Taoism: The Enduring Tradition


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Taoism: The three treasures of the Tao.

Nov 19, Tom rated it liked it Shelves: First and foremost, potential readers should be fairly warned: Which isn't to say the two aren't interrelated they necessarily are ; this is just to say the reader should not be expecting a beginner's guide to Taoist history. Kirkland's ideal audience appears to be Sinologists and students of religion who do not specialize in Taoism, so the prose is of a somewhat stilted, simplified academic style. Furthermore, Kirkland takes on an annoyingly triumphalist tone that current scholarship is much less naive, imperialistic, erroneous, etc.

He consistently shrinks from generalities, for good and for ill. Another point of contention I have with this book is Kirkland's inconsistency in translating technical terms. For all its flaws, though, Taoism: The Enduring Tradition provides a wealth of information about the historical development of Taoism. Kirkland's emphasis on particularities brings forth descriptions of many interesting historical figures and situations which have often been neglected in the West.

Taoism: The Enduring Tradition

However, these figures and situations become evidence to prove his thesis that recent Western scholarship of Taoism needs to correct the mistakes of past scholarship, rather than things to be studied in their own right. Mary Victoria rated it it was ok Apr 18, Todd rated it really liked it Jan 05, Michael Lloyd-Billington rated it liked it Feb 28, Jan rated it it was ok Jun 20, Liam Clancy rated it it was amazing Jan 14, Ethan rated it liked it Dec 14, Eilis O sullivan rated it liked it Aug 08, Markus Wahl rated it liked it Apr 10, Peter Zupanc rated it liked it Dec 28, Ceef rated it liked it Feb 04, Ian Johnson rated it it was amazing Feb 19, Wei rated it liked it Mar 27, Stephen rated it liked it Jul 06, David Karabelnikoff marked it as to-read May 14, Tedwood Alexander Peacock marked it as to-read Jun 23, BookDB marked it as to-read Oct 02, Hu added it May 29, Pavel marked it as to-read Jul 16, Sophie marked it as to-read Sep 08, Lori is currently reading it Sep 10, Billy Candelaria marked it as to-read Jul 07, It is a valuable introduction to the Daoist tradition, particularly for what has been dismissed as "religious Daoism" Daojiao , as well as current research and controversies concerning Daoism's significance.

In chapter 1, Kirkland argues that Daoism is in need of being internally elucidated according to its own criteria. Thus, Daoism needs to be conceptualized according to the self-interpretation of Daoists rather than Chinese and Western critiques or faddish adaptations. For Kirkland, belonging to a Daoist heritage, lineage, and tradition constitutes being Daoist such that Daoist identity and thought cannot be defined by the philosophical and sinological reconstruction of a few "classics.

Kirkland begins chapter 2 by considering the retrospective and inaccurate Han classification of "philosophical schools" that oversimplified the diversity of pre-Han thought. Since 1 Daojia is an anachronistic Han invention and 2 the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi are not coherent self-consciously "Daoist" texts but rather compilations arising from varied and sometimes contradictory sources, there is no such thing as "early," "classical," or "philosophical" Daoism centered on "basic concepts" such as dao, wuwei, or ziran. Instead these ideas have 1 shared origins, as visible in Mengzi's reference to the self-cultivation of flood like qi; 2 origins in different intellectual circles, such as wuwei emerging from texts labeled as Confucian and legalist; or 3 a different meaning than what is later ascribed to them by Han dynasty, neo-Confucian, and Western thinkers, such as interpreting ziran in the Daodejing as "spontaneity" or "naturalness.

Taoism: The Enduring Tradition by Russell Kirkland

However, instead of exclusive opposites, there is a different sense in which the ease and directness of spontaneity and naturalness can be said to define Daoist--not to mention Confucian--self-cultivation. Likewise, he claims that no Daoist ever suggested "living according to nature" yet uses arguably equivalent phrases such as learning "how to live in accord with life's unseen forces and subtle processes" p.

This creates the impression that Kirkland's critique of other approaches to Daoism is in part merely verbal insofar as he inadequately defines concepts, conflates words with their popular usage, and leaves unexamined which or what kind of nature, reality, unseen forces, and life might be at stake in these philosophical and sinological arguments. A further weakness is his effort to deemphasize the significance of the Zhuangzi not to mention xuanxue, which is mostly ignored for Daoism while still using this text to support various arguments about its further development.

Kirkland claims in chapter 2 that the Zhuangzi has no great import for actual Daoism, and yet argues in chapter 5 that the Zhuangzi provides the central source and exemplar of the Daoist sage and perfected person zhenren.


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Much like Ge Hong's critique of xuanxue, and despite Girardot's convincing arguments that biospiritual practices are present in this text, Kirkland only finds a beautiful, yet empty and ethically bankrupt, idea of life in the Zhuangzi without any actual program of practical self-cultivation. Kirkland provides a stronger account of under-appreciated yet seminal texts such as the Taipingjing, the Huainanzi, and the Neiye inner cultivation chapter of the Guanzi, which many discussions of Daoism unfortunately disregard.

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The development of universalistic altruistic ethics and religious-political organization can be traced from Mohism to the Taiping movements in the Taipingjing. The Neiye and the Daodejing are in many ways more closely related than either one is to the Zhuangzi.

The Neiye is a seminal text for the Daoist focus on techniques of self-cultivation, and its interpretation is accordingly a necessary condition for any adequate interpretation of Daoism. Chapter 3 examines the Daoist tradition from its emergence in the early medieval period out of diverse interpretations and practices inherited from the past. These earlier figures and movements, which cannot be reduced to texts considered Daojia, are sources for Daoism per se i.

Especially significant for Kirkland is Lu Xiujing C.

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