Episode Four The Light of the Way
A great search of two thousand five hundred years went on hand in hand with a great fall.
The flesh was weak, but the soul kept searching.
Time and again the monstrous and unrestrained body ruthlessly mocked the weak and innocent soul.
Time and again the cultural search and cultural self-salvation of Chinese intellectuals ended in a cultural spasm and a cultural cry.
To the teaching of the way of faithfulness and forgiveness, Confucius devoted all his life and effort; but the end his way was twisted into an instrument and ornament of despotism.
Mencius concluded that the big fall was the consequence of man’s betrayal of his own nature, but Xun Zi saw it as the result of the logical development of human nature.
Han Fei Zi believed that the teachings of Confucius and Mencius were but unrealistic, and he believed in that only severe punishment and power were the iron-hard right way.
China’s fate was unfortunate and became ruthless. The destiny of the land had not been kept in the hand of the Confucians, but in the hand of legalists and military strategists. For two thousand and five hundred years, was there a dynasty which was not built on swords and spears, sustained with dictatorship, but decorated with humanity, righteousness and virtues?
Yu Yingshi Interview
Chinese regimes were not founded on Confucianism, but established through battles and strife. After the era of East Zhou, during the age of Spring and Autumn and the age of Warring Kingdoms, the country was divided. Then a power gradually emerged. It had great military force and effective organizations, and it was good at combat. It was the state of Qin. It was a frontier state and was considered a barbarian state. Like the state of Chu, it was not the mainstream of Chinese culture. But it conquered all other states and established a different system, which was based on the legalist thought. And it worked. Legalists did not concern themselves with fundamental principles. They offered methods to achieve the political rule of the emperor, whatever he wanted. That system had an emperor who held power from the above, with a bureaucratic system of different levels assisting him, each level responsible to its upper level. That was the ideal state of the Legalists. They did not concern themselves with basic values, nor were they against the values. Basically they put the issue of values aside and pursued only one goal, the stable ruling of the country.
In a China where the way of heaven was kept in a distance and the way of man was at hand, the way of man at last degraded into the way of war, the way of power. The ideal of self-enlightenment and self-salvation based on human nature was turned into self-affliction and self-abuse based on weapons.
History vindicated a saying by He Guan Zi: The way of human takes weapons as its prior instrument.
Their descendants almost forgot Mo Zi’s advice: irreverence of God will lead to sin; the betrayal of the way of heaven will result in human disaster.
Dong Zhongshu, a Confucian scholar of the Han dynasty, also realized that man would be incorrigible if he is irreverent of heaven, and therefore he invented the theory of correspondence between heaven and man to imitate the rulers and recover the human mind. His efforts were futile.
In the following three hundred blood-shed years, history witnessed the battles and conquests of the three kingdoms, the rebellions of eight royal siblings, the division of China by a dozen local powers, and the turbulent Wei, Jin , and Northern and Southern dynasties. During this period, Buddhism seemed to have brought a dim light of hope. Even the emperors were converted one after another. However, the immense piety of the Buddhists did not change the misfortunate and miserable historical destiny of this broad empire.
The following history of Five dynasties and ten kingdoms, succeeded by Song, Liao, Xia, and Jin dynasties were but a few more centuries of war, division, and humiliation.
Zhu Xi appeared. He wanted to suppress the human desire with the principle of heaven. But where did the principle of heaven lie? He did not have an answer and only babbled that the principle of heaven was the mind of man and vice versa. This illusory principle of heaven was empty when compared by human desire just as the Song dynasty that cultivated it was helpless when conquered by the barbarous Huns.
Wang Yangming, born to the following Ming Dynasty, suggested that man could be selfless and pure if he closely watched over his mind and tried to catch and discard a flashing desire just as a cat would catch a mouse While serving as a municipal administrator, he really put his theory into practice. Seeing that it was not successful and noticing that “rebels” were rising everywhere, this scholar made a complete turn by gathering and training his followers into an army to join in the crush of peasant uprisings. His military achievements won him the position as the Minister of Defense.
In the twentieth century, about thirty years ago, Mao Zedong started the Great Cultural Revolution. He asked his people to fight the selfish desire in their minds and repeated the trick invented by Wang Yangming. The effort in the end became an irony.
From the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, through the Han Learnings of Dong Zhongshu, the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming’s theory of the mind, to Communism, all efforts based on human were futile.
Why did the humanist theories turn into the instrument and accessory of despotism instead of the gospel of human salvation? Why was the history of two thousand five hundred years full of deadly strife against each other instead of peace and tolerance?
Alas, Land of God, you deserted the way of heaven and kept the way of man. Without God, the land of God became the land of Man. And what do you expect from man who was born with profound sin and limitations?
The Land of God that deserted God, your repeated melody is but an elegy about the lonely and miserable people.
At the Stand of Youzhou, Chen Zi-ang sang the same song:
Looking backward I could not see the ancient sages,
Looking forward I see no new comers,
Thinking of the infinite universe,
I can but shed tears in sadness.
(Caption: The Way of Light)
Two thousand and five hundred years ago, an old man rode a cow slowly going west. When he came to the Hangu Pass, the pass watcher Yi Xi recognized him as a great man and begged him to leave his teachings in writing. The old man wrote five thousand words. Then he left and disappeared.
This old man was Lao Zi.
Sima Qian said, he did not know who Lao Zi really was. Was he Li Dan, Lao Lai Zi, or Tai Zi Zhan? He was not sure. So he wrote: “Lao Zi was a virtuous hermit.”
Later generations studied Lao Zi for two thousand years, and till this day they could not reach an agreement. Everything about him is unclear, his name, origin, place of birth, career record, travel, age.
The five thousand words he left behind were ambiguous and mysterious. Though called a Chinese classic, it has not a word about Chinese people, event, dynasties, and places. Though called a book of wisdom and profound learning, it advocated the rejection of wisdom and learning.
“The Tao that can be told of is not the eternal Tao.” Everybody seems to understand, and yet everybody is not sure if he understand it.
Lao Zi foresaw it and he said, “my words are easy to understand and to follow, and yet people under heaven can neither understand nor follow them. My words have their origin, and my activities have a governing force, only that you do not know!”
This old man Lao Zi is definitely a big cultural enigma.
More than that, he brought about a bigger historical enigma: for two thousand years, the good ages in Chinese history were all the results from following his teachings.
Is this merely an accident or a divine law? History cannot remain silent today. It is going to cast its light upon the future.
(Caption: Way of Light)
For two thousand five hundred years, several emperors followed the teaching of Lao Zi and monopolized the scarce several hundred years of glorious ages in Chinese history: the Reign of Emperors Wen and Jing, the Resurgence of Emperor Guang Wu, the Prime Age of Zhengguang, the Well-governed Age of Kaiyuan, etc.
(Caption: After the Way was lost, there were several hundred years of war. Then came the first emperor who followed Lao Zi’s teaching. Emperors Wen and Jing--- the Peaceful Age of Wen and Jing.)
The wars started from the age of Spring and Autumn, through the cruel reign of Qin Dynasty, and climaxed in the struggle between Chu and Han. After six hundred years of suffering, the scholar Lu Jia proposed to Han Emperor Liu Bang that in following the Tao, nothing came before non-action; in action, nothing came before prudence and reverence. And yet it was not until Xiao Wen, the son of Liu Bang, that Lao Zi’s teaching was followed, with the help of Queen Dou and Premier Chen Ping who both loved the teachings of Lao Zi. The Tao was obediently followed without strife, and the country returned to piety and peace from turmoil and wantonness..
Emperor Hui Wen abolished the agriculture taxes, abolished the law of implicated crimes and corporal punishment, and the practice of secret surveillance.
When he heard that the official of prayer only prayed for the good fortune of the Emperor instead for the happiness of the people, he angrily said, “Is it not a deed that increases my misconduct? No past emperors prayed for their own good. Exclude me from the prayer next time you pray to heaven.”
When there was a rumor among the folk that a yellow dragon appeared in the place of Chengji in Gansu, Emperor Hui Wen announced in his decree that strange objects and spirits could not harm the people, and he would go to the outskirts of the city to give sacrifice to God.
For the twenty three years of his reign, he added nothing to his residence, gardens, wagons, and costumes. He would allow no expensive objects made of gold, silver, copper, and tin to be buried with him in his tomb. Only clay wares were allowed to be buried with him. He did not build a huge tomb, but ordered that the landscape be preserved. In his will, he asked that people would mourn no more than three days for his death, and during that time no wedding, banquet, and sacrificial rituals should be forbidden. All the court women should be set free.
Emperor Jing, the son of Wen, under the supervision of Queen Mother Dou, still followed the teachings of Lao Zi. That period was known for the purity of mind of the people and prosperity of the country. In history the period was called “The Flourishing Age of Wen and Jing”.
(Caption: After another period of bloody wars that lasted for several decades, Lao Zi’s teachings were put into practice for the second time. It led to the glorious age of the Resurgence of Guangwu.)
Wang Mang usurped the throne of Han Dynasty, and he tried to make political reform following the complicated rituals of Confucian ideals. This led to twenty years of civil war and the death of two thirds of the population. When Emperor Guangwu established East Han dynasty, he followed the teachings of Lao Zi and governed the country with moderate means. His reign was called in history as the Resurgence of Guangwu.
Someone said to Emperor Guangwu:”you were very peaceful and obedient when you were a child, nobody had expected that you would become an emperor.” To this Guangwu responded:”I shall also use peaceful means to govern the country.”
Some Confucian scholars proposed to him that he should carry out a grand sacrifice journey at Mount Tai just as Emperor Wu did. Liu Xiu answered, the people have not vented their anger yet, am I going to deceive the heaven? What I am going to do is to give an amnesty, reduce taxes, cut down on the number of officials, and set the slaves free. My funeral should also be simplified like that of the Emperor Wen.
However, his successors Emperors Ming and Zhang again ruled the country with Confucianism and soon led to turmoil and decline. Along with the following three hundred years of war and cruel ruling, Buddhism flourished. Emperor Li Shiming of Tang dynasty drew lessons from history and followed a way of plainness and simplicity. In 637, he gave the decree to announce that the way of Lao Zi be followed and the way of heaven be revered.
(Caption: After several hundred years of war and ruthless ruling, Lao Zi’s teachings were followed for the third time: Emperor Li Shiming and the Flourishing Age of Zhengguan.)
When he took the throne, Li Shiming was advised by his minister Wei Zheng that his ruling should be based on the principle of peace and he should not exhaust his mind to find ways to run the country so as to deviate from the grand way of non-action.
The emperor answered: How wonderful. Over the night, I read your article and could not let go of it until I have finished it in the early morning, and I completely forgot my fatigue. To govern the country is like planting a tree. You do not shake it from time to time if you want it to grow. If the emperor is quiet and peaceful, people will be happy and undisturbed. Lao Zi said the mind of the people would remain peaceful if the desire was not stirred up. If the desire was stirred up, there would be turmoil.
Li also told his ministers: I inherited the mandate of heaven and I should make sacrifice to the heaven heart and soul. The previous practice of making sacrifice to five heavenly gods and five earthly gods is not the right tradition of the land of God. Therefore, it should be abolished. From now on we only worship the one heavenly God. It was the practice to make sacrifices to nine lands, now all the other eight altars should be destroyed and only the sacrifice to the land of God should be allowed.
Li said: It is wrong that people should think that once you become an emperor, you can do whatever you like. For me, I never utter a word and conduct a deed without fear of God and of my ministers. The heaven is far above and yet it hears the voice from the humble people, how could I not be reverent? My ministers and my people are watching my every moment, how could I not be fearful? So I became prudent and pious, fearing not to be able to gratify heaven and my people.
During his reign, there were no theft and other crimes. In history it was called the Flourishing Age of Zhengguan. The poet Du Fu wrote: The emperor was expected to surpass Yao and Shun, the model rulers of ancient time, and the customs was expected to become benevolent.
(Caption: After several decades of war and cruel ruling, the teaching of Lao Zi was for the fourth time put into practice. Emperor Xuanzhong of Tang Dynasty and the Good Age of Kaiyuan)
Empress Wu Zetian usurped the throne and promoted Buddhism. She thought herself as the incarnation of Boddhisattva, and yet she was ruthless and cruel. She caused nine years of killing and struggle in the inner court. It was not until Li Longji’s inheritance of the throne and his return to the heavenly Tao, did the country return to peace. The emperor Li Longji annotated the Tao-te-ching himself and ordered that every household of the rich should have a copy. He established the central academic institute and recruited students throughout the country to study Lao Zi’s teaching. The poet Li Bai, who has the spirit of a Taoist, was called to the capital to serve in the national academy. Later he was “given gold and allowed to return to the mountains”. He joyfully wrote:
When asked why I should dwell among the green mountains,
Smiling, I gave no answers and my heart was at peace,
The peach blossoms floated away along the streams,
To a heaven and earth that are not like this world.
This was the beginning of the Good Age of Kaiyuan. The poet Tu Fu gave his testimony:
I recall those past flourishing days of Kaiyuan,
A small county would inhabit ten thousand families.
The rice was creamy rich, and the barley white,
Both public and private barns were full of grains.
Later, Li Longji was infatuated with Yang the Court Lady and it caused the Rebellions of An and Shi. The flourishing Tang dynasty was gone. Han Yu and other scholars seized the chance to promote Confucianism and all the effort came to no avail.
The Age of Five Dynasties and Ten
Kingdoms again saw several decades of wars and killings. Song Dynasty bought its peace by paying huge tributes and ransoms to the northern barbarians, the Liao and Jing people. When Kubhli Khan swept China with his army of chariots, China fell completely into the hands of alien nations. Though Ming Dynasty regained the sovereignty, the self-oppression and exploitation were more severe. It was rather the Qing Emperor Kang Xi who practiced a policy close to Lao Zi’s teachings by bringing into China a primitive, simple and plain life style and a simplified governing style.
(Caption: After nearly a thousand year of war and cruel ruling, Lao Zi’s teachings were put into practice for the fifth time. Emperor Kang Xi and the Flourish Age of Kang Xi and Qian Long.)
The number of maids was reduced from nine thousand to one hundred and thirty four, a cut of 98.5%.
The number of eunuchs was cut down from one hundred thousand to five hundred, a cut of 99.9%.
The yearly expenditure of 970,000 liang of silver on golden flowers was cut off completely.
The monthly expenditure of 400,000 liang of silver on cosmetic creams was cut off completely.
Emperor Kang Xi said: From the beginning the way to rest with the people is not to disturb them. The less human effort, the better.
The old saying has it that: in a peaceful age, people worship Tao; in a turbulent age, people worship Buddha; in a age of transition from peace to turmoil, people practice Confucianism. This saying may not do justice to Confucianism and Buddhism, but it is an indisputable historical fact that when Tao was followed without human strife the state was well-governed and peaceful. Why ?
The mainstream of Chinese culture is not Taoist but Confucian, and in correspondence the mainstream of Chinese history is not peace and tolerance, but turmoil and dictatorship. Why is this correspondence between culture and history?
The Confucians promoted the way of human in the belief that the way of heaven was far away and the way of human was close. Lao Zi promoted the way of heaven, and he thought the way of human was but empty talk if it left the way of heaven aside.
The Confucians put their hope on the goodness of human nature and on their self-salvation, while Lao Zi deeply understood that the sinful and limited human kind could not save itself. More self-salvation led to more self-destruction. The more the worse. The more artificial the more guilty. Only the wonderful and mysterious Tao and its incarnation that nourishes and edifices can save sinful mankind.
History has made its judgment: the self-reverence and self-salvation based on human nature in the end became self-abuse and self-infliction; the way of human that deviated from the way of heaven in the end became the way of war and oppression. While the faith of Lao Zi, which was based on Tao, though could not be widely practiced on the Land of God, and yet created magnificent glorious scene in history with just a few sparkles.
Listen to Lao Zi:
Tao is the mysterious center of all things,
A treasure for those who are good,
A refuge for those who are not.
Beautiful words can win prestige,
Noble deeds can enhance reputations,
But how can one get rid of his defects?
Therefore, being enthroned as the Son of Heaven,
Or installed as the three ministers,
Presented with jade discs
And four-horse chariots
Cannot compare to sitting still
And entering the Tao.
Why did the ancients honored this Tao?
Did not they say that through it seekers find,
Through it the guilty pardoned?
This is why Tao is honored under heaven. ( Caption: the excerpt.)
Alas, you unattainable Tao that cannot be seen and touched, why are you so mysterious?
( Caption: The Way of Ligh)
Tao, is the mother of heaven and earth, the root of everything, the origin of all mysteries. (show Tao-te-ching) Tao, which has feelings and reliability, is without form and action. It can be given but cannot be received, and it can be held but cannot be seen. (show Zhuang Zi ). In the beginning is the Tao. Tao is God. It has life inside it. The life is the light for human kind. ( close-up: the Bible being opened, and the script foregrounded.)
Liang Yancheng Interview
In the beginning is the word, the logos. The meaning of Logos is information. The word of God gives birth to the world, and becomes the law of the world. Contemporary quantum physics have made amazing discoveries that the world is composed of orderly information. David Bohm, the great master of quantum physics, proposed that there is a hidden order to our world, which is called “Implicate Order”. Inside it are many complicated systems of information. They make up the order we see, the “Explicate Order”.
Information organizes the observable universe. What is the information, then? Let us turn to the sentence in the Bible, “in the beginning is the word”. Logos means information. The word Tao in Chinese also means information and language. The age of Lao Zi amazingly sensed the existence of the information of truth hidden beneath the universe. It was mentioned in Zhuang Zi that Tao had feelings and faithfulness. Many people refused to recognize in the feelings of Tao a personality. I think Tao has a personality. Zhuang Zi clearly said that Tao has faithfulness and certainty. We say that God has feelings and faithfulness. The most special thing about God is his faithfulness, his love, and his feelings. “Tao has feelings and faithfulness”. From the context of Zhuang Zi’s words, we can tell that the god in Zhuang Zi’s mind was one with a personality. This is reasonable as the original Chinese tradition had believed in a God with personality. Originally our ancestors believed in God. We see it clearly in the tradition of the Temple of Heaven that there had been no idolatry in orthodox Chinese religions. The traditional belief that God is formless continued till 1911. There was no idol in the Temple of Heaven, no idol in the Temple of Sacrifice. There is only a board written with the words “Heavenly God”. Ancient Chinese believed in a formless God, while Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi continued this traditional belief. So did Confucius. That is why he said “only heaven really knows me”. He used the word “heaven”. Heaven understood his sufferings, his hardships, and his struggles. So he said “only heaven really knows me”. It showed his faith in the ultimate God, a God with feelings. Confucius, Lao Zi, and Zhuang Zi all came form a tradition of a transcendental god.
Tao is the real and deep converging point of Chinese civilization and western civilization, and it is the common and ultimate object of belief of human kind.
While Tao is the term of faith the ancestors used to refer to the creator of universe, the offspring only know it as the object of research in the ivory tower. What a practice of opposing the Tao!
It was the German philosopher Hegel who argued that the Tao of Lao Zi is God; The “unseen, unheard, and unattainable Yi, Xi, Wei” was the phonetic equivalent to Yahew, that is, Jehovah. This sound refers to God in Africa, Greece, Hebrew and China.
After his conversion to Christianity, Lin Yutang, a Chinese scholar well versed in both Chinese and Western learning, also discovered the spiritual connection between Lao Zi and Jesus. He found that the characteristics of Jesus were expected and predicted by Lao Zi.
Yuan Zhiming Interview
While I was studying at a theological seminary in Mississippi, I found many amazing similarities between Lao Zi and the Bible. I later spent several years doing research on the issue, and finally completed two books, Lao Zi and Bible, and A New Translation of Lao Zi. In Lao Zi’s writing, Tao had many attributes.
For example, it exists by itself and for itself, it lasts forever, it cultivates things; it transcends the human wisdom; it is kind and righteous; and it is the redeemer. All the attributes put together, we have somebody that is close to God in the Bible. However, as we Chinese are atheists, we classify the Tao of Lao Zi to deism. Actually the Tao of Lao Zi was not a deity, it had many attributes of a personality. For example, it had faithfulness, it exercised reward and punishment, it had love and grace, it could pardon the sin of human beings, and it could teach and cultivate human beings. So we may conclude that Tao is not a deity, it has feelings and faithfulness. A more important discovery is an amazing saint in the writing of Lao Zi. He was the embodiment of the Tao, he descended from heaven onto earth and brought the light and eternity of the heavenly way to us earthly beings. He knew his own glory but humbled himself, and he knew his innocence but tolerated the sinful beings, so that he became the medium between human beings and the great heavenly way. This saint, though he had treasure inside him, looked humble and low from outside. He would suffer and be humiliated, but he would become the lord and the king, the king of all kings. All those under heaven who turned to him would receive peace and serenity. All these descriptions put together, we have someone who is very much alike to Jesus, who as the Bible records, was the incarnation of Word who came to the human world in the first year of the common age.
This is indeed a gigantic, divine, transcendental enigma.
There are innumerable mysteries in the universe, and yet everything has its time. There is time for sowing and harvest, and there is time for silence and enunciation. When time comes, truth and falsity, the right way and the wrong way, will reveal themselves to the people of the Land of God.
Lao Zi longed for the coming of this day, the day when the Tao was incarnated in a saint and casted influence upon the whole world.
In year one, he came in the weakest, humblest, and lowest form to Jerusalem, to Europe, to America, and to China.
Everything was brought to us by him: the first whisper that awoke the Land of God, the first contact between Chinese civilization and west civilization, the first song that praised God sung by Chinese after two thousand years.
Xu Guangqi, the first Chinese Prime Minister who was well versed in science and Dr. Sun Yatsen, the first Chinese President who embraced democracy, were brought forth by him.
Emperor Kang Xi worshipped him and for a while followed his missionaries to reach the frontier of world civilization.
Today, more and more oriental people begin to realize a fact that has always escaped them, which is that the wealth and power, the sciences, and the democracy of the western countries they emulate all have an inseparable organic link with the Christian civilization founded on the base of Jesus.
China, you are completely wrong in believing that you need only wealth, science and democracy from the west, but not God.
If you want to have prosperity, glory, and eternal peace, if you want to replace self-affliction and self-abuse with love, then, instead of observing the way of man to the neglect of the way of heaven and instead of blaspheming God and relying on man as you have always done, you should return to the root of life of your ancient ancestors, the deep and solid heavenly way.
How happy and joyful the lonely sage Lao Zi was, as he saw in a distance the saint he had long awaited approaching triumphantly, dressed in rags and yet his footsteps warmed the hearts of people like the wind of spring.
It is beyond doubt that, in twenty- first century, the ancient Chinese tradition of reverence for the heaven, obedience to the way, and belief in God will join the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ and it will be celebrated as an unparalleled event under heaven.