Among the attributes of the “ancient Art of the Dao” that Laozi is said to have realized is: “Regarding the hidden root as the finest quintessence and its manifest reifications as the cruder part . . .” (p 122)

Again, I see this as completely contrary to the spirit of Laozi. It is in complete harmony with other proto-Daoist sensibilities, however. In the Guanzi is the Neiye (Inner Training) chapter, a work likely written just prior to or contemporaneous with Zhuangzi’s work, and one in which we see just this pre-occupation with cultivating the “quintessential”, the purest “something” of the Universe.

This inevitably leads to some form of spiritual/physical, mind/body dualism. There is the purest and the crudest. The physical world is inferior to the spiritual world.

This point of view wins the philosophical and religious wars hands down. Where we fear the dissolution of the body in death, it stands to reason that we would want to believe in something incorruptible that is our truest self. Where reason and “names” are “peculiarly unfixed” without reference to extra-mundane Truth, we will posit that Truth. When all in the world seems “accidental”, we will grasp for the “essential”.

Yet the opening chapter of the Laozi is very careful to avoid just this form of dualism.

The Source is “nameless”, while “naming” is the “Mother of all things”. Yet neither trumps the other:

“Let freedom from desire be your sustaining guide; thus will you see what is subtle. Let having desires be your sustaining guide; thus will you see what is manifest. These two arise from the same source though they have different names. Together they are Mystery. Mystery within Mystery—this is the gate into all that is subtle.”

In other words, walk two roads. They have equal validity. It’s walking but one road—whichever one—that is contrary to our actual life experience.

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