Bad behavior leads you to become a hungry ghost

Bill Helm, director of Taosist Sanctuary, takes questions

Bill Helm
  • Bill Helm

Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego

4229 Park Boulevard, University Heights

Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego

Membership: 75-100

Director: Bill Helm

Age: 66

Born: Tucson, AZ

Formation: Taoist formal training with John Davidson, Share K Lew and Khiegh Alex Dhegh

Years ordained (Lawshr): 40

San Diego Reader: What is your favorite Taoist subject on which to lecture?

Director Bill Helm: I like the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao-Tze, a philosophical and practical book that emphasizes the eternal aspects of the Tao and how the Tao works in everyday life. The eternal Tao, that which is beyond words, is the origin and source of all beings and manifestations. You could say the Tao was God — that would work — but Christian people get a little possessive about that term. The Tao literally translates to “The Way,” like a path through life based on nature and the transformation of the seasons and the principles of Yin and Yang. Our main emphasis is seeking balance and harmony.

SDR: What’s your main concern as a Tao instructor?

BH: I’m pretty concerned with the current election cycle because it really represents a certain turning point for the country as a whole. It’s people stuck in the past versus people who want to move forward. It’s the old regressive ways that resist change and transformation, and that want to look back, instead of new ways of looking forward and solving current problems.

SDR: What drew you to the Tao instead of an established church of some sort?

BH: The general trend within established churches tend to be regressive and restrictive. They don’t tend to trust the body, whereas Taoism emphasizes balance and harmony in the body.

SDR: What is the mission of your community?

BH: Our mission is to bring greater balance and harmony within our local community. The expressions of Yin and Yang are the masculine and feminine. The feminine principle tends to be under-supported and underdeveloped and so we have too much masculine principle, which results in much more conflict, war and violence. We don’t want to lose the masculine component but we want to develop our feminine component so we come to a greater balance.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you may have found enlightenment?

BH: A passage in the Tao Te Ching talks about how the Tao is in the heavens and in the gutters. It’s easy to see the workings of the Tao when you look at the constellations and cosmic forces; it’s not always so easy to see the workings of the Tao in the people who are in the gutter. Yet the same principles are there.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

BH: Generally speaking the way that the Tao Te Ching approaches it is that your life force rejoins the Tao; you go from the individual part of the Tao to the greater part of the Tao. You’re basically reabsorbed into God. How that process works, I can’t really comment. There are all kinds of philosophies and theories on this question; living people are doing most of the work in this field, and I’m always suspicious of those who aren’t dead talking about what death looks like. In Taoist religion, developed more than 1,000 years after the philosophy, there are concepts of heaven and hell. You get rewarded for good behavior as an immortal. Bad behavior leads you to become a hungry ghost wandering the underworld and things like that. But these were later developments and influenced by Buddhism, rather than by ideas of nature and natural harmony.

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