Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review Wed - The Truth of the Tao

Title: "The Truth of the Tao "
Author: Grand Master Alex Anatole
Publisher: The Center of Traditional Taoist Studies, 2005
382 pages of Content

"You only want three wishes:
One to fly the heavens
One to swim like fishes
You want never bitter
And all delicious
And a clean conscience
And all it's blisses
You want one true lover with a thousand kisses
You want soft and gentle and never vicious
And then one you're saving for a rainy day
If your lover ever takes her love away" "Three Wishes"- The Pierces

The above can be used to describe how my mind works on the average day. I tend to be an upfull person who wants to see everyone happy, which is why I had some serious problems on my first read through of "The Truth of the Tao".

I picked up The Truth of the Tao all excited, gleeful even, to learn from the words of a living Taoist Grand Master who can write in fluent English. I took it everywhere with me, like a oblong security blanket. Finally someone who can show me what Taoism is all about from the inside!

As I read it I felt a lot like The Bride in Kill Bill as she's studying with Pai Mei. That is to say like I was repeatedly being hit in the head with a stick. The book is well written, and well organized. Grand Master Alex really is a Taoist Grand Master. I just didn't want to hear what he had to say.

The purpose of the book is not to provide an intro to Taoism. Which is good, because it does not provide a balanced introduction for someone who knows next to nothing about the subject. (For that I would go with "The Shambhala Guide to Taoism" by Eva Wong. ) The purpose of the book as far as I can tell, is to present an undiluted delineation of Taoism free of outside influences so that the reader can see if that path is really for them. I think it presents an accurate view of Taoism as Grand Master Alex Anatole teaches it, and as he was taught it by his Master. But in claiming to teach THE Truth of the Tao, much of the variation of how Taoism has developed is marginalized as "Un Taoist".

Confusion is seen as the biggest Taoist "Sin", and the book goes to great lengths to clear up confusion between the Taoist View, and the Views of other Paths. In fact the first 129 pages of the book go into a painful review of both Western and Eastern "sources of confusion". Grand Master Alex has a great deal of harsh critique for Western religion and philosophy in general, specifically the concept of universal Love which is considered both unnatural and downright dangerous to the individual. Kind of like opium. Everyone likes opium, but it is not exactly the most healthsome of indulgences.

Eastern Religion gets no easy walk either. Buddhism is very harshly reviewed, and is presented as straying from the path its founder put it upon. Confucianism, likewise takes a beating.. but honestly Taoism is very much about the individual being natural and in harmony with Nature, and Confucianism is very much about the Individuals duty to Society and the Ancestors. They admittedly do not agree, and have not for a while now. (though that does not bind them from mixing in the minds and practice of many Chinese)

That part is the hardest to read, and I almost stopped reading there. Many of the things I liked about Taoism are.. not Taoist! Tragedy! Many of my beliefs are being called into question! I do not like this at all! I kept reading anyway.. out of spite mostly. I wasn't going to let this book beat me.

After showing us what Taoism is not, Grandmaster Alex goes into the view of what Taoism is. It is perhaps one of the clearest, and most pragmatic explanations of the Taoist view I've ever read. It's a crash course in radical practicality and common sense. The clearest guide to the Tao is Nature. Nature is cruel and unkind, thus, the Sage must be cruel and unkind... at least by the standards set by society. Society which is out of step with the Tao.

Reading through the Truth of the Tao is a lot like hearing a bunch of things I absolutely do NOT want to hear from my dad. In the same tone he would use. Over and over again I would be screaming in my head: "NOOOO! TAOISM IS NOT THIS! NOOOO!" I think more accurately that Taoism is not ONLY this. There are many many sects and schools within Taoism, many of which disagree with each other. Nature is full of infinite variation, and so too is Taoism. But, make no mistake, what is presented in "The Truth of the Tao" IS Taoism. This book single handedly shattered any illusions I might have had about Taoism being warm and cuddly. Taoism like nature is beautiful, complex, and varied. But it is not warm and cuddly.. at least not all the time. After all, even tigers love their young.

If you are really interested in Traditional Taoism, you really should give it a read. If you don't really care, or are only passingly interested in Taoism, you can probably give it a pass.


Pallas Renatus said...

I think I'll have to give this a read, as many ideas that I thought were "Taoist" influenced me at a very young age.

Jow said...

Those ideas probably still ARE Taoist, just not to Grand Master Alex ;). He has some very specific things to say on the subject. I'd look it up in your library system first, or find it used if you must have it.