Tao, World, and Mind: Mystical Adaptations of the Taoist Classics

Livia Kohn

in Mysticism and Sacred Scripture

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780195097030
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848805 | DOI:
Tao, World, and Mind: Mystical Adaptations of the Taoist Classics

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The two major classics of the Taoist tradition, the Daode jing and the Zhuangzi, are philosophical writings from about 300 bce that contain a rich store of ancient wisdom They are not at all alike. The Daode jing, a collection of proverbs, aphorisms, and traditional sayings, is very short and rather mysterious in its often elliptic and enigmatic verses. The Zhuangzi is a compendium of prose that includes stories, fables, and parables in happy imitation of a footloose Taoist lifestyle. Yet combined, the two texts contain the essence of the Taoist mystical tradition and, over the centuries, have stood at the center of Taoist beliefs and practices, adapted and reinterpreted ever anew in light of contemporaneous concerns and sectarian preferences. This chapter examines the two texts and their development in the Chinese middle ages. It first presents a detailed description of the texts; then, proceeding in pairs, looks at two major commentaries from the early centuries ce and at the use of the classics in sectarian Taoist practices of the 4th and 5th centuries. Finally, the chapter focuses on their reinterpretation under Buddhist impact during the Tang dynasty (618–906). It shows how the tradition remains true to its original sources without ever giving up its flexibility or strength to serve the needs of later generations. It also documents the continuing importance of ancient sacred texts in the practical efforts of living Taoist mystics.

Keywords: Taoism; Daode jing; Zhuangzi; sacred texts; mysticism; Taoist mystics

Chapter.  10295 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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