Saturday, January 14, 2012

Some Thoughts on Taoist Longevity

This post is a response to something I read recently on a "Taoist blog" (which I put in quotes because in my opinion if Taoism had prophets, this particular blog would be in the "false prophets of Tao" class) about how aspiring to longevity is ego based and unwise, and that in the author's opinion longevity is somehow not even relevant to Taoist philosophy. And that not only is it selfish to outlive your contemporaries, they wouldn't want to because it would be too sad and lonely.

I find that very odd, because even if you outlive your contemporaries, there are always new people to meet, new people to help, new people to love. Even if you lived a hermit's existence away from society, there is the beauty of the natural world, communing with nature, and friendship with animals to keep you company; a person who is truly at peace, would not depend on old family and friends to make life livable. The true sorrow I think comes from an inability to adapt to loss, to replace old friends with new friends, old family with new family, old loves with new loves, and to make yourself comfortably at home and at peace wherever you are.

This is probably why longevity is not for everyone. Most people probably don't have the strength to live a thousand years. Longevity requires not only health and strength, but mental fortitude, discipline, courage, resilience, peace of mind, and the ability to rejuvenate yourself each and every day; rising and setting like the sun, dying each night you fall asleep, being born again each morning you awake.

I was going to say, that if aspiring to live a long and healthy life is selfish, than perhaps being selfish is not at all a bad thing. But then I realized that this person whom I'm indirectly responding to is full of shit, because the longer you live the more of an opportunity you have to make a positive contribution to the world. If it's selfish to want to stay (Bodhisattva's must be extremely selfish then, eh?), it's just as selfish to wish to depart sooner than you have to, to aspire to oneness (whatever the hell that means) or mindlessness and the annihilation of self, which to me sounds like the ultimate escapism, and isn't THAT inherently selfish?

What really caught my attention about this blog post in which I refer to, is that this is the first time I ever read such a thing on a Taoist blog, equating the aspiration of longevity with selfishness and lack of wisdom, and that perhaps it is an ideal that is not really that compatible with Taoism. I'm like, what? Red flag alert.

While I don't consider myself a Taoist, am what you would call a spiritual agnostic and a student of the perennial philosophy, my primary interest in Taoism came as a direct result of my interest in health and longevity. From my understanding of it, health and longevity as an expression of balance and harmony between self and environment, inner and outer, growth and decay, is central to Taoist philosophy, being an outgrowth of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In recent years I really enjoyed Deng Ming-Dao's book The Scholar Warrior, which emphasized how important both philosophy and practice and health and longevity is to Taoism.

Health and longevity to me is the foundation of all else. Why? because all else that you have, know, and are, disintegrates with the collapse of this foundation. Perhaps there is life and consciousness beyond the physical body and brain (a huge question mark, which no one knows for certain until they actually arrive) but that is no reason to purposefully accelerate its decline, to neglect your health, and to not attempt to preserve your health and extend your life for as long as possible.

Right alongside reading, learning, and self-improvement, health and longevity is at the foundation of everything that I do and aspire to be. The idea of extending my life, preserving my health, and the possibility of living 1000 years or longer is something that I think about regularly, and weigh all of my actions in relation to what does the least harm and what is most fortifying. Most of it is automatic, a natural habit and orientation. I gravitate towards health and beauty and balance, towards people, places, and things that are most nourishing to peace of mind, and most conducive to health and longevity.

Of course, I am a selfish person, and my aspiration for longevity is just as much to help myself as it is to help others. But what's wrong with that? As I see it the more you help yourself, the more you are able to help others. The longer I live the more books I will be able to read, the more time I will have to learn about the world, to think and to observe and to become wiser and more aware. If you are devoted to self-mastery and enlightenment, the longer you live the more likely you will reach your goal. If seeking enlightenment in this lifetime is selfish, than so be it. If seeking to live a 1000 years is selfish, than so be it.

But perhaps it is a mistake seeking to annihilate the self, that maybe the ego serves a useful purpose, that individuality serves a useful and constructive purpose, that without it there would be no evolution, no progress, no change, no growth, and that if one already had knowledge of all things, there would be no opportunity to learn anything new. That perhaps for some at least, the purpose of life is to learn, and that learning must take place from the experience of an individual ego, and that communication, sharing what you learn, is not always an indication of not knowing (as in those who speak, don't know) but is more so a natural expression of living and sharing in the fulfillment of the purpose of life, as is eating and breathing, being and becoming.

If half the fun of living is learning and communicating what you learn, then the longer and more healthfully you live the better.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fake Gurus Versus Real Gurus

Want to know what criteria I use to evaluate the authentic teachers (gurus, philosophers, leaders, and prophets) from the false ones?

1. Do they practice what they preach?

2. Do they have healthy habits?

Almost nothing turns me off more than an unhealthy hypocrite.

Anyone who is brilliant, and gives good advice, but who neglects their own health, or who minimizes the importance of health and longevity, is revealing a major lack of wisdom.

Anyone who is all talk, no action; who doesn't strive to attain a balance between theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge, or who doesn't recognize the value of both philosophy and practice, not merely as a theoretical ideal, but as a lifestyle habit to be implemented in this lifetime, is revealing a major lack of wisdom.

It doesn't mean that such a person doesn't have anything to teach, we all have something to teach, but it reveals gaping holes in their lessons. They are teaching not by example, but by words alone, which are empty of the fruits of experience, empty of the essence of power which would be embodied within the nourishing words of an authentic teacher.

It doesn't mean that an authentic teacher is perfect, or doesn't ever suffer from poor health, or doesn't ever make mistakes, but they at least make the attempt to be healthy, and make the attempt to practice what they preach. And if they fail they don't gloss over their failure to do so as if it's a good thing, and they don't minimize the importance of being healthy and the importance of being consistent in what they say and what they do, simply because they have failed to implement it themselves. Again, anyone who does so, is revealing a major lack of wisdom.

Yeah, I judge. If you are unhealthy as a direct result of poor habits, and make no attempt to regain your health, or if you make major mistakes, and make no attempt to correct them, I tend to have less respect for you. If you are a fat ass, with the bloated physique of a refrigerator, I don't care if you have an IQ of 180, and a PhD in Medicine, you are revealing a major lack of wisdom.

I do not say this to make myself seem like I am so much better. I have my flaws; most notably being judgmental, and drinking alcohol too frequently. I do not consider myself a teacher. While I sometimes play that role, as far as what I know, I am a novice with limited knowledge. I am more of a student than a teacher, but I refuse to recognize the credibility of any teacher, of anyone who gives advice, or who proposes a philosophy for others to follow, who at the same time has unhealthy lifestyle habits, or who does not practice what they preach.

This is the quickest way to gain or lose my respect, and to clearly discern the fake gurus from the real ones.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Spirituality What it Means to me

It's difficult for me sometimes coming up with ideas out of thin air. Most of what I write about is inspired from something else, whether it is a book, an observation, or an idea proposed elsewhere, often something that pissed me off, or that I feel needs expanding upon. Never underestimate the value of anger and conflict as a catalyst for initiating constructive change and growth. Since people tend to not like 1000 word comments left on their blogs, I've decided to do so here.

So, here's a response to some of the ideas brought up in Brandon's latest post about Spirituality and Nature, excerpt below:
"I'm interested in the religions on an intellectual level, but I'm not the spiritual type and never have been. While I believe there is much about the world I don't know or understand, and am fully open to your more spiritual notions, when it comes right down to it, I don't experience life on that level.

I'm realizing that I've almost never had any kind of spiritual experience while meditating or pondering spiritual matters. I've been deeply impressed by the ideas presented... but the only time I feel truly peaceful, connected, present and awake is when I'm on nature walks."

Reading this I'm asked what it means to experience life on a spiritual level, and in what way is spirituality absent from the natural world?

1. The Meaning of Spirituality.

I'm someone who is not religious, but who has always from a very early age identified as being spiritual. So I'm wondering to myself what does it mean to be the spiritual type? What does being spiritual mean? What is meant by a spiritual experience? Visions of Gods and Angels, and supernatural beings? Does spirituality have one universal definition applicable to all, despite any individual differences in religious belief? Or does it mean different things to different people? Does a Christian's idea of being spiritual differ from that of a Muslim, or a Buddhist, an Atheist, or an Agnostic?

I'll tell you what it means to me, a self-avowed agnostic.

To me, spirituality is based on a recognition of the great mystery of both life and death, and about standing in awe of this mystery, in a spirit of humility and reverence for the natural world and the greater cosmos in which we live.

For everything that we learn, through trial and error, through theory and speculation, describing how life works, its origins and evolution, we can never be positively certain of why anything exists and why anything happens at all. We may know that specific actions have specific effects, but we do not know what set the original wheels in motion and for what purpose things are the way they are. Does life have an original creator? Who or what is doing the creating? Is the creation of life random, working according to the mechanical laws of nature? Who wrote the DNA code of life? Who created the original laws of nature? Why are we here? Is the world of our senses an accurate depiction of reality? If we cannot see or hear something, does that mean it doesn't exist?

We can speculate, we can describe what we see, but at the root of it all, there lies an ever pervading mystery. To believe in spirit is to suggest that there is something more to life than what our material senses suggest. Matter is what we see, spirit is the mysterious element underlying all of reality.

To be spiritual is to recognize that there is more to this life, to this universe, than what we currently know, or are capable of ever knowing in its entirety; that our human knowledge is incomplete. That there is a world bigger than ourselves, that defies comprehension, that we must be respectful of it and humble, recognizing that for all that we know about anything, is very little indeed within the grand scheme of life.

So the two fundamental components of spirituality involve a recognition of the great mystery at the root of life, and beholding this great mystery with a spirit of humility and reverence.

2. The purpose of meditation.

Who says meditation is all about sitting still, doing nothing? There are different forms of meditation with different purposes in mind, but isn't meditation at its most basic root all about concentration, paying attention, being more immersed in the experience of whatever it is you are doing, whether it is sitting, breathing, walking, seeing? The emphasis on inactivity is because you see and hear more when you are still, more as in quality, rather than quantity. For instance, if you are outside tracking an animal, while you are in movement you don't rush along, you start and stop and listen, paying close attention to your surroundings, looking for clues leading to the animal. Whether you are walking or sitting, stilling the waters of your mind helps filter away thoughts, images, and sounds that distract from your point of focus. There is no reason why you can't practice meditation of this kind while on the move and in nature.

3. Spirituality is not absent from nature.

As a spiritual being in a material world, you are a part of nature, as nature is a part of you, reflecting the great spirit within the essential heart of our being. To suggest that you do not experience life on a spiritual level, is to close your eyes to the magic and mystery and wonder at the very basis of life. Spirit is the mystery, and the source of wonder, out of which all new ideas and things emerge. But what is spirit? I'm referring to it as a mysterious element; a symbol representing the magic and mystery underlying all things. All the information that lies outside your current body of knowledge and understanding, undiscovered potentialities, all that which is unknown or unknowable, is represented by spirit. It's a placeholder. Whether or not it has an actual material basis, is unimportant to an understanding of its basic nature, that of mystery.

4. Reconnecting with the redeeming soul of nature.

I think the reason why some of us feel more alive in nature, away from the objects of civilization, is that there is less interference from man-made creations that are out of harmony with the essential blueprint of life. Life in the city can sometimes be oppressive; stuck at a job you hate, living arrangements you hate, in an ugly polluted violent city you hate, can suck all the joy and wonder out of living. Nature, even with its merciless death and destruction, not always rainbows, butterflies, and flowers, seems more authentic, its proportions more harmonic, its sacred geometry an embodiment of the effortless perfection of shibumi. That is why those of us sensitive to these things feel a sense of rejuvenation, mental clarity, and relaxation whenever we are in its presence.

If that's not a spiritual experience, I don't know what is. But if the only time you feel truly peaceful, connected, present and awake is when you're on nature walks, and you spend most of your life elsewhere, indoors, at a job, in the city, how do you come to terms with that? Does that mean that most of your life is spent asleep, disconnected, and in a state of inner conflict, always striving to be some place else, never really here, until you are there? Or is there a way to find peace, to find the redeeming soul of nature, invoking a state of reverence and recognition of the magic and mystery of life wherever you are? Or are these just cheap words, that sing a sweet tune, but ultimately mean nothing?