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Spirit, Qi, and the MultitudeA Comparative Theology for the Democracy of Creation$

Hyo-Dong Lee

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780823255016

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823255016.001.0001

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The Psychophysical Energy of the Way in Daoist Thought

The Psychophysical Energy of the Way in Daoist Thought

(p.42) 1 The Psychophysical Energy of the Way in Daoist Thought
Spirit, Qi, and the Multitude

Hyo-Dong Lee

Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter traces the development of the idea of qi in Daoist thought. As a metaphor referring to the constantly changing creative processes of the universe that constitute whatever exists, both mind and body, ideal and material, living and nonliving, qi resists any overtures toward an excessively dualistic construal of transcendence. In Daoist thought, however, the foundational text of the Laozi (Daodejing) and its dominant commentarial traditions place qi midway between the Way (dao) as the metaphysical ultimate and the concrete things of the world. In other words, Daoist thought envisions qi as a kind of primal matter-energy whose cosmic creativity is seen as derived from and dependent on the Way, even as the Way is presented in the tradition “apophatically” and “an-archically” as chaos-like Nothing (wu). In Daoist thought, then, what looms large is a totalizing metaphysics of one empty Nothingness.

Keywords:   laozi, daodejing, Way, dao, Daoism, qi, psychophysical energy, chaos, nothing

What is psychophysical energy (氣 gi/qi)? Etymologically rooted in the words “steam,” “breath,” and “wind,” and variously translated as “material force,” “vital energy,” or “psychophysical stuff,”1 gi/qi is an idea for world-explanation ubiquitously found in East Asian cultures and religions and philosophically developed in the two great traditions of Daoism and Confucianism.2 Perhaps owing to its metaphoric roots in the animistic indigenous cultures of preclassical East Asia,3 gi/qi in its original meaning encompasses both nonphysical and physical, mind and body, macrocosmic and microcosmic, and sacred and secular. In that sense, it is similar to the Semitic ruach and the Greek pneuma with their own roots in the polytheistic and/or pantheistic myths of the pre-Axial Age cultures of West Asia.4

Psychophysical Energy as Nature and Spirit

Psychophysical energy is the primordial energy of the universe that constitutes whatever exists—visible and invisible, with form and without form, nonliving and living, and material and ideal. The entities that appear to be solid and unchanging are in fact temporary coalescences or harmonies of psychophysical energy’s own bifurcated and mutually complementary modalities of the receptive force (陰氣 eum gi/yin qi) and the active force (陽氣 yang gi/yang qi), which are themselves in a constant process of following and turning into each other. The creatively harmonizing operations of the two modalities of psychophysical energy is captured by the symbol of the Great Ultimate (太極 taegeuk/taiji) that depicts a ceaseless dynamic union of complementary opposites.5

(p.43) The Psychophysical Energy of the Way in Daoist ThoughtThe binary of receptive and active forces (which represents and includes the binaries of soft and hard, cold and hot, dark and light, rest and movement, female and male, earth and heaven) constitutes complementary opposites, because each pole of the binary always includes the other within itself and depends on the other for its own coming into being. The receptive force harbors and grows the seed of the other within itself until it is itself “taken over” and turned into the other, the active force, which in turn nurtures the seed of the receptive force within itself until it becomes its opposite. Furthermore, this relation of mutually dependent coming into being has a “fractal” structure in which each pole of the binary reproduces within itself the polarity of the whole: The receptive force always carries within itself the seed of the active force, which always carries within itself the seed of the receptive force, which always carries within itself the seed of active force … and so on and on.6 In other words, the Great Ultimate has a dynamically fractal structure of constantly self-differentiating opposites that come into being and cease to be in and through an unending process of one differentiating itself from itself by having the other within to negate itself.

Because the “logic” of psychophysical energy’s movement as symbolized by the Great Ultimate configures all coalescences or harmonies of psychophysical energy, any construal of them as unchanging essences or permanent substances is to be seen as a product of optical illusion and wishful thinking. As confirmed by the universal phenomena of birth, growth, decay, and death, one particular configuration of psychophysical energy continuously transforms itself into another as its balance of the receptive and the active within shifts in response to and in communication with other similarly dynamic and changing coalescences of psychophysical energy.7 The fact that all things—or rather, thing-events8—in the universe are various configurations of the same shared psychophysical energy does not mean that the latter functions as some kind of immutable substance underlying mutable phenomena. Rather, it serves as the field (場 jang/chang) and medium of interaction among all thing-events, (p.44) enabling their synchronic “correlativity” prior to and beyond their diachronic causal relations.9 Furthermore, as a continuous movement it constitutes the essence of time, its incessantly changing combinations of the active and the receptive being the qualitatively different, “kairotic” markers of time.10

In this vision of the cosmos there is little space for the kind of metacosmic/cosmic distinction, based on the binaries of one and many, ideal and material, and substance and phenomena, that characterizes many predominant cultures of West Asia or South Asia. Admittedly, the creative and transformative operations of psychophysical energy can be extraordinarily subtle, mysterious, and marvelous—as, for example, in the operations of human consciousness such as deliberation and imagination—to the point of appearing almost “otherworldly” and thereby attaining a measure of numinous transcendence. In such occasions, psychophysical energy is said to have become 神(sin/shen), usually translated as “spiritual” or “divine.”11 Nevertheless, even as sacrifices have been offered and homage paid in East Asian cultures to anthropomorphically envisaged spirits and deities, ranging from the Lord on High (上帝 sangje/shangdi) and Heaven (天 cheon/tian)12 to the spirits of ancestors, natural features, and various locales, they are all understood to be especially fine, ethereal, and invisible coalescences of psychophysical energy, not “supernatural” and metacosmic entities totally independent of the exigencies of the temporal and physical.13 Even the revered Lord on High or Heaven is regarded as the wisest and most powerful member of the one shared cosmos, not an outsider.14 In sum, psychophysical energy is what underlies and constitutes the dynamic, creative becoming that is the universe, encompassing both one and many, transcendent and immanent, object and event, organic and inorganic, ideal and material, mind and body, spirit and nature, and natura naturans and natura naturata.15

Whereas the category of psychophysical energy thus captures an essentially and ultimately nondualistic worldview shaping the cultures of East Asia, its conceptual and philosophical developments have by and large taken place within intellectual frameworks that affirm the existence of a fundamental duality characterizing the overarching structure of all that is and becomes. One of the earliest and historically most influential formulations of this duality is found in the Appended Remarks (繫辭傳 xicizhuan) of the Classic of Change (易經 yijing), a Warring States period (475–221 B.C.E.) text allegedly of a Confucian lineage but containing a (p.45) classical paradigm of thought shared by the Confucian and Daoist traditions: “That which is above physical form—it is called the Way [道 dao]; that which is with physical form—it is called the vessel [器 qi].”16 The saying makes a distinction between what is above or without physical form and what has physical form, naming them, respectively, “the Way” and “the vessel.” The vessel points to the myriad thing-events of the universe that have determinate shapes and concrete physical existence, such as the sun, moon, and stars in heaven and mountains, rivers, plants, animals, and humans on earth. The Way, by contrast, has no concrete existence of its own, having no determinate physical form, yet at the same time is “contained” in the myriad “vessels” of the visible universe.

What is the Way, then? The Appended Remarks of the Classic of Change has its own answer: “The successive movement of the receptive and the active is called the Way” (一陰一陽之謂道 yiyin yiyang zhiweidad).17 Although psychophysical energy and the binary of the receptive and the active are explicitly mentioned rather sparsely in the Appended Remarks, this remark provides a clear and succinct articulation of the implied understanding of the Way: The Way is none other than the regularity or order observed in the creative and transformative operations of the two modes of psychophysical energy, as it is captured by the symbol of the Great Ultimate.18 When the Appended Remarks says, “Giving birth again and again is called Change [易 yi],” and “Change has the Great Ultimate; the Great Ultimate generates two Modes [兩儀 liangyi]; two Modes generate four Figures [四象 sixiang]; four Figures generate eight Trigrams [八卦 bagua]”,19 it is symbolically describing the observed pattern of the creative Becoming or Change in terms of the constantly shifting combinations of the active and receptive forces which produce the myriad formed “vessels” of the visible universe. If the Way is merely the orderliness of the creatively harmonizing operations of psychophysical energy, then the duality of the formless Way and the formed vessel in fact means the duality of the abstract “logic” of psychophysical energy’s movement apart from its concrete coalescing, on the one hand, and the particular configurations of the two modes of psychophysical energy, on the other. In other words, psychophysical energy functions here as a third, mediating term between the formless Way and the formed vessel, preventing their duality from becoming a dualism of two independent principles.

The rendition of the Way in the Appended Remarks thus interprets the classical dyadic paradigm of the Way and the vessel as an articulation of (p.46) the fundamentally nondualistic worldview of East Asian cultures centered on the boundary-transcending category of psychophysical energy. At the same time, the history of its interpretive traditions, including both Confucian and Daoist, has exhibited tendencies either to drive the poles of the duality further apart or bring them closer to each other. The Daoist tradition is significant in that it could be read as doing both at the same time. Its predominant classical interpretation of the duality of the formless Way and the formed vessel in terms of the triad of the Way (道)—psychophysical energy (氣)—the myriad thing-events (萬物) can be viewed in such a manner that the Way acquires an ontological depth verging on the classical Western conception of the metaphysical transcending the physical. At the same time, the classical Daoist construal of the Way has enough of what in the vocabulary of Christian theology may be called an “apophatic” tendency to make the ontological depth given to the Way an-archic (i.e., without origin and rule) and chaophilic (i.e., chaos-loving). Given the wide-ranging historical influence exerted by the Daoist triadic articulation of the duality of the Way and the vessel, it is imperative that the classical Daoist understanding of the Way be examined.

The Psychophysical Energy of the Way: An Anarchic and Chaophilic Development in Daoist Thought

To understand the Daoist understanding of the Way, it is apropos to examine the Laozi (老子) alternatively called the Daodejing (道德經) which is the earliest and foundational text of the Daoist tradition, either predating the above passage from the Classic of Change by about a century or two, or roughly contemporaneous with it.20 Its understanding of the Way has been extremely influential not only in the Daoist tradition but also in the cultures of East Asia in general. In chapter 25, the Laozi gives a poetic description of the Way:21

  • There is a thing confusedly formed,
  • Born before heaven and earth.
  • Silent and void
  • It stands alone and does not change,
  • Goes round and does not weary.
  • It is capable of being the mother of the world.
  • I know not its name
  • (p.47) So I style it “the way.” (25.56)
  • If forced to make up a name for it
  • I call it “the great.”22
  • Being great, it is further described as moving on,23
  • Moving on, it is described as far away,
  • Being far away, it is described as turning back. (25.56a)

There are a couple of things to be noted about the Way as described in this passage. First of all, the Way is like a chaos. It is “confusedly formed,” “silent,” and “void.” This indeterminate, ineffable, and empty nature of the Way is repeatedly expressed by the Laozi: “indistinct and shadowy” (14.33; 21.49); “dim and dark” (21.49); “deep” (4.11); “empty” (4.11; 5.3); “evanescent (or invisible),” “rarefied (or inaudible),” “minute (or imperceptible)” (14.32); “darkly visible, it only seems as if it were there” (4.13); “a shape that is of no-shape, an image that is of no-thing” (14.33).24 All of these terms and phrases point to the idea that the Way is dark and chaoslike without form, without any kind of order that would allow the light of the human mind to penetrate it and to discern the contours of its features as a concretely existing thing. The Laozi also calls the Way “the One [一 yi]” and “Uncarved Block [朴 fu]” precisely because of its utter simplicity, that is, its lack of inner distinctions, shape, and order.25 Moreover, due to its chaos-like lack of form and order, the Way is completely nameless and unnameable, as the famous beginning verse of chapter 1 paradoxically states: “The Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way; the name that can be named is not the constant name” (1.1).26 That is why, as the Laozi explains in chapter 25, even the term “Way” is only a metaphor or symbol: “I know not its name, so I style [字 zi] it ‘the Way’ ” (25.56). Perhaps it is due to the “nonexistent” and no-thing-like character of the nameless and unnameable Way that the Laozi even uses the term “nothing [無 wu]” to designate it (40.89).

Nonetheless, the Way as chaos-like nothing is not synonymous with the nihil (nothingness) of the Western metaphysical tradition whose definition as utter disorder and annihilating void is the source of dread and existential angst. The second notable characteristic of the Way is that it is what may be called ultimate reality, that is, the ultimate origin and source of all that is.27 As something “born before heaven and earth,” the Way “stands alone and does not change”—for the Way is not dependent on or conditioned by anything—and precisely on that account is the constant Way of which the first verse of chapter 1 speaks. Being “the beginning of (p.48) heaven and earth” (1.2), the nameless and constant Way is prior to and more ultimate than what is customarily worshiped as the highest spiritual power of the universe: “I know not whose son it is. It images the ancestor of Lord on High [帝 di]” (4.13).28 At the same time, the Way is “capable of being the mother of the world” from whom the myriad thing-events (萬物 wanwu) are born. In fact, as something already named “the Way” and thereby become part of the cosmos and an object of human linguistic discourse (as all named things are), the Way “ is the mother of myriad creatures” (1.2, italics mine), serving as the origin and source of all thing-events.29 The Way as the one, simple, and nameless “uncarved block” shatters and becomes many vessels (器) with names and distinctions (28.64). In other words, the Way as vacuous, ineffable, and nothing-like ultimate reality is a chaos pregnant with the possibility of an infinite variety of nameable orders that are made constantly emergent by the power of being and life inherent in it.30 This generative power of the Way is underscored by the names such as “the gateway of the mysterious female” and “the spirit of the valley” (6.17), with female reproductive connotations. As the mother of all thing-events, the Way “gives them life and rears them, brings them up and nurses them, brings them to fruition and maturity, feeds and shelters them” (51.115). The Way can be the mother of the entire world because it is omnipresent as the origin, source, and power of all being and life: “The Way overflows, reaching left as well as right” (34.76).31 Not only does the Way so permeate the myriad thingevents that it produces and brings to completion, but it also never wearies of or fails in its role as mother—the Way “goes round and does not weary” (25.56)—as befitting the designation of “the constant Way.”32 Insofar as the Way as the universal and unfailing power of being and life pervades the myriad thing-events as their own power of being and life, it is called their “virtue [德 de]”: “The way gives them life; virtue rears them” (51.114).33

The third notable characteristic of the Way is that its constant activity is characterized by “turning back” (反 fan) (25.56a) or reversal: “Turning back is how the Way moves [反者道之動 fanzhe daozhidong]” (40.88). The power of the Way, which permeates the world as the virtue of the myriad thing-events, generates and brings them to completion. Once the myriad thing-events reach the zenith of their power of being and life, however, the movement of the Way is revealed in their gradual waning, as the universal phenomena of birth, growth, decay, and death give witness to. As the Laozi puts it, “After a period of vigor there is old age” (30.70);34 (p.49) and “a sudden downpour cannot last all day” (23.51a). This movement of reversal toward non-being and death is tantamount to the myriad thingevents’ return to their origin and source, i.e., to the chaotic and empty “nothing” of the Way.

The return of all thing-events to the Way is not “arche-ological” in the sense that the origin (archē) to which they return is “not there” or “only seems as if it were there” (4.13). Given this absence of graspable and definable origin, one could call the Way’s movement of reversal “an-archic (an-archē)”35 The implication is that, insofar as the Way pervades the myriad thing-events as their virtue or power, what one observes in the latter is “an-archy.” Because the Way’s movement of reversal lacks a definable origin that could function as the legitimizing foundation of an existing creaturely order, the power of being and life that is the virtue of the myriad thing-events does not found any particular order of beings in order to claim possession of it and to exercise authority over it: “It gives them life yet claims no possession; it benefits them yet exacts no gratitude; it is the steward yet exercises no authority; such is called the mysterious virtue” (51.116). In the absence of a founding authority, the presently existing orders of the world at the height of their power and opulence cannot lay claim to absoluteness or immunity from challenges leveled by new and emergent alternative orders. In other words, what results from the anarchic movement of the Way is a radical openness to the spontaneously emerging new orders. The Way constantly makes the myriad thing-events return to the dark chaos pregnant with an infinite variety of possible new orders that emerge spontaneously from the ashes of the older orders in ways that are not entirely conditioned by the latter.36

The anarchic movement of the Way is what the famous Daoist notion of “being so of itself” (自然 ziran) captures (25.58).37 Like the empty space within the hub of the wheel that receives the spokes and thereby enables the cart to move (11.27), the chaotic nothing as the empty and “self-less” mother of the myriad thing-events receives and accommodates them without contending with them or asserting itself to impose its own authority and designs on them, and precisely in doing so enables them to rise and flourish according their own respective natures. As the second-century commentator Wang Bi (王弼) insightfully observes in his commentary on chapter 45, the Way seems empty, chipped, bent, awkward, and tongue-tied (45.101), because its great generative and nurturing power constantly adapts itself to the myriad thing-events and does not assert and implement its own coherent, orderly, and tidy scheme (p.50) of things.38 This virtue of “responding [應 ying]” (73.179) to the different conditions, circumstances, needs, and exigencies of the myriad thingevents is what enables the Way to be their “refuge” where they are allowed to be what they are of themselves (ziran) without being subject to judgments and discriminations based on some preset criteria (62.143, 145).39

“Being so of itself,” or spontaneity, is characteristic of the workings of the world of myriad thing-events which receives its power of being and life from the Way. Heaven and earth—i.e., the cosmos—do not live for their own interests (7.18).40 Heaven excels in responding while not asserting itself and contending with the myriad thing-events (73.179). Heaven is the Great Equalizer in the sense that, because it unvaryingly follows the Way’s anarchic movement of reversal and does not practice favoritism in accordance with its own designs and likings, no excesses or deficiencies—that is, what are not “so of themselves”—are found in the myriad thingevents (77.184). When it comes to human beings, however, deviations from the virtue of the Way seem to be more of a norm than an exception. Instead of ordering human life in manners that avoid excesses and deficiencies, the way of human beings “takes from those who are in want in order to offer this to those who already have more than enough” (77.184a). Far from giving the myriad thing-events what is properly their due—each according to its nature—so that they could thrive of themselves, human beings create an order in which humans contend with one another and the rest of the myriad thing-events in order to impose their own, self-interested understandings of due proportion that are characterized by an excessive and limitless drive toward self-preservation, self-assertion, and self-aggrandizement. This trend in the human world toward self-interested excesses is illustrated by metaphoric allusions in the text, such as “adding to one’s vitality,” “egging on the breath[氣]” (55.126), “filling it to the brim,” and “hammering it to a point” (9.23)—all of which are “ill-omened” and “violent” (55.126). The point is that, of all creatures, human beings are uniquely capable of deviating from the Way by being fixated on the “male” terms of the binary opposites, such as activity, knowledge, fullness, height, priority, strength, hardness, straightness, sharpness, and distinctiveness, and by trying to egg themselves on toward the conditions corresponding to those terms and to perpetuate their stay in those conditions in obstinate denial of the inevitable reversal. The result of this is the propensities toward ever-more increase and refinement of knowledge, wealth, and power in human civilization, which the Laozi calls “going against the Way” (55.127).

(p.51) For the Laozi, the culprit here is desire (欲 yu). To be sure, there is nothing wrong with desire as such. Human desire in its most simple, instinctive, and biophysical level, such as the need for food, sex, and shelter, is not condemned as the source of all that has gone wrong with the human world. When the Laozi says, “The sage is for the belly, not for the eye” (12.29), it is endorsing the simplest satisfaction of the basic needs—all the instinctive, “programmed” aspects of a human being’s biological life—as “being so of itself,” while warning against the human capacity for fine discrimination of outward features and qualities of things necessary for sophisticated pleasures, on the one hand, and the deliberative, purposeful, and evaluative consciousness behind such capacity, on the other.41 As an excited state of the heart-mind (心 xin) full of diverse and pleasurable sensory stimulations (3.9;12.28), the deliberative, purposeful, and evaluative consciousness tends to isolate things, patterns, trends, and forces in the world—especially the “male” terms of the binary opposites—from their location in the flow of the Way as contingently and provisionally achieved harmonies. In other words, it becomes fixated on them as enduring absolutes capable of serving as the objects of artificially invented desires and aspirations. Through this consciousness, human beings themselves become estranged from the virtue of the Way and, unlike heaven and earth, come to live for themselves (自生 zi sheng) in isolation from and opposition to the movement of the Way.42 This leads human beings to create an entire new world of conscious goals, such as refined pleasures, wealth, honor, the power of domination, technical and manipulative knowledge (technology), and even ideals for individual moral perfection and harmonious social order, insofar as they are predicated on a hierarchy of artificially created goods. This brave new world of human civilization is against the Way in the sense that its “enlightening” and “civilizing” enterprises do not accommodate and let the myriad thing-events be so of themselves, but rather order, control, and manipulate them in ways designed to maximize human self-assertion and self-gratification. In the Laozi’s reckoning, the history of human civilization is one of devolution and decline from an earlier state of unadorned simplicity and still harmony (14.34; 65.157) to the present state of contentious self-assertion and self-aggrandizement, both individually and collectively speaking. The rise of increasingly complex human institutions and practices, on the one hand, and the concomitant production of ever-more refined hierarchies of values that function to buttress them, on the other, are together seen to constitute the “great artifice [大僞 dawei]” (18.42) of the present age.43

(p.52) To cure the human world of its present ills, then, it is necessary first and foremost to counter the tendencies created by humanity’s wayward desire that pursues the goods of the world as enduring and independent absolutes. In order to do so, the Laozi calls upon the rulers or leaders of the human world to become “sages” (聖人 shengren)44 who “know when to stop” (32.72) and not to fill a jar to the brim or hammer the tip of a spear to a point (9.23)—that is, not to prod the things, patterns, trends, and forces of the world which one finds desirable on to their maximum reach and to attempt to perpetuate that state. Such an act of self-restraint is tantamount to a refusal to isolate the objects of desire from their proper places in the flow of the Way, that is, their emergence from and eventual return to the (non-) origin to make way for and to contribute to the new. By means of this refusal, any absolute evaluative distinctions imposed on thing-events by the analytic, deliberative, and purposeful consciousness are relativized and rendered contingent. Just as the Way is a refuge for all myriad thing-events, the sage accepts and accommodates both what is regarded as “good” and what is regarded as “bad” by artificially created hierarchies of values (2.4; 62.143–45; 49.111).

The Laozi’s exhortation to the rulers to relativize humanly created schemes of things, and to restrain the unruly human desire that constantly attempts to absolutize such schemes, is encapsulated in one of the key notions of the Laozi’s religious, ethical, and sociopolitical thought, namely, “no-action” (無爲 wuwei): “Therefore in governing the people, the sage … always keeps them innocent of knowledge [無知 wuzhi] and free from desire [無欲 wuyu], and ensures that the clever never dare to act (3.9). Do that which consists in taking no action and order will prevail” (3.10). No-action does not imply complete passivity for the Laozi, since the claim is that “when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is undone [無爲而無不爲 wuwei er wubuwei]” (48.108). What it means, rather, is that “the sage benefits them [the myriad thing-events] yet exacts no gratitude, accomplishes his task yet lays claim to no merit” (77.185). Put otherwise, no-action is a form of action that relinquishes self-asserting knowledge and desire, and in that sense can be translated as “nonassertive action.”45 It designates the kind of receptive, responsive, and accommodating posture toward the world that lets the myriad thingevents be and flourish spontaneously according to their own nature—i.e., “be so of themselves”—and does not attempt to dominate and to control them. Thus, “no-knowledge” (無知 wuzhi)—or “unprincipled knowing”46—exhibited by no-action is like a polished mirror that reflects the (p.53) myriad thing-events just the way they are without self-interested, subjective distortions (10.24);47 and “no-desire” (無欲 wuyu)—or “objectless desire”—achieved by no-action is like an uncarved block or the state of infancy in its utter simplicity and self-lessness (28.63). The sage who has attained no-action is without thought of self (7.19a) and, being thus without a constant heart-mind of his own, “takes the heart-mind of the people as his own” (49.110).48 The sage-rulers who practice no-action defer to the myriad thing-events, as the following exhortation makes clear: “Hence look at the person through the person; look at the family through the family; look at the hamlet through the hamlet; look at the state through the state; look at the world through the world” (54.124).49 The sages defer to the world as a sacred vessel and dare not do something about it (29.66). Precisely because of this receptive, responsive, accommodating, and self-effacing relation of theirs to the world, the sages can be said to “keep to the role of the female” and to become “a ravine to the world” (28.63).50

In holding fast to the “female” terms of the binary opposites—emptiness, stillness, simplicity, receptiveness, responsiveness, deference, and self-lessness—by means of no-action, the sage as polished mirror, infant, uncarved block, and ravine provides a countervailing force to the fixation of the “great artifice” of human civilization on the “male” terms of the binary opposites.51 When the Laozi says, “Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail” (3.10), it is pointing to the sage’s no-action functioning for the world as a channel of the Way’s power to let the myriad things be so of themselves and thrive, so that there could emerge a contingent and nonfoundational order characterized by simplicity and maximum openness to spontaneity and novelty. Of the charismatic power of the sage’s no-action to transform the world into such “an-archic” order, the Laozi says: “I [the sage] take no action and the people are transformed of themselves; I prefer stillness and the people are rectified of themselves; I am not meddlesome and the people prosper of themselves; I am free from desire and the people of themselves become simple like the uncarved block” (57.133).52

What then would the restoration of the human world, via the sages’ no-action, to the an-archic movement of the Way and the state of “being so of themselves” actually look like in concrete economic, sociopolitical, and cultural terms? In contrast to the so-called rulers of the world, that is, “those dressed in fineries, with swords at their sides, filled with food and drink, and possessed of too much wealth,” who leave the fields overgrown with weeds and the granaries empty, and who are no different from (p.54) robbers in eating up too much in taxes (53.121; 75.181), the Laozi’s sages cherish the “three treasures” of compassion, frugality, and self-effacement (67.164). In governing, they do not honor men of worth (xian),53 do not value luxuries, and do not display what is desirable, all in order to keep the people from contention, theft, and being unsettled of mind (3.8). They do not keep a tight control over the people by means of laws, edicts, and close surveillance, which only make the people more cunning in evading them (57.132; 58.134). They refrain from intimidating the world by show of arms (30.69) that are “instruments of ill-omen” (31.71), engage in wars only when there is no other choice (30.69), and observe the rites of mourning when victorious (31.71). Like the an-archic mother of the world that is “not there,” their rule is so inconspicuous and perfectly accommodating that the people flourish of themselves without realizing that they have been empowered to do so: “The best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence to his subjects. … When his task is accomplished and his work done, the people all say, ‘It is just the way we are [我自然 wuziran]’ ” (17.41).54

Amor Chai: A Totalizing Metaphysics of One Empty Nothingness?

I have shown that the Daoist understanding of the Way, the paradigm of which was historically set by the Laozi, is that the Way is a chaos-like, formless nothing, which is at the same time the ultimate origin and source of the myriad concrete thing-events of the world. From this perspective on the Way, the Daoist tradition has by and large placed psycho-physical energy in the role of the mediating principle or force between the two poles of the duality, namely, the formless Way and the formed “vessels” of the physical universe. Pioneering this understanding is again the Laozi, although the text has only a few explicit references to psycho-physical energy, as that concept is part of the text’s implicit and assumed cosmology. In a celebrated passage in chapter 42, the Laozi says:

  • The Way begets one;
  • One begets two;
  • Two begets three;
  • Three begets the myriad creatures.
  • The myriad creatures carry on their backs the shade [陰 yin]
  • And embrace in their arms the light [陽 yang]55
  • (p.55) And become harmonies by the dynamic blending of the [two] psycho-
  • physical energies.56

As can be inferred from the use of the binary of the receptive and the active in describing the myriad creatures on the one hand and the explicit reference to psychophysical energy on the other, the Laozi assumes a cosmology in which psychophysical energy plays a constitutive role in the coming to be of all thing-events. Corroborating this reading is the Laozi’s allusions to the practical—i.e., self-cultivative—basis of its theoretical-philosophical ideas, which presupposes precisely such a cosmology, particularly in the verses such as: “Can you embrace in your arms the One and not let go? In concentrating your breath [氣 qi] can you become as supple as a babe? Can you polish your mysterious mirror [the heart-mind] and leave no blemish?” (10.24). The practical regimen of self-cultivation for attaining sagehood, as intimated here, consists in a technique of guiding, concentrating, and refining the flow of psychophysical energy—represented here by the metaphor of breath—within the human body by means of a sitting meditation. The meditational practice involves regularized natural breathing aimed at emptying out the normal, ossified contents of the heart-mind in order to produce a profound experience of utter receptivity and “letting be”—the experience that is explained in terms of merging with the Way and of obtaining the charismatic power to govern by no-action.57 In other words, the path back to the origin and source of all thing-events lies in recovering the “original condition” of psychophysical energy perfectly in sync with the movement of the Way, that is, as empty and wholly accommodating of spontaneity as the Way itself.

A more explicit affirmation of the mediating role of psychophysical energy between the Way and all thing-events is found in the Zhuangzi, the other founding document of the Daoist tradition, roughly contemporary with or postdating the Laozi. In chapter 22, the Zhuangzi explains life and death in terms of the gathering and dispersing of psychophysical energy: “Humans are born when their psychophysical energy [氣]comes together. There is birth when psychophysical energy comes together; there is death when psychophysical energy disperses. … It is, therefore, said: ‘Throughout the world there is one psychophysical energy [一氣], that’s all.’ ”58 Furthermore, psychophysical energy, which has two modalities of active and receptive,59 is construed as having come from the Way that is poetically depicted as a sort of primal chaos: “In all (p.56) the mixed-up bustle and confusion [芒芴之間 wangwu zhijian], something changed and there was psychophysical energy [氣]. The psychophysical energy changed and there was form [形]. The form changed and she [Zhuang Zhou’s wife] had life. Today there was another change and she died. It’s just like the round of the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.”60 Not only does Zhuang Zhou, the alleged author of the text, construe psychophysical energy as being born of the chaos-like Way, but also as the source of all thing-events with physical form, and thus as occupying the mediating position between the formless Way and the formed thing-events of the world. Moreover, in a manner similar to the Laozi, the Zhuangzi prescribes a regimen of self-cultivation called the “fasting of the heart-mind” (心齋 xinzhai), which involves a meditational practice of “sitting and forgetting” (坐忘 zuowang) and in which psychophysical energy, again, plays a crucial mediating role. The “fasting of the heart-mind” concentrates and refines one’s bodily psycho-physical energy until the heart-mind is able to communicate with the world directly via psychophysical energy without relying on the senseorgans. Such an intuitive connection with the world, at which point the sense of self-other distinction disappears, implies that one’s psychophysical energy has become as empty and perfectly reflective of the myriad thing-events of the world (虛而待物 xu er daiwu) as the Way itself is, and that one has achieved what the Zhuangzi calls the Great Communication (大通 datong) with the Way.61

The Daoist tradition, which emerged in large part as a tradition of commentaries on the Laozi and the Zhuangzi, has established as its paradigm of world-explanation and self-cultivation a triadic formulation of the duality of the Way and the vessel: the Way (道)—psychophysical energy (氣) —the myriad thing-events (萬萬).62 Although this ontological-cosmological paradigm is certainly present in other ancient Daoist classics such as the Huainanzi (淮南子) and the Liezi (列子),63 its most succinct articulation is arguably found in one of the earliest and most influential commentaries on the Laozi, the Heshang Gong (河上公) that zooms in on the beginning verses of chapter 42 of the Laozi quoted earlier: “The Way begets one; one begets two; two begets three; three begets the myriad creatures.”64 According to the commentary, the “one,” which is the firstborn of the Way, is the one psychophysical energy (一氣 yiqi), called the Quintessential Psychophysical Energy of the Supreme Harmony (太和之精氣 taihe zhi jingqi), or the Primordial Psychophysical Energy (元氣 yuanqi).65 The one psychophysical energy differentiates (p.57) itself into the “two,” that is, the active and receptive psychophysical energies, which in turn produce the “three,” namely the three configurations of the active and receptive psychophysical energies named harmonious (和氣 heqi), clear (淸氣 qingqi), and turbid (濁氣 zhuoqi). It is the various combinations of the three that give birth to the triad of heaven, earth, and humanity, and ultimately, to the myriad thing-events of the world.66 Like the Way, the one psychophysical energy is without form, yet it is physical and takes on physical forms to become the myriad vessels of the Way. Although its defining characteristic is that of an indeterminate muddle and jumble, it nonetheless moves in perfect sync with the Way to generate its own two modalities and ultimately the myriad thing-events of the world.67 Furthermore, it is precisely the mediating position of the one psychophysical energy that makes its attainment the primary goal of self-cultivation: As it is the “essential pattern” (紀綱 jigang) or “kernel” (要 yao) of the Way, people’s cultivation of their bodily psychophysical energy in order to obtain—or recover—the one psychophysical energy is the key to bringing about both individual well-being and the ideal social order characterized by no-action and spontaneous freedom, that is, the so-called era of the “Great Peace” (太平 taiping).68

In sum, the Daoist tradition firmly establishes the classical duality of the formless Way and the formed vessel by creating a triad. It accomplishes this feat first of all by “deepening” the Way’s ontological plane and interpreting the Way as the chaotic nothing that lies at the ultimate origin of the universe and the firstborn of which is the one psychophysical energy. Second, it does so by accounting for the Way’s generation of the myriad vessels in terms of the creative and transformative operation of the one psychophysical energy, whose two mutually produced opposite modalities and their shifting combinations offer a conceptually more rigorous explanation of the Way’s movement of “turning back” or reversal. The development of this triadic interpretation within the Daoist tradition is significant for the comparative purpose of this book, in the sense that the triadic interpretation introduces an ontological hierarchy into the relationship between what might be called ultimate reality and the concrete thing-events of the world by putting psychophysical energy in a position subordinate to the Way within the triad. For the claim that this book makes—that the East Asian category of psychophysical energy offers an inspiring resource for countering the subordinate construction of the Spirit’s place and role within the divine trinitarian hierarchy of classical Christian theology—the Daoist rendition of the relationship (p.58) between the Way and psychophysical energy may not seem particularly helpful.

If there is a redeeming factor, it lies in the definition of the Way as chaotic nothing whose endless an-archic movement is reflected in and responsible for the transitoriness of the myriad thing-events as provisional configurations of constantly self-differentiating and mutually dependent opposites. Such a definition makes the ontological depth given to the Way by the Daoist tradition a far cry from the kinds of ontotheological grounding of God the Father and his creation in classical Western theism that have been the target of contemporary postmodern philosophical criticisms, from Heidegger’s destruktion (“destruction”) of Western metaphysics to Derrida’s deconstruction of the transcendental signified.69 As David Hall points out, the leitmotif of the Western intellectual and religious tradition has been the chaoskampf, namely, “the struggle to win cosmos from chaos.”70 This motif is represented by the various ancient Near Eastern and Greek myths all depicting a battle of a culture-hero deity with a chaos monster, often in the shape of a serpent or sea dragon (e.g., the Babylonian Marduk versus Tiamat or the Greek Perseus versus Medusa) and the faint echoes of which still remain in the biblical accounts of creation around the symbol of tehom (the deep) and the figures of sea monsters, Leviathan and Rahab.71 The Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo epitomizes the culmination of this Western fear of chaos, as it completely does away with the last trace of the creative power of chaos by turning it into a literal nothingness. At the same time, the Christian theological tradition covers up the arbitrariness at the heart of the founding of the cosmic order—a divine will or command—by identifying God with the Divine Mind full of eternal, unchanging, and perfect ideas or forms à la the Platonic account of creation found in Timaeus.72

By contrast, the an-archic cosmogonic and cosmological paradigm established by the Daoist tradition is chaophilic, as it boldly and affirmatively posits, behind the visible and physical order of the cosmos, the invisible flow of chaotic Change. The Way as Change, while being the source out of which all orders arise, is not itself ordered, and in that sense cannot be said even to “exist” separately from the existing orders of which it is the source. Because of that, there has always been an internal debate within the Daoist tradition as to whether the Way is just a name for the spontaneous self-generation of all things.73 Furthermore, because the Way has no preestablished order of its own to impose on or at the least to propose as an arch-paradigm to the myriad emergent orders of the world, (p.59) the latter are freed to be “so of themselves.” In other words, in contrast to the chaophobia of classical Western theism that has led to the logic of empire, the logic of the One, the anarchic chaophilia of the Daoist tradition points to a democracy of creation undergirded by a radical ontological pluralism,74 as David Hall has well articulated: “The actual world presumed by Taoism [sic] is an anarchy in the sense that it is without archai, or principia, serving as determining sources of order and value distinct from the order they determine. The units of existence constituting the nature of things are thus self-determining [italics mine].”75 The Way in this “anti-imperial” and “democratic” reading is “the sum of all possible orders resulting from the self-creativity of each event.”76 The point is communicated even more clearly if one adds the word “nonordered” to rephrase it as “the nonordered sum of all possible orders.”77

It is precisely the anarchic, chaophilic, and radically pluralistic manner in which an ontological depth is given to the Way that has enabled the Daoist tradition to serve as a perennial gadfly at the side of the ruling Confucian elite of the successive dynasties and empires in East Asia. For the classical Confucians, human culture or civilization consisted primarily of patterns (文 wen) of ritualized behavior78 that were based originally on the patterns of Heaven, instituted by the sage-rulers and civilizational heroes such as Huangdi, Yao, Shun, and the Duke of Zhou, and to be imitated by the ruling elites through many years of learning the accumulated ritual tradition (禮 li) of the past generations.79 When the classical Confucians spoke of the Way, they meant the way of human beings represented precisely by such an accumulated tradition consisting in “civilized” patterns of ritualized behavior. The classical Daoist attack on the Confucian way—the cherished Confucian values of benevolence, rectitude, filial devotion, and loyalty, on the one hand, and the ritual tradition embodying those values, on the other80—was based on the belief that all systems and hierarchies of values institutionalized in social relations as cures for the ills of human society were merely symptoms pointing to humanity’s deviation from the Way: they are part of the disease, not the cure.81 In the words of Norman Girardot, what classical Daoism rejected was the Confucian tendency to locate the golden age after the creation of the world from the primordial chaos at the moment of the aristocratic ordering of human civilization—represented by the aforementioned sage rulers and culture heroes—and to seek to go back to that moment to find models of action for the present. Unlike the earlier forms of cultural life, classical Daoism claimed, civilizations sought to suppress and control the (p.60) “primitive,” disorderly, and yet creative presence of the chaos in individual and social life by insisting that the hierarchical ritual order of the ruling class was the one and only right order. By contrast, classical Daoism attempted to return to an experience of deeper, more primitive life-order covered over by the accreted layers of language and culture, that is, an order that “embraced both chaos and cosmos, non-being and being, nature and culture.”82 What it sought, namely, the primitive “chaos-order” clearly manifest in the spontaneously emergent order of nature, was an idealized version of the neolithic culture before the emergence of writing, metallurgy, cities, monarchs, and priests, and characterized by “great equality” (大同 datong).83 It attempted to rediscover this order by means of a self-cultivative and internalized mystical reversal of the civilizational “fall” from the chaos.84 As Roger Ames points out, for the “anarchism” of classical Daoism, the contrast is not so much between order and disorder as between natural or spontaneous order emergent from below and artificial order consisting of laws and regulations imposed from above.85

Nonetheless, despite the anti-imperial and democratic impulse found in the an-archism and chaophilia of classical Daoism, the history of the Daoist tradition as a whole has testified to some real ambiguities within its original promise. Even as there have been Daoist secret societies regarded as subversive by the authorities and occasional outbursts of Daoist-inspired peasant rebellions,86 the tradition has become better known either for its prescription of various techniques for procuring health, long life, and even immortality—a gamut of dietary regulations, gymnastics, breathing and meditative exercises, elixirs of immortality, and a life of quiet withdrawal in the mountains—or for its establishment of organized religious bodies with clergy largely preoccupied with the issues of individual and communal well-being and therefore often patronized by emperors and monarchs.87 Although both may have been legitimate developments in line with the spirit of the classical tradition, they have often led either to hostile interpretations of its an-archism and chaophilia as mere indifference to matters of ethical and social order—as evident in the Confucian condemnation of the Daoist tradition for its alleged nihilism, antinomianism, and individualism—or to an easy co-optation by the ruling elites as useful instruments for pacifying the subject population. Is there something intrinsic to the triadic Daoist paradigm—the ontologico-cosmological and “salvific” paradigm of the Way, psychophysical energy, and the myriad thing-events—that has been (p.61) a major contributing factor to what is seemingly too facile a capitulation to the logic of empire, to the logic of the One, despite its an-archism and chaophilia? Is there perhaps a perennial danger of undercutting the unique value of each self-determining and self-organizing order if it is viewed as ultimately dependent on and returning to a single chaotic, indeterminate nonorder, however “empty”—and therefore accommodating and freeing—the latter is construed to be? Does the Daoist paradigm end up evacuating the nonordered multiplicity of all spontaneously emergent orders into a totalizing metaphysics of one indiscriminate emptiness?88 Does the pitfall lie in too radical an “apophatic” move made by the tradition to make the nothingness of the unnameable Way more ultimate than the generative power of the Way named as the mother of all things, as most famously declared in the beginning verse of the Laozi: “The Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way”?

These questions go to the root of the Daoist tradition, as the Laozi itself could be seen as presenting conflicting pictures of the ultimate Way as the One in some instances—where it speaks of the sages “embracing the One”89—but also as that which gives rise to the One.90 Although many commentarial traditions have interpreted the One as the one psychophysical energy, the scripture’s emphasis on the Way’s simplicity—symbolized by the metaphors of Nothing and Uncarved Block, among others—has created enough ambiguity about the ultimate Way’s genuine difference from some kind of totalizing and annihilating nothingness, thereby courting the Confucian criticisms of Daoist nihilism. To answer these questions in earnest, it would be vital then to examine how the Confucian tradition—both under the influence of the Daoist tradition and in critical reaction to it—has interpreted the classical duality of the Way and the vessel in various manners, all less chaophilic than the Daoist paradigm in their shared preoccupation with issues of ethical and social order but not all chaophobic. In this work of critical examination, the pivotal question would be how the category of psychophysical energy has figured in the Confucian conceptualizations of the duality of the Way and the vessel for the purposes of world-explanation and self-cultivation.


(1) . “Material force” has been a conventional translation. Daniel K. Gardner has translated the term into “psychophysical stuff” ( Chu Hsi, Learning to Be a Sage: Selections from the Conversations of Master Chu, Arranged Topically, trans. with a commentary by Daniel K. Gardner [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990], p. 49, n. 52). I will slightly modify his translation into “psychophysical energy,” although a more precise translation would be “psycho-bio-physical energy.”

(p.272) (2) . Maebayashi Kiyokazu, Sato Koetsu, and Kobayashi Hiroshi, Giui bigyo munhwa [A comparative-cultural analysis of gi], trans. Park Mun-hyeon and Sekine Hideyuki (Seoul: Doseo chulpan hanul., 2006), pp. 16–21. See also Zhang Liwen, Giui cheorak [A philosophy of gi], trans. Kim Gyo-bin (Seoul: Yemun seowon, 2004), pp. 63–75.

(3) . The classical period in East Asia (1000 B.C.E.–500 C.E.) refers to the period ranging from the Chinese Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 B.C.E.), whose later years of long decline overlapped with the Spring and Autumn Period (770–403 B.C.E.) and the Warring States Period (403–221 B.C.E.), to the early imperial era covering the founding and consolidation of imperial China by the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.E.) and the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.) and the following interregnum of nomadic invasions and disunion (220–C. 500 C.E.).

(4) . See Yuasa Yasuo, Momgwa uju [The universe and the body], trans. Yi Jeong-bae and Yi Han-yeong (Seoul: Jisik saneopsa, 2004), pp. 72–109, 325;, Giui cheorak, pp. 37–44.

(5) . For the historical origin of the symbol, see Julia Ching, Religious Thought of Chu Hsi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 32–37.

(6) . The complementary and mutually interpenetrating relationship between the receptive and active psychophysical energies is clearly theorized in the ancient text of Chinese medicine, Huangdi neijing [Yellow Emperor’s inner classic] Zhang, Giui cheorak, p. 116. For one of the classic explanations of the fractal structure of the receptive-active relation, see the sixteenth-century Korean Neo-Confucian Yi Hwang’s Cheonmyeong do seol [Explanation of the Diagram of Heavenly Mandate],” in Toegye Jeonseo [Complete works of Toegye], ed. Toegyehak chongseo pyeon-gan wiwonhoe (the Committee for Publication of the Study of Toegye Series) (Seoul: Toegyehak yeon-guwon, 1989–), XIII, sokjip [extended collection], 8.15b–16a, p. 93: “Pattern is pattern in such a way that its substance is originally vacuous, and being vacuous, without internal contrasts or opposites. Because it is without inner contrasts or opposites, when pattern is immanent in people and thing-events, it is one, truly without anything added to or taken away from it. When it comes to psychophysical energy, from its very beginning there appears the figure of the opposition of the receptive (eum) and the active (yang). The opposites function as the root of each other, so that the receptive inevitably has in its midst the active, while the active also inevitably has the receptive at its core. Further, it is impossible for the active within the receptive also not to have in its very middle the receptive, while it is also impossible for the receptive within the active not to have the active at its very center. In the myriad transformations of the receptive and active, each is never without its opposite. In general, therefore, when thing-events are endowed with pattern and psychophysical energy, there is no gap between them insofar as their respective natures are concerned, but their psychophysical constitutions cannot be without the distinctions of balanced and unbalanced.”

(7) . The constantly changing balance of the active and receptive forces is articulated further by the Theory of Five Phases (五行 o-haeng/wuxing), which names symbols for the five representative combinations of the active and receptive forces: water (greater eum/yin), metal (lesser eum/yin), earth (neutral), wood (lesser yang), and fire (greater yang). See Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, trans. Derk Bodde, vol. 2, The Period of Classical Learning from the Second Century B.C. to the Twentieth Century A.D. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1953), pp. 11–22.

(p.273) (8) . I will translate (物 mul/wu) as “thing-event,” given the processual nature of any given “thing” as a dynamic and constantly changing coalescence of psychophysical energy in its binary modes.

(9) . The notion of psychophysical energy as the field and medium of interaction among all thing-events was based on the so-called correlative thinking articulated first by Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179–104 B.C.E.). Correlative thinking assumes the idea of the universe as a moral cosmos (an orderly and harmonious moral pattern), which, together with its microcosm, i.e., the human political order, constituted a set of mutually resonant systems. See Nathan Sivin, “State, Cosmos, and Body in the Last Three Centuries B.C.,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 55, no. 1 (1995): 6–22. See also Yuasa, Momgwa uju, pp. 84–85.

(10) . The sixty-four hexagrams (卦 gua) of the Classic of Change (Yijing) symbolize such markers of time. Yuasa, Momgwa uju, pp. 92–93. There is no sense of space and time as empty vacuum within which entities are located (pp. 94–95).

(11) . Such a notion is already seen in as ancient a document as the Classic of Change ( Juyeok [Classic of Change from Zhou Dynasty], trans. Choe Won-sik [Seoul: Hyewon chulpansa, 2000], p. 253; Geum Jang-tae, Gwisin-gwa jaesa [Spirits and the ritual of ancestor veneration] [Seoul, JNC, 2009], p. 44). See also J. A. Adler, “Varieties of Spiritual Experience: Shen in Neo-Confucian Discourse,” in Confucian Spirituality, ed. Tu Wei-ming and M. E. Tucker (New York: Crossroad, 2004), 2:120–43.

(12) . Haneunim (하느님), the Korean sky god, and Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大神), the Japanese sun goddess, can be seen as variants of the common East Asian worship of Heaven (天), who was originally a sky god. Angus C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1989), p. 1.

(13) . Geum, Gwisin-gwa jaesa, pp. 42–53. The ritual practices in preclassical China revolved around the worship of ancestors who were conceived as forming a hierarchy of spiritual powers in which the most distant ancestors were akin to powerful nature spirits (the spirit of earth, mountains, rivers, etc.), at the apex of which sat Lord on High or Heaven, exercising power over both the natural and human worlds. The point of sacrifices made to the ancestors was to persuade them to work on behalf of the living to obtain support from the more powerful nonancestral powers, and it was seen as supremely important especially for the rulers to have access to the highest power and to be a vehicle of its potency to order their realms in peace and harmony. See Sarah Allan, The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), pp. 18–21; Jordan Paper, The Spirits Are Drunk: Comparative Approaches to Chinese Religion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), pp. 268–69; Michael Puett, To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center for the Harvard-Yenching Institute, 2002), p. 26.

(14) . Geum, Gwisin-gwa jaesa, pp. 19–27.

(15) . Mary Evelyn Tucker, “The Philosophy of Ch’i as an Ecological Cosmology,” in Confucianism and Ecology, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Berthrong (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1998), pp. 187–207.

(16) . Juyeok, p. 270.

(17) . Juyeok, p. 252.

(p.274) (18) . The word 氣 (gi/qi) or 陰陽 (eum/yin yang) is mentioned rather sparsely in the Appended Remarks and virtually never in the Classic of Change itself. But the quoted phrase actually defines 道 (do/dao) in terms of the movement of the receptive and active psychophysical energies: “But in actuality we may not really know what yin and yang are or how these two words are used in the Yi text. In asserting that ‘the alternation of one yin and one yang is to be called the dao,’ we must notice the use of the term ‘zhi-wet (之謂 ‘is to be called’) as distinct from the term ‘wei-zht’ (謂之 ‘is called’). The former indicates a real definition which consists in an insight into the nature of things which leads to the definition of a thing in light of that insight, whereas the latter indicates a conventional definition which consists in identifying a use of descriptive language by convention.” Chung-ying Cheng, “The Yi-jing and the Yin-Yang Way of Thinking,” in History of Chinese Philosophy, ed. Bo Mou (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 72.

(19) . Juyeok, pp. 253, 268. The two modes are the two horizontal lines, one broken and the other unbroken, called 爻 (yao), symbolizing the receptive and the active. The four images consist of four different combinations of the lines, namely, 大陰 (greater yin), 小陰 (lesser yin), 小陽 (lesser yang), and 大陽 (greater yang). The eight trigrams consist of eight different combinations of the lines, each combination being made up of three stacked lines, and form the basis of the entire set of sixty-four hexagrams.

(20) . The word “laozi” literally means “old master” or “old child.” Daodejingmeans “the Classic of Way and Virtue (or Power).” The Laozi was compiled sometime between the early or mid-fourth and mid-third centuries B.c.E. as an anthology of units of verse-like sayings both earlier and then current, and edited into a “full-scale philosophical poem” (Graham, Disputers of the Tao, p. 214) attributed to a fictitious and mythological figure named Laozi. The text has served throughout Chinese history both as a scripture to be meditated on and ritually recited by the practitioners of the organized Daoist religion, on the one hand, and as a classic to be studied and commented on by the educated strata of Chinese society in general, on the other. See Graham Disputers of the Tao, pp. 214–34; Michael LaFargue, trans., The Tao of the Tao Te Ching: A Translation and Commentary (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), pp. 196–98; Max Kaltenmark, Lao Tzu and Taoism, trans. Roger Greaves (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969), pp. 13–15; D. C. Lau, trans., Tao Te Ching: A Bilingual Edition (Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2001), pp. 133–41.

(21) . I use the text of the received (Wang Bi) recension of the Laozi as found in the 2001 bilingual edition prepared by D. C. Lau. I use Lau’s translation throughout, but when it does not in my view fully do justice to the meaning of the text, I amend it myself or use alternative translations, particularly Philip Ivanhoe’s The Daodejing of Laozi (New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2002).

(22) . I have modified Lau’s translation of 强爲之名 (qiang wei zhi ming), which is “I give it the makeshift name of ‘the great.’ ”

(23) . I have modified Lau’s translation of 逝 (shi), which is “receding.”

(24) . The alternative translations of 微 (wei), 希 (xi), 夷 (yi) in chapter 14 as “invisible,” “inaudible,” and “imperceptible” are Richard Lynn’s. Richard J. Lynn, trans., The Classic of the Way and Virtue: A New Translation of the Tao-te ching of Laozi as interpreted by Wang Bi (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 72. I have modified Lau’s translation of 無狀之狀, 無物之象 (wuzhuang zhi zhuang, wuwu zhi xiang) in the same chapter, because (p.275) his use of “substance” for wu (“thing” or “entity”) introduces the Western metaphysical connotations associated with the term.

(25) . Found in chapters 22 and 28, respectively.

(26) . The word “dao” has two meanings, that of “way,” or “path,” and that of “speech”—thus the pun.

(27) . Various nonmetaphysical interpretations have been given to the notion of the Way as it is presented in the classical Daoism of the Laozi and the Zhuangzi. It has been identified with nature (Wing-tsit Chan, Chen Guying, H. G. Creel, Joseph Needham), resulting in the characterization of the Laozi as “organic naturalism,” “naturalistic pantheism” (Needham), “simplistic naturalism” (Chen), “nature mysticism” (B. Morris), etc. Wing-tsit Chan, trans., The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao-te ching) (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), p. 9; Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, vol. 2, History of Scientific Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), pp. 37–38; Chen Guying, Lao Tzu: Text Notes and Commentary, trans. Rhett Young and Roger T. Ames (Taibei: Chinese Materials Center, 1981), pp. 8–34; Herrlee G. Creel, What Is Taoism? And Other Studies in Chinese Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 41–42; Brian Morris, “Taoism, Confucianism, and the Chinese Self,” International Journal of Moral and Social Studies 8, no. 3 (1993): 274–89. Hans-Georg Moeller, The Philosophy of the Daodejing (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). Michael LaFargue interprets the Way as a perspectival, radically pluralist, nonreferential, and “existentially foundational” (Tao of the Tao Te Ching, p. 208) ethico-religious ideal of organic harmony. See Michael LaFargue, Tao and Method: A Reasoned Approach to the Tao Te Ching (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 269–93. Somewhat similarly, Roger Ames and David Hall present the Way as a radically perspectival, decentered, and aesthetically ordered “acosmotic cosmology” that is nonmetaphysical and nonreferential ( Roger T. Ames, “The Local and Focal in Realizing a Daoist World,” in Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape, ed. N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan [Cambridge, Mass.: Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, 2001], p. 273; see also David L. Hall, “From Reference to Deference: Daoism and the Natural World,” in Daoism and Ecology, pp. 246–61). The nonmetaphysical and nonreferential interpretation of the Way given by Ames and Hall construes the relationship of the things of the world and the Way as an interdependent, symmetrical relationship between “focus” and “field” ( Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, trans., Daodejing “Making This Life Significant”: A Philosophical Translation [New York: Ballantine Books, 2003], pp. 11–21). Chad Hansen has attempted to strip the term dao of metaphysical and religious significance chiefly by means of linguistic analysis (translating dao into socioconventionally generated “prescriptive discourse” [207] that guides behavior) ( Chad Hansen, A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation [New York: Oxford University Press], 1992). In view of all these antimetaphysical interpretations, I would like note that, since Max Weber’s pioneering comparative study of China and the West on the basis of the notion of an evolutionary development of rationality ( Max Weber, The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism, trans. and ed. Hans H. Gerth [Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1951]), the scholarship on early Chinese thought and religion has largely fallen into two camps. Those who follow the cultural-essentialist model (M. Granet, J. Needham, A. C. Graham, R. Ames, D. Hall) see in early China the cultural type or pole opposite of the West, (p.276) dominated by intuitive, organic, and correlative thinking vis-à-vis rational, mechanical, and analytic thinking, and therefore lacking a genuine sense of transcendence (in the sense of a deeper ontological context unconditioned by the world that depends on it), even when they understand both types of thinking as universal modes of thought that are present in different measures of strength in different cultures (Graham, Ames, Hall). (See Marcel Granet, La pensée chinoise: La vie publique et la vie privée [Paris: Editions Albin Michel, 1948]; Needham, Science and Civilization in China; Graham, Disputers of the Tao; Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, Thinking from the Han: Self, Truth, and Transcendence in Chinese and Western Culture [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998].) By contrast, those who adhere to the evolutionary model of Weber (Fung Yu-lan, B. Schwartz) locate early Chinese culture in a universal developmental path of cultures from mythos to logos, religion to philosophy, and immanence to transcendence, although they differ in their assessment of how early a sense of transcendence has emerged in China and what kind. (See Fung Yu-lan, History of Chinese Philosophy; Benjamin Schwartz, The World of Thought in Ancient China [Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985].) The strength of studies by Nathan Sivin, John Henderson, and Michael Puett, which avoid both cultural-essentialist and evolutionary models, is their thoroughly historical approach, tracing the rise and decline of Chinese correlative cosmology to show that what is usually regarded as a typically Chinese (or non-Chinese) mode of thought has its own historical vicissitudes within Chinese history. (See Sivin, “State, Cosmos, and Body”; John B. Henderson, The Development and Decline of Chinese Cosmology [New York: Columbia University Press, 1984], and Puett, To Become a God.) Their studies indicate that the real question is whether a sense of transcendence already existed in early China as a particular historical development within the Chinese culture. The scholarship on early Chinese religion demonstrates that a sense of transcendence did exist in early China, with far-reaching implications for the way we understand religious and philosophical concepts, such as the Dao, that originated in that context. My interpretation of the Dao as a normative religious-metaphysical order relies on the studies of early Chinese religion produced by Roth, Slingerland, Puett, Sivin, and others to reject the largely cultural-essentialist denial on the part of Ames and Hall of the notion of transcendence (in the sense of a deeper ontological context unconditioned by that which depends on it) to early China. For other religio-metaphysical readings of the Dao, see, among others, Mou Zhongjian, “Laozi’s Discourse on the Way and Its Significance Today,” Contemporary Chinese Thought 30, no. 1 (1998): 75–79; Chung-ying Cheng, “Chinese Metaphysics as Non-metaphysics: Confucian and Taoist Insights into the Nature of Reality,” in Understanding the Chinese Mind: The Philosophical Roots, ed. Robert E. Allinson (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 192–203; Robert C. Neville, “Daoist Relativism, Ethical Choice, and Normative Measure,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 29, no. 1 (2002): 6–8; Thomas Michael, The Pristine Dao: Metaphysics in Early Daoist Discourse (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005).

(28) . I changed Lau’s translation of 先 (xian) as “forefather” to “ancestor.”

(29) . I use the present tense “is” instead of “was” as used by Lau in order to avoid the misunderstanding that the nameless was merely temporally prior and ancestral to heaven and earth rather than being their enduring condition of possibility.

(30) . “The myriad creatures in the world are born from something (有 you), and something from Nothing” (40.89). Norman Girardot has disclosed the creation-mythological (p.277) theme of hundun (混沌 chaos) operating underneath the structure of thought in the Laozi and articulated with mythic symbols such as “mother,” “ancestor,” “water,” or “dark” (xuan) or more abstract terms such as “nothing” (wu) or “empty” (xu) ( Norman J. Girardot, Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Chaos [hun-tun] [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983], pp. 1–52). Attempts have been made to give voice to the ontologically indeterminate yet creative nature of wu—in opposition to the Western metaphysical notion of nothingness as negative negativity (i.e., negativity that is opposed to being)—in terms of a void that harbors all potentialities (Kaltenmark, Lao Tzu and Taoism, p. 34) or a “divine Matrix” that is active or creative potentiality ( Joseph A. Bracken, The Divine Matrix: Creativity as Link between East and West [Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books; Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing, 1995], pp. 133–35). A. T. Nuyen calls the Dao as wu “positive negativity” or nonbeing that is paradoxically being or reality, something similar to Heidegger’s Seyn, which conceals in revealing and leaves only its trace in nature and human language. A. T. Nuyen, “Naming the Unnameable: The Being of the TaoJournal of Chinese Philosophy 22, no. 4 (1995): 487–97.

(31) . I translated fan as “overflows” instead of Lau’s “is broad” to highlight the Way’s waterlike quality (life-giving and all-reaching).

(32) . Other passages that affirm the constancy and strength of the way’s life-giving power are: “From the present back to antiquity, its name never deserted it” (21.49a); “The spirit of the valley never dies” (6.17); “The way is empty, yet use will not drain it. (4.11).

(33) . According to Tateno Masami, the ontological significance of de is that it is the phenomenal expression of the way in the realm of actual being, as the de of perfected self, of exquisite paintings and performances, etc. ( Tateno Masami, “A Philosophical Analysis of the Laozi from an Ontological Perspective,” in Religious and Philosophical Aspects of the Laozi, ed. Mark Csikszentmihalyi and Philip J. Ivanhoe [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999], p. 182). See also Mou Zhongjian, “Laozi’s Discourse,” p. 82; Philip J. Ivanhoe, “The Concept of de (‘Virtue’) in the Laozi,” in Religious and Philosophical Aspects of the Laozi, pp. 239–57; Allan, Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, pp. 105–6. As Waley’s influential translation has pointed out, de originally had a premoral sense as “latent power” or “virtue inherent in something” ( Arthur Waley, The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thought [London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Macmillan, 1934], p. 32). De points to the potential or inner power of a given thing, which, like a fluid from the stream, was generated ultimately from di or tian and then transmitted hereditarily (associated with semen and female sexual fluids) in the form of jing (quintessence or innate vital energy) (Allan, Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, p. 105). With Confucius, the notion took on an ethical and moral connotation as cultivated virtue (Allan, Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, p. 106) that radiated moral charisma, “a kind of psychological power to attract and retain the support of others” (Ivanhoe, “The Concept of de,” p. 240). In the Laozi the notion is used in both senses, as the de of human sages models itself after that of nature (Ivanhoe, “Concept of de,” pp. 242–45).

(34) . For 物壯則老 (wu zhuang ze lao) I have used Philip Ivanhoe’s translation rather than Lau’s emendation of the text to wu zhuang zei lao (“a creature in its prime doing harm to the old”). As Lau himself admits (Tao Te Ching, p. 175), his emendation can no longer be supported after the discovery of the earlier Mawangdui text, which has 物壯而老 (wu zhuang er lao) (and 物壯卽老 wu zhuang ji lao in ch. 55). Although Lau translates the (p.278) Mawangdui texts as “a creature old in its prime” for both chapters 30 and 55, in my view the temporally sequential sense of er is reinforced by its juxtaposition with ji, which lends support to my decision to use Ivanhoe’s translation (Daodejing, p. 16).

(35) . Arche means origin or principle; archos and archon mean leader, first, chief, etc. An-arche, an-archon, an-archos, etc. mean, therefore, without rule, principle, or origin. David L. Hall has highlighted this “un-principled” and “an-archic” character of the Way as chaos in The Uncertain Phoenix: Adventures toward a Post-Cultural Sensibility (New York: Fordham University Press, 1982), p. 53.

(36) . R. C. Neville locates the ontological causation of the Dao, as it manifests itself in the world of Something, in the spontaneous emergence of novelty: “When and wherever a situation is underdetermined by antecedent conditions, the decisive determining is spontaneous relative to the past, and is the locus of ontological causation” (Neville, “Daoist Relativism,” p. 9). In his reading of the “dialectical metaphysics” of classical Daoism, he distinguishes eternal ontological creativity (the eternal unnameable Dao) from its temporal manifestation (the nameable Mother Dao) and construes the latter in terms of an interplay between the existential achievement of structured and value-laden harmonies of internal forces (you) and the existential dislocation of those achieved harmonies in bursts of spontaneity (ziran) (pp. 9–11). It is the latter pole of the interplay, he argues, that enables human intervention that moves with rather than against the forces of creation (wuwei) (p. 13). Isabelle Robinet points out that many of the traditional Chinese commentators also saw the world as constantly re-creating itself by drawing on the omnipresent Dao, its source, and read the notion of ziran accordingly as self-creation. Isabelle Robinet, “The Diverse Interpretations of the Laozi,” in Religious and Philosophical Aspects of the Laozi, ed. Mark Csikszentmihalyi and Philip J. Ivanhoe (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), p. 144.

(37) . Since 自然 (ziran) in its common classical usage is a modifier (adjective) indicating a mode or manner of being, not a noun (as is clear in 17.46), I amended Lau’s translation “that which is naturally so.” An alternative translation would be “being of itself what it is.” Chan translates it as “Nature” in accordance with his reading of the Laozi as a naturalistic philosophy (Chan, Way of Lao Tzu, p. 9). As a philosophical concept, though, ziran has been used in Chinese history as a noun to mean spontaneity or “naturalness,” but not “nature or “natural world,” which is a modern Chinese use of ziran invented under Western influence. In classical Chinese, nature in the modern Western sense corresponded to tian (heaven) or tiandi (heaven and earth) or wanwu (the myriad creatures or ten thousand things). Still, ziran can be translated as “nature” insofar as the latter word refers to the essential quality or fundamental character of something that is developed without external prompting and interruption. Liu Xiaogan, “Naturalness (Tzu-jan), the Core Value in Taoism: Its Ancient Meaning and Its Significance Today,” in Lao-tzu and the Tao-te-ching, ed. Livia Kohn and Michael LaFargue, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), pp. 212–13.

(38) . See the text in Rudolf G. Wagner, A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing: Wang Bi’s Commentary on the Laozi with Critical Text and Translation (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), pp. 271–72 (translation mine): “It [great completion] achieves completion in deference to things, and does not become a single image; therefore, it ‘seems incomplete.’ Great fullness, being plentiful, gives in deference to things and does not show favoritism; therefore, it ‘seems empty.’ It [great straightness] straightens in (p.279) deference to things, and not on the basis of a single standard; therefore it ‘seems bent.’ Great skill completes vessels in accordance with their spontaneous nature, and does not produce extraordinary features; therefore it ‘seems awkward.’ Great eloquence speaks in deference to things and does not contrive anything; therefore it ‘seems tongue-tied.’ ”

(39) . Jung H. Lee has highlighted the importance of the virtue of ying in early Daoist ethics ( Jung H. Lee, “Finely Aware and Richly Responsible: The Daoist Imperative,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68, no. 3 [2000]: 511–36). David Hall’s use of the term “deference” also underscores the meaning of ying as “yielding to the perspective of the things” and letting them be themselves. Hall, “From Reference to Deference,” p. 248.

(40) . This is Rudolf Wagner’s translation of bu zi sheng (Wagner, Chinese Reading of the Daodejing, 141). Ivanhoe’s translation is “do not live for themselves” (Daodejing of Laozi, p. 7), whereas Waley has “do not foster their own lives” (Way and Its Power, p. 150), both of which in my view are better translations than Lau’s “do not give themselves life” (Tao Te Ching, p. 11).

(41) . See Schwartz, “The Thought of the Tao-te-ching,” in Lao-tzu and the Tao-te-ching, ed. Livia Kohn and Michael LaFargue (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), pp. 200–2. In regard to what aspects of human life is “being so of itself” or not, Graham Parkes puts it best when he says: “It seems natural, for example, for humans to seek shelter in caves, and further—on the model of animals that build nests, hives, or dens—to construct houses to live in. But we might want to say of a life that is lived in hermetically sealed, air-conditioned apartments, cars, and office buildings, such that one rarely comes into contact with a molecule of unprocessed air, water, or earth, that it is a somewhat unnatural existence. The issue would then be to distinguish those forms or features of civilization that detract from naturalness, to the point where human flourishing is impaired, from those that are comparable with such flourishing.” ( Graham Parkes, “The Place of the Human in Nature: Paradigms of Ecological Thinking, East and West,” in Is There a Human Nature? ed. Leroy S. Rowner [Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997], pp. 152–53). According to Sarah Allan, in the early Confucian texts such as the Analects and the Mencius, the dao is more narrowly modeled on a channel or course of stream, i.e., a conduit guiding people in their actions or a condition in which everything follows its natural course, both in the natural and human worlds, and is therefore always with a modifier. Since without channels water flows in every direction, creating a flood, the image of flood control and irrigation is central to their understanding of civilization as 文 (wen) or identifiable patterns of proper behavior. Because channeled water, not water as such, is important, it is possible to say that either there is dao in the world (tian xia you dao) or there is not, depending on whether there is a ruler with Heaven’s mandate (tian ming). In the Laozi, by contrast, the dao is the Dao, i.e., a principle constantly manifested both in the movements of heaven and earth and in human beings (Allan, Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, pp. 66–74). Because the Dao is always present (zai) in the world, like water as such, it implies a loss of civilizational and moral imperatives (p. 138). What Allan confirms by highlighting the root metaphor of the notion of the Dao is that, for the Laozi, civilizational and moral imperatives that are considered ziran follow the qualities of (nonchanneled) water as such, namely, the “female” qualities of being quiet, still, weak, submissive, and resting in the lower position, that are identified with the virtue of nondiscriminating and self-effacing simplicity.

(p.280) (42) . The question of why this deviation from the Dao happens in the case of human beings, when they cannot separate themselves from the Dao that is everywhere, is neither really answered by the Laozi nor by its Chinese commentators historically (Robinet, “Diverse Interpretations,” p. 147). For Schwartz and Ames, it is “mysterious” and “unexplained” (Schwartz, “Thought of the Tao-te-ching,” p. 200; Roger T. Ames, Art of Rulership: A Study of Ancient Chinese Political Thought [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994], p. 35). See also Graham, Disputers of the Tao, p. 172.

(43) . I use the translation by Schwartz (“Thought of the Tao-te-ching,” p. 200) instead of Lau’s “great hypocrisy” (Tao Te Ching, p. 27).

(44) . The Laozi has two different uses of the term shengren—one to designate the proto-Confucian culture heroes who were the initiators of the “great artifice” (as in 19.43) and the other to refer to the true sage-rulers who can reverse the pathology of civilization thus begun, and whose authority is “as ‘natural’ as the presence of the dominant male in the group life of many higher mammals” (Schwartz, Thought of the Tao-te-ching,” p. 203). According to Graham, a constant assumption in early Chinese political thought was that government was by nature authoritarian and that the only alternative to absolutism was a severe reduction or even abolition of government, which was an ideal set in antiquity practically implying a minimalization of interference from above in the affairs of individuals, families, clans, and villages in accordance with local traditions and customs. In other words, antiauthoritarianism in early China was antipolitical, inclining not to democracy but to anarchism. Insofar as the necessity of government was acknowledged, therefore, no one conceived any limits to power except moral limits—which meant that good government was thought to depend on the moral goodness of those who governed (Graham, Disputers of the Tao, p. 299). The Confucian appeal to Zhou feudalism in opposition to the bureaucratic absolutism of the Legalist School (fajia) was in that sense a “hierarchical anarchism” that envisioned social order as the harmonizing of human beings’ spontaneously emerging moral inclinations, such as the attitude of deference found in patriarchal families; the Daoist emphasis on unlearning sociocon-ventionally inculcated desires and patterns of behavior by means of the charismatic influence of the sages’ perfectly clear awareness was a “paternalistic anarchism” (pp. 302–3).

(45) . Hall, “From Reference to Deference,” p. 257. For Hall, the term denotes an action carried out in deference to the recognized excellence or de of particular things, seeing beneath the accreted layers of artifice that masks their naturalness. For Allan, wuwei is what water does, which moves spontaneously downward following the contours of the landscape (Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, p. 79). Although the term wuwei emerged relatively late in pre-imperial China, occurring first (and only once) in the Analects (Creel, What Is Taoism? pp. 57–59; Allan, Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, p. 79), according to Slingerland it represented, one of the central themes of the early Chinese religion, namely, the spiritual ideal of being in a state of “fitting” (yi) with the normative order of the cosmos (Heaven or the Way), which is found as early as in the Classic of Odes (shijing) and the Classic of History (shujing). For Confucians and Daoists of the Warring States period, it denoted an ability to move through the world and human society in a manner completely spontaneous and yet still fully in harmony with the Way as the normative order of the natural and human worlds. As an ideal of perfectly skilled action, not (p.281) nonaction, it referred to “a state of personal harmony in which actions flow freely and instantly from one’s spontaneous inclinations—without the need for extended deliberation or inner struggle—and yet nonetheless perfectly accord with the dictates of the situation at hand, display an almost supernatural efficacy, and (in the Confucian context at least) harmonize with the demands of conventional morality” ( Edward Slingerland, “Effortless Action: The Chinese Spiritual Ideal of Wu-Wei,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68, no. 2 [2000]: 300). Wuwei was connected to the ideal of ordering the world through the power of one’s virtue (de), found in the two Classics (the Classic of Odes and the Classic of History) as the martial and social virtues of the aristocratic lord, and for the early Confucians in the ideal of the Confucian gentleman (junzi) which Confucius embodied and exemplified with the spontaneity and naturalness of his ritual mastery. Whereas the disagreement between the early Confucians Mencius and Xunzi was whether wuwei embodied the full realization of responses natural to humans or a virtue hard-won from the initially recalcitrant human nature after years of training and submission to cultural forms, the early Daoists put emphasis on the end state of wuwei to criticize what they perceived as the Confucian obsession with the means of achieving that state, such as an overelaborated and consciously sought set of (conventionally moral) goals and practices, which purportedly turned the end result into a forced behavior, a hypocrisy (Slingerland, “Effortless Action,” pp. 295–306). Hansen’s anachronistic reading, which treats wuwei as some kind of linguistically and pragmatically oriented anticonventionalism, ignores this religious context (Hansen, Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, pp. 213–14). Because the spontaneity evinced in wuwei does not represent subjectivity in the sense of individual autonomy as in the modern West but the highest degree of objectivity associated with the will of Heaven or the way of the Way, the effortless actions of the sages “are not so much their actions as they are the Dao acting through them” (Ivanhoe, “Concept of de,” p. 249). In that sense, wuwei could be translated as “nondual action,” i.e., the kind of action without a sense of agent/self apart from the action itself. David R. Loy, “Loving the World as Our Own Body: The Non-Dualist Ethics of Taoism, Buddhism, and Deep Ecology,” in Asian and Jungian View of Ethics, ed. Carl B. Becker (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999), pp. 89–91.

(46) . Following David Hall, “no-knowledge” and “no desire” could be translated as “unprincipled knowing” and “objectless desire” in the sense that what they reject is both artificially principled knowledge of things and the supposedly lasting objects of desire provided by such knowledge. Hall, “From Reference to Deference,” pp. 253–55, 258–61.

(47) . For the Laozi, to know the myriad things just the way they are is to know them within the context of the Way’s constant flow, i.e., the constant an-archic movement between Nothing and Something: “To know harmony is called the constant; to know the constant is called ‘discernment (ming)’ ” (55.126). Because discernment as nonsubjective knowledge of things gives the most accurate picture of the world, it “penetrates the four quarters” (10.24), and as a result, “Without stirring abroad one can know the whole world; without looking out of the window, one can see the way of heaven” (47.106). The opposite of wuzhi is qian shi (“foreknowledge”)—”Foreknowledge is the flowery embellishment of the way and the beginning of folly” (38.84)—which refers to the principled knowing of one who has already made up one’s mind before entering the situation, i.e., one who “knows” beforehand what is proper and right. The perfectly clear perception of the (p.282) myriad things that is wuzhi is an end product of the mystical inner cultivation exercises, as Graham puts it: “The Taoist relaxes the body, calms the mind, loosens the grip of categories made habitual by naming, frees the current of thought for more fluid differentiations and assimilations, and instead of pondering choices lets his problems solve themselves as inclination spontaneously finds its own direction, which is the Way” (Disputers of the Tao, p. 235).

(48) . I have translated xin as “heart-mind.”

(49) . For tianxia I have used “the world” in place of Lau’s “the empire.”

(50) . Again, for tianxia I have used “the world.”

(51) . According to Graham, the Laozi’s preference for the female terms of the binaries is strategically deconstructive; it is designed to counter the already existing massive accumulation of the male pole in human civilization. It does not mean one should be fixated on the female as an enduring and independent absolute. Disputers of the Tao, pp. 228–30.

(52) . “If the sage who is free from desire ever desires anything, it is that he “desires not to desire [yuwuyu] … in order to help the myriad creatures to be so of themselves [ziran]” (translation modified from “to be natural”) (64.156).

(53) . Shang xian was one of the central tenets of the Confucian and Mohist doctrines of government (Lau, Tao Te Ching, p. xxix).

(54) . I have modified Lau’s translation (“It happened to us naturally”) in order to avoid the use of the word “natural” for ziran.

(55) . I have modified Lau’s translation, which merely phonetically reproduces 陰 and 陽 as yin and yang.

(56) . I have modified Lau’s translation of 沖氣以為和, which is “are the blending of the generative forces of the two.”

(57) . According to the ground-breaking studies produced by Harold Roth and others, early Daoism consisted of a shared tradition of “mystical” self-cultivation practices called “inner cultivation” (內業 neiye), which were practiced and passed on by different master-disciple lineages and were accompanied by metaphysical and cosmological speculations explaining the nature of the self-transformative mystical experiences attained by those practices. Inner cultivation may have originated from the trance-inducing practices of shamans. “Inner cultivation” is referred to in the0 Zhuangzi as the practice of “sitting and forgetting (zuowang)” ( Harold D. Roth, “The Laozi in the Context of Early Daoist Mystical Praxis,” in Religious and Philosophical Aspects of the Laozi, ed. Mark Csikszentmihalyi and Philip J. Ivanhoe [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999], p. 69). The earliest extant statement of this practice, the Inward Training (內業), speaks of “cleaning out the lodging place of the numinous (shen),” strongly suggesting a shamanic purification ceremony that prepares one for the descent of some divinity ( Harold D. Roth, Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1999], pp. 189–90, and “Laozi,” pp. 61–62, 68–69). According to Graham’s reading of the Inward Training, the descent of shen was understood in terms of qi (windlairlbreath), the life-energy that circulates as the air, permeates everything, and vitalizes the body. At its purest and most vital, qi is jing, the “quintessential,” which is perfectly luminous as the heavenly bodies, circulates in the atmosphere as kuishen (“the ghostly and daimonic”), centered within each being as its essence, and descends into—or congeals within—human beings as the physiological substrate of their shen (“daimon”), rendering them shenming (“daimonic and clear (p.283) seeing”), i.e., enabling them to perceive all things with perfect clarity. In order to achieve the descent of shen, which is called the obtainment of de (“virtue” or “power”), the practitioners must use xin (the heart as the organ of both thought and emotion, or, to quote Kirkland, “the ruling agency in the individual’s biospiritual nexus” [76]) to guide and concentrate qi as it courses through their body—a practice that involves moderation in diet, adjustment of posture, controlled breathing, and stilling of passions and senses. Graham, Disputers of the Tao, pp. 100–102; Russell Kirkland, “Varieties of Taoism in Ancient China: A Preliminary Comparison of Themes in the Nei Yeh and Other Taoist Classics,” Taoist Resources 7, no. 2 (1997): 74–77.

(58) . Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 4, ch. 22, Zhibeiyou), in Zhonghua daozang, ed. Zhang Jiyu, vol. 13 (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe, 2004), p. 46.

(59) . Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 3, ch. 17, qiushui), in Zhonghua daozang, p. 33.

(60) . Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 3, ch. 18, zhile), in Zhonghua daozang, p. 37. Here I am using Paul Kjellberg’s translation, which seems to capture the sense of the passage perfectly ( Philip J. Ivanhoe and Bryan W. Van Norden, eds., Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, 2nd ed. [Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001], p. 247). For the Zhaungzi’s notion of the Way as a primal chaos, see the story of the emperor of the center, 混沌 (hundun) in chapter 7. Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 2, ch. 7, yingdiwang), in Zhonghua daozang, p. 17.

(61) . For the notion of the “fasting of the heart-mind (心齋),” Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 1, ch. 4 renjianshi), in Zhonghua daozang, p. 8. See also Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 2, ch. 7, yingdiwang), in Zhonghua daozang, p. 17. For the notion of “sitting and forgetting [坐忘]” and “great communication [大通],” Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 2, ch. 6, dazongshi), in Zhonghua daozang, p. 16. The “great communication” means to nourish one’s psychophysical energy until one connects to “that by which all things were created [物之所造],” i.e., the Way. See Nanhua zhenjing (bk. 4, ch. 19, dasheng), in Zhonghua daozang, p. 38.

(62) . Zhang, Gi ui cheorak, pp. 94–95.

(63) . For Huainanzi, see Zhang, Gi ui cheorak, pp. 124, 132. For Liezi, see Maebayashi, Sato, and Kobayashi, Giui bigyo munhwa, p. 28.

(64) . Being the oldest complete commentary on the Laozi, the Heshang Gong commentary was produced in the second century c.E. by an anonymous author and is considered part of the so-called Huang-Lao tradition that flourished during the Han dynasty era ( Alan K. L. Chan, Two Visions of the Way: A Study of the Wang Pi and the Ho-shang Kung Commentaries on the Lao-Tzu [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990], p. 118). See also Yi Seok-myeong, trans., Noja dodeokgyeong hasang-gong jang-gu [The Heshang Gong commentary to Laozi’s Daodejing] (Seoul: Somyeong chulpansa, 2005), pp. 11–12. For the Heshang Gong commentary’s development of the triadic structure of the Way, psychophysical energy, and the myriad thing-events, see pp. 14–15.

(65) . Yi, Noja dodeokgyeong, p. 92 (ch. 10); p. 269 (ch. 42). The commentary even identifies the Primordial Psychophysical Energy with the Way itself, though only once in ch. 2 (p. 58).

(66) . Yi, Noja dodeokgyeong, pp. 266–68 (ch. 42).

(67) . In the words of Alan Chan, the One as One Psychophysical Energy represents the ideal order in contrast to the ideal chaos of the Way (Two Visions of the Way, p. 132).

(68) . Yi, Noja dodeokgyeong, p. 117 (ch. 14); p. 51 (ch. 1). For the notion of Great Peace, p. 139 (ch. 18), p. 228 (ch. 35), p. 322 (ch. 55). For the translator’s excellent introduction to the notion, pp. 19–22.

(p.284) (69) . Iain Thomson, “Ontotheology? Understanding Heidegger’s Destruktion of Metaphysics,” in International Journal of Philosophical Studies 8, no. 3 (2009): 297–327.

(71) . Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 103–23.

(72) . Hall, Uncertain Phoenix, pp. 53–60, 77–85.

(73) . Guo Xiang, the most famous editor and commentator of Zhuangzi, whose commentaries accompanied the traditional editions of the text, is one such case. Brook Ziporyn, The Penumbra Unbound: The Neo-Taoist Philosophy of Guo Xiang (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).

(74) . “The democracy of creation” is taken from Catherine Keller’s God and Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), p. 135. It is a slightly modified version of Whitehead’s original coinage: “We find ourselves in a buzzing world, amid a democracy of fellow creatures.” Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: Corrected Edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), p. 50.

(76) . Ibid., p. 279.

(77) . Hall’s own formulation (coined in homage to Zhuangzi’s perspectivalism) is “the noncoherent sum of all orders.” Hall, “From Reference to Deference,” p. 247.

(78) . Used to mean “culture” or “civilization,” wen originally meant decorations carved into wood. Sandra A. Wawrytko, “The Problem of the Problem of Evil: A Taoist Response,” in The Problem of Evil: An Intercultural Exploration, ed. Sandra A. Wawrytko (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000), p. 24.

(79) . Michael Puett, The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), pp. 40–50.

(80) . As in the text of the Laozi, chapter 18: “When the great way falls into disuse, there are benevolence and rectitude; when cleverness emerges, there is great hypocrisy; when the six relations are at variance, there are filial children; when the state is benighted, there are loyal ministers” (18.42). Here the Laozi attacks the Confucian emphasis on riteslpropriety (li), which refers to “correct behavior and fulfillment of obligations within existing hierarchies” ( Livia Kohn, “Chinese Religion,” in The Human Condition, ed. Robert C. Neville [Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001], p. 26). See also chapter 38: “The rites are the wearing thin of loyalty and good faith and the beginning of disorder” (38.84). Also, “Exterminate sageliness, discard wisdom, and the people will benefit a hundredfold; exterminate benevolence, discard rectitude, and the people will again be filial; exterminate ingenuity, discard profit, and there will be no more thieves and bandits. These three, being false adornments (wei wen), are not enough. And the people must have something to which they can attach themselves; exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block. Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible” (19.43–43a).

(81) . Against the early Chinese religious tradition of exhorting the human world to pattern itself after Heaven as the ultimate deity (sky god) turned spiritual principle and power of the universe, the Laozi substitutes the Way for Heaven as such a principle and power, now much more “apophaticized,” and turns Heaven into a subordinate principle: “Man models himself on earth, Earth on heaven, Heaven on the Way, And the Way on that which is naturally so” (25). See Schwartz, “Thought of the Tao-te-ching, pp. 190–92; (p.285) Allan, Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue, pp. 22, 66–75; Roth, Original Tao, p. 181. In chapter 5, with an almost shocking rhetorical use of hyperbole, the Laozi distances itself from preachers of morality: “Heaven and earth are not humane, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs; the sage is not humane, and treats the people as straw dogs” (5.14). (Instead of Lau’s “ruthless,” which implies a disposition diametrically opposed to benevolence, I have used “not humane” for buren.) The point here is not that heaven and earth or human beings who are one with the Way are ruthless and callous—which would merely be the moral binary opposite of being humane and thus part of the same evaluative hierarchy—but that the Way is impartial because it is accommodating of all, and therefore does not favor one or another according to some preset criteria of evaluation such as benevolence, to the extent that it appears almost indifferent (see also 16.38). Although the Way as the generous Mother may sound similar to the plenitude of Divine Goodness praised and glorified by apophatic or negative theology, the Way is not benign or humane.

(83) . Ibid., p. 42

(84) . Ibid., pp. 40–41.

(86) . The most famous of which were the Celestial Masters, the earliest Daoist sect that presented an independent political and religious social structure, and the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the first of many Daoist-inspired rebellions, both at the end of the Han dynasty. See Terry F. Kleeman, Great Perfection: Religion and Ethnicity in a Chinese Millennial Kingdom (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998); Barbara Hendrischke, The Scripture on Great Peace: The Taiping jing and the Beginnings of Daoism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Stephen Bokenkamp, Early Daoist Scriptures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

(87) . Isabelle Robinet, Taoism: Growth of a Religion, trans. Phyllis Brooks (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 184–211.

(88) . This is similar to Laurel Schneider’s critique of the totalizing Buddhist metaphysics of emptiness, which evacuates the One (singularity) into emptiness on the basis of the claim that each object is in an excess of totality and therefore empty of its own being. Laurel C. Schneider, Beyond Monotheism: A Theology of Multiplicity (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 143–44.

(89) . Ch. 10 and 22.

(90) . Ch. 42.