Class #20

Two Themes of the Dao de jing

Reading: Dao de jing, Selections II

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

In our next class we will focus particularly on two issues: the practical guidance the Dao de jing provides for actually pursuing harmony with the Dao through self-cultivation, and the somewhat surprising link to political goals and power that the text also addresses.

These two focuses may actually reflect independent or semi-independent origins of component parts of the text. While the most famous themes of the Dao de jing concern the grand vision of the Dao and the attainment of a Dao-like perspective in Sagehood, this body of lore, focused on the ideal of wuwei, or non-striving / non-action, clearly became a tool in the bag of intellectual devices carried by some "wandering persuaders" (shi) in search of patronage by a ruler on the basis of some special teaching. To attract the prestige and stipends that went with a ruler's decision to retain the "philosophical" persuader within his capital, the strongly anti-social and anti-political appear to have been transformed in some sections of the text into prudential teachings, which advocate the adoption of the Dao - non-desiring and all - as an effective means to attain one's desires: dominion over the world.