by Fritjof Capra
Of the two main Chinese trends of thought, Confucianism
and Taoism, the latter is the one which is mystically oriented and thus more relevant
for our comparison with modern physics. Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Taoism is
interested in intuitive wisdom, rather than in rational knowledge. Acknowledging
the limitations and the relativity of the world of rational thinking, Taoism is,
basically, a way of liberation from this world and is, in this respect, comparable
to the ways of Yoga or Vedanta in Hinduism, or to the Eightfold Path of the Buddha.
In the context of Chinese culture, the Taoist liberation meant, more specifically,
a liberation from the strict rules of convention.
The most extensive knowledge does not necessarily know it; reasoning will not make men wise in it. The sages have decided against both these methods.
Chuang Tzu's book is full of passages reflecting the Taoist's contempt of reasoning and argumentation. Thus he says,
A dog is not reckoned good because he barks well, and a man is not reckoned wise because he speaks skillfully.
and Disputation is a proof of not seeing clearly.
Logical reasoning was considered
by the Taoists as part of the artificial world of man, together with social etiquette
and moral standards. They were not interested in this world at all, but concentrated
their attention fuily on the observation of nature in order to discern the characteristics
of the Tao. Thus they developed an attitude which was essentially scientific and
only their deep mistrust in the analytic method prevented them from constructing
proper scientific theories. Nevertheless, the careful observation of nature, combined
with a strong mystical intuition, led the Taoist sages-to profound insights which
are confirmed by modern scientific theories.
In the transformation and growth of all things, every bud and feature has its proper form. In this we have their gradual maturing and decay, the constant flow of transformation and change.
The Taoists saw all changes in nature as manifestations of the dynamic interplay between the polar opposites yin and yang, and thus they came to believe that any pair of opposites constitutes a polar relationship where each of the two poles is dynamically linked to the other. For the Western mind, this idea of the implicit unity of all opposites is extremely difficult to accept. It seems most paradoxical to us that experiences and values which we had always believed to be contrary should be, after all, aspects of the same thing. In the East, however, it has always been considered as essential for attaining enlightenment to go 'beyond earthly opposites,' and in China the polar relationship of all opposites lies at the very basis of Taoist thought. Thus Chuang Tzu says,
The "this" is also "that." The "that" is also "this." . . . That the "that" and the "this" cease to be opposites is the very essence of Tao. Only this essence, an axis as it were, is the center of the circle responding to the endless changes.
From the notion that the movements of the Tao are a continuous interplay between opposites, the Taoists deduced two basic rules for human conduct. Whenever you want to achieve anything, they said, you should start with its opposite. Thus Lao Tzu:
order to contract a thing, one should surely expand it first.
On the other hand, whenever you want to retain anything, you should admit in it something of its opposite:
bent, and you will remain straight.
This is the way of life of the sage who has reached a higher point of view, a perspective from which the relativity and polar relationship of all opposites are clearly perceived. These opposites include, first and foremost, the concepts of good and bad which are interrelated in the same way as yin and yang. Recognizing the relativity of good and bad, and thus of all moral standards, the Taoist sage does not strive for the good but rather tries to maintain a dynamic balance between good and bad. Chuang Tzu is very clear on this point:
The sayings, "Shall we not follow and honor the right and have nothing to do with the wrong?" and "Shall we not follow and honor those who secure good government and have nothing to do with those who produce disorder?" show a want of acquaintance with the principles of Heaven and Earth and with the different qualities of things. It is like following and honoring Heaven and taking no account of Earth; it is like following and honoring the yin and taking no account of the yang. It is clear that such a course cannot be pursued.
It is amazing that, at the same time when Lao Tzu and
his followers developed their world view, the essential features of this Taoist
view were taught also in Greece, by a man whose teachings are known to us only
in fragments and who was, and still is, very often misunderstood. This Greek "Taoist"
was Heraclitus of Ephesus. He shared with Lao Tzu not only the emphasis on continuous
change, which he expressed in his famous saying "Everything flows,"
but also the notion that all changes are cyclic. He compared the world order to
"an ever-living fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures,"
an image which is indeed very similar to the Chinese idea of the Tao manifesting
itself in the cyclic interplay of yin and yang.
Those who follow the natural order flow in the current of the Tao.
Such a way of acting is called wu-wei in Taoist philosophy; a term which means literally "nonaction," and which Joseph Needham translates as "refraining from activity contrary to nature," justifying this interpretation with a quotation from the Chuang-tzu:
Nonaction does not mean doing nothing and keep- ing silent. Let everything be allowed to do what it naturally does, so that its nature will be satisfied.
If one refrains from acting contrary to nature or, as Needham says,
from "going against the grain of things," one is in harmony with the
Tao and thus one's actions will be successful. This is the meaning of Lao Tzu's
seemingly so puzzling words, "By nonaction everything can be done."
From " The Tao of Physics - by Fritjof Capra
The Way of Eastern Mysticism Page 125-130
Copyright © 1975,1983,1991, Fritjof Capra