Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Review: The Secret Teachings of the Tao Te Ching by JM Morris

Mantak Chia and Tao Huang The Secret Teachings of the Tao Te Ching Rochester (VT): Destiny Books, 2005. 246 pp., $16.95.

Taoism may qualify as one of the world's oldest religions, dating back some 2,500 years, to the teachings of Lao-Tse, who summarized his teachings in short, pithy aphorisms, and who taught a religion without dogma, based more on direct, personal experience than on religious doctrines. It is particularly refreshing at a time when religion is relying on rigid doctrines that we thought the world had outgrown.

Again and again, Lao-Tse is looking beyond doctrine and dogma to find the essential core of the religious experience. Words are always misleading: "The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao," and, as religious leaders have repeatedly discovered, reciting words and doctrines will get us nowhere. "Logic and sermons will never convince," as Whitman says: "The chill of the night strikes deeper into my soul." Yes, Whitman would probably qualify as a Taoist, as would many of the prophets we have loved.

I would advise against studying the first half of this new text before you plunge into the second half, which contains the core of Taoist teachings. The initial chapters may be of interest to those of you who think in terms of exotic exercises (please don't ask me to give the details!) rather then spiritual searching. But the detailed quotations from the Tao Te Ching, together with the commentaries, which make up the second half of this book, are well worth exploring.

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