Chinese Characters for "insignificance"

close view of age, door of forbidden city palace

Spasm of molten rock
Piled a cone three miles high.
Rain and wind split a hundred towering fingers.
In time, trees strove for leverage in the fissures.
After a million years, condors and snakes took up

Mighty rock, carved walls adorned with
Chartreuse and vermilion lichen—
Man yet more puny on those stones.
How long will it take to see Tao?
     Until you no longer hold self-importance.

Compared to the massive movements of heaven and earth, compared to the immensity of geologic time, the greatest acts of humanity and their monuments are beneath significance. We climb the highest mountains, we dive to the depths of the sea, we fling ourselves as close to the sun as we dare, and we are not even on the scale of nature’s measure. In our egotism and our view of ourselves as the center of the universe, we imagine that our lives have some meaning and importance when placed beside the stars and mountains and rivers. They do not. We cannot hope to have any true meaning in the history of the universe. But we can know it better, we can be a better part of  it.

If you want to know the force that keeps the sky blue, the stars burning, the mountains high and still, the rivers running, and the oceans flowing, then remove the veil that stands between you and Tao.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao

ISBN 0-06-250223-9

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“Palace Door”
Li Kai  1986
Oil on board 39" x 31"

Li Kai was born in Beijing in 1947 and is strongly identified with his paintings of the Forbidden City. He graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts Preparatory School in 1967 and at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution was sent to a remote region near the Huliu River to work at hard labor. In 1974 he was permitted to return to Beijing and served as a restorationist at the Forbidden City where he remained past the Cultural Revolution until 1982. Since that time he has supported himself solely as an artist. He has had numerous one-man exhibitions throughout China and in France and Algeria and his works are sold regularly at auction. He lives in Beijing.

Li Kai was an artist in residence at the Forbidden City for eight years. In 1974, during the Cultural Revolution, he was assigned there as a restorationist, cleaning and repairing paintings and other art within the Palace grounds. He lived in a small apartment that had existed for centuries and every day as he returned to it he would pass by a gate that somehow left a deep impression on him. When he made “Palace Door” the gate was just as it is shown, worn by time and missing some of the large gold-plated nails. There are nearly 1000 doors or gates to the Forbidden City, but Li thinks this one must be at least 500 years old, and to him it holds the entire history of the place.       

Stanford Studies on Daoism Definition of “Daoism”
The Origins of Daoism   
    •  Attitudinal Daoism I: Anarchism
    •  Attitudinal Daoism II: Authoritarian insignificance
    •  Pre-Laozi Daoist Theory

Pre-Laozi Daoist Theory

Theoretical Daoism focused on the insolubility of this  ru-mo Confucian-Mohist debate. (continued)

We know far less of the doctrine of the next “step” in the development — Song Xing. Our main sources are the Zhuangzi description here and a lengthy attack on Song Xing in the Xunzi. He is said to have specialized in a theory of the  xin heart-mind and to have argued that destructive values are injected into the heart by socialization and conventional attitudes. Song Xin developed the idea that conventional values incite competition and violence and the way to order is to get people to simplify their heart's ambitions. The heart's  qing naturaldesires  are relatively few and easy to satisfy. Socialization creates a plethora of desires for “social goods” such as status, reputation, and pride. Socialized values create the attitudes of resentment and anger. If we can remember that being insulted (conventionally) is no (real) disgrace, we can eliminate the violence occasioned by “honor and moral rectitude.” In effect, names will never hurt me.

 This theme is developed with great skill in Laozi's Daode Jing and it has roots in Mozi's search for impartiality and universality without presupposing changeable social values. Mozi had also explained the source of conflict as the clash of moral ideals, but advocated unifying the concept rather than abandoning it. Zhuangzi built on the same view — that people develop different moral attitudes from different natural upbringings. Each treats his own views as obvious and natural. Zhuangzi adopts a closely related view of the  xin heart-mind  in his own writing. So we can see a role for Song Xing in the development, but we still find little indication of meta-reflection on the concept of dao  itself in his contribution to the theory of  xin heart-mind  and socialized attitudes.

The first plausible candidate for a theoretical Daoist comes next in the Zhuangzi historical survey. We will select Shen Dao as representative of this group of scholars. He is sometimes included in the list of Huang-Lao thinkers and cited as a source of Legalist thinking. We will not attempt here to reconcile this latter with the essentially Daoist view presented in the Zhuangzi history.

a reading list of books and interpretations of the Daodejing is available at

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