Sorry not to have been in touch. I was just away on a five-day silent retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, a gem of a place I’ve visited for a kind of psychic re-set off and on for 30 years.
They have a great method there, based in the Vipassana tradition of Southeast Asia. IMS was founded in the 70’s by Sharen Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfeld, but it has grown tremendously. One of the best things: it’s not about one or even several teachers. There are lots of good ones. It’s about the method and the gentle, profound Theravedan tradition. For me, silent retreat is always a roller-coaster of physical pain (you’re sitting in meditation several hours a day) and psychic pain (alarming things come into your mind and mood). And there is always astonishing insight and spaciousness and tenderness that develops within the group – this time, 90-odd people. The shared silence, as it deepens, is a special treasure. I recommend it to you all.
Let’s get back to the Tao.
One key element is non-doing. Our whole world is threatened with extinction by cut-throat achievers and warmongers. Somehow, the Taoist sage or ruler is said to do nothing, yet everything gets accomplished peacefully (c.f. Tao Te Ching, Chapter 38).
Do check out the Ursula Le Guin version of the Tao Te Ching as well. She has an iron mind. Here’s her version of Chapter 38:
TALKING ABOUT POWER
Great power, not clinging to power,
has true power.
Lesser power, clinging to power,
lacks true power.
Great power, doing nothing,
has nothing to do.
Lesser power, doing nothing,
has an end in view.
The good the truly good do
has no end in view.
The right the very righteous do
has an end in view.
And those who act in true obedience to law
roll up their sleeves
and make the disobedient obey.
So: when we lose the Way we find power;
losing power we find goodness;
losing goodness we find righteousness;
losing righteousness we’re left with obedience.
Obedience to law is the dry husk
of loyalty and good faith.
Opinion is the barren flower of the Way,
the beginning of ignorance.
So great-minded people
abide in the kernel not the husk,
in the fruit not the flower,
letting the one go, keeping the other.
Rather than reason this kind of thing out, we want to meditate and become it. So we took as meditation theme last week the first half of an Angelus Silesius quatrain, one specially beloved of Heidegger:
The rose is without a why.
It blooms because it blooms.
We tried to find our way into this non-purposive blooming and to each become the why-less rose.
This flourishing is not quite doing nothing, it turns out, but neither is it doing anything.
On Tuesday, we hope to accomplish even less.
all blessings to all,