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Chinese Philosophy. Early Chinese Thought.

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Early Chinese Thought

  • “Early Chinese religion shares much in common with the other early tribal religions of the world. There was a belief in spirits and in reverencing their ancestors. There was the universal belief in “animism,” which is the belief that everything is alive.”

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Shang Dynasty

  • “During the Shang dynasty (1500? - 1100 B.C.E.) the omnipotent power that was believed to rule the world was called Shang Di and was thought of as a personal god, capable of being contacted by diviners.”

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Zhou Dynasty

  • “During the Zhou dynasty (1100-256 B.C.E.) the conception of an impersonal power called Tian (usually translated as “Heaven”) came into common parlance. Tian was seen as an impersonal divine force that controls events on earth and as a cosmic moral principle that determines right and wrong.”

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Patterns in Nature

  • “To survive, the Chinese people had to learn that while they could not often control nature they could learn to work with it when they understood its underlying patterns. Taoism may be traced back to this concern for finding-and working with-natural patterns.”

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Yin and Yang

  • “After about 1000 B.C.E. the Chinese commonly thought that the universe expressed itself in opposite but complementary principles: light and dark, day and night, hot and cold, sky and earth, summer and winter. The names for the two complimentary principles are yang and yin.”

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Yin and Yang

  • “The yin and yang principles are not the same as good and evil. Yang is not expected to win over the force of yin, or vice versa; rather the ideal is a dynamic balance between the forces.”

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Yin and Yang

  • “The emblem of balance is the yin-yang circle, divided into what looks like two intertwined commas. One half is light, representing yang; the other is dark representing yin.”

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Yin and Yang

  • “Inside each division is a small dot of the contrasting color that represents the seed of the opposite. The dot suggests that everything contains its opposite and will eventually become its opposite.”

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Yin and Yang

  • “Both forces are dynamic and in perfect balance as they change, just as day and night are in balance as they progress. We can think of yang and yin as pulsations or waves of energy, like a heartbeat or like breathing in and out.”

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Ancestor Reverence

  • Chinese have felt that the people we love who die can influence our lives for the better or worse and therefore it is important to respect them and do rituals to keep the peace.

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A Mysterious Force

  • The Chinese did not have a personal monotheist God, but they did have a sense of a great and mysterious force, perhaps something like the Hindu Brahman.

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  • “All things ultimately derived from Tian, but it was more a personification of natural law than a real personality and was not directly worshipped. Heaven was understood as being remote.”

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A Hierarchy of Being

  • There was a perceived hierarchy of being from the human and natural world to the ancestors and then the forces of nature until eventually you reached Tian.

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  • “One basic principle that has run through Chinese thought from the beginning is that the universe is a unity in which all things fit together. If humanity aligns itself with it, all will be in harmony.”

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The Goal

  • The ultimate goal will always be to find a way to bring one’s life into harmony with this greater unity. That is the place of contentment and serenity.

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The Tao

  • “The unity in which all things fit together harmoniously is called the Tao.”

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The Experience of Tao

  • “The Chinese believed there were three realms where Tao could be experienced: nature, human society, and one’s own inner being.”

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  • Those seeking solitude would find themselves leaning in the direction of Taoism and those needing to interact and serve others would lean toward Confucianism.

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Tao (Dao)

  • “The mysterious origin of the universe, which is present and visible in everything. This is the name for whatever mysterious reality makes nature to be what it is and to act the way it does.”

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Tao (Dao)

  • “The Chinese character for Tao is commonly translated as “way,” but it has also been translated as “existence,” “pattern.” and “process.” Primarily, the Tao is the way that nature expresses itself-the natural way. Human beings can unite themselves with the Tao in the way they live.”

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Laozi (Lao Tzu) 600 B.C.E.

  • The legendary founder of Taoism. His name means “old master” or “old child.” In the most famous picture of Laozi, he rides an ox as he leaves China.

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Tao Te Ching

  • The classic scripture of Taoism. Its teachings fostered the most liberal thinkers in ancient China.

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  • The active aspect of reality that expresses itself in speech, light, and heat.

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  • The receptive aspect of the universe that expresses itself in silence, darkness, coolness, and rest.

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Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu) 300 B.C.E.

  • Author of the Zhuangzi, a book of whimsical stories that express themes of early Taoist thought. In his famous dream, he was not certain that he was not a butterfly.

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Wu Wei

  • “No action,” no strain”; doing only what comes spontaneously and naturally; the ideal of effortlessness.” It is the way of nature.

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Wu Wei

  • “If we look at nature, we notice that many things happen quietly, effortlessly: plants grow, birds and animals are born, and nature repairs itself after a storm. Nature works to accomplish only what is necessary, but no more.”

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Qi (ch’i)

  • The life force. Working with qi is very important in Chinese medicine like acupuncture, which tries to free up blocked qi so that it can circulate freely throughout the body.

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Philosophical Taoism

  • Taoism today contains elements of both philosophical and religious Taoism. But for our purposes we will be focusing on the philosophy of Taoism. “Early Taoism, while possibly influenced by shamanism, created literature that was philosophically oriented. Later, an organized religion emerged.”

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Tao Te Ching

  • “The Tao Te Ching is the great classic of Taoism, accepted by most Taoists as a central scripture, and one of the world’s greatest books. Its title can be translated as “the classical book about the Way and its power.”

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Tao Te Ching

  • “The eighty-one short chapters of the Tao Te Ching are probably the compilation of the work of many people, rather than a single author. The book shows some repetition, has no clear order, and exhibits a clear lack of clarity. In form, each chapter is more poetry than prose.”

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Tao Te Ching

  • “It is possible that the Tao Te Ching was a political handbook, religious guidebook, or practical guide for living in harmony with the universe. Part of the genius of the book is its brevity and use of paradox; its meaning depends on who is interpreting it.”

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The Tao

  • “The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching begins by saying, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” In other words, we cannot really put into words exactly what the Tao is-a fact that is ironic since the book itself uses words.”

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The Tao

  • “Yet the book goes on to tell us that the Tao is “nameless; that is, it is not any individual thing that has a name-such as a door, a tree, a bird, a person. The Tao cannot be named because it has no form.”

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The Tao

  • “But the Tao can be experienced and followed by every individual thing that has a name. The Tao Te Ching says that the Tao is the origin of everything and that all individual things are “manifestations” of the Tao.”

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The Tao

  • “Although the Tao is the origin of nature, it is not “god,” because it does not have personality. It neither cares about human beings nor dislikes them-it only produces them, along with the rest of nature. Because the Tao makes nature move the way it does, it can be called the way or the rhythm of nature.”

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Experiencing the Tao

  • “To experience the Tao, we must leave behind our desires for individual things, a concept that runs counter to everyday concerns. The Tao cannot be “known” in the same way that we see a car or hear a sound.”

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Experiencing the Tao

  • “It cannot be perceived directly but rather by intuition, like the difference between hearing only musical sounds and recognizing a song.”

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Images of the Tao

  • “The Tao Te Ching presents several powerful images wherein the Tao seems most active and visible. Contemplating them can help us experience the Tao, and by taking on some of the qualities of these images, we begin to live in harmony with the Tao that inhabits them.”

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Images of the Tao: Water

  • “Water is gentle, ordinary, and lowly, but strong and necessary. It flows around every obstacle. Chapter eight praises it: “The highest good is like water.” It assists all things “and does not compete with them.”

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Images of the Tao: Woman

  • “The female is sensitive, receptive, yet effective and powerful.”

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Images of the Tao: Child

  • “The child is full of energy, wonder, and naturalness.”

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Images of the Tao: Valley

  • “The valley is yin, and it is mystery.”

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Images of the Tao: Darkness

  • “Darkness can be safe, full of silence and possibility.”

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Images of the Tao: Simplicity

  • “Taoism urges its followers to eliminate whatever is unnecessary and artificial and to appreciate the simple and apparently ordinary.”

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Images of the Tao: Gentleness

  • “Because Taoists pursue the gentle way, they hate weapons and war. The wise person loves peace and restraint and avoids all unnecessary violence.”

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Images of the Tao: Relativity

  • “People see things from a limited point of view that is based on their own concerns. They see things in terms of divisions: I-you, good-bad, expensive-cheap, valuable-worthless, beautiful-ugly.” The Taoist wants to be aware of this duality and try to keep things in perspective.

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Taoist View On: Education

  • “Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.” Formal education is not a Taoist value, whereas in Confucianism it is a very strong value.

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Taoist View On: Death

  • “Death is a predictable transformation of nature.” Therefore acceptance, rather than fear, is the most helpful attitude.

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Taoist Practice

  • Taoist meditation puts an emphasis on the values of wu wei (“effortlessness”), simplicity, gentleness, and relativity. “Taoists believe that it is necessary to attain a vision of things that goes beyond apparent opposites.”

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Taoist Practice

  • “The canon of Taoist literature includes recommendations for many types of arm and body movements, breathing regulation, diet, massage, and a practice called internal alchemy.”

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Taoist Practice

  • “Internal alchemy aims at transforming and spiritualizing the life force (ch’i) of the practitioner. Some later forms of internal alchemy teach exercises that move the life force from its origin at the base of the spine upward to the head. From there it circles back, via the heart, to its origin.”

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Taoist Practice

  • “Taoist meditation methods have many points in common with Hindu and Buddhist systems. The primary hallmark of Taoist meditation is the generation, transformation, and circulation of internal energy.”

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Taoist Practice

  • “The two primary guidelines in Taoist meditation are jing (quiet, stillness, calm) and ding (concentration, focus). The purpose of stillness, both mental and physical, is to turn attention inwards and cut off external sensory input, thereby muzzling the “Five Thieves”.”

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Taoist Practice

  • “Within that silent stillness, one concentrates the mind and focuses attention, usually on the breath, in order to develop what is called “one-pointed awareness,” a totally undistracted, undisturbed, undifferentiated state of mind which permits intuitive insights to arise spontaneously.”

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Taoist Practice

  • Taoists teach that as one leaves behind the desires for individual things, one will see things differently.

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Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.)

  • “The Confucian tradition is named after the philosopher Confucius.”

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The Confucian Classics

  • “Confucius was not revered just for himself but because he was associated with the classical literature and that was the real bedrock of the traditional culture.”

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Reflecting Tradition

  • “Confucius is not a peerless sage because he created this tradition. He is unequaled because the tradition ‘created’ him, and he reflected it faithfully.”

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  • Is Confucianism a philosophy or a religion? The answer depends on what you mean by religion. If a religion has to have a belief in a god then Confucianism is not a religion. But if it meets religious needs, then perhaps it is a religion.

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Religion or Philosophy

  • Confucianism can be considered as a religion because it “is a moral system that functions as a religion in providing meaning and order in people’s lives.”

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Confucianism as Religion

  • “Confucianism can also be said to have its scriptures as well as a mystical dimension that enables people to experience their unity with the universe through inner equilibrium and harmony with society.”

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Confucianism and the Tao

  • “Confucianism is also concerned with the Tao because it is concerned with living in harmony with the right way. “This way is the cosmic Tao that permeates the entire universe.”

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The Tao

  • Whereas for Taoists the primary focus of Tao is in nature, with Confucianists the primary focus is on human relationships. Nature acts in harmony with the Tao naturally, but people don’t.

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The Tao in the Human

  • “The Confucian would say that training in virtue is necessary in order to enable the Tao to manifest itself clearly in the human being.”

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  • The book of sayings of Confucius, the founder of Confucianism

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Five Classics

  • The classical literature of the time preceding Confucius, including poetry, history and divination. Confucius is thought to have brought them back into daily life, perhaps editing them himself.

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Yi Jing (I Ching)

  • An ancient Confucian book of divination, one of the Five Classics, still in use today.

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Four Books

  • The major Confucian books, which include the sayings of Confucius and Mencius. As close as we come to a “Confucian Bible.”

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Proper Relationships

  • Society would be chaotic if people did not find their right and proper position and then do their best to fulfill their responsibilities.

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Junzi (chun-tzu)

  • “Noble person,” the refined human ideal of Confucianism. By his teachings, Confucius hoped to produce virtuous people and create a harmonious society.

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Ren (jen)

  • Empathy, consideration for others, humanness; a Confucian virtue. Pride is not a human virtue. “Underlying all worthy social conventions is considerateness. If you want to be kind, be polite.”

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  • Appropriate action, ritual, propriety, etiquette. Li has to do with self-control. “Li means good manners. It is putting ren into practice.”

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  • Reciprocity; a Confucian virtue. Shu “addresses the question, How will my action affect the other person? It is putting ren into practice.”

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Xiao (hsiao)

  • Family devotion, filial piety; a Confucian virtue. Confucius thought the most important relationship was the father-son relationship. “Ideally, it means valuing the entire extended family--of past, present, and future.”

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  • Cultural refinement; a Confucian virtue. The ideal is to have a “highly developed aesthetic sense and be able to know and appreciate beauty in its many forms.”

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Confucius and Education

  • “The Taoists feel that formal education has a potential for distorting one’s originally pure state. Confucians, however, hold that the best training does not contaminate character, but, by cultivating virtues, gives it definition and clarity.”

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Confucius on Relationships

  • Human beings cannot reach their potential in isolation. “A human being becomes a full person only through the contributions of other people and through fulfilling one’s obligations to them.”

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Humans are Basically Good

  • “Confucianism has generally believed that the basic nature of humanity is good. It is only perverted by a bad social environment.”

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The Purpose of Society

  • We become more human by learning the necessary skills of living in harmony with others.

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  • “Father-son becomes the primal model of a relationship and in Confucianism it is in interpersonal relationships that one is humanized and Tao is manifested.”

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The Importance of Family

  • The home was the church; the family was the sacred community. You found what you were looking for in the family, not outside of it.

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The Five Great Relationships

  • “Human beings are not individuals but interwoven threads of relationships with many people. To a great extent, in Confucian thinking human beings are their relationships.”

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The Five Great Relationships

  • “These relationships (father-son, elder brother-younger brother, husband-wife, elder-younger, ruler-subject), signify that each person must live up to his or her social role and social status. This has been called the rectification of names.”

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Confucian Virtues

  • “Confucianism stresses loyalty, consensus, hard work, thrift, emotional control and sincerity,” which means “choosing to do what is correct for society.” “He who attains to sincerity is he who chooses what is good, and firmly holds it fast.”

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The Doctrine of the Mean

  • For Confucius, a person who follows the way of heaven avoids extremes and remains in harmony with others. “This balance unites the individual with the balance of the universe.”

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The Doctrine of the Mean

  • Confucius taught: “Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.”

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Confucian Mysticism

  • “Confucianism was given a transcendence that made the practice of Confucian virtues more deeply religious, a sort of mysticism in the midst of a life of service.”

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A Single Spiritual World

  • “But in popular religion, the major traditions unite to form a single spiritual world.”

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A Changing World

  • People were confused and shaken up. The world was changing and the old ideas were not keeping up.

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Religion and Politics

  • It seems that as long as religious people stay out of politics that they are O.K. But this is a hard thing to do because religion touches people’s core values and these values demand expression.

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Women’s Role

  • Because women’s role was understood to be in the nature of the “dance” itself there was no room left to argue about the justice of this situation.

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  • “A wife was to exemplify Yin (passive, plaint) in order to provide the harmonious complement to the husband’s Yang (active, firm).”

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  • Wives were often virtual slaves of their mothers-in-law. There was almost nothing they could do except obey them.

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Women and Taoism

  • It is not surprising then that women would turn to Taoism to meet their spiritual needs. It offered them a deeper validity then the “masculine” emphasis found in Confucianism.

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The Great Mother

  • “Some scholars, such as Ellen Marie Chen, have concluded that Taoism has ties to an ancient Mother Goddess and the Tao itself is the Great Mother.”

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Women and Inspiration

  • “Religious Taoism drew from shamanism the belief that women especially are receptive to Divine inspiration.”

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  • Communism took a heavy toll on the fortunes of religion, but at the same time it opened doors to women that had always been closed.

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The Cultural Revolution

  • The main thrust of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was to break with the past and all that was antiquated.

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Laws and Attitudes

  • Change below the surface takes much longer. You can change the laws, but it is more difficult to change people’s hearts and attitudes.

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Change is Slow

  • Major societal changes like in recent Chinese life are always difficult and sometimes people take two steps back for every three steps forward.

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The Blockage

  • We have to ask ourselves why the great ideas of the world seem to not touch our core where they can work their magic? What prevents us from putting them into practice?

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Confucian Problems

  • The roles people are allowed to fulfill become so restricted that there is not a lot of room for growth or individuality.

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Taoist Problems

  • Often the Taoism practiced by the unlettered peasants was simply a retreat into superstition and magic, rather than a march forward into greater spiritual consciousness and compassion.

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Integral Medicine

  • Integral medicine will be practiced by those who want to combine Western and Eastern understandings of health so that the best of both is made available.

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Zen Buddhism

  • Zen Buddhism is really a marriage of Buddhism and Taoism. They have much in common and it is another way that Taoism is influencing us without our being aware of it.

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Popular Chinese Religion

  • “In the popular religion of China, Confucianism, Taoism, & Buddhism combined with ancestrism, seasonal festivals, and local deities to make a colorful complex.”

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Integral Wisdom

  • The answer to many problems such as medical and ecological issues will only be found as we combine the wisdom of the East and the West into a new integral wisdom.