In this world there is no longer a “here” or a “there,” or attachment; everything is infinitely equal and infinitely diverse, and action originates from itself, pure and hidden. The “Wind,” the “Breath” (the Breath of the Hermetic “Great Green”) carries upon it everything in the sense of a sacrifice, an offering, a luminous and marvelous ritual, among zones of an activity as calm as the deepest sleep, and immobility as intense as the most vehement tornado.

Here that which is “human” melts away as a dark memory of misery and as the specter of a long nightmare. The Angel awakens, the Ancient Ice:2 immobility and a vertiginously slow pace resolve every tension. This is the threshold and the transfiguration. Beyond it lies—the world of the eternal.

SERPENTINE WISDOM “IAGLA”

They burn with fire—we burn with water; they wash with water— we wash with fire.

—Van Helmont

Occultism has an extremely subtle “virtue.” It is “serpentine.” And it is also essential.

In general, people have their cliches, their ethical, religious, or social ideals, their opinions about Strength, Wisdom, and Greatness. But occultism is altogether a very different thing. It is elusive and cannot be measured. It comes from the opposite direction to the one that everyone is looking toward. Thus it goes unnoticed; or if it is noticed, it disconcerts. It robs those who believed they were secure, who thought they had their feet on the ground, of their certainties.

The occultist is an entity that cannot be measured by ordinary standards. Nobody knows what he is really capable of, nor what his action consists of. His path is impenetrable. You may be his best friend, his companion, and even his lover; you may think you own his heart, his affection, or his devotion. And yet, he will be an other, besides the one you already know. You will become aware of this “other” one only when you enter his domain. Then you will feel as if you had been walking along the edge of an abyss.

Occultism is altogether a very different thing. It is elusive and cannot be measured.

Never mind the fact that today in the West there are countless people who declare themselves to be occultists, Masters, Initiates, etc., and who would be very unhappy if one were not aware of their presumed quality. Let me repeat that, with some remarkable exceptions, it is rare for a true initiate to come forward and to reveal himself outside his own circle. The real initiate lives in a state that categorically destroys any dependency on people. What the latter say or think about him, and whether the opinion they form of him is accurate or not—these things no longer concern him. Due to an “irresistible” inclination, people want others to “know” who they are (or worse yet, what they think they are). When they act, they want everyone else to know about it

too; the absence of reactions and a natural impassibility in the face of an unjust comment or action are not typical of them. An occultist finds all this to be puerile. He does not exist. Let others try to grasp at air, if that is what they enjoy. He can pull the rug from under their feet, and he will do it when the occasion arises, without them even realizing where the action came from, or if there even was an action at all. Do they wish to strike him on the cheek? Let them. He will even turn the other cheek: he only plays those games in which he is the one dictating all the rules. He is at the mercy of no one. He alone decides what reactions must arise in himself due to other people’s words, actions, or qualities. Call him a hero, call him a coward: he does not care either way. He is only concerned with what effects follow from these thoughts of others, what their consequences are for his game. He cares only for making some things occur: he calmly and coolly establishes the means and the conditions, he acts, and that is all. He does not adhere to his action as if it were his own. Above all he does not talk about it, nor does he care about the outcome. The action is a mere instrument. He is immune from the mania of “self-affirmation.”

Do they wish to strike him on the cheek? Let them. He will even turn the other cheek: he only plays those games in which he is the one dictating all the rules.

The more an occultist progresses, the more deeply his center recedes, and the more that those whom he acts upon will have the perfect illusion of being free. How well known this characteristic of occultism is these days, I do not know. It does not help for it to be known; it is preferable if it escapes notice. However, I know that too often in the West occultism is distorted by alien viewpoints and by profane prejudices. People know little and talk much. Thus the risk for mistakes and isunderstandings is great. Yet we should not give any support to those who do not even know where the true principles lie, and for whom occultism is just another excuse for games and manias with which they divert the public. In our writings we have often referred to the “will,” “action,” and the “Self”… But I am not sure if our readers understand that here, will is not will, action is not action, and the Self is not the Self.

About 2,500 years ago, a little book was written in China. In this book, the principles of a subtle and Hermetic wisdom are set forth in a clear, cool, and lucid form: I am talking, of course, about Laotzu’s Tao-te Ching. It may be helpful here to recall the main themes of this practical wisdom, which is

timeless and boundless. It is an unequivocal reference point. It is very dangerous, yet absolute. I know of nothing more absolute. It has a sense of surgery. An essential clearsightedness. No echo of human limitations and manias. Here, one can breathe and fully be.

Although it may be based in legend, Confucius’s encounter with Lao-tzu, narrated by Cho-Hong in the Si Sien Chuen, is very meaningful. According to Cho Hong, Confucius, who tried to involve Lao-tzu in his preoccupation with customs, morality, and tradition, received such answers from him that, when reflecting several years later on this encounter, he wrote: “It is possible to set a trap in order to catch animals; it is possible to catch fish with nets and to shoot birds with arrows. But how will one capture the dragon that flies in the air above the clouds?”

This is how the maxims of the Tao-te Ching gradually define the nature of the Fulfilled One, the Ambiguous, the Subtle, the Elusive. The text begins in this manner:3 “The Way that is the Way is not the ordinary way. The Name that is the Name is not the ordinary name.” Men steal life; they are outside the center and draw outside of it the virtues that should remain deep and invisible. They construct the puppet of “personality,” instead of being; then they grasp it, clinging tenaciously to it like beasts. Eternally they accumulate, absorb, hold onto, and “affirm”: Me! Me! Me! The mask, the grimace, become everything. They do not realize that this is fever, error, mania. Death lies in wait within the shell they erected. And death cuts them down. They are larvae ejected from the Great Game.

This is what the Fulfilled One says: true affirmation, absolute individuality, are not the affirmation or the individuality known to men; rather, the latter are a way of illusion and corruption. People talk of possessing, and know not what possession is. They talk of “strength,” but what they refer to is a mere fairy tale. The Fulfilled One says: only by losing itself can the Self become individualized, ceasing to “affirm” in order to really be individuals and Lords of the Self. One cannot have while hanging on; one cannot become sharper by grasping. The Fulfilled One disappears—in this way he reveals. He empties himself—in this way he achieves absolute being. In order to reach the peak, he conceals his Self. By giving away, he earns; by giving away, he is wealthy. He lets go, dissolves, and ascends. He lets go of the ray of success, abolishes splendor, and fixes himself in the invisible origin.

Concentrated, he achieves—scattered, he fails. From fullness he shifts to “emptiness.” There lies the essence of fullness, just as in the center lies the essence of the wheel. From movement he proceeds to what, as the real cause of motion, is itself motionless. From being to that which, in its incorporeity, is nonbeing. “Self,” “non-Self,” “will”—all manias! Earnings become a loss. He who stands on his toes does not grow taller, nor does a random jerking of the legs make one go anywhere. He who places himself in the spotlight remains in the dark; he who thinks he has arrived finds himself pushed back: to exhibit oneself is to be dependent; to take care of oneself is to decay; to exert oneself is useless, insane, and takes one even further from the path. The more he “affirms” and the more he goes outside, the more he affirms nothingness.

Those who expose themselves, create a chance to be stricken down.

Unless you quit the game of resistance, of ownership, of your will, you will not cease to be fooled: the Path is something else. To will without willing to will; to act without willing to act; to achieve without doing; to do without being the doer; to elevate oneself without dominating. Straight, but flexible, clear though not shining—this is what Lao-tzu says. To truly be consists in not wishing to be. Lao-tzu turns all human “values” upside down. He smiles at you as if you were a little child when you wear the mask of “conqueror,” “Übermensch,” or of him who “breaks but does not bend.” How naive! Concerning water, he says: there is nothing in the world like water, ready to assume any form—and yet nothing is more capable of defeating what is strong and rigid. Water cannot be tamed because it adapts itself to all things; because it offers no resistance, it cannot be captured. The “virtue” of Heaven imitates it. What is flexible triumphs over what is rigid, and what is weak triumphs over what is strong. The tools of death are strong and hard; the tools of life are subtle and flexible. The former are below, the latter are above. The latter direct the former; the incorporeal penetrates matter’s impenetrability.

Those who expose themselves, create a chance to be stricken down. The strong tree is the one that is felled … Failing is occasioned by “willing,” loss is made possible by attachment; there is no action that does not provoke a reaction. Thus, a good wrestler does not use violence; a good winner does not struggle; a good walker leaves no traces; a good director does not direct; a good guard does not need locks, a good capturer does not use ropes. A truly

winning army does not need to “fight”—it has never even considered the struggle or the possibility of having to struggle. See how bewildering all this is? Against this you cannot find a hold, you find no resistance although you feel a force against which you can do nothing, a force that first of all takes away the possibility of a struggle, because a sword cannot strike air, and a net cannot catch water. Those who have been “bitten by the Dragon” possess this strength: they direct worldly affairs through this strength, operating with it, remaining invisible and silent behind the scenes. To them, people are nothing (just as people are nothing to the impersonal powers of nature): they utilize them like instruments—says Lao-tzu—without experiencing love or hatred, good or ill. Does a builder behave any differently toward the stones he uses? The infinitely wide square no longer has corners; the infinitely wide container is bottomless; the infinitely acute sound is no longer audible; the infinitely wide image no longer has a form. This is the teaching of Lao-tzu. The lack of traces is the trace of his Perfect One. In the immensity of the strength of his spirit, compared to the limited consciousness of human beings, he appears to hardly know he exists. In the guise of weakness, he has true strength; he knows he is powerful, yet appears as weak. He knows he is enlightened, yet appears as small and mediocre. He dulls what is sharp, clarifies what is confused, tones down his shining nature, and is outwardly identical with what is ordinary. He progresses without advancing; he absorbs without conquering; he possesses without owning. Becoming like everybody else, he becomes different from everybody. As he goes on, he is as prudent as one who crosses a winter stream, vigilant as one who knows he is surrounded by enemies; cold as a stranger; ephemeral as a melting snowflake; rough as a tree trunk; wide as the great valleys; impenetrable as deep water; inaccessible as solitary peaks. He arrives at his destination without walking; he penetrates without looking; achieves without willing; acts without doing; he simply vanishes. He is obeyed without making commands; he wins without struggle; he draws people to himself without calling for them. How disheartening to those who uphold the myth of manhood based on muscles and iron strength: for this alone is the true man, the absolute man! Within himself he absorbs the ambiguous virtue of the female. Lao-tzu talks about the invisible magic of the feminine, which in a feline fashion attracts and absorbs man’s action into itself; and he compares it to the image of dark, hidden valleys, drawing the water of the alpine peaks to themselves in an irresistible way.

Do you know what your “heroes,” your “martyrs,” and your

“men of character” are? Creatures of vanity, nothing more.

“The Way that is the Way is not the ordinary way,” indeed. Do you know what your “heroes,” your “martyrs,” and your “men of character” are? Creatures of vanity, nothing more. “I break but do not bend”: what you mean is that for the sake of the “beautiful gesture” and for the proud satisfaction I feed my ego, I sacrifice reality. What a child! Lao-tzu does not hide behind the smoke screen of the “heroic” and the “tragic.” Cool and lucid, he only cares to fulfill. You advance? He pulls back and then returns like the wave: “It is better to step back a foot than to gain an inch: among two combatants, the one who wins is the one who does not fight.” Do you put forth an obstacle, or an “affirmation?” He lets you go ahead, goes underground and cuts you down at the root. He anticipates that which is not yet manifest; acts upon that which is still weak; resolves a crisis before it erupts. He withdraws; he aims at acting where there are no conditions or defenses, where there is no “cause,” in other words, where there is nothing against which an effect may react.