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Process and Anarchy: A Taoist Vision of Creativity

Author(s): David L. Hall

Source: Philosophy East and West, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Jul., 1978), pp. 271-285
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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David L. Hall Process and anarchy-A Taoist vision of creativity

The Ruler of the Northern Ocean was Shu (Heedless) the Ruler of the Southern
Ocean was Hu (Sudden), and the Ruler of the Center was Chaos. Shu and Hu
were continually meeting in the land of Chaos, who treated them very well.
They consulted together how they might repay his kindness, and said, 'Men
all have seven orifices for the purpose of seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing,
while this (poor) Ruler alone has not one. Let us try and make them for him.'
Accordingly they dug one orifice in him every day; and at the end of seven days
Chaos died.'

This allegory, which succinctly expresses Taoist sentiments concerning the role
of discursive knowledge in human affairs, no doubt strikes the non-Chinese
mind as somewhat odd because of the solicitude shown for Chaos. Indeed,
James Legge, the British sinologist, whose lack of sympathy with much of
Chinese culture often led him to misunderstand the texts he so admirably
translated, comments on this allegory, "But surely it was better that Chaos
should give place to another state. 'Heedless' and 'Sudden' did not do a bad
In Legge's defense of the organization of the primordial Chaos we may see
reflected an attitude which is both a cause and a consequence of a fundamental
bias of metaphysical speculation in the Anglo-European tradition. An assump-
tion which has undergirded much of our traditional scientific and theological
understandings of the Universe is that from Chaos, construed as formless
nonbeing or as an unordered given, God fashioned the world through the
ordering activity of Creation. We come to understand our world by articulating
the principles of the order or patterning imposed upon Chaos in the initial
Creative Act. First principles (archai, principia) function as determining sources
of order serving to organize an antecedent irrational surd identified in our
principal cosmogonic myths as "chaos."
It is by no means necessary to accept the metaphysical necessity of an initial
creative act as suggested in our cosmogonic myths. Aristotle did not, and yet
it is he who has provided the locus classicus for our understanding of principles
as determining sources of order. A principle (arche) is: that from which a
thing can be known; that from which a thing first comes to be, or that at whose
will that which is moved is moved and that which changes changes.3 Principles
account for and establish the order of the world. As principles of knowledge,
beginnings are the origins of thought. As principles of being there are the
sources of origination per se. Beginnings in the political or social' sphere are
due to archai or princeps-those who command. In any of its forms a first
principle functions as a determining source of order.
Chaos is nonrational because it is unprincipled. It is, therefore, an-archic,
without an arche, which means it has no determining source of order. It is,
therefore, without a beginning or origin. Chaos is the indefinite in search of

David L. Hall is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas.
Philosophy East and West 28, no. 3, July 1978. ? by The University Press of Hawaii. All rights reserved.

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272 Hall

definition, the unlimited requiring limitation. It is lawless, obey

The dread of anarchy, which is so much a part of our cultural h
large measure related to the primordial fear of chaos which is
attendant. The political anarchy which Carlyle found "the hat
things" is but an expression of "the waste wide Anarchy of C
Milton saw tyrannized by the "Anarch old." To be without prin
but an instance of being without principles to guide, or to be with
and harmonious cosmos within which to find one's place.
The consequences of our attitude toward chaos are significant: to
that our culture has stressed the importance of reason as a prim
promoting access to the world, the concept of creativity has b
more often as a means of accounting for the rational structure of
less as a topic to be considered in its own right. And the fact that
outlook" of our culture over the last three centuries has derived from the
cultural interest of science has guaranteed that the metaphysical investigations
of the concept of creativity have stressed its function as the causal ground for
the principle of sufficient reason.
The instrumental employment of the notion of creativity, and the consequent
relegation of the aesthetic interest to a subordinate role within our culture, was
one of the reasons that Whitehead conceived his philosophic mission to be
that of revisioning the assumptions of science and scientific cosmology in such
manner as to subvert the provincialisms expressed in our general cultural self-
understandings. Whitehead's philosophy is a "joint production" resulting
from his scientific and aesthetic sensibilities. And this fact makes of his thought
a valuable bridge between the scientific cosmologies of Western vintage, on
the one hand, and the aesthetic cosmology of the Taoist, which is the proper
subject of this essay, on the other.
Creativity, in Whiteheadian language, is the "pure notion of activity condi-
tioned by the objective immortality of the actual world."4 It is "the universal
of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact".5 Without character,
nonetheless it is responsible for the most fundamental character of every
existing thing. "The creative process is rhythmic: it swings from the publicity
of many things to the individual privacy; and it swings back from the private
individual to the publicity of the objectified individual."6 The pulse of existence
is a rhythmic process. The many things of the immediate past serve as elements
in the unification of an aesthetic process of experiencing in the present which,
upon actualization, itself serves as a datum for future experiencing. Nothing
created is ever really lost. "The many become one and are increased by one."7
The process of self-creativity involves the coming together of all available
things into a felt synthesis constituting the aesthetic unity of a drop of ex-
perience: The many become one. The act of creativity is an act of concrescence,
an act of becoming one. In addition to understanding creativity as an act of
concrescence, the meaning of transition from experience to experience is illu-

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mined by the act of creation. In creationist thought, being is defined in terms of

becoming rather than, as is the case in substance views of reality, the reverse.
The stress upon novelty requires that "becoming" constitutes the primary
term. "To insinuate anything new into the permanent is to make it a new thing.
The old with the least new factor is, as a whole, new.... Only abstractly, by
disregarding the new, can we say that it is the very same whole."8
Being is characterized in terms of its potentiality for novel synthesis. The
"many things" of the world, in accordance with which the growing together
of experience (the aesthetic event) becomes, constitute beings. The aesthetic
event itself is becoming. This view of existence, therefore, requires two kinds
of process: the process of self-creativity, which is concrescence, and the transi-
tion of being into data for acts of concrescence. Creativity explains both con-
crescence and transition.

"Creativity" and "process" as general concepts are the primary terms

which interpret the reality of things as creative passage. The reality of things is
comprised by aesthetic events. These events are free, novel, and transitory.
Creativity, as the spontaneous realization of novelty, requires that there be
freedom to produce the novel. Nature, or reality, must be incomplete else no
novelty is possible. Creativity is both possible and necessary because of a
fundamental incompleteness both challenged and reaffirmed by the continued
passage into novelty, which is of the essence of creative action. As the meaning
of creativity lies in the free act which produces novelty, creativity must be seen
basically as self-creative activity. For the locus of freedom is the self. But, as
nature is basically incomplete and as acts of creativity require some form of
organic wholeness or completion to qualify as aesthetic, self-actualization,
which is the paradigm of creation, must entail the consequence that the self is
momentary, transitory, and in process. Aesthetic events are momentary acts of
creativity which come into being and at the point of full actualization cease to
be in the fullest sense. Process, therefore, is atomic in character. Otherwise
there could be no full realization of novelty through aesthetic action. Creativity
is the self-creative activity of finite events in process of becoming. Each such
event, at full realization, loses its uniqueness. Reality, as an interweaving of
freedom and novelty, therefore, must be seen as process.
The process of becoming is a process of the self-actualization of units of
experience comprising the existing things of the actual world. This process
involves the unification of the many things of the actual world into a pattern of
data comprising the basis for the subjective becoming of an individual ex-
perience. The process involves the addition of the self-actualized units of
existence to the totality of objective items of the actual world which comprise
the available data for subsequent acts of self-actualization. For this process
of epochal becoming to continue there is required some dynamism accounting
for the continuation of the process. Creativity is this dynamism.
Whitehead has clearly gone a long way toward establishing the importance

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274 Hall

of the concept of creativity as a metaphysical ultimate. But h

able to make his case completely. Creativity is subject to prin
itself which serve as determining sources of order. As alread
"conditioned by the objective immortality of the actual wor
primary conditioning factor derives from the fact that the Unive
itself as including a stable actuality whose mutual implication
mainder of things secures an inevitable trend towards order."9 Fo
some notion of imposed law, the doctrine of immanence prov
ly no reason why the universe should not be steadily relapsin
chaos".10 The category of metaphysical ultimacy for Whitehe
ativity alone, but "Creativity, Many, One."" God's primor
housing a graded envisagement of possibilities for realization, is th
the transition of many to one in the Whiteheadian universe. This
challenges the metaphysical ultimacy of the notion of creativity.
If we seek a philosophical treatment of the notion of creativity
the demands of either scientific or theological rationality, we mu
the Whiteheadian system to the thought of Taoist China. In t
we read, "All things create themselves from their own inward
none can tell how they come to do so."12 In the Taoist vision the f
characteristics of creativity are freedom and reflexivity, expresse
self-realization of events. No analysis of experience allows the
cause of creativity; no component of experience, emotional o
can provide a reason for the creative process. The Taoist notion
is even more radical than Whitehead's since there is nothing
vision that functions, as does the primoridal nature of God, as
ordering principle conditioning all acts of self-creativity. Moreove
soon have occasion to see, there is no ordinary sense of the w
self-creative events may be said to be "conditioned" by other
actual world.
The Taoist notion of creativity must be approached through the intuition
ofTaoa. Tao, or "the Way," as it is often translated, is without specific character,
though it is the source of all characterization. "The Way is forever nameless." 13
Tao is said to be an "Uncarved Block," 4 meaning that it is capable of infinite
characterization. It is the source from which all things come, though it is in no
way separate from that of which it is the source. Tao, as source, cannot be
understood as an arche, or principle, in the traditional sense. The actual world
presumed by Taoism is anarchic since it is without archai or principia serving as
determining sources of order distinct from the order which they determine.
The units of existence comprising nature are thus self-determining in the most
radical sense.
There are not only ontological but epistemological reasons, too, for denying
that Tao functions as a determining source of order. Archai are objects of
thought inferred from the existing things of the world or from the description

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or interpretation of those things. As such they cannot serve as termini of

intuitions. Prime Matter, the Receptacle, God (as principles) are not intuited
they are inferred. But Tao is process; and process cannot be directly thought
due to the static, form-endowing character of reason, anymore than permanence
can be directly felt due to the dynamic, form-excluding quality of intuition.
If, with Parmenides and the greater number of Western thinkers, we accept
the priority of reason over intuition we must agree that "Only Being is ..."
and that change is in some sense unreal. Accepting the priority of intuition, on
the other hand, requires the belief that "Only Becoming is ... ", in which case,
permanence or substantial form is metaphysically secondary. Thus, "The Tao
that can be told of (i.e., reasoned about) is not the eternal Tao; the name that
can be named is not the eternal name."'5 This statement, however, does not
entail a quietistic mysticism which refuses to express "the ineffable." For, in
addition to the nameless qualities of things, nameable characteristics participate
in the Tao as well. And though we should always bear in mind in discussing
Taoist metaphysics that discursive language is limited, the Taoist is not reticent
to use language as a means of evoking intuitive insights into meanings beyond
language. Lao-Tzu, the traditional author of the Tao Te Ching, was often
criticized by Confucian critics because he wrote five thousand characters telling
of "the way that could not be told of." But the twelfth-century philosopher,
Wu-Tzu, offered an unobjectionable defense of Lao Tzu with these words:
"I make an embroidery of drakes and let you examine and admire them. As
for the golden needle, I cannot pass it on to you."16 The needle is not in the
embroidery but must be sought apart from it. Analogously, the intuitions are
not in the words themselves, but they can be discovered beyond the words.
The understanding of Tao-as-process requires the articulation of both the
"nameless" and "nameable" aspects of the Tao. Tao in the former sense is
nonbeing. In the latter sense it is being. "All things in the world come from
beingb ("Nameable Tao"), and being comes from non-beingc ("Nameless
Tao")."17 Traditional interpretations of Taoism stress the concept of original
nonbeing, and as such lead to an interpretation of Taoism as a dialectical
opposite of much of Western metaphysics, which accepts the priority of being
expressed in the Parmenidean dictum, "Only Being is...." But that inter-
pretation is one-sided in its own way and leads to as many difficulties as does the
affirmation of being over nonbeing.
A far better vision of Taoist "cosmogony," if the term is applicable, is the
one expressed in the Second Chapter of the Tao Te Ching: "Being and nonbeing
produce each other."'1 That is to say, Nameless and Nameable Tao are so
related as to constitute two polar aspects of the same notion. In such an inter-
pretation no final priority can be given to either being or nonbeing. As nameable,
Tao is manifested in the actual things of the world. Both as nameless and as
nameable, Tao is intrinsically related to the conception of creativity we have
been elaborating. Just as creativity is without character (though capable of

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276 Hall

characterizing), so with nonbeing: it is characterless, though it qualif

existing thing. But nonbeing "qualifies" not in the sense of informin
sense that it is the ground of that transition from one state of being
which constitutes the activity of becoming.
In contrast to Nameless Tao, Nameable Tao might best be cons
"The Order of Nature," provided the widest possible meaning is a
that concept. Perhaps closest in meaning is the Whiteheadian con
Extensive Continuum, the initial matrix of order comprised by pure
ness. It is that "vast society (which) constitutes the whole environmen
which our epoch is set, so far as systematic characteristics are dis
us in our present stage of development."19 It is necessary to thin
that which is as well as that which is not. Or better, Tao may be c
That Which-, in other words, as characterizable in terms both of
of nonbeing. Tao as That Which is is Being; as That Which is-not, it i
As That Which, Tao is Becoming-Itself.
That Which is and That Which is-not form the polar relation w
stitutes the dynamic of the Taoist universe. We must understand
Which in such a way as to include both being and nonbeing. Tao is in
things of the world in such a way as to constitute the acts of self-cr
are the only real things. This is but to say that only becoming (coming
which illustrates some mixture of being and nonbeing) is; not-becomi
being or nonbeing abstracted from its polar relation with its oppo
Nonbeing is uncharacterized-by definition. Being cannot be inf
nonbeing. Thus the production of the things of the world cannot be
by any arche, or principle, outside the things themselves. "Everyt
world creates itself without the direction of any creator. Since th
themselves they are unconditioned. This is the norm of the unive
mutual production of being and nonbeing proceeds within the co
indivisible unity which means that neither is outside, beyond, or ext
other. And the things of the world are themselves comprised of noth
than being and nonbeing. Tao as That Which both is and is-not is self
And to look beyond this creative dynamism for some dynamic th
The relation of being and nonbeing suggested by the interpreta
as polar relation prevents us from conceiving the notion of becoming
of the conception of deficient being. The substantialist bias in We
physics has prejudiced our understanding of becoming, or process
we are ready to believe that any mixture of being and nonbeing
defective. But the fact of novelty, which requires real instances of co
being, insures the status of the element of nonbeing in the process v
The functioning of Tao as the source of creativity is discovered
through things. This functioning reveals the power of Tao. And as
mentally polar characterization of Tao is necessary for a mor
recognition of its status and functioning, the power of the Way is be

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stood in terms of the Yin/Yang relation. Yind, associated with nonbeing,

and Yange, with being, are intrinsically interwoven aspects of every instance
of Tao.

In the Taoist vision of creativity the yin/yang dynamism functions in relation

to the atomic character of process to explain the rhythmic nature of the pro-
cesses which constitute the natural world. Self-actualizing units of becoming
contain both passive (yin) and active (yang) moments. The coming into being
of process itself requires a passivity to the data of the past actualized world,
and an activity expressed by the coordination and integration of this data
into a novel, organic event. Viewed as passive, the event may be construed as
an effect of its past; viewed actively, it is a self-determining agent, effective in
the production of future events. Neither of these views is anything more than
an abstraction, however, since the concrete reality is a union of yin and yang
aspects. This union expresses itself as a spontaneous process of self-creation,
sui generis.
A self-creative event is the efficient cause of itself, but only of itself. For an
event cannot be sui generis-that is to say, unique-if it is the efficient cause
of another event any more than if it is itself externally caused. The reason for
this lies in the reflexive nature of creativity as it characterizes every event in
nature. Each aspect of the dynamic activity involved in aesthetic becoming is
directed toward self-creation. Except by resort to abstraction, no causal agency
functioning beyond the locus of the self-creative event may be isolated. It is not
possible to separate activity and passivity to make of them the bases of cause
and effect, respectively. Only within a single event can the relation of cause
and effect concretely obtain, since only there is the unity of activity and passivity
focused in such a manner as to provide a polar relation. Refusing to divide the
yang and yin moments of an event precludes the identification of action with
causal efficacy and thus prevents the suggestion that actions over against
nature are preferable to processes in accordance with the spontaneous flow of
events. To deny that passivity and determination are correlative is to claim
that no event in nature may be singled out as the necessary outcome of a causal
Herbert Guenther, explicating a Buddhist conception of causality, speaks
for Taoism as well when he says: "Causality, if such a term is ever applicable,
posits an interlocking system of hierarchically fluctuating cause-factors. That
is to say, the cause situation was already a 'network' of interdependent, co-
existent and freely co-operating forces, and in this network at any given time
any one factor may take the highest place in a hierarchy of cause and effect."21
On this view there can be no isolatable cause which may be seen as an antecedent
of which an identifiable event may be said to be the consequent. And if it is
true that any one factor may take the highest place in a hierarchy of cause and
effect, then not only can there be no privileged agent defining a particular
order, there can also be no privileged order! The Taoist denies what is most

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278 Hall

fundamental to the Western cosmogonical tradition, namely, that

Cosmos is one world.

In a universe comprised by self-actualizing moments of existence, order

will be a function of the decisions of the primary units of becoming. If there
are no necessary laws to guide the self-actualizing processes, then there is no
reason to believe that any single order should be absolute, final, or permanent.
Indeed, the universe becomes a vast matrix containing various realized orders.
This, however, seems more like disorder than order. The Cosmos becomes,
like Chaos, the sum of all orders. Somewhere or "somewhen," every possible
order is extant.

The concept of efficient cause, which is the model for most of our Western
notions of causation, entails the presumption of "strictly relevant antecedents."
If no antecedent event can be isolated and determined to be strictly relevant
to a second, subsequent, event, then the notion of efficient cause becomes
questionable. Without a well-delimited doctrine of efficient causation, no
concept of action can be made meaningful. And if action is not a meaningful
concept, neither is the notion of order as the result of an Orderer.
The Taoist would emphasize the effect of the Judaeo-Christian myth of "the
domination of nature" upon Anglo-European notions of freedom and de-
termination. The myth has its origins in a Creator God Who deputized human
beings as caretakers of His created order but Who then cursed them with the
necessity of labor because of the act of prideful self-assertion which separated
them from the rest of nature. Action is, ultimately, only a sublimation of labor,
which advertises its origins in the enmity between man and nature. Action
assumes the necessity of control, which interferes with the natural spontaneity
of things in themselves. The Taoist, on the other hand, does not feel himself
to be in conflict with his ambience, because he does not feel obliged to reestablish
a decaying theocentric order. Nor does he, for that matter, feel obliged to
single out any specific order as the true one. His vision of nature is as if it were
an uncarved block, a matrix of actualizable orders, passive to infinite patterning.
The primary fact about the Taoist universe is that it is the sum of all orders
resulting from the self-creativity of each event. There are as many actualizable
worlds as there are events in the process of becoming. Tao as Becoming-Itself
is the sum of all orders, including any specific order realized from the perspective
of single event. Being is just that specific order. Nonbeing is every other
order. Being and Non-Being are abstracted from the self-creation of events.
Becoming is the fundamental reality from which Being and Nonbeing are
abstractions. Taking the term "Cosmos" in its broadest sense, it is the sum
of all orders, which is, of course, Becoming-Itself. According to the Taoist
vision, Becoming, Cosmos, Chaos (hun-tunf) and Tao as That Which are
We see now the meaning of the parable concerning Chaos with which we
began. The organization of Chaos, a requirement of discursive knowledge,

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involves the carving of the Uncarved Block, which requires the establishment
of a privileged order from among the sum of all orders. Such a privileged order
insures a preeminent role for the organizer of Chaos-the rational being. Once
that role is given, it is no longer possible to grasp the meaning of Tao, for
reason cannot proceed except through delimitation and exclusive differentia-

Obviously, if we insist upon a rational analysis, the notion that the Tao is
Chaos as the sum of all orders will make little sense. For in place of the ex-
perience of "undifferentiated homogeneity" we shall think in terms of "in-
compossible orders," and the notion of the sum of all orders will translate as
a confused melange without coherent structure-in short, Chaos in the
traditional Western sense. To grasp the Taoist sense of the equivalence of
Tao, Cosmos, Chaos, and Becoming, or Process, it is necessary to employ,
not reason, but intuition.
The Taoist concept of what we term "intuition" can be explicated by recourse
to an illustration from the Chinese Buddhist tradition, which, of course, was
heavily influenced by Taoism. In the T'ang dynasty, at the close of the seventh
century by Western reckoning, Fa Tsang was invited to the palace of the
Empress Wu to expound the doctrines of Hwa Yen Buddhism. This he did
through a demonstration involving a room whose floor, ceiling, and walls,
were completely lined with mirrors and in the center of which he had placed a
statue of the Buddha. In each mirror a Buddha-image was produced, along
with the images in every other mirror. Holding a small crystal ball in his hand,
Fa Tsang illustrated how all the mirrors and their images were reflected in it
and it, in turn, was reflected in the mirrors, ad infinitum.22 Not only was he
attempting to illustrate the reciprocal interfusion of all things, but he wished
to evoke a sense of the dependent coorigination of each item in nature. This
"dependent-arising" provides a further ground for indifference toward the
isolation of causes viewed as strictly relevant antecedents.
As suggested by the Hall of Mirrors illustration, in nature there can be no
dominant principle defining any single order from which rational under-
standings might begin. The appropriation of the nature of things in terms of
the mutual interfusion of each with all cannot result in traditional knowledge.
In fact the intuitive grasp of such a world, or complex of worlds, is called by the
Taoist, wu-chihg, or no-knowledge. "It is called no-knowledge in that it is a
state which is not that of knowledge; it is not a piece carved out of the total
realm. It is the sharedness of the uncarved totality."23
Such "knowledge" we in the West would call mystical. To see sub specie
aeternitatis is to possess "cosmic consciousness." This insight into the Totality
is often rather casually associated with ecstatic experiences. Taoism can be
called "mystical," if the proper qualifications are given to the term. Tradition-
ally, the mystical attitude has three fundamental termini: God, the Soul,
Nature. Theistic mysticism, of the type exemplified by such Christian mystics

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280 Hall

as Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross, often involves an ecstat

The soul leaves its proper domain and unites with God. Soul-m
practiced, for example, by certain members of the Hindu tra
ecstatic but en-static since the focus of the experience is the so
the experience of unity involves an in-dwelling. Nature-myst
tinguished from the other two forms since it focuses upon neither
en-stasy, but on an experience of the togetherness of all things wh
describe as "con-stasy"-that is to say, a "standing with." It is a
presence of all things standing together in a felt unity. It is not mer
of being one with Nature, though that is part of it. It is the exper
interfusion of each with each, the sense of compresence.
Constasy involves a mitigation of the intellectual tendency towar
differentiation. It is not an experience of the "night wherein all co
Things, events, phenomena still exist in themselves. But the sense o
existence promotes an experience of their relatedness rathe
distinction. A passage from Chuang Tzu illustrates this:

Everything can be a "that," everything can be a "this".... "

from "this" and "this" comes from "that"-which means "that" and "this"
give birth to one another.... When there is no more separation betwe
"this" and "that," it is called the still-point of Tao. At the still-point in th
centre of the circle one can see infinity in all things.24

The experience of constasy is the experience of relativity. Such an experience,

if partial and incomplete, can lead to skepticism and cynicism. But if on
reaches the "still-point of Tao" there can be no such result, for therein li
the sense of the sacredness consequent upon the envisioning of all things su
specie aeternitatis. Poets and mystics know that the sense of the value of some
finite detail of the universe-a wildflower or a grain of sand-derives from i
context. Value is relative to situation. But they see beyond this or that fini
context to the Totality which is literally completed by the sand or the flower.
A knower who discriminates to discover the nature of things misses tha
nature. It is no-knowledge, theoria, the experience of constasy, the sense of th
reciprocal interfusion of all things, which tells us of nature.
Wu-chih is not at all impractical, as it may first appear. To grasp that fa
we must consider the process of no-knowledge in conjunction with that o
wu-weih, or no-action. The notion of wu-wei suggests spontaneous action
in accordance with the natures of things. It is because such nonassertive actions
appear effortless, and, therefore, do not appear to be actions at all, that th
term wu-wei is used. Our tacit identification of action with acts of will brings
the Western conception of activity into direct conflict with the Taoist concept
of wu-wei. We stress "Where there is a will there is a way," indicating th
through sheer determination one can devise a means to a given end. The Taoist
would reply that where there is a will, it and "the Way" are surely not i

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The Taoist, to "know" or to "act," must grasp the intrinsic natures of those
events comprising his field of inquiry or activity. All things participate in Tao
and manifest the fundamental yin-yang polarity. But each item in the universe
has its own tei, that is to say, its own excellence. Sometimes translated "power"
or "virtue", te means "that by virtue of which a thing is just what it is and no
other thing." I believe the best translation of te is, "intrinsic excellence." This
term evokes the sense of uniqueness characterizing that by virtue of which a
thing is just itself.
Everything possesses its peculiar te. The te of wu-wei is the attainment of goals
noninstrumentally, the realization of "ends without means." But to realize a
goal without striving toward that goal, it is necessary that one recognize the
te of that in accordance with which one is acting. To construe elements in
nature as outcomes of causal sequences is to view them only in their extrinsic
character, not as they exist in themselves. Such a construal is in fact tanta-
mount to selecting a single order of nature from the matrix of all possible
orders and calling that the order of nature. But each item, within or without
one's immediate experience, suggests a value orientation which lays claim to
an order from the prespective of that valuation. Intuitive understanding re-
quires that one understand from within that which is intuited in such a manner
as to appreciate the world construed from its perspective. This is wu-chih.
Wu-wei (no-action) requires that one "act" in accordance with the intuition of
the te of things. Such action is nonassertive in that it does not use these things
as extrinsic means but walks the ways of the things themselves. In this manner
one promotes the harmony of Chaos (hun-tun) by acting with rather than against
its elements.
In addition to wu-wei and wu-chih there is a third mode of participation in
the processes of nature-wu-yii. Wu-yii is the concept of no-desire which is
the subjective form of feeling associated with instances of wu-chih and wu-wei.
Together, the three notions of wu-chih, wu-wei, and wu-yii articulate the differ-
ences between the notions of creativity and the correlative concept of "power"
with which it has often been confused in Western thinking.
The significant contrast between the notions of power and creativity as
means of articulating the natures of things is suggested by Nietzsche's claim
that "every center of force ... construes all the rest of the world from its own
viewpoint, i.e., measures, feels, forms, according to its own force."25 Nietzsche
sees the activity of the events of nature in terms of "power displacement";26
the acts of construal are acts in the "agonal" sense familiar to Anglo-European
philosophy. Creativity, however, requires passive acts of construal charac-
terizable in terms of ek-stasis, the experience in and through another. It is
the possibility of ek-stasis, and its complement en-stasis, the sense of being
experienced from within, which allows for the exercise of creativity as opposed
to power. Underlying both ecstasy and enstasy in the creative act is the con-
static sense. This is the experience at one and the same moment of both the

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282 Hall

enstatic and ecstatic intuitions of the Totality as individualized i

the internal and external references of wu-chih, wu-wei, and wu-yii.
Thus far I have been attempting to translate what I believe to
insights into a metaphysical idiom which is somewhat poorly designe
direct expression of these intuitions. It is only appropriate that
briefly, illustrate the manner in which the philosophical doctrin
in the essay, to allude to the subject of creativity may be translated
the cultural context from which they derive. The most natural place
direct expressions of Taoist aesthetic intuitions or insights would be,
in the various forms of Chinese art.

Anyone familiar with Chinese painting will have recognized some of the
insights alluded to as illustrated in many of the landscapes of the late Sung
dynasty. Unlike Western artists since the Renaissance who, when seeking
naturalistic portrayals, tended to employ perspectival techniques that produced
foreshortening and convergence effects matching the visual perception of spatial
distances, Chinese artists often painted on plane surfaces characterizing fore-
ground, midground, and background. Stressing middle distances, many Chinese
artists established a visual center for the painting which invited its appreciation
from within. Stepping within and dwelling at the center of the landscape allows
the appreciation of the fact that the visual perspective of the artist or the viewer
is not the most relevant fact in the appreciation of the painting. On the con-
trary, to truly experience the excellence (te) of the work, it is necessary to
experience it ecstatically, to dwell at its center, and to envision the universe
from that perspective. The true significance of aesthetic appreciation lies in
the possibility of experiencing a world created, not by the artist, nor by the
aesthete, but by the painting itself.
In classical China, the arts included much more than the traditional painting,
poetry, music, and soon. Perhaps the most provocative and best-known art
form deriving from classical China would likely not be termed an art form at
all by those who encounter it for the first time. I refer to T'ai Chi Ch'iank,
which is at one and the same time a meditative exercise, a technique for the
maintenance of health and long life, a dance, and a system of self-defense.
Above all, it is the single most direct and authentic expression of creativity as
I have been discussing it in these pages.27
As a meditative exercise, T'ai Chi may be practiced alone or in conjunction
with a partner. The movements are continuous and flowing expressions of the
yin and yang polarity. The "push-hands" movements performed with another
person promote an immediate sense of the firm and yielding aspects of every
activity in nature and provide instances of wu-wei as grounded in the harmony
of the ecstatic and enstatic senses. To be centered one must be relaxed, yet
intent, focused and congruent with each aspect of one's psychophysical being.
Centering involves a passive construal of one's ambience from one's focused
perspective. This is enstasy. Centering makes possible "blending," which

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involves the ecstatic sense of the center of the other. The senses of "where
you are" and "where the other is coming from" allow instances of knowing,
doing, and feeling to be creative processes which promote constatic unity and
which thus preclude the necessity of rational, ethical, or aesthetic principles
as determining sources of order.
T'ai Chi exercises promote the kind of sensitivities that allow one to recognize
the te of things. Knowing, acting, and feeling in accordance with the te of
each thing, including, of course, one's own te, requires the capacity to defer.
Deference is action (wu-wei) in accordance with the recognition (wu-chih) of
excellence (te). Deference patterns result from the mutual recognition of the
intrinsic excellences of events in nature. At the human level, creativity is
primarily a function of wu-chih, wu-wei, and wu-yii realized in response to the
differential excellences defined by a given context of communication.
Doubtless, there are significant practical limits to an individual's ability to
relate to his ambience through the media of wu-chih, wu-wei and wu-yii. To see
some phenomena from within might well lead to extreme confusion and even
insanity. And to walk the ways of some things would likely lead to destruction.
This is but to realize that there are patternings among events which are closed
to our appreciation and orders in our natural ambience in cooperation with
which we could not survive. The alternative, however, is not clearly superior,
for the way of self-assertive knowledge, action, and feeling increases the
short-term survival capacities of but a segment (the powerful and their bene-
ficiaries) of but one of the living species occupying the surface of a single
planet in this galaxy-itself but one of an untold number of such galaxies-
and that at no little cost to the total ecological system. The way of nonassertive-
ness seeks a harmony with Nature as becoming and thus eschews motivations
toward control, progress, and the domination of nature. Taoist arts, from
painting and poetry to T'ai Chi Ch'iian, allow us to expand the limitations
placed upon us by the sense of the finitude, ignorance, and perversity of human
beings which has developed, pari passu, with the civilization of experience.
The principal art is, of course, the art of life. And, to paraphrase Whitehead,
the function of creativity is to promote the art of life.28
If we view life as the "clutch at vivid immediacy,"29 we may believe that
the art of life is promoted best either through the functioning of reason as a
means of realizing the balanced complexity of the aesthetic intensities inherent
in the selection of a single order from out of Chaos, or through the functioning
of creativity as the realization, in a single intuitive insight, of Chaos as the
sum of all orders. The Taoist chooses the latter path. The realization of Chaos
(hun-tun) involves the constatic sense of the te of each thing as defining a world
from its individual perspective. Borrowing from the Hwa Yen Buddhist
terminology, we might say that the realization of Chaos (hun-tun) is the experi-
ence of "emptiness" (sunyata) which is neither voidness nor annihilation but
Becoming-Itself (Tao), understood as the Uncarved Block. In Becoming-Itself

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284 Hall

no specific order is discriminated from the complex of orders who

continually supervene one upon the other in the rhythmic (yin-
creative process. This experience promotes the articulation and
intuitions of creative becoming in such a way as to sustain the
of the termini of those intuitions which comprise one's ambi
Taoist, creativity is the aim of life. It is a teleological notion in the
it is the immediate aim of each event as an aesthetic process, a
ultimately realized through the attainment of "the still-point
the undifferentiated homogeneity of Chaos, the end without begin


1. Chuang Tzu, Chapter Seven, Quoted from, The Texts of Taoism, trans. James Legg
York: Dover, 1962), 1:266-267.
2. Chuang Tzu, p. 267.
3. See Metaphysics 1012b34-1013a20.
4. Process and Reality (New York: Macmillan, 1929), pp. 46-47.
5. Ibid., p. 31.
6. Ibid., p. 229.
7. Ibid., p. 32.
8. Charles Hartshorne, "The Development of Process Philosophy," in Philosophers of Pro
ed. Douglass Browning (New York: Random House, 1965), pp. xix-xx.
9. Adventures of Ideas (New York: Macmillan, 1933), p. 147.
10. Ibid., pp. 146-147.
11. See Process and Reality, pp. 31-32.
12. Chuang Tzu, Chapter Eight. Quoted from Chang Chung-Yuan, Creativity and Taoism
York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 66.
13. Tao Te Ching, Chapter Thirty-Two. D. C. Lau, Lao Tzu-Tao Te Ching (Baltimore, M
land: Pelican Books, 1967).
14. Ibid.
15. Tao Te Ching, Chapter One. Wing-tsit Chan, The Way of Lao Tzu (New York: Bobbs-
Merrill, 1963), p. 97.
16. Quoted in Creativity and Taoism, p. 30.
17. Tao Te Ching, Chapter Forty. Chan, The Way of Lao Tzu, p. 173.
18. Tao Te Ching, Chapter Two, p. 103.
19. Process and Reality, p. 148.
20. Kuo Hsiang, Commentary on Chuang Tzu, Sec., 2,2:46b-47a. Quoted from Theodore de
Bary, ed., et al., Sources of Chinese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 243.
21. Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practice (Baltimore, Maryland: Pelican Books, 1971),
pp. 75-76.
22. This illustration is cited in some detail in Garma C. C. Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of
Totality (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974), pp. 22-24.
23. R. G. H. Siu, Ch'i: A Neo-Taoist Approach to Life (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974), p. 221.
24. Chuang Tzu, Chapter Two. Quoted from Chuang Tzu: Inner Chapters, trans. Gia-Fu Feng
and Jane English (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 29.
25. The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Random
House, 1968), p. 339.
26. Ibid., see p. 40.
27. I am indebted to Audrey Joseph's unpublished paper, "Communication, Creativity and

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T'ai Chi Ch'uan", and to conversations with Professor Joseph, for much of my understanding of
the aesthetic character of T'ai Chi.
28. See A. N. Whitehead's The Function of Reason (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1958), passim
for the meaning of "the art of life." The statement paraphrased is, "The function of reason is to
promote the art of life." See p. 4.
29. Process and Reality, p. 160.

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