Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Tao of "What Is Real"

A good man is not aware of his goodness, 
And is therefore good. 
A foolish man tries to be good, 
And is therefore not good. 
A truly good man does nothing, 
Yet leaves nothing undone. 
A foolish man is always doing, 
Yet much remains to be done. 

When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone. 
When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done. 
When a disciplinarian does something and no one responds, 
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order. 

Therefore when the Dao is lost, there is goodness. 
When goodness is lost, there is kindness. 
When kindness is lost, there is justice. 
When justice is lost, there is ritual. 
Ritual is the dead shell of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion. 
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of the Dao. 
It is the beginning of folly. 

Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real and not what is on the surface, 
On the fruit and not the flower. 
Therefore accept the one and reject the other.
-- Lao Tzu, 'Tao Te Ching', Verse 38

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
More so than most of the world's great religious or wisdom traditions, Taoism (or Daoism) as expressed in Lao Tzu's classic "Tao Te Ching" is unrelentingly paradoxical. ("A truly good man does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.") Like quantum mechanics, it's "methods" are expressible but an ultimate "understanding" or "meaning" are beyond the rational capacity of our ordinary consciousness and language. Famously, Lao Tzu starts the "Tao Te Ching" by declaring: "The Dao that can be told is not the essential Dao."

Even the greatest of enlightened teachers - the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, etc. - can only offer a flavorful "taste" of what the ultimate "essence" of "reality" is like. The essence of "what is" - the Universe, God or Allah, Buddha-nature or Nirvana, Brahma, the Dao, however one wishes to describe "It" - remains "ineffable" and beyond the power of pictures, poetry, or prose to fully describe.

The danger of such "ineffability" is that over time even the greatest religions and wisdom traditions, almost inevitably it seems, devolve and become to most of their adherents mere "dead shell(s) of faith and loyalty." The generation of religious belief, religious faith, religious knowledge, even religious adherence, are in most instances relatively good things for both individuals and society, but unless a religious or spiritual path generates transformational inner and holistic religious experiences it becomes "a dead shell" (above) in which "the salt loses its savour." (Matthew 5:13). This, Lao Tzu observes, "is the beginning of confusion."

The spiritual seeker who aspires to a truly transformational religious or spiritual experience will not be satisfied with the rote teachings and empty rituals offered in many a dormant religious community which seeks to promote merely outwardly-focused behaviour and moral conformity. He or she must, exercising great discrimination, first find and then dwell upon and in "what is real and not what is on the surface."

"Every object, every being," Rumi points out, "is a jar full of delight. Be a connoisseur," he advises, "and taste with caution."

"Any wine will get you high," the great Sufi poet notes. "Judge like a king and choose the purest, the ones unadulterated with fear, or some urgency of 'what's needed.'"

Just as the pollinated flower of an apple tree turns into the fruit, so the seemingly outer rituals, teachings and practices of a true wisdom tradition, when seeded by true experiential insight, will effect an inner transformation and the attainment of a new state of consciousness and being.

Therefore, advises the great Daoist master, one should dwell "on the fruit and not the flower . . . accept(ing) the one and reject(ing) the other."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

..This seems to go hand-in-hand with something i recently read from 'A Homage to Dr Maurice Nicoll'by Bob Hunter: "For truth has meaning only when it is made part of one’s understanding; that is, when it combines with the good, which includes its reason and “end.” Emphasising Good’s precedence over Truth, Nicoll maintained that if we were good we would not need truth."