What More Can Be Said?

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 75, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What More Can Be Said?

One of my all-time favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching; yet, it still never fails to frustrate me. What more can be said than Lao Tzu’s words of wisdom? Thankfully, for me, I now have Red Pine’s translation, and the wisdom of the sages offering their own commentary. Let’s see if I can remain silent, and leave the commentating to them.

“The reason people are hungry

is that those above levy so many taxes

this is why they are hungry

the reason people are hard to rule

is that those above are so forceful

this is why they are hard to rule

the reason people think so little of death

is that those above think so much of life

this is why they think little of death

meanwhile those who do nothing to live

are more esteemed than those who love life”

DUKE AI approached YU JUO: “The year is one of famine, and my revenues are wanting. What am I to do?” Yu Juo replied, “Return to the 10 percent rate of taxation.” Duke Ai said, “But I cannot get by on 20 percent. How will I survive on 10 percent?” Yu Juo replied, “When the people don’t want, why should the ruler want. When the people want, why should the ruler not want?” (Lunyu: 12.9).

WANG PI says, “The people hide and disorder prevails because of those above, not because of those below. The people follow those above.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “If those above take too much, those below will be impoverished. If those above use too much force, those below will rebel. This is a matter of course. When people think their own life is more important, and they disregard the lives of others, why should others not treat death lightly? Sages don’t think about life unless they are forced to.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Robbers and thieves arise from hunger and cold. If people are hungry and have no means to live, they have no choice but to steal. When people steal, it’s because those above force them. They force people to turn to stealing and then try to rule with cleverness and laws. But the more laws they make, the more thieves appear. Even the threat of the executioner’s ax doesn’t frighten them. And the reason people aren’t frightened by death is that those above are so concerned with life.”

SU CH’E says, “When those above use force to lead the people, the people respond with force. Thus do complications multiply and the people become hard to rule.”

WANG CHEN says, “‘Forceful’ refers to the ruler’s love of might and arms. But once arms prevail, disorder is certain.”

HUAI-NAN-TZU says, “The reason people cannot live out their allotted years and are sentenced to death in midlife is that they think so much of life. Meanwhile, those who do nothing to stay alive are able to lengthen their lives” (Huai-nantzu: 7).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Only those who do nothing to stay alive, who aren’t moved by titles or sinecures, who aren’t affected by wealth or advantages, who refuse to serve the emperor or run errands for lesser lords—they alone are more esteemed than those who love life.

YEN TSUN says, “The Natural Way always turns things upside down. What has no body lives. What has a body dies. To be alive and to seek advantages is the beginning of death. Not to be alive and to get rid of advantages is the beginning of life. Those who don’t work to live live long.”

WANG TAO says, “The meaning of the last two lines [those who do nothing to live are more esteemed than those who love life] is: If I didn’t have this body of mine, what worries would I have?”

WANG P’ANG says, “If you understand only one of these three [the reason people are hungry, the reason people are hard to rule, and the reason people think so little of death], you can understand the other two.”

Yeah, they nailed it!

If you really want to act for the people’s benefit, trust them; and leave them alone.

Should We Be Afraid of Dying?

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Should We Be Afraid of Dying?

As much as I love Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching, there are times where I think he doesn’t quite get the nuance of what Lao Tzu is saying. I have noticed this, more and more, as I have acquainted myself with other translations my followers have brought to my attention. Last year, I had a follower point me to Robert Brookes’ excellent interpretation. And, you probably noticed, I began to refer to it again and again. This year, I had a different follower introduce me to Red Pine’s translation. I can’t begin to measure the impact it has had on my understanding. Between Red Pine’s more literal reliance on the ancient Chinese text, and the commentary by sages down through the centuries, it has become invaluable to me. While I don’t always quote from either of those works, I do always read through them, and think about what they have to say about the particular chapter on which I am working. In the last few chapters, I have noticed a marked difference between Stephen Mitchell’s and the other two. That difference has become the most profound, in today’s chapter.

In reading through today’s chapter, it seems to me like Stephen Mitchell is advocating not fearing death. After all, if you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t achieve. And, that is true, in a manner of speaking. However, I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu is actually meaning to say in this chapter.

Let’s just contrast the three interpretations of that one line. Stephen Mitchell says, “If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t achieve.” Robert Brookes says, “If the people do not fear death, how can the threat of death frighten them?” And, Red Pine says, “If people no longer fear death what good is threatening to kill them”.

I am going to be so bold as to offer my own interpretation, which I came up with after reading the three others. After reading yesterday’s chapter, where Lao Tzu was comparing daring to act with death, and daring not to act with life, having no fear of death, or dying, should best be understood as emboldening you to dare to act, where a fear of dying would restrain you. In other words, we should fear death. We don’t, which is why we dare to act. But, oh how things would be better for us, if we dared not to act.

The shortened version would be, “If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you won’t dare to do.” That is close to what Stephen Mitchell says. But his choice of the phrase “nothing you can’t achieve”, is far too positive in its connotations.

Now, let me paraphrase the whole chapter.

All things change. We need to realize this. And, we need to restrain ourselves from acting: from intervening, from interfering, from trying to control. Let change happen. Trying to control the future is like trying to take the place of a master carpenter. You don’t fear death, so you probably don’t fear cutting your hand, either. But, you should.

Dare Not to Act

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Dare Not to Act

The Tao is always at ease. But, how does that translate into being at ease in our own lives? Is it something we can only attain after years of hard work, and wise investing? Is there some formula which always guarantees success? Or, does it happen only by chance, or to a lucky few, those on whom fortune smiles kindly. To answer these questions, I turned to Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter. And, when I got to the commentaries, included with the translation, I ran up against centuries of ancient Chinese mysticism. Will fortune smile on me today? A much better question might be, why do we need to fall back on mystical elements to try and explain the mystery?

“Daring to act means death

daring not to act means life

of these two

one benefits

the other harms

what Heaven dislikes

who knows the reason

the Way of Heaven

is to win without a fight

to answer without a word

to come without a summons

and to plan without a thought

the Net of Heaven is all-embracing

its mesh is wide but nothing escapes”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Everyone knows about daring to act but not about daring not to act. Those who dare to act walk on the edge of a knife. Those who dare not to act walk down the middle of a path. Of these two, walking on a knife-edge is harmful, but people ignore the harm. Walking down the middle of a path is beneficial, but people are not aware of the benefit. Thus it is said, ‘People can walk on the edge of a knife but not down the middle of a path’” (Chungyung: 9).

SU CH’E says, “Those who dare to act die. Those who dare not to act live. This is the normal pattern of things. But sometimes those who act live, and sometimes those who don’t die. What happens in the world depends on fortune. Sometimes what should happen doesn’t. The Way of Heaven is far off. Who knows where its likes and dislikes come from?”

There it is. What I feared has come upon me. “What happens in the world depends on fortune”? Before I say anything about this one sentence in Su Ch’e’s commentary, I just want to say, that save for that one line, I think Su Ch’e is spot on. Sometimes bad things do happen to people who “deserve” much better. And sometimes fortune does seem to smile on those who we might judge unworthy of their good fortune.

But, is that really what is happening? Is life really a crap shoot?

I am not a religious Taoist. I am a philosophical Taoist. And, by that I mean, I don’t subscribe to luck, or fortune, or praying to my ancestors. I see that as looking outside my own self for answers. And, I don’t see the need. I don’t think that is the heart of Lao Tzu’s teachings.

The heart of Lao Tzu’s teachings is in naming the laws which govern our Universe an impersonal, impartial Tao. The Tao doesn’t take sides. It gives birth to both good and evil. Yet, it isn’t a crap shoot, whether you are going to be visited by good or evil in your life. But, the eternal reality is that we can’t know it. So, why try to explain it? Just be.

I do like what Su Ch’e says, otherwise. “The Way of Heaven is far off. Who knows where its likes and dislikes come from?” I would only ask that we not attribute it to fortune. The Tao isn’t capricious. The way things are are simply the way things are.

I don’t know, maybe I am making a mountain out of a mole hill, here. The rest of the commentators explain it much better than I can, anyway.

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The mechanism whereby some live and others die is obscure and hard to fathom. If sages find it difficult to know, what about ordinary people?”

YEN TSUN says, “Heaven does not consider life in its schemes or death in its work. It is impartial.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Loosely viewed, the hard and the strong conquer the soft and the weak. Correctly viewed, the soft and the weak conquer the hard and the strong. Hence, the hard and the strong are what Heaven dislikes.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Because sages do not kill others lightly, evildoers slip through their nets, but not through the Net of Heaven. Heaven does not use its strength to fight against evildoers as Humanity does, and yet it always triumphs. It does not speak with a mouth as Humanity does, and yet it answers faster than an echo. It does not have to be summoned but arrives on its own. Evil has its evil reward. Even the clever cannot escape. Heaven is unconcerned and unmindful, but its retribution is ingenious and beyond the reach of human plans. It never lets evildoers slip through its net. Sages do not have to kill evildoers. Heaven will do it for them.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Yin and yang take turns. The four seasons come and go. The moon waxes and wanes. All things have their time. They don’t have to be summoned to come.”

LI HUNG-FU says, “It wins because it doesn’t fight. It answers because it doesn’t speak. It comes because it isn’t summoned. If it had to fight to win, something would escape, even if its mesh were fine.”

The answer, my friends, is in daring not to act. That is why I dare you not to act. Let the Tao be at ease in your own life. And, you will be at ease in your own life, too.

Pick This Over That

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Pick This Over That

Yesterday, I started off a new week by admitting I don’t know. I would go so far as to suggest that when compared to vast oceans of knowledge, my own knowledge is but a thimble full. And, that might be exaggerating things a bit upward. Now, when I consider how little I know, what that produces in me, I think, is a healthy sense of awe. That is, awe, in the classical sense of the word; in other words, fear. This isn’t the kind of fear which Lao Tzu characterized in chapter 13 as a phantom, which only arises because I am thinking of the self as self. And, it isn’t a fear which has me afraid of trusting myself, either.

That might be surprising. After all, if you know you don’t know, how can you trust yourself? You could be wrong, right? But, that would be falling into the trap of thinking of the self as self, again; and, then fear would only be a phantom.

No, my fear isn’t in my own limitations. My awareness of my own limitations keeps me humble. And, being humble, I don’t reach for the great. And thus, I can trust myself to succeed at whatever little thing I set out to do.

How much better that is, than to “turn to religion” which is another way of saying “depend on some outside authority.”

I don’t mean to offend my religious friends and family. I only mean to say our reliance on the State is like a religion. It is faith-based, and given the evidence, without reason.

I am digging myself a hole, and I may never be able to extricate myself. Time to put down the shovel, and take a few steps back, so people won’t be confused.

I need to go back to talking about fear, again. If I am not afraid of myself, what am I afraid of?

What I fear is authority. Particularly the external kind. And, to better explain Lao Tzu’s teaching, I am going to stop teaching, and turn to Red Pine’s translation, with its ensuing commentaries. The thimbles of these sages are much bigger than mine.

“When people no longer fear authority

a greater authority will appear

don’t restrict where people dwell

don’t repress how people live

if they aren’t repressed

they won’t protest

sages therefore know themselves

they love themselves

but don’t exalt themselves

thus they pick this over that”

WU CH’ENG says, “The authority we fear is what shortens years and takes lives. The ‘greater authority’ is our greater fear, namely death. When people no longer fear what they ought to fear, they advance their own death until the greater fear finally appears.”

WANG P’ANG says, “When people are simple and their lives are good, they fear authority. But when those above lose the Way and enact all sorts of measures to restrict the livelihood of those below, people respond with deceit and are no longer subdued by authority. When this happens, natural calamities occur and misfortunes arise.”

WANG CHEN says, “When ordinary officials and the common people have no fear, punishment occurs. When ministers and high officials have no fear, banishment occurs. When princes and kings have no fear, warfare occurs.”

WEI YUAN says, “‘Where people dwell’ refers to conditions such as wealth and poverty. ‘How people live’ refers to physical activities, such as toil and rest. When people think that their dwellings or lives are not as good as others’, they feel embarrassed and thus restricted, restricted and thus repressed. And when they feel repressed, they protest against ‘this’ and seek ‘that,’ not knowing that once their desire is fulfilled, what they fear comes close behind.”

WANG PI says, “In tranquility and peace is where we should dwell. Humble and empty is how we should live. But when we forsake tranquility to pursue desires and abandon humility for authority, creatures are disturbed, and people are distressed. When authority cannot restore order, and people cannot endure authority, the link between those above and those below is severed, and natural calamities occur.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “They know what they have and what they don’t have. They don’t display their virtue outside but keep it hidden inside. They love their body and protect their essence and breath. They don’t exalt or glorify themselves before the world. ‘That’ refers to showing and glorifying themselves. ‘This’ refers to knowing and loving themselves.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “‘That’ refers to external things. ‘This’ refers to one’s inner reality.”

And, finally, RED PINE adds, “Authority refers to a power outside us. Sages aren’t concerned with acquiring or exercising such a power. The power of sages arises naturally from the cultivation of themselves.”

I am not going to pick up that shovel and start digging again. Instead, I am going to leave you alone with that wisdom, in the hope you will pick this over that.

I Don’t Know

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I Don’t Know

Why is it so difficult to admit we don’t know? I don’t know. Maybe there is a better question I should be asking. Why don’t we know we don’t know? I don’t know that, either. Oh, I have some ideas with regard to both of those questions. But, I also don’t want to be guilty of presuming I know, when I don’t really know. Still, I could offer some conjecture. But, please understand, this is only conjecture on my part.

Is it the absence of humility? Sure, pride could be a major cause of our troubles. It has been our downfall often enough. And, Lao Tzu certainly prizes humility as one of our three greatest treasures.

But, I am not going to offer up any proof of this. I am only guessing, after all. Once again, I don’t want to presume I know.

Presuming I know, that Lao Tzu characterizes as a disease in today’s chapter. Maybe that is another plausible explanation for why we don’t know we don’t know; and, if we don’t know we don’t know, we certainly couldn’t be expected to admit it.

We are afflicted with a disease. But, that sounds almost a little too handy of an excuse. Like, I can’t help myself. I have an illness. Don’t blame me. I am sick. My oh my, the trouble I can stir up with talk like this, if I am not careful. Perhaps, it would be better to admit I don’t know. Yes, to know without thinking I know would be best. To not know, but think I do, could lead to disaster.

On the other hand, if we were to realize we were sick, couldn’t we then move toward health? That seems reasonable enough. Unless, of course, someone got the “bright idea” this sickness was incurable. You will always have this disease. No moving toward health, then.

I tend to think, and once again, this is only conjecture, I am only offering possibilities, here; but maybe, we can move toward health, as long as we keep in mind we are prone to think we know, when we really don’t.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches that knowing we don’t know is true knowledge. In other words, true wisdom is healing yourself of all presumption that you know. And, if you are truly wise, you will keep on “taking your medicine,” always being humble enough to realize you don’t know what you think you know.

That just might be the only way to to be truly whole.

Learning How to Yield

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your own heart.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Learning How to Yield

I entitled yesterday’s post “Know How to Yield.” But today I want to admit, “knowing how to yield” was something I personally struggled with for quite some while. It seemed easy enough to understand, and to put into practice; but, try as I might, I found it incredibly difficult.

The answer stared me right in the face as I read through today’s chapter, over and over again. I was the one making it difficult. I was trying to grasp at understanding with my intellect. And, I was trying (using effort) to put it into practice. That is what doomed me to failure.

Finally, I gave up. Literally. That is what I did. I threw up my hands in surrender. Having stopped trying to not do, and knowing I didn’t know, I had my solution. Oh, there was a little more to it than that. I also took some time to patiently look inside my own heart. There, I found darkness.

Darkness in my own heart?

Your intellect will tell you that must be a bad thing. But, what I found wasn’t all bad. Sure, I saw my own proclivity to want to do something. I saw my desire to intervene and interfere, to try to force things, to dominate, to control. And, I didn’t like what I was seeing. It almost made me want to turn away, in disgust. But, I peered deeper into that darkness, and I discovered something else.

I discovered my own light. Perhaps, you might call it my better angel. It was pretty much the yin to the yang I had first found. That, I have been nurturing over the many months since I discovered it.

I haven’t always succeeded at this. Sometimes, I get all worked up, and yang prevails. But, more and more, yin complements that. It doesn’t take me as long to realize when I have made a mistake, and not too much longer to admit it, and then correct it. I spend a lot of time sitting alone out in my back yard, just being, rather than trying to become. I have learned how to yield, the virtue of minding my own business, the virtue in compassion, moderation, and humility. And, you know what? I am content.

Know How to Yield

The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’

This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Know How to Yield

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu talked about guarding and protecting our three greatest treasures. These three greatest treasures being virtues, which by our practice of them, we accord with the way things are. Chief among these treasures is compassion. But the other two, moderation and humility, are pillars of support to assist us in being compassionate. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu warns against losing everything our three greatest treasures afford us.

How could this happen?

It could happen if we underestimate our enemy.

Underestimating the enemy, thinking too little of them, we might be inclined to strike first, to initiate aggression. It would be better to wait and see what our opponent does, but who among our rulers has the patience for that?

It is this lack of patience which concerns me. It has always concerned me.

Why? Because the history of US foreign policy is full of examples of what their impatience has motivated them to do. When the political will wasn’t ripe for initiating aggression, our rulers circumvented that impediment to their wish to embroil us all in a war by provoking the enemy to make the mistake of striking first, or at least seemingly striking first.

Then, the way is made clear to really underestimate the enemy. The propagandists, having been chomping at the bits for some time, can finally subvert the people into thinking the enemy is evil.

This is a great misfortune, Lao Tzu calls it the greatest of misfortunes; and, it has been visited on us repeatedly over something like two hundred some odd years of history. Since, before the War of 1812.

The results have been devastating. Destroying our three greatest treasures. What made us great, when we were great. Compassion? Moderation? Humility? These never stood a chance, when dreams of Empire were on our rulers’ minds.

When will we ever learn? When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one who knows how to yield.

The Virtue of Minding My Own Business

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Virtue of Minding My Own Business

One of the many things I love about philosophical Taoism is that it offers, what I consider, practical advice on how to be content. If we aren’t content, it is because we don’t know when enough is enough. I talked yesterday about eating way too much, and suffering the obvious results of excess. I was too full. I was bloated. I was miserable. It is hard to be content when you have gotten yourself into such a state. I knew exactly why I was in such a state. And, I have, without a doubt, learned my lesson; until the next time I fail to know when enough is enough (note to self, half-orders are sufficient).

It really is simple. We (I) just make it difficult. That difficulty, that struggle, is my segue into today’s chapter.

Two chapters ago Lao Tzu talked about the Master. In Stephen Mitchell’s translation Lao Tzu said, “Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.” In Robert Brookes’ translation Lao Tzu said, “Because he does not contend, the world is not able to resist him. And, I especially like Red Pine’s translation: “Because they don’t struggle, no one can struggle against them.”

Which leads me to ask the question, “Why are we (why am I) struggling? If I wasn’t struggling, if I wasn’t contending, if I wasn’t competing, who could struggle, resist, or compete with me?

Onward to today’s chapter, where Stephen Mitchell embraces the virtue of non-competition. What Robert Brookes calls the virtue of non-contending. And Red Pine (I dearly love this one), “the virtue of non-aggression.”

What is the virtue of non-aggression? If you don’t commit acts of aggression against others, as a rule, they won’t commit acts of aggression against you. Now, obviously I know there are exceptions to that rule. Please don’t flood my inbox with all the times you were just minding your own business and someone came up and punched you in the face. I probably won’t believe you. But, even if you had someone commit an act of aggression against you, when you were behaving peacefully, and non-aggressively, that is still an exception, and not the rule.

The reason I preach non-aggression, non-intervention, not interfering, not using force, or trying to control, is because the rule is the rule, in spite of a few exceptions which change nothing. Lao Tzu calls it the way things are. It is the way things are. Violence, however well-intentioned it might be, always rebounds on the one who is violent. All force has its counter-force. If someone comes up and punches you in the face. You either had it coming, or someone really thought you did. That, of course, doesn’t preclude your right to respond to force with your very own counter-force. I won’t begin to suggest you don’t have the right to defend yourself. Just keep in mind that violence, even justified retaliatory violence, has a way of rebounding. You might want to consider whether the struggle is worth it.

Why struggle, why contend, why compete?

The rule is still the rule. When you contend with no one, no one can contend with you. Resistance really is futile.

So, I was reading through the various commentaries included with Red Pine’s translation, today. I was still thinking of the metaphor of fullness vs emptiness. And, I came across this timely tidbit of advice for anyone wanting to not struggle, not contend, not compete.

KUMARAJIVA says, “Empty your body and mind. No one can fight against nothing.”

This emptying of body and mind, relates to both our actions and our thoughts. If we do nothing, say nothing, think nothing, there will be nothing, no grounds, for conflict.

The virtue of minding my own business never made more sense to me.

If Only I Had Valued Emptiness or, I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

If Only I Had Valued Emptiness or, I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing

I have really struggled with coming up with my commentary for today’s chapter. At first, I thought it was because I have cycled through these chapters something close to 18 times previously, and I am feeling kind of in a funk wondering, what more can I say about this? That was before my son and I went out to eat at a local Mexican restaurant, and I had way too much to eat, apparently not knowing when to stop to avoid the danger which would ensue. That danger being, that hours later, I am still feeling bloated. What was I thinking? Lao Tzu teaches so plainly on the virtue of emptiness. And, here I am standing at my computer typing, while being quite full.

Having complained enough about my present difficulties, I do want to say I am quite indebted to both Robert Brookes, for his excellent interpretation of today’s chapter, and the commentaries included with Red Pine’s translation.

Robert Brookes has a bit of a different take on today’s chapter, from that of Stephen Mitchell. Let’s take a look at his interpretation:

“The world calls my teaching great, and like nothing else.

Because it is great it seems useless.

If it seemed useful, how long ago would it have disappeared!

I have three treasures, guard and preserve them:

The first is compassion.

The second is moderation.

The third is humility.

The compassionate have the power to be brave,

the frugal can afford to be generous.

One who does not dare to be first can therefore succeed and endure.

If you renounce compassion but try to be brave;

if you forsake frugality but try to be generous;

if you discard humility but try to lead –

things are sure to end in failure.

Mercy in battle brings victory.

Compassion in defense brings invulnerability.

As this is in accord with nature, nature is the protector.”

Perhaps you can identify with the actual “funk” I find myself in. Have you ever thought to yourself, “These people wouldn’t understand greatness, if it hit them over the head with a two by four”?

No, I am not advocating committing an act of violence. Whenever these thoughts start swirling around in your head, I recommend taking a step back. And, taking a deep breath. Or ten.

Still, can we all agree that the world can’t have a proper appreciation for Lao Tzu’s teachings? They think it’s great, but useless. The problem according to Su Ch’e, “The world honors daring, exalts ostentation, and emphasizes progress.” Let that sink in.

To the world, that is what it means to be great. But, Lao Tzu’s “greatness” is nothing like this. Once again, let me quote Su Ch’e. “What the sage treasures is patience, frugality, and humility, all of which the world considers useless.”

Three teachings. Three treasures. Stephen Mitchell’s says they are simplicity, patience, and compassion. Robert Brookes’ calls them compassion, moderation, and humility. And Red Pine’s says they are compassion, austerity, and reluctance to excel. Different ways of saying the same thing.

As Robert Brookes says, if we practiced being compassionate, we would have the power to be brave. If we practiced being frugal, we could afford to be generous. If we practiced humility, not daring to be before or above others, everything we did would succeed and endure. But, because we renounce compassion, while trying to be brave; because we forsake frugality, while trying to be generous; because we discard humility, while trying to lead – all of these things are sure to end in failure.

What motivates me to put down that two by four, before busting someone up the side of their head, is knowing mercy is what will bring me victory; for, compassion makes me invulnerable. As I act in accord with nature, nature is in accord with me.

A Good Dose of Humility, aka Reality

All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 66, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A Good Dose of Humility, aka Reality

I have been on something of a non-intervention kick for sometime. But, as we kick off a new week, I want to remind my readers the whole reason I stress non-intervention, so much, is because it makes governing so much easier. It is easier, both for those doing the governing, and for those who are being governed. Lao Tzu has been instructing those who wish to be great leaders, in the art of governing, for the last several chapters. Today’s is no different. Today, he stresses the importance of humility in governing. And, given how out of whack our priorities in governing currently are, our “leaders” could sure use a good dose of humility, aka reality, right about now.

I am thinking of an article I saw last Friday. Kyle Anzalone pointed it out to me. The link to it was included in his news roundup on Friday. As I recall, it was reported by BBC news. And, the gist of the article was one of our generals “gloating” about one of our 3 million dollar Patriot missiles taking out a $200 drone. I believe his exact words were, “It [referring to the drone] didn’t stand a chance.” With that kind of wasteful spending, is it any wonder the present administration doesn’t think we have enough money left over to continue funding the “Meals on Wheels” program, at the current levels? Look, I get the common argument from conservatives, the constitution says that the government is supposed to provide for the common defense, and only promote the general welfare. And, I really don’t wish to get into an argument over that.

But, I will say, given our already astronomical spending on the military industrial complex, and Trump’s wishes to expand it by another 54 billion dollars (did I get the right number of zeros in that number?), I think we passed the bounds of providing for the common defense many times over, quite a long time ago.

And, especially so, when Lao Tzu clearly teaches that if we minded our own business, taking care of our own people, and not meddling in the affairs of others, we wouldn’t need to be on the defensive, at all. 20 trillion dollars in debt and we are spending money like there is no tomorrow. Sadly, tomorrow is only a day away. And, I am beginning to wonder if the sun, indeed, will come out.

I could go on and on with this, but I really need to get back to the subject of humility in governing. So, without further ado, here is Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter. The ensuing commentaries are so spot on, I won’t presume to add my own commentary to them.

“The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers

is because it has mastered being lower

thus it can govern a hundred rivers

hence if sages would be above the people

they should speak as if they were below them

if they would be in front

they should act as if they were behind them

thus when sages are above

the people aren’t burdened

when they are in front

the people aren’t obstructed

the world never wearies

of pushing sages forward

and because they don’t struggle

no one can struggle against them”

YEN TSUN says, “Rivers don’t flow toward the sea because of its reputation or its power but because it does nothing and seeks nothing.”

TE-CH’ING says, “All rivers flow toward the sea, regardless of whether they are muddy or clear. And the sea is able to contain them all because it is adept at staying below them. This is a metaphor for sages, to which the world turns because they are selfless.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “When sages possess the kingdom, they speak of themselves as ‘orphaned, widowed, and impoverished’ or ‘inheritor of the country’s shame and misfortune.’ Thus, in their speech, they place themselves below others. They do not act unless they are forced. They do not respond unless they are pushed. They do not rise unless they have no choice. Thus, in their actions, they place themselves behind others.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When sages rule over the people, they don’t oppress those below with their position. Thus, the people uphold them and don’t think of them as a burden. When sages stand before them, they don’t blind them with their glory. Thus, the people love them as parents and harbor no resentment. Sages are kind and loving and treat the people as if they were their children. Thus, the whole world wants them for their leaders. The people never grow tired of them because sages don’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something. But no one struggles against those who don’t struggle against anything.”

SU CH’E says, “Sages don’t try to be above or in front of others. But when they find themselves below or behind others, the Tao can’t help but lift them up and push them forward.”

YANG-HSIUNG says, “Those who hold themselves back are advanced by others. Those who lower themselves are lifted by others’ (Fayen: 7).

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The people aren’t burdened when sages are above them, because the people aren’t aware they have a ruler. And the people aren’t obstructed when sages are before them, because sages aren’t aware the people are their charges.”

WANG CHEN says, “Through humility sages gain the approval of the people. Once they gain their approval, they gain their tireless support. And once they have their tireless support, struggling over rank naturally comes to an end.”