Body and Soul

Until I read Boldt’s chapter “The Power of Abundance” I’m not sure I fully realized that, unlike Christianity which emphasizes our “eternal” soul and the denial of bodily desires, Taoism demands the acceptance of both the body and the “spirit.”

As Boldt points out:

From the Taoist perspective, Heaven and Earth unite in the human being, The Earth principle suggests the way of nature (hsing); the Heaven principle, the way of destiny (ming). The essence of the Taoist philosophy is perhaps best encapsulated in the expression, “hsing ming shuang hsiou,” meaning “to cultivate nature and destiny together.” The road to our divinity, which is to say, the realization of ourselves as spiritual beings, runs through our humanity (our nature). Efforts made to try to go above or around it are futile at best; at worst, wholly disastrous. In the Isha Upanishad, we read, “To darkness they are doomed who worship only the body [Earth), to greater darkness they who worship only the spirit [Heaven).” The wise, therefore, cultivate both body and spirit, nature and destiny.

If our spiritual life is to have real value, it must be grounded on the earth. It begins, not with a flight to escape the tribulations and the limitations of the body (the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to), but with a descent into nature. It means identifying with the wisdom body — the universal intelligence that formed and maintains our bodies as well as all the bodies around us, including the one we whirl around the sun on. Acceptance of nature requires the acceptance of the human body and of the limitations that go with it. Nature: The Good with the Bad

Of course, despite professed beliefs, most of us live our lives that way, it’s just that we’re made to feel guilty if we do so.

Even more radical from a Western viewpoint is the Taoist emphasis on accepting that both good and bad are an inevitable part of life.

Thus, those who say they would have right without its correlate, wrong; or good government without its correlate, misrule, do not apprehend the great principles of the universe, nor the nature of all creation.

In fact, this Taoist acceptance of the totality of our lives:

The classical Taoist especially Chuang Tzu, approached these matters at length and offer much insight into the nature of the problem and its resolution. The lesson of the first initiation is to accept nature as it is-a mixed bag. Life and death, light and dark, creation and destruction, and so on. We are not to favor life over death, light over dark, but to say yes to the totality of existence. If we can accept the human condition at all, it is because we see it as a mixed bag, taking that which we perceive to be the good with at which we perceive to be the bad. Accepting (all) our humanity requires that we accept the early biological state of dependency and the pain associated with it. In so doing, we open ourselves up to a new experience of life.

certainly reminds me of a long-time favorite, Yeats’ Part II of “A DIALOGUE OF SELF AND SOUL:”

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
Of boyhood changing into man;
The unfinished man and his pain
Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

The finished man among his enemies?
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
If honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men;
Or into that most fecund ditch of all,
The folly that man does
Or must suffer, if he woos
A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action, or in thought;
Measure the lot to forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.

4 thoughts on “Body and Soul

  1. In Martin Scorsese’s controversial film version of Nikos Kazantzakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ,” the idea of a Jesus who desired to live fully, body and spirit, struck me as a Jesus I could follow. That book and film, which was viewed by many as anti-Christian, was pivotal in changing me from a woman who completely rejected the Christianity of her childhood to a woman who began to see Christianity in a positive light along with the other religions and spiritual paths in whose writings I continue to find sustenance. In the context of this discussion of Taoist thought, I am especially fond of the book, THE TAO OF JESUS: AN EXPERIMENT IN INTER-TRADITIONAL UNDERSTANDING, by Joseph A. Loya, OSA, Wan-Li Ho and Chang-Shin Jih.

    And I love Yeats, a fine spiritual teacher, who just as easily could have written:

    “The folly that woman does
    Or must suffer, if she woos
    A proud man not kindred of her soul.”

    From Yeats, I love this most of all:

    “We must laugh and we must sing,
    We are blessed by everything,
    Everything we look upon is blest.”

  2. Back when I was reading many things about Taoism and Zen and Buddhism, I read something to the effect that “The way of the warrior is to ‘Yes!’ to it all.”

    Affirmation versus negation.

    The negation of nothingness being the original affirmative act, bringing about a universe. It’s a yin-yang thing. ;^)

    Loren, may I suggest Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be for your consideration at some point?

    As a caution, it is possible to embrace resignation and call it affirmation. This is a mistake.

    Taoism embraces spontaneity and authenticity – which is also, I believe, part of the Buddhist notion of “right action.” Everything is connected, but no single notion of “right action” is correct for each individual. The opening verses of the Bhagavad Gita kind of explore this in the context of a great conflict.

    Sometimes you fight.

    But you only fight when it is time to fight. Knowing the time is knowing yourself.

    Anyway, the usual disclaimer applies.

  3. “Up, up and away ay ay
    in my beautiful balloon . . . .”
    but not as an escape.

    A central tenet in Ignatius Loyola’s
    Spiritual Exercises is indifference.
    One should not favor
    the perceived plusses over the minusses
    or the minusses over the plusses.

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