Daoist Syncretism
The Huang-Lao Tradition




 
The Disintegration of the Way
The “Syncretist” Compiler of the Zhuangzi
Down below in the empire there are many who cultivate the tradition of some formula, and all of them suppose that there is nothing to add to what they have. In which of them is it finally to be found, that which of old was called the tradition of the Way? I say it is to be found in them all. ... However, they are not inclusive, not comprehensive; these are men each of whom has his own little corner. They split the glory of heaven and earth down the middle, chop up the patterns of the myriad things, and scrutinise some point in what for the ancients was a whole. There are few who are able to have the whole glory of heaven and earth at their disposal, and speak of the full scope of the daemonic-and-illumined [shen-ming 神明]. Therefore the Way to be inwardly a sage and outwardly a king becomes darkened and is not clarified, becomes clogged and does not issue forth, and below in the empire each man studies whatever he prefers in it, and turns it into a formula of his own. Alas, if the Hundred Schools go off in their own directions and do not return, it is certain that they will never join up! If scholars of later generations unhappily fail to see what is purest in heaven and earth, and the grand corpus of the ancients, the tradition of the Way will be ripped to pieces below in the empire. [Chuang-tzu, 274-5 (Chapter 33); cf. Sources of Chinese Tradition, 265-266]

A Syncretist Cosmology
The ancients who clearly perceived [ming ] the Great Way began with Heaven, and the Way and its Power were next; when the Way and its Power had been clearly perceived, humanity and appropriateness were next; when humanity and appropriateness had been clearly perceived, shares and obligations were next; when shares and obligations had been clearly perceived, performance and title were next; when performance and title had been clearly perceived, the appointment of offices according to ability was next; when the appointment of offices according to ability had been clearly perceived, the scrutinization of performance was next; when the scrutinization of performance had been clearly perceived, right and wrong were next; and when right and wrong had been clearly perceived, rewards and punishments were next. [“The Way of Heaven” (Zhuangzi, Chapter 13); translated by Brian Hoffert]
 

The Way generates standards [fa; also translated as “law”]. Standards serve as marking cords to demarcate success and failure and are what clarify the crooked and the straight.
       Therefore, those who hold fast to the Way generate standards and do not dare to violate them; having established standards, they do not dare to discard them. ... Only after you are able to serve as your own marking cord, will you look at and know all-under-Heaven and not be deluded. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 243]
 

The Way to look at and know
Is simply to be empty and to have nothing.

When you are empty and have nothing, even if an autumn hair comes into view, it will inevitably have its own form and name. When forms and names are established, then distinctions [such as] black and white are already there.
       Therefore, when those who hold fast to the Way observe all-under-Heaven:

They cling to nothing.
They settle in nothing.
They do nothing.
They are partial to nothing.

This is why, when endeavors occur in all-under-Heaven, there is no longer anything that does not manifest [to these sages] its own form and name, appraisal and rank. Once form and name have been established, and appraisal and rank have been set up, there will be no way to flee the traces [of one’s actions] or to conceal one’s being on the right course. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 244-5]
 
 
The Way of the Ruler
& the way of the ministers

The Power [de ] that is in emperor or king has Heaven and Earth for its ancestors, the Way and the Power [daode 道德] as its masters, doing nothing [wuwei 無為] as its norm. Doing nothing, one has more than enough to be employer of the entire empire; doing something, one is inadequate for more than to be employed by the empire. That is why the men of old valued doing nothing. If as well as the man above [i.e. the ruler] the men below [i.e. the ministers] did nothing, the men below would share the Power in the man above; and if the men below share the Power in the man above, they do not minister. If as well as the men below the man above did something, the man above would share the Way of the men below; and if the man above shares the Way of the men below, he is not sovereign. The man above must do nothing and be employer of the empire, the men below must do something and be employed by the empire; this is the irreplaceable Way. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 264 (Syncretist author in Chapter 13 of the Zhuangzi)]