Sometimes, it’s not easy being a Tao Babe. In fact, more often than not, it feels as if I am basically alone in a sea of humanity, all moving in one direction, all looking at one shining object in the distance. There I am, standing still and breaking the flow of the movement, feeling singular, insulated.
I look around at all the people passing by and I think to myself, it would be so simple just to join the rest of the crowd and be like everyone else. Go with the flow. Join the parade. After all, being like water means we should join in with all of life and everyone around us, yes?
Assimilate. Imitate. Duplicate.
And here I thought, being a Taoist was a life-long learning experience so that I could eventually turn into a sage.
<== Like him.
Well, since I really don’t have a huge desire to look like him, I’ve been sort of reluctant to go through the accepted standard route of sage-cultivation, namely finding myself a sagely-looking sage and then spending all the time I could, learning from that one sage.
I figured I could learn Taoism on my own, discover my own path, be my own woman, and approach it on my own terms.
Why not? We live in the age of information. I might as well take advantage of the fact that we live in an extremely unique point in history where I could Google to find most things, and if Google couldn’t find what I needed, it could locate names of books for me which I could buy right off the internet. I could then read all about it and discern for myself what I thought was the most relevant path for me to go.
Well that was what I did for several years.
I bought stacks and stacks of books about Taoism. I read everything I could get my hands on that talked about the subject. What I could not locate in English, I found in Vietnamese. I dug and cross-checked and compared translations of the same books. I took the various scattered ancient passages and reorganized them so that they made more sense to me.
Of the material that I found to be relevant, I read through some of the same passages over and over and over as I was trying to make sense of them. I did this so many times that I actually memorized many of them.
Then, to increase my understanding of how others within the Taoist community thought about the matter, I tried to join Taoist conversational forums and the likes.
I knew I was at a serious disadvantage. First of all, I really didn’t have any formal Taoist training. Aside from the numerous translated works and a few deep and philosophical conversations with my spiritual brother, Derek Lin, I was on my own.
Also, most of the profound Taoists who were wandering in and out of those forums had been Taoists for decades, some had been Taoists all their lives. I had only been at it for a few years. I knew I lacked understanding of traditional Taoism, but I felt that I knew enough to hold my own in conversations regarding Taoism. This did not seem to be the case.
Even though I took care to never pull anything out of thin air, some of those contacts did not end well. I was constantly accused of making things up. I tried to shore up my thoughts by drawing upon written documentation as much as I could. I was quoting from classic Taoist and I Ching books, but I was told that my sources were either mythical in origin or flat out incorrect. When I asked for the sources with which the other side was basing their arguments on, I was told that it did not come from written sources, only that which had to be observed from nature.
I was stumped.
So nature it had to be. Since I couldn’t base my arguments on ancient Taoist texts, I went over to the scientific writings I had, which incorporated a combination of physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Surely they would hold firm enough to maintain my foothold on such a slippery slope. This did not turn out well either as I was then accused of being a New Age fool.
It only took me a short while before I realized that I did not want to be a part of that community either.
So now that my particular brand of Taoism had turned into a one-woman show, I thought to myself, what the hell, I might as well go all out. Forget trying to figure out what Taoism was suppose to be—I was going to forge a path and do something different. Only…I was already doing this path forging without realizing I was doing it.
You see, because I didn’t have a perfect and straight path to follow, I accidentally ran into that strange situation where I was meandering all over the place. I had been taking the I Ching teachings and mixing it in with the teachings of Lao Tzu. I had inadvertently fused the two together, and in the process, I had done something which alienated the Taoists I was in contact with. I was quoting material that wasn’t even within the scope of their daily Taoist conventionality.
I had tainted Taoism with material from the I Ching. But I knew that there was a thread which ran through both philosophies and I was not going to sever that thread. This was where the magic occurred, and this was how it happened.
Within a matter of weeks after I was introduced to Taoism, I discovered the magic of the I Ching. The reason why I say it is magic is because the I Ching actually interacts with me. It is not just a one-sided conversation where I can only receive information but cannot respond or interact with it. The I Ching actually talks back. It is the teacher, and I, the student, can ask it questions and it will respond in a very intelligent manner.
This is different when it comes to the Tao Te Ching. As much as I study from the Tao Te Ching, there cannot be an interactive communication from a written text. There is nothing wrong with this. Books are, by their very nature, a one-sided conversation. I was simply grabbing all the information that was available at my fingertips. I wanted to know as much as I could about the subject matter, so I took in everything.
In my blog, I talk about the I Ching and the Tao Te Ching interchangeably, as though they are one and the same entity. After all, they both talk about the yin and the yang. They both talked about Heaven and Earth. They were both philosophies of life that seemed to be steeped in the same cup of warm jasmine tea. They seemed to be cut out of the same cloth.
But the truth is, there is a difference between the two.
The difference between Taoism and I Ching is that one was the precursor of the other. The I Ching is old—so old that most people have no clue where it came from. There is a span of over two-thousand years between me and Lao Tzu, and there was a span of at least two thousand years (if not far far more) between Lao Tzu and the I Ching.
Think about that. The sages who wrote the I Ching are just as ancient to Lao Tzu as he is to me today. Lao Tzu gathered the knowledge of the I Ching and then created a philosophy which would be applicable to the royalty who had to run an entire kingdom. After a certain amount of time, this philosophy became Taoism.
The I Ching, which everyone thinks is just a fortune-telling device, is actually a teacher of philosophy. The philosophy of the I Ching is not solely for the purpose of running a country or a region. It is more generalized, and in its generalized nature, it allows for a broader, more liberal interpretation. It is less regal, more common—common in the sense that it could be used by the common people of society who were not of royal blood.
My people certainly knew about the I Ching philosophy. They called it Đạo Kinh Dịch (I Ching philosophy) but they also know of it as Đạo Của Người Quân Tử (The Gentlemen’s Philosophy).
Well, I thought that was rather elitist and sexist. Does that mean women aren’t allowed to partake in philosophical discourse? Does that mean there is a separate Gentlewomen’s Philosophy? And if there was such a Philosophy, what would it be?
Why…it would be called Taobabeism, that’s what it would be called. It would be a combination of the I Ching philosophy and present-day Taoism based from the Tao Te Ching, and it would be specifically tailored for women, to nurture women, and to develop sages that don’t look like that old man with white hair depicted above.
The modern-day sage of Taobabeism would look like this:
Such interesting stuff. Is it not amazing how doctrinaire and rigid and status loving even Taoist groups can become. Makes those of us who strive for love and respect run for the cover of individualism. There seem to be among us humans psychological “types”- some types yearn for the surety and safety of “conversion” and “group think”, others who define themselves as what they do not believe (atheists) and those who hold themselves aloof from all moorings in a quest for lifelong openness and a minimum of spiritually correct baggage on their shoulders. I have spent a lot of time with the I Ching for some 30 years now, and much time with the Tao te Ching as well. I try hard to absorb the wisdom from both so I can learn without being blindly led….and give myself permission to have my own creative views as well. Thank you for your essay and honest point of view……sometimes it seems so few people think like I do, and that can lead me to being aloof, but I don’t feel aloof, since the I Ching and Tao have inspired my mind and spirit, and connected me so much more intimately with things that are most poignant in this earthly life. Thank you.
Thank you for your thoughtful response, and thank you for being kind. I think there are more people like you and I than we know. They’re just non-contentious, so we don’t ever hear from them. “Because they do not contend, the world cannot contend with them ~ TTC”
It’s a pleasure to have made your acquaintance.
Trước biết, có không biết.
Trước khi bạn biết điều đó, không có kiến thức.
Before knowing, there is not knowing.
Before you know it, there is no knowledge.
It’s funny. Everything is made up from nothing.
Perhaps your journey to right your conflict within
manifested the expectation of an external challenge?
Best deal with critics as with crickets – a pleasant noise.
I would humbly suggest that you don’t lose the One in the world of the Many. If you have Oneness within you and go into a “community” to find truth or Oneness, you are really going to find Many. Many people, many ideas (most of them dead wrong), illusions upon illusions.
Our own truth is our own truth. We cannot expect that it will apply to the mass, not because it isn’t applicable or helpful, but because it CAN’T. They are a mass, a many and so it cannot but set them off.
The real Tao demands that we find our own path. It cannot be anything else. So we have to get used to being alone and watching the world stampede in its various directions. It and they cannot be helped unless they CHOOSE to.
Our job is to insure that our way is not just another wrong way. The I Ching and the Tao ARE One. People love to split things into categories because they believe it helps to understand. That is like believing that a dissected frog will jump and croak. It is the wholeness that makes it something. Oneness on the other hand always points in one direction. We follow THAT direction