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westonlockley: (Default)
Monday, August 16th, 2010 02:15 pm
"The loving do not act.
The kind act without self-interest;
The just act to serve self-interest;
The religious act to reproduce self-interest.
For when Tao is lost, there is love;
When love is lost, there is kindness;
When kindness is lost, there is justice;
And when justice is lost, there is religion.
Well established hierarchies are not easily uprooted;
Closely held beliefs are not easily released;
So religion enthralls generation after generation.
Religion is the end of love and honesty,
The beginning of confusion;
Faith is a colorful hope or fear,
The origin of folly.
The sage goes by knowledge, not by hope;
He dwells in the fruit, not the flower;
He accepts the former, and rejects the latter."


~ Lao Tzu

Tao Te Ching


For obvious reasons I like this quote.

I must admit I only explored Taoism very superficially. At first sight it seems the Tao is kind of a description of the natural world. It doesn't seem to have dogmas, doesn't insist on rituals with old men (no women, please) in funny dresses and silly hats and it doesn't require devotion. So far so good.

In its primary and most fundamental text the Tao seems to be just a useful philosophical concept. The Tao is the whole of the universe, even beyond sensory perception. We experience the Tao, but is escapes our efforts to describe it. All That Is. All later religious concepts that came to pollute it can easily be dismissed. Not surprisingly, the plague that is religion tries to contaminate everything, even the Tao.

Among all spiritual concepts I think I like Taoism the most. You could be an Atheist and a Taoist without contradicting yourself. However, you could also say it is an unnecessary crutch for an Atheist. I'm not even contradicting myself, or the Tao, by writing this, since the Tao encompasses everything.

For recovering christians, recovering muslims and other theists on their way out of the mists of primitive superstition, the Tao could be useful. It gives some aura of spirituality, yet is so broad in its concepts, that it can't be used to hate other people like e.g. those blots on humanity like christianity or islam.

You can't control the Tao. You can't rule it. You can only accept it, and through acceptance, find your place within it. It doesn't require you to browbeat, or force, or torture others into accepting your vision of it.

At the center, Taoism could be said to be a philosophy that promotes a kind of universal "rightness of being" of which love, justice, kindness and other such concepts are only imperfect reflections.

Materialists will complain that it contains elements that could be described as spiritual. And indeed, for morality, existentialism could be enough, without the need for any cosmic system. You could simply rely on plain old humanist principles, using experience and reason, to know what is right or not.

Alternatively, you could adhere to Ron Hogan's version of the Tao Te Ching, verse 20:

"Don't spend too much time
thinking about stupid shit."