TAOISM AND BEYOND
Some years ago I was asked to respond to some questions
from a "Taoist" perspective. Some of the questions
containing quotes and other references come from the book Infinity In
Your Hand by William H. Houff. While the answers retain the flavor of
Taoism, they represent the nature of a universal
"experience" at the Source which is not tainted by mind,
belief, or philosophy, yet which must be filtered through a
particular mind to communicate.
1. The basic contradiction that confused me
(because I don't understand Taoism well enough) has to do with the
"water way" acceptance, conformity, yielding,
non-attachment, "observe the lilies of the field," and the
"going-with-the-flow." etc., nature of this philosophy. It
would seem that with this attitude, society could only be expected to
function in a benign, cooperative way if one assumed that man's
nature is basically good. However, Taoism also incorporates the
notion of Yin-Yang which implies that man is both good AND evil!
RESPONSE: Taoism, as a philosophy, points to something that is
beyond the realm of conceptual experience. Taoism, actually, is not
philosophy, not a dogma, not a morality to be applied or imposed upon
people. It is not a religion or something to be believed and then
acted in accordance with belief.
Acceptance, conformity, yielding, non-attachment, and the
like , are neither attitudes nor beliefs of Taoism, although they may
appear that way as conceptual aspects of a "philosophy."
The core in Taoism, as well as Buddhism and other
philosophy-religions, points to man's whole experience. It is to be
understood that philosophy, while it may logically suggest
generalities concerning experience, is grounded in dualism as are all
concepts. The mind can only think within a dualistic framework. While
this way of knowing things is very useful and practical within
certain limits, it is the limit of this way of knowing that is not
Again, Taoism points to something beyond this limit. The
mind, used within the framework of technology and science, within
language and mathematics, is very relevant. But in knowing Life
directly, it is not very useful, and in fact is the barrier.
The Tao is not known conceptually, yet the philosophy
points to what cannot be known conceptually. The words Love, Good,
Truth, Beauty, and God, are also concepts that point to something
beyond the concept. To Know Love is not just to know the concept of
love. "Good and Evil" or the Yin and the Yang are the
recognition of the dualistic mode of knowing.
But Knowing "Good" is not dualistic. The
"Good" in "Good and Evil" is not the same Good as
that Good which points beyond the dualistic framework. This is of
course confusing because the same words are used. One could use the
words Tao, God, or What Is, in place of "Good," but even
here the conceptual is limited and cannot actually touch what is
The "Good" beyond "Good and Evil" is
the Tao, the Flow, Life Itself. In the moment of Awareness the
"concept" of life is left far behind, for this moment is
not within time or memory, which is the basis of concept. Concept or
conceptualizing is generally an interruption of the Flow. A concept
is a memory.
A concept is a thought about something, something that is
within the memory, something already experienced, the past. The Flow
is something ever new which is Life. Thought formation interferes
with this Flow. We tend to live from memory, the past, rather than
from the direct experience of Life - and this is where the confusion
and conflict enters.
Thinking dominates because the mind fears the silence of
direct knowing. This fear never allows the freedom of Being and even
prefers the conflict to the void of pure Being.
Such interference of the mind never allows Wholeness to
enter and so all experience is incomplete, fragmented. It is only the
empty mind that can Know the fullness of being. But this "empty
mind" is not a dull mind, not a stupid mind. It is a mind that
knows its limits and has come to know the end of itself, which is the
beginning of true intelligence.
MOST OF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERED WITH THE ABOVE VIEW
2. The Jews' non-resistance to Nazi brutality,
especially at the death camps -- was this a Taoist attitude?
3. Would Taoism account for or condone
mob-behavior (both neg. and Pos.) as "going with the flow,"
"conforming to the shape of the vessel" (the mob), etc.?
4. What about the notion that "if rape is
inevitable, relax and enjoy it"?
5. What about conformists in general, or those
who try to accommodate to the needs of others? What about masochists,
slaves, simpering people who suffer the personality demands of others
(i.e. the vessels) instead of resisting and asserting their own
individuality or integrity?
RESPONSE: Most of the above questions suggest an attempt to fit
Taoism into a philosophy which then is applied to the problem of Good
and Evil. This is not Taoism. There is no such thing as a Taoist
attitude. And Taoism does not account for anything. Such a view is conceptual.
These are problems for morality and ethics which again are
not Taoism. The problems themselves arise from the mind and minds
that are deluded by concepts and fragmented experience.
The conforming mind, conforms through fear. The ambitious
and power hungry mind comes about also through fear. Both minds, the
slave or the slave driver, the Nazi or the Jew, the mob or the
individual are derived from the same problem; fear and the conceptual
mind. This mind wants security to reduce the fear. It jumps to the
conclusion that "this" or "that" way will reduce
the fear (the fear itself may not even be conscious as it often is at
the bottom of along series of adjustments and time-based operations
in the memory, which now become the style or operations on the surface).
In other words, the "problem" is rarely
experienced in full and so the answer is partial or conceptual. The
problem is never solved with a partial answer, and such answers only
continue the problem -- shift it, manipulate it, adjust it. These are
the political or psychological-conceptual dualistic answers which
always avoid the real problem in some way, and never result in resolution.
Taoism speaks to the whole problem, that is the message,
and the whole answer is not conceptual. Taoism does not deny
"Good and Evil" in the world, just as a river recognizes
two banks as it flows toward the ocean. Taoism suggest that an
awareness of a whole problem transcends the duality within which it
We normally think that here is a problem, and then we are
to apply a solution. But in Taoism, there is no separation between
the problem and the solution. The problem is the solution, contains
the solution; it is our separation from the problem that is the
problem, which then becomes the delusion and defense of the
In this sense life is a series of effects without cause.
Cause and effect are the same. The Tao is timeless movement. To
become aware of this movement is to participate in it by being It. By
being It one transcends choice, for choice is in time and the effect
of the conceptual mind.
Science is involved with cause and effect. The mind
responds to cause and effect, wishing either to eliminate an effect
or enhance an effect. But the laws of science do not pertain to the
psychological nature of the human being on the level of the Tao.
There is something free in man (life) that is not
predictable, and it is to this that Taoism attempts to point. Hence
to suggest how one "should" act is a conceptual limitation
upon the nature of Taoism (or Life). Life flows without choice,
without concept, yet we can still participate in the dance of the
mind and imagination, for that is life too (what is beyond the
conceptual mind does not exclude the conceptual mind).
Psychological problems come from living conceptually and
being separated from the problem. Hypothetical problems don't exist
in reality. Hypothetical problems are always based on the past and
attempt to reduce the adverse effects generated at that time.
Problems are only resolved in the living present or not at all.
Utopias are only modified projections of the past and have never
existed. Heaven, Nirvana, Immortality, Bliss, are Now or not at all.
6. "Things best when left alone."
Isn't this the philosophy of "anarchy?"
RESPONSE: No. "Things best when left alone" points to
the basic Taoist message of non-interference of the conceptual mind
or the self that is attached to this. When this is realized things
flow on their own or "The grass grows by itself." It does
not mean non-action or the non-use of the mind in a practical sense.
The direct seeing, without memory interfering with what is
seen, without perception being distorted by the conceptual mind, is
an awareness hardly used or understood by the conditioned mind, and
has nothing to do with "anarchy" in the usual sense of the
word. In this non-interference, problems do not accumulate by
imposing fragmented solutions.
7. Doesn't the back-to-nature policy tend
toward isolating one from the urban ghetto poor throughout the world
who can't indulge in the luxury of the "natural life?" Am I
my brother's keeper? What about such as Mother Teresa, martin Luther
King Jr., etc.?
RESPONSE: "Back-to-nature" is misunderstood, if there
can at all be a policy in Taoism What it really means is to get back
to experience, whole experience to where the "grass grows by
itself." It is the separation from this experiencing that
produces ghettos. It is the conceptual mind that divides and limits,
creating boundaries and separation one from another.
It is fear that surrounds itself with ideologies and builds
walls of accumulated wealth or importance that then must be defended.
It is ignorance that creates ghettos and wealth. The revolutions on
the surface, and how many we have had, testify to this ignorance. But
the revolution of the mind that goes to the depth goes far beyond the
appearance of ghettos and wealth on the surface.
Without this revolution of mind do you really think change
is possible? . . .Caring for those who suffer is a natural response.
This natural response is also the Tao. But it is motiveless as the
Tao. It is pure action without motive or sense of reward or outcome.
8. In nature there is aggression,
territoriality, even torturing victims. Doesn't this [Taoism] condone
or accept this same violence among men?
RESPONSE: Do we really understand what "nature" and
"violence" is? Do we ever really understand how "the
grass grows by itself?" Do we really understand our own "nature?"
The reference to nature in Taoism is only pointing to
something. A more detailed comparison misses the pointing (point). It
is our own nature, in the Taoist sense, that is to be understood.
There is something similar between the two natures, but what is
similar is not on the level of form. That is, trees have their
nature, horses and lions have their natures, and man has his nature.
Nature in the form of man "thinks," but the thinking is
misused. These natures are obviously not the same in their different
forms. What is similar? It is Life or the Tao. The problem with man
is that he puts "thinking" and /or self before life. In
doing this he thinks he is in control of life. This is the delusion.
When "doing" precedes "being" (or living
conceptually) all the violence and distortions of living follow.
Where Being is, doing follows naturally, or more Taoistically, Being
and Doing are one.
Nature just acts according to its nature. But man's attachment to
thought has obscured his true nature. Thought is violent. It cuts and
divides. Man mistakenly identifies himself with thought, with his
limited part, and attempts to understand the Whole with this part.
This itself is a kind of violence. To be fused with this process is
not only ludicrous but dangerous and destructive not only to himself
but to all life forms. By aligning with the Tao, the mind of man can
be used as a tool and not as the source of violence.
9. What is the basic difference between Taoism
RESPONSE: The basic difference between the two
"philosophies" is that the Western idea of God always keeps
God as something separate from man. God is purposeful within the
Western sense, but in Taoism God does not exist as a purposeful Being.
In traditional Christianity the individual does not become one
with God. To say "my Father and I are one" is still
blasphemous [except in the Christian mystical tradition]. Such a
statement is reserved for Jesus but not us. But it is this direct
experience to which Taoist teachings point as a Knowing of who we are.
10. Re: the creative process: "The
carpenter brings his own natural capacity into relation with that of
wood." Isn't that approach more difficult in a world of
automation, plastics, synthetics, microchips, nuclear energy,
advertising images as models, etc.?
RESPONSE: For the creative process to be creative, the individual
at some point must suspend what is known, otherwise nothing new would
enter or emerge. New ideas come from the Source, the Unknown Mystery,
through the whole of experience, not memory or from what is already known.
Technology is one thing but man is another. Man's "natural
capacity" is the issue. It is this that is lost not because of
technology but because of his identifying with it. In this, man
becomes mechanical. Man becomes an extension of his mechanical mind,
the thinking process. In the enclosure of dualism man is dead, for
nothing new can enter.
It is only in Love, and Truth, Life itself, that the new is known.
But this is also feared. There is often great resistance to new ideas
in society or within oneself -- this fear perpetuates the continuity
of the known, the old, the tradition of the self or of a culture that
then must increasingly defend the old as Life moves on.
11. Does "man" need to evolve
further/differently to bring his "natural capacities" in
line with elements of the modern world?
RESPONSE: It is the world that needs to be brought in line with
the "natural capacities" of man. But first man must realize
his natural capacities. "Evolution" is the increasing
awareness of the Tao as a natural "capacity" in man.
As man increasingly realizes the limitation of living a conceptual
life (a fragmented existence) he may begin to increase his Awareness,
or what lies beyond the conceptual sphere.
12. Same idea as "it takes money to make
money" like in the S & L business and big corporations. How
does this section speak to the huge impoverished (economically,
educationally, culturally, etc.) masses of the world? Isn't some
RESPONSE: Historically, intervention has always taken place in
some form such as war or revolution, or something more subtle. Again,
the question suggests some conflict between non-intervention and the
need to do something to change some outer condition. But Taoism
speaks to the inner condition, for the outer is only a reflection of that.
Until people change inwardly, the outer condition only changes in
appearance. Eventually, without this inner change, the outer simply
breaks down because it is a false condition.
Helping the impoverished masses is one thing, but dealing in more
depth is to understand how they get that way. From this point of
view, the wealthy may be just as impoverished.
Taoism does not really say what to do or not to do regarding these
issues. It merely says to align oneself with the Tao. In this
alignment, what to do or not do comes of itself, choicelessly, it is
not a function of thought or of a philosophy.
13. Communists had a more controlled society
but pride themselves on lower incidence of lawlessness. How does this fit?
14. This whole section on prescriptions for a
good society is very controversial. Would love to be involved in a
discussion of "the more arts and crafts, the more frivolous
RESPONSE: Laws are used to control. Laws oppress and suppress. The
more laws the more crime. This is the dualistic process working in
the disguise of conformity. The more laws (the appearance of good),
the more crime (the appearance of evil).
It does not matter if the "evil" comes eventually as war
or revolution, or in piecemeal fashion. The more laws needed, the
more ignorance of the Tao.
That "more arts and crafts" is related to the more
"frivolous" is also pointing out the dualistic sense of
life lived on that level. "Arts and crafts" give the
appearance of art but are not art.
Conformity (enforced, or with subtle suggestion) may give the
appearance of order, but there is always disorder brewing below the
surface of suppression.