What is the Tao? I’m not ready to take on the largest concept known to mankind just now, so I’ll move straight on to discussing some important concepts for the traditional, and modern, follower of Tao.
The Three Jewels
Simplicity, Patience and Compassion.
While we might be tempted to say that Yin and Yang are at the core of Tao, I believe it is the personal development and embodiment of the Three Jewels that helps one manifest one’s Te and flow without rancour among the eddies and rapids of life.
A great man once said “Simplify, simplify!” – but why say it twice?
If we look for the simple way in everything we do, if we seek the simple path in our every thought, then we can live a simple life. It is not hard to add complexity to a problem, to a new computer, to a new car – but it takes ingenuity, genius even, to simplify such things. Seek the easy way, seek the simple way, seek the lazy way!
I wear black socks with coloured tops, I don’t care if they’re paired or not;
I don’t ‘make the bed’ each morning, I throw down the duvet and let it all air;
I eat with a fork.
Without irony, I say that patience takes time to learn; how else could it be? You can be exuberant and youthful and still be patient. It’s not about ‘waiting’ or being idle, it’s about understanding the way things work, and the value of time. It’s not about being patient with fools (although it can be) it’s about being patient with yourself and the unique world you live in.
Patience dovetails with compassion. One becomes more compassionate when one values time and understands how people work. You can always trust people; you can always trust people to be themselves and behave as people do. So be compassionate; empathise with others, and forgive yourself.
There are various Eastern concepts that complement the Three Jewels, none more so than one’s Te. I have come to understand Wu wei somewhat, and I admire Pu and even Uselessness; I truly believe in the Cyclic nature of growth and reduction and I’m learning about the inherent judgement within the names we give things. But I have a long way to go with all of these concepts, and much to learn and experience.
Virtue, personal power. Difficult to translate, but when one is acting according to one’s Te, one is closer to harmony with one’s Tao. Te is developed, it is not simply about ‘acting as one wishes’ or as one is driven to act by base desires or the ego’s will.
Yin and Yang
If the Tao is everything, then the Yin and the Yang is the first separation from the Tao; humans can be very dualistic – if we see something beautiful, we see the ugliness around it. If we act aggressively, we create a passive receiver of our action.
Wu wei (Non-Action)
Knowing the Right Time for the Right Action, and knowing when to be patient. Wu wei isn’t about inaction, it’s about acting without acting; the way one lives one’s life can have a profound impact on one’s loved ones and community, without the need for drama or showing off. The small action, at the right time with the right attitude can change the course of history.
Pu (Uncarved Block)
The natural rock, the beauty in a slightly wild garden, the potential of an innocent child; these things hold great power and the ability to be all things. When clay is formed into a cup, it is only a cup, a vessel; but clay itself could be anything, everything, and so it has great Pu.
Tzu-jan (Personal Spontaneity)
The Tao does not respect rules and restrictions, it is as likely to manifest as a bureaucratic bank as it is a laughing child! One does not consult books, friends, lovers for every detail of one’s life, the only way to have a life of your own is to live it! Tzu-jan should not be meditated upon at length in some aesthetic dull room, it should be lived and experienced, allowed to flower whenever and where-ever it must burst.
Wu xin (No mind)
Not reserved only for meditation, Wu xin is the art of being ‘in the moment’; it is the immortal state of no-time and no-where, only now, only here. When one is fully present in one’s actions and aligned whole heartedly without egotistical desire for results, one may experience the peace and certainty of Wu xin.
Sometimes known as Ki. The energy of our thoughts, bodies and actions.
A cup cannot hold our orange juice if it is filled with tea, a bowl cannot contain fruit if it is un-carved and has no hollow; a computer cannot run if it has no hard drive space. The centre of a whirling wheel is stationary. It is what is not present that makes what is present so useful to us; it is what we don’t see that allows us to see the object (consider Gestalt theory). If my day is full, I cannot call my friend. If my wallet is full, I cannot receive money. We must see the negative-space in order to understand our perceptions.
Life is not utilitarian. We do not judge our Grandparents on the duties they perform, or the achievements they made before we were born. We do not love dogs because they fetch sticks and hunt game. When burglars ransack one’s home, they take the television, the DVD player, the laptop and computer; they take what is useful. One may cry out at their invasion, but one’s photographs remain on the walls and in their albums, one’s love letters remain in their shoebox, and one’s treasures are safe, hidden in plain sight.
Cycles (cyclical time, and ‘everything that is great will become small’)
That which is great will be made small, that which has happened will come again. No empire has ever lasted; the Romans conquered the world, the British Empire opened up the modern world, and America deigns to bring peace around the globe. All things grow and fade. Those companies that we believe have been with us all our lives (IBM, Microsoft, Ford, Tesco, Hovis) are simply at different stages of the cycle; some grow still, adapting and diversifying, creating a very different company to the original. Others are categorically not the same company, and are merely a facade for some other entity.
Non-judgment and the relativity of human naming and judging.
“She’ so pretty” means that someone else is ugly.
“I got an A in my exam” means someone else got an F.
“That’s a weed” is clearly a human judgement, as there’s no such thing as a weed.