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. **

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Taoism and guilt or shame

Looking at some of the stats for visits to the site I saw that one issue that comes up repeatedly is how Taoism addresses issues such as shame and guilt. I think we all have an idea of what we mean by these terms  but I thought that I'd look up some dictionary definitions from www.thefreedictionary.com - these are the definitions I chose...

shame - A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.

guilt - Self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.

Their origin is in how we have somehow failed to meet up to some standard of behaviour. This standard may be an external one imposed by others or society in general, or they may be internal ones which we have consciously or unconsciously imposed upon ourselves. Taoism can help a lot with these feelings. There are two things to examine - the standard and our actions.

Where has the standard come from? What is its purpose? There are obviously social standards of behaviour like laws and customs, but I'd argue that most are based on values we have acquired, normally without consciously analysing or deciding to adopt them. These standards, both social and acquired, are part of the value judgements that dominate our lives. While seeming to give order and structure they are actually a barrier to true enlightenment. The Tao Te Ching says...

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

 TTC Ch. 2 (12)

...so we have to get past these values to truly find our way. However this can be difficult because it's reassuring to have these standards, no matter the pain they give us, because without their guidance and limitations we have to trust ourselves - and that can be very scary.

The second issue is our behaviour. Taoism says that the reason we find conflict with these standards, even when we're trying to follow them, is because we're denying our true nature. This denial leads us to abnormal behaviour patterns induced by the conflict between what we are trying to be and what we truly are. The Tao Te Ching says...

Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

TTC Ch. 9 (12)


Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

TTC Ch. 20 (12)

...Shame and guilt are illusions that help to bind us to those standards. When we fail to meet them, guilt and shame are a system of punishment enacted to encourage us to "do better" next time. So let go of those standards. Let go of guilt and shame. Stop trying to be who and what you think you should be, or what others think you should be, and start being who and what you really are.

It's important however to realise this doesn't mean "Do whatever you want!" It means something deeper. Doing what you want often means indulging yourself by doing all the things these standards say you shouldn't. Taoism is about moving past them completely and starting a journey of discovery. Indulging yourself in breaking taboos for the sake of it gets you nowhere - it's just the other side of the coin from obeying them. You need to let them go completely.

So! Are you brave enough to abandon everything you "know" and embrace a life where there's no moral compass or arbitrary set of rules to follow? Are you brave enough to discover who you really are? Then maybe it's time to embrace Taoism.


The Rambling Taoist said...

I was beginning to wonder what happened to you! So few posts lately.

Now, I understand. You were simply waiting to post this gem. Bravo! Bravo!

(As a bit of serendipity, my word verification for this comment is "purer". It fits so perfectly with your post.)

Woody said...

You're very kind RT. I'm working on posting only when it feels right rather than my previous efforts trying to write something regularly - so inevitably there's going to be some gaps. That said, I'm working on another one which should go up today or tomorrow :-)



Mark Bintuu said...
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Mark Bintuu said...
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