THE SACRED BOOKS OF CHINA: THE TEXTS OF TÂOISMby James Legge
An excerpt from the beginning of the:
In the Preface to the third volume of these ‘Sacred Books of the East’ (1879), I stated that I proposed giving in due course, in order to exhibit the
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An excerpt from the beginning of the:
In the Preface to the third volume of these ‘Sacred Books of the East’ (1879), I stated that I proposed giving in due course, in order to exhibit the System of Tâoism, translations of the Tâo Teh King by Lâo-ȝze (sixth century bc), the Writings of Kwang-ȝze (between the middle of the fourth and third centuries bc), and the Treatise of ‘Actions and their Retributions’ (of our eleventh century); and perhaps also of one or more of the other characteristic Productions of the System.
The two volumes now submitted to the reader are a fulfilment of the promise made so long ago. They contain versions of the Three Works which were specified, and, in addition, as Appendixes, four other shorter Treatises of Tâoism; Analyses of several of the Books of Kwang-ȝze by Lin Hsî-kung; a list of the stories which form so important a part of those Books; two Essays by two of the greatest Scholars of China, written the one in A.D. 586 and illustrating the Tâoistic beliefs of that age, and the other in A.D. 1078 and dealing with the four Books of Kwang-ȝze, whose genuineness is frequently called in question. The concluding Index is confined very much to Proper Names. For Subjects the reader is referred to the Tables of Contents, the Introduction to the Books of Kwang-ȝze (vol. xxxix, pp. 127-163), and the Introductory Notes to the various Appendixes.
The Treatise of Actions and their Retributions exhibits to us the Tâoism of the eleventh century in its moral or ethical aspects; in the two earlier Works we see it rather as a philosophical speculation than as a religion in the ordinary sense of that term. It was not till after the introduction of Buddhism into China in our first century that Tâoism began to organise itself as a Religion, having its monasteries and nunneries, its images and rituals. While it did so, it maintained the superstitions peculiar to itself:—some, like the cultivation of the Tâo as a rule of life favourable to longevity, come down from the earliest times, and others which grew up during the decay of the Kâu dynasty, and subsequently blossomed;—now in Mystical Speculation; now in the pursuits of Alchemy; now in the search for the pills of Immortality and the Elixir vitae; now in Astrological fancies; now in visions of Spirits and in Magical arts to control them; and finally in the terrors of its Purgatory and everlasting Hell. Its phases have been continually changing, and at present it attracts our notice more as a degraded adjunct of Buddhism than as a development of the speculations of Lâo-ȝze and Kwang-ȝze. Up to its contact with Buddhism, it subsisted as an opposition to the Confucian system, which, while admitting the existence and rule of the Supreme Being, bases its teachings on the study of man’s nature and the enforcement of the duties binding on all men from the moral and social principles of their constitution.
It is only during the present century that the Texts of Tâoism have begun to receive the attention which they deserve. Christianity was introduced into China by Nestorian missionaries in the seventh century; and from the Hsî-an monument, which was erected by their successors in 781, nearly 150 years after their first entrance, we perceive that they were as familiar with the books of Lâo-ȝze and Kwang-ȝze as with the Confucian literature of the empire, but that monument is the only memorial of them that remains. In the thirteenth century the Roman Catholic Church sent its earliest missionaries to China, but we hardly know anything of their literary labours.
The great Romish missions which continue to the present day began towards the end of the sixteenth century; and there exists now in the India Office a translation of the Tâo Teh King in Latin, which was brought to England by a Mr. Matthew Raper, and presented by him to the Royal Society, of which he was a Fellow, on January 10th, 1788. The manuscript is in excellent preservation, but we do not know by whom the version was made. It was presented, as stated in the Introduction, p. 12, to Mr. Raper by P. de Grammont, ‘Missionarius Apostolicus, ex-Jesuita.’ The chief object of the translator or translators was to show that ‘the Mysteries of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Incarnate God were anciently known to the Chinese nation.’ The version as a whole is of little value. The reader will find, on pp. 115, 116, its explanation of Lâo’s seventy-second chapter;—the first morsel of it that has appeared in print....
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