Have you come across terms like Tao or Taoism? I remember when I heard about Taoism for the first time, the first thought that crossed my mind -“Is this some Chinese tradition”.
It was much later in life when my interest grew in meditation and its practices, I started researching more about Taoism and finding answers to following questions:
- What is Tao?
- How to practice Taoism?
- What are the benefits of Taoism?
Perhaps you have heard about Taoism or are simply seeking more information or are just wondering what difference will ‘knowing Taoism’ make to my life?
If you can spare few minutes then in this post, I shall introduce you to Taoism and share with you principles of Taoism that you can start practicing right away and live a stress-free life.
Origin of Taoism
The early origins of Taoism (also pronounced as Daoism) is associated with a man called Lao Tzu who was born in 604 B.C. With respect, he is also referred as “the Grand Old Master” however many scholars believed that such a man never existed.
There are stories which claim that Lao Tzu was not happy with the society at large as they did not follow his path to natural goodness and decided to leave China. Apparently there is portrait of him climbed on a water buffalo, leaving China and heading west.
It is claimed that when he was passing borders of China a gatekeeper asked him to leave a record of his beliefs to the civilization. Lao Tzu agreed to this and wrote a book consisting of five thousand characters in length and titled it Tao Te Ching or The Way and Its Power. This book till date remains to be the basic text of Taoist thought.
What is Taoism
Taoism is both a philosophy and religion which has its roots connected to Chinese civilization. The word Tao means ‘The Way’. Interestingly, ‘the way’ here does not mean “having a concrete path” or “a predefined path” in life. Many philosophers state that, do not concentrate on the definition of Tao (it will come to you naturally). They further state that, simply go with the flow and live life in harmony. This can be confusing as most of us desire precise definitions and understanding.
With what I have read and understood, ‘The Way’ means: Live life and discover who you are. Do not spend time and energy battling with your life (i.e. do not live in the past with regrets or worry about future) the key is to live life in harmony (i.e. being present and living in the now).
With this understanding let us delve into the key principles of Taoism.
Principles of Taoism
As I share the principles of Taoism it is important to note here that as you understand these principles, make sure you practice them. It is only when you try or experiment with these principles in your daily routine you will be able truly appreciate and understand their worth.
Lao Tzu explains in his book Tao Te Ching the value of emptiness by this quote: “We mold clay into a pot, but is the emptiness inside that makes the vessel useful”.
When you see a pot – What do you look at?
You look at the shape of the pot, color, workmanship and the material it is made of. These are important however what you cannot see or touch in the pot is its “emptiness”. Without this emptiness, the pot has no value. I mean without emptiness you can’t carry water in the pot or cook food in the pot. Do you agree with me?
The same applies to our mind, our mind is also like a pot – Is it empty or filled with anxiety, fear, worry, anger, jealous, revenge, hurt, love, and what not. Do you think such a mind has any value? Majority of us are functioning with a heavy mind.
An empty mind has a lot value – Why? Because only then the mind can think properly and take decisions. So one needs to take the effort and empty the mind every day. How you do this? Practice mindfulness and meditation on a daily basis.
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Lao Tzu says that life is simple, it is we who mess it up with our constant demands and never ending expectations. So do we need to stop expecting more from life to practice simplicity?
Here, Lao says follow the nature of our universe. Don’t try to work against the law of nature. The universe is abundant and it quietly provides us with air, water and food. The universe supports life and is constantly providing the same to everyone, even if we try to exploit it with our greed and selfishness. After all this does the universe expect anything from you in return?
Simplicity is being transparent, truthful and being accountable at the same time. Don’t fight for glory, recognition, just do your work quietly as the universe does it. It is the purpose of the man, you are supposed to contribute and make the world a better place, you are gifted to do this. Just like the universe is gifted to provide life on this planet. The universe does not blow a trumpet every day, it flows naturally and plays its role, you too need to flow naturally and play your role.
If you notice carefully pride and ego are responsible for majority of our stresses in life. Pride is one of the reasons of not having a good rapport with your co-workers? The feeling “I am different from them” or “I am this and that” will always lead to friction amongst your co-workers / colleagues.
At home, see your relationships with loved / dear ones. So many strong relationships have drowned because of self-centeredness and egoism.
So how do we embrace humility?
Lao Tzu says be like a water / river to experience humility. If you closely observe the nature of water / river, it flows to everyone and everywhere. You try to block the river, it flows around the obstacles.
With ego, you cannot go to everyone, because you are too concerned about how it looks, what people think, what they will say etc. In some sense we are chained. Similarly, when someone questions you or when you bump into obstacles, your ego takes offense. You cannot let them go, in other words you do not let go and you make life hell for yourself and others.
One of the biggest reasons for stress is impatience. Unfortunately, we live in an era wherein we can’t wait for even a second. We soon lose nerves, becomes distressed and upset if we do not get things done “NOW”.
To instill patience in us, Lao Tzu says, observe the law of nature. The universe follows a certain order and is patient with it. There is winter, spring, summer, fall. There is Sun in the morning and as evening descends to night we see the Moon.
Do you ever notice the universe in a hurry?
Does it ever happen that Sun rises and sets in two hours? Winter starts and ends in a week. We cannot change the rules of nature. Hence, it is silly to get impatient over something which you cannot change.
There is no point in rushing and getting things done, it only increases our stress levels and makes us anxious and edgy. We all want success, however it does not come easily, there is a process and effort required to achieve success in long run.
Instead of getting impatient, work towards becoming more calm and patient. When you feel anxious and nervous, focus on your breathing to be more present and calm. Be thankful to everything as many times during the day as possible.
Maintaining balance in life is important to live a stress free life. Lao Tzu claims that there are two opposite but united forces working against each other in the universe. These forces are called Yin and Yang and these are responsible for maintaining balance in the universe.
Yin is characterized as an inward energy that is feminine, still, dark and negative. Yang is characterized as outward energy that is masculine, hot, bright and positive. These opposite forces coexist and complement each other, sometimes it even relies on one another to exist.
Most times we lose balance between two energy levels and let one energy dominate us. This imbalance affects our thoughts, feelings and overall well-being. Hence, it is important to maintain balance between these two energy levels.
Regular practice of mindfulness and meditation will help in restoring the balance between two energy levels.
6. Live In The Moment:
Stress revolves around two things:
- Worrying about the future
- Regretting our past
We seldom live in the moment. If you wish to learn the art of living in the moment you don’t have read books on mindfulness or meditation, just observe your kids or any child for that matter.
You must be thinking I am an adult, I have responsibilities, I have a family, commitments to meet – Can I afford to be like kids? Living in the moment does not mean you be careless, do not plan anything and live as if there is no tomorrow. That’s not practical and is a wrong misinterpretation of ‘living in the moment’.
Living in the moment means – Firstly, you do not regret the past. It is gone and will never come back. Learn the lessons from the past, thank it and move on with life. Secondly, plan for tomorrow but do not worry if your plan will work out or not because no one knows what’s in store for you in the future.
So what is left is – present moment, so focus on work at hand, focus on your performance, schedule your tasks, eat good food, face your fears, accept people around you, do not worry if you are winning or loosing. Life is about the journey lived every moment and not about the final destination. Practice mindfulness and meditation on a regular basis to inculcate the practice of living mindfully.
That’s it! These are evergreen principles wrote 2000 years back and still hold a lot of value. Now it is your turn to practice them and reap the benefits. Go ahead and start living a stress-free life. Feel free to share your comments or if you have any questions.