Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Eastern versus Western philosophies and Taoism

Yesterday, I wrote about the difference between Christianity and Buddhism with marginal eloquence. Today, I'm going to attempt to write a succinct distinction between Eastern and Western religious traditions and then juxtapose Taoism from the more cultural forms like Buddhism and Hinduism. It will be short. Maybe.
Western religious traditions and philosophies function under the idea that the individual is alone on their own path toward a particular goal. That others are stumbling blocks, competitors, or helpers on the path towards one's own salvation. One implication of the ultimate dichotomous reward of eternal life or eternal damnation is that each person is on their way towards one or the other, so the Westerner's goal is to separate herself from wrongdoers and coalesce with the righteous in order to increase her likelihood of being on the side that doesn't spend eternity wailing and gnashing their teeth. Westerners are more likely to eject a perceived wrongdoer from their family or community in an attempt to improve their chances of avoiding an afterlife of endless suffering that is assigned by a single Godhead who presides in judgment over all living things. The Godhead is stern, ultimately fair, and wants the best for his followers. However, his judgment is absolute. The Catholics have found a way out of the dichotomy by creating multiple places where people can go, like limbo and purgatory...neither eternal happiness nor eternal damnation, but some space in between. I do, sometimes, wonder what God thinks of all this. But I digress.
In contrast, Eastern religious traditions emphasize interdependence or collectivism. As a result, the fate of families and communities is intertwined which creates a sense of accountability and collective movement towards an inevitable outcome: a perpetual changing of seasons and circumstances that are the effects of causes. In Eastern traditions, there are concepts of continual process, birth-death-birth cycles, karmic forces, and an inability to escape one's connection from every other living thing in nature. The individual's evaluating force of good and evil is represented in types of karmic forces: like a bank of good and bad deposits which are distributed throughout a person's lives as they pursue their personal path towards enlightenment, which could arguably last forever if they never reach it. This takes the emphasis off of looking at others as causes for good or bad in one's life, and places the emphasis on one's own choices, disciplines, and behaviors. Instead of a single Godhead, there are many higher beings who exist to challenge or assist the human on their path toward enlightenment. This eliminates the absoluteness dichotomy, presenting all sentient beings on various points of a continuous path towards enlightenment that they will all ultimately reach.
In Taoism, there is no good and there is no bad. There are just causes of effects. Furthermore, the emphasis is not on a transcendental future of bliss or enlightenment, but on right now. The perpetual inner dialogue of the Taoist is "How am I doing right now?" Many Westerners are afraid of Taoism because it seems to suggest an "if it feels good do it" kind of irreverent hedonism that would disturb the hierarchy. However, this is not the case. The Taoist is an interdependent member of nature and does not exist to her own end. Anything that would be experienced as "karma" is happening to the Taoist in the moment, should she choose to pay attention to it. The Taoist could choose at any point to let go of all attachments, in which case she would no longer be subject to karmic forces. Her existence is already absolute and functions under the laws of The Tao, or The Way. Life, death, and suffering are accepted as natural and all that is left is what is. This makes Taoism seem like a cheat and leaves Taoists being accused by Westerners as "defeatists" and Easterners as "irresponsible". The Taoist holds that the human's desire to control and manipulate nature is a futile display of ego, since nature provided the human with the tools and the rules by which to "manipulate nature". Humans of the Eastern and the Western traditions seem to follow a human-centric model, arguing that we are responsible for doing things to make the world better. Taoism sustains that the world is just fine and humans, should they relinquish their desire to control and manipulate their surroundings, namely others' experiences, would simply operate in harmony with nature towards whatever end nature was headed toward anyway. A great analogy for this is a tsunami. Human ego can think that the tsunami wouldn't really do all that damage, but the water doesn't care what humans think. The idea that the human doesn't win over nature, or that a particular sect of humanity doesn't win over another sect of humanity is a very scary idea to competitive Westerners and disciplined Easterners. However, since the Taoist knows and accepts that nature ultimately wins no matter what humans think, she doesn't take the human ego seriously...not even her own. But also, the Taoist understands that humans are just another element of nature. So since nature wins and the Taoist is in harmony with nature as nature, then she knows that she wins.
In summation, Westerners run races with each other to get to heaven (hence, the existence of "race"), Easterners sit in lotus positions and chant in the hopes that the perpetual noise will prevent negative karmic thoughts and get them to enlightenment faster, and Taoists don't do shit.
Disregard this next paragraph. It's about African philosophies compared to Taoism and since I didn't put this topic in the introduction, you shouldn't read it. Taoism in its purest form, explains nature as an earth-centric event. Water and other natural phenomena are frequently used in Taoist texts to describe who nature is and how The Way governs earth's nature. This makes Taoism easy to explain to Western audiences. In contrast (but not really, as these things all work together and the goal isn't to beat each other, but to explain to children why they should just do what their parents tell them to), African traditions in their purist forms deal with nature as a cosmic event. The larger cosmic experience of nature allows for a greater understanding of possibilities, widens the playground, and includes the interaction and interdependence of nature with respect to its infinite influence. If the African refrains from attachments, the natural Way becomes the interdependent experience of all infinite possibilities existing in all living energetic forces throughout multiverses. For the Taoist, 1+1 is arguably 2. For the African, or Kemetic philosopher 1+1 depends on what is being added and by whom. For the Kemetic philosopher, time and space become unyielding infinities that go from microcellular energy to macro universal energy while all are the same experience replicating and influencing itself. Energies become much more influential than the sensual experiences humans are aware of. It is easy to think that this would lend itself to superstition, but superstition is developed out of attachments and the need to control outcomes.
At the end of the planting season, if any member of any religious tradition could relinquish control and live in the moment, their philosophy would work for them. It really doesn't matter what you believe. Just get on with it and be happy.

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