On The Dao De Jing Tao Te Ching

The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) or Laozi (Lao Tzu) is a very important book for studying Chinese philosophy. Its other title, when it was written and by whom remain questions that scholars have long discussed. Some assert that it was written by Lao Ran (6th century B.C.) who was the teacher of Confucius. Most Chinese, however, believe that it was perhaps written later around the fifth century B.C. because some of its paragraphs criticize certain Confucians who lived around the Fifth century B.C. It is believed that someone living at that time put in writing the thought of Lao Ran. The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) could not have been written as late as the Zhuangzi, around the fourth century B.C., because there are quotations from the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) in the Zhuangzi. About the third century B.C., a famous scholar, Han Fei, wrote a section entitled "The Interpretation of Laozi (Lao Tzu)" in his book Han Fei zi. This is the earliest known interpretation of Laozi (Lao Tzu). Since, from the Han dynasty till now, there have been more than one thousand different commentaries and annotations of this text. Foreign scholars pay great attention to the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) as well. The English translations of the text already number more than twenty and there are translations into many other languages as well. Of course, in such a long history many of these commentaries and annotations have been lost. According to the old Taiwan scholar, Yen Linfeng, there should be more than five hundred different copies still remaining; he has collected 345 in the series he edited. Among these the following five could be the most important.

- Laozi (Lao Tzu) Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), interpreted by Wang Bi. His interpretation created a new philosophical theory, known as "Mysterious Learning," around the third century A.D.

- Laozi (Lao Tzu) Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), interpreted by He Shang Gong. This is the earliest interpretation from the view of Daoist religion, around second century A.D.

- Xiang'er Commentary on the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching). This interpretation reflects the views of another faction of the Daoist religion around the third century A.D.

- Dao De Zhen Jing Shu, commentary of Emperor Ming Huang of Tang dynasty. This is the first text interpreted by an emperor.

- Laozi Zhu, interpreted by a great politician, Wang An-Shih.

After 1949, many Chinese scholars tried to put the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) into the vernacular, such as A New Translation of Laozi (Lao Tzu), by Ren Jiyu, Translation of Laozi (Lao Tzu) by Yang Liu-qiao, and Commentary and Translation of Laozi (Lao Tzu) Written on

62 On the Dao De Jing Silk by Xu Kangsheng, etc.

Regarding the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk, in 1973 many books written during the Han dynasty, in the second century B.C. on silk, the so-called Silk Book (Bo Shu), were excavated from Han Tomb No. 3 at Ma Wang Dui in Hunan Province. These silk books are of two different editions of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), editions A and B, which differ in quite a few words, sentences and even in the number of characters.

These Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk are the earliest known texts of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching). In both editions there is no title, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), but two separated titles: dao (tao) (meaning "way") and De (meaning "virtue"). We can understand then why in the history book, Shi Ji (meaning records of the Historian), the writer said that Laozi (Lao Tzu) wrote two pieces of book, one is dao (tao) and the other is De. Moreover, the order of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk is quite different from the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) circulated today. The former begins with De (while the latter does the contrary), which is the order of the Interpretation of Laozi (Lao Tzu) written by Han Fei.

With the discovery of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk, some long discussed problems were resolved. Now we know that the title, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), was formed only after the time of Emperor Jin of the Han Dynasty (156-141 B.C.). "Jing" means "canon" or "Scripture," so dao (tao) and De became a canon later than many Confucian canons. Besides, there are 5,463 characters in the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) on Silk (second century B.C.) and 5,683 characters in the text of Wang Bi (third century A.D.). Later, the text of Doist religion usually includes only 5,000 characters, for which reason the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is called also 5,000 Characters Canon.

The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is especially important because it is one of the two trends which governed the ideology of the Chinese people for two thousand years. As we know, for Chinese culture, philosophy, art and psychology the greatest influences have been Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism), and hence the canon of Daoism (Taoism), the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching). When the Chinese people established their own local Daoist religion, their scripture was the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching),

It seems reasonable to translate Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) as Canon of the Way and Its Virtue, for in fact this book talks about two problems: first, the origin and essence of the universe, that is, the problem of the Way; second, how people can achieve the Way, or in other words how they can reach and understand the way, namely, the problem of Virtue.

In the period of Laozi (Lao Tzu) in answer to the question of how all things in the universe were created most people held that they were created by Heaven or by the God of Heaven. As Heaven is the highest sovereign and has his own will, he is called the God of Heaven. Accord ing to the traditional ideology of Confucianism, Heaven is always a willful and distinctly highest sovereign power. But from the beginning Laozi (Lao Tzu) did not believe this. In chapter 4 of the Dao De J ing (Tao Te Ching) Laozi (Lao Tzu) said clearly that the Dao, the ancestor of all things, seems to have existed before the lord. It is very important to state the question in this way, because it is the first time that someone denied the consistent belief that all things were created by a God in Heaven and on purpose.

Laozi (Lao Tzu) asserted that the dao (tao) is the source of heaven and earth and everything. What is the meaning of the Dao? Laozi (Lao Tzu) tried to use many different adjectives to modify it. For example, he said: The thing that is called the dao (tao) is elusive and vague, deep and obscure (21), soundless and formless, (25). Therefore, it cannot be seen or touched, does not tangle with anything, does not desire to do anything, and is so huge that nothing cannot be included; yet it is so tiny that it can squeeze in anywhere. As such a source of the universe basically cannot be described by language, we have no choice but to name it dao (tao) inadequately. The descriptions of Dao, are only ways to make people understand. It must be made clear that the explanation of dao (tao) is different from dao (tao) itself; they are two different things and the former should not be mistaken for the latter.

What is the essence of the Dao? According to Laozi (Lao Tzu) the dao (tao) is the absolute supreme existence; no existence is earlier than the Dao. At the beginning of the universe the dao (tao) is undifferentiated: "There was something undifferentiated and yet complete, which existed before heaven and earth" (25), that is Dao. Therefore there is first the Dao, and then there is the integrated universe. Laozi (Lao Tzu) said: "The dao (tao) produced the one. The one produced the two. The two produced the three, and the three produced the ten thousand things" (42). It is often understood that One is the original material force; it produces the two—Yin and Yang--and the Three are their blending with the original force which blending produces ten thousand things. It should be noted that the evolution here is natural and has nothing to do with any personal purposeful will. This is the first systematic theory of the creation of the universe, it is a sort of cosmology. Although cosmology later developed much further, basically it was influenced by the viewpoint of the Dao De J ing (Tao Te Ching) just outlined. Of course, there are other theories of cosmology in the classics of Confucianism, for example, the Interpretation of the Book of Change written around the third century B.C. But what the Dao De J ing (Tao Te Ching) emphasized is that although the dao (tao) is the origin of heaven, earth and all things, dao (tao) produced them but never ruled them; everything developed and changed naturally. Therefore the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is negative toward any purposeful or conscious ruling power, and for the same reason often describes the essence of dao (tao) as nameless, formless, having no action, no desire, etc.

Furthermore, Laozi (Lao Tzu) defines the essence of dao (tao) as

Wu. All things come from being, and being comes from super being--Wu. All things in the world were produced from something with name and form; while things with name and form were produced by things transcending experience, time and space. In other words, Laozi (Lao Tzu) asserts that dao (tao) which transcends all the sensory experience is the final cause of all things which exist in sensory experience. In this way, the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) touches the problems of ontology. Later during the Wei Jin Period (around third century A.D.) a scholar of mysterious learning named Wang Bi developed the thought of Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) from this side; he tried to use Wu, the super being that transcends experience, to prove the rationality of existence in experience: As all things are produced by Wu so they are rational.

How can the dao (tao) be gained by human beings? The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) assumes that people should follow the example of the Dao, which means that people should have De. De means finding the way to reach the Dao. In the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), the supreme moral integrity is to take no action. The Sage said: I take no action, and the people of themselves are transformed. I love tranquility and the people of themselves become correct. I engage in no activity, and the people of themselves become prosperous. I have no desire, and the people of themselves become simple" (57). This, then, is to follow the example of the Dao, and a person who follows the dao (tao) is a sage.

But how can people know the Dao? Laozi (Lao Tzu) emphasized that the way to know the dao (tao) is totally different from the search for general knowledge. Usually, the more you know, the more you want. Since the dao (tao) is nameless and formless, you cannot know it as one knows things with name and form; the way to know the dao (tao) is to get rid of things with name and form step by step. By eliminating all things that bear names and forms, in other words, without any so-called knowledge, you can know the dao (tao) naturally.

How can we grasp the character of the Dao? Laozi (Lao Tzu) assumed that it is impossible to put the dao (tao) into any language. He in fact said: "The dao (tao) that can be told of is not the eternal Dao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name"(l). Therefore the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) uses many metaphors to explain the Dao. For example, it says that the character of dao (tao) is just like water. "There is nothing softer and weaker than water, and yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things."(78) "The great river and seas are kings of all mountain streams, because they skillfully stay below them."(66)

It is especially interesting that the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) often uses a negative way to explain the Dao: nameless, formless, no activity, no desire--all are negative ideas. Usually, what the dao (tao) is makes sense by saying what is not the Dao, and what kind of character the dao (tao) possesses is described by saying what kind of character the dao (tao) does not possess." Reversal is the action of the Dao, weakness is the function of the Dao,(40) sages follow the Dao, what they pursue is just the opposite of what common people chase after. For example, common people seek to be in their prime, but after things reach their prime they begin to grow old and perish. Therefore sages never seek their own prime. In order not to perish common people always compete with one another, that a sage does not. MIt is precisely because he does not compete that the world cannot compete with him, so he can protect himself in this way and remain whole." In order to destroy, it is necessary first to give; in order to grasp, it is necessary first to give. This is called the subtle light. The weak and the tender overcome the hard and the strong. All these principles remain till the present very influential in Chinese action and thought.

Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is the most important canon of Daoist philosophy, as well as the most important scripture of the Daoist religion. Daoist religion--the only religion created by the Chinese nation—developed at the end of Han Dynasty in the first century A.D. Its main belief is that one can attain immortality, that one can rise to heaven with body and soul. This belief of the Immortals appeared much earlier than Daoist religion, during the third century B.C. But in the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), we already find certain information. For example, in Chapter 59, we find "that the roots are deep and the stalks are firm, which is the way of long life and everlasting vision." In the Daoist religion people either explain the dao (tao) as a personified god or assume that if people know the Dao, grasp the Dao, they can attain immortality. The Xiang'er commentary, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), described the dao (tao) as qi--Vital energy. The supreme god of Daoist religion was accumulated by Qi. In other words, the Qi accumulated into the being that is the supreme god, Tai Shang Lao Jun\ The He Shang Gong commentary Laozi (Lao Tzu) Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) also said: if you can keep the dao (tao) in your body, if you don't waste your vital energy, don't torture your spirit, then, you can attain immortality. Thus, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) guides people in finding their way to immortality.

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