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THE WORLD OF SPIRIT AND THE WORLD OF SENSE
Theme suggested by the material given in the 7th Essay of Huai Nan Tzû.
The Taoist philosophy maintains three fundamental essences, as outlined in the 7th chapter. These are ching ###, the ethereal part, as opposed to the gross in human beings. This is spoken of by some as instinct: ch‛i ### élan vital, transformed into material substance. The word is the same as the word for air and is that which is looked upon as substance; and finally shen ### the animal-spirits, the mind and so on: by some it is thought of as conscience. These three are, or should be, under the command of the will. Volition is the vanguard. The combination of these three, results in the issue of beings. The organization of the different classes is due to the different quantities of the essences in the combination. That which has only partaken of ch‛i becomes mineral. A combination of ching and ch‛i forms the lower form of organic matter, such as plants and animals. But those objects that are possessed of the three elements, ching, ch‛i and shen, go to form the highest form of beings,—beings with mind and soul. Within such beings the due harmony of the ching and shen constitute what may be called "the spirit."
This highest form of beings has the power of will to choose its own path in life: but, for their own welfare, they should adopt the will of the Tao as their fundamental director.
The processes of creation proceed on very natural lines. The combination of the three factors, as mentioned previously, proceeds continuously and gives birth to the Cosmos,—Heaven, Earth and Man. Since these are creations proceeding through the instrumentality of the Tao, p. xxii their full life can only be maintained by entire harmony and identity with this Cosmic Spirit. But, being endowed with a power of will in himself, man is inclined to neglect this, by the seduction of the senses and through ignorance, thus making an artificial life for himself where the senses and the flesh predominate, to the neglect of the spirit and culminating in the final ruin of life. But Heaven and Earth still maintain their original contact and implicitly follow the movement of the Tao, in all their motions. "As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be," in regard to these. But man, being endowed with power of will, does not follow the impulse of the Tao, but goes on, following his own desires, and conducts his administrative, executive, educational and ceremonial systems, wholly regardless of the direction of the Tao, and has thus lost reality and created an artificial state of life. So the natural harmony is lost, to a great extent. In turn, this artificiality has altered (swerved) the course of Heaven and Earth.
The human body is constituted as a microcosmos: it is a miniature form of the universe. The four limbs and the whole body have a resemblance to the larger universe. The part affects the whole; and so, if the part has lost its full power of interaction and coöperation, the larger whole is affected. Heaven and Earth have a way of wholesomeness, in order to follow the volition of the Tao. This consists in the economy of the use of all or any of its powers, care of its talents and love and regard for its soul. So that, if we do not follow them, but do everything in artificial ways,—following our own wills, the harmony of nature will be spoiled, as well as our own economies of life.
Losing this wholesomeness of life will create great disadvantages, inducing the four corruptions of the body, which will invitably entail death. If the microcosmos suffers, the macrocosmos cannot escape infection. There is a close connection between the Universe and Man. There is intimate connection between Man and all things. There is an equality and an essential unity. This is the p. xxiii ontology of life. Since human beings neglect or are ignorant of this wholeness, and are disobedient to the will of Tao, painful consequences follow, such as the pangs of birth, sickness, old age and death. Men, being ignorant of the true course of evolution and laws of nature, think of life as pleasure, and death as bane, or regard strength as the summum bonum, and decay and the ills of life as evil and unfortunate,—all which implies that a great mistake has been made about the natural system, and, in consequence, many unnatural things are brought about.
Accordingly, the first thing to do is to guard the mind; for the mind is the throne of the spirit: it is the tablet of the soul and the spot where the 'jades' (precious things) of life are presented. It is the shrine of life. If there is no tablet, presentations will have no value, and nothing can be done in averting evils. So all real men safe-guard the mind. They never let it drift, and so they accomplish great things, and great results are achieved. The attitude is one of stillness or a perfect equilibrium of forces, i.e., not disturbed by passion. They are, however, full of activity. They understand that the changes occurring in the body are only the natural processes of evolution; they feel assured that the spirit can never die; and accordingly, look on it as a matter of supreme importance to safe-guard the spirit through the mind, or safe-guard the heart,—the soil whence the spirit comes. This is most important! Evolving from the chen jen ###, true man, there grows, naturally, the chih jen ### superman,—the highest class of beings in nature.
It may be permitted us to think that the word mind used in the foregoing passage is much similar to the word reason as used by Plato. Here, then, we have a very interesting analogy between two ancient writers, living not very distant in time from one another, but very distant in space. One in Greece, the other in China. And it will well repay us to compare the two worlds which both discussed. One the world of sense, the other the world p. xiv of spirit. We have already seen the Taoist conceptions of the two worlds; let us now hear the Platonic view. I will quote from Martineau's "Types of Ethical Theory."
"According to Plato, the leading distinction between its immortal part and its mortal is expressed by the words Reason and Sense. The adhesive entanglements of sense and passion grow around the soul, and cover her with an earthly mass so dense and wild, that her primitive divine nature is unperceived: but if you only notice the insight that she can show into the true and good, and the converse she aspires to with the godlike and immortal, you may imagine what she would appear if, lifted out of the gulf in which her life is plunged, and with the unsightly accretions all struck off. The immortal part of the soul is simple and uncompounded: but the other is composed of a nobler and a less noble part, of which the higher,—impulse or energy of Will, mediates between the extremes of Intellect and Sense: and the lower,—appetite, or the selfish desire of having rather than of being, is in complete opposition to reason, and through the force of the intervening impulse to be in rightful subordination to it. This leads to the conception of character.
What is the highest good? Are we entangled in the delusions and fascinations of the senses? We must clear ourselves from them, learn to converse with ideas, subjugate the body, and welcome death as an emancipation from the last hindrance of our wisdom. Are we sharers in that divine Reason which informs and organises the universe? We must recognise and welcome it everywhere, and follow it out as it ramifies through the world of sense, and touches pleasure itself with the ray of beauty. There is nothing inconsistent in this double view, which regards the material system now as the opaque veil to hide, now as the transparent medium to reveal, the inner thought which is the divine essence of all: and seek, at one time, into the intellectual glory, by escape from detaining appearances: at another, to descend with that glory as it streams into the p. xxv remotest recesses of the phenomenal world." Pp. 65-7.
And then we are led on from this to consider the matter from the view-point of the two worlds,—the visible and the invisible. As is clear to those who have read these essays, the matter is ever present to these ancient Taoists—possibly in a very vague way and not to be compared with the clearness and the ardour of the Christian mystic. Possibly no modern life brings out this more manifestly than the life of the late Cardinal Newman. "In words of strange and wrapt solemnity he gave simply and unfalteringly his tidings of that "other world", to him so real, that "other world", half-hidden yet mysteriously present, veiled by the world of sense, yet laying from time to time, and unawares, upon the heart some intimation, some mystic hint, that it was close at hand." And a further quotation from the same source will remind us that the description given of him bears much resemblance to that given, in ancient time, of the ancient "perfect man" of the Taoists.
"One who knew him speaks of his "intense stillness", when in repose. This stillness was but the outward expression of his inward quietude, the quietude of one rapt in contemplation of a vision. Mathew Arnold speaks of him as a "spiritual apparition." "There's Newman", the students used to say, as they met him, "with head thrust forward and gaze fixed as though at some vision seen only by himself, with swift, noiseless steps he glided by". From the seclusion of the study, from abstinence and prayer, from habitual dwelling in the Unseen, he seemed to come forth, that one day of the week (Sunday), to speak to others of the things he had seen and known." J. L. May's "Cardinal Newman". Pp. 30, 33.