The Monistic Theory

by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ

TOC | Preface | Chapters: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19

Chapter 18

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 theory.

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 God-like man.

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 the polemic.

Anyhow, since the Han (Han) dynasty, Lao-Tzu was considered as the avatar of God. [1]

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 Taoism.

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 Hoa Kinh).

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 Whole, Nature.

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) [2]

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 Esoteric Alchemy.

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. (Extroversion phase)

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 desert.

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 said before.

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; Quảng Tây).

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. [3]

2. The Essence of Taoism. Taoism and The Monistic Theory

Founders of Taoism are:

Lao-tzu, author of The Tao Te Ching.

Lie-tzu, author of the Chong Xu Zhen Jing.

Chuang 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 understood.

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 lines:

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 another."

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. [4]

In chapter 26 of The Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu said: "

There was something formed out of chaos,

That was formed before Heaven and Earth.

Quiet and still! Pure and deep!

It stands on its own and doesn't change.

It can be regarded as the mother of Heaven and Earth

I do not yet know its name:

I "style" it "the Way."     

Were I forced to give it a name, I would call it "the Great". [5]

2. The Tao, emanating everything, is latent in them.

Dong Guo Zi (Đông Quách Từ) asked Chuang Tzu (Trang Tử):

- Where is the Tao? - It is everywhere.

- Please show me more specifically.

- It is in the ant.

- Can you low it?

- In this blade of grass.

- Lower.

- In this fragment of tile.

- Lower.

- In 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 oneness." [6]

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 imperfect.

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. " [7]

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. [8]

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. [9]

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 properly.

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." [10]

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" [11]

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. [12]

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". [13]

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, different customs... [14]

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 sage. [15]

Applying this principle to human beings, Lao-Tzu didn't like to force people into anything. In the Tao Te King, he wrote:

For those who would like to take control of the world and act on it,

I see that with this they simply will not succeed.

The world is a sacred vessel:

It is not something that can be acted upon.

Those who act on it destroy it;

Those who hold on to it lose it.

With things - some go forward, others follow;

Some are hot, others submissive and weak:

Some rise up while others fall down.

Therefore the Sage:

Rejects the extreme, the excessive, and the extravagant. [16]

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 said. "

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 knowledge. [17]

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).

Self-governing means:

1. To live healthily.

2. To live in accord with the environment.

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 us.

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." [18]

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 me, why?"

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. [19]

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?" [20]

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 forgotten.

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 indeed."

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. [21]

Chinese Medicine also asserts that if we can live frugally, regularly, if we can prevent diseases, we do not have to take any medicine. [22]

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 circumstances.

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." [23]

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 tell you." [24]

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 this.

"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 occurrences.

"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." [25]

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?" [26]

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. [27]

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 fiction.

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 artists.

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 (Mục Khê),

Tree on the Rock by She Tao (Thạch Đào),

The Bamboo Branch by Ni San (Nghê Tán),

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 is:

Standing out of the conventional.

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:

I like calmness, so I avoid city,

I have a thatched house in the wildness.

I am surrounded by mountains,

And I roam around freely.

In spring, I watch birds flying,

In summer, I bathe myself in streams,

In autumn, I visit summits of mountains,

In winter, I lay down and warm myself under the sun.

So I enjoy myself all the year long,

Sun and 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.

If you ask me about whom I dream.

I will tell you that I met Xuan Yuan (Hiên Viên; Emperor Huang Di),

Xuan Yuan teaches me a secret code of life,

And forbids me to tell it to other people,

My garments are now about thirty years old,

My knowledge is as vast as the blue sea.

When I use my brush, I realize that my power is very great,

I will not promulgate my secret,

If not, 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 other people.

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:

"He who reaches to the maximum of the void, will be solidly fixed in the rest,

The multitude of beings are issued from the non-being,

And I see them coming back to it.

They swarm and return to their root.

Returning to their root, is to re-enter in rest.

Re-enter in rest, is called Returning to their fate.

Returning to their fate, is to be eternal.

Knowing what is eternal is Wisdom,

Not knowing this is to be reckless and wild.

To know the Eternal, is to be all-embracing,

To be all-embracing is to be impartial,

To be impartial is to be kingly,

To be kingly is to be (like) Heaven,

To be (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." [28] 

In chapter X, it is said:

"Can your soul be attached to the One without separation,

Can you maintain intact your breath like a child?

Can you conserve your profound mirror without blemish?

Can you love people and governing the state with your transcendental action,

In opening and closing the gates of Heaven, can you play the part of the female?

In understanding all within the four reaches, can you do this without using knowledge?

Give birth to them and nourish them,

Give birth to them but don't try to own them

Help them to grow but don't rule them,

This is called Profound Virtue. [29] 

Lie-tzu sustains that to find the Tao, one should empty his mind from all menial mundane thinking. [30]

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. [31]

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. [32]

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, Section N).

3. We must concentrate our mind, and enter in ecstasy. What is called by Chuang Tzu as Sitting in Forgetfulness.

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.

...Psychologically speaking, it is the transformation from "a consciousness limited to ego-form of the non-ego-like-self". [33]

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 many facets:

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; 1101-1126)

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. [34]

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:

- Massage,

- 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:

If there were no mandarins, no tests, no honor,

People would have a very simple life.

If there were no carriage, no horses,

No one would get out of their villages.

Because people have created many things,

Then one is enticed in these complicated ways.

Who can be like a swan,

Flying 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 Pill.

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 pill:

Cinnabar (Đơn Sa or Chu sa).

Red Sulfide of Arsenic (Hùng Hoàng).

Yellow Sulfide of Arsenic (Thư Hoàng.

Sulphur (Lưu Hoàng).

Borate of Soda (Nhung Diêm).

Mica (Vân Mẫu).

Saltpeter (Tiêu Thạch).

Copper Sulfate (Không Thanh) [35]

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 Tông; 805-820)

Tang Mu Zong (Đường Mục Tông; 820-824)

Tang Wu Zong (Đường Vũ Tông; 840-847) 

The Taoist who spent his life working on the Pill, Ji Hong Bao Pu Zi (Cát Hồng Bao Phác Từ) died at 61.

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." [36]

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 (2nd century).

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) etc

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 London, 1986.

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 years.

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. [37]

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 God."

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 anything.

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." [38]

[1] Anna K. Seidel, La Divinisation de Lao-Tzu dans le Taoisme des Han, p. 11.

[2] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1979, Macropaedia Vol. 17, p. 1034.

[3] Michael Saso, from Japan, Towards a methodology in the study of religious Taoism, see Phuong Dong Magazine No 25, p. 405-406.

[4] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 17, 1979, p. 1037.

[5] Lao-tzu Te-Tao Ching, trans. by Robert G. Henrichs, Ballantine Books: New York, 1989, p. 236.

[6] Leon Wieger, Les Pères du Systeme Taoist, Tchoang-Tzeu, Nan-Hoa- Tchenn-King, chap. 22, section F. p. 395.

[7] Leon Wieger, Les Pères du Systeme Taoiste, Lie Tzeu, Tch'oung-Hu Tchenn King, chap. 1, Section D, p. 71.

[8] Tai Shang Bao Fa Tu Shuo, Book Xiao, p. 16.

[9] Leon Wieger, Textes Historiques, Tome I, pp. 212 and infra.

[10] Introduction to Medicine, chapter Self-Nourishment, p. 39.

[11] Liệt Tử VIII, Nguyễn Hiến Lê, Liệt Tử Và Dương Tử tr. 153.

[12] Leon Wieger, Tchoang-tzeu, Nan Hua King, Chapter 17, section A, p. 312.

[13] Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 17, 1979, p. 1037.

[14] Leon Wieger, Chuang Tzu, Nan Hua King, Chap. 18, Section E, p. 353.

[15] Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol 17, 1979, p. 1036.

[16] Lao-tzu, Te-Tao Ching, trans. with an introduction and commentary by Robert G. Henricks, Ballantine Books: New York, 1989, p. 244.

[17] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 17, 1979, p. 1037.

[18] Chuang Tzu, Nan Hua King, chap. 6, Section A.

[19] Nguyễn Hiến Lê, Liệt Tử và Dương Tử, La Boi, 1972, VI, 12, tr. 113-114.

[20] Leon Wieger, Textes Historiques, Vol. II, p. 1498.

[21] Huang Ti Nei Jing, Ch. Simplicity of people in the great antiquity. (Su Wen Jing)

[22] Introduction to Medicine, book I, Ch. Taking Care.

[23] Leon Wieger, Les Pères du Systeme Taoiste, p. 75.

[24] Leon Wieger, Les Pères du Systeme Taoiste, p. 93.

[25] James Legge, the Doctrine of the Mean, p. 395-396.

[26] Leon Wieger, Les Pères du Systeme Taoiste, Tchoang-Tzeu, chap, 6, E, p. 257.

[27] Ibid. Tchoang tzeu, Chap. 2. p. 225.

[28] Cf. Robert G. Henricks, Lao-Tze Te-Tao Ching, Ballantine Books. New York, 1989, p. 218.

[29] Cf. Ib. 206.

[30] Nguyễn Hiến Lê, Liệt Tử và Dương Tử tr. 145.

[31] Chuang Tzu, Chap. VI, Sections G, H, I, K. Summary, and Translation.

[32] Chuang Tzu, Nan Hua King, Chap. XX, section G.

[33] Chuang Chung Yuan, Creativity and Taoism, pp. 49, 50 and 121.

[34] Michael Saso, Towards a methodology in the study of religious Taoism, in Phuong Dong, no 24, p. 406.

[35] Henri Dore, Variétés Sinologiques No 66, Chap. II, section B, Art. V.

[36] Trần Văn Tích, Tư Tưởng Lão trang Trong Y Thuật Đông Phương, tr. 141.

[37] Tao Te Ching, A New translation by Gia Fu Feng and Jane English, 1972, Vintage Books, New York, Ch. 16, and 28.

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.

Nguyễn Văn Thọ, Đạo Đức Kinh, Ch. 16, Ch. 28.

[38] Lao-Tzu Tao Te Ching, A New Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Vintage Books, New York, 1972, see last cover page .

TOC | Preface | Chapters: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19