Coming Home


by Solala Towler

Returning is the motion of Dao.

Gentleness is the function of Dao.

All things under heaven

are born from existence.

Yet existence is born of non-existence.

 Dao De Jing  (Chapter 40

There’s no place like home.

                                    Dorothy (Wizard of Oz)

I hear pretty often from folks who, having read one of my books or the magazine that I published for 25 years, The Empty Vessel, who have told me that they really identify with the path of Daoism, even though they may never have heard of it before. But they have always been non-joiners, have always been deeply moved by being in nature, have always felt the presence of a benign though not personalized presence underlying everything. “I must be a Daoist!” they say.

I too, upon discovering the early books of Daoist master Hua-Ching Ni, felt like I was coming home. Here was someone who could speak about what the ancient Chinese masters had discovered and taught in such a simple and easy-to-follow fashion and in a way that I could apply to my life right away. 

Then, going on to the Daode Jing and the Zhuangzi, I felt such a kinship and a sense of “coming home.” It has sustained me and still gives me so much pleasure and inspiration over thirty years later. I am still as excited and enthusiastic about these Daoist teachings and practices as when I first discovered them!

To “return to source” or “return to Dao” is a return to our ancestral as well as spiritual home. As Dao is our source as well as our destination, the dance of Dao carries us forth into a future that contains whispers of our past yet is ever evolving in something new in each precious moment. 

Home, says the poet Robert Frost, is where they have to take you in. Home, on the other hand, is where you belong, where you come from, where you are pointing to all your life—from one life to another, from one birth to another, from one death to another. Our true home is Dao itself. 

Then again, we can travel the world over without leaving our home. 

As Laozi says:

Without going out your door, 

you can know everything under heaven.

Without looking out the window, 

you can see the Dao of heaven.

The farther one travels. 

the less one knows.

The sage knows without traveling,

sees without looking

and accomplishes all without striving.

                   Chapter 47

The external world is a vast place. The internal world is even vaster. By cultivating our inner gardens we are able to experience worlds within worlds

It is when our practice becomes such a part of or lives like eating or breathing that it becomes true cultivation. Then we will truly be following Laozi’s advice of letting go of all extraneous “false knowledge” and really dwell in what is real and eternal.

Hua-Ching Ni says:

Cultivation…means not building any more bondage for our soul. Each day in the world, we learn more in a practical way of the world’s knowledge. In doing so, however, we usually bring more bondage to ourselves. The healthy spiritual model of the ancient, achieved ones was this: they had an unformed child heart and so were happy each minute. [1]

How can we find our way home through the deep darkness of the outer world? How can we escape the heavy bondage of the world so that we can maintain our “unformed child heart?” How can we, like Dorothy, find the will and the wiles to follow our own yellow brick road of karmic connections and spiritual trials and tribulations to arrive at the emerald city of spiritual delights?

In the wonderful story of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, who feels far from home, embarks on a journey to find a person of great power and skill who is said to be able to work any kind of magic in the world. He is like a Daoist Immortal who has powers to reshape the natural world and fly upon the back of a dragon.

She aligns herself with a shy warrior who thinks he has no courage, a man made of straw who thinks he has no brains, and another made of tin who thinks he has no heart. 

At the end of their journey, after much suffering and strenuous travel, they meet the great Wizard, who turns out not to be a great wizard after all but instead just a very intelligent and perceptive man. He can see that Dorothy’s compatriots are suffering from a lack of self-awareness. He shows them that they actually each carry what they thought they lacked, deep in of them. 

He offers a medal to the shy warrior, who upon receiving it, immediately engages with his courage, which he has in fact been exhibiting into all along their adventures. He offers a diploma to the straw man who immediately taps into his great fund of intelligence. He then offers a ticking watch to the tin man who holds it to his chest, feeling his heart beating so deeply and strongly there.

The wizard then tells Dorothy that she has had the tools to take her home all along her journey, the magic shoes of the Wicked Witch of the West. All she must do is tap them together while reciting the mantra, “There’s no place like home, and there’s no place like home.”

Dorothy does this and returns home to the place she thought she was tired of and finds that all her friends are there as well, in different incarnations. (This is all from the film Wizard of Oz. The books are quite different.)

This is such a great allegory of someone who feels she does not belong where she is and instead wishes she were somewhere else, somewhere fun, and magical, somewhere “over the rainbow.” Yet once her long journey ends, she finds herself back to where she started, though perhaps with a little more self-awareness, a little more knowledge of the great world outside of herself and well as the equally grand one inside.

It is in unifying our awareness, concentrating our wild monkey mind, allowing the sights and sounds of the outer world to recede from our attention, that we will be able to tap into this inner world of home and heart. It is in allowing, not forcing, that the real magic happens. It is when we release our self-created chains that we will then be able to fly free and true like a wizard or immortal on the back of a celestial dragon “over the rainbow” and to our true home. 

There’s no place like it.

[1] Ni, Hua-Ching. Spring Thunder: Awaken the Hibernating Power of Life, Sevenstar Communications, 1986.