Tao and Wu Wei

Excerpted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The word “Tao” (道) has a variety of meanings in both ancient and modern Chinese language. Aside from its purely prosaic use to mean road, channel, path, principle, or similar, the word has acquired a variety of differing and often confusing metaphorical, philosophical and religious uses. In most belief systems, the word is used symbolically in its sense of ‘way’ as the ‘right’ or ‘proper’ way of existence, or in the context of ongoing practices of attainment or of the full coming into being, or the state of enlightenment or spiritual perfection that is the outcome of such practices.

Some scholars make sharp distinctions between moral or ethical usage of the word “Tao” that is prominent in Confucianism and religious Taoism and the more metaphysical usage of the term used in philosophical Taoism and most forms of Mahayana Buddhism; others maintain that these are not separate usages or meanings, seeing them as mutually inclusive and compatible approaches to defining the principle. The original use of the term was as a form of praxis rather than theory – a term used as a convention to refer to something that otherwise cannot be discussed in words – and early writings such as the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching make pains to distinguish between conceptions of the Tao (sometimes referred to as “named Tao”) and the Tao itself (the “unnamed Tao”), which cannot be expressed or understood in language. Liu Da asserts that the Tao is properly understood as an experiential and evolving concept, and that there are not only cultural and religious differences in the interpretation of the Tao, but personal differences that reflect the character of individual practitioners.

The Tao can be roughly thought of as the flow of the Universe, or as some essence or pattern behind the natural world that keeps the Universe balanced and ordered. It is related to the idea of qi, the essential energy of action and existence. The Tao is a non-dualistic principle – it is the greater whole from which all the individual elements of the Universe derive. Keller considers it similar to the negative theology of Western scholars, but the Tao is rarely an object of direct worship, being treated more like the Hindu concepts of karma or dharma than as a divine object. The Tao is more commonly expressed in the relationship between wu (void or emptiness, in the sense of wuji) and yinyang (the natural dynamic balance between opposites), leading to its central principle of wu wei (inaction, or inexertion).

The Tao is usually described in terms of elements of nature, and in particular as similar to water. Like water it is undifferentiated, endlessly self-replenishing, soft and quiet but immensely powerful, and impassively generous. Much of Taoist philosophy centers on the cyclical continuity of the natural world, and its contrast to the linear, goal-oriented actions of human beings.

In all its uses, the Tao is considered to have ineffable qualities that prevent it from being defined or expressed in words. It can, however, be known or experienced, and its principles (which can be discerned by observing Nature) can be followed or practiced. Much of East Asian philosophical writing focuses on the value of adhering to the principles of the Tao and the various consequences of failing to do so.

The Tao was shared with Confucianism, Chán and Zen Buddhism and more broadly throughout East Asian philosophy and religion in general. In Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism, the object of spiritual practice is to ‘become one with the Tao’ (Tao Te Ching) or to harmonise one’s will with Nature (cf. Stoicism) in order to achieve ‘effortless action’ (Wu wei). This involves meditative and moral practices. Important in this respect is the Taoist concept of De (德; virtue). In Confucianism and religious forms of Taoism, these are often explicitly moral/ethical arguments about proper behavior, while Buddhism and more philosophical forms of Taoism usually refer to the natural and mercurial outcomes of action (comparable to karma). The Tao is intrinsically related to the concepts yin and yang (pinyin: yīnyáng), where every action creates counter-actions as unavoidable movements within manifestations of the Tao, and proper practice variously involves accepting, conforming to, or working with these natural developments.

The Twelve Principles of Buddhism

by Christmas Humphreys QC

    1. Self-salvation is for any man the immediate task. If a man lay wounded by a poisoned arrow he would not delay extraction by demanding details of the man who shot it, or the length and make of the arrow. There will be time for ever-increasing understanding of the Teaching during the treading of the Way. Meanwhile, begin now by facing life as it is, learning always by direct and personal experience.

    2. The first fact of existence is the law of change or impermanence. All that exists, from a mole to a mountain, from a thought to an empire, passes through the same cycle of existence – i.e., birth, growth, decay and death. Life alone is continuous, ever seeking self-expression in new forms. ‘Life is a bridge; therefore build no house on it.’ Life is a process of flow, and he who clings to any form, however splendid, will suffer by resisting the flow.

    3. The law of change applies equally to the ‘soul’. There is no principle in an individual which is immortal and unchanging. Only the ‘Namelessness’, the ultimate Reality, is beyond change, and all forms of life, including man, are manifestations of this Reality. No one owns the life which flows in him any more than the electric light bulb owns the current which gives it light.

    4. The universe is the expression of law. All effects have causes, and man’s soul or character is the sum total of his previous thoughts and acts. Karma, meaning action-reaction, governs all reaction to them, his future condition, and his final destiny. By right thought and action he can gradually purify his inner nature, and so by self-realisation attain in time liberation from rebirth. The process covers great periods of time, involving life after life on earth, but ultimately every form of life will reach Enlightenment.

    5. Life is one and indivisible, though its everchanging forms are innumerable and perishable. There is, in truth, no death, though every form must die. From an understanding of life’s unity arises compassion, a sense of identity with the life in other forms. Compassion is described as ‘the Law of laws – eternal harmony’, and he who breaks this harmony of life will suffer accordingly and delay his own Enlightenment.

    6. Life being One, the interests of the part should be those of the whole. In his ignorance man thinks he can successfully strive for his own interests, and this wrongly directed energy of selfishness produces suffering. He learns from his suffering to reduce and finally eliminate its cause. The Buddha taught Four Noble Truths:

    (a) The omnipresence of suffering;

    (b) its cause, wrongly directed desire;

    (c) its cure, the removal of the cause; and

    (d) Noble Eightfold Path of self-development which leads to the end of suffering.

    7. The Eightfold Path consists in Right (or perfect) Views or preliminary understanding, Right Aims or Motive, Right Speech, Right Acts, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration or mind development, and finally, Right Samadhi, leading to Full Enlightenment. As Buddhism is a way of living, not merely a theory of life, the treading of this Path is essential to self-deliverance. ‘Cease to do evil, learn to do good, cleanse your own heart: this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.’

    8. Reality is indescribable, and a God with attributes is not the final Reality. But the Buddha, a human being, became the All-Enlightened One, and the purpose of life is the attainment of Enlightenment. This state of Consciousness, Nirvana, the extinction of the limitations of self-hood, is attainable on earth. All men and all other forms of life contain the potentiality of Enlightenment, and the process therefore consists in becoming what you are. ‘Look within: thou art Buddha.’

    9. From potential to actual Enlightenment there lies the Middle Way, the Eightfold Way ‘from desire to peace’, a process of self-development between the ‘opposites’, avoiding all extremes. The Buddha trod this Way to the end, and the only faith required in Buddhism is the reasonable belief that where a Guide has trodden it is worth our while to tread. The Way must be trodden by the whole man, not merely the best of him, and heart and mind must be developed equally. The Buddha was the All-Compassionate as well as the All-Enlightened One.

    10. Buddhism lays great stress on the need of inward concentration and meditation, which leads in time to the development of the inner spiritual faculties. The subjective life is as important as the daily round, and periods of quietude for inner activity are essential for a balanced life. The Buddhist should at all times be ‘mindful and self-possessed’, refraining from mental and emotional attachment to ‘the passing show’. This increasingly watchful attitude to circumstances, which he knows to be his own creation, helps him to keep his reaction to it always under control.

    11. The Buddha said: ‘Work out your own salvation with diligence.’ Buddhism knows no authority for truth save the intuition of the individual, and that is authority for himself alone. Each man suffers the consequences of his own acts, and learns thereby, while helping his fellow men to the same deliverance; nor will prayer to the Buddha or to any God prevent an effect from following its cause. Buddhist monks are teachers and exemplars, and in no sense intermediates between Reality and the individual. The utmost tolerance is practised towards all other religions and philosophies, for no man has the right to interfere in his neighbour’s journey to the Goal.

    12. Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor ‘escapist’, nor does it deny the existence of God or soul, though it places its own meaning on these terms. It is, on the contrary, a system of thought, a religion, a spiritual science and a way of life, which is reasonable, practical, and all-embracing. For over two thousand years it has satisfied the spiritual needs of nearly one-third of mankind. It appeals to the West because it has no dogmas, satisfies the reason and the heart alike, insists on self-reliance coupled with tolerance for other points of view, embraces science, religion, philosophy, psychology, ethics and art, and points to man alone, as the creator of his present life and sole designer of his destiny.

    Drafted by Christmas Humphreys, The Buddhist Society, London, in 1945

Water Quotes

Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths.

Muhammad Ali

 

For true love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have. And if you go to draw at the true fountainhead, the more water you draw, the more abundant is its flow.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it.

Lao Tzu

 

If you must speak ill of another, do not speak it, write it in the sand near the water’s edge.

Napoleon Hill

 

The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.

Rabindranath Tagore

 

You must be a lotus, unfolding its petals when the sun rises in the sky, unaffected by the slush where it is born or even the water which sustains it!

Sai Baba

 

Water is the driving force of all nature.

Leonardo da Vinci

 

The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

William Blake

 

One can not reflect in streaming water. Only those who know internal peace can give it to others.

Lao Tzu

 

I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.

Emily Bronte

 

I feel most at home in the water. I disappear. That’s where I belong.

Michael Phelps

 

Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees – should be your teacher.

Morihei Ueshiba

 

Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self.

B.R. Ambedkar

 

Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear. Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important and what’s not.

James Taylor

 

The heart of a human being is no different from the soul of heaven and earth. In your practice always keep in your thoughts the interaction of heaven and earth, water and fire, yin and yang.

Morihei Ueshiba

 

This land, this water, this air, this planet – this is our legacy to our young.

Paul Tsongas

 

The fall of dropping water wears away the Stone.

Lucretius

 

The mill cannot grind with the water that is past.

Daniel D. Palmer

 

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.

Loren Eiseley

 

No water, no life. No blue, no green.

Sylvia Earle

The Tao of Breakfast

Written on a balmy September morning whilst enjoying my breakfast on my inner city balcony..

———————————————–

It rises on the breath and

falls into the comforting pillow of nothingness

 

And crosses the safety catch of release

and shudders through the tissue paper smile

 

It sways with hips in the sunlight dance

of the Etruscan empire’s setting sun

 

And flies with the Canada geese on the autumn skies

and writes the farewell letters flickering the kite tail’s goodbye

 

It flows together into the trusted delta’s gathering arms and

haunts with the pull of fate’s winding woodland trails

 

And rises on the compass point

and bursts with the geysers spurting pressured relief

 

It dances the shimmer of the thousand veils and

finds that pea beneath the bed

 

And dives and echoes across the fabric folding

and folds back upon itself… formed in the end of time

 

It sneaks under the door and pierces the heart and

grips under the mind’s suspicious skin

 

And binds together in the pooling drops of rain

and winds down the city streets with quicksilver’s gathering force

 

It picks the sparkle packets and welds and moulds them

into the plastascine ghosts of beginning and shapes the fire within

 

And brings the patient commuters together for the stormy pirate ship

and searches the highways for the inner gold

 

It forms as the jellyfish bubble rising up

up through the sea from the belly of life

 

And decorates with the expectant mother’s urgency

and frets and fusses the flowers into being

The Exquisite Second

Suspended

In this exquisite second

Poised

 

All the fate-clouds

Rain

 

The ashes of before

Wash me

Marrow deep

 

The blessings

And the curses,

Envelop me

 

Those powdered deeds

They finger-fly

 

That cloud-burst

… inevitability

Soothes & enlivens

 

I sense the thunder-clap

The applause

Heavenly

 

The moment

Pregnant,

Heavy, birthing

 

Naught can I do

Else bathe

In the very time of it

 

It flows

Suspended, here

This exquisite second