In a linear world, the external order dictates an artificial way of life to the individual, creating a conformist society and forcing us to relinquish our power to a machine that is unnatural and devoid of life. This passive conformity can be traced back to the origins of the Vedic Hindu caste system and the feudal system under medieval Western Christianity. When a settled agrarian culture such as these is born, it tends to build towns, not only to protect people from outside influences but also to develop a mental framework based on rules and regulations.
The complexity of agrarian culture leads to a division of labour and a division of function. From this division, the ancient Hindus (the Vedic civilisation of Dravidians and Aryans) developed a caste system. The Hindu caste system is made up of the Brahmins (priesthood), Kshatriyas (nobility), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers), and the Shudras (labourers). A direct parallel to the Hindu caste system can be found in medieval Christian society, where we see the priesthood and the church, feudal lords and nobility, farmers and merchants of the commons, and the serfs.
Although we no longer have a caste system, this underlying pattern is still with us today. When we are born into this world, we come out of our mother’s womb (nature) and are taught to submit to the rules of society and culture according to our socioeconomic status. This is the crucifixion of the individual; it is the sacrifice we all make. According to the tyranny of the machine, this crucifixion is for the “common good” or “greater good.” But there is a stark difference between the Hindu and Christian societies of ancient times.
First of all, the function of the Vedic caste system was an act of surrender to Brahman (ultimate reality/godhead). Individuals would crucify their egos and their desires in favour of the lives they had been given by nature. This means they would not seek another path or to try and control their lives according to their interests. Instead, they would abide by the order of society, which helped them diminish their egos so that they could feel the presence of Brahman within themselves. This is dharma as social duty.
The second difference is that, once Hindus have fulfilled their social duties in this life, they are allowed to break away from caste and become renunciate sages in the forest, a practice and title known as vanaprastha in Sanskrit. (This possibility is loathed by Christian society because one is thought of as useless if one does not contribute to the social order.) This breakaway from caste is viewed as a return back to nature and could be thought of as a resurrection. A sage is not part of society and does not conform to its rules. Jesus was a sage in this mould. This is why he was not thought of as a particularly good member of society, and he was actually put to death (if we take the story of Jesus to be real).
Those who submit invariably lose their natural innocence. Conformity is the result of force. When individuals are forced by society and culture into life situations that are against their will, they give away their natural sovereignty in exchange for comfort and servitude and are psychologically reduced to sheep. We developed this sheeplike behaviour as a result of the belief that the morals and ethics forced upon us by society are avenues to success and freedom. This notion is absurd inasmuch as the success and freedom of our world are unnatural. These goals are gauged only by finances. But obviously this is not true success or freedom, as money is empty and void of meaning, and it provides no happiness other than that of acquisition. Happiness cannot be contained in anything that we need to force to happen.
As human life is forced into a sheeplike way of being, happiness is reduced to momentary stimulants of excitement. In such a life we can never express our natural divinity, li, because we are following the model of someone else’s idea of life. Yet conforming to anything other than one’s own innate world destroys us physically, mentally, and spiritually, as te, the virtue of Tao, cannot come through the organic pattern of the individual, li. Anxiety, depression and stress are so prevalent in this day and age partly because we are forced to live such lives. Wars and social unrest then reflect the individual’s anxiety.
Liberated individuals are in alignment with their own nature and with the Tao. They do not benefit the accepted social order and are regarded as useless in the eyes of institutional and organisational power. [Taoist sages] Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu were treated this way because they could see the unnaturalness of an artificial society. The Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth were two other such sages who could see through the hypnotic veil. A liberated sage understands that anyone who continues to act out the unnatural patterns of conditioning is contributing to chaos and destruction, either consciously or unconsciously. One who is liberated, on the other hand, begins the yoking process until a crystal-clear perception of the Tao in reality can be experienced. In Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching, he states:
Not every man has an obligation to mingle in the affairs of the world. There are some who are developed to such a degree that they are justified in letting the world go its own way and in refusing to enter public life with a view of reforming it. But this does not imply a right to remain idle or to sit back and merely criticise. Such withdrawal is justified only when we strive to realise in ourselves the higher aims of mankind. For although the sage remains distant from the turmoil of daily life, he creates incomparable human values for the future. (The I Ching or Book of Changes)
Evidence for these “incomparable human values” can be found in the legacy that a sage leaves behind. Lao-tzu is a good example. It has been over 2,500 years since he lived, and yet his wisdom still reverberates within our consciousness today. This is the power of te.
The virtue of te is only available to those who do not seek power, control, or force. Governments, politics, banking, religions, and commerce, on the other hand, are constantly striving for control by forcing the population to their will. This poses a significant hurdle for humanity to overcome. What would it take to bring the individual and the collective back into harmony with the Tao?
The above is an exclusive extract from Jason Gregory’s book Effortless Living: Wu-Wei and the Spontaneous State of Natural Harmony. Gregory outlines the Taoist practice of wu-wei, revealing that when we release our ego and allow life to unfold as it will, we align ourselves more closely with our goals and cultivate skill and mastery along the way. The book is available from all good bookstores.
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