The Doctrine of the "Mysterious Female" in Taoism

For an understanding of the Taoist inner alchemy, two pairs of interrelated concepts are of predominant importance: natural essence (hsing)

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:

"something, that is little inside a woman," that is, embryo hidden in the womb, like the prototypes of things (see §21) are hidden in the "womb" of Tao. This opinion may be supported by the fact that the images of the womb and embryo are often used by Taoists to describe the "Tao-world" relation. So Tao can be metaphorically defined as the mother of the world, the source of life and being, and the universal female archetype. It is quite essential to understand the Taoist doctrine of immortality as well, because this doctrine considers Tao to be the life-giving principle which gives eternal life to the adept who has obtained unity with it. The Tao Te chitig also says (§52):

Having realized the mother,

you thereby know her children. Knowing her children,

go back to abide with the mother. To the end of your life,

you will not be imperiled.

Let's look at the child of the "Mysterious female of all under the heaven."

§55 of the Tao Te ching says:

He who embodies the flillness of integrity is like a ruddy infant.

Wasps, spiders, scorpions, and snakes will not sting or bite him;

Rapacious birds and fierce beasts will not seize him.

His bones are weak and his sinews soft, yet his grip is tight.

He knows not the joining of male and female, yet his penis is aroused.

His essence has reached a peak.

He screams the whole day without becoming hoarse; His harmony has reached perfection.

Harmony implies constancy;

Constancy requires insight.

Striving to increase one's life is ominous;

To control the vital breath with one's mind entails force.

Something that grows old while still in its prime is said to be not in accord with the Way;

Not being in accord with the Way leads to an early demise.

Here, an infant (a baby; the text uses Ch 'ih tzu, "red," or "ruddy" infant, i.e., a just newborn child) represents the image of the perfect sage hill of the vital force. An infant in the Tao Te ching is something like an androgyrie who does not know the parting of male and female, and who, because of this, is overflowing with vitality. His energetic essence (ching) does not flow below; it does not change into semen yet, and so it is perfect. Thus, an infant is like the great Tao itself Tao is a source of life, and like an infant also can not be tired, because exhaustion is a result of energetic deficiency. An infant enjoys absolute security; nature is not dangerous to it because he or she is at the center of its forces and powers. We should note the following words: Striving to increase one's life is ominous; To control vital breath with one's mind entails force. Here we can find a direct reference to the relation existing between ideas of obtaining immortality and religious psychopractice. Taoism proclaims that a human being is nothing more than an inseparable psychosomatic unity. So people can obtain inimortality only when their body-microcosm becomes a self-sufficient whole--a self-containing reservoir of the vital energy from one side, and when it realizes its potential, isomorphism with the world-body of the cosmos from another side. One of the most important means on the way to this exalted state is the so-called "regulation of the vital breath" (or "regulation of the pneumata" - hsing ch 'i), that is, a complex of gymnastical and breathing exercises, the aim of which is to obtain mind control over the flowing of the energy streams in the human body. The most important principle of such techniques is often repeated in medieval Taoist writings: "Pneuma (breath, ch'i) is led by will-consciousness (yi)." This means the presence of some volitional enforcement which leads the streams of the vital energy along the channels of the body (analogous to the meridians of acupuncture) in the desirable direction. The Tao Te ching is just one text which clearly formulates this idea in ancient times. Instead of the "volitional impulse" (yi), the Tao Te ching speaks about "mind" or "heart-consciousness" (Hsin), but it is the same idea.

It was thought for a long time that the concept relating the Taoist ideas of immortality and different practices was described only in medieval tests, but recent archeological discoveries in Ch'angsha Mawangtui (Hunan province) demonstrate the profound antiquity of both. Thus, the Mawangtui texts describe numerous respiratory exercises for the "regulation of the Pneumata" (hsing ch 'i) and postures of the Taoist gymnastics (tao yin). Special pictures painted on silk, which were known under the general title, Tao yin t 'u (Schemes of Gymnastics), were even dedicated to such practices. So it may be concluded that these practices were well-known in China in the days when the Tao Te ching is now regarded to have been composed (4-3 B.C., rather than the traditionally accepted period of 6-5 B


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