A Daoist Philosophy, by Peter Myers; Taoism and Modernity, by Henry C K Liu

A Daoist Philosophy was placed here on November 8, 2001; quotes from Taoism and Modernity were added on August 1, 2003. Peter Myers; my comments within quoted text are shown {thus}.

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(1) A Daoist Philosophy

Peter Myers, 21 Blair St., Watson ACT 2602 Australia. Ph (06) 2475187 June 27, 1994; update November 8, 2001. For the internet edition, footnotes have been placed at the end.

According to the Tao Te Ching, the Dao - and that means Daoism too - is inexpressible; what I write here is my understanding of it. Daoism has some connection to the "dialectical" part of the Marxist philosophy; however it does not accept the "materialism" of the Marxist viewpoint. From the latter viewpoint Daoism is a form of "dialectical idealism"; but that is not how Daoism sees itself. What Marxists call "contradiction" is what Daoists call "the interaction of opposites". However Marxism sees the opposites as antagonistic, enemies engaged in a struggle, whereas Daoists see them as complementary. The fact that there are anomalous cases in nature, which seem to be between the poles, does not alter the general pattern: nature's symmetry is often inexact. The pattern of complementarity is seen both in nonliving forces such as the electromagnetic force, as well as in living species that sexually reproduce, and probably other symmetries too. Whether by chance or design, such polarity is one of the recurring patterns in nature.

Heraclitus may have been a Daoist, as Frijof Capra suggests (The Tao of Physics), but Capra is wrong in saying that Daoism is "a way of liberation from this world"; this idea was foreign to China until Buddhist missionaries arrived around 2000 years ago, and they therefore disguised their religion as a form of Daoism (both extolled simplicity and tranquillity): thus was born Zen, a blend of the two. Daoism is life-affirming, as can be seen in Jolan Chang's book The Tao of Love and Sex (one might almost sum it up as "copulate or perish"; the retention of semen allowed a more active sex life). See also Max Weber, The Religion of China, Arnold Toynbee, Mankind and Mother Earth, and Joseph Needham/Colin Ronan, The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China. All three were interested in the parallels and interconnections between the cultural centres, something, it seems, no longer acceptable to our Marxist mindset today, in which the great civilisations are dismissed as "oriental despotisms", their achievements as those of their "ruling class". The past must be hated; it is to blame for our oppression. We condemn its inequality, while denying our own.

Daoism is a metaphysics. But it makes no grand claims; it cannot be used to predict the future; it offers no casuistry. It gives advice, not orders; it leaves much to good sense and intuition. It has been found relevant for thousands of years, by scholars and mystics alike. Bertrand Russell and Arnold Toynbee quoted from the Tao Te Ching ; Thomas Merton edited the writings of another Daoist, Chuang Tzu, and wrote, "I have enjoyed writing this book more than any other I can remember". Merton notes similarities with The Book of Ecclesiastes and certain Christian writings which emphasise simplicity. Needham (abridged by Ronan) calls Taoism "the only system of mysticism the world has ever seen that was not profoundly anti-scientific"; the Tao Te Ching "perhaps the most profound and beautiful work in the Chinese language". Wing-Tsit Chan says, "No one can hope to understand Chinese philosophy, religion, government, art, medicine, and even cooking without a real appreciation of the profound philosophy taught in this little book" (The Way of Lao Tzu). Its advice is in the form of aphorisms - proverbs - which compare with the Wisdom literature of the Middle East. They are universalistic and, amazingly for texts of 2500 years ago, secular: the wisdom is the advice of people from the past, rather than the instructions of gods. To my mind, all such books and oral traditions, of all peoples big and small, should be treasured by the whole of humanity - whether we agree with their advice or not. They are a prized part of the human heritage; yet are not humanistic in the sense of human-centred: they recognise that the cosmos as a whole, or life as a whole, is greater than humanity, and that we should be humble before it.

Marx, influenced by Scholastic system-builders, wove the dialectic of Heraclitus into a one-variable theory of everything which in his view could explain the details, even the minute details, of everything. Daoism makes no such claims. The Daoist dialectic is a thought-process and method of operation which, Daoists believe, is an attunement to a natural process in the universe, like the tuning of a radio to a radio-station; this process is considered a "natural power". One can work against the natural process, but the going will be hard. In the Marxist view of human society, the process of "contradiction" can actually stop - cease - once a perfect society has been attained, because then there will be no further antagonism within it: a key point in Marxism is that it is possible to have a perfect human society. Daoism regards such a proposition as foolish, an attempt to have light without shadow - it accepts the imperfections in this world but tries to live with them; this life has its pains but also its pleasures. We have seen how the utopias envisaged by Lenin and Mao turned into barbaric bloodbaths. In the Daoist view, this is because they had a "crash through or crash" approach, they were prepared to push an extreme position as far as it would go. Daoism shies back from such positive-feedback processes; it prefers negative-feedback processes. In the governance of human society, it prefers as little as possible - this is called "the method of non-action". It trusts natural processes, including human nature; in this respect it is similar to the European philosophy of Anarchism, but Anarchism accepts revolutionary violence while Daoism does not. Nor is Daoism foolish enough to think that a mass society can operate without some form of government. China has had a mass society for thousands of years, so the proverbs of the Tao Te Ching are addressed not only to ordinary men and women, but also to rulers and officials. In large part, it is a philosophy of coping with powerlessness. One translator (R.L. Wing, The Tao of Power), says that it "explores a remarkable power that is latent in every individual", a bottom-up power; Machiavelli's is top-down. Confucianism is an authoritarian philosophy of benevolent rule; the Daoist philosophy has co-existed with it in what might be called "the Confucian Culture Complex". Daoism, though, has generally been the "low road", inconspicuous. In Japan, Zen is the most obvious form of Daoism. John Craig, analysing the flexibility of Japanese planning and production systems, sees in it dialectical methods adopted from Zen (Centre for Policy and Development Systems, Brisbane). A culture is like a bag of lego; Japan's bag contains Daoism, ours does not.

Although in themselves peaceful, Daoism and Zen have been used in the martial arts and the art of war. "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence", wrote Sun Tzu 2400 years ago (The Art of War ). Western concepts of military strategy in recent centuries have been based on the gross crash-through-or-crash theory of Clausewitz. Recently an American strategist. Edward Luttwak, has written a book Strategy which uses the Daoist logic of paradox without acknowledging its Chinese source. However the titles of key chapters give the clue: The Conscious Use of Paradox in War, and The Coming Together of Opposites. This book uses Daoist "dialectical" analysis. It is non-linear, whereas Western culture takes Aristotle's Law of the Excluded Middle too seriously, and is immersed in linear thought patterns; some examples are ¥ the Christian view of history as a continuous process of salvation to a final resolution ¥ the Christian view of the life of the individual from birth to heaven or hell; there is no place for reincarnation as envisaged by many aboriginal and Eastern peoples ¥ the theory of evolution: some set-backs and dead-ends, but overall "progressive" ¥ Hegel's progressive idealism and Marx' progressive materialism, both linear views of history ¥ Social Evolutionism, even non-Marxist, as a belief in continuous "progress" ¥ the notion that public opinion forms a (one-dimensional) linear spectrum from conservative to progressive ¥ science as continuing progress, with discovery building upon discovery ¥ the "hard" and "soft" determinist positions among Anglo-Saxon word-philosophers (who reduce philosophy to an analysis of the meaning of words, an infinite regress since one cannot describe meaning without using words; the post-structuralists are their descendants) ¥ linear development in books and films.

I do not deny that linear patterns occur in nature; they do. But so do cyclic patterns. Hegel's history is linear, Spengler's is cyclic; but both envisaged a Law of Necessity. Rather, "progess" is fragile and contingent, not necessary; if patterns can be discerned enabling us to look ahead and predict the trend, they only enable us to look a little way ahead, and with uncertainty. We have become so used to thinking in terms of historical "laws" that we have overlooked the fragility of our own culture. I argue that the rigidity in the Western approach can be attributed to the Platonic legacy. If Western philosophy is but footnotes to Plato, then it is time to throw it out and start again. Like Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos, I find value in the presocratics rather than in Plato and his cronies. The West is rigid and dogmatic because it has placed its faith in the reality of unchanging Forms more real than the natural world we see around us, a path pioneered by Plato, perhaps derived from the Pythagoreans, and later followed by Christian monastics and scholastics, by the Rousseau-Marx "Left" tradition, in the Western legal system and in administration generally. It shows itself in the excessive preoccupation with religious dogma, secular (scientific) dogma, obsession about unchanging constitutions, treaties and contracts, in the preference for theory-trained people over practical-trained people, and in the importance placed in the submission of "plans" in general administration. The modern Japanese production system has made the Platonic legacy a liability in Western cultures riddled with it. Examples follow.

Our legalistic reliance on Constitutions, Statements of Rights-in-Theory (which are not those-in-reality), Treaties (compare the flexibility the Japanese negotiators insist on, demanding that a contract be changeable according to changing circumstances). We have Lawyers; in relative terms, they do not. In theory, our lawyers promote justice for all; in practice, the Law is a lottery, a heavy burden, and lawyers a den of thieves. By emphasising the theory of how something is, when the practice is different, we Westerners create a division in our own minds. The disparity between theory and practice is probably present in all cultures, but I venture that it is moreso in the West on account of our Platonic legacy, and less in Japan on account of the lack of interest in grand theory, the attention to detail in nature (part Zen, part Shinto), rather than the turning away from nature (to some more-real World of Forms). The nature religion of Shinto has some commonalities with the Dionysiac tradition of Greece, the Shivaism of India and the Osiris/Isis cult of Ancient Egypt. All involve a worship of the sex organs as symbols of life, the enjoyment of life on earth despite the hardships, the inequities and the necessity of death. Like Daoism their secular correlate, they see complementary polarity as a metaphysical feature of the universe. This viewpoint, however, does not seek to impose itself on those who are different, who seek to join male with male or female with female. It does not try to stop them, but it says that they are anomalies, they are not the main pattern. If they wish to celebrate their difference, then so be it, but let them do so without disparaging the main pattern. If they cannot do that, what are their motives?

The desire to finalise debate, to attain certainty, to shut the door on one issue after another, is a feature which academic humanism has inherited from the dogmatism of the Catholic Church [footnote 1]. There is no need for a secular equivalent for these dogmas - whether the dogmatism of Marx, of Radical Feminism, of simplistic versions of the Evolution theory, or of the Big Bang theory. The Daoist approach is to leave all debates open. Living with uncertainty is part of the "negative way"; it is in keeping with the best scientific method expressed by Karl Popper: unless a proposition has been disproved, it may be true. The Dogmatic Sceptics, instead, assume a proposition wrong unless it has been proved true; their "sticks and stones" viewpoint was credible in decades past, when it was thought that the nature of "matter" had been finalised; today, the nature of matter is as uncertain as it has ever been, and so the rock of certainty that the dogmatic sceptics thought they were standing on, turns out to be an illusion. Even the nature of "proof" is problematical: is a hypothesis "proved" or "disproved" (or should some secular equivalent of the Pope declare it so) when 51% of the experts in that field agree so; or when 100% agree; or 99%? Could not all 100% agree, and yet later be found wrong? Should the views of credible people who are generalists, or experts in another field, be taken into account (Fred Hoyle, for example, constantly escapes from his little "box" of expertise)? Who is the arbiter of credibility - who decides admission to the debate? Or publishability? Is not such a person, necessarily, the secular equivalent of the Pope? These are problems not about the nature of reality but about the limitations of our knowledge. Leaving all debates open is a way of recognising that limitation, of allowing for uncertainty. It is a matter not of solipsism, absurdity or relativism, but of prudence. We need not change our language, inserting a percentage-of-probability into every sentence; or become indecisive, unable to perform our daily work under the weight of the uncertainty. It should inhibit us no more than does rash certainty. We know that chairs are not solid as they seem, but are mostly "space" (whatever that is [footnote 2]) or "void"; but that does not stop us from sitting on them.

Our courts distinguish between "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth"; I propose that we all need to do so. Too often, empirical data is thrown away because it does not fit our theory; at the back of our minds is Aristotle's Law of the Excluded Middle. As different blindfolded people feel different parts of the same elephant, each is tempted to think that the data of the others is inconsistent with his own data. It is like assembling adjacent pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into blocks, but with discontinuities where the blocks do not seem to fit together, such that we are inclined to throw some away. How can we be sure, for example, that biological evolution is incompatible with the possible existence of ghosts or an afterlife? Except by willing it so, in a process called Dogmatic Scepticism. Worst of all is the habit developed by Wittgenstein and the British word-philosophers, of condemning the arguments of those they disagree with as "meaningless". This tag is a substitute for argument, like the worst sloganising. Describing one's opponent's argument as "meaningless" is the cheap and nasty way of escaping from having to show him to be wrong; it terminates dialogue.

Finally, some comments on Plans. As a do-it-yourselfer, I once built my own house in the countryside; now, years later, I want to do so again. In many parts of the world I would work out the design as I built, flexibly adapting to circumstances (problems I encountered, new knowledge, even whim). I would be constantly making small modifications to the plan in my mind, through a succession of feedback cycles. But in our Western custom, I am required to present a rigid unchanging "Plan" for approval, all worked out in advance, costing a lot of money, and with financial penalties for changing it. Now in some cases, big city buildings, designs for cars, a plan is necessary of course; the issue is to what extent the planning process is taken. The houses of Canberra are all planned, and from the outside look majestic and dominating, yet I have hardly found any whose feel, inside, I liked. The most attractive houses I know were built by novice owner-builders in the countryside, with minimal or no supervision by building "inspectors" (often enough they are bureaucrats rather than tradesmen, following written rules on matters they themselves do not understand), people whose house was to them an expression of their own creativity. The Platonic legacy has stifled our creativity; it has become a straightjacket. The Socialist (Communist) movement founded by Marx is well known for the saying, "Workers of the World Unite ... You Have Nothing To Lose But your Chains." Less well known is that Marx' word chains refers to a key sentence at the start of The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, father of the French Revolution: "Main Is Born Free, But Is Everywhere In Chains". It is stirring stuff. Yet in his Confessions, Rousseau admits that he placed all five of his children (born to his defacto wife Therese, whem he married later in life), into an orphanage, one by one AT BIRTH, and never saw any of them again. Only the first was even given a personal name prior to being handed over. So much for them being "BORN FREE"; the fact is that nobody is born free: everybody is born into particular circumstances he/she does not choose. Rousseau justifies this action as follows: "in handing my children over for the State to educate ... I thought I was acting as a citizen and a father, and looked upon myself as a member of Plato's Republic." See The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Penguin edition, pages 322, 333, 334, 385-7. I can think of no greater indictment of Plato's Republic.

Although Rousseau did not rear even one child, of his own or anyone else, his book Emile has been acclaimed by Left educators and many of its precepts (e.g. against rote learning) are followed in our schools today. This shows the extent to which Western intellectuals are prepared to elevate theory over practice. Marx envisaged his Proletarian State as an implementation of Plato's Republic along the lines sketched out by Rousseau in The Social Contract. The rule would be, not by manual workers but by intellectuals: academics, theory-trained professionals, scientists: Philosopher Kings. In Russia, this was clear by 1920; Alexandra Kollontai drew attention to it. As Paul Johnson points out in his book Intellectuals, we intellectuals - I am one too - are just as liable to make mistakes as are non-intellectuals, and we are dangerous when we band together to control some sort of movement in the Leninist style. It is when intellectuals speak in a babble of discordant opinion, rather than in a chorus of similitude, that intellectual life is flourishing.

Now I return to the Tao Te Ching: there are a number of English translations, and the expressions "Heaven" and "Heaven and Earth" appear in most, meaning, it seems, Nature or All-things, not in a transcendant way. Confucian and Daoist thought does not envisage a personal God, human-like with emotions, likes, dislikes, a body etc., but an impersonal power. The original Buddhism of Gautama was "atheistic" in the sense of denying a personal God, yet the impersonal principle (or Law) of Karma might be seen as amounting to an impersonal God. Even Hinduism, ostensibly with its myriad of gods and goddesses, sees them all as merely manifestations of an impersonal power called Brahma. This concept is not found in the Judeo-Christian-Humanist tradition; the "deist" concept is of an absent God, whereas the Eastern concept is of an impersonal but present God. As Reg Little (co-author of The Confucian Renaissance) commented to me, the East thinks of Divinity as Impersonal but Civil Law as Personal (left to the wisdom of the ruler; not codified), whereas the West thinks of Divinity as Personal but Civil Law as Impersonal ("rule of law": in contracts, constitutions, lists of rights). In Eastern thought there is no point in attempting a theory of everything because, in a sentence attributed to Gautama, "an atom can never understand the universe". In recent centuries German philosophers imported the pantheist concept from the East. This was the philosophy of the man I adopted as my personal Guru, Albert Einstein. He called it "Cosmic Religion", and wrote articles about it. Adopting him as a Guru does not mean that he was perfect, or that one must agree with everything he said, in Physics or any other domain. It simply means finding him an inspiration, uplifting. If some biographer discovers that he had faults, that does not matter too much, because we all do; if we did not, we would be gods. Anyway, Einstein did not seek power over others.

Daoists acknowledge that there are people who willingly cause harm, but we would say that even the worst person has some redeeming qualities. We do not believe in a Devil. Modern cosmology has a place for both order and chaos, but not for antagonistic polarities one absolutely good, the other absolutely bad, engaged in an all-out war whose aim is the elimination of one or the other. Death and suffering are, despite our best efforts, unavoidably part of life, not only for humans but for other species too; without death there could not be birth. Even Seth of Ancient Egypt was not depicted as absolutely evil. We should stay away from those who dabble in sorcery or "black" magic, such as the witchcraft of Alistair Crowley. How it is done I do not know - perhaps by hypnosis or suggestion; perhaps by e.s.p. if that phenomenon occurs; perhaps as a form of remote hyponosis we not understand; perhaps, as the practitioners themselves say, by the intervention of "ghosts" or "demons". Even should this latter case be true, Eastern thought does not elevate such an entity to the power or fearfulness of the Christian Devil; it is instead seen as a more manageable, human-scale problem: they are to be pitied because they too are suffering in a sort of prison - one may even be able to help them to get out of their "hell realm". On the other hand, the Dogmatic Sceptics may be right about all such cases; as a practitioner of the philosophy of uncertainty, I leave such matters unfinalised.

The new age movement is in grave danger at present, of promoting witchcraft without adequate cautions against the causing of harm to others. If old religions are to be reinvented, in a sense, the vindictive bits, such as the occasional human sacrifice, should be left out. I fear that new age feminists are insufficiently rigorous in warning against this danger. Daoism, as a secular philosophy, offers all I want; my gods and goddesses are mere symbols.


1. In defence of the Catholic Church, it might be pointed out that the first Councils, called to decide matters of doctrine and pronounce them as dogma, were called not by a Pope or Bishop but by Constantine, in 313, 314, 325, 334 & 335 . See A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe; the canon of New Testament books was declared at Carthage in 397. Constantine's vision - a cross upon the sun - meant that Jesus was a manifestation of the Sun God (Mithra, Sol Invictus); he continued to issue coins showing his head with the Sun, and the Church did its best to blur the difference between the two religions: it had moved the sabbath from Saturday (Saturn's day) to Sunday (the Sun's day); now it moved Christmas from January 6th (still its date in the Orthodox Churches) to December 25th, the winter solistice, feast day of the Sun God. The monstrance, still used in Catholic and High Anglican Churches, shows golden rays radiating out from the consecrated host in the centre: Jesus as Sun God (see Jacquetta Hawkes, Man and the Sun). In earlier times Yahweh himself was presented as a Sun God, riding on a fiery "throne chariot" (the Merkabah) pulled by sphinxes (cherubim, i.e. winged lions), as Margaret Barker shows. The chariot was introduced into the Middle East by Indo-European invaders about 2000BC (Hittites etc.; they ruled as an aristocracy, then disappeared). The Merkabah cult was prominent in Jewish mysticism at the time of Jesus. But Constantine wanted to use Christianity as a "religion of state", the Empire having been unable to defeat it. For this purpose he needed to resolve the squabbles between the various "heresies". Thus was born the dogmatism perpetuated in our universities today. I myself am the product of a Catholic seminary: I was "dux" at Springwood in 1968; it later closed. In the 1980s a home birth conference was held there; if only I had known - I am a advocate of home birth, three of my own children were born at home!

2. or as some philosophers would have it, "whatever that word means" - I could not stand to have such a person around the house for too long at a time. Such a person must use a "meta-language" all the time.



Asia Times - Part 4: Taoism and modernity http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/EH01Ad01.html

August 1, 2003

Part 4: Taoism and modernity By Henry C K Liu

To Taoists, modernity is a meaningless concept because truth is timeless and life goes in circles. In post-modern thinking in the West, much of the awareness that Taoists have entertained for centuries is just now surfacing. Even in military strategy, Sun Tzu's On the Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa), an ancient Taoist military treatise (500 BC), is now much in vogue in this modern age of weapons of mass destruction and remote-controlled precision bombs.

Historians are uncertain of the historical facts regarding Laozi, founder of Taoism. The name itself casts doubt on Laozi's identity. Ad verbum, it simply means "old sage". Colloquially, the term laozi in modern Chinese has come to mean an arrogant version of "yours truly". The earliest documented information on Laozi appears in the classic Records of the Historian (Shi Ji), written by historian Sima Qian in 108 BC during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). It describes Laozi as a person named Li Er (born around 604 BC) who worked as a librarian in the court of the State of Eastern Zhou (Dong Zhou) during the Spring and Autumn Period (Chunqiu, 770-481 BC).

Laozi was reported to have met only once the young Confucius (Kongfuzi, 551-479 BC), who was 53 years his junior. If intellectual exchanges took place at that celebrated meeting, Confucius had to be at least in his late 20s, thus placing Laozi in his 80s when the two sages purportedly met. Confucius did not become widely known until 500 BC at the age of 51, which would put Laozi's age at 104 if they met as two intellectual celebrities. No wonder the pundit was called "old sage".

Laozi is generally accepted as author of the Classic of the Virtuous Path (Daode Jing), although evidence has been uncovered to suggest that it was actually written by others long after his time, albeit based on ideas ascribed to him. The Book of Virtuous Path is written in a style that is both cryptic and enigmatic. The true meanings of its messages are difficult to elucidate definitively. Its main attraction lies in the requirement of active reader participation for receiving the full benefit of its mystic insights. Each reading solicits new levels of insights from the reader depending on his or her experience, mood, mental alertness and preoccupation. It asks questions rather than provides answers. It is a book of revelation with an effect similar to what the Bible has on devoted Christians.

{"revelation" in the sense of "insight", not prescriptive as in the case of the Bible}

Zhuangzhou, a Zhou Dynasty skeptic and mystic who lived in 4th century BC, in his classic Zhuangzi expounded on many of Laozi's doctrines with original insight, ingenious construct, incisive witticism and delightful charm. Drawing on Taoist concepts, Zhuangzhou opposed and ridiculed the moral utilitarianism of Confucius.

Tao or Dao, a Chinese word meaning "way" or "path", delineates an enlightened perception of the mysterious ways of life. The path of life is revealed professedly only through spontaneous insights and creative breakthroughs. The alternating, self-renewing and circular phenomenon of nature such as day following night following day is an illuminating Taoist paradigm. The life-regenerating cycle of the seasons is another example. Taoists believe all in life to be inseparably interrelated. Taoists consider conventional wisdom illusionary. They point out that concepts are merely cognitive extremes of a consciousness continuum. Extremes exist only as contrasting points to give distinctive meanings to the unthinking, but in truth, these extremes are inseparable interdependent polarities. There can be no life without death, no goodness without evil and no happiness without tragedy. Light shines only in darkness. We only know something has been forgotten after we remember it. There is no modernity without tradition. Behind this dualistic illusion, a unifying, primary principle of life endures. It is called Tao.

To Taoists, the essence of life can be appreciated by observing the flow of water. The word "alive" (huo) in the Chinese language is composed of the root sign representing "water" (shui) and the modifying sign representing "tongue" (she), suggesting that flowing speech is the essence of living. Water, that fluid substance with no shape of its own, is capable of assuming the most intricate shapes of its containers. Any substance with a rigid form becomes prisoner to that form, unable to adopt to changing surroundings. Humans, whose lives are subject to infinite constraints, should attempt to adopt the flexibility of water to accommodate the intricate dimensions of the containers of life. Water, always taking the path of least resistance and most natural flow, seeking rest at the lowest point, preserving a level surface over irregular bottoms, overcoming stubborn obstacles, smoothing rough surfaces and rounding sharp edges of hard materials, provides a Taoist model for an enlightened man's approach to life's imperfections. In moderate amounts, water is a life-giving substance. In excessive amounts, it can be cataclysmic and it can drown life. Like water, life reacts violently and becomes destructive when forced. It can be peaceful and good when guided gently.

According to Taoist precept, roushu (flexible method) is an approach to be preferred over violent confrontation, which tends to be self-defeating and counterproductive. Meditation and calm contemplation are the means to spiritual liberation. They are the true instruments to man's salvation from obsessive fixations and from illusionary and distracting agitations of the physical senses. To attain without effort is nature's way. To attain with forced effort is an unenlightened man's folly which will always be self-defeating. Judo, the Japanese art of physical combat that seeks to turn the opponent's own strength against himself, is derived from a Tang Taoist fighting style called roushu. The US "war on terror" has yet to understand the effectiveness of roushu, and until it does, it will remain self-defeating. Force produces counterforce. The use of fear as a deterrence operates like a concentric mirror, reflecting fear back on the point of initial radiation.

Every action reduces the range of one's options. Not taking premature or unnecessary actions keeps all of one's options open, so that the most appropriate action remains available. Actions always elicit reactions. Each action taken provokes reactions from all quarters that, taken together, are always more powerful than the precipitous action itself. It is the ultimate definition of the inescapable law of unintended consequences.

To follow the dao (path) of life is to go with the natural flow of life and to avoid going against it. The ethical theories of Taoism lean toward passive resistance, believing that evil, by definition, will ultimately destroy even itself without undue interference.

Yet it would be a mistake to regard Taoism as fatalistic and pessimistic, instead of the ultimate sophistication in optimism that it is. Controlled quantities of the bad can be good. Excessive amounts of the good can be bad. Poison kills. But when handled properly, it can cure diseases. Without poison, there can be no medicine. To employ poison to attack poison is a Taoist principle, which is validated in modern medical the practice of vaccination, the use of antibiotics and chemotherapy treatments.

Only by not applying effort can one achieve that state in which nothing is not attainable effortlessly (wu-wei ze wu-suo-bu-wei). Every Taoist knows this famous Taoist assertion, although none can fully explain it. Translated, it reads literally: Only by avoiding effort can one achieve that state in which nothing is not attainable effortlessly. This well-known Taoist assertion, the inherent paradox of which defies logic, is still effortlessly driving modern students of Chinese philosophy insane. ...

For a specialization to be truly useful, it needs to be defined so inclusively that excessive specialization itself becomes a pitfall to avoid. The corollary: the desire for one's objective will block one's attainment of it. This is so because the distracting impact of one's desire will obscure one's focus on the objective itself. ...

It is a Taoist axiom that intellectual scholarship and analytical logic can only serve to dissect and categorize information. Knowledge, different from information, is achieved only through knowing. Ultimately, only intuitive understanding can provide wisdom. Truth, while elusive, exists. But it is obscured by search, because purposeful search will inevitably mislead the searcher from truth. By focusing on the purpose, the searcher can only find what he is looking for. How does one know what questions to ask about truth if one does not know what the elusive answers should be? Conversely, if one knows already what the answers should be, why does one need to ask questions? Lewis Carroll's Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) would unknowingly be a Taoist.

Taoists believe that the dao (path) of life, since it eludes taxonomic definition and intellectual pursuit, can only be intuitively experienced through mystic meditation, by special breathing exercises and sexual techniques to enhance the mind and harmonize the body. They believe that these mind-purifying undertakings, coupled with an ascetic lifestyle and lean diet, would also serve to prolong life. Taoist philosophy is referred to as Xuanxue, literally "mystic learning". ...

Taoists consider Confucian reliance on the Code of Rites (Liji) to guide socio-political behavior as oppressive and self-defeating. ...

Since the only way to avoid the trap of life's vicious circle is to limit one's ambition, why not eliminate ambition entirely? Would that not ensure success in life? But a little ambition is a good thing. Total elimination, even of undesirables, is an extreme solution, and it is therefore self-defeating. ...

Taoism as religion is generally regarded by intellectuals as a corruption of its essence as philosophy. Having evolved originally from a mystic search for truth, Taoism has gradually degenerated into practices of secular alchemy aiming to achieve the transformation of commonplace metals into gold, and to discover cures for diseases and formulae for longevity and secrets to immortality. ...

{end of quotes} more at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/EH01Ad01.html.

The Tao Te Ching and other Taoist writings: http://www.edepot.com/taotext.html.

Is there a connection between Judaism and Taoism? jewish-taoist.html.

Write to me at contact.html.