Here and Now: Taoism

I have decided to write a post about Taoism because it not only extends our realization of how longstanding the belief in here-and-now living is, but through Taoism we see such living through the lens of a Far Eastern religion.

The main way to see present-moment living in Taoism is to read each of the 81 meditations in the ‘Tao Teh Ching’ and see how each of them is pondered and enacted in the present moment. [1]  The language is present-tense and the wisdom of the Tao is obviously intended to make us wise, virtuous, and strong here and now.

The fact is, Taoism does not believe either the past or present is real.  Existence is only in the present, and that is where we must live. Picking up on this, Taoists have identified signs that help us discern whether or not we are living in the present moment.  Depression is a sign we are living in the past.  Anxiety is a sign we are living in the future. Peace is the sign we are living in the present. [2]

But the most important thing is that (as is also true of other religions) the Tao is the eternal “now.”  [3]  To dwell in the Tao is to live in the here-and-now.

[1] I have used John C.H. Wu’s translation of ‘The Tao Teh Ching’ (St. John’s University Press, 1961 and now republished by Shambala) because  Dr. Wu was an acknowledged expert on Taoism, and because Thomas Merton commended it as the best translation he had read.

[2] Unfortunately, these signs have been mistakenly turned into a quote from Lao Tsu.  But he never said this.  The three signs are interpretations that subsequent Taoists have given.  In that sense, they are accurate reflections on the relation to Taoism and the present moment.

[3] This is the message of Meditation 1, and it is the thread which winds its way through the next eighty meditations.  The Eternal Tao is Mystery, to be sure, but it is “the door of all essence.”

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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