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James Miller Associate Professor Chinese Religions Queen's University Canada

Started by rickymooston, May 17, 2013, 11:38:53 PM

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rickymooston

On behalf of the IGI, I pleased to be given the honor to invite James Miller, an associate professor specializing in Chinese religions at Queen's university in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Of interest to me, is his knowledge about Taoism and in particular of the Taoist canon, comprising of more than 1200 works, aka the Daozang. He is the author of 4 books. While i have alluded to topics frequently, i dont pretend to know tons about them and have as many questions as anybody.

Here is a snipet of his biography from his web site: "I was born in England, in 1968, and completed a B.A. (Hons.) in Chinese Studies at Durham University, with a distinction in oral Chinese. As part of my language studies, I spent a year at the People?s University of China, in Bejing, and a summer on a scholarship at the Mandarin Training Center at Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. After my BA, I spent three years at Cambridge University studying theology and religious studies at the Faculty of Divinity. After graduating with an MA, I came to Boston, where I embarked upon a Ph.D. in the Division of Religious and Theological Studies at Boston University. I studied with Livia Kohn, one of the West?s leading experts on Daoism (aka Taoism), the organized indigenous religion of China, and also John Berthrong, Robert Neville and Tu Weiming (at Harvard), who are three of the great scholars of Confucian philosophy working in North America today.
..."
http://www.jamesmiller.ca/biography/

He will be on the forum over the Victoria day weekend, May 18-20, 2013.

Post questions in this thread and keep in mind forum etiquette afforded to our guest speakers.

James, if you have anything to ad, in terms of an intro, ...
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Jezzebelle

It's so damn easy to say that life's so hard

none

how long after I type amen do I get the money?
I'm lost, if you see me you are lost also
If Jesus believed in himself he wouldn't have been Jewish.

Assyriankey

Hi James, welcome to IGI!  Thanks Ricky!

James, how do your own beliefs concerning religion (whatever they are) mesh with Taoism?  Do you study Taoism from a purely clinical academic position or what?
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

rickymooston

EDITed to be easier to respond to. (Trying to avoid asking questions that cannot be answered briefly)

1) Can you tell us a bit about the types of works in the taoist Canon? Are most works "philosophy" such as the works philosophy or are there many works on the medicine of the time, mathematics, cooking, etc? Would the famous book of Tea, the "cha ching" be included? Some Western Taoists I've encounter suggest that the Taoists were "early scientists" in a number of ways.

2) Are you familiar with some of the more popular schools in Asia today? Could you share a bit more about your experience with them?
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Assyriankey

I can feel something!

James is nearby - I can sense him!

OMMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

rickymooston

He said he was busy over the weekend but should be looking at it today.

Apologies for the confusion.

He has a nice youtube channel that is worth checking out.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Hi everyone and thanks for your patience. I have now recovered from the long weekend and am ready to engage in conversation. So to begin I'll talk a little bit about Daoism and a little bit about myself.

First Daoism.

Daoism can best be described as a tradition that is difficult to pigeonhole using the cultural categories that are common in the modern West. What I mean by this is that people in the modern West want to ask if Daoism is philosophy or religion, or even science, and the basic answer is yes to all three. And this points out to us that labels such as philosophy or religion or even science aren't really self-evidently things in themselves, but rather products of our language and culture that enable us to view the world and categorize information in ways that seem significant to us. So when we ask the question is Daoism philosophy, that is saying that this is an important piece of information for us. But we shouldn't assume that just because we are interested in this question, Daoists are also interested in this question. In fact the modern terms for "philosophy" and "religion" didn't exist in China until the late nineteenth century.

So to help us figure out what kind of thing Daoism is, we can look at the wide range of texts that were collected into the "Daoist Canon" a compendium of some 1400 texts that was put together around 1445 under the command of a Ming dynasty emperor. THis gives us a clue as to what people at that time thought "daoism" or at least "daoist texts" looked like.

In fact very little of what is in this compendium looks like what we in the West would call philosophy, and rather more looks like religious literature especially if you consider that the bible, for instance, contains a fairly wide range of literary genres. Like the Bible, the Daozang contains:

hagiographies or stories of religious figures, including those who appear to die, are resurrected and ascend into heaven
accounts of scriptures being transmitted from gods through prophets, spirit mediums or other intermediaries
instructions for exorcising demons and asserting control over the spirit world
instructions for conducing initiation ceremonies, ordinations etc.
moral codes

unlike the Bible it also contains

pictures of spirits and gods
diagrams of the cosmos
drawings of talismans for protection against evil forces
recipes for health, long life and immortality
pharmacological encyclopedias
instructions and diagrams for yogic-type exercise for transforming the body

From all this literature we can point to a few important themes.

Daoists accept the traditional Chinese view of a universe inhabited by many spirits and gods
But these gods are, like you and me, part of the cosmos, and embedded in a kind of universal life force known as Dao / Tao
Daoists are concerned with the pursuit of health, long life and even "immortality" (whatever that means)
Traditionally Daoists have organized themselves into communities of practice

So, in terms of what might interest people in this forum, I would say that yes Daoists are theists or believers in gods and spirits, but the gods and spirits that they believe in are not the same as the Christian-Jewish-Islamic god whose defining characteristic is that he is the creator of the universe. In Daoist theology, gods are immanent in (part of) the cosmos, not totally transcendent (apart from) it.






jamesmiller

And now on to myself (which is much less interesting than Daoism)!

Well, basically I'm an academic, which means that I'm interested in thinking about and understanding how and why people think about religion, imagine religion and engage in religion. In my life I have engaged in various kinds of religious activities, and I have certainly been a "believer" in my youth so I am sympathetic to the religious journeys that people go through in their lives. At the same time, I wouldn't call myself a religious person, and certainly not a spiritual person (I don't believe in spirituality!), and I would also call myself an atheist at least in the sense that I don't believe in the traditional Jewish-Christian-Islamic god who created the world out of nothing (though I don't think many intellectual Christians believe in that narrative account of god either).

Maggie the Opinionated

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 21, 2013, 04:16:26 PM
And now on to myself (which is much less interesting than Daoism)!

Well, basically I'm an academic, which means that I'm interested in thinking about and understanding how and why people think about religion, imagine religion and engage in religion. In my life I have engaged in various kinds of religious activities, and I have certainly been a "believer" in my youth so I am sympathetic to the religious journeys that people go through in their lives. At the same time, I wouldn't call myself a religious person, and certainly not a spiritual person (I don't believe in spirituality!), and I would also call myself an atheist at least in the sense that I don't believe in the traditional Jewish-Christian-Islamic god who created the world out of nothing (though I don't think many intellectual Christians believe in that story-book god either).

I believe I can assure you that plenty of intellectual Christians believe in that story-book God. That aside, what are your particular research interests? Are there certain questions that are receiving a lot of attention in your field?

jamesmiller

Quote from: Maggie the Opinionated on May 21, 2013, 04:43:16 PM
That aside, what are your particular research interests? Are there certain questions that are receiving a lot of attention in your field?

Thanks for the question. My own research looks at Daoist views of nature and environment with a view to thinking about how religious traditions can be beneficial or not in the transition to ecologically sustainable economies / ways of social organization / personal lifestyles.

Jay

Quote from: jamesmiller on May 21, 2013, 04:09:02 PM
Daoists accept the traditional Chinese view of a universe inhabited by many spirits and gods
But these gods are, like you and me, part of the cosmos, and embedded in a kind of universal life force known as Dao / Tao

So could it be said that this universal life force is comparable to a 'soul' of a person or persons?  Or is this life force more of a combined life force of all lving things including plants and animals?

Also, I guess in Daoism, there is no 'creator'.  Correct?  That the creation of the Universe is more scientific than spiritual?
I am me, if you dont like it, tough luck!

jamesmiller

Thanks, Jay. There's one crucial difference between the idea of Dao / Tao and that of a soul, which is that the Dao / Tao is impersonal, and souls are usually understood as personal. So Dao / Tao cannot be understood as a personal god, but rather as an impersonal creative power that includes plants, animals, humans and spirits / gods. 

As to the question of creation, the Dao is usually understood as the power without which there could be no living, evolving universe. The relationship of living things to the Dao is one of dependence: no Dao, no universe. Or to put it the other way round, Dao is mother to all things.

Jay

Thanks for the answer.  I have to admit, I really have very little knowledge about Daoism, so this is a learning experience, so I apologize if my questions are not well defined or simplistic in regards to Daoism.

So the Universal life force encompasses ALL things...assuming both living and dead?  So dead humans and even dead animals and plants are part of the Dao\Tao, the Universal life force of all things. (Also, what is the difference of Dao vs Tao?  When you wrote it like Dao/Tao, that seemed to denote some similarity yet difference)

Also since no Dao, no life force, no Universe, it could be said that this Universal life force IS a creator?

But then how is the creation of the Universe explained in Daoism?  Is it that the Dao existed always and forever?  It is an eternal life force that predates the Universe?  If so, than it would be transcendent of the Universe?  Would it not?  The 'chicken or the egg' question of the Dao or the Universe.  And if the Dao existed before and created the Universe, than the Dao exists outside of the universe.  Or did both spontaneously emerge at the exact same time out of nothing?

Lastly(for now),imo, religions(or philosophies) seem to strive to answer a few questions.  What happens when you die?  And where did we come from?  are two biggies imo.  It seems to me that the Dao would be the answer to the first.  Your life force is combined with the Dao to be part of the Universal life force of all things.  No heaven or hell I guess.  On the second, I guess it would also be the Dao I guess.  Your return to that life force?  But it also seems to be saying that you are part of that life force when you are living or dead, so you being part of that Dao isnt any different whether you are living or dead, as you are always part of the Dao.  So....it doesnt seem to really answer those questions at all.  You simply are part of the Dao, and always were and always will be, and your life is just a different state??

Sorry if I rambled at all there.
I am me, if you dont like it, tough luck!

jamesmiller

To answer your questions in random sequence
Dao and Tao are the same thing. Just different ways of spelling the same Chinese term. Both get used interchangeably.

Yes you're right to say that Dao is a kind of creator, but not in the sense of an intelligence that decides one day to go and create things. Maybe another way to say this is that Dao is a kind of source of creativity or creative power. Whereas it's possible to imagine God without the universe (I think!), it's not really possible to imagine Dao without the universe. It doesn't seem to be ultimately transcendent in the way that the Jewish/Christian/Islamic god is. And it's certainly not a person of any kind.

So I don't think that the Dao can be understood as a kind of eternal force that might be said to predate the universe, just as we can't imagine what may have existed "before' the big bang. That's a kind of unanswerable question. All we know is that there is the big bang, and the massive and rapid expansion of matter. Or as Daoists would say, all we know is that there is change and transformation all around us. The reason why things change is that they have life. Or to put it another way round change is (in) the nature of things and the nature of things is transformation and evolution. This is Dao.

As to where you came from, well the obvious answer is your parents. But Daoists also view this as the creative interaction of male and female (yang and yin) aspects. We tend to perceive the universe in a binary way: up and down, left and right, etc. These two modes / aspects depend on each other. Creativity is the result of the interaction of these two. So the Daode jing says Dao gives birth to one; one gives birth to two; two gives birth to three; three give birth to 10,000 things. And when you die the forces that combined to bring you life in this body eventually dissipate like a corpse in the ground eventually becomes indistinguishable from the soil it is buried in.


Jay

Interesting.  Thank you for the answers.  +1 while I digest them.
I am me, if you dont like it, tough luck!

rickymooston

I've heard quite a lot of people having issues with various translations of the Tao de Jing? Is there a translation that you believe is fairly accurate? Do you see think the controversy has much merit?

When I was in Thailand, near the golden temple in Bangkok, we happened upon a Chinese temple with tons of Taoist symbols on it such as the Yin and the Yang. My wife, who isn't very patient about explaining certain types of cultural things, told me the temple was a "Cantonese" temple rather than a "Taoist" one. Does this distinction make any sense to you?

Do a lot of Chinese self identify as Taoists? I observed many people who seemed to respect both Budhist and Taoist temples interchangeably. One Chinese person observed that the difference between Taoist monks and Budhist ones was that the Taoist ones wore hats.

When you said you were not 'spiritual', what did you mean by that? Do you interpret being 'spiritual' as believing in the magic and the like?

By way of an example, would you mind to convey something of your understanding of wu-wei? I've had the impression that it refers to the experience of internalizing some knowledge to the extent that that knowledge is employed "mindlessly"; e.g., walking, riding a bike, engaging in a well practiced craft, etc, etc. Many western people seem to think it implies a "natural state" in the sense that it involves knowledge one is "born with" and further understand Taoism as involving "no work". (I find this interpretation very odd in the light of the fact that Taoist monks invented some forms of the martial arts which requires a considerable degree of discipline to develop.) Are there other nuances in how the term is used that I've not addressed that you can allude to?
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

jamesmiller

Just to answer your first question for now, there wasn't until recently a Taoist organization which owned temples or monasteries. Rather most temples, especially n southern china, tended to be owned my local community associations, who employes Daoist priests to perform rituals. So it's entirely understandable that in your wife's experience, the temple you visited should be understood as 'Cantonese' rqther than 'Taoist' since it would be owned and operated by a community group rqther than a priestly organization like the Catholic Church. At the same time, from your description it seems that most of th iconography was Daoist, so in that sense it is probably legitimate to call it a Daoist temple.

Many such local temples also employ Buddhist iconography and its often hard for lay people to tell what precisely the religious identity of the temple is. What matters is not who the temple elonga to, or even why religion it is, but whether it is perceivd to be effective.

rickymooston

I see.

Can you tell what iconography this is? It's taken from a very local small outdoor shrine in Yingde, Guangdong. The people there are Hakka, if that helps.



Would either the labels "Budhist" or Taoist describe these?

"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Assyriankey

Hi James, many thanks for the above info!

So yin and yang have (has?) a sort of privileged position in Daoism.

What about the concepts of Feng Shui, do they sorta dovetail into Daoism too?

Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.

catwixen

Hello James. Thank you for visiting our forum.
I have heard it said that Daoism should not be explained, but rather experienced.That explanations of the Dao can confuse those wishing to explore it.
Have you heard this and if so what do you think of it?
Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow?

jamesmiller

Rickymooston, that looks Daoist to me.
Assyriankey, Fengshuii is a cultural practice that is wider than Daoism, in that it affects many aspects of Chinese culture. The original purpose was to find sites for the auspicious burial of the dead. Later it became extended to be a general theory of placing of important buildings. The basic idea is that good fortune is conducted through the natural topography of the earth and it is good to take advantage of this where possible and not work against it.

Former Believer

Hi James, thanks for visiting.  Nice to have an introduction to a belief system outside of Christianity and Islam.

Two questions:  First, how do people who have traditional Chinese beliefs view Muslims and Christians?  As unenlightened, on a separate but equal path, in danger of missing out on any rewards or receiving any punishments for not believing like they do?  Something else?

Second, if a born-again Christian were to "witness" to a person with tradtional Chinese beliefs, say like a Daoist, for example, and recite to them Campus Crusade's 4 spiritual laws which state 1.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.  2.  All men have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God 2.  Jesus is God's only provision for eradicating sin  4.  We must individually accept Christ as savior...how would such information be received within their god paradigm, which is far different from a Christian's?  What might they say in response to such a person who was witnessing to them?
Don't sacrifice your mind at the altar of belief

jamesmiller

Most Chinese people associate Daoism with Chinese culture, so from that perspective, Islam and Christianity traditionally weren't competing religions, but rather the religions of different ethnic groups. But now that many Chinese people are taking up these world religions then inevitably this is redefining what it means to be a Daoist. Before it was simply the indigenous Chinese religious path. Now it is a kind of "world religion." At the same time, Daoism is not a competitive or missionary religion, so Daoists aren't usually interested in converting other people to their points of view. It's not a religion where belief is a matter of life and death.

As to the second question, I think that Daoists would probably view the claims of the Christian you mention as a kind of delusion or misapprehension of the nature of reality.

Maggie the Opinionated


Steveox

Hi James. Do you think GOD is real? Any part of the bible is proven to be true?

We are the silent majority

jamesmiller

I don't think what I believe about Christianity is particularly important. My expertise lies in Chinese religions.

rickymooston

Do Chinese Taoist "families", as opposed to Taoist priests, exist and which if any works do they tend to follow? I met many Chinese who seem to incorporate many traditions in their lives.
"Re: Why should any Black man have any respect for any cop?
Your question is racist. If the police behave badly then everyone should lose respect for those policemen.", Happy Evolute

Steveox

The only thing I know about the Chinese Religion is Buddah. You rub his belly for good luck right?

We are the silent majority

Assyriankey

Hi James, thanks for the answer re fengshuii.

I think China maybe has a reputation for stomping on religious beliefs whenever the beliefs come into conflict with how the Chinese Government thinks their society should function.

Does Daoism ever bring about any sort of conflict with the Chinese Government?
Ignoring composer and wilson is key to understanding the ontological unity of the material world.