Being in the Present Moment Blog Taoist

Taoist Teachings on Being in the Present Moment

Lao Tzu

A depiction of Lao-Tzu. By Lawrencekhoo (Public domain)

The Taoist tradition from ancient China contains a number of references to being in the present moment. The text called The Hua Hu Ching, said to contain the teachings of the legendary sage Lao Tzu, contains the clearest references of any ancient text and tradition about how to be in the present moment.

Overall, the following excerpts from the Hua Hu Ching provide an excellent guide for those wishing to understand how to be in the present moment themselves.

This excerpt conveys how by coming out of daydreams and keeping the mind clear, one allows their “original insight” and “integral nature” to emerge:

 

If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place. This is true because the mind is the governing aspect of a human life. If the river flows clearly and cleanly through the proper channel, all will be well along its banks.

The Integral Way depends on decreasing, not increasing: To correct your mind, rely on not doing.
Stop thinking and clinging to complications; keep your mind detached and whole. Eliminate mental muddiness and obscurity; keep your mind crystal clear. Avoid daydreaming and allow your pure original insight to emerge. Quiet your emotions and abide in serenity. Don’t go crazy with the worship of idols, images, and ideas; this is like putting a new head on top of the head you already have.

Remember: if you can cease all restless activity, your integral nature will appear.”

~Hua Hu Ching, Chapter forty-five. Translated by Brian Walker1

This passage describes how the “integral wisdom” found by observing the moment in “pure awareness” exceeds “conceptual understanding” and “worldly wisdom” as a means to grasp the truth:

“… there are two kinds of wisdom. The first is worldly wisdom, which is a conceptual understanding of your experiences. Because it follows after the events themselves, it necessarily inhibits your direct understanding of truth.

The second kind, integral wisdom, involves a direct participation in every moment: the observer and the observed are dissolved in the light of pure awareness, and no mental concepts or attitudes are present to dim that light.

The blessings and wisdom that accrue to those who practice the Integral Way and lead others to it are a billion times greater than all worldly blessings and wisdom combined.”

~Hua Hu Ching, Chapter 26. Translated by Brian Walker2

In the passage below, it is said that by staying within the present moment, one can attain inner clarity and find “the Tao”. In Taoism, “the Tao” can refer to the source of creation, and also the higher spiritual reality underlying it:

“Each moment is fragile and fleeting. The moment of the past cannot be kept, however beautiful. The moment of the present cannot be held, however enjoyable. The moment of the future cannot be caught, however desirable. But the mind is desperate to fix the river in place.

Possessed by ideas of the past, preoccupied with images of the future, it overlooks the plain truth of the moment. The one who can dissolve her mind will suddenly discover the Tao at her feet, and clarity at hand.”

~Hua Hu Ching, Chapter twenty-one. Translated by Brian Walker.3

The following passage compares the ego to a monkey always swinging from one desire, conflict or idea to another; it counsels to “let it go” by observing it with detachment.

“The ego is a monkey catapulting through the jungle: Totally fascinated by the realm of the senses, it swings from one desire to the next, one conflict to the next, and one self-centered idea to the next. If you threaten it, it actually fears for its life.

Let this monkey go. Let the senses go. Let desires go. Let conflicts go. Let ideas go. Let the fiction of life and death go. Just remain in the center, watching. And then forget that you are there.”

~Hua Hu Ching, Chapter 10. Translated by Brian Walker4

The following passage explains the way to “true mastery” is not found in “avoiding the world” by “constantly sitting in silent meditation” but through incorporating “integral awareness” into one’s everyday life, conduct, and interaction with others.

“Do you think you can clear your mind by sitting constantly in silent meditation? This makes your mind narrow, not clear. Integral awareness is fluid and adaptable, present in all places and at all times. That is true meditation.

Who can attain clarity and simplicity by avoiding the world? The Tao is clear and simple, and it doesn’t avoid the world.

Why not simply honor your parents, love your children, help your brothers and sisters, be faithful to your friends, care for your mate with devotion, complete your work cooperatively and joyfully, assume responsibility for problems, practice virtue without first demanding it of others, understand the highest truths yet retain an ordinary manner?

That would be true clarity, true simplicity, and true mastery.”5

~Hua Hu Ching, Chapter fifty-two. Translated by Brian Walker

 

A Taoist teacher and students. Public domain image

Jenny Resnick, Jordan Resnick, Justin Norris, and Vida Norris contributed research to this article.


  1. Brian Walker (translator), Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, (HarperOne 1995) p. 55 

  2. Ibid p. 30 

  3. Ibid p. 25 

  4. Ibid p. 13 

  5. Ibid p. 64 

About the author

Matthew Butler

Matthew Butler is Chief Editor of SpiritualSun.com, a website exploring the history and practice of the ancient Religion of the Sun. A keen writer since his youth, he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and has a natural interest in probing hidden truths and higher knowledge. He felt called to study spirituality in 2004 and has pursued it ever since. On The Spiritual Sun, he directs his skills and inquisitive nature towards shedding light on the ancient Religion of the Sun, which he investigates both as a writer/researcher and practitioner.

9 Comments

  • These are wonderful teachings indeed, and their beauty and wisdom actually shines more now, having them all at one place.

    I also find it intriguing how in Hua Hu Ching, they talk to a feminine listener (“The one who can dissolve her mind will suddenly discover the Tao at her feet, and clarity at hand.”). I don’t think I have seen it anywhere else, and was wondering if it was a specific feature of this particular text, or if it is a “norm” for the Taoist teachings?
    Thinking about it further, it somewhat makes sense from the point of view of the listener being a Soul, that is supposed to be feminine in its nature.

    • This doesn’t seem to be the norm for Taoist texts in general and it’s not clear to me whether it’s an actual feature of this text.

      There aren’t many other translations of the Hua Hu Ching, unfortunately, and the only one I could find did not use a feminine pronoun there (and was quite different in many other respects).

      That’s the thing with translating these ancient Chinese texts it seems — the translator has to make a lot of interpretive decisions given that the language is very different to English.

      So there may be a meaning at work in the text that the translator is picking up on, or it could just be Brian Walker’s decision as translator to use the feminine pronoun as the default instead of him/he.

    • Like Justin, I don’t know whether this reflects what is in the original Chinese or if the translator chose to be more gender inclusive in the translation.

      Sometimes the ancient word may not be gender specific, because other languages can have non gender pronouns, which leaves the translator the option of having to choose a male or female pronoun in English. Since there is no appropriate singular pronoun in English, you inevitably have to chose he/she or his/her as “it/its” doesn’t really cut it.

      Whatever the case, for the reason you mentioned, I agree it works well and is actually very appropriate, as the raw human consciousness is described as being feminine anyway, which why Sophia is female in the Pistis Sophia, and there is the symbolism of a damsel being rescued by a Christic figure in mythology. This is something explained in the chapter on the winter solstice in The Path of the Spiritual Sun.

  • I think it’s supposed to be ‘fall’ rather than ‘rail’ in the the first sentence of the first quote. I remember seeing the quote on belsebuub.com and had it copied onto a post-it-note. It was (and still is) very inspirational to me.

    Thanks for sharing these quotes from Hua Hua Ching. I’ll have to find a copy!

  • Thanks for these great Taoist quotes showing the way of how to be in the present moment.

    I am a bit unsure about the last sentence though in the “ego is a monkey” quote which says – “And then forget that you are there.” If you are doing the “watching” that the sentence before it says to do, wouldn’t one of the things you’d see be yourself?

    Maybe one of my monkeys is holding on to an idea preventing me from seeing what this last part of that quote is saying…

    • The way I’ve understood that line is that one should also let go of any ideas around being in the present, or of thinking about being in the present, but just to be watching naturally.

      Then what you are watching is the thoughts, emotions etc. that are arising within.

    • David, I agree that the “And then forget that you are there” is very illuminating.
      I can see a few interpretations. The main one I see is: reaching samadhi (where the mind is utterly still). But other meanings might be: becoming Action (ie. becoming a living Verb because there is nothing which would hold you still/influence incorrect actions), death of the egos (ie. the monkey), as well as the final part of the path of liberation that Belsebuub (belsebuub.com) talks about as part of the return to source — all of these at the same time! I’m sure there are others, and that others will have even more insightful meanings!

    • Hi David,

      Your question reminded me of an experience I had years ago (https://spiritualjourneys-belsebuub.com/2017/02/11/experiencing-the-unity-of-everything-living-through-awareness-at-the-park/), when I think I was the closest possible to the state of “no-being” or “forgetting I was there”.

      It happened to me after going every day to a park close to my house for an ‘awareness walk’, where I would focus intensively on getting out of my thoughts and perceiving everything around me. After about a year of doing this every day, I had an experience where for a while I found myself outside of my mind, just perceiving everything very clearly. There were not even any background “noises” in my mind and no emotions. I remember feeling as a part of the scenery around me, to the extent that I stopped feeling myself as a person, I was just “everything around”. I felt like I was also the light that shone on me, and the pond, and the ducks, and the trees. There was a peace and a lot of beauty in that state, but no emotions as we usually know them. And then a “byproduct” of that state was that the different animals started coming close to me, which always spoiled the experience, as their unusual behaviour brought up the different egos within me, even though those were just minute thought forms, still they were the clouds that ruined the clear state.

      An interesting thing about this state was that afterwards, I was thinking about it and concluded that I was not sure if I wanted to just “disappear” like that, and that the state was not so enjoyable after all. I think those were most likely my egos “analysing” the experience afterwards, but it also came to my mind that maybe the “emptiness” I felt during this experience, or the fact that I “lost myself” could have something to do with the fact that I haven’t built any superior spiritual bodies within me at that point, and haven’t incarnated any higher spiritual parts, which would most likely make the experience more powerful and maybe more “personal” in a way, in comparison to just a small fraction of consciousness experiencing merging with the Whole – but this is just my speculation.

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