Friday, September 20, 2013

489: How to understand Daoism

After briefly reviewing various modern understandings and interpretations of Tao, we find countless divergent theories. This raises many questions: 

Is Tao metaphysical in the traditional sense? 
Is it cosmic or ontic? 
Transcendent or immanent? 
Substance or principle? 
Matter or idea? 
Objective or normative? 
Mysterious or natural? 
Entity or symbol? 
Reality or vision? 
Humanistic or naturalist? 
Religious or philosophical? 
Among all these different and opposing positions, each side has its supporters. This fact suggests that none of our modern Western philosophical concepts is a good match for Lao Zi’s Tao,
though each one may be apt or suitable for specific aspects – and that to certain degrees, as Xiaogan Liu, whom I referred to in my previous lecture, writes.

This puts me philosophically is a difficult position, if you only recall my previous projects on the philosophy of mind and the importance of neurobiological phenomena to understand the mind.

Do I lack the language to speak about Chinese thought and in particular Taoism? Maybe, maybe not. To understand our philosophical position here, we can ask the question:

This way of thinking, this way of using language, is this unique for Taoism? The answer is simply NO. It has been with us from the very beginning of mankind. We even can give is a name: Mysticism.

Mystical experience is a major form of religious experience, but hard to define.  Some of the definitions of mysticism advanced by Western writers are:

“Mysticism is the immediate feeling of the unity of the self with God”,  “Mysticism is that attitude of mind in which all relations are swallowed up in the relation of the soul to God”; 

“True mysticism is the consciousness  that everything that we experience is an element and only an element in fact, i.e. that in being what it is, it is symbolic of something else” 

Clearly these definitions ascribe religious and philosophical interpretation to the phenomenon of mysticism,

but they don't cover all mystical theories. Buddhism, for instance, has no god in its metaphysical interpretation of man and reality.

You could recognize two kinds of mystics. On the one hand you have those who claim to make an immediate contact with the Transcendent,

which means  making contact with something that is beyond simple sensory experience. Examples of this are Old Testament prophets or Muhammad.

The other kind of mystics are those who claim to speak based on an inner illumination. Names here are for instance Meister Eckhart and Buddha.

Mystics of the second kind  feel that their experience is somehow timeless, that it involves an apprehension of the transcendent (of some thing, state, or person lying beyond the realm of things), that it gives them bliss or serenity, and that it normally is achieved by self-mastery and contemplation.

Within our philosophical context, which is outlined by a number of my previous projects, we can study Taoism, because it has been a historical phenomenon, that had an influence on Chinese culture and still exists, also in our culture.

but it leaves me with one nagging question. All these theories are based on very old books, Old testament, Koran, Tao-T-Jing, I-Ching and so on.

Why aren't there any mystics today anymore? Why did they only exist in those old days?

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Routledge History of World Philosophies, vol 3, History of Chinese Philosophy (2009)
An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy - Karyn L. Lai, Oxford 2008
Chinese Philosophy, P. Carus, 1902
A Brief History of chinese Philosophy. D.T. Suzuki, 1914

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: Thank you :-))
[13:22] herman Bergson: You seem mystified :-))
[13:22] Corronach: no. :)
[13:22] Corronach: i'm surprised you think there aren't any mystics today.
[13:22] .: Beertje :.: yes I often wondered that too..why are there no such people these days
[13:22] Corronach: i seem to meet a lot of people who believe they are "mystics"
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:22] Corronach: the difficulty, i think, is the terminology
[13:23] herman Bergson: Oh yes Corronach
[13:23] Corronach: to be a mystic, i think, seems to be a very subjective experience.
[13:23] Corronach: you don't really test people if they tell you they have had a particular spiritual experience, for example
[13:23] Corronach: you can't really know whether they are a mystic or not.
[13:23] Corronach: so anyone can take that title.
[13:23] herman Bergson: There are two issues here related to your remark Corronach...
[13:24] oola Neruda: and if they do... they are often ostracized or considered "incorrect"....
[13:24] oola Neruda: a fanatic
[13:24] herman Bergson: mystic al experiences as pure subject experiences...ok....but if you take the Tao Te Jing, the bible the koran....
[13:24] Corronach: that's true oola, or branded with "mental health issues" and thus the spirituality of their experience is minimized.
[13:24] herman Bergson: they are based on such experiences and have great social impact..also historically
[13:25] oola Neruda: nods
[13:25] herman Bergson: the second thing is....
[13:25] Corronach: true herman, but one can still see "miracles" take place in various churches, if you have the courage to go there.
[13:26] Corronach: the "miracles" i mention are just as significant as ones in the bible, for example, yet they don't get the same notice as those.
[13:26] herman Bergson: all those special non sensory experiences which mystics claim to have can be induced by manipulating the brain magnetically and electronically
[13:26] Corronach: yes, i believe that too
[13:26] oola Neruda: i think the leaders of various ways of thoughts have a stand that this is the correct way... and other ways are not good... so to bring up another dangerous in a way... and put down
[13:26] oola Neruda: excommunication is an example
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes oola...but now we call it a political movement I guess
[13:27] herman Bergson: and we call the leader charismatic....
[13:27] oola Neruda: my spiritual experience is the only true one
[13:27] .: Beertje :.: in the old days people didn't know as much as we do about every thing was mystic for them
[13:28] Corronach: that's a good point Beertje
[13:28] Corronach: much can be explained now
[13:28] herman Bergson: Yes Beertje and that is the philosophical problem we are facing now
[13:28] Corronach: in very non mystic terms :)
[13:29] herman Bergson: People said to me...isn't it all about religion? That is no philosophy...
[13:29] herman Bergson: Well we have reached that point  now by focusing on mysticism...
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: its complex stuff in a way this mysticism
[13:30] oola Neruda: many of the "old books" were "revelations from God"... and we do not see much of that any more
[13:30] herman Bergson: no oola....and that is a problem to me
[13:30] oola Neruda: dogma
[13:31] herman Bergson: besides that I am a philosopher from the Anglo - American school...
[13:31] herman Bergson: Several authors say that our concepts dont fit those of the Chinese philosophy
[13:31] oola Neruda: but people who would have "revelations" would be considered mentally unsound now
[13:32] herman Bergson: I didn't want to say it aloud oola....but all those people who hear voices and get commands....
[13:32] oola Neruda: nods
[13:32] herman Bergson: So here are we in 2013 and we look at thinking of 2000 years ago.....
[13:33] herman Bergson: this has two aspects.....
[13:33] herman Bergson: most of Chinese thought id focused on ethics....
[13:33] herman Bergson: That we can understand....
[13:33] oola Neruda: where/when they had a vital need for laws and a way to have social interactions for safety
[13:33] herman Bergson: yes...
[13:34] herman Bergson: But Taoism has also a metaphysical component...
[13:34] herman Bergson: And what am I going to do with that, that is the challenge for me
[13:35] herman Bergson: Well, you can be witness of my philosophical struggle ^_^
[13:36] oola Neruda: what kind of God might Einstein have
[13:36] oola Neruda: and would people nowadays accept that
[13:36] herman Bergson: Let's answer "Good question, oola" :-))
[13:36] Bejiita Imako:
[13:36] herman Bergson: But you are right...
[13:36] herman Bergson: oola
[13:37] herman Bergson: and what about the mystics Corronach refers to?
[13:37] herman Bergson: the prophets, Muhammed Buddha had authority....
[13:37] oola Neruda: direct revelation
[13:37] herman Bergson: their ideas prevailed in several cultures...
[13:37] oola Neruda: who will argue with God
[13:38] herman Bergson: As you see....the old ideas now lead to interesting and challenging questions
[13:39] herman Bergson: I hear you all thinking :-)
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: hehe'
[13:40] herman Bergson: Does anyone has a remark or question at this moment?
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:40] oola Neruda: perhaps empiricism has displaced faith completely
[13:40] herman Bergson: hmmm...
[13:41] herman Bergson: a standard subject during my study at the university was the analytical debate on the difference and relation between knowledge and belief
[13:42] herman Bergson: when is something called knowledge and when belief....
[13:42] herman Bergson: Now we say that science is our knowledge of the world....
[13:42] herman Bergson: but what about our beliefs?
[13:43] herman Bergson: In the old days a lot of beliefs were written down and regarded as knowledge...
[13:43] herman Bergson: It doesn't work this way anymore...
[13:43] herman Bergson: unless you look at sects like scientology and the like
[13:44] herman Bergson: Well...
[13:44] herman Bergson: maybe the study of Taoism can shed some light on the question "What to do with our beliefs?"
[13:45] herman Bergson: I guess I have fried your brains enough now ^_^
[13:45] Corronach: hehe
[13:45] .: Beertje :.: you did..yes
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: haha yes
[13:46] .: Beertje :.: i need time to think it over
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: does someone have some liquid nitrogen?
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:46] oola Neruda: whomever said that definitions of words was important... i agree with
[13:46] herman Bergson: Oh me too Beertje....a lot of time :-)
[13:46] .: Beertje :..: Beertje :. smiles
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: a lot to think about, interesting, need to check up mysticism in general to get the concept a bit more
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: how it works
[13:47] herman Bergson: Good Bejiita....
[13:47] Bejiita Imako:
[13:47] Corronach: thanks for the discussion
[13:47] herman Bergson: May I then thank you all for your participation.
[13:47] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ^_^
[13:47] Bejiita Imako:
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: ok cu soon all
[13:47] Corronach: Nectanebus and i will try to be here on Tuesday
[13:47] oola Neruda: one can look at the belief that all things are an aspect of God... we are all part of each other
[13:47] .: Beertje :.: thank you Herman
[13:47] oola Neruda: and call it mystical
[13:47] Bejiita Imako:
[13:47] Corronach whispers: thank you :)
[13:48] oola Neruda: then particle physics proves it...
[13:48] oola Neruda: fact
[13:48] oola Neruda: all in the definitions

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