Taoism and Linux

Seeing the connections between ancient meditations and the development of the Linux community.

Since early December (2001) I have been reading 365 Tao: Daily Meditations, by Deng Ming-Dao. Reading the book was sort of Linux-inspired, and the meditation for January 17 made me think a lot about Linux and Linus himself.

When I was on the Linux Lunacy cruise last October, I was talking to maddog's cabinmate Jon. (Yup, two Jons in the same room--fortunately we can call one of them maddog.) Jon had studied comparative religions and knew little of computers. I had been casually looking at various religions, and at that time, I was reading about Buddhism.

I mentioned this to Jon, and he said that he had "been into Buddhism" for a while but saw Taoism as a better fit for him. While I knew of Taoism I didn't know anything about it, and we talked some more. The very simple explanation Jon gave me was Taoism isn't really a religion but more a way of life. You didn't have to worship in a prescribed way; rather, you should live your life in a good way.

Being the kind of person that likes alternatives (Linux being a good example), I was interested and picked up a couple of books to find out more. 365 Tao was one of the books, and reading the daily meditations has become part of my daily routine.

In the book there is a page for each day. On that page you find a title with the Chinese character(s) that describe it, followed by a short description and then a discussion. For January 17, the title is Cooperation, and the description is:

Cooperation with others.Perception, experience, tenacity.Know when to lead and when to follow.

This immediately got me thinking about the evolution of Linux. I could give you many examples where this philosophy has been the secret ingredient that has made Linux evolve in an organic fashion. I can also give examples where individuals and companies have strayed from this track and, as a result, have really strayed from the Linux community.

Getting on the discussion part of the page, it starts with:

When we become involved with a fellowship, we must gradually become an integral, organic part of that organization. The relationship will be one of mutual influence: We must carefully influence the collective, and in turn, we will be shaped by the company we keep.

The page ends with:

True leadership is a combination of initiative and humility. The best leader remains obscure, leading but drawing no personal attention. As long as the collective has direction, the leader is satisfied. Credit is not to be taken, it will be awarded when the people realize that it was the subtle influence of the leader that brought them success.

This made me think of Linus. The first time I met him was at a party at John Martin's house, outside of Washington, D.C. When I arrived, Linus was talking to a small group of people who had done work on the Linux system. Eric Youngdale was one and, I think, Donald Becker was another. There were maybe six people in all.

What immediately struck me was that Linus was not leading the group, he was an equal participant. Here was the person who had managed to get hundreds of programmers, many of whom he had never even met, to essentially work for him for free, and he wasn't being "the boss". I quickly realized that was the secret to his success and the success of Linux--the ability to influence without having to command.

The other times I have "hung out" with Linus, I have seen him take the same position. I have seen him shy away from situations where he is put into the spotlight. On the other hand, he is always an active participant in any discussion, not leading but certainly participating.

In another 320 days I will know if 365 Tao should be added to the recommended reading list for those who want to become an integral part of the community.

Book Information

Title: 365 Tao: Daily MeditationsAuthor: Deng Ming-DaoPublisher: Harper CollinsISBN: 0-06-250223-9Price: $16.00 USDThis book may be purchased from Powells and other bookstores.

Phil Hughes is Publisher of Linux Journal.

email: phil@ssc.com

______________________

Phil Hughes

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Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

Fascinating article.

It reminds me of Neil Stephenson's article " In Search of the Command Line" ( http://www.cryptonomicon.com/command.zip ). He discusses the philosophical differences between the ideas implemented in various operating systems.

It makes sense when you consider that Taoism about how you do things, and Open-Source Developement is about how you do things with computers. In the simplest sense they are both about dealing with activity, Taoism in general and OSS in specifics.

One thing I've found interesting in the computing field, is the balance of ancient and modern ideas that are expressed in the technology. I came across a counting game that was used by the vikings, where the earliest written form was dated to 1050-1100AD. This was identical to the interleaving systems that were developed for optimising HDD access times.

Anyone got any other examples?

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

good!!!!!!

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

Although I respect Mr. Hughes' comments. I think it is dangerous pasttime to start connecting the Linux revolution with any particular religion - even if you don't like like to call it one. Especially on a site of a publication that many consider to be the voice of Linux.

I would think that Linux has more in common with humanity in general. The thought of giving freely to benefit others as well as yourself is a universal theme.

Do we really want to see conservative government officials start mouthing off at Linux as a buddhist hippie cult and block government agencies from using it ?

Just a question...

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

to quote a very untechnical and untaoist book:

It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.

--Hagekure, The Way of the Samurai (as quoted in the film "Ghost Dog, way of the Samurai")

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

But what is Linux, if not a religion (besides the *obvious* answer that it's an operating system)?

Mr. Hughes is simply pointing out the obvious here, that on the surface, Linux and Taoism have a lot of similarities and taoism, as a religion or philosophy, is a lot more tangible than "humanity in general".

Linux is already seen by *many* people as a hippie cult movement -- that's not going to change any time soon. And I sincerely doubt that Mr. Hughes' thoughtful editorial piece is going to change anyone's mind -- one way or the other.

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

This is an excellent atricle.

I think "anonymous" has shown a correlation between the absolute and the relative here. Toaism, being as old as it is, has had the time to weed out all of the relative values of any given era, to be boiled down to it's essential truths.

I (personally) believe that there is only ONE TRUTH, and that "IT" is ABSOLUTE!

"Anonymous" was very keen to point out the parallels between Toaism (a belief system that has evolved very far from values to survive in the absolute), to the evolution of Linux (an OS that is designed according to what a computer does, and not according to what an unenlightened user wants. A person with that type of mentality would just go looking elsewhere for a nice and easy set of values that would cuddle them back into their comfort zone. Not what I would call a "survivable species").

If I had to guess what kind of person Linus really is, I'd say he is probably very "spiritually intact", and therefore recognizes that the "absolute" is the "real truth" and that "values" are a temporary, usually narrow, and distorted reflection of that truth.

If Linux were just a set of values, then it would probably be just like windows, or not exist at all.

Toaism, and Linux alike, exist today because they have passed the test of evolution's own principle: "Is the truth in you strong enough to survive?"

I think Linux was more an expression of the absolute principles that Linus saw fit to manifest. I can see that by virtue of Linux's design.

I don't like to speculate, but if I had to, I'd say that Linux will be around long after the current "popular values" have evaporated. That doesn't seem far-fetched, does it?

Thanx, "anonmous", for giving my brain something to chew on, I tip my Red Hat to you.

Hierophant

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

bad

Re: Taoism and Linux

WillyNilly's picture

Have we learned Nothing? I am learning, perhaps you shall also.

But at this time I believe I know that Taoism and Absolutism are contradictory.

Humility is required to accept that your One Truth MAY NOT be the only truth.

Perhaps that which each of us honestly believes is but one's perception, one's portion, of the whole.

As one approaches a point of light, does the point grow finer, or more diffuse?

I've known nothing. Perhaps "Aw Crapp" above knows IT as well.

The journey continues.

Peace

Willy

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

Being a zen buddist(?) I can see why linux will outlast Wintell. MS cant hurt a system that is free!! and has no center to attack!

Simple and it works.

Cheers

Bob

Re: AOL and RedHat

Anonymous's picture

Offtopic: Has anyone anything to say on AOL's impending acquisition of RedHat?

NL

Visit http://www.computercontractor.net for the latest industry news.

Re: AOL and RedHat

Anonymous's picture

Nothing polite! I hate to see something good destroyed.

Re: Taoism and Linux

pnb's picture

I think Taoism is a great way to view the Linux community/ the way the operating system has come about. Linux success, any success for that matter comes in following the Tao. I'm no expert on Linux or on the Tao but I know what sounds good. This is a great way to keep perspective folks.

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

Aw crapp

Re: Taoism and Linux

Anonymous's picture

This is an excellent atricle.

I think "anonymous" has shown a correlation between the absolute and the relative here. Toaism, being as old as it is, has had the time to weed out all of the relative values of any given era, to be boiled down to it's essential truths.

I (personally) believe that there is only ONE TRUTH, and that "IT" is ABSOLUTE!

"Anonymous" was very keen to point out the parallels between Toaism (a belief system that has evolved very far from values to survive in the absolute), to the evolution of Linux (an OS that is designed according to what a computer does, and not according to what an unenlightened user wants. A person with that type of mentality would just go looking elsewhere for a nice and easy set of values that would cuddle them back into their comfort zone. Not what I would call a "survivable species").

If I had to guess what kind of person Linus really is, I'd say he is probably very "spiritually intact", and therefore recognizes that the "absolute" is the "real truth" and that "values" are a temporary, usually narrow, and distorted reflection of that truth.

If Linux were just a set of values, then it would probably be just like windows, or not exist at all.

Toaism, and Linux alike, exist today because they have passed the test of evolution's own principle: "Is the truth in you strong enough to survive?"

I think Linux was more an expression of the absolute principles that Linus saw fit to manifest. I can see that by virtue of Linux's design.

I don't like to speculate, but if I had to, I'd say that Linux will be around long after the current "popular values" have evaporated. That doesn't seem far-fetched, does it?

Thanx, "anonmous", for giving my brain something to chew on,

Hierophant

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