What does Daoist tradition teach about religiously sanctioned use of violence?
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Daoism’s classic text Dao De Jing, along with many other important religious sources, emphasizes the centrality of harmony in all aspects of life. That harmony presupposes the perfect blend of Yin (the female principle) and Yang (the male principle). Disharmony results, at the most fundamental level, from an imbalance of the primal forces. A certain level of violence in nature is virtually presupposed, but human beings who seek to imitate the Dao’s principle of “creative inaction” (wu wei) can at least hope for a peaceful society. However, as often happens when religious organizations become entwined with political institutions, Daoism has become associated on occasion with large-scale violence. Especially during historical periods in which Daoism has been favored as the more or less “official” religious ideology of a political regime, Daoism has been implicated in large-scale systematic violence. For example, during the midninth century, Daoists enjoyed imperial support of the Tang dynasty at the expense of Buddhism, which suffered widespread persecution in the year 845.
In practical terms, Daoists acknowledge that there may be times when selfdefense is necessary. One must then struggle to engage in violence only in the effort to restore harmony and must seek always to defend oneself without rancor or bitterness. On balance, Daoist tradition seems to emphasize the responsibility of each practitioner to avoid the inward violence that can corrupt one’s outward action. If one must engage in outward violence, one must regard even victory not as a cause for jubilation, but act as one would when attending a funeral.