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Introduction to the Tao Te Ching

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1 Introduction to the Tao Te Ching on Tue Nov 29, 2011 9:23 pm

Tao is one of the most basic and comprehensive symbols in the Chinese language , the center of all philosophical and spiritual discourse. It may mean path, a way, a principle, a method, a doctrine or a system of order. It may also may mean the Matrix, structure and reality of the universe itself. Every art and science is called a Tao, or way. The source of everything, fountain of all art and science, is called a Tao, or a way. Taoism is based, first and foremost, on the experience of this universal way, the essential reality through which all derivative ways might be comprehended. Considering the ultimate nature of The Way to be inherently beyond the bounds of human conception, ancient Taoists sought traces of The Way in the patterns of events taking place in the natural world, the social world, and the inner world of the individual psyche. Eventually the scope of The Way led them to undertake the investigation of vast domains of knowledge and experience. While followers of Taoism thus branched out into many different fields of research and work, those interested primarily in the Essential Tao continued to focus on perfecting the mastery of human nature and life in three critical areas: individual well-being, social harmony, and accelerated evolution of consciousness . These three bases were believed to form the foundation of overall human development, the guiding lights of the arts and sciences. Through generations of applying the Tao to these three basic domains of life, extraordinary accomplishments in the maintenance of psychic vitality, fostering of sensitive and effective relations between people, and development of latent mental power, including spontaneous insight and foreknowledge, came to be by products of working with The Way. Furthermore, according to the ethos of The Way, these developments, once realized, were not to be guarded possessively, but put to the service of humanity. In accordance with the elusive nature of The Way, the beneficial results of its application by individuals were not to be paraded proudly before others, but to be diffused in an auspicious yet effective manner. There are two classic Chinese books describing the essential philosophy and practice of the Tao, made public long ago as maps of The Way to The Way: The Tao Te Ching and Chaung Tzu. Both of these works have long outgrown cultural boundaries and are widely regarded as classics of world literature. Composed over 2,000 years ago, Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu are among the world's most ancient and honored books of practical wisdom. Their subject matter ranges widely, from politics and economy to psychology and mysticism, addressing the needs and interests of a diverse readership. Few of the world's great books have achieved the perennial currency of these writings. The Tao Te Ching is an anthology of ancient sayings, poems and proverbs; its compilation is attributed to the prototypical Lao Tzu, “ the old master”, who is regarded as one of the greatest ancestors of Taoism. Chuang Tzu, traditionally was said to have been written by a Taoist named Chuang Chou. Chuang Tzu is a collection of stories and monologues illustrating and expounding the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. Together they present the philosophical and practical core of classical Taoism. The Tao Te Ching commonly believed to have been compiled around 500 B.C, near the end of the Spring and Autumn era, when social and political order of China was disintegrating rapidly. The Chuang Tzu was written about 300 B.C, during the era of the warring states, when the classical civilization of China was all but destroyed by Civil Wars. By the middle of the second century B.C, after the unification of China, the Tao Te Ching was firmly established at the imperial court as a favorite sourcebook of practical wisdom. The more arcane Chuang Tzu was transmitted in Taoist circles, as evidenced in the appearance of many allusions to it in later Taoist works of the Pre-Christian era, eventually to emerge in the third century A.D. As a popular classic of deep learning ranked with I Ching and the Tao Te Ching. Ever since that time, virtually all literate people in China have read the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu. Countless readers have found endless fascination and enlightenment in the pregnant aphorisms and fantastic allegories of these ancient classics. Over the centuries, the Tao Te Ching in particular has inspired many social and spiritual movements as well as a vast body of exegetical literature. Various traditions on this text amongst Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, Legalist, Martial Schools of Thought. At one time, state colleges of Mysticism were even established by the Chinese Government for study of the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching. People who had mastered it were sought as advisers by all kinds of people from emperors to peasants. When the Taoist Canon was put to the torch by the order of the Mongol ruler of China in 1280, this Tao Te Ching alone was spared destruction. Although commonly associated with Taoism, this classic was actually studied and transmitted by all of the main streams of Chinese philosophy. Commentators on it include mystics, poets, statesmen, and martial artists; numerous separate works have also been written based on some of its ideas. Over the centuries this single text spanned a vast and complex literature, reflecting the many levels of meaning revealed and concealed within its ancient sayings. Tao Te Ching has been translated countless times into western languages, including English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Latin. It was first rendered into English more than one hundred years ago and has been translated, paraphrased, and adapted dozens of times since then. Chuang-Tzu also ranks as one of the most famous works of Chinese literature as well as being an essential Taoist source book. It contains the works of different authors believed to be followers of the School of Chuang Chou, but its seven core chapters are attributed to Chuang Chou himself. He was the earliest known expositor of the teachings of the teachings of Lao Tzu, and is himself numbered among the foremost masters of Taoist philosophy. Chuang Chou was a deep thinker and a brilliant writer. He could be magnificent and grandiose, outrageous and funny, sharp and acerbic, dreamy and playful, sober and earnest, serene and unruffled. The inner meanings of his allegories have been pondered for centuries. Throughout Chuang Chou's lifetime China was at war with itself. With several states of the ancient Chinese Federation contending among themselves for territory and dominion, the whole land was caught up in an atmosphere of militarism, intrigue and aggression. Professional strategists and martial artists roamed from state to state trying to sell their own plans for hegemony, while the people were taxed to limit and conscripted into forced labor and military service. Born into midst of all this, Chuang Chou took to the ancient way of Taoism taught in Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. Because Lao Tzu wrote extensively on the philosophy and art of enlightened leadership, as a Taoist scholar Chuang Chou was once asked to become the adviser of a king. Living in a more turbulent time than the ancient sage Lao-Tzu, Chuang Chou declined the invitation, explaining that he did not care to be like a sacrificial animal fattened and dressed for slaughter. His refusal to enter the service of a particular king notwithstanding, on examination of his writings it is clear that Chuang Chou was not the escapist or anarchist he has often been made out to be. He was a champion of Liberty, but his work is addressed to the purpose of furthering the general welfare of humanity through the edification and enlightenment of public servants as well as private individuals. The relatively cautious and retiring attitude in dealing with worldly tyranny Chuang Chou seems to harmonize with Lao-Tzu Taoist teaching on tact: “Is it empty talk, the old saying that tact keeps you whole? When truthfulness is complete, it still resorts to this.” (Tao Te Ching 22) Because Chuang Chou was concerned with both spiritual and social Liberty, Lao-Tzu and Confucius are important figures in his symbolic stories. Chuang Chou's approach to freedom was psychological and social as well as political. He encouraged people to seek freedom from tyranny and oppression of all kinds, whether political, social, intellectual or emotional. He even inspired people to seek liberation from the ultimate tyranny of death. As a philosopher and as a man, Chuang Chou had the audacity to lay bare the root of the human condition; having set aside his illusions, he could not be manipulated by either hope or fear. Chuang-Tzu, the book of Chuang Chou, consists of three sections, known as the inner, outer, and miscellaneous chapters. The inner chapters are the first seven, attributed to Chuang Chou himself and containing the essence of the teachings.


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