RE-THINKING THINKING XXI

[YESTERDAY’S POST MIGHT HAVE BEEN LOST IN THE ETHER; IT CAN BE FOUND ON THE BLOG SITE.]

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The question of what is of Nature and what is of humanity is an important one in classical Chinese philosophy which mostly concerned itself with finding a dao (guidance) that could ensure the greatest social and personal harmony. Can principles be discovered in Nature that will provide a “constant” dao? Or is it up to humanity to formulate its own? The Daodejing (1) tells us that a Constant (Heavenly) Dao, cannot be articulated thus rendering every dao a merely human and therefore relative dao. Yet we are also told that at a higher level these two are one. We quote the first chapter in its entirety:

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The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant way;
The name that can be named
Is not the constant name.
The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;
The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.
These two are the same
But diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery—
The gateway of the manifold secrets (Lau).

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The mystery of inexplicable Dao, though it relativizes the language-bound daos of humanity, does not negate the value and affirmability of human daos or of language; it merely re-embeds them in Mystery and thereby renders them equally mystery. The use of language (like “desires”) is thus completely endorsed. Only it is now informed by Mystery and must therefore understand itself as also mystery and in this sense as incoherent, that is, not capable of articulating a constant and unchanging dao.

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