By John Author
I’ve been in a great mood the past few days.
Even when everything is shitty, the good mood still vibes beneath it all. I’ve found myself giggling at the things that pissed me off a week ago. Working among the busy hubbub, the chaos of the retail world, the rapid-fire orders, and moronic drivers—I’m just flowing, walking along like I’m enjoying a Sunday in the park rather than a pre-Christmas Saturday at one of the most popular retail chains.
I’ve been studying Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, a Taoist text. Taoism and Buddhism have a very old and blurry relationship. Chan (Zen) is the love-child of Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, using many Taoist terms and even basing Silent Illumination (Shikantaza) meditation on Taoist practices. Unlike American Zen, Taoism is pragmatic, but also leaves me lots of room to play. “Romp and play in samadhi,” as the Chan badass Hongzhi said.
Taoism also suits my naturally aloof disposition. It cultivates compassion and warmth, but in a less touchy-feely way than Mahayana Buddhism does. It involves the acknowledgment of commonality, mutuality and tenderness. At the same time, it involves seeing, feeling and cultivating the Way (Tao, or nature) which is impersonal.
The Tao doesn’t give a fuck about me, you or anything else. Since I’m an expression of the Tao, then I also manifest that not-giving-a-fuck nature.
I love how the Buddhadharma claims that compassion is at the heart of reality, but I don’t see that in nature; at least not in the way that we usually think of compassion. The lioness doesn’t seem to care about the well-being of the gazelle; she just sees a meal. The often undignified and horrific process of dying also shattered any belief I had in cosmic compassion or fundamental goodness.
Yet at the same time, water selflessly nourishes all life, the sun selflessly gives heat and light. The sun, earth and moon couldn’t care less if I live or die, whether I suffer or am liberated from suffering—yet they still provide. They function according to their nature, their Tao. They influence through their Will (Te). All the while acting without a thought of compassion or cruelty (Wu-Wei). So even if compassion isn’t their intent, their actions could still be personified as truly compassionate—uncontrived compassion.
Taoists frequently reference natural phenomena like the sun, moon and water as metaphors for our own nature. While there’s clearly a difference between me and a rock, there’s no real difference between the natural laws that shaped us, that move us and eventually destroy us. To a Taoist, much of the mind talk in Buddhism could be seen as human hubris.
None of these thoughts are the reasons for my mood change. They’re just musings coming from such a change.
I’ve been softer with people lately, less pushy, more accommodating and inclined to go with their stream of thought rather than strong-arm my own. There’s no fear, or anger or desire for something better, to be someone better. I’m trusting the Tao and cultivating Te.
This brings me back to Buddhism.
It’s actually the Tao that’s nourishing my Buddhist practice, helping me to uncover the Open View. It’s even casting new light on Chinese Buddhist texts that I thought I understood. To me, it seems that any incompatibility between the two paradigms is trivial. In my opinion, they round off each other’s sharp edges and balance each other out.
Where Buddhism wanders off to la-la land, Taoism brings back practicality. Where Taoism surfs the cosmos, Buddhism brings it back to earth.
Modern Buddhism lacks a much-needed playfulness and artfulness that Taoism could return to it; modern Taoism has kept a lot of the “New Age” shit, which Buddhism could easily wipe away. The two paradigms seem like, well the Yin and the Yang—neither of which is complete without the other.
All that said, I’m not sure how long this good mood will last—everything’s impermanent, Yin and Yang always switch places—but I’m definitely enjoying it while it does.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”