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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living Simply by the Tao 3

pt 1 | pt 2 | pt 3 <<you are here | pt 4 | pt 5 | pt 6 | pt 7

(This will make more sense if you read earlier parts first - see above!)

Before I go on with the main story, there are a couple of points I'd like to make.

1. I've used the spelling of Chinese terms from the Wade-Giles system, not pinyin. People more readily recognise "Taoism", "Tao te Ching" and "Lao Tzu" (or "Lao Tze") than the pinyin "Daoism", "Daodejing" and "Laozi".

Neither is "right" nor "wrong" - they're just different. Pinyin is certainly more modern, and is standard on mainland China in transliteration.

"Tao" is pronounced "Dow" in English. "Tao te Ching" is pronounced "Dow-d'-jing". Well, unless you're learning Mandarin, that's as close to the way it sounds in Mandarin as you're going to get in English!

2. When blog readers searching for information on Taoism or 'converts' found the first two sections of this piece, I was assailed by people wanting me to promote specific forms of Taoism that emerged out of the original philosophy. Many of these have as little to do with what I'm talking about as Scientology has to do with Christianity.

What I'm talking about in this series is the original philosophy, which is plain, pragmatic common sense derived solely from the Tao te Ching; not magic, sorcery, alchemy, quests for immortality or elixirs for this purpose. These developed in what's usually referred to as "popular" Taoism centuries after the original philosophy, and in my experience have no credibility as Taoist philosophy even though they make vague connections with it.

If you find what I'm writing about interesting, don't be fooled by the quackery you may find online bearing the name "Taoism", any more than you would be by some freaky Jesus cultists peddling a brand-new form of Christianity. 

In other words, I'm not talking about religion but philosophy. You can have your religion and still put Taoist principles into action to make life happier for yourself. There's no contradiction!

Back to the story in pt 4....

pt 1 | pt 2 | pt 3 <<you are here | pt 4 | pt 5 | pt 6 | pt 7

(This will make more sense if you read earlier parts first - see above!)


  1. Thank you Denis. Mostly, by taking it in small, thoughtful chunks, I have understood the Tao but your explanation is the most lucid I have come across.

    I liked too your comments on religion and philosophy. I suspect that Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and others of their ilk all understood the principles of 'a philosophy for living'. The human need for meaning, and fear of the unknown, turned some of these philosophers into sacred interpreters of a personal God.

    Political, cultural and social pressures then transformed sound basic philosophies into more rigid institutionalised religions which controlled the masses through 'faith and fear'.

    Just one more small step and we could justify division, intolerance and crusades ... which continue to this day.

    Of all these, I think Taoism and Buddhism have retained the vitally important philosophy of living without becoming corrupted. And of these two, only Taoism, for me, remains pure. While Buddha has not been elevated to Godhood, and while I personally find Buddhism no less important, and little different from Taoism, Buddhism has become divided and institutionalised in many ways that have often distorted its real meaning and purpose.

    Even our Christian interpretation of heaven is, I suspect, a reference to the 'heaven on earth' which is available to those able to see it.

    Who am I trying to teach to suck eggs!

    Anyway, thank you again. I have copied and pasted your Tao pieces into my philosophy folder. When you have finished presenting them I will print them out and fold them into the front of my copy of the Tao (I have the Thomas Cleary translation; don't know which you found to be the best).

    Will look forward to seeing you in less than a fortnight (Julie handles all travel and social arrangements, so won't be too firm on the exact date!)

    Cheers for now.

  2. Bob: once again, thank you for the comments. I find myself itching to make further explanations of each point, putting qualifying statements to each one, but then think that anyone who's got this far is pretty intelligent anyway, and they probably don't need it.

    You're right that I'm trying to keep religion and philosophy separate here. All the philosophies become obscured by words turned into dogma, and it's easy for people to assume when I use a term like 'reality' that it is the one they are comfortable with, and it all gets messy.

    The real conflict is between the ideals and what the philosophies have become through making them into religions. Buddhism has been just as much turned into ritual and silliness by some later interpretations, and the deep need by many for a personal god or saviour, as any other religion where original purpose has been corrupted. Yet on the whole, we don't get fanatics in Buddhism as we do all too often in the Semitic religions, ready to justify unspeakable horrors on the grounds that they are serving a Higher Purpose. They're not. Ever. Jesus would disown and not recognise what his teachings have become. I'd hope Muhammad would too. The Buddha would be aghast at the ritualised corruption that has crept into his wonderful reforms of Hindu philosophy, and the sound, practical common sense that he taught.

    As to translations of the Tao te Ching, I'll come back to that. People also get prissy about translations, as if they're experts, when they translate into English, on ancient Chinese ideograms and what cryptic sages were trying to say 2500 years or so ago. They're not - none of them, and neither am I - but I have a method I'll come back to. For this article I used the Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, much to the disgust of one or two superior beings who are obviously hard-wired into the brains of those who composed the original texts.

    We also look forward to seeing you! I'm hoping all will be well, but as you can see from the WHAT'S NEW! update, the seizures seem to be determined to play a greater role in my life than they have for more than a year.


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