A Choice Between Peace and Sorrow

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A Choice Between Peace and Sorrow

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu said the love of the Tao is in our very nature. And, we talked about how perfectly free we are to choose to follow the Tao, or go counter to it. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu expounds on this theme. Giving us a choice between peace and sorrow.

Sorrow is the result of us making distinctions. We have been talking about that since chapter two. We distinguish between good and bad, between beautiful and ugly. When we close our minds in judgments, and traffic with desires, the result is our hearts are troubled.

If our hearts are to find peace, we must keep our minds from judging, and not be led by the senses.

I know, I know, that sounds easier said, than done. But, let’s not make it harder than what it is.

A theme throughout his Tao Te Ching is that the Tao is our beginning (all things issue from it), and our end (all things return to it). What gives us trouble is the eternity in between beginning and end.

Lao Tzu prescribes the antidote to our troubles in today’s chapter. Go back to the beginning. Find the origin. To do that, he tells us to trace back the manifestations.

This doesn’t have to be a mystery. The manifestations are what he referred to back in chapter one. We can’t realize the mystery as long as we are caught in desire. But, we can see the manifestations. Once we are freed of desires, then we will realize the mystery. But, until then, we still have the manifestations.

What are the manifestations? In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu reminded us every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. When you recognize that all your fellow beings are Her children, you have found Mother.

Today, we are in between. We are still making distinctions. Treating the children, not as children, but as something other. No wonder there is such sorrow! We must see into, and through, this present darkness until we have clarity. What has been our long practice, we must forsake. Stop making distinctions! You have an inner strength, of which you have long been unaware. Know how to yield to it. Use your inner light to return to the source of light. It takes practice, but by this practice of eternity, your heart will find peace.

Let’s Talk Free Will

Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Let’s Talk Free Will

On Thursday of last week, in my commentary on chapter 49, I compared Thomas Jefferson’s idea of equality (that we are all endowed with the same natural, inalienable rights) with Lao Tzu’s idea of equality (that we shouldn’t make distinctions, instead treating everyone the same). In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches about what is in the very nature of every being.

In Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation, Lao Tzu doesn’t even make distinctions between different and diverse beings; saying, every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao.

Each springs into existence perfect and free. Though they enter this existence unconscious of their perfection and freedom, they take on a physical body and let circumstances complete them. In other words, letting circumstances complete us is as natural to us as taking on our physical bodies.

Lao Tzu says the Tao gives birth to all beings. He doesn’t mean this in a literal sense. He means it metaphorically. This is the way things are in our universe. We are nature’s creation. And, as we harmonize with nature, it nourishes us, maintains us, cares for us, comforts us, protects us; and, in the end, takes us back to itself.

Now, some might argue, “Where is the freedom in any of this? Do we even have a choice in the matter?

But, of course, Lao Tzu talks about this all of the time. He talks about going against the current of the Tao. Of not being in harmony with it. Of having forgotten it. So, do we really have free will? Of course, we do. And, we exercise it all of the time. Whenever we act according to our nature, and when we don’t.

The Tao isn’t a tyrant. It creates without possessing. It acts without expecting. It guides without interfering.

Those aren’t the actions of a tyrant.

What it is, instead, is love. Not a subjective love, which makes distinctions. But an objective love. The love of the Tao is in the very nature of things.

But, that means the love of the Tao is also in our very nature. The more you harmonize with it, the more you love it; and, the more you love all expressions of the Tao, your fellow beings in the universe.

You are free to choose. You can choose not to love. But, that goes against your very nature. And, when you choose to go against your nature, with nature itself, you can expect there to be dire consequences. Freedom always comes with consequences.

You are free to choose. So, choose wisely. Choose love.

Whatever the Moment Brings

The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 50, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Whatever the Moment Brings

Today’s chapter is one where Stephen Mitchell presents a rather unique interpretation. Unique, only because he pretty much ignores the repeated Chinese phrase “shih-yu-san.” But, because I have access to other translations which follow a bit more closely the original Chinese, we are going to address that particular phrase.

Here is Robert Brookes’ interpretation, which translates the Chinese “shih-yu-san,” three in ten.

“You originate in life, but always return to death.

Three in ten people focus too much on extending life.

Three in ten people focus too much on fearing death.

Three in ten people focus on living life to the fullest

and thus find an early death. Why is this so?

Because such people live to excess.

It is said of the one in ten who successfully preserve their life:

When traveling they do not fear the wild buffalo or the tiger.

When in the battlefield they avoid armor and weapons.

The wild buffalo can find no place to pitch its horns,

the tiger can find no place to sink its claws,

the soldier can find no place to thrust his sword.

Why is this so?

Because he has no place for death in his life.”

Okay, what is Lao Tzu teaching us, here?

In the last couple of days, Lao Tzu has talked about finally arriving at no action, and no mind. Today, he is talking about the delicate balance between life and death. What, I think, the Master attains is a state of no life and no death.

Robert Brookes talks about how nine in ten people experience a premature death, because they live life to excess. Either they focus too much on extending their life, or focus too much on fearing death, or focus too much on living life to the fullest. Each of these are extremes of one sort or another. A preoccupation with life, or a preoccupation with death. The Master is the one in ten who doesn’t live to excess. The one in ten who doesn’t focus on either life or death. And, because they have attained this state of no life and no death, they preserve their life.

I would say that the state of no life and no death is a state of mind; but, of course, the Master has “no mind,”, so it goes much deeper than that. It is who the Master is in the core of their being. It is a state of perfect harmony with the Tao.

As Stephen Mitchell says, you have given yourself up to whatever the moment brings. There is nothing you have left to hold on to. No illusions in your mind. No resistances in your body. All your actions simply flow from the core of your being, without any conscious effort or thinking involved.

“Whatever the moment brings” means neither life, nor death, could ever catch such a one unprepared for it.

Let’s Talk Equality

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Let’s Talk Equality

I remember it quite well, though it has been a long time since I was a freshman in college, sitting in an intro to political science course. That was the spring of 1982. And, our professor had us all working on an essay question, “What does equality mean? Specifically, what did Thomas Jefferson mean by the statement ‘All men are created equal.’” At that time, I didn’t even understand my own embryonic political philosophy had a name, libertarian. It wouldn’t be until my sophomore year I was introduced to Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose.

Since then, I have learned libertarians mostly have a love-hate relationship with the whole notion of equality. As I was sitting there trying to work on the essay question, I knew, I knew nothing of what equality was supposed to mean. Sadly, my own ignorance is still shared by many to this day. I remember my professor giving me a “C” on my essay question. And, his comment on it. “You sure seem to have a good grasp of what equality is not. But, what is it?” Over the years, I have often wanted a second shot at that essay question. Since it isn’t intended to mean “equality of outcome,” as some seem to think it should mean. And, it isn’t “equality of opportunity,” as others seem to think it should mean. And, I am not even fond of the standby “equality under the law.” Well, what is it?

What I should have done that day, long ago, is go back to the source of Thomas Jefferson’s words, the “Declaration of Independence,” and let him answer the question for himself. He did, you know.

He said we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights by our creator. And, then he went on to enunciate some of them. That, I think, was a big mistake. It wasn’t intended to be an exhaustive list. But, did he really need to start naming them? What is with that pursuit of happiness, anyway? And, at least some of our founders, Patrick Henry to name one, valued liberty over life itself. So, why list “life” first?

I could go on and on, and still end up with a “C” on my paper. But, this time I would conclude that equality means we all have the same inalienable rights. Not privileges given by the State, but rights we are all endowed with naturally. People will come along, as they have since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and try to enunciate what these rights might be. But, my answer will always be, if the “right” is something external to our nature, the “right” ain’t natural. So it isn’t inalienable. And, what of these governments, instituted among “men” to secure our liberties? A government can’t grant you life, it can only take it away. A government can’t grant you liberty, it can only take it away. And, a government can’t grant you happiness, it can only infringe on your pursuit of it.

But, what does any of this have to do with today’s chapter?

Gee, I am sure glad someone finally got around to asking me.

The reason I am talking about equality is because, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is talking about equality. I will leave it to you, my friends, to decide if Lao Tzu’s equality, and Thomas Jefferson’s, have anything to do with each other.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu contrasted the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of the Tao. As you will recall, the practice of the Tao is dropping a little something of your need to interfere, every day. Until you finally arrive at absolute zero action.

And, in today’s chapter Lao Tzu extends that to absolute zero mind of your own. Having no mind of your own, but working with the mind of the people. This, is what I consider the concept of equality for Lao Tzu.

The Master demonstrates true goodness by being good, not just to people who are good, but, also, to those who aren’t good. The Master demonstrates true trust by trusting not just those who are trustworthy, but, also, those who aren’t trustworthy. This is equality.

It isn’t out of pity the Master treats everyone the same. It is because the Master makes no distinction between good and bad.

It is that “making no distinction” that makes true equality possible. I think that is one thing that has annoyed me, before, about the whole notion of equality. My supposed “need” to make distinctions. But, when I arrive at no mind, I won’t make those distinctions any more. Your goodness, or lack thereof, your worthiness, or lack thereof, are no longer a consideration. Are you a human being? That is enough.

People don’t understand that. Having no mind, on the surface, appears to be out of your mind. Or, as Stephen Mitchell puts it, “a mind like space.” But, whether or not they think you are crazy, they will look to you and wait. Work with their minds. Treat them like you would your own children. Be patient with them. Show them the way.

Absolute Zero

In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Absolute Zero

Yesterday’s chapter, I acknowledged, had a certain anti-knowledge feel to it. Of course, I said, that was only on the surface. The problem is when we are looking outside ourselves, trying to acquire more knowledge, we run the danger of understanding less. To avoid that danger, Lao Tzu would have us know when to stop. He wants us to practice not-knowing, also known as knowing without knowing. Not knowing means not relying on external things. But, of course, there is still the knowing part. That is intuitive and spontaneous, and comes from within us.

I promised, yesterday, that Lao Tzu would contrast the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of the Tao. It is the simple difference between adding and subtracting, between increasing and diminishing.

The pursuit of knowledge, and the practice of the Tao, is an ongoing, a daily, thing. With the pursuit of knowledge, every day something must be added. But, with the practice of the Tao, every day something has to be dropped.

The practice of the Tao is very different, in this respect, from the pursuit of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge requires you do more and more. The practice of the Tao requires you do less and less.

Less and less do you need to force things. Less and less do you need to try to control. Less and less do you need to intervene. Less and less do you need to interfere.

While you are doing more and more, there is always more left to be done. But when you do less and less, there comes a time when you finally arrive at non-action. This reminds me a lot of a physics lesson I was teaching a couple of days ago. You can keep adding heat; there is apparently no limit with respect to increasing temperatures. But, there is a limit to how much heat that can be lost. Scientists call that coldest temperature, absolute zero.

Absolute zero is where I want to be when it comes to interference, to intervention, to forcing things, to trying to control. I want to arrive, finally, at non-action.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

Now, I know that is anathema to those with the will to power. But, their will to power has blinded them to the truth.

The truth is that true mastery can never be gained by interfering. It can only be gained by letting things go their own way.

Knowledge Without Understanding

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Knowledge Without Understanding

Today, I think I am going to just stick with Stephen Mitchell’s translation.

What Lao Tzu is teaching in today’s chapter isn’t something new for him. Back when he was talking about the heavy being the root of the light (chapter 26), he talked about how the Master can travel all day, without ever leaving home. And, in that chapter, he made quite clear, home is a metaphor for your heart.

Today, he says we don’t even have to open our door to open our heart to all the world has to offer us. The essence of the Tao can be seen without any need of looking out our window.

We have enough, we all have enough, within us. We don’t have to look outside our homes, outside ourselves. The concern Lao Tzu addresses today is that by looking outside our homes, outside ourselves, the knowledge we may gain ends up being counterproductive. The more you know, the less you understand. Lao Tzu sees an inverse relationship between distance and understanding. The further we roam, the less we understand.

Therefore, the Master doesn’t leave, and yet arrives; doesn’t look, but sees the light, doesn’t do a thing, yet achieves everything.

I know this chapter has a certain anti-knowledge feel to it. But, that is just on the surface. Look deeper. What Lao Tzu is really wanting us to understand is knowing without knowing. Not knowing means not relying on the external. But, he doesn’t leave us without knowledge. There is still knowing. A knowing that comes from inside of us.

He will talk more about this in tomorrow’s chapter, where he will contrast the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of the Tao.

The Contentment of Being Content

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Contentment of Being Content

It was never my intention to make my illness an object lesson. But, an object lesson it became for me, none the less. My strength had to wane, like our Moon, until it became empty, New. Then, and only then, did my strength begin to wax, again. I am not yet reached “Full Moon” strength. But, with each passing day, I wax stronger. Thank you all for your thoughts and well wishes. I am typing this up still well in advance of its Monday morning post; by then, I plan to be back to my normal chipper self. Until then, I am still quite happy to keep returning to Red Pine’s translation, with its collection of wise commentaries from sages from the last 2,000 years, for the continued assistance.

“When the Tao is present in the world

courier horses manure fields instead of roads

when the Tao is absent from the world

war horses are raised on the border

no crime is worse than yielding to desire

no wrong is greater than discontent

no curse is crueler than getting what you want

the contentment of being content

is true contentment indeed”

Once again, I don’t want to take anything away from Stephen Mitchell’s excellent translation, with its “factories making trucks and tractors” versus “warheads stockpiled outside the cities,” and its call to whoever can see through that “greatest of illusions,” fear. We will always, always, be safe, if we don’t succumb to the propaganda of fear; of which, we are constantly fed heaping portions.

But, I have long known Lao Tzu knew nothing of factories, trucks, tractors, and warheads. He did however know of horses. And he knew that whether they were bred for farm work or war, was a matter of whether the Tao was present or absent in our world. I also think Red Pine’s use of the word “border,” especially appropriate for our day.

Now, let’s check out those sages’ wisdom:

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “‘When the Tao is present’ means when the world’s rulers possess the Tao. In ordering their countries, they don’t use weapons, and they send courier horses back to do farm work. And in ordering themselves, they redirect their yang essence to fertilize their bodies.

YEN TSUN says, “The lives of the people depend on their ruler. And the position of the ruler depends on the people. When a ruler possesses the Tao, the people prosper. When a ruler loses the Tao, the people suffer.”

A theme which runs throughout the Tao Te Ching is Lao Tzu’s insistence that rulers are a given. I just don’t think he could imagine a world without rulers. But, he talked plenty on how these “necessary” rulers could be good, or even great, to the benefit of the people. And, he certainly tied the people’s suffering to poor governing.

WANG PI says, “When the Tao is present, contentment reigns. People don’t seek external things but cultivate themselves instead. Courier horses are sent home to manure fields. When people don’t control their desires, when they don’t cultivate themselves but seek external things instead, cavalry horses are bred on the borders.”

WU CH’ENG says, “In ancient times, every district of sixty-four neighborhoods was required to provide a horse for the army.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “A ‘border’ refers to the land between two states. When war horses are raised on the border, it means soldiers have not been home for a long time.”

I got a chuckle out of Chiao Hung feeling it necessary to explain what a border is. How quaint! But, what really struck me about the last three sages’ commentary is the similarities to today. Those of us who are non-interventionists recognize our present ruler’s focus is still on external things, when he talks of strengthening our borders to protect us from imaginary external threats. A policy that truly sought to put

America first would not be called isolationist. If we cultivated our own selves, instead of meddling in others’ affairs, we wouldn’t need to worry about our borders, and our “horses” could be put to work cultivating our own farm land.

THE YENTIEHLUN says, “It is said that long ago, before the wars with the Northern Hu and the Southern Yueh, taxes were low, and the people were well off. Their clothes were warm and their larders were stocked. Cattle and horses grazed in herds. Farmers used horses to pull plows and carts. Nobody rode them. During this period, even the swiftest horses were used to manure fields. Later, when armies arose, there were never enough horses for the cavalry, and mares were used as well. Thus, colts were born on the battlefield” (15).

We are all familiar with Randolph Bourne’s “War is the health of the State.” Its equivalent is this. “War is the impoverishment of the people.” I know this won’t be very PC to say, but I see a parallel, here, between armies having to resort to using mares, and women being used in combat. And, the high pregnancy rate among the enlisted, makes me ponder the question, “How many colts will be born on the battlefield?”

This is just a test. If I don’t get any hate for that last comparison, I will know who isn’t bothering to read my commentaries.

LI HSI-CHAI says, “When the ruler possesses the Tao, soldiers become farmers. When the ruler does not possess the Tao, farmers become soldiers. Someone who understands the Tao turns form into emptiness. Someone who does not understand the Tao turns emptiness into form. To yield to desire means to want. Not to know contentment means to grasp. To get what you want means to possess. Want gives birth to grasping, and grasping gives birth to possessing, and there is no end to possessing. But once we know that we do not need to grasp anything outside ourselves, we know contentment. And once we know contentment, there is nothing with which we are not content.”

LU HSI-SHENG says, “When the mind sees something desirable and wants it, even though it does not accord with reason – there is no worse crime. When want knows no limit, and it brings harm to others, there is no greater wrong. When every desire has to be satisfied, and the mind never stops burning, there is no crueler curse. We all have enough. When we are content with enough, we are content wherever we are.”

These two sure know how to pack a punch with their words of wisdom. But, for today, Lu Hsi-Sheng wins the prize. Look at just these four words “We all have enough.” All that remains is for us to be content with enough. This is the contentment of being content, and it is true contentment, indeed.

LU TUNG-PIN says, “To know contentment means the Tao prevails. Not to know contentment means the Tao fails. What we know comes from our minds, which Lao-tzu represents as a horse. When we know contentment, our horse stays home. When we don’t know contentment, it guards the border. When the Tao prevails, we put the whip away.”

See? I don’t think I am too far off with comparing horses with people. Lets keep our horses home, and put the whip away. (Unless that is your thing, and, then, only with consent).

Here is one final one. Then, I’ll stop before I get further behind.

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Material contentment is not contentment. Spiritual contentment is true contentment.”

Can this be settled, once, and for all time? Contentment isn’t about what material things you can accumulate, from the outside. It is about finding the treasure, you already have, on the inside.

Transcending the Mundane

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Transcending the Mundane

At least one positive thing has come from my forced weakness, my bout with the flu. And, that has been coming to an even greater appreciation for Red Pine’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, Thanks, once again, westdesertsage for recommending it to me. Red Pine’s translation is excellent, but more importantly to me, presently, has been the wisdom of the sages collected and included with each chapter. My affliction hasn’t just weakened me physically, I needed their help collecting my own thoughts, as well, for the last several days.

So, once again, I turn to Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter.

“Perfectly complete it seems deficient

yet it never wears out

perfectly full it seems empty

yet it never runs dry

perfectly straight it seems crooked

perfectly clever it seems clumsy

perfectly abundant it seems impoverished

active it overcomes cold

still it overcomes heat

those who know how to be perfectly still

are able to govern the world”

WU CH’ENG says, “To treat the complete as complete, the full as full, the straight as straight, and the clever as clever is mundane. To treat what seems deficient as complete, what seems empty as full, what seems crooked as straight, and what seems clumsy as clever, this is transcendent. This is the meaning of Lao-tzu’s entire book; opposites complement each other.”

Thank you, Wu Ch’eng, wherever you are. You gave me the inspiration for the title for my “commentary” today. It reminds me of something Lao Tzu said in another place (and I am paraphrasing), “True goodness isn’t being good just to the good, but to the not so good, also. True trust isn’t trusting just the trustworthy, but those who can’t be trusted, as well.” The point is, it takes a special virtue to treat the deficient, the empty, the crooked, and the clumsy, as perfectly complete, full, straight, and clever. It truly is a virtue that transcends the mundane.

LI NUNG-SHIH says, “What is most complete cannot be seen in its entirety, hence it seems deficient. What is fullest cannot be seen in its totality, hence it seems empty. What is straightest cannot be seen in its perfection, hence it seems crooked. What is cleverest cannot be seen in its brilliance, hence it seems clumsy.”

Which is why, of course, it is best to stop and take a step back from time to time, to look at things from different perspectives. Are we really seeing the whole picture? I have learned to always err on the side of caution, here. The answer to the question, “Are we really seeing the whole picture,” then, is “No, probably not.”

SU CH’E says, “The world considers what is not deficient as complete, hence complete includes worn out. It considers what is not empty as full, hence full includes exhausted. The wise, however, do not mind if what is most complete is deficient or what is fullest is empty. For what is most complete never wears out, and what is fullest never runs dry.”

We keep coming back to this same theme. The way “the mass of men” may judge a thing, does not make it so. As Thoreau so aptly pointed out, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Is that really how we want to lead our lives?

HAN FEI says, “Ordinary people employ their spirit in activity. But activity means extravagance, and extravagance means wastefulness. Those who are wise employ their spirit in stillness. Stillness means moderation, and moderation mean frugality.”

Now, we are really starting to get somewhere; toward that perfect stillness Red Pine refers to in today’s chapter.

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “We keep warm in winter by moving around. But sooner or later, we stop moving and become cold again. We keep cool in summer by sitting still. But sooner or later, we stop sitting still and become hot again. This is not the way of long life. This is how what is complete becomes deficient, what is full becomes empty, what is straight becomes crooked, and what is clever becomes clumsy. Those who seek balance should look for it in perfect stillness. Perfect stillness is the essence of the Tao. Those who achieve such balance are free from hot and cold.”

I just knew that Goldilocks was on to something in the cottage of the three bears. Perfect stillness, neither hot nor cold; it’s just right.

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Activity overcomes cold but cannot overcome heat. Stillness overcomes heat but cannot overcome cold. Perfect stillness or effortlessness doesn’t try to overcome anything, yet nothing in the world can overcome it. Thus is it said that perfect stillness can govern the world.”

Bingo! Don’t try to overcome anything, and nothing will be able to overcome you. I would only add, the reason it is said that perfect stillness can govern the world is because perfect stillness, in reality, does govern the world.

I could stop right there. But, Red Pine adds one more sage’s wise words. Perhaps you have heard of him.

CONFUCIUS says, “Those who govern with virtue are like the North Star, which remains in its place, while the myriad stars revolve around it.”

Props to Confucius. He got it. If we want to govern well, we need to know our place, and remain in it.

This is What Happens When You Don’t Know When to Stop

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This is What Happens When You Don’t Know When to Stop

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside (warm, because I just can’t manage to break this fever; fuzzy, because of the itch in my throat), but except for still being sick with the flu, I was feeling quite happy that Stephen Mitchell didn’t have me choosing between sickness and health in his translation of Lao Tzu, today. But, then I read through Red Pine’s translation…

“Which is more vital

fame or health

which is more precious

health or wealth

which is more harmful

loss or gain

the deeper the love

the higher the cost

the bigger the treasure

the greater the loss

who knows contentment

thus suffers no shame

and who knows restraint

encounters no trouble

while enjoying a long life”

While I have never had a problem with Stephen Mitchell’s translation, and I am certainly not rejecting it by including Red Pine’s translation, in my current state of health (or lack thereof as is the case currently), Red Pine’s translation certainly resonates more with me, today. Making me even more happy!

Red Pine certainly has Lao Tzu very concerned with our health. Indeed, the welfare of our bodies is what is at risk when we pursue fame or fortune to excess. Lao Tzu has talked before of the importance of knowing when to stop. Knowing when to stop, we can avoid all danger. And, today, the danger to our body’s health is front and center.

This certainly got my attention, since I have been sick with the flu for the last five days. This morning I got out of bed after a fitful rest all night. And, I have felt the weakest I have felt in a long time. My son, unbeknownst to me, must be paying a whole lot of attention to Lao Tzu, and my commentaries. Because he read me the riot act this morning: I was still doing too much. I needed to get some serious bed rest. I wasn’t going to get well again, until I did. He might as well have told me, “You don’t know when to stop. That is why you didn’t avoid danger.” Okay, okay, I get it. What would I give to have my health restored? It is so much more vital to me, than mere fame. And, more precious to me, than all the wealth in the universe.

I have spent a good deal of my day flat on my back, trying to recover a bit more strength. My son gets all of his wisdom from me, hehe. So, of course, I followed his sage advice. And, now, I am finally able to sit up and start typing.

Let’s take a look at the wisdom of the sages from the last 2,000 years, Red Pine includes with this translation. I know I am still playing the part of the weak, here. You will just have to excuse me, until I fully recover my health.

HUANG MAO-TS’AI says, “What the world calls fame is something external. And yet people abandon their bodies to fight for it. What the world calls wealth is unpredictable. And yet people sacrifice their bodies to possess it. How can they know what is vital or precious? Even if they succeed, it’s at the cost of their health.”

SSU-MA KUANG says, “Which is more harmful; to gain wealth and fame and lose one’s health or to gain one’s health and lose wealth and fame?”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Heroes seek fame and merchants seek wealth, even to the point of giving up their lives. The first love fame because they want to glorify themselves. But the more they love fame, the more they lose what they would really glorify. Hence, the cost is high. The second amass wealth because they want to enrich themselves. But the more wealth they amass, the more they harm what they would truly enrich. Hence, the loss is great. Meanwhile, those who cultivate Virtue know the most vital thing is within themselves. Thus, they seek no fame and suffer no disgrace. They know the most precious thing is within themselves. Thus, they seek no wealth and encounter no trouble. Hence, they live long.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “If we love something, the more we love it, the more it costs us. If we treasure something, the more we treasure it, the more it exhausts us. A little of either results in shame. A lot results in ruin. And regret comes too late. People who are wise are not like this. They know that they have everything they need within themselves. Hence, they do not seek anything outside themselves. Thus, those who would shame them find nothing to shame. They know their own limit, and their limit is the Tao. Hence, they don’t act unless it is according to the Tao. Thus, those who would trouble them find nothing to trouble. Hence, they survive and, surviving, live long.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Excessive sensual desire exhausts our spirit. Excessive material desire brings us misfortune. The living keep their treasures in storerooms. The dead keep their treasures in graves. The living worry about thieves. The dead worry about grave robbers. Those who know contentment find happiness and wealth within themselves and don’t exhaust their spirit. If they should govern a country, they don’t trouble their people. Thus, they are able to live long.”

HUAI-NAN-TZU says, “Long ago Chih Po-ch’iao attacked and defeated Fan Chung-hsing. He also attacked the leaders of the states of Han and Wei and occupied parts of their territories. Still, he felt this wasn’t enough, so he raised another army and attacked the state of Yueh. But Han and Wei counterattacked, and Chih’s army was defeated near Chinyang, and he was killed east of Kaoliang. His skull became a drinking bowl, his kingdom was divided among the victors, and he was ridiculed by the world. This is what happens when you don’t know when to stop” (Huainantzu:18).

This concludes the wisdom of the sages regarding today’s chapter. I wish you all good health. I am going to go back and lie down again.

I Would Rather Not Speak

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions;
that is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I Would Rather Not Speak

I continue to be sick with the flu, so I am going to take the only logical course of action, short of not writing today’s blog post. I am going to post Red Pine’s translation. And then let the collected wisdom of sages from the last 2,000 years take it from there.

“The weakest thing in the world

overcomes the strongest thing in the world

what doesn’t exist finds room where there’s none

thus we know help comes with no effort

wordless instruction

effortless help

few in the world can match this”

LAO-TZU says, “Nothing in the world is weaker than water / but against the hard and the strong / nothing outdoes it” (Taoteching: 78)

WANG TAO says, “Eight feet of water can float a thousand-ton ship. Six feet of leather can control a thousand-mile horse. Thus does the weak excel the strong. Sunlight has no substance, yet it can fill a dark room. Thus, what doesn’t exist enters what has no cracks.”

Concerning the first two lines, HUAI-NAN-TZU says, “The light of the sun shines across the four Seas but cannot penetrate a closed door or a covered window. While the light of the spirit reaches everywhere and nourishes everything.” Concerning the second couplet, he says, “Illumination once asked Non-existence if it actually existed or not. Nonexistence made no response. Unable to perceive any sign of its existence, Illumination sighed and said, ‘I, too, do not exist, but I cannot equal the nonexistence of Nonexistence’” (Huainantzu: 12).

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Things are not actually things. What we call ‘strong’ is a fiction. Once it reaches its limit, it returns to nothing. Thus, the weakest thing in the world is able to overcome the strongest thing in the world. Or do you think the reality of nonexistence cannot break through the fiction of existence?”

WANG PI says, “There is nothing breath cannot enter and nothing water cannot penetrate. What does not exist cannot be exhausted. And what is perfectly weak cannot be broken. From this we can infer the benefit of no effort.”

SU CH’E says, “If we control the strong with the strong, one will break, or the other will shatter. But if we control the strong with the weak, the weak will not be exhausted, and the strong will not be damaged. Water is like this. If we use existence to enter existence, neither is able to withstand the other. But if we use nonexistence to enter existence, the former will not strain itself, while the latter will remain unaware. Spirits are like this.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “‘What doesn’t exist’ refers to the Tao. The Tao has no form or substance. Hence, it can come and go, even where there is not any space. It can fill the spirit and help all creatures. We don’t see it do anything, and yet the ten thousand things are transformed and completed. Thus, we realize the benefit to Humankind of no effort. Imitating the Tao, we don’t speak. We follow it with our bodies. Imitating the Tao, we don’t act. We care for ourselves, and our spirits prosper. We care for our country, and the people flourish. And we do these things without effort or trouble. But few can match the Tao in caring for things by doing nothing. Lao-Tzu’s final ‘in the world’ refers to rulers.”

YEN TSUN says, “Action is the beginning of chaos. Stillness is the origin of order. Speech is the door of misfortune Silence is the gate of blessing.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Words mean traces. Traces mean knowledge. Knowledge means presumption. Presumption means involvement. And involvement means failure.”

One day CONFUCIUS said, “I would rather not speak.” Tzu-kung asked, “If you do not speak, what will we have to record?” Confucius replied, “Does Heaven speak? The seasons travel their course, and creatures all flourish. What does Heaven say?”

There are so many things I would like to say about these words of wisdom. I could speak of “the reality of nonexistence” as opposed to “the fiction of existence”, or the benefit of no effort, or maybe how weakness always, always, overcomes the strongest thing. But, having been overcome by weakness, and realizing, I don’t need any of the chaos produced by action, or the door of misfortune opened by speech, I am going to follow the sage advice of Confucius, “I would rather not speak.”