John Fogleman Asian Philosophies


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John Fogleman
Asian Philosophies
The Realization of the Tao Within Us (Revised Final)
“How can bad things happen to good people?” “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Whenever I have something good going, something always comes along to screw it all up!” These are all frequently asked questions and expletives uttered by us poor souls who are afflicted by and at the mercy of some unknown, universal force: Karma. “Karma’s a bitch,” some say, but what if there were a method to escaping such a cycle? What if it were as easy as stepping down from our high, egotistical horse and letting the universe take its course? Could one, through the cultivation of his or her Atma, rise above the Karmic cycle of events? The concepts of action through non-action in the Taoist sense, and the Cultivation of ones Atma in a Hindu sense, both seem to lend truth to one another, being technically one in the same, and allow us seek union with an unfathomable, universal divinity in exchange for the escape of tumult in this tangible plane.

In Taoism, we are instructed by Lao-Tzu to abandon our steadfast and relentless searching and categorizing of the universe and accept it for what it is, an unknowable and empty darkness, all knowing and all consuming, and through this abandon, we will find peace. In Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, he speaks truth through simplicity, urging us to free our minds of complexities and cling to the nothingness of the Truth, the Tao. One important aspect in Lao-Tzu’s teaching is the concept of the temporality of the future and the drawbacks of clinging to material objects and ideals. Chapter 74 of the Tao Te Ching takes on this concept in saying:

“If you realize that all things change,

there is nothing you will try and hold on to.

If you aren’t afraid of dying,

There is nothing you can’t achieve.
Trying to control the future

is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.

When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,

chances are you’ll cut yourself.”

Lao-Tzu realized the temporality of all things and the foolishness of trying to control things unknown to us. Would we try to give unlicensed medical advice in the place of a doctor, design the foundations of a house with no concept of architecture, or direct traffic with no notion of the laws involved? In the same way, we should not try and control our futures or our fates, after all, as entities in a tangible, earthly plane, who are we to know what is best befitting to us spiritually next to a universal entity which is entirely spiritual?

An example that overlaps with Lao Tzu’s example of non-control as explained in chapter 74 of the Tao Te Ching, is one given by the actions of Jen, the main character in Ang Lee’s movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon follows a young girl named Jen, a Chinese aristocrat and the daughter of a Chinese governor. In the movie, Jen is faced with the looming future of a prearranged marriage to man of Chinese aristocracy and her place in the Chinese social class, which constricts her from the life of freedom in which she wants to lead. In her desperation for freedom from her current situation, Jen, using her hidden, and fledgling knowledge of Wudan martial arts, places her fate upon her own shoulders and steals the Green Destiny Sword, a sword of mysterious power and control, a sword only wielded by the most masterful of warriors. In taking the Green Destiny Sword, Jen tries to take power and control of her life in to her own hands, trying to have power over her own destiny.

If one were to look at Jen’s decision making through the eyes of Taoist philosophy, one would see the fundamental errors Jen makes. As chapter 74 of the Tao Te Ching states,

“Trying to control the future

is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.

When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,

chances are you’ll cut yourself.”

Jen, having limited mastery and knowledge of this Taoist principle, tries to take control of her own future, literally wielding the tool of a master warrior. As Jen travels, escapes her present situation, and tries to control the outcomes of her life, she leaves a wake of destruction and immaturity in her path, selfishly, ignorantly, and blindly proceeding into the vast unknown. What Jen does not realize is that true freedom and liberation come from within, and cannot spring forth through selfish and ego-based motives. Jen’s actions characterize the antithesis of Taoist philosophy, and in Jen trying to take and manipulate the Green Destiny Sword, she tries to control something she does not fully understand, thus causing herself increased tumult and frustration. When our own selfish desires and egotistical attitudes become the center of our thoughts and actions, only frustration will result; the universal course of action is out of our control, and in trying, we will only cut ourselves.

Coinciding with Lao-Tzu’s concept of universal surrender is a story in the Huai Nan Tzu, a compilation of ancient Chinese thought and philosophy. In this story, a man loses his horse through the fate of the Tao, the way of the unknowable universe, and a story of surrender and unexpected outcome unfolds. Throughout the main body of this story, the man comes into fortunes and misfortunes and is followed by the closing lines of the story, which declare, “…Thus good fortune can be disaster and vice versa. Who can tell how events will be transformed?” The same can be said for our individual lives; things come and things go, and as the Tao Te Ching states, once we embrace not knowing, there is nothing we can’t achieve. With this constant cycle of unknowable fortunes and misfortunes in our lives, is it possible to overcome worrying about the outcome of events entirely, or are our actions what determine the unfolding of events in our lives? Can there be a comfort in complete surrender, and if so, what does this comfort entail?

In withdrawing from the cycle of fortunes and misfortunes, control, and manipulation, one will find surrender and serenity in the Tao. Lao Tzu knew that this process would be difficult, and that most would not be able to immediately attain such liberation unless he or she works tirelessly to achieve peace and harmony internally and universally. In chapter 55 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu states,

“…The Master’s power is like this.

He lets all things come and go

effortlessly, without desire.

He never expects results;

thus he is never disappointed.

He is never disappointed;

thus his spirit never grows old.”

Lao Tzu asserts in chapter 55 that there is a masterful power attained through the letting go of desires and ego-based motives, and that once one allows the universe take its course, life becomes effortless. When one lets go of self-centered action, his or her spirit is able to flourish, becoming one with the Tao and never growing old or tired, being continually at one and in the spring of life and vitality. A simple comfort can be achieved through surrender in which there is no equal, a spiritual tranquility and solace in which we are meant to dwell in now and forever.

Our abilities to conceive of and reach for an unknowable force such as the Tao, only comes through our spirits, our Atmas, our intrinsic souls which, through self-realization, long to be connected with the Divine. Our innate ability to find comfort in such Taoist simplicity lends one to want to delve deeper into this mysterious Atma. In Chapter 2, verse 25 of the Bhagavad Gita, the Atma is described as such, “…Because it is never modified, it is termed immutable. Because it is invisible, has no form, and cannot be heard, smelled, or touched, it is termed unmanifested. Because the human mind cannot perceive or conceive it, it is said to be unknowable.” In many ways, our Atma’s, True Selves, or souls coincide with the aspects of the Tao itself, being immutable, unmanifested, and unknowable. Is the cultivation of such a mysterious thing as our Atmas the direct way to experience the Divine in itself? Through knowing our Atmas, our souls, the divine inside of us, will we know the way of the Tao, God, Brahma, the Divine circumstantially?

In Chapter 2, verse 47 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states, “Only in the present can you hammer out achievement. The worried mind tends to veer from the only real goal – realizing the Atma, uniting with Divinity, the True Self within.” In Hindu philosophy, the series of fortunes and misfortunes as described in Taoist philosophy is described as Karma, the fruits of one’s actions in this world including the consequences attached. Through the cultivation of one’s Atma, a selfless, ego-free attitude, and a knowledge of the divine, one becomes detached from earthly matters, in step with Divinity while existing in the Earthly realm. Through this Atmic cultivation, one is then detached from the consequences of the karmic cycle, because all actions are focused on the Divine, thus meriting no karmic consequence.

Through the process of realizing one’s True Self and cultivating one’s Atma in the midst of a chaotic, desire saturated world, one fundamental challenge rings forth from the depths of the Bhagavad Gita: the of shedding of one from his or her ego. In chapter 6, verse 5 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states, “…Know that the self can be both friend and foe – a friend when used to conquer the mind, senses, and body; a foe when it drags one into the mind, senses, and body. True Self (Atma) is the ally; the ego-mind self is the enemy.” Krishna puts it simply, our desires cloud us and cause us to err against our True Selves, polluting and clouding one’s view of the Divine. The process of realizing one’s Atmic potential is described in the Bhagavad Gita as cultivation, a process of working and toiling to achieve a desired state. This cultivation is a mental process, brought about by relentless discipline and restraint. As Krishna states in chapter 6, verse 36 of the Bhagavad Gita, “Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind.” When we allow ourselves to be overcome by our egos and the desires attached, we lose sight of the Tao, our Atmas, and the spiritual realm in totality.

In step with the Tao, one can surrender trying to control his or her actions and the karmic consequences involved in an Atmic, Hindu sense. Chapter 4, verse 22 of the Bhagavad Gita asserts, in speaking of cultivated souls, detached from earthly consequences and removed from trying to control their lives,

“These wise ones have transcended the pairs of opposites; they are the same in success or failure, indifferent to loss or gain; they never bother to compete or compare, are free of envy, and contentedly shoulder whatever comes to them. They too are not bound by karmic consequences even though performing worldly actions.”

This Atmic transcendence can be compared to the middle, centered way of the Tao, once achieved and embraced in totality, we are able to transcend the trivial consequences of this world and focus on the Tao-like divinity of all creation. Once this moderated, centered, Atmic transcendence is achieved, all things are possible; there is no good or bad, benefit or loss, pain or pleasure, fortune or misfortune; one is spiritually detached from the world, yet selflessly existing inside of it, working effortlessly for the benefit of the world, yet focused on Divinity entirely.

In our attempt to find liberation, we come in contact with the concept of swaraj; a concept coined by Mahatma Gandhi, a man in a relentless search for Truth and liberation. Swaraj is liberation in an internal, spiritual, and psychological sense; swaraj it is having a cultivated mind free from ignorance and illusion; swaraj is not clinging to material worldly things, ultimately adding to our bondage to the earthly, karmic cycle or the Taoist law of duality, and the concept of fortune and misfortune. In addressing this search for swaraj, cultivation, and liberation, Krishna explains in chapter 2, verse 50, “…Never lose sight of the overriding goal, which is to free yourself from bondage during this lifetime, to shed attachment to worldly things, detach from ego, and truly release yourself from the wheel of birth and death. When you do this you actually become one with God.”

This oneness with God, the Tao, Divinity, Brahma, is the zenith goal of any liberated being, the ultimate level of cultivation of our Atmas, of our True Selves. Some may say that this detachment from the world and total reliance on a divine universal entity is dehumanizing, but it is exactly the opposite, it makes us complete humans. When we attain swaraj, liberation, cultivation, salvation, we are then transcendent beings, knowing both the world in which we exist and the spiritual realm simultaneously. When we know the Tao, God, Divinity, we become complete, selfless beings, giving all of our selfishness and desires to the Divine as a sacrifice. Through this sacrifice of self, we become reliant on the Divine to bring us through life unscathed, being connected continuously to the Divine, thus lending us to be selfless and complete individuals in the tangible plain. To be connected to this Divine presence is to know the Truth in every created being, to understand the way of the Tao. We truly live up to our ultimate humanity in becoming cultivated, changing the world through our divine inspired acts of Love and Truth.

Universally, there is Truth, and we can see this truth permeating throughout all creation. In our constant searching for this truth, we are able to transcend our veiled reality and see the face and workings of a divine creator, moving and working for our benefit. Once a realization of the Divine is present, one can live in total universal Truth, being focused on the Divine, devoid from previous Earthly consequences. Suffering the tumultuous waves of the Karmic cycle and Taoist extremes in fortunes and misfortunes is entirely avoidable, and through conscious striving and cultivation, the Tao and this divine knowledge materialize, while problems and worries evaporate, calling us to our union with the unknowable, which saturates every fiber of our being.


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