Religion (by )

A friend visited over the weekend, and we got chatting about religion, which got me bringing out my copy of the Tao Te Ching.

I liked the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching; my translation tried to preserve the translator's interpretation of the meaning of the text into modern English, which makes it pretty approachable; I know that I'm going to be missing some of the 'original meaning', but I won't get that unless I learn ancient Chinese, so so be it. But either way, it was pretty close to the philosophy of life I'd developed myself.

And yet, I can see how people can turn it into a religion. The Tao Te Ching, as I read it, is about the fact that the universe is a large complex system full of interrelationships and feedback loops and so on; that attempts to take control of it aggressively will tend to lead to failure, since it is not something you can master, and that success is to be had in seeing yourself as a part of this complex system (ecosystem, economy, society, ...) and striking a balance between letting it carry you around in its eddies and gently guiding yourself in the way you want, while accepting that your guidance is merely guidance and not absolute control, and that the gentler your guidance is the more effective it is likely to be - and the less extreme the side effects.

However, somebody with a different mindset could read the text and see "the Tao" as meaning "an omnipresent sentient God". My interpretation of "the Tao" is something more akin to "chaos theory".

My visiting friend had heard from somewhere that Taoism was a 'bit scary', and I confessed that despite having avidly enjoyed the Tao Te Ching, I really had no idea how "modern Taoism" worked as a religion, so I did a bit of research.'s writeup on Taoism seems quite good - as I had suspected, some folks had gone and converted a philosophy into a religion. Sigh. There are Taoist temples?

A state may be ruled by (measures of) correction; weapons of war may be used with crafty dexterity; (but) the kingdom is made one's own (only) by freedom from action and purpose. How do I know that it is so? By these facts:--In the kingdom the multiplication of prohibitive enactments increases the poverty of the people; the more implements to add to their profit that the people have, the greater disorder is there in the state and clan; the more acts of crafty dexterity that men possess, the more do strange contrivances appear; the more display there is of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are.

The Tao Te Ching, verse 57

Amen, brother!

1 Comment

  • By ella, Tue 17th Jan 2006 @ 1:49 pm

    "the more display there is of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are."

    Isn't that because the more laws there arethe higher channce you will have broken it? If you wanted to cut down the number of criminals in the US you could remove copyright of music + video. :p

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