The Tao Meets Joseph Smith

The brass knocker rapped.

He got up from his zafu, bowed to the cushion and walked to the door. He opened it to find two fine young men in white shirts, name tags, ties and hair that was perfectly perfect.

“Hello Sir, we are from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

He held his finger up to stop them, and he did so without one ounce of force.

Cheerfully he chirped. “I’ve been expecting you! Come in!”

The two young mormon missionaries looked at each other.

“Oh, it’s no big deal, he said, I get three such visits a year. So I expect them in Utah.”

They walked past the shabby door and beheld a simple home. There was a meditation zafu on a pad against the wall. The kitchen table was wooden, worn out and used back to fashionable status. The Japanese call this “wabi-sabi” and one of the missionaries couldn’t take his eyes off of it.

The dishes were old. The glass on the table was washed so many times that it was no longer clear.

No tv. No radio. No computer. But there seemed to be a place where each one was at one time. A book case was on the wall and on it was one book – a tattered old copy of the Tao Te Ching.

He fixed them tea. They refused when they realized it was tea.

“I’m sorry,” he said laughingly.

He fixed them coffee. As the percolator started making noise, they refused very apologetically when they realized it was coffee.

He smiled.

He entered the kitchen and popped a cork on a wine bottle.

“I guess you don’t know much about us!” they laughed.

Just then his iPhone rang. He took the call. He spoke but they could hear no voice on the other end.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I had something come up. But would you two boys help me with this table. I need to throw it away.”

“Can I have it?” said the young missionary?

The man nodded.

“That table is so amazing. I know my girlfriend would love it. It looks new and old at the same time. Here! Would you like a Book of Mormon for the table?”

His partner missionary looked at him disapprovingly.

“No. The book is free,” he said to his partner.

The old man jumped in.

“This table is now trash. So instead, how about I offer you this for your ‘Book of Mormon.’ It’s not really a fair trade for such a clean volume as yours.”

He gave them the tattered, yellow copy of the Tao Te Ching from his bookshelf.

They gave him a brand new “Book of Mormon.”

Before they left on their bicycles, the Missionary got on his phone to arrange someone to pick up the table before the trash men arrived in the morning.

After they left, he took the book over to a closet. In it was a stack of unused copies of “The Book of Mormon.”

He set it down among them.

He took the tea, wine and coffee and drank them in his chair as the night darkened the room. He started reciting the tattered old book from heart.

He had it memorized for decades.

He was too thrifty to waste the tea and coffee, so he got up after quoting the entire book and put them in the fridge to enjoy them as iced beverages later.

He then drank his wine while beholding the image of his deceased wife, “In a few years all that will be left is the chair, zafu, bed and you. And then I’ll die and this room will fill up with stuff again.”

He became drunk and sat upon the zafu.

It wasn’t often he meditated drunk. Usually, it was only when missionaries came by.

Who Let This Kid in Seminary?

A professor at Perkins Theological Seminary taught a class on comparative religion.

“Class, in Japan, Catholics were persecuted upon pain of death by the government. Japanese Catholics would keep statues of Kannon in their homes and treated the female deity Kannon as the image of the Virgin Mary.”

“Kannon, as you may or may not know, is a manifestation of  the Buddhist deity Avalokiteśvara.”

A student raised his hand.


“Sir, isn’t the Dalai Lama ALSO considered a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“OMG Everyone! The Dalai Lama gave birth to Jesus!”

The professor stood, stoic and stumped and so well “had” that he knew recovery was a wasted effort. He quickly went to discussing the midterm to keep himself from cracking up.

A Pythagorean Religious Experience

(NOTE: Much of this is made up because the Pythagoreans were largely exterminated. Only traces of their teachings survive and they are summed up at the bottom of the story. This story will seem cryptic for those who know nothing of the Pythagoreans. But if you Google the terms you don’t know and the people, it will all make sense.)

Greece, 565 BC
Early Summer Day Two Hours After Sunrise.

“You are ready and don’t try and hide it.”

Adelpha sat there on the stone, her squat frame and square face tense and serious.

“No sir, I … believe not.”

“You have purposely delayed becoming mathēmatikoi and that must end now. You are testing. When you pass, you will ascend to the elite. Your skills have impressed our teacher as well as angered him beyond belief.”

“Hippasus and I … we rocked the boat didn’t we?”

“You cast aspersions upon our core beliefs with your joint discovery that not all numbers are either whole numbers or ratios. But … Master Pythagoras knows that your discovery is true. And let’s face the facts here.”

He looked at the wall.

“Hippasus didn’t do the real work on this, and I know who did, and Pythagoras knows it too.”

He walked over to a bowl of almonds. He took a one, looked at it and then popped it in his mouth.

“And yes, the Master IS having a lot of internal conflict because of your discoveries. It has shattered both his and our world collectively.”

She smiled and quickly looked down.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for the truth? My dear, why not apologize for not being able to square the circle?”

He grabbed his robe with his hand and took a posture of authority.

“Still, this matter must remain only for the mathēmatikoi. The akousmatikoi cannot confront such a radical notion that every number cannot be presented as either a whole number or a ratio. Theirs is a practice of religion, and the Pythagorean mathēmatikoi is devoted to pure mathematics. Do you understand?”


“You cannot tell ANY member of our akousmatikoi about these numbers that do not repeat in a pattern. To them every number MUST be represented as we have ALWAYS taught, and you must especially not tell an outsider of them. Such an act will result in your swift punishment and perhaps your death. We suspect that these … um … irrational numbers that you discovered are a minority – a mere oddity. Although some of the mathēmatikoi feel differently, but they are fringe thinkers. And if some of akousmatikoi figure out these discoveries on their own, then we will handle it ourselves.”

“Of course.”

“And how in the world you figured this out as a mere akousmatikoi  is beyond me.”

“Hippasus mentored me, his methods are AMAZING!” she said.

His jaw went firm.

“Now before we begin, have you consumed any beans in the last five years?”


“Have you consumed any meat in the last five years?


“Have you touched a bean in the last year?”


“Why do I ask you this?”

“Because, beans are the souls of future men and women and to consume them is the ultimate crime.”

“Yes. We were all beans once,” he said.

She made sure she looked like she believed him.

He took a rake and smoothed the floor. Taking a pointed stick, he drew triangles and circles and squares on the ground and asked her questions and challenges and demanded proofs from her. Two hours later, he put the stick down.

“You have certainly passed geometry, but now you must show me you have the discipline to address the infinite and impossible. And more than half the day remains for that Herculean task. For now, we break.”

As they left the temple, Pythagoras passed and looked at Pythias. Pythias’ glance told Pythagoras that she was, indeed, exceptional.

The two ate alone and had a lunch of nuts, greens, beets and bread. As religious vegans that refused beans, they got their protein from leafy vegetables and grains which meant that massive amounts of greens were required at each meal. This resulted in a sect that ate more than anybody and weighed less than everyone.

And they were healthy.

After lunch, she was ordered to take the customary nap and rest for her work in the afternoon. While she napped, Pythias met with Pythagoras.

“She’s already beyond the mathēmatikoi because of her mentoring by Hippasus. She also has strange ideas regarding Pi transcending the irrational which is more insanity. It appears Hippasus’ teaching methods are very effective in some ways. I believe that is this reason as to why she has refused to ascend to our highest order.”

Pythagoras clenched his teeth.

“It matters not,” said Pythagoras, “Hippasus is a traitor to sacred number itself. He revealed this abomination to outsiders and must be put to an end. In fact, if he sees tomorrow, he will be lucky. And the woman here is almost right behind him.”

Pythias calmed his face so it would not show concern.

“Master, be kind to her. She is gifted indeed. I know there is more she is not telling. I suspect she knows more about Pi, the golden mean and the ultimate abomination – the numberless number.”

Pythagoras glared at him and said, “She’s too good to banish, but dangerous. Keep her mind seeing and her lips still. Also, I want every one of Hippasus’ methods out of her for he won’t be around long enough to tell us.”

An hour later, Pythias and Adelpha were back in the temple to finish the exam.

“Sit straight with perfect posture and ponder the following until the shadow on the wall moves over the mark that indicates our time is done.”

He placed a square and a straight edge in front of her.

“In your mind’s eye take this square and straight edge and square the circle. Nobody has ever done it. So far, it appears impossible. Work it from every angle in your mind until you transcend the problem. I’ll behold your presence and discipline because it is your concentration I am testing.”

He watched her eye lids drop to cover most of her eye as she look beyond everything. Her face smoothed out and her breathing turn shallow. A small but slight smile appeared as every bit of her energy railed upon the challenge.

He saw her body shift into a deeper discipline.

There was almost a light around her countenance he could feel. The room appeared softer and lighter at the same time. He knew that she was transcending and her presence was so clean and perfect that anyone beholding her visage would know with one look that such concentration cannot be faked.

As the hours passed, sweat from the day’s heat tickled her skin, but she took no notice and used the discomfort to concentrate more. Numbers and images flew before her in a collage of clarity. Infinity and nothing shown forth from her face like a full moon.

Time flew and the hours passed with barely a flinch.

“The shadow has crossed the mark,” he said. “Your discipline is superior in how you face the impossible.”

She stood in great calm.

“You are now mathēmatikoi. And this cannot be taken from you.”

She smiled.

“What did you discover?” he asked.

“I proved the challenge is impossible.”

He tried to look unimpressed and asked with a faux disinterest, “Show me the proof.”


“I demand it!”

“I’ll show you when my teacher Hippasus is an old man.”

“Then … I’m afraid I’ll never see it. You are dismissed. Move your belongings to your new home.”

It was getting dark as she went to gather her things. A few miles away Hippasus, her beloved teacher, was already dying from the direct order of Master Pythagoras for teaching outsiders the mystery of irrational numbers.

She never got over it and kept all her discoveries to herself as well as Hippasus’ methods of instruction.

Five years later, almost all the Pythagoreans were killed mysteriously by a rival religious faction. Pythagoras himself was murdered and Adelpha fled to become a maid for a political leader. And the remaining Pythagoreans went into hiding.

She survived. She was too unimportant to notice.

And when she was alone and her duties done, Adelpha would take a pointed stick and sketch out diagrams in the sand. She would sit and see the circles, angles and numbers dance in her mind as she continued to make discoveries. She meditated upon her beliefs that god is number and that her soul itself was a mathematic that transcended reality. She meditated upon the golden mean, the pentacle, the tetractys and looked forward to the day that her religion would return to the world and thrive once again.

But it never did.

And she vanished into history working as a maid – her triumphs forgotten.

The Basic Doctrine of the Pythagoreans: 

Basic Pythagorean Numerology:

The Monad (union) – 1. The maker of numbers. The founder of reason.
The Diad (opinion and diversity) – 2. The first female number.
The Triad (union + diversity) -3. The first male number
The Square (Integrity)  – 4. The number of honesty and fairness.
Marriage – 5. The combining of male (3) and female (2).
Creation – 6. The combining of marriage (5) plus the maker (1).
The Universe – 10. The Tetratys – the most sacred number: (union + female + male + integrity)

Metaphysical Beliefs
Transmigration of Souls
Multiple Earths
God is Number

Symbol of the Order
The Pentacle

Divisions of the Order
mathēmatikoi – Followers of Pythagoras who were true mathematicians.
akousmatikoi – Followers of Pythagoras who were mystics.  

The Religious Experience of the Impossible

Once there was a homeless guy in a big city with rotted teeth, diabetes, infected feet and signs of dementia.

“Human debris” according to a morbidly obese radio shock jock.

But this homeless guy had a PhD in math. He was a debris-novis. The Crème de la Crème of the bag people. On this day his mind was reaching the tipping point of dementia. But today, the Impossibles were especially kind to him. Darwin too was kind.

As he sat on a curb demoing the reality of “learned helplessness” he thought about zero. He always knew it was impossible to divide by zero, and that to do so was to obviate mathematics itself. Therefore, the division of zero HAD to be impossible otherwise logic and structure could not exist.

He noticed a half-empty Diet Dr. Pepper across the street. He got up, paced himself between the cars and people, walked over to it, opened the cap and took a taste. It was warm and fizzy.

As carmel-colored aspartame sloshed his teeth, he pondered “What was nothing really?”

He replied to himself, “Nothing is impossible!”

And then the flash of the impossible hit him. He sat down and screwed the lid back onto his Diet Doctor Pepper like a kook who had just convinced himself he knew the ultimate answer. There was a reason for this, of course.

He was a kook who thought he knew the ultimate answer.

“Division by Zero is the creation of the impossible set,” he whispered with frightening clarity. His mind raced back to what he knew about zero and he went straight into irrational thinking.

“If-you-divide-by-zero-then-you-can-prove-anything-as-true. Anything-false-becomes-true-and-anything-true-remains-true. If-so-then-a-math-that-allows-the-division-by-zero-is-the-impossible-math-and-THAT-IMPOSSIBLE-MATH-can-create-a-math-that- forbids-the-division-by-zero-and-then-THAT-MATH-is-the-possible-math!-And–and-therefore-a-subset-of-the-impossible-math. In-such-a-case-the-possible-can-never-prove-the-impossible-but-the-impossible-can–always-prove-the-possible. Nothing-is-impossible. The-soul-is-nothing. Free-will-is-impossible-therefore-free-will-is-nothing-AND THE FREE-WILL SOUL IS THE IMPOSSIBLE NOTHING!”

He took a breath.

“The possible set is a subset of the impossible set and the impossible set is infinitely larger than the possible set!”

He started crying. Uncontrollably. It was beginning.

“Nothing … is … impossible-and-nothing-IS-the-impossible. I-am-impossible-and-I-AM-the-Impossible. All-are-true-in-the-impossible-set.

“The free-will-self is the impossible nothing!”

He said it over and over and over. It became his mantra.

He started laughing uncontrollably. He took off his shoes and beheld his rotting feet. Diabetes was taking its toll. And it was fully raging in his brain.

“Hee-hee. Anything that is NOT impossible is MANDATORY. Mandatory requires … hee-hee … OBEDIENCE. But the impossible set … it … ORDERS THE MANDATORY AROUND  … the possible is but a thin film manifested by the dictates of the impossible. But then when you flip it, the possible orders the impossible around as non-existence…”

He stands and screamed, “I am the center of everything because my soul is the impossible nothing! You are the center of everything because YOUR SOUL IS THE IMPOSSIBLE NOHING!”

“Look at you all! You are all just possible meat! You are all just vessels to house the Impossibles or just the creations of The Impossibles or just random generations of Universal Darwinism! But in ANY CASE you have no free will and are only meat! Only the impossibles have free will!

He broke out in hysterical laughter and shouted:


He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted…

“Joseph Campbell said, ‘God is an INTELLIGIBLE SPHERE known to the mind and not to the senses whose center is … EVERYWHERE … and whose circumference is NOWHERE and whose center exists right where I am, and whose center exists right where you are. And each of us is a manifestation of THAT mystery!'”

Nobody listened. He knew they wouldn’t. He also knew the quote wasn’t right. But it was close.

He fumbled his pocket and pulled out a tattered copy of the Tao Te Ching with discolored edges, a creased color and smudgy pages. He plopped atop a half eaten donut and a ham crepe next to a garbage can.

“Shhh,” he said quoting the Taoist sage … “Those that say don’t know … and those that know don’t say …”

It was good smelling trash. It smelled right for a moment of divine realization. As he read the text he whispered it to himself. But he made one subtle, but important, substitution. He substituted “Tao” for “Impossible.”

The Tao Te Ching: Suttra 1.

The IMPOSSIBLE that can be walked is not the eternal IMPOSSIBLE.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.

The named is the mother of all things.


Free from desire you see the mystery.

Full of desire you see the manifestations.

These two have the same origin but differ in name.

That is the secret,

The secret of secrets.

As he read, he was so calm and still that the impossible nothing could hear a pin drop. He could see it all … the impossible and possible … emptiness … form …  the … wordless …

He WAS the impossible nothing, with all its individuals owning every bit of it individually, collectively and socially. He perceived the possible – a vastly smaller infinitude – obeying the will of the Impossibles.

He saw those he called The Possibles obeying Universal Darwinism devoid of soul. He saw the possible as separate and superior to the impossible, and then the impossible as separate and superior to the possible. Emptiness/Form and Form/Emptiness and Form AND Emptiness…

The dementia crossed the tipping point and he felt it. Something new was happening.

He sensed it was ending. But he was okay. He WAS the free-will impossible nothing! And that was enough.

He stood up and started staggering barefoot down the street leaving his shoes by the trashcan. He tried to beg from a stranger but his words slurred.

His arm couldn’t move and he looked intently at his arm not moving.

It was soon getting VERY hard to look at his hand not moving because suddenly there were several of them.  He noticed a headache and a numbing in his face.

Everyone thought he was drunk.

And not a one saw the impossible nothing in all its glory.