Uphold precepts, but be merciful.
Gradually absorb, until there is no need for law.
Gain wisdom beyond right and wrong.
There was a young priest who returned to the community of his birth. Instead of the neighborhood he knew as a boy, the community was now predominantly homosexual. He was uncertain : On one hand, he had to serve the people. On the other hand, his sect forbade homosexuality and condemned it as a grave wrong. It would seem that whatever he did, he would be a hypocrite. He eventually decided to accept all who came to him but still uphold the doctrines of his sect. He saw his most important duty as mercy, and so he was able to help others without truly violating his precepts. When there are contradictions between beliefs, one must resolve them in favor of what one judges to be the higher principle.
We should not sell our ideals short for the sake of expediency or selfishness. Following a particular spiritual tradition means a full commitment to its rules in order to gain the essence of that tradition. But we cannot afford to be dogmatic. Human law is imperfect : There will always be unprecedented circumstances. Thus, we must go beyond rules and operate instead from pure wisdom. We must act with experience, flexibility, and insight. Let us so absorb integrity — experiencing both its triumphs and defeats — that we do the right thing intuitively.
Tradition is first. Mercy is greater than tradition. Wisdom is greater than mercy.
Some days, you and I go mad.
Our bellies get stuffed full,
Hearts break, minds snap.
We can’t go on the old way so
We change. Our lives pivot,
Forming a mysterious geometry.
Life revolves. You cannot go back one minute, or one day. In light of this, there is no use marking time in any one position. Life will continue without you, will pass you by, leaving you hopelessly out of step with events. That’s why you must engage life and maintain your pace.
Don’t look back, and don’t step back. Each time you make a decision, move forward. If your last step gained you a certain amount of territory, then make sure that your next step will capitalize on it. Don’t relinquish your position until you are sure that you have something equal or better in your grasp. But how do we develop timing for this process?
It has to be intuitive. On certain days, we come to our limits, and our tolerance for a situation ends. When that happens, change without the interference of concepts, guilt, timidity, or hesitancy. Those are the points when our entire lives pivot and turn toward new phases, and it is right that we take advantage of them. We mark our progress not by the distance covered but by the lines and angles that are formed.
Place the word Tao
Into your heart.
Use no other words.
Why do so many people seek foreign religions? Why are so many of our philosophies translations from other languages? Surely we are all human beings, with hearts and minds, two hands and two legs. Each of us needs spirituality, but why must we always look abroad?
People who investigate Tao ask whether they have to be Chinese to benefit from it. It is true that part of the study of Tao is strictly Chinese. It is also true that this Taoism has never been exported — unlike Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, or Judaism — and has never been preached beyond the Five Sacred Mountains of China. It is elitist, to protect itself from coarse unbelievers. But this Taoism is not the Tao you need.
The true Tao is of no nationality, no religion. It is far beyond the conceptions of even the most brilliant human being, so it cannot be the property of one race or culture. The need to understand Tao is universal; people just give it different names in their native languages. Tao is the very essence of life itself, so those who are alive always have the possibility of knowing Tao. It is meant to be found in the here and now, and it is within the grasp of any sincere seeker.
Dashes crowns of princely trees.
Perplexed travelers ask for reasons,
Huddling under worn eaves.
Those who follow Tao make much of knowing and acting in conformity to the cycle of seasons. They have made a science of studying the exact ways in which events progress. Some have become so skillful that their lives are admired as nearly magical. Yet when things happen out of turn, even these wise ones are surprised.
Such is the case with unseasonable rain. It is supposed to be hot summer, yet it is a day like midwinter. What is there to do but to accept it? Following cycles does not mean that you can then expect things to occur with precision and regularity. The actual ways that circumstances develop will always remain beyond complete regimentation. Nature doesn’t act according to human theories. Rather, our sciences are imperfect at analyzing nature.
The follower of Tao is always flexible and adaptable to circumstance. Even if there is personal desire to do something and advance preparation has been made, the follower must nevertheless bow to nature. Knowing how to put aside personal priorities in order to fulfill the demands of the time is among the greatest of skills.
Spasms of molten rock
Piled a cone three miles high.
Rain and wind split a hundred towering fingers.
In time, trees strove for leverage in the fissures.
After a million years, condors and snakes took up residence.
Mighty rock, carved walls adorned with
Chartreuse and vermilion lichen —
Man yet more puny on those stones.
How long will it take to see Tao?
Until you no longer hold self-importance.
Compared to the massive movements of heaven and earth, compared to the immensity of geologic time, the greatest acts of humanity and their monuments are beneath significance. We climb the highest mountains, we dive to the depths of the sea, we fling ourselves as close to the sun as we dare, and we are not even on the scale of nature’s measure. In our egotism and our view of ourselves as the center of the universe, we imagine that our lives have some meaning and importance when placed beside the stars and mountains and rivers. They do not. We cannot hope to have any true meaning in the history of the universe. But we can know it better, we can be a better part of it.If you want to know the force that keeps the sky blue, the stars burning, the mountains high and still, the rivers running, and the oceans flowing, then remove the veil that stands between you and Tao.
Red sea through pine lattice.
Islands kneel like vassals before headlands.
Rain clouds snag on coastal ridges.
Yarrow stands spectral in the lighthouse beam.
It is difficult to take in the details of a landscape all at once. Our eyes can only focus on one point at a time. We look near, then we look far. We look left, then we look right. Our view of any one subject, if it is large, is never whole but is a composite image in our minds. The same is true in regard to our approach to Tao.
Tao is continuous, flowing, and changing, but there is no knowing it in a single view. We rely on composite images that we form in ourselves. For a beginner, glimpses of Tao will be random and fleeting. You will stumble on it from time to time, or you will see it in the brief spaces between events. For the mature practitioner, your composite view comes from training, technique, research, and the experience of self-cultivation. But even after years, it is impossible to take in the totality.
There is a way to know Tao directly and completely. It requires the awakening of one’s spiritual force. When this happens, spirituality manifests as a brilliant light. Your mind expands into a glowing presence. Like a lighthouse, this beacon of energy becomes illumination and eye at the same time. Significantly, however, what it shows, it also knows directly. It is the light that sees.
Prophets and priest teach the form of Tao.
Tao’s essence cannot be taught.
It is latent,
And cannot be known by learning.
Why do religions wither and become extinct? Because they are only the works of people. After all, religion and spirituality, though related, are not synonymous. Religion is the creation of people and cultures. Spirituality is the direct personal relationship with Tao. Religions often degenerate into convention, ritual, and corruption. They are imperfect. When their creators fade, even the holiest words gradually lose their power.
Our spiritual problems don’t substantially differ from those of our ancestors, and today’s truths still attempt to find the same spirituality as before. Why? Because all truths eventually point to Tao, and Tao has always existed latently, unbroken and eternal. We may begin our investigations in the realm of the religious, but once we clear away the distortions and interfering aspects of our own consciousness, we enter the realm of Tao. Once that happens, there is no need for religions.
If we were to have a genuine spiritual experience, it would be lunacy to then go out and try to become religious leaders. We would only be repeating the same mistakes of countless other genuine seekers. It would be far better simply to be a nameless follower of Tao. Then we avoid the contradictions of social action.
Hawk doesn’t think during the hunt.
It does not care for theory or ethics.
All that it does is natural.
Animals live simple lives close to Tao. They do not need to think or reason : They never doubt themselves. When they are hungry, they eat. When they are tired, they sleep. They respond to the cycles of the day according to their intuition. They mate at the proper season, and they nurture their young according to their own understanding. When they die, they fall under the teeth of predators or the dispassionate turning of the seasons.
By contrast, we as human beings depart from the natural norm, and worry about ethical action. Extremes of behavior have become more varied running the gamut from the sadistic to the moralistic. Tao considers all this artificial and unnatural. Why divorce ourselves from nature?
The follower of Tao prefers to live completely in concert with Tao, avoiding the interference of theory and excessive thought. Though one must first learn skill and ethics thoroughly, one must come to embody them so completely that they become subconscious. Reacting to a situation by asking what is right and wrong is already too slow. One must intuitively do what is correct. There should be no foreshadowing of an act, nor doubt about oneself.
Birds chirp, vanguard for coming rain,
Dog bark skitters through twilight village.
Smoke raises a column through the pines,
Contented families dine in golden windows.
Life’s pulse is gauged in the hollows, the intervals between events. If you want to see Tao, you must discern these spaces. This requires leisure, the chance to sit and contemplate, and the opportunity to respond to inner urgings.
If you can find a place to retreat, you can make a life where Tao will flood into you. Out in the woods, or in the mountains, or even in small villages where the times are slow paced and the people sensitive to nature, there is the possibility of knowing the deep and the profound. Only when you have the time to accumulate an unshakable belief and faith can you glimpse the Tao in which there is restfulness and a natural sense of what is right.