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, 22 April 2010

Taoism, blocks, carving & sticking

There's a concept in Taoism called P'u, which translates roughly as the "uncarved block." Briefly, it is a metaphor that addresses the idea that when we are born we are in harmony with the Tao. Unburdened by values like right & wrong, the names of things, beauty & ugliness, we are free to fully experience existence. As we grow we develop more and more values and move further and further from harmony with the Tao. This is like a block of wood which uncarved has unlimited potential but which with each cut of the sculptors chisel becomes more restricted in the forms it can take. However Taoists are aware of the limitations this "carving" imposes and so seek to return to the "uncarved" state - and hence harmony.

It's a metaphor that I've never been really happy with and it's not what I believe happens. Once a block is carved, you can fill in the holes & artfully paint the surface to make it again look un-carved, but it's just a carved block pretending to be un-carved. I was walking into my daughter's school this morning and suddenly the thought occurred to me that I believe it is more a case of the "unadorned block." As we go through life things like ego, labels, limits etc get added to our original state, just like sticking things onto a block of wood - making us like an "adorned block." If the adornment makes the block look like a hammer it may seem as if it can only be used as a hammer. Take off all the adornment however and you'll find the original block still there unchanged and full of possibilities. So rather than trying to repair the "damage" life has done, we're just trying to get back to something that's always been there but has just become difficult to see.


misha said...

I think your interpretation is fantastic. Becoming a Daoist has been like peeling off all the sticky notes labeling me this and that to get to the "uncarved block" underneath. Thanks for a great post!

Woody said...

thanks Misha

Anonymous said...

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Johnathan said...

Hey... great post... Similar to a discussion I was having in another board... :-)

Misha, I like your sticky note analogy... if it were only that easy to peel them off...

Woody said...

Hi Johnathan,

reduce, reuse, recycle ;-)

For the benefit of other readers the origins of this post was a discussion with Johnathan on the Reform Taoist Congregation forum


Lesley said...

Just found you for the first time, while trying to decide what it means to be a taoist and whether I've actually been one for ages. I like the unadorned block idea, having had similar thoughts about the difficulty of returning to "uncarved". I'd resolved it as "unmoulded clay" (of the playdough variety)that can be shaped and reformed.

Woody said...

Hi Lesley,

I see what you mean with the playdough idea but as the parent of two small children I also know that playdough is the source of all suffering in the universe ;-)

Thanks for the thought provoking post


tomatokoolaide said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tomatokoolaide said...

Woody, I am interested in what you think about the Tao and its relationship with the water. I have read about how we should live as a river. When the river comes to a rock or obstacle it does not stop to think. It simply flows around the rock and it sings.

Personally, I think that the river doesn't flow around the rock. If we lived life like that, we would be avoiding our problems. The river does engulf the rock, though. The river's constant movement molds and shapes the rock with force. Even with the constant abrasion, the rock stays strong.

In the same way, an obstacle in life isn't left behind never to be seen again. We must accept what comes, live with it, all the while actively shaping it and leaving our mark.

How do you understand the Tao's relationship to water, Woody? How would one live as water or as the river?

Woody said...

It's not a case of avoiding or not avoiding problems but of how we deal with them, and you need to be careful how far you go with the metaphors in case you risk getting tangled up in concepts.

What Taoism is saying is that for any problem there are different ways to tackle them. As humans we have a tendency to tackle problems as a battle meeting it head on, it's like the water trying to run into and smash the rock. Following the Tao there is another way, moving with the natural flow. The obstacle is still dealt with, just without the conflict.