Taoist Meditation Practice and the Hesychast Tradition / "Stillness-Contemplation": Lao Tzu, Evagrius, Eckhart

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Session 3 & 4 of "Trinity and Tao: Christian and Taoist Spirituality"

Talk 3: Taoist Meditation Practice and the Hesychast Tradition

Talk 4: "Stillness-Contemplation": Lao Tzu, Evagrius, Eckhart

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The topic for this evening is Taoist Meditation Techniques and the Hesychast Tradition. In my previous talks, I have presented the idea of a Taoist sage and the Taoist metaphysical vision of the world. As Lao-tzu conceives an intimate connection between humans and the world surrounding us, the two topics are closely related. The way of life of the sage should be modeled on the way of Tao as manifested in nature. Now the theme of meditation is equally related to the previous topics. For the purpose of meditation is to enable us to perceive the Tao which is present in us as well as in nature, and thereby to be united to it in a conscious way.


Hence meditation practice is at the basis of the Taoist way of living. In this talk, I shall first examine some texts from classical Taoism, that is, from Lao-tzu and Zhuang-tzu, which have given inspiration to the later development of various Taoist meditation methods. I shall then summarize the basic elements of various methods and compare them with analogous Christian practice, especially in the so-called Hesychast Tradition. Although Lao-tzu does not teach meditation techniques as such, some passages of the Tao Te Ching offer important insights into the meaning and purpose of meditation. Thus Lao-tzu provides the well-known expressions, embracing the One, or attaining the One, which


are adopted as Taoist terms for meditation. The term embracing the One appears in the opening verse of chapter 10, where Lao-tzu poses the question, In keeping your spirit to embrace the One, can you never depart from it? In concentrating your breath to attain softness, can you be like an infant? In purifying your inner vision, can you make it spotless? All these expressions, embracing the One, concentrating one's breath, and purifying one's inner vision, are significant for the topic of meditation. In chapter 22, we read, Therefore the sage embraces the One. He becomes the model of the world. Then, chapter 39 uses a slightly different phrase of attaining the One.


Those of old that attain the One are the following. Heaven attains the One, thereby is clear. Earth attains the One, thereby is peaceful. Spirits attain the One, thereby are educatious. Valleys attain the One, thereby are replenished. Ten thousand things attain the One, thereby come to be. In this passage, embracing or attaining the One means more than attaining a psychological state of one-pointedness. The One stands for something essential to each particular being. Not only does the sage embrace the One, but all things come to existence and become what they are by attaining the One.


What is the One in Lao Tzu? It can be identified with Tao, and yet distinct from it. The Po Shan Gong commentary of Lao Tzu calls the One the child of Tao. Let us review the important text dealing with the origin of the world, of which we discussed this morning. Lao Tzu states, Tao gives birth to One. One gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three. Three gives birth to Ten Thousand Things. Chapter 42 The One is Yu, which is born of Tao as Wu, to serve as the ground of all being and as the creative energy to produce the Ten Thousand Things. Born of Wu prior to heaven and earth, the One is situated between the absolutely formless


Wu and the Ten Thousand Things, each with its definite form. The One is the original formless vortex of creative energy at the world's beginning, from which all things receive their determination and become what they are. The One, or Yu, can also be called Qi, breath or energy. It is the primordial Qi before it gives birth to Two, that is, before it differentiates into the twofold Qi of Yin and Yang. Yu, or Qi, is called One not only because it is the first to be born of Wu, but also because One and the same primordial Qi permeates and sustains the whole universe, making it


into One Cosmos. The reason why we have One Cosmos in the Taoist thinking is because there is one single Qi that permeates, unites everything. Hence, by embracing the One, the Taoist sage not only perceives his oneness with Tao, but also transcends his individual self, experiencing oneness with the whole universe. This universal experience should be the proper goal and effect of meditation, to become one with Tao and with nature. Whereas Laozi insists on embracing the One or attaining the One, Zhuangzi proposes the following expressions which have had great significance for subsequent development in


Taoist meditation practice, that is, fasting of the mind and sitting in oblivion. The first section of chapter 4 in Zhuangzi presents a fictitious dialogue between Yanhui and the master Confucius. In view of the confused condition of strife and struggle under the oppressive rule in the state of Wei, Yanhui proposed several tactics to cope with the situation. After refuting Yanhui's suggestions as inadequate, Confucius proposed his own solution, that is, by fasting of the mind. Confucius goes on to explain what he meant by that. Make your will one. Don't listen with your ears, listen with your mind.


No, don't listen with your mind, but listen with your spirit, or qi. Listening stops with the ears, the mind stops with recognition, but spirit is empty and waits on all things. Dao gathers in emptiness alone, and emptiness is the fasting of the mind. Here, Confucius invites Yanhui to listen with qi. The Chinese character qi is rendered here by spirit. It has a different meaning from what we have just seen in the passage of Laozi, where qi means breath or energy. Here, the same character qi means an empty and illumined mind, the result of advanced cultivation. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.


This last sentence sums up the meaning of the passage. It means emptying the mind of the self and of all selfish desires, so that an inner light may rise in an empty and tranquil mind, thereby allowing one to become enlightened. The other expression, sitting in oblivion, is found in chapter 6 of Johnson. Again, it is presented in a conversation between Yanhui and Confucius. Yanhui was telling the Master, Confucius, about his recent progress in his spiritual cultivation. Ironically, Yanhui identified his progress with his ability to forget the Confucian virtues, such as benevolence and righteousness, and neglecting rites and music, which formed


the essential elements of Confucian ceremonies. While the Master replied with approval, of course it was Johnson who was putting the words into his mouth, Confucius also considered this as not enough. Yanhui still had not got it. Another day, the two met again, and Yanhui said, I am making progress. What do you mean by that? Yanhui replied, I can sit in oblivion. Confucius was startled and asked for an explanation. Yanhui said, I let my limbs and body drop away, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the great Tao.


This is what I mean by sitting in oblivion. Confucius was pleased, and he asked to become Yan's disciple instead. This expression from classical Taoism of Laozi and Zhuangzi, that is, embracing the one fasting of the mind and sitting in oblivion, inspired the subsequent development of various Taoist meditation techniques. Religious Taoism comprises many traditions, and therefore different methods of meditation. This can be divided into two major groups, concentrative meditation and insight meditation. Concentrative meditation, which often goes with the term embracing the one, is defined as a state in which the conscious awareness of the individual


is fixed on one single object to the exclusion of all others. Insight meditation, on the other hand, also termed inner observation or vipassana, is considered an advanced type of meditation practice in which the adept maintains an open awareness to all stimuli in an undiscriminating fashion. Taoist meditation is based on the conviction that the human body is an exact replica, a micro-microcosm of the outside universe, the macrocosm. Deities and spirits are believed to dwell in corresponding sectors of the human body as in various regions of the universe. For this reason, some Taoist meditation techniques involve the visualization of the gods or spirits


inhabiting different parts of the body in order to invoke them or drive them away. In spite of the great variety of Taoist meditation techniques, there are some basic elements common to them, such as external posture, breathing exercise, and concentration or a general state of mindfulness. Regarding external posture, one may sit in the lotus position or adopt the posture of an immortal riding on a crane, that is, by kneeling down and sitting on one's own heels. That's the classical posture of an immortal riding on a crane. One may also sit on a chair or take a standing position.


The important thing is to keep the backbone and the head straight. As regards breathing, after making some preliminary breathing exercise, as we learned this afternoon, one then enters into a rhythmic deep breathing, reaching down into the abdomen. After taking a proper posture and regulating one's breathing, one begins to regulate the mind by concentration or a state of mindfulness. In a concentrative meditation, one's mind is fixed on a particular object. It may be an inner object, such as a certain area of the body, most frequently the lower dantian or tandem in Japanese, situated about two inches below the navel and two inches inside the body.


The mind can also concentrate on an external object, such as music, rain, flowing water, ocean, sky, light, color, and so on. One can also make use of a combination of outer and inner objects, such as paying attention to one's own breathing, or listening to one's inhaling and exhaling, counting numbers or reciting a mantra interiorly. As the mind is distracted by a thousand thoughts, the function of concentration is to replace the ten thousand thoughts with one single thought. This Chinese saying is the secret for sitting meditation. In an insight meditation, on the other hand, one should try to maintain a state of mindfulness,


being attentive to oneself and one's surroundings, perceptive to all the inner movements and all the stimuli coming from outside. I shall speak more about insight meditation tomorrow morning. The purpose of Taoist meditation, be it concentrative or insight meditation, is to free the practitioner from the delusion of a separate self, in order to obtain an intuitive perception of oneness with the universe and with Tao, which permeates all things. Unlike Buddhism, the goal of Taoist meditation is not limited to attaining enlightenment only, but is also related to preserving good health, achieving longevity, and preparing one's spirit body for immortality.


I shall say something about the so-called spirit body later on. There are also some signs or secondary effects that accompany the progress of meditation practice, such as perceiving certain vibrations and warms in the body and seeing a vision of light. The Taoists often speak about this physical, sensible phenomenon. Such Taoist meditation practices call to mind certain forms of Christian meditation. Despite the basic differences between them, I perceive a certain affinity between Taoist meditation and the Eastern Hesychast tradition that focuses on the prayer of the heart, or the Jesus Prayer. Since the middle of this century, the orthodox spirituality of the Jesus Prayer


has been widely diffused in the Western Latin Church, thanks to the translation of the Way of a Pilgrim and the Philokalia into different European languages. The practice of the Jesus Prayer, as you know, consists in a calm and rhythmic repetition of a brief invocation involving the Holy Name of Jesus. The standard formula is Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. There are variations to this standard formula. It can be shortened to Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, or simply, Lord Jesus, have mercy. Sometimes the words, a sinner, are added to the end. Have mercy on me, a sinner. One of the chief aims of the Jesus Prayer is precisely to achieve one-pointedness.


It can be compared to concentrative meditation. The human mind is always active. Thoughts keep moving restlessly and aimlessly in our mind, like the buzzing of flies, or the capricious leaping of monkeys, not donkeys, from branch to branch. It is of little use to say to ourselves, stop thinking. We might as well say, stop breathing. The rational mind cannot remain completely idle. However, while it lies beyond our power to make the continual chattering of our thoughts disappear, what we can do is to detach ourselves from them, gently but persistently. In order to let go the multiplicity of thoughts, Diadochus Photikos, a 5th century monk,


recommends that we should give the mind some task which will satisfy its need for activity, that is, something which will keep it sufficiently occupied without allowing it to be too active. The constant invocation of Lord Jesus is proposed for this purpose. For a similar reason, Theophanes, the Russian recluse of the last century, teaches that, to stop the continual jostling of our thoughts, you must bind the mind with one thought, or the thought of one only. This strategy reminds us Lao Tzu's Embracing the One, and is certainly in keeping with a Chinese saying, which forms the basic rule on one-pointedness. That is, to replace the 10,000 thoughts


with one single thought. In our case, this one single thought, or the thought of one only, is the holy name of Jesus. The Jesus Prayer is thus a way of keeping God over the mind and the heart. It serves as the focusing object in a concentrative meditation. However, the Jesus Prayer is not just a kind of mantra devised for inducing people into quiet and stillness. According to the biblical tradition, the name stands for the person. The name Jesus was announced by an angel to indicate his saving mission. Jesus means, God is our Savior. During his life and ministry on earth, saving power constantly came forth from his person to heal the sick and deliver the possessed


from the dominion of evil spirits. The invocation of the holy name of Jesus has a quasi-sacramental effect that renders him present to us. Hence, in addition to achieving one-pointedness, the Jesus Prayer enables us to embrace the One, that is, the One Risen Lord, experiencing his presence and saving, transforming power. In this way, in this way of embracing the One, we find both similarity and difference between the Jesus Prayer and Taoist meditation. Faith in the Savior is at the heart of the Jesus Prayer and should distinguish it from most Taoist meditation practices which are not concerned with a Savior figure. Moreover, the Jesus Prayer is meant to be


a non-discursive and imageless prayer. It introduces the aspirant to a sense of the presence of the Risen Lord without the formation of any mental picture or visual concept. This is another difference from various Taoist meditation techniques which involve vivid visualization on the part of the adept. Having pointed out this difference, let me continue to point out some other parallels. The Jesus Prayer was developed into a complex psychophysiological method by the Hesychast monks on Mount Athos in the 14th century. To explain it briefly, the method involved an external posture, a breathing technique,


internally gazing at the center of the belly that is at the navel, and an inner search for the place of the heart. We have discussed all these different aspects during our workshop on the Jesus Prayer. Here, one can easily see the similarity between the physical method as proposed by the 14th century Hesychasts and the Taoist meditation techniques. Nevertheless, the physical method is not essential to the Jesus Prayer, and contemporary orthodox writers have in general laid less emphasis upon the method. They also warn that anyone who wishes to adopt the method must do so under a competent spiritual director in order to avoid any undesirable consequences. The Hesychasts also spoke of some effects


or signs normally accompanying the practice of the Jesus Prayer, a feeling of warmth and a vision of life. While pointing out the spiritual, immaterial character of these realities, they insisted that the warmth and light in question could be perceived by our bodily senses, provided that these were transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Although the Hesychast masters consider the physical method together with the spiritual and the sensible effects as something secondary and not essential to the Jesus Prayer, they firmly defended its validity as based on two important theological principles. First, their practice is linked to an integral, holistic view of salvation,


which implies the transformation of the whole human person, the physical method is also founded on the belief that the process of resurrection and transformation of humans as well as the entire universe has been initiated through the resurrection of Jesus, with the light of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor as a preview of the future glory. This view of salvation finds resonance in the Taoist holistic vision of salvation, which includes the whole person, inner peace, good health, longevity, immortality, and harmony with the entire universe. So far, we have seen


the similarity and also difference between the two traditions. Now, let's go on to see something in the writings of Johnson. In the writings of Johnson, one finds exoteric descriptions of the so-called perfect person or spirit person. Thus, for example, we read that in the mountains of a certain remote island there lives a spirit man who does not eat the five grains but sucks in the wind and drinks the dew. He rides the vapor of the clouds, yokes flying dragons to his chariot, and roams beyond the four seas. Beautiful description. This and similar metaphorical descriptions in Johnson were later taken quite literally


and eventually helped to give rise to the belief in immortals. The Chinese character shen, immortal, consists of the graphs for man and for mountain, formed by these two parts, man and mountain. Hence, the character literally means to enter the mountains and is extended to mean to live long and vanishing in flight. During the Han dynasty, the belief in a concrete land of immortals first arose. It was identified with the magic islands of Tenglai in the Eastern Sea and Kunlun in the Western Mountains. This world of the immortals is a realm outside and beyond the known world.


It is usually described as a mountain surrounded by water. One finds palaces there, towers and courts made of glittering and non-decaying materials such as gold and jade. Trees grow fruits that ripen only once in 3,000 mundane years. Birds with golden feathers nest in them. The lakes are made up of sweet jewel of wine or wine. There are no storms or natural disasters. Like the Dao, the land of the immortals cannot be understood by human faculties. It is beyond words and thoughts and the residents of the land live forever and can appear at will


anywhere in only an instant. According to beliefs current at the time, immortal materials could transfer immortal status to a human being when ingested. This accounted for the several expeditions sent by the emperors of the time to the eastern sea to obtain the elixir of life. While some Daoist adepts searched for an elixir that might induce physical longevity or even immortality, other Daoists believed that true immortality can only be attained upon physical death. According to the latter view, death is regarded as a change of residence. The aging body is like a house with rotten walls that needs to be exchanged for a better one.


Daoism does not envisage an immortality without a body. Hence, during lifetime, each person should prepare for himself a spirit body suitable for immortality through meditation techniques and by leading a moral life. There is the importance of the preparation of a spirit body suitable for immortality after death. The idea of spirit body is interesting and merits a further discussion. Let me quote another passage from chapter 2 of Zhangzi entitled On the Equality of Things. The passage deals with the idea of a so-called spirit being. Quote The perfect person is a spiritual being. Even if great oceans


burned up, he would not feel hot. Even if the great rivers are frozen, he would not feel cold. And even if terrific thunder were to break up mountains and the wind were to upset the sea, he would not be afraid. Being such, he mounts upon the clouds and forces of heaven, rides on the sun and the moon, and roams beyond the four seas. Since neither life nor death affects him, how much less can such matters as benefits and harm? End quote. The last two sentences probably recapture the real message of the passage. A perfect person is one who is not bound by external circumstances and happenings, enjoying utter freedom


in front of safety and calamity, benefits and loss, even life and death. But Zhuangzi's description of the spirit being certainly hints at some transformations which have taken place in a perfect person rendering him immune from harm even on the physical level, even at present. This and other similar descriptions gave rise to the idea of a spirit body in later Taoism. The idea of spirit body or spiritual body is also found in St. Paul. In chapter 15 of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul discusses the topic of our future resurrection, presenting the resurrection of Jesus as the pledge and model


for our bodily resurrection. In a pregnant passage, Paul depicts our dying and rising again with the image of sowing the seed which later grows into a plant. Thus Paul writes, So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable. What is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor. It is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness. It is raised in power. It is sown a physical body. It is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15 42-44 According to this image


of sowing, our bodies are buried after death and undergo the process of decay. But at the end of the world, they will be raised up again in glory. The last sentences of the passage are of special interest for us. It is sown a physical body. It is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Here Paul contrasts a physical body to a spiritual body. We can certainly easily understand what a physical body is. But it is difficult to grasp what is meant by a spiritual body. By a spiritual body, Paul does not mean an immaterial body. Rather, Paul is here following the Jewish biblical tradition, according to which spiritual means


above all of the Holy Spirit. Hence, a spiritual body means a body filled with the Holy Spirit or transformed by the Holy Spirit. According to the Taoist teaching, the spirit body is what one must strive to obtain during this present life through meditation practice and a moral life. In a similar way, the spiritual body taught by Paul should be understood as something which is taking place during one's lifetime. Not merely something we should expect in the future, but now, here and now. For Christians, the transformation of our physical bodies into spiritual bodies begins at the time of baptism. Our immersion into the water is a plunging into the life


of the Holy Spirit, a spiritual rebirth which radically transforms the whole person, body and spirit. Our spiritual body continues to grow through the nourishment of the Eucharist. If, in the popular Taoist belief, one becomes immortal by ingesting immortal substance, for Christians, the Eucharist, the body and blood of the Risen Lord, is the immortal substance par excellence, the true elixir of immortality, which bestows eternal life to those who partake of it. The Eucharist is not only a pledge of our future resurrection, it effectively transforms our bodies into spiritual bodies here and now.


The Hesychasts insist on the actual transformation of the whole person. They also perceive an intimate connection between the Jesus Prayer and the Eucharist. Each invocation of the name of Jesus is like an extension of the Eucharist or Holy Communion within us. According to them, the Jesus Prayer has a quasi-sacramental effect, which means that the invocation of the Holy Name renders the Risen Jesus present in us and enables us to experience his saving and transforming power. So the Jesus Prayer is understood by the Hesychast writers as a kind of extension throughout the day of our Holy Communion. In conclusion,


a holistic view of salvation and a belief in the present transformation of the human person and of the entire universe are common to Taoism and Christianity. In both traditions, meditation is presented as a preeminent way of participating in this transformation. For the Taoists, who perceive the Tao as inherent in each one of us and in the entire world, meditation is the way of returning from external multiplicity to inner simplicity and to union with Tao. For Christians, Jesus is the way to the hidden Tao or the Father. The Risen Jesus is present in our hearts and at the same time at the center and heart of the whole creation. By being united


with the Risen Lord through invoking his name and receiving the Eucharist, we become one with him and through him with the whole universe. We then are brought back into the silent ground of all things, which is the Father. The topic for our last talk is stillness, contemplation, Lao Tzu, Evagrius, and Eckhart. Most people are familiar with Zen Buddhism, which is one of the many schools of Buddhism. Other major schools are, for example, the Tibetan school, the Pure Land school, the Tantai school, etc. There is an important manual on meditation dedicated to Master


Ji Yi, the fourth master of Tantai Buddhism during the 6th century in China. The text is called Shao Qi Guan. One of the first characters, Shao, means small. The following two characters, Qi Guan, mean literally to stop and to look at the two Sanskrit words Samatha and Vipassana. Hence, Shao Qi Guan can be translated as Little Manual of Samatha-Vipassana Meditation. It is a beginner's guide to meditative practice, including explanations of the preparation, the method, and the fruits of meditation when practiced correctly. In the light of


meditation practice, Zhi means silencing the active mind and getting rid of discrimination, and Guan means observing, introspecting. When the mind is quiet and at rest, it acquires clear vision. The object of Qi Guan is to concentrate the mind by special methods for the purpose of clear insight into the truth and to be rid of illusion. The manual opens with these words. The attainment of Nirvana is realizable by many methods whose essentials do not go beyond the practice of Qi and Guan. Zhi is the first step to untie all bonds, and Guan is


essential to rid out illusion. Qi provides nourishment for the preservation of a knowing mind, and Guan is the skillful art of promoting spiritual understanding. End quote. While Tiantai Buddhism had its origin from Indian Buddhism, it, like Zen Buddhism in China, also was profoundly influenced by Taoism. I would venture to say that the basic idea of Qi Guan can be found already in Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching. It is one of the many seminal chapters of Lao Tzu. It can be seen as a succinct manual of Taoist meditation. I have more than once referred to this chapter


during this weekend. In this talk, we shall study the text as a manual of Qi Guan meditation, or a manual of stillness contemplation. Then, we shall compare it with some of the writings of Evakuus and Meister Eckhart. The following is a translation of the chapter. Attain utmost emptiness. Maintain complete tranquility. The ten thousand things rise together, and I observe, contemplate, Guan, their return. All things flourish. Each returns to its root. To return to the root is called tranquility.


This is what is meant by returning to destiny. Returning to destiny is called the constant or everlasting. To know the constant is called enlightenment. Not knowing the constant, one acts blindly and is in danger. Knowing the constant, one becomes all-embracing. To be all-embracing is to be impartial. To be impartial is to be kingly. To be kingly is to be in accord with heaven. To be in accord with heaven is to attain Tao. Attaining Tao, one lives long and is free from peril throughout one's lifetime.


In this chapter, the life of the natural world is seen to be the life of a circle which encompasses all things, both in their coming out from and their going back to the root, or Tao. Possessed of this mystical vision, the Taoist rises above the one-sidedness of individual consciousness to expand in ever-widening circles to embrace all things in the world. To witness the cyclical movement of the natural world is to be one with the life of Tao, that is, to become immortal and everlasting, as Tao is immortal and everlasting. Chapter 16 can be


divided into three sections. The first section invites the reader to attain emptiness and tranquility in order to observe the rising and returning of all things. So Lao-tzu says, Attain to utmost emptiness, maintain complete tranquility. The ten thousand things rise together and I observe and contemplate their return. It announces the topic of our talk, that is, be still and observe or contemplate. In order to contemplate the rising and returning of all things, one must first attain utmost emptiness and tranquility. The ideas of emptiness and tranquility means to be free


from thought and desire and it is only when one is free from thought and desire that one is able to remain tranquil and quiet. For this reason, the two Chinese characters Xu, emptiness and Jing, tranquility are almost used as synonyms in Lao-tzu. In order to contemplate, one needs clear vision. In the previous chapter, Lao-tzu asks the question, who can stop the murkiness of the water? By quieting down, it gradually clarifies. One is not able to contemplate with an agitated mind or with a no more than one can see through murky water. But just as murky water


becomes clear by remaining still, the mind gains clear vision by quieting down. In another chapter, Lao-tzu also speaks of the need of cleansing one's interior mirror by keeping it spotless. Mirror refers to the mind in Daoism as well as in Zen Buddhism. According to Lao-tzu, the mind, when it is clear, reflects the hidden mysteries of Dao by an inner light. When one has arrived at the state of stillness, Zhi, then one is able to observe or contemplate Guan. The character Guan is composed of two parts, the birds and to see. It means to see the world


as the birds do, that is, from on high. In Lao-tzu, Guan connotes rising high to attain vision into the true nature of things. Here it is rendered in English as to observe or contemplate. The reason why one must attain emptiness and tranquility in order to observe the return of things is given by Wang Pi in his commentary. With emptiness and tranquility, one watches the return. All being arises from emptiness. Movement arises from tranquility. Therefore, although 10,000 things rise together, in the end, they return to where they come from, that is, emptiness and tranquility.


End quote. As emptiness is the ultimate ground of being, and tranquility the source of movement, one must attain emptiness and tranquility in order to observe the rising and returning of all things. After announcing the theme of Jiu Guan or stillness contemplation, the middle section of the chapter continues. All things flourish, each one returning to its roots. To return to the root is called tranquility. This is what is meant by returning to destiny. Returning to destiny is called the constant or everlasting. To know the constant is called enlightenment. This section


deals with the following important ideas. Returning to the root, returning to destiny, attaining the constant or everlasting, and being enlightened. All these are key ideas about meditation and enlightenment. Everything comes forth from Dao, flourishes, and then fades away. Returning to Dao as to its root. The designations for Dao as origin and mother given in chapter 1 of Lao Tzu are here expressed by the symbol of root, which means source or origin. The whole world returns to Dao as to its root, in which the many


again become the one. In this return, the individual sheds individuality to become one with the universal life process of Dao. Lao Tzu says that to return to the root is called tranquility and is what is meant by returning to one's destiny. The root is one's origin and goal. By returning to it, one attains one's destiny and rests in tranquility. Lao Tzu adds that to return to one's destiny is to attain the constant, that is, rejoining the everlasting life, process of Dao. One who understands the secret


that the return is a return to the source and a re-entry to the immortal life in the creative ground itself is thereby enlightened. The individual's return to the root will be completed at the time of death, but is anticipated during one's lifetime, especially through meditation practice. The aim and fruit of Jiguan, or skillless contemplation, is precisely to achieve enlightenment. Enlightenment, however, does not mean the knowledge of something in abstract. Rather, it implies the knowledge through experience, in our case, through our union with Dao, through our participation in the universal life of Dao.


Now we come to the final section of the chapter. Lao Tzu says, Not knowing the constant, one acts blindly and is in danger. Knowing the constant, one becomes all-embracing. To be all-embracing is to be impartial. To be impartial is to be kingly. To be kingly is to be in accordance with heaven. To be in accord with heaven is to attain Dao. Attaining Dao, one lives long and is free from peril throughout one's lifetime. In this last passage, we are shown the process of expansion from the narrow individual self to the universal life of Dao. This movement


from the particular to the universal is at the same time the liberation of the particular from the perishable to the imperishable. By being united to the universal, one becomes imperishable. In this chapter, knowledge is seen to have a redemptive effect to know is at the same time to participate. Knowledge of the everlasting unites us to the everlasting. Lack of this knowledge produces the sharp distinction between the self and non-self. While knowledge of distinctions needs to strive, knowledge of the universal which embraces all things expands our capacity until we become as inclusive as heaven and Dao.


Thus, chapter 16 of Laozi offers a brief rule of Jiguan or stillness contemplation. By attaining emptiness and tranquility, one is able to observe all things rising from and returning to their source and roots, which is Dao. And by contemplating, one also joins in the return movement of all things into Dao, thereby attains the everlasting and becomes enlightened. Within the Christian tradition, Evagrius, one of the fourth-century Desert Fathers, presents an ascetical teaching which bears affinity with the idea of Jiguan. Following the teachings of Origen, Evagrius sketched a three-stage journey of the spiritual life,


active life, and contemplative life, which is further distinguished into natural contemplation and contemplation of God. So altogether, we have three stages. Let me explain these terms. Just as Laozi proposes the idea of Jiguan, that is, one must attain emptiness and tranquility to contemplate, so, according to Evagrius, one must practice the active life before one can be introduced to the two stages of contemplation. Here, the terms active and contemplative life are different from their modern connotation, which indicates two different styles of life as options for different people. Some people refer to the spiritual life while others to the contemplative life


with its emphasis on prayer and solitude. But according to the ancient meaning as employed by Evagrius, the active and contemplative life refer to different stages in the spiritual journey of each individual. One progresses gradually from the one to the other, from the active life to the contemplative life. In this ancient meaning, the active life means the struggle against evil and the effort of acquiring virtues. It begins with repentance, metanoia, which means a change of mind and heart by renouncing sin and overcoming passions. By passions, Evagrius means disordered impulses, such as jealousy,


lust, or uncontrolled anger. As a natural force given by God, passion is in itself something natural, neutral, it is not the passion as such, but its misuse that is sinful. Passion can be somehow compared to the engine of a car. Without an engine, the car cannot move. But then it all depends on the driver to give proper direction to the car. It's not the engine which goes wrong, but it's the driver himself who must give the right direction. So this is the same case with our passion. It is not the passion as such, but its misuse that is sinful. Hence,


when he speaks of overcoming passions, Evagrius does not intend their suppression, but their redirection or reordering. The final aim of the active life is to achieve apatheia, which should not be confused with the English word apathy. Apatheia can be translated as dispassion, or freedom from passion, which does not indicate an absence of feeling, rather it means a state of reintegration or spiritual freedom. Passion renders apatheia as purity of heart. Evagrius himself links apatheia closely with love, saying, Agape, or love, is the offspring of apatheia. In fact, when one is liberated from disordered passions,


one is free to love. The idea of apatheia resembles that of ji, or stillness, in Laozi, which, as we have seen, implies emptying oneself of thoughts and selfish desire. Apatheia means inner stillness as a result of reintegration. Just as ji is followed by guan, apatheia is also followed by contemplation. Evagrius further distinguishes contemplation into two stages. The lower stage, or natural contemplation, consists in seeing God in all things and all things in God. It echoes Laozi's idea of guan, or observing all things rising from and returning to Tao.


The next stage in Evagrius is contemplation of God without concepts, words, and images. All these are replaced by a sense of God's silent, but immediate presence. One might find a parallel of this higher stage contemplation also in Laozi's text, where he says, All things flourish, each returning to its root. To return to the root is to have tranquility. This is what is meant by returning to destiny. Returning to destiny is called the constant or everlasting, and to know the constant is called enlightenment. By quietly observing the return movement of all things to their roots, one follows the same movement into the roots, thereby attaining


or everlasting. This means that one achieves an erect contact with Tao by flowing with the return movement of all things into the one source of all things. By remaining in the source or root, one becomes enlightened. This experience of resting in the root, I think, corresponds to Evaglio's second stage of contemplation, that is, contemplation of God, resting in God, resting in the source of everything. The idea that all things are coming forth and returning to their source and root is central in chapter 16 of Laozi. The idea of exitus and revidus,


the flowing out and flowing back of all things from God and into God is also prominent in the mystical vision of Pseudo Dionysius. Through his influence, this idea becomes the key concept in Meister Eckhart and the Rhineland mystics in general, including John Ruisbrook. For our purpose, let us examine Eckhart's dynamic system, whose basic law is the flow out of exitus and flow back or return, revidus, of all things from and into God. The process of flow out takes place in two stages, according to Eckhart. Bullitio, Latin word, or inner emanation


of the divine persons, and ebullitio, or creation. The term bullitio, as we have seen, means boiling, boiling up. In his German writings, Eckhart also employs the word utzbruch, or break out, for the same purpose. The first break out, he says, and the first melting forth is where God liquefies and where he melts into his Son, and where the Son melts back into the Father. Sermon 35. So in this inner emanation, the One, namely the Father, emanates what is one and the same with himself, that is the Son, his perfect image. As has been pointed out,


there are two patterns describing the bullitio found in Eckhart. The first presents the hidden Godhead beyond the persons as the ground of bullitio. While the second, which is more frequent in Eckhart's writings, especially in his Latin writings, identifies the Father precisely with this primal ground, which emanates the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus, for example, Eckhart makes use of the two-fold meaning of the Latin word principium, which means principle as well as beginning. The Latin word principium has this two-fold meaning, principle and beginning. And Eckhart offers a peculiar comment on the first verse of John's Gospel. In the beginning,


or principle, that is, the Father was the Word, and did not exist without its breath or spirit. There was also the Holy Spirit. End quote. This bullitio, or internal emanation, evolves into ebullitio, that is, outward emanation or creation. The two, bullitio and ebullitio, Eckhart maintains that God has spoken once and for all, but in this one Word is contained the creation of the whole universe. The idea of exemplary principle is most important here. Just as the Father is the principle of the Word, which exists as idea


and image in the Father's mind, so too the Word serves as the exemplary principle by which God creates all that He creates. So this is a peculiar idea of Eckhart. God has spoken only once, once and for all, only one Word, the eternal Word. And in this one Word, not only the Son was spoken for, but everything, the whole creation, is already contained in this one single Word. This idea of an eternal creation or the idea that God created the world from eternity brought Eckhart into trouble. In reality, however, Eckhart speaks of


our virtual existence in the world from eternity and not of our actual existence. He makes a distinction between our virtual existence and an actual existence. For in the one eternal Word, each one of us and everything in the world is being spoken and possesses a virtual existence from eternity. Even though each one of us actually comes into existence in time. So virtually, we were being spoken with the one Word, but in actual reality we come to existence in time. Just as the divine ground is the source from which all things come forth, it is at the same time the goal which draws all things back to itself. As Eckhart states


in one of his sermons, Therefore, the Father speaks the Son always in unity and pours out in him all created things. They are all called to return into whence they have flowed out. They are calling and hastening back to him from whom they have issued. Sermon 53 Just as there are two stages in the process of flowing out from the divine ground, Bulizio and Ebulizio, so too Eckhart depicts two stages of our return to God. As we come forth the first stage of return is through the birth of the Word or the Son


in the soul. The birth of the Son is a central theme in Eckhart's writings. This birth takes place in the ground of our soul which is, according to Eckhart, is one with the divine ground. And as the Father unceasingly speaks the one word, the Son, he continuously gives birth to the Son in the ground of our soul. It is true that the Father gives birth to the Son from eternity but eternity is beyond time. It means an everlasting now an eternal present. That's the meaning of eternity. It's not something in the past. It's something going on forever. So even now, at this very moment, the Father is giving birth to the Son. And where? According to Eckhart, it's in the divine ground


which is one with the ground of our soul. So God the Father eternally, everlastingly is giving birth to the Son in the ground of our soul. The second stage of return consists of a breaking through or penetrating into the dark silent ground of the hidden Fatherhood. As the ground of our soul is one with the divine ground, once we return to our own ground, we also break through into the divine ground. There are conditions for accomplishing our return to God. Detachment is the most necessary attitude proposed by Eckhart for our return to God. He describes it as an immovable detachment. True detachment is nothing else


than for the spirit to stand as immovable against whatever may chance to it of joy and sorrow, honor, shame, and disgrace as a mountain of lead stands before a little breath of wind. From undetachment Detachment also means emptying oneself in order to receive God. So Eckhart says, you must know that to be empty of all created things is to be full of God. And to be full of created things is to be empty of God. One can easily perceive the resonance between Eckhart's mystical vision and chapter 16 of the Dao De Jing on Jiguan. Let's have a look on these parallels. Eckhart's insistence


on the immovable detachment recalls Lao Tzu's invitation to attain utmost emptiness and maintain complete tranquility. So detachment and this idea of emptiness and tranquility. Next, Lao Tzu's view of all things rising from and returning to their source and root is analogous to Eckhart's vision of the flowing out and flowing back of all things from God and into God. Lao Tzu describes our returning to the root as returning to the destiny and attaining the constant or everlasting. Eckhart makes really the same statement. By breaking through into the divine ground, we attain our destiny from whence we came forth. At the same time,


we attain what is constant or eternal. This can mean two things. First, by returning to the divine ground, we attain the eternal being of God. Second, since we have our virtual existence in the world from eternity, we also attain our eternal existence by being united with the divine world. It is an experience of coming home. Moreover, as all things of being spoken by God are called into existence in the one word, by returning to that word, we come to the realization that we are one with the entire creation. In a similar way, Lao Tzu says that when one attains the everlasting, one is illumined


by the truth that the universe is one, resting in the one root which is Tao, and thereby one becomes all-embracing and as inclusive as heaven and Tao. In this workshop, I have presented the basic affinities between Christianity and Taoism, philosophical as well as religious. In doing so, I have also pointed out some significant differences between them. Our comparison touched on various topics. It would be helpful at the end to locate the central axis unifying the three major aspects of Taoism discussed in my talks. The Taoist metaphysical vision,


the idea of a Taoist sage, and the Taoist meditation techniques. Is there any core idea which can serve as a center axis to unite these different aspects? I would suggest the idea of Wu as this central axis uniting, unifying these different aspects. Wu, in the sense of non-being or empty formlessness, is the primordial designation for the hidden Tao prior to its self-manifestation as you. Consequently, as Tao is Wu, so Wu way or non-action is the first constant way of acting of Tao and should be the most essential quality of a sage who must


model his life and action on the pattern of Tao. Further, Taoist meditation practices are aimed at attaining a state of Wu by quieting and emptying one's mind in order to be at one with Tao which permeates all things. So the idea of Wu actually can connect these three basic aspects of our reflection the metaphysical nature of Tao as ultimately as Wu and Wu Wu way non-action as the most characteristic constant law of the action of Tao and consequently should be also the essential quality of a sage who must follow the Tao the way of the Tao and


in the third place Taoist meditation practice is also aimed precisely at attaining a state of Wu of emptiness in order to return to the root to be at one with Tao and with everything. In order to perceive the Christian God as Wu one must have recourse to the apophagic mystical tradition. The great mystics of the apophagic tradition such as Gregory of Nyssa and Pseudo Dionysius describe God as the silent hidden dark mystery beyond knowing and being. Eckhart depicts God as the hidden ground of white desert in its utter formlessness. Coming forth from the divine ground humans are constantly being drawn


back in a return movement to the ground. The most essential condition for breaking through to the ground is what Eckhart terms immovable detachment which is the most fitting counterpart for the Taoist Wu way or non-action. Likewise in the Christian mystical tradition meditation or contemplation is taught as a practice or a gift of God through which we experience our own nothingness and the nothingness of the world so that we may attain the formless divine ground which sustains all things. In conclusion these basic affinities between Taoism and the Christian mystical tradition are very promising. They provide


a solid ground for deepening the Taoist Christian dialogue and for exploring the disparate yet complementary character of the two traditions in the hope that both may be enriched through such encounter. In one of his books William Johnston presented an allegorical interpretation to the parable of the lost coin of the gospel. A woman who had ten coins lost one of them. She lighted a lamp and searched carefully until she found it. For Johnston the woman in the parable is our mother of the church and the lost coin is the contemplative dimension which belongs to her spiritual heritage but has unfortunately been neglected during the past generations. An effective way to restore


the lost coin according to Johnston is to enter into dialogue with Eastern religions. While learning from the wisdom of these ancient traditions Christians are also urged to dig deeper into the hidden treasure of their own patrimony in order to rediscover the contemplative dimension latent in their tradition. So there is a two-fold task or two-fold aim in the East-West dialogue. On the one hand we try to learn from the wisdom of these ancient traditions and at the same time we are also invited to dig deeper in our own heritage our own patrimony in order to rediscover what is hidden there. Let us pray that our Christian


Daoist dialogue may also achieve this two-fold aim. Thank you.