Tao/Dao, Heavy and Lite

In the Comments section below, my friend Karl takes me to task for last week’s post on The TAO of Journalism, where I wrote about having taken the TAO Pledge to be Transparent, Accountable and Open in this blog.

Describing himself as “a sometime journalist and a self-styled Taoist,” Karl says journalistic transparency, accountability and openness have nothing to do with the concept of “tao.” He doesn’t charge me or the Washington News Council with word abuse, but I think that’s the gist.

(Karl does like that the Wade-Giles spelling “tao” is being used instead of the official pinyin spelling “dao,” and he makes a thoughtful argument for use of Wade-Giles spellings for all Chinese spiritual terms—but that’s another subject.)

I have concluded that tao/dao is simply a word with more than one meaning, in Chinese and in English. There’s tao/dao “lite” and tao/dao “heavy.”

Tao/dao “lite” can legitimately mean way or path, doctrine or principle, or refer to how things happen or how things should be done. It is often fairly loosely used.

This is the tao/dao John Hamer, president of the Washington News Council, had in mind when he came up with the TAO of Journalism Pledge.

John was at a 2008 Journalism That Matters conference in Washington, D.C., where journalists were harping on the need for news sources to be transparent, accountable and open—and he thought, hey, journalists should be transparent, accountable and open, too. He put the T with the A with the O and saw that they spelled “tao,” and the TAO Pledge was born. (There’s a song that would fit with this, but I can’t quite bring it to mind.)

When I talked with him earlier this week, John said he wasn’t trying to connect the TAO Pledge to Taoism; he’s just a fan of good acronyms. “My focus is not on Taoism, it’s on transparency, accountability and openness in journalism. That’s what I’m all about, that’s what we’re pushing.”

Besides, he said, if you google “the tao of,” you’ll come up with “a zillion books and articles on the tao of this, the tao of that.” Indeed, he currently has in his office a copy of “The Tao of Cow,” which according to amazon.com was written by one Dolly Mu.

So, yes, that’s tao/dao “lite.”

Tao/dao “heavy” is the tao/dao of Taoism/Daoism, the metaphysical concept to which Lao Tzu (Laozi in pinyin) refers in his Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing in pinyin) and to which Karl refers in his comment. It means something different than tao/dao “lite”—but I know I don’t know enough to say anything more. I’ve already muddied the waters by writing that I thought the concept of TAO had more spiritual oomph than a list of do’s and don’ts.

I asked Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun about tao/dao, Dr. Sun being the man who developed Yi Ren Qigong, the system of qigong which I study and am training to teach.

Dr. Sun noted that there are many, many translations of the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing), including the one Karl quoted. His own translation reads:

The ‘Way’ (Dao or Tao) can be taught, but here the way I speak of is different from the ordinary way; a name can be given, but I don’t want to give it an ordinary name.

” ‘Wu’—the state of emptiness—is the beginning of everything. ‘You’—the state of appearance of initial intelligence and thoughts—is the origin of the manifestation of things and events. The stable state of Wu is required for observing and revealing the secret of creation and new developments; the stable state of You is required for observing and recognizing the false and the true.

“Both states, Wu and You, are called by different names but they both issue from the same source called ‘Xuan’—the state of the golden secret of all life. The stable state of Xuan is the gate of internal cultivation and realization, as well as external recognition and understanding of the creation and development of everything.

In other words, Dr. Sun says Lao Tzu (Laozi) wasn’t writing about any ordinary way but about the Way of Xuan, which involves integrating the intellectual mind with the intuitive mind and dream system. Indeed, that is one of the things we’re trying to achieve in practicing Yi Ren Qigong.

In closing, here’s a tao/dao “lite” observation exemplifying the Way of Nature:

The Tete-a-tete daffodils in my yard are blooming, and the leaves of the tulips I planted in pots last fall are 4 inches tall and beginning to unfurl. Winter is ending; spring is on its way. Hurray.

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Filed under Daoism (Taoism), Ethics

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