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Tao Te Ching
Posted: 29 June 2005 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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“but “glorified rule book” doesn’t seem a very apt description to me at all. In fact it’s the distaste for “rule book” type religion that seems to be at the core of it. “


Not necessarily, if you get deep enough into Taoist teachings you’ll find that self-discipline is an integral part of gaining deeper spiritual attainment.  Something like the Buddhist, but on a deeper mystical level. The Eastern Taoist group says that they have no rules or “set” code of conduct, however, you’ll find at the heart of all Taoist groups guidelines for conduct. The Tao Te Ching is filled mostly with guidelines for right conduct. Any group that claims to be Taoist inadvertently takes it’s inspiration from Lao Tzu, Chang Tzu, and the classics of the Yellow Emperor.  Chahng O is also another Taoist master who lived in the Tang Dynasty (620-950 A.D.). The following is an exert from his writings:

“Refrain from evil, but earnestly do good deeds. This is the highest doctrine of all religions. If you practice the following aids to self-inspection, all goods things will come to you through the Silent Way of Blessing.”

You see the practice of immortality (as taught by the Taoist tradition) is the cultivation and refinement of individual energy through the body, mind, and spirit, not as three separate entities, but as the integrated whole to reach for continual development. It is not through external beliefs or concepts that one achieves spiritual integration, but through the living reality that “to do is to be, and to be is to do.” Thus, one’s thoughts, words and deeds all reflect the truth of one’s beings.

Make no mistake, the Taoist have rules, they just don’t force anyone to follow them if they wish not to. It’s not enough for a person to say that they are a Taoist or not. If they do not act as an achieved one then they are not following the Tao. In chapter 41 in the Tao Te Ching you have the first part state:

“When a superior man hears the Tao
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
He half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
He laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
It wouldn’t be the Toa.”

The Taoist don’t use rules as a means of deciding punishment or retribution. They use rules as guidelines to measure there progress. It’s difficult for an average person to understand the teachings of Tao is they have no virtue.

That Western Taoist group have rules, they just don’t have rules set in stone. They are alive and ever changing with the times. They just don’t call them rules, more like tools to help ones development. Taoism without the teachings of the ancient masters is like Buddhism without the meditation.

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Posted: 29 June 2005 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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[quote author=“SkepticX”]but “glorified rule book” doesn’t seem a very apt description to me at all. In fact it’s the distaste for “rule book” type religion that seems to be at the core of it.[quote author=“Tungp’o”]Not necessarily, if you get deep enough into Taoist teachings you’ll find that self-discipline is an integral part of gaining deeper spiritual attainment.


You’re shifting subjects on me.

You used “glorified rule book” referring to Westernized pseudo-Taoism and I said I don’t think that’s a very apt description. Taoism Proper isn’t even at issue (I know almost nothing about it—couldn’t discuss it intelligently).

Byron

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Posted: 29 June 2005 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Tungp’o, any philosophy that does not declare Jesus is Lord is a philosophy that ends the day of Jesus Christ’s return to the earth. Might I also add, tis a philosophy that leads people to hell. For only Christ Jesus is the only foundation upon which men can be saved.  For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 3:11

Don’t mean to rain on your philosophy parade, but us Christians are commanded to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Choose this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (I pray you too Tungp’o)

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Posted: 29 June 2005 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Now that we’ve heard “the foolish (champ) man speak” - we can get back to the real subject.

I’m not all that convinced that there is in fact a distinct Western Taoism, if there is, then it isn’t Taoism.  I don’t know where you got the idea that in the West we’ve made the Tao Te Ching into a rule book Tung’po?  Like Byron says, we, who are seriously interested in Taoist thought, are not looking for a rule book philosophy, but exactly the opposite.  Your other thoughts that Taoism is closer to Judaism and christianity than it is to a secular existence, is completely opposite of my own experience.  The Western religions you mention are theistic and that makes them quite the opposite of the Taoist philosophy of life.  As much as I’ve read of Taoism (LaoTze, Chuang Tze and many Eastern and Western modern scholars) I’ve yet to find any reference to a Deity in Taoist texts.

Of course Taoism is steeped in mysticism, metaphysical concepts and cosmic phenomena, but there is much in modern Western philosophy that blends very well with Taoist ideas. Existentialism (you are what you do) partakes in much of Taoist philosophy - although of course the overlappings are purely coincidental because the wisdom of the Ancient Chinese plays no role in how the existential concepts are arrived at. 

I am not a purist of Taoist thinking, my way of coming to understand the basics of taoism, is to read whatever I can on the subject and see what sort of resonance it plays with my own sensibility.  I’ve also read a lot of Buddhist philosophy and am especially keen on the Zen koans from Japanese writers and masters.  I have received my brownbelt in Karate, so I am familiar to some extent with self restraint and self-inspection.  I believe that Taoist philosophy is about self development and self improvement in light of achieving some kind of innate understanding of the ways of Tao.  I also think that Taoism fits perfectly with Sam Harris’  appeal to spirituality, but this is emphatically a secular sort of spirituality.  Even Western Taoists (if they are Taoists) are not the slaves or the subjects of a higher power that they must follow (blindly) to achieve a reward of paradise after their life on earth is over. I’ve never heard of a Taoist afterlife, while the afterlife is perhaps the most vital concept in christianity. Taoism is ALL about how to live in the present, about spontaneity and about a balanced existence in the presence of Tao.

Perhaps you, Tung’po, have a very poor knowledge of Western religions, but take my word for it, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are in general the very opposite of Taosim.  I really find nothing that they have in common.

Bob

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Posted: 30 June 2005 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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That is a legitimate claim. Taoism does not seem to you to be related to Western religions in any regard.  Though anyone I think who has a basic understanding of Christians scripture (on a purely literature perspective ) can see similarities to other religions.

Oh, and to clarify I do know a thing or two and Western religion. Just incase you were worried if I was qualified to talk about it.

Perhaps my perceptive of Taoism is different from your own. Though I have read extensively on Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hermetic ,Gnostics, Eastern spiritualism, Western spiritualism,  the occult, and differing philosophical schools; I may not have the same experience that you have. 

My perceptive came from the last twelve years of practice in Taoism and from my studies. So my perceptive is not second hand.  But let my point out what similarities I see in the Western and Eastern religions and philosophies. 

The original teaching of the highest principle, Tao, is also the original unity before the separation of the polarities Yin and Yang*) and after that of the “5 elements”. This original unity is that which is behind the manifestations of the universe. The Christian missionaries, e.g. the Jesuits, found this highest principle to correspond with God, although the Franciscan and Benedictine monks and finally the Pope disagreed. On one hand the “Tao” is not in keeping with the new experience of God as a Father which one can contact personally, as Jesus taught. On the other hand it is possible, that it is an older way of seeking and experiencing God, as it was possible in ancient China.

Julia Ching writes:
“Philosophical Taoism is only one of several strands that converged to make up religious Taoism…as it developed, religious Taoism showed itself to be a salvation religion. It instructs its faithful in healthy living, and also seeks to guide its believers beyond this transitory life, to a happy eternity. It professes a belief in an original state of bliss, followed by a fallen state.”
“There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it Tao.”
(Mitchell, Stephens. Tao Te Ching. Pg. 25.)

This passage says a lot about the Tao. For instance, it is prior to the physical universe. It is independent and does not change. It operates everywhere. And it apparently gave birth to the universe. If this is so, you may be thinking that the Tao sounds awfully similar to the Christian God. However, some of these similarities are more apparent than real—and there are also major differences.

After Lao-tzu, the most important representative of philosophical Taoism was a man named Chuang-tzu, believed to have lived sometime between 399-295 BC He is the author of a text called the Chuang Tzu. While the thought of these two men is certainly different, there are also important similarities. One of these concerns the relationship of the Tao to the physical universe. In words reminiscent of Tao-Te Ching, the Chuang Tzu declares, “Before heaven and earth came into being, Tao existed by itself from all time, it created heaven and earth.”
The most interesting part of this statement is the assertion that the Tao created heaven and earth. How are we to understand this? Does Chuang-tzu view the Tao as Creator in the same sense in which Christians would apply this term to God? Probably not. In addressing such questions one commentator has written: “Any personal God . . . is clearly out of harmony with Chuang Tzu’s philosophy.” Properly speaking, Taoists view the Tao more as a principle than a person. Indeed, some scholars speak of the Tao as “an impersonal force of existence that is beyond differentiation.” So how does the concept of the Tao compare with the Christian view of God in the Bible?
Both the Tao and God are similarly credited with creating heaven and earth. This similarity may offer an initial point of contact between Christians and Taoists, a way to begin a meaningful dialogue about the nature of ultimate reality. As Christians we should always acknowledge any common ground that we might share with those from other religious perspectives. In Acts 17 Paul does this very thing when he speaks at the Areopagus in Athens. In verse 28 he quotes with approval from two pagan poets to help illustrate something of the nature of God.

But Paul also made distinctions between the Christian doctrine of God and the views of the Athenians. In the same way, we also need to notice how the Tao differs from a biblical view of God. The greatest difference is that the Tao is impersonal whereas God is personal. The Tao is like a force, principle or energy; the Christian God is a personal being. It’s crucial to realize that ultimate reality cannot be both personal and impersonal at the same time and in the same sense.

We’ve seen that philosophical Taoism and biblical Christianity differ on the nature of ultimate reality. Taoists view ultimate reality (i.e. the Tao) as an impersonal force that brought the universe into being. Christians view ultimate reality (i.e. God) as the personal Creator of the universe. The law of non-contradiction says it’s impossible for ultimate reality to be both personal and impersonal at the same time and in the same sense. Thus, if one of these views is true, the other certainly must be false.
I argued that if objective moral values are real (and we all live as if they are), then it is more reasonable to believe that the source of such values is personal, rather than impersonal. Now I want to continue this line of thought by arguing that the existence of human persons is best explained by appealing to a personal Creator rather than to an impersonal principle like the Tao. To help us see why this is so, let’s briefly consider some of the differences between a personal being and an impersonal principle.

First, personal beings (like men and women) possess such attributes as intellect, emotion, and will. That is, they have the ability to think, feel, and take considered action. An impersonal principle can do none of these things. In addition, a personal being has the ability to form and maintain relationships with other persons. But again, this is something that an impersonal force simply cannot do. If a cause must always be greater than the effect it produces, then does it make more sense to believe that the ultimate cause of human persons is personal or impersonal?

With the central concept of Tao being understood by the philosophic and religious school alike as “the principle underlying and governing the universe,” one might wonder that Jesus has not been more readily received as the personification of the “way.” The reason is that, unlike the “lord-on-high” supreme deity of the Confucian classics Tao is not perceived of as a personal deity but rather as an impersonal “model of behavior” by which all is held together in harmony.

This view of Tao as being a impersonal force is the view that many Western scholars hold. Tao, as explained by Taoist masters, is not perceived of as a personal deity but rather as an impersonal force which is held together by a universal law. I disagree with this assumption and believe it to be false. Such generalizations show the lack of understanding Westerners have for complex Eastern philosophical thought.

. At the end of chapter 67 of the Tao Te Ching we read this statement: “When Heaven is to save a person, Heaven will protect him through deep love.” What does such a statement mean? Although it may be argued that it was simply intended as a figure of speech, it’s interesting that the author should apparently feel led to ascribe personal attributes to what is supposed to be an impersonal Heaven.

For instance the phrase, “When Heaven is to save a person,” seems to imply a considered action on Heaven’s part. But only persons can take considered action; an impersonal force cannot do so. In addition, the second half of the sentence speaks of Heaven’s protecting a person through “deep love.” But an impersonal force is incapable of love. Such love seems once again to require a personal agent.
Another interesting statement from the Tao Te Ching occurs at the end of chapter 62:
Why did the ancients so treasure this TAO? Is it not because it has been said of it: “Whosoever asks will receive; whosoever has sinned will be forgiven”?
This passage also ascribes personal attributes to the impersonal Tao. Specifically, the Tao is said to forgive sinners. This raises two difficulties. First, “forgiveness” means that a moral standard has been broken. But the Tao is beyond such moral distinctions!” Second, only persons can exercise forgiveness. An impersonal force is incapable of such a thing. How then did this concept of an impersonal deity come into being within philosophical Taoism? Lao-Tzu established within the Tao Te Ching that the Tao is indeed composed of a very personal nature. We find this view within Taoism changed when Chang Tzu’s teachings began to take root in ancient China.

Chuang Tzu represents a significant departure from that of Lao-Tzu. Still, there are also important similarities that should not be overlooked. One of these concerns the relationship of Tao to the physical universe. In words reminiscent of Tao Te Ching, the Chuang Tzu declares:
Before heaven and earth came into being, Tao existed by itself from all time . . .. It created heaven and earth . . .. It is prior to heaven and earth . . ..
The most interesting part of this statement is the assertion that Tao “created heaven and earth.” How are we to understand this? Does Chuang Tzu view Tao as Creator in the same sense in which Christians apply this term to God? Probably not. In addressing such questions one commentator has written: “Any personal God . . . is clearly out of harmony with Chuang Tzu’s philosophy.” Properly speaking, Taoists view Tao more as a principle than a person.

This distinction is more clearly seen when one considers Chuang Tzu’s moral philosophy. Chuang Tzu embraced a doctrine of moral relativism; that is, he did not believe that there was really any ultimate distinction between what men call “right” and “wrong”, or “good” and “evil.” He writes: (Yutang, Lin From Pagan To Christian. Pg. 142)
In there own way things are all right . . . generosity, strangeness, deceit, and abnormality. The Tao identifies them all as one.
This statement helps clarify why the notion of a personal God is inconsistent with Chuang Tzu’s philosophy. Persons make distinctions, have preferences, and choose one thing over another. However, according to Chuang Tzu, Tao makes no distinction between right and wrong, but identifies them as one.
This has serious implications for followers of Tao. Unless educated to suppress such notions, most people inherently recognize the validity of moral distinctions. Indeed, the Chuang Tzu confirms this, but belittles those who embrace such distinctions by saying that they “misunderstand . . . the reality of things” and “must be either stupid or wrong.” Once the goal of the Taoist sage is to live all of life in harmony with Tao, it seems that Chuang Tzu would have his followers abandon genuine moral distinctions.

This appears to be his intention when he writes, “...the sage harmonizes the right and wrong and rests in natural equalization. This is called following two courses at the same time.” In my opinion, this represents somewhat of a departure from the doctrines of Lao Tzu. True, slight strains of moral relativism can be found in Tao Te Ching, but Chuang Tzu elevates this doctrine to a place of central importance in his own philosophy.
Also, something must be said of Chuang Tzu’s belief that all reality is characterized by incessant change and transformation. Although Heraclitus had already taught a similar doctrine to the Greeks, one scholar points out the originality of this concept in China by calling it “a new note in Chinese philosophy.” According to Chuang Tzu: Things are born and die . . . they are now empty and now full, and their physical form is not fixed . . . Time cannot be arrested. The succession of decline, growth, fullness, and emptiness go in a cycle, each end becoming a new beginning. This is the way to talk about the . . . principal of all things.
With Chuang Tzu the doctrine of change assumed something of a permanent significance in Taoist thought. Now that we have cleared up the underlining concepts of Taoism in regards to Christian Theology we can better understand those concepts of Taoism that do touch on its Christian counterparts. Remember that I do not believe Taoism to be superior or even the same as Christianity. What I do believe is that Taoism is not incompatible and some of the insights and practices of Taoist can directly benefit Christian practices.

Things are born and die . . . they are now empty and now full, and their physical form is not fixed . . . Time cannot be arrested. The succession of decline, growth, fullness, and emptiness go in a cycle, each end becoming a new beginning. This is the way to talk about the . . . principal of all things.
With Chuang Tzu the doctrine of change assumed something of a permanent significance in Taoist thought. Now that we have cleared up the underlining concepts of Taoism in regards to Christian Theology we can better understand those concepts of Taoism that do touch on its Christian counterparts. Remember that I do not believe Taoism to be superior or even the same as Christianity. What I do believe is that Taoism is not incompatible and some of the insights and practices of Taoist can directly benefit Christian practices.

But hay, this I just my perceptive of the subject. I think Lin Yutang did a much better job of showing the links between the East and West.

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Posted: 30 June 2005 06:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Your last post gives me a much clearer idea as to where you are going (and from where you are coming).  It appears that you hold Christian beliefs/values/explanations to be more in line with your perspective on truth and after that you are attempting to marry the Taoist philosophy wtih this Theistic system. What I find difficult to digest is your very Christian versions of certain crucial terms and how you feel they are interchangeable with Oriental concepts translated into Occidental words.

A word like ‘heaven’ in the Taoist literature, as well as in Confucian, is nothing like the Christian idea of heaven.  In the Western religions ‘heaven’ is literally a place where the gods/spirits/souls live (souls - after the death of the body?).  It is somewhat akin to the Greek idea of Mount Olympus or the Norweigen idea of Valhalla.  But in Taoist thought the meaning represented by the word ‘heaven’ means something like “the mental realm” or “the realm of ideas/dreams” (maybe mystic Christians thought that same Oriental way, but when I refer to Christians I am taking the generally accepted modern-day christian as the representative).  So in the Taoist cosmos, heaven and earth are akin to the yin and yang because they represent two worlds that we see as separate, but that infact share the same source of being.  They are opposites like mental/physical, subjective/objective, fantasy/reality, mind/body all enmeshed into one general duality.

ANother notion is the idea of eternity - for Christians that concept evokes the specific endurance of time for infinity.  So that after you (your body) might die your soul continues to live for eternity, and in that afterlife you join the world of spirits/gods who are also immortal (have eternal life?).  THose ideas are not to be found in the Taoist teachings, either from Lao Tze or ChuangeTze.  For Taoists ‘eternity’ is in the now; it is in the constant flux that is always happening in both “heaven and earth.”  In order to understand or somehow comprehend the nature of the Tao, one must attempt to get in touch with the eternal aspect of the now by living spontaniously and by losing that intimate contact with the self.  It is a state of selfless being where action in and of itself encmpasses all of reality and especially your own body and mind together in balance.

Merely understanding the meaning of these two concepts in the Oriental version brings to light the truly secular nature of Taoist philosophy.  Once you get rid of the theistic prejudice a whole new world of understanding opens up to the inquisitive person.  I don’t know why you, Tungp’o, are so set against the capacity and the beauty of a secular existence?  You seem to be inferring that a secular life is without spirituality, without mystery and without ethical value. But if you read your Buddhism and your Zen and especially your Taoist texts without the baggage of theistic prejudice, you would come away understanding a wholly different way of seeing the world and you could appreciate it for what it is rather than trying to meld it with Christian, Judiaic or Islamic dogma.

I could go on forever, but if you understood any of this, forever is where we already are.

Bob

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Posted: 01 July 2005 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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The point I was making is that a comparison is possible between Western ans Eastern schools of thought, there will be similarities but also differences. I know that you wrote this in your last post

“maybe mystic Christians thought that same Oriental way, but when I refer to Christians I am taking the generally accepted modern-day Christian as the representative).”

I never said that the viewpoint was modern day Christian or ancient Christian teachings. Although I would think, comparing two ancient viewpoints would hold better weight. Remember Christianity did originate as a Eastern religion.

“A word like ‘heaven’ in the Taoist literature, as well as in Confucian, is nothing like the Christian idea of heaven. In the Western religions ‘heaven’ is literally a place where the gods/spirits/souls live (souls - after the death of the body?).”

You have many uses of the heaven in Christian and Taoist teachings. A clear distinction is made in Genesis with the separation of “heavens and the earth.” The plural use of heaven in scripture denotes different heavens. You have the heaven that can be seen and that one that can’t. The Taoist do believe in a realm of spirits, you won’t find that in the Tao Te Ching because it was written as a guide for conduct as requested by the gatekeeper that ask Lao Tzu to write it. Therefore, the use of the word heaven in Eastern and Western terms are not unrelated. I would remind anyone who studies Taoist philosophy that the Taoist were deeply influenced by Buddhist thought. 

Taoist do not claim to be divinely inspired like Buddhism and Hinduism. Taoism is observations about nature and the wisdom gathered from such venture. Ideas of a afterlife or gods, demons, and saints (as found in Buddhism) were not developed or explained

because such phenomena are not readily seen or observed. That is why reincarnation did not take such a strong hold on Taoist thought as it did on the rest of ancient China.

I am not against secular. What I am against is Post-modern secularization. If you read enough Chinese literature, philosophy, and poetry. You’ll find that there is no separation of secular and religious pursuits in public or private life. Yes, the modern day conception of reality is poor one and quite primitive in its metaphysical conception. Post modernist might have good scientist, but they have shitty philosophers.

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Posted: 02 July 2005 05:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Yes, the modern day conception of reality is poor one and quite primitive in its metaphysical conception.

Maybe because we only use primitive paradigms to discuss spirituality?

anyway, this statement made me laugh.

I think it was Issac Asimov that asked “Why do people assume that people in the past knew more than we do today?”

I like the new Coke ad.

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Posted: 02 December 2005 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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If you enjoyed the Tao te Ching, I reccomend Tai Chi, it’s the book in practice.

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