Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tao Books: The Tao is Silent

Up until this juncture, all the books on Taoism I've reviewed either have been poetic or philosophical. Raymond M. Smullyan's book, The Tao Is Silent, is both of those PLUS it's damn funny too! When I say funny, I mean it's the kind of book that, from time to time, will cause you to fall out of your chair laughing hysterically. It's sort of like a fusion of Bill Maher, Ellen DeGeneris, George Carlin and Aristotle, if that makes any sense.

A mathematician by trade, Smullyan is the Oscar Ewing Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University and Professor Emeritus of the City University of New York-Lehman College and Graduate Center. As far as I know, this book is the only one he ever wrote on Taoism.

I haven't reference this book directly very often in my series on the TTC because a good deal of it involves imaginary conversations between moralists and Taoists or God and Mortals. To give you a taste of the latter, here's a snippet from the chapter, Is God a Taoist.
Mortal: And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!
God: You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?
Mortal: How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!
God: Why would you wish not to have free will?
Mortal: Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!
God: Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?
Mortal: Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.
God: All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?
Mortal (after a pause): No, I am afraid not.
God: Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?
Mortal: With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin!
God: If you don't want to sin, then why do you?

You'll have to the read the book, to find out the answer!
Via Amazon.com, here's one brief editorial review:
Much more than a book on Chinese philosophy, THE TAO IS SILENT is a series of ideas inspired by Taoism that treats a wide variety of subjects about life in general. Readers will be charmed and inspired by this witty, sophisticated, yet deeply religious author, whether he is discussing gardening, dogs, the art of napping, or computers who dream that they're human.
If you'd like to read a biography of Smullyan, go here.

If I haven't whetted your appetite for this wonderful book yet, here's another snippet of whimsical dialog.
Chinese Sage: Laotse said, "The good man does not argue; he who argues is not good."
Western Logician: I disagree!
Sage: You disagree with what?
Logician: With what you said!
Sage: And what was that?
Logician: That the good man does not argue.
Sage: Wrong!
Logician: What do you mean "wrong"?
Sage: I never said the good man does not argue.

You'll have to read the book to find out what he did or did not say.
What can I say? I LOVE this book. That said, it's not a good introductory one if you don't know a thing about Taoism. It's more of a companion piece once you have the basic philosophy down. It will help you take a look at most of the basic concepts in a new light and your understanding will be deeper for the experience.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

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