Hiding the Light

“What you would shorten
you first should lengthen
what you would weaken
you first should strengthen
what you would topple
you first should raise
what you would take
you first should give
this is called hiding the light
the weak conquering the strong
fish can’t survive out of the depths
a state’s greatest weapon
isn’t meant to be shown”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 36, translation by Red Pine)

TE-CH’ING says, “Once things reach their limit, they go the other way. Hence, lengthening is a portent of shortening. Strengthening is the onset of weakening. Raising is the beginning of toppling. Giving is the start of taking. This is the natural order for Heaven as well as for Humankind. Thus, to hide the light means the weak conquer the strong. Weakness is the greatest weapon of the state. But rulers must no show it to their people. Deep water is the best place for a fish. But once it is exposed to the air, a fish is completely helpless. And once rulers show weakness, they attract enemies and shame.”

LU HUI-CH’ING SAYS, “To perceive shortening in lengthening, weakening in strengthening, toppling in raising, taking in giving, how could anyone do this if not through the deepest insight? This is the hidden light. Moreover, what causes things to be shortened or lengthened, weakened or strengthened, toppled or raised, taken or given is invisible and weak. While what is shortened or lengthened, weakened or strengthened, taken or given is visible and strong. Thus, the weak conquer the strong. People should not abandon weakness, just as fish should not leave the depths. When fish leave the depths, they are caught. When people abandon weakness, they join the league of the dead.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Hiding the light’ is the same as ‘cloaking the light.’” (See verse 27.).

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING say, “According to the way of the world, the weak don’t conquer the strong. But Lao-tzu’s point is that the weak, can conquer the strong by letting the strong do what they want until they become exhausted and thus weak. Those who cultivate the Tao speak softly and act with care. They don’t argue about right or wrong, better or worse. They understand the harmony of Heaven and Earth, the Way of emptiness and stillness, and become adept at using the hidden light.”

CHANG TAO-LING says, “The Tao is like water. People are like fish.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “The sage is the world’s greatest weapon but not one that is known to the world” (Chuangtzu: 10.3).

HAN FEI says, “Rewards and punishments are the state’s greatest weapon.”

What is the state’s greatest weapon? Is it their strength? Is it fear? The world thinks so. But, I think Lao-tzu is on to something, here. They don’t realize their greatest weapon; for if they did, how very different things would be. Red Pine notes, at the conclusion of the commentaries, that “the strong still rule the day.” But, weakness will conquer strength. It is only a matter of time. It is nature’s way.

Things wax, and then they wane. This might not be something my fellow libertarians want to hear. After all, we are ready to see it wane. We are ready for the State to topple. It will, my friends. As Lao-tzu said elsewhere, “Tyrants never choose their death” (Taoteching 42.). And, the way to hasten it is to let them exhaust themselves. They will succumb to weakness. It is nature’s way. Slower than we may like. But, painfully efficient. I grew up in the Bible Belt, and we heard a lot about not hiding your light under a bushel. But, this is one light we need to hide.

Plain Words That Make No Sense

“Hold up the Great Image
and the world will come
and be beyond harm
safe and serene and at peace
fine food and song
don’t detain guests long
thus the Tao speaks
plain words that make no sense
we look but don’t see it
we listen but don’t hear it
yet we use it without end”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 35, translation by Red Pine)

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “Here ‘hold’ means to hold without holding, to hold what cannot be held.”

HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “The great Image is the Great Way, which gives birth to Heaven and Earth and all creatures. It is called ‘great’ because it encompasses everything.”

LI JUNG says, “The Great Image has no form. What has no form is the great and empty Way. To ‘hold’ means to focus or to keep. Those who can keep their body in the realm of Dark Virtue and focus their mind on the gate of Hidden Serenity possess the Way. All things come to them. Clouds appear, and all creatures are refreshed. Rain pours down, and all plants are nourished. And these blessings come from such a subtle thing.”

WU CH’ENG says, “To come to no harm means to be protected. But when people turn to sages, sages use no protection to protect them. If they protected people with protection, protection and harm would both exist. But by protecting people with no protection, people are always protected and kept from harm.”

LU TUNG-PIN says, “Unharmed, our spirit is safe. Unharmed, our breath is serene. Unharmed, our nature is at peace.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Sages rule the world through selflessness. All things come to them because they are one with all things. And while they forget themselves in others, others forget themselves in them. Thus, all things find their place, and there are none that are not at peace.”

CHANG TAO-LING says, “What the Tao says is the opposite of the mundane or the clever. Most people find it completely senseless. But within its senselessness, there is great sense. This is what sages savor. The Tao prefers simplicity of form and a minimum of expression. Hence, it is hard to see and hard to hear and also hard to follow. But those who can follow it and use it enjoy limitless blessings.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “A great person’s words are plain like water. A small person’s words are sweet like wine. The plainness of a great person brings people closer, while the sweetness of a small person drives them apart. Those who come together for no reason, separate for no reason” (Chuangtzu: 20.5).

SU CH’E says, “Banquets and entertainment might detain visitors, but sooner or later the food runs out, the music ends, and visitors leave. If someone entertained the world with the Great Image, no one would know how to love it, much less hate it. Although it has no taste, shape, or sound with which to please people, those who use it can never exhaust it.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “If someone used the Tao to govern the country, the country would be rich, and the people would be prosperous. If someone used it to cultivate themselves, there would be no limit to the length of their life.”

And, RED PINE adds, “The Great Image is Te, or Virtue, the manifestation of the Tao.”

In the last verse, Lao-tzu said the Tao doesn’t speak; in today’s verse, he says the Tao speaks. How do we reconcile this? In the last verse, the Tao doesn’t speak to make any claim for itself. In today’s verse, it speaks, but not with eloquent words. Instead, it speaks plain words that make no sense.

We tend to prefer eloquence. Show. Pretense. Guests in our home are treated to fine food and song. But, these don’t detain our guests for long. Instead of making an outward show, Lao-tzu teaches us to cultivate our inner self. We look but don’t see it. We listen but don’t hear it. Why? Because, it isn’t out there. It is inside of us. Plain words that make no sense. They make no sense to those whose focus is on what is external. Yet, if we use it, we can use it without end.

I am a Leaf on the Wind

“The Tao drifts
it can go left or right
everything lives by its grace
but it doesn’t speak
when its work succeeds
it makes no claim
it has no desires
shall we call it small
everything turns to it
but it wields no control
shall we call it great
it’s because sages never act great
they can thus achieve great things”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 34, translation by Red Pine)

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “To drift means to be unrestrained. The Tao is neither yin nor yang, weak nor strong. Unrestrained, it can respond to all things and in any direction. It isn’t one-sided. As Chuang-tzu says, ‘the Tao has no borders’ (Chuangtzu: 2.5).

CHUANG-TZU says, “”Those who are skilled toil, and those who are clever worry. Meanwhile, those who do not possess such abilities seek nothing and yet eat their fill. They drift through life like unmoored boats” (Chuangtzu: 32.1).

WANG PI says, “The Tao drifts everywhere. It can go left or right. It can go up or down. Wherever we turn, it’s there for us to use.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The Great Way is a watery expanse that extends to the eight horizons. But when we use it, it’s as close as our left or right hand. There is nothing that doesn’t depend on it for life, and yet it never speaks of its power. There is nothing that doesn’t happen without its help, and yet it never mentions its achievements.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Outside of the Tao there are no things. Outside of things there is no Tao. The Tao gives birth to things, just as wind creates movement or water creates waves.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Although living things might be infinite in number, the Tao creates them all through the mystery of doing nothing. It doesn’t mind making so many. And it creates them without thinking about its power.”

WANG P’ANG says, “When the Tao becomes small, it doesn’t stop being great. And when it becomes great, it doesn’t stop being small. But all we see are its traces. In reality, it is neither small nor great. It can’t be described. It can only be known.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The Tao produces all things, and all things turn to it. It’s like the sea. All streams empty into it, and yet it doesn’t control them.”

Commenting on lines eight and eleven, WU CH’ENG SAYS, “Even though there are no question indicators, these are questions and not statements, just as in verse 10. If we can call something great, it isn’t the Tao.”

SU CH’E says, “Those who are great and think themselves great are small.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “The Tao hides in what has no name, and sages embody it through what has no name. They don’t consider themselves great, and yet no one is greater, for they can go left or right. Hence, they are neither small nor great. And because they are neither small nor great, they can do great things.”

Just two verses ago, Lao-tzu talked about our need for self restraint, in today’s verse he talks about the Tao drifting. And, one of our commentators informs us “To drift means to be unrestrained.” So, what gives?

It reminds me of a conversation I had, with my father, many years ago. I was home on one of my breaks from college and I was sharing some of my “newfangled” ideas regarding libertarianism. You know, things like “Drugs and prostitution should be decriminalized.” It was a bit too much to take for my conservative father, who informed me, “The reason we have laws restraining us is because people won’t restrain themselves.” Ah, the classical conservative argument.

This could easily move over into the realm of “What comes first, the chicken or the egg,” because I have long wondered how anyone can be expected to practice self-restraint without first having all outward restraints removed, while my father feared the consequences of testing out my theories.

And, I am afraid I spent more than my allotted time just trying to convince my father I wasn’t wanting these prohibitions removed just so I could freely imbibe in drugs and prostitution.

The point is, I get it. And, Lao-tzu got it. External restraints are bad. Internal restraints are good. And, if we are going to be a “leaf on the wind,” (my apologies to my fellow “Firefly” fans, I know it is still too soon) we best practice internal restraint. Then, we will know what it is to be unrestrained. Those who are unrestrained become restrained. Those who are restrained become unrestrained.

Inside and Out

“Those who know others are perceptive
those who know themselves are wise
those who conquer others are forceful
those who conquer themselves are strong
those who know contentment are wealthy
those who strive hard are resolved
those who don’t lose their place endure
those who aren’t affected by death live long”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 33, translation by Red Pine)

SU CH’E says, “Perception means to distinguish. Wisdom means to remove obstructions. As long as our distinguishing mind is present, we can only know others, but not ourselves.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Perception is external knowledge. Wisdom is internal knowledge. Force is external control. Strength is internal control. Perception and force mislead us. Wisdom and strength are true. They are the doors to the Tao.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “If someone can conquer others, it is only by using force. If someone can conquer their own desires, no one in the world can compete with them. Hence, we call them strong.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The strength of those who conquer themselves is of ten kinds: the strength of faith, the strength of charity, the strength of morality, the strength of devotion, the strength of meditation, the strength of concentration, the strength of illumination, the strength of wisdom, the strength of the Way, and the strength of Virtue.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Elsewhere, Lao-tzu extols simple-mindedness and weakness over wisdom and strength. Why then does he extol wisdom and strength here? Wisdom and strength are for dealing with the inside. Simple-mindedness and weakness are for dealing with the outside.”

WANG P’ANG says, “The natural endowment of all beings is complete in itself. Poverty does not reduce it. Wealth does not enlarge it. But fools abandon this treasure to chase trash. Those who know contentment pay the world no heed. This is true wealth. Mencius said, ‘The ten thousand things are all within us’ (Mencius: 7A.4). How could we not be wealthy?”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Although the Great Way might be far off, if we persevere without pause, we advance. We get closer and closer, until suddenly we become one with the Way. Whoever has a goal can do anything. Outside, be content with your lot. Inside, focus on the Way Those who do this cannot help but live long.”

WANG PI says, “Those who strive with devotion reach their goal. Those who examine themselves and work within their capacity don’t lose their place and are able to endure. Although we die, the Tao that gave us life doesn’t perish. Our body disappears, but the Tao remains. If our body continued to survive, would the Tao not end?”

TE-CH’ING says, “Our ‘place’ is like the position of the North Star. It refers to our nature.”

CONFUCIUS says, “Those who govern with Virtue are like the North Star, which remains in its place, while the myriad stars revolve around it” (Lunyu: 2.1).

LU NUNG-SHIH sya, “Before we distinguish life and death, they share the same form, the tenthousand things dwell in the same house. Our body is like the shell of a cicada or the skin of a snake: a temporary lodging. The shell crumbles but not the cicada. The skin decays but not the snake. We all have something real that survives death.”

KUMARAJIVA says, “Not to live in living is to endure. Not to die in dying is to live long.”

And, RED PINE adds, “Although the ch’iang-hsing (striving hard) of line six seems at odds with Lao-tzu’s dictum of wu-wei, “doing nothing/effortlessness,” commentators are agreed that here it refers to inner cultivation and not to the pursuit of worldly goals.”

The various commentators say it so well, I hardly have anything to add. Lao-tzu is comparing and contrasting those whose life focus is on the external, with those whose life focus is on the internal. If we are to know true contentment, and be truly wealthy, we must focus on the interior, giving no heed to the external.

Red Pine introduces the following sage today:

KUMARAJIVA (344-413). Native of the Silk Road kingdom of Kucha and greatest of all translators of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese.

It is Beyond Anyone’s Command

“The Tao remains unnamed
simple and though small
no one can command it
if a lord upheld it
the world would be his guest
when Heaven joins with Earth
they bestow sweet dew
no one gives the order
it comes down to all
the first distinction gives us names
once we have a name
we should show restraint
who knows restraint avoids trouble
to picture the Tao in the world
imagine a stream and the sea”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 32, translation by Red Pine)

WANG P’ANG says, “The Tao has no body. How could it have a name?”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We call it ‘simple’ because it hasn’t been cut or polished. We call it ‘small’ because it’s faint and infinitesimal. Those who can see what is small and hold on to it are rare indeed.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “‘Simple’ means the natural state. When it expands, it’s everywhere. When it contracts, it isn’t as big as the tip of a hair. Hence, even though it’s small, it’s beyond anyone’s command.”

WANG PI says, “If people embrace the simple and work without effort and don’t burden their true nature with material goods or injure their spirit with desires, all things will come to them on their own, and they will discover the Tao by themselves. To discover the Tao, nothing is better than embracing simplicity.”

JEN FA-JUNG says, “In terms of practice, if people can be serene and natural, free themselves from desire, and put their minds at rest, their yin and yang breaths will come together on their own and penetrate every artery and organ. Inside their mouths, the saliva of sweet dew will appear spontaneously and nourish their whole body.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “When a ruler acts, the first thing he does is institute names.”

HSUN-TZU says, “Now that the sages are gone, names and reality have become confused” (Hsuntzu: 2).

TE-CH’ING says, “What is simple has no name. Once we make something, we give it a name. But name gives rise to name. Where does it end? Hence, Lao-tzu tells us to stop chasing names.”

LI JUNG says, “The child who depends on its mother suffers no harm. Those who depend on the Tao encounter no trouble.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The Tao has no name, but as Virtue it does. Thus, from nothing we get something. But Virtue is not far from the Tao. If we stop there, we can still go from something back to nothing and return to the Tao. Thus, the Tao is like the sea, and Virtue is like a stream, flowing back into the Tao.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Although Heaven and Earth are high and low, they join together and send down sweet dew. No one makes them do so. And there is no one who does not benefit. Although the Tao separates into things, and each thing has its name, the Tao never abandons anything. Thus, the breath of rivers eventually reaches the sea, and the breath of the sea eventually reaches rivers.”

LAO-TZU says, “The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers / is because it has mastered being lower” (Taoteching: 66).

Command and control. That is the nature of the beast, Leviathan, the State. But, the more they reach out to grasp, the more they try to hold and control, the more they tighten their grip, the more it slips through their fingers. It is beyond anyone’s command.

There is a natural order. Things simply fall into place. This happens spontaneously, and you know this intuitively. But, try to control it, try to intervene and interfere with this natural order, and everything falls into chaos.

That is why it is so important to know restraint. Practice restraining your self, and you can avoid all trouble.

Is This Winning?

“Weapons are not auspicious tools
some things are simply bad
thus the Taoist shuns them
in peace the ruler honors the left
in war he honors the right
weapons are not auspicious tools
he wields them when he has no choice
dispassion is the best
thus he doesn’t praise them
those who praise their use
enjoy killing others
those who enjoy killing others
achieve no worldly rule
thus we honor the left for happiness
we honor the right for sorrow
the left is where the adjutant stands
the commander on the right
which means as at a funeral
when you kill another
honor him with your tears
when the battle is won
treat it as a wake”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 31, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “In times of decadence and disorder, we use weapons to defend the people.”

SU CH’E says, “We take up weapons to rescue the distressed and not as a matter of course.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The system of ritual devised by the ancient kings treated the right as superior and the left as inferior. Being superior, the right represented the Way of Victory. Being inferior, the left represented the way of Humility. But victory entails death and destruction. Hence, those on the right were in charge of sad occasions, while those one the left were in charge of happy events.”

JEN FA-JUNG says, “‘Left’ refers to the east and the power of creation, while ‘right’ refers to the west and the power of destruction.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “When Tibetans, Huns, or other tribes invade our borders, the ruler has no choice but to respond. But he responds as would to a gnat. He does not act in anger. The greatest victory involves no fighting. Hence, dispassion is the best policy.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Sun-tzu discussed in detail the use of strengths and weaknesses and of direction and indirection in warfare. But he did not understand their basis (Sunzu Pingfa: 5-6). Lao-tzu says dispassion is the best policy, because it secures victory without a display. This might seem odd, but dispassion means to rest, and rest is the root of victory. Meanwhile, passion means to act, and action is the basis of defeat.”

KING HSIANG OF LIANG asked Mencius, “How can the kingdom be pacified?” Mencius answered, “The kingdom can be pacified by uniting it.” King Hsiang asked, “But who can unite it?” Mencius answered, “One who does not delight in killing others can unite it” (Mencius: 1A.6).

LI JUNG says, “The ancients used weapons with compassion. They honored them for their virtue and disdained them as tools. Once the enemy was defeated, the general put on plain, undyed clothes, presided over a funeral ceremony, and received the mourners.”

If Lao-tzu keeps repeating the same thing, it must be something important for us to understand. What he said back in verse 24, he repeats again in today’s verse: Some things are simply bad, thus we would shun them. Today, he repeats another phrase twice, and in the same verse: “Weapons are not auspicious tools.” What that means is it doesn’t bode well for those who use them when not forced to. That is why he goes on to say to only wield them when you have no choice. Weapons are a tool. And, tools have a purpose. But, know that that purpose is violence. As he said in yesterday’s verse, “Such things have repercussions.”

I remember well what Stephen Mitchell’s translation said of these repercussions. Violence always rebounds on one’s self. The counter force which always accompanies the use of force is not something we should ignore. Ignoring laws of physics won’t make them go away.

For those of you who have been following Kyle Anzalone’s daily news roundups and thrice weekly podcasts, Kyle was talking recently about America’s push toward “First Strike” capabilities with our nuclear weapons. Meaning, believing we can defy the laws of physics by dealing such a devastating blow to our enemy, they won’t be able to strike back. This is just the sort of thinking, I think Lao-tzu has in mind with today’s verse. And, as in yesterday’s verse where Lao-tzu laments those who can’t win without being proud, without being vain, without being cruel.

Here is something I think we should all be asking ourselves: Is this winning?

KING HSIANG (FL. 4TH C. B.C.) was the ruler of the small state of Liang (now Kaifeng) and son of King Hui.

It is Best to Win Then Stop

“Use the Tao to assist your lord
don’t use weapons to rule the land
such things have repercussions
where armies camp
brambles grow
best to win then stop
don’t make use of force
win but don’t be proud
win but don’t be vain
win but don’t be cruel
win when you have no choice
this is to win without force
virility leads to old age
this isn’t the Tao
what isn’t the Tao ends early”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 30, translation by Red Pine)

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “A kingdom’s ruler is like a person’ heart: when the ruler acts properly, the kingdom is at peace. When the heart works properly, the body is healthy. What enables them to work and act properly is the tao. Hence, use nothing but the Tao to assist the ruler.”

LI HSI-CHAI, quoting Mencius (7B.7), says, “‘If you kill someone’s father, someone will kill your father. If you kill someone’s brother, someone will kill your brother.’ This is how things have repercussions.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The external use of soldiers and arms returns in the form of vengeful enemies. The internal use of poisonous thoughts come back in the form of evil rebirths.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Humankind’s retribution is clear, while Heaven’s retribution is obscure. Where an army spends the night, brambles soon appear. In an army’s wake, bad years follow. This is the retribution of Heaven.”

WANG CHEN, paraphrasing Suntzu Pingfa (2.1), says, “To raise an army of a hundred thousand requires the daily expenditure of a thousand ounces of gold. And an army of a hundred thousand means a million refugees on the road. Also, nothing results in greater droughts, plagues, or famines than the scourge of warfare. A good general wins only when he has no choice, then stops. He dares not take anything by force.”

MENCIUS says, “Those who say they are great tacticians or great warriors are, in fact, great criminals” (Mencius: 7B2-3).

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “To win means to defeat one’s enemies. To win without being arrogant about one’s power, to win without being boastful about one’s ability, to win without being cruel about one’s achievement, this sort of victory only comes from being forced and not from the exercise of force.”

SU CH’E says, “Those who possess the Tao prosper and yet seem poor. They become full and yet seem empty. What is not virile does not become old and does not die. The virile die. This is the way things are. Using an army to control the world represents the height of strength But it only hastens old age and death.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Once plants reach their height of development, they wither. Once people reach their peak, they grow old. Force does not prevail for long. It isn’t the Tao. What is withered and old cannot follow the Tao. And what cannot follow the Tao soon dies.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Those who possess the Way are like children. They come of age without growing old.”

LAO-TZU says, “Tyrants never choose their death” (Taoteching: 42).

And RED PINE adds, “It isn’t the Tao that ends early, for the Tao has no beginning or end.”

This verse is yet another one where I could point out how very different governing using the Tao is from the way we are governed by the powers that be. They insist on using force, weapons, in an attempt to rule the land. But, Lao-tzu teaches, “Such things have repercussions.” Make special note of the quote of Sun-tzu (author of “The Art of War), regarding some of these repercussions. And, note also the quote of Mencius regarding another repercussion, which Ron Paul popularized as “blowback.”

It is best to win then stop. What does Lao-tzu mean by this? Where armies camp brambles grow. Armies camping signifies they haven’t stopped. They are an occupying force. They still occupy the land, and the land becomes no longer fertile. Only brambles grow.

They make a show of their virility. Full of pride. Full of vanity. Full of cruelty. And, they grow old. They wither. They die. It would have been better if there had been no standing army. It would have been better had they been forced to win, rather than winning through the use of force.

In today’s verse, Lao-tzu teaches us to use the Tao to assist our lord. Not to use weapons in an attempt to rule the land. When he says “lord,” here, I am reminded of an earlier verse (25), where Lao-tzu talked about the four great powers, and how these four great powers relate to each other. The Tao is the lord of Heaven, while the Heaven is the lord of Earth, and the Earth is the lord of humankind.

Heaven provides for Earth what the Tao provides for Heaven. And Earth provides for humankind what Heaven and the Tao bestows on it. When we wrong our lord, by using weapons to rule the land, Heaven takes its retribution on us. Earth’s abundant resources wane when they would otherwise be waxing.

It is best to win then stop.

I See This Not Succeeding

“Trying to govern the world with force
I see this not succeeding
the world is a spiritual thing
it can’t be forced
to force it is to harm it
to control it is to lose it
sometimes things lead
sometimes they follow
sometimes they blow hot
sometimes they blow cold
sometimes they expand
sometimes they collapse
sages therefore avoid extremes
avoid extravagance
avoid excess”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 29, translation by Red Pine)

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “We can’t control something as insignificant as a mustard seed. How can we control something as big as the world?”

TE-CH’ING says, “Those who would govern the world should trust what is natural. The world cannot be controlled consciously. It is too big a thing. The world can only be governed by the spirit, not by human strength or intelligence.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Spiritual things respond to stillness. They cannot be controlled with force.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “The world as a thing is a spiritual thing. Only the spiritual Tao can control a spiritual thing. Spiritual things don’t think or act. Trying to control them with force is not the Way.”

WANG CHEN says, “‘Force’ refers to the mobilization and deployment of troops. But the world’s spirit cannot be controlled with weapons.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Sages consider their body as transitory and the world as its temporary lodging. How can they rule what is not theirs and lose the true and everlasting Way?”

SU CH’E says, “The interchange of yin and yang, of high and low, of great and small is the way things are and cannot be avoided. Fools are selfish. They insist on having their own way and meet with disaster. Sages know they cannot oppose things. They agree with whatever they meet. They eliminate extremes and thereby keep the world from harm.”

WU CH’ENG says, “How do those who gain control of the world keep the world from harm? Sages understand that things necessarily move between opposites but that there is a way to adjust this movement. Things that prosper too much must wither and die. By keeping things from prospering too much, they keep them from withering and dying.”

WANG PI says, “Sages penetrate the nature and condition of others. Hence, they respond to them without force and follow them without effort. They eliminate whatever misleads or confuses others so that their minds become clear and each realizes their own nature.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Resting where you are eliminates extremes. Treasuring simplicity eliminates extravagance. Being content with less eliminates excess.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Sages get rid of extremes with kindness. They get rid of extravagance with simplicity. They get rid of excess with humility. By means of these three, sages govern the world.”

HSUEH HUI says, “What Lao-tzu means by ‘extremes,’ by ‘extravagance,’ and by ‘excess’ is not what people mean nowadays. Lao-tzu means whatever involves an increase in effort beyond what is easy.”

And, RED PINE adds, “Lao-tzu’s word for the world is tien-hsia (under Heaven) – all that we see when we look down from on high.”

Now, we get to the good stuff. At least, that is what I used to think, when we came to a part in the Taoteching where Lao-tzu is talking about governing. Now, I get to climb on my soap box and rail against the State.

But, while Lao-tzu does, in fact, give me plenty of ammunition against the State, I am finding myself more and more inclined to be less and less polemic. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

So, instead of launching into a polemic against the State, I would like to talk to individuals, about how they govern themselves.

Trying to govern your own world by force, I see this not succeeding. Your own world, your own life, how you interact in the world at large, that is a spiritual thing. In Stephen Mitchell’s translation, he calls it a “sacred” thing. I like that. Sacred. You need to be sacrosanct in how you go about living your own life.

Using force. Trying to control. Interfering with the natural order. Intervening in the affairs of others. All of that is looking outside of ourselves. Focusing on the external, to the detriment of the inner sanctum, your own true self.

Instead, Lao-tzu advises us to recognize how things come and go, naturally. Leading and following, blowing hot and blowing cold, expanding and collapsing. Everything happens in its time. Don’t try to force it. Don’t try to control it.

So, avoid extremes, avoid extravagance, avoid excess. Avoid these things with kindness, with simplicity, with humility. Avoid anything which involves an increase in effort beyond what is easy. Rest. Treasure simplicity. Be content with a simple life.

Immortal Virtue

“Recognize the male
but hold on to the female
and be the world’s maid
being the world’s maid
don’t lose your Immortal Virtue
not losing your Immortal Virtue
be a newborn child again
recognize the pure
but hold on to the base
and be the world’s valley
being the world’s valley
be filled with Immortal Virtue
being filled with Immortal Virtue
be a block of wood again
recognize the white
but hold on to the black
and be the world’s guide
being the world’s guide
don’t stray from your Immortal Virtue
not straying from your Immortal Virtue
be without limits again
a block of wood can be split to make tools
sags make it their chief official
a master tailor doesn’t cut”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 28, translation by Red Pine)

TE-CH’ING says, “To recognize the Way is hard. Once your recognize it, holding on to it is even harder. But only by holding on to it can you advance on the Way.”

MENCIUS says, “The great person does not lose their child heart” (Mencius: 4B:12).

WANG TAO says, “Sages recognize ‘that’ but hold on to ‘this.’ ‘Male’ and ‘female’ mean hard and soft. ‘Pure’ and ‘base’ mean noble and humble. ‘White’ and ‘black’ mean light and dark. Although hard, noble, and light certainly have their uses, hard does not come from hard but from soft, noble does not come from noble but from humble, and light does not come from light but from dark. Hard, noble, and light are the secondary forms and farther from the way. Soft, humble, and dark are the primary forms and closer to the Way. Hence, sages return to the original: a block of wood. A block of wood can be made into tools, but tools cannot be made into a block of wood. Sages are like blocks of wood, not tools. They are the chief officials and not functionaries.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “What has no limits is the Tao.”

CONFUCIUS says, “A great person is not a tool” (Lunyu: 2.12).

CHANG TAO-LING says, “To make tools is to lose sight of the Way.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Before a block of wood is split, it can take any shape. But once split, it cannot be round if it is square or straight if it is curved. Lao-tzu tells us to avoid being split. Once we are split, we can never return to our original state.”

PAO-TING says, “When I began butchering, I used my eyes. Now I use my spirit instead and follow the natural lines” (Chuangtzu: 3.2).

WANG P’ANG says, “Those who use the Tao to tailor leave no seams.”

Lao-tzu has called it Dark Virtue, and Empty Virtue. Now he refers to it as Immortal Virtue. Because it is dark and empty, it is hard to recognize; but once you recognize it, it is even harder to hold on to. Why is this? Is it not because we are ephemeral, while it is immortal? The Tao is limitless, while we are limited. This is why we must constantly be returning to our original nature. Like a maiden. Like a newborn child. Like a valley. We can be filled, if only we will allow ourselves to be empty. Be like that block of wood. There are no limits as to what kind of tools in which it can be shaped. Don’t be a tool. Be that block of wood. See things as they originally are. That block of wood. Whatever your trade, be it a butcher cutting into meat, or a tailor cutting into cloth. Be one with it.

Long time followers of my blog might remember a time when I posted one of Chuang-tzu’s stories, the one about the knife-wielding cook. PAO-TING was that knife-wielding cook. (Chuangtzu: 3.2).

Five Good Things

“Good walking leaves no tracks
good talking contains no flaws
good counting counts no beads
good closing locks no locks
and yet it count be opened
good tying ties no knots
and yet it can’t be undone
sages are good at saving others
therefore they abandon no one
nor anything of use
this is called cloaking the light
thus the good instruct the bad
and the bad learn from the good
not honoring their teachers
or cherishing their students
the wise alone are perfectly blind
this is called peering into the distance”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 27, translation by Red Pine)

LU TUNG-PIN says, “‘Good’ refers to our original nature before our parents were born. Before anything develops within us, we possess this goodness. ‘Good’ means natural.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are good at walking find the Way within themselves, not somewhere outside. When they talk, they choose their words. When they count, they don’t go beyond one. When they close, they close themselves to desire and protect their spirit. When they tie, they secure their mind.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Sages move through the world with an em[ty self and accept the way things are. Hence, they leave no tracks. They do not insist that their own ideas are right and accept the words of others. Hence, they reveal no flaws. They do not care about life and death, much less profit and loss. Hence, they count no beads. They do not set traps, yet nothng escapes them. Hence, they use no locks. They are no kind, yet everyone flocks to them. Hence, they tie no knots.”

WANG PI says, “These five tell us to refrain from acting and to govern things by relying on their nature rather than on their form.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The salvation of sages does not involve salvation, for if someone is saved, someone is abandoned. Hence, sages do not save anyone at all. And because they do not save anyone, they do not abandon anyone. To ‘cloak’ means to use an outer garment to cover an inner garment. If the work of salvation becomes apparent, and people see it, it cannot be called good. Only when it is hidden is it good.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The good always cloak their light.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “The good are like water. Free of impurity and without effort on their part, they show people their true likeness. Thus, they instruct the bad. But unless students can forget the teacher, their vision will be obscured.”

SU CH’E says, “Sages do not care about teaching. Hence, they do not love their students. And the world does not care about learning. Hence, people do not honor their teachers. Sages not only forget the world, they make the world forget them.”

And, RED PINE adds, “Lao-tzu apparently took his own advice regarding teachers and students, all of whom remain nameless.”

Lao-tzu has talked about things which are simply bad, before. Today he talks about five good things. Of course, since the things which are simply bad are doing things which are unnatural, the things which are good are doing things according to our nature. The good instruct the bad and the bad learn from the good; but, what is this about not honoring their teachers, nor cherishing their students? Lao-tzu has explained this before, as well. The idea, here, is that our actions shouldn’t be forced, in other words, unnatural. It is when our honoring and cherishing is done out of pretense. Remember, we need to get rid of all pretense. Hence, it is the wise, alone, who are perfectly blind. They don’t make distinctions. Thus, through cloaking their light, they peer into the distance.