(The entry below mirrors the Power Point presentation (with some modification) given at Unity of Springfield on Sunday, July 22, 2018). The actual Power Point will appear here on the website in the future.
Taoism in China has a very long history. Although the essence of what would be known or become Taoism came thousands of years before it had a name. The Tao by it’s nature is undefinable.
Historically and even today the ultimate for most Chinese is the idea of being born a Taoist, to live as a Confucian, and to die as a Buddhist. It’s not something you think about. It’s just who you are and how you live every day. Like an innate knowing. Taoist ethics in general tend to emphasize wu wei (action without intention), “naturalness”, simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: “compassion”, “frugality”, and “humility”. As if tuning into nature’s essential rhythm.
The River of No Return
What is the Tao, but a blade of grass or a daffodil blooming after a Spring rain? Simply the essence of nature’s way and our own connectedness to it and to all things.
What is the Tao, but the pebbles in a stream bed and the water flowing overhead as the trout breathes through its gills finding oxygen only in the water itself?
What is the Tao, but that that seems irrational to all those unknowing of the ultimate way of virtue? Of the inner desire to find peace and to know a certain contentment known only in the journey itself and knowing where the road leads to and where it does not.
What is the Tao, but the beginnings and endings of all things that were comprised of yesterday, occurs today and will happen tomorrow? Everything and nothing together as one in an instant and forever.
What is the Tao, but dragons bringing both good and bad as there must be in all things? Strive to do the right thing by all knowing that the clouds and elements both lead and get in the way of what may fleetingly be considered progress.
What is the Tao, but the abandonment of all things seen as necessary to succeed in the world as we live it with others present?
What is the Tao, but the ultimate quest for perfection and immortality and finding mirror images of the sage in ourselves and our everyday actions now and forever yet to come?
What is the Tao, but to flow as a droplet of water down the river of no return? Knowing all the while that in the end you will simply arrive and that in itself will be forever simply enough. (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon 4/10/94)
Basic difference between Eastern and Western Philosophy
In Eastern philosophy for over 5,000 years the relation between man, nature, the sun, moon and stars has created the impression of a universal connection with all things. Traditionally this is called “the ten thousand things”, with the I Ching saying everything revolves around yin/yang and complimentary opposites. Man is simply one of the ten thousand things and the universe shows no favorites.
Dao or Tao literally means “way”, or one of its synonyms, but was extended to mean “the Way”. This term has been used by many Chinese philosophers including Confucius, Mencius, and many others. It has special meaning within the context of Taoism, where it implies the essential, unnamable process of the universe. For practical purposes, there are two concurrent threads in Taoism. First those who see themselves as adherents to philosophical Taoism, and others who take a more religious approach towards the Tao called religious Taoism. This maturation is thousands of years in the making and corresponds with other teachings throughout Chinese history.
In Western philosophy it’s always been everything found in nature is here for the benefit of man. The beginning of Taoism is first found in shamanism, the I Ching, and over five thousand years of history.
The Eternal Spirit
Medicine men and shaman giving way to Lao Tzu and the others with their quest for immortality putting the finishing touches on the way to be forever followed.
Many false starts by many with good intentions and some sense of direction from signposts they have read and heard along the way. Starting strong, enthusiasm high with motivation found to follow what they feel is the way of virtue.
In the end few succeed as the centuries pass as the dragons look to add more to their company. The entry list is very short as those coming this way often fail to see the Tao as it should be seen. Thinking that it can be turned on and off like a faucet. Each wanting to come this way running. First hot, then cold and then hot again for the strength and comfort found only in the inner self along with the Tao.
The desire for immortality and desire to return home again to live with dragons the driving force behind the effort that must be made.
The journey is not one that can begin and end over and over at one’s leisure. The immortal ones do not have time to waste on half-hearted efforts. They cannot be bothered. Keeping to one’s eternal spirit is the motivation to continue the journey. Learning and teaching others along the way.
Be happy with the road to be traveled and find comfort solely within the details. (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon) 4/13/94
The Wu – Shaman of Ancient China
Their relationship to the cosmos was a shamanic one. At least some among them were able to communicate directly with plants, minerals, and animals; to journey deep into the earth, or visit distant galaxies. They were able to invoke, through dance and ritual, elemental and supernatural powers, and enter into ecstatic union with them. The class of people most adept at such techniques became known as the wu – the shamans of ancient China. Early China was developed mostly along the Yellow River to the north and the Yangtze River delta around current City of Shanghai. It was the Yellow River that divided China north and south that played a major role in clan and major family development. And it was the shaman of the various clans who served as the glue who ultimately made sense of it all and pulled it all together.
The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
The leaders of this pre-dynastic era were the legendary Three Sovereigns, or “August Ones,” and the Five Emperors – morally perfected sage-kings who used their magical powers to protect their people and to create conditions for peaceful and harmonious living. The wisdom, compassion and enlightened power of these beings was considered beyond mortal comprehension; and the benefit they bestowed upon those they governed, immeasurable.
The Heavenly Sovereign, Fu Xi, is said to have discovered the eight trigrams – the bagua – which is the foundation of the I Ching, Taoism’s most well-known system of divination.
The Human Sovereign, Shennong, is credited with the invention of farming and the introduction of herbs for medicinal purposes.
The Yellow Emperor, Huang di, is known as the father of Chinese medicine. He is credited with numerous inventions and innovations – including the calendar and is regarded as an initiator of Chinese civilization. Traditionally it is said he is from Qufu in Shandong province.
The Dragon in Chinese Culture
Dragons are deeply rooted in Chinese culture. The Chinese sign for the dragon first appeared upon turtle shells, a tribal totem, ages before the Xia and Shang dynasties, and was eventually emblazoned on the national flag during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). Chinese mythology is rich with the artwork, tales and depictions of dragons. Equating figures such as Fu Xi, Shennong, and the Yellow Emperor with the dragon gave them heavenly and mystical qualities as the sage.
Later, especially the Taoist figures Lao, Chuang and Lieh Tzu, Confucius, Mencius among others were said to achieve immortality as the dragon, a celestial being who rests on clouds in the sky. The emperor later became the “Son of Heaven” as the dragon.
Dragons are thought to give life; hence their breath is called “sheng chi” or divine energy. They are essentially benevolent and associated with abundance and blessing, helpful, wise and generous with their gifts when people encountered them.
The Age of Enlightenment – The Dragons
During the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty, the origins of native Chinese philosophy developed its initial stages beginning in the 6th century BC. The greatest Chinese philosophers, those who made the greatest impact on later generations of Chinese, were Confucius, founder of Confucianism, and Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu founders of Taoism.
Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were Mozi, founder of Mohism; Mencius, a famous Confucian who expanded upon Confucius’ legacy; and Xun Zi, who was arguably the center of ancient Chinese intellectual life during his time, even more so than iconic intellectual figures such as Mencius.
What is man’s place in the world and the cosmos?
This was the basic question of Chinese Taoist philosophy. Lao Tzu was born during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 to 476 BC) , but it is said he came from a very old shaman family dating back to the late Xia or early Shang. He was the first philosopher who tried to explain the Tao in such a way that it could be commonly understood. According to Lao Tzu, Tao, or “the Way”, is the source and root of the earth, heaven and everything between. The Way has no starting point and no end. That the Way is nature itself and nature itself is the Way. He actually wrote the Te Tao Ching in frustration because he got tired that no one would take his “oral” advice.
Lao Tzu borrowed the notion from the I Ching and the shaman that “the Way follows nature” to reveal a common yet profound truth in his book the Te Tao Ching: that all things found in the universe including man, and his society, have a natural character. Humans must obey the law of nature and should not put incessant demands on nature. That there was a “universal connectedness” with all things and that what was seen as government and man’s role should reflect this truth. That the powers of those in control of others should answer to this and not their own sense of importance and sense of ego. This paradox between the roles of Confucian and Taoist advocates became the pivotal argument in mainstream rule and in Chinese philosophical and politic outlook in the world. Do they “obey the laws of nature” or nature, or of humans, and why and how the two be so different?
Chuang Tzu (369-286 B.C.) was a leading thinker representing the Taoist strain in Chinese thought. Using parable and anecdote, allegory and paradox, he set forth the early ideas of what was to become the Taoist school.
Central in these is the belief that only by understanding Tao (the Way of Nature) and dwelling in unity can man achieve true happiness and be truly free, in both life and death. Witty and imaginative, enriched by brilliant imagery, making sportive use of both mythological and historical personages (including even Confucius), the book, which bears Chuang Tzu’s name, gave real legitimacy to Taoist thought in China beyond Lao Tzu.
Chuang Tzu espoused a holistic philosophy of life, encouraging disengagement from the artificialities of socialization. Promoting the cultivation of our natural “ancestral” potencies and skills in order to live a simple and natural, but full and flourishing life. He was critical of our ordinary categorizations and evaluations, noting the multiplicity of different modes of understanding between different creatures, cultures, and philosophical schools, and the lack of an independent means of making a comparative evaluation. It is said his writings provided the inspiration and connection to what was to become Chan Buddhism in China. He advocated a mode of understanding that is not committed to a fixed system but is fluid and flexible and that maintains a provisional, pragmatic attitude towards the applicability of this attitude and how we are to live. (This best describes my own personal way of thinking. I identify with Chuang Tzu’s attitude more than any other way of life. My own feeble attempts at understanding tell me I still have far to go).
Forever indefinable, an ageless knowledge beyond unity found in the oneness in all things.
How can one possibly hope to discuss the inner workings of the Tao? How can one hope to express what cannot be said? And finally, how can one hope to write about something that cannot be described or known?
As the sage studies many years before a glimmering of knowledge and understanding comes to the surface, he approaches what was before him the first instant. Learning is simply that which is brought to the exterior of oneself. There is nothing new. Only new ways to see nothing.
The Tao is simply the ultimate source of all. The origin and beginnings of everything that forever has roots and foliage, flowers and reseeds itself. Only to begin and end over and over again. Being present at the start and being there in the end. How can one hope to come to know what cannot be known or even desire to know such a thing as the oneness of Tao?
Dragon bracelet worn by favorite of Chinese emperor – Shaanxi Museum in Xian
What other role is there to have? Why have a reason to exist at all? The answer is that the Tao gives true meaning and purpose to finding one’s way through the origins of the universe. Simply coming to know yourself and how you fit into the overall scheme of things is worth the cost of admission. Remain indefinable and know that the answer is in the journey itself. (An entry in The I Ching – Voices of the Dragon) 4/17/94
The dragons prefer peace and take no action otherwise. Turning their heads to all knowing that conflict defeats all.
Neighbors may build good fences. However, it will be fences that good neighbors build together that remain standing against common enemies. Expect hardship even among friends knowing what important and what obstacles are to be expected. Encounter difficulties in peace and success is assured.
Do not proceed alone in times of controversy. Surround yourself and be protected and protect others as well. Act appropriately with both friends and neighbors always maintaining close relationships.
Being at peace within oneself insures that those close by will not become enemies but instead are simply waiting for an opportunity to become your friend. All the while not taking advantage of another’s downfall.
At the same time knowing that your own carelessness and lack of judgment may be your own. Find peace and the fences good neighbors build may ultimately disappear like dragons riding on clouds in the sky.
An original composition and interpretation of the Chinese Classic the I Ching (11 TREADING / Heaven over Lake). 2/9/94. The above is found on this website at The I Ching / Voices of the Dragon.
As I continue to go through my own version of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that I wrote in May/June 2000 and my book, Thoughts on becoming a Sage, The Guidebook for leading a virtuous Life, I am asked to tell… just who was this Lao Tzu and why is he so important? I know I spoke of this last time, but some may have missed so it bears repeating. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching was the culmination of thousands of years of philosophical thought of what was to become Taoism thanks in part to copies found in tombs of those who were buried with copies of it in China. There are eighty-one verses in the Tao Te Ching. Verses 62 and 63 appear below. Verses 1 through 61 were seen here on my most recent posts. The balance will be seen here over the coming months.
A partial preview can be seen on the Lao Tzu and Taoism tab here on my website. Ultimately, it is what the sage has learned and then in turn taught others along the way that guides us.
The commentaries below are meant to be read as a discussion between Lao Tzu and those interested who have thought deeply about the text itself. The quotes below and references to their authors are from Red Pine’s, Lao Tzu’s Taoteching.
Thoughts on becoming a Sage
Verse 62 – Cultivating Humanity
Remaining at the lowest point of mediation where everything else comes to meet. As if the confluence, or gathering point, of great rivers that all come together to create a united front or way.
Acting as if this great river of life sustaining water irrigates your life and your garden. Remaining humble, as if the needs of others are shared and understood by all as each becomes nourished through your enlightenment.
Standing alone each is like a turnip found in the garden of the sage. Picked while still small they are tender and sharp, if allowed to get to large, the turnip becomes tough and bitter. Like the gardener, the sage cultivates humanity as if picking the turnips while they are small, thereby saving him much misunderstanding in the end.
The sage becoming simply a watershed making people content with the way they are. Showing the way, he attains the highest by remaining the lowest. By uniting and leading others, he succeeds by joining and serving others.
In the truest sense he is cultivating humanity simply by tending his garden as he tends to all around him.
Wu Ch’eng says, “’Sanctuary’ means the most honored place. The layout of ancestral shrines includes an outer hall and an inner chamber. The southwest corner of the inner chamber is called the ‘sanctuary’ and the sanctuary is where the gods dwell.”
Su Ch’e says, “All we see of things is their outside, their entrance hall. The Tao is their sanctuary. We all have one, but we don’t see it. The wise alone are able to find it. Hence Lao Tzu says the good treasure it. The foolish don’t find it. But then who doesn’t the Tao protect? Hence, he says it protects the bad. The Tao doesn’t leave people. People leave the Tao.”
Wang Pi says, “Beautiful words can excel the products of the marketplace. Noble deeds can elicit a response a thousand miles away.” Te Ch’ing say, “The Tao is in us all. Though good and bad might differ, our natures are the same. How then, can we abandon anyone?”
Lao Tzu says, “The sage is good at saving / yet he abandons no one / yet the good instruct the bad / the bad learn from the good” (Verse 27).
Verse 63 – Becoming a sanctuary to all you meet
The sage acknowledges and understands that there is nothing that is not in keeping with the Tao. Especially true is that the Tao resides in each of us. Thus, in showing the way the sage is good at saving and directing those around him, while abandoning no one. Since the sage in essence is simply the embodiment of the Tao, abandoning or leaving behind another person could or would never enter his mind.
The sage’s surroundings are illustrative of how he sees his place in the ten thousand things.
As though he is seen creating a sanctuary that reflects his innermost sense of who he is yet to become. Kind and reflective, still yet expansive, he competes with no one and no one competes with him. His strengths and weaknesses have become razor sharp as he uses them to cut through what is perceived to be truth and falsehood. While he remains on the edge pushing others to places they would not otherwise go, he leaves no foothold for those who would follow except by accepting and following the Tao.
When he himself becomes the sanctuary for others to take refuge and follow, finding the comfort only found in the expression of the Tao, he is reminded that he who searches will find it and those who don’t only escape to wait until another day.
Ho-Shang Kung says, “To act without acting, means we only do what is natural. To work without working means to avoid trouble by preparing in advance. To taste without tasting means to taste the meaning of the Tao through meditation.”
Li Hsi-Chai says, “When we act without acting we don’t exhaust ourselves. When we work without working, we don’t trouble others. When we taste without tasting, we don’t waste anything.”
Sung Ch’ang-Hsing says, “To act without acting, to work without working, to taste without tasting is to conform with what is natural and not to impose oneself on others. Though others treat him wrongly, the wrong is theirs and not the sage’s. He responds with the virtue that is in his heart. Utterly empty and detached, he thus moves others to trust in doing nothing.”
Chiao Hung says, “Action involves form and thus includes great and small. It is also tied to number and thus includes many and few. This is where wrongs come from. Only the Tao is beyond form and beyond number. Thus, the sage treats everything the same: great and small, many and few. Why should he respond to them in anger?”
Te-Ching says, “When I entered the mountains to cultivate the Way, at first it was very hard. But once I learned how to use my mind, it became very easy. What the world considers hard, the sage considers easy. What the world considers easy, the sage considers hard.