On Being Different

by Bill Bunting

As Taoists, we invite ourselves to be different. The Taoist sage does not explain himself to anyone. The sage's motives, values, beliefs, and mores are his own, and he is infallibly and naturally true to what it is his nature to be. This principle guides his every word, thought and deed so that no matter what the circumstance, the sage prevails with equanimity, peace, compassion, wisdom and grace. The enlightened person knows the nature of his own heart, and follows that nature. This wisdom and knowledge acquired through many years, maybe even many lifetimes of walking the path causes curiosity, and unusual stares and comments among his peers who may not understand the path. Enter the world of disorder and differences.

Many people although they are curious or in some way drawn to the path and would like to know more about the Tao are trapped in their own existence and ego, and without understanding the self, they can not find the path, but in not finding the path they walk just the same. While curiosity may breed interest, it does not necessarily breed understanding or tolerance, and although the movement towards tolerance and the abolition of prejudice is moving, it moves slowly. Intolerance breeds fear just as ignorance breeds fear, and especially in the west, these two companions of destruction run rampant. Too many times in the history of America have the perceptions of separation, intolerance and ignorance served to attempt to destroy what the Tao has created. As American children we are taught, sometimes implicitly, sometimes directly, that “America is the greatest country on earth”, that White is better, that different is somehow evil, that other religions, thoughts, ideologies, and mannerisms are “cultish” or subversive. All of these concepts are based in fear, born of ignorance and fed by a mentality of intolerance and subtle prejudice.  To walk the way of peace, the path of the Tao, is to defeat this fear with the silence of wisdom and compassion. To argue or attempt to persuade is a pointless waste of energy. The sage knows this and therefore does not choose the fight.

In the thoughts of westerners often what cannot be seen does not exist. This type of thought pattern allows entire populations and cultures to be wiped from before their eyes like so much dust. It allows the sort of rationalization that placed thousands of Native Americans behind fences on reservations while we fulfilled our “manifest destiny”. It allowed blacks to be lynched because they were black. It still allows women to be the object of denigration and disrespect because they are women. A Taoist sage does not seek these things. We appear different and unusual in our own country and culture because in our silence, often mistaken for a failure of resolve, we refuse at any cost to participate in the mentality of separation and prejudice and intolerance.

We as Taoists walk a path of Karma, and not punishment, of peace and not fear, of unity and not separation. Those of us who practice martial sciences are a paradox of Taoism, we refuse to engage in senseless combat, but train as though the day of war was imminent. There are very few who understand that to train the mind and spirit, one must also subdue the body.  In this simple paragraph lies one of the greatest differences, and one that is most difficult to overcome. In the west, and sadly more often now in the east, the philosophy of instant gratification, a quick fix, and easy riches is the religion of the moment. In dojo after dojo (Karate schools) time and again, young children and unqualified adults are given rank by instructors who take their money for two years and teach them nothing of how life and the universe works. In the west with very few exceptions, the real meaning of the training, to aid in the establishment of enlightenment, has been lost, and it has been lost to the idol of wealth. The sage knows that to truly master even one system may take a lifetime,  and it is not the technique or the ability to break things that is important, but the discipline, the knowledge and the wisdom that are acquired by conditioning the body, mind and spirit to all move as one. It is harmony and peace and unity with the Tao that we seek, not the colorful belt on the uniform. As Taoists, we seek the Tao in terms of lifetimes, not years, and the journey is not measured in distance traveled, or in distance yet to go, but in the now.

How many there are who would run to the western physician for drugs, when what needs healing is the heart. Why does western medicine ignore the mind and spirit and treat the symptoms of the body?  As Taoists, in harmony with nature and with the Tao, we seek the health and well being not just of our body, of the entire person, and not just ourselves, but all things, because all things are of the Tao, so to injure one is to diminish all.

Why is Christianity the only religion? Why is Jesus the only savior? Where did all of the Taoists and Buddhists go who lived before Jesus was born? Are they burning in hell right now?  The sage knows no hell and no heaven, only the peace that accompanies the transformation from life to life in death, the return to the emptiness that is the Tao.

Imagine what might happen if everyone on the planet, for one moment in the now could behave with the self awareness and compassion of the Taoist masters. Would the silence deafen us?

Imagine what might happen if just once, everyone gave from their heart of their wealth in the way of a sage. How many might be fed, warmed, comforted.

To be a Taoist is to maybe one day shed a ray of light on a path for one who cannot see the path.  To be a Taoist is to lift someone up who has fallen, and set them on the path.

To be a Taoist is to walk a path of solitude, content in your aloneness and happy for companionship when it comes. It is to be the lotus flower which is surrounded by water and mud but is never touched by it. It is to be the silent lamp to a world of darkened souls, a whisper of comfort to those who despair. It is to be one with the universe, the eternal Tao, and every living thing.  

I wish each of you peace in the Tao.