by Bill Bunting
As we study the teachings of the Tao, we often make reference to people and events that have the appearance of being apparently superhuman or supernatural in origin. These attributes are most commonly directed at those who are known to be sages in Tao cultivation, but what about the rest of us? Is it possible that as we progress, we too can exhibit these qualities? I believe the answer is an unqualified "yes."
When we speak of someone who we believe to be a sage, or well on their way to becoming a sage, the commentary on their degree of cultivation typically exceeds that of their juniors and contemporaries by a fair distance and their lives reflect that proficiency in applying the teachings to great effect. Interestingly, when asked about their proficiency, they typically say that they don’t do anything in particular.
In studying and observing to the best of my ability the makings of one who is on their way to sagehood, I have been able to put together a partial and probably woefully inadequate list of qualities that all of them seem to share. Please understand that some of us have had the opportunity to observe sages from both here and Taiwan and in the case of the latter — despite language and cultural barriers — these qualities shine through.
The qualities I have observed among others are the following:
Above and before all else, every single successful Tao cultivator possesses this quality in abundance. This, combined with never taking life to seriously, allows them to avoid conflict and build bridges everywhere they go. It is in a spirit of humility in which they kneel before the shrine during the rituals and in humility they live their lives.
By cultivating a deep sense of humility these people eliminate the illusions of control, power, ownership, and the need to be right. They are able to give up these things and find other ways to resolve conflicts and problems that are much more effective than fighting and much less stressful.
Humility practiced daily, minute by minute changes lives, and is capable of changing the world.
Sages and sincere cultivators of the Tao can be relied upon and trusted. When it really matters — when the situation is really important — it is our Tao brothers and sisters, sages, and masters that we can turn to for reliable, rock solid help and advice borne from a sincere heart. Integrity is a quality that cannot be underestimated, nor can it ever really be rebuilt once broken.
A sage knows almost instinctively when to speak up, and when to shut up. This may sound humorous, and I love a good chuckle as much as the next person, but this quality is incredibly important. It is so important that it has its own place in the “15 Disciplines of I-Kuan Tao”, saying that we should know who to speak with, and who not to speak with.
Compassion allows the sage to see other people in light of their humanity instead of judging them for their flaws and faults. The sage realizes that all people have shortcomings, their own little “crosses to bear” and I think in this regard, the sage is no different from the rest of us. The sage’s mental outlook, however, is often very different. To express concern for and assist every sentient being is perhaps the highest calling in all of the Tao disciplines.
The sage knows that this existence is nothing but an elaborate illusion created by our own egos to provide us with a sense of self, purpose, and importance. The sage does not crave this external self glorification and promotion, the sage is completely unconcerned with position and power. They are as flexible as water.
The title of this talk started with the question “Do miracles have a place in Tao studies?” By now, everyone may be wondering what all of the previous text has to do with miraculous occurrences. The answer to the question is very simple, it is “yes”. Yes, miracles do have a place in Tao studies, but as with many Western terms used to describe ancient Chinese teachings, the explanation is much more involved.
Most people — when asked what a miracle is — will say that it is an event that occurs through divine intervention or supernatural causation. Very few people look inside themselves for the miraculous causality. This misconception is evident in the way that those who do not understand the rituals and practices of I-Kuan Tao view the practices as prayers and supplications to a bunch of ceramic statues.
To those of us who are part of the teachings and have them engrained deeply within us, the truth is much more enlightening and much less ethereal. We know that the figurines on the altar are there to help us direct our inward thoughts to the veneration of the attributes of the entities portrayed in the figures. Likewise, the kneeling and bowing are often interpreted as worship of the items on the altar. This is not true either.
Even to those of us who carry the Heavenly Mission, to a person, we do not worship nor pray to the statues. We also do not pray to the Almighty in a transactional fashion, begging for what we want, and seeking intervention in life’s many situations. The secret to the creation of miracles begins here.
In the Bible, Matthew 6:33 says “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all of these things (secular and spiritual) will be added unto you.” In the study of the Tao teachings we say that by applying the teachings to the point of being as perfect as we possibly can be, we will receive as we give to and serve others, and hold fast to the teachings. In the study of the Tao this is the “Seek ye first” part.
As we put words into practice, learning into growth, wisdom and compassion to work in our lives, and more fully realize the impact and power of the Tao teachings to transform lives and pursue that transformation with vigor, we approach the point of, “and all of these things will be added unto you.” in other words, the more proficient the cultivator’s use of the teachings, with a sincere heart, the easier and more fulfilling life becomes.
I do not by any means refer to myself as a sage, nor anywhere even close to a sage, I am only a willing servant, however, I have seen the evidence of this great truth over and over again. Of course, all of this talk leads up to a story from my own experience to help clarify how the teachings have benefited myself and my family. Once again, I do not intend to sound arrogant or high handed, and certainly not like an expert; but merely as one who has had a few experiences that may prove helpful.
Many of us associate miracles with the remediation of life problems and pressing situations where we lack the resources in one way or another to provide a solution to the situation. In that same vein, I have to confess that I cannot begin to count the number of times when my family has had needs to be met or where someone close to us has needed help, or where I myself have needed help. These things happen all the time.
In the case where I am needed to assist someone else, there has yet to be an occasion where whatever I needed to help was not made available to me at the exact moment of need. Miraculous? Perhaps, these moments certainly have the look and feel of a divine hand, or could it be cause and effect, the results of my best efforts at cultivation? Does it really matter if the result always follows, and the teachings always work?
In the situations I have faced where I have needed help, help has always appeared, right at the very moment it was needed and in exactly the right measure. When these synergies occur it always leaves me with a deep sense of awe and a genuinely grateful heart, thanking Lao Mu for the wonderful outcome that lands in my lap.
Once again, many people make the assumption that these events are of a material nature, and true enough, some have been. But more often than not, the opportunities to help or be helped are not material in nature, but much more spiritually and mentally inclined. In these times, when the light of heaven shines down on me and my house and the right result appears out of nowhere, I cannot help but think of the miraculous.
The miraculous is all around us if we stop and look and pay attention. Every time we receive exactly what we need exactly when we need it, every time a flower blooms, every time the seasons change, every time one of my children learns one of those very valuable life lessons, these are all miracles. My son recently underwent a substantial spiritual awakening that moved him to align himself with the teachings of the Tao. This is a miracle; every choice is, in a way.
The process of growing from a neophyte in the Tao into a sage one day is a miraculous process. The changes wrought in the human mind and spirit in those who have the affinity in karma is nothing short of miraculous. We ourselves are miracles, even if we are not the only intelligent life in the universe. Miracles are all around us, in us, and around everyone we know.
Whether we believe in miracles in the more traditional Western sense of divine intervention or in the more Tao-centered perspective of cause and effect aided by spiritual growth and maturity; miracles exist. Miracles and wonder and awe inspired by the overwhelming abundance of the Tao all around us are a part of life that allows hope to survive and that motivates us to continue moving forward.
Whether we understand the mechanics of the miraculous, or believe in the ultimate divinity, we can all agree that the sage's life appears miraculous to us. Nature and all it does also appears miraculous, and that the inner self poised on the brink of enlightenment is in and of itself a miracle waiting to happen. It’s all in how we choose to view things. But then isn’t that true of many other things?