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, 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.

Pantheism

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.

Evil

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.
 
Religion