Derek, why do we need to practice or cultivate anything in the Tao? By definition, the Tao is everywhere, so why do we need to do anything at all when we are already immersed in it at all times, and can never be separated from it?
It is true that we define the Tao as the totality of existence. Therefore, we do indeed live in the Tao at all times. If we stop at this point and go no further, then the idea that there is nothing to do seems to make sense. However, there is more to the Tao than that.
The Tao is often compared to water. This water is not stagnant. It is alive and in constant motion, reflecting the state of constant change in the universe. That constant change means the Tao is always flowing. Therefore, if the Tao is like water, then its flow is like a river.
Being immersed in the Tao is just like swimming in a river. The river’s current has a definite direction. If we move with the current, everything is easy. The current carries us along for a fun and effortless ride. If we move against the current, it’s a different story. We make little progress, and we get exhausted quickly.
It is exactly the same way with life. If we move with the flow of the Tao, life is fun. We enjoy good things like love and friendship seemingly without effort. If we move against the flow, life becomes a burden. There is much conflict, tension and stress, and in no time at all we are sick and tired from all the effort and strain.
With a river, it is easy to tell which direction it is flowing. We can see it and feel it. With the Tao, it is not quite so easy, because the Tao is formless and without substance. Unlike the water of the river, the Tao cannot be seen or felt. Our physical senses are simply not equipped to detect anything metaphysical. This means we can struggle against the Tao without realizing what we’re doing. We encounter many obstacles in life, and yet have no idea that we are making things difficult for ourselves.
This is why some form of spiritual cultivation can be very beneficial. Over time, the practice will open up our metaphysical senses so we can become more aware of the flow. At the most basic level, we learn that fear, hatred, and vengeance move exactly opposite to the Tao, while harmony, respect, and kindness are oriented in the same direction as the Tao.
So the answer to the question is yes and no. Yes, we are always in the Tao. No, it doesn’t mean there is nothing for us to do. Visualize a river and this dharma should become crystal clear.