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The Spirit of the Valley

Part 6 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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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 mantra and its inner aspects. 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 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.)

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.

Dies not, aye the same. As the hymn says: “Change and decay all around I see.” Birth and death, appearing and disappearing, emerging and withdrawing, forming and breaking apart: all are the Mother’s doing. Constant change is the basic trait of her realm, but it is not real, it is the magical power of Maya. Neither birth nor death are real, they are dreams, motion pictures of the mind. Why? Because everything is the Mother, who certainly dies not but remains ever the same. Therefore:

The female mystery thus do we name. The mystery of Maya is the mystery of the Mother. Charles Muller translates it: “the mysterious female.” Ramprasad, the renowned Bengali composer, wrote:

Who knows what Mother Kali is?
Even the six systems of philosophy fail to reveal her.
The yogi contemplates her in the two-petalled and the thousand-petalled lotuses.
Mother Kali plays with the swan in the lotus field as a swan.
Kali is the bliss of Brahman, the meaning of Om.
She dwells in every being just as she desires.
Do you know the universe is in the womb of the Mother?
The great womb of time (mahakala) knows the secret of Kali!
Can anyone else know it?
Ramprasad is afloat. People laugh at his attempt to cross the ocean by swimming.
My mind understands but the heart does not;
It is the dwarf’s attempt to seize the moon.

Its gate, from which at first they issued forth, is called the root from which grew heaven and earth. Lin Yutang: “The Door of the Mystic Female is the root of Heaven and Earth.” The Mother herself is the Door, that which in Sanskrit is called the Brahma Yoni, the Womb of God. All that we see has arisen in the ocean of the Mother who is Mulaprakriti and Mulashakti: Root Matter and Root Power.

A wave is really nothing but a momentary part of the ocean, rising and subsiding. So are all things which “exist.” They are only seen for a moment and then they go, never really having been anything but the ever-abiding ocean. The waves are only momentary modifications of the ocean, existing only on the ocean’s surface. A little further down in the ocean the waves never exist. Yogananda often spoke of the need to dive into the ocean and know the Reality behind the appearance-waves of relative existence.

Heaven and earth have “grown” from the Mother’s Pure Being and shall return there–both “grown” and “return” being mere words covering the truth of the Mother as the Sole Existence. Truly, human beings, however intelligent, cannot think of or speak of the Mother, but perfected yogis can know the Mother.

In India there is a time of the year when children fly kites whose strings have been covered with a mixture of glue and ground glass. They try to use their kite strings to cut the strings of others’ kites and see who can cut the most strings without theirs being severed. It is all great fun with a lot of handclapping, laughing, and challenging. Yet it is taken very seriously, too, by the competitors. Regarding this, Ramprasad also wrote:

In the market place of the world, O dark Mother [Kali], you are flying kites.
They fly high lifted by the wind of hope and held fast by the string of maya.
Tied together with bones, flesh and nerves,
The kites are made by the three gunas themselves.

You have glued manjapaste (powdered glass) on the strings to make them abrasive.
One or two among millions of kites are cut free,
And you, O Mother! clap your hands laughing.
Prasad says the kites will fly driven by the southern wind,
And will quickly land on the other side of the ocean of relative existence.

Long and unbroken does its power remain, used gently, and without the touch of pain. The manifestation of name and form does not last forever, but is eventually withdrawn for a period and then projected again in a perpetual cycle. But it does last for a vast period of time.

Here we have the secret of using the Mother’s power in our life: it must be used gently, in peace and intelligent reflection, and without the desires that are the inevitable bringers of pain. Our use must also be free from coercion of any kind such as the opinion of others or fear in any form. If we can so live, then we will pass beyond the Mother’s realm into the Transcendent Eternal where no illusion or suffering can ever come.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Living for Others

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Introduction to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Chapters of The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Preface to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

  1. On the Absolute Tao
  2. The Rise of Relative Opposites
  3. Action Without Deeds
  4. The Character of Tao
  5. Nature
  6. The Spirit of the Valley
  7. Living for Others
  8. Water
  9. The Danger of Overweening Success
  10. Embracing the One
  11. The Utility of Not-Being
  12. The Senses
  13. Praise and Blame
  14. Prehistoric Origins
  15. The Wise Ones of Old
  16. Knowing the Eternal Law
  17. Rulers
  18. The Decline of Tao
  19. Realize the Simple Self
  20. The World and I
  21. Manifestations of Tao
  22. Futility of Contention
  23. Identification with Tao
  24. The Dregs and Tumors of Virtue
  25. The Four Eternal Models
  26. Heaviness and Lightness
  27. On Stealing the Light
  28. Keeping to the Female
  29. Warning Against Interference
  30. Warning Against the Use of Force
  31. Weapons of Evil
  32. Tao is Like the Sea
  33. Knowing Oneself
  34. The Great Tao Flows Everywhere
  35. The Peace of Tao
  36. The Rhythm of Life
  37. World Peace
  38. Degeneration
  39. Unity Through Complements
  40. The Principle of Reversion
  41. Qualities of the Taoist
  42. The Violent Man
  43. The Softest Substance
  44. Be Content
  45. Calm Quietude
  46. Racing Horses
  47. Pursuit of Knowledge
  48. Conquering the World by Inaction
  49. The People’s Hearts
  50. The Preserving of Life
  51. The Mystic Virtue
  52. Stealing the Absolute
  53. Brigandage
  54. The Individual and the State
  55. The Character of the Child
  56. Beyond Honor and Disgrace
  57. The Art of Government
  58. Unobtrusive Government
  59. Be Sparing
  60. Governing a Big Country
  61. Big and Small Countries
  62. The Good Man’s Treasure
  63. Difficult and Easy
  64. Beginning and End
  65. The Grand Harmony
  66. The Lords of the Ravines
  67. The Three Treasures
  68. The Virtue of Not-Contending
  69. Camouflage
  70. They Know Me Not
  71. Sick-Mindedness
  72. On Punishment (1)
  73. On Punishment (2)
  74. On Punishment (3)
  75. On Punishment (4)
  76. Hard and Soft
  77. Bending the Bow
  78. Nothing Weaker than Water
  79. Peace Settlements
  80. The Small Utopia
  81. The Way of Heaven

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