“The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.”1
The Tao Te Ching is not a religious text.
It is neither religion nor a creed, neither dogma nor ideology. It doesn't proclaim to sit on either side of right or wrong, yet it demonstrates the dualistic outcomes of our actions and moral choices — allowing the reader to choose a more humane path of oneness, one leading towards harmony, like the natural flow of a river.
The Tao is not a ‘divine’ text.￼
No single verse refers to a higher power. The wisdom of the Tao has not been handed down from an enlightened sage who received communication from above in the form of commandments or divine inspiration. Instead, the Tao is like a witness statement, a way of perceiving the world and recognizing oneself as an integrated, connected, and natural part of the self-same world you observe.
The Tao teaches that we are as much a part of the world as the world is a part of who we are.
As Alan Watts has said that we are not born into this world. We are born of this world, like the leaf that is given life by the tree.
The Tao teaches with metaphor and the paradox of dualities — how we can intellectually perceive the world — and how we can live together harmoniously. By ‘we’ I mean human beings and all living creatures regardless of form, and how we can be ￼respectful of the planet’s ecosystem by seeing ourselves as of this earth and dependent upon the planet that nourishes us.￼
Every action has a corresponding action, a re-action that is not unlike the butterfly effect. We must take great care to minimize our disruptive actions that harm the organic entity we call earth — our only true home.￼
The Tao teaches how we can live in harmony with the natural world and all other beings without religion or faith in a higher power.
Spend time in nature to notice the unfolding of the natural order with humility and respectful awe. Being in awe of the natural order takes us out of identification with the self — the “I”, our ego and self-centredness — to recognize with humility how insignificant we truly are.
And yet, here we are, able to cause disruption and destruction beyond our means.
The Tao dissolves religion as a model for living because it teaches us how to live a harmonious life without ego and how to keep our selfish needs in check.
Religion cannot exist without ego. To survive, religion needs to be fuelled by rules, fear, control, limitations, observance, and in many cases blind obedience.￼
While it might seem like a utopian dream, the message of the Tao Te Ching is one of unity and connection through individual humility. This can be accomplished when we encourage conscientious personal responsibility for the greater good. We do not need a menu of religions and sects that dictate rituals and reinforce fictions that limit and control individual thought.
At this point in the history of humanity, we no longer need the limited structure of religious power as a means to control the masses.
Religion is currently one of the greatest causes of prejudice, hatred, and violence — rooted in fear and a lack of connection with others.
We now know more than we have ever known. We can communicate with anyone in the world instantly at the push of a button to complete a phone call or send a text message. We have, because of technological and scientific advancement, outgrown the need for religion as a social construction to organize the masses.
Religion is a means to remain stuck in the barbarism and prejudice of the past expressed as present polarization and violence.
What keeps many people stuck, holding onto religious precepts for dear life, is the evolution of our brain — which is slower in adapting than the technologies we have created.
From a neuroscience perspective, our brain is constantly scanning the environment for threats — be that a threat to your life or the stress of your boss being disappointed in your work. The emotional and reactionary parts of our brain are constantly on the lookout for safety, which is found in prediction (what it has seen before). When everything feels normal (safe), we can respond without the need to defend ourselves.
Religion is a panacea for those who chose not to think critically or dialectically or were not taught how to think for themselves. When you blindly follow the precepts of religion, you follow a set of morals that you have not questioned for meaning or individual truth — the foundation of faith without reason.
We can believe anything to be true with enough repetition.
Those who preach religion (or tell lies) for selfish purposes and moralistic self-righteousness know this and use it to their advantage.
For example, most religions only continue to exist by brainwashing the young at an early age by not teaching other options or critical thinking skills. Contrast this with politicians who want to remove certain subjects from the educational curriculum to limit critical thinking of the dogma they want children to obediently follow.
Religions may also present themselves as loving and compassionate organizations that help people in need, giving them food and shelter, but only at the cost of making small requests and suggestions like attending mass followed by a desperately needed meal. When you are starving and without a safe place to call home, your mind is not thinking about the goals you want to accomplish. Instead, you are only concerned with safety, which is an optimal time for brainwashing.
The Bible offers the most perfect metaphor for brainwashing: a shepherd with his flock, the sheep that follow the one before them without question, going wherever the shepherd leads them — to graze or the slaughterhouse.
Instead of this tragic metaphor, look to nature and look through the lens of the Tao to understand that we are all one. We can just as easily wind up like a herd of sheep, mindlessly following the orders of someone else because it seems to make our life easier — one in which we don’t have to think for ourselves.
Self-awareness and conscientious personal responsibility are the banes of religion and ideology.
Nature is a great teacher and it can show us the way. The problem for most of us is that we are distracted by the products and production of our current industrial and information world.
This is why the Tao Te Ching is so vital for our modern age. It is an easy book to read, but not necessarily an easy one to understand. It requires contemplation and consideration, not blind acquiescence like sheep following the herd.
The wisdom of the Tao is also found in the humour of its irreverence:
“Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.”2
The irony is not lost on me as I write these words…
The inherent wisdom of the Tao does not come from its supposed author, Lao-tzu. Instead, wisdom develops through the impartial witnessing of the world and is augmented over time through the practices of humility, yielding flexibility, impartial witnessing, compassion, and non-contention.
This is the path, the way we can diminish the ego and open ourselves up to the unifying connection of all things. That cannot be done within the limitations of most religious dogma that seeks to create power over their flock, as well as control over nature.