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“The Tao is called the Great Mother, the Valley Spirit: Empty yet inexhaustible, it gives birth to infinite worlds. It is always present within you.You can use it any way you want.” – Tao Te Ching, Chapter 6
The theme of our upcoming retreat in October, ‘Gathering in the Valley of our Time.’, opened the door for this quote from the Dao De Jing to pay me a visit. As the second, or third, most translated book in the world, after the Bible, there is no shortage of translations to choose from. I found myself drawn to this translation because of the last line, “You can use it any way you want.” There is a koan that we spend time with that tells us, “The storehouse of treasures opens by itself, you are free to take anything and use it any way you want.”
During the process of integrating into Chinese culture, Chan took liberally from the indigenous Daoist and Confucian traditions. Phrases like, “Turn the light around”, often used in Chan, was taken directly from Daoism. The Chinese character for the Dao is used for the Chan term ‘Dharma’, meaning the way, or path, or teaching. However, the Daoist appreciation of the female did not quite make the transition, or at least did not survive the multiple rewritings and editing of history, which is being corrected with the ferreting out and translation of more and more stories about women in the Chan/Zen tradition.
A valley supports life, feeds the animals who live there and provides fertile earth for agriculture. It can do this because it is empty. Being low, and humble it accepts the flow of the river. Not filled with anything to block the light, it receives the warmth of the sun. In its supporting of life the Valley does nothing and this doing nothing is an important aspect of the process of Daoist transformation, as it is an important aspect of Chan/Zen meditation.
A retreat is like a time in the Valley. During a retreat we cultivate the qualities of the Valley, supporting life and providing a fertile field for things to grow.