Taoism: Is it what I think?

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12 Jul 2013 05:56 #112423 by Argos
Taoism: Is it what I think? was created by Argos
Currently I consider myself a Agnostic, and I have been very happy with that for the last few years. However, recently I have been doing a lot more meditating, and attempting to rediscover myself to see what my life is really all about. From what I understand from what I have read and watched about Taoism so far, it seems like it is the study of the "Tao" for each person individually to achieve a kind of immortality. So there is no afterlife, but rather the object is to achieve eternal life in one's own body. But there are also the 8 Immortals, whom I have heard referred to as "gods". They are called a "pantheon". And it seems there are two levels of immortality? From what I have comprehended so far it seems like Taoism is something I would love to study, and something I think I am very likely to adopt and adapt for my own life, if not as a religion, at least as a philosophy. Is there anyone here very well versed in Taoism? I am thinking about reading the Tao Te Ching, is that the best route for getting my feet wet in Taoism, or would you recommend something with a more modern translation? Thanks for taking the time to read this :)

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12 Jul 2013 09:01 #112429 by Alexandre Orion
bonjour Argos --

One cannot really 'study' the Tao as one can study cryptic canons of diverse spiritualities. Where one looks for substance, one finds none. And no, the Tao will not make you physically immortal - you wouldn't want to be either. What other would that be but 'half' a man ? One that is born but does not die ? -- Useless in terms of Tao ...

There is no need even to 'study' Tao-ism, for the principle in and of itself defies study. It is, as it were, un-principled ...

Tao Te Ching 10 :

Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things? Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.


Tao Te Ching 20 :

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous! Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don't care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile. Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty. Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharper;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don't know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind. I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother's breasts.

Read through the Tao Te Ching (you'll find it in the Temple library) but try and read it not with your intellectual mind -- try to see through the paradox.

I do not have any answers for you, but we can discuss it. Remember though that any discussion about Tao is no closer to Tao than a good recipe for cottage pie is ...

Be a philosopher ; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.
~ David Hume

Chaque homme a des devoirs envers l'homme en tant qu'homme.
~ Henri Bergson
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12 Jul 2013 10:14 #112435 by Whyte Horse
I think Tao is like saying there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. There's like these paths, and you walk them. Sometimes you know it and sometimes you don't. The Tao kinda helps you know the path. Here's a few paths for example:
1. Right View

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

2. Right Intention

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.

5. Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort

Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.

8. Right Concentration

The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.

Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.

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  • Alluvius
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12 Jul 2013 12:25 #112452 by Alluvius
Replied by Alluvius on topic Taoism: Is it what I think?
"Tao" is a word that translates (essentially) as "Way". The "true" Tao is not something that can be learned and studied, but must be simply felt and understood. I absolutely agree with Alexandre, read the Tao Te Ching, but try not to get "hung up" on the words, rather attempt to "see thru" them to the true meaning beneath. I might also recommend "Hua Hu Ching" (The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu). Ultimately, however, there are no answers that anyone else can give you, but if you wish to discuss it, I have no problem with sharing my point of view.

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12 Jul 2013 13:03 #112454 by Alan
Replied by Alan on topic Taoism: Is it what I think?
Whyte Horse has included the Eightfold Path which is of Buddhist origins but can be applicable to some forms of Daoism.

Daoism is a very diverse religion. Different Daoist traditions have arisen (and disappeared) over the past 2500 years, though it has even more ancient roots. Some forms of Daoism are interested in immortality and alchemy, others in spirits, ghosts and gods, others in lifestyle and ethics, others in philosophy. It is so diverse that you can pick and choose from a wide variety of sources and traditions and each can authentically bear the title Daoism.

There is so much written on Daoism that you could fill an entire library. As a starting place I suggest Daoism Explained by Hans-Georg Moeller. My philosophy students like this book. He has several other helpful introductory books too. Also, I recommend books by Livia Kohn and Harold D. Roth, as well as, translations of original texts by Burton Watson and Thomas Cleary. The best starting place of original Daoist texts include the Daodejing (Tao te Ching), The Art of War and the book of Chuang-Tzu.

Enjoy the path.

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12 Jul 2013 14:56 - 12 Jul 2013 14:59 #112474 by Alexandre Orion
Yes, the Thomas Cleary translation is a very good one ...

And, Alan, cheers for the recommendation of the Moeller book -- I do not know that one, so I'll order it. Please tell me that it is still in print !


Just to add to the list of things to pick & choose from : the Taoists of the Bamboo Grove practised excess : too much drink, too much food, sex ... I may have been that sort of Taoist for a while.

Be a philosopher ; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.
~ David Hume

Chaque homme a des devoirs envers l'homme en tant qu'homme.
~ Henri Bergson
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12 Jul 2013 16:35 #112480 by Connor Lidell
Replied by Connor Lidell on topic Taoism: Is it what I think?

I do not have any answers for you, but we can discuss it. Remember though that any discussion about Tao is no closer to Tao than a good recipe for cottage pie is ...

This is how you know Alex is a taoist. ;)

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  • Donkey
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12 Jul 2013 20:17 #112523 by Donkey
Replied by Donkey on topic Taoism: Is it what I think?
Tao Te Ching ( From S Mitchell)
The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.

It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.

Tao Te Ching (Feng and English)

The valley spirit never dies;
It is the woman, primal mother.
Her gateway is the root of heaven and
It is like a veil barely seen.
Use it; it will never fail.

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12 Jul 2013 21:23 #112530 by sundex sky
Replied by sundex sky on topic Taoism: Is it what I think?
I love this extract.
The great wheel keeps on turning.

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18 Sep 2013 01:17 #118689 by Lykeios Little Raven
The Tao teh Ching is the cornerstone of Taoism and its founding document. Still, it can be a bit intimidating for the first time reader. I'd recommend Zhuangzi for a more relaxed feel with humor in it. If you want to go to secondary and more modern sources I'd definitely say go with the Tao of Pooh. The author is fun and uses Winnie the Pooh to illustrate the important concepts of Taoism. How can you go wrong with Winnie? Lol.

“Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” -Zhuangzi

“Though, as the crusade presses on, I find myself altogether incapable of staying here in saftey while others shed their blood for such a noble and just cause. For surely must the Almighty be with us even in the sundering of our nation. Our fight is for freedom, for liberty, and for all the principles upon which that aforementioned nation was built.” - Patrick “Madman of Galway” O'Dell

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