Chapter 3 The Origin of Tao
In the Chinese legend, about sixty seven hundred years ago, there was a tribe named "Feng" in the area of the present Ho-Nan Province which is in the center part of China. This tribe was very important in the Chinese pre-history for they created the first civilization in China.
In this tribe, there was a man who belonged to the family of "Fu Hsi", later for the sake of easy identifying, he was called by his family name: Fu Hsi.
Fu Hsi (2852-2738 BC), the first recorded ruler in Chinese history, is now generally regarded as a legendary figure. He was a very wise man who invented many things, such as a fifty-string musical instrument which allowed people at that period of time to play beautiful songs; the basic math and tools for construction; and calendar. He also set up the rules for marriage. Among the things he did, the most important one was that he created a system for divination, the Eight Trigrams. It is said that he looked up and contemplated the bright patterns of the sky, then looked down and considered the shapes of the earth. He noted the decorative markings on birds and beasts, and the appropriate qualities of their territories. He studied his own body, and also observed distant things. From all, he used Eight Trigrams as symbols to unveil the heavenly processes in nature and to understand the character of everything. Although this legend may not be true in the literal sense, it does reflect the kind of inspiration whi ch went into the creation of the Oracle of Change. It was also said that he first saw the trigrams upon the shell of a tortoise. No matter which story is really or symbolically true, the trigrams are for certain immensely old, far older than I Ching, the Book of Change itself.
For trigrams, Fu Hsi used two types of line. Each line is either broken ( ) or unbroken ( ). The broken ones are generally called Yin lines; the unbroken are referred to as Yang lines. The former symbolizes the qualities of the Yin principle - earthly, passive, negative, female, dark and so on; the latter symbolizes the opposite qualities - heavenly, active, positive, male, light, etc. Neither is in itself better or worse than the other, for the two principles have an equal part to play in the totality of existence.
With three sets of lines as one unit, Eight Trigrams are the maximum number which can be formed with only two types of lines. Primarily, they represent certain aspects of nature, both active and passive, i.e. heaven, lake, fire, thunder, wind, water, mountain, and earth. They are also identified with the elements, the seasons, the hours and many other things. Together, they represent the whole universe in its basic Yin-Yang form, which stands at only one step from the perfect unity of T'ai Chi, or the Origin.
To show the interactions between these two opposites, the two lines were combined in pairs to form the greater and lesser Yang and the greater and lesser Yin:
Greater Yang Greater Yin
Lesser Yang Lesser Yin
A further line was then added, making eight possible three-lined figures, or trigrams, they are also regarded as the joint creators and hence the "father and mother" of the phenomenal universe, and the other six trigrams being their three "sons" and three "daughters":
Ch'ien Heaven Active Father
Tui Lake Joyful Youngest Daughter
Li Fire Clinging Second Daughter
Chen Thunder Arousing Eldest Son
Hsun Wind Gentle Eldest Daughter
K'an Water Dangerous Second Son
Ken Mountain Immovable Youngest Son
K'un Earth Responsive Mother
The eight trigrams were used in an early form of divination, and are often shown in Chinese art as rotating in a never-ending circle around the interlocking symbols of Yin and Yang:
The dark area (Yin) of the inner circle contains a white dot and the light area (Yang) contains a black dot; this teaches that even in their purest state each pole contains the seed of the other. Change underlies even at the level of primal polarity.
In Chinese philosophy, the word Nature means the whole universe, including everything within the universe, as it proceeds without interruption on its course. And Tao is the way, the way of Nature which proceeds through comings and goings, beginnings and endings. The way of Nature can be observed in the procession of the seasons; can also be observed in the path of the sun, the moon and the stars, etc. It is revealed in the course of human life as from infant, child, youth, middle age, old age and finally death. It is evident to everyone who cares to observe it. The great Nature consists of natures, natures of every and all beings, such as men and animals, plants and trees, mountains and lakes, wind and water, etc. And Tao consists of many "ways", ways of every being's own way to follow, from the beginning, through early stages to maturing stages, until the end. Therefore, Tao is Nature.
From this sense, you can tell that Fu Hsi was really a person who understood Life. He knew what is Life and what is Nature. He understood also the positions and roles of human beings. Although he was born in an age without written language, he used simple symbols to convey messages of the principles of the great Nature to his fellow people and us.
King Wen and Duke Chou
Around the time of 1700 BC, the people of the Shang Dynasty believed in a god who was almighty with the whole world under his control. If people followed him, then he would protect them. The persons acted as the bridge between the common people and this god were the diviners who followed the emperor's orders. Therefore, the emperor had the power to control people, for he could always say that it was god's will.
For the purpose of communicating with the god, the people of Shang invented a system of divination. The emperor could use this system to control his people.
Shang was the biggest and strongest regime at that time. All the other dukes and kings had to obey the Emperor of Shang. Among the smaller countries, there was one named Chou. In 1185 BC, King Wen of Chou was appointed as the chief of the western dukes. He was a very capable but humble king, respected the wise and the elder and cared for the young; while the Emperor of Shang was very cruel and did not care for his people. This strong contrast gave King Wen good reputation and popularity which threatened the Emperor of Shang. In 1143 BC the Emperor ordered Wen's arrest. During the three years that King Wen was in imprisonment, under constant threats of death, he studied the eight mystic trigrams and was able to figure out a way to expand the Eight Trigrams to Sixty Four Hexagrams by combining the eight trigrams in pairs. He then went on to name each one and added an explanatory text.
The Sixty Four Hexagrams upon which the forecasts are based are each composed of two trigrams making a total of six lines. This is an expanded system after Fu Hsi first created the Eight Trigrams. As for why King Wen wanted to create a method of divination, it is easy to understand that he fully realized anyone who was able to handle the system of divination would be the one to control the people.
When King Wen was arrested, he was already eighty seven years old. When he secured release, he was ninety. After seven more years, he passed away. His son King Wu was the one who actually ended the Shang Dynasty and became the true founder of the Chou Dynasty. But he soon died. He was succeeded by his young son King Cheng, and the real power lay in the hands of the Duke of Chou, a brother of King Wu.
The Duke of Chou told the people of Shang that the supreme deity Heaven had appointed the people of Chou to punish the last Emperor of Shang for he betrayed the great traditions of the earlier Shang rulers by treating the people cruelly. He thought of the last Emperor of Shang as a degenerate who "took the advice of women and evil men," was cruel and extravagant, and drank to excess. Drunkenness was prohibited in the Chou Dynasty. There were rewards and punishments to guide the people to the right track. According to the Duke of Chou, the reason why the Shang Dynasty was destroyed was because Heaven was no longer protecting it. Heaven would not stay together with those evil-doers. It was orders from Heaven. If the people of Shang would not obey what Heaven ordered, then they would be punished according to the orders from Heaven.
The Duke of Chou also expanded his father's work. After studying Wen's text on the hexagrams he added his own interpretation to each single line; a total of three hundred and eighty four separate passages. The complete work, consisting of King Wen's sixty four hexagrams and accompanying text, plus the Duke of Chou's interpretations of the lines, became widely known under the title of "Chou I".
Before King Wen, when divination was needed, the diviners read omens in the cracks that formed when a specially prepared tortoise shell was heated. After a while, the shells from the tortoise were difficult to find, so a replacement of the shoulder blade of an ox was used. But the shoulder blade was not as accurate as the tortoise shell which was considered sacred ordained by Heaven to be favorable for oracular use. Therefore, King Wen invented another way. He used divining sticks to do the work.
The hexagrams are each composed of two trigrams, one above the other; of these, the lower is held to be the first and the upper subsequent to it, for trigrams and hexagrams are always read from the bottom upwards.
Divination is a serious matter, but even in China, there are people who find traditional ways of divinatiion too slow and cumbersome, so here I introduce a very brief method of coin tossing. It may not be accurate and often there are mistakes, but for the sake of showing by example of how the divination works, my description is as follows:
1. Decide one side of the coin as the Yin side; and the other side as the Yang side.
2. Ask your question silently (one question at a time).
3. Clasp your hands together and shake the coin inside.
4. Toss the coin and see which side it lands on.
5. When it shows the Yin side, write down ( ) line; when it shows the Yang side, write down ( ) line. Record the lines of the hexagram from the bottom up.
6. Repeat step two to five six times and check in the book to see which hexagram you have.
7. Consult the text in the hexagram.
Using Fu Hsi's trigrams as base, which were called Lower Trigrams, the second trigrams were called Upper Trigrams. Following is a Table of Numbers:
Below is a list of the Sixty Four Hexagrams in the order in which they appear in the text. Alongside each hexagram you will find its name, followed by both Wade Giles and Pin Yin romanizations, then its meaning:
No. Hexagram Wade Giles Pin Yin Meaning
1. Ch'ien Qian Principle of Creativity
2. K'un Kun The Feminine Principle
3. T'un Tun Difficulty
4. Meng Meng Recourse
5. Ju Ru Need
6. Sung Song Grievance
7. Shih Shi Aiming High
8. Pi Bi Comparing
9. Hsiao Hsu Xiao Xu Little Holding
10. Lu Lu Following
11. T'ai Tai Inner Strength
12. P'i Pi Obstruction
13. T'ung Jen Tong Ren Group of Like Mind
14. Ta Yu Da You Wealth
15. Ch'ien Qian Modesty
16. Yu Yu Full
17. Sui Sui Easy Going
18. Ku Gu Confusion
19. Lin Lin Help
20. Kuan Guan Contemplating
21. Shih K'o Shi Ke Eating
22. Pi Bi Adornment
23. Po Bo Peeling Off
24. Fu Fu Returning
25. Wu Wang Wu Wang Illusion
26. Ta Hsu Da Xu Accumulation
27. I Yi Nurturing
28. Ta Kuo Da Guo Going Extreme
29. K'an Kan Abyss
30. Li Li Sunlight
31. Kan Gan Sex
32. Heng Heng Endurance
33. T'un Tun Withdrawal
34. Ta Ch'iang Da Qiang Holism
35. Chin Jin Evolution
36. Ming Chih Ming Zhi Injury
37. Chia Jen Jia Ren Family
38. K'uei Kui Separation
39. Chien Jian Hardship
40. Chieh Jie Release
41. Sun Sun Contribution
42. I Yi Gain
43. Chueh Jue Decision
44. Kou Gou Sudden Encounters
45. Ts'ui Cui Choice
46. Sheng Sheng Creation
47. K'un Kun Poverty
48. Ching Jing Life Force
49. Ko Ge Reforming
50. Ting Ding The Cauldron
51. Chen Zhen Thunder
52. Ken Gen Stillness
53. Chien Jian Spiritual Progress
54. Kuei Mei Gui Mei Marriage
55. Feng Feng Content
56. Lu Lu Traveling
57. Hsun Xun Letting Go
58. Tui Dui Joy
59. Huan Huan Dispersal
60. Chieh Jie Restraint
61. Chung Fu Zhong Fu Faith
62. Hsiao Kuo Xiao Guo Minor Faults
63. Chi Chi Ji Ji Fully Completion
64. Wei Chi Wei Ji Before Completion
Confucius, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu
After 584 years from King Wen, the book "Chou I" finally was carried on to an area of philosophy and a solid foundation for the Chinese culture was then established. If you want to learn and understand the Chinese culture, you need to study "I". If you do not know what is "I", then your understanding for Chinese culture would be only surface. This important man who is in no doubt the most famous and the most influential philosopher in the history of China: Confucius (K'ung Tzu).
Confucius' family name was K'ung, and his given name was Ch'iu. In ancient Chinese custom, people called the respected teacher or learned scholars with "Tzu", such as K'ung Tzu, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu etc. K'ung Tzu was born in 551 BC in the state of Lu, which is roughly the Shan-Tung Province today, a cultural center of ancient China. He died in 479 BC when he was seventy two years old. Nine years after his death, Socrates, the great and famous Greek philosopher, was born.
Confucius' father was physically quite well-built and with a reputation of great strength and bravery. When he was seventy years old, he married Confucius' mother who was only twenty years of age. He passed away when Confucius was only three. Even though all the burdens fell on the mother's shoulders, Confucius was brought up with much care and instruction from his widowed mother, a very humble and diligent woman, who tried to teach him with all her being. But because of his father's death, and the family was quite poor, he was at first unable to follow the path of pure scholarship. Later, he told his disciples that due to the fact that his family had been poor when he was young, he had acquired skills in many things. At the age of fifteen, he devoted himself to learning and gained a reputation for knowledge and propriety. Like his father, he was well-built, with a height of 192 cm (six feet and three inches), a very tall man. He first began his career as a granary overseer in his native district, and eventu ally was placed in charge of the public fields.
In 528 BC when K'ung Tzu was sixteen years old, he abandoned his public employment to mourn the loss of his mother. During the three years' mourning he refrained from sensual indulgences and activities and devoted himself to the study of ancient history, literature, and institutions. Afterwards, he began his career as a public teacher, by then he had already commanded public attention and the respect of the great.
Although his financial status was not very stable, Confucius' heart of learning never changed. Before the age of thirty, he already learned lessons of the "Six Arts": Ceremonial Observances, Music, Archery, Charioteering, Writing and Mathematics, which were what the noblemen would learn at that time. Moreover, he also finished studying the "Five Classics": Shih (Book of Ancient Poems), Shu (Book of Historical Documents), Li (Book of Rites and Ancient Ceremonies), Yueh (Book of Music), I (Book of Change); as well as Ch'un Ch'iu (or Spring and Autumn, the Annals of the Kingdom of Lu, his home country).
What kind of person Confucius was? Accordingly to the Confucian Analects, he said, "At fifteen, I had my mind set on learning. At thirty, I stood firm." and also "In a hamlet of ten families, there may be found one honorable and sincere as I am, but not so fond of learning." From these, we could tell that he was a man who truly enjoyed learning. He was also straight-forward and did not act overly modest. Once the Duke of Yeh asked Tzu Lu, one of Confucius' disciples, about Confucius. Tzu Lu did not know how to answer. Later the Master said, "Why did you not say to him, - He is simply a man, who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgets his food, who in the joy of its attainment forgets his sorrows, and who does not perceive that old age is coming on?" Now we could really see that he was very honest with himself and with others. Besides these qualities, he was also humorous:
Once the Master, having come to the City of Wu, heard the sound of stringed instruments and singing. Well pleased and smiling, he said, "Why use an ox knife to kill a fowl?" At this time, his disciple Tzu Yu replied, "Formerly I heard you say, - 'When the man of high station is well instructed, he loves men; when the man of low station is well instructed, he is easily ruled.'" The Master said to all his disciples around, "My disciples, his words are right. What I said was only a joke."
Confucius was being humorous, while his disciple Tzu Yu was very serious. When Confucius saw that his disciple could not understand what he meant, he answered that he was only joking. Sometimes, Confucius' students were even more conservative and serious than Confucius himself. In fact, he was no mystic, nor was he a saint. For many centuries, Confucius, the great teacher of antiquity, has been grossly misrepresented. As time passed, much of his life became so distorted and obscure that a great deal of misunderstanding arose. Actually, he was placid and sincere, "his outlook was serious yet kind; his deportment was respectful yet natural. He appeared taciturn, but he spoke convincingly. In his relations with his fellow men, he was always accessible and inspiring, sincere and earnest."
Before the age of thirty, Confucius paid much attention to the outward expression of "Li". Li, a code of ritual, was not only the pattern that a nobleman would follow, but also a great ethical system that governed the conduct of all men. In many instances it may mean "social order," "social institutions and conventions," or "all regulations that arise from man-to-man relations." But when he put too much focus on the outward regulations and rules, he was too busy following them, he simply did not have enough time to search inside for the essence of "Li" and get truly liberated.
During that period of time, he set up a public learning school. Anyone who was able to pay a little amount of fee was welcome. He said that there should be no distinction of classes in teaching. He had a total number of three thousand students. Among them, there were seventy two disciples who learned the "Six Arts" well. For the beginners' class, he would teach "Li" first. After they learned the standards of conduct and the skills to handle relations, then he would follow with more complicated studies of arts and other texts.
After the age of thirty, Confucius gradually changed. He no longer paid sole attention to the outward conducts, he changed from outward pursuit to inward searching for the essence. The essence of "Li" is "Jen". The Chinese word "Jen" composes of "two" and "man", emphasizing on the heart of handling human relations. It is therefore the proper way for men to greet each other with kindness, leading to positive efforts for the good of others. In the process of changing, Confucius inquired Lao Tzu several times about how to change from "Li" to "Jen". That served a turning point for his life. Ever since then, he changed.
In the book of Chuang Tzu, we could see clearly about Confucius' turning point, quoted here under:
"Confucius said to Lao Tan (Lao Tzu), 'I studied the Six Arts long enough to know their contents thoroughly. With this knowledge I introduced myself to seventy-two dukes and kings, discoursed on the Way of the former kings, but not one king saw anything he could snap up for his use. How intractable are the difficulties of making Tao going!'
"Lao Tzu said, 'Say rather how lucky you were born too late to meet the kings of a better ordered age! The Six Arts are the worn footprints of the former kings, not what they used to make the imprints! What you speak of now is still the footprints, and the footprints are where the shoes passed, they are not the shoes! . . . The natures of things cannot be exchanged, destiny cannot be brought to a stop, Tao cannot be blocked up. If it coincides with Tao, no course is unacceptable; if it misses it, no course is acceptable.'
"Confucius did not go out of doors for three months, contemplating. When he called again, he said, 'I have grasped it. Crows and magpies hatch; the fish blow out foam; . . . (Everything has its own nature.) Too long have I failed to be a man treating things as they naturally are; and if one fails to be that, how can one teach others?'
"'Good enough,' said Lao Tzu, 'Confucius my lad, you've got it.'"
Therefore, after Confucius switched from focusing on the outside to the inside, he gradually figured out the right way for himself to refine his behavior naturally by spiritual growing. When he was forty years old, this search was completed. "At forty, I have no doubts." He said.
What is "Jen" then? It is kindness, it is good will, but if there is an equivalent English word, it would be "Love". So when Confucius united "Li" and "Jen" together, he began not to have any doubt. It took great wisdom to combine the outward expression and inward spirit together. He put these into "one".
After forty, Confucius totally changed. He started to accept more students and began to introduce his philosophy of Jen to the society and even to the dukes and kings at that time, with the hope that they would use his theory and create a "World of Jen".
At age of fifty two, he entered the court of Lu, and soon he reached high official rank. As a result of political intrigue, however, he was forced to resign his post. "At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven." Since he was not accepted by the higher ranks, he left his country. He spent fourteen years abroad with a handful of students, traveling, teaching, and visiting the feudal lords of his time, with a hope that other dukes and kings would use his theory to govern their countries.
When he returned to his native state, he was already an old man of sixty-eight, unable to further influence the government. Thwarted by royal pride and official jealousy, he endeavored to attain his noble ends by less direct but more certain means. He devoted himself more than ever to the instruction of youths and to the editing and recording of the ancient documents that formed the basis of his teaching. He rescued ancient culture, now preserved in the Five Classics, and finished compiling the "Spring and Autumn", the annals of the kingdom of Lu. Among these, the most important was that he made the Book of Change from merely a skill of divination to a philosophical knowledge.
He died in 479 BC and was buried near his native town, and many of his students built houses near his tomb. Until recently there were temples honoring him in nearly every city. He dominated China's intellectual life for almost twenty five centuries. The teachings of Master K'ung, replete with wisdom and common sense, molded the national character and touched every corner of human society. No doubt that Confucius was the one who expanded the Book of Change. But in the book of "Chou I", you could also see another character: Lao Tzu.
According to historical records, we could find hardly anything about Lao Tzu. He kept himself well hidden that very little is known of him except what he wrote. Even the name "Lao Tzu" is a description rather than an appellation. It can mean "old philosopher" or "old sir", but it can also mean "old child" or "old fellow". His early biographer, Ssu-ma Ch'ien (approximately 140 BC - ?), stated that probably there were three persons that could be called "Lao Tzu". The first one with a family name of Li, and given name Erh, and another name Tan, who was a historian in charge of the secret archives for Chou. The second one was Lao-Lai-Tzu and the third one was someone named Chan, who was the official historian of Chou. The first one was said to be the author of the book of Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching.
The author was originally from the State of Ch'u and worked as a historian in charge of the secret archives for the State of Chou. When Confucius first visited Chou, he went to see Lao Tzu to inquire about "Li" (a code of Rituals and Manners). Lao Tzu wanted him to understand that everything has its own nature, and he needed to focus on the essence of things, not just the outward conduct. Afterwards, Confucius told his disciples that it was easy for him to understand others' point of view and be able to point out the ways they could do for improvement, but the way Lao Tzu talked was so deep and hard to understand like a dragon flying in the sky.
Lao Tzu lived for a long time in the State of Chou, but foreseeing its decay he departed and went to the frontier. The officer of the frontier asked him for the official pass but Lao Tzu did not have any. Therefore, the officer asked him to write a book about how to achieve enlightenment for him. Lao Tzu wrote five thousand characters, then he departed. No one knew where he went. In the legend, even the officer disappeared after he read Lao Tzu's five thousand characters.
In the five thousand characters, Lao Tzu talked about the joy of following a way of life, not about the tension of seeking success or obtaining fame. He wrote about the relationship with Tao, with Nature, with other persons; not about obeying one or another set of precepts and persisting in them against all comers. He proposed an attitude toward life that is full of warmth and awe, not a reaction against life that finds faults, blame, guilt, and judgments. He demonstrated an ever-new way of thinking from the angle of the entire being, not just isolated function. He also showed a different manner of being alive.
Lao Tzu's thinking originated from "I", but why he wanted to use the word "Tao" instead of "I"? It was because he wanted to emphasize on the philosophical principles, not the skills of divining.
Although Lao Tzu fully understood what is "Tao", "Tao" is something you cannot fully describe. He knew the tricks for the written and spoken language, he did not want us (the readers) to get trapped, so he wrote in the very beginning of the book:
"The tao that can be told of is not the true Tao; the name that can be named is not the true name."
What he meant is that Tao cannot be fully described. If you use either written or spoken language to describe It, It is not the true Tao that he is talking about. "Name" is only a terminology or definition that you call a specific thing. "Name" is not the thing itself. Lao Tzu said himself, "I do not know its name, but I name it Tao." The Origin is actually nameless, but for the convenience of communication, Lao Tzu just named it "Tao".
Lao Tzu understood the meaning of the symbol that Fu Hsi used. The symbol ( ) is Tao in the form of a symbol.
Tao is the Origin of the myriad things in the universe. Lao Tzu explained, "Before Heaven and Earth existed, there was in Nature a primordial substance. It was serene, it was fathomless. It was self-existent, it was homogeneous. It was omnipresent, and was not suffered any limitation. It is to be regarded as the universal mother. I do not know its name, but I name it Tao."
Tao is ( ). In the state of ( ), there is an inner creativity force. I can name it Tao of Creativity. There is no difference between Tao of Creativity and Tao. It is only for the sake of explaining that I gave it a name.
After Lao Tzu, another great philosopher Chuang Tzu demonstrated fully Lao Tzu's thinking.
We know very little about the life of Chuang Chou, roughly between 370 to 324 BC. It was said that he came from the district of Meng in the present province of Ho-Nan, and held a minor post there in the Lacquer Garden, probably an actual grove of lacquer trees. For further information we have only the stories in the book which carries his name, a collection of writings of which at least seven Inner Chapters that are generally recognized as his work.
From what he put down in his works, we came to know that he was married with children. His very good friend was Hui Shih whom he could talk or debate to. After Hui Shih passed away, Chuang Tzu felt the loss that he could never find such friend anymore.
Whether we view the stories about Chuang Tzu as history or legend, they defined him very distinctly as an individual. Most of the tales about Chuang Tzu fall into three categories: we find him mocking logic, scorning office and wealth, or contemplating death as part of the universal process of nature. In his works, about ninety percent are fables. He used fish, bird, moth, even the god of river as the major characters in the fable to express the messages that he wanted to convey.
We would find that he thought animals, trees etc. are as important as human beings. Among human beings, beggars, cripples and freaks were seen quite without pity and with as much interest and respect as princes and sages. And he thought death with the same equanimity as life, he celebrated death and even made jokes over his own deathbed.
Chuang Tzu was born in the time of political disunity and rapid social and technological changes. People at his time asked question like "What is the Way that the rulers should take and the individuals should behave?" Chuang Tzu thought that people had the habit of judging things through their value systems, like right or wrong, benefit or harm, self and others, etc. This mind of value judgment was the reason why they are not free. To get free, man has to put down his judgmental mind and dichotomy of thinking, for any separation causes pain. If man could use the heart like a mirror, he would not escort things as they go or welcome them as they come, he responds but does not store. As an enlightened Taoist, Chuang Tzu showed us a way of living. Allow life to follow the natural course and accept death when it comes.