Daoism, also called Taoism refers one of the two greatest autochthonic philosophies of China. The word Daoism refers to Daojia , or the philosophical text of Laozi , Zhuanzi and the word Daojiao . Daoism thus is also called Lao-Zhuang philosophy. The word Daojia was coined by Sima Tan, a historian, in his records The Shiji written in the 2nd century. He was not able to complete his work but his son, Sima Qian , completed much of the records. According to Shiji, the Daoist is one of the Six Schools, which included Yin-Yang, Mohist, School of Names, Confucian, Legasist and Daoist. It is believed that the school of Daoism was founded by Laozi.
The teachings of Daoism are written on his major work, the Daodejing or the Laozi and on the Zhuangzi text. The Daodejing Text The Daodejing is divided into 81 chapters, with over 5,000 Chinese characters. It is divided into the dao jing, chapters 1 to 37, and de jing, chapters 38 to 81. The Daodejing text is a collection of short aphorism, which according to old beliefs, have been given by Laozi to Yin Xi, who used to guard the mountain pass from China to the west. However, the most commonly accepted belief is that it passed over from one generation to the next through the word of mouth.
The Daodejing text was used by commentators in China for almost two thousand years and has been named after Wang Bi, a commentator from 226 to 249 CE. Though not a Daoist, his commentary has become the standard guide that has been used up to date. However, many recent archeological findings, such as Goudian in 1993 and Mawangdui in 1970, have proven that there are many versions of the Daodejing texts . Based on the Daodejing text, the term dao refers to a road or “the Way”. It is the process or the path through which reality and nature come together, while still transforming.
Thus, according to Daoism, change is the most basic character of all things. It teaches that man cannot fathom the Dao but may become one with it or “obtain the dao”, thru wuwei. Wuwei means “acting naturally” or “effortless action” or “non action” . Basically, the Daodejing text teaches that there is no need for a man to tamper with the flow of reality or the path of nature and that wuwei should be the way of life. It also teaches that the Dao of tian is on the side of good and that virtue comes from the Dao alone. The main theme of the Daodejing is that there are correlatives that express the movement of the Dao.
These correlatives represent the flow of the forces of reality, such as male and female, yin and yang, active and passive and life and death. Based on this idea, the Daodejing text is full of paradoxes. According to the text, the sages or sheng ren, those who follow the wuwei, are like newborn infants who move naturally without planning. They empty themselves and cleanse themselves becoming like an un-carved wood. Thus, they live naturally and free from desires. They are contented and know the value of emptiness; emptiness likened to that used in a bowl, door, window, valley or canyon (ch. 11). They also shoulder the yin and embrace the yang.
They do not strive, tamper or seek control (ch 64) and they do not help live long (ch. 55). According to the text, those who try to do something with the world will only fail and ruin it. The sages thus, through the practice of Dao live long. Logically, as the text states, they create peace and have no enemies. Therefore the heavens protect them and they become invincible. Another part of the text is about the teachings for rulers. According to the text, a ruler must be like a shadowy presence who should keep the people without knowledge (ch. 65), filling their bellies and opening their hearts and emptying them of any desires (ch. ).
The Zhuangzi Text The Zhuangzi text is a collection of stories, imaginary conversations, longer and shorter treatises, stories, poetry and aphorism dating back to the late 4th century BCE. The original has 52 chapters, which were reduced into 33 by Guo Xiang during the 3rd century BCE. It was written by a philosopher Zhuang Zhou who lived between 370 to 300 BCE. The first seven chapters, also known as “inner chapters” were about himself, Zhuang, thus the title, “Master Zhuang”. The succeeding chapters, the “outer chapters” and “mixed chapters”, are different from the first and seemingly have other origins.
The teachings of Zhuangzi included a set of practices, which include meditation; helping an individual to be one with the Dao and become a zhen ren or a “true person”. Unlike the previous text, according to Zhuanzi, the way to achieve this is not to withdraw from life but to severe ties with the conventional values set by the society. However, it also gives importance to wuwei and those who understand the importance of it are called sages, hen ren or immortals. According to the Zhuangzi, the Daoist sage has extraordinary powers. Some argue that this is not in its literal sense while others believe the words in their literal meaning.
The theme of immortality dominates the Zhuangzi text and many believe that, in Daoism, immortality is as a result of wu xing transformation. Wu xing is the “five phases” referring to the Chinese understanding of reality. This is where meditation in the Zhuangzi text comes in. The text mentions Huangdi as an immortal. Pengzu is another character who was said to have lived eight hundred years. The female immortal Xiwangmu was believed to have reigned over Mount Kunlun. According to the text of Zhuangzi, immortality was not a gift from God, but it can be achieved through wisdom, meditation and wuwei.
According to the teachings, a xian or immortal is made of Shan; mountain and ren; person. Thus he must journey to the mountains to become a zhen ren or “true person. ” The Alchemy of Immortality in Daoism The Daoists believe in the Dao and also in the different deities and immortals. In Daoism, Gods are the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning, the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure and the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Virtue. The immortals are the humans who were born before the earth and heavens got separated, and were transformed into deities. Immortality thus can be achieved through following the Dao.
From the point of view of the Dao, the gods and immortals are symbols of the Dao. There is a hierarchy of gods in Daoism and that they embody Dao or they are Dao itself. Then the next are the gods with lower ranks. They have responsibilities in accordance with their virtue and the Dao. The highest among the lower gods is the Jade Emperor, who is the highest ruler of the universe. Next in rank are the four major deities and the other celestial beings, such as; the wind, thunder, rain, lightning, water, fire, the god of wealth, the kitchen god, the god of the town and the god of the land
According to Daoist legend; the first Daoist pope Chang Tao Ling, who was born during the reign of Emperor Kuang Wu Tin in 35 AD, shunned the imperial service and went to live in the mountains. While living in the mountains west of China, he pursued the study of alchemy and in his study was visited by Lao Tzu. It was said that Lao Tzu then gave him mystic treatises, which enabled him to complete the Elixir of Life. From there, the Chinese, particularly some of the Daoist, believe that certain substances like jade or gold would impart the qualities of longevity to the physical form once they are ingested.
In the earlier civilization, it was believed that simply eating pieces of gold or other mythical materials, would enable one to imbibe its qualities. The belief evolved into substance bringing transformation within the body itself. During the end of the third century BC in China, the idea of drinking gold was already a widespread belief. It was also during this time that the idea of gold can being produced from other substances came about. Over the centuries, Daoism has evolved much, with increasing emphasis on mysticism that it became closer to superstitions, omens and quest for immortality.
This is the reason why at the present, Daoism as a philosophy has somehow lost its credibility Modern Day Daoism In 1644, when China was under the rule of the Manchurian tribes, only the Quanzhen was tolerated. By 1780, the Western traders and the Christian missionaries arrived. Then in 1849, the Hakka people revolted and their version of Chinese Christianity established the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace or “taping”. When the “taping” swept the regions of southern China, the members destroyed the Buddhist and Daoist temples together with the texts.
The eradication of the Daoist influence continued up to the 20th century . In 1920, the New Life Movement instructed students to destroy the Daoist statues and texts. In 1926, there were no more than two copies of the Daoist text existing. These texts were allowed to be preserved at the White Cloud Monastery for historical purposes. Then the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 almost destroyed Daoism. Daoist monks were killed or re-educated. The text and the Daoist lineages were destroyed. The Miao or Daoist sites were closed, burnt and seized by the government. They were then used as military barracks.
There once were over 300 Daoist sites in Beijing alone, now only a few remain However, Daoist philosophy persisted and the last decades have seen a revival of the practice and study of Daoism in several universities in the People’s Republic of China. At present, Daoism is a philosophy that is being transmitted and adapted globally. It is no longer considered a Chinese traditional religion but a philosophy/religion adapted in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam Daoism appeals to those who wish to withdraw from the hardships of the society.
The concept of unity and the idea of using nature as model are now quite appealing to Westerners. Aside from the practice of the philosophy of Daoism, Daoist study is also gaining popularity in the West, particularly in the United States. Daoist study is associated with Sinology and includes anthropology, archeology, comparative religion, cultural study intellectual history, material culture studies, philosophy, sociology, women’s studies and other theoretical and methodological approaches. There are also other alternative approaches to Daoist studies, such as the intellectual history model and the study of the Daoist texts.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 22 September 2016
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