On May 29, 2005, a group of masters and members of the I-Kuan Tao temple in El Monte, California, quietly thundered into Indianapolis, Indiana, and the status quo there would never be the same. I picked the words I used above very carefully because it’s important to convey the level of energy, enthusiasm, caring, compassion, generosity, and the nearly palpable force that eight real cultivators of the Great Tao bring with them. Their arrival and departure were silent and still, their presence was quiet, reserved, poised and imminently elegant. It was apparent from the outset that this was a group with tremendous power behind them, and well it should have seemed, because to a person, their ally was the Great, Immutable Tao, the eternal divine principle.
More than a year ago, I don’t remember exactly when, Derek Lin and I began discussing the possibility of establishing an authentic Tao shrine in the Midwest. For more than a year we communicated frequently, spoke often, got to know each other well, and then in July of 2004 I was blessedly accepted to be initiated into I-Kuan Tao. It was at this point that the dream of bringing the Great Tao to the people of Indiana and beyond began to coalesce. During this time as well, Derek permitted me to send some of my thoughts and teachings on my own path to him for inclusion in the True Tao web site, where like his wonderful and insightful teachings, these few simple words seemed to reach some people and speak to their hearts.
That’s the history in a nutshell and it bears mentioning here that everything to this point and beyond unfolded without force, without contention, without furor, without fanfare – in fact without most of the trappings and rigors of coordinating an event of this magnitude. It simply became time for the next step to occur, and it did, quietly, peacefully, wonderfully, miraculously, and repeatedly.
Several people on the Tao Forum, as well as the people in and around the neighborhood, asked me quite frequently, “Why do you want a shrine?” or “Why do you need a temple?” or “If you’re a Tao cultivator why do you need a church?” All I could do was smile. I do wish to answer these questions, now that I fully understand the impact of the shrine establishment, and that is what this teaching ultimately is all about.
There are many people who label themselves Tao cultivators. Many of these people say that they do not require a formal organization to assist them in cultivating the Tao or to gather together to support and aid one another. Okay, I myself walked the path alone for many years. I also sacrificed tremendous understanding and knowledge wading around in the swamp of disinformation.
As Tao cultivators, we are supposed to espouse the philosophy taught by Lao Tzu and the great masters and teachers: a path of wisdom, compassion, love and respect for all living things, boundless and limitless giving, service without expectation, the elimination of the ego self, and the nurturing and discovering of the true Buddha nature. I know of no one who calls him or herself a Tao cultivator who does not say this is the truth.
Among the group of “Tao cultivators” I know online, some personally some not, I observe among them a spirit of contention, strife, academia, quarrelsome natures, as well as demeaning and belittling behavior towards people of different values and beliefs. I know this is not the way of the Great Tao, and to those who read this, and scream “NOT ME,” to you I say, read on, for we all posses those very qualities.
In eight people I saw for myself what the discipline of I-Kuan Tao means. I know now why Master Chen and Master William are masters, and why Senior Master Yang is Senior Master. I know why Derek is the Director of Tao Studies at the temple, and I praise and thank them all from the very depths of my heart. Why do I need / want a temple? So that one day I can hopefully emulate them fully, rightly, wholly, and teach my children and others to do the same. It would not be appropriate for me to speak specifically of individuals and their acts as it would violate their peace, so I will speak of the group, and please understand that what I say of one applies to all of the delegation who came here.
Where I see limits, boundaries, pettiness, squabbling, and self-centeredness in myself and others, in them I see giving and compassion with absolutely no limit whatsoever. I mean, NO LIMIT, there was nothing accomplished here where one or more of the eight persons from the temple could not find an opportunity to give of themselves and everything that they had. Not only did they give and give and give and GIVE, but they looked for opportunities to GIVE MORE. In their giving, they were truly, ecstatically thankful for the opportunities to give and serve. They cooked, they cleaned, they watched out over my two-year-old and my other children with the patience and forbearance of saints. They tolerated my positively horrible attempts to speak and master (yeah right!) Chinese, and actually found humor in my abuse of the divine rituals. I am convinced that the Maitreya Buddha has a great sense of humor. Every time I thought they were at the absolute end of the rope, they had more of everything, and they held back nothing. We initiated 13 people the day of the dedication. I saw what it meant to be a Tao Cultivator. I thought I had the ability to give, I believed that my family and I did an adequate job there. I had much to learn. I still have much more to learn. At the end of the day, I could only gaze on in absolute amazement at the wonder that had unfolded before me.
These remarkable people flew in at 6:00 in the morning on Saturday, worked all day, visited my humble Tai Chi school, participated in the class, prepared lunch for my family, went shopping for the balance of our needs for the dedication, and did not stop until late in the afternoon. They were up and working again by 7:00 in the morning Sunday, where they did the whole thing over again, and added three initiation rituals and all of the dedication rituals plus a couple of private rituals, a tremendous teaching discussion AND a vegetarian feast for 20. They were all still smiling, and watching children. Their patience in instructing me was boundless.
As a final note but by no means a small note, everything was done out of their own personal funds. The temple fixtures are precious, expensive, and, had to be shipped cross country via truck. In American terms, it was a bunch of expense. Every penny was contributed by the temple masters and members.
Can anyone do this? Yes. With the proper intent, the right heart, a lot of time, a serious and reverent mind and heart, yes. Why would a person not want to do this? If one would wear the label “Tao cultivator” then why would that person not put down the ways and means of this existence, and put on Buddha nature? How can one who claims the Great Tao, not align himself or herself with the authentic tradition and discipline?
I now say to all who read this: ask not “Bill, why do you want to do this?” but rather ask, how is it that you do not? I have seen, with my own eyes, people who live by and demonstrate that which they teach. To claim the Tao without this knowledge and wisdom is to never know what the Great Tao truly is!
Giving and Tolerance
What is the true Buddha nature? What is the true self? How do we recognize this ethereal personage bound somewhere beyond our ego self? The answer, practice.
Lao Tzu tells us that when a wise student hears Tao, he makes it a part of their life, they practice the principles and pay close attention to every word and the instruction of the masters. When an average student hears Tao, maybe he practices, maybe not, and since little is invested, little is gained. When a fool hears Tao, he laughs at it heartily, and with no practice comes no benefit. This should not be a surprising interpretation to anyone who know the Tao Te Ching.
How is it we know what and how to practice? We should rightfully learn from the example of the sages, the Great Masters, our masters at the temple, and those whose understanding surpasses our own. We should study diligently and make our every thought about becoming fully unified with the Great Tao. Our every action, our every breath should convey to all who see us, hear us, or interact with us in any way, that our path is Tao and our way peace, tranquility, oneness and profound respect for every living thing.
I know with no doubt at all that the group of people who gathered in my home to dedicate a shrine in the tradition of the I-Kuan Tao were not always the people I met at that time. I’m very sure that like myself, each of them had walked a path that brought them to that day and time. Each of them had a life that at one time did not include the Great Tao, in some cases, perhaps a life that openly resisted this great truth. Some may have had many life problems, illness, abuse, poverty, death in the family, emotional strife, relationship problems, the list can go on literally without limit. Interestingly enough, all that proves is that each and every one, was and is human, just like the rest of us. Something changed them, something powerful changed them all, just like it changed me, and continues to change me.
If we would one day overcome the ego self and bring forth the true Buddha nature, it is essential that we put into practice the principles taught us by the sages and masters. It is necessary at every turn to seek out opportunities to give of ourselves, our time, our resources, whatever is required of us without grumbling or complaining, in fact, we must meet those tasks with effortless joy and boundless energy. We should feel compelled to gather together to support each other, and mutually do our best to bring an end to the cycles of birth, death, and re-birth that plague humanity, it is our divine responsibility. It also is our divine responsibility to ensure that no soul is excluded from having the opportunity to know and embrace the truth. The mere appearance of differences between people must be seen for what it is, an illusion. The appearance of appearances must be seen for being the same illusion. Fat, short, skinny, blind, wheelchair bound, black, red, white, polka dotted or striped, everyone is welcome because the differences don’t really exist. In short, we must learn to give genuinely, and live without separation. Who among us is capable of setting such an example? Well, I believe I personally know several such people.
Master Chen exemplifies these principles from the very core of his being, and radiates his tremendous peace and presence to everyone who meets him. When I think of him, the picture is that of the quiet power of a very deep river, always moving but seemingly completely still. His ability to bring understanding and tranquility to complete chaos was demonstrated time and again in my home. Tolerance and compassion, and boundless joy mark this man as surely as his appearance. He carries himself in a floating elegant effortless fashion, and yet is as close to the earth as the flowers. His example is an inspiration to me every minute of every day, as I watched him nearly float through a crowd of Westerners who no more understood the Tao than the Chinese language, he was eloquent and articulate, eminently patient and kind, as gentle as the spring breeze but possessing tremendous inner strength and power. Here is a man whose friend and ally is the Great Tao.
How does he do all of this? He keeps the rituals, performs his meditations faithfully, he seeks out opportunities to give, in service, in resources, in time, in any way he can. He seeks out opportunities to share the Tao, and expresses himself with sheer joy. It is obvious to everyone without question that his way and path is Tao and no other. But his path came at some cost, discipline, education, choosing a way of peace, choosing to embrace people that perhaps were not as embraceable as others, choosing to show compassion when ignoring others would have been easier, choosing to help even if helping meant sacrifice. Over time, the choices became nature and the nature revealed itself in this remarkable man. This was not an accident.
Master William is a man full of enthusiasm and energy. Every obstacle is merely an opportunity to excel, every chasm of separation only a reason to build a bridge of understanding. His joy knows no limit, his patience is inexhaustible, his ability to move with the winds of change is effortless and graceful. When I think of people who genuinely desire to give, my mind’s eye pictures Master William. Master William was instrumental in making sure that all of the fixtures of the shrine were delivered to Indiana in one piece. That single simple sentence resulted in a tremendous amount of hard physical work, and a logistical nightmare of gathering packing wrapping and shipping. The crate that the fixtures arrived in was a five hundred and fifty pound work of art. Everything was meticulously packaged and arrived beautifully. This may not sound like a big accomplishment, but please take note, the items in this box are rare, some are irreplaceable, and all are priceless. The expense and labor involved in making this happen was truly ponderous in scale. In addition, Master William provided to the temples the ability to connect the shrines via broadband communications. Through his efforts, the infant shrine in Indianapolis has an umbilical to its mother shrine and the wonderful knowledge of its masters and teachers. I am positive that Master William’s contributions extend much further than what I will ever know, and yet he shoulders this awesome responsibility with a quiet smiling face that beams with radiant joy and contentment and peace, ever ready to sit down and share his wisdom and knowledge of the Tao. This is an example worthy of following, a life worth emulating. This was also not an accident.
Derek Lin is my brother, I think of him like my own flesh and blood family. Without his support, guidance, nurturing, and recommendation, none of what I have written here would have been possible. Before we ever met in person there was a bond between us born in the Great Tao that descended from heaven and permeated our beings. His knowledge of the Tao is unsurpassed in any person I have met to date. His ability to share this vast reservoir of knowledge is combined with a tremendous nearly singular gift of making the ethereal and mystical, real and tangible, to the western culture where very frequently there are no words to describe what the Chinese masters have said. It is a difficult and often thankless task that far too often falls on deaf ears and hard hearts. Over time we have gotten to know each other well and the more I know Derek the more I am convinced that his source, his well is the Great Tao. Like the masters, his energy is boundless, his ability to pour himself out like water is without boundaries or limits I have not seen the end of his knowledge or his ability to give.
When the shrine was dedicated, Derek presented a lesson, geared to the Western mindset that led thirteen people to be initiated, none of whom had heard anything of the I-Kuan Tao except from me. The power of his words, the conviction of his faith and knowledge, the joy in his voice and sparkle in his eye as he speaks, the unquestionable compassion for the people he speaks to all demonstrate a life rooted in the Great Tao that springs forth from within him and water and nourish every heart he touches.
As we work together technologically, I have had many opportunities to watch the way he redirects conflict and handles the varying opinions and ways of people, how he brings peace to those who want a fight, and refocuses those who have become confused. I have come to Derek several times and have come to trust him as a confidant, mentor and dear friend and brother. His hallmarks of honesty, integrity, forthrightness, faithfulness, wisdom, compassion and respect are truly worthy of emulation.
These are only three examples of a spirit that pervades I-Kuan Tao. If one were to approach any of these people and ask them, they would each say they are nothing special, that they don’t do anything difficult or special. They would be telling the truth. For each of them, despite life’s challenges, which we all face, they have chosen a life of self discipline, self control, humility, giving without expectation, sharing without limitation, studying and learning voraciously, keeping the rituals in there hearts homes and minds, in short, bringing forth their respective Buddha natures in this lifetime in this place for the benefit of others. None of these wonderful people and many others whom I have not written about yet, does these things accidentally. A life lived in this way is a day to day, sometimes second to second choice based in the absolute knowledge that this way is the way of truth.
There is no thought given about who they will share this great truth with, they share it with everyone. I AM the proof. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an enormous American. I don’t speak Chinese very well, and that’s being very kind. I’m not what one would consider attractive, I’m not wealthy, in fact, in every way I’m pretty plain. In my heart though, exists the passion for the discovery of the truth, and the strong desire to share that truth and apply those principles in my life and help others do the same thing. That was all that was required of me. In many circles, it would have been reasonable, in fact practically expected to hear “He’s not Chinese, how could he possibly do this?” No such words were ever spoken. Instead the group from the temple made videos for me to watch with the rituals recorded so I could see and hear and practice. It was remarkable. Everyone, the young, old, attractive and plain, men, women and children all were welcomed, genuinely, lovingly, gently welcomed. Every person was valued and treated with attention and compassion and taught with wisdom and joy. It was a wonder to see and a blessing to be a part of. We all could have been on the South Pole, and if there had been people there it would have been no different.
Nothing that I have written about here came about by accident. Each of these wonderful people and many, many others have done this by choice and hard work that led to effortless grace. It is just so with any discipline. Mastering Tai-Chi, painting, music, gardening or anything else requires self discipline, self control, focus, education, practice, more than a few mistakes, and an unquenchable desire to succeed.
What better practice could we put ourselves into than those of compassion, wisdom, tolerance, giving, humility, respect for every living thing, forgiveness, meditation, peace, and harmony? What else could be more worthy of our attention and practice? What else would produce such tremendous benefit for ourselves and others? What else has the potential to end the cycle of birth and death and rebirth? Each of us can choose, either to live an accident, or to live the way of peace that is the Tao.