Problems with Taoism – An anonymous cry for help
I received an email from a person who wishes to remain anonymous, but asked if I would post their question. Details of their queries are as follows;
I have started reading about Taoism as I am interested in getting involved in its cultural heritage and practices, I am also self studying Epistemology which has created a whole new dimension of thought processing that I never knew existed, unfortunately in my search for knowledge and truth, this has conjured up several questions about the Tao which have made me slightly sceptical about its very existence and authenticity. I notice that Zen Comms on your site seems to be an ardent follower of the Tao and was wondering if they would be able to shed some light on my current dilemma because I don’t know how Taoism can be followed when it doesn’t have any scriptures?
Some Taoists attempt to achieve the state of ‘all natural’ (Wu wei) and purport that unnatural man made items are wrong, is this right?. There seems to be zero to limited schools teaching Taoism and scarce information on instruction from Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu (founders of Taoism, I think) making it almost impossible to study and even more difficult to outline what’s ‘natural’. Some Taoists feel that being natural is letting off of wind, burping and that other ‘natural’ human bodily functions should never be controlled but fully engaged, is this right?
To me it seems unnatural to meditate in a secluded cave somewhere high in the mountains, which begs the question of does this happen in nature? Can we ascertain the working mechanisms of nature externally and say what is natural?
I have pondered over these practices and today I still feel their ideals seem to range from quality teachings of personal development(although limited in volume) to the strangest most absurd, begging me to ask what is it that Taoists believe? Throughout all of my readings and conversations I seem to have grasped that it is not a religion or a set of beliefs but an attempt to overcome the alienation of self and the world or dualism but yet again I fail to see what this means to the normal every day person? Unless in Taoism, the truth is what the individual believes it to be or does Taoism have its own belief system?
If anyone can help me, Zen Comms or EMC members, it would be much appreciated.
I should start this comment by saying I know little of Taoism. I do see, however, the paradox between Eastern and European philosophical viewpoints to the point of them being almost incompatible. On the one hand the differing theories and world views such as Dualism; on the other an, on the face of it, simpler attempt to be at one with…what?… just being I guess.
My experience and interest around meditative practice has taught me that the essence of it simply to be – to exist without thought or opinion on what one experiences. This to me seems to be the most natural of all states, whether in a cave or anywhere else, an attempt to anchor oneself in the essence of life itself, some might call it God.
Not sure how much that helps, nor to what extent it links with Taoism – I’ll leave that to others!
I can sympathise with your confusion on the working facets of Taoism and will put my little old neck on the line and try to give you the laymans version of what it represents as I am sure there will be scholars and philosophers out there chomping at the bit to share their interpretations which will more than likely differ in their practices and methodologies (one mans right way is another mans wrong way)
In order to have balance I need to have an equal amount of hard and soft, non can live without the other. This is the formation of the Yin and Yang (Yin being soft and Yang being hard). In dietary terms this would equate to eating the right amount of nutritional substances to ensure my body sustains its life energy. Insufficient nutrition in one quarter i.e. not enough water, not enough carbohydrates/calories etc would pose a threat to the sustainment of my life energy therefore creating an imbalance with my personal Yin and Yang.(Yet this is not Tao but an depiction of life energy)
My very existence is reliant on so many other factors and if channelled correctly I can achieve substantial vital energy commonly known as Chi/Qi/Ki. This generates a flow of energy through my body to enhance my well being and life force. In order to sustain my Chi/Qi/Ki I need the right balance of energy flowing through my body. (Yet this is not Tao but a depiction of life energy)
The interdependency of the examples above, dietary needs in terms of achieving the right balance of nutrition and generating my Ki/Qi/Chi energy, are all classed as having ‘duality/dualism’ because within each example non can exist without the other i.e. too little food and the life energy disappears, no life energy no Chi/Qi/Ki.
Chi/Qi/Ki is usually deemed as an energy that flows through nature, but this would be duality between the energy and that which it flows through making it more a depiction of nature but is not the Tao.
Tao follows the principle that nothing exists without something else and that ‘just being’,’just living’ entails an opposite, a negation through ‘non-being’ and ‘not living’, duality again, hence ‘Just being or just living’ are not Tao principles but a a depiction of life energy as detailed earlier.
Chuang tzu states “Heaven, earth and I arise simultaneously”, this is non-dualism and represents the Tao in its simplest form.
Without going in depth, Wei Wu Wei is another misunderstood concept, simply meaning to ‘do-no-do’ or to ‘do without doing’. If I have to practise something new, I strive to reach the point that I am no longer doing it, I am ‘it’.
Having a belief system creates dualism therefore develops a quest for knowledge between believer and that which is believed. If I am truly an expression of nature/life/tao, I don’t need to believe to overcome the alienation of myself, the world or sustainment, for heaven, earth and I arise simultaneously and so we shall alight.
What is the future of Tao teachings?
I use a real working example to highlight Tao in practice.
A community project management team consisting of 5 middle management and 5 higher management have been working on implementing a new programme and its projects for a year. There had been heated debates and fractured relationships during the course of the implementation, leading to staff walking out on the team and projects being pulled at the last minute causing embarrassment to the organisations reputation. A new member of staff joined them(we will call him ‘Tao’) and immediately got to work on assisting the team. Tao saw a disarray of information coming from all stakeholders and witnessed first hand aggressive obstructive behaviour from key members. He wondered why after a year they were in the state they were and looked at how to better improve the situation. As always Tao started from the beginning(knowing the cause and effect of dualism, there’s no smoke without fire, so to speak) and evaluated that the Commissioning note sent from the policy team to implement the new project was not detailed enough so the project team didn’t know what they were being asked to do. Tao also analysed that the project guidance did not have clear roles and responsibilities and that key specialist stakeholders were not involved in the process. From his findings Tao set about writing a detailed report and communicated it through his line management chain from which the Programme was put on hold in order to reassess, change and move forward with his recommendations. The programme and projects has moved on leaps and bounds with much improved working relationships being embedded across all stakeholders.
As you can see Taoist leadership methods are quick, simple and very cost effective especially with society’s obsession with finding the hardest ways to do things in order to create employment, increase revenue etc i.e. using unnecessary mechanical equipment to build structures, making job roles that have no meaning. These are based on an over exuberance of Yang practices and leads on to a clear link between the problems in our society i.e. poor education levels, poor housing, social deprivation and increased crime rates. The solution must be to redress the balance with an equal share of Yang and Yin elements. But our society’s obsession with doing things the hard way, in order to create riches and employment, means the ancient Taoist (and universal) approach that seeks simple, easy and cost-effective solutions, have all but been forgotten.
Its a strange fact that society really doesn’t believe that there are simple solutions to many of these problems. A common thought amongst world and local communities is that if the purported experts can’t solve the issue then it can’t be done, but maybe, just maybe, the experts are not looking in the right, are not looking at it in the right way or looking at it from the wrong angle?
I must stress that I am by no means an expert on Tao for as with Wei Wu Wei I have practised something new, I have strived to reach the point that I am no longer doing it, I am now simply ‘it’.
It is commonly said that the Tao is simply to become ‘One’ with the universe, that the journey is the merit and the internal harmonisation of self in contemplation and meditation is the path, the way. For me, the ultimate Tao enlightenment is that of ‘Nothingness’, a state of transcending the physical body through to astral body then to nothing. To appreciate the intervention of mind body transformations I must reach past the Peace within, a way of Life and just being and find the oracle of all existence ‘Nothing’.
I am sure anonymous will be more than pleased with your responses EMC and thank you very much for your time.
In answer to the questions and concerns raised by the individual who wishes to remain anonymous, I can say that the for me, and I do not presume to speak for anyone else on this or indeed any other subject matter, the question of Toaism can be answered and explained like this.
I am a person who has sought and continues to seek balance in his life, in all that I see and in all that I do. I achieve this by adopting certain principles, ideals and codes of practice that allow me to find that peace. Many of the principles I adopt are from the Toaism and I therefore describe myself as a Toaist in order to assist society with its’ classification of me as an entity, in truth it is little more than that. If I remove its’ name, does it become less of a thing? No, by-in-large it remains the same, whether our opinion of it remains the same or not.
As an epistemologist you will seek many answers to a great many questions, will you find a universal truth? Or an individual truth that fits your universe? For me Toaism is the most basic thing made beautiful, but only to those who allow themselves to see it. What is it that is said about beauty being in the eye of the beholder?
As I have stated on my profile; For me Taoism: “Way” is not a religion, nor a philosophy. It is a simple way of life.
There are things about Toaism that I have little use for, I set them aside because life is a circle and I may find use for them the next time around, or someone else may find a use for them, one never knows.
To be clear, all I am saying is, as a: Concept, Principles, Philosophy or Religion simply absorb what is useful, discard that which is not, but keep your mind open and find peace within. That is the Toa.
Hello there, big thanks for putting this together. I am an ESOL tutor in Bradford so I am in contact with a lot of people from all sorts of backgrounds. My groups and I, have had some, should I say, colourful debates on the Tao, but I have to admit, not to the degree you have shown, so big cheers.
See also The Dark Side of the Tao