Review: Tao Te Ching

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This is both an easy and difficult read.  The principle of passivity and opposites makes sense in some areas but not immediately in others–and Lao Tzu (I will assume his authorship) doesn’t always give examples.  

As best I can tell, the way points towards a universal harmony (25.57.58) between heaven and earth with the king in the middle of it. This is particularly interesting in that it posits the king as an icon of heaven (a universal symbol even until modern times with Tsarist Russia).

It appears “the way” functions as prima materia did for Aristotle: an undifferentiated substratum.  “The way is to the world as rivers are to streams and rivulets” (32.73). Is this “undifferentiated substratum” a “nothing” or a “void?”  Maybe. Tzu writes, “The myriad creatures in the world are born from something, and something from nothing” (40.89). This is not entirely far off from the so-called “Perennial tradition” found in Greece, Egypt, and Babylon and India.

Tzu invites us to imagine the spokes on a wheel.  The center of the hub is empty space, yet from this empty space the whole wheel is moved.  

“The way is like a bow. The high it presses down, the low it lifts up; the excessive it takes from, the deficient it gives to” (77.184).

So what do we make of Taoism from a worldview perspective? Later Taoism was certainly religious and therefore off-limits for Christians.  But to the degree it is merely philosophy, or even more, merely commonsense observations about life, I don’t think we need to be too worried.

To the degree it appropriates the Perennial Tradition, to that degree I think we need to be cautious.

King Solomon appropriated the wisdom tradition of ancient Egypt when he wrote Proverbs.


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