Serving Community through the Tao

The following article was written for the Hindu Council’s 3rd national conference in May 2010:

Serving Community through the Tao
Community networking and strengthening bonds from a Taoist perspective

“Through looking at the problems of human beings as a whole,
we can see where our own individual problems lie,
and through working on our individual problems, our lives get elevated.
When our lives are on a higher level,
we can help to deal with the problems of humanity as a whole”.*

THE TAO

“What is ‘truth’? It is following Dao,
following the most fundamental laws of life and the universe.
There is only one fundamental law for each thing.
Everyone may have a different view on this one thing,
so who is right if there is only one truth, one fundamental law? …

It is our job to seek that one truth”.*

The Tao Te Ching is one of Taoism’s foremost authorities on the philosophy of the Tao, or the way of life. It describes how human beings can return to their natural state and live in harmony with the Tao. With over 7,000 years of history and more than 3,600 different Taoist sects, it is impossible here to give a full overview of Taoism. However, taking just one modern-day school’s teachings as an example – Ren Xue Zhineng Qi Gong – I would like to offer some thoughts on how the principles of Taoism can be applied to ‘community networking and strengthening bonds from a Taoist perspective’.

First of all, let’s look at the dual concepts of ‘networking’ and ‘communities’. Generally one could say this involves some sort of communication, interaction, sharing of ideas, support and assistance, with the goal of improving any given situation. And the one common denominator in those actions is a human being! So in order to be our best in our interactions in community, we need to be our best as an individual; and we function at our best when we are physically healthy, mentally clear, emotionally stable and spiritually uplifted. And for this to happen we need to cultivate and uplift ourselves.

This is where the practice of Qi Gong comes in. According to Ren Xue Human Life Science’ The two essential elements of traditional Chinese culture are Dao and Qi; Dao is the fundamental law of the universe and life, Qi is the change and activities that manifest Dao. Qigong is the method that goes with them from the very beginning’.*

QI

Qi,气 is the fundamental substance of life, one definition being ‘energy impregnated with information’. Thus essentially we are a field of energy and information. And our Qi can be upgraded and fine-tuned. In Chinese medicine our physical structure, functions and Qi, are formed from Jing (essence) and Qi, classified together as ‘Ming’. And our mind, the source of consciousness and spirituality – the True Self – is our Shen. Xing and Ming are actually one, and we need to work on both simultaneously in order to grow and evolve. This is known as Xiu or self-cultivation, which consists of two processes: correcting things that are not right, and self-refinement. The goal is to see and manifest the True Self, to reach a high level of realization and clarity, so that life can transcend to a higher level. According to Master Yuan Tze, founder of Ren Xue,“To uplift oneself and uplift others is our primary mission in life. It is the highest level you can get to when trying to deal with your own problems and help others”.*

QI GONG – A TOOL FOR TRANSFORMATION

Qi Gong is a form of training where bye the consciousness is brought inwards in order to transform and enhance our being. In so doing we align ourselves with the law of human life and collectively evolve the human race to a higher level. “We can look at all human problems as being the result of going against the law, and hence to deal with problems we have to go back and begin to follow the law. We have to manifest the real spirit of science which is seeking the truth and discovering the unknown fundamental law in order to serve humanity.”*

So what is this law and how can we live it? Although, as Lao Tze says in his opening verse of the Tao Te Ching ‘The Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao’, it can generally be described as the correct way of life. According to Ren Xue philosophy, the first principle used to guide us on this way is ‘self-cultivation via the action of Zi Du Du Ren: ‘lift yourself up, lift others up’. To ‘Du’ yourself is to deal with your own problems and once you have done that you can then be of assistance to others. According to Ren Xue this is the ultimate goal of life.

To accomplish this we need firstly to always be in an internal state of ‘calm and relaxation’, this being the ‘natural’ state, the state of the Tao. Then the True Self will manifest, bringing with it a natural state of joy. We also need to acquire a level of truth, knowledge and understanding which we can authentically pass onto others. Only then can we “touch people with virtues and earn trust with true abilities”*

There are more principles that accompany the central idea of ‘Zi Du, Du Ren, which we do not have time to cover here. However, once we have begun to master and live our life using these principles, we can then bring the concept of ‘Dao De’ into the picture.

DAO DE

Dao De can be described as the moral codes which people follow when they interact, and include three key elements: motives, behaviour and judgements.  “When deciding whether to do something to achieve the result we want, we think about whether it is a good thing to do. This involves Dao De judgements. Once the decision is made, an action may follow. The Dao De motive will change into Dao De behaviour. While the behaviour is occurring or when it is completed, we assess the effects or consequences to see if they are consistent with the motive”. *

So we need to constantly check that our actions are beneficial, in other words are they fulfilling the requirements of ‘Zi Du Du Ren’.  If not they will deplete our Qi and downgrade our Shen. So the questions we need to ask in our actions with others are, (a) ‘what are my intentions, (b) am I delivering the purpose of my actions and (c) do my intentions and actions fit the guideline of ‘uplifting myself and others?’. If we can honestly say yes, then hopefully we will be going somewhere along the road to fulfilling the mission of serving community as best we can.

* All quotes from Master Yuan Tze, ‘Voyage to the Shore’

Nervous Breakdown or Breakthrough?

THE REAL MEANING BEHIND (SOME) MENTAL BREAKDOWN

by Pranada www.spiritualemergence.co.nz

Early days

“I grew up in the UK, living a fairly average English life: school, sports, family holidays in Ireland and Greece, visits to the Grandparents at weekends etc. My understanding of life was that you went to school, then university, then got a job, got married, 2.2 kids, white picket fence, worked for 40 years, then retired… Life, however, had other plans.

After leaving university, I found work in the world of tourism, firstly working as a tour guide escorting people around Europe, then a stint in Switzerland as a resort rep, followed by a year as a croupier on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, finally basing myself in London as a marketing manager for a major travel company. By this time I was travelling in style every month visiting luxury hotels in Paris, Frankfurt and Vienna.

In theory I should have been happy (or so I thought): I had a great job, great flat, nice car, lovely friends. I was proud of reading my name and title on my business cards, felt important as I sat in airports every other week with my briefcase full of work, and special as I checked into 5 star hotels week after week.

The journey starts

But unbeknowns to me something was stirring inside. Gradually over a period of time I started to feel unhappy, not even really recognizing it at first. It took my Mother to point out to me that I wasn’t happy and I should see a psychiatrist. So off I went. I can’t quite remember the details of those meetings, what we spoke about, what I learnt, as looking back I can see I was way too unaware of myself to notice what was really going on. I changed pyschiatrists and started another round of introspection and digging into my past…unhappy childhood due to the strain on my parents of my brother’s mental health problems…

I was still working at this time, and I remember clearly dragging myself into work, sitting at my desk not wanting to be there at all, somehow forcing myself to get going for the rest of the day. And this continued day after day. Why wasn’t I happy? I had this fantastic job, had realized my dream of jetsetting around the world, and yet I felt so depressed?

The depression continued for a few more months, then insomnia set in, and somehow or other I found myself spinning further of control into a deep, dark vortex of unhappiness and negativity. There just didn’t seem to be anything I could do to stop it or make it better. At some point I became too depressed to work and on my psychiatrist’s advice took a leave of absence for a month. I remember feeling how extraordinary it was to take a month off work. Me? Take time off work? Don’t be ridiculous – I’d worked since I was 16 years old.

Then one day, after 3 days without sleep, I started to experience myself literally ‘spiraling out of my mind’ and at that moment I knew I had a choice: I could continue and let it happen, or I could stop it. The feeling of letting go was terrifying, and I chose to stop it. I had no idea what was happening. (Now with more experience I feel I was being given the opportunity to ‘lose my mind’ so that I could merge into Oneness, but at the time I was just not ready to surrender).

When I told my psychiatrist, she recommended I admit myself voluntarily into a mental hospital for proper rest and care. So I did.

Hitting rock bottom

Lying in my bed in my private room (I was lucky, I had health insurance) I just did not want to do anything at all. Nothing. I wanted to feel better but just didn’t know how. The doctors wanted to give me anti-depressants – I took them for a day and felt ten times worse, and refused to take anymore. They tried to get to me to go art class, this class, that class, I had to interest whatsover. The most interesting thing was observing the other inmates – there were all sorts: manic-depressives claiming they could see fried eggs on the ceiling, bulemics eating a stick of celery and saying they were full, epileptics throwing fits here and there…it was fascinating. But most of the time, I was in my bed, in my room, spiralling deeper and deeper into an unknown vortex.

One of the things I noticed was I was unable to read anything, I looked at the words but nothing made sense, I could have been looking at Russian or Chinese for all my mind could make of the words on the page. I could hardly talk, speaking was a mammoth effort and seemed quite pointless. And I could not watch television, somehow my eyes were far too sensitive to look at the pictures. So I just lay in bed, hour after hour, feeling very strange as I continued to go down the rabbit hole.

And then at some point, I don’t remember when, I just sort of gave up, surrendered to the process, and let myself go to the bottom. I let go of the resistance of trying to not feel how I was feeling, and sank to the bottom. Strangely, rather than finding myself stuck at the bottom of a pit, lost for eternity, somehow I felt myself rising up again, imperceptably, very slowly. And I even started to feel a smidgen better. How extraordinary! Surrendering doesn’t mean the end!

Re-born

One day I decided to go back to my apartment to collect some clothes, and I distinctly remember sitting on the underground train feeling like I was a new-born baby. It was the strangest feeling. Here I was an adult, feeling like I was literally a baby, a new-born baby. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other and make it to my home. But somehow I did, and made it back to the hospital. I stayed another week, slowly feeling a bit better and stronger each day. Until one day I decided to discharge myself.

I was still far from able to work, and fortunately due to work insurance was able to have more time off. Initially I re-adjusted to being back in my apartment, taking care of the daily essentials, and a few weeks later was given the opportunity to help deliver a yacht from Greece to France. The trip did me the world of good, and I grew stronger every day. And after a few months I felt well enough to return to work ( a new job, however, as I had quite my previous in the meantime). And not long after that I came to New Zealand with my then partner.

Resolution

It took another 7 years or so to really understand what had happened in that experience. At the time I just classified it, as the doctors had, as a ‘nervous breakdown’. But later I started to discover what that actually meant. What was really taking place was a breakdown of old mental patterning which was no longer serving me.

I had been living a lie without even realizing it. I had been living my life of go to school, go to university, get a job, make your way up the ladder, hopefully meet a nice husband…without even realizing that I was living it out of pure cultural and familial conditioning. I was living what I thought I ‘should’ be doing rather than what my soul really wanted me to be doing. And it took a huge breakdown of that paradigm to show me that this was not for me.

And what I eventually learnt was that a mental breakdown can actually be a mental breakthrough. A breakthrough to a new level of consciousness, a new world view, a new perception of reality. And in order for that to happen, the old has to be demolished, just like an old building has to be demolished before a new one can be built.

The shame of it is that in our society a mental or nervous breakdown is often perceived as a ‘taboo’ event, a negative thing not to be spoken of. Mostly this comes out of fear and lack of understanding – in other words, we fear what we do not understand. But this is not the case! It can be a great and actually much needed event! What if people had a different understanding of nervous breakdown?

For one thing, it would help the person going through it to feel a lot better, to at least get a glimpse of the positive potential within the experience. How many people today are stuck in hospital thinking they are going nuts when really they are just going through a necessary shift of consciousness? How many people could be given fresh hope by knowing that what is happening is OK?

I’m not saying that every person with mental problems is having a shift of consciousness or mental ‘breakthrough’, but that in some cases this may be what is happening and that it is a positive happening. So I hope to give people fresh hope. To know that they will come out the other side and that they are not weird or strange. They are just being upgraded!