The Classic of Great Peace: The Taoist Doctrine of Salvation

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  • 0:01 Ancient Text of Taoism
  • 0:48 Description of Tao
  • 1:59 Decline of Han Dynasty
  • 2:54 Wrongdoing Caused Chaos
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the importance of the Classic of Great Peace in Taoist history. In doing so, it will highlight the origins of Taoism, the concept of the Tao and the decline of the Han Dynasty.

Ancient Text of Taoism

Throughout history, there have been some amazing works of literature that have called people to change during times of turbulence and uncertainty. For instance, there's Thomas Paine's Common Sense, written during the days of the American Revolution. Even more famous, there's Martin Luther's '95 Theses,' again written to herald change.

In today's lesson, we're going to discuss another such piece of literature that worked to inspire change during a very turbulent time. Known to us as the 'Classic of Great Peace' but to the East as a Taipingjing, these works are one of the most important collections of ancient Taoism.

Because these text deal with Taoism, we'll stop here for a moment and gather some information about this ancient faith.

Description of Tao

Taoism, also spelled Daoism, is a Chinese philosophy that stresses living simply, honestly and in harmony with nature. Making it a bit hard to define, Taoism has its root in the ancient Chinese belief of the Tao. Sadly, for our purposes, the concept of the Tao really has no Western translation.

Making matters even trickier, most Taoist admit they really can't define it either. For this reason, most choose to describe it rather than define it. With this in mind, today we'll describe the Tao as the way of perfect harmony with nature in its original form. To Westernize it even more, we can also think of it as the idea that all of nature is one.

Building on this admittedly simplified material, let's get back to the Taipingjing, or the 'Classic of Great Peace'. Unlike the already mentioned works of Thomas Paine and Martin Luther, the actual historical documentation of the 'Classic of Great Peace' is a bit unclear. Therefore, as we discuss this collection, we'll do our best to keep to the most agreed upon dates and accounts.

Decline of Han History

Believed to be written during the very turbulent decline of the Han Dynasty, one of China's longest dynasties that ruled from about 206 BCE to 220 CE, the 'Classic of Great Peace' sought to make sense of China's turmoil. Like the writings of Thomas Paine, which worked to inspire its readers to action, the 'Classic of Great Peace' was written to move the people of China toward change. As the power of the Han Dynasty began to wane, the people groups of China began to war as the faiths of Buddhism, Confucianism and even Taoism sought places of power within the empire.

Making matters worse, it was a time of natural disaster with things like drought crippling the empire. To put it mildly, China was dangerously close to complete chaos. Trying to make sense of all this, the 'Classic of Great Peace' sought to give reason for China's struggles.

Wrongdoing Caused Chaos

As I said before, the historical validity of the 'Classic of Great Peace' is a bit less than stellar. However, most agree that its main thrust was to warn the people that their actions had caused their misery. Therefore, if you remember nothing else from today's lesson, remember this! The 'Classic of Great Peace' asserted that years of imprudent and selfish behavior had caused China's turmoil and it was time to return to the Tao. If you can keep that locked away, you'll be in rather good shape!

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