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Lao Tse and the Tao
The words of Lao Tse -- literally, the "Old Philosopher", a contemporary of Confucius some 2500 years ago -- as found in the Tao Te Ching, reveal a man of extraordinary awareness. Where Confucius embraced the apparent and developed recommended action for encountered events, that is, a very rational engagement of reality, Lao Tse's approach was quite the opposite.
Lao Tse saw in life a concept he termed the "Tao", often translated as the "Way", and, according to legend, in this short series of poetic pieces, tried to picture this Tao. Effectively he was saying that life had a flow to it, a concerted flow in which events were the currents. The Tao carries you along in a fashion, such that the more you try to logically manipulate events, the more you operate in opposition to the flow, and the more problems you encounter.
His pieces illustrate in many glimpses from various angles, how life works. Few have ever been as perceptive -- the Tao illustrations stand with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, and recorded remnants from Jesus of Nazareth as the most profoundly clear explanations of life of ancient times. Common concepts emerge from the teaching of all three, with similarities of view that easily pierce the differing modes of expression in the vernacular of each of their times.
But Lao Tse's teaching suffers from one major problem. In the intervening two and a half millennia, his words have been interpreted and distorted by generations of adherents until his message is riddled with meaningless ritual and dogma. Taoism became a religion. Where he spoke of not "doing" things in opposition to the flow, millions of his supposed followers sit in abject meditation, unwilling to "do" anything. They follow, not the crystal point of meaning that Lao Tse wished to communicate, but a literal distortion that a far less wise priesthood through centuries of interpretation, attached to his ancient words.
Life is indeed a Singularity of effect, in which each individual finds a pure reflection of his/her own nature in the events and relationships encountered in everyday life. Planning and manipulating these events, that is, rationally planning and carrying out an action, is the embodiment of struggle and conflict -- values which lead to the continued creation of a personal reality which needs to be manipulated. That Lao Tse was intimately aware of this fundamental essence is certain. That his message is lost on generations of followers who can hear only dogmatized distortions of a profound expression is equally certain.
Unfortunately, pretty much the same fate has met the teachings of the Buddha and Mohammed -- and the words of Jesus as well. It seems that regardless of the profundity of the original words, the message is lost when interpreted and reinterpreted, generation after generation by lesser minds. It becomes buried in ritualized distortions that seem to make sense to those far less wise.
Similar to the Tao illustration, Jesus pictured a "Kingdom of Heaven", a new image of the fundament of things to try to illustrate the beneficent nature of Reality, with a "Heavenly Father" as key figure, to a people used to imagining a vindictive god. But that essence of profound human values is lost in the religions that subsequently sprung up, ostensibly to follow Jesus' teaching. Of far more emphasis are such mythical attributes as virgin birth, resurrection of the physical body, and the tenuous promise of eternal life in return for dedicated following.
Just as Taoists, Christians blatantly miss the point. They look into the cold and ancient words, often translated several times, and devote blind obedience to phrases they don't understand. They should rather look within themselves, for a clear understanding of life is only found in clear perception of the mind and its relation to reality. But, primed from childhood with rote expressions and timeworn stories, coaxed on by an unenlightened priesthood, most people simply follow -- like the sheep they are told they should be.
Taoists fail to realize that when you recognize the flow and come to perceive that you are part of it, you already begin to fit in. Any action taken is a natural part of that flow, and to avoid action is like trying to negate existence. Christians fail to realize that Jesus was a human, just like all of us, and he had a vital message about life. Both groups go awry in following phrases without understanding, in following priests instead of their own hearts.
While the Tao Te Ching is of great value in its life perspectives, you will see Lao Tse's wisdom stated therein at its clearest when you yourself come to see life clearly.
Tao te Ching
Without going outside you may know the whole world.
Without looking through the window, you may know
Tau Te Ching
Lao Tzu, sixth century B.C.