I picked this book up in a local charity shopm, looking to enrich my understanding of Taoism and expecting much of what it had to say to resonate with my broader outlook on life. A few parts did echo with various aspects of Buddhism that I buy into, but there was way too much mystical and astrological content that is in outright conflict with my views. I was expecting more of a practical nature but the emphasis on historical scholars and texts, and even this material was not particularly well written. Instead, I had to go back my Tao of Pooh quotes to restore my interest in the central ideas of Taoism, which this book muddled up. Nevertheless, I still walked away with some useful ponderings (see below).
Appealing points, quotes and thoughts:
- The overall idea of following a Middle Way is something I find attractive, as is the notion of working with the flow ("The Water Course Way"), where the individual reacts to their environment appropriately but also harmoniously (wu-wei), instead of always going against the grain, which would make for a draining existence. "Wu-wei is ...is energetic when required, but always relaxed and never pushed to the point of stress or strain". While this outlook suits my nature, I am not sure that nature and environment should be treated so completely exogenously; afterall, so much of the 'nature' around us is the work of men who have gone before. Instead I would modify the outlook somewhat by analysing siutations in terms of paths of least resistance and most resistance, putting aside whether they are 'natural' or not, and trying to be mindful of investing energy in change in the appropriate circumstances. From this modified perspective, a person could still apply a long-term lens to man-made situations and apply the principles of we-wei accordingly.
- The book states that Taoism gives no independence to the soul, and emphasises a healthy mind and body as the primary means to achieving peace.
- "Lao-Tzu declared the Tao to be the One that is eternal, natural, and spontaneous, and which can never be named or described. It is the the primordial potential that predates creation and all existence. It is the undifferentiated void that exists as pure spirit...The Tao is thus an abstract concept, not an ethical principle, and is therefore unknowable, beyond description, eternal and unmeasurable". Me: This really doesn't help...on the one hand it sounds like baloney from a science perspective, but on the other hand perhaps I am not grasping the meaning.
- Taoism places an emphasis on stillness. The author notes that 'any activity we pursue for the cultivation of the health and well-being of the body...must be balanced by remaining still and quieting the mind.'
- When discussing wu-wei, the author describes it as an unconscious instinctive action that is skillfully applied, like riding a bike or driving a car. Here he notes that the martial artist trains himself until the actions of the body become second nature, or at one with nature. My issue here is that the actions are the work of effort, be they efforts in training or in the heat of the action. Either way, they will start of as uncomfortable until they are repeated over and over that they become natural i.e. we are making the unnatural natural. For consideration here is also the fact that mindful becomes mindless when trained to the point of automated, reflex action.