The Monistic Theory
by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12
Taoism and the Monistic Theory
Side by side with Buddhism
and Confucianism, Taoism has an enormous cultural impact upon the people
of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. In this essay, I will give:
1. A general view of Taoism.
2. The essence of Taoism: Taoism and the monistic
3. Taoism and the natural life.
4. Taoism versus death.
5. Taoism and Mysticism.
6. The changes of Taoism through the ages.
7. Things we can learn from Taoism.
1. A general view of Taoism
The founder of Taoism was
Lao Tzu. His true name was Li Er (Lý Nhĩ), from the Principality Chu of
China. No one knows for sure the date of his birth and of his death.
Father Henri Dore assumed that he was born around 584 B.C., and died
circa 500. He met Confucius around 503. He was the author of the famous
book, Tao Te Ching. It was written for the entreaty of the guardian of
the pass, Yin Hsi (Yin Xi, Doãn Hỉ), when Lao Tzu passed by his place,
Han Gu (Hàm Cốc).
In the Third Chapter of his
book Nan Hoa Jing (Nam Hoa Kinh), Chuang Tzu (late 4th century- circa
300 B.C.) talked about the death of Lao Tzu. But common people persisted
to believe that Lao-Tzu become Immortal.
The famous Historian Si Ma
Qian (Tư Mã Thiên), who lived circa 200 years after Chuang Tzu, wrote
that Lao-Tzu had a son named Zong (Tông), and at the end of his life,
Lao-Tzu went through the pass Han Gu, and went to a place unknown. He
said that Lao-Tzu was 160 or 200 years old.
Bian Shao (Biên Thiều)
author of Lao Tzu Ming (Lão Tử Minh) (165 A.D.), affirmed that the
masses believed that Lao-Tzu existed since immemorial time. He was a
Bian Hua Jing (Biến Hóa
Kinh), written about 612 A. D., proclaims that not only Lao-Tzu existed
since immemorial time, but became man many times to save humanity.
Wang Fu (Vương Phủ), author
of the Hua Hu Jing (Hoa Hồ Kinh), written at the dynasty of Han Hui Di
(Hán Huệ Đế) (290-306), said that Lao-Tzu, after going through the pass,
Han Gu (Hàm Cốc), went to Tarim, and afterwards, to India. Gautama
Buddha was one of his avatars, or his disciples.
This book created many
polemics between Buddhists and Taoists through the ages: especially in
the Liang (Lương) (580), Tang (Đường) (668 and 696), and Yuan dynasty
(Nguyên; 1258 and 1280-1294). King Yuan She Zu (Nguyên Thế Tổ)
(280-1294), favoring the Buddhists, condemned this book and all other
Taoist books, except the Tao-Te Ching to auto-da-fe, giving an end to
Anyhow, since the Han (Han)
dynasty, Lao-Tzu was considered as the avatar of God.
Some believed that Emperor
Huang-ti (Hoàng Đế) (2698-2797 B.C.) was the founder of Taoism and
Lao-Tzu was only a continuator of it. Anyhow, Lao-Tzu never said that he
was the only retainer of the truth, but showed much respect to the
Ancients in his book (Tao Te Ching, Ch. 15, Ch. 41, 42, 68, 57. 22, 46,
78). He said that Union with God is the highest level reached by
Ancients (Ch. 68). So we can say also that he is only a continuator of
Lao-Tzu was determined to
revive the ancient tradition prevalent at the time of Emperor Huang-Ti
(2698-2797 B.C.). Since Huang-Ti was the founder of Taoism, which
Lao-Tzu later revived, it is called the doctrine of Huang-Lao (Hoàng
Lão). His philosophy was developed afterwards, by Lie-Tzu (Liệt Tử)
(430-349 B.C.), author of the Chong Xu Zhen Jing (Xung Hư Chân King) and
by Chuang Tzu (Trang Tử) (360-280 B.C.), author of the Nan Hua Jing (Nam
Chuang Tzu was much more
famous than Lie Tzu, so one can call Taoism, also, as The Religion of
Lao Chuang (Lão Trang).
What is then the philosophy
that linked these people together? It is based on The Monistic Theory.
Why were they venerated as
God? Because, they were Great Mystics. No philosophers in the past
realized that all the great Taoists were the proponents of the Monistic
Theory, nor knew that they were similar, being Mystics.
Adepts of the Monistic
Theory believe that the world is One, that all is One, that everything
proceeds from the One. They never say that they are the sole knowers of
the truth, but that many people before them already shared their view.
They became mystics by
vocation, and believe that the Whole is in themselves, that they like to
be united with the Whole. Taoists called the One, the Tao, and the
Leon Wieger, in his book,
Les Pères du Système Taoiste has given in pp. 513-516 an Index,
summarizing all the great ideas of Lao Tzu, Lie Tzu and Chuang Tzu. One
has to refer to this index to believe the veracity of my words.
Taoism, at its beginning,
was, then, only a philosophy, an art of living, or an way of asceticism
aiming toward self-emancipation, reserved for some. But since the Han
dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), thanks to the innovations of Zhang Dao Leng
(Trương Đạo Lăng) (-died circa 156), one of the descendants of Zhang
Lang (Trương Lương), famous mentor of King Han Gao Zu (Hán Cao Tổ) (2O6-
195), and of all his brothers and descendants, such as Zhang Jue (Trương
Giác), Zhang Bao (Trương Bào), Zhang Lu (Trương Lỗ) of the Epoch of the
Three Kingdoms (222-277), and thanks to the contributions of famous men
such as Ji Xuan (Cát Huyền) (229-251), Zheng Si Yuan (Trịnh Tư Viễn) (at
the end of the third century), Kou Qian Zhi (Khấu Khiêm Chi; - 423), Ji
Hong Bao Pu Zi (Cát Hồng Bao Phác Tử) (281-340), Taoism became a popular
religion with ceremonials, prayers, public repentance, amulets etc Zhang
Jue (Trương Giác), Zhang Lu (Trương Lỗ), of the Epoch of Three Kingdom
(222-277), leaders of the popular Taoism, tried to overturn the reigning
dynasty. The insurrection was called the Revolt of the Yellow Turbans
(Giặc Khăn Vàng) (184 AD).
Since then, that is since
Han times (206 BC-AD 220), both Western sinologists and Chinese scholars
themselves have distinguished between a Taoist philosophy of the great
mystics and their commentators (Tao-chia) (Đạo Gia) and a later Taoist
religion (Tao-chiao). (Đạo Giáo)
It is necessary to know that
since the Three Kingdom era (Thời tam Quốc) (481-249 B.C.) up to the Han
dynasty (Former Han 206 B.C.- 23 A.D., and Later Han 25 A.D. - 167 A.D.)
many Taoists began to make the Pills of Longevity. Among the pioneers
are: Wei Bo Yang (Ngụy Bá Dương), and Bao Pu Zi (Bao Phác Từ). But since
the Tang (Đường) and the Sung (Tống) dynasty, instead of external pills,
one seeks for internal ones. This is the Esoteric Alchemy, the Taoist
Yoga, aiming to teach the technics of respiration, the transformation of
our soul, and the union with the One. The promotor of the movement is
Zhong Li Quan (Chung Ly Quyền), Lu Tong Bin (Lử Đồng Tân), Liu Hai Chan
(Lưu Hải Thiềm) and disciples, Wang Zhong Yang (Vương Trùng Dương) and
disciples. The Chinese Esoteric Alchemy is a bit similar to the European
Besides, we must know that
the I-Ching (Dịch Kinh) had much influence on Taoists. For Taoists, the
Yin and the Yang are two complementary, interdependent principles or
phases alternating in space and time. They evoke the harmonious
interplay of all pairs of opposites in the universe. For Taoists, in the
beginning there is only one Primordial Breath, that is split afterward
into the light, ethereal Yang breath, which formed Heaven; and the
heavier, cruder Yin breath, which formed Earth. The diversifications and
interactions of Yin and Yang produced the Ten Thousand Beings.
But by proper intervention,
Yin and Yang could reproduce The Primordial Breath, or Tai-Chi, or the
Pill of Longevity (Tan; Đơn) (Introversion phase). These two phases,
extroversion and introversion, englobe the two alternating phases of the
Ying and the Yang: The "dark side" and the "sunny side" of everything.
The Yin phase (the dark
side) produces, then, the Ten Thousand of Beings. It can be also called
the common Way of all Mortals.
The Yang phase (the sunny
side) reproduced the Tao. This way is also called the Way of the
Immortals. Very few can discover this Way or this Narrow Gate. This Way,
as we know, leads us to The Pill of Longevity. Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu are
on this side of the path, therefore their voices seem to be lost in the
Kings of the Tang (Đường)
dynasty (618-907) considered Li Lao Jun (Lý Lão Quân) (Lao-Tzu) as their
ancestor; therefore they have much consideration for Taoism. They built
temples to the One (Tai Yi; Thái Nhất), to the Five Emperors (Wu Di; Ngũ
Đế), to Li Lao Jun (Lý Lão Quân; Lao Tzu). They ascended mountains,
hoping that they could meet Immortals there. Many Kings of this dynasty
have taken the so-called Pills of Immortality. But, instead of
immortality, many Kings such as Xian Zong (Hiến Tông; 806-821), Mu Zong
(Mục Tông; 821-826), Wu Zong (Vû Tông; 841-847), Xuan Zong (Tuyên Tông;
847-860) became mentally deranged or died very young.
Kings of the Song dynasty
(Tống; 960-1278) showed also much respect for Taoists. Song Zhen Zong
(Tống Chân Tông), in 1015, endorsed Zhang Zheng Sui (Trương Chính Tùy),
descendant of Zhang Tao Leng (Trương Đạo Lăng) with the title of Tian
Shi (The Celestial Master; Thiên Sư), and gave him The area of Lung Hu
Shan (Dragon-Tiger Mountain; Long Hổ Sơn). Since then, their descendants
always benefited from this area, which can be said, their Vatican, until
the coming of the Republic of China (1911) which deprived them of that.
In the Yuan dynasty
(Nguyên); 1260-1367), Yuan She Su (Nguyên Thế Tổ) in 1275, conferred
also on Zhang Zong Yan (Trương Tông Diễn) the title of Tian Shu
(Celestial Master; Thiên Sư). But in 1281, there was a polemic between
Buddhists and Taoists concerning the book Hua Hu Jing (Hóa Hồ Kinh) of
Wang Fu (Vương Phủ), Yuan She Su (Nguyên Thế Tổ) condemned all Taoist
books to auto-da-fe, except the Tao-Te-Ching and ended the polemic, as
The Ming (1368-1628; Minh)
does not much favor Taoism. In Ming Wu Zong (1506-1521; Minh Vũ Tông),
and Ming She Zong (1522-1566; Minh Thế Tông) era, Taoism reprinted the
whole collection of Tao Cang (or Tao Tsang, Taoist Canon; Đạo Tạng). It
contains nearly 1,500 titles, among which are many documents from the
first century of esoteric Taoism. It is to this single repository that
scholars must turn in order to study the literature of the Taoist
religion. Taoist books on circulation are scarce. Besides the Tao-Te-
Ching, the Chong Xu Zhen Jing (Xung Hư Chân Kinh) of Lie-tzu (Liệt Tử),
the Nan Hua Jing (Nam Hoa Kinh) of Chuang Tzu (Trang Tử), The Book of
the Yellow Court (Huang-Ting Ching; Huỳnh Đình Kinh), The Can Tong Qi
(Tham Đồng Khế; The Unitive Life) of Wei Bo Yang (Ngụy Bá Dương), The
Yin Fu Jing (Âm Phù Kinh), The Xing Ming Gui Zhi (Tính Mệnh Khuê Chỉ),
the common people do not have much access to Taoist books, so their
knowledge on Taoism is very limited.
In the Qing dynasty (Thanh;
1644-1909), Taoism is also not in favor.
Nowadays, in Taiwan, Taoism
is prosperous. There are, in all, 86 sects sponsored by the government.
Among them, six are dominant:
1). The Cheng I (Chính Nhất;
Heavenly Master sect), from Lung-Hu-Shan, Kiangsi Province (Long Hổ Sơn;
2). The Mao Shan sect (Mao
Sơn), with two varieties of ritual i.e. strict monastic ritual
meditation based on the Yellow Court Canon (Huỳnh Đình Kinh), and
military Nin-Jitsu like ritual (Nhẫn Thuật) based on the Ch'i-Men Tun
Chia (Kỳ Môn Độn Giáp).
3). The T'ai-Chi sect (Thái
Cực) from Wu-Tang Shan (Võ Đang Sơn) in Hupei (Hồ Bắc), with two styles
of liturgy, i.e., military style exorcisms performed with sword, halberd
ax and spear, and meditations of internal alchemy after the tradition of
Chang San Feng (Trương Tam Phong).
4). The Ch'uan Chen sect
(Toàn Chân Phái) influencing laymen who practice Taoist meditation and
interior alchemy in the privacy of their homes.
5). The Shen-Hsiao order
(Thần Tiêu Phái) which includes Taoists who call themselves by many
names and titles; thus Taoists of the Ling-Pao sect (Linh Bảo Phái),
Lord Lao sect (Lão Quân Phái) and in general Taoists who derive their
ancestry from Chang-Chou prefecture (Chương Châu Phái) in Amoy province
(Hà Môn Tỉnh), practice ritual deriving from the Shen-Hsiao tradition
(Thần Tiêu Phái).
6). The Lu-Shan order (Lư
Sơn Phái), which can be identified because its adherents wrap a red
cloth around the head, blow on a buffalo horn, and ring the three forked
bells deriving from Shingon Buddhism (Chân Ngôn), during their liturgy.
2. The Essence of Taoism. Taoism and The
Founders of Taoism are:
Lao-tzu, author of The Tao Te Ching.
Lie-tzu, author of the Chong Xu Zhen Jing.
Tzu, author of the Nan Hua Jing.
In order to know the essence
of Taoism, one should recur to these books. Afterwards, one should read
also The Yellow Court Canon (Huỳnh Đình Kinh), The Yin Fu Jing (Âm Phù
Kinh), The Can Tong Qi (Tham Đồng Khế; The Unitive Life), the Xing Ming
Gui Zhi (Tính Mệnh Khuê Chỉ) etc. to have some idea about the subject.
It means that Taoism requires an illumination, or a gnosis to be
Taoist books are hard to
understand. They are written in a very strange way, mixing what is
far-fetched with what is fabulous and what is real. But, if we have some
guiding ideas, it can become rather clear. The following are some guide
1). Taoism, instead of
saying that this world is created by God, sustains that it is emanated
from a Cosmic Stuff. This Cosmic Stuff or the Principle is
incommensurable, ineffable. It is the origin and the goal of everything.
It englobes everything in itself, transcends this world and at the same
time is immanent in it. Taoists call this Principle, Tao.
Tao has two aspects: The
unmanifested aspect, and the manifested one.
When it is unmanifested, it
is called Nothing, The primeval Energy (Zu Qi; Vô Cực), Tan (Đan), Tao
(Đạo), Hong Meng (Hồng Mông), Hun Dun (Hỗn Độn), Hun Lun (Hồn Luân) etc.
now, we call this aspect, the Essence, or the Noumenon of everything.
When it is manifested, It is
called Tai Ji (Thái Cực), Gu Shen (Cốc Thần), the Yellow Court (Huỳnh
Đình), the Huan Guan Qiao (Huyền Quan Khiếu) etc Now we call this
aspect: The Phenomenal.
Later on, to let people
understand better this Essence of the Universe, one tends to give it an
human appearance, for instance, one calls it The Jade Emperor (Ngọc
Hoàng). Since then, anthropomorphism invades Taoist literature. And one
takes these human creations as real personages.
So, what Lao-Tzu calls the
"permanent Tao" in reality is nameless. The name (Ming) in ancient
Chinese thought implies an evaluation assigning an object its place in a
hierarchical universe. The Tao is outside these categories.
It is something formlessly
fashioned, that existed before Heaven and Earth... Its name (Ming) we do
not know; Tao is the byname that is given. Were I forced to say to what
class of things it belongs I should call it Immense.
Tao is the "imperceptible,
indiscernible," about which nothing can be predicated but that latently
contains the forms, entities, and forces of all particular phenomena:
"It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang; the Named is the
mother that rears the Ten Thousand Beings, each after its kind." The
Nameless (wu-ming; Vô Danh) and the Named (yu-ming; Hửu Danh), Not-Being
(wu; Vô) and Being (yu; Hửu), are interdependent and "grow out of one
Not-Being (wu) and Tao are
not identical; wu and yu are two aspects of the permanent Tao: "in its
mode of being Unseen, we will see its mysteries; in the mode of the
Seen, we see its boundaries. "(Tao Te Ching, chapter I).
Not-Being does not mean
Nothingness but rather the absence of perceptible qualities; in Lao-Tzu
's view it is superior to Being. It is the Void (that is, empty
incipience) that harbors in itself all potentialities and without which
even Being lacks its efficiency.
In chapter 26 of The Tao Te
Ching, Lao-tzu said: "
was something formed out of chaos,
formed before Heaven and Earth.
and still! Pure and deep!
stands on its own and doesn't change.
be regarded as the mother of Heaven and Earth
I do not
yet know its name:
"style" it "the Way."
Were I forced to give it a name, I
would call it "the Great".
2. The Tao, emanating
everything, is latent in them.
Dong Guo Zi (Đông Quách Từ)
asked Chuang Tzu (Trang Tử):
is the Tao? - It is everywhere.
show me more specifically.
- It is
in the ant.
you low it?
this blade of grass.
this fragment of tile.
this manure, in this dung-water.
Dong Guo Zi did not say
anymore. Chang Tzu said: "...Do not ask if the Principle is in this or
in that. He is in everything. Therefore one call him great, whole,
universal. All these terms pertain to one reality, to the cosmic
3. If Heaven, Earth, and
everything in it, emanate from One Reality, they are then only part of
the whole. Therefore, Heaven, Earth and everything can not live
separately from each other, because in so doing, they become immediately
Lie-tzu wrote: "Heaven and
Earth have not all capacities, The Saint is not omnipotent, things do
not have all properties. Heaven gives life and cover, Earth gives matter
and sustains, the Saint teaches and corrects, things have their own
qualities. They must depend on each other. "
4. If Tao, if Heaven is
everywhere, and immanent in everything, then to find it, we must go deep
in our soul, we should become introvert. It is written in the book Tai
Shang Bao Fa (Thái Thượng Bảo Phiệt): "Wen De Ju (Văn Đức Tụ) one day
met a Taoist monk. He invited him in his house. After entertaining him,
he asked him what was the secret procedure for self-culture. The monk
replied: The Tao is in your heart, your heart englobed already the Tao.
If your Heart is separated from the Tao, you created for yourselves your
own Hell; if your heart is united with the Tao, you will find your Peng
Lai San Dao (Bồng Lai Tam Đảo), your Paradise on earth.
It means that Ying Zhou,
Fang Zhang, Peng Lai San Dao (Doanh Châu, Phương Trượng, Bồng Lai Tam
Đảo) all these earthly Paradises reside in fact, in our heart.
Many ancient Chinese Kings,
such as Qi Wei Wang (Tề Uy Vương; 378-332 BC), Qi Xuan Wang (Tề Tuyên
Vương; 332- 313 BC), Yan Zhao Wang (Yên Chiêu Vương; 311-278), Qin Shi
Huang Ti Di (Tần Thủy Hoàng Đế; 249-246 BC) were lured by Taoists monks,
and thought that these earthly paradises really existed. They spent much
money, sending many people to these fictitious places, in order to find
Immortals, and Longevity Pills.
5. Understanding that the
Soul must be united with the Divine Spirit, if one aspires to
immortality, one can grasp the basic concept for the Longevity Pill of
the past. The equation for this consists only as follows:
Yin + Yang = Tai Ji.
Soul + Tao = Real Man, or the Pill.
Afterwards, one creates many
new works, to replace them, such as White Gold, Black Silver; Lead,
Mercury; Child, Girl; Sulfate of Mercury, Mercury; Sun, Moon; Dragon,
Tiger etc All these new words serve only as synonyms to designate the
Soul and the Tao, or the Spirit and the Breath in our self, but they
tend also to misguide neophytes unfit for illumination.
Applying this Equation to
the human body, one understands the ancient way to prolong our life. It
consists only in concentrating our self and directing our breath
It is written in the
Introduction to Medicine, chapter Self-Nourishing: "All the theories on
Pills, on Sulfate of Mercury, on Lead and Mercury, on Dragon and Tiger
etc tends only to describe the theory of Spirit and Breath held
together. If we can master our breath, if our breath depends on us, our
energy will be full, and we can avoid all diseases."
6. If Tao is present
everywhere, and in everything, It must helps everything evolve properly,
and live fully. Therefore, who understands the Tao, will not use its own
intellect to derange the harmony of the whole.
Chuang Tzu said: "Heaven is
inside, Man is outside...Don't let man destroy Heaven"
In the Taoist view, all
beings and everything are fundamentally one; opposing opinions can arise
only when people lose sight of the Whole and regard their partial truths
as absolute. They are then like the frog at the bottom of the well who
takes the bit of brightness he sees for the whole sky. The closed system
- i.e. the passions and prejudices into which petty minds shut
themselves - hide the Tao, the "Supreme Master "who resides in
themselves and is superior to all distinctions.
Lie-tzu wrote in his book:
"There was a man in the Principality of Song (Tống), who made a leaf out
of jade, and offered it to the Prince. He made it in three years. And it
looked like a real leaf of the kind. Put among other real leaves, it is
indistinguishable. The Prince rewarded him well. Lie-tzu says: "Heaven
and Earth in producing everything, if it takes them three years to make
a leaf, then very few trees have leaves. Therefore, the Saint bases
himself in the Tao to amend everything and not in his own intelligence".
Chuang Tzu in his book, Nan
Hua King, wrote: "One day, a sea bird dropped at the gate of the
Principality of Lu (Lỗ). The Prince thought that it was a Supernatural
Being visiting his country. He came then in person to meet the Bird,
brings It to the temple of his ancestors, where he entertained It. He
had other people play the music of Jiu Shao (Cửu Thiều) for It, and
offer It a cow, a goat and a pork. But the bird looks at them with a
wild-look, and with an sad air, and dares not eat nor drink. Three days
later, It dies. This is a human way to feed a bird. If the prince like
to nourish It properly, he must let It stay in the wilderness, live in
the lake and river, feeds itself with fish and eel, and be where It
likes. The bird doesn't like to hear human voices, and is afraid of
music...If we play music in the Lake Dong Tinh (Động Đình Hồ), birds
will take flight, fishes will dive, but men will gather to listen to
it... Fish live in water, but man dies in it. So, different habitats,
So, Chuang Tzu liked to
oppose the Heaven-made and the man-made, that is, nature and society. He
wanted man to renounce all artificial "cunning contrivances" that
facilitate his work but lead to "cunning hearts" and agitated souls in
which the Tao will not dwell. Man should equally renounce all concepts
of measure, law and virtue. "Fashion pecks and bushels for people to
measure by and they will steal by peck and bushel. "He blamed not only
the cultural heroes and inventors praised by the Confucians but also
sages who shaped the rites and rules of society.
That the unwrought substance
was blighted in order to fashion implements - this was the crime of the
artisan. That the Way (tao) and its Virtue (te) were destroyed in order
to create benevolence and righteousness - this was the fault of the
Applying this principle to
human beings, Lao-Tzu didn't like to force people into anything. In the
Tao Te King, he wrote:
those who would like to take control of the world and act on it,
that with this they simply will not succeed.
world is a sacred vessel:
not something that can be acted upon.
who act on it destroy it;
who hold on to it lose it.
things - some go forward, others follow;
hot, others submissive and weak:
rise up while others fall down.
Therefore the Sage:
Rejects the extreme, the excessive, and
5. Taoism did not intend to
educate people. It let them evolve naturally. The "superior virtue" of
Taoism is a latent power that never lays claim to its achievements; it
is the "mysterious power" (hsuan te) of Tao present in the heart of the
Sage - "the man of superior virtue never acts (wu-wei; Vô Vi), and yet
there is nothing he leaves undone."
Wu wei is not an ideal of
absolute inaction nor a mere "not-overdoing." It is an action so well in
accordance with things that its author leaves no trace of himself in his
work: "Perfect activity leaves no track behind it; perfect speech is
like a jade worker whose tool leaves no mark." It is the Tao that "never
acts, yet there is nothing it does not do. "There is no true achievement
without wu wei because every deliberate intervention in the natural
course of things will sooner or later turn into the opposite of what was
intended and will result in failure.
...Thus, holy man fully
recognizes the relativity of notions like good and evil and true and
false. He is neutral and open to the extent that he offers no active
resistance to any would-be opponent, whether it be a person or an idea.
"When you argue, there are some things you are failing to see. In the
greatest Tao nothing is named; in the greatest disputation, nothing is
The person who wants to know
the Tao is told: "Don't meditate, don't cogitate... Follow no school,
follow no way, and then you will attain the Tao"...The mystic does not
speak because declaring unity, by creating duality of the speaker and
the affirmation, destroys it. Those who speaks about the Tao are "wholly
wrong". For he who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.
Chuang Tzu was aware of the fact that, in speaking about it, he could do
no more than hint at the way toward the all-embracing and intuitive
So for Taoists, Wu Wei is
transcendental action, perfect action, divine action. Some Chinese
Sovereigns are throned under two big letters Wu wei. Yu Wei (Hửu Vi), is
then its contrary and means human action, imperfect action.
3. Taoism and the natural life
In sum, great Taoists try to
find natural laws and to obey them. They are very careful about taking
care of their body, and call it Self-Governing or Self-Nourishment. (Cf,
Chuang Tzu, Nan hua Jing, Ch. 11).
1. To live healthily.
2. To live in accord with
3. To live in accord with
the Tao, that is to live a transcendent life.
1. Self-governing consists,
then, to live healthily up to the number of years reserved to each of
Chuang Tzu said: "The number
of years that we receive from Heaven, we must live it up to the end.
Never try to harm it and destroy it before his term."
Lie-tzu is also against the
conception of living more than deserved. He tell us this anecdote:
King Qi Jing Gong (Tề Cảnh
Công) passed by the mountain Niu Shan (Ngưu Sơn), and came to the north
frontier of the capital, wept and lamented over his fate:
" How beautiful is our
country ! plants and grass are so luxuriant. One day, if I die, where I
will go? If no one since the antiquity has died, and if I must leave
this country, where I will go?
His dependent Kung (Khổng)
and Liang Qiu Ju (Lương Khưu Cứ) begin also to cry, and say: We people
thanks to your benevolence, live on meat and vegetables, drive bad
carriages and skinny horses, and even so we don't like to die,
furthermore you, Sir!
The Prime Minister Yan Ying
(Án Anh; Yan Zi: Án Tử) standing beside, laughs. Jing Gong, wiping his
tears, asks Yan Zi: "To day, in my walk, I am moved at the sight of the
spectacle, and I am sad, Kung and Ju cry with me, only you, you laugh at
Yan Zi answers: "If all the
sages don't die, then your ancestors like Tai Kung (Thái Công) and Huan
Kung (Hoàn Công) are still living. If courageous people such as Zhuan
Kung (Trang Công), and Ling Kung (Linh Công) are also still living, if
these people are still on earth, you, Majesty, you will wear now garment
of a farmer and is now working in the field, and have no time to think
about your death as you do now. You surely have no access to the throne
as now. Thanks to the deaths of these men, now you can reign. If you cry
for these things, you are very inhuman. Now, as I see an inhuman King
surrounded by flatterers, I can not refrain myself from laughing."
Jing Gong (Cảnh Công) is
ashamed, drinks a cup of wine in self-punishment, and punishes his
attendants by enjoining them to drink two cups of wine each.
So a true Taoist has not to
find a way to prolong his life. All the Alchemists who try to find the
Pill of Longevity, have failed miserably.
King Xuan Kung (Tuyên Tông)
of the Tang dynasty (Đường; 847-860) invited Xuan Yun Xi (Hiên Viên
Tập), a famous Taoist, to the capital Chang An (Trường An) and asked
him; "Longevity can be learned or not. The Taoist answered: "Sir, if you
can refrain your concupiscence, if you practice virtue, naturally you
will enjoy long lasting happiness, why care for longevity?"
Understanding this properly,
we will see that all posterior procedures to prolong life are illusions.
Even, Lao-tzu did not avoid death.
In the 33rd chapter of the
Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu defines longevity as follows: "To die but not be
forgotten - that's true long life."
This conception is very
proper. Man is not forgotten, even after death. The fame of Saints and
Sages persists after their death. Furthermore, it can become stronger,
and is venerated by people. They died, in fact, but they are not
Then, how to live all the
amount of time reserved to us? Taoists answered: We must prevent
diseases. We must live properly, and do not dissipate our energy. We
must live carelessly, happily, and not be driven by external influences.
It is written in the Tao Te
Ching, chap. 46:
" Therefore, the contentment
one has when he knows that he has enough, is abiding contentment
It is written in Chuang Tzu:
King Huang Ti (Hoàng Đế)
asked Guang Cheng Zi (Quảng Thành Tử): "I heard that you have attained
the Tao. Can you show me the way of Self-Governing, and how to have
everlasting life? "
Guang Cheng Zi (Quảng Thành
Tử) replied: "This is a very good question. Come and I will reveal you
the Tao. Its essence is mysterious, obscure and indistinct. It is
silence. When one doesn't look at anything, doesn't listen to anything,
when one's mind is concentrated, and still, one's body will be
spontaneously right. Be contemplative, be fully detached, don't weary
your body, don't move your instinct, then you can everlast. Watch your
inside, protect your outside. Willing to know many things, that is what
consumes you... (Tchang Tzu, Nan Hua King, chap. 11, section 3).
The book Huang Ti Nei Jing
(Hoàng Đế Nội Kinh) wrote: "Huang Ti (Hoàng Đế) ask Tian Shi (Thiên Sư):
"I heard that in the great
antiquity, all people live up to 100 years, and their strength is not
diminished. Now people live only up to 50 years, and their strength are
very much decreased. Is it due to the change of climate, or it is due to
human behavior? Qi Bo answered: "In the antiquity, those who understand
the Tao, will follow the yin and the yang, will regulate their eating
and drinking, their sleeping and awakening, and do not over-strain, and
can conserve their strength and their body intact up to 100.
Now, people are different.
They use alcohol instead of water, live mindlessly instead of regularly.
They meet their wife when drunk, and because of their concupiscence,
they dry up their semen, and dissipate their energy. They don't know how
to take care of themselves properly, and how to preserve their spirit;
they try only to enjoy themselves, and have no measure in their lives...
Therefore, at 50, they become already very weak.
The Saint of the great
antiquity teaches people to behave properly, to avoid harmful wind, to
keep their mind still, to conserve their energy, and their moral intact.
In this case, disease cannot proliferate. Therefore, people can enjoy
their life, and have not much desire. Their mind will be tranquil and
have no fear; their body will not have excessive fatigue, their breath
will be regular, and everything will be in order.
Having enough to eat, enough
to wear, enjoying good custom, and calmness in the family, people in
this time have no envy. Then they are called Simple. They don't care
about sex, and have no ambition. Stupid or intelligent, good or bad,
they are not afraid of the environment, therefore they are united to the
Tao, and can live up to one hundred years, and their strength doesn't
decrease...Then, their virtue is great.
Chinese Medicine also
asserts that if we can live frugally, regularly, if we can prevent
diseases, we do not have to take any medicine.
2. He who understands the
Tao must rejoice when living, but also must rejoice when dying. This is
the Will of God.
Taoism teaches us to be
joyful in any circumstances. We must adapt ourselves to all
It is written in Lie-tzu:
"Confucius going to visit mount Tai-shan (Thái Sơn), met, in the flat
country of Cheng (Chanh), Rong Qi Qi (Vinh Khải Kỳ), wearing a deer
hide, surrounded with a rope, playing a cithern and singing. "Sir",
asked Confucius, "why are you so joyful?" "I have", he replied, "many
things to rejoice about. First, among all the beings, man is the
noblest, and I have been given a man's body. This is my first matter of
joy. Second, man is nobler than woman, and I am born man. This is my
second matter of joy. Third, many die after their conception before
seeing the light, or die in their swaddling-clothes before the awakening
of his mind, but this doesn't happen to me: I am now 90. This is my
third matter of joy. And for what I must become sad? For my poverty?
This is the common fate of learned people. Or for the coming death? This
is the current end of all life. Then, why do you have to complain about
what is normal, and what is our regular end?" Confucius tell his
disciples: "This man knows how to comfort himself."
Another anecdote: "One day
while Confucius admires the fall of Lu-Liang (Lử Lương), of 240 feet
high, producing a torrent which gurgles on a length of 30 stadiums, so
swift that even caiman nor turtle nor fishes can go upstream, he sees a
man swimming between the eddies. Believing to deal with a desperate man
seeking death, he ask his disciples to follow him on the bank of the
torrent, and to save him if possible. But, some hundreds steps down
stream, this man gets out of water, undoes his hair to dry it up, and
follows the bank, humming. Confucius, rejoining him, said: "When I see
you swimming in the stream, I think that you like to die. Afterward,
when I see you getting out of the cascade with ease, I think that you
are a transcendent being. But no, you are a real man. Please tell me how
you can get out of the cascade so easily". He replies: "I have no
special way. When I began, I labor hard. But in time, it becomes easie;
finally, I do it naturally. I let myself be sucked in by the funnel of
the whirlwind, then be thrown up by the peripheral eddies. I follow the
movement of the water, without making any movement. That is all I can
This anecdote reminds us of
a Chapter of Zhong Yong (Trung Dung), a Confucian book:
"The superior man does what
is proper to the station in which he is; he does not desire to go beyond
"In a position of wealth and
honor, he does what is proper to a position of wealth and honor. In a
position of low position, he does what is proper to a poor and low
position. Situated among barbarous tribes, he does what is proper to a
situation among barbarous tribes. In a position of sorrow and
difficulty, he does what is proper to a position of sorrow and
difficulty. The superior man can find himself in no situation in which
he is not himself.
"In a high situation, he
does not treat his inferiors with contempt. In a low situation, he does
not court the favors of his superiors. He rectifies himself and seeks
for nothing from others, so that he has no dissatisfactions. He does not
murmur against Heaven, nor grumble against men.
"Thus it is that the
superior man is quiet and calm, waiting for the appointments of Heaven,
while the mean man walks in dangerous paths, looking for lucky
"The Master said, "In
archery we have something like the way of the superior man. When the
archer misses the center of the target, he turns around and seeks for
the cause of his failure in himself."
4. Taoism versus death
After learning to live with
joy, we must learn to die with joy.
Chuang Tzu tell us this
anecdote: "Zi Yu (Tử Lai) is gravely ill. He is hunch-backed and very
much deformed. Zi Qi (Tử Lê) come to visit him. Breathing laboriously,
but very calm, the dying man said to him: "Mother Nature is very good.
It makes me as I am now. And I don't complain against it. If, after my
departure from this life, it makes out of my left arm a cock, I will cry
to announce the dawn. If it makes out of my right arm an arbalest, I
will kill owls. If it makes out of my trunk a carriage, and harness to
it, my spirit changed into a horse, I am still very satisfied. Each
being received his form on his time, and gives it up on his hour. If so,
why be joyful or be sad, in these vicissitudes? The Ancients say that we
are like faggots tied and untied alternatively. Beings don't tie nor
untie themselves. It depends on Heaven for his life or death. Then, why
have I to complain about my death?"
Thus, for Taoists, death is
only a departure from one condition to other. If so, why are we to be
afraid of death? Our apprehension of death is only an illusion. Death,
like the departure of the bride from her paternal house, can bring us to
another happiness. Formerly, when the beautiful Li Ji (Lê Cơ) was
kidnapped from her house, she cried bitterly. But when she was married
to the King of Jin (Tấn), she realized that she has no reason to cry
like that. Life can be considered as a long dream. Some are beautiful,
some are not. All of us are dreaming but we believe in the reality of
our dream. Life and death are then similar.
With such a sane conception
about death and life, we know now why Chuang tzu declared that Lao-tzu
was dead, while other people sustained that Lao-tzu was Immortal. They
didn't like people to say otherwise.
If so, all other Taoist
tales about Immortals ascending to Heaven in broad daylight, is only
In the Xing Ming Gui Zhi
(Tính Mệnh Khuê Chỉ), at the end of the first Tome, it is written that
there are in all about 10,000 Immortals having ascended to Heaven in
broad daylight, some riding a dragon, some a swan, some a fish, some a
wind. Out of them, 8000 ascended to Heaven with their house and
furniture. If going to Heaven, and having to bring their own house and
furniture, these Immortals will live a very poor life because they
should provide in advance everything for them. Their Heaven is then very
poor and dull!
But for Taoists, it is not
yet enough to live healthily, and joyfully, one must also live
transcendentally, live in union with the Tao.
5. Taoism and mysticism
We find in Taoism, in the
highest level of life, two types of men:
1). Writers and eminent
2). True Taoists.
1. Writers and eminent
artists, according to Taoism, are people living in unison with Nature,
with friends, getting off all the narrow conventions of the mass,
letting their own soul flourish freely on their pen, or flow on their
poetry, or their music. Then, they can reach the spirit living at the
bottom of matter, and communicate it to us.
When we examine famous
paintings of famous Chinese painters, we will see these characteristics.
Let us look at pictures, such as:
The Branch of Apricot by Xu
Wei (Từ Vị),
The Six Persimmons by Mu Xi
Tree on the Rock by She Tao
The Bamboo Branch by Ni San
The Flower Vase by Ba Dai
Zhen Ren (Bát Đại Chân Nhân)
Mount and Trees in the Mist
by Mi Fei (Mễ Phế) etc...
All these pictures have the
same naturalness, the same simplicity, the same vividness. Their secrecy
Standing out of the
Sharing with nature.
Keeping the mind calm,
relax, and unprejudiced.
The painter Huang Shi Gong
(Hoàng Thạch Công) lived in the forest. He painted His House of Orchids,
while his mind is concentrated, natural and without any prejudices.
The painter Shi Tao (Thạch
Đào) said: "Talking about painting is like talking about Zen. On must
get out of the realm of thinking, and reach the field of Oneness, of
No-Self. In that case only he can become the best. If one is still in
the field of relativity, one is not a great painter."
The painter Ba Dai Chen Ren
(Bát Đại Chân Nhân) also said: "When our mind is clear and calm as the
surface of water, then we will love everything. When our mind is calm as
a light breeze in the sun, then we will remember everyone.
The painter Shi Tao (Thạch
Đào) has a poem describing his simple life and extolling the free life
in the midst of nature, far from city. He said roughly:
calmness, so I avoid city,
I have a
thatched house in the wildness.
surrounded by mountains,
roam around freely.
spring, I watch birds flying,
summer, I bathe myself in streams,
autumn, I visit summits of mountains,
winter, I lay down and warm myself under the sun.
enjoy myself all the year long,
moon can revolve freely around me.
If I am
free, I read some Taoist books,
If I am
tired, I sleep in my thatched couch.
ask me about whom I dream.
tell you that I met Xuan Yuan (Hiên Viên; Emperor Huang Di),
Yuan teaches me a secret code of life,
forbids me to tell it to other people,
garments are now about thirty years old,
knowledge is as vast as the blue sea.
use my brush, I realize that my power is very great,
not promulgate my secret,
mounts will be smashed to ashes...
In examining the life of
past writers and artists, we find out that many of them have a very
noble life. A true artist endows to cultivate his personality and to
live in unison with the Tao, with Cosmic Consciousness. They believe
that the Tao will reveal itself only to pure minds. Only people of high
talents can find out the secret presence of the Tao, can have magic
brush, magic fingers, magic words, and can describe the secret rhythm
that vibrate inside everything. The artist Teng Shuang You (Đằng Sương
Hửu) (IX century, specialist in Apricot and Swan) refuses marriage and
honors so that he can devote himself totally to painting. Thanks to
this, his mind can be felt on his painting.
In this case, artist and
Taoist meet at the summit. A Taoist must find out and describe the Tao
immanent in him by his words and by his life, so that common people can
share with him this feeling. Likewise, an artist must also discover the
Universal Spirit or the Tao latent in everything, and communicate it to
2. This simplicity, this
independence, this casting of all conventions are to be found out again
in the life of a Taoist.
Taoist is a man who can
purify his mind, who can find the Tao latent in his innermost, who can
live in unison with the Tao.
Lao Tzu, Lie Tzu and Chuang
Tzu are such kind of men. Knowing them as such, we can understand their
view, their goal, and their aspirations.
It is said in the XVI
chapter of the Tao Te Ching:
reaches to the maximum of the void, will be solidly fixed in the rest,
multitude of beings are issued from the non-being,
see them coming back to it.
swarm and return to their root.
Returning to their root, is to re-enter in rest.
in rest, is called Returning to their fate.
Returning to their fate, is to be eternal.
what is eternal is Wisdom,
knowing this is to be reckless and wild.
the Eternal, is to be all-embracing,
all-embracing is to be impartial,
impartial is to be kingly,
kingly is to be (like) Heaven,
(like) Heaven is to be (one with) the Tao,
If you are one with the Tao, to the end
of your days, you will suffer no harm."
In chapter X, it is said:
your soul be attached to the One without separation,
maintain intact your breath like a child?
conserve your profound mirror without blemish?
love people and governing the state with your transcendental action,
opening and closing the gates of Heaven, can you play the part of the
understanding all within the four reaches, can you do this without using
birth to them and nourish them,
birth to them but don't try to own them
them to grow but don't rule them,
This is called Profound Virtue.
Lie-tzu sustains that to
find the Tao, one should empty his mind from all menial mundane
Chuang Tzu said roughly in
chapter VI of Nan Hua Jing:
Wishing to find out the Tao,
one must forget the environment, and all the external illusions. When
the mind is completely calm, then the Tao will appear. Seeing the Tao,
there will be no more present and past. Transcending present and past,
one will accede to the Eternal. If one holds on superficial life, one
will be miserable. If one doesn't cover for superficial life, one can
reach to the status of divinity. Try to forget what men call by Virtue,
and by Ceremony, try to forget our own ego, and our body. Neglect our
own intellect, and be one with the Infinite. It is what is called to be
united with the Tao and with Heaven, it is what is called escaping from
the realm of Change. Who tell me about this? It is my Teacher. My
Teacher regulates everything, but never mentions about his favor. He
grants happiness to all generations, but never claims for it. He
everlasts with everything, but never feels any decrepitude. He takes
care of heaven and earth, and carves everything, but never says that He
is clever. He is always care-free.
Taoist commentators in the
world recognize that the Essence of Taoism consists of the unitive life
with the Tao, or Heaven. Now we call it a mystic life, a life common to
all Saints in the world without distinction of religion. A mystic life
roughly has three phases:
1. A purgative life (Via
Purgativa) aiming to cleanse our soul of all defects.
2. An Illuminative Life (Via
illiminativa) that can enlighten our mind.
3. An Unitive Life (Via
Unitiva) uniting our soul to the Tao, to the Divine.
Chuang Tzu has described
very clearly these phases:
1. First he talks about the
phase of Conversion: Don't let our menial daily works disturb our mind
and let it forget the goal and the purpose of life.
2. We must escape from the
conditioning of external factors, close our senses, (Nan Hua Jing, Chap.
XI, Section C) transcend the realm of our intellect, and of our normal
imagination (Nan Hua Jing, chap. XII, Section D), cleanse our mind, and
do what Chuang Tzu say to be the Fast of the Soul, or the Emptying of
our Soul. (Nan Hua Jing, chap. IV, section A.- Lie tzu, chap. IV,
3. We must concentrate our
mind, and enter in ecstasy. What is called by Chuang Tzu as Sitting in
4. Then we must live in
unison with the Tao.
In Chapter 22, Section C of
Nan Hua Jing, Chuang tzu said: "Nie Que (Khiết Khuyết) asked Bei Yi (Bị
Y) about the Tao, Bei Yi (Bị Y) said: "Keep straight your body,
concentrate your mind, and heaven will be in accord with you. Gather
your intellect, be one with the Tao, and Divinity will be in you. Live
simply and naturally as a cow just born, don't try to find out why..."
This anecdote teaches us
that we must transcend our intellect and affection, be calm, be
concentrative, then we can reach the highest realm of our mind.
Chuang Chung Yuan said: "To
the Taoist, the attainment of Absolute Reality is to be in the realm of
the Great Infinite, the realm of Non-Being. To enter the realm of
non-being is to have reached the ground of the great sympathy.
One may enter the realm of
non-being either through Quiescence T'ien, or through Intuitive
Knowledge, Chih. The former concentrates upon Repose, or what the
Buddhists called Dhyana. The latter stresses on Intuition or Prajna.
The concentration on Repose
is often referred to as the method of gradual attainment; stress on
Intuition is referred to as Sudden Enlightenment. Both methods are
described in Taoist writings. But the goal of either method is the entry
into the realm of Non-being.
Non-being manifested itself
either as the Heavenly Light, or the Uncarved Block. They are two
aspects of the same thing.
The first approach, through
Chih, or Intuitive Knowledge is pure self consciousness through
immediate, direct, primitive penetration, instead of by methods that are
derivative, inferential, or rational. In the sphere of intuitive
knowledge, there is no separation between the Knower and the Known,
subject and object are identified...
Free identification and
interfusion in the realm of non-being are the functions of the Great
Sympathy. In short, it is the Tao, the higher unity of all things.
it is the transformation from "a consciousness limited to ego-form of
Live in unison with the Tao,
is called wu-wei by Taoist. Wu-wei is transcendental action, which helps
people participate in the life of the Tao. Therefore, the Indian monk,
Jiu Ma Luo Shi (Cưu Ma La Thập) has translated Nirvana as Wu Wei.
Lao Tzu also called this
life Union with God (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 68), Embracing the One
(Chapter X), Chuang Tzu called it Possessing the One (Nan Hua Ching,
chap. XII, A), Resting in the Womb of God (Nan Hua Ching II, C), or
Reaching the Center of the Circle (Nan Hua Ching, II, C).
This kind of achieved man,
Taoists called True Man (Nan Hua Ching VI, A), or Son of Gods (Nan Hua
Ching XXII, B), or People of God (Nan Hua Ching, IV, A).
Chuang Tzu said: "A gnostic
will have intuition, will get rid of everything artificial, and will
keep only what is natural. He is then the Son of God, or people of God."
(Nan Hua Ching, XXII, D,- IV, A).
The Yin Fu Jing (Âm Phù
Kinh), in the opening phrase of the book, defines man as follows: "The
Divine Nature is Man; the Human Nature is mechanism. To institute The
Divine Way is to set a goal for Man."
6. Changes of Taoism through the Ages
Taoism through the Ages has
From philosophy, from an art
of living, from mysticism reserved only for some elect, Taoism gradually
become an exoteric religion for the mass, with creeds, ceremonies,
talismans, magic, temples and monastery etc
All this is due to the works
of the Kings of Han dynasty, such as: Han Wen Di (Hán Văn Đế; 179-156),
Han Wu Di (Hán Vũ Đế; 140-86),
Of the Kings of Tang dynasty
such as: Tang Gao Zu Li Yuan (Đường Cao Tổ Lý Uyên; 620-627), Xuan Zong
(Huyền Tông; 713-756), Xian Zong (Hiến Tông; 806-820), Mu Zong (Mục Tông
821-825), Wu Zong (Vû Tông; 841-847)
Of the Kings of Song
dynasty, such as: Zhen Zong (Chân Tông; 998-1023), Hui Zong (Huy Tông;
And of Celestial masters and
Taoists such as: Zhang Dao Leng (Trương Đạo Lăng), Zhang Iue (Trương
Giác), Zhang Lu (Trương Lỗ), Zheng Si Yuan (Trịnh Tư Viễn), Kou Qian Zhi
(Khấu Khiêm Chi), Bao Pu Zi (Bao Phác Từ) etc
From the religious
standpoint, Taoism emphasizes on meeting with Immortals, and seeks the
Pill of Longevity.
We can see that for Taoism,
as well as for Buddhism and Confucianism, politicians like to influence
them, to give gifts, so that they can work for them. The going up and
down of all religions depends not only on some charismatic men but also
on favors or disgraces of Kings. Taoism, for example, became an
organized religion about 142 A.D. thanks to Zhang Dao Leng, and after
the great Yellow Turban Rebellion (184 A.D.). Around 364 A. D. a new
Taoist sect appeared. It is called the Mao shan sect (Mao Sơn) (Kiang Su
Province; Quảng Tây).
By far the most important
order in South China, that is, China South of the Yang-Tzu river, was
from the Sung dynasty until the 20th century, The Cheng I (Chính Nhất)
orthodox, one order of Lung Hu Shan (Long Hổ Sơn) in Kiang Si Province
(Quảng Tây). The overwhelming influence of the order in and after the
Sung period was due to a variety of reasons, not the least of which was
the attempt of the Imperial Court to control religions in China; Taoists
were strongly advised to receive a document or license of ordination
from the Heavenly Master at Lung-Hu Shan (Long Hổ Sơn), which served
both as prestige for the Taoist master and a control over the Taoist
order themselves. As of the Ming dynasty, Taoists were given ranks and
grades after the manner of mandarins, that is, a series of nine P'in
(Pham) or grades of excellence were given to the Taoists who came to
Lung-Hu Shan for ordination. Now the important point to remember is that
all Taoists, no matter what the order or sect, provided that they
resided in Southern China, were advised to receive their license of
ordination from the Heavenly Master, Thus the Head of Cheng I Taoism at
Lung-Hu Shan (Long Hổ Sơn) had the power to grant license in Mao-Shan
(Mao Sơn), Wu-Tang Shan (Võ Đang Sơn), Ch'uan Chen (Toàn Chân), and
Shen-Hsiao ritual (Thần Tiêu), as well as in his own Cheng I brand
(Chính Nhất) of Taoism.
The second change in Taoism
is its tendency to use magic and talismans, to call for wind and rain,
and to do exorcism. This is the secret property of witches that few can
have access to.
The third change in Taoism,
is all their methods of corporeal hygiene and exercises such as:
- Kong-fu: The Eight
Movements (Bát Đoạn Cẩm), The Six Movements (Lục Đoạn Cẩm), The Tai Ji
Quan (Thái Cực Quyền).
- Respiratory techniques
aiming to regulate the breath.
- To keep calm techniques:
Techniques to keep the mind still, and the soul calm.
The fourth change in Taoism
is to find out beneficial remedies for the body. We have therefore many
famous doctors such as Tao Hung Jing (Đào Hoằng Cảnh; 452-536), Go Hong
(Cát Hồng; 281-340), Zun Zi Ho (Tôn Tử Mạc, 581-682) etc
The fifth change in Taoism
is to get rid off all mundane conventions, and honors, and to live
naturally according to our will. This is the tendency of the so-called
Seven Sages of the Bamboo Forest on the Jin (Tấn) dynasty: Ruan Ji
(Nguyên T¡ch), Ji Kang (Kê Khang), Liu Ling (Lưu Linh, Ruan Xian (Nguyên
Hàm), Shan Dao (Sơn Đào), Xiang Xiu (Hương Tử), Wang Rong (Vương Nhung).
Many artists followed this trend of life. Wan Bang Rong (Vạn Bang Vinh)
of the Sung (Tống) dynasty has a poem, reflecting this life:
were no mandarins, no tests, no honor,
would have a very simple life.
were no carriage, no horses,
would get out of their villages.
people have created many things,
is enticed in these complicated ways.
be like a swan,
high in the sky.
The sixth change in Taoism,
is the quest of the Longevity Pill. People try to find out drugs that
not only can prolong life but also help people live for ever.
Since the fourth century
B.C., Sung Wu Ji (Tống Vô Kỵ) sustained that one can live out of the
body, and become immortal.
Afterward, we find Bao Pu Zi
(Bao Phác Từ) spending his whole life in the search of the Longevity
We can sum up their ways of
working as follows:
Abstention of rice, to let
the body become light and pure.
Inhalation of the Yin and
Yang breaths, essence of Heaven and Earth. To bathe under the morning
sun to take in the Yang energy. To drink the dew from the atmosphere at
night, to capture the Yin energy.
To use minerals, considered
as essence of Yin and Yang, to make pills.
People of the past consider
Sulphur and Gold as the essence of Yang. But these ingredients can not
exist in combination. Therefore one has to prepare them.
To ingest Sulphur, one must
ingest Cinnabar a combination of Mercury and Sulphur (S2Hg).
To prepare artificial Gold,
one uses an alloy of Lead and of Arsenic, or of Lead and of Silver
(Argentiferous Lead or Arseniferous Lead). Dealing with these kinds of
Lead, one obtain Red Sulfide of Arsenic, or Yellow Sulfide of Arsenic.
The later one is considered as the Artificial Gold.
Cinnabar, Red Sulfide of
Arsenic and Yellow Sulfide of Arsenic are considered as The Pill, or at
least they are main ingredients to make the pill.
Examining all the
ingredients entering into the preparation of the pill, we see that all
of them are potent poisons. Following is one formula to prepare the
Cinnabar (Đơn Sa or Chu sa).
Red Sulfide of Arsenic (Hùng
Yellow Sulfide of Arsenic
Sulphur (Lưu Hoàng).
Borate of Soda (Nhung Diêm).
Mica (Vân Mẫu).
Saltpeter (Tiêu Thạch).
Copper Sulfate (Không Thanh)
All the Emperors who tried
these pills died very young, such as:
Ai Di (Ai Đế) of the dynasty
Dong Jin (Đông Tấn; 361-366)
Tang Xian Zong (Đường Hiến
Tang Mu Zong (Đường Mục
Tang Wu Zong (Đường Vũ Tông;
The Taoist who spent his
life working on the Pill, Ji Hong Bao Pu Zi (Cát Hồng Bao Phác Từ) died
Aware of the toxicity of
these Pills, the reactions of the Emperors will be as follows:
To kill all the makers of
the Pills, as in the reign of Tang Y Zong (Đường Ý Tông; 860).
To accept the Pills and to
use them only when the King is dying, as done by King Wen Xuen Zi (Văn
Tuyên Đế) of Bei Qi (Bắc Tề; 550-559).
To let criminals condemned
to death penalty to experiment the Pills, as done by the King Dao Wu Ti
(Đạo Vũ Đế) in 400.
The famous writer Su Dong Po
(Tô Đông Pha) wrote to one of his friends: "Recently, I have received
some Cinnabars (Chu Sa), very well presented, but I have not enough
courage to take them."
The Seventh change in
Taoism, is to find the Pill in man himself. It is called the Inner Tan
(Nei Tan; Nội Đan). The promotor of the movement is Wei Bo Yang (Ngụy Bá
Dương), author of the Book Can Tong Qi (Tham Đồng Khế; The Unitive Life)
in which Can (Tham) means to participate to the life of God; Tong (Đồng)
means to be in unison with God: and Qi (Khế) means to be united with God
Afterwards, we find many
famous Taoists following this way, and they are venerated as great
mystics. We have: Han Zhong Li (Hán Chung Ly), consider as the Patriarch
of the sect; Lu Tong Bin (Lử Đồng Tân), his famous disciple; Wang Zhung
Yang (Vương Trùng Dương), the Founder of the sect Quan Zhen (Toàn Chân)
The Sect emphasizes on
breathing techniques and aims to regulate breath.
Roughly they distinguish two
kinds of breath:
1. Pulmonary respiration
that they tax as ordinary respiration.
2. Respiration through the
spinal column, inside the Channel Du (Inhalation), and the Channel Ren,
an imaginary Channel in the Mid-Section of the thorax and the abdomen,
(Exhalation). They only considered this respiration as a True
Respiration. When this respiration begins to work, the pulmonary
respiration will ceases.
3. Abstention of both
respirations, pulmonary and medullary (What is called: Turtle
respiration, or fetal respiration). Then they keep their breath immobile
in the Third Ventricle or Ni Wan to nourish the brain.
These techniques are similar
to Yogi techniques. Both Yogis and Taoists take good care of their
spinal column. The tip of the Coccyx in man is called by Yogis as the
Brahma-gate, and by Taoists and Acupuncturists as The Village-gate
(Wei-Lu; Vĩ Lư).
These techniques are taught
in a very abstruse way in books such as:
Chang Po Tuan, translated by
Thomas Cleaary, The Inner Teachings of Taoism, Shambhala, Boston and
Lu K'uan Yu. Taoist Yoga,
Alchemy and Immortality, Samuel Weiser inc. New York.
Huang Yuan Ji (Huỳnh Nguyên
Cát), Yue Yu Tang Yu Lu (Lạc Dục Đương Ngử Lục), Zhen Shan Mei Chu Ban
(Chân Thiện Mỹ xuất bản), 1973.
I have made a study on this
subject in my manuscript book, called Huang Ting Nei Jing (Huỳnh Đình
Nội Cảnh, Chap. 20, On Respiration, p. 199- 206.
7. Things we can learn from Taoism
This essay on Taoism helps
us to know many things:
The search for the Pill of
Longevity is a complete failure.
Our body can never obtain
immortality, because being a composite body, it must be decomposed. All
our actual surgical techniques can only prolong our life for some more
Man can not imitate cicada,
nor snake to throw away his skin. Ascension of man to heaven in broad
daylight is also a myth.
Magic and talisman gradually
lead people into a world of fear and mutual distrust. Before when the
King Han Wu Di fell ill, the Imperial Court had killed almost 10000
people, accused of making harm to the King, by talisman.
Man can't avoid rice and
cereals to become lighter and quicker. This is against natural laws. To
prevent errors, we must find out and keep all the natural laws.
But when Taoists teach us to
keep all the hygienic principles, to prevent diseases, to eat regularly,
to work measurably, to live healthily, to live up to the age given to us
by Nature, all these advices are very sound, and we must listen to them.
As for living joyfully,
dying tranquilly, getting off external influences, obeying all the
natural laws these are very sound advices.
But the aim of this essay is
to present the Monistic Theory and Mysticism in Taoism.
We can see that all the
great Taoists believe that we came from the One, and must return to the
One. Lao tzu called this the Return to the Root, the Return to Wu Ji,
the Return to Simplicity, the Return to the state of the New-Born.
He said also that the Return
to the Root, or the Union with God, is the highest state that man can
attain. (Tao Te Ching, Ch. 68).
Confucius also declares that
man must be United with God (Doctrine of the Mean, Ch. 26).
We can infer that Nirvana
must signify also: Union with God. One day, I asked a Hindu, Major in
the Commission for stopping the War in Vietnam, what was the meaning of
Nirvana, in the Hindi language. He answered immediately: "Union with
Chuang Tzu advises us to go
back to the Tao, to Heaven.
The 2nd chapter of the Nan
Hua Ching describes the Mystical Flight to the Origin.
The more people of Antiquity
advance in the way of self-cultivation, the more they realize that they
should abandon menial findings of their low intellect, and should have
the vast perspective of Saints and Sages: It means that they should live
in unison with the Tao, with nature, and with all beings.
In studying Taoism, we must
know what is meant by Wu Wei, the Transcendental or Divine Action. We
must learn, also, how to live tranquilly, how to conserve our mind in
perfect equilibrium, how to live joyfully, and not to be disturbed by
Alan Watts makes a summary
on Taoism as follows:
"The philosophy of Lao-tzu
is simple: Accept what is in front of you without wanting the situation
to be other than it is. Study the natural order of things and work with
it rather than against it, for to try to change what is only sets up
resistance. Nature provides everything without requiring payment or
thanks, and also provides for all without discrimination - therefore let
us present the same face to everyone and treat all men as equals,
however they may behave. If we watch carefully, we will see that work
proceeds more quickly and easily if we stop "trying", if we stop putting
in so much extra effort, if we stop looking for result. In the clarity
of a still and open mind, truth will be reflected... Te - which may be
translated as "virtue" or "strength" - lies always in Tao, or "natural
law." In other words: Simply be."
The Tao Te Ching, A
new translation with commentary, Ellen M. Chen, A New Era Book, Paragon
House, New York, 1980, Ch. 16 and 28.