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Christ the Eternal Tao Paperback – March, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Saint Herman Pr; 4 edition (March 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1887904239
  • ISBN-13: 978-1887904230
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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"Jesus is more Eastern than Western," said my religion teacher many years ago. That truth rested in the back of my mind for 25+ years. Recently, after 3 or so years of exploring writings on Orthodox Christianity, this book came under my radar. It carefully presents the idea that the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching) intuitively gained insight into a compassionate, self-giving God -- an inkling into what would later be clarified through the coming of Christ.

The book is a very thorough presentation of the history of the development of human understanding of God and the fulfillment of this understanding which came with the incarnation of Christ. The 2nd portion of the book is a fascinating, calming journey of poetry in which some of Lao Tzu's ideas are echoed or answered by some of the words of Christ. The similarities are striking!

This book helps one see how gently and faithfully God has revealed Himself through history bit by bit -- as much as we could handle at the given time. It respects both traditional Chinese thought and Christ as the 2nd person in the Triune God. This book even explains how the Trinity is an essential aspect of Divinity. I have been very blessed in my spirit from reading this book. I am about 2/3rds of the way through and am enjoying every word. It's a deep, rich book which can calm your heart and feed your soul. Something not to read too quickly. Savor it. Let it soak in.

I am concurrently reading the biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose: FATHER SERAPHIM ROSE, His Life and Works, also by Hieromonk Damascene. I'd also highly recommend that book. Fr. Rose's extensive study of Chinese philosophy is at the root of this current text.
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The difference between East and West is a cliche, about the tension between rationality and experience. Christianity is often placed on the 'Western' side as an intellectualist and dogmatic faith, opposed to the more holistic spiritual paths of Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies. Hieromonk Damascene, a disciple of Seraphim Rose, deflects that simplistic analysis by comparing the life and teachings of Jesus (especially as reflected in the Gospel of John) with the Tao Te Ching by the philosopher Lao Tzu. The clarity of Lao Tzu's vision of the Tao, the universal Way, brings a refreshing perspective on Jesus and his life of simplicity, self-renunciation and loving humility. Like water, the Tao always seeks the lowest place. The wonder of the humbling of the Way in his path of incarnation and death has seldom been described so poignantly. It is things like this that remind me why I am a Christian after all.

Damascene's meditation on the Logos/Tao/Way is followed by a description of Eastern Christian monastic practices and how they fulfil the requirements of a life that follows the Way of Christ. He gives a fine overview of the path of purification, illumination and glorification, particularly focussing on the discipline of Watchfulness and the Jesus Prayer. His description of those who have experience a vision of the Uncreated Light is particularly moving, and the history of Chinese Christianity is interesting as well.

Those who are locked into promoting the 'East-West' divide or particularly dualistic ways of interpreting either Christianity or Eastern philosophies will probably not enjoy this book. For me, it has helped me to see more of the value of the Eastern mode of thought and practice, as well as strengthening my faith in Christ and my determination to follow his Way.
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As a student and teacher of comparative religions, I'm generally skeptical when an author seeks to blur the distinctions between systems. True, there are points of overlap, but those points do not necessarily reflect sameness or remove the other often larger points of dissimilarity. I am uncomfortable with that which pushes toward syncretism.

That said, I have very much appreciated Damascene's, Christ The Eternal Tao. His handling of the Enneads (Taoist poems) is beautifully and creatively done. His introduction lays out the possibility that Lao Tzu might have been on to something way larger than he knew at the time, and that by reading back into his writings the information we have from the Gospels and Life of Christ that "something" becomes clearer. I like the fact that Damascene presents these thoughts in a way that affirms this only as a possibility and not a certainty. Damascene draws his readers into his own curiosity as to whether it might be possible, not that Lao Tzu was a prophet, but that what he saw and wrote about foreshadowed the fuller, more complete picture available in the Gospels. I found the book to be an enjoyable and refreshing read.
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"In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God." That sentence, the opening of the Gospel of John translated from the Chinese version into English, says it all. Hieromonk Damascene does here what the Church Fathers of the first through fourth centuries did with their ancient Greek heritage: he takes up the ancient spiritual wisdom of the Chinese and uses the insights of long ago to illuminate the New Covenant of the coming of Christ -- the Tao, the Logos -- in the flesh. Along the way, he shares with us an immeasurable wealth of spiritual treasures from the Church Fathers, the holy Orthodox elders of modern times, and the great and mysterious Taoist sage Lao Tzu. He provides here, I believe, one of the best, most focused, most moving, and yet most concise explanations of Orthodox Faith and spirituality I have ever seen. In the future, this will be the first book that I recommend that young spiritual seekers who express an interest in Orthodoxy.
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