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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Excess yin, fresh new yang.

The Winter or yesterday, whenever, is a moment of pause and transition, central to Taoism and other spiritual traditions.  We marked it, as usual with a wedding anniversary dinner at a favorite restaurant, our table.  Perhaps because it was Saturday, the weekend, the place was more crowded than usual. A loud holiday party next to us was a bit of a spoiler.  But it seems like anywhere I go these days there is a loud crowd in the way.  On the highway, in shops, on-line, too many people with too much to say and do.

Does no one appreciate quiet any more?

I've been thinking about snowmen lately. (Not something we really get to make in Hawaii.)  Quiet, ephemeral creatures, somewhat Taoist..."like ice about to melt" and with stable bottoms. With three dantians, they resemble the neijing tu.  I put this little guy on the Christmas tree yesterday, not a moment too soon or too late, along with all the other traditional symbols, whimsical memories, and glittery light-reflecting things, collected over 45 years.

"And I will call him San Dantian."
In a Korean drama I am enjoying right now, the beleaguered young king, when he wants to discreetly leave the palace and travel incognito among his people, often summons his ever-present loyal eunuch to make him a snowman by gathering fresh, untouched new fallen snow. He usually has to climb up on the roof to gather it, giving the king time to escape with his ultra-attractive swordsman/bodyguard (with whom the ministers think he may be having an affair because the king won't sleep with the court-selected queen).

Bodyguard played by Song Jae Rim;
a swordsman who likes cats.
The king is changed into street clothes and out the gate before the eunuch returns with a little snowman on a lacquered tray.  There may be symbolism here that I'm missing in the Korean, or it just may be a whimsical plot device, but it seems like a metaphor to me. (The name of the drama, Moon Embracing the Sun,  seems just right for the solstice.)  The drama actually has a plot about black and white magic performed by shamans and Taoists.  The court wants to abolish the shamans and Taoist office of rites!  Well, wouldn't they, now.  The ministers are manipulating the Confucian scholars to help their own interests along, which are, of course, not the interests of the savvy and benevolent king.

How like the little snowman we are.  Created by unknowable forces for unknowable purposes for a brief moment in time.  The worldly intrigues and disasters occur around us.  Are we made to melt, to only hope to revert to fresh-fallen pure snow, are we countless unique snowflakes coalescing once again into a pattern, the same always, but never to be repeated precisely?

Those in the past who were good at practicing Tao,
Were subtle, mysterious, dark, penetrating (wei miao yüan t'ung),
Deep and unrecognizable.
Because they were unrecognizable,
I am forced to describe their appearance (yung).
Careful, like crossing a river in winter,
Hesitating, like fearing neighbors on four sides,
Reverent, like being guests,
Dissolving, like ice beginning to melt,
Thick, like uncarved wood,
Open, like a valley,
Chaotic (hun), like murky (cho) water.
What can stop the murkiness?
Quieting (ching) down, gradually it clarifies (ch'ing).
What can keep still for long?
Moving, gradually it stirs into life.
Those who keep this Tao,
Do not want to be filled to the full (ying).
Because they are not full,
They can renew (hsin) themselves before being worn out (pi).

(TTC 15, tr: Ellen Chen)

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