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Taoism Stop thinking, and end your problems. —Lao Tzu Introduction to World Religions Fall 2007 Dr. Hannah Schell.

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Presentation on theme: "Taoism Stop thinking, and end your problems. —Lao Tzu Introduction to World Religions Fall 2007 Dr. Hannah Schell."— Presentation transcript:

1 Taoism Stop thinking, and end your problems. —Lao Tzu Introduction to World Religions Fall 2007 Dr. Hannah Schell

2 Class Agenda I.Threefold nature of Taoism II.The Tao III.Lao Tzu and the Tao te Ching IV.Taoist principles: The Mystery of the Tao The way of yin The Principle of Wu-wei (actionless action) The ideal of the uncarved block Relativism of opposites Agenda for class meeting

3 Smith’s classification: the threefold nature of Taoism 1.Philosophical Taoism – schools of thought that draw upon the founding texts of the Tao te Ching and the Chuang tzu. Ideal: conserve power by expending it efficiently (128). 2.Taoist Hygiene and Yoga – practices that stem from Taoist teachings, such as a form of science and medicine (focused on harnessing and even increasing energy or power), breathing techniques and a kind of martial arts (tai chi chuan) 3.Religious Taoism - Developed in the 2 nd century C.E. with a pantheon of Lao Tzu and other deities; “The Taoist priesthood made cosmic life-power available for ordinary villages” (quoted by Smith, 132).

4 The Tao The Chinese character 'Tao' made up of the character for “go forward” and “head.” A way or a path. In China, (Tao) is pronounced "dow", as in Dow Jones Index and "doe" in Japanese; used in words like : Judo - "soft way" Kendo - "sword way" Karate - do - "empty hand way“ Source:

5 Lao Tzu Also known as Lao, Lao dan, Li Er, Lao zi Native of Chu, southern China Contemporary of Confucius? Later? Court archivist for the house of Zhou “Went west” – over the pass, said to have jotted down the Tao te Ching (The Way and Its Power) Legendary tales; miraculous signs

6 What Laozi is said to have looked like “He had a yellow-whitish complexion, beautiful eyebrows, and a broad forehead. He possessed long ears, big eyes, gaping teeth, a square mouth, and thick lips. On his forehead he had the signs of the three powers and five phases. He had the sun horn and the moon crescent sticking out above his eyebrows. His nose was broad and straight and had a double rim, while his ears had three openings. On the soles of his feet he had the signs of the two [forces of yin and yang] and the five phases; his palms contained the character for the number ten.”

7 From Ge Hong’s Biography of Lao Tzu “His mother had become pregnant when she was touched by a huge meteor. Although Laozi had therefore received his basic energy directly from Heaven, he yet appeared in the Li family and took Li as his surname. Some say that Laozi has existed since before Heaven and Earth. Others say that he is the essential soul of Heaven, a spiritual and wonderful being. Then again some claim that his mother remained pregnant for seventy-two years and only then gave birth. At birth, he split open his mother’s left armpit and emerged. Being just born, he already had white hair – which his why he was called Laozi, “old child.”

8 Lao Tzu as Master of the Tao “He came to reveal various methods of going beyond the world: The alchemy of the nine cinnabars and eight minerals; The dietetics of metallic wine and the golden fluid; The visualization of mysterious simplicity and of guarding the One; The recollection of spirit and penetration of the hidden; The guiding of energy and refinement of the body; The dispelling of disasters and exorcism of evil; The control over demons and the nourishing of inner nature; The abstention from grain and the many ways of transforming the body; The serenity of a life in accordance with the teaching and the precepts; The overcoming and control of demons and malevolent specters. “

9 The Tao te Ching The Way and Its Power, written c. 240 BCE; some place in the 6 th century Text of 5,000 characters Frequently translated Waley: mystical text; Northtrop: metaphysics; Lin Yu Tang compares it with Christianity, emphasis on character; Fung Yu Lan: emphasis on self-control; handbook for meditation or yoga? (See Smith 131). Grammatically vague Context: troubled times (politically)

10 The mystery of the Tao Chapter 1: The Dao that can be told of Is not the Absolute Dao; The Names that can be given Are not Absolute Names. The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth; The Named is the Mother of All Things. Therefore: Oftentimes, one strips oneself of passion In order to see the Secret of Life; Oftentimes, one regards life with passion, In order to see its manifest results. These two (the Secret and its manifestations) Are (in their nature) the same; They are given different names When they become manifest. They may both be called the Cosmic Mystery [a]: Reaching from the Mystery into the Deeper Mystery Is the Gate to the Secret [a] of All Life.

11 Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond form. Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond sound. Grasp, it cannot be held - it is intangible. These three are indefinable, they are one. From above it is not bright; From below it is not dark: Unbroken thread beyond description. It returns to nothingness. Form of the formless, Image of the imageless, It is called indefinable and beyond imagination. Stand before it - there is no beginning. Follow it and there is no end. Stay with the Tao, Move with the present. Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of Tao.

12 Follow the way of yin (passivity) 16. Knowing the eternal law Attain the utmost in Passivity, Hold firm to the basis of Quietude. The myriad things take shape and rise to activity, But I watch them fall back to their repose. Like vegetation that luxuriantly grows But returns to the root (soil) from which it springs. To return to the root is Repose; It is called going back to one's Destiny. Going back to one's Destiny is to find the Eternal Law [a]. To know the Eternal Law is Enlightenment. And not to know the Eternal Law Is to court disaster. He who knows the Eternal Law is tolerant; Being tolerant, he is impartial; Being impartial, he is kingly [a]; Being kingly, he is in accord with Nature [a]; Being in accord with Nature, he is in accord with Dao; Being in accord with Dao, he is eternal, And his whole life is preserved from harm. The way of yin is modeled on the power of water

13 The uncarved block 28. Keeping to the Female He who is aware of the Male But keeps to the Female Becomes the ravine of the world. Being the ravine of the world, He has the original character (te) which is not cut up. And returns again to the (innocence of the) babe. He who is conscious of the white (bright) But keeps to the black (dark) Becomes the model for the world. Being the model for the world, He has the eternal power which never errs, And returns again to the Primordial Nothingness. He who is familiar with honor and glory But keeps to obscurity Becomes the valley of the world. Being the valley of the world, He has an eternal power which always suffices, And returns again to the natural integrity of uncarved wood.

14 Wu Wei: Actionless Action The Tao abides in non-action, Yet nothing is left undone. If kings and lords observed this, The ten thousand things would develop naturally. If they still desired to act, They would return to the simplicity of formless substance. Without form there is no desire. Without desire there is tranquility. In this way all things would be at peace.

15 Relativism of opposites 2. The rise of relative opposites When the people of the Earth all know beauty as beauty, There arises (the recognition of) ugliness. When the people of the Earth all know the good as good, There arises (the recognition of) evil. Therefore: Being and non-being interdepend in growth; Difficult and easy interdepend in completion; Long and short interdepend in contrast; High and low interdepend in position; Tones and voice interdepend in harmony; Front and behind interdepend in company. Therefore the Sage: Manages affairs without action; Preaches the doctrine without words; All things take their rise, but he does not turn away from them; He gives them life, but does not take possession of them; He acts, but does not appropriate; Accomplishes, but claims no credit. It is because he lays claim to no credit That the credit cannot be taken away from him.

16 Discussion points Compare Confucianism and Taoism. How do they harmonize together like yin and yang? What is the point of the story of “The Farmer whose Horse Ran Away” (see Smith 141). How can we know the Tao if it cannot be named, spoken of, seen or measured? And… last question…

17 … nothing!


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