At Taoism Class

When I was 10, my younger sister and I mounted a campaign to convince our parents that the money they were spending on religious school (every Saturday, lessons at the Temple) could be used in a better way. Our parents, neither of whom were religiously inclined themselves, finally relented and that was the end of my formal religious education.

Chinese paper cut on


It took me years – more than 25 – to even consider an interest in my own spirituality, which I equated with religion. Even now, at 45, I struggle to find this nascent ‘organ’ that I’ve come to believe is inherent in most, if not all, human beings.

Santa Cruz, where I live, is a spiritual outlet mall which, if anything, only further retarded my spiritual quest. Norton’s classic line on the Honeymooners: “We have a saying down in the sewer; ‘All that glitters is not gold’ ” might best describe it, and yet that does not mean that if it shines it is false.

A perfect example is Tek Young Lin. Tek, who has been a practical Taoist most of his seventy-plus years, recently gave a series of classes on Taoism at The Academy of Martial Arts. I attended, so to speak, religiously; for one thing, Tek is a master storyteller and stories are at the heart of Taoist study. Also, Taoism is the one philosophy – or religion, depending on who you talk to – which has inspired an engaging interest in me. They say that women are natural Taoists and that may be so, but soon as I started to pay attention and listen to these 2000 year old teachings I felt that I had found an open door.

The series was actually opened by three sessions with another lecturer who gave a comprehensive overview of the first two chapters of the Tao Te Ching (the “bible” of Taoism attributed to Lao-Tse). Then Tek, apologizing for the fact that his Taoism was “simple” began telling us the stories of Chuang-Tzu and, later, Lieh-Tzu. Chuang-Tzu’s stories are parables of a kind, often ending unexpectedly, or with “Aha!”, like in a yiddish joke. The tales tell of wanderers, farmers, scholars, blind men, and Chuang-Tzu himself, whose revelations have to do with recognizing the importance of “the moment”; the “suchness of things”, including oneself; and, overall, Nature – not good or bad, kind or cruel – just Nature. Unlike Western religions, the human role in Taoism, at best, is to recognize Nature and its shape – the better the recognition, the longer and more content life will be.

Interspersed with the classic tales were Tek’s own stories, ranging from the Kitchen Gods of his youth to hunting for “holes” with a friend who, ultimately, disappeared into one; to a Schulz cartoon where Linus, besieged by a fisted demand from Lucy for “An Answer”, finally yells, “5!!” (“I thought that was a good answer!”) Week after week, Tek illustrated how near and available is “the world” which can be seen by simply entering the moment. Of course, ‘simple’ does not mean ‘simple’. Even though Tek’s Taoism is less inclined toward ritual (although he freely admits that life is “high comedy”) it still requires some practice, if not discipline, to be able to do this. (Others – religious Taoists, for example – would say that ritual is fundamental to Taoism.)

I confess that, for the first time in my life, I’m caught by a spiritual philosophy. Unlike the rampant popularization of Taoism (“The Tao of Jesus”? Come on, how many people can you offend at one time?) I don’t believe you can spread it on every bagel and make it kosher. Taosim is not therapy, for instance; also, it will not make you more money in the market. But, in my life, I’m just beginning to understand it as an organizing principle or structure; it’s a way, like math or physics, to perceive what’s already there.

And I’m skeptical of my own interest, also. Because I’m pursuing Taoism philosophically and not religiously does this mean I’m still keeping myself in safe, uncommitted territory? I don’t know the answer. But I do know that my own spiritual nature – stiff from lack of movement as it might be- is now apparent to me. And, although probably not recognized by the Church, THAT is a miracle.

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