Monday, April 30, 2012

What's With All This "Knowing"?

Trey Smith

Technically speaking, this should be part of my "Questions" series, but since it's not tied to any specific passage, I'm just going to treat it as an independent post.

When I was a kid, we used to get the giggles big time whenever the biblical topic of "knowing" came up. (George Carlin takes aim at this subject in one of his famous stand-up routines.) The laughter bordered on absolute hysteria if an adult happened upon the scene and asked an innocent question like, "Does Billy KNOW Suzie?" We would gasp for air and the adult would quickly retreat, shaking their head all the way.

Anyhow, I was thinking about this weird definition of the verb, know, and so I decided to see if I could ascertain where this archaic definition originated. I should have known -- it originated in the Old Testament of the bible!

From my perspective, I sort of get how knowing and making love are very, very similar. When we make love with the object of our respect and affection, we come to know that person in a most intimate way. It is a wonderful thing when two people who share a deep abiding love let down their defenses and allow someone inside the usually well-guarded fortress of personality and identity.

But knowing in the biblical sense does not mean to make love; it simply means to copulate and a person easily can have sexual intercourse with someone you don't know at all!

Guys who "know" prostitutes don't really know them as individuals. People who engage in casual sex often don't know their partners all that well. In recounting their exploits, they may not remember their partner's name! (For the record, I'm no prude. I think casual sex between two or more consenting adults is fine and dandy as long as it is conducted responsibly.) Heck, there are loads of married couples who really don't know their spouse all that damn well either!

So, how is it that the early translators of the Old Testament settled on the word, know, as the codeword for the sex act? Why not simply be straightforward by using more appropriate words like intercourse, coitus or copulate?

Chapter 18, Part 4 - Confucius

The people of Ch'i sent to Lu a present of female musicians, which Chi Hwan received, and for three days no court was held. Confucius took his departure.
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

The Confessional

Trey Smith

One of the recurrent themes in the New Testament (Christian bible) is the importance of the confession of sins. What I find interesting is that most Christians (save for Catholics) don't seem really to understand what such action entails. For a lot of them, it's nothing more than a casual throwaway line; it's like, if you say you're ready to confess your sins, that's all there is to it and you're in "the club."

Back when I was a churchgoer, I often was dumbfounded when parishioners would go to the front of the church to declare their confession of sin. The minister would mumble a bunch of "holy" words and then bless them. They then would return to their seats feeling like a new and cleansed person.

But here's the thing. To confess means to "spill the beans." It means to say what a person has done wrong, including all the gory details. When a person confesses to murder, they must stand up in court and recount the details of their crime. They have to say something like, "I killed this person and here's how I did it."

For you Christians out there, how often has someone gone to the front of your church and provided a laundry list of their misdeeds? How often have you heard, "God forgive me, but I've been screwing my neighbor's wife for the past three years and I recently stole $250 from work"?

I'm not saying this never happens, but it's rare.

I realize that most people will say that the details are between each of us and the imaginary bloke in the sky. But if a person can't bring themselves to say in church amongst people who care about them what they done wrong, what are the chances they actually say them between their own ears?

Me thinks that Christians love the term "confession of sin" because, by utilizing it, they can avoid directly confronting all the "bad things" they supposedly have done. That phrase is like a magic incantation that removes the stain without a person having to do the real work to scrub it away.

Afternoon Matinee: Burp! 5/5

On Being Unlimited II

Scott Bradley

It may well be that we are essentially nothing. But that is no disgrace or loss if everything is nothing. Being nothing, we are utterly everything. But 'nothing' is a designation which, though possibly the case, does not describe our actual experience in the world; we are, in life, a something that is also a nothing, which is to say, we are an emptiness.

Daoism recommends that we discover our essential emptiness and dwell there. Emptiness is the unlimited in that it has no boundaries.

How is it that I who sits here writing can be said to be limitless? Clearly, limitlessness has nothing to do with space and time. Nor can it be any specific 'thing'; 'I' cannot be limitless. Limitlessness is, I think, the nature of Reality. So, in this case, 'I' am limitless. But this is metaphysics, and we need not go there. The limitlessness of which I speak is experiential, which is to say, psychological. It is the experience of being unfixed, unmoored — of wandering.

Is this all just a lot of blabber, or do I experience that of which I speak? Blabber, mostly. But, as you may be aware, I subscribe to the belief that, though there may be irreversible, transformative experiences — that 'turning about in the depths of consciousness' — there is also the more mundane and messy experience of approximation. "All or nothing" is the general touch-phrase for the advocates of 'enlightenment'. And if such an experience is possible, then there is some truth in this point of view — if you have experienced it. But I do not know that it is possible, nor do I believe it would come through seeking it, if it were. This leaves me with what I have called 'messy'. It is messy in that it does not resolve to pat formulas of either/or; like life itself, it does not succumb to logic.

Approximation is the application of the human to the human. It's doing the best one can manage. It's practice. It's growth. And when done in the context of an understanding that nothing need be done (because it already is), it breeds no strife, within or without.

Spinoza believed the cosmos to be reasonable and intelligible, and if one could bring one's thinking into complete harmony with it, one would be it. One would be the "face of the Universe". But he was a smart guy who also understood that the human experience was a very limited one, and such an understanding of the Universe was not possible. His 'enlightenment' was an unrealizable ideal. No matter; those limits can be filled with joy and pleasure, just in the approximating.

Soaring forays into the unlimited are possible, but the gravity of our addiction to opinion and preference, the defining characteristics of 'me', quickly bring us down. No matter; the joy is in the effort, when the effort is the joy. And the effort is the joy when we realize no effort is required. All is well.

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

Line by Line - Verse 66, Line 7

nor though he has his place before them, do they feel it an injury to them.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

They are positioned in front
But the people do not feel harmed

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

[No corresponding line]
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
I like the way John Lash sums up this line with a simple, but straightforward, thought.
If you lead by example rather than with power, others will not feel forced, and resentment will not arise.
To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

Two Unrelated Stories...But Are They?

Trey Smith

Here are two news stories than, on first blush, are completely unrelated. Story #1 involves a Michigan ballot initiative.
Opponents of Michigan's emergency manager law who had gathered more than enough petitions to put the law on the November ballot were told yesterday that it wouldn't happen because the petitions had used the wrong font size.

Organizers had hoped to suspend Public Act 4, the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act, also known as the “emergency financial manager law” signed by Gov. Snyder last year. The Center for Public Integrity explained that with the law, "appointed managers can nullify labor contracts, sell public utilities and dismiss elected officials." Greatly contested was the ability of emergency managers under this law to nullify collective bargaining agreements.

Even though organizers had gathered 203,000 petition signatures, about 40,000 more than necessary to put a repeal on the ballot, the Board of State Canvassers was unable to accept the petitions due to a deadlock 2-2 vote with the two Republican members of the board ruling out the petitions, saying the size of the font on the heading was incorrect.
Just so we're clear, there are very specific requirements for citizens and groups who plan to circulate ballot initiatives in Michigan. As this article underscores, the controversy centers on the font size utilized for the heading of the initiative petitions.

Story #2 concerns a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling on "Friday morning to require broadcasters to post political ad data on the Web, making it easier for the public to see how as much as $3.2 billion will be spent on TV advertising in this election." But here's the part that should catch your eye.
The rule will first apply to affiliates of the four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) in the top 50 TV markets. All other stations will have until July 2014 to comply...Then there’s the crucial question of the format in which the files will be available. FCC spokeswoman Janice Wise told ProPublica that the commission is not creating a searchable database of the political ad files.

“We’ll accept whatever [file] format they provide,” she said in an email.

That will make it much more difficult to analyze the information.
So, let's recap. When it comes to citizens wanting to change laws, the requirements for circulating paperwork are very exact and stringent. Make a small error and there's a good chance your efforts will be for naught. Yet, when it comes to major corporations, the requirements for a governmental ruling in the public interest are anything but stringent. They get to choose their own format and, if each media corporation decides to choose a different one, that's okay!!

Chapter 18, Part 3 - Confucius

The duke Ching of Ch'i, with reference to the manner in which he should treat Confucius, said, "I cannot treat him as I would the chief of the Chi family. I will treat him in a manner between that accorded to the chief of the Chil and that given to the chief of the Mang family." He also said, "I am old; I cannot use his doctrines." Confucius took his departure.
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

Daily Tao - United

Seen as separate; wants, needs, troubles, addiction, affliction, ....

Seen as one; No concerns.


Is the world separate? real? me? illusion? See above.

Daily Tao is a reprint from Ta-Wan's blog, Daily Cup of Tao, which offers one post per day for an entire year. You also can read these posts in an ebook.

On Being Unlimited I

Scott Bradley

Daoism suggests the possibility of dwelling in the unlimited. What does this mean? I suspect that if you were to actually dwell there it wouldn't 'mean' anything at all. 'Meaning' has limits.

The limitless is the forever indeterminate. It is open-ended, yet has no ends. Perhaps 'openness' would be a helpful synonym for limitlessness. But here openness is not the opening of a door to something, but the dissolving of the walls which require the door in the first place.

We naturally think of the unlimited as that which has no limits, just as we think of eternity as unlimited time or infinity as unlimited space. But there is no 'that' to have no limits, just as time and space cannot contain eternity and infinity. 'That', time, and space are limited, however 'endless' we might think them to be.

'I' cannot be limitless for the obvious reason that 'I' has boundaries. These boundaries are not incidental but a necessary condition for there being an 'I'. Limitlessness would thus seem to require the loss or transcendence of 'I'. Or perhaps the 'transformation' of 'I', for to be human is to be a specific, and therefore limited, being.

When I consider the most obvious boundaries imposed by my own particular 'I', at the top of the list are opinions and moral judgments. I am very opinionated; I know what's right and wrong in the world. Curiously, nothing disrupts my peace more than these praiseworthy demonstrations of 'caring' about the world. Yet it is these which the Hsin Hsin Ming most explicitly identifies as hindering one's dwelling in the limitless. The Way is not difficult; only cease to discriminate between right and wrong. The Truth is near; only cease to cherish opinions. Truth has no content. No limits. It cannot be spoken or 'known'.

One need not worry about the behavior of one who dwells in the limitless; she has no reason to harm anyone. Beware the limited, however; for it those who know who require conformity.

Perhaps another helpful synonym for limitlessness is 'emptiness'. When there is something, there is something it is not. Or 'unfixedness'. Being nothing particular, one is able to be everything, or whatever is presently happening.

Limitlessness is not something alien to our humanity. It might be argued that it is what is most essential to us. When Zhuangzi speaks of the discriminating mind as “peculiarly unfixed”, he is pointing to the futile desire for fixity on the one hand, and our essential unfixedness, on the other. Finding the “empty room” is finding ourselves. Daoism suggests we consider surrendering into what we are, rather than what we would like to be. What we want to be is God as self-contained, eternal entity. What we are is God as unlimited non-specificity.

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


Trey Smith

This morning I simply want to draw your attention to a very touching post on the blog, The Way Forward: Drawing Your Last Breath Without God.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tao Bible - Matthew 3:1-2

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
~ King James version ~

A journey of a thousand miles starts under one's feet.
~ from Verse 64 of the Tao Te Ching ~
So often, we spend our time fixated on the past or the future. The sole time frame for which we truly can experience fully is now. The past has come and gone; the future has yet to arrive. Where our feet are is what we should focus on...lest we trip over them!

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

Chapter 18, Part 2 - Confucius

Hui of Liu-hsia, being chief criminal judge, was thrice dismissed from his office. Some one said to him, "Is it not yet time for you, sir, to leave this?" He replied, "Serving men in an upright way, where shall I go to, and not experience such a thrice-repeated dismissal? If I choose to serve men in a crooked way, what necessity is there for me to leave the country of my parents?"
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

Who Needs Bears Anyway?

Trey Smith

The Obama Administration issued a proposed rule yesterday that disregards the effects of greenhouse gases on polar bear habitat leading one conservation group to say that the rule echoes former President George W. Bush's plan, and that it will lead to the extinction of polar bears.

Noting that polar bears are only on the endangered species list precisely because of loss of habitat caused by greenhouse gases generated from activities outside the Arctic, the proposed rule excluding activities outside the range of polar bears from regulations will lead to the bears' demise.

Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity called the rule "complete doublespeak," the Associated Press reports. "It's saying, 'Here is a rule necessary for the conservation of the polar bear,' yet the only thing it does is exempt from regulation the overwhelming threat to the species."

“If polar bears are to survive we have to directly confront the greatest threat to them: our greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
~ from Obama Echoes Bush, Sets Plan for Polar Bear Extinction via Common Dreams ~
Human beings are the only creatures that make wholesale decisions on the survivability of OTHER species. Like almost every other aspect of this modern world, animals, plants and the planet itself are viewed as pawns to be moved around and/or "sacrificed" for the king (short-term profits)! If our actions are the direct cause of another species going extinct, then so be it. Wealth, it seems, trumps life.

When Pres. Bush first promoted this egocentric plan, liberals were up in arms. We were told that they cared about the intrinsic worth of polar bears. But now that a Democrat sits in the White House, that intrinsic worth appears to add up to less than zero!

Afternoon Matinee: Burp! 4/5

Going Viral II

Scott Bradley

There is a wonderful story in the Liezi about a young boy who dares to contradict the opinion of his elders by standing up for the equality of all things in Dao. This takes place at a banquet where the host offers a toast in which he thanks Nature for providing all things for the enjoyment of human beings. "Not so," says this lad. Nothing exists for the benefit of any other thing; each thing exists for itself. If the human is able to use other things for its own benefit, this is simply because it is more powerful than they. If we believe things are made for the human because we are able to exploit them, then we should also believe that human beings were made for mosquitos.

This simple observation has profound implications for how we view the world and our place within it. All things are worthy of respect. All things are treasured. Yes, there are conflicting needs. Yes, Nature feeds on Nature; all things living must exploit other things for their own survival. But neither this nor the human hegemony negates the essential value-in-themselves of all things. Being self-aware, the human forms this understanding into an attitude of respectful stewardship. We do not respect and seek to preserve Earth simply because we must maintain our 'resources', but also because Earth and all it contains is precious in itself. Our environmentalism is not simply pragmatic; it is also spiritual.

Primary cultures, hunter-gathers, peoples more closely integrated with their environments, practice this attitude as a matter of course. When a life is taken, thanks is given. Respect is affirmed. I once went python hunting (for rat control in the village) with a couple lads on the tiny volcanic island of Nosy Komba in Madagascar. Near the top of the extinct volcano we found two pythons in mortal combat, separated them and brought them back to the village. But before we left the scene, one lad left some money as an offering of thanks. To what or whom? I really don't know; but I do know that he was expressing this fundamental sense of the value of all things and of the role they play in the web of life. He was expressing thanks.

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

Line by Line - Verse 66, Line 6

In this way though he has his place above them, men do not feel his weight,
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Thus the sages are positioned above
But the people do not feel burdened

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

People love leaders
who make them feel safe
without smothering them.

~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
No one likes to feel the weight of a boot upon their neck. Authoritarian demands stifle creativity and make us feel as if we are being suffocated or, as Ron Hogan phrases it, smothered.

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

Everything Is "Fine"

Trey Smith

More than two years after President Barack Obama blew his self-imposed deadline to shut down the extrajudicial prison at Guantanamo Bay, close observers and defense lawyers with clients making their way through the reformed military tribunal system say the public isn’t paying attention.

“I think what you’ll find is the interest in the process will never get back up again,” Bryan Broyles, the Pentagon’s deputy chief defense counsel at Guantanamo, told TPM. “It’s fatigue and the thought that ‘Well, it must be okay now because Obama said it’s okay.’”

Broyles and other observers believe that some policy changes instituted under the Obama administration would have sparked outrage if President George W. Bush was still in the White House. One change he said should have been “extremely alarming” to the legal community: the rule allowing death penalty defendants to plead guilty and still receive the death penalty.

“This is the only court in the United States where you can plead guilty and still be given the death penalty, and it’s just another sign that the system is not set up to give anyone a trial it’s set up to give someone what appears to be a fair trial with a predetermined result,” Broyles said.
~ from Guantanamo Lawyers: Obama Gets Away With Legal Moves Bush Wouldn’t Have by Ryan J. Reilly ~
Sadly, this is why it's bad public policy these days to elect the Democratic Party's candidate for President. What happened during the Clinton presidency is the same thing we're finding under Obama's watch: Liberals, not wanting to embarrass THEIR guy, sit on the sidelines and allow conservative policies to subvert the American landscape.

On so many issues, Obama has supported policies and initiatives that a Republican president would have been vilified for. If George W. Bush had announced that he had the right to target American citizens for assassination without any measure of due process, the liberal intelligentsia would have exploded. When it was Obama who made this announcement, most of that same intelligentsia publicly yawned (though, I'm sure, there was much gnashing of teeth in private).

While I personally do not think that Mitt Romney has a scintilla of a chance of defeating Obama in November, it would be better for this nation if he did. I do not say this because I think Romney would support better policies, but because a vocal opposition would arise from their self-imposed hibernation. As Romney continued with and tried to expand on decisions made by our current president, the same people who raised nary a peep during our first black president's reign would suddenly find their voices again.

In fact, until that day when a true progressive makes a viable run for the White House, it's just as well that the nation elects the more conservative candidate each time out. These pseudo-liberals -- Clinton and Obama -- literally are destroying us from the inside out!

Chapter 18, Part 1 - Confucius

The Viscount of Wei withdrew from the court. The Viscount of Chi became a slave to Chau. Pi-kan remonstrated with him and died.

Confucius said, "The Yin dynasty possessed these three men of virtue."
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

Daily Tao - Calm Rooted

Having found inner calm, and found the root to wonder: it is impossible now, to find any moment, slightly free from wonder.

Daily Tao is a reprint from Ta-Wan's blog, Daily Cup of Tao, which offers one post per day for an entire year. You also can read these posts in an ebook.

Going Viral I

Scott Bradley

“A clump of earth never strays from the Dao.” — Shen Dao (Zhuangzi, Chap. 33)

Finally, the lowly virus has gotten some of the credit it so clearly deserves. The success of a rapidly popularized idea or media presentation is now described as “going viral”.

I won’t pretend to know much about viruses. However, I do know that they are among the most successful life-forms on earth. I also know that they are perhaps the least complex of all life forms. They practically have one foot still in the inanimate. In the much touted “pyramid of life” they are at the bottom of the heap. I wonder.

Human beings do not much care for viruses since their success is predicated on their ability to feed off other organisms to their detriment. They are parasitic. This is an entirely justifiable bias from a human perspective since the preservation of our species and the improvement of the quality of our lives is of paramount importance within that context. But is this bias entirely valid within the larger context of Dao? I think not.

Dao does not favor any animate thing over another. Nor does it favor the animate over the inanimate. It’s all good. All things are of equal value. To the extent that this idea makes us uncomfortable, Daoism informs our being in the world. To the extent that we see ourselves as unique and separate from all things, we set ourselves up for a great deal of anxiety about the preservation of that supposed uniqueness. Because we think ourselves other than Nature, we fear re-integration into Nature.

None of this negates the uniquely human experience or our efforts to preserve and improve that experience. Each and every thing participates in these urges according to its ability to do so. Daoism teaches us to respect that urge in all things as well as in ourselves. Yet, within that context, there is a war of competing needs taking place, and each thing is naturally obliged to look out for its own best interests. Hence, we seek to eradicate the HIV virus.

Once again, we are asked to walk “two roads”. Our experience as a species and as individuals is informed by a larger view, and our ability to realize the uniqueness of that experience is enhanced by that view. Shen Dao recognized the quality of ‘comfortable’ integration within inanimate objects with Dao. Their ‘oneness’ is a given. He also recognized how that sense of integration was in some sense lost in the self-aware consciousness of the human. He suggested that we attempt to re-discover that integration, that we let the larger view inform our species-specific context. His critics said his dao was great for the dead, but not the living. They had a point. Only they failed to realize that the living and the dead form a unity, and that death informs life, and life is enhanced thereby.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Apocalypse Now

Trey Smith

A big story in the news here in the Pacific Northwest concerns a mother and daughter who were murdered and the search for the prime suspect, the husband/father. Friends of Peter Keller describe him as a survivalist. Here's the part of a recent Reuters article that I find a bit odd, to say the least.
Peter Keller was known to stockpile supplies and was believed to have set up a "fort" in the woods where he hiked, authorities said.

"Peter was described by friends and family as a loner and had a survivalist mentality," authorities said in court papers.

Authorities added that Keller took over $6,000 out of his bank account before the deaths of his wife, Lynnettee, and daughter, Kaylene, and was said to be preparing for the "end of the world." emphasis added
Here's my question: If you think the world is coming to an end, what use is $6,000?

I've heard or read of similar stories before. Some guy gets a crazy notion in his head that the apocalypse is just around the next corner, so he empties his bank account. Why? Is he worried that there are no ATMs in "heaven?"

Taking your money out of the bank would seem to belie the end of the world mentality. It tells me that you're making plans to try to escape to start a new life somewhere else in this temporal world!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chapter 17, Part 26 - Confucius

The Master said, "When a man at forty is the object of dislike, he will always continue what he is."
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

In Another Person's Shoes

Trey Smith

Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal — the poor person or the rich one? It’s temping to think that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, if you already have enough for yourself, it’s easier to think about what others may need. But research suggests the opposite is true: as people climb the social ladder, their compassionate feelings towards other people decline.
~ from How Wealth Reduces Compassion by Daisy Grewal ~
It should come as no surprise to readers that I find the results of these various studies unremarkable. It has been my general opinion all along that the wealthy are less compassionate than the rest of us! I don't state this due to any personal animus toward the well-to-do; it just seems par for the course to me.

In many -- though certainly NOT all -- cases, people become wealthy because of their ability to step on or over others. We live in an ultra-competitive society and the financially successful must possess the cajones to out-compete others. When your goal is to get to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible, you learn to push aside anyone who might happen to impede your progress. If you stop to consider other people's feelings -- exhibit compassion -- someone else will move ahead of you and, maybe, even knock you back down the slope.

Those of us who are not financially well-off better understand the struggles of trying to get by day-to-day. While we may be thankful for what little we have, we intuitively understand that one crisis or major expense easily could knock us several rungs down the ladder. And so, we feel a sort of kindred spirit with those not as fortunate as us and we can better identify with the maxim, there but for fortune go you or I.

Grewal highlights another important reason these results should be a no-brainer.
But why would wealth and status decrease our feelings of compassion for others? After all, it seems more likely that having few resources would lead to selfishness. Piff and his colleagues suspect that the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused.
Yes, one of the "perks" of wealth is the freedom to be self-absorbed. When you don't need the overall community to help support and nurture you, you are less likely to be all that concerned with the needs of others.

For all you Christians out there, why do you think Jesus eschewed wealth, status and fame? He could have had all of that and more, if he so desired. Me thinks he chose not to dull his sense of compassionate caring. By living and traveling amongst the outcasts of his society, he sought to preserve his humaneness.

Afternoon Matinee: Burp! 3/5

The N-Word Lives On in "Post-Racial" America

Trey Smith

I get so very tired of hearing that America has entered a "post-racial" era. We are told again and again that people are no longer judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Horse hockey!

Speaking of hockey, the Washington Capitols defeated the Boston Bruins in a thrilling Game 7 of their first round playoff series. While crestfallen that their hometown team lost, many Bruins fans seem far more upset at the Capitols player who scored the winning goal in overtime. His name is Joel Ward and he happens to be black.

You can go here -- if you have the stomach for this sort of stuff -- to read how the word, "nigger" is liberally used. So many of the tweets seem incredulous that their beloved team was taken down by someone other than a white guy.

It shouldn't surprise us that so much animus would be heaped on a black hockey player. The same sorts of comments are leveled at Barack Obama all the time! Many right wing discussion forums are not that much different than dropping in at your local KKK meeting.

Simply put, far too many of my white brethren in the US, care little about the content of a person's character and everything about the color of their skin. A white person can, sometimes, get away with murder, but a black/brown/red/yellow skinned person can't get away with littering or jaywalking!

Sadly, the N-word lives on in too many hearts.

Line by Line - Verse 66, Line 5

and, wishing to be before them, places his person behind them.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

If they wish to be in front of people
They must place themselves behind them

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

If you want to lead them,
find out where they want to go.

~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
We find a parallel to this line in a passage from the Christian bible that goes something like the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

When we crave to be out front -- the top dog -- we will do whatever is necessary to claim the first position. If it means stepping on others to reach the top rung, so be it. If it means being dishonest or cheating to get to the head of the class, so be it. We will allow nothing to stand in our way!

In such cases, our focus is solely on ourselves and our own desires, not the needs of others.

The leader who is willing to limit their own desires in order to benefit the whole is like a leader who leads from behind. Assisting others to meet their needs places the focus on the community and not themselves.

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

The Abandoned Countryside

Trey Smith

Post offices also have a huge non-financial impact: In a lot of small towns, the post office is the town, and shutting them down will basically remove the only casual meeting place for people in mountain areas and remote farming villages and so on. Of course, there's always one Wal-Mart for every dozen or so post offices, so people I guess can drive the extra twenty miles and meet there...
~ from Don't Let Business Lobbyists Kill the Post Office by Matt Taibbi ~
Yes, I quoted from this same column by Taibbi yesterday! But I think that the above snippet is important enough to discuss in a separate post.

Having lived in small towns for much of my adult life, I can tell you that two government institutions are critical to keeping communities alive and vibrant. These two institutions are public schools and the local post office.

As school districts have found themselves strapped for revenue in our continuing depressed economy, many of the small ones are struggling mightily to hang on. While some are able to putter along, in many instances, small districts are being absorbed by larger ones. In some cases, local schools are being shuttered which means that students must be bussed to adjacent towns to go to school.

When schools are shutdown in rural communities, it represents a blow to the image of the townspeople. In small towns like South Bend, the local school is a focal point of community morale.

What happens then if the local post office goes away as well? In many cases, this leads to the town's slow death. People move away to be closer to vital services. The tax base shrinks. Public services are cut back and cut back until they are virtually nonexistent. As these public services are cut back, more people leave. This situation creates its own downward spiral.

As more schools and post offices close -- in conjunction with fewer federal and state tax dollars flowing into the area -- we may end up with scads and scads of ghost towns across the nation. As people leave behind an abandoned countryside and flow to more urban areas, the budgets of big cities will come under greater strain.

In a matter of a few years, 21st century America may look more like 18th century England during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Instead of being forced off their land and into areas of urban squalor, today's serfs will leave of their own accord due to degraded or nonexistent rural services. But, just like our predecessors, a good deal of us will wind up in urban tenements with little prospects for the good life!

Chapter 17, Part 25 - Confucius

The Master said, "Of all people, girls and servants are the most difficult to behave to. If you are familiar with them, they lose their humility. If you maintain a reserve towards them, they are discontented."
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

Daily Tao - Subtle Truth

Truth will capture you. You don't need to look. In fact looking will make it hide.

No method exists. Methods only seek to give a pacifier to the ego in the hope that once pacified it will not stand in the way of the the truth.

Daily Tao is a reprint from Ta-Wan's blog, Daily Cup of Tao, which offers one post per day for an entire year. You also can read these posts in an ebook.

I Believe in God

Scott Bradley

I believe in God. What does this mean? Nothing really. God cannot be thought. God cannot be imagined. God cannot be experienced. Yet every thought, every thing imagined, every experience is God. The God in which I believe is all things, yet all things are as nothing in God.

This God of which I speak does not reveal Itself. It 'does' nothing. It has no purpose. No plan. No needs. No desires. No intentions.

This God is not Being. Or Not-Being. Or anything else mind might wish to posit.

God is manifest as all that is. Yet nothing can be said to be. God cannot be abstracted from anything. There is nothing that is not God. Yet God is not a predicate.

There is no fulcrum and lever that can move God. There is no seam by which to gain egress. The mind can find no purchase in God. Mind is God, but God is not Mind.

I am God. You are God. The Universe is God. There is only God.

I am God. My extinction is God. Existence and extinction are as nothing in God.

Is there solace here? It does not matter. Yet if solace is required, then I must find it here.

This is my nonsense. It is no better or worse than yours.

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

A Gutsy Suggestion

Trey Smith

Preaching on Good Friday on the last words of Jesus as he was being executed makes great spiritual demands on the preacher. The Jesuits began this tradition. Many Anglican churches adopted it. Faced with this privilege in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, my second home, I was painfully aware of the context, a church deeply divided worldwide over issues of gender and sexuality. Suffering was my theme. I felt I could not escape the suffering of gay and lesbian people at the hands of the church, over many centuries. Was that divisive issue a subject for Good Friday? For the first time in my ministry I felt it had to be.

Those last words of Jesus would not let me escape. "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, 'Woman behold your son!' Then he said to the disciple. 'Behold your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home." That disciple was John whom Jesus, the gospels affirm, loved in a special way. All the other disciples had fled in fear. Three women but only one man had the courage to go with Jesus to his execution. That man clearly had a unique place in the affection of Jesus. In all classic depictions of the Last Supper, a favourite subject of Christian art, John is next to Jesus, very often his head resting on Jesus's breast. Dying, Jesus asks John to look after his mother and asks his mother to accept John as her son. John takes Mary home. John becomes unmistakably part of Jesus's family.

Jesus was a Hebrew rabbi. Unusually, he was unmarried. The idea that he had a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene is the stuff of fiction, based on no biblical evidence. The evidence, on the other hand, that he may have been what we today call gay is very strong.
~ from Was Jesus Gay? Probably by Paul Oestreicher ~
Personally, I don't care one way or the other, but it's an interesting supposition.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Question - Why Did It Take King Herod Two Years?

Trey Smith

So, we're up to the point in which the wise men have met with King Herod before continuing on the find the baby Jesus. Once they find him, the worship him and bestow gifts upon him. Herod wants them to report back because he feels threatened by a newborn. However, God intervenes and tells the wise men not to report back to Herod and to return to their homeland by a different route.

That's where this story sort of goes off the rails. According to the first portion of Matthew 2:16,
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
Why on earth would it have taken Herod TWO YEARS to figure out the wise men had not reported back to him? I realize that transportation was slow in olden times, but it wasn't THAT slow!

We are led to believe that the birth of this child was a major concern for Herod, yet it obviously wasn't that big of a deal if he waited two whole years before taking action.

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

Chapter 17, Part 24 - Confucius

Tsze-kung said, "Has the superior man his hatreds also?" The Master said, "He has his hatreds. He hates those who proclaim the evil of others. He hates the man who, being in a low station, slanders his superiors. He hates those who have valor merely, and are unobservant of propriety. He hates those who are forward and determined, and, at the same time, of contracted understanding."

The Master then inquired, "Ts'ze, have you also your hatreds?" Tsze-kung replied, "I hate those who pry out matters, and ascribe the knowledge to their wisdom. I hate those who are only not modest, and think that they are valorous. I hate those who make known secrets, and think that they are straightforward."
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

Awash in a Sea of Bullets

Trey Smith

There is one thing Americans seem to cherish MORE than the Christian Bible: guns. As reported last week in The Guardian,
There are approximately 90 guns for every 100 people in the US (a rate almost 15 times higher than England and Wales). More than 85 people a day are killed with guns and more than twice that number are injured with them. Gun murders are the leading cause of death among African Americans under the age of 44.
That's an amazing amount of firepower! Since most people don't hunt for food anymore, why do we need so many damn guns?

There are no guns at all in our household, not even a water pistol or a bb gun. This fact probably irritates the National Rifle Association (NRA) because these people think guns are an elemental necessity in these United States of America. If they had their way, every red-blooded [white] American citizen would be presented with a gun at birth and expected to collect as many as possible throughout their lives!

The NRA is so enamored with guns that they fight ANY type of regulation -- no matter how trivial -- tooth-and-nail. Any effort to try to lessen the number of deaths by gun in this country is met with staunch and well-funded opposition. And why does the NRA fight for the rights of gun owners so vociferously? Because of the most antiquated amendment in the US Constitution.
The second amendment to the US constitution reads: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." There has long been a dispute about whether "the people" described refers to individuals or the individual states. But there is no disagreement about its broader intent, which is to provide the constitutional means to mount a military defence against a tyrannical government.
The 2nd Amendment made sense in the late 18th and early parts of the 19th century. Our nation's national military was weak and a concerned citizenry may have been able to defend themselves against tyranny. But that isn't true anymore.

The citizens are no match for the present US police-state. Does anyone really think that a group of armed citizens are any match for a military apparatus that easily can deploy tanks, rocket launchers, missiles and drones? Having a shotgun in your pickup or a semiautomatic pistol in your nightstand is a relic from bygone days. Yes, it might protect the home from a would-be burglar, but it won't protect you if the police decide to break down your front door!

I think it should be obvious to anyone that America's love affair with the gun has not been particularly beneficial to our society. More people are killed, injured or maimed domestically by guns in the US than any other western democracy. Most of the mass shootings that take place each year happen here.

For all of our vaunted freedoms, the one I have the most trouble fathoming is why we fight so hard to preserve the freedom to shoot each other.

Afternoon Matinee: Burp! 2/5

A Not So Sneaky Attack

Trey Smith

Over the past few months, I've written several times about the corporate and government initiative to do away with the US Postal Service (USPS). As Matt Taibbi wrote on Monday, the scare tactics being utilized today were set in motion nearly 6 years ago.
In 2006, in what looks like an attempt to bust the Postal Workers' Union, George Bush signed into law the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This law required the Postal Service to pre-fund 100 percent of its entire future obligations for 75 years of health benefits to its employees – and not only do it, but do it within ten years. No other organization, public or private, has to pre-fund 100 percent of its future health benefits.

"No one prefunds at more than 30 percent," Anthony Vegliante, the U.S. Postal Service's executive vice president, told reporters last year.

The new law forced the postal service to come up with about $5.5 billion a year for the ten years following the bill's passage. In 2006, before those payments kicked in, the USPS generated a small profit. Not surprisingly, the USPS is now basically broke.
So, Step #1 was to make it all but certain that the USPS would wind up in the red in subsequent years. However, as Taibbi continues, that's not the only nefarious strategy Congress employed.
The 2006 law also bars the Postal Service from offering "nonpostal services," which means the USPS can't, say, open up a bank, or an internet cafe, or come up with any new entrepreneurial ideas to generate new income, as postal services do in other countries.
In one fell swoop, Congress insured that, not only would the USPS hemorrhage revenue at an alarming rate, but it would be prevented from devising strategies to staunch the flow of monetary loss!

Why would Congress agree to a plan that insured that the USPS would go belly up? As usual, Taibbi doesn't mince words.
The transparent purpose of this law, which was pushed heavily by industry lobbyists, was to break a public sector union and privatize the mail industry. Before the 2006 act, the postal service did one thing, did it well, and, minus the need to generate profits and bonuses for executives, did it cheaply. It paid for itself and was not a burden to taxpayers.
At the time the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was being discussed and debated in the halls of Congress, progressive activists and pundits pointed out that this bill would lead to a slow death of the USPS, but they were ridiculed as Chicken Littles. The proponents of the bill responded that it would make the USPS more competitive in an ever competitive world. Well, we can now see that it was the opponents, not the supporters, who were right!

This situation is just one of many object lessons for everyday citizens. When corporate lobbyists have their fingerprints all over legislation, you can rest assured that what they are proposing -- regardless of what they might say -- is not in the public's best interests. No, in almost every case, it's about fattening the corporate bottom line at the public's expense!

Line by Line - Verse 66, Line 4

So it is that the sage (ruler), wishing to be above men, puts himself by his words below them,
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Thus if sages wish to be over people
They must speak humbly to them

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

If you want to teach people,
don't talk down to them.

~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
Few people respond positively to meanness. If we yell, screech and abuse others, they are less likely to pay us much heed. If we hold power over them, they may acquiesce to our commands, but they will do what we require IN SPITE OF US.

In my opinion, what is lacking in modern society is the spirit of nurturance. More often than not, societal institutions tend to tear people down, instead of building people up. These institutions speak to us from positions of ruthless power, not from a foundation of humility.

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

Derivations on a Theme -- Without God

Trey Smith

Daoism developed before and distinct from Christianity. Its early development was not, as far as I know, influenced by Judaism or other forms of monotheism. It assumed the existence of spirits and ghosts and, as it took shape in interaction with Buddhism as a canonized religion, came to accept the ideas of an afterlife: a heaven and hell. But Daoism never seems to rely upon the presence of a singular god-like figure to provide moral guidance.
~ from Godless Goodness by Sam Crane at The Useless Tree ~
From time to time, contentious discussions break out on this blog on the subject of philosophical versus religious Taoism. Since the three scribes here all lean toward atheism, we naturally focus on the aspects of Taoism BEFORE it became a canonized religion. This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with belief in or following the canonized form; it's simply not the path we happen to follow.

I think one of the appeals of Taoism (in whatever form an individual chooses) is that it is a belief framework without the need for a god or gods. This, of course, makes perfect sense for those of us who do not believe in gods anyway! Most of us believe there is no need for a supernatural entity to serve as the basis of morality and ethics. Humans can and do develop these on their own.

Speaking for myself only, I submit that the belief in a god or gods unduly complicates the issues of morality and ethics. In the Judeo-Christian belief systems, rules are set down in cement that God himself does not follow. What is an adherent to think when the ultimate role model doesn't model the actions he says are sacrosanct?

What a way to screw with somebody's mind!

Chapter 17, Part 23 - Confucius

Tsze-lu said, "Does the superior man esteem valor?" The Master said, "The superior man holds righteousness to be of highest importance. A man in a superior situation, having valor without righteousness, will be guilty of insubordination; one of the lower people having valor without righteousness, will commit robbery."
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

Daily Tao - Meaning of Life

The state and the answer are simultaneous. Lose one, lose both.

Daily Tao is a reprint from Ta-Wan's blog, Daily Cup of Tao, which offers one post per day for an entire year. You also can read these posts in an ebook.

The Right Way

Scott Bradley

"But the world is presently in great chaos. People no longer understand real sagehood and worthiness. . . the Course [Dao] allowing one to be inwardly a sage and outwardly a king is obscured and unclear . . . . Each man in the world now fashions his own technique out of whatever part of it happens to suit his own desires. How sad!” (Zhuangzi, Chap. 33; Ziporyn)

If you have been following these posts with any regularity of late you might have noticed that I've been working my way through the Zhuangzi once again. I have now arrived at the 33rd and final chapter, "The World under Heaven". I have already written quite a bit about this chapter, especially that part which critiques the various philosophies of the day and those of the past which the author still sees as influencing his present. I won't revisit that part here, but instead wish to comment on the author's introductory comments.

That the author is a Confucian is clear enough even though he is careful not to say so explicitly. (If I may be permitted a wild conjecture, I would speculate that he, like other authors represented in the Zhuangzi, was a participant in an early Han academy where scholars of many schools assembled to exchange ideas, and where extreme partisanship would be frowned upon.) Being “inwardly a sage and outwardly a king” is the standard formula descriptive of the Confucian sage. Remnants of the true way can still be found in Zou (home of Mencius) and Lu (home of Confucius). And then, there is the fact that he lists neither of these worthies in his extensive inventory of “nook and cranny scholars” who understand only one piece of the true way.

It is not his agreements and disagreements with the various competing schools of thought which I wish to address here, however, but an attribute which he shares with many of them, namely the belief in a golden age wherein the “true way” reigned supreme. Belief in a golden age is a convenient way of lending support to a more fundamental belief, that there is, in fact, one “right way”. Utopian visions serve the same purpose. Even the seemingly innocent attempt to achieve a “true” understanding of ancient texts (the Zhuangzi, for instance) can be motivated by the belief that, if we can just completely understand what was said, we will have discovered the “right way”.

Why exactly we harbor this need must certainly be a complex question. In any case, like the author here, it distresses us to think of the world and our place in it as an open-ended journey without a road map by which to safely negotiate our way. A multitude of opinions would seem to challenge the authenticity of our own. Many ways of equal worth would seem to render them all worthless. Uncertainty is among our greatest fears. Why is this so? Daoism takes this question as one of the most fundamental to understanding how we might realize greater peace along the way.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Question - So, What's His Name?

Trey Smith

We all know that the baby born to the Virgin Mary was named Jesus. The child was so named because 1) It fulfilled a prophecy and 2) That's the name that God told Joseph to name the child.

This is all well and good...except for one thing: the prophecy! According to Matthew 1:23,
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
So, where did the name Jesus come from? If the prophecy says that the child will be named Emmanuel and yet God directs the child to be named Jesus, what gives?

Emmanuel and Jesus are two different names. One does not seem to be a derivative or a nickname for the other. This would be like your great aunt telling you that one of your ancestors dreamed that you would have a child named Fred and so, to honor this ancestor, you named the child Skippy!

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

Chapter 17, Part 22 - Confucius

The Master said, "Hard is it to deal with who will stuff himself with food the whole day, without applying his mind to anything good! Are there not gamesters and chess players? To be one of these would still be better than doing nothing at all."
~ James Legge translation via The Internet Classics Archive ~
Go here to read the introductory post to this serialized version of the Analects of Confucius.

Naturistic God

Trey Smith

All things within Nature -- that is, everything -- are invariably and necessarily determined by Nature. There is nothing that escapes Nature's laws; there are no exceptions to its ways. Whatever is, follows with an absolute necessity from Nature's necessary universal principles (God's attributes). There are those no purposes for Nature or within Nature. Nothing happens for any ultimate reason or to serve any goal or overarching plan. Whatever takes place does so only because it is brought about by the ordinary causal order of Nature.
~ from A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age by Steven Nadler ~
So much of what happens to each of us in our lives appears unexplainable. A seemingly robust and healthy person drops dead, while a sickly person lives to be 105. Good fortune drops into our lives by complete happenstance and yet others, who work tirelessly for success, seem to be hampered by one train wreck after another.

Why do good things happen to bad people? Why do bad things happen to the best of us? In a plane crash or a fire at a movie theater, why does everyone in row six die, except the person in seat 6C?

These are the types of questions that have perplexed and bedeviled humans since the beginning of time. Since most people don't like to entertain the notion that life is random, at best, we create myths, legends, stories and religions to provide that sense of cause and reason that evades us. We develop mechanisms that seek to hold at bay the problem of the limitations of the human mind.

And so, some people hold onto the idea that a supernatural entity has "a plan" for their life. Of course, when their best laid plans go awry, about all they can come up with is, "God moves in mysterious ways!"

To my way of thinking, this is nothing more than a dressed up way of saying that shit happens!

Afternoon Matinee: Burp! 1/5

Real Life Tao - One Week

Trey Smith

What a week! It seems that gremlins have invaded our car. It's weird how this seems to happen. You're going along and everything is working just fine, then you encounter one little problem and it's like the opening of floodgates.

At the start of last week, the lock mechanism for the driver's side door fell into the door housing. My wife said she was out running errands and, at some point, she went to lock the car door only to discover the lock mechanism wasn't there! After looking on the ground and then retracing her steps, she finally looked in the small hole in the door to see that the lock had slid down into the door housing. Not being mechanics, we have yet to figure out how to retrieve it.

Two days later, the locking mechanism that covers our gas cap (to protect against folks siphoning fuel) quit working. We have both examined the mechanism and, for the life of us, we can't figure out what's wrong with it. All the parts seem to be in working order and yet it refuses to latch.

Yesterday our right front headlight went out. In the old days, changing a headlamp was an easy task, even for a non-mechanic like me. You pulled the old one out and popped the new one in. These days, however, it ain't so easy! Car manufacturers have crammed so much stuff under the hood that it is now very difficult to get to the headlamp housing. Your hands and arms need to be able to twist like pretzels! (We took the car to a local garage and let them play the pretzel game.)

My wife used to moan when things on the car broke or didn't work as they are supposed to. "This is NOT a good time," she would wail. I would remind here of a sage bit of wisdom passed down by my late mother: There is no good time for things to break. Whenever it happens, it is, by nature, inconvenient.

Things breaking or not working as they are supposed to is a normal part of life. As we learn from the philosophy of Taoism, everything is born, lives and dies. This maxim is as true for humans as it is for machines. The moment we are born or a machine is built, we begin the journey toward our own demise.

I don't write this in a maudlin sort of way. It is not a reason to view life pessimistically. It is not a reason for habitual sadness or depression. It's just the way things are and, since life and death are two aspects of one whole, we should embrace both with everything we've got.

It has been said that, since we each are given one life, we should live it to the fullest extent possible. The very same thing may be true for our death. If we only die once, then maybe we should do it with gusto!

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

Line by Line - Verse 66, Lines 1-3

That whereby the rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams, is their skill in being lower than they; it is thus that they are the kings of them all.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.

~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Rivers and oceans can be the kings of a hundred valleys
Because of their goodness in staying low
So they can be the kings of a hundred valleys

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

An ocean is greater
than the hundred rivers
that flow into it,
and all it does is wait
to receive what they bring.

~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
Rivers are conduits -- they flow into something else like another river, a lake or the ocean.

When we utilize the imagery of a river, we too can serve as conduits. We can serve others which will aid the flow of society.

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

God...ish Nature

Trey Smith

Spinoza begins the Ethics by arguing that at the most basic ontological level, the universe is a single, unique, infinite, eternal, necessary existing substance. This is what is most real, and he calls it "God or Nature". Spinoza's God is not some transcendent, supernatural being. He -- or rather, It -- is not endowed with the psychological or moral characteristics traditionally attributed to God by many western religions. Spinoza's God does not command, judge, or make covenants. Understanding, will, goodness, wisdom, and justice form no part of God's essence. In Spinoza's philosophy, in other words, God is not the providential, awe-inspiring deity of Abraham. Rather, God just is the fundamental, eternal, infinite substance of reality and the first cause of all things.
~ from A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age by Steven Nadler ~
One of the advantages I have over readers of this blog is that I get to read Scott's writings long before you do! In three posts than begin on May 1, Scott muses about the congruencies between philosophical Taoism and Spinoza's formulations. He mentions a particular book on the topic and, since I share an interest in the thought of Spinoza, I decided to see if this book is available from my local library system.

As it turns out, the book Scott references is not available, but the book I quoted from above is and, needless to say, that's the one I checked out. ;-)

From a personal standpoint, I do not use the word "God" in any of my writings simply because of its connotation with religion, particularly Christianity and Judaism. It would lead to confusion to utilize such a common word when I mean it in such an uncommon sense. It is far easier to reference Tao/Dao because most westerners do not have preconceived notions of it. That said, I certainly agree with Spinoza's use of the word, except that I wouldn't go as far as Nadler's description of this first cause as an "it."

In the end, I don't think it matters that much how we choose to designate this underlying first cause or essence. God works just as well as Tao and both work just as well as another word Spinoza utilizes interchangeably, Nature.