The Daode Jing is a manual, attributed to Laozi, suggesting that non-action (wu-wei) is a way by which one may exist in accord with the cosmic principle of Dao and thus ensure a virtuous self and society. By cultivating the individual body, the Daoist sage in turn cultivates the social body. This simultaneously self-oriented and socio-political outlook of the Daode Jing finds its roots in the chaos of the Warring States period of Chinese history. As Livia Kohn indicates, the unrest of this period caused many to yearn for a way to reclaim the serenity of the mythical Golden Age.
[...] In one of the rare passages addressing what seems like meditation practice, the sage voice of Daode Jing tells us do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness.” In doing so, he gains “knowledge of the constant.” Having attained this cosmic knowledge of constancy, the same passage concludes that “One's action will lead to impartiality, Impartiality to kingliness, Kingliness to heaven, Heaven to the way, the way to perpetuity, And to the end of one's days one will meet with no danger.” This is an example of advice that holds true for both a sage and his citizenry. [...]
[...] Each person in Daoist society would ideally behave like such a sage, who “embraces the One and is a model for the empire.” In fact, there should be no qualitative difference between the sage and his people: sage has no mind of his own. He takes as his own the mind of his people.” In accordance with the archetype of an uncarved block, the sage-ruler should actually seek the elimination of any conceptual barrier standing between himself and the people. [...]
[...] It is far safer to assume that it is an anthology which passed through the hands of a compiler . in the course of time.” Whether the Daode Jing was created as an anthology of folk sayings collected throughout Chinese history, or the inspired words of the direct manifestation of Dao, its aphorisms present a vision of inter-personal and intra-personal harmony that calls on each individual to observe inner nature and seek to align it with the constancy of outer nature. The benefits of such introspection serve both the [...]
[...] Action within the natural flow of Dao is not based on selfish desires, but rather on the greater cosmic context accessible by humility and compassion. To live as an uncarved block, as the metaphor goes, is to enter situations independent of pre-conceived categories; as a ruler such a sagacious person would approach his empire naturally in step with the Dao and not motivated by his personal drive to power. The usefulness of the Daode Jing lies not in its metaphysical ruminations, but in its practical observations that take those ruminations and infer proper modes of conduct. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee