Nov 28, 2007

Is Taoism, Another Version of Jainism?

by Dr.C Devakumar

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical tradition whose origins extend back to 3000 B.C. The first actual written works to promote the Taoist outlook appeared around 500 B.C. and were attributed to the legendary Taoist sages, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Taoism has attracted a large number of people from America and other western world. Lao Tzu is the author of the Tao Te Ching (sameecheen dharma ke mahatmiya), currently very popular in the United States with an increasing number of new English-language translations. The writings of Chuang Tzu viz. Inner Chapters (Antaranga bhavanayen) and The Way of Chuang Tzu are gaining wider attention. It is therefore worthwhile to analyze this system from the prism of Jainism.

Jainism as we know owes its origin in this planet in this aeon to 24 Tirthankars and innumerable Kevalins. The 24th Tirthankar lived over 2530 years ago. No wonder, Taoism, as most other Oriental religions owes its roots to Jainism, though there is probably no evidence. It is interesting to note that Jaina thoughts have spread nook and corner of the world even before 3000 BC. The Tamil classic Tolkaapiyam, which describes Jaina principles and philosophy, too is stated to belong to an era prior to 3000 BC.

There are three important principles of Taoism which are identical to Jaina thoughts. These are 1) Tao te 2) ying-yang and 3) wu-wei. For the easy understanding of Jains, I have inserted equivalent Sanskrit terms as and when required. For example Tao te is translated as samyag darshan or sameecheen Dharma. Likewise, I have included the equivalent Sanskrit terms here and there. Taoism deals with the nature of substance and the universe, the way to attain karma nirjara (through wu-wei) and samata bhavana. The concept wu-wei essentially means to do away with the empirical ego clothed with passions, illusion and ignorance. We assume all sorts of doership and ownership roles of respective events and substances which do not belong to us. It also eloquently discusses the dravyartik and paryayartik nayas or viewpoints through ying-yang concept. This concept also reminds us the vidhi (asti) and nished (nasti) tools of analysis of our knowledge.

The text given below is adapted from the articles of Ted Kardash who is the Assistant Director of the Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego where he teaches classes in Tai Chi Chuan and Taoist Philosophy. He is also a licensed Marriage, Family, and Child Counselor with a private practice in the San Diego area.

I invite detailed comparative analysis of each concept with respect to both the schools.
The word TAO itself translates as the Way, or Path or marg or darshan. This meaning includes both the way in which we perceive the world around us (how do we make assessments? what are our values?) and also the way in which we interact with life (how do we behave? what are our actions?). The manner in which we perceive reality influences our way of being in the world, our path of action.

Taoism's central principle is that all life, all manifestation, is part of an inseparable whole, an interconnected organic unity which arises from a deep, mysterious, and essentially unexplainable source which is the Tao itself. Everything conceivable is contained within this principle.

Taoism views the universe and all of its manifestations as operating according to a set of unchanging, natural laws. As an inseparable part of the Tao, human beings can gain knowledge of these laws and become attuned to them. It is these natural laws that constitute the core principles of Taoism. Aligning ourselves with these principles provides a universal perspective and understanding and allows life to be lived in harmony with the Tao. Indeed our way of life becomes the Way (or can we say Dharma), a full expression of the Tao.

Taoism states that all life forces tend to move toward harmony and balance because it is in their nature to do so. From the Taoist viewpoint we, as humans, have the choice of consciously aligning ourselves with the Way, or remaining in ignorance and resisting the natural order of the Tao. To choose the latter means to remain disconnected from our own personal processes, our own Tao, as well as life's grand flow. Taoist teachings direct us toward our own process of self-exploration, growth, and transformation which connects us deeply to ourselves and to the world around us.

Te (samyak)- The Principle of Inner Nature A central concept in Taoist thought is that of te, or samyak. This word appears in the title of the famous work by the legendary sage, Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching - The Power of the Way or Samyag Darshan or sameechin Dharma. Te refers to the fact that all things contain an inherent power or strength that comes from their own essential being or true inner nature. This power derives from the fact that our true self is an expression of the Tao, because it is intrinsically connected with the power of the Universe. However, the idea of te is that of power exercised without the use of force and without inappropriate interference in the existing order of things. Our conventional Western outlook is based on the assumption that humans are all separate entities, existing apart from each other and from the surrounding environment. Te, on the other hand, implies a trust and belief in one’s own inner nature and in the interconnectedness of all life.

Lao Tzu writes that "All things arise from Tao (Dharma). They are nourished by Virtue [their own inner nature]. Virtue is goodness [and] is faithfulness."

As a first step, we are asked to believe in ourselves, in our own inherent goodness, in the process that is Tao. "The great Tao flows everywhere. It nourishes the ten thousand things. It holds nothing back," Lao Tzu states, encouraging us not to give in to our doubts and fears.
As a means of developing this trust and belief in the Tao and expressing our inner nature, Lao Tzu counsels us to move beyond conventional values, those social mores and norms which tend to strengthen our view of ourselves as separate egos or selves and which are rooted in doubt and fear. These values only serve to lock us in our sense of separation and rob us of the power of our true being.

The sage tells us: Accept disgrace willingly. Accept being unimportant. Do not be concerned with loss or gain. Love the world as you love your own self. Then you can truly care for all things.
To help manifest our te, Lao Tzu gives us his "three treasures" which assist us in developing our perception of the unity of life and in cultivating a way of being that is harmonious with the Tao. The first treasure is compassion (daya), the second is frugality or balance (samata), and the third is humility (Vinaya), "daring not to be ahead of others."

In this way our te emerges. More and more we find our actions truly expressing our inner nature. More and more they are in harmony with the Tao. As our te manifests we experience ourselves as an integral part of our environment, moving effortlessly and naturally along life’s path.

Yin-Yang (Vidhi and Nished or asti and nasti) - The Principle of Harmony and Change (Dravya and Paryay) Taoism’s central organizing principle is the interconnectedness of all life with its flow of continuous change. Nowhere is this idea expressed in such a unique and exquisite manner as in the concept of yin-yang, which describes the underlying unity of life through the interplay of opposites.

Taoist writings state that all things and all processes contain two primal energies or forces. These two basic aspects of manifestation often are described as masculine and feminine, light and dark, negative and positive, creative and receptive. The original meaning of the term signified the light and dark sides of a mountain. Our common English-language expression, "there are two sides to everything," expresses this concept quite succinctly.

From a Taoist point of view, however, these two polar opposites are not seen as distinctly separate or in conflict, but rather as interdependent and complementary. In actuality, one creates the other. "Is there a difference between yes and no?", Lao Tzu, one of Taoism’s immortal sages, asks. "Is there a difference between good and evil?" His reply is that "Under heaven all can see beauty only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil."

Chuang Tzu, another legendary Taoist sage, states with delightful wit and humor: "Everything can be a ‘that’; everything can be a ‘this.’ Therefore, ‘that’ comes from ‘this’ and ‘this’ comes from ‘that’ - which means ‘that’ and ‘this’ give birth to one another. When there is no more separation between ‘that’ and ‘this’, it is called being one with the Tao."

These two sages are telling us is that the seeming opposites of life - the "yes" and "no," the "good" and "bad," are merely expressions of a deeper underlying unity, the connectedness that characterizes life in all its forms and processes. They advise us to not get caught in these apparent contradictions, rigidly choosing one side against the other. We are urged, rather, to perceive them in their relatedness, to experience how one grows out of the other. In so doing we can partake in the reconciling of opposites, "in blunting the sharpness and untangling the knot," as Lao Tzu states. Nature’s tendency is to constantly move to a state of harmony and balance.
The idea of change leading to harmonious balance underlines another aspect of yin-yang. These two polar forces are not static or rigidly locked in battle with one another. "That which shrinks must first expand. That which fails must first be strong. That which is cast down must first be raised." Lao Tzu is telling us that life is a process. There is constant change, one thing flowing into another, one thing becoming another. Furthermore, within this constant change is a recognizable cyclical pattern, like the alternating of day and night or the turning of the seasons. For all things there is a natural expansion and contraction, on both the most minute and grandest levels. It is the breathing pattern of life itself.

Our thinking has been dominated by a dualistic, either-or approach: either something is good, or it is bad; desirable or undesirable; someone is an ally or an enemy. We perceive experiences to be either positive or negative and we expend much energy in trying to eradicate what we consider to be negative. From a Taoist point of view, this is like trying to erase the negative current from electricity because it is not "positive."

Because we perceive ourselves as separate from others, we often find ourselves in opposition to them, locked into "this" and "that," merely because of skin color, language, or beliefs. Taking these "differences" for the way things "really are" leads to breakdowns in relating, arguing, fighting, and even killing. All because of "this" and "that." We do the same with ourselves. We dislike or disown parts of ourselves and struggle to change, not trusting that our own inner nature, as an expression of the Tao, will of its own accord move towards a harmonious balance.
"Everything can be a ‘that’; everything can be a ‘this’," Chuang Tzu writes. "Thus the sage does not bother with these distinctions, but beholds the light beyond right and wrong."

As strange as such thinking may seem to us, we can recognize that every good negotiator and mediator certainly looks beyond "right" and "wrong" in order to reconcile opposites, to "soften the glare and untangle the knot." By being yielding and receptive, by remaining in relationship with others as well as with ourselves, we learn to flow with life’s myriad of changes. Indeed, we become an agent of change ourselves, rather than resisting it while desperately clinging to one pole, one experience or perception, or the other.

"What goes up must come down," and "Every cloud has a silver lining." Our own language echoes the wisdom found within the concept of yin-yang. Bad luck becomes good luck and crisis contains the opportunity for growth. We can choose to cooperate with this complimentary set of opposites by not denying, suppressing, or struggling against unwanted discomfort or pain, but rather by accepting all facets of our existence, "good" and "bad," as the natural flow of the Tao.By following the path of acceptance and responsiveness to change we can become, in the words of Chuang Tzu, true women and men of Tao.

The true person of Tao "is not always looking for right and wrong, always deciding ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
The true person has no mind to fight Tao and does not try by her own contriving to help Tao along. Mind free, thoughts gone, brow clear, face serene. All that comes out of him comes quiet, like the four seasons."

The Wu-Wei Principle (Knower but not Doer or akatrutva bhavana)
This unceasing flow of change manifests itself as a natural order governed by unalterable, yet perceivable laws. Paradoxically, it is the constancy of these governing principles (like the rising and setting of the sun and moon and the changing of the seasons) that allows people to recognize and utilize them in their own process of transformation. Gaining an awareness of life's essential unity and learning to cooperate with its natural flow and order enables people to attain a state of being that is both fully free and independent and at the same time fully connected to the life flow of the Universe - being at one with the Tao. From the Taoist viewpoint this represents the ultimate stage of human existence.

The writings of the legendary Taoist sages, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, furnish us with specific principles as a guide to attaining this state of oneness. Through understanding these principles and applying them to daily living we may consciously become a part of life's flow.
A key principle in realizing our oneness with the Tao is that of wu-wei, or "non-doing." Wu-wei refers to behavior that arises from a sense of oneself as connected to others and to one's environment. It is not motivated by a sense of separateness. It is action that is spontaneous and effortless. At the same time it is not to be considered inertia, laziness, or mere passivity. Rather, it is the experience of going with the grain or swimming with the current. Our contemporary expression, "going with the flow," is a direct expression of this fundamental Taoist principle, which in its most basic form refers to behavior occurring in response to the flow of the Tao.
The principle of wu-wei contains certain implications. Foremost among these is the need to consciously experience ourselves as part of the unity of life that is the Tao. Lao Tzu writes that we must be quiet and watchful, learning to listen to both our own inner voices and to the voices of our environment in a non-interfering, receptive manner. In this way we also learn to rely on more than just our intellect and logical mind to gather and assess information. We develop and trust our intuition as our direct connection to the Tao. We heed the intelligence of our whole body, not only our brain. And we learn through our own experience. All of this allows us to respond readily to the needs of the environment, which of course includes ourselves. And just as the Tao functions in a manner to promote harmony and balance, our own actions, performed in the spirit of wu-wei, produce the same result.

Wu-wei also implies action that is spontaneous, natural, and effortless. As with the Tao, this behavior simply flows through us because it is the right action (Samyag Charitra), appropriate to its time and place, and serving the purpose of greater harmony and balance (samata bhavana). Chuang Tzu refers to this type of being in the world as flowing, or more poetically (and provocatively), as "purposeless wandering! (nirvikalpa samadhi)" How opposite this concept is to some of our most cherished cultural values. To have no purpose is unthinkable and even frightening, certainly anti-social and perhaps pathological in the context of modern day living. And yet it would be difficult to maintain that our current values have promoted harmony and balance, either environmentally or on an individual level. Yet, "the Tao nourishes everything," Lao Tzu writes. If we can learn to follow the Tao, practicing non-action," then nothing remains undone. This means trusting our own bodies, our thoughts and emotions, and also believing that the environment will provide support and guidance. Thus the need to develop watchfulness (samiti) and quietness of mind (samata).
In cultivating wu-wei, timing becomes an important aspect of our behavior. We learn to perceive processes in their earliest stages and thus are able to take timely action. "Deal with the small before it becomes large," is a well-known dictum from Lao Tzu.
And finally, in the words of Chuang Tzu, we learn "detachment, forgetfulness of results, and abandonment of all hope of profit." By allowing the Tao to work through us, we render our actions truly spontaneous, natural, and effortless. We thus flow with all experiences and feelings as they come and go. We know intuitively that actions which are not ego-motivated, but in response to the needs of the environment, lead toward harmonious balance and give ultimate meaning and "purpose" to our lives. Such actions are attuned to the deepest flow of life itself.
To allow wu-wei to manifest in our lives may seem like a daunting task. And yet, if we pause to reflect on our past experiences, we will recall possibly many instances when our actions were spontaneous and natural, when they arose out of the needs of the moment without thought of profit or tangible result. "The work is done and then forgotten. And so it lasts forever," writes Lao Tzu.

By listening carefully within, as well as to our surroundings, by remembering that we are part of an interconnected whole, by remaining still until action is called forth, we can perform valuable, necessary, and long-lasting service in the world while cultivating our ability to be at one with the Tao. Such is the power of wu-wei, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Tao.

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