This article was first posted on this website on 2016-05-03 and is being re-posted as a "source article" for a section of the author’s new book DAOIST-LEGALIST SOCIALISM: One with real Chinese characteristics, §I-3(1) An ultimate faith should transcend all divide.
DAOIST-LEGALIST SOCIALISM: One with real Chinese characteristics
(Table of contents)
Mature Ultimate Faith in the Undivided“One”
-- A Critique of Rationalism in Modern World Ideologies
(III): Ultimate Faith & Ultimate Rationality (1)
Editor’s Note: This essay is based on the author’s original one in Chinese. It deals with the two contending ideologies of capitalism and communism from a metaphysical point of view. Western Christian advocates of capitalism usually label communism as “atheism”, which is synonymous with “evil” in their diction, while believers in the latter defend their ideology as “scientific socialism” and criticize all religions as “superstition” and “opium” serving to numb people’s mind. Confronted with the reality of today’s world plagued by wide-spread loss of faith, ideological confusion, and all sorts of crises, it is urgently necessary to examine and clarify such basic concepts as “faith”, “rationality”, and “ideology” and their relations with each other. The author hopes this essay can serve as a “brick” cast here to attract “jade”, as the Chinese saying goes, and initiate some meaningful discussion.
For the abstract and outline of the whole essay see:
Faith vs. Reason: A Critique of Rationalism in Ideologies
For preceding installments of the text:
A Critique of Rationalism in Modern World Ideologies(I): Ultimate Rationality
A Critique of Rationalism in Modern World Ideologies(II): Ultimate Faith (1-3)
A Critique of Rationalism in Modern World Ideologies(II): Ultimate Faith (4-5)
Outline: III. Ultimate Faith & Ultimate Rationality
III-1. Ultimate faith: Its object must be an undivided “One”
III-2. Ultimate rationality: Seeing the human-perceived world as contingent emergence out of ultimate intangibility (缘起性空) in multi-dimensional balance
III-3. Egocentrism in immature faiths
III. Ultimate Faith & Ultimate Rationality
III-1. Ultimate faith: Its object must be an undivided “One”
What is the “ultimate”? In philosophical ontological discourse, the ultimate means the “origin” of all existence, or what the world – the world in its infinitely broad sense – ultimately is. Since it is the ultimate origin, it must be the only “one” (excluding all other things or referents) that can claim to be or to represent the ultimate, whose extension covers all possible existence and whose intension comprehends all other possible referents.
For instance, if “matter” or “existence” is said to be the origin of the world, then it would be necessary to check if their definitions comprehend all phenomena belonging to “spirit” or “consciousness”. If not, then neither “matter” nor “existence” is the ultimate origin of the world. If either is understood to be the ultimate reality or supreme being, then a faith based on such an understanding cannot be acknowledged as an “ultimate faith”.
Or, conversely, if “spirit” or “consciousness” is said to be the origin of the world, then it would also be necessary to check if their definitions comprehend all phenomena belonging to “matter” or “existence”. If not, then neither “spirit” nor “consciousness” is the ultimate origin of the world. If either is understood to be the ultimate reality or supreme being, then a faith based on such an understanding cannot be acknowledged as an “ultimate faith”, either.
Or if it is assumed that “matter” or “existence” is primary while “spirit” or “consciousness” is secondary, which means that, generally speaking, the former determines the latter, but that in certain specific circumstances the latter may determine the former in a certain degree, then this statement actually holds that, ultimately speaking, “matter” or “existence” is the origin of the world. But, since the two concepts are used here in a sense as opposed to “spirit” or “consciousness”, their definitions certainly do not cover all phenomena belonging to “spirit” or “consciousness” and, therefore, neither of them can be considered as the origin of the world, of course. If either is said to be the ultimate origin of all phenomena, then a faith based on such cognition cannot be acknowledged as an “ultimate faith”.
In other words, an ultimate faith transcends all binary oppositions, including that between “mind” and “matter”, or between “the subject” and “the object”. What is believed in as the ultimate reality must embrace whatever is imagined to be existing, not missing anything. It must be all-in-one without distinction between “primary” and “secondary”. If there is any differentiation, the separated parts resulting from it should be united first and the united whole given a sole name (in the form of a word-concept or an image). This “unity” must not be presented only as a juggling of words but first be realized in cognitive understanding, that is, be understood as an ultimate unity of everything without any kinds of differentiation, such as between a physical world (e.g., “matter” as opposed to “mind”) and a specific form of spirit (e.g., “God the creator” as opposed to creatures or “the created”). Nearly perfect understanding of such a unity cannot be found in mainstream Western thought tradition but has been prevalent in traditional Eastern thinking.
Traditional Chinese faith has assimilated and integrated the Buddhist idea of ultimate “intangibility” (空, or “emptiness”), Daoist concept of “chaos” (混沌) and Confucianist “Heavenly Dao” (天道) into an understanding of the ultimate reality of everything in the world as “ultimate oneness” (太一) that transcends the conceptual distinction between “existence” (有) and “non- existence” (无). For instances:
“From the Dao emerges one; from one emerge two; from two emerge three; from three emerge tens of thousands of things…” (Laozi, Chap 42) The “one” here represents the ultimate reality as undivided. The Chinese word “生” is translated as “emerge” here by this author as a hint that it should not be interpreted in the habitual time-space-related approach but as presenting the metaphysical fact that the ultimate “one” from the Dao is the very ultimate origin of all human-perceived phenomenal world, including human existence itself.
“They (Laozi, etc.) shaped up their view of the world as always both non-existent and existent at the same time and postulated its ultimate oneness [i.e., being undivided].” (Zhuanzi, Chap 33, The World, 《庄子·天下》：“建之以常无有，主之以太一。”) Here, “always both non-existent and existent at the same time” can be understood in the same sense as the following --
“All things emerged out of what seems already existent and all that seemingly exist emerged out of nothingness.” (“天下万物生于有，有生于无。”Laozi, Chap. 40, ) Here the words “existent” (有) and “nothingness” (无) , just like the word “emerge” (生) should not be interpreted in the habitual time-space-related approach, either, but be understood as the two inseparable aspects of the ultimate “one”. It conveys the same idea, only in a different way of expression, as the Buddhist “contingent emergence (of seemingly tangible existence) out of ultimate intangibility” (缘起性空), which erases the distinction between “tangible existence” and “ultimate intangibility”. The same holds true for all the following examples.
“What is called Dao is actually the ultimate essence; it is formless and unnamable; if we have to give it a name, it can be called ‘the ultimate one’.” “The origin of all things is the ultimate ‘one’.” (《吕氏春秋·大乐》)
“As to etiquette, it must originate in ultimate ‘one’.” (《孔子家语·礼运》：“夫礼必本于太一。”)
“What we call Heaven and Earth originates in ultimate ‘one’.” (《太一生水》)
Not only Easterners believe in this ultimate ‘one’, but a philosopher in 3rd-century Greece called Plotinus also, instead of viewing the world merely as an assemblage of “elements” such as atoms, holds that its origin is a supreme, totally transcendent "One", containing no division, multiplicity or distinction; beyond all categories of being and non-being. His "One" "cannot be any existing thing", nor is it merely the sum of all things, but "is prior to all existents". (Note: The word “prior” here should not be understood in the habitual time-space-related line of thought, either). His "One" concept encompassed thinker and object. (Note: This is equivalent to saying: Mind and matter are one.) If we insist on describing it further, Plotinus suggests, we must call the One a sheer potentiality. He argues that it is impossible for the One to be Being or a self-aware Creator God (Note: He was not a Christian.) and that the One, being beyond all attributes including being and non-being, is the source of the world — but not through any act of creation. He insists that the One is not just an intellectual conception but something that can be experienced, an experience where one goes beyond all multiplicity. Plotinus writes, “We ought not even to say that he (who experiences ‘the one’) will see, but he will be that which he sees, if indeed it is possible any longer to distinguish between seer and seen, and not boldly to affirm that the two are one.” (Wikipedia: Plotinus, July 25, 2015.)
If the above exposition is attributed to Eastern thought without mentioning the thinker’s name, perhaps nobody would have any doubts. Although Plotinus was outside of Western mainstream in his philosophical belief, he was definitely not the only exception but represented more Western thinkers in sharing the highest human wisdom with their Eastern counterparts.
Coincidentally, in 2007, i.e., eight years before chancing upon Plotinus’s above description of the ultimate “One” as “a sheer potentiality”, this author himself had also described the ultimate “chaos” as “infinite potential possibilities”. One other thing that also made this author feel excited about is a recent post about “quantum entanglement” on The New Legalist website, Chinese version, which touches upon animistic belief as something positive – He was excited because it was just from the assumption that all natural objects have some sort of consciousness or quasi- or super-consciousness (which contradicts and transcends anthropocentrism) that this author deduced the idea of “infinite potential possibilities”. Here is the reasoning –
“…perceptions of the world, out space or the universe in the ‘eyes’ of different conscious beings are more or less different. Therefore, there does NOT exist an absolutely objective world, outer space or universe that is independent of consciousness. We might say that what exists is only ‘a total of infinite potential possibilities’.…So, in the final analysis, mind IS matter and matter IS mind: They are One and the same.”
The concept of “infinite potential possibilities” suggests something both unsubstantial but not totally so because the “potential” is there and at the same time seemingly substantial but not truly so because it suggests mere “possibilities”. Therefore, it might serve as a bridge between the two aspects of “intangibility (or emptiness,空)” and “tangibility” (有) in the Madhyamika school of Buddhist thought and between Buddhist “intangibility” with the Daoist ultimate “one” as well. And the whole reasoning process leading to such a description of the ultimate reality is not too abstract for readers who have received a secondary education to understand.
The above faith does not only match the world as such but also excludes in the greatest degree possible interferences from all kinds of egocentrism in perception of the ultimate truth, any moral basis for anthropocentrism. It can facilitate the uplifting of human moral spirit, help rectify people’s way of thinking and conduct in understanding and approaching the phenomenal world, and help deal with the many crises confronting mankind today, thus promoting the general well-being of humanity. Therefore, a faith in the “Dao” understood as is explained above could be considered a “mature faith”.
(To be continued)