Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tao Bible - 1 Kings 3:5

In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.
~ King James version ~

Tao is divorced from dreams.
~ possible Taoist alternative ~
God offers to grant a request to Solomon in a dream.

Tao doesn't come to us; we approach Tao. Tao is part of everything and always available. When we empty our minds of desires and requests, only then can we be filled with the vital essence of life.

If you're interested in reading more from this experimental series, go to the Tao Bible Index page.

Chapter 3, Verse 16 - Sun Tzu

But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: Pebbles

Original post date: December 25, 2008

Last night my wife and I engaged in our annual viewing of It's a Wonderful Life. While the vehicle used to tell the story is an angel, the underlying theme smacks of Taoism.

We are each one small pebble. Any time we are dropped into a pool of water, this action causes ripples and these ripples multiply out from the center in all directions. Often, the ripples themselves are of a greater magnitude than the initial action. They touch others far and wide.

Because the stream of life is so vast, we typically aren't able to view how far the ripples spread. One seemingly inconsequential action can cause a reaction far from the original source.

What's more, since every entity causes ripples, it's often difficult to tell the ripples made from our small pebble from all the others. In essence, all we really see is the movement of water without understanding that this movement is propelled by billions upon billions of ripples caused by billions upon billions of small pebbles.

To be certain, while all pebbles are small in relation to the entirety of the cosmos, some are slightly bigger than others. People tend to become fixated on the ripples caused by the slightly larger pebbles and to discount the ripples made by the smallest pebbles. However, since none of us can know which ripples will ultimately have the greatest effect, it makes far more sense to treat them all equally.

Every journey begins with one step; every wave is launched by one ripple.
This marks the end of this journey down memory lane. It's time again to refocus on the here-and-now. To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

From the Simplest Things

As I believe I have mentioned before, I wore braces for nearly the first three years of my life in the hopes of "fixing" a malformed left hip (the fix didn't take well). One of the byproducts of the braces is that it has screwed up my toes for life. Not only are they bent and crooked, but I have been bedeviled ever since with very painful ingrown toenails.

It seems no matter what I or my doctors do, the nails in both my big toes grow into the quick. We cut them out and try to channel the growth in a different direction, but invariably, the nails are jabbing the quick in no time at all. Consequently, the simple act of stubbing either big toe is more than a nuisance; it tends to send me to the floor writhing in pain.

I certainly don't begrudge the doctors who dealt with my malformed hip as a child. Utilizing the best available medical knowledge of the time, they did their utmost to insure I would be able to walk. But, for all their attention to my hip, they neglected to consider how their remedies would impact other parts of my body. I ended up sacrificing the wellbeing of my toes to save my hip.

Of course, as I've reported in this space, they didn't actually save my hip either. It has been a chronic problem all my life and I will need hip replacement surgery sometime in the next 2 - 5 years or so.

For me, this situation in my life only underscores the fact that humans often either neglect or simply don't understand the impact of our decisions. The ripple created from the strategy to place me in braces as a young toddler has turned into a wave that has adversely affected my quality of life ever since. This was not the intention, but consequences and intention often don't meet on the same street corner.

Chapter 3, Verses 12, 13, 14 and 15 - Sun Tzu

There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:-- (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds. (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Line by Line - Verse 15, Line 7

grave like a guest (in awe of his host);
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

Courteous, like visiting guests.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Solemn, like a guest
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

They were polite, like a guest at a party.
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from Beatrice.com, 2004 ~
Most people are on their best behavior when visiting in someone else's home. While you habitually might track mud into your own home, you make sure to clean the mud off your shoes (or take them off) when visiting another person's abode. When at home, you might simply stack the dishes after dinner, but as a guest, you offer to rinse your plate and help with the dishes.

For those of you in a monogamous relationship, do you remember the first time you met your potential in-laws? In such a situation, most people put on their best behavior. We try not to offend. We don't act pushy. We might say, "Yes sir" or "Yes ma'am" more often than usual. In essence, we go out of our way to be pleasant and respectful.

Why don't we treat every person and situation in the same way?

To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

Chapter 3, Verse 11 - Sun Tzu

Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: Second Nature

Second Nature
Original post date: December 7, 2008

I realized, after finishing my last post, that comparing wu wei to being "in the zone" might lead some to ask, "OK Einstein, how does one get in the zone?" Taoist philosophy offers a very straightforward answer. It's not one bound up in secret rituals, contrived prayers, particular body positions nor specific bodily movements. It's far simpler than that -- It comes with practice.

Falling back again on a sports-based analogy, it's why athletes -- regardless of their level or proficiency -- practice the fundamentals over and over ad nauseam. You practice and practice and practice so that, whatever your discipline is, it becomes second nature to you. You want to get to the point in which you merely react to various situations WITHOUT the need to think through every step along the way.

When we first learn a craft or discipline, we often create checklists of the various steps needed to complete each particular task. Some people literally write this information down, while others keep a virtual checklist in their head. We move slowly, referring to the checklist every step of the way. Sometimes, when beginning step 6, we realize we skipped step 3 and have to start all over again.

As we slowly learn the steps involved, we are able to complete the task satisfactorily, but we do it in a start-stop-start again fashion. In other words, because we're still getting our feet under us, so to speak, the activity doesn't flow as intended. In time, if we continue to practice the steps over and over again, we get to the point in which the task becomes second nature and we no longer need to think about it -- we just do it!

For me, this is how I understand wu wei. It's the ability to complete tasks, duties and responsibilities in an effortless manner. Hence, the appearance of action through no action.
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

The Tao of Dark Sages - Chapter 24

The Tao of Dark Sages
by Scott Bradley

The night before our departure to Katmandu we sat long in silence just watching the turning of the stars. It’s curious how something so vast and incomprehensible can seem so familiar. Yet being one, how could it not be so? We are indeed, ‘star dust’; for it is from the death of stars that the elements arose from which our bodies are made. As for this mind? Who can say? And why do we ask?

Gabi: We are going to miss you.

Scott-tzu: Is that Tao-ful?

Gabi: It’s real-ful. Is that Tao-ful, Mark-tzu?

Mark-tzu: I won’t miss being the final authority on things Tao-ful, that’s for sure. Come to ‘la-la land’ and find out for yourself.

Scott-tzu: It seems so strange; I’ve been chasing after you two for years now, hoping to learn from your wisdom, and here I am going off with Sue-tzu...

Sue-tzu: Maybe that’s because you’ve nothing else to ‘learn’. You can’t be a companion and lover to your guru.

Scott-tzu: Maybe so, but I’ve come to relish those times when you tell me you won’t or needn’t teach me — because it’s a sure thing that some wisdom is about to issue forth!

Mark-tzu: Scott-tzu enjoys his adolescence so much, he refuses to grow out of it.

Sue-tzu: When you put it that way, I wonder why he should.

Scott-tzu: Yeah, why should I?

Mark-tzu: Who said ‘should’? If Sue-tzu can live with you, then more power to you both.

(More star-gazing)

Gabi: Before you go, I want to hear about losing your faith. Have you lost yours, Tzu-tzu?

Scott-tzu: It’s a work in progress. I’ve lots of beliefs, but it’s the most fundamental belief that I sometimes see more clearly now. Yet it’s so hard to find and hold in the light. I see it’s manifestations more easily. It’s belief in enlightenment. And belief in the Tao. Belief in everything that we’ve said and re-said over these years of discussing. Tomorrow, it will be belief in what I am saying now.

Mark-tzu: You could wipe your feet on the mat before the ‘gateless gate’.

Scott-tzu: We talk about the Tao. We quote Chuang-tzu who talked about the Tao: “To talk of the Tao is not to know the Tao.” But what does that really mean? That the Tao is ungraspable and unknowable, yes. But in the heart, what does it mean? That one must dwell in utter emptiness. The Tao is found in emptiness because the Tao is emptiness. And even this, becomes an object of faith.

Sue-tzu: Emptiness abides neither knowledge nor belief nor Tao.

Mark-tzu: In emptiness there is no Tao.

If you're interested in reading more from this series by Scott Bradley, go here.

Chapter 3, Verses 8, 9 and 10 - Sun Tzu

It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tao Bible - 2 Samuel 24:13

So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.
~ King James version ~

Tao does not punish the many for the error of the one.
~ possible Taoist alternative ~
After committing the sin of taking a census (?), God sends the prophet Gad to give David the choice of three punishments for David's transgression.

When a natural hardship, tragedy or calamity befalls a society or region, it occurs because of the ways of nature. It does not occur as a form of moral punishment.

If you're interested in reading more from this experimental series, go to the Tao Bible Index page.

Chapter 3, Verses 5, 6 and 7 - Sun Tzu

The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: Finding One's Path

Finding One's Path
Original post date: December 4, 2008

If you've happened upon this blog due to an interest in Taoism and you want to know how to go about finding your path, you won't find a step-by-step guide here. There are no secret recipes. There is no blueprint available. Each person must discover their path and how to get there for themselves.

And I'll grant, right off the bat, it won't be easy. We live in a world that regularly thumbs its nose at Tao and that steers people away from seeking their path.

It's a world that reveres domination of nature, not a reverence for the natural rhythms of life.

It's a world that embraces strength over weakness and youth over wisdom.

It's a world in which we are incessantly bombarded with overt and subliminal messages that financial wealth and power will bring us happiness and security.

It's a world in which sensual sexuality trumps love and tenderness.

It's a world that values certainty over uncertainty and stasis over change.

In essence, we live in a world that goes against everything we know in our innermost beings. It's very, very difficult to find that quiet place in our souls and to seek the natural nourishment we need.

The method that many Taoists will advise for you to seek this place is to empty yourself so that you can become a vessel for Tao to fill up. But how does one shut out this mind-numbing world?

Again, it's not easy. It's very difficult to blot away our dreams, aspirations, pressures and stresses, to empty our minds completely. In a 24/7 world, it is near impossible to find genuine stillness. However, regardless of the difficulty, each of us must find it.

In a world beset by so many problems, many of us want to heal the world. But the old adage is true -- Heal thyself. The first step in the journey is to find that stillness within us and effortlessly embrace it.
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

Chapter 3, Verse 4 - Sun Tzu

The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Something Is Clearly Not Right

Last week the Federal Reserve released one of their periodic reports. The information contained therein is very troubling.
Tuesday’s report showed corporate profits jumped 28% in the third quarter from a year earlier, to an annualized total of $1.66 trillion. That’s a record high and reflects deep cost-cutting in the past and increases in demand for goods and services.

That’s right. Despite record unemployment, and no hope for reductions clearly in sight, corporations have experienced all-time record profits, the highest since the Commerce Department started tracking the figure 60 years ago. They’ve learned to produce as many or more goods without workers.

This is something of a dream for corporate America – bigger profits without those meddling workers to pay. This is the seventh straight quarter of corporate profit growth, with none of those benefits being shared with the working class...
I don't care which side of the political aisle a person stands on or what religious or ideological bent a person calls home. The results of this report should be a cause for concern.

The big question that should be foremost in people's minds involve ethics. Is it ethical for a small segment of society to benefit egregiously while the vast swath of society struggles?

If we look to nature for an answer, then the answer would be no. Anytime life in an ecosystem gets out of balance, nature has a way of bringing that system back into balance. If one species over propagates, in time, its numbers are thinned out to bring equilibrium back. As long as balance is maintained, the ecosystem flourishes.

Humanity has long been unbalanced and this imbalance is worsening month by month and year by year. If the law of nature holds sway -- and there is no reason to think it won't -- a major calamity is looming up ahead, one that organically will cure the wide disparity. In a painful catharsis, nature will restore equilibrium.

Line by Line - Verse 15, Line 6

irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them;
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

Alert, like men aware of danger.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Cautious, like fearing four neighbors
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

They were cautious, like a soldier behind enemy lines.
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from Beatrice.com, 2004 ~
When we adopt a "devil may care" attitude, we too often skate over details and do not rightly size up risks. We cut corners. We are free and easy with our attention. When circumstances change or the variables we miscalculated become important, life has a way of catching us off guard and partially or utterly unprepared.

This is why Lao Tzu stresses the importance in BEING in each and every moment. When we are aware of the currents of life, we are less apt to be swept away by them. When our attention is given to every moment, we are more able to circumvent barriers when they are small, rather than waiting until they become insurmountable.

To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

Chapter 3, Verse 3 - Sun Tzu

Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: Try Shutting Up

Try Shutting Up
Original post date: December 1, 2008

Since the beginning of time, humankind has searched for and theorized about a process, principle or entity that binds us together. Many believe this "IT" is a benevolent being that is concerned about our welfare and casts a hand over our lives. Others accept the notion of one or more beings, but do not buy-in to its necessary benevolence.

By and large, Taoists don't envision a being at all. For most of us, the IT is a process, principle or force that is neither benevolent nor malevolent. IT just is. Everything is part of IT -- there is no separation. If you want to find IT, many a Taoist will suggest you need only look in the mirror!

Apart from defining what IT might be, western religious thought and Taoism differ greatly on how each of us might engage IT. In Christianity, the principle way followers are supposed to dial into IT is via prayer.

There are all kinds of prayers, many committed to rote memorization. However, while followers are encouraged strongly to use the established prayers and creeds, they are also told that a simple "conversation" with the all mighty will suffice. Some people pray out loud, while others hold these conversations in their heads.

For me, the problem with this approach is that, if you spend all your time flapping your gums, how are you to hear the message? Wouldn't you worry that you and the deity might end up talking over one another? How will you know when the voice inside your noggin changes from you to IT?

Taoists approach this concept from the opposite perspective! In Taoism, there is no such animal as an established creed or prayer. You don't need to get in a certain position nor do you have to face a particular direction. All that is required is that you empty yourself completely.

Empty, you become a vessel to be filled.

Empty is not the same thing as merely being quiet. If we want to dial in to Tao (our word for IT), then we must flush away all words, thoughts, images and emotions. If you don't completely empty yourself, then all these things and more become barriers to getting in touch. They block the flow of energy.

A filled vessel -- one crammed full of words, ideas, suppositions, images and emotions -- cannot be filled with the spirit simply because there is no room. By the same token, you can't pour more water into a full glass. The new water will spill on the floor and be wasted.

So, when we approach IT we must ensure we strip away all our wants, needs and desires for it is these very things that block our access. We each need to learn the lesson that shutting up is the only way we can clear the space that can then be filled up.
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

The Tao of Dark Sages - Chapter 23

The Tao of Dark Sages
by Scott Bradley

And so...things resolved as Gabi foresaw. But I won’t be burdening you with an account of my time with Sue-tzu, as much as I’d like to — I have to stop somewhere and I’ve already promised that this episode would be the last. Of more interest to you, perhaps, would be Mark-tzu’s and Gabi’s experiences together, but that, of course, is completely beyond my ability to report.

It was more than a week before we left together for Katmandu (and California and beyond) and there were more discussions of which I think you might be interested in parts of one or two.

Scott-tzu: I’ve been spending time following my aversion to Grasshopper’s methods and think I’ve found the root. Nothing profound or surprising, of course.

Gabi: And?

And it’s simply a manifestation of ego-identity. I have beliefs that are an important support to this identity and they are threatened by the other. What makes this ‘other’ so threatening is its proximity to my own beliefs. And I also have a strong emotional response to all forms of bondage — having been myself so completely deceived.

It’s the New Age stuff that most affects me, because it uses all the right words and believes itself at the cutting edge of spirituality. Traditional beliefs are not threatening because they are so obviously religious. It’s the New Age beliefs that snare and bind those recently released from other forms of bondage. And it raises in me the fear that I too am snared and bound. That I am one of them. My identity is threatened.

Mark-tzu: You have certainly moved beyond the superficial reasons for your aversion: that it’s ‘wrong’ or ‘harmful’. The problem, if we can call it that, is not in Grasshopper, his methods, or his teachings, but in your response to them. But I believe you said that before.

Sue-tzu: So, we know the symptoms and their cause. What’s the cure?

Gabi: Could someone explain again what those are — simply?

Scott-tzu: The symptom is my aversion — my disliking. The opposite of aversion is attachment — liking. But both liking and disliking are essentially the same — they are just part of the vicious circle of emotional bondage. The cause is, most simply, that I am living in my ego-self. This self is illusory and needs its beliefs and conflict with other beliefs in order to give itself a sense of true substance. And the cure . . . what’s the cure, Gabi?

Gabi: It always comes back to letting be and letting go. Accept that things are as they are with you and let go of this ego-self-identity and its beliefs. They are not you.

Scott-tzu: Does it ever end, this process, Mark-tzu?

Mark-tzu: If you mean does this continual need to deal with the ego-self ever end in this life, well, yes, it can. That’s what ‘la-la land’ is all about. It’s about being no one. And if you are no one, nothing affects you.

Sue-tzu: But if you are enjoying the process, why act like it’s a burden? If you are fighting a battle, then you are expressing an aversion to your aversion. Embrace it all in thankfulness and acceptance, Scott-tzu. That’s transcendence and where transcendence arises. I can’t help but repeat my maxims: If it isn’t fun, it isn’t awaken-ing. Nothing really matters. You are free; be free now. Let the end be the means. Harmony is the way to harmony.

If you're interested in reading more from this series by Scott Bradley, go here.

Chapter 3, Verses 1 and 2 - Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tao Bible - 2 Samuel 22:20-21

He brought me forth also into a large place: he delivered me, because he delighted in me. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
~ King James version ~

Tao rewards no one.
~ possible Taoist alternative ~
After winning many a battle, King David sings a song of praise to God. He declares that he was victor because God rewarded him for being a "godly" man.

Tao is not an arbiter. Tao does not reward us when we are "good" or punish us when we are "bad". We create our own rewards and punishments by the way we choose to live.

If you're interested in reading more from this experimental series, go to the Tao Bible Index page.

Chapter 2, Verse 20 - Sun Tzu

Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: Ever Shifting Paths

Ever Shifting Paths
Original post date: November 30, 2008

When I started this blog in January 2005, it was my intent to share one Taoist's perspective on the world. For the past 3+ years I kept to this same path, more or less. In recent weeks, I've discovered I have Asperger's Syndrome (AS) and I have now woven this thread into the tapestry.

It dawned on me tonight that both Taoism and AS share a unique characteristic -- both lead a person to view the world and universe differently than the vast majority. Both embrace the idea that there are many paths and that we each must find for ourselves which path is the one on which we shall tread.

Though it's only been a short time that I've come to understand the many aspects of being an aspie, these traits have been with me all along. The only thing that has changed is that I now have a little box with which to toss all my quirks and neurological differences into.

So, it leaves me to wonder if being an aspie is what lead me to Tao?

Think about this concept for a minute. The Taoist philosophy turns western civilization on its head. While western thought extols the virtues of the individual, Taoist principles embrace the idea of the connectivity of all things. Western religion provides a cloak of finality and rigid answers, while philosophical Taoism is open-ended and encourages each being to find our own answers.

I'm not suggesting that all Taoists are aspies and all neurotypicals (a term many aspies use to define "normal" folks) are religious. But it certainly wouldn't surprise me in the least if aspies are more prone to search for cosmic understanding outside of the typical established boundaries. By our very neurological nature, we view the entirety of the world differently and so it stands to reason that we would be more open to the exploration of different philosophical perspectives.

One of the things that I must remind myself of again and again is that a person's path is not static. You don't find "your path" and then never change your stride. Life is fluid and so each path must be fluid also. If our chosen path curves to the right or the left, we end up leaving it if we stubbornly keep walking devoutly in a straight line!

So, while Taoism will continue to be one of the main premises of this blog, so too will be the interplay between it and Asperger's Syndrome. There may be a very tenable tether or I may decide the tether is very thin or nonexistent. Only time will tell.

I welcome you -- regardless of your perspective or neurological state -- along for the ride.
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

Chapter 2, Verse 19 - Sun Tzu

In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Line by Line - Verse 15, Line 5

Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in winter;
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Hesitant, like crossing a wintry river
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

They were careful, like a man walking on thin ice.
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from Beatrice.com, 2004 ~
Have you ever tried to cross a fast moving stream? The water surges against your legs, trying to pull you into the current. Your feet slip and slide on the rocks rubbed smooth by the water and time. One false move or misstep and you can easily tumble.

Falling into a stream on a warm summer's day is one thing, but falling into an icy river during winter can be life threatening. Even if you are able to right yourself, if there is no shelter or fire nearby, you run the risk of hypothermia!

So, the person who must ford an icy stream takes great care in what they are doing. The individual understands the inherent risks involved and takes the necessary measures to ensure she makes it safely to the other side.

To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

Chapter 2, Verses 17 and 18 - Sun Tzu

Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one's own strength.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: What's Really Remarkable

What's Really Remarkable
Original post date: November 27, 2008

Each year around the holiday season the media likes to bring us stories of remarkable people and/or circumstances that are labeled as miracles. Many of these features tug at the 'ol heart strings, for sure. So, I don't want anyone to think that I'm dissing any particular storyline.

For me, though, I think they miss an important point, one that most of us take for granted -- Life itself is remarkable and a miracle!

It really doesn't matter what one does with their life. It doesn't matter if you're famous or obscure. It doesn't matter if you're a leader or a follower. It doesn't matter if you're the President of the United States or a person living in a vegetative state. It doesn't matter if you live 100 years or merely 1 minute. None of this matters.

What's remarkable is that any of us are. From the smallest of elements, we come to be.

This is the true miracle.
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

The Tao of Dark Sages - Chapter 22

The Tao of Dark Sages
by Scott Bradley

Scott-tzu: Sue-tzu, I thought you were with Gabi.

Sue-tzu: No, she’s managed to get Mark-tzu talking, so I thought I’d leave her to it.

Then you are going to teach me?

What do you need to be taught? You needn’t answer. I know what you will say, ‘nothing’ and that is why you have all you need. Maybe it’s time you just affirmed your own understanding — and left off with this disciple shit. Why is it that you don’t just stand up and be?

I’ll need to think about that one. My gut feeling is that it would seem deceitful to pretend that I was enough in the Tao to...stand without reference to the teaching of others. Yet, I know the adventure is at heart a solitary one.

But you are in the Tao, Scott-tzu. Your understanding is substantial and unique to yourself.

And what of my failure to practice what I understand?

You tell me.

‘Failure’ has nothing to do with anything. It’s not about being a good boy. It’s not about behavior. Centered in Tao, behavior arises incidentally, not purposely. Acceptance and affirmation of what is includes what I am or perceive myself to be. Letting ‘ me’ be and letting ‘me’ go is part of laying down the whole burden of existence. ‘Practice’ is doing, not not-doing. I understand these things. Experience them. But I also experience fear of not practicing what I preach.

Then don’t preach. But you don’t preach. You managed to keep Gabi completely innocent of your wisdom, though she tells me that, in retrospect, she sensed something in you beyond what you project. And that is what has drawn her to me and Mark-tzu — what she first saw in you.

She has sure taken to the Tao like a fish to water.

She’s close to joining Mark-tzu, I think, in ‘la, la land’, as you call it. Amazing, really. Mark-tzu senses it — that’s why he’s opening up to her a bit, I think. We might soon have two ‘not-buddhas’ on our hands.

An enlightened Gabi — I can’t wait to see what that will be like!

I don’t think I’ll be here long enough. It’s time I spent time with my parents in California. I was wondering if you might want to join me for some of the trip — at least as far as Katmandu.

And Gabi?

I think Gabi would want to stay here with Mark-tzu. And I’m thinking that you and I might want to spend some time together. In fact, I know we do. And there’s no need to worry about ‘hurt feelings’ or ‘failed relationships’ because there would be none.

When shall we leave?

If you're interested in reading more from this series by Scott Bradley, go here.

Chapter 2, Verse 16 - Sun Tzu

Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tao Bible - 2 Samuel 18:3

But the people answered, Thou shalt not go forth: for if we flee away, they will not care for us; neither if half of us die, will they care for us: but now thou art worth ten thousand of us: therefore now it is better that thou succor us out of the city.
~ King James version ~

No form is more valuable than any other.
~ possible Taoist alternative ~
Preparing to do battle with the forces of Absalom, the people want King David to stay back because his life is worth ten thousand of theirs.

Each form and life has its place in the tapestry of Tao. No one form or life has a higher valuation than any other.

If you're interested in reading more from this experimental series, go to the Tao Bible Index page.

Chapter 2, Verse 15 - Sun Tzu

Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one's own store.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: Up and Down We Go

Up and Down We Go
Original post date: October 20, 2008

Even as a layman, it's been hard watching the stock market yo-yo up and down. One day it's way up, the next day it's way down. In fact, over the past two weeks, the stock market and the proverbial Dow Jones Industrial Average seem to rise and fall each day like the tides here on the Pacific Coast.

I don't pretend to understand all the nuances of stock trading. Any time I tune in CNBC or CNN, the floor of the stock exchange seems to resemble a Chinese fire drill or the Keystone Cops, more than anything else. All I see are traders running around screaming at the top of their lungs and waving slips of paper.

So, while I certainly don't claim to be a stock market expert, I have come to one conclusion. The folks of the Dow could learn a thing or two from the folks of the Tao.

The whole point behind Taoism is to seek harmony and balance -- neither too high nor too low. Taoist thought stresses the need to find the state contentment, not soaring happiness nor the depths of despair. Finally, Taoism teaches to live a disciplined life and not worry so much about outcomes.

Can you imagine a Tao Jones Industrial Average?
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

Question: Why No Justice Nor Compassion for Tamar?

In 2 Samuel, Chapter 13, we find an odd story about a brother who lusts after and then rapes his sister. Keeping with the implicit male chauvinism shown in the Old Testament, the scene is set as follows:
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. (Verse 1)
Please notice that, while Tamar obviously is King David's daughter, only her brothers explicitly are identified as the king's progeny!! In and of itself, that tells you a lot about the early Hebrew opinion of the female gender.

As the story goes, Amnon forces himself on his sister and, once the deed is done, he has no more use for her. He goes about his merry way and gets to live it up for another two years...until Absalom kills him in an act or revenge.

What concerns me the most about this story is the treatment of Tamar. For one thing, adultery (in any form) and particularly incest is supposed to be dealt with by the Jewish authorities. Yet, no effort is expended by King David nor the priests to bring Amnon to justice. Amnon never has to answer for his nasty deed and only meets his demise when the king is tricked.

Worst of all, however, is how the victim of this crime is dealt with. Understandably, Tamar is distraught from being raped. Does anyone come to comfort her?
And Absalom her brother said unto her, Hath Amnon thy brother been with thee? but hold now thy peace, my sister: he is thy brother; regard not this thing. So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house. (Verse 20)
In essence, Tamar is told to shut up and not to become angry because the perpetrator is her brother. Here is another example of how the Hebrews denigrated women.

Not surprisingly, this is the last we hear about poor Tamar. The story shifts to focus on Absalom and David. So, is incestuous rape okay if it occurs in the royal family? Would King David have acted so disinterested if Amnon had raped a brother instead of a sister? (Me thinks not!)

To see what other questions I've asked about the Christian Bible, go here.

Line by Line - Verse 15, Lines 3-4

As they were thus beyond men's knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they appeared to be.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

Because it is unfathomable, All we can do is describe their appearance.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Because one cannot discern them Therefore one is forced to describe the appearance
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

Words can't even begin to describe how deep they were. You can only talk about what they were like.
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from Beatrice.com, 2004 ~
By utilizing mythic figures to describe the pure means to follow Tao, Lao Tzu provides each of us with a framework to live by.

A framework, however, is not the same thing as a blueprint. The latter is a static map that would place any of us in a disadvantageous position viz-a-viz an ever-evolving world. When we use rigid rules to navigate the fast-flowing stream of life, we are more apt to stumble and be pulled under.

Unlike a blueprint, a framework provides a structured approach that we can bend and shape to meet any given situation or circumstance. While we keep certain principles in mind, each situation dictates how these are applied.

To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

Chapter 2, Verses 13 and 14 - Sun Tzu

With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated; while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Not To Be

My dad and I are both big fans of the Boise State University football team. They suffered a crushing loss last night which ended their hopes for a possible national championship and invitation to a major bowl game. Yet, in the loss, one can glean a Taoist lesson.

With 2 seconds left to go in a tied game, Boise State lined up for a short field goal. As far as field goals go, it was only 26 yards -- what generally is considered a chip shot. The team's usually reliable kicker pushed the kick to the right and missed it. This meant the game went into overtime. In the overtime, the same kicker missed a short 29 yard field goal to left and the opposing kicker made his field goal.

On the surface, the kicker lost the game for his team. Had he made the chip shot at the end of regulation, the game would have been over and Boise State would have won. Had he made the field goal in overtime, Boise still had a chance to win.

But games are not won nor lost based on one play. All the plays that led up to the missed field goal tries could have gone differently. If a receiver had caught a ball that he dropped or a defensive player had made a tackle that he missed, the whole complexion of the game could have changed from there on.

For example, Boise State scored 24 points in the first half, but did not score at all in the 3rd and much of the 4th quarter. Had they scored one or more touchdowns, the kicker would not have even needed to try to kick a field goal.

So it is with our lives. We tend to focus on the acts directly before a negative occurrence and we don't look at all the missteps taken before that moment. If merely one of those missteps had not occurred, then the end result might have been altogether different.

For me, this is another reminder of the ripple effect. Every act or non-act creates ripples and from these ripples consequences occur.

The Tao of Dark Sages - Chapter 21, Part 3

The Tao of Dark Sages
by Scott Bradley

Scott-tzu: So, the cure for my aversion? To let go of caring one way or the other about...the world?

Sue-tzu: You are the world, Scott-tzu. However it is that you relate to what you find in yourself, this is how you relate to what you find in the world. You find in yourself aversion to the methods of Grasshopper. How do you relate to this?

Being aware of it. Letting it be. Letting it go.

Do likewise with what you find in the world. Just as there is no value in fighting what you find in yourself there is no value in fighting with what you find in the world. Acceptance is the flow of the Tao.

Gabi: Tzu-tzu is the world?

Mark-tzu: Tzu-tzu? Cute. I like it! If all is One, what else could he be? And you, you are the world too, Gabi, by virtue of the non-dual nature of reality and by virtue of the fact that your world is only your perception of it. If there is famine in Africa, is this good or bad? Only your perception of it makes it so. Your concept of ‘famine’ makes it famine.

From another perspective, only one person starves at a time because only that person starves in his experience. Your discrimination of good and bad, on what basis does it stand? That humanity should not suffer? And yet, from the perspective of the elephants that have had their habitat and very existence destroyed, might famine not be the best thing possible? Are humans more valuable than elephants? I am not prepared to say so. I had an extreme environmentalist friend whose motto was: “Save Earth, pray for plague!”

From the point of view of Earth, might not the elimination of a few billion humans be a most positive blessing? So, Gabi, you are the world because all the world is One and because, on another level, the only world there is is the one you create in your own mind.

Gabi: You know, I’ve been doing the letting go, and it has been good — I feel the freedom from my self-identity sometimes, but it always comes back. I don’t know how to let go any more strongly.

Scott-tzu: To let be and let go are not to eliminate. The first are passive, the last active. Letting go is as much actionless action as anything else we do. The simple release of the grip, if it is truly letting go, has no end in mind, especially the elimination of the thing grasped. That’s what letting be is all about — acceptance of what is. If I let go of fear, having accepted that it is there, this does not mean that I will automatically be free of fear. What I have let go of is the attachment, expressed in aversion, to fear, not fear itself.

Sue-tzu: Identity and all its manifestations are really nothing more than habits. When acknowledged and left alone and without the support of emotional grasping and belief, they begin to fade with time. Their continued presence are not a burden if we have truly let them be and let them go. If you have experienced freedom than you are on the right track. These habits will fade. But that is only incidental — not purposed.

If you're interested in reading more from this series by Scott Bradley, go here.

Chapter 2, Verses 10, 11 and 12 - Sun Tzu

Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; and high prices cause the people's substance to be drained away. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tao Bible - 2 Samuel 12:21-23

Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
~ King James version ~

There is no entreating Tao.
~ possible Taoist alternative ~
With his newborn son fighting for his life, King David denies himself in the hopes this will appease God. When it doesn't, he returns to his normal routine.

The Way operates of its own accord. Nothing we consciously do will change that. There is nothing to appease.

If you're interested in reading more from this experimental series, go to the Tao Bible Index page.

Looking Back to 2008: Cake and The End of All Things

Cake and The End of All Things
Original post date: September 3, 2008

I know of few people who don't like cake. It just happens to be one of those culinary concoctions that appeals to people based on texture, taste, appearance or varying combinations of the three. Cake has been loved by kings and queens as well as most of us commoners. In essence, it happens to be a great joy for the majority of people.

Imagine you're sitting down at the table and someone brings you the most humongous and delectable cake of your favorite flavor[s] that you've ever laid eyes on. The aroma alone is enough to bring armies to their knees! You're told that this cake is for you and you alone -- you don't have to share it with anyone.

One group of people would tear right into it with great abandon. They would engage in an orgy of pleasure -- eating as much as quickly as possible. Chances are that they would soon make themselves sick as a dog!

Another group of people would address the cake in a more contemplative way. They would savor each bite, reveling in the taste sensations. They would eat slowly so as to a) not make themselves sick and b) get to enjoy the cake over a long period of time.

A third group would eat the cake in a most peculiar way. Like the previous group, these people would eat the cake slowly. However, unlike the previous group, these people wouldn't delight in the taste sensations at all. In fact, their whole focus wouldn't be on eating the cake itself; no, their focus is on being finished with the cake altogether.

In my mind, the first group is hedonists. The second group is [non-hedonistic] Taoists, Deists or atheists. And the third group is adherents to religious beliefs.

Hedonists care solely for the now -- there is no interest in what has been or will be. Their overriding goal in life is to obtain as much sensual pleasure as the present moment will allow. Consequently, the hedonist has a tendency to burn all bridges to the past and to suffer all kind of negative future consequences for unplanned present actions.

As this blog is about Taoism, I'll skip my analysis of the second group because the reader gets enough of that anyway!

As Christopher Hitchens points out in "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything", the interesting thing about religious people is that their focus is more on the hereafter than the present. In fact, in most every major religion, there are a host of taboos against enjoying the many facets of human life (i.e., sins of the flesh) and, instead, all the focus is on the "paradise" of the after days.

Consequently, as with the cake, religion pushes its adherents not to enjoy and savor each moment of life. Rather than revel in the amazing taste sensations laid before us, we're urged to repress our taste buds in the hope that we'll taste the cake and more somewhere down the road.
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

Chapter 2, Verse 9 - Sun Tzu

Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Line by Line - Verse 15, Line 2

and were deep (also) so as to elude men's knowledge.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Depths that cannot be discerned
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

They were deep. Real deep.
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from Beatrice.com, 2004 ~
In describing those mythic ancient sages, it is said that their knowledge goes beyond anything that can be defined. Since Tao genuinely cannot be defined, any person who tries to follow the Way chooses to move with the flow of a stream with no bottom.

If we can be open to all that is, then we become filled with a breadth that knows no boundaries.

To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

Chapter 2, Verse 8 - Sun Tzu

The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: The Rippling Effect

The Rippling Effect
Original post date: July 22, 2008

As I discussed on Saturday, a member of our family -- Becca -- dies the previous day. For a family with so many animals, one might think that losing only 1 of 6 wouldn't have dramatic effects. But quite the opposite is true.

Becca was the leader of our pack. She was by far the most gregarious of the brood. She DEMANDED the most attention, both good and bad. She was always under foot -- if you were in a hurry, she was sure to be in your way!

When someone came to the front door, she was the first to greet them. Our other two dogs will bark up a storm and, if that doesn't work and a non-family members enters, both scurry for cover. But not Becca!! She would approach anybody as if to say, "Hi. How ya doing? I'm Becca. I like people. Pet me. Pet me. Pet me."

So, despite the fact our house is still filled with cats and dogs, it seems rather empty. The main vital spirit has gone. In time, we'll get used to this new energy and it will become the norm. For now, however, everything seems out of sorts.

In contemplating the last few days, I again recognized the mysterious ripple effects of life. Every action by each and every entity cause ripples that flow out into the world. Sometimes the ripples intersect and sometimes they clash. They form an invisible tapestry around us.

It is because of these trillions upon trillions of simultaneous ripples that we have no bona fide chance to truly comprehend this tapestry. The picture is far too broad and expansive for any of us to take in. So, we use terms like fate, chance or faith to define what we are unable rationally to define.

When something fortuitous happens to us, we say it was "the luck of the draw". When something bad happens to us, we say "the stars were aligned against us". We treat such things as random occurrences of chance.

I often find it interesting that when someone survives a tragedy that befell many others -- say a plane crash with only a few survivors -- we often hear that person exclaim, "God was watching out for me" or "an angel saved me." Whenever I hear such remarks, I always ask, "What about the others -- those who died. Why wasn't God watching out for them? What makes you think you're so special as to deserve this extraordinary treatment?"

In my humble opinion, it's not God or chance or fate that averts disaster or brings unexpected joy. It is something far more ordinary and pervasive -- the rippling effect.

If we had the ability to pull back to view the entirety of it all, we would be able to understand the ripples that led to the death of the man in Seat 4A and spared the life of the woman in Seat 4B.
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.

The Tao of Dark Sages - Chapter 21, Part 2

The Tao of Dark Sages
by Scott Bradley

Gabi: I understand all of what you’ve said and agree, but surely Grasshopper is either helping people or harming them and isn’t it important which it is?

Sue-tzu: It may be to those helped or harmed. Scott-tzu’s awareness of his aversion has enabled him to realize that to have an opinion and internal debate regarding Grasshopper is to negate the very thing in himself that gives rise to the aversion. Grasshopper’s method appears to be trampling on the essence of harmony with the Tao: non-doing, selflessness, anonymity. Yet to oppose it is to engage in the same.

And we are not to care whether he hurts or harms the spiritual journey of those he teaches?

At some level, yes, we care. But what are we to do? Write a polemic condemning his teaching and thereby become the same as he and all the other debaters and truth-knowers? We must let things be as they are. And have we not all been captive to ignorance (and still are)? Haven’t we been ‘harmed’ by teachings that really just continued to hold us in bondage? Would we be where we are today without them? And yet, here we are, nearly perfect!

Scott-tzu: Speak for yourself!

And remember, too, Gabi, that hurt and harm are as relative as anything else. There’s the story of the misfortune that befell a young man. He broke his leg, and bemoaned his fate. But then soldiers arrived looking to forcibly induct more soldiers and were obliged to pass him by. I can’t remember it all, but he went from one event to the next declaring one thing a boon and having it turn to misfortune and declaring another a misfortune and having it turn to good fortune.

Who’s to say, maybe learning from Grasshopper is exactly what someone needs at the moment, if only to be released from it later. You called it a spiritual journey, and it is. And as such, it will be, like any adventure, full of misadventure — wrong turnings, dead ends, false starts, contradictions. And, as always, what difference does it really make in any case? Happy or sad, enlightened or unenlightened, alive or dead?

All that matters, and that in a very relative sense, is quality of life, and Grasshopper’s placebo or morphine — if that be what they are — might be the best his disciples would otherwise receive. How many people out of the world’s billions will discover true freedom in any case?

If you're interested in reading more from this series by Scott Bradley, go here.

Question: What Sort of Weird Justice Is This?

I'm sure many people are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba in the Book of 2 Samuel. King David sees the beautiful Bathsheba and the two commit adultery. The king sees to it that Bathsheba's husband is killed in battle, so that David can add her to his brood of wives. The prophet Nathan informs David that God is displeased with David's actions and so will mete out divine punishment.

According to this story, the two people who sinned were Bathsheba and David. Yet, who does the Lord punish? Their newly born son!! The innocent babe is afflicted and dies seven days after birth.
And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him. (2 Samuel 12:24)
Now I'm certainly NOT suggesting that losing a child is not a heart-wrenching experience. Any parent who has gone through this sad affair would attest otherwise. However, the child was innocent of the sin of his parents, yet he is the one who suffered the ultimate punishment -- death.

David and Bathsheba, on the other hand, picked up where they left off and soon she bore another son.

Since adultery supposedly is one of the big ten sins that, generally speaking, equates to the death of one or both of the participants, it would appear that David and Bathsheba got off with a mere slap of the hand. Is this a weird sense of justice or what?

To see what other questions I've asked about the Christian Bible, go here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tao Bible - 2 Samuel 7:13

He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
~ King James version ~

Tao has no need of altars, synagogues, churches, mosques or tabernacles.
~ possible Taoist alternative ~
With King David established in Jerusalem, God decides that the time has come for the king to build a religious edifice to celebrate and honor the almighty.

Tao has no expectations. Tao demands no worship nor even acknowledgment. Tao is available to everything and all we need do is to look inside ourselves.

If you're interested in reading more from this experimental series, go to the Tao Bible Index page.

Chapter 2, Verse 7 - Sun Tzu

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
~ from The Art of War, Giles translation ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the verses of The Art of War.

Looking Back to 2008: Striking Up a Conversation

Striking Up a Conversation
Original post date: May 7, 2008

I should know better than to strike up an innocent conversation with a stranger. Any more, it seems to get me in trouble. I'm just trying to be friendly, but I keep running into people who have agendas...often religious ones.

Take yesterday as an example. My wife & I had just returned home from running errands. I noticed the sound of mowers coming from behind our house. This struck me as a bit odd since no one lives behind us. It turned out that the woman who owns the abandoned turn-of-the century home (catty corner from our back) asked two local guys to keep the yard mowed.

I went out on my deck and yelled to the older fellow, "Have my dogs kept you entertained?" (I asked this innocent question because one of my dogs is an incessant barker. It drives me crazy. We had left the back door open so the two dogs that had stayed home could get out to run around the backyard and handle their "business".)

The guy laughed and said that the black one had been quite animated at their presence. I smiled and was just about to go back into the house to make myself some lunch when the a-g-e-n-d-a arose.
Fellow: Lived here long?
Me: Not real long. My wife & I bought this house about 8 months ago.
Fellow: From around here?
Me: We moved here from Aberdeen and, before that, from Salem, OR.
Fellow: (Drum roll, please) Do you attend a local church?
Me: No.
Fellow: Why not?
Me: Because I'm a Taoist.
Fellow: A what?
Me: A Taoist.
Fellow: What's a Taoist?
I then explained what a Taoist was and thought that would be that. But, oh no, the conversation continued.
Fellow: Have you been a Taoist your whole life?
Me: No. If you must know, I grew up in the Presbyterian Church.
Fellow: What caused you to turn away from God?
Me: I realized that believing in an invisible "father" was wholly irrational and asinine.
Fellow: Sounds to me like you must have had a bad experience with your church.
Me: Not at all. I simply decided that Christianity, like all religions, was nonsensical to me.
I went on to explain that, after my undergraduate studies, I had given serious thought to enter seminary to become a minister. I came to realize though that I really didn't believe in most of the tenets of the Christian belief system, so I became a social worker.
Fellow: So how did you learn about this Tao thing?
Me: One day I was walking by my favorite book store in Salem and noticed one particular book in the window, "The Idiot's Guide to Taoism". Something caused me to go in to buy the book -- maybe it's because I'm idiot. As I read the book, I realized I had been a Taoist my whole life; I just didn't know it.
Fellow: In the ways of God, we're all idiots. My name's (I've already forgotten his name). I'm the Youth Pastor of (one of the local churches). Would you be interested in coming to our church one Sunday?
Me: No.
Fellow: Why not?
Me: Because I'm not a Christian.
At this juncture, Mr. Youth Pastor adopted a weird stance, one that seemed to fly in the face of rationality.
Fellow: Do you have a lot of friends?
Me: I don't know what you define as "a lot". I still don't know that many people here, but I've got a lot of friends all over Washington and Oregon.
Fellow: Well, if you came to our church, I bet you'd have a lot more friends in the area.
Me: That's a very poor reason to go to church. I mean that's not the point. A person should go to church if the particular religion speaks to them in a deep and sacred way.
Fellow: That's true, but if you decided to come, I bet God would make himself known to you.
Me: I don't believe in God, so I think that's highly unlikely.
The conversation lagged on for another 30 minutes because this fellow wouldn't take "no" for an answer. He kept trying different gambits to get me to agree to attend his church. Finally, he started to get the message.
Fellow: Sounds to me that you're against religion.
Me: Ya think?
Fellow: Why is that?
Me: Taoists don't run around telling other people what and how to believe. They don't nag at complete strangers to attend their meetings. I came out here to be friendly and all I've gotten for my trouble is to be harangued by you for not believing as you do.
Fellow: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push you. I just wanted to share the Good News.
Me: If it's Good News for you, fine. You're free to believe how you want, but it's blather to me. I don't find it compelling nor of any interest.
I don't want to make it sound more negative than it truly was. We shook hands and he mentioned that we could pick up the conversation next time he came to mow. That's not very likely as I won't make the mistake of venturing outside when I see him next.

What ever happened to conversations about the weather?
To read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.