Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are the three major philosophical-religious traditions of China. While Taoism and Confucianism are native to China, Buddhism was an import from India. At the core of Chinese philosophy is self-realization through personal transformation. This personal perfection is possible through the cultivation of the inner life in harmony with the outer world. Confucianism underscores this makeover through the social and political life whereas Taoism emphasizes the development of the inner world in harmony with nature. While combining Confucianism and Taoism, the Chinese culture expresses this wisdom as "sageliness within and kingliness without." "Sageliness within" is the spiritual perfection developed in tune with natural processes whereas "kingliness without" is the expression of these inner spiritual laws in living of a life of peace and harmony in the outside world.
Taoism considers our life on this earth to be a wonderful gift given to us by the original creative force called the Tao. Each one of us is born with a mark of the Tao called the Te. This Te is our nature or the natural ability. It is unique and singular and yet it is the force that connects us to other forms of life and the universe. To use the scientific terminology of the "big bang," theory of the creation of the universe, we are fashioned by the same source that created the entire universe of galaxies, solar systems, and planets including our earth. This "stardust" that is the life force within us is the Te of the Taoists.
Human life is an extraordinary opportunity accorded to us to express this inner force in harmony with the natural processes. Whether you are a child, man or woman, student or teacher, musician or tennis player, or whatever may be your occupation, the more you express your natural ability in conducting your daily life, the more content, happy and fulfilled you will be. Your family, society and its institutions might not be functioning in tune with nature. When you grow up within a cultural milieu that goes against the natural flow of events, the result will be your forgetfulness of your inner nature.
You will spend your entire life being trapped in pursuing goals that others have picked for you without regard to your inner nature (Te). This may lead to the ultimate disaster where one day you might "wake up to find that you are dead." This rude awakening will be a warning that you have not been in touch with your natural ability and thus have been unhappy and stressed out. But before this happens, you should wake up and get in touch with your inner force.
Taoists suggest that the nature of the Tao is peace, contentment and serenity. Continuous absorption in it leads to happiness and fulfillment. There are two ways to grasp this sageliness within or inner harmony. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, suggests that this inner harmony can be learned through the contemplation of nature. Nature is the most exciting book of wisdom. It is always open to any one who approaches it. Every part of it is sending messages of wisdom. Anywhere you look, see, smell, hear, taste or touch, there is a pearl of wisdom waiting to be picked and enjoyed. The flight of the birds, the running water in the brook, the dewdrop, the majestic hills, the wandering cloud, the brilliant rainbow, the clear blue sky, the ever giving earth and the sun are there to offer profound wisdom. Our life should be modeled after that of a child who sees the universe with innocent eyes where everything is new and exciting, intriguing and pleasing. By observing harmony in nature, we might be able to internalize it within to attain serenity.
Another Taoist, Chuang Tzu believes that one can experience this harmony by taking the inward journey of contemplation by going beyond sensations, feelings, emotions, ideas and ego. This accord that resides in our inner being can also be experienced through idleness. Here one becomes forgetful of the external world by letting the Tao to reveal itself through one's inner being. Idleness should not be confused with laziness. Unlike laziness where a person is dull and unaware, in idleness, an individual is fully alert to the reality within and without.
Since the goal is to be happy, content and fulfilled, such a life could be achieved through the contemplation of nature and the practice of idleness on a regular basis. The Taoists suggest the following life style to achieve it: live a simple life; prefer obscurity; regard all values as human creations and thus relative; eliminate the fear of death; abandon the need to win; develop cosmic humility, and center your being on the Tao rather than on yourself.
At the societal scale, these ideas have resonance as well. What, for example, happens to a society when it "goes against the natural flow of events," such that it own destroys its ecological bases? What is the fate of societies that get "trapped in pursuing goals that others have picked...without regard to their inner nature" -- when a society loses its sovereignty or has its economy controlled from without? What does it do to the individual citizen living in such a society? Does it twist one's entire subjective and intersubjective life?
Your thoughts on these questions are most welcome!
By Ashok Kumar Malhotra