This is a transcript of Episode One of Walking the Timeless Way, a Daoist podcast.
Ian: Welcome to Gu Dao Jin Xing, Walking the Timeless Way, a podcast that digs deeply into the ancient texts of Daodejing (Tao te ching) to uncover its timeless wisdom and discuss how to apply it to today's chaotic world. I'm Ian Felton, a practicing psychotherapist and coder, and I'm joined by my co-host, executive coach and consultant, David Wang. Morning, David.
David: Good morning, Ian. Good to see you again.
Ian: Yeah, it's good to see you. So here we are after at least two years of studying this lovely text together, and today is our very first podcast that we've been practicing for, for quite a while.
David: Yeah, time really flies. I'm very excited about this podcast. I think it feels like we're taking our study session, you and me, to the larger world and share with more people. So it's really, really exciting.
Ian: Yeah, I'm super excited about it, too. And I think we took a lot of time getting to this point where you and I would get together and every week we would study a different chapter of Daodejing and we had this realization one day that our conversations might be interesting to some other people. We don't know how many other people, but at least a few other people. And the main reason that I had for that was that when I started studying the Chinese language, one of the most important reasons for me, I had a long-term goal of I want to study this text, Daodejing (Tao te ching), in Chinese. Because since I discovered the text have been really in love with its simplicity and its poetry, but also the breadth and depth of the philosophy in it, that it's hard to really find any other equivalent in all the different philosophical texts that I've read, particularly Western philosophy, which tends to generate thousands of pages of dense vocabulary. And in comparison, the Daodejing (Tao te ching), I think, says so much with so little words. And so I wanted to study the Chinese language so I could get closer to that heart of it. And then when you and I met, I had the opportunity to do that and I felt like, wow, there's got to be some other people out there who would want to get in on this because it's such a rare opportunity. I don't know how many other Westerners are able to do this, but I know that there's tons of Westerners that love Daodejing (Tao te ching) and have probably read different translations, but I'm not sure how many of them get an intimate view of the text in the lens of the Chinese language. And so we wanted to give that to people. Obviously, you don't have to speak Chinese to be in our conversations, but we are going to pull people closer to the heart of it, to Chinese culture, to the Chinese characters. We want it to be a gentle, open and inviting podcast that maybe takes you and gives you some perspectives on the text that maybe you haven't had in a lot of your other previous acquaintances with this beautiful text.
David: Well, hopefully through this podcast we'll find out. It's really amazing to see you and hear about the long background, about your interest in Daodejing (Tao te ching) and you set your mind on Daodejing (Tao te ching), even from the very beginning when you started to learn Chinese. One of the things the statistics I heard about is, in addition to the Bible, Daodejing (Tao te ching) actually has been one of the bestselling books in the world. There must be a reason for that. I think in the West there's a widespread interest in The Art of War and in fact, The Art of War.
Ian: You're talking about? The Sunzi book.
David: Yes. And according to some researchers, the Art of War derived some of the Daoist (Taoist) idea from Laozi and also try to apply that in warfare. So that's kind of very interesting. And besides the wars, the peace and the war, it seems to me that it has a broader application in our lives. Hopefully, we can share our discussion, share our thoughts, and also we'll invite, as you said, some more thoughts, some more ideas and inspirations and insights by bringing more people into this study group. So, in other words, I feel like we are broadening our study group. We've been doing that together for two years now, and now it's time to invite more people because I think we are all living in this crazy times. Part of the reason I enjoy our studying is every week we can take a step back from our busy, crazy lives over a cup of tea. We can discuss loud on a quiet Saturday morning.
Ian: Yeah, it's truly been a major highlight in my life since we've been doing it, and specifically for the reasons that you just articulated, which is that we're trying to make this text come to life in our lives that we're not just studying.
David: Kind of scholarly.
Ian: Yeah, like a scholarly approach. Yeah, we might get into some of that stuff a little bit because it's interesting. Yeah. But we're not doing it just to kind of be academic about it. We want to bring the text to life. And you and I have talked every time we meet, we talk about, how can I apply this? It always resonates so much what we read. Generally, every now and then there might be a line or two where it's kind of challenging to try to put it in today's world. But overall, we see this guy that wrote this text, or whoever it was, really had some deep wisdom and some deep insight into life. So what's timeless about it and what can we do with it today in this world that's so chaotic? Because that's what Laozi was saying, is that, yes, the world is chaotic, but here's some ways of navigating it. And so when we talk about walking the timeless way today, what we're saying is things really have yes, it seems incredibly chaotic. And it is. But at the same time, it's always been kind of chaotic since civilization kind of emerged the way that it did. And there's been people who had the benefit of a pre-technological era that has, I think, a unique perspective to bring on things. And what you and I have kind of seen is that that perspective can be very useful to today.
David: Exactly. In fact, when we think about it, this Laozi, even though some people would argue he's a legendary figure, lived in the 6th century BC, and he also lived in a very chaotic time when the Zhou dynasty declined. He was working according to the legend, he was working in the Royal Archive as a keeper. And he must have read a lot of books about even times before his era, the ups and downs, the cyclical nature of things. So I sort of see a lot of parallels in his life and our life, as you said, how are we going to really distill from this ancient text, kind of get over the barriers of language and get into the wisdom of it? So a lot to me, it's like drinking tea, have a sip and really kind of savor the taste of it from this kind of a timeless wisdom.
Ian: Yeah, I love the way that you put it with that. Our approach to this is let's take one chapter, which, when it's written in Chinese language, one chapter might be four sentences, might be eight sentences, not very many at all. But we'll spend a full hour discussing those sentences, breaking down those sentences, looking at what are the key ideas, what are the key kind of concepts, and one trying to put it in the context of Chinese culture and kind of bridging that gap for Westerners that probably aren't familiar with it. But then and maybe that's not true, because I think that actually a lot of Eastern philosophy has obviously been incorporated in Western thought over the most recent decades. But we want to bring that depth even more to the surface and point things out that are significant. But I like what you pointed out, which is that Laozi was someone who had access to all of the wisdom of his time. So here's someone, if he had access to all the records and books and was spending his time really immersed in all that, what sort of wisdom that we don't even as an entire species, probably have access to anymore, because who knows what those records were stored on. And since Laozi’s time is about as old as civilization as we kind of have our pulse on, the wisdom that he probably had immediate access to was probably a lot of oral traditions and a lot of things that just weren't necessarily written down, but only were kind of known about through being a living person at that time. And so the fact that he found a way somehow to put all that into these 81 chapters and that you and I can sit here each week and look at the language, look at the characters, and try to integrate that in our daily lives. It's kind of amazing.
David: It is amazing. I feel like living in our time, we have the benefits of harvesting and feasting on that wisdom. Because I think about the time we are living in, I feel like we're as a species or as individuals, we face a lot of challenges, some even existential challenges for mankind at this time. It's very beneficial to take a step back and look at our own way of thinking. Because as Einstein said, sometimes in order to solve the problem, you have to rise above the dimension where you created a problem. A lot of the problems we face today, if we are just follow by default the way of thinking, maybe we're not going anywhere. But by going back over time, by looking across different cultures, we may have the potential to benefit from those things for whatever reason we may have forgotten. So that's the way I see the significance of studying it and taking time to discuss it between us and among ourselves.
Ian: Yeah. So well put. And I'm wondering now if we've kind of given our listeners the reason why we're inviting them in and what's in it for them, but they probably also want to know a little bit about us and how we met in our kind of path that's led up to here. And so I want to invite you to introduce yourself, David, and we can certainly just kind of start talking about just our history and our history together studying Daodejing.
David: Yeah. And hopefully in the future, when our community expands, we can get to know more people. So I think that personal story is an integral part of what we are discussing because I think that makes our discussion more interesting. There's the personal and there's the universal. So let me just share a little bit about my journey. I was born and grew up in China in a city called Nanjing. And that city in itself is a historical and cultural city very close to the Yangzi River. I remember the place I was born, there was actually a Daoist (Taoist) temple for thousands of years. So, my grandpa used to point at that temple and said, you know what? All these famous people like poets and of different eras, they came and they wrote poems about it, about that temple. So at the same time, I remember the first time when I got to know about Daodejing was through this. My grandpa asked me to recite the dao ke dao fei chang dao, actually, the first few lines, that was my kind of an early memory, kind of a long story short, in the I made a decision to come to the US to study in college as an international student, because at that time, I think it's a role model for many people around the world, how it was so developed and has its technologies and great ideas. A lot of great things came out of this country. I remember at a school, a boarding school I attended in China, we had American teachers. I made friends with them, I showed them around my city. But at the same time I was like a sponsor. I want to soak in all the great stuff about Michael Jackson, she was actually from Seattle and she came to China to teach English. But at the same time she was interested in Tai Chi. So she learned Tai Chi in my school. And then after she returned to the Seattle, she started a business, like opening up a studio and teaching Microsoft executives Tai chi. That kind of exchange and friendship formulates my fascination with this country. So in the early nineties, I decided to come here to study in college. And I came to Harvard to study, to major in government. But even as an undergraduate there are a lot of courses about Western civilization. One of the memorable courses is actually Renaissance Florence. We have a fabulous professor who shared with us a lot of the Dante and Medici and all these great ideas and the figures in West. So that's kind of my educational background that mixed the Chinese tradition with the Western tradition. And in all of studying and delving in all of these, I think it's fascinating, together with my experience of living in this country, for a long time I felt actually in the news media people talked about how people are different. But to me, the more I live across cultures, the more I feel actually there are more similarities at the deeper level. We just didn't go very far. We also say, oh, these guys eat with chopsticks and these guys will eat with fork. That's very superficial. Yeah, we just haven't spent enough time together to understand that deeper connection between all of us. So again, I think that's the college experience. And then later on I went into consulting the industry and basically to help companies compete and thrive through all kinds of changes. And now what I'm doing is executive coach to help these managers incorporations and the senior executives become better leaders. And from that perspective I appreciate more, for example, what that true power is. Some of the inspiration came from Laozi because the true power in the corporate environment is not necessarily the position of power you have. A lot of that has to do with influence. That influence is very soft and it's built upon trust, build upon a person's character. Again, a lot of the things I picked up from Laozi and also I learned in college, like say and after college about the Founding Fathers like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson or later on even like Henry David Thoreau and Emerson. I feel these people, they have given a lot of thought to the human nature or human condition that sometimes in our rush in life, we basically ignore them, we've forgotten them. And what if we bring in all these treasures to the table today and see what's there and see how much we can apply those and integrate those into our daily life? Would that life will be better? I believe so.
Ian: And I love everything that you said, and again, just feel really grateful that we were able to meet just because of your passion for life and understanding and all these things. And there was something really interesting what you said about the true power is soft. And you were talking about when you said that I study Tai Chi, too, or Tai Chi. Tai Chi, yeah. And it truly is a martial art where the power is soft and so very much complimenting what you're saying, which is that Chinese martial art very much rooted in the philosophy of China, that it's also a manifestation of this soft power. And a lot of the philosophy of my background is obviously much different than yours. I come from Appalachia in West Virginia. We're about the same age. I think you're a few years older than me. But I started college in West Virginia, and that was when my exposure to Daodejing (Tao te ching) began. So obviously, I grew up in a place where no exposure to anything other than Christianity and anything outside of that would have been seen as kind of weird. And why are you reading that? And, like, what is that weird stuff? And it would have been particularly at that time, it would not have been looked at as something I should be reading or doing something with. But when I went to college, I had always had a search for the truth, if you will. And while I know better now that there is no truth with a capital T, but human truth certainly is a thing, and wisdom of human experience is certainly a thing, and cultivating relationships around it is certainly a thing. And so my interest with this text goes back quite a way and also someone who studied a lot of philosophy. I was a software engineer and coder for a really long time and still am.
David: But I went back to I remember the book that you wrote, that book. I was quite fascinated by a tech guy who has this deep interest in humanities. Like, how do that bring together? So you are just not I think that book is the title itself is very interesting. Can you share with our listener some backstory around that book and what you had in your mind when you decide to write about it?
Ian: Sure. So I did write a book back in 2015 called The Coding Samurai. And essentially following in my love of Eastern philosophy, I had read a book called The Code of the Samurai, which is essentially about the code that Samurai would follow. And there was a chapter that kind of detailed some essential way of being that they should follow. And I thought, wow. Again, going back to applying ancient wisdom to today, I said you could apply this as a software developer. And because of my experience, I thought, well, I want to write a scifi novel that's kind of fun and interesting and talks about it, builds a near future world, but also follows the life of a new software developer. And sort of each chapter he kind of learns this lesson based upon the Samurai Code. And so just definitely another example of my interest in that philosophy and how to apply it, which I'm a psychotherapist now. I went back and got my Masters. I'm a licensed psychotherapist. And so I want to apply things. I want to study philosophy, I want to study the research, but then I want to apply it. I want to make my life better. I want to make other people's lives better. That book was definitely an example of that. My career is an example of that. The software products that I still build are building that, of trying to help people apply things to make their life better. And obviously our relationship is an example of that. Since we just have a few minutes left today, I think it's also probably worth mentioning to our listeners how we met, how this relationship got going and what we've been up to for the past couple of years.
David: Well, my version of the story so I'll tell my version and then you can share from your perspective. My version of the story is I remember a few years ago we used to be neighbors. We had a community event where you and Jen presented from one of your recent trips, either from Cuba or Antarctica. It's fabulous that you show all these great slides about wild life and human life. So that really caught my attention and interest. And then afterwards I stay at the event. We had a conversation. You showed me on your iPhone, there's a Chinese app and you are taking Chinese lessons. And I said to myself, wow, that's quite interesting because I find another learner because I myself want to take in as much as possible from what life has to offer. So that's kind of really started this exploration. And after several conversations, we all shared passion in philosophy and in Taoism and Late. So here we are two years later.
Ian: Yeah, I remember that day very well. And I remember for a while we weren't able to link up. I think we tried to share WeChat ideas and somehow, we weren't able to link up. And some time went by and we finally started making it happen. We started meeting on the weekends and studying. And I remember it was the very first time that your wife, Ya Ting, and my significant other Jen, we, all went out to dinner. And of course, that was the day that you also said, we're moving to Florida. Yes. And just how disappointed I was that we had just kind of started this journey together and you were moving, but we didn't let it stop us, that we kept meeting every week using Skype. We kept the conversations going, we kept the relationship going. And I know for the listener, just to set it up for them, we're about 61 chapters into Daodejing and we're not going to go back to chapter one. We're going to continue our progress. And so the next episode, we're kind of going to be, like, right in the middle of the text. And that's fine, because every chapter kind of has its own message. You don't have to read Daodejing (Tao te ching) in order. And eventually we'll get through the book and go back to chapter one, and we'll make sure that we do an episode for each chapter. But essentially what you're doing is coming into David and I's conversation where we're at after years of studying together and working through this book very diligently together, one week, one chapter at a time. And so I'm super excited for us to kind of take this next step.
David: I'm excited, too. And to our listeners, welcome. Welcome to join us as together we explore the wisdom of Laozi and walk the timeless way in our times.
Ian: All right, David. Well, I think that's about all the time we have today. But yeah, just thank you again for spending another Saturday morning with me, and we'll see ya next time.
David: See you.