TAO

Tao is a moment along the transition of being. It is where the air ceases and the rock begins. It is where the rock ceases and air begins. It is of no substance. It is the moment when, upon tasting my wife’s mashed potatoes, I am washed over with something from them and I happily weep. It is 4am on a training range just before the dawn, and the temperature drops significantly in a single instant and the universe sighs awake, and I am nothing because I am part. It is the violence of hand to hand flowing over me, when my opponent is suddenly my partner and his blows and attacks like water flow around me and propel me to his threshold and beyond him, and his attack becomes mine and victory is undone, but the fight has been won. It is the fear that blossoms in my primeval core, when animals cry in the darkness of the night. The rush of water, the smell of it, is the Tao. It is when I am standing in the subzero blizzard and I am no longer cold, for I have become the cold, or when the weight and heat and sweat of the body armor for an instant is no longer hot, heavy and wet, for I have become hot, heavy, and wet. It is the instant of a touch, before the words.
The Tao is an eternal moment where I am nothing, without substance, and part of everything. There are instances when one crosses the threshold of the moment and ceases to be and there is only the Tao. They are fleeting. The poem says that the Tao that can be named is not the Tao. The Tao is abstract. What I have written above are descriptions of what I believe the Tao to be. But the Tao is not to be articulated, it is to be lived and experienced in an eternal moment. Words are an attempt to categorize and codify something in order to understand it. The problem is, when you articulate something abstract, it is no longer abstract and has changed and is lost; it is gone. G.K. Chesterton, who probably had very little to do with Taoism (being a devout catholic), said in his book “The Everlasting Man” that Rome had to destroy Carthage to save the world, but as soon as it did, it lost what it was trying to save. If the left or the right of the political spectrum wanted to solidly secure its place in American politics, it is as simple as killing off the competition. But doing so, they would lose what they are trying to save. That is the meaning of the poem of the Tao. When you articulate you turn the abstract experience into a concrete one, in which case it is no longer abstract, and it has been lost.
The Tao is the pure poetry of the universe, and poetry must be felt. Humanity’s poetry begins as a concrete articulation, in an effort to induce the abstract experience. The Tao begins and ends abstractly. The western world of engineering and science has long since been removed from saturation by the abstract. God bless it! I, like Nietzsche, absolutely adore my toilet and my central plumbing. But do you remember a time, drawing upon the collective consciousness of the human experience spanning the ages, when taking a crap in the woods was a peaceful and settling experience. I don’t think you would need to go too far back. (Watch a cat take a dump sometime. Now that is the Tao.) We laugh together now about this anecdote (I hope that you are laughing) and we begin to reflect on how our sophisticated conversation on eastern philosophy has degraded into the toilet, pun intended. We say to ourselves, “Okay, okay, let’s get back on track here,” as we wipe the tears of laughter away and gather up our scholarly faculties from the floor of our mind where we flung them. But isn’t that the point? Haven’t we lost the moment, or rather come out of it?
The Tao has been described metaphorically as water running down the mountain to the seas, taking the path of least resistance. It has been described metaphysically as a force without substance and yet powerful, permeating all things, even those without crevices. We on occasion step into that water and are swept up for a moment, or our substance experiences a quantum change and we become the force with consciousness.
When I think of living according to the Tao, I am reminded of an exercise that we practiced in my very short education in Kung Fu. It was called Chi Sau, or “sticky hands”. Chi Sau, to me was very much about learning to live in that eternal moment. It was about learning to enter into the flow and stay there. Living in accord with the Tao is about living in that eternal moment, resisting the compulsion to articulate something, to quantify and codify it. It is learning the abstract language of the universe. Like children, first we learn to hear it, and then we learn to speak it. I think that some poets may be the closest to being able to do this, however even they still use words. Beauty doesn’t speak in words but you know when it has raised its voice, or when it whispers.
I think there are times when we live according to the Tao and we don’t even know it. When my daughter comes to me while I type, and hugs me and plays with my hair a little, that is she in the eternal moment. When my comrade in arms says the words, “the hell you say” or “shenanigans”, it is not the words he has expressed, it is a moment that he is in and he has sent me an invitation to be there with him. When my wife, before she was my wife, looked at me with a certain tone in her eye, and I was swept up happily in the current, we were living, albeit clumsily, according to the Tao.
If the Tao is an eternal moment of abstraction, then living according to the Tao is to stay in the moment after transitioning across the edge of being into that eternal moment, into the flow of the universe.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “TAO

  1. Do the concepts of having “no substance” and not being able to name the Tao contradict the “word of God” (a very specific naming) and the “bread of heaven” (a bread of actual flesh)?

  2. In the ‘sensus solum’ sense I would say yes, or at the very least show that Taoism is limited in its expression of truth, from the Christian perspective. As a Christian, the latter is the view I take. Many Christian like the, “skin of the truth stuffed with a lie” metaphor in this regard which is to say the least, combative. I held this view myself at one time. That said, I do not hold to the many paths lead to God view either. That is passive aggressive avoidance of accountability to truth and conflict. I hold a ‘sensus plenior’, poetic view. Insofar as the tao is nameless, that is undefinable, unfathomable, “unboxable” so is God, Insofar as God is outside and beyond creation, not part of it, He has no substance, substance being matter, or any other part of the created universe.

    This is where the tao stops. As a Christian I feel that it is truth, but only partial truth, expressed from a non-Christian perspective. The beauty of Christianity, is the person, Jesus Christ. The Word of God(named and even defined) made flesh(substance) who dwelt among us. Jesus is the complete picture, Self proclaimed as the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.

    Does that mean that the “moment along the transition of being” cannot be experienced without Jesus? In my view yes. Does that mean that it will be experienced in the popular American Christian framework by everyone? That would be arrogant for me to say so, as it would be arrogant for a taoist or any other philosopher to say so, of their particular point of reference.

    God is after all “unboxable”

    What say all of you?

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