What is the Tao?
When you go through the initiation ritual, you are said to have received the Tao. But what does that mean? What exactly is this Tao that you have received?
The word "Tao" can have many different meanings, depending on context. In one particular sense, the Tao is already a part of you, just as it is in everything, so it isn't something you can receive.
In yet another context, the Tao is a path of spiritual cultivation. It is a never-ending process and a journey of discovery. In that sense, the Tao that you have received from the Initiation Ritual is a direction. It is a path that has been illuminated for you.
What are some of the other meanings of Tao? We can speak of the Tao as the source of everything that exists. In that sense, the Tao can be seen as the creator of the universe, also known as God.
The Tao can also be the unifying force that underlies all forces, or the ultimate principle that give rise to all natural laws. Or, we can say that it is the progressive power that drives the march of time, the proliferation of life, the progress of evolution, and the cosmic movement of celestial bodies.
From a spiritual perspective, perhaps we can describe it as the totality of all the souls in the metaphysical realm where we are all connected at a fundamental level. Or, we can call it the ultimate spiritual truth that gives rise to all the religions of mankind.
The most important concept in I-Kuan Tao is that all of the above are in fact one and the same. This realization is what gives I-Kuan Tao its name - the Tao that unifies everything as one.
The first treasure of I-Kuan Tao is the Mystic Portal. It is the spiritual nexus of your being. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the portal is the doorway.
The Mystic Portal is not well understood by many people, even though we see clues about its importance all the time. For instance, when you close your eyes, clasp your hands together and lower your head to pray, you automatically focus your mind at the Mystic Portal. This action is completely natural, and something we all do instinctively.
Also, consider what happens when you frown because something troubles you, or glare at someone out of anger. In those situations, your Mystic Portal is literally clenched shut. The mental pressure from anxiety or rage puts tremendous weight on this spiritual doorway, cutting off your soul from everything around you.
This is why we feel so disconnected from others when we are angry or anxious. Similarly, when we see someone in an extremely negative frame of mind, we may talk about how difficult it is to get through to him or her. These expressions make perfect sense once you understand the central role of the Mystic Portal.
Once this doorway has been pointed and opened by an ordained Master in the initiation ritual, it becomes a powerful tool that can be very useful in daily life as well as in times of danger.
Because of the frantic pace of modern life, we can often find ourselves in chaotic situations. Our thoughts are scattered everywhere, and we're pulled in several directions at once. When that happens, think of the Mystic Portal as the center of your universe, and visualize all your scattered thoughts coming back to it. In an instant, you'll find that a path of simplicity emerges out of the chaos, allowing you to deal with complex demands much more easily.
When a dangerous situation suddenly appears, it is easy to succumb to fear and panic. This serves only to confuse and overwhelm us even more, and lead us to harm. The Mystic Portal gives us an alternative. By bringing awareness to it, you will immediately bring about a new clarity and calmness. Armed with clear mind and alert composure, you will have the best possible chance to extricate yourself from the situation.
The essence of the Mystical Portal is serenity. In a serene state of focused calmness, we naturally connect with the divine. If the spiritual self is light, then the Mystical Portal is a way to concentrate that light into a coherent beam, with laser-like clarity, brilliance and effectiveness. This is the first treasure of I-Kuan Tao.
The second treasure of I-Kuan Tao is the True Sutra. It consists of sounds without words, so it is also known as the Wordless Sutra. It is a mantra of power that resonates at a level beyond the sound waves and writings of the material world.
The True Sutra should not be said aloud or written down for a very specific reason. Sages observe the typical process of reading sutra and notice that it goes through many transitions. First, the sutra starts in the eyes as the reader looks at a page. Then, it comes out of the mouth as the reader reads it aloud. Next, the sound from the reading goes into the ears as the reader hears his or her own voice. Only after all this does the sutra finally reach the heart.
Every transition in this process dilutes the sutra. Therefore, the ideal sutra should be one that bypasses as much of the process as possible. If you pare this concept down to the barest essentials, you would arrive at the level of the True Sutra.
The True Sutra is never written down, and therefore cannot be seen by the eyes. It is never said out loud, and therefore does not engage the mouth and the ears. It originates in the mind and goes from there directly to the spirit.
Many people are not aware of the True Sutra, but it's not a new idea. The concept goes back at least 2,500 years. The Tao Te Ching tells us that "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao." Similarly, when the Sakyamuni Buddha wanted to pass on his true teachings, he chose to do so without words. He specifically told his disciples that his transmission of the spiritual essence would be totally apart from written scripture. Instead, it would pass directly from one heart to another.
Sound energy is the intermediary between the metaphysical realm and the solid matter of the material world. The True Sutra, as the soundless sound, is a particularly powerful way to invoke the Buddha nature that exists in all of us.
We can use the True Sutra when we encounter challenges in life. Perhaps you see an obstacle that seems too difficult to overcome; perhaps there is a temptation that seems too strong to resist; perhaps you find yourself in a confrontational situation and it is becoming harder and harder to remain polite. Whenever you feel you need extra assistance from a source outside of yourself, repeat the mantra silently to yourself. A wellspring of strength will emerge for you.
This strength seems to come from an external source, but in fact originates from the Buddha within. The essence of Buddha nature is compassion, and as Lao Tzu points out in chapter 67 of Tao Te Ching, compassion is the source of courage. Courage is the source of strength - not the false strength of brute force, but the true strength of character and heart.
The True Sutra will allow you to achieve more than you ever thought possible. If obstacles and temptations in life are like the morning fog, then the True Sutra is like the sun. When the sun comes out, the fog dissipates into nothingness. This is the second treasure of I-Kuan Tao.
The third treasure of I-Kuan Tao is the Hand Seal. The central meaning of this treasure is nurturing love. It is a gesture where one hand holds the other in a symbolic representation of the tender loving care that you feel when you holds an infant in your arms.
At the most basic level, the Hand Seal serves as a reminder of the child within us. Our original nature is a child-like state of mind that sees wonder in everything, does not judge or criticize, and experiences pure bliss in the here and now. The Hand Seal reminds us how precious this inner child is, and how we can rediscover our original nature through Tao cultivation.
On another level, the Hand Seal evokes the love between ourselves and those who are close to us, for it is this love that gives our lives meaning and purpose. As we hold the Hand Seal close to the chest, we can feel its power: it is the love that has, over the span of human history, inspired the creation of art and beautiful music. It is the power that motivates us to achieve the impossible or even sacrifice ourselves. To us, there is nothing more vital to life.
Ultimately, the meaning of this treasure extends beyond us, our family, friends and loved ones. The highest level of the Hand Seal is the pure essence of universal love. When we expand our awareness outward, we begin to realize that everyone is the energy of love solidified into human form. We learn to see the divine in all people, no matter who they are.
When this treasure extends beyond human beings, we begin to realize that all living things are part of the same energy too. The ten thousand things, including ourselves, are all musical notes in a great cosmic symphony. We begin to realize that the word "universe" means literally one verse of this grand composition.
When we use the Hand Seal, we tune in to this universal, musical essence. It resonates in the core of our being. In the presence of this great power, we feel grateful and humble. It is a power that nurtures and protects us, just as we nurture and protect those we love.
In our daily lives, it can be easy for us to get disconnected from the essence of love. The material world, with its temptations and pressures, can warp and twist our emotions into envy, jealousy, and even hatred. These feelings manifest themselves as annoyances, irritations, anger, and even heated outbursts.
The Hand Seal reconnects us. When we feel as if we are about to lose temper - when we sense tension and frustration mounting - this treasure will bring us back to where we really want to be. It points us to our original nature, and reminds us that we are, in our innermost selves, beings of light and divine manifestations of love. This is the third treasure of I-Kuan Tao.