About Me

My photo
Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Daoism Paper

Beau Hilton
REL C 630
Dr. Keller
       Any good scholar begins a research paper with research. Trying to be a good scholar, I did this. I read everything I could find by credible scholars and philosophers. There is enough information out there to name the “ten thousand things”[1] many times over, enough to fill volumes, enough to write bibliographies the size of volumes. And it is the completely wrong approach. This wei is not wu, not at all. “’But it isn’t Easy,’ said Pooh to himself, ‘Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.’”[2] So I went places where the wei-wu-wei could find me – to children’s books, to books written by Old Boys, to quiet places under trees in the snow. And a few things found me. I’ll tell you what found me, and I’ll split it into three parts (largely because I am used to doing things this way, even though I would rather not name and put into boxes such beautiful things). First of all, there is a way we have to think (or stop thinking) if we want to wei-wu-wei. Secondly, there is a way we have to wei if we want to wei-wu-wei. Third, wei-wu-wei is really not something so much for thinking or doing, but for being. And we’re off.
The wind was against them now, and Piglet’s ears streamed behind him like banners as he fought his way along, and it seemed hours before he got them into the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood and they stood up straight again, to listen, a little nervously, to the roaring of the gale among the tree-tops.
            “Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
            “Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this, and in a little while they were knocking and ringing very cheerfully at Owl’s door.[3]

It is easy to see life as difficult, and it is not wrong to see it this way. Hard and bad things happen all the time, every day even. To follow the Dao and act without acting is not to ignore life’s problems, for the Daoist sees the rock in the stream as well as any. But “it is also true that every cloud we see doesn’t result in rain.”[4] Not every tree blown on a Very Blustery Day falls, not every black cloud drops its load on our heads, and most rocks we can simply flow around and move past. The thing to stop thinking is that every Thing will be so Thingy, and unpleasantly so. Most Things aren’t nearly as Thingy as they appear. Even when difficulties do arise, and Things are quite Thingy, the attitude is to say and feel, “come what may, and love it.”[5] If you remember, Owl’s House fell over not on Pooh and Piglet, but fell over while they were in it. How did they deal with it? They just did. On Pooh’s part, at least, there was no griping about what trouble it was to escape a house whose front door just became a skylight, no worrying about personal pain. The opportunity to create, to improvise, and, especially, to help and love a friend – this was the focus. And they got out, safe and sound. “No self interest? Self is fulfilled.”[6]
One more story from our friends of the Animal Persuasion ought to sum up the rest of the way we ought to think if we are to properly wu-wei. These friends don’t live in or near the Hundred Acre Wood, but rather in the vicinity of Toad Hall. Mole and Rat went to find a small lost Otter-ling, who had quite recently disappeared. Having no idea of where to go except to go and be gone, they went. Soon they heard music, faintly at first, and the sound led them to a clearing where the Piper at the Gates of Dawn was protecting the Otter-ling. The Piper doesn’t allow those who view him to remember much of their viewing, so as to not sully the rest of life by comparison, and so it was that the Mole, the Rat, and the Otter-ling forgot their interview with the Piper as they rowed Rat’s boat back home. The Otter-ling was returned, and Rat and Mole rowed lazily away, their heroics for the day completed. And this is what Rat said:
“Isn’t it jolly to feel the sun again, soaking into one’s bones! And hark to the wind playing in the reeds!”
            “It’s like music – far-away music,” said the Mole, nodding drowsily.

Then Rat told Mole what the music was saying, for the reed-music was saying something, but that something is not so important to us at the moment, except that it was something about the Piper (whom they had forgotten).
“But what do the words mean?” asked the wondering Mole.
“That I do not know,” said the Rat simply. “I passed them on to you as they reached me. Ah! now they return again, and this time full and clear! This time, at last, it is the real, the unmistakable thing, simple – passionate – perfect –“
“Well, let’s have it, then,” said the Mole, after he had waited patiently for a few minutes, half dozing in the hot sun.
But no answer came. He looked, and understood the silence. With a smile of much happiness on his face, and something of a listening look still lingering there, the weary Rat was fast asleep.[7]

“Tao called Tao is not Tao. Names can name no lasting name.”[8] So don’t even try. Sometimes the Piper wants us to forget, and sometimes the Dao slips away like a dream upon waking. It cannot be held, cannot be grasped – it only stays when non-holding and non-grasping are present. Wanting to know prevents us from knowing. The silence is often all there is to be understood, and if we listen like Rat and accept like Mole, then is the Dao “a treasure for those who are good, a refuge for those who are not,”[9] and maybe even a comfortable seat on a boat in the river on a hot day. How should we think properly if we want to perform the action of no-action? We shouldn’t.
“Pooh hasn’t much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right.”[10] “The most difficult things in the world must be accomplished through the easiest. The greatest things in the world must be accomplished through the smallest. Therefore the Sage never attempts great things and so accomplishes them.”[11] The wei part of wu-wei is one of the parts that I have particular trouble with (the other part being the wu). I get hung up on Step One, the part about not thinking too hard and not worrying too much, and I am struck with paralysis. It becomes difficult to move, either because I’m certain I won’t be able to do anything, or because I’m afraid of having to do so much.  This isn’t what I should do. I should do what Antoine de Saint-Exupéry did for the Little Prince (though I shouldn’t be so rude about it).
“Please… draw me a sheep…”
In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey. Absurd as it seemed, a thousand miles from all inhabited regions and in danger of death, I took a scrap of paper and a pen out of my pocket. But then I remembered that I had mostly studied geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar, and I told the little fellow (rather crossly) that I didn’t know how to draw.
He replied, “That doesn’t matter. Draw me a sheep.”[12]

And so Antoine drew an elephant inside a boa constrictor (because it was all he knew how to draw), then a sheep, another sheep, and one more sheep before he got it right. But he got it right. The action of wu-wei is the natural action, the action that simply follows the action that came before, the action that takes no effort because it moves in the direction it was already headed, as a stream flows to the lowest parts of the earth. It doesn’t worry so much about the outcome. “The true husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also.”[13]  Wu-wei is action simply done, and it is done for the simple reason of doing – the outcome will take care of itself.
Beside going where it needs to go and starting when it needs to start, wu-wei never goes too far. “Know what is enough – Abuse nothing. Know when to stop – Harm nothing. This is how to last a long time.”[14] Henry Thoreau made a friend while living near the pond at Walden, a good, industrious Irishman. He saw how terribly hard the Irishman worked for his living, and explained “I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but, as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system.”[15] How often is it that the Things we choose to include in our lives become the reasons our lives are so unpleasantly Thingy? “From his experiences at Walden Pond, Thoreau determined that there were only four things that a man really needed: food, clothing, shelter, and fuel.”[16] These things do not need to become Things. If they stay uncomplicated, un-capitalized and otherwise completely lowercase, they get out of our way so we can live fully and last a long time.
I said at the outset that as much as we were going to talk about the thinking and doing of wu-wei, wu-wei really isn’t so much about thinking or doing. This is the truth. Sometimes, though, to get a feeling for a beautiful thing, we need to build up a lot of information about it, pile it up so high that our mountain of knowledge collapses on itself and leaves us with something small, something useful. What should be the useful thing we get? “Thirty spokes join one hub. The wheel’s use comes from emptiness. Clay is fired to make a pot. The pot’s use comes from emptiness. Windows and doors are cut to make a room. The room’s use comes from emptiness.”[17] Emptiness. Let that word float in the room for a moment.


There it is.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.[18]
Return to infancy.
            Return to the uncarved block.
            Return to simplicity.[19]

            I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.[20]

When something is empty, it is Very Useful. When a person is simple, as wise and meek as a child, that person is Very Useful. Only a simple person, uncarved by years of prejudice and hurt and hate and learning and thinking, can be so very still that the Dao can be heard. I think the vital secret is that there is a way the universe works, a principle upon which it functions, and the reason God is God is because He understands it and lives by it perfectly. The Holy Spirit links us into the vital secret, and God shares with us His other secrets (or perhaps it is all the same secret). I bet you were wondering when I would tell you what I Really Think. This is it. To be a Daoist is to be a Muslim is to be a Latter-day Saint, if you take the most basic definitions. To be any of these is to submit to God and the infinite, to rest in the low valleys and watch the clouds drift by. An uncarved block can become anything, and so can an empty person, a child-like person, a Christ-like person. It isn’t important to worry very much about thinking or doing. Being wu-wei will cause thinking wu-wei and doing wu-wei, and it will do it in a very wu-wei way – naturally, without stress or effort. Now, there is some effort involved in the process of becoming empty, and it does not happen overnight. “Pursue knowledge, gain daily. Pursue Tao, lose daily. Lose and again lose, arrive at non-doing. Non-doing—and nothing not done.”[21] There are ten thousand things to lose before all is lost, but losing those things is where the fun is. Every drop of vinegar on the tongue is a reason to smile.
Being that this is my last paper for this course, and that we are ending on one of my favorite notes, I have a thing or two to say.

“I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he, “and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.”
            “You’re the Best Bear in All the World,” said Christopher Robin soothingly.
            “Am I?” said Pooh hopefully. And then he brightened up suddenly.
            “Anyhow,” he said, “it is nearly Luncheon Time.”
            So he went home for it.[22]

I feel that this, in a nutshell, is the relationship I have with Christ. Confession is the sweetest thing in the world, and forgiveness is somehow sweeter. Daoism teaches this at a cosmic level – the Dao is forgiving, and will permit any who choose to fall into line with it, no matter how out of harmony they were before. Living by wu-wei really is simply living by the Spirit, and it’s one of those things that can completely envelope a person if they are humble enough to be enveloped. I know I am not humble enough to live completely by wu-wei, the Spirit, or whatever you want to call it. As I said before, the effort that must be put forth in order to rid oneself of effort is to lose daily, lose and lose again, until the ego is gone, the fruits of action are put into God’s hands, and implicit trust is given to the infinite. When I seek to control the world, it fights back. I don’t want to fight any more. I have no idea how in the heck I am going to drop control and ego out of my paradigm, but I want them gone. I do not know how to function in a school environment without micromanaging myself. I’m not quite sure how to get people to do what they need to without micromanaging them. Oh, sure, I have a few ideas, a few answers that work in my head, but to have something in the head is about as good as not having it. What I really have now, what I have gained from this course, are a few better questions. I have this feeling that if I ask more of the right questions, I might just get some pretty good answers.

Longwinded speech is exhausting.
Better to stay centered.

Lao Tzu

[1] P. 1. Lao-Tzu. Tao Te Ching. Trans. Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo. Boston: Shambhala, 2007. Print.
[2] P. 311-312. Emphasis in original.
[3] P. 296-297. Milne, A. A., and Ernest H. Shepard. The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. New York: Dutton Children's, 1994. Print.
[4] Elder Quentin L. Cook. “Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time.” October 2008 General Conference.
[5] Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin. “Come What May, and Love It.” October 2008 General Conference.
[6] P. 7. Tao Te Ching.
[7] Pp. 128-130. Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. London: Puffin, 2004. Print.
[8] P. 1. Tao Te Ching.
[9] P. 62. Tao Te Ching.
[10] P. 129. Winnie-the-Pooh.
[11] P. 63. Tao Te Ching.
[12] P. 4. Saint-Exupéry, Antoine De. The Little Prince. Trans. Richard Howard. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. Print.
[13] P. 115. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and "Civil Disobedience" New York: New American Library of World Literature, 1960. Print.
[14] P. 44. Tao Te Ching.
[15] P. 140. Walden.
[16] Elder L. Tom Perry. “Let Him Do It with Simplicity.” October 2008 General Conference.

[17] P.11. Tao Te Ching.
[18] Mosiah 3:19, emphasis added.
[19] P. 28. Tao Te Ching.
[20] P. 72. Walden.
[21] P. 48. Tao Te Ching.
[22] P. 41. Winnie-the-Pooh.


  1. Very Good, I'm an Avid reader of Taoism, it falls in that weird place between a religion, a way of life, and just a philosophical view. Excellent work on the Pooh references, I enjoyed them. Overall a very well written, well presented paper, and on a subject most haven't read too much on. Good work Bro, keep it up.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ken! Researching for this paper was incredibly fun - I actually spent study time reading A.A. Milne, how cool is that?! Taoism definitely falls in a weird and wonderful place.