Seeking the Highest Power
Daoism is regarded to be a part of the great Chinese traditions in religion along with Confucianism and Buddhism. Daoist practitioners are advocating a naturalistic philosophy, artificiality of material values, and harmony with the natural flow of things. Thus, Daoism can also be defined as one of the Chinese schools of philosophy with the ideas that might be applied as a guide for a meaningful life. Traditionally, Daoism is associated with the name of Lao-Tsu, which can be translated as Old Master. According to some researchers, he was “wary of living and heading Westward in search of wisdom” (Tan, 2016, p. 163). Lao-Tsu is known as a founder of “Tao Te Ching,” which is recognized as a guidebook of Daoism and divided into two parts called Tao (the way) and Te (virtue). Tao explains the philosophy of life and can be used as a practical guide to living in harmony with nature and the universe. One of the most famous statements of Lao-Tsu is his notion of the highest good, which is compared to water known as the strongest element in the Five Elements theory.
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It is generally recognized that Daoism has several major beliefs that include such theories as “Ying-Yang,” “Five Elements,” and “Eight Trigram.” Five Elements theory is usually regarded as a system that consists of five phases used for providing descriptions of phenomena and their interactions and relationships. This system includes such elements as wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. It is stated that “nothing in the world is weaker than water, but nothing is stronger than water when it comes to breaking something strong” (Yin, 2016, p. 453). Therefore, water is defined as a symbol of strength. The comparison made by Lao-Tsu confirms that the highest good is stronger than anything else in the universe and can change the state of things.
Thus, according to the philosophy practiced by Daoism and presented in the passage about the highest good in “Tao Te Ching,” the goal of any human is to become a good man. The main qualities of a good man are allegorically compared to the ones of water, including timely action, faithful speech, profound heart, and competence in deeds. People who obtain these qualities are regarded as the best and the strongest. Life of such people must be happy as they achieved the goal of their existence.
This idea emphasizes the importance of naturalness in the methods of self-development, as well as satisfaction and happiness in life. Daoist practitioners need to understand the natural state of things and follow the ways of nature, which is regarded as right doing. It is noted that “everything in the world has its way of being and development, which occurs independently and naturally without following any human will” (Yin, 2016, p. 453). Therefore, to achieve happiness and harmony with themselves and nature, people should not change anything natural or try to control the world. One should not waste time chasing fortune, power, and fame. The principles of the highest good were designed to help people in achieving success in self-development as the right being and reaching the main goal of life to become closer to the highest good, which is one of the main qualities of the highest power.
The ideas of the highest good presented in Daoism are believed to have their origin in another Chinese philosophy known as Confucianism. Some researchers state that “the responses that Confucius and his successors articulated reveal a focus on authentic relations that form the cornerstone for familial harmony and social cohesion” (Tan, 2016, p. 158). A right doing praised by Confucian philosophy should involve being fully human in the relations with the outer world and seek the ways to become an embodiment of the highest virtues. Therefore, these two philosophies share the aspiration for self-development and achieving some perfection in the course of life. Still, Confucianism stresses the importance of reaching harmony with society rather than harmony with nature. Love to people is regarded as the highest virtue, and full humanity is emphasized to be obtained only through relations with other human beings. According to Confucius, an individual should also develop one’s human nature using education to the highest potential. At the same time, Daoism presents the idea of non-action that means that an individual should develop oneself through meditation and harmony with nature.
It should be noted that both Daoism and Confucianism are oriented to the development of a human being, which is good at the beginning of life but should be perfected. At the same time, in Christianity, which also values the virtues of a human being, the initial point of redemption and development is the fallen human nature born with sins. Still, there is a connection between the notions of the highest good in Daoism, Confucianism, and Christianity. The teaching of Jesus who was the embodiment of virtue demonstrated that God is love and the highest expression of goodness. Thus, it is noted that a right doing for a person is achieving “harmony with this creational expression of God’s goodness, and gratitude for the goodness of God is what makes possible a realization of the good of mankind in any sphere of life” (Jeffrey, 2015, p. 222). It also harmonizes with the understanding of the goals of life in Daoism. What is created by God cannot be bad and human beings have the evidence of God’s goodness and perfection presented in nature and at the universal level. By the Old Testament, a human being should not only follow the Law given by God but also lead such life that might make one better and closer to God. It is possible to say that everything that is good appeals to God because he is the embodiment of goodness. The evil actions that involve the destruction of God’s creation such as murder separate an individual from God because accepting something bad are against his nature.
It is a widespread opinion that most of the main religions of the world share common values about the good and the evil. Some researchers state that “economic development rather than political complexity explains the emergence of axial religions” (Baumard, Hyafil, Morris, & Boyer, 2015, p. 15). Still, Confucianism and Daoism were initially oriented to wealthy layers of society and people who are tired of power and money and seek to reach harmony with themselves and this world. As for Christianity, Jesus preached mainly for poor people giving them some values to oppose the ones of their rulers. Moreover, Jesus never had a chance to write down his sermons, and they are given to us according to their understanding by his followers, while the founders of Confucianism and Daoism put their dogmas on paper personally. Nevertheless, the notion of the highest good seems to be almost the same for these three religions.
The paper discussed one of the most famous statements of Lao-Tsu and his notion of the highest good, which was compared to water known as the strongest element in the Five Elements theory. It also provided a comparative analysis of the key ideas of the highest good in other religions such as Confucianism and Christianity. The relationship between right being and right doing was stated for each of these three religions.
Baumard, N., Hyafil, A., Morris, I., & Boyer, P. (2015). Increased affluence explains the emergence of ascetic wisdoms and moralising religions. Current Biology, 25(1), 10-15.
Jeffrey, D. L. (2015). The “good” and “the good life”: Confucius and Christ. Journal of Chinese Humanities, 1(2), 213-230.
Tan, J. Y. (2016). What Christians can learn from Chinese religions. In E. K. Chia (Ed.), Interfaith dialogue: Global perspectives (pp. 155-167). New-York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Yin, Y. (2016). Philosophical Taoism: A guide for happy life and administration. In L. Hale et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fifth Northeast Asia International Symposium on Language, Literature and Translation (p. 453). Marietta, GA: American Scholars Press.