I re-read the Tao te Ching last night. I realized yesterday that when I'd read it before it was as a Christian/from a Christian perspective, so I thought maybe I'd understand it better now (I've learned from this and other similar experiences that I had a mental block kind of deal going on then, not just a different perspective . . . or at least that's the way it seems to me now).
The difference was pretty striking, but not surprising. Turns out I've essentially been a Taoist for a while now (I guess everyone is, really—seems to me it's not really an issue of identity, but rather simply of awareness). Even while I was still a Christian I was headed in a Taoist direction, but I've only really allowed it to develop since I abandoned that ship—mostly in the last 6 or 8 years as I've more actively (consciously) embraced skepticism/hard core honesty. I was somewhat aware of Taoism/the Tao before, but reading the Tao te Ching again (with a less clouded filter) really brought it into clearer view. It's more useful than my earlier impression suggested—since it's come more into my direct awareness in the last couple of weeks I've already found a positive change in my psyche developing (to get all Taoist—it's like I've been cruising along beside the path and only just fully realized it's been there all along to make my journey easier).
Hey Byron, I was going to mention the DaoDeJing or TaoTeChing as possible reading material in this section. I’ve been a strong advocate of Daoist thought for the past 20 years. It’s really a wonderful and comprehensive philosophy that hasn’t been taken seriously in the West. I just read a new translation by Ames and Hall - their book is called Dao De Jing - Making a Life Significant (I dont’ recall the title exactly). Anyway, it’s an excellent new translation that deliberately moves the reader away from other (more christian slanted) versions. I think it’s a must read for anyone wishing NOT to have christian ideas and christian cosmology infect their interpretation of the Chinese ideas expressed in this ancient text.
[quote author=“CanZen”]I just read a new translation by Ames and Hall - their book is called Dao De Jing - Making a Life Significant (I dont’ recall the title exactly). Anyway, it’s an excellent new translation that deliberately moves the reader away from other (more christian slanted) versions. I think it’s a must read for anyone wishing NOT to have christian ideas and christian cosmology infect their interpretation of the Chinese ideas expressed in this ancient text.
I found that amusing about the Mitchell version the second time through. I just ordered a new translation based upon the “Ma-wang-tui” schtuff. I hear it smooths out the more problematic paradoxes (word is that they’re mostly caused by cultural and translation issues rather than the original text—assuming the “Ma-wang-tui” material is truer to the original, which makes sense).
I second the nod to the Tao Te Ching. I’ve long thought it the one of the few “religious” texts that made the slightest bit of sense to me, when considered in its entirety. (Of course, it’s not really a religious text at all - rather, simply, a rational and accurate description of the nature of existence.)
Sometimes silly paths can lead to wisdom. I was led to the Tao Te Ching after watching the 1970s TV show, Kung Fu, and becoming curious about Eastern philosophy. Back then, the Tao Te Ching was not the kind of book you found in local bookstores, so I borrowed a copy from the library. I was so taken by the strength and clarity of the wisdom in this book that I was absolutely transfixed. This is probably as closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious, revelatory experience. I was so taken by the book that I copied the entire thing with my old-fashioned, manual typewriter (no word-processors back then, and xeroxing was beyond my budget). I’ve been a Taoist ever since.
[quote author=“Hostirad”]Sometimes silly paths can lead to wisdom. I was led to the Tao Te Ching after watching the 1970s TV show, Kung Fu, and becoming curious about Eastern philosophy. Back then, the Tao Te Ching was not the kind of book you found in local bookstores, so I borrowed a copy from the library. I was so taken by the strength and clarity of the wisdom in this book that I was absolutely transfixed. This is probably as closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious, revelatory experience. I was so taken by the book that I copied the entire thing with my old-fashioned, manual typewriter (no word-processors back then, and xeroxing was beyond my budget). I’ve been a Taoist ever since.
My experience was similar this time around, but I’m hesitant to consider myself a Taoist without qualification. From what I’ve found thus far Western Reform Taoism is the closest “ready-made” heading I can claim to fit under, though I even have to qualify that one. I’m pretty comfortable with the label as long as it’s modified with “secular” though—close enough.
Chances are pretty good that you’ve read Benjamin Hoff’s books on Taoism. If so, what did you think?
I am very sympathetic toward people’s reluctance to call themselves “Taoist” (or to use any label to describe themselves). After all, “The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” As soon as one begins to name, the Unity is splintered into the ten thousand things. Taoism, like all philosophical schools of thought, has splintered into many forms, some of them quite cult-like. I appreciate the link to Western Reform Taoism, which I had not heard about. Among varieties of Taoism that exist, it seems to fit me pretty well.
Nonetheless, the source of my Taoism is primarily the Tao itself, and, secondarily, the Tao Te Ching. I took a course on Eastern thought in college back in the early 70s, so I know about arguments concerning the history of Taoism, the best translations of the TTC, etc. Seems to me that such quibbling drains the life out of Taoism. Since that course I have almost studiously avoided reading books *about* Taoism, including the Tao of Pooh series (even though I am a lover of Milne’s works). One exception has been the Tao of Psychology, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, which I could not resist because I am a psychologist.
So, ironically, I am like the Christian who refuses to associate with the theology of a particular church because “Jesus and the Bible are good enough for me.” In my case, the Tao and the Tao Te Ching are good enough for me.
You are perfectly correct Hostirad, calling yourself a taoist is the best indication that you are not one. Using labels and naming your cosmic affiliationis is counter to taoist philosophy. I was once teaching an extension course at university “An Introduction to Eastern Philosophy” and I had indicated in the syllabus for the course that I was most keenly interested in taoism of all the Eastern ways. Yet when it came to the first lecture on taoism I called myself a taoist and that was the worst lecture of the course. I kept questioning my own authority on the subject to the point that finally several of the students broke in to make some of the points I was having difficulty expressing clearly. After that day it became clear to me in no uncertain terms that to refer to myself as a taoist was never acceptable or maybe just too arrogant. That lecture was one I will remember for a long time because it was surreal right from the start.
I guess all of us are taoist, but in the same breath, none of us are.
Good Article Skeptic, so two cultures meet, misunderstand each other, and new spiritual concept is born.
Kinda like when the blues, gospel, and jazz created Rock n Roll?
I realize the object of this author is debunk the current Western idea of Taoism, and show that we have it all wrong, and that we have perverted it for capitalist purposes. However, I think the very things he points out as the some of the reasons we have it wrong show that we have adapted a new concept to our culture and way of thinking and to the modern world.
I don’t see this as a bad thing, I see it as a form of thought evolution.
[quote author=“Iisbliss”]I don’t see this as a bad thing, I see it as a form of thought evolution.
I agree. I asked Dr. Kirkland about westernized secular Taoism and if there was any kind of local Taoist community (so I could get a better sense of it) via email, which is when he sent me the link to his speech (among a couple others). I thanked him and replied:
> I wonder where the line is properly drawn between traditional and popular
> use of a religious label though. From what I can tell many modern Christians
> wouldn’t fit very well into “traditional” (early) Christianity, but on the other
> hand there’s a point at which a term just becomes meaningless . . . so I
> continue to wonder. I’ll be careful to make a distinction between “traditional
> Taoism” and modern “pop Taoism” (Pop Western Taoism?) when the issue
> arises though, and I’ll see what more I can figure out through further
To which he replied “There is nothing to ‘figure out.’ Just read what has been written by those who know what they’re doing.’”
I think he’s just got a bur against what he sees as an illigitimate and misnamed Taoism. I wrote a reply, but decided there wasn’t any reason to send it:
[quote author=“Byron”]> There is nothing to “figure out.” Just read what has been
> written by those who know what they’re doing.
Sure there is. Apparently there’s Taoism Proper, and then there’s this westernized pseudo-derivative. It may be more detached than other reformations, and perhaps so much so that the terms reformation and even Taoism are something of a stretch (misuse?), but fundamentalists say the same thing about other sects falling under the same religious umbrella, and there -is- a living ideology and worldview to consider here, regardless. It may be misnamed and the (tenuous) connection to Taoism misunderstood by those who identify with it, but that seems rather beside the point—it resonates with a significant number of Westerners.
I think his notion of a higher religious “authority” is purely delusional though. You can’t by-pass the fact that your worldview and your code of ethics and such must process through your own mind, so the individual is always ultimately the highest “authority” over his own belief system / worldview (some of us are just more honest and open about it, and accept the responsiblity rather than pretending to pass it off). The individual may decide to defer to another authority, but alleged supernatural “athorities” can’t be appealed to directly, they must simply be presumed to exist, so that idea just creates an illusion of deference to this alleged “higher” authority.
The bottom line—it’s unavoidably and entirely circular.
I saw SkepticX that you wanted to find a secular Taoist communities or individuals.
I know that you have some notions about religion in Western terms, with a clear difference between religious and secular pursuits, but eastern philosophies and religions don’t separate the two.
I think that you’ll find that the mysticism that Sam Harris talks about in his book is the same kind employed by the Taoist tradition. Although, I think you’ll find Taoism not to your liking since it employs heavy metaphysical mysticism and deals with universal truths about the foundation and frame work of reality.
Taoism is a living system of philosophical thought and traditional ancient wisdom. At the same time it is not held back by tradition or form. The very purpose of Taoism is to gain higher spiritual development and become balanced and centered in the Tao. Everything that helps a Taoist closer to Tao is seen as beneficial. Anything that does not help the Taoist is a distraction and harmful. To much involvement in secular activities does not help the Taoist’s development.
If your looking for Taoism to validate a secular outlook then your looking in the wrong place. Taoism has always been a ready source of wisdom for China and Chinese culture. Everything from poetry to medicine has been influenced by the teachings of the Taoist masters. Taoism does offer a system of morality and worldview of life, but it does deal with higher spiritual powers and universal truths. I know that teachings about higher realms of spiritual being is not a popular subject with modern philosophy.
I think you’ll find that Taoism doesn’t add to the secularist’s cause very well. Judaism and Christianity have more in common with Taoism than modern philosophies, but then agine many of the ancient religions have many similarities between them.
[quote author=“Tungp’o”]I think you’ll find that Taoism doesn’t add to the secularist’s cause very well. Judaism and Christianity have more in common with Taoism than modern philosophies, but then agine many of the ancient religions have many similarities between them.
That’s pretty much what I’ve discovered having looked into it somewhat. There’s a “Westernized” kind of pseudo-Taoism that’s fairly popular, though from what I can gather there’s only a very shallow, very tenuous, non-significant connection to Taoism (it’s the West filtering the Tao Te Ching into its own framework, basically, all but completely detached from the actual history, and really the actual religion). That Westernized “Taoism ” fits me fairly well, but I’m not interested in finding a group label or identity—even the better matches never quite fit me anyway (if a given label applies/fits me, that’s fine, but I’m not going the other way with it).
But this new Westerized pseudo-spiritual tradition developing under the misnomer of Taoism (unfortunately—it’s misleading, IMO) is something. It may not have anything to do with Taoism Proper, but there does seem to be some continuity and a growing community, so it’s interesting in any case, and if any religious or pseudo-religious community is a good fit for me, that’s probably the best candidate . . . for whatever it’s worth. I can’t see it working very well as any kind of really cohesive community though. That tends to screw things up anyway—people start thinking more tribally and develop the “ins” and “outs” kind of mentality that I’d much prefer to avoid dealing with too close-up.
I looked at the web site for Western Taoist. Your right, it is a very watered downed version of Taoism. I don’t think other practicing Taoist would recognize their teachings as being in line with the ancient masters. Sadly, Western civilization is very primitive when it comes to mysticism and spiritual practices. That’s why western culture never produced a martial art comparable with Shaolin gung-fu. Such cultural achievements require a certain amount of spiritual cultivation to be of an merit. It seems that the westernized Taoists managed to take out all of the useful essence out of the Taoist teachings, and substituted in its stead a glorified rule book.
[quote author=“Tungp’o”]It seems that the westernized Taoists managed to take out all of the useful essence out of the Taoist teachings, and substituted in its stead a glorified rule book.
I agree that the West’s “version” of Taoism is misnamed (based upon what I hear, unanimously, from those who know what the hell they’re talking about rather than what I know personally), 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.
I agree with most of what you wrote, though, with some strongish reservations.