I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood and learned the value of self-reliance at an early age. If I didn’t learn how to put brakes on a car, I didn’t drive. I didn’t read a book explaining the different theories of auto mechanics. I rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty. It was direct experience.
Higher education was the ticket out of my humble beginnings and into the life of my own choosing. I was so committed to the value of education, I didn’t just settle for a bachelor’s degree, but instead went to graduate school and earned a doctorate.
Given this background, you can imagine why I might be confused by Taoist views on education. “Give up learning and put an end to your troubles.” Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu – translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. I believed learning was the solution to my troubles, but Lao Tsu seemed to suggest that it was the cause.
The term “Tao” is typically translated as way or path. I’ve come to view it as “how something is” or a thing’s true nature. Interestingly, this understanding comes from my humble upbringing and not from a book about the Tao.
I remember sitting on the porch on a hot summer night with my elders. I was just a kid at the time. They talked about simple things as they listened to the cicadas and watched the sun slowly descend toward the meadow stretched out before us.
When a neighbor showed up at dinner time they joked how he somehow always seemed to hear the dinner bell. My grandfather smiled as said, “Awe, that’s just Orville.” Somehow he saw Orville’s nature and accepted it. Thanks to these simple men I saw it too. It was a moment of incredible clarity.
We can read a library of books trying to learn about the Tao. We can listen to great scholars and sages talk about the Tao, life, and the nature of things, but at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is the extent that we experience the Tao directly. If we want to know a thing, we must experience it directly. Talking about it will never come close to our own direct experience.
So yes…give up trying to learn about life or Tao from books. Experience it directly and watch your troubles melt away.