dao core


brick, green door, lock, chipping paint

What is the difference between a monk and a
What is the difference between a priest and a
I accept that this world is terrible and full of suffering.
And I also enjoy happiness when it comes to me.
As long as I am with Tao, distinctions are

A spiritual initiate should not feel smug. They have no greater chance of enlightenment than ordinary people. An ordinary person shouldn’t look down on the holy aspirant; everyday life is so full of distractions that finding spirituality is not easy. Frankly, neither being a religious initiate nor being a layperson is the deciding factor in whether a person finds Tao or not. Identities only get in the way.

I do not need to pretend that I am anyone other than myself. I do not need to feel insecure about my perceptions. The self-cultivation that I undertake is to perfect who I am, not to become someone other than who I am.

I pursue the spiritual because it gives me tremendous satisfaction. I do not pursue it because of threats of hell, ignorance, or suffering.

Life has its sad and happy moments. I accept them all. Life has its times of dispassion and utter serenity. Those are the moments that I seek. They give me my path through the myriad phenomena of this existence. I do not compare myself to ascetics and priests. Let them have their lives. I enjoy mine.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9
tao hub
City Door (part one of two set)
Leica m3 90mm Zeiss
© 1997 - 2005 lisbeth west

Non-individuation of Dao

So rather than specifying exactly how to individuate dao, we start by observing that we can take two perspectives toward the same speech act. It may be regarded as a performance interpretation of something (as the junzi saying what is permitted in the circumstances), or as something to be interpretively performed (the junzi being careful to set a model for us). These are different points of view to take of the same series of events or actions. While they are explained here for speech, they clearly apply also to gesture, dance, chant, ritual and other behavior according to a practice. A community relative to that practice exists when its members regularly take both kinds of attitudes towards each other's actions.

The two points of view are somewhat like normative and descriptive. The way you did the action is regarded as descriptive when I have no commitment to follow you—i.e., to subject your way to practical interpretation in my own behavior. It is normative when I do accept or endorse such a commitment or when you interpret your own action as thus binding on me. We routinely intend our actions both to conform to duties and to exemplify the practices to which we take others to be committed. We may well disagree on whether I should acknowledge your performance as a guide for me. The undertaking reflects a judgment that another should use the performance particular as a "score" or guide. It is analogous to pointing to a road--another bit of the furniture of the world. The speech act is a bit of our surroundings to which we can endorse, pick out or point to as a guide.

Like the type-token contrast, the normative-descriptive contrast is another of the Western conceptual dichotomies that would be controversial to attribute to ancient Chinese thinkers.[21] Attributing the full conceptual apparatus of our distinction is surely suspect, though we may find closely related counterparts in a different conceptual context. We can, therefore, mark the two perspectives on a manifestation of a dao in a different but related way. One bit of the concrete world we take as a correct subject to performance interpretation--we shithis:right as something to be xing"walked". We may also evaluate the concrete act as a performance of a something we take in the first way--again shithis:right it as a good "walking" of that dao or feinot-this:wrong it as a bad or wrong one.

To regard something as a discourse dao is to take it as subject to interpretation (a dao-type). To regard it as performance dao is to take it as subject to evaluation (a dao-token). Since they may take the different evaluative attitudes toward the same speech or ritual act, we should not be surprised that Chinese thinkers do not think of them as different metaphysical types. They also do not clearly distinguish the two evaluative attitudes. They are both evaluative attitudes that can be expressed in terms of a shi-feithis-not this是非 judgment. Chinese thinkers need not sense in these two attitudes anything like a descriptive-prescriptive distinction.

Routinely, we take a concrete document (a book of ritual or a musical score) as a discourse dao--something to be interpreted or executed in performance. We can, however, also treat it as an extended performance—a writing act by some sage-king. We can treat it as subject to selection--as Mozi does when he initiates skepticism about the Confucian confusion of the traditional and the yimorality. When we pick ( shithis:right) a physical road out from the surroundings (or from other roads) we undertake to "read and execute it." The behavior we subsequently produce in each case either correctly follows the road or loses it. Note that the shifting-perspective insight does not solve the problem about what is dao, but it helps us appreciate how Chinese thinkers might have come to regard dao as being in nature without reducing it to descriptive history and while giving us an alternative, contextual and pragmatic distinction to replace a type-token metaphysics.

The ancient Chinese notion of human (moral) conduct is simply xingbehavior. Now we can see how a normative-perspective shift analysis instead of a type-token analysis can account for how dao works in human life. A great many behavior particulars, book tokens, physical structures etc. may be regarded as guides to performance--as something "to be performed." Discourse dao is discourse or language-like essentially in being viewed as inviting xingbehavior interpretation. It is unlike normal human discourse in not necessarily in employing human conventions of communication. The "authors" of the concrete entities that we treat as discourse might not intend to communicate anything. Nature might not have any intentions as to how we use its "signs."

Recent pragmatists (e.g., Brandom (1994) and McDowell (1994)) face the challenge to show how norms can be enshrined in facts but still transcend those facts and moralists (Gibbard 1990) address the way our moral practices rule out appeal to the fact of our moral practices in practices of justification. When China's Socrates, Mozi, develops his similar point, he doesn't see himself as leaving tradition in making the distinction. His argument is that we would not call something yimorality or 仁renhumanity simply because it was a society's tradition.[22] Mozi uses the traditional language to express his philosophical approach to questions about dao and his doubts about Confucian traditional guiding dao.

Having made that point, Mozi initiates the use of the terms of analysis of dao that are crucial to understanding the mature Daoist meta-ethics--shi-feithis-not this是非 and biandistinction dispute. As we saw, the general notion of evaluation is shi-feithis-not this是非 shi-feithis-not this. The capacity to use shi-feithis-not this是非may be described as knowing how to biandistinction dispute. He also uses the concept of 明mingdiscern to describe the achievement of mastery of a shi-feithis-not this是非distinction, i.e., as being able to biandistinction dispute correctly.[23]

The interpretive and normative way of explicating guidance and action that we see emerging in ancient China together with the shifting and vague patterns of individuating can help us understand the emergence of skeptical, relativist and mystical or monist talk about dao in Chinese meta-ethics. Confucians themselves noticed the puzzle about interpretation of a dao into action in changing circumstances. This puzzle affects even as explicit a dao as a ritual ceremony. Mohists then draw our attention to the use of terms, distinctions, and standards in selecting some dao as our basis of guidance. It's not clear that Mohists distinguish the two ways (choice and interpretation) that any explicit dao presupposes other standards. As I argued (Hansen 1992:118) Mozi seems to find a similar dynamic in the two normative activities—both count as biandistinguishing shi-feithis-not this是非. We distinguish among different ways of making shi-feithis-not this是非judgments.

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