Welcome to The Path of Water

This site is dedicated to exploring the Tao and Philosophical Taoism; and how it relates to everyday modern life in the 21st Century. It also includes posts relating to how I feel Taoism can provide insights for dealing with the problems of everyday living.

The process of writing out my thoughts helps me to explore what I believe and why, so these posts will probably develop over time. I hope that you'll find this site interesting and, for those of you new to the Tao and Taoism, I hope that it can provide you with a first step on the path to a rich spiritual life. If you want to post comments relating to a post or the site as a whole I'd be grateful as all feedback is helpful.

Enjoy your visit - In Tao - Woody

Who would follow the Way must go beyond words.
Who would know the world must go beyond names. *

No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. **

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Goal of Taoism

I've seen a lot on the web regarding what Taoism is about and what its goal is. Much of what I've seen on some forums seems to view Taoism as being essentially about going with the flow, getting in touch with nature and chilling out. While there is some truth to these interpretations, they are I believe just scratching at the surface and missing the real beauty of Taoism. IMHO there is a destination in Taoism - an experience of reality that is deep and profound.

As Taoists we seek harmony with the Tao through Wu Wei (non-doing), but if somebody actually achieves this what are they like? The Tao Te Ching (TTC) is a bit like a guide book to this destination and parts of it describe just such a person - the Sage or Master. Consider the following bits from the TTC where it describes the Sage. The lines are from the Mitchell translation, but I've changed the word used from Master to Sage as I believe this is the better word to describe such a person in English because the word Master has so many unhelpful overtones...

The Sage keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao

The Sage, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.

the Sage travels all day
without leaving home.

the Sage is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.

The Sage sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.

The Sage does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.

The Sage doesn't try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.

The Sage does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.

the Sage concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

Now the important thing to understand is that the Sage does not do these things through following some sort of intellectual process. The Sage doesn't sit down and meditate to achieve this state, nor does he or she practice not trying to be powerful. or not doing. The Sage is not even a Taoist, for Taoism is the pursuit of harmony with the Tao, but the Sage has already achieved it. The Sage does not DO these things, the Sage IS these things. The TTC is describing their state of being. The Sage could no more not do and be these things than I could jump off a cliff, flap my arms and fly! This state of being is I believe what Taoists call harmony, or in Zen - enlightenment.

So how do we become such a person? Well that's what Taoism is all about. Through learning about Taoism and the nature of the Sage we can start to approach this state by modifying our preconceptions, attitudes and actions. We can also take different paths of study, exercise, or meditation in the hope that they'll help to move us closer to this state. There is however a point at which harmony can be achieved only through letting go. A point where no action can move you closer to the goal.

How to take this step? Well if I knew that I probably wouldn't be writing this blog. If you have the answer - please let me know :)


The Rambling Taoist said...

I agree that we Taoist bloggers don't always clearly identify the destination we all seek. I think the prime reason for this, however, is that we don't wish to make the same mistake as religious bloggers.

The latter are too hierarchical and rigid. Whatever way they believe in is THE ONE correct way. If you have different ideas, they cast you aside like a crumpled up dixie cup.

While we realize there is a destination in mind, we concurrently know that there are as many ways to get there as there are people. So, we try to point toward the general direction, but leave it to each person to figure out their own path.

Woody said...

That's a good point RT. In the end everybody needs to find their own way - your path is not my path.



Steve P said...

Intuition and Trust:

As i get older these seem to be the way.
They leave room or space for learning from the world and don't close like a fist around dogma.

I am grateful for living examples.
Like lighthouse's they shine.
The kindness of strangers in small or simple way's brings a sense of harmony.

Remembering we all share the same space also helps on the way.

Thank you for the thoughtful post Woody.

Steve P

Lodurr said...

The path to being at harmony with the Tao is not a path (maybe that's more of a Zen statement). The way to arrive at that destination is to stop measuring your distance from it. Alan Watts made a similar point against predeterminism, that our past actions and experiences are like the wake behind a boat, and they don't direct us any more than the wake directs the boat. In that sense, at any time you can be at harmony with the Tao.

Woody said...

Very helpful post Lodurr