- "The followers of the Way are known as Chung Tao,
or Guides of the Way. The Way is much more of a philosophy
than a religion, because its adherents believe
that the true nature of the Way is unknowable. [Its]
shrines are more like hermitages, and its very few
temples organized as monasteries or schools, teaching
a wide variety of subjects. The Way states that all
things in the Celestial Universe affect and are affected
by all others. There is no Good, Evil, Law or Chaos -
only the forces of the Universe, which may be manipulated
as desired. The proper student of the Way thus
recognizes this and strives to know the proper way in
which to use these forces.
A Chung Tao priest is actually something more of a
wizard than a monk or scholar, and both dang-ki (shukenja)
and wu jen may be followers of the Way. Powerful
positions within the faith are occupied by mages
or sorcerers more often than priests, and indeed,
many of the great wu jen of history have been Chung
Tao priests as well.
The use of power is often the subject of debate, and
so it is among the Chung Tao priests. In the earliest
days of the Empire, this caused a great rift in the unified
faith, with two main temple[s] emerging from the
chaos. One group, known as the Black Chung Tao,
believe that the superior man has a duty to shape the
universe to his ends; directing the unenlightened of
the Earth to a higher goal. The second group, known
as the White Chung Tao, believe that there are no
superior men, only enlightened, ones, and that the
proper observance of the Way is in maintaining the
natural balance of events..."
- -Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms, page 28
"What is the Way?"
I have been asked many times, "What is the Way?" There are many ways to answer this question, but I thought a historical perspective might be useful. I have previously written a journal entry about the history of the Old Order, in which I discussed how my sect of the Old Order traveled east to Shou Lung and was influenced by the Way. In this entry, I will discuss the history of the Way itself.
The Way is written in Shou as 中道, and can be pronounced in Faerunian Common as Chung Tao or Zhōng Dào. It literally means "Middle Way." As this literal meaning suggests, the Way is dogmatically neutral and impartial. However, the human practice of anything, including the Way, tends to be imperfect. Thus, over the centuries, two competing schools of thought have risen among the practitioners of the Way: the Black Way and the White Way.
Followers of the Black Way believe in the ideal of the "superior man" who has a duty to shape the world. A follower of the Black Way believes in exerting control, directing the unenlightened of the world to a higher goal. The followers of the White Way do not subscribe to the concept of superiority, but simply believe that some people see more clearly than others. The White Way teaches balance.
It is important to know that in Shou Lung, priests of the Way are more like Faerunian wizards than monks. These wizards study and manipulate a force that is known in Faerun as the Weave. These wizard-priests came to teach the Way to my sect of the Old Order long ago, shortly after the monks settled in Shou Lung. It almost goes without saying that my monastery was influenced most heavily by priests of the White Way! However, we learned the dogma of the Black Way as well.
Eventually, we discovered that these two factions have been in constant struggle over the past two millenia, vying for control of Shou Lung. In some dynasties the Black Way holds sway over the court, while in other dynasties the White Way is in favor. We monks of the Old Order recognized the futility of this sectarian infighting, having already seen it within our own ranks after our nameless god died long ago. Even the followers of the White Way seemed deluded by their desire for control and attachment to views. So the monks of my monastery withdrew from direct involvement with the wizard-priests of the Way, while remaining grateful for all they had taught us.
To the monks of my monastery, there is no need for struggle between the Black Way and the White Way. The two schools of thought seem to be in contradiction, but in reality they go hand-in-hand with each other. The Black Way is correct about the need to exert control over some things, especially in one's practice of the Way; the White way is correct about the enlightened man and balance. One might ask how they can both be correct? Remember that the Way teaches all things in the Celestial Universe affect and are affected by all others; this means that even the act of controlling something is subject to the conditions of the universe. Control is subject to balance, and balance includes the factor of control.
The late abbot of my monastery once said:
- "By oneself is evil done, by oneself one is defiled.
By oneself evil is left undone, by oneself one is purified.
Purity and non-purity depend on oneself.
None can purify another."
But my teacher also said:
- "...Volitional formations are nonself. For if volitional formations were self, these volitional formations would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of volitional formations: ‘Let my volitional formations be thus; let my volitional formations not be thus.’ But because volitional formations are nonself, volitional formations lead to affliction, and it is not possible to have it of volitional formations: ‘Let my volitional formations be thus; let my volitional formations not be thus.’ ..."
I remember being confused about this seeming contradiction when I was younger. I reflected on these two teachings, and then went to my meditation teacher and asked him, "If I may, I have a question with regard to nonself. There seems to be some contradiction between 1) volition being conditioned, nonself, and not subject to control, and 2) the need to exert volition, effort, and control in one's practice. The way I square these two concepts is as follows: I think we must of course exert volition, effort, and control in our practice, but even as we do so, we can understand that such volition, effort, and control are themselves conditioned. It also seems to me that the more mindful we are, the more 'mastery' we have over our mental formations and volition. And yet mindfulness itself is also conditioned. Is this correct?"
My meditation teacher replied, "Your understanding here is quite correct. When the abbot speaks in a philosophical context, he says to contemplate all phenomena as nonself. But when the abbot speaks in an ethical context, he does not hesitate to use the word 'self' to convey the need to take personal initiative. When he speaks in an ethical context, he insists on the need for oneself to take responsibility for one's own actions. Perhaps this is another reason the abbot does not say 'There is no self.' For this could be misinterpreted in a way that would undermine personal initiative and the sense of moral responsibility. And yet this cannot be taken to imply that he somehow acknowledges a subtle kind of self."
But this is all philosophy and theory. The important thing is to put the Way into practice. And so perhaps the best answer to the question "What is the Way?" is not to give an in-depth philosophical talk, but to emphasize the practical aspects of the Way:
- “Those things of which you might know: ‘These things lead to passion, not to dispassion; to bondage, not to detachment; to building up, not to dismantling; to strong desires, not to fewness of desires; to non-contentment, not to contentment; to company, not to solitude; to laziness, not to the arousing of energy; to being difficult to support, not to being easy to support,’ you should definitely recognize: ‘This is not the Way; this is not the discipline; this is not the teaching.’ But those things of which you might know: ‘These things lead to dispassion, not to passion; to detachment, not to bondage; to dismantling, not to building up; to fewness of desires, not to strong desires; to contentment, not to non-contentment; to solitude, not to company; to the arousing of energy, not to laziness; to being easy to support, not to being difficult to support,’ you should definitely recognize: ‘This is the Way; this is the discipline; this is the teaching.’”
((The Kara-Tur sourcebook uses "Chung Tao" as the Shou translation of the Way. My use of 中道 (Zhōng Dào) is a more accurate usage of the Chinese language, while remaining faithful to the Kara-Tur sourcebook.
First highlighted portion adapted from Dhammapada verse 165. Second highlighted portion adapted from the Anattalakkhana Sutta. Third highlighted portion, the one in yellow, adapted from Bhikku Bodhi. Fourth highlighted portion adapted from Aṅguttara Nikāya: The Book of the Eights: 53 (3) Brief.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the Old Order seems to be a blank slate. We only know a few things about these monks, including the fact that they once worshipped a god who is now gone. In creating Mi-Le's particular sect of the Old Order, I have decided that the death of this nameless god taught Mi-Le's sect about the impermanence of all things. This sect then traveled east, encountering the Padhran faith in the Hordelands (Storm Riders, pages 12 and 37). The monks then continued east, finally settling in Shou Lung, where they learned about the Way from wizard-priests.))