Monday, August 12, 2013

Academic Theory: Taoism

There are many forms of Taoism, ancient and modern. Historically, the identity of the religion has been fluid, and has been integrated with Confucianism and Buddhism for it's similarity in doctrine. There are still, however, attributes of Taoism that bear originality, and distinguishing characteristics that set it apart from other belief systems on the Asian continent. Taoism is actually a religion, unlike Buddhism, which is purely philosophical, and ascribes a particular outlook on the nature of the material universe. There are 4 key ethics of Taoism: Tao and Te, Wu-Wei, Naturalness, and the Three Treasures. for the sake of simplicity I will be addressing the concept of Wu-Wei with is the most unique principal Taoism has to offer.

Water is an element closely tied to Taoism, which emphasizes a holistic flow to the universe, everything suspended in balance ineffable action. Water is shapeless, stateless, and, seemingly unremarkable, water can achieve great acts of geological change. Water may be fluid but it will still carve out a mountain. The practitioner, through meditation, attempts to diminish the will to a point of atrophy, in which the practitioner ceases all willful action. The goal of Wu-Wei is to achieve Ming, an equivalent state to enlightenment where the practitioner now can work in tandem with the flow of the universe and be in complete harmony with all matter and forces. If Buddhism seeks a product of sublime consciousness, Taoism seeks a state of universal harmony with the material universe.

As far as how Taoism could be integrated with literature, there are actually several books written by Ursula K. Le Guin that do just that. The Lathe of Heaven, is the most notable work in which she achieves this synergy of western literary tropes with eastern philosophy, dealing primarily with achieving effortless action through diminishing the will. In her work the "will" is analogized with George Orr's dreaming powers that can alter reality. A sleep researching named William Haber that is assigned to Orr, tries to achieve for himself ideal realities (ie. a world with out racism, a world without hunger, etc) rooted in his willful yearnings that ultimately bring about mass disaster for all of earth's inhabitants. The book's statement then, effectively, is that to force one's will over the world, rather than submitting to the flow of the universe, only brings about chaos.

The best way to utilize Taoism is to consider it's universal applications. A lot of spiritual practices of Asia to a westerner can come off as "explicitly eastern" given that westerners are confined to a mindset grounded by individualism. Many Asia religions also invoke groupism which is foreign to individual minded westerners. Taoism however is different because it underscores a universal praxis that doesn't culturally isolate itself. Therefore, in application with literature, it is easier to digest. To use Taoism in literature then, one must focus on cultivating a trope that emphasizes the principal of Wu-Wei and harmonious action. To give you an idea of what I mean, I will conclude of this example:

"How do you flip them? When do you know?" Mykon said, peering over Pappouli's shoulders. 
"It takes years to know, little one. Shh! There is an art for these things." 
I have watched my grandfather make crepes since I was a little. Even though I am getting older, and wiser myself, he still fascinates me with his quirks. When our family came to New York, he was the first Greek man to open a successful restaurant in the burrows. My father opened his own restaurants shortly after, but it was never as successful as Pappouli's. Even when he was interviewed on the morning news about the opening of his fourth restaurant he had this to say: 
"Food is delicate, and flashes before your eyes. But it enters our bodies all the same. It is a compliment to me if my grandchildren eat quickly, because it shows me that they have no hesitation. I have the same philosophy with customers. They eat because eating is natural. I make food that is natural for eating. They forget that they are there to eat, when they eat my food. It satisfies all their expectations." 
He is such an enigma, I'll never understand. I still love to watch him cook, especially now that he is older. There are few people left who cook like him. 
"Mykon, look here. I know this part of the grittle is hot, so it will burn my crepes. Ah, but here, yes. This place will work fine. There must be a balance between heat and the ingredients you use. Cheese will not melt if it is too cold and the battle will over cook if it is too hot. Balance Mykon! remember that." 
"How do you know all this, Pappouli? I'm always so fascinated by your methods." 
"Bah! Methods? I do not do "methods." Cooking is cooking. There are no recipes or ingredients. Cooking is in the soul. It will come out whether you like it or not, and the more you complicate things, the worse you will be at it."


No comments:

Post a Comment