I chose to use that term as it resonates with me. It is originally a Native American term for what in Zen is called the experiential essence of life. In all fairness we should turn that around and say that the experiential essence is a Zen term for what some Native American people originally call(ed) The Beauty Way, long before Zen even existed.
This shuffling of the words demonstrates a very important point: For you to understand what the Beauty Way is I provided some concepts you can compare with each other, hoping that the Zen version of the concepts make some sort of sense you can apply to the unknown ones. The reality of things is that you can not describe The Beauty Way using concepts. The Beauty Way can only be experienced.
The only thing I can hope for is that the words that will follow will provoke in you an experience that will give meaning to your experience of The Beauty Way. I know it is paradoxical but there simply is no other way: I need to use words (i.e. concepts) to describe something that isn't.
First I will use some words from (what I think I know of) Zen Philosophy:
Reality has two sides: the phenomenal side and the essential side. The phenomenal side of reality is the one we are most familiar with. It is made up of all the things we can see, hear, smell, touch and taste and all the thoughts, the concepts and beliefs, we hold about the world. This makes it fundamentally a world of dualities. The original duality being the distinction between "self" and "other". Because of this we experience the world as something different and separate from the "I". We experience the "I" or ego.
The essential reality is our recognition of the oneness and complete interconnectedness with everything. It transcends all dualities, even the "self" and "other" duality. This makes the essential reality a reality beyond concepts that can only be realized through direct experience.
To experience this essential reality is the ultimate goal in Zen. The challenge lies in learning to destroy the barrier of conceptual and dualistic thinking that stands between the phenomenal and the essential.
Before I go on to describe The Beauty Way from an Old Way perspective I need to make very clear that Zen is a product of the Civilized Way. Please read the About on my web site for an explanation of Old Way and Civilized Way.
I will use a very well known and old story to describe the Beauty Way. In this story the term "The Gifting Way" is used. This is the aboriginal lifeway of seeing that life is given, that the deer hunter gifts the Deer Spirit health to the deer and the deer in turn gift their flesh and hides to human. The underlying concept is deep ecological balance. (My words and interpretation of this story were once inspired by the same story written down by Tamarack Song.)
Two Hungry Bears
A young girl entered the shelter of her Grandfather to ask him a question that was troubling her.
"Grandfather," she said, "I am older than my Brother but he wins in everything we compete in. I was always the better archer but now he seems better even in that. I love my Brother and I am proud of him when I see he grows in all things. Yet when he beats me in something it is like two angry hungry Bears awake in my gut and start fighting."
"Dear Child, I know these Bears well. They live in all People and we all feel them fighting sometimes. One Bear is the Bear of Balance and comes when we trust in the Gifting Way, the other is the Bear out of Balance and he comes when we trust in ourselves."
After a short silence the girl asked: "Grandfather, can you tell me which Bear will win?"
"The bear you feed my Child."
"How would I feed the Bear of Balance? I would like him to become strong."
"With your heart," was the simple answer her Grandfather gave.
They sat for a while in silence. Then the girl said: "But Grandfather, they are both me. If I do not feed one I do not feed myself."
"Yes, my Child, you are wise beyond your years. There really is only one Bear. Just as Cloud and Sun come together to make the day, the two fighting Bears come together to help us see both the dark and the light. Now go back and rest with your family so that your two Bears can find their place of rest within you. Together they will guide you through this Journey of Life and together they will help you find vision in blindness."
In this story the bears can be interpreted as representing the phenomenal and essential realities. The Bear of Balance who comes out when we trust the Gifting Way represents Oneness, Balance, interconnectedness and the realm beyond concepts and dualities. The Bear out of Balance represents the "self" and "other" duality, the "I" or ego and on the whole the phenomenal reality. Their distinction is simply: Balance vs out of Balance.
Interestingly, the story recognizes that they are both one and the same. That their interaction is what creates our reality. We can not ignore the "I" as it creates our means of survival. The Beauty Way, for me, is the lifeway of balancing the influence of the Bear of Balance and that of the Bear out of Balance.
This now gives a very simple definition of Old Way and Civilized Way: This balance is achieved in Old Way cultures and lost in Civilized Way cultures.
We are part of a Civilized Way culture. We almost exclusively experience the phenomenal reality. Our egos dominate completely and our mode of thought is completely conceptual. In fact we are prisoners of the Bear out of Balance as it became the single victor. And, of course this happened because we only fed that particular bear. We lost our hearts.
As a consequence we lost half of our true selves.
Wouldn't you like to meet your other half?
Well, a good start is to learn how to destroy the barrier of conceptual and dualistic thinking that stands between the phenomenal and the essential. To give room to the intuitive mind and your heart.
Before you know it, a new and unknown Bear will start to stir deep within you, hungry for more ...