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The Tao Te Ching


JosephM
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"The Tao Te Ching was written in China roughly 2,500 years ago at about the same time when Buddha expounded the Dharma in India and Pythagoras taught in Greece. The Tao Te Ching is probably the most influential Chinese book of all times. Its 81 chapters have been translated into English more times than any other Chinese document.

The Tao Te Ching provides the basis for the philosophical school of Taoism, which is an important pillar of Chinese thought. Taoism teaches that there is one undivided truth at the root of all things." (Taken from

www.thebigview.com in line with their fair and good faith copyright use)

It is very short and can be read online and discussed as it relates to your understanding of any counterparts in Christianity. I have never studied Taoism but coming across this short writing i found it very profound. Perhaps those interested can take it one short chapter at a time. (written in short verses) Perhaps we may even have a Taoist in our midst to enlighten us on Taoism.

It can be read free of charge here ...

The Tao

Anyone interested?

Joseph

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Joseph

 

 

 

I see why it appeals to you. More later

 

Dutch

OK Dutch perhaps we can start Chapter One and let others join in....

Yes it does. It speaks to me. Chapter one speaks of the Tao (the way in chinese) The way in Christianity is Christ. Different names but a similarity in my view. As it says the name that can be named is not the eternal name. I think this is because the name is only a pointer to that which cannot be named. A word or noun can never fully define God. We make concepts out of names and thus create origins yet the substrate of these things is the eternal real that cannot be named.

 

"Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations."

 

To me, I see desires as a thing of this world that never truly satisfy. Jesus was recorded saying to his disciples " You are in the world but not of the world" .

It seems to me, If you are of the world then you are caught up in the desires of the world and cannot see the mystery in Christ in which is hid all knowledge and wisdom. All you can see is content, phenomena which are manifestations that only can be seen as such when one is free from desires of this world.

 

"Yet mystery and manifestations

arise from the same source.

This source is called darkness."

 

In Christianity, The things that do appear are are manifested from the things that cannot be seen (Heb 11:13) Therefore both to me arise from the same source. The Tao call this darkness and Christianity light. This appears to contradict but the next and final Chapter One verse ...

 

"Darkness within darkness.

The gateway to all understanding."

 

Even in the first chapter of Genesis in the beginning light came out of darkness. Darkness as a metaphor of the unseen. Different words by different religions for different peoples. Buddhism my call this emptiness.

 

"The phrase "form is emptiness; emptiness is form" is perhaps the most celebrated paradox associated with Buddhist philosophy" (Taken from www.thebigview.com Anyway that is all my comments for the present in chapter One.

 

Joseph

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I am not going to pretend that I am learning about the Tao without a Taoist present but I will use these words as a mirror and prompt for reflecting on my own understanding. ( I just needed to say that - not to anybody in particular.)

 

The name that can be named

is not the eternal Name.

Whitehead said that there two natures of God: primordial nature and consequent nature. The primordial nature is the ineffable, the unnamed, the eternal - we say eternal because we don't have a word that says that the existence of "the eternal Name" has no sense of time and space. The primordial nature of God is the darkness, the ground , the context, the structure, out of which creation is becoming - the "origin of all particular things."

 

Naming is the origin

of all particular things.

 

This sure has resonance with our Scriptures

 

Breath of God across the waters

in the beginning was the word

God gave names to all the animals

 

Naming is also categorizing, analyzing, abstracting. Language allows us to think, to make distinctions, to know this from that.

 

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

 

Then even though naming is the origin of all things, all naming, all thinking, and desire then naming is also a barrier to returning to the darkness of the "eternal Name." (I am not sure that equating the eternal Name with darkness is correct from a Tao point of view.)

 

I would say instead that intellectual activity, ideas, plans, concepts (manifestations) can sometimes help, sometimes hinder, our being receptive, being open, being able to join with God in the becoming of the next moment (mystery). This God I join with in the becoming of the next moment is understood as the consequent nature of God, that aspect of God we experience personally, that draws us forward to love, to the Holy.

 

So for me, the mystery of the unknowable unnameable deity from which creation is becoming is also the personal God of Love who draws me forward to the mystery of Now.

 

Anyway,

 

Dutch

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Thanks, Joseph, for this topic. I have a small familiarity with Taoism, gained in the course of prodding at different eastern religions. If you find the Tao Te Ching interesting, I recommend the book attributed to Chuang Tzu, Taoism's classic proponent and philosopher.

 

The tao that can be told

is not the eternal Tao

The name that can be named

is not the eternal Name.

 

To me this seems to be, among other things, as direct a prohibition of idolatry as can be made. Not only shall no image be made of God, but also no name may be given. I'm reminded of Hinduism's description: "The One before whom all words recoil."

 

Yet mystery and manifestations

arise from the same source.

This source is called darkness.

 

Ever since reading Steven Mitchell's translation of Job, I am always reminded of how God spoke out of the stormy whirlwind. To my mind that represents a darkness that refuses all finding out.

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This reminds me of aspects of neoplatonism. The concept that the world is a shadow of the true and only existence, which is 'the good' or 'the one', which is beyond logial understanding. Further, that the world and desire and mortality itself, or KAKON, is the weight holding us down from experiencing a reconnection with the one, which can be achieved by rejecting kakon and practicing contemplative exercises so that we can go within ourselves, to our core, and explode outwards then into the one, of which we are all a part.

 

At least that's my take on neoplatonism. I am also reminded of a speech I heard from a Yogi once. He was talking about desire and he compared it to a poisonous snake. He said when you have hold a poisoinous snake, you are in control and dominating the snake, but it is also milimetres away from killing you. He said if you let the snake free, if you, in a sense, surrender your domination and control, you have also freed yourself from danger.

 

Not a very intellectual reply guys, sorry, but just two things that sprang to mind.

 

Adi

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I don’t have anything to add about the first chapter, but would like to mention another good translation of the Tao (by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English). What I appreciate about Stephen Mitchell’s version is that he alternates using male and female pronouns in the text, while this one does not, though it often has more depth or poetic language--anyway here is the link if anyone wants to compare them --

 

http://www.terebess.hu/english/tao/gia.html

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Thanks for the added link Rivanna. it may add add some insight into a the translation which in my understanding is very difficult from the original symbols which are very abstract.

Anyone else on Chapter one, if not open for Chapter two.

Joseph

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Chapter Two

 

I am a little crabby and over-dichotomized. Dichotomies are useful for categorizing, focusing, and thinking about certain issues. I used "good" and "evil" to think about God and the idea that God is limited. But I don't think dichotomies are always real and so to collapse them is not significant. Some examples.

 

Good

If the evolutionary development of good begins with the mother-child relationship (see The Bridge to Humanity by Goldschmidt) then from the beginning there is not a dichotomy. We make the dichotomy in our language. We could imagine a language which did not create the dichotomies.

 

Beauty

Art -

Artists continually challenge our notions of beauty in art. Marcel Duchamp's urinal submitted to an art show in the early 20th century is one example. Repulsion was the first reaction but the urinal is now considered a seminal piece in art history partly because it expanded the notion of what is art. It may have been a good urinal based on the rules for evaluating urinals but it questioned the rules for art. A person who says, "I know what I like and I don't like the urinal" and never changes their mind does not prove a dichotomy.

 

The dichotomies of long and short, tall and short, high and low depend on context. "This ladder is too short to reach the roof." "The Grand Mesa, high above Grand Junction, Colorado, is short compared to the Rocky Mountains, just a short drive away." These relationships are real. The dichotomies are artifacts and artificial constructs of our language.

 

Detachment, however, is an real and important goal for well being.

 

Crabby

Dutch

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The first 2 small paragraphs speak of creating opposites or duality. By our measuring or judging we make opposites of a continuum based on our personal conditioning, fears, likes or desires. In doing so, it seems to me, we create a reality of concepts that exists only in our own or collective mind. This seems to me to be a great cause of separation, conflict and disharmony in the world. To me, there is nothing ugly in itself but only to him who esteems it as such. Death or non-being is not the opposite of Life. There is birth and death but they are only cycles of Life which has no opposite. Before and after create the illusion of time, keeping us from experiencing the presence of the One whose presence is always in the eternal Now.

 

The master or teacher lets things come and go without attaching labels or creating opposites. Teaches by his/her actions without words. (Actions speak louder than words) Does without doing in that the acts come from within and not as a result of his conditioning. Jesus was recorded saying "I do not my own works but the works of Him who sent me", To me this is acting without doing. Some might call it inspired action. The master has and nutures but doesn't possess which to me means doesn't attach to that which is in ones possession so that when it is time to part, it is not a loss and can be let go without suffering. When the work is done it is forgotten to me means to not linger on past accomplishments when they are done but to move on to the new and so it continues and lasts forever.

 

These are just my personal thoughts/understandings on the versus from my experience as relates to the document we are discussing and they make no claim whatsoever to be the actual intent or meaning of the author of the Tao.

 

Joseph

 

 

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Chapter Two

 

I am a little crabby and over-dichotomized. Dichotomies are useful for categorizing, focusing, and thinking about certain issues. I used "good" and "evil" to think about God and the idea that God is limited. But I don't think dichotomies are always real and so to collapse them is not significant. Some examples.

 

Good

If the evolutionary development of good begins with the mother-child relationship (see The Bridge to Humanity by Goldschmidt) then from the beginning there is not a dichotomy. We make the dichotomy in our language. We could imagine a language which did not create the dichotomies.

 

Beauty

Art -

Artists continually challenge our notions of beauty in art. Marcel Duchamp's urinal submitted to an art show in the early 20th century is one example. Repulsion was the first reaction but the urinal is now considered a seminal piece in art history partly because it expanded the notion of what is art. It may have been a good urinal based on the rules for evaluating urinals but it questioned the rules for art. A person who says, "I know what I like and I don't like the urinal" and never changes their mind does not prove a dichotomy.

 

The dichotomies of long and short, tall and short, high and low depend on context. "This ladder is too short to reach the roof." "The Grand Mesa, high above Grand Junction, Colorado, is short compared to the Rocky Mountains, just a short drive away." These relationships are real. The dichotomies are artifacts and artificial constructs of our language.

 

Detachment, however, is an real and important goal for well being.

 

Crabby

Dutch

 

Hi Dutch,

 

It is my understanding that a dichotomy is a division into two usually contradictory parts or opinions. Since things like long and short , high and low depend on context as you say, it seems to me their real usefulness is very limited. IE when comparing mountains we can user higher or lower but then the one that is higher may be lower when compared to the next so while it has limited use, is it not much more accurate to use measurements such as height above sea level and ground to communicate rather than a label that is limited to a unique comparison only? Relationships like "a short drive away" as you used in your example above to me is not real except to you. What is a short drive? It is a subjective thing to me. Is it not more accurate to say it a drive of 10 miles or whatever it is? I agree they are artificial constructs of language.

 

In my view, these examples are not serious issues when related to certain things but since dichotomies are so subjective in nature, when involved in relations, using them as such in the mind as concepts or absolute constructs can cause unneeded conflicts. Why? Possibly because the mind uses these as polar opposites rather than points on a continuum? Perhaps doing so is responsible for miscommunication and conflicts of 'right' and 'wrong' and other positionalities rather than looking at things as a perspective along a single line. To me, these seem to invoke emotions which make rationality even more subjective than it is without emotions. It seems to me a dissolving of the minds continual use and practice of using opposite polarities is a useful function to transcend mind to realize true reality.

 

Just my perspective on your comment, from my present understanding,

 

Joseph

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It is my understanding that a dichotomy is a division into two usually contradictory parts or opinions. .... It seems to me a dissolving of the minds continual use and practice of using opposite polarities is a useful function to transcend mind to realize true reality.

 

Yes.

 

Dutch

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When people see some things as beautiful,

other things become ugly.

When people see some things as good,

other things become bad.

 

Being and non-being create each other.

Difficult and easy support each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low depend on each other.

Before and after follow each other.

 

What I get out of this is that there is no thing, or even principle, that exists absolutely unto itself - nothing we can point to and say “this is IT.” The Truth is not this or that.

 

Therefore the Master

acts without doing anything

and teaches without saying anything.

Things arise and she lets them come;

things disappear and she lets them go.

She has but doesn't possess,

acts but doesn't expect.

When her work is done, she forgets it.

That is why it lasts forever.

 

The master is, then (as Thomas Merton might say), one who does not rule the phenomena of life out into strange finalities. True virtue (which is, if I'm not mistaken, what Tao Te Ching means: "the Way and its Virtue/Power") is found in the spontaneity that arises naturally from a state of not-clinging, and not-clinging arising naturally from an understanding of the not-ultimate - or "empty" - status of things.

Edited by Mike
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What I get out of this is that there is no thing, or even principle, that exists absolutely unto itself - nothing we can point to and say “this is IT.” The Truth is not this or that.

Mike, thanks for this observation. I see the passage in a new way.

 

 

The master is, then (as Thomas Merton might say), one who does not rule the phenomena of life out into strange finalities.

Would you say more about this?

 

 

True virtue (which is, if I'm not mistaken, what Tao Te Ching means: "the Way and its Virtue/Power") is found in the spontaneity that arises naturally from a state of not-clinging, and not-clinging arising naturally from an understanding of the not-ultimate - or "empty" - status of things.

 

I had to do more reading to get a grip on this idea. Does this say the same thing?

 

To practice non-clinging does not mean forsaking what you value; that would be indifference. Instead, it means practicing nonattachment to outcome. . . . If you are indifferent, you have no value base; you literally don't care how life unfolds. This is cynicism disguised as "cool" or karmic apathy."

 

Dutch

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Hi Dutch, thanks for taking an interest in my post. Admittedly, many times my words and thoughts about such matters go deeper than where my real-life experience and practice are at presently, but nevertheless the themes of non-duality and emptiness have been arresting my thoughts ever since I was first introduced to them.

 

Would you say more about this?

 

That line, more or less quoted from Merton, has come to mean for me that we should not take one particular system or set of circumstances to have the final say on what life means, because nothing that we encounter in life exists absolutely. When we treat the objects and situations that we encounter as if they are absolute (as truly existing autonomously and separate from us), we are in effect turning life into something its not. Only God is absolute, and to treat the phenomena of life as such, is, to quote Merton exactly "to analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own." He adds later that by doing so we involve ourselves in absurdity and despair.

 

I had to do more reading to get a grip on this idea. Does this say the same thing?

 

So, would you say you managed to get a grip on not-clinging? :D

To answer your question, I would say yes, in my understanding.

I have come to understand that to not-cling is to cease treating Reality as if "it" were an object, something you could somehow stand outside of and manipulate. We tend not to realize that we are just as much part of reality as the objects we encounter, and also that "we" are not the possessors, or autonomous owners of, "ourselves" (we think of ourselves as objects we possess too). If this were so then we, and the objects we encounter, would all be ultimate, absolute, each a separate reality unto itself.

Hope this clarified my opinions on the subject.

Edited by Mike
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from the website I referenced earlier

"When Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's," his words contained this wisdom of acting according to your values. . . .There are people and responsibilities in your life that you care about. Render unto these people and responsibilities your best efforts, but do so without identifying with the results of your actions on their behalf. In Jesus's teaching results are God's business, not yours."

 

In many of his healing/teaching events he is giving examples that challenge the known limits of religious thought and practice. "You church leaders think that church and cleanliness and acceptability end there and I tell that it ends beyond where you see."

 

I think these are related to the teaching Chapter 2.

 

Can you think of any other Christian scriptural parallels?

 

Dutch

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Can you think of any other Christian scriptural parallels?

 

Dutch

 

Along those lines this scripture just came to mind, which for our purpose here I can understand as: don't hold on, for it is God who is holding you and not yourself.

 

Matthew 6

25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

 

28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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I hope this isn't derailing the topic.

Tonight at a Bible study the Scripture was John 6:1-21.

 

 

The Master . . .

and creates confusion

in those who think that they know.

 

The Tao is like a well:

used but never used up.

It is like the eternal void:

filled with infinite possibilities.

 

The apostles' knowledge stopped them from experiencing the possibility of a feast.

 

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

 

The struggle in rowing across the stopped the apostles from realizing that when they gave up the struggle they would be at their destination.

 

 

If you overesteem great men,

people become powerless.

 

Jesus went up to the mountain when the crowds began asking him to be king

 

 

Is this too much of a stretch?

Dutch

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Dutch,

 

Its not too much of a stretch if its meaningful to you.

 

Chapter 3

If you overesteem great men,

people become powerless.

If you overvalue possessions,

people begin to steal.

 

To me, this is wisdom because it seems creating an overly positive response also creates an equally negative response to maintain a universal balance. Therefor it is good to do all things in moderation only. This speaks to me of everything being interrelated. Exalting one in effect debases another. Similar to Jesus teaching not to lay up treasures for yourselves where moth and dust doth corrupt.... Paul is recorded teaching us to be temperate in all things.

 

The Master leads

by emptying people's minds

and filling their cores,

by weakening their ambition

and toughening their resolve.

He helps people lose everything

they know, everything they desire,

and creates confusion

in those who think that they know.

 

It seems to be saying that a wise ruler keeps his people's bellies full but ambitions dampened. In effect curbing desires and keeping life simple. It sounds similar to Buddhism and can be related to Jesus teachings of "Taking no thought for tomorrow or what you shall drink or wear ....... again laying not treasures up for yourselves ....... giving up personal desires for the kingdom of heavens sake....

 

Practice not-doing,

and everything will fall into place.

 

To me this again says practice doing the will of God rather than your own doing and everything will be done to completion.

 

Just my take, How about yours.

 

Joseph

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I enjoyed those observations Joseph.

 

If you overvalue possessions,

people begin to steal.

 

This calls to mind the fact that what we value affects how we behave. If we value something wrongly, then our actions will become perverse. Joseph mentioned treasure, and this verse immediately sprang to mind: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

 

The Master leads

by emptying people's minds

...

He helps people lose everything

they know, everything they desire,

and creates confusion

in those who think that they know.

 

Socrates comes to mind here. Not biblical, but Western at least. :)

Edited by Mike
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Chapter 4

The Tao is like a well

used but never used up

It is like the eternal void

filled with infinite possibilities

 

It is hidden but always present.

I don't know who gave birth to it

It is older than God.

 

When I first read these versus I drew a blank because of the abstractness of its translation but after contemplating a bit here is what it speaks to me...

 

A well is constantly replenished with water. As water is taken out new water quickly replaces the old to maintain the same level. The Tao (the Way or Christ) is like this. When we receive of it, it is not used up. As we take from it , we receive more in its place. It is like a living well that Jesus spoke of that produces living water. (Life) This way of life is as a void, seemingly empty as there is nothing to be seen of it by the eyes, but out of it comes visible life in all it infinitesimal choices and possibilities. In that it can not be seen or is itself formless, it is hidden to the eyes but present always. Who or How it was birth is unknown but it is older than the concept of God.

 

This is what it seems to say to me, What does it say to you?

 

Joseph

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The Tao is like a well

used but never used up

It is like the eternal void

filled with infinite possibilities

 

It is hidden but always present.

I don't know who gave birth to it

It is older than God.

 

That is a great connection you drew between this and the well springing to eternal life spoken of by Jesus, Joseph.

I gain a sense that no quantity of words, no methodology, no means of apprehension may exhaust what God is. We may draw our strength and our life and our principles and philosophies from him, and may write many volumes, but nothing has been added to or taken away from him. All systems and principles are incomplete and incapable of defining his intrinsic completeness. God dwells in light (or.. darkness) unapproachable, hid from our eyes.

Edited by Mike
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