THE VALLEY SPIRIT

In the last post I ended with this haiku, which has the title Gushen, the female Spirit of the Valley from Chapter 6 in the Tao Te Ching:

 

谷神  [グシエン]

秋夜
蝋燭消えて
川音消えず

 
Gushen

       

Akiyoru

rousoku kiete

kawa oto kiezu

 

Gushen (The Valley Spirit)

 

A Fall night

the candle dies out

but the sound of the river doesn’t

 

Here is Chapter 6 of the Tao Te Ching:

 

The spirit of the valley does not die,

and is called mysterious female.

The door of the mysterious female

is called the root of heaven and earth.

It lingers in wisps;

use it without haste.

 

I have a book of lectures on each chapter of the Tao Te Ching, by the Taoist, Man-Jan Cheng. Using the I-Ching, he says that this chapter is about meditation, and breath—ch’i. He reasons that a valley is filled with ch’i—and the ch’i moves in and out of the door—the root of heaven and earth, which is much like the nose and mouth, and to use without haste then is a meditative breathing technique.

I prefer a more literal meaning to this, which he does allude to. The feminine is always associated with the gate, the door, the hollow, the empty space. This of course, as the feminine, refers to the yoni. The gate or door is, to say it more blatantly, the vulva, the hollow empty space is the womb. The Tao Te Ching elsewhere points out that it is the empty space that makes such things powerful and useful. A mountain valley is filled with empty space—and yes, the mysterious chi fills that empty space.

Taoism is a very old belief system handed down from an old Ural-Altaic shamanistic spirituality. A very important aspect of these old beliefs, like all old animistic beliefs, is the portal—the doorway to the divine. Every religion around the world has inherited this concept from its ancestral animistic roots. In Shamanism, it is through this doorway that the shaman passes on his spirit journey into the other world, the spirit world. It is the WorldCave, the World Tree, the World Mountain—the celestial axis, or axis mundi. In modern religion it is the cross, the stupa, the Kalamakara, the torii gate—it has many forms. But it is always the portal that connects this world to the next.

In doing research for my first book, I realized that this axis mundi is always hollow—therefore physically, in practicality for us, it is two-fold: the womb and the grave. The blood sacrifice that accompanied the ancient hunts (going back to the Paleolithic), and the ancient burial of family and friends (who were buried in the fetal position with lots of red) is only half the story then, the blood of the menses being the other half. Hence the Old Testament God, for example, could only be approached through the blood sacrifice…

‘The door of the mysterious female is called the root of heaven and earth’—is clearly referring to the axis mundi—the archetype of the World Tree/World Cave/World Mountain. The valley—the vast empty space of nothingness situated between two mountain ridges—is another doorway to that other world.

The existentialist, Martin Heidegger, said that it is within the nothingness that we find being. On one level, he was speaking of the anxiety over ‘nothingness’ that makes up the existential crisis. We cannot say, in such a crisis, what it is that makes us feel ill at ease. We can get no hold on things, and, “Anxiety reveals the nothing.” But he also was speaking of a more profound level of nothingness.

Heidegger had his own connection to the old shamanistic beliefs. He came from a peasant farming family and was therefore familiar with some of the old Germanic folk (pagan) traditions. But as a philosopher, he lived in the Cartesian Post-Kantian world in which Nietzsche declared, ‘God is dead.” Science was the new truth and he could see no alternative. He lamented man’s predicament, and tried to find a path back to that place where maybe the “…Gods can return.” But in the end, the most concrete spiritual concept he could offer was that the finality of existence—the nothingness of death—gave meaning to being.

But a valley is more than nothingness—there is the contours of the valley walls, there can be cliffs and rock faces, trees, stones, all kinds of flora; and at the very bottom is almost always a river, stream, or at least a river bed; and of course there is lots of air—ch’i. Ch’i is more than just air, or breath—it is essence, spirit, the invisible ether that gives life as we draw it in and push it out. Likewise modern science tells us that there is no absolute emptiness—no nothingness—in our universe. Instead there is everywhere the zero-point field, a sea of electromagnetic waves, or light energy, vibrating at the base energy rate of the universe. It is because of this field that particles can seem to appear and disappear from nothingness.

Gushen—the spirit of the valley—the mysterious female—a profound emptiness filled with life—it lingers within wisps—and yet just beyond it is the other world.

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