My Photo
Follow UselessTree on Twitter



  • eXTReMe Tracker
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 07/2005

« Two Kinds of Bad | Main | The Way of Poetry »

August 01, 2007


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I have not encountered this book, but according to my understanding of Platonism, the divine mind is different from the supreme Good. In Platonism and Aristotelianism, God is often mentioned, but he is impersonal. Successive reflections of this impersonal principle results in the material world. On the whole, Platonism is remarkably similar to Neo-Confucianism. Platonism happens to be far more elaborate, and so instead of a dual distinction between principle and spiritus, proposes many links in the great chain of being. The divine mind is one of these chains. It is not anthropomorphised.

You also say that the belief in reincarnation does not exist in ancient China. I agree with you that there is no textual evidence for it. But I propose that circumstantial evidence supports it. First, ancient Chinese religion fits squarely into Eliade's shamanism. Virtually all forms of shamanism recognises reincarnation. Second, while many Chinese texts speak of huangquan, the Yellow Spring - this in no way contradicts reincarnation, seeing how the ancient Greek philosophers believed in reincarnation, even though they also accept mythological descriptions of Hades. Lastly, the classical doctrines of hun and po are well established in the Spring and Autumn era. In later Taoism, as early as the Han dynasty, these concepts are very intimately tied with reincarnation. We simply don't know how much mythology was lost during the Great Book Burning.

All Taoist rituals support the view of reincarnation. Taoist rituals are often very old and invariably composed of indigenous elements (except of some rituals which incorporate a pseudo-Sanskrit). The funeral rite is called dusi, which means passing toward death. This at very minimum entails a destination, which is the underworld. It is simply through neglect that some forget to mention that the conclusion of the underworld is the human world.

I guess this illustrates the distinction between the academic and the religious practitioner. I am Taoist. I'm of the opinion that true things are common to all nations. For an academic, all talks about reincarnation, heaven and hell, and souls are fairytale nonsense, and it makes no sense for them to make sense. But for a religious practitioner, these things constitute objective knowledge.

In my study of world philosophies, I have discovered that virtually every ancient people believed in reincarnation at one point or another. It therefore makes sense to question why the classical Taoists did not mention this. My conclusion is that they, like other shamanist people, recognised multiple souls, each of which goes to another place. So it is less important to mention specifically which soul goes where. (I did not come up with this, but other Taoists came up with this.) All things fall apart then come together. So in a way, your view of the all things being swept up into the immortal way is perhaps far more nuanced and precise. Because that's exactly what it is - endless transformation.

Reincarnation is a very important concept for me, because I'm a staunch proponent of the unity of the three religions. Many historical neo-Confucianists reject reincarnation and karma, but I feel that through exegesis, I can create a new Confucianist theology which incorporate these concepts. For instance, when Wang Yangming said that life and death are as day and night, clearly he meant that night is followed by day! This is affirmed in several quotations in the canon which asserts that knowing life is equivalent to knowing death. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to expect that all dead souls stay in yinjian. There is a natural balance between yinjian and yangjian. The conclusion of death is life, and the conclusion of life is death - this is the natural order.

I have a final quibble. You say that Taoists don't recognise an anthropomorphised creator god. But Zhuangzi used the term zaowuzhe several times.

Furthermore, while in the past many people assumed that Taoists copied more from Buddhists than vice versa, simply because the latter is more systematic and organised - there is good evidence that this assumption is false - see 道家道教與中土佛教初期經義發展.

This of course relates directly to the question of whether the belief in reincarnation is indigenous to China, or is imported from India.

I defer to you completely on the details of Platonism. My knowledge of Plato is limited to politics, an impoverished knowledge I am sure. And I will not deny your argument about reincarnation. It is not explicitly discussed in Chuang Tzu or the Tao Te Ching, that I am aware of, but could well be a part of Taoist religious practice; or, one of the various forms that Taoist religious practice takes. As you notice I am more of a philosophical Taoist (Taojia), and I do not pretend to know much about religious Taoism (Taojiao). It is a pleasure learning from you.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Aidan's Way

  • :

    Understanding disability from a Taoist point of view