My First Step onto the Taoist Path

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To be honest, I never thought that anyone would be interested in how I got started on the Taoist path.  It never seemed to be that interesting a process to me, but since I have had several queries by separate individuals asking about my own personal journey, please allow me to share my story with you, my precious fellow travelers.

This was how I became a Taobabe.

girlSadLet me be perfectly clear.  I wasn’t always a Taoist.

In fact, I was born into a Catholic family and was baptized (with special holy water) at a bona fide Catholic church.  My saint name was (still is) Maria, and my godmother was none other than a Catholic nun.

I was a good Catholic.  I went to church every Sunday with my family, and while everyone sat stupefied, with drool running down their chins, I would earnestly listen to the priest drone on and on about the sins of mankind and how we were all going to hell in a handbasket.

It was often quite boring, but I did my best to comprehend what I was hearing because as young as I was, I had decided that it was important to understand the Words of a most sacred Deity.

The knowledge was so important to me that I taught myself to read Vietnamese just so that I could read the bible cover-to-cover.  I wanted to understand the bible because, for some God-damned stupid reason, I felt the need to verify what the priests talked about every Sunday.

You see, I had learned early on that even adults sometimes got things wrong, and I could not afford to believe an adult’s version of the Words of a most sacred Deity without double-checking the exact same passages for myself.

It was a serious labor of love because I did not know how to read, and so I had to teach myself as best as I could, using a dictionary and asking my parents when I got stuck.  I had not yet attended formal schooling, you see.  I was only five years old at that time.

maryEven at that young age, I had determined that my favorite color was blue.  Not just any old blue, mind you.  It had to be the exact shade of a deep sky blue that Maria, the Mother of Jesus wore on her cloak.

I loved the color, not because of the color itself but because Mother Mary wore it.  I loved her white skin, her blue eyes, her light brown hair, and her European features.

I thought she was the most beautiful woman ever to have been born on the face of the Earth.  She was even more beautiful than my own mother, whose skin was not as pale, and whose hair was so much darker than hers.

You have to forgive me.  I was so very young and so very brainwashed.

But slowly, as my reading comprehension grew, I began to realize that she was of a different race than I was.  I also became aware that Mary, and everyone who was ever mentioned in that holy book, was from Israel.  Furthermore, they were all Jewish.

At the wizened and weary age of seven, I renounced Catholicism  after I grocked onto the fact that I was not, and could never be, part of the Christian God’s special chosen children, the Israelites.  I was born in the wrong area of the world to the wrong race of people, and no amount of amelioration from those around me could convince me otherwise.

Since I KNEW that I was a special kid, I didn’t want to be one of his leftover children, someone who was not his chosen, but was accepted out of pity or forbearance.  My reasoning was simple, and as it turned out, quite brilliant.  I deduced that if the Israelites had their own God, my own people must also have our own God, someone who had chosen us to be his special people.

It was then that I made a conscious decision to look for a God who would accept me as I was, a little Asian girl with no special skills, or great beauty, or amazing powers.  I didn’t know if there was such an entity as an Asian God, but I was going to go searching for him.

I started by asking my family about our family’s past and about our ancestral religions, and I found out some pretty cool stuff.

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First, I found out I was the grandchild of a courtier.  My paternal grandfather was an herbal medicine man who worked for the royal court due to the fact that he was the younger of two sons in the family of a royal bureaucrat, a mandarin, if you will, with a now-defunct title similar to that of a duke.

The paternal family had three major religions, intertwined with each other.  The first was Ancestor Worship (more on this later), the second was Confucianism, and the third was Taoism.  Of the three, Ancestor Worship was the only one that actually had any type of formal ceremony.

The other two (C and T) were philosophical bents that the family ascribed to through thousands of years of adherence by word-of-mouth teachings.  My family were court scholars and so were very well-versed in both Confucianistic and Taoist thinking.

Since I knew my ancestors were not gods of any sort, this religion was the first to be discarded.  Confucianism was the second religion to go because although the man was a smart cookie, I knew he wasn’t a god either.

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That left Taoism as the final avenue for me to explore, but it was not easy to seek out information about Taoism because approachable books on this subject were very rare (emphasis on approachable).  They were also not left in every hotel nightstand around the country like bibles are.

girlHandFaceSince I could not find much on Taoism, I started searching through Buddhism, thinking perhaps it was similar to Taoism.  This was when I began going to the Nichiren Shōshū  temple and learning the Gongyo Lotus Sutra.

I was sincerely hoping that I could find the God that would regard me (and others like me) as his special chosen people.  But once again, I hit that same realization regarding Nichiren as I did Confucius.

Nichiren was no more a god than Confucius was.

Furthermore, I found Buddhism’s ideology to be quite pessimistic, and as a child who was more often than not, full of joie de vivre, its teachings of suffering did not resonate with me.  To put it simply, I was vibrating on a different wavelength, and constant suffering was not within the range of my amplitude.

By this time, I was 13 and a confirmed atheist.  I was convinced there was NOTHING out there.

NOTHING to find.  NOTHING to discover.  NOTHING to see.

I was barely a teenager, and I had given up on finding the divine in life.

tao-of-pooh-book-coverThis went on for a few more years until the 80s when, by a chance happenstance, I was in the library returning some books when I ran across a slim volume called The Tao of Pooh.

Something in me came alive and I grabbed the book.  Although I no longer believed in anything godly, I was still a curious kid and wanted to know what the heck Taoism was.

I zipped through the book in a very short time and a smile began to form on my face.  In very basic English, using very approachable colors and characters, the tenets of Taoism were presented in simple to understand language with nothing to mar its clean elegance.

To be fair, The Tao of Pooh was not an in depth study of Taoism, but it was not missing anything major.  The book explained in black and white, the basics of Taoism, and while there were no shades of grey in such a simple book, it was enough to kickstart my adventure into Taoism.

Those missing shades of grey, I would spend the next couple of decades trying to discern.  Even so, I did not think of myself as a practicing Taoist until I met my brother Derek Lin.  When I visited him at his temple, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a Taoist temple because to me, it always seemed as if it should be a philosophy, as opposed to a religion.

My decision to forego joining a formal Taoist temple was mostly due to my early experiences with formalized religion–experiences which had left a bad taste in my mouth.  I could no longer accept being taught about God in that primary school, memorization methodology.  I wanted to explore and find God for myself, in a more organic manner.

And find God, I did.

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The highest goodness resembles water ~ Lao Tzu

In that one line, I had found the God that I was looking for.

A drop of water in an endless ocean is not only part of the ocean, it also contains the ocean within the boundary of its droplet form, held together by its surface tension.  This completely satisfies that duality requirement of Taoism I wrote about in one of my posts, Change (Part 5):  Sequent Change.  I didn’t have to go looking for God in any temple, or religion, or plane of existence called heaven.  God was not only within me, God was also all around me.

Furthermore, unlike Confucius or any of the Buddhas, none of whom ever claimed to be God, the Tao is actually another word for God.  In fact, we can use any word to replace the word God–the Tao, the Universe, the Force, the Source–it’s all the same entity that flows through us, and is contained within us.  I can call myself a Taoist or a Universalist or a Forcist or a Sourcist.  It really does not matter because it is nameless, and the nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.

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Karma Is so Passé

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Karma—the heart and soul of the idea of cause-and-effect in action—is also one of Taoism’s most basic tenets.  There is no arguing its validity.  Its footprint is seen in all aspects of physics and chemistry and mathematics.  Newton’s third law eloquently states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  Of course, he is talking about gravity, but as the scientific community has been finding out, piece-meal and in spurts and starts, gravity is part-and-parcel of something far grander, with huge sweeping implications about everything, including our own existence (but more on this later).

For dyed-in-the-wool Taoists, karma is not even a debatable point.  It is a ‘point of non-contention’.  It is one that, should I wish to contest with any serious Taoist, will result in either a verbal duet or, if I’m lucky, a serene, polite, loaded smile from the Taoist who has decided that I am not a worthy opponent to waste time on.  My seriousness as a Taoist will be forever questioned by those who know all about Taoism and the Taoist tenet.  I would be viewed as a trouble-maker, a troll (if I were to bring this up in a Taoist forum), or worse yet, an extremely unenlightened soul who has somehow gotten lost amongst the weeds.  My spiritual brother, Derek Lin, would probably be mortified but gentle in his approach of coaching me through ‘the vagaries of my tormented soul’.  (Thank you for putting up with me all these years, Derek).

shorthaircropIt is then, for the practicing Taoist, a straightforward blasphemy to question the efficacy and truth of karma.  To be fair, I am not questioning karma’s scientific reality.  I accept that there are truths which are self-evident, and karma is one of them.  If you don’t believe me, try punching a boxer’s punching bag and you will see karma in action.

What I am questioning is the need to use karma as a reward/punishment tool in order to live one’s life and to travel on one’s path.  As Arthur Paliden so eloquently stated:  True morality is doing what is right without the threat of divine retribution nor the possibility of divine reward.

This concept of ‘true morality’ is not singularly aimed at the straight-and-narrow Taoists (you know who you are).  This applies to non-Taoists too—all the conservative, entrenched, dogmatic non-Taoists—the ones who smile at me in such sweet ways as I talk about esoteric topics like this, all the while thinking they have been cursed with walking part of life’s path alongside one gnarly, bombastic, intellectually inferior blonde female.

I want to know what would happen if we woke up one day and found that karma was a lie—that nothing untoward would happen to us in any other reality or plane of existence should we decide to commit some atrocity (like throwing trash out the window of a moving car, or stealing twenty dollars out of our spouse’s wallet).  Would we still do what is the morally right thing to do, or would we throw all cares to the wind and commit all sorts of crimes just because we know there would be no ramifications to our actions?

Since the Tao means ‘the path’ or ‘the way’, how far have we managed to crawl on the path if the hope of some nebulous reward or the fear of some horrible retribution is the only thing keeping us from doing what is morally right?  Isn’t following some reward/punishment model a rather juvenile mode d’existence?  As students of Taoism, shouldn’t our goal be to eliminate the need to follow that reward/punishment model?  Shouldn’t we be ignoring any and all karmically-induced possibilities and just—LIVE?  Shouldn’t we just live and TRUST in the idea that all our actions and what we do, we are doing because our soul needs to do them in order to advance forward?

Damn straight—you heard me right.  I’m saying just throw karma to the wind.  Blow it off.  Wipe it out of your conscious and subconscious mind.  Live free and unfettered of its influence.  Throw off its yoke.  Embrace a world without karma.  Do what you normally do and trust in yourself because maybe—just maybe—we are put here to test-drive and try out what it feels like to live and make choices, and that all those choices are valuable experiences, ones that can only be experienced in the 3-dimensional world.  Some choices will be rather poor, resulting in desultory results, while other choices will be much better, with a more positive outcome, but they will all be there with only one raison d’être, and that is to allow us to fully explore what it is to be human.

I say this because looking back on my life, the biggest advancements that I have made to my spiritual growth have mostly been from those times when I have made serious, grievous mistakes.  Without committing those mistakes, would I have ever understood why they were not the correct courses of action to take?  I don’t think so.  No amount of philosophizing on paper, or verbal discourses of the merits of those actions would have impacted me as quickly or as deeply as having lived through those actions and appropriately equal reactions.

Insofar as how far along the path I’ve traveled, I think I probably need to do a few more rounds of life training before I can honestly say that I’m ready to join the adults upstairs, not because I seriously need karma to remind me to be morally honest, but because I need to think about it at all.

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The Copper-Nickel Alloy Oracle

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Suprahuman intelligence has from the beginning made use of three mediums of expression—men, animals, and plants, in each of which life pulsates in a different rhythm.  Chance came to be utilized as a fourth medium; the very absence of an immediate meaning in chance permitted a deeper meaning to come to expression in it.  The oracle was the outcome of this use of chance.  The (I Ching) is founded on the plant oracle as manipulated by men with mediumistic powers.  ~ Shuo Kua as translated by Richard Wilhelm

Plants.  The basis for almost all life starts with plant growth and photosynthesis.  True, it is the sun which provides this energy, but the sun’s energy cannot be utilized without this powerhouse, able to generate light rays into something that can be absorbed by other life forms.  From this process, we get our food and oxygen, neither of which we can do without.  In essence, we, as beings of light, cannot internalize and absorb the light that we need to maintain our physical bodies without the aid of these light-processing-machines.  It is, therefore fitting that the I Ching be founded on the plant oracle as this is most likely the most basic of the oracles.

I have always been fascinated by the idea that the I Ching uses the plant oracle.  Of course, I knew that yarrow stalks were used in ancient times to do divinations.  I just never saw the yarrow-stalk/plant-oracle connection until fairly recently, when I was reading through the Shuo Kua carefully, trying to discern a few puzzling oddities which I could not grasp fully.  For those who may not be familiar with the various wings (or commentaries) which were used to explain more fully, the form and function of the I Ching, the Shuo Kua is the eighth wing (out of ten).

I have done divinations using yarrow stalks, but let’s face it, I live in a jungle made up of concrete and silicon (Silicon Valley that is) and yarrow stalks are really hard to come by.  I tried for the longest time to at least maintain the traditions and use old Chinese coins to do divinations but even that fell by the wayside when I misplaced them due to a previous move where all my belongings got packed up and warehoused in a storage unit.  So what’s a girl to do if she needs to do a divination and cannot get her hands on either yarrow stalks or old Chinese coins?

Why…she uses brand new shiny American quarters, that’s what she does!!!

quarter

I admit, the first time I did it, I was a bit on the hesitant side.  I felt as if I was doing something that a pure Taoist would frown on.

And then I laughed.

Why would a pure Taoist care about such surface things?  Taoists go with the flow.  We swim with the dolphins and we swim with the sharks.  We bend with the ebb and flow of time.  Ancient Taoists used yarrow stalks because they grew everywhere and was easy to access.  If one didn’t have money (and most folks back then didn’t have much in the way of hard currency), yarrow stalks allowed for divinations to be done without much fuss.  They simply used what was handily available.  Later, when coins became more commonly utilized, it was simpler to use coins, so yarrow stalks began to fall out of favor.  Now that Taoists occupy the world over, the international scene makes it difficult for us to have, on-hand, a stash of old Chinese copper coins.

And besides, my stash of old Chinese coins are so old that the greenish black stuff rubs off on my hands.  They also smell funny, which brings to mind the thought that once the Taoists switched over to using old Chinese coins, would that now change the basis of the plant oracle into the Copper Oracle?  And if I use American quarters, would it then be considered the copper-nickel alloy Oracle?

If so, then what, pray tell, is the man or animal oracle, as indicated in the Shuo Kuo where it states that there are ‘three mediums of expression—men, animals, and plants’?  Does that mean we have to use animals or humans as a method of divination?  Do we throw an animal into the air and see if it lands on its back or its feet?  Better yet, do we throw a man in the air and see if he lands on his head or his feet?

Or does it mean something completely different?

Hmmmmmm…..

(…to be continued)

 

Another Fruitful Day at the Bookstore

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I scored big tonight!  While browsing through a used bookstore with my sweetie, I ran into four books of noteworthy.

Of course, you know, I had to grab them.

I try not to go into book stores that often for two good reasons.  Reason number one is that I tend to have impulse buy urges which I cannot control, and reason number two is that the books that I tend to have these urges with are usually old, orphaned, out-of-print, or hard to get books that cost far more than they would if they were brand new reprints.

Today, I managed to walk out with four classics that I had been wanting to add to my collection for quite some time.  These are the books I managed to snag:

fourbooks

The Wisdom of Laotse: Lin Yutang, 1948.  Change: Hellmut Wilhelm, 1960.  The Secret of the Golden Flower: Richard Wilhelm, 1931.  The Way of Lao Tzu: Wing-Tsit Chan, 1963

Don’t let the pretty covers fool you.  I doctored them up in Photoshop a bit so they would look prettier.  They are actually quite old and literally falling to pieces.  The pages inside a couple of the older books are brittle and fall to dust in my hands if I handle them too vigorously, the edges yellowed and musty smelling.

While I was there, I bought two small boxes of sandalwood incense sticks so now my office smells of incense and moldy old books.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing since it keeps my dogs out of my office (they can’t handle the strong smell of incense) so I don’t have to add doggy scent to musty books smell as well.

This is just a description of the look and feel (and smell) of the books.  I can’t say much about the literary aspects of the books yet because I haven’t had a chance to dig through them, but given a bit of time, I’m sure I will find them to be quite useful.

Looks like I got some New Year’s Day gifts after all.  🙂

The Way of Lao Tzu.  Chan, Wing-Tsit. 1963.
The Wisdom of Laotse. Yutang, Lin. 1948.
The Secret of the Golden Flower.  Wilhelm, Richard.  1931.
Change.  Wilhelm, Hellmut. 1960. 

Blonde Noncontentions

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I am blonde.

In fact, sometimes I look like an airhead, and sometimes I act like one.  This is done by design.  I enjoy having fun and seeing the bright side of life.  Why should I not dance in the sun?  Why can’t I laugh with the wind?  What is so wrong with throwing down the rag top of my convertible and go roaring down the freeway?  (In fact, I have been doing this for a long time and I swear, I will have a convertible of one kind or another for the rest of my driving life).

I am blonde because life is a crazy ride and we either cling to our tiny security bar and shut our eyes in fright or we open our eyes wide, scream like a banshee, and throw our arms up into the air even as we rush down towards the ground in an exhilarating rush of human ingenuity against gravity.  I don’t mind looking and acting the fool sometimes.  It really is the only way to live.

There is also a more important reason for my blondeness—to be noncontentious.  It allows me to be carefree and to say what I wish without looking too scary or too vicious.  I find that people tend to feel threatened if they think I am too smart, and often they will try to be derogatory or say things which they think will cut me down to size.  My typical response is agreement.  If someone wants to get in my face and tell me that I am  a clueless blonde female, I shrug—I smile—I say, “Yep, I’m blonde alright!” and off I go, dancing into the sunset.

Don’t fault me for this lackadaisical attitude.  Blame my teacher.

Lao Tzu told me:

Yield and remain whole
Bend and remain straight
Be low and become filled
Be worn out and become renewed
Have little and receive
Have much and be confused
Therefore the sages hold to the one as an example for the world
Without flaunting themselves—and so are seen clearly
Without presuming themselves—and so are distinguished
Without praising themselves—and so have merit
Without boasting about themselves—and so are lasting

Because they do not contend, the world cannot contend with them
What the ancients called “the one who yields and remains whole”
Were they speaking empty words?
Sincerity becoming whole, and returning to oneself

~ Tao Te Ching.  Chapter 22.  Translated by Derek Lin

So I analyze what he says, line by line, and I find that it is very hard to live without bending.  In fact, it’s far easier to simply bend and wait until the onslaught of whatever occurs to roll over me first before unbending and springing back unharmed, rather than going up against that force and snapping at the weakest points.

I know much of what I write can be debated endlessly.  I state my positions and shore them up with evidence or studies or convincing reasoning, but I will not get into raging debates.  If anyone has ever had the idea that it is possible to change someone’s mind by arguing with them, then that person has not been in enough fights.

That’s why I tend to avoid the various free-for-all forums, not because I do not have the ability to shout someone down, but because I have done so quite often in the past and know how much energy and time it wastes.  In the end, even if I have ‘won’ some hollow and brief victory, I will have done nothing to convince the person with whom I am having the discussion (argument) with.  All I will have done is prove that the person who shouts the loudest wins.

It took me ten years to learn this lesson.

So now, all I do is state my truth and let it be.

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Enigma of Lao Tzu

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I feel like a child who has inadvertently wandered into an old dilapidated castle where nothing but shadows of ghosts still haunt.  The glorious grandeur of the place is still evident—the large halls and high ceilings adorned still, with the remains of what must have been magnificent furnishings and fixtures, their colors faded and aged to various shades of greys and browns.  The walls are sagging and the floorboards are rotted through.  Dust and decay is thick, and the dank smell of long dead history stagnates about the place.

I find myself wandering into what must have been a magnificent library with shelves that go up to the ceiling and piled high with musty tomes of old forgotten lore.  I walk to the nearest book to read the name on the spine.  Unfortunately, it is written in an ancient language I cannot understand.  I run my fingers across the spines of the books directly in front of me, taking away centuries of grime and filth, revealing for the first time in ages, the true colors of the binding—bright reds, blues, yellows, greens.  All perfectly preserved and all written in the same cryptic language that I cannot decipher.  My soul cried out with anguish.  Such unapproachable treasures…

Such is what I face at this point in time.  I am within the proximity of a treasure trove, but because I cannot read the inscriptions, the treasure is useless to me.

So I pull out my handy dandy Star Trek universal translator and I am back in business!!!

anime girl 163YES!

We Taobabes have power.  We Taobabes have the www force on our side.  We Taobabes rock!

We Taobabes also know that there is more than one way to skin a cat.  History can be found, not just in the written accounts but also in many other places.  But I can’t take credit for that thought.  I actually did a divination and asked about this, and to my surprise, I got Hexagram 21 – Biting Through.

Now, normally, I would go through an entire posting and delve into the meanings and the wordings behind the divination, but not this time.  This time, I am simply going to take the short cut and give you the divination in one sentence, and then I am going into the meat of this posting.  If I go into the details, it would take at least three postings to finish this train of thought, and I am trying to cut corners here.  This posting is about the enigma of Lao Tzu, so I am going to keep it as focused as I can.

In the interest of keeping things short, I have one thing going for me.

There is hardly anything to be found about the man at all.

This, in itself is very strange.  If there is one thing I know about the Chinese historians, it’s that they are real sticklers for historical details.  Their history goes back to the Shang Dynasty at least (circa 1700–1046 Bc), and is very well documented.  So well-documented in fact that even lesser figures are described and annotated quite clearly.

So—why is it then that one of the greatest, most influential men in Chinese history, one that actually held a position within a king’s court, would be relegated to such obscurity that he would be lacking in such basic details as birth date, real name, and even death date?  Why would the recounting of such a person be so shadowy as to cause a famous Japanese historian by the name of Sokichi Tsuda to throw up his hands and proclaim that the man is a mythological construct and cannot be a real human being?

Hmmmm…inquiring minds wanna know…

(Continue to Damn Stubborn Water Buffalo!)

I Ching Sphere (Part 6): Levels 4, 5, 6

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I love to read.

I read all kinds of books, mostly for entertainment.  I hated non-fiction because I wanted to be entertained, not bored to death.  Unfortunately, nowadays, I read more non-fiction than I do anything else, not because I want to be bored but because I write fiction, and the only way to get the fiction to read accurately and believably is to have a very firm grasp on the truth, the non-fictional aspects with which to weave my tale around.

Sometimes, the research is very dry and dull, with the contents listed as basic ingredients in a recipe.  Sometimes, it is translated from ancient texts and it is a slog to read through.  Sometimes, it is a highly technical paper, in which case, it requires extra tangential research for me to comprehend the more complicated sections.

The various layers of the I Ching form has to take the cake as one of the most intricate reads that I have tried to do thus far.  Still, I am really glad I did it because it now gives me a more in-depth understanding  of how this mathematical system works.  I am getting really close to the end of this so I am going to push forward and get the last three Levels done in this final posting.  I can do this because much of the complexity of this level has been explained in previous levels so I will not belabor the points yet again.

Onward and upward to Level 4.

Level 4

L4

Level 4 is very similar to Level 2 with the only difference being that the hexagrams now occupying this level has more yang lines than yin lines.  This is because the change has already occurred at Level 3, and it is getting closer to the father, Càn, the Creative Heaven at level 6.  

Immediate Excess

The first layer is the outermost ring of Level 4 called Immediate Excess.  It comprises four yang lines and two yin lines and it holds up the outer rings in a stable formation.  Hmm, wonder what the ‘excess’ is stemming from.  Methinks it’s just too much male energy here, but who am I to judge what’s excessive and what’s not.

4in6loop

As with Layer 2, Immediate Excess shares this layer with another set of siblings, but in a different dimension.

L4modified1

Water Circulating

As with Level 2, this layer is very similar, except it is no longer fire ascending but water circulating.  The Changes are diametrically opposite to that of level 2, with which it rises from.

Rising Water

It pulls inward, toward the center, and as it does, it moves faster.

L4modified2

Doubled Yin

As it speeds up, it becomes Doubled Yin.

Rising Openess

This is represented by A4, occupying the central axis of the hexagram at this level.

L4modified3A4 = {,   }

Once it has reached the central axis, it continues to move upwards until it breaks through into Level 5.

Level 5

Level 5 is called Bubble Circulating.

5in6loop

It occupies this level all by itself.  There is only one other layer to rise upward towards.  Level 6.

L5

Level 6

And of course, we are back to Level 6, Heaven.

At this level, on top of the sphere sits Càn, the Creative Heaven is at level 6.   

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Next post, I am going to tie all of these Levels and Layers together.

The Teikemeier/Drasny Sphere.  Dr Andreas Schöter. 2012