“Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life” – Genesis 3:17
Be forewarned: this is an extremely long post. I’ve done my best, though, to edit out any fluff or redundancy. The topic itself, though, is multifaceted, to say the least.
Welcome to the rabbit hole…
The tl;dr version:
- Bigu is the ancient Daoist practice of abstaining from the consumption of cereal grains. The practice was undertaken for practical and beneficial health outcomes, as well as for spiritual purification and as an act of political rebellion.
- the ideological battles we wage today over the farming, ubiquity and consumption of grains vis-vis our health (personal and environmental), individual economic viability, and personal freedom over state subjugation were fought, in earnest, more than 2,300 years ago by Daoists in imperial China.
- Confucian ideology, sympathetic to “statehood” and the “gift” of cereal grains, prevailed over the rebellion (Daoist) ideology of individual sovereignty and the health and spiritual erosion resultant of grain consumption.
- earliest known written Daoists texts had by the time of the Han dynasty (approximately 2000 years ago) then already identified and cataloged voluminous lists of personal health ailments (physical and mental) directly attributed to grain consumption.
- it’s a fascinating story. But in a practical sense, what can we in today’s Paleo movement learn from the ancient ideological war over the health, soul and sanctity of the individual vs the power and cohesion of the collective? And does there exist a vibrant middle ground where the health and verve of both the individual, and the society in which that individual finds himself, can flourish?
Different time and culture; same battles against poor health and state subjugation
With the advent of agriculture (approximately 10,000 BC), and especially so with humankind’s cultivation of cereal crops, humanity has had, at best, a tenuous relationship with the land. In regard to our overall health, economic viability and political freedom, our relationship with farming both creates and represents the schism between our personal health and freedom, and societal binds. We in this day and age tend to view ourselves as the first civilization to both realize and rage against the double-edged sword that our culture’s reliance upon agriculture in general, and cereal crops in particular, has forged. And yet, it is clearly evident that the same ideological war was fought (and for the same reasons) in the Chinese empire at least as distant as 2,300 years ago.
That I only recently stumbled upon this interesting bit of history is curious, as I’ve been a student of Daoism/Taoism and Confucianism longer even than I’ve been a firebrand for the Paleo movement. The Daoist / Confucian dichotomy is one of classic political and philosophical importance. And yet it’s been only recently that those two worlds collided, at least for me, on the health front. And it wasn’t until a good friend of mine — a Chineses medicine practitioner, who also subscribes to the paleo lifestyle — opened my eyes to the Daoists’ dietary prescripts and health practices that centered on the practice of abstention from grains (Bigu) that I began a deep plunge into the subject.
And while the “paleo Daoist” information was certainly interesting from a health perspective, the uncovering of the spiritual/political/cultural rift between the Daoist and Confucian ideologies on this point was utterly fascinating. With ground zero in the philosophical split between Daoism and Confucism being food, farming, diet, and the strength / health of the state vs the strength / health of the individual and that individual’s freedom to form alliances of his own will and accord, I think those in the modern Paleo movement will find this subject as utterly enthralling as I have.
The bottom line of all that being this: humanity has fought this fight before. And the fight itself may be very well be part and parcel of the human condition.
I should state as well that I view this subject from an obvious bias toward the Paleo diet. I realize that as well as anyone, and I get that we “see what we want to see” when it comes to the interpretation of ancient philosophies that we can only understand now through the interpretation of the texts they left behind. One can cherry-pick philosophical points as well as scientific data. As well, I’m a cultural non-conformist in many respects, which places my ideological allegiance squarely in the camp of the Daoist. And as we shall see, that is a very important distinction to make. Because the root of the cosmological differences between the Daoist and Confucian ideologies begins, literally, with how one views what, in Western and/or Christian understanding, would be the story of man’s original “fall” or, understood from another perspective, as man’s original “sin”.
Note on the use of Daoist / Taoist: Essentially, the difference is only one of spelling. In short, for a period of time, the West interpreted the Chinese “D” as a “T”. This happened to be during a period of rapid growth and interest in the philosophy. The two terms are, as such, interchangeable. However (and at a deeper level), Daoism tends to be used in reference to the philosophy in its more original form. That is to say, like all philosophies, Daoism began to take on the flavors of the cultures in which it penetrated. Certainly not a bad occurrence, but one that sometimes needs to be pointed out. In this way, Taoism has come to define the more modern (and lay) use of the philosophy as colored by cultures outside of its origin. Or, the philosophy into which it has evolved.
Two vastly different views of the primordial world
At the root of their philosophical and ideological differences lay the conflicting Daoist and Confucian view of the primordial Chinese world. For the Confucians, it was a brutish world of rampant strife and suffering. For instance, consider this Confucian take:
In the earliest times … the people lived on fruit, berries, mussels, and clams – things that sometimes became so rank and fetid that they hurt people’s stomachs, and many became sick. Then a sage appeared who created the boring of wood to produce fire so as to transform the rank and putrid foods. The people were so delighted by this that they made him ruler of the world and called him the Fire-Drill Man (Suiren).
In contrast, the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi praises the idyllic, pre-agrarian age with phrases such as:
“Spirits and gods show their good will and nobody dies before his time”
“Ancient man imbibed dew” and “fed on primordial breath and drink harmony” and “ate not the toilsome, vulgar crops of the red dust that are exemplified in the Five Sacred Grains.” Yoked to Earth: A Treatise on Corpse-Demons and Bigu
This Daoist take is an interesting counter to the Confucian view that it required the grace and goodwill of benevolent, civilizing deities to rescue humanity from it’s own brutality, ignorance and helplessness. This fundamental difference in cosmological orientation is the foundation for much of the social orientation in China, even into modern times. And I find its parallel to today’s Paleo movement — vis-a-vis, our current societal leanings and governmental structure — striking.
Exit from Eden
From the dawn of humanity, the acquisition, preparation and consumption of food has been inextricably tied to mysticism, spirituality and later, to formalized religion itself. And the same food-mysticism relationship acts as a defining characteristic of any culture as a whole. From preparation taboos to ritual meals, diet having always had an elevated and complicated relationship within and between cultures and ideologies.
For our earliest ancestors, the tribal shaman’s knowledge of the heavens, seasons, botanicals and medicine dictated hunting, tribal migration and the ritual surrounding the proper preparation and consumption of food and, by extension, the spiritual health and vibrancy of the individual and cohesion of the tribe. As “civilization” coalesced from tribal hunter/gatherers to hierarchical, agricultural-based settlements, this accumulated wisdom would then form the basis for a governing authority literally rooted in the peasants struggle against the earth. This then lay the foundation of the “scarcity economy” and the accompanying mindset. And the intent of the “higher authority” (or tribal elder) would shift from “spiritual guidance” to one of economy and the control and manipulation of power; the birth of biopolitics as we know it today.
“Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.”
Against this cultural backdrop and gravitational pull toward settled, agricultural societies, the Daoists of this time were, as they have been since (one can assume) the advent of grain farming itself, practicing bigu as part of their spiritual progression. For the Daoist, “abstention from grain” was seen as a fundamental technique for not only maintaining superior personal health, but of achieving transcendence and immortality. And, as will be seen, the Daoists also anticipated the state’s subjugation of the populace that would result from humanity’s reliance upon cereal crops for sustenance.
What’s clear is that what began as a practice of ensuring the healthiest vessel possible for the transcendence of the soul (bigu), expanded to include a political and ideological statement against the trading of freedom, trust, longevity and “soul work” for the security of a modern society underpinned by surplus agriculture. The trading of faith in the Universe (or Sage) for faith in intelligent control of the environment and the benevolence of those in power.
For the Daoists of that time, the hellish trajectory for a society based upon the agriculture of grain was painfully obvious. The health of the people would erode, and the populace would trade individual freedom for control and taxation under the guise of a subjugating power promising “safety” from an endless array of threats, either real or manufactured.
Sounds eerily familiar, does it not?
Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (369 BC – 286 BC) mentions in his writings, the mythical Suiren (who first brought the control of fire to the people, and who we met a few paragraphs back), and Shennong (the Divine Farmer. Emperor of The Five Grains) first in a list of mythic Chinese sage-rulers. Whereas the Confucians of the time deify these sage-rulers for saving humanity from its brutish existence, Zhuangzi depicts them as villains who usher in the destruction of the primal harmony of the Dao, calling this
“…the decline of Power and the ever-farther departure from the natural Dao into systems of social constraint and what passes for culture…”
More on the Daoist view of that trajectory from the Baopuzi, or “Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity”:
The ancients, in the midst of chaos, were tranquil together with the whole world. At that time, yin and yang were harmoniously still, ghosts and spirits caused no disturbances; the four seasons came in good time; the myriad things went unharmed; the host of living creatures escaped premature death. … This condition persisted until integrity deteriorated to the point that Torchman [Suiren] and Fuhsi (Fu Xi) arose to manage all under heaven, whereupon there was accord, but no longer unity. Integrity further declined until the Divine Farmer and the Yellow Emperor arose to manage all under heaven, whereupon there was repose, but no longer accord. Integrity declined still further until T’ang and Yu arose to manage all under heaven. They initiated the fashion of governing by transformation, whereby purity was diluted and simplicity dissipated.
I find it interesting as well that all cultures have some version of the Christian Exit from Eden story. The backdrop may differ, but the plot being essentially the same: man was once free, in harmony, unencumbered and at peace, subsisting on what the land naturally provided. Lured by the safety of the collective, though, man traded trust that the universe would provide, for the siloing of excess foodstuffs (domesticated grains) against potential calamity. The trading of divine trust, as it were, for intellectual knowledge and the means and power of manipulation — both of the land, and other individuals. This lead to a society literally yoked to the earth and to the inevitable subjugation of society by the state and/or a powerful select few. Class and property friction ensued. Conquest and war was inevitable. Personal health and vibrancy deteriorated. The very source of security (surplus grain and fertile agricultural land) being now used as political and ideological leverage against the people.
Bigu: not only a path to transcendence, but an act of political rebellion
“Now, the people of mysterious antiquity, they reached old age because they remained in leisure and never ate any grains.” (From Most High Numinous Treasure)
As mentioned prior, bigu is a Daoist dietary technique undertaken with the intent of achieving superior health and spiritual transcendence, as well as an antidote political and economic subjugation. For the Daoist, bigu was was the common medical (and spiritual) cure for expelling the “Three Corpses”; the malevolent, grain-eating spirits that Daoists believed live in the human body. These corpses (or “worms”) were said to report their host’s sins to “heaven” every 60 days, and carry out punishments of sickness and early death. More on that in a bit. For now, let’s examine the socio-political implications of bigu.
In the context of the traditional Chinese culture within which the Daoist concept of bigu developed, there was great symbolic (and Confucian) importance connected with the Five Grains and their importance in sustaining human life, exemplified in various myths and legends from ancient China and throughout subsequent history. The concept of bigu developed in reaction to this tradition, and within the context of a overall Daoist philosophy. As mentioned above, this Confucian / Daoist polarity can be best understood by the Western mind as a proxy to the Exit from Eden story; a kind of “Chinese Genesis” and “original sin”, as it were, and was seen as an elixir to the gravitational pull toward a society built on what the Daoists viewed as the “shifting sands” foundation of agriculture. Daoists foresaw the negative biological, ecological and societal consequences of such a tenuous arrangement and, through the practice of bigu, sought to circumvent that prospect.
Note on the Five Grains: a term used in the general context of “agriculture”; that is, the prevailing food crops of a particular Chinese society. The specific crops vary, then, depending on the time and culture referenced, but are generally understood to be (for example) rice, millet, soybeans, wheat, rye, barley, etc. That is to say, “domesticated seeds”. In all contexts, the Five Grains are taken to be distinct and differentiated from all wild foods and herbs.
It should be reiterated here that by the time of the earliest written Chinese records (approximately 3,000 years ago), the development of agriculture had become greatly mythologized, and there were various traditions regarding which of the early Chinese leaders introduced the Five Grains. Later Confucian texts and myth defied these mythical “first farmers”, while the Daoists considered these same mythical leaders akin fallen angels who, either wittingly or not, ushered in a time of ignorance and suffering upon humankind.
For the Confucian, these were seen not merely as five crops chosen at random, but as the conduit from which agrarian society, and civilization itself, would flourish. “Squandering the Five Grains” (and, by extension, avoidance of; bigu itself) was seen by the Confucian as a sin worthy of torment in Diyu, the Chinese hell.
As the position of emperor was seen as an embodiment of Chinese society, one’s behavior towards the Five Grains would take on grave political implications. Rejections of the grains for political reasons underwent a complex development into the expanded concept of bigu. For the Daoist of this time, avoidance of the Five Grains was undertaken not just for personal health and spiritual transcendence, but as an act of rebellion from state subjugation and for the spiritual transcendence of all humankind.
The “cutting off” of grains, which were the basic staple food for the peasants, was a rejection of the sedentary life and the peasant condition as such. This refusal should not solely be interpreted in the light of the miseries endured by farmers, but also in a much more fundamental way. Agriculture has occasioned, since Neolithic times, a radical break with the way of life that prevailed for almost the entire prehistory of humankind. Agriculture has also been the main culprit of the imbalances of human civilization over the last ten thousand years or so: the systematic destruction of the natural environment, overpopulation, capitalization, and other evils that result from sedentariness.
— Excerpted from Karen C. Duval’s translation of The Taoist Body
The Yellow Turban Rebellion
Note: volumes can (and have) been written on this subject, and I’d encourage a deeper dive if you’re so interested. Any attempt at conveying the many subtleties surrounding this subject would be akin to covering the entirety of the American Civil War in the same limited space. The Yellow Turban Rebellion is a fascinating and complex piece of the greater tapestry that is Chinese history. The following just touches the high points relative to the thrust of this post.
The Daoists’ long simmering dissatisfaction with the injustices wrought by a neolithic agrarian society erupted in the year 184 AD, in a widespread peasant revolt against the controlling Han dynasty. So named for the rebel-identifying yellow headbands, the uprising marked an important point in the history of Daoism, both as a philosophy and as a rebellion political ideology.
Triggered by famine, many farmers and former military settlers were flushed from China’s northern provinces into the south seeking opportunity and employment. In turn, the large and powerful landowners there exploited the influx of desperate labor surplus to amass ever more immense fortunes. The peasants were further oppressed by escalating taxes imposed by the Han dynasty to fund the construction of fortifications and garrisons along the Silk Road in an attempt to fend off foreign infiltration and invasion. The combined situation pushed smaller landowners, peasants, and unemployed former-soldiers to form armed bands, and eventually private armies, setting the stage for an armed conflict fueled by Daoist philosophy and rhetoric.
But at its root, the struggle was not so much against current economic realities as it was frustration over the loss of an idealized, Daoist “Eden”; nostalgia for a free, pre-agrarian, tribal society. The current social and economic conditions provided ready tinder for a philosophical battle that had been raging for generations.
In the end, the Han armies gained victory, but at a devastating cost. Wide swaths of the Chinese empire were left without central governance, magistrates having been killed or exiled, and their governing networks crippled. Rebel deaths numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and many noncombatants had been left homeless or destitute by the wars. The economy and society over great parts of the most populous regions of the empire were left in shambles.
And while the rebellion itself was eventually defeated, the underlying Daoist philosophy was left arguably ever moreso emboldened. Daoist military leaders and local administrators gained self-governing powers in the process which hastened the final collapse of the Han dynasty in 220.
The three corpses: mental and physical disease states resulting from a grain-based diet
Let’s now shift our focus to the personal health and spiritual “cleanliness” Daoist sought by avoiding grains.
“Now, the people of mysterious antiquity, they reached old age because they remained in leisure and never ate any grains…” — Most High Numinous Treasure
Daoist practices as of the Six Dynasties period (roughly 200 – 600 AD) can be summarized as follows:
- abstention from cereal grains (bigu; health, spirituality, and socio-political freedom)
- respiratory exercises (Wim Hof, anyone?)
- concentration and meditation. The “journey beyond the Four Seas“, or astral projection.
As we have seen, the Daoist point of view was that the peasant, having now been lured and then trapped within a diabolical prison of sickness, taxes and back breaking labor, found himself not only in poor health, but in complete subjugation to the state agenda. The citizenry was now no longer resilient (or, Taubes would say “antifragile”) to natural fluctuations in environment and weather patterns and, now, to the incompetence or or outright malice of the government. And when the inevitable famine or natural disaster skewed the already perilous relationship between man and his “control” of the environment, it was the poor who shouldered the lion’s share of the hardship. As such, the legendary emperors (Suiren and Shennong, for example) were seen to have given man more of a diabolical paradox to endure rather than a beneficent offering of knowledge. And while the understanding of farming in general, and the cultivation of the “Five Grains” specifically precipitated in an advanced society, that advance was carried on the backs of the many, and at benefit to only the privileged.
And ultimately, even the “beneficial few” would suffer greatly.
For the Daoist, then, all classes — from Emperor down to the lowliest of peasant — was to some degree at the mercy of a fate ultimately linked to diet that either included, or did not include, grains. So aside from being an act of political rebellion against state control over the people and against humankind’s erroneous trade of trust in the universe for intellectual knowledge and manipulation of the land, the Daoists’ bigu was utilized as a tool affecting practical health and, by extension, spiritual readiness.
It is interesting to note that beneficent immortals, as mentioned above (including Suiren and Shennong), though intimately linked with both the discovery of agriculture and who are, as well, essential to a good harvest, do not themselves partake in The Five Grains. The Daoist goal of zhenren defined as lightness, luminescence and causing levitation would be incompatible with grain diet that produced an over abundance of fecal matter and which left one open to mental and physical suffering caused by the grain-loving three corpses.
An excerpt from the Explanation of the Five Talismans of Numinous Treasure
The five grains are chisels cutting life away,
Making the five organs stink and shorten our spans.
Once entered into our stomach,
There’s no more chance to live quite long.
To strive for complete avoidance of all death
Keep your intestines free of excrement!
The grain cart enters, the manure cart exits.
They take turns coming and going.
When will it come to an end?
Even if [people can] cause their life to span over a hundred years,
This is only 36,000 days
The following is an excerpt from Ge Hong’s Baopuzi, “[Book of the] Master Who Embraces Simplicity”, (c. 320 CE):
I have personally observed for two or three years men, who were foregoing starches, and in general their bodies were slight and their complexions good. They could withstand wind, cold, heat, or dampness, but there was not a fat one among them. I admit that I have not yet met any who had not eaten starches in several decades, but if some people cut off from starches for only a couple of weeks die while these others look as well as they do after years, why should we doubt that the (deliberate) fasting could be prolonged still further? If those cut off from starches grow progressively weaker to death, one would normally fear that such a diet simply cannot be prolonged, but inquiry of those pursuing this practice reveals that at first all of them notice a lessening of strength, but that later they gradually get stronger month by month and year by year. Thus, there is no impediment to the possibility of prolongation. All those who have found the divine process for attaining Fullness of Life succeeded by taking medicines and swallowing breath; on this they are all in perfect agreement. A moment of crisis, however, generally occurs at an early stage when medicines are being taken and starches abandoned and it is only after forty days of progressive weakening, as one uses only holy water and feeds solely on breath, that one regains strength. (15, tr. Ware 1966:246-7)
Also from the Baopuzi:
There are three corpses in our bodies. The three Corpses are made of matter, yet they are not fully corporeal: they are real like heavenly souls, numinous powers, ghosts, and spirits. They desire to cause people to die early, at which time these Corpses are able to act as ghosts, to move around freely, and to partake of people’s sacrifices and libations.
There are many variations and numbers, but the majority of Daoist schools recognize three major “worms” or “corpse demons” that feed on “The Five Grains,” ingested by their human host. These parasites work to shorten the lifespan of their host by reporting all sin and/or misdeeds to the celestial authorities, with each infraction, depending on its severity, resulting in time docked from the host’s allotment in this realm. The worms themselves are motivated toward such action in an attempt to hasten their own salvation from miserable circumstance.
The three worms (or three corpses) reside in the head, torso and lower body of the host and are assisted by a sinister gang of nine minion worms that do all in their power to incite their host to evil or ill. Upon the host’s death, all are rewarded by feasting on the host’s corpse. So the faster the host succumbs to the the lure of multiple “sin” the better from the point of view of the nine worms.
The 3 principle worms (corpses) are:
- The Upper Worm (Peng Ju): white and blue; inclines the host toward succulent foods (more grains!) and physical luxury.
- The Middle Worm (Peng Zhi): white and yellow; incites the host toward excessive emotional swings (hate, relation, rage).
- The Lower Worm (Peng Jiao): white and black; compels the host toward sex (including wet dreams), drunkenness, and material desire.
That we now have at our disposal the powerful lens of 21st century science makes this take on disease rather quaint. Or maybe not, as we begin to realize that there is more — much, much more — to the production of “disease” within the body. But the fact remains that the Daoists of antiquity correctly correlated the consumption of grains with what we now call “disease of modernity”. Consider a (greatly) truncated excerpt describing the additional woes brought on by the “minion nine”:
- Flying corpses: roam about a person’s skin and bore through to his inner organs. Their action is manifested in intermittent stabbing pains.
- Reclusive Corpses: attach to bones and enters the flesh from within, burrows into veins and arteries and blood, symptoms break when it beholds a funeral or hears the sound of wailing.
- Wind-corpses: course “exuberantly” through four limbs until person is unable to pinpoint pain, leading to dizziness and blackouts, outbreaks provoked by wind and snow.
- Sinking corpses: enwraps the vital organs and strikes the heart and ribs, causing knotting, slicing sensations, when ever cold is encountered.
- Corpse-infusion or corpse-infestation (shih-chu): the dire culmination of the series. Victim’s body feels “sunken and weighted down” with confused vital spirit and oppressive feelings of dullness and exhaustion, vital breaths are shifting and changing in body’s every joint, leading to major illness.
I could go on and on here (and the Daoists texts of antiquity certainly do), but you get the idea.
And to be fair, the ultimate aim of diet, from the Daoist point of view, is to subsist on “breath and dew” alone; the diet supportive of transcendence and immortality. The intermediate diet (essentially, a hunt and forage affair) made for the most vibrant expression of man in the material realm. However, this diet — although healthiest for the mortal — still would not allow for spiritual transcendence / immortality.
Other dietary precautions, such as in rich foods, meats and wine are discussed as sometimes to be avoided and at other times embraced, but there is nothing of the severity in the opinions on the consumption of cereal grains.
Note: use of the terms “starches” and “grains” are used interchangeably in these texts, and are considered distinctly different and apart from “wild”, foraged tubers, etc.
Again, from the Baopuzi (Inner chapter 15, “Miscellanea”), which begins with an interlocutor asking about duangu (the elimination of grains) in relation to changsheng or “longevity” (or “eternal life” in Daoist terminology).
“I should like to inquire whether a man can attain Fullness of Life by merely dispensing with starches. How many methods for this are there altogether, and which is the best?”
Ge Hong (Baopuzi) answers:
By dispensing with starches a man can only stop spending money on grains, but by that alone he cannot attain Fullness of Life. When I inquired of people who had been doing without starches for a long time, they replied that they were in better health than when they were eating starches. When they took thistle and nibbled mercury and when they also took pills of brown hematite twice a day, this triple medication produced an increase in breaths, so that they gained the strength to carry loads on long trips, for their bodies became extremely light in weight. One such full treatment protected the patients’ inner organs for five to ten years, but when they swallowed their breaths, took amulets, or drank brine, only loss of appetite resulted, and they did not have the strength for hard work. The Taoist writings may say that if one wishes Fullness of Life the intestines must be clean, and if immortality is desired the intestines must be without feces; but they also say that those eating greens will be good walkers, but at the same time stupid; that those eating meat will be very strong, and also brave. Those eating starches will be wise, but they will not live to an old age, while those eating breath will have gods and spirits within them that never die.
Is there a middle way?
I mentioned in the opening about a possible middle way through the morass we currently find ourselves in. Might the aforementioned (and eponymous) Baopuzi, written in 4th century AD China by philosopher, scholar, and freedom-fighter, Ge Hong, be a roadmap of what that convergence might resemble?
The Baopuzi is composed of 20 “Inner Chapters” and 50 “Outer Chapters”. The Inner Chapters are Daoist, and discuss techniques of immortality / transcendence, Chinese alchemy, meditation, Daoist yoga, Daoyin, sexual techniques, Chinese herbology, demons, and “magic talismans”. The Confucian Outer Chapters cover Legalism, government, politics, literature, scholarship, and include Ge’s autobiography.
The work seems to be an attempt to reconcile man’s current situation, and posits a potential way to manage an equitable solution. One that best benefits the individual and the societal web in which man currently finds himself.
To add some context here, when asked, “which has the priority, Confucianism or Daoism?”, Baopuzi (Ge’s “pen name”) replies, “Daoism is the very trunk of Confucianism, but Confucianism is only a branch of Daoism.” That is, Ge felt that the health and independence of the individual ought to hold greater sway than the vibrancy of the government / society. Or, another way to look at it: the society can only be as healthy as it’s constituent populace.
And one more thing I’ll add, as it relates to the Daoist view of the primordial world and, specifically, man’s “original sin” (which closely correlates to the Christian version of the same). The “sin” here being not evil, per se, but the trade of pure trust in the Original Source for the constructs of man; knowledge, power, control, etc. The very definition of “the fall” being the transition from the Great Sage (God, the Universe, the Original Source) being the sole wielder of the power of fiat, to man attempting to wrest that power away via control of natural resources, leading to the advent of agriculture, monetary systems, and governments established to maintain law-and-order resulting from the false dichotomies (have / have nots) and scarcity created by such an arrangement. In short, Confucianism is a philosophy of “beneficent governance” whereas Daoist philosophy blazes the trail back to Original Source. For the Daoist, collective belief in a monetary system, for example, is understood as an elaborate, agreed-upon hoax, or distortion of Truth, that enslaves man in a self-made prison, preventing him from realizing the source of the only true fiat: the original “word of God”. For the Confucian, that deal is a forgone conclusion; the natural progression of man. Now, how best to manage the situation?
Consider that in 2009, during the depths of the mortgage lending crisis, that the US National Security Agency considered “belief in the viability of the dollar” to be the greatest national security concern to US sovereignty. Not nuclear war, terrorism, or natural disaster, but collective belief in the house-of-cards that is any monetary system. This would not only not come as a surprise to the Daoist of ancient China, but would be seen as an inevitable consequence of “the fall”; a delusion that imprisons man in, as Rudolf Steiner says, “a war of each against all”. As natural and inevitable a consequence as the poor health that results from the consumption of grains.
A big, BIG thank you to my dear friend, James Phillips, who is responsible for initiating my deep-dive down this “Paleo Daoist” rabbit hole.
I cannot over emphasise just how tip-of-the-iceberg this piece is relative to the vastness of the subject itself, with my own research in this area being just in its infancy. As well, research on this subject is further complicated by the issue of translation: that is, relatively few of the pertinent Chinese texts of antiquity have been adequately translated into English.
That said, I am deeply indebted to the following online sources, each of which was a tremendous help in piecing this puzzle together:
Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –