Tuesday, January 12, 2016



Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay balanced

by accepting whatever you are doing.

Those words were written around the 4th century BC by a Chinese man named Chuang Tzu. He was known as a sage, a philosopher who was revered for his perceptive understanding. The words describe a way of life called Taoism.

Taoism is the system of living one’s life harmoniously. In English the word Tao is spelled with the capital letter D or else the capital letter T.  It is usually translated as The Way, with a capital T and a capital W. The Tao refers to the way existence is interrelated and how it works.

The Tao is not a person, a place, or a thing, and it is not deified. The Tao has no supreme being, no sacred texts, no prophets, no saints, no miracles, no exalted leaders, no rules or regulations. The Tao deals with life and the manner of living it without turmoil.

The concept of Taoism began in China almost three thousand years ago. In later times two Chinese men were credited with its advance: Lao Tzu, also known as Lao Tze Tung (6th Century BC) and Chuang Tzu (4th Century BC). Both understood that the Tao was not some sort of a religious belief but harmony with the universal workings of nature.  

Neither of these men created Taoism any more than Christ created Christianity or the Buddha created Buddhism. Instead they recognized it and made an effort to keep it simple.

But our group is a not a Taoist group, it’s a Zen group. Is there any connection?

Zen is about living in the moment. Taoism is about living with the life-giving aspects of nature, right now. There are no dues to pay, no rules to follow, no pledges to make, no acts of faith. All it takes is certainty in one’s own self.

This may sound like a pitch for a self-improvement manual, or an appeal for donations. Banish the thought. All that’s essential is an open mind and a willingness to use that open mind.

Speaking of closed minds, several years ago I was invited to give a public talk on Zen. For half an hour or so I stood before a sizeable group and described Zen in simple terms. When I invited comments and questions a woman up front shouted “Well, I’m not buying it.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m not selling it.

When human nature is in tune with the rest of nature, harmony results.  From this viewpoint, self-cultivation is a return to an existence that is natural and not messed up by the rules and regulations of social conditioning. That doesn’t mean going back to horses and buggies. It can be realized in any era, even in an age of computers, cars, and interstellar rockets.

It’s interesting how a philosophy starts out as a simple, unified system of thought. Then it becomes warped and twisted with the addition of complex opinions and ideas. That phenomenon has happened with Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and even Zen. Human beings apparently cannot be content with something basic but it must mess around with the concept and transform it into something else that results in a slew of points of view.

Taoism is no exception.

Taoism began as an informal way of life. It was a way of deep reflection and learning from nature, a way of contemplation and meditation that required nothing and involved nothing more than an individual’s quiet, open mind. Unfortunately, in human thinking one system is never enough.  From the 12th and 13th century onwards many smaller branches and side-schools of Taoism developed. Most of them had jazzy names to attract people who are attracted by glitz.

To name only a few, there is The Way of the Five Pecks of Rice, The Way of the Celestial Masters, The Way of the Right Oneness, The Way of the Great Peace, and so on and on. Each school has its own teachings, its own observances, its own theories and practices, its own promises. Such separations belittle a good thing.

Chuang Tzu describes Taoists as persons who do not load their mind with anxieties, and are flexible in their adjustment to external conditions.

What more could anyone wish for?

Today’s talk is an introduction to Taoism and its relationship to Zen. Stay tuned for more.


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