The Road to Heaven

While my primary interest is spiritual, I don’t consider myself part of any particular religion. I always say, “There is only one true religion and it doesn’t have a name.” There are religious traditions, however, that grow out of a time and place where people tried to connect with the one true, nameless religion, and those efforts have names: Taoism, Buddhism and so on. Most of my own study has grown out of the tradition known as Taoism.

I’m reading a book called Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits by Bill Porter, also known as Red Pine. China has an ancient tradition of religious seekers going off to the mountains to live solitary lives. Porter is fluent in Chinese and in the 1990s he went to mainland China to see if there were still religious hermits living in the mountains. At one point he meets the abbot of a Taoist monastery who lived briefly as a hermit. I am particularly interested in the Abbot’s response to these two questions.

Porter: Do you have problems in teaching people Taoism nowadays?

Abbot:  To find people who truly believe is the biggest problem we have. Taoism teaches us to reduce our desires and to lead quiet lives. People willing to reduce their desires or cultivate tranquility in this modern age are very few. This is the age of desire. Also, people learn much more slowly now. Their minds aren’t as simple. They’re too complicated.

Porter: What’s the goal of Taoist practice?

Abbot: Man’s nature is the same as the nature of heaven. Heaven gives birth to all creatures, and they all go different directions. But sooner or later they return to the same place. The goal of this universe, its highest goal, is nothingness. Nothingness means return. Nothingness is the body of the Tao. Not only man, but plants and animals and all living things are part of this body, are made of this body, this body of nothingness. Everything is one with nothingness. There aren’t two things in this universe. To realize this is the goal not only of Taoism but also of Buddhism. Everything in this world changes. Taoists and Buddhists seek that which doesn’t change. This is why they don’t seek fame or fortune. They seek only the Tao, which is the nothingness of which we are all created and to which we all return. Our goal is to be one with his natural process.

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4 Responses to “The Road to Heaven”

  1. Lynn B. Says:

    Have you considered compiling a list of recommended reading for those of us who are interested in the same spiritual ideas you are? I have learned about the books you’ve read by reading your various posts, but I don’t know if you’ve compiled a list in a single location. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Man Who Quit Money,” and I (just now) requested this book by Red Pine from my library. Thanks, Mark!! 🙂

  2. Kathy Says:

    The answer to the second question was so interesting!!! “There aren’t two things in the universe”. Thank you for this piece: more for me to contemplate. Quiet life, yes; reduced acquisition, I have some work to do!!!

  3. Margaret Benbow Says:

    I read Porter’s book, and remember thinking that most modern people–even those who think of themselves as seekers or pilgrims–are too soft and spoiled to follow the ways of these hermits. In many places Porter describes the wrenching deprivations the hermits lived with. I know the hermits thought of this as valuable, forcing them to focus their minds on essentials. “If your hands are empty, you can cleanse them.” But most people? “No bathroom?–No way!”

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