Gijón – Chapter 19

We took the train to Ribadeo where we ride bicycles around the town.

Something unusual.

Our lodging was on the Camino Norte pilgrim route (the coastal route to Santiago which turns inland at Ribadeo). We follow, on foot, the shell markings for a while. We see a sign advertising our lodging.

The next day, we take the train to Gijón. The route runs along the coast, an area with tidal rivers and views of the ocean.

We pass through the town of  Luarca.

I read chapter 19 of the Tso te Ching:

“Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.”

[Lao tsu does not advocate religious belief or specialized expertise. He suggests paying attention to reality and the present moment.]

We arrive in Gijón and walk on the route by the ocean.

“Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.”

[Lao tsu urges total simplicity — and sometimes he offers advice to political officials. I suggest thinking of his text as pertaining to self-direction with regard to meditation. Let go of concerns about right and wrong and focus on your breath. People often hold stories about someone doing something wrong or harmful and this becomes a theme in their life. These thoughts can rob you of your happiness.  Let go of such stories by practicing meditation.]

“Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.”

[I offer no suggestions about politics, religious doctrines, or economic theory.  The Inner Way involves meditation. By meditating, you can let go of your thoughts and experience the result.]

We see the famous monument.

“If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.”

We visit the art museum.

Most people are powerfully affected by those around them.


You were affected by the stories you were told you when you were young.

We harbor attitudes toward technology — technological change has unforeseen impacts and people’s occupations are affected.

The painting is a Medieval portrayal of a demon causing the plague. People create stories to explain their experiences.

Joseph and the Christ child. Many people’s self-stories involve their childhood. What did Mary and Joseph tell Jesus about his parentage? There was a powerful stigma regarding illegitimacy.

Adam and Eve — a story thought to explain sin. God prohibited eating the fruit of knowledge regarding good and evil and Adam and Eve violated this prohibition. If they had no understanding of good and evil, why was their behavior regarded as wrong? Why did God lack empathy?

Cain and Abel preparing their sacrificial fires. Cain’s fire is not burning that well — his sacrifice was not considered as good as Abel’s sacrifice.  Of course, this resulted in bad feelings — and ultimately, Cain killed Able — so things did not work out for either of them. The sacrificial fire method of worship did not work very well.  You need to figure out what methods will work for you.

Famous artwork — copper — people at the fish market.

A wide variety of people — many fish.

All are at this place because of the fish.

We walk by the beach.

Lao tsu suggests giving up holiness/wisdom, morality/justice, industry/profits. Are these things enough for you?

You don’t have to become a weird hermit who dwells continually within the shadow world of spirits and ghosts. You can become happier by meditating each day — letting go of the dysfunctional stories you devised to cope with your difficulties. Then you can perceive the peaceful center within.

A Coruña – Chapter 17


We took the train to A Coruña and are in a hotel close to the ocean (Eurostars Cuidad de la Coruña).

This is the view from our fifth floor window– you have to pay extra for the view but we just completed our 1000 kilometer walk so we are rewarding ourselves.)

We walk on a trail behind our hotel and look back at where we are staying.

We pass by sculptures and artwork.

We walk toward the Tower of Hercules — the old Roman lighthouse refurbished and currently  in operation.

The view from the top.

I read Chapter 17 of the Tao te Ching:

“When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.”

[This is another of Lao tsu’s “political” chapters — we will consider how his discussion might be useful on a psychological level.]

Views from our our hotel window — always changing but, like your self-concept, always similar.

We are in the Plaza Maria Pita. In 1589, Maria Pita was assisting her husband, a captain defending the city from English attack. He was killed by a crossbow bolt as the English assaulted the city walls. Maria Pita then killed an English soldier at the highest part of the wall. “Whoever has honor, follow me!” she shouted. The English assault was then repelled and the English abandoned their siege and returned to their ships.

“If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.”

[Can you trust yourself? People with addictions cannot trust themselves. People with negative, recurring patterns of behavior should seek to change themselves.]

We follow a procession past the Church of Santiago.

We look inside the church. I pray that you come into harmony with your inner self.

We watch the procession pass.

“The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.”

[If you are facing sadness, anxiety, depression, PTSD — think about what you need to do besides focusing on the problem. Figure out a self-help plan.]

The next day, we walk on the trail past the lighthouse. We are going to the Finnisterre Aquarium.

“When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

We watch the fish.

We see a shark.

[Lao tsu’s concept of “doing nothing” is held up as a logical method for rulers — but within nature, the big fish eat the little fish. If you are a little fish, you must watch out — your anxiety may not be completely useful but awareness of reality is required. Put together a plan that involves self understanding.]

We visit the military museum and see a diagram of the forces arrayed for the battle between French and British troops on January 16, 1809. The Peninsular War (1807-1814) involved Napoleon’s Empire and Spain, Britain, and Portugal. France destroyed the ability of Spain to fight and, in 1809, British Lt. Gen. John Moore sought to withdraw his troops and return to England.

The ships sent to aid him did not arrive in time and the French attacked. The soldiers lined up and fired on each other (about 20,000 French vs. 15,000 British). After hundreds were killed, the French attack was repelled, allowing the British to escape and board their ships.  General Moore was mortally wounded but lived to be informed that his battle plan had been successful.

It is strange to think about the hundreds who died on this day. This was not a particularly meaningful event — if the French had not attacked, the British would have withdrawn without a battle. This battle was similar to some I experienced in Vietnam — meaningless events — outcomes without resolution.  What is the use of it?

Traumatic events are harmful psychologically but recovery is possible through meditation.

We see a portrayal of the Roman lighthouse before it was repaired in the 1700s. When left alone, the light house deteriorated.

These flowers are called Angels Trumpets.

A different color


The museum contains a medieval boat — very different from those in the harbor.

Lao tsu did not advocate technological change since “progress” is not always psychologically healthy.

Be aware of this possibility — playing with your iPads and cell phones may not lead to happiness.

People who want to come into harmony with themselves must ponder self-change.

“Doing nothing” can be a symptom of depression. Lao tsu’s prescription of “doing nothing” refers to a special state of mind. Don’t be lazy. Seek the Inner Way.

The Inner Way involves meditation, a focusing of the mind. If you wish to develop this skill — which can lead to inner peace and happiness — you need to apply yourself. Practice!

Santiago Cathedral – Chapter 15


We attend the Pilgrim’s Mass at Santiago Cathedral.

After the mass is complete, the officials swing the Botafumeiro (incence burner) from the central nave. The largest Botafumeiro in the world remains idle but the regular-sized one is used for everyday services.

The Botafumeiro is launched. It’s original function was to carry the prayers of the faithful to heaven while masking the smell of the unwashed pilgrims who had walked in from all over Europe.

After the song is complete, the Botafumeiro is brought to rest.

It is secured above the cathedral floor.

We return in the evening to attend a second mass, standing in position to watch the Botameiro as it swings side to side (this video takes 3.5 minutes).

I read Chapter 15 of the Tao te Ching:

“The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.”

The Baroque Main Altar dates from the 17th century. St. James, the Pilgrim, on it peak, holds a staff in his right hand, with King Alfonso II and King Ramiro III at his sides. Below is a statue of St. James sitting. Pilgrims are permitted to walk through a passage behind the altar and reach around and hug him!

Karen hugs the Saint.

We visit the saint’s relics — stored in a passageway under the cathedral.

During a less busy time, I approach the altar to meditate.

The altar

In front, hangs the largest Botafumeiro  in the world. It weights 80 kg and has come crashing down on three occasions (without fatalities).


Angels on the altar

We walk counter-clockwise around the cathedral, capturing images .

I read from chapter 15:

“There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.”

“They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.”

Tomb, altar, ceiling

“Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.”

“Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.”

St. James holds a scroll which states “I was sent by God” [to bring the Gospel to España].

“Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.”


“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?”

“Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”


“The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.”

There is a dark side to the legend of St. James in Spain.  Within the Spanish tradition, St. James was an apostle of Jesus, a pilgrim who brought Christianity to Spain — but he later came as a vision in the sky to assist in conquering and driving out the Moors. He was thought to have appeared as an apparition during a battle and rallied the Christian troops to victory.


I will discuss the legend of St. James more fully when we visit the Cathedral museum and the Pilgrim’s Museum.

“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?”

Museo of Pilgrimage and Santiago – Chapter 16

We visit the Cathedral Museum ( Museo Cathedral de Santiago).

It is time to think about the history of the St. James story that led to building his Cathedral in Santiago.

I read Chapter 16 of the Tao te Ching.

“Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.”



In the Cathedral Museum, we see a video which shows the Portico de la Gloria – the main entrance to the cathedral (currently closed for repairs). The video portrays the need for restoration. The video briefly shows the 24 elders of the Apocalyse — which include the 12 apostles of Jesus.  There are also images of St. James (Santiago).

In the Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago, we learn about Santiago the (1) Apostle, (2) Pilgrim, (3) Moor-slayer.  Above, St. James, in orange, is show in his typical position at the last supper – seated close to Jesus.

James was present at the “transfiguration” of Jesus (a powerful spiritual experience). He was also among the select group with Jesus during the night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night of prayer before Jesus was crucified.

This medieval painting shows the Apostle James holding a book and staff, accompanied by the Apostle John. The three most important apostles were Peter (the Rock upon which the church was founded), John (the one Jesus loved), and James — whose actions after the crucifixion are not well-documented. James and John, both fishermen, were brothers.

“Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.”

St. James (right bottom) was thought to have a special role regarding a dying person’s soul. Mother Mary could intercede through her connection with Jesus and God — thwarting the Devil. Mary could be influenced by saints and priests. James conveyed insight to a person about future possible outcomes, something that would allow the person to take action before death. That could make all the difference regarding heaven and hell.

By by the end of the 6th century, stories developed describing  St. James as a missionary to Spain. He was said to have gone to the “End of the World” (Finis Terrae), in what is now Northwest Spain. He was thought to have returned to Palestine. The Book of Acts (12:2) states that he was put to death by sword — on orders by Herod Agrippa.

St. James became the first apostle to be martyred in the year 44.

According to one story, his disciples took the body on a small boat back to Spain — the boat was magically carried by the currents — and the body was buried in a secret place. Another story describes angels transporting the body to Spain on a stone boat. In 730, the ancient historian Bede mentioned the transport of the body. There is no evidence of James’ Spanish visit previous to 9th century traditions.

“Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.”

In (perhaps), 830, a hermit, Pelayo, heard music and saw mysterious lights which led him to a place — the “field of the star” (which became known as Compostela). Bishop Teodomiro heard about Pelayo’s experience and the Bishop, after fasting and prayer, discovered Christian tombs — three bodies — which fit the idea that this was St. James and his two disciples.

“If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.”

King Alphonso II accepted the idea that this was the tomb of St. James. He built a small chapel at the site in 834 and declared St. James his patron saint. It was common for authorities to encourage worship at local shrines and to support region-specific cults. The chapel became a pilgrimage destination.

“When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.”

Later, King Charlemagne had a dream in which St. James told him to open up pilgrimage routes to the tomb by liberating Moor-held lands. The Moors were a major problem — in 997, Abn Abi Aamir (known as al-Mansur) captured and destroyed the Compostela church but the saint’s relics were not disturbed.

“Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.”

News of the destruction of St. James Shrine spread throughout Christiandom and powerful rich supporters provided money to build the cathedral and support pilgrimage routes.

St. James, the Apostle, acquired the characteristics of St. James, the Pilgrim.

In 1236, with the recapture of Córdoba by Fernando III, the bells of the cathedral were returned to the rebuilt cathedral. This began the golden age of Pilgrimage — with Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago the three main destinations.


Pilgrims devised special songs which were accompanied by the instruments of the era.


A story developed regarding the Battle of Clavijo, in which an image of St. James appeared in the sky and led Christian troops to victory against their Muslim foes. Although no such battle occurred, St. James became Santiago Metamores, St. James, the Moor-slayer. Appeals to him were part of a common battle cry, used by Christians in battle. The Knights of the Order of St. James of Compostela were founded in 1170 to re-conquer Muslim-held areas. The Order became wealthy and powerful.


I listen to the pilgrim music with these people. I do not know which country they come from but they look like pilgrims — they are dressed like pilgrims.


Karen and I walked from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostela, a distance of over 1000 kilometers. We have a sense of unity with other pilgrims. We feel that Europe is far better off being united rather than fighting wars. People benefit when they overlook their differences. Travel helps people understand this.

In the museum, I saw a piece of an ancient Roman wheel, portraying the wheel of fate. St. James became an apostle, pilgrim, and Moor-Slayer — but today he is a unifying element for a secular pilgrimage that hundreds of thousands of Europeans, Australians, and some Americans (north and south) undertake together. I understand that the wheel of fate turns and that sometimes evil, foolish leaders take over.

I know what war is like. The Inner Way is a means for adjusting to this. When a thought emerges, take note, and let it go.

“Immersed in the Tao, you can deal with what life brings.”


In the morning, we take the train to A Coruña.

The practice of meditation may stimulate religious experiences but you should realize that our minds are like a house of mirrors. We bring up visions which can be used for selfish ends and it is difficult to see the difference between light and shadow. The Inner Way involves letting go of all thoughts.


Many blissful experiences are delusional.  When the idea for a battle cry arises, let it go. It is best to remain silent.




Santiago Cathedral – Chapter 14

The image above shows the Santiago Cathedral before it was covered with scaffolding. During each of my three visits (2011, 2014, and now  2017), the cathedral has been “under repair” and this time, the main masterpiece, the Pórtico de la Gloria, is covered over — not available to tourists. It, and the main towers, are being restored.


Most pilgrims arrive from the north, taking what is known as the French Camino. They pass through the Praza da Immaculada.  The  cathedral has the form of a cross and this is the top, northern part. Above the double doors is a statue of  the Pilgrim Santiago with Kings Alfonso II of Asturias and Ordoño II of León, praying to him.

I read Chapter 14 of Lao tsu’s Tao te Ching (translated by Steven Mitchell):

“Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.”

[Lao tsu portrays the Tao as beyond imagination; Christianity includes many, many images — which can be seen, heard, grasped.]

Below Santiago are four figures and a blindfolded statue representing faith.

“Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.”

[There are elements within faith that are parallel to the Tao — faith has a hidden quality.]

Our experience during this visit was characterized by construction and repair work. These doors were open for the French pilgrims but there is major construction work going on.

“Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.”

[Christainity is filled with symbols — many names, ideas, images.]

Walking to the east, clockwise, we come to the Holy Door. Typically, it is closed. Above the door is a statue of St. James and his two disciples (Teodoro and Atanasio). To the left and right of the door are 24 carved figures of saints, apostles, and important religious figures (some of whom appear Asian). The Holy Door is open only on years when St. James’ Day, July 25th falls on Sunday. The exact identity of many of the images is unclear — specific objects have become connected to certain apostles and saints. St. James, for example, is often shown holding a pilgrim’s staff — reflecting his journey to Spain  (not historically documented but accepted by believers). St. James stands above the door and is not among the 24 figures.

On each side of the Holy Door are carvings by Maestro Mateo of saints, apostles, prophets, and Asian guys.


Walking to the south, we come to the Plaza das Praterias (Praterias are silversmiths, who used to have their shops here). This is the entrance for pilgrims, like us, who come from the south. There were also shops selling provisions for pilgrims.

“Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.”

[Lao tsu portrays the Tao as something that cannot be seen, heard, grasped, named — beyond conception. The cathedral functions as a kind of teaching tool — bringing the Christian stories into your awareness — but some elements have become obscure for modern listeners]

This plaza is often crowded — there are many tour groups visiting the cathedral.

“See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.”

The cathedral doors in this plaza are surrounded by intricate artwork. On the left, are carvings showing the temptation of Jesus in the desert (note the monsters), on the rights is the “passion of Christ” (but I have not completely figured the exact meaning of many of these images)


“Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”



Obscure images



We walk to the west and view the Praza do Obradoiro — the famous image on the 1, 2, and 5 cent Spanish coins — but, much is covered by scaffolding. I play with the sun.



We visited many times — sometimes walking from the north. We pass a beggar and listen to bagpipes.


When we visited the Museum, we looked down on the Plaza from a balcony passage.


The camera concludes by looking toward the Plaza de Praterias.


During the many times we walked through this Plaza, we saw many pilgrims arriving. Over 200,000 pilgrims walk the French Camino each year.



We leave the Plaza do Obradoiro,  walking south toward the Plaza das Praterias.

We enter — it is time for the Pilgrim’s Mass. You must come early if you want a seat.

Santiago de Compostela – Chapter 13

We begin walking the final 8 miles to Santiago. We look towards the north, but the city is not in view (we had been told we might see it but the haze was too thick).


I read Chapter 13 of the Tao te Ching:

“Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.”

“What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky.”


“When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.”


We continue walking toward the city — ahead are scattered houses, not the actual city.


We climb a hill, look back at some other pilgrims who are climbing, and look at a construction site.

“What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.”


We walk on, entering the urban area.

“When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?”


The marker shows that we have 2.26 kilometers to go before we reach the cathedral.

“See the world as your self.”



“Have faith in the way things are.”


“Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”



We cross a bridge.

“Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.”

We reach the Cathedral of Santiago — the door associated with those coming from Portugal and Southern Spain.



We go to the Pilgrims office and stand in line. We will show the official our pilgrim credential with stamps that we received during our 1000 kilometer walk on the Via de la Plata.



I show my credentials with stamps for each location I have visited on this pilgrimage — beginning at Sevilla and now ending at Santiago.  Our hike was so long that we filled every space in the standard pilgrimage document so we used a blank page to display all later stamps.


I receive my Pilgrimage certificate  — I have walked 1007 kilometers. Next, we will go to the Pilgrim’s Mass at the cathedral.

We return to the cathedral.


The main altar — Santiago (St. James)

There is mystery involved in completing this pilgrimage and there is much to see regarding this cathedral. I will show many photographs and videos of these marvelous things and you will take another step toward your karmic destiny as a result of hearing about these things.

“Have faith in the way things are,” Lao tsu says. “Love the world as your self.”



A Laxe- Chapter 10



We walk from Castro Dozón to A Laxe.

We pass a house with sculptures — Santiago (St. James), a crucifix, gate ornaments.

I read Chapter 10 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?”


“Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?”



“Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?”



“Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?”

During recent weeks we have seen few fellow pilgrims but today we have encountered Spanish pilgrims who started off recently and are walking the final 100 kilometers to Santiago.

There are many bugs in this area.

“Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?”


We enter a deep hedgerow-road cut.

“Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?”


We see a mole, who seems anxious — he probably prefers to be underground.

“Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.”


We walk in the hot sun. It is unpleasant to walk in the heat.

Lao tsu asks if you can do things that are difficult to do — having no expectations — not trying to control — not imposing your will. I don’t think that many people can do these things.

Follow your own Inner Way. Practice without concern regarding how well you are doing. The Inner Way is not a contest. Realize that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do. Everything will fall into place.



Cathedral of Ourense – Chapter 7



We walk toward Ourense  — following the Camino which leaves the industrial area and follows a rural route.


We walk past small farms and gardens.



We visit the Cathedral (dedicated to St. Martin of Tours).



St. Martin tore his cape in half and gave half to a poor man. Later, when he was a Bishop, he destroyed many pagan temples. Christians lived in the cities — people in the country-side still worshiped according to their ancient traditions but St. Martin could not tolerate that.



Inside, we observe the narthex (the entrance). It portrays saints, apostles, and figures (elders)  from the book of Revelation.

[Revelation 4:4 — “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.”]


The book of Revelation mentions Elders — but it is unclear exactly who these rulers were — we might assume they were apostles and saints but Jesus did not advocate ruling. Christianity, during the medieval era, had characteristics that were parallel to the feudal kingdoms of the time.


We see figures playing musical instruments — a heavenly host.


The vision of St. Paul on the road to Damascus (he see Jesus– everyone else falls on the ground). Paul never met Jesus except during this vision.


On the Day of Judgement, some go to heaven, others to hell.



I see a rare image of St James (Santiago), seated and holding a book and sword — typically, he is shown standing (a pilgrim) or on a horse (a warrior). I approach the altar — where I take a seat.

I read Chapter 7 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Steven Mitchell:

“The Tao is infinite, eternal.”

[Lao tsu’s Tao is like God in some respects.]

We visit a side chapel.

I meditate. Catholic cathedrals present images designed to transmit certain traditional stories — particularly events in the life of Jesus.

There are graves on medieval bishops and we see a crucifix of Jesus, the king (with crown and tranquil face).

Lao tsu writes:

“Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.”

[The Tao, as described by Lao tsu, is eternal, like God — but Christianity is filled with stories of human rulers — powerful and unequal — Lao tsu describes a humble “Master” who, like Jesus, is inwardly focused.]

It is possible to get close to the main altar. It portrays Biblical stories.

“Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.”

[Unlike the Jewish, Christian, Muslim concept of God, Lao tsu’s notion of the Tao lacks an ego. God, as portrayed in the sacred scriptures, wishes to be worshiped and wants his worshippers to believe certain stories described in the scriptures. Lao tsu’s Tao seems totally passive — not asking for anything]



In the museum, I look a relics of Mary Magdeline, the woman who was probably the lover of Jesus (she was the first one that he visited alter his death). Relics, such as these, were fabricated and sold during medieval times — but they resulted in many miracles.


We walk to the Plaza Mayor.

“The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.”

[Lao tsu portrays an ideal person, the Master, who has Tao-like traits — a reduced ego. Jesus also advocates humility but his story was modified by the Apostle Paul, making him equilivant to God — he attains an elevated, exalted position by “staying behind” — but Lao tsu’s Master is not a king]


We walked to the Church of Santa Eufemia.  We had wanted to see the Archiological Museum but we discovered that it was closed. Karen was disconcerted because it was raining — but we found the Church of Santa Eufemia. It was on the list of the best ten things to see in Ourense.



It is very dark inside. I approach the altar. We note that the altar looks like a slot machine — It you put a coin in it, would you get a chance to win the jackpot?

Religion has the characteristic of seeking “payment” from the believer and, in return, granting sporadic rewards.


The wise men bring presents.

Lao tsu describes something different — the Master does not seek. She is detached.

“She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.”


There is a nativity seen in the rear of the church.

“Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.”

[She is master of herself — not master of others.]


While I meditate, a priest tells me that he is going to lock up the church — he says I can stay for ten more minutes. Karen returns and we decide to leave.

We enter the exit passage but it it absolutely dark. We cannot figure out how to get the door unbolted or unlatched or how to turn on a light to see clearly.

We walk around until we find an official who lets us out. He seems extremely irritated by this situation.

I have encountered this quirky situation in many of the churches I have entered in Spain. We seem to be intruding into an unwelcome environment. Most churches are locked (unused) and, if we are able to get in, the people inside don’t want us to be there. The church serves only a declining group of elderly participants. Young people tell us that they don’t believe.



There is a reality — a spiritual realm that exists beyond belief. This realm is available to those that seek it. Most are unaware and only those exposed to suffering feel the need to delve into this domain. The ancient scriptures are relics of the past — but also signposts.


There is no evidence that St. James (Santiago) visited Spain. The stories of him leading troops into battle against the Moors do not pertain to an actual battle.

Much of what is presented within religion is not based on fact… but there is something that continues throughout all time.


There is power within this cathedral derived from realms beyond our understanding.

Modern people can can find the signposts within.

Throw away holiness and wisdom

We walk on a roadway in the Great Dismal Swamp (Southeast Virginia).

I read Chapter 19 of the Tao te Ching by Lao tsu (trans. By Steven Mitchell):

“Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.”

Lao tsu implies that letting go of “holiness and wisdom” brings happiness. Should you let go of holiness and wisdom?

Let’s think about this. We are walking in a place that is somewhat featureless — a good area for thinking.

There is no scientific evidence indicating that non-religious or non-wise people are happier than religious or wise people. Some studies find that religious people are happier than non-religious people.

Here is what I say: Lao tsu’s text can best be understood within the framework of meditation — the pathway to the Tao.

Meditators focuses on the breath. When thoughts of holiness or wisdom arise, they let these thoughts go. This meditation is a path to happiness.

We do not need to accept Lao tsu’s word literally. He may not even have existed. Some scholars believe his text is merely a transcription of Chinese folk traditions during the 3-5th century BCE.

Be skeptical.

I am interested in the Tao te Ching because it captures universal features associated with shamanic traditions and because it is useful for mindfulness therapy. A growing body of research indicates that meditation based on mindfulness can help people.

Lao tsu writes:

“Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.”

There is no sociological evidence indicating that “throwing away morality and justice” will reduce the crime rate — but sociological theories point out that crime and laws have a symbiotic relationship. Without labeling crime, there would be no crime. Morality and the justice system label crime.

These verses are best understood within the framework of meditation. The person meditating “throws away morality and justice” (along with all other thoughts) when they arise. An empty mind allows “doing the right thing.”


The Tao te Ching is not suitable as a guide for social change. It is a guide for meditators.

Karen and I look at an exibition: an alcohol still. People made their own alcohol in the swamp.

Like meditation, alcohol affects the brain — but alcohol has unwanted side effects.

About 10% of those reading these words have a drinking problem. Drinking affects their relationships with others. I believe that most people accept, on some level, the Buddhist notion that life is suffering. They feel suffering inside themselves. Something does not feel right, at times, and alcohol can cover that feeling. Street drugs also prove useful for blotting out the feeling.


We look at the still.

As a result of the “life is suffering” situation, alcohol or drugs can be addicting. They are a way of dealing with suffering — except that they bring more suffering — they have cumulative physiological side effects and hence the need for recovery programs.

Meditation can help with this because the meditator is forced to face that inner suffering. There is a cycle — You sit meditating…Focus on the breath — but the suffering comes up — return to focusing on the breath — the suffering comes up — return to focusing on the breath — the suffering come up.

This is the case for many people. Anxiety, depression, fear, loneliness — come up.

With practice, you recognize the suffering and see how it changes over time. You come to terms with it. The Buddhist “noble truths” set forth a path toward enlightenment — but I am mainly concerned with how you are doing — can you accept that feeling inside yourself without drinking too much alcohol? Can you sit in stillness until the sadness goes away and you are left with only the silence?


We see an exhibit for a canal boat – taking lumber down the canal in the 1800s.

Lao tsu writes:

“Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.”

If we look at this literally, it seems flawed. There are thieves in areas that lack industry and profit. But on the individual level, the meditator who gives up thinking about industry or profit also gives up the need to acquire material goods. No industry, no profit, no thieves, no alcohol, no thought, no suffering.


Canal boat — used to transport material down the canal.

To say that industry leads to crime is simplistic — but let us not worry about this. Return your awareness to the breath.

Here is what I say: Some people say the glass is half full. Some say the glass is half empty. I say, “Drink up!”

Lao tsu writes:
“If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.”

Practice sitting still. Stay in the center of the circle.

I watch the birds.


We walk down the road.
“What a deep subject,” Karen says.
“Foolishness,” I reply.