We are at the Nacional Museo de Arte in Mexico City.
I read Chapter 52 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.
“In the beginning was the Tao.”
“To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.”
“If you close your mind in judgements
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.”
We will return to our home. In April, I will be hiking again on the Appalachian Trail.
We are in Puerto Ángel, Mexico.
I read Chapter 47 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell.
“Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.”
“Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.”
“The more you know,
the less you understand.”
“The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.”
We take the small bus to Oaxaca, an adventure that some travelers fear due to the twisting roads — which can cause nausea.
We are not afraid.
We crossed the Caspian Sea on a freighter. This is nothing compared to that.
It is easy.
We arrive in Oaxaca alive.
We leave Cea. We walk to the albergue at Castro Dozón.
I read Chapter 9 of the Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):
“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.”
“Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.”
“Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.”
“Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.”
“Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”
We come to an overpass over a highway and see a place where pilgrims have constructed crosses in the fence.
Making these crosses is a way of focusing the mind.
Lao tsu advocates a way of being but is unclear about how to attain this state beyond “doing nothing.” The Lao tsu describes a “Master” who has a highly focused mind but who “steps back” rather than being overly compulsive. The Master does not cling to a particular ideology, method, or doctrine.
“Doing nothing” is at the heart of meditation – but there is irony involved. The meditator must expend effort to continually focus his or her mind on a target, such as the breath.
I suggest trying different methods to see what works for you.
Some people find that Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian mantras (repeating a phrase over and over) are useful for focusing the mind. You can repeat a mantra while sitting, but a mantra can be particularly useful while walking. Repeat the mantra again and again in time with your steps.
I used the mantra “Om mani padme hum” for many years.
We arrive at our destination. The albergue is full of bunk beds. We are in a noisy environment.
Mantras can be useful for helping you gain peace of mind when faced with compulsions, unwanted thoughts, desires, memories.
I struggled after I came back from the war in Vietnam and I found mantras to be very useful. You should plan to practice a mantra for a long time, perhaps for many lifetimes.
You can select your own mantra but you may wish to try different ones to see which one works best for you.
I have found that different mantas have different effects. After a few days of intense practice, the manta becomes part of your being. It changes things — and you can reach your self-less self.
We pass a church in Asturianos, on our way to Puebla de Sanabria.
This hike involves walking through a series of very small villages connected by small roads which pass through the countryside.
I read Chapter 76 in the Tao te Ching:
“Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.”
“Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.”
The images above the door of the church are of Saint Peter (who holds the key to the kingdom) and Saint John (who wrote one of the books of the Gospels, which he holds, and who holds a blade of faith, which can kill the snake of sin).
Another image seemed mysterious to us. The shell stands for the pilgrimage to Santiago — the praying ones seem in flames.
In Otero de Sanabria, we walk through a flock of sheep.
“Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.”
We catch our first glimpse of the old city of Puebla de Sanabria.
“Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.”
We continue walking.
“The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.”
We see the Castle of the Puebla de Sanabria, a town that was a setting for scenes in Cervantes’ classic book Don Quixote.
We walk across a bridge and pass below the castle.
We enter the town and walk past the castle.
Lao tsu’s poem describes the soft, connected to life, as overcoming the hard, connected to death. In the material world, the castle symbolized more than military defense. It symbolized the power of those in authority over those required to pay taxes.
In the material word, the hard rules the soft. In the Inner World, the doing of nothing is the path to understanding. The “hard” are merely thoughts which pass away. The “soft” Tao overcomes everything.
The abandoned villages are memories.
Moss grows on the rocks.
The buildings become ruins.
In Puebla de Sanabria, the church beside the castle is open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. People say that it is very dark inside. Young people say that they do not believe.
Ideas, that seemed eternal during the Middle Ages, now seem quaint.
We look at souvenir items that are for sale.
Those who are flexible prevail.
We walk past the church and through the Plaza – on our way to El Cubo de Tierra del Vino (The Cube of Wine).
I read Chapter 62 of the Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):
“The Tao is the center of the universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.”
The early part of our hike passes through the countryside.
“Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds.”
“But the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.”
“Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.”
to teach him about the Tao.”
The Camino returns to run parallel to highway N-630. I am not certain that it is possible to “teach” someone “about the Tao.” The Tao is a way — if you follow the way, you can learn. I try to set an example but my words are only sign posts for the Way.
“Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?”
The sun was very hot and Karen was extremely tired at this stage. When we arrived at the albergue, we found that my e-mail request for a reservation had been ignored. We ended up in bunk beds among many French people who spoke loudly and continually.
“Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek, you find;”
We went to the church to get away from the noise but, of course, it was locked.
“And when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.”
Lao tsu’s words make for good poetry but not everyone loves the Tao. The Way can be boring and difficult — only those with special motivation follow the Way. Most people seek pleasure even though this does not necessarily lead to happiness.
We checked out the route that the Camino followed out of town.
The church has a statue of St. James, the Pilgrim (Santiago), the Saint of our pilgrimage. The Camino de Santiago (the way to Santiago) visits the church in each town.
Here is my advice: When times are good, meditate each day. Then, when times are difficult, you will be able to focus your mind.
We are walking on the Jakobusweg – the trail that goes (eventually) to Santiago in Spain — the medieval pilgrimage route to the body of St. James, Apostle.
Chapter Twenty-two from the Tao re Ching:
To yield is to preserve the whole.
To be misjudged is to be straightened.
To be hollow is to be filled.
To be battered is to be renewed.
To be in need is to possess.
To be abundant is to be confused.
Therefore, the saint embraces the “Oneness” as a standard for the world.
The wise one is not prejudiced, hence he is enlightened.
The wise one is not self-opinioned, hence he is outstanding.
The wise one does not boast of himself, hence he shall receive the credit.
The wise one does not praise his own deeds, hence can long endure.
Because the wise one does not conflict with others and therefore the world cannot contend against him.
It is not true as the ancients say, “To yield is to preserve the whole?”
Thus the “Oneness” will be honored to him.
We are in Nazareth, Israel, visiting the Nazareth Village (simulation of Nazareth as it was during the time of Jesus), the Basilica of the Annunciation (Roman Catholic commemoration of the Angel Gabriel’s informing Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus), the Church of St. Joseph (located where Joseph was said to do carpentry), the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation (they believe that Mary was informed while getting water from a well and therefore built their church beside Mary’s well).
At Nazareth Village, we see an authentic wine press rock –where they trampled the grapes in a rock basin and the juice collected in a lower basin. It is likely Jesus visited this place — he lived nearby and grape crushing was a social event.
We learned that the standard image of a crucifixion is incorrect. Un-hewn lumber was used (round poles), typically forming a “T” –not a cross (X). This is disconcerting — what other historical images are incorrect?
We see a shepard, his sheep, and a tomb as would be constructed for a rich person in Jesus’ time. Poor people did not have tombs.
I look inside. Tombs were designed to hold more than one body-typically four people.
We watch two women spinning wool by hand.
We see Joseph, at work. He was not actually a carpenter as the term exists today. He was more of a construction worker, able to make basic equipment. He and Jesus probably worked at a Roman construction site nearby.
Here are things that Joseph might build: yoke, ladder, olive oil press (not shown). Joseph would not have made furniture. He could saw wood, plane wood, make holes in wood.
We visit the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the place where Mary was informed that she would be the mother of Jesus.
Inside, we see a noon ritual, a blessing at the grotto-like place where Mary was informed by the Angel Gabrial.
We see the Church of St. Joseph, built on the place that St. Joseph lived and worked.
We see the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, where Mary was informed of her role in giving birth to Jesus (according to Orthodox tradition). The Orthodox Christians collect holy water from the nearby well — they believe the annunciation took place beside this well.
There are many icons inside the Greek Orthodox Church.
I watch a woman cross herself, kiss and kneel before an icon of Jesus.
Lao tsu writes (chapter 70):
“My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.”
Here is a concern — a photograph of graffiti. Nazareth is predominately Arabic-speaking; many people who previously considered themselves Palestinian had to agree to accept Israeli ID cards in 1948. Many others fled for their lives and lost their homes.
But inside, people are people. They show adoration within their propensity for spirituality. Even if their methods differ, the basic emotions are the same. A few days before we watched people kiss a case exhibiting the beard of the Prophet Muhammad. Today, we saw similar sentiment among Christians. Look inside your heart and you will understand.
We visit the Oceanarium, the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. The way goes right by it. Our feet hurt while we watch the fish swim by.
Lao Tsu says:
“When people see some things as beautiful
Other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
Other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short defense each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything
And teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come.
Things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess
Acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.”
How can the master act without doing and teach without saying anything? By being authentically tranquil and happy, she shows the Way to others.