Popular books with The Tao of in the title have proliferated for decades, especially since Fritjof Capra’s bestselling The Tao of Physics (Shambhala, 1975), but few authors apply the Tao to modern life with the rigor of Derek Lin. The author, who has written The Tao of Joy Every Day (Tarcher, 2011) and The Tao of Success (Tarcher, 2010), continues to apply his years of studying Taoist texts in his most recent book, The Tao of Happiness: Stories from Chuang Tzu for Your Spiritual Journey (Tarcher, Nov.).
Similar to his previous works, Lin hopes his new book will help readers lead more joyful and rewarding lives. Although manifestations of Taoism are less visible in the United States than Buddhism, the Taiwanese-born author is confident that the complex Asian philosophy is relevant to modern life and thinks the religion may grow in popularity “when people realize how practical and useful it really is.” For him, the faith and its key texts appeals to what he calls his “strongly secular humanist” nature.
“[Taoist wisdom] is not tied to a religious dogma; in the Tao Te Ching, [for] example, there’s no listing of deities in a pantheon, there’s no discussion of a hereafter. Everything is about the here and now,” Lin told PW. “The author of the Tao Te Ching never claimed to be a messiah or a prophet or a divine figure of any description, so it’s really just for us human beings.”
Lin strives to interpret the Taoist path in clear, simple ways, and particularly enjoys teaching from traditional Asian stories in The Tao of Happiness. The book retells some of his favorite tales from Chinese master Chuang Tzu who, along with Lao Tzu, is associated with classic texts of the 2,500-year-old Taoist tradition. Each of these stories—populated by talking animals, craftsmen, bandits, and kings, not to mention Chuang Tzu himself and his friends—is followed by Lin’s commentary explaining how it reveals aspects of the Tao (usually translated as “the way” or “the path”) that can be useful for 21st century readers.
For example, one of Lin’s favorites from this collection is the story of a frog living comfortably in a well who doesn’t believe a sea turtle who tells him of a much larger world—the surrounding ocean. “When I see people talking past one another, I think about the impossibility to convince someone who basically is not interested in being convinced,” said Lin. Applying the wisdom of the Tao, he said, is to “recognize this is what’s going on and be comfortable with it, be ready for it, and just let it be.”
While finding joy is the focus of The Tao of Happiness, the book also addresses death, and Lin suspects some of his readers may be surprised that it ends with “a section that is devoted to the end of one’s journey in life.” Now in his 50s, Lin sees more people around him struggling with that inevitable transition, and he wanted to offer Chuang Tzu’s insights to his readers. Death “isn’t something to fear,” he said, “it’s actually something to celebrate, and we cannot embrace life until we truly understand and accept death.”