The Three Realizations of Tao: An Overview

Three Realizations of Tao: Life is Nothing, Transient, Suffering
[Source: Michela Mangiaracina]
Over the course of the next few Patheos blogs, I will be introducing you to the three foundational teachings of Tao. While there are many other important teachings, these are the most foundational, the ones that must be fully understood and integrated into one’s being before true maturity can be achieved.

All of them are very simple and can be summed up in three or four-word sentences. Yet, they are also extremely difficult. Anyone can understand them conceptually, as ideas held in the brain, but actually living according to their truth is another matter entirely. For now, however, we must start with a conceptual understanding and then work toward a deeper understanding as we begin to reflect on what these mean for our process of awakening and for our eventual enlightenment.

So, for today, let’s start with a basic definition of each precept. Don’t worry yet about integrating these in your life; just read and feel whatever initial reaction comes to your body and mind. In the following weeks, we will move more deeply into each one, contemplating the consequences of each notion and discussing ways to make their meaning more real in your life.

Realization #1: Life is suffering.

Yes, that seems to be a rather bleak view of life. You might protest, “But this is not positive thinking! I do not want to live according to such a negative view of life!” If you are familiar with the Law of Attraction, you might even think that this will only attract more and more suffering to you. If this statement were just a negative view of life, you would be right to react against it as undesirable. But it is not about worldviews or attitudes. Rather, it is just a neutral, realistic statement about our situation here during our time on earth.

The goal here is to accept that this is our lot in life. All living things suffer, and there is no getting around that fact. If you have not accepted the inevitability of suffering, then it means you are still wrestling against it, trying futilely to get rid of it from your life. This in turn only creates greater suffering. If you can accept the fact of suffering, you will make great strides toward lessening the effects of suffering in your life.

Realization #2: Everything is transient.

Previously on Patheos, I discussed the nature of attachment with you and discussed the three kinds of attachment: recognition, security, and control. If you want to permanently escape from the pain that these attachments cause, then you must grow to accept the truth that contradicts all such attachments: everything is transient.

Again, just like the previous realization about suffering, this statement is a simple statement of fact about the nature of life and our existence in the universe. Everything in the cosmos has a beginning, before which it did not exists, and everything has an ending, after which it will not exist. This is true even of galaxies and suns, whose lifespans are billions of years long. For humans, our lives are much more fleeting. Our whole lives between birth and death, and even the entire existence of humanity, are like a blink of an eye compared to the age of this universe.

Yet, we cling to things as though our existence will go on and on. We defend our power, our money, our self-concept as though it is real and everlasting. Realizing the transience of existence can help you drop whatever it is that stands between you and true enlightenment.

Realization #3: There is no self.

When are born, we come into this world with no sense of being separate from the rest of the world. At that age, there is no “me” or “you” yet, and there is no “self” and “other.” But as we grow, we gain a sense that separations of this kind are real and that we are each individuals, separate from other individuals. This is what gives rise to the ego, the sense of self that we all naturally protect and defend. This is entirely normal, but you may also be aware of all the suffering and destruction that egos cause in the world.

Awakening to the third realization is the key to overcoming ego. Self, in fact, is just a temporary illusion that we can learn to overcome. But that is not easy, a kind of dying really. Is that something you think you can do?

Welcome to the Journey

There may be some things in these concepts that make you feel a bit uneasy, maybe even a little frightened. I guarantee you, though, that if you contemplate these principles, and you actively and honestly seek to make them real in your life, you will exponentially increase your experience of joy and freedom. So, come along with me as we look deeper into the three realizations of Tao.

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