Living the Tao-A Spiritual Podcast
Episode 001: Taoist Podcast Transcription
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.
This podcast releases a new episode the first Friday of the month. To subscribe to the weekly episode, please visit the website.
In this episode, Taoist Master Mikel Steenrod explores The Three Traditions of Taoism, Six actions toward tao mind, and how to experience insight by developing your “Ness.”
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This episode has been transcribed and can be found here: https://www.the-taoism-for-modern-world.com/episode-1-enlightenment-is-the-natural-state-of-humans/
Episode one: Enlightenment is the Natural State of Humans. 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 explores the three traditions of Taoism, six actions toward Tao, and how to experience insight by developing your “nesses.”. *** So, the Taoist school we're working out of, if we sit back and remember, Taoism is an enlightenment spiritual tradition from China-- it's significantly different than western spiritual religions, as are most of the eastern religions. But basically, we're looking at three classifications of practice and Taoism, One's the hermit tradition. One is the mystery school tradition. The other is the temple tradition. And these are the orders, basically that they emerged in. Daoism was originally, whatever form it happened to have taken, was a system of one shaman training another shaman for basically spiritual combat. That was the earliest function of daoism as it came through. So, as I've said before, and I'll probably say a few more times before the reference gets too old, the early Taoists were the “Buffy, the Vampire Slayers” of the world. That's why they existed. They were trained to be basically unstoppable warriors. However, it was an elite system, and it's still elite, to a certain extent, designed for one person to train another person or two other people. This became the hermit school tradition. So the dude living on the mountain, taking one or two students--that's the old hermit school. The mystery school tradition.... The best modern analogy I can give you for this is that it's like a modern research institute. Basically, you had a handful of lead teachers anywhere from...like two to ten. Sometimes they got larger, but when you started getting much larger than that, you started really verging over into the temple school tradition that would teach many students. So you might have anywheres from a dozen for some reason. The number twenty was significant. And student taking for Mystery Schools, you might go from just one or two, I mean, a dozen to twenty, up to a couple hundred. Usually Mystery Schools were aligned around specific forms of practice. So Taoist practice has never been unified, and that's something to keep in mind, it probably should never be unified, because it really represents different Schools of practice as you go through. And it doesn't become a matter of superiority of one school over the other, unless you're comparing things that are apples and apples. A lot of times people are comparing apples and oranges, and that doesn't make any sense at all. Now, as time went on, the temple tradition emerged basically so that more people could be taught daoism. And also, of course, not all taoists are focused on achieving enlightenment, which is actually the actual outcome of it. There's a large amount of daoism that is built around the pursuit of power, with the pursuit of knowledge. and of course, the pursuit of political power. And you start entering into that process when we start going into the temple process over here. So you get a really wide range of things. And you also have people that really just enjoy the temple lifestyle, which sounds odd, but compared to spending your day out in the field, or compare it to spending your day at war, or compare it to spending your day carving something? And suddenly the lifestyle of a monk... not so bad. You have to sweep some stuff, and then you spend a lot of time meditating. Not too bad of a lifestyle. But it's well understood in temple practice that only a small portion of that population is going to set out to achieve great enlightenment. As they come through, most are simply going to achieve a spiritual lifestyle, which is a perfectly acceptable goal. Again, it's not a matter of your one being bad or the other being good. Now, lately, what we've been focusing on are the steps necessary to move forward in personal spiritual progress. And what that precisely means, the 4 Ascendant school, which is the school that I'm a lineage holder of, (writes on board) I don't know, the Chinese, but more the Korean, but from what I've heard, is much, much shorter than the English. (English) is a lot bigger. So this is the 4 Ascendant Purity Adept School of the Tao. This is a mystery school system. Mystery Schools were aligned across clan lines. And this is the school for the Soon clan and the people that are affiliated with that particular clan. This (the 4AS) has certain advantages, because it actually contains within it, probably hundreds of complete other Taoist schools. And the reason for that is simple. All the major Taoist lines were pretty much terminated at the Communist revolution. And so the only things that remain are small fragmented lines or small fragmented lineages that come through. However, the Soons are collectors of lineages, and have been doing so for about 1500 years. So they contain complete traditions, are in complete systems of study that other Schools don't necessarily have anymore. The thing to keep in mind, and any of you can talk at any time, is that Taoism is taught largely through oral tradition and through practice. So you have those two major factors. Now we're looking at at basically chasing the big enchilada with the thought that you may not want to pursue the big enchilada. You'll find that out as you go along. And so if we look at this concept of enlightenment, there are a couple of things that I want to mention about this before we get too far into the discussion of it. Enlightenment-- One, is the natural state of humans. The process of enlightenment is returning the mind back to its natural state. It is not an artificial state. It is what you are actually supposed to be,and that's a major factor. It's not some sort of elaborate back flip into achieving understanding. It's actually where you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to do. That's one of the fundamental concepts for Taoists practice, when it comes down to that. Enlightenment is the return to a natural state. Now, that can be misinterpreted in all sorts of ways, so we'll add a couple things to it. The other thing is that it is definable. It's attainable. Believe it or not, it's even measurable in some ways. And the reason I mention all of this is that we like to oftentimes place religion into this mystery, out-of-bound's place, where a select few will achieve the ends that go there. This is the basic rule for achieving enlightenment... You really want to achieve enlightenment, you're going to achieve enlightenment. That's the rule for it. Taoism is a collection of human methods, and that's very well understood--methods created by humans to increase the chance of you becoming enlightened and staying sane in the process. Taoism also does something else, and that is what you do after you become enlightened. And so it has an entire system that's built for that, primarily because it is capable of generating very good numbers of people converting to becoming enlightened. Now, as we go through this process, we sit back-- And so, strangely enough, the mystery school tradition for this is that it's not a mystery. And as an interesting contrast of terms, it's not something that's out of bounds, and it's not something that you should not pursue because, or actively pursue, because then you wouldn't be humble. Does that make sense? Sometimes religions place the pursuit of truth, or stating the pursuit of truth is outside of your bounds, because then you wouldn't be humble in pursuing your truth. Enlightenment says, or Taoism says,”It's yours anyways, you might as well get it.” And that's the basic statement of enlightenment. Now, as soon as something becomes real, it becomes definable. It also becomes attainable. It's attainable by the vast majority of people that set out to do it. And interestingly enough, if it's definable is also measurable. And a lot of things have gone into doing that over time. Enlightenment is a strong enough process where it can be tested and where there are specific cut offs for its performance. Now, if we go back to our early model-- the reason I'm mentioning this is that no matter what religious end you end up pursuing, these factors should be involved. If you have a religion that can only exist outside of definition, outside of attainability and outside of being measurable, there's a problem in that, because what good is it doing you? Now it may be that you have the wrong measure, maybe that you have the wrong definition. It may be that you're doing the wrong thing to attain it. But if you're looking at, you, look at your whole population for any given religious system, how many people can, realistically, that want to, can realistically achieve the goal of that spiritual study? If that's like, two out of 20000, you need to sit back and take a look at that. If it's 20000 people that want that goal, if it's...10000—50% that's not too bad. Somewhere along the line, you have to make your own personal cut off and go, well, what can be done here? So basically, we have this big reality, outside initially, that we call the Tao or the tao mind, which is the thing from which all things are constructed. We can get into the nature of Tao, or things like that, wherever today's conversation happens to go. But Tao and tao mind are the words are used simultaneously (as synonyms) in practice. There's no differentiation created between those two factors. What you are born with is a representation. Well, you're not actually born with it. What you are given after birth is a representation of the world. That representation is called social mind. Part of your study, as you go through, and that's your personal study. That's not the study of the things I say, that's you studying practice. You moving through things, is coming to really understand what this thing is, as you go along. But basically, you have a representation in your head of the world called social mind. The problem with that representation is that it's not hugely accurate. It is filled with flaws. It believes that there are pink elephants when there are none. So you spend all your time watering pink elephants, herding them around, and in fact, they don't exist. And that's a major source of trouble because, of course, you're frittering away your resources. You're shaping yourself for a world that's not actually there. And whenever you do that, that creates unhappiness. Because you are so much at odds with the way that true reality is. Your choices become powerless as a result, and you're not capable of achieving the things that you want,or of even wanting things that exist. *** We hope that you're enjoying this episode of Living the Tao—A Spiritual Podcast. *** The objective of enlightenment training is to change this representation in your head to something called tao mind, with a little t, which is basically a more accurate picture of the Greater Tao--of the Tao around and through us as we pass through. The way you get from social mind to tao mind is to expose the social mind to the Tao straightaway. Those create moments of insight, periods where you go *suprised gasp* And suddenly you understand something for a moment, and then you forget it. Well, you didn't forget it. The system adjusted. Once it incorporates it, then you forget whatever it was initially. But those are where you have those brilliant flashes of insight. That insight is you simply perceiving the Tao as it is for a certain period of time. I'm going to say something that can be revolutionary at sometimes a practice. (Given perceptions of practice.) “Insights are not limited. They're not rare.” You can enter into a constant state of insight to the point where it's hugely annoying. What happens is that, if you're getting off on a tangent (from an excess of insight), you're not really going to be harmed by it, because all that you're going to do is generate more social mind. You're already there(dominated by social mind). So it's like, you know, you're in a leaky boat, and some water splashes into your leaky boat. It's not enough to sink you. It's just a matter if you were scooping water out, and now a couple more cups are inside of it. And initially, it can be difficult. But what happens is that there is a definite change in the way that tao mind functions. And the other thing that happens is that you can place this up against reality, meaning that if the tao mind that you're forming is more true, you have greater access to the Tao, and you also accumulate more karmic power faster. And those are real factors that have definite and measurable consequences in your life. So as we expose ourselves to the tao mind over here, we have an insight. And that insight is really processing and the opportunity to move your social mind more towards tao mind. If this occurs too rapidly, it can be destructive. So that's something to keep in mind. And a lot of practice is really designed to create opportunities to be exposed to the Tao Mind (aka Tao when with a capital T) and also tolerate the process of exposure. And so you go through. Both opening the door (to the other side), and standing what you can see on the other side. As you get good with that, you gradually move yourself into the tao mind. Now, for some of you that have been here before, you'll have heard me say that enlightenment is a word that's used by outsiders, and it really is. It's not something after a certain point of practice you even really use the word for, because it's just a general term. As you start getting into practice, you begin to realize that there are all these factors inside of it, and that enlightenment was just this big word that people use to describe the end state for people over here (pointing to a group illustratively). Now,what it usually is is, keep this in mind. The definition of enlightenment varies by the system and the spiritual tradition that you're in. So the Hindu concept of enlightenment is different than the Buddhist concept of enlightenment, which is different than the Taoist concept of enlightenment. There's not a complete overlap between those things. There is partial overlap between those things. Hindu enlightenment is more about achieving oneness with the external universe. And they have a very specific way of talking about that. Now if you really think about it, what is enlightenment and the Taoist concept? Well, you're getting an accurate representation of the true univers. You're achieving oneness with the universe. And so there are overlaps between those, as you go along. Now, basically, the definition for the enlightenment border (i.e. boundary) in 4 Ascendant is, “Your primary teacher is the Tao. Humans are no longer necessary.” And that's a strange definition to be created, but basically it's the one that's there. It means that your interactions with the Tao are designed to directly educate you. And you have the ability to directly interact with the Tao. Once that's done, you are outside of the human world. Because of that, you are considered enlightened. That's their very specific definition that they've come up with across 1500 years. It's like, “Yeah, all the weird stuff that's associated with the enlightened people, it happens after they stop needing their human teacher.” Now, you might still consult with your human teacher, you might still get feedback from them, but you no longer need them for forward progress. That's between you and the Tao and the successes or failures that you have personally, as you go along. And that's something else to keep in mind--at no point does enlightenment guarantee either omniscience or omnipotence. You do vastly gain more power, but that's largely because of karma, not because of just more perception and more capacity. You also gain those things, but it's not the reason for it. Ok, any questions about this? Good, everybody go and get enlightened. Now we'll, actually, we'll start off on a simple, usable series of pathways to move yourself forward. For last month, we dealt with the issue of acceptance when we were dealing with the first three levels of spiritual attainment. Before we go into this, remember that the majority of things that you want from life are going to come out of doing the first two layers. And that's ok, because you really don't know how far you want to go until you start going through the process. And then you'll sit back and go, “Yes, I want to do this particular thing.” And part of pursuing monkliness for something—the 4 Ascendant doesn't actually have monks, because it's not a temple tradition-- but I'll outline the typical titles for you today. But basically the definitions of these layers.... Your object, if you're really seeking to become fully enlightened, and you may not be, it may just be an appealing concept to you right now. As you go through the process, you'll make the decision. That's the big thing to keep in mind. What you're really setting out to do is achieve this thing called mind of clarity. That's where in temple, you would be basically crossing over from being a novice monk to being a monk once you've acquired mind of clarity. (Please refer to the article on the Three Level Method for the illustration.) These first two levels: What do we have here? We have hygiene, Ae have positive power. And these (words) are modern words for the same (ancient) things. If you were to pull out the old books, I can go through and point out exactly what they're talking about when it comes to these terms. Hygiene, positive power, calm. Up here we have acceptance, stillness, and invocation. Most of the things you want within life will come from working with these first six ideas as you come through, and gradually integrate them into yourself. Now as you go along, these will continue to get stronger. Even after mind of clarity, you don't abandon these things, because really, after mind of clarity, you realize what type of tools they are and what they're really designed to do for you. And initially, these are designed to get your brain into the right spot. What do I mean by getting into the right spot? This is a concept, I guess we've actually started to quote some of our own terms, of ness. And it's that reasonableness of thought that falls into ness. Now, what that (i.e. -ness) means is that, for the most part, you recognize the thoughts that you're going to have as coming from you. It comes out of a combination of your past experience, how you perceive the world, the choices you've made, or what we call pack as we go along. And it's that familiarity that determines what thought you're going to have, and basically what you're going to do. Interestingly enough, this also leads to a side factor, and that will become perhaps a target of conversation today. And that is, the future is largely predictable: And you gamble on the future being largely predictable every single day. You don't gamble on the fact that all a genetically reared Tyrannosaurus Rex might go running down the street right now, as you're heading towards your car. 'Cause if you were gambling on that, you'd be carrying some sort of anti Tyrannosaurus Rex weapon. So you anticipate that the future is, for the most part, 99 percent of the time, going to be completely predictable. And you know, it will be, you know the thoughts you're basically going to think, you know the things that you're basically going to do, and you know the things that you're largely going to encounter. It's only a small amount of time that you're going to enter into anything that you can consider random. And that amount of randomness disappears as your awareness increases. So most of what we view as being unpredictable disappears. And a large part of it is predictable. And that's where I Ching comes in. So I Ching basically says that people and events move in predictable phases. Now,why is “ness” important for enlightenment? For one simple reason, unless you're currently in the position where you can sit back and conceive of the world as an enlightened person does, you cannot become enlightened. Your objective is to move yourself into a position where those thoughts are realistic. Ah, and so this “Ness”, this compliment, or this combination that's really you, where those thoughts can be familiar and realistic to you, that's what has to move. How do we move that? Using this over here (insight). That's what it boils down to. In a nutshell, insight is not magical. We oftentimes think of it as being magical. We oftentimes think it's this rare thing. But it's not. All you have to do is move your ness to a position where insight is possible and frequent to you. And then you have to want to keep it there. Because you may not want to. *** We hope you've enjoyed this episode of Living the Tao--a Spiritual Podcast.