dao limits

Chinese characters for "limits"

contemporary painting tibetan girl.

Every river has its banks,
Every ocean has its shores.

Constant expansion is not possible. Everything reaches its limits, and the wise always try to identify these limits. In the environment, they do not willfully expand civilization at the expense of natural wilderness. In economics, they do not spend beyond the market. In personal relationships, they do not demand more than others can fairly give. In exercise, they do not strain beyond their capacities. In health, they do not go beyond the limits of their age. With such attitudes, the wise can even exploit what others think to be barriers.

When one senses that one has come to the limits of the time and situation, one should conserve one’s energy. Often, this will be in preparation for a challenge to the limits, or a changing over to a new set of constraints. Whenever one comes upon the circumference, it is best to consider carefully and marshal one’s resources before crossing the line. There is always uncertainty, and we must be wary.

We can also utilize limits for our own purposes. We can trap someone because we know of the limits ahead. Defense is possible by utilizing given limits, as a wall protects our backs in a fight. Work is easier when we know that we will be working for a limited time. We can take advantage of opportunities because we know that they are only there for the moment. Limitations should not always be seen as negative constraints. They are the geography of our situation, and it is only right to take advantage of this.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao
ISBN: 0-06-250223-9

"Tibetan Girl"
Ai Xuan
Oil on canvas
24" x 20"

Inventory #:CC_0198
Source: The Hefner Collection

Ai Xuan was born in 1947 in Hebei province, Ai Xuan credits his father, Ai Qing, one of China's most famous poets, for his early interest in art. Xuan graduated from the Central Academy of fine Arts Preparatory School in 1967. His further education was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution and between 1969 and 1973, he was sent to hard labor on a military farm in Tibet. He has however, stated that this experience provided him with subject matter for most of his best paintings. He won the Silver medal at the Second National Exhibition of Young Artists in China in 1981 and since then has gone on to become one of the most recognized painters of the post-Cultural Revolution period. His work regularly sets record prices at auctions in Beijing and Hong Kong. A member of the Chinese Artists' Association, he is also a full professor at the Beijing Painting Institute.

Xuan believes his style formed naturally over the years and represents a combination of many influences; American, Russian, European and Chinese. He admires Andrew Wyeth and they met once and talked about their art. Xuan felt they shared common emotions about loneliness and isolation and agreed there were similarities in their use of light. In his work, Xuan attempts to express contradictory feelings about life and nature. He depicts people who have no control over their lives or where they live. They feel lonely and isolated. There was a time when Xuan could identify with them and he has never forgotten it.

© The Hefner Collection
liscenced one time use only

Russell Kirkland
University of Georgia © 2002

Today’s scholars debate the dating, contents, and signficance of the classical texts associated with Taoism. The most important are the following:

The Chuang‑tzu (late 4th century BCE, and later material)
A collection of “stories with a point,” often in the form of imaginary conversations. Originally 52 chapters; cut down to 33 by Kuo Hsiang (3rd-century CE), who only kept what made sense to him. Chapters 1-7 are generally believed to have ori­ginated in writings of Chuang Chou (ca. 370‑300 BCE); other chap­ters are by later writ­ers who had some­what differ­ent ideaa. The full text was not completed until ca. 130 BCE.

  • Raises doubt about common humanistic assumptions and “common‑sense” ideas
  • Raises doubt about the efficacy of rational thought as a reliable guide to truth
  • Raises doubt about boundaries between life/death, human/non-human
  • Urges a revolutionized perception of reality, but gives no directions for attaining it
  • “Tao”: the reality of things as they truly are; not a guiding force or cosmic principle
  • Human Ideal: various terms, e.g. the "True Person" (chen‑jen)
  • No clear bio-spiritual practices; no ethical or political teachings; no idealization of "feminine" behaviors; no concept of "the Dao" as mother; no exhortation to prac­tice wu-wei.
The Tao te ching ["Lao‑tzu"] (compiled ca. 300 BCE; some contents older)
(1) “real-life wisdom” from anonymous people (not intellectuals) of 6th‑4th centuries BCE, probably the local elders ("lao-tzu") of the southern land of Ch’u, possibly including women;
(2) teachings about bio-spiritual practices and ambient spiritual realities influenced by the tradi­tionthat produced the Nei-yeh.

Transmitted orally for generations, shifting and expanding in content; committed to writing ca. 300 BCE by an unknown intellectual, who converted the material into a socio-politi­cal pro­gram to compete with the programs of Confucians, etc., among the in­tel­lectual elite in the political centers of Chou lands. Eventually the fact that it went back to teachings of “the elders” was forgotten, and “lao-tzu” was assumed to be the name of a character called "Lao‑tzu."

1. Early Layers: Emphasis on personal simplicity, self-restraint, and "feminine" behaviors“Tao”: The source and natural principle of things, likened to a universal Mother
Ethics: One should act selflessly, thereby benefitting self and others alike
2. Later Layers: Emphasis on sagely government; rejection of Confucian moralism
Human Ideal: The "Sage" (sheng‑jen)—one whose behavior is like that of Tao

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