Monday, December 04, 2006

A. Dao Existed before God; Dao Existed before Heaven and Earth

In chapter four of the Dao De Jing, Lao Zi writes that the Dao existed before god. This may be a bit misleading for the western reader used to an anthropomorphic god prevalent in occidental religions. In his book Explaining Lao Zi, Wu Yi states:

The notion of god here is not a religious one because Lao Zi’s Dao replaces that of god. What role does the word god here play? Undoubtedly this ‘god’ is the one mentioned once in the Yi Jing (Book of Changes) ‘the god resides in zhen.’ Zhen indicates the direction of east here. As the sun rises in the east, zhen indicates the notion of creation. In the zhen hexagram, this represents the primacy of yang and the beginning of creation. This is why ‘god’ here can be construed as creation or the beginning of life.” (page 36)

Lao Zi provides the Dao as an impartial universal force in place of a personal god. This impartial universal principle and driving force necessarily transcends the world of creation. In placing Dao before the god of creation, it thus transcends time.

In chapter 25, we see a similar description:

“There was something undifferentiated and yet complete, which existed before heaven and earth…” (Translation by Wing-tsit Chan)

Here heaven and earth indicates the firmament and the terrestrial. As the myriad of creation relies on this space for its existence, this space is prior to the things that occupy it, but the Dao precedes the existence of this space. The Dao being eternal has no beginning or end, but the appearance of space comes before creation. The Dao is thus before the god of creation as well as the space that things occupy.

Time and space are the two categories in western philosophy that allow us to understand beings. In these two passages, we see a Dao that is posited before time and space. The Dao that existed before god is prior to any deification and time while the Dao that existed before heaven and earth is prior to space.

It is difficult for a non-transcendent person to describe transcendental notions. The language used is often negative, as we can not say what a transcendent thing is are left with only saying what it isn’t. This is why in chapter 14 we read:

“We look at it and do not see it; It’s name is The Invisible.

We listen to it and do not hear it; It’s name is The Inaudible.

We touch it and do not find it; It’s name is The Subtle (formless).”

(translation by Wing-tsit Chan)

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