I had made a couple of posts on this topic this month without having described or introduced the notion of an Ancient, let alone a modern one. One of the readers did follow up and pose the question “So what is an Ancient anyways? How do I know if I am one of them?” I figured out that now that the month has passed and a couple of more articles in this topic have been posted, it is about time that I actually settle down and answer the question. As you will see, it is not a simple answer.
- An Ancient: An individual who remains parallel to mainstream society never loosing sight of it. They can detach themselves and observe social interactions and system dynamics. One could call them social historians and philosophers. This individual is an educator in another sense as they freely pass on their observations and openly invite you to reflect on their report: Did you see what they saw? Did the shift in perspective impact the way you live life?
- A Modern Day Ancient: An individual who is a student of the way of the Ancient.
Quotes reflecting the concept of Ancients:
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light.
~ Sir Stephen Spender
Whose sudden visitations daze the world,
Vanish like lightning, but they leave behind
A voice that in the distance far away
Wakens the slumbering ages.
~ Henry Taylor
Qualities Ancients have in common:
- A Disdain for Materialism
Poor and content is rich, and rich enough.
The intellectual power, through words and things,
Went sounding on, a dim and perilous way!
- A Yearning for Divine Edification
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;
That best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
A peace above all earthly dignities,
A still and quiet conscience.
The best of men
That e’er wore earth about him, was a sufferer,
A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit,
The first true gentleman that ever breathed.
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice,
And could of men distinguish her election,
Sh’hath sealed thee for herself, for thou hast been
As one in suff’ring all that suffers nothing,
A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgement are so well co-medled,
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please: give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
In many ways, an Ancient is a living paradox that struggles to find internal harmony within themselves:
- Detached, yet compassionate: Their soul bleeds and cries foul yet to the outsider they may appear cold, impartial and judgmental.
- Enjoy life, yet do not cling to it: They can enjoy Life in the now but will readily let go as time marches on past them.
- Perfectionists yet indifferent to success or failure: They always strive for perfection irrespective of the outcome. The outside world has hard time coping with those standards yet the Ancient will feel they are a work in progress; one day making no difference to the next.
- Honorable, yet avoids the rewards of such honor: They believe there is nothing extraordinary about themselves and shy away from any recognition that paints them in that light.
- Ignores society’s ethics and morals, yet lives a life of the highest moral order: They march to the beat of their own ethical drum which is harsher and more unyielding compared to Society.
- Does not strive, yet achieve: They do not force their success. They flow into their success by being in the zone of their potential.
- Knows the answers, but prefers to remain silent: They may know the answer but they will not give it away for free. They must be asked and even then they will lead you the answer without even telling you it.
Eighteen Taoist observations of the way of the Ancient:
A wise man knows himself to be
more precious than fame,
and so, obscure, remains.
- Close harmony with nature
All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea
The sage gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to.
When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.
There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than to prepare to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the sage makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is at one with the whole universe.
Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
The pursuit of knowledge continuously
creates the thirst for more knowledge.
But whoever lives the way of the unfathomable
becomes humbler everyday.
Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
that is the sage’s way
He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a new-born child.
Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.
If you want to take control of the world and run it,
I can see that you will not succeed.
The world is a spiritual being,
which can’t be improved.
To try to manipulate and control it
is to create disorder.
To try to stabilize it
is to destroy it.
Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile
Therefore the sincere man concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no ego to follow.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.
The sage views the parts with compassion
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.
Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.
Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.
The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.
Are there any Ancients that you have studied or admire? Would you like to contribute to the definition of Ancient? Please feel free to share your opinions and reflections.