Brightness and Light

The night was fading in when I entered Li Tzu’s house, the Taoist master. The small Chinese village was about to wake up. I crossed the bonsai garden perfumed by the generous jasmine tree. Midnight, the black cat, who also lived in the house, slept on top of the fridge, looked at me lazily and purred. Li Tzu had just finished his morning yoga exercises and was sorting rosemary sprigs for tea. He smiled when he saw me, pointed with his chin to a chair for me to sit on and added another cup. While we were waiting for the water to boil, I commented that this cycle of studies had been very fruitful. The poetic codes used by Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, the Book of the Way and Virtue, were becoming clearer and clearer, allowing the students to better understand the philosophical arc that he had left as a legacy to humanity. Li Tzu reminded me: “There’s nothing in it that you can’t find in the Sermon on the Mount or the Bhagavad-Gita, among other sacred texts, just to name a few. Knowledge is available in different guises, according to each person’s taste. The important thing is that knowledge is transmuted into the appropriate application in each situation. Without the innovation of being in living, studies will have no value”. The kettle whistled. He took it off the heat and poured the water into the cast iron teapot; inside, the rosemary was waiting to share its aroma and flavour with us. While we waited for the infusion, the Taoist master added: “I see many people eager for new content without being so concerned about using the teachings they already have access to in their daily lives. There’s no point in wanting more if you don’t use what you have”. He looked at the vase and said: “Just as hot water pushes rosemary to reveal its charms and powers, the unforeseen events of life provoke us to manifest all our magic, beauty and virtues. However, most of us still burn with the high temperature of difficulties instead of taking advantage of the situation to exude all our strength and balance. Every obstacle is an invitation to darkness or light. Which door we walk through is a personal decision”.

I remarked that there were people whose sole aim seemed to be to extinguish our light. Li Tzu shook his head and said: “To look at it this way is to look at the day through the lens of disaster and suffering. Allow yourself to experience the same situation through a different lens. When it happens, and it happens every day, instead of getting upset about the darkness that threatens you, do it differently. First, simply be grateful”. To my amazement, he explained: “Don’t look for the problems, you don’t have to, they’ll find you. Even if you don’t understand, they are like creatures searching for their creator. Although you may find it hard to admit it, you created them because of your lack of understanding of your own reality. So accept that you need them; never reject them. It’s no use, they’ll still be after you. Intelligence consists of recognising the value of learning from them. Welcome difficulties like someone waiting for a long-awaited learning course. Be grateful and make good use of it. Problems don’t exist to annoy us, but to improve us; they’re not here to stay and must have a fixed expiry date. When we let them linger beyond a reasonable time, they will exhaust us and deteriorate everything around us. On the other hand, by enveloping them with love, we will have access to the finest wisdom of solutions translated into simplicity and lightness.”

He paused for a moment, as if he needed to resort to exact words so that there would be no misunderstanding, and then said: “The best solutions are usually those that broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding. This may not solve the problem momentarily, but it will start the process of self-improvement which, once integrated into our new way of being and living, will dissolve it forever. Faced with a complicated situation, many internal voices dialogue with us. The Tao teaches us that each person is like a village; many inhabitants live within us. Emotions and ideas, from the most subtle to the densest, joys and sorrows in the form of sweet or bitter memories, shadows and virtues, ego and soul, all manifest themselves; some shout or others just whisper. There are so many voices that sometimes we get disorientated and don’t know which one to use for guidance. Lao Tse says that the solution is simple. Those that talk about repaying the pain and hardship we feel, such as merely running over those who stand in our way, deserve to be discarded. The voices that speak to our hearts, bring cosiness, well-being and encourage the use of some virtue, by leading us to fly over those who seem to prevent us from moving on, deserve to be welcomed. This is how the portals of transmutation are open, a delicate, powerful and genuine innovation of someone inside themselves, but different and better. Each problem is an authentic cycle of liberation; not just from the problem itself, but from the existential ties that prevent the expansion of the potential of those who face it. Every difficulty brings with it an encounter; a marvellous opportunity to discover and conquer a different kind of magic, beauty and virtue. This is power. The more complex the problem, the more intense the light acquired. Where there is light, darkness does not prevail. He paused to conclude: “This is what acquired knowledge is for. Nothing else”.

I wanted to know how to apply that theory to practice. He explained: “The virtues lead us along the Way. They are the real power to switch on the light. However, knowing how to use them has its mysteries. Not everything that shines is light”.

I asked him what he meant by that last sentence. Li Tzu clarified: “The world is full of weapons, a nomenclature used by Lao Tsé in the poetic code of the Tao Te Ching. He wasn’t talking about those made of steel that cause so much destruction, he was referring to those that, although they don’t hit the body, tear apart the soul; of everyone involved, in different ways. He was talking about intrigue, discord, malice, sarcasm, deceit, lies, fraud, oppression, subjugation and the humiliation of one individual by another. In a more subterranean layer, below and beyond words, are bad thoughts and dense emotions such as sorrow, intolerance and irritation. We all carry these weapons in our saddlebags; we all have them at our disposal. When we use them, even if we can’t reach those who bother us, we will inevitably be affected by their effects, like a poison that contaminates the person who produces, spreads or keeps it. We can’t be too careful. However, no one can complain about eroding their own destiny.”

The Taoist master went on to explain: “Such weapons drag us into existential darkness. They arise because we don’t know the difference between brightness and light. The closefisted excuse themselves on the grounds that they are being careful for the future; the proud claim to be protecting their honour; the greedy believe they have found the secret to happiness. We waste the knowledge we have acquired by not allowing our thoughts and choices to flow on the left side”. I interrupted. Left side, what did he mean? I said I didn’t understand. Li Tzu smiled and explained: “The heart is on the left. Love is the difference; it always will be. The detail that makes us fall in love with virtues; there is no virtue without love; all virtues are derived from love. Without exception. When we separate intelligence from love, we lose wisdom; we opt for the dark side of existence and become entangled in conflicts around the world in agonising days. Lightness departs; living becomes an inglorious task”.

Li Tzu got up to get the cast iron teapot that held the rosemary. He served us tea. I asked him to continue his explanation. He did: “We carry heaven and hell inside of us. Choosing where to live is defined by the simple choice, made at every moment, between shadows and virtues. Light and darkness can alternate from one moment to the next, changing the direction and intensity of strength, as well as the ability to balance in the most complicated situations.”

He took a sip and said: “Away from love, shadows like pride, vanity, greed, victimisation and jealousy will find every rational justification to move around inside us. If we let them, they’ll take control of the village and create an empire. Far from the heart, we will create the twisted motivations to justify the use of weapons that Lao Tse was referring to. By logical effect, weapons sustain old conflicts and give rise to new ones. Life becomes an endless war. Even if there are victories, they will be superficial. There will be damage, destruction and darkness. Then there will be more and bigger problems, depending on the pattern chosen to deal with difficulties. Not even a complaint is appropriate for those who perish in the face of the creatures they have begotten and nurtured.”

I commented that the world was very complicated. He pondered: “The world will never be the way we want it to be. Good thing, because there would be no incentive to evolve. To evolve is to deconstruct fears and undo suffering. Only then will we be able to love more and better. Magic, charm and virtues have their seeds in love”. He took another sip of tea and warned: “Don’t despise darkness, don’t turn your back on evil. Get to know it intimately, because it lives in your guts. Learn all the tricks and subterfuges of the shadows so that you don’t become your own victim and tormentor. The only efficient method is to pay attention to your ideas and emotions. There will be enough material for perfect understanding. Only then will we be able to wall up the door to the evil that also inhabits us, affects us and spreads in the world.” He then reminded me: “Love is not the fruit of naivety. Not knowing who we are is immaturity and ignorance, conditions that make us easy prey for shadows, whether our own or those of the world. Purity is a valuable virtue, not because it is unaware of evil, but because it is free of it. It is an attribute of those who already know themselves in detail, who know that they could use evil for their conquests, but because they understand that significant and profound victories need to be based on light, they never take advantage of this prerogative and never negotiate with this nefarious interlocutor. They know that there is no light without the presence of love. The wise man uses his knowledge of evil to avoid allowing any contamination to remain in his choices. Otherwise, he will be lost in himself”.

I asked if the difference between brightness and light was characterised by the presence of love in our choices. Li Tzu replied: “In a nutshell, yes. However, if we want to broaden and deepen our knowledge, we will see that love spreads into light. The virtues are a thousand ways of loving, but they bring with them a powerful element, wisdom. Notice that humbleness, simplicity, compassion, softness, sincerity, honesty, justice, purity, firmness, gentleness, wisdom, mercy and faith not only make the individual more loving, but form the pillars of the wise man’s action as a mechanism to contain pride, vanity, greed, among many other shadows. He illuminates them through his daily efforts to apply the virtues in all the situations he experiences, until they become inseparable parts of his life. The relationship between love and light is symbiotic. He who brings light to his own shadows illuminates himself and reverberates love in the world.”

He drained his cup and concluded: “Brightness occurs through the use of weapons, in other words, through the predominance of shadows in personal conquests. Cases in which victories are characterised by the predominance of our will, desire or interest over someone else. It means that one person has been subjugated, coerced or humiliated so that another can achieve the desired goal. A victory, many will say. However, the sudden and transitory flash of light perceived in these moments is nothing more than a vile and vain celebration of the shadows at a very short-lived party. There is no power in dominating others while being dominated by your own shadows. Each victory will be celebrated like someone attending their own funeral. Too much brightness, no light. Love has been defeated”.

He frowned and concluded: “Light is characterised by overcoming your own difficulties, which is truly possible when you use virtues as instruments of conquest. You didn’t destroy the problem, you deconstructed it. So you’ve won over yourself. Without any concern for outdoing anyone else, the problem was solved because you became a different and better person. You changed the lens, the filters, the way of being and living. You didn’t impose, convince or force anyone. You just allowed yourself to act through the lens of light. You did what was right, sowed love and moved on with the lightness of the wise. Everything worth carrying doesn’t weigh you down. Even if many don’t understand or want to accompany you in that journey. To master one’s personal shadows is to consecrate oneself in the light. An infinite power for deepening perfect balance and amplifying authentic strength. Love will reverberate in symphony throughout the world. The light will spread beyond the last curve of the universe”.

We were interrupted by the arrival of the students for class, which always began with a meditation session. Li Tzu opened a book of the Tao Te Ching that was on the kitchen cupboard, selected a page and suggested: “Instead of meditating, study the poem we’re going to talk about in today’s lesson,” and went to meet the class.

Alone, I saw that it was poem thirty-one:

“Weapons cause fear and destruction.

Those who follow the Tao do not use them.

In times of peace,

The place of honour is to the left of the prince.

In times of war, on the right.

Weapons are harmful instruments.

The wise only use them for defence.

He strives for purity.

Those who rejoice in weapons,

believes that there is victory in death.

Thus, every victory is equivalent to a funeral.”

I smiled at the unusual charm of life. Without realising it, the lesson had taken place at dawn that day. Valuable knowledge offered in a simple chat in the kitchen over rosemary tea. The wise make themselves imperceptible by the gentleness with which they share their wealth.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

Leave a Comment