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Daoism: An Ancient Chinese Philosophy

The paper deals with two Chinese ancient styles of living Daoism and Confucianism that can be both regarded as religions and philosophies and still remain relevant in the modern world. The main objective of the essay is to define whether their concepts and attitudes towards personal and social life, nature, competition, good and evil, and reality and dreams are equal or different. In addition, the work describes the tree meanings and approaches to Dao, defines the aspects of philosophical Daoism and explains the metaphor of water in Daoism.

The word Dao is literary translated as the way, road, path, course, or method. The term specifies a way meaning a road or track. Moreover, due to the fact that Chinese is a contextual language, the word dao can be both a noun and a verb depending on its use in a sentence. Altogether, this notion has three different interpretations.

The first meaning is the description of ultimate reality. This idea of Tao cannot be stated, described or communicated in speech or text. It is too wide and diverse to be understood. Smith indicated that Dao is inexpressible and divine. It can be related to God whose name is overwhelming (198). Second, Dao is also internal concept. This aspect implies its omnipresence. It is everywhere and in everything. Dao is the energy that organizes the order in the Universe. It connects and embraces everything that exists. The last Daos path is the way of human life. To live Tao means to find a balance between the opposite things, to live in peace with the whole world. This path ties the stream of a persons life with the stream of the Universe. All the tree meanings of this notion are united and undividable, like Dao itself. An individual cannot practice one without living all the three paths.

According to the three paths of Dao, there have been developed three approaches to the power of Daoism: philosophical, psychophysical and spiritual. Philosophical Taoists want to keep their te (inner power; integrity) by capably expanding it, while the followers of other two styles try to increase its amount. It is done through self-help programs with coaches instead of teachers. The psychophysical approach goes even further to augmenting the amount of Tao. Its adherents deal with matter, movement, and minds. According to them, there are three ways to increase the quantity of chi. They are through food, psychophysical exercises and meditation (yoga). Religious or spiritual Daoism took many ideas from Chinese folk religions. This approach is influenced with Buddhism. Lao-Tzu was recognized as a god by its adherents. Religious Taoism is murky, with some magical rituals (Koller & Koller n. pag.).

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Philosophical Daoism is actually an attitude towards life with its various features. Dao is the center of Daoism, but it is inexpressible. Names of things do not seize it. At the same time, Dao can be inside and behind everything, still remaining impalpable. If a person tries to name it, he/she can name only a thing that comes from it. It is always a mystery. People minds cannot apprehend the reality while Dao goes beyond all the definitions. That is why, to understand the Universe, one should rather experience it than think about it. All things that arise from Dao are close to people, they are not difficult or exceptional.

Dao is self-subsistent. A principal idea of philosophical Daoism is wu-wei, which means inaction. It states that everything is already achieved and the world is captured. People live as if they will never die. They think about their past, dream about future but seldom enjoy the moment. Philosophical Daoism shows one that it is necessary to live right now, at this very moment. There is no sense in feeling sorry for the past, as it cannot be returned. There is no need to think about future, as it will come anyway. Actually, all people have is this particular moment (Smith 205). The object of philosophical Taoism is to arrange a persons daily routine to Dao, just to follow its flow. The simple method to do it is to achieve a life of wu wei. This term can be explained not only as inaction; it is better to translate it as the wholesome efficacy and creative quietude. The latter notion deals with supreme activity and supreme relaxation. At first sight, it seems to be impossible, but if one lives Dao, it becomes true in his/her life. The more people try to do something, the more efforts and power they apply, the less use they will get. The sensible mind should relax and stop standing in its own light. Only having done all this, it is possible to get through the routine (Koller & Koller 31).

Daoism and Confucianism are two antique Chinese approaches to existing. The former is based on the idea of harmonious and well-balanced living. The latter considers that it is necessary to set appropriate examples through five relationships, which are ruler and follower, older and younger relative, wife and husband, friend and friend, and father and son, for others to follow. Both these philosophies have some features of religion, but mostly they seem to oppose each other. Confucianism seems to be worldlier. It focuses on a persons social needs and his/her everyday life. Daoism is different; its main idea is to hold Dao. It concentrates on an individuals relationship to himself/herself to achieve inner agreement. That is why it is possible to say that Confucianism makes the person look on his/her outward environment for self-improvement while Taoism looks deep inside him/her to achieve the same. Confucians are called for social activity, and Daoists put the principle of not acting on the first place. Lao-Tzu once mentioned that it is possible to understand the real Dao without leaving the house. It actually became a classical statement of Daoism (Koller & Koller 54). Confucianism was an attempt to release tension between a man and society, to strengthen a social-political system of China by improving it. Daoism, in its turn, worked out its own quite unique system of persons cultural development. Confucianism was the elite doctrine of well-educated, intellectual stratum of society. Daoism became a democratic philosophy, which searched for spontaneity and naturalness. Daoists were the opponents of Confucians considering that a person should not follow social doctrines. According to the former, it is necessary for human beings to long for natural and spontaneous behavior. Daoism also includes the idea of peoples inborn equality and need to come back to their natural state. Daoists had their own clergy, temples and sacred books. Their saints were appreciated and worshiped in China. Daoism refused the authority of political and military relations (The World’s Religions: Taoism (Daoism) n. pag.).

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Daoists denied competition and self-importance. It was not important for them to follow the worlds progress. They did not appreciate egoism or aggressive capitalist society. Their desire was to break away from rage and fighting. Daoists searched for spontaneous flow of life. It was the practice they tried to bring to a real life. Confucianism has different ideas about everyday life and society importance. One of its significant concepts is to adhere to accepted norms and principles. Peoples relationships have to follow a number of responsibilities and duties. Each person should understand and feel comfortable in his/her own role. People, who act correctly, can improve and reorganize the society. Only if one explores the surrounding world, he/she will become smart. Knowledge brings sincere thoughts and ideas while an open mind improves a persons character. An educated and sophisticated individual makes his family better. Families, in their turn, regulate the state. The peace in the world will be achieved only if there is harmony in families (Smith 158; 201).

Per contra, the views of the nature of these two philosophies have something in common as well as some differences. Taoists consider the nature as sensible, enormously sophisticated, and interminably illogical. The aim of Daoism is wu wei, doing nothing against it. For nature, there is no need to be improved or enriched. Only people have to change and transform. The only means to determine the original source is to observe the nature. In Taoism, there is no a single mention of anthropocentrism. Unlike other religions, it always remembered its animal gods. Early Chinese shamans put on animal masks to join and speak with these deities. Their animals-spirits linked the world of people, dynasties, and idols. There was a tradition, according to which a person becomes a specific animal or bird, such as a crane or a wolf. This way, he/she can participate in the holy socializing with the ancestral gods to understand and get the meaning of all the things around. Confucians relied on entire connection of heaven, earth, and people. According to this idea, human beings live in a world of difficult communications and relationships. Heaven gives them birth, earth feeds them, and they give life to heaven and earth. People love nature, learn from it and change it (Koller & Koller 83).

Confucianism believes that grief and evil are inevitable in peoples lives. It encourages education and development. A sin is considered to be not a mistake, but a chance to learn and improve next time. Compassion for the suffering of other people also gives motivation to grow morally; however, not everybody can feel empathy. To get the Daoist notion of good and evil, it is essential to differentiate the “idea” of evil against the “reality” of evil. Taoists do not oppose the ideas of good to those of evil. They understand the interdependence of all oppositions. It means that when a person tags something as good, he/she unconsciously produces something wicked. All concepts are usually based on one aspect set off against another. The truth of good and evil is that all actions have both characteristics. This is represented in the yin-yang symbol. Every action will have some negative (yin) and some positive (yang) feature. Taoists rely on the idea that nature is a balance between yin and yang. Another approach to comprehending this notion is the understanding of the reality of good and evil. An individual does not have to focus on the concept of good and evil as in a little while all bad things will be replaced by good ones. Although Daoism and Confucianism seem to be completely different, these two religions have something in common. Both of them strive for comprehending a person and a world around him/her. They suggest achieving harmony in different ways, but the goal is the same comprehension of the world (Smith 156; 218).

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Water is one of Lao-Tsu’s most significant and important signs of Dao. A person who lives Dao behaves as water does in the nature (The World’s Religions: Taoism (Daoism) n. pag.). Water is obedient. It never struggles; however, at the same time, it can overcome everything. Water does not have special taste or smell. It shows that Tao is invisible, but gives life. It is in every living being but it is still pure and clean. It is adaptable, flexible, and modest. Water does not feel a need to contest. This metaphor shows how Tao can be incorporated in peoples life. In nature, when a stream of water meets an obstacle, the river just makes a new branch around it. When it continues flowing in this new way, it also slowly corrodes the boundaries of the obstruction. In some time, this barrier will be destroyed. The main idea is that there is no point for one in forcing his/her life. When people attempt to apply their determination and willpower, they often meet opposition. To fight this resistance, a person needs to spend much strength and efforts. However, if one behaves like a river and tries to pass by obstacles, he/she will feel satisfied and full of energy. Still, one has to remember that water does not always stay calm. Sometimes, it can crash or even destroy. To be like water does not mean staying always passive, being afraid to face problems and trying to find a reserve way; when a person is supposed to show the action, he/she should do it, but there is no point in fighting all the time.

To sum up everything written above, it is necessary to point out that Daoism is not only a philosophy or religion, but a way of life as well. It was created in China And Lao-Tzu was a person who showed and experienced it. Tao Te Ching is the primary text of Daoism. It includes philosophy, mysticism, consideration and lyrics. Daoism focusses in detail on the connection between the humankind and the world. The essential idea of Chinese philosophy, Dao, can be literally translated as path, way, road or method. It has the three meanings: the way of ultimate reality, the way of the universe and the way of human life. People cannot perceive Dao in its first concept. It even cannot be obviously comprehended, as its idea is too enormous and vast for humans mind. In Daos next perspective, it is the way of the universe, the standard, the tempo, the power in everything. In the third sense, it signifies the manner of peoples lives. These paths of Daoism are joined. Daoists cannot practice one of them without experiencing all three. There are three approaches to Daoism. The first one is philosophical. It tries to keep che by consuming it efficiently. It is more an approach to life so it can be used widely. The next one is psychophysical. Following it, Daoists try not only to consume, but also to increase the amount of che. It can be done with the help of a diet (a wide range of Chinese foods and herbs), martial arts (psychophysical disciplines) and meditation (yoga). The last approach is religious Daoism. It is mostly based on Chinese folk religions. This approach was greatly influenced with Buddhism. Lao-Tzu was accepted as a deity by its followers. The main idea of Philosophical Daoism is to live life flowing slowly and making no efforts. Lifes goal is stated in Tao Te Ching s idea, “The way to do is to be” (Smith 198). In this meaning, no action is needed. Human life is compared to the stream of water. It adjusts itself to its surrounding and tries to find the lowest places. That is why the metaphor of water is important for Daos understanding. To live Dao means to live like a flow of water.

Daoism is not a single ancient philosophy in China. It always goes in comparison with Confucianism. They are both ancient Chinese ways of living. While Confucianism aims at organizing peoples lives by setting a worth example Daoism centers on pleasant living. Both of the doctrines are religions and philosophies at the same time. Confucianism stresses human conduct over trust in God. Daoism, in its turn, pays attention to people’s relationship with nature and their attitude to it. Daoists and Confucians views of the role of people in society, their competitions and concepts of good and evil differ. Daoism does not approve the idea of struggle and rivalry. Each person has to live his/her own life, listening only to himself/herself. Vice versa, Confucianism strives for competition; one of the central ideas of this philosophy is following the example. However, both philosophies and religions strive for a harmonious life, which makes a person happy.