Introduction to the Tao

Pink Lilly

Tao Menu

Brief Overviews:

Tao General

This section contains a brief information relating to Tao, and when one thinks that according to Lao Tzu, it is impossible to describe the Tao, then this is by definition wrong!
However I have tried to include introductions to a number of subjects that are related to this topic. Including - Ying Yang, Feng-Shui and Tai Chi. I also hope to include a page on Chi at a later date.


Introduction to the Tao

This section contains both a primer, (understanding the Tao), and an introduction to the Tao.

Both of these are also available as more detailed pdf files for you to download:-

  1. Understanding the Tao pdf
  2. The Tao an Introduction pdf

Yin Yang

A brief introduction to the principles of Yin Yang, and why you should NOT assign the female or male principles to that specific gender, this is a common mistake of many who have simply heard or read that one is female and the other male.

The yin-yang symbol is probably one of the most used and misused symbols that has become popular in the western world to symbolize oneness.

Feng-Shui

Many books have sentences similar to the following: -
Once you have found a suitable location, made sure you are facing a supportive direction, you can then turn your attention to the interior!!! Are these writers serious?

In the two articles you will find a short overview of the principles of Feng Shui, and the home.

I will be incorporating some, (if not many) of the feng shui principles in the 'Lifestyles' section.

Tai Chi

The aim of Tai Chi is to foster a calm and tranquil mind, focusing on the movements and exercising control over ones self.

Tai Chi movements have their origins in the martial arts, and practicing Tai Chi does have some martial art applications.
For many practitioners the focus in practicing Tai chi is not first and foremost martial art orientated, but a meditative exercise for the body, for others the combat aspects of Tai Chi are of interest.

waterfall

The Tao, an introduction

The Taoist is someone who does not seek what is missing,
more someone who enjoys what they have.

Introduction

Whoever follows the way of the Tao, will find that many things will change for the better in their daily lives. The peaceful, calm attitude that is the Taoist way, protects the health, encourages personal development, and brings harmony into ones personal life. The secret of the Tao cannot really be explained, one cannot think ‘Tao’ or grasp it with the intellect one must simply live the Tao. This is what Lao Tzu, (the founder of the classic Taoism, circa 500 B.C.) knew.

It is easy to follow the way of the Tao,
but the Tao is difficult to explain.
Any attempt to understand the Tao,
is comparable to trying to catch hold of the wind…
Lao Tzu.

Every attempt to describe or analyse the Tao can never fully or correctly do so, and there is not even an accurate or sensible translation of the word “Tao”. Tao is not the meaning or the way, it is not the universe and definitely not ‘God’ (although many would like to translate it as so). We may come a little nearer the truth when we describe it as the absolute, the ultimate truth behind all things, or the way of the heavens, but all these abstract ways to describe the Tao are still of little use, and can never really come near to what the Tao actually is.

To most western thinking people, probably the most difficult thing to understand is that the Tao is not composed of opposites as we are taught by classic western thinking, but instead everything is complementary. One example of this is with ‘yin and yang’, many western thinking people who have heard that one is male and the other female, then go on to assign the attributes to males OR females exclusively, (this is incorrect, but the subject of yin and yang will be dealt with separately).

These days, there are many different methods used to help one to be in harmony with the Tao, and there are more and more people practicing these methods who are completely unaware of there original source. A few of these methods are, T’ai Chi, Qi Gong, Kung Fu and Zen (though this is more concerned with the priorities of Buddhism), there are also many rituals and beliefs which have become associated with Taoism. All of these are however just ballast and are not really needed to enable one to follow ‘the Tao’, (and as with Kung Fu, many should not be learned without an understanding of the Tao).


The benefits of Tao.

No other lifestyle philosophy shows so direct a way to what is important, removes stress, gives more energy or helps the body and soul to reduce tension than the Taoist philosophy. To feel the benefits of the Tao, it is not necessary to follow religious rituals, or to practice complicated exercises. The Taoist way can be followed in the course of everyday life – when at work, sitting in a traffic jam, traveling, sitting with friends and even in the tender moments you shares with your partner.

Positive effects of a Taoist lifestyle.

In the teachings of the Tao there are many benefits attributed to living by the Tao, some of which are:-

  • Your body becomes more flexible, and will be more light and supple.
  • Problems and fears will no longer trouble you.
  • Your health will become more stable, and your immune system will function better.
  • The healing time from illnesses will be quicker.
  • You will have more energy. Tiredness and apathy will trouble you less.
  • Creativity will increase.
  • You will recognise what is necessary and what is a hindrance.
  • You will be able to remain calm and clear in difficult situations; your happiness will no longer be dependant on outside influences.
  • You will be in charge of your sexual energy, and you will learn to live and grow in a completely new way.

People who follow the way of the Tao have a more friendly and relaxed way of being, and one can often read this in their facial expressions. They tend to be less troubled by the fears and worries of everyday life, and as a result tend to live longer and happier lives. The Tao can show you the way out of dependency on others, and offers a possible way out of addictions such as alcohol and nicotine, it frees one from worry, fear and jealousy. The way of the Tao has been described as “the way to freedom”, as it frees us from everything that makes our lives unhappy, depressing and monotonous.


A healthy ‘madness’?

Since the beginning Taoists have tried to leave the normal everyday way of thinking behind them. The Taoist philosophy offers of a way of being a little mad, when compared to what others consider to be the ‘normal’ way of thinking, and one can discovers how healthy it feels just to be a little mad, (if one can call the way many think, as sane). For example, is it normal to rush around for others from morning till evening, to let oneself be judged on what consumer goods one can buy, or to chase after things so much that one only stops after a heart attack.
How normal has it become, to constantly have problems, to compare oneself with others, to always be told of ones shortcomings, to never feel truly happy with oneself.

If someone is trying to find their own happiness, free themselves from forced conformity, wishes to find peace and tranquility and would like to wake-up their creativity and find happiness in life, then are they actually mad, compared to those destroying themselves and their environment.

So what is the Tao?

First and foremost, let me say Tao cannot be described as a religion, but is more a ‘life style’ philosophy, and unlike religions where there may or may not be a mystical side, Taoism is pure mystic.

As far back as one can record people have always asked the question ‘how/why did it all begin’? One sees that they live now but must also admit that one day they will also die. The unspoken question faces everyone sooner or later, and that is to know if there is a reason for being here. One searches the universe for an answer and finally may acknowledge that there appears to be no answer. From the beginning one faces a vacuum of knowledge from the great schools of philosophy, and even from the religions that span continents.

As for the Tao:
The Tao is outside existence and non-existence.
Existence is something for people, who need words,
The Tao needs no words.
It is as silent as a flower.
Words come through the Tao.
But the Tao needs no words.

Lao Tzu, Tao-te-Ching (circa. 500b.c)

The problem with the Tao is that the Taoist never says that the Tao exists, so one need not spend the time or the trouble trying to prove that the Tao exists. Unlike the classic religions/beliefs where there has been many arguments, wars, fights and suffering simply over whether or not god exists, the Taoists simply sit there quiet and comfortable in the knowledge that they must not trouble themselves with the question, ‘does the Tao exist’, and for this reason the Taoist is more concerned with enjoying the fruits of the Tao.

The Taoist is not comparable with an agnostic, but is completely different in the fact that the they do not even question if the Tao exists or not, and should someone ask about its existence, they would see the question as complete nonsense, irrelevant and even ‘odd’, and should they even think over the question, may think, “when something has no meaning, why spent the time trying to give it a meaning”, but they are more likely to say nothing or simply say “it’s the Tao”.

And should you ask a Zen master if the Tao exists, then expect to be looked upon with pity.


Why Tao?

For the westerner there are many psychological and esoteric beliefs arisen in the last 50+ years, many of which have had more to do with a particular persons, (or indeed organisations) ego, than to truly help the individual in their search. Even with the advent of the internet and access to more (free!) information that ever before, few people have found satisfactory answers.

The vast majority of information available that is intended to answer the question has obvious faults: either they are composed of hundreds of pages which give no clear answers, or they are based on belief alone. Either of these is for anyone searching for an answer that is for them emotionally and intelligently acceptable and also clear to understand, impossible to accept. So anyone who does not follow the accepted religions/cults with all their beliefs and rules and would prefer to retain their freedom stands alone.
We can see this everyday, where one must both join a religion/cult and accept all their ways and beliefs without question or one must form ones own philosophy and hold to it as far as possible. Sometimes one may meet someone who try’s to go both ways, they remain within the religion/cult that they were taught, but remained far enough outside the religion/cult to have formed a private religion/cult, and have developed their own ethical codex.

In this confusion Taoism seems like a breath of fresh air, it is difficult for people who follow religions/cults to understand, because there is actually nothing for one to believe, it cannot be preached because there are no rules to preach, one cannot gather followers because it promises nothing that one could follow.

So what use is Tao, when all features of the classical religions and philosophy’s are missing – even the eastern features? It is the realisation that it is exactly what it cannot say which people have searched for, the understanding of ones own position and meaning in the world, within open principles. The Tao can only be experienced and lived, no one else can experience or live it for you, even if you try to learn the Tao as many have done before, it is impossible to learn or to explain.

For someone that wishes a serious explanation of Taoism, it will not be easy, as they must try to translate the ancient scrolls. The contents of many of the English explanations have been given with the various inclinations of many other people, and are often translations of translations. Sometimes one can read from explanations that the author has inserted their own meaning, and not that originally intended. Many texts about the Tao have come to us through Zen, but the priorities of Zen are on Buddhism. However many of the books from the old Zen masters remain unaltered, and as translations/explanations are sometimes easier to understand than the original, (e.g. parts of Lao-Tzu’s ‘Tao Te Ching’).

Because no one knows how the Tao came to be or exactly what the Tao is, no one can describe it. Every attempt at a definition fails due to a lack of knowledge; on one side the Tao appears to frustrate anyone seeking it, because no one can say anything about it, on the other side there is a massive amount of information written about it, which says that no one can describe it. It is exactly this lack of knowing that prevents us from building false images around it, and why searching for a god or idol associated with it would be a fruitless exercise.

Despite these difficulties it is still worth trying to understand the Tao. The Tao is the origin of everything, just as the natural sciences describe the energy fields that created everything that we can see (only for these fields to then disappear), so is the Tao. Just as it is with human consciousness, which no one can explain, so is also the Tao, as Lao-tzu wrote, the word ‘Tao’, is just a word used to describe what cannot be described.
The answers to the most fundamental questions are often the ones that sound so simple, but are still the most difficult to understand. Our consciousness is similar to the Tao, it is the medium through which we exist and through which we experience our existence, but consciousness is not the Tao.

The Tao sleeps in every person, unknowing and even uninterested in what is happening around. Alone it is through our own consciousness, and in the quietest moments that we can meet with the Tao, someone once described the Tao as, ‘the unmoving mover’. Out of this unmoving quiet, flows all the help that one can ever need. The Tao works out of the depths of our being, deep under our conscious thinking, but is not our sub-conscious.
It gives us the gift of being able to spontaneously understand any situation, without consciously trying. It gives us a feel for what may happen, and frees our feelings and thoughts, but is itself not feeling or thought. It lets us recognise the truth, independent from outside appearances and unaffected by our own subjective opinions. With the intuitive understanding for the meaning of a problem, a crisis or a challenge it shows us what to do or what not to do, but does not tell us what to do or not to do.


The three basic principles behind the philosophy of the Tao are:-

  • TAO – the unchanging, unmoving origin of all things.
  • CHI – life, energy.
  • WU WEI – to handle, by not interfering in the natural course of events.

From the Tao came the opposites, the empty space and everything that exists. Without the emptiness and the unmoving space, there would not be the contrast that makes it possible for us to differentiate between one thing and another. Just like our own consciousness in which our lives become a kaleidoscope from happening, memories, thoughts and feelings, the Tao is impossible to separate into any one thing.

Chi is life itself; it is the life energy that is behind everything. We live in a world in which life is decided by chi, which is itself just one aspect of the Tao; indeed we have free will and the power to make decisions, to change our environment as we wish, both for better or worse, but we are bound to the environment and the changes we make within it, any change affect the amount of Chi within our environment and we are dependant on a healthy environment for our survival.

Wu Wei is action through inaction, the art of letting things take their natural course, which is not to say that one should do nothing. Just that one should only interfere when the time and circumstances are right, any actions both too soon or too late, will change the outcome from that which would be the best.

More important than the wish for extraordinary experiences, is to realise that the feeling of oneness, dwells in our everyday consciousness but can only be a conscious part of us if we let it.

An insight into Tao and Chi, will give a person information about their position in the world, help one to live the moment, and allow the separation between the inner and outer world to finally cease. In the end one will find a spirituality that is not spirituality, and an individuality in which one is not alone.

Taoists with a clear mind, seek no answer to what cannot be answered, because on the philosophical/spiritual level doubt and uncertainty have been removed, what remains despite everything though is the uncertainty of life and the decisions of what to do or how to react. For these problems the Tao gives no rules, does not punish if we get it wrong or praise if we get it right and it does not listen if we offer it any form of worship, money or power. Even for those who live with the spontaneity of a child, and identify with the environment, the Tao offers no answers to emotional or material problems.


What we need is not so much a metaphysical knowledge about the Tao, but a way that it can help us with the everyday problems.

Whoever brings themselves into awareness of the Tao, will sooner or latter ask themselves the question, ‘what use is it to be a Taoist’? The answer is ‘Wu Wei’, the third and probably the most important principle of Taoist teachings, (for the individual). The words ‘Wu Wei’ are difficult to translate, ‘don’t force’ or ‘don’t intervene unnecessarily’ would probably be the nearest one could come to doing so. Wu Wei must not be confused with lethargy, apathy, laziness, passivity or an inability to do anything. But instead Wu Wei should be understood as an understanding of what was meant to be, and the readiness to handle in order to help achieve that outcome. A Taoist experiences life happenings as something in which they are a part of, they does not force things to happen just for the sake of it but instead lets life develop as it should, in this way the Taoist feels one with life.

Wu Wei also means to go with the flow, to follow the flow of life like water, to take the path of least resistance. This may sound as if one is meant to follow others, and do what the majority do or say, nothing could be further from the truth. To follow the flow, means to follow your own flow, your direction, not the one that someone or something has set out for you. It means to give up trying to control your life’s direction (or letting others control it), and instead to let life bring you to the place you are meant to be, without trying to force things to happen or change things to suit your wishes, and desire.
Anyone who does not know about Wu Wei, has normally learned that they must fight to survive, or if they wish to succeed, even if this means destroying someone else. They mistrust everyone and are always living with the stress, and the fears that have become part of everyday life, they are offered visions of self fulfillment, career success, happiness, love, understanding, only to have them taken away when they reach for them, they follow dreams offered to them by the people they think can give them these things they so desire, and just like the donkey who follows the carrot held before it on a stick, the dream is always there, but always just out of reach.

A Taoist is a person who lets life take its natural course, but doesn’t just sit things out because that is the easiest way and doesn’t let whatever happens become the, ‘be all, end all’ of their life, instead they meet life’s challenges without worrying about what others may think should a challenge arise. They trust their inner-knowledge, and through being conscious of the Tao are aware of their own potential. They handle in harmony with their environment, and from failure and wrong decisions they remain mostly free, (I say mostly, because there is never an absolute guarantee, but that is something that we will look at later).

I realise that after reading this introduction to the Tao, one can scarcely be expected to fully understand or live in harmony with the Tao. I know from discussions I have had with people, that it is difficult for people to accept that living a life that is more simple (especially in thought), and nearer to reality, than one where we (unrealistically) strive for more and more or make everything (sometimes) unnecessarily complex, can lead to a mistrust of anything that is not complex, does not seek to control our lives, and does not at least hint at punishment should we do something wrong.
What restricts us from experiencing the freedom that comes from doing things by not interfering, is not the missing understanding or the wish to do so. Instead it is the fear that we will loose control over our lives or the belief that it must be necessary to do some form of training, meditation or learn some stern/restrictive form of eastern discipline.

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