Taoism is a way of life for fools. So when I bought The Complete Idiot's Guide to Taoism, I expected a good match between the usually informatively entertaining Idiot's Guide series, and my favorite philosophical approach.
(I'm such a fool, I read the entire book through once, and now am re-reading it with a different colored highlighter in hand.)
I was right.
Brandon Toporov, writer, and Chad Hansen, Chinese scholar, teamed up to produce an overview of Taoism that is easy to read, inspiring, and practical, while also possessing intellectual rigor.
I'm confident of that last assertion, since I searched out what else Hansen has written and came across his A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation. It's the graduate school version of the Taoism Idiot's Guide.
Same conclusions. Same philosophical foundation. Way more explanations and reasoning. Yet fascinating in its own right. (I bought a used copy of the book; have just started to read it.)
One of Hansen's central themes is that Greek and Indian thought are similar in that they posit two realms, natural and supernatural. Taoism, though (and Chinese thought in general), doesn't look upon reality that way.
Nature is it. Which makes Taoism highly compatible with modern science.
Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Taoism that I resonated with.
Do Taoists Believe in God?
To the extent that the word God refers to a creator of nature, or a supernatural person with a "plan" for humans in particular, or a supernatural ruler or judge, the best answer is probably "no."
To the extent that the word God refers to some unknown meaning or purpose of nature, or the guide that operates in natural and human action, then the best answer is probably "yes."
If one's conception of God does not preclude God from being everywhere, all at once, then religious Taoism is likely to complement that conception. In a sense, Taoist religiosity expresses itself in awe of nature itself, rather than in awe of an imagined creator or author of nature.
Is There a Single, Big Idea to Taoism?
We'll examine a number of big ideas in later chapters of this book, but as a starting point, awe of nature will do. The natural beauty and complexity that inspires Western religion to postulate God also inspires Taoists.
Nature has an awesome richness and complexity of process that seems to guide everything in a splendid balance. Grass doesn't need lectures to grow properly; rivers don't have to be bullied into finding the sea. Humans, a Taoist would hold, are an integral part of this nature, not a separate agent to exploit or act on it.
The Taoist ideal of human behavior, then, is one in which forceful striving, grasping, artificiality, social posturing, and short-sighted manipulation of one's environment have passed away. In the place of these things, there is a relaxed acceptance of our nature and our unity with it. This inspires a view of human action as an elegant expression of natural spontaneity.