This two-part article was originally published in April 2004 and Sept 2004, by one of our many associates. After eight plus years, he has updated portions of it and asked us to published it.
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Playing with the Dao:
The Dao gave birth to One. The One gave birth to Two. The Two gave birth to Three. The Three gave birth to all of creation. All things carry Yin yet embrace Yang. They blend their life breaths in order to produce harmony.
People despise being orphaned, widowed, and poor. But the noble ones take these as their titles. In losing, much is gained, and in gaining, much is lost.
What others teach I too will teach: "The strong and violent will not die a natural death." --- Chapter 42 of Laozi's Dao De Jing (also known as the Tao Te Ching)
Someone recently asked me the following set of questions: "Since our world has gotten more chaotic than what we dreamed or believed in, what can we do about it? Can a person stay ahead of the curve of shifts and changes by understanding the Dao? Is there anything in the Dao that allows us to understand our world of uncertainty?"
After a moment of self-reflection on these questions, I realized that this person wanted a pragmatic "what-to-do" answer to our global setting of life-altering shifts and changes. Before those questions could be answered, we must first define the meaning of the Dao.
What is the Dao?
This essayist re-interprets that same principle as "… an elegant, universal framework that loosely connects numerous components to a total flow of macro and micro cycles of continuous change." Everything about Daoism is connected to this perspective.
"The universe and I exist together and all things and I are one."
--- Zhuang Zi's (translated by Lin Yutang)
Pragmatic Definition of Yin and Yang forces
A Daoist Viewpoint on Change
"Thus, one able to gain victory by modifying his tactics in accordance with the enemy situation may be said to be divine. … Of the five elements, none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some are short, and the moon waxes and wanes. …" --- Sunzi's Art of War (AoW), Chapter 6 (Griffith interpretation)
INTRODUCTION TO READING THE YIN AND YANG FORCES
"In battle, there are only the normal and extraordinary forces, but their combinations are limitless; none can comprehend them all. … For these two forces are mutually reproductive; their interaction as endless as that of interlocked rings. Who can determine where one ends and the other begins. …" --- Sunzi AoW, Chapter 5 (Griffith interpretation)
To understand the Dao, internal stillness is the first requirement. The first step of attaining this particular state is the "focused" act of emptying one's thoughts while maintaining no physical movement. This state of total "nothingness" is another important factor behind the essence of Daoism.
"Detach from emotions and desires; get rid of any fixations."
--- Zhuge Liang
"In motion be like water. At rest like a mirror. Respond like an echo.#
Be subtle as though non-existent. Be still as though pure."
Results from the Practice of Stillness
"The stillness in stillness is not the true stillness; only when there is stillness in motion does the universal rhythm manifest."
--- Old Daoist text
"Never worry about yesterday or concern oneself with tomorrow. You have to stay in the moment. By focusing on today, that is how we get to tomorrow."
--- A paraphrase from John Wooden, former UCLA coach
"One should clean out a room in one's home and place only a tea table and a chair in the room with some boiled water and fragrant tea. Afterwards, sit solitarily and allow one's spirit to become tranquil, light, and natural."
--- Li Ri Hua, a Ming Dynasty scholar
"The Master said, 'Even the world, its states, and its clans can be pacified; even ranks and emoluments can be declined, and even flashing blades can be trodden underfoot, but focusing on the familiar affairs of the day (zhongyong)—this is no easy matter."
--- Zhongyong, Section 9
"Be peaceful, easygoing, upright, and calm; then the measures you impose will be accommodating. If you are good at managing but are not calm, then empty your heart and even your mind, and wait for unease to fall away. This helps master rank."
--- Guigu Zi (Master of the Ghost Valley)
# Results from "Understanding the How"
Understanding how the world operates and its cyclical phase enhances your view of the large picture. This comprehension assists you in determining the "competitive advantage" within the situation, allowing you to focus on what to adopt and how to adjust to the current situation.
"What comes from the internal practice of stillness is the practice of field and focus. ... All this 'stuff' is happening all around me and I am the lens that brings it into perspective at this point in time and this location." --- R. Matz (The Alpha Chef of Cook Ding's Kitchen and Xingyiquan player)
How to Read the Forces
"Study requires calm; talent requires study. Without study there is no way to expand talent; without calm there is no way to accomplish study."
--- Zhuge Liang
"Therefore I say, know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril."
- Positioning in one's locale and countering with the opposite polarity of the oncoming force
- Positioning in one's locale and yielding until the force is overextended
- Countering the directness of the oncoming force with indirectness
- Countering the "continuous change of opposing force" by following its direction
"For they end and recommence; cyclical, as are the movements of the sun and moon. They die away and are reborn; recurrent, as are the passing seasons. … "
--- Sunzi (Sun Tzu) AoW, Chapter 5 (Griffith's interpretation)
"In dwelling, be close to the land; in meditation, go deep in the heart; in dealing with others, be gentle and kind; in speech, be true; in ruling, be just'; in business, be competent; in action, watch the timing."#
--- Dao De Jing, Chapter 8
Understanding the Dao
"To overcome the intelligent by intelligence, however, is a matter of opportunity. There are three avenues of opportunity: events, trends, and conditions." --- Zhuge Liang
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
--- F. Scott Fitzgerald
THE HEURISTIC PRINCIPLES OF THE DAO
- The Dao is a macro space consisting of numerous loosely connected components: Strategy is the Dao. Boxing (martial arts) is the Dao. Everything is the Dao
- The "Seasonal" Cycle: During good times, you must be conservative, totally focused, and not expand beyond your means. Good and bad times can never last forever. /// Things always come in cycles. Understanding and following the significant macro cycle properly allows you to master the attribute of momentum and timing for that macro scenario
- "Focus on the Familiar" #1: Proper establishment of internal stillness allows you to pay attention to the familiar
- "Focus on the Familiar" #2: "Focus solely on how the world works as opposed to what is the world about before executing any strategic move"
- The Integration of Yin and Yang: The forces of Yin and Yang complement each other. For every Yang-driven scenario, there's a Yin-driven scenario hidden behind it and vice-versa
- Opposite Polarity: You should always effortlessly counter an opposing force with a force of opposite polarity (either directly or indirectly)
- Existing with the Dao: Logic is a tool that justifies your existence
- Playing with the Dao #1: Playing with the Dao allows you to align with it for a particular season that gives you a momentary advantage. Concurrently, also focus on securing the maximum results that would give you the best position for the next cycle
- Playing with the Dao #2: Dissolving, deflecting, and absorbing the forces of Yin and Yang is the trademark of someone who comprehend the approach for playing with the Dao. That action derives from your approach of adopting, adjusting, and aligning with the Dao. Those who do not align with the Dao pay the conclusive price of failure. In the long run, the forces of the Dao always prevail over the abilities of animals, machines, and man
- Playing with the Dao #3: Always regard the macro (and micro) cause-and-effect process within each continuous cycle
- Aligning with the Dao #1: There is a great difference between knowing the Dao and aligning with the Dao
--- Sunzi (Sun Tzu) AoW, Chapter 1 (Sawyer's interpretation)
Through the practice of mindful stillness and the understanding of the Dao, you gradually learn and understand the importance of constant self-improvement and living our lives intelligently with a great degree of significance. The maintaining of this self-optimizing state while wandering at ease is always a lifetime challenge for those who wish to align themselves with the Dao.
"Your experience is never the same as the next person." --- A paraphrased quote from Sun Lu Tang (Sun's Internal Martial Art System Founder)
The experience of each person is always different from the practice of stillness. The only commonalities are the focus on the familiar and the practice of aligning with the Dao.
"In every landscape, the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky and the earth." --- Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Transcendental Sage of Concord
THOUGHTS FROM A PRAGMATIC STRATEGIST
"When people of great wisdom hear the Truth, they diligently practice it. When people of moderate wisdom hear the Truth, they practice it now and then. When people of lesser wisdom hear the Truth, they laugh at it. If there were no laughter, there would be no Truth." --- Laozi
"In the field of observation, fortune favors the prepared." ---Louis Pasteur
"It is the business of a general (or a strategist) to be serene and inscrutable, impartial, and self-controlled."
--- Sunzi (Sun Tzu) AoW (Griffith interpretation)
"He who has mastered this method knows the way of heaven and earth, has the support of the populace, and is fully aware of the opposing situation. … When he needs to determine his battle array, he knows how to prepare the formations. He combats when there is assurance of victory. He stops fighting when there isn't. … For one who has really mastered the method, his opposition can do nothing to escape their defeat."
--- An updated paraphrase from Sun Bin (famous strategist from the Warring States era and the great grandson of Sunzi)
Comments from the Compass Desk
To gain this state of stillness, our friends at Cook Ding's Kitchen recommended the practice of Yi Quan instead of yoga. The benefits is in its emphasis on an incremental balance of static and active motion exercises.
To properly assess the Dao of one's strategic situation, one must understand the "Five Critical Strategic Factors" that are embedded within it. ... You do know how to do that!? Do you?
Learning the philosophy of Daoism is easy. Comprehending the psychology and the physics behind the Dao is the challenge. ... It is not in your copy of the Art of War.
Without stirring abroad
One can know the whole world;
Without looking out the window
One can see the way of heaven.
The further one goes
The less one knows.
Therefore the sage knows without having to stir,
Identifies without having to see,
Accomplishes without having to act.
DDJ , 47
By seeing the connectivity of their grand setting, the successful strategist stays focused on his endeavors.