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Mankind has always been concerned about the "Power manifesting itself in the universe." It could not be otherwise. The world is full of wonder and the signs of power. The starry heavens above and the pullulating earth below have ever urged on the mind of man to seek the cause and origin of the forces behind phenomena.
There are as many opinions as there are minds. And the record of the many interpretations of this Power is both long and various. The study of the impressions made on men, by it, falls generally within the sphere of religion. For it concerns a subject which it is not easy to examine by experiment. There can only be philosophical deductions and religious impressions. The experience is as wide as the human race, and exists without regard to the states of civilization or the standards of culture. Savages and cultured people both have experience of the Power, though expressed in different ways, and having divers social effects. The guise under which the Power is conceived starts a wide study in human experience.
Our chief concern is with how the Chinese have thought of this Power manifesting itself in the universe. A comparison with other races can only be very brief. Is it thought of as personal and approachable, as good or malign? Some looked on it as being outside and as external to the world. But Aristotle did not think so. He did not conceive of it as being outside and as an external providence, designing earthly structure and events: rather the design is internal and arises from the type and function of the thing. In his view "Divine providence coincides completely with the operations of natural causes. Yet there is a God." (W. Durrant). In his book, "Progress in Religion," Dr. T. R. Glover discusses what is the Great Original, as expressed by the Greeks; and he seems to think it was expressed by Air. The Taoists, too, think of air, but they deny it was p. xxxii the ordinary air we breathe, but quite something of another quality. Would it be ether they were thinking of? And it is not easy to conclude how the Taoist view compares with that of Aristotle. On the whole they differ. The Tao is conceived of as something self-existent and being independent of the visible world. It belongs to the invisible world and the visible comes from it.
The ancients judged of the world without mechanical aids. What they would have concluded had they had at their command all the modern mechanism for surveying the universe, passes our imagination! But, as the Taoist saw it, he judged that the invisible was greater than the visible: that spirit, from every point of view, was more excellent than matter. Lao Tan felt that behind all,—not only the visible world, but also behind the invisible world, there is a Supreme Power to which he gave the conventional name of Tao, or, as it may be translated the Cosmic Spirit. But this is only a conventional term: we cannot comprehend it and therefore it is impossible to give it an adequate name. Its quality, its power and its magnitude is so vast and deep that no human language,—language belonging to the material universe alone—can describe it. And, of course, were any term comprehensive enough to connote it, in all its mysterious greatness, it would, at once, lose its chief characteristic of the Infinite. Once a thing is defined, it becomes limited. So the conventional name of Great Tao is only an indicative name,—indicative of immensity and quality and the way. But whilst no name can adequately define it, yet it is possible for the mind to have a good conception of it, through description of its works and by analogues of what it is like. It is the Source of all and the Eternal Sustainer of all creation. It gives out energy, but without the least exhaustion of its own powers and resources.
These comparisons and descriptions of the Tao are so fully and frequently made, that it is unnecessary to say more. In the 1st essay, in particular, a wealth of illustration is given to show its nature and quality. Throughout the work p. xxxiii there are significant suggestions made that in it, alone, will be found the secret of life and strength adequate to bring all human affairs to a successful issue. The State and the individual can find the perfect life in it. The "Perfect Man" will make the perfect state; and the Perfect Man is so because of a full alliance with the Tao.
A description of this "Perfect man" may occasion some difficulty. He is described as being ashen grey in the face and so unconcerned with life and business, as though he did not care for any of these things. He looks incompetent. It is easy to understand the intention. It is a concrete way of depicting a man who is wholly under the domination of the Tao. It is a way of saying that the chief things in life are the things of the Tao. It is the greatest thing. "He who looks into the mirror of the Great Purity sees with great clearness. He who perambulates in the regions of the Tao has lucidity equal with sun and moon. Where the Tao was, there was truth and uprightness. Those who had the Tao, had perfect liberty. "We see all things in God," said Malebranche.
There was no ritual in the service of the Tao. It does not seek the outward manifestation of rites, but guards unity in the heart so that the possessor may reach communion with High Heaven and with all the world below. In this the Taoist is far superior to the Confucianist. The latter is involved in endless etiquettes from which the Taoist is free. This is a fundamental difference which pervades the two systems. This arises from the difference in origins. The Taoist maintains a spiritual origin which has far reaching results in life and conduct. The Confucianist conceives a physical origin to all things. He begins with heaven and ends with earth. Even his name for the Supreme Being smells of the physical, the "Ruler Above, Shang Ti." His moralities have, therefore, not the naturalness of the Taoist's. Hence the controversies. The Taoist is left without a rag of man-made ceremonies. His is all spiritually natural. He has not even that of the noble p. xxxiv Roman boy pictured by Virgil, whose purple-edged toga suggested not only the weakness of boyhood and its need of protection by a holy garment, but kept daily before the eyes and mind of its wearer that duty to family, state and gods which was the foundation of all that was best in the Roman character.
I am not quite certain whether there was any communion in worship and prayer. But this should be guardedly said. For there are indications that there are responses to those who pursue and press forward on it. There are statements about such meditations in which all outside things are forgotten,—some Yoga practice. There are indications that there was the practice of abstraction from outward things, that the unseen world became the chief thing, similar to what the Sadhu Sundar Singh says of his communion with the spiritual.
The Tao being one with naturalness (###) is not composed of any fixed principles. "It is not a fixed compound, nor has it any definite limitations. Hence the use of scientific formulae to describe it is not possible. It may not be stated in any logical terms" or explained by syllogistic forms. Its form and applications are interminable and are self-acting and self-determining. It may, further, be said that the inherent nature of the Tao is purity, tranquility, rest and unity. Whenever it is present in human affairs, it is never divorced from these four inherent qualities. These words are leading words in the philosophy: purity, tranquility, rest and unity. Their purport is easily understood, and it means that the spiritual must predominate in all things. The senses are to be instruments in its service. But the mistake men make is that they make the senses supreme and allow them to get the mastery. The result is that the whole of life is put into a state of anarchy. Purity, tranquility, rest and unity are lost, and the whole of nature is disturbed, in consequence. The Tao, being what it is, has four qualities of purpose, viz., forethought, accomplishment, deliberation and action without force. There is no forcing the Tao. Whoever tries p. xxxv to use the Tao in a compulsive way, bending and twisting it to suit his own ideas, can only lead to sham and hypocrisy.
A peaceful world can only come through the adoption of the Tao. Anarchy is the fruit of disobedience to it. But when the world adopts and embodies the principles of the Tao, and coöperates with naturalness, through the Tao, it follows that creation will receive its wealth of gifts.
The assimilation of the Tao has its foundation in meekness, tenderness, poverty of spirit and quietness. These are expressed sometimes by one word, emptiness. An aggressive spirit will be brought low, pride leads to a fall, violence will end in defeat, all which come from misunderstanding the real use of the Tao.
The problem of self-culture is not overlooked. The most esteemed method is the reduction of desire and the suppression of the senses. This will give the power to govern the mind. When the heart is empty and pure, the seeds of truth may be sown in the field of the mind. The spirit will be nourished and perfected, and its usefulness made available for the whole world.