Stories of the Way

Taoist Parables

by Peter Saint-Andre

I have in mind to write a set of parables illustrating the Taoist principles of wu-wei, naturalness, and the Three Treasures of love, simplicity, and modesty. Here is how I see these principles fitting together (with connections to Buddhism - after all, legend has it that Lao Tzu / Gao Tan was just another name for Siddhartha Gautama).

Wu-wei is action without attachment or desire or self-assertion. These three qualities are described in Chapter 67 of the Tao Te Ching...

First, nothing is permanent, so attachment causes a cycle of possession and loss, whereas the practice of non-attachment (i.e., tz'u as loving something for its own sake) leads to true acceptance.

Second, nothing is perfect, so desire causes a cycle of hope and disappointment, whereas the practice of non-desire (i.e., chien as simplicity) leads to true enjoyment.

Third, nothing has an essence, so asserting yourself causes a cycle of pride and deflation, whereas the practice of non-assertion (i.e., "not daring to be first") leads to true serenity.

Self-mastery comes from immersing yourself in the flowing stream of reality, not grasping through attachment, reaching through desire, or pushing through self-assertion; this is naturalness or spontaneity.

Thus tales will illustrate the balance of yin-and-yang in all its forms: possession and loss, hope and disappointment, pride and deflation, light and shadow, growth and decay, assertion and surrender, power and weakness, hard and soft, earth and water, young and old, engagement and reclusion, activity and stillness, work and rest, outside and inside, upward and downward, forward and backward, and so on.

As Lao Tzu says, the Tao is very simple yet very hard to understand and to practice. Furthermore, it's all-too-human to overdo each of these things: to cling to non-attachment, to feel too strongly about simplicity, to become arrogant about non-assertion; these too are excesses to avoid.

Because of my Aristotle project I'm not yet actively working on this book; for now I'm just reading.

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