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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


The Paradoxical Dao Theory: An Analysis Focusing on the Zhongxuan School in the Southern Dynasties

Vol. 42 No. 2   06/2012    


The Paradoxical Dao Theory: An Analysis Focusing on the Zhongxuan School in the Southern Dynasties


Lin, Yung-sheng  









Key words

Daoism, Zhongxuan 重玄 school, Dao theory, Tiyong 體用 theory (substance and function theory), neither the same nor different  


        This paper discusses a new type of theory on the Dao established by Taoist priests of the Zhongxuan重玄 school in the Southern Dynasties. At this time, Buddhists began to critique traditional Chinese theories of Dao, prompting Lu Xiujing 陸修靜to rethink the concept. He contended that the substance of the Dao was equal to the Dao; however, at the same time, this substance differed from the Dao in certain respects. He concluded that the relationship between the tao and its substance was one of “neither sameness nor difference.” In this paper, I call Lu’s understanding of the Dao “the paradoxical tao theory.” Other Zhongxuan school priests expanded upon Lu Xiujing’s paradoxical Dao theory, applying it to many different concepts and practices. For example, with regard to self-cultivation, Song Wenming 宋文明 put forth a theory called the“Three Ones”. Meng Zhizhou 孟智周,in his analysis of the relationship between noumenon and phenomenon, advanced the doctrine known as“being and non-being,”and he used the concept of tiyong (substance and function 體用) to illuminate this relationship. And, Zang Jin 臧矜, in his discussion of meditative experience, explained the meaning of the paradoxical Dao theory through reference to the concept of wisdom. The Zhongxuan school Daoist priests’ paradoxical Dao theory in fact heavily influenced Chinese conceptions of substance and function, which would later play an important role in Neo-Confucian thought.



Author: Lin, Yung-sheng
Genre: Article
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