Shunyata, Tao and Returning to the Root

“There is a well-developed theory of this in the Lao-tzu’s “Returning to the Root”.

Attain the climax of emptiness,
preserve the utmost quiet:
as myriads things act in concert,
I thereby observe the return.
Things flourish,
they each returns to its root.
Returning to the root is called stillness;
this is called return to Life.
Return to Life is called the constant;
knowing the constant is called enlightenment.
Random acts in ignorance bode ill.
The world has a beginning,
that is the mother of the world.
Once you’ve found the mother,
you thereby know the child.
Once you know the child,
you return to preserve the mother,
unperishing though the body die.

Chapter 16 by Chen Kaiguo and Zheng Shunchao, translated by Thomas Cleary (Pages 273-275)

These passages clearly depict the pattern of placing thought in its original state and thus being able to see into the subtle hidden designs of the universe. “The climax of emptiness” is the essence of the Great Way of the infinite merged with the elemental, the root of heaven and earth and all things. Embracing oneness and preserving utmost quiet, profoundly still, one can then observe the return of heaven and earth and all things. Although the universe and all things transmute in many ways, yet they return to the beginning in quiescence and nothingness. When thought has mastered this fundamental basis, then it can understand the myriad things and beings produced from it.

This is what ancients spoke of as “finding out the principle and penetrating the source, knowing the mind and getting to the root.” A river has a source; a tree has a root. People think about everything in the world; then what is the root source of human thought? Is this root source of thought a pond of stagnant water, or a pivotal mechanism containing Creativity itself? Is it merely passive reaction, or does it have capacities of penetrating observation and panoramic awareness? The great intelligence and wisdom of Eastern civilisations are to be found in investigating and answering questions.

Taoism says, “For learning you gain daily, for the Way you lose daily. Losing and losing even that, you thereby reach effortlessness, effortlessness that nonetheless can accomplish anything.” It is also said, “Clear the mystic mirror.” Buddhism talks about “breaking through the barrier of habit,” meaning to clear away the feelings that obscure and pollute mind and thought, to clear away the ash and dust of the ages obscuring our thinking, and remove the various formless obstructions between the true mind and the outside world, making the mind like a clear mirror hung high, like the autumn moon in mid sky, so lucid it can directly perceive the original face of the universe, spontaneously arriving at the truth of all things. It is a matter of getting rid of stickiness, removing bondage, comprehending directly without complications or hangups.

When we were with Master Wang Liping, we were often astounded by the keenness and swiftness with which his thinking responds. When people would ask about concerns or about ilnesses, he would answer clearly at once, seemingly without having to reflect or ponder.According to Master Wang himself in Taoist training of thought the key lies in training intuition. Intuition is a higher mode of thought, but it is not learned from experience or knowledge; it must be strengthened gradually in the course or refinement before it can be used deliberately. Taoist learning comes mostly from actual experience in practical cultivation, so if you want to enter the gate you must cultivate refinement.

Direct awareness, sudden realisations, and intuitions are real experiences that almost everyone has had, so no one can deny their existence. These latent capacities of thought are what Taoist practitioners deem important. Stillness can produce insight; many people with years of practice in sitting and cultivating refinement have had this kind of experience. Embracing unity, keeping still, tranquil, and unstirring, does not refer to dead sitting with blank mind like a rock or a piece of wood. Emptiness does not mean nothing exists; stabilisation does not mean everything is lifeless. On the contrary, within the climax of emptiness and utmost quiet are contained the elemental ingredients of all things, the potentiality of creation; this is the original state of the mind, the root of essence. Because of its unadulterated purity, calm serenity, pure tranquility, and high degree of unification, the mind does not wander in confusion, does not cling to attachments; spontaneous and effortless, this is therefore the finest state for the human brain to be in, where all functions are mobilised. Sometimes a thought will flit across the calm ocean of the brain – it may be of a person, or of a thing, or of an event – but it arises spontaneously and disappears spontaneously, without lingering or remaining. After the exercise, before long you can find, quite amazingly, that the thoughts that crossed your mind in quiet sitting have appeared in actual reality. Sometimes it may be that a person you happened to think of actually calling, or something that occurred to you really happens, or you may arrive at an answer to a question you had been pondering for a long time without resolution. As things like this happen again and again, even the slower people will begin to wake up and polish their hearts. As for the people well-grounded in practical refinement, even when they are not sitting, indeed even in the midst of tense and busy work, as long as they maintain a transcendent, serene, calm state of mind, intuitions can occur in their brains without interruption.”

Opening the Dragon Gate: The Making of a Modern Taoist Wizard” is a book written by Chen Kaiguo and Zheng Shunchao, with an introduction by Thomas Cleary. The book tells the story of the life and teachings of Wang Liping, a Taoist master who is said to have achieved enlightenment at a young age and later became a renowned teacher of Taoist practices.

The book describes Wang’s journey to becoming a Taoist master, including his training under several different teachers, his experiences with meditation and other spiritual practices, and his eventual attainment of spiritual enlightenment. The authors also provide detailed explanations of Taoist practices such as meditation, internal alchemy, and energy cultivation, and how these practices can be used to achieve spiritual transformation.

“Opening the Dragon Gate” has been praised for its detailed and insightful exploration of Taoist practices and philosophy, as well as for its engaging storytelling. The book has been influential in the West as a source of information about Taoism and as an inspiration for those interested in spiritual practices and personal transformation.

Taoism and Adwaita Vedanta

Tao and Shunyata, also known as emptiness, are both concepts that are associated with Eastern philosophy and spirituality. While they come from different traditions, there are some similarities between the two.

Tao is a central concept in Taoism, which is a Chinese philosophical and spiritual tradition. It refers to the ultimate reality that underlies all existence and is often described as the “way” or the “path.” Tao is seen as a natural force that operates according to its own principles, and it is believed that by aligning oneself with the Tao, one can achieve harmony, balance, and enlightenment.

Shunyata, on the other hand, is a concept in Buddhism that refers to the emptiness or lack of inherent existence of all phenomena. It is often described as the ultimate nature of reality and is considered a key element of Buddhist philosophy. By recognizing the emptiness of all things, it is believed that one can achieve liberation from suffering and attain enlightenment.

While Tao and Shunyata come from different traditions and have different origins, they share some commonalities. Both concepts emphasise the importance of recognising and aligning oneself with a fundamental reality that underlies all existence. They also both suggest that by doing so, one can achieve a state of harmony, balance, and enlightenment. In this sense, Tao and Shunyata can be seen as different expressions of a similar idea, pointing towards a deeper understanding of the nature of reality and the path towards spiritual transformation.