“Few cross over the river.
Most are stranded on this side.
On the riverbank they run up and down.
But the wise person, following the way,
Crosses over, beyond the reach of death…”
-Teachings of the Buddha (from the Dhammapada, trans. Thomas Byrom)
The Buddha was born a prince in ancient India, and raised in wealthy seclusion. He began to see the misery of much of the rest of the world as he grew older. He left home as a young man to seek the truth of what he found, hoping to find an end to the sorrows of human existence. He lived for awhile as an ascetic in the forests, but soon realized he had found no further wisdom in such a life. He one day realized that peace of mind and freedom of spirit could be found in a simple life of balance. He called his teachings the Dharma, or “Way”. (Remember that “Tao” is Chinese for “Way”.)
The word ‘Buddha’ means ‘one who is awake’. The Buddhist tradition attempts to teach the experience of ‘awakening to the truth of life’. They seek to liberate the body and the mind from the materialism of the world, offering instead a Middle Path of peace and balance.
Buddha’s words are in fact strikingly similar in spirit to those of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching. Of course the religious practices that have developed down the ages took different angles. However, if we consider the original words passed down by these two sages, it begins to seem as if they were both talking about the same realizations – and indeed much the same Way to live.
Buddha said, “Live in joy, in love, even among those who hate.” (Dhammapada) Lao Tzu taught, “The master…is good to people who are good. She is also good to people who aren’t good. This is true goodness.” (Tao Te Ching)
Buddha taught, “Look within. Be still. Free from fear and attachment, Know the sweet joy of the way.” Lao Tzu may have had a different tone and spoke a completely different language, and yet the spirit of his words is familiar: “Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond ‘is’ and ‘is not’. How do I know this is true? I look inside myself and see…if you want to be given everything, give everything up.”
“The Master keeps her mind always at one with the Tao, that is what gives her her radiance…she doesn’t cling to ideas,” wrote Lao Tzu. “A mind unshaken when touched by the worldly states, sorrowless, stainless, and secure, this is the blessing supreme,” taught the Buddha.
Both also recognized the futility in the very act of trying to put the great truths into words. Lao Tzu commented, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” In turn Buddha lamented, “Words! The Way is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.” (trans. Richard B. Clarke)
One cannot but help notice that the teachings are similar in tone to other great teachers of note, including some I have mentioned previously such as Ueshiba and Tagore. Once a student begins to truly internalize this higher awareness, they become aware of a ‘Way’ to live or to be, a simple, loving, unselfish and calm state of mind. They see the divine in the mundane, and allow the Way to spread before them, “If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go,” wrote Lao Tzu. Or, as Buddha put it so beautifully, “To live in the Great Way is neither easy not difficult…Just let things be in their own way.”