Crane Pair Stretched Canvas PrintOne evening my dad was watching television, and I sat down on the couch to join him. The channel was set to PBS, and there was an old, bald man walking around barefoot and giving a lecture about “improving your life.” [5]

“He walks barefoot so he can feel the different textures on the stage,” my dad told me excitedly. The camera zoomed out and sure enough, I saw a beautiful stage set-up. There were floor sections with different stone patterns (in the middle, forming a large Yin-Yang) and a wooden section; there was even a garden and pond, complete with water lilies. It was a beautiful set-up, and the man’s bare feet definitely got my attention.

The name of the man giving the lecture is Dr. Wayne Dyer. He is a spiritual teacher and his presentation was on Taoism. The PBS special we were watching that night is called “Change Your Thoughts–Change Your Life” and indeed, my thoughts on the this man’s teaching of Taoism would change my life; for watching this show with my father that night sparked my interest in Taoism and its principles.

In order to learn about an aspect of culture or philosophy, a very effective method is comparing it to something similar. In this case, the two philosophies that are commonly associated with Taoism are Confucianism and Buddhism. All three philosophies have similar values, and concepts like “Zen,” “Te/Virtue,” and “Enlightenment” are shared between them. [7] [1] But they are all slightly fundamentally different.

Whenever I tell someone about Taoism, I love to start with an old image called “The Vinegar Tasters.” [4] [8] [3] In the picture are representatives of three major philosophies in Ancient China: Khung Fu-tsu or “Confucius,” the embodiment of Confucian thought; Buddha, the representative of Buddhism; and Lao-tsu, the personification of Taoism. The vinegar here represents life, and the three men have dipped their fingers in the pot, and tasted the vinegar.

While there are valuable lessons to be learned from all of these philosophies, Taoism is the main focus of this picture (and this article).

Confucius has a bitter look on his face. To him, life is bitter and needs to be fixed. Confucius believed that in order to achieve happiness in life, you have to exert influence on your surroundings and mold and control everything around you as you see fit.

Buddha has a sour look on his face. To him, life is full of pain and suffering, and the only way to achieve happiness and fulfillment in life is to escape it. The goal of Buddhism is to be separate from all that is unclean, and ultimately reach Nirvana, which is to escape the world; to leave.

On the right, Lao-tsu, the Taoist representative, is smiling! To the outsider, he may appear clueless or stupid! Maybe he’s ignorant of the unpleasant vinegar taste, or maybe something is wrong with him. Maybe he has damaged taste buds, or isn’t quite right in the head. But to Lao-tsu, life isn’t something to force into submission, to control. Neither is it something to be feared or hated. Instead, life is something to be thoroughly enjoyed and experienced!

To the Confucian, only through sacrifice and discipline will you achieve fulfillment in life. Hard work and perseverance are admirable traits, but the Taoist believes that the harder you squeeze water in between your hands, the faster it’s going to shoot out in all directions. Meaning, the farther something is dragged from its Natural State, the less Useful it becomes. During my brief studies of Confucianism, I read through long lists of rules that followers of the Confucian way must apply to their lives. Contrary to this, the Taoist prefers a more simple life free from man-made rules and regulations. Also opposing Confucianism’s strict male-dominated society, Taoism is gender-neutral. I have heard many stories of female teachers and influential priestesses. [9] And Taoist men and women are encouraged to be more alike and value each other’s qualities instead of separating people based on their gender.

To the Buddhist, only through separation and refrain from evil will you reach the world of Nirvana: the ultimate goal for the Buddhist. But to the Taoist, battles are not won by running away. And instead of seeing the world as filled with pain and suffering, the Taoist recognizes the beauty of the world around him or her, and appreciates every aspect of life, no matter how unpleasant it is at the moment. In other words, life sucks sometimes, but there’s always something to be learned and appreciated.

*The Definition of Taoism
“Taoism [is] the way of man’s cooperation with the course or trend of the natural world.” [7] (www.taopage.org)

Taoism is essentially a philosophy that originated in ancient China. The Tao Te Ching is widely accepted as the first official Taoist text. It was written over 2,000 years ago, and has many different authors. Lao-tsu is the man most credited with the teaching and traditionally described as the author and Founder of Taoism [1]; however, in Chinese, Lao-tsu just means “Old Man.” But since there is no record of him, he’s now thought to be just a legendary figure, and the personification of the Tao. The Tao Te Ching is believed to be a compilation of many wise sayings, much like the book of Proverbs in the Bible.

There is no direct translation of “Tao” into English, but it is most commonly referred to as “Way,” (and the “Tao Te Ching” as “The Way of Life,” “The Way and its Power,” or even “The Book of Virtue.”) But it means different things to different people. For the religious Taoist, it is God. It is like “The Force” in Star Wars. “The Tao is the ultimate creative principle of the universe. All things are unified and connected in the Tao.” [1] it is a concept, rather than a specific entity. Taoism is easily adapted to suit am individual’s life. Although it is not a religion, many people incorporate their religious beliefs into the practice of Taoism. “It disapproves of killing, stealing, lying and promiscuity, and promotes altruistic, helpful, and kindly behaviour.” [1] Taoism isn’t about doing good things, but it’s about becoming a good person for the good of yourself and the world. Do good to yourself, in turn you sill do good to those around you and in turn, they will do good to those around them, etc.

Chuang-tsu was a Taoist satirical writer who lived around the 4th century B.C. He was a well-educated man, and widely respected. Kings and princes offered him positions in their courts and palaces, but he turned them all down. Preferring to live a simple life, free from the petty rules and laws of the nobles, he swore never to take office [7] Chuang-tsu believed that Taoist principles and values should be experienced, not taught. So instead of lecturing, he spent his days writing poems and stories illustrating Taoist principles through examples. A well-known quote from his book (self titled) is: “The Way is to man as rivers and lakes are to fish, the natural condition of life.”

Following Chuang-tsu’s example of not lecturing, I will avoid concrete definitions of the Tao. “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao” –Tao Te Ching (translation by www.taoism.net)[6] Instead, I will attempt to illustrate Taoism at its finest. The simplest way to achieve this is by consulting one of the foremost, modern authorities on living the Tao: Winnie the Pooh. [3]

*The Practice of Taoism
Taoism is largely about finding the beauty in simplicity. And who better to illustrate simplicity than Winnie the Pooh?

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” asked Piglet, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully and said, “It’s the same thing.”–The Tao of Pooh

If you like Winnie the Pooh, or just want some light reading that will satisfy your curiosity of Taoism, the book I highly recommend is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. It is Taoism explained and described through the world of Winnie the Pooh. This book is small, so it’s not like you’re going to need to dedicate your life to reading and studying it. It’s very simple and easy to understand; Pooh is such an endearing character, and the book is humorous and witty, very easy and fun to read. The Tao of Pooh is a great book for explaining the concept of Taoism and demonstrating the “simple pleasures of life” through the adventures of a lovable fictional character. In the book, you will find such quotes as: “There’s nothing wrong with not being able to whistle, especially if you’re a fish.” and: “The way of self-reliance starts with recognizing who we are, what we’ve got to work with, and what works best for us.”

“While Eeyore frets… and Piglet hesitates…and Rabbit calculates…and Owl pontificates… Pooh just is. And that’s a clue to the secret wisdom of the Taoists.” –The Tao of Pooh

*Teachings of Taoism
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”–The Tao of Pooh

To me, this part of the poem sung by Winnie the Pooh means that things should be appreciated for what they are. So often we try to control and manipulate things for our benefit. But this passage, “A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly” points out how silly it is to expect something to be what it’s not. The Tao of Pooh explains this flawed thinking as, “trying to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.” The book then tells a tale from Chuang-tsu: a man came to him complaining that there’s a think, knobby, strange-looking tree that no one can chop down and make into lumber; therefore, it’s worthless. Chuang-tsu offers that just because the tree doesn’t serve a specific purposed placed upon it by an outsider, doesn’t mean that it’s not serving its true purpose. He points out the many ways to appreciate the tree, such as using it for shade or admiring its unique character and strength. Taoism is about finding the beauty in simplicity, appreciating things as they are instead of trying to make them into something they aren’t.

Here is a list of teachings credited to Lao-tsu, from www.taoism.net. Direct quotations are from Derek Lin, interpreter and teacher of Taoism.

*Non-contention: Lao-tsu taught that violence and conflict only caused negative side effects. Taoists believe in solving problems through peaceful means.

*Non-action: When someone is in harmony with nature, and truly following the Tao, he or she does not need to over exert him or herself in order to accomplish what needs to be done. Basically, the will of the Tao is accomplished without human interference. The foolish are always trying too hard to get what they want, but the wise seem to just sit back and let things happen as they are supposed to happen.

*Non-intention: Doing an honorable deed simply for the praise and congratulations does not make one honorable. Rather, when one is an honorable person at heart, these deeds come naturally. “True virtue is a state where such actions flow forth naturally, requiring no conscious effort or thought.”

*Simplicity: Humans have a tendency to over-complicate things, when in fact our existence is really quite simple. If we strive for harmony with nature, we will experience our full potential. “If we learn to simplify our lives, we can experience a profound satisfaction that is infinitely more meaningful than the rewards of the material world.”

*Wisdom: Knowledge, reasoning, and logic are important, but they pale in comparison to understanding, intuition, and experience. “[wisdom] is the ke to insights as opposed to knowledge, and the difference between living the Tao and reading all about it.”

*Humility: “The more you learn, the more you realize there’s still so much more to learn. This tends to make you humble. Arrogance and egotism come from ignorance – knowing a little bit and assuming you know a lot.” Humility and wisdom go hand-in-hand. Only the foolish think themselves important.

*Duality: Every concept in the world is relative. There cannot be good without evil. Something cannot be big if it is not compared to something small. “One cannot do without the other.”

During the last few years, I have studied Taoism off and on. I do not follow the teachings fervently, but I try to apply some of the virtues to myself in order to try to become a better person. In my years of studying and researching this subject, I find it just as difficult to explain as when I first saw that old, bald, barefoot man on the television. I understand the Tao, as it lives within every human, but I find it nearly impossible to explain it in words. Rather, I think it’s best to look at those who live their lives as examples. I think that if one is in touch with their inner conscience, and acts according to what they know is right, they are living the Tao.

As I mentioned earlier, I have found Dr. Wayne Dyer’s teachings to be truly inspiring. Through his book, Change Your Thoughts–Change Your Life he interprets the Tao Te Ching and explains how to apply its wisdom to your life. According to Dr. Dyer, “the Tao teaches us to think in a way that is in harmony with nature,” in other words, Great Wisdom can be found in the seemingly simplest of things, in just observing nature at its most practical. To change your thoughts, the Tao Te Ching says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Dr. Dyer says, “that single step is to think small; to think what you can do in this moment.”

As much as I agree with many Taoist principles, there are a few I do not fully agree with. But that’s the beauty of this philosophy: you just apply its principles to your life as they make sense to you.

“Harmony is only in following the Way.” –Tao Te Ching

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed this subject.

Sincerely,

Nykki Golumbeski

With thanks to toyotachaser

*****Questions, comments, criticism and advice are all welcomed and appreciated!!!
Crane Pair Stretched Canvas Print

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*****CITATIONS*****

I don’t believe in plagiarism, so I will give credit where credit is due. I know it’s not standard MLA or APA format. XD But I’ve sort of made up my own way of arranging citations. Much of this article is a compilation of others’ works and ideas, here is where I’ve gotten my information, and from whom I’ve paraphrased:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/taoism/beliefs/tao/shtml. 2009-11-12 Web

[2] Dr. Wayne Dyer (hayhouse.com) HayHousePresents (youtube.com)

[3] Hoff, Benjamin. Author. The Tao of Pooh Copyright 1982. Print

[4] Lin, Derek. www.taoism.net 20 April 2012. Web

[5] PBS Channel Special. (unknown air date) Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

[6] Tao Te Ching. www.chinapage.com 22 April 2012. Web

[7] Tao Te Ching. www.taopage.org (translations of the Tao Te Ching, and definitions of Taoism) 12 April 2012. Web

[8] The Vinegar Tasters. http://druidjournal.net/2009/06/09/the-four-vinegar-tasters-confucianism-buddhism-taoism-and-christianity/

[9] Women becoming Taoist priestesses. http://www.patheos.com/Library/Taoism/Ethics-Morality-Community/Gender-and-Sexuality.html

*****These next sources I did not cite directly, but rather they were a source of research and are what my opinions are based on:

*Dr. Wayne Dyer: www.hayhouse.com, and HayHousePresents (www.youtube.com)

*Confucianism: http://confucianism.freehostingguru.com/ and http://plato.standford.edu/entries/taoism/#Primer

*Buddhism: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm and http://www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism/htm