Friday, December 17, 2010

Layer 404 . . . Taoism, Yin Yang, In Our Time, Young People, Spiritual Intelligence, and Discovering The Way

Young People

You have to feel sorry for young people today. How are they supposed to make sense of a world so complex, so raucous, so treacherous?

There are something like 500 TV channels in the UK alone. Millions of books, hundreds of magazines, and a billion websites. How do they make sense of any of that? Where to start?

How do they figure out who they are, what they should do, what's worth aiming for? Whose voices are worth listening to? Where is there a reliable compass, and a decent map?

Is it worth going anywhere at all?


In Our Time   -   Radio 4

From the IOT website -

An ancient Chinese tradition of philosophy and religious belief, Daoism first appeared more than two thousand years ago. For centuries it was the most popular religion in China; in the West its religious aspects are not as well known as its practices, which include meditation and Feng Shui, and for its most celebrated text, the Daodejing. (Tao Te Ching)

The central aim in Daoism is to follow the 'Dao', a word which roughly translates as 'The Way'. Daoists believe in following life in its natural flow, what they refer to as an 'effortless action'. This transcendence can be linked to Buddhism, the Indian religion that came to China in the 2nd century BC and influenced Daoism - an exchange which went both ways. Daoism is closely related to, but has also at times conflicted with, the religion of the Chinese Imperial court, Confucianism.

The spirit world is of great significance in Daoism, and its hierarchy and power often take precedence over events and people in real life. But how did this ancient and complex religion come to be so influential?

From the programme:

Lao Tzu is the great sage of Taoism, and the author of the key text - the Tao Te Ching

Yin-yang is a key concept.

Taoism is a complex philosophy – not a religion

The Tao includes several concepts in one word:

    * the source of creation
    * the ultimate
    * the inexpressible and indefinable
    * the unnameable
    * the natural universe as a whole
    * the way of nature as a whole

The Tao means The Way, The Path.
The Way of Heaven, The Way of Nature, The Way the Universe operates.
It's more than just a moral code.
The fundamental pattern and harmony of the universe.

Taoism is known as The Watercourse Way since water moves from the heavens to earth, and then flows naturally across landscapes until it becomes part of the great ocean, and prepares to rise again to the heavens as vapour. At least that's MY take on it.

Actionless action is seen as the ideal way of living.

This final point, about 'actionless action', seems to me to be the key and the best test as to whether  'experts', like the guests involved in this programme, really do see through to the essence of Taoism and the notion of 'actionless action'.  The people on this programme failed to convey adequately the idea that it's all about discovering the true essence of oneself and then living in accord with it - which the true self can do instinctively, which is the real meaning of actionless action. Instinctive intelligence allows us to do things without conscious thought and action. But it can take a lot of hard work to develop instinctive intelligence if our upbringing has filled our head with a lot of rubbish that needs to be identified, discarded, and replaced with ideas and ways of living that are more appropriate and more enlightened.

Another key point, I believe, is that we can't act spontaneously and instinctively if we're living lives that are shackled by inappropriate professions and occupations, inappropriate religious beliefs, inappropriate fears and anxieties about punishments by 'gods', inappropriate relationships, inappropriate expectations of ourselves, etc. Finding our true, individual Tao is therefore essential to discovering the path that's appropriate for us as individuals - no matter how deviant, bizarre, off the wall, etc, that path might seem to others.


Previous blogs concerning Taoism, Zen and yin-yang philosophy:

Layer 138

Layer 139


These extracts are from elsewhere on the BBC website:

Taoism at a glance

Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and religious belief that is deeply rooted in Chinese customs and worldview.

Taoism is also referred to as Daoism, which is a more accurate way of representing in English the sound of the Chinese word.

Taoism is about the Tao. This is usually translated as the Way. But it's hard to say exactly what this means. The Tao is the ultimate creative principle of the universe. All things are unified and connected in the Tao.

* Taoism originated in China 2000 years ago

* It is a religion of unity and opposites; Yin and Yang. The principle of Yin Yang sees the world as filled with complementary forces - action and non-action, light and dark, hot and cold, and so on

* The Tao is not God and is not worshipped. Taoism includes many deities, that are worshipped in Taoist temples, they are part of the universe and depend, like everything, on the Tao

 * Taoism promotes:
          o achieving harmony or union with nature
          o the pursuit of spiritual immortality
          o being 'virtuous' (but not ostentatiously so)
          o self-development
    * Taoist practices include:
          o meditation
          o feng shui
          o fortune telling (I Ching)
          o reading and chanting of scriptures

Before the Communist revolution fifty years ago, Taoism was one of the strongest religions in China. After a campaign to destroy non-Communist religion, however, the numbers significantly reduced, and it has become difficult to assess the statistical popularity of Taoism in the world.

The 2001 census recorded 3,500 Taoists in England and Wales.

This is also from the BBC website:

There is something fundamentally honest and psychologically healthy in being oneself and striding forward with one's vision facing directly ahead, instead of trying at every turn to satisfy abstract standards of goodness established by a reigning orthodoxy. This is what te/de is all about.    -         Professor Victor Mair

The One

The One is the essence of Tao, the essential energy of life, the possession of which enables things and beings to be truly themselves and in accord with the Tao.

Tzu Jan

Tzu Jan is usually translated naturalness or spontaneity, but this is rather misleading.

One writer suggests using the phrase 'that which is naturally so', meaning the condition that something will be in if it is permitted to exist and develop naturally and without interference or conflict.

The Taoist ideal is to fulfil that which is naturally so, and the way to do this is Wu Wei.

Wu Wei

The method of following the Tao is called Wu Wei. This can be translated as uncontrived action or natural non-intervention.

Wu Wei is sometimes translated as non-action, but this wrongly implies that nothing at all gets done. The Tao Te Ching says:

    When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

    Tao Te Ching

Wu Wei means living by or going along with the true nature of the world - or at least without obstructing the Tao - letting things take their natural course.

So Taoists live lives of balance and harmony. They find their way through life in the same way that a river flowing through the countryside finds its natural course.

    The world is a spiritual vessel, and one cannot act upon it;
    one who acts upon it destroys it.

    Tao Te Ching

This doesn't stop a person living a proactive life but their activities should fit into the natural pattern of the universe, and therefore need to be completely detached and disinterested and not ego-driven.

Perfect activity leaves no track behind it; perfect speech is like a jade worker whose tool leaves no mark.

    Tao Te Ching

And certainly pure Taoism requires individuals to live on the basis that the world is working properly, and that they therefore should not interfere with it.

Yin Yang

Yin Yang is the principle of natural and complementary forces, patterns and things that depend on one another and do not make sense on their own.

These may be masculine and feminine, but they could be darkness and light (which is closer to the original meaning of the dark and light sides of a hill), wet and dry or action and inaction.

These are opposites that fit together seamlessly and work in perfect harmony. You can see this by looking at the yin yang symbol.

The yin yang concept is not the same as Western dualism, because the two opposites are not at war, but in harmony.

This can be seen very clearly in the symbol: the dark area contains a spot of light, and vice versa, and the two opposites are intertwined and bound together within the unifying circle.

Yin and yang are not static, the balance ebbs and flows between them - this is implied in the flowing curve where they meet.


Ch'i or qi is the cosmic vital energy that enables beings to survive and links them to the universe as a whole.

Qi is the basic material of all that exists. It animates life and furnishes functional power of events. Qi is the root of the human body; its quality and movement determine human health. Qi can be discussed in terms of quantity, since having more means stronger metabolic function. This, however, does not mean that health is a byproduct of storing large quantities of qi. Rather, there is a normal or healthy amount of qi in every person, and health manifests in its balance and harmony, its moderation and smoothness of flow. This flow is envisioned in the texts as a complex system of waterways with the "Ocean of Qi" in the abdomen; rivers of qi flowing through the upper torso, arms, and legs; springs of qi reaching to the wrists and ankles; and wells of qi found in the fingers and toes. Even a small spot in this complex system can thus influence the whole, so that overall balance and smoothness are the general goal.

Human life is the accumulation of qi; death is its dispersal. After receiving a core potential of primordial qi at birth, people throughout life need to sustain it. They do so by drawing postnatal qi into the body from air and food, as well as from other people through sexual, emotional, and social interaction. But they also lose qi through breathing bad air, overburdening their bodies with food and drink, and getting involved in negative emotions and excessive sexual or social interactions.

  -  Livia Kohn, Health and Long Life: The Chinese Way


Immortality doesn't mean living for ever in the present physical body.

The idea is that as the Taoist draws closer and closer to nature throughout their life, death is just the final step in achieving complete unity with the universe.

Spiritual immortality, the goal of Daoism, raises the practices to a yet higher level. To attain it, people have to transform all their qi into primordial qi and proceed to refine it to subtler levels. This finer qi will eventually turn into pure spirit, with which practitioners increasingly identify to become transcendent spirit-people. The path that leads there involves intensive meditation and trance training as well as more radical forms of diet and other longevity practices. Immortality implies the overcoming of the natural tendencies of the body and its transformation into a different kind of qi-constellation. The result is a bypassing of death, so that the end of the body has no impact on the continuation of the spirit-person. In addition, practitioners attain supersensory powers and eventually gain residence in wondrous otherworldly paradises.

   - Livia Kohn, Health and Long Life: The Chinese Way

Knowledge and relativity

Human knowledge is always partial and affected by the standpoint of the person claiming that knowledge. There can never be a single true knowledge, merely the aggregate of uncountable different viewpoints.

Because the universe is always changing, so knowledge is always changing.

The closest a human being can get to this is knowledge that is consistent with the Tao. But this is a trap because the Tao that can be known is not the Tao. True knowledge cannot be known - but perhaps it can be understood or lived.

So there. They don't teach you this stuff in school.


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