Monday, July 27, 2009

So Many Paths...Again

I'm not a big fan of reposting entries that have come before. That said, because of the current series on the Tao Te Ching, I think this one from May 2005 is most appropriate. The only change I'm making is that I'm including the entire lyrics, instead of merely the chorus.

Everywhere one looks, others are trying to tell us of the ONE RIGHT WAY. The right car. The right look. The right tampon. The right breakfast cereal. The right cause. The one true way to live our lives.

Back in the 1970s there was a pop group from Australia called the Little River Band. One of the tracks on their "Sleeper Catcher" album is called So Many Paths. The chorus from the song sums up the Taoist belief in the "right way" of anything:

The atmosphere is electric and the minds are on the move,
they all know where they're going but noone is too sure,
I've heard a lot of talking, I've nearly drowned in their words,
and my heart is full of answers just as the sky is full of birds.

There are so many paths up the mountain,
nobody knows all the ways,
there are so many paths up the mountain,
and the view from the top is still the same.

If you should stumble and fall down, people don't know what to do,
pretend that they didn't notice, they'll sidestep and walk around you,
don't let it be your worry, no, no don't let it get you concerned,
you've got to move on in your own direction, forget what you ever learned.

There are so many paths up the mountain,
nobody knows all the ways,
there are so many paths up the mountain,
and the view from the top is still the same.

Angry voices from the shadows,
in the valley, the sun don't shine,
make your mind up which way you're going,
there are ooh so many paths.

There are so many paths up the mountain,
nobody knows all the ways,
there are so many paths up the mountain,
and the view from the top is still the same.

Taoism recognizes that everybody is different. Each of us observes the world around us in different ways. What appears beautiful to one person, may be ugly to another. What seems direct to one person, may seem completely indirect to someone else.

Because our experiences in the world are unique, so too is our understanding. Consequently, as unique beings, we must necessarily ply our own path up the mountain. It's certainly okay to follow others -- if we so choose -- but WE must take each individual step ourselves.

Religion, by its very nature, teaches the opposite. It postulates that there is but one formula and each of us must replicate it precisely, lest we get lost on our journey. Religion treats people as unintelligent creatures who must be guided and prodded along the one true path.

Again, Taoism runs counter to this conception. Taoists believe that human beings are intuitively intelligent. If we allow ourselves to listen to our inner most voice, we will be able to navigate the terrain.

A river doesn't need a Messiah to tell it how to flow to the ocean. A kangaroo rat doesn't need a holy book to tell it to hide from the hawk. A caterpillar doesn't need to memorize creeds and rituals in order to know when it's time to become a butterfly.

If all these entities -- large and small -- can lead their lives without the need of an omnipotent guide, why can't you and I?

The key is to believe in the inner you, that part of you that is in common with all things. Then, like the river, the rat and the butterfly, you can make your own path up the mountain.

Remember, regardless of the path you choose, the "view from the top is still the same".


  1. Love the song.

    I was thinking this weekend that I've always been obsessed with taking the right path. But now in middle age, I've discovered that there is no such thing. Every time I've taken the "wrong" path, I've learned something new and seen incredible things that I would've never encountered had I gone the "right" way.

    The thing with life is that if you go the "right" way, you get there faster, but miss the scenery.

    So why bother thinking so much about our next move? As long as we are going somewhere, we should get somewhere and it should be fun.

  2. The forest is full of mystery and hidden trails with mist and sunlight streaming through the trees. I see organized religions as bulldozers that rip through the trees while making a wide path supposedly for the good of all. Although I'm a Christian, I see this as being so wrong, as it prevents people from experiencing the wonder of the forest for themselves.

    I can't tell you which path to choose. All I can do is tell you which one I've followed and how that's worked for me personally up to this moment. Because of your uniqueness, you might experience the same path in a very different way. I can only wish you happy trails.

  3. Lorena & Flandrumhill,
    Very insightful comments indeed!!! I particularly agree with the sentiments about missing the scenery and using the forest as a most apt metaphor. You both inspire me!


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