Creativity and Taoism

by Chung-yuan Chang

A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art and Poetry
London: Singing Dragon Editions, 2011

Quotes by Peter Fritz Walter

The third idea of Taoism shared by Chinese Buddhism is tzu jan, or self-so-ness, the naturalness and spontaneity of things. It cannot be reached by intellection. Our minds are awakened to it, rather, by themselves. Such self-realization requires no artificial effort. The Taoist speaks of wu wei, or noninterference. To Chinese Ch’an (Zen in Japanese) the best method of cultivating Buddhahood is noncultivation. To cultivate one’s mind is to exercise deliberate effort, yu wei, the opposite of wu wei. /41

The understanding of Tao is an inner experience in which distinction between subject and object vanishes. It is an intuitive, immediate awareness rather than a mediated, inferential, or intellectual process. Tao does not blossom into vital consciousness until all distinctions between self and nonself have disappeared. /47

Because of the artificiality and coldness that Jen tended to create and the remoteness and isolation it engendered, the Taoists often declared that they would banish Jen so that the people could once again love one another. Lao Tzu felt this way and Chuang Tzu expressed himself even more strongly, declaring that it was necessary to get rid of Jen so that the virtue of the people might become one with God. /51

Lao Tzu disregarded Jen and proclaimed that he had, instead, Tz’u, the first of his “three treasures.” The word Tz’u is ordinarily translated as love, but it is not actually love itself but, rather, the primordial, immediate source of love, the secret root of all love and compassion. It is not based on rational principles or arrived at through discrimination and differentiation. On the contrary, it is intuitively and unconsciously arrived at and nothing, good or evil, is distinguished or extended. Through Tz’u subject and object are totally and immediately interfused and the self is transformed into selflessness. When the Buddhists came to China they used the words Tz’u and Pei (sorrow) to render the idea of great compassion. They did not use the word Jen. It is obvious that the Taoist concept of Tz’u is that of great sympathy. Their concept of love goes deeper than the concept of Jen. /51-52

The achievement of Taoism is not merely that of the concept of unity of dualities or the identification of opposites. For the Taoist there is also a unity in multiplicity, a wholeness of parts. In the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu presents a very simple explanation of wholeness: Invisible ground of sympathy

Thirty spokes joined at the hub. 

From their nonbeing 

Comes the function of the wheel. 

Shape clay into a vessel. 

From its nonbeing 

Comes the function of the vessel (Ch. XI).

The wheel is the wholeness of the spokes and the vessel the wholeness of the clay. In the Taoist sense we may say that the reason the wheel becomes a wheel is that it conforms with the principle of Tao, possesses oneness, a wholeness in multiplicity. The same is true of the vessel and the clay. /60-61

Probably all of us at one time or another have enjoyed looking at a Chinese painting or have read some Chinese poetry with pleasure. Certain works, I believe, among the productions of the Chinese artists and poets are particularly representative of the spirit of Tao. When we are struck by the utter tranquillity of landscapes by Mi-Fei and Ni Tsan, 1 or moved by the simplicity and purity of poems by T’ao Ch’ien, 2 we come close to experiencing aesthetically what the Taoist hopes to experience spiritually. There is something inherent in these works that leads us to the inexpressible ultimate that man shares with the universe. There is in them a dynamic process that interfuses with a higher grade of reality. They draw us into a spontaneous and even unintentional unity which, as the Taoist sees it, refers back to Tao itself, the primordial source of creativity. /81

The wild geese fly across the long sky above. 

Their image is reflected upon the chilly water below. 

The geese do not mean to cast their image on the water; 

Nor does the water mean to hold the image of the geese. /83

It is invisible and unfathomable, beyond the realm of discursive thinking. It can only be experienced as a profound inward feeling, an immediate reflection of deep metaphysical insight, which is unverbalized and yet momentous in its action. We cannot define and point to it, but we may echo the tone of the inner realm of those who have achieved this sense of peace when we read or chant their poetic expressions. Let us try to communicate the inner voice of some of the great poets. First we come to listen to Li P’o (701-762):

You ask me why should I stay in this blue mountain. 

I smile but do not answer. 

O, my mind is at ease! 

Peach blossoms and flowing streams pass away without trace.

How different from the mundane world!

The poet’s sense of delight cannot be expressed in words. It is the deep underlying harmony of the nature of all things, in which there is no record of blossoming or fading peach flowers, and no lament upon the symbolic meaning of the never-returning stream, such as Confucius once made while standing at the bank of a river: “It passes on like this, never ceasing, day or night!” The immediate reflection of the highest sense of peace is identified neither as intellectual understanding nor as sentimental emotion, but rather as an instantaneous insight into reality, which makes us feel infinitely blessed while experiencing it. /115-116

Turning from poetry to another art, we can perhaps find this deep underlying harmony also in painting. And indeed, here we see a concrete and direct comprehension of the power of the highest sense of peace. When an artist introduces certain fineness of form and color into the welter of incoherent fragments, welding them thereby into an existential unity, such process of refinement gives us an apprehension of perceptual values and feelings. /117

According to Taoism there are two routes leading to enlightenment, ming or ontological insight, ching or quiescence. The previous chapters on Sympathy, Creativity, and Peace all deal with ming. This chapter is devoted to the approach of ching.

Quiescence sometimes manifests itself as darkness. The light, we may say, emerges from darkness. We have numerous suggestions of this idea in the works of Chuang Tzu. In Chapter 22 of his canon Nieh Chüeh asks Pei I what is the nature of Tao. Pei I replies thus:

If you put your body in the correct posture and concentrate on the One, the Heavenly harmony will descend upon you. Hold on to your inner awareness and unify yourself with the Absolute. God will lodge within you, and you will abide with Tao. This achievement will fill you with joy. You will be like the newly born calf, gazing but not seeking anything.

Even while he was speaking Pei I realized that Nieh Chüeh was drifting off into the depth of quiescence.

Pei I was greatly pleased that his words had had such an immediate and overwhelming effect and went off singing:

Like a dry skeleton is his frame; 

Like sparkless ashes is his mind. 

Genuine is his knowledge, solid and true, 

Not supported by reasoning.

Dark and dim, he has no mind, 

Not accessible to discussion.

O! Lo! What kind of person is he now?

In this story we have a good illustration of tranquillity achieved through quiescence. This really is the same state that the Buddhists refer to as samādhi. Intellection and reasoning, all consciousness indeed, have vanished, and only the awareness of serenity remains. To banish intellection from consciousness is a process of negation. But in tranquillity we find a fuller and deeper expression, which in itself is positive and leads to enlightenment. /149-150

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