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The Daode Jing: Manual for Cosmic Living

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Vassar College

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  1. Introduction
  2. The principle of non action
  3. Daode Jing as a socio political text
  4. The progression from cultivated self to cultivated society
  5. Practicing self improvement without the intention of working towards a sagely kingdom
  6. Conclusion

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.?[11] 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.?[6] 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. [...]

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