My churchlessness was wonderfully energized by Sam Harris' "The End of Faith" when it came out in 2004 -- the same year I started this blog.
Harris has a philosophy degree from Stanford and is working on a doctorate in neuroscience, so he's got a balanced perspective on soft beliefs and hard facts.
This morning I picked up The End of Faith and reread the almost-final "Experiments in Consciousness" chapter. I'd remembered that he'd said positive things about mysticism after trashing religion, and was curious to revisit his thoughts after five years or so.
My conclusion: right on, Mr. Harris.
The challenge for us is to begin talking about this possibility in rational terms....It is difficult to find a word for that human enterprise which aims at happiness directly -- at happiness of a sort that can survive the frustration of all conventional desires.
The term "spirituality" seems unavoidable here -- and I have used it several times in this book already -- but it has many connotations that are, frankly, embarrassing. "Mysticism" has more gravitas, perhaps, but it has unfortunate associations of its own.
Neither word captures the reasonableness and profundity of the possibility that we must now consider: that there is a form of well-being that supersedes all others, indeed, that transcends the vagaries of experience itself.
Harris then launches into praise of "mysticism" that is as strong as his condemnation of religion. And he makes great good sense.
Over on this post we've been having an interesting comment conversation about whether Taoism and Buddhism (Dzogchen variety, particularly) can be considered metaphysical belief systems.
I've been arguing, "no." I'm pretty sure Sam Harris agrees. His description of his bookcase sounds a lot like mine, when he says:
Harris has a lot of evident fondness for Buddhism. Me too, along with Taoism -- writings about which occupy center stage on my own bookcase.
Both philosophies are firmly rooted in the reality of everyday human experience, not some airy-fairy other-worldly metaphysics. The passage Harris found in his Buddhist book talks about manifest awareness and the absence of an observer.
It is psychologically profound. Also, entirely consistent with modern neuroscience.
Similarly, the ancient Taoists grasped the importance of "being in the flow" way before sports announcers started saying excitedly, "Man, Kobe Bryant is out of his mind and in the zone! Forty points at halftime!"
My well-worn copy of Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English's translation of the Tao Te Ching says on the back cover:
...If we watch carefully, we will see that work proceeds more quickly and easily if we stop "trying," if we stop putting in so much extra effort, if we stop looking for results. In the clarity of a still and open mind, truth will be reflected.
Likewise, Harris writes:
It is on this front that the practice of meditation reveals itself to be both intellectually serious and indispensable. There is something to realize about the nature of consciousness, and its realization does not entail thinking new thoughts.
A few hours ago I started on my almost-daily dog walk, an event that Serena doesn't let me forget. We have two usual routes: a walk through the woods and around a lake that is a bit over a mile, and a more aerobically challenging two mile walk on a paved road loop.
I felt like going on the lake walk. It was evident that Serena was more in the mood for the road (more interesting smells, I suspect). I flowed with Serena. At first. Because when we came to a path that intersected the road, I headed down it.
Serena happily bounded ahead, off her leash. Heading toward the lake, albeit in a more indirect fashion that I at first intended, I realized that this route would have us avoid a hornet nest that my wife had noticed at dog nose height, near the trail on our property, and had warned me about.
It was the familiar "good news, bad news, who knows?" Taoist story.
I head off in an undesired direction, which ends up leading me to where I wanted to go -- perhaps avoiding a stinging problem that the dog and I could have encountered if I'd stuck with my initial conscious intention.
My unspectacular tale is the sort of everyday experience that Harris finds so interesting. And mysterious.
How does our consciousness guide us through life? How does unchanging awareness relate to the everchanging sensations, thoughts, emotions, desires, and such that continually course through our mind?
If these kinds of questions are termed "mystical," its because the answers are a mystery, not that investigating the nature of human consciousness leads us into some metaphysical realm.
But as Harris noted above, thinking about thoughts won't help in studying how awareness functions thoughtlessly. He adds:
We spend our lives telling ourselves the story of past and future, while the reality of the present goes largely unexplored. Now we live in ignorance of the freedom and simplicity of consciousness, prior to the arising of thought.
Religiosity can't exist without thoughts, concepts, dogmas, beliefs, imaginings.
Mysticism (or "spirituality," if you prefer that term) can. Non-religious Buddhists and Taoists are totally happy just being. No need to give a name to this, though "suchness" is used in Buddhism and the "way" in Taoism.
Science and religion have something in common: they both are focused on what exists within existence, on what consciousness is conscious of, on what knowing is knowledgeable about.
Mysticism is centered on bridging, or even dissolving, these dualities. Harris says:
...The experience of countless contemplatives suggests that consciousness -- being merely the condition in which thought, emotion, and even the sense of self arises -- is never actually changed by what it knows. That which is aware of joy does not become joyful; that which is aware of sadness does not become sad.
...The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism). Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time.
"Harris then launches into praise of mysticism that is as strong as his condemnation of religion. And he makes great good sense."
LOL, no he makes sense to your and my personal sensibilities, but his method is inconcistent, which i believe he cannot see.
Religion is fundamentally based on metaphysical claims, where it be the existence of a deity, or multiple deities or a pantheistic recognition of ultimate reality. These are all metaphysical claims which cannot be proven.
The same goes for ideas like the illusory 'maya' sense of self or I, so common to so many tradition. There is no proof that this is illusory or that all is one. This is neither testable of provable, quite the opposite, our senses indicate a multiplicity of forms, not a formeless oneness.
Just being? What does that mean, does it mean taosists and buddists are just happy that they themselves are alive? Well yes we can prove they are alive and hence exist. If that is all taoism or buddhism is about, i.e. being alive, why all the books and philsopsophy dedicated to these tradtions. One is alive (exists) or dead (does not exists), big deal.
But this is not what they claim, instead these mystical traditions claim a sort of experience of being alive in a some sort of higher or more aware state, a sort of raised or primordial consiousness or awareness as it were. This remains firmly in the realms of metaphysics.
Neuroscience is concerned with a wholly different systematic approach to knowledge as compared to metaphysics, mysticism or taoism.
"If we watch carefully, we will see that work proceeds more quickly and easily if we stop trying, if we stop putting in so much extra effort"
--- How can this possibly be an emperically testable stament? It is a subjective opinion and one could argue its plain incorrect. In fact, my logic would tell me that those who put in more effort typically get better at their work and more efficient, not the other way around.
Sam Harris, you and myself might feel alot of these mystical ideas make sense on an untestable intuitive level, but they have nothing to do with science, they remain metaphysics. Harris might speculate on theories of neuroscience he feels are supported by Taoism, but these remain metaphysics until they become testable and falsifiable at which point they become science.
There is no accepted science of consciousness or awareness. Neuroscience deals with the science of the brain, we cannot measure consciousness.
I would be very interesting to see Dawkins or Dennet's reaction to Harris' methodology, i think they'd pick up on the inconcistency.
Posted by: George | July 08, 2009 at 05:20 AM
When one looks at the world's top faculties of scientific knowledge, one does not see departments or doctrines of study concerned with: The Tao of Physics, or the Science of Dogchen or the the Science of Buddism. This is because they are not science, they are metaphysical philosophies.
Posted by: George | July 08, 2009 at 05:31 AM
Well, putting in my viewpoint which usually varies from others here, I think religion is a good place to start. It gives fundamentals to be grounded in a certain religion at some point in a person's development; but then if you stay, it becomes a bad thing. Religion is limiting by its very nature, and none seem to have flexibility to let the human go directions other than it has set out.
Mysticism, which is a good word and I like it, goes off many directions and as with your experience on the trail requires being free to experiment, to vary, to see something different. Mysticism isn't judgmental either as in telling us what we have to have happen. My experience with it is that it's joyous.
But, I wonder, and would be interested in the opinions of others, if someone wasn't grounded first in some religious tradition, I wonder how that would work out. I see a lot of people who run from this to that, getting shallow experiences before racing onto something else. Instead of deeply understanding any tradition, they grab from so many that they end up with nothing satisfying-- and inner satisfaction, again my opinion, is there in an indicator as to whether a path is the right one. Without the satisfaction, I at least, rethink the direction.
The lack of inner joy is one of the flaws that I see when I hear various fundamentalist Christians talking today. Their words are full of grit the teeth, stick it out, frown and find glory in misery. Not much, for me, of a validation that it's the right way.
Posted by: Rain | July 08, 2009 at 06:25 AM
I like the way Alan Watts attempts to discuss this topic. He saw two distinct entities at work in the human condition -- the mind and the brain. The mind is filled with desires, feelings and assorted types of images. The brain itself is free of this hubris.
When we allow our brains to do their thing unimpeded, we move without [consciously] thinking -- we go with the flow and what needs to be done is done. The human problem is that we too often force the mind to supersede the brain and we reap the awful consequences.
So, far Watts, the art of meditation is the attempt to still the mind (i.e., consciousness) in order to allow the brain to soak up the energy that flows around us and to move with it in harmony.
Posted by: The Rambling Taoist | July 08, 2009 at 07:02 AM
From our discussions there appear to be three main interpretations to Taoism (or Buddism): 1) a practical 2) a philosophical or 3) a religious interpretation.
1) A practical way of living life, which might form part of an ethical philosphy with statements like Lao Tsu's "Accept what is in front of you without wanting the situation to be other than it is" or live in accordance with nature.
An appealing idea, but there is no way of proving the truth of this statement.
Lao Tsu's personal opinion is that this is the way to live, but there is no way of knowing whether another way will lead to a better life. Indeed, have not some of the greatest human achievements been made by individuals not accepting the dictates of nature, or what is in front of them, refusing to give in, overcoming or working to improve their situation?
2) There is a philosophy of Taoism that includes, amongst others, concepts such as the Tao, which has been variously described as a force or energy that flows through all nature OR that which connects the many.
Both are metaphysical claims. One cannot prove the truth of some all-pervasive energy Or prove the purported nonduality of nature. If anything, our senses percieve the opposite, that nature has multiple forms.
3) A religious interpetation of Taoism involves a polytheistic belief in multiple deities or gods. These immortals are mentioned in the Tao Te Ching. These are again metaphysical claims, which are not falisifiable or provable.
So, under any interpretation, Taoism is merely a metaphysical belief system whose claims cannot be falsified or proved.
Posted by: George | July 08, 2009 at 09:08 AM
George, your dismissal of Taoist and Buddhist principles as being unprovable makes very little sense.
Are you aware of the research that's being carried out, using functional MRI scanners, on meditation and the brain? These are empirical investigations into how certain meditative practices affect neural functioning. Now, its another question how this translates into happiness, better interpersonal relations, and such. But nothing prevents such research from being carried out.
Also, as a long-time competitive tennis player, a martial artist, and semi-competent ballroom dancer, I'm fairly familiar (both experientially and via reading) of what aids athletic and movement endeavors, and what doesn't.
There's quite a bit of research, both popular and scientific, into how athletes can improve their performance -- not letting anxiety and over-control interfere with their natural abilities. All of this, so far as I know, fits well with Taoist principles.
Try it yourself. Experience the difference between just doing something (like typing, as I'm doing now) versus thinking hard about how to do something while you're doing it (I have no idea where the "e" is on the keyboard, if you asked me, but my fingers find it just fine, automatically).
You keep repeating yourself in your comments, instead of responding to what I and others are saying. Please comment on this comment, not on what your mind believes, or what you think the truth is.
Do you consider that fMRI research on meditation and the brain is valid? Do you consider that coaches, sports enthusiasts, athletes, academics and the like have been able to understand what contributes to high-level physical functioning, and what doesn't?
As I've been saying, philosophical Buddhism and Taoism aren't other-worldly. This is a fact. Mindfulness meditation and Tai Chi testify to that fact, along with other Buddhist and Taoist activities. Check out a bookstore. See how many titles start with "The Tao of ..." These aren't metaphysical books. They are eminently practical, and capable of being studied to answer the question, "Does this Taoist principle work?"
Posted by: Brian | July 08, 2009 at 10:02 AM
I am intimately aware of imaging technologies like fmri and the day they measure the taoist or budha state is the day universities will start incorporating doctines like the science of tao or buddishm into their curriculum.
in fact if there is any proof or falsifiable principle of any of these metaphysical traditions, it will instantly become a science, but there is none.
The removed practice of taoism or budhism is at best an ethical pgilopshy on how to live life containing principles which albeit wise, have absolutely no way of being provable of falsifiable. The actual philosophical aspect with which the practice is associated is purely based on metaphysical claims. Either view as an ethical or a metaphysical pihilosophy, claims of truth are not provable or falsifiable.
anyway i will leave it there unless actual evidences comes to light.
Posted by: George | July 08, 2009 at 11:45 AM
George, this article is six years old, but it shows the status of research into meditation and the brain at that time:
Again, this isn't metaphysical stuff. I don't understand how you can keep saying that Taoism and Buddhism are "purely based on metaphysical claims." Read about the research. Nothing metaphysical about it.
Posted by: Brian | July 08, 2009 at 12:12 PM
Brian - you base your comments and opinions based upon what you read in newspapers? These publications are there for one purpose, to make money by sensationalist reporting.
In my own scientific field, I cringe at the reporting in the media - while technically correct, vital parts are omitted to maximize impact and therefore sales.
Often you reference cheap newspapers, why not grow up and reference scientific studies, acknowledging the interpretations of raw data, and so grasp the limitations as well as the range of possibilities thrown up by good research.
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 08, 2009 at 12:28 PM
ex Brian Admirer, I don't understand what you're talking about. Are you calling the New York Times a cheap newspaper? For one thing, it's not cheap (try buying the Sunday paper here in Oregon).
For another thing, I subscribe to Scientific American (a monthly) and New Scientist (a weekly). I also regularly buy science books. Have read a lot about quantum physics, cosmology, relativity theory, evolution, and such.
I assume in your comment you are criticizing the New York Times article I linked to. What is inaccurate in it? How can you make sweeping statements without being specific about inaccuracies? Isn't this a case of the pot (you) calling the kettle black (me)?
Posted by: Brian | July 08, 2009 at 01:10 PM
Some related reading: Thalamus, Organization and Function, vol 1 - Steriade, Jones, McCormick et al.: Temporal structure of conscious mental states, Hasse, Dinez, Wood, et al.: Pure consciousness, Int journal of Neuroscience, 2000, 100:77-89, Travis & Pearson.: Morals and the human brain, Mol, de Olivieira Souza & Eslinger The Neuroreport.: Clinical responses to electrical brain stimulation of the temporal and frontal lobe, ,Brain 1993 Fish, Gloor, Quency et al.: Seeing the invisible, Maxwell & Tschudin: Theory of mind, Shallice, Brain 2001. Brian - these and many more are science sources for the enquiring mind, not NYT, Scientific American and New Scientist !
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 08, 2009 at 10:19 PM
Oh, and by the way, as you arel calling me the 'pot', I have read all the above, and many more, and am very willing to hold sensible scientific debate if you are really open to serious discussion on the topic you have publicly voiced your opinions? My only caveat, not to start from a NYT article - of one is to build a house, lets not start laying first brick on scotch mist!
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 08, 2009 at 10:24 PM
What's your point? I have no idea what you're getting at.
Posted by: Brian | July 08, 2009 at 10:28 PM
When children talk about topics they have no real knowledge, its not constructive to participate. If their interest in the topic is sincere, then it makes sense to direct their interest to serious writings on the subject and express willingness to discuss when they have suitable background knowledge to hold meaningful debate. I have directed you to some topic related papers, peer reviewed and authoritative, perhaps you have read some of them, or similar? Meaningful debate can only take place when participants are capable of supporting their claims, not through opinions of reporters, but via source material. What papers have you read related to this topic?
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 08, 2009 at 10:56 PM
I am glad that you removed your response from just after midnight from this thread. It was unworthy of you.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 09, 2009 at 12:33 AM
Hey ex-Brian Admirer,
Considering how you began here awhile back... you're such a flaming fraud. And your attitude sucks. Either put up, or shut up... or take your BS game somewhere else.
Posted by: +Ao | July 09, 2009 at 01:51 AM
Thanks for your constructive comments Ashy -- Oops sorry tAo
Posted by: ex Brian Admirer | July 09, 2009 at 02:27 AM
Does Taoism consider a rock to have awareness?
If not, what property of a rock bestows nondualism?
Posted by: George | July 09, 2009 at 07:09 AM
Robert, I felt that my comment was worthy of me, and an entirely appropriate response to ex Brian admirer. But then I decided that commenting on a ridiculous comment wasn't called for.
However, commenting on your comment about my not commenting on a comment -- that strikes me as entirely appropriate.
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 07:54 AM
George, I don't understand your question. In my Taoist readings, I don't recall any discussions of rocks having awareness. What aspect of Taoism brings this to mind for you? And why are you asking these questions?
I wouldn't call Taoism "non-dual." So your seeming effort to pin Taoist philosophy into some sort of box appears out of sync with the nature of Taoism -- which is decidedly un-pinnable, being centered on the flowing, interrelated, ultimately mysterious nature of Nature.
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 07:59 AM
Obviously we differ about the worthiness of various of your feelings. De gustibus non est disputandum.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 09, 2009 at 08:05 AM
Is the statement that the "nature of Nature" is "flowing, interrelated, [and] ultimately mysterious" a metaphysical statement?
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 09, 2009 at 08:17 AM
"Only dead fish go with the flow"
something like " being centered on the flowing, interrelated, ultimately mysterious nature of Nature." is a metaphysical claim
That "reality is ultimately mysterious" is as much a metaphysical claim as affirming that "reality is fully intelligible".
Posted by: the elephant | July 09, 2009 at 08:17 AM
Actually this is interesting.
So you consider to taoism to be dualistic?
I am looking at the aspect of the dao which is purportedly all.
Posted by: George | July 09, 2009 at 08:35 AM
Robert, I'd say that nature (meaning the universe) absolutely is flowing, interrelated, and mysterious. This is a scientific truth, not a metaphysical statement.
Things are constantly changing. That's flow.
Things are connected through the laws of nature. That's interrelatedness.
Things, especially their ultimate origin, including existence itself, aren't anywhere near being completely understood. That's mystery.
I rest my case.
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 10:01 AM
George, Taoism isn't dualistic. It also isn't monistic. It isn't any "istic." This is why Taoism requires a lot of sensitivity, subtlety, and artistry to understand.
I recommend Raymond Smullyan's wonderful "The Tao is Silent" to you. He is a mathematical logician. And a Taoist. Great book.
"If anyone should ask me to define the word 'Tao', I would of course be unable to do so...Now, the idea that the notion of Tao is vague has one curious feature. The Tao itself is supposed to be vague, so is it not appropriate that our notion of it should be correspondingly vague?
After all, if a notion of something is to be accurate, should not the notion mirror, reflect, picture, copy, -- in some sense 'be like' the object?
The answer to that question is probably 'no', but let me pretend that it is 'yes', since something curious and intriguing would then follow: If this 'picture theory' of knowledge is correct, and if the Tao is really as vague as the Taoists crack it up to be, then it would follow that any precise notion of the Tao would be inaccurate by virtue of its very precision!"
Great stuff. Smullyan goes on in similar fashion for several hundred entertaining pages. By the end of the book I still had no idea what the Tao was about. But I had a smile on my face. Which is what the Tao is about!
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 10:10 AM
"This is why Taoism requires a lot of sensitivity, subtlety, and artistry to understand."
--- i see, so what happens to this sensitvity, subtlety and artistry where christianity or RS is concerned.
Perhaps you have not understood the truth of the believers or satsangis sufficiently?
If Taoist are satisifed with Tao as a vague, undefinable and ineffable, presumably christains can also be satisified with God as a vague, undefinable and ineffable.
Posted by: George | July 09, 2009 at 10:46 AM
George, you keep missing my point:
People are free to believe any crazy thing they want. They just don't have the right to claim that their way is the only way -- that their religion or belief system has a lock on truth.
Christianity and Sant Mat do make this claim. Taoism doesn't.
Hopefully my Bruce Lee post, which I plan to write tonight (Tao willing) will help you understand this.
Lee didn't follow any martial arts system. He found his own way. He was a Taoist. Not having a particular way doesn't mean that this not-having is itself a defined way.
No, it is the absence of a defined way. This seems to be at the core of what you are failing to understand. Similarly, people often say to me, "Not believing in God is just another belief."
No, it is the absence of belief, just as the essence of Taoism is being open to whatever comes along, which doesn't mean that Taoism rigidly holds on to a dogma, "Be open to whatever comes along!"
A Taoist can be closed to whatever comes along. Or open. That's what openness is about -- being able to be closed also.
Religions like Christianity and Sant Mat can be fairly easily understood because they are a collection of dogmas. Philosophies like Taoism and Zen are much more subtle, because they are "apophatic."
Meaning, they have a built-in sweeper that follows along behind every statement you can make about them and brushes it away. Like my previous Smullyan quote said, if you can say something precise about the Tao, you're wrong.
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 11:00 AM
Ah eventually, so we agree that people should be allowed to believe any crazy thing they want, be it christianity, taoism or RS.
So you are saying Christianity and RS claim to be the only ways to truth and this is why you do not tolerate these crazy things.
Where exactly does christianity and RS make such dogmatic claims?
I mean i know they believe their god to be true, but surely taoism also believes tao to be true, however vaguely both are defined?
Posted by: George | July 09, 2009 at 11:29 AM
George, you need to do your own research. I'm not your Google slave. Are you seriously saying that Christianity and Sant Mat don't claim to know the ultimate truth about the cosmos? They do.
You like science. Try this experiment. Find a large church service near where you live. And/or go to a Radha Soami satsang in your area.
Sit quietly for a while. Then, depending on which venue you are in, stand up and yell, "Fuck Jesus/the Guru! He's a fucking fraud! Anyone who believes in him is a fucking idiot, you fuckheads!"
Throw in other obscenities of your own choosing. Then observe the response of the faithful. Do they agree with you?
After you do this experiment, assemble a bunch of Taoists. Not religious ones. Philosophical Taoists. Sit them down. Then yell, "Fuck Lao Tzu! He's a fucking fraud! Anyone who believes in him is a fucking idiot, you fuckheads!"
Prediction: the Taoists will smile, shake your hand, and say, "Welcome brother, we didn't know you were a Taoist until you spoke."
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 11:44 AM
Of all the mystical traditions, the one that seems closest to Plotinus' original neoplatonic philsophy, imo is RS.
Both are concerned with the One or source from which everything in creation was emanated, both are concerned with a soul within each of us that longs to return into union with the One, and both are concerned with an inexpressible mystical experience of such union which is achievable by following a way of life that prepares the soul to extricate itelf from all bodily things.
Since you not only spent 30 years in RS and have written a book on Plotinus, i find it particularly difficult to see your subjective reality is so dismissive of RS.
In fact, the sole difference appears to be that the satguru claims to be GIHF, which perhaps merely means that the satguru is fully perfected in having reached a state of permanent union with the One?
After all is this not the goal of all these metaphysical traditions? That of self-realizing or awakening unconditioned awareness and perfection?
What someone calls God, could be replaced with The Good, the Absolute, the Tao, the Ultimate REality, the One, etc.
Posted by: George | July 09, 2009 at 12:05 PM
George, this is an interesting topic -- the relation between Plotinus and Sant Mat/Radha Soami. I'm taking a lunch break from field mowing, so don't have much time to reply. Requires a wordier post, really.
Yes, there are lots of similarities. When the plan was to have my Plotinus book published by RSSB, I found quotes from the RS gurus that could go at the start of every chapter. I'll dig them up sometime, maybe.
You cited one difference, the need for a guru. Also, Plotinus' One has no involvement with the world. It is completely detached from human affairs. In Sant Mat, though, there is a personal God on a level just below the impersonal One.
That God is believed to have human like attributes. For example, the RS God kicked souls out of "heaven," and 9/10 supposedly were happy to head to Earth. One tenth weren't, and those souls now are destined to be initiated by the guru and go back to heaven.
This sort of thinking is very un-Neoplatonic. Much more Christian than Greek philosophy. The nature of inquiry also is quite different. Plotinus encouraged his students to think for themselves and liked open debate on questions. Sant Mat has the approach of obedience to an authority figure. Deviations from accepted practices are a no-no.
Posted by: Brian | July 09, 2009 at 01:00 PM
The problem, once again, with Sant Mat (RS) is the perpetuation of dualistic concepts as evidenced by its cosmology. It tends to inflate the source of the illusion.
This doesn't mean that one may not recognize reality via participation in Sant Mat. For example a disciple may, by one pointed focus on the form of the master (darshan, inner or outer), lose 'themselves'. The illusion of subject-object relation goes up in smoke where neither the master(object) nor disciple (subject) remains. What abides at this occurance is neither this nor that but what could be called 'presence'. Haven't we all experienced this when fully absorbed in some activity, when we become "one" with work or sport or doing a tai chi form or knitting a pair of socks?
But you don't need a master for this. It could happen sitting on a cliff observing a sunset, or sitting on a park bench watching people go by, or going into the zone hitting a tennis ball.
Sant Mat dogma makes a goal out of this non-dual presence and therefore puts it out of reach. Its like a cow running around to all these teachers trying to learn how to be a cow not knowing it was a cow in the first place.
There is this desire for attainment of ultimate understanding and all this running around to teachers and books, to this religion and that path. This is not something you orchestrate or make happen via a series of steps or teachings. it is not about being able to realize or attain something. If you find yourself thinking you have accomplished some great insight bash the thing that thinks it on the head.
It is a non-doing. By thinking of something you create an object and by thinking of nothing you create another. When the error of such thinking ceases then you will see there is nothing left to seek and all metaphysical issues will evaporate.
Reality is pristine and is only sullied by terms and descriptions. Really, nothing can be said about it that is not misleading.
let each thought go as if it were nothing and make the slightest response required for each situation. Stay free of beliefs and practices. Let your awareness shine spontaneously without intending it to shine.
To learn to live in this way may take a lifetime of effort, but it is an effortless effort. It is not like performing austerities or doing 100 push-ups. It is learning not to cling or let the mind seize or rest on anything or having preconceptions. It is an openess to what comes without resistance.
Posted by: tucson | July 09, 2009 at 04:57 PM
I enjoy your words tuscon.
Sorry for butting in -
You say, "In fact, the sole difference appears to be that the satguru claims to be GIHF, which perhaps merely means that the satguru is fully perfected in having reached a state of permanent union with the One?"
As best as I can tell, it is almost always the disciple who decides who their GIHF (God In Human Form) teacher will be. Ideally, it is a nice concept that the satguru is "fully perfected" but a disciple can't know the perfection of another for sure without knowing their own perfection first. The RS teachings do not clear this up at all and leave the disciple as inferior to guru which we define as a human form. Many people are comfortable in this follower role. Many are left gawking at a GIHF, imagining how great that person must be, rather than looking to themselves and their present situation according to the teachings.
I do think there is some efficacy in the practice of RS (not the organization per se) but this is really limited by the disciple's state of mind.
I think Brian is right in saying that the RS God is a personal God. This is a conceptual obscuration of reality (at least for me). Christianity suffers this same issue. However, I don't know about other practices.
Posted by: Jayme | July 09, 2009 at 09:30 PM
Beautiful. So well articulated. To which I smile, I wink, and I bow.
It is becoming more apparent that your own conceptions and assumptions about all these paths - the RS belief system dogma, RS gurus, RS theology and cosmology, the RS meditation practice, and also christianity etc ... and then on the other hand the Tao, taoism, tai chi, dzogchen and so on - are somewhat mistaken and often rather inaccurate. You are comparing varieties of apples, and Brian is savoring the flavor of mandarin orange wine. And your angle of view seems to be limited to the outside. You remain rigid and fixated, and are not willing to be open-minded.
Here are some more of your recent examples:
"so we agree that people should be allowed to believe any crazy thing they want, be it christianity, taoism or RS."
-- Of course they are George ("allowed to believe any crazy thing they want"), and so why would you or how could you ever assume otherwise? This is your thinking, not Brian's or mine.
"So you are saying Christianity and RS claim to be the only ways to truth and this is why you do not tolerate these crazy things."
-- This is a distortion of Brian. Brian never said that he did "not tolerate" christianity or RS. Your use of the word "tolerate" is totally inappropriate here. And, as a matter of fact, christianity and RS (both) DO "claim to be the only ways to truth".
"Where exactly does christianity and RS make such dogmatic claims?"
-- It (RS's claim to be THE way to truth) is both stated and implied throughout all of the RS literature and RS satsangs, as well as in the Bible. If you would dispute this, then you should at least first go read all of the RS literature and attend their satsang lectures. Don't dispute something that you are so totally nread and uninformed about.
"I mean i know they believe their god to be true, but surely taoism also believes tao to be true, however vaguely both are defined?"
-- Taoism does not "believe" any such thing. The Tao is not an object defined as being true rather than false. In very simplistic terms, the Tao simply means the natural and all-inclusive (Great) Way - the "Way of Life". That is totally different than the dogmatic RS concept of a supreme God Radha Soami. The fact that you don't see and understand this basic difference, is at the root of this entire repeated misunderstanding between you and Brian (and myself)
"Of all the mystical traditions, the one that seems closest to Plotinus' original neoplatonic philsophy, imo is RS."
-- Plotinus is not akin to RS at all, imo.
"Since you not only spent 30 years in RS [...] i find it particularly difficult to see your subjective reality is so dismissive of RS."
-- Probabaly because you also still do not see the overwhelmingly vast difference between the heavy theological dogma of RS and the uncontrived natural way of Taoism.
"In fact, the sole difference appears to be that the satguru claims to be GIHF, which perhaps merely means that the satguru is fully perfected in having reached a state of permanent union with the One?"
-- You see... right here is a perfect example of one of your own dogmatic presumptions... which presumes that "the satguru is fully perfected in having reached a state of permanent union with the One". Thats the same dogma that RS states and claims, and its the same that you are asserting as well.
"After all is this not the goal of all these metaphysical traditions? That of self-realizing or awakening unconditioned awareness and perfection?"
-- No, that is NOT the "goal of all". Some, but not all. Taoism for instance, has no such goal.
"What someone calls God, could be replaced with The Good, the Absolute, the Tao, the Ultimate REality, the One, etc."
-- The Tao is not at all the same as "God", "the One", or "the Ultimate Reality". The Tao is the natural flow or Way of Life, it is not a "God" or any such object.
Posted by: [email protected] | July 10, 2009 at 12:46 AM
A great post, and dare I say it, finally one with some actual meat on it, rather than the usual cagey vague new age stuff.
I think your explanation of experiencing this nonduality or presecence or being in the zone, is an outstanding one. As is, your explanation of the various ways of getting there. I take your points on what you consider to be the limitations of the guru point of fixedness in RS.
I would however suggest that most if not all mystical traditions have a non-dual goal, which seeks to overcome the suppoosedly illusory dualistic world of our normal everyday experience. Certain ppl have purportedly achieved this goal and maintained it - is this what is not deemed fully perfected or self-realised? Is this what is not deemed to be the various saints, gurus, satgurus and masters of all these different paths or traditions?
You believe no path or effort is required to reach this goal of nonduality, that it is always there. I intuitively like that idea, since i am not a big one for authority or supposed know-alls. But then the question that forms is if it is inherent why are we even discussing this? If such non-dual awareness or presence is automatically there without effort, why Taoism, Dzodhen, Sant Mat, Zen Buddism, etc at all? Why the need to even discuss non-duality since we all should automatically recongise it? And yet the facts suggests otherwise, that only a few recognise it, and moreover it might well be that this recognition is in fact the real illusion, since it remains unprovable and untestable and a metaphysical claim.
And it is becoming clear to me that it is in fact you who is limited, not so much in the facts you have accumulated, but in your very dogmatic character. You appear to be unaware of this dogmatic flaw, which is that you take such discussions as some sort of personal slight against yourself. This is evidenced by your wholesale dismissals of any view that contrasts with your own. You no doubt will contest this, to which i will simply suggest picking any thread of your choice in which not only do you simply refuse to entertain any aspect of another's view, however reasonable it might be, but invarianly your comments devolve into fundamental ranting and rapidly thereafter into personal insult.
I think you are quite a nice person, but your impatient dismissive views run totally contrary to open-minded enquiry, discussion and learning. In short, you've come to the age in life where your views are fixed.
Perhaps in the interests of peace it is best if we do not converse, since at the very least we seem to misunderstand one another totally. I apologise for asking your views on this matter in the first place.
Posted by: George | July 10, 2009 at 02:11 AM
No problem please continue to butt in, surely that is the point.
Yes, agree with alot of that and my personal view is that some sort of personal god is unlikely, but not an impossibility.
Perhaps this is in fact the criteria Brian is using in the selective criticm of religion as opposed to mysticism?
However, mysticim is based on mystery, on something ineffable and hidden from plainsight. Is this not also the definition of a god?
Sure, a personal god with all sorts of strange and wierd human characteristics, might seem slightly provincial. However, xenophanes argued that if horses and oxen could draw, they would respectively draw their gods to resemeble horses and oxen. The philsosophical claim being that we are likely to project aspects of our humanity onto the divine or a personal god.
Posted by: George | July 10, 2009 at 02:36 AM
George wrote: "I would however suggest that most if not all mystical traditions have a non-dual goal,.."
--I think this is true even with Sant Mat but, as I have said, the approach with many of them is an impediment which tends to keep the truth seeker's mind bound to relativity rather than liberated from it.
There is an assumption in what I just said that the problem is being bound to duality and relativity. Of course someone can chime in and say that isn't true at all and that reality has to do with something else entirely like penetrating a special atom in the region Zzogwob to the home of transcendental inverse anti-gravitationalism.
"..which seeks to overcome the suppoosedly illusory dualistic world of our normal everyday experience."
--The point, in my view, is not to 'overcome' the dualistic world but rather to perceive it non-dualisticly or non-relatively right here and now, and that reality is here and now. In Sant Mat and other traditions reality is not accomplished until one arrives somewhere else. This is where metaphysics comes in. What is it that arrives at this place? Where is this place that they speak of? What Bhuddism and Taoism speak of is this moment now 'accurately perceived'. But for all anyone knows it is a can of rubbish, just another concept, until you see for yourself.
"Certain ppl have purportedly achieved this goal and maintained it - is this what is not deemed fully perfected or self-realised?"
--Yes, purportedly they have achieved something but there is no way to ascertain what it is they perceive. If Joe Blow claims to be God who can prove he is or isn't? If Mary Doe says she is self-realized and Joe is full of excrement, who can say she is or isn't correct? Maybe she or Joe can, but they can only know it for themselves.
"Is this what is not deemed to be the various saints, gurus, satgurus and masters of all these different paths or traditions?"
--There is a common thread but there are also differences, i.e. some claim truth is only when you reach cetain regions or heaven rather than in our presence now.
We must 'see' with our own awareness. No one can 'see' for us.
A Zzogwobist may deny that and who is to argue?... I guess Joe or Mary.
Posted by: tucson | July 10, 2009 at 11:34 AM
"Tucson, A great post, [...] rather than the usual cagey vague new age stuff."
-- Fyi, Tucson does not write any such "cagey vague new age stuff"... not at all. None. And your trying to cast him as such, only goes to show that you haven't got a clue what he is actually talking about.
"I would however suggest that most if not all mystical traditions have a non-dual goal..."
-- Absolutely NOT. No way. Actually very few "mystical traditions" have non-duality as either their basis, or the goal. To say this shows that you are very poorly versed in the various schools of mysticism and philosophy, especially eastern philosophy. In fact a great many of them are quite dualistically oriented, and only a very few are oriented towards non-duality. I can say this because I am deeply acquainted with the entire spectrum of eastern philosophies, the various schools of yoga and tantra, etc etc.
"...which seeks to overcome the suppoosedly illusory dualistic world of our normal everyday experience."
-- That is also not necessarily the primary orientation of the various philosophical traditions either. Some, but definitely not all.
"Certain ppl have purportedly achieved this goal and maintained it - is this what is not deemed fully perfected or self-realised?"
-- Self-realized pertains primarily to Self-knowledge (Atma-jnana). This claim of so-called "perfect" or "perfected" is not part of it, or relevant to it. Self-realization is a term which does not refer to an "achieved" "goal", but rather simply an awakening into that which is always already the case... into this.
"Is this what is not deemed to be the various saints, gurus, satgurus and masters of all these different paths or traditions?"
-- No... all those classifications ("saints, gurus, satgurus and masters") are nothing more than artificially contrived ideas and words. In reality there are no such things as "saints, gurus, satgurus and masters". That is a myth. There are only ordinary human beings.
"You believe no path or effort is required to reach this goal of nonduality"
-- Non-duality is not a "goal". It is always already the case.
"if it is inherent why are we even discussing this?"
-- Because discussing it may bring about deeper understanding.
"If such non-dual awareness or presence is automatically there without effort, why Taoism, Dzodhen, Sant Mat, Zen Buddism, etc at all?"
-- First of all, those ("Taoism, Dzodhen, Sant Mat, Zen Buddism") are not all the same. Taoism and Zen and Dzogchen are totally different than Santmat. Taoism, Dzogchen, and Zen are not a rigid dogmatic belief system and practice like Santmat.
"Why the need to even discuss non-duality since we all should automatically recongise it?"
-- YOU are the one who is discussing it. And the effort of SEEKING (it) is diametrically opposed to effortless recognition.
"And yet [...] only a few recognise it"
-- Yes... because most are involved in the strategies of seeking that are common to most spiritual paths.
"and moreover it might well be that this recognition is in fact the real illusion since it remains unprovable and untestable and a metaphysical claim."
-- Well, to judge that, you must first have the recognition. Truth always shines self-evident. And it is not a "metaphysical claim" because there is no "claim" at all... AND, there is nothing "metaphysical" about one's natural awareness and being.
"Tao, And it is becoming clear to me that it is in fact you who is limited, not so much in the facts you have accumulated, but in your very dogmatic character."
-- What "facts" are those? I don't hold any such "facts". I am not limited by dogma in any way. I live a natural and spontaneous life unencumbered by belief and dogma. So you actually have no idea what you are talking about. I don't espouse or subscribe or hold to any such "facts" or dogma. You obviously have no idea what my view is.
"You appear to be unaware of this dogmatic flaw, which is that you take such discussions as some sort of personal slight against yourself."
-- When you make the kind of off-base personal judgements about me that you just did, then that is a "slight". Moreover, my correcting you has nothing to do with dogma. I think you have your terms rather mixed up.
"This is evidenced by your wholesale dismissals of any view that contrasts with your own."
-- That is wrong. I do not simply dismiss others views because they are different than mine, I only dismiss those that, imo, are not correct and not in accord with what I know to be established fact. And you often do the very same thing. So your assertion is bogus.
"You no doubt will contest this, to which i will simply suggest picking any thread of your choice in which not only do you simply refuse to entertain any aspect of another's view, however reasonable it might be, but invarianly your comments devolve into fundamental ranting and rapidly thereafter into personal insult."
-- That is quite incorrect, and others here will no doubt disagree with you about that. I have posted no such "fundamental ranting". You are so utterly full of it George. And that is now becoming very apparent to myself as well as others.
"your impatient dismissive views run totally contrary to open-minded enquiry, discussion and learning. In short, you've come to the age in life where your views are fixed."
-- That is total nonsense. Present some substantial evidence for that (ie: "contrary to open-minded enquiry, discussion and learning"), otherwise its nothing more than blatant personally derogatory BS.
"it is best if we do not converse, since at the very least we seem to misunderstand one another totally."
-- Well it is apparent to me that you do not understand much of what is presented and discussed here by Brian and others, and not just myself. You have a very narrow and fixed western world-view.
"I apologise for asking your views on this matter in the first place."
-- Well if you are just going to insult me, in spite of the fact that I have patiently gone to great lengths to explain various subject matters and issues to you, then you are not worth any more of my time. I think you have a pretty damn lousy attitude, and you are not really on the up-and-up here (you are playing some sort of game). And I suspect that Brian and a few others are coming to a similar conclusion. I have also tried to be more than courteous and patient with you, but you have no appreciation or respect for that. So I have nothing more to say to you. I will just let others continue on this not-so-merry-go-round with you until they too realize the bullshit game that you are playing here.
Posted by: [email protected] | July 11, 2009 at 01:20 AM
It is cagey, you guys will not or cannot actually define your beliefs postively with anything to examine, and they are beliefs.
Instead its all these esoteric and vagie concepts or negative definitions, such as: its not this not that, no-thing not nothing, nothingness, recognition not reason, oneness, emptiness, voidness, the flow of nature.
In fact every single definition no matter how broadly set-out is refuted even if cited verbatim from an external source you happen to disagree with. So not only am i accused of being ignorant, but am being so accused because i do not happen to believe your explanation as gospel. I mean I'd only be ignorant and weak-minded if i were to actually take your vague nonsense definitions, but of course we have all seen that bullying attitude come out before when patience is exhausted.
How absolutely convenient that you have traditions that are not definable, and that anyone who questions them has not understood. This truly is a hallmark of all religion that you chastice. What is there to understand for godsake? Its not ricket science, there is no-thing remember.
The only fools are you guys who cannot see what is precisely in front of your eyes, a world of materialistic mutlitude - instead your hidden nondual 'recognition' has not one iota of evidence in support of it. But i can tolerate all of that, what i cannot understand is the sheer hyprocracy of those unable to tolerate the beliefs of others of the same esoteric unproven nature.
If you cannot see my last point, you are truly blind and willfuly ignorant.
Posted by: George | July 11, 2009 at 02:12 AM
You say: "you guys will not or cannot actually define your beliefs postively with anything to examine, and they are beliefs."
-- That is a total load of rubbish. I have NO such "beliefs". You can disagree all day long, but you will never determine what my views are.
Also, I do NOT hold or present any suchg "esoteric and vagie concepts or negative definitions", nor do I assert: "its not this not that, no-thing not nothing, nothingness, recognition not reason, oneness, emptiness, voidness". I have said none of that.
"i do not happen to believe your explanation as gospel"
-- I never asked you to, and I have no such "gospel". Nor do I make any such "vague nonsense definitions".
And YOU are the one with the "bullying attitude".
I have no such "traditions that are not definable".
Furthermore, this "religion that you [I]chastice" is because religion and spiritual cultism is poisonous and destructive.
And finally, I very very much DO "see what is precisely in front of your [my] eyes"... "a world of materialistic mutlitude". And THAT IS the point. So clearly you don't even know correctly what it is that you are agueing against. You've got me mixed all up with someone else.
I espouse nor claim NO such "hidden nondual 'recognition'".
"the sheer hyprocracy of those unable to tolerate the beliefs of others of the same esoteric unproven nature."
-- NO, NO, NO.. You've got it all wrong George. WTF is the matter with you? You are acting realy stupid. It is the beliefs of the RS CULT and its dangerous and destructive RS guru-cult DOGMA that I am against. Its bad shit, and it ruins peoples lives.
Go see the video I linked to if you don't understand this.
And so George, it is really YOU who is the one who is "truly blind and willfuly ignorant". The RS Cult and the RS "master" and the RS cult beliefs and dogma is bad evil stuff, and thats why I am against it.
Is that so damn difficult for you to comprehend George??? I think you are an RS cult shill. You sure act like it.
Posted by: [email protected] | July 11, 2009 at 03:13 AM
"I live a natural and spontaneous life unencumbered by belief and dogma."
I would call this affirmation and self-delusion some first belief and dogma to start with ...
Regarding seld-delusion ... When a while back I did not buy into the 'contrived' peace between George and Tao, I was 'scolded' by Tao for 'living in the past'
I never doubted of their good intentions and efforts, but it is important to understand that, insofar as Knowing is identified with and as mind/body, we are divided individuals, we are fools (with Tao and Tucson as evidence) and good intentions or 'fake coolness or harmony' are too often not enough. (see Spinoza or the recent books by Albert Low for more information on these issues; you can also search and find in "I am That" by Niz the many instances where he talks of man's (inner) contradictions ..)
Harmony is either natural (that is, immanently resolved) or contrived, the latter can be recognized by the fact that it never lasts with respect to the frame of references, or articulations of reality, from and as which it emerged ...
Posted by: the elephant | July 11, 2009 at 04:14 AM
George, I'm enjoying the interchange between you and [email protected], and also between you and me, because I think it points to some interesting (and important) philosophical points.
I agree with [email protected], and not surprisingly, me, more than you. And contrary to your repeated claims, this isn't an emotional or closed-minded reaction.
Your philosophical position simply seems much less defensible than ours.
It's hard to put a label on this, as your arguments are curiously contradictory. There's nothing wrong with paradox, but I think contradiction is something else -- not so desirable.
On the one hand, usually you assert the primacy of reason, logic, science, and proof.
On the other hand, you also seem out to cram every sort of philosophy that appears even vaguely "metaphysical" into the same belief-box.
By this, I mean that you constantly attempt to equate philosophical Buddhism and Taoism with religious Christianity and Sant Mat. This is what frustrates [email protected] and me the most, I'd say (for myself, obviously, but I suspect [email protected] would agree).
This isn't logical, reasonable, or evidence-based. I have spent about forty years immersing myself in a study of most of the world's major (and many minor) religious and spiritual belief systems. I've read both primary sources and other descriptions of these faiths. I've also written several books of my own.
I'd say this is fact: you don't have a good grasp of the difference between Buddhist/Taoist and Christian/Sant Mat thought. Your understanding is shallow, because it seems to be based on an attempt to eliminate distinctions between any and all forms of philosophical belief that has even a minor "spiritual" aspect.
It simply isn't true, what you've been asserting. Reading [email protected]'s recent comments to you, I'd say that almost entirely his analysis is right on.
Now, you are free to disagree. I simply am suggesting (rather strongly) that you consider the possibility that you have room to learn about Taoism, Buddhism and similar philosophies. I'm not saying that you should take them up, or embrace them.
Just that your approach to understanding them is being limited by some preconceptions that you have. Over and over I see new ideas being rejected or ignored by you. It isn't that you consider and end up not agreeing with those ideas. You simply reject or ignore them.
Discussion is enhanced by a conversation in which each person feels that other discussants understand what is being said, even if they don't agree with a position. I get the feeling that you aren't interested in coming to understand, only to disagree.
Again, that's your right. You might want to consider, though, that your perspective on the issues we've been discussing is being limited by some assumptions or agendas on your part that are keeping you from genuinely understanding viewpoints that differ from yours.
Posted by: Brian | July 11, 2009 at 08:10 AM
So, will the topic ever change, around here?
I would suggest:
Cleaning and care of Fangs
Foundation repair for dummies. Focusing on reinforced concrete.
Females and the proper way to hold a beer.
So people, give it a thought.
Posted by: Roger | July 11, 2009 at 08:21 AM
Roger, excellent idea. I'm leaning toward putting up a post about sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll tonight. With a churchless angle, of course (as if that needed saying).
I agree: we've been doing too much thinking and conceptualizing on a single subject. This time of year there should be more summer fun.
Here's some links to put a smile on faces:
Posted by: Brian | July 11, 2009 at 08:36 AM
Step into liquid (about 1.5 hours):
Bring your own beer.
Posted by: Jayme | July 11, 2009 at 09:27 AM
The chances of you disagreeing with Tao are very slight, but you've been patient and i too have enjoyed my discussion with you.
Perhaps my understanding of Taoist philosophy is incorrect, but its a familiar refrain from religious defenders trying to obfiscate their unsupportable claims, as is accusations of skeptics being green-blooded vulcans unappreciative of aesthetics.
I enjoyed your musings on tai chi, bruce lee, scootering and dancing; but i challenge you to actually provide a clear honest account of the Taoist Philosophy.
At minimum i would say the Taoist philosophy is based on the Tao as some sort of invisible eternal flow that pervades all nature. Lao Tzu writes, "The tao that can be told is not the eternal tao."
Not only is this meaningless, but there is no proof for this at all, not one iota. If something cannot be told then what is it? Is anything eternal? Can we prove the tao is eternal? Is it testable?
No, such metaphysical claims are mere personal belief, the same as any other eastern traditon or religion.
Instead what nature reveals is that nothing is eternal, rather everything comes to an end. That there is multiplicity and diversity, not some pervasive invisible Tao in all or any unity or nonduality.
So, based on this, not only is Taoism metaphysical, but actually contradicts what is directly observable of natural phenomenon.
Taoist philosophy, like every religion and mystical tradition and eastern philosophy is based on subjective unprovable beliefs. They may indeed be fantastic and offer much wisdom on how to live life, but they remain metaphysical subjective claims.
Now onto the tolerance issue. If we agree to respect one anothers subjective beliefs, which i surely do and feel there is probably much to be learnt, why should one set of metaphysical claims be any more tolerable than another?
I cannot make make my point any more clearly than this.
Posted by: George | July 11, 2009 at 09:30 AM
Our disagreement boils down to the definition of philosophical taoism, which you will not provide. You might practice jeet-kun-do or i-smoke-pot, but that is irrelevant to the actual philosophy.
I would suggest at its barest, philosophical taoism is based on some type of flow of nature that is a) ineffable and b) eternal.
That is a metaphysical philosophy.
Posted by: George | July 11, 2009 at 09:57 AM
In the interests of summer time, i post a link to the Tao Te Ching.
A beautiful piece of metaphorical verse and metaphysics.
Enjoy your weekend.
Posted by: George | July 11, 2009 at 10:08 AM
George, I don't want to belabor this subject (but for some reason I'm about to! -- can't help myself).
You ask for a "clear, honest account" of Taoist philosophy. George, that's impossible! Did you read my Raymond Smullyan quotes?
If you clearly and honestly describe Tao or Taoism, you've misunderstood them. This isn't unique to Taoism, it is the essence of quite a few philosophical and artistic pursuits which are non-intellectual.
As i've noted before, I can clearly and honestly describe a Tai Chi or dance move. If you do just what I say, you'll be able to perform the move. And that will be incorrect, in a very real sense. It won't really be Tai Chi or dancing. It will be moving clearly and honestly.
If you can't understand this distinction, find a way to watch an American TV program, "So You Think You Can Dance." The judges continually are saying (as on the episode I watched last night) to the contestants things like, "You performed the moves technically fine, but that really wasn't Samba dancing that I saw out there."
What is the difference between "really" and "not really." This, George, is what you won't understand from a clear and honest description.
Also, you are inclined to make an assumption, validate it yourself, then run with it way beyond the bounds of what is reasonable. Example:
In the comment above you wrongly say that the Tao is "some sort of invisible eternal flow that pervades all nature." As I've pointed out before, this is wrong. And also right. But more wrong than right.
Check out this entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about what the Dao/Tao is. It will probably confuse you. It sure confused me. And that's the point. Tao can't be easily pinned down, especially if we try to view it from a Western metaphysical viewpoint, as you are trying to do. Excerpt:
Dao, by contrast, was the center of Chinese philosophical discussion. It occupies the position at the center of thought that in Western philosophy is filled by terms like 'being' or 'truth'. The centrality tempts interpreters to identify dao with the central concepts of the Western philosophical agenda, but that is to lose the important difference between the two traditions.
Metaphysics and epistemology dominated early Western philosophy while ethics, politics and philosophy of education/psychology dominated Chinese thought. Although it's insightful to say humans live in dao as fish do in water, the insight is lost if we simply treat dao as being or some pantheistic spiritual realm.
Dao remains essentially a concept of guidance, a prescriptive or normative term. In the late Classical period, dao paired with devirtuosity to form the Chinese term for 'ethics' “dao-de.” Dao is the pivot of Chinese philosophy — but it still translates as 'way', not 'being'.
I've studied Tai Chi for about five years. I've heard many, many references to Tao. None have been in the sense that you use it. All have been in the sense above: as a way firmly rooted in this natural world, nothing metaphysical about it.
Moving harmoniously by yourself or with another person, that is Tao. Dancing the Samba in the spirit it should be danced, that is Tao. Shooting a successful three point shot with a hand in your face, one second left in the game, and your team two points behind, that is Tao.
By restricting your view of "metaphysical" to a certain Western philosophical perspective, you are preventing yourself from understanding a different perspective.
You have ended quite a few of your comments as you did above: with a claim that Taoist metaphysical claims should be equated with Christian, Sant Mat, or other metaphysical claims. Yet you don't yet grasp that you, George, have made this equation -- and now you want others to accept it.
Saying that two things are the same does not make them so. Words are not reality. Your conception of "Tao" is Western and dualistic, so not surprisingly you seem to have concluded that Tao is similar to the Christian or Sant Mat conception of "spirit."
Consider that your conclusion is based on an incorrect premise (read the quotation above again), and things may clear up for you.
Posted by: Brian | July 11, 2009 at 10:14 AM
"this is wrong. And also right. But more wrong than right."
lol, come on brian, this is gibberish.
Forget my definition, lets use Lao Tzu's opening sentence in the Tao Te Ching "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao"
There is nothing in nature that is eternal. All comes to an end.
This eternal tao that cannot be told and is eternal is what many others call God.
Posted by: George | July 11, 2009 at 10:26 AM
I find your "case" to be merely verbal (and puerile and self-serving).
I have personally found many (although not all) of your statements, observations, and criticisms to be quite accurate. I guess that I stand condemned along with you.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 11, 2009 at 10:32 AM
George, if you believe Tao is what "many others call God," all I can say is that your understanding of Taoism is poor. Try making this claim to a Taoist scholar. Or read any of many scholarly books about Taoism and see if any equate Tao with God.
You have substituted your personal take on religion and metaphysics for the reality of what Taoism is all about.
I haven't given up hope that you'll eventually understand what Tao or Dao really means. So here's another quotation...from "Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation" by Roger Ames and David Hall (academic specialists in Chinese philosophy):
As a parody on Parmenides, who claimed that "only Being is," we might say that for the Daoists, "only beings are," or taking one step further in underscoring the process of change itself, "only becomings are."
That is, the Taoist does not posit the existence of some permanent reality behind appearances, some unchanging substratum, some essential defining aspect behind the accidents of change. Rather, there is just the ceaseless and usually cadenced flow of experience.
In fact, the absence of the "One behind the many" metaphysics makes our uncritical use of the philosophic term "cosmology" to characterize Daoism, at least in the familiar Greek sense of this word, highly problematic.
...The Daoist understanding of "cosmos" as the "ten thousand things" means that, in effect, the Daoists have no concept of cosmos at all insofar as that notion entails a coherent, single-ordered world which is in any sense enclosed or defined. The Daoists are, therefore, primarily, "acosmotic" thinkers.
...The God of the Bible, sometimes referred to metonymically as "Heaven," created the world, but tian in classical Chinese is the world. That is, tian is both what our world is and how it is. Tian is natura naturans: "nature nurturing."
The "ten thousand processes and events" -- an expression for "all things that are happening" -- are not the creatures of a tian that stands independent of what is ordered; rather, they are constitutive of it.
Well, we've gone around and around on this subject, and blog visitors like Roger want to move on to more interesting topics (remember, Roger, I've promised some drugs, sex, and rock & roll today -- if I have time to get to the post).
I've deepened my understanding of Taoism by responding to you, George. You've made me realize that my understanding is correct, but will keep on evolving as the Dao (way) changes.
May you enjoy your way. I'll keep on enjoying mine. Hopefully our ways will continue to interrelate in more interesting comment conversations.
Posted by: Brian | July 11, 2009 at 10:55 AM
Robert, in comments above I've supported my case with quotes from academic experts in Chinese philosophy. What more do you want me to do? Channel the departed Lao Tzu?
OK...I'll try it.
"Lao Tzu, is Brian right?"
Channeling...please wait...ooh, got a response!
"Yes, blog visitors, Brian is right. May the Tao bless his efforts. Which is impossible, because the Tao doesn't bless. Still, he's right."
Posted by: Brian | July 11, 2009 at 10:59 AM
Thats mindblowing stuff. Great video.
Posted by: George | July 11, 2009 at 11:06 AM
George wrote somewhere above:
"I would suggest at its barest, philosophical taoism is based on some type of flow of nature that is a) ineffable and b) eternal...That is a metaphysical philosophy."
--'Ineffable' simply means conceptually incomprehensible, but that does not mean its presence is not immediate and totally available. It is just that you can't see it because you are it. For the ten thousandth time: an eye can't see itself. That's all there is to it. Call it metaphysical if you like, but I don't see how you can.
The subjective is what you can't see because it is what is looking. Objectifying what is functioning (while objectifying) is the only barrier. Let conceptualization cease and see.
Consciousness/ awareness cannot be conceptualized and the presence of a concept that attempts to describe this reality only perpetuates the dream. Also, the concept of absence of such a concept does the same thing.
There has never been anything objective and yet there is no subject either. It is because there has never been anything objective that there cannot be a subject. A subject would necessarity be an object of another subject, and so on in perpetual regression. This is the game we play. It is like two mirrors facing each other in a room where we see our image reflected in one mirror reflected in the other ad infinitum.
So, there has never been a subject and therefore never an object except conceptually in mind whereby every apparent object has a subject which is thus the object of yet another subject. What we absolutely are is neither and non-relative immanence at the same time.
Posted by: tucson | July 11, 2009 at 02:03 PM
Tucson, No, and for the ten thousandth time you simply do not get it.
"The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao" - Lao Tzu
a) The human eye can be told, whereas the eternal Tao cannot.
The existence and properties of the eye are told by physics, since its a physical object thats been tested and proved. The eye is thus knowable to physics.
The Tao cannot be told and is beyond physics in the realm of metaphysics.
b) The Tao is eternal is also metaphysics.
There is nothing eternal in nature. Everything physical has an end. If the Tao is eternal it goes beyond physics, i.e. metaphysics.
"The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao" makes clear Taoism is a metaphysical tradition at base regardless of subseqent or subjective interpretation.
Posted by: George | July 12, 2009 at 12:22 AM
"The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao" is merely one (not necessaruly accurate) translation.
And moreover, to even say the words "the eternal Tao", directly contradicts the first part which says "The tao that can be told"... "is not the [true] Tao".
The TAO is not something unchanging and beyond or apart from everything, apart from nature. The TAO is the whole of nature, which includes everything in the universe - which is constantly changing. The TAO kis not something separate, apart, or unchanging. The TAO is the movement, the flow, the way of Nature, the way of everything manifest. The TAO is all-inclusive and all-encompassing... not separate or beyond or "eternal".
In the translation above, the word "eternal" is simply used to mean 'true' or 'real', rather than beyond time or beyond change or everlasting.
The TAO is only everlasting in the sense that CHANGE is constant and everlasting, as Nature is. It is ever-changing. That is what the word "eternal" means in this case. It means always moving, always changing... always appearing, growing, flowing, decaying, dying.
So to get hung-up on the word "eternal" is a big mistake. To do so misses the real meaning of it, of what the TAO actually is.
The TAO is not an objective thing. The TAO is the totality of Nature, the ever-changing Universe. What that statement is actually saying is that the real TAO, the true TAO, the ever-lasting CHANGE that is the TAO, cannot really be expressed in words. Thus the GTAO that is expressed in words is not the true TAO. ASnd to stumble and get hung-up on the word "eternal" is to miss the real meaning and spirit of it.
The fact that the true TAO cannot be told does not mean that it is in the realm of metaphysics. The true TAO is simply the way of all-encompassing Nature, which is not metaphysics at all.
So "The Tao is eternal" is actually not a correct or appropriate statement. The true TAO simply cannot be expressed... thus to try to put it into words and say that it is "eternal", that therefore is automatically not the true TAO.
The true TAO cannot be spoken. It is too all-encompassing to put into words. But yet it is not "metaphysical". It is no more meatphysical than Nature is, and Nature is not metaphysical.
The TAO does not "go beyond physics", so it is not "metaphysics".
Also Taoism is not "a metaphysical tradition", becaue Taoism is simply about being in harmony with nature. Everything is part of the TAO. Nothing is apart from or outside of the TAO. The TAO encompasses everything, it is simply the WAY of all nature and everything in the material and energetic Universe. Matter, Energy, and Nature is not metaphysical.
So therefore, the TAO is not metaphysical.
Posted by: [email protected] | July 12, 2009 at 03:30 AM
A claim to immanence (within), as opposed to transcendence (apart from), is irrelevant to metaphysics in that neither claim is provable or testable.
Specifically, the existence of an all-pervasive essence is not provable or testable, and as such, immanence remains in the realm of metaphysics.
If such immanence were believed to be of a 'divine' nature it would be a pantheistic metaphysial claim. Since there is no divine, it is merely a metaphysical claim.
So, religious taoism is a pantheistic metaphysics, whereas philosophical taoism is merely metaphysical.
Posted by: George | July 12, 2009 at 04:28 AM
The claim that some essence X is omnipresent in all nature, i.e. immanence, does go beyond physics, since known physics can make no such claim, i.e. metaphysics.
Posted by: George | July 12, 2009 at 04:41 AM
>I find your "case" to be merely verbal (and puerile and self-serving).
>I have personally found many (although not all) of your statements, observations, and criticisms to be quite accurate. I guess that I stand condemned along with you.
>Robert Paul Howard
I guess in the puerile category we can include:
>What more do you want me to do? Channel the departed Lao Tzu?
>OK...I'll try it.
>"Lao Tzu, is Brian right?"
>Channeling...please wait...ooh, got a response!
>"Yes, blog visitors, Brian is right. May the Tao bless his efforts. Which is impossible, because the >Tao doesn't bless. Still, he's right."
A problem with the current discussion is that the Team Brian, Tao and Tucson (BTT) uses a pretty narrow definition of metaphysics, and other concepts ...
TAO (in ways that are personally differently defined and proposed in this blog) seems to involve both immanence and transcedence.
To say that "The tao that can be told"... "is not the [true] Tao" evokes some form of transcendence ...
although the nature of this dynamic of transcendence cannot be articulated in terms of 'beyond or within nature". A problem with the BTT team is that they adopt very narrow and naive dichotomies and antithesis and somehow imposes these inherent limitations in their discussions with others--and don't seem to be aware of it. I guess that is a danger of adopting a very and purely personal approach, it just ends up serving the contingencies of our own contradictions, something George has tried to explain to the deafs ...
They are other dichotomies that are more appropriate to handle the paradoxes and ambiguities at hand. For instance, Tucson keeps repeating the same primitive argumentations based on the subjective/objective antitheses. Simply read the Zen of No-Mind by T.D. Suzuki or Creating Consciousness by Albert Low to go beyond (and learn why we need to go beyond) the abuses and self-imposed limitations performed by Tucson with his use and view of the dichotomy subjective/objective. And it is also explained why his excuse that the problems with hist narratives are not the results of his own insufficiencies but those inherent to discursive thinking and words is incorrect, and simply a self-serving perspective. The guy is simply hiding to himself his own insufficiencies. There are good reasons why his narratives are flourishing, bought blindly and repeated naively in the new spiritual tradition that neo-advaita is.
Posted by: the elephant | July 12, 2009 at 05:25 AM
George, you continue to miss what "Tao" is, even after I supplied the references to academic experts in Chinese philosophy. I wish you'd respond to what I and others say, rather than keep on repeating your mistaken interpretations.
Tao is not a thing. It is a process. It is the whole of nature. Tao is not metaphysical. Your concept of it may be metaphysical, in the sense that it resides only within your own consciousness -- which can't be pinned down physically.
But the meaning philosophical Taoism gives to "Tao," in Chinese (not flawed English translations) is quite different from that which you keep on claiming it is.
I think we've discussed this subject about as much as is useful. Because Taoism is an approach to living much more than a well-defined conceptual framework, understanding it is a lot like getting a joke.
You either get it, or you don't. Some people laugh heartily at a joke. Others don't see what's so funny about it.
Taoism is a lot like this. Some people get it. Others don't. And that's fine. You enjoy the meaning you get from looking at the world in a certain way. Taoists enjoy the meaning they get from their viewpoint.
Vive le difference. Philosophy is much more like art than science. I do believe that some philosophies are more compatible with modern science than other philosophies (Taoism being one), but in the end the cosmos is a mystery -- even science agrees about this -- so each of us has to choose how we deal with mystery.
Posted by: Brian | July 12, 2009 at 10:03 AM
George writes: "Specifically, the existence of an all-pervasive essence is not provable or testable, and as such, immanence remains in the realm of metaphysics."
--As [email protected] clearly explained above, it is not 'apart' from phenomena as some mysterious essence. It is not 'other'. Rather it is intrinsic and therefore, in my view, not metaphysical at all. If George wants to to insist that this very being which he so obviously is and can't help but be is metaphysical, so be it, but there is nothing holy, divine or other-worldly about it. All the big deal is a construct in people's minds.
--As for elephant's criticism that what I write is naive neo-advaitism, I submit that all the stuff I present has been reiterated endlessly throughout the millenia by ch'an, zen, advaita and others. It certainly is not original. There is nothing 'neo' about it and nothing neo about neo-advaita in my view. Neo-advaita is simply paleo-advaita in modern idiom. But it is elephant that applies the advaita label. As for me, I don't think of it as any particular thing at all.
The sum total of what I have been saying is that there has never been an objective thing, and therefore no subject either. That's all. And when this is apprehended intuitively all questions along these lines melt away.
Posted by: tucson | July 12, 2009 at 10:31 AM
The crux of George's inability to understand (and thus his disagreement of) what the TAO is, all lays in the fact that he conceives of the TAO as being one or another of the following:
"transcendence (apart from)"
"an all-pervasive essence"
a "divine nature"
"some essence [that] is omnipresent in all nature"
The TAO is NONE of those. The TAO is not "an all-pervasive essence". It is not some "essence", nor is it a "transcendence", nor is it "within", nor is it a "divine nature", nor is it "pantheistic", nor is the TAO "some essence" that is "omnipresent in all nature".
The TAO is simply the WHOLE of Nature itself. It is not 'some essence within' Nature. The TAO is not different or separate or apart or within Nature. The TAO IS Nature. It is not some inner "essence" that is "within" Nature, nor is it some "transcendence" beyond Nature. The TAO is but the entirety of Nature and the Universe. It is not some 'thing' "within" or "transcendent" to Nature.
Thus, since "philosophical taoism" pertains only to the Way of Life, the Way of Nature, then it has nothing "metaphysical" about it.
As long as George continues to wrongly insist on assuming and holding to these erroneous concepts about the TAO, and he continues to project these concepts onto others, he will fail to simply understand what the TAO is.
The TAO is not any of those things (see above) that George has assumed thus far. George is far over-complicating the simplicity of this, because he is repeatedly projecting and imposing his own mistaken assumptions and erroneous concepts.
The TAO is simply Nature itself... it is the harmony of Nature, the flow of Nature, the 'Way' of Nature, the 'Way of Life' if you will.
Posted by: [email protected] | July 12, 2009 at 01:30 PM
Nope, just alot of evasive nonsense.
Just about every source describes the Tao as all-pervasive and inexpressible.
And who says there is a flow or harmony to life?
What is the flow or harmony?
Prove it. Describe it.
It cannot be described.
Tucson, sorry but nonduality is metaphysics too.
Posted by: George | July 12, 2009 at 03:24 PM
Some beautiful metaphysical excerpts from the Tao Te Ching, where poor old Lao Tzu apparently takes 84 paragraphs to describe nature:
"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."
--- The Tao is older than God? Does not sound like nature to me. Can't wait for the intepretation from the churchless on this one...
"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"
--- So actually 'eternal' does mean time as i originally suggested, and has nothing to do with truth as i was told by the sages of the churchless above - embaressing.
"Since before time and space were, the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see"
--- Beyond space and time Lao Tzu says, if thats not transcental, i'm not sure what is, looking forward to the churchless intepretation...
"There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.
It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things."
---- Would this not be immanence and omipresence and transcdendence? Eagerly awaiting the churchless intepretation from our resident scholars...
"In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it."
--- Good God Almighty, say no more, nudge nudge, wink wink.
Fellas i'm going to be quite honest with you, never have i seen a bunch defend such an indefensible position with so much dogma, i am conviced Goebbels himself or even the greatest religious fundamentalists would not fail to be impressed by the magnitude of dogma and close-mindendness you guys have demonstrated, while still having the gall to accuse others of ignorance.
Just one more thing, read the bladdy book will ya.
Posted by: George | July 12, 2009 at 04:35 PM
"Before God" means prior to the concept of god, for that is all god is..a concept.
"Eternal" does not mean never-ending sequential duration. It means absence of the presence of the concept of time and the absence of the concept of absence of time.
"And who says there is a flow or harmony to life?
What is the flow or harmony?
Prove it. Describe it.
It cannot be described."
There is a bug. It just goes around being a bug. It doesn't know it is a bug but that doesn't prevent it from bugging. Does its unawareness of what it is make the reality of it being what it is any less so? It is doing its bugging just fine.
Very metaphysical don't you think?
Posted by: tucson | July 12, 2009 at 05:36 PM
"Nope, just alot of evasive nonsense."
-- That's YOU George. You are being evasive.
"Just about every source describes the Tao as all-pervasive and inexpressible."
-- Yes, Nature IS "all-pervasive", and also basically "inexpressible" in its totality.
"And who says there is a flow or harmony to life? What is the flow or harmony? Prove it. Describe it. It cannot be described."
-- The "flow" and the "harmony" is nothing more than the way or ways of nature. Nature (and life) are a flow and have a natural harmony.
You are full of crap and denial. Nature is NOT "metaphysics".
"Tucson, sorry but nonduality is metaphysics too."
-- Non-duality is totality, the cosmos. And the cosmos is not "metaphyics". The problem with you George, is that you have different concepts, terms, and definitions than what are being related here.
Its quite apparent now... George is obviously a deliberate Churchless antagonist. And since this is Brian's blog, I will let him deal with such blatantly unreasonable and intentionally antagonistic individuals like George.
Posted by: [email protected] | July 12, 2009 at 05:43 PM
George, one of your main continuing errors is that you don't understand Chinese very well. There's a web site with many (over forty, I believe) different translations of the Tao Te Ching, many widely divergent.
Chinese isn't a language that can be translated word for word. Because it isn't a word-based language. So when you take one translation and try to interpret some English words in it as if this was the Final Word of Tao, you are making a big mistake. Analyzing individual words isn't the way to understand Taoism.
Consider these alternative translations of passages you included in your comment. (I'm pretty sure I found the corresponding Tao Te Ching chapters). These are from "Dao De Jing: a Philosophical Translation."
"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."
"Way-making being empty,
You make use of it
But not not fill it up
So abysmally deep--
It seems the predecessor of everything that is happening."
"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"
"The heavens are lasting and the earth enduring.
The reason the world is able to be lasting and enduring
Is because it does not live for itself.
Thus it is able to be long-lived."
"Since before time and space were, the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see"
"From the present moment back into antiquity,
Praise for way-making has never ceased,
And it is through way-making that we act in accordance with the sire of the many.
How do I know that the sire of the many is so?
"There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao.
It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things."
"There was some process that formed spontaneously
Emerging before the heavens and the earth.
Silent and empty,
Standing alone as all that is, it does not suffer alteration.
It can be thought of as the mother of the heavens and the earth.
I do not yet know its name
If I were to style it, I would call it way-making.
Being grand, it is called passing,
Passing, it is called distancing.
Distancing, it is called returning."
So the words you seized upon triumphantly to make your points don't appear in the alternative translation I've shared. This is because you seem to be looking upon the Tao Te Ching as a sort of Bible, where one takes every utterance as a holy pronouncement.
That isn't the way Taoism works. Lao Tzu probably didn't even exist. The Tao Te Ching isn't reverenced by Taoists. Taoists don't care about analyzing concepts and words intellectually. That isn't Taoism.
I'll end with one more quotation from the book I referenced above, as a corrective to your continuing error in assuming that the Tao/Dao is metaphysical. As noted before, the authors of this passage are academic specialists in Chinese philosophy.
"A fourth presupposition of Daoist cosmology is that we are not passive participants in our experience. The energy of transformation lies within the world itself as an integral characteristic of the events that constitute it.
There is no appeal to some external efficient cause: no Creator God or primordial determinative principle. In the absence of any preordained design associated with such an external cause, this energy of transformation is evidenced in the mutual accommodation and co-creativity that is expressed in the relations that obtain among things."
I'm ready to move on to other subjects. And take a nap. Then, a dog walk. That's the real Dao, George. Whatever is happening, right here and right now.
Posted by: Brian | July 12, 2009 at 06:14 PM
I am reading this conversation and comments very sincerely. You are absolutely correct. Tao is all that you have tried to describe, though it indescribable.
The very existence and sustenance of this nature is because of Tao. In fact everything has come out of Tao only. You can not trace the history of Tao.
Your following quote says everything.
"In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it."
- Good God Almighty, say no more, nudge nudge, wink wink.
Posted by: rakesh bhasin | July 12, 2009 at 07:10 PM
You are absolutely incorrect. Tao is not what you have tried to describe, but failed.
Nothing is because of Tao. In fact, nothing has come out of Tao. So there is no history of Tao.
The following quote says nothing.
"There was no beginning of the Tao.
No things issue from it;
No things return to it."
Posted by: joe king | July 13, 2009 at 12:33 AM
Dear Joe King,
Whatever I understand is that, Tao has been equated with Kalama of muslims or Akashwani of Hindus. And above quote of George explains the same.
I personally do not want to involve myself beyound it.
with regards and not reguritation
Posted by: rakesh bhasin | July 13, 2009 at 12:53 AM
Brian, i'm pretty sure your ancient chinese, or your understanding of its fuctioning, is no better than mine.
It is not my translation, it is a well accepted translation by Stephen Mitchell. There are many translations of the Tao Te Ching made by different scholars. I include two cites with links to over 20 translations:
I understand the most literary translation was provided in the penguin classic by DC Lau, which i've reproduced a link to below.
All of these translations are riddled with metaphysical statements.
Now, as for 'your' translation, are you able to provide a supporting link for it online so that i can examine it in its entirey and the author?
If you are honestly going to argue that Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching is not central to Taoism, then i dont know what to say. Your whole argument has been so utterly evasive as to render virtually everything subjective.
Well if everything is subjective i could intepret Taoism as a belief in Santa, since there is no reference point, afterall its all subjective.
Indeed by such very subjective reasoning, we return back to the crux of what i have been trying to convey all along, which is your objection to claims made by RS and chistianity, often based on objective scientific grounds.
You apply objective reasoning to bash RS requiring proof, but instead apply a subjective interpretation to Taoism. Where is the consistency? There is none.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 03:48 AM
So in effect, what we've come down to is wrangling over subjective interpretations, how quintessentially religous.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 04:04 AM
Chinese is notorious for its difficulty to translate because some chinese characters have a multiplicity of meanings and some represent concepts and subtleties which do not exist in the english language. Translators often preface their books explaining that while literal translation is almost impossible they hope that the spirit of the chinese is accurately conveyed. This leaves a lot of lattitude for misinterpretation by the translator and the reader.
There comes a point where intellectual wrangling is to no avail. Ultimately everyone must see for themselves.
Of course some like to provoke such wrangling just for the fun of it.
Posted by: tucson | July 13, 2009 at 09:02 AM
Tucson, dissapointed that you feel that i'm provoking wrangling just for the fun of it, that has never been my intention - if i make a light-hearted comment it is because i consider it to be so preposterous that its amusing.
Does not mean its untrue.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 09:49 AM
Well, it does seem you are purposefully obstinate. Maybe you are just more stubborn than most. Of course from your perspective it may seem some of us are more stubborn than most. So, we'll just carry on.
Posted by: tucson | July 13, 2009 at 10:18 AM
George, what we've been doing here, in our comment conversations, is thoroughly Taoist -- not religious. And I'm thankful for it. And you.
You've helped me come to a deeper understanding of Taoism, a philosophy I've studied and practiced for a long time (a lifetime?) but am not close to really understanding.
Last night, before I went to bed, I started re-reading the book I've been sharing quotes from, "Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Transation" by Roger Ames and David Hall. I'd read the book a while ago. Yesterday and this morning, as I read more, it was as if I'd never read it.
Our discussions gave me a fresh perspective on Taoism. Words in the book that hadn't meant much to me before took on a whole different meaning. This is Taoism. We've been practicing it!
I heartily recommend that book to you. We're both philosophically inclined. The authors have written a book that most people wouldn't like, if they're just looking for feel-good Taoist wisdom. This book is for those who want philosophy along with their lessons for life.
By the way, the authors explain their subtitle: "Making this life significant." That's what the Dao De Jing is about: this life.
I came across a lot of additional quotations that support my perspective about Taoism. However, I don't want to keep going on a "my quote is better than your quote" line. I mainly want to say to you that I'm thankful we engaged in this discussion, because I've come away with a much better understanding of what Taoism is all about.
Tao isn't a thing; it is process.
Taoism is lived, not understood intellectually.
Taoism doesn't have fixed concepts.
Taoist living is a blend of particular and universal.
(Pour a cup of tea; the whole cosmos is flowing)
Now, allow me to break the rule I just set out above -- not offering up any more quotations from the book. This one spoke to me, as it might to you, because I am so fond of academic philosophy, the first paragraph speaks about me as much as the second does.
The compilers of the Daodejing seek rather explicitly to develop a contrast between the glimpses of insight this text strives to impart, and the substance of other philosophical doctrines. Many if not most doctrines evolve with their antecedents in an elaborate genealogy of values and ideas. These philosophical doctrines are often hierarchically structured by precepts and governing principles, and they may well require an extended course of study for their mastery and transmission. The precepts that inform these "doctrines" are professionalized by their learned "doctors," and within their marble academies these erudites -- for appropriate status and recompense -- are only too glad to amaze the hoi polloi with the flashing dexterity of their philosophic thrusts and parries.
What the Daodejing has to offer, on the other hand, is much simpler. It encourages the cultivation of a disposition that is captured in what we have chosen to call its wu-forms. The wu-forms free up the energy required to sustain the abstract cognitive and moral sensibilities of technical philosophy, allowing this energy, now unmediated by concepts, theories, and contrived moral precepts,to be expressed as those concrete feelings that inspire the ordinary business of the day. It is through these concrete feelings that one is able to know the world and to optimize the human experience.
I thought this was a wonderful couple of paragraphs, coming as they did from academic philosophers.
Lastly, I loved today's Duhism. So true.
"The practice of Chinese philosophy can lead you to self-realization. But then, an hour later, you'll want to find yourself again."
Posted by: Brian | July 13, 2009 at 10:23 AM
Tucson, from my viewpoint, i feel its you guys who have stubbornly manufactured an interpretation of Taoism and the Tao, which is divorced from any accepted interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, one of the pillars of the tradition.
Brian, and what you've helped me do is obtain a clearer understanding of Taoism from reading other sources, confirming its metaphysical roots and in fact going further than my initial thinking and suggesting that the taoist philosophy is pantheistic, not the religion.
The Stanford Philosophy site has convinced me of this in which it is said "philosophical Taoism is one of the best articulated and thoroughly pantheistic positions there is" and "Pantheism is a metaphysical and religious position" and "Philosophical Taoism is the most pantheistic, but Advaita Vedanta, certain forms of Buddhism and some mystical strands in monotheistic traditions are also pantheistic".
Now it may well be you guys have a unique view of Taoism, but its clarified to me that Taoist philosophy is not only metaphysical but pantheistic too.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 10:46 AM
It would seem that the "Tao" is just one damned (non)thing after another.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | July 13, 2009 at 11:19 AM
George, you have a habit of ignoring what other people, such as me and Tucson, say, and switching over to some quotation from this or that web site.
This doensn't result in a mutual comment conversation, but in one party (me and Tucson, for example) attempting to discuss, and you attempting to lecture.
One more time...
I suggested you read a book by Roger Ames, a professor of Chinese philosophy at the University of Hawii and editor of the journal "Philosophy East and West," and David Hall (deceased) who was a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas.
Their book is based, in large part, on fairly recent discoveries of Chinese texts (the Bamboo Texts) that cast new light on how Taoism was understood in the time the Tao Te Ching was composed (first verbally, then in writing).
So to say that Tucson and I "have a unique view of Taoism" is absolutely false. We have a mainstream view -- which isn't to say that there aren't other views, because the nature of Taoism is that it can't be pinned down tightly conceptually.
Suggestion: don't believe, George, that just because you can read some words on a web site, you understand Taoism. These Taoist scholars demolish that notion in their book, and they comprehend the Taoist classic writings hugely more than you or I ever will.
Posted by: Brian | July 13, 2009 at 11:21 AM
Indeed, i would say your very own assertion that the practice is different from the philopshy, which is to live life in accordance with the flow or harmony of nature is also pantheistic and metaphysical.
How does such a belief account for randomness, or apparent randomness? There is no description or proof of this flow. We might observe what appears to be rhythm to the oceans or orbits of the heavenly bodies or a cycle of birth and death, but there are many other aspects of our world that appear to have no harmony to them. Events that cut lives short, events that destroy other planets - with an arbitriness that is totally at odds with harmony.
These feel-good meta-ethical metaphysical philosophies do what all religions and mystical traditions do, which is to try impose some sense of order on a possibly chaotic universe.
In short they oversimplify in the interests of comforting their adherents.
As to those writers who claim "within their marble academies these erudites -- for appropriate status and recompense -- are only too glad to amaze the hoi polloi with the flashing dexterity of their philosophic thrusts and parries".
This is a familiar refrain from people with lazy itellects, who want to find the easy way out, the way that suits their own conditioning. They are the least enlightened of people since they total misunderstand the agenda of a genuine truth seeker, who is not out for wealth, glory, cut or parry - but rather who wants to try find the truth by weighting every argument, testing and questioning for truths sake alone, no other. Only a precious few have realised this and they are the true sages imo irrespective of belief system.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 11:24 AM
Brian, i dont think thats fair comment at all, i have noted your suggestion of that book and will in fact read it.
i would also suggest that Lao Tzu the original eastern sage knows more about genuine Taoism then those writers, you or I ever will.
Robert, lol, yip i think we've well and truly exhaused this topic and are done.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 11:35 AM
George, you have locked yourself into a rigid way of thinking that is keeping you trapped. And, seemingly, incapable of even cognizing the content of other peoples' comments.
You just dismissed two professors of philosophy, who can translate the Tao Te Ching and have devoted much of their lives to an academic understanding of Taoism, as "people with lazy intellects, who want to find the easy way out."
Do you see how ridiculous that claim is? If not, I'm sorry for you.
Posted by: Brian | July 13, 2009 at 11:49 AM
oops, sorry i have mistakenly posted my response on the suzie thread, the one with the video showing the chaos of nature as opposed to the flow or harmony of it.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 12:00 PM
Your hypocracy is some funny shit. I have not laughed this much in ages.
My goodness, can you not even see a small inkling of it?
Brian i can only assume you have a wicked sense of humour.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 12:07 PM
Yay! Finally! We're connecting, George!
Yes, I have a wicked sense of humor. I love Taoism! I love laughing at myself, at other people, at the cosmos, at God, at everybody!
If I've helped you smile, I feel great.
Posted by: Brian | July 13, 2009 at 12:15 PM
Man, you religious sorts are stubborn, funny but dogmatic as all hell.
You know what amuses me most, is that you are all these great spiritualists, you know been to india for 40 years, studied at Harvard and Oxford, immense life experiences and so on ... and yet for all this learning, i think one'd struggle to find a more narrow-minded impatient group on the planet.
I mean Tao has the audacity to call me 'antagonistic'!!! ... LOL, i mean holy shite, you guys are operating in neverneverland. The problem is your views have been tested, strained and severy dented and you know it imo.
Anyway in the interests of removing my 'antagonism', i will remove myself forthwith and you guys can carry on with the backslapping in your old age.
All the best
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 12:28 PM
George, you made me think of a question that I've been meaning to ask you:
Frequently you seem to find this blog, and comment conversations about posts, deeply irritating.
I've been wondering what you hope to gain from visiting this blog. What motivates you to read and comment on posts?
I ask this, because you appear to have a rather unique "churchless" perspective.
Meaning, you say that you don't favor or belong to any religion, yet you also are prone to defending Christianity, Sant Mat, and such against challenges from philosophies such as Taoism and Buddhism, which you view as equally metaphysical and religious in their own way.
Most people, me certainly included, view churchlessness as a continuum, with Taoism and Buddhism being on the "mini" end of religiosity, dogmas and reliance on authority figures being much reduced in these iconoclastic philosophies.
For some reason, though, you keep referring to me and others as "you religious sorts," which I decidedly am not. My wife keeps remarking to me, usually when I walk out of a bookstore with some new atheist book, that I've become as committed to not-believing as I previously was to believing.
Your comment above indicates what I've recognized for some time: that you see yourself as being in a battle with me and others who regularly comment on this blog. I'm sorry about this. I don't consider myself narrow minded or impatient, and this is borne out by my ability to engage in discussions with people (both face to face and online) in a nicely respectful and open-minded manner.
I keep feeling that you are looking for this blog to be something other than it is: a church of the churchless. That is, I am an unbeliever in religion who, nonetheless, is open to the possibility that I can learn more about how to live life meaningfully than I am doing now.
If I was a true believer, I'd have a blog "church." If I was totally opposed to the notion that life can be made more significant (borrowing from a Taoist book's subtitle), I'd be absolutely churchless -- just living life in an unexamined fashion, I suppose.
Instead, my goal for this blog is to do what I can to encourage people to pursue their own individual search for meaning. We will never find answers we all can agree on, but we can enjoy the search in some online company. Hope this clarifies what I'm trying to do here.
Posted by: Brian | July 13, 2009 at 12:52 PM
Brian, never been my intention to battle with you, but you guys seem to pick very particular battles with religion and certain other traditions, which is fine, but then you should also be prepared to defend your own beliefs.
I only ever provide patient honest comment, UNTIL one of the churchless loses their patience and insults me peronally, and then i lose mine.
I like to understand and test different worldviews, in being fair and consistent, not in being agreeable when beating up on the retarded aspects of religion.
Thought this blog had the potentially for something very special, but you chaps are too limted for that. Your facts are fine, but its no substitute for consistency in reasoning, tolerance and patience. One can never have a truly learned discussion when ppl play the man rather than the issue. We all have much to learn, no-one has a lock on knowledge and no-one knows it all.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 01:22 PM
"Tucson, from my viewpoint, i feel its you guys who have stubbornly manufactured an interpretation of Taoism and the Tao, which is divorced from any accepted interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, one of the pillars of the tradition."
--Actually, I have little backround in Taoism. I've read a little here and there and I used to go to the Taoist Sanctuary in San Diego where I studied an obscure martial art style called Lo Kap Bak Fat for awile (not long enough for any attainment).
So, I really am not one to speak authoritatively on the subject of Taoism per se and should defer to Brian, [email protected] and others who are more versed with it than I.
In these conversations I come from my own eclectic blend of these philosophies based more on my own observations which seem to be corroborated by taoism, zen (ch'an), advaita and others.
In the end it doesn't really matter what any of these have to say about reality except maybe to point you in a certain direction. We are unlikely to come to any resolution on this blog. Like I said, you have to see for yourself.
In order to see for yourself it has been traditionally recommended to do something to break down our habitual thought patterns and conditioning. Usually this is via some form of meditation, discipline or even psychotropic substances. This is where a teacher may come in handy, not as some saviour, but as a guide to help keep you from accumulating conceptual junk. In the beginning this is tricky or even difficult for some highly intellectual types, but once this is done, then it is easier to see how things are even when going about ordinary activities and without any special effort.
Posted by: tucson | July 13, 2009 at 01:52 PM
lol i know you mean well, and the area of psychotropic substances is immensely intriguing, but the intellect is a massive gift, and in my view the pinnacle of evolution, which should not be relinquished easily.
The mind is such a powerful thing that before long we could confuse and concince ourselves of some nonduality where there is not and become one of those fellas in the mental insitutions who mutters to himself or end up like poor ram das who had him trupping over his own addled mind in old age.
one has to proceed very carefully in the suggestive territory you suggest.
Anyway take care Tucson.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 02:19 PM
some outside observations:
the problem is george, you have often insulted other people here. so that definitely make you a hypocrite.
in addition, you often say that folks like brian and tucson and tao are somehow religious and have dogmatic beliefs. yet there is no evidence of either. on the other hand, you clearly do have various rigid beliefs and incorrect assumptions and judgements, and even moderate ridicule and antagonism towards the very unbelievers, agnostics, and atheists here who are the critics of religion and belief, as is evidenced in many if not most of your comments about non-dogmatic philosophies like taoism and advaita. that also makes you a hypocrite, as well as being very narrow-minded and presumptious.
you project your own deeply mistaken assumptions and unfounded conlusions upon the churchless non-believers and taoists, and then you do battle with those phantoms of your own creation. you also have refused to see and hear, much less try and understand much of the information that other folks have carefully endeavored to present to you. and instead, you just continue to lecture and criticise and attack them, and even ridicule and browbeat them. then you turn and falsely accuse them of browbeating you, and label them as religious believers!!! that makes you a very disingenuous and antagonistc hypocrite as well.
so as brian asked you, what are you trying to accomplish here? are you here just to create false images of others - strawmen - and then do battle with these illusory strawmen that you have created? because that is exactly what you have been doing.
most of the churchless folks here are pretty open-minded and sincere. you are neither open-minded nor sincere, and even worse, you act as if you know more about these matters such as taoism and buddhism and vedanta than the people (here and elsewhere) who have actually studied and practiced and lived these teachings and philosophies for numerous decades. all you know is what you get from a wiki or google searches. and frankly, thats a joke compared to those folks that you ridicule and argue and disagree with.
you are one of the most narrow-minded and dogmatic and hypocritical and antagonistic people i've ever seen. you have no respect for the practical knowledge and insight and experience of anyone else, and worse, you come off as if only you and your narrow opinions and judements are right, and everyone else is wrong or intellectually lazy.
Posted by: an observer | July 13, 2009 at 02:41 PM
I get the feeling i know who 'an observer' is.
Rather just put your name next to it.
One other thing, i am not the only one you have cast as a pariah on this site, we all know who the main antagonists are and we also all know there is a very definite agenda at play here amongst the 3 highpriests.
Which is fine, but dont try and make me out to be the problem, its rubbish, you guys need to do some introspection before lecturing others on tolerance.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 03:43 PM
i mean look at some of the recent posts:
"Confirmed: God is gay"
Is this what in your interpretation should classed as sincere discussion.
I actually cannot believe how hypocrtical you lot are and seem to get off on insulting ppl and their beliefs, but at the first sign of you getting some what for back, you all get so bloody precious.
i mean the new guy Phil gets on the other day and is trying to post comments on this site and is clearly having tecnical difficult and one of you impatient twats decided to shit all over the poor bugger.
Then there is the comment i saw the other day comparing the RS satguru to turds in the bottom of the toilet - i mean what really is the point of such a purile and antagonistic statement?
i mean even if you consider someone else backward and arrogant in the beliefs, why behave in that manner? Forget spiritualism, learn some goddman manners.
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 03:58 PM
> all know there is a very definite agenda > at play here
and we are to suppose that you don't have an agenda? lol
> dont try and make me out to be the problem
perhaps, if you would not make others out to be the problem, as you are clearly doing.
> its rubbish
no more rubbish than the rubbish that you like to throw at others.
> you guys need to do some introspection
> before lecturing others on tolerance.
you are the one who is doing most of the lecturing here. and you are also clearly the one who is intolerant. your attempts at demeaning and ridiculing others understanding and opinions are quite plain to see.
Posted by: an observer | July 13, 2009 at 04:02 PM
and your shape-shifting identity is quite plain to see.
what do you think by changing you name, 4 high priest rather than 3 will boulser your position?
Posted by: George | July 13, 2009 at 04:09 PM
YOUR ARE THE ONE WHO is doing most of the lecturing here. and you are also CLEARLY the one who is intolerant.
These expressions sound very familiar ... :)
remind me of someone ... :)
Could it be ??? :O
What a sad joke ...
Posted by: the elephant | July 13, 2009 at 04:31 PM
I guess that is what we can call 'living' spontaneously with the flow ...
Posted by: the elephant | July 13, 2009 at 04:39 PM