I’ve decided to convert to Taoism. In accord with the spirit of my new faith, I’m taking my conversion pretty lightly. Probably I’ve always been a Taoist. Probably everyone is. But who cares whether what I just said makes any sense or not? This is the nice thing about Taoism. One of the early Taoist sages, Chuang Tzu, is called the “genius of the absurd.”
He’s famous for saying that he dreamed he was a butterfly, then awoke and was himself again. But he didn’t know whether formerly there had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or if now there was a butterfly dreaming that it was a man.
I feel just as confused much of the time. So, rather than worry about it, by embracing Taoism I’m converting a liability into an asset. Taoism, I read today in my formerly unread copy of “Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism” (by N.J. Girardot), is really big on chaos, hun-tun. Chaos is the root of order. Chaos and cosmos are two inseparable sides of the same pancake of ultimate reality.
I don’t quite get everything Girardot is saying here, but I sure like the “grinning gulf” image: Chaos as grinning gulf, the yawning dawn of creation, is therefore the very basis of a cosmogonic process that manifests itself in the gestalt of a trinitarian form—a formless form that because of its emptiness mysteriously links the uncreated one and the created two into a meaningful whole.
He goes on, less intellectually now: The gulf spontaneously created by the primal grin of formless matter is the empty source of the light and sound of created nature and human culture. It is not, however, polite to grin with a gaping mouth at a formal banquet….Even though there are times when a gentleman may feel a sudden urge to scratch and yawn, the ritual rule of civilized decorum rests on the idea that it is the idea that it is the appearance of cool control that counts. Taoists, as I will try to show, tend to grin somewhat idiotically while slurping their soup.
Now, this is a religion-that-isn’t-a-religion for me. Grinning idiotically. Slurping soup. Right up my alley.
Last week I went shopping at the south Salem Roth’s Vista Market. I selected some peaches and grapes. I paid for them at the checkout counter. I was given a credit card receipt that, suddenly, filled me with amazement. I had never realized before how the Vista Market receipt came in three pieces, one to be signed and returned, one plugging discount gas in Stayton or somewhere, and one for me to take home.
I was fascinated with how the two pieces I was given held together so delicately, clinging to each other by one fragile receipt corner. How rare! How marvelous! A VISA receipt of such delicacy! I walked out of the store mesmerized by the marvel that I couldn’t stop staring at.
Crossing the parking lot to my car, I suddenly had a strange feeling. Was I merely a shopper returning home with a two-part receipt, or was the receipt meant to bring me home with some shopping? I turned around, only to run into a green-jacketed Roth’s bagger running toward me.
How felicitous, this meeting! She was holding a bag of fruit, and I wanted a bag of fruit. Great is the Tao.
Am I an increasingly forgetful old fart, or am I a nascent Taoist sage? I’d rather consider myself the latter than the former, which helps explain my conversion to Taoism. Chuang Tzu tells a wonderful story about the benefits of forgetfulness:
Take the case of a drunken man falling from his carriage: though he may suffer injury he will not die. His bones and joints are the same as those of other men, but the injury which he receives is different: his spirit is entire.
He knew nothing about getting into the carriage and nothing about falling from it. The thought of death or life, or of any alarm or affright, does not enter his breast. Therefore he encounters danger without shrinking from it. Completely under the influence of the liquor he had drunk, it is thus with him.
How much more would it be so if he were under the influence of his Heavenly constitution! The sagely man is kept hid in his Heavenly constitution and therefore nothing can injure him.
Ah, to be spiritually drunk 24 hours a day. I’ve got a ways to go. I’m still remembering things that I’ve forgotten. When I get all of the way home without my groceries I will have attained more to Taoist wisdom, and when I can’t recall whether I went shopping or not I will be further on the Way.
Got to keep working on my idiotic grinning. Taoism asks so much of me.