The Contemplative Foundations of Classical Daoism

By Harold D. Roth

Subjects: Taoism, Contemplative Studies, Chinese Religion And Philosophy, Chinese Studies, Mysticism
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438482712, 572 pages, May 2021
Paperback : 9781438482705, 572 pages, January 2022

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Table of contents

List of Tables


Part I: Contemplative Foundations and Textual Methods

1. Psychology and Self-Cultivation in Early Daoistic Thought

2. Who Compiled the Zhuangzi 莊子?

3. Redaction Criticism and the Early History of Daoism

4. Evidence for Stages of Meditation in Early Daoism

5. The Yellow Emperor's Guru: A Narrative Analysis from Zhuangzi 莊子 11

6. Revisiting Angus C. Graham's Scholarship on the Zhuangzi 莊子

7. Daoist Inner Cultivation Thought and the Textual Structure of the Huainanzi 淮南子

Part II: Contemplative Foundations and Philosophical Contexts

8. The Laozi 老子 in the Context of Early Daoist Mystical Praxis

9. Bimodal Mystical Experience in the "Qi wu lun" 齊物論 of Zhuangzi 莊子

10. Nature and Self-Cultivation in Huainanzi's 淮南子 "Yuan Dao" 原道 (Originating in the Way)

11. The Classical Daoist Concept of Li 理 (Pattern) and Early Chinese Cosmology

12. Cognitive Attunement in the Zhuangzi 莊子

13. Against Cognitive Imperialism: A Call for a Non-Ethnocentric Approach to Cognitive Science and Religious Studies

Afterword: The "Contemplative Hermeneutic" and the Problem of Zhuangzi's Inner Chapters

Appendix 1: The Chapters of the Zhuangzi
Appendix 2: The Chapters of the Huainanzi

Brings early Daoist writings into conversation with contemporary contemplative studies.


In The Contemplative Foundations of Classical Daoism, Harold D. Roth explores the origins and nature of the Daoist tradition, arguing that its creators and innovators were not abstract philosophers but, rather, mystics engaged in self-exploration and self-cultivation, which in turn provided the insights embodied in such famed works as the Daodejing and Zhuangzi. In this compilation of essays and chapters representing nearly thirty years of scholarship, Roth examines the historical and intellectual origins of Daoism and demonstrates how this distinctive philosophy emerged directly from practices that were essentially contemplative in nature.

In the first part of the book, Roth applies text-critical methods to derive the hidden contemplative dimensions of classical Daoism. In the second part, he applies a "contemplative hermeneutic" to explore the relationship between contemplative practices and classical Daoist philosophy and, in so doing, brings early Daoist writings into conversation with contemporary contemplative studies. To this he adds an introduction in which he reflects on the arc and influence on the field of early Chinese thought of this rich vein of scholarship and an afterword in which he applies both interpretive methods to the vexing question of the authorship of the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi. The Contemplative Foundations of Classical Daoism brings to fruition the cumulative investigations and observations of a leading figure in the emerging field of contemplative studies as they pertain to a core component of early Chinese thought.

Harold D. Roth is Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies and the Founder and Director of the Contemplative Studies Program at Brown University. His books include The Textual History of the Huai-nan Tzu; Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism; Daoist Identity: History, Lineage, and Ritual (coedited with Livia Kohn); The Huainanzi: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Government in Early Han China and The Essential Huainanzi (cotranslated and edited with John S. Major, Sarah A. Queen, and Andrew Seth Meyer).


"Roth's textual archaeology of inner cultivation in Daoist texts is inspiring and certainly convincing … this collection is a remarkable achievement and a valuable resource for scholars and students of China, and will be useful and thought-provoking reading for anyone interested in Daoism and contemplative practices." — Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

"In this collection, Harold Roth brings together the pivotal essays representing both the innovation and expertise that have marked his scholarship on Daoism for roughly the last twenty-five years." — Philosophy East and West

"This compilation of 13 scholarly papers published between 1991 and 2018 is a timely reminder of Roth's significant contribution to our methods of reading ancient Chinese philosophy and defining the origins of Daoist thought and practice…the book's value lies in the knowledge it conveys on intriguing and hard-to-read ancient philosophical texts." — Religious Studies Review