Early Daoist Scriptures by Stephen R. Bokenkamp

Eastern philosophy and culture have always been a mystery for western people and Stephen R. Bokenkamp in his book “Early Daoist Scriptures” attempted to reveal a part of this mystery. It is a very interesting book that involves both professional researchers of Eastern civilization and ordinary readers since the information is presented in quite an interesting and vivid form that make the book attractive for all readers regardless their preferences.
In fact the book is focused on the sacred texts of Daoism that are of a paramount importance for the world cultures at large and for Chinese in particular. The reason why these texts, which are of the primary concern of the author of the book, are of a paramount importance for Chinese culture is the fact that for many centuries Daoism has played a central role in the development of Chinese thought and civilization.
Unfortunately, Western readers are barely acquainted with the sacred texts revealing the entity of Daoism since only a few of the texts have been translated in English. At this respect, the book of Stephen R. Bokenkamp can really help in filling this gap in knowledge of western people concerning Daoist sacred texts and Chinese civilization at large. Moreover, Stephen R. Benkamp introduces western readers to the world of ancient scriptures which have never been published in English before. It means that his work is really innovative and original and makes sacred Daoist texts accessible to the wide audience.
In general the book is characterized as a systematic presentation of the sacred texts that provides a reader with an excellent opportunity to get some information about the development of early Daoism, its main trends and basic principles. To put it more precisely, the book covers the period from the 2nd to the 6th c. C.E.
Furthermore, the author attempts to analyze the relation of Daoist culture to other cultures developing in neighboring countries. for instance, he indicates that “From the fourth century of our era, we can observe the formation of a Buddho-Taoist eschatology, in which the main actions… are of the Buddhist origin, and in which conceptual stylistic, and terminological elements are largely borrowed from popular Mahayana… [Nonetheless] it was the Taoist vision that provided the model for the structure as a whole. It was a Taoist vision that provided a coherent complex of eschatological expectations into which all these disconnected Buddhist themes became incorporated and welded into an integrated whole, and it was also Daoism that filled some essential gaps by providing the materials for which there was no Buddhist counterparts: the apocalyptic battle, the judgment, and the creation of an ideal world” . However, Bokenkamp does not limit himself relating Daoism to Buddhism only he also attempts to trace the links of Daoism with another significant philosophical school, namely with Confucianism that was also quite close to Chinese culture.
Speaking about the structure of the book, it basically comprises representative works from each of the principal Daoist traditions. Each chapter of the book is accompanied by an introduction that places the material within the historical and cultural context. It should be pointed out that the book includes the translation of such important works of Daoist culture as the earliest Daoist commentary to Laozi’s Daode Jing (Tao Te Ching), historical documents relating history of the early Daoist church, a petitioning ritual used to free believers from complaints brought against them by the dead, and two complete scriptures, one on individual meditation practice and another designed to rescue humanity from the terrors of hell through recitation of its powerful charms.
Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the book “Early Daoist Scriptures” by Stephen R. Bokenkamp is quite interesting to read, it is well structured and properly organized, provides information, which have never been published in English before. This is why it is possible to say that this book is particularly helpful for those who are interested in Daoism. It will be particularly for students on religion and scholars exploring sacred Daoist literature because the book provides readers with a much-needed introduction to Daoism. The book also serves as an overview to every aspect of early Daoist tradition and all the seminal practices, which have helped to shape the religion as it exists nowadays. Consequently the book is absolutely necessary for understanding Chinese civilization and it needs to be read and the research started by the author has to be continued.
1. Bokenkamp, S.R. (Ed.). Early Daoist Scriptures. Berkley: University of California Press, 1997.

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