dao stages


morning glory design with legs, dancing

Unless you are pious,
You cannot gain a foothold in Tao.
Unless you go beyond rules,
You haven't gained the middle.
Unless you can be creative,
You aren't traversing Tao.
Unless the road always stretches out before you,
You are not walking the true Tao.

When people start on a spiritual path, they are anxious to learn all the rules. This is understandable, even necessary. Often we need stern measures to set ourselves right.

But dogmatism is not spirituality. Sometimes, it is necessary to break rules. The task is to know how to go against doctrine in a way that actually fulfills the spirit of that doctrine. It is only at this point that one matures as a follower of Tao.

The next stage is complete creativity. You have so internalized doctrine that you need not think of it, yet everything you do will be spontaneously correct. There are many stages after that, stages not documented but there for you to explore on your own.

Those who follow Tao recognize that all people go through stages of development. Many people leave their spiritual communities when they outgrow them. The path of Tao has been conceived so that one never outgrows it. One can outgrow a particular stage, but when that happens, there is another one to be entered. In this way, following Tao is always vital.

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

Travelin’ Blue
© 2005 lisbeth west

Creel distinguished between religious and philosophical Daoism, but they were linked by an essentially religious motif-worship of The Dao. We could agree on a fairly uncontroversial core doctrine in each area of philosophy.

  • · In ethics Daoism says "follow the Dao." The advice gets more controversial when we try to fill in the details, but most agreed that it means something like "be natural." The rest of the content is identified negatively-don't think or reason as the Greeks and Westerner's do and don't follow conventions or rules like the Confucians and Mohists do.
  • · In logic Daoism says "P and not P! Who cares?" Then depending of how much Buddhism you mixed in, it might also say "Neither P nor not P" and go on to the four-to-n-fold negation. Its acceptance of this initial logical absurdity then justifies the patently stupid answers it gives to all the other philosophical questions.
  • · In Metaphysics, Daoism says "Only the Dao exists. It has no parts or divisions and nothing inside or outside it. It both is everything and created everything and transcends both time and space."
  • · Its epistemology is intuitionist. Stripped of rationalism, empiricism and conventionalist prejudice, we directly grasp in a mystically unified insight both what is and what ought to be. We understand being and how to act in the same mystical intuition-we apprehend dao.
  • · Daoism's theory of language is that language distorts the Dao. It can't be said, named, described, defined, or even referred to in language. Why? Here the stories get vague. They vary from WangBi's explanation, "because it can't be seen" to a more Buddhist argument that naming implies permanence and Dao is constantly changing (although it never changes) so . . . .well-never mind!
  • · Its political philosophy was some blend of anarchism, individualism, Laissez Faire economics and government, and incipient libertarianism.

Now a third story has emerged in the wake of the discovery of the Mawang Dui Laozi text. It threatens to unseat the second as rudely as the latter had replaced the traditional story. Again details vary in different tellings. One goes that the Laozi is really a Huang-Lao document. The Huang-Lao religion meshed with Legalist political theory to become the ideology of the Qin and early Han. Laoist thought represented a trend manifested also by chapters (Nei Ye and Xin Shu) in the Guanzi identified by Graham as the "discovery of subjectivity." Graham and LaFargue both note the similarity to Mencius.

Textually, telling this story is associated with a shift in authority to the Mawang Dui text. The Wangbi and other later versions are the result of textual corruption between the burial and the post-Han revival of interest in Daoism. What about the relation to Zhuangzi? Well, it is an artifact of that Wei-Zin period neo-Daoism. Lao-Zhuang philosophy is an anachronism. Graham said "Zhuangzi never knew he was a Daoist" and the new story says-he wasn't-not if by Daoism we mean what Sima Qian meant by Daoism: Huang-Lao philosophy.

The list of doctrines still doesn't change much in the Huang-Lao version of the story and Laozi is still the original sage. It is Zhuangzi who has become an appendix-a wheel that turns nothing. He just stands there waiting for the emergence of neo-Daoism to give him a fictional and anachronistic role in the history of Daoism.

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