The conversation started between my daughter and I about jellyfish, because I wrote a short story about a girl who kept jellyfish in the bath.
“Jellyfish are pointless,” G declared. “They have no brains.”
Brains are overrated, as my partner once told me. Sea squirts are born with brains to allow them to move to where they want to go, and then, upon finding their happy spot, they ate their brains up. Jellyfish don’t even have brains to start off with.
But this conversation reminded me of a book I once read, beautifully written by Benjamin Hoff, with the title The Tao of Pooh. The book opened with Confucius, Buddha and Laotzi (the traditional founder of Taoism) standing over a vat of vinegar. Confucius found the vinegar sour, the Buddha found it bitter whilst Laozi found it satisfying.
The jellyfish, without brain and hence, without direction, is the embodiment of the Tao principle of wei wu wei, the concept of “effortless doing”. They just float freely in the ocean, and if you ever watched a jellyfish swim, you could almost see enjoyment in their brainless beings as it flows up and down with the current stream.
It goes where the ocean takes it, no preference, no complaint, all experiences same-same to the jellyfish. This is the Taoist principle of pu, which is to be open to all that life brings us but be unburdened by it.
“Passiveness!” She retorted spiritedly, with her usual fire.
Indeed it is, but it is because Taoism sees nature/the universe as a self-balancing system that does not require an input of external force.
Like the jellyfish, we can learn so much from life around us and go amazing places, IF we open ourselves to it. So dear daughter, two very beautiful teachings from a humble, brainless living being. Just go with the flow of the ocean of life, reconcile yourself with the natural universe and embrace all experiences without being unnecessarily burdened by these experiences.
Three philosophers – a follower of Confucius, a Buddhist and a Taoist – fell seriously ill.
The Confucius philosopher: “I will seek out the best doctor and follow the advice and rituals.”
The Buddhist: “Life is about suffering. I will mediate and understand the nature of suffering and hence, gain self-realisation and freedom.”
The Taoist: “I am part of the universe. Thus I will carry on, without fear of death.”