I'm giving a talk on 'going with the flow' tomorrow evening, some of which comes out of my thinking around Taoism and the questions that asks of Pureland Buddhism. That raised some thoughts which I thought I'd share here.

The Tao is the mother of Heaven and Earth, and the ten thousand things, but it is not those things. It loves those things without possessing them. When things (and people) act naturally it leads to peace of mind, and being at ease. When we act against the Tao, it leads to trouble.

The natural world is seen to move with the Tao. Does this mean that without human interference (say) things will tend towards the direction of being at ease?

In systems theory, in the natural world, systems tend to move in the direction of, one the hand, homoeostasis, and on the other, into more efficient relationships with other systems (often through what appear to be unpredictable spontaneous changes. There are loops and disruptions, but as far as I know this is the sense of it.

This might mirror how things become more in tune with the Tao. We come to be at ease with our environment, and change often comes unexpectedly.

You could call this movement 'all things being loved'. Does that imply an inevitability about moving towards a state of ease? Certainly that we have access to it, if we stop defending against circumstance.

In Pureland Buddhism we know Amida loves us just as we are, and that the most we trust this, the more at ease we tend to be, regardless of circumstance. This sounds like a potential parallel.

However in Buddhism (Indian Buddhism, particularly) I have less sense of the whole world unfolding in this way - the natural order of things is one of impermanence and suffering - and the Buddha's light shines through that. So there is a different kind of duality here.

Which gives a different feeling, to me, between taking refuge in Amida, and acting in line with the Dao.

One way of resolving this is to understand Amida as a holy being coming to support us fools who can't become sages, but there might be other ways too.

What do you think?

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The Taijitu symbol expresses the dynamic equilibrium that fuels the Universe, is as you mention very similar to western Homeostasis concept, anything in the Universe tends to its minimum entropy state. The deep idea behind Tao is that Universe is one that becomes apparently dualistic, the dualism is the two faces of the same coin. We need to assume that nothing is pure, anything is yin in relation to something else but it can also be yang respect to another thing. So the moral is not fixed,  depends on the given situation. It is the only way to justify the self-defense situations, a reason of the existence of the Taoist martial arts. My two cents

As I think Waley points out, different interpretations belong to different phases of history. The earliest phase of all this is probably the idea that there is the Way of Heaven and the ways of humans. Heaven, in China, originally simply meant the place where the ancestors (ti) live, under the rulership of the supreme ancestor (shang ti). To be a sage is to conform more to the former than the latter, but how is one to know what it is? This is where divination, mediumship, oracles of various kinds and the spirit journeys of shamans came in. As history progresses we see the idea growing that the Way of Heaven is no longer to be regarded as an expression of he whims of the ancestors and more and more the idea that "Heaven" is impersonal and can therefore be understood in terms of laws rather than less predictable but more humanly understandable interventions. Gradually, therefore, just as in the West, a more impersonal, quasi-scientific philosophy tends to take over. The Tao becomes some kind of univeral lawfulness in the universe rather than a matter of trying to understand that the ancestors are feeling neglected and that is why they have sent a plague so that more people die and go to join them, and so on.

Turning to the question of "going with the flow", whichever way one interprets the way of Heaven, we can see that there are two different types of flow that one might go with. If one goes with the flow that is the Tao of Heaven, then one is on the right track whereas if one goes with the flow that is one of the ways of humans, then one will get the kind of come-uppance that karma dictates. So, if we contrinue to muddle our cultural sources in this way, we can, maybe, say that when Shakyamuni Buddha says stand against the flow or cut across the current he is, perhaps, saying follow the Way of Heaven and not the ways of man.

So what is the role of Amida Buddha? Amida recognises that we are foolish beings caught up in the ways of man and rarely if ever really managing to follow the Way of Heaven, but he loves us anyway, and, perhaps, even more for our innocence and ineptitude, and so, as long as we are willing to let him do so, he comes and takes us to his Pure Land where we shall find learning all these hard lessons a lot more easy.

Sorry. I am not talking about Taoism as a religion. For me this religion is a perversion of the original idea, Taoism is merely a philosophy with its cosmogony and mainly it is a way of self-cultivation and self-empowerment. Abrazos desde las Islas Canarias

Thanks, Kaspa. I've just written an answer that has some relevance in the other discussion in this group about the I Ching. I think there is an old and a new way of using these materials. I don't agree with, you, Juan, that what I call the new way is the original and what I call the old way is a perversion - I think that that is a modern preference. I could be wrong. of course. Maybe Lao Tzu was ahead of his time.

I hope to find time to post some commentaries upon specific bits of the texts in due course so that we can all debate these things in more detail. Probably none of us has grasped their full depth. I do think that people who (like yourself, Juan) develop contemporary applications of these works are doing a great service, but ways that work for modern audiences are not necessarily the same as worked for ancient ones.

Now, one can. I think, see Taoism as a form of self-empowerment, but only in a completely paradoxical way, namely that the person who has most power is the one who never seeks power and does not assert the power that they have. In this sense, Taoist "self-cultivation" is self-effacement, as in the advice that Lao Tzu gave to Confucius.

All this also tallies with the ancient Greek ideas about hubris. The worst sin was to usurp the position of the gods. The ancients in all of these cultures, I think, felt themselves to be above the beasts but below the gods, whereas the modern person thinks that there is nothing higher than ourselves. The ancients would have regarded the modern attitude as extremely dangerous. When we look at what modern exploitation is doing to the planet it could be that the ancients will be proved right.

The Taoism, as an organized religion, is a perversion of Taoism principles that are not religious ones because, mainly, they are against any hierarchical organization. Moreover, for them God is not required, you are the responsible of your destiny. And Taoism is not the only one, Jainism explicitly says that God does not exist as an independent entity of each of us. The Taoism says that there is a Macrocosmos out there but there is also its inner counterpart as a Microcosm within each of us. The Microcosmic Orbit meditation works in that realm. It seems similar to the hermetic concept, as it is "As above, so below; as below, so above"

For Taoism, the man is like a tree, it needs to unite the energies of the earth and heaven. We are talking about subtle energies, those that are taken in mind with Feng Shui studies and the whole traditional Chinese medicine, they conceive man as energies. Heaven for them is not related to any gods.

To the best of my knowledge the Chinese do distinguish between a Taoism as philosophy and a Taoism as religion, but I don't think that the see them as antagonistic to one another, particularly, so I think that using the word "perversion" is overly strong. It is quite difficult to substantiate the idea that either sort of Taoism is opposed to hierarchy since much of I Ching and Tao Te Ching seem to be best construed as advice to kings and leaders. There are certainly people practising Taoism as religion and I have visited Taoist temples in USA and in Vietnam. In Vietnam, Chinese temples are all rather similar and they all have three altars. You can tell whether it is a Confucian temple, a Buddhist temple or a Taoist temple by which figure - Confucius, Buddha or Lao Tzu is on the central altar. The other two will then be on the side altars. This is how the Chinese have semi-unified the "three religions".

I think that the Chinese idea of religion is a bit different from the Western ones. We are used to ideas of monotheism, but Heaven for the Chinese originally seems to have been the place of the ancestors. One might regard the ancestors as gods or one might not depending upon definition, but there certainly seems to have been a strong sense that the ancestors had a continuing influence upon contemporary affairs. Again, we think of God as powerful and good, but ancestors are not always good, but still need to be appeased. Many Chinese still think this way, i imagine.

All this is, of course, miles away from how modern Europeans and Americans generally think so, in order to make the books relevant for modern people, there are plenty of reinterpretations available, using the language of "energies" and "forces" and other things that sound vaguely scientific and therefore more acceptable these days in this culture, unrelated to the gods, ancestors, Heaven etc. We can certainly say that Taoism does not support the traditional Western religious perspective. However, I don't think we can then go on to say, that therefore it must support the contemporary views of anti-traditional Westerners. It is rooted in a different world view altogether.

Macrocosm-microcosm ideas are also certainly interesting and, as you suggest, are found in religions in many parts of the world.

I'm rather impressed by how much activity these items on Taoism have generated. Thank you for your contributions.

Thank you, David, for the creation of this group. When I say perversión is because any spiritual movement once become in any kind of organization generates by itself a hierarchy and consequently one uneven situation. Taoism is the first attempt of an anarchy philosophy, or better said, of an autarchy philosophy where individuals prevail to organizations.

In fact, Taoism and the Tao Te King are ideological references for the anarchist movement in contrast with the Confucianism, with its prevalence of the organization of the society in detriment of the individuals.


Thanks, Juan. Yes, there is certainly some truth in all that, though, of course, any kind of social grouping naturally produces hierarchies so the only way to avoid them completely is to be a hermit, which, again, many Taoists did. When you said earlier that Buddha may have travelled to Taoist monasteries in China, one can be sure that such monasteries had hierarchies. No social structure without some kind of hierarchy lasts more than a very brief period. If "uneven situations" are perversions, then we are all perverts as soon as we enter into society of any kind. You cannot be a citizen, have a job, join any organisation, or make use of any utility without putting yourself into a system of differential power gradient.

I agree that one can find resources for anarchism in |Taoism and that was certainly one of the reasons that I was originally interested in it long ago when I was young. The ideas of Kropotkin were also some of my favourite reading at that time and I still have a lot of respect for his ideas. I think that both Kropotkin and Lao Tzu have a religious vision of equality but they are also practical people of affairs who recognise that actual human society never coincides with the ideal.

The problem is that if one holds too tightly to the ideal one ends up unable to do anything in the social world and renders oneself useless. Some Taoists were certainly willing to take on uselessness as an ideal. The image they used was the gnarled tree that is so twisted that nobody cuts it down because it is no use for anything whereas the straight trees soon get cut down as they can be used for all sorts of things. So this led to a slogan of "Be useless and so survive". I suppose that is one of the reasons why, although deeply impressed by Taoist ideas, I preferred, in the end, to be a Buddhist and do some good in the world rather than completely retiring from it. Nonetheless, i do now live in a more Taoistic situation than most people, by being here in my hermitage in remote rural France so the universe has conspired to make a Taoist of me in a certain way too.

I agree with you, David. I mentioned perversion only under the Taoist point of view, not from my personal point of view. For describing what I figure out about the self-rule, I prefer to refer to P2P philosophy where the value is in the endpoints. It is, in the same way, as neurons interrelate between themselves. And it has its logic, the only way a complex system can avoid collapsing is behaving as a decentralized and nonhierarchical system where any part of the system is equally important. Any of the neurons of your body has full consciousness of yourself as a whole. In my opinion, this fact has some remembrances about how the Taoist understand the societies, as organic systems.

Thanks, Juan. The term hierarchy can be understood in different ways. I would say that in a healthy hierarchy every member is equally important.

My understanding is that both the philosophical and the religious Daoism existed along side each other. The philosophical Daoism was taken up mostly by intellectuals, poets and artists while the religious Daoism was a kind of folk religion practiced by common people. 

It's difficult to really appreciate Chinese thought because we tend to project our own cultural assumption on it. The Chinese were interested in pattern, not things. So perhaps they were the first deep ecologists. And I don't think they viewed heaven or earth in a hierarchical way - there was absence and there was presence. In absence there was no movement - no time or space.

Yang was the movement away from this absence - the expansion. And this set up the swinging pattern of yin's response to that as a contraction. This movement of yang and yin created the fabric of the universe known as qi. And qi for the most part was intangible but once in awhile it manifested as form or material then it was tangible. 

They viewed this pattern of expansion and contraction as breath and it was the same pattern in the cosmos in the birth and death of stars as it was here on earth in the birth and death of the ten thousand things. It was all of one cloth. 

Yes, seems so. 

"The Chinese were interested in pattern, not things" - Good point. Of course there was a concern with pattern in Europe in classical times - Pythagoras and all that. 

Religious and philosophical Daoism still both continue to this day as important threads in the Chinese cloth.



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