dao existing


morning glorys in plastic wrap create wonderful illusion if face among flowers

Fog makes the world a painting obscure.
Even close trees are half unseen.
But a lonesome crow won’t stop calling
He objects to being in this dream.

Over and over, the sages tell us that this world is but a dream.

When one awakes on a foggy mornings, with the mists obscuring hills and valleys and the trees and village buildings appearing as diaphanous apparitions, we might even agree with them. Didn’t we see this same uncertain mirage in the hills of Vermont? The hollow of the Yangtze River valley? The streets of Paris? Don’t the memories blend with the dreams and turn reality into phantasmagoria?

The world is a dream from which there is no escaping.

In this still dream, there is a crow calling. He doesn’t stop. When everything else is frozen in the sepulchral dawn, this bird continues to scream. Maybe he realizes the same dream. He protests loudly.

The ancients hold the outer reality to be unreal. But there is the inner reality too. Some of us do not readily accept the conditions of this existence. We have eyes to see, but we also have voice to refute the existential delusion.

365 Tao
daily meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

Lips Are Sealed
© 2005 lisbeth west

The Status of Lao-Zhuang Daoism

Much of this new story, as I've indicated, develops out of Graham's ideas. Graham, a great Zhuangzi admirer, did give him a role. Graham made Zhuangzi (or his school) responsible for associating the evolving text with the name "Laozi." But he didn't rule on the text's actual ideological progeny and the emerging story threatens to make Zhuangzi less relevant to Daoism than Hanfei-zi-who wrote the first commentary.

I've been calling textual accounts "stories." I don't mean to suggest they are fictions, but they are not full-fledged theories either. Textual evolution is like biological evolution in that it concerns straightforward (as opposed to moral or meaning) facts. But no axioms or laws work as Mendelian genetics does in evolution, to make our stories scientific.

I discovered in a recent visit that the debate about the relative dating of Daoism and Confucianism still rages in China. My Chinese colleague disparaged my confidence that the first story was wrong as stemming from the undue influence of Qian Mu. He recommended I read a rebuttal Hu Shih had written decades ago. I looked at it. I largely agreed with Hu's reasoning. It mirrored doubts I had had about textual hypotheses stemming from my graduate school days. The arguments ranged from being ad hoc, committing ad homonym and post hoc fallacies to being baldly circular. Further, Liu's argument supporting the traditional story was impressive. The consensus on rejecting the first story began to look more sociological than logical. Once most "scholars" caved in, then it became "true" whether proved or not.

Cognitive scientists have discovered the phenomenon of belief persistence. Essentially, it is a feature of our natural epistemology that even when we accept that the reasons for our belief are removed, we do not abandon the belief. I felt like a walking confirmation. I had been trained on story two and realized (even confirmed from memory) that I had no sound reasons for my confidence. But I did not stop believing it! I rationalized that although story two had not been proven, neither had story one.

Despite my history with the second story, however, I find myself agreeing with Graham that it is "pleasing to imagine" that Zhuangzi might have been responsible with linking the name of Lao Tan to the text. Graham is clear that his treating the text after Zhuangzi is a "convenience" with "no positive proof." I share both Graham's pleasure at the new story and his epistemological modesty. I don't see any way to confidently assign comparative plausibility to the third story, but I like it-I enjoy contemplating it although I don't quite believe it. My reasons have to do with a sense of philosophical maturity and dating. Whether the text is older or not, the philosophical position of the Laozi seems to be less mature.

I also note that the story, like the second one did thirty years ago, may shortly become dominant in Western scholarship. So it is worth asking what should be the effect on the interpretation of that text-and of the Zhuangzi. I shall argue that the orphaning of Zhuangzi is not required by the new story-on the contrary, it should elevate Zhuangzi in the pantheon of Lao-Zhuang philosophy to the status of founder and fundamentally change our conception of Daoism-Lao-Zhuang Daoism at any rate. Later I will argue for retaining Lao-Zhuang as the correct identification of Daoism.

One feature of recent textual theory (with unnoticed roots in the second story) is the idea that texts were "maintained" by a textual community. Community maintenance probably ranged from composition to revision and updating to respond to issues as they arose in the intellectual world. In some cases, we suppose there may have been an authorial "core" but even then we suppose the "composition" to have taken place in collaboration with students and accretion to have continued after the master's demise. The standard case is the Analects where we have long accepted that the students composed the work a substantial time after Confucius' death.

Defection and conversion among textual communities was a form of intellectual cross-fertilization. Schisms were a typical form of theory development. We have contemporary comment and textual reminders of the splits among Confucians and Mohists and the maintenance of separate texts "edited" ideologically.

Of course, this version of the third story fits well enough with the second story. The anonymous and multiple authors are the various communities of "Laoists." Notoriously, we now have a cluster of different versions of the Laozi text but textual arguments tend to refer to "the text" or "the state of the text" at various times around and after 250 BC. If we think of Laoism as a "leaderless" community (the functional equivalent here of thinking of the text as anonymous) then there is more, rather than less, reason to suspect various early versions. A charismatic intellectual leader (Confucius, Mozi, Mencius, Xunzi) is more likely to forestall schisms at least until his death.

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