2009.09.04 - Age Quod Agis

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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 4, 2009.

     

    P: Yesterday, we talked about how to use the term wu-wei.  I suggested
       to use it in a very broad way, whereas you prefered to use it in a
       more specific way.  After reflecting on that difference, I realized
       why I was using wu-wei so broadly.
    P: It had a very pragmatic root:
    P: my first suggestion for what to do in the 9-sec break was "drop
       what you have in order to see what you are"
    P: which in itself could be a practice for a life time
    P: and could be read as an encouragement for practicing wu-wei
    P: so in the whole minimalist approach to PaB, it seemed useful to me
       to focus on a few sentences, like for example that one
    P: and to use the notion wu-wei to talk about it
    P: rather than the more specific terms like "respect",
       "consideration", etc that you mentioned yesterday as more directly
       applicable to the situation of the behavior of the retreat participants
    P: does that make sense?
    S: yes i understand
    P: so the question of more subtle forms of wu-wei, which I asked
       about, should be seen in that light:
    P: how to encourage all PaB participants, including me myself, of
       course, to get deeper and deeper into wu-wei, in a very pragmatic,
       direct way, during PaB sessions in SL and RL and during life in
       general, both SL and RL.
    S: I tend to think of wu-wei as an expression of what one understands,
       rather than as a method to gain understanding. Of course, wu-wei
       can be refined, so learning is involved. But I don't think of it as
       something that can just be recommended to people in general.
    P: interesting -- and in a funny way, that actually fits with PaB,
       given that PaB specifically is not aiming at "reaching" anything,
       such as Being, but rather at expressing what IS.
    S: There is, for instance, something amusing about trying to get more
       advanced forms of wu-wei.
    P: yes?
    S: Anyway, you can try and see what happens.
    S: I'm sure you will be better at using SecondLife for such matters
       than I would be.
    P: obviously the more advanced forms of wu-wei, or of anything else
       for that matter, do not fit the "trying to get" picture, as you
       have often emphasized
    P: but rather more an "inviting to express itself", or "appreciating
       its presence already" kind of picture
    S: Sure
    S: I agree it's a good topic
    S: I just see it as coming out of understanding, rather than as an
       entry
    S: But you can still work with it, definitely
    P: I'm glad we have these dialogues: they help me to see more sharply
       what is unfolding here in PaB
    P: We could see the use of wu-wei as a kind of down-shifting of the
       motto "Play as Being"
    S: Yes, that makes sense
    P: to the somewhat more specific and understandable "Play as wu-wei"
       suggestion
    P: in both cases, we have to start with a very approximate and
       strictly speaking incorrect picture of either one, Being, or wu-wei
    P: and invite Reality itself to refine it for us
    P: not so different from the way you teach chi gong's simplest
       standing pose:
    P: just stand there and let gravity teach you how the body wants to
       stand
    P: and then you find a more and more natural pose
    P: "Play as Understanding" would be a way to describe a connection
       with your concern (you said: I just see it as coming out of
       understanding, rather than as an entry)
    P: "Play as Seeing"
    S: I look forward to learning how this works out
    S: My interest in PaB has always been to see if an entirely new form
       of spirituality can emerge in its group, in SecondLife.
    S: I am not as interested in its replicating the main themes of
       spirituality in traditions.
    S: But it's somewhat interesting to see how the latter stuff can be
       learned in PaB, in SecondLife. Not as exciting as the other thing,
       but still of interest.
    P: It would be very hard to let a totally new form of reality
       exploration appear out of nowhere, within SL
    P: I see a parallel here with modern science, the way it originated in
       the seventeenth century
    P: it clearly had its roots in Medieval and renaissance thinking
    P: and it slowly emerged from that, over a few generations
    P: through Galileo, Kepler, Newton, etc
    P: So when I use the term "wu-wei" it is not to try to replicate
       anything traditional in particular
    P: but rather to convey a sense of where I think we could be looking
       at, in what direction, collectively
    P: and again, there is an interesting direct parallel with Newton, who
       was convinced, it seems, that the Greeks had already discovered
       what he had discovered, about gravity and mechanics, but had kept
       it secret.  It all seemed so obvious to him, such an obvious
       extension of all that the Greeks had indeed already discovered
       . . . .
    P: so I don't see any way to separate your two interests
    P: what can be new in SL with PaB and how we use terms from the past
    S: yes, that's probably true. It's just a matter of what you use to
       "seed" the gradual development of something new.
    P: yes
    P: do you see alternatives for the current approaches, other ways that
       "seeding" with the use of terms like "appreciating the presence of
       appearance", "wu-wei", etc?
    S: Well of course I'm somewhat at a disadvantage regarding that, since
       I tend to "think" in either quite traditional terms, or in
       extremely direct ways that have always been outside of traditions
       but are also outside of all practice and ordinary mind options.
    S: I would just see the issue as one of trying things, without pushing
       anything too hard.
    P: yes, I recognize that in the TSK book, you avoided the use of any
       traditional term, such as wu-wei
    P: in fact, in my way of working with PaB, I also focused initially on
       sentences like APAPB, appreciate the presence of appearance as a
       presentation by Being
    P: but after one and a half year, half the participants keep telling
       me that remembering five words is beyond the capacity, or beyond
       their interest, I'm not sure which :-)
    S: :)
    P: in any case, it doesn't seem to grab most of us the way such a
       sentence grabs me
    P: so we have no choice but to use a shorter term, as a handle
    P: you used "time, space, knowledge", three terms . . . .
    S: That was Tarthang Tulku's idea
    S: I would not, at that time, have even conceived of the basic notion
       of a top-down, "everything real in 3 words" approach
    P: :)
    S: I was thinking in more standard Mahayana ways
    S: Not in Vajrayana, or Dzogchen (which wasn't really presented
       clearly at all in those days)
    S: Mahayana doesn't really talk about reality directly
    P: but you had a clear top-down focus, at that time
    S: That was true starting at age 5
    S: But still, I had no clear way to talk about meditation etc with a
       top-down focus, just some personal intuitions that I couldn't
       ignore
    S: Anyway, I look forward to seeing what you come up with in PaB
    P: what did you intuit at age 5, if I may ask?
    S: That God was all ...
    P: and did you have any sense or feeling of what that implied, for
       yourself or for life?
    S: :)
    S: Well, I guess it implied itself
    S: Everything seemed to be tied up with that idea/insight
    S: Beyond that, I don't know ... I was a normal kid with an odd focus
       ... Mostly I just wanted to play, and usually thought up all the
       games the other kids played.
    S: I never considered talking about my own private perspective. I just
       liked running in the grass, etc
    P: you mean you thought up new games, shared them with others, and
       then you played them together?
    S: Yes, all the time
    P: can you remember an example?
    S: No, sorry.
    P: or the kind of game?
    P: outdoors?
    S: Yes, outdoors. Everything I did in those days was outside. I spent
       much of my time high in the tops of pine trees.
    P: at age 5?
    S: Yes
    S: We lived in an area surrounded by pine forests
    P: what were you contemplating there?
    S: I don't really remember ... I did notice that I was given to seeing
       things that weren't there.
    S: I hypothesized that small children were inclined to construct
       fanciful things that adults wouldn't see (because they weren't
       real).
    S: It was interesting, studying the way perception was distorted.
    P: can you give a few examples?
    S: Seeing a face in a bush ... That sort of thing.
    S: I thought that was very odd, but enjoyed it anyway.
    S: I'm sure you noticed the same stuff.
    P: I don't remember the extent to which I reflected on it
    P: my yougth up through age 16 was spent mostly on figuring things
       out, tinkering, debugging you could say but then in hardware
       because there were no accessible computers yet
    P: and almost exclusively external material things
    P: it was only at age 17 that I made the absolutely delightful
       discovery that you can use the very same approach for working with
       the mind . . . .
    S: Yes
    P: and only then did I remember many instances of actually having been
       dubmstruck by inights, like the one I was getting and recognizing
       at age 17, already at much earlier ages -- in fact all the
       highlights of my youth were peppered with them, just didn't have a
       name or handle on them at that time
    P: coming back to the writing of the TSK book, at the end the focus is
       very clearly on Being, that single word -- was that also something
       Tarthang Tulku had emphasized?  It does seem like a direct
       resonance with your 5-year old insight about God being All
    S: It was his idea ...
    S: I don't think it was part of his original view, though. I suspect
       it came in towards the end.
    S: Frankly, there really isn't much there about Being ... It was just
       a suggestion, a hint.
    P: a very good one, for me at least -- the name Play as Being wouldn't
       have been here without that suggestion, I think :)
    S: :)
    P: Before we leave, one more point: when I went to my first more
       serious zen retreat, in 1973, in Germany, in a beautiful monastery
       Maria Laach, it was taught by a catholic priest who had lived in
       Japan for many years.  One of the things about his talks that I
       most remember was his emphasis on "age quod agis":
    P: Lating for "do what you do"
    P: or "do what you are doing"
    P: and it felt very much like wu-wei
    P: may have been the Christian Medieval equivalent
    S: Hmmm ... something I'll look into
    P: perhaps a topic for next session, after next week?
    S: Maybe. :)
    S: I think it probably just meant pay attention to what you're doing.
    P: yes, but in such a way that you drop more and more what is
       non-essential
    P: that was clearly the way that priest taught it
    S: interesting.
    P: and it is also interesting that it made such an impression on me
    P: during the retreat I made extensive notes
    P: that was in early 1973 I believe, I must have been 20
    P: and over the subsequent few months, I went through them, and each
       time shrunk them by a factor of two or three
    P: distilling the core
    P: (keeping the old notes, of course, too)
    P: that has often been my approach to reading books and reflecting on
       advice I got from someone in person:
    P: first write down whatever I could remember
    P: then wittle away to the essential
    S: Yes.
    P: so hard to see what is the essence within a several-page writeup
    P: but easy to "see" or "feel" at each pass what is more important
       than other parts
    P: so in the end, after almost half a year, I wound up with one
       sentence
    P: which I then carried with me, for years:
    P: "age quod agis, wat een wonder" in Dutch
    P: in English:
    P: "age quod agis, what a miracle/wonder"
    P: the Dutch "wonder" has both connotations
    S: I see
    P: so for me it was simultaneously a way to express awe and an
       injunction to live that way, in awe, letting my hand do what it
       finds to do
    P: and that then felt very much like what I learned to associate with
       the notion wu-wei
    P: in a sense, it conveyed to me "wonder is enough", like the "seeing
       is enough" notion inherent in PaB
    S: Neat
    S: Well, sounds like you have a good story for PaB
    P: :-)
    P: again, I'm glad we are going over all these connections; I find it
       very helpful in the whole process of inviting PaB to show more of
       its possible contours, so to speak
    P: well, I should let you go.
    S: OK, well have a good trip!
    P: thanks, Steven!  Will connect from Japan, and perhaps suggest
       possible dates and times to continue, maybe in ten days or so
       (I'll be there for 14 full days)
    S: OK, thanks.
    P: Thanks a lot for another inspiring dialogue!
    S: thanks for the story ... It's a good one.
    P: yw :-)

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