Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Philosophical Daoism

Scott Bradley


If asked what path I followed, I would probably say that of philosophical Daoism, if for no other reason than that one must say something. This designation does not sit well with everyone and there are good reasons why this is the case. Needless to say, every inheritor of the Daoist tradition sees itself as contiguous with its roots. And to identify some 'primitive' and more 'pure' Daoism would seem to be yet another example of partisanship. And it is also true that the early Daoists made no such distinction, just as the Chinese do not typically make any distinction between philosophy and religion.

There are scholars (The Parting of the Way; Welsh?), however, who do, retrospectively, make the distinction. The historical perspective distinguishes between things not distinguishable in their time. But it is not my object here to enumerate these differences. I will mention only one, albeit an important one. The Daoism of Zhuangzi (though presuming to call him a Daoist at all is an anachronism) saw mortality as an opportunity to transcendent acceptance, whereas later, 'religious' Daoism saw it as an enemy to overcome through a quest for immortality. This difference has profound implications for how one precedes in the quest for a liberating point of view.

The point of this post is not to explain or justify this distinction, however. When I say that I am a philosophical Daoist what I really mean is that I am a philosophizing Daoist, in contrast to one who subscribes to a particular point of view which I choose to call philosophical Daosim. By this I mean that I find the raw material of early Daoist thought a wonderful quarry to work out my own path. It is immaterial where I find the particular veins of thought which most help me in this endeavor. Admittedly, I find in Zhuangzi my mother lode, but in the spirit of Zhuangzi himself I do not intend that this should lead me to exclude or condemn other sources or approaches.

A final word on philosophizing: This is not intended to suggest something extraordinary or some great depth of thought. Thinking on life and reality is philosophizing; and we all do it. To the extent that one feels the need, one thinks on these things; and the validity of these ruminations is determined solely on the basis of how they answer the needs of those who think them.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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