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James Miller Associate Professor Chinese Religions Queen's University Canada

Started by rickymooston, May 17, 2013, 11:38:53 PM

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rickymooston

On behalf of the IGI, I pleased to be given the honor to invite James Miller, an associate professor specializing in Chinese religions at Queen's university in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Of interest to me, is his knowledge about Taoism and in particular of the Taoist canon, comprising of more than 1200 works, aka the Daozang. He is the author of 4 books. While i have alluded to topics frequently, i dont pretend to know tons about them and have as many questions as anybody.

Here is a snipet of his biography from his web site: "I was born in England, in 1968, and completed a B.A. (Hons.) in Chinese Studies at Durham University, with a distinction in oral Chinese. As part of my language studies, I spent a year at the People?s University of China, in Bejing, and a summer on a scholarship at the Mandarin Training Center at Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. After my BA, I spent three years at Cambridge University studying theology and religious studies at the Faculty of Divinity. After graduating with an MA, I came to Boston, where I embarked upon a Ph.D. in the Division of Religious and Theological Studies at Boston University. I studied with Livia Kohn, one of the West?s leading experts on Daoism (aka Taoism), the organized indigenous religion of China, and also John Berthrong, Robert Neville and Tu Weiming (at Harvard), who are three of the great scholars of Confucian philosophy working in North America today.
..."
http://www.jamesmiller.ca/biography/

He will be on the forum over the Victoria day weekend, May 18-20, 2013.

Post questions in this thread and keep in mind forum etiquette afforded to our guest speakers.

James, if you have anything to ad, in terms of an intro, ...
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Jezzebelle

It's so damn easy to say that life's so hard

none

how long after I type amen do I get the money?
I'm lost, if you see me you are lost also
If Jesus believed in himself he wouldn't have been Jewish.

Assyriankey

Hi James, welcome to IGI!  Thanks Ricky!

James, how do your own beliefs concerning religion (whatever they are) mesh with Taoism?  Do you study Taoism from a purely clinical academic position or what?
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

rickymooston

EDITed to be easier to respond to. (Trying to avoid asking questions that cannot be answered briefly)

1) Can you tell us a bit about the types of works in the taoist Canon? Are most works "philosophy" such as the works philosophy or are there many works on the medicine of the time, mathematics, cooking, etc? Would the famous book of Tea, the "cha ching" be included? Some Western Taoists I've encounter suggest that the Taoists were "early scientists" in a number of ways.

2) Are you familiar with some of the more popular schools in Asia today? Could you share a bit more about your experience with them?
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Assyriankey

I can feel something!

James is nearby - I can sense him!

OMMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

rickymooston

He said he was busy over the weekend but should be looking at it today.

Apologies for the confusion.

He has a nice youtube channel that is worth checking out.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Hi everyone and thanks for your patience. I have now recovered from the long weekend and am ready to engage in conversation. So to begin I'll talk a little bit about Daoism and a little bit about myself.

First Daoism.

Daoism can best be described as a tradition that is difficult to pigeonhole using the cultural categories that are common in the modern West. What I mean by this is that people in the modern West want to ask if Daoism is philosophy or religion, or even science, and the basic answer is yes to all three. And this points out to us that labels such as philosophy or religion or even science aren't really self-evidently things in themselves, but rather products of our language and culture that enable us to view the world and categorize information in ways that seem significant to us. So when we ask the question is Daoism philosophy, that is saying that this is an important piece of information for us. But we shouldn't assume that just because we are interested in this question, Daoists are also interested in this question. In fact the modern terms for "philosophy" and "religion" didn't exist in China until the late nineteenth century.

So to help us figure out what kind of thing Daoism is, we can look at the wide range of texts that were collected into the "Daoist Canon" a compendium of some 1400 texts that was put together around 1445 under the command of a Ming dynasty emperor. THis gives us a clue as to what people at that time thought "daoism" or at least "daoist texts" looked like.

In fact very little of what is in this compendium looks like what we in the West would call philosophy, and rather more looks like religious literature especially if you consider that the bible, for instance, contains a fairly wide range of literary genres. Like the Bible, the Daozang contains:

hagiographies or stories of religious figures, including those who appear to die, are resurrected and ascend into heaven
accounts of scriptures being transmitted from gods through prophets, spirit mediums or other intermediaries
instructions for exorcising demons and asserting control over the spirit world
instructions for conducing initiation ceremonies, ordinations etc.
moral codes

unlike the Bible it also contains

pictures of spirits and gods
diagrams of the cosmos
drawings of talismans for protection against evil forces
recipes for health, long life and immortality
pharmacological encyclopedias
instructions and diagrams for yogic-type exercise for transforming the body

From all this literature we can point to a few important themes.

Daoists accept the traditional Chinese view of a universe inhabited by many spirits and gods
But these gods are, like you and me, part of the cosmos, and embedded in a kind of universal life force known as Dao / Tao
Daoists are concerned with the pursuit of health, long life and even "immortality" (whatever that means)
Traditionally Daoists have organized themselves into communities of practice

So, in terms of what might interest people in this forum, I would say that yes Daoists are theists or believers in gods and spirits, but the gods and spirits that they believe in are not the same as the Christian-Jewish-Islamic god whose defining characteristic is that he is the creator of the universe. In Daoist theology, gods are immanent in (part of) the cosmos, not totally transcendent (apart from) it.






jamesmiller

And now on to myself (which is much less interesting than Daoism)!

Well, basically I'm an academic, which means that I'm interested in thinking about and understanding how and why people think about religion, imagine religion and engage in religion. In my life I have engaged in various kinds of religious activities, and I have certainly been a "believer" in my youth so I am sympathetic to the religious journeys that people go through in their lives. At the same time, I wouldn't call myself a religious person, and certainly not a spiritual person (I don't believe in spirituality!), and I would also call myself an atheist at least in the sense that I don't believe in the traditional Jewish-Christian-Islamic god who created the world out of nothing (though I don't think many intellectual Christians believe in that narrative account of god either).

Maggie the Opinionated

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 21, 2013, 04:16:26 PM
And now on to myself (which is much less interesting than Daoism)!

Well, basically I'm an academic, which means that I'm interested in thinking about and understanding how and why people think about religion, imagine religion and engage in religion. In my life I have engaged in various kinds of religious activities, and I have certainly been a "believer" in my youth so I am sympathetic to the religious journeys that people go through in their lives. At the same time, I wouldn't call myself a religious person, and certainly not a spiritual person (I don't believe in spirituality!), and I would also call myself an atheist at least in the sense that I don't believe in the traditional Jewish-Christian-Islamic god who created the world out of nothing (though I don't think many intellectual Christians believe in that story-book god either).

I believe I can assure you that plenty of intellectual Christians believe in that story-book God. That aside, what are your particular research interests? Are there certain questions that are receiving a lot of attention in your field?

jamesmiller

Quote from: Maggie the Opinionated on May 21, 2013, 04:43:16 PM
That aside, what are your particular research interests? Are there certain questions that are receiving a lot of attention in your field?

Thanks for the question. My own research looks at Daoist views of nature and environment with a view to thinking about how religious traditions can be beneficial or not in the transition to ecologically sustainable economies / ways of social organization / personal lifestyles.

Jay

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 21, 2013, 04:09:02 PM
Daoists accept the traditional Chinese view of a universe inhabited by many spirits and gods
But these gods are, like you and me, part of the cosmos, and embedded in a kind of universal life force known as Dao / Tao

So could it be said that this universal life force is comparable to a 'soul' of a person or persons?  Or is this life force more of a combined life force of all lving things including plants and animals?

Also, I guess in Daoism, there is no 'creator'.  Correct?  That the creation of the Universe is more scientific than spiritual?
I am me, if you dont like it, tough luck!

jamesmiller

Thanks, Jay. There's one crucial difference between the idea of Dao / Tao and that of a soul, which is that the Dao / Tao is impersonal, and souls are usually understood as personal. So Dao / Tao cannot be understood as a personal god, but rather as an impersonal creative power that includes plants, animals, humans and spirits / gods. 

As to the question of creation, the Dao is usually understood as the power without which there could be no living, evolving universe. The relationship of living things to the Dao is one of dependence: no Dao, no universe. Or to put it the other way round, Dao is mother to all things.

Jay

Thanks for the answer.  I have to admit, I really have very little knowledge about Daoism, so this is a learning experience, so I apologize if my questions are not well defined or simplistic in regards to Daoism.

So the Universal life force encompasses ALL things...assuming both living and dead?  So dead humans and even dead animals and plants are part of the Dao\Tao, the Universal life force of all things. (Also, what is the difference of Dao vs Tao?  When you wrote it like Dao/Tao, that seemed to denote some similarity yet difference)

Also since no Dao, no life force, no Universe, it could be said that this Universal life force IS a creator?

But then how is the creation of the Universe explained in Daoism?  Is it that the Dao existed always and forever?  It is an eternal life force that predates the Universe?  If so, than it would be transcendent of the Universe?  Would it not?  The 'chicken or the egg' question of the Dao or the Universe.  And if the Dao existed before and created the Universe, than the Dao exists outside of the universe.  Or did both spontaneously emerge at the exact same time out of nothing?

Lastly(for now),imo, religions(or philosophies) seem to strive to answer a few questions.  What happens when you die?  And where did we come from?  are two biggies imo.  It seems to me that the Dao would be the answer to the first.  Your life force is combined with the Dao to be part of the Universal life force of all things.  No heaven or hell I guess.  On the second, I guess it would also be the Dao I guess.  Your return to that life force?  But it also seems to be saying that you are part of that life force when you are living or dead, so you being part of that Dao isnt any different whether you are living or dead, as you are always part of the Dao.  So....it doesnt seem to really answer those questions at all.  You simply are part of the Dao, and always were and always will be, and your life is just a different state??

Sorry if I rambled at all there.
I am me, if you dont like it, tough luck!

jamesmiller

To answer your questions in random sequence
Dao and Tao are the same thing. Just different ways of spelling the same Chinese term. Both get used interchangeably.

Yes you're right to say that Dao is a kind of creator, but not in the sense of an intelligence that decides one day to go and create things. Maybe another way to say this is that Dao is a kind of source of creativity or creative power. Whereas it's possible to imagine God without the universe (I think!), it's not really possible to imagine Dao without the universe. It doesn't seem to be ultimately transcendent in the way that the Jewish/Christian/Islamic god is. And it's certainly not a person of any kind.

So I don't think that the Dao can be understood as a kind of eternal force that might be said to predate the universe, just as we can't imagine what may have existed "before' the big bang. That's a kind of unanswerable question. All we know is that there is the big bang, and the massive and rapid expansion of matter. Or as Daoists would say, all we know is that there is change and transformation all around us. The reason why things change is that they have life. Or to put it another way round change is (in) the nature of things and the nature of things is transformation and evolution. This is Dao.

As to where you came from, well the obvious answer is your parents. But Daoists also view this as the creative interaction of male and female (yang and yin) aspects. We tend to perceive the universe in a binary way: up and down, left and right, etc. These two modes / aspects depend on each other. Creativity is the result of the interaction of these two. So the Daode jing says Dao gives birth to one; one gives birth to two; two gives birth to three; three give birth to 10,000 things. And when you die the forces that combined to bring you life in this body eventually dissipate like a corpse in the ground eventually becomes indistinguishable from the soil it is buried in.


Jay

Interesting.  Thank you for the answers.  +1 while I digest them.
I am me, if you dont like it, tough luck!

rickymooston

I've heard quite a lot of people having issues with various translations of the Tao de Jing? Is there a translation that you believe is fairly accurate? Do you see think the controversy has much merit?

When I was in Thailand, near the golden temple in Bangkok, we happened upon a Chinese temple with tons of Taoist symbols on it such as the Yin and the Yang. My wife, who isn't very patient about explaining certain types of cultural things, told me the temple was a "Cantonese" temple rather than a "Taoist" one. Does this distinction make any sense to you?

Do a lot of Chinese self identify as Taoists? I observed many people who seemed to respect both Budhist and Taoist temples interchangeably. One Chinese person observed that the difference between Taoist monks and Budhist ones was that the Taoist ones wore hats.

When you said you were not 'spiritual', what did you mean by that? Do you interpret being 'spiritual' as believing in the magic and the like?

By way of an example, would you mind to convey something of your understanding of wu-wei? I've had the impression that it refers to the experience of internalizing some knowledge to the extent that that knowledge is employed "mindlessly"; e.g., walking, riding a bike, engaging in a well practiced craft, etc, etc. Many western people seem to think it implies a "natural state" in the sense that it involves knowledge one is "born with" and further understand Taoism as involving "no work". (I find this interpretation very odd in the light of the fact that Taoist monks invented some forms of the martial arts which requires a considerable degree of discipline to develop.) Are there other nuances in how the term is used that I've not addressed that you can allude to?
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Just to answer your first question for now, there wasn't until recently a Taoist organization which owned temples or monasteries. Rather most temples, especially n southern china, tended to be owned my local community associations, who employes Daoist priests to perform rituals. So it's entirely understandable that in your wife's experience, the temple you visited should be understood as 'Cantonese' rqther than 'Taoist' since it would be owned and operated by a community group rqther than a priestly organization like the Catholic Church. At the same time, from your description it seems that most of th iconography was Daoist, so in that sense it is probably legitimate to call it a Daoist temple.

Many such local temples also employ Buddhist iconography and its often hard for lay people to tell what precisely the religious identity of the temple is. What matters is not who the temple elonga to, or even why religion it is, but whether it is perceivd to be effective.

rickymooston

I see.

Can you tell what iconography this is? It's taken from a very local small outdoor shrine in Yingde, Guangdong. The people there are Hakka, if that helps.



Would either the labels "Budhist" or Taoist describe these?

"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Assyriankey

Hi James, many thanks for the above info!

So yin and yang have (has?) a sort of privileged position in Daoism.

What about the concepts of Feng Shui, do they sorta dovetail into Daoism too?

Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

catwixen

Hello James. Thank you for visiting our forum.
I have heard it said that Daoism should not be explained, but rather experienced.That explanations of the Dao can confuse those wishing to explore it.
Have you heard this and if so what do you think of it?
Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow?

jamesmiller

Rickymooston, that looks Daoist to me.
Assyriankey, Fengshuii is a cultural practice that is wider than Daoism, in that it affects many aspects of Chinese culture. The original purpose was to find sites for the auspicious burial of the dead. Later it became extended to be a general theory of placing of important buildings. The basic idea is that good fortune is conducted through the natural topography of the earth and it is good to take advantage of this where possible and not work against it.

Former Believer

Hi James, thanks for visiting.  Nice to have an introduction to a belief system outside of Christianity and Islam.

Two questions:  First, how do people who have traditional Chinese beliefs view Muslims and Christians?  As unenlightened, on a separate but equal path, in danger of missing out on any rewards or receiving any punishments for not believing like they do?  Something else?

Second, if a born-again Christian were to "witness" to a person with tradtional Chinese beliefs, say like a Daoist, for example, and recite to them Campus Crusade's 4 spiritual laws which state 1.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.  2.  All men have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God 2.  Jesus is God's only provision for eradicating sin  4.  We must individually accept Christ as savior...how would such information be received within their god paradigm, which is far different from a Christian's?  What might they say in response to such a person who was witnessing to them?
Don't sacrifice your mind at the altar of belief

jamesmiller

Most Chinese people associate Daoism with Chinese culture, so from that perspective, Islam and Christianity traditionally weren't competing religions, but rather the religions of different ethnic groups. But now that many Chinese people are taking up these world religions then inevitably this is redefining what it means to be a Daoist. Before it was simply the indigenous Chinese religious path. Now it is a kind of "world religion." At the same time, Daoism is not a competitive or missionary religion, so Daoists aren't usually interested in converting other people to their points of view. It's not a religion where belief is a matter of life and death.

As to the second question, I think that Daoists would probably view the claims of the Christian you mention as a kind of delusion or misapprehension of the nature of reality.

Maggie the Opinionated


Steveox

Hi James. Do you think GOD is real? Any part of the bible is proven to be true?

We are the silent majority

jamesmiller

I don't think what I believe about Christianity is particularly important. My expertise lies in Chinese religions.

rickymooston

Do Chinese Taoist "families", as opposed to Taoist priests, exist and which if any works do they tend to follow? I met many Chinese who seem to incorporate many traditions in their lives.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Steveox

The only thing I know about the Chinese Religion is Buddah. You rub his belly for good luck right?

We are the silent majority

Assyriankey

Hi James, thanks for the answer re fengshuii.

I think China maybe has a reputation for stomping on religious beliefs whenever the beliefs come into conflict with how the Chinese Government thinks their society should function.

Does Daoism ever bring about any sort of conflict with the Chinese Government?
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

QuestionMark

I take exception to the use of the term "story-book God".
καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει

none

how long after I type amen do I get the money?
I'm lost, if you see me you are lost also
If Jesus believed in himself he wouldn't have been Jewish.

rickymooston

Steve, thanks you for mentioning "Budai, the "laughing Budha" with the stomach rubbing. There are several figures that cross between Chinese Taoist traditions and Budhist ones that confuse me. There is a Taoist wealth God who seems a bit suspiciously similar to the laughing Budha for example?

AK, I'm unsure how James will answer your question and know nothing about "recent" issues involving Taoists in communist China3 there but the "God/hero"2 Guan Yu, apparently defeated the "yellow turban" rebellion in the 300 century AD which was lead by a Taoist sect. I'm curious whether the Boxer rebellion had Taoist influences or not. Taoist sects have created their share of martial arts.

1 - Budhism, Taoism, Confusism, ...
2- Hero, immortal? The real human upon which the legend is based was killed in battle. Based upon the write up in wiki about the yellow turbans, they actually sound like their "ideals" are similar to the ideals that the communist claimed to believe; i.e., caring about the poor. Guan Yu is greatly respected by Taoists which could also be puzzling to a westerner.  ||tip hat||
3 - I believe, originally, they suffered some persecution during the cultural revolution but right now, there is a state sanctioned Taoist society that runs most of the temples there. I would love to hear James' opinion about whether this Taoist organization is consistent with the organizations in Korea, Hong Kong or Taiwan.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

QuestionMark

καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει

rickymooston

Quote from: QuestionMark on May 25, 2013, 03:54:50 AM
I thought this thread was about James Miller

It is but the focus is on his area of specialty which is Chinese religions. As he says in one of his posts in this thread, he doesn't know much about Christianity and isn't the person to ask about that.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Hi everyone and sorry for the delays in answering your great questions.
Rickymooston asked a good question about Daoism as a family tradition. For Daoists who are monks, of course the idea here is that you leave your family and take on a new identity within a monastic lineage. You receive a document that specifies your place in the lineage, explaining who your teacher is, who his teacher was, who your "siblings" are within the lineage structure. In effect this replaces your family tree and signifies your adoption into a new kind of religious genealogy.

Then there are Daoist priests who marry and have families and pass on their teachings to their children, one of whom would traditionally be expected to follow in his father's footsteps.

Aside from these "professional Daoists" lay people have varying degrees of religious allegiance. Some may declare themselves to be Daoist and regularly visit a Daoist temple, burn incense there, and maybe even belong to a lay association. Other lay people are more eclectic in their religious tastes, and may visit a wide range of temples from time to time, not really caring whether they are devoted to the Buddha, the Daoist gods, or some local deity. For these people religion is something that is used for practical benefits. This is a client-centred approach to religious practice, rather than an affiliation approach, where you are expected to be a member of one religion exclusively.

jamesmiller

Thanks also for the question about the relationship between Daoism and the Chinese state. The relations have gone up and down over the centuries, with the imperial government variously supporting and patronizing Daoist sites, and alternately (or often simultaneously) exerting authority over them. In exchange for this patronage, Daoists have from time to time served as court ritualists, and have "ordained" members of the Chinese imperial family into Daoist lineages. For the past 200 years or so, Daoism has had a rather tough time. Firstly, the emperors of the last Qing dynasty tended to favour Buddhism over Daoism. Secondly, after the fall of the empire at the beginning of the 20th century, the Republican government sought to control religion much more closely than before, often expropriating lands from monasteries (like King Henry VIII in England), and turning religious buildings into schools etc. This process of secularization continued under the Communists until the Cultural Revolution 1966-76 when all religion was banned. Since then, the government has adopted a policy of permitting religion to take place in authorized locations, and generally supervising and managing religion, rather than repressing it outright. You can read a great article about how the engagement between Daoism and the state is playing out in China here

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/magazine/07religion-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Assyriankey

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 27, 2013, 10:03:46 PM
Hi everyone and sorry for the delays in answering your great questions.
Rickymooston asked a good question about Daoism as a family tradition. For Daoists who are monks, of course the idea here is that you leave your family and take on a new identity within a monastic lineage. You receive a document that specifies your place in the lineage, explaining who your teacher is, who his teacher was, who your "siblings" are within the lineage structure. In effect this replaces your family tree and signifies your adoption into a new kind of religious genealogy.

Then there are Daoist priests who marry and have families and pass on their teachings to their children, one of whom would traditionally be expected to follow in his father's footsteps.

Aside from these "professional Daoists" lay people have varying degrees of religious allegiance. Some may declare themselves to be Daoist and regularly visit a Daoist temple, burn incense there, and maybe even belong to a lay association. Other lay people are more eclectic in their religious tastes, and may visit a wide range of temples from time to time, not really caring whether they are devoted to the Buddha, the Daoist gods, or some local deity. For these people religion is something that is used for practical benefits. This is a client-centred approach to religious practice, rather than an affiliation approach, where you are expected to be a member of one religion exclusively.

Hi James, that's very interesting.

Have the followers of Daoism ever become militiarised?  I'm pretty sure that some followers of Buddhism have taken up the gun at various times in history.
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

Assyriankey

Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

rickymooston

^The communist party official was, at the end rather inventive though. I rather love how he proposed to the nun that she take a short "break" so he could get in his party's speeches.  ||yingyang||
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Assyriankey

Quote from: rickymooston on May 28, 2013, 12:20:07 PM
^The communist party official was, at the end rather inventive though. I rather love how he proposed to the nun that she take a short "break" so he could get in his party's speeches.  ||yingyang||

Even better IMO was her response.
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

jamesmiller

In response to the question about the militarization of Daoism, there is a strong connection between Daoism and martial arts, with Mt. Wudang, one of China's most significant Daoist sites, still the centre of school of martial arts training. Tai Chi, which originated as a martial art, also claimed connections to Daoism (though these are almost certainly retrospective historical constructions). There were also several famous sectarian groups such as the White Lotus or the Yihetuan (Boxer) who drew on ideas from Buddhism and sometimes Daoism and engaged in actual conflict, but these groups can't be considered representative of the mainstream practices of Buddhism or Daoism.

rickymooston

James, which Taoist temples have you been to that were the most interesting? Why?

Are you familiar with the fake tea shows in China? Do you know anything about the traditions that the scams are a corruption of? Do most taoist traditions have tea ceremonies?

http://www.smh.com.au/travel/tea-and-the-mystery-girl-20101126-189uk.html
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

One of my most memorable experiences was staying overnight in a temple at Mt. Qingcheng near Chengdu, Sichuan. The temple was half way up the mountain and had very basic accommodations for visitors. The air was cool and humid -- you could almost feel the water suspended in it, and in the early morning all was calm and quiet before the daily throng of tourists arrived. It seemed as though the temple was immersed in the thick forest that surrounded it, and the foliage mingled with the buildings so that it felt as though you were part of the mountain. There's no doubt in my mind that these temples were built to generate particular aesthetic experiences that were deemed helpful for the meditation practices that take place there. This relationship between environment, architecture and meditation hasn't really been studied, but I think it's deeply significant for Daoism as a religion.

rickymooston

Makes sense and sounds very interesting.

When we went to the white cloud temple, my wife wasn't much interested in the temple as a "temple". She just enjoyed the "Feng Shui" and let me wonder around.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

meAgain

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 21, 2013, 07:41:04 PM
But Daoists also view this as the creative interaction of male and female (yang and yin) aspects. We tend to perceive the universe in a binary way: up and down, left and right, etc. These two modes / aspects depend on each other. Creativity is the result of the interaction of these two. So the Daode jing says Dao gives birth to one; one gives birth to two; two gives birth to three; three give birth to 10,000 things.

Given this understanding, what might Daoists think of something like homosexuality?

jamesmiller

Daoists tend not to have any view about this that is significantly different from mainstream Chinese culture, which is to say, don't ask don't tell. I would assume that monasteries witness same-sex activity but this is never talked about, certainly not with outsiders like me.

meAgain

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 29, 2013, 05:18:41 PM
Daoists tend not to have any view about this that is significantly different from mainstream Chinese culture, which is to say, don't ask don't tell.

But does the ?don?t ask don?t tell? approach mean same sex relationships would be incompatible with Daoism?  From your previous explanation regarding yin and yang ? that is how I would understand it. 

rickymooston

May i speculate, based on james answer, that because its apparently not emphasized by the
Taoist texts, that people just go with what they know? The Taoist
understanding of the yin and the yang is highly nuanced. This is
apparent even in the symbol for Tao. One nature is present in
another, whatever polarity one describes. ;).   So, even if you are female,
you have some "masculin" aspects to your behaviour and vice versa.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

meAgain

Quote from: rickymooston on May 29, 2013, 10:17:17 PM
May i speculate, based on james answer, that because its apparently not emphasized by the
Taoist texts, that people just go with what they know? The Taoist
understanding of the yin and the yang is highly nuanced. This is
apparent even in the symbol for Tao. One nature is present in
another, whatever polarity one describes. ;).   So, even if you are female,
you have some "masculin" aspects to your behaviour and vice versa.


Hmmmm. . .  seems very convenient to make yin and yang mean whatever you want it to mean.  I know a few Christians who would feel very comfortable in that kind of philosophy. 

Just doesn?t jive, IMO, though.  If a Taoist professes to believe in the principles of Feng Shui, but then goes on to say, ?build the house any old way and the location of the couch is of little importance?, I certainly wouldn?t think there is much to Feng Shui to care about.

So with something like believing the male and female counterparts come together in the universe and create a third life and seeing this as two components that depend on one another, it would be very hard to understand then turning around and saying, but if you?re two people of the same sex, then that cool stuff I just said doesn?t really mean anything.  ||think||

rickymooston

I didn't claim the symbol can mean whatever you want. It deals with dualities in nature, such as male and female, dark and light, good and evil, etc, etc, etc.

Taoism is a very subtle1 religion and, unlike James, I'm not an expert on it at all  However, my understanding of the symbol, is this, you have one fish on the "top" and one fish on the "bottom". They are forever locked in an infinite dance around the circle and it is not an accident that the eye of one has the nature of the other.   While you are a woman, you have some characteristics that are considered to be "male". While I'm a man, I have characteristics that are considered to be "female". The polarities are not absolute and yet, male and female we may be.

Derek Lin, a modern Taoist, and translator of the Dao De Jing, but not a monk or member of a famous lineage, i know online, has claimed, that there are Taoists authorities who say that homosexuality is "wrong" but he didn't think so. His reasoning involved an understanding of love that transcends the physical and is . My thinking is, the Taoist literature places quite a lot of emphasis on observation rather than simply relying on belief. We can observe that some people are like that and consider sexuality to be a continuum as suggested by the symbol.

1 - Easily misunderstood and one should take the observation of non-experts with a grain of salt.
2- I ignored your observation about feng shui. Lots of people make stuff up and call it feng shui. I know absolutely nothing about the ancient tradition, other than the fact it exists. In terms of Taoism, I've at least read something. I'm familiar with 4 out of 1200 of the Taoist canon
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

meAgain

^
I didn?t mean to come across as rude ? hope I wasn?t.  My point was that for me a philosophy or belief system that just makes observations wouldn?t really be enough for me. 

I?m not sure the point of a whole lot of observation without putting what one finds out in all that observing into practice. 

I can observe that in nature there are some animals that eat their young.  To not be able to conclude that it is not good for man to eat his young renders observation meaningless to me.  Unless, we can draw conclusions from the world and man?s relationship with his world, it is of little consequence to me to devote much importance to observation.  And to be afraid to make conclusions based on our observations does man no good either. 

Eastern philosophies remind me of the few times I?ve tried marijuana.  I had the false impression that everything I experienced was deep, meaningful, and amazing.  But when I came down, I realized I was just stoned. 

With Eastern philosophies, I keep getting the impression they describe a whole lot with some really fun words like creativity, energy source, transcendence, etc. but just like when I was high realize such New Age ?enlightenment? isn't actually saying anything.

Again, not trying to be rude ?  To me, I just see it as a distraction to truth.   

Maybe I?m not smart enough to get it.

rickymooston

Keep in mind that my knowledge of Taoism is pretty shallow and that many people who teach eastern religions in the west don't know much about them. That said, I never said it was "just" about observation. A body of knowledge exists. Traditions exist.

By means of an analogy. Ask yourself, how much knowledge and discipline is required to know a martial art? Taoist monks invented many of the martial arts. I can do a karate chop but I don't pretend to know much about karate.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

rickymooston

Sorry for allowing the thread to derail with my own speculation. Lets get back on topic to asking James.

James, do you have any tjoughts on Guan Yu and Guan Yin? Are both more heroes than Gods? They seem to be grestly revered. The woman Guan Yin seems to cross into Budhism too?
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

The question about Guan Yu (aka Guandi or Guangong) and Guanyin goes to the question of how Daoism relates to other religious traditions in China. As I mentioned earlier, the tendency in China has been that of adding or incorporating other religious figures into the story of Daoism, and into Daoist temples. Such figures may we worshipped on their own and be completely disconnected from Daoism, but they may also be worshipped in Daoist temples and given a status in the Daoist pantheon. This often adds to the confusion of trying to decide whether such and such a temple is "Daoist." For the history of these figures, the information on Wikipedia is pretty good. What I would like to point out here, though, is that the questions that people ask about religion have to do with the things that they expect religions to do. Because of our experience with Judaism-Christianity-Islam (which from an outsider's point of view is really a single religious system) we expect religions to have opinions about homosexuality, and we expect religions to have mutually exclusive demarcations. But that's not the way that religion in China operates, and it's not what religion basically "does" in Chinese society. This fact helps us to understand that "religion" is not in fact a cultural universal. Rather it's a kind of organizing term for cultural practices that comes laden with certain expectations about what it is "supposed to do". That is to say, it's not a simple descriptive term, but always prescribes values, expectations, norms etc.

meAgain

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 30, 2013, 07:36:28 PM
The question about Guan Yu (aka Guandi or Guangong) and Guanyin goes to the question of how Daoism relates to other religious traditions in China. As I mentioned earlier, the tendency in China has been that of adding or incorporating other religious figures into the story of Daoism, and into Daoist temples. Such figures may we worshipped on their own and be completely disconnected from Daoism, but they may also be worshipped in Daoist temples and given a status in the Daoist pantheon. This often adds to the confusion of trying to decide whether such and such a temple is "Daoist." For the history of these figures, the information on Wikipedia is pretty good. What I would like to point out here, though, is that the questions that people ask about religion have to do with the things that they expect religions to do. Because of our experience with Judaism-Christianity-Islam (which from an outsider's point of view is really a single religious system) we expect religions to have opinions about homosexuality, and we expect religions to have mutually exclusive demarcations. But that's not the way that religion in China operates, and it's not what religion basically "does" in Chinese society. This fact helps us to understand that "religion" is not in fact a cultural universal. Rather it's a kind of organizing term for cultural practices that comes laden with certain expectations about what it is "supposed to do". That is to say, it's not a simple descriptive term, but always prescribes values, expectations, norms etc.

Then maybe I just don't get the point of it all. 

Take something like Feng Shui.  It's a fun topic to discuss, especially when the west adopts such principles and puts them in a $25 coffee table book about how to design your living room, but to take it more seriously than that, I can't help finding a bit forced or contrived. 

I mean seriously  -- the position I place my bed -- will affect me how? 

For me when it comes to life . . . I say . . . Give me something I can use. 

rickymooston

Try to keep your posts to questions that James can answer. He answered your question about homosexuality. I think, you should try and consider the possibility that judging something prematurely you know little about is a bit silly. I found the Dao de Jing, the works of Chuang-tse and the art of war quite practical but that's just me.  ||wink|| I know very little about Taoism proper which is why i invited James here.  ||wink||

James, do the Chinese Taoist traditions have a culitivation aspect or is that just the western take on some of the popular Taoist works? I'm also curious about the claim a friend made that the distinction between Confuciusm and Taqoism is artificial? I'm even told that Ge Hong referred the works of Confucious as deeply as those of the Taoist masters? (I"m partial to Ge Hong because I have seen his temple and been inspired by it somewhat. Sadly, it's pretty hard to find western translation of his works. I assume you are familiar with the Inner and the Outer chapters, ...)
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Yes, cultivation is central to the practice of Daoism. This is a thread that seems to run through all forms of the tradition. What precisely the cultivation looks like, and how it is imagined certainly vary, but I think it's safe to say that Daoism begins with the notion that our experience of the world can be changed through practice. This is a kind of very basic Daoist spiritual insight: that experience isn't simply given from the world to our minds, but mediated through and cultivated in our bodies. So Daoists focus on the cultivation of Qi (a kind of subtle life energy) that flows in the body. (There are parallel forms of cultivation in Indian Yoga traditions, that focus on Prana -- a kind of life energy in the Indian tradition). Now there are many cultural traditions in China that focus on body cultivation exercises, including a wide range of medical traditions and martial arts practices, but in Daoism, these practices are undertaken within a religious context and for spiritual purposes (as opposed to medical or military ones). As well as engaging in these internal body cultivation practices, Daoists also perform public rituals for the well being of the community. I made a 10 minute video of one of these, which you can see on youtube.

Maggie the Opinionated

I would really like to hear a little bit about the question I posed awhile back. How does Daoism account for evil and innocent suffering in the world?

jamesmiller

Sorry, Maggie. I missed the question about how to account for evil or innocent suffering. Basically this is another of those questions that is important in Christian theology, but not particularly in Daoism. It's important in Christianity because the world is understood as the expression of God's will, and so if the world isn't so good, what does that say about God. But in Daoism the world isn't created by a god, so there's no basic problem of theodicy for theologians to solve.

The general metaphor used for evil and suffering is that of disharmony and misfortune. This can be understood situationally -- namely one is caught up in an environment that produces misfortune which is not of your own making. The answer there is move! It can also be understood genealogically -- that one's present misfortunes are in part the product of one's ancestor who are seen as influencing the present from beyond the grave. This is one reason why Chinese people pay great attention to their ancestors ensuring them a comfortable afterlife, so that they will bring good fortune in the present, not misfortune.

Whereas western philosophy wants to see things in terms of good and evil as moral absolutes, Chinese ethics tends to be more situational: what can we practically do to produce the optimal harmony in this particular situation.

meAgain

Sorry Ricky and James.  Sometimes I get carried away.  There is a part of me that always wants to get to the why of it all.  And topics like this get me fired up ? especially when my faith is referred to as ?storybook.?  I have no doubt I could find many wonderful similarities in our beliefs.  I can respect any world view that is able to find beauty in the world we live in and in the lives we live.

rickymooston

James: can you recommend some more freely available English transaltions of Taoist texts other than just the Tao de Jing, Works of Chuang-zi and the Art of War?

For example, I did find this one a while back! http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao/ttx/ttx03.htm I am also curious about whether any Taoist works in the canon actually discuss their pantheon and whether an understanding of the roles of those Gods is generally accepted among most mainstream Taoist sects? If you could present some examples about the nature of one of those Gods, it might be helpful. I assume their concept isn't a transcental one?

MeAgain, no problem. I just provided a gentle reminder to you and slightly to myself that we are consulting James rather than debating him and also that many westerners misrepresent what Taoism is. Actual questions to him are welcome. Apologies for any wrong footing that occurred in getting this thread started and not ensuring that only Taoism is discussed from the start of the OP.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Steveox

James are there any restrictions on the Chinese government on practicing religion? Since China is still a communist nation how can they allow practicing on religion under communist rule? Like North Korea doesn't allow religion in their country. Its forbidden.

We are the silent majority

jamesmiller

Thanks Steveox for your question about religion in China. Yes China is led by the Communist Party, and all religion was forbidden during the 1966-76 cultural revolution. Since 1979, however, a policy of "opening and reform" was initiated, and freedom of religious belief was written into the constitution. This has allowed religion to flourish again, though always under the supervision of the government. This policy of supervision rather than disengagement means, somewhat ironically, that the government is more interested in religious affairs than you might imagine.

At this point I'm going to say thank you to all those who contributed to this thread and say goodbye. It's been a great experience for me and I wish you all the best in your discussions about religion across the world!

kevin

dare to know.

rickymooston

Quote from: jamesmiller on June 17, 2013, 06:46:04 PM
At this point I'm going to say thank you to all those who contributed to this thread and say goodbye. It's been a great experience for me and I wish you all the best in your discussions about religion across the world!

Yes, thanks very much for taking the time to drop by.  ||shy||
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Steveox

Thanks for answering my last question. As my question was the last what prize do I win?  ||grin||

We are the silent majority