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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Living Simply by the Tao 1

pt 1<<you are here| pt 2 | pt 3 | pt 4 | pt 5 | pt 6 | pt 7

As with the article on Sufis, I wrote this one originally for a coffee-table journal called Hemisphere, which long ago succumbed to Australian Government funding cuts.

I've always felt that this is the most rewarding article of mine I've ever published. It accords perfectly with my outlook on both life and death, and my acceptance of what is, was, and will be. I decided to post it in parts. At last then, I'll be able to talk about God!

Living Simply by the Tao

 Empty yourself of everything.
 Let the mind rest at peace.
 The ten thousand things rise and fall
 while the Self watches their return.
 They grow and flourish and then return to the source.
 Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature …
 Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
 And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.

 This is one of the many beautiful and perceptive verses of the Tao te Ching, a guide to life written in China twenty five centuries ago but which has perhaps more relevance now than it has ever had before.

 Tao te Ching means 'the Way and its Power', and from this source, the philosophy of Taoism evolved. To those who seek an existence free from the trials and stresses of modern living, the Tao te Ching offers a way of understanding the real nature of things which can be applied to everyday life.

 The Tao te Ching was reputed to have been written by Lao Tzu, who, if he was indeed a real person, lived at about the time of Confucius, in the sixth century BCE. Lao Tzu is an acquired name, translated something like 'the old chap' or 'the old fellow' - an affectionate but respectful title. The classical sources are quite definite about his existence, but there is nothing which proves conclusively that such a man ever existed.

 The story goes that Lao Tzu discovered the meaning of existence towards the end of his life, but knowing that the reality of existence could not be explained in finite terms, he was unwilling to attempt to put into words what he had discovered of the Way and its Power.

 So, the story goes, he intended to depart this life with his secret intact, but was persuaded, in the last moment as it were, to write down as best he could his philosophy of life. The Tao te Ching was the result.

 Whether the story is true or not hardly matters, but the profound and remarkable verses of the Tao te Ching are a living testimony to a great mind (or minds) at work.

 What then is the Tao, or the Way?

 The term is used by Lao Tzu to describe the perfect but mysterious workings of the universe, and the approach which people should take to act in accord with it. But to get the message across to others is an extraordinarily difficult, nearly impossible task. 'Those who know,' says Lao Tzu, 'don't say - and those who say, don't know!'

 But all is not lost. By the use of some beautiful images, the sage has managed to give some insight into the Way to those who are receptive to it.

 So the message of the Tao te Ching is transmitted through several principles and concepts, amongst which the most important are what might be called

 the law of reversed effect
 the concept of non action (wu wei)
 the yin yang theory (which relates to the unity of opposites)
 the image of water and
 the Uncarved Block.

 I'll explain how each of these works in parts to follow. (Yes! I can do this!)

pt 1<<you are here| pt 2 | pt 3 | pt 4 | pt 5 | pt 6 | pt 7


  1. Yes Denis; there is a remarkable timelessness and peace in the Tao. For me, it is the Tao, along with the basic tenets of Buddhism, the First Law of Thermodynamics and the dreamlike construction of our lives that make some sense out of apparent futility. I look forward to the next episode.

  2. As I tried to point out in pt 3, Bob, this isn't about religion but as a philosophy of life, so I hope people get that. Forty years of Taoism have certainly made it possible for me to approach my illness with a greater degree of equanimity than would have been possible otherwise.


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