Blandine, one of our café-philosophers who has studied Chinese for some years, made the observation that some philosophical concepts could be more easily expressed picturesquely in written Chinese. It took me some time to understand this remark and make sense of her comment. After some contemplation, I came to the conclusion that the concept of Chinese philosophy differs from what you would normally classify as the “love of knowledge”. Philosophy in ancient China could be more accurately associated with the German phrase die Weltanschauung or “world view”.
Take Taoism for example, as a branch of philosophy, it represents a view of nature and recommends a life style in harmony with nature rather than seeking the truth or knowledge.
In most philosophical schools, we ask ourselves three questions:
To be, to have, or to do? - Who are we? Why do we exist? What is the purpose? Descartes’ famous line: “je pense donc je suis” – “I think therefore I am” stresses the question of “to be” and “to do”.
In Taoism, we can examine the following words:
道 (Dao, or Tao) – path, way, nature
氣 (Qi, or Chi) – breathing, air, to be alive, to be
無 (Wu) – to have not; without
爲 (Wei) – action, to do
One of the most important concepts of Taoism is expressed as: 無爲 Wu Wei. The literal meaning of Wu Wei is “have no action” – in other words, “Do nothing!” The aim of Wu Wei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium, or alignment with the 道 Dao (or Tao) – in harmony with the path of nature, and, as a result, obtain an irresistible form of "soft and invisible" power.
The Taoist sage Laozi (ca.400 BC), who lived a non-material existence like Siddhartha, demonstrated the concept of Wu Wei by introducing 氣功 Qi Gong (or Chi kong) – breathing exercises - meditative training increasing longevity and as means of accessing higher realms of existence.
In Western society, some people justify their existence by accumulating unbridled wealth (investment banker’s philosophy). Some people aim to make their life meaningful by seeking fame (“Reality Show” contestant’s philosophy). Some people seek to “make history” by waging wars in the world (politician’s philosophy). Interestingly, there are also people in the West who are sick of a modern society which advocates blind pursuit of money and power. They prefer to live as hermits enjoying their own company. By detaching from society with its demands for conformity, they seek to achieve an inner peace. This kind of life-style is not very far from the Taoist concept of Wu Wei.
子 - Zi or Tsu - archaic meaning: "Master", or "Sir". (modern meaning: “son”, “child”)
孔子 - Kongzi – founder of Confucianism (551-479 BC)
老子 - Laozi - Taoist sage (c.400 BC)
孫子 – Sunzi - Military strategist and philosopher (c.544-496 BC)