Monday, March 28, 2011

Starting Points

Some readers have suggested in the comments section to various posts that the word "God" -- typically the Christian God -- can easily be substituted for the word "Tao" in many passages in the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi and this represents a sort of congruity between the two belief systems. In my opinion, this is not necessarily as easy an operation as might first appear. While congruity might exist on the surface, the starting points of these two philosophies are starkly different.

For Christianity, the starting point is one of separation and estrangement. We are separated and estranged from the divine, Mother Earth and each other due to our sinful nature. In Taoism, the starting point is one of interconnection and community. As all things originate from the same source, we are each a manifestation of the One.

Another way of viewing these diverging starting points is in the relationship humans have to other beings. In Christianity, plants and animals are seen as mere commodities. On the one hand, they are special gifts from the divine to the human species. On the other hand, they are mere pawns to be used by us to appease the creator for our misdeeds.

The Old Testament is chock full of sacrifices of other beings to atone for OUR sins and transgressions. To get back in the good graces of God for some affront, the guilty party may be instructed to sacrifice a goat and 2 lambs plus burn some wheat and offer up some grapes.

In Taoism, plants and animals are not taken to be commodities at all. Each being is just as important as any other because we all are from one cloth. It is understood that it is the way of the cosmos for beings to kill other beings to survive. We all need a certain level of sustenance to live. We all must feed on something other than this self and body we are housed in.

Just as many American Indians paid tribute to the animals they slaughtered for food and other uses, the Taoist philosophy recognizes the honor in the acts of life and death.

Because of these two divergent starting points, contemporary concepts come to mean different things. Take, for example, the notion of self-interest.

If you view the world as one of separation, then self-interest is exclusive. The big question always on your mind is: How will this or that affect me? If you view the world as one of interconnection, then self interest is inclusive. The big question always on your mind is: How will this or that affect the web of life?

In my view, starting points are critical. They help to shape the direction and path we each decide to tread.


  1. I wonder if your analysis would hold as well with the books of the Christian "New Testament".

  2. I don't think the OT can be divorced from the NT. Jesus believed in the OT and the Christian religion is based on him (through the eyes of Paul).

  3. RT, I would suggest that your read The Gospel according to Jesus by Stephen Mitchell and The Path to No-Self or What is Self by Bernadette Roberts. Stephen Mitchell has a deep understanding of The Way and Bernadette, though being a Christian, has a very deep understanding of no-self. She is also a believer in non-duality and Oneness. Are you interested in understanding other aspects of the teachings of Christ or only your own that you seem to be so stuck on?

  4. I don't think I am stuck on anything. I've studied the Bible from many different perspectives from St. Augustine to Bart Ehrman and from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the Jesus Seminar.

  5. One very big reason why you are stuck is because you don't think you are stuck. As long as you don't think you are stuck you will remain stuck. It is the law of physics.

  6. I don't know that they start from different places. It seems to me the Judaic religion got corrupted, co-opted, or bastardized such that it seemed God was seperate. There are many passages that suggest otherwise. And often the prophets, holy men, and especially Jesus speak of God in such terms as to make God seem truly not-seperate.

    I think part of the problem is the contstraints of the language.

  7. Mark,
    If you want to look at it from that perspective, then you are just as stuck as I am. In fact, everybody is stuck.

    Why? Because neither you nor I has read every book on the topic nor spoken to every person about their opinion on the matter.

    Heck, if a person read every book and spoke to every person save one, they too would be stuck.

  8. Brandon,
    Sin -- a crucial element in both the Judaic and Christian religions -- is what separates us from God. According to the Christians, we are each born sinful, so we pop out into the world already separated.

  9. Rt, I would have to lean towards what Brandon has to offer. I look at the bible, though it has been reconfigured and corrupted, as a history reference of man's groping for truth. You can see man struggling with its duality and defining truth in error like we all do. If you ONLY look at today's fundamental Christianity and Judaism as a representative of what the bible has to offer you are missing out on something very special. It is a book of metaphors that are weaving underneath the literal words. When approached with that in mind, you will SEE pointing fingers at oneness and non-duality. There is pointing at non-doing-doing as when Paul said "it is no longer I that live but Christ that lives within me". Jesus once prayed that we would be one as he and the father are. A better translation might say, Father I pray that they "realize" we are all one. The bible is a history of man's groping for truth with continual progressive revelations getting closer and closer. You need to separate the corruption from what is not corrupt.

  10. Hi boys,
    You know, all this apple and orange comparison is getting us nowhere.

  11. How you look at the Bible is in keeping with modern day liberal thinking, a way to smooth off the rough edges you don't like. As with all Christians, you pick and choose which parts you hold up to be "truth" and which parts you think are metaphorical. What you view as "corruption," others view as words from God's mouth.

    It may not get us anywhere, but I think starting points matter.

  12. All of humanity has rough edges RT, including you. As far as picking and choosing, aren't you guilty of the same? So why do you speak with such authority?

  13. I have never offered myself out as not being subjective. Every person I know has biases and prejudices. Why do you think I write frequent posts that I am no sage or guru? I'm just an average bloke stumbling through life like everyone else.

  14. I am not talking about being mellow passive subjective. I am talking about exerting yourself has being an authority of absolute thinking.

  15. My fruity point was that the discussion is comparing a "philosophy" and a "religion." (Dare I say they are your particular narrow points of view on both?)

    And I know of no contemporary Jew or Christian who continues to offer ritual burnt offerings in a temple.

    And much of Taoist practice is to regain harmony because as humans we are "estranged or separated" from the Tao. Just as Jews and Christians (and Hindus and Muslims) seek reconciliation or union with God. In the beginning, the Genesis story suggests that we were one with God; it was that damned (vegetarian!) apple (could have been an orange) that caused our separation. And if you don't grasp that metaphor, then you can hardly grasp anything that comes after.

    Why can't you just say that literalist, fundamentalists are small-minded thinkers, forgive yourself for being under their spell for a period, and move on from this obsession? I had a friend who used to carry around a journal of the the slights and insults she had received in a situation 15 years in the past. She couldn't seem to let go; I told her she would be free of it all when she stopped carrying that journal with her everywhere. Of course, that pissed her off, and probably became another journal entry. She's still unhappy, even worse off, and probably helping make her therapist's boat payment.


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