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Taoist Christian


eric
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Does anyone else consider themselves to be a Taoist Christian?

 

I have long been fascinated with many Taoist beliefs and have often experienced something that could be identified as the Tao. I see the wisdom in the Tao Te Ching and have found such ideas as wu wei, p'u, and the balance of the yin yang to be nice compliments to the teachings of Jesus. I like to think that Jesus was more connected with the Tao than anyone else has been.

 

I have also been enjoying The Jesus Sutras; Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity by Martin Palmer.

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I haven't studied Taoism really, but over the course of the past few months, as I've been working out some "stuff", I keep coming back to the "dualism in unity" symbol of yin/yang over and over and over.

 

I think it is the most true and profound view of "reality" that I've ever come across.

 

My cosmological/theological views don't neatly fit into the yin/yang box, but they are pretty dang close. Heck, I might find out, if I studied Taoism, that my views are even closer than I think.

 

It would take me pages to explain what I personally mean by that statement, so I won't. :P

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It would take me pages to explain what I personally mean by that statement, so I won't.  :P

Could you give us the "summary" version? ;) I would be very interested in your thoughts ...... especially regarding "dualism in unity." Not fair getting us piqued and then not telling. :P

 

BTW, I noticed your quote of Thomas Moore. Is that the current author? If so, he has edited a book on the Jesus Sutras.

 

Book Description

"The Lost Sutras of Jesus" conveys the history, message and meaning of a set of 1300-year-old scrolls which were lost in China for nine centuries. Written by Christian monks living in China, the sutras elegantly weave Eastern wisdom with Christian parables. "The Lost Sutras of Jesus" combines a new translation of selected Sutras with insight and commentary from editors Ray Riegert and Thomas Moore. This book is both an intriguing tale of discovery and a spiritual guide for how we can live in today's tumultuous world.

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Hi Eric! I'll try to expand on what I meant before in another reply. In the meantime, I found this interview with Thomas Moore on the Jesus Sutras. He is the same Thomas Moore btw. :D

 

What are the Jesus Sutras?

 

They're a group of teachings that go back centuries. A group of Christian monks left Persia to enter China in the year 635, and established a small Christian community inside China. The people at first welcomed them very warmly and were very interested in what they had to say about religion. In fact, the local people called this new religion "the Luminous Religion." The people wrote some of the teachings and stories down, and as they did that, they mixed them with their own Buddhist and Taoist ideas. Some of the writings are very close to the gospel stories.

 

These sutras don't represent a highly developed theology. There's a simplicity about them, a folk quality that represents ordinary people trying to understand what the new teaching is.

 

Some of the sutras are similar to Christian texts that Westerners would know—there's the story of Jesus, for instance. Other sections seemed much more Taoist. With some, if you were reading them in isolation you wouldn't think they had any connection to Christianity.

 

When you read the Jesus Sutras, you have to look to find the direct Christian elements. They're there, and they're quite striking. Sometimes they're concealed. For myself, I may be familiar with a certain way in which a Christian story or teaching is worded, and it's worded differently in the sutra. You recognize it, but there's still enough of a difference to make you sit up and say, "Do I know this?"

 

It makes it fresh. That's one of the key values of the Jesus Sutras. With a slight change in point of view or language, they sound very fresh, and you may consider them in a new light.

 

For example, there's a part where Jesus talks about karma. That's not something you normally associate with Jesus—you wouldn't, because karma is not a Christian idea. But when it's put in the mouth of Jesus, it makes you think about more familiar words like sin. You think differently.

 

We're not trying to say this is Christian teaching. There's no argument here. But putting the two together makes you think, "I wonder if the Christian teaching might have a deeper understanding if we did associate it with the idea of karma for a moment."

 

What would happen if Christians were more open to karma?

 

Their ideas of morality would change slightly. I think this is another key idea in the Jesus Sutras as a whole. A lot of people think of Christianity as a moral religion: what is right and wrong, what not to do, people in authority telling you how to live. The trouble with that is if you follow all these things, you may not really live a moral life. You may be following the rules, but not be deepening your ethical sense as you grow up and live a more complicated life.

 

If you're thinking of karma, you don't have quite that same emphasis on morality. Instead, you realize that everything you do, every minute, has its impact and consequences. That leads to a moral way of living, but with a different quality than the one I described before.

 

What sections of the Sutras do you find striking?

 

I enjoyed the story of the birth and early life of Jesus. It's abbreviated, very short. You hear the story a bit differently. Instead of referring to the Holy Spirit, the Sutras refer to the "Cool Wind." It makes it more sensuous, something you can feel with your body and not just think about with your mind.

 

Those natural images throughout the Jesus Sutras bring body and mind closer together, I think that's something Christianity could really use.

 

These Jesus Sutras are beautiful writing. They're sensuous, the imagery is very strong, they're fresh. You could live the teachings every day without having to think too much about it. Within religions, we generally overlook the fact that the beauty of expression is important. If you read the Psalms, the great sutras in Buddhism, the Tao Te Ching, or the wonderful poetry coming from the Sufis, the beauty in the language and in the ideas is so strong it knocks you over.

 

In the sutras, translated phrases like "Good Spiritual Friend" and "Dharma Sovereign" seem to refer to the divine. Another name was the "One Spirit."

 

They direct the reader to focus on the invisible elements in their lives. The Sutras give the example of an arrow—if you see one going through the air, you know someone has shot it. You don't have to see the person shooting the arrow to know they're there; the source, the ultimate cause.

 

Almost everything in today's culture is telling us that the only thing that is real is what can be seen and measured. The Sutras go in a different direction. That whole attitude is summed up in the phrase "One Spirit."

 

In the sutra version of Jesus' life, the text didn't actually say Jesus died, though it was implied. And it didn't indicate at all that he rose.

 

The Sutras do not talk about the resurrection, but they also don't talk about many things that would be considered essential to Christianity. You get fragments of Christianity mixed with fragments of Buddhism and Taoism. You don't get the main teachings of Buddhism or Taoism either. You get pieces of each and the flavor of each. It might be disappointing to Christians to read the Sutras and say "The things that are very important to me aren't there. Does that mean they didn't believe in them?"

 

I don't think so. What we have here are scrolls, not a book that's supposed to be complete. These are stories and teachings–-practical wisdom. We have to take it for what it is and can't expect more from it than what it has to offer. You get a sketch of Jesus' life, but not theology.It puts the focus on the basic teachings of Jesus, and not the development of theology.

 

Eastern and Western traditions have a lot in common. But what does Christianity emphasize that Eastern traditions don't, and vice versa? Where have the connections not been fully developed?

 

That's a huge question. But, for example, Buddhist teachings like the Four Noble Truths include the notion that desire gets us into trouble. You find that teaching summarized in the Jesus Sutras in a simple phrase, "No desire." Right in the same section they have, "No virtue." I don't think you'd find in Christian teachings the phrase "No virtue" or "No truth." You might find questions about desire. So the Buddhist teaching is really quite different from Christian teaching.

Yet when it said "no virtue" it seemed to be saying "no desire to show that you're virtuous." The idea seemed to be that you should be acting virtuously, but not because you want to make a statement about it. It's not like "Let's all have orgies."

 

But I think it goes deeper than that, because I think within Christianity—certainly in the way it's come down historically—people worry about being virtuous: Am I doing the right thing, am I a good person? In Buddhism as I know it, which is much less than I know Christianity, I would say people would be more interested in what sort of wisdom you have. Do you have some degree of enlightenment, are you in tune with the law of nature and of life? That's a different notion from being virtuous.

 

In that one area alone, the Buddhist and the Christian are really very different. That doesn't mean they're not compatible. As much as I want to bring the religions together in dialogue and community, I think they're very different from each other, and it's important to maintain those differences.

 

What are some other differences?

 

In Taoism, if you read the Tao Te Ching and other sources, you find that one of the great teachings is that we really can't know as much as we'd like to know, and the things we think we know we don't: "He who speaks does not know and he who knows does not speak." "The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao."

 

Within the Christian mystical tradition, Nicholas of Kucza, a mystical theologian from the early Renaissance, wrote several books about not knowing, about how important it was not to know—very close to the Taoist idea. But his thinking is not in the center of Christian thought at all. It's off on the side, with the mystics.

 

If you dig deep enough, you'll probably find that these traditions are very close to each other, but the accents are very different. What we have to do with the Jesus Sutras in particular is see how these three religions can come together and make something quite beautiful.

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Could you give us the "summary" version?  I would be very interested in your thoughts ...... especially regarding "dualism in unity."

 

First off, I just found out that I did NOT coin the phrase "duality in unity". :( I thought I was being original!

 

Hmmm. A summary of my ontology?

 

God and reality are "neutral" in nature. Not good. Not evil. Neutral.

 

There! That's it in a nutshell. :P

 

OK. Seriously. Something really weird just happened. I did a search on "unity in duality" and found a websight that has a page about taoism, which I swear I have nothing to do with and have never read before. Wanna know the websight?

 

The Aletheian Institute. :blink:

 

Here's a quote:

 

In light of the Universal Dialectic concept, we see that the problem of duality (dualism and pluralism) versus Oneness (monism) may be solved in the context of dialectical monism.

 

The majority of metaphysical systems throughout history have found themselves forced to affirm the reality of one dualistic aspect at the expense of considering the other illusionary or ill-conceived.

 

Some traditional ontologies (those of Indian and Oriental origin in particular) favor Oneness, considering the unity to be the 'real reality,' and duality to be 'maya' or illusion.

 

Others consider the world of duality the only reality and reject any talk of unity or Oneness as metaphysical abstraction.

 

The concept of Universal Dialectic shows that both positions settle for a half-truth.

 

The solution offered is the recognition that unity is experienced as duality. There is no unity which does not manifest as duality, and there is no duality which does not reduce to unity. 'Ultimate Reality' in the metaphysical sense is not different from 'everday reality' in the pragmatic sense.

 

I've come to the above opinion on my own, over a period of years, through mystical experience and great philosophical conversation. However, in all my philosophical discussions, I've never had anyone express "duality in unity and unity in duality" to me before. It's very disconcerting (cool, but still!) to find it summed up on a webpage that bears my freaking name! :o

 

Here's the link to the page I just found:

 

The Aletheian Institute

 

Where I might differ from Taoism and the Monism espoused by that websight, is that I believe in a creator that manifested our universe (all universes?), but in doing so, "created" us to be independent, relational beings. I am not (as many Hindus would say) a dream of a bored god.

 

One creation myth that I particularly like is that in creating the universe, God made all things from godself, except one, which was created "ex nihilo" - receptivity.

 

God, being alone, wanted to share, to give and so created a "vessel" to receive the light of God. The nature of being receptive was the one "thing" God had to create ex nihilo.

 

OK, I'm getting off topic. I'll shush up.

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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I think that the way our culture is is profoundly more dualistic than eastern culture and perhaps also some Native Americans and other aboringinals are.

 

I took a linguistics course and some of the students actually got angry when the teacher talked about the word "gun" in Navaho (I think?) meaning something like the action needed to clean it. The shape of the gun requires this relationship with it that means that this action will be required when interacting with it vs this is a thing that I pick up (and kill with).

It would be like instead fo the word "book" we would have "turning pages".

They almost got into shouting, no this can't be, it isn't right-- that sort of thing. There was another discussion of the Australian native (I think??) that is something like instead fo the word "walk" you have something that is more like "walkingness". I think that it is something like you don't go on a walk or do something which is somehow outside yourself called 'walking", you are in the state of walkingness, but I imagine I have injected some western dualism into that explanation. Some students were much more upset by that, and myself and some others not at all.

 

We view ourselves so much out of the world that to put ourselves as part of it and as unseparate from it is exceedingly difficult. My guess from my little bits of linguistics that we have a disadvantage coming into Buddhism based on language and they might have a disadvantage coming into Christianity.

 

BTW, yesterday I went to a Lenten service where we had a prayer meeting based on Taize (accented e). It is worship service based entirely on chants, silence (meditation), and repeated singing. I thought it was about as close to Eastern religion as you can in Christianity. Perhaps it might have been closer to older forms of worship in Christianity. It is unlikely that Westerners were as dualistic as they are now in ages past.

 

 

--des

Edited by des
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Well, there's truth to that:

IMO, the early Christians were far less dualistic than many are today (not counting the Gnostics who were VERY dualistic).

 

For instance, the early Christians maintained that God is both a God of love/mercy AND of wrath/justice; and they understood that salvation is both personal and social/corporate. Sadly, many contemporary Christians tend to separate these things and this leads to false dichotomies, imbalances (over emphasizing one over the other), and ultimately to idolotry.

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eric and all,

 

Oh man! I just got into Taoism and was surprised by how much I liked it.

 

Another one of those "coincidences" like Aletheia's "The Aletheian Institute" link she found. That was funny.

 

I want to chew on what was said so far in this thread and also over on the "new thought" thread, and then I'll post more of my thoughts.

 

I really like what Huston Smith said about Taoism in his "World's Religions" book.

 

I also bought:

"What is Tao?," by Alan Watts

"Tao Ching," by Stephen Mitchell (Recommended by Huston Smith)

 

"Everyday Tao," by Deng Ming-Dao (I love this book! It has brief one page commentaries on a word/topic along with the Chinese characters and explanation of it.)

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Wind,

 

In doing some googling I found quite a few good websights. You have to google "Philosophical Taoism" because it is quite different from religious Taoism.

 

One of the websights I found seems to be based on Alan Watts and the research done by Huston Smith (another "hero" of mine).

 

The link is:

 

http://www.yakrider.com/Tao/Taoism_Daoism.htm

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In my studies of Taoism, is see no impetus for working to address systemic and social injustice, instead, I see a liscene for moral quietude.

IMO, Taoism says much about "how" to take action. The TTC suggests that we follow our intuition when it comes to such things and then use our natural timing to lead others. The sage could best lead by example and offer wisdom and insight so as to change the system back to the more natural balance. Similar to the Taoist thinking about self defense (even war).......they acknowledge that action is sometimes needed, but the Taoist would try to use the aggressor's own force to make change.

 

Makes me think of Walter Wink's words regarding Jesus' use of the extra mile, giving the cloak, and turning the cheek. He used these as acts of defiance to bring about change.

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For a forray into taoism... I loved the Tao of Pooh series.  Each character represents elements of taoism.  Readable and informative - I think  :P

In fact, it is worth multiple reads. :D

 

eric and all,

 

Oh man! I just got into Taoism and was surprised by how much I liked it.

For me, it was like finding an old friend that I didn't know existed. It was if someone stole my thoughts and placed them in print. B)

 

Alethia, that's wild stuff. I look forward to checking out the link.

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  • 1 month later...
Does anyone else consider themselves to be a Taoist Christian?

 

Well, I'm a month late, but I have an excuse, I just joined. :)

 

I wouldn't say I consider myself to be a "Taoist Christian" so much, as I would say that the "union of opposites" idea that is fundamental to Taoism has dramatically influenced my understanding of both creation and salvation/redemption in Christianity. (Incidentally, it's also a major theme in Jung; see his essay "A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity" in Psychology and Western Religion.)

 

I say it has influenced my understanding of creation, rather than my understanding of God, because, as in Taoism, God/Tao/Ultimate transcends all opposites.

 

Anyone read Alan Watts' Behold the Spirit? That's got to be one of the most amazing takes on Christianity ever written; and obviously from someone steeped in Eastern thought. Unfortunately, I think Watts did a few too many drugs in the 60's and 70's, because he seems to have forgotten Christianity's esoteric core and lapsed into identifying it purely with its negative forms.

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Welcome Fred! Nice to have you. See the thread on "Christianity Hybrids" and the thread over in the book review section on Marcus Borgs Heart of Christianity book. We've discussed Taoism in those threads as well.

 

I say it has influenced my understanding of creation, rather than my understanding of God, because, as in Taoism, God/Tao/Ultimate transcends all opposites.

 

I'm curious as to what you mean by that statement? Why creation and not God?

 

In my meditations I came to an understanding of God as a being that transcends all opposites. In doing research on "neutral God" or "Duality in Unity", I came across Taoism. LOL! As I believe that all exists within God (panentheism), the union of polarities as an Ontology, extends to everything else as well.

 

I believe EVERYTHING is a "union of oposites": matter, energy, quanta, behavior, thought processes, etc ... etc ...

 

Hoping to have an exchange of ideas. People keep signing up, posting and then dissappear. :(

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Welcome Fred! Nice to have you. See the thread on "Christianity Hybrids" and the thread over in the book review section on Marcus Borgs Heart of Christianity book. We've discussed Taoism in those threads as well.

 

Thanks! As it turns out I've had that book on my shelf for awhile now, and just read it on the train this week. But I've read most of his earlier stuff, so it's not really new material.

 

I say it has influenced my understanding of creation, rather than my understanding of God, because, as in Taoism, God/Tao/Ultimate transcends all opposites.

 

I'm curious as to what you mean by that statement? Why creation and not God?

 

Well, this is probably where I remain most solidly orthodox. Strictly speaking, God is impassable, ineffable, unassailable, and all those other im-, in-, and un- type terms; which is of course, our way of saying that there's nothing that we can properly attribute of God. We see in creation an almost infinite array of interlocking forms and anti-forms (my terminology attempting to integrate the Eastern idea of opposites with the Western idea of Forms!); but strictly speaking, Godself is beyond form and anti-form, beyond opposites. But as I said, this is actually Eastern as well: Tao is not the union of opposites, but the beyond of opposites: the formlessness from which form springs.

 

Hoping to have an exchange of ideas. People keep signing up, posting and then dissappear.  :(

 

I hope so, if I can manage to pull together enough time to keep up with it! I don't think I'll be able to write this much from work on a typical day.

 

Fred

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Well, this is probably where I remain most solidly orthodox.  Strictly speaking, God is impassable, ineffable, unassailable, and all those other im-, in-, and un- type terms; which is of course, our way of saying that there's nothing that we can properly attribute of God.  We see in creation an almost infinite array of interlocking forms and anti-forms (my terminology attempting to integrate the Eastern idea of opposites with the Western idea of Forms!); but strictly speaking, Godself is beyond form and anti-form, beyond opposites.  But as I said, this is actually Eastern as well: Tao is not the union of opposites, but the beyond of opposites: the formlessness from which form springs.

 

You know, even as I say this, I have to correct myself! (Fortunately, the paradoxical nature of this stuff is all well known!) God/Tao is actually both (and yet One): the source and destination of forms and opposites. It comes back to that transcendence / immanence thing that is captured so well by the notion of panentheism.

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Strictly speaking, God is impassable, ineffable, unassailable, and all those other im-, in-, and un- type terms; which is of course, our way of saying that there's nothing that we can properly attribute of God ...

 

Yep. The God that can be named or described, is not God because God would also be the opposite of any attribute we could ascribe - even impassable, ineffable and unassailable. :blink:

 

It was actually in an attempt to move beyond strict "via positiva" spirituality that brought me to some of the conclusions I have. I appreciate much of Orthodoxy, but found it ironic that in saying "God is ineffable", Orthodoxy is actually making a lot of statements of what God is by saying what God is not. :blink::blink:

 

Godself is beyond form and anti-form, beyond opposites. But as I said, this is actually Eastern as well: Tao is not the union of opposites, but the beyond of opposites: the formlessness from which form springs.

 

All kidding aside, when I think of God as union or dance of opposites, it occurs to me that a negative added to a positive creates "zero" (insert the words: neutrality, formlessness, pregnant void, no-thing-ness). In that sense God is both the union of opposites and beyond that union as well (which is again a union of opposites). LOL!

 

You know, even as I say this, I have to correct myself! (Fortunately, the paradoxical nature of this stuff is all well known!) God/Tao is actually both (and yet One): the source and destination of forms and opposites. It comes back to that transcendence / immanence thing that is captured so well by the notion of panentheism.

 

YES! YES! YES! Tao is beyond forms and yet manifests as forms (Taiji). God is both infinite and finite, is both transcendant and immanent. God is everything we can say but also the opposite of all those things and BEYOND.

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This is what really led me to the notion that Borg brings out in The Heart of Christianity (even though I actually had exactly this sense long before I read it there): the similarities between the world religions at their esoteric core does not count against the truth of Christianity, but profoundly for it. A bizarre, idiosyncratic religion would not impress me as true.

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similarities between the world religions at their esoteric core does not count against the truth of Christianity, but profoundly for it

 

Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Ken Wilber all refer to it as "perennial" wisdom. Esoteric Christianity has much wisdom to offer.

 

A bizarre, idiosyncratic religion would not impress me as true.

 

You lost me there. "Could ya splain Lucy?" (In my best Desi Arnez voice.)

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A bizarre, idiosyncratic religion would not impress me as true.

 

You lost me there. "Could ya splain Lucy?" (In my best Desi Arnez voice.)

 

It was just another way of saying the same thing. If Christianity were a bizarre special-case religion that didn't somehow plug into universal truths, I wouldn't be inclined to follow it.

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Lao Tze a taoist poet reads like a zen koan that snaps the mind to a parrellel universe where all is united. All religions trying to describe what cannot be described with words. We are in the matrix.

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