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. **

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Season's Greetings

Whatever your beliefs I hope you have an enjoyable holiday season and a healthy and prosperous new year.

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

TTC Ch. 39 (12)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Taoism, Christmas and Ta Chiu

At Christmas time in Western countries it can be difficult for those of other or no faiths. Do you join in with the seasonal celebrations ignoring the Christian message, do you ignore it, or do you link it to celebrating a festival of your own at this time of year?

While as a Taoist its good to experience and enjoy whatever is happening without loading it with value judgements, it can also be nice to feel that you've got a celebration that is in some way "your own." In this light, over at the Reform Taoist Congregation there's been the suggestion that the Hong Kong Taoist festival of Ta Chiu be celebrated in this holiday period.

Taking place on 27th December, Ta Chiu is heavily tied into "religious" Taoism and its practices. I believe the pronunciation is Ta = like Tar but without the "r" sound at the end, Chiu = joo. Here's the description from cultureandrecreation.gov.au....

Ta Chiu is a Taoist festival of peace and renewal that takes place on 27 December in Hong Kong. The participants summon all of their gods and ghosts so that the gods' collective power will renew their lives. At the end of the festival, priests read aloud the names of every person who lives in the area. Then they attach the list of names to a paper horse and set it aflame, letting the names rise to heaven.

 Now the actual practice seems very alien and ritual heavy to a philosophical Taoist, but if you're looking for something Taoist to celebrate around the same time, or if you want to respond to those who wish you a "Happy Xmas" with a Taoist response, this might do the job for you. You don't have to conform to the "religious" parts, just the spirit of "peace & renewal." I that light you can take the basic theme and have any rituals, foods, cards, activities etc that mean "peace & renewal" to you. For me it conjours up images of nature and change. YMMV

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Taoism and blogging

I came across a really interesting blog today which I thought I'd recommend. It covers a wide range of subjects mostly from a Taoist/Buddhist perspective. IMHO it's excellent and it can be found at A Quiet Watercourse. I'll be adding it to my site's recommended blogs as well.

Taoism and dedication

I've been feeling for a while that this blog has been lacking in direction. I originally set it up as a place to explore Taoism and 21st century life but I don't feel that so far I've achieved what I set out to do. Now, it's in the nature of Taoism that often the journey is a winding one and such has been the case with this blog, but I think I'm finally reaching a point where I know where I want to take this site.

One of the things I think that is needed with any blog is a sense of continuity and freshness. While posts written just for the sake of writing something are rarely enjoyable for either writer or reader, a reasonable frequency of posting is important to keep the blog alive. As a Taoist this can be further complicated because I believe you should only really write when the 'muse' takes you and the words flow freely (wu wei again!) such as I'm feeling today.

In the light of these views I intend to push the direction of this blog back towards discussing how Taoism relates to 21st century issues and what to can teach us about living in this time. Now all I've got to do is wait until the first subject inspires me!!!!

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I just received notification that somebody has suggested this site for inclusion in the Daily Reviewer top 100 Taoism blogs (are there 100 Taoism blogs?????) and that this site has been selected. Thanks very much for whoever submitted the details.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Osho - Tao: The Pathless Path

Following a recommendation on the New Taoist Community forum I bought a copy of Osho's book Tao: The Pathless Path My understanding is that the book has been created by collecting together the transcripts of several talks given by him.

The book takes several of the parables of Lieh-tzu - the third of the trio of great Taoist philosophers alongside Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. Osho then discusses the meaning of the parable and explores its subtleties. At the end of the book is a short section addressing some particular questions - such as the relationship between the Tao, Confucianism and Science.

Generally I've been really impressed with this book so far. Some of the flow is a bit weird, but I believe that's probably because it's a transcript of a talk rather than a collection of reasoned essays. Some of the examples Osho gives, particularly in relation to Christianity, I find of little worth - but possibly they were included as part of tailoring the talks for a particular audience. Opinions on Osho seem to vary but I think this book is well worth a read, particularly if, like me, you've only had very limited exposure to the writings of Lieh-tzu.

Friday, 18 September 2009


It's surprisingly easy to go off track when trying to pursue a Taoist life. Recently I've found that I've veered off into one of the most common traps that Taoists face - engaging in Taoism as an intellectual exercise rather than living it. My post "Difficult questions" is a good example of this.

Chapter 56 of the Tao Te Ching reads...

Those who know don't talk.
Those who talk don't know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can't be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

TTC Ch. 56 (12)

...this is not just a warning about those who would preach their idea of the Tao, it is also a guide towards finding the Tao for yourself - and yes I do appreciate the irony of me writing about this!

Personally I've found I've been spending more time engaging in discussion about the implications and meanings of Taoism rather than just living it. It's strange how it creeps up on you - you think you're cruising in the zone only to suddenly realise that you left it a long time ago. Nobody said that it was supposed to be easy but it's surprising how quickly complacency can set in.

One of my favourite writers, William Martin, in his book "A path and a practice: Using Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching as a guide to an awakened spiritual life" sums the approach up really neatly with the question....

Are you living right now,
or are you thinking about living?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Difficult questions - part 2

After a lot of struggling in an attempt to answer the question I posed in "Difficult questions" I have come to a realisation...

I have been struggling to reach an answer to the question because I've asked the question.

I need to re-evaluate my whole approach to Taoism over the last few years.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Difficult questions

Over at the New Taoist Community's forum we have what we term "Joint reflections." Somebody comes up with a verse of the Tao Te Ching, or a question about Taoist living, and we have a go at coming up with some answers, observations or interpretations. The intention is not really to come up with something definitive, but rather the process itself helps to develop our understanding.

As part of this I came up with a thought experiment where I gave a potentially unpleasant choice to see what guidance we might find from Taoism. My question and my first attempt at answering it follow, but I suspect I'll be thinking about this for years ;-) .....

A (hopefully) hypothetical, awkward and deliberately emotive question about Taoism in real life and how your understanding would lead you to a decision on what to do...

You are a Taoist
You have a child who is dying from some medical condition
A doctor informs you that there is a new treatment available that comes from the application of cloning and gene modification techniques
Your child can be 'cured' but will then need to take drugs for the rest of their life
For the drugs to be produced, every month a human embryo has to be created in a laboratory & then destroyed during processing

OK. After a lot of thought here's what I've come up with so far. Hopefully it will make some sense. I'm not completely happy with my answer and I suspect a lot of it has lots of ego and selfishness lurking in the background somewhere :'(

I find that breaking things down helps a lot, so here goes....

Does the death of my child matter?

To the Tao it is irrelevant. All is one. Nothing has changed.
To reality it is irrelevant. Some part has changed state but the whole is unaffected.
To the universe, the galaxy, or to the earth it is probably irrelevant.
To to the human race it is is probably irrelevant. After all according to Unicef over 26000 under-5s die from largely preventable causes every day. What does one more matter?
To the UK it probably doesn't matter - just one of many.
To my town it starts to matter. We are a small community and many people know us.
To my family and I it matters a great deal.
To my child it is everything.
However, in 100, or 1000, or 10000 years time will it still matter?
Then again - in time will whatever choice I make matter?
So in the grand scheme of things it's of no significance either way.

From Taoism I know that life, death and individuality are illusions - yet I want to "save" my child - an act of ego as much for my benefit as for the child's.
I do however believe that my child should have the chance to make its own choice, and through the treatment it will get the chance to become an adult and decide for itself - even if that choice is to stop the treatment. It will also get the opportunity to seek harmony with the Tao in the interim should that be its path. I also don't believe that my child should bear the consequences of my beliefs, but at the same time I'm aware that I can't predict the consequences of my choices. There is the potential in this for a existential nihilistic approach, because in Taoism in the end nothing we do matters - except to us - but that's not really what Taoism is trying to teach us. At the end of the day Taoism is not about what "matters", nor is it about the destination, it is about the journey.

The level of intervention seems to go against the Taoist concept of Wu Wei. A better approach from a Taoist perspective might be to follow the path where I learn to deal with loss rather than wielding all the big guns of science to intervene, but everything in my make-up tells me that the treatment would be the right thing to do - but is that Te or ego I'm listening to? So I would choose the treatment aware that it includes many contradictions and self-delusions. I would do it because I have the choice, or at least the illusion of choice, and I would prefer to continue the journey a bit further with the company of my child.

Like I say, I'm not completely happy with this answer, but it's my first attempt & any observations would be gratefully received.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Becoming a Taoist - part 2

Humans love ritual. If you've any doubt about this just look around. Not just religious rituals, but those of celebration, those of remembrance, and even rituals whose original meaning has faded in the mists of time (anybody here touch wood?).

Following on from my post in February 09 regarding becoming a Taoist I've come to realise that for many people the act of formally "becoming" a Taoist is something that may need to be marked by some form of ritual to feel "real." So if you feel you want to have some kind of ceremony or ritual, what sort of ceremony or ritual should you have?

I'd recommend that you come up with your own, but if you're short of inspiration or you'd like something prepared in the spirit of what it is to be a Taoist, how about the following?....

Take a bottle of water (water is after all a recurring symbol in Taoism, and of course relates to the name of this site!) and something to eat and find a quiet place to sit surrounded by nature - maybe a wood or a park. If you think it's important to take some friends, do it; if you don't think it's necessary, don't bother.
  • Say "from this point on I am a Taoist and I seek to achieve harmony with the Tao."
  • Sit and listen to the sounds around you.
  • See nature all around.
  • Smell the scent on the air.
  • Feel the wind, sun or rain on your skin.
  • When you feel thirsty, take a drink.
  • When you feel hungry, eat the food.
  • When you tire of sitting & experiencing nature - get up and do something else.
Now you've become a Taoist ;-)

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Bloggers Unite For Human Rights 2009

17th July is the day of Bloggers Unite for Human Rights 2009.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)...

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Taoism is about discovery and growth. It is about achieving a new understanding of the nature of reality, our place within it, and what this teaches us about living better lives. Whether pursued as a Taoist or within the context of a religion such as Buddhism, Christianity or Islam, it is about exploring and finding answers for yourself.

Many states and expressions of religion seek to restrict the options for people, through subtle pressure or through enforcement by religious or political bodies. Informally, many communities act to persecute and discriminate against those that are seen as being different on the basis of belief. In some parts of the world those that seek to explore belief or change religion can face persecution, rape, torture or death.

From a Taoist perspective I'd have to question whether your beliefs are of much worth if you can only retain followers through the threat of discrimination or violence. As a Taoist, while I recognise that such activities hold the seeds for the eventual destruction of the beliefs they try to uphold, I also see that until that comes to pass many people will suffer.

In Taoism there is a long tradition of helping others, particularly the poor and oppressed. Organisations such as Amnesty International have demonstrated that coordinated campaigns can make a difference when confronting abuses of human rights. Participation in campaigns to raise public awareness can serve to shine an unwelcome spotlight on the activities of the abusers and help the sufferers.

The "three jewels" of Taoism are Compassion, Moderation and Humility. IMHO there is no room within these "jewels" to accommodate suppression of freedom of belief. As a Taoist I fully support the aims of the UDHR and in particular Article 18.

Without basic human rights people's opportunity to explore the spiritual side of their nature is severely restricted. I'd urge you to read and support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There are several organisations that seek to help those suffering torture or execution for their beliefs. For more information see http://www.bloggersunite.org/event/bloggers-unite-for-human-rights-2009.

If you are a blogger and are interested in supporting this event, the main Human Rights day on December 10, or other events relating to human rights, try visiting http://www.bloggersunite.org for more information.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

What is Taoism?

What is Taoism - how to explain it to others - is a question that repeatedly arises. How to explain something that can only really be alluded to, implied, or pointed to, rather than explained. I was reading the "See" page of Deng Ming-Dao's book "Everyday Tao" and something in the words spoke to me....

Deng Ming-Dao talks about Taoism being a direct spirituality. Most religions rely on priests acting as intermediaries between "ordinary" people and spiritual experience. Most religions have holy writings that take spiritual experience and try to structure it as a set of rules to be followed and a set of rituals to be performed. Taoism in contrast is about learning to experience the spiritual on an individual, personal basis. It's about trusting that every person is capable experiencing spirituality themselves. All that books such as the Tao Te Ching do is point the way.


"What is Taoism?"

Direct spirituality.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Dealing with loss

On the New Taoist Community forum a poster was asking for advice on dealing with the feelings arising from a relationship breakdown. FWIW, with some modification for tense & context, here's my response...

Tears and emotions are the natural response to loss. They're not good or bad - they just are what they are. When going through a grieving process, the emotions need to be released. They should be let out in the knowledge that they're part of a natural process and will lose their intensity over time.

Negative thoughts are also natural at such a time, but they don't really achieve anything. IMHO their source is the conflict between the image of the future that has been held for a long time (e.g. married & family life), and the image of the future that is developing now. Both of these images are illusions. We can guess, but we don't really have any idea of how our lives will be 1 day from now, let alone over a course of years; and our memories of past events are merely distorted reflections. All we have is right now. The past has happened and nothing can be done to change it. The future is a path to be walked and experienced, an adventure into the unknown that always starts from where we are.

When you find yourself getting wrapped in negative thoughts, try concentrating on being solely in the present moment. Notice how the light reflects on a glass of water. Concentrate on the taste and smell of the food you're eating. Observe the shape of the clouds. When you get consumed by thoughts of what you should have done, what you could have done, what you're going to do, and what you might do - take a deep breath, let it all go, remember they're all just tricks our brain plays on us which are of no real use. Try concentrating on the here and now, on the small and mundane, the breath going in and out, the feel of the things touched. When the negativity starts returning, understand it's natural but of no use, let it go and then gently return to concentrating on the present moment again. The drifting into negativity is natural but can be poisonous, for example leading to anxiety or self-loathing, the concentration on the present is the antidote.

Hello world!

This site has now had visitors from all the inhabited continents on the planet. From the USA to China, from Australia to Iran, from Sweden to Chad, and from the UK to Peru. Thanks to everyone who has visited and I hope you found something useful.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Taoism, parties and fitting in

One of the members of the New Taoist Community asked if members had any personal accounts of how Taoism affects or helps us. I thought I'd offer the following...

Long before I encountered Taoism I became aware that I had a problem. I'd go to social events and I'd feel awkward and clumsy, even when in the company of good friends. When I began working in office jobs I became even more aware of this problem so I'd try to watch how other more confident people acted and try to mimic them. This false behaviour made me more self-concious and that in turn made me more awkward. People seemed to be able to tell that there was something false about how I behaved and responded to me with caution.

Before I found Taoism I had started to become aware that this only occurred in environments where I was trying to fit in - trying to be like everybody else. When I was in different situations I had no such problem. When I was drunk I didn't have the problem either - not because the alcohol was giving me confidence, I've always had a fair amount of self-confidence, but because after a couple of drinks I didn't care what people thought of me and I was willing to be who I am. The problem was that I didn't know what this meant or have a wider understanding of the world in which to fit these observations.

When I discovered Taoism, one of the first things in the Tao Te Ching that really resonated with me was the line in chapter 41 about somebody understanding the way appearing foolish to others. I realised that the reason I felt awkward and clumsy was because I was trying to fit into these situations according to their rules, not according to who I am. I started to stop worrying about fitting in, about being like everybody else, and suddenly things came together. Parties, which had always been difficult to me now became fun. The more I explored Taoism, the better it got.

Occasionally I find myself slipping back into the old ways of thinking, just for a moment or two. Then I remember the Tao Te Ching and everything becomes fine again. In preparing this posting I had a look through a couple of translations of the Tao Te Ching to extract some lines which have some relevance to me for this subject. Mainly from Mitchell, but with a bit of Merel, I've joined them together to come up with a chapter appropriate for me regarding this situation...

Who understands the Way seems foolish;
Who progresses on the Way seems to fail;
Who follows the Way seems to wander

Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!
Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Food for thought

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Albert Einstein

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.
Andre Gide

"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."
A A Milne

When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.
Benjamin Hoff

“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
Mohandas K Ghandi

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.
Carl Jung

“Peace will come to the Middle East only after everyone stops fighting.”
G W Bush

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Taoism and Environmentalism

I was thinking about writing something about Taoism and the Environmental movement. Whilst doing some initial research I came across an interesting essay on scribd.com which discusses the building of a modern environmental ethic based upon Taoist thought.

The essay is called The Tao of Green: Building an Environmental Ethic with Taoist Philosophy and is written by Stephen Wolkwitz.


“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”


Friday, 12 June 2009

Sustainable energy

Not directly about Taoism and I don't want to use this blog to preach about environmental issues, but for those who may be interested I recently came across a very interesting book. Written by Cambridge University Professor Dr. David MacKay FRS, Sustainable Energy - without the hot air can be bought from places like Amazon, but is available for free in electronic form.

The book attempts to explain why so many scientists believe in human generated climate change and how they come up with targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. In a very clear and non-academic way he takes you through how to work out your own viewpoint and how to come up with your own answers. He uses this approach to examine whether we can support our modern society through the generation of energy from sustainable sources.

For anybody interested in the subject whether convinced environmentalist, skeptic, or somewhere in-between, this book has a lot of information that can help inform your viewpoint. It concentrates on the science not on moral questions and I recommend it.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Tai Chi Qigong Shibashi

Pre-children I spent a few years learning Yang long form Tai Chi. With greater commitments I found I couldn't find the time to continue this, but I've always missed the Qigong (Chi Kung) exercises which we did as a warm-up and which I always found particularly beneficial and enjoyable. Recently I came across Tai Chi Qigong Shibashi which is a recent (1982) fusion of some elements of Tai Chi and Qigong. It's designed to be something that most people should be able to do fairly easily and in a limited space, inside or outside. I've been pleasantly surprised to find that when doing it I get the same positive experience as with the Qigong I used to do.

It's not an exclusively Taoist thing, just a set of gentle exercises designed to promote energy, but I find doing it does lead to a meditative state. I thought it might be of interest to some of you. After searching I think the best introduction that I've found is on the website http://www.everyday-taichi.com/shibashi.html

The Goal of Taoism

I've seen a lot on the web regarding what Taoism is about and what its goal is. Much of what I've seen on some forums seems to view Taoism as being essentially about going with the flow, getting in touch with nature and chilling out. While there is some truth to these interpretations, they are I believe just scratching at the surface and missing the real beauty of Taoism. IMHO there is a destination in Taoism - an experience of reality that is deep and profound.

As Taoists we seek harmony with the Tao through Wu Wei (non-doing), but if somebody actually achieves this what are they like? The Tao Te Ching (TTC) is a bit like a guide book to this destination and parts of it describe just such a person - the Sage or Master. Consider the following bits from the TTC where it describes the Sage. The lines are from the Mitchell translation, but I've changed the word used from Master to Sage as I believe this is the better word to describe such a person in English because the word Master has so many unhelpful overtones...

The Sage keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao

The Sage, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.

the Sage travels all day
without leaving home.

the Sage is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.

The Sage sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.

The Sage does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.

The Sage doesn't try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.

The Sage does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.

the Sage concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

Now the important thing to understand is that the Sage does not do these things through following some sort of intellectual process. The Sage doesn't sit down and meditate to achieve this state, nor does he or she practice not trying to be powerful. or not doing. The Sage is not even a Taoist, for Taoism is the pursuit of harmony with the Tao, but the Sage has already achieved it. The Sage does not DO these things, the Sage IS these things. The TTC is describing their state of being. The Sage could no more not do and be these things than I could jump off a cliff, flap my arms and fly! This state of being is I believe what Taoists call harmony, or in Zen - enlightenment.

So how do we become such a person? Well that's what Taoism is all about. Through learning about Taoism and the nature of the Sage we can start to approach this state by modifying our preconceptions, attitudes and actions. We can also take different paths of study, exercise, or meditation in the hope that they'll help to move us closer to this state. There is however a point at which harmony can be achieved only through letting go. A point where no action can move you closer to the goal.

How to take this step? Well if I knew that I probably wouldn't be writing this blog. If you have the answer - please let me know :)

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Taoism & Zen

I've recently started looking into Zen Buddhism. This may seem strange in a blog ostensibly about Taoism, but I've come to realize how close the two are. In the process I've had to shed a lot of ideas I held about Zen which were based on ignorance or misunderstandings. For anybody interested in Taoism I'd recommend they investigate the basics of Zen to see if it can be of use to them.

The origin of Zen Buddhism (or in Chinese - Chán) is credited to the Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidarma, who is said to have travelled to China to bring a new method of directly achieving enlightenment. Chán Buddhism evolved through the fusion of Taoist and Buddhist ideas, developing its full expression in China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea.

By my understanding, the enlightened state that Zen students seek is one and the same as the harmony sought by Taoists. Where Taoism & Zen differ is the path to this harmony or enlightenment. Taoism at its purest is spontaneous and unstudied. To practice any kind of discipline in order to achieve harmony is to have missed the point. Zen on the other hand is developed on the principal that while there are many paths to enlightenment, they are unreliable, erratic and transient. The Zen approach has been developed to enable more predictable and permanent results. Whichever side of the debate you find yourself, it is obvious that each have a lot to offer the other in the way of observations and perspective.

For myself, my interest in Zen relates to this idea of the transitory nature of enlightenment. I've had experiences which I'd describe as having glimpses of harmony, but after lasting seconds, minutes, or once a sequence of sporadic experiences over a few days, the state is lost again. Almost at will I can reach the state but I don't have the tools to keep myself there. I'm hoping that Zen may shed some light on this.

The experience of harmony also led me to misunderstand its significance. At first I attributed to it an almost mystical nature - something beyond the ordinary world, but now I've come to appreciate more of its true meaning. I hope that through understanding the observations of the Zen masters I might be able to even better judge my own experiences and continue to progress along the path.

To get a flavour of the similarities between Zen and Taoism, here's something written by Dr. D.T. Suzuki in his book An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (ISBN 0-09-151121-6) which is based on a series of essays he wrote during World War I. It's an interesting and thought provoking book which I'd recommend...

The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do so in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded. Therefore, anything that has the semblance of an external authority is rejected by Zen. Absolute faith is placed in a man's own inner being. For whatever authority there is in Zen, all comes from within. This is true in the strictest sense of the word. Even the reasoning faculty is not considered final or absolute. On the contrary, it hinders the mind from coming into the directest communication with itself....

The central fact of life as it is lived is what Zen aims to grasp, and this in the most direct and most vital manner. Zen professes itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all religions and philosophies. When Zen is thoroughly understood, absolute peace of mind is attained, and a man lives as he ought to live...

Some say that as Zen is admittedly a form of mysticism it cannot claim to be unique in the history of religion. Perhaps so; but Zen is a mysticism of its own order. It is mystical in the sense that the sun shines, that the flower blooms, that I hear at this moment somebody beating the drum in the street. If these are mystical facts, Zen is brim-full of them...

When a Zen master was once asked what Zen was, he replied, "Your everyday thought". Is this not plain and straightforward? It has nothing to do with any sectarian spirit. Christians as well as Buddhists can practise Zen just as big fish and small fish are both contentedly living in the same ocean. Zen is the ocean, Zen is the air, Zen is the mountain, Zen is thunder and lightning, the spring flower, summer heat, and winter snow; nay, more than that, Zen is the man...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

National Unitarian Fellowship

Well after further investigation I've decided to join the National Unitarian Fellowship forum fully, with a view to becoming a paid-up member of the NUF in due course. The natives seem very friendly and I've been very impressed with the breadth of discussion and the supportive nature of the community there & I'd recommend having a look. One point to note is that you don't really get to see most of the forum activity unless you join, but joining the forum itself is free. I'll post more when I've had a chance to more fully participate there.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

New Taoist Community

Not a proper blog, just a "heads up." Along with another Reform Taoism member I've set up a site we're calling "The New Taoist Community." I've described it as being "an experimental site for philosophical Taoists, Pantheists, Zen Buddhists and others with an interest in the fundamentals underlying Taoism to explore the subject and find ways to develop a meaningful communal approach to expressing their beliefs in the 21st century."

The idea is that in the forum we can explore the aspects of our spirituality that we hold in common and try to find communal ways of expressing this to develop a real community. What form this will take & how it will look - well that's something for the members to decide.

You can find the New Taoist Community at http://sites.google.com/site/newtaoistcommunity/

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Unitarian Universalism

Continuing on my search for Taoist suitable communities I've also been pointed by a fellow blogger to Unitarian Universalism. I'd come across them before but for some reason felt that they might be too much of a Christian organisation. Looking at them again I realise that while their roots are in liberal Christianity, they are more about supporting individual searches for spiritual development and understanding than about any particular creed, and they may be a potential home for this Taoist. Certainly what I've read online from Taoists, Buddhists, Pantheists and Pagans seems very positive.

From internet research it seems that some of the physical churches may be more centered on Liberal Christianity than others (particularly in the UK), but their modern tradition is striving to accommodate all seekers who support their principles which are....
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
They list the sources of their faith as...
  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centred traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
They have members who identify with the major Western Monotheistic religions, but also members who are Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, Pantheist, Pagan, Humanist and Taoist.

I'm interested in exploring this community more, so as a first step I've taken trial membership of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the online Unitarian Universalist congregation. This site has lots of interesting resources including a new discussion list for Taoist members and those with some interest in Taoism.

For the UK the organising bodies are The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches and the National Unitarian Fellowship, while the international body is The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. I'll post again on this subject when I've had more time to explore, but you might find these sites useful if you're looking for a community expereience as part of your spiritual journey.


I've been thinking for a while that there's something missing from my Taoist experience. I've had difficulty putting my finger on it but I think at last I've got there. I seem to be missing the feeling of wonder and awe at the world around me and I feel that that is something which I need as part of my experience of life. It could be a failing of philosophical Taoism but is more probably something missing in my understanding or a level of experience of the Tao that I've not yet reached.

I've also been looking around at "spiritual" communities where a Taoist might feel at home. A place where there is the opportunity to explore my beliefs with those that share similar ones, but also those who have travelled seemingly complementary paths. I had hoped that the Reform Taoist Congregation might be that place but it has not got there yet. I hope that someday it might develop into such a place but for the moment I believe it will be a long while before it develops beyond being an internet forum, albeit one well worth participating in for the quality of opinions and the pleasantness of the company.

Through exchanging messages with some of the people I've met on the Reform Taoism forum I've found modern scientific Pantheism and the World Pantheist Movement. Scientific Pantheism seems to me to be Philosophical Taoism with an emphasis on a reverence for nature. They list their beliefs as...

  • Reverence for Nature and the wider Universe.
  • Active respect and care for the rights of all humans and other living beings.
  • Celebration or our lives in our bodies on this beautiful earth as a joy and a privilege.
  • Realism - acceptance that the external world exists independently of human consciousness or perception.
  • Strong naturalism, without belief in supernatural realms, afterlives, beings or forces.
  • Respect for reason, evidence and the scientific method as our best ways of understanding nature and the Universe.
  • Promotion of religious tolerance, freedom of religion and complete separation of state and religion.

I'm not sure if the World Pantheist Movement might be that home I'm looking for, or one of several, but I feel it's interesting enough to be checked out further. I'll post more on this when I've gained more experience of the WPM and how this reverence does or does not fit with my understanding of Taoism, but I recommend that you visit their site to see if it has something to offer you.


I've just joined a new Taoism discussion list. It's hosted on the Unitarian Universalist "Church of the Larger Fellowship" site (for more on this see the following post). One of the first posts asked about Taoism's view on the existence of Evil and what it tells us about dealing with people who are destructive or intend to cause harm. Answering this question has probably been the most difficult post to write, requiring a lot of thought, and I'm not completely sure about everything in my answer. For what it's worth, the following is the answer I arrived at...

From a Taoist perspective Evil doesn't exist - it's just an excuse we use to distance ourselves from human actions which we find abhorrent. By saying "it's evil", "he's evil", "she's evil" etc, what we are really saying is that they must be evil or being influenced by evil because there's no way we would ever act like that. Of course the reality is that the potential for such actions lies within all of us.

So if we are all capable of truly "evil" acts, why are they relatively rare? Followers of monotheistic religions often claim that it is because of the moral guidance that they offer, yet people that don't follow those religions seem no more likely to commit such acts, and in fact some of the worst cases of genocide have taken place in countries with a strong monotheistic tradition (e.g. Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur).

Taoism gives a different answer. We each have something called our "Te", which is our "inner nature", our bit of the Tao. Taoism teaches that the closer we are to being in harmony with our Te, the more in balance we are with the whole of existence. The further we move from our Te, the greater the stresses and pressures we are subject to. Chaos theory demonstrates that a complex system that is stressed has the potential for wildly extreme behaviour. Think of a pan of water boiling - when first the heat is applied patterns form as convection occurs, neat patterns of small bubbles start rising to the surface, and then at some point the amount of energy in the system hits a point at which it starts to wildly boil without any obvious order. People are the same, except instead of heat, it is the distance from harmony with the Te that is the driving force. That is the source of "evil."

In the case of some sexual crimes this distancing can easily be seen. The perpetrators are those who for some reason have become distanced from naturally expressing their sexuality - possibly because of attempting to conform to religious or social "norms", psychological problems resulting from parental relations, or due to being abused themselves. They have become so distanced from their Te that their sexuality becomes distorted and tangled with issues of power and self-worth, with pressure building until it finds an outlet.This doesn't excuse their actions, but understanding the source is a lot more useful than attributing the actions to some nebulous concept of "evil."

So what does Taoism teach us about dealing with "evil?" Taoism has a long history of supporting acts to defend the self or the defenceless but it offers no easy answers. It does however provide guidance which we can use to try to navigate our way through the problems we encounter. To explain these I'll talk about violence, but the principles can be applied to any situation.

In anything taken to the extreme there is the root of its opposite. So if you meet violence with enough violence, peace can occur - possibly because all the participants are sick of the carnage or dead - but if the violence is not in harmony with our Te, we might bring peace through violence but move ourselves further from our Te, increasing the stresses and maybe making us act as badly as those we were trying to stop.

To balance one action you can apply the opposite. So to combat violence you can use passive resistance. Gandhi used such tactics against the military power of the British Empire and won. By employing the opposite he took away the power of the violent. However, excessive passivity in itself can lead to violence, and perhaps events in India after independence can be seen as partly the result of this?

Taoism advocates finding the middle way. In Tai Chi the aim is to use your opponent's energy to defeat himself. Through a careful balance of force and passivity the energy is drained from the opponent and he is unable to attack any more - the heat under the pan is turned down, at least for a while. In everyday life the same techniques can be applied.

Back to the original question "how to deal with other's 'toxic' auras and behaviour?.....since others sometimes actively seek out to harm you or people close to you?"....A Taoist wouldn't seek to "defeat" or "fix" such people, but rather would try to use a mix of intuition, intellect, guile, distraction, force and passivity to negate the effects of their actions and to reduce the energy driving it - for instance an angry person shouting and bullying loses energy rapidly when encountering somebody who seems calm, polite, controlled and unflustered.

Hold on to your hats!

Last September I began studying for a degree with the Open University, the UK's national distance learning University. It began as a way of having some intellectual stimulus over the next few years while I'm staying at home raising our son, but I've also realised how many areas of study have something to say with regards to the world around us, and hence about Taoism.

In a few days I begin a course examining the impact of technology on the environment and the potential of technology to deal with the consequences. This will require me to spend extra time studying while I get organised with the course so I probably won't be posting here much for a while. There are however several things I've been meaning to write about, so I'm going to try to get them all out of the way in one go. I don't normally like to post on different issues in quick succession as I like to take some time to mull over my views, but I hope you'll excuse me if this time my ideas seem more half-baked than usual ;-)

The benefits of following Taoism

So to paraphrase the song, "Taoism! What is it good for?"

Well here's my take on it. I came to Taoism partly as a rejection of other belief systems that I had encountered. So many times religions encourage us to stop thinking, distrust the evidence of experience, and instead use "faith." Something like..."So you think the sky looks blue? Our holy book say it is green. Have faith and trust that it is green and it is just an evil spirit that is making you think it is blue!" There also tends to be reliance on teachers, priests, gurus or saints who hold some deep hidden knowledge which they "interpret" for the masses, but which the "masses" are for some reason unable to see directly for themselves. For me it all smacks of fraud and deception.

Taoism on the other hand encourages us to seek our own experience and develop our own understanding. Through the observation and direct experience of nature we find a way to live a life true to who and what we are, but not one that suppresses another's chance to do the same and reach their own understanding. Something like "You think the sky is blue? Then for you it is blue, but maybe for somebody else it might look green." As Taoism is not telling us how things are it encounters no conflict with advances in scientific understanding.

Taoism is free of things such as guilt and shame which IMHO never have a positive influence on human behaviour. If you believe that you are shameful or guilty just through being alive, what sort of person are you likely to become? I believe these are just tools used by some religions as a means of control.

Taoism is a path of peace. Whilst violence is not precluded in Taoism, the self-awareness that is developed in following the path reduces the influence of the ego which I believe is at the root of most conflict. For most Taoists resorting to violence is a final step reserved for the most extreme situations and for the protection of those that are unable to protect themselves.

Taoism also equips Taoists with tools which help them live their lives, understand events and develop the perspective which helps to avoids the extremes of living where so many problems are found. Taoism is also a rejection of intolerance and hatred of difference, and variety is part of the joy of existence. Balance, harmony, perspective, compassion - all of these are at the heart of Taoism and lead to IMHO an enhanced life experience.

Taoism also helps us to understand our place in existence, neither deluding ourselves about how important we are, nor undermining our relevance or diminishing our place in nature. Learning to really know who we are gives us the ability to make the most of our lives without wasting time pursuing illusions.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

How to become a Taoist

I want to write a couple of short posts about becoming a Taoist and what I see as the benefits. Firstly I'll concentrate on becoming a Taoist.

For philosophical Taoists there's no ceremony, initiation or exam required before you can consider yourself a Taoist, but I do believe that there's a process. Taoism is about a journey of self-discovery, or more correctly self-rediscovery, a rediscovery and acceptance of your true nature while stripping away the baggage, preconceptions and misconceptions that you've collected growing up or in adult life. Through this journey you begin to experience reality in a different way and find that the highs and lows of life have less impact upon you.

So at what stage do you become a Taoist? Well, you'll find that lots of Taoists say something like "...and then I realised that I'd been a Taoist for ages, but just didn't know it!" In my experience, for most people, by the time they come across Taoism or the Tao Te Ching they're already on the journey and just recognise in Taoism something that they've understood on some level for ages. However I believe that there's an extra step beyond this recognition before you should consider yourself a Taoist, and that's taking the step of deciding to actively engage with Taoism and to decide to live your life exploring what this means.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Change seems to be the word of the moment. With Barack Obama's election in the US, with chaos in financial markets, with the change in direction of economies. How should we deal with change?

Personally, I've reached one of those points where you wonder which direction you should go next. There's a debate in the Reform Taoist community about how we progress in the future - whether we continue the way we have been going or try a new direction. The question for me is "Is my journey best served by trying to fight for change within the organisation, or would it be better for those of us that want change to form a new community that reflects our needs at this time?"

I've been reading around looking for inspiration and I found some in Deng Ming-Dao's book Everyday Tao. He talks about the early observers of Tao, and how they found it by observing the world around them, seeing things born, grow and wither. He uses the image of a man running down a path to describe Tao. This movement and change is at the heart of the Tao, although of course stillness and stagnation are also there. It is in the movement and change that we see the vitality of the Tao. It got me thinking that if Reform Taoism has stagnated from my perspective, perhaps starting a new community where members were more able to express themselves and develop would be the "running man" path.

Any change is a step into the unknown - it's easier and safer to go with the status-quo. If you change, you might fail so maybe it's better to leave things as they are. But does this truly lead to a fulfilling journey through life though? If I'm asking the question, maybe the decision is already made? Is it possible to return to acceptance? I think you can see where this is leading me, but I've not completely decided so watch this space!

On the wider front, what does Taoism teach us about dealing with change? Change is inevitable. It can be held at bay for a time through effort, but it can never be stopped. In following Taoism we try to experience and understand our true inner nature. Using the analogy of water (well the clue's in the name of the Blog!) if we are in a river we can cling for as long as we can to the sides before our strength fails and we are swept helplessly downstream by the current. Or, through self-knowledge and self-confidence, we can embrace the flow of the river, let the current take us, and use our strength and skill at appropriate moments to avoid any rocks in our path. The latter is the Taoist way, but be warned! It can be scary.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Tao,Taoism & Atheism

I'm continually trying to find a way to make my understanding of the Tao and Taoism more accessible. I haven't got there yet, but as part of this process I've written a response to a post on the Atheist Nexus questioning whether somebody could be an atheist and a Taoist at the same time. FWIW my response follows - the bits in orange are excerpt from the original poster's entry...

People get hung up on the Tao - imagining that it is some esoteric mystical something far away or out of sight. In fact it is mundane, routine, common & everywhere. The roots of Taoism are in the observation of nature and, while some Taoist religious traditions may adopt a mystical or god-like interpretation, Taoism is basically a set of observations about the world around us and what they can tell us about how we can live our lives. Note: how we can NOT how we should live our lives.

Taoism states that everything in the world is believed to be a manifestation of the Tao and are restricted, in a sense, by the Tao....The Tao is unity (whatever that means...

A simple way to envisage it is...

There is something which for convenience we call "the Tao" which has certain properties.
Part of the Tao we call "the Universe" and it has some, but not all, of the properties of the Tao
Part of the Universe we call "the Earth" and it has some, but not all, of the properties of the Universe
Part of the Earth we call "Me" and I have some, but not all, of the properties of the Earth.

...still not happy? ...Think about your big toe.

It is part of the unity you call "you" - yet it can also be thought of as a separate thing called "a big toe."

the tao is described as being indescribable (doesn't that sound familiar to something other theists say about their God?)

The Tao is not indescribable, it is just impossible to completely describe. Any description is just a poor approximation capturing only some of its true nature, and the description is not the same as the thing itself. This is easy to demonstrate with an example...
Think of a nice yellow painted HB graphite pencil. Now describe it completely

Obviously you can talk about it's colour, length, width, and weight. You can talk about he paint on its sides, the type of wood it is made from, how pointy it is, does it have an eraser, where the graphite came from, and who made the pencil. You can describe all the different uses for the pencil - writing, drawing, poking holes in things...

Have you described it completely yet?

What about the design & the designer of the pencil? What about the culture that produced the designer? What about the evolution of mankind that produced the pencil designer's culture? What about the evolution of the tree that provides the wood? What about the origin of the Carbon in the graphite? What about the subtle changes occurring in the pencil due to variations in temperature & pressure, or decay over time? What about the origin and evolution of the universe in which the pencil exists?

To fully describe the pencil you need to describe everything in the entire Universe from the dawn to the end of time, otherwise all you have achieved is an approximation. Then of course you'd have to repeat the above for all different cultures and languages on earth because language and culture can accommodate subtle differences in understanding and meaning. Once you've done that you'd then need to describe it from the perspective of a dog, or a bird, or the subtle gravitational effects the pencil's mass exerts on a distant Sun and its impact on any alien life. Even if this could be achieved it would still be an approximation because at the sub-atomic level it becomes difficult to describe things except through probability.

Assuming it were somehow possible to compile a complete description in all ways of the pencil - could you write with the description? Could you draw a picture with it? All you would have would be a description not the physical pencil.

So the Tao that can be described is not the real Tao - it is just a collection of words that goes some way to give an approximate description of the real Tao.