Andrew Rooke – Australia
One of the most famous Chinese spiritual teachers, the founder of Taoism, Lao Tze, (571- 531BC) said it is in the simple things that we can find spiritual principles worth following. In his ‘Tao Te Ching’ (The Book of the Way) he says that he came to teach only three simple truths:
Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
- Tao Te Ching. Book 67
Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion – three qualities which everyone can follow no matter what your situation.
Simplicity seems to be an essential quality of the spiritual life advocated by all the great spiritual teachers. Not a simplistic life, but ‘simple’ in the sense of one unencumbered by material considerations as the primary focus of life leaving the student clear-headed and humble so that he/she can devote themselves to others without being diverted by a lot of material possessions. Jesus was a simple carpenter, his followers came from common professions of the time, like fishermen, living a simple village life. He always demanded of his followers that they give up their material possessions before they followed him. The founders of Christian orders, such as St Francis of Assisi, followed his example by demanding their monks live a simple and holy life ‘clearing the decks’ so that they could focus on the needs of others rather than building their own ego through the accumulation of personal material possessions. Let’s have a look at some other spiritual teachers who advocated a simple life.
In China, Taoism says that when virtue traditions are strong, people, and the example that they set to others, become even more important than principles as sources of moral guidance. In the Tao Te Ching (meaning: ‘The Book of the Way and its Virtues’) by Taoist Master, Lao Tzu: “Sages embrace the One and serve as models for the whole world but they do not parade themselves as models, as that would be self-defeating. They do not make a display of themselves and so are illustrious.” “The sage does not hoard. The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself, the more he gives to others, the more he gets himself. The Way of Heaven does one good but never does one harm. The Way of the Sage is to act but not to compete.”
Travelling across the world to ancient Greece, Aristotle describes the crown of virtues as: ‘greatness of soul’, saying of such a rare person: ‘there are few things he values highly’ and ‘nothing is great in his eyes’. He does not care for personal conversation nor to be complimented for himself or to compliment others. He is the last to complain about unavoidable or minor troubles ‘because such an attitude would imply that he took them seriously’. He said such a person should focus on what is rightly honoured rather than pursue honor for its own sake. Honor can be a sign that you are doing the right thing but it is not the purpose of right action.
Coming forward in time, German Philosopher Frederich Nietzsche (1844-1900), noted that the joy of Being is found in simple seemingly unremarkable things. Most people miss these things because they are always looking for something significant in their lives when what they are looking for can be found in the so-called insignificant. Nietzche once said, “How little suffices for happiness! The least thing precisely, the gentlest thing, the lightest thing, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a wink, an eye glance— little maketh up the best happiness.” It was in this rare moment of silence that he realized—it’s the littlest things that bring us closest to Divinity. Simple and balanced living is certainly a feature of a moral exemplar. Even in the materialist modern world, moral exemplars favor simple living from Nelson Mandela (South Africa) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gandhi and Mother Teresa (India). Though, whilst advocating simple living, Aristotle also said that virtue did not mean you live an ascetic life. Aristotle believed that: ‘it is difficult if not impossible to do fine deeds without any resources.
ULTIMATE TRUTHS ARE SIMPLE… BUT COMPLICATED:
Beyond the character of a spiritual teacher or student, ultimate truths are frequently described as being in essence, ‘Simple’, even though the philosophy and theology associated with such an understanding can get enormously complicated. As Lao Tzu says:
Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Jesus said that we had to be ‘as little children’ to understand the Kingdom of Heaven. He is reported as saying: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Matthew: 18:3.
Meaning that we have to have a child-like purity and innocence to reflect our Source or Higher Self which is clouded by our obsession with Personality and considerations of our Lower Nature. This truth is reflected in the stages of learning for students of the Mysteries which is basically a self-motivated effort guided by our teachers to bring the personality side of our nature under control so the Inner Source can shine in the world unimpeded by selfishness – a bit like the sun always shining above us but the clouds get in the way so we don’t realize it is there much of the time - especially so with Melbourne weather!! A simple life guided by Common Sense and a Sense of Humor into actions of Charity and characterized by Humility. It all makes sense as the basis of enlightened living. But looking around the world now, we don’t often meet with these qualities in people. Do we have the Patience to await the wider acceptance of such a life? Where does Patience fit into this picture?
To be continued
Note from the editor:
This article was also published in Theosophy Downunder, the magazine of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, Australasian Section. [No 146, December 2022] Its editor and author of the article above, ANDREW ROOKE (photo below) , kindly granted permission to publish it in Theosophy Forward, the e-Magazine.
For more issues of Theosophy Downunder click HERE
Andrew Rooke from Melbourne Australia, author of the article - Photo was raken in the Canadian Rocky Mountains