Taoism and the Sage
by Ted Kardash
|In the earliest Taoist written works, which appeared around 500 BC, there are numerous references to the Sage. From a Taoist viewpoint, this term refers to one whose actions are in complete harmony with his surroundings - both the immediate environment and the universe as a whole. Through the example of the Sage, Taoism offers us a model of a way of being that is in accordance with the natural laws that govern life. To think and act like a Sage is to attune oneself to lifeís flow and to the Tao.
In the English language the word "sage" describes a wise person, one of sound judgement. It also means "to perceive keenly." Within the Taoist tradition the Sage has gained a wisdom that extends beyond mere intellectual knowledge or information and reflects a deep, intuitive understanding of life.
Earlier articles in this series examined four principles basic to Taoism: the interconnectedness of all life (the Tao); the underlying unity of all apparent opposites (yin-yang); the power derived through alignment with the Tao (te); and non-ego-motivated action (wu-wei).
The Sage expresses her wisdom by directly manifesting these principles in daily living. Because the Sage truly experiences the unity of all life, the Sage perceives and understands all opposites as part of the same system. As she does not oppose these opposites, she can bring harmony and balance to all situations. Because she resides in a state of interconnectedness, the Sageís actions do not arise from the needs of a separate ego but are called forth by the needs of the environment, which includes the Sage herself. These actions are natural, effortless, and spontaneous and are imbued with the power of the Tao.
Taoist thought maintains that cultivating sage-like attributes is part of the process of human transformation. While we may think that to become sage-like happens only at the final stage of this transformation, we also can presently recognize and foster those attributes already within us. The early Taoist writers, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, themselves legendary sages, offer us numerous examples of behavior based on sage-like virtues. Most well-known are Lao Tzuís "three treasures" compassion, frugality, and humility.
Lao Tzu maintains that these values are foreign neither to our understanding, nor to our experience and that we are all capable of cultivating such sage-like characteristics because they are a natural part of being human. It is through our caring that we connect with others and with all of life. By practicing frugality we maintain a balanced existence with our environment and develop simplicity in action and thought. And by learning to follow, we determine the needs of the environment and provide the necessary service.
The Sage, in "perceiving keenly," sees past the dualities of right and wrong, and harmonizes all opposites. Lao Tzu states, "The Sage is good to people who are good. He is also good to people who are not good."
This is true goodness. The Sage does not judge, but accepts everything as part of the intrinsic flow of life and then acts accordingly. In this manner she provides the opportunity for all beings to become aware of their own self-worth and to express this as goodness.
The Sage lives her life not by conventional standards, but according to the principles that are a reflection of the Tao. Chuang Tzu writes, "Rank and reward make no appeal to her. Disgrace and shame do not deter her. She is not always looking for right and wrong." Thus the Sage is truly at peace with herself and with the way of the Tao. She believes that "the world is ruled by letting things take their course."
Chuang Tzu also writes that as we become attuned to the Tao by living in harmony with the natural order of the Universe, we become fully realized beings, or "true persons."
Thus, to live in harmony with the Tao, cooperating with the natural laws that govern the Universe, means to grow and transform as individuals, to become sage-like in our behavior. Initially this process occurs because we consciously adopt and follow those principles which reflect the workings of the Tao - yin-yang, wu-wei, and te, among others. In time we find that our sage-like behaviors manifest reflexively and naturally. They emerge from us without conscious effort. We reach what Taoism considers to be a personís highest calling Ė a life in service of the Tao. "The Sage has no mind of her own. She is simply aware of the needs of others." Just as the Tao "nourishes all things," as it continually returns things to harmony and balance, so too does the Sage. And this is the ultimate expression of the natural wisdom, the "sageliness," that is the essence of our being.
This concludes our five-part series on Taoism.
Ted Kardash is the Assistant Director of the Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego (619-692-1155) where he teaches classes in Tai Chi Chuan and Taoist philosophy. He is also a licensed Marriage, Family, Child Counselor with a practice in the San Diego area. To contact the Taoist Sanctuary, please call (619) 692-1155.
Part one in our five-part series: Taoism Ageless Wisdom for a Modern World
Part two: Te The Principle of Inner Nature
Part three: Yin-Yang The Principle of Harmony and Change
Part four: The Wu-Wei Principle