Coming to Terms with Timelessness: Daoist Time in Comparative Perspective

Time, and in particular timelessness, plays a key role in Daoism, both in its more speculative and practical dimensions. This book explores this in comparison with other philosophies and religions. It alternates presentations of a more theoretical, speculative nature with those that focus on concrete life situations, examining the psychological potentials of time perception, the nature of situations, Daoism’s holistic worldview, similarities between Laozi and Plotinus, and Daoist versus Greek geometric models of the cosmos. They further study the role of Daoist notions in New Wave Taiwanese cinema, relate Daoist ideas to modern thinkers and its cultivation techniques to Zen Buddhism, trace the relevance of the Yijing to the Jungian concept of synchronicity, and explore the problem of boredom and predictability in prolongevity and immortality.

The book offers a wide range of topics and perspectives, engaging with new materials while stimulating innovative insights and opening new avenues of exploration. A must for all interested in the nature of Daoism, issues of time, and comparative philosophy.

Contents and Introduction

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Livia Kohn, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita of Religion and East Asian Studies at Boston University. The author or editor of close to sixty books (including the annual Journal of Daoist Studies), she spent ten years in Kyoto doing research. She currently serves as the executive editor of Three Pines Press as well as the Journal of Daoist Studies, runs international conferences, and guides study tours to Japan.


This volume provides a probing exploration of timelessness across several disciplines and historical periods. Drawing on J.T. Fraser’s system of six temporalities, Livia Kohn’s rigorous introduction situates Daoist thought in a rich nexus of religious and psychological perspectives on timelessness. The essays by an international array of distinguished scholars undertake ambitious, original comparative lines of investigation, putting Taoist thought in dialogue with sources ranging from classical philosophy and Neoplatonsim to modern cinema and depth psychology. Challenging yet accessible, reading this volume is a rewarding, enriching experience.

–Paul A. Harris, Professor of English, Loyola Marymount University; President of the International Society for the Study of Time (2004-2013).

“Just as fish appear unaware of the water they swim and live in, so are humans unaware of being immersed in Dao”—and in timelessness, the ultimate root of time. Sometimes we feel time is “slipping away” as we are pulled along by its powerful, unseen currents; at other times, we feel that time slows or stops as we float serenely in its still, silent depths. Traditional Daoist views of time already, it seems, anticipated the Einsteinian property of space-time, relating to Greek, Buddhist, and other thought while recognizing a complex interplay and interdependence. Coming to Terms with Timelessness presents a thought-provoking and interdisciplinary collection of essays that engagingly explore the topic of time from spiritual, psychological, linguistic, and philosophical perspectives. It is full of valuable insights, and I highly recommend making time to read it!

—Elliot Cohen, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, Chair of the Transpersonal Section of the British Psychological Society