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The Doctrine of the "Mysterious Female" in Taoism

The Doctrine of the "Mysterious Female" in Taoism
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The Doctrine of the "Mysterious Female" in Taoism

The principal purpose of this paper is to suggest the approach of transpersonal psychology for analysis of some important aspects of the Taoist doctrine, that is, the concept of the Tao as a female universal principle and the Taoist attitude "to be like an infant" or even as an "embryo."

To understand these Taoist principles, we must begin from the very beginning-from the central concept of Taoism, that is, Tao (the Way, the True Way). This concept designates the prime ground of the World, the source of all life and the limit of every existence, as well as the rule and measure of beings.

The female, maternal image of Tao is the crucial point to understanding the psychotechnique (or psychopractical) approach of Taoism. It is possible to demonstrate its importance by citing some passages from the Tao Te ching (The Canon of the Way and its Power) or the"Lao-tzu," a famous Taoist classic:

1. §6:

The valley spirit never dies-it is called the mysterious female";

The gate of the mysterious female is called "the root of heaven and earth."

Gossamer it is,

seemingly insubstantial, yet never consumed through use.

2. §25:

There was something featureless yet complete, born before heaven and earth;

Silent-amorphous-it stood alone and unchanging.

We may regard it as the mother of heaven and earth.

Not knowing its name,

I style it the "Way."

3. §28:

Know masculinity,

Maintain femininity,

and be a ravine for all under heaven.

4. §61:

A large state is like a low-lying estuary, the female of all under heaven.

In the congress of all under heaven,

the female always conquers the male through her stillness.

Because she is still,

it is fining for her to lie low.

E. M. Chen (1974), in her article dedicated to the role of the female principle in Chinese philosophy, notes that some aspects of Lao-tzu's concept of Tao makes it possible to propose that the formation of the teaching about Tao as a philosophical idea was preceded by the cult of some Mother-Goddess which was connected with the genesis of Taoism (Chen, 1974, p.53; Kravtsova, 1994, pp.208-213). She notes that in the description of Tao in the Tao Te ching there are all the meanings which are essential for the Mother-Goddess cult: Tao is like an empty vessel (§4); voidness (§5); mysterious darkness (§1); it is nonborn, but, nevertheless, it is the predecessor of the Heavenly Lord (§4); it is the Mysterious Female which is the gate of Heaven and Earth (§6); mother (§1, 20, 25, 52); female (or hen-§10, 28); female (§61); and Mother of all under heaven (§25, 34). In addition, Tao is often described as water (§8, 78) and as valley (§6, 28, 32, 39, 41). Clearly this valley is the principle of generation which bears all beings in its depth.

The Tao Te ching speaks much about the pre-existential, nonmanifested aspect of Tao which is the philosophical opposition to the manifested phenomenal existence as some potential being (wu). In this regard, § I is rather interesting. It describes this nonmanifested or mysterious (occult) aspect of Tao as the womb of the universal embryo, the womb which generates Heaven and Earth, which is the source of life. Briefly speaking, it is nothing but the Mysterious Mother of the world:

The nameless is the origin of the myriad creatures;

The named is the mother of the myriad creatures. Therefore,

Always be without desire

in order to observe its wondrous subtleties; Always have desire

so that you may observe its manifestations...

Mystery of mysteries,

The gate of all wonders!

This passage develops the leading idea of §1 about two aspects or "hypostases" of Tao: about Tao as "mysterious womb" and Tao as mother-nurse of all beings. Here we can recall the words of the famous commentator and thinker, Wang Pi (3 A.D.), that "Mysterious" (or "Unnamed") Tao nourishes and bears all creatures, and phenomenal named Tao feeds them; the analogous description Wang Pi gives to the character of the interrelations between Tao and Te.

What about the last sentence of the passage? It can be said that the character miao (mystery) of the sentence consists of two elements: "woman" and "little." We can suppose that its use here is not arbitrary. It is not too difficult to "ascribe" its etymology (probably it is not a scientific one) as this:

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