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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Success and the Tao


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.


Jamie G. said...

Wonderful story! Wise words indeed.

For me, I think the sage's answer is why I'm often turned off by organized religion. It's as if many supposed teachers tell their students that there is only one thing that can fill the void, and that their own personal contributions are wrong. I'm not saying that some of these teachers don't have a hold of something, but that something is their own contribution, and it doesn't mean it should be copied in their students.

Thank you for your blog.

Henry Bono said...

Whoah, gotta get this book. So interesting how I just stumbled upon this post when an hour ago thinking that the force goes in all directions at all times, and it just depends upon what direction I want to ride it along, and for what length. I'm very excited to get a hold of this text now. No disrespect intended in my not knowing your work or your life beyond this one blog entry. Perhaps I'll know more about you Derek soon. Best Regards,

Rex, the Wonder Blog said...

Always excellent posts and comments. Derek's writings - and those of other contributors like Jos Slabbert - help me in many ways, and I never fail to find some thing good, whether it originates from Derk or simply the comments left by readers.

I have a question, Derek, that pertains to this posting, and wu wei. I enjoy writing - history - and 2 subjects I've researched have developed enough that I've neared their completion as books. Now, I like doing this, but the fulfillment only goes so far: To be precise, in order to have them considered for "real" publishing, I really have to sell the books and myself to lit agents and publishers. I don't care for that because it makes me emphasize my ego. And that makes me uneasy (at best). Of course, a certain part of me craves the praise and potential for financial gain. I like to garden, too, but don't really care if anyone notices my work: I simply like seeing flowers and plants, which attract a bounty of birds and pesky squirrels. I seek no gain from gardening, but with writing, just doing it for myself isn't enough. How do I begin to reconcile this issue within myself? I sense an understanding of wu wei, and think its proper use would help me to find reconciliation...a place in Tao. Apologies, my friend, for the long post. I thank you and any others who can offer their thoughts. Peace, my friends.

Rex, the Wonder Blog said...

Yes, you must get Derek's books. His writing is direct and peaceful. Take good care!

Rex, the Wonder Blog said...


kwan_e said...

Come to think of it, Advaita are also often mentioned in the same breath as Daoism, since they are both from the East. I don't think it can be denied that the authentic Hindu traditions are more mystical and perhaps it's worth exploring whether the misunderstanding of Daoist teachings are from the West, or from the attempt to combine separate Eastern cultures.

Sometimes when talking about the East, it's often easy to forget that Indians are also from the East.

Derek said...

Hi Rex,

I would be glad to answer your question. Can you get in touch with me on either Facebook or the Tea House forum?

Dark Lord said...

Your meaningless existence would be best utilized serving the Empire. Come to the dark side and know true power!

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