Do you want to embrace the wonder of the Tao? Journey inward to journey outward? As he has done for decades, Taoist Master Mikel Steenrod talks about the path of spiritual freedom and down-to-Earth, everyday living well.
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In this episode, Taoist Master Mikel Steenrod describes how working with Karma is really the best way to understand the power of choice, including Evil. After all, the Universe is made of choice. Welcome to Living the Tao, a Spiritual Podcast that explores how ancient wisdom, a practical perspective, and deep truth can empower you to live your best life.
Taoist Topics Covered:
How Karma Teaches Us
Seeing the Flow of Choice
Taoist Karmic Nursery
Taoist Karmic Poles
Building Taoist Karma
Positive Power Defined
Taoist Spiritual Hygiene
How Evil Are You?
Karma Will Educate You.
Welcome to Living the Tao, a spiritual podcast that explores
how ancient wisdom, a practical perspective and deep truth, can
empower you to live your best life.
In this episode, Taoist Master Mikel Steenrod describes how
working with karma is really the best way to understand the power
After all, the universe is made of choice.
To set out to accumulate karma, your actions must be consistent.
That’s really the only, the only rule.
As you start to do that, Karma will educate you.
So you’ll do something you thought was incredibly good, only
to find out that you actually did evil for the first time in your life,
like significant evil.
Or you’ll set out to do something you thought was just outrageous
and off the wall, and suddenly find out, “Ooh.
Hey that had good points to it.”
You pursue consistency.
You have a natural ability to know those things
You just make a decision, and you start going for it.
And the act of doing it will educate
Just start wherever you’re going to start.
In the beginning, you’re really learning consistency of action.
And you’re learning what the nature of karma is,
you won’t accumulate a massive amount of karma at that time,
you’re just learning the process.
And as for seeing the choice structure,
if you do the first six practices, you will activate your
natural ability to see the choice structure.
And it will occur in a entirely unintended way,
and it’ll be fantastic, and it’ll be a complete waste.
But you’ll like sit down to order. Chinese food and realize the
elaborate net that surrounds your order of Chinese food.
And you’ll see it stretch out before you in the huge span of
infinity and go,
“I really should be doing something with this.”
And then it’ll disappear,
and that’ll be enough for you to know that it actually exists.
Then eventually you’ll be able to feel the tension of it as you go through.
And it will almost be like having– the net’s already inside of you.
You can just track the lines in your head.
You can actually feel their movement
and go from there.
For most people, their first insight is visual.
It comes up as some sort of visual stimulation of the visual
centers in your brain.
So you can actually physically see the choice structure.
But when you get past that need,
what you do as you feel the movement of the net as you go along.
And if you want to explore it into the future, you can do that
too, because you have a right to assert your own choices.
Choices are competitive by nature,
but that’s just taken into consideration.
If you’re worried about a path to evil, as you begin to pursue the
path, you will start to come to understand the true nature of evil.
what that really boils down to is the
willful extinguishment of choice structure.
And that’s a whole different issue
than choice structures competing. Like most people,
aren’t capable of evil, simply because
what they regard as evil is actually crazy, which is a whole
The second thing is that
you have to be consistent.
And most humans,
so most people, are in the karmic nursery.
The karmic nursery is where your actions
the consequences of your actions don’t really matter,
just like in any nursery.
If you’re throwing poop at somebody, you know you’re bad for
the day, and they sit you in a corner.
If you’re really nice, you’re nice for the day
and they put a little hat on your head.
But it’s the nursery.
It doesn’t really matter
if you want out of the nursery, then you have to
do the things that come with being out of the nursery so that
you’re actually taken seriously.
At that time, your choices have gradually increasing power and
gradually increasing effect and responsibility.
So you’re held accountable for what you do.
The reason that people are in the nursery is that during the day
they do a little good,
they do a little neutral, and they do a little evil.
The sum total of that is zero or slightly evil.
Because most humans are slightly evil.
They can’t be evil evil. So they can’t be deliberately evil.
Yeah, they’re like 0.2
evil on a scale of plus ten to minus ten.
Or they’re 0.2.
They’re ever so slightly evil,
and just enough to make them vulnerable to not being able to
make decent choices.
Evil for Taoism, isn’t represented by a pole of influence.
Basically, there are three karmic polls: there’s a plus, a zero and
And that’s really the way
more advanced practitioners think about them.
the plus is good,
the zero is neutral,
and the minus pole is evil.
So many of the things we think of as being evil fit into the evil
Many of them don’t, but a large chunk of them fit in there.
Basically, your ability to
make choices that have power is dependent on how much you
accumulate in any one of those poles.
You can only accumulate in one of the poles at one time.
If you undertake consistent evil action, what happens is you
acquire evil power.
And so you become consistently more powerful
in the vein of evil.
And the same thing in the vein of good.
If or if you consistently accumulate
in the vein of good,
then you acquire good power.
If you could consistently accumulate within neutral, then
you acquire neutral power.
To understand what evil is, we have to understand what
Karma is accumulated by your interaction with others,
your environment and with yourself.
So how you treat yourself,
including just you as a person, and also how you interact with
sense information determines
how you accumulate karma.
So karma is not a reward for giving somebody a chocolate bar.
And it’s also not hugely complex.
What if four generations later it produces this?
It’s not that hard,
but you have to work within
the poles to see what’s accumulating
Now, the neutral pole is the most difficult, because it’s the most
It’s mostly about how you address, or work with sense
information, and that’s a difficulty because you sit back
and, “Well, how can I treat sense information be evil?”
Well, it can be.
You have to go into it and go from there.
With the Taoist karmic system,
it’s not (that) simple.
as you get into the pole and you start working with it, you can
see what the interactions are going to be, and then you start
preferring actions in that pole, and you accumulate power there.
There isn’t a list.
If you’re to just follow a list, like if you want to let general
guideline of how to accumulate good,
just be a Buddhist.
Most of the time, most of the stuff you do will be good,
so you accumulate more good than you will anything else.
And so you’ll be at a net positive gain.
You’ll still end up doing some evil, but you’ll still be at a
net positive overall.
If you want neutral,
you have to go into the mind disciplines
and really study the in depth meditation
the art of stillness, different things like that.
And the reason is is because while we are acting
karma is really accumulated by what you do with the structure
and interaction of choice.
That’s where the karmic values are assigned.
It’s just that we experience those as particular actions
and particular feedback from our actions.
But the real mechanic, the real driving piece of it, is what’s
happening with the choices as they interact.
And you can influence choice without doing anything physical.
You just can’t do that in the beginning.
That’s why both the neutral pole is the most difficult to understand
and the most powerful.
Well, there’s a limit to which
we can go with speech.
The rest is practiced.
that’s the big thing about it.
In meditation, you can also accumulate good.
It depends on what you do within the meditation.
You know, if you’re going for the good pathway and the neutral
pathway, and you’re accumulating in those areas,
it works out well.
The buddhists do actually a lot of good oriented meditation.
So you’re interacting with your sense, information in a certain
way, and you’re favoring a choice structure.
So part of it is that we have to move away from the concept of
karma as being a reward system where you’re being benefited by something.
It’s really how you interact with stuff that determines it.
That’s the great difficulty of working with the karma at an
intellectual level. Meaning if you’re thinking about it, it’s very
If you’re doing it, it’s very easy.
So that’s why I’m
steering everybody towards the actual doing of it.
Like if we worry about the thinking of it, then we start
getting into the theory.
How is the universe constructed?
Different things like that.
Here’s how the universe is constructed.
The universe is actually made up out of choice.
That’s why it’s so important.
That’s why how you treat your sense, information
is so vital.
However, that knowledge is completely useless to anybody
because it’s not something you do anything with.
It’s a reason why things work,
but it’s not what you do to make them work.
Is that understandable?
So it’s the reason why your car goes forward.
But it’s not the same thing as sitting in there and driving
You can drive your car and not understand how the car works.
Just like you can understand how a car works, yet not be able to
What I would suggest
is to work on building positive power.
Because if you encounter anything that will stop you, it will be in
the failure to recognize
I mean, the fact is that Taoism is driven by meditation.
However, meditation can be moved in a lot of ways.
So the calm that comes from meditation it’s a natural
outgrowth of the mental state that’s created by it.
Given that, I still recommend that people spend most of their time
with positive power.
And the reason for that is that
it will give you the ability to act
more than any other thing will.
And positive power, basically,
to provide you with an illustration, and all I can do is
provide you with illustrations.
Again, it’s not a guideline.
Positive power is, let’s say,
you’re on a desert, you’re on a nice, tropical island.
On the island is what, a smoking hot volcano on one side,
next to a sewage planet.
Also there’s a beach on the island, a nice Sandy beach.
Lobsters walk up, they cook themselves,
fish flip into pots for you…
all those things.
Both are on the island.
You choose where you build your house. It can be on the smoking
next to the sewage plant,
or it can be on the beach
where the lobsters flip into the pot.
Now you make that choice every single day.
You don’t deny the existence of the volcano and the sewage plant,
but you choose where you build your house, because one is more
useful to you than the other.
The fact is that humans,
positive power is not an alien thing to humans,
it’s how humans operate. It’s how your natural capacity
So even if a person is having difficulty with calm, or needs to
work their way through meditative training, or any one of those
you can still gain great benefit from just working with positive power.
And that’s not a couple of quick things.
Every cloud has a silver lining, because every cloud doesn’t have
a silver lining.
Some clouds are just smoking hot volcanoes.
It’s just the way it is,
but you don’t live there.
So even if 99 things during the day are completely horrible,
there are probably one or two good things within that day.
You breathe something nice. You existed. Usually
the list far exceeds simple existence.
And you find that as you go through,
and that’s exactly what
positive power builds for you is that
awareness of where the positives are.
And what happens is that it fundamentally changes the way you
begin to interact with the world.
And you will see different opportunities.
In particular, you will see opportunities where there were
And you will undertake actions when before you would have been paralyzed.
And that’s simply because
hot lava is always hot.
That’s really the thing.
Sewage is always smelly.
You have to make a conscious effort to build your house there.
Are you denying the existence of the other?
No, it’s just that you are not benefited by building your house
You just don’t build your house there.
And as soon as you start building your house in a favorable
position, you start doing that with everything.
It has something, in a way, to do with the way that humans are
built, or just built to favor that position.
We act with greater capacity
when we are within that positive situation.
So positive power isn’t walking around being cheerful all the
It’s occupying with yourself with the things
that in fact
or that you have gratitude for.
It’s not that other bad things didn’t occur, or that you’re
ignorant of them.
It’s just you can’t live there.
They’re going to occur every day.
So where do you live?
You live where the positive is, you live.
You grow a plant
in the things it needs to grow.
You don’t toss it into the volcano and then blame it for not
And it’s a matter of “Hey,
put that shrub in a
big thing of hot lava.”
Yeah, “Well, it should grow faster.”
And again, it’s one of those things you look at and you just
think, well, that’s just crazy.
And the reason for that? It’s just crazy.
So I would have to say, out of the first tier practices,
getting positive power down is more important than anything else.
And then the next thing would be to start working with hygiene.
And hygiene is the control of sensory information.
if we take an example of this,
religious systems spend a great deal of time controlling hygiene,
because it’s one of the easiest things to control.
So if you go into a church, for example, it’s filled with
reminders of what church practice is like.
Your senses are inundated with
reminders of those things. In general,
the principle of hygiene is this: what you put in
what you get out.
So it’s the control of in and out flow.
If you do nothing but put negative into a person, you’re
generally going to get just negative out of the person.
If you do nothing but put positive in the person, you’ll
tend to get positive out of the person.
Now, hygiene does not change
the power of will. That’s the thing to keep in mind.
But it can exert a tremendous influence
over those factors as you go along.
And you yourselves can create and control your own hygiene.
So if you want to favor
one particular set of outcomes, what do you do?
You set out to alter your environment so that it reminds
you of those outcomes.
activities in those outcomes are a constant reminder to you.
Now is it going to do all the work for you?
but you’re getting as many easy things on your side as you
It’s kind of like if a person’s a drug addict, it’s really hard for
them to hang around with other drug addicts and be clean.
And the reason for that is the hygiene.
If you constantly are exposing to one series of activities and one
type of choices, it’s hard to develop other choices as you go
You just have to flip yourself into a different hygiene.
that shouldn’t be a hidden
It should be a matter of things that are clearly talked about.
And because if you’re looking at changing beliefs so that you can
alter behavior and alter choice,
where you’re going to start impacting it, the easiest place
you can start impacting that is at the level of hygiene.
So you tell the person, deliberately, you need to set
these things up.
Well, why do I need it?
So that you’ll actually remember to do it.
So that when times get bad for you,
you can just sit there and look at it and go, yes,
this reminds me to do that.
Are you going to win it every single time
because the hygiene…? Well, no.
But at least you’ll have a positive pressure on you to move
in the direction that you want.
And hygiene can be positioned anywheres, because humans have a
great capacity to change.
So you can have stupid hygiene, or you can have good hygiene
and really the reason it’s called hygiene
is because it functions the same way as physical hygiene.
You put some things in your body holes, and different things come
out of your body holes, and then you have to deal with it.
Same thing with your senses.
You can control your sense
information. It’s among the easiest things you can control.
And what I tell people is, oftentimes when they’re setting
out to do something, and I start, it’s like, well, you know, if you
actually want to do this, you need to do this and this and this.
And I’m not telling them to do things.
I’m telling them to get stuff and put it around.
They’re like, “Oh, I don’t need to do that.”
As soon as they start working with that,
“Oh, I don’t need to do that.”
What my brain says is they don’t actually want to do this
because they’re meeting with what
they’re unwilling to change the simplest thing,
and unwilling to create an environment that will favor what
they are setting out to do.
What that means is they are avoiding
the lowest level
of influence for accomplishing the goal that they want.
Instead, they want to undertake something that makes them feel
like they’ve done something
and then failed at it.
They’ve in fact created their own failure.
And instead of sitting back and going, “Well, I want to do
blah blah blah, we’ll buy this and this and put it in your house.”
and it’s like,
“Is it going to magically make me do it?”
No, but you’re going to have to look at it, aren’t you?
You’re going to have to look at it every single day.
It’s just going to stare at you.
You got no choice but to deal with it.
And you’re either going to look at it and go, “Why did I buy that?”
At least it reminded, you didn’t it?
That’s why you bought it.
You know, that’s why you put it up there.
You wanted to have a great deal of impact on you.
Spend two months worth of salary on it.
It’ll have a tremendous impact on you.
You just look at it, go, “Oh, what’s going on here.”
“I can’t believe I did that.”
“Why did I do that?”
That’s why did that.”
It may take you two years of looking at that thing for it to
have the type of influence you want on you.
So you’re just sitting there and it’s just looking at you. It’s
like, “Oh, yeah.
That’s why I bought the gold
That’s why I bought the gold
this. That’s why I bought the gold that.
That’s why I bought that. It’s like, why do you buy that big ugly dragon car?
Because it’s a big ugly dragon car.
Now I’ve got to drive around today.
that’s what I recommend for doing.
To start off with.
The last thing that I want to touch on is an area of invocation.
Invocation is really simple.
It’s always really simple,
It’s the repetition of statements.
You’ll find that the second tier of activity
is, in fact,
the first tier of activity,
only focused in certain ways,
and at a higher level. Invocation is an application of hygiene.
Funny how that just rolled around magically like that.
So it’s a repetition of a phrase.
In other religions,
its analog, or its comparison, is prayer.
So it overlaps into prayer.
There are three invocations to start off with.
The first one is gratitude.
Second one is blessing.
The third one is ward of evil,
or I should say, ward against evil.
Gratitude is you simply spend time repeating what you are
And this is used for a lot…oh, by the way,
if we were to look at it as an issue of prayer,
And in fact, if you work within the systems that use the
Taoist deity or saint systems,
it is usually an invocation of a particular god or a saint.
Those can be handy.
It can be combined with all sorts of things.
If you want to
you can invoke your cat.
It doesn’t really matter.
What you are really invoking
If you’re praying to something,
If it were the Tao?
Who is the Tao?
You are the Tao.
you praying to?
You are invoking your own self. Your own nature as you go
So if you want to roll back around to hygiene, and I’ve
mentioned this before, you can set up a little altar with a
picture of yourself on it, make some offerings
and go, oh, mighty Mike, will you grant me blah blah blah?
And just work it that way.
Then if you don’t like your actions, you can smite yourself
or provide yourself with rewards. It’s up to you.
So just put a photo of yourself up.
Now with gratitude, what
basically you start going through and repeating things that you’re
If it’s just one thing, you can keep repeating it.
Eventually you’ll get bored, and you’ll start repeating other
things in there too.
And part of the reason of doing this is: one,
to point out all the things that you’re grateful for.
Two, it’s to help you get out of the nursery,
believe it or not.
The rationale behind that is that nobody likes an ungrateful
It’s just the way it is.
Expressing gratitude is part of growing up.
if you are grateful,
the Tao tends to look at you slightly more seriously as you go
It’s like, well, at least they’re grateful now.
I guess we can step up from. Mc Donald’s and go to Sizzler.
And so, your work here.
The next issue is,
if you start coming across things that you’re absolutely not
And I’m not talking about not being thankful for something.
There are plenty of things I’m not thankful for,
things that I didn’t like, but I am grateful
because of the lesson that I learned in dealing with those things.
Am I thankful for it?
No, it sucked.
You know, I just didn’t like it.
But I can be grateful for that thing.
If you find things that you are not grateful for in your life,
you must seriously ask yourself why you are bothering to have
those things in your life.
And so if you’re sitting there repeatedly, you know, not only am
I not thankful for this, but I am not grateful for it either,
I don’t really have any other thing to say with regards to that.
So you can spend a period of time–
five to fifteen minutes
is a good period of time spending that–
this should be relatively alone time,
because it’s really you sitting down, learning to deal with the
Just sitting back and saying, well, you know, I’m grateful for
this in blah blah blah, and you just work on through it.
You can think of this as having good wishes
For those of you that pursue a
more monkly pathway, eventually you’ll develop three tiers of blessing
that you can administer for others,
the basis of which is to have intense good wishes.
And what that does is for that individual that creates a
overall environment of
goodness for them.
As you enter through the blessing process, you actually begin to
intermediate for that person
and the Tao.
You must enter into (it) quite seriously.
So at the second tier, what you’re really doing is you’re
intervening in what’s called the. Trinity,
meaning heaven earth and man.
Man on earth, I guess, would be the typical Trinity.
And basically saying,
stepping up for the person and saying, this is a good person.
Favor their choices,
have a good time with them.
Show them some good stuff.
So you’re the concierge of spirituality.
The last level of blessing.
You are directly intervening in the course of events and choices
powering their choice structure.
So that’s a karmic intrusion,
and it must be done cautiously
and requires you to have developed your blessing skill to
a high level.
Rarely will any priest issue this
degree of blessing,
because you can undertake part of the negative karma that the
person has accumulated
in the process.
So it is not commonly done.
And also because most people can’t commonly do it.
The last one is the ward against evil.
This is, in part, well it works for a variety of reasons.
But this is in part a hearkening back to the “Buffy, the Vampire
Slayer,” roots of Taoism.
The first root of Taoism was…
people were being trained for supernatural contest,
basically. They were supernatural warriors.
And they intruded
in basically the struggle of humans
against supernatural beings,
to even the battle.
Or to even the playing ground for humans.
It was 10,000 years ago.
Humans were not the dominant species and had no guarantee of
And part of that was because of predation
And so the Taoists were originally trained and built
for this particular function–to even the odds for humanity.
So this (the ward) is a leftover from this,
but this is really also
a way of altering your choice structures for what we call good luck.
So in the ward against evil, basically this is basic.
If you were to use it as a ward,
you use a simple phrase like,
no evil shall enter.
And you spend five to fifteen minutes doing this.
As you go along, you will develop better phrases
understanding of it.
Again, it’s a process that educates you as you go through.
So the mind needs to be occupied with this process for this period
And the choice structures will be shaped in a certain way.
So these become the three dominant invocations
to start off with.
So if you want something to do, you can work with these things.
These will in fact change the way you interact with your environment.
And strangely enough, this will improve your physical
environment, which will educate you in all sorts of ways.
to spend most of your time at the first level.
And it’s not really because one must be done before the other
level. It’s a matter of the first level is
more productive than the second level.
Like, really, the issue of stillness can’t
be thoroughly explored until a person has
developed good calm.
The issue of acceptance, that can be started at any particular
but you can only do so many things at once
The only reason it’s not really at the first level
is because you can only have so many things at any given level,
and plus you need to have….
If you’re invoking and you’re not altering your environment using
basic hygiene, it means you’re avoiding
doing basic hygiene.
Yeah, you’ve got to get past the whole, avoiding
basic hygiene issues first
and start shaping your environment to remind you of practice.
Once you’ve done that, then you can sit back and start shaping
yourself to remind you of practice.
And that’s really the function of invocation.
But if you really feel driven, like you’ve got to run some
gratitudes, run some gratitudes for a while.
Or if you find yourself–your brain is just messed up with
negative this or negative that,
well, your solution is perhaps to run some gratitudes so you can
remember that you have things to be grateful for.
Then sometimes that might open the door for positive power.
If you’re having a real trouble understanding what positive power
So you have to mix it up a little.
It’s like we were saying earlier, not every method within the
practice is going to be for you.
You’ll go through this, and some things it’s going to be the key.
You’re going to sit back, and it’ll be, you know, I really
didn’t get anything until I started sitting there and just
working on blessing.
And so I started blessing everything.
And now I’d like, I spend twenty minutes blessing
my cup of tea. It’s cold by the end, but man does it taste good.
Where’s the hook for a given person?
I don’t know.
That’s why you have that
practice available to you.
Different things are going to
make sense to different people.
And you just have to pursue that particular thing.