<Editor's Note> This is the interview of Prof. RHEE Dongshick with announcer in the TV talk show
aired on Dec. 8, 1990 on the Korea Educational Broadcasting System (EBS). It was translated by
Dr. YUN Woncheol (State University of New York, USA., at that time).
MC How is death explained in the Tao tradition?
RHEE Here again is an essential difference between the Western tradition and the Eastern tradition.
As Paul Tillich pointed out in his book Courage To Be, psychoanalysis and other Western ways of treating mental problems can relieve neurotic fear, but not the ontological fear. The ontological fear is shared by everybody. You can liberate yourself from it only by realizing the Tao. When you don't have so-called "the Mind of Life and Death," you can face death without fear accepting it as a normal process of life. That's the ultimate and total transcendence of death. You know that Koreans have had the custom of preparing their own tombs and coffins while they are alive. The Westerners would think it's weird. But I heard that some Americans also do the same thing nowadays. So-called the existentialist philosophy of the West indeed is based on the concern in the issue of the ontological fear. But they could never get the ultimate solution. The ultimate solution is in the practice of the Tao.
MC In short, you mean that we can overcome the fear of death and thus accept death by practicing the Tao.
RHEE And vice versa. Only when death is accepted, the mind is emptied. As long as we have fear of death, we can't see the Reality as it is.
MC It is said that one of the essential features of the Eastern philosophy has been the idea of the Tao...
RHEE But seen from the perspective of the Tao, ideas are nothing but deceptive illusions. We may even say that to get rid of ideas is the Tao. The whole reality as it is here and now, not artificially constructed ideas of it, is The Tao.
MC Then we shouldn't say "the idea of the Tao" but simply "the Tao."
RHEE The point is that the Tao is not something separate from reality. It is not ideas.
MC I guess our ancestors' lives were much influenced by the Tao tradition. Were they?
RHEE Yes, they always were. In 1979, I visited a psychoanalyst at London University, and asked him of the difference between Western and Eastern patients.
MC Is there any difference?
RHEE Yes, he told me of a very interesting difference: the Asian patients were much concerned with their previous lives while the Western patients were much concerned with the present, especially with doing something. This implies a very substantial difference between the East and West.
MC How?
RHEE According to Erich Fromm's work To Have or To Be?, "To Be" is to be concerned in how to live, how to die, and what to be. But the major concern of the Western civilization has been "To Have," hence all its neurotic features. The desire to have something or to do something generates neurosis. Lao-tzu meant it with the concept "Doing," in contrast to "Non-Doing." "Doing" is the same as neurosis in the sense that both are grounded in desires. On the contrary, "Non-Doing" means "to be natural" without manipulating reality according to one's own desires.
MC Then can we say that "To Be," not "To Have," is a search for the true Self?
RHEE Yes. And that's none other than the Tao. Trying to do or to have something is to be against the Tao, for that kind of activities are based on desire.
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Untitled Document
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