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The Tao

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Author Topic: The Tao  (Read 432 times)
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« on: August 11, 2007, 06:28:23 pm »

Taoism is neither formal religion or structured philosophy.

Tao or Dao is a Chinese character often translated as ‘Way’ or 'Path'. In ancient China, dao could be modified by other nouns. Three such compounds gained special currency in Classical Chinese philosophy. 天道 Tian dao (sky or natural dao--usually translated religiously as "heaven's Tao") Da Dao (Great dao--the actual course of all history--everything that has happened or will happen)and Ren dao (human dao, the normative orders constructed by human (social) practices). The natural dao corresponds roughly to the order expressed in the totality of natural (physical) laws. The relations of these three were the subject of the discourses of Lao Tsu and Confucius.
From the earliest recorded discourses Tian Dao is explained using the concepts of yin and yang. The resulting cosmology became a distinctive feature of Chinese philosophy not only in the Daoist schools but throughout Han and Confucian thought generally. The early thinkers, Lao Tsu and Confucius, expressed the view that human dao was embedded in natural dao. If human life is lived in accord with the natural order of things, then human beings can fulfill their true nature. In ancient Chinese civilisation nature was not seen as a wilderness that was in need of subduing and controlling but considered the teacher from whom humanity could learn.

A common theme in Taoist literature is that fulfilment in life cannot be attained by forcing one's own destiny; instead, one must be receptive to the path laid for them by nature and circumstance, which will themselves provide what is necessary. Lao Tsu taught that the wisest approach was a way of ‘non-action’ ("Wuwei"or "wu wei") – not inaction but rather a harmonisation of one’s personal will with the natural harmony and justice of Nature. ‘The World is ruled by letting things take their natural course. It cannot be ruled by going against nature or arrogance.’ (Tao Te Ching; Verse 48). It also means that the individual should do things natural to him and appropriate to do in his circumstances, thus serving as an instrument of the Law rather than doing the things as individuals. That is why no one should take any credit for things done. Nature is stabilized by order, and humans along with all other natural phenomena exist within nature. Attempting to force one's own path is arrogant, futile and self-destructive.

It should be noted that in Taoism the complemental part of "non-action" ("Wu wei") is "non-left-undone" ("Wu bu wei"). Taoism should be viewed as advocating the harmonization of "passivity" and "activity/creativity" instead of just being passive. In other words through stillnes and receptivity natural intuition guides us in knowing when to act and when not to act.

TaijituLao Tsu, the legendary author of the Tao Te Ching, was the first to provide a comprehensive treatment of the Tao. The religion based on the concept of Tao - Tao Jiao - is known in English as Taoism. Lao Tsu taught that, "He who follows the Tao is one with the Tao," and "Being at one with the Tao is eternal, though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.’ (Verses 23 & 16)

Even a cursory look at life on Earth or the universe as a whole reveals a high level of complex order, creativity and organization. The beauty of the unspoiled regions of the world; the harmonious complexity of natural ecosystems, have a ‘just-so’ quality, an integrated wholeness that the ancient Chinese called Tao. Tao is the way of heaven, a way of natural harmony; of Truth, Beauty and Justice. Lao Tzu contrasts this Great Way with the way of human beings:

The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough. Man’s way is different. He takes from those who do not have enough to give to those who already have too much. (verse 77. Tr. Gia Fu Feng)
Lao Tsu characterizes the Way of Man as one in which force is applied without the attainment of desired results:

Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao, counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe. For this would only cause resistance. Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed. Lean years follow in the wake of war. Just do what needs to be done. Never take advantage of power…Force is followed by loss of strength. This is not the way of Tao. That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end. (verse 30. tr. Gia Fu Feng)
All mankind’s troubles on the Earth are caused by his having forgotten the Great Way. Remembering the Great Way is a spiritual awareness of one’s deep connection with the entirety of creation. This involves the adoption of a mode of ‘non-action’ that is not inaction but rather a harmonisation of one’s personal will – otherwise tending towards egotism – with the natural harmony and justice of Tao.

Tao abides in non-action yet nothing is left undone. If kings and lords observed this, the ten thousand things would develop naturally. If they still desired to act they would return to the simplicity of formless substance. Without form there is no desire. Without desire there is tranquillity. And in this way all things would be at peace. (verse 37. tr. Gia Fu Feng)
The greatest virtue is to follow Tao and Tao alone. The Tao is elusive and intangible. Oh, it is intangible and elusive, and yet within is image. Oh, it is elusive and intangible, and yet within is form. Oh, it is dim and dark, and yet within is essence. This essence is very real, and therein lies faith. From the very beginning til now its name has never been forgotten. Thus I perceive the creation. How do I know the ways of creation? Because of this. (verse 21. tr. Gia Fu Feng)
Today, scientists call the creative principle at work in the universe the ‘principle of self-organisation’ from the observed fact that naturally occurring phenomena organize themselves into complex interdependent systems each system a ‘whole’ in itself.[citation needed] At the heart of this remarkable self-organizing principle is a somewhat mysterious entity that is unconditioned yet gives rise to everything. Understanding what the nature of this generative and organisational principle is that has given rise to diverse living beings, the stars and the planets had been the subject of much enquiry and reflection by ancient Man.[citation needed] The epoch in which the Tao Te Ching was written, the Axial Age, saw the emergence of numerous philosophies that sought to establish first principles in the understanding of Nature. India produced the Upanishads and Greece the bold hypotheses of the Ionian and Eleatic philosophers. Lao Tsu also sought to account for the origins of the ‘ten thousand things’ and their manner of growth and development.

All things arise from Tao. They are nourished by Virtue. They are formed from matter. They are shaped by environment. Thus the ten thousand things all respect Tao and honour Virtue. Respect of Tao and honour of Virtue are not demanded. But they are in the nature of things. Therefore all things arise from Tao. By Virtue they are nourished, developed, cared for, sheltered, comforted, grown and protected. Creating without claiming; doing without taking credit; guiding without interfering - this is Primal Virtue. (verse 51. tr. ibid )
The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. The ten thousand things depend upon it; it holds nothing back. It fulfils its purpose silently and makes no claim. It nourishes the ten thousand things. And yet is not their lord. It has no aim; it is very small. The ten thousand things return to it, yet it is not their lord. It is very great. It does not show its greatness, And is therefore truly great. (verse 34. tr. ibid)
Yield and overcome; bend and be straight; empty and be full; wear out and be new; have little and gain; have much and be confused. Therefore wise men embrace the one and set an example to all. Not putting on a display, they shine forth. Not justifying themselves, they are distinguished. Not boasting, they receive recognition. Not bragging, they never falter. They do not quarrel so no one quarrels with them. Therefore the ancients say, “Yield and overcome.” Is that an empty saying? Be really whole and all things will come to you. (verse 22. tr. Gia Fu Feng)

Some characteristics of Tao
There is a flow in the universe, and it is called dao. Dao is never stagnant and is incredibly powerful and keeps things in the universe balanced and in order. It manifests itself through change of seasons, cycle of life, shifts of power, time, and so forth. Dao has a strong and deep connection with cosmology and the natural world, as the most well-known Daoist philosophers Laozi and Zhuangzi agreed. Dao is the law of Nature. When you follow dao, you become one with it. And it is best to also understand qi, because qi and dao go hand in hand. Qi is a Chinese term that is translated as breath, vapour, and energy. Because qi is the energy that circulates the universe, it can be said that dao is ultimately a flow of chi. Being one with dao brings best outcomes, because in that way things will fall into place as they are meant to be.

The concept of Tao is based upon the understanding that the only constant in the universe is change (see I Ching, the "Book of Changes") and that we must understand and be in harmony with this change. The change is a constant flow from non-being into being, potential into actual, yin into yang, female into male. The symbol of the Tao, called the Taijitu, is the yin yang confluently flowing into itself in a circle.

The Tao is the main theme discussed in the Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese scripture attributed to Lao Tsu. This book does not specifically define what the Tao is; it affirms that in the first sentence, "The Tao that can be told of is not an Unvarying Tao" (tr. Waley, modified). Instead, it points to some characteristics of what could be understood as being the Tao. Below are some excerpts from the book.

Tao as the origin of things: "Tao begets one; One begets two; Two begets three; Three begets the myriad creatures." (TTC 42, tr. Lau, modified)
Tao as an inexhaustible nothingness: "The Way is like an empty vessel / That yet may be drawn from / Without ever needing to be filled." (TTC 4, tr. Waley)
Tao is omnipotent and infallible: "What Tao plants cannot be plucked, what Tao clasps, cannot slip." (TTC 54, tr. Waley)
In the Yi Jing, a sentence closely relates Tao to Yin-Yang or Taiji, asserting that "one (phase of) Yin, one (phase of) Yang, is what is called the Tao." Being thus placed at the conjunction of Yin and Yang alternance, Tao can be understood as the continuity principle that underlies the constant evolution of the world.

Most debates between proponents of one of the Hundred Schools of Thought could be summarized in the simple question: who is closer to the Tao, or, in other words, whose "Tao" is the most powerful? As used in modern spoken and written Chinese, Tao has a wide scope of usage and meaning.

Tao in the Tao Te Ching
Tao is referred to in many ways in the Tao Te Ching. There are different shades of meanings in the various translations of this great work, which, with over 100 translations, is perhaps the most translated Chinese text in the English language. Here is one translation of the first stanza, describing Tao:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.
—(Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, 1972).

« Last Edit: August 11, 2007, 07:01:50 pm by unknown » Report Spam   Logged

"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
Elphias Levi

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« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2007, 07:03:13 pm »

some quotes from the Tao te ching

“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”

Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.”

“To know you have enough is to be rich.”

He who seeks titles, invites his own downfall.

The ordinary man seeks honour, not dishonour, cherishing success and abominating failure, loving life, whilst fearing death. The sage does not recognise these things, so lives his life quite simply.

The sage does not expect that others use his criteria as their own.

By retaining his humility, the talented person who is also wise, reduces rivalry.

This is why those who seek
will find,
And those who reform
will be forgiven;
Why the good
will be rewarded,
And the thief who is cunning
will escape.

« Last Edit: August 11, 2007, 07:05:10 pm by unknown » Report Spam   Logged

"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
Elphias Levi
Superhero Member
Posts: 1603

« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2007, 08:55:03 pm »

"Among the great things which are to be found among us, the being of nothingness is the greatest."

Leonardo Da Vinci

"Those who want the fewest things are nearest to the gods"


"To set up what you like against that what you dislike -- this is the disease of the mind"


If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear as it is, infinite.

William Blake

"How can you think and hit at the same time?"

Yogi Berra
« Last Edit: August 11, 2007, 09:05:32 pm by unknown » Report Spam   Logged

"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
Elphias Levi
Heather Delaria
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« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2007, 06:14:29 am »

Nice work, Unknown.  I heard the Greeks got a lot of their ideas from taking pilgrimages to India. 

All the great religions seem to preach the same things - charity, kindness to others, honor, integrity.  Really odd that, given that, the entire world is still so steeped in barbarism.  Despite their philosophies, so many people haven't progressed an inch at all.
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"An it harm none, do what ye will."
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« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2007, 04:59:39 pm »

Thanks Heather

I have heard that myself, I think it is a shame that the advanced civilization of India was basically ignored, or misunderstood by early western historians. Their concentration on the middle eastern and mediterean societies was perhaps ineviatable, but unfortunate, because it created a distorted view of history, that still infleunces mainstream thought.

If you are interested in Vedic/Indian/Hindu History, I suggest the book "Gods, Sages and Kings."

Yes, it is amazing how similar the teachings of the great avatars are...

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"There exists an agent, which is natural and divine, material and spiritual, a universal plastic mediator, a common receptical of the fluid vibrations of motion and the images of forms, a fluid, and a force, which can be called the Imagination of Nature..."
Elphias Levi
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