World History 2A
The Dao-dejing as an Opponent to Aggression
The belligerent relationship between the states of China evoked a sentiment of distress among the population. “Armies of ten thousand soldiers”i marched into battle based on a general’s whim, rather than any type of moral purpose. The loss of life was astounding and the people needed a beacon of hope to look for in this blight: this guiding light was the philosophy of Daoism. The Dao-Dejing was the apotheosis of Daoist ideals: it touched on a variety of social, philosophical, and spiritual concepts. It was a “combination of several different teachings from Daoist masters,”ii intended for the Chinese society to model all aspects of their life on, whether it was a daily chore or a crucial dilemma. The Dao-dejing emphasized a benevolent mentality among the leaders, an afterlife dependent on virtuous actions, a flexible demeanor, and communion with nature, in order to create peace and harmony amongst the warring Chinese people.
The exemplary ruler was a man guided by his moral compass, rather than his self-desire.iii “The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects… when the best rulers achieve their purpose, their subjects claim the achievement as their own”iv He put utmost faith in his subjectsv and forwent all the grandiose material benefits one would usually associate with an ancient man of his social stature. This emphasized a collectivist mentality, in which each person worked as a functioning cog to benefit society as a whole, rather than his or her own excessive desires. The sizeable amounts of wealth possessed by the leadersvi only highlighted the essential need for virtuous rulers, for they could utilize their wealth to launch armed conflicts of epic proportions. A leader who adopted a benevolent mentality would be less willing to lead large armies into battle, for they would be concerned about the result of death and destruction. Once a ruler leads with virtue, his subjects would use his virtuous actions as a model for their own decisions. vii
Solidarity was not only the forefront of regal and social matters; the primary means to achieve spiritual afterlife and piety involved a concentration on collective good. “It is the way of Nature, an eternal decay and renewal…Being magnanimous he becomes part of Nature… Being one with Tao he becomes immortal: though his body will decay, Tao will not”viii A citizen working in accordance with the rest of the civilization would be willing to adopt a benevolent mentality, in order to ultimately benefit the rest of the society. One who adopted such a “magnanimous”ix attitude would be interconnected spiritually with Tao. Tao was everything: it was the synthesis of the spiritual and natural world. Thus, in being unified spiritually with Tao, one was unified to the rest of the physical and spiritual world. Eternal life was not promised in a tangible sense, for “one’s body will decay”x, yet spiritual immortality and unification with Tao was promised to those who act with a kind demeanor. This concept assures an afterlife only if one is magnanimous and acts with the best intentions of the collective world, rather than their own desire. This ideal strengthens the society’s importance of morality and peace, for the only way to truly achieve enlightenment was to adopt a kind and virtuous demeanor towards the world and its inhabitants. The purging of other’s lives certainly goes against a magnanimous mentality, thus entailing no rewards of a spiritual afterlife. The incentive to gain a life after death would spur the society to become more peaceful, and think of others needs, rather their own desires.
Inevitably, some kind of conflict would arise, so the people needed guidance on the means of dissolving it. “His bones are soft, yet his sinews are supple… so his harmony is perfect”xi A citizen’s supple bones alluded to one’s disposition in an argument. Citizens should...
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