There IS a label for my spirituality, and I'm going to go out on a limb and just shout it from the rooftops that I have realized that I am a Taoist! I just took beliefnet.com's belief-o-matic religion quiz, which I've taken numerous times over the years, and it confirmed my recent insight: 100% Taoist!
It's funny, but soon after writing my last blog about how I've accepted that my label is "Deist" with supplementation of Quaker testimonies and Buddhist practices, I was reading on a Deist site where several members commented that they felt disillusioned with having accepted the label of Deist for themselves. As in, "Ok, so I'm a Deist. Now what?" There's nothing in the way of morality and practice that comes with the philosophical standing of being a Deist. Someone mentioned in passing a comparison of their personal stance to Taoism, and a lightbulb went off. I remember studying Taoism - why hadn't I revisited it recently?!
The first thought I had, actually, was that Deism and Taoism in terms of belief in God is essentially the same thing said with different words, which makes sense considering the drastically different cultures and timeframes each came from. In the West, we are used to talking about God as a personal entity, and Deism's description of God is a reaction to this notion. In Taoism, the Tao could be said to be "God". The difference is that by not calling that ultimate reality "God", there isn't the temptation to personify it and, what naturally follows, worship it. I think worship is meant to honor God and show our gratitude, but I think the best way to do that is through the way we live our lives, not through lipservice and gestures done ritually to make us feel religious.
The second thought I had after Taoism reentered my consciousness was to compare the three jewels of Taoism with the four testimonies of Quakerism. I was fairly comfortable with the Quaker testimonies of peace, equality, integrity, and simplicity. But as I reflected on the three jewels of Taoism - compassion, humility, and simplicity (or frugality) - I realized that the Taoists actually got an even more simplified version of the basic moral principles I seek to live by.
If you have compassion for others, you will automatically work towards peace and equality. You will be truthful because it's the right thing to do and doing otherwise may harm others, thus not being compassionate. If you cultivate humility, you will naturally lean towards compassion, and you will see others as equal to you rather than looking down on them. You will desire peace because war only comes from a place of egotistic desires for control. If you are humble, you will be honest with yourself and have no reason to withhold the truth from others. And if you maintain simplicity, this ties your humility and compassion together. Stay simple in terms of how you view yourself, don't exaggerate truth, don't complicate relationships with hierarchies or conflict, and take only what you need. In essence, if you're compassionate, humble, and simple, you automatically live a life of peace, equality, integrity, and obviously simplicity.
The last thought I had was comparing the aim of Taoism with that of Buddhism. Interestingly, Buddhism presupposes a negative state of being - that life is suffering - and the goal of Buddhist practice is to transcend that reality. Taoism merely observes suffering as a balancing opposite to pleasure, embraces the reality of there being bad as well as good in the world, acknowledges that good and evil are constructs that often do not actually translate to being inherently good or bad, but rather good or bad in a certain circumstance, to a certain person, while possibly being the opposite to someone else or in another set of circumstances.
To me, Taoism is really about acceptance. I think every other religion I've studies has found a problem to work out. Every other religion tries to fix something, thus inevitably leading to a subconscious focus on negativity, either in ourselves or others. Taoism is about balance. It's the ultimate non-judgmental religion (though I hesitate to use that term, since I subscribe to the philosophical bend of Taoism, not the religious).
The most beautiful thing about realizing I'm a Taoist is that all it took for me to "become" a Taoist is to realize that I am! To have found the label I've been looking for, to apply it to myself, and to move on to finding balance in my life with the assistance of Taoist philosophy. I don't need external validation to confirm that indeed I am a Taoist. Much like with being a Deist. But unlike being a Deist, there is a moral base and a goal I can aspire to, as well as spiritual practices based on the underlying belief in the Tao. It's a full package: belief, morality, and spiritual practice.
So hello world! The irony of Jesus's words does not escape me. He said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). And when looked at under the layers of personifcation and taking metaphors literally, this is indeed a beautifully simple statement. Tao = the way. Full stop. No interpretation follows. No scriptural references needed. Look around, look within, that is where the way is. Follow it!