Lao Tzu* (6th century bc?) and the Dao De Jing



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Lao Tzu* (6th century BC?) and the


According to tradition, Lao Tzu (“The Old Boy”)

  • was born in 604 BC in the Chu Province,

  • had a long career as the royal historian-librarian-archivist in the Chou capital of Lo-yang,

  • & (after becoming disillusioned as a result of the increasing decline of the Chou dynasty) left China for Tibet or India late in the 6th (or perhaps early in the 5th) century BC.

  • Before leaving, however, he recorded his philosophical insights in a short book, the Dao De Jing (also known as the Lao Tzu), which is one of the foundational classics of “Philosophical Daoism.”





A second major primary source of Philosophical Daoism is

  • The Book of Chuang Tzu,

  • by

  • Chuang Tzu

  • (also known as Chuang Chou, Zhuang-Zi)

  • (c. 369-286 BC)



Daoism is both



Leading ideas in Daoist thought

  • Vision of Reality (metaphysics)

    • Ontology/Cosmology
      • The DAO
      • Chi (Ch'I, Qi)
      • De
      • Yin/Yang
      • The natural order (the universe & all things in it)
    • Theology - gods & spirits
    • Anthropology - human nature & the human predicament
  • Values: Ethics & Political Philosophy







Chi (Ch'i, Qi)

  • Primordial, arises from the Dao

  • Vital matter and energy

  • All things (other than Dao and Chi itself) composed of Chi – the basic "stuff" substance of nature



De (“Duh”)

  • “denotes a moral power or virtue characteristic of a person who follows the correct course of conduct . . . . [In Daoism], te is the virtue or power that one acquires through being in accord with the tao, what one ‘gets’ from the tao.” (Burton Watson)







The cosmos (universe, nature)

  • is an ever-changing expression & blend of Yin and Yang, full of the power (De) of the DAO.



  • The DAO is the highest reality. It is the Ground of Being; but it is not “God” or “a god.” It is the absolutely transcendent and incomprehensible Source of the natural world (the universe). The DAO is beyond sensation, beyond thought, beyond imagination, beyond words, etc. It is knowable only through direct mystical experience or intuition.

  • Gods, good spirits, and demons exist as expressions of the power (De) of the DAO. These spiritual powers can be accessed and harnessed through various magical rituals.



Philosophical Anthropology - The Daoist perspective on human nature & the human predicament

  • Humanity is merely one of the “Den Thousand Things” manifested in nature, one animal species among others.

  • However, human beings (unlike other animals) have the power of free choice. This enables them to act contrary to nature (contrary to the DAO), to become alienated from the “Way.”



The solution to the human predicament

  • Back to nature; back to the DAO.

  • The practice of wu-wei (non-ado, effortless action, action without friction & conflict, swimming with the current) -- the simple, natural life.

  • Go with the flow.

  • Chill out.





Ethical Doctrines (guidelines for right conduct)

  • Tune in to De (the power of DAO), & follow the DAO.

  • Practice wu-wei (non-ado).

  • Follow the path of least resistance (like water does); practice relaxed action through yielding.

  • Avoid self-assertion & competition; practice humility & non-combativeness.

  • Disdain worldly prizes.

  • “The way to do is to be.”

  • Other specific ethical principles the same as in Confucianism, but with an individualistic & non-political emphasis.



On the religious side of Daoism,

  • There is major interest in conserving, increasing, &/or gaining control over De & its vital energy (chi).

  • There are numerous rituals aimed at the veneration of the gods & good spirits & at placation of & protection from demons.

  • There are also magical & occult practices (oracles, divination, astrology, mediumism, healing rites, etc.) aimed at gaining control over the powers of nature (De).



Daoist Political Philosophy (an application of wu-wei)

  • Limited government & a laid-back prince --

  • a kind of libertarianism?



The philosophical content of the Dao De Jing:

  • DAO

  • Yin & Yang & the principle of reversal

  • Non-ado (wu-wei)

  • The DAO-Master (the Daoist hero)

  • Seeking the DAO & living in the DAO

  • How to live

  • Meditation

  • Emptiness

  • Anti-Confucianism

  • Political philosophy



Lao Tzu says that his teachings are derived from an ancient system of principles & that they are easy to understand & to put into practice,

  • but that no one understands & practices them.



He also says:

  • Many consider my teaching to be nonsense.

  • But the profound is a lot like nonsense.

  • If a teaching does not seem nonsensical, then it must be trivial.



Characteristics of the DAO

  • Indefinable

  • Unnamable

  • The source of both reality & appearance

  • Empty, but never used up; always available

  • Hidden, but always present

  • Older than the gods



Silent. Empty. Independent. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternal.

  • Creator of all things

  • Present in all things

  • Returns all things to their origin (nothingness, no-thing-ness?)

  • Does not contend, but it prevails; does not speak, but it answers; is not called, but it responds; has no purpose, but it achieves all of its aims

  • When you seek it, you find it.



Yin/Yang & the Principle of Reversal

  • DDJ 2a Yin/Yang bipolarity

  • DDJ 22 Reversal

  • DDJ 28a Yin/Yang balance

  • DDJ 36 Reversal

  • DDJ 40 Reversal & Yielding

  • DDJ 42 Yin/Yang & Reversal



Wu-wei (non-ado)

  • Therefore, the Dao-Master acts with non-ado

  • & teaches without speaking.

  • Things come & go.

  • He lets them come & go.

  • He creates, but he does not own.

  • He achieves, but he takes no credit.

  • He completes his work & then forgets about it.

  • Practice non-ado, & your accomplishments endure.



Other wu-wei passages

  • DDJ 10b (non-ado as non-action)

  • DDJ 10c (non-ado & virtue)

  • DDJ 29 (letting go & letting be)

  • DDJ 43 (soft/hard)

  • DDJ 44 (knowing when enough is enough)



The DAO-Master



Thoughts of a Dao-Master



Characteristics of the DAO-Master

  • Detached

  • Selfless

  • Cautious

  • Alert

  • Courteous

  • Yielding

  • Undefined

  • Open

  • Murky

  • Quiet

  • Calm & unperturbed



Passages describing the DAO-Master

  • DDJ 7b (detachment)

  • DDJ 15 (general description)

  • DDJ 24 (disgusting things)

  • DDJ 26 (not swept away)

  • DDJ 45 (seems vs. is)

  • DDJ 49 (radiator)









How to Live (Ethical Prescriptions)

  • DDJ 8

  • DDJ 9*

  • DDJ 12*

  • DDJ 33*

  • DDJ 52*

  • DDJ 56*





The Value of Emptiness & Non-Being



Lao-Tzu’s Anti-Confucianism

  • DDJ 18

  • DDJ 19

  • DDJ 38

  • Down with kindness & morality, intelligence & learning, family values, industry & profit, clinging to power, activism, virtue, justice, & propriety!



Lao-Tzu’s Political Philosophy

  • DDJ 3 (Daoist rule)

  • DDJ 17 (types of rulers)

  • DDJ 28b (uncarved wood)

  • DDJ 30 (war)

  • DDJ 31 (weapons)

  • DDJ 32 (dividing & naming)

  • DDJ 46 (enough is enough)

  • DDJ 53 (social criticism)

  • DDJ 57 (keep it simple)





Self




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