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 Daoist Philosophers and Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching)

by Joe Hing Kwok Chu

Daoist philosophers are called dao jia (taochia)道家. The word "jia 家" can be translated in English as the suffix "ologists," which means specialists in a certain field of knowledge. Therefore, dao jia means specialist(s) in dao (tao 道).

Dao jia were those philosophers who tried to achieve immortality by improving and maintaining their mental and physical health by using the method of xiu dao.   Method of xiu dao is training to maintain the mind and body using the techniques of meditation (thought manipulation), conscious breathing, movements and posture.

The prominent dao jia scholars of ancient China were Lao Zi (Lao Tse or Lao Tze) (604 BC - unknown) and Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tze)莊子.  Lao Zi was the chief archive librarian of the Zhou dynasty during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋時代.  Zhuang Zi (399-275 BC) lived about two hundred years after Lao Zi. Since the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD), the term "Lao-Zhuang study"老莊之學 (the study of Lao zi and Zhuang Zi), has become synonymous with daoist philosophy.

The dao jia philosopher and writer Zhuang Zi 莊子(399-275 BC) in his works mentioned that "dao is to maintain the body, and ultimately is to maintain the mind." The term for maintaining mind and body has been called "xiu dao, 修道"  as "xiu" means "practise and maintaining."

The representative writing of the dao jia is the book entitled "Dao De Jing" (Tao Te Ching) 道德經 by Lao Zi 老子. This is the most translated Chinese philosophy book and is also the most mistranslated book. Dao jia philosophy and training methods were secrets highly guarded by their practitioners. The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) has been regarded by Chinese scholars as a very profound book, but also one that is very difficult to understand.

Over the centuries, Chinese scholars have argued over what the book was really about.  Some thought it was concerned with the governing tactics of the kings and emperors. Others thought it described military arts. Still others thought it was a spiritual and religious book. Those who really understood the book were those who practised the art of "dao" (tao), the dao jia (dao-ologists). Traditionally, the dao jia would never join the discussion about the book or reveal its meaning because of the vows of secrecy that they had taken before they could be taught the art. Thus, the misunderstanding of the book Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) continues.

The practice of dao (xiu dao) has been deemed as the practice of qigong. The term "qigong" rarely appeared in classical Chinese writings, but became popular after 1960, when  qigong master Liu Gui Zhen 劉貴珍used it in promoting health by using qigong exercises. Qigong was practised by very few people prior to that time because of the practitioners' vows of secrecy. After the 1960's, qigong suddenly became wide spread.

The term qigong has been corrupted today and has been used to refer to any kind of practice of meditation and mild physical exercises. Certain forms of qigong, however, are suspect, arising  from questionable sources and could actually be harmful for health.

Some people think that the original source of qigong is the dao jiao religions  道教. Yet most people, especially Westerners, do not differentiate between the Daoist religion  道教 and the Daoist philosophers 道家 of China. It is true that writings of the dao jiao religions mentioned some thing like qigong training. But dao jiao religions were formed late in the history of China. The earliest dao jiao religion, "Wu Dou Mi Jiao"五斗米教, which literally means "Five Deca-liter of Rice Religion," was formed by Zhang Dao Lin  張道陵during the period of emperor Xun Di of the Later Han Dynasty, about A.D. 126-144. This Five Deca-liter of Rice Religion spread over the provinces of Xanxi and Sichuan. Another dao jiao religion, "Tai Ping Jiao"太平教, literally means "Peace Religion," and was formed by a leader of a revolutionary group, Zhang Jiao 張角. This Peace Religion spread over the provinces of Shandong, Hebei, and Henan. These daoist religions were actually political organizations. The main scripture of these primitive daoist religions was the "Tai Ping Jing 太平經." The content of Tai Ping Jing was very complex. Although its content also covered some  practices like qigong,  the writings on qigong were very ambiguous and mystical, of little significant academic value when compared to a work from the same period, "Cantongqi"参同契, by Wei Bo Yang 魏伯陽.

Wei Bo Yang,  an important medical writer during the Eastern Han dynasty, was one of the Fang Shi, a group of alchemists who appeared in the records of the Qin Dynasty (255 BC-206 BC). The Fang Shi was an important group in qigong development. Another important fang shi and medical writer of the Eastern Jing dynasty (317 AD- 420 AD) is Ge Hong  葛洪 (283 AD - 363 AD), also known as Bao Pu Zi  抱朴子. The book written by Bao Pu Zi on qigong training is also called Bao Pu Z 抱朴子i.


A manuscript... writing, translating and proofreading  in progress


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Last update: Aug 19, 2008;  1:27 p .m. LAH