Taoist Monk Yunrou: The Meaning of Life… and the Three Treasures

arthurpicture1webExcellence Reporter: Monk Yunrou, what is the meaning of life?

Monk Yunrou: Orthodox Taoist philosophy cautions us not to ascribe too much importance either to the phenomenon of Life in general or to our individual lives. One of Taoism’s most beautiful sayings translates to “the Tao is big”, suggesting that whenever we experience conflicts, setbacks, disappointments, frustrations, tragedies, or losses, we must “zoom out” our metaphorical camera lens until we see things in the largest possible context.

From the vantage point of the clouds, the solar system, the galaxy and beyond, our problems (indeed our very lives) are insignificant indeed. This point of view helps us to live like water, flowing freely, avoiding limiting attachments, going happily wherever we are needed without judgment or reservation, nurturing the world around us so it may flower and grow, all while never taking ourselves too seriously.

While we may love life and marvel at its beautiful complexity, in the strictest terms it is no more special than the inanimate world, which Taoists traditionally also see as full of energy (qi). In addition to cautioning us against wondering about life’s meaning, Taoist philosophy also suggests we not expend our precious qi worrying about what happens after we die. Indeed, belief systems that purport to answer these questions are notorious for generating a sense of “other” in us, thereby separating us from the world around us. This separation, whether from human animals of other faiths or from animals of different species, has done little more than give rise to cruelty and suffering in the form of genocide and religious wars.

We are born, age, sicken and die as part of the nature of all that is. Telling stories about these facts—concocting deities, myths, and legends because we don’t find the natural order of things intellectually or emotionally sufficient—may give us temporary succor, but taking our own fictions too seriously has also led us to the poisonous notion of human hegemony over Nature.

Believing that the Earth is our personal playground has led us to conduct the greatest environmental holocaust our planet has ever seen. In short, not finding our lives to be sufficient as they are, even with the revelations available through meditation, intellection, and action, has done more damage to our world than meteors, solar storms, or thermonuclear war.

Taoists see existence as cyclical. Once we venerated Nature rather than ravaged Her. It is time to leave the dominant, self-centered and self-serving paradigm and get over ourselves and our quest for meaning. Rather than preoccupying ourselves with the answers to unknowable questions, Taoism exhorts us to work with what we know while learning as much as possible from watching Nature, listening to Her music, sniffing out Her secrets, training sensitivity to Her nuances, and learning to live according to Her example.

Life is about self-cultivation, about devoting ourselves to becoming the best we can be at finding harmony and balance in our personal pursuit of the Three Treasures: compassion for all living creatures, humility in all our endeavors, and simple, frugal use of the resources we have been given.


~Taoist Monk Yunrou (formerly known as Arthur Rosenfeld), author, activist, and a 35-year master of Taoist arts. Combining his overarching spiritual focus with a Yale literary education, the pursuit of natural history at the University of California and Cornell, he is an authority on the cultural, social, and spiritual dimensions of Eastern thinking for the Western world. In 2012 he was ordained a Taoist monk at the Chun Yang (Pure Yang) Taoist Temple in Guangzhou, China the first Westerner to be so honored. In 2014 that ordination was elevated with a government certificate, licensing him to perform ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. Yunrou believes in the beauty and power of story and in the importance of compassion. Blending literature, biology, and medicine with an orthodox Taoist education, his writings and teachings propagate Taoist ideas and focus on environmental conservation, and political and social justice. He is the host of the Forbidden Rice podcast.

14 of Yunrou’s books have been published to critical acclaim, some achieving bestseller status and garnering options Hollywood. He has received numerous prizes and notices for his work, including being recognized as a finalist for the prestigious Books for a Better Life award for his bestseller The Truth About Chronic Pain (New York: Basic Books, 2003). He authored Tai Chi – The Perfect Exercise (Da Capo Press, June 2013). His most recent work is YIN—A Love Story, a novel of ancient China available both in the US and China, respectively in English and in Mandarin.

From 2010 – 2013, he hosted the hit (60MM households) national public television show Longevity Tai Chi with Arthur Rosenfeld. In 2010, he produced and hosted a documentary series on the scientific evidence for acupuncture, tai chi, and meditation. Tens of thousands of copies of these films have been distributed to major medical centers, professional healthcare organizations, group medical practices, patient advocacy associations, and more. In 2012 he produced a follow-up instructional series.

Monk Yunrou began his formal martial arts training in 1980 and has studied with some of China’s top tai chi grandmasters. In 2011 he was named Tai Chi Master of The Year at the World Congress on Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine. He received the Action On Film Festival’s Maverick Award (previous recipients include David Carradine, John Savage, and Talia Shire) in August 2012. That same festival gives a yearly award for writing excellence in his name. In July 2014, Yunrou was the opening and closing keynote speaker at the International Tai Chi Symposium in Louisville, Kentucky. Yunrou teaches and speaks in South Florida, including at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, and around the world. Formerly a senior executive at Purdue Pharma, he continues to consult on mind/body matters for the pharmaceutical industry and to speak widely to medical and corporate groups.

Copyright © 2016 Excellence Reporter

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