In Chow Cheh in King Shao District of Hopeh Province (formerly Chili) on Tsung Nan mountain is a Taoist Temple known as Tsung Sun Kung. This temple is said to have been built to mark the place where Laotzu wrote the Tao-teh-king. At this place was a frontier post and to this post five hundred years before the Christian Era came an old man going to the far West. The guard recognized him as a sage and after talking with him, asked him to write down his teaching. This the old philosopher did in this small book of five thousand characters which ever since has been recognized the world over as one of the great classics.
It has been translated into many languages, but owing to its very condensed style, the translations often miss the full meaning of the obscure characters. Indeed, to fully grasp its teaching every word must be understood. There are hundreds of commentaries written upon it during the more than two thousand years that have past since it was written. The present translation has been made after studying many of these commentaries and talking with different Taoist masters and hermits.
The central teaching is the conception of TAO. It would hardly be right to make use of the teaching of Buddhism, perhaps, to elucidate the meaning of this Tao conception, yet the profound and mysterious Tao, in its essence, is really another word for the
[paragraph continues] Buddhist conception of Tathata. Both stand for the ultimate "suchness" that is what it is. If they differ, Tao refers more directly to the principle of the self-nature of Ultimate reality while Tathata refers more directly to the essence of it. But in Ultimate reality principle and essence are an inscrutable oneness.
Going along with this central teaching are two others. The first is wu-wei. The characters mean, not acting, or not interfering, or non-assertion. In its negative aspect it means resisting and controlling one's finite nature in the interest of its infinite Taohood. In its positive aspect it is realizing enlightenment and Taohood. Before one can attain Enlightenment and Buddhahood he must emancipate his mind from all discriminations of ideas, thoughts and desires either of evil and good, or both, or neither. This is what is meant by the attainment of wu-wei in its relation to Taohood. With the attainment of wu-wei the veil of the finite mind is opened revealing the Eternal Light. By practising wu-wei one is able to manifest all good qualities, such as kindness, sympathy, compassion, joy and equanimity, transcendental powers and highest perfect wisdom, for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The second is the conception of Teh. The character means spiritual power or virtue. It is not revealed intentionally, it flows out naturally and spontaneously. It does not interfere, it cooperates with sympathy, uninfluenced by any ulterior desires or ideas. "Evil is aggravated when righteous ideas of superior men are made up into social codes, which if not obeyed willingly are enforced by law. (No. ).
[paragraph continues] Essential virtue is characterized by the absence of self-assertion.
There are many exceedingly close similarities between the teachings of the Tao-teh-king and Buddhism. For instance:--In No. it is written, "As rivers have their source in some far off fountain, so the human spirit has its own source. To find this fountain of spirit is to learn the secret of heaven and earth. In this Fountain of Mystery, spirit is eternally present in endless supply. Anyone can avail himself of it for the refreshment and unfolding greatness of his own spirit, by the earnest practice of mental concentration, but to do so he must do so with wu-wei of mind and sensitive expectancy." This is precisely the Buddhist practice of Dhyana. In this connection see, also, No. . "If in our practice of concentration, our heavenly eye is suddenly opened and we gain enlightenment, etc." See also, Nos. , , and .
One of the most characteristic teachings of Buddhism is the control of the desires. No. is devoted to inculcating the control of the sensual desires, and in No. it is written,--"As soon as things are given names, greed and grasping arise and unless one knows when to stop, there will be no satisfying the desires. To know when to be satisfied and to restrain desire is to know the secret of longevity. This is the principle of Tao."
In Buddhism Wisdom and Compassion are potential within the Universal Mind and therein abide in emptiness and silence. In No. it is written,--"There is a primal essence that is all inclusive and undifferentiated and which existed before there was
any appearance of heaven and earth. How tranquil and empty it is! How self-sufficing and changeless! How omnipresent and infinite! Yet this tranquil emptiness become the Mother of all." In No. ,--"Perfect homogeneity appears as emptiness but its potentiality is never exhausted." And in No. ,--"When the potentiality of Tao manifests itself, it becomes the mother of all things."
In Buddhism another characteristic teaching is its depreciation of intellectual knowledge and its appreciation of intuitive wisdom. In No. it is written,--"When people abandon the idea of becoming a sage and give up the ambition for worldly knowledge and learning, then their innate goodness will have a chance to manifest itself and will develop a hundred fold."
If it was conceivable that the teachings of Shakyamuni could have percolated into China as early as the Fourth Century B.C., one would feel warranted in believing that Laotzu must have known them. As it is, it is an instance of two great minds living at substantially the same time, thinking the same thoughts. Both saw the solution of human evils and suffering by a return to the purity and simplicity of their eternal source (No. ) . May the people of England and America as they come to understand the full significance of Laotzu's conception of Tao find it a golden key that will open the inestimable treasures within the mystery of their own minds.