Eastern Philosophy: Not Mystical But Metaphorical

Mount Sanqing, an important Taoist Mountain, can create a sense of magic with its greatness.
Mount Sanqing, an important Taoist Mountain, can create a sense of magic with its greatness.

To many people, Philosophical Taoism and Buddhism are full of strange and fanciful ideas; it may seem absurd that a bird or a mouse could be the reincarnation of a relative or that people can achieve immorality by living stress-free, but these ideas and many others are taken out of context, only allowing potential seekers of “spirituality” and onlookers to engage with the concepts in a straightforward manner. This leads people to think that these philosophies have some sort of “magic” in them.

 

The Logic of Philosophical Taoism

Hui and I strongly dissent from the notion that the Zhuangzi lacks logical support and relies on other bases for its conclusions, because the idea of nondistinction as a means of eliminating suffering and accessing reality in its entirety and the idea of cooperation with the Tao to achieve nondistinction– these do in fact make logical sense. For instance:

“The man with two toes webbed together would weep if he tried to tear them apart; the man with a sixth finger on his hand would howl if he tried to gnaw it off.”

On account of the logical principle of negation, the conception of beauty creates not-beauty. Since a person wants to be beautiful, that person shuns his being not beautiful. Since he cannot escape his (let’s just say) supreme ugliness, he creates his pain. Thus, the creation of his pain arises from his rejection of his ugliness, his nature, the Tao, which means that not rejecting his nature suppresses the creation of pain. I can keep going on and on, but I think this is enough to prove that there is logic in the core concepts of Zhuangzi.

“He who holds to True Righteousness does not lose the original form of his inborn nature. So for him joined things are not webbed toes, things forking off are not superfluous fingers…

Ducks are born with webbed toes because that is their nature.
Ducks are born with webbed toes because that is their nature.

Another source that causes mysticism is the claim that nondistinction enables one to perceive the world truly. This can be dressed up as an insinuation of ignorance being better than education, a very mystical notion. However, Zhuangzi wrote that when a person distinguishes, they restrict reality. I can think a pen is for writing, but I lose knowledge because the pen can be for stabbing too (this example was made on the spot during the pseudo TED talk in How Two Brothers Became Taoist). Not restricting the usage of the pen enables me to know more about the pen and be closer to perceiving true reality.


 

Metaphors in Buddhism

Grey HeronReincarnation and Karma, two of the main beliefs in Buddhism, are culprits of generating the mystical notion in their philosophy. Articles and other sources often present Reincarnation as a recycling of oneself for another life (In the past I may have been a heron or a fish!). Yet these seem to be simplified and made to be appealing; perhaps the idea of reincarnation is the recycling of man’s essence (be it the spirit or nutrients), which scatter and become part of a fish and a heron. Metaphorically, I would have been both.

 

The Burning of the House of Parliament by J. M. W. Turner
The Burning of the House of Parliament by J. M. W. Turner

Also, Youtube has many instant-Karma videos, which support the superficial concept of Karma. Karma is complex, and it too is not wholly presented in many places. How ordinary would it be if my actions, which are either a degree of morally good or bad (by whom as judge), guarantee justice? How mystical would it be if my actions just plant justice? In this sense and with a non-mystical Reincarnation: a firefighter dies on duty, and his city honors him with a plaque on a bench, “renewing his life.” This is worldly Reincarnation. One day, an arsonist with his jerrycan reads the plaque, and then he pours the gas out, and “justice” sprouted. This is worldly Karma. This is of our world, wouldn’t you agree?

Feel free to email us if you have concerns, and consider following Tao Practiced for more explorations of different philosophies and certain schools of thought.

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Published by

Yang Ho

I attend UNC at Chapel Hill, double majoring in Philosophy and Economics. I write poetry, compete in amateur boxing, and volunteer as a writing coach for the local high school, all supplemented with my deep interest of eastern philosophy.

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