Body and Soul

Until I read Boldt’s chapter “The Power of Abundance” I’m not sure I fully realized that, unlike Christianity which emphasizes our “eternal” soul and the denial of bodily desires, Taoism demands the acceptance of both the body and the “spirit.”

As Boldt points out:

From the Taoist perspective, Heaven and Earth unite in the human being, The Earth principle suggests the way of nature (hsing); the Heaven principle, the way of destiny (ming). The essence of the Taoist philosophy is perhaps best encapsulated in the expression, “hsing ming shuang hsiou,” meaning “to cultivate nature and destiny together.” The road to our divinity, which is to say, the realization of ourselves as spiritual beings, runs through our humanity (our nature). Efforts made to try to go above or around it are futile at best; at worst, wholly disastrous. In the Isha Upanishad, we read, “To darkness they are doomed who worship only the body [Earth), to greater darkness they who worship only the spirit [Heaven).” The wise, therefore, cultivate both body and spirit, nature and destiny.

If our spiritual life is to have real value, it must be grounded on the earth. It begins, not with a flight to escape the tribulations and the limitations of the body (the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to), but with a descent into nature. It means identifying with the wisdom body — the universal intelligence that formed and maintains our bodies as well as all the bodies around us, including the one we whirl around the sun on. Acceptance of nature requires the acceptance of the human body and of the limitations that go with it. Nature: The Good with the Bad

Of course, despite professed beliefs, most of us live our lives that way, it’s just that we’re made to feel guilty if we do so.

Even more radical from a Western viewpoint is the Taoist emphasis on accepting that both good and bad are an inevitable part of life.

Thus, those who say they would have right without its correlate, wrong; or good government without its correlate, misrule, do not apprehend the great principles of the universe, nor the nature of all creation.

In fact, this Taoist acceptance of the totality of our lives:

The classical Taoist especially Chuang Tzu, approached these matters at length and offer much insight into the nature of the problem and its resolution. The lesson of the first initiation is to accept nature as it is-a mixed bag. Life and death, light and dark, creation and destruction, and so on. We are not to favor life over death, light over dark, but to say yes to the totality of existence. If we can accept the human condition at all, it is because we see it as a mixed bag, taking that which we perceive to be the good with at which we perceive to be the bad. Accepting (all) our humanity requires that we accept the early biological state of dependency and the pain associated with it. In so doing, we open ourselves up to a new experience of life.

certainly reminds me of a long-time favorite, Yeats’ Part II of “A DIALOGUE OF SELF AND SOUL:”

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
Of boyhood changing into man;
The unfinished man and his pain
Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

The finished man among his enemies?
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
If honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men;
Or into that most fecund ditch of all,
The folly that man does
Or must suffer, if he woos
A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action, or in thought;
Measure the lot to forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.

The Right Thing

I enjoyed Boldt’s chapter entitled “The Ease of Abundance” as much as I’ve enjoyed the rest of his work so far. Simply stated, he makes the argument that most of us have everything we need to be happy; all we need to do is to accept that and to overcome the ego’s constant worries.

This passage seems to echo Dave’s comments in the last few days:

There is a Chinese proverb that goes, “If l keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.” The simple message: Be happy and you attract good fortune. Life is much easier, must less of a struggle when we meet it with a smile. Prepare yourself for success. If you ask for success but prepare for failure, you will get failure. You will get the situation you expect, the one you have prepared yourself for. Expect to receive what you require, even when there’s not the slightest sign of it in sight, and act on that expectation. The universe is an abundant place. It’s natural for you to have plenty. Don’t make a virtue out of poverty or struggle. The Taoists reject the belief that poverty is a sign of holiness. They tell us life is to be enjoyed.

{The man of Tao] does not struggle to make money
And does not make a virtue of poverty.


This chapter reminded me of a Roethke poem that I’ve cited earlier in a different context:


Let others probe the mystery if they can.
Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will-
The right thing happens to the happy man.

The bird flies out, the bird flies back again;
The hill becomes the valley, and is still;
Let others delve that mystery if they can.

God bless the roots! -Body and soul are one
The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all:
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can,

And, praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.
The right thing happens to the happy man.

As I noted in my original discussion, I happened to reread this poem right after my divorce from my first wife and a turbulent time in my life. In the midst of all that anger, this poem helped me to regain my natural tendency to find joy in my everyday life, for I realized the truth of it immediately.

The Nature of Abundance

There were far more intriguing ideas in Boldt’s chapter entitled “The Nature of Abundance,” than I have time to discuss. Some of the most interesting ideas have to to with the acceptance of the Yin, or feminine, receptive side of our nature. He made me re-examine my willingness to accept from others rather than just wanting to give to others. You’ll have to read the book yourself, though, to explore those ideas.

No, in the middle of Christmas season, and the constant barrage of advertising, I was more impressed with the wisdom found in these ideas:

In modern commercial culture, the excitement of these artificial desires is indispensable to the endless quest to “develop new markets” and keep the economy booming. As Akio Morita, founder of the Sony corporation, put it, “We do not market a product that has been developed already, but develop a market for the product we make.”‘ In other words, first create a desire, then build a product that will seem to fulfill it. This kind of market development relies on what Lao Tzu called the “incitement to envy,” which he decried as the worst of all sins:

No sin can exceed
Incitement to envy;
No calamity’s worse
Than to be discontented.

-Lao Tzu

Of course, I used to teach this concept when I taught mass media many years ago, but when you’re constantly barraged by advertising it’s easy to lose sight of just how manipulative large companies are. You only have to listen to your children or grandchildren, though, to rediscover the extent that advertisers undermine our feelings that we have everything we need to be happy, everything that is except a new Intel-powered Mac Pro. Perhaps we should start a non-profit organization to sponsor ads featuring these lines from Lao Tzu during every Christmas season.

Worst of all, Boldt argues that this approach makes it impossible to feel satisfied even if we buy the products advertised:

It is the avowed mission of the commercial advertiser to insure that we are never content with what we have. While ego desires have been around for as long as human beings, never before in human history has there been such a massive and organized effort to promote them. Anyone who doubts the impact of advertising in shaping world culture simply needs to travel more. The large corporations who fund it certainly believe they are getting their money’s worth. Recently, it was reported that one large manufacturer of athletic shoes paid more to a single celebrity athlete who endorsed its products than it did to its entire third world workforce who actually made the shoes. While the world of advertising and commercial television offers an abundant array of material objects, it relies on a psychology of lack to promote and sell them. The message is clear: without the products being sold, you are not enough, your life is incomplete. Each time we buy something on this basis, we reinforce the feeling of lack. We can never get to a feeling of abundance starting from a feeling of lack. To free ourselves from this kind of influence, it isn’t necessary to reject the material objects themselves, only the idea that we aren’t good enough without them.

If you buy into the idea that you must have certain things to maintain your status among your friends or community, it’s impossible to ever feel secure about the status you’ve attained because you constantly have to buy the latest thing in order to maintain that status. Who can ever have “enough” with that kind of mind state?

Let the Reader Beware

I’ll have to admit that as I got further and further into The Taos of Abundance I discovered that it’s not really the book I thought I was buying. I thought I was buying a book that would offer a different perspective on “consumption,” a sort of how-to-live-life with a different perspective. It is that, but it’s also something more.

In fact, I like the chapter called “The Unity of the Taos” enough that I started checking out the book on line. First I went to Boldt’s web site, and wasn’t particularly attracted by what I found there, as he seems to be licensing people to teach a series of classes based on his ideas. I also found his book discussed on several New Age sites, which throws up many more warning signals.

Gurus, particularly unknown, “New Age” gurus make me extremely nervous. By nature I’m not a “joiner.” That said, I liked an awful lot of what Boldt had to say in this chapter because he drew examples from Buddhism and Taoism that allowed me to better understand some concepts that I’ve encountered in my wide-ranging reading but haven’t been able to integrate with other ideas I’ve read.

More importantly, at least at this point I tend to agree with most of what he has to say, as summarized at the end of this rather long, complicated chapter:

The key to an “enlightened” approach is to be found, not in the literal renunciation of money or things, but in psychological disengagement from the concept of ownership of them. Just as I may employ an ego to function in society, without believing that I ultimately “am” one, so I may employ the things in my care without believing that I, in fact, own them. Even as we may employ an ego identity for purposes of social engagement, so we can use money and things for purposes of creative action.

The critical question and one that warrants continued awareness and self-examination is: What is the motivation behind my desire to acquire money and the things that come with it? The motivation behind any action determines its ultimate effect, which is to say, whether that action will serve to free or enslave us. With respect to the acquisition and spending of money, there are two motivations that bring happiness: pure enjoyment and the desire to serve or help others.

Now, I’m not at all sure that a true Taoist would agree that it’s not necessary to have a “ literal renunciation of money or things,” since many of them seemed to do precisely that, but I’d like to HOPE that that’s true, or it’s too late for me to ever reach an “enlightened approach.”

I also like to think that Boldt is also correct when he argues that there are two motivations that bring happiness. I’ve certainly found the first to be true:

Pure Enjoyment: By pure enjoyment we mean, as Leonardo da Vinci put it, “to love a thing for its own sake and no other reason.” What makes enjoyment less than pure is “the other reasons,” in others words, ulterior motives. Will Rogers described just such a motive when he said, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” On the other hand, any true enjoyment serves to make us feel more deeply connected with everything else.

I like to think that I’ve learned how to do this as I’ve matured though it’s certainly not the way I started out in life. But my experiences have led me in this direction. Though I’ll have to admit that I appreciate it when other’s praise my photos, I take photos because I love taking them. It’s been a constant in my life since I purchased my first Minolta SLR while on duty in Vietnam. Most of my photos have never been seen by anyone but me, and never will be. In other words, I’d be taking photos just like I am even I didn’t have this web page, though probably not as often. As I said when I began blogging, having an audience probably helps me to do better job of what I’d be doing anyway, whether it’s reading poetry or taking photographs.

If you’d told me when I first went to college that I would become a caseworker and then a teacher, I could have only laughed. No, it wasn’t until Vietnam that I decided I wanted to do something more in my life than just make money, which explains why I turned down the Bank of America training and the job at Dun and Bradstreet.

I’m probably more selfish after 30 years of teaching and less willing to personally go out and volunteer, but I continue to contribute to others. I believe my life has been greatly enriched by helping others, that I’ve gotten more back than I gave:

Service to Others: The other motive that brings happiness is the desire to benefit others. In the Hua Hu Ching, Lao Tzu describes it as one of the four cardinal virtues. “The fourth [virtue) is supportiveness; this manifests as service to others without expectation of reward.” This, as he put it, is not an external dogma, but a part of your original nature.

I’m a bit of a loner in nature, an INTP. Perhaps that explains why I was quite impressed with the last sentence in this chapter:

The test of any desire is: Does it serve to make you feel more isolated or more connected with all of life?