A journey between Tao and faith

Li Tzu, the Taoist master, asked me to arrive early at his place. When I left the inn, the sky was a cloak sprinkled with stars. I walked on the streets of the Chinese village, dazzled with the beauty of the Milky Way, lost in my thoughts about the endless number of worlds that existed in the universe. I found Li Tzu concluding his daily meditation. He rolled out two mats, so that I could join him in his yoga practice. Midnight, the black cat that also dwelled in the house watched us with a lazy gaze. Needless to say, I could not do the complex poses the quiet Chinese Elder did with some ease. At the end of the practice, we went to the kitchen. I sat at the table while he poured us a flavorful tea. I asked him, just to start a conversation, if he had the habit of looking up to the sky and think about the mystery that surrounds the sky. He looked at me puzzled, as if I had asked an obvious question, and said: “Understanding the whole helps me in knowing who I am; knowing me makes me feel all the power within myself.”

I said I had heard that many times, in different ways, according to the rhetorical style of the philosophical or religious tradition of the person who gives the explanation. Li Tzu explained: “A basic notion about the creation of the universe is the first step to understand faith.” I argued that he had just mixed science and religion, two different realms. I thought that odd, because I knew his academic background and, I added, I knew about the research for which he received awards at the English university where he had studied early in life, where he had met the Old Man, the oldest monk of the Order. Even though Li Tzu had studied Botanics, and the Old Man, Economics, they developed a friendship that had kept them united for life.

The Taoist master looked at me softly a said: “Those who oppose religion and science in an eternal battle don’t understand one or the other. As long as you face religion not as a set of dogmas and restrictive rules, but as a metaphysical, liberating philosophy by realizing there is an invisible, sophisticated world that permeates and interacts with this, visible and primary one, allowing the self to expand to the unimaginable, beyond the five basic senses. Also, science should not be seen only from the perspective of technological advancements and comfort that it provides society, but also as a tool for the spiritual evolution of humankind.”

“Science and religion are allies and complement one another; however, patience and respect are required, because they move at distinct paces of understanding and method. Religion brings to life the philosophical possibilities that, at that point in history, science is not able to deal with or explain. Religion must be understood as a branch of philosophy concerned with the moral and emotional evolution of the individual and admits the presence of mystery. Science, in turn, tries to understand the unknown and its subsequent use for the well-being of everyone. Mystery is what we are yet to prove scientifically, as it had happened in bygone times with the use of fire, infectious diseases and the law of gravity, only to mention a few instances; in principle, that does not rule out the existence of mystery. Half of the human knowledge of today did not exist a century ago. Interestingly, at the end of the 19thcentury, in London, the Royal Society, where the most renowned scientists of the time met, stated that knowledge had reached its final frontier. Then came the following century, which brought to the world the television, the mobile phone, the internet, the CT scan, the satellite, among other wonders, far from the imagination of those wise men of science. Only 60 years separate the flight of the 14-Bis, in Paris to man’s flight to the moon. The impossible dream of flying, to which only poets and madmen were allowed, became commonplace in the blink of an eye. Pride and vanity about one’s knowledge are powerful shadows that prevent progression of knowledge itself.” He sipped some tea and noted: “Sigmund Freud broke up with Carl Jung under the accusation of mysticism, when the Swiss professor advocated the possibility of the soul to the creator of psychoanalysis.” I interrupted him to say that there is no scientific proof of that. Li Tzu shrugged his shoulders and said: “When Jung was asked if he believed in God, he answered: ‘I feel it’. Perception, even if not translated into mathematical equations, is the primary source that nourishes knowledge. This was the origin of Albert Einstein’s work to prove the relativity of space and time. At the time, he was ridiculed by many scientists, and to date few are those who understand his theory, but alchemists have embraced it since time immemorial.”

I said that we were moving away from the core issue: how the creation of the universe could explain the existence of faith. I added that I did not believe in the creationist theory, according to which God had created all things. I stated there was no question in my mind regarding the evolutionist theory, that claims the Big Bang is the first step of the creation of the universe. The Taoist master shrugged his shoulders once again and revealed: “In fact, it makes no difference if you believe in one theory or the other. Both of them lead to the same conclusion.” I said that his explanation was vague, confusing and probably wrong. I asked him to further explain, using the scientific theory because of his academic background. Li Tzu was unshakable in his peace, explaining his reasoning in a clear, thoughtful way: “The Big Bang or Primeval Atom Theory postulates that the universe as we know it today originated from a big explosion. The short version is that a small mass the size of a billiard ball, bowling ball or the moon, it does not matter, exploded and multiplied in planets, stars, meteors, dust, carbon, nitrogen and other cosmic bodies. Therefore, it was the root of all living beings.”

He looked at me to assess how I would react and said: “Therefore, you and the sun, for instance, are related because you have the same ‘mother’. Both stem from the explosion of that first ‘billiard ball’”. He made a dramatic pause and then a shrewd remark: “This is a purely scientific perspective.”

Somewhat disconcerted, I confessed I had never thought like that. He smiled and said: “When Buddha and Francis of Assisi called the birds and flowers brothers and sisters, they were not daydreaming; they were men ahead of their time; also the Celts and the native Indians, just to mention two examples, despite knowing little science and technology, showed tremendous wisdom in understanding how important integration with nature is. The sun, the moon, the trees, the animals, the rivers, the land and all things are part of the same family, the harmonious interaction of the part with the whole is necessary for the progression of the evolutionary process. Therefore, whether visible, like the rose and the thorn, or invisible, such as love and sadness, they are all sacred, like you, in a journey of transformation. The Hindus have taught the same ideas for millennia.”

I asked him how this could help to explain faith. He wanted to know what my understanding of faith was. Even though, to me, it was quite an abstract idea, I understood that faith was the certainty of the support of a “higher power”; it was the hope that all that happens in life, one way or another, will end well. Li Tzu shook his head lightly, in disagreement: “Faith is not the same as hope, both are valuable, but distinct virtues.”

“Hope is the certainty that the universe will always help us; never according to our wishes, but to our needs for evolution. Science has proved that the universe is in constant expansion; because we are part of it, no one will be left abandoned or there will be no evolution; the frail pillar compromises the entire construction, but the workers must keep on with their work. When we move in the opposite direction of light, the universe stops us, either kindly or harshly, depending on how stubborn we are. As a good teacher, it will teach us according to the precise level of awareness and loving capacity we have. When we steer the bow towards light, it will propel the ship with the best winds. The problem is that we do not always read the map and compass correctly; hence, many a time, we get lost in storms. However, not all ship wrecks are really bad, in the sense that they may turn into valuable lessons for sailors willing to learn how to navigate and continue the journey. Hope is the virtue that allows us to understand that even when things turn out wrong, they can turn out right later on. In a consistent, true way. Therefore, hope is never in vain, and will always be a great ally for us not to lose joy on the Path or love for life.”

“Faith has to do with the origin of the universe. Remember that we are all pieces from the same Big Bang explosion? Well, if I am part of the whole, the power of the whole is within me. From a scientific perspective, my DNA is the same as the light of the stars, the purity of snow, the fire of the sun. Faith is translated into feeling this power within oneself and making it pulsate to leverage all transformations and good without end. To understand and make this power move is the true perception that God dwells in me.”

I interrupted him to reason that we were talking about genetics and atoms, not God. Li Tzu arched his lips in a discreet smile and said: “Regardless of how you conceive the divine power, whether as a good, old, white-bearded man, omnipresent and omniscient, whether as a powerful cosmic energy, organizer and keeper of the universal laws of love and justice; or even if you believe in the individual and collective capacity of humankind to overcome hardships and move towards technological evolution and the well-being of the world without ‘higher help’, in fact it makes no difference. What matters is to feel the spark of the universal power within you, manifested through the purest feelings and operationalized by noble virtues and use it for personal transformation, which, as consequence, will change all around you. That’s how we expand, in accordance with the galaxies.”

“You have the right to believe this discourse is nonsensical and lead a life of transient achievements, expanding your bank account, getting intoxicated with tranquilizers, raising the fence of your home. To believe that those who have faith in the hereafter are typically devoid of good education is to insist in the emptiness and the senselessness of life that the certainty of death unavoidably brings forth; it is to be conceited with one’s own bitterness and sarcastic about the beauty of life, a common behavior in those spirits who, owing to vanity or pride in their intelligence, and are delusional about their superiority, let themselves be enveloped by the shadows, that make them frail and steal the true joy of the journey.”

“However, you can allow faith to change the world as the virtues become consolidated within you, evolving to achieve happiness, dignity, peace and freedom, which, combined, form the plenitude of self. Faith is a virtue that grants the self unimaginable powers of all the force of the universe that exists within each one.” He made a brief pause and added: “This is why Christians have taught that faith moves mountains”. He looked into my eyes and added: “To move faith is to have the power of life in your hands.”

I was increasingly disconcerted and asked if he, in fact, believed that such power was possible. Li Tzu arched his lips in a discreet smile, as if saying the obvious, and said: “The Big Bang theory explains that it all begun with the explosion of a small mass, because its core had been extremely heated. Why did that happen? Well, Quantum Physics has shown that all we had previously considered mass was, in fact, condensed energy. When set in motion, the energy accelerates protons, electrons and other particles that make it up until a point of mutation, when the explosion occurs and, therefore, transformation into something different, changing the life around it.”

“The person’s core, as Jung said, is the soul. When we set ideas and feelings, which are our divine particles, into motion, we take the self to the same point of mutation. Then, it transmutes into another, changing everything around you. What happens with the galaxies is the same that happens to you.”

“This is how science explains the creation and endless expansion of the universe; this is how the Tao, through Yin and Yang, teaches how to understand life and how a person evolves. Roughly, Yang is the visible, lively side of the self and the world, and it is symbolically represented by a continuous line; Yin is the hidden, quiet face, and is represented by a dashed line.

“Yang moves in need of expansion, growth, and it goes to its limit until it breaks. This is the point of mutation. The continuous line breaks and forms two dashed lines, Yin, which is now contracted in the need for introspection, in order to understand what is new. Then, the dashed lines get close to one another until they become a single line, a cycle has ended, and the advancements are consolidated. We are now back to the Yang, and the process of expansion and further contraction is restarted, but this time at a different stage of evolution. This happens with the person and with the cosmos. Light and shadows, fire and ice, destruction and creation. Action and reflection, behavior and quietness, joy and calmness; polarities that excite and propel life. Remember that action and attitude are external movements, and should be firm and composed, never aggressive; reflection and quietness are internal movements, but should not be mistaken for stagnation. The end of a cycle means the beginning of another; therefore, the movements should continue, expanding and contracting, in endless transmutations; this goes for the stars and for people. These polarities represent the inner power that balances, moves and transforms. In essence, it is Tao, just like it is faith.”

We remained for a long while without saying a word. It was the movement for those new ideas to be settled within me. When I broke the silence, I said that if the theory of the Taoist master was true, faith is extremely powerful. Li Tzu looked at me with kindness and said: “Science allows wonderful possibilities; it shows us how the universe operates. Faith takes flight and reaches the unimaginable; it places the power of the universe in your hands.” He shrugged his shoulders and added: “To use this power is a matter of wisdom and love. It’s a simple choice.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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