This section explores the action of the Tao as it manifests in human awareness. It can be used to develop one’s consciousness to a level more conducive for the attainment of enlightenment, long life and contentment.
Sameness of Bearing
The Tao is impartial. It does not play favourites. The human equivalent is sameness of bearing in which the enlightened person acts equally, with compassion, towards all people, regardless of rank or status. Sameness of bearing allows the enlightened person to achieve a degree of emotional and intellectual independence from the world, lest they be swayed to favour one person over another, one group over another. An impartial mind-set allows the enlightened person to be in tune with their intuition — the inner voice of the Tao and the source of creativity and enlightenment.
The behaviour of enlightened people is often compared to that of water. It is in the nature of water to seek the low places and to bring benefits there. Water does not seek the high places; neither does the enlightened person seek high status for its own sake.
The conventional view of success in Western society is a competitive struggle for dominance in a chosen field. A person fights their way as high as they can up the ‘slippery pole’, perhaps climbing over the backs of others in the process. Such competitive behaviour is a form of war-fare in which others are enemies and a person’s awareness of the Tao is diminished or absent altogether. They cannot hear their subtle inner voice, their intuition in the midst of their on-going struggle.
The enlightened person therefore cultivates a non-competitive mindset in which they look for win-win opportunities in their dealings with others. Such a mind-set expands their awareness to the point where they see no need to follow the societal convention to be competitive in their quest for fulfilment.
Limiting Sensual Desire
The enlightened person cultivates intuition by limiting their desire for sensory experiences. In Buddhism, it is well-known that desire causes attachment which then causes suffering. Freeing one of the desires for unnecessary food, sex-partners, possessions and experiences brings the enlightened person into closer contact with their inner nature.
The enlightened person also limits their desire for the praise and acceptance of others. In so doing, they lessen in direct proportion the fear they might experience at the disapproval or blame of others. Praise and blame are two sides of the same coin with which our compliance with group norms is purchased.
Limiting sensual desire and expanding one’s awareness to embrace the world brings your inner world into harmony with the outer. Instead of being consumed by narrow self-interest, the enlightened person’s sense of identity expands to encompass the world. Such expanded awareness is the basis for enlightenment.
A True Win-Win Situation
The enlightened person raises their consciousness by cultivating a strong desire to know the Tao at a deep level. The Tao reciprocates these efforts by meeting the seeker half-way. In the process, both are expanded and merge into one, producing a true win-win situation.
Perhaps this is the origin of the Biblical adage that the Good Lord helps those who help their self. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it another way; If you stare into the Abyss long enough, the Abyss stares back at you. Abyss in this context implies immense depth, not some menacing entity.
Merge with the Cycles of Nature
Everything in the universe behaves cyclically. All living creatures and inanimate objects have their cycles of existence, and collectively these cycles form a vast, harmonious whole; a true miracle to behold. The enlightened person strives to know their self as blended with this harmonious whole. They try to transcend ordinary egoic consciousness which has them separate from the world, a lone entity in a hostile wilderness.
Instincts and Intuition
In the Taoist view, human instincts are fundamentally good, acting as a link to a person’s intuition. When a person loses contact with their instincts, standards of right-behaviour and morality are created by society to compensate for the resulting social disarray. People are separated from their intuition when they identify their self too much with righteous behaviour, morality and even patriotism.
Consider the practice of philanthropy. Some philanthropy is primarily an attempt to buy people’s good opinion. The giver is often a ruthless person who has made enemies on their way to financial success. How many philanthropists would give as much if they were obliged to do so anonymously? True philanthropy does not draw attention to itself.
Contemplating the Subtle
Contemplating the Tao does not appeal to the senses. Doing so will seem boring and pointless to the person who lives for sensual gratification and who expects to be entertained. Yet the enlightened person perseveres with this endeavour, since to do so leads to a mind-expanding glimpse and then a growing vision of the universe as a cohesive whole.
Since the laws of Physics have enabled the evolution of life on this planet, it is reasonable to conclude that there is life on other planets. The laws of Physics operate uniformly in the universe. If those laws have caused life to evolve on Earth, then why not elsewhere? As one Cosmologist suggests, about one out of every 14,000 planets in our galaxy have conditions similar to those on planet Earth. With billions of planets in the Milky Way, there are millions of planets in this galaxy alone that could support life similar to that on Earth. And the Milky Way is just one out of trillions of galaxiesin the universe. Our contemplation of the subtle leads us to conclude that there is almost certainly intelligent life out there, somewhere.
Influence Without Motive
The best kind of influence to exercise in worldly affairs is power without ulterior motive. Such power acts for the greater good, not personal gain. Exercising power for personal gain is perilous, since it often degenerates into the application of force, requiring elaborate strategies and manipulations to succeed.
Lao Tzu thought that morality and proprietary behaviour comes about when people are unable to see the truth in their self, and are therefore incapable of trusting others to find truth in their self. The problem with these forms of behaviour is that they become an entrenched block to people’s ability to access the deeper truths in their self. Then the behaviour becomes an end in itself, not a means to an end.
The enlightened person does not seek coercive power over others. Such power is ultimately self-defeating. They seek instead to become the master of subtle influence which does not appear to be power at all. This influence derives from being in close identification with the deeper reality of life.
Avoiding Extremes and Full Maturity
When anything reaches its peak, or fullest expression, it must go into decline soon afterwards. The enlightened person avoids pushing anything to an extreme state unless they deliberately want to cultivate a state of decline. This might be strategically desirable sometimes.
When a vessel is half-full it has further use and potential. When completely full it waits only to be emptied. An open-ended situation has the capacity for continued growth. A closed situation is finished.
By avoiding extremes, the enlightened person becomes increasingly centred and tranquil. In this state they are able to contribute positively to the collective awareness of the world, thus expanding their own consciousness and that of the people around them.
The Flame that Burns Twice as Bright Burns Half as Long
The enlightened person extends their life-span through practicing moderation in all things. They limit what comes in through their senses by avoiding excessive sense stimulation. They know that their life force grows stronger if they use the moderated energy received through their senses for internal growth, so they do not talk or otherwise express too much. They practice moderation so that output does not exceed input, knowing that as life goes out, death comes in.
By nurturing their life force, the enlightened person makes him or her self less vulnerable to the dangers of the world. They are protected from harm not through luck but through avoiding the cultivation of weakness. They know that the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
Dwelling at the Centre
Through careful observation of the patterns of Nature, the enlightened person comes to perceive the fullness of the Tao. When the Tao is perceived, a person’s fears disappear as the mind expands to embrace the interconnected whole.
Lao Tzu suggests that the enlightened person should remain open to the information that comes through their senses from the outside world. They should use their intuition to process this moderated input to develop an understanding of the patterns of life. They continually augment their experience of the world with information from their intuitive mind. They live with full awareness of the world, but habitually use intuition as their main way of understanding the world. They do not rely on theories and ideologies originating from outside to understand the world.
For example, imagine that a married man goes into a bar for a drink. It is a topless bar, and the sight of the barmaid’s breasts causes him to instinctively want to have sex with her. This information from his senses and his reaction could be intuitively understood as Nature giving the man the instinct to reproduce. If the man understands this, he has no reason to feel guilty unless of course he acts on the desire and breaks his marriage vows. But if the man references an external ideology, a body of orthodox knowledge that says such feelings are guilt-worthy, then he will feel guilty and his guilt will be added to the by-now crippling store of guilt that he has built up over time. The intuitive man has a clear conscience. The ideologue is burdened with guilt from having had a natural feeling. Who would you rather be?
Envisaging a Better World
The enlightened person expands their awareness by imagining an ideally functioning world, with fully conscious people living in well-run communities. Over time this microcosmic view of the world that exists in the enlightened mind could then be generalised into the outer word, the macrocosm.
Lao Tzu himself envisaged a world of fully conscious people who are firmly in control of their own destinies. In this ideal world, all are united into a collective, compassionate entity. The Tao Te Ching is the means by which Lao Tzu did what he could to bring about such a world.
Oneness with the Evolving Universe
Those who know, don’t say; those who say, don’t know is an oft-quoted passage from the Tao Te Ching. The enlightened person’s understanding of the world comes from their intuitive mind and the natural structures and patterns of the universe as they are microcosmically represented in the person. This understanding is not easily translated into words, so most of the time; the enlightened person is content to simply know and feels no need to speak of it.
But if a person’s understanding of the world is based on ideologies or socio-cultural artefacTs of some kind, these have been formalised into words that are spoken often from one to another. This is not to imply that such an understanding is necessarily wrong. It suggests only that such an understanding runs the risk of being out of date, or incomplete, or misunderstood.
The enlightened person therefore expands their awareness by cultivating an intellectual independence that resists external influences. They realise their oneness with the evolving universe through unwavering simplicity and inner truth.
There is a common stereotype in the world of the highly educated specialist who is not interested in what others have to say because they believe they know everything that is worth knowing already.
The enlightened person knows that regardless of how much knowledge they have, there is still much they do not know, and will probably never know, so vast is the overall store of knowledge accumulated by humanity over the centuries. So they are humble about their learning and remain open to new information from the changing world regardless of the status of the person imparting that information.
In the Taoist view, it is considered most unfortunate to be unaware of one’s ignorance, whether in interpersonal matters, worldly affairs or in your own life. So the enlightened person cultivates the attitude of the beginner who knows little and is open to new ideas from a constantly evolving universe that they are yet to experience.
By maintaining this beginner’s attitude, the enlightened person avoids the inevitable decline that comes from being too full to grow any further.
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