14 September 2007

Philosophy Class (Week 3)

We've been discussing the Tao te Ching all this week. Bits and pieces of the discussion have made it into my Tao te Ching project at my other blog, but I'll still post an overall summary here.

Mainly I find it interesting how people react when presented with these ideas for the first time. My first real exposure was in Th e Way of the Peaceful Warrior, probably somewhere back around high school. It took some searching, but I discovered that I still have the book. I never finished it. It was my first exposure to the idea of "no-mind" and the problems with identifying too strongly with the ego. I stopped reading because it creeped me out. Much, much later I came across similar ideas when I was more ready to hear them. The book is a work of fiction, but it is trying to convey spiritual insights. I'm not entirely sure how well it does. Based on my dim recollection of the parts I did read, this review at Amazon sounds about right: "Feel more and think less" becomes a key insight, even though it confuses innocence with primitivism and falsely implies that thought is always an obstacle to enlightenment (Thomas Aquinas could have disabused Millman and his mentor of that hilarious notion all by himself). Death to self loses most of its sacrificial character and becomes just another check off item on the list of things necessary for self-fulfillment through 'unreasonable happiness.' (Note: If I reread it, I will post a more definitive verdict)

But poorly presented or not, the idea of no-mind does tend to turn people off at first. We're so used to identifying with our minds, with our sense of 'I', that we sometimes forget that there is a body that goes along with the mind. The western delusion of isolation and despair comes mainly from this mis-identification of the self. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but Kayo Robertson described a very similar idea, relating to tension and relaxation. Most people come into taiji with a lot of ingrained tension, and they are often afraid to let it go. They're tensing up, activating all their muscles and effort, as if to scream to the world "THIS IS ME! I AM HERE!" They're terrified that if they let go of that tension that there will be nothing left of themselves, when quite the opposite is true. Letting go of the tension makes you more aware, and in a very real sense makes you 'larger,' as you can identify with more of the world around you. And I can say this, and describe it, but unless you go on to experience it, it probably doesn't mean much to you. *shrugs*

And maybe that's why many people have such a hard time with even the basics of Taoism. They have no experience with awareness that does not revolve around "I, I, I." It sounds as if you have to "lose your mind," yet no-mind is also ever-present-mind, aware even of the surface ripples screaming "I! Me! Mine!" Those are like minor disturbances of the surface. Below that is what I've sometimes heard called "The Observer," watching those thoughts without identifying with them. Not in conflict, as Freud's Superego would be, but just aware.

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