It seems reasonable now to ask how we got to be in this sorry state. How did we become so far removed from the Tao? Unfortunately, that which makes us human, what distinguishes us from everything else in the universe (as far as we know), is what separates us from the Tao. I'm talking about our intelligence, our self-awareness. This gives us the ability to see separateness. Carl Jung puts it this way:
If psychic life consisted only of self-evident matters of fact – which on a primitive level is still the case – we could content ourselves with a sturdy empiricism. The psychic life of civilized man, however, is full of problems; we cannot even think of it except in terms of problems. Our psychic processes are made up to a large extent of reflections, doubts, experiments, all of which are almost completely foreign to the unconscious, instinctive mind of primitive man. It is the growth of consciousness which we must thank for the existence of problems; they are the Danaan gift of civilization. It is just man’s turning away from instinct – his opposing himself to instinct – that creates consciousness. Instinct is nature and seeks to perpetuate nature, whereas consciousness can only seek culture or its denial. Even when we turn back to nature, inspired by a Rousseauesque longing, we “cultivate” nature. As long as we are still submerged in nature we are unconscious, and we live in the security of instinct which knows no problems. Everything in us that still belongs to nature shrinks away from a problem, for its name is doubt, and wherever doubt holds sway there is uncertainty and the possibility of divergent ways. And where several ways seem possible, there we have turned away from the certain guidance of instinct and are handed over to fear. For consciousness is now called upon to do that which nature has always done for her children – namely, to give a certain, unquestionable, and unequivocal decision. And here we are beset by an all-too-human fear that consciousness – our Promethean conquest – may in the end not be able to serve us as well as nature.
Non-living things, plants, and animals all act within the Tao because they can’t think. Thinking, consciousness, desire – They’re all tied up in the package that is humanity, and they are what remove us from the Tao and make us crazy.
So to fix things, we have to find our way back to the Tao. We must become like the people in these three quotes-
[The primitive] lives in such "participation mystique" with his world, as Levy-Bruhl calls it, that there is nothing like that absolute distinction between subject and object which exists in our minds. What happens outside also happens in him, and what happens in him also happens outside.
In the movie Altered States, William Hurt experiments with drugs and sense deprivation, trying to understand the basic, common ground of humanity. At one point, he is devolved to a primitive human, as we might have been much earlier in our evolution. He describes the experience in this passage:
Apparently, I entered a very primitive consciousness, and all I can remember is what was comprehensible to that consciousness. I don’t remember, at least not clearly, how I got out of the tank room. First thing I remember are the dogs. I followed a pack of wild dogs to the zoo. That’s how I got there. In the zoo, I hunted down, killed, and ate a small sheep. I was utterly primal. I consisted of nothing more than the will to survive. To live through the night. To eat. To drink. To sleep. [pause] It was the most supremely satisfying time of my life.
And in the introduction to his translation of the Upanishads, Eknath Easwaran says:
But the sages of the Upanishads wanted more than explanations of the outside world. They sought principles that would unify and explain the whole of human experience: including, at the same time, the world within the mind. If the observer observes through the medium of consciousness, and the world too is observed in consciousness, would not the same laws apply to both?
These people understand. They know what is important. And it's nothing material. It is the satisfaction of the soul. The primal cravings. How we fulfill and express these things is an individual consideration. But these are the things that we need to deal with. The modern world, with the technology that the last hundred years has brought us, seems pretty marvelous. But has it made us better, or happier, than our ancestors of a few hundred years ago? And while we may laugh at the superstitions of our primitive ancestors of a few thousand years ago, they seem to have known some things that we have forgotten. The level of our technology and knowledge is irrelevant. At any level, we need to remember what is important.
Now I’m going to go and throw a monkey wrench into all of the above. Nowhere does Jung suggest that we try to rid ourselves of this troublesome consciousness. And, despite everything that I’ve said so far, neither do I. Aside from the fact that it’s probably not possible for the vast majority of us to do so, it would, in my opinion, be a waste.
In the primitive form, William Hurt didn’t have the “higher” abilities of modern humans. He only experienced things at the primal levels. And while he was still at this primal level, he had no concept of “the most supremely satisfying time of my life.” It was only when he returned to his usual self, as a modern man, that he was able to judge these experiences, compare them to the rest of his life, and find them so satisfying. In his devolved state, he had no such thoughts. As an animal has no such thoughts. Ironically, it is just these trouble-making higher abilities that gave him the supreme satisfaction. Despite the downside, the things that distinguish us from the animals, and separate us from the Tao, also give us the music of Beethoven, the art of Michelangelo, the literature of Shakespeare, allow us to see beauty in the Grand Canyon, and allow us to love. The good with the bad. Or, to phrase it in a very Taoist way, the Yin with the Yang. I don’t think we should give up such things.
In fact, as one friend suggested, these things may be the Tao of Humanity. Since we are unlike everything else in the universe, our Tao may be somewhat different. Our Tao seems to be to struggle, to always be reaching for more. In the movie The Matrix, we learn that the first reality that the machines put us in was designed to be a paradise. A place where everyone would be perfectly happy forever. But humanity didn't accept it. We kept trying to wake up from it. It just isn't our nature to live in paradise. We need to fight in one way or another.
So, to reconcile that with the fact that I firmly believe that giving up desire is the way to peace and happiness, I think that the Tao of Humanity is to struggle with the issues of spirituality. Give up the petty desires of the material world. But don’t think that Beethoven, deaf and angry, didn’t struggle with desires of the soul when he was creating his later masterpieces. And don’t think that Shakespeare didn’t fully understand the dark side of humanity. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to write villains like Iago. We always struggle. Competition is a good example. It makes us push ourselves harder than we would by ourselves. But does that mean that Michelle Kwan should be disappointed in herself because Tara Lapinski kept beating her? Of course not. The desire to beat other skaters just helps Michelle achieve the true goal, to become the best that she can be. And she has succeeded. She is perfection on ice, and no losses can make her less of an artist, less admirable, or less of a person. She has achieved everything that every human should want. She has certainly achieved everything that anyone needs.