In college I have met many atheists that also claim to be taoist, a form of eastern monism. I have studied Taosim and in a technical sense it is possible to be both a taoist and and atheist. In taoism there is no God. There is only the Tao. Still it seems as if the Tao is takeing the place of a God, emotionaly at least. It also seems to be on the same level, epistemicly speaking, as God. So it seems strange for me that one person would deny the existence of God and affirm the existence of the Tao.

Toaism states that everything in the world is believed to be a manifestation of the Tao and are restricted, in a sense, by the Tao. In the Tao de Ching, the main text of Taoists, the tao is described as being indescribable (doesn't that sound familiar to something other theists say about their God?). It is said by certian taoists that the Tao, I am paraphrasing here, is both smaller than the smallest thing and largests than the largest thing (a contradiction). The Tao is unity (whatever that means, I mean why not just call it unity then?). The Tao seems even more vague than any concept developed by western religions and just as hard to prove the existence of than any western God. Maybe I am to entrenched in western thinking for any of this eastern philosopohy.

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The thing is that Taoism is primarily a philosophy and outlines an attitude toward life and ones place in the world. One can certainly ascribe to taoist philosophy and thus be a Taoist without accepting any supernatural aspects of the writings surrounding the philosophy, thus as a person can stick christian values without believing in the divinity of Christ, or in any sort of literal interpretation of biblical scripture.
I don't really see them as the same thing. To my recollection, Taoism does not have any dogma, unlike most religions, especially the big three. No finite human can either prove or disprove the existence of an infinite, all-powerful being or primal force of the universe.

I think the Taoist do believe in some kind of primal force, but don't assign any intelligence, directive, or design to that force (unlike xtians). There is, after all, something that causes us to be aware (as all things have a cause and all causes have an effect), and that something is lost at death. But what is it? Who knows! All we know is that at that moment, self-awareness seems to vanish.

Where we came from, why we're here, and where we'll go is all a mystery with no solution. But I'd prefer the company of a taoist over a xtian any day.
Nice interpretation.
People get hung up on the Tao - imagining that it is some esoteric mystical something far away or out of sight. In fact it is mundane, routine, common & everywhere. The roots of Taoism are in the observation of nature and, while some Taoist religious traditions may adopt a mystical or god-like interpretation, Taoism is basically a set of observations about the world around us and what they can tell us about how we can live our lives. Note: how we can NOT how we should live our lives.

Taoism states that everything in the world is believed to be a manifestation of the Tao and are restricted, in a sense, by the Tao....The Tao is unity (whatever that means...

A simple way to envisage it is...

There is something which for convenience we call "the Tao" which has certain properties.
Part of the Tao we call "the Universe" and it has some, but not all, of the properties of the Tao
Part of the Universe we call "the Earth" and it has some, but not all, of the properties of the Universe
Part of the Earth we call "Me" and I have some, but not all, of the properties of the Earth.

...still not happy? ...Think about your big toe.

It is part of the unity you call "you" - yet it can also be thought of as a separate thing called "a big toe."

the tao is described as being indescribable (doesn't that sound familiar to something other theists say about their God?)

The Tao is not indescribable, it is just impossible to completely describe. Any description is just a poor approximation capturing only some of its true nature, and the description is not the same as the thing itself. This is easy to demonstrate with an example...
Think of a nice yellow painted HB graphite pencil. Now describe it completely

Obviously you can talk about it's colour, length, width, and weight. You can talk about he paint on its sides, the type of wood it is made from, how pointy it is, does it have an eraser, where the graphite came from, and who made the pencil. You can describe all the different uses for the pencil - writing, drawing, poking holes in things...

Have you described it completely yet?

What about the design & the designer of the pencil? What about the culture that produced the designer? What about the evolution of mankind that produced the pencil designer's culture? What about the evolution of the tree that provides the wood? What about the origin of the Carbon in the graphite? What about the subtle changes occurring in the pencil due to variations in temperature & pressure, or decay over time? What about the origin and evolution of the universe in which the pencil exists?

To fully describe the pencil you need to describe everything in the entire Universe from the dawn to the end of time, otherwise all you have achieved is an approximation. Then of course you'd have to repeat the above for all different cultures and languages on earth because language and culture can accommodate subtle differences in understanding and meaning. Once you've done that you'd then need to describe it from the perspective of a dog, or a bird, or the subtle gravitational effects the pencil's mass exerts on a distant Sun and its impact on any alien life. Even if this could be achieved it would still be an approximation because at the sub-atomic level it becomes difficult to describe things except through probability.

Assuming it were somehow possible to compile a complete description in all ways of the pencil - could you write with the description? Could you draw a picture with it? All you would have would be a description not the physical pencil.

So the Tao that can be described is not the real Tao - it is just a collection of words that goes some way to give an approximate description of the real Tao.

For a bit more about Taoism have a look at The Reform Taoist Congregation or my humble offerings in my blog at The Path of Water
Woody: Very well put, interesting.

Something similar I once ran across was about how to describe a tree: To a squirrel it is a home and provides food, for a bird it is also a home, to a cow it might be important because it provides shade, to a human it could be a thing of beauty or a resource to cut down, to a forest ranger it means something different, and to a conservationist, something different, too. So how we assign value to that tree depends on where we are coming from, or our perspective.
Yes this relativism is very much part of Taoism. Another important point is that every concept we can conceive of also contains its opposite - so, for example, the tree growing straight is a good thing to the carpenter because it will make good timber, but it is a bad thing to the conservationist (and the tree!) because it means the tree will be cut down.
Ha, how true! But yes, I understand that as well.

There are only two actions possible in the universe: + / -

One by its very nature implies the other, or creates the other. Creation begets destruction begets creation.
Wonderful word picture, Woody!
You need to be careful about taking words at face value when studying Taoism. Saying "X is so" is often used as a way of saying "Live your life as if X were so". Actually, they are more likely to say "The great sage didn't belive X, but then met a simple bandit who confounded him with a question. He was humbled, gave up high office, and lived the rest of his life in simplicity believing X."
Hee hee. Yes words are very slippery in Taoism & they cause a lot of trouble.

The Tao is best approached by sneaking up on it when it's not looking!
The difference thing is that Taoism is a form of pantheism while believing in Jesus or God means having a personal god and ascribe to Cartesian dualism. However, I agree with you that the definition is blurry, I know people who wuold tell me I am an atheist because I don't believe in god but I also hold some sort of neo pagan pantheistic beliefs and therefore I don't think I properly classify into the description since I believe in something and I have a spiritual life. However, I do prefer the term life philosophy though. For the record, I can mention that Taoism does lie close to my heart, many of its philosphical ideas are something I strongly agree with and I believe the world would be a much better place if people felt this too!
I cannot refer to anything, just merely saying that the idea of having a force being a part of everything is a pantheistic idea at its core. At least, that is how I have always viewed Taoism and this is how I feel myself about the world (a Tao existing, as you wish).

Also, I should add, I have personally ascribed pantheism as not necessarily having a sentient being a part of everything (I find this part of pantheism very disappointing) because I cannot otherwise define what form of religion it else would be.

For me, pantheism is primarily about monism, not whether this monistic force is sentient or not (which I think is a load of bull). If there is a better description than pantheism, go ahead and enlighten me, I will embrace it with my heart, because as you probably noticed, I find the idea of original pantheism at least to not be very satisfying.


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