If I Was Looking

February 21, 2023


I’m not. But if I was looking for a name or label for this sacred landscape that is now my life there would be many to choose from. There are threads of resonance in many spiritual traditions and even religions. There is also much accumulated baggage in those traditions as I’ve previously written about and so my choice is to step beyond all of that. There are no words to adequately describe this expansive transcendent energy, so I don’t attempt a description.

So no. I’m not looking for a name or label or description. But if I was, neo-Confucian would be tempting. I’d never even heard of this tradition before reading Karen Armstrong’s latest book, Sacred Nature. That the resonance is so strong is likely tempered by the surprise and delight of discovering the ancient Chinese origins of this wisdom.

Zhang Zai, 1020 – 1077, was the ancient sage who created this sacred path. I use the term sage even though neo-Confucians never claimed to be sages and actually believed that if you think you are a sage, it’s a pretty sure sign that you aren’t one.

The neo-Confucian vision is expressed beautifully in what is known as the Western Inscription because Zhang literally inscribed these words on the western wall of his study.

Heaven is my father and earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst.

Therefore, that which extends throughout all the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider my nature. 


The inscription continues with all people are my brothers and sisters and all things are my companions. Things. For the ancient Chinese, ‘things’ had a very different meaning than an inanimate object without life or consciousness. Quite the opposite. For them ‘things’ (wu) was everything around us and they believed it all holds a sacred quality or essence; plants, animals, water, air, earth, stones, and the cosmos.

What Zhang Zai inscribed on his wall is so simple and yet so all encompassing and expansive. There is such elegance in this. Such truth and resonance.

While I’m not looking for a label or name for this journey of mine, Zhang’s words are compelling. A wonderful reminder that the essence of my sacred landscape is just this simple and powerful. 


1 thought on “If I Was Looking

  1. I appreciate this consideration of neo-Confucianism. The way it offers connections and relationships is appealing. I also appreciate your mentioning Karen Armstrong’s latest work. I like her voice and what she says with it.

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