We are happy to announce that Abbot George’s latest book, The Tao Teh King for Awakening: A Practical Commentary on Lao Tzu’s Classic Exposition of Taoism, is now available as a paperback and ebook at Amazon.com and other online outlets.
With penetrating insight, Abbot George Burke illumines the the wisdom of Lao Tzu’s classic writing, the Tao Teh King (Tao Te Ching), and the timeless practical value of China’s most beloved Taoist scripture for spiritual seekers. With a unique perspective of a lifetime of study and practice of both Eastern and Western spirituality, Abbot George mines the treasures of the Tao Teh King and presents them in an easily intelligible fashion for those wishing to put these priceless teachings into practice.
It is said that the Tao Teh King is the work of the great Chinese sage Lao Tzu. Disgusted with the degeneration of Chinese society, he decided to leave and vanish forever, which he did. But as he was leaving the capital, the warden of the gate asked him to set down his realizations since he would no longer be accessible to truth seekers. He did so, and then went out the gate into the lost pages of human history.
If a person wishes he can immerse himself in the stewpot of scholarly speculation as to who Lao Tze really was, whether he ever existed, and whether he wrote the Tao Teh King, or who did. None of this means anything. Taoist masters through the centuries have proved the truth of the Tao Teh King, and that is all that matters. For truth seekers it stands as a monument to Truth. Even those who understand it imperfectly will reap great gain from its study.
An excerpt from The Tao Teh King for Awakening
The Spirit of the Valley
The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;
The female mystery thus do we name.
Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,
Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.
Long and unbroken does its power remain,
Used gently, and without the touch of pain.
(Tao Teh King 6)
One of my most cherished memories of India was a day I visited the great Kashmiri yogi, Swami Rama, in his simple ashram on the banks of the Ganges in Hardwar. I had known Swamiji for several years and found that each visit to him opened new and wonderfully clear vistas. This would be no exception.
I had brought with me a young Austrian who had taken advantage of his parents’ vacation to take a plane to India without their having any idea of where he might be. Actually, he had not much idea either. His reading of purely theoretical books on nothing but the abstractions of Non-dual Vedanta had not prepared him for what he was finding in contemporary, Puranic Hinduism. Seeing his utter bewilderment at all this, I had invited him to go along with me to see Swami Rama, a total contrast to the intellectual backwater he had been struggling to comprehend. (He gave up. A wise decision.)
As always, Swami Rama’s presence was a haven of peace and awareness. This was to be our last conversation, though I did not know it. Almost without preamble Swamiji began speaking to me about Om and its inner constitution. His words were unique and marvelous. After concluding that subject, Swamiji looked at Thomas and asked if he had any particular interest in the field of yoga.
To my chagrin, Thomas asked for an explanation of Kundalini. Oh, not again! Both Indians and Westerners were fascinated with Kundalini, as many satsangs had demonstrated to me. But my dismay turned to delight as Swamiji began speaking as no teacher or book ever had. This is not the place for a full recounting of his words, but one thing is relevant to the words of the Tao Teh King cited above.
Swamiji was emphatic that Kundalini, as Mulaprakriti, is not just primal power, but Primal Consciousness. This he said was crucial for the yogi to understand, lest he fall into the absurdity of thinking the Kundalini needed “awakening” and could be directed or “used” in any way. “Imagine thinking that the Creative Consciousness of the Universe needs some yogi to awaken Her!” he exclaimed. “In Her true nature Kundalini is not even energy but the consciousness behind all energy. We need awakening–not Her. She is the one who awakens us, not the other way around.”
Then he had some pungent but profoundly instructive things to say about the reported experiences of yogis who thought they had awakened their kundalini. Thomas and I were entranced at Swamiji’s inspired words, knowing them to be the truth. I have treasured them now for many decades, and they shine as brightly in my mind as ever.
- The valley spirit.
Strange as it may seem, if we look at two Christian monastic orders we will find the key to these cryptic words.
The first formal or official monastic order in the Christian West was that of Saint Benedict. Although the order had monasteries everywhere in and all kinds of places, if possible they built them on the tops of mountains. This was because it expands the mind to look out into boundless space, and attunes the spiritual mind to the Boundless Infinite. Also, this reflected the spiritual psychology of the Benedictine monks, the keynote of which was expansiveness.
All the Christians arts were fostered in their monasteries, which were places of beauty and liturgical splendor, both in the externals of worship and in the development of the chant and ritual. All that is splendid and glorious in Western Christendom had its origin in the Benedictine order. The great liturgiologists were Benedictines, the greatest being Saint Gregory the Great who wrote the life of Saint Benedict and was an archetype of Benedictine Christian mysticism. (I recommend Benedictine Monachism by Dom Cuthbert Butler for a full exposition of these subjects.)
In contrast, when the Cistercians separated from the Benedictines, they did just the opposite: they made their monasteries in valleys, the narrow and more confined, the better, in order to draw in their minds and center them in the spirit within. Their churches and rites were of utmost simplicity (even barren), but their spiritual lives were not. Rather, they developed a way of ascetic life and mystical practice that enabled them to become completely focused internally, and therefore spiritually.
So what does this tell us about the Valley Spirit? That it has boundaries, it has definition and form. It is circumscribed and thereby has characteristics, qualities, and definition. It is saguna, with form and qualities, rather than nirguna: without any such things. The Benedictines were mystically intent on the obviously Boundless Formless, whereas the Cistercians were intent on the Form that would reveal itself in time as The Boundless. (Since they are both ultimately the same, neither approach is better or more right than the other. It is wise to embrace both, I think.)
So the Valley Spirit is Mahashakti, the Great Power, Mulaprakriti, the Primal Energy that forms all things, the Great Mother. She is all that can be spoken about, all that can be known by sentient beings, and within which they live and evolve.
For She is also the Great Womb, as this verse makes clear. She is also Ritam, Divine Order, and therefore all endeavors must be in conformity with her ways, with her laws. Yoga and all mysticism are embodiments of her “ways.” That is why mystics of East and West feel such an affinity with the Divine Mother aspect of Reality.
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[The rest of the verses in this poem are of course covered in the book commentary.]