This essay is amazing in it’s detail and unbridled in it’s clarity of the Truth. I have followed my Taoist path for many years and have never come upon such an intuitive and gifted teacher as the author of this essay, Jos Slabbert. I sincerely hope that all who choose to read this are as impressed and appreciative of this dynamic and engrossing essay as I am. There is, however, one topic in this section of his essay that conflicts with my years of study and understanding. I have a different perspective of Karma – a subject that goes to the very core of the Truth. Karma is extremely complex in it’s simplicity and Mr. Slabbert’s perspective is very accurate and well defined but I believe that there have been and will be the one in a billion or more individuals who have in the past and will in the future overcome Karma. I will explain my position separately at another time in the very near future and the reader can then decide which to believe. Be well. Be happy. Be!
C. Aspects of ignorance
1. Lack of right knowledge
Our society is saturated with ignorance. It is close to impossible to escape ignorance and its shackles. This ignorance is often based on a gross lack of the most basic knowledge of matters of the spirit.
Society is rife with falsities, superstitions and misunderstandings. People often spend many years of their lives totally immersed in an illusionary, deceptive world. This causes them to suffer, and even worse, to cause suffering to others.
There are many falsities that must be identified and discarded before one could even start developing oneself properly.
What follows is a list of some of these false assumptions and superstitions which bind one to a world of illusion.
Illusions and Superstitions
* The illusion of static permanence
As long as one believes that one is part of a world of permanent things, one will never understand even the most rudimentary aspects of the spirit.
The sage knows
the shade of the tree
is more real
than the tree.
He stares into the mirror
to see only
staring back at him.
People unwilling to face reality cling to the concept of a static world, which is incredibly ignorant, for the world abounds with proof that the world is a perpetually dynamic and transient process. Spiritual stagnation is the inevitable result of holding on to the illusion of static permanence.
* The illusion of solidity – materialism
Believing in permanence is the basis of materialism, in which one sees concrete things as more real than the spirit, and therefore the only things worth living for. When one believes this, material possession is seen as the way to satisfy the spirit, and one becomes greedy for material things in order to find fulfilment and peace.
drowning in the flood,
he clings to
his imaginary branch
instead of swimming for the shore.
* The illusion of “I” – a permanent soul
There is absolutely no doubt that the illusion of a permanent “I” causes the most confusion and harm. It is the basis of egotism, which is to serve a false self created by one’s own mind. It corrupts even spiritual life, for it often takes the form of serving an ego-soul which uses religion as a bridge to reach its own selfish aims.
Why do I cling to myself
as if I really exist?
I refuse to accept with joy
what I will enter through suffering.
(The Tao is Tao, 34)
* The superstition of salvation through an external source
In all religions, there are people who tend to search for an easy route to salvation or enlightenment, which does not involve changing themselves in the process. They will cling to superficial ritual and form, believing that these rites would do for them what they refuse to do for themselves. They try to create the illusion that they could get the article without paying the price for it. It is a terrible superstition causing stagnation and suffering.
You and you alone can salvage your life.
You and you alone can walk the path.
No one else can do it for you.
Many Christians, for example, wrongly believe that if they have faith in Christ as a kind of miraculous icon, they would find salvation for their souls without following Christ’s actual path. Christ has pointed at the path they should take, but they have confused his finger with the path. Christ is not a comfortable shortcut. He has given us a perfect example of a way to salvation, a way that can only be followed by the very bravest, for it involves sacrificing the self even to the point of crucifixion. It is living in the spirit of Christ that gives Christianity vitality, not ritual pretense of sacrifice, or prostrating oneself before some icon.
In the same way, many Buddhists would perform what would be symbolic rituals to build up merit. Rituals are no shortcuts to spiritual development. Symbolic acts isolated from real life do not move your spirit forward. Chanting other people’s words of wisdom without application is like pretending to move forward on the path while you are in fact waiting for someone else to take you there. The spiritual essence of the Buddha gives Buddhism vitality and energy, not ritual imitations of virtue.
* The superstition of escape from karma
Many charlatans have made fortunes out of selling people what they claim to be forms of escape from the inescapable forces of karma. In the Medieval Age, the church even sold absolutions from sins to naive people. Often, holy men or women or relics, are presented as agents neutralizing the effects of your actions.
One thing is clear. There is no way to escape the inexorable law of karma. The law of cause and effect operates as relentlessly in the world of the spirit as it does in the physical realm. You shall reap what you have sown. Your deeds will come back to haunt you. Even a Buddha does not escape the relentless fairness of causality.
Only a real change in your mind, thoughts, speech and action will change your karma, for karma is nothing but your own action: it is in fact you. Only when you are not serving an ego will you live without creating more sorrow and suffering for yourself and for others.*
live in fear and anger of
the inescapable laws
of cause and effect.
They try to ward off Karma
as if it were some beast that could be slain.
They grovel before the gods
as if their favor
could render Karma ineffective.
the wheel of birth, life, suffering and death,
runs over them,
leaving them in tatters.
The Taoist sage
Karma is inescapable,
yet he lives free from dread,
for he knows
he is Samsara,
and the wheel cannot run over itself.
The person in close harmony with the Tao
lives without anger,
for he understands
Karma is but himself:
there is nothing to be angry with.
The Taoist sage lives
the inexorable justice of Karma
and the relentless inevitability of Samsara
do not touch him,
he is liberated from himself.
(The Tao is Tao, 39)
* The illusion of an explicable god
The Tao is silence
The Tao is emptiness
(The Tao is Tao, 2)
Many religions will define their god, and present their definition as “The Truth” to their members, forcing them to subscribe to their specific concepts. By doing this, they gain power over the minds of people. In this way, religion has often been perverted from a liberating experience into one of captivity.
The illusion that god can be defined can be destructive.
* The superstition that knowledge is progress
try to escape suffering
by accumulating knowledge,
in this way increasing
(The Tao is Tao, 47)
A surprising number of people still subscribe to this naive superstition. Tens of thousands of universities, institutions, agencies and projects gather information in the belief that the stockpiling of knowledge is progress.
Of course, as history has shown us in so many graphic examples, knowledge can also lead to what can hardly be interpreted as progress in terms of civilization. The Hiroshima bomb is an example of the destruction knowledge can bring. Our systematic destruction of our environment is proof of how thoroughly technology can be embedded in the worst form of ignorance, namely greed.
Not knowledge, but our harmony with the Tao determines whether we truly progress or not.
Our true development does not lie in the ingenuous inventions and innovations of technology, or in the gigabytes of data stored in vast databases, but in the realms of the spirit, for the spirit defines the direction knowledge takes.
* The illusion of “wisdom” without compassion
There is no such thing as wisdom without compassion. People with cold hearts posing as wise men are the true false profits of our age. Often their “wisdom” is utilized to enrich themselves materially, or to gain power and fame.
“Wisdom” isolated from compassion is a treacherous form of ignorance. It is destructive. It gives false hope only to betray in essence.
Wisdom can never be in service of greed. It cannot serve power. It does not exist in the company of the callously affluent.
Mere cleverness may solve many problems, but it will never solve the essential problems of the world, which lie in the realm of the spirit.
* The illusion of “compassion” without wisdom
No matter how much you love someone, your love will be of little value if it is not guided by wisdom that will transform your love into compassion.
Love not guided by wisdom often leads astray, increasing instead of relieving suffering. Love without wisdom easily turns into a destructive force serving the ego.
It is only when love turns from a cheap emotion into real commitment that wisdom has a chance to become its guiding force. Compassion, like all aspects of spirituality, lies beyond the merely intellectual or emotional. It lies in the sphere of commitment and experience.
Love without wisdom is a form of ignorance. Compassion guided by wisdom is the greatest force in the world.
For more information on this aspect, read the article “Wisdom and Compassion: Two Sides of the Same Coin” at http://www.truetao.org/theway/wisdom.htm.
* The illusion that action is progress
This illusion seems to predominate in the modern world, where “men of action”, impatient and impetuous, in the service of greed, manipulate and change without regard for the natural processes of our planet. Never has there been a time in history where the virtue of action has been more overestimated and has become an end in itself.
2. Lack of faith
a lack of knowledge,
but a lack of faith
in the unknowable.
cling to knowledge
as if knowledge can explain
The Taoist sage
with the mysterious.
(The Tao is Tao, 46)
Faith is our effort to deal with the mysterious. Once something has lost its mystery and we understand it, we do not need faith to deal with it.
The Tao as well as our spirit will forever lie in the realms of the mysterious, and will therefore always require a great deal of faith from us.
Faith means trust and acceptance:
It is to accept
(The Tao is Tao, 22)
There are many unprovable aspects that will just have to be accepted by us. We need the faith of a child to do so. Of course, our critical rational faculties will object vehemently against this gagging of our intellect. But we have no choice. If we refuse to take this upon ourselves, we will never be able to enter the spiritual realm.
To step into the realm of the spirit
is to abandon thinking.
Can you step over the precipice,
not knowing what is below?
Life starts this way.
(The Tao is Tao, 17)
Particularly at the beginning of our development, we obviously need a lot of faith, for we have not yet experienced on a spiritual level the revelations that will turn surmise into certainty.
Until experience has confirmed our beliefs, we need faith.
3. Lack of application
Too few people practice what they believe. Too many people are content with being armchair philosophers. Too many people today are addicted to intellectual excitement. Their effort to understand then often becomes an egotistical preoccupation with thrills of the mind. They will cling to the intellectual, which will then become a handicap and not a help on the way to harmony with the Tao. As long as you do not progress beyond the merely intellectual, you will never reach harmony with the Tao. In fact, intellectual analysis without the commitment to application ultimately confuses and increases disharmony and agitation.
Moving towards the Tao is not only an intellectual exercise. It is real movement which finds fulfilment only in the experiential sphere. It is not only talking about compassion; it is practicing it as well. It is not just discussing wisdom; it is also living it. It is not merely considering theoretical possibilities; it is to be in the thick of life, acting intuitively where there is the need to act, and to refrain from action where it is wise to do so. It is to speak out when compassion compels you to, and to shut up when wisdom demands it.
Theory is cheap. A life of the spirit is real, and demands its price.
The Buddha warned against accepting any so-called “spiritual truth” unless you have tested it yourself and found it to be true. Wiser advice has never been given.
Once you have started on your way, never give up. Be patient and resilient, no matter what happens to you, and no matter how many setbacks you suffer. Never turn back. Show grit. Have courage. Have faith. Never give up.
Egotism is certainly the main stumbling block in destroying ignorance and becoming wise. The belief in a permanent “I” and in the permanence of things combine to form a terrible obsession, in which the main aim becomes the glorification of self. This self, however, is a false one, a contrived image of who you are supposed to be. It enslaves its believer and often drives him to hyperactivity and distress.
5. Dualistic thinking on a spiritual level
Many people allow their rational faculties to interfere with their spiritual life. This causes many problems. The rational separates, whereas the spirit strives to unite. The rational spotlights differences, the spirit emphasizes sameness and identity.
As long as you limit the rational and the analytical to its own sphere, where it has a legitimate and essential function, no problems will occur. Problems ensue when your discriminatory faculties intrude upon matters of the spirit.
The discriminatory faculties tend to undermine faith. For example, trying to explain the inexplicable causes confusion and not clarity. We have already mentioned what happens if you want to define god: you then turn god from a source of spiritual power into something that can be packaged and sold by organizations to increase their own power.
There is quite simply a limit to our rational abilities. There is a point in our spiritual development where only faith and commitment will allow us to progress.
A terrible byproduct of dualistic thinking on a spiritual level is the belief that things are really separate. We start believing that the “reality” created in our minds is real. We lose sight of the fact that separation is artificial and does not exist.
In a state of ignorance, we tend to be unaware of the confusing influence that language has on our ability to progress. For example, we tend to think that the “spiritual” and “material” levels are two separate levels, and we do not realize that it is our thinking that separates these two aspects. What we fail to see is that, in fact, the spirit and our bodies are identical. Not realizing this can lead to much confusion and suffering.
To be continued……..