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China Philosophy & Religion (2)


Chinese Philosophies & Religions --- Daoism

The Chinese word tao (pronounced "dao") means a way or a path. Confucians used the term tao to speak of the way human beings ought to behave in society. In other words, tao, for them, was an ethical or moral way. From the point of view of Taoism however, the Confucian concept of tao was too limited. Taoists preferred to understand the tao as the Way of Nature as a whole. They believed that Confucians, by insisting on a purely human Way, exaggerated the importance of man and failed to pay attention to the lessons which Nature has to offer about time and change, gain and loss, the useful and the useless.
The basic idea of the Taoists was to enable people to realize that, since human life is really only a small part of a larger process of nature, the only human actions which ultimately make sense are those which are in accord with the flow of Nature - the Tao or the Way. Their sensitivity to the way of Nature prompted them to reject human ideas or standards which might lead to an overly assertive mode of behavior or too strong a commitment to the achievement of worldly goals. For Taoists, such unnatural assertiveness was the root cause of violence and aggression. While Confucians found moral reasons to counsel against violence and to urge rulers to govern by virtue rather than by force, many Taoists went even further and denounced violence as reflecting the ultimate ignorance of the Way of Nature.

Their solution to the problem of how human beings should behave is expressed in the typically Taoist doctrine of wu-wei or non-action. This did not mean doing absolutely nothing but doing nothing unnatural, nothing that was out of keeping with the Tao. Related to the doctrine of non-action was the idea of no desires, which meant that no one should have excessive desires because such desires are bound to cause injury both to oneself and to others.

As believers in the way of the natural, the Taoists characteristically favored the spontaneous and the simple. One of their favorite images was that of the uncarved block. Suggesting a block of wood that is uncut and uncrafted, the uncarved block is associated with an original simplicity and wholeness which is purely natural. From a Taoist point of view, Confucian concern with civilization, culture and moral cultivation reflected a bias toward artificiality and toward unnecessary and arbitrary distinctions. Since morality came into being only after distinctions began to be made by human beings and among them, it is far inferior to spontaneous conformity to the Tao.

Taoism sought to promote the inner peace of individuals and harmony with their surroundings.

In the Chinese language the word tao (dao) means "way" indicating a way of thought or life. There have been several such ways in China's long history including Confucianism and Buddhism. In about the 6th century BC, under the influence of ideas credited to a man named Lao-tzu, Taoism became "the way". Like Confucianism, it has influenced every aspect of Chinese culture.

Taoism began as a complex system of philosophical thought that could be indulged in by only a few individuals. In later centuries, it emerged, perhaps under the influence of Buddhism, as a communal religion. It later evolved as a popular folk religion.

Philosophical Taoism speaks of a permanent Tao in the way that some Western religions speak of God. The Tao is considered unnamed and unknowable, the essential unifying element of all that is. Everything is basically one despite the appearance of differences. Because all is one, matters of good and evil and of true or false, as well as differing opinions can only arise when people lose sight of the oneness and think that their private beliefs are absolute truth. This can be likened to a person looking out a small window and thinking he sees the whole world when all he sees is one small portion of it. Because all is one, life and death merge into each other as do the seasons of the year. They are not in opposition to one another but are only two aspects of a single reality. The life of the individual comes from the one and goes back into it.

The goal of life for a Taoist is to cultivate a mystical relationship to the Tao. Adherents therefore avoid dispersing their energies through the pursuit of wealth, power, or knowledge. By shunning every earthly distraction, the Taoist is able to concentrate on life itself. The longer the adherent's life, the more saintly the person is presumed to have become. Eventually the hope is to become immortal.


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