Friday, March 11, 2011

Tao in the Age of Dinosaurs II

Tao in the Age of Dinosaurs II
by Scott Bradley

In a previous post I shared a brief vision of a Jurassic swamp complete with dinosaurs devouring each other, and concluded by suggesting that this was Tao manifest and thus that all was well. This vision continues to fascinate and inform me. Here are some of the things it suggests to me:

There was no right and wrong in those days — not even an inkling. That started with us. We made it up. And that’s fine, since it has largely served us well. We just need to remember its roots are in us, not in Ultimate Reality per se.

Cosmically speaking (!?), there is no intrinsic difference between that age and our own. We are no better or worse than the dinosaurs. We are not special. Our mass extinction is as likely as theirs. So what?

Not only was there no ‘special creation’ (us), there was no creation at all. Everything just happens. That’s why it seems so messy. There is no Tao-agenda, no purpose, no goal...

This, I think, is a fair representation of the philosophical Taoist’s position. But of course it says way too much since it states definitively what it cannot possibly know. Thus, it’s a position I hold only tentatively, a working paradigm, sort of speak.

When I say there is no purpose, it is not because I believe there is none, but because I know of none, and I do not seek one since to seek a purpose requires me to believe there is one to find. But if I wake up some morning to find I have one, I will be sure to let you know.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. Trying to use words to give another possible alternative view can so easily be misunderstood. Did human beings invent right and wrong? I contend that right and wrong can be found embedded in nature though not consciously expressed via words. When a beehive gets disturbed by a hungry bear the bees’ rear up and begin to swarm upon the bear and express that this is not Right through their aggressive actions. When a mother bear is seen protecting its cubs it is safeguarding what she feels is a Right for her cubs to live though without articulating this "inkling" within. There are roots within a bear, bee, and nature about what is right and wrong. Now a bear’s inkling right might be a bee’s inkling wrong but that doesn’t wipe out the fact that nature is expressing living in the right and wrongs of life. It is not a dysfunction but rather a natural function. Man is the only specious that "discusses" what might be right and wrong, To conclude that there isn't a right or wrong because we are lost in discussing it, is not a basis to right it off as not a reality either. I would appeal for us to transcend our invented right and wrong into what is truly right and wrong for us humans. Do we really want to do that though? Would this transition mean that we would have to alter our pet comforts in life? Would this mean that we would have to go through a transformation that we would rather not? Being once a "believer" that there is no right or wrong, I can't help but ask what is the nature or rather the motives of this "invented" philosophy".

  2. @M&S--
    The bear and the bees are not operating out of right and wrong.
    They are acting on survival urges and pain avoidance.
    A dog learns "good" and "bad" behavior because we, as masters, threaten him with punishment; I don't think the dog has a sense of right and wrong (though he may indeed have Buddha nature!)

    In Taoism there is an understanding that what may be "good" in one circumstance, may change or be "bad" in another. It's about yin and yang in a "post-heaven" state; we sometimes muddle the issue with defining good and bad.

    I think human beings did invent "right" and "wrong" as concepts. This is the story of The Fall. All spiritual traditions, including Taosim, seem to propose ways to get back to that time of innocence through forgiveness, salvation, common-sense...and then there is science.

    Do you really belive there is an independent absolute morality? If there is, I doubt it looks like what is commonly thought of as moral.

    "I would appeal for us to transcend our invented right and wrong into what is truly right and wrong for us humans." I think this may be what we try to do when "returning to the Tao" but I would be interested in what you think is "truly right and wrong."

    I think Scott is saying something like Wittgenstein: "What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence."

  3. "The bear and the bees are not operating out of right and wrong.
    They are acting on survival urges and pain avoidance"

    These bees and bears that you speak of remind me of the union people's cries in Wisconsin as they holler that this is NOT RIGHT because of their survival urges and pain avoidance. What is the difference? Should we tell these people in Wisconsin to shut up and follow the non-doing no-morality of the Tao?

    Let me ask you this... Is it wrong for a father to abandon his responsibilities of fatherhood to go out and screw young ladies and potentially replicate more abandon children? Is it right or wrong? Will you answer that for me? It is not only wrong because it harms family members but it also harms society as a whole. One of the biggest problems within the African American community is not necessarily racism but men not taking responsibility of fatherhood. It is destroying them from within. I think I can speak about this since one of our children that we adopted is African American (The other two were traditional births and Caucasian). Who knows, maybe the man that spreads his seed irresponsibly is just following the Tao of his dick nature? I'll be honest with you, I deeply love the teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang but you can take these wonderful thoughts to the extremes of falling off the edge of the obvious. Yes there is a right and wrong! I do not believe in a higher morality that gets commanded from God up above. I do believe in a personal radical transcending of our ego based morality (ego-death) though. An individual needs to personally go through the death experience of his own morality. The only hope that George Bush Jr. has is the death of his ego-based morality. That goes for you and me too. But when death and then resurrection takes place, it does not make everything relative where good and bad becomes one taste.

    On another thought Baroness Radon, I truly appreciate your engagement of thought. I find that people try and "play it safe" by not intimately expressing their spiritual opinions. We do not want to get embarrassed and found out so we play it safe in silence. There is risk involved of being criticized and sized down. I find that experience as being good though. Please size me down. It is how we "grow up". I also want to say that I do appreciate and respect your opinions. Please share yourself more. You have a lot to offer the community here.


  4. I think I should clarify what I meant by George Bush's death of his ego based morality lest I find the FBI crashing through my front door. I meant a change in moral thought.

  5. Damn...I just spent nearly an hour responding to this post, and lost my thoughts.

    I'll be back.

    I may recreate my thoughts on my own blog.


  6. Which having just read the latest news out of Japan, my loss of a train of THOUGHT seems like a very trivial thing.

    Perhaps everyone in Wisconsin could just go to Honshu and help out?

  7. Mark,
    In your second response, you asked a question of the Baroness. Though I am not the Baroness, I will answer the question from my point of view.

    Is it wrong for a father to abandon his responsibilities of fatherhood to go out and screw young ladies and potentially replicate more abandon children?

    For one thing, who says a father has a responsibility for fatherhood? Looking at nature and grizzly bears, for one example, the male impregnates the female and then leaves. The female raises the cubs and shoos any males away.

    In this instance, is the father bear shirking his responsibility? Is he in the wrong?

    In the human sphere, what about a child who is raised by two lesbians? There obviously was a biological father somewhere in the mix, but his sole participation was offering up of sperm.

    Because he has no other involvement, is he being irresponsible?

    My point here is that the role of fatherhood is not an absolute. There is no static right and wrong to it.

    In a patriarchal society, fatherhood is viewed as a very important role. This is not necessarily the case in a matriarchal society.

  8. Looks like my post is too long! Two parts...
    Giving this another shot..restoring the derailed train of thought. I should point out that I do come with a spiritual point of view; RT dismisses some of what I might say as "religious." I do not really subscribe to the religious/philosophical distinction. (Religious Taoism is the superstitious ...but kinda fun...stuff practiced in temples in Taiwan and Hong Kong, a lot like old Latin masses for the masses. I like bells and smells.) I have been deeply influenced by practitioners of neidan (internal alchemy) in the Taoist Complete Reality School and other spiritual leaders in other traditions, East and West. Taoism is not just reading Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Still, Taoism expresses most purely for me how the world works and what my place is in it.

    1) I think Scott's comments about purpose are about meaning, or the search for it. Some of us are just programmed to do this, some may be beyond it (Scott seems to have had a satori at some point in his life.) I think he is echoing Wittgenstein: "What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence." Still, meaning is the central issue in understanding right and wrong.

    2) I woke this morning with this dialogue on my mind (and then wrote and lost it in the ether). I had a revelatory feeling about the human creation or perception or definition of good and evil, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, etc. In Taoist terms, these are part of the "post-heaven" condition, and are results of our own behavior, out of touch with the Tao, in the red dust of politics, economics, lust, greed. (Taoism --at least Quan Zhen- is not a very social philosophy, really.) This is the point of The Fall; if we were all in tune with Tao, we would have paradise. But there are too many of us, with too many desires, too many crazy ideas, too many empty stomachs, too many bank accounts bursting with imaginary assets, too little time. In a quantum universe.

    3) In a Taoist scheme, (and this is where Scott and RT and I seem to diverge) humans ARE more highly evolved than bears and bees and dinosaurs, (poised between heaven and earth, because we can express ourselves...the Dalai Lama said that...and some humans may be more highly evolved than others (spiritually). While I am astonished and embarrassed by my particular species, I do not detest it. I try to love it.

    4) The search for meaning (purpose) is the center of thought from Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and yes, Confucius, to the Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed (tricky one today), through Greco- Roman thinking from Socrates, Aristotle, and Western traditions to Kierkegaard, Nietzche, Freud, Oppenheimer, literature from Shakespeare, Russian writers, Southern writers, French existentialists...and in the end we come to Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and the Cultural Revolution, a terrified and timid world that looks like it will end with a whimper (I am a bit of a pessimist in this regard). Ask Elie Wiesel about good and evil, God, and meaning. We see evil deeds, and heroic and saintly efforts, all of which just contribute to the ongoing swirl in which we are impotent witnesses. Sure we can protest GMOs, recycle, express solidarity with our side of any political issue, forgetting that there is an equally "justified" opponent, but in the end, is dying in a tsunami any different than a Nazi death camp.

  9. Part 2--
    Well, yes it is. It's just that it is our actions which make the distinction. The universe doesn't care. (I had some other observation here but in my wordiness, it has gone lost in the posting...too many html characters...

    5) Of course irresponsible breeding is "wrong." So is not neutering your pet cat. (Wild and feral animals will take care of their own overbreeding though illness or starvation, in tune with the Tao as they are.) My friend, my age (SS-eligible), just told me she is afraid to tell her own mother that she is about to become a great-great grandma. My friend's granddaughter is pregnant (and the father is a jerk. So what else is new?) Needless to say, she is afraid because she remembers telling her own mother when she was pregnant (to a jerk) and when her daughter said the same thing. (Neeless to say these were all "out-of-wedlock" as we used to say but no longer care about. (Or do we?) These are educated people! Pregnancy is not magic. The universe doesn't care; they all have fulfilled their biological destinies (perhaps their only purpose), and well. But clearly there is something "wrong."

    6) Following "the Tao of his dick nature" is not following Tao. In fact, Taoists generally are very cautious about sexuality and its expression. Also advising "these people in Wisconsin to shut up and follow the non-doing no-morality of the Tao? " This would also be a distortion of Tao. The problem is, all that stuff (which seems more foreign and less important to me in Hawaii than what is happening in Japan) is just whirlwind of red dust. It will settle and will rise up again. And again.

    7) I don't give a fuck about George Bush Jr.'s soul.
    (Mine, another story.) But, I would like to hear more from you on "the death experience of one's own morality." That just sounds like rearranging one's own thinking. Or redemption? Or what? Still, I think we may be on the same page, here.

    8) Thank you for your encouragement, not that I need it. I'm not a play-it-safe kind of person. We all learn and grow through these dialogues. I have certain experiences and background (from a proper Chinese-length lifecycle) which give me a perspective that works for me, but may not for someone else. Tomorrow I might take vows as a nun in a cloistered order. Or I might just decide to put all my investments in Monsanto. (Neither very likely.) Blogging is a lot like psychotherapy. The talking cure.

    10) It's ALL metaphor.

  10. All due respect to RT,
    "Looking at nature and grizzly bears, for one example, the male impregnates the female and then leaves. The female raises the cubs and shoos any males away."

    I think this is a problem; as I said previously, humans are not bears or bees or dinosaurs. The "responsibility" of a father bear has no bearing (so to speak) on the responsibility of a human parent. WE "know" better, and therefore, are capable of doing worse. (Partly because there are no absolutes, for us anyway.) Are there good bear fathers and bad ones? Probably neither. They are just bear fathers, being bear fathers. No bear has been hit up for cub support.

    I am leery of arguments that say" in neanderthals our brain evolved to" as if that excuses or explains our behavior (good or bad) ....there is some understanding of our nature to be gained by looking at our evolution, but...we know better.

    And usually do worse.

  11. This missing piece from Part one and Part 2:
    how do we know that death camp death is "wrong" and tsunami death is not? How we know that "killing" is wrong?

    I made reference to Short Circuit, when the scientist is shocked that the robot tells him killing is wrong. "Who told you this," the scientist says.

    "I told me this," the robot answers.

    Not intending to raise AI questions of consciousness here, I would say that the "intelligence" looks at the data, the sensations, and comes to a conclusion in his heart. An image of corpses in an earthquake will make you cry; images of death camp victims will make you sick. To the extent that humans were responsible, is the extent to which you recognize right and wrong. (Of course, this is the strategy used by certain right-to-life/anti-abortion activists.)

    I think I'm done now.

  12. Wow! Eleven comments. There is all sorts of great stuff here after I left my last posting. I am very busy for the next couple of days but will try and find time to soak this all in and and respond. I love all this interaction!

  13. @M&S -- And too many of them mine...if you want to continue this offline, via email, go to my blog and just leave a message...eventually this thread will go to the bottom of the pile.


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