Cultivating Stillness: a Taoist Manual for Transforming Body and Mind
With a commentary by Sui-ch’ing Tzu. Translated with an introduction by Eva Wong
Publisher: Boston: Shambala, 1992. ISBN-10: 0877736871,ISBN-13: 978-0-8773-687-5
Cultivating Stillness is a translation of the classic Taoist text Qingjing Jing (“The Classic of Purity and Stillness”) attributed to Lao-Tzu, author of the Tao-te Ching. It was probably written during the Six Dynasties era (220 – 589 CE). The text is a principal work of the Taoist canon and is recited and studied to this day in the training of new Taoist initiates. It is equally appreciated by Taoists and Chan (Zen) Buddhists. In this edition, Eva Wong has translated the twenty-four segments of the Qingjing Jing itself, along with an important later commentary which, acording to Wong, originated during the Ch’ing dynasty (1628 – 1644 CE). Wong believes that the book was meant to complement an oral tradition; it emphasizes the importance of having a living teacher in order to receive proper spiritual instruction.
The text lends itself to multiple levels of interpretation – as pure Taoist philosophy, as guidance for practice of wu-wei (selfless action and simple living), and as instruction for the esoteric “internal alchemy” and meditation. Fundamental aspects of Taoist philosophy are illustrated by the wu-chi diagram which depicts the cosmology that underlies the teachings of Qingjing Jing. The diagram presents wu-chi as the source of all creation, before the beginning of the creation. It is the vast expanse of nothingness in which there is no differentiation or substance. Below that is the realm of t’ai chi, where yang and yin, the opposites of positive and negative, separate from each other. From yang and yin the five elements of fire, water, earth, wood, and metal are created. They in turn manifest the generative, creative energy; and below that the “myriad things” – the realm of the material creation – come into being.
It would be impossible in this review to examine all the symbolism condensed into the Qingjing Jing and its commentary, but we can get some idea from the passages quoted below. The text has a total of 24 passages in all.
The First Passage: Wu-chi.
The ancient sage says, “The Tao has no form. It gives life to heaven and earth. The Tao is void of emotions. It moves the sun and moon. The Tao is nameless. It nourishes all things.”
The sage symbolizes the goodness inherent in all sentient beings. The origin of the ancient sage is difficult to fathom. He is the manifestation of the Tao and can appear in many forms. As the Elder Emperor of Three Realms, he is called the Heavenly Teacher of the Ten Thousand Dharmas.… Since he takes on many forms it is difficult to enumerate all his incarnations. Sometimes he appears as a Confucian sage. Sometimes he appears as a Buddha. Sometimes he appears as a Taoist immortal. His deeds are limitless. He is elusive and mysterious. He guides our intuition, instructs us in the virtues, and induces stillness in our hearts….
The Tao is nameless and has no form. It has no beginning and no end. When forced to give it a name, we call it the Tao. The Tao nurtures all things. Even insects and plants receive nourishment from the Tao. If human beings are willing to return to Tao, they must find someone who can show them the heaven and earth, the sun and the moon in their bodies. They must cultivate and follow the Tao that cannot be named.
The Sixth Passage summarizes the struggle everyone faces in the spiritual quest:
The spirit tends toward purity, but the mind disturbs it.
Humans are created from the descent of heavenly breath and the ascent of earthly vapor (chi). Humankind emerges from the union of yin and yang. The spirit is the original nature in us.… The spirit tends toward purity and stillness. Knowledge tends toward action and disturbs the mind so that it cannot be still.… As this continues, the body and mind are injured. When the spirit weakens, a hundred illnesses arise. Therefore, we need to realize the value of the human body.…
You who are born in human form should not spend your time foolishly. You must value your original nature and your life. Recognize the difference between spirit and knowledge. Do not confuse the true with the false….
Immortal Lu says: “Existence in human form is difficult to achieve and you already have it. The Tao is difficult to find. If you do not transcend human existence now, when will you get a better chance?”
The Seventh Passage names “craving” as the single obstacle to cultivating stillness. The commentary discusses the six thieves (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind). It spells out the seven emotions and the ten weaknesses which are destructive when they are taken to an extreme:
All mortals are affected by the destructive effects of the six thieves, the seven emotions, and the ten weaknesses.… Do not let the six thieves drag you into the dark realms of suffering.…
The light of the spirit shines through the night of samsara, The commoner and the sage both come from the same family. Stop all cravings and the pristine body will appear, The movement of the six thieves is like clouds that cover the sky.
Then the text explores the meditative process. The Tenth Passage is called “Nothingness”:
Look into your mind and there is no mind. Look at appearances and appearances have no forms. Gaze at distant objects and objects do not exist. Understand these three modes of cognition and you will see emptiness.
Gaze within yourself. All thoughts arise from mind. If there are no thoughts, then there is no mind. Thoughts emerge from forms. If there are no forms, then no thoughts can arise. Look at the sky, earth, sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, and buildings. When these objects do not exist then forms do not exist.…
Since ancient times, those who have attained the Tao to become immortals and buddhas have practiced concentration and forgetting. In this world, many people are attached to appearances and think that their physical body is the original body.
The text goes on to discuss stillness, emptiness, and the importance of being true to our “original nature,” which is often called Te in Taoism. Te is the cosmic principle of the Tao active within the individual human person. Passage Twelve says: “Original nature can intuit all happenings. In original nature is the essence of goodness. Be natural in your actions and you will always be pure and still.” Taoism always emphasizes the importance of being natural – not pushing oneself ahead or trying to change the course of events, but acting effortlessly, without personal motive, following along the path of Tao. This will allow us to be receptive to the Tao.
As Passage Thirteen says: “Abide in stillness and you will gradually enter the true way (Tao). When you enter the true way (Tao), this is called receiving the Tao.” The commentary explains that the true way has always been transmitted orally from enlightened teacher to student, and whatever has been written has been “encoded in symbolic language.” Yet, the true way is one and the same for all.
Passage Fourteen, titled “The Mysterious Achievement,” offers a deep lesson:
Although we speak of attaining the Tao, there is really nothing to attain.
Although it is said that you attain the Tao, you are really receiving nothing at all. The Mysterious Gate, the Singular Cavity, and all the treasures described are in the body and not anywhere else. That is why it is said you receive nothing; you possess them from the beginning. If you want to attain the Tao you must train and discipline yourself. You must be steadfast like stone and iron, and you must not waver.… Your will must be centred or you will abandon the path along the way.… You must cultivate yourself from within. Then you will receive the Tao.
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