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A Lesson for Confucius

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The Chinese religion or philosophy Taoism (founded by Lao Tzu) dates back to 600 B.C. Tao literally means “the way”. It can refer to the way a person lives their life, and also the way of the Cosmos.

Taoists believe that the goal of life is to be true to oneself. Apparently there was a divide between Taoism and Confucianism, the former being for the individual with several symbols and meanings in life, while the latter was for society and rooted in the scholar’s thoughts. “Confusius’ ideal for man is the carved jade—the cultured person whose character is formed as a work of art; Lao Tzu’s ideal is the uncarved block—the natural man."

In a story by Chuang Tzu, a man who was considered the second greatest Tao teacher, Confucius learns from a humble man swimming in a river. It takes place on a nice day where one of Confucius’ students takes him and the other students to see a great waterfall with dangerous currents. They arrive to find a man tumbling under the massive waterfall. Confucius sends his students running to try and save the man from impending death. However, when they get to the shore the man is leaving the river in one piece. Confucius asked him how he did it without drowning:

“Well…I’ve never really thought about it. If I have to explain it, I’d say that when the currents throw me this way or that, I let them. If they pull me down, I dive with them. And I know that when I reach the bottom the current will shoot me up again. I wait for that moment, and when it happens I swim with it.” “So you work with the water and don’t just let it have its way with you?” “That’s correct, Master. Although the currents are very powerful, they’re sort of like a friend I’m familiar with, that I’ve gotten to know over many years. So I can sense what they’re going to do and I adjust to their movements.”

The lesson provided by Tzu’s story was meant to reflect that swimming against the current, whether in water or life’s decisions, can result in feeling overwhelmed and helpless. According to this tale, swimming with the current is accepting the natural order of the Cosmos and therefore a much easier, yet deeper outcome will result. (Reference: Parabola Magazine Vol. 34 No.

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