[Phil] [P2] If the Tao is invisible, inaudible and formless, how can it be known?

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[Phil] [P2] If the Tao is invisible, inaudible and formless, how can it be known? by Mind Map: [Phil] [P2] If the Tao is invisible, inaudible and formless, how can it be known?

1. Introduction

1.1. There are many interpretations of how one should live their lives.

1.2. In western societies, religions such as the Abrahamic religions help fulfill this role, where they offer moral guidance and a way of life through worship and belief in a monotheistic God.

1.3. However, there exists marked differences between western and eastern thought.

1.4. One such example is that of philosophical Taoism, popularized by the Tao Te Ching by ancient chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.

1.5. The Tao Te Ching is based on the notion of a universal standard known as the "Tao", which is a way of living and if believers accord by its principles, they can experience satisfactory and fulfilling lives.

1.6. Yet, the Tao also based on intriguing principles. For instance, the first line of the Tao Te Ching states that "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao".

1.6.1. The Tao is also labelled as colourless, noiseless and formless, suggesting that the Tao is all but invisible.

1.6.2. Taoists stress that any attempt to put the Tao into words or tangible forms of study would not be an accurate representation of the Tao.

1.6.3. This raises an interesting question - how can one come to "know" the Tao if it indeed possess these characteristics?

2. Tao Can't be Known

2.1. In order to understand the ways in which the Tao can be known, it helps to understand the reasons which makes it unknowable through reasoning.

2.2. This therefore invites an investigation into the nature of the Tao itself.

2.3. For philosophical Taoists and Lao Tzu - author of the Tao Te Ching - the idea of the Tao refers to a principle of existence interwoven into the fabric of reality.

2.4. As the Tao is a fundamental aspect of the universe, it becomes difficult to understand it through rational study and encapsulating it within the English language.

2.5. Perhaps an apt comparison would be between the Tao and gravity.

2.5.1. From a layperson's perspective (i.e. without exploring the scientific and mathematics proofs devised to support the existence of gravity), it would be very hard to describe what gravity is.

2.5.2. Gravity is, to a layperson, a fundamental aspect of our planet which keeps us on the ground, just as the Tao is a fundamental aspect of the universe which guides life itself.

2.5.3. Moreover, Taoists would argue that it is impossible to objectively come to know the Tao. Rather, one must experience it in order to comprehend the true nature of the Tao.

2.5.4. This therefore strikes parallels between the Tao and discussions of reason versus faith in the Philosophy of Religion.

2.5.5. Perhaps the Tao is, as Alvin Plantinga argues of religious faith, a basic belief which can only be detected by the senses and unable to grasp through reason alone.

3. Wu Wei

3.1. Despite the qualities of the Tao, and the inability for humans to understand the Tao via rational discourse, Taoists would argue that living life according to Taoist principles or inspecting elements which can embody the Tao can give us some knowledge of what the Tao is.

3.2. This is in particular true for the concept of wu wei, a Taoist principle which encourages practitioners to abandon desire in order to be in closer union with the universal Tao.

3.3. For Taoists, wu wei can be related to the concept of intrinsic inequalities which populate the phenomenal reality.

3.4. For instance, "long" must be complemented by its opposite, "short", in order to have meaning and to exist.

3.5. Such a principle also applies itself to aspects of life such as morality and one's conduct in society.

3.5.1. The Tao stresses that the truth of something lies between the ends of these extreme dualities.

3.5.2. For instance, in morality, there can never be a perfectly moral and immoral being. Rather, they are a combination of both morality and immorality.

3.5.3. Taoists would in turn apply such a concept to desire, which it sees as the root of all evils, as if one possesses desire, they become attached to one extreme of a spectrum and hence lose touch with their nature.

3.5.3.1. A desire for status, for instance, inevitably causes one to stray away from humility and become arrogant.

3.5.3.2. "Wealth and position bring arrogance, and leave disasters upon oneself" "When achievement is completed, fame is attained. Withdraw oneself. This is the Tao of Heaven."

3.5.3.3. One should therefore live without desires, for in doing so, one would no longer have to be concerned about losing touch with their nature.

3.5.3.4. This therefore goes to illustrate a fundamental aspect of the Tao - that the most satisfactory and fulfilling way of life would be to not live with excess, just as "holding a cup and overfilling it cannot be as good as stopping short".

3.5.3.5. We can therefore see that, by living in touch with our nature, it would be possible to experience the Tao and hence obtain a personal, subjective experience of this fundamental way of life.

3.5.3.5.1. Moreover, Taoists would argue that these principles of wu wei help illustrate why an objective understanding of the Tao is impossible, and instead only a subjective experience can allow one to understand the Tao.

3.5.3.5.2. After all, when humans put things to words, we inevitably take them out of context in order to fit our own understanding and risk turning them into desires to strive for.

3.5.3.5.3. For instance, the notion of love as a natural occurrence is different to the concept of love when placed in an objective setting.

3.5.3.5.4. By putting "love" in words, it becomes objectified and hence cause desire to occur.

3.5.3.5.5. Taoists would therefore point to such an idea to stress the importance of knowing the Tao through living rather than study.

4. Water

4.1. Taoists would also argue that the Tao can not be placed into words due to its natural nature.

4.2. Like nature, the Tao is constantly in a state of flux. Such constant change therefore makes the Tao impossible to put into words.

4.3. Yet, the Tao can also be experienced through its relationship to water. For Taoists, water most closely resembles the Tao and hence can be used as a direct source of experience.

4.3.1. "The highest goodness resembles water."

4.3.2. "Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention"

4.3.2.1. Water does not discriminate; gives to all equally.

4.3.2.2. Akin to the Tao, which applies to everyone who seeks it, not just a particular group of people.

4.3.3. "Giving with great kindness"

4.3.3.1. Water gives its benefits without seeking anything in return.

4.3.3.2. The Tao simply gives and does not necessitate praise or worship. It is a fundamental principle of reality which all can embrace without costs.

4.3.4. "Speaking with great integrity"

4.3.4.1. Water doesn't change itself to reflect something else.

4.3.4.2. The Tao will always be the Tao; it won't change to fit someone's fancies, for that would not be the Tao.

4.3.5. "Governing with great aministration"

4.3.5.1. Water doesn't judge, nor does the Tao.

4.3.6. "Handling with great capability"

4.3.6.1. Water is versatile and adapts to changes.

4.3.6.2. Tao is constantly in flux with nature, and hence is also versatile.

4.4. All these principles can therefore be linked with ways of living in wu wei, hence bringing us all closer in union with the Tao.