I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Saint John, Letter to Galatians 4:16

Freedom of Religion - Freedom from Religion - Freedom of Public Display of Religion and Traditions

We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief.
Ronald Reagan (Temple Hillel Speech, 1984)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tao Te Ching - Religion and Philosophy

It is sad that there is a book collection published by Britannica called The Great Books of Western Civilization that begins with Homer, considered the earliest written text that has survived the destruction of the Library of Alexandria to modern scholars, historians and philosophers; and yet there isn't any such collection that has the books of the Western world that includes ancient texts to the modern age covering Arabian and Oriental civilization and culture. The Story of Civilization, written by Will & Ariel Durant that contains eleven volumes provides the Western world an insight upon the history and culture of the Eastern world – but a collection of works should be put together for a better understanding by a larger audience and to enlighten readers of the Western world. 
The TaoTe Ching has been an influential classic text of Chinese philosophy for centuries. Chinese scholars and historians believe its composition in the 6th century BC by a Taoist sage by the name of Li Er Tan, traditionally known as Lao Tzu who was a contemporary philosopher of K'ung Fu-tzu that we in the Western world have come to know as Confucius. The name Lao Tzu is a title of honor that means 'Old Master'.
What little is known of Lao Tzu comes from the Shi chi (Records of the Historian) that was compiled sometime in the beginning of the 1st century BC by the Han historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien (145-85 BC). He was born in the village of Chu Jen in the state of Ch'u and later became an activist at the court of the Chou Dynasty. Two important events in his life is recounted by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, one being a visit by Confucius, who asked Lao Tzu to tutor him in the traditional rites. Lao Tzu replied …
Those you talk about have turned to dust. All that remains is their words. When a nobleman lives in good times, he goes to court in a carriage. But when times are hard, he goes where the wind blows. Some people say that a wise merchant hides his wealth and thus appears to be poor. Likewise the sage: if he has great inner virtue, he appears outwardly to be a fool. Stop being so arrogant with all your questions, your self-importance and overbearing obsessions. None of this is the real you. That is all I have to say to you.
When Confucius returned to his followers, he described the meeting with Lao Tzu …
I know the birds fly, fish swim and animals run. Creatures that run can be trapped; those that swim can be caught in nets; those that fly can be shot down. But what to do with a dragon, I do not know. It rides on the clouds and the wind. Today I met Lao Tzu, and he is like a dragon.
Originally the text was named Lao Tzu, but during the Han period (1st century BC to 1st century AD) it became known as Tao Te Ching, which has continued to this present day. Literally it translates: The Way. It is a book of 81 short chapters divided into two sections. The first section are Chapters 1 to 37; and opens with an explanation of the nature of the Tao, and the second division, Chapters 38 to 81, opens with an explanation of the workings of Te (virtue, 'the good'). The third word, Ching, means 'classic' – so the translation of the title is The Classic of the Way and its Virtue.
The Tao Te Ching is important for the Taoist school of Chinese philosophy, as well as the Taoist religion and Chinese Buddhism and has been translated into hundreds of languages that has given it a world-wide interest. The original text was comprised of about 5,000 Chinese characters, which some have multiple meanings and it was also written in cryptic style.
Recently, scholars have questioned whether Lao Tzu was the author as an individual or even that he, as a person, truly existed. The text is more of an anthology of sayings that were compiled over an extended period of time.
The Tao Te Ching is primarily about the Tao; however, there are significant themes that concern the Sage, the Master, rulers and government, and non-action (wu-wei). The Tao is a spiritual way or spiritual path for the enlightened to follow, as described in the first chapter:
The Tao that can be described
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken
is not the eternal Name. (Chapter 1)
According to Lao Tzu, the Tao is not only 'older than the concept of God' but it is both 'intangible and evasive' and therefore beyond conception. If one wishes to increase their capacity to the understanding and draw closer to the Tao, it is advised that they change their way of thinking because 'the more knowledge you seek, the less you understand'. When reading the Tao Te Ching, one quickly sees there are contradictions in the words of philosophy. However, like the last quote, there are meanings that are not quickly recognized by most. It sums up that one can obtain a vast expanse of knowledge, but there will always be more to learn. The meaning becomes more clear and it is possible that Lao Tzu used this to encourage his student-followers to think more deeply, the enlightenment beyond first glance.
Some of the sayings in the Tao Te Ching transcends time from the period it was written to what is happening in the world today and certain truths can be correlated to today's events and circumstance. For example, in the section of 'Rulers and Government' …
Governing a large country
is like frying small fish.
Too much poking spoils the meat. (Chapter 60)
In America, as well as Europe, where forms of democracy had taken root when tyranny, despotism and socialism has taken hold in other countries; and indeed, had taken hold from time to time in the Western world as well – this philosophical paragraph can readily be recognized as being true.
The United States of America was set up by learned men who discussed thoroughly and were educated in the classical works, devised a government system that has yet to be surpassed in human history. Yet We the People have transformed the Jeffersonian philosophy that People have the power over those that are given the reins of governing to a government that, under the pretense of being for the welfare of the People, are gaining more power over the People in recent decades. In political terms, we have allowed the few to push our governmental system from a democratic republic to a pure democracy corrupted into a form of socialism that never leads to a path freedom of the people, but instead tyranny of a few over many. Instead of continuing America's tradition of being an example of a democratic republic (Jeffersonian republic), we have, instead, allowed ourselves to be deceived into thinking that other forms of government are better and we should mimic or look to what is being done in Europe today. The People have allowed, through apathy and procrastination, the minority to decide rather than the majority – and the opposing majority is dwindling as the tempting carrot of government handouts and a growing portion of the populace allowing others to pay most of or all of their required taxation to operate the government. Those that govern our government promise “free” benefits, but in fact someone is paying for it financially and ALL of us are paying for it in the cost of losing freedom of choice and other liberties set forth by our Founders who worked diligently to set up such an extraordinary and historically astounding system that has not been compared to anywhere.
Indeed, since the discussion is primarily of a text written 2,500 years ago concerning enlightenment and the betterment of human intellectual thought, it is sad to note that China, a wellspring of intellectual thought and inventions that have been used world-wide – pasta, acupuncture and gunpowder, to name the most obvious, has allowed itself to fall under the thumb of communism and, in turn, corrupt other nations in various ways.
Lao Tzu provided advice for those of wealth …
Do not display your treasures
or people will become envious. (Chapter 3)
About Tao - Chapter 4 …
It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than the concept of God.
Understanding – Chapter 5 …
...The space between Heaven and Earth is like a bellows;
it is empty, yet has not lost its power.
The more it is used, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you comprehend.
It is better not to speak of things you do not understand.
Chapter 7 …
The Tao of Heaven is eternal,
and the Earth is long enduring.
Why are they long enduring?
They do not live for themselves;
thus they are present for all beings. …
Chapter 13 …
Success is as dangerous as failure,
and we are often our own worst enemy. …
Love the whole world as if it were your self;
then you will truly care for all things.
Chapter 16 …
...Returning to Heaven's mandate is called being constant.
Knowing the constant is called 'enlightenment'. …
By accepting things as they are, we become impartial.
By being impartial, we become one with Heaven.
By being one with Heaven, we become one with Tao.
Being one with Tao, we are no longer concerned about
losing our life because we know the Tao is constant
and we are one with Tao.
Chapter 21 …
...Even though the Tao is intangible and evasive,
we are able to know it exists. …
since the beginning of time, the Tao has always existed.
It is beyond existing and not existing.
How do I know where creation comes from?
I look inside myself and see it.
Chapter 22 …
If you want to become whole, first let yourself become broken.
If you want to become straight, first let yourself become twisted.
If you want to become full, first let yourself become empty.
If you want to become new, first let yourself become old.
Those whose desires are few get them, those whose desires are great go astray.
When the ancient Masters said,
'If you want to become whole, then first let yourself be broken',
they were not empty words.
All who do this will be made complete.
Chapter 23 …
If you open yourself to Tao, the Tao will eagerly welcome you.
If you open yourself to virtue,
virtue will become a part of you.
If you open yourself to loss, the lost are glad to see you.
Chapter 24 …
Those who boast of their accomplishments diminish the things they have done.
Chapter 33 …
Those who know others are intelligent;
those who know themselves are truly wise.
Those who master others are strong;
those who master themselves have true power.
Those who know they have enough are truly wealthy.
Those who persist will reach their goal.
Those who keep their course have a strong will.
Those who embrace death will not perish,
but have life everlasting.
Chapter 38 …
The Master does not force virtue on others,
thus she is able to accomplish her task.
The ordinary person who uses force,
will find that they accomplish nothing.
The kind person acts from the heart,
and accomplishes a multitude of things.
Chapter 42 …
All things carry Yin
yet embrace Yang.
They blend their life breaths
in order to produce harmony.
Chapter 46 …
Whoever knows contentment will be at peace forever.
Chapter 47 …
Without opening the door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can understand the way of the Tao.
Chapter 63 …
...When something seems too easy,
difficulty is hiding in the details.
The Master expects great difficulty,
so the task is always easier than planned.
Chapter 70 …
My teachings come from the ancients,
the things I do are done for a reason.
Because you do not know me,
you are able to understand my teachings.
Because those who know me are few,
my teachings become even more precious.
Chapter 78 …
True sayings seem contradictory.
Chapter 81 …
True words do not sound beautiful;
beautiful sounding words are not true.

Often categorized as a religion, a philosophical religion, my idea is that it is not a religion but merely a school of philosophy that recognizes the existence of a Supreme Being, the Creator, the Cosmic Force, by whatever name given; but primarily focuses upon virtue and self-analysis that applies to all homo sapiens, regardless of race or culture.

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