The Wisdom Of The Taoists

Essay, Nonfiction

D. Smith

In Chinese, Tao means simply way or path, and the mysticism of the early Taoists grew out of the longing and search for union with an eternal "Way." To attune oneself to the rhythms of nature rather than to conform to the artificialities of man-made institutions (embodied in the rigid hierarchies of orthodox Confucianism) became the goal of Taoist masters such as Chuang-tzü, who refused high office so that he could, like the turtle, “drag his tail in the mud.” As the British authority on early Chinese religion, D. Howard Smith, expresses it in his lucid introduction to The Wisdom of the Taoists: "To seek and find that mysterious principle, to discover it within one's inmost being, to observe its workings in the great universe outside, and to become utterly engulfed in its serenity and quietude came to be the supreme goal of the Taoist mystics." In presenting the wide spectrum of Taoist thought and experience, Professor Smith has newly translated excerpts from a variety of mystical writings. He concentrates, however, on the two basic sources of Taoism, the humorous and satirical stories of Chuang-tzu (who lived in the fourth century B. C. in Honan) and the Tao-Tê-Ching, a classic of mysticism attributed to Lao-tzü. Eventually, Taoism broadened into a magical folk religion, but the dedication to the inward path, the emptying of self, and the search for the nameless principle that could be apprehended only in quiet periods of ecstatic vision contributed to the Chinese form of Buddhism known as Ch'an––which we in the West know better by its Japanese name of Zen.