Tag Archives: Taoism

Review: Taoteching by Lao Tzu (translation by Red Pine)

Lao-tzu's TaotechingLao-tzu’s Taoteching by Lao Tzu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This translation by Red Pine – Bill Porter – of the Tao Te Ching in 2009 is among the best available.
It is a revised version of the edition published in 1996.

Both versions start with:

The way that becomes a way
Is not the immortal Way

A footnote states that Tao originally meant “Moon”. This may well be the Moon as pointer to the All-encompassing One, wherein this Moon and pointer are fully encompassed as waves in the ocean.

Also highly recommended are the translations by:
– Ellen M. Chen – with different interpretations for several verses
– Jonathan Star – also including an interpretation per Chinese character

View all my reviews

Review: A History of Religious Ideas 2: From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity

A History of Religious Ideas 2: From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity
A History of Religious Ideas 2: From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity by Mircea Eliade
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second volume of “A History of Religious Idea – From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity” by Mircea Eliade covers the vast religious area between:

  • The ancient religions in China (Taoism and Confucianism),
  • Brahmanism and Hinduism,
  • Buddhism,
  • Roman religions,
  • Celts and Germans,
  • Judaism,
  • The Hindu Synthesis: The Mahabharata including the Bhagavad Gita,
  • Iranian Synthesis,
  • Paganism,
  • The Birth of Christianity and
  • Christianity as official Religion of the Roman Empire.

This vast area of religious ideas is described in a considerable depth, although experts will certainly notice significant omissions at once; e.g. the Upanishads and the Mahabharata deserve more attention.

This volume ends with “Deus Sol Invictus”; a religious idea taken by the Roman Emperor Aurelius (270 – 275 AC) from Egypt as uniting monotheistic Sun-God principle in the Roman Empire, before his successor Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity a preferred religion within the Roman Empire. The name Sunday – the day of God – originates from “Deus Sol Invictus” or Sun-God in the Roman Empire.

Highly recommended!

View all my reviews

Narrator – gate in the north 2

Life with my beloved in Stockholm – who had evaded his military service in the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam and still stayed in Europe although he might return to the United States after the general pardon of president Carter in 1977 [1] – was as familiar as in Amsterdam and at the same time it was different in all respects.

In addition to the golden house in the old town, he also had a beautiful country house in the Stockholm archipelago. In the weekends and during holidays we stayed in this wooden house on a small island. We enjoyed the beautiful skies and during night we slept outside if the weather permitted. I was amazed about the long days.


Several friends of my lover played in jazz ensembles. Through them I learned to appreciate the music of the giants in jazz; my favourites were the Miles Davis Quintet [3] and John Coltrane [4] with his quartet; I learned his records of “Joy”, and “A Love Surpreme” – composed during the struggle for equal rights in America wherein John Coltrane wanted to create a spiritual unity with this music in order to influence a social change [5] – by heart.


During several practice sessions with a jazz ensemble I played on percussion; the members were so impressed that I could join playing at the Stockholm Jazz Festival [7] that summer. Afterwards I regularly performed with varying musicians in Stockholm and later in Copenhagen.

My beloved practised and studied Buddhism and meditation in Stockholm in order to give meaning to his life. Under his influence, I slowly engaged in the Buddhist and Taoist side of Oriental wisdom.  He could use some help with comprehending the source texts written in Sanskrit. Together we followed this way of living in Stockholm: he studied the content and I supported at the form.

Friday and Saturday before the last week in June, I celebrated Midsummer in Scandinavia for the first time. In Stockholm the night lasted only a few hours and that Saturday and Sunday the entire public life was closed. We stayed at friends for participating in this traditional celebration.

A few days after midsummer my lover and I began our holiday trip to the North Cape in the Goddess. By an almost deserted landscape of Northern Sweden – where your neighbour is your best friend, because there is no one else in the vicinity – we drove in eternal light.


Just before the border with Norway we saw Lapporten. My beloved named it the Empty Gate [9]. He asked me what “empty” is in Sanskrit. Hereupon I replied “śūnya” [10] that is akin to the English word “shunt” [11] where a low parallel resistor causes a parallel circuit within an electric circuit. He began  to chant a part of the Heart Sutra:

The Heart Sutra can be listened at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0jcx9fnoWc

A free rendering in English:

Form is equal to emptiness as emptiness is equal to form;

Form itself is empty and emptiness is form;

So also feeling, knowledge, formation and consciousness.

Thus Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.

They are not made, nor destroyed, nor defiled and they are not pure;

And they neither increase nor diminish.

There is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;

no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;

no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;

I said that the Empty Gate may give access to the Nirvana [12]. He replied that the Empty Gate was also empty of Nirvana and he shone [13] as a god. My beloved remained perfectly shining well beyond the North Cape.


[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War

[2] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_archipelago

[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Davis_Quintet

[4] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Coltrane

[5] Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[7] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_Jazz_Festival

[8] Source image: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalovardo

[9] The Mumonkan – in English often translated in Gateless Gate – is a collection of 48 Zen Koans compiled by the Zen monk Mumon in the 13th century after Christ.

The character 無 () has a fairly straightforward meaning: no, not, or without. However, within Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, the term 無 () is often a synonym for 空 (sunyata). This implies that the 無 () rather than negating the gate (as in “gateless”) is specifying it, and hence refers to the “Gate of Emptiness”. This is consistent with the Chinese Buddhist notion that the “Gate of Emptiness” 空門 is basically a synonym for Buddhism, or Buddhist practice. 門 (mén) is a very common character meaning door or gate. However, in the Buddhist sense, the term is often used to refer to a particular “aspect” or “method” of the Dharma teachings. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gateless_Gate

There are four well known versions in English:

Aitken, Robert, The Gateless Barrier, The Wu-men Kuan (Mumonkan). New York: North Point Press, 2000

Sekida, Katsuki, Two Zen Classics – Mumonkan & Hekiganroku. New York:Weatherhill, 1977

Shibayama, Zenkei, The Gateless Barrier, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan. Boston: Shambhala, 1974

Yamada Kôun Roshi, Gateless Gate (Mumonkan). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1990

[10] “Empty, void” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[11] According to Shorter Oxford English Dictionary a natural or artificial blood vessel to divert the blood stream.

[12] “Land without forest” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[13] The word Deva whereof Deus in Latin, Zeus in Greec and Dieu in French arose, is Sanskrit connected with the verb root “Div” meaning amongst others “to shine, to play, to increase”.

[14] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapland_(Zweeds_landschap)

Philosophy behind “Who are you – an survey into our existence” – part 1

“Who are you – an survey of our existence – 1” begins with eight introductory posts wherein the background, the framework and the scope of the survey is outlined. The survey is described in the form of a quest, a contemporary myth and an Odyssey that will end in a homecoming.

In part 1 of the quest, the first three chapters (of the 17 chapters) are described. At the end of part 1 follows an interlude before the main characters will continue their quest in daily life in part 2. In part 3 of the Odyssey, the main characters transcend our everyday world. At the end of the Odyssey – in zero – the homecoming will take place.

In Chapter 1 of this Odyssey the main persons completely experience the philosophical Monism [1]. Within the metaphysics, Monism argues that the variety of existing things – or entities – in the universe are reducible to one substance or reality and therefore that the fundamental character of the universe is unity.

In the Oriental philosophy, Monism occurs in different forms in the Upanishads, in Hinduism, in Taoism and in Buddhism. Christianity provides direct and indirect references to Monism in many places. After the Industrial Revolution in Western Society, Schopenhauer [2] has studied Monism in the Upanishads [3] – including the īśāvāsya [4] (or Isha) Upaniṣhad [5] – and in Buddhism.


Francis Herbert Bradley [7] has studied Monism in his essay ‘ On Truth and Coherence ‘ written in 1909.


At the end of Chapter 1, Indra’s net [9] from the Avatamsaka Sutra [10] is described as transition to Atomism – and also as synthesis between Monism and Atomism. According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, the dust particles within the net of Indra have feelings and needs. They know anger, joy and knowledge and ignorance. Within their scope they can also make everything happy. The net of Indra can be healthy and ill [11]. The main characters look at the net of Indra in different dimensions on the basis of a 10-minute film “Powers of Ten” of Ray and Charles Eames from 1968 (and re-released in 1977) [12].

In Chapter 2 of the quest for “Who are you” the main characters experience Atomism [13]. After the original separation of Heaven and Earth, they fell apart in countless pieces until the smallest particles remained. In the 20th century, Atomic Physics was extensively studied by many physicists: this study has resulted in a great deal of knowledge and many more questions [14]. In philosophy Bertrand Russell [15] and Ludwig Wittgenstein [16] in his young adult life [17] were adherents of logical Atomism.



In Chapter 3 of the quest for “Who are you”, the main characters studied how mutual trust is established and perpetuated. The “person in the middle” and “various objects in the middle” including the Church, meditation rooms, the sacrifice, the Lamb of God, the Dove, the word and the “Spirit in the Middle” are reviewed.

As preparation of everyday life the main characters have made a concise study of the five skanda’s which according to Buddhism give everything what is needed for spiritual development. Looking back after their homecoming, the main characters will examine if this statement – and all other experiences – were useful and meaningful.

In an intermezzo they studied the own image of rowers that fully depends on the results of races; they saw the outcome of the madness of war on basis of the Peloponnesian War in Greece 2500 years ago.

Finally, one of the main characters rediscovered the bond with Monism on basis of the opening sentence from the John Gospel in the New Testament translated into Sanskrit by the eternal wind – which also includes God and the Gods.

 “A breath of the wind

In the rustling of the trees

Your voice is heard” [20]

[1] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monism

[2] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schopenhauer

[3] Upanishad literally means: “sit down next to”. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads

[4] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isha_Upanishad

[5] A word by word translation of the Isha Upanishad into Dutch is available via the following hyperlink: http://www.arsfloreat.nl/documents/Isa.pdf

[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schopenhauer

[7] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._H._Bradley

[8] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._H._Bradley

[9] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra’s_net

[10] Zie ook: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatamsaka_Sutra

[11] See also: Cleary, Thomas, The Flower Ornament Scripture, a Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston: Shambhala, 1993, p. 363.

[12] The film “Powers of Ten” can be viewed via the hyperlink: http://www.powersof10.com/film

[13] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomism_(logical)

[14] Brian Greene has written excellent books on atom physics, relativity en quantum mechanics. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Greene

[15] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell

[16] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Wittgenstein

[17] See also: Sluga, Hans, Wittgenstein. Oxford: Wiley – Blackwell, 2011

[18] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell

[19] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Wittgenstein (fair use of small image)

[20] Moses saw and heard  – the voice of – God in the burning bush. See Old Testament, Exodus 3:2

Man Leben – Oriental wisdom

Kann man leben in den Stand der Vollkommenheit?

Can you life in a state of perfection?

You continue the story of your life:

“In 1989 I left the monastery. At regular times I returned for guidance of groups and for consultation and advice on the state of affairs of the monastery and the convent. At that time I was 55 years old.

Driven by an inner need I studied Oriental wisdom. Initially I lived everywhere and nowhere. Occasionally I returned to the monastery for obligations and I lived with various friends and acquaintances. For more stability, Amsterdam seemed a good place to live. I found a modest room in the house of friends.

Between the activities I read many books on Buddhism, Taoism [1] and Hinduism.


Eventually I delved further in Mahāyāna Buddhism  [3] and the Upanishads  [4]. The consistency of contemplation, meditation and daily life kept me busy. How do they go together and how do they affect each other? At that time, my life seemed full concentration and attention. Later I read a metaphor for my way of life [5]. I lived in a crowd with a mug filled with water on my head. All attention was necessary in order to steer smoothly and naturally through a crowd without wasting a drop of water.


Every action, every thought, every impression was like a drop of water that falls in the water. The waves of the impact of the drop flow to the past, to the future and to everything around us. Nothing remains untouched.


In this study, I started reading the source texts. For a better understanding of the source texts, I began a study Sanskrit. In the beginning, I had difficulties remembering the characters of the Devanāgarī – literally meaning Divine city – alphabet  [8]. The sounds of the alphabet are very logical. In the overview below the alphabet is shown. The first three lines contain the basic vowels. The following five lines show the consonants – sounding hard, hard aspirated, soft, soft aspirated, nose aspirated. The penultimate line show the half vowels. And the last line shows the hisses and the uvula sound “ha”. The columns show the sounds made by the speaker from the inside out [9].


My whole life, I liked a sound order, but I loved the mavericks. In the Devanāgarī alphabet the half vowels – ya, ra, la, va – and the uvula sound – ha – are the mavericks. They have a special place in the alphabet and in the meaning of words.

The letter “ya” means in Sanskrit “joining, going, wind, attaining, meditation”. The letter “ra” means “to go, to give/affect, to roll”. The letter “la” means “of Indra”. Indra is the God of the heaven and also the God of war, storm and rain. In Buddhism Indra is often called by his other name Śakra  [11]  that literally means “able to create”. The letter “va” we have previously met; this letter means “wind, ocean, water, stream, going”. The uvula sound “ha” means “water, blood, meditation, heaven, paradise, dying, wisdom, war”.

These mavericks resembled my life around 1990. I did not need much, because my indwelling was cared for by the monastery and by friends. The few things that I needed, came from guiding groups and from organizing and guiding rebuilding of monasteries and later of houses of friends and acquaintances.

In 1993 my aunt and godmother died in short time. In that year I also visited Auschwitz”, you say.

The next post is about on your visit to Auschwitz.

[1] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism

[2] White Cloud Monastry bij Beijing. Bron afbeelding: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Baiyun.jpg

[3] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana

[4] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads

[5] Source: Wick, Gerry Shishin, The Book of Equanimity – Illuminating Classic Zen Koans. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005 p. 136.

[6] Amitābha Buddha statue from Borobodur, Indonesia. Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Seated_Buddha_Amitabha_statue.jpg

[7] Impact of a drop of water, a common analogy for Brahman and the Ātman. Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wassertropfen.jpg

[8] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskriet

[9] See also: http://www.arsfloreat.nl/sanskriet-alfabet.html

[10] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskriet

[11] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%9Aakra_(Buddhism)

Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Lamb of God

In the previous post we have looked at the sacrifice as “object in the middle”. For this, you and I have looked at the movie “Offret” – or “The Sacrifice” by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1986. At the end of the film we have seen how the father has sacrificed everything he owns and binds him in this life, to God. He has made this sacrifice to save the world, in order that everything remains as it was before the threat of war and to be freed from that deadly, unbearable, animal fear. This sacrifice of the father is as well an unintentional sacrifice of his family and his relatives.

The son brings three sacrifices. He loses his father because his father sticks to his word and to God’s word. He is constantly giving water to the dead tree and therefore he brings the tree – the tree of life – back to life. By the third sacrifice he remains silent throughout the film.

The son asks to his father – and to God – why his father should keep his word. The son does not need any words for his sacrifice; his life, his actions and his knowledge precedes words.

Rightly the son asks at the end of the film: “In the beginning was the word. Why Father? ”

This question brings us to the first sentence in John’s Gospel in the New Testament [1]. Later in our Odyssey, we will try to give answers to this unavoidable question of the son.

In this post we will look further at the sacrifice as “object in the middle”. We look at the painting of the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck in Ghent. This painting depicts Jesus in the form of the Lamb of God. The Lamb of God is described in the first chapter of John’s Gospel in the New Testament: “The next day St. John sees Jesus approaching. St. John says: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[2]


In me I hear the Agnus Dei from Mass in B – minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere Nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere Nobis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona Nobis Pacem. [4]

“It seems that the last weeks of our Odyssey we are travelling according parts of the liturgy of Holy Mass from the Catholic Church. A few weeks ago we started with the Kyrie: the word “church” probably originates from Kyrie[5]. Inside the churches, we continued with the Credo in the form of light and hope. The reflection and the sermon followed within two meditation rooms. And now we arrive at the sacrifice by watching the movie “Offret” and at the Agnus Dei [6] as the Lamb of God, “I say.


“I could never say the Credo – or I believe – with conviction. It is not possible for me to believe in the Christian theology”, you say.

“You’re not alone and I feel this doubt with you. Also Thomas one of the disciples of Jesus, cannot believe in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and the resurrection of Jesus as salvation and resurrection of all people or believers. Caravaggio’s painting shows that. This doubt of Thomas is not taken away by feeling the wound. Probably, faith and doubt go hand in hand for many Christians”, I say.


“I believe that every day the sun rises as resurrection and I believe in my next breath. But I cannot believe in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God as salvation of the universe”, you say.

“People have also questioned the next rising of the sun and the next breath. Hereof many rituals are known for establishing and perpetuating this confidence. People know a lot of uncertainties about the past, the present and the future. Christian theology tries to overcome these uncertainties (“in doubt” or “doubt” in Latin) by faith, rituals – including offerings – and hope. A deeply religious Christian once said: “The last thing I want to lose is my faith.” For me, this sentence includes even a trace of doubt. A rock-solid belief never fades. By rituals people try to establish and maintain trust and hope. The Christian faith says: “And they that know your name, will put their trust in you.” [9]  The painting of the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck nicely show this: the Father, the Son as the Lamb of God and the Holy Spirit as trinity”, I say.

“The Bible includes the Book of Job that is about a rock-solid faith [10]. I also think of the Japanese poet Rӯokan. Once at night everything was stolen from his simple hut:

“The thief leaves behind,

the ever changeful Moon

at the firmament.” [11]

The moon [12] points to the firm belief of Rӯokan”, you say.

“The faith of people in the past often seems more certain, because we see their past as well established. But maybe their rock-solid faith does also know uncertainties in their lives. If we look with their eyes, do we see a different world, other uncertainties, different expectations, a different religion? I do not know”, I say.

“Me neither. Shall we continue with the Dove as the Holy Spirit in the next post?”, you say.

[1] St. John 1:1 from the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

[2] St. John 1:29 and 1:36 from the New Testament.

[3] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamb_of_God

[4] Translation: Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

[5] The source of the word “Church” probably is Greek: “Kūrios” meaning “Lord, Master”. Source: Ayto, John, Word Origins, the hidden History of English Words from A to Z. London: A &C Black, 2008. Maybe the word Church originates via the German word “Kirche” from the compound of Indo-European words “kr” (karoti, kurute) meaning “make, do, perform”, and “ish” depending on the “sh” sound either “sacrifice” or “ruler”, or “ich – I ” in Sanskrit.

[6] “The Agnus Dei is part of the Mass in the Catholic church and seems to be introduced for the first time during a Mass by Pope Sergius I (687-701 AD).  Agnus Dei means Lamb of God and literally refers to Christ in his role as the perfect sacrifice that reconciles the sins of mankind in the Christian theology. The prayer dates from the time of the ancient Jewish sacramental sacrifices. The Agnus Dei is sung during Mass when the priest breaks the Holy Bread and unification takes place, the priest drops a piece of the wafer in the chalice – filled with wine and water as blood of Christ.
The sacrifice of a lamb and the blood of the lamb are often used metaphors in the religions of the Middle East. It refers to the ancient Jewish custom to liberate people from their sins by a sacrifice. In the Protestant churches in the Revelation the phrase “washed in the blood of the lamb” is used to designate the deliverance of the original sin supposed by the churches. On our Odyssey, we already have encountered the cattle-sacrifice in the myth and Trito cattle cycle.
In art, Agnus Dei, the figure of a lamb bearing a cross, symbolizing Jesus as the Lamb of God. This metaphor is often used in Christian art, where the Mystic Lamb by the brothers Van Eyck in Ghent is famous.
Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnus_Dei

[7] Source image: http://www.bertsgeschiedenissite.nl/middeleeuwen/eeuw15/jan_van_eyck.htm

[8] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio.jpg

[9] Source: Psalm 9:10: “God, the protector of the believers”.

[10] Also Job despairs when he and his wife feel the big setbacks directly in their bodies. Job asks God why he deserves these setbacks, his faith is unconditional. In a storm God replies: “Where were you when I separated the sky and the earth and created the universe!”. Hereafter Job recognizes his ignorance, he calls for teaching and confesses that he has directly God in his omnipotence. Job does penance in dust and ashes. After a cattle sacrifice, God’s wrath disappears and prosperity returns for Job.

When Job would have recognized all setbacks as part of himself, may Job have answered God that he is present in the separation of air and earth? May he have the courage to say that his appearance in the separation of air and earth is adapted to the circumstances?  That he always remains one during and after the separation of air and earth and during and after all the crackle that follows?

[11] Source: Stevens, John, Three Zen Masters, Ikkyū, Hakuin, Rӯokan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993. Page 131.

[12] Rӯokan is a Japanese Zen Buddhist. Zen Buddhism starts in China by a merger of Taoism and Buddhism. Taoism knows Tao as a keyword meaning “road or course of life”, but this word is probably derived from the ancient Chinese word for “Moon”. Source: Porter, Bill, Road to Heaven – Encounters with Chinese Hermits. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1993 Page: 35.