Wednesday, March 28, 2012


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The passages of the Tao Te Ching were a deep challenge for me. The Way of Life for the Taoist is put forth very plainly in the second passage of number 48. “By letting go, it all gets done; The world is won by those who let it go! But when you try and try; The world is then beyond the winning.” I believe Taoism is based on conforming to life around you. Not trying to change your circumstances but give in to them and let nature take its course. It was very important to me to understand the Way according to Taoism in order to complete this assignment. I read and reread these passages over and over until the message of number 48 hit me. The rest of my essay will be based on this concept.

The passages of the Tao Te Ching given for this assignment can be grouped into three categories. They consist of the Way itself, the Way and people, and the Way and society.

Passages 1 and 4 characterize the Way. In Passage 1, the Way is stated as being nameless and uncharted. Nameless and uncharted means unknown, but by surrendering to the unknown, the Way can still be found and experienced. The Way is “secret.” The Taoists didn’t believe that desire and longing was a part of conforming. Covetousness can cloud your thinking and if you are not careful, you’ll only see what’s on the outside and miss the beauty that is deep within.

In Passage 4, the Way is “a void, used but never filled; an abyss it is, like an ancestor from which all things come.” I don’t look at this as never being filled to the point of being used up, but as constantly being used but never needing to be re-filled. Like our heritage, it will always be there. The Way, takes the edge out of sharpness, fixes things we might be ensnared in, balances light, and gives peace in times of unrest. All of things can be accomplished by adapting to the situation and “letting go.” The Way is “A deep pool, never to run dry!” Similar to the first verse, it is always there and will never run out as long as you use it. The third verse alludes to a Tao belief in God. The Way is precious to them. They don’t know if it is from God, but it is an introduction to God. Passages 1 and 4 give a lot of insight as to what the Way is, but how did the Taoists apply these characteristics to their everyday existence? This question will be answered as we look at the other passages.

Passages 1, 8, 46, 48, and 56 are concerned with the manifestation of the Way in a man’s life. How does the Way look when it is applied to the day-to-day existence of man? Passage 1 says being favored brings trouble. A high rank is equivalent to selfishness. If a man focuses more on others and their well being, then he wouldn’t suffer.

Passages 8 and 46 have elements for both individuals and society. Because of the underlying theme in these passages, I have placed them in the third category of the Way and society as well. For this point, I am only looking at it as it applies to how a man should live. In verse one of passage 8, we find that a truly virtuous man will not put his righteousness on display for all to see. He is at peace and the fruit of his life is proof of his goodness. A man with very little virtue will never miss a chance to parade his righteousness around. His virtue is false and means nothing. In passage 46, we see that a man should be contented. It is a grave error to be covetous, envious, and discontented. This alludes to a simple life and being at peace with whatever situation you are in.

Passage 48, is the essence of Taoism. The student of the Way learns slowly day by day. In order to gain the Way, he must lose himself. When all of himself is gone, he is at peace. In order to attain the Way, a man must become totally selfless. By letting go of his circumstances, and accepting them, becoming one with them, he has reached the Path of Life - a quite, simple, peaceful existence.

Passage 56 is similar to the statement of virtue. If a man has reached the Way, he doesn’t need to tell everyone. The proof is in the living of his life. If a man boasts of finding the Way, you can bet he hasn’t. This passage also appears to be a call to the Path of Life. That concept doesn’t seem to fit. I don’t believe Taoists would be actively recruiting followers. From the last part of the verse, “In which the Wise Man is moved, Neither by affection, Nor yet by estrangement, Or profit or loss, Or honor or shame, Accordingly, by all the world, He is held highest.” The man who has found the Way is not concerned with anything else. He doesn’t care if he is loved or hated, separated from family, is honored or put to shame. He has found the Way. He will help someone who asks find the Way, but I don’t believe he would be about evangelizing.

Passages 18, 8, and 46 deal primarily with the Way and what happens to the world without it. These passages can be confusing because they talk about what would happen if the Way was lost or forgotten. In passage 18 it says if the Way fades away “then came kindness and morality. When wisdom and intelligence appeared they brought with them a great hypocrisy.” I don’t think the Taoists thought these attributes were bad in of themselves, but the use of them in certain contexts to be a bad thing. They were either false or forced. They believed the Way should be flowing through a person and manifested naturally.

Passage 8 is very similar to 18. “When virtue is lost, then compassion sets in. “Compassion at its best consists in honest deeds;” Morality at its best is deliberate. Then you have etiquette, which forces a man to do what is right. In this passage that Taoists state that at their very best, these attributes are not enough to set you on the Path of Life. In fact, if the way is lost or forgotten, eventually an outer shell of what is good and right will take its place and then chaos will set in. It is apparent that Taoists are not high on etiquette because as I stated earlier, the Path of Life should be naturally flowing through a person and not forced.

As stated in passage 46, “no sin can exceed, no calamity’s worse, no omen more dreadful” than envy, discontentment, or covetousness. Without the Way, war and malcontent grow among the people. With the Way, all is peaceful and everyone is content.

The Taoist had a very simple way to live. They believed in conforming to nature and life. They should live selfless, and without favor. They should be content. Compassion, kindness, morality, and virtue should flow freely through them. Life should be peaceful. To the Taoist, the Path of Life did not consist of selfishness, high rank, envy, or discontentment. It should not have a desire for war. Virtue, etiquette, compassion, and morality should not be forced. A man must not try to change the laws of nature, but accept them.

The main difference between Taoism and Confucianism is the conforming to nature and circumstances of the Taoists and the evolving of a person’s character by Confucius.

Confucius believed the Way could be taught or learned according to a person’s character knowledge and goals. The Taoists didn’t believe the Way could be taught but had to be found. As we look at passage 4 verse , “a deep pool it is, Never to run dry!” It is always there waiting to be used, but you have to find it.

Confucius believed in a proper societal order and that study and knowledge were better than meditation and fasting. This can be found in Book 5 of the his Analects “I once spent all day thinking without taking food and all night thinking without going to bed, but I found that I gained nothing from it. It would have been better for me to have spent the time in learning.”

The Taoists believed in a peaceful, simple, conforming existence. They were more into learning from experience and selflessness. The main example here is passage 48, “The student learns by daily increment. The Way is gained by daily loss, loss upon loss until at last comes rest. By letting go, it all gets done; the world is won by those who let go! But when you try and try the world is then beyond the winning.” The Taoists were critical of Confucius because of his belief you can change your circumstances. The Taoists believed it was not possible and better to change yourself. Who is right?

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