The Heart and the Tao

The wisest Chinese Sage to have ever lived was a guy named Mencius. He lived over 2000 years ago. In his ultimate vision, he combined three of his great principles, Heart, The Heavenly Mandate, and Flood-Like Ch’i with a fourth great principle, The Tao, or The Way.

What does this mean? How can this help me in my daily life?

Let’s define these first three ideas. No one of us can do true justice to any of these ideas, especially in a sentence. But to oversimplify, here goes.

Heart is our innate capacity for compassion and goodness.

The Heavenly Mandate are the natural laws of the universe that apply outside and within us.

Flood-like Ch’I is the endless source of energy that permeates all things, and is available to us.

Now I’ll show you how Mencius combined these three ideas.

Our job in life is to figure out what  the good is, and then to be good. The good is the Heavenly Mandate. All we need to do to know the good is to learn to listen with our Heart.  When we are good, then we are happy, free, and most alive. We are filled with Flood-like Ch’I.

Another way of saying this is  that one accomplishes an alignment with the Heavenly Mandate, or universal law, by manifesting the heart, the faculty of goodness, resulting in flood-like ch’i or fully embodied vitality and courage.

Now comes the fourth idea, and how it combines with the first three. The method for living in harmony with natural law, which we can call the good, is called the Tao, or Way. In other words, the way to be in touch with the good and true inside of us, and to act on that knowing, and to live from that place where we are in touch with the great energetic flow of life, is called The Tao, or The Way.

To quote from “On the Practice of the Mean,” one of the four canonized books of Chinese wisdom, “by ‘the ‘Way’ we mean that path which is in conformance with the intrinsic nature of man and things.” By following the Tao, or Way, we achieve the moral life by living in accordance with natural principles and we become the profound person. We achieve the Confucian ideal of jen, or authentic human-ness.

It is in the natural order of the universe that people are intrinsically good. We are also given the ability of cultivating the best in ourselves. As we are one with nature, when we grow, we  advance the evolution of the universe. By developing ourselves, we participate in the perfecting of nature.

The purpose, telos, or entelechy, of the universe is love. Love is the ultimate realization of compassion and harmonic relationship. When we develop ourselves we are more able to live in harmony with natural law. We can more readily hear, and listen to, our heart. We can more readily be good. We come closer to being loving beings. The more we are loving beings, the closer we come to realizing the purpose of the universe, which is to love.

We are each given this capacity for goodness and it is our task to develop this capacity in order to play our part in the realization of the universe. Cultivating the compassionate heart is fulfilling the Heavenly Mandate. This is what it means to live according to the Tao.

As the furthest extension of universal development, humankind finds its optimal harmony with the purpose of the universe when we self-cultivate toward the realization of heart.

We come to develop our heart’s capacity for goodness through living according to the Tao. The Tao is the heart in time. The heart is the Tao in us. The heart is the faculty that can comprehend and practice living according to the Way.

When we live according to universal principle, our inner conflict ends: what we should do finds harmony with what we want to do. As Mencius put it,

“The profound person steeps himself in the Way because he wishes to find it in himself. When he finds it in himself, he will be at ease in it; when he is at ease in it, he can draw deeply upon it; when he can draw deeply upon it, he finds its source wherever he turns. That is why a profound person wishes to find the Way in himself.”

In this sense, to develop morally is not to learn moral rules, though these provide a framework for the real learning. Instead, we want to cultivate our hearts, the capacity for knowing right from wrong within. In this way we do not obediently follow some rule imposed from without, but intrinsically do the right thing in any circumstance, as the circumstance dictates. As Confucius put it,

“The profound person, in the world, does not set his mind either for anything, or against anything; what is right he will follow.”

Self-cultivation, or the process of developing our human potentials, is accomplished by living according to the Tao. It is through the realization of our human potentials that we embody the Heavenly Mandate, or universal principle. This embodiment of universal principle is our purpose, what we are meant to be, or our entelechy.

The full realization of our potentials is to fulfill our human nature and is the way we come to know the universal law. The full manifestation of our human nature, which is an embodiment of universal principle, is loving compassion.Loving compassion is the purpose of the universe. To realize loving compassion is to manifest the potential of the universe. When we manifest the potential of the universe, we are at one with the energy of the universe.

For the Confucians, we get “close enough” to the Tao by having optimal relationships in each domain of being. We cultivate these relationships by developing our empathy through practicing the virtues of benevolence, and respect.

The Confucian conception of the personal heart and its interconnection to all other hearts, the heart of the universe and the transcendent spiritual heart, is best explicated in the monumental work, “The Highest Order of Cultivation.” Here is my interpretation of the core of this text.

• Only once one has an embodied experience of the interconnectedness of all, can one integrate all aspects of the psyche, leading to integration and wholeness; where the parts of the self exist in cooperative relation.

• Only when we are whole can the potentials of the heart be realized. Only when we are whole can we realize our potentials for perceiving, thinking, feeling, imagining, acting and connecting.

• Only when we have realized our potentials do we manifest virtuous moral being. Only when we have manifested virtuous moral centeredness can we put our relationships right, having harmonious relationships, meeting the needs of our partners and growing optimally.

• Only when we can put our relationships right can we have happy, good children and flourishing families.

• Only when we have balanced families can society be at peace and harmony.

• Only when society is in order are we living according to the Heavenly Mandate, or the laws of the universe.

• By cultivating ourselves, we fulfill the purpose of the universe.

What do you believe is the answer to happiness? Comment below.

Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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