There’s nothing like bright blue skies and glorious sunshine to lighten the mood after what seems like an eternity of dark clouds and heavy rain. I hope this is an omen for the lunar year of the dog.
The greatest polarity of our times is the one between truth and lies. Not a single day goes by without some new apocalyptic warning that flood of fake news will sweep away the very foundations of human civilization.
One of the most useful ideas in the Daodejing is the one that many scholars label as reversion. Also known as the law of opposites or polarities, this is the process that governs the natural life cycle of a plant, animal, human, even inanimate objects such as a rock.
While I wouldn’t say that I’ve encountered any moments of inspiration or enlightenment during my daily walks among the bleak Fenland fields, I would say that they have been very good for the soul.
The Daodejing emerged at a time in Chinese history that was every bit as turbulent as the one we live in now.
During the five centuries that comprised the Spring and Autumn Period (771 to 476 BCE) and the Warring States Period (403 – 221 BCE), rulers of a veritable patchwork of feudal states and fiefdoms vied with each other for supremacy while the traditional culture and civilization of the ancient Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 771 BCE) collapsed around them. Wars were waged, armies were slaughtered, and alliances were broken almost as soon as they were forged, while the common people were left to lead miserable lives of endless poverty, back-breaking labor, and relentless suffering.
The main reason for my interest in the Analects and the Daodejing is that they focus on providing practical solutions to real-world problems.
Unlike many of the works in the Western philosophical cannon, they don’t feature any agonized searches for a universal “truth” or any promises of eternal salvation for ascribing to the “right” set of values or behaving in the “correct” manner. Instead, they are concerned with dealing with the challenges of the here and now, exploring how you can improve your character to make a greater contribution to the stability and prosperity of your family, community, and society overall.
How are the teachings of Confucius and Laozi relevant to the modern world? This is the question I have been asking myself as I have been reviewing my translations of The Analects and the Daodejing.
On one level, this is an easy question to answer. Given China’s growing global political and economic influence, it makes practical sense to learn more about the two seminal philosophical texts that provide the underpinnings of a nation that President Xi Jinping pointedly reminded President Trump yesterday has the longest uninterrupted culture in the world. What could be a more effective way of understanding China’s traditions and customs than reading two of the most influential and enduring works in world history? Continue reading Two reasons for reading the Analects and the Daodejing
The spirit of the valley never dies;
It is called the mysterious female.
The gateway of the mysterious female,
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth.
Like a fine slender thread,
It appears to go on forever;
No matter how much it’s used,
It’s never exhausted.
Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 6: the mysterious female
Confucius said: “If there was a ruler who achieved order through effortless action it was Shun, wasn’t it?” How did he do it? He composed himself with reverence and sat facing south. That was all.”
Effortless action (無為/wúwéi) is a term much more closely identified with Daoist teaching than Confucius, which is hardly surprising given that this is the only time it appears in the Analects. Continue reading Effortless action
Confucius said: “Know the Way in the morning; die without regret in the evening.”
Confucius said: “A scholar-official who sets his heart on the Way but is ashamed of his threadbare clothes and coarse food is not worth listening to.”
The concept of the Way (道/dào) predates Confucius and Laozi by thousands of years. Even though they had different approaches to following and implementing the Way, they both began from the same starting points and shared the same set of core values. Continue reading Die happy