Meeting the Dragon: Interpretation of Initial Meaning of Lao Tsu
Monograph by: A. Maslov
This monograph is a broad and detailed study of early religious mysticism in China. It is one in a series of Russian Orientalists's works on spiritual, cultural and political tradition of China published over the last ten years.
Maslov's book is both innovative and the most complete among research ever implemented by a Russian scholar in this particular segment of Oriental studies. It may be included in the main or supplementary reading list for students of History, Region Studies, Orientalism and Religion Studies.
The Lao Tsu work, or Dao De Jing, has become a critical part of China's cultural tradition and even everyday life. Quotations from Lao Tsu found their way into folklore and the front pages of Chinese History textbooks, published in China or elsewhere.
In the context of Chinese tradition, this text can be compared with the Bible: ideas and concepts of Lao Tsu have had a strong impact on the formation of religious, philosophic and spiritual aspects, as well as on Chinese art and aesthetics
The text lays the foundation of China's political culture, because some part of it constitutes advice to the nation's leader on how to run the country, avoid conflict and keep the population under control. A study of the content and ideas of this text to some extent helps understand the political and cultural development paradigm, from ancient times till the present moment.
The study offers a new methodology for reconstructing religious thought of ancient China.
The book consists of a study and a new translation of Lao Tsu, accompanied by a commentary. The first part, Time and Arguments, sets forth the diverse and controversial spectrum of opinions which have been generated around the Lao Tsu text. Here the author discloses historic background of the emergence of Chinese magic texts. The second part, I Am the Only One Who Is Different, attempts to reconstruct the biography of Lao Tsu, generally believed to be a mythical figure, who nevertheless left an important mark in the history of China. Having reviewed various references and semantic features of the source text, the author concluded that the real Lao Tsu came from Southern China and was closely connected with ancient voodoo cults.
The third part, The Book of Secret Sayings, reconstructs the type of ideas and texts that nurtured the Daoism theory.
One of the key notions of the whole study is that the Lao Tsu text was based on unsystematized sayings (agrapha) attributed to various mystical schools and individual mystics and dating from early-mid 1st millenium BC. Those sayings were brought together by a single compiler probably Lao Tsu who added his own comments. The comments merged with the agrapha itself and, as a result, posterior generations perceived both archaic, mystical sayings and the subsequent comments as a coherent text.
The book restores the content of the original agrapha the very nucleus of mystical thought, related to spiritualism and belief in the world of dead, both of which prevailed in ancient China.
Despite the fact that Lao Tsu is known as the founder of Daoism, he actually had no direct relation to it (Daoism is a more recent phenomenon). On the other hand, we can speak of «Laoism» as a particular branch of ancient thought that attempts to integrate the oldest magical beliefs, voodoo techniques and psychic visions with the doctrine of running the state, educating an honest official and avoiding calamities in the country.
The book includes a detailed index of key concepts, personal and geographical names, and an extensive list of references; integrated in the body text are hieroglyphs explaining the key concepts.
The monograph was based on a series of lectures on the history of Chinese spiritual thought delivered at the Institute of Sinology (Heidelberg University, Germany) and the University of Colorado (USA).