Religions of Ancient China HTML version

Chapter 3. Taoism
Lao Tzu.--Meanwhile, other influences had been helping to divert the attention of
the Chinese people from the simple worship of God and of the powers of nature.
The philosophy associated with the name of Lao Tzu, who lived nobody knows
when,--probably about B.C. 600--which is popularly known as Taoism, from Tao,
the omnipresent, omnipotent, and unthinkable principle on which it is based,
operated with Confucianism, though in an opposite direction, in dislimning the old
faith while putting nothing satisfactory in its place. Confucianism, with its
shadowy monotheistic background, was at any rate a practical system for
everyday use, and it may be said to contain all the great ethical truths to be found
in the teachings of Christ. Lao Tzu harped upon a doctrine of Inaction, by virtue
of which all things were to be accomplished,--a perpetual accommodation of self
to one's surroundings, with the minimum of effort, all progress being spontaneous
and in the line of least resistance. Such a system was naturally far better fitted for
the study, where in fact it has always remained, than for use in ordinary life.
In one of the few genuine utterances of Lao Tzu which have survived the wreck
of time, we find an allusion to a spiritual world. Unfortunately, it is impossible to
say exactly what the passage means. According to Han Fei (died B.C. 233), who
wrote several chapters to elucidate the sayings of Lao Tzu, the following is the
correct interpretation:--
"Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish (i.e. do not overdo it).
"If the empire is governed according to Tao, evil spirits will not be worshipped as
good ones.
"If evil spirits are not worshipped as good ones, good ones will do no injury.
Neither will the Sages injure the people. Each will not injure the other. And if
neither injures the other, then there will be mutual profit."
The latter portion is explained by another commentator as follows:--
"Spirits do not hurt the natural. If people are natural, spirits have no means of
manifesting themselves; and if spirits do not manifest themselves, we are not
conscious of their existence as such. Likewise, if we are not conscious of the
existence of spirits as such, we must be equally unconscious of the existence of
inspired teachers as such; and to be unconscious of the existence of spirits and
of inspired teachers is the very essence of Tao."
Adumbrations of Heracleitus.--In the hands of Lao Tzu's more immediate
followers, Tao became the Absolute, the First Cause, and finally One in whose
obliterating unity all seemingly opposed conditions of time and space were