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 “advanced” for our meeting.
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 was apparently wildly successful. Could the success of The Secret be because it was promising people what they yearn for in an easy engaging way? My symptoms point of view tells me yes, obviously.
This reminds me of the biblical warnings about false prophets who presumably promise some sort of secret. Usually all you need do is follow the money. Now, I enjoy buying goodies just like anyone, 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. You could say, all we need to do is open our eyes and look. Everything is right in front of us, but we can’t see because our needs and fears blind us. Our dilemma is that we can only see a reflection of our desires and worries, rather than what is naturally and actually there. Nature ensures that we take these emotions deadly serious. Unfortunately, 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, their particular desires and worries, needs and fears aren’t usually blinding us. 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 legitimate because they are actually about us. However, if we fail to realize that we are simply projecting our reality onto others, we are still as blind as before in the end. Jesus put the problem we succumb to nicely…
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 you. Taken as a whole, in context with the last line about the “mote” and “beam”, I feel he was speaking to the projection process we succumb to, 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. The way we view the world and our judgment of others originates within ourselves. Our judgments judge us by revealing who we are.
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 deep sense of emptiness—the void. We desperately 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., This language hook also serves to maintain our “illusion of self” that Buddha’s 2nd Noble Truth identifies.
Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions (p.572) 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 (p.566) look 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, and so words and names act as blinders to comfort us somewhat. 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. This drives us to seek answers, which help to confer an illusion of union. Words and names are simply the necessary building blocks of the answers we seek.
When we seek answers, we easily attach ourselves to the answers we find. In fact, answers blind us to the degree we believe the answers are true and final. By focusing more on ultimate questions, the ball keeps rolling and so we don’t become bogged down as easily in any particular answer. Therefore, distrusting any answer that feels like it is the answer frees the mind to dig deeper. The blinding hazard of answers dwindles when 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.
Then there’s Buddha’s secret
Buddha’s Fourth 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 second truth is the clue, “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”. Yes, it really is as simple and straightforward as that.