Over on my other blog, HinesSight, Joshua left a Taoism related comment on a DSL-themed post. Go figure, especially since some of the sentiments I expressed in the post were just a tad on the egocentric side.
Many of my neighbors are deeply grateful that I've brought the potential of DSL to some 240 homes in our area. Quite a few are trying to run businesses out of their homes. That's tough to do with a dial-up connection, and satellite is expensive.
I've been thinking that a bronze statue of me, commemorating my DSL triumph, would be a nice addition to one of our local streets. Which could be renamed after me also.
Regardless, in his comment Joshua asked for a wee bit of guidance about following the Way of Tao.
When I was younger I was incarcerated. The crimes although petty and debateable are of no matter here. But, one day I came across a pocket sized version of the Tao Te Ching. Even at my fairly young age I was intrigued. I loved how overwhelming the message was.
Ever since, although inconsistently, I have pursued these teachings. I carry the Tao te Ching with me practically every where I go. I have also started reading the Basic Writings of Chuang Tzu and have tried unsuccesfully many times to utilize that oracle of fortune we call the Book of Change(I ching).
I really feel as though I will never turn back and totally abandon the Way but I have a lot to "unlearn". Maybe you could refer me to some sources or give me a wee bit of guidance, because it feels as though I'm lost.
Figured that I might as well reply to Joshua in a Church of the Churchless blog post.
And a "wee bit" of guidance it will be, since I'm a lot better at coaxing Qwest to install DSL in our neighborhood than cajoling Taoist wisdom to reveal itself in my consciousness.
But for what it's worth, Joshua, here's a story and a suggestion.
My wife left for a trip to Florida today. Last night Laurel was having a tender moment with someone she's going to miss terribly. Our dog. (Not that she won't miss me also, but I'm not nearly as cute as Serena).
Serena and Laurel were having a cuddle-fest on the living room floor in front of some bookcases. I joined them. In the course of scratching a furry ear (not Laurel's, I hasten to add), something drew me to look at a bottom shelf that held a row of books on tape belonging to Laurel.
One item looked like it didn't belong. Which, it didn't. Because it was a real book. And not a book of Laurel's, but one of mine.
A book that I'd been trying to find for quite a while. A book that I'd remembered enjoying a lot, yet couldn't put my hands on, because it was somewhere I'd never thought of looking.
In short, a book that I'd lost. Much as you feel that you've lost the Way, Joshua. Except a book isn't the Way, one of the basic precepts of Taoism.
Nothing is. The Way is just the Way. And that happens to be a central theme of the book that I found last night, "Buddhism Without Beliefs" by Stephen Bachelor.
It's a terrific book, one of my all-time spiritual favorites. I suggest you read it, Joshua, if you haven't already. Heck, even if you have, read it again.
That's what I did this morning. Skimmed it at least, focusing on the passages that I'd highlighted in the slim book's 115 pages.
Bachelor says that Buddhism isn't a belief, but action. It's being fully alive and aware, right here, right now. His chapter on awareness starts with a quote.
And further, a monk knows when he is going, "I am going." He knows when he is standing, "I am standing." He knows when he is sitting. "I am sitting." He knows when he is lying down. "I am lying down."
-- The Buddha
The Buddha and Bachelor know a lot more about the Way than I do, Joshua. But what little I know, or rather, suspect, is in line with that starkly simple premise: the path is here and now, not there and then.
This is disconcerting, because we're used to orienting ourselves by structuring the real present within an imaginary past and future.
That locks us into a conceptual framework – yesterday was such and such; tomorrow will be such and such – which seemingly offers stability. But actually it constricts reality unnaturally, leaving us wanting more: the real thing.
And that lacks the boundaries we're accustomed to. Hence, we can feel lost just when we've found the Way.
To know emptiness is not just to understand the concept. It is more like stumbling into a clearing in the forest, where suddenly you can move freely and see clearly. To experience emptiness is to experience the shocking absence of what normally determines the sense of who you are and the kind of reality you inhabit.
It may last only a moment before the habits of a lifetime reassert themselves and close in once more. But for that moment, we witness ourselves and the world as open and vulnerable.
…As mindful awareness become stiller and clearer, experience becomes not only more vivid but simultaneously more baffling. The more deeply we know something in this way, the more deeply we don't know it.
Joshua, I'm not saying that your feeling of being lost is what you're looking for. Maybe it is; maybe it isn't.
But it sure seems to me that it's better for someone to feel genuinely spiritually lost than to imagine that they've found their self, when they really haven't.
The self may not be something, but neither is it nothing. It is simply ungraspable, unfindable. I am who I am not because of an essential self hidden away in the core of my being but because of the unprecedented and unrepeatable matrix of conditions that have formed me.
…This perplexed questioning is the central path itself.
…Like life itself, it just keeps going, free from the need to hold to any fixed positions – including those of Buddhism.
…Questioning is the track on which the centered person moves.
There's your Way, Joshua. Perplexed questioning.
Relax. You're on it.