Me and the Tao: coming along.

Posted on October 2, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Health, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

yin_yang One of the things I’ve always appreciated about both Taoism and Buddhism is that each of them can be practiced as a religion, or studied as a philosophy. I’m sure that’s true of all spiritual writings, really, but there is no onus in the writings of the Tao on practicing a particular ritual. It’s not required, or commanded, or even encouraged particularly. There are those who do practice it as a religion, who would probably tell you it must be ritualised a certain way, but, I just choose not to mind them. I’m not much for religious ritual, but do like discussing philosophy. In addition, when a philosophical principle catches my fancy, I enjoy adding it to my spiritual practice, just not in a specific, ritualistic way. So, Taoism suits me, but I don’t consider myself a Taoist.

I’ve known of the Tao te Ching (or “The Way”) for many years. I’ve read the entire text of 81 verses, in several translations, and have discussed them, mostly in the context of “Comparative Religion” classes and seminars. I’m not sure I’m fond of the “Comparative Religion” model any more. The seminars I’ve taken have a series of questions about “each of the major religions in the world”. Those go something like this:

  • How does the religion see God?
  • What is its view of an afterlife?
  • What are its essential practices?
  • What is the human’s role in the scheme of things?
  • Is there a scheme of things, and what is it? How do we know that?
  • etc., etc., —you get the idea.

After we’ve “thoughtfully considered” each of theses questions for each of the teachings we’re studying, we then make lists of the comparisons and contrasts. I always got the feeling that the instructor was about to shout “May the best religion win!”

I just don’t find this kind of thing useful now. Study–or not. Learn because it’s exciting and fulfilling to you—or not. So, I shall be clear from the beginning that I did not sign up for a discussion group focused on the Tao te Ching in order to increase my cultural understanding of the people who practice it, or in order to “compare” it to other teachings more familiar to me. I was drawn to The Way by the simplicity of it, which in turn becomes practical if we really listen to and implement the words.

One does not have to agree with every word in order to benefit from learning Taoism; in fact Lao Tsu (or Lao Tse, in some transliterations), the originator of the 81 verses, would probably laugh at someone “trying” to do so. The phrases are there to contemplate, and in doing so lead us towards the river of life. Once there, we can float blissfully down stream, as long as we don’t need to fight with the seeming ease of it. Where many of us run into discomfort, myself included, is when we try to either “figure stuff out”, or power our way through a situation. In most cases, letting things be until it is clear how to act allows us a focused, more peaceful state of mind, and in the end gets more accomplished with less effort.

This is my favorite saying. This is just how I want to feel most days, if possible:

Let your community be small, with only a few people;
Keep tools in abundance, but do not depend upon them;

Appreciate your life and be content with your home;
Sail boats and ride horses, but don’t go too far;
Keep weapons and armour, but do not employ them;
Let everyone read and write,
Eat well and make beautiful things.

Live peacefully and delight in your own society;
Dwell within cock-crow of your neighbours,
But maintain your independence from them.

I found it fascinating that several of the group members were uncomfortable with the above quote; one extremely so. He said it sounded as if one must stay close to home and never travel, to have some tools (like computers!), but not use them. I told him I thought he took the phrases much more literally than I did. Even literally, though, the verse had positive associations for me. If it’s used as a guide, a metaphor if you will, I believe we can still travel, and learn, and follow The Way, and we can have tools (the verse says even in abundance)—but I like the advice not to depend on them.Β  yin yang computer

It’s been very hard, since the dawn of electricity, and even more so since the era of the Internet, for humans to imagine being disconnected from their tools. {Nonono, don’t take my computer! And my refrigerator!—other things I might be able to live without.} A splendid exercise, and one I haven’t done for a long time, is to go camping in the wilderness for a period of time. I’ve never done it for more than 10 days in a row, but one does get a sense of expansiveness in that length of time. Of course, I had a machine-made sleeping bag and tent, and brought along pre-packaged camping food. There were also certain chemicals (biodegradable, honest!) which enabled one to dig a toilet area and have it be tolerable. Without those manufactured items to start with, I don’t know if my experience would have been as delightful. πŸ™‚

When I did this, I awoke much earlier than I do at home; with the sunrise. There was running water: a swiftly flowing stream. I washed in the chilly water, and cooked my breakfast over a campfire. I spent the days hiking, reading (I did bring books!), chatting with my companions, and appreciating the vastness of the universe. We didn’t go to bed at sundown, but sat cosily around the campfire for a while, singing songs and telling stories. It sounds cliched, but we really did that. No electricity; no plumbing; no…computer! It wasΒ  wonderful. The sky was so big without buildings to obscure it. The air was fresh; the stars brighter than in any city.

The thing is, we tend to romanticize these moments, as I have just done here. It was lovely, but I wouldn’t want to spend lots and lots of time this way. It is of some comfort to know that I can. But, my belief is also that humans created technology to be used, and there is so much to learn with its aid.

Therefore, the Wisdom of the Tao speaks to me of balance. In daily life I spend many hours per day perched in front of this machine I’m typing upon. Some hours involve work; others communicating, as in this blog, and still others divided among exploration and play. It’s important to me though, that I get out of the house every day and walk, and look at the mountains, and stretch my body to get it un-kinked from spending way too much time in a desk chair. It’s important I find time for meditation, and real-book reading. There’s something about holding an actual book, with real pages, that can’t be matched by a “kindle” or computer.

It’s important that I sing, and dance, and draw, and even cook (not high on my list!) in order to interact with the physical plane and the world inside my brain.

And it’s important to remember the Tao when I’m feeling overwhelmed and out-of-sorts (who, me?). πŸ˜‰ Then, I bring into play my second favorite saying I’ve learned so far:

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?

I deliberately—sometimes almost force myself to—sit and wait ’til my mud settles. I find I have less mud as time goes on, but with that, it also takes longer to settle. So I wait. If I do, I will know when the waiting is over. Then, I inevitably see the situation that was bothering me in a new light. Sometimes the problem has resolved itself; while at other times I just don’t care anymore. In any case I have a fresh perspective, and in this world of seeming chaos, that is the greatest blessing.

yin yang lotus May The Way be with you.


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16 Responses to “Me and the Tao: coming along.”

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Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse! Long time, no see. I haven’t read the Tao in its entirety yet, though I do own a copy. I want to dive in again soon, but Ecky’s A New Earth and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations are calling my name.

Glad to see you back!

Wow Muse.
I felt I just attended a Buddhist service and had one of the best messages I’ve ever heard!
Right. Balance and pacing with patience is the bottomline.
And yes, sometimes, just a small acquisition of wisdom gives us the most joy.
I wonder though why you didn’t mention Zen which is more apart from religion.

I think TTC is really worth reading for anybody, and they can interpret it at whatever level of abstraction they feel comfortable with – whether cosmological, strategic, etc. . .

I’ve been here twice and hadn’t made a comment. I got reading the verses from your link and get side tracked! Oh, Muse. I like this! Thank you!

I like how you looked at the verse and made the observation that you can have things and people in your life, make use of them, be friends, but not to depend on them.

Thanks for sharing, I can’t wait to hear more about it. πŸ™‚

Wow, leap! I could hear that all the way across several states. It’s nice to be welcomed back so exuberantly! πŸ™‚ You’ve got some great literature there. I think you would enjoy much of the Tao te Ching.

Thanks, poch. Balance and calmness are key for me. Although it’s certainly good to have some loud fun, too. Well, I’m taking a class on Taoism at the moment, so Zen Buddhism doesn’t come into this current discussion. I have read Zen writings, though, and sat ZaZen when I lived in Hawaii.

Hello, NewArt! I like your words “cosmological” and “strategic”. Hadn’t looked at it quite this way.

Aw shucks, BD. Here’s another link for you. I like this because one winds ones way through the Tao based on topics, or interests, rather than the more linear verse numbers. I will share more; probably when the class is over (two more weeks). πŸ™‚

I really like the quote that’s your favorite saying. I like the idea of having things, but not necessarily becoming dependent on them. Out camping for many days would be pretty fun! I would miss hot water, but it’d definitely be a cool experience!

Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

Thanks for the link, Muse. Seriously, this stuff is great!

Well, you CAN heat water in a bucket over the fire, Shane. πŸ˜‰ I’m glad you liked the phrase. I appreciate the support. πŸ™‚ Another one I like is “Today, I have all I need.”

You are welcome, BD. I like the wisdom, without a side of dogma. πŸ˜‰

Oh, that is one of my favorite verses of the Tao Te Ching. And I feel sorry for that guy who felt so uncomfortable by it and could only see it as literal.

Wonderful post Mused. just wonderful.

A post filled with divinity & spirituality observations. Peaceful πŸ™‚ Loved it Muse!

Great post!! Though I wonder if I can be without the computer!! How else do I get to read posts like yours?! πŸ™‚

Thank you so much, Jules! I think, for that fellow, it was a new experience considering things this way. And wasn’t it lucky for him that he had me in the group to point this out to him! πŸ˜€ 😎

Kiran, what a lovely compliment. I think spiritual observation is one of our most important tasks. πŸ™‚

Oh, Apar, you sweetheart! You have made my day. I will make sure to keep my computer in good repair in that case; and to read yours, too! πŸ˜€

I’m enjoying your journey, Muse. Study–or not. Learn because it’s exciting and fulfilling to youβ€”or not. That’s a marvelous philosophy, which applies to just about everything we’ve yet to learn.

I agree your groupmate took the verse far too literally.

Journey on!

I appreciate your support on the journey, ella. I am working on releasing the “shoulds” in my life, so your comment is timely! It’s fascinating watching my groupmates starting to learn to think in new ways…as I am myself, of course. πŸ™‚

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