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原 The Other Original Dao 道
The Path, before Kongzi and Laozi Paved It
© Bradford Hatcher 2012, Version 12.8
The once-simple Chinese word Dào 道, meaning way, road or path, has received almost all of its analysis within the contexts of three major schools of Chinese thought: Confucianism (儒教 Rújiào), Philosophical Daoism (道家 Dàojiā) and Religious Daoism (道敎 Dàojiào). It's currently fashionable to dismiss any differences between the latter two schools (especially from a Dàojiào perspective). Although I like the distinction, this is irrelevant here, because we are going to be looking at the evolution of the word Dào as a conceptual metaphor during the Early Zhou, well prior to the emergence of these three schools. We might say this: just as the Dào preceded Divinity, as Laozi asserts, the word Dào preceded Kongzi and Laozi. We will still get back around to how the later meanings evolved, by way of the route or journey they may have taken. But more importantly, we will look for some of the things that might have been lost along the way, with the word being made a vehicle for Kongzi's thoughts and virtues and Laozi's fun-but-hyperbolic wordplay. What might we have missed in plowing on ahead with our more sophisticated sociological, philosophical and religious preconceptions?
Much has been made in scholarship of the Dào from the Warring States onward. But what of its antecedents? The background material on hand is minimal. The texts available to us for this study are limited primarily to the Zhōuyì (周易 the original Zhou Changes) the Shījīng (詩 經 the Book of Poetry or Odes) and the Shàngshū (尚 書, or Shūjīng 書經, the Book of Documents or History). Even the last of these is problematic, since only portions of this classic are thought to be genuine products of the pre-Confucian era. Aside from these we have only a handful of Bronze inscriptions, many of which are itemized in Axel Schuessler's Dictionary of Early Zhou Chinese (1987). No Oracle Bone Inscriptions (OBI's) are known.
While it must be admitted that the study of Chinese etymology is, and will likely remain, more art than science, the art nonetheless provides a point of departure and some useful insights here. Dào is compounded from the 162nd radical 辶(or 辵) chuò, walk, go, plus the 9-stroke character shǒu (首 head, leader), 13 strokes in all. See Mathews #6136 and Karlgren # 1048a. Some early versions of the character incorporated xìng (行 walk, go) in place of chuò. See Wikipedia and Etymology.
The character appears to have no ancestral forms that
lack these component glyphs or their implications. The
most common character analyses make use of the handy
English pun: going ahead, moving ahead, walking ahead,
making headway, headed down the road. But the pun is
meaningful here. The presence of the head also seems to
imply that the way is not empty of travelers, that
somebody is on the path, in motion, participating, and
having an experience. Wilder claims that "a way for feet
to walk in" and "a way for thoughts to go in" are also
implied. It was both a "formula of speech and step"
(Eno, 1996). All of this assumes, of course, that the
presence of 首 has more significance here than
simply a phonetic element.
Boodberg (1957, p. 202) draws a strong comparison with the character 迪 dí: "[Dào] is also occasionally associated with a near synonym (and possible cognate) 迪 dí, to follow a road, go along, lead, pursue the right path; a term with definite ethical overtones and a graph with an exceedingly interesting phonetic, 由 you, "to proceed from." Boodberg's words "exceedingly interesting" might refer to this anticipating Dào's implications of intrinsicness, genuineness, or naturalness, which seem to have developed a little later. Other attested Early Zhou meanings for 迪 are: advance, proceed, go forward, be promoted; go along with; and (nouns) conduct and guidance (Schuessler, 1987).
Another Early Zhou synonym was 路 lù, road, highway, way, path, line, route, journey; carriage; sort, kind; contribute, present, give; be/become great/loud. This was found in both the Shijing and Shangshu, but not in the Zhouyi. See Mathews 4181 and Karlgren 7661'. This also shows the cultural association of way, road and path with journey, which might represent the single most important omission in most Chinese-English dictionary entries for Dào. 道路 dàolù is a Chinese compound word dating from at least the Warring States that narrows the meaning to physical roads. Yet another EZ synonym was 步 bù, walk; a step, a pace; a walk, a march; way, course, stages in a process.
With the Chinese language being so extremely polysemous (single characters having a wide range of disparate glosses, whether related to each other not), it wasn't long before the word Dào began to take on an inconveniently broad cluster of meanings. A new character was probably brought into being to take up the burden of some of Dào's verbal uses. The 41st radical cùn (寸 inch, thumb, hand) was added to Dào to make 導 Dǎo. See Mathews 6137 and Karlgren 1048d. Neither OBI nor Bronze examples are known. For earlier forms, see Etymology. This word seems to have been used most when describing human action with respect to a way, road, path, line, course or channel, specifically: to direct, conduct, lead, channel, guide (to); to survey, describe, trace, travel along, for example:
導菏澤 Directed/conducted/led the He [waters] to the marsh (Shu 12 禹貢 )
導嶓冢 He traveled along the Qian and Qi (mountains) (Shu 12 禹貢 , tr. Karlgren)
Dǎo 導 also meant to talk about, explain, narrate, instruct, teach; or (perhaps too simply) to say, tell, speak; or else to be said, told or spoken (Shi 46,1). There is more to be said on this later. Other meanings followed, but other than the simple verb meanings "go along" or "travel along," all had the theme of human (or manual) guidance along a path: to show or point out the way; to lay down the way or plan; to show or lead into; to bring along, to lead forth; to induce to do right, urge to follow, persuade. As a replacement it was not entirely successful, and the original Dào continued to have all of these verb meanings and more.
Dào 道 also occurs in three compounds in the Early Zhou:
道謀 dào móu, to consult passers-by or casual wayfarers, with 謀 móu used in its older sense of counsel or consult, rather than in the more familiar plan or scheme.
如彼築室于道謀 Like one (who) builds houses consulting with vagabonds (Shi 195)
天道 tiān dào, the way of Heaven or celestial way
明王奉若天道 Wise kings are as tributes/offerings to Heaven's way (Shu 說 命中)
王道 wang dào, the way of kings or royal way.
王道蕩蕩 The king's way is broad and expansive (Shu 洪範)
王道正直 The royal way is correct and true (Shu 洪範)
The word Dào covers a fairly broad semantic field, even when we look at it rigorously. These are charted below, in a nearly ontological or at least philological order, grouped by usage, from the most concrete and primitive to the most abstract and frivolous. The translations given in the examples are my own, unless noted otherwise.
The Concrete Noun
To call these occurrences concrete nouns is not to imply they were not used in this way as metaphors or implicit comparisons, especially in the Zhouyi as oracle and the Shijing as poetry. But the image is still that of a physical, walkable route.
way, road (Shi throughout) (Shu 214) (JW 204) (2927 Li)(Late WZ bronze: #10176)
履道坦坦 Treading the road/path (which is) level and easy (ZY 10.2)
魯道有蕩 The road/way to Lu is broad and easy (Shi 101, 105)
way, path (Shi 261) (Shu 24,14; 43,34) (2927 Li)
楊園之道 The willow park's/garden's path (Shi 200)
行道遲遲 Walking the path/road so slowly (Shi 35)
有倬其道 With its
splendid paths/roads (Shi 261)
way, route (Shi 129, 162) (631 Mu)
周道倭遲 The way/route from Zhou was winding and tedious (Shi 162)
way, journey (Shi 33, 230)
道之云遠 The journey/way is far/long (Shi 33)
watercourse, river channel (Shu, Xia Shu, Tribute of Yu)
九河既道 The nine He (tributaries) were correctly/properly channeled/defined
The far ends of the spectrum of "track-trail-path-road-street-highway" do not really appear yet. It may simply be that the trail experience never got written down on a durable enough material. Street may be too urban a reference, or it may simply have not implied a long enough journey.
The Conceptual Metaphor
Trails and paths, and waterways too, have been an important part of the human experience ever since we climbed down out of the trees four million years ago and began to either follow or avoid specific trails, and to follow the streams up and down. The work that we do with these is bred in the bone by now. The archetype is so taken for granted that paths and roads are omitted from most symbol dictionaries. We can ask the question: what do all humans everywhere know about ways, roads, paths, routes, courses, channels and waterways? We can use these tangents to examine the various branches taken by the semantic field of Dào.
Roads can be either level or steep, narrow or broad, rough or smooth, safe or dangerous. They can be discontinuous, as when a bridge washes out, and our detours can be long and arduous. Beyond the edge of the traveled way are mysteries and risks, ambushes and opportunities, a potential for getting lost, or an opportune digression that you might have missed if you hadn't risked getting lost. It is possible to get off track or off of the path, to be misguided or misdirected. We can lose our way. Sometimes one wants to step off the path only briefly, in order to relieve oneself, because it's just rude to do that in the middle. Sometimes that's a metaphor for deviating from our way to satisfy other needs.
Ways have varying degrees of historical use, from the single set of hoof tracks left by the prey we are tracking, to the major highways connecting large cities. Thus we have the lonely trails (John Muir's is no longer lonely) and the roads less traveled, and we have ways that whole mobs and large armies can march dozens abreast upon.
Roads are not motive or causal forces. They do not take us anywhere: we have to do that, under our own power. But they do offer a way, a way out, or a way back home. They offer guidance and direction. The obstacles to our journey are pre-avoided by design, barring climate events and the bandits. Roads offer tremendous magical powers that can radically alter whole landscapes: One can improve the weather by traveling a thousand miles to the south. One can get a better king by moving a thousand miles east. And sometimes we return by the same road we went forth on, although we have older eyes and newer perspectives.
If you are presently on a road or a path, then you are not being a pioneer or explorer: you are being a tourist. Others have come before you. Others have figured things out about this journey that you will not need to trouble yourself with. In this way roads are like culture. This extends even to the notion of right of way: roads and paths are shared solutions to cultural problems. The benefits are shared as well. And thanks to culture, there is usually a way to know where you are going, if you can stop and ask for directions.
A given leg of a journey, section of road, or reach of a river, goes from Point A to Point B. Because the journey takes time and effort, Points A and B also represent a journey through time, a sequence of events and experiences. Extended journeys may be represented as a series of connected legs. Ultimately this can be extended to cover the entire course or journey of a lifetime, from zygote to death.
We can study a way or a path, get familiar with it, get to know it by heart, learn the ins and outs, ups and downs. Moving back and forth along such a way can become like a second nature. We can show or teach this way to others. In this way a path is like an art or a craft, a method, the way that certain things are done.
If we do not know a road or path, we describe it by its characteristics. When we do know a road or path, we describe it by its actual route. The word refers to the general idea. The route or the name of the route refers to the real thing. Similarly, the unknown river is defined by its substance, water between and over the earth, while the known river is defined by its course. The way refers to the real river, not to the imaginary, generic or hypothetical one. This is one of several of the ambiguous implications of Laozi's Chapter One.
To study the nature of something is to study its ways, the roads and paths it takes or prefers, the choices it tends to make, and this implies a degree of predictability proportionate to one's knowledge. One can reason from its antecedents to possible conclusions. This is only possible if a thing has a nature or a second nature.
Roads have crossroads and forks, just as life has decisions and choices. A journey can be a string of decisions and choices, and where these are made in large numbers, the possible journeys are practically endless. But once the journey is made there is no "could have been." Reality does not exist in potential, but in the path that is traveled in fact. When the branching or dendritic structure gets very complex it starts to look like a field. In fact, in physics, some of the tracks made through time are made by tensor fields. But there are still places these do not go: the totality of the real does not include the unreal.
Roads do not go everywhere. They do not cover the field
but merely trace lines across it. With the most
effective systems of roads, the greatest area or
territory is accessed by the least length of line. The
way is not a field comprised of all the possibilities.
It is the sum of all of the paths that are traveled in
fact, which must of course also account for any emergent
properties of the sum or the whole, such as the effect
of the Silk Road on human culture or the Road to
Damascus on the future of human intelligence. Quo imus?
A journey moves us through a changing landscape, and a good journey changes us in the process. A difficult journey does that as well. A journey is a personal history. It is a story. It can be journaled. It can be narrated, described, related, recounted, retold as a sequence of events. Directions and guidance can be provided to others in the telling of the tale.
Roads will take us just about anywhere. There's an old gag that says "you can't get there from here," wherein the comic jolt comes from the knowledge that the larger way, road, path or course ultimately leads to everywhere. Roads and waterways both branch, exhibiting dendritic structure. Laozi's hundred valleys pay tribute to their sovereign, the lowliest waters. These branching structures can be mapped, the directions can be shared. Seen from above, they share properties with the organization of plants above ground, plants below ground, and circulatory systems in both plant and animals. Dendritic or branching structure is one of nature's go-to processes for accessing material, energy and territory. The Road, as in 'life on the road" is a complex network that encircles each continent. "The road goes ever on and on" is sung by Hobbits on leaving the Shire.
One level of abstraction up, the extended journey of a
single lifetime can be regarded a branch of a family
tree, which continues to reach back through time,
through race, through the origin of the species, genera,
family, order, class, phylum, kingdom, to the very
first, simple, one-celled organisms. You get the picture
without needing to see the fuller account of what
happens when primordial stars explode and make carbon.
Whatever living being might be nearest to you, be it a
cricket or a fern, for instance, it has a similar
unbroken line that goes all the way back to the
beginning of time, a line which for much of that way was
also your own line of descent. This makes all of life
family. At the very least, the latter stages of our
individual human lineage, our pedigree, our immediate
lines of descent, were already subjects of observation
in the Early Zhou.
Roads can often optimize a transition from A to B by taking a route that is not a straight line, but rather, a line that is analogous to the path of least resistance. They do not just plunge through mountains except where tunnels are absolutely necessary. Fords are similarly limited. They can only achieve this optimization by being specific to the terrain. There may be a general set of standards or principles for laying out a road, but there is no general road, not even in Heaven or the World of Ideas.
The physical location of a road or path can be seen as a function of certain principles and variables working together. For instance, there may be design parameters concerning gradient, cross-slope and curvature. The terrain presents a set of variables, big rocks and cliffs, canyons, marshes and rivers. The final location represents an entrainment to, or convergence around optimum solutions as compromises between the parameters and the variables. We should be reluctant to call this compromise a function of an ideal. The process of optimization is similar in effect to the principle of fitness in evolution - it's a force that pushes things towards convergence. If you know the rules by which the road was laid out, you may or may not approximate the result in an independent design. Sometimes the terrain is so demanding that solutions must converge. And sometimes the hope of a solution needs to be abandoned.
The Behavioral Metaphor
It's a fairly simple jump from the Way as conceptual metaphor to it's application as a mode of operation, a Way that things are done. We even have some of the relevant word-mysteries in English: from route to routine, proceed to procedure, procession to process, the Latin via to the English viable. There are courses of action and critical paths for their implementation. You take special courses while learning a skill and then follow a career track once you are skilled. From path to pathological behavior has no real etymological connection, but it still means either being stuck in a rut or getting way off track.
The word Dào has from the beginning been used to describe the natural behavior of specific beings and classes of beings, and similarities according to family or class. The celestial way and the royal way have already been mentioned above. As the Confucians would elaborate later in the Guodian text 尊德 義, Revering Virtue and Propriety: 禹之行水 水之道也. 造父之御馬 馬也之道也. 后稷之藝地 地之道也. 莫不有道焉 人道為近. 是以君子人道之取先. "Yu's direction of water (used) the way of water; Zaofu's horsemanship, the horse and its way; Hou Ji's skill with the land, the way of the earth. There is nothing not having a Dào, the Human Dào being nearest (to man). Thus is the Human Dào a noble's first choice."
Each being has a Dào and each class of beings has a Dào. This is simply the way that is most fitting or appropriate to its nature, its groove. Clearly, the individual's Dào and the overarching Human Dào have received the most attention from the beginning.
way, path, course (individual), what is appropriate and true
復自道 何其咎 Returning to one's own path. How is this an error? (ZY 09.1)
有孚在道以明 何咎 Being truly on the path, using clarity, where is the error? (ZY 17.4)
恭默思道 Respectfully, silently, considering the appropriate course (Shu 說命上)
way, path, course (collective)
順彼長道 According with those elder ways (Shi 299)
罔違道以干百姓之譽 Do not violate the (proper) way in order to seek the people's praise
(Shu 大 禹謨)
我道惟寧王德延 Our course is simply that the peaceful
king's Dé be prolonged
way, path (ambiguous as to applicability)
反復其道 Turn(ing) around and return(ing) is (to one's own) the way (ZY 24.0)
道有升降 The way/course has ascents and descents (Shu 畢命)
These last two examples can also be read as close to the Dào as principle, discussed below.
way, manner, method, procedure, art, technique
有相之道 [Lord Millet agriculture] had a way/method/art of reciprocity (Shi 245)
Generally speaking, this set of Early Zhou glosses is descriptive, not prescriptive. But even at this pre-moralistic state of Dào's evolution an ethic begins to take shape. Science is currently rethinking the nature vs nurture problem. While it is coming to a reasonable balance between the two, there is a lot more respect now being accorded to the idea that we do in fact inherit a human nature, and that some get a better deal than others. Individual differences incline us to different paths within the human path. Much of this research is being done in primatology, evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology. These have yet to make the truly difficult announcements, though, such as the one about our ongoing need for natural and even unnatural selection, as a force to keep us on track. We are still in deep denial about the natural order of things.
Imagine a stretch of swollen river, about to tumble through a Class-V whitewater rapid. Every aspect of the river and its water is in perfect conformity with the river's Dào: the drops, the house-sized holes, the tongue, the pour-over, the big stone tooth, the eddy wall and the peaceful shore, all are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. Then there is you, with your tiny rubber boat now tied off at the bank, while you scramble along a cliff that is best left to mountain goats, trying to get a glimpse of what lies ahead, trying to scout a path or a line through this dangerous maelstrom. But if there was no line or Dào through this, it would instead be called a Class-VI. The specific and particular line that doesn't lead to your tragic demise and memorial service, is your personal Dào. There is a right-vs-wrong here, but it has nothing at all to do with morals. The Right is what is appropriate and fitting to the particular as it finds its way through the general. Bù Dào 不 道, to be off-course, off-track or off-the-path, refers to a deviation from the optimum line of progress for a person or a species. Sometimes we call this wrong or evil, sometimes it is merely fatal. This use of Dào suggests a pragmatic and situational ethic. In the advice to follow an appropriate path, nothing is implied yet about obeying a minister or a priest.
The Dào is often invoked in the search of the individual for a deeply personal, original nature and the spontaneously fit or appropriate behavior that proceeds from this. Many will even dismiss any form of conscience as a cultural overlay on this. Anything that can be verbalized, even by a "no way," is somehow not pure enough. Again, however, science is also finding enough do's and don'ts in the world of mammals in general, and primates in particular, to give this pre-moral conscience a harder look as a natural fact. The bottom line here is that things being obedient to the internal dictates of their own natures can look a lot like good, proper or right behavior, without any need to get this from a teacher or church. Can we, on the other hand, blame some of the bad, degenerate or wrong behavior on original nature as well, on something gone wrong in the natural process of inheritance, for which we may need some of the Confucian ethical prescriptions? Are there not places where a second nature is called for? If what is human is not defined by some metaphysical ideal, but instead, the truth is: human is as human does, then we have to take an honest look at human behavior, while trying to separate nature from nurture, to see what the Human Dào really is. We are prone to xenophobia. We cheat on our mates and otherwise betray each other. We commit murder and sometimes even genocide. This doesn't even offend everyone: the serial killer's mother still loves him. We might remember that humanity is still evolving, not already evolved. It is in perfect accord with the ways and so-called laws of nature (as well as true by definition) that unsustainable behavior must eventually extinguish itself. Encountering the consequences of our Bù Dào Xíng , our off-track behavior, might actually be considered a function of the Dào that is wider than human. I have no problem with seeing us treated as straw dogs by the powers that yank the galaxies around. Where deviation from a path is unpleasant, un-harmonious, abnormal, or dangerous, the powers that be and the natural order will simply tend to keep things in line, with little need for additional intervention.
The Ethical Metaphor (Right Way, Right Path)
The Early Zhou Dào was a praxis long before it became a theory. If the Dào is ethical in any original sense, then at least some right and wrong should inhere in the nature of the being, and its original, unspoiled nature should spontaneously accord with that, without regard to operant conditioning by society or promises of rewards and punishments from Heaven. These would certainly come later, as we see in an apocryphal text of the Shujing: 天道福善禍淫 Heaven's way blesses the worthy, afflicts the degenerate (Shu 湯 誥 ). The Zhouyi, on the other hand, still cautions that, while infidelity to original nature might directly cause suffering, the opposite, remaining perfectly true, is no guarantee of rewards (Gua 25).
And so onward we go into the world of morals, the do's and don'ts of the Human Dào. The Oxford English Dictionary reflects the dominance of Confucianism in its definition of Dào:
"In Confucianism and in extended uses, the way to be followed, the right conduct; doctrine or method." We also see the effect in sections of the Shangshu that were apparently penned much later than the Early Zhou:
道積于厥躬 The way accumulates and enlarges his being/person (Shu 說命下)
道心惟微 The way's disposition (heart, mind) is diminished (small) (Shu 大禹謨)
今失厥道 (亂其紀綱) Now his way is lost, his rules and laws confused (Shu 仲虺之誥 )
皇天用訓厥道 Stately Heaven assisted in teaching their ways (Shu 康王之誥)
同厎于道 Jointly accomplishing expansion of the way (Shu 畢 命)
道洽政治 The way to coordinate governing arrangements (Shu 畢命)
You can feel a difference in tone in this last section of quotes. Humans have become more self-important, quicker to reinterpret the way to serve human ends, readier to tell others what the way is. The Warring States period ushered in a more prescriptive approach. People are more willing to approve of imposing extraneous forms onto the natural order. This type of action, used most coherently in the sense of an actor playing a role, is called 為 wèi. It is the very Doing that the Daoists would regard as injurious to original nature, and advocate the Not Doing of ( 無 為, 无為 wú wèi).
Principles, in the sense of prescribed action
與治同道 To support/uphold/carry the same ways/principles (Shu 太甲下)
必求諸道 Must enquire into all of the ways/principles/explanations (Shu 太甲下)
Rújiào has given us a long string of newer glosses for Dao: morality, moral truth, rectitude, ethics, ethical principles, behavioral norm, normative principle, guiding principle, the right or proper way, the right path, the right track, the way of virtue, the path in which one ought to go, the proper behavior. Dàojiā has countered these in polemical fashion, primarily for the sake of argument, with something that sounds like a call to amorality and anarchy. Instead of outward obedience, inner cultivation and quietude are advised. But even in Dàojiā the Dào follows rules, in the same way that water follows what it touches. Not everything is permitted. Even to the anarchist, some things are forbidden, as though by natural law. And some things can only be done given sufficient perversion or degeneracy. Some of Laozi and Zhuangzi's writings can be taken primarily as counterpoint to Kongzi's thought, if not repudiation. It is not surprising that it takes an opposite stance in places. They are rebellious against Kongzi's use of the word Dào to refer to cultural "truths" rather than natural ways. To them, a superior virtue, no capitals, comes from following one's nature, or true nature, or simply nature. It is innate. Inferior virtue is learned, second nature, an overlay, that often does injury to original nature. This is why using it entails such complexity and self-defeating action.
The Verb "to Describe" and Verbs in General
Even with an awareness of polysemy in Chinese, I've always had a problem with the big leap from way, the noun, to say, the verb, up to and including the first line of the Daodejing. Ancient Chinese already had a plethora of words meaning say: 說, 言, 告, 曰, 謂, 述, 講, and 談 (shuō yán gào yuē wèi shù jiǎng tán) for example. I often wondered if this might not be somewhat mistranslated in Early Zhou texts, and whether there might a locus midway between these two most-distant points in Dào's semantic field, one that would represent a plausible transition. I found a reasonable possibility in the understanding that the way is a journey, and the journey is a story. The context for Dào as used in Shijing 46 specifically relates to stories, but it is still usually rendered say or spoken or be said, allowing for far too short a story. It would be more authentic to imply a longer string or path of words, laid out to be wandered through, more like a train of thought, or set of tracks, or a trail that invites us to follow, a line of reasoning, the thread of a conversation, or something that leads from a beginning to journey's end, a dis-course. The speech itself would show the sort of progress that a journey has. Chad Hansen (online article) seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion by a different route: "'Discourse', or 'guiding-discourse' has several conceptual advantages as a translation… . Its root ('course') reminds us of the important normative feature shared by guiding discourse and roads or paths." Plugging these longer forms of speech into Early Zhou contexts, we find that these glosses work a lot better than "say" and still carry the meaning of way, road or path:
To describe, narrate, tell, interpret
不可道也 Cannot be described/narrated/told/disclosed (Shi 46)
所可道也 What can be described/narrated/told/disclosed (Shi 46)
道 is used in parallel with synonyms here, 詳 related in particulars and 讀 recited.
This use is also found later in Mozi: 誄 者，道死人之志也
An obituary is (for the purpose of) narrating the will of the deceased
To explain, articulate, convey, transmit, direct
道揚末命 Explained/conveyed/directed/disclosed and set forth a final charge (Shu 顧命)
(or: brought forward and manifested his last will) (Karlgren)
of course, the language would permit us to escape
context entirely and to "Dào" only one word or thought
at a time. Short journeys indeed.
Dào also picked up the verbal sense of guiding along a path, to lead, conduct, show the way (suggested by a bronze text, Yu Ding, circa 1000 BCE), and more directly, to follow a path, go on a designated course, to track, trace or survey. These duties were often picked up by the alternative 導 Dǎo, as seen in the Shu. This survives, however, from the Shu 夏書 禹貢, Xia Shu, Tribute of Yu
To be conducted, or correctly/properly channeled/defined; to cut a channel. lead the water
九河既道 The nine He (tributaries) were correctly/properly channeled /defined (Shu 12 禹貢 )
既道極厥辜 Having properly defined the extent of his guilt (Shu 29 康誥)
(or: 'having justly probed to the end of his guilt') (Karlgren)
Later, Dào would mean to teach or propagate a doctrine, or to preach dogma and to govern or lay down the law. It is perhaps a little ironic that the word Dào was used in this sense later by the same people who regarded the more general way to be ineffable, even antithetical to language and exclusive of its use.
Other parts of speech
As Dào came increasingly to refer to the path of a thing that is being the very thing it was born to be, following its own inner nature, it came to be used as an adjective in the senses of: natural, innate, intrinsic, characteristic, appropriate, fitting, real, native, aboriginal, genuine, good and true. The social engineers of the Confucian and similar schools soon added: moral, right, just, loyal and conforming.
A sidebar on the use of the word True: archers,
carpenters and wheelwrights have the use of this word as
a verb: to bring something into a correct or upright
state. In these contexts, True is devoid of any
moralistic, philosophical or metaphysical overtones. In
the Zhouyi the word for True is used frequently in the
phrase 有 孚 yǒu fú, be or hold
true or have confidence. This is also a pretty good,
literal translation of Gandhi's word Satyagraha. While
many may want to question this translation, preferring
instead some alternative like "there will be a capture,"
the fitness of this gloss can be tested in all of its
numerous contexts (ZY 05.0, 06.0, 8.1x2, 09.4, 09.5,
17.4, 20.0, 29.0, 37.6, 40.5, 41.0, 42.3, 42.5x2, 45.1,
48.6, 49.3, 49.4, 49.5, 55.2, 61.5 & 64.5). But what
is most interesting
here is that the Zhouyi never once bothers to explain
what is true or what truth might be. The authors may
well have assumed that deep down, in our original
nature, we already know what it means to be true. We
only need to stop lying. The proper path could be our
default path if we could recover the genuine.
Other grammatical uses followed pretty logically from the Early Zhou usages: to be on course or on track; to have fared; taken, traveled; in the way of, in the manner of, as; by way of, by means of; naturally, of course; by (as in by way of) and from (as of natural consequence).
Principle, Law of Nature, Way of Cognition
It may seem a paradox to think of Dào as having anything to do with thinking, since many believe from misreading Laozi's first line that the Dào is ineffable, and words should be shunned altogether. Robert Eno (1996, p. 130) offers a glimpse from a later period: "Tension between the practical elements of a Dào and its intellectualization in speech lies at the heart of Zhuangzi’s critique in the Qiwu Lun. The hostility toward the discursive elements of a Dào reaches even further in the Daodejing, where, as is well known, the word Dào comes to denote a natural process from which human speech is specifically excluded, as if words alone have divided the universe into realms of authenticity and delusion.”
However, we can at least gloss Dào as "thinkable" principle in these EZ texts, mentioned earlier:
與治同道 To uphold the same principles (Shu 太甲下)
必求諸道 Must enquire into all of the principles (Shu 太甲下)
And the idea is implied in these renderings of two others:
反復其道 Turning around and returning is the way (ZY 24.0)
道有升降 The way has ascents and descents (Shu 畢命)
Certainly the Confucians are more likely than Daojia folk to think they can both know and teach the way. The Philosophical Daoists might call that the height of pretentiousness, even though they lay claim to a Dào that encircles the universe. We are exceeding the Early Zhou timeline of our study here, but it is helpful to see from what Early Zhou seeds these ideas may have sprouted. By the time the Warring States philosophers were done, Dào had a new string of meanings. As a noun: principle, process; discursive thought (as wandering, meandering); the progress of an argument by line of reasoning or train of thought; theory, axiom, views. thinking in line with the truth; explanation, reasoning, reasons for; that which the mind approves, correct thought or reasoning; doctrine, teaching, rule, dogma, religion, religious practice; dharma when the Buddhists arrived, and eventually logos to the Western scholars. As a verb Dào became: to think, suppose, reason; guide, teach, inform; propagate doctrines, preach.
In its sense of Dào as doctrine, the Confucians understood this vital aspect of the 人道 rén dào, the human Dao: it cannot be seen as separate from human culture. It is fundamental even to our original nature that we think and speak and pass along lessons learned, beginning with those nearest to us. Culture and self-cultivation are not extraneous to the human primate, and without them we are merely feral. On the other hand, some of us have a problem with the idea of teaching before enough learning has been done. Science is certainly not yet done learning from nature, and may never be, and yet one of the great obstacles to its progress is entrenched opinion and theory that thinks itself done, or at least close. While its conservatism needs to be considered a useful thing, particularly in its demand for better proof and replication, this, to paraphrase Max Planck, is also the reason that science mainly progresses one funeral at a time. And so, if learning enough from nature can occupy so many centuries, what of the armchair metaphysician or social reformer who has pondered the problems for days?
Let's return for a moment to the path as a conceptual
metaphor. As a land-use planner I have had occasion to
design many dozens of miles each of trails, paths,
driveways and roads. Because I am not a flatlander, all
of these were laid out in challenging alpine settings
and the word design is not used lightly. A lot of this
was done first in theory, using high-quality topographic
mapping. In rough terrain, most routes are simply not
possible. In particularly challenging design conditions,
when the plan, based on theoretical data, was taken into
the field for verification, the lines would usually
coincide almost exactly with a game trail, or, where
they varied, the game trail responded to conditions that
the line should also avoid. Now, purely by coincidence,
the comfort level of deer and elk in climb and descent
approximates the optimal (safety vs convenience) climb
rate for winterized automobiles on icy roads. The
question is: what was it that made the game trail and
our human road alignment converge and coincide? Without
postulating a line that somehow pre-existed, we are
stuck with the non-explanation: the Dào. It's just the
way things are: submit your hypothesis. For many, the
whole point is learning ahead of the teaching. When
asked to design footpaths, I have on several occasions
waited until the last possible moment, and where
possible, "designed" these paths where people have
already been doing the most walking. This helps to
eliminate people taking shortcuts later and defeating
the point of the path. In a similar fashion, the wise
leader follows his people.
Joseph Needham likens the way the world conforms to "a way" to a "kind of natural curvature in time and space." Things would naturally fall towards the Dào like Einstein saw things falling by gravity, what we might call an entrainment to the laws of nature. Needham, seconded by Bodde (1957), would narrow the use of Natural Law to the Human Dào and use Laws of Nature to refer to the Dào of all of the other myriad beings. This has merit, but due to the associations that we have with the word Law we should force ourselves, with heroic effort, to regard this as being wholly independent of "Natural" Lawyers and "Natural" Legislators. These are some of the more common words that have long been used in an effort to describe Dào as principle:
則 zé - standard, norm, rule, pattern, principle, precedent; follow a law, regulation; consequently, subsequently, accordingly; thereupon, then, therefore; take as a norm; to imitate, to follow; due, warranted
理 lǐ - draw boundaries, divide into sections, mark out, articulate; reason, principle; pattern, principle of organization, the fitness of things; inner essence, intrinsic order; logic, truth, science; to manage, handle, run the affairs of, put in order, tidy up; pay attention to; right as an abstract principle
禮 lǐ - propriety, proper-ness; traditional mode of behavior, social custom, social ways and norms; manners; courtesy; external exemplification of eternal principles; rites, protocol, worship; respect, observance, reverence; natural law
法 fǎ - law, rule, regulation, statute, standard, code; model, style, fashion; plan, method, way; consistency; institution; exemplify, take as an example; as a rule, consistently; pattern or model after; customary
常 cháng - regularities, constancies, invariables; principle, standard; always, ever, often, frequently, usually, normally; according to precedent; common, general, constant, regular, familiar; perpetuate, be forever; regular lot or duty
制 zhì - laws, regulations, government; a system; regulate, govern, control, restrain, train, constrain; tailor, cut out, trim; determine, decide, define; formulate; prepare, make; institute, establish; rule, overpower
彝 yí - norms, laws, rules; normal nature of man; ritual; tripod, wine vessel; regular, constant; normally
It should be pretty obvious from this that the Legislators and Lawyers have been pounding on this door for a very long time. Most of them, however, lack the proper warrants. While Dào can reasonably be thought to represent principles in nature, including a human nature that likes to think and speak, the dangers of applying the ideas of principle and reason to Dào is made clear in the following example, using my least favorite of all of the idiotic things that people say without thinking: "Everything happens for a reason." This much is true: everything has a journey and a story. If we only knew the infinitely complex details that went into the making of that story we could reason them out and fully account for this thing's coming to be, being and ceasing to be. Some explanations are simpler than others. With all the puzzle pieces assembled, there would appear to be no accidents here, even though consequences are not bound to some sort of cosmic justice or divine plan. Nietzsche probably had a better explanation for the fact that things seem to work out according to a plan: "A loss rarely remains a loss for an hour," suggesting that life is such opportunistic stuff, and the human mind is so resilient, that nearly every eventuality can be turned to some sort of advantage in retrospect. There are of course reasons for that phenomenon as well, despite evolution's lack of a purpose or plan.
Everything comes into being by way of a path or a course, conforming to principles that more generally bind the activities of matter and energy, as if they were laws set forth by nature. But Dào as an idea does not need to go any further than this. Science might want to examine this Dào, to understand the principles of the universe in better detail, but here we leave the usefulness of the word Dào behind and launch into more appropriate scientific ideas and terminology. And we might simply want to examine this Dào, without interference from our preconceptions and neediness, in order to discover natural principles that might be useful in improving our lives.
Abstract Particular (The Way, The Dào)
It would take pages to enumerate the myriad Daos that were named in the Warring States and later literature. By the time we get to the Huainanzi there is even talk of the Way of the Way 道之道, the Way of the One 一之道, and (presumably) the Way of Nothing 無之道. With these the Chinese joined their contemporary Greeks in attempting a Theory of Everything (TOE).
The Confucians didn't spend a lot of time articulating a Dào out beyond the human world. The 天道 tiān dào, the ways, tendencies, propensities, regularities and predictabilities of Heaven were more often simply referred to as 天 tiān. The 人道 rén dào, Humanity's Way, was the focus of Rújiào, even when a stated purpose of its cultivation was to be in harmony with Heaven's Way. Conveniently, this side-stepped the big metaphysical questions about the fundamental nature of the universe. The work of the Confucian was to broaden the Human Dào by adding improved cultural norms, usually learned from exemplary human beings who develop improved ways of behaving. The Daoists were not so fortunate. They just had to pursue 知 者之道 zhī zhě zhī dào, the way of those in the know, and then talk about it, and talk about the problems with talking about it.
The next big step was from the ten thousand Daos of the myriad beings to the One Dào over them all: The Dào, The Way that the whole, huge, complicated universe works, 天地之道, the Way of Heaven and Earth, or 萬物之道, the Way of the Myriad Beings, the broader course that all things follow. This was Laozi's contribution. He went too far, of course, as evidenced by what people did with the things that he said. Despite the fact that he said a lot of sensible things, he also had to be clever and hyperbolic, lending the Dào an air of mystery and confusion that it didn't already lack. There remains a question about how well Laozi wanted to be understood, and how much he wanted to tease our minds open, or simply f**k with our heads.
Much is made of Laozi's first chapter, in which much is misunderstood. But if forced to come up with a meaning for the first two lines, with considerable help from the next few, I would guess it was: take a longer look at the path you are on and at the words that you are using, but look according to what you want to get out of them or where you want to go. A general path, walked dispassionately, will take you to nothing. General words about more eternal things, uttered dispassionately, will deepen your mystery. Specific paths and names will keep you involved in the real world, getting things done among the myriad beings. But those who can do both of these at once, who can either synthesize them or live with the paradox, really have the key to the door. The Way can never be perfectly defined or expressed in words, but it can be known a little and experienced a lot. Principles that are discernible by quietly observing nature can be followed or practiced. Science has done much with this.
If we want a general Dào, it must be the particular path by which the particular Dàos came to be, in an infinite regression to any unity that may or may not be at the start of it all. It is a search for creation, for 生之道. But the Dào is also the infinite complexity traced all along the way back there. And it's also the infinite complexity that is presently moving forward in time. Too much of our attention can be placed on the source of things and then asking silly questions like "Why?" Maybe Dào was the creative opportunity for the one and nothingness to come into being, but maybe this was only like Time was the creative opportunity for clocks to come into being. Time gave rise to clocks, so it may be called the creative pressure behind the emergence of clocks. And clocks would not come to be without time, or at least the appearance of it. But where does that leave us? Nearly a minute behind schedule.
Importantly, the Way is the way things come into being, maintain their existence for a while, and then exit, or return back into what eats them. It is the path that is traveled in fact, not a field of pure possibility. Calling the Dào a field of any sort is a, increasingly common error that shows misunderstanding. It is not the path that is never taken: the path not taken is not a path at all, there is no trace left behind nothing. Hansen (article) has this to say about that: "Despite the plethora of possible prescribed histories, things actually happened in exactly one way. Similarly, despite all the prescriptions of the moralists, there is exactly one way that things will go on in the future. Let us call this linking of the single past and future the actual performance Dào. Used in this way, the actual performance Dào is the course of world history from the beginning to the end of time." If we use the dendritic or branching model from Conceptual Metaphor above, we have a web of interactions over time of infinite complexity. It is plenty infinite enough already without adding the non-existent and the might-have-beens. It is merely infinite in a narrower way: it includes the process of dreaming, without according dreams substance. Thankfully, as reality, the Way is not required to accommodate Zeno's paradoxes, or to feed Schrodinger's damned Cat, or to believe in alternate universes, unless they really exist.
In the twist and turns of the path, the specific way things need to go, we see the operation of what seem to be laws of nature, so in a way the shape of the path forms a description of natural law, and this tells us about the nature of the Dào. Here we can look for two kinds of general Dao: one that accounts for the way that each and every thing works, where even a scientist might pray for consilience, and one that describes processes that all things have in common, what are the ways that are inherent in thing-ness, what are the largest, most general rules that determine the natural order, what is the Theory of Everything? We are doing both, while wishing for at least one and hoping for Elegance too. Amusingly, when we take the most basic units of existence we know and smash them together in our supercolliders, we are looking for nothing more than the tracks, trails and paths of their fragments, hoping therein to find our broader way.
The use of modern terminology aside, it is not a stretch to call The Dào the four-dimensional or space-time continuum, the unfolding of existence over and through time and space. We can see things as strings or tracks through space-time. And the localized track of a single entity through time and space is actually consistent with the word Dào as it was understood in the Early Zhou, the way of a particular thing, its existence and its way in and out of existence. If you could see a simple wooden chair in four dimensions, you would see its entire complex path or history, all at once. You would see the seed that became a tree that became the wood, and the sunlight, wind and rain that combined to make up the substance of wood. You would see the carpenter who built the chair and the merchant who sold it. You would see a lot of butts come and go. You might see a fire near the end, that released the same sunlight that was built into the wood by chloroplasts in the tree's leaves. Or you might watch fungus slowly decomposing the wood.
The jump that was taken here, from the path of a thing to the path of all things may not be as big a leap as it first appears. At one scale of things a man is an individual being, just one member of a family, a race, a species and so on up. At another, he is 50 to 100 trillion human cells, of hundreds of types, and each of these eukaryotic entities are are host to multiple organelles that originated from endosymbiont bacteria. Within this man are also three or so pounds of foreign entities, symbiotic and parasitic bacteria, fungi and viruses that outnumber the human cells by at least an order of magnitude. And then, in his neural nets, are the numerous memories, thoughts and feelings that at one time or another claim to be the very center of his identity. One man is legion, and every one of his cells and thoughts has a Dao.
Given the nature of Human Nature, it was perhaps inevitable that the greatest thing we couldn't see was adopted by those who would be its spokespersons. Simple, straightforward reality doesn't seem to penetrate our dullness, our jadedness, our cynicism, our ingratitude with enough force to break into our somnambulism. We needed magic, we needed more power, more voltage to arc across our gaps. As Nietzsche said: "At bottom, it has been an aesthetic taste that has hindered man the most: it believed in the picturesque effect of truth. It demanded of the man of knowledge that he should produce a powerful effect on the imagination" (Will to Power #469). The simpler fact that some sense of order and pattern is maintained had to become that essence which maintains the order and pattern. The simpler fact that things come into being demanded in humankind a kind of human womb. The Way had to become an entity, the substrate of existence. If it couldn't do this in complete fidelity to the lives and thoughts of the earliest authors of the Dào, as Dào of the world, then the earliest authors would require apotheosis and immortality, that they might wield the Creator's mighty pen.
Now we hear high praise of the Dào as Love, or Spirit, or Consciousness, or the Universal Light. It is the Ultimate Reality in which All Attributes are United. It is the Reservoir of Pure Potentiality out of Which the Worlds are Born. It is the Eternal Flow of the Un-Manifest in the Perfect Now. It is the Immaterial, Primordial Essence that Permeates Everything. It is God, however you may conceive Him to be. About the only thing that is almost always missing is Pantheism. It is nearly always regarded by its devotees as immaterial, and as such can at best be Panentheistic. The Dào didn't really need to be taken this far out of the realm of serious study, but the fact that it was can itself be a subject of serious study. Not surprisingly, as we move along the spectrum of Dào being simply the way that nature behaves, and how things get their character, to this Vast Nebula of which None Can Speak, we also notice a degradation in the ability of the idea to have a useful and practical effect on the lives of those who would preach it. The further we move from definition and praxis, the closer we get to confusion and hypocrisy. Perhaps the attraction is in the loss of accountability that comes with the loss of specificity. The Cháng Dào 常道 in Laozi #1 is just not necessarily the more desirable choice.
How Then Would a Primitive Wayfarer Fare?
If we were to hold ourselves to notions of the Dào that existed before the philosophers of the Warring States, and in particular, before Kongzi and Laozi, what could we salvage of the Rujiao, Daojia and Daojiao ideals with due respect to this elder Dao?
德 Dé might present the most interesting problem here, before Kongzi and Laozi engaged in their culture-vs-nature argument. Portions of both of their comprehensions would survive. The Early Zhou glosses of Dé centered around Character and Virtue. In the Shu and the Shi these are usually interchangeable. Enumerated Virtues also appear in the Shu, anticipating Kongzi. In both the Zhouyi and the Shu, Character and Virtue can often be interchanged with Merit and Worth or Worthiness, assuming the latter is not used in the sense of wealth. Character in both the Shu and the Shi can be bad, degenerate or dissipated, if the word is so modified, otherwise the default is the good kind. In several places the Shi uses the primary meaning of Kindness, Generosity or Beneficence. Elsewhere in the Shi, Virtuous can often be interchanged with Ethical, at least in the sense of fitting or appropriate behavior.
The Pre-Confucian ideal of Virtue can sometimes be better expressed by the Latin Virtus, which carries connotations of bravery or courage, best understood here in the ethical and not the military sense. It also carries the appropriate connotations of excellence and worth, and its implications of manliness may not be entirely out of place either. The Greek Areté, as Virtue or Excellence, the best within us, courage in adversity, also fits the Early Zhou meanings. This was more than a Goody Two-Shoes kind of Virtue. But as we have seen, it already prepares the Way for such Confucian ideals as 仁 Rén, as kindness and beneficence, and 君 jūn, as nobility, particularly in the sense of noblesse oblige as used in the Zhouyi.
The biggest loss in our moving back through time is Laozi's knitting together of Dào and Dé. As Dào was generalized into The Dào of the Myriad Beings, something had to take its place as the Dào of narrower classes and of particulars, such as the Way of Humanity, and the Way of Little Old Me. Dé became a useful synonym for the Dào of the individual and the specific: What is Humanity's Way, our nature, our character, our virtue, our merit, our worth? What is my Way, my nature, my character, my virtue, my merit, my worth? One's strength of character or nobility of virtue is a function of our fitness to our proper way, or our appropriateness to our optimum path, of our intrinsic nature or our natural strengths. Unfortunately it is only from a post-Laozi perspective that we can legitimately gloss Dào as Dé. But it is nonetheless salubrious to the understanding.
Three of the more basic ideals of Philosophical Daoism
can be said to predate the Warring States simply because
they refer directly to the way that the natural order
naturally operates. 無為 (or 无 為) wúwéi appears three times in
the Shi (70, 145 & 254) with the meaning of "without
fuss" and "do nothing." The simple idea is that the
natural order is proceeding just fine on its own,
without meddlesome interference from the hand and the
mind of man. To generously allow things to operate
according to their way, and so allow everything to be
accomplished according to its way, is 為
無為 wéi wúwéi, is to do without doing, to act
without acting, or effortless action. It is helpful to
see "acting" used in the sense of acting from a script,
bringing something extraneous into play. 樸 Pǔ, meaning uncut wood, an
uncarved block or an unhewn log, is glossed variously as
simple, unadorned, sincere, honest, plain, rough; or
simplicity, perception without prejudice, action without
agenda. It occurs once as "rough" in the Shu (周書 梓材) 既 勤樸斫, having done the hard, rough
woodwork. It is often said that Pǔ refers to original
nature, but something that rarely if ever gets seen or
said about this image is that this uncut wood still had
a shape and a grain, there is a nature ingrained in it,
and maybe some knots. If writers were talking about a
nature that was not, a tabula rasa, they might as well have
used the image "lump of clay." Finally, there is the
idiomatic phrase 自 然 zìrán, meaning
nature, natural course; naturally, just so, of its own
accord, by itself, from nature. It is used five times in
Laozi (17, 23, 25, 51 and 64), and elsewhere in the
Warring States (Xunzi, Qunqiu Fanlu, etc.) but it
doesn't appear in the Early Zhou. It does, nonetheless,
refer to an Early Zhou conception of the way of things.
陰陽 Yīn and Yáng are more critical and necessary to the belief structure of Religious Daoism (道敎 Dàojiào) than they are to Philosophical Daoism (道 家 Dàojiā). But these do not survive our journey back to the Early Zhou. This will no doubt be an unpopular assertion. While these two words do occur as a pair in the Shu (周書, 周官) with Early Zhou meanings: 燮理陰陽, harmonizing the principles of shadow and light, this section is thought to originate as late as the Early Han. Yīn and Yáng also appear together once in the Shi (250, 相其陰陽), also in their earlier meanings: (in a survey) correlating what was shadowed and sunlit. Even much later, after the era we are looking at, Laozi (Chapter 42) would only give a single nod to the noble pair, and even here would separate them by 氣 qì as a third of a trinity. However, here he would also call "the two" the second thing that Dào gave rise to, following the one, and preceding the three. If you simply look at the world, you see night and day produced, and weak and firm, flexibility and firmness and so on. But this is not to say that night and day did the further producing. There is no evidence collected and celebrated yet of a nearly-primordial bipolarity, whether Wu-vs-Yi, Wu-vs-You or Yin-vs-Yang. Yīn and Yáng began their careers as consequences and descriptors of Dào, not as fundamental constituents of its universe.
The Zhouyi mentions only Yīn, as shadow or shade, at 61.2. Yáng only enters the Yijing text in the Han. Possibly the single most common misconception (or ubiquitous error) about the Zhouyi is that it was organized around the fundamental principles of Yīn and Yáng. When this becomes an argument, it is usually asserted that what we now know as Yīn and Yáng was what was intended by the broken and solid lines of the figures, which are nowhere given names. When the Ten Wings were added, the two were more often called 柔 剛 róu and gāng, flexibility and firmness. None of this is to say that the Zhouyi did not recognize the interplay of complementary opposites, or have a great deal of conceptual and literary fun with opposites. It says simply that complementary opposites were still phenomena that illustrated the Dào of nature, they were not its fundamental substrates. As to the graphics, it is perfectly plausible that these were originally nothing more than a graphic nomenclature that slowly grew into something more when they were stacked into images (卦象 guà xiàng) and shapes (卦形 guà xíng). In particular, the twelve seasonal or Sovereign Gua would themselves begin to suggest ideas of weakness or brokenness versus strength and persistence. Among these, the Gua with lonesome lines in the top or bottom places would be particularly significant. If this is the case, then the Zhouyi would have been an instrument in and of the development of the ideas of Yīn and Yáng, and not the other way around. This, at least, is how an loyal Occamist would slice things.
五行 Wǔ Xíng, the Five Phases or Agents, also do
not survive the journey back in time. The Shu's 甘誓 Gānshì, or Speech at Gan does
mention five movements, and the celebrated 洪範 Hóngfàn, or Great Plan, chapter
of the Shu, in the earliest known mention, discusses the
Wǔ Xíng in some detail, but this section is currently
thought to date to no earlier than the 4th century BCE
(Nylan, 1988) or 3rd, 300-250 BCE
(Sivin, 2003). A number of scholars have noted an
apparent evolution of the 四方 Sì
Fāng, Four Quarters or Directions, into the 五行 Wǔ Xíng, with the placement of 土 Tǔ, Earth, at the central hub of
the first four. The Sì Fāng have
certainly been around long enough for this. But in the
Shu (虞書, 大禹謨) we also meet the
六府 liù fǔ, the Six Storehouses
or Treasuries: 火 水金木土穀 huǒ
shuǐ jīn mù tǔ gǔ 惟修 wéi xiū:
"(of) fire, water, metal, wood, earth and grain, take
only care." If you pause to consider these six, these
were the necessary and sufficient supplies with which to
build a civilization, at least until petroleum was
discovered. It may yet be that Grain was sacrificed to
make the Wu Xing out of the Six instead of Earth added
to make Five out of the Four.
As to the quest for immortality found in Dàojiào,
I have no idea where this came from, or how anyone could
have seen it in observation of the natural order.
Clearly living a life that is not in opposition or
sideways to the natural order might well increase one's
lifespan, but nothing survives the natural order. The
ideal for both Laozi and Zhuangzi would be to live out
one's natural years (終其天年) and then die at the right
time. Many aspects of all three Dào-isms are
puzzling in this way. The sociological, philosophical
and metaphysical preconceptions we bring to our study of
ourselves and the world seem to inhere or originate in
neither, but since it seems exclusively a human endeavor
it must somehow be an expression of Humanity's Way.
In conclusion, a return to an earlier, simpler
conception of Dào still leaves us with a
rich conceptual metaphor of way, path, road, course,
journey, procedure, discourse and story. It isn't
necessary to abandon anything that came later: we can
see these later arrivals as accretions and more easily
call them suggestions and hypotheses instead of
fundamental axioms. In a similar fashion, as we look
back along our path, we see some very interesting
phenomena and entities that do not go all the way back
to the beginning of time, that are not fundamental
forces of original creation. These are known as
"emergent properties." Life itself is one such thing, as
are sentience and thought, and perhaps even spirit.
Important things can come later, emerging out of
synergy. This underscores the importance of studying
more recent legs of the journey. Another advantage of
the simpler conceptual metaphor is that it relieves us
of any perceived duty to defend our preconceptions. We
are not required to reduce the world to two or five
basic components. If we find two things and it is
appropriate to name them Yīn and Yáng, then
very well. But if
our observations say seventeen, then we can note
seventeen, and look for elegance later. We do not need
to play Procrustes and smash them all into our two
little boxes. With fewer preconceptions we are likely to
do a better job of learning from nature. We can still
learn martial arts from the snake or praying mantis. We
no longer have to recast the technological practice of
biomimicry in terms of ancient Chinese calendars and
geometry. A more primordial Dào-ism
is then freer to stand at the front of human evolution,
to embrace neuroscience and microbiology, to study
life's ways and turn that wisdom into right livelihood,
to study ecosystems and turn that wisdom into
I once visited a friend's home while she was entertaining a self-professed group of psychics, in the process of conducting an introductory workshop. The leader was speaking about accessing internal information and advised getting in touch with the Learner Within. I interrupted with applause and a loud Ho! Irritated, he asked why, and I said why I thought that was such a great term. More irritated still, he said "Well, I meant to say the Teacher Within," and went on without a clue. The Other Original Dào appears to have more use for the Learner than the Teacher.
Whether you are on a Dào, path, a tariqa, a derek, a camino, a drómos, a via, der weg, la voie, a marga or a magga, fare well and be true.
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