We often hear of Daoists saying that Tao is vast. But how vast Tao is, no human can say for sure.
If we look up at the sky, we may say to ourselves, wow, heaven is so vast, and we are so minute. Heaven contains the planets, the stars and everything as far as the eyes can see. Therefore how can anything be greater than heaven?
With the advance of science and the advent of space telescopes, we now know there are many more galaxies like ours in space. According to accompanying explanations, to the pictures taken in space, by the experts – the scientists and the astronomers - these galaxies contain many colorful stars of various shapes and sizes never seen before by humans.
What if I tell you that the space telescopes have yet to reach places where Daoist heavenly immortals reside? Most readers would not believe me even if it is Christmas time? Therefore that story will be reserved for the esoteric.
To get a measure of how vast Tao really is, perhaps we can turn to Lu Dongbin, one of the famous eight immortals (Ba Xian) for help.
Master Lu-tsu said: In comparison with heaven and earth, man is like a mayfly. But compared to the great Way (Tao), heaven and earth, too, are like a bubble and a shadow.
[Secret of the Golden Flower –W/B]
Readers would certainly agree that heaven is vast and earth broad. Compared to their size, man can be considered minute. In the same breath, Lu Dongbin indicated that compared to Tao, heaven and earth is also very small, ‘a bubble and a shadow’.
To intellectuals, Lu could be using the comparisons as figurative ways of speech to impress upon students of the vastness of Tao. To this student and I suggest, he could be telling us the truth seen with his eyes from where he resides.
Have we ever explored from the angle that ancestor Lu is telling us just like it is? Remember he is a Daoist heavenly immortal, and he still teaches his disciples in Daoist temples from time to time. Coupled with the proven scientific fact that there are galaxies beyond ours, does it not infer that there are no boundaries and limits to Tao.
When Chen Tuan drew the Wuji Tu (Diagram of the Infinite) at the beginning of the Song Dynasty, did he not realize something most humans between his times - more than a thousand years ago - and now, would not know? How could students understand the vastness of Tao and the explanations given by Laozi in the Tao Te Ching without actually seeing space? How is it possible that Laozi, Chen Tuan and the Zhen Ren could see something that others don’t? The answer no doubt lies with meditation just like what Laozi and Buddha had taught.
While thinking through whether Lu Dongbin is telling us the truth or not, if interested, readers can also try to figure out where the Daoist deities and heavenly immortals (ShenXian) reside. It can be a fruitful exercise or it can come to nothing. I do not hold the answers, and I hope some readers, especially those from the Far East, can enlighten me with one. It beats telling a good ghost story anytime.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!