A speech by Lu Wenrong, Vice President of Chinese Taoist Association, President of the Taoist Association of Hai nan Province,Abbot of Yuchan Gong Temple, Hainan, PRC.
Respected Chairman,ladies and gentlemen
A traditional religion rooted in the ancient history of China, Taoism yet remains in step with the spirit of this conference throughout. On the one hand, deeply concerned for the reality of a society sometimes full of conflict and violence; and on the other hand, resolutely dedicated to pursuing the ideal of Natural Unity that results in harmony between people and between humankind and nature.
For over a thousand years, from our predecessors in Taoist cultivation to our Taoist brethren of today, we have been following the earnest teachings of the Daodejing, which says, “Blunt the sharpness; Untangle the knots; Soften the glare; Let your wheels move only along old ruts. This is known as Natural Unity.” Blunting sharpness and untangling knots, softening the glare and raising no dust - this teaching passed down from our Ancestral Master encourages us to look upon reality with a gaze that transcends it, seeking possible ways to dissolve conflict. The ideal of the harmonious world of Natural Unity springs forth from the resolved conflicts of the real world, like a cicada shedding its old skin, and gaining new life. In our religion, transcendence from the everyday to the ideal is not only an obligation, it is seen as a genuine possibility, made possible by our combined efforts directed towards a common goal.
We know that we live in the same world, and can only live in the same world. This fact that usually goes without saying gives rise to the tension of civilization unique to humankind. On the one hand, because we can only live together in the same world, problems may occur around the issues of resources, territory and so on, conflict and even violence arises. Sometimes it seems as if there is not enough resources and space to go around to meet the needs of humankind, as if the world were too small for us. On the other hand, also because we can only live together in the same world, one cannot ever leave it, and neither can anyone else be pushed off of it, and so we needs must find some way to co-exist, we must transcend the urge towards conflict and violence. Doing so allows the brilliance of human ingenuity and willpower that is unique to us to shine through, the world grows in its capacity for existence and life. Therefore, as long as we are concerned with the real world, we will necessarily find that the existence of conflict and violence that leads people to point weapons at each other is a constant and ubiquitous possibility. The choice that we must make is to withdraw the beams of our ambition, to respect the different states of existence and characters of all things. By dedicating ourselves tirelessly to finding ways to make peace, heading towards a goal of achieving a state of Natural Unity, to resolve the complex layers of conflict and violence. It is only in this sense that we can truly understand that humankind has a shared fate, and the most essential meaning of civilization should be to constantly work towards building and improving ways of coexistence.
Humankind has invented many excellent methods to finding ways of coexistence – science and technology increases the value of resources, expands the space that we live in and constantly relieves the tensions of resources and space. Law and politics, by establishing order, have their own value in revealing a way of coexistence; a shared community with effective law and order can effectively control conflict and violence, and allow resources and space to be sensibly used. However, at the same time we are very clear that these methods – science and technology, law and order, that could be used for such means, have the characteristics of instrumental reason, they can be used for good or for evil. For example, science and technology, which in many cases is used for the good of humankind, is yet occasionally used to create weapons that bring destruction. Even though law and order, in the vast proportion of situations and times brings order to human society, it cannot be denied that at some points in history, law and politics have been used as an axle by which to skew the fortunes of the whole of society, leading to many problems. These lessons and experiences from the history of civilization ought to make us ever more convinced that before the instrumental reason of such tools, it is necessary for there to be a bright, guiding light of rational values to show us the way, so that we may consider how these tools should be used and to what ends. Religious conviction has been passed down throughout history as just such a guiding light of substantive rationality. Therefore, from a historic point of view, the present day is a continuation of history, the responsibility and meaning passed on to religion in the present day should be to, as this conference shows, pass on and spread afar substantive rationality.
As for my own Taoist religious beliefs, inheriting substantive rationality and seeking ways to resolve conflict means, in the first place, being fully aware of the shared fate of humankind, and secondly encouraging that common fate, the direction we choose is that of Natural Unity, rather than seeking to conquer through the logic of competition.
It is not a complex matter to perceive the common fate of humankind from an emotional perspective. There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes, “We all share the same heart, and the heart shares the same principles”. The heart that is sympathetic, empathetic, has been traditionally viewed in China as the part of human nature endowed by Heaven, their celestial nature. As long as a person can preserve this celestial nature, they will naturally resonate with the shared fate of humankind. Theoretically speaking, on the matter of the communal fate of humankind, various religious traditions offer us amazingly rich and diverse resources to consider, forging our celestial nature and emotions, raising it up to become a solid idea. The Thirty-fourth chapter of the Daodejing expresses this idea in Taoist terms, “The way is broad, reaching left as well as right. The myriad creatures depend on it for life yet it claims no authority. It accomplishes its task yet lays claim to no merit. It clothes and feeds the myriad creatures yet lays no claim to being their master. For ever free of desire, it can be called small; Yet as it lays no claim to being master when the myriad creatures turn to it, it can be called great.”This is an expression from a classic text that inspires our faith, ever since those ancient times, we have maintained the steady belief that the creative power of the Great Tao moves ceaselessly through the creation of the ten thousand things. Regardless of the revolution of the Earth, the rotation of the stars, the cycles of sun and moon…the motions of every kind in the vast universe seem like the parts of a great clockwork movement, but for those of us with religious beliefs, the reason for the movement of the planet and stars is that they have received the energies of Yin and Yang that form a state of mutual attraction and tension. The reason that the planets and stars rotate is that the attraction and tension between Yin and Yang holds within it the potential for creation and life, whilst life itself is a product of the creative potential of the universe. Setting out from this religious perspective, not only does humankind have a shared fate, in fact we are enjoined in a shared fate with the sun, the moon, the stars, Heaven and Earth, all things on this planet including ourselves! Hence, the ancient sage of China, Zhang Zai, said, “All men are my brothers, and all other creations too”.
Seeing that all of humanity are our brothers and sisters, and all things in creation are as one with us, we find no impediment to understanding the establishment and protection of our shared human fate whether in terms of emotional or theoretical aspects. Whilst the truth is that the conflict and violence that exists within the human race is ubiquitous. In terms of establishing and protecting our shared fate, this disparity between the ideal and reality has a subtle yet meaningful implication. Observing such disparity, and inferring the greater picture from a detail, may perhaps be the attraction of considered dialogue, and an essential lesson in establishing the shared fate of humankind.
In the history of Chinese civilization, the two traditions of the Confucians and the Taoists has gone hand in hand, in terms of theory and thought they act each to make up for the other’s deficiencies, which in Chinese is customarily called “Confucians and Taoists helping each other out”. However, on the matter of how to establish the shared fate of humanity, the two schools of thought hold subtly different opinions. The Confucian Classic, The Great Learning, says that if one wishes to bring peace to the world, that is to realize the lofty state of the shared fate of humankind, one must begin with earnest personal cultivation. Only if the starting point is approached earnestly and with genuine commitment will the path and its goal be reached directly without straying off track. If “the orders do not agree with one’s preferences”, that is that the call to action is at odds with internal ideas, no matter how loudly the call to action is made, “the people will not follow it”, in that case, the call to action may well instead become a cause for social revolt. One should begin with earnest personal cultivation as a basis, and gradually bring order to one’s family, one’s country, and the whole world. Doubtlessly, this is a means of ethical conversion very different to conquest by military power. There are two differences, the first being that benevolent love and virtue are very different to cruel violence; the second being that promoting benevolence and virtue requires people to respect the existing structure and order of society, including personal, familial, national and global concerns. To conquer by martial power is to rely only on the drawing up of domains, usually with no concern for the established structure and order of society.
Whether to adopt the strategy of conquering through military power or by promoting virtue to realize the shared fate of humankind may perhaps be the point at which civilization and savagery part ways. The Confucian preference for benevolence and virtue in fact represents an essential character of Chinese civilization. However, the Confucian tradition takes personal ethical cultivation as the basis from which the whole of society may be gradually influenced, this entails the issue of taking specific experiences as universal principles. How can we know that personal ethical cultivation can influence and be suited to the whole world? How can we know that it will naturally lead to the realization of these ethics on a familial, national and global scale? These may be questions that the Confucians find it difficult to answer.
The Taoist approach can help the Confucian tradition resolve these problems. Chapter Fifty-four of the Daodejing says, “Cultivate it in your person and its virtue will be genuine; Cultivate it in the family and its virtue will be more than sufficient; Cultivate it in the hamlet and its virtue will endure; Cultivate it in the state and its virtue will abound; Cultivate it in the empire and its virtue will be pervasive. Hence look at the person through the person; Look at the family through the family; Look at the hamlet through the hamlet; Look at the state through the state; Look at the empire through the empire. How do I know that the empire is like that?By means of this. ”From the personal, to the familial, from the local to the national and on to the global scale, Taoists also respect the established structure and order of society. We also perceive ethical cultivation to be a basic requirement. However, the Taoist approach is not to promote specific means of ethical cultivation as a universal mode of ethics, but rather to begin with a person’s true interpretation of ethics, and to seek evidence of it at each level of society. If the ethics that one perceives can also be evidenced at the level of immediate and distant family, it goes to show that it is effective and not limited to the one level of society; if it can be evidenced at a local level, it goes to show that that system of ethics can be carried on and will not be short-lived; if it can be evidenced at a national level, it goes to show that the ethics are rich and not restricted; and if they may be evidenced on a global scale, it goes to show that that system of ethics is universal, and applicable to the global society as a whole. The existence of a virtue that is universally applicable allows us to form the idea of “all under Heaven”. As the classic says, “How do I know that the empire is like that? By means of this.” Otherwise, based upon the many disparities between different people and their different environments, if everyone had special circumstances, how would we come to conceive of the idea of the entire world?
Seeking after the universal is undoubtedly the direction of the Taoist faith and spirit. And the truly universal can only be discovered from the vast perspective of observing the world by observing the world. When we look at the world through the world, rather than from the specific perspective of the individual, we find that the humankind has a shared fate, in the sense of Natural Unity.
Natural Unity means to transcend the limiting restrictions of the individual and see the greater world. In this state each of us can become like the magical creatures in Zhuangzi’s Free and Easy Wandering chapter, the giant fish and the giant bird that wander freely and easily about Heaven and Earth, we need not be distracted by the smaller creatures, who remain in their small forests and laugh at those who travel further than they ever will. Zhuangzi, the ancient Sage of Taoism created this popular fable and said, “Therefore a man who has wisdom enough to fill one office effectively, good conduct enough to impress one community, virtue enough to please one ruler, or talent enough to be called into service in one state, has the same kind of self-pride as these little creatures.” Those who cannot put aside their own limits are like the small creatures in the fable, who at the end of the day are unable to fly like the giant bird, and moreover are unable to understand and appreciate the original state of the world – freedom and ease, that is a shared community of harmony and order, wherein each of us can live freely.
The state of Natural Unity does not deny the natural development of material civilization, but it also does not rely on its strict conditions. The Mountains and Trees chapter of the Zhuangzi contains another thought-provoking story. It goes that in the South of China there was a country built upon virtue The people who lived there were simple and honest, their selfish desires were few; they worked and did not keep their rewards to themselves, they gave without expecting anything in return; they did not think much about right and wrong, and did not have any particular restrictions or taboos, they acted freely and yet within the bounds of the Tao, supporting the Tao in their actions. I learned what I know of Taoism, and live at Yuchan Gong Temple in Hainan, which is also in the South of China. All of us Taoist brethren there seek to inherit the spirit of the kingdom built upon virtue, inheriting the traditions of the Taoist religion and waiting for the coming of the world of Natural Unity.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely invite each religious leader present to visit Yuchan Gong temple as our guest at their convenience. Thank you!