|Following the Way/The Science of the Essence
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Taoism is the study into the nature of things. It is an attempt to feel the how, the Way of existence and accord yourself with its character.
In any aspect of life there is an opportunity to flow easily with what is happening.
Is Taoism a religion?
There have been misguided attempts to turn Taoism into a religion. To quote Ursula Le Guin:
The religion called Taoism
is full of God, saints, miracles, prayers, rules, methods for securing
riches, power, longevity, and so forth
- all the stuff that Lao Tzu says leads us away from the Way.
(Ursula Le Guin)
Taoism is not a religion or a belief system. It is only interested in observable reality. Not ideas and concepts.
Robes, ceremonies, rituals, beliefs?
Taoism does not traditionally feature any of the trappings commonly associated with a 'spiritual' life. It is not 'religious' in the conventional sense of that term.
There are no monks, priests, nuns, rituals, costumes, ceremonies, prayers or deities... You are not required to believe in anything. There are some books worth reading, but these are not considered holy.
It is not a religion in the conventional sense; although over the centuries many people have tried to make it into one.
What is the Tao?
A path, a way, a flow... The way of something.
Where is the Tao?
The Tao can be found in anything... The Tao of dogs. The Tao of business. The Tao of sex. If it is part of life, it has an essence, a way and we can learn from it.
The art of living
Taoism is the art of living. Its insights and observations pertain to pretty much everything - from body mechanics to human relationships...
Consider: if a person were to truly follow nature, they would need no form, no tuition, no words and no doubts. A cat is not anxious or troubled. Nor is a tree.
They simply exist and they move in accordance with what they are. With their own natures. We (humans) do not.
What we refer to as 'Taoism' is simply the act of working with nature, rather than against it. It is not a religion as such.
The Science of the Essence
Taoism is scientific; it is not a belief-system. Reality exists whether you believe in it or not. Tangible factual substance lies at the root of Taoism.
If you cannot touch it or observe it, you do not waste time speculating about it. Be open to what is happening around you and learn to appreciate the underlying principles involved.
This is how the Tao pertains to tai chi.
Taoists were not ascetics; they took pleasure in all manner of experiences and interacted fully with the world. They watched the behaviour patterns of all creatures and learned from life.
Through sympathetic observation and individual experience they found it possible to gain harmony with existence itself.
Within all things a pattern became evident. The challenge was to see it. This pattern represented the nature of things, the Way they operate, the manner in which they work.
The pattern/way was labelled 'the Tao'.
The Tao (dow)
The word 'Tao' was not descriptive per se; because it sought to described a dynamic state of being rather than a static object or condition. The word was not the thing.
It was merely a symbol pointing towards the actual, the real.
Pick up a piece of shell.
Can you look at it,
wonder at its delicate beauty,
without saying how pretty it is,
or what animal made it?
Can you look without the movement of the mind?
An equation became evident: if, then... e.g. if a person does this, then that happens. The book Tao Te Ching is concerned with this equation and how it manifests in many different situations.
Tai chi is an exploration of the equation in combat and everyday physical activity.
Insights of Taoism
Example insights from Taoism:
Force creates force
A person whose needs are simple will find them fulfilled
Wealth does not enrich the spirit
Self-absorption and self-importance are vain and self-destructive
Victory in war is not glorious and not to be celebrated, but stems from devastation, and is to be mourned
The harder one tries, the more resistance one will create for oneself
The more one acts in harmony with the universe (the 'Great Mother'), the more one will achieve with less effort
The truly wise make little of their own wisdom — for the more they know, the more they realise how little they know
When we lose the fundamentals, we supplant them with increasingly inferior values which we pretend are the true values
Stupidity leads to force
Glorification of wealth, power and beauty creates crime, envy and shame
The qualities of flexibility and suppleness are superior to rigidity and brittle strength
Everything in its own time and place
The contrast of opposition - the differences between male and female, light and dark, strong and weak - helps us understand and appreciate the universe
Leave things alone
The practical lessons of Taoism led directly to the invention of tai chi.
These unusual martial arts combined Chinese Traditional Medicine insights, qigong, Chinese martial lessons and experience to form a physical expression of Taoism. Instead of talk, action was offered.
Performing tai chi (correctly) became a functional, concrete means of accessing the ancient wisdom of the Taoist sages without reading a single book.
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18 March 1997
Last updated 04 May 2023