I’ve been drawn to Taoism ever since I read Thomas Merton’s 1965 book, The Way of Chuang Tzu. The teachings of Chuang Tzu — a 4th century BC Chinese Taoist master — introduced me to a spiritual path often called “the watercourse way.”
Taoism counsels us to live our lives like water, but that does not mean “go with the flow” passivity. Taoism is all about nonviolent action. It invites us to flow quietly but persistently around the obstacles that stand between us and the common good, wearing them down as a river erodes boulders.
I don’t think Taoism — or any other wisdom tradition — has the whole answer to living well. Sometimes we must swim upstream against cruelty, injustice and untruth.
But rightly understood, Taoism is an important corrective to the Western obsession with force, even violence, as the way to get things done — which often results in little more than an escalation of violence.
Here are some words from the Taoist master Lao Tzu who names a few of the virtues that come from living “the watercourse way.” They won’t make you rich or famous. But they serve the common good, make life worth living, and help keep hope alive!
The best are like water…
The best, like water,
Benefit all and do not compete.
They dwell in lowly spots that everyone else scorns.
Putting others before themselves,
They find themselves in the foremost place
And come very near to the Tao.
In their dwelling, they love the earth;
In their heart, they love what is deep;
In personal relationships, they love kindness;
In their words, they love truth.
In the world, they love peace.
In personal affairs, they love what is right.
In action, they love choosing the right time.
It is because they do not compete with others
That they are beyond the reproach of the world.