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Taoist Belief

Lao-TzuIs quite impossible to explain at the outset in what this Tao actually consists. According to Lao Tzu himself, "Those who know do not tell; those who tell do not know." The highest goodness is like water. Water is good for advantaging all things and does not strive. It takes tbe place that all men hate' (ch. 8). 'He who raises himself on tip-toe cannot stand : he who straddles cannot walk' (14). ' He who overcomes men ha* force ; he who overcomes himself is strong. He who knows he has enough is rich' (33). ' I have three precious things which I count and hold precious. The first is gentleness. The second is moderation. The third is not daring to take the first place under heaven ' (67). To these might be added, but for the considerations mentioned below, the famous 4 Recompense injury with kindness' (83).

The virtues commended lie in the line of selfsuppression. For the inward state of which they are modifications the characteristic word is Fait, 'emptiness,' i.e. freedom from desires. Corresponding to this inner freedom from desires is the outward life of non-action (wei wu wei), i.e. absence of self-determined action for particular ends. Hence the world is an ethical danger (12), for it is by the world that we are drawn out into desire and action away from the stillness of our inner being, which it should be our object to keep (5), though this true type of life is unattractive except to the sage (35). He attains this life by a process of abscission of motives, by which he arrives at a childlike state of spontaneity and tenderness, in which there is also exemplified the paradoxical possession of security and strength.

Lao-tse's practical teaching is completed by his speculations on physiology and politics. As to the former, it is asserted that the Taoist adept attains to "lastingness" (7, 16, 44, 59). There is no place of death in him, and so he passes through dangers unscathed (50). Hints are also given of a death which is not destruction, implying a persistence in spite of death which is true long life (IS). This thought, however, is not developed. With the other form of longevity appears to be associated a certain management of the breath (10,52), and through this vein of thought there is a connection with later Taoist developments.

In Lao-tse's politics, as in his ethics, there are attractive thoughts — e.g., the protest against luxury in the court alongside misery among the people (53) and the detestation of war (31). The Taoist method of government is laissez-faire. The sagely king does nothing, and everything comes right of itself (3*2, 37, 57). Logically Lao-tse's thought implies that any sage would be the centre of a universal sway (49, 57, 77), but it is hinted that the influence of a sage becomes effective only when he has the advantage of high place (56). Here Lao-tse is in line with Confucius.

When Lao Tzu died, and Ch'in Shih went to mourn [ in the Taoist sense—i.e., more to take note of the death than for purposes of condolence, etc.], the latter uttered three yells and departed. A disciple asked him, saying, "Were you not our Master's friend?" "I was," replied Ch'in Shih. "And if so, do you consider that was a fitting expression of grief at his loss?" added the disciple. "I do," said Ch'in Shih. "I had believed him to be the man {par excellence), but now I know he was not. When I went in to mourn, I found old persons weeping as if for their children, young ones wailing as if for their mothers. And for him to have gained the attachment of these people in this way, he too must have uttered words which should not have been spoken, and dropped tears which should not have been shed, thus violating eternal principles, increasing the sum of human emotion, and forgetting the source from which his own life was received. Such emotions are but the trammels of mortality. The Master came, because it was his time to be born; he went, because it was his time to die. For those who accept the phenomenon of birth and death in this sense, lamentation and sorrow have no place. Death is but the severance of a thread by which a man hangs suspended in life. Fuel can be consumed; but the fire endureth for ever."

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:12:22 ZULU