When I arrived at the Chinese village near the Himalayas, I was exhausted. Being exhausted is different from being tired. Tiredness is a common thing, and it can be pleasurable even, like after a day of physical or mental work on materializing an idea. Exhaustion is the horrible feeling of emptiness of the being. It is as if the fountain of life, the one that feeds us with spirit and vitality, has dried up. The mind is invaded by dangerous questions about the reasons for being alive or something like that. In analogy, it is as if the fighter decided to “throw in the towel”, giving up on continuing the fight. Completely barren of this vital energy that drives us every day, I entered the house of Li Tzu, the Taoist master, for another period of study. It was very early in the morning, the sun still rising. Once I walked through the gate, Midnight, the black cat who lived in the house, looked at me with disdain, as if he were facing a vegetable or a soulless person. Li Tzu had just taken out of infusion a tea he used to drink before he practiced his morning yoga. Upon looking at my face and feeling my vibration, he invited me to the tea and yoga. I confess that I thought of refusing both, however, I accepted it more out of politeness than out of my own will. My will was to abandon and forget about myself.
As we sipped our tea, the Taoist master asked me ordinary questions about the long journey to the Himalayas and more delicate ones about the personal and professional aspects of my life. I told him that my advertising agency had entered into a bid for an account to look after the image of a powerful multinational company. It so happened that the dispute had escalated into a dangerous tone, as it was no longer limited to showing the capacity of each agency that pursued to have the company as a client, but also had entered the dangerous terrain of showing the flaws, deficiencies and errors of competing agencies. All competing agencies, with no exception, have abandoned the shallowest of codes of ethics in pursuit of victory at any cost. There was a general effort to point out the fragility of the work of others instead of dedication to improving the quality of their own work. Although the result would not be released for a few days, I had the absurd feeling that not even victory would make me a winner. Li Tzu filled the cups with tea and said: “The Tao teaches us that this is exactly how it happens when we drink in murky waters.”
I said I didn’t understand. He told us to do yoga; we would talk later. With soft Tibetan music in the background and a pleasant incense mingling with the musical notes that filled the air, the practice of the exercises helped me to awaken my body and basic dormant senses. My mood, still far from normal, improved a little. However, I continued to feel weak, lacking in will. Something was missing and I didn’t know what it was. Li Tzu explained: “Everyone carries within them an inexhaustible fountain of vital energy, the one that animates us and gives us infinite life. It comes from the origin of the universe and resides in the true identity of the spirit that we are.”
“Since time immemorial, humanity has considered water fountains as symbols and metaphors for the fountains of life, as you cannot live without water. However, there are the murky and the clear fountains; polluted and clean fountains. Both will quench your thirst for a moment, but everyone knows the final results of drinking from one or another. This differentiates the vitality, mood, will, the vibrational level and light of each person.”
I asked him to explain better. Li Tzu did not make me beg for it: “Depending on the fountain that feeds us, we will define our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. We will define the scope of our journey, whether short or long. We will also define the way in which we will travel, whether dragged by the dust on the ground or lightly through the air. It defines who accompanies us and the landscape we will find on the side of the road. The sunny days, the mild breeze, the fruit trees and the flowering fields; or the storms, the off seasons and the empty pastures. The joy or sadness of our days.”
I said that poetic language was beautiful, but of no practical use. I suggested that he be more didactic. The Taoist master, with his enormous patience, answered me: “Shadows, for example, are common fountains of cloudy energy. When you drink from them, you will have the strength to go on, but the result will be disastrous, as your objective will be misguided. Anger, jealousy, envy, greed, pride, vanity, just to list some of the fountains that we all already drank from, will propel us to do, to conquer, to react. At first, like a warrior getting motivated to go to war, we will leave full of impetus, but as the fountain is polluted, we will remain poisoned. Because we are poisoned, we will be left with blurred vision, unable to make the best choices and enjoy the honey of life. We often confuse fight with struggle, glow with light, passion with love, noise with joy, law with justice, contempt with forgiveness, illusion with truth, wealth with prosperity, existence with life, winning with victory. The murky fountains will feed you to conquer the world, when in fact the only real victory is the one over your own limitations.”
“By being poisoned, we will soon feel weakened. So, often, by despising the clear and clean fountains, we return to one of the murky and polluted fountains, from which we have been used to drink. The result will be an even more poisoned being, who will be able to move a little longer, until he is completely exhausted in depression, violence or legal and illegal drugs that reflect the absolute emptying of the being.”
I said that this image looked like the end of the world. Li Tzu smiled sweetly and said, “The Tao teaches us that we often need to reach the end of a road to understand that it will lead us to nowhere. Then we find our way back home, like the prodigal son in the beautiful parable of Christian tradition. Buddha also teaches us that poisoning by polluted water will teach us the value of clear water.”
I wanted to know about clean water fountains. The Taoist master explained: “These are born in the immortal spirit that we are; it is the essential part that makes up the whole existing in each person. You can forget about it, belittle its importance, refuse to drink from its waters. You can even pollute the fountain. Then it will dry.” He paused for a brief moment and went on: “However, that fountain never perishes. It hides itself in the silence of the being and will always be available to feed it again when the individual decides to change the motivations that animate him. When this happens, the fountain sprouts again. Little by little, its waters will return clear and pure, as they are born from the spirit, an inseparable part and reason for the existence of the universe.”
“The fountains of clear water are beyond the narrow gate; behind each of the virtues such as love, humility, simplicity, compassion, forgiveness, sincerity, kindness, generosity, justice and faith, just to name a few. Only the clear waters will grant us the necessary strength to reach the plenitude and its five angelic states reached in the integrity of the being: freedom, unconditional love, dignity, peace and happiness.”
“Good readings, meditation, prayer and work are important tools to keep us close to the fountains of clear water, as exercises in ethics and aesthetics; knowledge as an inseparable ally of doing, as exercises for the completeness of being.”
I interrupted to say that this speech was unnecessary, as I knew the whole theory about virtues and shadows; on how to use the first to transmute the latter. Li Tzu guided me to pray or meditate as he himself did and the excellent results he achieved. Stubbornly, I insisted that these methods no longer worked for me. I claimed that I had tried for days and remained discouraged and sad. With unshakable patience, Li Tzu suggested a walk, as nature is full of sanctuaries, revitalizing fountains of energy. He pointed beyond the windows and reminded me, “Mountains are outdoor cathedrals.” I spent that day walking along trails and I saw beautiful places. However, when I returned in the late afternoon, I confessed to the Taoist master that little had changed in my spirit. He asked me to go to the inn to rest and return to his house in the early hours of the next day.
Early in the morning, Li Tzu was already waiting for me at the gate. He took me through the streets and alleys of the village to a house without any luxury, but very clean and well cared for. We were greeted by a very kind woman, with whom he spoke briefly in Chinese. The woman offered me a smile and gestured me to follow her. We entered a room full of children. A boy, just over a year old, was crying. She handed me the boy. I noticed that he was crying because his diapers were dirty. Astonished, I looked at Li Tzu. The Taoist master shrugged and muttered, “Everyone needs to feel clean to smile.” Then he said: “Spend the day here, take care of the children. Come to my house at night so we can talk.” Before my incredulous gaze, he concluded: “Charity is transformative. It refreshes your eyes and wakes up love.” And he left.
I was at the village orphanage. The house was maintained by local residents, who took turns caring for children whose parents had departed, most of them in disasters at the mountains. A little upset, I bathed the boy and changed his clothes. I took him to the bedroom to play with other kids his age. When I put him down, the boy pulled me by my pants so I could look at him. He offered me an unforgettable smile and opened his arms. He clung to my neck for a long time. Overtaken by an unknown emotion, I sat on the floor to play with the children. It was as if that gesture, simple in appearance, but profound in essence, had turned my heart inside out so I could rediscover feelings that seemed to have ceased to exist within myself. I spent the day at the orphanage. I helped with food, entertainment and only left after they had dinner, showered and went to bed. I left that house very different from how I had entered. I was tired, but my soul was vitalized. A pleasant feeling ran through my insides. I walked to Li Tzu’s house as if my feet didn’t touch the ground, I felt so light.
As we ate dinner, I said that I was enveloped in a wonderful sense of well-being. Li Tzu smiled and said, “The Tao teaches us that love will always be the best therapy. It is the most powerful fountain of clear and clean water that exists. When everything no longer seems to work as a solution, even in the face of a personal apocalypse, there will still be charity. In fact, the easiest and most efficient place to bathe in pure, clear water has always been charity. However, it is not always the most sought after. Everywhere you look you’ll find an available fountain.” He paused briefly and continued: “Charity is turning time into love; is to turn on the light of the hours. Every time you’re exhausted, sad or discouraged, instead of looking for comfort, try to reverse the process: look for someone who needs your hug, your attention, a word of hope. This love will not only embrace the other, but it will return to you in the form of light. There is no greater enchantment. The most effective way to make love sprout in us is to offer love to the world.”
“Then, as if by magic, everything changes.” He looked into my eyes and asked me to tell him about the problems that had led to my exhaustion I said that I had already told him the day before. He insisted that I speak again. When I started to narrate, I realized that my perspective on the situation had changed. It was as if everything had become clearer. As I talked about the events, I realized that my analysis of the facts had changed. I understood that competition and rivalry had led me to demolish the competition instead of just dedicating myself to building my work. When I was more concerned with destroying what others were doing rather than elaborating better on what I could accomplish, I ended up poisoned by looking for polluted fountains to satiate myself. That, more than defeating the others, had almost finished me off.
Li Tzu firmly said: “You have drink for too long from the murky springs of envy, vanity, pride, jealousy, and especially in this case, greed. Seeking the multinational company as a client of your agency is a legitimate wish. There is nothing wrong with that. However, the method used in any achievement is critical. Pointing out the worst in others doesn’t make me a better person. There is no victory when we violate ethics in the name of aesthetics; there is no victory with the destruction of others; there is no merit without virtue or virtue without love. If the situation led you to surpass the other but not yourself in improving your virtues, rest assured that you may have won but not triumph. There is no victory without light. It is the light that makes the fountain waters clear and clean and allows us to see the full depth of the great lake of life.”
He looked me in the eye and ended with one of the most beautiful lessons of the Tao: “What’s the point of having the world in my hands if I stay away from my own heart?”