April 14, 2012

God and the Dao, Part I

When discussing a comparison of Daoism and Christianity, one question that inevitably comes up is "what is the relationship between God and the Dao?" One simple definition, if you subscribe to most New Age theories, is that they are one and the same, just two different words for the same thing. I disagree with this. It is both simplistic and inaccurate. It is easy to make this assumption, however, since in Christianity God is the most important thing. In Daoism, the various gods don't achieve the same level of importance. Not all Daoists even believe in all the gods (the Daoist gods are somewhat analogous to Catholic saints, though not exactly). What all Daoists do believe in is the Dao. Therefore, someone can't be blamed for initially assuming that God equates to the Dao.

In actuality, there is a more subtle and complex relationship between God and the Dao. God wouldn't be God without the Dao. Yet the Dao wouldn't be the Dao without God. In typical Daoist fashion, the two are eternally linked, one and the same, and yet quite different. God is an active force, "the creator", a consciousness of some sort. The Dao is the innate nature of things - all things, including God. It is a passive force, one that defines the relationship between all else. God is the yang force, while the Dao is the yin. God persists inside and outside all things. The Dao is the essence of reality, the essence of God. Therefore, it also persists inside and outside all things. There is a point where the two meet and overlap, in perfect balance and harmony. Finding this point, getting to it, and living within it - that is the quest of the soul. As Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) said, "When there is no more separation between 'this' and 'that,' it is called the still point of the Dao. At the still point in the center of the circle one can see the infinite in all things."

This description of the Dao as being the essence (or part of the essence) of God sounds suspiciously similar to the idea of the Holy Spirit. However, they are not the same. The Holy Spirit is more of a physical force (though "physical" is used quite loosely in this context). The Hebrew word normally translated as "spirit", or sometimes "ghost", is רוח (ruakh) and it means "breath, wind, or air". It also means "life". And in almost all cases, the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a breath or wind. Just a few examples:


"'...as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (John 20:19-22)


"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)


In many cases, it is referred to as the "Breath of God". Taken in this context, one could almost think of the Holy Spirit as God's qi, in a sense. Qi, after all, means breath, air, and life. However, the analogy doesn't quite correlate to a human and his qi. This idea of God's qi is similar, but also quite different, and will be discussed in a future article. So while the Holy Spirit is like the qi (energy) of God, the Dao is the essence, or innate nature, of God. Therefore, they are not quite the same thing.

So how exactly do these things all relate together? To understand that, we have to understand the process of action. When you want to perform some task, first you think of it using your reason. Perhaps you come up with several alternatives, some good, and some bad. And then you evaluate those options to choose the best one. Then you make a decision to do the thing, and then finally you actually do it. For example, let's say you want to eat dinner. Your reason comes up with several possibilities: 1) eat out, 2) cook dinner, or 3) skip dinner. You then evaluate these. Eating out is too expensive. Skipping dinner will not alleviate your hunger. So you choose to cook dinner. Now you have the intent to cook, and with that focus, you actually go prepare dinner. Therefore, we can see that reason precedes intention, and intention precedes action.

When dealing with God and the Dao, the process is remarkably similar, which is not surprising given that man was created in God's image ("And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him", Genesis 1:27). Though normally translated as "the Way", the word Dao can also be translated as "reason". But the Dao isn't simple reason like it is in the human mind. Instead, it is the very thing that defines the laws of reason. So when God performs an act, such as creation, it begins in His reason. It begins in the Dao, according to the Dao. The subsequent evaluation step isn't necessary for God, because ideally, there are no wrong options that He conceives of. He only manifests the correct reason. He lives in the Dao (I say "ideally", because contrary to popular belief, the Bible never makes the claim that God is infallible. It says he is infinite, eternal, unchanging, wise, all powerful, holy, just, gracious, good, and true - but not infallible. Some have argued that both "holy" and "true" imply infallibility, but that is a discussion for a different article). Once God's reason comes into being, through the Dao, then His intention follows. This intention can come from either the Father or the Son aspect of God, depending on circumstance. Then following the intention is action. Though not the sole means of action, many times it is the Holy Spirit that carries out the action. There are many exceptions, of course, such as action through the Father, the Son, through archangels or angels, or even through humans.

Beyond this process of reason-intention-action, there are also other ways to think about the relationship between God and the Dao, especially as one starts looking into how the Chinese view and translate the Bible into their own language. In John 1:1, it says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.". When translated into Chinese, this passage is usually rendered as "In the beginning was the Dao, and the Dao was with God, and the Dao was God." The Greek word that is used in John for "Word" is logos, which means "word or reason". So in this sense, it consistent with the Dao being the essence, or the "reason", of God. Don't be confused by the last part of the passage that states "the Dao was God". That is not equating the two, only saying that God exists within the Dao (and the Dao exists within God), so the two can be indistinguishable at times. Living fully in the Dao, and having the Dao live fully within us, is a state of enlightenment and cultivation that few will ever achieve.

This way of thinking lends itself well to Jesus, as well. Being the Son of Man and the Son of God can pose a lot of philosophical problems, depending on one's philosophy. However, if God placed a piece of his essence (the Dao) fully into a human, that human could in a very real sense be considered the Son of God, as he contains a piece of God, a part of his essence, and is therefore derived from God. But he was also born human, of a human, so he obviously would also be the Son of Man. The result would be a human, but highly enlightened and cultivated from a Daoist point of a view, yet literally the Son of God from a Christian point of view. Both viewpoints are not in conflict with each other, and do not nullify the truth inherent in the other. Instead, they complement each other in harmony. Much like God and the Dao.

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