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Ancient Roots of Taoism

Ancient Roots of Taoism

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Ancient Roots of Taoism

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  1. Ancient Roots of Taoism Jeff Richey, Ph.D. REL 213 Taoism and the Arts of China Berea College Short Term 2004

  2. ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY IN EARLY CHINA • Large population • Agricultural society • Climactic extremes (hot summers, freezing winters, regular floods) • Relative isolation (bounded by Pacific, Himalayas, deserts)

  3. CULTURAL ORIENTATIONS • Intense pressure for social harmony • Ideal unity of natural and social orders • Confidence in human ability to discern and manipulate environment • Ethnocentrism and bouts of xenophobia

  4. EARLY CHINESE RELIGION • “Oracle bones” used in divination rituals to communicate with ancestral spirits • Shang-di 上帝 (“The Lord on High”) = • divine ancestor of Shang 商 rulers (c. 1500-1050 BCE) • later identified with Tian天 (“Heaven”), deity of Zhou 周 rulers (c. 1050-256 BCE) • Dao道 (“Way”) = normative cosmic pattern

  5. EARLY CHINESE COSMOLOGY • Two hypotheses: • Agonistic relationship: humans versus earth, Tian, other extrahuman forces [Puett] • Triangular relationship: humans, earth, Tian share harmonious, correlative cosmos [Chang, Mote] • In both, great emphasis on human agency in sustaining cosmic order

  6. THE CRISIS IN THE ZHOU ORDER (c. 771-221 BCE) • After 770 BCE, Zhou rule was weakened by foreign invasions and internal divisions • 771-481 BCE: Chunqiu春秋 (“Spring and Autumn”) period of unstable feudal coalition • 403-221 BCE: Zhanguo戰國 (“Warring States”) period of constant civil war among feudal lords competing to impose rule and restore unity of Zhou territory • The Baijia百家 (“Hundred Teachings”) arise in response to cultural crisis and “free market” for political, philosophical, and ritual expertise

  7. THE SCHOOL OF ZHUANGZI, c. 300s-100s BCE • Zhuangzi = obscure thinker from south China responsible for some, but not all, of text that bears his name • Zhuangzi = most original and complex early Chinese text • After 221 BCE, little interest in Zhuangzi until arrival of Buddhism in China

  8. POSSIBLE SOURCES OF ZHUANGZI • “Zhuangism” (1-7, 16-27): associated with Zhuangzi himself, interested in critique of rationalism, spontaneity, ineffable Dao • “Primitivism” (8-10, 11): rejection of society, embrace of “natural” values • “Syncretists” (12-15, 33): combine cosmological concerns with self-cultivation themes • “Yangism” (28-29, 31): associated with individualist/hedonist Yang Zhu 楊朱 (c. 300s BCE) -- cf. A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao (1989)

  9. ZHUANGIST THEMES • Conscious knowledge = product of dualism (separation of subject & object) • Dao = mysterious, amoral, beyond conventional wisdom • Unity with Dao = naturalness (ziran 自然), freedom, insight • Spiritual models = craftspersons, enduring natural objects

  10. THE SCHOOL OF LAOZI, c. 300s-100s BCE • Laozi = legendary, probably non-historical figure credited with text; deified by 100s CE • Text (c. 250 BCE) also known as Daodejing道德經 (“Classic of Way and Power”) • In contrast to Zhuangzi, Laozi remains important to Daoists beyond Warring States era

  11. POSSIBLE SOURCES OF LAOZI • Diverse concerns suggest multiple layers of authorship: • Meditation techniques • Military strategy • Politics and rulership • Social revolution • Utopian escapism

  12. LAOIST THEMES • Conscious knowledge = product of decline from era of sage-king rule • Dao = mysterious, amoral, beyond conventional wisdom • Unity with Dao = anonymity, freedom, natural social order • Spiritual model = characteristic wuwei無爲(“actionless action”) of natural world

  13. THE HUANG-LAO SCHOOL, c. 100s BCE • Huang-Lao = • Huangdi皇帝 (“Yellow Emperor” – mythical sage-king of primeval times, associated with healing arts and rulership • Laozi老子 • Popular at early Han 漢 court, c. 206-136 BCE • Syncretism of earlier concepts and concerns: • Dao-based cosmology • Techniques of rulership • Interest in law (fa 法)

  14. WHAT IS DAOJIA道家(“TAOISM”)? • The term Daojia (“School of Dao”) does not appear in Chinese texts until Han 漢 dynasty, c.100s BCE • Han librarians use Daojia to unite four traditions: • Huang-di黃帝 (“Yellow Emperor”) medicine • Daoshu 道術(“Dao-method”) shamanism • Zhuangzi 莊子(“Master Zhuang”) skepticism • Laozi老子(“Old Master”) mysticism/politics

  15. MODERN SOLUTIONS • “Philosophical” (pre-221 BCE) vs. “religious” (post-221 BCE) Taoisms [common division] • “Contemplative” (mystical), “purposive” (political), and xian仙 (immortality-seeking) Taoisms [Creel] • Taoism = only post-221 BCE [Kleeman] • “Laoist” (school of Laozi) vs. “Zhuangist” (school of Zhuangzi) [Graham/LaFargue]

  16. DEFINING “TAOISM” • Any definition of “Taoism” must account for: • Incredible diversity of items associated with term • Whether/why such items ought to be unified under term