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Tao: The Pathless Path

Tao: The Pathless Path

by Osho

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In his commentaries on five parables from the Leih Tzu, Osho brings a fresh and contemporary interpretation to the ancient wisdom of Tao. Leih Tzu was a well-known Taoist master in the fourth century B.C., and his sly critiques of a Confucius provide abundant opportunities for the reader to explore the contrasts between the rational and irrational, the male


In his commentaries on five parables from the Leih Tzu, Osho brings a fresh and contemporary interpretation to the ancient wisdom of Tao. Leih Tzu was a well-known Taoist master in the fourth century B.C., and his sly critiques of a Confucius provide abundant opportunities for the reader to explore the contrasts between the rational and irrational, the male and female, the structured and the spontaneous.

"Who Is Really Happy" uses the discovery of a human skull on the roadside to probe into the question of immortality and how misery arises out of the existence of the ego.

"A Man Who Knows How to Console Himself" looks beneath the apparent cheerfulness of a wandering monk and asks if there is really a happiness that endures through life's ups and downs.

"No Regrets" is a parable about the difference between the knowledge that is gathered from the outside and the "knowing" that arises from within.

"No Rest for the Living" uses a dialogue between a despondent seeker and his master to reveal the limits of philosophy and the crippling consequences of living for the sake of some future goal.

"Best Be Still, Best Be Empty" discusses the difference between the path of the will, the via affirmitiva of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, versus the path of the mystic, the via negativa of Buddha and Lao Tzu.

A Q&A section addresses how Taoist understanding applies to everyday life in concrete, practical terms.

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St. Martin's Press
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Tao: The Pathless Path

By Osho

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2002 Osho International
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-13059-4



When Lieh Tzu was eating at the roadside on a journey to Wei, he saw a hundred-year-old skull. Picking a stalk, he pointed to the skull and, turning to his disciple Pai Feng, said, "Only he and I know that you were never born and will never die. Is it he who is truly miserable, is it we who are truly happy?"

I rejoice in Lieh Tzu — he is one of the most perfect expressions for the inexpressible. Truth cannot be expressed; that inexpressibility is intrinsic to truth. Thousands and thousands of people have tried to express it — very few have succeeded even in giving a reflection of it. Lieh Tzu is one of those very few; he is rare.

Before we start entering into his world, a few things have to be understood about him and his approach. His approach is that of an artist — the poet, the storyteller — and he is a master storyteller. Whenever somebody has experienced life, his experience has flowered into parables — that seems to be the easiest way to hint at that which cannot be said. A parable is a device, a great device; it is not just an ordinary story. The purpose of it is not to entertain you; the purpose of it is to say something that there is no other way to say. Life cannot be put into a theory — it is so vast, it is so infinite.

A theory by its very nature is closed. A theory has to be closed if it is a theory; it cannot be open-ended, otherwise it will be meaningless. A parable is open-ended; it says and yet it leaves much to be said, it only hints. And that which cannot be said can be shown. It is a finger pointing to the moon. Don't cling to the finger — that is irrelevant — look at the moon. These parables in themselves are beautiful, but that is not their purpose ... they go beyond, they are transcendental. If you dissect the parable itself you will not come to much understanding.

It is like the navel in the body of man. If you go to the surgeon and ask him what the purpose of the navel is in the body, and if he dissects the body, he will not find any purpose. The navel seems almost useless. What is the purpose of the navel? It was purposeful when the child was in the womb: its purpose was that it related the child to the mother, it connected the child with the mother. But now the child is no longer in the womb — the mother may have died, the child has become old — now what is the purpose of the navel? It has a transcendental purpose; the purpose is not in itself. You will have to look everywhere, all around, to find the indication — where it indicates. It indicates that the man was once a child, that the child was once in the womb of a mother, that the child was connected with the mother. This is just a mark that the past has left.

As the navel shows something about the past, a parable shows something about the future. It shows that there is a possibility of growing, of being connected with existence. Right now that is only a possibility, it is not actual. If you just dissect the parable it becomes an ordinary story. If you don't dissect it but just drink the meaning of it, the poetry of it, the music of it — forget the story and just carry the significance of it — soon you will see that it indicates toward a future, toward something which can be, but is not yet. It is transcendental.

In the West, except for Jesus' parables, nothing like Lieh Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Buddha ... nothing like these people's parables exists — only Jesus. And even Jesus' parables seem to be such that he must have carried them from the East. There are Aesop's parables, but they are also reflections of the greatest book of parables of the East, Panchatantra. The parable is an Eastern invention and of tremendous import.

So the first thing to be understood about Lieh Tzu: He is not a theoretician, he will not give you any theory; he will simply give you parables.

A theory can be dissected — its meaning is in it; it has no transcendence, the meaning is immanent. A parable cannot be dissected; dissect it and it will die. The meaning is transcendental, it is not in it. It is somewhere else — it has to be. You have to live a parable, then you will come to its meaning. It has to become your heart, your breathing; it has to become your inner rhythm. So these parables are tremendously artistic, but not mere art; great religiousness is contained in them.

Lieh Tzu is not a theologian either; he does not talk about God. He talks God, but he does not talk about God. Whatsoever he says comes from the source, but he does not talk about the source; let it be very clear to you. There are two types of people: one who talks about God, he is the theologian; one who talks God, he is the mystic. Lieh Tzu is a mystic. The man who talks about God has not known God; otherwise why should he "talk about"? The "about" shows his ignorance. When a man talks God he has experienced. Then God is not a theory to be proved, disproved, no; then God is his very life — to be lived.

To understand a man like Lieh Tzu you will have to live an authentic life. Only then, through your own experience, will you be able to feel what he means by his parables. It is not that you can learn the theories and become informed; the information will not help. Unless you know, nothing is going to help. So if these parables create a thirst in you to know, a great desire to know, a great hunger to know; if these parables lead you on an unknown journey, on a pilgrimage — then only, only by treading the path, will you become acquainted with the path.

Lieh Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Lao Tzu, the three Taoist masters, talk only about the way. Tao means the way — they don't talk about the goal at all. They say: The goal will take care of itself; you need not worry about the goal. If you know the way you know the goal, because the goal is not at the very end of the way, the goal is all over the way — each moment and each step it is there. It is not that when the way ends you arrive at the goal; each moment, wherever you are, you are at the goal if you are on the way. To be on the way is to be at the goal. Hence they don't talk about the goal, they don't talk about God, they don't talk about moksha, nirvana, enlightenment — no, not at all. Very simple is their message: You have to find the way.

Things become a little more complicated because they say: The way has no map, the way is not charted, the way is not such that you can follow somebody and find it. The way is not like a superhighway; the way is more like a bird flying in the sky — it leaves no markers behind. The bird has flown but no marks are left; nobody can follow. So the way is a pathless path. It is a path, but it is a pathless path. It is not ready-made, available; you cannot just decide to walk on it, you will have to find it. And you will have to find it in your own way; nobody else's way is going to function.

Buddha has walked, Lao Tzu has walked, Jesus has walked, but those ways are not going to help you because you are not Jesus, and you are not Lao Tzu, and you are not Lieh Tzu. You are you, a unique individual. Only by walking, only by living your life, will you find the way. This is something of great value.

That's why Taoism is not an organized religion — cannot be. It is an organic religion but not an organized religion. You can be a Taoist if you simply live your life authentically, spontaneously, if you have the courage to go into the unknown on your own, individual, not leaning on anybody. Not following anybody, simply going into the dark night not knowing whether you will arrive anywhere or you will be lost. If you have the courage, that risk is there — it is risky, it is adventurous.

Christianity, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, are superhighways; you need not risk anything, you simply follow the crowd, you go with the mob. With Tao you have to go alone, you have to be alone. Tao respects the individual and not the society. Tao respects the unique and not the crowd. Tao respects freedom and not conformity. Tao has no tradition. Tao is a rebellion, and the greatest rebellion possible.

That's why I call Tao "the pathless path." It is a path but not like other paths. It has a very different quality to it: the quality of freedom, the quality of anarchy, the quality of chaos. Tao says that if you impose a discipline on yourself, you will be a slave. The discipline has to arise out of your awareness, then you will be a master. If you impose an order on your life, this will be just a pretension; the disorder will remain deep in the very core of your being. The order will be on the surface; at the center there will be disorder. This is not going to help.

The real order arises not from the outside but from the innermost core of your being. Allow disorder, don't repress it. Face it, take the challenge of disorder. By taking the challenge of disorder and living it — living dangerously — an order arises in your being. That order is out of chaos, not out of any pattern. This is a totally different gestalt: it is born into you and it is fresh; it is not traditional, it is virgin; it is not secondhand. Tao does not believe in the secondhand religion and in the secondhand God. If you take the God of Jesus you become a Christian, if you take the God of Krishna you become a Hindu, if you take the God of Mohammed you become a Mohammedan. Tao says: But until you find your God you are not on the way.

So all these ways simply distract you from the real way. Following others, you are going astray. Following any pattern of life, you are becoming a slave. Following any pattern, you are imprisoning yourself. And God, or Tao, or dharma, or truth, is possible only to one who is absolutely free, unconditionally free.

Of course, freedom is dangerous because there is no security in it, no safety in it. There is great safety when you are following the crowd: The crowd protects you. There is great safety when you are following the crowd because of the very presence of so many people you feel that you are not alone and you cannot be lost. Because of this security you are lost, because of this security you never search and you never seek and you never inquire. And truth cannot be found unless you have inquired, unless you have inquired on your own. If you take borrowed truths, you become knowledgeable; but to be knowledgeable is not to know.

Tao is very much against knowledge. Tao says that even if you are ignorant and the ignorance is yours, it is good — at least it is yours, and it has an innocence to it. But if you are burdened with accumulated knowledge, scripture, tradition, then you are living a false, pseudo life. Then you are not really living, you are just pretending that you are living. You are making impotent gestures, empty gestures. Your life has not the intensity, the passion — cannot have the passion. That passion arises only when you move on your own, alone, into the vast sky of existence.

Why can't you move alone? Because you don't trust life. You move with Mohammedans, you move with Hindus, you move with Jews, because you don't trust life, you trust crowds. To move alone one needs great trust in life ... the trees, the rivers, the sky, the eternity of it all — one trusts this. You trust man-made conceptions, you trust man-made systems, you trust man-made ideologies. How can man-made ideologies be true?

Man has created these ideologies just to hide the fact that he does not know, to hide the fact that he is ignorant. Man is cunning, clever, and he can create rationalizations, but these rationalizations are bogus — you cannot move with them into truth. You will have to drop them. Tao says that ignorance is not the barrier against truth — knowledge is the barrier.

* * *

Let me tell you a few anecdotes.

In Samuel Beckett's great work, Waiting for Godot, this small incident happens. Ponder it.

Two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, are on stage. They are there to wait — just as everybody else in the world is waiting; nobody knows exactly for what. Everybody is waiting, hoping that something is going to happen. Today it has not happened, tomorrow it is going to happen. This is the human mind: today is being wasted, but it hopes that tomorrow something is going to happen. And those two tramps are sitting under a tree and waiting ... waiting for Godot.

Nobody knows exactly who this Godot is. The word sounds like God, but it only sounds like, and in fact the gods you are waiting for are all Godots. You have created them because one has to wait for something, otherwise how will you tolerate existence? For what? How will you postpone living? How will you hope? Life will become intolerable, impossible, if there is nothing to wait for. Somebody is waiting for money, and somebody is waiting for power, and somebody is waiting for enlightenment, and somebody for something else; but everybody is waiting. And people who wait are the people who miss.

These two tramps are there just to wait. What they are waiting for is the coming of a man, Godot, who is expected to provide them with shelter and sustenance. Meanwhile, they try to make time pass with small talk, jokes, games, and minor quarrels....

That's what your life is: one is engaged meanwhile with small things. The great thing is going to happen tomorrow. Godot will come tomorrow. Today one is quarreling — the wife with the husband, the husband with the wife. Small things: small talk, jokes, games ... tedium and emptiness. Today, that's what everybody is feeling: tedium, emptiness. ... "Nothing to be done" is the refrain that rings again and again. ... They say again and again, "Nothing to be done," but then they console themselves, "but tomorrow he is coming." And in fact he has never promised them, they have never met him — it is an invention. One has to invent; out of misery one has to invent the tomorrow and something to cling to. Your gods, your heavens, your paradises, your mokshas, are all inventions. Tao does not talk about them.

This play of Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, is very essentially Taoist.

In the midst of the first act, two strangers, Pozzo and Lucky, storm onto the stage. Pozzo seems to be a man of affluence; Lucky, the servant, is being driven to a nearby market to be sold. Pozzo tells the tramps about Lucky's virtues, the most remarkable of which is that he can think. To show them, Pozzo snaps his whip and commands "Think!" and there follows a long, "hysterically incoherent monologue in which fragments of theology, science, sports, and assorted learning jostle in confusion until the three others hurl themselves on him and silence him."

What is your thinking? What are you saying when you say, "I am thinking"? It is a "hysterically incoherent monologue in which fragments of theology, science, sports, and assorted learning jostle in confusion" ... until death comes and silences you. What is your whole thinking? What can you think? What is there to think? And through thinking how can one arrive at truth? Thinking cannot deliver truth. Truth is an experience, and the experience happens only when thinking is no longer there.

So Tao says that theology is not going to help, philosophy is not going to help, logic is not going to help, reason is not going to help. You can go on thinking and thinking, and it will be nothing but invention — the pure invention of human mind to hide its own stupidity. And then you can go on and on, one dream can lead into another, and that other dream can lead you into another ... dream within dream within dream — that's what all philosophy, theology is.

Dream within dream within dream ... this is how the mind goes on. Once you start dreaming, there is no end to it; and what you call thinking is better called dreaming — it is not thinking.

Remember, truth needs no thinking, it needs experience. When you see the sun and the light you don't think about it, you see it. When you come across a rose flower you don't think about it, you see it. When the fragrance comes to your nostrils you smell it, you don't think about it. Whenever you are close to reality, thinking is not needed-then reality is enough, then the experience is enough. When you are far away from reality, you think; you substitute thinking for reality. A man who has eaten well is not going to dream in the night that he has been invited to a feast. A man who has fasted in the day is bound to dream in the night that he has been invited to a feast. A man who is sexually satisfied is not going to dream about sexual objects. That's the whole of Freudian psychology; you dream about things that are missing in your life, you dream to compensate. That's the whole Taoist approach too. What Freud says about thinking, about dreaming, the Taoist approach says about thinking as such. And dreaming is only a part of thinking and nothing else.


Excerpted from Tao: The Pathless Path by Osho. Copyright © 2002 Osho International. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Osho is one of the best-known and most provocative spiritual teachers of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1970s he captured the attention of young people from the West who wanted to experience meditation and transformation. More than 20 years after his death, the influence of his teachings continues to grow, reaching seekers of all ages in virtually every country of the world.

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