Search Results for Taoism
Generally speaking, Taoism is an outlook on life that attempts to harmonize the individual will with the natural and spiritual influences of the cosmos.
Personal thoughts and actions are said to alternately coincide or conflict with the flow of the universe, or in some commentaries, the Will of Heaven.
The advent of Taoism is usually attributed to two Chinese sages, Lao Tzu (mid fourth-century BCE) and Chuang Tzu (369-286 BCE), although other profound Taoist authors are available in translation.
In the poetic Lao Tzu (also called the Tao-te-Ching), its author, Lao Tzu, tells of the 10,000 things (representing the visible world) that flow synchronously with an underlying ground of being which, although cannot be named, he calls Tao (often pronounced Dow, as in Dow-Jones).
Chaung Tzu’s writings are more mystical than Lao Tzu’s. Later developments in Taoism include the use of magic, alchemy and polytheistic worship. These trends were taken by many Chinese as degradations of the original message–that being the cultivation of virtue through naturalness and simplicity.
In recent times Alan Watts has popularized Taoism. Fritzoff Capra, Gary Zukav and others have followed suit by likening the cosmological aspects of Taoism to those of contemporary sub-atomic physics.
» Ancestor Cults, Anthroposophy, Confucianism, Evil, I Ching, Lao-tzu, Pantheism, Particle-Wave Duality, Reincarnation, Saint, Soul, Spinoza (Baruch), Wu Wei, Yin-Yang
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Ancestor Cults [ancestor, from Latin antecessor, from ante, before + cedere, to go] is the now antiquated and politically incorrect term that until fairly recently scholars applied to individuals or groups who revere ancestors believed to exist in the afterlife.
Various traditions around the world venerate and pray to deceased ancestors.
Adherent of these traditions believe that familial spirits come to aid in daily life by bestowing spiritual power, protection, wisdom and practical guidance through individuals acting as mediums.
With roots in Africa, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, ancestor veneration appears especially in folk religions. Ritual is often present. In Africa, ancestors are said to protect living relatives from witches and voodoo curses. In Asia, ancestor veneration takes on varying degrees of importance in Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto and Buddhism. In China, the graves of ancestors are meticulously kept, despite former Marxist and Communist attempts to eradicate other spiritual practices.
In North American Native religions, the ongoing presence of the dead is taken to be equally as important as the ongoing presence of the living. Western culture tends to view this as odd and some religious groups deplore it as Satanic, probably because of their focus on the trappings and trends of everyday life. But it’s ironic that Catholics, for instance, believe that anybody can be a saint, and as such, mediate divine graces for us.¹
On the other hand, we do have psychologically questionable individuals who believe and follow any voice they hear without question. Some of these folks can do quite well in society, masking their difference (especially when non-violent). If the voices tell them to do bad things, they can still hide it for a long time before being discovered. Usually things start to unravel, however, and the potentially violent person’s family, friends, coworkers and, perhaps, psychiatrist begin to see that something’s wrong. Sometimes this is reported in time. Other times not, and an upsetting event (like failing an exam or losing a job) triggers these individuals into committing unspeakable acts of violence.
This short account of the psychology behind this type of violence might seem out of place here. But I mention it to underscore the fact that the belief in spirit communication is not always benign.
¹ See the entry on intercession.
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Confucianism is a Chinese teaching of morality, right action and right education, based on the ethical teachings of Confucius. Up until 1382, statues of Confucius were common in public places. Every city had a shrine dedicated to Confucius and at least two state festivals were held in his honor during mid-spring and mid-autumn. The roots of Confucianism can be found in the ancient Chinese scholar class, the Ju. They were experts on rituals, sacrifices and the connection between heaven and earth.¹
Following Confucius’ death in 479 BCE, various schools of Confucianism arose. These Confucian schools are often contrasted with the more mystical aspects of Taoism. Confucianism is usually associated with precise rules of behavior and the State education that persisted in China early into this century. Taoism, on the other hand, is usually associated with the free-floating, unregulated ideas of Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu, as popularized by Alan Watts and others.
But such a contrast is arguably overemphasized due to Western misunderstanding.
The rites of Confucianism (li) are meant to guide our natural and inherently good human potential (jen), they are not meant to oppress or stultify. Rules ideally are like stakes guiding a growing plant. Oppression arises when li are distorted or corrupted because a ruler is out of sync with the cosmic harmony (Tao). Notably, Confucius was not a snob. He believed that all people could attain ethical correctness and thus become noble (chun tzu).
These fundamental ideas belong to both Confucianism and Taoism. Differences were arguably not categorical but more about emphasis. The Neo-Confucian Mencius favored following personal intuition instead of adhering to external rules. But he certainly knew that one must calibrate one’s actions to one’s social circle, which, sociologists will tell us, always implies a kind of structure and rule. Mo Tzu highlighted the importance of universal love. Meanwhile, Mencius stressed the importance of love within one’s immediate circle, which, again, to be effective must take in to account socio-cultural rules and expectations.
Earlier Chinese religion practiced divination through oracle bones and the belief in a great cosmic being. But Confucianism generally tried to steer thinking away from the transcendent toward the humanistic. This trend is found in the main Confucian texts of the Analects, The Book of Rites, The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean.
¹ S. G. F. Brandon ed., Dictionary of Comparative Religion (1970: 203-205).
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From his considerable study of world myth and religion, Jung came to the conclusion that this collective data is cross-cultural. In fact, he didn’t just see the collective unconscious in myth and religion. He saw universally recognizable motifs among dreams, myth, religion, the arts and architecture. One leading example he provides is the mandala. For Jung, the circular shape of the mandala represents the potentially limitless self.
Jung calls these hypothesized patterns of human existence archetypes.¹ Existing in a larger time frame than most people’s daily awareness, the archetypes of the collective unconscious apparently connect the past, present and future.
Jung speaks to the arbitrary nature of the term collective unconscious. Towards the end of his career he writes that he rendered essentially spiritual ideas in scientific-sounding language for the sake of professional and societal legitimacy. So this, in a sense, makes him something of a postmodern thinker way before the term became popular.
Because he was, in part, doing a sell job, his insistence on the bio-genetic base of the collective unconscious seems confusing to some, especially when he says:
The unconscious has no time. There is no trouble about time in the unconscious. Part of our psyche is not in time and not in space. They are only an illusion, time and space, and so in a certain part of our psyche, time does not exist at all.²
Could a timeless psyche be entirely biological? Perhaps Jung was saying that, although grounded in the body, the archetypes exhibit or resonate with a spiritual component. That is, a bio-genetic ground is necessary for the interplay of body and spirit.
What About Sigmund Freud and the Unconscious?
Freud and Jung’s views about the unconscious differ, but not so much as many believe. Some pop psychologists and New Age gurus quickly dismiss Freud’s ideas, unaware that his model of the unconscious also contains collective elements.
As we’ve seen in the above, Jung describes the archetype as a component of mankind’s psychological substratum—the collective unconscious. Freud similarly spoke of phylogenetic “schemata” and “prototypes.” And borrowing from ancient Greek and Jewish literature, Freud also devised the “Oedipus complex,” a “primal father” and likened the shadowy contents of the unconscious to archaeological ruins.
In addition, late in his career Freud revised his libido theory to include the general ideas of eros (life instinct) and thanatos (death instinct). Because Freud maintained that the fundamental aspects of the unconscious are universal, aspects of his model of the self, like Jung’s, point to a collective unconscious.³ And not only that. Freud, himself, said that Jung introduced nothing new with the idea of the collective unconscious. He wrote that the “content of the unconscious is collective anyhow.”4
¹ Jung’s notion of the archetypes borrows from ideas previously found in anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion and theology. The term archetype is traceable to St. Augustine, 354-430 CE.
² C. G. Jung Collected Works vol. 18, para. 684, cited in “Time and Space” at http://www.fundacion-jung.com.ar/ingles/citas.htm.
³ Michael V. Adams illustrates this point in The Cambridge Companion to Jung, (ed.) Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 101.
4 Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, p. 209, cited in R. J. Lifton with Eric Olson (eds.), Explorations in Psychohistory: The Wellfleet Papers, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1974 p. 90.
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The definition of evil is informed by one’s core beliefs, and different kinds of arguments try to explain its existence.
Some materialists and scientists scoff at the idea of evil as if it were an antiquated legacy from a superstitious past.
Violent criminals are usually described in the news in psychiatric terms. Murderers are often reported as having a mental illness instead of being possessed by the devil. However, sometimes callous murderers are called “monsters” so the idea of evil can creep in to our essentially scientific worldview.
Meanwhile, savage tyrants and warlords are often viewed through a historical or, perhaps, political lens.
Evil in Christian theology
A basic theological distinction exists between natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil includes “acts of God” such as floods, earthquakes and avalanches. Moral evil is a conscious human choice to turn away from God’s will and participate in some action harmful to self and possibly others.
Duns Scotus classified “intrinsic evil” as acts that are inherently evil and accordingly prohibited. But intrinsically evil acts are not evil because they are prohibited.
In Christian theology evil is often seen as a necessary component of God’s plan of salvation. Here one accepts as an article of faith that God permits evil for some greater good, beyond the comprehension of mere mortals (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
A Christian school of thought, begun by Irenaeus and popularized by John Hick, argues that evil is permitted, but not caused, by God. Why, one might ask, would an all-powerful God permit evil? According to the Irenian school, the answer lies in the idea of ‘soul making.’ A soul freely choosing to abstain from evil is of greater value than one that automatically avoids evil like a programmed robot. The free soul apparently better glorifies God than would a sinless automaton.
Although evil may ravage, test and torment good souls living on earth, the true goal of our finite, earthly life is to be made worthy of eternal heavenly life. According to this perspective the evils of the world act as a crucible. Souls not succumbing to but resisting evil are purified and strengthened toward the good. Evil, then, is necessary. It acts as a kind of hammer that pounds out the soul’s impurities.
God permits some evils lest the good things should be obstructed.
Another Christian argument, influenced by Plato‘s idea of the Forms, is given by St. Augustine. Augustine sees evil as a privatio boni—the absence of good. According to this view, since God is good, evil must be where God is not present. Therefore God doesn’t create evil. It’s a choice. But the theological debates get complicated here, and some ask whether Augustine’s theodicy holds up for both natural and moral evil.
Different branches of Christianity hold different views about what happens to evil souls in the afterlife. Some Churches damn sinners eternally. Martin Luther, for instance, believed that some souls are predestined for hell. Meanwhile, some contemporary Christians pray for the liberation of souls in hell while others do not.¹ And the Catholic Purgatory is neither heaven nor hell, but a difficult preparation for heaven.
Evil in non-Christian religions
Evil in Islam is similar to that of Christianity. But for Muslims it is evil to suggest that Christ is one with God (John 10:30). And the prohibitions in the Koran differ from those of the New Testament. Notably, killing is permitted in the Koran in some circumstances (see http://www.yoel.info/koranwarpassages.htm and http://www.islamreview.com/articles/jihadholywarversesinthekoran.shtml), whereas the very thought of killing is denounced in the New Testament. Many branches of Christianity do, however, entertain the idea of a Just War.
In Hinduism a different view of evil is presented. Evil is permitted to maintain a proper balance of sacred heat or power (tapas) within the universe. Aspects of Hinduism speak to the reality of hell for evildoers. But evil in Hinduism is mostly viewed in terms of personal ignorance and spiritual development, making hellish punishments temporary instead of eternal.
According to this perspective, the evil soul reincarnates on earth until it is cleansed of the ignorance that influenced it to commit bad deeds. This differs dramatically from the Catholic view that souls in hell are eternally damned and, strangely enough, would never want to leave. Unlike the Christian, the Hindu aspires to transcend apparently relative ideas about good and evil through an experiential knowledge of universal truth.
Accordingly, the goal of Hinduism differs from both Christianity and Islam. For the Hindu, heaven is a halfway house on the road to ultimate realization. The reincarnating soul may enjoy periodic visits to different heavens but, though the round of rebirth, it eventually transcends all heavens and ultimately achieves the greatest good of the Brahman. A similar but in some ways different view of evil is presented in Taoism.
An interesting but often overlooked question is whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu heavens and hells are identical in character. The celebrated Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade notes that heavens and hells are described differently among world religions. But do they all feel the same? We can’t really know but my guess is NO.
Most cultures around the world at some point in history have seen evil as a cause of mental or physical illness. This view is prevalent in Shamanism. And some religious writers, such as the Catholic, Michael Brown, say they feel the presence of evil almost anywhere.
And on the inferiority of evil as compared to good, W. H. Auden writes in A Certain World:
Good can imagine Evil; but Evil cannot imagine Good.
¹ See this excellent discussion: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=329730
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Hades is the ancient Greek lord of the underworld. Also known as Pluton from the 5th-century BCE. Like the Hebraic sheol, the abode of Hades is an afterlife place of gloom and restlessness but not as terrible as the Christian idea of hell, which is more closely akin to Tartarus, a place even deeper and more dreadful than Hades.
The celebrated mythographer Karl Kerényi suggests that Hades had a dual identity of life (as vitality) and death (as afterlife) and that this paradox was apparently known to those initiated into the Greek mystery cults.
The philosopher Heraclitus, unifying opposites, declared that Hades and Dionysus, the very essence of indestructible life zoë, are the same god. Amongst other evidence Karl Kerenyi notes that the grieving goddess Demeter refused to drink wine, which is the gift of Dionysus, after Persephone’s abduction, because of this association, and suggests that Hades may in fact have been a ‘cover name’ for the underworld Dionysus. Furthermore he suggests that this dual identity may have been familiar to those who came into contact with the Mysteries (Kerenyi 1976, p. 240). One of the epithets of Dionysus was “Chthonios”, meaning “the subterranean” (Kerenyi 1976, p. 83).¹
This kind of Jungian “union of opposites” thinking has become popular among some New Age, Zen and NeoTaoist groups today. The polar opposites of life and death, love and hate, good and evil, and so on, are said to more correctly be “complementaries.” And an awareness of their essential interconnectedness apparently leads to greater self knowledge.
Opposed to this view, each in their own way, are the orthodox versions of the “religions of the book,” as they are often called—namely Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. These three world religions share the belief that God is completely good and that evil is a personal rejection of that goodness. As such, the religions of the book don’t advocate some kind of mixing of good and evil as a pathway toward ultimate truth and goodness.
These three religions do differ, however, on the details concerning goodness and how to obtain it in this world and the next.
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Implied throughout the I Ching‘s worldview is the notion that one’s individual condition is intricately linked to the dynamic workings of nature (to include the cosmos and the Will of Heaven).
The earliest surviving version of the I Ching evolved out of Chinese nature philosophy and was written on bamboo strips. As legend has it, this first incarnation of the I Ching dates back to the mythical Emperor Fu-hsi, c. 2850 BCE. It was composed of eight trigrams (three lines each), which themselves might have been of foreign origin.
Around 1150 BCE, King Wen, who became the Duke of Chou, composed 64 hexagrams of six lines each (two trigrams) with short commentaries. Each hexagram apparently represented an archetypal situation. And each line of the hexagram is based on a binary system (either a solid or broken line) and is attained by selecting a single yarrow stalk from a randomly arranged heap and going through a specific set of operations.
The I Ching influenced Lao Tzu’s composition of another great Chinese work, the Tao-te-Ching, around 500 BCE. During the fifth-century BCE Confucius turned his attention to the I Ching and contributed to the “Ten Wings.” Each Wing is a commentary on an aspect of each hexagram.
Since then, the tyrant emperor Ch’in Shih Huang Ti ordered the burning of the I Ching and all Confucian commentaries, but some copies survived.
Around the third-century the scholar Wang Pi refashioned the book, emphasizing its wisdom instead of divinatory purposes (in contrast to the opportunistic court magicians of the day).
In the 17th century a Jesuit priest introduced the book to the philosopher Leibniz. Leibniz substituted the solid and broken lines of the hexagrams with “0″ and “1″ and found them to be arranged in a binary system that counted up from 0 to 63.
It’s noteworthy that computer programming uses binary code—the same ancient logic found in the structure of the I Ching.
In the 1960′s the I Ching became popular in the West, and tossing three Chinese coins six times became a viable (and marketable) alternative to the ancient method of selecting yarrow stalks.
Just before this, the psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote a forward to the sinologist Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching. Jung also mentions the I Ching in relation to his concept of synchronicity.
The Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen and other notables have, at some time in their lives, became fascinated with the I Ching’s attractive combination of depth and simplicity. Numerous interpretations and self-help books based on the ancient texts are available today and recent attempts have been made to connect the underlying philosophy of the I Ching with the notion of karma as found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
As for the ever skeptical John Lennon, he had this to say in the song “God” on the album, Plastic Ono Band:
I don’t believe in I Ching… I just believe in me.
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The word ‘mystic’ refers to one who engages in mysticism, and is often used pejoratively or as a caricature (e.g. wooly-headed mystic). This usage arguably arises, in part, from the worldly bias of contemporary consumer-oriented culture.
Many individuals, religious and secular, seem to value only that which they can buy, sell, and most of all, see. Subtle religious feelings may not be accessible to them, so naturally they’d think the whole idea of mysticism is hogwash.
Fortunately, this almost animalistic perspective of reality is not all pervasive–although it does seem to be dominant in the scientific, legal and political aspects of 21C culture.
There always have been and continues to be mystics who suggest there’s more, much more to life than meets the eye.
By the same token, some mystics seem to make grandiose claims and have allowed their sense of reason to be eclipsed by personal biases.
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Broadly speaking, magic is the use of supernatural power to cause an effect on or gain knowledge of people, souls, animals, vegetation, objects, the elements and events. Magical procedures may involve elaborate ritual and are variously directed towards the past, present, future and afterlife or some combination thereof.
A distinction is usually made between white and black magic. White magic is allegedly intended to help people. Black magic is revengeful with the intent to harm others and thus more clearly evil.
Sympathetic magic is the belief that one event causes another, so the magician imitates a desired outcome. A positive example would be painting animals on a cave wall in the belief that this will enrich the hunt. A negative example would be believing that a barren woman is the cause of a blighted crop.
Contagious magic is based on the belief that things once in physical contact or proximity continue to have a magical connection after they’re separated.
The most familiar example of Contagious Magic is the magical sympathy which is supposed to exist between a man and any severed portion of his person, as his hair or nails; so that whoever gets possession of human hair or nails may work his will, at any distance, upon the person from whom they were cut. This superstition is world-wide.¹
Another distinction is made between magic and religion. As Joachim Wach (1898-1955) suggests:
Religion differs from magic in that it is not concerned with control or manipulation of the powers confronted. Rather it means submission to, trust in, and adoration of, what is apprehended as the divine nature of ultimate reality.²
However S. G. F. Brandon says this is a biased perspective:
…such attempts generally rest on a priori definitions of the two entities concerned.³
Sociologists also point out similarities between magical and religious rituals. However, structural similarities do not necessarily entail equivalence.
We could, for instance, say that Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and New York are both big cities. Each has roads, buildings, people, movie halls and markets. But anyone visiting these two locales will be struck by their differences.
While an outsider may think that religious and magical rituals look the same and bring about similar results, to believers (on both sides) the numinous results differ dramatically. Modern magicians often say (or imply) that religious ritual is just an empty shell, cut off from any spiritual meaning it may have once had. Meanwhile, many contemporary religious persons shun magical rituals, often saying that the result brings about a kind of dark, gloomy, heavy and obscuring spirituality that is the work of evil.
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¹ Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). The Golden Bough. 1922. http://bartelby.org/196/7.html
² Joachim Wach, The Comparative Study of Religions, ch. 2, Columbia University Press (1958), cited in The Columbia World of Quotations, 1996.
³ Dictionary of Comparative Religion, ed. S. G. F. Brandon, New York: Charles Scribners & Sons, 1970, p. 418.
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