Saturday, June 7, 2014

Daoism and Nothingness

While writing my last book, I stumbled upon an excellent study of the role of non-being in Daoism. It's called In Praise of Nothing: An Exploration of Daoist Fundamental Ontology by Ellen Marie Chen.

This is a magnificent book that explains the principle of Nothingness in Daoism. For those of you who have been reading my latest posts, Chen's title should come as no surprise; I relied heavily upon it to develop my own book, God Is Nothingness

In Praise of Nothing examines the fundamental ontological difference between Daoism and Western philosophy. While the latter stresses Beingness and substance, Daoism views Non-being or wu (Nothingness) as the fundamental basis of reality. The Daoist Nothingness is the groundless ground that allows for Being to occur. Form and matter are not the antithesis of Nothingness, but its very body; for they are the manifest expressions of the formless Absolute Nothingness.

We can see Nothingness as a forerunner for the emptiness (sunyata) so central to Zen, which makes perfect sense if we consider how influential Daoism was on the development of Ch'an.

All in all, Ellen Chen's book is a hidden gem of knowledge, offering a much-needed perspective on the ontology of formlessness in Daoism. I found it to be an invaluable resource. In conjunction with the work of Nishida Kitaro, founder of the "Kyoto School" and about whom I will be writing in my next post, Chen's study helped me enormously. I highly recommend reading it.

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