Saturday, December 10, 2011

To Tao From Zen

I love the little book of wisdom that is the Tao Te Ching, but sometimes it strikes me as extremely useless. All this stuff about how the sage does this, the sage does that... well, that's fine and good for the sage, but what about the rest of us? If we try to emulate what the book says denotes a master, all we end up with is hypocrisy. We're aping the saints, not a saint ourselves. You need only look as far as the religious right to see what I'm talking about. They're rigid legalists, not Jesus-like Christ figures. They're faking it. A real sage doesn't read in a book how to act, it comes from his or her inner nature, from their oneness with Tao. If a sage lives as an ascetic, it isn't out of self-denial from guilt, or to set an example, or to not pollute the world with reckless consumption; it's because he realized he didn't need all that stuff to begin with. If he is generous and full of kindness to all, it isn't because he should, but because he deep down must.

The Tao Te Ching often just seems not like a how-to book, but more of a snapshot of the sage. Full of lofty sayings and statements that tantalize but don't quite deliver. Interesting, in a way, but not always entirely helpful. What we all want is to know how to actually embody such sagacity. How do I find the Tao? I know it's a ridiculous question to even ask, knowing intellectually that it is all around us (so sayeth the texts and wise ones), it is all that is, as well as all that isn't, we couldn't get away from it if we wanted to.

How do you do without doing? It's a bootstrap problem: wei wu wei, doing non-doing, is impossible to achieve. Attempt it, and you are acting with expectation, forcing things, and forcing is wei, not wu wei. Like in Buddhism, when you accept that desire causes all suffering (dukkha), and go on to desire to end desiring. This is the hypocrisy, and actually dangerous, because you may be deluding yourself, and get the spiritual pride going. You're doing all this religion/philosophy stuff to achieve enlightenment, which is something you (think you) don't have, but want to attain in the future, and thus you're always a seeker, never a finder. You are getting in your own way.

So how does one get out of one's own way so as to flow with the Tao? There is nothing simpler, nor harder; it's always the most obvious thing that gets missed. But as always, I circle around to acceptance in the broadest sense. The only way to act without expectation is to not be in the future, by being in the present. You get there through surrender, surrender to your experience, whatever it currently is, without comment or opinion. In the present, you can't act with expectation, because it's all there, and you're just grooving with it. This is the point of insight meditation

Or perhaps this bootstrap problem is the point, to throw you against your ego's incapability, and knock you sideways into the Void-- a sort of Taoist version of a Zen koan-- Taoism being the mother of Zen (who's father was Mahayana Buddhism). You read the TTC, see how impossible it is to do this, get wrapped up in the dilemma, until the whole thing dissolves in a sort of ego-death or satori, if only for a moment. Sometimes I think this is the main point of sacred writings, from the Law in Judaism, Jesus' teachings, the Tao Te Ching, the Buddhist sutras, and so forth. Not to show you the way, but to prove that the way is impossible for the "i" to attain, thus pushing you into the realization of "I".

This post is also posted on The Rambling Taoists as a guest post.


  1. Personally, I like sage in soups and stews, and I hear it makes an interesting smoke, but that's just me.

    You make an excellent point.

  2. Well, depends on the sage, I guess. Salvia will blow your face off, but I've never tried the cooking kind.

    Thanks for stopping by :)

  3. I'm still pondering this post. You raise a few thought-provoking issues.

  4. Tao Te Ching. Ah, tao tak tao? Don't worry, tao tak tao is just Malay for do you know? Of course it is not spelt tao tak tao. It should be spelt tahu tak tahu? See, there is nothing in TTC to be serious about. Just enjoy the sage, not the writing. Though of course you can do that too. By the way, if TCC is the sayings of Lao Tzu, remember that he was the most "unserious" of people. He himself was spending an idle afternoon in the woods when he saw a leaf falling and like Newton and his apple, Lao Tzu got his equation. Now the equation works whether you know it or not or ever heard of it. No big deal. Wu wei is just to verbalise. It works and it doesn't work, depending on what you are talking about or what you aiming at. Enlightenment? Are we sure? Nobody has ever been enlightened. Not buddha, not christ, not lao tzu and of course not osho too. Now I want to challenge all these characters - where are they? They can't even now write what I write or say what I say. They can't even stay up to say hello to you. Dead as a Dodo is dead. And if enlightenment is so helpless that even the most mundane cannot be done, you can tell all these characters wow! great for you guys, but no thank you. I tao, you tao?

  5. Or the leaf fell and he made tea...oh, but that was someone else.