Avoiding Envy

Every day I take a walk and pass by many nice cars, but one caught my eye. It is a handsome Jeep Wrangler, customized and quite fancy. What grabbed my attention, however, were the key marks someone left in the paint; big “X”s that ruined the perfect black on the doors. Why would someone spoil such a smart-looking vehicle?

Envy — the feeling of resentment that arises when we see someone else’s possessions or good fortune.

Of course we want nice things and should work hard to have the life we envision for ourselves, but other people will have possessions beyond our finances or jobs above our abilities. Their spouses will be more handsome, their children more successful, their houses will be bigger or fancier. They will have more power and influence.

For the unrefined person, this brings about feelings of jealousy so great that the only response they can muster is to lash out like children and destroy the item or person they envy. The envious individual doesn’t consider how he too can have a handsome car through hard work and saving money. He doesn’t raise himself up when it’s easier to pull others down.

If one has an inclination to feel envy towards others, it is important to work on this weakness to become a refined person of Tao. There will always be those who have more or better. A sophisticated, learned person does not go through life marring the possessions of others or spreading lies to damage the reputation of a person they feel jealousy towards.

To work on this human failing, one must:

Count every blessing. It may seem trite, but you have health, wealth and good fortune beyond what many on this planet could imagine. Failure to be thankful with every breath for the life you enjoy is a grave mistake.

Find perspective. Even the wealthiest people in the world don’t have it all. Wealth doesn’t assure youth, vitality, happiness, good fortune or a peaceful mind. No one has it all. It is therefore important that we do not condone or engage in ruining the little goodness others do have.

Avoid messages of envy. Whether it is coworkers and friends hounding you to upgrade your possessions or marketing wizards bombarding you with constant messages that imply you are not good enough as you are, you need to recognize when jealousy is being cultivated within you to encourage materialism and greed.

If you over-esteem great men,

people become powerless.

If you overvalue possessions,

people begin to steal.

— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 3

It can be said no more plainly. When we hold aloft certain individuals, the average person feels inferior. When we say certain possessions are desirable and scarce, expect those items to be ruined or stolen.

But does this mean we can own no possessions that may produce feelings of jealousy in others? Are we to wear rags, travel by goat and do menial labor?

Okay, that was dramatic and I have no idea how you would travel by goat, but here’s the point. In addition to avoiding feelings of envy within ourselves, we have a greater responsibility as developed people of Tao to address how our possessions, wealth or attributes arouse feelings of jealousy in others.

In many ways this goes against the culture we live in that practically demands we purchase items so our neighbors and friends take notice — but being envied is not enviable. Hostility towards us is the result, along with a car that has a lot of unwanted scratches.

Make it a practice to raise others up with heartfelt compliments and acknowledgement of their efforts. Be known as a person who walks a humble path, who sees and acknowledges the good things in others rather than a braggart who engages in endless self-aggrandizement.

You have total control over your ability to quell feelings of envy within. You also have great strength to raise others up through your kindness and acknowledgement. Humility is more powerful when it comes to generating respect and esteem than any material item ever could. And most likely you would rather have the respect and esteem of others than a scratched car.

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The Yin Yang Symbol and You

Yin Yang symbol

The Yin Yang symbol represents Taoism and acknowledges that all things have a complementary light and dark side that are interconnected and, most importantly, interdependent.

Understanding Yin and Yang is a pivotal part of the Taoist’s journey as we contemplate the duality of all things and how that reciprocity is required to make a whole. The 24-hour period that it takes for the Earth to circle the Sun requires both day and night to be complete. There cannot be hot without cold, short without tall or ugliness without beauty. They complement one another and complete one another.

This duality is also found in you.

Are you a good person or a bad person? Maybe you answered that quickly or maybe you’re still thinking what an honest reply would be. After all, we don’t like to label ourselves in negative terms. We struggle with the notion that we might, in fact, have a bad side — one that is selfish, impatient, unkind or thoughtless.

Yet if we ascribe to a Taoist philosophy and affirm that all things in nature are comprised of Yin and Yang, of dark and light, it’s not possible to leave ourselves out of the mix. We are part of the Tao and the Tao is within us, both good and bad.

Many religions and personal philosophies search for loopholes when it comes time to answer whether we humans are both good and bad. “You’re not a bad person,” they say. “You are a good person who occasionally does bad things.”

So our good deeds make us a good person, but our selfish, impatient, unkind or thoughtless deeds are not reflective of our inner nature?

What would happen if we were to look at the Yin Yang symbol and see ourselves as part of the Tao rather than inexplicably outside of it? It can be difficult to admit that sometimes you are a good person and sometimes you are a bad person.

Life is rarely comprised of situations cut as clearly as black and white. That explains why, in looking at the Yin Yang symbol, you see a speck of black in the white and a speck of white in the black. This symbolism acknowledges that even when we do good things with the best of intentions, it may in the end have negative consequences for ourselves and others. On the other hand, when we do bad things, it may be exactly what must be done at the time, regardless of the suffering it causes.

Does that make it easier to see yourself in the Yin Yang symbol?

You are a good person. And you are a bad person. No one can be a pure manifestation of light and goodness alone because our actions are too complex.

If a soldier goes to war and fights for his country, he believes he is doing a good thing. Yet the family of the enemy he kills does not see his actions as good.

Admitting we are both good and bad gets us one step closer to being part of the Tao. It acknowledges we are part of a complex, dual system that offers no easy answers, yet gives us the latitude to find truth in our actions. Moreover, it helps us subvert the childish notion that we are good people doing bad things, as though we are incapable of owning our behavior and noting its purpose in the greater flow.

See yourself in the symbol of Taoism to understand and accept your own inner nature.

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Achieving Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment. Whatever task you are engaged in, wherever you may be, when mindful you are 100% present and focused. Your thoughts do not wander to other issues. You do not “multitask.”. You don’t think about the past or fret over the future. You are focused on the present.

It’s as easy as licking the back of your eyeball.

While it might be difficult in this age of constant distraction to focus, that does not mean we should give up the effort. The rewards are too worthwhile. Before we discuss how to be mindful, let’s make sure we know why we would take on such a challenge.

  • Being mindful lessens our stress and anxiety, as we address only one thing at a time rather than trying to solve all our problems at once.
  • Being mindful improves our productivity. Yes, it’s true! When you do one task well and fully before moving to the next, you will finish your task list sooner than if you tried to “multitask.”
  • Being mindful improves our ability to listen to others which in turn supports positive relationships.
  • Being mindful keeps you safe when lack of attention could mean injury to yourself or others.
  • Being mindful limits our enslavement to modern distractions.

So how do we achieve mindfulness?

1) List your compulsions and devise strategies to neutralize them

If you are the sort who can never put down their smartphone, it’s important to consider the impact it is having on your ability to engage with the real world around you rather than the digital world that lives inside a phone. If you find yourself playing with your tech every time there is a moment’s pause in the day, realize you are separating from actual experience. Put your phone in a zipped bag or backpack and only engage with it when you have an actual need to communicate.

The same can be said for the prevalence of food and drink. It’s a constant now, seeing people walk with a beverage in hand or a snack. We mindlessly consume thousands more calories a day than we need to sustain ourselves, and we eat and drink with no mindfulness towards the enjoyment of the meal. Consumption has become more of an oral pacifier than either an energy refueling or a conscious respite in the day. Treat meals as an opportunity to fill up on healthy foods and pause the activities of the day in meaningful downtime.

These are two examples of modern compulsions that distract us from being aware and mindful. It’s important to think carefully about what pulls you away from being focused and present, and create a strategy to push those distractions aside.

2) Focus on the breath

Just as if you were sitting on the floor with your eyes closed in meditation, being mindful at work, school or in the grocery store can begin with focusing on the breath. Be silent and take a full breath. Feel the air increase your lungs and allow it to center you. This is the starting point. When you find yourself faltering, return to the breath.

3) Engage the senses

Use all your senses to take in the sights, sounds and smells of your environment. Give your full attention to the here and now, and the information provided in the experience. Feel the sun’s warmth, hear the wind, see the trees, smell the outdoors. Be completely present with all your senses.

4) Now I am…

Make a conscious statement either aloud or in your mind. “Now I am…” and fill in the blank with what it is you pledge to achieve in that moment. Now I am listening to this lecture. Now I am knitting this scarf. Now I am taking my daily walk. Now I am consoling a friend. Whatever activity or effort you are engaged in, declare it and commit to it until the effort is truly complete. If you go off course, return to the breath.

Understand being mindful is a skill requiring time and practice to build. You won’t go from a flitty, distracted, stressed-out mess to a centered Zen master in a day. Concentration, focus and persistence are not part of the modern way and every part of our advertising-driven society is fighting for your attention. Fight back against the distractions to ensure an existence that embraces the here and now.

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Unlearning in Taoism

An important and often misunderstood concept of Taoist philosophy is the idea that followers of the Tao must unlearn. It sounds confusing at first, as though one is expected to forget a lifetime of learning and return to ignorance. Should we truly snub knowledge?

Then the true geniuses among us assert we should expedite the process of learning and unlearning by just never learning at all! We can sit on the couch and play video games, comfortable that our illiteracy is the true path. Of course, that is not the intention either.

Lao Tzu tells us:

(The Master) has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.

— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 64

How should we interpret this?

First, once a person who follows the Tao has filled themselves with scholarly knowledge, it will become clear that academic learning is limited and lacking. Therefore, listening to professors and reading books — while important when one is young and unrefined — will eventually cease to be worthwhile or fulfilling. Instructors will sound stale and lifeless. Your comprehension and interests will outpace the patience you have for teachers. Moreover, academic learning can never replace your own observations, experience and wisdom cultivated through decades of life experience. In this sense, we unlearn.

Second, unlearning is the point where circles aren’t round. When one begins to learn drawing, for example, we start with circles, squares and basic shapes. We learn about light and add shading. Circles are round and trees are green. These are the learned rules of drawing. But eventually, if we are to be true to our own style and expression, we will unlearn that circles are round because it is the only way to move forward in our craft. What others tell us is merely a starting point meant to be discarded and replaced with what is true for us.

Third, for the Taoist unlearning means we must peel off the values and priorities society places upon us that cover up our inner nature. We were closer to the Tao at birth than we have ever been since, and every layer that covers us is a societal affectation, not an inner truth. The values we were told to adopt are not true to our inner nature, but rather a reflection of the society we dwell in with its economics, politics, social protocol, familial expectations and definitions of success. All this must be unlearned.

Finally, unlearning to a Taoist can be seen as “putting things down.” This should be done throughout one’s life but is especially noticeable in old age. If you have observed an elderly person in the final years of life, you may notice hobbies and tasks that were once of great importance to them cease to be a part of their activity. As they approach death, they put aside the possessions and actions that once filled their lives. It can be distressing for those around them, yet the elderly often show no discomfort with the process.

As a more refined individual of Tao, you go through the process of “putting things down” many times at all stages of your life, whether it be when you graduate from school, watch your children leave the nest or stop doing a sport that your body is no longer able to engage in. There is nothing wrong with satiating your curiosity and participating in the world, but eventually all relationships, hobbies and efforts will have run their course. At that point you unlearn and put these things down in favor of returning to your inner nature.

When others interpret the Taoist concept of unlearning to be a support of ignorance or anti-intellectualism, they miss the opportunity to shed the weight we carry that keeps us away from our true nature that aligns perfectly with the Tao.

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How Taoists Practice Their Beliefs

We are accustomed to seeing people of all religions and belief systems actively engaged in the practice of their faith. This usually comes in the form of attending a service at a specific church or temple of worship. They may also wear certain clothing items that denote their affiliation. Some even have the requirement of stopping multiple times throughout the day to pray.

In short, such actions are overt and visible. So why don’t we see Taoists wearing… Tao clothes and going to Tao temples and doing Tao prayers?

Well, we can see that if we live in mainland China. Sort of. Taoism has been woven into the folk religion of that country that also takes on aspects of Confucianism and Hinduism. There are temples and gods and altars with candles to light and rituals to partake in. It is quite visual and active.

But is this Taoism?

Since Taoism is more a philosophy than a religion, it can be difficult for most people to understand its nuances, let alone to follow something so complex and esoteric.

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.

— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 41

At the risk of sounding unkind, most people do not live a sufficiently reflective and refined life to embrace Taoism. It is challenging to engage in a belief system that offers no community, no temple, no clothes, no rituals, no gods and no hierarchy of priests to instruct us. Taoism is not relegated to an hour’s effort on Sunday morning and then conveniently forgotten until next week. It is instead a moment to moment practice. Therefore, in the West, we are lucky to even find a few others with us on the path.

So how does a Taoist practice his or her belief system? By constantly refining the self.

Taoists believe in maintaining good health through proper diet and physical fitness. They believe in vitality, supporting the energies of the body by not engaging in drugs or alcohol nor frittering away hardiness through other indulgences. (Remember, moderation in all things.) Therefore, daily exercise in proportion to one’s ability is mandatory. This can be Tai Chi, Qigong or a glorious walk in the sunshine. Moreover, every meal is comprised of healthy vegetables, fruits, meats and grains to support the body and mind.

Taoists take time to turn inward, so daily meditation is a requisite, if even for ten minutes. This pause centers the self and teaches us to be in the moment. We can’t always control our thoughts, but we strive to ensure our thoughts don’t control us.

Taoists are also required to learn not only skills but also intellectual topics through the reading of scholarly writings meant to challenge the mind. A Taoist is a refined person, so being better educated and more highly skilled in crafting is an expectation.

The arts are part of a Taoist’s practice. A Taoist will expose him or herself to music, art, poetry and architecture of the highest quality to see the best humanity has created. They will also partake in the effort to the degree their skill level allows for their own edification and to better appreciate the masters.

Finally, a Taoist is attuned to nature. Taoists do not feel the need to build a temple, as all of outdoors serves that purpose. You would be hard pressed to find a more refined Taoist than a farmer, a person who lives and works so close to nature that he or she becomes part of the natural cycle. While we cannot all be farmers by profession, we must spend time in nature and be mindful in those moments — “mindful” being defined as aware and undistracted. Walking a path in the woods is useless if our thoughts are occupied with problems or we are disturbed by technology devices we refuse to leave behind.

Suddenly spending an hour in church on Sunday mornings seems tame in relation to the expectations of cultivating and following the Tao.

Engaging in actions that push you towards becoming a refined person is an ongoing effort that has no temple, no timeframe and no mindless rituals to partake in. But while it is not easy, it does place you on the path to a full and rewarding existence.

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Maintaining Silence

Qing Dynasty mother coinThere is a parable that tells of four young Taoist students who gathered to meditate. The agreement was that they would sit in silence for many days, knowing silence would deepen their meditative state and enhance their understanding of the Tao.

As night fell on the first day, the candle in the center of the room began to flicker. The first student shouted, “Grab another candle. This one is going out.”

The second student glared at him for breaking the silence they had held all day. She said, “We agreed to say nothing! You broke the silence and now, as your friend, I must correct you.”

The third student sighed and said, “Don’t you see that in correcting him, you have also broken the silence?”

The fourth student stood up in disgust. “You all failed. I am the only one who maintained the silence.”

We can get a good laugh from these four young students who had good intentions, but succumbed to human nature. They each symbolize a different aspect of our character that must be addressed on our journey with the Tao.

The first student who broke the silence represents those who fail to follow through on their commitments. They don’t honor a promise and don’t feel the rules apply to them.

The second student represents those who enjoy scolding and criticizing others, usually for the purpose of making themselves seem more intelligent or advanced.

The third student is the type person who loves to lecture and presumes to serve as everyone’s teacher, whether they wish to be taught or not.

And finally, the fourth student represents our nature to see ourselves as different from others, more special and refined, even though we make the same mistakes.

Humanity is struggling with the value of silence these days, given that we have a vast audience provided on the Internet. We are quick to publicly criticize a meal in a restaurant for failing to meet our expectations, when we ourselves would struggle to not burn toast. We eagerly present ourselves as experts on every topic from weight loss to personal finance, though we eat poorly and struggle to pay our bills.

While the parable includes no solution, the answer was provided by sages who used ancient Chinese coins to represent how we should engage with the world. On the outside, the coin is circular; a reminder to be relaxed and easygoing with others and outward situations. On the interior, however, it has a square, instructing us to be exacting and disciplined when refining ourselves.

Moreover, be aware of the value of silence and its dual purpose. Not only does it prevent us from succumbing to the same human failings as these students, but it also helps us focus inward on our own growth and development.

Try silence today and you will soon learn its value.

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Right and Wrong for Taoists

I know two women in their 50s who are addressing similar issues. One woman has an elderly mother in a nursing home suffering with Alzheimers and other medical issues. The woman goes to the home every weekend to bathe and care for her mother, and bring her diapers and other basic essentials even though the mother has long forgotten who she is or even her name.

The other woman I know is planning to move out of state in less than two years. She lives in a high cost of living area and does not have the financial means to purchase a house where she is. She wants to move before she gets too old to enjoy the things she has put off for much of her life. Her father is about to celebrate his 84th birthday, however, and he lives locally. If she moves, she leaves behind her elderly father who refuses to leave his home.

Is it easy to decide who is right and who is wrong here?

Let’s go back to the first woman. What I didn’t mention before is that her now ailing mother was complicit in allowing her father to sexually abuse her for years when she was a child. The mother knew of the ongoing abuse yet did nothing to protect her child in favor of her own self-interests. This resulted in substantial mental problems for the daughter, as you can imagine. Knowing this horrific detail, would we say it is right or wrong for the woman to be engaged in the care of her elderly mother?

There is more to the story with the second woman as well. She is the black sheep of her family, having received the least attention and support of the three siblings. She moved out at 16 years of age, paid her own way through school, and engaged little with the family throughout her adult life. Her parents and siblings were content with this distant arrangement as long as she came back now and then with her checkbook to solve problems for them. Knowing this woman has no bond with her family by their choosing, would we say it is right or wrong for her to move out of state?

We like to label right and wrong (especially when passing judgment on others) but we know in naming one we create the other.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 2

As it would happen, these two women know one another and believe the other one is wrong in her actions. As followers of the Tao, we know both of these women are wrong and right at the same time.

Simple people believe there is a right and wrong decision, their preference being the right one, of course. Refined people of Tao understand the opposite of what we know is also true.

The only solution for these women is to do what is right for them while knowing the opposite action is equally valid. It is difficult to attain this level of understanding when a difficult choice presents itself, but a refined mind can see both sides and make a decision, accepting she cannot do both.

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Taoists and Attachment

I was reading a book by a well-known Buddhist nun and she spoke of attachment. The general belief among Buddhists is that there is suffering in the world because of our attachment to other people, to material possessions and most of all to ourselves and our egos.

Therefore, the solution to avoid this suffering is simply to quell the attachments we feel.

In some respects, this is a brilliant idea. After all, we are far too attached to unimportant things like possessions. The average American household has 300,000 items (L.A. Times, 2014), and people are hesitant to give away or toss out even one. We are attached to them to the point that they dictate our lives and spoil our enjoyment. Possessions are stacked in basements and garages where we may not see them for years, but yet we are attached to owning them. And therefore they own us.

We also place too much emphasis on the attachment we have to our own sense of self, our ego. If we are called a name or slighted in the least, we are ready to fight. We look to be offended by those who are seemingly indifferent or just unaware of something we find important.

These are attachments I would happily be rid of.

Taoism encourages less attachment as well, telling us to seek the middle path in all facets. This means we refuse to shoulder the foolish burden of owning 300,000 things, but it also means we don’t think it necessary to possess only one robe and a begging bowl. Owning too many things is one extreme, while owning too few to cultivate ourselves as learned followers of Tao is just as foolhardy.

Taoists believe in the middle way. In moderation. Neither extreme of too much or too little is advisable if we strive to be developed individuals.

The Buddhist nun went on to speak of how her brother had died. When the news was shared with her, she did not cry, for she had severed her attachment to him as part of her development as a Buddhist. Her brother’s death was natural and expected, and she felt no suffering.

Again, we remind ourselves that the Tao tells us all things should be experienced in moderation, even grief. The middle way is the answer, not the extreme. It is inappropriate for us to react to the passing of a family member with overt, embarrassing public displays, ripping at our hair and clothes, and wailing at the top of our voices to draw attention to our pain. We must retain our dignity in even the darkest moments. However, it is equally inappropriate to avoid normal feelings of loss and grief when one’s own brother dies. This too is an extreme.

If we question how to react in these moments of loss, we only need look to nature, the perfect reflection of the Tao. There is no lack of empirical data indicating all developed species grieve. Elephants, dogs, cats, sea lions, dolphins — they are not detached. They give space to the grief they feel and then move forward on the path.

We can allow ourselves a moderate amount of attachment, especially worthwhile bonds like those we have to other people. As a Taoist you are a refined individual and you can handle some suffering.

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The Vinegar Tasters

The Vinegar Tasters

The Vinegar Tasters

The Vinegar Tasters is a common theme in religious artwork of China which depicts three great thought leaders, Confucius, Buddha and Lao Tzu. These men of course represent three differing philosophies, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.

The gist of the image is that each of the men sticks a finger in a ceramic vat of vinegar and takes a taste. Confucius declares it “sour,” while Buddha finds it “bitter.” The scowls on their faces express these perceptions. But Lao Tzu, always the laughing Taoist, declared the vinegar “sweet.”

The image is a reminder to the viewer how the three philosophies differ. It serves as an important challenge for us to decide what we want to conclude as we take our taste of the world.

“If the mat was not straight, the master would not sit.”

Confucianism is a formal way of looking at how to engage in society. Those who follow this viewpoint believe all the old ways are better than the newfangled ideas of today. Moreover, it is important to learn proper protocol and follow it to the letter. In short, be a sourpuss and follow the rules.

It has been said that Confucianism is an appropriate system to follow when one is young and engaged in society. As one ages and has a foundation of their own wisdom to draw from, societal niceties and social graces can be cast aside in favor of a more authentic existence that contemplates larger issues than the placement of a sitting mat.

“The root of suffering is attachment.”

Buddhism has over a billion adherents in modern times, which makes you wonder if they all find life as bitter as the Buddha found this vinegar. A major concept of Buddhism states that we suffer greatly because of our attachment. We are attached to material possessions, to our jobs, to family members — but most of all we are attached to our ego and perception of ourselves.

Because loss is a normal part of life, we invariably suffer due to this attachment. We should ideally transcend all attachment to avoid unnecessary suffering, or we will find the vinegar, and our lives, to be bitter. Of course, this is easier said than done.

“Be content with what you have. Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

Taoism is a philosophy that finds no fault in the way things are. Vinegar is (philosophically) sweet to a Taoist because it tastes exactly the way it is supposed to.

While the Confucianist is angry that vinegar is sour on his tongue instead of sweet and pleasant, and the Buddhist sighs at yet more suffering from this bitter vinegar, the Taoist contemplates using the vinegar to marinade meat and have a cookout in the garden with friends. And therefore he smiles.

Once you understand the meaning of the image, you realize each of the men tasted the same vinegar, yet came to different conclusions because of their personal philosophy. From this, you can decide how you want to taste the world. Will you find it sour, bitter or pleasantly sweet?

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Taoists Don’t Believe in Karma

We addressed the question of life after death yesterday, and today we ponder:

Why is life unfair?

It doesn’t take a child long to realize life is gravely unfair. Once among their peers they see others who have more; better toys, nicer clothes, a caring family. What is even more curious to the observing child is that these wealthy children aren’t necessarily kinder. They don’t get better grades. They aren’t exceptional people in a moral sense. They just have a better life.

And we conclude early that this is gravely unfair and demand something be done to rectify it.

For as much as we’d like to think our good efforts are rewarded, even a child knows there is no guaranteed return for our diligence or obedience.

Children grow into adulthood only to see this discrepancy magnified. While they work hard and have few rewards other than perhaps a middle class existence at best, others who seem to break laws, cheat in business or simply know the right people profit highly from bad behavior.

Again we conclude life is gravely unfair. And we want to know why.

To address this great question, religions have come up with such responses as — God is testing us, we are paying for our sins, our ancestors sinned and we must pay that debt, or we are learning a lesson. Hindu and Buddhist followers tend to address the issue of unfairness with the concept of karma.

Karma is the idea that good intentions and deeds contribute to one’s good karma that brings about future happiness, while bad intentions and deeds contribute to bad karma and future suffering.

Karma is a big, cosmic scorecard.

The challenging part is that one’s karma lasts for many lifetimes, so you in some previous life may have been a real pistol, building up a stockpile of bad karma that has now come due. This debt, therefore, explains why your hard work and good character may result in a big pile of nothing. This indebtedness supposedly explain unfairness.

Taoists don’t believe in karma and they don’t believe we are punished for our sins at some ecumenical level. We do, however, believe in:

  1. causality
  2. that things are exactly as they are supposed to be

This is how Taoists respond to the great question of why life is unfair.

Causality is just as it sounds. Some people work hard and they get the rewards. Some people don’t work as hard and their lives aren’t as bountiful. Cause and effect. That explains much of what we see around us.

But causality doesn’t explain those who have worked hard, sacrificed, done all the right things morally and still do not benefit. It is unfair, and we Taoists just nod and say that’s how life is.

We don’t look for an answer to unfairness because it isn’t a puzzle to solve. Bad people profit. Good people suffer. Undeserving people have great opportunity. Diligent people remain stifled. Folks die in accidents or natural disasters and none of it is deserved or fair.

But it is as it’s supposed to be. And while that might not be comforting, it is the way of things.

So how can we live in such an unfair environment? With deep gratitude. As Taoists, we must take time to honestly assess the gifts of our lives — not with the eyes of a child who wants better toys, but as evolved and refined individuals who have the capacity to see all the suffering in the world and be thankful. To want more and fret about unfairness in comparison to the lives some lead will then be put in perspective. We should be thankful to have enough when others have nothing.

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