When reading the widely divergent opinions in the Chinese spiritual tradition regarding the nature of things and the way to achieve sagehood, two things stand out. The first of these is that, despite this divergence of opinion, the descriptions of their sages are strikingly similar.
The sage is at peace within himself; and nothing in the world can disturb this peace. Because of this inner peace she is able to respond to and engage with each and every event that she encounters in the world with precisely the appropriate action. Tranquility is dynamic, not static.
The sage has realized his unity with the Totality. She is 'one body' with Heaven and Earth and the myriad things. Thus is she able to love all things equally.
The second similarity that the sages of the many schools have in common is that they are all, in the final analysis, theoretical. There are not, in fact, any sages.
This is not something which the purveyors of the various schools readily admit, though sometimes one can discern the hypothetical nature of their pronouncements. However, if one cannot point to oneself or to one's contemporaries as examples of fully realized sagacity, then one can at least appeal to the existence of past sages. There was a time when sages ruled; there was a golden age. Yet we of a different time recognize this for the mythology that it is. There neither are, nor were there ever, any fully realized sages.
What does this teach us? I would suggest that its lessons are legion and that they are enough to set the entire 'spiritual' endeavor on its head.
The 'spiritual' quest is always and only a process, never an attainment. Process suggests change and growth, but these are always and only an approximation of an ideal, never its realization.
If one cannot possibly realize full sagacity, then how could one be said to have failed of sagacity? You cannot 'fail' to be what it is impossible for you to be. We are affirmed in precisely that reality in which we find ourselves.
The 'spiritual' quest, if it has anything to 'add' to the process of life, is simply a means to imbue life with a sense of contingent purpose — the realization of greater peace and harmony to the end of one's allotted days. No final answers or Truth are on offer.
To those who would protest that there is something ultimate which can be realized or attained, we need only reply that that attainment is advertised as realized through non-attainment, so in the end it comes to the same thing. Enjoy the process. How could you lose?
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