Lao Tzu, along with all the great sages, knew this truth about the path to enlightenment: Every plan you ever make has only one constant—you. Not that you are always the same, but that you are always part of your plan. All else may come and go as the plan unfolds—friends, parents, possessions, conditions, situations, finances, and associates. You are the only certain constant.
Therefore, to be successful in any plan, you must be able to depend on yourself for strength, honor, endurance, capability, justice, righteousness, imagination, truthfulness, resourcefulness, trustworthiness, determination, and courage. If you are lacking in any of those areas of character, any plan you make will be flawed. So if your plan fails, do not look outside of yourself for the cause—look within. It is within that you will find the flaw. Know yourself. As the Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese classic by Lao Tzu, famously advises: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
We are all on the way to becoming enlightened. It may take us many lifetimes, but we all are on our way. The Tao Te Ching points us to the path of authentic living and shows us how to live in harmony with Tao and thrive while on our path toward enlightenment. The sages spoke of “Tao” not only as the spiritual essence of All-That-Is but as the path of living in harmony with the universe, the “way” that leads to enlightenment.
What does it mean to live an authentic life in harmony with Tao? It means living your life being true to what is highest and best within you without misrepresentation. Living authentically is living as the real you without deception. It means you are the person you say you are, not the person you want people to believe you are or the person others expect you to be. No exaggerations. No false images or claims. When we boast or exaggerate, it is due to a feeling of inadequacy. The ancient Chinese had a saying for it: “Better to go on foot than to ride in a carriage under false pretenses.”
What does it mean to live an authentic life in harmony with Tao? It means living your life being true to what is highest and best within you without misrepresentation.
Living authentically is living in harmony with your true nature, according to the principles of Tao—living with the awareness that you are a golden child of an aware, conscious “Taoverse” of which you are an inseparable part and that you should therefore act accordingly.
Walking Your Own Path
Although we all live in the same Taoverse (a name I created to describe the space in which our universe exists), each of us, in effect, lives in a different Taoverse. The difference is caused by our individual perception of the Taoverse in which we reside and by what we believe to be true about the Taoverse and about life and how to live it.
Standing around the perimeter of a pond with the moon shining on the water, everyone points to a different place on the water where they see the moon’s reflection. Ten different people can experience or view an event and all ten may give a different report of it. Some people have good vision; others do not. The Taoverse perceived by those with poor vision is different than the Taoverse perceived by a person with good vision. Likewise, each person has a different belief about people, events, conditions, fate, existence, God or gods, and what it all means. Thus, each of us lives in a different world according to our beliefs and perceptions. What binds us together is that we are all subject to the same Taoversal laws and we all exist in Tao.
Just as we all perceive the world differently, it is also true that the path each of us walks is unique. The path that one person follows is not the correct path for any other person. We must each walk our own path to enlightenment. That is the way.
Know, too, that what we desire, what we work for, and what we seek are not the ultimate goals. They are merely the objects that lead us on the path where our life unfolds. It is the path itself where we experience life and where we obtain the wisdom and knowledge of the Taoverse. To walk the path with the awareness that you are a child of the Taoverse, that you have a purpose being here, that you have lived before and will live again, and that whatever befalls you on your path is for your ultimate good—that is how to live with the awareness that brings abundant, joyful life and is in keeping with “what is.”
You Are Not Your Body
You’ll miss out on the best, most important part of life if you believe the only reason you’re here on this lovely planet is because your mother gave birth to you. It will help if you remind yourself that your consciousness is the consciousness of Tao. You share consciousness. That means you are connected to, are part of, the greatest, most powerful source that exists.
Just know this: You are not your body.
If you lose an arm or a leg, you are still you. If you replace your heart, your liver, or a kidney, you are still you. You are not your brain, which is the storehouse for information and takes direction from your mind. So who are you?
You are consciousness, pure consciousness, eternally alive and living temporarily in the body that is provided to you as a home in which to live while you assimilate the lessons you have come here to learn, a body that provides you with the opportunity to demonstrate the degree to which you have learned those lessons. The greatest, most amazing, most beneficial gift to us from Tao is consciousness.
Tao’s Intention for You
Tao also provides you with information and ideas, arranges meetings and opportunities, and pressures you with adversity when you have strayed from the evolutionary path that establishes your destiny on planet Earth. Tao provides you with adversity to give you strength—strength of body, strength of mind, strength of heart, strength of character—and terminates the situations and conditions it created in your life when they have served their purpose to benefit you.
Yes, Tao has intention. And, yes, Tao has intention for you. Tao unerringly guides you, pushes you, corrects you, rewards you, nourishes you, and cares for you. You are completely cared for individually. And you can only be on your path to enlightenment.
Whether you are lying in a gutter drunk or sitting atop Mount Fuji contemplating Tao, you are on your path to enlightenment. And there is no telling which of those two scenarios will bring you to enlightenment more rapidly. The speed at which you arrive at your enlightenment depends on you—your intentions and the wisdom you acquire. The Zen master Eihei Dogen (1200-1253 AD) wisely said: “If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
Adapted from That Was Then, This Is Tao by Chris Prentiss, published by Power Press, copyright © 2023. Reprinted with permission.