I overdosed on Daoist texts yesterday. Say what you will, but those texts (any, generally considered ‘holy’ or ,as Chinese elegantly put it, ‘classical’ ) have huge impact on the consciousness. Try studying the Bible or Dao De Jing or Upanishad or Zohar, to name just a few, for couple of consecutive hours, with an open mind and without expectations and you’ll see for yourself. In my believe, those are – for the lack of better phrasing – living beings. Wise, humorous, entertaining and on occasion satirical and even bitchy living beings. If your beloved Book of Changes has called you sometimes ‘The Young Fool’ by throwing hexagram number four repeatedly to your face, you know exactly what i am talking about.
Both main traditions of Chinese thought – Daoism and Confucianism – stem from the Book of Changes, but it is quite challenging to speak of those in Western terms.
We could say I Ching to China is what Bible is to the West and we would be both – quite right and terribly wrong as well. In the same vein, it is quite difficult to juxtapose the two schools of thought – because you can be perfectly Daoist in some aspects of your life and absolutely Confucian in others, whereas, for the sake of comparison, you could hardly be Christian in some views and Muslim in others.
Risquing the dreaded oversimplification, i’ll try to differentiate the two most generally – at least in the ways they are generally perceived in the West.
Confucianism is focused on the past and looks for guidance in the traditional, conservative ways. It’s about morals and rituals and the proper way to do things, as learned from ancestors; it is communal, active and engaging.
Daoism is way more individualistic, self-focused and unpretentious; it advises simplicity and non-judgement so to avoid polarization and stemming from it imbalance.
Too much knowledge is viewed as counterproductive, too much involvement with the society – fatal for one’s true self.
While putting away social conditioning and traditional ways of doing things – the sage focuses on his or her own inner calling and turns off the ‘human mentality’; there the mind of Dao steps in.
What is Dao exactly – nobody knows, those who know don’t speak and those who do speak – do not know it.
(Both renounce the after-life discussions though – saying that we don’t know people, so can’t know Gods and that we don’t know earthly ways, even less so the ways of heaven.)
We could look at it this way, using the parable of a storm, which could be found in most traditions. (If you recall, in Christian Bible Jesus was sleeping when the storm began, oblivious to it and thus unaffected.)
Seeing the approaching waves – Daoist would basically try to keep his distance, but if for some reason he had to to get in, he’d get his surf promptly and, ideally, would enjoy the ride.
Confucianist would first call all the emergency numbers. Then they would organize the rescue operation, put on the life west and jump in to save the drowning victims. It might turn out there were no victims in the first place. The reward for his courage might be that he drowns himself. It all might have been nothing but a bad dream. We can’t know that.
I think in such occasions most don’t reason, but simply act in accordance to their nature. My own impulse is to jump in and i inevitably do. I’ve never “drown”, but i don’t think i saved many (if anyone) either, i was simply acting according to my basic nature. And then one can’t go wrong, whatever they do; if in tune with inner self , there is no corruption or immorality.
But, if speaking of non-emergency situations, my own experience is that it is better indeed to keep away.
I believe i am Daoist by birth and Confucian by conditioning. My own, intimate perception of the outer reality is indeed that of something quite impermanent and illusionary; i believe it is I who validate the outer by getting involved, and not the other way around.
It’s being a while now that i am aware to which extent the outer reality is overestimated and prone to manipulation; more so there isn’t one single definition of it that philosophers (or scientists ) would agree on.
Right, evening news are reality – but only as long as you don’t turn off the tv. Some people are very real – and beside you, as long as you don’t get away from them and their words and deeds.
Having relocated often during my formative years – i can attest to that.
In my view – people from our surroundings always have expectations of us and that’s a preset pattern almost impossible to avoid, it is a trap.
Some are expected to be successful, some are expected to be loosers, some are expected to be good looking, some are expected to be drunkards and so on. On an everyday level – there is very little room to change, within those preset expectations; as we know, people instrictively hate changes and will push you with all their might not to change. Mostly unconsciously, but the effect on you is the same. It is not good or bad per se – everyone is on a stormy ride of their own and they need ‘reppers ‘; if you succumb to that, you become merely a road marker for somebody else, equally lost as you are.
Reinventing oneself through changing surroundings is thus crucial to survival. I believe literal relocation, at least temporal, is the best; as they say – no one is a prophet in his own land.
If that for some reason is impossible, focusing on different activities and switching back and forth between various groups of people is, i believe, second best. Otherwise we are stuck in other people’s expectations and drown in by inertia.
If twenty people or even five mentally have set their own limitations for you – breaking away from those is alike to escaping the infamous Shawshank.
Because – that’s what it is, a mental prison of highest security, that of others, not your own.
As much as we are debunking prejudices and stereotypes, those were crucial for human survival. It would be impossible to conduct daily living, if we dealt with everyone and everything as if they are first of a kind we encountered.
If we contemplated for hours whether a chair is indeed meant for sitting, why some food is considered poisonous, if we gave a chance of a doubt to someone approaching us with a knife and a mad spark in their eyes – our existence would end pretty soon.
Our ancestors have survived because they learned to differentiate between a friend and the enemy – and they learned to do so fast, otherwise you and i wouldn’t be around nowadays.
Thus, while we are “breast-fed” into a way of stereotyping in order to survive – and these preconceptions are necessary for everyday living, it’s not only that we need to learn over time how to debunk discrimination, but we also need to learn how keep away from others’ preset patterns – and how to spare those others of our own limitations that we projected on them.
It is not easy, more so that these ‘preset patterns’ are indeed a part of common sense.
If your parents are wealthy and educated, chances are you’ll get a decent education and make it as well; dysfunctional families by default grant their own offspring significantly less chances. It takes a lot to an addict to renounce their addiction, whatever it is; it takes… a lot, and it is tough to change one’s ways. But it is possible, indeed. We do have Free Will and as long as we breath, we can change.
From experience, it’s way easier to do so away from others, at least – from the usual surroundings.
What they expect of us – usually has very little to do with who we are, that’s from experience too. Also, keeping up with others and their expectations is draining, and the energy needs to be focused on the inside, so the change can be effective.
I know it’s usually believed one can’t do so if they have family, but it’s not true – take Leo Babauta’s of Zen Habits example.
So, while i can’t know what is the way to go for everyone else – or for anyone else per that matter – i do know for myself that i have to chill out. If i was left alone, i’d hardly ever get involved, i don’t strive for recognition and my own ambitions are pretty much down to my own being undisturbed and let alone in doing whatever makes me feel fulfilled. Of course, over years there were clashes with my family and friends who had very different view of what i should be doing – and as every well-meant tribe they did not save efforts and manipulation to make it be the way they thought best.
Again, i am not judging – i know it comes from the best of the intentions, but the thing is that no one can make decisions for anyone else, passed the time of their legal adulthood, and it is very wrong to do so, for numerous reasons.
There can’t be coercion of the will, nothing good ever came from it.
It’s been discussed before and there are researches and publications about differences in Western and Eastern child upbringing – basically the former is presumably focused on child’s well-being and happiness, while the latter focused on the achievements and external validation.
My own parents seem to be hidden Chinese , most parents in Balkans are. I don’t think it’s good.
Of course that everyone sane wants their children to make it, you are responsible for your children until certain age and all of it is common knowledge, but if you are pushing like mad while your grown up offspring is screaming, then something is very wrong… yet that’s common in Balkans. Manipulation, verbal harassment, intimidating – i think more or less all of us around here were subjected to that – so we’ll do what’s right.
Except universally accepted moral postulates – i really don’t know what’s right, what i do know is that most of us have been leading unwanted lives, the lives that were forced on us.
That sucks, as successful as it might come across. I do not see the point in being externally validated as successful , if you are falling apart inside.
Again, i do not see the point in external validation in the first place, as myself i accept the outer reality – to say the least – with a pinch of salt.
I went through a rough patch recently because i was for too long pushed into circumstances which i abhorred; before you ask why didn’t you simply leave, i’ll tell you that where i am it is not that easy, more so, due to our sociohistorical background it’s close to impossible.
Of course, all things change sooner or later, but some changes do take time and usually, just before the very change occurs – the things reach extremes. That’s what’s been going on with me and it almost resulted in nervous breakdown. And it’s true what they say – it’s darkest before the dawn…
Anyhow, all of it made me once again realize we can’t change anything and anyone, but ourselves. That’s truism of course – yet what is way less known – is Machiavelli-like ways suggested in Dao de Jing for ‘the sage’ (aspiring Daoist that is) to avoid oppression, and sometimes the time is just right to apply them.
Not to forget that traditionally I Ching was mainly consulted by scholars, while in royal service – and there is plenty of advice in the book how to keep one’s head on its shoulders, while still not losing one’s personal dignity.
I apologize for being so cryptic, yet revealing personal names and concrete issues is not my stile; after all – probably every single thinking human being, balancing between what’s due and what’s one’s inner calling – has been through something very similar.
And open opposition and frontal attacs are often not the best way to proceed – that i learned the hard way, sometimes one just has to be smarter than that.
I believe these are not concepts easily accepted by a Western mind, but then the West has traditionally being way more free and democratic than the East; if stuck in the latter – a classical text The Art of War, alongside the above mentioned I Ching and Dao De Jing, might be crucial for one’s well being and on occasions – the mere survival.
Attached is the image of a reading with Osho Zen i did for myself this morning, after the above mentioned Yixue marathon; the Emperor and the Empress (Rebel and Creativity respectively) can pretty much denote Yang and Yin aspects of one’s own being; the New Vision is more so appreciated and welcomed if keeping in mind that traditionally it’s the card of the Hanged Man – denoting a new perspective of course, but not one which is quick, willingly achieved or pleasant. “Totality” would be traditionally the conflict of the Five of Wands and “Completion”, where last piece of the puzzle falls into the Brow Chakra, would be the traditional ‘Judgement’ with it’s metaphorical resurrection and healing…
Have a great weekend everyone, to those who observe – Shabbat Shalom!