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If you read about Taoism you will find a lot of hokey stuff that belongs on the 'kook' shelf in the book store. Psychics, mythology, 3 legged toads, unicorns, phoenix and superstition.
Stay clear of that stuff...
Zen & Tao
Zen and Taoism are earthy, practical, tangible methods designed to help you see clearly and interact with the world in a productive, fruitful, powerful manner.
They are challenging. You will find no pithy, easy 'bullet point' solutions. These disciplines require you to think deeply and sincerely.
Taoist thinking methods
The Taoist thinking model is quite straightforward in summation but incredibly complex in application and scope.
There are 3 underlying insights:
Tai chi (yin/yang)
be thought of as being undivided, dynamic balancing and
Wu is about recognising that everything is part of everything else; linked, joined, connected, in relationship.
Whilst you are reading this, every other being on the planet is doing something else, all at the same time, everywhere (simultaneity).
People often like to think of themselves as being 'special', but if we are all special, then surely no one is special.
A more accurate term might be 'unique' or 'individual'. This insight is about realising we are not quite as separate as we would like to think. Humanity is interdependent; with each other and with nature.
To gain a real sense of 'wu' we must aim to take ourselves out of the equation. Not everything is about us. There is no need to implicate yourself in every situation.
Wu wei (going with the flow/not forcing) and wu nien (spontaneous action/not preparing) are about acting/not acting without referencing our sense of self.
We act without deliberate thinking; our body just moves. Motorists do this all the time; especially good ones. Many do not.
In order to become skilled with this insight we must meditate and lose our sense of personal significance.
We must become lost is what is taking place. We call this 'being'. Our awareness must expand so that we can act without consciously weighing the pros and cons.
This process does not require daydreaming. It necessitates immersion in what is happening right now.
A man of Sung did business
In silk ceremonial hats.
He travelled with a load of hats
To the wild men of the South.
The wild men had shaved heads,
What did they want
Yao had wisely governed
He had brought the entire world
To a state of rest.
After that, he went to visit
The four Perfect Ones
In the distant mountains
Of Khu Shih.
When he came back
Across the border
Into his own city
His lost gaze
Saw no throne.
Often yin/yang is seen as being hot/cold, here/there, this/that. Which is a correct answer, but not complete.
The insight highlights the fact that balancing occurs continuously and in all facets of our lives. e.g. we buy groceries which we can eat to live, but we have to pay money which we must first earn.
There is an exchange; give and take. It happens in every situation. The interaction is not good/bad, right/wrong. It simply exists and is unavoidable.
You want more time to do some work or interact with your loved ones after work so you decide to go to bed an hour late.
This provides the time you sought. In the morning you feel tired because you didn't sleep for long enough. This is an exchange. Was it the right choice to make?
Choices are a matter of perspective. Each decision has pros and cons. Whatever choice you make is both good and bad.
On the one hand you get the extra time you wanted, but on the other hand your health and associated mental faculties are diminished.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you think is important at the time. You are one who is going to have to live with the outcome.
The ideal situation with yin/yang involves blending with what is happening, shaping your response to the dictates of the situation and making a choice that allows everyone to win.
This is clearly not the 'competitive' solution. To accomplish this, considerable compassion, patience, awareness, sensitivity and attention is required.
And a willingness to be flexible, pliable, adaptive and to learn and grow from the experience.
Imagine booking a holiday?
The process might sound straightforward and simplistic but it isn't. There are countless variables, possibilities, options, choices and considerations. There are deals, pitfalls, pros and cons.
Everything is like this. We like to imagine that life is simplistic and easy but this is not the truth. Every day we must make choices that have consequences and unforeseen side effects.
Life is in flux. We want stability and unchanging fixity in the hope of security but this is not the way things work.
Every second of our lives gravity is pulling us down; and simply standing upright is a muscular skeletal balancing act.
Most people brace and tense-up in the hope of gaining the illusion of sustained control. But it doesn't work. Fighting against the flow causes pain and suffering.
Bagua is about altering your state of consciousness; expanding it hugely. Perceive things differently.
Recognise our own insignificance is the world, be aware of the vastness of all that is known and the unimaginable volume of the unknown (and unknowable).
A common Zen theme is 'not knowing' - genuinely realising our own incredible ignorance - and being OK with this. Not out of apathy or laziness but in humility.
The aim is to instantaneously weigh up the options and make the best choice from what is available.
Our decisions may not make sense to other people, but are they allowing for the same variables and considerations?
Everyone is different and people's motives are not always going to coincide.
When your choices become harmonious, you find that situations open up and you see new opportunities that were not previously apparent.
Krishnamurti spoke of 'choiceless awareness':
This journey I am proposing that we take together is not to the moon or even to the stars. The distance to the stars is much less than the distance within ourselves. The discovery of ourselves is endless, and it requires constant inquiry, a perception which is total, an awareness in which there is no choice.
This journey is really an opening of the door to the individual in his relationship with the world.
Are you familiar with the 'help me up' koan? It asks whether or not help really is helpful... Most spiritual traditions have similar questions.
In Christianity they say that a true friend will tell you the truth even if it upsets you. How come?
Consider: If I refrain from telling you the truth who am I serving? Your interests or my own? If I am honest with you, you may not like me any more. If I am dishonest, am I really your friend at all?
See how even the simplest of things is more complex than we realise? Ask yourself: Does your relationship with other people serve their interests or protect your own?
Imagine if someone came into your house right now and told you how to decorate your residence, what to wear, how to eat, who to interact with...
How receptive would you be? You'd probably experience a negative reaction. You'd resist the imposition. After all, you've decorated the house as you see fit, you wear what suits your own tastes?
Now, think carefully.
What role does TV, news, mass media, fashion, trends, politics, education, marketing and gossip play in your life?
That's right: they dominate your mind. They control you. They tell you how and what to do. Who to be. And you just let them. (You may even believe that it isn't happening).
Where to start?
Begin with yin/yang. It is quite easy to start to see things from other people's point of view.
Chuang Tzu described this as being 'the pivot' - a condition where you can flip any belief/thought/idea on its head and see it differently.
Gaining the ability to see things more expansively will alter your relationship with the world around you. You will become aware of your own thinking processes and that is 'metacognition'.
2 August 1994
Last updated 29 September 2019