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How can you explain the unexplainable? How can you put into words the ineffable? The mere act of writing words about such things immediately places limits upon what you are talking about. With words we bind that which is inconceivable. We make small what is boundless.
How can we, with mere words begin to talk about the nameless? People have always been faced with this problem, but what alternative do we have? We communicate primary by words…limiting words…art is another way, poetry…parables...koans...and of course action.
How is the best way to live? Various religions and philosophies have addressed this problem with different answers and perspectives. The Universe is the way it is…it operates according to certain “ways” or principles. Living according to these precepts or rules would seem the appropriate thing to do. Problems can arise when one goes against this “natural order.” Of course a problem arises in determining the best way to act in accordance with this order. The answer may be that there are many ways to follow which is in accordance with these universal principles. Another question is what exactly is this natural order?
Sometimes an action is “good enough” for a particular situation. The course of action may not be the best way, but it does the job…it is adequate, and other times inaction is the best answer to a situation. The problem solves itself or goes away.
An ancient story of China tells of Lao-Tzu (Laozi) who was the keeper of the imperial archives. He was a wise man and had instructed Confucius, but he was saddened by the refusal of his country to follow the path of virtue. He decided to leave China even though he was 80 years old. At the border a guard stopped him at the Western Gate and refused to allow him passage until he had set his wisdom down on paper. Lao-Tzu hastily wrote down this wisdom in what became known as the Tao Te Ching (Daode Jing), and then left China forever eventually becoming the teacher of Buddha.
Such legends may have an element of truth, but many doubt the historical existence of Lao-Tzu and think the Tao Te Ching was written by several authors. The traditional view holds that Lao-Tzu (ca. 600-200 bc) developed or discovered Taoism and inspired the second sage, Chuang-Tzu (Zhuangzi), who died ca. 295 BC and is believed to have written parts of the first seven chapters of the book, Chuang-Tzu. Some say the Daode Jing become to prominence only after Zhuangzi’s death which would make Zhuangzi the first sage of Taoism and Laoizi became associated with Zhuangzi’s teachings because it had similar themes. The traditional spelling and the new spelling is given here.
Also some think the Taoist religion is a distortion of the philosophy of Taoism, others argue that the text came from an earlier religion.
Shin Dao argued that there was a “natural way,” or knowing, or tao that guides our behavior. He called this actual, natural way that the world went in the past and future, the Great Tao.
Linguists of the time were debating theories of language. One school (Dialectical Mohists) held that reality determines where to mark the distinctions between words—the “realism” school, and that language is best when it reflects objective things in nature. Another school of thought (School of Names) claimed that differences in language had nothing to do with external reality but were projections of various perspectives—all was relative in language.
The question of course then arises, as was pointed out by Zhuangzi, was from what perspective can we judge? Perhaps we should stop talking about ultimate reality since we can only know these different perspectives. Zhuangzi went on to say that we can never know if we have the right perspective. Each of the many perspectives depend upon prior histories. However human view things and live within these perspectives. We are all in the Tao as fish are in water and must simply take it for granted in our daily lives.