Tao, thinking, and problem solving
October 27, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

What exists out there that discusses Tao not in the context of self-help or meditation but rather how its philosophies bear on practical aspects of art, scientific thinking, skills requiring concentration, etc? Case in point: it encourages an open mind and total awareness. I've read a good part of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but it seems that's more about our relationship to technology. Related non-Tao items of interest are fine.
posted by crapmatic to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I used to have this book and it is a pretty good introduction to Tao-inspired art of China.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:09 PM on October 27, 2008

I would encourage you to read two books by a famous Zen Buddhist, Suzuki, who was one of the key theorists of Zen (although he wouldn't have appreciated that mention himself):

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1969) An introduction to Zen Buddhism. London: Rider.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1980) The Field of Zen. London: The Buddhist Society.

The first one will be the best to start out; it's very accessible, it has the occasional Buddhist jargon in it but it's always very well explained.

The second is more in depth.

posted by meso at 12:15 PM on October 27, 2008

Response by poster: (on further review I think maybe my question may have more to do with Zen Buddhism than Taoism -- my ignorance is showing here)
posted by crapmatic at 12:45 PM on October 27, 2008

I was actually a big fan of The Tao is Silent. It is not about self-help, but more about shoe-horning the Eastern concept of the Tao into a Western mind.
posted by phrakture at 12:47 PM on October 27, 2008

Re: Zen Buddhism vs Taoism
I think the pieces that you are looking to investigate are similar in both. Both encourage similar ways of thinking, with a different rationale and/or "end goal". If you're looking specifically for "mindfulness" then you probably want to focus on Zen (Zen and the Birds of Appetite is a good start). If you're looking for more hardcore Eastern philosophy, I'd recommend something regarding the Tao (see my previous recommendation).

Either way, I'd highly recommend reading about both.

Special bonus: The Enchiridion is full of Eastern thinking that would fit in with your investigations, but was written by an ancient Greek with no Eastern influence. It's well worth the read.
posted by phrakture at 12:52 PM on October 27, 2008

My favorite translation of the tao is The Plain English Adaptation. It's in really simple, very clear language.

Here's a good article on why survivalist thinking doesn't work, according to the tao. Relevant excerpt:

The Taoists developed their philosophy during an extended era of turmoil known as the Warring States period of Chinese history. One of their main principles runs something like this: if you're tall and stout and strong, then you'll call attention to yourself. And because you're rigid--that is, what looks like strength at first glance--then when the wind rises, it snaps you right in half.

If you're thin and ordinary and flexible, like a willow reed, then you'll bend in the wind, and nobody will notice you. You'll survive while the "strong" will be broken, either by unwanted attention or by being brittle.

posted by symbollocks at 1:27 PM on October 27, 2008

I've read a good part of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but it seems that's more about our relationship to technology.

yer not doin it right

Seriously, Pirsig is only using the motorcycle analogy as a portal to much more metaphysical realm. I'd recommend a re-read.

There are lots of books like The Zen of Archery, The Zen of Cooking, The Zen of Clipping Your Toenails, etc., but I suspect that's not what you're really after.

Two good, really accessible books that incorporate Zen into daily life: Nothing Special by Charlotte Joko Beck, and Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. I haven't read Buddhism Without Beliefs but it may address your interest. There's also a book about art that is not specifically Zen but has that feel to it. The Artist's Way. Also, Hardcore Zen addresses how Zen alters the "mundane" experiences of everyday life. This was written by a Westerner and is extremely accessible for the layperson.
posted by desjardins at 1:37 PM on October 27, 2008

Seconding The Tao is Silent. The thing that makes it stand out is to me that the author, Raymond Smullyan, is a logician. Have a logician explain the Tao through logic is an interesting piece of cognitive dissonance. I suppose that Smullyan himself would probably say something like, "The Tao is not logical nor is the Tao logic, but all logic comes from the Tao."
posted by plinth at 2:31 PM on October 27, 2008

I've read a good part of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but it seems that's more about our relationship to technology

Read it again, with an open mind and total awareness.
posted by flabdablet at 5:52 PM on October 27, 2008

Godel, Escher, Bach - It's about AI, which makes it about thought itself.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:45 PM on October 27, 2008

I haven't read much about the Dao and I haven't studied it much either. It seems a contradiction.

I stayed at a Zen center for a couple of winters and maybe I got nothing out of it. Nevertheless, I think "The Tao Is Silent" is a strong recommendation because it intimates the non-intellectual vantage point necessary for this pursuit.

I read Zen in the Art of Archery many years ago and it meant a lot to me. It is probably dated now.

Nthing the sentiment that if you can't translate from tech to whatever, then you are missing the point. Being specific is not what it is about. "The Dao that can be spoken is not the Dao."
posted by pointilist at 11:02 PM on October 27, 2008

oh, and this.
posted by pointilist at 11:11 PM on October 27, 2008

Zen Guitar Dojo
posted by SheMulp AKA Plus 1 at 10:35 AM on October 29, 2008

You might consider The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet.

Also, Lao Tzu's own writings (the Tao Te Ching itself) aren't difficult to read, you just may not get much out of it without some exposure to the concepts first.

The Zen links are nice, but Taoism is not Zen.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:54 PM on October 30, 2008

For recent brushes between cognitive science and Taoism, you might look at The Complementary Nature by Scott Kelso. Similarly, and somewhat older, The Embodied Mind by Varela, Thompson and Rosch draws on Neuroscience, Psychology and Buddhism. Much of Francesco Varela's writing is relevant, as perhaps is the Mind and Life Institute, which brings together Buddhists and Scientists. Also a self-plug.
posted by fcummins at 11:48 AM on November 4, 2008

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