Author: cheok hong chuan
Date: 04-26-12 15:42
I was asked to comment on this stanzas from the Tao Te-Ching this morning.
The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self
The highest kindness is to give without a condition
The highest justice is to see without a preference
When Tao is lost one must learn the rules of virtue
When virtue is lost, the rules of kindness
When kindness is lost, the rules of justice
When justice is lost, the rules of conduct
I commented as follows -
However this Lao-Tze couplet or stanza is not directly about wu-wei [action in non-action] even though the 1st line smacks of it.
If you think Buddhism is difficult to understand at the level of ‘Ultimate Reality’ as in the Huayen or Avatamsaka Sutra, Taoism is ‘weird’, beyond normal comprehension, because Taoism by definition has no definition. If it can be defined it is not the Tao! The equivalent in Japanese is Shinto. Ask any Japanese what Shinto is and there is no answer!
It is wrong to think that the Chinese invented the Tao or the Japanese invented Shinto. That is thinking of faith and religion. It is more appropriate to think that the Tao created Chinese society. In its purity Tao should just be the Way of Nature or the Way things are or will always be. It is in this sense of in nature everything changes but yet there is no change; that life goes on, that we have wu-wei. It is the sense of no ‘ego’ of ‘self’, in one’s action, like the sunlight shining on, the rain falling on, and the wind giving air, to the good and bad, without judgement. The bamboo bends in the wind because it has no ‘ego’ of defiance. The rivers flow through the least resistance because it has no ‘ego’ of place or priority. It is in this sense that one is ‘being beyond the world, while being in this world’. That is wu-wei.
Yet over the 5000+ years of Chinese history, Sages write about the Tao. The real Sages continue to write in a cryptic sense, to be true to the enigma that Tao is. The worldly ones corrupt Taoism by trying to encapsulate the Tao into the 5 Elements, the 5 Virtues, etc. Really, it would be fraudulent if practitioners blindly take literally Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood instead of metaphorically when they journey the Way of Tao. In its origin, there was only 1 virtue – Filial Piety; then came 4 Virtues, and later 5 Virtues. Different writers ended up with totally different 5 Virtues! Stick to the original 5 that related to a village and home environment – Loyalty, Honesty, Propriety [including being hardworking and courtesy], Benevolence and Justice – like the chivalry code of past kungfu warriors. Note that there is nothing about knowledge or wisdom. This is because in Taoism, ‘spiritual wisdom’ cannot be described or acquired or practised like kungfu. When it comes, it comes, you either have it or you do not! You cannot harvest until the fruit is ripe! The Way of the Tao can only be a personal journey. It cannot be charted or the individual course set. Every river and its course are different. Expect nothing but just experience the journey and endure till the end; till you get to what is termed the ‘reflection of the ocean’. If you take a spiritual journey along the Way of the Tao, you travel through life’s experience not through books. The Tao of the journey is in you and not in the books. The books are written by humans, and who knows whether they are frauds or not? The Chinese language, when it is written figuratively or metaphorically is harder to decipher than the Big bang! Like in Zen Buddhism, when Buddha enters your mind, kill him! The Taoist books or writings are not and do not have worldly knowledge and certainly not spiritual knowledge that you can take like a pill of aspirin. If you are not spiritual enough you will not have the spiritual wisdom to see. Any person with ‘ego’ can only have worldly wisdom. To have spiritual wisdom you must have no ‘ego’. To worldly see and to spiritually see are two different things!
The Way of the Tao is very difficult. On this spiritual journey you have to be ‘nobody’ and in the journey, you are sort of going ‘no where’ in particular. For who knows how the wind blows? Who knows one’s destiny? Who know what tomorrow brings? It is in this sense that one is ‘being beyond the world, while being in this world’. That is wu-wei.