Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Something to Think About

The Tao doesn't take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. The Master doesn't take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners. The Tao is like a bellows: it is empty yet infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces; the more you talk of it, the less you understand. Hold on to the center. Chapter 3, Tao Te Ching

So how does this differ for you from typical western thought? Does it or does it not differ from the Christian perspective?


  1. Having not read the Tao Te Ching, I'm wondering who "The Master" is.

    Knowing this will help me figure out if I have anything at all valuable to say on this topic.

    In the meantime, I offer you a selection from Leo Rosten's The Lotus & the Mishpokkeh:

    The Tao has no expectations. The Tao demands nothing of others. The Tao does not speak. The Tao does not blame. The Tao does not take sides. The Tao is not Jewish.

  2. The "Master" can be interpreted as either Tao itself or a sage. Love your quote. I practically fell out of my chair laughing.

  3. Ok, well, right away, if The Master doesn't take sides, I'd have to say that this quote IS at odds with most of the forms of JewishChristianMuslimism that I'm familiar with. Yeah, Christ welcomes sinners, but only IF they accept him as their saviour, right? In most religions, there is simply retribution and rejection for sinning, and I don't see that in this selection from the Tao Te Ching.

  4. Howard,
    The reason you don't see any retribution and rejection is that it's not there! In fact, in the philosophy of Tao, sinning isn't a concept. Sin is based on static rules; Taoism posits that nothing in the world is static. Thus, everything is relative to the time and circumstance.

    Instead of suffering some fate after death, your fate is suffered while you live on earth. People who are consumed with hate suffer from said hate as much as anyone else. People content and at peace with themselves see heaven, nirvana or Tao.

    Put another way, in most religions, your soul receives a reward or punishment for deeds wrought during life. Taoists believe that all souls return to Tao. So, your soul, my soul and Hitler's soul all wind up in the same place. Tao.

  5. Interesting. Not sure I want to hang out with Herr Hitler in the afterlife, though. Any way around that one, Trey?

    Seriously, I've been thinking a lot about this. For years I've had a gut feeling that there simply is no retribution, either via a trip to hell or by being reincarnated as, let's say, a farm animal, just as there possibly won't be bliss or ecstasy for being a good person.

    The threat of retribution just seems to lead to religion as a social control tool, and I seriously doubt that this has anything to do with reality. That said, the concept of religion as a path towards happiness and spiritual enlightenment, should you choose the path and stay on it, seems reasonable to me.

    LOL! I guess I'm all about avoiding punishment!

  6. Wonderful quote, though I would point out that the historical Jesus as I understand his life and thought would have no problem with the Tao. The separation mentality, so called retributive justice, and on and on are mostly modern Christianity's reconstructions of early Jewish (mainly the Pharisees) moral legalisms. Jesus would be deeply saddened at what the church has done in his name.

  7. Howard,
    The point is not that via Taoism there is no punishment. It's more a question of when and by whom. I think most Taoists would agree with the bumpersticker, "Your Hate Consumes YOU". The person out of balance suffers during this life by their own volition. So, you see, even with Taoism, you don't avoid punishment.;-)

    I agree that the Jewish carpenter would be aghast at what's being proferred in his name. Many Taoists believe that Jesus was one of the greatest Taoist sages of history.

  8. I totally agree, Trey. I was just kidding with that last line.

    No, it's clear from all the Buddhist teachings I've been reading, namely those of Pema Chödrön, as well as stuff by Eckhart Tolle, that we create our own suffering right here and now, and that if we create enough suffering, well, we don't have to descend to hell, we are already there.

    Where I get tripped up, though, is when it comes to bad things happening to good people. According to karma, what goes around comes around, but what if you never did anything, especially nothing to warrant something terrible happening?

    Recently, here in Bellingham, a family of three (mom, dad, 5-yead old daughter) were hiking, out about a mile from their car, and suddenly a tree limb fell on the head of the 5-year old. The parents had to carry their dead daughter back to their car.

    I have an 8-year old and I simply don't know if I could go on.

    Something like this can make no sense, I think, no matter how you look at it. If the tree limb had fallen a second sooner or later, the girl would be alive today. (Actually, a year ago, a plumber we knew, his wife, and their two dogs were driving in their car in a storm, a tree fell down as they were passing by, smashed their car and killed all of them, the dogs included. THAT is just freaky!)

    Having been raised a Jew, I live my whole life in the shadow of the Holocaust, and here again we see innocent people senselessly killed, something that happens every day, but when the numbers reach 6 million, and you think about karma, it doesn't make a whole helluva a lot of sense. I seriously think that the Holocaust is the major stumbling block for me and my spirituality.

  9. Howard,
    What I'm about to key in is not a flip response -- Shit happens. There are gazillions of cause and effect reactions occurring every milisecond. In the case of a tree falling on people, all of these factors (the vast majority of which we're not conscious of nor do we understand)come together and causes the tree to fall. A person can call this bad luck, bad karma or an act of God (though that reason has never made any sense to me at all!). In the end, it still comes out as "Shit happens".

    For me, the holocaust doesn't fall under this heading. There were no mysterious forces of nature involved. It was simply the act of an evil regime hand-in-hand with an apathetic world.

    If you are someone who believes in God, I could see how the holocaust would be troubling. It begs the question, if God is ominpotent and loving, how could he allow this to happen?

    However, if you don't believe in [a personal] God, then it's much easier to understand the dynamics, though it borders on the impossible to comprehend the concept of sheer, unmitigated hate.


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