"Introduction to Taoism" — (from 'SCHOLAR WARRIOR' ) by Deng Ming Dao

Every generation seeks to define itself and to find a new way through life. Among people of each era, some have heard of the Tao and have sought to make it the basis for their path. The flexibility of Tao and the fact that it has served its adherents for centuries makes it an excellent precedent. Taoism provides a complete…

Every generation seeks to define itself and to find a new way through life. Among people of each era, some have heard of the Tao and have sought to make it the basis for their path. The flexibility of Tao and the fact that it has served its adherents for centuries makes it an excellent precedent. Taoism provides a complete way of life that can be tailored to suit any individual. It incorporates an entire spectrum of techniques from the physical to the meditative. The Taoists want a comprehensive way of life that will help them survive, keep them vital and healthy, and provide an understanding of all the unknowns that haunt human existence.

The Taoists believe that it is humanity's refusal to regard itself as part of a greater order that causes confusion, ignorance, and sorrow. They feel that if human beings could balance themselves with this order, they would live a simple life of happiness and understanding. This divine order is regarded in mystical terms: it is so great, so profound, that it cannot be grasped by merely rational means. Declaring it to be the mystery beyond all mysteries, yet the doorway to all existence, the Taoists simply call this fundamental reality by a single name: Tao.

The word for Tao is an image of a person walking on a path. The rectangular part in the center of the word with the V shape on top represents the head of a person. The twisting stroke on the left that then extends across the bottom represents movement. The person is not specifically a man or a woman: no one is excluded from Tao. The implication is that each individual can know Tao directly. There is no need for organized religion, orthodoxy, scripture, or social conformity. There is only the need for direct experience.

But for most of us, such contact with Tao is rare. Modern civilization prevents undistracted involvement with Tao. Our lives are profoundly fractured. Our careers are frequently at odds with our personal desires, our family relationships are sometimes incompatible with our friendships, and our hobbies and avocations—perhaps even our dreams for some better life—are frequently at odds with our daily predicament. More significantly, the way we as modern people think, the way we take care of our bodies, and the philosophy of life we hold often have very little to do with one another. We are a people whose lives are a web of contradictions, compulsive categorization, and unconnected ends. Such a tangle cannot be called a life's path.

We need a way to organize and resolve all the disparate elements of ourselves, and then use our whole beings to know the Tao. For the Taoists, a complete way of life is deeply spiritual. But their definition of spiritual is unique. They define it as rooted in the body and rooted in life itself. The spirit is not separate from any other aspect of living. All aspects of daily existence are valid. They may be fit together into a cohesive approach, organized through the dualities of mental and physical, quiescent and active, refined and coarse. It is all a question of equilibrium. To be a Taoist, one need not engage in fanatical denial of any part of life, nor does one need to leave family and career in order to gain a foothold on the path. One need only balance the various parts of one's personality and provide them with a strong focus.

This integration of all facets of life is the way of the Scholar Warrior. It uses specific practices involving the body, diet, breathing exercises, herbology, philosophical study, and meditation to open the way to Tao. Beginning with simple physical exercises and basic tenets of hygiene, it provides a methodical, thorough approach. Nothing is overlooked. All factors are equally important: what you eat, how you exercise, and how you treat your body are precisely as important as how you think and what you believe. With practice, balance will become second nature. You will live longer and be healthier, and you will develop insight into the deepest meanings of life. You need not give up anything that you do not want to give up, and you need not adopt strange customs or the trappings of religion. You need not be a particular age, race, or gender. All that counts is perception and accomplishment. Being a Scholar Warrior is not separate from being a Taoist. The two are synonymous.

You need go only as far on the path as you are comfortable, and you need accept things only after you understand them and prove them in your own life. It is experience, not book learning or scripture, that is the best teacher. That is why it is said that the path of the Scholar Warrior is one of self-cultivation. Concepts accepted through religion, books, hearsay, or from any other person will always be weak. But skill and wisdom gained through self-cultivation can never be shaken.

There was once a student, named the Realized One, who entered the mountains to study the Tao. He asked his master, the South Goose Beach Taoist, how long he had been living in the mountains. This was the polite way of asking about the master's path and philosophy. The master smiled and replied,

Court gowns of red and purple are not attractive.
Instead, I love white clouds embracing emerald mountaintops.
So I sit in solitude, forgetting the year or month
While in the mundane world below, lifetimes and generations pass.

Upon hearing this, another, more accomplished master, named Danger Evader, commented that though all things changed in the world, he himself changed with it. He was fully aware of all things, though he was aloof from them. His retort was,

Like a raft adrift on the ocean
It does not matter where I float or stop.
Reaching the Tao is a matter of continuous motion.
True nature is born from profound splendor.

BUY: Scholar Warrior: An Introduction to the Tao in Everyday Life by Deng Ming Dao

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