All Material, Unless Otherwise Noted, Copyright Donald Lockwood 2007- 2009
While many people might class Inner Sage Tao with ‘New Age’ movements, its actual
links are more to Eastern and Western Philosophy, specifically Confucianism and Platonism.
Thus while anyone with some perspective can see where many new age ideas come from,
there are some of them that actually are new. Unfortunately these new ones are often
ones whose logical and practical implications are most troubling, and also require
an odd and not necessarily compatible set of presuppositions.
Of course new age thinking doesn’t care about logical implications and incompatible
presuppositions, this is because it is strongly influenced by German Romanticism
and its successors, such romanticist inspired counter-culture movements as 19th century
bohemianism to the 20th century hippie movement have common attitudes with new age
thinking and shares with them a rejection of “rationality”. There is not much difference
between the hippie attempt to levitate the Pentagon in the sixties and the 144,000
rainbow warriors of the harmonic convergence in the eighties.
However, what Romanticism is actually rejecting is not rationality, but its caricature,
reductionism, which by a curious slight of hand in the late 18th and early 19th centuries
was able to pass materialism and mechanism off as rationality, whereas the whole
tradition of Western Rationalism from the time of Plato to about 1800, was neither
mechanistic, nor materialistic, rather it was organic and holistic and, if anything,
tended to be otherworldly. Indeed the whole tradition of Western Mysticism is permeated
with Ideas that received their most striking expression in the tradition that originates
with Plato and culminates with Plotinus, and might justly be called rational mysticism,
an oxymoron to the romanticist thinker, but profoundly true of most of the history
of Western Philosophy.
Inner Sage Tao on the other hand has as its source some of the most powerful and
influential ideas in the world. Ideas which have shaped both the history and social
structure of East and West for 2500 years and not always in obvious ways. Thus,
for example, Plato finds himself echoed in the New Testament where the injunction
to ‘turn the other cheek’ can easily be seen to be taken from the end of Plato’s
Gorgias and the question of what profit a man can expect from selling his soul, even
at the gain of the world, derives from Plato’s Republic. The earliest surviving
Western example of “The Golden Rule”, is not even in Jewish sources, but rather in
Greek sources reaching back to Pittacus and being continually reaffirmed down to
one of Plato’s professional rivals, Isocrates, whose Letter to Nicocles contains
it, albeit in the negative formulation like Confucius, who says ‘do not do unto others
what you would not have done to you’. However, it doesn’t take a divine commandment
to turn “The Golden Rule” into its positive form, for Mencius, the second sage of
Confucianism, was able to do that before 300 BCE. To examine how such things got
into the Gospels would take us to far afield, but suffice it to say that these are
only a few of the many that could be cited.
As for Confucianism, while it is primarily associated with China, it pervades the
Far East and in addition to China has had an enormous and well documented influence
on Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Confucianism remains at the root of the Far Eastern
positive attitude toward education, personal excellence and social responsibility.
Confucian principles have an odd way of showing up in unexpected places. Steven
Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is permeated with ideas which are
fundamentally Confucian, all the more remarkable because Covey seems to be quite
ignorant of Confucianism. Covey’s “empathic listening” is perhaps the most striking
example of a ‘habit’ which Confucian’s would enthusiastically recommend and it is
perhaps a testimony to Confucianism’s deep insight, that Covey’s work emerges from
a searching examination of American success literature of the past 200 years. Maybe
it really shouldn’t be a surprise that ancient Chinese Wisdom turns out to be the
key to modern success.
One should avoid the mistake of being put off of Inner Sage Tao because of this high
sounding philosophical pedigree. Its starting points are surprisingly simple and
practical. The emphasis is given to Confucianism which has some astonishingly simple
and effective ideas. Take for example the Golden Rule which is common to both East
and West, taken by itself it sounds good, but how do you live it? Confucianism’s
answer is to expand it with what are called the Five Relations. These take the Golden
Rule and rephrase it into five different injunctions which can be put in either the
negative or positive form, such as; Don’t do unto your spouse what you would not
want your spouse to do to you if the positions were reversed and Do unto your child
what you would want your Parent to do to you if the positions were reversed. All
of a sudden the golden rule shines brightly as it takes on very concrete meaning
with profound implications. It is this mix of the profound and the concrete that
characterizes Confucian thinking. So someone who simply wants to live a better life
but is not to concerned about the metaphysics that justifies it can do just that,
but if they want to investigate that metaphysics, if for example, you want to know
why a principle is a principle, then the answer is there also, and it is both very
rich and profound.
Inner Sage Tao has strong links to these Philosophical Traditions both of which are
deeply spiritual, but it has another aspect which is of some importance, and that
is that it can be presented in a stripped down form suitable for all but the most
hardened materialist. There is a common misconception that spiritual values are
not practical values, however this has been shown to be false by advances in what
is called ‘Game Theory’, in particular a searching examination of what is referred
to as ‘the prisoners dilemma’ has revealed that cooperative behavior is generally
more profitable than what is considered to be ‘selfish’ behavior. In Robert Axelrod’s
groundbreaking research detailed in various scientific journals as well as in his
book, The Evolution of Cooperation, indicate that cooperative behavior, especially
in group and social situations, is so profitable that it seems to have become a part
of genetically based behavior and that even the most selfish gene has learned to
cooperate, if for no other reason than it’s survival depends on it! A strong case
can be made that the type of moral behavior which is associated with ‘spiritual’
and ‘otherworldly’ values is in point of fact ultimately profitable behavior both
in this world and most certainly in the next.
Inner Sage Tao’s ability to be pruned of its more extravagant foliage is one of its
chief recommendations to the modern world. At its most basic it can be viewed as
a purely psychological technique for personal change and because it emphasizes philosophical
rather than religious traditions and modern game theory in preference to divine revelation,
it can be presented in a way that might allow it be acceptable to people of any religious
persuasion, except possibly the most hidebound fundamentalist, and thus provide a
common ground for dialogue and consensus at least on some of the fundamental issues
which are important to a free, vital and creative society. Try doing that with your
“new age” teachings and see how far it gets you, both sceptics and religious believers
alike are likely to dismiss them out of hand.
For generations in China faithful Buddhists and Taoist have approached life with
a set of Confucian principles taken so much taken for granted that no one would even
bother to ask if they were incompatible with Buddhist, Shinto, or Taoist teachings.
At least as far back as Mencius and perhaps even to Confucius, Confucianism has
a mystical side that most Westerners would hardly suspect, yet it is the mysticism
of Mencius that is the basis of the Neo-Confucian synthesis which is considered to
be at the root of the “unity fo the Three Religions” and allows one to view Confucianism
as a “mystical humanism” which unites transcendence and immanence in the person of
the Sage and presents the ideal of the sage as something to which anyone may aspire
and live a fuller and richer life for striving to live that ideal.
In the West, starting with Justin Martyr the relationship between Christianity and
Platonism was acknowledged and many of the Church Fathers including Augustine recognized
the value of a philosophical background to Christianity. Granted that Post-Reformation
Protestants would like to evade any connection of Christianity with philosophy, the
philosophical echoes in the Gospels cited earlier make this little better than an
act of denial.
Both Judaism and Islam have long term histories of engagement with philosophy. Philo
of Alexandria and Moses Maimonides are classic Jewish examples and until a medieval
fundamentalist backlash closed it off, philosophy contributed significantly to Islam.
One of its survivals is in those mysterious, ‘mystical’ Sufis, who are somewhat
less mysterious, but nonetheless mystical, when their Neo-platonism is recognized.
Inner Sage Tao with its “mystical humanism” and “rational mysticism” can thus be
seen as something both more promising and deeper than ‘new age’ thinking. The hippies
could not levitate the Pentagon, the 144,000 rainbow warriors of the Harmonic Convergence
couldn’t ‘affirm’ the world into a perfect state, but maybe with some hard work and
a real commitment to personal change Inner Sage Tao can make a difference.