Archive for November, 2008

The oldest Daoist texts are the esoteric Tao Te Ching and the Chuang Tzu

November 18, 2008

Daoism is China´s only native-born religion. Daoism (Taoism) began, like Confucianism, as a philosophical response to the chaos and bloodshed prevalent in China during the Warring States period (403-221 BC). It later split into several schools, certain of which absorbed elements of folk religion and concentrated on alchemy and other practices it was hoped would lead to immortality. With its emphasis on change and general distrust of authority, Daoism was the antithesis of Confucianism and remained largely on the fringes of Chinese civil society, more at home in  the mountains than in the cities.

The oldest Daoist texts are the esoteric „Dao De Jing“ (or Tao Te Ching, „Classic of the Way and Virtue“) and the „Zhuangzi“, a prose book sometimes compared in ist sly playfulness with the work of Nietzsche. Both deal with the Way (Dao), a broad philosophical concept also mentioned by Confucius but described in a wholly different manner, In the Dao De Ching, ostensibly written by a quasi-mythical figure named Laozi, the Way is more gestured at than defined, as in the famous opening line: „The way that can be spoken of/ Is not the constant way“.

The Zhuangzi elaborates, but doesn´t necessarily illuminate: „Saying is not blowing breath, saying says something; the only trouble ist hat what it says is never fixed. Do we really say something? Or have we never said anything? … Wherever we walk how can the Way be absent?“

The Daoists´dismissal of language, their habit of asking absurd questions, and their frequent self-contradictions are attempts to shake readers free of reason, which is said to obscure an understanding of the Way because it seeks to impose a rigid framework on a universe that is constantly changing.

Despite the Dao De Ching´s remarkable global popularity as a deep source of mystical truth, the book can also be understood as a simple survival manual, its support  for strength-in-supplication designed to help powerless Chinese avoid having their heads cut off at a time when such brutality was not at all uncommon.

There has been a revival of interest in both folk Daoism (particularly in the countryside) and the philosophical side of Daoism in recent years, but this is largely invisible, and visitors who’ve read the Tao of Pooh and Te of Piglet are often disappointed by what they find at the few remaining active temples.