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21 January 2007 @ 09:57 am
Tao of the Day  
I will not praise those who do violence to their nature by piously practicing phoney manmade morality.
Human beings do not become good through practicing artificial goodness, but through living naturally.

-Chuang Tzu (trans. Freke)
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Kburgunder on January 21st, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC)
This is one of those quotes that gets like two "hell ya"s from my atheist friends and fifteen personal attacks, if it's a day where people are stopping to read the Tao quote.

Here's my take on this quote:

If you're good because your heart, soul, mind and body have motivated you and you're in accord with other people's nature and will who are affected by your action, you're good.

If you're good because you are following a Manual of Good, you may or may not be doing good. The problem with any Manual of Good, be it a personal tome of do-unto-others-as-I'd-want-done-to-me, a religious text, etc., is that it rarely asks the critical question, "What do you need? What do you consider to be good?"

An example is charity. Many of our Manuals of Good (the Bible, the Torah, the Book of Mormon, the Koran) teach us to give alms to the poor. If you follow the letter of the law and give money to every homeless person in downtown Seattle, chances are that you're enabling a junkie or alcoholic to not start cleaning up or seeking help to dig themselves from the abyss.

The question I wish to pose is ... if you come across a homeless stranger in downtown Seattle who asks you for money, what are some naturally good things that are possible to do?

I naturally want to tell them no and it might be because that is actually the right thing to do. Who knows! It's not me.
Kburgunder on January 21st, 2007 06:14 pm (UTC)
My natural reaction to the situation, and I think this is mostly free of Manual of Good mandates, but it's always hard to dig out of our earliest influences and be totally free of them:

Say no, but smile, look them in the eyes and treat them like a human being unless I have a specific alarm going off against doing so.

If I have leftover food with me from eating out and I have enough to eat at home, I will usually ask if they'd like the specific thing I have.

If I have a bus transfer I don't plan to use, I'll usually pass it on.
Kburgunder on January 21st, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
Also, learning to live naturally is difficult. There is something about the way we live that obscures a lot of our natural instincts. If we were really good at it, there wouldn't be a need for someone to create a new Manual of Good for us every few generations.

I personally don't believe we should burn Bibles or any other Ways to live so we can go live more naturally. I believe that someone who is totally out of touch with their natural goodness who is still doing their best to follow the mandates of their Manual of Good is doing much better than someone who has lost touch with natural goodness and who is acting strictly on selfish instinct.

Se non vero e ben trovato.
If it is not true, it is well-intended.
Zen Anarchymetalmensch on January 22nd, 2007 04:50 am (UTC)
Hah! That is one lesson hard learned. :)
Kburgunder on January 22nd, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
Amen to that, my friend! ;>
Varnvarn_ix on January 22nd, 2007 05:32 am (UTC)
The unto others part is not problematic
This post is fascinating in that it contains three afterthoughts each longer than the post.

My problem is not in treating others well. I've been accused, on separate occasions, of being a people pleaser. This I believe I do from genuine desire to see them happy, as I don't always feel the need for them to know who the benefactor was.

However, I have issues with the way I live my life when not interacting with others. What comes to me naturally is at best maintaining status quo, or more bluntly, stagnation. For me, to evolve or to be productive always takes enormous amounts of willpower and mental energy. I realize this is 'wrong' and 'bad', but unless someone makes it interesting for me, I will encounter great mental barriers against doing something I 'have to', but isn't something I would excel in.
Kburgunder on January 22nd, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC)
Re: The unto others part is not problematic
The same Chinese philosophers who brought you most of these quotes might ask, "What's wrong and bad about it?"

One of the chapters in the Tao Te Ching focuses on never taking for granted the mundane. If you've ever read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, there's a great example of this when Dagny visits a sandwich shop and has a long conversation with a philosopher who has given up his college professorship to make sandwiches, and he makes some very astute points about engaging in the mundane and taking equal pride in its results as he would in the extraordinary.

Fixing tires, curing cancer. Both provide a service to other human beings, both have the potential to prevent death. What makes one better than the other? My understanding of your response is that if you were fixing tires, you'd want to cure cancer next (as an over exaggerated analogy). If that understanding is correct, why?
Varnvarn_ix on January 22nd, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)
Re: The unto others part is not problematic
I did read Atlas Shrugged. I also read Mostly Harmless, which also features a taoist sandwich master, possibly a reference. Or not.

I fully realize we need both septic tank cleaners and astronauts, and I respect everybody who does honest work, no matter how mundane. What makes one 'better' than the other, in my opinion, is the amount of training, dedication and innate aptitude required for either job. I could very well be fixing tires and enjoying it, but if I feel I'm smart enough to be doing microbiology, and at least as interested in that as in fixing tires, then this is clearly a preferred career, and I'm not even thinking about the money yet.

Knowledge over the bliss of ignorance, experience over innocence. The ultimate goal is to develop your potential, possibly in such a way that you leave visible traces of yourself for present and future generations.

And herein lies the problem: I'm much wiser than I'm virtuous, in that I know the path, intellectually agree that it is the right one, but lack the will to walk it.