Retort to “Try harder”

Don’t try to be good. Don’t try to do the right thing. When you do, you are already feeling pride in your superiority and separation from others who you perceive as making a lesser effort. The way of conscious striving toward virtue is fundamentally a path of self-aggrandizement, and is bound to come in conflict with 道.

My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness…If you ask ‘what ought to be done’ and ‘what ought not to be done’ to produce happiness, I answer that these questions do not have answer.

If one is in harmony with 道, then one will act appropriately when the time comes to act, and this will be without struggle, without ambivalence, without even a willful choice. The divine and spontaneous mode of 无为 is the mode of action of 道 itself, and is the source of all good.


Great knowledge sees all in one.
Small knowledge breaks down into the many.

When the body sleeps, the soul is enfolded in One.
When the body wakes, the openings begin to function.
They resound with every encounter
With all the varied business of life, the strivings of the heart;
Men are blocked, perplexed, lost in doubt.
Little fears eat away their peace of heart.
Great fears swallow them whole.
Arrows shot at a target: hit and miss, right and wrong.
That is what men call judgment, decision.
Their pronouncements are as final
As treaties between emperors.
O, they make their point!
Yet their arguments fall faster and feebler
Than dead leaves in autumn and winter.

. . .

Enough! Enough!
Early and late we meet the “that”
From which “these” all grow!

If there were no “that”
There would be no “this.”
If there were no “this”
There would be nothing for all these winds to play upon.

So far can we go;
But how shall we understand
What brings it about?

— from Thomas Merton’s rendering of Zhuang Zi


道 is transliterated as Dao or Tao, and sometimes translated as “the way”.  It is a noun but carries a feeling of motion.  The character is part of the Chinese words for “road” and “reason” and “smell”.  If it is “the way” then think of it as “the way of the world” rather than “the path to righteousness” or “the way to happiness” or any such thing.

无为is transliterated as wu-wei.  Wu is well-translated as “without”, but wei, in this context is more elusive.  The combination “Weile” means “for the sake of”.  I suggest “purposelessness” as an appropriate approximation to 无为.



The Chemistry of Blame

Do you choose being right or being happy?
— Gary Hendricks

In this article, a couples counselor recounts his recurrent encounters with people who blame one another for their difficulties getting along.  His first job is to get them to unite in blaming him, the counselor.  It’s a tense moment, he says, but usually a ripe, new beginning.


In a workshop with Charles Eisenstein last month, I heard him challenge us: There is ritual child abuse in high places; there is war, which is just another name for mass murder; there are people who make their living selling children into slavery and people who psychologically program others from an early age to be zombie-killers.  Suppose that we could put an end to all this, but without the satisfaction of “justice”.  There would be no admission of guilt, no punishment, the perpetrators would walk free.  Do we choose justice, or do we choose amnesty?  Just supposing that we could end violence and cruelty by ending blame.  Just supposing that were the choice…

Just supposing…

Mass Media Propaganda Is The Only Thing Keeping Us From Rising Like Lions


“Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!”


This excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Masque of Anarchy” was read by Jeremy Corbyn at the 2017 Glastonbury festival before an audience of thousands in what was in my opinion one of the most thrilling political events of last year.

Corbyn’s message was about as subtle as a kick in the teeth: The people are many. Their oppressors are few. The masses can rise like lions and force their government to begin acting in the service of the people instead of the wealthy and the powerful.


Read more from Caitlin Johnstone

Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve

Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
Let the radiant thought last in stillness
though the page is almost filled and the flame flickers
We haven’t risen yet to the level of ourselves
Knowledge grows slowly like a wisdom tooth
The stature of a man is still notched
high up on a white door
From far off, the joyful voice of a trumpet
and of a song rolled up like a cat
What passes doesn’t fall into a void
A stoker is still feeding coal into the fire
Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
On a hard dry substance
you have to engrave the truth

— Adam Zagajewski, tr  RENATA GORCZYNSKI

Clear-cuts, clouds, and clucking hens

The human body is precisely our capacity for metamorphosis. We mistakenly think of our flesh as a fixed and finite form, a neatly-bound package of muscle and bone and bottled electricity, with blood surging its looping boulevards and by-ways. But even a most cursory pondering of the body’s manifold entanglements—its erotic draw toward other bodies; its incessant negotiation with that grander Eros we call “gravity”; its dependence upon cloudbursts, not just to quench its thirst but to enliven and fructify the various plants that it plucks, chomps, and swallows; its imbroglio with those very plants and a few animals, drawing nourishment from them for muscles, skin, and sense before passing that chomped matter back to the world as compost that might, if we were frugal, be used to nourish the soils in which those plants sprout; its bedazzlement by birdsong; its pleasure at throwing stones into water and through glass; its mute seduction by the moon—suffices to make evident that the body is less a self-enclosed sack than a realm wherein the diverse textures and colors of the world meet up with one another. The body is a place where clouds, earthworms, guitars, clucking hens, and clear-cut hillsides all converge, forging alliances, mergers and metamorphoses.

— David Abram

The Science of Happiness

Bait-and-Switch Notice: There is no science of happiness.

Our brains were evolved to solve problems, and human societies even more so.  The history of man is one long succession of competitions (most of them violent, but not all) in which the better problem-solvers drove the lesser problem-solvers to extinction.

So if, like most denizens of Western cultures, you walk through life in a state of vague malaise and dissatisfaction, carrying on your back the feeling that something is wrong, and weary of the persistent ennui— if this describes you, then it is natural for you to regard this as a problem to be solved.

There’s a formula for self-help books and on-line clickbait:

Much of the advice in these lists is pretty good.  The best essay I know comes from Bertrand Russell, and his advice, in a nutshell, is to focus on helping others, to stop thinking about your own happiness, but to notice and appreciate it when it shows up.

The underlying premise that happiness is a project you can undertake systematically is misconceived.  Jeff the Night Sky Sangha anti-guru said it with his characteristic mix of oblique directness:

We think we can get to the bottom of delusion by way of understanding something and that that will hopefully relieve us of the nagging shit house of suffering we all know (or avoid at all cost) and loathe.

We can’t and it won’t.

Enlightenment is supposed in some accounts to be a state of permanent and uninterrupted bliss, ewige freude, but more credible to me is that the enlightened soul simply ceases wishing that things were somehow different from the way they are.  

Most of us live in a culture of individualism that fails to recognize lasting happiness as a communal function.  We have sought families and networks of like-minded people with whom to share, within a larger environment that is in conflict with our deep animal nature.  That’s a start.

The only other thing I know is that people’s sense of peace and fulfillment and satisfaction with their lives has little to do with comfort, money, traditional success, wish fulfillment, or even chronic pain.