Introduction to the Tao Te Ching: Something You’ll Never Find in a Bible

jacobneedleman_0

…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,

Philosopher

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Bible I picked up a few years ago which referenced Judaism, only to basically say that Judaism was nice, but it’s outdated, and Christianity is the new in-religion.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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

koi

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.

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10 thoughts on “Introduction to the Tao Te Ching: Something You’ll Never Find in a Bible

  1. Rana,
    I get the idea that your highest virtue and goal of religion is forever openness, but never closure, forever seeking, but never finding. Why then, be open, and why then, seek, for where does it end, but with more questions? The person who narrows after opening, and finds, after seeking, becomes a monster of the most despicable kind in your eyes, having broken the cardinal rule of “tolerance”, and committed the unpardonable sin of “certainty”. But is not the goal of searching, to find, and the goal of broadening, to gain sufficient perspective to make a proper choice? The Apostle Paul describes this mentality as: “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 3:7) And in verse 5 before it, says, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power: from such turn away.” He says allthis in the greater context of describing the manner of people in the “Last Days”

    2 Tim 3:1-5

    1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
    2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
    3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
    4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
    5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
    (KJV)

    • If the end is not at death, then what rush is there to know all the answers before death? Is it so hard to admit that we are human and cannot have all the answers? The person that embraces certainty of self is strong of mind and brave of heart, but the person who uses the excuse of certainty to stop moving forward, stop asking questions, becomes weak of mind and proud of heart.

      I would appreciate you not putting words in my mouth. I have no qualms with an individual’s certainty in their findings. I have said this too many times to count at this point, and for some reason you can’t comprehend it; it is not others’ certainty and contentedness in their beliefs which bothers me, it is their insistence that what they have found is the only thing to find.

      You speak of how people will think during the Last Days. Taoism has been a mentality of Eastern culture for over 3,000 years; one of the most prominent teachings of Taoism is lack of knowing and being content with that lack of knowledge, to ask questions and observe and continue on the path, regardless of whether answers are found, and paving that path with the new questions that arise from those answers. People have followed this belief for longer than Christianity, and possibly longer than Judaism. It has not ended the world yet.

      • Rana – Thunder does make a valid point. If the Christian is certain of his god, and moves in the direction which he knows will bring him closer to his god, is that not forward progress for him? And are you not judging all such persons when you insist that they must move away from their god, and pursue the same direction that your god takes you in?

        Furthermore, how can one be completely convinced of something, and yet not oppose contrary beliefs? Isn’t that the very thing you are doing by opposing Thunder’s belief?

        • Hey Geddy!

          I completely agree with your first comment, that if a Christian, or a person of any faith, lives their faith and moves in the direction of their faith in their actions, that they are progressing internally, spiritually, and I commend any person for doing so. I do not insist in the least that they move away from their beliefs. Far from it.

          I can say here and now that if ever my sharing of my views regarding my own beliefs come off as attempts to convince others to believe the same, it is not my intent at all to convince anyone to believe as I do, nor to steer away from their own views. I will debate another’s beliefs on the grounds of explaining why I do not believe them myself. I will go so far as to debate the ‘truth’ of another’s beliefs, on the grounds that I do not believe anyone knows the full ‘truth’ of god in the first place.

          If the person I am discussing with, or debating, wishes to provide their own beliefs as a rebuttal, fine. If they want to hold to their belief and reject my own, I expect nothing less of someone with passion for their faith. I have no problem with another person trying to explain the ‘loopholes’ of my faith to me that they observe, in order for me to further understand my own belief. The point at which the discussion veers off course for me is when that other person attempts to tell me that, by their word and theirs alone (whether they use a religious text to back their claim or not is irrelevant to me), their belief in god is truth, universal truth for all, and all of my views are false only on the pretense that their belief is right.

          I do not oppose the existence of Thunder’s beliefs, nor his right to believe them, nor still the fulfillment that belief brings him. I have a different belief than he does. I consider all beliefs, including my own, to be only guesses at the real picture, again going back to the concept of Schrodinger’s cat in the box example. We all have different speculations about god, about what is outside this little box we call earth and our confined lives on earth. Until the box is opened, until the confines of our humanity are taken away, and we can observe the realm of god directly (if it exists at all), there is no person who can say they know the truth of that realm. Every person can have a belief, every person can have faith that their belief is truth, but having faith in a belief does not make it truth. I hold my own beliefs under the same scrutiny. So technically, yes, I do ‘oppose’ Thunder’s beliefs, but only for myself. I do not agree with his reasoning behind his belief, I do not agree with some of the details of his belief in general (see our discussion on the justification of war). Just because I do not agree with it does not mean that other people cannot find the same peace through that belief as Thunder does, and I would not deny any person that right to fulfillment through whatever belief system they find understandable and comforting.

          I simply ask the same respect of faith in return, that I am left to believe as I will. I will discuss my beliefs with anyone who wishes to discuss. I will hear any other person’s beliefs and their reasoning behind it. I will offer my concerns regarding their belief, if they wish to discuss that far, and will accept criticisms of my belief in return. When the discussion devolves into who’s belief is better and who’s belief is truth versus falsehood, I admit that I get frustrated, because for me, the purpose of discussing faith is not to prove one belief better than another. In my recent discussions with Thunder, that seems to be the only route it takes, a deconstruction of dialogue into Thunder’s ‘truth’ versus all the ‘lies’ of the world trying to tempt me away from his god. If he wishes to believe I am on the path to hell, so be it. I am not going to change all that which I have developed in terms of belief and faith up until now simply to get on the path this one man believes to be the true path to god and paradise. I do not ask him to forsake his belief on my account, and I do not appreciate when he asks me to forsake mine on his word.

          • Rana – Can you clarify: Do you feel that arguing against another’s beliefs is of itself a sign of disrespect for that person’s beliefs? If not, how is Thunder showing disrespect for your beliefs?

            And aren’t you being contradictory? On the one hand you say that you don’t have any issue with someone being certain of their beliefs (findings), and on the other hand you say that you DO have a problem with someone being certain of their beliefs (there is nothing else to find).

            If Thunder’s god tells him that he is the only god, and Thunder is convinced that it be true, how can Thunder’s belief allow him to be open to the possibility that there are any other gods than the one he recognizes? It cannot be done because doing so demonstrates that Thunder is not convinced that his god is the only god. If Thunder lacks certainty in his god, then he leaves the door open to other possibilities, but as long as he is certain of its truth then for him there remains no other possibilities. Being certain of something means that one has no doubts because he is firmly pursuaded of its truth.

            How then can you say that you have no issue with people being certain of their beliefs? Hasn’t it been the crux of your argument that no one can or should be certain of anything pertaining to a god; certainty versus uncertainty?

            In Thunder’s case, are you suggesting that his being certain of his beliefs is preventing him from questioning and moving forward? Isn’t it this certainty which allows people to move forward because they have a basis from which to make decisions, whereas uncertain individuals have no conviction regarding in which direction to move? In the latter case, without conviction, how can such persons convince anyone, including themselves, that they are in fact moving in a forward direction as opposed to some other direction?

            Lastly, why would you not appreciate that someone with conviction in something would desire to convince you of its truth through friendly and mutual dialog? (But perhaps he has been rude towards you; I have not seen.) I would have to admit that I at least agree with Thunder on the point that debate/discussion for the sake of speaking words is pointless. Unless one enters a discussion with the intent to defend their beliefs or pursuade others of his beliefs or be persuaded by other’s beliefs…why dwell on a discussion of beliefs? Is not the whole purpose of such discussions to discover what is true and what is not by testing each other’s reasons for dis/believing? I must say, that the most profitable discussions come from persons who are firmly convinced of what they believe, for they are generally the only ones who can put up a real argument as to why they believe what they do.

            After all, how can expect to present a solid argument if they themselves are not convinced of the truth of what they are arguing for? Isn’t that the very reason as to why you are so careful to avoid peruading anyone of your beliefs…even though it is generally accepted that arguing in favor of or against a belief is an attempt to pursuade?

          • Hey again Geddy! Sorry for the long pause, I’ve had some craziness going on the past couple weeks, so I haven’t had the time to respond to your last comment. I have been thinking about your points, however, and think it best to just make a new post to address everything. You make very valid points, and we’ll see how well I can address them in a minute. Keep an eye out.

  2. The only part of that quote I would take issue with is: “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.” (first I would substitute “he” with “has” but that’s just me)…anyway…

    “Always exists” being the key, nothing lasts forever, no one still worships the Greek Pantheon, no one still follows Odin, or the many thousands of long lost gods/teachings that go with them.

    Some wisdoms are universal (humanities), many are forgotten with time. I will finish with, no gods necessary for living a happy, moral existence, and I personally find that science answers my questions satisfactorily.

    • All I would say to the idea of always existing is that it is the concept of sacred teaching as a human practice, not each individual teaching (like you describe, the Greek, Roman, Egyptian gods of old), which must always exist for humanity to remain humanity. Very true that no god is needed to live a happy and fulfilling life, but at the same time man must always have a cork to plug up the holes of his knowledge of the world. Science does absolute wonders in this area, but the fact is it does not answer everything. Granted, that ‘everything’ can mean the peripherals of human sight, things that we may think are there but really aren’t. But without a way to prove it is not there, there will always be people who look to the stars and believe heaven is among them. There will always be believers of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and all other kinds of more tangible oddities which to most are considered nonsense. And perhaps they are, in some cases it is certain that they are nonsense. But not all people function solely in the logical, in the tangible proofs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as these people recognize when their fantasies should not and cannot cross into the realities. Sadly, most do not know a firm or a reserved line from which not to cross.

*Insert your thought here*

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