Aug 5 • 12M

Episode 2: Disciple of Dao and Dō

Reflections on Discipline and How Our Natural Rhythms Are The Gate and the Path

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Appears in this episode

Frank Inzan Owen (隠山)
A 'dreaming-while-awake' journey exploring poetry, deeper reality, the inner life, Nature connection, contemplative practice, and some of the "practice-hints" offered to us by Wayfaring poets of old.
Episode details

Greetings Good Travelers and Wayfarers,

A brief meditation quote for your consideration from The Poet’s Dreamingbody.

It comes to us from the Chinese-American Taoist author, artist and teacher, Sifu Deng Ming-Dao. (note: Sifu is the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese word sensei, which means teacher).

Sifu Deng is the author of 365 Tao, The Lunar Tao: Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons, Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony, and Scholar Warrior: Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life.

The quote reads: 

If you are best in the morning, cultivate Tao in the morning.

If you are best in the evening, cultivate Tao in the evening.

If you aren't familiar with this term Tao (sometimes spelled with a ‘T’ and sometimes with a ‘D’), it originates in Chinese spiritual culture and is used by Taoists, Confucianists, Chan (or Zen) Buddhists, even by some Christians such as the late Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis,...and by Winnie the Pooh. 

The word Tao is often translated as Way, Path, or route, and can also mean practice; and, embedded within all of these terms is the understanding that Tao is the natural order of the universe as a cosmic principle.

Tao can also mean way in the sense of an art, and this is on clear display in Japanese culture where the Chinese word Tao becomes Dō, which also means Way, Path, Practice, Principle, Teaching, or Art, and as a suffix is attached to dozens of different arts and practices such as 

Chadō - the Way of Tea

Kendō - the Way of the Sword

Kadō - the Way of Flowers (or flower-arranging)

Shodō - the Way of the Brush (calligraphy)

Aikidō - a martial art whose name means the Way of Harmonizing Life-Force


Shijindō - the Way of the Poet

Each of these arts are ways that lead the practitioner into greater depths of intuitive understanding of the Way, Tao or Dō. One way of thinking of this is that these martial and artistic disciplines help us to harmonize our own energy with the cosmic energy of the Tao.

We all have our own natural rhythms and one of the aspects of any contemplative path, including the contemplative arts, is that cultivating our relationship to Nature, heart-mind, and our own natural rhythms is a standing invitation from the Cosmos. 

But, how many of us accept that invitation?

With full knowledge of the meaning of Tao and Dō, my late teacher Kuma-sensei, used to say:

“There is never a time when you are not on the Path.

The only difference is whether you are neglecting it

or cultivating it.”

And, so, it's good to stop every now and then, to take stock, and assess our relationship to ourselves, our path, our natural rhythms, our environment (including our living spaces), and our connection with the larger reality within which we have our being. 

A few questions I pose to myself with some frequency, which I offer you to make your own or to tweak and edit as you see fit:

Am I neglecting or cultivating heart-mind?
Am I neglecting or cultivating my body?
Am I neglecting or cultivating my diet?
Am I neglecting or cultivating my imagination?
Am I neglecting or cultivating my art?
Am I neglecting or cultivating my spirit?
Am I neglecting or cultivating my living space?
and for the past two years:
Am I neglecting or cultivating the many green
and growing things in the garden?

One of Kuma-sensei’s favorite things to say, often with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, was: “You already know. At all times, you already know whether you’re working for yourself or working against yourself.”

In other words, we know at all times whether we are neglecting or cultivating. We already know.  

And yet, we're human, and it's not realistic to overburden ourselves with heavy expectations, shaming, or weighty shoulds. 

Heaviness and ferocity is not a sign of being in the flow with one’s own dao (way, path), or the Cosmic Way.

And yet, let's be honest. We all slip into laziness, numb out, disconnect, become misaligned from our own natural rhythms, and sometimes we have to be reminded to reboot, reset ourselves, return to the trailhead of the Great Way, and to renew our commitment to what is spirit-lifting and life-giving rather than staying hooked-in with what depletes us, withers us, and siphons off our life-force, our chi, our ki.

This is where some of my late teacher’s word-play comes in. 

One of the words she tried to get us to think differently about was discipline.

O, we don't like that word! 

Discipline. It sounds tough. It sounds harsh. We even associate it with punishment.

But she used discipline as one of the many synonyms for Dao and Dō, and directed our attention to notice that if we look at the word discipline, the first six letters are also found in the word disciple. 

So, for Kuma-sensei, discipline (and a discipline, like a practice or art) was not only something that can bring us closer to the Way, the Dao (Tao), it is also a way for us to become disciples of our higher selves, our more cultivated selves, our more refined selves, our more disciplined selves, in the sense of conscious enlightened warriorship and artistry.

And so this is why I like this quote from Sifu Deng.

It's human and down-to-earth.

It’s realistic –  we can't be our best at all times, especially if we are run-down, sick, or burned out.

But, it also doesn't let us off the hook because it implies that, at some point, cultivation is necessary, and it puts the whole situation into our own hands. Cultivation is up to us. No one is going to hold our hand, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chödron puts it. No one else can make the journey up the mountain for us.

This is why we need to become disciples of our possible selves. 

This is why we need a discipline—a gate to step through and a path to walk and stick to. 

And, if we cultivate Tao when we have the time and energy to do so (which might be our art, our connection to Nature, our heart-mind through meditation, or cultivating our body), then we strengthen our energy and our connection to our natural rhythm, which, in the end, we come to realize is the Tao itself.

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