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May 20, 2009

Matters of Faith

200px-Red-knobbed.starfish.arp It has become the default assumption among the smart set that there are two non-overlapping spheres of human understanding. One sphere is Nature, where starfish, starlets, and stars are reducible to elemental forms of matter and energy. Here, direct observation and the powers of reason and science make knowledge certain.

The other sphere is Supernature, populated by soul, spirits, God, and everything else originating from human imaginings, needs and yearnings. Beyond the reach of empirical examination, knowledge here is tenuous and uncertain.

The former is the realm of Facts, the latter the realm of Faith, and betwixt them, there is no connecting thoroughfare. Such was not always the case... Read more here.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

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That's why I'm a Taoist, in the philosophical (not religious) sense. Straight materialism works, as far as it goes, but I am convinced that there is that which is "beyond all categories of thought," as Joe Campbell put it. That is also why I don't buy into a personal deity, because by definition, such a deity is bounded by whatever traits we assign to it. As I understand the Tao, it is totally unbounded. Anyway, that's just this loyal American's musings on this. (I assume you'll grant a non-Christian citizen loyal American status, right?) Let the witnessing begin...


Oh, and a book on this topic I can highly recommend is Ursula Gooodenough's Sacred Depths of Nature. Just a beautiful book by a scientist who appreciates mystery.

jason taylor

NO, NEVER Andy. Pack up and move to Ruritania. We could never have a non-Christian American: that would besmirch the memory of Levi Strauss, Muhammad Ali, Mickey Marcus, Joe Lieberman, and such other prominent Christian Americans.

Just kidding of course. Yes a non-Christian can have loyal American status.


I'm gonna have to take the google to Mickey Marcus...


Andy wrote: "As I understand the Tao, it is totally unbounded."

Which is why, of course, it needs no name.

Regis Nicoll

Andy-If there IS something "beyond all categories of thought" what evidence could your mind process to "convince" you of its existence; unless, of course it WAS personal and made itself known to you? Just wondering.

Jason Taylor

If it is not personal it is below, not impersonal all categories of thought. That which is superpersonal would have to be different from that which is subpersonal. Otherwise you might as well say a rock is a god.


Great question, Regis. The old Taoists derived their philosophy from their observations of the natural world (and they seemed to have had a big thing for water.) I know that Christians do the same thing, to some extent, to confirm of the existence of Jehovah. Of course, Christians put revelation in a superior position to the natural world, which Taoists don't do.

I had an experience once that confirmed me in the philosophy I now hold. I'll try to make it brief: As a one-time amateur fossil collector, I was out in my local area, at a limestone cave quarry. (A lot of commercial outfits are sited in limestone caves in the KC area, even a paintball field.) The limestone in my area is 260 million years old, and I have found plates of stone in Independence that are just frozen ecosystems from when this region was an inland sea. Anyway, I pulled a beautiful little brachiopod from a layer and looked around that quarry and experienced the aha! moment that I will never forget. I understood my place in the universe. I was humbled by my insignificance on the universal scale, but at the same time cognizant of the wonder of my existence. At that instant, I saw that all existence is an emanation, not a creation. Words fail, as the Tao Te Ching says from the git-go: "The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name." But hey, you asked. Another thing: since then, my wife says I got a lot easier to be married to. (Hmm, a changed life...)

Jason: What is it about "beyond all categories of thought" that you don't understand? The Tao is beyond the categories of "above" and "below." Besides, the old Taoists thought the "below" and the "feminine" and the "sub" more powerful and long-lasting than "upper, "male" "super." (I agree with them.)

Rolley Haggard

Andy, my epiphany was similar, by being exactly the opposite.

I came to realize that as sinful and seemingly insignificant as I am, my Creator, a real-live Person, loves me, and everybody else, more than His own life.

In point of fact, that’s the literal meaning of the cross -- God loves us more than His own life. To put it another way, God loves us so much He would die for us. How do I know that? Because He already did.

Somehow I find the conclusion that I am utterly insignificant a tad less satisfying than the discovery that I am infinitely precious to the One who made both the brachiopod and the mind that is capable of marveling at creation’s wonders.

I *would* say, as so many these days do, “oh well Andy, whatever works for you.” I *would* say that, except for the fact that it is neither true nor charitable, except for the fact that ideas have consequences, except for the fact that I think the world of you, cliché as that sounds.

Cliché-sounding as it may be, allow for the possibility that it just might be true. It is, after all, merely the logical corollary for one who believes you to be infinitely significant, infinitely precious.


Rolley, I have my own ruler here (plastic, not virtual-electronic), and I'm furiously whacking my wrists so I won't jump in prematurely. Andy already said "Let the witnessing begin..." with the same weary tone of one who's had many stop listening and start preaching until the intended vic- whoops, intended *convert* finds a way to disappear.

This is especially difficult for me personally because I not only experienced the Tao in a religious sense (via a martial arts class), but also in the scientific/philosophical sense to which Andy refers (via "The Tao of Physics", among other titles).

So I intend to hear him out, assuming he has more to say to us. And I'll wait for his permission before launching into my own story.

And if he'd rather not hear it, that's fine too. My friendship with him isn't dependent on bidirectional communication.


"That is also why I don't buy into a personal deity, because by definition, such a deity is bounded by whatever traits we assign to it."

OK, I'll bite. Are you saying that a personal deity is bounded because it/he/she is a person? Or what does "because by definition" mean in your original post?

If I'm understanding you correctly, that is the oddest thing I've heard today. Most people would instinctively identify material objects as the most bounded "things" and persons as the least bounded. "A woman's heart is a deep, deep ocean," and all that. Certainly this is true of our daily experience with human persons versus material things around us. A person, being alive, sentient, and growing, is potentially (if not always actually) unbounded. In other words, a personal deity is dynamic and full of potential (in the most literal sense); an impersonal deity is static.

Please clarify, or my co-workers will have to wonder why I'm spending the rest of the day looking bewilderedly at my screen.


Thanks for your concern, Rolley, sincerely, but Lee has got it right. If I don't buy into the concept of a personal deity, the whole idea of a god dying to redeem me because my ultimate progenitor took an option the deity himself provided is probably not going to fly. And yeah, Lee, I'd be interested in your experiences. They obviously took you on a far different path than me.


Tim: How many gazillion time have I heard Christians comforting each other by saying that "man and his ways may change, but the Lord never does? He is as He has always been, eternal, unchanging, and his precepts are also eternal." Bounded if there ever was such a thing. For example, in Christian theology, God is "good." He is instantly bounded, then, because he cannot also be, in Western style logic, "bad."

The old Taoists, on the other hand, conceptualize the Tao graphically with the famous "Yin-Yang" symbol, which is a glyph of eternal motion and flow. (One part contains a germ of its opposite, and there is not a straight line to be found. We in the West have misinterpreted the symbol, and the philosophy, to be dualistic, but that is a construct of West-mind.)

As for a person being unbounded, I totally agree with you, as I see persons (and everything else, for that matter) as emanations of the Tao.

Man, I did not mean to get into this level of detail here. Are we getting off track again, Gina?

Rolley Haggard

“The whole idea of a god dying to redeem me because my ultimate progenitor took an option the deity himself provided is probably not going to fly.”

Andy, I take it the above statement is reflective of one reason you reject the idea of a personal god, true? If you had a satisfactory explanation for that problem, would it change anything, even a little?


Andy wrote: "Are we getting off track again, Gina?"

Indeed, G, should I hold off and let you create a new thread for this, or is this one the best place (particularly with Regis being a part, since I suspect physics will come up in a big way)?

If you create a new post, here's a graphic you might use for the upper-right corner: http://mooseprints.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/tao-of-pooh.jpg


The title of this post is "Matters of Faith" -- so the conversation seems pretty on point (so to speak) to me.


OK, that helps, I think. Thanks for the response, Andy!

It seems you're not saying a personal deity is bounded *because* it is personal (which is how your original comment sounded to me.) Rather, you're suggesting that by attributing certain qualities to that deity we are bounding it/him/her.

So, is it fair to say that you have no objection to a "personal deity", per se? But rather to the particular person that Christians (or others) describe?

Regis Nicoll

Andy--Let me test my understading of the Tao. As the pure, universal driving force of reality, the Tao brings cosmos out of chaos. Left to its own devices; that is, without human interference, the Tao cannot not produce harmony. If that is the case, the Tao would be very much like the Creator-God who is bounded by his own nature.

One more thing. You mentioned that the epiphanal fossil find made you understand "your place" in the big scheme of things. Just what "place" did that turn out to be?

Rolley Haggard


The reason I asked my question above (i.e., “if you had satisfactory explanations for some of the problems you have with Christianity would it change anything?”) is this --

I can see a number of good reasons why a thinking person might find certain biblical problems insurmountable, and as a result conclude that the Christian God either doesn’t exist or that He is a monster.

Does that describe you? If so, join the club my friend; I’m the president (or was).

Seems to me there are only two types of people. Those who, if you give them explanations that they find intellectually satisfactory will embrace the proposition (i.e., the gospel of Christ), and those who even with explanations they find satisfactory will STILL reject it because they don’t like some of the implications.

I was in the former category. If that’s where you are, please don’t consider my remarks “witnessing” so much as a respectful inquiry into your reasons for rejecting historic Christianity and my attempt to explain why those reasons are specious.

Honest doubts deserve -- nay DEMAND -- intellectually satisfying answers.

I’m no longer president of the skeptic’s club, Andy. In fact, I’m not even a member. But I still question everything as though I WERE a skeptic because that has helped me find the truth. That’s what I’ve really wanted – the truth – regardless of the implications.


Well, if Gina's crime-fighting alter ego (who really does know what evil lurks in the hearts of men) says it's OK,...

Andy, I've felt what is probably that same experience of "aha!", after a particularly challenging Aikido test that I passed. I also felt it while meditating, Zen-style, on the beach with the sound of waves crashing that mixed with the sound of my breathing.

I also experienced it when I realized that solid objects... weren't. Instead, they were electron clouds around nuclei, and what felt "hard" or "soft" to me was actually just neurons firing in response to atoms repulsing one another, while the bulk of those atoms was actually empty space. And I experienced it when I realized what I "saw" was really photons striking my optic nerves,...

I distinctly remember realizing one morning that everything around me was just atoms above zero degrees Kelvin, and that essentially it was all just a sheet of energy of various potentials and actuals. And that this sheet stretched into space, merely with varying thickness of atoms. And that motion within it was a lot like what Lao Tzu had said: living in harmony with what is.

From that I realized that I was a rather insignificant clump of atoms. But in addition, so were all the other clumps. And yet, on another level, my atoms formed a more complex structure than, say, a cloud of interstellar gas. And after reading books like Lewis Thomas's "Lives of a Cell", I found life to be miraculous indeed. But at the same time, I wasn't so significant that I could take any pride in myself. So I, too, became easier to live with, especially when I focused on living in harmony with everyone around me.

And that mystical experience became something I strongly desired. It's very addictive; you might say I developed a Tao jones. (OK, that was a bad pun for Rolley's sake - even though he may not know that the "T" of "Tao" is pronounced like a "D".)

The problem for me came in the idea (from Zen, which actually melds Buddhism with Taoism) of achieving that mystical experience more routinely by extinguishing the notion of my individual self. I could grasp that intellectually - hey, if you are what you eat, since the cells of your body are replenished by the atoms of nutrients of what you consume, then with one trip through McDonalds, I become part of a cow in Oregon, wheat from Kansas, a potato in Idaho, some sugar cane from Hawaii...

But emotionally it was a lot harder to grasp. In my freshman year of college, a co-ed I didn't know personally jumped out her thirteenth-floor window. And I struggled with shrugging it off, thinking that her atoms had merely returned to a lower energy state, or that survival of the fittest also applied to those with depression, and on and on. All those ideas that were "comforting" - saying that her death was somehow OK - were not actually comforting at all. Especially since if I were merely atoms in motion, then perhaps the best way to achieve harmony with the Tao, and ensure survival of the fittest, would be to jump, myself.

And to the counter that my life might have great potential, I'd reply that unless we created Dyson worlds, the Sun would eventually shrink, and so would all the other stars - at which point my achievements wouldn't really matter.

So my struggle was with the core issue of identity. Just because we name something, does it really have an independent existence? Is human society worth saving, independent of the rest of life? Is the collection of atoms some people call "Lee" actually worth all that much, in its current state, that other atoms should have to interact with it to keep it in its current (actually, slowly changing) state?

Hey, you ought to try thinking all that, then get one assignment to read Kierkegaard, and another to see the Holocaust film "Night and Fog". Follow with Bergman's "Seventh Seal"; college was not my best years.

So I found that I had to decide if names and identities (even secret ones, like ShadowEditor's) meant anything, or not.

Make sense?


I'm going to have to re-read Lee's post again later, because I am off to my local Democratic club meeting soon. But off the top of my head, I am reminded of the parable about the three great sages, Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu, tasting a new batch of vinegar. "It's bitter," said Buddha; "It's sour," said Confucious. But Lao Tzu proclaims "It's fresh!" To me that sums up the school of Taoism that I ascribe to. The metaphysical self-immolation of Zen never made sense, although I respect the discipline. I think the Aikido practioners, of which I was one decades ago, have some grasp of the Tao with their cultivation of ki; I have seen adepts do amazing things. I respect Buddha, especially the Mahayana school with its lovely, selfless Bodhisattvas, but the reincarnation stuff--couldn't buy that.

Rolley: As you probably are happy with your faith, I am happy with my understanding of the universe, and believe me, I have listened to enough Christian apologists, my wife among them, to understand intellectually the arguments of your apologetics. I have also taken the core philosophy and theology classes at my local Jesuit college, so barring me falling off a donkey on the road to Independence or something, I think I'll happily stay where I am.

Regis: The Tao is always left to its own devices. You cannot be out of harmony with it. What we call "consequences" are just the working of the Tao. As for my "place", I guess I did not explain well on that. Intellectually, the story science has pieced together gives me the frame: a 14+ billion year-old universe, a 4+ billion year-old planet, a species a few million years old, emergent from millions of other species. So in that sense, not so special. But in another sense, of self-awareness, of capacity for sensing the presence and emotions of others, definitely a new emergence in this part of the universe. So it's not all, 'what a flea I am.' I am, and you are, beyond the beasts in vast degree. For me, it is enough and more.

Regis Nicoll

Andy--So CAN the Tao create disharmony? If so, it would be the Way of chaos, not cosmos. If not, it is(like God) bounded by its own nature. Also, the very idea that adherents are commended to align themselves with the Tao through mental and physical discipline, presupposes that they can be out of alignment (that is, out of harmony) with it, if only in their thinking. No?

Rolley Haggard

“Tao Jones”. Aaargh. LeeQuod, someone needs to euthanize our muse.

I would do the job, but I’ve met the enemy and he is us, and I’m not into self-immolation.

Besides, this “lowest form of wit” fulfills my primal instinct for self-expression and inexpensive entertainment. Puns need pundits, and I’ve got it on good authority they don’t get any ditsier than Lee“Ying”Quod’s Yang, Rolley Haggard.

As if to prove the point……

I just finished reading Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings.” And I have to tell you, now more than ever the only Zen that resonates with me is “a may Zen grace”.

How sweet the sound. And it’s as Lao-tzu motorcycle tricked out by Robert Pirsig.

Rolley Haggard


I'll be praying for that donkey's knees to give out (or something).


P.S. My mom and dad were from Coffeyville.


Wow, this thread got Regis out all guns ablazin'. Trying "a heads I win, tails you lose" kind of trick, too. Sorta lame, but I'll play along, just for fun. Like Rolley, Regis misses the entire point about "beyond all categories of thought." Chaos (or disharmony) and order are artificial categories we impose upon reality. They are meaningless in a discourse on the Tao. A mirror of this can be found in our universe: stars explode (what we see as chaos) and their ejecta collapse into new stars and form solar systems, leading in at least one case that we know of, the emergence of life, which we like to term order. The Taoist discards dualistic notions of chaos and order, because the Tao is not bounded by either chaos or order, it is both and neither. This is, I think, why Tao is hard for the Western mind to work with. We have several thousand years of dualism in our intellectual DNA. As to Taoist practice, the recommendations were based on the understanding that human happiness is bound up with the way, and that trying to impose human will on it is futile and painful. I believe it's what Christians call "sin."


Rolley, I imagine Gina coming in to work some mornings and, seeing an explosion of comments from us, is reminded of the author of the Tao Te Ching as well as a lot of monkeys going berzerk, muttering to herself "Loud zoo".

Regis, the best explanation I have heard of the Tao is that it is like a river, and we are fish. If you swim with the flow, life is easy. You can fight your way upstream like a salmon, but that is stressful and it's very unlikely you'll succeed. (insert picture of bear catching in his mouth a salmon in mid-flight) And you can be ignorant of it and be buffeted until you wise up. But the river is wholly indifferent to you. Living in harmony with it is strictly a matter of personal choice.



Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're saying (though I'm very much enjoying reading it), but I hear very little in your description of the Tao that necessarily precludes the Christian God. (In fact, I believe even C.S. Lewis invokes the idea of the Tao in _The Abolition of Man_.) The Tao sounds like an attempt to explain or describe the universe without reference to "the man behind the curtain." In other words, it is (or can be) a way of thinking about the effects or works of God (what he does), but it really doesn't say anything about God (what he is), one way or the other. Is that accurate?

Or if you say "the Tao is all there is", a fair question would be "How do you know?"


LeeQuod - I think that's about right, except maybe for the muttering part.


Oh - "shouting", ShadowEditor? :-)


I plead the Fifth.


I, too, plead the Fifth.


Hey, Tim. If my understanding the Tao is an approximation of truth (my understanding is a thought construct, of course, not the thing itself) then there really is no need for the extra overlay of personality, as that would be falsely limiting.

And the Tao is not all there is, just behind all there is.

Steve (SBK)

LeeQuod, the river is a good analogy.

Andy (essentially),
I think TimC's question is a good one.
How do you know?

And I'd add others:
Is knowledge (of the Tao) based on feelings?
How can anything be known or said about the Tao?

Finally, are paradoxes used to explain or guide?

Regis Nicoll

Andy and LeeQuod -- As you can tell my Occidental, left-thinking brain is Tao-challenged, to say the least. So, thank you, Andy, for taking some time to humor me. But I'm really stuck on some basic concepts here. For example, if all categaories are false, like chaos/harmony, that would also include justice/injustice, good/evil, beneficial/unbeneficial, love/hate, etc.
So what guides "right" (whatever that means!)action/behavior. Or, how do we know if we're going against "the flow"? By whether we are experiencing pain, futility and unhappiness? (Whatever those mean!) But if these are merely the natural cycle of yin-yang, why would we care? The same goes for slavery, cruelty, rape -- again, false categories of evil! -- for which we should just "get over it," huh?


Steve: Don't "know." But when I put up everything I sense or learn about the world around me, Taoist philosophy fits the best. On the experiential level, yes, it also "feels" right, as I'm sure Christianity feels right to you. (Not to get all relativist, or anything. I am not a relativist. I do think I have found the right way. I try not to preach, though. Not my place. But you guys keep asking....)

jason taylor

Andy, a reliativist is someone who says that there are no wrong answers-that the Law of Non-contradiction is invalid. To say one doesn't know everything is just common sense.

I will also say that I don't dismiss "feels right" either. Intuition rightly understood must be an acceptable source knowledge if you go back far enough as Reason is limited by the impossibility of self-proof; and Revelation by it's acknowledged dependance on authority and the prescence of other claims to revelation.

Moreover if one does not accept "feels right" sometimes one cannot prove one's own existence.

At the same time, it is not definitely true that feelings are equal.

Compare to a fish-finder. By the wondrous manipulation of sound a fisherman is allowed to "feel"(actually see, once it is translated onto his screen), that there are fish underneath him. A fish-finder works well enough that it can be considered generally useful. However what has been detected might be a thermocline(temperature differentiation), or a current, or the ricochet of sound waves off the bottom, or simply another kind of fish from the kind he is seeking. A good fisherman makes allowance for that and does such things as read up on the conditions of the lake he is fishing at, and choose the fishfinder that is most useful at telling what fish are their.

Likewise, "feels right" is partially true, simply because one's feeling has some validity. It is in fact the case that almost every religion has something praiseworthy about it. Thus the fact that it agrees with "feeling" in some sense simply shows that. But that does not mean that all religions are equal. Nor does it mean that any given religion is the best one.


Hey, Regis. I don't hold that categories are false, just insufficient. Unlike the Confucians, Taoists did not feel need to define "right" and "wrong" because they did understand that the issue was moot if a person was in harmony with the Tao. And if you look at things in that way, it explains, for me at least, the big problem a lot of people have with human suffering, especially that caused by ourselves. The rapacious, the greedy, the domineering are violating the Tao. What happens to such folks? The people they oppress rise up against them, or society finds and destroys them, or their own excesses weaken them until they die and decay away. This view allows for social action that arises from the low places (Taoism loves valleys and shaded places.)

Man, this thread is getting long.


Regis, you are not far from enlightenment. :-)

The main point of Taoism is that seeing oneself as distinct from the rest of creation causes all kinds of trouble for you. And setting up categories for anything, not just yourself, is likewise troublesome.

The theory is that moral behavior will result when the individual is in tune with the Tao. Because in a sense, yes - moral/immoral are categories. But then, immoral behavior is focused on yourself, so if there is no "self" to focus on...

SBK, the Zen Buddhists use paradoxes as a guide. Taoists usually eliminate paradoxes by defining away the categories. And the moment you "know" you're in harmony with Tao, you've lost harmony, since self-awareness is antithetical to harmony. Feelings are, likewise, associated with an entity that would be separate from Tao, so you're guided by the absence of feelings.

Besides, to talk about Tao as if it were a separate entity - nameable, definable, and so on - is to miss the point entirely.

But I suspect Regis is thinking "How to Taoists investigate science, have an orderly society, and so on?!?!!?" And the answer is that they don't worry about it - and thereby live remarkably stress-free lives. The notion of Western science that a phenomenon can be studied by an observer in isolation from other phenomena, as a subject-object duality, is just what a Taoist seeks to avoid. So when Andy was sitting amongst the limestone, in a sense he became part of it (to a Taoist thinker).

And at the risk of evoking a long "h-word" monologue (or even JTMCCS outburst), I'll add that as a Taoist Andy would probably have felt connected to the brachiopod, independent of linear time as well as species. Taoism in a sense transcends the space-time continuum, since location and duration are categories.

But I'll stop there, since I Tao-t this is making much Zen-se to you all. (High five, Rolley.) I'd suggest reading Acts 17:22-28, particularly verse 28, and imagining God as an impersonal, indifferent force. (Or for Star Wars fans, "Force".) I.e., not caring if men seek Him, or find Him.

jason taylor

Well, this is the sort of thing we talk about in this place.

By the way Andy have you ever thought to pray to make sure you "get it right"? I realize you are a materialist but I doubt your creed is so strenuous as to forbid you to at least try that, and if you are really praying to nothing you are no worse off.

Regis Nicoll

LeeQuod--Contrary to your flattery, it appears that I haven't been "en-Tao-ed" with enlightenment; likewise, not yet. I'm still studying at yours and Andy's feet. So bear kindly with this "groshoppah!"

If, as you Wu Li masters seem to be saying, our goal is to "go with the flow," "harmonize", be "in tune" with it, become "a part of it"... how do we determine whether we have?

If the harmony of planetary orbits and the chaos of supernovae explosions, alike, flow downstream of the Tao, so must hunger, genocide, and slave trade. It seems, to this unenlightened soul, that the only intellectually honest standard of conduct for the true Tao-ist is total detachment from the sum total of the world's ills.


I think the light is going on a bit, thanks especially to LeeQuod's post. Here's what I'm learning: A key piece of "getting" the Tao is the erasure of the subject/object distinction. And without a subect/object distinction, you lose the I-Thou distinction, and, subsequently, personhood fades away. Personhood is understood as an artificial description of specific experiences within the Tao. Thus, for Andy, a personal God is impossible, because all persons are artificial (though existentially real enough here and now). An artificial person obviously can't be foundational to the existence of everyting!


Lee, you grok my position really well. I think I'll leave it at that. And Jason, thanks for the suggestion, but I have always found the Pascal's wager thing a cowardly argument. If I truly believe what I say I do, then why would I hedge like that? I know the suggestion is made out of concern for me, so sincere thanks. Leaving this thread now.

Steve (SBK)

Thanks for your responses Andy and LeeQuod. No worries on my part that this is getting long. I'm trying to understand the Taoist perspective (boy, I probably just violated all the non-categorizations there) and so find this quite interesting.

So along those lines, am I right in guessing that Lao Tzu (or someone, or, none-one, or, all-none...) started discussion on the Tao because of some experience he/she/it had? i.e. how was this philosophy started?

Rolley Haggard

Andy says he truly believes what he says he believes.

And yet…and yet…


Jason Taylor

Andy, the reason you should accept my suggestion is that you wish to know what's true. That you wish to go to heaven assuming it exists is a side benefit.

Jason Taylor

And Andy, I have sometimes thought materialism was somewhat cowardly, because it ammounted to flying away from everything worth thinking or feeling on the off chance that you would prove wrong. You can put the worst interpretation on anything.

But I am not asking you to assume Pascal's Wager, as such. I am asking you to continue searching for truth, and to do so by not neglecting to examine a potential lead. I am asking you to extend your determination beyond what you have immiediate control over.


Regis wrote: "en-Tao-ed"

Wow, good one, Regis! I can *hear* Gina's eyes rolling, 3,000 miles away!! ;-)

"how do we determine whether we have?"

You don't; part of being in harmony with the Tao is losing all goals. If you've ever been so in the groove that you "lost yourself" while drumming (happened to me sometimes while improvizing jazz or listening to Elvin Jones), or driven to work and realized you had no knowledge of actually interacting with the car and yet you still arrived safely, well, *that* is what Taoists seek as a fulltime state of existence for every action, all day long.

"It seems, to this unenlightened soul, that the only intellectually honest standard of conduct for the true Tao-ist is total detachment from the sum total of the world's ills."

Yes. Including your own. And, including everyone else's concern for you. That was what held me back from a full-fledged dive into Taoism and/or Zen as my religious belief.

A famous Zen koan says the student asked his teacher "What am I?" The teacher blew out a candle, pointed to the rapidly disappearing smoke, and said "You are that." And the student became enlightened on the spot.

I was unwilling to blow out my candle and live in the dark.

SBK wrote: "how was this philosophy started?"

Legend has it that Lao Tzu was on his way to go live in some extremely remote wilderness. He stopped at a hotel / sentry post / something like that, and the curator / innkeeper / whatever he was, was so impressed by Lao Tzu that he asked - nay, repeatedly begged - the old man to write down his philosophy of life. That was the Tao te Ching, the original document of this philosophical religion. Other similar sages, notably Chuang Tzu, wrote corresponding works. All of them use mystical sayings to express the idea that the Tao is beyond words.

This is (superficially, at least) similar to the way the Buddha held up a lotus flower and wordlessly, Bodhisattva instantly became enlightened. His particular style of Buddhism would meld with elements of Taoism to become Zen in Japan (and before that, Ch'an in China).

And I'd express sorrow that Andy has left this thread, but that would be rather insulting - by way of recognizing a distinct entity named "Andy", having a distinct "locale" such that he could "leave". ;-)

On the other hand, no one can whine anymore that this is just a right-wing Christian blog...


Taoism is attributed to Lao Tzu (around 500 BCE? Maybe before, I forget.) Scholars of this sort of thing think that he is apocryphal, though, and that Taoist thought emerged from a community of sages over several centuries. We don't really worry too much about that kind of thing, though.

Jason Taylor

As for "living an orderly society" Lee, Taoism was invented by Chinese. Of course so was Confucianism which seems primarily dedicated to the building of an orderly society.


Rolley, thank you for the link to that story about the haiku poet Issa. It captures very well the angst I felt as I considered the meaning of Zen, and of the Tao.

TimC, you've got it right, but for one thing: "Thus, for Andy, a personal God is impossible, because all persons are artificial (though existentially real enough here and now)." A true Taoist believes that there is no existential reality, and no "here and now".

That said, Tim, I can't speak for Andy. For me, some of Regis's comments are directly on the mark: As a Taoist, how do you do science? How do you have relationships? How, in the absence of a Confucian substrate bringing order to society (thank you, Jason, although I knew this already), can you have an orderly society?

What really made me think was the realization that there are "pure" sciences, and "applied" sciences. (I use quotes because I'm not certain the definitions I'll be using are the canonical ones.) I call "pure" sciences the ones where the application to human life, and particularly human suffering, is not at all obvious. That would include astronomy, paleontology, and other sciences of which atheists are particularly fond. (While Kim's Hubble Telescope photos are beautiful, how does that put food on the table of the poor?) Other sciences, like medicine, were clearly "applied" since their purpose was to alleviate suffering of humans. And of course there were some like, say, physics that didn't neatly fit into one category or the other, since crashing two cars together to gather safety data is clearly applied science, but vector analysis isn't.

What really, really brought me up short was the thought of all those applied scientists becoming Taoists or Zen Buddhists. In fact, not all of them - imagine what would happen if suddenly just all the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals decided that suffering was not something to be alleviated, but transcended.

To circle back to the story about Issa, and attempt to answer Regis's question and finish my remark to Tim, the notion of charity is absent in Eastern religions. Enlightenment is a solo pursuit. And when/if you achieve it (since there's certainly no guarantee, even if you work as hard as you can), you find that other people's problems are *their* problems, not yours. In that context, the Good Samaritan would simply be doing something intriguing, not setting an example to follow.

Regis, you're one of several Point bloggers who've faced life-threatening illness. Several more have faced extreme emotional distress, either acute or prolonged. I can see why Taoism would be perplexing.

I did try to figure out how to be a Taoist only with respect to science - to believe that the Tao of Physics was right, but only in the sense of being an accurate theory - and hold an entirely different philosophical and/or religious belief. But that meant compartmentalization, and the Tao is all about the absence of compartments; once you start tearing down compartments in one area, how do you stop?

But speaking of stopping, I've probably irritated Gina enough for one day with this long flow of words. (If I ever convert to Catholicism, I'm way ahead of the game on the guilt aspects.)

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