2009.09.03 - What is and isn't Wu-Wei

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    Here is the text of a dialogue held by Piet Hut (in SL: Pema Pera) and Steven Tainer (in SL: Stim Morane), in Second Life on September 3, 2009.

     

    P: Good morning, Steven!  We just had a nice PaB session, starting at
       7 am; Eliza and Adelene and I talked quite a bit about wu-wei, in
       relation to the retreat as well as to SL sessions of PaB.
    S: I see
    P: shall we talk about the difference between more ordinary wu-wei
       and what you called the more subtle aspects?
    S: Well, given that one can't say much about the latter, what were
       you thinking of emphasizing?
    P: I'm sure you can say something about how to tune into the latter,
       how to become familiar with it, recognize it, etc!
    S: You mean, after the long years of daily practice regarding "no
       self, no beings" etc, all of which is crucial to it?
    P: for example, yes
    S: :)
    S: If someone really worked through all of that, which would be quite
       unusual, then that along with other kinds of training enable the
       mind to be free of its usual operation and a more subtle wu-wei is
       revealed. This is simply part of the way reality operates, to use
       a word that avoids my jargon.
    P: yes, I see what you mean, at least the direction of what you are
       pointing at
    P: So let us start with the concrete experience we shared last week
       at the retreat
    P: one way I noticed and enjoyed some form of wu-wei operating in the
       group was the way in which we gave each other plenty of room to
       speak, and yet we also often stepped in to respond whenever
       somebody had said something of which they were unsure, shy,
       vulnerable, as a kind of response.
    P: Eliza called that "giving permission" in our PaB session, an hour
       ago
    P: affirming what they other had just said, and that it was heard and
       appreciated
    P: would you call those two aspects a form of wu-wei?
    S: No, I would say they involve respect and consideration,
       sensitivity ... Important things like that.
    P: interesting;
    P: at least the first part, waiting to let a natural flow happen in
       the conversation, rather than jumping in too quickly with your own
       favorite things-to-say, does strike me as an aspect of wu-wei
    P: as well as respect and consideration, of course.
    P: you don't agree?
    S: There is certainly overlap, and perhaps there is no reason to make
       sharp distinctions here.
    P: what made you say "No"?
    S: there are many good qualities, ones that are quite important to
       develop in one's self, that involve restraint, patience, openness
       vs the "jumping in" you mention. I don't think these would
       traditionally be called wu-wei. In a sense, to call them wu-wei
       would be _less clear_ than naming them as I just have.
    P: if I take the image of cutting a piece of wood along the grain,
       following the natural way that wood wants to be cut with least
       effort and least damage, as a metaphor for wu-wei
    P: then the first step would be to avoid cutting across the grain
    P: and further steps to try to cut along the grain better and better
    P: but even the very first step I would consider to be a form of
       wu-wei practice
    S: Yes, I understand.
    S: The situation is ambiguous in the social, interpersonal arena.
    S: There are many different ways of naming what we are specifically
       talking about.
    S: But i think in that arena, the names I've mentioned reveal much
       more about what is actually operating than just using the blanket
       category of wu-wei, which doesn't say what kinds of qualities are
       actually operating in the person practicing what you call wu-wei.
    P: yes, there is more specificity there.
    P: However, as an approach to practice, I guess starting with wu-wei
       would be top down, and starting with practicing consideration,
       patience, etc, would be more bottom-up
    P: and within SL perhaps top-down makes more sense, it being a
       simpler approach
    P: letting all those qualities emerge from a wu-wei attitude
    P: although of course it is important to recognize them and talk
       about them, to reinforce and further encourage the joint wu-wei
       exploration.
    S: well it will be interesting to see what can be learned along those
       lines.
    P: So when we start by recognizing simple acts like leaving space for
       others to talk, and responding to them in a naturally encouraging
       way to
    P: as forms of wu-wei, no matter how tentative or as-yet perhaps
       unrefined
    P: the question is then how we can let the more subtle aspects
       emerge.  Do you want to comment on that?
    S: you mean, aside from the 30 years of real, sustained practice and
       study in a number of different areas?
    S: :)
    P: we are starting with PaB where we are, with the people who are
       there, some of whom have years and decades of practice experience
       of one sort or another, others may have very little
    P: so we practice together, each of us starting with what we
       understand and recognize as a form of wu-wei
    S: yes, i too think you have to start where everyone actually is, in
       the modest sense.
    P: and the question is then how we can refine, cultivate, wu-wei
       further, don't you think?
    S: yes, that is certainly important. But that is a different question
       than how we can target the advanced wu-wei.
    S: surely the issue is to continue from where people are, letting
       them grow ...
    P: why and how is refining, and letting blossom, different from your
       approach
    S: it is quite different to say we'll start with what people have and
       encourage further development, vs saying we want to have some
       advanced mind operation and seek to develop it.
    S: to put this another way, I specifically mentioned that you are
       working in a social and inter-personal arena ...
    S: this is the perfect and indeed essential or proper sphere for a
       certain kind of wu-wei.
    S: I'm sure you can continue along these lines.
    S: But what I'm talking about actually has very little to do with
       being in that arena.
    S: I doubt that there's much you can do there that bears on this
       other kind of wu-wei.
    S: This is why there are long solitary retreats, in the mountains or
       in a monastery, etc.
    S: This is a difference of context.
    P: I understand what you mean, but the question is again one of
       overlap.
    P: Let us compare the kind of practice of a Buddhist monk, involved
       in many detailed forms of traditional meditation, and that of a
       Christian monk who probably has a tradition that is far simpler in
       terms of fine distinctions of how the mind can operate.
    S: they are cultivating related but different things.
    P: If the Christian monk solely focuses on love, or devotion, or
       whatever it is that is the center of practice, when going into
       that single element, such a monk may come to realize all kinds of
       subtle mind functions without specifically "targeting" those,
       don't you think?
    S: if the monk is doing what you say in the context I'm drawing
       attention to, the one like being in PaB, then no, there's not much
       chance at all of his coming to realize the other stuff. He's
       looking at the wrong data, basically.
    S: People studying meditators via brain scans etc, see this too.
    S: The Buddhists show all sorts of things that just don't show up
       with the Christians.
    S: I heard this from Brent, for example.
    P: so the way things are expressed or emphasized may be quite
       different, and also there may be a much larger percentage of monks
       in Buddhist groups that "get" more of practice than in Christian
       groups, I don't know, but I would think there is still
       considerable overlap . . .
    S: the situation is complicated because of course it is important to
       do both of the things we're mentioning.
    P: and what we are doing in PaB is probably more different from
       either of those two groups than they are from each other
    S: And when a Buddhist contemplative learns what i'm talking about,
       he must also "come back out" and apply it in the domain you're
       talking about.
    S: But it's very different "coming back out" etc, and also actually
       seeing the lessons he learned in deep meditation playing out in
       the ordinary world, than it would be trying to LEARN the subtle
       stuff in ordinary interpersonal interactions.
    P: the question here is how far individual PaB participants are
       willing to go . . .
    P: if they restrict themselves to the SL sessions and perhaps some RL
       retreats than it may be hard to really go very deep -- though that
       still will depend on the person, of course
    S: yes, of course
    S: anything is possible ...
    P: but if someone is really eager to look deep into reality, and
       spends an hour a day, or even more, in a very sincere way on
       practice, and then carries that with her/him throughout the day,
       stopping every 15 minutes for 9 sec, and carrying that atmosphere
       through the remainder of the 15 minutes, and THEN also
       participates in SL/RL PaB meetings in a respectful yet probing
       way, well . . . indeed, then anything is possible
    P: and the SL/RL sessions may wel help to inspire some individuals,
       perhaps even many individuals, to fall into such a really
       dedicated life of practice and exploration
    S: sure

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