We use the word nature for the Chinese expression Tzu-Jan. Tzu-Jan, they pronounce J like a sort of unrolled R. I mean, that’s the scholars, did this to confuse you. Tzu-Jan, means of itself so. Self-so. Almost our word automatic, except that automatic has a mechanical sense and this doesn’t. When you have belly rumbles or hiccups, you don’t intend to have them it happens of itself. In the same way, you don’t intend to beat your heart, it happens of itself you didn’t intend to get born it happened of itself this is done. And so this means nature died of the Japanese pronounce it Shizen is roughly when they point to all the things happening around us that’s done and you see that Tzu-Jan that that which is so of itself implies no boss.
So in the same way they would look at the human body. Chuang-Tzu discusses the human body and says which organ do you prefer? And shows there is no chief organ. There could be an argument between the brain and the stomach. One school of thought would say, well obviously the stomach is the most important organ because that’s where the food goes and is distributed to everywhere else. And stomachs came first. Then later, on the upper end of the input channel to the stomach there were evolved ganglia of nerves to enable the stomach better to scratch around for things to put into it, and therefore the brain serves the stomach. The other school of thought would say, well no, it isn’t that things which come first are necessarily the most important. The stomach is to the brain as John the Baptist was to Jesus. The stomach is there but to nourish the brain, the stomach is the servant of the brain, which is of course preoccupied with higher things that we call culture.
But you see both arguments will stand up and both will fail. Because the stomach and the brain have a mutuality between each other, they arise mutually. And there is no way of deciding which of the major organs of the body is top dog, because the body is a sort of democracy. In which, by mutual cooperation things happen without any preconceived plan. We think in the West that the order of nature has a plan underneath it. That there was, as it were, the original blueprint in the mind of God. Which is the logos, the Second Person of the Trinity. But the Chinese don’t think that way. They would agree with a limerick–well I mean they wouldn’t–but they would agree with the humor of it there was a young man who said ‘Damn it certainly seems that I am a creature that moves indeterminate grooves I’m not even a bus I’m a tram.’ But the Chinese do not think of any rails laid down as it were, or rules laid down upon which nature has to travel. They think simply that it organizes itself. But doesn’t know how. Again we’re back to the centipede which manages one hundred legs without thinking because thinking would embarrass it. That sort of thing is called in Chinese, putting legs on a snake, you see, a snake needs no legs. And explaining the universe by a governor who dominates it is called legs on a snake. It’s like saying we have an instinct to do this that and the other. When people talk about instincts watch out, they’re invoking ghosts. When we say we have an instinct to survive, it means simply, that we do survive in fact until we don’t. And if you want to explain the curious fact that people seem to want to survive you call it an instinct to survive. And this is learned gobbledygook there was a time sometimes when you showed a physician or a scientist some peculiar thing which he didn’t understand, he would look at it, put on his spectacles examine it and various points of view and make a few notes and then say it is Eleusus Natori. And it was a wonderful in those what it is Eleusis Naturi, but it means it is a game of nature. A freak. And you will find that many many medical people practice this sort of gobbledygook you have a pain this. It’s neuritis. It means simply that neuritis means your nerves hurt.
So, it’s always good to translate medical language back into English and you begin to get some idea of what’s happening. Now the next thing to take up is the word Te. And as I said this means virtue, power, sometimes magic. When we say a person is a virtuoso. We have something of the meaning of Te in it. Marvelous accomplishment. And in opening the section under Lao Tzu says superior virtue is not virtue and thus is virtue inferior virtue cannot let go of virtue and thus is not virtue. Or we might say, a person who really has virtue is not striving for virtue, and thus really has it. A person of inferior virtue is so trying to be virtuous that is not virtuous in other words when the person is trying and striving for virtue he is being self-conscious and artificial and we say well so and so is very good, but he is the rather forced. Isn’t he a bit phony. And it’s so often the case that people who are reputedly very virtuous are very boring. You’ll feel that sometimes people are so good that you are sitting on the edge of your chair in their presence and that you can’t relax with them or let your hair down, because they are full of judgment and disapproval. Because they’re always judging and disapproving of themselves. A really virtuous person doesn’t show is virtue. He is like, well there’s a poem in Chinese which says, entering the forest he doesn’t disturb a blade of grass, entering the water he doesn’t make a ripple. He looks very ordinary. And so his virtue can’t be detected. He doesn’t stink of that virtue. So Te then, is the virtue. Of the great artist, say, or craftsman, who creates marvelous works of art but, always as if he was making no effort. And so we say of great art that it’s, artless. That it seems to come naturally. That he does it as if he were falling off a log. Now of course we know that it isn’t that simple. But nevertheless it does seem to be.
So what everybody wants to know then is how to acquire that great naturalness in everything. So that we in our human lives manifest the Tao. Tao manifested through man is Te. How do you do it? So the transitional word, which shows The Way from to realize Te in one’s life. (I don’t need to write the character again because it’s already here.) And then this is pronounced Wu and and this one is wei. Wu-Wei. Wu-Wei means to act, to strain, to strive, or to interfere. And so the Taoist manner of life is wu-wei. Don’t force it. Always go with the stream. You may need to use a rudder, but don’t ever go against the stream. If you are swimming, and you’re caught in a very strong current, you will be lost if you try to swim against it you miss swim with it an edge to the side. That’s Wu-Wei. This is been very well understood, even by the samurai in Japan. Who when they became very great real masters of swordsmanship. Always found out and belong to the no-sword school. Because the real master of the sword never uses one.
There is a story. That there were in Japan in ancient times two master swordsman. And there was a great debate as to which of them was the better. So some soldiers took a sword made by each master and decided to test them out. They first took a sword made by the man who in general opinion was perhaps a little inferior. And they went to a stream, and they dipped the sword in the stream with the edge of the blade facing upstream, they dropped a piece of paper on the stream. And it floated towards the sword, and as it floated the sod simply divided it into two pieces of paper joined together on the other side and went on down the stream. They then took the blade of the man reputed perhaps to be the greatest master and thought well they’ll be pretty difficult to improve on that. But we’ll try it anyway, so they gave the same test. But as the piece of paper approached the sword, it moved over to one side skirted it altogether and went on. So the true master will never have to be in a fight. And for that reason Aikido, as an athletic technique, is learning how to be unattackable. Is to always avoid the fight. And so however hard people strike at you, they will always be hitting the air. That Te, you see, that’s a magical power. But it all comes about through not using effort, not straining, at anything, never straining, like you never force a key in a lock you just bend the key you jiggle and jiggle and jiggle until it turns smoothly. Or put oil on it, or something, but never force it. Same way, when you use your eyes don’t stare at anything in order to see it clearly, because you’ll just tie your eyes and make the image fuzzy. If you want to see the time on a distant clock. You close your eyes, you imagine black and relax your eyes, then look at the clock lazily, and you’ll see that the detail is clearer.
So when you sing, you mustn’t force your voice. Once upon a time, a great choirmaster was in the presence of William Temple, one time Archbishop of Canterbury, teaching a group of slum children how to sing. And he asked them first the singing some song with which they were all familiar and wanting to impress the archbishop. They sang it very lastly in a fast way and it sounded terrible. Now he said I want to show you something. There was present on this occasion a trained choir. And he said now we’re going to sing with this choir a song you people don’t know. But listen to it and the choir sang it very professionally. The choir master then turned to the group and said now look. When you sing this song, the one thing you must not do is to try to sing it. You just think of the tune and let it sing itself. And they sang and did it very well. And he turned to the archbishop from whom I had the tale, and said that’s good theology isn’t it your grace.
Now that’s Taoism, that’s Wu-wei. And so now there’s another story with which I will exemplify this. A later than Lao-Tzu there was another Taoist sage called Ye-Tzu. And he had the reputation of being able to ride on the wind. Of course that’s metaphorical. We say walking on air. Walking on air, never a care, something is making me sing. And so when Suzuki was asked what it’s like to have the experience of Satori or enlightenment, he once said It is like ordinary everyday experience except it’s about two inches off the ground. Where you don’t feel burdened by your own body, you don’t feel you were something that you have to lug around and hold a club over and generally boss. So the sense of lightness, that’s the meaning of being able to walk on the air. But he told a story of how he managed to do it. He said he went to a great guru. And this guru paid no attention to him. So he just sat outside the door of his hut. And a year went by, and still this man paid no attention to Ye-Tzu went away disgusted. But then he thought it over a bit and realized this man had a terrific reputation and that if perhaps he’d been a little bit more patient. He would have had some teaching. So he went back. And the great sage looked at him and said, ‘Why this ceaseless coming and going?’ So he sat down again at the entrance of the heart and for a further year attempted to control his mind in such a way as never to think of profit or loss or advantage or disadvantage. And then at the end of that year, the teacher looked at him.
For another year he practiced, and at the end of that the teacher invited him to come in the hut and sit on the mat. Then for the next year however, he did something quite different, and he says this. I let my eyes see whatever they wanted to look at. I let my ears hear whatever they wanted to hear. I let my mouth say whatever it wanted to say and I let my mind think whatever it wanted to think. And at the end of that year I didn’t know what was subject and what was object. I didn’t take any account of time. I was riding on the wind but I didn’t really know whether the wind was riding on me or I was riding on the wind. And this was when he got to float, you see. But seeing as how what he did he finally did. He allowed democracy to prevail. He said to his eyes, I’m not going to try and control you. You know how better how to see than I do to his ears I’m not going to force you to listen to anything you know how to hear better than I can direct you and so on to everything he trusts his own brain he trusted his own organism. And so this is wu-wei. So in exactly the same way if you practice meditation. Don’t try to meditate like the choir was told not to try to sing, don’t force it. When you meditate let your lungs breathe the way they want to breathe. Let your mind think anything it wants to think about. Don’t try to repress thoughts. Let your eyes see whatever they’re looking at. And let your ears, your ear drums vibrate to any oscillations there may be in the air. Let go. You think that’s very risky. It isn’t. It really isn’t. It’s like a ship in a typhoon, they always shut the engines off, and drift. Because if the propellers are going and the tail end of the ship is thrown up so as to be above the water level, the whole ship will vibrate and be shaken to pieces by those revolving propellers. So in a big storm, and life is a big storm all the time, you let it go and you become like a cork on the water or a ping pong ball in a mountain stream.
So that’s that’s the art of Taoism. That’s the whole thing, that’s wu-wei. Chuang-Tzu has the funniest tales about this. He often says ‘People who are trying to help things along are a nuisance.’ All the Do-gooders. He has a conversation between Lao-Tzu and Confucius in which Confucius is prating about charity and duty to one’s neighbor. And Lao Tzu to him this is nonsense he is just binding things on to people putting burdens on them with charity and duty to one’s neighbor. He says to Confucius look now at the universe. The trees grow up words without exception. The stars always follow their courses and the migrating birds of the various seasons always cluster with complete regularity, but they don’t say anything, they don’t have any religion. And your idea of eliminating yourself is a positive manifestation of self. You have brought much confusion to the kingdom, because you are like one who beats a drum in search of a fugitive. Or we would say like the police driving to a raid with their sirens on. And of course when the fugitive hears the drums he conceals himself and so when you sound all sorts of drums and promise to be virtuous and make resolutions to be virtuous, you’re in for trouble. Because the devil hears you coming.
Now this is something that’s very important. There is a Zen story which describes a woodcutter working in the forest chopping down trees. And he suddenly noticed in a bush over there an animal that was watching him and this animal is a Satori animal. And he thought I’m going to get that animal for lunch. But the animal could read his thoughts. And the animal said to him ‘You think you’re going to catch me don’t you?’ And the woodsman looked around in the made for it, and the animal vanished. And then appeared at the opposite end of the clearing laughing, saying ‘You can’t catch me.’ He thought the next time I see that animal I’m going to move to the opposite end of the clearing from which it appears get it that way. And the animal said you’re thinking to aren’t you to go to the opposite side of the clearing for me to see me. And for a while the man tried by going in various directions with his axe to catch this animal all to no avail. He got disgusted and went back to chopping the tree. And the animal laughed at him again and said ‘So you’ve given up.’ And just that moment. The axe head flew off the axe. And killed the animal. You see. He had to get it without intention to do so. That’s what’s called purposelessness and Taoism which is a form of wu-wei. And Taoist texts says, ‘When purpose has been used to achieve purposelessness,’ the point has been grasped.
So it’s the same problem we have in India you know there’s a superstition that if you think of a monkey while you’re taking medicine the medicine won’t work. So you are in the predicament of trying not to think of the monkey while taking medicine. And that happens to us whenever we try to be natural. Everybody can see it’s it’s forced, it’s faked. And so you think then, ,how can I be genuinely natural. How can I really slow with the course of nature? How can I let my mind think whatever it wants to think? Because the moment I start doing that I realize I’m doing it with an ulterior motive. I’m trying to meditate, I’m trying to grow spiritually. And that ruins the whole thing.
Well, when you’ve tried for a long time to get the right attitude, and you find that all the attitudes you get are phony ones, then you come to the realisation there’s nothing you can do about it, it really doesn’t make any difference. And again the principle that I’ve emphasized all along you give up. And in so, doing gain the strength and energy that you were looking for. You see it’s like trying to live in the present. Gurdjieff used to set his students the exercise he called Self- Remembering. That is constantly, all day long, be completely aware of what you’re doing. Has your mind always on the immediate moment. When it’s tough, tough, tough, tough to do that you get distracted all. To one fine day you realize to your astonishment there is no way. At all of having your mind anywhere else but in the present moment. Because even when you think about the past or the future you’re doing it now aren’t you? And that results in a very curious transformation of consciousness. You feel that you are that the present moment is flowing along and carrying you with it all the time just like the flow of the Tao the flow of the Tao is as it what we would call the flow of the present. And you’re with it, there’s nowhere being anywhere else the journey on the boat called or the unwobbling pivot says the doll is that from which one cannot deviate. That from which one can deviate is not the Tao. Or to put it into the form of a Zen story, the Master Jo-Shu said to Nanzen and ‘What is the Tao?’ Nanzen replied, ‘Your everyday mind is the Tao.’ Jo-Shu asked, ‘How do you get into accord with it?’ Nanzen replied ‘When you try to accord you deviate.’ So, that’s the principle, and this, although we’re again in the paradox, you see this sounds like a completely laissez faire, spineless attitude to life but it is precisely Taoism which underlies in common with Buddhism in conjunction with Buddhism it underlies the greatest achievements of Chinese art and culture. It underlies judo, it underlies the Zen arts of Japan, calligraphy, architecture, gardens. It is the form of Chinese philosophy which in subsequent years became most interested in science and in the study of nature. The Confucians never had any interest in science because they were bookish people. They were all absorbed in texts. They were essentially scholastics. And never open the book of nature. But the Taoists were always observing natural phenomena, how they worked. They were interested above all in manual skills. And using the Tao to perfect manual skills. And therefore these lazy people achieved the most interesting results, because they were like water, which is lazy and always seeks the line of least resistance. But that is almost the same thing as intelligent.