28 March 2012

"Do and War" Q & A

My recent article in Totally Tae Kwon Do magazine regarding Daoism's disdain of war (and by implication all forms of fighting), garnered a response and interesting question from a reader. You can read the original question and response on the Totally Tae Kwon Do-forum, but for your convenience I've also posted it here, below:

Response & Question:

I enjoyed Sanko Lewis' article. It helps put the moral culture sections of the encyclopedias into context, so thanks Mr Lewis.

I understand that the Daoist idea is to return to the basic nature, and also that humans should avoid war at all costs. Don't those two goals contradict one another? Conflict is part of human nature and of [big N] Nature - apparently other primates have wars too. Perhaps Daoism needs to adjust to new knowledge like this?

Reply & Answer:

I'm glad you liked the article. 

The Moral Culture section [in the ITF Encyclopaedia] is indeed influenced by Daoism, but also very much by Confucianism and Buddhism. These three world views form the foundation for most moral ethics in Oriental thought. (Another Oriental philosophy contemplating war is Mohism which acts as a counterpoint to Confucianism and is therefore also worth looking into once we start thinking about Oriental moral issues, particularly those related to war and fighting. Then there is also the indigenous shamanistic culture of Korea that may also have had an influence on Taekwon-Do's Moral Culture.) My focus was on Daoism in particular, because it seems to be the philosophy most overtly alluded to by Oriental martial arts.

Regarding your thoughts on the seeming contradiction in human nature and Nature that seem to inherently include conflict: It looks like Daoism does not recognise conflict as the "Natural Way". Conflict is probably viewed in the same way as natural disasters, which is something that goes wrong when the natural balance is disturbed. That Nature itself could demonstrate such conflict ("natural disasters") does not seem to prove within the Daoist world view that such conflict is a natural part of Nature. Instead, within the Daoist world view such disasters / conflicts indicate something abnormal. The wars among primates, like the wars among humans, like natural disasters, all indicate an imbalance, an abnormality in Nature -- indicating being out of sync with the Way. 

On a side note regarding whether man is fundamentally evil or fundamentally good: there were two chief Oriental (Confucian) philosophers, Xunzi and Mencius, that were in direct opposition with each other on this very point. Your suggestion that conflict is natural to man, is in line with Xunzi. Interestingly the Christian world view seems to be a syncretism of the two, suggestion that man was originally innately good, but then became innately evil (aka "the Fall of Man"), but I'm not sure if such a view would have reconciled Xunzi and Mencius. 

If modern Daoists will attempt to "adjust to new knowledge" based on the Modern Scientific World View, is difficult to say. I'm not too familiar with modern Daoist teachings. I'm guessing, however, that such "adjustment to new knowledge" may alter the world view too much, in which case it may not properly be described as "Daoism" anymore.

In the end, all world views are based on a priori assumptions -- even the Modern Scientific World View is based on some assumptions. They are all different glasses used to look at the world through. It is impossible not to have such "glasses". The important thing is to know that you are functioning within a specific world view and to identify the possible limitations of one's world view. The limitations of Daoism may be that it does not recognise the "fallen" (conflict prone) state of mankind / Nature as innate; while the limitation of the Modern Scientific World View could be that it does not recognise the "Way", a sense of ultimate transcended Truth or Purpose.



Ymar Sakar said...

I primarily learned of Taoism/Daoism from chi gong studies.

Taoism is actually one of the simpler systems around and is more of a research process than a dogmatic belief system. It simply postulates that the universe is composed of positive and negative forces, yin and yang. An imbalance thus results in chaos or destruction. For humans, immortality has always been the goal of many Taoists. They spent a lot of time, money, and research on this subject. Thus whatever dislike of war they had, it was presumably precisely because war is waste and people end up dying. If you die, you can't do any more research into immortality and you can't improve your skills in H2H either. While a Taoist's ethics and politics may change from person to person, the fundamental metaphysics seems solid and sound. But because it is primarily a metaphysical description of reality, a lot of people can take it and run in different ethical and political directions, since ethics and politics in philosophy depend primarily on one's epistemology and metaphysics.

The Catholic Church has a strict doctrine on ethics, but not on politics, for example. Some belief systems don't so much describe the reality of the universe, as dictate how one can determine what is or isn't truth (epistemology). Taoism focuses mostly on metaphysics and epistemology from what I have seen. The thousands of years people spent doing medical chi gong, martial chi gong, scholar chi gong, and religious chi gong has produced a large body of knowledge for people. A lot of tools that can be used for good or ill.

Most of the pacifist light beliefs in China came as a result of blood feuds, the Warring states era, and what not. They needed a way to tell people to stop fighting, because people were fighting all the time, for honor, pride, insults, blood debts, so on and so forth. In the modern First World, you don't fight for your honor, you pay a lawyer to fight some other lawyer in a system called a court.

Thus in this world, unless you live in a government controlled fiefdom called an urban city, adhering to pacifist beliefs designed for a war like society, is in itself going to cause imbalance.

SooShimKwan said...

Ymar, thank you for your input on this topic.

An interesting thing about Daoist teaching is it "neutral" stance on morality. The Tao Te Ching has actually very little "moral" teachings. Again, it comes down to the "yin-yang" balance -- not choosing one over the other.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Tao Te Ching sought the Truth. But people figured out through chi gong and scholarly research, that the truth gets less as you get closer to human ideas and civilization. Thus we have a paradox. A human to seek truth, must be educated. yet the very process of socialized education removes the human from nature, from what is, into what the "society" says is right, into what the "family" says is true, into what one's "political class" says is proper. These are all "masks" that humans put on to survive socially and cooperate. Yet, the more masks one utilizes, the farther from the Base Principle of Reality, metaphysics of yin/yang/Dao, we become.

Thus unlike other philosophical systems that build an epistemology and metaphysics and then seeks to make it more complicated by stacking other stuff made by humans ontop of it, like psychology or Maslow's pyramid, instead they chose the opposite path. They took all political, ethical, and standards of beauty, and attempted to codify, purify, them down into one of two things. Yin and Yang. And before that, the Dao. Before there ever came to be matter and antimatter.

To clarify a previous point I made that I thought wasn't as clear as it should have been. What I meant by different interpretations is that depending on what a human chooses to do with their life, they can acquire different benefits from the Tao. If a person focuses on martial chi gong, they become Shaolin warrior monks. There are plenty of youtube videos of their feats of endurance, agility, and strength. Developed through hard applications of chi gong training. But there are 3 other types of chi gong, practiced by developing breath and muscle control before one can even speak of electrical energy or fields. Those 3 are medical chi gong, scholarly chi gong, and religious chi gong.

The religious monks prayed and meditated to seek the Inner Eye, and religious truth/harmony. However, this has a certain problem. Because they did so by reducing their connections to human society, their ability to then bring that knowledge and make it of use to other humans becomes... non-existent. And since they learned of the Dao through religious meditation, and inner inspiration, they could not put into words how they did so or what it actually meant. To name the Dao is to make it not the Dao. Some people weren't satisfied with that, which brings us to scholars and medicine users.

Medical practitioners developed their chi gong skills to use for healing and recovery. Scholars developed chi gong abilities to study chi and to seek ways of acquiring more knowledge about the body and how chi works. Both of them wrote extensive written records that were used by martial artists and stored in various monasteries. Although much was lost when mao purged the martial art community of China and erased China's traditional roots.

Ymar Sakar said...

When entire family lineages died off, the knowledge they had carried from generation to generation, died with them. This is the Great Chairman Mao you will see deified in China. And it's why Chinese kung fu, aka wushu, is no more than a sport. Even the Shaolin monastery has become a state controlled tourist money maker. All the surviving martial artists fled to Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. Ip Man himself was a Chinese nationalist, preserver of ancient knowledge, and thus mortal enemy of the Chinese communist party.


This is the other piece of the puzzle. If we know that the Dao can only be reached through distancing ourselves from human societal controls, how then can we live as humans (and not animals) while still seeking the truth of the universe? by studying and understanding human behavior so that we are not controlled by these social scripts and social limitations. Social laws that says this is right, but the Dao was never made out of human social laws.

This field of research allows a human to begin to be free. Combined with chi gong and mental study of the Tao, there are many resources available for those seeking Enlightenment. Few, if any, achieve it. Even though there are so many different paths to it.

The Tao has the irreducible complexity issue. One has to reduce it until it can no longer be reduced. Yet it cannot be taught to others, without first dealing with human complexities first. And humans value teaching ability more than simply individual talent. The destructive and healing abilities of the Tao and its yin/yang components are still unrivaled in human hands. So far I've seen mostly martial, medical, and religious examples of chi gong, meditation, prayer. I probably would have seen more scholarly research (in fact, the Tao te Ching may be an example of scholarly research) if I could read Mandarin Chinese.

SooShimKwan said...

Many interesting points, Ymar. Thank you for sharing them!