Saturday, January 21, 2012
Over the years, I have seen the Tao change lives again and again. People who study it with an open mind, and put its lessons into actual practice, invariably experience profound life transformations.
That is why I want to make Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, The Tao of Daily Life, The Tao of Success, and The Tao of Joy Every Day available free of charge to incarcerated individuals, and also to at-risk youths in juvenile detention facilities. If you know of someone in that situation who may be interested in the Tao, please contact me through the Tea House forum.
Prior to contacting me, please give some thought as to which of the books will, in your opinion, be the most beneficial to the person you wish to help. People have different learning styles. Sometimes they know what they want; other times you may have to help them decide.
In the past, I've had packages returned to me because many facilities have rules where an inmate must fill out a form to request the book before it can be received. If this is the case for the inmate you know, please have him or her start the paperwork right away. I can send the book as soon as the request is approved.
There are no shipping fees or handling charges. I will pay for everything. Also, please note that if you are not yourself incarcerated, I cannot send the book to you and have you pass it on to the recipient. Please send me the name and present location, and I will ship the book directly there.
Please see the following links for more information:
Saturday, December 10, 2011
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu describes the Tao as the value beyond value, with a price beyond price. Even the coronation of the emperor, the ceremony of the utmost honor in ancient China, could not compare to the simple joy of being seated in the Tao.
What makes the Tao so special? Authentic traditions of the Tao emphasize practical teachings that anyone can follow, so we cannot stop at simplistic slogans like “the Tao is priceless.” We also cannot avoid answering the question with glib statements like “the specialness of the Tao cannot be expressed with words.” We have to examine the how and why to illuminate and clarify. There are no formal guidelines on how to conduct such an examination, but we can begin by considering the following:
1. Connecting with the truth
One way to see the value of the Tao is to recall what happens when you connect with a great truth. It is an unmistakable moment, because the truth reaches deeply into you to resonate with incredible power. It can move you to tears. It can make you jump for joy. It can shake you up with the shock of recognition. In that moment, you realize that the Tao is both the path that leads us to the truth, and the essence of the truth itself.
2. Harmonizing with others
Another way to see the value of the Tao is to recall what happens when you connect with a kindred spirit. This may be an old friend, or someone you have just met. When you establish rapport with this person, you can feel your spiritual energies harmonizing with one another. Hours elapse as the conversation flows. When you finally emerge from it, you are surprised by the amount of time that has passed. You have just experienced the effortless and eternal nature of the Tao.
3. Tapping into the source
The Tao is the ultimate source of creation. It is the field of infinite possibilities poised to manifest as actualities. You possess the same power at the human scale, because the Tao within you is the same Tao underlying all of reality. The universe expresses it as the birth of stars and galaxies; you express it as creativity at work and at play. Those who understand this will never experience writer’s block or run out of ideas. They know the Tao is a limitless source that they can tap into whenever they want. This is all about the value of new perspectives, paradigm shifts and innovations.
4. Living life with wisdom
The Tao isn’t just about being creative. It also has a practical aspect that is meant to be applied in everyday living. Those who do not understand think the Tao is only about the ethereal mysteries of the spiritual realm; those who do understand know it is every bit as concerned about all the mundane details in the material world. It is not just about learning from saints and sages; it is just as much about dealing with fellow human beings at their best and worst. You do not need to wait until the hereafter to reap the benefits of Tao cultivation. Its value is real and tangible in the here and now.
5. Transforming the self
If you have kept yourself on the path for an extended period of time, you will find yourself changing for the better. You may not notice at first because the changes are gradual and imperceptible. You may think there is nothing different about you, but positive transformation is an inevitable result of Tao cultivation. You may find others commenting on you being more composed and more at ease even in difficult situations. People who have not seen you in a while may remark on the difference they see in you. These are real changes that will last you a lifetime, and the benefits they bring you are but a small part in the value of the Tao.
6. Offering a helping hand
The more people notice the change in you, the more curious they become. After a while, when they are certain it isn’t just a temporary phase you go through, they will want to learn from you. As they approach with questions, you find yourself in a position to share the Tao. It is a position of great honor, and there is nothing more satisfying than to offer a helping hand when someone needs it the most. It dawns on you that the Tao isn’t just about making a difference in your life. It is also about making a difference in the world. The Tao is the path of service, and therein lies its true value.
The above are six finite ways to see the infinite value of something beyond all limits. They offer only a suggestion, a fleeting glimpse, a rough outline. To see more of the grand vision, you need to explore on your own. Just as the Tao transcends all limits, so are the ways to experience its value. What makes the Tao so special? What makes it so valuable to you? The answers are out there, waiting for your discovery.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Derek, the title of your new book, The Tao of Success, is a bit puzzling to me. Shouldn’t the Tao be more about spirituality rather than the pursuit of success?
The book addresses this question in its introduction, so the best way for me to answer is to present an excerpt from the relevant section:
There are those who feel strongly that the Tao is diametrically opposed to the quest for lifelong success. They may have studied Eastern philosophy previously, and some of them may say, “there is no success or failure in the Tao” or “ultimately, success has no meaning” or “there is nothing to do in seeking success, because you are already successful.”
These expressions all seem quite profound, and yet if you delve into Chinese culture, you will discover that there are no common sayings that match them. The Chinese people are very much success-oriented. They will gladly discuss cheng gong zhi dao (the Tao of success) with you, but if you try to convince them that it is ultimately meaningless, you will only puzzle them. They may point to the parent working hard to build a family, or the kung fu master practicing rigorously for years to perfect a skill. These honorable individuals certainly do not believe they are already successful, or that they have nothing to do.
How can this be? How can Chinese people themselves not understand the basic concept of wu wei, the essence of nonaction in the Tao? Haven’t Taoist thoughts permeated every aspect of the culture for centuries?
The simple answer is that the Tao that is usually presented in the West is not the same as the ubiquitous Tao of the East. The version we see has been distorted by the language barrier. Wu wei does not mean nonaction, and some of the teachings we end up with are more like the fortune cookie or chop suey—widely assumed to be Chinese but are in fact invented in the West.
The truth is that there are deeper teachings of the Tao that go beyond the meaningless nature of everything. Most people never get exposed to them, so some will automatically assume that the lack of meaning must be the highest form of wisdom. In actuality, it is only the entry point.
The Tao tradition has a story that illustrates this:
Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a young man who was so awestruck to learn about the emptiness of existence, he could not stop talking about it. He told anyone who would listen: “When you get to the bottom of it all, you realize nothing has any intrinsic meaning.”
One day, a sage heard him discussing this topic with his friends. “Everything is meaningless,” he insisted. He challenged them to refute his statement, but his reasoning seemed so strong that no one could do it.
The sage joined them and asked the young man: “Why do you suppose that is? Why is everything meaningless?”
The young man said: “Why ask why? Reason is also meaningless. Perhaps there is no reason at all.”
“There is always a reason,” the sage said. “Everything is meaningless because that is exactly how it should be. It has to be that way because its void is what frees you to create your own meaning. The emptiness of a vessel is what gives it usefulness. Existence is a blank slate that invites your creative contribution.”
It was as if a light came on in a dark room. Everyone gained a piece of enlightenment that day. The young man also became aware that he had a lot more to learn. His path on the Tao was just beginning.
It is exactly the same with success. What you have here is an open invitation to create your own meaning and contribute your creativity. Make use of the emptiness and fill it with your unique, personal definition of the good life. Your path on the Tao of success is just beginning.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Therefore the good person
is the teacher of the bad person
The bad person is the resource of the good person
Those who do not value their teachers
And do not love their resources
Although intelligent, they are greatly confused
- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching Chapter 27
“I have learned silence from the talkative; tolerance from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.”
Different minds, different cultures, different expressionssame great truth.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Derek, some of the people who study the Tao are vegetarians and some are not. When I ask those who are about their dietary practice, they tell me they prefer to avoid killing. I respect that, but I also think they contradict themselves, because eating plants is killing, too. You are taking life every time you eat something, whether it is meats or plants, so what's the difference? If you say the difference is suffering, well there are experiments that demonstrate plants also feel pain. Doesn't this prove that life is just life, and in the Tao there really is no distinction whatsoever?
This idea, that there is no difference, has become a popular meme. It is likely to come up whenever people discuss vegetarianism, whether online or in person.
The authentic Tao is not so much about mystical vagueness as it is about practical, everyday reality, so the first point to consider is whether the idea can survive the real-world test. Compare using a machete to hack away at vines versus puppies. Is it really the same to kill a plant as it is to kill an animal? Can you really convince yourself that there is no difference between the two?
Another angle is to ask if little kids can tell the difference. Children have not yet learned the many methods of rationalization that sophisticated adults employ on a regular basis. If they can tell the difference between killing plants and killing animals while we cannot, then chances are pretty good that we may be using philosophical sophistry to fool ourselves.
Yet another angle is to test the implications of an assertion. If there is no difference between eating plants and animals, then what about the difference between eating animals and humans? We are animals too, so whatever makes us different from cattle would be nothing compared to the difference between beef and broccoli. If everything really is the same, then can you honestly support eating meat but not give cannibalism the same enthusiastic support? Why apply different standards if life is just life and there is no distinction whatsoever?
Also, take a look at the consumption of fruits. Plants use fruits to recruit animal assistance in the hopes of spreading their seeds more widely. Can one really claim that the eating fruits hurts fruit trees? Where is the killing there, exactly? And what about the consumption of leaves?
Lastly, let us address the assertion that plants feel pain. What the experiments actually show is that plants have reactions to external stimuli that are imperceptible to our senses but can be measured by our instruments. Thus, we cannot say that the plants are completely oblivious to being cut down just because we don't hear any screaming. At the same time, we also cannot say that the reactions of plants are the same as the physical pain of animals. It is a stretch to equate the two, and the more one understands the central nervous system and the lack thereof in plants, the more of a stretch it becomes.
The foundation of the Tao paradigm is learning from the patterns we observe. Therefore, we should be wary of accepting assertions blindly, no matter how commonplace such assertions may be. Instead, we should engage the mind in making our own observations, extracting wisdom from the lessons we learn, and remaining truthful to ourselves in the Tao.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Derek, I love the line in the Tao Te Ching that says, "Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds." Can you expand on this wisdom, and give us some thoughts on how we can let go of goals?
Many people express a liking for this idea, and talk about how it is radically different from the Western mindset of endless goal-setting and tiresome to-do lists. However, the truth is that this line is a mistranslation that bears little resemblance to the original Chinese. The idea agrees with how people imagine Eastern philosophy to be, but not what it actually is.
The line comes from a popular translation of chapter 22, and is the last of four lines describing a Tao sage:
Because he doesn't display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn't know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.
Without presuming themselves – and so are distinguished
Without praising themselves – and so have merit
Without boasting about themselves – and so are lasting
The line that says "Without praising themselves – and so have merit" is the one that has been mistranslated as "Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds." The translator, knowing virtually no Chinese, mistakenly uses "goal" for "praise" and "success" for "merit." The result is a sentence that is not even close to the original in meaning, but by a quirk of fate has become embraced by some Western readers.
The larger, more important issue here is that there are no teachings in the Tao tradition that speak against setting goals. Quite the opposite. For instance, Lao Tzu's journey of a thousand miles and tower of nine levels are both metaphors for great goals that require long, sustained work. Chuang Tzu's flight of the giant Peng bird is also a metaphor for an ambitious, awe-inspiring goal. These sages not only want us to have goals, but also encourage us to think big.
If asked about letting go of goals, they would probably point out the paradox that the goal of letting go of goals is itself a goal. Goal-setting is just another tool that we can use to get what we want from life, neither positive nor negative by itself, so there is not much more to it than using the tool in a skillful way. Goals need not be the annoying burdens or traps as some seem to believe... so there is nothing we have to do to "free" ourselves from them.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Derek, the topic of homosexuality came up the other day as I was discussing the Tao with a group of people. One person said that since homosexual people could not have children naturally, they were against the natural order of the world, and therefore against the Tao.
"It's very simple," he said. "If I put a group of heterosexual people on an island, they will multiply and be fruitful. If I put I put a group of homosexuals there instead, they will die out. So which group is with the Tao and which is against? Isn't it obvious?"
I must say I felt disappointed in hearing this, because I came from a conservative background that condemned homosexuality and hoped the Tao might be different. I need to ask you for a second opinion before I give up completely. Can you confirm that this position against homosexuality is correct according to the Tao?
What you have described is a fairly common misconception, sometimes expressed by people with a surface-level understanding of the Tao. It seems to make sense at first glance: the male / female pairing is natural, and therefore same-gender pairings must be unnatural. The idea is that the Tao is about yin-yang, not yin-yin or yang-yang.
The first thing to realize when we approach this topic is that while some mainstream religions do condemn homosexuality, the Tao itself does not judge or condemn. The Tao is not human, nor is it a human-like deity, so it can never pass harsh judgements the way that some people do. It is more like natural laws that function without emotional attachments.
The second thing to realize is that there are already myriad things in nature that live out entire lives without producing offspring. If procreation is the yardstick by which to measure naturalness, then one would have to point to all of them as being against the Tao - including heterosexual couples who are infertile or simply do not wish to have children.
The most basic flaw that led to the above conclusion is our incessant focus on the physical. Gender and reproduction are inextricably tied to biology, but is the physical aspect all there is to existence? I would suggest that it is only one aspect of the multidimensional totality. Also, consider the basic truth that the spiritual is far greater than the biological for human beings. One simple example of this is the love between adoptive parents and adopted children. That love is just as real and powerful as anything else. The lack of a biological connection between them makes absolutely no difference at all.
When love exists, nothing else is quite as important, so let us transcend the physical in our thinking. Move to the level of the spiritual and examine the issue there. You'll find that when you strip away all the external layers, the only thing that remains at the core is love in its purest form. This love can express itself in many different ways. That expression, among consenting individuals, flows in perfect alignment with the Tao regardless of the way it manifests.
So is there anything that flows out of alignment with the Tao? Yes, but it has nothing to do with gender or reproductive ability. That which goes against the Tao is the antithesis of love: fear, loathing, hatred. In the material world, we recognize it in one of its many forms as homophobia and prejudice.
Next time people bring up this topic, let them know the truth. What goes with or against the Tao has nothing to do with the gender of your life partner. It has everything to do with our natural wish to manifest our highest, most loving and kindest selves. Let us be careful in handling the distorted ideas that try to take us away from that ideal.