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You can find a lot of things in a Catholic high school. There’s the expected: priests, nuns, rosaries, chapels, confessionals, pictures of the pope, some Irish and a handful of Italians. Then there’s the unexpected. You may hear the guitar played by a man with his feet because he doesn’t have arms. You may have an English teacher who prays to the trees and dislikes when the spelling book refers to homeless people as “flotsam.” Or you may learn physics from a racist, who says things to his classes like, “Inertia…ahhh inertia. Sounds like the name of a black girl.”

I know all of this because I spent four years in a Catholic high school—an all-boys Catholic school at that—and I learned a lot about the Catholic faith in that amount of time, mainly because I was forced to take four years of theology. But what you least expect to find when you’re having religion shoved down your throat is, well, another religion. And in my case it was an Eastern ideology.



But Taoism (pronounced dowism), as it turns out, is a Chinese philosophy rather than a Chinese religion. The earliest Taoist text dates back to 500 BC, when a contemporary of Confucius, lao tse taoism tao te chingLao Tse (pronounced loud-suh), wrote the Tao Te Ching (pronounced dow de jeehng), a text that is revered by Taoists in the same way the Bible is revered by Christians. Taoism, unlike the other predominant ideologies in China, seeks to work with the natural order of the universe. Where Confucianists see discord in the universe, the Taoists see only harmony. Where the Confucianists try to create order in order to offset chaos, the Taoists only embrace chaos, because to them it is not chaotic, but merely natural. It is only when man interferes with the natural balance of things that harmony retreats.

It’s really hard not to sound like you’ve spent too much time in the Sixties (or the Matrix) when you write about this stuff, but bear with me.

So, what is the natural harmony that pervades through the universe? Quite simply, it is the Tao. Translated from Chinese, Tao means the “way” or the “path” but attempting to adequately describe it with words is impossible. In fact, Lao Tse warns of giving titles to anything. “The tao that can be described/ is not the eternal Tao./ The name that can be spoken/ is not the eternal Name.” When you give something a name, you can’t grasp what it truly is. The Tao just is.


p'u taoism

A better way of understanding it is understanding that everything has an inner nature, p'u tree in a thicket wood not cutor what the Taoists refer to as P’u (pronounced much like Pooh, but with less “oo”, like the sound you might make when blowing bug off of your shoulder). P’u is often translated into English as the “uncarved block;” but when you analyze the Chinese symbols that comprise it—the first being the symbol for tree or wood and the second being the symbol for dense growth or thicket—you get that P’u literally means “tree in a thicket” or “wood not cut”. What this implies is that within everything, including people, there is an original simplicity; and from this simplicity everything gets its power. When P’u is spoiled, though, the power is lost. Thus, one of the ways of embracing the Tao is by understanding your own inner nature, your own inner simplicity, and embracing it, rather than supplanting it with prideful desire.


wu wei taoism

And that’s how we arrive at the second major tenet of Taoism: Wu Wei, or “without doing, causing, or making.” The Taoists utilize the metaphor of water to illustrate this principle. As Tao of Pooh (Yes, the bear) author, Benjamin Hoff, writes, “The efficiency of Wu Wei is like that of water flowing over and around the rocks in its path—not the mechanical straight-line approach that usually ends up short-circuiting natural law, but one that evolves from inner sensitivity to the natural rhythm of things.” When you try to force something, like a square peg into a round hole, you are working against the Tao. But through a combination of understanding the inner nature of yourself and how this fits into the world around you, life begins providing you with round pegs. And the only action you have to take is putting them into the holes.

Needless to say, there is a lot more to be said for Taoism that I cannot fit into this story. A great beginner read on Taoism is Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh. If you’re sold after that, check out the ultimate Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching.  Then maybe someday when someone asks you how things are going, you can answer them a little less pessimistically.

same p'u different day funny taoism / Issue 147 - September 2018
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