Taoism and Nature


“The Tao of Heaven operates mysteriously and secretly ; it has no fixed shape; it follows no definite rules; it is so great that you can never come to the end of it, it is so deep that you can never fathom it.”

The Huai Nau Tzu

In Taoism the central idea is relationship. We cannot approach nature as a thing to be mastered but as a partner in a relationship. The goal is to become natural part of the original order. The way to discover that original order is to turn to nature.

Early Taoist philosophers left the cities to learn from nature and primitive people living in remote mountain villages. The hoped to eventually bring human civilization into the natural order.

In Taoism Nature is taken to be infinitely wise, infinitely complex, and infinitely irrational. One must take a yielding stance and abandon all intellectual preconceptions. The goal is wu wei, doing nothing contrary to nature. Nature does not need to be perfected or improved. It is we who need to change; we need to come into accord.

Taoists rejected all dichotomies, even the most fundamental one of being versus non-being, for both come from the same source, Athe deep and the profound.” The goal of Taoism is to attain that which precedes duality. The only way to discover this original source is to observe nature. During peak experiences in nature, the deep meets the deep.

The Tao is a divine chaos, not a random accident. It is fertile, undifferentiated, and teeming with unrealized creation. It is the mother of everything in nature; it is a great darkness that operates spontaneously to give birth and life to all things.

Taoists seek not to be saved or to win, but rather to return to the original source of the Ten Thousand Things. They see creation not as a single event, but an ongoing process that has no beginning and no end. Its divine play is taking place right here and right now. The wise person becomes like an animal or a child, participating joyfully in the profoundly irrational order. He or she learns to trust the chaos.

The Taoists have always avoided anthropocentrism. Unlike other religions, they have never lost their animal gods. Ancient Chinese shamans put on animal masks in order to communicate with these animal gods. Their spirit-animals were links between the worlds of people, ancestors, and gods. There was a tradition of animal frolics during which one became a particular animal, such as a crane or a bear. These rituals are still meaningful.

Taoists speak of a direct knowing that resonates in the belly when one has direct contact with nature. It is not with the head, but with the belly that one can participate in the sacred madness of the ancestral gods. It is only with the belly that one can appreciate the eternal flux and the underlying unity of the Ten Thousand Things.


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