I’ve decided to convert to Taoism. In accord with the spirit of my new faith, I’m taking my conversion pretty lightly. Probably I’ve always been a Taoist. Probably everyone is. But who cares whether what I just said makes any sense or not? This is the nice thing about Taoism. One of the early Taoist sages, Chuang Tzu, is called the “genius of the absurd.”
He’s famous for saying that he dreamed he was a butterfly, then awoke and was himself again. But he didn’t know whether formerly there had been a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or if now there was a butterfly dreaming that it was a man.
I feel just as confused much of the time. So, rather than worry about it, by embracing Taoism I’m converting a liability into an asset. Taoism, I read today in my formerly unread copy of “Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism” (by N.J. Girardot), is really big on chaos, hun-tun. Chaos is the root of order. Chaos and cosmos are two inseparable sides of the same pancake of ultimate reality.
I don’t quite get everything Girardot is saying here, but I sure like the “grinning gulf” image: Chaos as grinning gulf, the yawning dawn of creation, is therefore the very basis of a cosmogonic process that manifests itself in the gestalt of a trinitarian form—a formless form that because of its emptiness mysteriously links the uncreated one and the created two into a meaningful whole.
He goes on, less intellectually now: The gulf spontaneously created by the primal grin of formless matter is the empty source of the light and sound of created nature and human culture. It is not, however, polite to grin with a gaping mouth at a formal banquet….Even though there are times when a gentleman may feel a sudden urge to scratch and yawn, the ritual rule of civilized decorum rests on the idea that it is the idea that it is the appearance of cool control that counts. Taoists, as I will try to show, tend to grin somewhat idiotically while slurping their soup.
Now, this is a religion-that-isn’t-a-religion for me. Grinning idiotically. Slurping soup. Right up my alley.
Last week I went shopping at the south Salem Roth’s Vista Market. I selected some peaches and grapes. I paid for them at the checkout counter. I was given a credit card receipt that, suddenly, filled me with amazement. I had never realized before how the Vista Market receipt came in three pieces, one to be signed and returned, one plugging discount gas in Stayton or somewhere, and one for me to take home.
I was fascinated with how the two pieces I was given held together so delicately, clinging to each other by one fragile receipt corner. How rare! How marvelous! A VISA receipt of such delicacy! I walked out of the store mesmerized by the marvel that I couldn’t stop staring at.
Crossing the parking lot to my car, I suddenly had a strange feeling. Was I merely a shopper returning home with a two-part receipt, or was the receipt meant to bring me home with some shopping? I turned around, only to run into a green-jacketed Roth’s bagger running toward me.
How felicitous, this meeting! She was holding a bag of fruit, and I wanted a bag of fruit. Great is the Tao.
Am I an increasingly forgetful old fart, or am I a nascent Taoist sage? I’d rather consider myself the latter than the former, which helps explain my conversion to Taoism. Chuang Tzu tells a wonderful story about the benefits of forgetfulness:
Take the case of a drunken man falling from his carriage: though he may suffer injury he will not die. His bones and joints are the same as those of other men, but the injury which he receives is different: his spirit is entire.
He knew nothing about getting into the carriage and nothing about falling from it. The thought of death or life, or of any alarm or affright, does not enter his breast. Therefore he encounters danger without shrinking from it. Completely under the influence of the liquor he had drunk, it is thus with him.
How much more would it be so if he were under the influence of his Heavenly constitution! The sagely man is kept hid in his Heavenly constitution and therefore nothing can injure him.
Ah, to be spiritually drunk 24 hours a day. I’ve got a ways to go. I’m still remembering things that I’ve forgotten. When I get all of the way home without my groceries I will have attained more to Taoist wisdom, and when I can’t recall whether I went shopping or not I will be further on the Way.
Got to keep working on my idiotic grinning. Taoism asks so much of me.
when one reaches quickly for a cork in water it evades; when one reaches gently only then can one obtain it.
to be looking for heaven is to be living in hell.
the tao speaks only without words, words can only speak of the tao.
all is the tao, there is nothing to convert to.
everything that is done is tao. watch and listen. nothing done is not tao.
the tao is not opposites, opposites are how the tao looks from the narrowness of mind trying to catalog change.
after tao is before tao, there is no tao as there is nothing to distinguish it from as all is tao.
creation has no past, a never ending crecendo, one hand clapping.
quit trying so hard
Posted by: stephen | September 20, 2007 at 10:33 PM
i am very interested in taoism i would like to myself become a taoist...but is it as easy as reading the books and living the life or do i have to do some kind of ritual?
Posted by: Sydney | January 21, 2009 at 05:15 PM
Sydney, there's a religious side to Taoism along with a philosophical side. I'm much more attracted to the philosophical side -- which is the root of the Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu's writings, and such.
The religious aspect of Taoism does have rituals, ceremonies, a priesthood of sorts. It's largely rooted in Chinese culture, whereas I see the philosophical side as being universal.
So I don't think there's anything you need to do to become a Taoist. Just be who you are and do what you do. Taoism is a Religion of One, which means it isn't really a religion.
Every person who consider him- or herself a Taoist looks upon Taoism differently. There's no dogma to accept or commandments to follow. Just a Way of looking upon the cosmos.
Posted by: Brian | January 22, 2009 at 10:34 AM
Does there need to be a philosophical side to Taoism? Is One in trouble, if One throws out the religious and philosophical?
Posted by: Roger | January 23, 2009 at 07:54 AM
Roger, you (or One) can always throw out the religious with no trouble. But without philosophy, we're stuck in our own psyches with no way to communicate our understandings of reality.
I find it difficult to read Taoist religious writings, though I've tried. The good stuff -- Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu -- is philosophical in nature.
Posted by: Brian | January 23, 2009 at 10:12 AM
Just simple contemplation of what could be beyond:
Philosophical - Of, relating to, or based on a system of philosophy.
Philosophy - Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs. The disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology. The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology. A set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field.
As usual, no big deal. It's friday, needed something to post.
Posted by: Roger | January 23, 2009 at 10:42 AM
Roger, I was thinking of philosophy in the classic Greek sense: as a way of life. To the Greeks, a philosopher didn't have to write anything, or even to read anything. This was someone in tune with the truth of the cosmos, a lover of wisdom.
In that sense, entirely Taoist. No intellectualization needed. The modern conception of philosophy is quite different. It isn't a way of life, usually, but a collection of ideas and concepts.
Posted by: Brian | January 23, 2009 at 11:05 AM
In tune with the truth of the cosmos, a lover of wisdom, with no intellectualization, and no need for words, such a taoism.
Posted by: Roger | January 23, 2009 at 11:32 AM
From the Alan Watts post,
"I like how Watts rarely cites religious or mystical literature in support of his arguments. He just lays out how he sees things, using common sense, science, and everyday experience to make his case."
---This is what I meant by, "no need for words, such as taoism."
---This is a separate issue, when One discusses a Topic in a blog, or other discussion group.
Posted by: Roger | January 27, 2009 at 07:44 AM
i want to be a taoist- do i have to mediatete or interact with nature, like people say? im no good at the stuff! i believe that everyone is born a taoist. life is tao. whenever you make a desicion, or learn a lesson, that's tao. You reckon i'm right?
Posted by: Andy | December 12, 2009 at 07:11 PM
i believe that tao is everything. everyone has diffrent perspectives on taoism. thats why i love it. In taoism, theres no right from wrong. No falsehood from truth. Taoism is to live life as you want it, and learn from it, and benifiet.
Posted by: Andy | December 12, 2009 at 07:14 PM
Andy, I reckon you're right. You must be a Taoist!
Posted by: Blogger Brian | December 12, 2009 at 11:04 PM
i am an aspiring taoist i have in fact since i was sixteen and now im 24 and am very eager, to learn so can you offer advice.
Posted by: jose gonzalez | July 22, 2010 at 03:57 AM
Is there anywhere to go practice this in Salem Or? A temple, church, etc?
Posted by: Montana | September 28, 2019 at 01:06 PM