Daoism Demystified

Portland Free Philosophy Lectures and Discussions
Portland Free Philosophy Lectures and Discussions
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IMPORTANT: Due to the virus we will not be hosting an in-person meeting and will instead be teleconferencing via the ZOOM app. Check back here later or send me a message for info as to the how to access the meeting.

Reading assignment is chapters 2-4.

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Daoism in the west (and perhaps too in the east) has always had this mysterious and mystical reputation. And when a person open the first page of the Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing, for a more accurate pronunciation) and sees something like this:

"These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders"

it is not hard to imagine why. Daoism also has a rich and vibrant tradition as a set of religious, mystical, and alchemical beliefs and practices in the east, which no doubt also adds to this reputation. However, this seminar is about exploring Daoism through the lenses of the Tao Te Ching and the Zhuang Zhuo (also called the Chuang Tzu) and through these texts discovering a philosophy that is no more mystical than a good deal of western thought.

In this seminar we will be going through the Tao Te Ching chapter by chapter (the exact pace will vary depending on where we are and how the group feels), carefully considering each enigmatic verse and exploring possible meanings and interpretations. To that end, I highly recommend this site:

https://terebess.hu/english/tao/_index.html

which features an extensive number of translations which you can peruse and compare at your leisure. In this group I imagine the issue of translation will come up a lot, so getting a sense of how different translators and interpreters approached the text is recommended. The question "does anyone else's translation say something different?" will likely be a familiar refrain.

As for translation to pick up and stick with, the Feng & English translation as well as the Derek Lin translation are generally well regarded, but if you browse the site above linked you will also find translations of interest by such known figures as Ursula K. LeGuin, Timothy Leary, D.T. Suzuki, and Aleister Crowley.

Every few session we will be switching away from the Tao Te Ching to read a chapter of the Chuang Tzu (named for its author, Zhuang Zhou). The Chuang Tzu offers a different perspective as well as a dramatically different style than the Tao Te Ching and as such will serve as a valuable companion piece as well as a palate cleanser. We will talk more about translations and such when we get to the book though.