I've reprinted the following article twice before (2005 & 2006), but I find it so exquisite that I'm doing it again in 2008. It is written by a fellow who goes by the moniker Disciple Dan. He used to host a website called The Path of Tao Jia -- the link no longer works. If nothing else, this should provide readers with great fodder for contemplation and discussion. See if you agree or disagree with his premise.
Was Jesus a Taoist?
by Disciple Dan
Before beginning this article, let me say that I have been a follower of Jesus of Nazareth since I was thirteen years old. I was ordained as a minister in the Christian Religion in 1972, and have spent more than thirty years in service as a minister to that religion. I feel, therefore, that I have an established understanding of what Christianity teaches, and am able to speak candidly about that faith. Without the slightest hesitation, I can say that I love Jesus and deeply respect his teachings... but I am no longer a Christian.
The foundation question that must be asked before asking if Jesus was a Taoist, is to ask if Jesus was a "Christian." This question probably evokes laughter from some, and others would exclaim with contempt, "Of course he was! The Christian Religion is founded on Jesus and his teachings!" I beg to adamantly differ with you.
Christianity was not founded on Jesus nor his teachings. Jesus was a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who never gave the slightest indication that he intended to leave the Jewish faith nor institute a new religion. On the contrary, Jesus followed the Jewish law and encouraged others to do so. He was circumcised on the eighth day and attended the Jewish feasts in Jerusalem. He would, in fact, die while attending a Passover Feast in Jerusalem. When he cleansed the lepers, he told them to go to the Temple and make the proper religious offering according to the Jewish law. Even when he was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the leaders of his religion, he told his followers to obey the Chief Priest because he "...sat in Moses seat."
The single motive of Jesus seems to have been the reform of his own faith. When approached by a non-Jewish woman in search of his favors, he told her that he had been sent to the "...lost sheep of Israel." The scriptures teach that it was his custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day... a habit that he maintained until his death.
Those people who followed him were also Jews. When he died he was removed from the cross early because the Jewish Sabbath was about to begin, a clear indication that his closest followers were still devout Jews. His followers buried him in a Jewish burial place according to Jewish customs. Later on, when the Apostles had a difference with Paul of Tarsus, it was over the matter of circumcision and the keeping of the Jewish law. Again, this is tacit proof that the Apostles were still very much orthodox Jews with no intention of leaving their religion.
If Jesus had intended to start a new religion, he would have certainly committed some of the things he intended to be taught or observed in his religion into written documents. No such documents exist. In fact, there is not the slightest reliable indication that Jesus ever wrote anything, even though we know that he could read and write, and was educated so well in the Jewish law that he was able to impress the scholars at Jerusalem with his brilliant scholarship when he was 12 years old.
There were a number of Jewish sects in the region where Jesus lived. A Jewish sect would be like a Christian denomination. There were the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Essenes, the Herodians, and a number more. It is obvious, I believe, that Jesus did intend to start a new sect, because he clearly appointed leaders in his group, but the thought of beginning a new religion separate from the Jewish faith was unthinkable to Jesus. If so, three questions need to be asked. First, If Jesus did not found Christianity, then who did? Second, Who originated the central beliefs of the Christian Church if Jesus did not? And third, what did Jesus intend to be taught in his new sect?
It is clear to any honest student of the Christian religion that Paul of Tarsus was the founder of Christianity. Therefore, it would behoove us to have a close look at this fellow Paul. He began his life as a rigid, devout Pharisee, probably the most conservative sect (denomination) within the Jewish religion. There is not the slightest indication from New Testament Scripture that Paul ever saw Jesus nor heard a single lesson Jesus ever taught. Paul had a "vision" on the road to Damascus. Even in the vision there is no indication that he actually saw Jesus, but he did see a "light." This vision, much like the vision of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, was a major turning point in his life.
Paul did not seek out the Apostles of Jesus after this vision, as one would expect, so that he might be instructed in the fundamentals of this new Jewish sect. Instead he set off for the wilderness where he spent several years developing his very own, unique, never before heard or taught set of doctrines which became the foundation of a new religion which he personally forged from these novel ideas - many of which were 180 degrees out from the teachings of Jesus, whom he had never actually heard. He was never appointed an Apostle by the authorities in Jerusalem, and, in point of fact, boasted about this fact in the first chapter of Galatians. He claimed his appointment to be an Apostle was an act of God.
Based solely upon his personal reason and logic, this prolific writer and charismatic speaker redefined the sect that Jesus had founded. He now preached a radical new idea that righteousness was no longer a requirement for salvation. He said that righteousness was now a matter of correct "thinking" rather than correct "actions." It boiled down to what you "believed" rather than what you "did." This was, of course, the exact opposite message of Jesus who repeatedly admonished people to practical acts of compassion and righteousness, warning them that if their righteousness did not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, they would not "see" the Kingdom of Heaven.
Most significantly, Paul prescribed a new way to have your sins forgiven. He now preached that you must accept Jesus as being none other than "God" if you wanted your sins forgiven. He of course had not heard Jesus, nor those who had firsthand knowledge of him, when he made this pronouncement. Jesus had said that no one was good except the "Father" in Heaven, hardly something he would have said if he thought of himself as God. He had never claimed the attributes of God. He grew in "wisdom" just as other children did. He learned to walk, talk, run, and play just like all the other children in Nazareth. He had to be "potty trained" just like the other children, and his mother Mary wiped his nose and cleaned his behind. When hungry one day in Jerusalem, he hiked over to a fig tree to see if it had any figs on it. Had he been God, he would have known whether or not it had figs. When it didn't have figs, he lost his temper just like you and me.
Paul's new formula for the forgiveness of sins was totally at odds with Jesus' formula. Jesus had said that if you want your Father in heaven to forgive for you sins, you must simply forgive those who sin against you. When asked by a young lawyer what was necessary to obtain eternal life, Jesus had replied, "Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will have eternal life." This simple answer from the mouth of Jesus was drastically out of line with early Christianity's highly exclusive formula about accepting Jesus as "God," being baptized, being "confirmed," celebrating the Eucharist, etc. etc. etc. It is clearly obvious to any honest student of the New Testament that Jesus and what he taught do not resemble Christianity and what it teaches. Paul's religion, when devoid of illogical defense, boils down to a primitive religion with a deity demanding a literal "human sacrifice" for his appeasement. Paul would make Jesus be that sacrifice in his theology.
Questions one and two mentioned above can therefore be answered with one word, "Paul." Paul founded the Christian religion. Paul originated its creed. He began to preach that baptism should take the place of circumcision. This concept was foreign to the official group of Apostles in Jerusalem. The very fact that these Apostles were still obedient to the command of circumcision is once again proof that they were Jews with no intention of leaving the Jewish faith. They merely wanted to found a new "movement" or "sect" within the broader Jewish religion. To them, being a follower of their movement did not preclude you from participation in every Jewish rite, ritual, and feast. It would be like a Baptist man today who was also a member of the Lion's Club. One had very little to do with the other in their eyes. To them. Belonging to their sect would only make you a better Jew and member of the Synagogue.
Paul, however, had other ideas. He came to the first Church Council in Jerusalem and argued that Greeks and non-Jews should be included in the new sect. He further argued that these new members should not be circumcised or become Jews. The Apostles had no problem with their becoming members of the new sect as long as the outsiders became Jews. Paul, the eloquent speaker and brilliant debater won the day and a brand new religion, outside the Jewish faith, was born in Jerusalem on that fateful day. Because Paul was by far a more educated man than the fishermen and tradesmen who made up the Apostolic Brotherhood, and because Paul was brilliant in the arena of debate, and chiefly, because Paul was a prolific writer who wrote more books on the new Christian Religion than any other person, Paul's new religion spread like wildfire, while the narrow Jewish sect that had hoped to be a reform movement in Judaism withered down to nothing.
By 312 AD Paul's new religion had adherents throughout the kingdom, chiefly because of Paul and his companions untiring efforts at evangelizing and proselytizing from one end of the empire to the other. When Constantine made Paul's Christianity the State Religion in the Empire, the new faith quickly absorbed many of the pagan customs, rituals, feasts, and holidays of the various religions of the realm and swallowed up massive population groups. Deliverance from hell could now only come by complete obedience to the Bishops and Priests of the new Church, giving Constantine immense power over the populace. Many were forced to accept Paul's religion by threat of physical harm. It is a matter of record that the Christian Church killed more people during the first hundred years after becoming a legal religion of the realm, than had all its persecutors during the one hundred years prior to 312 AD.
The final question previously asked, might be a bit harder to answer. What did Jesus intend to teach in his new sect? Of course, there is the obvious answer: he intended to teach the simple message of the early gospels which taught a path to peace with God that included only two elements; loving God and loving one another. One thing can be determined with certainty: he did not intend to have a set of written beliefs - a creed, if you will. Had he intended this for his sect, it is obvious that he would have written it himself. No other possibility makes any kind of logical sense at all.
He was intelligent, schooled, and able to read and write. He opened the scrolls in the synagogue when it was his turn to teach and he read the Scriptures. He wanted no creed for his new sect because he wrote no creed for his new sect. He wrote nothing because nothing needed to be written. This idea of living by intuition and practical goodness without a set of written commands is Taoist to the core. Ancient Taoism had no creed and does not presume to tell a single individual how he/she must behave.
The rest of what Jesus intended must be inferred by the example of his living. He lived very simply. He told his followers to go about spreading their message taking no provisions for their journey. He said that while foxes had holes, he had no place to call home. He practiced simplicity to the very extreme. When he was hungry, he plucked corn in the fields to eat as he walked along the way, having brought nothing to eat for himself. This life of utter simplicity is a foundation teaching of Taoism. It is repeated over and over in Taoist thought... simplicity... simplicity... simplicity.
Jesus taught humility. He told his disciples that the least among them should be counted the greatest. He told them to lead by serving and not by demanding. It grieved him when they tried to maneuver themselves to positions of higher authority or esteem.
Little could he have possibly imagined that a religion would one day be established in his name whose leader would be called the "Supreme Pontiff" who would dwell in the largest, most posh palace in the entire world where people would vie for the opportunity to have audience with him and kiss his feet. Could he have dreamed of the vast treasures of wealth and art that would one day be hoarded in Vatican vaults under lock and key in his name while thousands of the people he loved so much went without the basic necessities of life? No, Jesus taught humility. Humility is a core foundation of Taoism. One of the three treasures of Taoism mentioned in the Tao Te Ching, is humility.
Jesus taught simple, even illogical, trust in the Father. He told people not to worry about what they would wear or what they would eat. He told them not to practice what they were going to say when questioned about their faith. He told them tomorrow has enough problems of its own, just live in the moment. Trust in the Tao - the loving "Spring" of all existence - is a foundation in Taoism. Living in the moment and flowing like water, allowing the circumstances of the day to dictate the acts of spontaneity that propel us forward, are pure Taoism.
Jesus taught that knowledge cultivated apart from intuitive reflection was of no value. He told his followers to consider the lilies of the field, and the carefree manner in which they addressed each day. Any yet they were arrayed in royal splendor. They didn't struggle to "be", they just were. He told them to consider the birds of the air and how they survived on intuition alone without forced intention. He even sat a small child before them, ignorant and unlearned, and told them that they must be as the child to "see the kingdom of heaven." He placed no value in the wisdom of the learned mind and repeatedly lifted up the ideal of teaching by example and common sense fueled by compassion. This truth that the things worth knowing are known intuitively in the depths of the human heart and cannot be learned nor taught is a foundation of Taoism.
Jesus practiced a "live and let live" kind of life. When those outside his religion approached him, there is not a single instance of his taking the typical Christian position of "You must be "saved" in the manner prescribed by my religion to enter Heaven." There are no instances of him telling anyone outside his own faith that they needed to adopt his faith. When a Pagan Roman Centurion approached him about healing his sick child, Jesus not only granted his request, but as he walked away he exclaimed, "I have not seen faith this great in all of Israel." Never is there the first indication of his proclaiming exclusivity in matters of spirituality to this man at a point in the grateful man's life when he would have definitely been willing to listen. Jesus knew that spiritual peace was not a matter of lining up brain cells to fire in the proper sequence to believe certain dogma, but rather, in a life of humble simplicity and service to others.
For the Taoist, spiritual peace is achieved by living a life of absolute child-like trust in the One beyond our ability to understand and comprehend; in a life of humility where good works are performed without the desire for recognition or ego-bulging praise; in a life of simplicity where "less is better"; in a life lived in spontaneity where we trust the Tao to provide and direct the course of the day's events; and finally in a life of compassion toward others, allowing them to progress spiritually in their own time and way. Does this path sound familiar?
For most of my life I have been a Taoist - but I did not know it. Perhaps that's the way it was for Jesus. I lived as a minister in the Christian Religion, daily forcing my mouth to say things that my heart did not truly believe. This horrible way of living brought me much misery and even a breakdown in my health. Finally, my Teachers from the Other Side brought me to the shores of this ancient Ocean of pristine Wisdom, thousands of years older than Christianity. I stood in humble awe. The crude, leaky vessel of my Christian faith was no longer needed or adequate. The time-worn ship of intuitive experience had brought me to the ever-waiting shores of enlightenment.
Was Jesus a Taoist? He was definitely not a Christian. He lived his life as a Jew but, like me, was in constant conflict with the faith of his youth. He was in so much conflict with his faith that its leaders finally killed him for his demands for reform.
Was Jesus a Taoist? He was more Taoist than he was Christian. He was more Taoist than he was Jewish. His message was clearly more Taoist than either of these religions.
Forty-one years after officially becoming a Christian, I made the conscious decision to make a sincere effort to imitate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. That is precisely why I could no longer be part of the Christian religion. Was Jesus a Taoist? All things considered, if we carefully consider the religion he practiced rather than professed, I believe he was.