THE ESOTERICISM OF LAO TSE

Henry Durville

 

(The present writing is a reproduction of a part of the chapter: Esotericism in China, from the work: "A History of the Secret Science", written by Henry Durville. Among the old and very interesting books that the Rose Cross Order has among its foundation documents, is a first edition of the Castilian work that is of exceptional value regarding the well documented but not very well understood work of this esoteric historian.)

After Confucius, the greatest sage of China, there is Lao Tse, born about 604 years before Jesus Christ. The existence of Lao Tse is not as well known as that of Confucius, of whom he was almost a contemporary.
From the initiatory point of view, Lao Tse was Confucius' superior. His private life is not very well-known since, as a true sage, he was reserved and didn't carry out an active social life. He remained shadowed in obscurity, and officially, didn't form any school, although one might well suppose that he had dedicated pupils.
Only three volumes of his work have come down to us, though without a doubt he produced many more.
The first two, both his own works, are: the Tao or book of the Path, and the Te, or book of Virtue or Rightness. The third work, reflecting his oral teachings, the Kang Ing, or book of Sanctions, or Wise Sayings, of which Matgioi said there is nothing that defines Chinese esotericism better: "the book of actions and corresponding reactions."
The Tao's translation is the work of Matgioi, who gave us this description of the sage:
"Previously the Sages were in charge of teaching. Not very numerous, they were deep, mysterious and penetrating. In our present age it can be difficult to understand them but regardless, we will try to determine something of their nature. They were as circumspect as one who is crossing a frozen river; wise as one who is threatened on all four sides; as indifferent as a stranger. We are hard things, empty as holes. We are to the Sages as cloudy water. If the sage wills it, and moves on the waters, the cloudy water is transformed to clarity. A Sage knows that the one who has realized peace will obtain a very long life. He considers the way and follows the Path; he wishes it to extend no further than it does extend; it is sufficient and has no need to be expanded."
There is a lesson here that we can draw out of this text:
The Sage is reintegrated. This is in accord with the esoteric teachings of all time. To keep silence is one of the four initiatory verbs. It is the fourth element of the Sphinx. The Sage is deep, focused, reflective and meditative, and his habit of reflection opens doors to the inner world. His penetration is a result of constant meditation, never satisfied with appearances, he looks deeper for causes and effects. He is indifferent; absorbed in his thoughts, he doesn't strive for the attainment of praise, or care for criticism; the vanity that motivates so many other men, has died in his heart.
The one that is not yet a Sage, is comparable to a ship wreck; it is dragged about by matter and the passions; as a result of the waves crashing against a reef, they form dangerous vortexes; what clarifies this comparison more is that the uninitiated is gross, something solid that is hindered by matter. The sage has risen above the cloudy water. That is to say, above matter and the passions that it gives rise to. The sage has the power of clarifying the cloudy water, and that is his purpose. Having learned how to create Peace and Calm in his own heart, he has only to help others to participate in this calm and peace. Seeing others as the prisoners of the matter that binds them, he helps them to ascend until they are pure springs and not excited by anything lower or material. Matter becomes purified in this way; the adept's spirit rises at the same time that he is becoming purified by an appropriate method. The Sage who is in the sky, that is to say: whose spirit has broken away, has obtained a long life and reaches great heights, where he finds peace due to his efforts.
This is the Path. While others become agitated and aimless, the Sage who knows how to find his Path does not turn to the left or the right, but continues without wandering. He follows the course that has been laid out without trying to discover all, goes in peace because he does not waste his time vainly striving for glory, or impressing those around himself. His path ascends toward the Temple of Wisdom; he always walks with an even step, always advancing, unworried by all and attending to his brethren and their own perfection. For the one that has not yet understood the meaning of life, the attitude that assumes it is an external thing, moves along with so little progress toward its perfection so slowly.
The sage chooses the inner attitude and his perfect development increases much more than is ever apparent outwardly, since he uses all his force toward that end and doesn't allow any to be wasted on an apparent result. It is the luminous and secret life, conserved by perfect calm, necessary to the initiated one. He obtains the complete serenity of higher, not having any need of renewal, or restarting his evolution or descending again toward the earth and matter. This pilgrimage is finished for him, he has gathered superior power and if he is inclined toward our world, it is as father and guide, since he is caught up in God and Supreme Harmonies. He has been able to erase the human personality in a passive way and, thanks to perfect submission to these divine harmonies, he dissolves and is blended into a superior personality.
By what means is the Sage able to arrive at this Tao, to this way toward perfection that leads to divinity? How does he attain this path that is the original principle and order of the Universe? The Tao of Lao Tse teaches it to us in the following terms, translated by Matgioi: "The radiant and superior virtue attains the Path. The Path provides of all things in abundance; requiring that the Sage expects a long journey and must have patience. He gathers patience because, in his heart, he already feels the support and in waiting, he obtains abundance; he understands and answers the call because in his heart, the faithful and true spirit exists. He feels the hope within his heart and never forgets its call: He instructs, he directs and he loves humanity. It is this way because, developing those qualities, the Sage reaches the Path."
The first thing that he needs is patience, that flows from the spirit, and a union of contingencies, he understands that is necessary for him to submit to those laws that it is not possible to change. He knows the importance of what has been promised and, with certain and gentle waiting for deserved recompense, he finds the abundance of all since, liberated from the material chains of the human action, he is unburdened and given wings that sustain him, thanks to the force of the perfect rhythms that cause the Universe to evolve.
Hope is another quality that he should develop and that comes from a right spirit and a loyal heart. He knows that in this world everything is in harmony and, filled with faith, gives way to the Supreme Guide's Wisdom. He knows that a constant Justice is the sovereign of all created things; and he does all that he can to find favor, with the prize being a pure existence.
Hope is born in the heart as a consequence of fulfilling duty. Does such an obligation exist to instruct and direct men, as much as to reach it? Lao Tse teaches us: "The forms of virtue are the only way to see the Path" The Path is entirely unalterable and eternal. Within it images can be supposed and beings seen that have no name. It is eternal and deep; within it one can conceive the essence, unalterable and rigid. Within the continuity it exists without ever being named. It gives birth to all direction and desire."
Here the Chinese Sage's teaching enters into an essentially practical domain. The Path is not attained other than by the practice of virtues. This path contains Entirety, that is to say: it holds the entirety of all the knowledge and duty, united to the judgment of a right spirit and the works of a faithful heart, speaking more properly, to wisdom. It implies that the Sage contemplates all of Nature with a single look, as the panorama seen from a high summit. The appearance of beings in their transitory imperfections is not seen; these are only elements of a more perfect rhythm, and pain, sin, and lack are for him like false notes in a symphony. He feels the necessity not only to see, but to wander and suffer with those who reach toward the same object that he desires. All beings are fraternal, as if being part of one entire self. He discovers the universal essence that creates and modifies life since it is that which sustains everything, causing the small blade of grass to reach toward the sun, and a man toward truth and wisdom.
It is necessary not to prod anybody, more than is meant, toward the discovery of the Path, although we can be directed by another. "Bent but intact, straight but lost. Empty to fill. Hide to discover anew. One flavor is preserved, many flavors are lost."
The perfect man gathers everything in a single group and becomes the pattern for other men. Without seeing, he shines; he doesn't struggle, but he works; he doesn't hurry, but he achieves. He is not excessive, but diligent much of the time. He doesn't become angry, and for this reason others don't become angry with him. Over time what was bent becomes straightened. To speak in such a way is to teach to the ignorant. What is straight ascends to the Path. According to Lao Tse, the sage lives completely unknown; he is voluntarily hidden and doesn't want to make a show of learning or intelligence. The opinion of others and their admiration is not the object of his desire; he surpasses their knowledge and authority and proceeds alone to the perfection to which all his energy is directed. He is totally modest within his unquestionable superiority. He doesn't know pride. Until the final summit is attained, the humble ones who ascend know only to move away from all that is not the object of their sacred aspiration.
The sage delights in the inner life. He knows that all that is left remains intact and everything evolves dwelling under a veil. To obtain the Absolute by following the teaching of Lao Tse is to be totally metaphysical. But this metaphysics is passive in the oriental way, just as things are revealed to us through initiation.
The Tao teaches that a man should abstain from all desire; in this way the Sage will get rid of the dominance of the passions and, once liberated, will not need to take any individual action for the sole purpose of satisfying desires.
In his second work: the Te, Lao Tse describes the way of the Sage, and the way that all men should be: "Who knows, does not speak. Who speaks, does not know. The Sage closes his mouth and eyes, preferring to think actively; he opens the heart and it gathers all the inner light, joining it to the vulgar exterior. He always thinks deeply; recalling neither friends nor enemies; scorning gains and losses, honors and distress alike. His example is beneficial for all the men" .
The one who has not yet attained wisdom speaks, and makes a great din with his gaping ignorance; filled with vanity, because he has not found the Path and doesn't know the sweetness and power of solitary meditation and the gifts that it offers. If he knew how to meditate, the outer silence would be as necessary as the inner calm.
On the contrary, the Sage remains silent; voluntarily he closes his eyes; gives up the vanity of mundane noise, knowing how to find solitude without leaving active life, he meditates; this enlarges his heart with the wonderful echo of the inner voices. His meditation opens up in him the treasure of light, a game of hide-and-seek and when he has become the master of this domain, he can return to active life and have a very productive one. Nobody can cause him to lose the good that he has acquired. He doesn't look for friendships, but others are attracted by his talent. These friends surround him on whatever path they have in common. He doesn't remember enemies, or the jealous ones, neither any bad action.
The bad would not know how to snatch from him the solid treasure of his inner goods. But this has no effect on him, neither the benefits nor the losses. He scorns the honors and goods of the world because what is possessed must be paid for. His example of an attitude of contented detachment communicates a devise of virtue to all, one of superiority and evolution.
The KAG-ING, attributed to Lao Tse, although this is not certain, instructs us on the way of the will: "A man's good or unfortunate luck on earth is not inevitably determined; man attracts by the process of his will, both good fortune and adversity. Action and reaction effect him each in their own way, giving him their measured value." According to the Chinese initiator, a man should develop his will, but that will should be exercised in a passive way. It is not properly through action, but a call to the higher forces that should direct any being toward improvement. "To obtain perfection, man should leave everything to the celestial power and the ancestors who administer it."
"There is," Lao Tse has said, "within the earth, intelligent forces that register the movement of the actions of men; these forces decide the whole of existence on earth, bringing to end the weak and the strong influences of human actions; these suppressions being equal to progressive poverty, the quantity of privations and pain, the response to other people's hate, the afflictions and misfortunes and various general calamities, sent by the adverse planetary influences and finally, when an end of these things is reached, to death."
To know and convert these superior forces favorably, Lao Tse praises the inner life; he wants the adept to banish all that is mundane from his heart to secure an easier way on the Path. The main virtue consists of not doing bad and tolerating hindrances as though a test. Calling on the forces is understood to mean, not for material goods, but an increase of tests that will diminish the number of terrestrial existences. To win Heaven more quickly, you appeal for poverty, misfortunes, the afflictions and catastrophes that purge the soul of everything earthly, making the arrival of death a double liberation.
The Sage's ideas have been repeated by the philosophers many times. One of the most curious works, in our opinion, is the Treaty of the "Wandering Influences of Quangdzu", also translated by Matgioi. This book seems better adapted to an ordinary life to us. The truth that transmits to us is less abstract and less arid. Its advice, always impregnated with the purest morals, is less metaphysical and more accessible in general than its predecessors. Let us review some quotations:
"The Lord of the Heights is sweet and good. The Sage has come before him and they walk one behind the other. The Sage receives ideas from him. By will he converts them to make a happy home and fill it with good."
"In the moment of its intention, the bad action is known and retained by the mind of God."
"Commune with the spirit before acting, so that you are able to proceed according to your desires."
"It is necessary to declare your place of origin, that of your town, the time of birth, and to consult the oracle. The spirit will tell you if, under these conditions, you will succeed or not."
"The one who climbs high comes to see all things from this high point, in a superior way that he can understand."
"To heal, a perfect knowledge of the spirit is enough, there is no need to take the pulse. It is understood that men are sustained not by gold and diamonds, vulgar things that can be conserved or bought with money. He who keeps the science of the spirit, has as much as the gold and diamonds and is filled with happiness and wealth. The one who does not keep it, lives always in misery and poverty."
"This science says that when you think in a way that is in harmony with the heavens, the science works and a cure arrives immediately. In all things, to be victorious it is always necessary to act with frankness and trust". ...

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