"It Is a Direct Path" (excerpt) A Path and a Practice — William Martin

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---“Path to Wisdom” - By LEONID



Talking about a path is not walking that path.
Thinking about life is not living.


Lao-tzu was neither a priest nor a follower of any religious belief system. He was a patient observer of the flow of life. He watched the wind move the clouds across the sky and the rain soak the earth. He watched rivers flow through wide valleys and tumble down mountain canyons. He watched the crane stand patiently by the lakeside, waiting on one leg until the water cleared to reveal a fish. He considered the contentment of the turtle sitting in the mud. He observed crops flourish one year and fail the next. He watched the seasons come and go. He saw the wonder of all things rising and falling, coming and going, living and dying. He came to understand that this wonder cannot be captured by words and concepts. It can be talked about, yet never captured. It can be thought about, yet never fathomed. It can only be experienced.

The legends that surround the formation of the Tao Te Ching illustrate Lao-tzu's reluctance to put his teachings into written words. One such legend speaks of a time when he became so fed up with the politics of repression in the China of his day that he got on his ox and left the country. But the border guard would not let him leave until he wrote down his wisdom for all to share. Lao-tzu said, "If I write it down it will no longer be the Tao." Nevertheless, the guard would not let him leave until he wrote something. So Lao-tzu dismounted his ox, sat in the shade of a tree, and in one afternoon wrote the short text of poetic wisdom you now have in your hands.

Legend? Undoubtedly, but a legend that speaks to the very nature of this path. It is a path of direct experience, not of abstract philosophy. It is a way of looking with clarity at the processes of life as they are, not as we think they should be. It is a path that must be walked moment by moment, and not discussed in endless words.

Yet using thoughts and words to make sense of our experience is what we humans do. It is part of our nature. Lao-tzu uses words in short poetic stanzas so that they may serve as guides and gateways to direct experience rather than as mere abstractions and distractions. This sometimes frustrates our Western conditioning, which has come to expect things to be explained without ambiguity or paradox. Such an approach forces us again and again to return to our own experience of life rather than rely on the words and teachings of others.

Directly experiencing life is not something we do easily. By the time we are adults, our experience is mediated through a multitude of conceptual filters that provide a constant commentary about our life, but that ignore the thing itself. This process is so deeply conditioned in most of us that we don't even notice it. We wander through day after day with our minds spinning an endless stream of thoughts, judgments, hopes, fantasies, critiques, and plans, all mixed with a babble of advertising jingles and fragments of television shows.

Lao-tzu suggests that this habitual commentary on life, though a natural part of being human, is not the same thing as a fully lived life. At the same time, he does not totally discount the conceptual thinking process. We make a certain kind of sense out of our life through the use of categories, thoughts, and words. But, as he suggests in chapter 1, these thoughts and words are gateways to life, not life itself.

How is it for you? Does the commentary in your head serve as a gateway to the deeper mystery of life? Or are you, like most of us, deeply caught in the never-ending round of judgment, effort, worry, striving, comparing, desiring, hoping, dreaming, and all the other distractions that keep you from the actual, sometimes frightening, intensity of a direct experience of life?

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William Martin — A Path and a Practice: Using Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an --Awakened Spiritual Life


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