Chinese Spiritual and Philosophical Background


Ta Hsüeh and Chung Yung Translation and Commentary by Andrew Plaks.


The two books translated here are without a doubt two of the most concentrated repositories of ‘spiritual’ wisdom in the world and this translation and commentary is about the finest.  The translation is readable and fluid and the commentary makes even the most obscure passages quit clear, there are many profound suggestions for the reading of some passages which open up the spiritual and metaphysical implications of the text.  These texts are two of the fundamental texts of Confucianism and have been some of the most influential texts in history.  These books contribute such concepts as ‘Bright Virtue’(Mingte), ‘Center/Centrality’(Chung) and Sincerity/Integrity(Ch’eng) to Inner Sage Tao.


Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism by Harold D. Roth


This text is the source of two concepts fundamental to Inner Sage Tao, one is ‘numinous mind’(Shen) and the other is the Microcosm/Macrocosm connection (This text or something like it may be the source of the Mencius microcosm/macrocosm doctrine).   Roth’s translation is lucid and readable and his commentaries and notes are useful as what might be called a ‘horizontal’ commentary on the text, but his desire to present the text as more homogenous than it actually is causes him to avoid what I came to call a ‘vertical’ analysis which focuses on the different vocabularies of the chapters and the implications for the origin of the text.  Roth seems to want to represent this text as purely a proto-Taoist work, but this can only be done at the expense of ignoring many similarities to the Mencius, references which are not obscure and were noted, for example, by Waley in the introduction of his translation of the Tao te Ching, The Way and it’s Power.  After much thought I had to agree with A. C. Graham who considers the text to predate a split between the Confucian and Taoist schools(See Disputers of the Tao, below, page 100).


Disputers of the Tao by A. C. Graham


This is one of the best books on Chinese Philosophy that I have ever read.  In terms of its combination of readability, evenhanded and judicious use of sources and of deep insight it ranks with say, W. K. C. Guthrie’s History of Greek Philosophy, as a monument to one man’s learning and insight.  Its subtitle ‘Philosophical Argument in Ancient China” is enough to turn anyone off with a threatening sounding snooze factor, but  don’t let this put you off it is actually a very stimulating work about the history and development of early Chinese Philosophy from the Middle Warring States period to the Middle Han, roughly 500 BCE to 100 BCE, which also has a great deal to offer any thinking person with some interest in ‘the meaning of life’ and other curious and recondite matters.


Humanity and Self-Cultivation by Tu Wei-ming


When I first read this book in 2000 I wished that I had read it twenty years earlier, indeed had it been available earlier I would have liked to have read it in my teens when I first started reading about Taoism.  I also realized that Confucianism is right up there with Platonism as one of the most misunderstood philosophies around.  Based on anything that I had read (admittedly, not much on Confucianism) I would have never expected to find the type of deep mystical doctrine combined with a profound humanism that I found in this book.  I had already been calling Platonism ‘mystical humanism’ for about twenty years and on reading this book I was able to form the East-West synthesis which is the deep background of Inner Sage Tao.  If you think Confucianism is about patriarchal, sexist old farts keeping woman and families firmly under their control, read this book, eyes open, scales fall off, tea, if not coffee, is smelled and gratefully quaffed.


Transformations of the Confucian Way by John Berthrong


This is a readable and informative history of Confucianism.  I particularly found Bertrhong’s discussion of the Confucian investigation of woman’s rights in the Ming Dynasty very interesting.  Apparently the Confucian woman’s movement was squelched by the conquering Ching dynasty, but if Confucianism could create a framework for woman’s rights as early as the 16TH century then it must have much more spiritual core than it is usually given credit for.

All Material Copyright Donald Lockwood 2007, 2008