The Evolution of Daoism
There are four
primary concerns that we see expressed in
various texts and traditions that are referred to as Daoist:
1. Cosmology: Dao is not a
of thought (as it was for Confucius), but a cosmological
it is the ultimate source of the myriad things.
2. Inner Cultivation:
Daoists developed various “inner cultivation” techniques in their attempts to transform themselves in accordance with the “cosmological” Dao. In the early Daoist tradition, for example, practitioners employed apophatic (self-emptying)
meditation in order to attain a state of unity with the Dao; one would then return from this
of unity to the world of multiplicity, but maintain the unifying
to the Dao through its physical manifestation as de (Inner
3. Sociopolitical Theory: Application of
1 and 2 to the sociopolitical context.
4. Religious Organization: Beginning
in the late 2nd century CE, various religious movements developed that
were based on revelations from a deified Laozi (supposed author of the Daodejing)
and/or other deities. These revelations led to the creation of formal
religious organizations with ordained priests and elaborate rituals as
well as new “sacred” texts that drew on early Daoist concepts but also incorporated aspects of folk religion.
Based on which
layers appear in a particular tradition,
we can distinguish between four
types of Daoism that
or less, in chronological order:
by the Inner Chapters (1-7) of the Zhuangzi, portions of the Daodejing,
and a short text called 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.
- Combines the first and second elements from the above list.
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”
sociopolitical order, which is characterized by a minimalist
government that promotes a simple, agrarian lifestyle in order to
minimalize the desires of the people.
mid-3rd century BCE
- Combines the first, second and
third elements from the above list.
Exemplified by the “Syncretists” (a group credited
compiling the Zhuangzi and
writing that text’s final chapter, which summarizes their
position), as well as the Huangdi Sijing (Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor) and the Huainanzi.
This approach is rooted in Daoist cosmology and meditation, but
incorporates elements of Confucian morality and Legalist principles of
late 3rd through 2nd
- Combines the first, second and third elements from the above list,
though the political dimension differs significantly from the ideals
in the “Primitivist” sections of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi.
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
through fourth elements from the above list.
Inward Training (Neiye)
In a recent review essay I argued for the
presence of a “bimodal” mystical experience in early Daoism,
particularly evident in
the “inner chapters” of
the Zhuangzi. The first mode is an introvertive unitive
consciousness in which the adept achieves complete union with the
Dao. This corresponds, in general, with Stace’s “introvertive
mystical experience” and with Forman’s “Pure Consciousness
Event.” The second is an extrovertive transformed consciousness
in which the adept returns to the world and retains, amidst the flow of
daily life, a profound sense of the unity previously experienced in the
introvertive mode. This experience entails an ability to live in
the world free from the limited and biased perspective of the
individual ego. This second mode corresponds, in general, to
Stace’s “extrovertive mystical experience,” although I would regard it
as a quite profound subcategory of it. This bimodal character of
mystical experience is, actually, quite prevalent in mystical
experience across traditions, but it is often overlooked by scholars,
who tend to focus on the introvertive mode exclusively. While
evidence for its presence is not as strong in the Laozi as in
the Zhuangzi, it is, as we shall see, most certainly there. (Harold D. Roth, “The Laozi in the Context of Early Daoist
Mystical Praxis,” Religious and Philosophical Aspects of the Laozi, 66)
The Original Dao?
Roth, Original Tao
indicated by round brackets)
The vital essence (jing) of all things:
It is this that brings them to life.
It generates the five grains below
And becomes the constellated stars above.
When flowing amid the heavens and the earth
We call it ghostly and numinous.
When stored within the chests of human
We call them sages.
(Original Tao, 101 [Neiye I])
Therefore this vital energy (qi)
the vital essence]
Cannot be halted by force,
be secured by inner power [Te]
Cannot be summoned by speech,
Yet can be welcomed by the awareness.
Reverently hold onto it and do not lose it:
This is called “developing inner power.”
When inner power develops and wisdom
The myriad things will, to the last one, be
(Original Tao, 103 [Neiye II])
|Roth: “One way to conceive of the relationship
between inner power and the vital essence is that the latter appears to
be the physiological substrate associated with the former; one way to
of the relationship between the Way and inner power is that inner power
represents a quality of mind, discovered through the tranquility
through breathing practice, through which the presence of the Way that
dwells within human beings is revealed to them.” (Original Tao, 104)
The Lodging Place
If you can be aligned and be tranquil,
Only then can you be stable.
With a stable mind at your core,
With the eyes and ears acute and clear,
And with the four limbs firm and fixed,
You can thereby make a lodging place for
the vital essence.
When the vital energy (qi) is
vital essence (jing)] is generated,
But when it is generated, there is thought,
When there is thought, there is knowledge,
But when there is knowledge, then you must
Whenever the forms of the mind have
You lose your vitality.
(Original Tao, 114 [Neiye VIII])
Aligning the Body
When your body is not aligned,
The inner power will not come.
When you are not tranquil within,
Your mind will not be well ordered.
Align your body, assist the inner power,
Then it will gradually come on its own.
(Original Tao, 104 [Neiye XI])
The Numinous Mind
There is a numinous [mind] naturally
moment it goes, the next it comes,
And no one is able to conceive of it.
If you lose it you are inevitably
If you attain it you are inevitably well
Diligently clean out its lodging place
And its vital essence will naturally arrive.
Still your attempts to imagine and conceive
Relax your efforts to reflect on and
Be reverent and diligent
And its vital essence will naturally
Grasp it and don’t let go
Then the eyes and ears won’t overflow
And the mind will have nothing else to seek
is guided by the vital essence).
When a properly aligned mind resides within
The myriad things will be seen in their
(or “One will naturally respond to the myriad things
according to their
(Original Tao, 106 [Neiye XIII])