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常年法律顧問:李良忠律師

心性之學與性命之學:易。道。玄。禪。儒
作者是 成中英教授   

心性之學與性命之學:易。道。玄。禪。儒。

 

2005-04  

國際道家學術總會 道學部  成中英教授(美國   夏威夷大學)

摘錄:第一屆國際道家學術大會論文集

 

(提要)

  本文旨在綜論中國哲學與中國文化的緣起與主流以及道家在中國哲學與中國文化中的重要與實質地位。 本文強調有關道家重要性的根本三點:

 

1)道傳統與易傳統的密切關聯;

2)道與貴生,養生,保生,厚生,長生,生生轉化或化生的密切關聯。

3)道家與道教的個體化本位與主體化本位。本文還將強調道家的形成的發展階段以說明道家與道教的思想關連以及新道家性命之學的發展。本文探索身心性命與精氣神靈基本範疇的形成,展示心性與性命思考的分野途徑與結合可能,並論述性命之學與心性之學的發展方向。 藉以顯示重視心性之學的後期儒學/ 道學/ 理學/ 心學,甚至禪學, 與超越心性的玄學,重視命理的災異學,重視化學與生理的內外丹學,以及重視性命雙修之新道教(如全真道教)之學等的方法取向上的差異與本體關懷上的聯繫。面對當代生命科學的興起與精神現象學的重獲重視,道家性命之學的未來發展以及如何發展是另一個非常值得重視的課題。 本文將就下列專題加以發揮:

1. 從整體經驗中理解,從整體理解中建立道的本體

2. 孟子性命之辨與其心學與理學之分疏

3. 朱子心學與陽明理學:  心性結構與心性過程

4. 與康得比較:超驗心靈結構的理解與理性功能

5. 科學典範:外在路則學(study of laws)與控制學

6. 易學作為根源動力學: 主體化合本體之動及逆行反本求證

7. 易學開啟道家與道學:外在順應自然與窮理盡性

8. 從自然道家走向丹鼎道家:神農醫學的民間傳統

9. 生理化學與外丹/ 精神化學與內丹:內在創造自然

10.性命與心性的存在新結構: 精。氣。心。神。靈。虛

11.金元全真道的性命雙修之學以求仙化的發展與啟示

12.與儒釋比較:儒的人文與社會性;釋的超脫與出世性

13.道家與道教的現代化發展與未來含義

14.“三教合一“是否仍有時代意義與世界意義?

  

  

  

Dimensions of the Dao and Onto-Ethics In Light of the DDJ

Chung-ying Cheng

University of Hawaii at Manoa

(Abstract)

  In this article I have examined the meaning of the term Dao in Daoism in general and in the DDJ in particular. I argue that to examine the use of language in relation to reality is to take the dao seriously and therefore is the gateway to enter the dao.  But to enter the dao is also to put language aside in order to concentrate on concrete and total aspects of the dao. Without such a concentration in experience one would not be able to use language to approximate to the dao even though there could never be a final and/ or adequate articulation of the dao in language.

 

  One needs to avoid both subjective projection and objective imposition. One needs to open oneself to what has happened in history and what is happening now so vividly and yet so subtly. One could also foresee the future if one allows the creative of the dao to go beyond both historicity and a present field of interests and influences. For this reason we have to speak of the dao as both the unspeakable and the speakable, and understand how each needs the other. In this light the dao is both historical and futuristic, both vertical and horizontal, both transcendent and immanent. It is to be identified with both the ever evolving finite existence of all things and the infinite creativity of the ziran of the dao.  We need to see the dao as denying artificialities of human action as well as to see the dao as the underlying framework for human learning and human achievement in goodness.   Dao therefore is both the unconditioned and the conditioned.

 

  I argue that the ziran notion of the dao in the DDJ is essential and crucial to the understanding of the dao and that it is indeed the nexus of the dao concept. Without looking into the content of ziran as implicitly presupposed in activities of the dao, there is no understanding of such words as self-existing (zizai), natural happening (zisheng), spontaneous (zifa), free action (zixing), and even free going (ziyou). Specifically, ziran in the assertion “The dao follows the ziran” is the source of wuwei of the dao, and there cannot be wuwei without ziran and no doing wuwei (weiwuwei) without wuwei and hence no weiwuwei without ziran. With this understanding, those who argue that wuwei is the essence of Daoism are misled. As a matter fact, we must recognize that ziran is the root of reality and wuwei is a function or a result of a process from this root of reality.

 

  Hence I suggest an interpretation of notion of the ziran in terms of the notion of the benti or root-reality that is the most important Chinese metaphysical concept, a concept that has been ignored by many sinological and philosophical scholars. In this study, I suggest interpreting the concept of ziran as benti which not only marks a beginning of the concept of the benti from the Daoist context, but also makes the concept of ziran better understood. Another implication is that there are many functions of the benti. Hence we may discern and interpret the benti of the dao according to its many functions and this would explain how or why the dao has been used in many ways since the classical times.

 

  Considering the notion of wuwei, I make a distinction between wuwei and weiwuwei. My explanation of the distinction as well as my interpretation of weiwuwei should uncover the fundamental reasons why Laozi makes a point to reject ren, li, yi, zhi, and sheng as perceived in his time.  Weiwuwei is to reach a state which would lead into wuwei by rejecting  empty forms and political domination.

 

  Finally, we introduce the Daoist onto-ethics as a natural development of the onto-cosmology of the dao. We see the onto-ethics of the dao as the most direct and natural embodiment of the dao in the human society that forms a consistent system of the functions of the dao.

 

  I further point out how the Daoist onto-ethics of  lin and ci could be reconciled with a genuine Confucian onto-ethics of human virtues (de). As well known, this is evidenced by the moderate position in Daoism as seen and developed in the 1993 discovered texts of Zhu Bamboo Inscriptions .

 

  I point out how the Huang-Lao thoughts and legalism (in what Feng Yulan called the Qin Fajia) have taken advantage of the Daoist ontocosmology by bifurcating the whole system of ziran and wuwei into two separate and discrete systems. Instead of founding the wuwei on the basis of the benti of ziran, they graft the ideal of wuwei on the legalist system or a power system that is not a system of  the ziran-benti.

  In this sense we should understand how different historical stages of development of the Daoism proceeded and how the first stage started with Laozi’s insight into the profundity of the dao and continued into Zhuangzi who incorpo-rated language in the dao subtly and artistically /aesthetically, and finally moved into the Huang-Lao philosophy and legalism which replace the ziran- benti with political and legalistic systems of power.

  I conclude that there are five aspects of the dao, the onto-cosmological (Laozi 1), the onto-ethical (Laozi 2), the onto-hermeneutical (Zhuangzi), the functional (in daily life) and the methodological (in political governing) as evidenced in periods of historical development of the Dao as seen in various classical texts of Daoism.

 

  The contemporary messages of dao in philosophical and religious Daoism, Daoist onto-ethics and its classical stages of development are numerous and most significant. To say the least, this should warrant more onto-hermeneutical translations of Daoist texts to be made and more onto-hermeneutical studies of the Daoist philosophy to be undertaken. 

  

 

Dimensions of the Dao and Onto-Ethics In Light of the DDJ

Chung-ying Cheng

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Cultural Significances of Daoism in the West

 

  The continuous stream of translations of Laozi in the last 100 years in the West has indicated how Daoism has engaged the interest and imagination of the West. The recent outburst of English translations of the DDJ (Daodejing/ Tao De Ching) is even more remarkable in light of the discovery of the 1973 Mawangdui discovery of De and Dao chapters in two versions and the 1993 Kuodian Bamboo texts of the Laozi. i One might say what interests the mind of the Western  scholars and intellectuals is the notion of the dao and the way it was presented originally in the texts of Daodejing (DDJ).  As  Karl  -Heinz Pohl has convincingly shown that there are both reasons from the West and reasons from Daoism itself which make Daoism so captivating to the Western mind: ii In the first place, the philosophy of the dao is conceived as an opposite to the Western philosophy and religion and thus thought of or even pursued as a possible substitute for the Western religion and philosophy, which provides a different fundamental metaphysics of reality and a style of life as well as an ideal state of mind one can strive for. It is in this light that the general populace has also come to see Daoism as an interesting and attractive challenge to the West culture comparable to the mysticism underlying Western philosophy.  

 

  Since the Daoist philosophy or religion has been a favorite subject for many sinological studies over the last 20 to 30 years in America, one wishes further to look into those specific contents of the Daoist view which are attractive to the Western mind.  The immediate suggestion is that the Daoist vision of life is one of quietude and peacefulness (following Laozi) as well as one of freedom and unencumbered wandering (following Zhuangzi). Both of these forms of life  do not allow oneself to be dominated or imposed on by a supreme power with a goal external to oneself.  Hence the simple idea of oneself becoming truly oneself is most important reason why the Western mind that has succumbed to a culture of an overlooking God and struggled with a vehemently competitive and yet conformist society wishes to seek the dao and cultivate the de. 

 

  One might say that the political freedom and liberal democracy in a society like America could evoke the Daoist vision of peace and freedom in two ways: the liberal society is not yet quite free so that one wishes to go beyond what the society has achieved collectively and so that an individual could realize a higher form of spiritual freedom which is not quite provided by the liberal and equalitarian middle class social morality and conformist religion such as Christianity. iii  Furthermore, the legalist bureaucracy, market-oriented economy, and materialist society have also induced a discipline and control, which suppress the individual mind rather than promote it. Hence the individual is more incensed to seek a freedom and peace of mind which is above and beyond these leveling down factors from  the culture. Hence Daoism finds a natural soil to grow in industrialized West which has its opposite quite different from the opposite of Daoism in Classical China.

Language of the Dao and the Dao beyond Language.

 

  The great insight of Daoism lies in its perception and understanding of the dao in its relation to language or thinking. Language is invented for the purpose of representing things in the world and for communication among people. In order to communicate among people it has to be assumed that language could represent things correctly and could make things stand out in distinctions. But the fact is that language cannot represent the whole in which it is a part, namely a state where language has not yet arisen. It could not express a state where no distinction can be made or should be made. Language must not be made to express or stand for what is not language or non-language, which exists as a background of the language distinction. But there is a paradox or dilemma of language, which consists in that it is because of language that we come to see what is beyond language in both extensional and intentional sense. 

 

  Language, whether in words or in speeches, has reference of extension by limitations and expression of intention by conceptual distinction.  The totality of things must be understood in a continuously self-transcending and self-denying process of using the language. In this sense the ever- transcending language is not found in the things identified or predicated in language but in what is not yet identified and what is not predicated.

 

  Self-transcendence and self-denial are inherent in the description of things, which are distinguished from each other and exclusive of each other. Being a thing is limited by its being identified and predicated in language.

 

  Is language a way to understand things? The answer is inevitably yes. Language externalizes and symbolizes our concepts of things and one way to understand things is to conceptualize them and project them as defined entities.  Hence the way of understanding things is realized in using language to refer to things or to describe their qualities. To speak is to understand. But not always speaking or using language to identify and predicate things means understanding. It may block understanding instead, because there is a larger presupposed reality, which always goes beyond the reference and use of any specific language. In other words, the way of language is not necessarily the way to understand all things, certainly not the ultimate reality of an all-comprehensive comprehension. In other words, the way of language is not capable of expressing the infinite as intended in an ultimate reality. Besides, it is also not capable of expressing the very origin and source of the reality which gives rise to the multitude of things in reality. Hence any specific way of understanding is not necessarily a way of understanding of the ultimate reality as a totality of all things and as a source of all things.

 

  Laozi ‘s use of the word  “dao” to refer to something independently of any finite or definite object or event reflects his efforts to show how there is something beyond our phenomenal world of things. This also reveals his insight that this ultimate reality is presupposed, but not expressed by language in order language may function as a common means of common understanding. What is presupposed in language cannot be expressed by language for the simple reason that there is always presupposition for any regressive use of language to refer to its own presupposition.  Hence Laozi concludes by asserting that the dao, which can be spoken is not the constant dao. Why is the non-spoken dao a constant dao? Because it is always presupposed by any use of language so that language to be possibly spoken. This constant dao is called the dao (the way) because it can be still considered a way and indeed the way in which the ultimate reality would be revealed or disclosed. It is simply not to be identified or predicated in the common way or the way in which a common consciousness or awareness was assumed. This constant dao must be a reference, which can be only internally experienced and focused on in indirect ways, which require subtle observation and careful concentration of mind, not explicitly and easily expressible in language. 

 

  After all, the dao, which is identified as the dao of something, is the dao of everything or nothing. It is a name to be used to identify a reality which is constant in all contexts or for that matter in all possible worlds. The word dao in some sense is used as a rigid designator. Yet it must be also pointed out that it is also at the same time used as a non-rigid non-designator, a term, which refers to anything in the world without, identified with anything. It is both transcendent and immanent. As one can see, as it moves from Laozi to Zhuangzi, it becomes even more immanent than transcendent whereas it is more transcendent than immanent in Laozi.

 

  We must also recognize that the word dao is a metaphor. Like all metaphors it is an insight into how this world is to be constituted.  We know how ordinary things are organized and constituted and how we would deal with them. But when we come to ask whether we know the ultimate reality, one would not know how to answer this question. Ordinarily, we do not know this, but suppose we do come to know, we would have a way and this way is precisely conceived as the constant dao because it would be presupposed by all ways of knowing and understanding. Thus the dao as a metaphor is to see dao as a reality dimly available for our understanding in an independent way, independent of all the other ways. Laozi’s philosophy is to show how we come to see and realize the dao as truly the ultimate reality as well as the way in how we come to see it as the ultimate reality. With this understanding he comes to describe a way of perception, a way of thinking and understanding and eventually a way of acting and living a form of life. In this sense the dao is not to be identified with any known ways of things, and even transcending itself as being named, but in another sense it can be continuously identified and even described abstractly or concretely as that which is incapable of being identified. 

 

  In this manner, Laozi comes to speak of the being (you) as those things which are positively named by language, whereas he speaks of the nonbeing (wu) as that which is negatively named by language, namely that which is not named by any name, and yet by being not named by any name, something can be said to be named which is the absence of being-named. In this sense wu is like the dao standing out against all things in language and is not to be conceived as absolutely nothingness: it is by implication of not being nameable devoid of distinctions and determinations by language. Yet like the dao it is still subject to understanding in specific ways with specific observations and awareness. Obviously, one is not able to see it through any given name, and even we come to realize it, we would not able to describe it in definitive terms but can only use language to focus on its being experienced and perceived. Hence Laozi said that “One needs a mind of emptiness in order to see the subtleties of the dao; one needs a mind of distinctions to see the boundaries of the dao.”  This already suggests an important way of understanding both the dao and the wu, which are to be seen as beyond all nameable things and yet which are also to be approached by observing things with regard to its boundaries (jiao4). This way of “comprehensively observing” (guan) is to see things across things, and to see things above things, under things and beyond things, without however ignoring things altogether (as seemingly to be advocated by Zhuangzi in Yangshengzhu in regard to the Cook Ding).  Laozi further points out that you and wu are  rooted in the same source and assumed two different names. iv

 

  This is not to deny reality of the things but to recognize something which is named the dao and which is the root source for all things and yet seen as beyond all things. This root source is the constant way, which is described by Laozi as the imperceptibly subtle of the subtle (xuan zhi you xuan).  Laozi further claims that “ By being perceptibly subtle and subtle, it is the gate to all wonderful happenings of the world”. v  This way of describing the root source of you and wu suggests a profound creativity of the dao that in a sense is not be fathomed by macroscopic reason nor predicated by common forms of experience. What Laozi has described therefore suggests a creative source and origin of all reality including the world of the dao, which is revealed by seeing the boundaries of things.

 

  Here we must face two seeming contradictions of describing the indescribable dao. The first concerns the meaning and position of the nonbeing as conveyed by the term wu or nonbeing.  The second concerns the transcendence of the dao.  In the first contradiction we see that Laozi holds that you and wu mutually generate each other on the one hand  (DDJ #2) and that all ten thousand things are produced from the you and you is produced from the wu. (DDJ #40).  How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? The answer is that there are two meanings of wu, namely wu as seen in contrast with you which gives rise to our perception of the wu. This is the epistemological and phenomenal wu. On the other hand, as the dao is like wu in being invisible and indiscriminate and unmarked by distinctions, the dao as the wu is the wu ontogenetically and ontologically: It is recognized as the source origin of you (and all the things in you) and the contrast and mutual determination between the you and wu.  Hence there is no contradiction as such. It is obvious then that the dao as the wu or wu as the dao makes it possible not only all things in the world but makes possible the perception of the dao by observing across the boundaries of things toward the observing beyond.

 

  The contradiction on transcendence exists in Laozi’s seeming position of holding the dao as an independent entity, independent of all things and at the same time suggesting the dao as inherent in the nature of things. In #25 of DDJ it is said that  “There is something formed chaotically; it is created before heaven and earth. It is all alone by itself, and standing by itself and without change, but it circulates in motion and without ceaselessness. It can be considered as the mother of all things. “  Laozi  also describes the dao as appearing to exist prior to shangdi (lord on high or God)  (DDJ #4) and as the spirit of the valley as never dying and as the gate of life as well as the root of heaven and earth. It has lasted without break and its function cannot be exhausted (DDJ #6).  On the other hand, this dao has a function-use (yong) in producing the world which is inexhaustible (DDJ # 4). This function goes together with artifacts we make: it is the use found in the emptiness as part of the existence of things such as carts, house vessels and wheels (DDJ #11).  Besides, in producing things in the world, all things will eventually return to their roots which is the dao.

 

  As a matter of fact the very production of things from the dao and return of things to the dao as indicated in DDJ #52,#51,#42,#40 are conceived as forming the  constant features of the dao. Without this the dao would be too abstract as to be recognized. The dao actually is seen not only as an origin but also as a process in which changes in things are to be recognized. But as a process, how could the dao maintain its independence and transcendence of things in the world?  The answer to this question is that the dao is conceived both as the origin of things that is independent and transcendent in the sense of being the first cause of and the sufficient reason for the production of the world and yet as a process of creative development of things in which generation, transformation and ending or return of things are parts of the process. In this sense the dao is also dependent and immanent in what happens in the process. This is to say that the Dao after all is linked to its production as an essential to its own existence. Otherwise how could we conceive or speak of it as the dao or the way? Yet the dao is an inexhaustible source of power and reality for it cannot be exhausted by whatever is produced by the dao, and a power, which sustains the world-process and things in the world for their transformations and activities.

 

  Hence the best way to conceive the  Dao is to consider it as both transcendent and immanent, as both originating and supporting, as both self-fulfilling and others-fulfilling, and to see its transcendence as linked to its immanence and vice versa. In this sense the Dao is true and genuine creativity, which is not limited by its creative performance and results of its creativity, and yet it is not separable from them as they form a part of its own identity and existence. It is before the world and yet continues to produce the world as if it is dependent and or as something to be depended on . This is the origin of the world, which also depends on the world for creative self-definition, self-manifestation and self-sustenance.

 

  One may raise the question on whether this concept of the dao is comparable to God in Christianity.  The answer to this question is that it depends on which notion of God and which theology of God in Christianity one could choose to compare with. In a radical theology of the wholly other, God is so transcendent that it may not interact with the world in any manner. God is truly independent and never change. But one may strongly question this notion of transcendence: it is only transcendence in our thinking for without thinking of transcendence as the wholly other there is no other evidence of its transcendence.  But the paradox is that if God is only to be revealed in our thinking or other forms of experience, God can be said to be dependent on something (namely being thought in a way) in order to make its transcendence evident and yet by being so remains not thoroughly independent at all.  Otherwise, a wholly transcendent God is an unknown variable, which transcends both our speech and our thinking. It is something we cannot speak of and which we do not have any single interpretation for its existence or non-existence. A wholly transcendent God therefore is a  contradiction in terms if it is to make sense at all. 

 

  Perhaps we  can only speak of a profound God, which has two aspects, which are mutually defined, namely transcendence and immanence. This is an insight from Laozi himself when he regards you and wu as mutually conditioned and mutually generative of each other. Zhu Xi shares this insight later when Zhu Xi argued that li (principle) and qi (vital force) are never mixed and yet never separated (buxa buli). In this sense li is both transcendent and immanent with regard to qi. It is immanent in qi and yet it exists as the ultimate origin of qi and self-transcending reality. Similarly, when Whitehead speaks of the two natures of God, we have again the independence and interdependence of eternal ideas (eternal objects) with regard to concrescent actual occasions in the world. vi.

 

  The above analysis has the effect of showing that the dao has to be understood as having many dimensions and that any single dimensional explanation of the dao is simplistic and would not bring out the creativeness of the dao as Laozi or Daodejing conceives it.  There is no single measure of transcendence and immanence. Consequently, we can only speak of degrees of transcendence and immanence from one perspective or the other. For example, since the dao creates heaven and earth, the dao is more distant and transcendent than heaven and earth in relation to the human existence. Yet the dao does find its way in the transformation of things in the world as shown in Zhuangzi, where the dao seems to be closer to the human beings than the heaven which is a framework for activities of human persons.

 

  In the Western philosophy and religion God is often regarded as transcendent and self-sufficient with regard to human beings. But this does not detract from its minimally required dependence on its relation to an evolving and changing world. Perhaps, we can say that in the Western tradition the emphasis is on the transcendent side of the ultimate reality be it be God or the dao, whereas in the tradition of Daoism and Confucianism in Chinese philosophy the emphasis is on the immanent side of the ultimate Dao which manifests in the mind of understanding the Dao in the Daoists as well as in the nature of human beings capable of moral cultivation in Confucianism or Neo-Confucianism. It is not to say that there is no transcendence in Chinese Philosophy or that there is no immanence in the Western philosophy. vii

Holistic Nature of Daoist Concepts.

 

  In this connection we should become aware of the holistic nature of Chinese metaphysical and moral concepts whether in Daoism or in Confucianism / Neo-Confucianism.  A holistic concept is such that the concept is related to all things and situations in the world and hence is applicable to them in some significant way. Because of this relationship the application entails a new aspect of meaning in relation to the things related which, realistically speaking, discloses a new dimension of what the concept stands for.  It is this new dimension of reality as disclosed that gives an aspect of meaning to the term. In other words, a concept or a term cannot be singularly defined but must be understood on various levels and in various aspects of reality which by some assumption form an organic unity. This also implies that all the aspects of meaning and the corresponding dimensions of experiences or reality should potentially form an organic whole. Since the term may not actually and explicitly apply to a situation, there are many dormant or virtual meaning-disclosure ( in terms of other concepts) which are not realized and experienced. The best we can do is to hold the concept as open to interpretation in light of new experiences and to make out the best interpretation of the concept in terms of an organic unity by integrating all known aspects of meaning and the corresponding dimensions of reality. It is in this sense that the holistic concept is an open concept, a contextual concept and a creative concept. It is in this sense that a holistic concept is a metaphor with known basic meanings determined relative to a given object and situation, but not to other unknown situations or objects. The usefulness of a metaphor lies in that it opens up a new aspect of meaning and a new dimension of reality in a new context by way of extension or imposition of a new perspective or paradigm. viii

 

  To summarize, a holistic concept is a concept that satisfies the following conditions:

1) It does not “rigidly designate” ix. It does not designate the same thing in all possible worlds.  The difference of different worlds makes a difference to the meaning and reference of the concept.

2) It may not designate at all. This depends on whether a core set of applications can be established. In the case of the dao, it is the Daodejing, which has specified how the dao act as an originator and as a sustainer without dominating and possessiveness.

3) Its application is open to new situation and new object and will lead to an emergence of a new aspect of meaning and a disclosure of a new dimension of reality and hence lends itself to new interpretation. In this sense the concept embodies a creativity that one can witness in reality.

4) The new interpretation of the concept needs to be integrated with the known meanings but it may also override the known interpretation and thus subsumes or outdates the known interpretation in becoming a new paradigm.

 

5) All the aspects of meaning and all the dimensions of reality should lead to a consistent understanding of a whole reality and forms a basic outlook of the world based on these aspects and dimensions.

 

  It is clear that the concept of the dao in the DDJ is such a well-established holistic concept, because the Dao is to be seen as both transcendent and immanent and has many other qualities that are specified in the texts of the DDJ. The text should allow an open interpretation, which should reflect a basic understanding and discoveries of new meanings in new experiences of the world as comprehensively as possible. This principle of comprehensive integration x is the underlying principle of methodology underlying the formation of the concept of the dao in the DDJ, which leads to the establishment of the Philosophical Daoism.   We see further that in later development in Zhuangzi the core meaning of the dao has expanded and recognized in favor of individual experiences of individual things and particular life forms and thus make the dao more phenomenal than ontological, more immanent than transcendent, even though there are still a large area of overlapping of conditions and meanings of the dao between Laozi and Zhuangzi. We could also say this in regard to the later development of the Daoism in Han Fei, Lushi Chunjiu and Huangnanzi. 

 

  It is interesting to note that as the reality as a whole is a creative process with differentiation and integration, the meaning of a term which is intended for designating such a  whole would in time gradually come to acquire a meaning which is meaningful in relation to such a creative process. The concept of dao in terms of yin /yang and diversity of individuation should reflect this underlying onto-cosmological process. This implies that the pervading experience of reality as dao-process-reality links the onto-cosmological vision of the Yi in Yizhuan with the Dao in the DDJ in an overlapping cosmic awareness or consciousness. This fact deepens our understanding of a deeper experience of the cosmic world by the human person (mind, heart, spirit and body) from a common source in Chinese philosophy.  xi  My observation on the concept of the dao as a core concept with openness toward new interpretation in light of new experiences of the world should reflect the sharing of a common or analogous onto-cosmology between the Daoists and Confucian philoso-phers. They differentiate in terms of what is being considered more emphatic and more significant in light of what we hope to do and should do as a result of a value-  and goal- orientation of life.  

 

  By the same token we can claim the holistic nature of all major concepts in Laozi’s text or for that matter all major concepts and terms in Daoism. Typically, we can mention the concepts of virtue (de), oneness (yi), function (yong), knowledge (zhi), naturalness (ziran), non-action (wuwei), being (you), nonbeing (wu) and language (yan) and name (ming).  We may also see that the principle of holistic meaning does not only hold in major concepts of Daoism, but also holds in major concepts in Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism or even Chinese Buddhism. For Confucianism, concepts of ren, yi, li, zhi, xin, xing, tian, ming, dao, shan and mei are no doubt holistic and form a holistic organic unity. For Neo-Confucianism, we have the primary concepts such as li and qi, xin, yu, qing and xing, taiji, taihe, taixu,  gewu, zhiliangzhi, benti  etc.as undoubtedly marked by their holistic nature.

Naturalness (Ziran) and Benti (Root-Reality) Concept of the Dao.

 

  One important consequence of such a way of understanding the dao is the formation and development of the notion of ziran as the benti or root-reality of the dao. xii  This development is most important for understanding the philosophy of the dao or the philosophical Daoism. It is equally important for removing much misunderstanding of Daoism in regard to its doctrine of non-action (wuwei) in many current studies and translations of the DDJ. xiii The essential question is how wuwei, a key concept of the application of the Daoism, is understood and whether it can be understood independent of the more basic concept of ziran.  In the first place we need to point out that ziran and wuwei are not two concepts on the same level nor are they related as goal and method for achieving the goal. 

 

  To the appearance on the contrary, ziran pertains not only to the way how the dao moves, but exhibits and leads to the an fundamental conception of the dao as having an origin and basic structure as a substance-process, whereas wuwei refers to action and function of the dao as ziran which can be achieved by ziran as a base but which may be derived as a result of building a system out of our intelligence which obviously need not to be identified with the dao as ziran. In other words, ziran is an onto-cosmological system with its internal tendencies and propensities through creative activities of the dao in the formation of the universe in terms of heaven, earth and the ten thousand things, whereas wuwei is a result from following or flowing from the ziran on the level of onto-cosmology of the dao as the ziran.

 

  We may indeed speak of the ziran of the dao as the root (ben) and the substance (ti) or even better the benti (root-substance or root-reality) of the dao from which all actions or functions are manifestations of the natural, the spontaneous and the effortless. But wuwei, which is the function of the ziran, is not separable from ziran, and can be learned and even imitated by the human intelligence if one is able to master a system of internal or external rules and constraints of a constitutive or regulative setup and organization. By introducing the notions of origin (ben), body (ti) and function (yong) we are able to see how ziran and wuwei are related and how the notion of ziran is crucial for understanding wuwei accurately without falling into the so-called paradox of wuwei and wei wuwei.

 

  For understanding Laozi’s notion of ziran as root-reality, we may first go over all the passages in the DDJ which speak of the ziran. These are only five such passages, which I shall quote and translate in English from original Chinese in the simple and direct form:

#17: “Relax and cautious in speech.  Deeds done and events smooth, people all say: “I act of my own accord” (wo ziran).

#23:  “Speak seldom and things will order of their own.” (xiyan ziran)

#25:  “People follow earth, earth follow heaven, heaven follows the dao, the dao follows of-its-own-accord.”  (dao fa ziran)

#51:  “Why the dao is respected and the de valued, it is due to their not commanding and allowing things to always function of their own accord. “ (mozhi ming er chang ziran)

#64:  “Therefore, the sage desires not to desire, does not value goods which are hard to get; learn not to learn, returns what people has lost from faults, so that he may support what comes from ten thousand things of their own accord without daring to force his own action.” (yi fu wanwuzhi ziran er bugan wei).

 

  It is to be noticed that the term “ziran” literally means “thus-from-one-own” or “thus-of-one’s accord” can be used as both an adjective and as a noun. The point of this term is that there is something from which a process may come and actions may happen which are different from what comes from an external source. It presupposes the natural individuation of things which have their own capacities or tendencies which can be released and take place under certain conditions. Whether these conditions are naturally given or evolved or imposed does make a difference to our notion of ziran, for under abnormal or usual circumstances an event takes place from a situation or an entity naturally or necessarily cannot be said to be natural because there are overt external forces. Thus in the case of the storm, a tree being struck down by a lightening bolt is both natural and unnatural, for the tree would not normally fall down. In most of the times, in light of a course of nature, trees of a general kind would last for a long time without unusual events such as lightening or three cutting. Hence what is natural is what is used to be or what is normally and generally seen as a pattern of a course of events. If it is regular pattern of the nature, which should normally and generally apply to all things under normal circumstances. Hence the ziran is used to describe certain regular pattern of action and eventuating in things.

 

  In this sense ziran refers to both the phenomenon of  natural happening of a thing and the inherent ability and capacity of a thing which sustains such a phenomenon. It is therefore both a disposition and a course which exhibit this underlying disposition of a thing. This idea of ziran applies well to both things individuated in nature and human beings whose life and action are always a concern for problems of good and bad, fortune and misfortune, harm and benefit. In short, ziran refers to a course of action which is rooted in the disposition to produce that course of action and hence the disposition inherent in an individuated entity against a background of and in the context of an onto-cosmology of change and transfor-mation.  In this notion of the ziran, we may even introduce the common term “xing” (nature) being used in the Confucian tradition at the time. Xing is a disposition of the mind to act or to express itself in a certain way. It was originally used interchangeably with the term sheng (give birth / live/ life). Here sheng or life is understood as individuated life species or individuals, which are different, according to what capacities they have.

 

  These capacities are individually dispositions to act or respond to situations and can form an established set of dispositions, which belong to that species, or that individual. It is in this sense the term xing was introduced to indicate this pre-formed disposition of a species and individual. But they are not projected as prior / innate eternal and unchanging forms instilled from a transcendent source. In other words, they are not conceived as essences, but as empirically given propensities toward action. In this sense ziran as disposition could be considered as the same thing as the xing. xiv  If we substitute the phrase “of my (its, their) own accord” for “from my (its, their) own disposition (or my nature)”, the above quotations would become even more clear as to what ziran would stand for. In this way we are to see how the notion of ziran has to do with a lot of what a thing is or will become or has become in a holistic context of being and becoming. From this analysis the ziran is not something arbitrary, but something given or created and evolved from the dao. In this sense ziran as naturalness is simply something flowing from one’s disposition: it could be ordinary as expected under normal circumstances. But it can be also extra-ordinary or unusual under abnormal circumstances. In both cases the response from one’s disposition is natural as natural can be. Hence being natural still can be objectively understood as a usual or unusual action.

 

  Of course Laozi does not wish to introduce conditions, which would produce or elicit unusual responses from one’s disposition and he would call those responses unnatural because they are contrived.  In this sense Laozi would share with Xunzi the same view that  the virtues of ren, yi, li, zhi,and xin or sheng in Confucianism are artificial and contrived, and are based on teachings from outside. But Laozi would differ greatly from Xunzi in that he rejected the learned virtues and li’s as against the dao as the ziran, whereas Xunzi would accept those artificial teachings as most desirable from a social control point of view.

 

  As a final remark, we may indeed identify the disposition of the dao as the innate power or virtue (de) of the dao.  Hence to follow ziran is to act from the innate power or virtue of the dao.  It is interesting to note that in the DDJ even though the word de has been very much used, its meaning remains basically uncertain. The principal meaning of the term however derives from the common use of the term in all classical texts of the time which suggests an ability, an capacity, and a power in a thing which could produce a good (shan) and beneficial (li) expected result, good and beneficial according to a common standard.  To strengthen life, to bring well being and peace or harmony to the community, and to be able to continue creativity, are what we would regard as good and beneficial. That being good and being beneficial are such common standard is clear from the application of the dao to society and government apart from applying to the individual. What is good to an individual need not be what is good to a society and a government.

 

  For Confucianism what is good for an individual must also be good for a society and government. For Daoism it is also remarkably evident that what is good to an individual from the point of the view of the dao can be also applied to society and government for achieving a desirable peace and harmony and for avoiding great harm, even though it is equally true that the individual Daoist need not involve any societal and governmental activities. To raise the question on what is a good society and the question on what is a good government will bring home the meaning of de or virtue-power as a power of producing goodness and benefits on those levels. Another point is that this de must be consistent with the nature of the dao and in fact must be derived from understanding the dao and awakening the latent  power  in an individual. Hence we might say that the de is what one learns from the dao as well as what comes from one’s imitation of the dao. It comes as an embodiment of the dao for application to specific occasions and situations in life, society and government. Hence it is said that “the operation of the great virtue follows the leadership of the dao.” (DDJ #21)  

 

  What are the natural dispositions of the dao conceived as an independent and yet non-separable origin-source for the world?  From Laozi’s own observation based on a vision of the  you / wu polarity, the dao is found to have revealed to have the following characteristics or dispositions:

 

#34: “The great dao flows pervasively and it reaches from left to right. All things depend on it for life and it will not decline any support for them. When it succeeds in doing its work, it does not claim possession. It clothes and nourishes all things without being their master; being free of desire, it rests being named small. But in light of fact that all things return to it, it can be named great. But finally it does not regard itself as great, therefore it achieves its greatness.

#37  “The Dao is used to do nothing and yet nothing is let undone.”

#40  “Reversion is the movement of the dao. Weakness is the function of the dao.”

 

#42:  “The dao generate one, one generates two, the two generates three, the three generates the ten thousand things. The ten thousand things bear the yin and hold the yang, which mutually excite each other to produce new forms of harmony. “

51#  “The dao procreates, and the virtue nourishes, things form and the situation completes. Therefore there is nothing, which does appreciate the dao and value the de. Dao is appreciated and de is valued, all because of their not controlling things and letting things functioning of their own accord. Hence the dao procreates, the de nourishes, makes grow and cherishes, completes and sustains, covers and  protects. It creates with possessing, supports without claiming, makes growing without mastering , this is called profound virtue (xuande). “

 

  All these and other unquoted passages have suggested the natural dispositions the dao is expected or defined to have: the dao is creative and non-possessive. It gives rise to a world of rich diversity and yet it preserves its comprehensive harmony.  They define the content of the de, which the dao has, and give meaning to what is natural in the dao. There  may be other virtues of the dao. But these virtues form the core of the virtues of the dao. Any action from this core virtue is natural to the Dao. We can see thus that these virtues form a base or a substantial body of the dao by which the dao can be identified. Hence we come to have a notion of the ziran as the root reality (benti) of the dao, which consists of its ceaseless creativity, immanent creativity, and non-possessive creativity, all in one.

 

  To say that the ziran of the dao forms the benti of the dao is to say that “ziran” is a substantive concept which both refers to the dao as the creative origin of all things and  refers to the natural universe of heaven and earth as the ti or body of the dao.  We have to integrate the two lines of thought of Laozi to get this sense of the ziran:  One line is that the dao generates oneness and oneness generates two and two generates three and three generates ten thousand things. This line of thought suggests an ontogenetic unity or oneness of the dao, which comprehends creativity of the yin and the yang or the heaven and earth, which are the two. On the basis of the two the creative way of generating all the things in the world including the human person is provided which is the three. Hence it is said that the three generates all things including the human person.

 

  It is significant to note that the dao has then a primordial internal structure for generating all things, which we may refer as the structure of creativity which is demonstrated in the one differentially creating the two and the two integratively creating the three apart from the two. This structure of creativity is essential to the dao as it originates with the dao. In my interpretation this is precisely what later Chinese philosophers have refers to as the benti or original substance that is composed from ben-ti or origin-substance. The benti is the original power and basis for developing the whole universe and hence constitutes the fundamental onto-cosmology of the world.  In a sense the onto- of the onto-cosmology is the ben and the -cosmology of the onto-cosmology is the ti. But they form a unity which is the dao and which corresponds to the well-integrated concept of the benti.

 

  The second line of thought in Laozi is found in the proposition speaking of the human person following the earth, the earth following the heaven, the heaven following the dao, and the dao following the ziran. To follow (fa) is to model after, because the dao is the original model or exhibits the original model. But then what is the original model or the example one may follow and emulate? It is the ziran or the nature of the dao which I  have interpreted as the structure of creativity in the above. One can see that the ziran of the dao or the dao as ziran again contains three parts: the dao which can be identified with the one of the above, the heaven and earth can be identified with the two of the above, and finally the human which can be identified with the three of the above.  From this we can see how the structure of creativity is conceived by Laozi and how the ziran of the dao can be easily and smoothly interpreted as the structure of creativity which is then the nature of the dao or the benti of the dao.  In this manner these two lines of thought reinforce each other and together implicitly define the most important metaphysical concept in Chinese philosophy from the time of Neo-Daoism in the third century C.E. The model of this benti and its root meaning can be said to be clearly derived from Laozi in terms of these two lines of thought.  

 

  With this model of the ziran of the dao, we are able to draw the consequence of the ziran: any action following from the nature of the dao is ziran and anything deviating or opposing the true nature of the dao is unnatural or puziran.  What is natural or follows from the ziran of the dao is from the dao itself without any mediation and hence is spontaneous. What makes this possible is the creativity of the dao. Hence what follows from ziran shows the internal or immanent creativity of the dao. It is genuine, creative and directly showing or manifesting and it is in terms of these qualities we can say it is spontaneous and free in the sense of self-transformation, self-presentation and self-settlement. If we wish to say of anything that its action is natural or non-natural, it would be equally appropriate to say that what follows from the nature of a thing is natural and what does not follows from the nature of  a thing is not natural or unnatural. 

Wuwei and Weiwuwi as Following the Ziran-Benti.

 

  With this newly understood notion of the ziran, we are now in a better position to understand what Laozi has in mind when he speaks of the dao as doing nothing or as refraining doing something in order to do nothing. This concept of wuwei (non-action) is most important in Laozi as it is quoted as representing the wisdom of Laozi. But, however, like many important concepts it is often misunderstood. It is often understood that non-action is to do nothing at all. But then it is not clear that how non-action would bring out the result of leaving nothing undone. There is also the question on what it means to say that nothing is left undone. It is obvious that without referring to some previous understanding of the dao as ziran and of ziran as structure of creativity that we will not see how doing nothing would mean doing nothing to prevent the natural flowing of creativity of the dao. To do nothing will ensure that the natural flowing of creativity of the dao and this is to say that one should let the dao has its ziran so that the dao will follow ziran in the sense of the above.

 

  To do nothing therefore is to let the dao be the dao and with my interpretation of dao as having ziran as its nature (ziran is the nature or virtue of the dao) we see that this means that doing nothing is to let the nature of the dao runs its course of creative fulfillment in which the two will be generated from oneness and the three will be generated from the two. This is no doubt the implication that the results of the wuwei will lead to a state of creative harmony that is described by Laozi as “the harmonizing from interactive blending of the yin and yang” (chong qi yiwei he).

 

  But we have also to consider how non-action need to be taken as an action in the command “do non-action” (wei wuwei). Is this a contradiction like “trying not to try” as suggested by Edward Slingerland? xv  Slingerland has tried hard to resolve this paradox without clarifying why Laozi has to say this and how this is different from "do nothing”  (wuwei).  Without this clarification he is led to translate “wuwei” as “effortless action”.  But “wuwei” is simply “do no action” or “not do any action”. The point of wuwei in this sense is simply to let nature or ziran of the dao takes its own course and there is no subject to claim action and hence there is no action, whether effortless or effortful. This is obviously different from the case where doing non-action (wei wuwei) does involve a subject which shoulders an action to achieve non-action, and the action which involves adjustment of one’s action and attitude. In the same spirit, when Roger Ames and David Hall translate “wuwei” as “no coercive action”, we can see that in a sense wuwei is no coercive action. xvi But it is not necessarily so. No action could be done by a counteraction against an action that is countering the dao. Besides, no coercive action needs not be the same thing as non-action. Because one may still succumb to a system of coercions or dominations without knowing that one is not doing no action. In other words, the whole point of wuwei is to recover and retrieve the natural flow of the dao creativity and the effort to recover and to retrieve may not be characterized as simply involving no coercive action.

 

  To make our point clear, we may simply say that to understand wuwei one needs to understand ziran of the dao and there is no full understanding of the wuwei without a deep understanding of ziran of the dao. But one would not understand the ziran of the dao without understanding the structure of creativity or the onto-cosmological benti in / of the dao which we have discussed in the above. To have non-action is to be made possible to follow ziran and to follow ziran is to let  the creativity of the dao take its own course without any considerations of instrumental rationality.   With this understanding we are also able to distinguish between the non-action which is subjectless in having the dao as its subject and the non-action which is to be achieved with efforts made by a human subject to remove the obstacles or diversions covering up the dao so that the dao can flow naturally (from its ziran).  Our understanding of wuwei would seem more sophisticated than having been ever given and more consistent and relevant for understanding Laozi’s philosophy of the dao as presented in the text of DDJ.

 

  I shall first list all the passages in the DDJ in which the notion of wuwei is mentioned and presented.  One can see from these texts how a deeper view of wuwei would emerge in connection with the notion of the ziran that forms a coherent unity of the dao. The deeper view would further produce a justification of the development of the dao-based ethics (which I call “onto-ethics” of the dao) inherent in the philosophy of the dao as ziran. It further leads to an inevitable development of the onto-politics as an application of the dao ethics of the wuwei and wei wuwei.

 

  #2  “…thus the sage settles on doing nothing (wuwei), and act on teachings of no words (wuyan). The myriad things arise without promotion, are generated without being possessed, helped without dominated, made to succeed without being claimed. Because of no claiming, the merits will not vanish.”

 

#3  “…thus the sage in governing the people empties their minds and fills their stomachs, weakens their wills and strengthen their bones. He will always make the people knowledge-free and desireless, so that the wily will not dare to do anything for his own purpose. Hence to do no action (wei wuwei) will lead to nothing not well governed (wu buzhi).”

 

  #10  “To enable your spirit to embrace oneness, can you maintain non- separation? To concentrate your spirits to reach softness, can you act like a baby child? Cleaning your mind so that you could see deeply, can you be free of dust?  To love people and govern a state, can you appeal to no action (neng wuwei hu)? As your senses are open and close to things, can you remain quiet like a female? To understand  things clearly, can you be without a knowing mind?

 

#37  “The dao constantly does nothing (changwuwei) and yet nothing remains undone (wubuwei).  If dukes and kings can abide by this, all things will be ordered by self-transformation (zhihua).   When desire arises from such a process of  transformation, I shall control it with the nameless wood block. Using the nameless wood block to control it, the desire will then be extinguished. When there is no arising of the desire, the world  will remain in stillness and then settled in peace by itself (zhiding).”

 

#38  “The supreme virtue does not keep virtue, and therefore has virtue; Lower virtue does not lose virtue, therefore it has no virtue.  The supreme virtue does nothing (wuwei) and has nothing to act on (wuyiwei).  [The lower virtue does things and has intention to do things.  The supreme love does things and has something to act on (youyiwei). The supreme righteousness does things and has nothing to act on. The supreme li does things and get no responses (mozhiying). Then it will extend its arms to force others to conform.. Hence when the Way was lost there was virtue; when the virtue was lost there is love; when love was lost there is righteousness; when righteousness was lost there is li. The li being the thinnest of the loyalty and trust, it is the head of disorder.

 

#43,  “The softest in the world runs over the hardest in the world , the non action (or the non-being) penetrates where there are no leaks. Thus I come to know the benefits of the non-action (wuwei).  People in the world seldom succeeds in following the teaching of no words and attaining the benefits of non action.”                

                                                        

 #47  “Thus the sage knows without travelling, sees things in clarity without seeing, attain success without doing things (bu wei).”

#48  “In learning one’s knowledge increases daily, in cultivating the dao faults decreases daily. Decreasing and decreasing, until it reaches non-action (wuwei).   Do nothing and nothing remains undone. To govern the world, one must not act on one’s own projects; once there occur many things, there is no way to govern the world. ”

 

#57 “Thus the sage says: ‘If I do nothing (wuwei), the people will naturally transform themselves (zhihua); if I value stillness, the people will right themselves (zhizheng). If I has nothing to take to task, the people will naturally become rich by themselves (zhifu); if I do not harbor desires, the people will have a simple style of life (zhipu).“

#63 “ To take no-action as action (wei wuwei), to take absence of things as presence of things (shi wushi), to take no taste as taste (wei wuwei).”

#64 “Thus, the sage desires not to desire (yubuyu), so that he would not value the goods hard to get; learns not to learn (xuebuxue), so that he would redress the wrongs, and could aid (fu) the ziran of all the things and will dare not to do more (pu ganwei).“

 

  #75 “The one who does things will suffer defeat, the one who lays claims will lose. Thus the sage does nothing (wuwei) and he will have no defeat, claims nothing (wuzhi) and he will not lose. …. When it is hard to govern people well, it is because of the ruling party having too much to act on (youwei), therefore it is hard to govern. “

 

  From a close scrutiny of the above texts, we can make the following observations on the nature of wuwei as portion of the philosophy of the dao and the ziran.

 

1. Puwei: We must first distinguish between the use of the term ”wuwei” and the use of the term “puwei”. It is clear that the term “wuwei” which indicates making no action possible is used as a compound verb which has a unique meaning in subtle difference from the verb “puwei” which negates the action of wei. It seems clear that wuwei is directed to maintaining or achieving a state which is not conveyed by negation of a single action which is puwei. It may carry a subtle political attitude as it pertains more or less to problem of government. Hence the question “Can you be or do wuwei?” suggests a general ability to avoid any action which will jeopardize harmony and peace of the people.

 

2. Wuwei: The notion of wuwei is originally applied to the dao and the primary model seems to suggest that the dao is always in the state of wuwei and as a consequence this state of the dao leads to the creative activities and production of all things. This is how the dao is said to be wuwei. (dao wuwei).  I have described this state as ziran with its structure of creativity. In this sense wuwei is simply to let go its natural impulses of creativity that leads to the evolution of all things. But it may have to do something significant to order to remove the deficiencies or excesses.  Then we can see “wei wuwei” as a vivid description of how a subject mind may assert itself in contrast with  the will-less natural flow of  the dao. We may simply say that in this sense wuwei is a type of wei, a way to move another way. As wuwei has no subject in asserting his own de.

 

  We can see that in the wuwei concept there is an intended critique of the practice of li (rituals) and other virtues of Confucianism.  xvii  In a narrow sense the wei is intended to refer to the practice of li and virtues as empty and artificial efforts and actions toward achieving an obsolete ideal of peaceful and harmonious state. In a broad sense the wei would stand for any cumbersome cultural and institutional practice which divert from the great Way of the nature and humanity which consists in simplicity, naturalness and purity with its own rhythm of ups and downs, forwards and backwards.

 

  More explicitly wuwei is argued for as a way of governing people. It is intended to avoid promoting the desires and knowledge of the people so that they will not create the commotion of competing for enjoyment of life and domination of power.

 

  It is to do nothing that will lead to the multiplication of laws and activities for profit making. This no doubt reflect an ideal of lyrical life in the pastoral past where people will not concentrate in urban centers and inventions are produced for competition in the market and skills are not needed as tools of seeking power. Hence wuwei can be first interpreted as a policy of political conservationism and a conscientious effort to contain disorderly activities of people in light of Laozi’s DDJ #2 and #3. xviii

 

  In the DDJ #38 Laozi states a hierarchy of supreme virtue (shangde), lower virtue (xiade), supreme love (shangren) and supreme righteousness (shangyi) and supreme propriety (shangli) as a scale for judging the desirability of the state of the world and government. This desirability is determined by how much a practice of individual and government is diverted from the dao. It is clear that shangde embodies the dao and therefore there is no need to speak of the moral virtue: it has all the virtues and can respond to all situations without hamper and harm. Hence it has nothing specific to do and no specific purpose to achieve. On the other hand, the lower virtue must consist of the virtues of ren, yi and li each of which may have two grades, the supreme and the lower. But in general, even though they may claim to represent a virtue, they do not have the true virtue of the dao because they are already deviated from the dao.

 

  Among them, ren does something and yet has no specific purpose to serve. This may not be always true, but then this depends on what one means by “ren”. As a feeling of care for people and as a self-cultivated state of self-overcoming it is harmless, and yet once it is practiced in terms of following the li, it can degenerate into the worst kind of domination and hypocrisy in the critical eyes of Laozi. For it is in the practice of li at the time of Confucius that li  has lost its substance and relevance and degenerate into empty forms or just instrument for covering-up and domination. Hence it is insightful of Laozi to point out that doing li is doing something which will receive no response from people and the powerful have to force it on people against their will. Therefore li becomes a symbol of hypocrisy and domination.

 

  This Daoist criticism will be answered later by Xunzi when Xunzi wants to root li in the understanding of human nature and the nature of government and society in a systematic framework of human understanding and human reason. In between ren and li, there is the concern for yi the best of which is described as doing something and has a purpose to serve. Laozi perhaps is not denying the relevance and usefulness of yi. But it is also obvious that it cannot achieve the effect of putting the whole world (or the whole society) in peace and order. It is merely to treat the world piecemeal and redress the wrongs in incomplete rectificatory justice at best. Hence its desirability in the eyes of the dao is even less than more generally directed ren but better than the rigid forms of the li.

 

3. Wei Wuwei:  From the above we see that all the virtues are involvement of the wei, either from the individual or from the government or community, and as such are deviations from the dao. Even though they manifest themselves as positive assertions and requirements of the Good, they are actually revelations or symptoms of the ills and ailments of human depravity and a lost human sanguineness. Hence the advocacy of ren yi means the abolishment of the dao, the claim of wisdom and intelligence hides great self-deception; the promotion of filial piety and parental kindness is a sign of lack of harmony among members of a family. To stress loyalty of a minister merely highlights the chaos and instability of a governing body. (see DDJ #18)

 

  Perhaps to govern oneself, just like to govern a state, one has to appeal to the art of  control and pragmatic convenience at the expense of one’s sanguineness due to loss of insight into the dao. Hence any public policy or personal discipline no matter how ingenuous and well intentioned, inevitably carries with it a bad faith and an illusion due to ignorance. To return to the state of the dao therefore requires first of all getting rid of these false covering-ups and expedient methods of redress. This means to do something to remove the wei (which is also wei in the sense of artificiality for Laozi). xix

 

  To achieve such a state of doing no wei of course needs another kind of wei, which is rooted in the dao and which must be awakened in the individual from understanding the constant and the invisible of things and hence the understanding of the changes and their reversions and returns of things in the world and universe. This wei is the wei belonging to the ziran of the dao which is vested in a subject individual who becomes aware of the dao in dealing with the artificiality of virtues and claims of popular knowledge as advocated by the Confucian School of the time. It is in this sense we can speak of the wei wuwei in the Daoist sense with a subject and  yet without any contradiction. It is also in this sense that Laozi can speak of doing the dao by diminishing the artificiality until one reaches the state of non-action which is the state of ziran and a complete return to the dao.

 

4. Zhihua:  When the artificiality of knowledge, culture and virtue are removed, the power of the dao will naturally assert itself. This is how when the wuwei state is achieved after removal of artificiality and cover-up, people will have their natural creativity restored and start to function as their true selves. This is also called to return to the state of simplicity (zhi, pu)  which we may also regard as creative in nature. It is oftentimes conceived a state of rest and primitiveness, but in virtue of its creativity, it is actually a state of self-transformation (zhihua), self-enrichment (self-fu), self-rectification (zhi-zheng)  and self-simplification (zhipu). It  is only in regarding the state of simplicity as creative, these self-acting forms and processes of life can be understood and explained.

 

4. Yubuyu: In speaking of wei wuwei, there is no paradox of the sort of “trying to not to try” either. For the first wei is to do with wei under Daoist vision of an enlightened individual and the second wei is to do with undesirable action or deviation under Confucian or popular vision.  Besides, the term  “wuwei” is here used as a noun indicating the state of a returned ziran of the dao or the returning of the world to the ziran of the dao.  In this state of returning or return one will see the natural flow of the creativity of the dao in which ills and problems will dissolve by themselves. This is how Laozi could speak of the “benefits of the wuwei” (wuwei zhi yi).

 

  In the same spirit not only we can speak of doing not to do (wei wuwei), we can also speak of  desiring not to desiring (yubuyu), and learning not to learn (xuebuxue) as Laozi does in the #64 of DDJ.  Here we notice that Laozi uses the form “puyu” instead of “wuyu” and the form “puxue” instead of “wuxue”. As I have indicated above, the difference between wuwei and puwei is that the former is conceived a general state of being of the dao and a desirable end for restoring the dao whereas the latter states not doing any specific thing. If we take this distinction to heart, we may say that for puyu and puxue each refers to some specific thing that a person may not wish or will to desire or learn, but that one may desire or learn to make it obtain.  This is not to say that one may not have no desires nor that one may not have any learning.

 

  The words that indicate mental capacities and attitudes may be understood on two levels, the deeper level of things and the level of the dao.  But most of time, we desire and learn things on the surface and see and do things for short-term purpose. We lack vision of the totality and insight into crisises in dangers of changes and circumstances. If we have this vision and insight, we are then able to have wisdom to make amends and do corrections in a timely way. Hence we should preserve our vision and insight if we have them or learn or desire to learn the vision and insight by looking at the world around us and at how things generally move and change. Laozi suggests we should know the constant (zhi chang) and also look into the imperceptive (zhi xiao). It is because the truth of reality can be seen from the inconstant and the perceptive by experience.  One can see the constant as the backdrop of the changing and the imperceptive as the basis for the perceptive.

 

  One can further see how the strong becomes the weak and how weak becomes the strong, the yin becomes the yang and the yang becomes the yin and how both interact to generate further changes. All these would contribute to our visions and insights and lead us to have deeper knowledge of a deeper reality that the ziran of the dao or the dao as the origin-substance (benti) of all things embodies.  Once we learn this, we are then in a position to bring out the natural and spontaneous in the Dao or from ourselves which is part of the Dao. This is what Laozi calls “to aid the ziran of the ten thousand things and would not dare to do things which are superficial and unessential.” 

Goodness (Shan) and Onto-ethics of the Dao.

 

  Given the philosophy of the dao  and the de in the DDJ as I have expounded, we can raise the question on how the compound Chinese term “daode” comes to be used as equivalent to the English word “morality”. It is interesting to note that despite the humble origin of the term morality (it derives from the Latin term moralis, meaning mores and customs), it has acquired a profound philosophical significance from Kant’s work on practical reason. On the other hand, dao and de are both ontologically and cosmologically rooted in Chinese Philosophy and when combined become the common term referring to the moral practice and principles of a person or a people. For the Chinese term daode, it is clear that de is rooted in the dao and hence any consideration of virtues (de) must rooted in the nature and activities of the dao.  In this sense we may speak of an ethics which is ontological.  I use the term ethics as referring to the ways in which a person may treat other persons as based on some principles of morality.  If the principles of morality are the dao and the de, then the ethics based on the dao and the de must be appropriately described as ontological.  Such an ethics we shall simply describe as onto-ethics.

 

  It might be suggested that all types of ethics are ontological, as all types of ethics are based on certain considerations of the reality of the human person and the human community. If so, why do we single out the onto-ethics of the dao and the de as onto-ethics?  The answer to this is that there is no ethics apart from the Daoist ethics that is directly and explicitly related and founded on an onto-cosmology of reality, the onto-cosmology of the dao.  If we take the virtue ethics of Aristotle for consideration, the Aristotelian virtues are abilities and excellences which we can achieve as human beings and as members of a community and which will lead to happy lives. There is nothing specifically and explicitly related to his metaphysics of actuality and potentiality. In other words, the Aristotelian virtues are all human-based rather than comologically or ontologically based. 

 

  In the case of Confucianism, we find that the Confucian virtues are eventually founded in  human nature and human nature is derived from heaven. In this sense the virtue ethics of Confucianism would seem more ontologically provided than Aristotelian ethics.  In coming to Kant’s deontology, although Kant claims the metaphysical foundation for morals, it is not clear whether the practical reason and its internal rational rules could have an ontological meaning that we can recognize as directly experienced. xx For utilitarianism, the consequential ethics again is founded on human reason and human desires, which are compatible with many pictures of human existence. Finally, the ethics of rights is strictly more rationalistic than naturalistic and as such lacks a dimension of direct reference to reality.

 

  In this connection it is important to see a distinction between the concept of  onto-ethics and the concept of moral metaphysics as proposed by Mou Zongsan. xxi   Onto-ethics is to regard ethics as reflection of an ontology or onto-cosmology in some way and at the same time sees ethical concepts or rules as based on an understanding of the reality at large or the reality of the human person, whereas moral metaphysics is to regard morality and ethics as disclosing a reality which is fundamental to both the justification and fulfillment of the morality and ethics.  The interesting contrast between the two is that onto-ethics starts with understanding an ontology or onto-cosmology whereas moral metaphysics starts with understanding morality or an ethics. One would not understand the onto-ethics without first understanding the underlying ontology or onto-cosmology in the former whereas one would not understand the underlying ontology or onto-cosmology without first understanding the morality or ethics and their purposes. In this sense the Daoist ethics of goodness is no doubt a solid case of  onto-ethics.

 

  We may even argue that the Confucian ethics is also an solid case onto-ethics as we must recognize the source of morality from an underlying onto-cosmology of the tian (heaven) and xing (nature) in order to properly understand the Confucian virtues of humanity. But the Daoist onto-ethics is different from the Confucian onto-ethics because the Daoist onto-cosmology is basically an onto-cosmology of the dao and de, of which the term de may not signify the same thing as the concept of xing (nature) in the Confucian onto-ethics.  Similarly, we may point out that the Neo-Confucian ethics in the Song Ming Neo-Confucian philosophers is a case of onto-ethics, which is perhaps a combination of the Daoist and the Confucian ethics with equal emphasis on onto-cosmological understanding and direct experience of moral sentiments from one’s nature.  For the Song-Ming Neo-Confucian philosophy has an underlying onto-cosmology of li and qi which could be interpreted to correspond to the dao and de.  Nevertheless they are all cases of onto-ethics which are together different from the moral metaphysics which Mou Zongsan attributes to the Neo-Confucian ethics of the Cheng Hao and Wang Yangming lineage.

 

  This point has to be elaborated in the following way:  From an onto-ethical point of view the Neo-Confucians takes a holistic view which starts with understanding an onto-cosmology of the taiji and the dao which leads into the formation of the human person and his nature. With this understanding they are able to present and justify their ethical and moral views on how a person would cultivate himself and behave in a community. But Mou on the other hand argued that one has to understand the reality of life and universe by reflecting on one’s own moral experiences and the moral sentiments of one’s nature and therefore verifies the truth of a metaphysical view which supports the moral sentiments and moral practice. This is what he calls moral metaphysical view that is different from the metaphysics of morals of Kant. For Kant, morality may need metaphysics of immortality and God in order to have full justification. But for Kant this metaphysical foundation of morality is basically hypothetical, just a demand from the consistency of practical reason. For Mou, the metaphysics of morality cannot be a hypothetical construction or projection, but instead must be an insight into the nature of reality from our own experience of morality. The content of this metaphysics of course however falls in with the Neo-Confucian onto-cosmology of Cheng Hao and Wang Yangming. In the onto-ethical perspective, the metaphysical insights and metaphysical-moral statements or moral-metaphysical statements in the case of Neo-Confucian philosophy of Cheng Hao and Wang Yangming are matters of synthetic understanding derived from profound observation of the world process and the profound reflection on the human self.  

 

  The onto-ethics of the dao in the DDJ begins with consideration of the general good that the dao may produces. The term shan (good) has been used approximately 17 times and is the central notion for the onto-ethics of the dao. In the first place Laozi points out that “If the whole world knows beauty as beauty, thus the ugly must be assumed. If  the whole world knows good as good, thus the non-good must be assumed. “(DDJ #2)  Laozi’s explicit point is that good and bad just like beauty and ugly must be based on a distinction between good and bad. But there is an implicit point: Since people do speak of the good, there must be bad around. If however there are no bad things, good need not to be spoken of.  In that case, there is still a good which is not based on distinction, but based on the dao, for the good life or good person is then not derived from a contrast with an outstanding existence of bad or evil, but from the incessant activities of the dao and the effectiveness of the de in a person. In other words, Laozi wants to make a distinction between a relative and dependent concept of good and a non-relative and independent concept of good that he still calls  “shan”. 

 

  This non-relative and independent concept of shan (good) is clearly described by Laozi in the following passage:   

 

  “The supreme good is like water. The water is good at benefiting all things and does not contend (buzheng). It rests at where all people loathe to rest, and therefore it is very close to the dao.  In resting it finds its proper places; in feelings it has a depth like a abyss; in dealing with others it manifests itself in benevolence; in language I leads to trust; in politics it creates orderliness; in doing things it shows capability; in action it considers well the time. Because there is no strife, heretofore there is no grievance. “ (#8) 

 

  What is important is that the supreme or absolute goodness is inherent in the dao and hence can be found in a person if the person follows the dao. As an inherent quality of a person, the good comes out from the action of the person without having the person first to make a distinction between good and bad. The absolute goodness is natural and essential to the dao and one may even say that it is part of the naturalness of the movement of the dao just as what is manifested from water is part of the naturalness of the movement of the dao.  To follow the dao, for Laozi, apparently is not a difficult matter; it only requires the person to know the constant of the changing in the world, and the relevance of knowing the invisible matters for the whole. This knowledge which we may call wisdom (ming) of course may still require a certain mental attitude and cultivation which may be described as return to tranquility and emptiness. But to reach this state of mentality requires no more than reducing one’s desire toward outer things and diminishing irrelevant knowledge which burdens and preoccupies the mind. It is different from the positive cultivation of one’s nature and mind as one finds in Confucianism, whether classical or Neo-Confucian. 

 

  Given the proper mental attitude, the mind of a person will come to a point where he  or she could respond to a situation with spontaneity, namely from his ziran state of the dao and then finds what is appropriate and timely in a situation regarding what is being called for. Laozi is not denying the considerations of place, depth of consideration, and care and benevolence toward people or even ability to deal with practical matters such as daily transactions and political governance. The deep embodiment of the dao makes one’s moral response and decision most relevant from a dao point of view: it may not of course immediately benefit the individual nor would necessarily enable the person to avoid all the harms and problems. But still the dao-induced response and action are proper for conducing to peace and harmony and perhaps to personal well being and happiness as well. For Laozi the key rule for all these responses are “non-contending” (buzheng). This means that in holding to this principle of buzheng if one can make a norm out of these dao responses, one would be able to find right  solutions to any problematic situations in life.

 

  The very idea of buzheng could be extended to include all the dao qualities of originating without possessing, helping without claiming, growing with dominating, not hoarding in excess, not being sharp, not being rich and being arrogant.  This means that buzheng is not to do nothing whatsoever, but instead to do all things which can make positive contributions to the maintenance and enhancement of the lives of others. Because the dao is like that in the first place and the dao forms a supreme model of action for rulers and people to emulate. In the passage DDJ #66,  Laozi speaks of how rivers and seas could be the gathering places for all waters due to their abilities to be at low places. Similarly a sage king must be modest in language to people in order to be above them, must consider his own interests after theirs. In this way people will not feel burdened with a ruler above and not feel harmed with a ruler leading. This shows how a non-contending ruler may have no one to contend with him. Hence buzheng will bring an opposite result of not having no one to contend and dispute with him and having no nothing to contend or dispute with him for.  This same idea was also repeated in the DDJ #22.

 

  In his time Laozi may have seen how greed and craze for power had led states to devastating wars, and also witnessed how individuals of high positions also had schemed to kill each other in order to seize power, or when with power, indulge themselves with lavish desires and abused their power. Even those who are doing something initially good, may turn into doing the bad  by being corrupted by power and wealth. There are of course cases in which a good person may be good at all times and yet suffer misfortunes due to unwise decisions at crucial moments of life, simply because he may become less considerate and less self-controlled. One can see that these situations are actually exemplified in the historical narratives of Zhozhuan and Guoyu.

 

  Given these instances, it is easy to understand why all the statements of the  virtue of the dao as self-emptying and self- restricting were made in the DDJ. They are made because Laozi (or the authors of DDJ) have a first hand experience of a social and political situations which lead to their proposed ways of solutions. These statements are in this sense proposed ways to deal with troubles of the world.  From this point of view and again with the examples of Zhozhuan and Guoyu in mind, we can also see that  Laozi is not even confident that people at his time were free from the wide influences of gross materialism and worries that their minds may be excited and awash with desires for luxuries and war games, so that statements of instrumental expediency like “empty their minds and fill their bellies, weaken their wills and strengthen their bones” (DDJ #3) were also made.

 

  In light of the above one may ask whether the DDJ is more practically and politically oriented than metaphysically oriented. The fact is that the practical and the metaphysical need not be separated. Many of the translations (notably D.C. Lau) makes the assumption that DDJ is an anthology of sayings representing various philosophical points of view in the Warring States, some practical and metaphysical. This assumption, although meaningful, has not give thought to the possibility that the one who did put these sayings together may have achieved a unified vision of the world with both metaphysical and practical aspects integrated in some way. The integrating principle and the unified vision is precisely the dao, dao as an integrating principle and dao as vision which can give insight into reality and at the same time guide people to confront practical issues and resolve them beforehand or afterwards if unavoidable.

 

  The division of the text DDJ into the dao and de parts may not be really adequate and to find out which part goes first may not be truly materially important. xxii But to choose to put the dao part before the de part  in the received  version shows that the author Laozi (who could represent a few contributions) has achieved a unified vision of the dao which should be recognized first and foremost as basis for understanding and diagnosis of life-situations of the time and hence as the basis and source for practical and applied- ethical observations.  What we have said above have presented this unified vision of the dao as an insight into the nature of the reality and as a direct and powerful source of ethical wisdom. This is how we can speak of an onto-ethics of the dao from the understanding of the dao.  Ethics, from the point of view of the onto-ethics, is an application of the ontology or onto-cosmology.

 

  I have spoke of the Laozi’s view on the supreme or absolute good as having the virtues of the water. It is of course to expect a person to be exactly like water in all its beneficial aspects. But a ruler more than an individual could devote to his people like water, nourishing them without drowning them with his demands. In this way the ruler could be said to be a good ruler.  A person who is humble and always have others’ interests in mind and practice self-emptying and self-constraint would be like a nourishing and soothing water and thus can be said to embody the dao and be considered a good person (shanren). Again, the term good is used onto-cosmologically and functions to designate a pattern of behavior or a critical action exemplifying the dao.  With this understanding, we can see how Laozi could say the following:

#79 “The way of the heaven has no family preference and partiality in dealing with people, but it always helps the good person (shanren).”

 

  The way of heaven as the manifestation of the dao makes no distinction between who is close and who is distant, and hence  treats all things as straw dogs. The sage as a person of the dao would also treat his people without preference and partiality. In this sense both the dao and the man of the dao are “not benevolent (buren)”. This is because as the term ren has been applied to people with graded degrees depending on relationships. xxiii  Now if the dao is without such tendency , why and how does the dao would cherich the good person?  To answer this question one needs to recognize again that “good” here means “ having the ability to give and benefit like water.”  Thus the good person is the person who follows the dao or embodies the dao in his attitudes and actions and this naturally entails the consonance and accord between himself and the way of the heaven. The way of heaven would aid him because he is already supporting the dao. Whatever benefits result from the dao will naturally comes to him, the man of the dao.

 

  With this understanding of the good, a good man must be good at knowing and understanding the dao.  The word “shan” is both a noun and a verb. As a verb, it simply means “be good at” or “be skilled at”. This term suggests that shan is not simply objective knowledge but an insightful knowledge with consequent practical ability to follow the dao or embody the dao in action. A good man therefore is not just a profound knowing person as indicated in #15:  “In the antiquity the person who is skilled in the dao is subtle, deep and reaching out comprehensively. He is so deep that common people may not recognize him as such.”  The good person is a practical man who embodies the dao and can act like the dao or the water (a symbol for the dao) in all situations. In #62, Laozi even speaks of the dao as the treasure of the good person and even no-good person could not ignore it.

 

  Why does the no-good person could not ignore the dao? It is because he could be equally benefiting from the dao as he could hide himself from the dao and takes advantage of the dao to do things that are not in accordance with the dao. This is like a criminal who could still use laws to protect himself so that he could do things against the law.  But the criminal will be eventually caught. Similarly, those who are no good will be temporarily benefiting from the dao but will be eventually upset and overturned by the dao. The more difficult problem would be to emulate the dao in setting a system or mechanism which would control people and which could move automatically and spontaneously without further intervention from the designer and administrator. This is the way how legalism of Han Fei has come to identify philosophy of the dao in terms of the achieving the wuwei of a system of control without however realizing the essence of the dao which is ziran as explained in the above. This is also my point of taking ziran always as the inescapable premise of wuwei.

 

  With this understanding of the good, we can further judge whether an action is good or bad (as opposite of the good) or whether a government and or ruler is good or bad.  On this basis Laozi is also further able to prescribe or describe how certain attitudes and habits must be established in order to master the dao and practise the dao.  For the latter consideration that we may consider first, Laozi has the following recommendations:

#29  “… thus the sage gets rid of he extreme, the luxurious, and the excessive.”

 

#59   “In governing people and serving the heaven, there is nothing better than being meager (lin)’.

#19  “Abolish sageliness and forsake intelligence, people will then have hundred times of their profit; refuse benevolence and abandon righteousness, people will then regain their filial piety and kindness; give up skills and rescind their profits, there will be no robbers and thieves. These three types of things are not sufficient as measures of government. For government there must be other considerations: see the simple and embrace the primary; reduce selfishness and diminish desires, abandon learning to remain unworried.”

#67  “…I have three treasures which I retain and preserve: one is called kindness (ci), two is called frugality (qian) the three is ‘I will not dare to lead the  world’. Being kind then you are able to be brave, being frugal you are able to reach wide, not daring to lead the world enables you to become the head of all things. Nowadays to forsake kindness and yet be brave, to forsake frugality and yet reach wide, to forsake staying back and yet move ahead, is destined to death. With kindness one wins in battle and solidifies in defense. If heaven wishes to save someone, it does it with kindness.”

 

  The goodness Laozi is speaking of has to be achieved from two approaches: to give up something and to gain or regain something. What is to be given up is a host of matters that either have the ability to hide the dao or results from the loss of the dao.  Laozi has given the appearance of rejecting learning and sagely morality that includes the Confucian ren, yi and li, zhi. But it is not because these Confucian virtues are bad by themselves but because they are consequences of the loss of the dao. Without going back to the dao, these virtues merely cover the real problem and serves to invite challenges. Besides, they can not really solve the problem and will reduce to empty forms. Laozi however goes beyond criticizing the Confucian virtues: it criticizes also those new knowledge and new skills which have been used for generating wealth and power and consequently desires for power and political domination. These new knowledge and new skills have been used in fighting conquering wars and in scheming for usurpation. In this sense we see how the Daoists like Laozi and Zhuangzi opposed to learning and knowledge.

 

  Finally, what is worrisome to Laozi is the mental attitude exhibited in tendencies to go to the extreme, the luxurious, and the excessive, which suggest lack of self-control and considerations for totality and others. Given this understanding, what Laozi comes to prescribe is right to the point: to go back to the original and embrace the basic, lose no sight of what is potentially sound and wholesome, and be careful not to mislead, not to invoke counteraction, be kind to people’s needs and fair to their feelings so that people would know you care for all and wish to do good for all.

 

  It is obvious that all the basic virtues that Laozi proposes are virtues that he could attribute to the dao as parts of natural creativity. They could be also regarded as ways of following and embodying the dao, not just as ways of resolving specific problem situations. For example, why does one need to be meager in desires and even knowledge? The answer is that it is an efficient way to reach simplicity and to avoid excesses and luxurious.  Similarly, why not dare to lead the world? The answer is that unless one has the virtue of voiding oneself and making no claims about one’s contributions and credits, to dare to lead the world will be troublesome and invite opposition, and also will be inefficient because lack of initial support. Why frugal? Again, the answer is that one should not expend and waste oneself so that one has more to offer to help others to reach a general well being.  What we have seen then is an implicit system of virtues which are founded on the dao and which tells one how to put the dao into practice. These virtues would also bridge over the ontologies and  belief systems of other schools or traditions if these ontologies and belief systems are embodiments of the dao even as adapted to different traditions.

 

  To consider the Daoist virtue of ci for example, why does Laozi take the ci as the first and foremost virtue of the dao?  Again, as I have discussed above, the kindness can be regarded as an attitude and ability in creating without possessing, upbringing without claiming, and assisting without dominating. In this sense ci is therefore a selfless devotion to interests of others and it marks the abundant power of creativity one may originally have. To take this attitude and to develop this ability one need to see what is in fact evidenced in our observations of the processes of formation and transformation of the dao. If all people learn to be kind in this sense, the world would function in abundance of natural creativity and natural harmony.

 

  One may raise the question on what if one has not developed this creative power to care for all, what would a person do? Then the Daoist principle of lin (economy) would apply: to economize one’s energy and to conserve oneself without involving with others. It is the attitude of the reputed Yang Zhu in the Liezi who valued life and would not exchange a single piece of his hairs for the power of the whole world. This is because life is so basically valuable that if one can not afford to give life and will devote oneself to preserving life, why would any one hasten to find means to dominate the world? Why would anyone want to lead the world?  In conserving and economizing one’s life one will be eventually able to benefit all people as you have created freedom for all people to conserve life on their own. In this sense the principles of lin and qian and daring not to lead the world are considerations of the ci and belong to the ci as a base and self-discipline.

 

  If we compare this Daoist virtue of ci with the Confucian virtue of ren (benevolence), it seems obvious that ci is more a fundamental attitude and ability than ren, because it more obviously rooted and modeled after the dao. In the case of ren, to love people, to reciprocally consider others in terms of ourselves and to control oneself to restore li are all human-centered.  Of course, it is not to say that ren may not have an onto-cosmological dimension, but this onto-cosmological dimension of the ren would not become explicitly elaborated and marked out until Neo-Confucian Cheng Hao who takes ren to be feeling of life and a principle of creative life. xxiv With this sentiment toward life and everything else, we can see how ren is approaching the idea of ci in the DDJ and further see how Laozi could lodge a repudiation of ren and yi in the total framework of dimensions of the dao. One could also come to see how Confucian others would be severely criticized by the Onto-Ethical approach from the Daoists.

 

  In spite of the critical attitude Laozi takes in the current Wang Bi and Silk Manuscript versions of DDJ, it is interesting and challenging to see that in the recent Zhu Bamboo Inscriptions a different attitude of Laozi has emerged: for the same passage of #19, we have the following statement from the Zhu Bamboo Version:

“Rejecting knowledge and giving up disputes, the profits of people will double; to repudiate skills (qiao) and abandon profits, robbers and thieves will cease to exist; to stop deceit and forsake fraud, people will return to filial piety and kindness (ci)”

 

  In this version it is clear that for most of the items the Daoist are opposed to the Confucians also are opposed to, such as disputes, skills, profits, deceit and fraud. The only difference lies only in Confucian and Daoist attitudes to knowledge. Here the Daoist is not opposed to sageliness anymore, nor opposed to ren and yi. It even maintained that when we give up deceit and fraud, filial piety and kindness would be restored. On the basis of filial piety, no doubt the Confucian ren would be feasible. This development as revealed by the Bamboo Scripts of course could be interpreted as a matter of a more modest or moderate position of the Daoism in relation to Confucianism. But we may also see it as a thinking through reached in terms of the compatibility of the dao with Confucian ethics of humanity. xxv It is a recognition that even in dao the virtues of ren and xiao need be developed for flourishing of humanity in order and harmony which could be also viewed as a manifestation of the working of the dao as the Confucians hold. Historically speaking, when the time of chaos is gone, the time of positive creativity in constructing a lively and complex human society is not a possibility, but a necessity.

 

  In this connection one could argue  how Daoism which is based on the virtues of cosmological-oriented ci and lin as explained in the above could be eventually reconciled with Confucianism based on humanly-oriented ren and yi.  This possibility actually rests in recognizing that they share the same source of creativity on the one hand, and on the other hand, that the creative conservation and creative initiative (creative adventure) forms two modes of immanent-transcendent creativity of the dao, which are not separable but complementary and therefore integratively and reciprocally related. This also means that Daoism and Confucianism must return to the same source of the system of change and transformation which not only develop itself in the Dao system of conservational ziran but in terms of the human system of creative advance. Why must there be human being? What are the values of the human persons? What unique contributions could human person make not only to humanity, but also to universe as a whole? 

 

  Confucians themselves must confront these questions so that they may form a reason and vindication when questioned. In a sense Classical  Confucianism has given the answer and it is not simply to be seen in the Analects. It is also an insight of the Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism that raises the importance of other Confucian writings in confronting these questions and from these it also develops its own creative views that are known as the philosophy of the li xue and xin xue.  We shall not elaborate on these important points, which I have discussed and presented elsewhere. A fuller interpretation and exploration into the integration of Daoism and Confucianism no doubt would be needed.

Conclusion in Summary

  In this article I have examined the meaning of the term Dao in Daoism in general and in the DDJ in particular. I argue that to examine the use of language in relation to reality is to take the dao seriously and therefore is the gateway to enter the dao.  But to enter the dao is also to put language aside in order to concentrate on concrete and total aspects of the dao. Without such a concentration in experience one would not be able to use language to approximate to the dao even though there could never be a final and/ or adequate articulation of the dao in language.

  One needs to avoid both subjective projection and objective imposition. One needs to open oneself to what has happened in history and what is happening now so vividly and yet so subtly. One could also foresee the future if one allows the creative of the dao to go beyond both historicity and a present field of interests and influences. For this reason we have to speak of the dao as both the unspeakable and the speakable, and understand how each needs the other. In this light the dao is both historical and futuristic, both vertical and horizontal, both transcendent and immanent. It is to be identified with both the ever evolving finite existence of all things and the infinite creativity of the ziran of the dao.  We need to see the dao as denying artificialities of human action as well as to see the dao as the underlying framework for human learning and human achievement in goodness.   Dao therefore is both the unconditioned and the conditioned.

  I argue that the ziran notion of the dao in the DDJ is essential and crucial to the understanding of the dao and that it is indeed the nexus of the dao concept. Without looking into the content of ziran as implicitly presupposed in activities of the dao, there is no understanding of such words as self-existing (zizai), natural happening (zisheng), spontaneous (zifa), free action (zixing), and even free going (ziyou). Specifically, ziran in the assertion “The dao follows the ziran” is the source of wuwei of the dao, and there cannot be wuwei without ziran and no doing wuwei (weiwuwei) without wuwei and vice versa. With this understanding, those who argue that wuwei is the essence of Daoism are misled. As a matter fact, we must recognize that ziran is the root of reality and wuwei is a function or a result of a process from reality.

  Hence I suggest an interpretation of notion of the ziran in terms of the notion of the benti or root-reality that is the most important Chinese metaphysical concept, a concept that has been ignored by many sinological and philosophical scholars. In this study, I suggest interpreting the concept of ziran as benti which not only marks a beginning of the concept of the benti from the Daoist context, but also makes the concept of ziran better understood. Another implication is that there are many functions of the benti. Hence we may discern and interpret the benti of the dao according its many functions and this would explain how or why the dao has been used in many ways since the classical times.

  Considering the notion of wuwei, I make a distinction between wuwei and weiwuwei. My explanation of the distinction as well as my interpretation of weiwuwei should uncover the fundamental reasons why Laozi makes a point to reject ren, li, yi, zhi, and sheng as perceived in his time.  Weiwuwei is to reach a state which would lead into wuwei by rejecting  empty forms and political domination.

  Finally, we introduce the Daoist onto-ethics as a natural development of the onto-cosmology of the dao. We see the onto-ethics of the dao as the most direct and natural embodiment of the dao in the human society that forms a consistent system of the functions of the dao.

  I further point out  that how the Daoist onto-ethics of  lin and ci could be reconciled with a genuine Confucian onto-ethics of human virtues. As well known, this is evidenced by the moderate position in Daoism as seen and developed in the 1993 discovered texts of Zhu Bamboo Inscriptions .

  I point out how the Huang-Lao thoughts and legalism (in what Feng Yulan called the Qin Fajia) have taken advantage of the Daoist onto-cosmology by bifurcating the whole system of ziran and wuwei into two separate and discrete systems. Instead of founding the wuwei on the basis of the benti of ziran, they graft the ideal of wuwei on the legalist system or a power system that is not a system of  the ziran-benti.

  In this sense we should understand how different historical stages of development of the Daoism proceeded and how the first stage started with Laozi and continued into Zhuangzi who incorporated language in the dao subtly and artistically /aesthetically, and finally moved into the Huang-Lao philosophy and legalism which replace the ziran- benti with political and legalistic systems of power.

  I conclude that there are five aspects of the dao, the onto-cosmological (Laozi 1), the onto-ethical (Laozi 2), the onto-hermeneutical (Zhuangzi), the functional (in daily life) and the methodological (in political governing) as evidenced in periods of historical development of the Dao as seen in various classical texts of Daoism.

  The contemporary messages of dao in philosophical and religious Daoism, Daoist onto-ethics and its classical stages of development are numerous and most significant. To say the least, this should warrant more translations of Daoist texts to be made and more studies of the Daoist philosophy to be undertaken. 

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Endnotes

i  After D.C.Lau’s English translation TAO TE CHING (Penguin, 1963),  we have seen the appearance of Richard Wilhelm’s German translation LAO TZU rendered in English by H.G. Ostwald  (Akrana, 1985); Robert G. Henricks’s LAO-TZU TE-TAO CHING (Ballantine, 1989); Livia Kohn and Michael LaFargue, edited, LAO-TZ AND THE TAO-TE-CHING (SUNY, 1998); Moss Roberts’s Laozi Dao De Jing (University of California Press, 2001), Philip J. Ivanhoe’s  THE DAODEJING OF LAOZI (Seven Bridges, 2002); and Roger Ames and David Hall’s DAO DE JING (Ballantine, 2003). Each has its peculiarities of some good language expressions and all seem to share some basic insights into the nature of the dao. But we still need to explore and formulate a full and well-grounded theory or philosophy of the dao and at the same time be alerted to many nuances of the use, meaning and reference of the language in the Daoist texts.

ii  See Karl-Heinz Pohl’s article, “Plaything of the Times: Critical Review of the Reception of Daoism in the West”,  forthcoming  in JOURNA OF CHINESE PHILOSOPHY.

iii Even if there are many denominations of Christian sects, each such sect still lay down a set of rules to conform with.

iv See my article on Guan, “Philosophical Significances of Guan (Contemplative Observation ): On Guan as Onto-Hermeneutical Unity of Methodology and Ontology”, in the journal INTERNATIONAL STUDIES OF THE YIJING, first issue, 1995, Beijing, 156-203.

 

v I would follow Yan Lingfen in interpreting the concept of xuan as the inperceptibly small. Hence “xuan zhi you xuan” means extremely subtle forces beyond our perception and even thinking.  See Yang Lingfeng, <Laozi Zhangju Xinbian> (New Organization of Laozi Chapters), Taipei: Zhengzhong Book Publishing, 1944.

vi This does not make God less a valuable or desirable concept: a transcendent and yet immanent God would make God more relevant for human beings and also make God –concept more meaningful and articulate. This notion of God as having two aspects not only defines what creativity truly is, but also makes God more a creative emergence from the world than merely originating from nothingness in the creatio ex nihilo argument. Do we reify the niliho in order to account for God  and therefore make God concept dependent on the niliho concept? Or do we see God as always being there and manifested by way of the world?

vii  In light of my above analysis of the dimensions of the dao,  Roger Ames and David Hall’s definition of transcendence as independence does not seem to hold water to vindicate their assertion that there is no transcendence in Chinese philosophy.  See David Hall and Roger Ames ’s book  THINKING THROUGH CONFUCIUS, Albany: SUNY Press, 1987. Chapter one.

viii As a metaphor reflects the reality in some way, it can be said to describe a form or a framework of the reality in one way or another. The fascinating work of Daodejing provides a rich metaphorical way of describing and understanding this reality which also suggests a form of life consisting in an ethics of acting toward oneself and other people.

ix A “rigid designator” is a term or a name that designates the same object in all possible worlds or in all possible worlds in which the object exists. This concept of rigid designation is defined by Saul Kripke in his well-known book Naming and Necessity (Oxford: Blackwell and Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980).

x I have formulated this principle in my article “Chinese Culture and Comprehensive Integration of Values”, presented in an international conference on Chinese Culture as sponsored by University of Stockholm in 1998 and forthcoming in a volume edited by Torjoern Loden.

xi I have argued for such a common source in my study of the Yijing and Yizhuan. It can not be case that the concept of the dao was simply projected by Laozi, influencing the formation of the Yizhuan and related texts such as Mengzi and Zhongyong as claimed by Chen Kuying. Cf. Chen Kuying,  <Yizhuan yu Daojia sixiang>, Taipei: The Commercial Press, 1994.  26ff.

xii The term “ benti “ (heretofore translated as “root-reality” or “origin-substance”) is explicitly formed and used and consequently becomes most essential and basic to Chinese philosophy in philosophical texts since the time Wei-Jin Period of 3rd Century. But the concept of “benti” as a singular term clearly starts to be developed in virtue of the concepts of daode and ziran as in Yan Chunping’s Commentary on the DDJ (Daodezhigui) in the first century CE or the ending period of the Western Han   I have argued that  the notion of benti is actually but implicitly present in the Yizhuan text dated to 4th Century BCE or earlier. In this article I am making an benti interpretation of the ziran in the DDJ texts which should go back as early as 6th Century BCE. I have pointed out this  in my other articles (see Benti yu Quanshi, vol. 1 and vol. 2, edited by myself, published respectively by Sanlian Publishers in Beijing 1999 and Peking University Press in Beijing, 2002.)

xiii A most recent example is Edward Slingerland’s study of “wuwei” as a conceptual metaphor and spiritual ideal in Early China in his book <Effortless Action>,  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

xiv Chinese language uses ziran to refer to the larger natural world or nature in the same spirit of understanding. The Nature or the natural world coming to be understood as ziran is also understandable. We need not commit ourselves to essentialism in order to speak of the Nature as ziran.

xv  See his book EFFORTLESS ACTION, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, 9-17.

xvi  See their translations of the DDJ as mentioned in endnote #1. They read with  their own relevant perceptions, but however still need to give a desirable theoretical understanding which should satisfy both the criterion of textual-use consistency and the criterion of onto-cosmological consistency.

xvii It has been generally perceived that philosophical Daoism arises in China as a critique of Confucianism. That would make Daoism considerably later than Confucianism. However, there is another aspect of Daoism which may be seen as sharing a common origin with Confucianism and which may take place long before Confucius started to promote the doctrine of li and ren.  As a philosophical outlook on the world and human life and human society the Daoist onto-cosmology of the dao can be said to be derived or inspired  from a tradition of creative thinking and naturalistic metaphysics as implicitly present in the ancient texts of the Yi Jing.

xviii  I refer to Laozi as the presumptive author of the DDJ without making it an issue to question whether there was Laozi or someone else who authored the DDJ or  whether there could be multiple authorship of the DDJ. I do take the DDJ text as more than an anthology, because one can see it as having a unity on a deeper level rooted in the perception and conception of the dao. I also assume that the guiding light of the DDJ is derived from close observation of the nature and the world and which lead to a deep reflection of  one’s feelings and experiences. Hence it could be the case that the original DDJ text was written much earlier than projected and has a link to the tradition of the Yi thinking on process of formation and transformation of things in the world.

xix  But for Xunzi wei is action which is human- created out of natural reason and reflective thinking for the purpose of correcting something innate in the human existence. 

 

xx Here lies the controversy between Kant and Mou Zongsan who argues that the ontological reality of  morality must be directly presented for experienced whereas Kant regards existence of God and immortality of human soul as merely desirable hypotheses for ultimately justifying human morality.

xxi  See Mou Zongsan’s 1968 book, <Xinti yu Xingti> (The Substance of Mind and the Substance of Nature), first volume, Taipei: Zhengzhong Book Publishing, 1996.  As a contemporary Neo-Confucian Mou is eager to establish the reality of moral conscience as based on human feelings.

xxii  We know that the 1973 Mawangdui Silk Manuscripts has the two versions of the Daoist texts which are arranged with de part first and dao part second.

xxiii  However, this may be true for the practice of ren in Confucianism, but need not be true in the intended use of the term in Shang Shu. But this implicit criticism needs not be directed to Confucius, but could be intended for the current use of the term and the current practice of the ren in Laozi’s times. In other contexts, one sees how Laozi does not fail to recognize the value of ren and yi after the loss of the dao.

xxiv  I have long time ago pointed out that in Confucian Analects we already have Confucius speaking of the tiandao or the way of how the heaven have produced all things and let the seasons roll. But it does not form a theory or an explicit theory. I have also observed that Mencius has provided a source in the notion of the human nature (xing) for supporting continuous sentiments of the ren (zeyin zhixin, the sentiment of sympathy). In Zhong Yong we see how the ideas of promoting completing the natures of all things (jinwu zhixing) could lend itself to the interpretation of the ci, be kind to let all things to be fully developed.

xxv  See my Chinese article “Reflections on Cosmogenesis and Moral Behavior in Laozi of the Zhu Bamboo Scripts”, presented in the Second International Conference on Daoism in Huizhou, China, 1999.  Published in <Essays in Honor of Tang Yijie>, Beijing University Press, 2002.

 

 

 

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