Category Archives: Taoism

Classical Daoism – Is there really such a thing? Part II

(Scott Barnwell continues his guest-posting on this topic. Here is Part II of Scott’s thoughts. This post also appears on his own blog. Please address Scott directly in your comments.)

Laozi 老子

The first person to be investigated will be Laozi 老子, the “Old Master”; his supposed text being the Laozi or the Daodejing 道德經 (The Classic on the Way and Its Power). Although the Laozi has long been regarded to be the work of more than one author in both China and the West, Sima Qian 司馬遷, in his biography of Laozi, gives no indication that he thought the text was written by more than one person. Although he reports that there was uncertainty about the actual author, he seems to have felt the most plausible one was Lao Dan 老聃, “Old Long-ears” (a.k.a. Li Er 李耳[1]), the keeper of the Zhou archives from the southern state of Chu 楚 whom Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.E.) had gone to see.[2] The words exchanged at this famous meeting are always different in the various accounts we encounter.[3] The Lüshi Chunqiu, Zhuangzi, Liji, Hanshi Waizhuan, Xinxu, and Baihu Tong also all affirm that Lao Dan was a teacher of Confucius’; however, they do not suggest he was the author of the Laozi.[4]

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Classical Daoism – Is there really such a thing?

(Scott Barnwell, a long time friend of the blog, will be guest-posting on this topic. Here is Part I of Scott’s thoughts. This post also appears on his own blog. Please address Scott directly in your comments.)

Daojia and Huang-Lao

Classical Daoism, Philosophical Daoism, Early Daoism: these terms are increasingly being seen as obsolescent by scholars in the last couple of decades. The general public – those who have heard of Daoism or have read a little bit of it – are largely unaware, despite the fact that for quite awhile writers have admitted that there were no “Daoists” in pre-Han China and that the two most famous “Daoists,” Laozi and Zhuangzi, surely never thought of themselves as Daoists. The more recent interest in what was once called “religious Daoism (Daojiao 道教),” as opposed to “philosophical Daoism (Daojia 道家),” has seen a shift towards using “Daoism” to refer only to the former.

In this series of blog posts I am going to explore this matter. First, I will look at the oldest evidence for a “Daoist school” in the Historical Records (Shiji 史記) and the Han Documents (Hanshu 漢書). Next I will look into both the text and the legendary man Laozi 老子, followed by Zhuangzi 莊子. Texts that will be mentioned along the way will include: the Laozi 老子, Zhuangzi 莊子, Hanfeizi 韓非子 (esp. Jie Lao 解老, Yu Lao 喻老), Lüshi Chunqiu 春秋左傳, Mengzi 孟子, Xunzi 荀子, Guanzi 管子 (esp. Neiye 內業), Huainanzi 淮南子, Heguanzi 鶡冠子, and the Huangdi Sijing 黃帝四經. I will also survey various scholars’ views on early Chinese “schools of thought.”

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Taijiquan, Daoist Metaphysics, and Practice

I often wonder about the connections—or lack thereof—between some interesting and potentially mind-blowing metaphysical claim and what might be called (although I don’t like the phrase) “real life.”  Lately, that wonder has been directed toward ways in which training in a practice such as taijiquan that at least purports to be meaningfully Daoist might inform and be informed by academic study of Daoist metaphysics.

I’ve had a bunch of different taijiquan teachers over the years.  Some of them were widely read about Chinese culture and history.  Others, not so much.  For whatever it’s worth, only one them—my first taijiquan teacher, who taught Yang family style in Chapel Hill back in the late 90’s—was Chinese, and though I never found out how well-read he was, I have come to appreciate how deeply knowledgeable that old man was about both taijiquan and Chinese traditions.  I feel like I learned a great deal from some of my teachers and that I managed to learn a bit less from others, but I’m grateful to all of them for offering me something important, and I suspect that I could have learned more from each and every one of them than I did, had I understood how to be a better student.  In each case, the teacher taught with sincerity.

As I’ve tried to learn taijiquan, I’ve had various moments when I’ve had the opportunity to think about the connections between the practice I was learning and the Chinese philosophy I work on academically.  Let me share two such incidents. Continue reading →

Kohn's Zhuangzi

On a tip from friend of the blog and guest blogger, Mark Saltveit, here’s a link to a translation of the Zhuangzi by Livia Kohn. You can preview part of it by clicking on the “Google Preview.” Anyone know anything about this? It seems to have been translated for a non-academic press — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Any thoughts about Kohn’s translation choices, either based on the Google preview or from knowledge of the translation otherwise acquired?

Comedians as Daoist Missionaries

From friend of the blog, Mark Saltveit who, among other things, is a professional stand-up comedian, we have a special guest post. Mark writes:

I’ve written about my profession of standup comedy as applied Daoism.  I’ve just turned in a draft of this for editing to MefiMag, the print expression of the Metafilter website, who commissioned it.  I would love to get feedback and corrections from your readers for my final version.  (MefiMag doesn’t mind if this appears on the web before they print it.)

Mark will be replying to your comments himself. Enjoy.

Comedians as Taoist Missionaries

By Mark Saltveit

I’ve worked as a paid standup comedian on the West Coast for 12 years.   It’s fascinating, rewarding, and usually compelling – but it’s still work.  Comedians joke around a lot and are usually fun people, but the job itself is not especially amusing.  I’ve heard that stripping and prostitution aren’t that sexy, either.

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NEH Summer Seminar on Daoist Literature and History

Terry Kleeman and Steve Bokenkamp will be jointly offering an intensive, 3-week Summer Seminar this coming summer. They write:

This intensive reading seminar, introducing texts from the earliest Celestial Master petitions to manuscripts still in use among Daoist in Taiwan and China, will be held on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder from July 18 to August 5, 2011.  We are looking for scholars who want to learn how to read Daoist texts and would like to expand their research and teaching to incorporate Daoist individuals, texts, teachings, and practices. There will also be an opportunity to participate in an anthology of translations from Daoist sources.  The Seminar will be demanding but participants will be free to explore the mountains on weekends.  NEH provides a $2,700 stipend to defer travel and living expenses; we expect housing on campus to run roughly $1150 (shared) or $1800 (single) per person.

For more information, see their website.

Daoist Liberalism

In comment #14 in this thread, I suggested that “parts of the Zhuāngzǐ are committed to a form of political liberalism, on which all individuals should be allowed to live, without government interference, in a way that comes naturally to and pleases them, provided they allow others to do so as well.”

It occurred to me that explicating this claim might make for an interesting post.

The Chinese political tradition is generally regarded as authoritarian, in cases even totalitarian, in both theory and practice. This view is one basis for certain claims about differences between traditional Asian and contemporary Western political cultures, which have sometimes been cited as grounds for resisting liberal democratic reforms in Asian countries. Continue reading →

The Sage is Not Friendly

Having finished the Daodejing section of my introductory course, one of my students said to me, “The Daoist sage doesn’t sound very friendly.” That caught me by surprise because I had always based my images of Daoist sages on the colorful — and it seems to me, friendly — figures in the Zhuangzi, including the image of Zhuangzi and Huizi having clever and fun conversations with each other. But I realized that my student was responding to the account in the Daodejing and that she was onto something. Continue reading →

New SEP Entry on Neo-Taoism (xuanxue)

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “Neo-Taoism”, by Alan Chan (at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, formerly of National University of Singapore’s philosophy deparment), just became available on October 1. From He Yan and Wang Bi to Guo Xiang, everything you wanted to know about post-Han Daoism, encyclopedically considered. Here’s a teaser:

Both He Yan and Wang Bi were known for their expertise in the Yijing. Both were deeply interested in the Laozi. The fifth-century work Shishuo xinyu (New Accounts of Tales of the World), which is indispensable to understanding early medieval Chinese literati culture, relates that He Yan was working on or had just completed a commentary to the Laozi, but when he saw Wang Bi’s Laozi commentary, he recognized the superiority of the latter and reworked his own into two essays on the Dao and “Virtue” (de) instead (4.7 and 4.10). Wang Bi’s Laozi and Yijing commentaries occupied a privileged place in the formal xuanxue curriculum later, and arguably they remain the most important philosophical treatment of the two classics today. However, it should be noted that both He Yan and Wang Bi wrote on the Confucian Lunyu as well. Through their extant writings, we gain a good view of the central concerns of Neo-Daoist philosophy. Continue reading →

Hansen's Tao Te Ching

A little blogging while I’m running around and setting up the transition to the group blog…

Chad Hansen’s translation of the Daodejing is available now. I happened to see it at the Yale Book Store, did a double-take, and snatched it up. It has a kind of boutique feel to it, literally — the hardcover has an elegant silky-cloth finish with an embossed 道 on the front; the paper quality seems expensive; there are myriad glossy photos and art reproductions throughout. This attention to reader aesthetic experience suggests that the volume is not primarily meant for scholarly reference, most scholars being more utilitarian about the print quality of their reading material. On the other hand, what translation of the Daodejing after Legge’s really targets an academic audience? Nonetheless, I’m always a sucker for translations of the DDJ by scholars that I like.

The translation differs from what I remember of the one he had on line for a while (that page is no longer available from Hansen’s website — why?!). It’s more elegant, I think, but of course remains faithful to Hansen’s guidance-dao/performance-dao, non-mystical interpretation. Since chapter 1 is usually how people tend to judge translations of the DDJ, here is Hansen’s version, including his titular heading for it:

DAOS, NAMES, AND PUZZLES

Ways can be guided; they are not fixed ways.
Names can be named; they are not fixed names.
“Absence” names the cosmic horizon,
“Presence” names the mother of 10,000 natural kinds.
Fixing on “absence” is to want to view enigmas.
Fixing on “presence” is to want to view phenomena.
These two, emerging together, we name differently.
Conceiving of them as being one: call that “fathomless”.
Calling it “fathomless” is still not to fathom it.
…the door to a cluster of puzzles.

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