We believe that the world has entered a new era, and we need a new way of life. Taoism may provide a good choice. Everyone is welcome, and please leave your comments. Please visit: http://taoism21cen.com Dr. You-Sheng LI.
Discussion: WEST meets EAST
Everybody is welcome to join the discussion: West meets East, namely, the cultural differences between different cultures and what we can learn from each other, or anything you think related to this topic.
The following is from the book "A New Interpretation of Chinese Taoist Philosophy":
The West and the East (1)
In the West, God, the world, and I are three entities. Therefore you have a God to please, a world to conquer, and most of all you have many peers to compete with through your whole life. Even your pets have to compete with other pets once a year at dog shows or cat shows. If you find this tiring or even depressing, then you may well try oriental philosophy for a change. In the East, God, the world, and I are all rolled together into one --- the big One. In Chinese history, intellectuals were Confucians in the government office but Taoists at home. Taoism is now nicknamed, spare time philosophy. You might not be able to humanize your working place but you can certainly make your home a more harmonious place.
There are many misunderstandings in the West towards Taoism. Belief in the big One does not spell conformity or prevent individual freedom. On the contrary, Taoism is a philosophy based on individuals, families, and primary societies. The primary societies were the basic social structure in ancient time. Taoism does not oppose civilization either but insists that civilization should not destroy the primary societies and families or put undue strain on them.
To my knowledge, Taoism is the only philosophy and religion that encourages the believers to live a prolonged, healthy, and happy life. They stress the present life rather than the next one. They emphasize human nature rather than asceticism. Taoism is user-friendly, since it was designed to suit human nature.
In Chinese history it was not Confucianism but Taoism that led the way for Chinese medicine and science. In search of remedies to promote a long healthy life, many herbs of medical value were found. Gun powder was also discovered accidentally.
A Taiwanese scholar says, “Confucianism is a food store, Buddhism is a department store, and Taoism is a drug store.” If you are sick or seeking to improve your health and prolong your life, you have to come to a drug store. Some famous Taoists were also famous physicians in Chinese history. The slow moving exercise, Tai Chi Chuan (tai ji quan), and the breathing practice, Chi Kong (qi gong) are forms of Taoist practice.
Taoism also represents the most ancient Chinese cultural traditions. For a Western reader to understand Taoism, it is a prerequisite to understand how the cultures of the West and East branched apart along the course of development of our human race. To study Taoism is also an essential way to understand Chinese culture.
A Chinese scholar from the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) once wrote the following lines:
You do not know the real appearance of Mountain Lu,
If you are inside it attracted by one scene or two.
Those two lines have become an idiomatic expression identifying a unique human situation where insiders have a muddled mind while outsiders have a clear view. Early Taoist philosophers were either historians or hermits who lived a reclusive life in the mountains. To the secular world they were, in a way, outsiders.
Mountain Lu is one of the tourist attractions in China. The former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (1893-1976) chose Mountain Lu to hold several critical meetings where he either purged some high ranking officials or led the huge country one step closer to economic collapse.
If you come to visit a mountain like Mountain Lu, you follow the guide to see all the attractions from the bottom to the top. Some of the sites offer a special view of the surrounding scenery while others may be of historical significance. After a day of climbing and walking along the rugged path full of twists and turns, you are finally back in your car, sitting comfortably on the drive home. After a few miles, you look back to see what you have just visited and are amazed by its magnificence under the early moonlight. After seeing all the scenery sites on the mountain, you may also have a different artistic sense while looking at the mountain as a whole from a distant vantage point. You suddenly realize how pale the artificial prettiness is in comparison with the awesome natural beauty of God’s creation. A Taoist saying is, “Heaven and Earth have great beauty but do not say a word.”
Continued: The West and the East(2)
After more than two thousand years under the influence of Taoism that promotes living with nature, many Taoists, retired government officials, and even Buddhists chose to live in the mountains and build their homes there. This further attracted an even larger mass of worshipers or visitors. As you can imagine, trees were planted, and buildings were erected. But it was still far away from cities and human activities and their artefacts were still hardly visible if you looked from a distance.
The most popular ancient poet in Chinese literature was Li Po (701-762) who visited Mountain Lu in 726 and wrote the following lines:
The beautiful Mount Scent Burner is in sight,
Purple smoke rises from it under sunlight.
The waterfall hangs in distance on the river,
Three thousand feet down is flying water.
The Silver River of heaven up high
has come down to earth from the blue sky.
A culture in many senses can be understood as artificial attractions built on a mountain while the mountain itself is nature.
If we consider God, the world, and I as religion, science, and philosophy respectively, Chinese culture was inclined toward the philosophical or I side, while Indian culture was inclined toward the religious or God side. In the ideal realm or heaven after death, Taoists have both their individual souls and bodies, Christians have souls but Hindu-Buddhists have neither. Hindu-Buddhists lose their individual identities to join the cosmic pool of soul. Chinese people worshiped their ancestors who functioned as messengers or mediators between men and God. Since the ancestors they worshiped included their dead parents or grandparents and they had a strong emotional bond with them, their concept of God remained more vague and remote. It is like church goers in the West who are totally focused on pastors or angels but never care much about God himself.
Ancient Chinese philosophy developed in pursuit of an ideal way of secular life. Ancient Indian philosophy developed in pursuit of an ideal way of religious life. Ancient Greek philosophy developed as a way to deal with both God and the world. The main origin of violence in history was also different: Invasion from outside for India, expansion of the present powers for the West, and uprising from within for China. The Chinese peasant uprisings were common but only reached a large scale occasionally. Chinese peasant uprisings often took Taoism for their aspiration. Taoism is a secularized and philosophized religion. Once Buddhism spread to China, combined with Taoism, it emerged as Zen or Chan, a more secular and practical type of Buddhism.
India West China
God World I
Universe God Sky+ancestor
Neither souls souls+bodies
Religion Science philosophy
Caste Secondary Two levels
Invasion expansion uprising
Backward forward stay there
Caste club clan
Modern political philosophy lists Plato and Aristotle as its ancient founders but not Confucius. In fact, Confucius was a professional politician while neither Plato nor Aristotle was. Confucius practiced and taught politics for his whole life. Confucius’ political philosophy is based on the genetically coded primary society while Western political philosophy including Plato’s and Aristotle’s are all based on the man-made secondary society.
Confucius political philosophy is nothing but human-heartedness plus examples, which are set up by the ruling class for the people to follow and set up by everybody for others to follow.
Both Confucius and Plato charted out the ideal universal state for whole humanity but neither thought they were the original creators of their ideas. During the last six thousand years, civilization and accumulation of knowledge and social complexity were only side products of upgrading wars until the two world wars. It is like the evolutionary process that fish moved onto land and became mammals and birds, which was created not by man but by God.