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Tao which is loosely translated as “the way” or “the path,” is along with Buddhism and Confucianism one of the three major religions that have strongly influenced both social and political aspects of life in China even having been adopted as a state religion from from 440 B.C.E. to 111 A.D. The purported founder of Taoism is Lao Tzu “the Old Master” or “The Old Boy” (ERM 1) who is said to have written the founding principles of Taoism in the Tao Te Ching, a collection of proverbs that serves as the central text of Taoism. Whether or not Lao Tzu even truly existed remains unclear but the Tao Te Ching remains to this day a major influence in the way people think all around the world.


The best way to describe the Tao to my generation would probably be by likening it to the concept of “the force” popularized by George Lucas in his “Star Wars” sagas. What is the force? Like the nameless Tao it is a sacred power. As Yoda describes it ”Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.” Like the force the Tao is a natural phenomena called by many Taoists the “Way of Nature.” The best way to master the Tao is through Wu-Wei. “A kind of creative passivity, an attitude of selfless non-action to which one flows with the life present in all things” (ERM 1) or to better describe it “going with the flow.” The concept of Wu-Wei as I understand it is very similar to a instructional video I once saw on how to escape a rip tide. If you swim against the tide and fight to swim back on shore you will eventually get tired and drown. If you however stop fighting the tide and let the tide carry and swim parallel to the shore until you reach an area where the rip tide does not extend to than you can swim easily back to shore and to safety. By fighting against nature in all likelihood you will suffer.


Lao Tzu described Tao as, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding… The Tao is infinite, eternal. Why is it eternal? It was never born; thus it can never die. Why is it infinite? It has no desires for itself; thus it is present for all beings. ” These passages caught my eye because of something my minister grandmother once told me about God or at least the concept of God. I once asked her why God was named God and not Thor or Zeus. She told me it was because these other gods were false gods, created and named by man. God was simply called God because that’s what he was. He was not a construct of man but an eternal being who existed in nothingness before the perpetuity of time and would exist long after the end of the universe. Like the concept of God the concept of Tao seems to be that man cannot give name to that which he does not understand. In many ways the Judeo-Christian religions seems to mimic Taoism in their concept that the only way to achieve some semblance of inner peace or even immortality is to live in harmony with God or the Tao. Furthermore in these religions there seems to be the idea of the “meek inheriting the earth.” Only by inaction or not fighting the Tao or following the dictates of God can you truly achieve some semblance of again peace or immortality.


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Another passage from the Tao Te Ching that interested me was the one where Lao Tzu states “Throw away holiness and wisdom, and the people will be a hundred time happier. Throw away morality and justice, and the people will do the right thing. Throw away industry and profit, and there won’t be any thieves.” This passage interested me because it reminded me of the Buddhist philosophy that the cause of all suffering in the world was desire. It also interested me because though Lao Tzu has stated that happiness can be achieved by “throwing away holiness and wisdom” I’ve met many people who cite the Tao Te Ching as their “guide to life” making it for them a book of wisdom. With this statement is Lao Tzu suggesting that the only way to achieve happiness is to throw away preconceived notions of holiness and wisdom and if so and if he did exist how would he feel about the fact that the list of sayings he wrote down has become for many people a central text of wisdom and that upon his teachings have been based a religion and not only a religion but at one point in China a state religion, with all the doctrine involved therein. If it is the case that happiness can only be achieved by stripping yourself of preconceived notions and permitting nature to take its course what does that suggest about technology and specifically modern medicine which strives everyday to prolong life and which without many people would have died premature if natural deaths? Furthermore it also brings up the question of genetically modified foods which help feed millions of people around the world who otherwise may have died of hunger. Does the good of having saved millions of lives outweigh the bad of impeding nature and in fact altering nature for the good of humanity?


The second and third parts of this passage interested me because it reminds me of this ongoing argument I’ve had with my best friend since high school about the nature of man; are we innately good or innately evil? Lao Tzu seems to believe that mankind is innately good that throwing away the accoutrements of civilization about the concepts of holiness/wisdom, morality/justice, industry/profit will lead to an egalitarian society full of people who do the right thing. Though this would be wonderful if true it seems highly idealistic to me mainly because even though I do believe in the capacity of humans for goodness so often we find that between two people of common backgrounds what constitutes or the concepts of “happiness” or even the “the right thing” to do can vary wildly so how can one truly say that without these things happiness or good behavior would be achieved?


In the end though I do agree with the Taoist philosophy of finding balance in all things I have to shudder at the picture that the Tao Te Ching makes of an agrarian utopia even if its simply at the thought of living without my computer. One thing I did take away from Taoist philosophy though is an idea that struck me while I was reading the text on Taoism on finding peace with meat eaters. Though I’ve never been an activist or one of those vegetarians who find it my duty in life to go around telling meat eaters how wrong they are to do it the sight always bothered me. After reading the Tao Te Ching however I have this new philosophy that even though eating meat may seem wrong or evil to me because it causes the loss of life and suffering for the animal whose flesh we eat people do it because it is the way of nature, animals eat animals in nature to survive and even though I can’t speak for the animals I know that for humans it is an enjoyable experience. Thus not eating meat for many people would be against nature or their natures and cause great suffering.





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