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Hua Hu Ching: The Other Wisdom Book of Lao Tzu

Mainstream Chinese tradition says that Tao Te King [Dao de Jing] is the only book ever written by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu [Laozi]. Several stories, or rather several versions of a story, are told about how he wrote Tao Te King. Here is one version of the story, perhaps the most popular one.

Laozi had grown old – really old. He was in his nineties. And yet not many people knew of him, unlike his younger contemporary Confucius, whom everybody knew. But those who knew him knew he was the greatest. Men like him are born once in many centuries. Confucius himself said of Laozi: I have known the way of the mighty elephants that walk on the earth, I have known the way of the whales that swim in the high seas, and I have known the way of the mighty birds that fly in the boundless skies. But this man is neither of the earth, nor of the seas, nor of the skies; he is a dragon that moves about in limitless space.

Knowing his greatness, and realizing that he might soon leave the world, the Chinese emperor requested him to put down his thoughts on paper for the guidance of future generations. Laozi refused, saying that the Tao that can be spoken about is not the real Tao, the Tao that can be written about is not the real Tao. But the emperor would not listen to him. And when the emperor’s insistence grew, one night Laozi ran away from the hut in which he was living under the cover of darkness. He wanted to cross the Himalayas and reach India, where he knew he would be able to live the rest of his days in peace, free from the emperor’s demands.

But when he reached the western borders of China, he found the emperor waiting for him there. And the emperor said: “If you want to cross the borders, pay the toll.” And when Laozi asked what the toll was, the emperor told him: “Write a book.”

And, says the tradition, Tao Te King is the book Laozi wrote under protest, to escape the emperor’s insistence. And that is the only book he ever wrote.

However, a second tradition says he wrote one more book: Hua Hu Ching. Another incredibly beautiful book, and a book that has the same fragrance as Tao Te King. Here are a few beautiful excerpts from the translation of Hua Hua Ching by Brian Walker.

I find the translation excellent.

Brian Walker has chosen to use “she” as the universal third person pronoun in place of the more common “he,” as you will find in the excerpts given below. The use of she is in keeping with the spirit of the Tao, to which the feminine is the greater of the two sexes, though it is ultimately a philosophy of the blending of the masculine and the feminine and transcending both.


Those who wish to embody the Tao should embrace all things. To embrace all things means first that one holds no anger or resistance toward any idea or thing, living or dead, formed or formless. Acceptance is the very essence of the Tao. To embrace all things means also that one rids oneself of any concept of separation; male and female, self and other, life and death. Division is contrary to the nature of the Tao. Foregoing antagonism and separation, one enters in the harmonious oneness of all things.


Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and took out at the stars. This practice should answer the question. The superior person settles her mind as the universe settles the stars in the sky. By connecting her mind with the subtle origin, she calms it. Once calmed, it naturally expands, and ultimately her mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky.


The Tao gives rise to all forms, yet it has no form of its own. If you attempt to fix a picture of it in your mind, you will lose it. This is like pinning a butterfly: the husk is captured, but the flying is lost. Why not be content with simply experiencing it?


I confess that there is nothing to teach: no religion, no science, no body of information which will lead your mind back to the Tao. Today I speak in this fashion, tomorrow in another, but always the Integral Way is beyond words and beyond mind. Simply be aware of the oneness of things.


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, 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.


The tiny particles which form the vast universe are not tiny at all. Neither is the vast universe vast. These are notions of the mind, which is like a knife, always chipping away at the Tao, trying to render it graspable and manageable. But that which is beyond form is ungraspable, and that which is beyond knowing is unmanageable. There is, however, this consolation: She who lets go of the knife will find the Tao at her fingertips.


Can you dissolve your ego? Can you abandon the idea of self and other? Can you relinquish the notions of male and female, short and long, life and death? Can you let go of all these dualities and embrace the Tao without skepticism or panic? If so, you can reach the heart of the Integral Oneness. Along the way, avoid thinking of the Oneness as unusual, exalted, sublime, transcendental. Because it is the Oneness, it is beyond all that. It is simply the direct, essential, and complete truth.


Most of the world's religions serve only to strengthen attachments to false concepts such as self and other, life and death, heaven and earth, and so on. Those who become entangled in these false ideas are prevented from perceiving the Integral Oneness. The highest virtue one can exercise is to accept the responsibility of discovering and transmitting the whole truth. Some help others in order to receive blessings and admiration. This is simply meaningless. Some cultivate themselves in part to serve others, in part to serve their own pride. They will understand, at best, half of the truth. But those who improve themselves for the sake of the world – to these, the whole truth of the universe will be revealed. So seek this whole truth, practice it in your daily life, and humbly share it with others. You will enter the realm of the divine.


Do not go about worshipping deities and religious institutions as the source of the subtle truth To do so is to place intermediaries between yourself and the divine, and to make of yourself a beggar who looks outside for a treasure that is hidden inside his own breast. If you want to worship the Tao, first discover it in your own heart. Then your worship will be meaningful.


There is no one method for attaining realization of the Tao. To regard any method as the method is to create a duality, which can only delay your understanding of the subtle truth. The mature person perceives the fruitlessness of rigid, external methodologies; Remembering this, he keeps his attitude unstructured at all times and thus is always free to pursue the Integral Way. He studies the teachings of the masters. He dissolves all concepts of duality. He pours himself out in service to others. He performs his inner cleansing and does not disturb his teacher with unnecessary entanglements, thus preserving the subtle spiritual connection with the teacher's divine energy. Gently eliminating all obstacles to his own understanding, he constantly maintains his unconditional sincerity. His humility, perseverance, and adaptability evoke the response of the universe and fill him with divine light.


I find Hua Hu Ching incredibly beautiful. It reminds me of the Upanishads. Hua Hu Ching has their directness, their elemental quality and their mystery. Like the Upanishads, they touch you somewhere deep within where nothing else can reach. And like the Upanishads, again, Hua Hu Ching is trying to communicate the incommunicable.

All words are just that – words. And to reach the truth, we have to go beyond the words. When we go beyond words, we get glimpses of that from which words return, unattained, along with the mind: yato vacho nivartante, aprapya manasa saha. They show us the moon hidden among the leaves of the palm tree. And when we look beyond the palm tree, we see the moon.



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