The important difference between the Tao and the usual idea of God is that whereas God produces the world by “making”, the Tao produces it by “not-making” — which is approximately what we mean by “growing”. For things made are separate parts put together, like machines, or things fashioned from without inwards, like sculptures. Whereas things grown divide themselves into parts, from within outwards. Because the natural universe works mainly according to the principles of growth, it would seem quite odd to the Chinese mind to ask how it was made.
If the universe were made, there would of course be someone who knows how it is made — who could explain in one-at-a-time words how to assemble a machine.But a universe which grows utterly excludes the possibility of knowing how it grows in the clumsy terms of thought and language, so that no Taoist would dream of asking whether the Tao knows how it produces the universe. For it operates according to spontaneity, not according to plan. Lao-tzo says:
The Tao’s principle is spontaneity.
But spontaneity is not by any means a blind disorderly urge, a mere power of caprice. A philosophy restricted to the alternatives of conventional language has no way of conceiving an intelligence which does not work according to plan, according to a (what-at-a-time) order of thought. Yet the concrete evidence of such an intelligence is right to hand in our own thoughtlessly organized bodies. For the Tao does not “know” how it produces the universe just as we do not “know” how we construct our brains. In the words of Lao-tzu’s great successor, Chuang-tzu:
Things are produced around us, but no one knows the whence. They issue forth, but no one sees the portal. Men one and all value that part of language which is known. They do not know how to avail themselves of the Unknown in order to reach knowledge. Is not this misguided?
The conventional relationship of the knower to the known is often that of the controller to the controlled, and thus of lord to servant. Thus whereas God is the master of universe, since “he knows about it all! He knows! He knows!,” the relationship of Tao to what it produces is quite otherwise.
The great Tao flows everywhere,to the left and to the right.All things depend upon it to exist,and it does not abandon them.To its accomplishment it lays no claim.It loves and nourishes all things,But does not lord it over them.
In the usual western conception God is also self-knowing transparent through and through to his own understanding, the images of what man would like to be: the conscious ruler and controller, the absolute dictator of his own mind and body. But in contrast with this, the Tao is through and Through mysterious and dark (hsüan). As a Zen Buddhist said of it in later times:
There is on thing: above, it supports Heaven; below, it upholds Earth. It is black like lacquer, always actively functioning.
Hsüan is, of course a metaphorical darkness-not the darkness of night, of black as opposed to white, but the sheer inconceivability which confronts the mind when it tries to remember the time before birth, or to penetrate its own depths.
Western critics often poke at such nebulous view of the absolute, deriding them as “misty and mystical”in contrast with their own robustly definite opinions. But as Lao-tzu said:
When the superior man hears of the Tao,he does his best to practice it.When the middling man hears of the Tao,he sometimes keeps it, and sometimes loses it.When the inferior man hears of the Tao,he will laugh aloud at it.If he did not laugh, it would not be the Tao.
For it is really impossible to appreciate what is meant by the Tao without becoming, in a rather special sense, stupid. So long as as the conscious is frantically trying to clutch the world in its net of abstractions, and to insist that life be bound and fitted to its rigid categories, the mood of Taoism will remain incomprehensible; and the intellect will wear itself out. The Tao is accessible only to the mind which can practice the simple and subtle art of “wu-wei (non action)”, which, after the Tao, is the second important principle of Taoism.
Source: “The Way of Zen”, By: Alan W. Watts