Chinese Philosopher: Daoist Perspective on the Relationship Between Heaven and Humanity

Amidst the torrential flow of worldly desires, Laozi advocates a return to simplicity and authenticity. He, as a sage who penetrates the mysteries of the universe, reveals to humanity that the "Way" of nature should be the model to emulate. Only by embodying the selflessness, non-desire, and non-action of nature, as seen in "doing good to all without contention," can one attain the state of “achieving everything without striving”. Laozi's philosophy emphasizes cultivating a deep, tranquil, and serene inner world through "emptying one's mind." 

Daoism and Confucianism are two prominent ideological paradigms in the long history of Chinese culture, deeply embedded in the collective consciousness of the Chinese people and exerting profound influence. Daoist thought is rooted in the teachings of Laozi, offering an alternative perspective to the mainstream Confucian ideology. At its core, Daoism espouses the principle of "going along with nature." Laozi, deeply inspired by the way nature nurtures all beings without possession, reliance, or dominion, asserts that the "Way of Man" is an integral part of the "Way of Heaven." To attain harmony, humans must emulate nature's selflessness and non-action. The Daoist philosophy of "embracing gentleness and refraining from contention" is like a clear stream that purifies the human heart amidst the chaotic and bustling secular world, soothing the wounded souls of people.

Daoism advocates a tranquil and non-interfering way of life that doesn't follow the worldly tumult.

"There is no greater calamity than not knowing contentment; there is no greater fault than the desire for possession. Therefore, he who is contented with contentment shall always be content." -Laozi, Chapter 46

People in general tend to desire wealth, indulge in gourmet delights, and take pleasure in luxurious living. Even rulers and leaders of nations strive for wealth, military might, and dominance in alliances. This is not a phenomenon unique to Laozi's era during the Spring and Autumn period; it is a universal aspect of human nature—what we call human inclination. However, amidst a world flooded with material desires, Laozi advocated a return to simplicity and authenticity. With the wisdom of one who penetrated the mysteries of the universe, he revealed to humanity that the “Way” of nature should be the model to emulate. Only by embodying the selflessness, non-desire, and non-action seen in nature's “doing good to all without contention” can one achieve the state of “achieving everything without striving.” This brings a sense of spiritual well-being, joy, and happiness to people's hearts amidst the torrential flow of worldly desires.

Laozi observes that our "minds" are often entangled by preconceived notions (self-righteous "reasoning"), while our "bodies" are ensnared by attachment to sensual experiences. To break free from this, he urges us to relinquish our fixation on right and wrong, wealth and poverty, honor and disgrace, beauty and ugliness, abundance and scarcity. These judgments are often based on relative comparisons and do not constitute absolute values. For instance, "existence and non-existence produce each other, difficulty and ease complement each other, long and short define each other." It is not worth trading our essential selves for these conditions. Laozi provides examples of pleasant sensory experiences, such as colors, sounds, flavors, hunting, and rare goods, which can entice people but ultimately lead to blind actions and mental confusion. 

Chinese Philosopher: Daoist Perspective on the Relationship Between Heaven and Humanity

According to Laozi, a life overflowing with desires incurs significant costs. He stated, "Excessive love leads to great expenditure, and hoarding leads to ruin." When you have a strong attachment or passion for anything, it demands a significant expenditure of mental and emotional energy. Similarly, accumulating material possessions also consumes your mental resources. Immersing oneself in the superficial pursuits of wealth, fame, and fortune, as seen in the pursuit of worldly desires, inevitably results in a substantial expenditure of mental energy and leads to spiritual depletion. For individuals who harbor an abundance of desires in their real lives, their mental suffering becomes greater. Ultimately, they become exhausted and their inner selves suffer. However, the intrinsic value of life lies beyond material possessions; it is merely a matter of preconceived and distorted values. Therefore, Laozi posed the question: "Or fame or life, which do you hold more dear? Or life or wealth, to which would you adhere?" When compared to the contentment found within one's true self, external possessions lose their significance. Only by returning to one's true essence, embracing simplicity, and minimizing personal desires can one restore inner balance and mend the spiritual depletion caused by the ceaseless chase after external distractions.

Laozi also said, "The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray," When the material world is convoluted and complex, the spiritual world finds preservation. Conversely, when the material world lacks, the spiritual world thrives. An abundance of material possessions in the external world can lead to confusion and loss in the internal spiritual realm. However, people often covet "more" while seeking "completeness," not realizing that "more" is the beginning of "confusion" and can easily lead to spiritual disorientation. The fewer possessions the material world holds, the more liberated the spirit becomes, much like how the artist Jimmy Liao once portrayed, through the voice of a child, the troubles that "more" brings to people—

Chinese Philosopher: Daoist Perspective on the Relationship Between Heaven and Humanity

Whales don't have houses, cars, memorabilia, furniture, savings, stocks...  
Neither do turtles, nor crocodiles...
After a heavy rain, they just shake their tails and dive into the water effortlessly.
But here I am, with boxes full of beloved toys,
and I can't bear to part with any of them.
(From "Pourquoi") 

Jimmy Vacation

“One hobby, one burden!” Pursuits and attachments burden the heart. Any worldly passion or hobby can lead to inner exhaustion. Not only is the process of chasing after the worldly concept of "more" or "gain" demanding, but when it's time to depart, there are too many things that can't be taken along, making them additional burdens. Therefore, if one can dissolve their attachment to the concept of "completeness," and not seek "completeness" in the material world (such as in a spouse, children, houses, cars, wealth), but instead go with the flow, accepting things as they come, their spiritual world will not suffer from the potential incompleteness of the material world. In such a state of comfort, contentment, and self-sufficiency, their spiritual realm is indeed complete in its own way.

Laozi highlights that the desires of the human heart and deliberate human interventions are the thicket responsible for causing suffering among people. Laozi's philosophy seeks to achieve a profound sense of emptiness and concealment within the heart, aiming for the possibility of a spiritually tranquil and carefree existence. For instance, during the Pre-Qin period in ancient China, various schools of thought such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Mohism criticized the relentless pursuits of wealth, military strength, and territorial disputes among feudal lords. These pursuits stemmed from excessive desires and deliberate actions, and to a significant extent, Laozi's teachings can be seen as addressing these concerns, particularly those relevant to rulers and statesmen. In later times, Laozi's philosophy was transmitted and developed. Apart from the "Lao-Zhuang" lineage that promoted spiritual philosophy, there was also the "Huang-Lao" lineage, which primarily propagated Laozi's political philosophy.

Laozi's political philosophy is centered on the principle of "governing by non-action." He advocates that "sages engage in non-action" and "accomplish without dwelling," emphasizing that rulers should emulate the ways of nature, which "gives life without possessing" and "nurtures without controlling." In governance, a lenient and non-coercive approach should be adopted. Additionally, his philosophy carries strong undertones of anti-war sentiments and discourse.  During the Spring and Autumn period, wars lacking just cause were prevalent. Regardless of the soldiers conscripted, the devastating fires of warfare, or the destruction of homes leading to casualties and displacement, it was the common people who suffered. They were helpless, unable to influence or control their own destinies. The decision of whether to go to war was in the hands of the rulers, not the people themselves. 

Thus, in the art of governance, Laozi expounds the concept of "governing a large country as you would cook a small fish." Drawing inspiration from the method of cooking fish without disturbing it too much, he recommends that leaders govern with minimal interference, allowing the people to flourish freely.  Laozi states, "The Way is always without action, yet there is nothing it does not do." He sharply criticizes warfare, saying, "Those who rejoice in killing will not succeed in the world." He views a formidable army as an ill-fated tool, often detested by others. Therefore, he advises that those who govern with the Way do not rely on military strength to dominate the world.   

Chinese Philosopher: Daoist Perspective on the Relationship Between Heaven and Humanity

Observing the continual wars waged by various feudal lords armed with deadly weapons, Laozi hoped to change the rulers' hearts and minds to curb their enthusiasm for warfare. In his book, he even outlines an ideal "small state with a few people" where weaponry is unused, illustrating a utopian world without the relentless pursuit of "power" and "size."   

Out of compassion and concern for the suffering of the common people, Laozi envisions a utopian world where individuals can lead fulfilling lives without the need for abundant resources. In this world, people would enjoy their food, attire, dwellings, and customs without excess. The harmony of such a society would lead to "the sounds of roosters and dogs heard in turn, and the people would live to a ripe old age, never traveling far from their homes." Laozi symbolizes this life as untainted by societal norms and preconceived notions. It is a life unspoiled by worldly influences, differing from the pursuit of "power" and "size" that was prevalent at the time.   

The complementary philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism both aim to alleviate human suffering, nurture the body and mind, and enable individuals to "live and thrive." However, they approach this goal from different angles. Confucianism addresses suffering by advocating rigorous self-cultivation, perseverance, and endurance to strengthen one's spirit and ideals, thus comforting the suffering individuals. Regarding societal matters, Confucians take on the responsibility of preserving and transmitting moral and cultural values through rituals and music, establishing enduring human values.   

Daoism, on the other hand, views human affairs from the perspective of the Way of Heaven, offering a side view without direct confrontation. By drawing parallels with natural phenomena such as "storms and rains don't last all day," Laozi suggests that suffering is temporary and shall pass. He warns those who go against nature that natural events, like storms and rains, cannot persist indefinitely. Moreover, the Way of Heaven operates in reverse directions: "Reversal is the movement of the Way." Hence, fortune and misfortune are interdependent: "Misfortune is the foundation of fortune." Laozi even uses expressions like "all will return" and "after a great army, there will be a year of bad harvest" to deliver a cautionary message. Therefore, embracing the Way of nature, avoiding deliberate actions, and letting go of preconceived notions will ultimately lead us back to our true selves and harmony with the universe. 

Written by Lily
Sponsored by Mei-Hua Hall