Lecture 16 – Daoism (the teaching of the dao)
-The identification of a religion called “Daoism” (“Taouism”) appears for the first time in 19 th
century European writings about China.
-This English term was applied to a set of religious actors, ideas, and practices that in
premodern China were variously referred to as daojia (“specialists in/school of the dao”),
daojiao (“teaching of the dao”), and daoshu (“methods of the dao”).
Proto-Daoism: Laozi and DDJ
-As we have seen, “dao” (道) is a central concept in Confucianism.
-There the term refers to the harmonious sociopolitical order of the ancient sage-kings, which
was understood to represent the “way” of Heaven on earth.
-Confucians such as Kongzi and Mengzi argued that through the cultivation of inherent
potential virtue, aidedbytheruleofabenevolentking,humanscould returnto andagain realize
this heavenly dao
- Probably sometime around the 3 century BCE another work on the dao, offering a rather
different perspective, was written —Dao de jing (DDJ) —and attributed to an author named
-This Laozi (“Old Master”or “Old Child”)is regardedbylaterDaoist tradition as thehistorical
founder of the religion.
According to the ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian (145-86 BCE), Laozi lived during the
time of Confucius (c. 6 century BCE) and wrote the DDJ after retiring from government
- However that may rd, there are is no solid evidence for his life, and the DDJ itself would
seem to date the 3 century BCE or thereabouts
- dao “way”; de “virtue” or “power”; jing “classic,” “scripture”
- Many possible translations of the title: “Scripture on the Way and Power,” “Classic on the
Way of Virtue,” “Scripture of the Way and its Virtue,” “Classic on the Way and its Power,”
-Laozi certainly did not envision himself as the founder of a new religious movement, and the
DDJ did not become important for Daoists until well after Daoism had begun to form itself as
an institutionalized religious organization in the later Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE—the
beginnings of Daoism are usually dated c. 2 nd century CE), thus many centuries after Laozi
lived and the DDJ was written It is for this reason that it is best to consider the DDJ as a “proto-Daoist” text.
-It represents ideas and practices that would become influential for the formation of
the Daoist religion.
-And indeed eventually Laozi himself becomes recognized as a major Daoist deity.
Robson likens the relationship of the DDJ to later Daoism as similar to the influence
ancient Greek philosophy had on the d