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I read Alan Watts’ Tao: The Watercourse Way last weekend, and it was a thrilling ride. It seemed true to me on every page.
He touches on Buddhism a lot, as Taoism played a big part in the formation of Ch’an and then Zen. But he seemed to set some Taoist ideas against traditional Buddhist ones, and I was interested to draw this out with you, my friends here.
This is one description of Taoist meditation that he gives:
Contemplative Taoists do sit in meditation, but not with the egoistic purpose of improving themselves; it is rather that, having understood intuitively that there is no way to go except the way of the Tao “they make an excursion into that which things cannot escape” and meditate for the joy of meditation—the flow of the breath, the sound of roosters in the distance, the light on the floor, the susurrus of the wind, the stillness. (pp. 90-91)
According to Watts, Taoists reject the “aching legs” brand of Buddhism, not wishing to change the mind in any way through meditation. Breath counting is seen as egoistic and even primitive; relinquishing desires is futile, because what’s the point in desiring not to desire?
So my question is, where does this leave us, as Buddhists who follow a path and do wish to nurture certain seeds in our minds, as TNH would put it?
How can we reconcile the direct, in-the-moment flow of Taoism and Zen, with practices designed to improve our minds, such as mindful breathing and metta bhavana, which can seem contrived in comparison?
Does this boil down to the standard debate between the gradual and instant schools of awakening?
Can we find any common ground?
Let me know your thoughts.