In my last piece I talked about two lines from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu:
He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far.
The next two lines read:
He who tries to shine dims his own light
He who defines himself can’t know who he really is
The poor hare/rabbit doesn’t realize he has a great light within him, which illuminates everything in its warm glow. So he is continually trying to shine by winning, winning, winning. But there’s always someone else ahead of him or catching up to him, and he gets exhausted. The turtle, on the other hand, knows how to go inside his shell where it is totally dark and he finds safety there. By losing himself in this darkness, he emerges with a wonderful feeling of lightness, a quiet joyfulness in which he feels connected to all life including the poor hare who is continually racing around him. And when he emerges and takes one step, he feels supported by everyone and everything he sees. He has no interest in being anything more than he is already, so he even enjoys the mud, with all its unsanitary grittiness. In fact, that is his natural home.
In this way, he is in the same lineage as Lao Tzu and a series of holy fools including Han Shan, San Simeon, St. Francis, Ryokan, and Ikkyu.
This is a lineage that’s not hard to join. All you have to do, as Lao Tzu says above, is stop trying to define yourself and just be who you are. The 9th century poet Han-shan says,
“Instead of seeking to find the Tao, notice that your nature is already complete. What Heaven bestows is perfect. Looking for something else leads you astray. Leaving the trunk to search among the twigs, all you get is confusion.”
Han-shan, who had been well trained in Zen, but now lived high on cold mountain, would stroll for hours in the corridors of the monastery below, occasionally letting out a cheerful cry, or laughing or talking to himself. When driven away by the monks, he would stand still afterwards, laugh, clap his hands, and disappear.
By going into our shell regularly through our meditation practice, we can settle into just being who we are instead of worrying about who we have been or who we might be. We realize that our “nature is already complete.”
We can bask in the stillness that’s right here as we rest by the trunk. To do this, all we need to do is stop searching for the twigs per Han Shan or cut off all the dead wood, as the 17th century Zen adept Basho suggests in the following poem:
Cutting a tree,
seeing the sawed trunk it grew from:
As we cut away dead wood of our repetitive anxious chattering, our mind becomes very quiet and suddenly cracks open and we see the radiant, still moon right in front of us shining its glow everywhere. Rigid rules of conduct or elaborate rituals are no longer needed, since they distract us from deeply enjoying being wherever we are. Right with the darkness of this pandemic is where we appreciate the light of the single moon.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher