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THE TAO

Spring - 1975

The "Tao, the Way - the basic Chinese belief in an order and harmony in nature.  This grand concept originated in remote times, from observation of the heavens and of nature−the rising and setting of sun, moon, and stars, the cycle of day and night, and the rotation of the seasons−suggesting the existence of laws of nature, a sort of divine legislation that regulated the pattern in the heavens and its counterpart on earth."(1)

The following essay has, for the most part, been extracted from an editorial which appeared in the journal Chiron (2) and appropriately summarizes many of the ideas contained within this present issue of KRONOS.

"Throughout antiquity priests and poets warned our ancestors that riot, plague, and the fall of nations were merely the profane manifestations of celestial disharmony, or what they called 'a perturbation of the heavenly spheres.' In fact this view of man's relationship to the cosmos was still current less than four hundred years ago.  In Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (1602), for example, we find Ulysses saying:

. . .but when the planets

In evil mixture to disorder wander,

What plagues, and what portents, what mutiny,

What raging, of the sea, shaking of earth,

Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors,

Divert and crack, rend and deracinate

The unity and married calm of states

Quite from their fixture!"

In contrast to the ancients, "modern" science holds a much different attitude towards the Cosmos.  Psychologically, a violent universe can be clearly recognized and tolerated, providing our relative position in it is safely distant−which it is tacitly assumed to be.

The fundamental "difference, of course, between the [catastrophic] speculations of most of today's scientists and Velikovsky's specific theory of celestial catastrophism" may be summarized in two words−"space and time . . . Evidently speculations about catastrophic phenomena oc­curring millions of years ago in time, or millions of light years away in space, lead to little if any psychological discomfort. ('Out of sight, out mind'?) When a similar idea is presented in terms of what may have taken place within the sanctuary of our solar system and on our planet, the terror and uncertainty it conjures up apparently become a bogy too horrible for conscious consideration."

"If Velikovsky is right, we may live in a . . . universe . . . which is extremely unstable and, therefore, very unpredictable.  Our uni­verse, the 'cosmic heart,' as it were, may prove to have a congenital murmur.  What I mean to say, and forcefully, is this: The next act in the cosmic drama of colliding celestial bodies may begin to unfold at al­most any moment−and without any intercession on our behalf by some benevolent deity.  It may be unfolding even now.

Here, indeed, is a tragic view of 'man's fate'!

Yet once we accept the reality of this fate, granting, of course, that it is a reality, our willful decision to carry on−to create and strive, to live and love− in spite of it can lend more heroic stature to our uncertain and precarious existence."

Both Velikovsky's supporters and critics "seem to expend their energies attempting to either confirm or refute the particulars of Velikovskian catastrophism.  Neither has speculated on its potential ramifications in the field of philosophy.  Why?

Look at our newspapers.  When someone over eighty dies in his sleep, they tell us he died 'of natural causes.' When someone dies in an auto­mobile accident, or in combat, it is 'unnatural'?  Of course none of us likes to think about dying in an immediate sense, of his own death occurring today, right now.  Although we may recognize the ambivalence of life, the fact that at birth we contract a terminal disease ('life') from which none of us recovers, we tend to act as if we were going to live forever."

Sudden and violent death are all around us and occur day in and day out throughout the course of months, years, decades, centuries, and millennia.

Such abrupt deaths are 'unnatural' only if we fail to admit the obvious−sudden and violent death is part of 'the nature of the universe.'  If so, where is the logic in believing what can happen to a man or to a tree cannot happen to a planet?

Were the ancients right all along?  I am not thinking of only the obvious−sudden and violent death is part of 'the nature of the universe.' Genesis Rabba, a midrash (or exposition) on the Book of Genesis from fifth-century Palestine, which says: 'In the beginning God created numer­ous worlds, destroying one after the other as they failed to satisfy Him.  All were inhabited by man, a thousand generations of whom He cut off, leaving no record of them.'  I am also reminded of this observation by Arthur Waley in The Way and its Power (1949) −the law of the universe, its tao or 'way,' is ruthless, for 'when autumn comes no leaf is spared because of its beauty, no flower because of its fragrance'."

REFERENCES

1.         Mai-mai Sze, The Way of Chinese Painting (Vintage Books: N. Y., 1959), p. 3.

2.         Chiron (now defunct), Vol.  I, Numbers 1&2 (Winter-Spring 1974), pp. 46-50.  Permission to reprint this editorial extract granted by the editor of Chiron.

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