This booklet, The Canon of Reason and Virtue, is an extract from the author's larger work, Lao-Tze's Tao Teh King, and has been published for the purpose of making our reading public more familiar with that grand and imposing figure Li Er, who was honored with the posthumous title Poh-Yang, i. e., Prince Positive (representing the male or strong principle); but whom his countrymen simply call Lao-tze, the Old Philosopher.
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Sze-Ma Chien, the Herodotus of China, who lived about 136-85 B. C., has left a short sketch of Lao-tze's life in his Shi Ki (Historical Records) which is here prefixed as the most ancient and only well-attested account to be had of the Old Philosopher.
Born in 604 B. C., Lao-tze was by about half a century the senior of Confucius. He must have attained great fame during his life, for Confucius is reported to have sought an interview with him. But the two greatest sages of China did not understand each other, and they parted mutually disappointed.
Confucius's visit to Lao-tze has been doubted. If it is not historical it certainly is ben trovato, for the contrast between these two leaders of Chinese thought remains to the present day. The disciples of Confucius, the so-called "literati," are tinged with their master's agnosticism and insist on the rules of propriety as the best methods of education, while the Tao Sze, the believers in the Tao, or divine Reason, are given to philosophical speculation and religious mysticism. The two schools are still divided, and have never effected a conciliation of their differences that might be attained on a common higher ground.
Chwang-tze, one of Lao-tze's disciples, who lived about 330 B. C., has preserved another, an older and more elaborate, report of the meeting between Confucius and the Old Philosopher. Sze-Ma Chien (163-85 B. C.) is sometimes supposed to have derived his account from Chwang-tze, but Chwang-tze's story bears traces of legendary elements which can not but be regarded as fiction, and it is difficult to believe that the historian should have taken his sober sketch from the fantastic tale of a poet-philosopher.
The names of Lao-tze's birthplace, state, province and the locality of his life's work might be considered as invented purposely because of their strange significance if they were not geographically existent. In the first
edition of Lao-tze's Tao Teh King we translated Cheu as "the State of Plenty," and will only add that the word is made up of the characters "mouth" and "to use," its original meaning being "to supply everywhere; to make a circuit all around or everywhere; and plenty." The Cheu dynasty was so called because the emperor's power reached all over the civilized world, according to Chinese notions. In the present edition we have preferred to translate the word Cheu by "the State of Everywhere."
It would be easy to say that the Old Philosopher was a citizen of Everywhere, and was born in Good Man's Bend to describe his innate character; that his home was situated in Thistle District of Bramble Province to indicate the poverty and difficulties with which his life was surrounded.
The plum-tree is the symbol of immortality, and the ear might signify the man who was willing to listen. Accordingly Lao-tze's family name Li (plum) seems to be as much justified as his proper name Er (ear). What splendid material with which to change Lao-tze into a mythical figure! It is as good as the life of Napoleon of whom Pérèz made a solar hero, an Apollo, on account of his name and the several events of his career--his final sinking in the west and disappearance on an island in the Atlantic, the ocean of sunset. Nevertheless the historicity of Lao-tze and
the authenticity of his book seem to be sufficiently well ascertained.
The historicity of Lao-tze's writing has been doubted only once, but by so great an authority as H. A. Giles. We must, however, remember that the greater part of the Tao Teh King is preserved in quotations in the pre-Christian writings of Lieh-tze, Chwang-tze, and Hwai Nan-tze. (For details see the article in reply to Professor Giles in The Monist, XI, pp. 574-601.)
Lao-tze's book on Reason and Virtue first bore the title Tao Teh. It was in all outward appearances a mere collection of aphoristic utterances, but full of noble morals and deep meditation. It met the reward which it fully deserved, having by imperial decree been raised to the dignity of canonical authority; hence the name King or "canon," completing the title Tao Teh King, as now commonly used, which we translate "Canon of Reason and Virtue."
Although Confucian philosophy has become the guiding star of the Chinese government Lao-tze has taken a firm hold on the hearts of the people, and in the progress of time his figure has grown in significance into the stature of a Christ-like superhuman personality. So it happened that later traditions added to Sze-Ma Chien's brief report various details which became more and more fantastic. We learn that Yin Hi, the officer of the frontier,
was warned beforehand by astrological science of the sage's coming. He is further reputed to have accompanied his master into the deserts of the west, traveling in a car drawn by black oxen.
Still later legends add to these fables the story of Lao-tze's miraculous conception through the influence of a star, and claim that he was the incarnation of the supreme celestial essence; that he had repeatedly been incarnate, once in the village of the state of Tzu. This latter birth is represented in analogy with Buddha's nativity, for his mother brought forth the divine child from her left side, and her delivery took place under a tree--in Lao-tze's case it was a plum-tree. The infant at his very birth pointed to the tree saying, "I shall take my surname Li (plum) from this tree." His head was white, and his countenance that of an aged man, whence it is said he derived his name Lao-tze, which not only means the Old Philosopher but also the Ancient Child. He is said to have wandered to the farthest extremities of the earth, including the countries Ta Tsin (which seems to have represented the Roman Empire) and Tu Kien, where he preached his doctrine and converted the people to the truth. In China he is reported to have helped Wu Wang, the founder of the famous Cheu dynasty, in the year 112 B. C.
Lao-tze's various disciples developed more
and more the mystical elements of Taoism, the practical application of which terminated in a belief in alchemy, especially in an elixir of life.
The Emperor Wu Ti and the emperors of the Tang dynasty were staunch believers in the Old Philosopher. When in the year 666 A. D. Emperor Kao Tsung canonized him he gave him a rank among the gods as the Great Supreme (Tai Shang), as the Emperor-God of the Dark First Cause. Hüan Tsung honored him in 1013 A. D. with the title Tai Shang Lao Chiün, the Great Exalted One, the Ancient Master.
We regret to say that the Taoism of China is a religion which, powerful though it is, little accords with the venerable old philosopher, and without danger of doing its priests an injustice may be branded as a system of superstitions and superstitious practices.
The Taoist church is governed by a Taoist pope who lives in the splendor of a palace surrounded by extensive parks near Lung Hu Shan, scarcely less beautiful than the garden of the Vatican at Rome.
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Lao-tze's Tao Teh King contains so many surprising analogies with Christian thought and sentiment, that were its pre-Christian origin not established beyond the shadow of a doubt, one would be inclined to discover in it traces of Christian influence. Not only
does the term Tao (word, reason) correspond quite closely to the Greek term Logos, but Lao-tze preaches the ethics of requiting hatred with goodness. He insists on the necessity of becoming like unto a little child, of returning to primitive simplicity and purity, of non-assertion and non-resistance, and promises that the crooked shall be straight.
The Tao Teh King is brief, but it is filled to the brim with suggestive thoughts.
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Two issues of the author's translation of Lao-Tze's Tao Teh King have appeared and two editions of an extract entitled The Canon of Reason and Virtue. In the second issue of the first edition of Lao-Tze's Tao Teh King attention has been called to misprints in the Chinese text, and alternative readings have been proposed in an additional chapter entitled "Emendations and Comments."
The present edition is meant to be popular and is an enlargement of The Canon of Reason and Virtue. Of the larger edition entitled Lao-Tze's Tao Teh King, it incorporates the main explanations and the Chinese text which in its revised form we hope is now quite reliable. A few variants which are important for the sense of the text have been added in footnotes. Thus the present little volume being a combination of the larger and the smaller editions, is practically a new work. It contains a comprehensive introduction and
incorporates the results of the translator's latest labors in revising and reconsidering the many difficult passages of the Tao Teh King. A number of new interpretations flashed upon him from time to time, and some of them will be deemed happy and probably be accepted as final. This certainly is true of the first paragraph of Chapter 2, and also of the second paragraph of Chapter 49.
I do not deem it necessary in this popular edition to introduce controversies or to criticize other translations; nor do I want to correct all the mistakes and misprints of my own former editions. I must be satisfied with offering the best results of my labors. My ideal has been to reproduce the original in a readable form which would be as literal as the difference of languages permits and as intelligible to English-speaking people as is the original to the educated native Chinese. While linguistic obscurities have been removed as much as possible, the sense has upon the whole not been rendered more definite than the original or the traditional interpretation would warrant. Stock phrases which are easily understood, such as "the ten thousand things," meaning the whole world or nature collectively, have been left in their original form; but expressions which without a commentary would be unintelligible, such as "not to depart from the baggage wagon," meaning to preserve one's dignity (Chap. 26), have been re-
placed by the nearest terms that cover their meaning.
The versification of the quoted poetry is as literal as possible and as simple as in the original. No attempt has been made to improve its literary elegance. The translator was satisfied if he could find a rhyme which would introduce either no change at all in the words or such an indifferent change as would not in the least alter their sense.
The present edition contains also an introduction and comments in which my prior explanations of Lao-tze's thought are restated in a condensed form together with some new observations which in their appropriate places have been incorporated.
The division into chapters as well as the chapter headings were not made by Lao-tze but are the work of later Chinese editors.
I have sought the advice of Mr. Ng Poon Chew, editor of the Chung Sai Yat Po, the Chinese daily paper of San Francisco, for the interpretation of some difficult words, and for doubtful passages I deemed a comparison with the Manchu translation desirable, for which purpose I have availed myself of the assistance of Dr. Berthold Laufer of the Field Museum of Chicago.
Prof. Paul Pelliot, of Paris, has recently published in the Toung Pao (1912, pp. 351-430) an account of a Sanskrit translation of the Tao Teh King made in the seventh century
for King Kumara of Assam, vassal to the famous Harsha Ciladitya, king of Magadha. Unfortunately this version is lost.
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For further information on Lao-tze the reader is referred to the author's essays Chinese Philosophy (Religion of Science Library No. 30), Chinese Thought, "The Authenticity of the Tao Teh King" (The Monist, Vol. XI, pp. 574-601), written in reply to Prof. Herbert A. Giles, "Medhurst's New Translation of the Tao Teh King" (The Open Court, XX, 174), and the former more complete edition of Lao-Tze's Tao Teh King.
This our larger book, entitled Lao-Tze's Tao Teh King, which contains a verbatim translation of the Chinese text, has not become entirely antiquated, but we warn students that it stands in need of a revision on the basis of the present emendated edition.
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May this little book fulfil its mission and be a witness to the religious spirit and philosophical depth of a foreign nation whose habits, speech, and dress are strange to us. We are not alone in the world; there are others who search for the truth and are groping after it. Let us become better acquainted with them, let us greet them as brothers, let us understand them and appreciate their ideals!