Development of Taoism

The Blessed Union of Yin and Yang.

Blessed Union of Yin and Yang

Yang Hsiung
Wang Ch'ung
Huai-Nan Tzu
Lieh Tzu & Yang Chu

After the death of Chuang Tzu (in 295 B.C.) Taoism continued to grow in popularity although as a philosophy it changed rather little for the next six hundred years or so. There were a few philosophers, however, who made a contribution to its development.

1.Yang Hsiung

Yang Hsiung (53 B.C. to 18 A.D.) was an exponent of what he called Tai Hsuan (Great Mystery). This philosophy combined classical Taoism with elements of Confucian ethics. He is well known for his doctrine that human nature is a mixture of good and evil. He was also noteworthy in rejecting the notion of immortality. This was significant because at that time a large number of Taoist alchemists and the developing religious cult of Taoism, were deeply immersed in doctrines and practices seeking immortality and an 'elixir of life.'

Yang Hsiung correctly pointed out that this practice was contrary to the Taoist philosophy of indifference to life and death and the acceptance of the natural course of things.

Sounding like Lao Tzu, his classical Taoism emerges in formulations such as:

"The Supremely Profound Principal deeply permeates all species of things but its physical form cannot be seen. It takes nourishment from emptiness and nothingness and derives its life from Nature. It penetrates the past and present and originates the various species. It operates yin and yang and starts the material force in motion. As yin and yang unite, all things are complete on Heaven and on Earth. The sky and sun rotate and the weak and strong interact. They return to their original position and thus the beginning and end are determined. Life and death succeed each other and thus the nature and the destiny are made clear. Looking up, we see the form of the heavens. Looking down, we see the condition of the earth. We examine our nature and understand our destiny. We trace our beginning and see our end. ... Therefore the Profound Principle is the perfection of utility.

"To see and understand is wisdom. To look and love is humanity. To determine and decide is courage. To control things universally and to use them for all is impartiality. To be able to match all things is penetration. To have or not to have the proper circumstance is destiny. The way by which all things emerge from vacuity is the Way. To follow the principles of the world without altering them and to attain one's end is virtue. To attend to life, to be in society, and to love universally is humanity. To follow order and to evaluate what is proper is righteousness. To get hold of the Way, virtue, humanity, and righteousness and put them into application is called the business of life. To make clear the achievement of nature and throw light on all things is called yang. To be hidden, without form, deep and unfathomable, is called yin. Yang knows yang but does not know yin. Yin knows yin but does not know yang. The Profound Principle alone knows both yin and yang, both going and stopping, and both darkness and light."

--Tai Hsuan Ching (Classic of the Supremely Profound Principle) (9)7: 5a-9b

In this we can clearly see the application of Taoist metaphysics to a set of Confucian ethical concerns.

2.Wang Ch'ung

Another important thinker of this era was Wang Ch'ung (27 to 100 A.D.). Like Yang Hsiung he was a Taoist in terms of his metaphysics which he combined with certain Confucian ideas. He was less interested in ethics and more concerned with human institutions, however. His chief contribution was to try and clear the air of atmosphere of superstition which was clouding both Taoism and Confucianism.

He declared that Heaven takes no direct action; that natural events occur spontaneously; that there is no such thing as teleology; that fortune and misfortune come by chance; and that man does not become a ghost at death. In all these beliefs is stood against a prevailing current of superstition and divination.

"When material forces (chi) of Heaven and Earth come together, all things are spontaneously produced, just as when the vital forces (chi) of husband and wife unite, children are naturally born. Among the things thus produced, blood creatures are conscious of hunger and cold. Seeing that the five grains are edible, they obtain and eat them. And seeing that silk and hemp can be worn, they obtain and wear them. Some say that Heaven produces the five grains in order to feed man and produces silk and hemp in order to clothe man. This is to say that Heaven becomes a farmer or a mulberry girl for the sake of man. This is contrary to spontaneity. Therefore their ideas are suspect and should not be followed."

--Lun-heng (Balanced Inquiries) (54)

Talisman of the Sacred Mountain of the North.

Talisman of the Sacred Mountain of the North.

3.Huai-Nan Tzu

Huai-Nan Tzu (died 122 B.C.) [born Liu An] was a prince of Huai-Nan and a fervent Taoist. He was not original in his writings but gave Taoism further prominence. He came to a tragic end as he plotted a rebellion, failed and committed suicide.

"Tao covers heaven and supports Earth. It is the extent of the four quarters of the universe and the dimensions of the eight points of firmament. There is no limit to its height , and its depth is unfathomable. It encloses Heaven and Earth and endows things [with their nature] before they have been formed. ... Compressed, it can expand. Hidden, it can be manifest. Weak, it can be strong. Soft, it can be firm. ...

"With it the mountain becomes high and the abyss becomes deep. Because of it, animals run and birds fly. Sun and moon shine and the planets revolve by it. The unicorn emerges and the phoenix soars. ...

"After having been polished and cut, it returns to simplicity. It acts without action and is in accord with the Tao. It does not speak and is identified with virtue. Perfectly without leisure and without pride, it is at home with harmony. The myriad things are all different but each suits its own nature. Its spirit may be set on the tip of an autumn hair, but its greatness combines the entire universe. Its virtue softens Heaven and Earth and harmonizes yin and yang. It regulates the four seasons and harmonizes the five Elements. ..."

Therefore those who understand the Tao return to tranquillity and those who have investigated things ultimately rest with non-action.

--Huai-nan Tzu (1): 1a-2a, 6b

4. Lieh Tzu & Yang Chu

One final chapter in the development of Taoism is the hedonism of Yang Chu (440 to 360 B.C. and the pessimism of Lieh Tzu (5th century B.C.) [there is some debate by scholars whether the texts attributed to these two philosophers were, in fact, written by them or compiled later by followers]. This so called 'Negative' School of Taoism takes the Taoist idea of inaction (that is undertaking to artificial action) and interprets it as complete abandon. Spontaneity was replaced with resignation, and hedonism took the place of selflessness.

The Empty Tao Develops into the World. The Empty Tao Develops into the World.

Yang Chu

"One hundred years is the limit of a long life. Not one in a thousand ever attains it. Suppose there is one such person. Infancy and feeble old age take almost half of his time. Rest during sleep at night and what is wasted during the waking hours in the daytime take almost half of that. Pain and sickness, sorrow and suffering, death (of relatives) and worry and fear take almost half of the rest. In the ten and some years that is left, I reckon, there is not one moment in which we can be happy, at ease without worry. This being the case, what is life for? What pleasure is there?"
Lieh Tzu

"Those who maintain that heaven and earth are destructible are wrong and those who maintain that they are indestructible are also wrong. Whether they are destructible or indestructible, I do not know. However, it is the same in one case and also the same in the other. The living do not know the dead and the dead do not know the living. What is gone does not know what is to come and what is to come does not know what is gone. Why should I be concerned whether they are destructible or indestructible?"

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