Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Fairy Tale about How a Woman's Faith Transformed the World

Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away, there lived a beautiful young peasant girl named Yifang. She and her brothers, while poor, had a kind of faith in the divine nature of people, that if we lived in harmony with one another and with nature, we could be happy and live well.  This "harmony with nature" was called "The Way", and Yifang was one of the "Followers of the Way". She cherished her sacred text, entitled, the Book of the Way and its Potency.

Her place and time, however, were characterized by warfare and strict rules.  She lived in the most contentious part of her land, and the soldiers eventually took her and her brothers into slavery. Because she was smart, literate, beautiful and kind, she was assigned to be a court attendant, but her brothers were not so favored.

At one point, she was assigned to go to the principal court of the empire, but because her escort was negligent, she was transferred to Dai, a remote part of the realm.  While she was there, she attracted the favor of Heng, the very young prince of Dai.  Although Heng had been brought up to believe people were basically evil and needed strict rules and social hierarchy, Yifang had an influence on him, teaching him that people were inherently good by nature, that they had a part of heaven within them, and if we seek to find our true nature, we can be better people.

Under Yifang's influence, Heng became converted, becoming a "Follower of the Way" as well.  The Book of the Way and its Potency became his guidebook for life.

Prince Heng's evil stepmother Lu staged a coup d'etat and took over the empire.  She continued to promote strict rules and social hierarchy. A person of wealth, lacking both intelligence and integrity, she caused great dissension in the land for the eight years of her reign.  Many people suffered, while she continued to try to build a great wall in the north of her land to keep invading immigrants out.  She bankrupted her land, and eventually was deposed and killed.

The princes of the land gathered together after Lu died, and appointed the young Heng to be the emperor.  Yifang became the empress, and because of her strong faith in the divine nature of mankind, she exerted immeasurable influence on her husband.  In fact, it can be said that they worked together, uniting the Emperor and Empress, as divine masculine and feminine, as yang and yin combine into the One.

Following the principles found in the Book of the Way and its Potency, emperor Heng and Empress Dou relaxed the strict laws, eliminating capital punishments, and lowering taxes.  Following the Way, they sought to raise a standard of liberty -- freedom of faith, of conscience, and of opportunity -- for all.  They instituted universal, free education for all, comprehensive healthcare, and paid pensions for the elderly.  Taxes were lowered again to 3% of annual production.  They eliminated government-job entitlements to those who were in the social elite, instituting merit-based employment examinations for public service.  They made peace with enemies, choosing negotiation over warfare.

The Book of the Way became the ruling philosophy of the empire.

When Heng died, Yifang's son Chee became the emperor, and with the ongoing influence of his mother, they continued and expanded Heng's policies.  Peace and prosperity persisted for the thirty nine years that Yifang led the government through her husband and son.  So great was the prosperity, that the storehouses were full of grain and everyone had enough.

Nearly the entire realm had embraced the Way, and while not everyone became "Followers of the Way" -- as there was utterly no requirement to do so -- the Way was practiced to the maximum extent possible.  People listened to each other, had regard for each other, cared for each other, in a Way that allowed everyone to prosper.

Eventually, Chee got sick and died, and his very young son Wu became the emperor.  One of Chee's cousins, Liu An, the Prince of Huainan was a Follower of the Way.  He compiled a book expanding the principles found in the Book of the Way, expanding its principles as a kind of encyclopedia of the Way and presented it to Wu in a great ceremony.  This new text, the "Master of Huainan" as it was called, contained the principles of successful leadership and living -- all in one place, so that any leader could Follow the Way to the maximum extent.

Unfortunately, however, Wu was too young to really understand the importance of following the Way and the divine nature of mankind.  In a couple of years, his grandmother Yifang died, giving an opportunity for ambitious "King-men" to exert influence on the young emperor.  Under their influence, Wu adopted the old ways of strict rules, social hierarchy, and warfare.  He dismissed the Followers of the Way from his reign, and the Book of the Way, along with the Master of Huainan text, all were pushed back into the recesses of the imperial archives.  Wu instituted the old ruling philosophy, one of ritual and privilege, of social hierarchy and structure, of hegemony and structure, of obedience and punishments.

Even history, under Wu and his followers, was distorted to favor the official philosophy.  People lost their sense of belonging and true nature.  Although Wu lived and ruled a very long time, he never was able to achieve peace or prosperity.

Yet for forty-five years, the faith of a simple peasant woman transformed the world.

This is a true story.

It recounts the Chinese "Rule of Wen and Jing" from 180-135 BCE, when Liu Heng (Emperor Wen) and Lui Qi (Emperor Jing) reigned under the influence of Empress Dou Yifang.  The Book of the Way and its Potency is the "Tao Te Ching"/"daodejing", and Lui An's "Master of Huainan" (the Huainanzi) was recently translated into English for the first time. Liu An was forced to commit suicide by Emperor Wu.  Although it ultimately is a sad story, the forty-five years in which Lao Tzu's influence governed the empire were indeed the most peaceful, prosperous, and equitable time in the history of the world.

Faith made the difference.  Not obedience to strict rules.  Not belief in a made-up history.  Not pretended knowledge of good and evil we find in the dogmas of religion.  But real faith -- faith in the inherent goodness of mankind.  Faith that in our quiet moments and in cherished, calm dialog, we can realize the divine.  Faith that each of us, in our calm essential nature, is a child of god.

Yet there is more.  At the core of it was a principle embodied in a sacred text: that if we Follow the Way, we can find peace and happiness.  The Way is not man-made.  While ineffable, it is both very concrete and deeply mystical.  It is the Way of nature -- how things work together in harmony to create life.  We look all around us and embrace the Way -- it infuses everything we are and do.  Yet we can fight it, we can try make our own way, and in so doing, disrupt the harmony.

We see in our LDS church and culture so much that goes against the Way.  We have evolved to a set of rules and punishments where our divine nature is said to be inherently sinful and depraved, adopting from our Christian friends their creeds and abominations.  Worse, instead of realizing grace, we have created a performance-based structure where guilt and shame infuse our lives, destroying our harmony, and forcing us to be less than our divine natures.

All of these tendencies were written up on the Book of the Way and its Potency, Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching -- a text which stands to this day as scripture for many.  Yet I'm not saying that it is superior to our own scriptures, only that the scriptures of our culture should be taken seriously in the way they reflect this divine, universal Way.

We who live outside are China are typically are not Taoists -- some of the words and practices are unfamiliar to us. Yet the principles of the Way are universal and are found within our Judeo-Christian traditions, and ultimately for some, our Mormon faith. We celebrate these concepts while using different language and scripture. Jesus' first disciples called themselves, "Followers of the Way", and only later were called "Christians" as a kind of derogatory slur. We say "Gospel" when we express the idea of the Way.  We speak of the ideal world in which we are One as being Zion. We have within our faith a deep understanding of Divine Nature. We speak of Christ, he who truly understood what it meant to be both God and Man at a fundamental level, yet when we speak of following Christ, are we following Him or rather, the artificial rules and rituals made up by man in his place?

I am saying that within our FAITH we have the potential to be and do more than just be individually content that we are on the Way.  Yifang's FAITH transformed her entire empire, and helped establish the most significantly peaceful, equitable, and prosperous period in Chinese history.

Here we are today, amidst a church and world that don't seem to know what this faith in our divine nature is all about.  We have lost our sense of belonging, and our souls are hurt.  Yet I have faith and hope that we can do better.  that we can transform ourselves and world into something better -- not that we can change the world, but rather, that in all we do, we can let the beautiful, natural world be what it truly is.

This is my faith today.  A fool's faith, perhaps, but I live in hope that we can be better.