Taoism, That which cannot be named


Welcome everyone to Sengoku Japan! Thank you for joining us here today. You can get a copy of the notes from the poster behind me, and if you feel so inclined please consider leaving a donation using the flower vase beside that.

Today we are going to discuss that which cannot be discussed – the Tao.

The first verse of the Tao Te Ching, the most comprehensive text on the Tao by Lao Tzu, reads:

“A way that can be walked
is not The way,
A name that can be named
is not The Name

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things

A mind free of thought,
merged within itself,
beholds the essence of Tao
A mind filled with thought,
identified with its own perceptions,
beholds the mere forms of this world

Tao and this world seem different
but in truth they are one and the same
The only difference is in what we call them

How deep and mysterious is this unity
How profound, how great!
It is the truth beyond the truth,
the hidden within the hidden
It is the path to all wonder,
the gate to the essence of everything!”

What this is saying, among various other interpretations, is that all of our experiences, including language, are merely a sign pointing to a non-conceptual ultimate reality. It is important to not focus on these sign posts but to focus instead on the ultimate reality (Tao) to experience it clearly.

So what is “Tao”? It’s literally translated to “way,” “path,” or “principle.” It is the underlying ultimate reality to all that is.

There’s a quote from “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff that explains it well:

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.

“What’s that?” the Unbeliever asked.
“Wisdom from a Western Taoist,” I said.
“It sounds like something from Winnie-the-Pooh,” he said.
“It is,” I said.
“That’s not about Taoism,” he said.
“Oh, yes it is,” I said.
“No, it’s not,” he said.
“What do you think it’s about?” I said.
“It’s about this dumpy little bear that wanders around asking silly questions, making up songs, and going through all kinds of adventures, without ever accumulating any amount of intellectual knowledge or losing his simpleminded sort of happiness. That’s what it’s about,” he said.
“Same thing,” I said.

As this tradition comes from Chinese philosophy which is steeped in the concept of yin and yang, or opposites coming together to form Truth or Reality. They are not necessarily two different things, but rather opposite and complementary qualities of the same basic Reality.

Within this philosophy is the concept of Wu. This is translated as “nothingness,” “emptiness,” or “non-existence.”

Verse 11 of the Tao speaks of this as:

“Thirty spokes of a wheel all join at a common hub
yet only the hole at the centre
allows the wheel to spin
Clay is moulded to form a cup
yet only the space within
allows the cup to hold water
Walls are joined to make a room
yet only by cutting out a door and a window
can one enter the room and live there

Thus, when a thing has existence alone
it is mere dead-weight
Only when it has wu, does it have life.”

Juxtaposed to this is the concept of Yu. These represent being and non-being. There are many philosophers who believe that Wu can be directly experienced by humans in certain forms, though I tend to prefer the idea that both are existent in all things, and one can perhaps not exist without the other.

Building from this is the concept of Wu Wei, or “actionless action.” Contrary to popular thought, this does not mean inaction or lack of action, but rather going along with the natural flow of things, acting in spontaneity and not obstructing the natural Tao.

The most common quote in the Tao Te Ching about this is as follows:
“When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”

The last verse of the Tao, Verse 81, read as follows:

“Words born of the mind are not true
True words are not born of the mind

Those who have virtue do not look for faults
Those who look for faults have no virtue

Those who come to know It
do not rely on learning
Those who rely on learning
do not come to know It
*
The Sage sees the world
as an expansing of his own self
So what need has he to accumulate things?
By giving to others
he gains more and more
By serving others
he receives everything
*
Heaven gives,
and all things turn out for the best
The Sage lives,
and all things go as Tao goes
all things move as the wind blows”

This can be a lot to take in. Some people will follow the Tao for their entire lives and not necessarily understand. But, any comprehension is beyond language, study, and even maybe experience. It’s said to be a kind of dropping away into nothingness, while still being fully here.

This makes it difficult to discuss, but let’s try anyway. What do you think about this? How does it relate to your own experience of the world?

I open the floor.

Welcome back from Summer & A Short History of Japanese Philosophy


Well, it has been a beautifully long and busy summer, and in all of it I seem to have neglected posting my discussion notes. So, over the next few days you will get a few updates! This first post was not used for intro notes, but rather a guideline to some of the topics we’re discussing at the 5pmSLT Sunday meetings on Sengoku.


 

Japanese Philosophy

In the West we typically approach philosophy from finding the space between a set of opposites – for instance mind and matter, or self and other. In the Japanese traditions, rather, they try to find where these philosophies overlap, essentially negating that anything is separate from anything else, but rather everything is a process of apparent opposites.

Before 7th Century CE – Yamato Period
⁃ Shintoism, a native form of animism that addressed an essence within each of us and in every living thing known as “kami,” which governed the world.
⁃ respect for animals, weather, nature, and ancestors.

7th-9th Centuries CE – Asuka and Nara Periods
⁃ Confucianism and Buddhism imported from Korea and China.
⁃ “Confusianism addressed the “social self,” influencing government structure and patterns of formal behaviour.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ Buddhism focused on the workings of the inner self. The most common ideas in Buddhism are impermanence, emptiness, dependent co-origination, and the impermanence of the self.
⁃ Shotoku Taishi, the then crown prince, declared in the “Seventeen Article Constitution” (604 CE) that the goal of “philosophy as well as government was harmony, rather than competition or separation, between the traditions.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ Buddhism and Confusianism came together to allow the people to view the universe as a constantly fluctuating process, and acquire an understanding of the self as “interdependent with the social and natural worlds.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)

9th-12th Centuries CE – Heian Period
⁃ Kūkai (774-835) and Saichō (767-822) were two primary thinkers of this period. They influenced the Shingon and Tendai Buddhist schools. The main ideas they brought about were of every phenomenon as an expression of the cosmos (macro mirrored in micro) and that enlightenment, a goal of Buddhist practitioners, was not able to be attained as a concept but “was an act of the full complex of mind, body, and spirit as transformed through ritual practice.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ It was in this period that the miyabi (elegance) and (okashi) charming aesthetic themes emerged.
⁃ The philosophical ideas of impermanence (mujō) and deep ontological being or mystery (yōgen), poignancy (mono no aware) and sensitivity (ushin) were further developed.

12th-16th Centuries CE – Kamakura Period
⁃ Samurai class takes over the court life seen in the classical period, turning people to search for a religious philosophy which would lead to peaceful everyday life rather than big-picture answers. Buddhist schools such as Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren were established.
⁃ Thinkers of this time were Hōnen (1133-1212), Shinran (1173-1263), Dōgen (1200–53), and Nichiren (1222–82).
⁃ Hōnen and Shinran each founded a school of Pure Land Buddhism which focuses on faith in Amida Buddha, “the buddha of light who promises rebirth in the Pure Land to the faithful.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy) They critiqued the idea of self as an isolated ego.
⁃ Dōgen was a main figure in Zen Buddhism, known for his ideas of the self and consciousness, with a focus on zazen, a particular form of seated meditation. Zazen was developed not as a means to enlightenment but as a form of discipline as an end in itself.
⁃ Nichiren focused on the Lotus Sutra and its ideal of the bodhisattva.
⁃ The native Shintō ideas and practices were absorbed into the Buddhist traditions during this period.

17th-19th Centuries CE – Edo and Tokugawa Periods
⁃ Confucian ideas reemerged to encourage peace and stability, unifying the state to political centrality.
⁃ Bushidō, the Code of the Warrior, emerged. This code expressed ideals of loyalty, stoic self-control, and personal virtue. These are in line with, respectively, “Confucian propriety, Buddhist self-discipline, and Shintō purity of heart.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy)
⁃ There are two main groups of Confucian thinkers:
⁃ First are those who emerged from the neo-Confucian philosophies of Zhu Xi (Shushi; 1130-1200), Wang Yangming (Ōyōmei; 1472-1529), Hayashi Razan (1583-1657) and Nakae Tōju (1608-48). This group had some members who thought that the neo-Confucian philosophy was too abstract when detailing ri (metaphysical principle) was the structuring force of the universe – they emphasized that qi (vital force) was the main structuring force of the universe.
⁃ The next group was the school focused on the “traditional” ideas of Confucianism as presented by Confucius, which emphasized a less metaphysical view and was more concerned with the functioning of everyday lives than answering the greater picture. This school is known as the kogaku school.
⁃ During this period, a school of thought known as kokugaku emerged which held the idea of returning to the original “ancient ways” of Shintōism. They wanted to renew the ideas of mono no aware – a sensitivity to or sympathy for the things that constitute the world.

19th-Current Centuries CE – Taisho and Heisei Periods
⁃ A new word was coined during this period that was meant to be a direct translation of the English term “philosophy” – testugaku, comprised of wisdom (tetsu) and learning (gaku).
⁃ Here is when the Western constructs started to influence Japanese philosophers. The first major Japanese philosopher to use the Western style of philosophy was Nishida Kitarō (1870-1945) in his “An Inquiry into the Good” (1911). He introduced a philosophy he called “Nothingness” (mu), which fuzed the ideas of Zen and William James to come to an idea of “pure experience” based on experiential and logical experiences of judgement and action. His ideas inspired the Kyōto school of philosophy which explored the differences and similarities of Western and Eastern philosophical and religious traditions.
⁃ Nishitani Keiji (1900-1990) explored the idea of Nothingness and brought the ideas of Martin Heidegger (who he studied under), which was already arguably similar to Japanese ideas of being and existence.
⁃ Watsuji Tetsurō (1889-1960) disagreed with the ideas of Western individualism as well as Confucian collectivism, and instead posited an ethical idea of “betweenness,” as if each individual exists on a sliding scale of “individual freedom and socially imposed norms.” (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/301242/Japanese-philosophy).
⁃ Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962) also found a sliding scale between the universal and particular ideas, feeling that the schools of either ignore the fact of specific species. For instance, the respective schools would emphasize a person’s universal human nature or atomistic individuality. What Tanabe introduced was the idea of a person as an ethnic, national and cultural being, having an individual role as well as a universal role.
⁃ Some modern philosophers that have stuck to the traditional philosophies are Tamaki Kōshirō (1915-1999) and Nakamura Hajime (1911-1999) who follow a Buddhist tradition. Some others, such as Yuasa Yasuo (1925-2005) and Ueda Shizuteru (1926-current) focus on integrating ideas to establish a universal or global perspective rather than monocultural.

We’ve Been Published!


Lynn Ma of the Examiner has published an article about the Traditional Chinese Medicine series! I’ve attached them here, for all of you to see.

Thank you so much to all of you; none of this would be possible without you!

Traditional Chinese medicine discussion series in ‘Second Life’

Every Tuesdays at 7 p.m. SL Time/PST, there is an in-depth discussion series on traditional Chinese Medicine at “Second Life”. The discussions are held by Chraeloos at the Peaceful Dragon Oriental Medicine Center on Tolkien; and usually last about an hour. The owner of the Center, is Xandria Winterwolf , who is a qualified practitioner and helps out with the events. Chraeloos credits Xandria Winterwolf for the Center’s existence, “It was her vision to create this center in SL, and it’s her vision that keeps it going”.

Various topics in the field of Chinese Medicine are covered at the Discussion Series. These include Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Herbs, Acupuncture, Yin-Yang, and Five Elements. During the discussion, participants can ask questions about any health concerns, the practice, or the notes given at the discussions. The discussions are free, however donations are always welcomed.

According to Chraeloos, “the discussions usually start with an introduction to the topic, and then after about half an hour or so, it is open for discussion”. Many visuals are also used to help the participants have a better understanding of the topic. After a few weeks of discussions on the topic, interactive activities are incorporated into the series. Then, the next topic is discussed in the series. Chraeloos says that “In Chinese Medicine all the theories are connected, so every topic leads into the next. By introducing the topic and then letting people explore it on their own, I think it creates a deeper understanding of the entire philosophy and practice.”

When inquired about if there is anything she would like to share with the readers of the Examiner, Chraeloos noted that the center is continually expanding; and trying to create a place where people can learn about and practice all types of oriental healing. “We’re in the midst of having a reiki class, tai chi class, and possible remote healing class as well as the Traditional Chinese Medicine class. We hope to spread knowledge about this ancient system of medicine that has been sadly pushed aside by Western medicine, despite very similar effective techniques in the traditions of India, Persia, medieval Europe, and native North and South American tribes.”

Chraeloos stated that all of these techniques have been proven to be highly effective. “Not only does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have little to no side effects, it has been known to keep people at their optimal balance, therefore extending their lifespan to 100+ years (as seen throughout history; records of such evidence go back approximately five thousand years).”

According to Chraeloos, “the idea of TCM is to have the patient maintain their health (balance), which is a life style choice made not by the doctor, but by the patient. The doctors of TCM focus on the patient’s whole body and environment when diagnosing a problem (imbalance) and aim to help the patient understand how to maintain their overall health, instead of focusing on the specific area of the problem as is done in Western medicine. They believe the body and mind are bridged by an infinite energy that exists in everything; living and nonliving. In believing this, they practice keeping all aspects of the body, mind, and energy in check by eating foods suited to their body types, practicing energy manipulation techniques (tui na, qi gong, meditation, tai chi, acupuncture, etc.), and living wholesome lives.”

The center hopes to provide each and every person the opportunity to learn about traditional Chinese medicine in order to enhance both their spiritual and physical lives.

Overall, the Traditional Chinese Medicine Discussion Series is a great class for the interested “Second Life” resident. It is also great for beginning and intermediate level practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

To learn more about the event, please IM Chraeloos in “Second Life” or join Chraeloos’ group (Chrae’s Philosophy and Literature) in “Second Life”.

If you do not have a “Second Life” account, please read our Examiner article on creating a free or paid account at “Second Life.”

Many thanks to Chraeloos for taking the time from her busy schedule to be interviewed by the Examiner.

Interview profile of Chraeloos of ‘Second Life’

Who is Chraeloos of “Second Life”? Chraeloos hosts theTraditional Chinese Medicine Discussion Series in “Second Life” every Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. SL Time/PST. The discussion series are held at the Peaceful Dragon Oriental Medicine Center on Tolkien. Here, the Center hosts a number of discussion topics including, Taoism, TraditionalChinese Medicine (TCM), Herbs, Acupuncture, Yin-Yang , and Five Elements.

Although Chraeloos is not currently a doctor of Chinese medicine, she is currently studying towards it. Chraeloos assists Xandria Winterwolf , who is the owner of the Center; and a qualified practitioner who helps out with the events. Both of them have a great relationship, and Chraeloos credits Xandria Winterwolf of “having taught her a lot about the practice and philosophy of TCM; and of having taught many others, with her help.”

Chraeloos also has experience practicing traditional Chinese medicine on herself, family, and friends “although within boundaries – obviously not prescribing things”. Among other things, Chraeloos also “practices qi gong, tai chi, meditation, herbal medicine, tui na, massage therapy, accupressure, etc.” on herself, family and friends. She is very knowledgeable on the various branches of traditional Chinese medicine. Overall, Chraeloos is one of the most knowledgeable and talented people you can meet in “Second Life.”

To learn more about the Traditional Chinese Medicine Discussion Series, please read our article on the Examiner.

Many thanks to Chraeloos for taking the time from her busy schedule to be interviewed by the Examiner.

Thank you so much to everyone at the Examiner, especially Lynn, who helped out with this. It’s very much appreciated!