"What, then, is the Tao, the Way that is its own goal?" (excerpt) THE WISDOM OF THE ZEN MASTERS by Irmgard Schloegl



“Woman Walking on Beach” by Daryl Urig


What, then, is the Tao, the Way that is its own goal? A ‘true man of the Way’ is another way of describing the ‘man who has nothing further to seek’, the ‘independent man of the Way’ who leans on nothing and who has the ‘single eye’ or has come to see clearly.

The classic Taoist text is the
Tao Te Ching, ‘The Way and its Virtue’ also translated as ‘The Way and its Power’. It is a short text, and perhaps no other of comparative length has been translated so often and so variously.

Tao, the Way, has the connotation of a physical path actually to be walked. As theory only, it would not affect a practical mentality. But it is not a processing machine from which, neatly packed, identical products emerge. Bodhidharma, traditionally the founder of the Zen school, is supposed to have said: ‘All know the Way; few actually walk it.’

So the Way exists for the one who actually walks it as best he can, and keeps walking whether the going is smooth or rough. By this exercise the walker gets the use of his legs and develops strength of muscle as well as endurance. His eyes get used to recognizing stumbling blocks, slippery ground, pitfalls, quagmires, and other obstacles. When his strength and surefootedness are well developed, the Way ends—in nowhere. From now on he can be trusted to make his own way. Well used to the Way and to himself, he is sure to find one, making it as he goes along.

The second term in the title
Tao Te Ching refers to the strength that develops from walking the Way. If translated as ‘virtue’ it is in the sense of ‘by virtue of.’ Hence it does not connote a moral value but it is that depth from which morals and moral strength arise.

Tao and Te are complementary. In man, Te is the function of Tao. Both are intimately related and inseparable.

By virtue of walking the Way, the childish ‘I want’, the passions or emotions, are transformed. What in fact happens is that the energy (strength) loses the blind compulsion of a drive and becomes amenable to conscious choice. In this lies the virtue of seeing clearly and of being able to act in accordance with that seeing. This embraces all the truly human qualities, such as responsibility, justice, consideration, warmth of heart, joy, tolerance, compassion, awareness of strength of personality and its power and limits. For nobody has the right to manipulate anybody or to impress anybody with his stronger personality, not even for the other’s imagined good, for nobody can know what that good is. This is courtesy rather than callousness, for the other’s dignity is thus acknowledged, or the dignity of his grief is respected. If and when he is ready, the other will of himself reach out for consolation and feel free to ask for a hand to point out the way.

This is the place where the man of Tao and Te stands, and his way is ‘action by non-action’, refraining from all meddling in or interfering with things small or great. He is acting rightly because he acts with the whole of himself just when action is called for, instead of throwing himself like a spanner into the wheel of things, blindly, for the sake of doing something. A meddler has no rest and is prone to bring destruction in his wake. With whatever good will, to shout and awaken a sleep-walker on top of the roof will not help. It is better to wait quietly till he comes down and awakes. Then a gentle suggestion is in place so that precautions can be taken, the arrangements being left to him. The other is not a baby; he has his dignity and needs it sorely.

Such is the virtue of the man of Tao, by virtue of which he is free and this is his strength. Obviously this is not brute strength of muscle or mind which always imposes. Brute force is the reverse of the strength of restraint, of doing nothing when nothing is required.

While the walker follows the Way, the Way itself is the discipline which produces clear seeing and the strength to act in accordance with it. Then the Way ends; the walker is free of the Way, free of his own I-biased and deluded seeing. He himself has become the Way. So he acts out of his own nature.


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