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The Postmodern Catholic

Unit V Taoism
College Recommendations Guidelines
Sacred Paths
Homeworks and Outline: Sacred Paths
Reading Guide Questions Taoism 211-218
Reading Guide Questions Taoism
Homeworks: and Outline: Introduction to Catholicism
Unit IV Moses Reluctant Hero
Unit III God's Imperfect Instruments
Unit III God's Chosen Ones
The Mass, Vestements, and Sacred Vessels
Unit III The Sacraments
Iona Prep Interfaith Society
Islam Notes

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"Harmony with Nature"


The idea of Tao is central to understanding the Chinese (Merton)

Task of Taoism?

To recognize the underlying unity at heart of perpetual change

Regardless, the good of the whole is the guiding principle to how one manages continuous change

Tao: the Way

But more….

A. Beginnings of Taoism

Lao Tzu b. 604 BCE in China

He wrote a short book, Tao Te Ching "The Way and its Power"

Filled with paradoxical observations of the nature of the universe

Is essentially a psychological and philosophical approach to life and gaining wholeness and serenity. Meaning?

One’s goal is psychological/spiritual peace and balance where all the conflicting parts of oneself are harmoniously balanced (Jung’s depth psychology)

Beginnings continued

Became a "religion" in 440 CE when it was adopted by China as a state religion

Currently has about 20 million followers, and is primarily centered in Taiwan

Zen Buddhism (Chan in Chinese )is actually more Taoist than Buddhist

B. Lao Tzu

Shady historical figure, pictured as a simple man

Turned away from his society (feudal warfare) to live as a hermit in nature

A contemporary of K’ung fu Tzu (Confucius)

He was not a…




Descendant of a royal line

Rich man

Complicated man

Depictions of Lao Tzu

C. The Tao and its 3 meanings

Literal translation: The Way

The way of ultimate reality (The structure of the universe)

"The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao" (parallels Christian apophatic mysticism)

Is an ultimate state of being where all is one; the self, the universe are one and the same

Is not God but a state of being

Has two aspects: the infinite, indivisible, pure void

However, it is also (paradoxically) everything that exists (parallels the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness)

The Tao, 2nd Meaning

2. The way of the universe (Its Flow)

The ordering principle of nature, the rhythm of all life:

The seasons; a waterfall; the morning mist over a valley: all embody the forever changing, forever staying-the-same Isness of nature.

Taoists look to nature for wisdom on how to live their lives

The Tao, 3rd Meaning

3. The way of human life (Wisdom)

Should be in accord with the universal Tao

Goal of individual is to develop effective and harmonious modes (ways) of change

One should flow through life like water down a hill: path of least resistance

Water and the Tao

The nature and characteristics of Water are similar to the Tao (the Way) and offer valuable insight into its nature

Like water, the Tao:

is both weak and strong

It can be clear and calm, or raging and destructive

Water and the Tao continued

It always takes the path of least resistance

It takes the shape of whatever container it is in

It can reflect all things and all people, whether good or evil

It gives and takes life

Patterns formed by water like that of Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang

Two main aspects of the Tao

Neither can work separately from the other

It is important to recognize that yin and yang are not opposites but complimentary aspects of the Tao

Like all of reality, they interpenetrate each other

The Way of the Good Man is like Water (?)

Yin Yang

The Tao works through the interaction between the polar opposites Yin and yang

Carl Jung’s anima/animus

Moral/ethical implications?


Opposites or different aspects of same person?

The yin








A Taoist…

Recognizes the interaction between the yin and yang in his or her life

Is in accord with change in a tranquil way

Recognizes that with no downs, there could be no ups

With no death there can be no life


D. Three Approaches to Tao

Taoist Hygiene and Yoga - Augmented (Increased) Power

Religious Taoism - Vicarious Power

Philosophical Taoism - Efficient Power


D1. Taoist Hygiene and Yoga
Augmented (Increased) Power

Increase one’s power

Ch’i: literally "breath" interpreted as "vital energy"

Ch’i is used to refer to the power of the Tao flowing through them

It is worked through…






Medicinal Herbs


Breathing techniques (air)

Movement (ta’i chi chuan)

Calisthenics: From Greek kalli-, beautiful (from kallos, beauty) + sthenos, strength




Martial Arts

Acupuncture: specific body areas are pierced with fine needles for therapeutic purposes or to relieve pain or produce regional anesthesia


Because the Chinese seemed to be a bit more social-minded than Hindus, the raja yoga of Hinduism borrowed by the Taoists took on a new twist:

The Tao that the Taoist yogi harnesses in his meditation is sent out to society

D2. Religious Taoism
Vicarious Power

Developed in the 2nd century CE as a result of Buddhism’s influence

Lao Tzu is seen as a deity

Centers on faith-healing (power of the Tao)


D3. Philosophical Taoism
Efficient Power

Original form of Taoism… philosophical/ psychological principles of living, outlined in paradoxes

Philosophical Taoism remains unorganized

Here is recognized the limits of language and concepts to express/understand ultimate reality



The interest in PT is improving the self

The power of PT is to be conserved by using it efficiently/wisely so as to avoid conflict

Conflict is seen as draining

The object is to align oneself with the Tao by perfecting a life of wu-wei


"Creative Quietude"

"Pure Effectivness"

"Actionless Activity"


System of virtues/ethics/morals

Pairs of Virtues

Humility and Non-competition

Leads to victory

"surrender to win"

Nonaggression and Passive Rule

Leads to peace

Naturalness and Naturalism

Lead to oneness with the Tao

The Sage is the perfect embodiment of these virtues and acceptance of the yin yang.

Chuang Tzu (369-286 BCE)

Taoism’s "second founder" (like St. Paul to Christianity

Authored self-titled work that emphasizes:

Moral relativity

Cycle of life


How to deal with life’s problems?

With patience


One is not good or evil, both are essential to the workings of the universe

Taoists do not think in terms of good or bad but of wholeness

Questions pp. 211-218

How does the poem on p. 211 reflect the core Taoist ideals of humility and serenity?

How does the Taoist’s overall attitude towards nature differ from that of the traditional Westerner?

How are people usually depicted in Chinese art? How does this reflect core Taoist principles?

Where do Taoists and Confucians most differ in their view of society and what’s important?

How does the Chinese yin/yang symbol reflect the relativity of all values?

How does this effect the Taoist view of good and evil? Life and death?

How does Taoism tend to view war and violence?

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D. “The more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes” to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone” Thomas Merton