A survey of the full range of Warring States and early Han texts usually thought of as “Taoist,”
in both traditional bibliographies and recent scholarship, yields three
general categories under which the distinctive ideas of these texts
could be subsumed:
Based on which of the above layers appear in a particular tradition,
1. cosmology: a cosmology based on the Tao as the predominant unifying power in the cosmos;
2. inner cultivation:
the attainment of the Tao through a process of emptying out the usual
contents of the conscious mind until a profound experience of
tranquility is attained;
3. political thought: the application of this cosmology and this method of self-cultivation to the problems of rulership. (Original Tao, 7)
can distinguish between three types of Daoism that evolved
in roughly chronological order (cf. Original Tao, 7-8):
by the Inner Chapters (1-7) of the Zhuangzi, portions of the Daodejing,
and the Neiye
which provides detailed information about the meditation/breath control
practices used to bring about the state of union with the Dao.
In this context, “Individualist” does not mean that the practitioner is
self-centered, but rather that the focus is on individual
self-cultivation, as opposed to social transformation; indeed, it is
precisely by eliminating all self-centered thoughts and feelings that
the practitioner opens up to the “inner power” (de) of the Dao, which allows one to live in harmony with the world.
by various passages in the Daodejing (e.g. 19, 57, 65, 80), as
well as portions of the Zhuangzi
(most notably Chapters 8-11).
This approach includes the self-emptying practices of the
Individualist, but combines it with an emphasis on a “primitive”
socio-political order, which is characterized by a minimalist
government that promotes a simple, agrarian lifestyle in order to
minimalize the desires of the people.
- Combines the first and second elements.
- Combines the first, second and
Exemplified by the “Syncretist” chapters of the Zhuangzi as well as the Lushi Chunqiu, the Huainanzi, and the Huangdi Sijing (Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor).
This approach is rooted in Daoist cosmology and meditation, but
incorporates elements of Confucian morality and Legalist principles of
- Combines the first, second and third elements,
though the cosmology is more fully developed and the political dimension differs significantly from the ideals
in the “Primitivist” sections of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi.
|We can add to Roth’s organization of early Daoist textual traditions a fourth tradition that would develop in the late Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE):
refinement of a Daoist cosmology as well as the development of
techniques of inner cultivation that lead to the “perfection” of the
with the ultimate goal of attaining “immortality.” It also develops a
priesthood to serve the lay (i.e. non-ordained) community by performing
rituals for health, social harmony, and well-being in the afterlife.
2nd century CE to the present
- Combines the first three elements plus a concern for religious organization.
Qi (Ch’i): Vital Energy/Vital Breath
Original Tao, 41-2
Jing (Ching): Vital Essence
Original Tao, 42 and 101-3
Xin (Hsin): Mind
Original Tao, 42-3
Original Tao, 43-4, 106-9
Tian (T’ien): The Heavens
Original Tao, 44
Dao (Tao): The Way
Original Tao, 44 and 101-3
De (Te): Inner Power
Original Tao, 104-6
focusing on the one word “Way” while “revolving the vital breath” in
the practice of inner cultivation you gradually calm the mind (verse
XXIV). Through calming the mind and emptying it of its normal conscious
contents, you “clearn out the lodging place of the numinous mind”
(verse XIII). This cleaning out enables you to realize the nondual
awareness of the Way that is the “mind within the mind” and that
releases you from the human perspective in verse XIV. After being
released from this perspective, you inevitably return to the dualistic
world, but retain a sense of your union with the Way by the “holding
fast to the One” of verse IX. (Original Tao, 118)