Monday, December 04, 2006

The meaning of what constitutes metaphysics is not generally agreed on in western philosophy. It can encompass a wide range of ideas such as cosmology, ontology, an ultimate reality and the underlying self-sufficient ground of existence. (Peter Angeles Dictionary of Philosophy page 169) These ideas are some that the Dao in the Dao De Jing address. While many contend that the Dao De Jing was written, like any other book of its time, with a view to providing the basis for a sage to order the state, the byproduct was the beginnings of a metaphysical outlook that was to have a profound influence on the development of Chinese thought. In as such, we could say that the metaphysics in the Dao De Jing turned out to be a happy accident for Chinese philosophy.

In analyzing the metaphysical aspects of the Dao in the Dao De Jing, we can divide our investigations into three parts: the metaphysical Dao, the relationship between the Dao and the myriad of creation and the relationship between the creation that reflects on its relationship with the Dao, human beings. It is thus important to understand this triangular relationship in order to grasp the basic philosophy laid out in the Dao De Jing. Each link of the relationship is as important as the other. The Dao was an important concept for all schools of thought in ancient China; each school was looking for the Dao or way to order the state and make things peaceful. It was, however, the thought of Lao Zi and later Zhuang Zi that became known as Daoism. As Win-tsit Chan points out in his book the Way of Lao Zi (page 6):

“The word Dao consists of one element meaning a head and another meaning to run. It means that on which something or someone goes, a path, or road, later extended to mean ‘method,’ ‘principle,’ ‘truth,’ and finally ‘reality.’ All of this is well summed up in the common English translation, ‘the Way.’ It is a cardinal concept in practically all ancient Chinese philosophical schools. Hitherto the connotation had been social and moral, but in Lao Zi it connotes for the first time the metaphysical…” It is the metaphysical Dao that we will look at first.

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