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Friday, January 11, 2008

Common Threads

Question: Derek, I have a question concerning the fundamental unity of all religions. For many years, I have studied both Christianity and Buddhism, and now I am reading your books and studying the Tao. The more I learn about the different spiritual traditions, the more it seems to me that despite their superficial differences, deep down they are very much alike. Do you notice the same thing? If you do, what would you say are the common threads that unite all traditions?

Answer: Yes, I agree. There really does seem to be something deep in the core of humanity that is the same regardless of your background of origin. It's something that resonates with the divine. For the lack of a better description, it seems to be a sense of awe, a sense of overwhelming wonder. Everyone has it, even those who do not consider themselves religious. Even atheist scientists, when they bear witness to the marvelous workings of the universe, can also resonate powerfully with this profound feeling.

I also find common threads in the beauty of music, art, and nature - indeed in every aspect of life. Manifestations of beauty have the power to reach deeply into the heart to touch this common core. Virtuoso performances, lines of poetry, panoramic vistas... these glimpses of sacred beauty move us and inspire us, transcending our differences and bringing us closer.

Among all the common threads that unite all spiritual traditions, the most central is the thread of love. This common thread surpasses all the rest, and unites not only all spiritual traditions, but all human beings. Love is the ultimate golden thread, weaving all of us together in an unbreakable, indestructible bond.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mystical Experiences

Question: Derek, I've been reading up on mystical experiences and find the subject fascinating. Why is it that some people have them while others do not? What can I do to have the experience myself?

Answer: No one can guarantee you mystical experiences, but you can increase the odds in your favor by understanding them better. Mystical experiences start out with the basic recognition that there is more to existence than what we can perceive with our physical senses. This is followed by the understanding that we are all connected to this unseen mystical domain at a fundamental level.

This leads to the question that if we are all fundamentally connected to the mystical, why can we not access that domain as easily as we walk into the next room? The answer is that most of the time we are distracted by the material world. As the Tao Te Ching says, when we are full of desires, we can only see the manifestation. It is only when we free ourselves of these distracting desires that we can see the mystical essence.

Mystical experiences are characterized by a sort of active tranquility, a serene dynamism. If we can quiet the mind completely, to match the natural tranquility of the Tao, we will find that following the connection back to the source becomes not only easy, but also effortless and spontaneous.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Truth Beyond Words

Question: Derek, I'm a newcomer to the Tao, and I've been told that in Taoism there are advanced teachings pointing to the Truth that cannot be spoken. Is this correct? And if so, can you direct me to them?

Answer: Yes, in the Tao we learn that Truth is beyond words. Not only spoken words, but written words as well. This is not something that requires time and effort to discover in the Tao. You literally cannot miss it, because it is clearly spelled out in the first line of the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching.

This central message is further reinforced by the other 80 chapters of the Tao Te Ching, where we learn that the way to fully understand the Truth is not to dwell on the words, but to go beyond them. While discussions and books can be valuable, we still must experience the Tao by living it, feeling it, acting from it and acting upon it. People cannot learn how to swim by talking about swimming; they have to get in the pool and start moving. It is the same with the Tao. We can become one with it if we are willing to jump right in and be fully immersed.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Love and Compassion

Question: Derek, what is the Tao perspective on love and compassion?

Answer: Love and compassion are the very nature of who we are. That is why we feel such happiness and joy when we have love, and why we long for it and look for it everywhere when we don't. It is also why there can be no defense against someone who treats us with kindness and compassion.

It is no accident that love and life are inextricably linked together. Love is the source of life, and life in turn is the source of love. Without love, life becomes meaningless; without life, we lack the means with which to express love to the fullest.

In chapter 51 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says that reverence for the Tao is due not to command but to nature. It is the same with love and compassion. We need both and cherish both, not because we are under command to do so, but because it is natural to our very being. Love is the Tao of humanity.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Inner Peace

Question: Derek, for the year 2008 my goal is to create an environment where I can enjoy peace of mind. Do you have any suggestions from the Tao perspective as to how I can go about doing that?

Answer: Yes, but the Tao perspective is about inner peace leading to outer peace, not the other way around. We need to let go of the idea that how we feel internally is dependent on the external world, and embrace the concept that ultimately it is the internal landscape that becomes reflected as physical manifestations externally. The illusion is that we are victims of circumstances beyond our control; the reality is that we are powerful creators of our own personal reality.

What this means, specifically, is that if we are unable to accept ourselves in the present moment - if we keep revisiting the past with regret or resentment - then it won't matter how quiet our environment is, or how much we resort of practices like meditation. We may achieve temporary calmness, but lasting peace will still remain elusive, beyond our reach.

The Tao Te Ching says "returning to the root is called tranquility." This is a clear direction to us on finding peace. We need to go back to the basics, to the root of the true self. If we can be at peace within, we will be able to address spiritual turmoil at the root level. Only after that will the path to real peace of mind be revealed to us. Thus, the best recommendation I can give is to turn your attention inward, establish your tranquility within, and then let it radiate outward naturally and effortlessly.