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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

732 What we acquire in contemplation we should spend in compassion.

Day 732 Friday, March 18, 2022

What we acquire in contemplation we should spend in compassion.


The rain had stopped. I was being driven along a back road, looking at the green hills, the beautiful forest, the wildflowers — and then the young Spiritual Intern at the wheel tossed out a profound question that threw me back 40 years,

Tell me more about Yin and Yang and how that fits into the world

in which we are living.

Suddenly the T’ai-chi T’u diagram was riding in the car with us!

This is truly a foundational stone in my spiritual life and requires more than a simple explanation. Here is how I usually proceed. The high point of the land at Starcross is where the little chapel stands.

Sometimes I take people, like my driver, up there and point to the south slope, where people are working. There is the garden to tend; the olive groves need care; fences are being repaired; the barn with all its activities is the dominant feature. That, I say, is the Yang side. Then we walk around to the back of the chapel and look out over the north slope which we have set aside to be forever wild. It is very still and quiet. That, I say, is the Yin side.

If she or he asks me, and I am hoping they will, Which is the most important side? I respond with something a Chinese sage said many centuries ago. Have you ever seen a mountain with only one side? That is clever but the person beside me now is asking something much deeper. It has to do with the often-ignored two little dots in the Ying/Yang diagram.

Sometime a little past the middle of the 20th century more and more people in the Western world, began to sense that our traditional approaches to spirituality were pretty Yin deficient.

Our prayers and church services were filled with words, and there were huge numbers of books written about the words. It was words, words, words. About the same time, we were becoming aware of Eastern spirituality where there was a lot of quiet and meditation.

Along with our Western religious heritage came the idea that we could create a perfect world. That didn't exist in the East. As The Tao Tè Ching puts it,

On misery perches happiness.

Beneath happiness crouches misery.

In the West we wondered how God could allow evil. In the East it was just accepted that bad times went with good times.

One thing led to another and many young people in the West became very turned off by the heritage in which they had been raised. More and more turned to what they perceived as the more attractive approach of the East. Some form of meditation was much more desirable than kneeling in a church and reciting memorized prayers.

In time, the young people grew up, became parents, and grandparents. However, many of them — as well as many young people more recently — began to feel that quiet contemplation by itself did not fully meet the challenges of today.

We have not yet talked about the two little dots in the black and white symbol above. In the active white of Yang is a little black dot. In the still blackness of Yin is a little white dot. The black dot is the seed of Yin. The white dot is the seed of Yang.

The rhythm of life is an inverse flux between movement and stillness. I think it was right for us to let the black dot grow and flourish in our Western world. It brought a balance that we really needed in our approach to spirituality. However, as Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) pointed out,

“Meditation is not for escaping into a rabbit hole!”

This observation was made by a Zen Buddhist monk who lived through two wars in his native Vietnam and was chairman of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation. He also said that strength is required in times of great difficulty and courage is required in times of war.

Are we in a time of war? It feels like it as Vladimir Putin’s troops invade Ukraine, despite the strong international reaction against that brutal action. Without doubt we are certainly in times of great difficulty.

I think more and more people, are seriously examining our responsibility to each other and to the planet. I think it is time to plant the white dot seed and do everything we can to bring harmony between Yin and Yang, in our treatment of other people, our sense of human rights, the way we consume and work, how we distribute the wealth of this planet.

Oxfam, the global human rights organization, recently reported that 8 people are as wealthy as the poorest half of the world’s population. They called this “obscene.” I agree. Look at the children dying of malnutrition around the world and the helpless suffering of their parents!

The historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) in his A Study of History, wrote that the evolution of cultural history is dependent upon how well we are able to harmonize Yin and Yang.

So, out of the rabbit holes, everybody, and into the streets, or barricades, or someplace — at least for a while.

Swinging back to my Western heritage, it was the German mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) who said,

What we acquire in contemplation we should spend in compassion.

Okay, courage everybody — plant the seeds, and may our efforts be blessed!

Brother Toby

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