Little or nothing is known in regard to the early life of the old philosopher Laotze, but history reports that he was born in the province of Tchu, in the year B.C. 604, and he was therefore a contemporary of Buddha, in India, whose teachings, as reflected in such works as the Dhammapada, bear a remarkable resemblance to those of our author. These teachings were at a later date reiterated by Plato, and still later by the holy Nazarene. Indeed, all the great world-teachers appear to have enunciated the doctrine of Simplicity, and to have defined the Path in very similar language, but in distinct voices; all of them in contrast to the spirit of the age, and modified only by the circumstance of local colouring and inflection.
We find Laotze at an advanced age acting as curator of the Royal Library of Kao, from which he eventually retired in order to devote himself to quiet meditation in the mountains of the Ling-Po. He had hoped thus to pass at once beyond the circle of his worldly activities, as one who seeks the quiet and rest of his home after the heat and toil of the day. But the fame of the philosopher had gone before him. Among his followers was a guard of the Kwan Yin Pass. This man looked with jealous eyes upon the setting of so great a luminary, and he therefore importuned the Sage to commit to writing some of his teachings before retiring into seclusion. Laotze therefore wrote a book called Tao Teh, to which the Chinese add the word “king” as a mark of respect. The philosopher thereafter went his way towards the Pass of Hsien-Ku, and was no more heard of by mortal man. Such is the simple history of the only work ascribed to this great and industrious man, who rightly bears the name of Laotze, the “Old Philosopher.”
Between Laotze and the histrian Sze-Ma, from whom this information is derived, there were many exponents of the philosophy of the Tao. The chief of these were Lieh-tze, Chuang-Tze, Hang-Fei, and Hwai-nan-tze. That the philosophy rapidly spread and cast its influence over the most learned minds of those days in China, is evident from the fact that the Imperial Library of Swei contained, at the end of the sixth century A.D., many copies of Laotze’s work, all largely commentated. Under the patronage of the Han Dynasty (B.C. 202 to A.D. 263) the followers of the Tao flourished, and the Emperors themselves openly expressed their sympathy with the teachings of this school of thought. Thus King Tai, who began to reign in B.C. 156, ordered that the philosophy of Laotze should be studied at the Court, and thereafter the Tao Teh became a classic throughout the country, receiving the distinctive name of Tao-Teh-King.
During this period the teachings of Kong-fu-Tze (Confucius) were much neglected, and rivalry sprang up between the adherents of the two systems of thought, very bitter criticism passing between them. That the secular teachings of Confucius ultimately prevailed, does not detract from the inherent virtue of our author’s philosophy, but rather indicates that the tenets of Confucius were better suited to the more active policy of succeeding rulers, and possibly also the inability of the masses to appreciate the ultimate working value of Taoism, or to rightly conceive the significance of its abstruse and seemingly paradoxical principles. Yet the highest truths must ever suffer by popular expression, seeing that our consciousness is bounded by relativity, and expressed only by reference to “the pairs of opposites.” The sacerdotalism which the philosophy of Laotze assailed was akin to the Brahmanism of India at the time of Buddha’s appearance, and to that of Roman Catholicism at the appearance of Luther.
Laotze was already in the winter of life when Confucius paid him a visit in the year B.C. 517, the old philosopher being then eighty-seven years of age, and Confucius, who was born on the 18th December, B.C. 550, at Lu, only thirty-three years. The celebrated teacher of the Tao Teh is said to have greatly impressed Confucius, who afterwards highly esteemed him. It has been said that Laotze visited India in the course of his many travels, but there seems no other ground for this statement than the close similarity of his philosophy to the principles of the Vedanta, and that of his ethical teachings to the contemporary doctrines of Buddha. It is to Chuang-Tze that we owe the record of the teachings of Laotze, as to Men-Tze we are indebted for the records of Confucius. But to neither, it would seem, do we owe the presentation of the pure doctrine of either of these great teachers; for Chuang-Tze and Men-Tze, the contemporary exponents of the two systems of thought, were very bitter enemies, and strong expressions of contumely are known to have passed between them and their respective followers. On the other hand, it is fairly evident that Laotze and Kong-fu-Tze were good friends, and at most not far divided upon essential points.
The Rev. Aubrey Moore, in his notes to the translation of the Writings of Chuang-Tze, says:
“By the time of Chuang-Tze, some two or three centuries after Laotze, Confucianism had become to some extent the established religion of China, and Taoism, like Republicanism in the days of the Roman Empire, became a mere opposition de salon. Under such circumstances the antagonism between the representatives of Laotze and Confucius would proportionately increase.”
The teachings of Confucius were essentially utilitarian, capable of very successful application to political, social, and moral questions, but containing little or nothing concerning the nature, origin, and destiny of the human soul. This was left to the school of mystical philosophy called the Taotze, under the leadership of Chuang-Tze. That the teachings of Confucius were not sufficient for the more metaphysical thinkers of that day in China is evident from the fact that Taoism successfully vied with Confucianism for a very long time; and further, the subsequent introduction and wide acceptance of Buddhism shows that the spiritual side of Confucianism was inadequate to the needs of a vast multitude of people.
However, Taoism was never a popular or representative national religion, and did not succeed further than to secure the patronage of some few Emperors, such as Wang-Tai, whose name is erased from the sacred records of the Confucians, and the adherence of a minor portion of the nation. The ancient Shintoism has exerted an influence greater in every way than either the teaching of Laotze or that of Confucius upon the Chinese as a nation, and the reason for this is not far to seek, for it needs only a presentation of some of the leading tenets of the Taotze to convince one that they would not long survive in the estimation of successive rulers with ever-increasing worldly ambitions. It is not until the eleventh century, and after the introduction of Buddhism into China, that we find Taoism forming the basis of a definite religious system with monasteries and schools, priests and acolytes, and all the ritual of an ecclesiastical order under the rulership of the Tsung Dynasty. Previously, it bore only the marks of an ethical philosophy, and necessarily the crystallisation of the doctrine, together with the “bells and pomegranates” and other embroidery of the plain vesture, must be regarded as signs of a rapid degeneration in its votaries rather than as a reflection upon the tendency of the pure doctrine itself, which, as we shall hereafter see, was opposed to the religious ritual in all its forms. For Laotze there was but one religion, the Way of Heaven (Tao Tien), and its expression was spontaneous as between the individual and Nature, like “the prattle of a child in the arms of its mother.”
Before touching upon controversial points contained in the present work, it will be expedient to review some of the leading tenets of the doctrine of the Tao Teh, as revealed in the writings of Chuang-Tze.1
“Tao,” a term which is said to be equivalent to the Sanskrit Bodh (wisdom or enlightenment), and used by the Chinese Buddhists to express that state, is among the Taotze a mystical term having a twofold significance. It is at once the Supreme Reason, the Logos, and Nature, the subject of reason; the Alpha and Omega of all things, representing the “diversity in unity of nature, and the unity in diversity of God.”
Here, at the outset, we are faced with the antinomial and paradoxical element common to all mystical systems, and more than usually prevalent in pantheistic conceptions such as Taoism is said to be. Yet this unity and diversity are one, and that One is Tao, and Tao is greater than God and greater than Nature, for in Tao both God and Nature are as one.
“Before Heaven was, Tao was. Spiritual things draw their spirituality therefrom, while the universe became (by it) what we behold it now. To Tao the zenith is not high nor the nadir low. No point in time is long ago, nor by lapse of ages has It grown old.”
Laotze makes a distinction between the Supreme Source of all things—Tao the ineffable, and Nature the mother of all things. Tao, the essence of the Universal Spirit, self existent, uncreate and eternal, the source of all creations and of all worlds, as of the gods who made and govern them, “is by nature One,” says Laotze.
“One and universal is Tao, but the first has produced a second and the second a third, and these three are all things. In vain may your senses enquire concerning all these; your reason alone can frame anything respecting them, and this will tell you that they are only One.”2
Tao in this sense seems to correspond to the Parabrahm of the Vedantins, the Ain Suph of the Kabalists, the Athyr of the Egyptians, and the Monad of the Greeks. Laotze says: “A man looks upon God as his father and loves him in like measure. Shall we not then love That which is greater than God?” Hence it appears that in the conception of Laotze, Tao is not God, nor Nature, but comprehends both God and Nature, being the Supreme Essence of both Spirit and Substance. The idea of this universal and unchangeable Essence is not better conveyed, perhaps, than in the lines of Swinburne:
“I am that which began;
Out of me the years roll,
Out of me God and Man,
I am equal and whole;
God changes and man, and the form of them bodily; I am the Soul.”3
Thus says Laotze:
“There is an Infinite Being which was before Heaven and Earth. How calm it is, how free! It lives alone and changes not. It moves everywhere, but is not affected. We may regard it as the universal Mother. I know not its name. I call it Tao.”
Totally unlike the doctrine of Confucius based upon Charity and Duty to one’s neighbour, the Taotze recommends the natural expression of inherent virtue, which, as the attribute of Tao, will flow through the mind and develop the qualities of the Soul in their original integrity if its action be unimpeded by the weed-growth of vicious habits or the veneer of worldly consequence. For all personal effort, forcing of faculty, striving after a semblance of that which is already possessed by man through Nature, all Egoism in short, is regarded by the apostles of the Tao as so much waste of energy, leading finally to competition, strife, self-assertion, dogmatism, interference, tyranny, diplomacy, and deceit.
Chuang-Tze, the Idealist, the Ezra of Taoism, and the Democritus of his day in China, led the reaction against the materialist teachings of Confucius, and it is to him that we owe our knowledge, however incomplete, of the doctrine of Laotze. It is true that his enthusiasm has carried him far beyond the original statement of the doctrine as embodied in the Tao-teh-king. And although, it is true, this Philistine has not infrequently called in the Samson of Utilitarian Philosophy in order to make sport with him, yet we may console ourselves with the knowledge that the laugh was not always or finally against the blind man. The beauty and power of Chuang-Tze’s writings, their quaint cynicism and effusive wit, no less than the subtlety of metaphor so aptly linked to vigour of expression, have placed them deservedly in the foremost rank of Chinese literature. He is at all events faithful in his presentation of fundamental doctrine, as, for instance, in the concept of the Essential Unity of things, that of the Union of Impossibles, that of the integrity of Nature, of Freedom through restraint of the Senses, of Attainment by Non action, and some others of minor importance.
In regard to the doctrine of Essential Unity, Laotze says that this can only be perceived by “our natural clearness of sight,” for everyone is born in Tao, from Tao. So Chuang-Tze says: “All that a fish requires is water; all that a man wants is Tao.” The Union of Impossibles, ascribed to Plato, is in Taoism the basic doctrine, and is called by our author “the very axis of Tao.” He calls it the theory of Alternatives, and speaking of the relation of the Objective and Subjective, he says:
“When one is born the other dies. When one is possible the other is impossible. When one is affirmative the other is negative. Which being the case, the true Sage rejects all distinctions of this and that, and takes his refuge in God, thus placing himself in subjective relations with all things.”
The fact that the changing view-point of the thinker does not alter the nature of Things-in-themselves constitutes the main argument for the essential unity of things. Nothing can be added to or taken from one while that One is all, and that All one. The objective and subjective worlds are not separable except in an absolute dualism, and all appearances to the contrary are only appearances consequent upon the identifying of oneself with one or the other standpoint. Hence all distinctions cease, and all conflict is at an end in the recognition of this fundamental doctrine of the essential unity of things. On this point Chuang-Tze is profoundly witty.
“Only the truly wise,” he says, “understand this principle of the identity of things. To place oneself in subjective relations to externals, without consciousness of their objectivity, this is the Tao. But to wear out one’s intellect in an obstinate adherence to the individuality of things, not recognising that they are in fact all One, this is called Three in the Morning. What is that? asked Tzu-Yu. A keeper of monkeys said in regard to their rations of nuts that each should have three in the morning and four at night. But at this the monkeys were very angry, so the keeper said they should have four in the morning and three at night. And with this the monkeys were very well pleased. The actual number of nuts remained the same, but there was an adaptation to the likes and dislikes of those concerned. Such is the principle of putting oneself into subjective relations with externals. Wherefore the true Sage, while regarding contraries as identical, adapts himself to the laws of Heaven. This is called following two courses at once.”
It need not escape our notice, while enjoying the wit of this illustration, how fitting is the symbolism employed. The trick of comparing the Confucians to monkeys we may pass over. But in speaking of the subjective and objective worlds, what is more fitting than the use of the number seven as representing the totality of things, the seven worlds of most ancient conception, with three in the morning and four at night, and a basic identity in the nature of the things divided? For it is surely well known that the number Seven (tsat or tsieh) among all oriental nations, as with the Kabalists and the Gnostics, represents satisfaction, completeness, totality, perfection. The Triad and Quaternary, symbolic of Spirit and Matter, are almost universally associated with the Noumenal and Phenomenal worlds; the world of Thought and the world of Things; the Subjective and the Objective; with Man, the cogniser and thinker, in relations with both. The association of “the morning” with the number Three and of “the night” with the number Four is an extension, and a familiar one, of the gnosis. It relates the Spirit to light and Matter to darkness, and recalls the Two Worlds of the Rosicrucian philosophy and the all-embracing dogma: Demon est Deus inversus. So also with the Egyptians, man, compounded of Soul and body, is represented to be in continual relations with the two worlds, of which the initiated carry the key. It is expressed in the symbol called Ankh, i.e. I, the Ego, the embodied soul.
The doctrine of Teh, or true virtue, teaches that things are what they are, not by virtue of the names we give them, nor by reason of the way in which we view them, but because of their natural affinities and antagonisms, their inherent qualities, their place in the scale of creations, and hence by reason of the uses to which they can naturally be put. Tao gives us the true perception of the natures of things and Teh instructs us as to their uses. And the right use of things, according to Laotze, lies in the natural and unimpeded existence of every form of life. Thus the virtue of a tree is in its growth, the putting forth of leaves and flowers and fruit. But if a tree be trained to make much wood and the wood be cut to make a coffin, two things are by that circumstance lacking in virtue; the tree, in that it has ceased to be a tree and become in part a coffin, and the man, who would hoard up a carcase and deprive Nature of her dues. The flowers simply live and grow, and no one denies that they are beautiful. The good man confers a blessing on the world by merely living.
From such considerations Laotze disagreed with Confucius as to the ultimate utility of his doctrine of Charity and Duty to one’s neighbour. “Truth does not proclaim itself,” said the Sage, “virtue does not display itself, neither does reason contend with a man; perfect courage is not unyielding, neither is charity displayed in action. Virtue consists in being true to oneself and charity in letting alone.”
“By the virtue which is not intentional,” says the Sage, “even the supernatural may be subdued.” Therefore Charity and Duty to one’s neighbour are not essential virtues, but simply the accidentals of virtue; and “except a man be perfect he cannot determine their place,” says Laotze.
So Chuang-Tze writes:
“All the world knows that the virtue of doing good is not essential virtue,” and, indeed, it is easy to see that “doing good” may be but the blundering of ignorance, the inconsequence of vice.
“The man of virtue remains indifferent to his environment. His original integrity is undisturbed. His knowledge transcends the senses. By virtue of which his heart expands to enfold all those who come to take refuge there in. Going forth without effort, advancing without design, all things following in his wake. Such is the man of complete virtue.”
Of such an one it is said:
“He will bury gold in the hillside and cast pearls into the sea. He will not strive for wealth nor fight for fame. He will not rejoice in old age, nor grieve over early death. He will not take pride in success nor feel remorse in failure. By gaining a throne he is not enriched, nor can world-wide empire give him glory. His glory is to know that all things are One, and life and death but phases of the same existence.”
The contrast of these teachings, resting as they do on the fundamental concept of the perfection of Tao (as embracing both the providence of God and the integrity of Nature) with those of the Confucian school which sought to enrich the mind of man with rationalism, his life by arts and sciences, and his morality by civil government, is very striking, and nowhere more marked than in those passages in the writings of Taoism which deal with the nature of true virtue and the end and aim of the virtuous.
Philosophy, it is argued, causes dissensions and fills the mind with doubts. Arts create appetites which science cannot satisfy, thus rendering life full of misery and man an object of pity; while civil government, which hedges the man about with laws, takes away liberty, destroys freedom of action, and undermines the foundations of true morality. That this was the view of life taken by Laotze is evident from the following caustic admonition to Confucius when discussing with him the favourite theme of charity and duty to one’s neighbour:
“The chaff from winnowing will blind a man so that he cannot tell the points of the compass. Mosquitoes will keep him awake all night with their biting. And just in the same way this talk of charity and duty to one’s neighbour drives me nearly crazy. Sir, strive to keep the world in its original simplicity. And as the wind bloweth wheresoever it listeth, so let virtue establish itself. Wherefore this undue energy, as though searching for a fugitive with a big drum? The swan is white without a daily bath; the raven is black without daily colouring itself. The original simplicity of black and of white are beyond the reach of argument. The vista of fame and reputation are hardly worth enlarging. When the pond dries up and the fish are left upon dry ground, to moisten them with the breath or to damp them with a little spittle is not to be compared with leaving them as at first in their native rivers and lakes.”
No use to regret the state of things “that are not as they were,” unless it inspires the hope that some day we may regain the child-state we have lost. And the belief that man’s departure from the state of pristine purity was included in the scheme of human evolution—a belief founded on the mere existence in our day of so many acquired evils, quite as much as upon the partial realisation in ourselves of a divine inflection—this belief, I say, inspires us with the hope of an eventual restoration of mankind to its divine heritage. Indeed, it would seem that the world is even now in a state of transition from the Tao of native purity to the Tao of acquired virtue, from a condition of primitive innocence to that of ultimate perfection.
This is the view taken by Edward Carpenter in his Civilisation: its Cause and Cure, wherein he says:
“Possibly this is a law of history, that when man has run through every variety of custom a time comes for him to be freed from it—that is, he uses it indifferently, according to his requirements, and is no longer a slave to it; all human practices find their use, and none are forbidden. At this point, whenever reached, ‘morals’ come to an end and humanity takes their place—that is to say, there is no longer any code of action; but the one object of all action is the deliverance of the human being, the establishment of equality between oneself and another, the entry into a new life, which new life, when entered into, will be glad and perfect, because there is no more any effort or strain in it; but it is the recognition of oneself in others eternally.”
Laotze taught that the supreme virtue was only to be recovered by man on his return to the true life. This is effected by what is called “fasting of the heart,” that is, by self-abstraction, the higher indifference, or non-attachment to the fruits of action. It is not effected, we are told, by specific acts of charity, nor by religious austerities, nor by striving after the great and cherished ideal, but simply by being oneself, by the spontaneous expression of one’s own nature, and by submission of the will to the laws of Heaven.
“The pure men of old,” he says, “acted as they were moved, without calculation, not seeking to secure results. They laid no plans. Therefore, failing, they had no cause for regret; succeeding, no cause for congratulation.” Believing in the perfection of Nature as comprehended in God, they did no more than live, breathing with their whole being in the unrestrained joy of existence, and not seeking to make the human supplement the divine. Why all this straining after wealth and fame, as if the getting of these were the end and aim of life? Why, indeed, except for the satisfaction of those desires which have become the needs of our existence? Would it not be easier for us all to take the counsel of Laotze, the advice of Democritus, and make our wealth to consist in the reducing of our wants?
“You are going too fast,” says Laotze. “You see your egg and expect it to crow. You look at your bow and expect to have broiled duck before you. I will say a few words at random, and do you listen at random. How does the Sage seat himself by the Sun and Moon and hold the universe in his grasp? He blends everything into one harmonious whole, rejecting the confusion of this and that. Rank and precedence, which the vulgar prize, the Sage stolidly ignores. The revolutions of years shall pass him undisturbed, æons of ages shall leave his soul unscathed. The universe itself may pass away, but he will flourish still. How do I know that the love of life is not after all a snare? How do I know but that he who dreads to die is like a little child who has lost his way and cannot find his home?”
This “fasting of the heart,” or self-abstraction by means of which the possession of Tao is effected, is not, as some may think, the indifference which has its root in self-love, save in so far as that love of Self includes the welfare of all living things. The doctrine of Non-action does not inculcate bodily withdrawal from the world of action. This, to certain natures, would be to some extent easy of accomplishment, especially in the direction of abstaining from action that was uncongenial to them. “It is easy enough to stand still,” says Chuang-Tze; “the difficulty is to walk without touching the ground.” By this we understand that it is hard to act except in response to earthly attractions, or to make real progress without change of position. It is in the sense of non-attachment of oneself to the fruits of action that this doctrine of Non-action is to be understood and received. It is not by action in relation to oneself that liberty is obtained and Tao realised. The Vichara Sagara, an Indian scripture, has this significant passage: “By the action of walking a place is reached, but Moksha (liberation) cannot be reached by any action, since the Spirit is everywhere present.” The doctrine of Renunciation, as the means of salvation, is familiar to the Christian mind, and present in every true system of religious thought. Self-abnegation, as the way to possession, yet not involving the desire to possess, is thus referred to in the Bhagavad Gita (chap. v. 10-14):
“He who acts without attachment, dedicating all to the Supreme Spirit, is not touched by sin, as the lotus leaf is not wetted by water. . . . The doer of right action, abandoning its merits, attains rest through devotion. The doer of wrong action, attached by desire to its fruits, remains bound. . . The Spirit creates neither actorship nor acts in the world, nor yet the connection between action and its results; but Nature does so continuously.”
By acting while separating oneself from action, and by reaching the fruit of action without desiring it, man ceases to identify himself with good or evil in the world and reaches a state wherein diversity is perceived as unity, and all distinctions cease. Hope is no more, there is nothing unfulfilled; ambition has no aim, for all things are attained; and effort has no use, for necessity has ceased.
“Then Sorrow ends, for Life and Death have ceased;
How should lamps flicker when their oil is spent?
The old sad count is clear, the new is clean;
Thus hath a man content.”—Light of Asia, Book viii.
Then follows the question, Can one attain liberation for oneself alone? Laotze says No. Buddha says No. Christ says No. Not one of all the great Teachers and Saints ever desired or thought of such beatitude for himself alone. Indeed, it seems to be a law of spiritual evolution that the nearer one comes to the attainment of spiritual bliss the less he desires it for himself alone.
“Can one get Tao so as to have it for one’s own? Your very body is not your own, how then should Tao be? If my body is not my own, pray then whose is it? It is the delegated image of God. Your life is not your own; it is the delegated harmony of God. Your individuality is not your own; it is the delegated adaptability of God. Your posterity is not your own; it is the delegated exuviae of God. You move, but know not how. You are at rest, but know not why. You taste, but know not the cause. These are the operations of God’s laws. How then should you get Tao to have it for your own?”4
We may now turn to the work in hand, the Tao-teh-king of Laotze. There can be little doubt that any translation from the Chinese is capable of extreme flexibility and licence, of which, indeed, the translator must avail himself if he would rightly render the spirit rather than the letter of the text; and the spirit, after all, is the essential thing, if we follow the teaching of Laotze. It is safe to say that the more literal the translation may be the more obscure is its meaning. This is due to the difference of construction in the two languages, and the great flexibility which attaches to the use of the Chinese monosyllables (the same word being constantly used in varying mood) and the entire absence of any rules of syntax. In addition to these ordinary difficulties, the particular inflection of many terms used by our author to express abstract principles has occasioned many differences of translation. To take only a few instances of words which have been much discussed among translators, the word Tao (principle) has the significance of the Way, and carries a mystical signification very difficult of direct expression and similar in this respect to terms used by mystical writers the world over. The word has been variously expressed by the terms Logos, Voice, Way, Path, Truth, Reason, etc., and these cannot be taken literally when referring to the Supreme Cause. Moreover, although it would appear that Tao corresponds in meaning to such terms as Parabrahm, Ain Suph, etc., yet the context will not admit of an uniform adherence to any of these or their English equivalents. The Logos, or Word, as expressed in the Chinese, is not rendered by Tsae, Yen, or Yin, which refer to the ordinary means of expression by sound, but is compounded of two radicals, Show, which means head, beginning, source or origin, and Cho, to go forth upon the path; hence, the First Emanation.5 M. Abel Remusat said of this word Tao: “It does not seem capable of proper translation save by the word Logos in the triple sense of Sovereign Being, the Reason, and the Word.” Mr. Balfour, in his translation of Chuang-Tze, has employed the word Tao as a synonym of Nature, and though no doubt his conception of Nature may be of something that transcends the senses and even the reason, yet it is doubtful whether he would carry it so far as to include the statement of Laotze concerning Tao, in the sentence: “It is more ancient than God.” Tao as the Way is understood by Balfour to mean the Processes, Methods, and Laws of Nature; Tao as the Reason is taken to mean the Intelligence working in all created things, producing, preserving, and life-giving; while Tao as the Doctrine denotes the true Doctrine respecting the laws and mysteries of Nature. Thus the Way, Reason, and Doctrine of Tao are referred to the effects, causes, and principles embraced in the being and operations of Nature; and the philosophy of Laotze is thus held to embody a system of thought which engages the intuitional, rational, and perceptive powers of the human mind in regard to the great subject of thought, Man, the cogniser of Nature.
It is permitted to think, however, that Tao, as embracing both God and Nature, is altogether beyond the reach of human thought, certainly beyond definition, and referring to a state of Being of which we have not the remotest logical conception, and possibly only the vaguest intuitive apperception. By the use of the scientific imagination we may possibly extend our conception of the operations of Nature until it assumes the attributes of Deity; and in all, and through all, and around all is God—the Essence, the Life, the Intelligence—working, breathing, illuminating, present in every operation; scintillating in the very minds that think these things, making their conception possible. For whatever we may predicate of God or of Nature, above, around, below, within, beyond all is that, the ineffable and inscrutable Tao. The term seems rather to be the equivalent of the mystical term Sat, of the Vedantin philosophy, used to designate the superlative state of Pure Being, itself unrelated while comprehending all relations.
The word Teh (virtue) is understood to be the equivalent of the Buddhistic term Dharma, as being the mode of expression proper to Tao in its manifestations; its true meaning is conveyed in the words “virtue” and “use,” the central idea being that of proprium, that which is proper to the nature of a being or thing, apart from the accidents of human polity, custom, and usage.
Tien is a word frequently used by Laotze to designate Heaven as a state of being, and also in reference to the Deity, as in our own phraseology. So by the phrase Tao Tien we may understand the Law of Divine Being, literally the Way (Path or cleavage) of Heaven. By Tien Teh we connote the Divine Operation, literally “Heaven-virtue,” the virtue of everything being in its use. As to the phrase Tao Teh, which constitutes the title of this book by Laotze, we may use either the Law of Virtue, Path of Virtue, or any other phrase which connote the ideas of God and Nature and their operations in relation to man. The title after all is of subsidiary importance, and it would seem that we need not be too solicitous of names when the things themselves so far escape us. In translating the title Tao-Teh-King, M. Julien adopts the phrase, “The Book of the Way and of Virtue.” But while using this form in the title, he retains the word Tao in the text, and does not always translate Teh by the word “virtue”; and no doubt this method is warranted by the fact that no single term can be uniformly fitted to its context throughout the work. The extreme flexibility of the term Tao I consider to be most appropriate to the view of it presented in various parts of the book, as, for example, in chapter i. and chapter iv. In this respect it is similar to many of the terms used in the mystical philosophies of India, Greece, and Egypt, terms which escape definition by their wide suggestiveness.
As it is impossible to separate the ideas of operation and agent, virtue and being, as if one should speak of the Thinker as apart from thought, or Thought apart from the thinker, it cannot be said that Laotze’s work deals with two independent subjects, as suggested by M. Julien’s title: Of the Way, and of Virtue; and a form has therefore been adopted in the present instance which preserves the connection of the Tao and its Teh: “The Simple Way.”
It should be remarked that the headings of the chapters form no part of the original work, but have been added by one of its many commentators. They are retained in the present version because of their quaint fitness.
1. The Writings of Chang -Tze. Trans. H. A. Giles, London. Quartich, 1889.
2. Book of God, p. 36. E. V. Kenealy.
3. Songs before Sunrise: “Hertha.”
4. The Writings of Chuang-Tze.
5. Tao or Taou is not a radical. It is frequently translated by “Doctrine.”