Tao (pronounced dow) is generally translated into English as 'the path' or 'way', metaphorically, one assumes, as well as literally. This is curious, and maybe unintentional, because 'way' has two meanings: one being the 'means' of doing something and the other being the direction to follow. Both are applicable to almost anything that assumes a goal or objective, which is why the word, Tao, is adopted for almost any endeavour known to humanity.
So why have I adopted it? Because, philosophically and historically, Tao has many interpretations in Western discourse, all of which, I believe, are relevant to writing and storytelling.
Taoism has origins in ancient China
It predated Confucius, who predated Christ by 500 years. To put this in context, Confucius was contemporary to Buddha and Pythagoras. In reference to Confucianism, Taoism is considered mystical and metaphysical, complementary to Confucianism, which is considered pragmatic and political.
The Chinese classic, I Ching (pronounced Ee-ching) embodies both. The I Ching (literal translation: book of changes) is an organic book that predates Confucius as well, but it has evolved, and the version we find today is heavily Confucian in its philosophy. The Richard Wilhelm transcription, translated into English by Cary Baynes, is the best known and most respected Western interpretation. Whilst its text is predominantly Confucian, its soul is Taoist. It's premised on the idea that change is a fundamental aspect of the universe.
The Asian psyche seems more aware of the ephemeral nature of life than we are in the West, which may be a consequence of a culture that venerates 'ancestors' compared to a culture that believes in 'eternal life'. As an oracle, the I Ching also assumes that there is a transcendental realm, not unlike Plato's world of 'forms', or Jung's collective unconscious.
What has any of this got to do with writing?
Storytelling occurs in the realm of the imagination, not unlike the world of dreams - as a writer and an artist, it often feels like one has made contact with a Platonic realm.
Many artists and musicians make this same allusion when they attempt to explain their 'art'. The Tao is often referred to allegorically as the 'uncarved block', which can be seen as a metaphor for the unachievable ideal in all aspects of life and art, but it can also be interpreted as the potential yet to be revealed.
Yin and Yang
Taoism is often associated with the symbol of Yin and Yang (pronounced yin and yung), which is a pictorial representation of all the polarities that are inherent in life: day and night, birth and death, man and woman, good and evil; curiously they are opposites that all require each other for their existence. Some would argue that the spiritual and organic should also be included, but in Western philosophy, there is an assumption that such a dependency is illusory.
I would also include energy and matter, as depicted by Einstein's famous, and deceptively simple, equation: E = mc 2 . Quantum mechanics also has an inherent duality, as captured mathematically and descriptively by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, but I don't subscribe to the idea that this is evidence that quantum mechanics is Taoism revealed in physics, except as metaphor.
Tension in Storytelling
Irrespective of its philosophical implications, there is an inherent tension required for storytelling that is manifest at many levels, and it's aptly depicted by this well known symbol. Obviously, character and plot are the two primary attributes associated with storytelling, and could be seen as another metaphorical projection of Yin and Yang, which I discuss in detail later. But I would add a third attribute, which is world, and I would depict them in a triangular relationship putting character at the apex. I will explain the relevance of this representation later.
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Paul P Mealing is the Australian author of 'Elvene - The Kiri Myth of Ocean Woman', a science fiction odyssey, romance novel, and 'Kidnapped in Time', a science fiction screenplay.
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