a name that can be named is not the constant name

It is interesting to see how hypertext has gone from being a grand possibility to a never-finished chore. --Ted Nelson

[the tao/dao that can be told . . .] [tai chi] [book of change] [book of sand] [end of the internet]

Sunday, March 19, 2006


western taoism

Posted 23 November 2004 06:23 PM
at http://reformtaoism.org

While the official WRTC web site was down,
Travis started a WRT discussion at
Here's something I posted there in response to
a question:

October 6,2004

Hey guys.
I was looking around gathering books for a used books sale at school when I found an old copy of the Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. My interest in Taoism began when I read the Te of Piglet. I could easily relate to Piglet and saw that Taoism embodied many of my personal beliefs. Now, through the Taoist Restoration Society, I've learned that there are different Taoist sects within China. I was just wondering, is Taoism, as some members of the TRS pointed out, so influenced by Chinese culture that it cannot truly be appreciated elsewhere where knowledge is somewhat limited? I'll not say my opinion until I've gotten responses so that I won't influence anyone.
In Tao,

October 26, 2004

Although Taoism emerged within a particular cultural context, it teaches an appreciation of universal principles. Shadow and light are global phenomena. Yin and Yang are universal principles.

Although we find ourselves following China through the alternation of night and day, always finding ourselves on the opposite sides of the planet, we are in phase with each other throughout he cycle of the seasons, sharing the Northern hemisphere. The division of the planet into south and north is a much more objective distinction than the arbitrary separation of east and west. New growth springs forth as the seed unfolds through the fallen, decaying leaves of the previous autumn.

Although there are questionable appropriations of spiritual traditions, the Tao is unfolding all around us. With every inhalation and exhalation, with each beat of the heart, the Tao is unfolding within us. Can we learn to find a way to become attuned to this process?

Although some occidental travelers have made a pilgrimage to the east, seeking to become authentic Chinese Taoists, certified carriers of a traditional lineage, we find ourselves where we are. There is much we can learn from the reports such pilgrims send us. Some of us might attempt to follow their path. However, finding ourselves where we are, if we attempt to become mindful of the breath, of the beating of the heart, it might become possible for an authentic Taoism to emerge within our lives, within our community, here where we are.

Although such a Taoism might appear as different from traditional Chinese Taoism as night is different from day, an authentic Taoism will learn to recognize and appreciate these differences as complementary, as night follows day, together with each other, through the Spring and Autumn.

For a more detailed discussion of this question you might want to take a look at:
Clarke, J. J. (John James),
The Tao of the West :Western transformations of Taoist thought / London ; New York : Routledge, 2000. ISBN: 0415206200 (pbk.)

Most of the land in the state where I live is under agricultural cultivation. There are over ten million acres that are used for growing soybeans. When three tenths of the area of the state is devoted to soybean production, it is my feeling that other Asian influences will begin to manifest themselves whether they are deliberately sought after or not.
Katie, I'd be glad to hear your opinion, if you are ready to share it.

Old Fogey

Posted 22 September 2005 02:30 PM
Several months ago I read a book entitled Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body, which is a collection of texts translated
and compiled by Thomas Cleary. The translators's introduction includes some
comments that seem relevent to this topic, the possibility of western taoism.

As soon as I have time I post an excerpt from this introduction.

Posted 22 September 2005 02:53 PM
From the introduction to Taoist Meditation:

Taoism, one of the most ancient of Eastern traditions, is drawing increasing
attention in the modern West. Interest in Taoism is no longer confined to fringe
elements, as some would prefer, but has become part of the normal mentality of
conscious individuals and cosmopolitan thinkers in many areas of contemporary life.

Part of the popularity of of Taoism in the West migh be due to the fract that
Taoism is scientific yet also humanistic and spiritual. Taoism has a capacity
for subtle pervasion because ist can be understood and practiced withn the
framework of other world religions, or without any religious framework at all.
This selfless adaptability may be why Taoism has been able to penetrate Western
cultures without the limitations of theological doctrine or religious identity.

Some of the specialized arts originating in Taoist tradition, such as
bare-handed martial disciplines, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and therapeutic
massage, are becoming increasingly familiar in the West. Taoist social
philosophy and strategic thinking have also proved to be of great interest to
Western people in various walks of life.These are among the dimensions of Taoism
that have attrracted the attention of professionals in many areas--political and
military; agricultural, industrial, and commercial; educational, medical, and

Meditation is one element of Taoism that interests a broad spectrum of people,
because the state of mind is central to the well-being and efficiency of the
whole organism. Taoist meditation is for enhancement of both physical and mental health, as these two facets of well-being are intimately related to one another. Modern scientific understanding of the mind-body continuum confirms tradtional Taoist beliefs about the effects of mental states on physical conditions and vice versa.

Posted 12 January 2006 02:26 PM
The strongest argument I have seen for the difficulty (or impossibility) of an authentic Western Taoism was presented at October 20, 1997, at the University of Tennessee by Professor Russell Kirkland of the University of Georgia.

The Taoism Of The Western Imagination And The Taoism Of China: De-Colonializing The Exotic Teachings Of The East

Posted 19 January 2006 02:15 PM
Profressor Kirkland tells us that:
"As an element of Chinese civilization, Taoism is indeed a rich and rascinating reality, a tradition, for instance, that virtually alsways found a place for women as leaders. But we do terible violence to that reality if we impose upon it the intellectual and spiritual needs of Americans today -- a need, for instance for humanistic individualists to imagine themselves as "free" to reject "society" and "religion" in favor of a "pure spirituality," something interpreted and practiced by the solitary individuals without the so-called intereferece of "tradition" or "organized religion."

Since he considers Taoism to be an expression of Chinese culture, Kirkland finds it difficult to imagine the possibility of an authentic Taoism emerging outside of that particular cultural context.

19 January 2006 02:23 PM
Thomas Cleary has a different point of view. In his introduction to The Book of Balance and Harmony he tells us that.:

"Taoism is not, as usually thought, a product of Chinese civilization. Rather it is the other way about -- Chinese civilization was originally a product of Taoism in the sense that like all successful original cultures it was initiated and guided by people in contact with the Tao or universal law."

This point of view opens up the possibility of the Tao finding expression in a variety of cultural contexts.

I have received comments from one person outside
of wrtc:

Date: Saturday, December 18, 2004 12:01 PM
Subject: words
>[ JMH] said that I should write to you again.
> Not sure if that is just her opinion, or one that you share.
> Don't usually have very many words, and most of them have been
> directed to completing a correspondence course. Now that it is
> finally over i might have a few words to spare.
> Obviously you understand the futility of trying to speak or write
> about the tao/dao, but since you (at least) once wrote about
> zen and anarchism perhaps you will find the following of some
> interest: [see previous post]
>Steve Marsden

Date: Wed, 22 Dec 2004

Thanks for your thoughts on Taoism. I am very impressed by Zen and Taoist
philosophy and see many similarities between this world view and the radical
political philosophy of Marx and the Frankfurt school. I am currently trying
to publish a book on the subject of human happiness that seeks to
demonstrate the compatability of these two traditions. Given our current
political morass, this project is very important to me.

I hope you have a happy holiday and continue your efforts for peace and

Posted 19 January 2006 10:12 PM
I agree with Cleary's point of view; but I also believe (as I've underlined in many messages in this forum) that "western interpretation" (that I don't identify with WRT interpretation) of Taoism is often instrumental to western individualism, even if maybe without awareness. Take for example the "capitalistic" interpretation of "wu wei" as "non-interference" or the confusion of ethical relativism (that it means: "nobody can define what's good for ever and for everyone") with moral subjectivism (that it means: "everyone can decide what it's good for himself"). I'm worried about these tendency in Taoism not because "western", but because contrary with Tao, being and expression of egocentrism.

Exactly for this reason I believe in the necessity of "organized religions", even if without those negative aspects that organized religions usually have. What I ask to a religion are not rules or formalisms, but the possibility to educate myself and the others through the contact and the dialogue with other people, through the use of the personal example and through the use the symbolic language of rites as a way to communicate with the inconscious.

I hope that it could be WRT, even if, maybe, a higher commitment is needed.

In Tao,


If the fist is closed, the hand is empty

Location: Rome, Italy
Posted 20 January 2006 10:19 AM
I find it highly suspicious that Russell Kirkland talks about Taoism of the last 2000 years... when it has been proven that Taoism (in it's many forms) has been around for over 7000 years.

Although he is correct when he says that most of our society is incorrectly informed or remain in the dark about much of Taoism. He tries to say that Huff and the Tao of Pooh are (to paraphrase) complete trash. However it seems by reading his paper, that if the works were not written by someone with a "high education" or a scholar, then they are garbage. Though Huff seems to say those with a "high education" can't understand Taoism. Funny, I think Lao-tzu said the same thing.


Location: Washington, D.C.
Posted 24 January 2006 12:01 AM
Can authentic Taoism exist in the west? There seems to be pre-occupation in some minds with cultural aspects, tradition and the interpretation thereof. While it is true that in the west there has been a tendency to “pick and choose” various aspects of a religion that appeal or minimize those aspects that don’t, or there is a tendency not to appreciate certain subtle nuances due to language and culture. So what should we do? Do we need to convert to another culture, speak another language, to understand the WAY?

Can the western mind/culture then truly embrace eastern faiths or thought?
Do we need to?

We need to ask ourselves the questions:
“Do we recognize the Tao as universal truth?”
“Can truth be owned by a culture or people?”
“Is truth governed by tradition?”

If truth is universal then it stands to reason that what Mr Cleary say’s has merit.
The way we realize that truth WILL be influenced by culture or language and circumstance. But the truth always remains unchangeable, it is only our understanding of it and our perspective that moves or changes or is different.

Perhaps we do relate to the TRUTH or the Way differently in the west, but this does not make our experience of it any less significant. If we take the trouble to study and analyse what the great masters and sages from all cultures throughout history have taught us then we will see universal patterns of truth beginning to emerge.

Understanding the truth in all its facets is what matters not how we go about doing it.

Yours respectfully

Location: South Africa
From the Facebook Taoism group:
Monte Rosen Nov 12, 2006

. . . I just wanted to comment on your blog by saying that's great you've read Kirkland. He's quite persuasive, but I still can't agree that Taoism is only indigenous to China, and Chinese practitioners. That's like saying western practitioners of martial arts can't practice these arts because they originated in China. Your point about an American form growing up in the silence and mindful attention is indeed very lucid. Thanks for posting this link in our humble board.
Post #6
Dezmond Goff (Lakeside School)
replied to your post
on Nov 12, 2006 at 3:05 PM

To me the question of weither Taoism can be "western" is a bit unnecessary. Taoism is a Chinese expression of something universal, existing before we conceptualized it. Especially because it is impossible to describe Taoism, and to do so would, in my opinion, be very unlike Taoism. How can anyone tell you what you are or aren't; what is legitimate or not. It would all be somewhat perspective. While Taoism originated in China and is a deep part of Chinese culture, it's accessible to everyone.Post #6
Dezmond Goff (Lakeside School) replied to your post on Nov 12, 2006 at 3:05 PM
Thanks for the link to the blog

To me the question of weither Taoism can be "western" is a bit unnecessary. Taoism is a Chinese expression of something universal, existing before we conceptualized it. Especially because it is impossible to describe Taoism, and to do so would, in my opinion, be very unlike Taoism. How can anyone tell you what you are or aren't; what is legitimate or not. It would all be somewhat perspective. While Taoism originated in China and is a deep part of Chinese culture, it's accessible to everyone.
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