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Daoist attitudes toward words

This article is excerpted from Western Civilization with Chinese Comparisons, by Prof. John G. Blair and Prof. Jerusha Hull McCormack(2003), Fudan University Press

The Perfect Truth [quanzhen] Sect is the surviving Daoist group in Modern China. It was founded by an ascetic named Wang Zhen(born 1180 CE). Its attitude toward words and the books that are made from them is that one should move through and behind them as rapidly as possible.

Wang Zhen said:
In learning from books, one who merely grasps on to the literal sense of words will only confuse his eyes. If one can intuit the true meaning from behind the words and bring one’s heart into harmony with it, then the books themselves can be discarded. One must therefore first attain an understanding of meanings and locate the principles behind them; then one should discard the principle and internalize the meaning into one’s heart. When the meaning is understood, then the mind will withdraw from externals, and in time will naturally become responsive to reality. The light of the mind will overflow, the spirit of wisdom will become active, and no problem will be insolvable.

Thus one should diligently cultivate the inner self, never letting one’s mind run wild, lest one lose his nature and destiny. If one cannot comprehend the true meaning of books, and only tries tor read more an more, one will end up merely jabbering away before others, seeking to show off one;s meager talent. This will not only be detrimental to one’s self-cultivation, but it may do harm to one’s spirit and vital energy. In short, no matter how many books one read, they will be of no avail in attaining the Way. To understand fully the deep meaning of books, one must incorporate them into one’s mind.

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