Welcome to The Path of Water

This site is dedicated to exploring the Tao and Philosophical Taoism; and how it relates to everyday modern life in the 21st Century. It also includes posts relating to how I feel Taoism can provide insights for dealing with the problems of everyday living.

The process of writing out my thoughts helps me to explore what I believe and why, so these posts will probably develop over time. I hope that you'll find this site interesting and, for those of you new to the Tao and Taoism, I hope that it can provide you with a first step on the path to a rich spiritual life. If you want to post comments relating to a post or the site as a whole I'd be grateful as all feedback is helpful.

Enjoy your visit - In Tao - Woody

Who would follow the Way must go beyond words.
Who would know the world must go beyond names. *

No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. **

Monday, 28 January 2008

So...how did I become a Taoist?

I was raised a Christian in the Church of England. As a family we rarely attended church except for weddings, funerals and main holidays such as Easter and Christmas, but I was sent regularly to Sunday school. Even at a young age, while I liked lots of the stories like Noah, Moses, Jesus with the fishes, I always felt that some things didn't make sense. Why did it matter that Jesus' mother was a virgin? If Jesus was God, why did he have to go through such a charade to forgive us? What's all this nonsense about a Trinity?

By the age of 12 my doubts were complete. Some bits I just didn't believe, and if the teachers were not telling me the truth on those bits, how could I trust them on anything else? I'd pretty much decided that the spiritual aspect of life was completely worthless. However, this started to change when my grandmother died. I missed her a lot and was deeply sad, but then it occurred to me for the first time as a real concept - I was going to die one day too!

I started thinking about life and death and started trying to understand how I fitted in. I don't want to make this sound like some great search - I found out bits about what some religions believed, but this was just brief interludes over the course of many years when most of the time I did my best to ignore the subject.

The western beliefs did little for me and all seemed to have the same flaws that Christianity had in that they seemed to consist of half-baked fairy tales designed to make life and death less scary. When I started to read a little about eastern beliefs I started to feel I was on to something. I'd come to the opinion that whatever was "the answer", it had to essentially be simple.

I'm a great fan of Einstein, particularly his thought experiments and use of reason. One of the quotes attributed to him is "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler" and this has always made sense to me. One of the problems I had with western religion was the level of complexity in their beliefs, a complexity which I believe comes from trying to make their beliefs fit the real world that we experience.

The level of complexity reminds me of the problem of understanding planetary orbits in the 16th Century. Before and after the scientific revolution that changed our world view from a system with the Earth at the centre to one with the Sun at the centre, it was considered that the motion of heavenly bodies must move in perfect circles due to classical theories of how the universe is ordered. The problem with this was that when observed in the real world, some of the planets did not seem to obey the rules, occasionally going the wrong way in the sky for a short while before reverting to their correct motion. Because of the belief that circles must be involved, systems of more and more complex motion involving circles upon circles (called epicycles) were imagined to explain this behaviour. These systems got ridiculously complex but still had trouble explaining planetary behaviour until Johannes Kepler came along and explained the motion with mathematically simple ellipses. If the explanation had been based on a modern scientific process of observation, measurement and theorisation the system of circles and epicycles would never have survived for very long, but because the whole system was built on erroneous beliefs a highly complex explanation was required.

Being drawn to eastern beliefs and simple explanations, Buddhism, and especially Zen seemed to approach what I felt seemed to make sense, but the world-view seemed to see life as a struggle whereas generally I've enjoyed life, so for many years I was uncommitted.

When I met my now wife, one of the books she had was "The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff. When I read the book I thought WOW! I don't agree with everything it's saying, and some parts seem contradictory, but this is the closest I've found to what I feel. I read on from here taking in some other Taoist writings, specifically the Tao Te Ching (TTC), and found that where I'd disagreed with Hoff, the TTC seemed to give answers that seemed right to me.

After this revelatory moment you'd think I would have dived in head first, but actually it went on the back burner - always there in the back of mind but un-pursued. It was only when I hit the age of 40 and started again to think about death and started to get fearful in the middle of the night that I really started to delve into Taoism and found it answered my questions and has lead me on a path of contentment, but also of wonderful experience.These days I wouldn't claim I'm a very good Taoist but each year I find it influences my life more, I'm more at peace, and I get richer experiences from life.

If any of this rings any bells with you then I'd recommend that you find out a bit more about Taoism and see if it can give you what you need to enjoy and savour life, and let it give you peace with the approach to the inevitable end of life. I recommend it!

Taoism or Daoism???

You might be confused that sometimes you'll see the words "Tao" and "Taoism", and at other times it's written as "Dao" and "Daoism". So which one is correct?

The two spellings arise from two different systems which have been created to represent Chinese (Mandarin) words using a Romanized alphabet. The Wade-Giles system was developed in the mid-to-late 19th Century and was the main system used through most of the 20th Century. The Pinyin system was adopted by the People's Republic of China in 1979 and has since become the international standard system for modern Chinese. Despite the difference in spelling, both systems are attempting to represent the Chinese word which sounds like "dow" - rhyming with "cow", "now" and "how" - so that's how it should be pronounced regardless of spelling.

For myself however, I first saw the "Tao" version and not knowing any better imagined that the word began with a "t" sound, and hence that's how I began to say it. These days, despite knowing better, I still say the words "Tao", "Taoism" and "Taoist" with a "t" sound instead of a "d" sound. There are three good reasons why I do this....
  • One of the central principles of Taoism is that the word is not the thing. The opening lines of the Tao Te Ching are "The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao" so getting hung-up on how the word is meant to be said is completely missing the point. Instead of calling it "The Tao", we could call it "The Universal Motivation", "The great Ooohjah", or even "Bob" and still mean the same thing. It's not important and I think it's important to remember this.
  • When I was in Shanghai, our guide told us that when the Chinese talk of Taoism using the English Language they say "Taoism" with a "t" when they mean Philosophical Taoism, and "Daoism" with a "d" when they mean Religious Taoism. Now I've not heard this anywhere else, but who am I to argue with him?
  • I prefer the sound of the word when it starts with the "t" sound. Of the two, that pronunciation makes me happier.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

What is Reform Taoism

I'm a member of the Reform Taoist Congregation, so what's that I hear you ask. To explain Reform Taoism, formerly called Western Reform Taoism, the easiest thing is for me to give you the decription on the Reform Taoist Congregation website written by its founder Michael Torley...

It is a religion, but probably not in the sense you're used to. Specifically, we do not believe in a god or deity; we believe in an impersonal force called the Tao. We also have no established concept of an "afterlife". However, we do believe that the Tao demonstrates to us the proper way to live. Through our beliefs, we learn how to act under any conceivable circumstances; how to handle problems; and how to live life properly, without causing harm to others. The fact that we place our lives and our trust in the Tao is what makes Reform Taoism a religion, rather than simply a philosophy.

We are brothers and sisters to each other, and as such, we respect each others' opinions and decisions. The purpose of a spiritual community is to lend support and encouragement. We help each other through rough times, and we offer advice to those who need it.

I don't necessarily agree with everything that other members of Reform Taoism believe, but we are a friendly community with similar beliefs committed to helping each other on their path. If you're interested in finding out more about Reform Taoism, follow the link in the Taoism Links section - and have a look, particularly at the Beliefs section on the "About Us" menu.

The Path of Water

Why did I call this blog "The Path of Water?" The Tao translates as the "Path" or the "Way" and it is often compared to Water because many of the properties of Water provide an insight into the nature of the Tao which most of us can relate to.

The highest good is like water which benefits all things and contends with none. it flows in low places that others disdain and thus it is close to the Tao. (2)

Water doesn't try, it doesn't want, it doesn't seek praise, it doesn't have pride, it does not feel fear, it does not feel inadequate, it just does, it just is. It acts in ways that are in balance with it's true nature.

We can learn from Water through acting in ways that are true to our nature. This doesn't mean reverting to living in trees; part of human nature is to explore, to compete, to invent and to learn; but it does mean that these should be balanced with other aspects of our nature such as nurturing, loving, and spirituality. In losing site of these aspects and undervaluing or rejecting them we leave a gap which we try to fill with possesions, comfort food, TV and status, but we can never be satisfied by these things as they don't fill the gap, they just distract us from it for a short while.

Water also has the property of stillness. When left without any outside forces acting on it Water becomes still and in its stillness is a "magical" peaceful quality which many of us recognize and are moved by. In Taoism it is through stillness that we can gain insight into the nature of the Tao.

Empty your mind of all thoughts. Let your heart be at peace. (3)

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A Taoist Meditation

Become totally empty, Quiet the restlessness of the mind.Only then will you see that all things emerge from emptiness. Only then will you see that all things flourish and dance in endless variation.Only then will you see that all things dissolve back into perfect emptiness. Emerging, Flourishing, Dissolving back again - This is the eternal process of Nature.

Be still. With stillness is revealed eternity. With Eternity is revealed a vision of oneness. With a vision of oneness is revealed universal love. With Universal love is revealed the great truth of Nature. The great truth of Nature is the Tao

Whoever knows this truth lives forever. The body may perish and deeds may be forgotten, but he who has the Tao has all eternity. (1)

The Tao & Reform Taoism

I am a Taoist and a member of the Reform Taoist Congregation. The concept of Tao is the Reform Taoists most deeply held belief, and the foundation of our religion. The definition of Tao listed on the Reform Taoism website say that the Chinese word "Tao" roughly translates as "Way" and for Reform Taoists it refers to, amongst other things, a non-sentient, impersonal power that surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living.

The Tao regulates Natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe. Lao-tse, the ancient Chinese philosopher widely regarded as the founder of Taoism, taught that the Tao simply defies description and that the only true way to seek it is through personal spiritual exploration and dedication.

Reform Taoists believe that Death is not a loss, but a transformation, and that what we knew as a living person moves on in Death to participate in the endless dance of manifestation and change that is the Tao.

Here we go....

This is my first posting on this site and my first blog posting ever. Hopefully the next ones will prove to be more interesting.