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According to an ancient Chinese legend, Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu all tasted vinegar and found it to be sour, bitter, and sweet, respectively. Oddly enough, this rather whimsical bit of folk wisdom is actually the secret key to their religious philosophies.
Contrary to what many believe, Western icons like Jesus or Socrates may only exist as mythological beings and not actually as genuine historical figures. Of course, even though they may only exist in a literary sense, they are still just as important, if not more. This is likely to be true of one of the great Eastern icons, as well. There’s really no way to know if Lao Tzu was ever a real person, but he definitely makes for an interesting character. In reality, he’s probably just an amalgamation of classic personas, all wrapped up in a single legendary identity.
They say that he was a central court record keeper during the Zhou dynasty who grew tired of immoral political corruption. Then, becoming too frustrated he inevitably fled in an effort to find peace, but as he passed by a guard on his way out he was recognized and stopped. In having questioned Lao Tzu, the guard discovered his plans to retire to the wilderness as a hermit. Fearing the loss of all the wisdom he would take with him, the guard pleaded with the sage to write a set of instructions that people could follow in his absence.
Supposedly, Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching in response to that request. In reality, like the Bible, which was written by numerous authors over time, the sacred text was probably produced in a similar manner. As one might suspect, these are now the two most translated manuscripts in the entire world. In a way, they’re both about following God’s plan in everyday living, so I guess that makes sense.
Either way, from the distillation of millennia of Chinese culture, a rich spiritual tradition emerged with specific methods of training, like that of moving meditation. At its core though, Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the divine source of everything. As part of this, Taoist ethics emphasize qualities like integrity, generosity, simplicity, authenticity, spontaneity, humility, frugality, and serenity, to name but a few.
Thus, Taoism has grown into an international religion that currently has tens of millions of adherents, and counting. Furthermore, although most of the Taoists in the world are Chinese, this is a philosophy that everyone can benefit from. The way I see it, anyone who is on track with who they are truly meant to be is a Taoist, at least in that sense. In other words, if you fully embrace your passions, then you follow the “Way”. The trick is to just be yourself and cultivate harmony with the cosmos.
People have always looked for more meaningful ways to live their lives and the spirit of Lao Tzu can be a very helpful guide along the way. The paths of effortless purposeful acceptance are laid out by our destinies, and the Tao Te Ching offers a great deal of insight into this. Without going into too much metaphysical detail, there are quite literally paths of least resistance engineered right into the fabric of reality. These are the roads that we are meant to travel on in the journey of life.
Long story short, whenever we deviate from the course that nature has chosen for us things can get complicated. Think of it like this, the more that you reject your calling, the more the universe will fight to keep you aligned toward the best of all possible worlds. This is the great lesson of Taoism. If we all just surrender to the will of the greater good, then everything falls into place. Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that this is really the proper manner of doing things and the appropriate path to success. Thus, everyone should follow the “Way”.