Daoism Term Paper

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Daoism Way

Daoism as 'The Way' of Life

To those of us living in Western Culture, there is a tendency to view Eastern religious traditions as somewhat abstract and metaphysical in their traditions of ideology and worship. But in many ways, the rituals and canon of such faiths will tend to be particularly humanistic in their proposed worldview. This is distinctly true in the philosophical daoism which has been adopted from the original religious tradition, constituting what is a fundamentally natural way of life for its observers.

In fact, quite literally, Dao "can be roughly translated into English as path, or the way." (OCRT, 1) as a concept though, it is somewhat indefinable. Tao is believed to be a power which flows through all objects, non-living and living, and which ties together the fabric of the universe. Indeed, it is this very force which is said to connect each of us as human beings both to the universe and to one another.

It is common in most of the world's major religions for there to exist a notable distinction between a faith's spiritual pretexts and its socially enforced constructions. The personal experience of a religion and its communal traditions often occur far apart from one another, sometimes even defining two separate divisions within an umbrella faith. Such is the case with the multifarious canon of Daoism, which is regarded from two distinctively different approaches, labeled for the needs of simplicity, religious Daoism and philosophical Daoism. While both are an extension of the same original texts, the Daode Jing and the Zhuangzi, they are most essentially different in their purposes and the implementation of their ideas. (Hansen, 1) Nonetheless, they remain mutually driven by the understanding that, either taken from a religious or a philosophical perspective, Daoism is meant to imply 'The Way,' as it pertains to developing an understanding of how to live, how to orient one's self morally and how to engage the world and others practically.

Discussion:

Daoism, today, is chiefly associated with such internalized practices of 'worship' as self-guided meditation. The utilization of yoga, though an aspect of the ideology prior to the fourth century, would nonetheless achieve a newfound importance through the devotion of Wei Huacun. A spiritually inclined daughter of a dynastic governor, her influence coupled with her deference to the teachings of mentor Yang Xi would help to spread the relevance of his writings. These, composed in the early 370's C.E., would become known as the Shangqing. (Pregadio, 1) Within, she would set the mold for a shift in the focus of Daoism. Her ideas would spark a major change in the identity of this philosophy, transitioning it from various practices of natural or chemical imbibing used to stimulate spiritual congress to a singular emphasis on the virtues of meditation in eliciting divine awareness.

Though largely a continuation of the traditional ideals and practices of the Dao, the inception of the Shangqing school of thought into its canon represented the first moment in its history at which it had begun to adapt Buddhist practices. (Brooks et al., 114) This would be an absolutely crucial moment in both the history of the philosophical conceptions of Daoism and in the spiritual aspects of its observance which would become central thereafter. Moreover, the convergence of the lifestyle and worldview endowed by Daoism -- concerning the moral, intellectual and transcendent aspects of the human experience -- with the Confucian teachings guiding the spiritual and ideological characteristics of ancient Chinese culture would produce a relationship between the great nation and the practice of Daoism that would be central to the identity of both. It was here that the encompassing implications of Daoism would enter into more common practice, marking the realization of "The Way" as it pertains to a recognition of proper directives for living. The integration of philosophy, religion and practical life would demonstrate a commitment to this realization.

The Daoists had believed prior to this integrative occurrence that man coexisted with other elements of the universe in a balance between all conceived naturally inverse forces. Conceptualizing light and dark, day and night, good and evil all as opposite ends of a same spectrum, so too would be the formulation in their conception of life and death and even of man and nature. In this latter relationship, the implication would be that man was a minute stitch on an infinite fabric, a fractional embodiment of some force far larger than himself and yet constituted of the same matter. It would also mean that his actions are governed by this spectrum of impulses as well, that they reflect a clear connectivity between man and nature that places the former at the mercy of the latter. The instructive conditions for life offered by the Daoist code of principles therefore is intended to help man to live in consonance with this condition. The balance between light and dark or between good and evil is absent of connotation, contrary to many religious traditions which are more theologically inclined than they are philosophically grounded.

Instead, all of these are relational qualities of the otherwise essentially indefinable thing known as "The Way." This transliterate understanding of Dao may impress upon us the elusive nature of its meaning, even in concert with the otherwise apparent qualities of mankind itself. Within Yang Xi's newly evolving approach to experiencing this understanding, he "employed this theory of microcosm/macrocosm correspondence in its practice of invoking the presence of celestial divinities in the energy systems of the body, naming them, and describing how they configure the energy in each physiological system of the body." (Miller, 265) in this regard, Shangqing's inception into the philosophy would be the inflection point bringing about the unity of intellectual and spiritual disciplines. Beyond the intercession of perspectives on religion and lifestyle, this would precipitate a closer and more explicit connection between man, nature and the universe. In this relationship, Daoism would find the observable manifestation of its spirituality and its observers would find a clear compass for living in 'the way' of Buddha.

The ethical dimensions that are inherent to Daoist practice qualifies the underpinnings of philosophical Daoism's purpose as a divining structure for navigation of life. Though in these dimensions, this aspect is defined as applying to sets of rules, behavioral guidelines and moral imperatives, the nature of Daoism is such that this is not a directly applicable definition. At the very core of philosophical Daoism is a certain evasion of absolutes and an underlying notion that there is no immutable set of morals, casting at least a small degree of obscurity on our understanding of this concept of 'the Way.' In other words, we must at least accept that this 'way' is not to be taken on face value as a clear set of directives and imperatives as might be intended with a religious code of laws as in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Rather, philosophical Daoism provides a set of questions which must be asked and allegories which must be interpreted. This contributes to a certain monism in the execution of values, wherein a person's perspective is a primary governing force. The questions that form the basis of Daoism are intended to invoke a clarity in that perspective rather than to shape the individual's chosen interpretation. This is to say that "Daoism has no 'constant dao.' However, it does have a common spirit. Dao-centered philosophical reflection engendered a distinctive ambivalence in advocacy -- manifested in their indirect, non-argumentative style, their use of poetry and parable." (Hansen, 1) There is, in this, an unchanging pragmatism, where individuals, circumstances and variables are equal players in decision making with the philosophical explorations prompted by the Dao. Again, the idea of the Way as descending from an incorporation of both philosophical and spiritual ideals is exceedingly relevant in the way that its conditions are realized. The former quality renders this a nuanced and flexible framework for pursuing moral and practical affairs while the latter quality invoked a sense of connection to the natural world which is inherent to the way.

Even still, religious Daoism's launches from a purpose which is, to some views, antithetical to these principles. Evolving initially from the Confucian doctrines which sought to provide definitive answers and interpretations to the questions and parables of Dao, this offshoot of the original philosophical drive would coincide with the innumerable tribal, regional and nationalistic forms of religious observation throughout early China. Due to the inherently malleable nature of the Dao, each group developed into its own religious sect, providing answers to the questions of Dao as they are influenced by cultural and geographical experiences already ingrained. In its most prominent confluence "Neo-Daoist discourse practices helped introduce Buddhist ideas into China and Daoism heavily influenced distinctively Chinese forms of Buddhism, particularly Chan (Zen)." (Hansen, 3) This flexibility illustrates the importance of the social dimension of the religion, which has clearly had an impact on the ways in which Dao has been employed. The pragmatism which marks the philosophical… [END OF PREVIEW]

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