Over the years I’ve come across references to life secrets in general, and occasionally Taoist secrets in particular. A few decades ago a woman inquired about our Sunday Taoist meetings, held weekly back then. I told her we mainly shared our reflections on the Tao Te Ching. She said she already had the Tao Te Ching down solid and was looking for the Taoist secrets and secret practices. Well, she was obviously too far advanced for us simpletons. 😉
As a young kid, I recall seeing various ‘secrets of life’ advertised in magazines. One low price for the secret to wealth, power, beauty, wisdom of the ages… and so on. A book, The Secret, recently came out on the market and apparently was wildly successful. Could its success be because it just was promising us exactly what we desire in an entertaining and easily digestible way? My symptoms point of view tells me yes, of course.
This reminds me of the biblical warnings about false prophets who presumably promise some sort of secret. Usually all you need to do is follow the money, as they say. Sure, I enjoy a tasty ice-cream just like everyone else, but my deepest joys are priceless. It is not that they are too expensive; it is that they are not for sale. Similarly, of life’s deepest insights, the only true ones are free.
Fortunately, it’s an open secret
The deepest secrets of life are an open secret—nothing is hidden. It is right in front of us. We can’t see ‘it’ because our needs and fears create in us a blind spot. You could say, all we need to do is open our eyes and look. The trouble is that we usually can only see a reflection of our desires and worries, rather than what is naturally and truly there. Nature ensures that we take these emotions deadly serious. Ironically, this blinds us to the subtler aspects of nature.
On the surface, it seems to be easier to see other people succumbing to this blindness. After all, we’re not blinded by their desires and worries, needs and fears. As objective as these judgments feel, they really tend to be nothing more than a projection of our own needs and fears onto their situation. That means such judgments are not ‘wrong’ because they are actually about us. However, while our judgments of others are not ‘wrong’, they are often not helpful either. Jesus nailed the projection to which we succumb beautifully…
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
“That ye be not judged” may seem to mean that God will not judge ye. Taken as a whole, in context with the last line about the “mote” and “beam”, I feel he was speaking to the projection process to which we succumb, even if he didn’t frame it that way. Like today, back then people didn’t appreciate how much our actions are symptoms rather than causes. As stated here, it implies that if you don’t judge others, you won’t be judged. That puts the cart before the horse. Our judgment of others originates within ourselves, and the way we view the world. Our judgments reflect who we are… they judge us, so to speak.
The way to know the secret truly
Our judgment projections distract us from the source — ourselves. The judgments we make are essentially answers that ease our deepest sense of emptiness and the void. We feel a desperate need to nail down reality. Names and words, in general, help create the illusion that we know something. However, the Taoist ‘secret’ lies beyond the words and names. Indeed, our reliance on words and names blinds us. That is what makes Taoist secrets truly ‘secret’.
Seeking questions rather than seeking answers helps counteract the hook that words and names have on our mind. For this to play out, it is important to acknowledge the fact that language itself is serving as a kind of pseudo answer that shields us from the awesome emptiness our background awareness perceives. In addition, our blind connection to language serves to create the ‘illusion of self’ that Buddha’s 2nd Noble Truth addresses.
Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions can be a useful tool for untying some of the knots in which names and words tie up the mind. Couplets and the Co-generating Principle looks at this from another angle. Chapter 56 sums this up well. Note: I added “think” to the original “speak” here. After all, thinking often precedes speaking… and yet emotion precedes them both, I’d add.
Spontaneous in-sync-ness with emptiness
The void terrifies us; words and names serve as blinders to comfort us to some extent. They also disconnect us from the spontaneous in-sync-ness with the void that every other animal experiences. This feeling of disconnect leaves us yearning to reunite, and this drives us to seek answers which give the illusion of union. Words and names are simply the building blocks of the cognitive answers we seek… and find.
When we seek answers, it is easy to become stuck in the answer we find. In fact, answers blind us to the degree we believe the answers true. By focusing more on ultimate questions, the ball keeps rolling and we can’t easily become bogged down in any particular answer. Therefore, distrusting any answer that feels like it is the answer—the Secret—frees the mind to dig deeper. The blinding hazard of answers dwindles once we regard answers as merely transitional placeholders for deeper knowing yet to come. Of course, nothing comes free of charge in nature. The tradeoff here is putting up with a somewhat disconcerting sense of emptiness and ‘profound sameness’.
And then there’s Buddha’s secret
Buddha’s 4th Noble truth says, “There is salvation for him whose self disappears before truth, whose will is bent on what he ought to do, whose sole desire is the performance of his duty.” So… how does self disappear? His 2nd truth clues us in, “The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things. The desire to live for the enjoyment of self entangles us in the net of sorrows. Pleasures are the bait and the result is pain”. It is as simple and straightforward as that!