not the eternal Tao!!???

If the Tao which can be named is not the eternal Tao, then what is??

I think that means that the Tao is something which can’t be translated into a proposition. As in, by it’s nature it transcends math and language.

From that I assume that all the text and all the conversations that we have about it, are just the descriptive element of a full knowledge of the Tao, which also requires a subjective interpretation in order to be complete. The book has the universal elements of the knowledge of the Tao, and when I read and understand it, the particularities of it are revealed to me.

It has to be the same Tao for me as it is for you. It’s the eternal Tao, not the eternal taos. Right?

Now here are the questions…

If the Tao can’t be translated into a universal proposition, then how can people who have come to have a complete knowledge of it, as in full contact with the literature, and a good personal understanding of it be sure that they’re understanding the same thing?

We can all agree that the book says the same thing to everyone who reads it.

How though, can we prove that it communicates something which wont fit into a conventional form of communication like math or language?

Is it possible that understanding the descriptive part of a knowledge of the Tao, necessarily gives rise to a subjective experience that’s the same for everyone?
Just because something is subjective, does it have to differ from one person to the next?

How is it that so many people know the eternal Tao and agree on what it is, when it can’t actually be named?

Is it possible for the same descriptive account to give rise to an identical, yet incommunicable subjective understanding between two or more people?

identical? nope…

one is in one person, the other in another… not identical


I’m not sure but I would guess “the way” is the path for all.

By trying to understand the tao in a analytical way we are clinging to hard to it. By grasping too hard, we lose it. But if we let it go, in a sense, it embraces us.

The tao reminds me of time. “Time is something I know internally, but if I try to describe it to another person I dont know.” I forget who said that.

I think what you are showing with your questions is the problematic gap between philosophy and reality. That gap is what we have been left with when it comes to Taoism. The forms and practices are a very important aspect of Taoism. And of course those outward forms and practices were labeled ‘religion’ in China during the cultural revolution and targeted for elimination. It seems to me that most modern defenders of ‘philosophical Taoism’ (as opposed to ‘religious Taoism’) ironically miss the profound philosophical message of the Tao Te Ching - that words are not reality. If the ‘pure’ message of the text were simply that and further elaboration were considered some sort of defilement of the original message, then what would the point be? It would ultimately be a very simple point with nice poetic language and some side points inbetween that people can read once in a while to make themselves feel good - a welcome break from the delusions of debaters who fixate on words and concepts as real. In my opinion the text could only be one aspect of a worldview that has practical application, because the message of the text demands practical application - that the gap narrow, not widen. Yet since Taoist practitioners were to a large degree a decentralized bunch the formal practices have been largely lost due to the governmental persecution. The few Taoist practitioners publicly teaching in the west appear to be simply new age personas hawking a new spiritual commodity - whether their intentions are genuine or not is difficult to tell. On the other hand the basic attitude of Taoism is a healthy one and many people have adopted that attitude as a basis for having a saner relationship to their world. Taoist attitudes and language pervade many people’s lives, whether they are atheist, Christian, Buddhist, or whatever. Just my take on it.

I read a fascinating and very readable book about modern Taoist and Buddhist hermits living and practicing in the mountains of China, called Road To Heaven: Encounters With Chinese Hermits by Bill Porter. I think you might love that book as much as I do.

I found my copy of Road To Heaven, and here are a few sections from an interview with Jen Fa-jung, a highly respected Taoist abbot in China:

Q: Did you ever live as a hermit?
Jen: Yes. But for less than three years. It was a good experience. Sooner or later all Taoists have to live alone for a period to concentrate on their practice. To practice you have to find a secluded place, at least in the beginning. But the important thing is to learn to still your mind. Once you can do that, you can live anywhere, even in a noisy city.

Q. What’s the goal of Taoist practice?
Jen: Man’s nature is the same as the nature of heaven. Heaven gives birth to all creatures, and they all go different directions. But sooner or later they return to the same place. The goal of this universe, its highest goal, is nothingness. Nothingness means return. Nothingness is the body of the Tao. Not only man, but plants and animals and all living things are part of this body, are made of this body, this body of nothingness. Everything is one with nothingness. There aren’t two things in this universe. To realize this is the goal not only of Taoism but also of Buddhism. Everything in this world changes. Taoists and Buddhists seek that which doesn’t change. This is why they don’t seek fame or fortune. They seek only the Tao, which is the nothingness of which we are all created and to which we all return. Our goal is to be one with this natural process.

Q. Have the forms of practice changed today?
Jen: No, they’re the same now as they were for Lao-tzu. People haven’t changed; neither has the Tao. The way we live our lives, the way we meditate, the way we cultivate our life force is still the same.

Q. What exactly is the status of Lao-tzu in Taoism? Many people think of him as a philosopher, not as the founder of a religion.
Jen: That’s the modern view. But Lao-tzu can’t be separated from religion. The Chinese people have always believed in the Tao, and this belief has led them to cultivate various forms of religious practice. Do you think Lao-tzu talked about the Tao but didn’t believe or cultivate it? He knew that everything in the universe comes from the Tao and that it’s impossible to leave the Tao. There wasn’t an organized religion then, but it was the same Tao.