The New Religion of Shaolin

Shaolin Statue

Photo: Robin Chen (CC)

Chinese capitalism has something uniquely in common with historical Maoism: atheism. Vast economic growth met with a huge demand for traditional culture has meant Chinese cultural institutions are increasingly trading in their social values for growth-based business plans. Via the Independent:

Young men spring through the air, performing elegant punches and kicks; others bound across the dirt, swords flashing through the misty air. An ancient tree has dozens of small dents, made by “finger punches” of warrior monks over the centuries.

This is the Shaolin temple complex, in the mountains of central China, where kung fu was born 1,500 years ago. Now a place of pilgrimage for martial arts enthusiasts and Zen Buddhists, thousands of young people come to study kung fu, or wushu as it is known in China, in schools around the temple.

The commercial success of the temple is obvious, even if some of the sights are jarring – the telephone kiosks with Buddhas on top, for example. It has some monks shaking their heads and fearing that its spiritual peace is threatened. One monk said he was leaving after decades at the temple to be a hermit in the mountains of eastern China.

“There are internal conflicts here, and it’s complicated. When I came here it was very shabby, and it has improved a lot. But I don’t think this is a place for religion anymore,” he says.

Many others are inspired by the Shaolin tradition. Kung fu is the epitome of martial arts, and practitioners say other fighting arts including karate originated from kung fu. There are more than a million learners of kung fu around the world and many centres of Shaolin culture globally.

More on the Independent

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  • Hadrian999

    nothing really unique, “religion” and economics have always been inked in western civilization.  in modern culture we have televangelists and prosperity Christianity, in earlier times we had the financial actions of the roman catholic church such as the sale of indulgences. I find it interesting the amount of hate china gets for joining in the spirit of the west, maybe it’s because china usually excels us at our own game

  • Hadrian999

    nothing really unique, “religion” and economics have always been inked in western civilization.  in modern culture we have televangelists and prosperity Christianity, in earlier times we had the financial actions of the roman catholic church such as the sale of indulgences. I find it interesting the amount of hate china gets for joining in the spirit of the west, maybe it’s because china usually excels us at our own game

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Mickeymoodswing posted something on FB directly on this topic last night:

      http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/08/what-is-debt-%E2%80%93-an-interview-with-economic-anthropologist-david-graeber.html

      “In Sanskrit, Hebrew, Aramaic, ‘debt,’ ‘guilt,’ and ‘sin’ are actually the same word. Much of the language of the great religious movements – reckoning, redemption, karmic accounting and the like – are drawn from the language of ancient finance.”

      Got me to thinking back about how Rabbai Hillel’s innovation of the Pruzbul basically undid a milennium of Judaic history by preserving creditor’s rights in defiance of the mandatory debt forgiveness of the Sabbatical year. 

      Even in the first century CE underhanded religious/legal wrangling was sold as “ensuring the health of the capital markets.”

    • Micho_rizo

      This is very true. particularly in Chinese Buddhism. In the early days of Chan, most of the monasteries depended on personal donations from wealthy patrons. Because of this, the leaders of the monasteries would give talks in public that were sympathetic to the beliefs of the patrons, while promoting radical beliefs within the walls of the monastery. The monks also behaved much more “appropriately” in public than they did in the monasteries.

      • Jin The Ninja

        All true. Don’t forget though, that many monasteries (both buddhist and daoist) stood in opposition to mongol, Qin, manchu and later maoist rule and were persecuted by the state. I would hesitate to call them anti-state bastions, but at times they were. An anachronistic anarchist philosophy borrowed from daoism is quite prominent in chan buddhism.

        • Micho_rizo

          Good points. Although, it’s a chicken/egg situation.  It’s difficult to say whether the Chan and Taoist communities stood against mongols et.al. thereby leading to persecution, or whether the 

          Chan/Taoist communities were persecuted against first, leading to Chan/Taoist opposition. 
          Also, the “anti-state” stance is almost precisely what I was writing about when I mentioned that the leaders would give talks that were sympathetic to the patrons–who were typically high ranking officials of the state–while expressing somewhat anarchic views within the walls of the monasteries.

          I’m hardly an expert, but what seems to make sense to me was that the Chan/Taoist communities were highly anarchic, but they depended on various monies/donations from those who were embroiled withing the state and its system. So I think the old Chan/Taoist communities were tolerant of any rule that didn’t directly interfere with their practices. Although, again, this is simply my opinion. 

    • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

      They only beat us at the game…because they already have the top down all powerful bureaucracy that we’re slowly working to achieve. I’ve often suspected that the hate and fury dispensed in their direction is a generic obfuscation to avoid admitting that our leaders are envious as hell.  

      • Hadrian999

        that is pretty much my opinion, the right wing wet dream is china, almost no regulation or individual rights, a system that makes workers into an easily exploited resource and total devotion to success at any cost. china is the libertarian ideal.

        • Jin The Ninja

          Agreed.

        • Anarchy Pony

          Not exactly. China’s a state government, libertarianism (anarcho-capitalism, so called) is anti state and pro absolute property rights. What you would see under right libertarianism, would likely look more like a collection of city-“states” in which the state is replaced by a corporation or private individual. The Anarchist FAQ over at infoshop.org does a pretty spot on analysis of right libertariansim/anarcho-capitalism.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Under section F of the FAQ.

          • Hadrian999

            the greatest problem i see with libertarianism is that without anything to counter the power of powerful individuals you would just see a modern feudalism in which those that control economic choke points such as processing and shipping would gain massive control over those individuals that depend on them for livelihood.

          • Anarchy Pony

            That is basically the same assessment they make at infoshop, and my own as well.

          • Micho_rizo

            This is debatable. Many of my favorite philosophers throughout history seemed to espouse ideas that we would probably identify today as “Libertarian,” including Chuang Tzu and Thoreau. What scares me is along the same lines, as I don’t think people like Chuang Tzu and Thoreau had to deal with mega-conglomerate corporations and the myriad of ills that comes along with such entities. I am deeply afraid of what would happen if corporatism was allowed to run amok. 

            With that said, I think true Libertarianism is not Anarchy. It is “small” government, not “no government.” The difference is important because one of the roles of “small” government is to protect the rights of individuals. In my dream world, a so-called Libertarian government would protect its citizens against the menace of corporatism. 

            Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case, as most contemporary libertarians shill endlessly for the corporate presence in this country. 

          • Jin The Ninja

            only american and austrian-school libertarians-  libertarian-socialists /anarcho-socialists by definition oppose the oppression of capital. This is much more inline with buddhist “socialism” and daoist anarchism.

          • Jin The Ninja

            I completely agree; however I believe hadrian ‘meant’ how the the american right wing’s model of society incorporates rand’s philosophies as opposed to the more cogent analysis (however strongly i disagree with them) of hayek and rothbard. In which we see a sort of modern dystopic totalitarianism which china nearly perfectly reflects.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Fair enough. Conditions within the “city-states” likely would resemble any totalitarian society, as the rights of the owners of the land would have absolute rights to treat those unable to afford property as they wished.

          • Jin The Ninja

            An interesting point you make about city-states, since the localisation of CCP bureacracy at the regional level(s) has increased under the market policies. I remember an article from a few years back, that suggested  that the new billion/millionaires in china were in fact mostly children of party officials (comprising of 90% of the new economic class) . In a chinese context, the state could be seen as both the greatest exploiter AND protector of property rights- since of course it is the largest landowner (whether directly or by-proxy).

          • Anarchy Pony

            Hmm, then I guess it isn’t far from the mark at all then.

          • 5by5

            And surely we can count on corporations and powerful individuals to act correctly and not abuse their power… oh wait, kinda NOT.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Yeah, generally not. When your entire M.O. is maximizing profits and externalizing costs in the short term, you generally shouldn’t be trusted with anything at all.

      • BuzzCoastin

        China didn’t beat Der Homeland at its own game; Der Homeland threw the game.  Why they threw the game is still a mystery to me.

        • Hadrian999

          we threw the game because short term profits were deemed more important than long term prosperity

        • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

          Tragically…Der Homeland is largely led by amoral weasels in heat who would happily suck the sweat off a dead mans balls for a nickel. There was money in ‘throwing the game’…they threw it without a second thought…because if they walked away with a payday…that was their idea of a victory. 

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I’d rather put my faith in a good blaster…

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I’d rather put my faith in a good blaster…

    • Anarchy Pony

      Possibly a DL44 heavy blaster pistol? http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/DL-44_heavy_blaster_pistol

      • 5by5

        But hokey religions AND an X-Wing blow up Death Stars.

  • Wanooski

    Possibly a DL44 heavy blaster pistol? http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/DL-44_heavy_blaster_pistol

  • Anonymous

    Mickeymoodswing posted something on FB directly on this topic last night:

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/08/what-is-debt-%E2%80%93-an-interview-with-economic-anthropologist-david-graeber.html

    “In Sanskrit, Hebrew, Aramaic, ‘debt,’ ‘guilt,’ and ‘sin’ are actually the same word. Much of the language of the great religious movements – reckoning, redemption, karmic accounting and the like – are drawn from the language of ancient finance.”

    Got me to thinking back about how Rabbai Hillel’s innovation of the Pruzbul, which basically undid a milennium of Judaic history by preserving creditor’s rights in defiance of the mandatory debt forgiveness of the Sabbatical year. 

    Even in the first century CE underhanded religious/legal wrangling was sold as “ensuring the health of the capital markets.”

  • Micho_rizo

    Wow. Good to know that shitty research in journalism doesn’t just happen within the U.S. Or, maybe it’s terrible to know.

  • Micho_rizo

    Wow. Good to know that shitty research in journalism doesn’t just happen within the U.S. Or, maybe it’s terrible to know.

    • Micho_rizo

      Anyhow, this commercialization is hardly confined to the original temple in China. Look up Sifu Yan Ming here in the U.S. or Shi Yan Lei in the U.K. These guys charge for every little thing. I think Yan Lei charges somewhere around $100/hr for private lessons over the internet.

      Not that I necessarily blame them. Exercise “experts” of all stripes charge much more exorbitant amounts for shit services, and  I think both men do more good than harm with what they do (Yan Ming is “rebuilding” the Shaolin Temple in upstate New York, for example) . It’s just a little disheartening to see that something that in theory belongs to everyone (Chan Buddhism and its practices) is instead only for sale to those who can afford it… as usual.

  • Micho_rizo

    This is very true. particularly in Chinese Buddhism. In the early days of Chan, most of the monasteries depended on personal donations from wealthy patrons. Because of this, the leaders of the monasteries would give talks in public that were sympathetic to the beliefs of the patrons, while promoting radical beliefs within the walls of the monastery. The monks also behaved much more “appropriately” in public than they did in the monasteries.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    They only beat us at the game…because they already have the top down all powerful bureaucracy that we’re slowly working to achieve. I’ve often suspected that the hate and fury dispensed in their direction is a generic obfuscation to avoid admitting that our leaders are envious as hell.  

  • Hadrian999

    that is pretty much my opinion, the right wing wet dream is china, almost no regulation or individual rights, a system that makes workers into an easily exploited resource and total devotion to success at any cost. china is the libertarian ideal.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed.

  • Wanooski

    Not exactly. China’s a state government, libertarianism (anarcho-capitalism, so called) is anti state and pro absolute property rights. What you would see under right libertarianism, would likely look more like a collection of city-“states” in which the state is replaced by a corporation or private individual. The Anarchist FAQ over at infoshop.org does a pretty spot on analysis of right libertariansim/anarcho-capitalism.

  • Wanooski

    Under section F of the FAQ.

  • Hadrian999

    the greatest problem i see with libertarianism is that without anything to counter the power of powerful individuals you would just see a modern feudalism in which those that control economic choke points such as processing and shipping would gain massive control over those individuals that depend on them for livelihood.

  • Wanooski

    That is basically the same assessment they make at infoshop, and my own as well.

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree; however I believe hadrian ‘meant’ how the the american right wing’s model of society incorporates rand’s philosophies as opposed to the more cogent analysis (however strongly i disagree with them) of hayek and rothbard. In which we see a sort of modern dystopic totalitarianism which china nearly perfectly reflects.

  • Wanooski

    Fair enough. Conditions within the “city-states” likely would resemble any totalitarian society, as the rights of the owners of the land would have absolute rights to treat those unable to afford property as they wished.

  • Anonymous

    All true. Don’t forget though, that many monasteries (both buddhist and daoist) stood in opposition to mongol, Qin, manchu and later maoist rule and were persecuted by the state. I would hesitate to call them anti-state bastions, but at times they were. An anachronistic anarchist philosophy borrowed from daoism is quite prominent in chan buddhism.

  • Anonymous

    An interesting point you make about city-states, since the localisation of CCP bureacracy at the regional level(s) has increased under the market policies. I remember an article from a few years back, that suggested  that the new billion/millionaires in china were in fact mostly children of party officials (comprising of 90% of the new economic class) . In a chinese context, the state could be seen as both the greatest exploiter AND protector of property rights- since of course it is the largest landowner (whether directly or by-proxy).

  • Wanooski

    Hmm, then I guess it isn’t far from the mark at all then.

  • Micho_rizo

    Good points. Although, it’s a chicken/egg situation.  It’s difficult to say whether the Chan and Taoist communities stood against mongols et.al. thereby leading to persecution, or whether the 

    Chan/Taoist communities were persecuted against first, leading to Chan/Taoist opposition. 
    Also, the “anti-state” stance is almost precisely what I was writing about when I mentioned that the leaders would give talks that were sympathetic to the patrons–who were typically high ranking officials of the state–while expressing somewhat anarchic views within the walls of the monasteries.

    I’m hardly an expert, but what seems to make sense to me was that the Chan/Taoist communities were highly anarchic, but they depended on various monies/donations from those who were embroiled withing the state and its system. So I think the old Chan/Taoist communities were tolerant of any rule that didn’t directly interfere with their practices. Although, again, this is simply my opinion. 

  • Micho_rizo

    Good points. Although, it’s a chicken/egg situation.  It’s difficult to say whether the Chan and Taoist communities stood against mongols et.al. thereby leading to persecution, or whether the 

    Chan/Taoist communities were persecuted against first, leading to Chan/Taoist opposition. 
    Also, the “anti-state” stance is almost precisely what I was writing about when I mentioned that the leaders would give talks that were sympathetic to the patrons–who were typically high ranking officials of the state–while expressing somewhat anarchic views within the walls of the monasteries.

    I’m hardly an expert, but what seems to make sense to me was that the Chan/Taoist communities were highly anarchic, but they depended on various monies/donations from those who were embroiled withing the state and its system. So I think the old Chan/Taoist communities were tolerant of any rule that didn’t directly interfere with their practices. Although, again, this is simply my opinion. 

  • Micho_rizo

    Good points. Although, it’s a chicken/egg situation.  It’s difficult to say whether the Chan and Taoist communities stood against mongols et.al. thereby leading to persecution, or whether the 

    Chan/Taoist communities were persecuted against first, leading to Chan/Taoist opposition. 
    Also, the “anti-state” stance is almost precisely what I was writing about when I mentioned that the leaders would give talks that were sympathetic to the patrons–who were typically high ranking officials of the state–while expressing somewhat anarchic views within the walls of the monasteries.

    I’m hardly an expert, but what seems to make sense to me was that the Chan/Taoist communities were highly anarchic, but they depended on various monies/donations from those who were embroiled withing the state and its system. So I think the old Chan/Taoist communities were tolerant of any rule that didn’t directly interfere with their practices. Although, again, this is simply my opinion. 

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    China didn’t beat Der Homeland at its own game; Der Homeland threw the game.  Why they threw the game is still a mystery to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    Concerning disinformation’s commentary above the link to the story:

    Buddhists, especially Zen and other Chinese Buddhists, are usually best described as atheists. The question here isn’t about the atheism of Chinese capitalism conflicting with the theism of the Shaolin monks. Rather, it is an issue of the consumerism inherent in all forms of capitalism conflicting with the semi-asceticism inherent in Zen Buddhism (I say “semi-asceticism” because Buddhism teaches the middle way. Regardless of whether it is actually asceticism or not is irrelevant, for the Zen Buddhist agrees with the ascetic at least in this regard).

    When you look at Eastern religions through the same lens that you use to look at Western religions, you will end up grossly misunderstanding them. Whether “religion” is a good name for them is up for debate, but a brief study of what they teach should be enough to reveal that if these can be called “religions,” then we need to understand that they are using a very different understanding of the term “religion” than westerners use.

    Note that I am not including all Eastern religions in the above statement. Some do resemble western religions (Hinduism and certain other forms of Buddhism, for example). However, I’m talking mainly about Daoism, Chinese forms of Buddhism, and other similar religions/philosophies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    Concerning disinformation’s commentary above the link to the story:

    Buddhists, especially Zen and other Chinese Buddhists, are usually best described as atheists. The question here isn’t about the atheism of Chinese capitalism conflicting with the theism of the Shaolin monks. Rather, it is an issue of the consumerism inherent in all forms of capitalism conflicting with the semi-asceticism inherent in Zen Buddhism (I say “semi-asceticism” because Buddhism teaches the middle way. Regardless of whether it is actually asceticism or not is irrelevant, for the Zen Buddhist agrees with the ascetic at least in this regard).

    When you look at Eastern religions through the same lens that you use to look at Western religions, you will end up grossly misunderstanding them. Whether “religion” is a good name for them is up for debate, but a brief study of what they teach should be enough to reveal that if these can be called “religions,” then we need to understand that they are using a very different understanding of the term “religion” than westerners use.

    Note that I am not including all Eastern religions in the above statement. Some do resemble western religions (Hinduism and certain other forms of Buddhism, for example). However, I’m talking mainly about Daoism, Chinese forms of Buddhism, and other similar religions/philosophies.

    • http://www.disinfo.com Disinformation

      The commentary is the opinion of the poster, as is the case with all posts here.

      • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

        I didn’t realize that it was Jim the Ninja till about five minutes ago.

    • Jin The Ninja

      From the poster’s (mine) perspective as both an eurasian (chinese) and someone with an EAS academic background- i disagree wholeheartedly that either Chinese permutations of Buddhism and most definitely Daoism are atheist: and to refer to them as such is wholey a western interpretation of the ideas they present. It is at least as problematic as you assert referring to them as “religions.” But historically and contemporaneosly they do in fact exist institutionally as religions in a universal sense as defined by Eliade.
      You seem to be versed in Buddhist traditions- so you simply cannot argue that the Pure Land tradition (of which Chan is partially based) is atheist in nature. Neither is daoism, which has a recurrent matrifocal pantheism theme in the narrative canon.

      • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

        I should have probably used the word “nontheistic” rather than “atheistic.” Basically what I mean is that belief in God or gods is not required for most forms of Chinese Buddhism, and that many Chinese Buddhists are in fact atheists. Furthermore, Pure Land Buddhism, while it may have influence Zen Buddhism, is not the same as Zen Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism is most definitely theistic, although the gods seem to take a side role. I have, however, never heard any reference to any God or gods from a Zen Buddhist.

         I say that they are “usually best described as atheistic” because, as you point out, it is a western interpretation. I will concede that my statement is problematic. However, the issue at hand with regards to this article isn’t “atheism vs. theism,” but “the middle way vs. consumeristic capitalism.” That’s kind of what I was getting at.

        As for Daoism, with which I am more familiar, I’m not sure if you are saying that the Dao is this pantheistic God, or that there are gods (and perhaps a pantheistic god) in Daoism separate from the Dao. If you are saying it is the Dao, I would completely disagree. The Dao is entirely different from the concept of God, and most Daoists I’ve met refuse to call the Dao God. If, however, you mean the latter (I haven’t read the Daodejing for a while, but I do seem to remember several references to a “mother of all things”), then I would probably agree with you. I am aware that traditional Daoism does have gods, and the elements of pantheism (though I would be wary to declare it actual pantheism, which is more of a modern construction than anything else).

        However, I never said that Daoism was atheistic. I included Daoism in my clarification of what “Eastern religions” I was talking about when I said to avoid using western modes of thought to interpret them. I was only making the assertion in the first paragraph about certain Chinese forms of Buddhism.

        Also, I should probably clarify that my Alma Mater is the internet (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and some other stuff) and the library, so I might be wrong in some of my characterizations. I will maintain, however, that it is not an issue of theism vs. atheism, and that your characterization of it as such is mistaken.

        • Micho_rizo

          The “Tao” is the creative force and power that is at once responsible for, a part of and beyond all the physical phenomenon in the universe…at least in insomuch as the “Tao can be Tao’ed”. Anyhow, if that ain’t “God” then I really don’t know what is. (The point here being that part of the western atheistic view is that God is some dude somewhere [typically an old white dude with a gray beard] controlling shit by snapping his fingers or something. Which, when one actually begins to study seriously the mythology of various world’s religions, finds that that sort of take on “God” is immensely short-sighted, narrow-minded and dumb.)

          • Micho_rizo

            And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what word you use. You can call it “God” or not, but I think the second we start accepting there is a creative, propulsive energy in the Universe of some sort, it’s pretty difficult to fall into a strictly atheistic worldview–flat reductionism, materialism, existentialism, nihilism, etc.

          • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

            I would argue that there is a distinction between the Dao and God.

            Strictly speaking, if one rejects the context of Daoism and all the religious aspects of it, as many new agers have done (whether it still counts as Daoism is up for debate), and bases his belief solely on the existence of the Dao, then he can be called an atheist, in the sense that he does not believe in God. The distinction is that God is supposed to be “personal” in some sense, whereas the Dao is impersonal. Even ancient ideas of gods had gods that were personal, not impersonal things. To call the Dao a force, I think, is also missing the point. The Dao is better compared to a flow (hence all the comparisons of the Dao to water in the Daodejing).

            This does, however, exclude a Daoist from being a materialist or reductionist. I don’t think you can really deny that the Daoist believes in something beyond the physical, although calling Daoism dualistic is almost certainly incorrect, as the hardline mind-body distinction of the west developed mostly due to Descates. Instead, Daoism stresses the oneness or wholeness of things. However, it isn’t very at home with the aforementioned two positions.

            I’m not sure why you associate existentialism with atheism. For one, most atheists I know are definitely anti-existentialist, being firmly rooted in analytic philosophy. For two, existentialism isn’t even exclusively atheistic. Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, Karl Barth, Karl Jaspers, and arguably Dostoevsky were all Christian Existentialists. Existentialism is more a mode of philosophical thinking than a position.

            Regardless, a Daoist, in the traditional sense, is not an atheist. Daoists believe in various gods. I will, however, maintain that the Dao cannot be called God. It doesn’t make any sense to do that. That is like pantheists calling existence God. Why not just call it existence? Are they that desperate to hold onto the label “theist”?

          • Micho_rizo

            Dude, you’re getting to embroiled in the language. I don’t get where you believe the distinction between God and Tao is that God is supposed to be “personal” and the Tao is “impersonal.” As for the former, I believe it’s a matter of personal taste. I think the Creative Force behind existence is all that is required to be referred to as “God.” You believe it needs to be personal. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It is what it is–the thing or no-thing that is responsible for all of this. As for the latter, I think if you read some Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu and probably even some of the early Chan masters–you’d realize that the Tao is as personal as it gets. The “impersonal” part usually comes from a western perspective that has trouble dealing with the fact that the Tao is simply and utterly spontaneous. This spontaneity is what gives it its “impersonal” feel, but this is simply a misrepresentation–from my perspective. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

            No…the impersonal part comes about by comparison. In the west, we have a God that you can supposedly hold conversations with, that has emotions, that might get pissed if you say the wrong things to him. Depending on what you read, it would seem as though the Abrahamic deity would punish people for eternity in a lake of fire for shits and giggles. If you read some other things, this deity would commit suicide (temporary, of course) for the sake of all his creation. But this God is remarkably human (or we are very godlike, depending on how you look at it).

            The Dao is a whole different ball game. Excluding all comparisons (except the comparison with complete impersonality, like with a rock or something), the Dao, you could argue convincingly, is very personal. In fact, from such a comparison free view, I would agree with you (I have, for your information, read Chuang Tzu, though not Lieh Tzu). However, by comparison to other beliefs about reality, such as the Abrahamic one, the Dao is remarkably impersonal.

            Perhaps I had best define what I mean by “personal” and “impersonal.” I mean that the thing in question acts in such a way as to resemble a person/human being. I have the feeling we’re using different definitions here.

          • Jin The Ninja

            a small point of contention: God or G-d refers to THE Judeo-Christian/Islamo Jehovah/Allah in academic writing. lower case ‘god’ refers to any or all non-western divinities. God cannot unequivocably be the Dao. But in it’s own sense the Dao is divine. A Daoist cannot be an atheist, because of the “belief” in a “supernatural” force. Daoism has components that are even older than the 5  thousand years of chinese civilization, it’s roots are based in the pre-Dynastic “Wu” shamanism/tengriism of the yellow river tribes. While you can be a ‘philosophical’ daoist, certain religio-magical phenemenon are not able to be extracted from Daoist belief (internal alchemy and qi being the main two)- therefore i would posit, as you did, Daoism is partially non theist, and if one were to view the Heavenly Bureacracy as an allegory for cosmic mechanisms/the Dao, more so. The conceptions of the divine are much more esoteric in Daoism than simply calling it “God.”

  • Hadrian999

    we threw the game because short term profits were deemed more important than long term prosperity

  • http://disinfo.com Disinformation

    The commentary is the opinion of the poster, as is the case with all posts here.

  • Micho_rizo

    This is debatable. Many of my favorite philosophers throughout history seemed to espouse ideas that we would probably identify today as “Libertarian,” including Chuang Tzu and Thoreau. What scares me is along the same lines, as I don’t think people like Chuang Tzu and Thoreau had to deal with mega-conglomerate corporations and the myriad of ills that comes along with such entities. I am deeply afraid of what would happen if corporatism was allowed to run amok. 

    With that said, I think true Libertarianism is not Anarchy. It is “small” government, not “no government.” The difference is important because one of the roles of “small” government is to protect the rights of individuals. In my dream world, a so-called Libertarian government would protect its citizens against the menace of corporatism. 

    Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case, as most contemporary libertarians shill endlessly for the corporate presence in this country. 

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Tragically…Der Homeland is largely led by amoral weasels in heat who would happily suck the sweat off a dead mans balls for a nickel. There was money in ‘throwing the game’…they threw it without a second thought…because if they walked away with a payday…that was their idea of a victory. 

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Tragically…Der Homeland is largely led by amoral weasels in heat who would happily suck the sweat off a dead mans balls for a nickel. There was money in ‘throwing the game’…they threw it without a second thought…because if they walked away with a payday…that was their idea of a victory. 

  • Anonymous

    From the poster’s (mine) perspective as both an eurasian (chinese) and someone with an EAS academic background- i disagree wholeheartedly that either Chinese permutations of Buddhism and most definitely Daoism are atheist: and to refer to them as such is wholey a western interpretation of the ideas they present. It is at least as problematic as you assert referring to them as “religions.” But historically and contemporaneosly they do in fact exist institutionally as religions in a universal sense as defined by Eliade.
    You seem to be versed in Buddhist traditions- so you simply cannot argue that the Pure Land tradition (of which Chan is partially based) is atheist in nature. Neither is daoism, which , has a recurrent matrifocal pantheism recurrent in the canon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    I should have probably used the word “nontheistic” rather than “atheistic.” Basically what I mean is that belief in God or gods is not required for most forms of Chinese Buddhism, and that many Chinese Buddhists are in fact atheists. Furthermore, Pure Land Buddhism, while it may have influence Zen Buddhism, is not the same as Zen Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism is most definitely theistic, although the gods seem to take a side role. I have, however, never heard any reference to any God or gods from a Zen Buddhist.

     I say that they are “usually best described as atheistic” because, as you point out, it is a western interpretation. I will concede that my statement is problematic. However, the issue at hand with regards to this article isn’t “atheism vs. theism,” but “the middle way vs. consumeristic capitalism.” That’s kind of what I was getting at.

    As for Daoism, with which I am more familiar, I’m not sure if you are saying that the Dao is this pantheistic God, or that there are gods (and perhaps a pantheistic god) in Daoism separate from the Dao. If you are saying it is the Dao, I would completely disagree. The Dao is entirely different from the concept of God, and most Daoists I’ve met refuse to call the Dao God. If, however, you mean the latter (I haven’t read the Daodejing for a while, but I do seem to remember several references to a “mother of all things”), then I would probably agree with you. I am aware that traditional Daoism does have gods, and the elements of pantheism (though I would be wary to declare it actual pantheism, which is more of a modern construction than anything else).

    However, I never said that Daoism was atheistic. I included Daoism in my clarification of what “Eastern religions” I was talking about when I said to avoid using western modes of thought to interpret them. I was only making the assertion in the first paragraph about certain Chinese forms of Buddhism.

    Also, I should probably clarify that my Alma Mater is the internet (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and some other stuff) and the library, so I might be wrong in some of my characterizations. I will maintain, however, that it is not an issue of theism vs. atheism, and that your characterization of it as such is mistaken.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    I didn’t realize that it was Jim the Ninja till about five minutes ago.

  • 5by5

    But hokey religions AND an X-Wing blow up Death Stars.

  • 5by5

    And surely we can count on corporations and powerful individuals to act correctly and not abuse their power… oh wait, kinda NOT.

  • Micho_rizo

    Anyhow, this commercialization is hardly confined to the original temple in China. Look up Sifu Yan Ming here in the U.S. or Shi Yan Lei in the U.K. These guys charge for every little thing. I think Yan Lei charges somewhere around $100/hr for private lessons over the internet.

    Not that I necessarily blame them. Exercise “experts” of all stripes charge much more exorbitant amounts for shit services, and  I think both men do more good than harm with what they do (Yan Ming is “rebuilding” the Shaolin Temple in upstate New York, for example) . It’s just a little disheartening to see that something that in theory belongs to everyone (Chan Buddhism and its practices) is instead only for sale to those who can afford it… as usual.

  • Micho_rizo

    The “Tao” is the creative force and power that is at once responsible for, a part of and beyond all the physical phenomenon in the universe…at least in insomuch as the “Tao can be Tao’ed”. Anyhow, if that ain’t “God” then I really don’t know what is. (The point here being that part of the western atheistic view is that God is some dude somewhere [typically an old white dude with a gray beard] controlling shit by snapping his fingers or something. Which, when one actually begins to study seriously the mythology of various world’s religions, finds that that sort of take on “God” is immensely short-sighted, narrow-minded and dumb.)

  • Micho_rizo

    And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what word you use. You can call it “God” or not, but I think the second we start accepting there is a creative, propulsive energy in the Universe of some sort, it’s pretty difficult to fall into a strictly atheistic worldview–flat reductionism, materialism, existentialism, nihilism, etc.

  • Wanooski

    Yeah, generally not. When your entire M.O. is maximizing profits and externalizing costs in the short term, you generally shouldn’t be trusted with anything at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    I would argue that there is a distinction between the Dao and God.

    Strictly speaking, if one rejects the context of Daoism and all the religious aspects of it, as many new agers have done (whether it still counts as Daoism is up for debate), and bases his belief solely on the existence of the Dao, then he can be called an atheist, in the sense that he does not believe in God. The distinction is that God is supposed to be “personal” in some sense, whereas the Dao is impersonal. Even ancient ideas of gods had gods that were personal, not impersonal things. To call the Dao a force, I think, is also missing the point. The Dao is better compared to a flow (hence all the comparisons of the Dao to water in the Daodejing).

    This does, however, exclude a Daoist from being a materialist or reductionist. I don’t think you can really deny that the Daoist believes in something beyond the physical, although calling Daoism dualistic is almost certainly incorrect, as the hardline mind-body distinction of the west developed mostly due to Descates. Instead, Daoism stresses the oneness or wholeness of things. However, it isn’t very at home with the aforementioned two positions.

    I’m not sure why you associate existentialism with atheism. For one, most atheists I know are definitely anti-existentialist, being firmly rooted in analytic philosophy. For two, existentialism isn’t even exclusively atheistic. Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, Karl Barth, Karl Jaspers, and arguably Dostoevsky were all Christian Existentialists. Existentialism is more a mode of philosophical thinking than a position.

    Regardless, a Daoist, in the traditional sense, is not an atheist. Daoists believe in various gods. I will, however, maintain that the Dao cannot be called God. It doesn’t make any sense to do that. That is like pantheists calling existence God. Why not just call it existence? Are they that desperate to hold onto the label “theist”?

  • Micho_rizo

    Dude, you’re getting to embroiled in the language. I don’t get where you believe the distinction between God and Tao is that God is supposed to be “personal” and the Tao is “impersonal.” As for the former, I believe it’s a matter of personal taste. I think the Creative Force behind existence is all that is required to be referred to as “God.” You believe it needs to be personal. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It is what it is–the thing or no-thing that is responsible for all of this. As for the latter, I think if you read some Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu and probably even some of the early Chan masters–you’d realize that the Tao is as personal as it gets. The “impersonal” part usually comes from a western perspective that has trouble dealing with the fact that the Tao is simply and utterly spontaneous. This spontaneity is what gives it its “impersonal” feel, but this is simply a misrepresentation–from my perspective. 

  • Anonymous

    a small point of contention: God or G-d refers to THE Judeo-Christian/Islamo Jehovah/Allah in academic writing. lower case ‘god’ refers to any or all non-western divinities. God cannot unequivocably be the Dao. But in it’s own sense the Dao is divine. A Daoist cannot be an atheist, because of the “belief” in a “supernatural” force. Daoism has components that are even older than the 5  thousand years of chinese civilization, it’s roots are based in the pre-Dynastic “Wu” shamanism/tengriism of the yellow river tribes. While you can be a ‘philosophical’ daoist, certain religio-magical phenemenon are not able to be extracted from Daoist belief (internal alchemy and qi being the main two)- therefore i would posit, as you did, Daoism is partially non theist, and if one were to view the Heavenly Bureacracy as an allegory for cosmic mechanisms/the Dao, more so. The conceptions of the divine are much more esoteric in Daoism than simply calling it “God.”

  • Anonymous

    a small point of contention: God or G-d refers to THE Judeo-Christian/Islamo Jehovah/Allah in academic writing. lower case ‘god’ refers to any or all non-western divinities. God cannot unequivocably be the Dao. But in it’s own sense the Dao is divine. A Daoist cannot be an atheist, because of the “belief” in a “supernatural” force. Daoism has components that are even older than the 5  thousand years of chinese civilization, it’s roots are based in the pre-Dynastic “Wu” shamanism/tengriism of the yellow river tribes. While you can be a ‘philosophical’ daoist, certain religio-magical phenemenon are not able to be extracted from Daoist belief (internal alchemy and qi being the main two)- therefore i would posit, as you did, Daoism is partially non theist, and if one were to view the Heavenly Bureacracy as an allegory for cosmic mechanisms/the Dao, more so. The conceptions of the divine are much more esoteric in Daoism than simply calling it “God.”

  • Anonymous

    only american and austrian-school libertarians-  libertarian-socialists /anarcho-socialists by definition oppose the oppression of capital. This is much more inline with buddhist “socialism” and daoist anarchism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    No…the impersonal part comes about by comparison. In the west, we have a God that you can supposedly hold conversations with, that has emotions, that might get pissed if you say the wrong things to him. Depending on what you read, it would seem as though the Abrahamic deity would punish people for eternity in a lake of fire for shits and giggles. If you read some other things, this deity would commit suicide (temporary, of course) for the sake of all his creation. But this God is remarkably human (or we are very godlike, depending on how you look at it).

    The Dao is a whole different ball game. Excluding all comparisons (except the comparison with complete impersonality, like with a rock or something), the Dao, you could argue convincingly, is very personal. In fact, from such a comparison free view, I would agree with you (I have, for your information, read Chuang Tzu, though not Lieh Tzu). However, by comparison to other beliefs about reality, such as the Abrahamic one, the Dao is remarkably impersonal.

    Perhaps I had best define what I mean by “personal” and “impersonal.” I mean that the thing in question acts in such a way as to resemble a person/human being. I have the feeling we’re using different definitions here.

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