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» Hatrack River Forum » Archives » Landmark Threads » The Enigmatic Tao (a participatory landmark) (Page 1)

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Author Topic: The Enigmatic Tao (a participatory landmark)
Enigmatic
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Eat when you are hungry.
Sleep when you are tired.
Post when you have something to say.


This is not my landmark. Not yet, anyway. With your help it may become one at some point. In the Age and Religion thread a while back I was the only Taoist on this forum, or perhaps the only one who answered the question. There may be a difference, there may not. Many things are like that.

At no point did I convert to Taoism. I have my doubts as to whether such a thing is even possible. I simply gradually realized that taoism seemed to describe how I was already living my life and looking at things. Most other taoists I've talked to say similiar things. We discovered that we already had been taoists and just never knew there was a word for it. One woman I know had gone as far as writing out as much of her personal philosophy as she could put into words and a year later discovered many of the same ideas expressed in the Tao Te Ching. After the realization that much of this philosophy fit me very well, I began to reread the Tao Te Ching and familiarize myself with the themes, comparing different translations for a better understanding. (I don't read Chinese.) Of particular interest to me were, and still are, the parts that didn't describe my life or my own views and the parts I didn't fully understand.
I see these as advice. If part of the Tao Te Ching fit me so very well, it seems that the other parts of the same work could be useful advice. Or at least something to think about.

The universe works according to The Way.
The Way is the way that the universe works.


I offer this thread as a place for anyone who is interested or curious to ask questions about Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, or my taoist perspective on other subjects, any of which I will try to answer within the best of my understanding. Am I trying to convert you? Do I have some purpose to this? Nope, it's just what I'm doing. A few basics first, for those who are completely unfamiliar.

Tao Te Ching means, in the most commonly accepted translation, "The Book of the Way." It was written by Lao Tzu, although little is known historically or archaeologically about Lao Tzu, and he may well be a pen-name. It is 81 verses long, covering a wide range of subjects or just one big subject, depending on how you look at it.

Taoism is, by most definitions, more of a philosophy than a religion, for people who care about defining the difference between such things. There are no hard and fast rules, no churches, no official anything. There are suggestions, observations, and ideas. Many taoists see each verse as a starting point for meditation or contemplation, not an authority on anything. A seed or a path, but not the end of growing or travelling.

"Some say my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical."

--from verse 67, Stephen Mitchell's translation.

A lot of the Tao is full of apparent contradictions, the juxtaposition of opposites, and the occasional circular definition. If you're interested in trying to pick apart or "disprove" it, I don't doubt you'll find somewhere to attack. You may be a little frustrated by the "So what?" you get in reply. That minor caution aside, I do encourage questions of any sort, and will do my best to respond to everyone as my time permits.

Ask the Resident Taoist Monk(ey) is now open. The flaw in this beginning is that by saying anything about the Tao I've created so very much that was unsaid.

As Always,
--Enigmatic

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Storm Saxon
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Taoism is the Official religion of lazy people and bums everywhere. [Smile]

/salute

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ketchupqueen
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I thoroughly enjoy The Tao of Pooh. [Big Grin]
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Storm Saxon
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Yeah, I think I've read both The Tao of Pooh and The Tao of Piglet and liked them. [Smile]
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quidscribis
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Cool! I don't think I realized you were a Taoist, Enigmatic.

Nope. No questions. Wish I did. Er, no, wait, I've got one!

You say
quote:
A lot of the Tao is full of apparent contradictions, the juxtaposition of opposites, and the occasional circular definition.
Would you provide an example?
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ketchupqueen
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quote:
Yeah, I think I've read both The Tao of Pooh and The Tao of Piglet and liked them.
It's The Te of Piglet. [Big Grin]
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MrSquicky
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You're not the only Taoist. And I agree with you about it not being something I converted, but more a framework that I'd be living in (at least partially) long before I consciously knew it or even what it was.

I'd be terribly interested to know what your take on action-less action is. That's the paradox that has given me the most trouble and though I've come of late to some understanding of it, I find my current conception too pat to be confortable with.

Also, I notice that you mentioned the Tao Tae Ching, but not the Chuang Tzu Ching or the Lieh Tzu Ching. Have you read them? I actually find that while the TTC carries an unmatched clarity and beauty and works as the master reference, the CTC is more appealing to me. If you've read it or the LTC (I've not really sat down with that one yey), do you see a contrast and what do you get out of the different styles/flavors?

edit: I'd be willing to throw my take on things, too, as it's bound to be different (I first came to Daoism because it fit the science I was working in), but, from experience, I don't expect Hatrack to take this seriously. But hey, from 41 "If there were no laughter, the Tao would not be what it is."

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Storm Saxon
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Aw, shoot, ketchupqueen. [Frown]
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MrSquicky
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quid,
Taosism is pretty much centered around paradox and the union of opposites. One of the main concepts is that the Tao is universal and non-divisible. Thus, any division or opposition is actually an union in a higher context.

The classic example is that of yin and yang (often symbolized by the squiggly white and black disk). Yin and yang represent what seem to be opposing concepts (light and dark, dry and wet, active and passive, man and woman, etc.) but are themselves not only interrelated (as the white and black sides of the disk feed into each other, so do yin and yang) but actually the same thing, which is unified in the Tao (much like the disk - or mandala - is of one piece). As a further contradiction, the Tao is not complete without yin and yang being unified at the same time that they are separate and opposing.

It may help to know that the first line of the first verse of the Tao Te Ching can be translated as (I'm using the Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English version as I have it on hand) "The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao." The Tao cannot be contained in words or conscious thoughts. That requires analysis (literally "cutting up") and to divide the Tao is to lose it.

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Enigmatic
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Storm Saxon: It sure is. I'm actually writing a book I call The Lazy Tao. When we want to be taken seriously we call it "the path of least resistance" though, instead of "slacking off."

Quidscribis: Well, Lao Tzu starts the first verse "The tao that can be told is not the eternal tao" and then he spends 81 more verses talking about it. Here's a bit on opposites, the first stanza of verse 22:
quote:
If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to become reborn,
let yourself be die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

I do see meaning in this, but upon first reading it's very easy to think of some lines from Mystery Men,
Furious: "Do these sayings seem a little formulaic to anybody else? To go left go right. To go forward go back."
Sphinx: "You must master your fear-"
Furious: "Or else my fear will be my master? That is what you were going to say, right?"

Many of the "contradictions" really aren't, they just seem that way at first glance, or are counter-intuitive to the way a lot of people think. "If you do not trust the people, they become untrustworthy" is one of my favorites for that. Since a lot of threads about religion turn into arguements about internal contradictions, I thought I'd mention it upfront. I criticize my own philosophy to put it beyond criticism. [Wink]

Also, one of the great themes of taoism in practice is Wu-Wei, "doing non-doing" or "action without action." But that deserves a long post of its own and I'm going to go to bed soon.

--Enigmatic

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Enigmatic
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Ah, Squicky posted while I was writing that, and hit some of the same points. You should have spoken up on the age/religion poll thread, we could have been a statistic!

I have not read the Chuang Tzu Ching or the Lieh Tzu Ching in their entirety, which I probably should. Most of the portions of them I've read of them didn't do as much for me, so I never got around to getting full copies. I think it may have been, as you said, that they didn't have the same clarity. I won't comment further on the portions I have read, because I'd hate to confuse one or the other and don't have a full copy on hand to reference.

I'll try to write something of my grasp on wu-wei tomorrow.

--Enigmatic

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TomDavidson
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I'd be a Taoist, but for the fact that I don't actually buy into the more "mystical" elements of the religion; where it starts being religion and stops being philosophy, in other words, is where we part ways.
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twinky
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Taoism is one religion I know very little about. I will follow this thread with interest. [Smile]
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MrSquicky
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Then don't buy into the mystical elements, Tom. I don't consider myself Taoist in a sense that western religions would consider religious. The Tao Te Ching is not written in stone. There's no question of inerrancy; it is just a bunch of human created writings. It's a work by specific people from a specific culture.

I don't believe that following the Tao is going to make me immortal (of course, I also don't necessarily think that the "live forever" bits are actually talking about literally living forever) but I don't have a problem with accepting a Taoist framework and, as part of this, puzzling over the stuff they say about immortality.

It's not an all or nothing buy in. It doesn't conflict (directly anyway) with any religion. The way I see it, it's a very useful framework for contemplating and looking at the world.

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Enigmatic
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Tom: That would not be where you and I part ways. I'm not an expert on Chinese history, but from what I've read all the mystical practices associated with taoism, including alchemy and for lack of a better term "magic", came about much later than the Tao te Ching was written and the mystical taoist writings are clearly by other authors. I don't see the mysticism in the actual Tao te Ching, and that is what forms the basis of my brand of taoist philosophy.

But it doesn't really bother me that others have taken taoism on a more mystic bent. The way I see it: Taoist philosophy can be applied to nearly any endeavor or influence any activity. If a taoist decided to study alchemy it seems natural that he would do so in a taoist way, developing what would be considered "taoist alchemy." Does that mean that alchemy is now part of Taoism? I apply aspects of taoist thought to the way I drive my car, and could talk a bit about "taoist driving." Does that mean that driving is now a part of Taoism?

Yes and no. Everything is part of the Tao, and in a sense everything a taoist does is part of Taoism. But just because one taoist does something and believes it to be an important aspect of Taoism, or even writes a book about it doesn't mean all other taoists have to accept it. It's a very individualized philosophy.

Am I picking and choosing my scripture, as came up in other threads? Not really. As I said before I consider the verses of the Tao te Ching advice, starting points for contemplation, etc. (The fact that I consider myself a Taoist means I think it's mostly GOOD advice, yes.) When I read something else that started with those same verses but says "Here's how to do magic with the Tao" I'm inclined to be skeptical.

--Enigmatic
Edit: Apparently my sort of Taoism involves writing slower than Squicky's [Razz]

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Brinestone
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A while ago I watched part of an episode of Trading Spouses where one family was supposedly Taoist. However, they practiced a lot of things that seemed contrary to my understanding of the Tao. Can you help clarify whether these people were just religious fanatics following their own idea of the Tao or whether these things are in keeping with Taoism?

1. They didn't wear shoes or buy furniture. They all slept in the same room on mats with blankets.

2. Yoga was a big part of becoming one with the Tao, especially doing yoga in nature.

3. They home schooled their two boys, who were 16 and 18. The father seemed fairly adamant about the boys never growing up and leaving home or becoming "wordly."

4. When the mother left to become another family's mother for a week, she was pretty controlling. She made them wake up before they normally would, forced them to try yoga, and when she realized they liked music, tried to teach them how to play bluegrass with her, even though they had no interest in it. I thought forcing anything was contrary to the Tao. Am I wrong?

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Storm Saxon
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He who cannot play the banjo will never understand the Tao.
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twinky
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Well, crap.
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Brinestone
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How about the ukelele?
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Enigmatic
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Brinestone: That doesn't sound much like the Tao as I understand it either. There isn't really any central authority to say "No that family wasn't Taoist" of course, but here are my thoughts on it. (Based on your description, I haven't watched the show.)

1. There is a lot of anti-materialist sentiment in the Tao Te Ching. It never says "Don't wear shoes" but it does say things along the lines of not owning more than you need and talks about the good of living a simple life. Is owning furniture and other things against the Tao? I don't think so, but the more you own the more things you have to worry about (losing, damaging, etc).

2. The Tao te Ching doesn't mention yoga, but the two are complimentary. Doing yoga in nature is a good way to contemplate or meditate on taoism, but it's not the only way.

3. There are a lot of verses in the Tao te Ching that can be read as anti-intellectual or anti-education. I see taoism as being against accepting one set answer for things, which does seem to be how a lot of schools teach. Education that teaches you how to learn and think isn't against the Tao, but education that says "This is the answer and that's the end of it." is something I could see taoist parents not wanting their children to participate in. If I have kids I would probably have them go to a normal school, but then talk about what they learned at home.

4. Ok, I'm trying not to be judgemental... but forcing things is pretty much contrary to the Tao, yeah. Leading by example and not force is a pretty major theme of the Tao te Ching.

But it's a reality show where they have people inflict their own views on other families, right? Sounds perfectly obnoxious to me. If they just sat down and talked about their differing philosophies they probably wouldn't get good ratings.

--Enigmatic

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Brinestone
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That's what I thought too. Obviously, they pair up the families that will generate the most sparks. It just made me wonder is all.
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Enigmatic
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Wei Wu Wei

As promised, this needs a post of its own. I may need to come back to it later, but here goes. Acting without action. Doing not-doing. This is one of the concepts that first attracted me to taoism, and it's often one of the harder ones for people to grasp. Yet it's incredibly easy to do. How do you accomplish something wu wei, without action?
You let yourself.

Wei wu wei is hard to describe in words or think of a firm understanding of, and that's kind of the point. You don't plan or strategize your action you simply allow it do be done through you. To borrow a phrase from dkw, this post is all "trying to throw great big nets of words over experiences and concepts that are too big for language" except that it's too small for language. Acting on instinct? Doing what comes naturally? Learned muscular reflex? These all describe aspects, portions of what taoists call wei wu wei but, like any definitions, are woefully incomplete.

To try to understand doing not-doing, I like examples. When you dance, do you perform certain steps and count in your head? I don't. (Ok, I do when the occasion calls for it. But when I dance that way I dance very badly.) Or do you let your body move with the music of its own accord? When I'm writing, sometimes it's very difficult and I have to think about each word and turn of phrase in order to get it just right. Sometimes it just comes out very smoothly, as if the story was writing itself and I have nothing to do with it.

This is the sort of thing (among much more) that I think of as wei wu wei. Losing yourself in the activity so that it seems to just happen. I've heard the idea described by musicians, artists, athletes, and others as part of what they do. Taoists happen to have a name for it.

Does that help anyone understand Wei Wu Wei? I'd be happy to talk about it more, it's one of my favorite taoism topics.

--Enigmatic

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twinky
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quote:
There is a lot of anti-materialist sentiment in the Tao Te Ching.
Aw, crap. That's two strikes against me now. I am a consumer whore when it comes to gadgets and video games.

</flippant>

This wei wu wei thing is something I'm familiar with, but while it's easier to apply it to creative or athletic pursuits (I mean, sometimes that stuff just works, like you stick your fingers on the fretboard and a monster riff comes out), it's harder to apply it to mundane things. I guess my question is: just how extensively is such a principle really applicable?

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MrSquicky
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twink,
It's eminently applicable to the world I work in. The formulation of it that I like that doesn't appear in the TTC or elsewhere is the self-less self. Action is best undertaken with a focus on the action being taken. That's one of the big problems I see with the theory of self-esteem. People who are actively thinking about their self-esteem, positively or negatively (or just their self in general), tend to both perform worse and to get less enjoyment out of doing things. There is a need for doubt, planning, and reflection, but that comes before the action. When it comes time to do, you do without having other concerns intrude.

Action-less action is to me about total focus on the action. You don't try to accomplish, you just act. It's a different mode of existence; it's being in the zone. Time, space, the people watching you, etc. all go away.

In psychology, Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi studies this phenomenom, which he calls flow. While it is most easily accessible through highly creative pursuits such as you mentioned, he found it people across situations. One of the cases he presents is a guy who works on an assembly line and loves it and is great at it. In the Chuang Tzu Ching, the Tao of actionless action is shown in many pursuits. There's a story of a butcher for a king who finds the Tao in perfectly carving up an animal.

In my own life, I've found it applicable across an enormous range of situations, from creative play to manual labor to intensive programming and writing. I find that I am most productive and get the most out of things when I do them in a state of flow or wei wu wei.

---

As to the anti-materialistic side of Taosim, I like to think of it in terms of Transcendentalism. There are different approaches to anti-materialism. There's the obvious rejection of material things, which was largely Thoreau's method. Then you have Emerson who was less concerned about outright rejection and more concerned about centering one's perception in the right place. In this mode, possessions aren't the problem so much as the orientation that regards possession as important or as the solution to your problems.

Excepting when people lack the things that they really need, like adequate nutrition, people aren't happy or sad, fulfilled or empty, based on what they have but who they are and how they approach the world. Concentrating on the material world generally obscures this simple truth.

I try to combine both modes, simplicity and a non-materialistic focus, at least in part because darn if I don't like gadgets too.

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Enigmatic
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Yes, well, the fairly large television in the corner of my room has some harsh words to say about materialism. I read the Tao as not so much saying "you can't own things" as saying "don't become overly attached to things you own." I'm not living in a commune here, but I don't buy name-brand clothes or shoes. My car gets me where I'm going, but it isn't fancy. That sort of thing.
(I know, an actual answer to a flippant comment. Sorry.)

The metaphors for wei wu wei are certainly easier to see in creative or athletic activities. But the more mundane something is the more likely you are to be doing not-doing it all the time. Let's take something very mundane: Walking. Do you think through the process of putting one foot in front of the other? Do you watch your feet to make sure you're doing it right? No, you probably just let it happen.
So is there any great revelation that nearly everyone is applying wei wu wei as they're walking around? Not especially. But try walking around without just letting it happen sometime. Would you want to live your life like that for everything?

A more useful example might be my job. I do a lot of different tasks in my job, some repetitive, some requiring more thought. I'm not going to try to explain each and every one as wei wu wei but take it all as a whole: If I spend my workday thinking about how much work is left in the queue, how much time I have left, what all I need to do before I can get out of there, if I'm thinking about it all as "work"... I don't get very much actual work done. If I just go in and do what needs doing and don't think about how much work it all is... I'm happier, more productive, and it's time to go home before I know it. (No, I don't always succeed at this. You may have noticed I post from work sometimes.)

I'm not sure if that's what you meant by applicable, but there you go.

--Enigmatic

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MrSquicky
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Dude. Jinx.
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twinky
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quote:
If I spend my workday thinking about how much work is left in the queue, how much time I have left, what all I need to do before I can get out of there, if I'm thinking about it all as "work"... I don't get very much actual work done.
I have this problem. [Big Grin]

Trouble is that in a lot of cases I don't necessarily know what needs to be done, and a lot of times I'll start something only to have it essentially blow up in the hangar when a key person is unavailable. Some tasks span weeks or even months, and when those tasks have no clear direction it makes it hard to just "do" without thinking. Other times I second-guess myself ("Am I sure this system is totally safe? Can I sign off on the design?"), which in my field can be quite valuable at times.

I dunno, I find my job isn't the sort of job where I can just zone out and get things done, it's too... varied, I guess.

Added: Oh, and I really need to start sleeping better. That would significantly boost my productivity.

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Olivet
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*waves*

My husband, if pressed, claims to be a Taoist, as well. We have a passage from the Tao Te Ching posted by our bathroom mirror.

Though, I admit, we have much more than we need. This is mostly my husband's fault (he's a pack rat).

Reading over your posts, I could see him saying the same things. Not that I have anything to add to the discussion. I just thought it was interesting.

Do you practice any form of meditation?

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Enigmatic
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Twinky, some jobs do not lend themselves well to wu wei. When you have to do project management type things, the Tao te Ching passages about leadership (mostly framed as governing a country in the original form) are more applicable. I'll provide samples later. I found it helped a lot for the time I was a supervisor, and my team did rather well. I didn't remain a supervisor though, because the company demanded too much of my time and the overall management philosophy at that company was very NOT taoist. They wanted me to stay, but I had to decide between doing my job well and doing it the way they kept telling me to do it.

But I actually just got to work. I'll elaborate (and get to Olivet's question) later on, perhaps on lunch.

--Enigmatic

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Enigmatic
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quote:
Do you practice any form of meditation?
Sort of. For the stereotype: I have occasionally sat down in a lotus position, said "OHM" and tried to clear my mind. That's not a regular thing for me, though.

What I will do: Read a verse from the Tao te Ching, or something else that I want to give a lot of consideration and really absorb (sometimes this might be watching a thoughtful movie, even). Then I contemplate. But for me there's motion involved. Sort of like a free-form tai chi* dance. Slow breathing, balance, stretching. My motions follow my thought process on whatever the starting point was, as though I'm drawing my ideas in the space of the room. Sometimes I reach a conclusion. Sometimes I write down some of the thoughts that lend themselves well to words.

Do I have any basis for this practice? Not really. I just let my mind and body flow as they will. Is this really a part of taoism? Probably not. It's just my own sort of thing. It's very relaxing and can help me work through complex ideas.

*Tai chi is a form of martial arts generally associated with taoism. I have not formally studied it, but I use it as an adjective here because what I've seen of it seems to fit better than most descriptions.

--Enigmatic

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Megan
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I don't really have any questions, per se, but I do have a limerick:
quote:
Said an erudite sinologue: "How
Shall I try to describe to you Tao?
It is come, it is go,
It is yes, it is no,
Yet it's neither--you understand now?"
--R. J. P. Hewison

Congrats on your kind-of landmark! [Smile]
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Olivet
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I have studied Tai chi and it is often described as "moving meditation". I found it so, in any case. The movements became very natural to me, and were even effortless when I didn't think about it or 'try to do it right.'

We actually do meditate frequently, as a family before the kids go to school and sometimes just my husband and me after exercise. We find it a very positive experience, and have noticed a change for the better in our youngest's behavior. Ron's really good at it, and so is our youngest. For me, I end up doing something much closer to the kind of prayer I learned in church, which uses a sort of nonsense subvocalization. Seems to be about the same result.

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kojabu
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I learned about Daoism in my Chinese Religions class; we covered a bunch of the crazy things that people did when they deified Lao Tzu and such. The one thing I find really interesting in Chinese religion (or philosophy as it should more appropriately be called) is how the various beliefs were able to mesh with each other. When Buddhism came to China, it was definately influenced by Daoism. I also like Eastern religions because they tend to be more flexible in their beliefs than Western religions (ie you can believe in other things at the same time).
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Enigmatic
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quote:
When Buddhism came to China, it was definately influenced by Daoism.
Zen Buddhism is basically Taoism with some of the Buddhist rules, as far as I can tell. I know less about Buddhism, though.

Incidentally, the options on spelling and pronounciation are you can spell it "Tao" and say it with a D or spell it "Dao" and say it with a T. If you say it the same way you spell it, it's less exotic. [Wink]

--Enigmatic

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kojabu
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I spell it the same way I say it. Because it just bothers me that it's not pronounced the way it's spelled.

Out of all the Asian Religions that I've studied, Buddhism is my favorite. I know less about Zen Buddhism though, and most about Indian (even though it's completely died out in India).

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BannaOj
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hmm, I've actually always liked a lot of the Zen Buddhism sayings. Never knew much about Taoism, but it seems to be even closer to my philosophy on life even when I'm in the 80% of my time that I believe in God. (Right there is a good illustration... I have no internal consistency problems in believing in God 80% of the time and being agnostic the other 20% of the time. If anything I've had more internal peace since I decided I didn't have to be 100% of either, but when I'm agnostic/athiest I am and when I believe, I believe.)

I remember someone flippantly said as a derogatory statment the Zen bit "It's like the sound of one hand clapping." But it's sayings like those that I love, so I think I definitely want to read the Tau Te Ching. (Incidentaly I think Simon and Garfunkle stumbled on the answer to "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" with "The sound of silence." but I loved both paradoxes before I realized they went together.)

It also does seem to tie into the inherent contradiction yet balance in the old "predestination/free will" dichotomy as part of a greater one where each is not complete without the other. (or at least how I was making sense of the theology in any case.)

AJ

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Enigmatic
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I'd actually kind of wondered if somebody would bring up the one hand clapping thing. To me, this illustrates a difference between Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

"What is the sound of one hand clapping?" and other such questions are usually thought of as a question with no answer to think about and meditate on for spiritual enlightenment. If there's no answer, you can't just "learn" the right answer and be done with it, right? Well, the problem is that in Zen Buddhism these questions are called koans and they have correct answers! What is the sound of one hand clapping? The Zen answer. (edit: according to wikipedia, "Appropriate responses to a koan vary according to circumstances; there is no fixed answer that is correct in every circumstance." I've seen that particular answer to one-hand referenced many places though.)

I was rather disillusioned when I found out that koans had answers. Even if the correct answer isn't quite as pat as rote memorization, it seems to defeat what I'd always thought was the point. But this is one aspect of why I'm a Taoist and not a Buddhist. Besides, I like Bart Simpson's answer better.

--Enigmatic

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quidscribis
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Enigmatic, I enjoy this thread very much. Thank you for sharing with us. The philosophies behind Taoism as you describe mesh with the impression I had of Taoism, so it's nice to know I wasn't off the mark.

Thanks also for the answer on the contradictions. Funny, but they don't seem like that much of contradictions to me, but that could be because I'm a walking mass of internal contradictions myself. [Big Grin]

Please, share more. I wanna learn. [Smile]

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kojabu
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Enigmatic, I don't know if you already read through that link on koans, but for anyone who hasn't, I'll expand a bit here. Koans are used to help a monk reach enlightenment, the ultimate goal of Buddhism. Monks attempting a koan need to be under supervision at all times because otherwise something could go very wrong. Koans attempt to change the hardwiring of the brain, they often require answers that would otherwise be considered improper behavior (such as placing a shoe on someone's head).

I have to run to class now, but I shall be back later!

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MrSquicky
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I learned meditation as a means of performance enhancement and pain control when I was younger and played very competitive sports. I do the basic Zen, lotus position meditation though not as often as I would like. The OHM thing doesn't work for me though. I just can't see it as anything but silly (no offense to anyone else, it just doesn't work for me.) I've been intending to try out Tai Chi at some point, but I just haven't gotten around to it.

I mix elements from Zen Buddhism with Daoism, with, I think good result. One of the central concepts of Zen that I really admire is that of mindfulness. That is, always being aware of what's going on around you.

For example, there's a story of a Zen student who studied for years preparing for the next step. He was called into his master's room believing he was prepared to answer any question. His master asked him, "Outside this room, there's a vase of flowers. Is it on the right side of the door or the left?" and the student realized he had much more to learn.

That's mindfulness. I find trying to cultivate this state is immensely helpful in living with the Dao. For me, the path to action-less action and the self-less self lies through mindfulness.

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BannaOj
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lol, well Enigmatic, I agree then... I'm not into the "right" answer on philsophic stuff necessarily. I've never done a lot of investigation into Zen either, just the bits and peices that I'd heard over the years that I seemed to like, but it sounds like the Dao way is much more how I approach it to begin with.

AJ
(though I still say Simon and Garfunkle have the "right" answer for me on the one hand clapping thing [Wink] )

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Enigmatic
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I may have implied that I thought koans are bad because they have answers. I do think that gives them less value to me in my philosophical pursuits, but I am not a buddhist. I do respect their role in that philosophy. It's just not my own. I dislike the idea of a test for enlightenment, personally, and I mentioned that to show a difference between the two philosophies as I see it. Also, I think most people in western culture don't realize that there is any sort of answer to questions like "one hand clapping" and would be a bit dissappointed to find out that you thrust your hand out in front of you, palm open. Even though there really is more to it than that.

Have you ever sat around with a bunch of friends and debated who was the better starship captain, Kirk or Picard? It can be a lot of fun, unless you have one jerk who takes it too seriously. What if Gene Rodenberry (or his ghost, I guess) walked into the room and said "Picard was the best. Here's the Federation's official list of the Top Starship Captains of All Time and Picard was #1. Everyone who said Kirk isn't really a fan." Sure, it's a silly comparison and it's not that simple. I'm just saying in some things the path is more enlightening than the endpoint.

And I am a bit curious as to what a Zen Master would say if the pupil answered by flicking the fingers of one hand down into the palm quickly and repeatedly, which does make a soft clapping sound with one hand. Maybe they'd just incorporate that into the testing questions and see if the pupil can defend it like in the example I linked to. That would be great.

--Enigmatic

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BannaOj
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Are there any online sources that have (in your opinion) reasonable teachings of the philosophy on them? The reason is, I don't really want to go to a bookstore or a library at the moment because I get in trouble with procuring too much reading material at either place, and then get nothing done in the rest of my life. But, I also don't want to google and end up with crackpot sites either.

AJ

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Enigmatic
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AJ:
Here's a very succinct summary. Seriously though, I'd recommend starting with the Tao te Ching itself, and reading other people's interpretations on it after having a chance to form your own first impression.
Tao te Ching translation in full with convenient linked index. I believe this translation is the first one that I read in full before buying my own copy. It seems a bit more on the literal side, as opposed to some of the more poetic translations. Still a very good place to start.

If you do decide to get a full copy of the Tao te Ching, I personally recommend the Stephen Mitchell translation. Any quotes I use in this thread are from this translation. It focuses more on capturing the sentiment and poetry of the original chinese than the most literal translation, but has notes in the back on any time he's strayed from the literal. The notes also include general commentary on the verses, quotes from other taoist writers that are applicable. All in all it's a very beautiful translation.

--Enigmatic

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kojabu
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quote:
Originally posted by Enigmatic:
I may have implied that I thought koans are bad because they have answers. I do think that gives them less value to me in my philosophical pursuits, but I am not a buddhist. I do respect their role in that philosophy. It's just not my own. I dislike the idea of a test for enlightenment, personally, and I mentioned that to show a difference between the two philosophies as I see it. Also, I think most people in western culture don't realize that there is any sort of answer to questions like "one hand clapping" and would be a bit dissappointed to find out that you thrust your hand out in front of you, palm open. Even though there really is more to it than that.

Have you ever sat around with a bunch of friends and debated who was the better starship captain, Kirk or Picard? It can be a lot of fun, unless you have one jerk who takes it too seriously. What if Gene Rodenberry (or his ghost, I guess) walked into the room and said "Picard was the best. Here's the Federation's official list of the Top Starship Captains of All Time and Picard was #1. Everyone who said Kirk isn't really a fan." Sure, it's a silly comparison and it's not that simple. I'm just saying in some things the path is more enlightening than the endpoint.

And I am a bit curious as to what a Zen Master would say if the pupil answered by flicking the fingers of one hand down into the palm quickly and repeatedly, which does make a soft clapping sound with one hand. Maybe they'd just incorporate that into the testing questions and see if the pupil can defend it like in the example I linked to. That would be great.

--Enigmatic

The answer to a koan is different for each person and each instructor; there is no one answer.

Also, generally speaking in the Buddhist tradition there is no test for enlightenment, it's only in that one sect that one recieves a koan.

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Enigmatic
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"The answer to a koan is different for each person and each instructor; there is no one answer."
The impression I get from readings on the subject is that while there may not be ONE answer, there are answers and the instructor judges if the pupil's answer is enlightened. That seems to be based a lot on the pupil's defense of the answer in the face of trap questions and such. Maybe my impression is mistaken and just perpetuated by certain koans that each have one particular answer given in different examples, while that's not always the answer. As I said before, I am not an expert on this topic.

"Also, generally speaking in the Buddhist tradition there is no test for enlightenment, it's only in that one sect that one recieves a koan."
You're right, and while I tried to specify Zen Buddhism in reference to this it seems I did miss that in a few places. Honestly, I know less about other versions of Buddhism than I do Zen Buddhism, which I mainly know through its associations and comparisons to Taoism.

I do appreciate you correcting anything that I've said about Zen that's less than accurate. I feel like I know a little about it, and wanted to share that little with those who know nothing. In doing so, there are surely others who know more and can share it better. As in the post you quoted, I tried to be clear that this is just a simple version of my understanding, and I know there's really more to it than that. (even if I don't know what the more is.)

--Enigmatic

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Ryuko
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How terrific, Enigmatic. I... I love the principles exemplified in the Dao, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it while I was in a Chinese Philosophy class last term. (As is exemplified by this comic of mine, which I drew while I was in the class...) It was one of the best classes I've ever been in.

I recommend reading the Zuangzi, as it's my favorite of the Taoist books I've read. (I wrote an argumentative little paper saying that the Zuangzi was "right" and the Laozi was "wrong") It has some of my favorite insights and my favorite passages.

Thanks for reminding me how much Taoism affected me for a while, Enigmatic. Maybe I can bring a little more into my life and get that measure of peace I've been missing.

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Kwea
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Enig and Squick, I hae seen the books on flow, and am very interested in the concept becaue of my personal experiences with it.

It seems silly to some I am sure, but I have experienced this feeling while playing pool many times. I actually use pool as my own sort of meditation, particularily when I have other things going on in my life that are bothering me.


I have played some amazing players, a few of them semi-professional level, people who would usually eat me alive on the table, and beaten them (or at least held my own, sometimes for hours) while thinking about nothing at all. I remember each shot perfectly, but it was almost like someone else was playing, with me just along for the ride. [Big Grin]


It is highly addictive, but the harder you try to experience it again the further it gets from you...yet another paradox. [Wink]

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MrSquicky
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Kwea,
One of the cool things I've found about applying Daosim to psychology is that it gives you a wider perspective on motivational theory. There's a whole bunch of things where trying to achieve them actually leads to not achieving them or even works against you . I think self-esteem fits mainly into this category. Flow states do to, as the whole thing with flow is that you're completely focused on what you're doing.

If you're interested in experiencing more, I think Viola Spolin and her take on improv acting is essentailly western Daoism. My training in improv has been one of the central foundations I've used to explore the Dao. Plus, a really good improv session is like 5 person flow session. It's better than sex, although possibly not better than sex with 5 people.

---

Ok, it's not really better than sex, but it's still pretty amazing. And you can tell your friends all about it too without being a perv.

The sex thing is actually pretty well chosen because it's an intimate thing and you really do join with the other people into a greater whole. Plus, you can use props.

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Kwea
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I use to have a theory of mine that I called "crystallized moments in time". This was years ago, before Flow was written, or before I had heard of the tenants of Taoism..

I had a few time in my life, either playing my flute (not an onanism) for an audience or in a deep conversation with someone who needed advice, or just being at the right place at the right time to make a difference to someone, where I felt completely at peace with whatever was happening around me. Sometimes it was a high pressure situation, sometimes not, but I always felt a different type of clarity about these times, where I felt like it was something I was meant to do. Not in a predestined way, really, just like I completely fit in with the situation because of who I was, not for anything I said or did.


I called these times "Crystallized moments" because that is what they felt like to me...a time that was just right, and I knew what I had to do without even thinking about it, just because being who I was I could do nothing else.

At times it was something trivial, or something that seemed trivial at the time, like a conversation I had with a girl I liked, where with one conversation I completely changed her life.....she said a few years later that that conversation made her think of things that she had never thought of before, and she changed her major to psychology because of it, and became a child therapist...rather than an art student. She went to a different school, met a guy, married...

It was all done in one sentence. I knew it before I spoke it, and it cost me a lot to say it...I had to decide what was right, and that moment, which probably lasted a tenth of a second, seemed to me to last however long I needed it to last to come to that decision. I never dated her because of what I said, and I had time to realize that too...but I couldn't say anything else and still be me. I had a choice, but no matter how much I might have wished otherwise I could not have chosen anything else to say.


It happened when I was an EMT...I saw friends of mine die in an accident, 4 of them, and while I was trying to save their lives I was outside of myself, doing the right thing medically, but not knowing how I knew what to do or how to do it.


These times were pivot points in my life, or in others, and I remember every little detail about them, even now, years later. Even when I didn't know at the time what effect I would have, I had that feeling of flow, of being rather than doing.

Sometimes they were just a moment all to myself, where I just saw something so wonderful that I reacted without thought, and I remember....I remember an eagle landing in a birch tree after stealing a fish I had on a fishing line...I can still see every feather like it was right in front of me now. [Big Grin]


I think that is what you meant, those times when you act by not acting, by being who you are fully in those moments, those crystallized moments in time.

Or maybe not. [Wink]

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