The Taoist Natural Way vs. Confucian Social Control

The Taoist Natural Way vs. Confucian Social Control


The Taoism of Lao-tzu emphasizes that if we
do not let individuals grow as nature intended, they will lose their naturalness and be drawn
into the world of animal drives, desires, attachments, and ultimately suffering. This difference in the depth of understanding
between Lao-tzu and Confucius is articulated in an imaginary dialogue created by Chuang-tzu:
“Tell me,” said Lao-tzu, “in what consist charity and duty to one’s neighbour?” “They consist,” answered Confucius, “in
a capacity for rejoicing in all things; in universal love, without the element of self. These are the characteristics of charity and
duty to one’s neighbour.” “What stuff!” cried Lao-tzu. “Does not universal love contradict itself? Is not your elimination of self a positive
manifestation of self? Sir, if you would cause the empire not to
lose its source of nourishment—there is the universe, its regularity is unceasing;
there are the sun and moon, their brightness is unceasing; there are the stars, their groupings
never change; there are the birds and beasts, they flock together without varying; there
are the trees and shrubs, they grow upwards without exception. Be like these: follow Tao, and you will be
perfect. Why then these vain struggles after charity
and duty to one’s neighbour, as though beating a drum in search of a fugitive. Alas! Sir, you have brought much confusion into
the mind of man.” In this imaginary dialogue, Lao-tzu reiterates
that if we interfere in the natural process of any living organism, it will begin to isolate
itself from the complementary parts of the whole. This isolation brings about a disassociation
from the whole, so that a lack of trust plagues the mind. Confucius’s ideas of charity and duty to
one’s neighbor are age-old teachings, which artists, philosophers, and spiritual teachers
have contemplated from the dawn of civilization to the present day. On the surface, we may all feel convinced
that he is correct in postulating that we have a duty to others. But the Taoist Way of Lao-tzu suggests that
in attempting to interfere with others’ affairs, no matter how large or small, we
are assuming that the natural experience of life is not happening spontaneously; instead
we think that life is a series of controlled steps following a predictable and mechanical
process. Lao-tzu is not saying that we should abolish
duty or charity. He is saying that everything in the universe
is integral and symbiotic in nature, and that everything functions harmoniously according
to the rhythm of the universe. So, he asks, why would humanity be the exception? The Way of the Tao and our experience of it
comes from allowing all aspects of the universe to happen as they will without conscious interference. This understanding of Tao is a trust in and
affirmation of life that cannot be broken. Humanity’s superficial differences could
be dissolved if each individual could live by this trust. Yet society and culture have been built on
ideologies such as Confucianism, communism, and democracy, which all teach us in some
way to impose our will over one another, a goal based on the erroneous idea that we are
achieving freedom in this process. To trust the Way of the Tao is the complete
backflip to Confucianism or any present-day ideology or theology. Lao-tzu’s wisdom exposes humanity’s selfish
tendency to impose the will of one individual, nation, religion, race, or gender over another. We are always interfering with each other’s
natural sovereignty. Many people arrogantly and ignorantly do this
daily and then proclaim that they know what freedom and love are. How can we listen and help each other if it
is merely from our own cultural, social, or religious perspective? If we have a set of beliefs to sell another,
then we are surely imposing our idea of life upon her without letting her grow as nature
intended. It is this personal agenda that Lao-tzu reveals. If we interfere unnecessarily with any organism
on this planet, we hinder its growth through our attempt to control it. When it is interfered with, an organism finds
itself in a struggle to grow into everything it should be. As a result, the organism’s natural impulse
to grow is met with resistance by another organism, which assumes that it is superior
to all life and needs no other organisms to survive. We could say human beings fit perfectly into
this category because of the personal agendas we wish to cast upon the world. These agendas could only have developed in
a world devoid of trust. Because we live in fear instead of trust,
our world is designed so clinically that it resembles not a beautiful garden but a morgue. The Confucian imperative to dictate a social
way of life to the individual builds an identity conditioned by the world of concepts and objects
rather than the inner world of emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Yet we should not be critical of the Confucian
perspective only, because any ideology or theology, no matter how well intended, is
at its foundation strictly a methodology for shaping the individual according to its beliefs. Lao-tzu points to this in the Tao Te Ching. He says that humanity is in a perpetual trap
in which we seek to change one another or society based on our own belief systems. Because we have not made our inner world conscious,
we continue to seek change in the external world of forms, as if the inner world were
a construct of the outer. Many theologies and ideologies operate from
this perspective. But this is an absurd view for the simple
reason that the world is devoid of meaning until the observer gives it meaning according
to her beliefs. This should be fundamental to the way we think
and perceive the world. But instead we are told that the world is
purely material by the teachers of our cultural, social, religious, and educational machine,
who themselves have been indoctrinated. To cultivate a sane society, we first need
to understand that our perception was pure before it was colored by external influences. And all of these external influences are interpreted
differently by each individual, which adds to the confusion. Patanjali, the great sage of India and father
of yoga, expresses this sentiment in the wisdom of three of his sutras regarding freedom:
“People perceive the same object differently, as each person’s perception follows a separate
path from another’s. But the object is not dependent on either
of those perceptions; if it were, what would happen to it when nobody was looking? An object is known only by a consciousness
it has colored; otherwise it is not known.” We have built a world that operates in reverse
to the natural order of growth and harmonious living. The world’s general view identifies with
what colors consciousness rather than with the unbound and limitless pure awareness at
the core of our being. Lao-tzu’s essential teaching of wu-wei is
a medicine for this illness. But you must understand that wu-wei is not
an ideology, theology, or something you need to believe in. On the contrary, wu-wei can only be known
through your own experience. Then it simply strengthens your trust in wu-wei. The natural order of growth and harmony depends
upon allowing life to take its course without conscious interference. This is how the Tao flows when wu-wei is experienced. Many people resist the very thought of allowing
things to take place in life, because from our perspective we can’t see how anything
could be achieved in that way. But if we are more observant, we discover
that each and every attempt to categorically control our life is invariably upended by
the spontaneity of natural experience. No human being is above this universal spontaneity. And yet many people seek to control life down
to the finest detail, failing to realize that the very things that shaped their identity
were beyond their control. The impulse to control life is a symptom of
the power that we believe we have lost. But true power resides in the mind of one
who is liberated from the acquisition of wealth and the control of others. When we give up attempting to control life,
we find that we are no longer clinging to or conditioned by any aspect of life. Thus we are freed from its attachments. The most liberated people on this planet have
been those who were free in this way, such as the twentieth-century Indian sage Sri Ramana
Maharshi.

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