While it might look like Taoists are big on black and white, this yin-yang symbol actually speaks otherwise.
Yes, there are dualities in the universe. Lots of them: male/female, positive/negative, wave/particle, good/bad ... and on and on and on.
But it's those little circles that tell the most meaningful part of the story -- how there's yin within yang, and yang within yin. The farthest reach of black blends with the beginning of white, and vice versa.
If we think in terms of this or that, we're not seeing reality rightly.
The world appears in shades of gray to eyes attuned to how things are, rather than how we imagine or conceive them to be.
I got thinking about this last night when I was writing a post on my other blog, "iPhone shows money can buy happiness." That sounds so materialistic, so non-spiritual, so crude.
Haven't we been told from an early age, "Remember, money can't buy happiness"? But here I am, three days into owning a 3G iPhone, and I'm happier than I was before.
Sure, we can debate the definition of happiness ad infinitum. We can parse words and argue about whether my feeling of iPhonish satisfaction is genuine. We can delve into the writings of great thinkers -- religious, philosophical, moral -- and compare my thoughts with theirs.
But the plain fact remains, as evidenced by my direct inner knowing, that I'm happier now than before I handed over my VISA card to an AT&T employee and bought an iPhone.
Sometimes money buys happiness. Sometimes it doesn't.
Sometimes meditation brings peace of mind. Sometimes it doesn't.
Sometimes religion has something to teach us. Sometimes it doesn't.
Sometimes trust in a guru leads to wisdom. Sometimes it doesn't.
Most questions about what life is all about, whether these be political, scientific, spiritual, or any other variety, are best considered from a sometimes frame of mind.
Even when there's no evidence of any exceptions to the rule, which is the case with solidly proven laws of nature. Science never closes the door to a possibility of a rule being broken.
Whereas, fundamentalist religion and moralism does.
Which is crazy, because here there's no evidence of truthfulness, as there is in science. Yet believers cling to dogma as if it was a life preserver that could be depended upon, instead of realizing that swimming freely in the ocean of Maybe and Sometimes is a better way to stay afloat.
Why? Because reality has a lot more buoyancy than imagination.
I can tell myself, "Brian, money doesn't buy happiness. You've got to crawl into your meditation closet, shut your eyes, and get to work on eliminating that damn ego of yours which keeps on desiring stuff. Then you'll experience the bliss of merging with the cosmos."
Yet when I find myself happier after getting some new techno-toy, I have to trust my direct experience rather than an idea of what would, could, or should be experienced.
Along this line, I feel that each of us knows what kind of person we are. But often we deny that knowing, because it conflicts with a concept we have of ourselves -- which may be an idealized "me" that doesn't bear much resemblance to the real thing.
Last year I agonized over whether I should get a maxi-scooter (a Suzuki Burgman) to commemorate the post-sixty phase of my ongoing "midlife crisis."
I ended up ordering one, then canceling the order. In a way, whether I ever get a high-powered scooter isn't all that important compared to the intuitive knowing that coursed through my psyche when I signed a credit card slip for a $500 deposit.
I'm a scooter/motorcycle person.
This was me, a guy who wanted to ride fast again on two wheels, accepting the danger that this entails, because it's damn fun.
I'm also an iPhone person. I love gadgets, especially high-tech ones that do amazing things. They make my life happier and more fulfilling.
Such doesn't mesh with the Buddha's teachings. Or Jesus'. Or Plato's.
Well, they were themselves, and I'm me. I can learn a lot from other people about some things.
When it comes to me, though, I'm my best teacher. And since spirituality is billed as a path of self-discovery, the guru I've got to bow down to is myself.
Mostly. There's no black and white here, or anywhere.