The Tao Is Silent Raymond M. Smullyan

At all costs, the Chris­tian must con­vince the hea­then and the athe­ist that God ex­ists, in or­der to save his soul. At all costs, the athe­ist must con­vince the Chris­tian that the be­lief in God is but a child­ish and prim­i­tive su­per­sti­tion, do­ing enor­mous harm to the cause of true so­cial progress 1)↓. And so they bat­tle and storm and bang away at each other. Mean­while, the Taoist Sage sits qui­etly by the stream, per­haps with a book of po­ems, a cup of wine, and some paint­ing ma­te­ri­als, en­joy­ing the Tao to his hearts con­tent, with­out ever wor­ry­ing whether or not Tao ex­ists. The Sage has no need to af­firm the Tao; he is far too busy en­joy­ing it!


A math­e­ma­ti­cian friend of mine re­cently told me of a math­e­ma­ti­cian friend of his who ev­ery­day “takes a nap”. Now, I never take naps. But I of­ten fall asleep while read­ing — which is very dif­fer­ent from de­lib­er­ately tak­ing a nap! I am far more like my dogs Peek­a­boo, Peeka­too and Trixie than like my math­e­ma­ti­cian friend once re­moved. These dogs never take naps; they merely fall asleep. They fall asleep wher­ever and when­ever they choose (which, in­ci­den­tally is most of the time!). Thus these dogs are true Sages.
 I think this is all that Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy is re­ally about; the rest is mere elab­o­ra­tion! If you can learn to fall asleep with­out tak­ing a nap, then you too will be­come a Sage. But if you can’t, you will find it not as easy as you might think. It takes dis­ci­pline! But dis­ci­pline in the East­ern, not West­ern style. East­ern dis­ci­pline en­ables you to fall asleep rather than take a nap; West­ern dis­ci­pline has you do the re­verse. East­ern dis­ci­pline trains you to “al­low your­self” to sleep when you are sleepy; West­ern dis­ci­pline teaches you to force your­self to sleep whether you are sleepy or not. Had I been Laotse, I would have added the fol­low­ing maxim — which I think is the quin­tes­sence of Taoist phi­los­o­phy:

The Sage falls asleep not be­cause he ought to
Nor even be­cause he wants to
But be­cause he is sleepy.


There is some­thing blurred and in­dis­tinct
An­te­dat­ing Heaven and Earth.
How In­dis­tinct! How Blurred!
Yet within it are forms.
How dim! How con­fused!
Quiet, though ever func­tion­ing.
It does noth­ing, yet through it all things are done.
To its ac­com­plish­ment it lays no credit.
It loves and nour­ishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao. 2)↓

Thus writes Laotse some twenty-five hun­dred years ago. I think this is as good an in­tro­duc­tory de­scrip­tion of the Tao as can be de­sired. It raises many in­ter­est­ing ques­tions: Just what is the Tao? How should one de­fine the Tao, or does the Tao elude any pos­si­ble def­i­ni­tion? If it ex­ists, what is it like? What are its prop­er­ties?
 Be­fore turn­ing to these mat­ters, let me tell you the story of a Zen-Mas­ter who was asked by a stu­dent, “What is the Tao?” He replied, “I will tell you af­ter you have drunk up the wa­ters of the West River in one gulp.” The stu­dent coun­tered,” I have al­ready drunk up the wa­ters of the West River in one gulp.” To which the Mas­ter replied,” Then I have al­ready an­swered your ques­tion.”

220px-Smullyan9. THE TAO DOES NOT TALK
That’s an­other rea­son I like the Tao so much; it doesn’t talk! I hate peo­ple who talk too much. When I’m in com­pany, I like to be the one to talk; oth­ers should just re­spect­fully lis­ten!
 Is it not mar­velous that I can talk to the Tao to my heart’s con­tent, and the Tao never con­tra­dicts me or an­swers back? The Tao never crit­i­cizes me for be­ing ego­cen­tric or talk­ing too much.
 When I talk about talk­ing to the Tao, the more so­phis­ti­cated and psy­cho­an­a­lyt­i­cally ori­ented reader will say that I am not re­ally talk­ing to the Tao, I am re­ally talk­ing to my­self. But this is not so! Since all words come from the Tao, my talk­ing to the Tao is not re­ally me talk­ing to my­self but the Tao talk­ing to it­self! So, you see, the Tao talks to it­self. Yet the Tao does not talk, it is silent! Is this not a re­mark­able para­dox?

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1. Lawrence Krauss & Richard Dawkins
2. This is a com­pos­ite of sev­eral trans­la­tions of sev­eral verses of the Book of Tao.

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