If on the one hand the action of Tao is to “reverse” any linear conceptualization and thus is essentially appropriating (ch’ang), and on the other hand Taoism is not an empty skepticism or relativism, Tao must be the very middle that should be fully unfolded as an ontological region . This “region” is non-substantial (hsu) in all senses. Authentically, it cannot be presented as any separable being in space and time; nor can it be taken as any abstract substances beyond space and time, such as the transcendent rules and subjectivity. It is also not a non-being caught up by conceptual reference. In fact, any dichotomous classification, such as being-nonbeing, matter-idea , secular-divine, even Husserl ’s noema -noesis, cannot reach the region in its full horizon. However, as Confucius says about jen, it is closest to vis; or, as Chuang Tzu speaks of Tao, “There is nowhere where it is not”. We easily miss it because the region is too close to us to be an object that can be separated from and thus be caught up by our mind . It is the ontological appropriation; that is, we as well as anything else cannot be ourselves without having a total involvement into it. It always steps ecstatically ahead of us (Being-there ) and only in a “reversed” movement, it is disclosed to us. As an original region, its topological and reversed projection denies any linear-conceptual approach. It possesses nothing substantial but simply a primordial under-standing or thinking which, in light of Heidegger ’s interpretation of Parmenides , is hermeneutically same as Being. It is spatial but not that which is in space; it is temporal but not in time. In other words, it is always in the appropriating middle of all substantialized extremes. What Chuang Tzu says about Tao in the following can be considered as a description of this ontological region. It runs:
Tao has sensibility [ch’ing] and responsibility [hsin ], but no (causal) action and no form. It may be transmitted but cannot be received (as an object). It may be experienced but cannot be seen directly. It is its own source, its own root . Before heaven and earth, it has been there by itself from all time. It gave spirituality to spirits and to God ; it gave birth to heaven and to earth. It is above the zenith but it is not high. It is beneath the nadir but it is not low. It is prior to heaven and earth but it is not old. It is more ancient than the highest antiquity but is not regarded as long ago.
From this paragraph, Tao or the ontological region, although having no form and no causal action, nevertheless possesses “sensibility” [ch’ing] and responsibility [hsin]. It is being there “before” heaven and earth by its ontological primordiality. Therefore, it can be non-conceptually experienced and understood. Its regional essence makes it necessary to describe it temporally and spatially, and, by the same token, lets all derivative standards, such as “high”, “low”, and “old”, be insufficient. It is ontologically prior to the spiritual and religious substances — God and spirits. In this respect, Taoism, at least in its original literatures such as Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, aligns itself with Confucianism against Moism. However, in Confucianism, although the personal existence of Gods and spirits is suspected, to hermeneutically experience them through rites (li) is still requested. In Lao-Chuang, the Tao is more clearly and authentically exposed as the ontological region. For this reason, there is ultimately no need for rites and literature learning. The Tao and the Nature itself is the origin of all divinities.
In both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, we can find many similar ”descriptions” of Tao which expose the regional ontology of Tao. The basic features of these descriptions are that, on the one hand, Tao is said to be formless and thence cannot be caught as an object either perceptively or linguistically; on the other, Tao is expressed as ontologically so inseparable from this experienced (phenomenological) world that its “transcendence” must be nothing other than the hermeneutic purification of the perceptions and the expressions of this sensible world. In Lao Tzu, we read:
We look at it and do not see it; / Its name is the Invisible [yi]; / We listen to it and do not hear it; / Its name is the Inaudible [hsi]. / We touch it and do not find it; / Its name is the Subtle [wei, formless]. / These three cannot be further inquired into, / And hence merge [hun ] into one. / Going up high, it is not bright,, and coming down low, it is not dark. / Infinite and boundless, it cannot be given any name; / It reverts to nothingness. / this is called shape [state] without shape [being stated]; / Form (hsiang) [image] without object. / It is the Vague and Elusive [hu huang]. / Meet it and you will not see its head. / Follow it and you will not see its back. / Hold on to the Tao of old in order to master the things of the present. / From this one may know the primeval beginning [of the universe]. / This is called the bond [chi] of Tao. [Tao Te Ching XIV]
This chapter is a clear manifestation of the hermeneutic “betweenness” of Tao, and thus shows Tao as an appropriating horizon-region. Although Tao cannot be seen, heard, and grabbed as an object and in this sense it “reverts to nothingness” (formless), it is not an abstract principle or category either. It is ontologically so purely regional that must merge into the perceptible. We “look at” it, “listen” it and “touch” it in a non-representative way called “hu huang”. According to Wang Pi (226-249 A.D.), the most distinctive commentator of Lao Tzu, “hu huang” means “It cannot be determined”. This just means, Tao can never be determined by any conceptual device. “Hu huang” therefore may be translated as, with a Heideggerean term, “the ecstatic” that always stands out of the representable, and at same time in and towards its own region. It is never really “vague and elusive” (Chan ’s translation of “hu huang), but manifests itself in “the shape without being shaped” or ”the image without object” (wu wu chih hsiang). This “wu chih hsiang” certainly bears an striking affinity to the “pure image” or ”transcendental imagination” in Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant , and discloses a similar horizon that the pure image (temporality), does. So, the ecstatic and pure image is what “lets” any dichotomous two partners ”belong together”, and “what brings the two into their own and, even more, maintains and holds them in their belonging together” The ”transcendence” of Tao, accordingly, is bound to be “horizontal” and ”ecstatic” (hu huang). The following paragraph in Heidegger’s Kant-book should be also helpful in our understanding of Tao. Heidegger says:
The going-beyond to ..., which in finite knowledge is necessary in advance and at every moment, is accordingly a constant ex-position [Hinaustehen] to ... [Ekstasis ]. But this essential ex-position to ... in its position [Stehen] forms and pro-poses to itself a horizon. Transcendence is in itself ecstatic-horizontal. [GA3:123]
The ontological horizon (Tao) in chapter 14 of Lao Tzu and chapter 6 of Chuang Tzu, both cited above, is characterized with spatial and temporal terms in a vibrating way, such as:
Going up high, it is not bright, and coming down low, it is not dark. / . .. / Meet it and you will not see its head. / Follow it and you will not see its back. / Hold on the Tao of old in order to master the things of the present. / From this one may know the primeval beginning of the universe. / This is called the bond of Tao.
This type of description, abundant in Lao-Chuang, is really “vague and elusive” for a conceptual mind, since the descriptions use the spatial and the temporal not as the apriori form of intuition but as the ecstatic “image without object”. All dichotomies have been blended (ch’ung), evaporated (hua), and thus “merge [hun] into one topological and appropriating horizon. “This is called the bond of Tao”. However, if one is not dogmatically attached to conceptual thinking, the “image without object” will show him the regional meaning of Tao illuminatively. “Hu huang”, the ecstatic reciprocity, is “the gate of all subtleties”.