19.1 Superior man avoids side tracks
Zixia said, ‘Even in inferior studies and employments there is something worth being looked at; but if it be attempted to carrythem out to what is remote, there is a danger of running into mud. Therefore, the superior man does not practise them.’
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What are side tracks? In Confucius Analects, side tracks refer to pathways that does not lead people directly to personal cultivation or social harmony. E.g. all technologies and skills such as farming, engineering, commerce, medical exploration, etc. Pursuing these skills are not bad, but they don’t necessarily make you a better person, and help one grows in spirit.
For spiritual students, pursuing practices for the sake of mere curiosity and glamour can be dangerous, or in less severe case wasting time and energy. As the Analects described, while many practices can yield some effect in the short run, indulging one’s self in unknown practices can prevent or trap practitioners from making progress in the core spiritual path.
In the Taoist tradition, Master Li Daochun had drawn together a comprehensive list describing different levels of side tracks (The Book of Balance and Harmony, Chapter 2). In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha himself described the different levels of phenomena/tests one will face in advanced state of meditation (Shurangama Sutra, Chapter 9). These are very valuable references to serious spiritual students whose goal is self-transcendence and spiritual enlightenment.
Side tracks are not to be afraid, they just need to be seen as what they are, then one can proceed safely through them.
As enlightened master described: Straight and narrow is the path, waste no time.