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Taoism & The Natural World

Ringing Cedars & Nonduality

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In 1995, a Russian businessman by the name of Vladimir Megre was traveling, via ship on rivers taking him deep into the forests of Siberia. Through a series of “coincidences,” he crossed paths with, befriended and subsequently became the student of a shaman/yogini named Anastasia -- whose life and power and knowledge have now reached the ears/hearts of the larger global community, via the publication of the Ringing Cedars series of books.

The first in this series of nine books is titled Anastasia. As a whole, they have sold upwards of 10 million copies, and have been translated into twenty languages. The information presented through the books has sparked a variety of scholarly and scientific endeavors; and some have hypothesized that Anastasia is a surviving remnant of an ancient Vedic culture. The “Ringing Cedars” that the series is named after are trees in the Siberian forests which, after building their energy for many decades, begin to ring: to emit a sound which indicates that they must be harvested soon, in a specific way, to allow their healing power to flow out as benefit to those who will then have in their possession a piece of their wood. If they’re not harvested within the prescribed time, the trees begin to self-destruct.

Having read only the first book of this series, what struck me, first of all, was its similarity to the Carlos Castenada series, as a story of a spiritual quest defined by time spent deep in the wilderness, allowing for an unfolding of usually-latent human capacities. Like Don Juan, Anastasia offers truths re: the insanity of many aspects of our so-called human “civilization,” along with techniques for opening to receive the power and wisdom of the natural world. One difference is that the protagonist of the Ringing Cedars series -- Anastasia -- is a woman; which is a nice change.

Taoism, Mysticism & The Natural World

One thing that mystical traditions of the world have in common is an understanding of the importance of the natural world. Practitioners are typically encouraged to spend time alone -- perhaps extended amounts of time -- in the mountains, the forest, or the desert. This kind of communion with the natural world supports a release from societal conventions/conditioning; and allows an attunement with the deep intelligence of non-human patterns and rhythms. The energy of the rivers, trees, meadows, flowers, mountains, stars & planets etc. supports us in manifesting a deeper level of our humanity -- one that is less fractured, less distracted, and generally much more sane than what tends to emerge within the context of our fast-paced contemporary urban cultural scene.

Among the various mystical (nondual) traditions, Taoism is particularly enthusiastic in its honoring of the natural world. It almost goes without saying that Taoist practice and lifestyle includes a deep and direct connection with the five elements, by spending time in the natural world. Stories of the Taoist Immortals almost inevitably include anecdotes of their time spent wandering in the mountains, gathering herbs, talking to the trees, drawing energy from the stars and galaxies, etc. Their lives were in many ways quite similar to the life of Anastasia, as described in the Ringing Cedars series.

“There Is No Natural World”

One of the most shocking things that a teacher has ever said to me, is that “there is no natural world.” Now of course, it’s all about context, and as I recall, the context for this particular statement included my waxing effusive and poetic about the virtues of what I was calling “the natural world” in juxtaposition with, say, “the urban world.” At the time, I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. After a couple of years of gestation, I’m just beginning to glimpse the truth of what he was pointing to.

From a strongly nondual perspective, the split between “natural” and “urban” worlds is reflective of and depends upon a more fundamental split between “self” and “world.” And this split between self and world is the root cause of our suffering -- what defines our samsaric bondage. When Self-awareness is perceived dualistically, it appears as an egoic “I” -- as a “self.” When Self-appearance is perceived dualistically, it appears as an external “world.” Unraveling this mistaken perception leaves us resting in what certain traditions refer to as the “Natural State” -- in which both internal (e.g. thoughts & emotions) and external (e.g. Ferraris as well as Ringing Cedars) appearances are understood to be simply aspects of Self: waves arising and dissolving within the ocean of Awareness, the Tao. Do you remember the child-sage’s statement to Neo -- in the movie The Matrix -- that “there is no spoon”? “There is no natural world” in exactly the same way as “there is no spoon.”

From "Natural World" To Natural State

Does this mean that we should jettison our preference for time spent in the wilderness? Does this mean that Taoist practice can be nourished just as deeply by sitting in the median of a super-highway, as it can by spending time meditating in a forest or a mountain cave? I don’t believe this is the case .... During the beginning and middle stages of our process -- when we’re still operating via dualistic principles which perceive a space/time “process” -- it’s quite useful to make the distinction between the “natural world” and the “material” or “urban world.” It can be very skillful, and immensely powerful, to wake up our capacity to relate more directly, more intimately with the five elements in the form of trees and flowers, crystals and rivers and our friends from the animal kingdom.

Over time, practicing in this way can then birth the insight that the distinction between “natural” and “urban” worlds was an artificial one. We can see that all dualities, when taken as “real,” represent our primordial “fall from grace” -- whose most general representative is the assumed, habitual distinction between “self” and “world.”

The “return to the Garden of Eden” -- while it may well be facilitated by time spent in the wilderness, in the so-called “natural world” -- is finally the unveiling of the Natural State, which excludes nothing, welcoming all “worlds” and all “selves” into its flowing embrace.

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