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July 05, 2009


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Thanks for your explanation.

I can accept your personal approach to the martial art aspect of Tai Chi as not involving a spiritual aspect, but not sure that applies generally.

However, this discussion is better served by considering Taoism, a philosophy that you do acknowledge to resonate with.

I would suggest Taoism (in its least religious form) remains a metaphysical philosophy. That is, a philsophy based on transcendental principles or of a reality beyond science and what is perceptible to the senses. Principles that are not objectively observable nor testable.

Specifically, two principles fundamental to Taoism are the "Tao" and "Wu Wei". The wiki says "Tao is believed to be transcendent, indistinct and without form" and "the goal of wu wei is alignment with Tao, revealing the soft and invisible power within all things".

Taoism is thus based on metaphysical principles.

I would say all religion and mystic traditions including neo-platonism (and Plotinus) are based on metaphysical principles.

So if RS and christianity are also based on metaphysical principles, what makes Taoism more acceptable to the churcless?

George, before engaging with you in more discussion on this subject, I'd like to take a step back and examine how you often discuss on this blog -- not in a critical fashion, because I enjoy your comments, but in the analytical fashion both of us enjoy.

Frequently you cite some online source, such as Wikipedia, as the foundation for claiming that because someone (me or tAo, for instance) practices X, then they must believe Y. There are several problems with this assumption, which is at the root of your comment above.

First, you originally asked me how I was able to meld my churchlessness with Tai Chi and Taoism. Good question. I showed how Tai Chi definitely doesn't require any spiritual beliefs (after all, it is taught to people of many different faiths -- we have Christians in my class who don't subscribe to Taoism, for sure).

If you ask a personal question, you should expect a personal answer. I honestly don't find anything metaphysical in how I look upon Tai Chi and Taoism. And you haven't pointed out anything metaphysical in my description of how I practice Tai Chi or Taoism.

Instead, you shifted gears and referred to the philosophy of Taoism as described by Wikipedia. Well, I'm not out to defend every inch of the Taoist writings. I agree with, and enjoy, them. But I doubt that you could find anyone who agrees 100% on any subject (scientists certainly don't, nor do religious believers).

More importantly, we were talking about my direct practice of Taoism, not the abstract philosophy of Taoism. This is where I see you going astray at times (like now) in your comment conversations. You ask someone about their practice of X, then you bounce back about the conceptual theory of X, ignoring the person's description of what they actually do.

Tai Chi, for example, is wonderfully individualistic. Every practitioner evolves his or her own style, as in dance, skiing, or any other physical endeavor which involves creativity and spontaneity. Same with the practice of Taoism.

My Tai Chi instructor is Taoist to the core. He has lived in Korea and studied Eastern martial arts for well over thirty years. For over twenty years he has studied Tai Chi with people, some Chinese masters of the art, who have Taoist sensibilities.

So I think I'm qualified to say that I've been exposed to Taoism/Tai Chi in practice. And it doesn't bear any resemblance to a few quotes from Wikipedia. This is like taking a few quotations from a physics textbook and believing that now you know how physicists pursue their profession.

I'm curious: have you read the Tao Te Ching, the Chuang Tzu, the Lieh Tzu? (the core texts of Taoism) It's difficult for me to believe that you've read these writings and can still ask a question, at the end of your comment above, that implies Christian and Taoist beliefs can be equated. They are wildly different, both in content and style.

Philosophical Taoism is highly individualistic, marvelously humorous, iconoclastic, dismissive of authority, and rooted in the physical world. Does this sound like Christianity or Sant Mat/RS?

You wrongly assume that the practice of Taoism and Tai Chi is based on metaphysical principles. Yes, there are metaphysical concepts in the Taoist philosophy, but my direct experience of how Taoism and Tai Chi are taught is that metaphysics plays a very minor role.

Harmoniously living in the world, finding harmony with body and mind -- this is Taoism and Tai Chi. Having followed the RS/Sant Mat teachings for over thirty years, and having dived into Tai Chi practice for about five years now, I can unequivocally say that the two are so different as to be almost beyond compare.

The only way they can be equated is to abstract a few quotations from Wikipedia and blow them out of all proportion. I'd suggest that this isn't the best way to understand Taoism or Tai Chi. Or to respond to a question about how I'm able to reconcile these practices with my churchlessness.

I think you've addressed the subject matter well.

For my part, what I think separates a philosophy like Taoism from religion is that the latter has a specific methodology for how to live in this world plus a very constrained manner in which to relate to that which we cannot know. Religion builds an edifice with very constrained slots that each person must be forced into.

Taoism, on the other hand, is defined by each person. There are no slots at all. Each of us must discern our own path and no two paths will be alike.

This same scheme can be seen in the practice of Tai Chi. For some people, it's a very spiritual endeavor bound up with Qi, yin yang and the words of the masters. For just as many other people, it's devoid of these things entirely. They practice it because it makes them feel good or more flexible or allows them to meditate or because they want to meet chicks or dudes!

Finally, Christianity tells people to come as they are and, once inside, every effort is made to change and alter the person to fit the Christian mold. Taoism simply invites people to come as they are. Period.


Fair enough. The reason I shifted away from Tai Chi is that you concentrated on ypur personal interpretation of the martial art aspect, which albeit highly informative in its own right, does not address the issue of why certain metaphysical philosophies appear to more acceptable to the churchless than others.

Now it may be that you or tAo do indeed have no interest in the metaphysical aspects of these traditions, which is what i am trying to establish, but when i notice you discussing these philosophies with others it makes me wonder just what is it that is different and appealing, since most of the principles are unsupported.

Apologise for the assumptions, unfortunately such is the nature of a blog, that to save time we often need to make assumptions, which are invariably corrected or ironed out as the discussion unfolds.

Its not so much the personal interpretations of each tradition i am concerned with here, rather i am trying to find out which metaphysical traditions the churchless considers tolerable and why.

So for example, christianity and RS have been lambasted, whereas taoism apparently has more tolerable aspects. I am wondering what these are?

I do take your point that all these traditions have many schools and interpretations, presumably tho this also applies to RS and christianity. But at some point, we need to generalise and look for the fubndamental principles in each tradition.

I also take your point on wikipedia and no doubt you and tAo are far more advanced than this, but lets be fair, wikipedia is a pretty good first port of call for a general discussion of a topic, moreover it is neutral insofar as when me and you are discussing a subject we can refer to it rather than giving a meaning to support our own argument.

I don't believe Taoism and christianity are similar, but that is not my point, which is instead a more high-level one; which is that both appear to be based on metaphysical principles. That is unsupported, untestable concepts.

You guys often seek to dissect other metaphysical traditions like RS, so i am wondering why not do the same to Taoism?

The rambling taoist

I am not contesting whether taoism is less rigid (or more flexible) as compared to christianity, i am saying that the teachings of both appear to be based on metaphysical claims (i.e. transcental, unsupported and untestable).

I have no problem with metaphysical principles per se, but what it not consistent is if ppl are going to castigate one set of metaphysical teachings as being dogma (for example RS); whereas this methodology of criticism is not applied consitently to other metaphysical philosophies (for example Taoism)?

This is not to say taoism is better or worse than christianity or RS, instead i am looking to apply consistency in the critique of each.

George, a few responses (some of which I've made before):

As The Rambling Taoist observed in a comment above, Taoism is far different from organized religions like Radha Soami and Christianity because it isn't organized.

There is no hierarchy, no dogma, no gurus, no commandments, no rituals.

This does exist in religious Taoism, but not in philosophical Taoism (scholars and others usually make this distinction, as is the case with Buddhism also).

Most Taoists I've known aren't big on metaphysics. It's a directly lived philosophy, like Tai Chi. As I noted in my post, yin/yang, wu chi, and such aren't abstractions in Tai Chi. You take on the physical manifestation of these notions.

You bodily feel when you are evenly balanced (wu chi); you bodily feel when differentiation occurs (tai chi); you bodily feel pushing yang movements and yielding yin movements. There's nothing spiritual, other worldly, or metaphysical going on here.

I realize that it's difficult for many (including you, seemingly) to visualize a philosophy that is so rooted in the natural world and physicality. But that's what appeals to me about Tai Chi and Taoism. It is so different from the world-denying dogmas of organized religions.

To me, it should be crystal clear why churchless folks would be attracted to Taoism rather than some religion. You think for yourself. You decide your own moral rules. You don't follow any guru, master, prophet, or other leader. You embrace paradox, confusion, doubt, chaos, mystery.

If you're not familiar with the spirit (as contrasted with the letter) of Taoism, I can recommend a writer I like a lot: me. I've written a lot about Taoism. Check out my posts on this subject:

Read a few. Then tell me that you still find the spirit of Taoism to be similar to that of Christianity or other organized religions. (Warning: if you tell me that, I'll respond: "dig deeper into Taoism; you haven't understood it yet.")

George, I just read your new comment. I think you're missing this central point: to embrace Taoism, it isn't necessary to accept any metaphysical or non-natural principles.

This differentiates Taoism from Christianity ("Jesus saves") or Sant Mat ("Guru is god") -- to offer a few examples. As I've been noting, Taoism is a here and now philosophy of life, no metaphysics needed.

What I find striking about Taoism is how its precepts are found in so many other areas. When we took some horse riding lessons recently, the instructor sounded like a Tai Chi instructor with her emphasis on balance, intuitive feel, and such (in fact she said she takes lessons from someone who integrates Tai Chi and horsemanship).

Likewise, there's a lot of Tai Chi in ballroom dancing. Or ballroom dancing in Tai Chi -- take your pick. The notion of "flow" and "getting in the zone" is ubiquitous in athletics. Also in Tai Chi and Taoism.

I'm curious: what metaphysical principles do you believe are essential to practice Taoism in everyday life?


I will go read some of your articles, but i do believe there remains a bit of a sidestep, since tho i understand the practice may be different from the philosophy of a teaching, this would seem no different then say leading a vegetarian life which is a practical non-metaphysical application of a metaphysical philosophy.

I could probably express it better, but will need to give it more thought, in any event its late so i will try read through some of your Taoism articles in more depth before enegaging again as you have suggested.

Brian wrote:

"As The Rambling Taoist observed in a comment above, Taoism is far different from organized religions like Radha Soami and Christianity because it isn't organized.

There is no hierarchy, no dogma, no gurus, no commandments, no rituals."

I take it you have never been to a Taoist temple. All these things exist, it even has gods and other magic entities. Taoism is many different things depending on the context, like martial arts, politics, philosophy, religion, medicine and health, as well as the culture it is practiced in.

The form of tai chi I studied was associated with the practice of internal alchemy, a yoga-like practice of Taoist sages involving the transmutation of not one form of energy but three with the set goal of achieving immortality.

This is not to say i believe in chi, or anything religious or metaphysical, but I figure all this human effort and conception was based on something, at least in tai chi, like the observation of what occurred in these practices, embellished with legend of course.

And one certainly doesn't need to believe in anything to achieve altered states like the experience of flow (samadhi) that arises from concentration or a nondual sense of actionless action.

ric, no, I haven't been to a Taoist temple. But I'm fairly familiar with the religious side of Taoism, having done some reading in this area. There may be something to it. However, much of the religious stuff strikes me as unbelievable -- the notion of living for hundreds or thousands of years, for example, through Qi control or whatever.

As I noted elsewhere, I'm much more attracted to the philosophical and physical (Tai Chi) aspects of Taoism.

The conflict here as to whether there is inherent metaphysics in Taoist texts arises because of the interpretation of a text.

The second chapter of the Tao Te Ching:

"Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.

There having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other;
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow one another."

A metaphysical interpretation of this would imply that in the universe there is inherently opposites that "complement each other."

However, this can also be interpreted without any need for metaphysics: the mind can only comprehend a "one" if there is an "other" to contrast it to.

...and the opposites resolve themselves in "emptiness" which is Tao.

in Buddhism, "void"

just "This" without conceptualization or labels.

Nothing mystical or metaphysical about it.

Just a plenum of infinite possibility and freedom unrestricted by the fetters of self, dogma and conditioned relative belief.

ric and j tucker both make very interesting comments.

I would say that any of these metaphysical traditions can be interpreted in a non-metaphysical or any other manner one wants.

Is this not the constant problem with any religion, i.e. the interpretation thereof?

So for example, christian theology and different groups within christianity constantly argue over biblical text as being merely metaphorical for explaining a concept rather then being read literally. The same could surely then also be said of nondualistic parables or text from the Tao Te Ching. RS for example, interprets their metaphysical claims as being scientific, i.e. a science of the soul.

And yet still, all of these traditions and religions (forgetting personal interpretations) appear based on, or have a substantial element, of metaphysics.

George, it seems to me like you're determined to view Taoism as metaphysical, regardless of the arguments and evidence presented against that view.

That's fine -- your view is your view. But it's sort of strange that you hold on so firmly to your opinion, in the face of strong evidence against it, while you are decrying religious believers who do the same thing.


Not necesarily, provided i am pointed to objective evidence, as opposed to personal interpretation, that taoism is not metaphyical, i will change my view.

It was ric above who pointed out the many religious aspects of Taoism, and i believe the word itself is constructed from metaphysical concepts.

Nevertheless i will read the articles you have suggested as well as others.

'Tao' itself is pure metaphysics, what is this tao?

George, Ellen Chen, a philosophy professor at St. John's University and a Taoist scholar (author of "The Tao Te Ching, a new translation and commentary") says:

"All religious traditions speak of the Absolute as beyond speech and name. The Tao Te Ching, however, is unique in the reason why Tao is beyond speech and name. The everlasting transcends the finite not because it is 'a being than which no greater can be conceived' (Anselm), but because it is a cyclical movement or becoming. The everlasting Tao is thus a verb, not a noun. When forced to give it a name, the sage calls it Tao, the Way or Path. We shall see that Tao is the everlasting rhythm of life, the unity of the polarity of non-being and being."

So you are absolutely wrong when you say that "Tao" is pure metaphysics. It is exactly the opposite. Tao is nature, everything you and I are experiencing right now, the laws of physics and other principles of the universe.

In "The Tao of Physics" Fritjof Capra explained it this way, focusing on the more general attributes of Eastern thought (which naturally includes Taoism):

"The following chapters will show that the basic elements of the Eastern world view are also those of the world-view emerging from modern physics. They are intended to suggest that Eastern thought -- and more generally, mystical thought -- provides a consistent and relevant philosophical background to the theories of contemporary science; a conception of the world in which man's scientific discoveries can be in perfect harmony with his spiritual aims and religious beliefs.

The two basic themes in this conception are the unity and interrelation of all phenomena and the intrinsically dynamic nature of the universe. The further we penetrate into the submicroscopic world, the more we shall realize how the modern physicist, like the Eastern mystic, has come to see the world as a system of inseparable, interacting, and ever-moving components, with man as an integral part of this system."

George, I think your mind (like most minds, including mine) automatically tilts toward a non-dynamic noun-based world view. You consider "Tao" to be a thing, like "God." Since it isn't evident, you feel that Tao is a metaphysical concept.

Actually, Tao, or the Way, is what is happening right now. Always has been, always will be -- assuming existence always has existed, and always will exist (even as nothingness). Tao isn't something separate from nature, from you and me, from the laws of the cosmos.

So again, I differ with you on your contention that Taoism is other-worldly and metaphysical. As I've noted before, Taoism is similar to Buddhism in that there is philosophical Taoism and there is religious Taoism. I've only been talking about philosophical Taoism, but you keep forgetting this, constantly referring back to religious Taoism.

Another way to approach this is to say a river, butterfly, wisp of wind, cloud or you is Tao. It is what we each see, smell, taste, feel and understand. It is everything we sense in any way. Everything is Tao.

Tao, of course, is just a made up word. If it suits your fancy, you can just as easily call it nature, the universe or boopdoggle. You can study it metaphysically or you can take it as it is on its own terms.

Tao is inconceivable. Therefore some may label it as metaphysical. That is a misunderstanding. The difficulty for some is that Tao simply cannot be contained via conceptualization and put in a box with a pretty ribbon around it. It can't be grasped in the same way you can't grasp water. It is fluid and will slip through the fingers of ideation. Yet is is always present as this spontaneous immediacy which we are.


That is a very interesting piece, thanks.

Metaphyics does not require a deity, rather a metaphysical claim is simply of a type that is trascendental, unsupported, not provable or testable.

"Tao is beyond speech and name. The everlasting transcends the finite"
--- This is a metaphysical claim irrespective of whether a being or deity is involved or not.

"We shall see that Tao is the everlasting rhythm of life, the unity of the polarity of non-being and being."
--- This is a metaphysical claim since what support is there for an 'everlasting' rhythm of life? Say a meteor were to hit the earth. There would perhaps be no life since it might be extinquished, no rhythm since the event would be sporadic, and certainly would not everlasting since it would be extinquished for a period perhaps forever.

"[Tao is] the unity of the polarity of non-being and being"
--- Pure metaphysics and bordering on contradictory meaninglessness, which is one of the reaons logical positivism was introduced to do away with metaphysical philosophy. Whether they positivists were right or wrong is immaterial to the metaphysics inherent to this statement.

"The Tao of Physics"
--- Metaphysics. If Tao cannot be clearly defined, then it definitely is not part of physics or science. If Tao is not a thing or capable of categorization its lies well outside the field of phyics and is ineffable.

"Tao, or the Way, is what is happening right now. Always has been, always will be"
--- Metaphysics. How do we know that something is infinite, even the universe itself may come to an end, we simply do not know. What exactly is happening right now?

The Rambling Taist

Very cleanly put, those are all metaphorical concepts used to describe something which itself appears indescribable. I should imagine with tao or nonduality one needs to say as little as possible to get away from metaphysical statements.

"Everything is Tao"
--- is a metaphyical and somewhat meaningless statement.

Now having said all of that, there is something that appeals to me at a gut or instinctual level, the same with other mystic traditions, but these remain metaphysical. I would like to learn more about taoism, advaita and other mystical traditions or paths who perhaps call the Tao by different names.

George, I think your definition of "metaphysical" is too extreme. Taoism certainly isn't transcendental, as it is rooted in the natural world. However it is unprovable, in a scientific sense, because the Tao is the All, or One, basically. How can everything be proven by something? How can a part prove the whole?

Your viewpoint implies that we should dismiss art, music, emotion, intuition, perception, consciousness, and so much else that is the essence of our humanness because it can't be objectively proven.

Tonight I'll probably write a post stimulated by Sam Harris' final chapter in "The End of Faith." He makes some excellent points. For example, that science is a way of experiencing reality objectively, by looking upon the world from the outside. Mysticism (and everyday life, I'd say) is a way of experiencing reality subjectively, by looking upon the world from the inside.

Or, rather, realizing that all of our looking is subjective, in that it is through consciousness (or is consciousness). The confusion we're having in our comment discussion here, I believe, stems from your looking upon Taoism objectively, whereas it is really focused on a "mystical" subjective experience of the world.

As I wrote about on my other blog yesterday, it's like the difference between thinking about riding my scooter, and simply riding my scooter. Shutting thoughts off while riding (highly desirable on a scooter or motorcycle, for both safety and fun reasons) produces a different experience than riding while thinking.

We've been thinking about Taoism and trying to understand it. That's as productive as believing that the class I took on motorcycle riding safety/skills conveys what it is like to actually ride a scooter or motorcycle.

I can see this "metaphysical" barrier, blocking a clear view of the Way. Find a way to knock it down.


Maybe, but my definition is not as extreme as Ayers who thought all metaphysical claims were meaningless. i tend toward Popper's approach which is that they are ideas that seem quite reasonable, and indeed even appealing, but are not testable.

I make no quality judements here on art, music or other aspects of human appreciation - which as you know are common arguments levelled against scientists. Instead, i am merely highlighting what a metaphysical claim is, not whether it is aesthetic or pleasing - i have said in fact that they do appeal to me personally.

The more interesting question then becomes what is 'dogma' in the sense used on here by the churchless to criticise other metaphysical claims and traditions.

A dogmatic statement seems to be one held absolutely and cannot be questioned.

Perhaps that is the difference?

Alternatively, one is dogmatic if they hold steadfastly to a claim with no evidence. So perhaps ppl holding metaphyical claims are dogmatic if they do so steadfastly.


What you are trying to see is what is looking!

We all miss it because 'we' are there to miss it. If 'we' (the sense of 'I') were not present who would there be to miss it, since it is what 'we' are? You can only miss it if 'you' are there.

Conceptual absence of 'this' and 'that' is the most concise and least inaccurate statement regarding Tao, Truth, Reality.

Trying to understand via reason is likely to be ineffective until your shoe-laces break with the weight of your own uplift.

George, maybe I'll be able to offer up a fresh perspective in my next post. I got some new "aha's" when I re-read the end of "The End of Faith."

Preview: some questions can't be answered. These are the most interesting ones. And the ones Taoism is centered on. Part of wisdom, perhaps, is learning how to live without those answers happily and productively.

That's where I (and Sam Harris) find the value in Taoism and Buddhism.

lol, ok, but sam harris is also not consistent and shares such metaphysics.

some articulate profound contributions from tucson and roger too, noted.

go well.

George has stated:

"a metaphysical claim is simply of a type that is transcendental, unsupported, not provable or testable."

-- Both Taoism and Dzogchen are all about this this immediate present existence, this here & now awareness, and this flow of physical life, events, and the whole of tangible existence. That is is not "transcendental" in any sense.

Both Taoism and Dzogchen are not "unsupported". Rather, they are self-revealing and require no other support.

Both Taoism and Dzogchen are indeed "provable" and "testable". The proof is overwhelmingly obvious and present, and is experienced in every moment of one's daily life and existence. Yet there is nothing needed to be proven. Do you need to prove that you are alive and aware and that you exist?

Taoism and the "TAO" and dzogchen are merely words. You could use any words, different words. It is what the words symbolize and represent that matters. And neither Taoism and the TAO or "dzogchen" refer to any thing that is "transcendental".

The TAO, Taoism, and dzogchen all relate to the immediate here & now flow of awareness life and physical existence.


You mentioned interpretations of different traditions.

Here is another interpretation or different angle you might find interesting, re “Dynamic Tao and Its Manifestations”. “It started with quantum mechanics and culminated with quantum cosmology. Within about 100 years, the physicists paved a smooth road for us to understand the ancient Tao philosophy”.


Dear Jen,

The above link is an excellent piece, in the most concise manner, on the subject.



I believe your intepretations of Taoism and Dzogchen are so sparse as to render them meaningless and metaphysical (not to mention the question of how they might differ under a different interpretation to your own).

You say "[they] are all about this immediate present existence"
--- which this present existence? yours, mine, all of ours? If all, if everything, how do you test the awareness of everything? What does it even mean if one could make such a measurement? How does one measure subjective awareness?

"this here & now awareness and this flow of physical life"
--- whose awareness? yours is likely to differ from mine and from an animal's. Present awareness could differ from future awareness? By awareness do you simply mean what our physical brains percieve or do you leave room for some other kind of unexplainable other awareness?

If Taoism and Dzogchen are awareness, why are their teachings associated with these? Why gurus, texts and discussions of something which we purportedly automatically have, i.e. awareness?

If on the other hand it is a special kind of awareness that is self-revealing, again why the need for gurus, books and teachings since it is self-revealing.

What is awareness?

Is it reason-free awareness, is it emotion-free awareness, is it sleep awareness, is it deluded awareness, is it fatigued awareness, etc?

"Do you need to prove that you are alive and aware and that you exist?"
--- Science can prove we are alive by testing bodily life signs, but there is no proof for awareness or more particularly of a certain type of awareness?

I would argue that most other interpretations of the Tao are of an invisible and ineffable nature (metaphysical claim), not something that is testable.


Sorry, but I don't believe Taoism forms any part of or has made any contribution to science. It deals in metaphysics, not with provable or testable principles. This is not to say metaphysics is not a good or a worthwhile experience, but it is not a science. Metaphysics can become a science, but for that too happen the principles need to be provable and testable.

George, a suggestion:

Take a deep breath. Relax your mind.

And open yourself to the possibility -- just a possibility, nothing to reach out for, simply a "maybe" -- that there is a whole other way of looking upon Taoism, Buddhism, awareness, consciousness, life, this whole discussion we've been having, than the way you're perceiving things.

What I feel, when I read your comments about science, objectivity, proving that X, or Y, or Z is true, is that your entirely reasonable way of looking upon the world isn't able to recognize another entirely reasonable way of looking upon the world.

Sort of like that image of a vase -- or is it two women? -- no, it's a vase -- that isn't one thing or the other, but both, depending upon how our mind (subjectively?) processes the (objective?) sensory information.

Becoming aware of the other way of seeing, once the mind is locked into a "It is like this!" seems to depend (for me, at least) on a relaxing of consciousness, opening myself to another possibility without knowing what that other way of seeing is.

Then suddenly, pop!, my brain shifts into another gear and I say to myself, "Ah, now I see! Amazing that I couldn't before."

From your words, and that's all I have to go on, I have a sense that while you intellectually recognize the holistic, Taoistic, wordless, suchness way of being in the world, existentially it isn't in your awareness repertoire.

I hope I don't sound judgmental here, and give the impression that I know something you don't. For sure, that isn't the case.

I just feel that in many ways you and I see things the same way. The main difference -- and I'm just surmising here -- is that over my sixty years I've come to realize that reality isn't bound by my way of seeing things.

For what its worth, here's a Neitzche quote that I came across this morning: (the final "the" should be emphasized)

"'This is my way; where is yours?' -- thus I answered those who asked me 'the way.' For the way -- that does not exist."

The Rambling Taoist has put up a good post on the relation between religions like Christianity and the non-religious philosophy of Taoism. Namely, they are hugely different.



"your entirely reasonable way of looking upon the world isn't able to recognize another entirely reasonable way of looking upon the world"

ah ... so by 'reasonable' you mean i should open my mind to entertain another metaphysical explanation without proof.

So if taoism and buddism are entirely 'reasonably' ways of looking upon the world, then so must be the other mystic traditions, which include sufism, RS, vedanta, kaballah, christian gnosis, etc?

But why stop there? If we are consistent why is it not entirely reasonable for a person to have a worldview including a god, since this is also a metaphysical claim?

I can quite easily shift my mind to appreciate all these worldviews as being entirely reasonable, in fact taoism and dzogchen has a lot of common sense, but still nothing more than metaphysics.

However, my point from the very beggining of this discussion is asking what is the criteria or methodoly that you apply to label christianity or RS or kaballah or sufism different from taoism and buddism? Since it seems to me either all traditons are entirely reasonable worldviews from a subjective perspective or none of these traditions are reasonable worlviews being based on metaphysical claims.

Do you understand my point? I am asking by what criteria (or method) are certain metaphysical traditios considered to be different from others? Subjectively, all are surely entirely reasonable?

George, no, no, no... you haven't gotten my point (again).

At the risk of sounding like Tuscon (not the worst thing that could happen to me), and reflecting a Sam Harris'ish perspective...

There's consciousness, or awareness. Then there also is the content of consciousness, or awareness.

Not the same thing. At least, it's an entirely reasonable hypothesis, that these aren't the same thing.

Regardless, awareness of awareness, or consciousness of consciousness, can't occur in the same way as I'm aware of a carrot stick or conscious of my laptop,

Those things are objects. They are part of the content of my consciousness. Consciousness, whatever it is (physical, metaphysical, both, neither) can't be an object of my consciousness.

Thus investigation of one's consciousness has to proceed in a different manner from investigation into objects of the world.

Philosophically (I'm cribbing from a book I just read by a philosopher), we're talking about knowing by identity. One knows something by being it.

The philosopher felt that consciousness is the only entity that can only be known in this fashion, by identity, because it is the means by which we know all other things -- but it can't be known as an object, being the subject of knowing.

So Taoism and Buddhism are focused on this sort of knowing by identity. It is a real knowing, nothing metaphysical about it. At this moment I know that I am conscious. So do you.

How do you know this? What does it feel like? How is this knowing different from our other sorts of knowing?

Western philosophy hasn't paid much attention to these questions, so they sound sort of strange to the Western mind. Eastern philosophers have given a lot of attention to this area. It isn't science, because knowledge by identity is different from knowledge of objects.

But this is why neuroscientists and academics concerned with philosophy of mind find Buddhism (and by extension, it's Taoist cousin) so interesting. Eastern thought offers a way to study subjects that Western science has difficulty, if not impossibility, investigating.

Hope this helps. If not, comment in return, and we'll continue our enjoyable (to me) comment conversation.

Right now it seems to me that a difference between buddhism and taoism is that the former is concerned with realization of reality and the latter is concerned with going with the flow of reality. In either case what they are concerned with amounts to the same thing. Whether you realize it or go with the flow of it, whatever it is, it is present and completely available now.

It is not something gone to like heaven in christianity or sach khand in sant mat. You can't go to what you are. You just are. But people have difficulty with the simplicity of that. "Is that all it is?"

It is not in some other dimension or supernatural realm, but it would be there as well because it is this awareness now in whatever circumstances we appear to be. So, it is not metaphysical because it is this presence which we are when it is non-conceptually apprehended. Nothing abstract or even transcendent about it. It is simply the vase and the two women at once!

We go through life seeing either the vase or the two women because of our split mind which is a mind with illusory subject-object relation. A 'self' is an imagined subject imagining itself as an object.

It comes down to mistaken identity of who we are. It is not me here, objects there. Rather, objects are I and I am nowhere to be found. The whole universe is I, I who am not.

"Who am I?"

The answer is I am what I am when I am not.

lol, i am obviously not making my point clearly enough.

I am not talking of a supernatural or theistic claim, instead i am talking of a metaphysical claim.

Metaphysics deal with statements or concepts that cannot be tested, proved or falsified. On contrast a logical positivist or scientific statement can be tested, proved and falsified.

Examples of metaphysics include:
"God exists"
"there is unity behind our illusory experience of the many"
"there is no self or I"
"the tao is that which connects the many"
"the tao is a pervasive flow or force to all"
"live life in accordance with nature"

These might all be wise and practical ideas, but the truth of them cannot be ascertained to any degree since they are not testable, provable or falsifiable.

All religions and mystical traditions including taoism and buddism are in the realm of metaphysics.

If evidence comes to light that meditation has health benefits and this is testable and provable, then the health benefits will be established as a science.

On the question of fmri imaging, let us be quite clear that all we are doing is mapping brain functions in a very rough fashion. A certain area of the brain might light up when we are in budha state (which is a whole query in its own right), but this tells us nothing of that state itself in terms of the experience to the individual. We cannot test or measure or view the individual's experience.

Study of psizophrenic's brain function in the fmri shows that these poor buggers actually do hear voices, insofar as the relevant auditory areas of their brains light up when they are having such episodes. However, clearly the voices are not real, they are a hallucination of the brain. So while they appear real to the experiencer and while the fmri shows these areas of his brain lighting up, we know these voices are not real.

This follows for medititation and some sort of special awareness areas that might light up in the fmri, which sheds no light on proving these experiences are actually true and real or how they are actually experienced.


George, I see what you're saying. But you still are missing a central point that I and others have been making.

You seem to view reality as being non-existent if it can't be objectively measured or proved by demonstrable evidence. I've never argued this. Nor do scientists.

There is objective reality. There also is subjective reality. By dismissing subjective reality, the province of philosophy, art, music, emotions, consciousness, and, yes, Taoism and Buddhism, an awful lot of reality is being ignored.

You might see a paradox in my position. I keep saying that there are objective signs of Taoist and Buddhist truths -- the effectiveness of Taoist principles in martial arts, dance, athletics; how neuroscience supports Buddhist tenets -- and this is one side of my argument.

The other side, though, is that certain truths can only be experienced, not proven. This is the area of knowing by identity that I mentioned in an earlier comment.

Science doesn't really tell us how to live in reality happily or harmoniously. Taoism and Buddhism do make this claim. For several thousand years Taoists and Buddhists have been inquiring into the nature of subjective consciousness and coming up with principles that aid happy and harmonious living.

As Sam Harris writes in his "The End of Faith," ending faith in religious dogma doesn't mean stopping one's search for meaning, happiness, and harmony in life -- which likely is entirely physical and limited to our current human existence.

Again, nothing metaphysical here. It is philosophical. In your comment above you admit that wise and practical ideas may not be able to be testable or provable. Yet they can be very valuable. Your own consciousness isn't testable or provable. But don't you consider your consciousness to be real, and important?

Hope you see what I'm getting at. I'm opposed to reductionism, where only measurable things are considered to be real. Again, a lot of reality is left out of the equation if we do this.

So what is wrong with the subjective reality of:

a) the RS satsangi's powerful subjective mystical experience, or their appreciation of the beautiful RS metaphorical verse, or the appealing philosophy of a perfected master on earth, or the way of living demanding a vegetarian lifestyle?


b)the christian who lives by biblical doctrine or likes to hear and sing the gospel music or the philosophical claims of a personal god, soul and heaven hereafter?

Again, you appear to miss my point. One last time:

What is the criteria by which you decide to accept the subjective realities of taoism and buddhism, but not RS or christianity?


You say in your post above that the statement "there is no self or I" is metaphysical.

I say it isn't. It is plain as day. 'Self' is awareness erroneously perceived and this is easily explained.

No object has any existence other than that of a perception conceptualized in mind, and mind has no existence other than as a conceptualized percept. This statement has no existence other than as a conceptualized perception.

Who made the statement? What do you mean by 'who' or a self? 'Who' or 'self' is also only a conceptualized perception and there never was one outside mind or any 'who' to ask the question or any 'who' to answer it.

'Who' is a figure of speech, a theoretical image, a symbolic personification. So, what then is there?

How could there be any such question to answer when there can't be any subject to ask, nor any question to be asked, or any object to answer? The presence of the concept of an answer would constitute bondage to relativity, and the absence of such a concept would maintain bondage to relativity.

However, the absence of both question and answer which indicates the absence of any entity to ask or not ask, to answer or not answer, must constitute release from relativity, for there is no entity to be either bound or free.

There has never been anything objective and no subject either. It is because there has never been anything objective that there cannot be a subject. Subject or a 'self' would necessarily be an object of another subject, and so on in a perpetual regression.

So there has never been a subject (self) and therefore there has never been an object(self) except conceptually in mind by which every apparent object has a subject which is thus the object of another subject.

This perpetual regression process is the only substance of our concept of 'I' and constitutes the basis of illusion and the supposed problem of the mystery of life.

George, here's my criteria (which repeat points made by me and others many times before, but you somehow keep forgetting or missing). I was planning to write a post tonight about Bruce Lee and how his iconoclastic martial arts approach is founded on Taoism. That post will echo these points.

Note: I'm speaking about philosophical Taoism here, just as Bruce Lee did, not religious Taoism.

Taoism has no hierarchy, no gurus, no holy books, no dogmas that must be accepted. Sant Mat and Christianity do.

Taoism leaves it up to the individual to decide what is right and wrong. No commandments, no rituals, no must-dos. Sant Mat and Christianity are full of rules that must be obeyed.

Taoism is naturalistic. It is entirely compatible with science. It doesn't posit any reality beyond this universe. Sant Mat and Christianity are metaphysical belief systems that assume really real reality is somewhere else, not here.

I could go on, and will in tonight's post. I'm amazed that you still don't see the difference between theistic organized religions and non-theistic unorganized philosophies.

ai yai yai brian,

me thinks you are off the reservation as of late, too much scooter driving.

In your previous post, you preceded to give me a whole list of subjective realities that you wanted me to tolerate and so i asked you a very simple question as to why you would not practice what you preached?

I am simply going to disagree with you that Taoism has no masters (Lao Tzu and many modern teachers) and books (Tao Te Ching and the many modern books)

What do you mean by a rule to be obeyed? Both taoism and RS are based on metaphysical principles or rules, if you obey these you will be following the relevant tradition, if not, so what?

Taoism and christianity are forumaled on metaphysical principles they have nothing to do with science and have made no contrubition to science.

Meditation is common to many eastern traditons and religions. It is not the preserve of Taoism. Is silent prayer not also a form of mantra recitation?


You have tried to prove a metaphysical statement using other metaphysical statements, which is not a proof.

Many of the ideas you posit appeal to me personally as wise and coherent, but some of them remain metaphysical and others wholly debateable as to their objective accuracy. For example, "There has never been anything objective and no subject either." I would say this is very much your personal opinion. Not only do we experience the world as comprising different indiviuals and objects, but our very language is setup in this way. While you argue this is illusory, there's no way of proving that. If anthing the proof is that the world does consist of multiplicity as evidence by our physical senses.

George, do you dance? That's my best artistic example, because I'm lousy at music. Or, to cite an activity you just mentioned, do you ride a scooter or motorcycle?

In dancing, or scootering, there's a big difference between being told how to do a step, or perform a maneuver, and actually being able to do it.

I can't tell you how many times our dance instructor has repeated an instruction about some move, and I just haven't gotten it. Then, wow, I let it just happen, and I can do it!

Likewise, I was having trouble braking hard and downshifting to come to quick stop in my motorcycle training class last month. The instructor watched me attempt the maneuver a few times and said, "You're thinking too much. Just do it."

George, I feel that you're thinking too much about Taoism. You're missing what this philosophy is about, because it isn't about thinking. You're limiting yourself to an examination of Taoist "moves," but you don't have a grasp of what it is like to "dance" Taoism.

That's fine. But you shouldn't dismiss those who are out there dancing, or at least attempting to dance, while you're sitting in your chair taking critical notes on what you see going on.

When I started this blog, I quickly came up with the tag line, "preaching the gospel of spiritual independence." That is, encouraging people to dance to the beat of their own drummer. You seem to feel that any sort of dancing is forbidden, if it can't be described scientifically.

Science is one thing. The art of living is another. Do you see the difference?

What?! Good god almighty!

Are you saying there is something more profoundly beautiful and aesthetic than Science?

That is heretical. You are insane. Burn the Taoist i say.


Its so obvious to myself and others that your view is extremely narrow and stuck, and when it comes to even a simple understanding of the philosophical (not the religious) side of Taoism or of Zen, much less Dzogchen, you have failed to do so. And you repeatedly refuse to look at every point and example that Brain has presented to you. Its now mopre than a little obvious (to me) that your real agenda here is one of a defense of the religious dogma of Santmat mysticism as well as the similar religious dogma of Christianity. And you have tried to employ a pretense of science in order to do that. No matter how many times Brian has explained to you (and quite well actually) that philosophical Taoism is not at all the same as religious Taoism and Santmat, you refuse to even acknowledge that. So its clearly just a game to you, not an open-minded and rational discussion.

Here are a few things from your recent comment. You said:

"the RS satsangi's powerful subjective mystical experience"

-- And WHAT "powerful subjective mystical experience" is THAT George??? WTF are you talking about? What "mystical experience" are you referring to? There are no reported much less established "mystical experiences" coming from satsangis. This is a false premise. Where is this supposed "powerful subjective mystical experience" documented? Get real George. Provide some real substance for this claim of yours.

"the appealing philosophy of a perfected master on earth"

-- AGAIN... where is the substance of this claim? Where, or who, is this "perfected master on earth"... and how do we know this to be true? Where is the evidence of a so-called "perfected master on earth"??? This is your claim George, and so you have to substantiate it before proceeding further. Taoism makes no such claims, nor does Zen, nor dzogchen, nor advaita/nondualism, etc etc. This is a claim of RELIGION and of religious mysticism like RS and christianity, not philosophical Taoism or Ch'an or advaita vedanta.

"the way of living demanding a vegetarian lifestyle?"

-- Diet is entirely a personal free choice, and Taoism respects that. But authoritarian religious dogmas like RS demand it and impose it.

"the christian who lives by biblical doctrine"

-- No. Biblical doctrine is obvious DOGMA.

"or the philosophical claims of a personal god, soul and heaven hereafter?"

-- All aspects of rigid belief and dogma. Taoism has none of that.

"What is the criteria by which you decide to accept the subjective realities of taoism and buddhism, but not RS or christianity?"

-- The difference is that the subjective experiences of Taoism and Buddhism are open and unique to each person, whereas the supposed "subjective realities" of RS are along rigid concepts and beliefs and doctine.

"I am simply going to disagree with you that Taoism has no masters (Lao Tzu and many modern teachers) and books (Tao Te Ching and the many modern books)"

-- Wrong George. Lao Tzu is no one's "master", and the Tao Teh Ching is simply a recording of a few things that he may have said on his way out of town. There is no dogma in either.

"Both taoism and RS are based on metaphysical principles or rules, if you obey these you will be following the relevant tradition"

-- Wrong again. Absolutely untrue. Philosophical Taoism has NO such "rules" or "principles" to "obey". Whereas RS dogam definitely has many.

"Taoism and christianity are forumaled on metaphysical principles they have nothing to do with science and have made no contrubition to science."

-- No. Taoism is basically about harmony with nature, not any such "metaphysical principles".

"Meditation is common to many eastern traditons and religions. It is not the preserve of Taoism."

-- No one said that it is.

"Is silent prayer not also a form of mantra recitation?"

-- Christianity does silent prayer. Santmat does mantra recitation. Taoism does neither. So what is your point?


Here we go again ey, i have no agenda other than to examine everything from as many sides as possible. If it happens to coincide with your esteemed beliefs, tough.

The only one with an agenda is you who makes sweeping generalisations against beliefs that for some personal reasons you happen to dislike.

And if there is any doubt as to this narrow-minded, i would refer you back to your recent comments on the child whose parents refused medical treatment. This is an excellent starting point to reveal the agendas and raving fandamentality at play.


Amaranth made two excellent, fair and balanced comments; which were simply dismissed out of hand in the most dogmatic and fundamental fashion.

Unfortunately you guys let your passions influence your comment, which results in irrational commenta and fundamentalism.


I don't think you get the point at all. I don't think you understand why RS is such a bad thing... and why Taoism and dzogchen is quite the opposite.

I will try to get through to you one more time.

Let me put it to you, or rather show it to you this way:

The following video is why I criticise the cult and dogma of Radha Soami (RS), the cult and dogma of Christianity, or the cult and dogma of 'You-Name-It'.

All these cults and their dogma and their supposed gods, saints, masters and mysticism are very BAD news.

Just because they may pretend and hide behind a facade of "spiritual", "sant mat", "mysticism" or "science of the soul", or "god", "christianity", or "jesus", or "masters", "gurus", "meditation", or "shabd" etc etc etc etc does not mean that they are not irrational, authoritarian, abusive, destructive, and quite contagious.

You seem to tend to want to defend these destructive cults and their dogma and their memes.

Watch this video and perhaps you may start to understand why RS (just like the cult described in the video) is so poisonous and destructive and evil.

View it here:


George wrote:

"The only one with an agenda is you who makes sweeping generalisations against beliefs that for some personal reasons you happen to dislike."


"And if there is any doubt as to this narrow-minded"

-- George, let me SHOW you exactly what "narrow-minded" is really all about, and just who really has the "agenda", and exactly why Brian and I rail "against beliefs that for some personal reasons [I, or we] happen to dislike".

Watch this video and just substitute Santmat & RS in place of the name of the spiritual cult that she (the speaker) is describing.

Maybe this will get the point across to you. (if not, then you are hopelessly dense):


If you think i'm going to be browbeaten into accepting your views in fear of being branded 'hopelessly dense', am afraid its you that is hopelessly dense.

More personal invective, rather then making any point.

Why are you guys unable to play the ball, rather than the man?

Are your foundations really that shaky?

No one is "browbeating" you.

And btw, the "point" HAS been made, qite clearly. Just go watch the video George...

...and quit repeatedly distorting and misrepresenting myself and Brian and Tucson and others.

What you guys fail to grasp is that I have no religion, i've never had, which probably explains why i dont know the facts of buddishm, dzogchen, RS, chritianity,etc.

Indeed, its you guys who've flitted between beliefs and their 'facts'.

Perhaps i've never had such beliefs precisely becuase i question, that is my way or tradition, skepticism. I'm not here to be lectured on which belief is best, rather to try understand and test the different beliefs, which is fascinaing.

Its you guys that have joined cults, not me, in fact i cant understand what the hell made you join and stay for so long in the first place with all your 'awareness'?

I mean that truly is irrational.

Wrong George. Totally wrong. I have never been into any religion or beliefs, nor have I "joined" any cults. I have never been in or into any cult. So you've got me mixed up with someone else. You've definitely got some very mistaken assumptions about me.

So in that case you actually never joined RS, which you say is a cult, and for which you've been telling everyone you know inside and out?

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