Taoism, a wisdom tradition with its origins in China (dating back more than 2,500 years), is not always well understood by us Westerners.
I think the main reason being that we tend to embrace the philosophical aspects of Taoism (primarily by reading the ancient texts called the “Tao Te Ching” and “The Zhuangzi”) while rejecting the spiritual aspects that tends to blur the lines between Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
Even the way we spell things causes confusion. Some prefer the “t” spelling as in “the Tao” and others use the “d” spelling as in “the Dao”. But here’s the thing: Despite the difficulties and confusion associated with trying to understand Taoism, it’s actually worth the effort.
This wisdom tradition is filled with teachings and insights into the essence of human existence. Helping us understand that its more important to flow than fight. So, true self-mastery according to the Tao (The Way) is to let things go their way without forcing or interfering.
It also teaches the importance of listening to the voice within, the voice of wisdom and simplicity, the voice that reasons beyond cleverness and knows beyond knowledge. That voice that is not just the power of a few, but has been given to everyone.
Those who pay attention to it are too often treated as exceptions to the rule, rather than as examples of the rule in action, a rule than can apply to anyone who makes use of it.
Ok, so can Taoism (or Daoism, let’s not get hung up on the spelling) really help us today with, for example, being successful? Well, let’s look at it together. In both the core Taoist texts, Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi, most of the teachings relates to what success really means.
The “Tao Te Ching”, the ancient text of sometimes cryptic teachings broken into short, easily memorized passages. The legend is the author was a man called Lao Tzu (or Lao Tse or Laozi.) And the other text the “Zhuangzi,” an collection of allegorical tales and poetry, written by one of there most influential philosophers and student of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu.
Three important points are made in regard to a successful life. Or as Taoism put it, the basic virtues known as the Three Treasures — compassion, simplicity and humility, (which first appear in chapter 67 of the “Tao Te Ching”).
It is the second of the treasures, called jian in Chinese, that is most closely associated with success and more defined, financial success. It can be translated as moderation, economy, or simplicity. And it is often explained through the Taoist metaphor of Pu, or uncarved wood.
At the risk of completely misunderstanding what Pu point toward, let’s say that Taoism teaches the way to find success is to first cast off unnecessary hindrances like selfish desires for profit and recognition.
Lao-Tzu wrote: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” Meaning the real success and even financial success, lies in the direction of less not more. Simplicity rather than clutter, slowing down rather than speeding up.
The earliest forms of Taoism — just like the earliest forms of Buddhism and Christianity, or the modern secular practice of minimalism — advocate for a simple life that provides room for contemplation and celebrates simple pleasures. The real wealth. The whole “you can’t take it with you,” thing gets into perspective here.
Do not race after riches, do not risk your life for success, or you will let slip the Heaven within you. (Zhuangzi, Chapter 29) Hereby introducing one of the secrets of living a successful life; and that is to eliminate the sense of speed in your life. Speed is nothing more than a made up belief that you are more effective and more alive than when you are slow.
And so, it becomes a bad habit; it’s really not a scheduling problem, it’s a state-of-mind problem. There are many extremely busy people who almost never feel rushed and even more people who aren’t very busy, but who feel busy almost all the time. The degree to which you feel rushed in your life is dependent entirely on your ability to keep it simple.
Most people live their lives with thoughts centered on what they still must do and how little time they have to do it in. To one degree or another, many of us live this way. We fill up our present moments with thoughts of a hurried future, thereby complicating and cluttering the present moment.
The solution to this is to live more in the present moment. To simplify your outlook. In fact, it is impossible to feel rushed regardless of what you are doing when you become less focused on what needs to be done, and more focused on using each moment to its fullest.
If you are running late and driving to your next meeting, letting your mind spin forward to all the terrible things that are going to happen once you have arrive isn’t going to get you there faster, is it?
If you can learn to simplify and bring your attention back to the moment, driving the car, you will calm down. Instead of feeling stressed out, you will feel calm. A Calm person knows that if he or she continues thinking about things yet to be done they will continue to feel rushed—it’s that simple.
You should realize by now, that a hurried mind cannot be a calm one, and only a calm mind can be clear and focused. Calm people know that their minds can make them feel rushed even when they’re not under a time pressure.
Luckily, they also know that they can bring their attention back to this moment, and back to whatever they are doing, slowing down. “Restore your attention or bring it to a new level by dramatically slowing down whatever you’re doing,” says Sharon Salzberg.
Off course there will be times when you need to do things quickly or take immediate action, but from this moment on, do yourself a favour and save your sense of urgency for those special and rare occasions when it’s truly needed.
Keeping the mind in the calm zone can bring better health, enhanced concentration and the ability to think more creatively. And isn’t this one of the main requirements for success?
Just as Henry David Thoreau, a student of the Tao Te Ching, puts it: “Our life is fritted away by detail, simplify, simplify.”
So to conclude, out of all the ways to success, simplicity is maybe my most favorite. So much so that I think simplicity can solve most of the problems, personal as well as the world problems. I mean if the life approach of most could have been simplicity, the need to lie, to argue or steal, envy, abuse, kill, would lessen. Everyone would have enough and maybe would not hoard and clutter as much. When less is more, you are enough. Isn’t that the beauty of simplicity?