…every sacred teaching in the history of mankind begins as a revolution – incomprehensible, paradoxical, mysterious. Whether it be the gnomic teaching of Lao Tsu – whoever he was and if he was – or the profoundly troubling doctrine of unknowing brought by Socrates, or the exalted, hidden God speaking through Moses and the prophets of Israel, or the shattering sacrifice of love transmitted by Jesus, every sacred teaching remains sacred only as long as it opens a path that he never before opened and yet always exists and must always exist for humanity.
~ Jacob Needleman,
Introduction to the Tao Te Ching
I have picked up many bibles in my short time. Four times I read them through, but many more times I’ve looked through different ‘guides’ to the Bible, with introductions written by this priest or that bishop, this preacher or that sister. The purpose of these introductions are always to put the writings of the Bible into the context of belief, the beliefs of that particular form of Christianity that bible is supposed to represent. In doing so, you will always find that these introductions make a point to never reference any other religion besides their own. The only exception I have ever seen is one Catholic Bible I picked up a few years ago which referenced Judaism, only to basically say that Judaism was nice, but it’s outdated, and Christianity is the new in-religion. How nice, an introduction to the teachings of Christ, and it starts with brushing off Jesus’ own religion as old and useless.
So when I began reading the introduction to the Tao Te Ching (no, I did not start with the introduction, I am a terrible person), I didn’t expect anything different. I didn’t even look at the author, I just began to read, and the more I read, the more absorbed I became: in the writing, in the accepting style, in the Tao itself and the author’s understanding, and it went on and on. Then I hit the above quote, and I made a double-take. And a triple. For the first time, after reading so many introductions to religious ‘bibles,’ not only of Christian bibles, but introductions of the Bhagavad Gita, the Qu’ran, the Tanakh, and never had I seen someone relate to other religions, let alone in such a respectful and appreciative way.
How appropriate! The mantra of universal flow and balance, of ying and yang, presented and deeming itself no better nor worse than any other life mantra. The rest of the introduction was just as uplifting, interesting, and respectful. After finishing the introduction, I went back to study the author of the introduction, expecting to see a wise Taoist with years of understanding and belief under his belt. Who do I find instead? A philosopher, no Taoist, but a world philosopher, a person of religious analysis and appreciation for all views. Once again, how appropriate!
Honestly, though, what Western religions would have an indifferent, non-practicing person, especially a person of unbiased analysis such as a philosopher like Mr. Jacob Needleman, write the introduction to their book of faith? Can you think of one? I certainly can’t. I have seen a bible with an introduction written by a historian once, but it was a historian who only studied Christian denominations, and guess what? He was a follower of the denomination that particular bible was written for; big surprise.
It is typical for Western religions to not trust nor even acknowledge the views of those who appreciate but do not believe in their religions. Mind you that I say this is typical, not universal and all-containing. There are those who appreciate discussion on their religion, even with those who don’t believe. I reference my own blog and many of the conversations therein. Also referencing some of my own points on religion, these people typically have an agnostic approach, willing to consider other paths than their own, although possibly not interested and changing to a different way of thinking. They are least acknowledge and appreciate others’ views. So I have nothing but respect for Mr. Needleman as well as the concept of Taoism and those who practice it.
What I’m finally starting to realize, through my reflective reading of the Tao Te Ching as well as readings such as the list I reblogged yesterday, is that it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. I have been a hypocrite these past months, unintentionally but still it is what it is; I have presented my beliefs not only for the sake of discussion and the sake of comparison, but with the tiniest voice in the back of my mind hoping in a whisper that sharing my beliefs will influence those reading for the better. The key being ‘influence.’ It is not my place to want such a thing from those I discuss with. I do not expect those discussing with me to have a silent agenda to influence my thinking and change me during out dialogue.
As point #21 from yesterday’s list states, to err is human. I cannot promise that I will not fall back to this mindset again, or that I will slip into it from time to time subconsciously while in discussion on my blog or in my daily life. I can at least ask that, if I do falter in my attempt to remain accepting and accepted, that if my readers notice my language or message falling into that of convincing the reader, speak up and shut me up. I welcome that. I’m not going to go back and correct every past instance, but I am testifying my resolve here and now. I am not here to say I’m right, I’m not here to say you’re wrong. I’m here to discuss the options and the perspectives behind those options. I’m here for knowledge, for understanding, and for experience. That is all I can hope for and all I can hope to share.