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3. The Dao of Human Life


This form of the Dao is mainly concerned with the truth of human existence and the code of social conduct.
This has also profoundly influenced the martial ethics in Tai Chi Chuan.
In most cases it is demonstrated through the wisdom as exposed in "the three treasures" advocated by Lao Zi: The first is "kindness." The second is "frugality." The third is "to dare not be ahead of the world." It is proclaimed that "With kindness one can become courageous; with frugality one can become generous; and with not daring to be ahead of the world one can become the leader of the world" (Ch. 67). The whole idea is closely connected with Lao Zi's viewpoint of "retreat" that seems to be defensive and passive. Nevertheless, Lao Zi maintains that only the ability to fall back is bravery, the ability to shrink is to stretch; and avoiding prominence and precedence makes one the first. He is convinced that the breach of these three rules of wisdom will bring about complete failure. Moreover, it is generally acknowledged that "the three treasures" were recommended as solutions to social problems such as harsh human relations, insatiable desires and keen competition among people in general and the rich and powerful in particular.
The wisdom of life is also reflected in the sensibility and awareness of the necessity of "being contented," which is assumed to yield "constant happiness," (Ch. 46) and the necessity of "being modest" that is believed to create advantages.
Furthermore, it is also contained in the consciousness of the relativity and mutualism in respect of the interactions between the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the evil, gains and losses as well as between fortune and misfortune. According to Lao Zi "When people in the world know the beautiful as beauty, then arises the recognition of the ugly. When they know the good a good, there arises the recognition of the evil" (Ch. 2). In our social and daily lives the beautiful and the good are what we expect while the ugly and the evil are what we reject. They are set side by side as antithetical categories, and come into being in mutual contrast as a consequence of value judgment. Lao Zi is usually interpreted as intending to completely deny and eliminate the distinction between the above-mentioned categories. I hold that he attempted to advocate a rather indifferent stance to the distinction as such. That was because he found it impossible to improve the situation of his harsh time, when power and wealth spoke far more louder than anything else, resulting in the turning of social values upside-down.
As to the dialectical interaction between gains and losses, Lac Zi inferred from his principle of "reversion" as the movement of the Dao that "an excessive love of fame is bound to cause an extravagant expense; a rich hoard of wealth is bound to suffer a heavy loss" (Ch. 44). Throughout the history of human society what people have always desired and pursued are chiefly fame and wealth. They may go so far as to be alienated or enslaved by "the fetters of fame and the shackles of wealth" as the Chinese metaphor goes. Hence Lao Zi advised people to be contented with what they have on the one hand, and on the other, warned the avaricious and ambitious not to go to extremes.
As is known to all, good fortune or happiness is what people like to embrace whilst misfortune or misery is what they try to avoid. Yet, people mostly do not realize that the two opposites go hand in hand. "Misfortune is," as Lao Zi remarks, "that beside which fortune lies; fortune is that beneath which misfortune lurks." This again reveals their interrelationship of change or transformation at a certain point as they slant toward each other. This thought naturally corresponds to Lao Zi's generalization that "Reversion is the movement of Dao." (Ch. 40)
Above all, the Dao or wisdom of human existence is fundamentally exemplified via the attitude toward life itself and its natural end -death. Almost all living beings are afraid to die, especially human beings. The love of life and fear of death seem to be connected with natural instinct in the case of mankind. Lao Zi observed that what hinders human freedom could be a double complex related to life and death. He then pronounced that life and death as phenomena are as natural as anything else in the world. "Man comes alive into the world and goes dead into the earth. Three out of ten will live a longer time. Three out of ten will live a shorter time. And three out of ten will strive for long life but meet premature death. And for what reason? It is because of excessive preservation of life. Those who don't value their lives are wiser than those who overvalue their lives" (Ch. 50). This entire statement is noticeably a presentation of Lao Zi's attitude toward life and death which are considered as natural phenomena from his Daoist naturalist perspective. Its implied message is aimed at reminding people (1) to live their lives as naturally as possible so that they can enjoy them; (2) not to be crushed by the tragic sense of death that befalls all men alike; and (3) not to overvalue life because it is in vain to strive for a long life by means of excessive preservation. Derived from the Dao of living is then a practical approach that lies in less clinging to life-consciousness, since only by so doing can one be "out of the range of death," according to Lao Zi.

In conclusion these concepts can be easily retrieved in Tai Chuan, where one's should always struggled against "excess" in his "martial" attitude:
- one's should seldom attack first (kindness),
- no excessive use of its wait (knees never beyond the vertical of your toes),
- during focus one's mental activity in "vacuity",seeking complete adaptability towards opponent's offensive, and not focusing on purely "victory/defeat" (life/death) issues...




 

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