My Selfish Tao


  • “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”
  • It’s odd for a religious book to declare at the beginning that the words which follow can be ignored.  Most religions have holy script directly dictated from gods, through visions, dreams, magical tablets, trances, ancient stories _ and it is assumed that such holy writings are exact and perfect transcriptions.  But the fact is words can never exactly describe experience _ love, happiness, fire, a tree.
  • Our intelligence is centered on discovering useful patterns, whether deciphering speech out of sounds, or guessing at what our vision glimpses, or connecting cause and effect over time.  Naturally we have a “religious impulse” that seeks the pattern of our lives, of our meaning, of our future.  People usually find something to believe in _ and honest ones understand that the true core of faith cannot be described in words.
  • The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu continues, improbably, with more words. Its very nature encourages one to make their own protestant version.  I would call it a kind of selfish Tao, something only useful for me, my own interpretation of words translated from ideograms translated from an old man’s wisdom.  What I tell you I believe is not the eternal what I believe.
  • Over the years, spelling has changed.  I hold fast to my own printed relics which have ancient meaning for me.  Spelling matters even less than words, and words do not matter at all.  Take Yin and Yang, the clash of dualities orbiting the core of the Tao.  I have also come to the belief that the universe is constructed of tensions such as gravity vs. momentum.  The words are different. 
  • But I like the selfish Tao.  It is not about telling anyone what to do to satisfy the gods.  It is about living in a useful and common-sense manner.  It is very much about meditating on life, and being mindful of all that is around us, and trying to find our place in the world without disturbing the center of that natural harmony too much.

  • Traditional Chinese wall paintings are often heavily influenced by traditions of the Tao.  In them, mountains and forests rest peacefully in mists, as scholars wander paths or sip wine in pavilions, while here or there a boat or deer accent the landscape.  It’s a benign world, devoid of grizzly bears and snakes, filled with the awesome but tamed power of nature.  Quiet contemplation is the goal. 
  • Until recently, Western painting was far more about individual people and religious or historical mythology, filled with blood and struggle.  I appreciate these various viewpoints.  I continue to see scholars in mountains as older satisfied folks, and I regard struggle as a proper pastime for youth.  Elders thrashing constantly, youth indolently bored, are both perversions of biological destiny.


  • Some Taoists desperately sought immortality.
  • Unaware, we experience eternity each moment.


  • Religion is one of the strangest human impulses, at least in its manifestations of trying to gain mind control over others.  It is relatively easy to understand and even justify people who fight because they want or need what other people have.  Introspection reveals that each of us might seek personal power or unleash anger against others.  But to struggle bitterly, even to the death, to force an abstract and unknowable philosophy on everyone around us?  That is incomprehensible to a sane logical mind.
  • The clearest justification given is that religion provides social glue, making tribal members conform to normal and acceptable standards.  Yet there are societies which do not need the strong whiff of authoritarian supernaturalism to thrive. 
  • I prefer my own version of contemplations such as the Tao, simply because it does not contain a lot of odd rules and strictures.  It is good to understand I am a small part of something greater, good to be advised to study the deeper harmonies of the world, good to be encouraged to seek what is right.  I accept all that, and mix in whatever else I may desire. 
  • But I would never force you to accept what I think in this nebulous realm.  I resent all those who try to do that to me.  I don’t care if they are sincere, or charlatans, or worse.  If a god has not spoken to me directly, I do not particularly want to hear what someone else’s god thinks I should do.


  • Wandering the many tame woods and meadows of local parks always presents stunning vistas, unique close ups, and strange juxtapositions.   A feast for the eyes, relaxation for the body, enchantment for the soul _ even without pavilions in which to rest or a servant carrying plum wine and writing materials.  Utilizing and protecting these treasures has fortunately become a priority of nearly everyone.
  • When strolling about, I find myself in one of three moods _ careful examination of things I may not have noticed before; mindless soothing surroundings as I follow internal trails of thoughts; or a passive but enriching meditation which I only with difficulty later recall.  All are important to me in their own way; all relate to my conception of the Tao.
  • My Tao concentrates on similar aspects of being:  The Universe is inf
    inite and has been around a long time and has done quite well without me.  I should understand interrelated patterns of the whole before attempting to master specialized details, no matter what I am trying to do.  And I should always be consciously attempting to think out of the box and not take my ancient preconceptions for granted.  It is a wonderful privilege to be alive and conscious _ no matter what, I should appreciate everything.


Well I came upon a Chinese monk, he was walking along a horse trail
When I asked him where he was going this he told me ….
“I’ve been asleep some thousands years, discouraged at the ways of man, and I hoped to find relief in this new century.”
“Ah,” I understood.  “Master Lao Tzu, this is a smartphone.  I can show you …”  But he needed no instruction, of course.  He perched on a cold bench in deserted Caumsett, cruising the internet for an hour or more, with not a sound. 
Finally he looked up, sadly discouraged.  “I see it is no better, in spite of your many advances into the world of things.  People still kill, still fight, still hate and still waste their lives in ignorance.”
“But we have electricity, scientific understandings, biological wonders, grand entertainments.”
“All true,” he replied.  “Yet I find this park a more refreshing place than your entire electronic world, this tree more real and yet even now not contemplated correctly.”
“So you will go to sleep more thousands of years?”

“Not at all,” he murmured.  “It appears that not long from now there will be not much of a world to return to later.  I shall wander and experience as I can, and treasure these memories for the burden of my coming eternity.”


Shall I compare Tao to a winter’s night?
It rests more quiet, more to contemplate.
Purest velvet pricked with points of light
Draining cares and worries about fate.
Sometimes too wild our will to action cries
And oft we helpless wrestle with despair
As all around iced shards of failure lie
Wrecked by chance, or from mishandled dare
But Tao drifts healing into all and out
Always was, is now, and ere shall be
Nor can it fail so long as mind’s about
Beyond the reach of time or what we see
I feel alone, bewildered, small,

But Tao insists, a part of all.

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