The Illusion of Impotence
A Zen Roshi explained “You cannot change your company, but you can make things a little better.” and in that statement we see three errors that have wreaked havoc in our spiritual communities.
LINGUISTICES – many communicate, NOT to ensure that the listener understands their message, BUT to seem wiser than they really are, by being unnecessarily enigmatic. This is often done by blending metaphoric and literal statements without clearly indicating that they’re changing gears. Much Zen literature describes how countless monks have been led astray (squandering years and even decades of their lives) by the sloppy communication habits of their (so called) teachers. I am grateful to the teachers of Neuro Linguistic Programing who (although I do not share all their views) insist that the burden of comprehension is not borne upon the shoulders of the listener but rather the duty of the communicator. In other words, there is no such thing as misunderstanding, only miscommunication.
The quip “…you cannot change your company but you can make things a little better…” represents two common, yet incorrect interpretations of the principals of the Tao Te Ching: those of scope and means. And yes, although all communication is fundamentally symbolic and imprecise, the dialect of Chinese in which the Tao Te Ching was recorded is HIGHLY idiomatic. Consequently it is quite opaque and only reveals it specifics as well as over-arching themes (if ever) after many readings and much contemplation.
SCOPE – Although a reoccurring theme in the Tao Te Ching is the folly of striving to “make things happen,” that does mean we sit on our hands, far too pious to oppose: discrimination, exploitation, rape, assault, murder, fascism, jingoism, and ecocide. We are not impotent. We live in an interdependent universe where everyone effects everyone and everyone is effected by everyone; if not directly then indirectly, if not overtly then subtly, if not immediately then eventually, if not actually then potentially.
MEANS – in Lao Tzu’s 81 passages we read, (and if anyone claims that Zen is not the love child of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism then they are sadly mistaken) that there are three treasures of the Tao: simplicity, patience, and compassion. It is cowardly to dampen the scope of our compassion in the name of futility. Cherish every facet of compassion in your intention, word, and deed. Shedding our controlling tendencies does not have to relegate us to the state of a passive doormat.
Lao Tzu changed the world, the Buddha changed the world, the Christ changed the world, the industrial revolution’s captains of industry changed the world, Frederic Douglas Changed the world, Harriet Tubman changed the world, Madam Curie changed the world, Rosalind Franklin changed the world, Jonas Salk changed the world, Dr. King changed the world, Gene Roddenberry changed the world, and George Lucas changed the world. How could we follow in their footsteps?
Effective meditation cultivates the centered spontaneity through which our choices, utterances, and deeds could flow, setting in motion a falling-domino-like series of events that COULD change our company, our species, and our planet. As a fellow Jew once said, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” And then get up and (metaphorically) dance with the Tao.
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