dao merging


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Take the sun. Put it in your heart.
Take the moon. Put in to your belly.
Draw down the Big Dipper.
Merge with the Northern Star.

We have gone from distant views of gods to a more inner-oriented one. In the past, our relationship was viewed vertically. People were in a subordinate position and the gods were supreme. Without much effort, we can see that this point of view was a reflection of feudalistic definitions and childlike emotions.

By contrast, those who follow Tao declare that gods do not exist.

To think this blasphemous is to miss the point. Rather, those who follow Tao seek a relationship with the divine in which there is no division. They are seeking a state of oneness.

If people are one with their god, then it stands to reason that there is no division between them. If there is no division between them, then they are god and god is them. This doesn’t mean that a person can do all the things that gods are supposedly able to do. Instead, they attain a state of being and understanding where there are no distinctions, fears, or uncertainties about what is divine.

That is why we sometimes contemplate bringing the stars into our very being. We want to merge with Tao.. In essence, we become Tao and Tao becomes us.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9
tao hub

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© 1975 - 2005 lisbeth west


Motivation aside, my goal (reasoning about the nature of ways using the conceptual structure available to ancient Chinese thinkers) counts against the temptation to explain dao in terms such as 'experience', 'perception', 'belief', '(propositional) knowledge', 'reality' (as philosophically contrasted with appearance), 'truth', 'facts', and so forth. Our emphasis on the "exit transitions" and the kinds of practical nouns that do show up regularly in Western philosophy reminds us that 'way' is essentially a normative term.

Equally important, perhaps, is that in being the central normative elevator term of ancient Chinese discourse, dao signals an important difference in the conception of normativity. Ancient Chinese thinkers did not make talk of sententials, such as 'laws', 'rules', 'principles', or 'norms' central to their meta-discussion of normativity. Dao was the crucial way they referred to the normative realm (although without the familiar Western supposition that normativity implies a separation from common-sense nature--as did, e.g., Plato's "realm of forms," Kant's categorical imperative or Moore's open question). A dao is some aspect of the natural context that invites us to perform or "implement as guidance" for our action.

Both 'way' and dao share concrete uses as 'road' or 'path'. Roads seem fully object-like-- highways are concrete (or asphalt) objects. However, if we picked up the asphalt "object" that runs between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and put it back down between Las Vegas and Provo, a brown, ragged scar would then be the way to the Grand Canyon, not the original ribbon of asphalt. We can characterize a road as an information storage and retrieval device.[12] Drivers with "broadband access" read the information (in the form of the contrast between the black of the road and the earthy colors on both sides) to retrieve the architects' knowledge of the way to get to the Grand Canyon.

The abstract nature of ways is made clearer when we consider less technologically developed roads. A path is blazed by the frontiersman who goes through the forest hacking a bit of bark of a tree every 100 yards or so. Such a "path" would not strike us as being much more like an object than is a written instruction. Similarly, a boy scout who constructs piles of rocks leaves a fragment of a conventional scout "language" behind for other scouts to interpret in their own purposive activity. To understand the notion of a dao or a way is to see the continuity between road-making, path-marking, drawing a map or writing a list of directions. This underlying continuity motivated my earlier analogy of the metaphysics of dao to that of normative language, which I called "guiding discourse." The linguistic notion of discourse was intended to capture the common normative content of roads, maps and instruction manuals. The linguistic metaphor should neither limit the explanation to the paradigmatically linguistic end of the continuity nor rule out concrete highways.

The focus on the instruction book model of a dao has the advantage of launching us our "manifest history" of the setting of the Daoist meta-doctrines about dao. The paradigm initial form of Confucius' dao was extremely text-like--a book of ritual (the rough counterpart of a series of books by Emily Post). Still, the Confucius of The Analects clearly is engaged in a study of ritual that is not exhausted in library work. The text has him placing importance on examples and the study of history (not merely of rule-books but of histories of the ways others acted in the past).

Further, it will require some ingenuity to blend the linguistic core conception with a connected common use of 'way' will become important when we leave early Confucianism for more "naturalistic" arguments about dao. The human paths a Confucius studies in history (e.g., the strips of bare ground surrounded by grass) may not have been caused by an explicit intent to communicate guidance. Prior walkers were seldom intending to cause or elicit any belief in some later "reader" of their tracks.[13] Similarly, there are "natural" ways (paths) that are created by animals. Consider a mountaineer finding his way by following the paths of mountain goats.[14] The goats' walking was certainly not intended as discourse. Still, we can and do read and follow such paths.

We can even talk about there being "a way through the forest" without supposing that either human or animal has gone that way before. That way consists in a configuration of objective components that contribute to their being a practical solution to a "how to" problem, i.e., the dangers and opportunities between the starting point and exit, e.g., narrow spots in the river, fallen logs across ravines, and places where bears are not feeding at the moment. There are also ways that we read for guidance in dressing for the day -- red skies at night. We will return to these later, but note that while they are non-language like in being natural rather than social, they are still language like in being "read" for guidance. We spot natural "signs" and "interpret" their significance for our actions.[15]

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