What is the Way and the Power of the Way in Tao?June 27, 2021
During the rule of the Shang Dynasty from 1600s to 1000s BC, people believed that destiny was determined by the Gods and worshiped their ancestors.
In the following years, during the Zhou Dynasty, political decisions were made by someone believed to be empowered by God, nicknamed the “Vice of the Sky.” In the 5th century BC, Confucius created his own philosophical system. When we came to the 4th century BC, Zhuangzi diverted the Taoist doctrine from its state-based stance and made it individual-based. In the 3rd century BC, philosophers named Wang Bi and Guo Xiang established a new, Taoist system.
With the deterioration of the rule of the Zhou Dynasty, China was dragged to the brink of a civil war in the 6th century BC. This change caused the emergence of a new social class consisting of administrators and judges, and this class sought to make new regulations to increase the power of domination. The wide range of ideas produced by these officials has also become known as the Hundred School of Thoughts.
All of this coincided with the emergence of philosophy in Greece, and they met on some common ground, such as providing stability in an ever-changing world and generating alternatives for issues previously explained and guided by religion. However, since Chinese philosophy developed in the field of political practices, it focused on moral and ethical issues rather than the structure of the universe.
One of the most important ideas that emerged in this period is Lao Tse’s “Tao Te Ching”. This is a theory that is founded on the virtues that can be found by following the Tao, that is, the right path, and consists of only certain rules, and this is the basis of the Taoism doctrine.
To understand the concept of Tao, it is necessary to know how the ancient Chinese viewed the ever-changing world. According to them, changes are cyclical, those that move from one continuous state to another, such as night and day, summer and winter, and these changes are not seen as opposites, but as connections from one to the other. These situations also have complementary properties that form a whole. The process of change is seen as an expression of the tao and causes the 10,000 manifestations that make up the world. Lao Tzu says in the Tao Te Ching that humans are just one of these 10,000 manifestations and have no special status. However, due to our desires and free will, we can deviate from the Tao and upset the harmonious balance of the world. To lead a virtuous life means to act in harmony with the Tao. However, following the Tao is not a simple matter, according to the information given in the Tao Te Ching.
It is also pointless to philosophize about Tao, for it is beyond human comprehension. It is characterized by wu (non-existence), so the only way to live according to the tao is wu wei, meaning “inaction.” By this Lao Tzu does not mean “not to do” but to act—spontaneously and intuitively—in harmony with nature. This requires being reluctant, greedy and returning to social conventions.
Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook