As a pushback to the anxieties of a stressed-out culture, the “mindfulness industry” is taking our country by storm. Many teachers in this field are promising rapid results, such as stress reduction for just 20 minutes a day. Wow! It’s as easy as that, isn’t it?! If only The Buddha knew about this! Too bad he didn’t have an iPhone to listen to some mindfulness apps… that would’ve made shit a lot easier for him!
However, many of these practices are based off of reductionist philosophy created by so-called atheist psychologist-types, stripping the meditation techniques from time-honored spiritual guidance and teachings. But really, how far can you go with the reductionist approach to inner peace, when the holistic approach of practices like Taoism take in consideration every aspect of the human experience? Learning meditation just to calm you down when you’re stressed out is really only addressing just one out of a myriad aspects of life. That sort of approach is almost like asking for liberation, yet not wanting to leave your prison.
So forget the fast-track reductionism. There are no shortcuts in the path towards true happiness and longevity. You must address every aspect of your life, not just “meditation for stress.” It takes a time-honored holistic philosophy to show you the way. For me, I utilize the philosophy of Taoism. Taoism is one of the many philosophies like Buddhism and Hinduism that take on a holistic approach to life… and just like the others, it takes dedication to practice, learn, and to master. It’s been proven time and time again that Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism (especially for me) can point you in the direction towards true happiness and inner peace as long as you really work at it.
Anything worthwhile will take diligent effort. For example, in sports, the journey to becoming the best boxer starts with the first lesson in punching and footwork. Mike Tyson was a violent street kid from New York City when Cus D’Amato took him under his wing. D’Amato told Tyson early on that he was going to be the champion of the world as long as Tyson listened to everything that D’Amato had to say. Through time, effort, trust in his teacher, and respect for his teachings, Tyson then became one of the most celebrated champion prizefighters in the history of boxing.
Even though being a champion prizefighter and being an adept seeker of the Tao are two different things, what they both share is that within each of those endeavors, there is a path and there are teachings of that path. There is a student of the path, and a teacher of the path. No matter who you choose to be your teacher – whether it’s a person you hire, or translated books of Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu – trust in what they teach and honoring the path are paramount to understanding.
In the “Trust and Respect” chapter of the Zuowang Lun (The Classic of Sitting-Forgetting), Sima Chengzhen talks about this very thing. In summary, the chapter proposes that if the student of the Tao has “faith in the central points of Taoist cultivation, respects and reveres them, and is determined and without doubt, moreover pursues his practice with utmost diligence, then he will certainly attain Tao.” (Kohn, 140)
Zhuangzi said that if you merge yourself with the Tao by practicing sitting in oblivion, all of your plans, stresses, worries, and anxieties will vanish. It seems a bit lofty and far-fetched, and almost meaningless, but it’s true, and Zhuangzi has proven so through his mastery. Without the required faith in the practice, you will never realize the truth in the teaching. So the first chapter ends with “when faith in Tao is insufficient there will be the misfortune of distrust. On such a basis how could one ever aspire to Tao?” (Kohn, 141)
The Tao is like a plant and has a root and stem. The root is faith and the stem is respect. When there is sufficient faith in both the path and the teacher, then one’s foundational understanding of the Tao can grow amazingly within. When respect for the path and the teacher are strong, the practice will be strong. In his book “Daoist Meditation,” Wu Jyh Cherng drives this point with an elegant passage: “If trust is the root of the Path (Dao), and if respect is the stalk of virtue, the Path requires trust in order to exist, and virtue requires respect in order to bloom. Trust, therefore, sustains the Path and respect sustains the Virtue, allowing them to bloom like flowers on this Path.” (Cherng, 59)
Cherng, W. J., & Zhen, S. M. (2015). Daoist meditation: the purification of the heart method of meditation and discourse on sitting and forgetting (Zuó Wáng Lún) by Si Ma Cheng. London: Singing Dragon.
Kohn, L., & Sima, C. (2010). Sitting in oblivion: the heart of Daoist meditation. Dunedin, FL: Three Pines Press.