UNDER HEAVEN XIV

“Unbound by conventions, unadorned by possessions, undemanding of others, not hostile to the mob, purifying the mind with the aspiration that all in the world enjoy peace and security, not stopping until both oneself and others have enough to nourish themselves with . . .”

Song Xing’s Mohist sympathies are reflected in his overt concern for the material betterment of the human world. There will be a clear shift in the author’s description of the aspects of his Dao reflected in the more “Daoist” philosophies as he understands them. These are far more concerned with personal transformation, than societal. Is this a fair assessment?

Superficially, it is. And looked at on this level it gives credence to the author’s primary thesis: that all these daos reflect but one sliver of the True Dao which includes both political action and personal transformation (“Inwardly a sage and outwardly a king.”)

On the other hand, this view seems to miss the paradoxical Daoist strategy of doing through non-doing, concern expressed by way of non-concern, and practically, the transformation of society through the transformation of the individual.

How best to rule the world mess? Leave it alone; let it transform of itself, and it will find its own harmony. But this will be a compromised harmony, a messy harmony, needless to say. It is only human, after all.

It’s like frying small fish—too much turning and they’ll end up a mush. (Laozi 60)

In the end, it’s the motivating impulse that’s different. But the Daoist strategy is very hard to articulate in as much as it consists of no-strategy. It doesn’t seek the transformation of society through personal transformation. It doesn’t seek personal transformation. In its own messiness, it seeks not to seek.

As previously mentioned, Chad Hansen sees Song Xing as a bridge between Mohism and Daoism, and this is seen in his goal of transforming society through personal transformation: “purifying the mind with the aspiration that all in the world enjoy peace and security”. But this is little different than the Confucian strategy of instilling Humanity in individuals in order to create a well-ordered society. Nor is it all that different from Mohism that took universal love (caring for all people equally) as its point of departure.

With the exceptions of Xunzi and the Legalists (Han Feizi) what we can say of classical Chinese philosophy generally is that it suggested that we “be the change”—transform ourselves in order to transform society. Daoism’s unique twist is that we be the change through “non-being the change”.

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