Both Taoism and Buddhism encourage meditation as a means by which to liberate the mind and achieve emptiness. One of the Buddhist practices that encourages emptiness is mindfulness meditation, or vipassana. However, there are numerous specific methods that be used during the meditation practice. Some are more Tibetan in origin as those espoused by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the Vajrayana tradition. Other meditation practices are like those I learned at the Hsi Lai Temple, which combine Ch'an (Chinese Zen) Buddhism with Buddhist humanism. Taoism, unlike Buddhism, also offers ancillary spiritual practices such as Tai Chi and Chi Gung. The teachings of Buddhism and Taoism go neatly hand in hand.
Therefore, I am continually growing from becoming more open to spiritual teachings. The spiritual journey is like a flower blossoming. I do not believe that religious dogma or ideology are necessary, and in some cases they can be harmful. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche states in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, ideology is too often used as "filters to screen us from a direct perception of what is" (p. 6). It is more important to embody a teaching than to believe it intellectually. We should discard ideology and instead embrace the uncertainty that is not only a natural state but also one that precedes Enlightenment.
Embracing uncertainty is one of the key Buddhist teachings. We can learn to be comfortable with not knowing things -- or alternatively, with emptiness. The Dao de Ching also treats emptiness with respect as in the passage that states, "The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows, it is empty but does not collapse; it moves and more and more issues. A gossip is soon empty, it is doubtful if he can be impartial," (Chapter 5). This is almost in exact parallel to the concepts expressed in the Buddhist Heart Sutra, which states, "Here, Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness," ("Emptiness").
One main difference between what I have learned from Buddhism vs. what I have learned from Taoism, though, is the role of humanitarian action. Taoism, while certainly not opposed to direct humanitarian action, tends to avoid the concept as an affirmation of non-interference. Buddhism is far more action-oriented, which is why we see organizations like Tzu Chi. Both Taoism and Buddhism embrace emptiness and chaos as certainties of life, and both advocate an acceptance of the mind. However, I find more human advocacy in Buddhist teachings.
When I worked with the American Department of Labor, I became more keenly aware of my role in service to humanity. This was the time that I became interested in the importance of community relations. I helped create social events that forged better communication between the government and the local society. During this time, I practiced my spiritual listening skills. In meetings, I enjoyed listening to the public and how they feel about the local community. I was exposed to a range of different ideas and points-of-view that I had not before considered. Just as reading about new religions opens my mind, so too does listening to alternative points-of-view. Listening is a spiritual act. Moreover, I became involved in a community project with a goal of improving living conditions. We developed a comprehensive plan on how to practically improve quality of life and therefore relieve suffering. My ability to care for other people at the level of community development made me feel capable of applying all these skills into a Chaplaincy profession. Not only I can use my government leadership skills, plus my leadership skills developed in my service with Tzu Chi, but also my interest in taking care of people directly via the spiritual act of listening.
Among the Buddhism masters I have studied, I would say I most admire His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Few spiritual leaders can so effectively forget the realms of religion and politics. His Holiness the Dalai Lama works both on the spiritual and the physical level. Because I will be working in the public sector, I feel I have a lot to learn from the Dalai Lama and the next step of my spiritual journey will be to study more about His Holiness's life and writings.
During the Fall of 2009, I served as an intern in John Kerry's office. In particular, I worked at the Foreign Relations office, where I met a wide range of government officials from other countries. One day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended a congressional meeting. At the moment I saw him, I felt His power of presence. From that time onward, I was convinced that Buddhism can effectively interface with the political world.
I believe that the reason why Buddhism neatly interfaces with the political world is because Buddhism is a humanist religion. During my work with the Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, I realized that Buddhism is effective only insofar as it impacts the world. For this reason, His Holiness the Dalai Lama travels, serves as political as well as spiritual leader, writes books, and lectures at universities. He is a monk, on the one hand, and a public speaker and civil servant on the other. This integral combination of inner and outer works is the essence of the Buddha dharma. We are not supposed to sit in meditation all day -- for to do that would be to exhibit signs of spiritual materialism. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche noted that a sense of self-aggrandizement or delusion may arise from turning too much inward to the point of self-absorption. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche also worked very much in the world, by establishing schools for Buddhist thought, inquiry, and meditation practice. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was instrumental in helping Westerners understand more about Tibetan Buddhism, just as the Dalai Lama is.
The direction that my spiritual journey will take involves public service too. Since I started to volunteer with the Tzu Chi foundation, I recognized the methods by which Buddhist thought goes hand in hand with helpful action in the community. Buddhist teachings are clearly about working in the world and not separate from it; to be separate from the world is to act on ego. Only the ego believes in its separateness. "The Dharma is to be found in this world and not in another. To leave this human world to search for the Dharma is as futile as searching for a rabbit with horns," (Hui Neng (638-713), the Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, cited on "Humanism"). Meditation and other self-directed spiritual practices are just that: practices that are a means of clearing away the Three Lords and other manifestations of ego.
Buddhist humanism is similar to Taoism in another sense: that of respect for nature and the human being's role in the natural world. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche points out in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, technologies can be helpful but too often they are used to "minimize randomness, unpredictability, chaos...to try to control nature," (p. 6). Taoism also teaches living in harmony with nature, not controlling nature. Just as we should not use effort to control the mind in meditation, we should not use effort to control nature. Many people have a misperception of Buddhist or any other type of meditation as being a system by which people control their minds using directed force of will. This is not the case. Taoism also teaches mellowness, balance, and the acceptance of natural flux and flow. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche could have been quoting from the Dao Te Ching when he says that meditation is about working with the "pattern" of mind not in opposition to it (p. 9).
Deeply appreciative of every step of my spiritual journey, I earnestly embrace whatever comes next. I have become comfortable with the notion of emptiness -- and do not need to ascribe the universe to a "God" as some religions do -- but I also understand the natural desire to do so. Certainly the next steps on the Way will encompass deeper involvement with community action. I will learn more about Buddhist and Taoist teachings and how to incorporate those into both my personal spiritual practices and also in my external service to the world. Whether part of my journey arises out of tragedy, pain, and struggle as a car crash or whether it comes from happiness and light-hearted joy, spiritual paths are always worth treading.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Shambala, 1987.