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Taoism and the Three Jewels of Tao
Every one under heaven says that our Way is greatly like folly. But it is just because it is great, that it seems like folly. As for things that do not seem like folly — well, there can be no question about their smallness!
or only he that pities is truly able to be brave;
Only he that is frugal is able to be profuse.
Only he that refuses to be foremost of all things
Is truly able to become chief of all Ministers.
At present your bravery is not based on pity, nor your profusion on frugality, nor your vanguard on your rear; and this is death. But pity cannot fight without conquering or guard without saving. Heaven arms with pity those whom it would not see destroyed. (tr. Arthur Waley 1958:225)
The first of the Three Treasures is ci, literally "compassion, tenderness, love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, benevolence", which is also a Classical Chinese term for "mother" (with "tender love, nurturing " semantic associations). Tao Te Ching chapters 18 and 19 parallel ci ("parental love") with xiao (孝 "filial love; filial piety"). Wing-tsit Chan (1963:219) believes "the first is the most important" of the Three Treasures, and compares ci with Confucianist ren (仁 "humaneness; benevolence"), which the Tao Te Ching mocks.
The second is jian, literally "frugality, moderation, economy, restraint, be sparing", a practice that the Tao Te Ching praises. Ellen M. Chen believes jian is "organically connected" with the Taoist metaphor pu ("uncarved wood; simplicity"), and "stands for the economy of nature that does not waste anything. When applied to the moral life it stands for the simplicity of desire."
The third treasure is a six-character phrase instead of a single word: Bugan wei tianxia xian "not dare to be first/ahead in the world".
In addition to these Taoist "Three Treasures", Chinese sanbao can also refer to the Three Treasures in Traditional Chinese Medicine or the Three Jewels in Buddhism. Victor H. Mair notes that Chinese Buddhists chose the Taoist term sanbao to translate Sanskrit triratna or ratnatraya ("three jewels"), and "It is not at all strange that the Taoists would take over this widespread ancient Indian expression and use it for their own purposes."
In Taoism, even beyond Chinese folk religion, various rituals, exercises, and substances are said to positively affect one's physical and mental health. They are also intended to align oneself spiritually with cosmic forces, or enable ecstatic spiritual journeys. These concepts seem basic to Taoism in its elite forms. Internal alchemy and various spiritual practices are used by some Taoists to improve health and extend life, theoretically even to the point of physical immortality.
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