boston area dabbler and pseudo-intellectualramble

August 14, 2008

Reading "The Tao is Silent" has made me curious about how Taoism is practiced in the West, and I found a site The Tao Bums. This is my introductory note, though I still haven't figured out if it's a kind of place for me...

Hi there --

Reading around for a bit, I think my approach might be different than most folks on the site, so I appreciate any pointers to parts of the forum that might be more my speed...

I come from a Western pseudo-intellectual tradition... Christian upbringing with a teenage embrace of rationalism and noticing how much environment + upbringing seems to determine faith (as opposed to some kind of Universal Truth) that I embraced a kind of mushy agnosticism. (Luckily my parents, despite being protestant ministers, were fairly liberal, so the backlash didn't become a "hard core atheist" kind of anti-faith.)

I've sometimes associated with the UU church.

I find elements of many Eastern traditions more appealing than many of the West, but know that my view is very limited, reading some (I think) good books, but they view things through a Western lens, and not so much into the real practice:

Zen Buddhism has an appeal (and more on how I've found the Western philosophy that seems very much in accord with it's lack of sense of self), but I've never even engaged in a Zazen practice. I got introduced to it through "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones", and then learned a bit more through some "Zen for Dummies" book, which despite the title (which, if you squint, really is just an overly self-deprecating way of saying 'for the beginner's mind",maybe) seems to be a pretty fair introduction to the Westernized form of the practice. Also "Thank You And OK!" which is a great account of an American trying to find a place in a more ritualized and traditional community, and "The Dharma Bums" (I think recognizing the name of the forum drew me here in my Google searching.)

Taoism... sometimes I think I'm more naturally attuned to Taoism than anything else. (But I've come to learn that some of that is me being a bit of a drifter, and one who avoids challenges because my fragile ego really detests failure, and if I'm not careful, the ego will have be not play rather than risk losing.) My first exposure was "The Tao of Poo", I was very impressed by the path to the Tao that "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" found, and now I'm reading the lovely work "The Tao is Silent".

I've even found some charm in Shinto practice; I have a hunch that it might be a great choice for computer programmers, where the often opaque and surprising internals of the computer might best be treated with the same kind of ritualistic respect and deference of, say, the ancient Japanese had for wood they chopped for construction. Here my exposure is most limited, helping a friend in a Japanese studies course, and the lovely films of Miyazaki.

I'm also fascinated by Western theories of mind and consciousness and where they overlap with Eastern ideals. Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" is one of my favorite works, and it's underlying idea of a rejection of sneaking in Cartesian Dualism anywhere, and that there might "be less there, there" than we assume is profoundly Zen-ish. More recently I've taken in Hawkin's "On Intelligence", and its idea that most of what makes us conscious beings is the incredible workings of the neocortex, a magnificent, hierarchical pattern recognizer, rememberer, and prediction machine. I feel that this might be how the Tao does its work in humans, if it can be said to Do Work... that we experience the universe, we see patterns, we predict patterns, and the Uncarved Block might find its substance in that flow of observation and prediction, modeling and action.

So, as might be obvious, one reason my few attempts at Zazen and yoga-based meditation don't work so well is I get so much pleasure in the meanderings of my mind, and the joy of working things out.

That's where, and (kind of) what I am. Does this kind of dialog happen here, or are the underlying assumptions a bit too different?

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