken
is first stretched out,
what is to be weakened
is first made strong,
what will be thrown over
is first raised up,
what will be withdrawn
is first bestowed

      The primal energy must be retrieved. The Way beckons the backward-flow of breath. The subtle action of the return to the Oneness of primal consciousness is through amending the diffusion of breathing. The gentle amendment of the circulation of the breath subsides the discharge of the vital energy. Sensation and unmanageable thinking subdue. Pausing, resting ushers one into the very experience of the quiet root of action. Stillness is the hidden passageway. The secret of the magic of life, of discovering the Golden Flower, consists in the paradoxical learning to use action in order to attain non-action. Instead of relentlessly externalizing action, man allows it to subside. The circulation of controlled breathing continues, but quickens an inner circulation of awareness. When the Chinese characters for Golden and Flower are vertically touching, the combined figure means “light”. With the practice of the backward-flow, the gradual diminishment of the movement of breath increases the circulating light of awareness bringing the primal energy more and more under self-control. The expanding stillness brings one into silent intuition with the formative processes found throughout Nature. In knowing the silent essence of heaven and earth, Nature yields up her supreme laws. A woman, a man, is born again inward.
      The light, the awareness, that flows within is not in the body alone. One sees that mountains and rivers, the awesome heavens and earth are lit by the sun of one’s awareness. This light-flower fills and covers all spaces. The rhythmical breath and the circulation of light nourish the roots of living, revivifying the primal spirit.  As the light circulates, heaven and earth circulate. But the practitioner must endure through the seasons. Many times and climes are to pass before the flower emerges. Throughout actions return to non-action. Movement ebbs back to its rest.  All seasons proceed and end in silence. Heaven and earth recede into the One. For humans have recovered their divine nature—the Golden Flower blooms.                              
Then peace is the goal of the Way                     
by which no one ever goes astray.”


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