Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chabad and Taoism Shouldn't Mix

I find it very interesting that Chabad allows* their girls to use drums with Taoist symbols on them. Would they also allow them to use drums with a Christian cross on it?

The Wolf

* Yes, I'm aware that it was probably in complete ignorance.


Kendra said...

My understanding was the sacred tao isn't dedicated to a deity, its a graphical representation of the idea "everything has two opposite principles guiding it, and each other those principles has a little bit of its opposite in it". In a sense, that is a very Jewish sentiment, since Judaism is layers of opposing ideas like "words are very powerful and positive" and "be careful of lashon hara and lies".

Now, my Rabbi is Conservative, not Orthodox, but he's moderately observant and thinks that Buddhism only contradicts Judaism if it is the Greater Vehicle variety (with its pantheon of demigodlike Boddhavistas(sp?)) or if it advocates the idea that "self" is an illusion....

Shmendrik said...

I think that kind of dualism can easily come into conflict with the Jewish version of monotheism.

Kendra said...

Duotheism is like Zoroasterism, where there's formally deities of good and evil. I'm not 100% clear on the "gods" of Taoism (or not)...but the tao symbol isn't a reference to any of that but to a basic motif in how the world works.

"I create light, I fashion darkness" I still don't see anything un-Jewish about the dynamic the tao symbol least in general terms.

micha said...

In a number of Eastern religions, the question of avodah zara actually addresses two systems of thought. Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism themselves make no theological claims. However, they each exist on top of the preexisting theology. (Buddhism says nothing about god, but Tibetan Buddhism has all the gods of Bon, the religion popular in Nepal that was there before Siddhattha Gotama's message reach there.)

Tao itself is about a process of opposites. It could even be presented as a rule of nature without discussion of who is doing it. It's not a dualist theology like Zoroastrianism simply because it's not a theology at all. However, traditional Taoists are also polytheists. For example, see this site for a menu of gods they have to select from.

This whole business needs to be discussed with a knowledgable rav before engaging in a Tao-based discipline like Tai Ch'i.

The taichi symbol on the drum is about the tao itself, and therefore isn't comparable to a cross. Also, reponsa are lenient even WRT crosses as they have come to represent affiliation more than Jesus's alleged self-sacrifice. Crucafixes, OTOH, are outright idols, as they have a picture of their deity on it.

Kendra: The verse in Isaiah was to be relayed to Cyrus (a Persian King), a Zoroastrianist. The dualism is actually being denied, not asserted. Kind of like G-d saying, "Hey Cyrus, you think Ahura Mazda made light, truth and good and Angra Manu made darkness, violence and evil? Nah. I gave form to light and created darkness, I do peace and created evil." It's also noteworthy that the verb for creating darkness and evil (or: as euphemised when the verse was adopted for the siddur "everything") is "uborei", creation ex nihilo. As the Ri ben Yaqar and the Avudraham say on the siddur, the more primary creation was when G-d created the empty space. He then filled part of it with light and good, leaving the rest for us to complete.


Kendra said...

Yes (re: the statement is a repudiation of duotheism etc). However, we use the same essential statement to initiate the blessings before the sh'ma. (that is, the "start point if you don't have a minyan") To me this speaks of it as being more than a smack down to a Persian monarch.

I mean, look at the birkhat hamazon. We go through lyrical transports of joy that every living creature is provided food. But, ah, cough, the cost of this is many painful deaths of _starvation_. Yes, the _general_ rule is everything gets to eat. And there's a _general_ sort of abundance. But _specifically_ there is great famine and scarcity, depending on the situation. HaShem is the architect of the famine, and the food "all our days, whatever the season, whatever the time" is only _most_ of the days, seasons and times.

There are opposing dynamics at work in every situation. And yet, the opposition is virtually never pure. A famine eventually creates plenty and everyone left can eat again. There is a type of abundance still nestled in it, the fecundity of life to regrow rapidly to the limits of its niche. And in zeniths of abundance there is still the shadow of famine; if any creature does _too_ well, this means something else is starting to starve/be consumed in serious numbers. This is a class tao situation. And yet around it all is the unity of HaShem; everything sums up to more than the parts. Ad*nai ekhad.

So to me, saying that HaShem is responsible for everything is an important statement with meaning of its own. Not just a statement of dominion. It's a reminder that even though our minds boggle at trying to unify the good and the bad, they mesh together and if we would have the wholeness of peace, we should reflect on HaShem's relation to _both_ trends. Because then we at least have the cold comfort of knowing where we are and where we are going even when it is our time to hurt and decay and bleed. To know before whom you stand, you have to know where you are.

Orthoprax said...

Come on, here's how Tao is defined in the Tao Te Ching:

"There was something undefined and complete, existing before Heaven and Earth. How still it was, how formless, standing alone and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere with no danger of being exhausted. It may be regarded as the mother of all things. Truthfully it has no name, but I call it Tao."

In many ways Taoism is downright compatible with Judaism.

cipher said...

Boddhavistas(sp?)Bodhisattvas - enlightened beings, similar to Buddhas, who forgo ultimate liberation and choose to remain indefinitely in cyclical existence in order to benefit sentient begins. They are roughly analogous to tzaddikkim; that's the term I use when explaining the Dalai Lama to frum Jews.

Orthoprax is correct; there is no conflict between Taoism and Jewish theology. Moreover, there are many similarities between the ways in which the absolute is described in certain schools of thought within Hinduism and Buddhism, and Kabbalah. They represent attempts to describe the same underlying, ineffable reality, as viewed through different cultural lenses.

Kendra said...

I thought the way that the common folk -treated- the Bodhisattvas was more on the lines of "supernatural beings to invoke for favors" (which is very idolatrous) as opposed to "teachers"? But you're right that the theory has significant agreements with Judaism....

Orthoprax said...


"I thought the way that the common folk -treated- the Bodhisattvas was more on the lines of "supernatural beings to invoke for favors" (which is very idolatrous) as opposed to "teachers"?"

And if you were to change 'Bodhisattvas' to 'Chassidic Rebbes' you don't think you're statement would remain accurate?

Terry Weesy said...

Am I the only one who noticed that a ying and yang is an inveretd alef? The dots are the yud's, lol. Upper yud sits in the heavens reaching down, lower yud sits in the earth reaching up.