Inaudible Sounds and Nonhuman Harmony

On Daoist Mysticism of Music


  • Dawid Rogacz Adam Mickiewicz University


Daoism, Xi Kang, Laozi, Zhuangzi, harmony, Chinese music, mysticism, Dao, musical experience


The paper theoretically reconstructs the Daoist conception of music and musical experience based on the writings ascribed to Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Xi Kang. It is shown that in the eyes of the Daoists the experience of musical harmony is ineffable and non-representational, transcending the limits of the human realm and requiring the emptying of one’s mind and its inner feelings. This absolute Harmony, sometimes referred to as the directly inaudible Great Sound, was treated as another name for Dao – the Way things truly and spontaneously are. For Laozi, the Great Sound exists in all sounds as their totality, while for Zhuangzi thus understood “Heavenly music” consists in an endless harmony of the different tones spontaneously produced by all beings in the universe. Developing these approaches, Xi Kang argues against attributing human emotions to music and finally for the “categorial” separation between heart-mind and its feelings, which are released when stimulated by music, and the absolute Great Harmony. Xi Kang’s arguments were also targeted at the Confucian view of music as representing the feelings of the people, but his elaboration on the non-representational nature of harmony and the non-intentional character of musical experience shows that these polemics were rooted in a positive standpoint, which, just as in the case of Laozi and Zhuangzi, successfully meets the definition of mystical experience.

Author Biography

Dawid Rogacz, Adam Mickiewicz University

Adam Mickiewicz University, Faculty of Philosophy, Poznań, Poland






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