Daoism of Laozi and Zhuangzi (excerpts) and Views of Modern Sinologists

老子 Laozi (six century B.C.)
The Dao (Way) that can be told of is not the eternal Dao; the name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless, it is the origin of Heaven and Earth; the nameable, it is the mother of all things. Always nonexistent, that we may apprehend its inner secrets; always existent, that we may discern its outer manifestation. These two are the same; only as they manifest themselves they receive different names
Tao gave birth to One; One gave birth to Two; Two gave birth to Three; Three gave birth to all the myriad things. The created universe carries the yin at its back and the yang in front;
Through the union of the pervading principles it reaches harmony.
Heaven and earth are not humane: To them all things are as straw-dogs. The sage is not humane: to him all the people are as straw-dogs.
Banish sageliness, discard wisdom, an people will be benefitted a hundredfold. Banish humanity, discard righteousness, and the people will return to filial piety and paternal affection. Banish skill, discard profit, and thieves and robbers will disappear.
Therefore: after Tao is lost, then (arises the doctrine of) humanity. After humanity is lost, then (arises the doctrine of) justice. After justice is lost, then (arises the doctrine of) li. Now li is the thinning out of loyalty and honesty of heart.
And the beginning of chaos. The prophets are the flowering of Tao and the origin of folly. On the decline of the great Tao, The doctrine of “humanity” and “justice” arose. When knowledge and cleverness appeared, Great hypocrisy followed in its wake. When the six relationships no longer lived at peace, There was (praise of) “kind parents” and “filial sons.” When a country fell into chaos and misrule, There was (praise of) “loyal ministers.”
Peace is easily maintained; trouble is easily overcome before it starts. The brittle is easily shattered; the small is easily scattered. Deal with it before it happens. Set things in order before there is confusion. A tree as great as a man’s embrace springs from a small shoot; A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth; a journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet. He who acts defeats his own purpose; he who grasps loses. The sage does not act, and so is not defeated. He does not grasp and therefore does not lose. People usually fail when they are on the verge of success. So give as much care to the end as to the beginning; then there will be no failure. Therefore the sage seeks freedom from desire. He does not collect precious things. He learns not to hold on to ideas. He brings men back to what they have lost. He helps the ten thousand things find their own nature, but refrains from action. (64)
In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped. Less and less is done until non-action is achieved. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering. (48)
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the center hole that makes it useful. Shape clay into a vessel; it is the space within that makes it useful. Cut doors and windows for a room; it is the holes which make it useful. Therefore profit comes from what is there; usefulness from what is not there. (7)
Accept disgrace willingly. Accept misfortune as the human condition. What do you mean by “accept disgrace willingly”? Accept being unimportant. Do not be concerned with loss or gain. This is called “accepting disgrace willingly.” What do you mean by “accept misfortune as the human condition”? Misfortune comes from having a body. Without a body, how could there be misfortune? Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things. Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things. (13)
庄子 Zhuangzi (fourth century B.C.)
Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. (story related by Chuang Tze, 369-286 B.C.)
匠石之齐,至于曲辕,见栎社树。其大蔽牛,囗之百围,其高临山十仞而后有枝,其可以舟者旁十数。观者如市, 匠伯不顾,遂行不辍。弟子厌观之,走及匠石,曰:‘自吾执斧斤以随夫子,未尝见材如此其美也。先生不肯视,行不辍,何邪?”曰:“已矣,勿言之矣!散木 也。以为舟则沉,以为棺椁则速腐,以为器则速毁,以为门户则液囗,以为柱则蠹,是不材之木也。无所可用,故能若是之寿。”
匠石归,栎社见梦曰:“女将恶乎比予哉?若将比予于文木邪?夫楂梨橘柚果囗之属,实熟则剥,剥则辱。大枝折,小枝泄。此以其能苦其生者也。故不终其天 年而中道夭,自掊击于世俗者也。物莫不若是。且予求无所可用久矣!几死,乃今得之,为予大用。使予也而有用,且得有此大也邪?且也若与予也皆物也,奈何哉 其相物也?而几死之散人,又恶知散木!”匠石觉而诊其梦。弟子曰:“趣取无用,则为社何邪?”曰:“密!若无言!彼亦直寄焉!以为不知己者诟厉也。不为社 者,且几有翦乎!且也彼其所保与众异,而以义喻之,不亦远乎!”
A wondering carpenter, called Stone, saw on his travels a gigantic old oak tree standing in the field near an earth-altar, broad enough to shelter several thousand oxen and measured a hundred spans around, towering above the hills. The lowest branches were eighty feet from the ground, and a dozen or so of them could have been made into boats. There were so many sightseers that the place looked like a fair, but the carpenter didn’t even glance around and went on his way without stopping. His apprentice stood admiring the oak for a long time and then ran after carpenter Stone and said, “Since I first took up my ax and followed you, Master, I have never seen timber as beautiful as this. But But you didn’t even stop to look, and go right on without stopping. Why is that?” “Forget it and say no more!” Said the carpenter. “This is a useless tree. If you wanted to make boats, they would sink; if you wanted to make coffins, they would soon rot. You can’t do anything useful with this tree, and that is why it has become so old.” But in an inn that same evening, when the carpenter went to sleep, the old oak tree appeared to him in his dream and said: “Why do you compare me to your cultivated trees such as white-thorn, pear, orange, and apple trees? Even before they can ripen their fruit, people attack and violate them. Their branches are broken, their twigs are torn. Their own gifts bring harm to them, and they can’t live out their natural span. That is why I have long since tried to become completely useless. Imagine if I had been useful in any way, would I have reached this size? You useless mortal man, what do you know about useless trees?” The carpenter woke up and meditated upon his dream, and later, when his apprentice asked him why just this one tree served to protect the earth-altar, he answered, “Keep your mouth shut! Let’s hear no more about it! The tree grew here on purpose because anywhere else people would have ill-treated it. If it were not the tree of the earth-altar, it might have been chopped down.”
The emperor of the South Sea was called Shu, the emperor of the North Sea was called Hu, and the emperor of the central region was called Hun-Tun (chaos). Shu and Hu from time to time came together for a meeting in the territory of Hun-tun, and Hun-Tun treated them very generously. Shu and Hu discussed how they could repay his kindness. “All men,” they said, “have seven openings so they can see, hear, eat and breathe. But Hun-Tun alone does not have any. Let’s try boring him some.” Everyday they bored another hole, and on the seventh day Hun-Tun died.
Once upon a time, an old man living along the border lost his horse. People who heard about this all came to offer their condolences. But the old man remarked how would anybody know that this was not a good thing. Months later the horse came back with another thoroughbred. People who heard about this all came to offer congratulations. But the old man remarked that who would know that having another horse was not a bad thing. Later, the son of the old man crippled his leg by falling from the new horse. People who heard about this again came to offer their condolences, to which the old man again replied that who would know that this was not to turn out to be a good thing. Later on when war broke out again along the border, the son was exempted from the army draft because of his physical infirmity and able to take care of his parents. (legend from the Period of the Warring States)
Mastering Life
He who has mastered the true nature of life does not labor over what life cannot do. He who has mastered the true nature of fate does not labor over what knowledge cannot change.Confucius was seeing the sights at Lu-liang, where the water falls from a height of thirty fathoms and races and boils along for forty miles, so swift that no fish or other water creature can swim in it. He saw a man dive into the water and, supposing that the man was in some kind of trouble and intended to end his life, he ordered his disciples to line up on the bank and pull the man out. But after the man had gone a couple of hundred paces, he came out of the water and began strolling along the base of the embankment, his hair streaming down, singing a song. Confucius ran after him and said, “At first I thought you were a ghost, but now I see you’re a man. May I ask if you have some special way of staying afloat in the water?” “I have no way. I began with what I was used to, grew up with my nature, and let things come to completion with fate. I go under with the swirls and come out with the eddies, following along the way water goes and never thinking about myself. That’s jow I can stay afloat.” Confucius said, “What do you mean by saying that you began with what you used to, grew up with your nature, and let things come to completion with fate?” “I was born on the dry land and felt safe on the dry land–that was what I was used to. I grew up with the water and felt safe in the water–that was nature. I don’t know why I do what I do–that is fate.”
The Secret of Caring for Life
Your life has a limit but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, you will be in danger. If you understand this and still strive for knowledge, you will be in danger for certain! If you do good, stay away from fame. If you do evil, stay away from punishments. Follow the middle; go by what is constant, and you can stay in one piece, keep yourself alive, look after your parents, and live out your years.
The Great and Venerable Teacher
The True Man of ancient times knew nothing of loving life, knew nothing of hating death. He emerged without delight; he went back in without a fuss. He came briskly, he went briskly, and that was all. He did not forget where he began; he did not try to find out where he would end. He received something and took pleasure in it; he forgot about it and handed it back again. This is what I call not using the mind to repel the Way, not using man to help out Heaven. This is what I call the True Man.
Supreme Happiness
Is there such a thing as supreme happiness is the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate?There is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life a ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. This is what it finds bitter: a life that knows no rest, a mouth that gets no rich food, no fine clothes for the body, no beautiful sights for the eye, no sweet sounds for the ear.People who can’t get these things fret a great deal and are afraid–this is a stupid way to treat the body. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use–this is a superficial way to treat your body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right–this is a shoddy way to treat the body. Man lives his life in company with worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that much time worrying instead of dying, a bitter lot indeed! This is a callous way to treat your body. …I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: the highest happiness has no happiness, the highest praise has no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. The highest happiness, keeping alive–only inaction gets you close to this! Let me try putting it this way. The inaction of Heaven is its purity, the inaction of earth is its peace. So the two inactions combine and all things are transformed and brought to birth. Wonderfully, mysteriously, there is no place they come out of. Mysteriously, wonderful, they have no sign. Each thing minds its business and all grow up out of inaction . So I say Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. Among men, who can get hold of this inaction?Chuang Tzu’s wife died. When Hui Tzu went to convey his condolences, he found Chuang Tzu sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. “You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old,” said Hui Tzu. “It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing–this is going too far, isn’t it?” Chuang Tzu said, “You’re wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn’t grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there has been another change and she is dead. It’s just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter. Now she’s going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bowling and sobbing, it would show that I don’t understand anything about fate. So I stopped.”

Chinese Buddhism

Buddhist disciple Shen Xiu says: “My body is like a tree of truth and mind a shrine of wisdom; I’ll diligently count my beads and let no dust gather.” But Buddhist disciple named Hui Neng from a humble family origin says, “By nature truth has no body like a tree and wisdom is no shrine; there is never any thing to begin with, with what to catch dust?”
Frederick W. Mote

The Problem of Evil, and Consequences of A World without Sin

The late Dr. Hu Shih, eminent historian of Chinese thought and culture, used to say with sly delight that centuries of Christian missionaries had been frustrated and chagrined by the apparent inability of Chinese to take sin seriously. Were we to work out fully all the consequences for Chinese society of the model offered by an organismic cosmos functioning through the dynamism of harmony, we might well be able to relate the absence of a sense of sin to it. For in such a cosmos there can be no parts wrongfully present; everything that exists belongs, even if no more appropriately than as the consequence of a temporary imbalance, a disharmony. Evil as a positive or active force cannot exist; much less can it be frighteningly personified. No devils can struggle with good forces for mastery of humans and the universe, and people’s errors, unlike sin in other worlds, can neither offend personal gods not threaten a person’s individual existence. The question of immortality in a future that “really counts”–if one is lucky enough or good enough to transcend the material present reality–does not even arise. The being true in the Great Tradition, countertendencies in the popular religions in China’s highly congruent culture were correspondingly weakened. The consequence of such a definition of the problem of evil for the Chinese character seems to be something like the issue at stake in the frequently encountered distinction between shame cultures and guilt cultures. Whether this formula, derived by anthropologists from observations of relatively simple cultures, will have lasting value when applied to a civilization as complex as that of traditional China may be questioned. But it suggests that further hypotheses about Chinese traditional character and personality types might well be guided by some reference to a cosmology which apparently releases people from the mechanical workings of fear and sin doctrines, and offers them a less treatened and less treatening personal relationship to their cosmos. Yet Chinese ethical philosophy in all periods stresses the necessity to engage in self -examination and self-correction; the philosophic foundations for a moral responsibility were not lacking.

———- Intellectual Foundations of China, pp.21-22

Andrew Plaks
The Chinese [narrative] tradition has tended to place nearly equal emphasis on the overlapping of events, the interstitial spaces between events, in effect on non-events alongside of events in conceiving of human experience in time. In fact, the reader of the major Chinese narrative works soon becomes conscious of the fact that those clearly defined events which do stand out in the texts are nearly always set into a thick matrix of non-events: static description, set speeches, discursive digressions, and a host of other non-narrative elements. … The ubiquitous potential presence of a balanced, totalized, dimension of meaning may partially explain why a fully realized sense of the tragic does not materialize in Chinese narrative. Such characters as Prince Shen-sheng, Hsiang Yu, Yueh Fei, and even Chia Pao-yu clearly possess the qualities of the tragic figure to one extent or another. But in each case the implicit understanding of the logical interrelation between their particular situation and the overall structure of existential intelligibility serves to blunt the pity and fear the reader experiences as he witnesses their individual destinies. In other words, Chinese narrative is replete with individuals in tragic situations, but the secure inviolability of the underlying affirmation of existence in its totality precludes the possibility of the individual’s tragic fate taking on the proportions of a cosmic tragedy. Instead, the bitterness of the particular case of mortality ultimately settles back into the ceaseless alternation of patterns of joy and sorrow, exhilaration and despair that go to make up an essentially affirmative view of the universe of experience.

——- Chinese Narrative, Critical and Theoretical Essays

Chad Hansen
One absolutely central aspect of the concept of moral autonomy in Western philosophy involves distinguishing morality proper from conventional mores. … This basic element of autonomy in Western ethical theory generates the distinction between codes of etiquette, fashion, and customs, on the one hand, and morality on the other. Etiquette, fashion and customs are products of history. They are, from moral point of view, accidental. One can always ask whether one ought to follow accepted and established prescriptions. It does not follow from mere existence of any such system that its prescriptions are morally correct. It may fairly be asked if Confucius’s traditionalist political philosophy has this distinct concept of morality at all.

“Punishment and Dignity in China” in Individualism and Holism