Lao-Tzu viewpoints on ‘Taoist Philosophy’
As you have asked me about the truth of “Taoist philosophy” so I have connected some ideas about religion that lead to self-cultivation and nourishing life with cosmological speculation and also with a political philosophy centered on the sage king which makes me believe that any striving for life, and still less life everlasting, would contradict the very point the text is trying to make. All things “obtained the One” and came into existence; conversely, without that which gives them life, they naturally die. A new thinking has turned me to focus on Taoist practical philosophy. It does not follow that human beings should be consumed by longings for it. Life and death form a part of the transformation processes, which constitute the Taoist world. Death, as much as life, belongs to the realm of “naturalness,” that which is “so of itself”.
“Heaven and Earth are not humane, they regard all things as straw dogs. The sage is not humane, he regards all people as straw dogs”.
Tao means literally possessing spiritual essences in one’s body. So long as they remain in the body, death simply cannot happen which repositions the commentary from cosmology and religion to focus on Taoist practical philosophy.
In what sense can “naturalness” be said to complement “long life”? Two separate claims need to be distinguished here. On the one hand, if the concept of naturalness is taken seriously, any attempt to prolong life by artificial means is doomed to failure and must be rejected. On the other hand, if careful steps are not taken to preserve life, the natural flow of things is also interrupted. The natural life span of an individual, given the cosmological underpinning of the commentary, is evidently determined by one’s energy endowment. Individual differences notwithstanding, human beings have been given a proper “mandate” to prosper and live long while the energy could be in any form.
There are, however, obstacles, which may jeopardize one’s natural longevity. If the body is destroyed, the “five spirits” disperse; if the body is harmed, the spirits hasten their departure. For this reason, the body must be well taken care of, and the conditions, under which the vital essence may be adversely influenced, must be clearly identified. Actual longevity, in other words, reflects not only a richly endowed body but also a well-maintained abode of the spirits.
In attempting to explain to you the complex relationship between Tao, being, and nonbeing, I defers some words:
“Since the Tao is unnamable, it therefore cannot be comprised in words. But since we wish to speak about it, we are forced to give it some kind of designation. We therefore call it Tao, which is really not a name at all. That is to say, to call the Tao Tao, is not the same as to call a table table . . Tao is not itself a thing.”
Tao cannot be compared to any cosmological supreme being. Tao is not a being but lies beyond shapes and features. In the context of the transition from a religion based on divination and sacrifice, centered on the ruling nobility, to recognition of the moral autonomy of the individual. The Tao-te-ching represents the voice of those who recognize the power of desirelessness, humility, passivity, lowliness, imperfection, stillness, and intuition.
I have linked mysticism with the cultivation of the human potential for good, not with union with an Absolute. Unlike Western philosophy, I have insisted to accept Chinese philosophy as a lived philosophy; its purpose is not simply to “acquire . . . knowledge,” but to “develop . . . character”.
I have debated several times with Girardot as his argument echoes the earlier issue concerning the relationship between Tao and concepts of God; he suggests that the distinction between the Tao-te-ching and later Taoism rests on false assumptions about the nature of religion. He further argues that the Tao-te-ching is a religious text even though it may not be focused on supernaturalism, transcendence, or immortality.
According to my view early Taoist thought is most adequately understood in terms of its relation to a mythological theme of creation, fall, and salvational return. The Tao-te-ching is not associated with “a specific, once-and-for-all Christian flavor of savior, permanent eschatological redemption, or transcendental immortality”. Rather, it is part of a cyclical process in which one periodically returns “to an identification with the source of all meaning and life”.
Remember there is no creator god in early Taoism: its essential mystical internationality seems to favor the idea of creation always lacking any creator separate from the creation. Mystical union is possible without an absolute reality to unite with, and creation is possible without a creator. There is a definite continuity between early and later Taoism, based on the structure of movement from creation to fall and on to salvational return, which persists in the later religion. Hope you have created a practical view of Tao philosophy!
- Lao-Tzu and the Tao-Te-Ching. Contributors: Livia Kohn – editor, Michael Lafargue – editor. Publisher: State University of New York Press. Place of Publication: Albany, NY. Publication Year: 1998. Page Number: 189.