Markings in dry clay disappear
Only when the clay is soft again.
Scars upon the self disappear
Only when one becomes soft within.
Throughout our life, but especially during our youth, many scars are inflicted upon us. Some of them are the results of violence, abuse, rape, or warfare. Others arise from bad eduction. A few come from humiliation and failure. Others are caused by our own misadventures. Unless we recover from these injuries, the scars mar us forever.
Classical scriptures urge us to withdraw from our own lusts and sins. But scars that have happened through no fault of our own may also bar us from spiritual success. Unfortunately, it is often easier to give up a bad habit than to recover from the incisions of others’ violence. The only way is through self-cultivation. Doctors and priests can only do so much. The true course of healing is up to us alone. To do this, we must acquire many methods, travel widely, struggle to overcome our personal phobias, and perhaps most importantly of all, try to acquire as few new problems as possible. Unless we do, each one of them will bar us from true communication with Tao.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
T A O I S M
Article written by Judith A. Berling for the Asia Society's Focus on Asian Studies,
Vol. II, No. 1, Asian Religions, pp. 9-11, Fall 1982. Copyright AskAsia, 1996.
Humans model themselves on earth,
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the Way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.
— Laozi (Lao Tzu)
Daodejing (Tao te ching), #251
A noted Chinese anthropologist has written that Chinese religion "mirrors the social landscape of its adherents. There are as many meanings as there are vantage points."2 The same could be said of the diverse tradition we call Taoism. Taoism was understood and practiced in many ways, each reflecting the historical, social, or personal situation of its adherents. While this diversity may confuse and perplex the outside observer, it accounts for the resilience of Taoism in China. Taoism was adaptable, evolving to fill spiritual gaps created by the vagaries of life.
Taoism can also be called "the other way," for during its entire history, it has coexisted alongside the Confucian tradition, which served as the ethical and religious basis of the institutions and arrangements of the Chinese empire. Taoism, while not radically subversive, offered a range of alternatives to the Confucian way of life and point of view. These alternatives, however, were not mutually exclusive. For the vast majority of Chinese, there was no question of choosing between Confucianism and Taoism. Except for a few straightlaced Confucians and a few pious Taoists, the Chinese man or woman practiced both — either at different phases of life or as different sides of personality and taste.
Classical Taoist philosophy, formulated by Laozi (the Old Master, 5th century B.C.?), the anonymous editor of the Daodejing (Classic of the Way and its Power), and Zhuangzi (3rd century B.C.), was a reinterpretation and development of an ancient nameless tradition of nature worship and divination. Laozi and Zhuangzi, living at a time of social disorder and great religious skepticism (see article on Confucianism), developed the notion of the Dao (Tao — way, or path) as the origin of all creation and the force — unknowable in its essence but observable in its manifestations — that lies behind the functionings and changes of the natural world. They saw in Dao and nature the basis of a spiritual approach to living. This, they believed, was the answer to the burning issue of the day: what is the basis of a stable, unified, and enduring social order? The order and harmony of nature, they said, was far more stable and enduring than either the power of the state or the civilized institutions constructed by human learning. Healthy human life could flourish only in accord with Dao — nature, simplicity, a free-and-easy approach to life. The early Taoists taught the art of living and surviving by conforming with the natural way of things; they called their approach to action wuwei (wu-wei — lit. no-action), action modeled on nature. Their sages were wise, but not in the way the Confucian teacher was wise — learned and a moral paragon. Zhuangzi's sages were often artisans — butchers or woodcarvers. The lowly artisans understood the secret of art and the art of living. To be skillful and creative, they had to have inner spiritual concentration and put aside concern with externals, such as monetary rewards, fame, and praise. Art, like life, followed the creative path of nature, not the values of human society.
Throughout Chinese history, people weary of social activism and aware of the fragility of human achievements would retire from the world and turn to nature. They might retreat to a countryside or mountain setting to commune with natural beauty. They would compose or recite poetry about nature, or paint a picture of the scene, attempting to capture the creative forces at the center of nature's vitality. They might share their outing with friends or more rarely — a spouse, drinking a bit of wine, and enjoying the autumn leaves or the moon.
Chinese utopian writings also often bore a Taoist stamp. Tao Qian's (T'ao Ch'ien, 372?-427? A.D.) famous "Peach Blossom Spring" told the story of a fisherman who discovered by chance an idyllic community of Chinese who centuries earlier had fled a war-torn land, and had since lived in perfect simplicity, harmony, and peace, obliviously unaware of the turmoil of history beyond their grove. Although these utopians urged him to stay, the fisherman left to share his discovery with friends and a local official. He could never find his way back. He did not understand that this ideal world was to be found not by following an external path, but a spiritual path; it was a state of mind, an attitude, that comprised the utopia.3
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