Heidegger's being-in-the-world and its relation to Tao Te Ching.
This paper explores some of the areas of convergence between Tao
and Heidegger's thought. More specifically, the analysis touches
upon the different manners in which the concepts of totality and
interdependence, and being and nothing are encountered in Tao and
Heidegger's work and how they are reflected in therapeutic
Tao Te Ching, Heidegger, being, nothing, interdependence, polarities, relational therapy
Philosophy of mind (Research)
|Publication:||Name: Existential Analysis Publisher: Society for Existential Analysis Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Society for Existential Analysis ISSN: 1752-5616|
|Issue:||Date: Jan, 2012 Source Volume: 23 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||Event Code: 310 Science & research|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: Japan Geographic Code: 9JAPA Japan|
It is widely known (Yao, 2010; Zhang, 2009; Ma & van Brakel, 2006; May, 1996; Parker, 1990; Eckartsberg & Valle, 1981) that Heidegger's thinking and, particularly, his conceptualisation of 'being-in-the-world' has been profoundly influenced by his enormous interest and acquaintance with East Asian thought--an interest that was manifested in his familiarity with a number of Chinese and Japanese philosophical ideas, as well as in his long-term close relationships with several Japanese thinkers. Importantly, as May (1996) notes, Heidegger is the contemporary philosopher most studied and discussed throughout Asia and, moreover, the only European philosopher who has engaged in a West-East dialogue to such an extended degree. Along the same lines, the Japanese thinker Hsiao (1990), with whom Heidegger had attempted to translate Tao Te Ching into German, mentions that the fact that Heidegger's thinking has been so difficult for his Western contemporaries to grasp was related to the way he approached and positioned himself towards certain philosophical concepts. This notion is very much encapsulated in Hsiao's words, which explain that: 'What he (Heidegger) "brought to language" has frequently been said similarly in the thinking of the Far East' (ibid: p94). Clearly, Heidegger attempted to decamp from the Cartesian-Kantian dualistic epistemological paradigm that views the subject as distinct from the object, by arguing that it is not possible for a subject to be separated from the external social, cultural and natural world, and by holding the notion that human existence can only be perceived in terms of 'being-in-the-world' (Cohn, 2002; Cooper, 1996).
The intention in writing the present paper is twofold. Firstly, I seek to present and unfold some of the parallels that emerge between Heidegger's work and East Asian philosophy. More specifically, I wish to explore how aspects of Heidegger's conceptualisation of 'being-in-the-world', as it is presented in Being and Time (1962) and in Existence and Being (1949), relate to the Chinese philosophy of Tao Te Ching. The biggest part of the analysis on Being and Time concentrates on concepts emerging from the chapter 'The Worldhood of the World' and likewise, most of the analysis on Existence and Being focuses on the chapter 'What is metaphysics?'.
The second aim of the paper is to look briefly into how the similarities and areas of philosophical convergence between these two philosophical paradigms are encountered in therapeutic thought and practice. In order to provide an analysis of how the two philosophical perspectives relate to each other, I engage in a hermeneutic phenomenological enquiry that inevitably involves personal interpretation. Thus, my analysis is structured in a manner in which my vantage point on the topic is supported with the use of passages and quotes from both Heidegger's work and Tao. Tao quotes are extracted from Freke's edition (1995). It would be fair to mention that the reason I decided to use extracts from this edition relates to Freke's choice to avoid archaic vocabulary that might estrange the contemporary reader. As he notes (ibid), his attempt to update archaic words with more familiar terms allows a more precise representation of the original meaning of the text than a literal translation.
The world of Tao and the worldhood of the world
Tao is not a way that can be pointed out. Nor an idea that can be defined. Tao is indefinable original totality. Ideas create the appearance of separate things. Always hidden, it is the mysterious essence. Always manifest, it is the outer appearances. Essence and appearance are the same. Only ideas make them separate.
(Freke, 1995: p35)
Clearly, this passage reveals that Tao is not something that can be described and understood with the use of language, and likewise there are no concrete characteristics that can be attributed to it in order to define it. However, in these two lines, the reader can readily discern Tao's element of totality and wholeness. Totality that is an equivalent concept of oneness revolves around the notion that there is unity between everything and that all things despite their many different appearances and diversities are part of the 'whole of Creation' (ibid: p38). Evidently, the concept of totality explicitly involves interdependence and interconnectedness between everything in the world. Consistent to this, as it is noted in the passage, unity exists between essence and appearance; Tao is hidden within the internal essence and at the same time, it can be seen in the external appearance. No matter the number of different ways, shapes and forms in which Tao can be manifested, it remains the same and its various expressions can be separated only if one chooses to attach words and ideas to them. According to this conceptualisation, the internal and the external space are constantly and perpetually interlinked, and hence the distinction between them can be viewed as an artificial one that is constructed with thought and language. Obviously, this perspective automatically comes into conflict with the dominant Western ontological account, which poses that the world consists of divorced and independent units that interact between them. Tao, rather, views all entities, regardless of how they present themselves, as being part of a bigger dynamic network.
This extract touches upon the meeting of the opposites. Something can only exist and be defined in relation to something else. Likewise, something can be perceived in a particular manner due to its relationship with something different. It is in the face of otherness that something becomes what it is and, thus, nothing can exist in isolation. Importantly, all opposites are contradictory but complementary aspects of a unitary phenomenon and are interrelated and interlinked. This signifies the nature of Tao and the reverse polarities that coexist within it.
The notion of interdependence is very much present in Heidegger's thinking, and particularly in his conceptualisation of the world. In Being and Time (1962) in the chapter 'The Worldhood of the World', Heidegger begins his exploration of the phenomenon of the world by emphasising that 'world is not a way of characterizing those entities which Dasein is essentially not; it is rather a characteristic of Dasein itself' (p92). This statement automatically implies that the world can only be perceived as an existential aspect of being-in-the-world and, thus, it cannot be separated from Dasein. Clearly, this view is founded on a philosophical ontology that calls into question the dominant Cartesian tradition, which departs from mathematical physics and is based on a transcendental ground (ibid). Heidegger challenges Descartes' framework that revolves around a dichotomy between the external world and human mind and perceives the world as being composed of separate and distinct entities (Cohn, 2002; Cooper, 1996). As opposed to Descartes, Heidegger's perspective emphasises the relational nature of Dasein according to which existence can only be perceived through its relationships with other entities-within-the-world; a perspective that is deeply reflected within his stance towards his phenomenological method of investigation, which is distinctively different from Husserl's transcendental phenomenology. More specifically, Heidegger disagrees with Husserlian phenomenology that aims to arrive at the essence of a phenomenon by arguing that it is possible to step out of our subjectivity and reveal the world as it is (Cohn, 2007; Langdridge, 2007; Spinelli, 2005) and presupposes that 'phenomenology is the science of the Being of entities-ontology' and that the entity under investigation exists in the middle of other things and is 'ontologico-ontically distinctive' (Heidegger, 1962: p61). This statement brings forth his starting point, which is linked to the notion that being-in-the-world is always the product of the negotiations among the ontological givens and the ontic interpretations given by humans. Along the same lines, Heidegger looks into the phenomenon of the world by analysing the ontic responses, our ' dealings' in the world (ibid: p95), to the entities that are encountered in the environment and by explaining that the entities-in-the-world become ' accessible when we put ourselves into a position of concerning ourselves with them in some such way' (ibid: p96). In a nutshell, it is our very own ontic response or, in other words, our interpretative engagement with the entities-in-the-world, that creates the possibility for them to be encountered as 'meaningful'.
Interestingly, Heidegger names the entities with which we are concerned ' equipment' , and explains that every piece of equipment is constituted in terms of what it is for and, furthermore, in terms of the assignment that it envelops. This position emphasises that nothing can actually function as an item of equipment on its own. All entities find their place within a network of interrelatedness in the face of a totality and are constantly oriented towards something outside themselves. Consequently, it is within this network and, particularly, through their relationship with each other that they gain their standing and become what they are. In a similar manner, human existence becomes what it is only within a context. Like the philosophy of Tao, Heidegger poses that human existence cannot be perceived in isolation, but it can be viewed as being part of a dynamic network within which we are always in relation to something else. In the following section of the paper I explore the parallels between the concept of nothingness in both Tao and Heidegger's work.
Every thing and no thing
Tao moves in circles always flowing back to Tao. Tao is ever yielding--constantly creating, every thing from no thing
(Freke, 1995: p80)
According to Tao Te Ching, everything exists in relation to its opposite polarity. This relation, or in other words the meeting of the opposites, is what creates movement and balance. The extract presented above reveals that in the same manner in which something emerges from its opposite (for example, the fact that something is perceived as beautiful automatically gives birth to the idea that something else is ugly), everything is born from nothing and vice versa. This rather oxymoronic concept is eloquently expressed by Sartre in Being and Nothingness; as he characteristically mentions, nothingness 'carries being in its heart' (1958: p18). Evidently, within this context, nothingness is perceived as the very space within which the possibility of being is constantly generated. This notion is also very much encapsulated in the following passage from Heidegger:
Undoubtedly, here Heidegger unravels his position that nothingness is a fundamental aspect of 'being-in-the-world', and that it is within this paradoxical nothingness that the possibility of human existence arises. In other words, it is in the face of nothingness that something becomes what is and, respectively, when something moves in the sphere of the being of what-is then, nothing is overshadowed and nihilated. In my view, the constant movement and alternation between the polarities of being and nothing is deeply encountered in the figure-ground vase optical illusion. More specifically, even though the illusion can be perceived as a complete picture in its own right, the relationship between the figure and the ground is such that allows the viewer to choose between two different but valid interpretations. Interestingly, the moment one chooses to concentrate on one of the two interpretations then the other one disappears into the background. Furthermore, if one attempts to look at the two interpretations simultaneously, they will realise that the two images are by nature mutually exclusive. The parallel that could be drawn here is based on the idea that the two different interpretations coexist within a total unit and, more importantly, they both equally create the picture that one can see. However, every time that one is concerned with one of the two interpretations then the 'chosen' interpretation is being projected into the other and the other momentarily provides the context within which the 'chosen' one exists. Along the same lines, it could be argued that when the 'chosen' interpretation becomes the figure of what-is, all at once, the other interpretation is nihilated. With regards to nihilation, Heidegger (1949) notes that 'it reveals the latter (what-is-in-totality) in all its till now undisclosed strangeness as the pure "Other"--contrasted with Nothing' (p369). This statement again revolves around the idea that totality entails both being and nothing and their dialogical relationship. Unless something is contrasted with its opposite in a figure-ground manner it cannot be perceived as what-is. The concept of nothing is very much interlinked with the notion of emptiness that is fundamental in Tao and is profoundly reflected in the passage below:
A wheel is useful, because of the hole at the centre of the hub. A clay pot is useful, because it contains empty space. Doors and windows are useful, because they are gaps in the walls. The value of what is there, lies in what is not there.
(Freke, 1995: p45)
In my understanding, the empty space that is enclosed within the entities mentioned above becomes meaningful because of the potentialities that it entails. If one looks into the emptiness that is contained in a clay pot phenomenologically, one will arrive at the realisation that this empty space is what actually allows the pot to come forward as a piece of equipment which possesses a purpose; an item of equipment that according to Heidegger (1962) is considered to be ready-to-hand. Consequently, it would be fair to argue that the empty space within an entity operates as a window of opportunity that provides the ground for that entity to move into the sphere of what-is. Consistent to this, emptiness appears as a dynamic and essential aspect of being without which what-is would not be possible for human existence. Lastly, another area of convergence between the above extract and Heidegger's work is the relationship between absence and presence. Heidegger (ibid) addresses the latter in his analysis of human interaction with the entities-in-the-world by arguing that the more we are in need of a piece of equipment that is missing, the more magnified its 'un-readiness-to-hand' (ibid, p.103) becomes. Thus, the absence of what we need brings forth the value of this item as it 'stands in the way of our concern' (ibid, p103) and hence, it becomes even more present and explicit in awareness. Next, I move on to the second aim of the paper and explore how the commonalities between Tao and Heidegger's thinking are encountered in therapeutic practice.
As mentioned, above, both Tao philosophy and Heidegger's thinking derive from a foundation that embraces the contrasting polarities of being and nothing as integral and complementary parts of being-in-the-world. In addition, they both depart from the ontological standpoint that everything-in-the-world is perceived in terms of a bigger interrelational network and, therefore, nothing can exist in isolation. Existence rather appears to be the product of a constantly changing relationship between the ontological given of being-in-the-world and the ontic interpretations given. At this point, before I proceed into an analysis of how the areas of philosophical convergence between Heidegger and Tao are encountered in therapeutic practice, a significant distinction needs to be made between the nature of Tao and Heidegger's work. Tao, apart from being a philosophical text, is also described as a manual of leadership (Palmer, 1995), and a spiritual handbook that offers practical guidance for living in the world by encouraging the reader to adopt a particular stance towards themselves and towards the manner in which they relate to the world. In relation to this, a great part of Heidegger's work, and particularly his conceptualisation of being, offers great understanding of what it means to live as a human being but it refrains from providing any guidance with regards how one should live and relate within the world. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this part of Heidegger's work is considered to be profoundly existential (Warnock, 2005; Cohn, 2002), and existential thought approaches the matter of freedom as a practical one. It is, in other words, a committed and practical philosophy of freedom that is concerned with awakening people and bringing into their awareness the fact that they are free to choose their own attitude towards themselves and the world (Warnock, 2005). Bearing the above distinction in mind, the central theme of the analysis is not concerned with Tao's suggested guidelines but rather focuses on the concepts that are presented in the paper and their potential relevance to therapeutic work.
The concept of totality and, more specifically, the ontological view, which holds that no distinction between subject and external world is possible, has a direct impact on how the relationship between therapist and client is perceived. Clearly, if one refutes the split between subject and object, then one can argue that one finds oneself in a position in which there is no distinction between the person who observes and the other who is being observed. Thus, the therapeutic relationship is rather viewed as a relationship that contains all the attributes of a concernful engagement with another person within the world (Cohn, 2002) and not a technical one. Consistent to this, the therapeutic relationship decamps from a mechanistic view which allows power differentials between the therapist and client, and proposes that the therapist is an expert who posseses knowledge regarding the true object nature of reality. On the contrary, according to this therapeutic paradigm, not only is the possibility of any correct or accurate interpretation discarded, but the emphasis is placed on the relational aspect and on the manner in which communication takes place through a co-constructed experience between two people who experience a shared world. Moreover, the various phenomena that emerge within the therapeutic context are approached as being parts of a bigger network and as being interrelated and interlinked with other phenomena. Hence, they are described extensively and are treated as having equal significance and their own unique place within this network. Along the same lines, symptomatology is not viewed in isolation or as something problematic that needs to be removed, but is perceived as being part of a totality that needs to be investigated thoroughly. Consequently, symptoms are seen as a source of further insight regarding a person's difficulties in living and, at the same time, the fact that they serve a purpose within this bigger web of interdependence is deeply acknowledged. In my view, abnormal or dysfunctional behaviour can be viewed as a way of being that is fixed within the spectrum of one polarity in such a persistent manner that overshadows the possibility of acknowledging the existence of the opposite polarity. Therapy aims to gradually introduce the client to the possibility of the opposite polarity which might be accompanied by the light of a new perspective on their life. Taking into account the existence of an opposite polarity provides one more room and awareness regarding one's current way of being. In a similar manner, the therapist can systematically work around how, in the absence of something, the presence of something else comes forward and vice versa. All in all, the way one poses questions about something encompasses such a great deal of information regarding the answer.
Obviously, a therapeutic paradigm of this nature moves away from a technique-based approach that derives from a positivistic paradigm, which tends to eradicate what is not generalizable and which overall ignores the concept of intersubjectivity between therapist and client. When therapy moves away from a technique-based way of relating it opens up to the possibility of developing a relationship that allows the client to encounter themselves in the face of the other. Interestingly, the encounter of one's self in the face of the other takes me to the following extract from Tao:
The Whole splits into Ying and Yang. From these two comes three; from three comes all life. Yin is the form, the container, Yang is the essence, the contained.
(Freke, 1995: p84)
'Being with' the client is equivalent to becoming the container that provides the space for the client to explore themselves, to experiment and, at the same time, to feel contained and held. 'Being with' the client means to allow a concernful connection to happen in the room; a connection that creates a shared lived experience and offers the relationship that facilitates the client to gain more awareness and understanding regarding the relationship they have with themselves, and the manner in which this relationship is reflected upon the way they engage with the world and the others who are inevitably part of the world.
In this paper I have attempted to explore some of the areas of convergence between Tao and Heidegger's thought. The analysis revolved around how the concepts of totality and interdependence, and being and nothing are encountered in Tao and Heidegger's work and, moreover, how these concepts are reflected into therapeutic practice. What I have realised while writing this paper is that we do live in a complex network that consists of an infinite number of relationships. This position in my view emphasises our relational nature and reveals that it is only through our relationship to ourselves and our relationship to the outside that we actually discover the possibilities and the meaning of our being. We are, after all, the centre of our own relationships.
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Zoe Apostolidou is a third year trainee of the professional doctorate in counselling psychology course at Regent's College. Contact: 24A Willesden Lane, London NW6 7ST.
Something can be beautiful if something else is ugly. Someone can be good if someone else is bad. Presence and absence. Short and long. High and low. Before and after. Gibberish and meaning. They can only exist together. (ibid: p36)
there 'is' no such thing as an equipment. To the Being of any equipment there always belongs a totality of equipment, in which it can be this equipment that is. Equipment is essentially 'something in-order-to ...' (ibid: p97)
Dasein means being projected into Nothing ... Nothing is that which makes the revelation of what-is as such possible for our human existence. Nothing not merely provides the conceptual opposite of what-is but is also an original part of essence. It is in the Being of what-is that the nihilation of Nothing occurs (1949: p370).
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