Daoism, Bioethics in

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Daoism is an ancient and multifaceted element of traditional Chinese culture. Its origins and scope are debated by modern scholars, Chinese and Western alike. Most understand "Daoism" in terms of the naturalistic thought seen in ancient texts like those of Lao-tzu (the Dao te ching) and Chuang-tzu (see Lau, 1982; Graham, 1981). But to others, "Daoism" denotes primarily a religious tradition that emerged around the second century c.e. and has endured to the present (Seidel, 1990; Robinet, 1991, 1993). Specialists today generally employ a comprehensive approach, interpreting both of those elements as aspects of a broad and inclusive cultural tradition, interwoven both historically and thematically (Schipper).

Daoism may be characterized as a holistic worldview and ethos, including a variety of interrelated moral and religious values and practices. Daoism lacks any coherent conceptual structure, so there have never been any "Daoist positions" regarding ethics or any other issues. Yet, most segments of the tradition share certain assumptions and concerns. One is an assumption that human reality is ultimately grounded in deeper realities; humans are components of a cosmos, a harmonious universe in which all things are subtly but profoundly interrelated (Kirkland, 1993). Daoism is devoted to the pursuit of greater integration with the cosmos, in social as well as individual terms. Daoists vary widely in their understandings of how that integration is best expressed and pursued. The first section of this entry outlines the elements of classical "Lao-Chuang" Daoism, and the history, teachings, and practices of the much-misunderstood "Daoist religion."

The subsequent exploration of the Daoist moral life focuses upon (1) the ideals of refinement (lien) and "fostering life";(2) the ideals of balance and harmony; and (3) the issue of death. Throughout, one should bear clearly in mind that many issues that are considered central in contemporary bioethical debate are completely alien to the traditional Daoist worldview. Daoists not only lacked the concepts of "good" and "evil," but they were simply never interested in arguments over "right or wrong" on any terms. One should thus beware assuming that contemporary issues could ever be translatable into Daoist terms.

The Daoist Heritage

CLASSICAL THEMES. In the ancient texts Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, integration with the cosmos is generally expressed in terms of returning to the natural rhythm or flow of life—to the Dao, an impersonal reality that constitutes simultaneously the source of the cosmos, the subtle structures of the cosmos in its pristine state, and the salutary natural forces that—in that pristine state—maintain all things in a natural and healthy alignment. In "Lao-Chuang" Daoism, all the world's problems are attributed to humanity's digression from the Dao, particularly to a loss of proper perspective upon the nature of reality. The goal of Lao-Chuang Daoism is to regain that perspective and thereby return to the original integration with the natural world and its constituent forces and processes. The eponymous Lao-Chuang texts are vague about the means to be employed in achieving that end. Later Lao-Chuang writings (e.g., in texts like the Kuan-tzu and Huai-nan-tzu) present a more detailed analysis of the human constitution, and suggest specific spiritual and physiological practices to reintegrate the individual and realign him or her with the natural forces of the cosmos (Roth). Suffice it to note that all such theory assumes none of the dichotomies of mindmatter or body/spirit that underlie much of Western medicine and moral theory. Moreover, it is a mistake to assume (as do most in twentieth-century Asia and the West) that Daoism was essentially individualistic: the basic Lao-Chuang writings (most notably the Dao te ching) often addressed broader problems of human society in both moral and political terms. The later Daoist tradition is generally an extension of the ideals and values seen in these earlier writings.

THE DAOIST RELIGIOUS TRADITION: NEW PERSPECTIVES. Until recently, virtually all educated people dismissed postclassical Daoism (often misnamed "popular Daoism") as a mass of disreputable superstitions created and perpetuated by the ignorant masses. Such was certainly not the case. The problem is that before the 1970s, few intellectuals, Chinese or Western, had any firsthand knowledge of later Daoism, in terms of either its modern practice or its historical tradition. As scholars began serious analysis of the Daoist texts preserved in the massive collection known as the Dao-tsang, and researched the roles that Daoism played in traditional Chinese history and society, they started to develop a far different perspective, though this new perspective has yet to reach the educated public.

Until the 1980s, religious Daoism was often said to have been focused on individual practices intended to confer longevity and/or physical immortality. The pursuit of physical longevity did exist in China from early times, but it is wrong to associate such pursuits with "religious Daoism."

Western scholars generally have placed emphasis on certain practices or crafts that they suppose have been particularly "Daoist," notably the quest for physical immortality, breath control, techniques of sexual union, herbalism, dietetics, and alchemy. In such a view, though, as in the question of doctrine in general, there is some ambiguity between what is specifically Daoist and what is simply Chinese (Strickman, pp. 1044–1045).

Extensive research has generally demonstrated that such practices have little or no intrinsic connection to the traditions of religious Daoism.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE DAOIST RELIGION. The Daoist religion has been compared to a river formed by the confluence of many streams. Its origins lie in the Han dynasty (206 b.c.e.–221 c.e.). During that period, Chinese intellectuals (like the Confucian theorist Tung Chung-shu) were seeking a comprehensive explanation for worldly events. From such roots, imperial advisers called fang-shih produced a series of sacred texts that culminated in the T'ai-p'ing ching, which is generally regarded as the first Daoist scripture. According to the T'ai-p'ing ching, ancient rulers had maintained an "ambience of Grand Tranquillity" (t'ai-p'ing) by observing wu-wei (nonaction)—a behavioral ideal of avoiding purposive action and trusting instead to the world's natural order (the Dao). When later rulers meddled with the world, the "Grand Tranquillity" was disrupted. Now, the scripture says, one must return to the Dao by looking within oneself. The text provides specific directions for pursuing union with the Dao, including moral injunctions and instructions for meditation, as well as recommendations for enhancing one's health and longevity through hygienic practices (such as breath control), medicine, acupuncture, and even music therapy. The focus of the T'ai-p'ing ching is thus upon providing the people with practical advice for reintegrating with the natural order (Kaltenmark).

In late Han times, the T'ai-p'ing ching helped inspire several social movements. One was led by Chang Dao-ling, who claimed to have received a divine mandate to replace the now-effete Han government with a new social order. Claiming the mantle of "Celestial Master," Chang and his heirs oversaw a religious organization in which male and female priests healed the sick by performing expiatory rituals. This organization, generally called "Celestial Master Daoism," was based on the idea that a healthy society depended upon the moral, physical, and spiritual health of all its members.

In the fourth century c.e., northern China was invaded by peoples from the northern steppes, and the leaders of the Celestial Master movement fled south. There they found a rich indigenous religious culture centered upon the pursuit of personal perfection through ritual activity. Unlike the Celestial Master tradition, the religion of southern China took little interest in ideals of a healthy society: its focus was almost exclusively upon the individual. Modern writers, Chinese and Western, have often mistakenly cited certain of its texts (like the Pao-p'u-tzu of the maverick Confucian Ko Hung) as representative of religious Daoism. In so doing, they have completely neglected the rich heritage of the T'aip'ing ching and most of the subsequent Daoist tradition.

The fourth century c.e. was a period of rich interaction among such diverse traditions, and there were two new developments, both of which occurred as the result of revelations from celestial beings. The first, known as the Shang-ch'ing (Supreme Purity) revelation, was received from angelic beings called "Perfected Ones" who dwelt in distant heavens of that name. The Perfected Ones revealed methods by which the diligent practitioner could ascend to their heavens, particularly visualizational meditation (Robinet, 1993). But Shang-ch'ing Daoism also subsumed the older southern pursuit of personal perfection through alchemy, a transformative spiritual process expressed in chemical terms. Alchemy, often misrepresented as a "typical" element of religious Daoism, actually arose quite independently, though it was embraced by certain Shang-ch'ing Daoists as a practice thought to elevate the aspirant's spiritual state for eventual ascent to the heavens (Strickmann). What the alchemical tradition shared with Daoism was a vital concern with self-perfection based on an assumption that the individual's being is a unified whole. For exceptional aspirants, alchemy provided secret knowledge that permitted control of the forces of the cosmos that inhere within the constitution of the individual. Outsiders often misunderstood the whole undertaking as a pursuit of physical longevity. But within Daoism, alchemy was actually a method of moral and spiritual self-refinement: through proper knowledge and action, one could pare away the grosser elements of one's being and eventually ascend to a higher plane of existence. Nonetheless, alchemy was, for most, a purely theoretical interest. The "average" Daoist practiced meditation and morality, and in later ages Daoists discarded the theory of "external alchemy" in favor of "inner alchemy"—a meditative pursuit of reunion with the Dao that employed the language of alchemy metaphorically.

The Shang-ch'ing revelations were immediately followed by a quite different set of revelations, known by the term Ling-pao (Numinous Treasure). Ling-pao Daoism is distinguished by (1) elements influenced by Mahayana Buddhism, and (2) a renewed concern with the human community. Ling-pao scriptures (such as the Tu-jen ching, "Scripture for Human Salvation") tell of a great cosmic deity—a personification of the Dao—who is concerned to save humanity. By ritual recitation of the scripture, one may participate in its salvific power. In the fifth century, the Ling-pao tradition was refocused by Lu Hsiu-ching, who reconfigured its ritual activities and formulated a new set of liturgies that continue to influence contemporary Daoist practice. A central liturgy is the chiao, a lengthy series of rituals that renew the local community by reintegrating it with the heavenly order. Other liturgies, called chai, had diverse aims. One was designed to prevent disease by expiating moral transgressions through communal confession. Another labored for the salvation of deceased ancestors. A third was intended to forestall natural disasters and reintegrate the sociopolitical order with the cosmos. Through these liturgies, Daoism incorporated ritual frameworks from all segments of society, from the imperial court to the local village, and unified them through the activity of priests (Dao-shih), some of whom were women (Kirkland, 1991a).

"Liturgical Daoism" soon became central to life at all levels of Chinese society. Admiring emperors sought to bolster their legitimacy by associating with Daoist masters, and by having them perform liturgies for the sake of state and society. During the T'ang dynasty (618–906 c.e.), cultural leaders in every field associated with such masters, and were deeply influenced by Daoist religious, artistic, and literary traditions. Prominent Daoists like Ssu-ma Ch'eng-chen not only maintained the liturgical tradition but also refined the meditative practices that had always been central to the Daoist spiritual life (Engelhardt, 1987). In addition, certain Daoists became known for their achievements as physicians. The social prominence of liturgical Daoism changed drastically during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries c.e., when China was again invaded by northern peoples. The foreign rulers often suspected religious organizations of fostering rebellious activities, so Chinese who sought social or political advancement began to dissociate themselves from such organizations. Hence, in late imperial China, liturgical Daoism became divorced from the elite segments of society, and endured primarily among the less affluent and less educated (Kirkland, 1992). The broadly based, ecumenical Daoist tradition of T'ang times dissipated, to be replaced by new, smaller sects. One of the earliest examples was Ch'ing-wei Daoism: founded by a young woman about 900, it introduced "thunder rites," by which a priest internalized the spiritual power of thunder to gain union with the Dao, then healed illnesses. In T'ien-hsin Daoism, founded by a twelfth-century scholar, priests healed mental illness by drawing spiritual power from stars. The most traditional of the new sects was T'ai-i Daoism, which stressed ritual healing and social responsibility, and was popular with some rulers, including the Mongol Khubilai Khan. None of those sects had much lasting influence. One that did endure was Cheng-i (Orthodox Unity) Daoism, which flourished under imperial patronage from the eleventh to eighteenth centuries and is still practiced in Taiwan. It preserves traditional liturgies, adding rituals for exorcism and personal protection. None of the new sects that arose during the "Daoist reformation" was in any way concerned with the pursuit of immortality. Rather, priests of all those sects ministered to the community by healing and performing other ritual services.

Modern Daoism has maintained the pursuit of individual self-perfection through meditation. Earlier Daoist meditation took a variety of forms. But from the eleventh century on, most Daoist meditation was couched in terms of "inner alchemy." Employing terminology from ancient Lao-Chuang texts, "inner alchemy" aims at self-perfection through cultivating "spirit" (shen) and "vital force" (ch'i) (Robinet, 1989). These practices were embraced in Ch'üan-chen (Complete Perfection) Daoism, a monastic movement founded in the twelfth century. Ch'üan-chen institutions flourished into the twentieth century, as did some of its teachings on self-perfection through meditation.

The Ethical Dimensions of Daoism

Many accounts of Daoism lead one to question whether there is—or could be—such a thing as a Daoist ethic, suggesting quite incorrectly that Daoist values were intrinsically egocentric. In fact, all segments of the Daoist tradition fostered a personal ethic, and most segments taught a social ethic as well. At times, in fact, it is clear that Daoism assumed a universalistic ethic that extended not only to all humanity but also to the wider domain of all living things (Kirkland, 1986). These values were not borrowings from Confucianism or Buddhism, but a natural extension of fundamental elements of the Daoist worldview, rooted in the ancient heritage of the Dao te ching and the T'ai-p'ing ching. That worldview was interwoven with an ethos that encouraged individuals and groups to engage in activities intended to promote the healthy integration of the individual, society, nature, and cosmos.

THE MORAL LIFE: IDEALS OF REFINEMENT AND "FOSTERING LIFE." The Daoist view of personal identity and human values contrasts sharply with that of Confucianism. Confucians understand humans to be innately distinct from and superior to all other forms of life, because of humans' social inclinations and moral consciousness. Daoism, by contrast, locates the value of humanity not in what separates it from the rest of the natural world but in what humans share with the rest of the world. A constant if not universal goal of Daoism is to propel the individual's attention to ever higher and broader perspectives, to move as far as possible not only beyond the isolated concerns of the individual but also beyond the socioculturally defined concerns of the unreflective. The Daoist goal is not to ignore socioculturally defined concerns but to transcend them.

For that reason, despite all its insistence upon restoring harmony with the natural order, Daoism is not consistent with the activist tendencies of modern environmentalism. No Daoist of any persuasion ever embraced goal-directed action as a legitimate agency for solving problems. The Dao te ching in fact implies that, contrary to appearances, nature is ultimately more powerful than all human endeavor, and that if humans will refrain from taking any action, however well-intentioned, nature itself will inevitably rectify any problems.

Daoists insist that we must focus our concern upon ourselves, seeking (re) integration with the deeper realities of the cosmos through a process of personal refinement (lien). In some of Lao-Chuang Daoism, that process at times appears so rarefied that it involves no more than altered perceptions: one learns to reject conventional "truths" in pursuit of a deeper state of awareness. But most later Daoists understand the process of refinement as a more comprehensive undertaking, involving a transformation or sublimation of one's physical reality as well. Such "biospiritual" ideals are often couched in terms of the imperative of "fostering life" (yang-sheng). Some writers have identified yang-sheng with physiological practices designed to enhance individual health and prolong physical life. But in the Daoist context, at least, the term connotes much more:

Indeed, the very idea of life or health, including as it does both physical and spiritual dimensions, evokes an archaic aura of religious meaning—that the fullness of life is supranormal by conventional standards—and symbolically is closely linked with a generalized Daoist notion of the mystic and religious, individual and social, salvational goal of reestablishing harmony with the cosmic life principle of the Dao. (Girardot, p. 1631)

Within the Daoist worldview, yang-sheng presupposed a personal ethic of moral and spiritual cultivation (Kirkland, 1991b). That ethic, moreover, assumed a dedication not only to the perfection of the individual self but also to reestablishment of a broader, universal harmony.

The term yang means "to foster, nourish, or care for." Thus the Dao te ching sometimes presents the Dao in imagery that suggests a loving parent who exerts no control, and oft-overlooked passages encourage altruistic attention to the needs and interests of others (Kirkland, 1986). In that context, yang-sheng can be interpreted as selfless concern with fostering others' lives as well as one's own.

In fact, rather than being promoted by a Confucian sense of social service, hospitals, orphan care, and community quarantine procedures were linked to the activities of the Daoist and Buddhist monasteries during the Six Dynasties period.… The root of this concern for community healthcare would seem to be most strongly influenced by the Buddhist idea of universal compassion (karuna), but in Daoism this idea could be interpreted as an aspect of the selfless kindness and concern for human health extended to all persons in the practice of wu-wei. (Girardot, p. 1636)

Medieval Daoist literature abounds in stories of exemplary men and women who earned recognition—and, on occasion, the boon of immortality—by secretly performing compassionate acts, particularly for people and animals disdained by others (Kirkland, 1986; Cahill). Such values have sometimes been attributed to Buddhist influence, but they are actually rooted in elements of the ancient Daoist worldview. The Daoist ethos started with the individual, and redirected his or her attention to a broader life context: from body to spirit, from self to community, from humanity to nature. In addition, it presented the would-be Daoist with a moral responsibility to live for a purpose greater than oneself.

Daoist conceptions of history, humanity, and cosmos also undercut some of the paternalistic tendencies so common in other traditions, including Confucianism. Human lives are to mirror the operation of the Dao, which contrasts markedly with Western images of God as creator, father, ruler, or judge. The Dao is not an external authority, nor a being assumed to possess a moral right to control or intervene in the lives of others. Moreover, the Dao te ching commends "feminine" behaviors like yielding, as explicitly opposed to "masculine" behaviors of assertion, intervention, or control. There is thus little temptation for a Daoist to "play God," whether in medicine, government, or law.

THE MORAL LIFE: IDEALS OF BALANCE AND HARMONY. While Daoism did not create the ideals of balance and harmony, it embraced them to an extent unequaled by other traditions. A fundamental Daoist assumption, applicable to any facet of life, was that disorder is a result of imbalance, whether physical or spiritual, individual or social. Physical illness was generally understood as an indicator of what might be called a biospiritual imbalance within the individual. In many presentations of Chinese medicine, disease is explained as a result of a misalignment of ch'i, the natural life force (which eludes the distinction of "body" from "spirit"). In the minds of the peasantry, such misalignment was often understood as the result of moral misdeeds, and some Daoists who were anxious to involve the common people incorporated such ideas into their writings and practices. But in a broader theoretical context, the imbalances that result in disease might better be attributed to a kind of natural entropy. Ancient Chinese thought assumed that the present state of the world represents a degeneration from an earlier state of universal peace and harmony. The goal of life for Confucians and Daoists alike was to restore that original harmony. Certain Daoists took a profound interest in the problem of restoring the harmony of individuals through treating physical maladies (Girardot). But disease and healing were never understood in purely materialistic terms, and the goal of medicine was never simply the alleviation of physical suffering. Like healers in many traditional cultures, Daoists of most periods assumed that all physical symptoms remit when one restores the biospiritual integrity of the individual and reestablishes a state of balance and harmony with the deeper realities of life. Consequently, some Daoists worked to restore health through therapeutic ritual activity (Strickmann).

Restoring harmony, however, was never a purely individual matter, for the Daoist any more than for the Confucian. Just as a physical disorder was understood as resulting from a biospiritual imbalance within the individual, so sociopolitical disorder was generally understood as resulting from a biospiritual imbalance on a larger scale. Daoists and Confucians of classical times and the later imperial period felt a responsibility to rectify that imbalance, to play a managerial role in restoring T'ai-p'ing, "Grand Tranquillity." T'ai-p'ing connoted a well-ordered society, both in universal terms and in terms of the local community. But it was not merely a political concept:

It was a state in which all the concentric spheres of the organic Chinese universe, which contained nature as well as society, were perfectly attuned, communicated with each other in a balanced rhythm of timeliness, and brought maximum fulfillment to each living being. (Seidel, 1987a, p. 251)

Daoist priests of all periods assumed a special responsibility to tend to the spiritual dimensions of upholding T'ai-p'ing, complementing the real and symbolic activities of the emperor and local magistrate. Until Mongol times, that understanding of the role of the Daoist priest was accepted at all levels of society, and emperors frequently relied upon Daoist priests to provide both advice and ritual support in keeping state and society in harmony with the cosmos.

The Daoist concern with balance and harmony extended to participation in religious activities. While the Dao te ching had commended "feminine" behavioral models, the early Daoist religious community offered participation to women, apparently on an equal basis with men. Though it is not clear how often women performed the same priestly functions as men, medieval texts describe women's spirituality in terms that make it only subtly distinguishable from that of men (Cahill; Kirkland, 1991a). The marginalization of liturgical Daoism after the twelfth century coincided with a more general diminution of opportunities for women throughout Chinese life, and from then on, few women appear in the Daoist tradition.

Daoist attitudes toward sexuality were quite vague. Daoists never articulated any specific sexual ethic. Aside from Confucian moralists, few Chinese regarded sexuality as morally problematic, and most regarded it as a valuable component of human life. Some Daoists took an interest in reproductive forces as the most readily accessible manifestation of the natural forces of the cosmos. The imagery of "inner alchemy" was sometimes applied to those forces, resulting in biospiritual practices aimed at total sublimation and concomitant personal perfection. Particularly in later centuries, some men and women focused their efforts at self-transformation upon the physical or metaphorical transformation of sexual forces. But once again, it is questionable whether such activities ought to be called specifically "Daoist," for they have little in common with the activities of any of the liturgical Daoist organizations.

DAOIST ATTITUDES TOWARD DEATH. One of the most intensely debated issues in modern discussions of Daoism is that of its attitude (s) toward death. The controversy stems from some interpreters' insistence that religious Daoists struggled to avert death, while the earlier Lao-Chuang Daoists had espoused an acceptance of death as a natural conclusion to the cycle of life. There is evidence to support that interpretation, but there are also passages in the Dao te ching and other Lao-Chuang texts that suggest the possibility of obviating death and the desirability of attaining a deathless state. A natural conclusion would be that "religious Daoism" focused upon those passages, and set about devising practical methods of attaining such a state. But while none can dispute the commonness of texts describing such methods, it is again questionable whether they can be considered representative of "religious Daoism." It should be noted that the most famous proponent of the pursuit of immortality—the fourth-century Ko Hung—actually repudiated the Daoist tradition. On the other hand, the architects of the Daoist liturgical tradition seldom even alluded to immortality as a desirable goal.

Daoists of all periods would be puzzled by the insistence of modern Western medicine that the prevention of human death transcends all other concerns. To Daoists, the reality of one's life extends far beyond the biological activity of one's body, and extending the latter for its own sake would hardly seem even desirable. The Daoist goal is always harmony with the deeper dimensions of life, and in those terms a medical model that defines "life" in strictly biological terms seems perverted.

In reality, Daoist attitudes toward death are hardly reducible to any clear, unequivocal proposition. But one may safely affirm that a pursuit of immortality for its own sake—that is, a search for some trick that would obviate the death event—was never a Daoist goal (Kirkland, 1991b). Rather, Daoists consistently pursued a state of spiritual perfection. Frequently, they expressed that state of perfection as a state that was not subject to death. Chinese literature (by no means specifically Daoist) is replete with stories of hsien—wondrous male and female beings who live outside the realm of ordinary life and death. Daoist writers sometimes employed such imagery to suggest the final fruits of spiritual development. Some writings suggest that rare individuals underwent a transformation that merely simulated death (Robinet, 1979). But one must beware mistaking metaphor for reality (Bokenkamp). When read carefully, most Daoist writings actually present a "postmortem immortality"; that is, a deathless state can indeed be achieved, but biological death remains a necessity (Strickmann; Seidel, 1987b). Daoist attitudes toward death thus remain a paradox.


Though some Daoist writings do present moral injunctions, Daoism never developed any real ethical code, for such an idea makes little sense in a Daoist context. For instance, since there was no divine Lawgiver, Daoists never developed an ethic conceived as obedience to divine authority. Daoists of various periods did accept the existence of divinities, and some Daoist writings incorporated popular concepts of a heavenly hierarchy that dispenses posthumous rewards and punishments. But acceptance of such beliefs was never considered mandatory, and most Daoist literature lacks such ideas.

Similarly, Daoists lacked the notion that the individual—or even the human species—is an independent locus of moral value. In fact, Lao-Chuang Daoism can easily be read as a concerted effort to disabuse humans of the absurd notions of self-importance that most people tacitly embrace as natural and normal. Hence, the very concept of "rights"—for individuals or groups, humans or animals—makes no sense in Daoist terms.

Daoism might appear to embody a virtue ethic. Indeed, the term te in the title of the Dao te ching is generally translated "virtue." But the Daoist perspective is quite distinct from the virtue ethic developed by Confucians like Mencius. Mencius clearly articulated virtues like jen (benevolence), and insisted that proper cultivation of such virtues would result in the perfection of individual, family, society, and state. Much of Daoism seems to suggest a similar model, with the substitution of te for jen. But though Mencius attributed human moral impulses to a natural inheritance from "Heaven," Lao-Chuang Daoists frequently criticized most Confucians as seeking answers to life's issues in terms that were excessively humanistic. Confucians often seem ambivalent concerning the relevance or even the existence of transhuman realities. And it was upon precisely such realities that Daoism centered itself.

To understand the moral dimensions of Daoism, one must understand the "vague and elusive" concept of the Dao—transcendent yet immanent, divine yet inherent in humanity and all of nature. Most important, since the Dao never acts by design, Lao-Chuang Daoists ridicule the notion that good could result from conscious evaluation of possible courses of action. Such deliberate "ethical reflection," they argue, blinds one to the natural course of action, which is the course that one follows when living spontaneously, without the arrogant and destructive imposition of rationality and intentionality. The ethical dimensions of Daoism are thus real but subtle. Since Daoists never embraced normative expressions of any kind, to perceive the ethical dimensions of Daoism, one must peer deeply and carefully into the entire tradition, extrapolating from a plethora of sources from different segments of a highly diverse tradition. In doing so, one forms the impression that to live a proper Daoist life is to live in such a way that one restores and maintains the world's holistic unity. The Daoist life involves dedication to a process of self-refinement, which is considered one's natural contribution to the health and well-being of both nature and society. In a sense, to be a Daoist is to accept personal responsibility for taking part in a universal healing, doing one's part to restore the health and wholeness of the individual, society, nature, and cosmos.

russell kirkland (1995)

SEE ALSO: Buddhism, Bioethics in; Compassionate Love; Confucianism, Bioethics in; Death: Eastern Thought; Medical Ethics, History of South and East Asia: China; Population Ethics: Religious Traditions


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