So I just put away a pretty potent drink and I feel brazen enough to respond to an ornery YouTuber (and they often are ornery) who seems to have mischaracterized Taoism. Not that I’m a defender of the little faiths, or a Karen Armstrong or Joseph Campbell or Alan Watts, or a New Age burnout wired on superficial impressions of Eastern religions—attempting to find a way out of my cosmopolitan existential crisis. Though I suppose many of us who contend with the ridiculous realms of the inner life maintain a kind of respect for the Armstrongs and Campbells and Wattses of the world, and so we get tired of the idiot impressions of profound spiritualities. I get a bit irked, anyway.
As a preface, I don’t consider myself a Taoist. I do, however, appreciate, entertain, and even accept some [philosophical] Taoist ideas. Taoism is part of a big hodge-podge of many philosophies, religions, and spiritual worldviews that I fit into my nice little eclectic, skeptic, ever-evolving sense of reality.
On a response video titled RE: Taoism is Bullshit—rebutting a video in which the hardline atheist narrator calls out Taoism as just another load of crap in line with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.—the uploader makes some very good points. In particular, he makes a distinction between skepticism and atheism, terms which are used interchangeably by many people nowadays. Sadly, the nuances of these views are lost to know-it-alls who have the entire universe figured out.
Anyway, the uploader’s straightforward and, I would argue, very reasonable rebuttal seems incomprehensible to one commenter, who states:
“Taoism utilizes duality as a way of appreciating non-duality (“oneness”, as you call it). Hence the symbol of taijitu (“yin yang”), representing the interpenetration of opposites. (Dark can only be known in relation to light, good in relation to evil, etc. Thus they exist by virtue of their relationship with their opposites.)Hard to remember and understand? Taoism is incredibly straightforward: Try to live your life in accordance with the way that things are, and the nature of the universe. Be natural. Don’t fight life–go with it. Understand the inter-connectivity of everything. Lose yourself in the way that things are, and become free.I’m not sure what music you’re speaking of. Yes, religious Taoism (daojiao) has ritual music. But we’re talking about philosophical Taoism (daojia) here.
Yes, of course it’s unknowable whether or not the Tao exists. The Tao is a priori knowledge, conception, and characteristic. The Tao comes before being and non-being. The Tao is not something to be known. It is merely a principle, symbolized by all that is or ever will be. It is merely the way that things are, and the constancy of this self-evident fact. The Tao is the most subtle universalism you can imagine. It is self-evident by the fact that things simply are the way they are. It is not a thing nor a non-thing.
Lao Tsu was not “making anything up”. He discovered an eternal, self-evident principle, one that has been echoed by philosophers and mystics for centuries. What Lao Tsu called the Tao, Heraclitus called the Logos. The Hermeticists and Thelemites call it the All or the Absolute, or refer to it (in the Kabbalistic manner) as Kether (the totality of all things or the ultimate thing). Buddhists call it sunyata (emptiness), or thathata (sic) (suchness). It is nothing more than the way that things are.”
Now, I would love nothing more than if you metaphysically-minded folks would mosey on over and debate me on this topic. So few people get down to the nitty gritty introspective bits of Eastern religions—rather summing it up as something along the lines of “yeah, man, quantum fields fluctuating in the 11th dimension make the being of non-being really, like (inhale), mystical and shit, and that’s the beauty of the Tarot man, only $22.95 for this healing crystal shaped like Buddha’s dick. Whoa.”
Man I wish I could have joined in on the debate! I was busy debating with hard core atheists who hate that people can choose religious exemption to medical treatments… And they thought everyone else was insane. Great job on speaking for the Tao. It is funny how emotional people get. I think they are only there for the battle and an enlightening loss is unacceptable.
Thank you! I appreciate your comment.
I agree with what you’ve stated. Huge misunderstandings arise due to semantics and terminology especially. Many of the so-called “New Atheists”—while I appreciate their rigorous skepticism and demand for logic and rationality—come (like myself) from a Western background, most likely grounded in Christianity. Unless a person studies Taoism and comes to understand the impersonal nature of the Tao, they may easily mistake it for something akin to the Abrahamic god. The two couldn’t be more unrelated. (Although, going by Taoist thinking, the Tao contains all gods, whether they are ultimately “real” or simply mental projections!)
As I said in my post, the Tao is not a completely foreign concept. It is, at least to my mind, perennial (which is what makes it so important!): as a principle it is echoes in Heraclitus’ Logos, not to mention Hermes Trismegistus’ The All.
Tao is self-evident, to my mind. It is ultimately nothing more than the way things are, beyond the trappings of being and non-being, and thus their source, in some sense.