Friday, July 15, 2022
HomeTaoismExhausting and Simple Paths to Realization

Exhausting and Simple Paths to Realization

A very long time in the past I had a dialog with a Zen priest. It was once I was nonetheless rather more engaged in “cloud-walking” (ie: discovering out non secular individuals from varied traditions to see what I can study from them) than I’m right this moment. Somebody talked about him to me, and it turned out that he labored as a sculpture technician within the fine-arts constructing proper subsequent to library the place I work. So there was no excuse to not search him out.

He was a gruff previous man who was very near retirement. He’d gone to Korea as a soldier throughout the struggle and ended up staying on in one of many Temples. I discussed that I used to be fascinated by Zen and he did his greatest to discourage me. Transcendental meditation was, he opined, a a lot simpler approach to discover some knowledge in life. He mentioned that there was a temple in Toronto, however I needed to be “exhausting core” or they’d merely throw me out the entrance door. This can be a pretty normal trope from Zen—it’s not presupposed to be a straightforward approach to acquire realization.


Academics have tended to create simpler types of gaining knowledge “for the lots”. These embody issues like reciting mantras

and performing devotional rituals.

These are very normal strikes throughout all religions. Christianity emphasizes devotional practices, however it additionally has a lot of the others too. For instance, there’s a custom of chanting in Jap Orthodoxy that’s targeted on repeating the mantra “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner”. (The Jap Church often says that that is nothing like Jap chanting, however that is nonsense.)

Individuals practising a particular posture in a Hatha Yoga class
Photograph by”Trollderella”, c/o the Wikicommons

Point out “yoga” to most individuals, and they’re going to in all probability consider one thing just like the above image. That is what is named hatha yoga, which has just lately change into one thing of a fad. (I’ll communicate of it no extra.) However the precise phrase “yoga” means one thing just like the phrase “kung fu”, a diligent follow that’s used to achieve perception and data. It has a barely totally different emphasis, although. “Yoga” comes from the identical root phrase as “yoke”, so the emphasis is on committing your self to a sure follow or path. (Sanskrit and European languages come from the identical supply, so there are similarities like this for sure phrases.) “Kung fu”, in distinction, emphasizes the person’s exhausting work main to non-public excellence or realization.

Indian non secular lecturers have codified the totally different non secular “ways”, or “yogas”, or “kung fus” one can observe in pursuit of non secular perception and named them accordingly. Chanting correlates with Japa Yoga, devotional practices correlate with Bhakti Yoga, the route of excellent works (suppose Gandhi) is named Karma Yoga, ritual is roofed by Tantra Yoga. I would recommend that Zen is most like Jnana Yoga, or, “the trail of data”.


The trail of data exists in opposition to the trail of devotion or ritual. It is about truly understanding the reality as a substitute of getting religion or being a loving individual. This is a crucial level, and one I not often see spelled out in any element.

Personally, I’ve all the time been consumed by eager to know issues. This is not only a query of curiosity. Extra importantly—for me at least—it’s a powerful moral dedication to the concept we should not make choices with out discovering out the reality that underlies the state of affairs. This has made me the “odd man out” for many of my life as a result of I are inclined to get completely livid with people who find themselves fairly glad to “fudge the info” and even lie to be able to get their manner. This just lately got here dwelling to me in an argument I had with some people a couple of Canadian educational who has been spreading a bald-faced lie about an abstruse a part of Canadian governance to be able to whip right-wing People right into a frenzy. The outcome has been that this man appears to have made a fortune on social media and public talking engagements convincing those who Canada is on the verge of being taken over by radical Muslims.

My argument is that this kind of behaviour must be grounds for dismissing this man from his tenured college place and revoking his Phd—along the traces of taking away a health care provider’s license for malpractice. The response by most individuals has been to recommend that I’ve a screw free and I merely do not perceive the significance of freedom of speech, and, tenure. What I would argue is that sure, I do perceive the significance of free speech, however these people do not perceive how a lot harm pretend information can have on the lives of harmless individuals. A small share of individuals truly consider these things after they hear it and consider that they should take motion. The outcome are terrorist assaults on Muslims, like the current one in Quebec Metropolis that killed six and wounded nineteen others.


I raised the above instance not as a result of I wish to rehash the problems of “pretend information” and the great resurgence of Fascist demagoguery our society is presently going by way of, however just because I needed to level out a wierd manner through which my psychological processes are totally different from nearly everybody else. That’s, I don’t blame the one who picks up a gun and shoots others practically as a lot as I blame the one who bombarded the shooter with propaganda in regards to the perfidy of the victims to be able to increase cash or promote a political agenda. A minimum of the shooter has the braveness of his convictions. However the propagandist could not—and I believe usually doesn’t—really consider what he’s saying, however simply does so to benefit from the gullible.

In impact, I’m making the identical level that the Gospels make in Matthew 7:15, “Watch out for false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothes, however inwardly they’re ravening wolves.” 

In a while, Christ additionally makes a really sturdy assertion in the same vein. When requested “Who’s the best in Heaven’s area?”, he replies that saying that it’s the people who find themselves like little kids. However then he goes on to say that

“Those that entrap certainly one of these little trusting souls could be higher off to have millstones hung round their necks and be drowned within the deepest a part of the ocean!” (Matthew 18:1-6, Scholar’s Model of the Gospels)

If this wasn’t sturdy sufficient, Jesus goes on to curse the individuals who attempt to idiot the gullible.

“Dam the world for the traps it units! Despite the fact that it is inevitable for traps to be set, nonetheless, rattling the one who units such traps.” (Matthew 18:7) 

Taking a look at these quotes from the Gospels has acquired me pondering. I’ve by no means needed to place a millstone across the neck of certainly one of these Alt-right propaganda types—but I’ve contemplated tying ropes connected to cement blocks round their necks and tossing them by way of holes reduce within the ice protecting Lake Ontario. (I used to be truly startled to comprehend that Jesus’s stage of rage is similar to my very own. Wow!)

The purpose I am attempting to make is that the kind of deep, loopy anger that I (and presumably Jesus, too—I can not recover from that) have in opposition to the “Grima Wormtongues” of politics and social media is definitely fairly uncommon. Actually, I’ve discovered that most individuals not solely cannot perceive why I get so upset about these things, they’re usually genuinely involved about me and the “loopy concepts” that I maintain. I believe that a part of the reason being that folks merely can not see the unbelievable harm this kind of factor could cause. I suppose that finally, it is like a superb chess participant who can see how terrible a play is as a result of he seems to be a number of strikes forward. The dangerous participant merely would not perceive what all of the fuss is about. In the identical manner, for instance, I get loopy offended about what will occur to different individuals sooner or later due to local weather change, whereas the oldsters who cannot see this simply suppose I’m flipping out about completely nothing.


So what has this acquired to do with Zen Buddhism and Bhakti yoga?

Properly, the trail of data actually is simply too tough for most individuals to observe. It entails a relentless battle to battle in opposition to your preconceived notions and to stare completely actually into the face of actuality and settle for what you see—no matter what. In Zen the legendary story of Bodhidharma staring on the wall of cave for years to be able to deepen his understanding illustrates the terrible effort that it’s a must to put into tearing away all of your illusions.

Bodhidharma staring on the wall
I acquired the image from a web site with out attribution,
But it surely mentioned it was from the center ages, so I am assuming it is public area.

This kind of horrible, painful effort is widespread in most religions. Christ on his cross, Daoist tales about college students being boiled alive by their masters, even Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog from Lord of the Rings, are all metaphors for the large battle that must be fought within the pursuit of knowledge. However the place the trail of knowledge components from others is that the individuals who observe it usually don’t encourage their followers to embark on the identical journey—they recommend one thing simpler. That is what my neighbour the Zen priest was doing. He was attempting to discourage curiosity in Zen and advised one thing simpler: transcendental meditation.

Even transcendental meditation is simply too exhausting for many individuals, although. That’s the reason religions as a substitute flip in direction of the paths of religion and devotion. “Religion” is the concept we merely need to have hope that all of it is sensible in a technique or one other. If life is a horrible horror for most individuals, have religion that there’s a life after loss of life and everybody will get their simply rewards there. Or if that does not work, have religion that there’s a nice God within the sky who’s nice intelligence is so past us, that he sees a manner through which all of it does make sense. If religion would not give you the results you want, there’s all the time devotion. You faculty your self to like god or the church or the rituals a lot that every part else turns into of secondary significance. The purpose of religion and devotion is to cease even attempting to make sense of issues, as a result of it simply hurts an excessive amount of to take the time.

I can perceive this. Most individuals haven’t got the time or inclination to place their whole life into the method of gaining knowledge. I put in ten years learning philosophy. I’ve spent monumental quantities of time meditating, assembly with non secular lecturers, occurring retreats, studying sacred and philosophical texts, learning martial arts, and many others. Most folk would slightly have a profession, increase a household, journey, and many others. For them the trail of data is just not a “stay possibility”.

A proud younger man got here to Socrates asking for knowledge. He walked as much as him and mentioned, “O nice Socrates, I come to you for knowledge.” Socrates, recognizing a pompous idiot when he noticed one, led him all the way down to the ocean and took him chest deep into the water. Then he requested him, “What did you say you needed?” “Knowledge, O nice Socrates,” mentioned the younger man.
Socrates put his sturdy fingers on the person’s shoulders and pushed him below. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up. “What would you like?” he requested once more. “Knowledge,” the younger man sputtered, “O nice and clever Socrates.” Socrates pushed him below once more. Thirty seconds, thirty-five, forty – then Socrates let him up. The person was gasping. “What would you like, younger man?”
Between heavy breaths the guy wheezed, “Knowledge! O clever and fantastic…” Socrates jammed him below once more – forty seconds handed then fifty – then he let him up. “What would you like?” “Air!” the younger man yelled. “I would like air!”  “Once you need knowledge as a lot as you’ve gotten simply needed air, then you’ll start to seek out knowledge.” 

(Quote from a weblog that I do not endorse, however this can be a broadly used apocryphal story and this model is simply nearly as good as another for the needs of this put up.)


I can keep in mind once I was “cloudwalking” with Roman Catholics that this determination to pursue data as a substitute of religion was all the time an unbridgeable crevasse that separated me from them. They merely could not perceive my dedication to data, and for a very long time I could not perceive their insistence on religion. The opposite day I wakened with an perception merely about how a lot totally different my life would have been if I hadn’t had that weird obsession with knowledge that Socrates talks about within the above story.

Knowledge is a humorous factor. My expertise is that it all the time comes on the worth of struggling. Even when it is not the results of having a very painful expertise, I’ve discovered that deep realization usually comes from a interval of one thing very like melancholy. What occurs is that for days I really feel deeply introverted and sad with life, however then a second comes when the clouds half and I perceive some deep thriller of life that has perplexed me for an extended, very long time. John of the Cross known as this “the darkish evening of the soul”, Saint Ignatius known as this course of “desolation adopted by comfort”. My expensive candy spouse merely calls it the alternation of Yin and Yang.

John Stuart Mill
Picture c/o Wiki Commons,
a fairly sensible man.


The query of happiness and the pursuit of knowledge is one thing that lots of people have thought of. It’s particularly related to Utilitarians, or, the varsity of philosophy that claims that ethical points may be settled by creating the best quantity of excellent (ie: “utility”) for the best variety of individuals. Certainly one of its founders, John Stuart Mill, raised the knowledge query within the following manner:

 “It’s indeniable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the best likelihood of getting them totally glad; and a extremely endowed being will all the time really feel that any happiness which he can search for, because the world is constituted, is imperfect. However he can study to bear its imperfections, if they’re in any respect bearable; and they won’t make him envy the being who’s certainly unconscious of the imperfections, however solely as a result of he feels under no circumstances the great which these imperfections qualify. 
It’s higher to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig glad; higher to be Socrates dissatisfied than a idiot glad. And if the idiot, or the pig, is of a special opinion, it is just as a result of they solely know their very own aspect of the query.” (Utilitarianism)

The essential level right here is “they solely know their very own aspect of the query“. That is why realization is so mysterious. You both get it or you do not.

It is even worse than that. A couple of individuals are “fated” to hunt data, however most do not. Once I was speaking to that Zen priest all these years in the past, I discussed one thing about having had a wild, bizarre childhood that shattered any illusions I may need had about atypical life. He immediately responded with “that is simply the value of admission” and talked about his time within the Korean struggle. (No specifics, however I believe that he noticed some dangerous craziness. My understanding is that the Canadian contingent acquired greater than it is fair proportion.) That is the place the problem of “destiny” or “karma” kicks in. Some individuals are like Socrates and want data the identical manner most individuals want air. Most folk simply aren’t like that. They’re content material to only depend on religion or devotion.


I perceive why individuals lean upon religion. Lots of very dangerous issues occur in life and if it would not make any sense (and, to be trustworthy, lots actually doesn’t—life is absurd.) It may be a tremendously helpful technique to easily pressure your self to imagine that all of it is sensible and go from there. And devotion is just a variation in that theme. “Jesus loves me this I do know, ‘trigger the Bible tells me so—“. You possibly can’t love God except you’ve gotten religion that he exists and offers a rattling about you and your petty issues.

However for those who hear a very scary story about local weather change, otherwise you get bummed out due to some horrible atrocity being dedicated in opposition to individuals on the opposite aspect of the planet, or watch YouTube and a few horribly educated police officer kills somebody, or examine some company fudging analysis to get a harmful medication put available on the market, or,—-you fill within the blank—-you nonetheless need to get up within the morning, put your boots on, and, head off to work. Plenty of individuals simply do not trouble taking note of the world round them. Plenty of others do not actually care all that a lot about what occurs to different individuals. However there are nonetheless plenty of delicate sorts who get upset about this sort of stuff and they do not know how one can cope with the ache. For them, religion could be a tremendously good factor as a result of it helps them proceed to be purposeful in a world that they expertise as a unending horror present.

I lastly get the attraction of religion. But it surely merely would not work for me. My thoughts simply is not designed to work that manner. That is why I am a Daoist who’s dedicated to the trail of data as a substitute of the trail of religion or devotion. We’d like individuals to hunt out data as a result of that’s how our society strikes ahead. However I additionally suspect that we additionally want individuals who have religion to maintain the the wheels shifting.


Out comes the begging bowl. Imagine me, I in all probability hate writing these “asks” greater than you do studying them. But when I do not remind those who the blokes who faucet their fingers on the keyboards and rack their brains arising with the concepts need to make some cash too, we proceed to assist the phantasm that each one these things on the Web simply comes for “free”. Not going. And the blokes who do the coding and work on the promoting, and the managers and buyers that stand behind them, definitely aren’t working totally free. Actually, they’re making astronomical earnings. Do you want that? If not, then keep in mind to assist the “creatives” in the easiest way you possibly can. Toss one thing within the tip jar, perform a little subscription, purchase a e-book, or, simply inform your “associates” on social media that they could prefer to learn this weblog.  


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