"The Tao Does Not Command" by Raymond M. Smullyan (excerpt) THE TAO IS SILENT

 'Lofty Hermitage in Cloudy Mountains', ink on paper by Fang Fanghu

The great Tao flows everywhere, to the left and to the right All things depend upon it to exist, and it does not abandon them. To its accomplishments it lays no claim.
It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
(Laotse, tr. Alan Watts)

That is another thing so nice about the Tao; it is not bossy! It loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them. Thus the Tao is something purely helpful—never coersive!

In the Judeo-Christian notion of God, one thing which is so rigidly stressed is
obedience to God! The great sins are “disobedience, rebellion against God, pride, self-will”, etc. The Christians are constantly stressing the infinite importance of “total surrender of one’s will to God”. They say, “Let thy will, not mine, be done”.

How very different the Taoist! He never speaks of “obedience” to the Tao but only of “being in harmony” with the Tao—which seems so much more attractive! And being in harmony with the Tao is not something “commanded”, nor something which is one’s “duty”, nor something demanded by “moral law”, nor something sought for some future reward, but is something which is its own reward; it is in itself a state of spiritual tranquility. In this respect it does resemble the Judeo-Christian notion of “communion”.

Another thing, it would seem sort of odd to the Taoist to speak of “surrendering one’s will to the Tao”. In the first place, it doesn’t sound quite right to say that the Tao has its own “will”. The Tao is certainly not willful, and I think the Taoist would tend to regard things having their own will as somehow “willful”—but let that pass! At any rate, the idea of “surrendering” one’s will to the Tao would seem inappropriate since an individual’s so-called “will” is but part of the Tao. It’s not that the Taoist denies free will (nor would he affirm it, for he would tend to regard the whole free will- determinism controversy as a confusing duality), but he would rather say that whatever it is which we call “free-will” is but part of the activities of the Tao. Goethe expressed a similar sentiment when he said that in trying to oppose nature we are only acting according to the laws of nature. Similarly Suzuki has said that Western man thinks he is controlling or conquering nature; he does not realize that in so doing, he is only acting according to the laws of nature.

I must confess that all my life I have reacted with the utmost horror to the idea of “obedience to God”—and even more so to “surrendering one’s will to God”. Some Christians would tell me that I find this idea so horrifying because of my own pride, disobedience, egotism and self-will. But is this really so? I could see some merit in that argument if I objected only to myself surrendering my will to God, but did not mind other people surrendering their wills to God. But this is not the case. I hate the idea of anyone surrendering his will to God. Indeed, I am repelled by any situation in which one sentient being surrender’s his will to another sentient being. I just cannot accept situations in which one commands and the other obeys.

There is, however, one mitigating feature of the situation which I only realized quite recently, as a result of reading some of the writings of Alan Watts. And that is that if a person decides to surrender his will to God, and spends several years undergoing the inner discipline, self-mortification, purgation, etc., he finally reaches a stage in which he suddenly realizes that the issue he has been so violently struggling with is purely illusory! That is to say, he suddenly realizes that his will has been part of God’s will all along and that even his so-called “rebellion” has been but part of God’s activities. In other words, he realizes not that he “shouldn’t” rebel against God, but that he simply
cannot. Put in less theological terms, it is like the man who suddenly has a Satori-like realization that he is not controlling Nature, as he had thought, but rather that Nature is controlling him to think that he is controlling Nature—or better still, that neither is he controlling Nature nor is Nature controlling him, but that he and Nature are one. [Who knows, perhaps that is what Jesus really meant when he said in the fourth Gospel, “The Father and I are one.”]

Now, if “surrendering one’s will to God” really does lead to this wonderful state—so close to Taoistic harmony or Zen Satori—then there is of course something to be said for it. But must one go through these horrible spiritual gymnastics to attain this end? Is there not a saner path?

I can only think again of the Taoist Sage by the river stream, not worrying about “obedience” or “surrendering his will” or not even conceptualizing the notion of “being in harmony with the Tao”, but simply being in harmony with the Tao and enjoying it to his hearts content.


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