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The Taoist Conception of God

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Posted in memory of a master.

The Taoist Conception of God


Thomas James Hickey, Ph.D.



Master Hsuan Yuan of the North Pole Golden Temple and Temple of Transcendental Wisdom in New York City requested that I write a commentary on a section of his book entitled The Great Heavenly Virtue: The Wondrous Meaning of the Heavenly Father Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen in order to show that there is indeed a Taoist God who created the universe. The section I am commenting upon and elaborating is "Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen's Explanation, views among folk beliefs." This book and other works of Master Hsuan Yuan are published by the North Pole Gold Temple and Temple of Transcendental Wisdom, and they are available from the American Buddhist and Taoist Association, 81 Bowery, Third Floor, New York, New York 10002.

Master Hsuan Yuan is the 14th Ancestral Founder of the Taoist Lumen Holistic Lineage. He has mastered not only the intellectual teachings of the traditional Taoist schools but also the practice of Taoist meditation and the inner alchemy of the Tan Ting School that lead to creation of the Golden Pill that bestows enlightenment and supernatural powers. Furthermore, he is firmly established in perfect virtue and has devoted his life to bringing enlightenment to the world and alleviating the sufferings of others.

Master Hsuan Yuan's teacher is the Celestial Worthy of the Original Beginning (Yuan Shih T'ien Tsun) and his grand teacher is the Heavenly Father, who is the Supreme Person (Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen) and Highest Lord of the Universe (Hsuan Hsuan Shang Ti). Yuan Shih T'ien bestowed the title of Brilliant Teacher on Master Hsuan Yuan in 1970, and he was then given the mission of carrying out the Grand Universal Salvation (Shou Yuan) by Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen in 1990.

Under the direction of Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen, Master Hsuan Yuan has been transmitting the Heavenly Message to all the world's people, especially in The Great Heavenly Virtue: The Wondrous Meaning of the Heavenly Father Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen — Disclosure of the True Secrets of the Heavenly Realm. Master Hsuan Yuan has requested that I assist in this project in some small way by writing a commentary on a section of this book, having to do with Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen and the popular conception of God.

I am deeply honored by the confidence that Master Hsuan Yuan has placed in me. While my own background is not primarily in Taoism and I do not know Chinese, I do have certain qualifications that may be useful in this task.

On one hand, I hold a doctorate in philosophy from Georgetown University, and have taught philosophy at the university level. My ancestral background is Christian, and I was consecrated a bishop in apostolic succession in an independent Catholic communion in 1993. Therefore, I am quite familiar with Western thought and spirituality.

On the other hand, I was attracted to Oriental culture, philosophy and spirituality from an early age. I have been actively involved in Eastern spirituality for over thirty years and have studied most traditions in some detail. Moreover, I was initiated into Vedic spirituality under the auspices of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and have been a teacher in the Shankaracharya tradition since 1976. Although I have been pursuing the Tao specifically through Taoism since 1969, I owe any real knowledge of Tao that I have gained through Taoism to the grace of Master Hsuan Yuan. In addition to being acquainted with Taoist, Vedic and Christian mystical spirituality, I have also been granted insight into Qabalistic, Sufi and Buddhist spirituality.

As a result, I came to know something of most philosophical, religious, and spiritual traditions of the world. This endeavor led me to the conclusion that wisdom traditions are expressions of a primordial spirituality. The perennial wisdom about this core spirituality is found in the testimony of mystics and the teaching of masters across time the world over. Accordingly, perennial wisdom about core spirituality can be viewed as the ancient religion of humankind, and all religions and spiritual traditoins as different expressions of it. In the words of Rig Veda 1.164.46, “Truth is one; the wise speak of it differently.”

I have long sought to discover the Absolute in philosophy and the mystical experience of nonduality that underlies religion and spirituality so that I might comprehend both conceptually and experientially the universal teaching at the basis of perennial wisdom. My work with the Core Spirituality Institute involves illuminating the transcendental unity underlying the cultural diversity of all religions and wisdom traditions, as well as fostering unity among all religions while celebrating their diverse heritages. To this end I have written several books and courses about the universal teaching of mystical spirituality and how it is the basis of philosophy and religion.

I offer this work to the Most High, however one may conceive of Ultimate Reality, in the hope that it may assist in bringing greater enlightenment to all beings and peace to the world. I bow in gratitude to all my teachers and to the wisdom traditions they represent.


There is a pervasive misunderstanding in the West about Eastern conceptions of God, be they Taoist, Buddhist or Vedic. The religions stemming from the Near East, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are in general agreement concerning the concept of God. This concept has come to be known as monotheism, and proponents of these religions have set this forth by as the ideal. Because modern scholarship began in the West when the West was dominated by the Christian worldview, this concept of God became the standard against which other religions were compared and usually found wanting.

As a consequence, Hinduism came to be viewed as basically pantheistic and polytheistic, Buddhism as atheistic, and Taoism as pantheistic and shamanistic. Even "sophisticated" Indian and Oriental people educated in the Western style have come to adopt such views, looking down on their religious heritage as na晇e or primitive.

On the other hand, scholars paid much more positive attention to the philosophical dimension of the ancient Eastern traditions, whose spirituality many Westerners found inspiring but did not deem to be essentially religious (read "superstitious"). They often pictured Indian and Oriental philosophical thought as separate from the religious aspects of the Eastern spiritual traditions, considering these religious aspects primitive and irrelevant. In fact, a good number of Westerners who are familiar with philosophical Taoism know little about religious Taoism.

A key idea that unites the philosophical and religious aspects of Eastern traditions is that of enlightenment. From the philosophical perspective, enlightenment is the unfolding of the full potential of human nature, while from the religious perspective it is liberation from limitation, especially suffering. In the philosophical view, enlightenment involves the discovery of metaphysical truth both experientially and conceptually. In the religious view, liberation from limitation is through divine union. Both of these conceptions are essentially mystical, in that they involve extraordinary states of awareness arrived at through spiritual practice.

Although mysticism was known in the West, it had been suppressed by mainstream religion, which often persecuted mystical tendencies as heretical. In addition, Western philosophy had taken a more intellectual tack that eventually led to the rise of the scientific worldview. But the notion of enlightenment, which was at first derided as "navel-gazing," ultimately found popularity in the West, and a growing number of Westerners now practice Eastern spiritual disciplines.

Perhaps the idea of enlightenment was especially fascinating to Westerners because it had been all but banished from Western religious and philosophical thought. Therefore, it was an exciting new concept in the West, when the West was itself leaving behind the religious strictures which had bound its culture for centuries.

Now that interest in spiritual enlightenment is increasing in the West, a great deal of confusion and misinformation about it is also arising. Many are mistaken in thinking that enlightenment is simply an attitude, and it can be gained without having to apply oneself earnestly to spiritual practice. Moreover, an idea has arisen that one can have true spirituality without having to be bothered with the inconvenience of a God, religious practice, or morality. "Enlightenment" alone is thought to be enough, although most of those who think this also have a fanciful notion of what enlightenment is.


As a result of this sort of thinking, there is a tendency today to take philosophical Taoism (tao chia) and Buddhism, as well as Vedanta, out of their context in a holistic wisdom tradition and to see them as obviating the religious dimension of the traditions which bore them. Even many Taoists hold that philosophical Taoism (tao chia) has no intrinsic connection to religious Taoism (tao chiao). This tendency to separate Absolute from God is unfortunate because it misrepresents Eastern spirituality and religion.

Many Western-minded people consider Taoism to be a form of Eastern spirituality that requires little and promises much. Such people believe that just by acting "naturally and spontaneously" some sort of mystical state will ensue. Their understanding of Taoism is unfortunately naive, but this misconception has become prevalent. Hopefully, the investigation being undertaken here will be useful in correcting some of these erroneous views. This task of correction is particularly important because these erroneous views are being exported from the West to the countries from which these religions stem, and the people of these countries, especially the youth, are failing to appreciate their religious heritage and even are encouraged to devalue it.

In order for Western educated people to comprehend the Eastern conception of God, they must realize that their own popular conception of God is as credulous as those popular conceptions of God they criticize in others. To many Westerners ritualistic Hinduism seems to be grossly polytheistic and Buddhism atheistic, while religious Taoism appears to be superstitious. No doubt, many naive practitioners of these religions are indeed credulous of ill-informed. However, the popular concept of God many in the West hold, if not most, is no less naive.

Knowledge is limited by the mode of knowing of the knower. If one who knows is limited, then that person's knowledge will also be limited. As a result, the unenlightened mistake the body/mind for what they are. Therefore, they see themselves as separate from others and from everything in the phenomenal world. For such people, the idea of God is characterized by separation.

Not having realized any connection to the ultimate reality, the unenlightened project their own wishes and imagination to form a conception of "Heaven." This conception, irrespective of the culture in which it arises, is insufficient to bridge the gap between that which is limited and unlimited. Therefore, all popular conceptions of God are bound to be lacking.

Human beings tend to project their own image onto Heaven. The Bible says that God created humanity in his own image, but the fact is that human beings create their ideas about God in their own likeness. The popular conception of God is anthropomorphic, whereas the sages report that God's nature is a great mystery that is only penetrated through spiritual union. No idea of God can even approximate the reality because the ordinary human mind is so far removed from it. The infinite cannot be compressed into the finite. To appreciate the reality of the divine, the finite must expand to the infinite, which is the task of mystical spirituality.



In order to correct the erroneous views that have grown up concerning Eastern conceptions of God, it is necessary to appreciate somewhat the dynamics of spirituality and religion. There are two dimensions of religion, namely, the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric aspect of a religion, which is seated in the mythos and ethos of a culture, presents a philosophical world view through a scriptural mythology and a doctrine based on it, a ritualistic praxis, and a moral code. The spiritual purpose of these is to foster remembrance of the noumenal or metaphysically real, which both underlies the phenomenal or apparent as its ground and also transcends it as its source.

However, myths, rites and conventions also bind a culture together through tradition. The people of any culture generally begin at the exoteric stage, being educated into the traditions of their religion, for example, without being acquainted with their inner, spiritual meaning. However, the sages seeded these traditions with symbols, so that people might be drawn toward the inner meaning as they grow in wisdom and virtue. This inner meaning, which is the spiritual dimension, is the esoteric aspect of religion and culture.

As one awakens to the numinous through spiritual practice, one is led into the esoteric appreciation of religion. Every religion has a mystical dimension, often with realized masters who preserve and transmit the mystical teaching. The esoteric aspect does not obviate the exoteric, but rather the esoteric complements and completes the exoteric. The enlightened transcend the mythological and symbolic aspect of scripture by discovering that scripture is a road map of inner experience, a map that is made up of the reports of travelers who have traversed the Way themselves. In its mature form, each religion is founded upon and grounded in a mystical spirituality that leads to enlightenment, which is called "returning to the origin" in the Eastern metaphor and "entering the kingdom" by Jesus Christ.

Similarly, the enlightened transcend the need for conventional morality because they spontaneously do what is right, in the sense of being life-supporting and evolutionary. They do this on the basis of their very being, which is one reason they are called "holy" (whole). And for the realized, ritual is no longer so much a supplication as it is a formula for performing the most exalted form of activity — activity which unites Heaven, Humanity and Earth, and brings blessings upon all.



The popular idea of God held by the masses in every culture is strongly influenced by the scriptures of their religion. Most people do not understand them in the spirit in which they were given, however — for example, taking literally what is meant symbolically. Since these scriptures contain the pronouncements of enlightened seers, they are connected to noumenal reality, and the people of that culture can derive some element of truth from them. Hence, popular conceptions of God are not totally without merit. They can be a steppingstone to things higher if properly heeded. For instance, exoteric religious practices purify the soul so that it can gain the subtlety required for esoteric appreciation and practice.

A fundamental element in every popular conception of God (Heaven) that has been implanted by scripture is that God is transcendental to ordinary human experience. Another element is that God is omniscient and omnipotent. Therefore, God is regarded as a mystery.

However, God (or Heaven) is also considered to be omnipresent. If God were not omnipresent, then He would be limited in being. But if God is omnipresent, then God must be immanent. And if God is within, perhaps Heaven could be discovered here on Earth. This suggestion is the doorway to mystical spirituality found in every religion and wisdom tradition.

Taoism is no different. There is a conception of God in Taoism, just as there is in every religion. God is called the Supreme Person (shang jen) and the Highest Lord (shang ti). These same appellations and titles are bestowed upon God in virtually every religion. For instance, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all concur that God is the Supreme Being and Heavenly Ruler.

The popular conception of God (Heaven) tends to be highly anthropomorphic. But from the perspective of mystical spirituality, there is one Supreme Reality that is the transcendent source, the immanent ground and the all-inclusive totality of being. This One is not only self-sufficient, unconditioned being but also self-aware existence.

Mystical spirituality is panentheistic. Panentheism is monistic, yet not pantheistic. Pantheism holds that God is identical with the Universe. Panentheism is the doctrine that the Supreme is both transcendent and immanent. That is to say, the supreme is beyond phenomena as their source, yet it is also in phenomena (which are conditional) as their unconditioned ground. From this mystical perspective, the Taoist's Tao, the Advaitin's Brahman, the Buddhist's Tathata, the Sufi's Allah, the Kabbalist's YHVH Echad, and Meister Eckhart's Gottheit are essentially synonymous in that they all refer to the sole reality. They all symbolize the One, the source of existence, name and form, as an all-inclusive singularity that is both immanent as the ground of being and transcendent as the source of being.


Mystics report that there are two dimensions of this ultimate reality — the impersonal and the personal. Tao, Brahman, Tathata and Gottheit are impersonal Absolute. Shang Ti, Isvara and God (YHVH, Allah) are personal deity, though formless.

The impersonal aspect of the Absolute is reachable through mystical practice. Those who attain to the level of holistic awareness report that it is ineffable. In the words of the Tao Teh Ching, "Those who know do not say; those who say do not know." It is the Great Mystery (which is why Taoism calls God Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen and Hsuan Hsuan Shang Ti, hsuan meaning mystery and hsuan hsuan meaning greatly mysterious). Yet, the seers affirm that this mystery reveals itself in a pure heart. However, most people remain unaware even of the conception of this esoteric dimension, let alone have any real knowledge of it.

The personal aspect of the ultimate is the object of religious belief and devotion. Virtually all religions have a conception of the Supreme. In Hinduism, God is called Bhagavan (the Exalted One), Isvara (Lord), Parameshvara (Supreme or Transcendental Lord), and Paramatma (Supreme Self). Christianity and Islam follow Judaism in addressing the personal supreme as God Most High (El Elyon), Lord (Adonai) and Heavenly Ruler (YHVH Sabaoth, Psalm 24). In Taoism, the personal aspect of the supreme is called Supreme Person (shang jen) and Supreme Lord (shang ti), shang meaning highest or uppermost.

Vedanta, especially, emphasizes that while there is only one Totality (Brahman), wholeness has two aspects — wholeness without qualities (nirguna brahman) and wholeness with qualities (saguna brahman). The former is the impersonal and the latter personal. From the perspective of a seer, these are two levels of possible transcendental "direct acquaintance" (vidya, jnana).

The literature of mysticism is replete with actual accounts or veiled references to acquaintance with both the impersonal and the personal aspects of the Supreme. These accounts and references are impossible to understand in their fullness at the level of ordinary awareness, which functions on the basis of mind, not holistic awareness. Therefore, a mythology grows up around them, which reflects not the holistic dimension of the scriptures but only a very limited grasp of this dimension. However, when mystical spirituality dawns, one comes to appreciate the scriptures oneself not only in terms of intellectual understanding but also with reference to the level of awareness of the seers who recorded them.


The ordinary person's appreciation of the scriptures of any religion is a mixture of superstition, naive belief, and intellectual speculation, along with a germ of the truth. The germ of the truth in these popular conceptions of God (Heaven) is that there is a personal aspect of supreme reality. Sages, prophets, mystics and seers testify to being directly acquainted with this reality as "presence" in their elevated experience.

The popular conception of God (Heaven) is different in different times and places not because the Supreme is different, for it is an eternal reality which underlies all possible levels of phenomenal experience, as well as of human thought and emotion. The difference is accounted for on the basis of differences in culture and environment. It is now fashionable in our scientific age to denigrate so-called primitive ways of thinking as superstitious, but if history is any indication, the science of today will become tomorrow's credulity.

If there is any enduring aspect to the ordinary understanding of the ultimate, it is provided by the seers who are in touch with the reality. Their reports concerning the ultimate that are available in the world's scriptures can touch the heart of anyone at anytime, because the truth they express resides in the heart of everyone. The purpose of every outer teacher and teaching is to awaken one's Inner Teacher.

Human life is an alternation of pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering. Everyone desires happiness and pursues pleasure, and at the same time everyone fears suffering and avoids pain.

Ordinary people wonder why there is suffering and how God can permit it. Some even use the existence of suffering to call the very conception of the Supreme into question. They argue, for example, that God is said to be both all-good and all-powerful, but suffering shows that he cannot be both. The existence of suffering seems to imply a dilemma. Either the Creator could not create a Universe in which suffering does not exist, in which case he is not all-powerful, or if he could and did not, then he is not all-good. This seemingly inexorable logic has undermined the faith of many in the popular conception of God.

However, what this logic proves is not that God is deficient, but rather that the popular conception of God is inadequate. The testimony of one who knows, namely, the sage, is necessary to set the matter straight, namely, that everything is always perfect in relation to its purpose, which is that the abiding fulfillment that only enlightenment affords, not psychological happiness, which is transitory and ephemeral. That this enormous reality is beyond ordinary human perception, conception and imagination is not surprising. Yet, many erroneously conclude that what is beyond their comprehension does not exist and cannot be true.

Sages report that suffering has the larger, spiritual purpose of turning people's attention to higher things. When things are not going well, people pray to God (Heaven) to make things better. Recalling what they have learned from their religious teaching, people turn to Heaven in trying times. This turning of attention to higher things is a remembrance of the origin. From the spiritual perspective the purpose of life is return to the origin. Hence, remembrance is an essential element of spiritual practice, and every prayer is a step in right direction.

While prayer for relief is a form of remembrance, God does not grant all petitions, presumably for very good reasons. However, every time one turns one's attention to higher things, a reward is immediately received, even though it may not be the one the petitioner wishes for or expects. Heaven always knows best, whereas mortals do not.

Prayers are a form of spiritual remembrance, and spiritual remembrance is its own reward. That upon which one puts attention grows stronger in one's life. When one puts attention on higher things, Heaven becomes a stronger force in one's life, and steps are taken on the spiritual journey of returning to the origin.

Not recognizing this, some people complain when their petitions are not answered. Others, seeing many prayers not answered, deny that there is a God to answer them. Hence the popular conception of God is often beset with doubt and denial, alienation and separation.

The existence of suffering and the lack of success in prayer are some of the biggest reasons that people doubt God's existence or loose faith in God's goodness. Lacking this faith, they fail to pursue the spiritual path (Tao) and stray from virtuous behavior (Teh). Failing in virtue, people find that they become miserable, and the world is also the worse off for it, as social problems mount. Hence, the popular conception of God needs to be bolstered by the testimony of the sages so that the people may return to the origin and be liberated from suffering.

To correct misunderstandings and clear up misconceptions regarding God, Heaven sends sages among the people. The value of the sage is threefold:

1. A realized sage can interpret the scriptures correctly, illuminating their inner message on the basis of spiritual insight. Since the Taoist scriptures are recorded in extremely metaphorical terms that are understandable only to those who have the requisite inner experience to penetrate the metaphors, these scriptures are essentially teaching manuals for the use of sages who have realized Tao. Hence, it is generally not useful or even realistic to attempt to comprehend them without the guidance of a realized master. The erroneous views of Taoism that prevail are largely the result of the uninitiated misinterpreting its cryptic symbols and metaphors.

2.A realized sage can directly transmit the universal teaching experientially and establish others on the eternal, integral Way. The realized master can initiate by directly transmitting knowledge. This awakens the essence of wholeness in one who is properly prepared to receive the stroke of knowledge, and it opens the way for fruitful spiritual practice.

3.A realized sage can communicate with Heaven and even perform supernormal deeds. In the ordinary consciousness there is a barrier between Heaven and Man. This barrier ceases to exist for the realized sage.

Seers speak authoritatively for Heaven, and so the sages who have realized the Way (Tao) have immense value for the world. The sages, seers and prophets are Heaven's voice, as it were, for Heaven does not speak otherwise in human languages.

Reminiscent of Native American spirituality, which calls the Supreme "the Great Mystery," Taoism uses hsuan hsuan to indicate that the supreme level is mysterious, that is, that it transcends ordinary human experience. Taoism is in agreement on this point with the other religions that conceive of God as transcendent.

The realized sage is one who has transcended the limitations of individuality and of ordinary experience. The true sage is one to whom the great mystery has revealed itself through direct acquaintance (gnosis). The Taoist sage (hsien), the Vedic seer (rishi), the Buddhist adept (arhat, lohan), the Hebrew prophet (nabi) and master (tzaddik), the Christian mystic, and the transformed Sufi (abdal) are not different in this regard.

While each of these terms has acquired its own fantastical connotations in the popular mind, their true spiritual meaning expresses supreme realization, hence, is essentially the same. The Taoist realization is not different from the Yogic realization, or the Buddhist realization, or the Sufi realization, or the Jewish or Christian mystical realization — or spiritual realization manifesting itself in any other cultural garb. There is one origin. What those who return to the origin discover there is eternally the same, even though it manifests itself in endless variety.


Showers of the Way bring the one eternal message of Heaven to human beings, namely, "Know thyself." These Way showers do not come to found religions, but rather to show the Way. Later, their message is organized and represented in terms of a language and culture, and a traditional religion is formed. Then, the temptation arises to compare these various religions on the basis of their differences, overlooking the transcendental unity which underlies them.

Religious Taoism (tao chiao), for example, has been represented as a holdover of primitive animism that is still close to its shamanistic roots. In contrast, the monotheistic religions are often represented as being more "advanced" in the sense of being more intelligent, reasonable, and philosophically justifiable. This type of criticism misses the point entirely by mistaking the sociology and philosophy of religion, an intellectual exercise, for its reality. This reality is a mystical state of being verifiable by anyone with the requisite ability to know it directly. The reality is known fully only to the sages, and others easily mistake poetic metaphors pointing to it for literal descriptions of it, so confusion abounds in the mind of many unenlightened people.

The sage is the one who knows the Way and shows it through testimony and example. At the same time, the esoteric aspects of every culture foster the seed of knowledge that exists in everyone as the Inner Teacher. The Taoist scriptures contain the highest knowledge in symbolic form. And as Master Hsuan Yuan points out in the section of his book under consideration in this commentary, even the Chinese pictograms themselves express this knowledge clearly to those who know.

In this way, spiritual wisdom lies at the heart of every culture, residing in the inner meaning of its scriptures and traditions. This inner meaning points to the essence — the origin to which all are called to return. Indeed, the Chinese culture is recognized as one of the world's richest, so it would be surprising if spiritual wisdom were not found imbedded in its scriptures and traditions, and underlying its popular religious conceptions.



In Taoism, God as the personal aspect of Heaven is called Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen, who is the same as Hsuan Hsuan Shang Ti. The term hsuan means mysterious, shang means supreme, jen means man or person, and ti means ruler. Thus, Taoism agrees with other religions in its conception of God as the Supreme Person and the Heavenly Ruler who is mysterious, i.e., real, but invisible to the sense and unknowable by ordinary mind.

People all over the world and throughout history have called upon God or Heaven in times of need, and especially when calamity strikes. Historians of religion have examined the behavior of ancient peoples and determined that virtually all of them observed some religious rituals, presumably for the propitiation of higher powers.

Some historians have concluded that human beings model their conception of God on what they know of themselves and their environment. Therefore, scholars argue, it is logical that primitive people should transfer to God the highest powers that they could conceive or imagine. In this view, natural forces such as the storm were deified first. Subsequently, people began to deify the attributes of their temporal ruler, and God came to be viewed as the supreme personage and the ultimate ruler — the source of power and might from which the temporal ruler received a heavenly mandate.

This view has been applied to religious Taoism also, which scholars have tended to view as springing from an indigenous shamanism and developing into a state religion. According to this view, the notion of Heaven (t'ien) as the Supreme Ruler (shang ti) was especially encouraged by the emperor, who was worshipped as the Son of Heaven (God), as a means of justifying his temporal rule on the basis of divine right.

Scholars also note that this development of popular religion parallels the development of religion in most other cultures. The conclusion is that folk religion is based on a primitive superstition that was exploited by those in power for their own purposes, and that religious Taoism fits into this category also. History shows that the Chinese emperor was not alone in claiming divine status. In fact, the notion of the divine right of kings persisted in Europe in some quarters almost until modern times.



There is, however, another explanation for the prevalent religious orientation of human beings. No matter how far backward in time one looks, there is evidence of non-ordinary states of awareness. In fact, a number of philosophers (among whom Henri Bergson is noteworthy) have speculated that it is mystical experience that underlies the esoteric dimension of religion, even if empirical factors can account for the exoteric aspect.

In this view, folk religion may well have developed as researchers presume. On the other hand, the persistence of the mystical in religion, as evidenced by the reputations and reports of the sages, seers, prophets and holy ones, indicates that the development of religion was not merely historical and sociological. There is also a great deal of evidence pointing to a privileged experiential element which connects the most exalted forms of human spirituality to the noumenal reality underlying phenomenal experience.

Significantly in this regard, the very first section of the "bible" of Taoism, the Tao Teh Ching attributed to Lao Tzu, contains the notion that the Tao is ineffable and mysterious, yet quintessentially real. The whole force of philosophical Taoism is that Tao is neither a concept, nor a belief, but a reality to be realized and lived.

Taoism is poorly understood among scholars because its literature is extremely recondite, and Taoists have been secretive about the intended meaning of the metaphors. It is becoming evident, however, that the meaning of most Taoist terms relates either to non-ordinary states of body and mind or to processes for attaining such states. It is now widely recognized that philosophical Taoism reflects an extremely ancient spiritual technology, similar to the ancient Vedic and ancient Buddhist spirituality, whose roots are lost in antiquity. Scholars also recognize that religious Taoism is also concerned with mystical states, as well as esoteric practices for achieving them.

Some scholars erroneously believe that philosophical Taoism bears little relation to religious Taoism. Some hold, for example, that religious Taoism is a kind of "neo-Taoism," developed subsequent to the original philosophical Taoism and based upon folk religion and shamanism rather than on mystical spirituality.

As evidence for this view, it is cited that the Tao Teh Ching is philosophical rather than religious, being specifically concerned with Tao as Absolute and not at all with T'ien as Heaven or personal God. Such scholars hold that philosophical Taoism was developed largely by isolated monks who forsook the world for philosophical introspection and esoteric practices, whereas Taoist temples grew up primarily in communities in response to the development of folk religion and reflect its popular and often superstitious nature.

Because Master Hsuan Yuan has been given permission from on high to reveal the true state of affairs, he has departed from the former secrecy to come out and declare that Tao and T'ien are one and the same from the vantage of integral Taoism. What is expressed impersonally in the philosophical aspect of Taoism is expressed more personally in the religious, but they are two sides of the same coin — and that coin is wholeness.

Tao and T'ien are both self-aware wholeness. The difference is that human beings forget that they are one with that wholeness (although they may come to remember it through initiation, spiritual practice and right living), whereas Heaven (God) is eternally cognizant of the perfect state of wholeness (although this cannot be adequately stated in human language).

Those who profoundly realize Tao also become directly acquainted with Heaven. The notion of religious Taoism that Heaven has thirty-six levels is not idle fancy or mystification. It is based on the direct acquaintance of seers with the reality.

Just as in philosophical Taoism there are many metaphysical levels — Wu Chi, Tai Chi, Tao, and so forth; so too, in religious Taoism there are also many levels of Heaven, as well as many deities and immortals. However, for the seer, the differences at this level are not the same as differences among the objects ordinarily perceived. Ordinary perception is on the basis of separation and difference, whereas mystical experience is on the basis of unity and wholeness.



To illustrate this point, take the example of the identity of Tao and T'ien with respect to the creation of the Universe. According to the Tao Teh Ching, Tao gives rise to the one, one to the two, two to the three and three to the ten thousand things. Implicitly, then, Tao is the origin. On the other hand, according to the religious view God is the creator. Are these two different accounts of creation or are they different aspects of the same account?

Researchers would have little to go on to make such a determination. Lacking any evidence that the accounts are essentially the same, they generally conclude that they are different. But those who are profoundly established in Tao and directly acquainted with Heaven can testify that these accounts are the same.

That is to say, from the vantage of the sage the unitary wholeness has both a personal aspect and an impersonal aspect. The former is characteristic of "religious Taoism" and the latter of "philosophical Taoism." But there is one, integral Taoism. The essence of Taoism is essentially holistic and transcends cultural limitations.


This essential congruity between the philosophical and the religious perspective can be demonstrated by a well-known example from the Christian tradition. Saint Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most celebrated Catholic philosopher, and he is best known perhaps for his five proofs of the existence of God.

The first and second of these demonstrations are based on the existence of change. They are adapted from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, the most famous pupil of Plato, who was himself the student of Socrates. The rationale of the demonstration is that since what comes to be and passes out of existence is not self-sufficient, and since it is absurd to postulate an regress of causes ad infinitum, it is necessary to posit an uncaused cause which is self-subsistent. (This notion can be seen as in accord with the conception of Tao set forth in the Tao Teh Ching, notably in the very first section.)

Aquinas then proceeds to say, not that this self-subsistent origin proves the existence of God, but that this self-subsistent existence is "what we call God." The proof is not of God as the Supreme Person of religion, but rather it is the demonstration of an intellectual necessity for self-subsistent existence as the origin of conditioned existence. This self-subsistent existence is then identified with God, the Creator. As a philosopher Aquinas sets forth to prove a conclusion concerning the impersonal, but as theologian he postulates the personal.

Similarly, in Taoism the sages speak of Tao from the perspective of the impersonal, which is the empty state (wu chi) of mystical experience. Yet, in another breath they also speak from the perspective of the personal, treating Heaven as the domain of the deities and immortals. The Uppermost Heaven (ta luo t'ien), corresponding to the unmanifest Absolute (wu chi), is the dwelling, so to speak, of the Supreme One (tai-i), as well as the Three Ones (san-i).

The highest Heaven is said in some ancient texts to be empty (wu) and in others to be the dwelling place of the Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning (yuan shih t'ien tsun). What appears to scholars to be a discrepancy in the texts is not that at all. The Taoist sages report that the transcendental state is indeed empty, just as Buddhist Arhats hold that ultimate reality is empty (shunya). However, this emptiness is not the emptiness of lack. Rather, this void is the origin of all things. The Void in which everything is latent is the formless source of all form and the changeless origin of all changes. Or, to paraphrase the Tao Teh Ching, since it is the origin. Tao can be called neither being nor non-being, and without doing anything (wu wei) it accomplishes everything.

From the perspective of religious Taoism, Upper Heaven is said to be the place of the Celestial Venerables (t'ien tsun). The three are the Celestial Venerables of the Primordial Beginning (yuan shih t'ien tsun), the Celestial Venerable of the Magic Jewel (ling pao t'ien tsun) and the Celestial Venerable of the Tao and Teh (tao te t'ien tsun). This is another way of representing what is set forth philosophically in the Tao Teh Ching: "Tao begot One, One begot Two, Two begot Three, and Three begot the ten thousand things."

The Jade Emperor (yu huang) is also called a Celestial Venerable, as we shall see momentarily.



How the philosophical and religious aspects of Taoism are in agreement is generally not grasped by scholars, nor even by the proponents of the various sects of Taoism who are not privy to the esoteric secrets known only to the sages.

The realm of Tao eternally awake to itself is Upper Heaven. The dwellers in Upper Heaven are, first, the Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning, which corresponds to Tao as origin. Secondly, there is the Celestial Venerable of the Magic Jewel, or Tao as the natural law that regulates what is originated. (This recalls the beginning of the Gospel of John: "At the origin was the Word (Greek: logos) and the Word was with God (theos) and the Word was God").

The Celestial Venerable of Tao and Teh is the one eternal Master (Lao Tzu) in the sense that Tao as the Inner Teacher is within every being that is originated in order to return it to the origin. In fact, the purpose of every outer teaching and teaching is to introduce a person to the Inner Teacher. Finally, the Jade Emperor is Tao as the administrator who does all without doing anything.

The Jade Emperor is the one who administers origination for the Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Origin, oversees rule in accordance with natural law for the Celestial Venerable of the Magic Jewel, and manages returning to the origin by initiation and instruction for the Celestial Venerable of the Tao and Teh. As such, the Jade Emperor is the Creator, Heavenly Ruler, and the Eternal Master. To him is accorded the titles of Transcendental Supreme Personage (hsuan hsuan shang jen) and Mysterious Heavenly Ruler (hsuan hsuan shang ti). As the eternal Master he is also Lao Tzu. To the Universe he administers, He is God or Heaven (t'ien).

The Jade Emperor is called the assistant of the three Celestial Venerables in some ancient texts and their ruler in others. Scholars have concluded that at a point of political weakness, the Taoist priesthood promoted him at the insistence of the emperor in order to justify imperial rule by divine right. While this scenario may have some historical truth to it, sages would say that it is not the whole story.

Human beings picture Heaven to themselves in terms of their earthly logic. However, Heaven is essentially different because wholeness prevails, whereas the minds of the unenlightened, perceiving only phenomena, are characterized by fragmentation and separation. Ordinary thought and its logic is not capable of reaching Heaven in any kind of reliable way, therefore popular conceptions of spiritual and religious matters may be inadequate or even erroneous.

An analogy from modern physical science will serve to illustrate the difference. The world of phenomena is described by classical physics, in which the principle of non-contradiction is fundamental. According to the principle of non-contradiction a thing cannot both be and also not be, at the same time and in the same respect.

However, in the quantum world, the principle of non-contradiction does not apply rigidly. In the quantum state, things have both particle and wave nature, and a particle can be localized in different positions simultaneously, even though this defies ordinary logic. Similarly, in the holographic conception of the Universe, every finite point contains all the information of the whole. Infinity resides in every point, which also seems to run counter to ordinary logic.

When ordinary human beings picture Heaven to themselves, they do so in accordance with their characteristic mode of knowing. This mode of knowing is limited, not holistic, and so they cannot adequately model the noumenal reality with their limited imagination and language.

Only the sage, having "returned to the origin" and gained holistic awareness, can attain knowledge of wholeness and know it to be both impersonal as Absolute (Tao) and personal as God of Heaven (T'ien). To the sage, wholeness predominates, and so the sage finds no contradiction in holding that T'ien is Tao and Tao is T'ien, which is tantamount to equating the God of religions with the Absolute of philosophers. Theologians of all traditions regularly do this.

In fact, sages report that in essence a human being is Tao also, in spite of the fact that people believe themselves to be limited and cannot conceive of themselves otherwise. Here one recalls the well-known section of Chuang Tzu, in which Chuang Tzu asserts to his astonished followers that Tao is even in excrement, adding wryly that if it were not, we would all be in big trouble.

Similarly, for the sage established in holistic awareness there is no contradiction in considering the Jade Emperor to be the "assistant" of the three Celestial Venerables, as well as their "superior." The Jade Emperor serves the three Celestial Venerables from the perspective of administering the cosmic functions that they respectively oversee, namely, origination, rule in accordance with natural law, and return to the origin. At the same time, the Jade Emperor is over the three Celestial Venerables from the perspective of his function as the Supreme Personage and Heavenly King. To sages, these differences are merely apparent, since the same wholeness displays itself to them in apparent diversity without forfeiting its unity and integrity thereby.

. From the perspective of a seer, the sage is one who is established in a state of holistic awareness in which wholeness and unity predominate over diversity and change. Whereas ordinary people focus on individuality and separateness, with the result that they are driven by desire, anger and fear, the sage sees everything in terms of unity and integration, so that the sage's life is one of contented fulfillment. When everything is seen against the background of unity, what appears contradictory to ordinary minds, which focus on individuality and separation, is merely paradoxical for the sage. In this sense, paradox is the coincidence of apparent opposites at a higher level of realization. In fact, Taoism emphasizes this coincidence of opposites in wholeness, perhaps even more than any other wisdom tradition.



The Taoist pantheon of Upper Heaven is actually not very different from the conception Christians have of their Holy Trinity, in which the one indivisible God is celebrated as the Father or origin, the Son or Word, and the Spirit or the "breath" through which God mystically communicates. Nor is it very different from the Vedic conception of the one Brahman (wholeness) which functions through Trimurti, that is, the pantheon of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Evolver and Shiva the Destroyer (return to the origin being accomplished through the destruction of ignorance). However, the Trimurti and Trinity should not be identified, since they represent different aspects of how divinity functions with respect to the manifest.

That each system is expressed religiously in terms of a "holy tri-unity" is hardly accidental. The idea of a tri-unity is that there are three dimensions that are themselves substantial in the one ultimate reality as indivisible wholeness. Holiness, as it is applied to God as ultimate reality signifies indivisible wholeness, and saints are said to be holy to the degree that they are united with wholeness and display that wholeness. In fact, the ancient Christian ritual contains the words, "Blessed be the Holy Trinity, the undivided Unity" and Christians generally regard this unity in diversity as the preeminent "mystery" (hsuan) of their faith.

In the esoteric understanding revealed though the practice of mystical spirituality that leads to holistic awareness, the self-subsistent existence as knower (Father, origin) knows itself, "generating" a knowledge of itself which is identical with itself (Son). Hence, One begets two. However, the knower and known are linked in a knowing that is identical to the knower and known, which are themselves identical. Thus, the two beget three without forfeiting its unity and wholeness. From this formless, boundless, changeless three flows the multiplicity of form — "the ten thousand things."

Returning to the origin, the sage becomes acquainted with this unmanifest unity in diversity, and the seer "sees" how creation takes place. For the sage, creation does not involve separation from the origin. Separation is only an appearance in the minds of those who have not yet awakened experientially to wholeness through realization.

The Taoist, Christian and Vedic conceptions of Holy Trinity can be considered to be comparable from the mystical perspective. For them, there is no contradiction that God or Heaven is identical with Wholeness (Tao, Godhead, Brahman). Nor is there any contradiction that the One (Tai I or T'ien I, God, Paramatma) is identical to the Three (San I, Holy Trinity, Trimurti).

Thus, we can conclude that there is no contradiction for a Taoist sage such as Master Hsuan Yuan to proclaim that the Transcendental Supreme Person (Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen) is God (Hsuan Hsuan Shang Ti), Heaven (T'ien) and Wholeness (Tao) simultaneously. This remains, however, the Great Mystery (hsuan hsuan) to be penetrated by those who would return to the origin, and its reality is veiled from their acquaintance until they have attained holistic awareness.



Some scholars have speculated that religions have created their deities by personalizing natural forces and philosophical ideas. They view the deities of religious Taoism as such anthropomorphism. Our investigation has attempted to suggest how this viewpoint may have truth with respect to folk religion, (what we are calling the exoteric aspect of religion) but that it is an oversimplification. It does not apply to what we are calling the esoteric aspect of religion, namely, that dimension which is grounded in the gnosis of mystical spirituality. The sages of all religions use symbolism that is often naively interpreted in an overly literal way, which either distorts the intended meaning or misses it altogether, sometimes even reversing it completely.

Moreover, our comparing the Taoist deities to aspects of Tao does not reduce religious Taoism to philosophical Taoism (as some have attempted to do). The meeting point between the philosophical and the religious lies in the shared wholeness of Tao and t'ien. Their identity is based on the energetic and intelligent nature of wholeness, in which lies the creative nature of the origin. For example, awareness is one — a unity. Yet, awareness being reflexive, its essential and existential unity encompasses subjective and objective epistemic poles: A self-conscious being does not become two entities by knowing its own existence. From the mystical perspective, a deity is an aspect of wholeness that embodies or characterizes a specific dimension of energy and intelligence such as origination, rule in accordance with natural law, the removal of ignorance, or cosmic administration. For example, "president" is the title of an office with a certain job description, but a person fills that office and carries out the work of that office while occupying it. The office might be compared with the philosophical factor and the person filling it with the religious.

From the vantage of mystical spirituality, self-subsistent wholeness is the origin of phenomena. As such it is a reservoir of infinite creative energy and intelligence. Energy may be conceived as that which produces change and intelligence as that which directs change in a patterned way, that is, in accordance with invariant principles. These invariant principles form the totality of natural law, the internal dynamical structure of self-aware wholeness.

On the one hand, wholeness is infinite, eternal, formless, and changeless. On the other hand, it is the origin of space, time, change, form and boundaries. As aspects of wholeness Tao and T'ien underlie change as its source. The deities are aspects of energy and intelligence that are ultimately responsible for organizing and implementing process in accordance with the internal dynamical structure of wholeness — natural law.

From the spiritual perspective, change is the process of proceeding from the origin and returning to it. The course of evolution is from origin back to origin. This course is established and regulated by dimensions of intelligence which are themselves Intelligences (deities) grounded in the origin — wholeness as creative intelligence, which religions call God or Heaven and which philosophers call the Absolute.

These dimensions of intelligence are not separate from wholeness, but rather each embodies wholeness. They are distinguished by function and not by substance. Therefore, there is essentially no dichotomy between the philosophical and the religious, other than that the former treats more of the impersonal and the latter more of the personal. At their basis, however, the personal and the impersonal aspects are united in self-subsistent, self-aware and self-appreciative wholeness.



There is a popular notion of God among the Chinese people that is not very different from the generally held conceptions of these other cultures. There is a Taoist concept of a God who is the origin of all things. This God is comparable to the Creator God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as also to Brahma the Creator of the religions stemming from ancient India.

Emmanuel Kant, a German philosopher of the eighteenth century, set forth reasons why this popular conception of God prevails. Kant discovered that the human mind has its own characteristic dynamic which organizes its data through inherent structures of perception, imagination, conception, understanding and reason. One aspect of this organization is to seek to unify data under broad explanations.

In its search for unity, according to Kant, the mind organizes experience in terms of the experiencer (subject) in addition to that which is experienced (object). What the mind experiences is sense data (phenomena). Phenomena, however, are appearances, presumably of the real (noumenal), but they themselves are mental, appearing in the mind.

The logical structure resident in the mind seeks to explain the phenomena of experience by positing a real (noumenal) world underlying sense data, which gives phenomena a reality and unity beyond the mind. The logical structure resident in the mind also seeks to account for the mind by assuming a non-experienced real (noumenal) self which underlies the mind, giving the changing states of the mind a continuity of existence. Moreover, since these metaphysical notions of self and world do not account for everything satisfactorily, the mind organizes this "missing data" in terms of a higher level dimension of the unknown by postulating the notions of "reality" grounding the appearances, and God as the source.

Kant points out that the metaphysical concepts of self behind the mind, real universe grounding phenomena, and God as source and ordering principle are mental constructs which extend human thought beyond the limits of experience. He also points out that being beyond the limits of experience, these concepts are empty of experience. Being empty of experience, they do not yield complete knowledge of what they signify.

Kant's analysis was prescient. He had a great insight into how the unenlightened mind functions, creating an illusory notion of the experiencer (ego) as separate from the phenomena it experiences, and positing transcendental structures — self, world, God — that seem to be needed where experience is lacking. Moreover, Kant points that the mind unfortunately cannot prove what it postulates beyond experience, and so humanity is never really sure whether the existence of what it postulates metaphysically is real.

It is illogical, however, to conclude that what lies beyond experience does not exist. The logical conclusion is only that experience is incapable of determining this. What lies beyond ordinary experience of phenomena is the domain of mystery. Uncertainty with respect to what is ultimate is the nature of the human condition.

Being a pious man, Kant concluded that faith (religious belief) is necessary to overcome such metaphysical doubts. Similarly, all religions and wisdom traditions rely on the revelation of sages who are presumed to have attained higher knowledge through mystical insight.

To bolster this faith with knowledge, the sages come forward to testify further that it is possible to expand experience beyond its ordinary limitations in order to verify that concerning which the mind can only speculate. They assert that enlightenment is the overcoming of the illusion of separateness by discovering that one is not the body, mind, or personality as one might thinks or believes. Each person and the universe itself is one with the wholeness that underlies all phenomena as their source and ground, and everyone is capable of realizing this through higher awareness.

Therefore, the popular notion of God and the exoteric aspect of religion that fosters this conception are merely a prelude to higher knowledge. The esoteric aspect of religion enables a person to move beyond mythology to mystical experience, beyond the externals of worship to the experience of the spiritual world, and beyond the observance of moral precepts to true virtue.

Taoism like every other religion has its exoteric and esoteric aspects. Religions differ exoterically on account of cultural differences. However, the esoteric aspect of every religion is essentially the same because what sages and seers discover in mystical experience is not cultural. It is the full potential of the human nature we share in common with each other.

Therefore, God for the Taoist sage is not different from that of the Vedic rishi, the Buddhist arhat, the Hebrew prophet or tzaddik, the Christian mystic or saint, the true Sufi, or any illumined or realized being, even though even they may speak somewhat differently of philosophical and religious matters owing to temporal and cultural differences, as well as the needs of their time.

In his published works, Taoist Master Hsuan Yuan has presented Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen authoritatively as the Origin, and Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen has revealed his message to the world through the vehicle of Master Hsuan Yuan. On the basis of this unique and unprecedented revelation, we conclude that Taoism has a God who is the Creator and Lord of the Universe, who is not different in essential conception from the Supreme Person of other traditions, and that this supreme person is identical in denotation with the Absolute of philosophers, although their connotations differ. The difference between Tao and T'ien lies in the limitations of human conception rather than ultimate reality, which exists eternally in the indivisible wholeness of infinite awareness.


© 2002, 2008 Thomas J. Hickey All Rights Reserved.

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I'm sorry I couldn't read all the way through that, and probably a lot of others will feel the same way.


I'll point out the following that may pertain, and I don't know if you covered any of them.


Some gods in Taoism are part of the more formal religion, while those mainly focused on cultivation pay them no attention. There are some powerful beings that some Taoists call gods, but an all powerful creator of the universe is not one of the real ones.


In Hinduism, in the Concise Yoga Vashista, it states that there are two ways to look at god, one is as a being and the other is as a concept, and the later one is the highest.


I'm no expert on Buddhism, but original Buddhism says that either there is no god, or that it can't be known (so don't waste any energy on it). The Buddhist sects who have gods have either devolved towards fundamentalism and/or acquired them through the folk religions that it absorbed.


You can't reach enlightenment by studying literature.

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I agree that the OP is too long - better to post a link and pick out the paragraph or two which supports what you want to say if you wish to have a discussion.


Just to add to Starjumper - there is certainly no creator god in Buddhism - some forms of Buddhism have 'deities' which are aspects of the dharmakaya - and Buddhist views do accept the existence of non-Buddhist gods but say they are not to be worshiped ... or at least doing so will not lead to liberation.


I think that most cultivators in all systems either do not del with a supreme creator or have a sophisticated view of what that is which is a long way from the ordinary view.

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Thank you for sharing this, Walker.


EDIT: I read it once on my phone and just finished reading it a second time on a full-sized monitor after following the link at the top, which better uses screen real-estate and includes some formatting missing above. Thank you again.

Edited by Brian
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Well a very long post and I think some misconceptions.


The Immortals in Heaven do not know of the beginning of all things, ie why there was a big bang that created all dimensions, form, sound and light. But they know that it happened many billions of years ago. The concept of ONE GOD who created all things is just nonsense and a human conception. There are literally hundreds of Gods and Goddesses in the Heavenly realm, some came into being at the very beginning of all things. Some are relatively young by comparison. At one time no one God controlled what happened in Heaven and what the Gods did, but eventually there came a time when wu wei needed to installed and not relied upon by each individual God to be ultimately wise. So a single God was chosen to make sure all others followed that wisdom. Yu whang Shan Ti was chosen and now any interference with the world must be passed by him. There was never one creator, all Gods are given life by the same forces that we are.


Taoism has its roots deeply held in Shamanism, which is neither only philosophical or religious, it is both and should never be divided. In Taoism there is not a concept called God, but there is a concept of being able to be at one with the Tao and its creativity, leading to Immortality. The idea of God and Immortality are different ideas. Immortals are not 'omnipresent' they live in ultimate states, being able to resume form and then return to no form. They live not to serve the world, but are simply 'there', at one with the creation of all things unable to ever die. They hold no concepts of sin, good or bad, or any of the human concepts that we place on ourselves for various reasons.


As we understand it 'God' does not exist in Taoism.

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There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about religious/spiritual tradtions in modern times.That is not surprising however as world views have been changing a lot around the world in the last couple of centuries or so. It seems the prevailing beliefs and points of view in these modern times do not leave much room for or patience for anything that doesn't provide immediate personal mundane gratification. :)

Edited by NotVoid
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Probably enough words to write ten Tao Te Ching.

And more then enough words to entangle the mind.

If GOD required that many words to know, then the more words the more God will be known?



Idiotic Taoist

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Long? I still remember a day when people used to read books...


To clarify, I did not write the piece. Glad that some found it useful.


I don't think some of the issues raised by responders accurately reflect the author's message, but I'm in no mood to debate. This piece is about the ultimate lack of contradiction in the at-once esoteric and exoteric cosmology of this school of Daoism, in which two seemingly contradictory natures of reality are simultaneously real. Thus,


" Thus, we can conclude that there is no contradiction for a Taoist sage such as Master Hsuan Yuan to proclaim that the Transcendental Supreme Person (Hsuan Hsuan Shang Jen) is God (Hsuan Hsuan Shang Ti), Heaven (T'ien) and Wholeness (Tao) simultaneously. This remains, however, the Great Mystery (hsuan hsuan) to be penetrated by those who would return to the origin, and its reality is veiled from their acquaintance until they have attained holistic awareness. "


That said, I have no direct realization of these teachings and intended only to share an article that I thought some would find useful. Again, I am glad it resonated with a few people. :)

Edited by Walker
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I've come across very different versions of taoism regarding this matter. It is useful to remember that taoism is ancient and huge. Here's for a frame of reference:

In 1404, Emperor Zhu Di had appointed 2,182 scholars to undertake a project, the Yong-le-Dadian, to preserve all known literature and knowledge. It was the largest scholarly enterprise ever undertaken. The result was a formidable encyclopedia of 4,000 volumes containing some fifty million characters. Simultaneously Zhu Di ordered the opinions of 120 philosophers and sages to be collated and stored together with the complete commentaries of thinkers from the previous centuries. Simultaneously, hundreds of printed works could be bought from Beijing book stalls. Simultaneously, in Europe, the library of Henry V (1387-1422) comprised six handwritten books, three of which were on loan to him from a nunnery.

So anyone who writes about "taoism" as though it is a kind of uniform arrangement would have to ignore so much in order to arrive at any "conclusive" opinion that it is positively scary. I would definitely hold off on any and all assertions along the lines of "there is" or "there isn't" God in taoism, simply because I've come across different "brands" of taoism that are farther apart than Catholicism and Sufism (e.g.), yet unified in a way that does not require a unification around either support or refutation of the monotheistic stance.

There's God in some taoism, gods in other, even the Devil is there whenever a particular sect finds him useful, E.g., some sects that work with three basic realities find it convenient to call them "god, man, devil" -- which does not however mean that any of these are empirically approached the way they are approached by a Catholic bishop. It is just a working model useful for some purposes, but it is very dynamic.

This is characteristic of the very shamanic model the author is in doubt of having a profound interpenetration throughout taoism, but he might do well considering that the shamanic model, in its universal form, presents three worlds -- lower, middle, upper -- and the difference lies chiefly in terminology, not in empirical explorations. Devil" of taoism is the lower world of shamanism, not hell of Christianity. Similarly, "God" of taoism, which is supposedly equated to Tian, is not god-creator of man (a woman is in charge of that in taoism, or sometimes a couple), and "man" of much of taoism is primarily woman. The Great Mother's child. And The Great Mother is the mother of God, among other things.

It all starts coming apart at the seams when one pulls at this thread or that to find out where this or that addition to the "blue robe with scarlet clouds" came from. This piece from here and that one from elsewhere, some sewn on so tightly and so long ago that you can't tell it's not the original taoist garment. But all those colorful pockets can be safely removed and the blue robe with scarlet clouds will still hold its shape, no problem. God is in one of those sewn-on pockets. Some taoists find it very convenient. They keep what they need in that pocket. (A cell phone?.. I mean, prayer, a means to talk to god with words?..)

Edited by Taomeow
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Surely, a fine practitioner of this Way would understand that godhoods constitute appearances of different aspects of Dao, its emanations. Each godhood has a certain form and obtains certain qualities, features and abilities. That is why a practitioner in fact can apply chosen interim forms of Dao manifestations that appear in a certain godhood, with a limited or prevailing set of qualities and/or features-abilities. In addition, anthropomorphize of all Supreme is used for better understanding and simpler comprehension, and that is why many godhoods look like humans, just more perfect. On the one hand, it makes the practice more clear. However, on the other hand, a difficulty can also appear. Thus, as far as the Higher Truth is put in a certain form, this constrains it unavoidably, or distorts one way or another. As it was said in the treatise “Dao De Jing”, “Dao that can be defined, is not the eternal Dao”.


Furthermore, as these emanations and appearances of Dao, videlicet Godhoods, have own personalized form of existence, it often happens that a practitioner may forget that original meaning of this appearance is to guide him to the Source (Dao), and may take a method as a result. As it was said before, the finger that points to the Moon is not the Moon. As a consequence, a person would not be able to move further in own practice, as would stop on a certain level. That is why, in order to learn how to differ true from false, it is necessary to receive verbal instructions from a Master.


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In this searching for God, it seems Westerners cannot let go of their cherished sentiments that there must be a God and will look for that where ever they are and even in Taoism as well.


Even when the first few phrases of the Tao Te Ching started that cannot be the way.


I wrote of this about a year ago in this forum


Tao ke Tao, and where is God


Folks who are new here might find this interesting and I reproduced what I wrote in here.




Tao ke Tao , fei chang Tao
Ming ke Ming, fei chang Ming

The Tao that you think is the Tao, is not the Tao
The Name that you think is the Name, is not the Name

I think my first reading of Tao Te Ching was when I was 12 or 13 years old.
It did not took long for me to decide what I was reading was so laughable and corny.

I went back to read TTC again and again, and yet again , and again.

The TTC grew from a very thin pamphlet into volume thicker than telephone directory.

That simple thin pamphlet I recalled reading was the best. No interpretations and conjured stories to bury what LaoTzu wrote that can then be copywrited.

And the one was was corny was that little boy of 12.

How many of us read and re read the TTC in all its different versions from the thin to the thick?

And read the first couple of sentences, threw them aside and kept digging in the left over bath waters?

And kept asking what is the Tao.

Even to castigate Chuangtzu for not being a real Taoist as his writings never contained and invoke Tao. For all I know, LaoTzu was only a Pretender as he certaining talked of the Tao , even if his first couple of sentences denied everything he wrote subsequently.

When the Tao is beyond immeasurable and beyond infinite, even to think of the Tao and its concept, you cannot but defined the Tao, the Undefinable Tao , within the concept of what you think is the Tao.

Likewise, the Name that you try to give to that Name. Imprisoned the real Name into the representation you made in your mind of that Name. The Name so vast and primordial all squeezed into a tiny container of the Name?

Perhaps that came from the great East and West divide. The West, be it Chrisitianity, Judaism or Islam, demanded the concept of God. And the East? Godless or the refusal to accept the concept of God. But I have so say Judaism tried to limit the damage by evoking unpronouncable JHWH. Which failed as that became Jehovah, and yet another name.

But again, if God is that infinite and everywhere, by giving the thought of God, are people then differentiating anything outside their thought of what God is is then not God? Is God that limited ? That God must exist only within that name, or concept, of GOD? Or the limitation came from the very thinking of the concept God.

So those that want to talk of God, tell me then, where is your God. And why do you wish to limit your God by talking of Him , and of his Name.

My first posting into here came as a hit on a very old webpage I did about 10 years ago, and based on earlier writings I did on BBS before the Internet.

I reproduce that here, what was said by Taoist Master Tseng Lao Weng.



From: khamba2 -
Date: Wed, Jun 2 1999 12:00 am

Groups: alt.philosophy.taoism

Paul Humphries <[email protected]> wrote:


>I feel a bit skeptical about enlightenment at the moment, so wish to ask
>some questions to anyone who has any ideas..

>When a person reaches the state of pure, total enlightment and absolute
>truth, what does this mean? Is it that they are now learning openly to
>the greatest of their potential? What sort of knowledge of reality
>emerges? What abilities does this give the person? How many truely
>enlightened masters exist, do you think? How do they live? Would they
>have any preferences in taste in music?


Sorry that I am answering with this is an old letter. I do hope the
words of Taoist Master Tseng Lao Weng can answer a bit of your
question even if he did not mention his preferences for music be it
classical, hard rock or heavy metal.


I have mourned that many of my books stayed back in my home town
while I was wandering ,working and staying elsewhere.

But a selection of John Blofeld's books followed me.

I thought I quote one of my favorite portion from his book 'Taoism,
The Secret and Sublime' which may help others understand and decide
for themselves if Taoism is a philosophy or a religion.

I myself, never did feel that either path is important.

He was talking to this Taoist Master Tseng Lao Weng.

(now using also his format and capitalizations..)

Having heard from me of Sir Edwin Arnold's lovely expression for
entering Nirvana, 'the dew-drop slips into the shining sea', he
exclaimed with delight, but added:

'And yet it does not capture the whole. Since the Tao is all and
nothing lies outside it, since its multiplicity and unity are
identical, when a finite being sheds the illusion of separate
existence, he is not lost in the Tao. By casting off his imaginary
limitations, he becomes immeasurable.

Plunge the finite into the infinite and, though only one remains, the
finite, far from being diminished, takes on the stature of infinity.
Such perception will bring you face to face with the true secret
cherished by all the accomplished sages. The mind of one who returns
to the Source thereby BECOMES the Source. Your own mind is DESTINED

The Taoistic Idiot




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That said, I have no direct realization of these teachings and intended only to share an article that I thought some would find useful. Again, I am glad it resonated with a few people. :)


I was thinking that I might reply to some of the responses posted here, and then I thought how can I reply to someone when it is very obvious they didn't even bother to read through the whole Preface piece which you posted before they commented? ;) If they didn't even bother to read through the text and posted a comment in which they strongly 'disagreed' with whatever they imagined the text was about, then they also may well wouldn't even bother to give any real consideration to anything I or anyone else might write as well in response to their own comments. I guess this is pretty much a product of where we are in our modern times. The external trappings of the belief systems and views have changed a fair bit over the centuries, but the tendencies toward blind adherence to certain currently popular points of view are still there operating in full gear.


I personally think the text you posted holds a lot of interesting thoughts on the role that various spiritual and mystical practices and formalized religions may play in the grand scheme of things. This is going to be a cliché, but it really does seem that people all too often get hung up on viewing and judging individual trees, and lose sight of the forest, and how all the trees in the forest contribute to and are an integral part of the overall forest. I guess we can choose to spend much of our energy going around judging certain types of trees and saying we don't believe in them, or saying that we believe that they are inferior or useless or just illusion, and pointing out how we believe our own particular favorite trees are the greatest and only true trees in the forest; or we can just appreciate the wide diversity of the immense forest as a whole and sit back in awe of how all the individual parts that make up the whole contribute to the overall whole each in their own way, yet all individual parts are of the very substance which we call the forest. We can also take yet a different approach and look into that which brings the forest into existence and sustains it and directs it in all of its diversity and splendor. This aspect remains completely hidden and mysterious, yet how can we not at least wonder that something very mysterious and unseen appears to be giving direction, form, and sustenance to all things? Each person will approach this in their own particualr way, amongst many possible ways, as it appears this is the way of all things. :D

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For the record, I read your post in its entirety twice before clicking the "Like" button, NotVoid.



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For the record, I read your post in its entirety twice before clicking the "Like" button, NotVoid.





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As we understand it 'God' does not exist in Taoism.

When you said "God", may I assume that it was meant the "Christian God". Based on that assumption, God does not exist nor any deity in the Tao Te Ching. However, there are many deities in the Taoist religion. Lao Tze was placed in the Taoist shrine as their first paramount deity.

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Praise Hsuan Yuan's Holy Name!


Thrice Praise Him!


Thank you very much Walker.


I too have read it, some sections more than once.


I am composing a lengthier reply.



Edited by Captain Mar-Vell

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Well a very long post and I think some misconceptions.


The Immortals in Heaven do not know of the beginning of all things, ie why there was a big bang that created all dimensions, form, sound and light. But they know that it happened many billions of years ago. The concept of ONE GOD who created all things is just nonsense and a human conception. There are literally hundreds of Gods and Goddesses in the Heavenly realm, some came into being at the very beginning of all things. Some are relatively young by comparison. At one time no one God controlled what happened in Heaven and what the Gods did, but eventually there came a time when wu wei needed to installed and not relied upon by each individual God to be ultimately wise. So a single God was chosen to make sure all others followed that wisdom. Yu whang Shan Ti was chosen and now any interference with the world must be passed by him. There was never one creator, all Gods are given life by the same forces that we are.


Taoism has its roots deeply held in Shamanism, which is neither only philosophical or religious, it is both and should never be divided. In Taoism there is not a concept called God, but there is a concept of being able to be at one with the Tao and its creativity, leading to Immortality. The idea of God and Immortality are different ideas. Immortals are not 'omnipresent' they live in ultimate states, being able to resume form and then return to no form. They live not to serve the world, but are simply 'there', at one with the creation of all things unable to ever die. They hold no concepts of sin, good or bad, or any of the human concepts that we place on ourselves for various reasons.


As we understand it 'God' does not exist in Taoism.


Who/what is the Jade Emperor? It seems as though some speak of him similar to a Deity?


<-- very new to all this, still trying to grasp the very basics...

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I see nothing in the contents that is pertaining to the title of the OP. This article has too much western influences which is trying to equate Tao to the gods or deities from other cultures. IMO This article should have been payed more attention to the text and context of the Tao Te Ching instead of most often spoken about the gods in other religions.

Edited by ChiDragon

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The Chinese simply observed the natural world


God in the east means unified mind. Many deities are actual people that lived and gave the prime example of the divine being that we are all capable of.


In god we trust means we are not responsible, a convenient cop out to behave as poorly as one wishes or to prove your thoughts are real or right.


Some Gods in Taoist system are conceived as not real, a fairy tale used to point out the way of proper conduct or government of self and other, these two aspects being one and the same.


The western system is mystical with two worlds higher and lower


The eastern system is observation without mental conception getting in the way.


The Greeks chose to use the discriminating/rational mind to understand the world around them causing the original separation.


The Taoist system removes separation of high, low, god, mortal and all things unite with out friction

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Who/what is the Jade Emperor? It seems as though some speak of him similar to a Deity?


<-- very new to all this, still trying to grasp the very basics...

A deity indeed, the supreme one of three realms of the triple realm (this in its turn would require some elaborations -- i.e. he does not rule the whole of the triple realm and the Three Pure Ones rank higher).


The Jade Emperor is an avatar of the Three Pure Ones. The relationship between them is like Emptiness ( 虛無 Xuwu ) preceding Subtle Being ( 妙有 Miaoyou ), Infinity ( 無極 Wuji ) preceding the Supreme Ultimate ( 太極 Taiji ), Non-Interference ( 無為 Wuwei ) preceding Interfering Action ( 有為 Youwei ). The Jade Emperor is the master of the three fundamentals in charge of the pivot of Heaven, Earth and Man.


The Jade Emperor sends the Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety ( 紫微北極大帝 Ziwei Beifi Dadi ) to administer the longitudes and latitudes of Heaven and Earth; the Great Emperor of the Highest Palace of Polaris ( 勾陳上宮大帝 Gouchen Shanggong Dadi ) to administer the Three Powers of Heaven, Earth, and Man and to control wars; and the Imperial God of Earth ( 后土皇地祇 Houtu Huang Di Qi ) to administer births, land, and rivers. In general, all things, Heaven, Earth, Yin and Yang, and creation, are in the charge of the Jade Emperor.


An inspiration to us all, he started out as a mortal (most taoist deities did) and attained his status as the Jade Emperor after only 226,800,000 years of cultivation. :D


Edited by Taomeow
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This is really a double edge sword like all things.


The concept of god has been conditioned into human existence now for thousands of years as a means to control the populations and dull the mind and stop the chaos as tribes merged into kingdoms and so on.


So why was the concept of god created...?


To fill the gaps because the evolved organism is born dumb, stupid and so to settle the minds so they would behave and would get on with life.


To quieten the mind from seeking what am I? Where did I come from?


It gave humans answers and something to follow hence rulers and blood lines pretending to be gods themselves and all that.


Remember you were already in a state of the art, enlightened before the organism evolved the “self”


The kangaroo in my back yard is enlightened, it is in the state of the art.


A human child is born already enlightened, already in the state of the art then as the self grows it creates a centre which then creates a “I” and a “not I” the basis of duality, splitting reality into two hence why you don’t “know” and are separated.


The organism created the organism hence why the self is artificial and the notion of illusion because you don’t know.


But something happened along the way in human evolution…… what is this?


The universe created the universe.


The earth created the earth.


The sun created the sun.


Nature created nature.


The cell created the cell.


Why on earth does it need to know?

Edited by Z3N

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When you said "God", may I assume that it was meant the "Christian God". Based on that assumption, God does not exist nor any deity in the Tao Te Ching. However, there are many deities in the Taoist religion. Lao Tze was placed in the Taoist shrine as their first paramount deity.



That's right.... but the DDJ does point us to be able to be at one with the Dao and to becoming an Immortal; the highest state of life. Lao Tzu, like many others was discovered to have become Immortal, (not surprisingly) so prayers etc. were established to honour him. Before this though Shamans such as myself called upon all sorts of spiritual deities to do various services for the communities.

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Who/what is the Jade Emperor? It seems as though some speak of him similar to a Deity?


<-- very new to all this, still trying to grasp the very basics...



A deity is a lower level spiritual entity, they do not live in the Heavenly realm. They are respected though by many people. To achieve the level of 'Immortal' though requires a much higher level of spiritual attainment. An Immortal has immense levels of power; the higher the spiritual attainment, the more power the Immortal has.


The Three Pure ones are more to do with cosmological symbolism, although all three Immortal exist. The Jade Emperor's history stretches back a long way to a time before humans existed. Many spiritual entities existed before the formation of our earth and so the Jade Emperor's history is similar. Although the Chinese portray him as of Chinese origin, he is in fact of no ethical origin, but can come to shamans as any ethical state or form. I have begged him to come to me many times.


There was a time in the history of the earth when great entities from other parts of the universe came to our earth, some with not good intentions. So the Immortals from our world did battle with these entities. The story of the formation of Immortal bond brothers come from this period as they combined their skills and power to overcome the invaders. There lies some stories!!

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