I don’t want you to believe anything I say on this blog. I want you to read, listen, catch the echoes in your own soul, and then decide for yourself what you believe. My understanding continues to grow and develop as I learn more – and as my heart stays open to truth and wisdom. I hope it helps you on your own journey.You can find out more about me and my work at timhodgson.org – enjoy the adventure!
The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal name.
– Tao Te Ching, Verse 1
For some reason study of the Tao Te Ching eluded me for many years – popping up in various quotes and commentaries, making a brief appearance then diving down below the surface again. This year, prompted by Wayne Dyer who did the same thing, I decided to take a year and a half to study the Tao Te Ching – one of its chapters every week, for a total of 81 weeks.
The Tao Te Ching is a book shrouded in mystery – around twenty five centuries old, probably written by a man called Lao Tzu in ancient China. Somehow it remains relevant: I think probably because it speaks in mysteries and allows us to each draw up meaning from its depths, yet it retains a sense of absolute value, of what is, and what is not.
It also seems to me to come from a place of oneness – one of its core tenets is that we as humans create ‘the ten thousand things’ and name them – yet all come from and ultimately must return to ‘The Way’.
Tao Te Ching loosely translates to ‘The Book of the Way’s Virtues’
Dào/tao meaning ‘way’ or ‘the Way’ – the essence of the Universe, the Oneness, the Infinite
Dé/te meaning ‘integrity’, ‘inner character’, ‘virtue’ or ‘divine power’
Jīng/ching meaning, simply, ‘great book’.
It is of course written in Chinese character form, where each character is not just a word, but also a concept, a thought, an entire raft of meaning which needs to be factored in to any attempt to provide a translation. And equally, it has changed its source and its script over the years from its origins probably in zhuànshū script and later in kǎishū. We have no way to tell whether the version we have is in any way close to what Lao-Tzu originally penned… but I like to believe that it is, and that when we study it with an open mind and a willing heart that we find truth within its pages.
All of this is by means of saying that digging to the meaning of the Tao Te Ching is not like reading a book, but more a process of meditation: almost a conversation between the book and the reader where meaning is discovered not just in the reading, but in the living, and in the way that the book sheds light on other aspects of our own journey.
I have spent time with Ursula Le Guin’s rendering, with Wayne Dyer’s own loose interpretation, with Legge & McDonald’s translation, and with that of Stephen Mitchell. These are the versions that have fallen into my hands – there are at least 250 others, each with their own approach and their own strengths and weaknesses. Translation of the historical Chinese relies much on its reference to the known literature and concepts of the day, much as our own conversations and literature draw on our own experience of books and film, of society and the common thread of shared understanding to create a richness to our own reading.
So for me, this is an adventure – an exciting journey into ancient wisdom, as drawn through my own thoughts and experiences. “Thoughts on The Way” will be my personal encounter with this amazing book. I hope you share it with me.
Find out more at www.timhodgson.org
“Do all roads lead to God or must you believe in a specific faith to have your prayers answered and your dreams come true?”
A friend asked me this a while back, and I thought I would share the answer I gave her.
“I’ve found myself in this very dichotomy for a while now – partly because I came from a Christian background – it’s where my spiritual path started, many years ago, and so it ends up being my heritage. I probably relate to the Christian traditions more than to any other, even if my path is different now… but there are some key things that Christians believe that do not sit well with me. I have come to a place of peace in my personal faith, which is continually evolving and changing – but I am convinced that the only real teacher is the one inside, and the only place of truth is that which emerges from within. And so I don’t ask you to believe any of what I say – but simply to trust your own heart. Our heart is a wiser source of truth than we credit it with. And in the end, the big question – perhaps the only question – is ‘does this belief serve me?’ Does it produce the effects that I want in my life? If so, it is of value. If not, then I will choose to hold that truth more loosely and find another that does.
I have no way of verifying what I believe. All I know is that when I believe what I believe, then my life is better, of more value, and more meaningful – I am happier, more peaceful, more alive.
And I also know that I am not being judged on whether I get these beliefs right or wrong – or even whether there is a right or wrong. There is just ‘what works’ and what doesn’t. A bit of me even suspects that ‘truth’ is a far more flexible thing than we can guess at – that seemingly different and contradictory truths may both be real.
So… where to start?
I believe that Christians are hugely correct with what they believe – and hugely wrong at the same time. For me, God is. There is nothing else. You, me, everything around us is that which we call God – or I prefer, somehow, Oneness, or Love, Infinite Intelligence, or the Universe. For me, in my head, somewhere in all of this ‘God’ has become this patriarchal entity in a robe and a beard.. and so it doesn’t help me particularly to use that word. Unless it does.
So when Christians refer to Jesus as the Son of God, I identify with that too… as a Son of God myself. I think that Jesus got further than most of us (maybe all of us) in terms of understanding the reality of that, and that’s why he could say ‘no-one comes to the Father (the source) but by me’ – by becoming as he was, by recognising the same within ourselves as he recognised within himself.. that ‘I and the Father are one’. (Now, to break my own rules (because I can) I think it’s clearer for context for me to carry on using the word ‘God’ here – but replace it if you will with anything that works better for you.) Because Jesus could see who he was, then he had the power to change reality.. but this is something that’s possible for each of us too.
Does that mean that God is strictly impersonal? No, although I think that there are principles of Life/God/Goddess that are pretty much as iron clad as gravity. So for me God is at the same time principle and personal. The more I explore this, the more I find myself stepping into a dichotomy… and I have learned to hold those dichotomies loosely, exploring what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I envy the absolute and inherently simple faith of the atheist… and yet that doesn’t work for me. Because although atheists would say that the burden of proof lies with the believer, I think that’s just a case of perspective.. because I need something to explain what I feel in my heart – and to explain some of the strange things that seem to be true.
Now, I’ve always been frustrated by the fact that we were supposed to live lives that were as good as Jesus’ – but he had that one single advantage of being divine- of being the Son of God. No fair! But if we are all divine creatures.. if we are all One with a Universal power – then for sure, we can do more than Jesus did – as he promised we would. The clues are all there in the Bible: ‘I have said, you are Gods’…’all creation waits for the Sons of God to come into their own’… but it seems that the Church has diluted this truth, doubting what was placed in our hands, and giving it back to some super power outside ourselves.
This may have been to exert control over the masses, and turn faith into some sort of frequent flyer programme – do enough good works, live a life that’s good, believe the right things…. and you’ll get to heaven. But it seems to me that heaven is already here, when we look…
For me, we don’t need ‘saving’ from some sort of ‘sin’. They surely can’t mean that I am cursed by the behaviour of two people who lived many many thousands of years ago? They surely can’t be implying that anyone who doesn’t believe the Christian way is cursed to a life of eternal separation from God? I cannot see this as the behaviour of an infinitely loving God. For sure, Christians will talk of how this is the only thing God can do, given mankind’s free will, but I don’t buy it. It all sounds like a control system to me… you can’t be happy now, but in a future life, if you behave yourself…? So I don’t see the need for ‘salvation’ to get me to heaven.. I do see there are ways that I have ‘missed the mark’ (the original meaning of the word ‘sin’) and failed to achieve what I set out to… but what I do see is that no matter what has happened or where we have failed, there is the opportunity to put that behind us and start again.
Your average Christian will respond to the question ‘how do you know these things are true’ with ‘because they are in the Bible’. There seems to be an awful lot of stuff in the Bible that they choose not to believe too, or that is in direct contradiction with other stuff…and so for me the only true frame of reference is what works for me. I think that’s the journey that everyone is on, by the way…
We don’t get to be ‘more spiritual’ by a relationship with Jesus. We are already spiritual. It is our nature. We are without the need to be ‘saved’ or to ‘see the light’ – we are powerful creative, spiritual creatures by our very nature, by virtue of being human. While a particular spiritual path may help in terms of a context for living, it’s not required. Each one of us has everything we need.
So, I am not sure how I see the difference between the need for ‘a relationship with Jesus and worshipping God’ to get what you want.. or the concept of a fairy god mother. Is it that different? I think it was Cinderella’s relationship to the fairy godmother that allowed her to go to the ball (and, honestly, there’s an awful lot of spiritual truth in stories like Cinderella too).
I guess it’s easier, isn’t it, to say “God always answers prayer: he says ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘not yet'”… that’s so much more palatable than to have to try and work out why a seemingly impersonal law like the Law of Attraction isn’t working?! Sometimes this Christianity stuff seems a lot easier than working things out for ourselves.
I guess if you contrast Christianity with The Secret, the Law of Attraction, or a whole raft of New Age beliefs… then those ‘New Age’ beliefs seem to put our power outside of ourselves, reliant on ‘The Universe’ or some impersonal ‘Law of Attraction’ to get the results we want. And I think there is some truth to those principles too… and yet by putting the power outside ourselves, we miss the point. Again. I think it’s true that what we think of tends to be drawn into our lives… although I do think that what we think we’re thinking may not be as clear cut as we think it might be. If we think about being rich, or being in a relationship, then what is at the heart of that thought is often the absence of that thing. Even when we use affirmations like ‘I am enjoying the relationship of my dreams’ there is a huge part of our being that says ‘ahem. No you’re not.’
And we put our power outside ourselves in practical terms too. We look at the statistics that say things like ‘99% of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population’ (or whatever the latest statistic is). So, surely that 1% should divide their wealth more fairly? Hold on…I can’t find accurate statistics, but some research I did suggests that I am actually richer than 97% of the rest of the world. So maybe I need to work harder at making things fairer. We look at the hatred and violence in the world, but fail to recognise the same in ourselves when we get angry with those that have ‘done us wrong’. The power to change the world on those simple terms lies inside me – and the same power rests with 7 billion others.
I don’t think that God wants our worship (and I don’t see why that ‘worship’ has to be of a particular form either). I don’t actually think God wants or needs anything. There is a wonderful book by Neale Donald Walsch called ‘What God Wants’. He promises that Chapter 13 will go into detail on the subject of ‘What God Wants’ – and on reaching it, the chapter is blank.
I have a lot of time for Neale and certainly the first Conversations With God book, which blew away many of the cobwebs around our perceptions of God (as God himself says in that book ‘You got me all wrong’). As you might expect, I find some of his other thought at variance with what I feel.. but CWG book one and What God Wants are very helpful, as is Neale’s take on ‘The Secret’ called ‘Happier Than God’. And yet at the other end of the spectrum I have a huge amount of time for a pastor from Houston, Joel Osteen, who is very much a traditional bible believing ‘come to Jesus and be saved’ kind of guy – because, once I take that concept out of his language, much of what he says still makes sense, and fills me full of faith and hope.
Two men, from different ends of the spiritual spectrum – and yet both of them can speak to my heart and to the depths of my being. Both of them make sense to me (and yes, sometimes both of them contradict each other).
I see attempts to explain God in terms of quantum physics, and to show that perhaps quantum entanglement explains psychic phenomena, or the quantum observer effect explains how we affect our reality, or ‘everything is energy’ explains how we can attract what we want… and I think to myself that there’s actually more value in accepting that something much bigger than our science can perceive is actually running the show… that somehow what we perceive in terms of ‘energy’ is just the tip of an iceberg that we don’t have a frame of reference for.
I do think that one of the laws of life is the law of karma – perhaps not the Buddhist belief that we have to work off our karma over many lifetimes before we reach nirvana – but the concept that we get what we give. So yes, I do believe that if we devote our lives to giving to others, then we will find that we get more of that. Some of the happiest people I know are those who are giving to others selflessly. And that includes Christians and atheists alike. And that’s one reason why Christianity produces happy content people.. because it produces people who are giving. (It can also produce people who are hugely guilty, too, as they fail to meet what they perceive as God’s standard. And that really is one thing I hate about it – this concept of ‘the sorry sinner’)
I think what Christianity and other faiths have done is to create a framework that allows peace and happiness – to find a place where someone can ‘fit’ and explore a set of beliefs that give an opportunity for them to grow and become at peace with themselves. But if that framework doesn’t fit for you… if it doesn’t match what you hear yourself, and your own truth – then I think you are free to find something that does work. Take what serves you, let go of what doesn’t.
And in many ways I am drawn to a concept of magic… and I use that word because I can’t find a better one… that resides in each one of us because of our Divine nature, because we are each of us God incarnate. And I find that the less I have ‘wants’ then the more magical I become – it has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my financial problems have given me the freedom to be happier than I could have been chasing the dollar – that I have a huge freedom to do what I want, to explore some of this stuff. I am drawn to a concept of simply choosing to be at peace – not because I am meeting someone’s criteria for good behaviour, but simply because I am choosing peace. And that is magical.
I can choose to be happy once I place my criteria for happiness inside myself and not outside. As a friend of mine once said, ‘in Miami, the perfect summer’s day is when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.. when the breeze is just enough to cool the skin yet not to make you cold.. when the sun is just that perfect warmth – in London, the perfect summer’s day is when it’s not raining.’ Or, in other words, choose to have easy to meet criteria for happiness… not necessarily that I don’t have goals to be wealthy, healthy, to have adventures, to travel, whatever… but that not having those things does not affect my happiness. In this, I simply choose to be grateful for what is, knowing that everything is working out perfectly, that the path I am on is, even in its seeming imperfection, absolutely perfect..
All of those things I think is the long way of saying that I’m closer to a simpler understanding of spirituality then I am to the Christian dogmatic approach… even Christians find themselves struggling to explain a God who seems to have changed his character from Old to New Testaments – from a God of brimstone and retribution to a God of love and forgiveness. I do think we have to look below the stories to decide for ourselves what is true for us. If we’re happy with a ready made off the peg belief system, then awesome. Start living it. And some of us will be looking for something that fits our understanding better – that answers the tough questions each of us have.
Does that mean that I am picking and choosing the bits of the Bible that I believe? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. And for my precedent I cite the Church fathers at the council of Carthage who decided that the gospels of Mark, Matthew Luke and John were in, but the gospels of Thomas and Judas were out. I have tried to take my experience, my history, what I have read and heard and experienced, and create a synthesis that I can personally trust – something that has its own personal integrity – not taking the shortcut of a ready made faith handed down by someone else who has gone before – but by working hard at understanding what I personally believe to be true.
So I live in a dichotomy – a space where I believe in a relationship with a personal God, a world of miracles and magic, of the impossible and the unexpected, and where I also believe that there are clear rules that run the Universe, principles which if we use them produce effective consistent results that are not at the behest of a capricious deity. I personally don’t feel the need to be ‘Christian’ or to comply with a set of beliefs and behaviours to be happy.. although I do know that when I make decisions and follow behaviours that seem to come from my heart and from a place of love inside myself, then I feel happier, more at peace, more fulfilled, more powerful, more magical, more alive, more ‘me’ somehow….”
Find out more at www.timhodgson.org
People tell me that it’s impossible for us to live like this. And I want to know ‘why?’. They say it can’t be done. And I ask ‘why not?’ They say there are more important things to think about. And I say that these are the important things. Get these right, and the rest of Life will simply fall into place.
Here’s some thought provoking stuff from Hungarian philosopher Ervin Laszlo.
THE ONENESS DECLARATION
Sixteen Hallmarks of the New Consciousness
by Ervin Laszlo
1. I am part of the world. The world is not outside of me, and I am not outside of the world. The world is in me, and I am in the world.
2. I am part of nature, and nature is part of me. I am what I am in my communication and communion with all living things. I am an irreducible and coherent whole with the web of life on the planet.
3. I am part of society, and society is part of me. I am what I am in my communication and communion with my fellow humans. I am an irreducible and coherent whole with the community of humans on the planet.
4. I am more than a skin-and-bone material organism: my body, and its cells and organs are manifestations of what is truly me: a self-sustaining, self-evolving dynamic system arising, persisting and evolving in interaction with everything around me.
5. I am one of the highest, most evolved manifestations of the drive toward coherence and wholeness in the universe. All systems drive toward coherence and wholeness in interaction with all other systems, and my essence is this cosmic drive. It is the same essence, the same spirit that is inherent in all the things that arise and evolve in nature, whether on this planet or elsewhere in the infinite reaches of space and time.
6. There are no absolute boundaries and divisions in this world, only transition points where one set of relations yields prevalence to another. In me, in this self-maintaining and self-evolving coherence- and wholeness-oriented system, the relations that integrate the cells and organs of my body are prevalent. Beyond my body other relations gain prevalence: those that drive toward coherence and wholeness in society and in nature.
7. The separate identity I attach to other humans and other things is but a convenient convention that facilitates my interaction with them. My family and my community are just as much “me” as the organs of my body. My body and mind, my family and my community, are interacting and interpenetrating, variously prevalent elements in the network of relations that encompasses all things in nature and the human world.
8. The whole gamut of concepts and ideas that separates my identity, or the identity of any person or community, from the identity of other persons and communities are manifestations of this convenient but arbitrary convention. There are only gradients distinguishing individuals from each other and from their environment and no real divisions and boundaries. There are no “others” in the world: we are all living systems and we are all part of each other.
9. Attempting to maintain the system I know as “me” through ruthless competition with the system I know as “you” is a grave mistake: it could damage the integrity of the embracing whole that frames both your life and mine. I cannot preserve my own life and wholeness by damaging that whole, even if damaging a part of it seems to bring me short-term advantage. When I harm you, or anyone else around me, I harm myself.
10. Collaboration, not competition, is the royal road to the wholeness that hallmarks healthy systems in the world. Collaboration calls for empathy and solidarity, and ultimately for love. I do not and cannot love myself if I do not love you and others around me: we are part of the same whole and so are part of each other.
11. The idea of “self-defense” even of “national defense,” needs to be rethought. Patriotism if it aims to eliminate adversaries by force, and heroism even in the well-meaning execution of that aim, are mistaken aspirations. A patriot and a hero who brandishes a sword or a gun is an enemy also to himself. Every weapon intended to hurt or kill is a danger to all. Comprehension, conciliation and forgiveness are not signs of weakness; they are signs of courage.
12. “The good” for me and for every person in the world is not the possession and accumulation of personal wealth. Wealth, in money or in any material resource, is but a means for maintaining myself in my environment. As exclusively mine, it commandeers part of the resources that all things need to share if they are to live and to thrive. Exclusive wealth is a threat to all people in the human community. And because I am a part of this community, in the final count it is a threat also to me, and to all who hold it.
13. Beyond the sacred whole we recognize as the world in its totality, only life and its development have what philosophers call intrinsic value; all other things have merely instrumental value: value insofar as they add to or enhance intrinsic value. Material things in the world, and the energies and substances they harbor or generate, have value only if and insofar they contribute to life and wellbeing in the web of life on this Earth.
14. Every healthy person has pleasure in giving: it is a higher pleasure than having. I am healthy and whole when I value giving over having. The true measure of my accomplishment and excellence is my readiness to give. Not the amount of what I give is the measure of my accomplishment and excellence, but the relation between what I give, and what my family and I need to live and to thrive.
15. A community that values giving over having is a community of healthy people, oriented toward thriving through empathy, solidarity, and love among its members. Sharing enhances the community of life, while possessing and accumulating creates demarcation, invites competition, and fuels envy. The share-society is the norm for all the communities of life on the planet; the have-society is typical only of modern-day humanity, and it is an aberration.
16. I acknowledge my role and responsibility in evolving a planetary consciousness in me, and by example in others around me. I have been part of the aberration of human consciousness in the modern age, and now wish to become part of the evolution that overcomes the aberration and heals the wounds inflicted by it. This is my right as well as my duty, as a conscious member of a conscious species on a precious and now critically endangered planet.
(For more from Ervin go HERE)
Perhaps we just need to think a bit more clearly about who we are..
So, where’s a good place to start? What’s a good summary of what I personally believe?
First of all, I’d like to say that I believe in God. In whatever shape you see her. Or him. Or whatever you want to call ‘God’: Father, Goddess, Lord, Infinite Intelligence, The Universe, The Divine, Love, The All-Seeing. in fact i will probably use a dozen different names for God in this series, and I make no apologies for mixing my personal pronouns either.
So here’s a good place to begin. I like this five point statement that I have developed from Unity church’s statement of faith. it’s not ‘complete’ (what could be?) and it needs detail. but I like its simplicity and its breadth.
So this is going to be a good place to start, I think. and we’ll see where we go from there.
#1 : God is all good, present and active in everything, everywhere.
#2 : I am a truly spiritual being because I am the presence and the power of God wherever I am.
#3 : I create my experiences by what I choose to think and what I feel and believe.
#4 : Through affirmative prayer and meditation, I connect with the Universal Power of God, transform my world and bring out the Love in my life.
#5 : I give my best by living the Truth I know. I make a difference through my thoughts, words and actions as I bring the Love and the Presence of God.
(if you’re interested, Unity publish their version at http://www.unity.org/about-us/our-philosophy)
Where do we start on a journey into the infinite – to try and understand that which can’t really be understood, (or, as someone wittily put it, how do we eff the ineffable). Where do we start?
One of the reasons for me writing this blog is to try and find ways to understand and become more certain of what I believe myself. I can’t simply say ‘I believe what my church/faith/religion/teacher says’. I’ve looked into dozens of belief systems, and variations on a theme, and have found that I can’t simply accept what someone else says. I have found that I have to work it out for myself. For sure, follow those who have gone before me. For sure, learn from other people’s wisdom. Absolutely, read and listen and explore and discover what others have discovered to be true. And then decide what works for you and what doesn’t. Decide what extra you bring to the table, what extra wisdom and understanding you can uniquely contribute. And that’s why I suggest that you don’t believe anything I say. Listen to what I say, let it sink into your being, and see if it matches your own inner voice. And then decide for yourself. if it doesn’t work for you, then find something else. Unlike many so called teachers, I cannot tell you the shape of your own soul. I can only tell you the shape of mine, and let you catch the breath of God in your own being.
I believe there’s something to learn from those that have gone before. I believe there’s something to be found in the scriptures, whether that’s the Christian Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Book of Mormon, the Tao Te Ching, A Course In Miracles and a hundred others. And yet I also know that God hasn’t stopped speaking either. So what I’ve learned has come from a myriad sources – from the scriptures of a dozen religions, from the the voices of scores of teachers, from the pages of hundreds of books – and from time taken walking with God and listening to his voice.
There is no short cut to wisdom, just by taking a book off the shelf. You can’t just listen to someone and say ‘that’s what I believe’. Truth doesn’t work that way. The more I read, the more I discover, the more I begin to believe that actually there is no such thing as ‘The Absolute Truth’. Perhaps the Universe really IS that strange, that complex.
So, I hope that you find something that helps you on your own journey. I hope you find something that speaks to you. I hope you feel inspired, encouraged, deepened, more grounded, wiser. I hope you feel more true to yourself. And I pray that you will take the time to let God speak to your heart.