Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Following The Tao

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

                               --  Lao-Tzu

     Everything's complicated for me until I return to The Source of my being. But I cannot find my way back there until, layer by accreted layer, I peel off those addictive complications--which always represent polarized aspects of my own psyche--to recover a unitive state of innocence, openness and simplicity. This is a very scary process however, because it also means I must surrender all control--and without that control I feel naked, exposed, defenseless, vulnerable. Yet once more in harmony with The Tao, there is no egoistic "I" to feel those things. Fear, grief, anger, desire, despair--these all vanish. What remains is nobody, doing nothing, going nowhere, heart at peace, filled with joy.


The intoxicating, all-pervasive buzz is always there
like those cosmic rays still left over from the Big Bang.

And some days I just lean back, let myself go, and
                                                float blissfully along,
savoring each sweet or bitter swallow of existence,
careening rapturously around my own stunned soul,
                                                   plastered with joy.

I can't fathom how I manage to stumble into paradise,
     or why I perpetually seem to get banished from it.

But when, by chance, I do recover my witless way --
    Astonishment! Gratitude! Freedom! Homecoming!

Wonderingly, I drink once more from the
                                            Incomparable Secret --
          that purest, rarest, Holiest Fountain,
                the deathless Source of all I know, all
                                                            I love, all
                                                                       I am.


     Lao-Tzu's second teaching is patience. This might be the hardest one of all for me to learn. Wherever I go, I always seem to arrive too early. A characteristic saying from my time spent in the army comes to mind: "Hurry up and wait." Whatever I want, I always want it now. But there's a greater pattern, a timeless flow, an elemental cycling, and my individual life and needs are merely a tiny part of that infinitude. Aligning my will with the breath of the cosmos, I "accord with the way things are." As Lao-Tzu also said:

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mind settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

     Finally, Lao-Tzu emphasizes the great wisdom of compassion--but he also has the insight to realize that compassion toward others must start with compassion toward oneself. In effect, this provides the complimentary reversal to Christ's teaching: "Love they neighbor as thyself." Both are true. But how much damage has been done by "do-gooders" because they try to impose charity on others, although inside they have never forgiven or accepted themselves? Another ancient saying: "If you would change the world, start with a small garden." That small garden is my own soul. Let me be unconditionally compassionate first there; then I will know how to healingly offer compassion to others.


I see one being--the Earth--who
is broken like bread into many
pieces. I see a billion faces
that are your face, and mine.

I see the stray dog gassed, and
a chainsaw rip at the willow's
heart. I see children starving,
bloated bellies, skin and bone.

I see this carnival flicker of
the sun; how it gleams fitfully
for a second, or an hour, then
vanishes. I see terror, and joy.

I see a smile or touch, a look
that stuns my soul--an instant
when time and space fall away,
the silence blazing like a star.

I see your hunger in my blood,
your waking in my death. I see
those eyes you turn to me now--
my eyes; their longing--my own.


     Like the great mystical teachings from all traditions, The Tao Te Ching implicitly and explicitly points to Oneness -- the Reality that beyond the extravagant variety and diversity of life, the undeniable uniqueness of each individual, we are in essence all One. Here is the root of compassion: truly, what happens to you, happens to me. We're part of one Soul, one Spirit, one Source, one Eternity.

      "Maybe a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big soul--
the one big soul that belongs to ever'body."

                          -- John Steinbeck

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