The Wisdom of China: part one
An investigation of the philosophy and folklore of ancient China in two parts
Although we have surveyed the philosophy, arts and sciences of ancient Egypt in some depth, published two books about ancient India and it's wisdom (The Book of Sa-Heti and The Quest of Ruru), there is one land that stands out like a huge mountain peak of great beauty amongst all the rest, and that is the ancient civilization and culture of China. In this new investigation in two parts we aim to amend this omission. Along the way we shall draw comparisons between the ancient Chinese Wisdom, with a capital W, with those of Egypt, India and Atlantis, and so enlarge our knowledge accordingly. In our customary afterword, we explore the superstitions, folklore and magical practises of ancient China — also in two parts.
We have often been asked "is any ancient Chinese wisdom still extant today, and if so, is it understood?" The honest answer is that some of it is still known, but that much of it has been distorted by legions of 'interpreters' and 'commentators' who, as we have pointed out so often in our investigations, have come to a great many wrong conclusions about China, just as is the case with the Hermetic wisdom of Egypt we discussed in our articles on Hermes. We know of only one modern book in which some of the ancient Wisdom of China is preserved and presented without distortion or deviation; that book is The Teachings of Li Wang Ho by J Michaud PhD. This is available to read on this website and download as a printable PDF. There is another book, published in the 19th century which is almost completely unknown and unread that records the wonderful teachings of another Chinese Sage — Fo-hi. This book is The Third Messenger of God by Dr E. V. Kenealy. This too is available to read here and download as a printable PDF.
China, until the Communist takeover, has always been a nation of great poets, painters, writers, and philosophers, more so than any other old civilisation up to modern times. There have always been wise men in China who preserved the old beliefs and knowledge, though they kept it mostly to themselves and a few chosen disciples, the same as was the case in Egypt, India and Greece. The masses, on the other hand, subsisted on a diet of rank superstition and a childlike belief in omens and signs of all sorts, being also preyed upon by mediums and fortune-tellers. The pompous 'Master' of the Yin Yang who attempts to bamboozle the disciples of Li Wang Ho in the book mentioned earlier is a classic example of the type. Such charlatans were found everywhere in ancient China, just as they are today in the 'civilized' West, reaping a certain harvest from the gullible. Whether these conditions still prevail in Communist China we do not know, but as we touch upon at the end of our afterword, we doubt whether the masses have changed very much, if at all. We shall have a peep at the activities of these 'wonder-mongers' in the second of our afterwords to be published in two month's time.
The language of China is so involved that we do not know of a single Chinese-English dictionary that can be relied upon. This remains a serious stumbling block, not only for the foreigner who tries to master it, but to the most learned Chinese themselves. The many subtle meanings of almost every single word enable the wise to wrap up their real meanings in such a way that only those who possess every key can hope to know what is really meant when true Wisdom issues forth from such a great Sage as Li Wang Ho. The same difficulties confront the student who wishes to understand the philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism, as well as the many myths, legends and folk-tales which make up the rich tapestry of Chinese thought.
At the time of writing this article Chinese character dictionaries contained 60,000 to 85,000 separate glyphs which, as in ancient Egyptian, can stand for a single concept (such as wind or rain), or a whole body of interconnected meaning, both literal and figurative. Some of these difficulties are discussed in the introduction to The Teachings of Li Wang Ho in which we are told that an ancient Chinese rhyming dictionary, contained about 15 million words in "the most subtle and ingenious rhyming combinations." In contrast, Roget's famous Thesaurus contained just 15,000 words when it was first published in 1852. This was some forty years before the first Chinese-English dictionary was compiled by the British sinologist Herbert Allen Giles. It is important to bear these linguistic difficulties in mind if we wish to obtain the greatest benefit from the sacred books and texts of China.
We begin our researches with a survey of the philosophy of Lao Tzu and a discussion of the Tao. This is followed by a brief summary of Chinese religion and some of the teachings of the Sage known as Confucius. In the second part of our investigation, we examine two of the major classics of Chinese philosophical, historical and cultural literature, namely the Shuh King and the Li Ki. In addition to these two books we discuss the Shih King, which deals with Chinese poetry, and conclude our researches with a few of the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Mencius. In the first of our two afterwords we take a bird's-eye view of the traditional ceremonies the Chinese perform in connection with the so-called 'dead' as well as some of their superstitions. In part two we continue our survey and also tell you about some of the magical practises of ancient China as well as the system of divination known as the I Ching.
The Philosophy of Lao Tzu
There will be very few of our readers who have not heard of the truly great Chinese philosopher know as Lao Tzu or Laozi. He is thought to have lived in the 6th century B.C., and is credited with the authorship of the book known as the Tao Te Ching in which his teachings are recorded. Let us say at once that we have no doubt that he existed, though his real name was probably not Lao Tzu. This is a honorific title meaning 'Venerable Master,' just as the Hierophants of the ancient Mystery Schools were dignified with such names. Whether he wrote the Tao Te Ching or it was composed after his death by his disciples is of little importance; let the scholars argue over this as they argue over so much else of little consequence. What matters to us and, we hope the attentive reader, is that we have Lao Tzu's teachings, incomplete as they may be, and very great teachings they are as we shall see as we proceed with our investigation.
Let us begin with a saying we all can profit from. "He is wise who knows others," says Lao Tzu. "He who knows himself is enlightened. He is strong who conquers others. He who conquers himself is mighty. He is rich who is well satisfied. He walks fast who has an object. He who fills his place remains secure. He who dies without being corrupted enjoys a good old age." One of his more obscure sayings runs: "The ancient wise men were skilful in their mysterious acquaintances with profundities. They were fathomless in their depths...may not a man take a dead thing and make it alive by continuous motion?" We wonder what our readers make of this? Let us give you our interpretation, before going on with our discussion of his philosophy. To make a thing alive, when dead, by continuous motion refers to the so-called 'dead', whom, if we forget them are truly dead — to us — but not in themselves. But if we always remember them with love in our hearts, then they come to life again — again to us, for actually they are not dead at any time, as we discuss in our article about Life after Death. The continual 'motion' Lao Tzu refers to is the interchange of ideas that pass to and fro between us and those whom we love that have left the earth. The dear departed are well aware of such mental messages, especially if they are far advanced in evolution and bear a similar love in their hearts to us here below. A sensitive person — and we know of no genuine occultists who are not sensitive — can sense their presence at all times that their thoughts reach out to them, and at other times too, when they may be very busy with earthly concerns. Suddenly, somehow, we know that they are here; and each one will know this in a different manner, according to his or her state of evolution. And not only are we visited by those we knew in this life, but we can become aware of personages whom we do not remember outwardly, yet knew them well once upon a time in a previous life, or even between lives.
When speaking about the wise men of old who preceded him, Lao Tzu says: "They were cautious, like one who crosses a swollen river." That caution consisted in silence, not telling anyone about such experiences, for, he goes on: "They were reserved, like one who doubts his fellows." Need we add that wise men and women who make contact with the higher realms of Light and those who dwell in them have good reason to hold their peace? If they revealed their experiences there is little doubt that those who are not able to make such contacts would scoff or sneer at them. Our Sage continues: "They were watchful, like one who travels abroad," for those who belong to higher realms are truly 'abroad' when on earth, for then they are far away from their true Home, which is not the earth; strangers in a strange land as it were. "They were retiring, like snow beneath the sun." No one who has ever made the error of airing his or her faith in a higher reality will need reminding of the icy coldness of disbelief and doubt which quenches that fiery faith if exposed recklessly to the faithless and unbelieving. But Lao Tzu also says: "They were simple, like newly felled timber," for simplicity, as we have so often pointed out is the hallmark of true Wisdom. "They were lowly, like the valley," for they would not go about boasting of their knowledge of superior things, and so invite the slings and arrows of the unready. "They were obscure, like muddy water," for they did not permit the rabble to gaze deeply into their profound minds, but obscured their thoughts with the veil of secrecy.
But, adds Lao Tzu: "May not a man take muddy water and make it clear by keeping still?" Such sayings make no sense to the unevolved and unenlightened. Nor are they meant to, for here we have a Great Initiate giving wise counsel to his peers who may follow him in times to come and have need of these wise precepts as so many keys to open the gates of their memory. For the true Initiate has known all this before, but may have forgotten it for the time being, on account of other work he may have to do on earth for the salvation of his less advanced brothers and sisters. Lao Tzu had much to say about the beliefs or opinions of others, of which the following is a fine example. "The wise man has no fixed opinions to call his own. He accommodates himself to the minds of others. The wise man lives in the world with modest restraint and his heart goes out in sympathy to all men." Let us remember such wise sayings at all times and bear in mind that behind the strange customs of foreign countries there may be concealed great truths which are not obvious to the casual or careless enquirer.
Having told you something of the philosophy of Lao Tzu, let us now examine his teachings further as we find them set down in the Tao Te Ching and other books.
Most readers will know that the word Tao stands for the 'Way' or 'Path', leading to freedom from rebirth. This is exactly the same doctrine taught by the Sages of ancient India. In connection with this Lao Tzu says: "The Tao that is the subject of discussion is not the true Tao. He who knows the Tao does not discuss it, and those who babble about it do not know it. To keep the lips closed, to shut the doors of sight and sound, to smooth off the corners, to temper the glare, and to be on a level with the dust of the earth, this is the mysterious virtue. Whoever observes this will regard alike both frankness and reserve, kindness and injury, honour and degradation. For this reason he will be held in great esteem of all men."
This shows that he was perfectly acquainted with the highest Wisdom, for liberation from further incarnations on earth is not the end of the journey, as we discussed years ago in our article on Evolution. He goes on to say: "The quality which can be named is not its true attribute, for That which was before Heaven and Earth is called the Non-Existent." Meaning that as we know nothing about it, it has no existence for us, for we cannot know the unknowable. When he adds: "The existent is the Mother of all things," he paraphrases the teachings of The Secret Doctrine compiled long afterwards by H. P. Blavatsky. But later he makes a most significant statement which very few occultists will understand when he says: "The NON-Existent and Existent are identical in all but name."
If this shows nothing else it shows that the ancient Wisdom of China is as little understood today as that of the Druids or the ancient Egyptians we have discussed with you. This truth is confirmed by the truly dreadful manner in which the ancient Chinese sayings have been misinterpreted in various books. Let us take just one example — a book called The Secret of the Golden Flower. This was translated by Richard Wilhelm with a commentary by C. G. Jung and published in 1931. Despite a new translation by Thomas Cleary appearing in 1991, Wilhelm's translation is the better-known and continues to enjoy considerable favour among many mystics and occultists. Although Cleary heavily criticises Wilhelm's translation, going so far as to say that it contains "dangerous and misleading contaminations," he does so from a scholarly, academic perspective, and so falls into the same traps as Wilhelm and Jung, neither of whom were trained occultists either, much less initiates. Moreover, since Cleary's stated aim was to make the text "explicitly accessible to both lay and specialist audiences," for which, as an essentially initiatic text, the book was never intended, his interpretation is arguably worse than Wilhelm's who at least was a theologian. Hence, we have chosen to use the earlier translation for our criticism of the text.
In saying this we do not mean that the book is without value. On the contrary, it has great value if we ignore the translator's 'explanations' and Jung's commentary and confine our attention to the actual text itself, and then interpret it in the light of the laws and principles of occult science. Let us give you an example of what we mean. The translator calls the Tao 'Meaning', but the Chinese glyph is made up of the sign for 'head' and 'going', which, as is pointed out later in the book, might mean the going of the consciousness; the head sign then standing for consciousness. We have no quarrel with this, but after calling the Tao 'meaning', the translator goes on to say: "Meaning has neither name nor force. It is the one essence, the one primordial spirit. Essence and life cannot be seen. It is contained in the Light of Heaven. The Light of Heaven cannot be seen. It is contained in the two eyes." This statement is developed on the next page: "The work on the circulation of the light depends entirely upon the backward-flowing movement, so that the thoughts are gathered together (the place of Heavenly Consciousness, the Heavenly Heart). The Heavenly Heart lies between the Sun and Moon (i.e. the two eyes)." Now, all this sounds most mysterious and impressive, but what does it actually mean, and what does it convey to the bewildered reader? Does it explain the Tao, the Path? And what is meant by the light in the two eyes, which have no light, being nothing more than a pair of lenses. What does this tell us about the Tao? Nothing at all. It is for this reason that we are examining some of the sayings of Lao Tzu and giving you very simple explanations of what they really mean. Lao Tzu himself called his book 'The Simple Way'. Then let it remain simple, for complexity is ever the enemy of Truth as we have pointed out so very often in our articles. This brief survey of the Tao must suffice, but do study the Tao Te Ching for yourself; you will find it a most worthwhile pursuit (see Further reading list in the sidebar).
Before the communist revolution there were, and to some extent still are, three religions in China, namely, the systems of Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Gautama Buddha. That of Confucius was most honoured both by the government and the learned; while the religion of Lao Tzu, equally ancient, was also greatly favoured by the better classes as well as by the people in general.
Ancient Chinese philosophers spoke much of a certain 'Principle of Order', by which the Universe is regulated, and which is accounted by them as the Soul of the World. The heavens and earth, according to this belief, together with all animate beings, constitute but one Principle, which is as universally diffused through nature as water through the ocean. To this great Principle they attribute the power of retribution; and say of the wicked that: "though they may escape the meshes of terrestrial law, the celestial principle will not endure them."
When describing the origin of the world they say: "Before heaven and earth were divided, there existed one universal chaos. Then the two energies of nature were gradually distinguished, and the Yin and Yang, or the male and female principles established. Then the purer influences ascended and became the expansive heavens, while the grosser particles descended, and constituted the subjacent earth. From the combination of these two energies, all things were produced; and thus heaven is the father, and earth the mother of nature. The principle of the Chinese cosmogony is thus founded upon a sexual system of the universe, or upon positive and negative polarities. The same ideas informed the cosmogonies of both Egypt and India and are explored and explained in volume one of The Secret Doctrine: Cosmogenesis, as well as in Vision 8 of The Golden Star.
Heaven and earth, being the grandest objects cognisable to human senses, were thus considered by the Chinese Sages as the parents of all things, or the superior and inferior principles of being. These they traced to an extreme limit, which possessed in itself the two powers combined. They say that one produced two, two begat four, and four increased to eight, and thus by spontaneous multiplication, the production of all things followed. The identical doctrine was reprised ages later by Pythagoras, Plato and others as you can read in our investigation of the sacred science of numbers. To all these existences, whether animate or inanimate, the Chinese attach the idea of sex; and thus everything superior presiding, luminous, hard and unyielding, is of the masculine gender; while everything of an opposite quality is ascribed to the feminine gender. This concept mirrors perfectly the Hermetic Law of Gender explained in the penultimate part of our investigation of the true teachings of Hermes Trismegistus.
The Chinese anciently divided numerals in the same way. Thus every odd number was regarded as masculine and every even number feminine; which is of course quite correct, the same as the whole of the above system is correct, being practically the same as that of the ancient Egyptians and the Pythagoreans. And how could it be otherwise? All these systems have but one common root, which we can trace back to Atlantis as we have shown in our several articles on the lost continent.
The Chinese Sages taught that three things exist in nature: first chih or chi, or tangible substance, which is the gross and sensible part of things; secondly: ke, primary matter, or the substratum on which figure, and other qualities of bodies, are reared; and thirdly: le, an universal principle, which is present with every existence, inhering or adhering to it. Le is considered to be immaterial and incorporeal, without figure. It is a kind of principle of organization. In other words, what Plato called 'privation of form', the primary pattern as it issued forth from the imagination of the Creators. Aristotle developed this idea further, calling privation the 'idea' of a plant, animal or human being to be, which he located in the invisible Mind of the Great Architect of the Universe. We might then call le the thought-form or prototype of a thing, from which matter passes from the shape it has not to that which it assumes.
But in the case of the Chinese, they say the le is an independent principle, not under the control of any superior being, and that it regulates and remunerates the good and evil actions of man. But this idea is for the majority of people in China that have sufficient intelligence to study such things, while the wise knew the true significance of this principle. On the whole, the Chinese regard this principle as a mechanical one, and they pay no honours to it, nor has it any personality which could give help or favours, for, say they, it is inseparable from bodies, and therefore merely the basis of bodies. This is true, of course, as we said earlier, but nevertheless such a principle is manipulated by various entities as both Plato and Aristotle taught. The mechanical aspect of the le led some missionaries who took the trouble to investigate the beliefs of the Chinese to conclude that their whole religious system is a purely material one. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Chinese merely know, as every trained occultist does, that all the various 'heavens' described in the various Eastern and Western cosmological doctrines, are of a material nature, albeit of a far finer grade or density that we are familiar with on earth, and this is correct. But they also know that beyond all these heavens there is something else, something that is pure spirit, and that there is a Supreme Ruler who is very similar to the ancient Egyptian idea embodied in Neb-er-Tcher, 'Lord to the uttermost limit'.
The trouble with the Chinese religion is that, as we said earlier, it consists of three different systems: Confucianism, which is a material system on the whole; that of Lao Tzu, which is a mystical one; and that of Gautama Buddha, changed and distorted in order to fit in with the average superstitions of the average man and woman. But here is a quotation from one of the great books of China which runs: "It is only the thoroughly sincere, who can perfect his own nature; he who can perfect his own nature, can perfect the nature of other men, can perfect the nature of things; can assist heaven and earth in renovating and nourishing the world; and he who thus assists heaven and earth, forms a trinity with the powers of nature."
We can regard such a teaching as purely material, wholly spiritual, or as a combination of both. In each case the advice could hardly be better for anyone who truly wishes to perfect themselves. In regard to this Lao Tzu says: "When the world speaks of beauty as being beautiful, ugliness is at once defined. When goodness is seen to be good, evil is at once apparent. So do existence and non-existence mutually give rise to one another, as that which is difficult and that which is easy, distant and near, high and low, shrill and bass, preceding and following." In another place he says: "This identity of apparent opposites I call the profound, the great deep, the open door of bewilderment." This is true, for those who lack the spiritual perception to reconcile opposites, whether through innate or wilful blindness, are bewildered by their seeming contradictions.
We don't intend to discuss the great Sage known as Confucius who flourished during the fifth century B.C., in any depth, for there are countless books written about him. However, it is fair to say that his teachings were more of a worldly nature, dealing with material things and thoughts, than those of Lao Tzu. His main aim was to encourage the Way of Goodness, which in his time had been long supplanted by the Way of violence and aggression. How history repeats itself, both in China and elsewhere in the world! Confucius had a long and severe struggle, but after his apotheoses in the Han dynasty, he was credited with all the omniscience and moral infallibility of a divine Sage. History records that he strove with all his might to dispel this adoration, nor would he permit himself to be regarded as 'good' for this honour he gives to the ancient heroes of the remote past only. Nor did he claim any pre-eminence on account of the social virtues which formed the basis of his teachings. He said instead that there was not a hamlet of ten houses but could produce men as loyal and dependable as himself. He denied that he had any special stock of knowledge, or that the knowledge he had was in any way inspired or innate. The only thing he regarded as exceptional in himself was his love of learning, or rather of self-improvement, and his unflagging patience in insisting upon the moral principles that had once guided the godlike rulers who governed China in the remote past; and he loved antiquity.
If you have never encountered them, try to obtain a copy of his Analects (selected sayings) and study them (see Further reading list at the end of the sidebar). If you try to read between the lines and beyond the superficial sense of the words, you will at times find something truly divine behind what Confucius says. He has been credited with seventy-two Disciples, by which is meant seventy-two persons that were wise enough to understand what he was teaching and capable of carrying on with the work afterwards, when the Master had left the earth and returned to his own place. This number seems greatly exaggerated for it is difficult to discover the names of even twenty. The two most important Disciples were Yan Hui (Ziyuan) and Zhong You (Zilu), who are perfect examples of the contrasted types of character that psychologists call introvert and extrovert. Both of them died before Confucius, and were thus unable to carry on with the great work. On the other hand there was Tzu-hsia, who, after the Master's death, founded a school of his own. A dozen of his sayings have survived; and then there are Tzu-chang and Tzu-yu (sometimes referred to as 'Tzu-lu'), who have always been regarded as of special importance, for they too had sayings of their own.
Frankly, it is difficult for anyone to add to the wisdom that Confucius gave forth, for he covered the ground so thoroughly during his long life that very little was missed out. Nor is there any need to add to Truth at any time, nor is it possible, for Truth is complete in itself, and nothing can be added to it nor taken away from it. The only thing one can hope to do is to place a personal accent on certain truths, thus presenting them in a new light, as it were. In the afterword to the final part of Astral Conversations we said that: "But of new Truth there is none; let no one persuade you otherwise! The best we can hope for as we proceed in life is that our degrees of Truth will become purer and higher, and this can be achieved only in a gradual manner." But Truth is sometimes forgotten, and when this happens a new Messenger is sent down to earth, to revive this Truth in his own way. This is all we can say about 'new' truths which are eternal and universal if they are true, though presented in a new or different light. The Analects were compiled after the Master's death, and the different books of which they consist are quite evidently of different origins. But that does not matter. What matters is that the work of Confucius has survived and it is to be hoped that it will never be lost to the world.
In part two, we discuss the books called the Shuh King, the Li Ki, and the Shih King which deals with Chinese poetry. We shall also touch on the teachings of the third century B.C. Chinese philosopher Mencius (372-289 B.C.).
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 15 May 2022.