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. **

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.