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The Reconciling Symbol in Chinese Philosophy


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Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 6) (Bollingen Series XX)

The Reconciling Symbol in Chinese Philosophy:

The idea of a middle path that lies between the opposites is also to be found in China, in the form of Tao.

The idea of Tao is usually associated with the name of the philosopher Lao-Tzu, born B.C. 604. But this concept is older than the philosophy of Lao-Tzu, since it is bound up with certain ideas belonging to the ancient national religion of the Tao, the celestial “way”. This concept corresponds with the Vedic Rita.

The meanings of Tao are as follows:

(1) way, (2) method, (3) principle, (4) Nature-force or life-force, (5) the regulated processes of Nature, (6) the idea of the world, (7) the primal cause of all phenomena, (8) the right, (9) the good, (10) the eternal moral law.

Some translators even translate Tao as God, not without a certain right, since Tao, like Rta, has a certain admixture of concrete substantiality.

I will first give a few illustrations from the Tao Te Ching, the classical book of Lao-tzu:

  1. Was Tao the child of something else? We cannot tell.
    But as a substanceless image it existed before the Ancestor.

  2. There was something formless yet complete,
    That existed before heaven and earth;
    Without sound, without substance,
    Dependent on nothing, unchanging,
    All pervading, unfailing,
    One may think of it as the mother of all things under heaven
    Its true name we do not know;
    “Way” is the name that we give it.

In order to characterize its essential quality, Lao-tzu likens it to water:

  1. The highest good is like that of water. The goodness of water is that it benefits the ten thousand creatures; yet itself does not scramble, but is content with the [low] places that all men disdain. It is this that makes water so near the Way.

The idea of the energic process could not surely be better expressed.

  1. He that is without desire sees its essence,
    He that clings to desire sees only its outward form.

The kinship with the basic Brahmanic ideas is unmistakable which does not necessarily imply direct contact Lao-tzu is an entirely original thinker, and the primordial image underlying both the Rita-Brahman- Atman and Tao conceptions is as universal as man, appearing in every age and among all peoples, whether as a primitive energy concept, as “soul force” or however else it may be designated.

  1. He who knows the Always-so has room in him for everything;
    He who has room in him for everything is without prejudice.
    To be without prejudice is to be kingly;
    To be kingly is to be of heaven;
    To be of heaven is to be in Tao.
    Tao is forever, and he that possesses it,
    Though his body ceases is not destroyed.

The knowledge of Tao has therefore the same redeeming and uplifting effect as- the “knowing” of Brahman. Man becomes one with Tao, with the unending; thus to range this latest philosophical concept appropriately by the side of its older kindred, since Tao is also the stream of time. Tao is an irrational, hence a wholly inconceivable fact: Tao is essence, but unseizable, incomprehensible.”

  1. Tao is a thing impalpable, incommensurable.
    For though all creatures under heaven are the products
    of [Tao as] being.
    Being itself is the product of [Tao as] Not-Being.
    Tao is hidden and nameless.

Clearly Tao is an irrational union of the opposites, therefore a symbol which is and is not.

  1. The Valley Spirit never dies;
    It is named the mysterious female.
    And the door of the mysterious Female
    Is the base from which heaven and earth sprang

Tao is the creative essence, as father begetting and as mother bringing forth. It is the beginning and end of all creatures.

  1. He whose actions are in harmony with Tao becometh one with Tao.

Therefore the complete one is freed from the opposites whose intimate connection and alternating appearance he is aware of. Thus in Chapter ix he says : “to withdraw oneself is the celestial way”.

Therefore the perfected sage liberates himself from the opposites, having seen through their connection with one another and their alternation. Therefore it is said:

  1. When your work is done, then withdraw.
    Such is heaven’s way.
    He [the perfected sage] cannot either be drawn into
    Friendship or repelled,
    Cannot be benefited, cannot be harmed,
    Cannot be either raised or humbled.

Being one with Tao resembles the state of infancy:

  1. Can you keep the unquiet physical soul from straying, hold fast
    to the Unity, and never quit it?
    Can you, when concentrating your breath, make it soft like that
    of a little child?

  2. He who knows the male, yet cleaves to what is female,
    Becomes like a ravine, receiving all things under heaven;
    And being such a ravine,
    He knows all the time a power that he never calls upon in vain.
    This is returning to the state of infancy.

  3. The impunity of that which is fraught with this power
    May be likened to that of an infant.

This is, admittedly, the psychological attitude which is an essential condition of the inheritance of the Christian Kingdom of Heaven, and this in spite of all rational interpretations is the central, irrational essence, the basic image and symbol whence proceeds the redeeming effect.

The Christian symbol merely has a more social (character than the allied Eastern conceptions. These latter are more directly rooted in eternally existing dynamistic conceptions, such as the image of magical power, issuing from things and men, and on a higher level from gods, or a principle.

According to the ideas of the Taoistic religion, too is divided into a principle pair of opposite, Yang and Yin. Yang is warmth, light, masculinity. Yin is cold, darkness, femininity. Yang is also heaven, Yin earth. From the Yang force arises Shen, the celestial portion of the human soul ; and from the Yin force arises Kwei, the earthly part. As a microcosm, man is also in some degree a reconciler of the pairs of opposites. Heaven, man, and earth, form the three chief elements of the world, the San-tsai.

This image is an altogether primordial idea, which we find elsewhere in similar forms; as for instance in the West African myth where Obatala and Odudua, the first parents (heaven and earth) lie-together in a calabash, until a son, man, arises between them. Hence as a microcosm, uniting in himself the world-opposites, man corresponds with the irrational symbol which reconciles psychological antitheses. This root-image of man clearly accords with Schiller, when he calls the symbol “living form”.

The division of the human soul into a Schen or Kwan soul, and a Kwei (or Po) soul, is a great psychological truth. This Chinese presentation also suggests the familiar passage in Faust:

“Two souls, alas ! within my bosom dwell
One would from the other sever.
The one in full delight of love
Clings with clutching organs to the world :
The other, mightily, from earthly dust
Would mount on high to the ancestral fields.”

The existence of two mutually contending tendencies, both striving to drag man into extreme attitudes and entangle him in the world whether upon the spiritual or material side thereby setting him at variance with himself, demands the existence of a, counter-weight, which is just this irrational fact, Tao. Hence the believer’s anxious effort to live in harmony with Tao, lest he fall* into the conflict of the opposites.

Since Tao is an irrational fact, it cannot be deliberately achieved ; a fact which Lao-Tzu frequently emphasizes. Wu-wei, another specifically Chinese concept, owes its particular significance to this condition. It signifies “doing nothing”, but, as Ular pertinently explains, it should be rendered: “not-doing, and not doing nothing”.

The rational ” desire to bring it about “, which is the greatness and the evil of our own epoch, does not lead to Tao. Thus the aim of the Taoistic ethic sets out to find deliverance from that tension of the opposites which is an inherent property of the universe, by a return to Tao. ~Carl Jung, Psychological Types, The Type Problem in Poetry.