A Chinese Slogan
Fo Tao Li are three Chinese words, none of which have exact equivalents in standard English, except that we have now imported the word Tao itself, and, from sanskrit, ’Buddha’ for Fo.

Li is a key term in Confucianism, meaning correct conduct, propriety, or humane naturalness. These three  qualities do not exactly correspond in English, but they did for Confucius - you can sense the general meaning.

The expression Fo Tao Li, therefore, signifies the union of the three religions of China: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. By extension it can indicate a spirit of fundamental ecumenism.

Religions are human attempts to understand and live in accordance with the great mystery that is the meaning as well as the alpha and omega of existence. No religion is perfect, but they incorporate millennia of wisdom and experience, and often, as in the Chinese case, they complement one another. To be religious is to believe in the deeper meaningfulness and entrust oneself to it, all the time recognising that all human formulations of it will fall short. They fall short, yet a formula like Fo Tao Li is a good indicator, “a finger pointing at the moon” as we say.

Qualities for the Good Life
Fo means Buddha, which signifies the most perfect sage who dedicates life to the wellbeing of all. The Tao is the mysterious way of things. The word is sometimes translated as ‘Way’ but the English word is only a very approximate rendering. The Tao encompasses the ceaseless churning of Yin and Yang. Li signifies to live in a natural yet wise and humane manner that is deeply respectful both of the gods and of human society.

In respect of the gods, Buddha is “the teacher of gods and humans”, the Tao is their origin and also that which sets their parameters, and Li is respect for the rites that sustain them.

Consummately Human
So what is a person of Fo Tao Li like? Such a person is a consummate human being. He or she has few wants or desires, yet is able to enjoy what comes along heartily, is deeply respectful of serious things yet knows how to have fun, is genuinely modest and humble, yet also knows how to wield authority when necessary, is spontaneous, yet knows how to be formal when appropriate. Such a person can conduct a good ritual in the temple, derive from it the deep meaning, and apply that sense in everyday life, extensively, beyond, according to the myriad different circumstances that may arise.

Such a person is an artist of life. He or she has a full pallet of colours, has not discarded any emotion or faculty, but has brought these energies to a fine development. They are respectful of others, of history, of tradition, of religion, of nature, yet not in a stilted way and not so narrowly that they cannot also invent, adapt, or bend with the wind when necessary. They have a certain deep dignity yet have no objection to rolling up their sleeves and doing the most mundane work, finding spiritual treasure therein.

Such a person, while being refined, is also liberated, while being free, is also at home in whatever formal setting they find themselves in, as at home in a cave as a palace and vice versa. Such a person is happy and well knows how to laugh at the ironies of life, yet also lives in continual wonderment at how things unfold.

Fo Tao Li are three complementary dimensions. Each benefits and expands the others.

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Replies to This Discussion

That looks fascinating! I wonder if it relates to Trikaya nature!? Well it must do i suppose because everything does, as i understand it. There is much philosophy written about the threefold nature of reality, everything is born from the mystical Ternary and it takes so many forms. Who would think that the simple geometry of the triangle could carry so much meaning!?  In ancient numerology, the triangle represents the principle of three, which is not, as in maths, the sum of its parts(1+1+1) but a union of function in a harmonic system which creates and perpetuates itself, the alpha and the omega congealing under the mediating(third) principle. I wonder if this is manifested in religious terms as relationship between traditions and denominations!? Active passive and mediating components, Fo, Tao and Li, producing a single creative energy(Dharma/Tao)? Probably a bit far out but food for thought! Namo Amida Bu(   :

If you stretch it a little you could see Tao as the Dharmakaya, and Li as Nirmanakaya. Buddha as we experience Buddha in this age is Sambhogakaya, so there you are.

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