There have been many books published in the latter half of the twentieth century that attempt to bridge the gap between East and West, more specifically, between Christianity in the West and Buddhism or Taoism in the East. Some of this has been due to increasing communication and resulting global shrinkage, but the basic presuppositions of most of these books seem to have fallen into three camps:
* Superficial and featureless syncretism (it's all ultimately the same)
* The spiritually impoverished West must experience renewal based on new wisdom from Eastern religions
* A fundamentalist type reaction against finding any wisdom outside their own "camp".
There have even been books by teachers of Eastern wisdom that attempt to find a place for Christian spirituality "within" their
own world view. Few of these books meet both traditions on their
own terms, relying on a superficial understanding of them, or on
reinterpretation of traditional content to meet "new" needs.
With the publication, of Christ the Eternal Tao, we have a truly new book which does not fall into the usual 3 camps. First of all, it presents a picture of Taoism which is the result of a serious study. Fr. Damascene draws on the deep and detailed notes of his spiritual predecessor, Hieromonk Seraphim Rose (whom he has extensively written about in the soon to be published biography), and the latter's studies with Taoist philosopher, Gi-Ming Shien. Even many of the quotes from the Tao Te Ching are from a completely fresh translation by Fr. Seraphim. Fr. Damascene is also apparently not unfamiliar with Eastern spiritual paths in his own experience.
Secondly, Fr. Damascene has not drawn on an impoverished Christianity seeking new roots, but the more ancient and mystical Christianity of the East, which is at home in deeper spiritual waters, although not well known in the West (Orthodox spirituality is occasionally referred to as "The best kept secret in America"). He is a recipient of this tradition, and is able to explain the essence of it in contemporary terms.
The first section is a "Gospel according to Lao Tzu", by which we see the Gospel of Christ in the light of Lao Tzu's intuitive, philosophic and poetic vision of the source of life.
The second section is a spiritual history of the world, which focuses on essential aspects of the work of Christ and of Lao Tzu, and the meanings they share.
The third section, my favorite and the bulk of the book, could be an effective book all by itself. In demonstrating the real link of spiritual psychology and practice between Lao Tzu and Orthodox Spirituality, Fr. Damascene gives us an essential exposition of the spiritual path in practical form. This section gives us a glimpse of spiritual life in working experience beyond philosophical conception. He demonstrates his practical understanding of spiritual psychology and development in a manner that will make sense to students of Zen, Dzogchen or Vedanta as
well as Taoism or Christianity. This section can serve as a practical manual of spiritual development even for those not interested in the other themes of the book. It gives us a glimpse, not just of "our original face", but of the image of Christ which transcends a merely conceptual belief system mediated by words or thoughts.
The latter part of the book shows us the fruit of the spiritual path set forth in section three. It is a compendium of recent Orthodox Saints, sages and living confessors, who have followed
this path until they have literally shone with uncreated Teh or the uncreated divine energies in the form of light. In this way, we have their examples and instructions to us which reinforce the clarity of this path. There is also an appendix with a brief history of Chinese Orthodox Saints, who further demonstrate how sages of the Tao have found the completion of their path in this experience of Eastern Christianity.
The book is beautifully illustrated by photos of Saints and Sages, masterful Chinese calligraphy and seals, the life of Christ via rare traditional Chinese scroll paintings, and the cover: a Russian Icon of Christ which naturally absorbed Chinese artistic influences.