Originally Published: March 5, 2012 by remingtoncooney |
Okay, time for some House-keeping. Since many of my entries will be focused loosely around Taoist teachings, I feel it is important to lay down the fundamentals of Taoism. This is just so you have a reference point if I start name-dropping or giving analogies that aren’t originally mine. However, I understand most of you are not aspiring Taoists, and, to tell the truth, I’m not either. I do not consider myself a Taoist and I don’t think I’ll will ever become one. Nonetheless, Taoism has an incredibly big influence on the way I conduct my life/day-to-day routine. It is a school of thought that, upon discovery, powerfully resonated with me. I will try to keep things as simplified as possible so that we can get onto the more fun stuff, more quickly.
So, what are the fundamentals of Taoist teachings? What is at its core?
The Tao (pronounced ‘Dao’) typically translates to ‘the Way’. Alternatively, some may define it as ‘path’ or ‘principle’. What we notice about these definitions is that they don’t really reveal much about the subject, do they? In fact, you’d be hard pressed to get any more vague. Taoism prides itself on its vagueness, its contradictions, and its impracticalities. To me, this sort of makes sense. In my belief, it’s rather egocentric to begin filling boxes and compartmentalizing the world we observe, without ever considering that it may not be like that at all. By all means, fill those boxes! We need some reference after all, especially in this day and age. But do not attach yourself to the labels on those boxes because at the end of the day, it is highly likely that many of them have been mislabeled. Taoism returns to the time-old question: Can we really know anything? I would imagine a sage would answer this by saying, “not really, but we can always try.”
This brings me to the Taoist sage. A Taoist sage is someone who has reached a deep and profound understanding of the Tao and is able to communicate his/her understanding to students or other Taoist followers in order to help them reach similar understanding. To say the Taoist sage is enlightened is a little misleading. In Taoism, enlightenment is not really focused upon, for it indicates a certain goal at the end of a journey. Taoism advocates that existence is cyclical and non-linear. Enlightenment may come and go in the form of present epiphanies, but it’s not a transcendental experience at the end of a linear path.
How do we interpret ‘The Tao (Way)’?
In short, the Tao (Way) can be thought of as the source or essence of everything that exists. Everything is born from the Tao and everything returns to the Tao. There is a cyclical nature inherent of the Tao, whereby it does not have a defined beginning, nor a defined end. The Tao transcends all time and space; it is all encompassing and forever existing. It is at the basis of all existence; however, that is not to say it is the basis of existence. As soon as we start labeling what the Tao is, we are narrowing down and inhibiting its infinite potential. It’s best to never concretely describe the Tao, but rather allude to it through metaphors and analogies. At least this is how it is traditionally spoken of by the Taoist sages. Conclusively, the closest way we can get to describing the Tao, is by describing what it is not.
the Tao does not have a shape or form
the Tao does not have an ending, nor does it have a beginning
Remember: Taoists are skeptical of language because of its restrictions, and, therefore, err on the side of caution when it comes to labels on boxes.
The great Taoist sages, like Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi, felt the workings of nature best depicted the Tao. Such things as a river flowing around rocks and other obstacles in its path, never allowing them to obstruct its journey. The body of water in a river maintains flow and eloquence even in the face of its greatest obstacles, and yet, does so without exuding great effort. The movement of water in a river, is thus, a perfect demonstration of the Taoist term Wu-Wei (which roughly translates to) non-action. If you watch how a river flows, you see that the water is moving without actually putting effort into moving itself. It is in action without actually acting. Hence, we say it is acting in Wu-wei (non-action). Another way of saying this is it is in natural action or organic action.Since the body of water is not acting independently, what is the origin of its action? That, my friends, would be The Tao. The Tao is the essence behind the flow of the river. But what is this essence? Well, it is not the current, nor is it the downward sloping of the river bed, and it’s definitely not the waterfall. Perhaps, it is the combination of all of them? We will never know. Once again, we must err on the side of caution and simply ponder…
One thing we notice about water is that despite the lack of effort in its movement, it is virtually indestructible. It will destroy or gradually wear down any obstacle in its path without losing its flow, form, or eloquence (one needs only to see the grand canyon in order to realize this). Furthermore, if you block water’s path it will organically find an alternative route without ever having to stop and think about which route to take next. Why? Because it is perfectly aligned with the Tao and, is, for that reason, constantly guided by it.
The Taoist Sages believed we should learn to emulate that which is completely aligned with the Tao. In other words, we must be like water (yes, that’s where the cliche comes from).
There you have it. The foundations have been laid, the boxes have been cleared, and you’re ready for the next post.