Cosmo-psychological philosophy, and taoism
It may have astonished our readers a little to see us spin out the preceding chapter to a greater length than was strictly required for a sketch of China’s philosophy on man’s spiritual nature. We had, however, our good reasons for doing so, and for dilating also on the human body, passions and character. Indeed, the ideas about man’s material and immaterial being, as they are traceable in China’s ancient books and consolidated by her philosophy, place us immediately before the foundation and the main pillars of a great system, known among Europeans as Taoism. It is now our duty to point this out.
Elsewhere, in describing the fung-shui system, we made cursory mention of the great principle on which that Taoism rests. It is now in place to state more explicitly, once for all, what we have to understand by the word, lest the reader should have difficulty in following us whenever as will be henceforth the case very often we shall have to refer to it conceptions and practices we have taken upon ourselves to describe as integrate parts of the Chinese Religious System.
Taoism, as the word indicates, is the Religion of the Tao, a term meaning Path or Way, but denoting in this peculiar case the way, course or movement of the Universe, her processes and methods. In other words, Taoism is the Religion of Heaven and Earth, of the Cosmos, of the World or Nature in the broadest sense of these words. Hence we may call it Naturism.
It can hardly be doubted that man’s primitive feeling of complete dependence on the Universe and the powers that work therein, was the mother of it. From the budding of his reason, the East-Asiatic seems to have mused on Nature’s overawing power, his meditations leading him gradually to the invention of measures to propitiate its beneficial operations and avert its detrimental influences. Those practices, making his Religion from his earliest childhood, we find the clearest traces of in his oldest books.
It testifies, indeed, of the high antiquity and early development of Taoism in China, that its fundamental doctrines are found in so old a work as the Yih king is. They are the theories on the constitution and operation of the Cosmos, which we reviewed in Book I (pp. 960 sqq.). We did not, however, give more there than their outlines. Volumes of philosophical speculation they gave birth to in all times and ages. But we can safely leave most of them unread, they being of no utility for a sketch of Taoism in its origin and development ; and a sketch of that system is, of course, all we can give. Besides, time compels me to practise self-restraint, as the progress of this work hardly keeps pace with the advance of my years.
Taoism being fundamentally a religion of the Cosmos and its subdivisions, old Chinese Cosmogony is its Theogony. It conceives the Universe as one large organism of powers and influences, a living machine, the core of which is the Great Ultimate Principle or T’ai Kih, comprising the two cosmic Breaths or Souls, known as the Yang and the Yin, of which, respectively, Heaven and Earth are the chief depositories. These two souls produce the four seasons, and the phenomena of Nature represented by the lineal figures called kwa. It is they also that produce and animate the five Elements, which are the constituents of the material and immaterial world. Such are the outlines of that Cosmogony. They are the first main pillar of the Taoistic system. Now let us draw attention to the second, that is, the position of Man in Nature.
The chapter preceding the present one places before us the main doctrines on this head. It teaches us (pp. 12 sqq.) that Man, like all that has life, is in every respect a component of the Cosmos, both bodily and mentally, The consideration alone that he receives his souls from the Yang and the Yin or Heaven and Earth, and his body from the Elements, and that he may lose his body and souls at any moment for re-absorption into those cosmic powers, amply sufficed to keep him ever-conscious of his dependent connection with the World, or, as the Chinese put with its movements, its Tao or Course, its active power effecting such creation and destruction. We have seen how anxiously Chinese philosophers try to finish the picture of Man’s intimate relations with the Universe (pp. 15 sqq.). They talk of an affinity of his five viscera, the apertures of his body, and the five constant qualities of his natural character, with the five Elements, the quadrants of the sphere ; and the subdivisions of the Universe as denoted by the cardinal points. The Taoist Liu Ngan found out the connection between the construction of man’s material body and the constitution of Heaven and Earth, discovering also a relation of the parts of the body to the seasons and days of the year, clouds, winds, rain, thunder, and the atmosphere (pp. 15 seq.). In particular, as we saw, identification of man’s character, passions and virtue with the Yang and the Yin ; with the heavens and their phenomena and seasons, was a topic of philosophy. This topic we now point to with emphasis, as being the foundation of a third pillar in the Taoist religion, viz. of its Ethics, or principles on the cultivation of the character and the passions. Thus it taught that goodness, virtue, morality were all to be sought in Nature, that is, in the imitation of its Tao, or in the conformation with it. That foundation we now know. The pillar, raised on it, we shall have to describe in due time and place.
A perusal of the preceding chapter thus necessarily leads to the conclusion that Chinese Cosmogony and Psychology, inclusive of the expansions given them by the Sung school, are Taoistic to the very marrow. Nevertheless they pretend to be thoroughly Confucian. In truth, Confucian philosophy could have here no other base, since sacred antiquity, which to revive and to practice was always of Confucianism the sole and ultimate end, had given nothing else to build on. So, also, its system of Ethics is fundamentally Taoistic, as it made the Classics its sole standard bibles for morality and for individual and social perfection, and those Classics preach overtly (see p. 28) that cultivation of the natural character consists in following the Tao, nay, that the character is created by this supreme power. But still there is another principle, likewise unveiled by the preceding chapter, in point of which, for quite the same reasons, Confucianism must necessarily meet Taoism fraternally. It is this, that the Universe is filled up in all its parts with shen or yang spirits, which animate every thing that exists, and regulate the Tao of Nature and its phenomena or revolutions (comp. p. 13), thus ruling also man and his fate. In other words, its veneration of the Classics, its greatest principle, forbids the Confucian school to decry the Taoist Pantheon, which contains such shen innumerable as objects of worship ; and in fact it has never done so. To that Pantheon we shall still have to devote many a chapter, it being a main pillar in the Religious System of China, as gods and saints are in every religion.
This exposition of the cosmological and psychological basis of Taoism shows us the Yih king as the oldest book in which that basis is laid down. Thus, naturally, this work always held a place among Taoists as their Book par excellence, their very Bible containing the principles of their faith. We state this fact here with emphasis against the opinion, generally current, that the principal Taoist Bible is the Tao teh king.