There is no great need for this stuff to be identified or defined. But if it’s going to be then “Taoism”, as it’s called, is best understood as a martial art: practical, first and foremost. What fascinates people about “The Way” is that it’s only really graspable in doing, and doing skillfully.

What does that mean, “only really graspable in doing”? Introduction to Taoism
Make a fist. Open your hand again. Good work.

Now instruct me. I’m another human being with a hand dangling nervously at my side: tell me the way, explain to me how I should operate my hand, how do I make it move? Can you do better than “uh, well, you just – y’know – you just do it… you just mooooove your fingers, see?”, or even less helpfully, “I dunno, it just sorta happens“?

You’re not broken and you’re not stupid. That is actually how it feels to move your hand as a human being. The Way You Make Your Hand Move never occurs to you.

Kaboom. This is what “only really graspable in doing” means.

Thus… “The Way that can be told is never the Way.”
Indeed… “all its definitions are misleading!”

We’re not invoking magic or mysterious otherworldly origins of power here, and we’re not avoiding the question. It is what it is. The Way is unknowable and indescribable – or un-tell-able. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the divine.

Without explanation, you just do it. Inexplicably, The Way just sorta happens, y’know…?

Introduction to Taoism

Work in progress… more coming.

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4 Comments (thank you to all). thank you!

  1. majc  October 7, 2013 - 8:26 am  

    Hello scientifically minded people. Please note that an explanation of the hand’s movement in terms of nerves, muscle contraction, tendons & ligaments, bones & joints answers the wrong question. It doesn’t tell me the way to move my hand.

    I’m not asking about the physics of how an arm moves. I could chop yours off at the elbow and make it flap around (with electric pulses to the flexor and extensor muscles). That would evidence the mechanics of the human arm/hand. But what I’m asking is how do I, a human being with arms, make my hand move. What’s it like to do that, to enact the behaviour as I stand here now? What should I expect?

    The answer is nothing. It’s not like anything. It is what it is.

    And it just sorta happens.

    • majc  October 7, 2013 - 5:30 pm  

      Hello super-persistent scientifically minded people. Please note that describing a piece of technology which monitors brain activity (and sends electric pulses to flexor and extensor muscles when it reads a particular pattern of activity corresponding to e.g. the deliberate verbal thought “make a fist”) also answers the wrong question, and makes the conversation spiral off in an unnecessarily complicated direction.

      Don’t get me wrong, that’s a cool piece of technology: enabling the armless to move arms definitely deserves a round of applause — especially from them, with their new arms. But there’s a difference between finding a way around the question (so that we can complete the objective of making a fist by thinking it) and actually answering the original question.

  2. majc  February 4, 2015 - 9:18 am  

    The point is that The Way we’re often looking for is of this intellectually-ungraspable-but-not-mystical-and-actually-familiar nature — like moving your own hand.

    From this it (and the rest of the book) follows that skill consists in how you get in its way, and when.

    And from that it follows that skill develops fundamentally through practice, through doing — like the baby developing its hand movements (without any guidebook telling it how).

    Anyone who’s ever got really good at anything knowsw’msay’n.

    • majc  February 4, 2015 - 9:33 am  

      Fundamentally doesn’t mean exclusively.
      It means fundamentally.

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