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Deep Talk With Mr. Deep

What’s wrong with Righteousness?

When the Tao is forgotten, there is righteousness’ (Tao Te Ching)

On first reading this passage it could be assumed that forgetting the Tao is a spiritual act since it leads to doing the right thing. After all, isn’t righteousness the popular goal of all religions? Apparently not, for the Taoists. In fact, certain Taoist Sages in the past were notorious for mocking what they considered to be the Confucianists’ misguided commitment to morality and duty. So what could be better than righteousness? Remembering the Tao. And what is the Tao? It is the way or the way of nature. Taoists often use aspects of nature to describe the Tao, comparing it to the flow of a river – an effortless activity. It is a state of being in which actions flow with spontaneity, even seemingly virtuous ones. Yet the reality is that such a state can’t be reached by the same mind that is obsessed with righteousness. The goal of morality will always be a contrived undertaking. Furthermore, righteousness can only exist with its opposite and such duality is not considered the Tao, which when further defined is one, all things, the absolute. But how does one find such a way of tapping into this Tao?

In a word, Meditation. This practice can align us with the Tao, thus transcending dualities like righteousness. So am I suggesting that doing the right thing is not important? My response to that would be to first ask ‘what is right’?

Morality has occupied the mind of many great thinkers throughout history but I think one of greatest examples of this ‘beyond-righteousness’ that the Tao is pointing to is Jesus Christ. I am not a Christian and I cannot prove beyond doubt everything that’s written in the New Testament. What I can say is that Jesus certainly appears beyond mere virtue. What I mean is that, according to the gospel stories, Jesus appears to act with incredible spontaneity. It seems no one knew what to expect from him next. While being recognised by some as righteous, he was also hated by others. He called his religious leaders snakes and sons of hell, while wrecking an entire temple market, overturning stalls and all. This doesn’t sound very Christian does it? Christians often refer to this as healthy indignation but if we turn back to the Tao, I contest that we see in this Jesus an example of ‘beyond righteousness’. He was not trying to be a particular way, he was the way. When we align ourselves with the Tao through regular meditation, we too can begin to let go of contrived, karmic actions and be the way. It is as though the universe flows through you and there is a right-ness and certainty in all your ways for they are not born of effort, confusion or contrivance or the law but by the flow of the spirit of Tao rising in you. I would even say that a good sign of being one with the Tao is eccentricity, a quality that is not uncommon with Jesus and clearly notable in the character of the great Taoist Sages.

So I say, let’s rid ourselves of righteousness and align ourselves with the source, the Tao from which all things emanate and the universal fruits of the spirit will lay bare for all to enjoy…Let’s meditate!