Friday, October 5, 2012

Taoist Contentment

Taoism's value to us, I think, is in challenging our values and ideas regarding how we should live. Key to Taoism is that the highest good for a human -- to be fully in accord with the Tao -- is an internal good. In the West, we have increasingly lost all sense of internal goods; which is perhaps why so many of us are obsessed with the accumulation of external goods.

To be fully in accord with the Tao is to live from a deep, abiding contentment. This is not the contentment of a good meal or any other momentary state of contentment, but a contentment from the base of one's being. If one's goal is to find the North Pole, once found any further movement is away from the goal; so with Taoist contentment -- any movement departs from it. Thus the Taoist emphasizes non-activity, non-progress.

The secular Westerner values curiosity, activity, accomplishment -- his or her perpetual boast is "I am so busy." The Taoist writes: "And even though the next country is so close that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking, they are content to die of old age without ever having gone to see it." It is hard to imagine a sentiment more alien to our modern Western view than this.

The cultivation of the Tao -- the way to Taoist contentment -- is a mysterious activity/passivity. So many people who adhere to the way of science and the secular have no patience for mysterious things. They believe in what they see and touch. Such people may pay lip service to the Tao, but they are unlikely to sow their being in that deep, dark soil.

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