Deng Mng-Dao, The living

 What is most emphatically absent—much like my experience in Chinese school—is understanding. There is no philosophical discussion, no brooking of probing questions. There are undoubtedly many people better than I am whose spiritual life is one of constant and unquestioning devotion. I am not that kind of person.

On the other hand, the academic study of Taoism is not completely helpful either. I recall an Eastern religion professor beginning his class by flatly stating that we would not address any student’s spiritual problems. The exploration of his classes was to be arm's-length, and while there was certainly academic rigor and intellectual precision, there was no simple steeping in a deep tradition, no instinctive understanding of the culture that fed the religious stream.

Significantly, teachers from both the temples and the colleges offered unintended lessons on the risks of spiritual exploration. One of my Taiji teachers studied to be a spirit medium—and suffered an unknown crisis. The temple leaders said it was spirit possession. The mental health professionals said it was a schizophrenic breakdown. Whatever it was, he could do nothing but

stand with his arms dangling after he was released from the hospital. My college Eastern religion teacher got into some sort of trouble when he was given a shrine object of a Buddhist sect and hoodlums from a rival sect came to take it by force. Evidently, to live a spiritual life was no easy thing.

All told, the two normal approaches that one might consider to explore Taoism—the temples and the academies—did not offer me what I was truly seeking: a way to live as a Taoist in this time, in this place, and as a true path through the difficulties and mysteries of this life. I have had to do it myself, encouraged by what I found to be, for me, the best spiritual path possible.

In all this time, I have lived what I consider a life according to the Tao. I do this not as an affectation, not as a pose that I have adopted, but because it is as natural to me as the creative force I felt beginning in childhood. I am an American. I live in this time. I live in the same world that everyone else lives in, with its modern advantages and challenges, and still: I find the Tao to be most natural to me. Read more