The Idea of a Taoist Sage and Gospel Parallels / Taoist Metaphysical Vision and the Christian Concept of God

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Session 1 & 2 of "Trinity and Tao: Christian and Taoist Spirituality"

Talk 1: The Idea of a Taoist Sage and Gospel Parallels

Talk 2: Taoist Metaphysical Vision and the Christian Concept of God

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More than 30 years have passed since Thomas Merton's work, The Way of Johnse, appeared. Merton wrote it in dialogue with John Woo, one of the pioneers of Christian Taoist dialogue in recent times. Dr. Woo was the first, for example, to translate the word logos in the prologue of John's gospel as Dao, so that it reads, In the beginning was Dao. Although others besides Merton have shared the Woo's interests and insights, the Christian Taoist dialogue is still at its initial stages. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism constitute the three basic elements of the Chinese culture. In the long history of their development, the three have profoundly influenced one another.


While Buddhism and Confucianism have been more widely studied in the West, Taoism, at least until recently, has not been as well known. One reason is that many find the term Taoism elusive. The English word Taoism is used to refer to both the so-called Taoist philosophy, Taoism, and Taoist religion, Taoism. The two cannot be nicely separated, but it would be helpful to make a distinction between them. As an introduction to my talks, let me first present a brief history of Taoism, Both philosophical Taoism and religious Taoism take their inspiration from the same basic text and author, the Tao Te Ching, written during the spring-autumn period in Chinese history, roughly between the 8th and 5th century


before Christ, and attributed to Lao Tzu, the patriarch of the Taoist school. Not much is known about Lao Tzu, but he is traditionally thought to have been an older contemporary of Confucius. In addition to the Tao Te Ching, Taoist philosophy also relies heavily on the writings of Zhang Fu, which are normally assigned to the Warring States period, between the 5th and the 3rd century before Christ. A significant development of Taoist philosophy is commonly attributed to Neo-Taoism writings of the 3rd and 4th century after Christ, which find their expression in the commentaries on the classical texts. The most important of these are the commentaries on Lao Tzu by Wang Pi and Po Xiangkong, and the commentary on Zhuang Tzu


by Guo Xiang. Religious Taoism, on the other hand, can probably trace its origins from very ancient times, from the era of oracle bones and divination during the Shang dynasty, between the 18th and the 12th century before Christ. Taoist religion also drew heavily on the yin-yang school, the five agents school, and radically reinterpreted the teachings of Lao Tzu and Zhuang Tzu. It accumulated a huge body of scriptures called the Dao Zang, or Taoist canon, compiled over 15 centuries. Philosophical Taoism is only one of the several trends that led to the development of religious Taoism. Taoist religion as an institution


is often identified with the founding of the heavenly master's sect. In the middle of the 2nd century after Christ, a political religious movement developed in Sichuan under a man called Zhang Daolin, who established a semi-independent state and attracted many followers through faith healing and other magical and shamanic practices. As the heavenly master's sect collected a tax of five pegs of rice from each member, it is also called the five pegs of rice sect. Religious Taoism developed into an organized salvation religion. It instructed its followers to cultivate healthy living and to seek longevity and immortality through breathing exercises and meditation practice,


as well as outer and inner alchemy. Since both philosophical and religious Taoism regard Lao Tzu as their main source of inspiration, the talks of my workshop will focus on those points of contact between Christianity and the Tao Te Ching in particular. In an effort to introduce you to the Taoist-Christian dialogue on a more practical level, I shall also compare and contrast the various meditation and longevity techniques of religious Taoism with analogous Christian practices. Specifically, my four talks will present the following topics. First, the idea of a Taoist sage and gospel parallels. Second, Taoist metaphysical vision and the Christian


concept of God. Third, Taoist meditation techniques vis-a-vis the Hesychast tradition. And as my last talk, comparing the teachings on stillness contemplation in Lao Tzu, Evagrius, and Meister Eckhart. This evening, I'm going to present the first topic, the idea of a Taoist sage and gospel parallels. The Chinese character for Tao consists of two elements. It's on the board. One means a head and the other to walk. It means that on which someone goes, a path or road, extended to mean method, norm, and principle. These various connotations are well summed up


in the English term, the way. Tao is a basic concept in various schools of Chinese philosophy. While in Confucianism, Tao is employed to signify the way of heaven or of humans, in Lao Tzu, Tao acquires also a metaphysical meaning. Tao is the ultimate reality, as well as the first principle, underlying form, substance, being, and change. Tao permeates, sustains, and nourishes everything. However, even as Lao Tzu explores the metaphysical meaning of Tao, his chief concern is still with humans and their way of life, both as individuals and in society. He designates an ideal person as sage, literally a holy person.


He also uses expressions such as true person or accomplish the person for the same purpose. While Lao Tzu presents the sage, especially as the ideal ruler of a state, he teaches that everyone should and can become a sage. Since one and the same Tao is inherent in all things, permeating heaven, earth, and humans, Lao Tzu describes the unity between human beings and nature, and even envisages an exact correspondence between the microcosm of a human being and the macrocosm of the outer world. A true sage is one who is able to observe the movement of Tao as manifested in nature and to follow it. Lao Tzu describes certain general principles of Tao


running through the phenomenal changes of the universe, which may be called invariables. Thus, the Tao Te Ching opens with this word, Tao that can be spoken of is not the constant Tao. Name that can be named is not the constant name. Lao Tzu characterizes the true Tao as the constant Tao, that is, constant in the midst of changes. The idea of something constant amidst changes is expressed in the following passage. Quote, attain utmost emptiness. Maintain complete tranquility. The 10,000 things rise together, and I watch their return. All things flourish, each returning to its root.


To return to the root is called tranquility. This is what is meant by returning to destiny. Returning to destiny is called the constant. To know the constant is called enlightenment. Chapter 16, when something returns to its root or destiny, it encounters the constancy of Tao. To know the constant is enlightenment. A sage is one who is able to perceive what is constant and to respond to it. The Tao Te Ching describes several constant characteristics or invariables in the manifestation and movement of Tao. Non-action, or wu bei, is the first constant law of Tao.


Tao invariably takes no action, and yet there is nothing left undone. Chapter 37, non-action means that Tao does not actively intervene, but allows things to follow their natural courses. Spontaneity is the hallmark of Tao. As we read in the Tao Te Ching, humans follow Earth. Earth follows Heaven. Heaven follows Tao. Tao follows its nature, or su r yan. Chapter 25. The Chinese term su r yan literally means what is naturally so. It suggests spontaneity and naturalness. When the term is applied to Tao, it simply


indicates that Tao always follows its own way. Consequently, the sage must follow Tao in cultivating non-action as a way of life. Non-action should not be taken to mean doing nothing. Rather, it means quietly surrendering to the way of Tao by respecting the natural course adherence in things without making aggressive or unnecessary interferences. The way of non-action is ultimately a matter of following what is naturally so. Thus Lao Tzu states, if one wants to possess the world and act upon it, I know that he cannot get it. The world is a sacred vessel. It cannot be acted upon. To act upon it is to destroy it.


To grasp it is to lose it. Chapter 29. Commenting on this passage, Wang Pi says, quote, the nature of 10,000 things is characterized by su r yan. Therefore, it can be followed but not acted upon. One can go along with it but not hold it by force. Things have their constant nature. If one artificially acts upon it, one will surely fail. The sage realizes the nature of su r yan and penetrates into the feelings of all things. Thus, he follows and not acts, flows along and not interferes. End quote.


Non-action or wu wei presupposes on the part of the sage the qualities of wu si, no self, and wu yu, no desire. If one is concerned with personal interests and driven by desire, one lacks the inner tranquility necessary for observing the movement of Tao and will tend to act selfishly in attempting to achieve one's personal aim. Thus, wu si, no self, means being unconcerned with personal interests. But precisely because the sage is without self, his self is thereby realized. wu yu, no desire, on the other hand, does not mean suppressing all desire. Rather, it means restraining our desire


through simplicity and not being fettered by it. Non-action is also characterized by taciturnity and detachment from one's own achievements. Quote, therefore, the sage manages his affairs by non-action and spreads his teachings without words. He produces but does not possess, acts but does not take credit, achieves merit but does not dwell on it. Since it does not dwell on it, it does not leave him. Chapter 2, thus the sage is one who withdraws after accomplishing his task and does not cling to his merit. Lao Tzu recommends non-action above all


as the essential quality of an ideal ruler who must conduct by the rule of wu wei, interfering with the people as little as possible and allowing them ample scope for self-development. He is convinced that acting by non-action, nothing will not be governed well. Chapter 3, Lao Tzu complains against the rulers who are overly active. The people are starving because those above tax them too heavily. The people are hard to govern because those above are too active. Chapter 75, Lao Tzu also puts the following words in the mouth of an ideal sage. Thus the sage says, I take no action


and the people are of themselves transformed. I love tranquility and the people are of themselves rectified. I do not engage in activity and the people of themselves become rich. I have no desire and the people of themselves become simple. Chapter 57, in this passage, taking no action, tranquility, non-activity and no desire all indicate wu wei and are the essential qualities of an ideal ruler. Closely related to the idea of non-action is another pair of invariables of Tao as stated in chapter 40 of the Tao Te Ching. Reversal is the movement of Tao.


Weakness is the function of Tao. We shall first discuss the movement of Tao. Lao Tzu describes this movement in the following passage. Great or Tao means ongoing. Ongoing means far-reaching. Far-reaching means reversing. Chapter 25, this means that the movement of Tao is not linear but circular. There are things which apparently opposite are in reality relative and complementary to one another. For example, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, front and back. Paradoxically, great things often resemble their opposites. The bright way looks dim.


The advancing way looks as if retreating. The level way looks rough. Supreme virtue looks like a valley. Great whiteness looks soiled. Abundant virtue looks deficient. Established virtue looks like cowardice. True essence looks changeable. The greatest square has no corners. The greatest image has no shape. Chapter 41. I always enjoy the expression, the greatest square has no corners. The reversal in the movement of Tao is reflected in the changing phenomena of the world. Bad fortune is what good fortune depends on. Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in. Normality reverts to the odd.


Goodness reverts to evil. 58. Moreover, Tao's law of reversal tends to balance uneven situations. It is not the way of heaven like the stretching of a bow. What is high is brought down, and what is low is raised up. So too, from those who have too much, Tao takes away, and those who are deficient, it augments. 77. Since phenomenal change in the world is governed by the law of reversal, the sage, enlightened by this law, must act in a manner opposite to what he wishes to achieve. For he who grudges expense pays dearest in the end. He who has hoarded most will suffer the heaviest loss.


This does not mean that Lao Tzu exalts secret plotting. He simply describes what happens. The sage, putting himself in the background, is always to the fore. Remaining outside, he is always there. Is it not just because he does not strive for any personal end that all his personal ends are fulfilled? Chapter 7 Likewise, just because he never at any time makes a show of greatness, he in fact achieves greatness. Lao Tzu also states that one should know how to bend oneself in order to be kept whole. To be crooked is to be straightened. To be hollow is to be filled. To be worn out is to be renewed.


To have little is to gain more. To wish for more is to be confused. Chapter 22 Knowing that anything that goes to one extreme must swing to its opposite, the sage discards the excessive, the extravagant, the extreme. The sage also knows when to stop and when to withdraw. Holding a cup until it overflows is not as good as stopping in time. When your work is done, then withdraw. That is the way of heaven. Chapter 9 If the characteristic movement of Tao is reversal, a typical expression of its function or operation is weakness. This third invariable is closely linked to the previous two, non-action and reversal.


The opposite of weakness is strength. In the world, everyone wants to be strong. Few people understand that strength and power are perilous. Thus Lao Tzu states, Hardness and rigidity are associated with death. Softness and weakness are associated with life. Powerful weapons will not win. Massive trees will be cut down. Chapter 76 Lao Tzu also says, What people teach, I also teach. The man of violence will not die well. Chapter 72 However, the weakness recommended by Lao Tzu is not an end in itself, but a means that leads to real strength. What is at issue here is a weakness that overcomes strength.


As Lao Tzu states, The soft and the weak win over the hard and the strong. Lao Tzu evokes the image of water to illustrate his point. Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water, but when it attacks things hard and resistant, there is nothing superior to it. Chapter 78 Real strength means inner strength, which is achieved through practicing the weakness recommended by Lao Tzu. One who overcomes himself is strong. To keep to the soft is called strength. The idea of weakness is related to that of simplicity, a force invariable of doubt.


Lao Tzu contemplates an original state of innocence, in which doubt is simply embraced. He considers the setting up of moral codes and human institutions as an artifice that follows upon our falling away from the original state. For this reason, Lao Tzu sharply criticizes Confucian moralism as something artificial and a regression from the natural state of innocence. Chapter 18 Conventional virtues such as benevolence and righteousness are inferior to the way of wu wei and zi yan, what is naturally so, and hence should be abandoned. Lao Tzu also advocates a return to primal simplicity by discarding knowledge and cleverness,


as well as restraining selfishness and desire. On account of our present perverse state, this return to simplicity requires cultivation. Lao Tzu employs the images of an infant and an uncarved block to describe this simplicity. He often compares a person who has cultivated himself to a little child, whose knowledge and desires are simple. Similarly, he uses the word pu and carved block to indicate the state of simplicity in which desires are reduced. We have reflected on several invariables of the way of acting of Tao. The true sage is one who is able to perceive the invariable way of Tao


as manifested in nature and to follow accordingly. The ability to discover this constant loss of Tao is called enlightenment. Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching is of particular importance for the topic of knowing the constant. Quote Attain utmost emptiness. Maintain complete tranquility. The ten thousand things rise together and I watch their return. All things flourish. Each returns to its roots. To return to the roots is called tranquility. This is what is meant by returning to destiny. Returning to destiny is called the constant. To know the constant is enlightenment. You probably have noticed I am quoting this passage a second time.


This text will serve as a kind of refrain for the workshop. It is also written on the schedule which I gave you. According to Lao Tzu, to know the constant means to experience and participate in it. Returning to the roots and to one's destiny, one experiences the constant in one's nature and destiny, and thereby becomes truly enlightened. Thus the chapter continues. Knowing the constant, one's mind embraces all. Embracing all, one treats all things equally. Treating all things equally, one is kingly. Being kingly, one is in accord with heaven. In accord with heaven, one attains the Tao. Attaining the Tao, one lives long.


One's entire life is without peril. It is clear that for Lao Tzu, enlightenment means more than knowing the constant in an abstract way. It implies participating in and responding to the constant, both in our inner disposition and outward action. So it is a knowledge by participation, which means enlightenment. An enlightened person, or a Taoist sage, is therefore one who perceives and follows Tao's constant way of acting, which is characterized by non-action, reversal, weakness, and simplicity. These qualities can find ample parallels in the gospel teachings of Jesus Christ. Let's begin with the second idea, that of reversal,


which is expressed in many texts of the gospels. Mary's canticle, the Magnificat, is a prominent example. She says, He has brought down the powerful from their stones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. Then there is Jesus' teaching on the Beatitudes and the corresponding woes in Luke. For you will laugh. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.


Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. The teaching on reversal is amply evident in this section of the famous Sermon on the Flame, as it is called in Luke's gospel. Foreseeing that a multitude of people will enter the kingdom of God from all over the world, from east and west, from north and south, Jesus says, By these words, Jesus means to say that some of the Gentiles who are called after the Jewish people may come before them through their prompt response to the invitation of God. Likewise, after advising his fellow guests not to choose for themselves places of honor at the banquet,


Jesus concluded, For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. When he was accused of eating with sinners at Matthew's house, Jesus declared that he had come to call not the righteous, but sinners. On another occasion, Jesus foretold that the tax collectors and the prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God ahead of his self-righteous listeners. The same law of reversal also inspires Jesus' teaching on discipleship. He invites his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. The reason for renouncing the self is given as follows, For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.


We almost hear an echo of this saying in the Tao Te Ching. Is it not because he has no self that his self is realized? Later, when the disciples were angry with James and John for their request to sit at Jesus' side, Jesus admonished them, saying, Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. In these, what we might call Christian reversal statements, a certain privilege is allotted to the poor, the humble, and the weak. Like Lao Tzu, Jesus also makes use of the image of the child to extol the simple and the small. Thus he thanks the Father for revealing the secrets of the kingdom to the little ones, saying,


I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants. To the disciples who were trying to prevent people from bringing their children to him, Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, for it is to such as this that the kingdom of God belongs. This is because the kingdom of God is a pure gift, which cannot be achieved through our personal effort. It can only be received as gift by us, just as small children receive everything from their parents. When the disciples were arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest among them, Jesus placed a child in their midst and said,


Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. God not only opposes the weak, but like thou has chosen weakness and apparent foolishness as his way of acting in the world. This is made clear by the apostle Paul in his preaching on the cross. While being aware that the proclamation of Christ's crucifixion is a stumbling block to Jews, and perceived as foolishness by the Gentiles, Paul nevertheless preaches that God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.


For this reason, Paul can boast of his own weaknesses that allow the power of Christ to dwell and manifest in him. For whenever I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12.10 Now let us turn to the idea of move-in or non-action. In John the Baptist, another great figure of the New Testament, we find an eloquent example of non-action as expressed in not seeking or refusing to affirm oneself. When questioned by the authorities, John openly confessed that he was not the Messiah nor one of the prophets. He was content to compare himself to a little voice crying in the wilderness, calling people to repentance.


Moreover, John declared that he was not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus' sandal. As the one preparing the way for the Messiah, John rejoiced at seeing Jesus' appearance among the people, saying, He must increase, but I must decrease. The idea of non-action or wu-wei implies wu-si, no self, and wu-yu, no desire. The essence is on the idea of wu, which means non-being or a negation. The essence of wu-wei is the ability to empty oneself so as to be open and available to the movements of Tao. Non-action really means following the flow of Tao without imposing one's own action or intervention.


In this sense, a perfect example of Jesus Christ as exemplar of wu-wei can be found in Paul's letter to the Philippians. Paul said, He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2.7-8 As William Johnston points out, some Japanese translations of the Bible have rendered the verse he emptied himself as he became wu, which is the Japanese pronunciation for woo. To become wu and to be obedient to the design of the Father, or responsive to the hidden movement of Tao, even to the point of death, is certainly a perfect realization of wu-wei or non-action.


For this reason, we might say that Jesus is a real sage in the Taoist sense of the word. Paul connects his moral exhortation to Christians with the events of Christ, presenting him as an example for them to follow. Let me conclude with this passage from the letter to the Philippians. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, that is, became wu. Taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.


Our topic this morning is Taoist metaphysical vision and Christian concept of God. As I mentioned in my first talk, Tao is the most basic concept in the various schools of Chinese philosophy. While in Confucianism, Tao is employed to signify the way of heaven or of humans, it is in philosophical Taoism in Lao-fu and Zhuang-fu that Tao first acquires a metaphysical meaning. Tao is the ultimate reality, or the first principle, underlying form and substance, being and change. The important assumption is made that for the universe to have come into being, there must exist an all-embracing first principle, which is called Tao.


As we read in chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching, I do not know its name, I style it Tao. If forced to give it a name, call it great. Thus the opening line of this chapter positively affirms the existence of something which is in a chaotic or undifferentiated state prior to heaven and earth. Though without form, it is the fertile ground that evolves to give rise to all forms and beings.


And for this reason it can be called Mother of the World. As names serve to determine form, what is without form is also nameless. The reason why Lao-tzu styles it Tao as one key common is because all things come from it and follow after it. With reluctance, Lao-tzu also calls it great, inasmuch as Tao is the greatest of all designations for what can be expressed. Although Lao-tzu explores the metaphysical meaning of Tao, his chief concern, as I pointed out yesterday evening, is with humans and their way of life. He perceives a basic correspondence between humans, nature, and the Tao.


Humans should model themselves on Tao as it is manifested in nature. The reason why Lao-tzu examines the nature of Tao is to provide a basic pattern that humans could model their actions on. We have seen that there are certain invariables or constant laws in the manifestation or action of Tao. The first invariable is non-action, or wu-wei, which implies wu-si, no self, and wu-yu, no desire. The Chinese character wu, which forms the first part of these expressions, wu-wei, wu-si, wu-yu, means negation, that is, there is not. Wu-wei is the most fundamental character of Tao's way of action, precisely because the ultimate designation for Tao is wu, non-being.


The idea of Tao as unspeakable, nameless, and as wu is emphasised in the opening chapter of Lao-tzu, commonly recognised as the most important chapter which presents an outline of the whole book. The chapter begins with this word. Tao that can be spoken of is not the constant Tao. The name that can be named is not the constant name. Wu, or non-being, is the name for the origin of heaven and earth. Yu, being, is the name for the mother of ten thousand things. In its textual history, one finds two different interpretations of the last sentence, depending on two different ways of punctuation. If you like, you might follow with your handouts now.


The ancient reading, as proposed by Wang Di in the 3rd century, joins the first words of the two sentences, wu and yu, with the second word, ming, or name, to read wu-ming and yu-ming, which are translated as nameless and named. Thus the sentence would read, The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things. Wang Anshu, in the 11th century, was the first to put a comma after wu and yu, separating them from the second word, name, which then becomes a verb. Thus the translation runs, Wu, or non-being, is the name for the origin of heaven and earth.


Yu, being, is the name for the mother of ten thousand things. And it's clear that I adopt the second interpretation. However, the two different ways of punctuation and interpretation are not so far apart as they appear to be. Thus, while proposing the ancient reading of wu-ming, nameless, and yu-ming, the named, Wang Di, in his commentary, explains nameless and named precisely in terms of wu and yu, comparing wu to the formless and unnamed, and yu to the formed and named. So actually the two interpretations coincide, at least in the commentary of Wang Di. The idea of wu, or wu in Japanese, and related concepts such as emptiness and void, are basic in Oriental thought, especially in Daoism and Buddhism.


The meaning of wu is highly intriguing, and not easily grasped, especially by Westerners. It undoubtedly has a negative connotation, meaning no, or not having, or non-being. It is not this and not that. As the origin of heaven and earth, Dao cannot be a thing in the way that heaven and earth and the ten thousand things are things. It is no thing in the sense of not being a thing among other things, or a particular object among other objects. It is formless and undifferentiated, but most of us would stop here and miss the more important, the positive aspects of the term wu. For as the origin of all things, wu is not nothingness or emptiness in a purely negative sense.


It has a positive meaning. Wu means the ground of being, or the first principle beneath all being and change. It is the dark, silent, empty ground, which is, however, full of vitality and creativity. It can be compared to the dark and formless maternal womb, which gives life and form to living things. It can also be compared to the soil, which is hidden and undifferentiated, but is capable of nurturing and giving rise to various kinds of plants. It might be described as an immense field covered with snow in winter time. All is white, quiet, empty, and seemingly motionless and lifeless. But in springtime, it is able to sprout forth into a glorious meadow covered with a variety of flowers.


In order to point out the positive meaning of wu, Lanzi designates Tao as both wu and yu. Wu is the name for the origin of heaven and earth. Yu is the name for the mother of ten thousand things. Wu can be likened to the empty field covered with snow in winter. While yu is the same field which becomes in spring a green meadow covered with lovely flowers. Inasmuch as it is the undifferentiated, formless origin of all things, Tao is wu. Inasmuch as it is what gives birth to the universe, Tao is yu. Wu and yu, not being and being, are but the two sides of the same coin, the hiddenness and manifestation of Tao.


Tao becomes yu when it gives birth to and is manifested in ten thousand things in nature. Hence, nature is the manifestation of the hidden Tao. Chapter One of Lao Tzu continues. Therefore, by constantly viewing wu, one wishes to contemplate Tao's subtlety. By constantly viewing yu, one wishes to contemplate its manifestation. The two come from the same source, having different names. They are both called mystery, or shuan, mystery upon mystery, the gateway to all subtlety. The two here which come from the same source means wu and yu. They are both called mystery, or better, they are the two aspects, hidden and manifest, of one and the same mystery, which is Tao.


Wang Di's description of the mystery as something dark, silent, and void is most pertinent. The same pair of terms, wu and yu, also appears in Chapter 40 of Lao Tzu. All things in the world are born of yu, being. Yu is born of wu, not being. Note the paradox. Yu is born of wu. Wang Di comments, all things in the world come from being, and the origin of being is based on non-being. If one wishes to attain the fullness of being, one must return to non-being. Wang Di is considered one of the major Chinese philosophers for his special contribution of emphasising the idea of wu in Taoism.


The concepts of wu, non-being, and yu, being, are central to Lao Tzu's thought. This centrality is already pointed out by Zhuang Fu, who states that Lao Fu built his system upon the principle of eternal wu and eternal yu, and centred it upon the idea of great oneness. The idea of Tao as nameless and wu finds resonance in the Christian concept of God. Scripture tells us that God dwells in unapproachable light, 1 Timothy 6.16, and that no one has ever seen God, John 1.18. According to the so-called negative theology, or the apathetic tradition, apathetic literally means beyond speech,


God is described as silent, hidden, and incomprehensible. Among the early fathers of the Church, Origen can be considered the father of the apathetic tradition, but it was Gregory of Nyssa, one of the three Cappadocian fathers, who developed the idea of the incomprehensibility of God. In his famous book, Life of Moses, Gregory describes the three stages of Moses' progressive meeting with God, through the light, through the clouds, and through the darkness. The light refers to the burning bush from which God first spoke to Moses. The clouds and the darkness refer to Moses' two successive ascents to Mount Sinai, where he was leading the people of Israel through the desert toward the Promised Land.


This order of progression from light to darkness is directly opposite to what we would normally expect, that is, a progression from darkness to light, from obscurity to clarity. In one of his homilies on the Song of Songs, Gregory sums up Moses' spiritual journey toward God in this word. God's manifestation to the great Moses began with light, after which he spoke through a cloud. Having risen higher and having become more perfect, Moses saw God in darkness. Gregory continues to give the following explanation. Here is a long quotation. By this example, we learn that our withdrawal from false, deceptive ideas of God is a transition from darkness into light.


Next, a more careful understanding of hidden things leads the soul through appearances to God's hidden nature, which is symbolized by a cloud overshadowing all appearances and which little by little accustoms the soul to behold what is hidden. Finally, the soul is led on high, forsaking what human nature can attain. The soul enters within the sanctuary of divine knowledge, where she is hemmed in on all sides by the divine darkness. The soul forsakes everything without, that is, appearances and ideas. The only thing left for her contemplation is the invisible and incomprehensible in which God dwells. Scripture says of the lawgiver, Moses entered into the darkness where God was.


Commentary on the psalm, chapter 11. To pass into darkness is to pass into the awareness of the incomprehensibility of God. Here there is seeing by not seeing, and knowing by unknowing. And the reason why is the absolute incomprehensibility of God. This apathetic tradition was brought to its height by Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th century monk, probably from Syria. Chapter 1 of his famous book, Mystical Theology, deals with the topic, what is the divine darkness? Dionysius states that the mysteries of God abide in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence, and that God is beyond all seeing and knowledge.


In the concluding chapter of the book, Dionysius affirms that the supreme cause of all things cannot be spoken of, and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It falls neither within the predicates of non-being nor of being. It is beyond assertion and denial. Here we almost hear an echo of the opening chapter of Lao Tzu, that Tao is unspeakable and unnameable. It is Wu as well as Yu. But Dionysius even goes further by saying that God is beyond non-being and being, beyond assertion and denial. Through the Latin translations of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius, the same apathetic tradition was transmitted into the Western Church.


As an heir to this apathetic tradition in the West, Thomas Aquinas came to the conclusion that the highest human knowledge of God is the humble recognition that we do not know him. This is not only because of our present condition, but is based on the nature of God, who is beyond the comprehension of any created intellect, human or angelic, here on earth or in heaven. Whereas the above theologians stress the incomprehensibility of God, Meister Eckhart, a Dominican of the 14th century, comes even closer to Lao Tzu's idea of Wu when he designates the hidden Godhead as an absolutely simple, undifferentiated ground, undefined by any forms or attributes. He also calls this abysmal ground a quiet desert.


He uses the terms bulitio and ebulitio, literally means boiling or breaking out, to describe the coming forth of the divine person and the creation from the hidden Godhead. At times, Eckhart depicts the Godhead as distinct from or beyond the divine person, as the ground giving rise to them. This idea of a Godhead distinct from the divine person brought him into trouble and constituted one of the reasons for his condemnation by the Church. However, Eckhart, especially in his Latin works, he wrote in Latin and in German, Middle German, Eckhart also has a different formulation. In a number of texts, he identifies the hidden ground precisely with the Father, the first person of the Trinity, who, as the source of the Godhead, gives origin to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.


This second formulation is certainly in line with the Church's doctrine of the Holy Trinity, especially as taught by the Greek Fathers. By the way, the condemnation of Eckhart after his death was a highly complicated matter involving politics as well as doctrinal reasons. Recently, there have been various attempts at Eckhart's rehabilitation or lifting of the condemnation on the part of contemporary theologians. They defend the basic orthodoxy of Eckhart, and we hope that the rehabilitation will come soon. Just as Tao contains the complementary aspects of Wu and Yu, the Christian God is also both hidden and manifest. According to common patristic teaching based on the scriptures, the Father is the hidden source of the Godhead, utterly silent and incomprehensible.


The Son, on the other hand, is the manifestation of the Father. He is the image of the invisible God. As the world born of the eternal silence of the Father, the Son reveals the secret thoughts of the Father. Irenaeus, one of the early Fathers of the Church, describes the Son as what becomes visible of the invisible Father. The Son reveals the Father first through the creation. Just as the Son of the world is the image of the Father, so the world is created after the pattern of the Word of God. The revelation of the Father through the creation reached its summit in the mystery of the Incarnation, when the Son of God became human, so that in him we can see the human face of the hidden God.


For this reason, John states at the conclusion of the Prologue to his Gospel, No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son who is close to the Father's bosom, who has made him known. The same evangelist also recalls the words of Jesus' farewell discourse at the last supper with the disciples. In answer to Philip's request to show them the Father, Jesus replied, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? We have discussed the twofold aspect of Thou as Who and You, and its affinity with the Christian concept of the hidden Father who manifests himself through the Son. Let me continue to examine another related twofold aspect of Thou.


Thou is called mystery, or mystery upon mystery, which is at once transcendent and immanent. Transcendent means God is above creation. Immanent means at the same time he is within creation. The transcendent character of Thou can be seen in the description given in chapter 25 of Laufer, referred to at the beginning of his talk. There was something undifferentiated and complete, which existed before heaven and earth. Silent and void, it stands alone and does not change. But the transcendent Thou is also inherent in all things, both small and great, at once manifesting and concealing itself in them. In order to express the immanent aspect of Thou, Laufer employs another term,


the term of Dao, which can be translated as virtue or power, and is dealt with in the second half of the Dao De Jing. The title of Dao De Jing actually means the book of Thou and its Dao, that's by Dao De Jing. Dao is the manifestation of Dao through its presence and operation in things. For this reason, Dao is said to be the dwelling place of Dao. This means that Dao is Dao dwelling in particular objects. By using a cognate word, that is, a different Chinese character with the same pronunciation, meaning to obtain, Dao can be defined as what an individual object obtains from Dao and thereby becomes what it is. In other words, Dao is the particular way an individual object participates in the being and power of the universal Dao,


and thus becomes that particular object. In the Dao De Jing, Dao is depicted as the mother nurturing all things. The Tlaustu says, According to this passage, Dao is the maternal character of Dao. It would be interesting to compare Dao and Da to Wu and Yu. Whereas in Chapter 1, Tlaustu designates Wu as the origin of heaven and earth, and Yu as the mother of ten thousand things.


Here, Dao is compared to the origin which gives life. Here, I mean in Chapter 51, Dao is compared to the origin which gives life, and Da to the mother who bestows maternal care on the ten thousand things coming forth from Dao. Therefore, Dao and Da correspond to Wu and Yu in Tlaustu. Like Dao, the Christian God is immanent as well as transcendent. God who dwells in unapproachable light is also, in the words of St. Augustine, nearer to me than myself. While all three divine persons are transcendent immanence in the world, each one bears this character in a distinct manner. The Father remains the hidden source and transcendent ground of the Godhead, even in his immanence.


While creatures cannot exist apart from their source and ground, the undifferentiated divine ground, which is the Father, always retains its dark, silent, and empty character of a mystery. The Son, on the other hand, while abiding permanently in the hidden ground of the Father, is God's outgoing self-communication or self-manifestation to the world in creation and in the history of salvation. The Holy Spirit is the inner bond of love, uniting the Father and the Son, as well as their breath, which permeates and animates all things in the universe. The Spirit is like the maternal care of God that sustains, shelters, nurtures, and transforms all human beings and the entire creation.


Earlier, I have compared Wu and Zhu to the Father and Son of the Christian God. Here, I would prefer to liken the Father and the Spirit to Dao and De in Lao Tzu. Just as De is described as the power, the dwelling place, and the maternal care of Dao, in the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit is also linked to the ideas of the power of God, the idea of indwelling, and to the feminine, maternal aspects of God. We have presented Lao Tzu's ideas of Wu and Zhu, Dao and De. We must now discuss the ideas of Yin and Yang in Lao Tzu. The only explicit mention of this concept in Lao Tzu is found in chapter 42.


The first section of the chapter is fundamental for Lao Tzu's cosmogony, or the origin of the world. It begins, Ten thousand things carry Yin and embrace Yang, deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the twofold Qi, that is, breath or vital force. The meaning of this text is especially obscure. Based on the explanation of a Chinese scholar, Su Ma Guang, in the 11th century, which is adopted by a number of contemporary scholars also, I would present the following interpretation regarding the process of Dao giving birth to all things in the world.


You may look at your paper. According to Su Ma Guang, Dao gives birth to one, means, The idea of Wu non-being giving birth to Yu, as we have seen, is stated in chapter 40 also. And this idea is also attested by Zhuang Fu. Now we continue with the second sentence.


Yu, being born from Wu, further differentiates into the twofold Qi, or breath, that is, Yin and Yang, Yin Qi and Yang Qi. One or Yu here stands for Qi, which means breath or vital force. That Yin and Yang are matched to be Qi can be inferred from the following sentence of the chapter, 10,000 things carry Yin and embrace Yang, deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the twofold Qi. So the term Qi is explicitly mentioned in this passage. Su Ma Guang continues, And this stage is said to be three, because it is the outcome of the harmonious joining together of the previous two, Yin and Yang.


As the text goes on, The text continues, All things are not only originated from the harmonious blending of Qi, but continuously depend on the proper interaction of Yin and Yang. That's important in Daoist thought. Everything depends on this harmony between Yin and Yang, both for their origin and for their continual existence. In this passage, One or Yu, which is begotten by Wu, stands for Qi before its differentiation. Qi is a basic concept in Chinese thought, both in Confucianism and Daoism, which signifies a life-giving force circulating in human bodies and the entire universe.


Originating from Dao, Qi vivifies, unifies, and transforms humans and the material world into a cosmic body of universal harmony. The triadic dimension of the origin of all things according to the Daoist metaphysical vision as given in this passage is in fact based on two dials, Wu and Yu on the one hand, and Yin and Yang on the other. That is, Dao as Wu gives birth to Yu, which further differentiates into Yin and Yang. This Daoist view of a double dial finds a similar pattern in the Trinitarian theology of a well-known contemporary theologian, namely Karl Branner. The first dial, Wu and Yu, corresponds to the idea of the hidden mystery and its self-communication to the world.


Branner presents God the Father as the mystery that communicates himself to the world while remaining silent and hidden in the communication itself. Just as in Laozi's vision, Yu further differentiates into Yin and Yang, the second dial, God's self-communication to the world, which corresponds to Yu, is accomplished through a twofold mode, that is, through the word, or the logos, and the spirit. According to Karl Branner, the word designates God's offer in truth, but in order that this offer may be accepted by humans, God simultaneously bestows his spirit on us, which as response in love, enables us to accept God's offer through the word.


So the word and the spirit always work together in God's offer of himself to the world. Just as Yin and Yang, the two complementary elements, are always joined together. While Yang stands for the masculine, active, strong, and well-defined, Yin denotes the feminine, responsive, subtle, and pervasive. Thus Yang can be compared to the words, or the logos, as God's self-communication through his offer in truth, and Yin to the spirit as God's self-communication through responsive love. In this way, we find a fitting correspondence between the Taoist triad and the Christian trinity, both being formed by double dials. On the Taoist side, we have Wu and Yu, which becomes Yin and Yang, and Yu becomes Yin and Yang.


And regarding the Christian trinity, we find the hidden mystery of the Father and his self-communication, so as Wu and Yu. And this self-communication is carried out through the words and the spirit, the Yang and the Yin. Before concluding my talk, I would like to point out a major difficulty in comparing Tao with the Christian idea of God. Tao is generally considered to be impersonal. As a result, Tao's production of the world is understood in terms of a natural process rather than as creation through a voluntary or purposeful act. This certainly constitutes the basic difference between Taoist philosophy and the Christian view.


However, the difficulty concerning an impersonal God is not as insurmountable as it might appear to be. Along with personal names such as Father, Savior, King, Shepherd, Christians also employ non-personal categories to designate God, such as light, life, love, breath, water, fire, rock, etc. If God is beyond all being and knowledge, as Pseudo-Dionysius states, we might say that God is beyond personal and impersonal, or he is transpersonal, just as he is personal. As we have seen, Laozi insistently presents Tao as nameless, incomprehensible, and unspeakable.


As both Wu and Yu, Tao is beyond being and non-being. How, then, can one so confidently affirm that Tao is impersonal, that is, devoid of consciousness and intelligence? Faithful to the apophatic tradition of Laozi, it would be more advisable to maintain that the mysterious Tao is beyond personal and impersonal. It is rather transpersonal. Religious Taoism would probably have no difficulty with this line of thinking. As a matter of fact, popular religious Taoism venerates a Taoist trinity and honors Lao Tzu as the embodiment of Tao. In conclusion, in this talk we have reflected on the different appellations of the nameless Tao, as Tao and the, Wu and Yu, Yin and Yang, the mystery, origin, and mother of all things.


You probably have noticed the prominence of the feminine in the various aspects of Tao. Lao Tzu not only insists on the constant interaction between Yin and Yang in the whole universe, but also presents the as bestowing maternal care on ten thousand things in the world. Moreover, even the hidden Tao considered as Wu has a prevalently feminine character. It is understood as the maternal ground giving birth to all things. In the Christian concept of God, on the other hand, we find the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I have pointed out the feminine character of the Spirit by comparing her to the Yin and the De of Tao. But the remaining two persons have masculine names.


Following the Christian tradition, which was initiated by Jesus himself, I agree that we should call God our Father. But I also think that we should remember that God the Father is also a mother to us. Dialogue with Taoism should remind us of the feminine aspect of God so that we may have a more balanced idea of God.