January 30, 2013

God and the Dao, Part II

A while ago, I wrote about the relationship between God and the Dao. It's been a while since I've revisited this topic, so I thought I would expound on it a little further. In the first part, I talked about how God related to the Dao, and how each were part of the other. That God and the Dao were in a sort of complementary balance - a yin/yang relationship. This, however, is merely one model which we can use to try and understand these concepts. There are other interpretations, because ultimately, we can't fully explain and describe either one. What we can do is constantly probe, dig, and analyze these concepts from multiple angles and perspectives.

"Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable." - Job 36:26

"The Dao that can be spoken is not the eternal Dao,
The name that can be named is not the eternal name" - Dao De Jing, verse 1

It is important not to confuse the idea that these things are "unknowable" with "we can only know a little about them". We as humans are capable of learning and understanding quite a bit about both God and the Dao, even if we are unable to comprehend them in their totality. The fact that we can't ever know everything should never be used as an excuse to be lazy and not evolve our knowledge.

An alternate model of the relationship is that God is essentially the Wuji (無極). What is the wuji? Without going too deeply into Daoist cosmology, the wuji is the first level of reality after the Dao. The Dao has always been there, and from it formed the wuji. The wuji then split into a duality, the Taiji (yin and yang). Combinations of the yin and yang led to things like the trigrams, hexagrams, the Three Treasures, and the Five Elements. From those came everything else. That is a quick and highly simplified view of Daoist cosmology.

The wuji is described by ancient Daoists as existing outside of time and space. It is beyond the duality of the yin yang - "prior" to it, for lack of a better word (and in all fairness, this is not a very good word to use at all). The wuji is the source of all creation. This is exactly how God, or at least an ultimate divine force, is normally described: the source of all creation and outside of time and space. So in this interpretation, God is the Wuji.

Some people take issue with this interpretation, as they believe this would place the Dao "above" or "before" God, implying the Dao existed before God. But that shows a lack of understanding, as both the Dao and the Wuji (and thus God) exist outside of time. There is no "before" when dealing with them. The Dao has always been. The Wuji has always been. God has always been.

When trying to visualize or conceptualize these abstract ideas, such as things that exist outside of time and space, I'm reminded of the excellent video Imagining the Tenth Dimension, by Rob Bryanton. He does an excellent job of explaining how we can think about a reality consisting of ten dimensions, as postulated by modern physics. Note that it may take several viewing before it begins to sink in! There are those who postulate whether God exists in the seventh dimension, as that is the highest dimension which could actually have any direct effect on our reality. Any being or entity existing in a higher dimension would not be able to affect us at all. Perhaps those are the home of the Dao?

As an aside, I have intentionally avoided defining what "God" means in both of these articles. Is it the Christian God? If so, is it the one in the Old Testament or the New Testament? The God of Islam or Judaism? One of Daoist, Buddhist, or Hindu gods? While at some level, this definition is personal and left to each reader, it is not what I think of when writing these posts. To me, "God" is a fundamental force of reality and this means that God is not anthropomorphic. Contrary to what the Abrahamic religions claim, they consistently portray God as possessing human traits and characteristics. I don't agree with this for a variety of reasons, but that's just my opinion. Therefore, this isn't the idea of God I use, but I won't expand much more beyond that as it isn't necessary to the topic at hand.


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