Sermons

Summary: God hath made man upright but they have sought out many inventions (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

AN EDITED SECTION OF RICHARD WILHELM'S COMMENTARY ON THE TAO TE CHING.

The concern of the relationship between name and reality plays an important part in the Chinese philosophy of Lao Zi's time. Although later rationalists have increasingly adopted a nominalism which considers a name as something completely arbitrary that never reaches reality, the classical philosophies of Confucius and Lao Zi are unanimous in considering concepts or names as somehow corresponding to reality. Or as capable of being made to concur with it so they become a medium for establishing order in reality. Empirical relationships must be made to concur with rational relationships so that order will prevail in society. In the family for instance the man who is called father must be as a father in order to answer to the rational concept of father. A similar principle applies to all other fields of life.

Once one has names that can be articulated one has the instruments for cognition. These concepts given as names provide one with the means for fastening onto things, and one can then use the name instead of the thing for thinking, just as one uses letters instead of numbers in algebra. As long as reality (things) are used as checks and balances, names and concepts are usable and useful. They can then be used to define the products of cognition. All such definitions have a necessary divisive quality. If all men recognize the beautiful as beautiful then thereby the ugly is already posited. Knowledge is gained by a process of comparison and definition and is bound up with the Phenomenal World which is divided into pairs of opposites.

This line of thought leads us further afield. Having these concepts as tools for the cognition of reality man can use them quite independently. That is, independent of reality. He can produce concepts that do not correspond to any primal image in reality, isolate things from their existential context, and establish something that does not exist as the goal and object that he strives for. In this way names become the creators of desire. For Lao Zi this is the instance of original sin in cognition. Reality may only be the appearance and the exterior of DAO but it it is somehow related to it. Here one is confronted with a teleological purpose- built world in which goals are not real but the creations of human desire to be attained through effort. This engenders a craving for what is not one's own but belongs to somebody else. Since the owner of this property will not readily let it go strife and battle will follow, and this is the opposite of DAO.

In this way the Phenomenal World becomes a world of evil for Lao Zi, a world of craven desires bound up with the presence of names. Men enter into a maze of error because of it. Perceptions are no longer pure representations in which the will has no voice. Things blind and seduce men and the delusion of desire sends them mad. Reason is at work and the actual quantity of knowledge appears to increase. But the more acutely reason works the more acute reason becomes, and the more mankind moves away from DAO.

Therefore Lao Zi thinks that culture and knowledge should not be fostered further, but harmlessly assimilated into the context of nature instead. Faced with the excessive development of rationality one must return to the nameless non-conceptual simplicity, the condition in which one lets DAO take its harmless course. For as we have already seen, a knowledge of names represents things that do not exist. This arouses desire. The more difficult it is to obtain the things that have come to be known and respected in this way, the fiercer desire becomes. Next men begin to fight for these things. It is fantasy that deludes men. Colours, sounds, tastes, rare treasures : All these blinding appearances drag men's hearts away from the true depths of reality and are the source of selfishness and delusion.

I SAY, Nothing in life that can be safely substituted with something else has any essential value.

George Warner. UK mobile 07553 752196

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