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The Christian Book of the Way

The 6th Century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu (a name meaning “the old master), wrote the Tao Te Ching, a series of meditations on the mysterious and paradoxical nature of life, and how to live in the world with goodness, integrity, and self-awareness. The title of this classic of Eastern thought means “The Book of the Way.”
I find it interesting the movement of early Christians was also called The Way. In Acts 19:23, it’s noted Paul was leading many astray in Ephesus. “About that time, there arose a great disturbance about The Way.” Even more interesting is what Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
With this in mind, I suggest the Bible is The Book of the Way for Christians and other God-fearing believers, a way of life and a way to eternal life. Scripture, like the Tao Te Ching, also shows us how to live in the world with goodness, integrity, and self-awareness.

The Way to Peace and Being True to Oneself

The metaphysical and theological perspectives of the Tao Te Ching and the Bible are different.In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu talks about the Tao or the source of all things, a kind of universal energy that flows through everything. In Scripture, Jesus, as God, is the source of all things and transcends all things, even though his presence is manifested throughout creation.
However, the similarities between the approach in this Chinese classic and the Bible, especially in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the four gospels of the New Testament, on how to live a peaceful and meaningful life of service to others and to the world in a less than perfect world, is striking.
All these texts offer important lessons about the meaning of life and how to live it. There are pessimistic views expressed, especially in Ecclesiastes, but all ultimately offer encouragement and hope for two overarching reasons.
First, there is a life cycle, natural or supernatural depending on the texts chosen, that goes on, regardless of who you are or what you do. Life is what it is. Second, we have available to us an inner peace, one not dependent on our materialistic wants and what the world thinks.

Jesus Talks and Walks the Walk

In the Gospels, Jesus talks the talk and walks the walk, not only preaching about living in harmony with the world in a creative and righteous way, but also illustrating through parables and his actions the importance of being true to oneself and serving others, not needing to always live in conformity to what the world thinks.
Lao Tzu writes about how we should see ourselves as we are and how we could and should be. He stresses focusing on internal self-awareness, in contrast to what the world around us wants us to be; that we should appreciate our failures, our potential for greatness, and our being part of something greater than ourselves.
Jesus and Lao Tzu “flip the script” on how to understand the meaning of being happy, being at peace, in a world far from peaceful and one focused on getting ahead, preoccupied with material things. While Lao Tzu uses mind-bending metaphors, Jesus often speaks in soul-searching parables.
Jesus says he is the way, the truth, the life. The way in two senses. First, the way, the path to salvation, in and through him. Second, a way of life trusting in what the Lord can and will do in our life. As Lao Tzu suggests about letting go to the Tao, what he calls the path and the source of everything, letting go and trusting what the Lord can do in and through us creates a freedom to be ourselves.

Jesus Turned Our Idea of Peace Upside Down

Part of this letting go for Lao Tzu involves minimizing our ego, the part of us that depends on having materials things, and what others say about us. He stresses the importance of humility, compassion, simplicity, and patience, a waiting on what he suggests is a flow that connects all of us.
A similar spirit is found in the Sermon on the Mount, specifically in the Beatitudes. Jesus turns our approach to pursuing a meaningful life and making a true difference in the world upside down, stressing how we can be at peace with ourselves as we are an instrument of peace in others.
In a similar way, St. Francis of Assisi presents a different way of understanding how we should act, suggesting it is better to “not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning- that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

In God’s Words

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

“Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” (Proverbs 4:26)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

In the Words of Others

“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” St. Francis de Sales
“First keep peace with yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.” Thomas a Kempis

“I do not want the peace which passes understanding, I want the understanding which brings peace.” Helen Keller

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” Buddha

In Your Words

What is your understanding of John 14:6, of believing Jesus is the way and the truth in your life? How would you apply this scripture to your daily life?

Reflect on how Jesus turns our approach to pursuing a meaningful life and peace upside down in the Beatitudes. Also consider 2 Thessalonians 3:16, and how peace is available any time and in any way through Christ.

Research the Lao Te Ching on the internet and read some of Lao Tzu’s meditations. Consider how the philosopher uses metaphors just as Jesus did in his parables. Compare how he cautions us against letting external things define our self-identity with what Jesus teaches in the gospels.


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