To be honest, I never thought that anyone would be interested in how I got started on the Taoist path. It never seemed to be that interesting a process to me, but since I have had several queries by separate individuals asking about my own personal journey, please allow me to share my story with you, my precious fellow travelers.
This was how I became a Taobabe.
Let me be perfectly clear. I wasn’t always a Taoist.
In fact, I was born into a Catholic family and was baptized (with special holy water) at a bona fide Catholic church. My saint name was (still is) Maria, and my godmother was none other than a Catholic nun.
I was a good Catholic. I went to church every Sunday with my family, and while everyone sat stupefied, with drool running down their chins, I would earnestly listen to the priest drone on and on about the sins of mankind and how we were all going to hell in a handbasket.
It was often quite boring, but I did my best to comprehend what I was hearing because as young as I was, I had decided that it was important to understand the Words of a most sacred Deity.
The knowledge was so important to me that I taught myself to read Vietnamese just so that I could read the bible cover-to-cover. I wanted to understand the bible because, for some God-damned stupid reason, I felt the need to verify what the priests talked about every Sunday.
You see, I had learned early on that even adults sometimes got things wrong, and I could not afford to believe an adult’s version of the Words of a most sacred Deity without double-checking the exact same passages for myself.
It was a serious labor of love because I did not know how to read, and so I had to teach myself as best as I could, using a dictionary and asking my parents when I got stuck. I had not yet attended formal schooling, you see. I was only five years old at that time.
Even at that young age, I had determined that my favorite color was blue. Not just any old blue, mind you. It had to be the exact shade of a deep sky blue that Maria, the Mother of Jesus wore on her cloak.
I loved the color, not because of the color itself but because Mother Mary wore it. I loved her white skin, her blue eyes, her light brown hair, and her European features.
I thought she was the most beautiful woman ever to have been born on the face of the Earth. She was even more beautiful than my own mother, whose skin was not as pale, and whose hair was so much darker than hers.
You have to forgive me. I was so very young and so very brainwashed.
But slowly, as my reading comprehension grew, I began to realize that she was of a different race than I was. I also became aware that Mary, and everyone who was ever mentioned in that holy book, was from Israel. Furthermore, they were all Jewish.
At the wizened and weary age of seven, I renounced Catholicism after I grocked onto the fact that I was not, and could never be, part of the Christian God’s special chosen children, the Israelites. I was born in the wrong area of the world to the wrong race of people, and no amount of amelioration from those around me could convince me otherwise.
Since I KNEW that I was a special kid, I didn’t want to be one of his leftover children, someone who was not his chosen, but was accepted out of pity or forbearance. My reasoning was simple, and as it turned out, quite brilliant. I deduced that if the Israelites had their own God, my own people must also have our own God, someone who had chosen us to be his special people.
It was then that I made a conscious decision to look for a God who would accept me as I was, a little Asian girl with no special skills, or great beauty, or amazing powers. I didn’t know if there was such an entity as an Asian God, but I was going to go searching for him.
I started by asking my family about our family’s past and about our ancestral religions, and I found out some pretty cool stuff.
First, I found out I was the grandchild of a courtier. My paternal grandfather was an herbal medicine man who worked for the royal court due to the fact that he was the younger of two sons in the family of a royal bureaucrat, a mandarin, if you will, with a now-defunct title similar to that of a duke.
The paternal family had three major religions, intertwined with each other. The first was Ancestor Worship (more on this later), the second was Confucianism, and the third was Taoism. Of the three, Ancestor Worship was the only one that actually had any type of formal ceremony.
The other two (C and T) were philosophical bents that the family ascribed to through thousands of years of adherence by word-of-mouth teachings. My family were court scholars and so were very well-versed in both Confucianistic and Taoist thinking.
Since I knew my ancestors were not gods of any sort, this religion was the first to be discarded. Confucianism was the second religion to go because although the man was a smart cookie, I knew he wasn’t a god either.
That left Taoism as the final avenue for me to explore, but it was not easy to seek out information about Taoism because approachable books on this subject were very rare (emphasis on approachable). They were also not left in every hotel nightstand around the country like bibles are.
Since I could not find much on Taoism, I started searching through Buddhism, thinking perhaps it was similar to Taoism. This was when I began going to the Nichiren Shōshū temple and learning the Gongyo Lotus Sutra.
I was sincerely hoping that I could find the God that would regard me (and others like me) as his special chosen people. But once again, I hit that same realization regarding Nichiren as I did Confucius.
Nichiren was no more a god than Confucius was.
Furthermore, I found Buddhism’s ideology to be quite pessimistic, and as a child who was more often than not, full of joie de vivre, its teachings of suffering did not resonate with me. To put it simply, I was vibrating on a different wavelength, and constant suffering was not within the range of my amplitude.
By this time, I was 13 and a confirmed atheist. I was convinced there was NOTHING out there.
NOTHING to find. NOTHING to discover. NOTHING to see.
I was barely a teenager, and I had given up on finding the divine in life.
This went on for a few more years until the 80s when, by a chance happenstance, I was in the library returning some books when I ran across a slim volume called The Tao of Pooh.
Something in me came alive and I grabbed the book. Although I no longer believed in anything godly, I was still a curious kid and wanted to know what the heck Taoism was.
I zipped through the book in a very short time and a smile began to form on my face. In very basic English, using very approachable colors and characters, the tenets of Taoism were presented in simple to understand language with nothing to mar its clean elegance.
To be fair, The Tao of Pooh was not an in depth study of Taoism, but it was not missing anything major. The book explained in black and white, the basics of Taoism, and while there were no shades of grey in such a simple book, it was enough to kickstart my adventure into Taoism.
Those missing shades of grey, I would spend the next couple of decades trying to discern. Even so, I did not think of myself as a practicing Taoist until I met my brother Derek Lin. When I visited him at his temple, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a Taoist temple because to me, it always seemed as if it should be a philosophy, as opposed to a religion.
My decision to forego joining a formal Taoist temple was mostly due to my early experiences with formalized religion–experiences which had left a bad taste in my mouth. I could no longer accept being taught about God in that primary school, memorization methodology. I wanted to explore and find God for myself, in a more organic manner.
And find God, I did.
The highest goodness resembles water ~ Lao Tzu
In that one line, I had found the God that I was looking for.
A drop of water in an endless ocean is not only part of the ocean, it also contains the ocean within the boundary of its droplet form, held together by its surface tension. This completely satisfies that duality requirement of Taoism I wrote about in one of my posts, Change (Part 5): Sequent Change. I didn’t have to go looking for God in any temple, or religion, or plane of existence called heaven. God was not only within me, God was also all around me.
Furthermore, unlike Confucius or any of the Buddhas, none of whom ever claimed to be God, the Tao is actually another word for God. In fact, we can use any word to replace the word God–the Tao, the Universe, the Force, the Source–it’s all the same entity that flows through us, and is contained within us. I can call myself a Taoist or a Universalist or a Forcist or a Sourcist. It really does not matter because it is nameless, and the nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.