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Liberty is a prominent question in this philosophy. There is more implied than what is openly expressed. The Imperial Authority, grandfather though he was to the Prince of Huai Nan, was jealous of his autocratic powers, and, perhaps, rightly so, for regicide was a common thing in the days before the Annals. The prince was a favourite at one time and at another time he was an object of suspicion. So he did not venture to openly advocate freedom of life in his writings. He had to broach the subject under occultive language such as "the fish forgetting its existence in the sea." Nevertheless, he did make clear his views that he opposed the suppression of liberty by oppressive laws. Further he made it plain that liberty and freedom can only be found and cherished in one way by surrender of the mind to the Tao. That is the only guarantee, that is the only sure basis. And the liberty that was under this spiritual bondage was the true liberty. It guaranteed true freedom of life, though the chains of the tyrant bound the person. This superlative teaching runs through all the thought of the writings especially those of Essays 6 and 8; and the exhibition of such a shining vision tinges the whole of life with optimism.
You will notice, first of all, the sentence in which the idea is expressed. "The fish forget each other." (p. 37., l. i.) There is no mutual jealousy, no definite opposition, no desire to make profit by one at the expense of another. The heart does not think of these things nor the mind consider any idea of self-aggrandisement. It is as though others do not exist for my sake. And this follows the principle of Naturalism and embraces the power of the Tao. Accretions resulting from the flesh, temptations arising from the mind, cease to exist where Naturalism is supreme and life is governed by the Tao. In this way, and in this way alone, the believer's vital faith is the momentum of Life. This is p. xxvii what is meant by the "Freedom of Life." There is a similarity in it to what Christ and the Psalmist said: "The truth shall make you free. Thy word is truth."
This is the great view of life. It is different from, and sometimes antagonistic to, the ideals of the Confucian school. Now this antagonism and difference of view arises from different basic conceptions. The diagrams attached will help to distinguish these different sources and conceptions. The Confucian idea of Cosmos is more rigid and inflexible than that of the Taoist and the Christian. It is necessarily so; for it is more allied to the physical. The other is attached to the Spirit and, therfore, more flexible. He who thinks that everything proceeds from a material Heaven, with its rigid laws and principles, is less elastic in his views than he who follows the Spirit. Thus, the Confucian is said to be in bondage to li, law, and to the innumerable ceremonies that arise from law. In a way this is the same idea, though covering a narrower range, than we find expressed in the great epistles of St. Paul concerning "Law and Grace." The Confucian tends to bondage; the Taoist towards liberty. "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," says Paul. (2 Cor. 3. 17.)
This idea of liberty leads us to another fundamental thought, viz., that of forgetfulness. This is expressed by the fishes forgetting each other. Thus, the True Man, standing firmly on a spiritual foundation, the basis of Heaven and Earth, his centre, or heart, moving freely in this sphere, is possessed of the fulness of virtues, and is warmed by the rays of harmony. Naturally all things become full of the vividness of life's happiness. In that case, who would be willing to change that state for one full of perplexity and complexity, arising from the intrusion of desire and passion, selfishness, ambition, pride and so on?
Now, everything depends on the base or foundation. This is all important. The base is Naturalism, which is the Tao. Everything must be based on the Tao. All other bases are ropes of sand. And we may rely on them; or p. xxviii get this base through Forgetfulness. This forgetfulness is not neglectfulness. The latter is carelessness, which implies want of attention and concentration, or consciousness of mind. Forgetfulness is a state or condition in which all things live their own free lives, unhindered and without interference. The opposite word is Remembrance. This word is a very pleasing one, and most welcome when referring to acts of friendship and so on. But, in other respects, it is a word portentous of danger. And in explaining it, we may take the figure of the fishes, as typical of the "jades" and gains of the world. People never forget their fishes: they always want to catch them. They invent innumerable ways of catching them, and get them for their own uses. There is always a struggle of class for privileges and benefits. Powers and individuals from time immemorial have sought their own advantage, and struggled, fought and litigated for position. They are like bandits who plot to get the money and wealth of others. We may use the words of St. James, "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not from your lusts that war in your members?" So Forgetfulness of these lusts would give us full peace, within and without.
Now, a little further on, we read that the "connective relations result in a Tao Unity." The original is One. This word "One" is significant. It means the major principle of existence, Naturalism or Tao, Logos. It is maintained by some that Tao issues from Naturalism. But it is more probable that they are identical, just as, in Christian theology, we say that God must be governed by the eternal law, as if law were outside God. The only way is to regard them as identical.
Just a little further on, (page 38, the 2nd paragraph,) we read "the person who follows narrow and crooked conventionalism," etc. Here the Confucianists are again attacked, for the error of their doctrines and principles. These are accused of being narrow, crooked and trifling, and do not come from the real and true source of being p. xxix and life. In Biblical language they are no more than "hewn cisterns that hold no water" and soon dry up. To use these in the cultivation and the reform of life is but to tinker with the problem of existence. To try to reconstruct and keep in proper order social life, by means of these trifling things, is like patching an old garment. It is not renewing it. Rites and ceremonies and the arid virtues that have issued from a purely human invention and are entirely based on social ideas, such as monarchism, filialism and the five relations, and not the natural outcome of the virtue which is based on the Tao are totally insufficient for the purpose of human renewal. The Confucian, in fact, attempts to reform and maintain society on things that are only trifling, viz., ritualism and physical ethics.
It is not to be denied, it is granted, that the Confucian system has certain merit and achieves certain social ends. They have the will power to accomplish their end and to satisfy their desires. They have a tao, but in the words of Han Yü,—and his words may be used to attack his own theory,—his tao is not, the true Tao; and his tê-virtue, is not the real virtue. With their inferior rate tao they have produced certain effects. But the effects are of secondary value, only, and incomparable, in value, to those influences that emanate from the great Tao itself. The effects of the working of this is lofty, sure and lasting. The contrast between the real life and the artificial is elaborately described, and the attainments of the true Taoist, are extolled in noble language. Who but he can really achieve the ideal life? All others must fail in true achievement (Pp. 37-40). With regard to these minor and artificial philosophies of the schoolmen, they are described, in another place, as the molten drops that fall on the ground, when a worker in iron beats the glowing mass.
Who is the Perfect Man (###)? He is the ideal follower of the Tao. He is identified with it, and, through its influence, he becomes the great personality that he is. The question of personality is not definitely discussed nor, p. xxx even mentioned, except it be in such passages as the description of the man who has undergone a great physical change through same mishap and looks upon his reflection in the water and magnifies the Creator for such an endowment as he has received, etc. And the perfect-man is the only free man. Identity with the spiritual gives the true freedom of mind and spirit. All other methods fail to do so.
This self-surrender to the Spirit assures the best freedom. The background to all human liberty and successful life is authority. Liberty without this authority can only result in license. And the man who feels most a subjection to this authority is the one who will do most for the world.
We may compare the Taoist view of life in this repect with that of Socrates. Socrates maintained that he was at his best when his daimonion was working; and his thought clearest when he was most sure of divine guidance. Prof. Bury says that "Socrates represents his own life work as a sort of religious quest: he feels convinced that in devoting himself to philosophic discussion he had done the bidding of a superhuman guide and he goes to death rather than be untrue to his personal conviction. Because of this he became the champion of free discussion and the supremacy of the individual conscience over human law." And we have the Taoist view that human enactments and the wisdom of Sages may be abolished. Tradition binds man and therefore is inferior to "conscience." If men followed the Tao they would never be opportunists, but always act according to principle and right. Both had unbounded faith in spiritual law. Mere human knowledge is of itself wholly inadequate and uncertain. But the Tao is always full to those who have the mind for it.