Tao Thought: Mandala and daodejing 70

What did I do today?
I exercised. I said good-bye
To a departing friend.
I went to market, ate my meals.
Took a walk. Took out the garbage.
Read a little. Meditated. Slept.
This was my mandala.

A mandala is most commonly a diagram or painting that one uses during meditation. the painting is usually brightly colored and extremely complicated. By beginning at the outer perimeter of the picture and gradually working inwards (sometimes pausing at certain parts to contemplate), the meditator becomes completely absorbed. By the time that the center is reached, all normal egoistic notions should have been dissolved and the profundities of the mind should have been opened.

Other religions have various other ways : mass, chanting, sacrament, reciting holy scripture, contemplating. These too become their mandala -- their objects of worship.

But it is not enough to go to church or temple once a week, or to read a bit of a holy book every morning. Can Tao be confined to such simple rituals? No. We could fly to the very height of the cosmos, plunge to the greatest depth, swim the length and breadth of eternity, and still not come to the limits of Tao. Therefore, we should look for Tao in every day. We should ask ourselves each day how Tao manifested itself to us. Our daily activities are our mandala.

Tao reveals itself to us in our mundane doings.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations

Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

Tao Te Ching translated by current scholars

My words are easy to understand
easy to employ but
no one can understand them
no one can employ them

Words have an ancestor
deeds have a master
because they have no understanding
people fail to understand me
rare are they who understand me
thus I am exalted

The sage therefore wears coarse cloth
and keeps his jade inside



My words are very easy to understand,
very easy to put into practice.
But you can't "understand" them,
can't put them into "practice."

Words have their ruler.
Events have their origins.
People who can't understand this can't understand me.
Those who do are few.

They wear coarse cloth
and carry jade in their breasts.



My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you'll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.


Stanford Studies on Daoism
• The Laozi Story
• Date and Authorship of the Laozi
• Textual Traditions
• Commentaries
• Approaches to the Laozi

Approaches to the Laozi

A second view is that the Laozi gives voice to a profound mysticism. According to Victor Mair (1990), it is indebted to Indian mysticism (see also Waley 1958). According to Benjamin Schwartz (1985), the mysticism of the Daodejing is sui generis, uniquely Chinese and has nothing to do with India. Indeed, as one scholar suggests, it is unlike other mystical writings in that ecstatic vision does not play a role in the ascent of the Daoist sage (Welch 1965, 60).

According to another interpretation, however, there is every indication that ecstasy forms a part of the world of the Laozi, although it is difficult to gauge the “degree” of its mystical leanings (Kaltenmark 1969, 65). It is possible to combine the mystical and mythological approaches to yield a third view. Although the presence of ancient religious beliefs can still be detected, they have been raised to a “higher” mystical plane in the Laozi (e.g., Ching 1997).

A fourth view sees the Laozi mainly as a work of philosophy, which gives a metaphysical account of reality and insight into Daoist self-cultivation and government; but fundamentally it is not a work of mysticism (W. T. Chan 1963). The strong practical interest of the Laozi distinguishes it from any mystical doctrine that eschews worldly involvement. It is, in Creel's (1977) words, “purposive” and not “contemplative.”

Fifth, to many readers the Laozi offers essentially a philosophy of life. Remnants of an older religious thinking may have found their way into the text, but they have been transformed into a naturalistic philosophy. The emphasis on naturalness translates into a way of life characterized by simplicity, calmness, and freedom from the tyranny of desire (e.g., Liu Xiaogan 1997). Unlike the claim that the Laozi espouses a mystical or esoteric teaching directed at a restricted audience, this view tends to highlight its universal appeal and contemporary relevance.
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