East Asia: Tradition and Transformation, was published in 1973, and is the product of leading historians adding up finally to 969 pages. Recently my total ignorance of the history of most of the planet, was brought back to me. I was not surprised to find the following statement, however, in my newly acquired book.
[Taoism is]...in large part a philosophy of retreat and withdrawal on the part of thinkers who were appalled by perpetual warfare, instability and death..." A philosophy of retreat does not describe at all accurately what could be argued as the greatest literature on the planet, the Tao Te Ching, and Book of Changes. Actually the response of mystical empiricism, to the world, is the only sensible avenue to knowledge. It is the only knowledge offering objective truths. The alternative to this path is not any "advance," into the external world, the alternative is to be a bumbling staggering pawn of forces one does not glimpse or control. To be sure, the mystic is in the same situation except for the knowledge he has of his situation. He is no less blown about, but he can learn from his situation. Not so those who are NOT appalled by warfare, instability, and death,( which features hardly isolate one historical period from another.)
And these simple facts eluded some leading historians. My point is not the writers of the above quote, but for rhetorical purposes let us look at their educational background. East Asia lists three authors:
John K. Fairbanks, graduated from Harvard University, and taught there also, starting in 1936.
Edwin O. Reischauer, graduate of Harvard, also faculty member there. Author of many books.
Albert M. Craig, also a Harvard graduate and professor there. Together these guys wrote a lot of books.
The point in this little aside is not these fine scholars, but the binary mechanical mind of man. (Readers of Jan Cox will appreciate the special status of the natural sciences and no doubt soon I will again review that aspect of man's knowing, which is only superfically a contradiction to the points in this essay.) Only by hanging oneself on the forked branches of ordinary mentation is it possible to find statements about a man's retreat into philosophy of any useful import. The mystic philosopher has at least the possibility of finding the knowledge, a vague sense of which haunts man's being. It is the mystic philosopher alone who can seize life by the throat and interrogate it.