together with the mind;
One who knows that bliss of brahman,
he is never afraid.
Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.9.1
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name than can be named is not the eternal name
Tao Te Ching, 1
And yet we must persist for several reasons:
- to keep the highest goal ever present in our awareness
- to filter into our lives what truths we can
- to make space for those pauses while reading or writing, contemplating or meditating, when we settle into stillness and the ultimate manifests within
- to remind ourselves to listen closely so that we might hear the gentle or cataclysmic guidance it offers
- and to let it quietly color our perspective, transforming how we experience and interact with the world.
Brahman and the Tao
Brahman, in Upanishadic and Vedantic philosophy, is the all-encompassing whole. It is being and consciousness. It is all matter and energy. Brahman is everything and everything is Brahman. Many of its descriptors make it sound like something static, but Brahman is also process. It is the living breath of the universe.
The Tao, the ancient Chinese philosophical concept on which Taoism is based, is described in much more fluid terms. It is the principle by which all of nature unfolds. The Tao is the balance of opposites. It is the deep, immovable way of the world that, if we can reconnect to it and live in accord with it, produces harmony in our lives.
These words, the Tao and Brahman, are meant to express the all-embracing principle, process, and spirit of both what is and what is always becoming. Neither seeks to posit something separate from us. We are always part of the whole that is Being. We just fail to remember it.
Sages in both traditions recommend similar practices to help us tune in to this ultimate essence: observation and awareness of self, other, and nature, exemplary ethics, compassion, silence, meditation—all methods of loosening the grip of the ego personality and overcoming our perceived separateness.
And eventually they say, with enough dedication and practice, we can become living representations of the Tao, of Brahman. We can relax, having no fear, because there is nothing separate from Being and therefore nothing to fear. We don’t have to act, because it is the process that acts, not us. Wisdom arises spontaneously.
Ground of Being
This is not to say that all three aren’t pointing toward the same idea, just that our (okay, my) personal experience with the God symbol has too much baggage. I get it that it’s this bigger (biggest) concept being referred to throughout much of the Western monotheisms. This is what Paul Tillich was trying to pull into language when he suggested using “ground of being” to expand the God-concept out of our culturally conditioned notions.
I am reminded here of one of the earliest findings in the scientific study of the efficacy of prayer. It turns out that prayer is most effective when we pray for “God’s will” to be done, that is to say, for the best overall outcome rather than our preferred outcome. In a way, this ties together the traditions. When we let go of the enculturated wants of the ego personality, let go of our separateness from the Whole, and step into the flow of the Tao, the consciousness of Brahman, and/or the hand of God, life moves harmoniously.
In the end, all of these ideas point toward the experience of stepping into union with Being. The Ultimate, the Universe, the Really Real, the Sacred, God, Brahman, the Tao, the ground of being—all are signs we put up along the road and tack to trees along the path. All are signs to point the way home.