A few weeks ago I was walking through New York City’s Chinatown searching for a very specific herb shop on a quest for my Wing Chun sifu. During my wanderings throughout Chinatown I came across this very small Taoist temple, I stopped to observe it for a few minutes and noticed quite a few people would stop and give a quick sign of reverence to the temple as they’d walk by, occasionally walking in.
I’ve said before that I’m not a Taoist in this sense, I study the philosophy but I know very little of the religious aspect of it or any of the prayer or ritual associated with it. I decided to walk into the temple, I asked the woman there if she minded if I stayed for a few minutes to look around and kind of absorb the whole scene.
One of the things I noticed most was how much I initially longed to feel like I belonged there. This was a mistake on my part but that doesn’t change the fact that I wanted to say that I studied Taoism and I wanted to be acknowledged for that.
This feeling lasted about two and a half minutes before I caught myself and had an interesting realization, I’ll get to this part in a second.
While I was there I never said anything, being present at this temple had a lot of effects on me. It was a little awe inspiring to see the various statuets of the gods and the good luck charms everywhere but at the same time this desire to be acknowledged created a source of internal conflict for me. I’m not a Taoist, not in the same way the patrons of this temple were Taoist anyways.
I don’t desire immortality and I don’t put a lot of stock in charms and rituals for the purpose of good luck and prosperity. Of course my luck hasn’t always been stellar (coincidence?) but I’ve never been malcontented with where life has taken me.
As I was thinking of this, and of how different I felt compared to everyone going in and out of this temple, I realized that this just wasn’t me. It was a sobering reminder that I’m not a Taoist, just someone who tries to live according to what I’ve learned from Taoist philosophies.
I’m not sure what that makes me, but I’m not very concerned with what to call myself. As I began to accept this I became more at peace with the feelings of disconnect I was experiencing at this temple. After that I simply put a dollar in the donations box and went on to continue my quest for my Sifu’s herbs without a hint of desire to look back.
There is a little gem of wisdom that says “Know Thyself” that I’ve always been a fan of. Or as the Tao Te Ching says: “Knowing things makes you smart, but knowing yourself makes you wise”.
Now that I’m more secure in my identity as someone who is not a Taoist, but instead studies Taoist philosophies, I no longer feel doubt or apprehension about living up to the expectations of people familiar with the terms.
Till next time, Peace!