One of the benefits of college, if not the greatest benefit, is having your mind exposed to ideas you would have never thought existed. You become enlightened, and with the right professors, your life may completely be changed forever (mostly for the better).
I’ve had the opportunity to come across one of these professors, let’s call him Mr. Runner, and he exposed me to the idea of Daos (Taos) some years ago.
Understanding Interpretations of Dao
“Dao” in Confucianism literally means “the way” or “pathway.” To Confucius, people who lived a virtuous life would be brought to harmony with “the way.” Laozi, a Chinese philosopher who lived over 2500 years ago, argued that it is the nature of Dao “that even though used continuously, it is replenished naturally, never being emptied, and never being over-filled…[it] cannot be said to waste its charge, but constantly remains a source of nourishment for those who are not so full of self as to be unable to partake of it.
To me, Dao seems to refer to laws of nature or the universe. Nothing can change them, because they just are. And being in harmony with these laws, as Confucius said a virtuous person would be, would mean that a person is following the path to enlightenment – an acceptance, perhaps, of Dao.
Now, my professor (Mr. Runner) developed a class all about different Dao’s or pathways for the citizen. Although the focus becomes a little more practical than simply following the mystical pathway of the universe, the underlying idea remains the same: what is (or in this case, are) the pathways to good citizenship? How can we be brought into harmony with “the way”?
Many were discussed, but today, I’d like to briefly discuss the starting place of self-fashioning.
Self-Fashioning and Choosing a Pathway
Each person is born with a particular chi or energy. No matter your walk of life, you will have some inherent focus in life. In Confucianism, human life is simply the platform of for improvement and honing of that chi. We see this in the language of Confucianism, with a special focus on considering the self and chi as synonymous with the “refining and polishing of jade.”
We, as humans and people of society, have the duty of both 1) individual work and self-fashioning and 2) positive societal and cultural work.
In all cases, the sense of self-fashioning comes down to the cultural in which one dwells, but there are also principles we see cross-culturally. Honor, for example, is something we see as extremely important in nearly all cultures. Every person wishes to look at themselves in the mirror and gain solace in the fact that they have somehow mastered their own lives.
Mastering one’s life, though, depends on deciding (or realizing) one’s pathway.
Some people find themselves with a special focus on things like honor. Soldiers, public servants, and politicians (yes, even politicians) all find a special focus with honor. They fight for a society and a code of ethics they firmly believe is correct – and they are even willing to put their lives on the line.
The connection between soldiers and this sacrifice is very clear, but I believe the same goes for police officers and public officials. These people are filled with thumos, or “spiritedness”, which drives their civic duty. This is a sense of self-righteous indignation – a sense of insult of honor – a sense of righteous rage. And this sense of rage is felt by every person at some time.
Look at someone like Harvey Milk. Milk, after living life being seen as a second rate citizen because of his sexuality, became so filled with thumos that he fought for equality until he was eventually assassinated. He marched, he faced beatings, and he faced ostracization and rejection by the society at large, and yet he went forward.
That said, for you critics of politics, know that it does not always have to be the blood thirsty pursuit of power; it stems also from a sense of offended honor.
Other pathways exist too, though. The pathway of artistry, environmentalism or civil right activism, and enlightened capitalism are all forms of pathways. Whatever the pathway, though, the underlying purpose and intent remains the same: following some passion or direction that, for some mysterious reason, you inherently have.
Now, if one focuses on this pathway and self-fashions this while remaining to be conscious of society, one may reach the heart of our modern “Dao.”
I’d like to end this will an opening of a discussion: what is your Dao, or have you not found it yet? If so, how have you found your Dao and have you met with solace? Has balanced been achieved? Further, do you think that a Dao requires a pathway? Drifting through life may have it benefits as well, I think. Can anyone support this?
Finally, I invite other philosophers or lovers of theory to supplement this article with other insights or interpretations. Confucianism has an extraordinary breadth and depth of ideas, and I’m sure I’ve missed some juicy detail!
Dr. Berkas Comment
“A person of Dao follows Earth. Earth follows Heaven. Heaven follows Dao. Dao follows its own nature.” Verse 26, Dao De Jing (The Classic on the Way and its Power or Virtue) , author: LaoTzu.
We are intricately intertwined between that which is above (Heaven) and that which is below (Earth). The microcosm follows the macrocosm and vise versa. Moving, breathing, flowing. Form and formless merge. The Universe around us is a much a part of our Being as our awareness is of “IT”. The way that we individually choose to live on this Earth is our own. While there are many perceived different “paths”, there is only ONE. That path which is illuminated through your heart Through love. IT is your divine purpose. To be Virtuous is to follow “IT’s” way. Until the time comes that we return to that from which we have come. Returning is the motion of the Dao. Separation from “The One” cannot exist unless you have forgotten “The Way.”