It was Saturday evening when the bus arrived at the simple Chinese village where Li Tzu lives. I left my backpack at the only inn of the place and went to the home of the Taoist master. As usual, the gate was open, and the illumination came from candles spread all around, including in the beautiful bonsai garden. Midnight, the black cat that also lived there, accompanied me suspiciously with his eyes. I called the master a number of times, to no avail. Silence was broken by a joyful melody that came from afar. I thought it would not be polite to wait for him at his place. Since I wasn’t sleepy, I let my steps be guided by that happy music. I crossed some winding streets using my eardrums as a compass, until I arrived at a two-story house where the music came from. I went up the wooden stairs of the narrow staircase and I found a sort of an open ball. I was surprised when I saw Li Tzu dancing to lively music with a pretty woman. Next, he went to talk to a group of friends who seemed to be having a great time, from the way they laughed and hugged one another. I found odd the behaviour of the quiet and serene Taoist master.
I stood next to the bar counter, watching the action. In fact, I was curious to see how Li Tzu would react when he saw me there. I bet he would behave as a child who is embarrassed for being caught doing pranks. I ordered a drink and waited. Much to my surprise, the Taoist master cracked a large smile and came to me with open arms. After a tight, sincere hug, I asked if he would like a drink; after all, I was sure all this excitement was due to him being somewhat intoxicated. In other words, I was sure he was drunk. I was surprised once again when Li Tzu said: “Just water, please.” He made a brief pause and explained: “I am not against liquor, but I personally don’t like strong drinks.” The small band, made up of four or five musicians who played the flute, drums, rattles, and a sort of accordion, began playing a tune that, except for me, seemed to be well-known, because almost everyone went to the dance floor. The Taoist master asked me to join them. As I declined, he excused himself and went to dance to the music, with everyone repeating the same steps, as a well-rehearsed corps de ballet. At the end, everybody laughed with amusement and applauded.
The astonishment I felt with Li Tzu’s behavior prevented me from sharing the excitement. Once the ball was over, I accompanied the Taoist master to his place. On the way, I told him how surprised I was with how joyfully he had danced, particularly when I realized he had not been intoxicated or used any other substance. Li Tzu looked at me with compassion and said: “Magic comes from within.”
Still disconcerted, I added that he had wandered from the standards I expected from him that evening. The Taoist master smiled: “I am happy to hear that, Yoskhaz. May I always disconcert people through unexpectedness and boldness.” Annoyed, I criticized him stating that his mundane behaviour at the ball went against the Tao’s sacred guidelines he taught. Li Tzu shook his head and explained: “The sacred is hidden in the mundane. The former requires the latter to be revealed.”
After a few more steps, he continued: “Joyfulness and good mood are virtues, therefore, tools of the sacred. Happiness is the most powerful prayer there is to thank the Universe for all the blessings it grants. By spreading it to everyone we are turned into an emissary from Heaven. Good mood makes us able to transmute low-vibration energies that might be around; therefore, it is also sacred.”
We reached the gate of Li Tzu’s house. Noticing how uncomfortable I was, he, always elegant and generous, invited me in for tea. I made myself comfortable in his kitchen while he made an infusion with some herbs. It did not take long, and a delicious scent invaded the place. Seated at the table, with two steaming cups, Li Tzu began his explanation: “The Tao advocates the importance of balancing the polarities of life, Yin and Yang.” He sipped some tea and continued: “We can live cross-sectionally or longitudinally.”
I interrupted him to say I had not understood. The Taoist master was didactic: “Imagine that your existence is like a big lake. There are times when its water is placid and bathed by the sun; other times the water is rough due to strong storms.”
“You can dive deep into the lake and realize the storm only shakes the surface. Then, you learn that all the peace you need lies in the core of the lake. It is the discovery of the hidden wisdom. It is a movement of contraction, towards your inner self, Tao’s Yin. Back to the surface, you will be empowered and illuminated, for having acquired strength and a notion of reality unknown to you so far.”
“You can also enjoy sunny days to swim sideways, to the borders of the lake, in search of knowledge, joy, the wonders the world provides, and, most importantly, to share what you bring in your baggage. Therefore, you will understand that life is filled with beauty and infinite possibilities. It is a movement outwards, of expansion, the Yang taught by the Tao. However differently, you will also feel empowered and illuminated.”
“Both movements are necessary and complement each other.”
I used an old cliché, that states that life is short and, when we least expect, it has passed; therefore, we must enjoy it. Li Tzu smiled, drank a little more tea, and said: “There is delusion and truth in what you just said.” I asked what he meant, and the Taoist master was patient and obliged: “Yes we must enjoy life. And for those who do so, life is not short. It has its perfect timing”. He looked me in the eyes and added: “It all depends on the best meaning one can give to their lives”.
My features seemed to ooze curiosity, because Li Tzu continued with his explanation: “Everyone’s life is subjected to the Universal Laws, no exceptions made. As a good university whose goal is to help the students evolve, the study plan is driven by two professors, known in the Oriental tradition as karma and dharma. Each person has their own; however, individual plans intertwine, making a perfect assemblage. Karma is related to the lessons to be learned by that person in the course of their evolution. Dharma relates to the purpose of that existence, driven by the best use of gifts and skills, and also the use of virtues already settled in the self, in order to foster others, still dormant. No tool made available should be left aside while working on life.”
“How to do that as best as possible requires true artfulness. The existence of each person is like a granite block; each one is the artist in charge of transforming a simple stone into a masterpiece. To that end, one must strive to take out the rubble that hides the wonderful statue. Life must be the best work of itself, beautifying the gardens of humankind. When we understand that and move in that direction, existence makes sense. Only a life that is wasted is short.”
“Like the waters in the lake, life requires motion, or it will rot in stagnation. However, some people, yearning for motion, end up by confusing it with agitation, as a gloomy and imprisoning addiction. The need for the new should not be mistaken with mere novelty; style is not fashion; information is not knowledge; knowledge is not wisdom; entertainment, even though healthy and indispensable, does not necessarily mean enjoyment. Rushing, by itself, does not mean advancement; evolution should be sustained by the motion-stillness binomial. The necessary rest should be related to work, not to become idleness, just as creativity, that is necessary for us to move away from automated behaviors, should be associated with discipline and effort in order to become a reality beyond the realm of ideas, breeding ground of our actions. The dream needs the willingness of the person to find its place in reality. Or else it will be lost in the clouds. When we forget the meaning of life, as long as it may be, it becomes short.”
“On the other hand, there are those who, in the face of difficulties that are present, dissolve their lives in the murky waters of despondency or drown in the whirlwind of fanaticism. Courage, if excessive and without love, turns into violence. A consuming will can lead the person to the gloomy desire of imposing their own ideas and manipulating the choices of others. Good intentions, if disconnected from noble virtues, become abhorrent tools for manipulation and imprisonment. The same goes for the other end of the polarity: the lack of courage to face, with wisdom and love, the battles that arise, imprisons the person in the lame excuse that ‘there is no way out for the world’, and makes them give up on the lessons and the purpose of life, disconnecting the best of themselves from the wonders of the world. A common variation is for one to be locked in oneself, in search for higher knowledge. To dive deep into oneself is necessary for personal evolvement; however, it is necessary to come up to the surface and swim to the banks, in order to offer the world the treasures you found in the depth of your core and, in return, come to know the beauty of other people’s treasure, in an ongoing exercise of self-improvement. Knowledge will never turn into wisdom if it is not shared and applied to everyday life. It will be only fear hiding under the cloak of selfishness, pride and vanity. One must always come to the surface, be nourished by the sun, breathe fresh air, socialize with everyone, and fill up the lungs to dive back, deep into the lake of life. Both movements, longitudinal and cross-sectional, should be ceaselessly alternated, as the Tao proposes.”
He emptied his cup of tea, stood up to get the kettle and poured some more. Then, he continued: “Find yourself to know the hidden face of life; it is in the essence that virtues are revealed. But find also your friends, embrace them, smile, sing and celebrate this major nourishment of life. Meditate, work, dare, play, rest. Face each hardship not as if you were facing a problem, but as if you were before a master in a classroom willing to teach you how to turn walls into bridges. It is from your connections with the world, with your efforts and understanding that you must unite all the parts into a single piece, that virtues will be manifested, and you will build the masterpiece whose raw material is the life of each one of us, a primary portion of the Universe.”
He looked me in the eyes and added: “Life awaits you, within and outside. Life is only short for those who insist on running away, whether from the dark alleys of the world that yearn for light or from the shadows that dwell within ourselves, thirsty for illumination. Only those who are afraid run away.” I interrupted him to say that it is normal to be afraid. He corrected me: “It shouldn’t be. What supports fear is your ignorance in not knowing who you really are.” Li Tzu, then, completed with one of Tao’s sacred lessons: “Fear is but the illusion of separateness.”
I looked up to the sky through the kitchen window. I had an odd, delicious feeling that a shiny star smiled at me.