Cosmos and Community
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Cosmos and Community

The Ethical Dimension of Daoism

Paperback 35.95 USD

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Livia Kohn
289 Pages
ISBN 978-1-931483-02-5


The common view of Daoism is that it encourages people to live with detachment and calm, resting in nonaction and smiling at the vicissitudes of the world. Most people assume that Daoists are separate from the human community, not antisocial or asocial but rather supra-social and often simply different. Daoists neither criticize society nor support it by working for social change, but go along with the flow of the cosmos as it moves through them. They are not much concerned with rules and the proprieties of conduct, which they leave to the Confucians in the Chinese tradition.

Contrary to this common view, Daoists through the ages have developed various forms of community and proposed numerous sets of behavioral guidelines and texts on ethical considerations. Beyond the ancient philosophers, who are well-known for the moral dimension of their teachings, religious Daoist rules cover both ethics, i.e., the personal values of the individual, and morality, i.e., the communal norms and social values of the organization. They range from basic moral rules against killing, stealing, lying, and sexual misconduct through suggestions for altruistic thinking and models of social interaction to behavioral details on how to bow, eat, and wash, as well as to the unfolding of universal ethics that teach people to think like the Dao itself.

About eighty texts in the Daoist canon and its supplements describe such guidelines and present the ethical and communal principles of the Daoist religion. They document just to what degree Daoist realization is based on how one lives one's life in interaction with the community--family, religious group, monastery, state, and cosmos. Ethics and morality, as well as the creation of community, emerge as central in the Daoist religion.

A major new initiative in Daoist Studies, Cosmos and Community is the first major English study of Daoist religious ethics. Based on original translations of primary sources, this is required reading for anyone interested in Daoism, comparative ethics, or Chinese history.

An appendix, Supplement to Cosmos and Community, containing a further nineteen translations is available separately as a eDao file in Adobe PDF format.


Kohn thoroughly debunks the concept of Daoist amorality. She comprehensively examines the significant role of moral rules and their underlying religious and philosophical views. Encyclopedic in scope, this book is so well organized that even those who do not read it in its entirely will benefit by using it as a reference work. Essential.

--Choice 42.7 (March 2005)

This is an excellent and detailed study. Based throughout on primary texts, it provides a rich bounty of new information about a little studied aspect of the Daoist tradition. It is also a major contribution of material to be considered by those interested in comparative ethics, who can no longer ignore Daoism.
--Daniel L. Overmyer, University of British Columbia

I can only praise Cosmos and Community as a watershed in Daoist studies that will be a standard reference work in future research on the institutional history of Daoism. A marvellous job!

--David Chappell, Soka University of America