Why Begin Again?
"Dao" is a Chinese word indicating a way, a vision, or a method. "Beginning Again" refers to a near-universal human trait: that we repeatedly seek to overturn, or to renew, our way, our vision, our method for how to conduct our life. Our project combines these two principles. We seek to bring the compulsive element - our restless urge to change the pattern of our life - into the orbit of method, of intelligent direction.
A long way from home
There is something restless in us; something that prevents us from feeling at home in the world. Looking at ourselves as one species within the world ecology, we may suspect that there is only one natural habitat which we can confidently call our own: its name is Paradox.
A delinquent species
Consider such paradoxes as this: we regularly behave as if we were the natural predator to our own species. More bizarre than this, is the fact that our most common object of murder is a member of our own family (this is where the "Selfish Gene" hypothesis starts to look quite silly).
And unlike other monogamous pair-bonding species, we have laws with penalties, to make sure that we mate with the right person, or even with the right animal. And there is more paradox in the contrast between our viciousness and violence on the one hand, and the fact that we are quite probably the most tender and the most solicitous animal species on the planet. Certainly our capacity for empathy and care shows at least as much richness and diversity, as our capacity for exploitation, ruthlessness and destructiveness.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil
As far back as we have written evidence, human beings have been trying to grapple with the nature of our own evil - to explain or understand it, as well as to find some effective way to keep it under wraps.
An obvious answer
The most obvious solution is that it is the others who are the carriers of evil. Our own people - our tribe - have found the right way, the right vision, the right method for living the good life. It is those others - the ones who live differently and at a distance from us: they are the ones who embody everything that is undesirable.
Religion tells another story
Yet the world's major religions tell a different story: every one of them has enjoined us to meet the Stranger with respect and benevolence. Christianity goes so far as to tell us that we must "love our enemies". And the commandment to "love our neighbour as a being like ourselves" is likewise a demand to extend our empathy and compassion beyond the narrow circle of our own - the parable of The Good Samaritan makes clear that "neighbour" is meant to extend even to those we may have been regarding as our habitual enemies.
They often fail
And it remains true, that to burn each other's houses down (most often with the inhabitants inside), to seduce and abandon, to enslave, extort or exploit, or to stand aloof in the face of others' want and starvation, are typical features of the human scene.
In truth, we have a recurring need to Begin Again. How shall we do this?
How Begin Again?
The way we are going to work with this draws strongly on Shamanic and Daoist traditions - but with an underpinning from modern disciplines such as systems theory and cultural theory.
You don't need a degree in philosophy
This is first and foremost a practical method - a way to organise ourselves better for the business of living. I think that theory is usually best stored away in the background; sometimes, however, the foreground landscape becomes paradoxical and the signposts misleading. This is when theory can give us essential orientation and save an otherwise impossible situation. Some of us also find genuine pleasure in the imaginary landscaping of theory; we are people who enjoy thinking around the edges. Some of the web-links here lead into perspectives on the philosophical and scientific implications of the method, which you may find weird or incomprehensible. Please feel free to search out those links which most directly appeal to you.
Dao and Cybernetics
The revolutionary step here is placing the Dao in the context of modern systems thinking. The Dao is eloquent about the mysterious guidance which comes to us from the deeper, hidden realms. From the point of view of systems theory there is no great mystery - even though it feels no less wonderful or mysterious in the actual experience of it.
The hidden workings of the Dao, are inherent in our location in the here and now, as a richly complex organism attuned through millions of lifetimes of co-evolution in a richly complex environment. The accumulated experience of our entire evolutionary tree is continuously available and resonates within our cellular organisation, and also in the spaces between us.
The co- presence of living creatures, which means you and me whenever we meet, brings a complex (in some respects timeless) web of forces into play. With respect to the astonishing mystery of ourselves actually being here in the first place, we can understand the Dao quite prosaically as a method for seeking a better attunement to the force field we are in: to learn to ride more skilfully the eddies and currents that regularly arise within us, around us and between us.
How we will try
Our action-research project aims to find ways to do exactly this - partly through the undervalued and neglected spiritual technique of being open and honest with one another. Partly also through opening ourselves to meditative levels of our mental functioning so that we become more receptive to the deeper currents.
Science, Monotheism and the Dao
The great spiritual teacher and philosopher Martin Buber many times affirmed a basic concordance between the teachings of the Dao De Jing and his reading of the Judaic philosophy of his forefathers. This becomes strikingly obvious when we have freed up our minds: both from simplistic interpretations of the Holy Bible, and also from the conventional atheism which dismisses Judaism and Christianity as patriarchal confidence tricks. Then a simple equation is uncovered: the invisible, unnameable XVXH - understood as the Power which every element in the universe is ultimately subject to - is in all important respects identical with "The Dao That Can Not be Named".
This God-concept is the one which nurtures the growth of science
This reading of the Higher Power in the universe is also hospitable to the ever-changing picture which we receive from the evolving enterprise of modern science.
No accident it happened first in renaissance Italy
I think this is why the earlier Islam and renaissance Christianity were able to form the cultural seed-bed for a series of intellectual and scientific advances unique in human history. In the background was this concept of an invisible, unnameable universe-power - ultimately beyond our command, but whose myriad workings in the shape of things is open to our search for a better understanding.
This is the faith which has always animated the scientific spirit. (The ancient Greeks were close to it, but could not resist the intellectual pride of explaining things away). Now we can bring a similar faith to bear on our search for a more intelligent orientation of our passion: seeking out ways to satisfy our hunger for a fulfilled life and a future we can believe in.
© all content: copyright reserved, Michael Roth, January 2004