Taoism, depending on how it’s practiced, could just as easily be called either a philosophy or a religion. I am not really sure what I would call it based on how I practice it.
What to call it doesn’t concern me as much though; after all, “the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao” right?
What is important though is how it affects your life. Theology and philosophy have always fascinated me and through this fascination I had been exposed to many religions and many ways of thinking.
It seemed to me that just about any religion or philosophy of life had very similar aims. They all intended to show how one could live a good life, how one could find peace and happiness.
As I said, I had studied many religions and philosophies, but it was Taoism that I instantly connected with the first time I opened Chuang-Tzu’s “Inner Chapters”.
Why am I telling you any of this? Because I think that it’s possible for people to find real peace in their lives through Taoist philosophies and I’m going to give a recent example from my own life.
Lately things have been going pretty well for me in my life, I have a steady job (even if it’s not exactly my passion, I’m still grateful for it), I have excellent people in my life, friends, family and my girlfriend, all of whom I love dearly.
Despite this I don’t feel as happy as I used to. There are more frequent moments of happiness but they’re all much more fleeting. The best way to describe it is that there is an inner peace that I used to have that I felt was missing in my life.
After much reflection it occurred to me that when I had last felt this peace was before I had learned about Taoism, but was currently studying Buddhism. One of the fundamental concepts in Buddhism is that desires are the source of suffering in life and that to achieve true peace and happiness we must eliminate our desires.
At the time I felt very strongly about this idea. I was absolutely convinced of its truth and so I would diligently do my best to take control of my desires, even if I was never able to eliminate them fully.
This was a powerful memory for me because I realized that I just simply don’t do this anymore. It seemed very clear all of a sudden that the reason I felt dissatisfied was that I was letting my desires in life get out of control.
I have been feeling restless because I have let myself fall into the trap of constantly wanting things, when you can’t get them you are left dissatisfied and when you do get them the joy you feel lasts only until you find the next bauble to chase.
Distraught at how I had unconsciously just let myself get to this point I turned to the Tao Te Ching, I opened up to chapter one in my favorite version (Ron Hogan’s “Getting Right With Tao”) and what did I find? This (I included the underlines for emphasis):
If you can talk about it,
it ain’t Tao.
If it has a name,
it’s just another thing.
Tao doesn’t have a name.
Names are for ordinary things.
Stop wanting stuff;
it keeps you from seeing what’s real.
When you want stuff,
all you see are things.
Those two sentences
mean the same thing.
Figure them out,
and you’ve got it made.
There it was staring me right in the face, Chapter 1, Taoism 101 practically. It was just something I had neglected to really take to heart but it was there the whole time.
This is just one interpretation of this chapter but if you look at any translation they all have the same message, desires keep you from getting right with Tao (seeing what’s real) and finding peace.
When I started to want stuff, I lost sight of what I used to know and only started to see the things I wanted.
So what’s the big lesson here? Taoism can help you find happiness and be at peace, regardless of what’s holding you back. I’m certainly not a master, but I’m trying to get right with Tao and help you do the same by showing you where I’ve gone wrong.
Now as for how to get control over your desires, that’s the subject for another article, I’ll be sure to let you all know once I’ve figured it out myself
I’m feeling better already. Peace!