To Stand Aloof or To Step In

“Where the government stands aloof
the people open up
where the government steps in
the people slip away
happiness rests in misery
misery hides in happiness
who knows where these end
for nothing is direct
directness becomes deception
and good becomes evil
the people have been lost
for a long time
thus the sage is an edge that doesn’t cut
a point that doesn’t pierce
a line that doesn’t extend
a light that doesn’t blind”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 58, translation by Red Pine)

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “To stand aloof is to be relaxed and unconcerned. To open up is to be simple and honest. The ruler who governs without effort lets things take care of themselves.”

WANG PI says, “Those who are good at governing use neither laws nor measures. Thus, the people find nothing to attack.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “When the government makes no demands, the people respond with openness instead of cleverness. When the government makes demands, the people use every means to escape. The government that stands aloof leaves power with the people. The government that steps in takes their power away. As one gains, the others loses. As one meets with happiness, the other encounters misery.”

WANG P’ANG says, “All creatures share the same breath. But the movement of this breath comes and goes. It ends only to begin again. Hence, happiness and misery alternate like the seasons. But only sages realize this. Hence, in everything they do, they aim for the middle and avoid the extremes, unlike the government that insists on directness and goodness and forbids deception and evil, unlike the government that wants the world to be happy and yet remains unaware that happiness alternates with misery.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Only those who are free of directness can transcend the appearance of good and evil and eliminate happiness and misery. For they alone know where they end. Meanwhile, those who cannot reach the state where they aren’t direct, who remain in the realm of good and evil, suffer happiness and misery as if they were on a wheel that carries them farther astray.”

TE-CH’ING says, “The world withers, and the Tao fades. People are not the way they once were. They don’t know directness from deception or good from evil. Even sages cannot instruct them. Hence, to transform them, sages enter their world of confusion. They join the dust of others and soften their own light. And they leave no trace.”

WU CH’ENG says, “A sage’s non-action is non-action that is not non-action. Edges always cut. But the edge that is not an edge does not cut. Points always pierce. But the point that is not a point does not pierce. Lines always extend. But the line that is not a line does not extend. Lights always blind But the light that is not a light does not blind. All of these are examples of non-action.”

Wu Ch’eng actually combines today’s verse with the previous one. And, that makes a lot of sense, since it is a direct continuation of the previous verse’s theme. Directness is certainly one way to govern a country, but it leads to deception. Better is indirectness. Non-action. Standing aloof. Letting things be. Then, the people open up. Where the government steps in, the people slip away. This reminds me of a classic line, with which I am sure most of my followers are familiar, “The more you tighten your grip, the more we will slip through your fingers.”

You can’t make people happy. This, after all, is the claimed purpose of the government’s interference in the people’s affairs, to make them happy. But force is not the Way. Force it, and you will get misery. Directness becomes deception. Good becomes evil. Happiness becomes misery.

We can transcend this endless wheel, but only by indirectness, by non-action, by non-interference, not intervening, not forcing, and not trying to control.

How Do We Know This Works?

“Use directness to govern a country
and use deception to fight a war
but use non-action to rule the world
how do we know this works
the greater the prohibitions
the poorer the people
the sharper their tools
the more chaotic the realm
the cleverer their schemes
the more common the bizarre
the better their possessions
the more numerous the thieves
thus does the sage declare
I make no effort
and the people transform themselves
I stay still
and the people correct themselves
I do no work
and the people enrich themselves
I want nothing
and the people simplify themselves”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 57, translation by Red Pine)

SUN-TZU says, “In waging war, one attacks with directness, one wins with deception” (Suntzu Pingfa: 5.5).

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Directness can be used in governing, but nowhere else. Deception can be used in warfare, but that is all. Only those who practice non-action are fit to rule the world.”

SU CH’E says, “The ancient sages were kind to strangers and gentle to friends. They didn’t think about warfare. Only when they had no choice did they fight. And when they did, they used deception. But deception can’t be used to rule the world. The world is a mercurial thing. To conquer it is to lose it. Those who embody the Tao do nothing. They don’t rule the world, and yet the world comes to to them.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “How do we know we can rule the world by means of non-action? Because we know we cannot rule the world by means of action.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Prohibitions, tools, schemes, possessions, all of these involve action and cannot be used to rule the world.”

WANG PI says, “Prohibitions are intended to put an end to poverty, and yet the people become poorer. Tools are intended to strengthen the country, and yet the country becomes weaker and more chaotic. This is due to cultivating the branches instead of the roots.”

WANG P’ANG says, “Prohibitions interfere with the people’s livelihood. Thus, poverty increases. Sharp tools mean sharp minds. And sharp minds mean chaos and confusion. Once minds become refined, customs become depraved, and the monnstrous becomes commonplace.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “In cultivating the Tao, sages accept the will of Heaven. They don’t change things, and the people transform themselves. They prefer not to talk or teach, and the people correct themselves. They don’t force others to work, and the people become rich at their occupations. They don’t use ornaments or luxuries, and the people emulate their simple ways.”

CONFUCIUS says, “The virtue of the ruler is like wind. The virtue of the people is like grass. When the wind blows, the grass bends” (Lunyu: 12.19).

And RED PINE adds, “My mother used to say, ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’”

We, libertarians, are often asked, “How do we know what you are suggesting would work?” Lao-tzu, the very first libertarian, would throw the question right back at them. “How do we know what you are doing works? In fact, we know it does not.” They do and do, and the more they do, the more is left to be done. Poverty only increases. There is only more chaos. If they would leave off doing, and let things be, the world would rule itself.

Make no effort, and the people would transform themselves. Stay still, and the people would correct themselves. Do no work, and the people would enrich themselves. Want nothing, and the people would simplify themselves.

Wu-wei. Do nothing. Laissez-faire. Let it be.

The Dark Union

“Those who know don’t talk
those who talk don’t know
seal the opening
close the gate
dull the edge
untie the tangle
soften the light
and join the dust
this is called the Dark Union
it can’t be embraced
it can’t be abandoned
it can’t be helped
it can’t be harmed
it can’t be exalted
it can’t be debased
thus does the world exalt it”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 56, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who know, value deeds not words. A team of horses can’t overtake the tongue. More talk means more problems.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Those who grasp the truth forget about words. Those who don’t practice what they talk about are no different from those who don’t know.”

SU CH’E says, “The Tao isn’t talk, but it doesn’t exclude talk. Those who know don’t necessarily talk. Those who talk don’t necessarily know.”

HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “We seal the opening and close the gate to nourish the breath. We dull the edge and untie the tangle to still the spirit. We soften the light and join the dust to adapt to the times and get along with the world.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “By sealing the opening, we guard the exit. By closing the gate, we bar the entrance. By dulling the edge, we adjust the inside. By untying the tangle, we straighten the outside. By softening the light, we focus on ourselves. By joining the dust, we adapt to others. What is devoid of exit and entrance, inside and outside, self and other, we call the Dark Union.”

WANG TAO says, “The Dark Union unites all things but leaves no visible trace.”

WANG PI says, “If something can be embraced, it can be abandoned. If something can be helped, it can be harmed. If something can be exalted, it can be debased.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Those who know transcend the mundane and the superficial, hence they cannot be embraced. Their utter honesty enables others to see. Hence, they cannot be abandoned. They are content and free of desires. Hence, they cannot be helped. They dwell beyond life and death. Hence, they cannot be harmed. They view high position as so much dust. Hence, they cannot be exalted. Beneath their rags they harbor jade. Hence, they cannot be debased. Those who know walk in the world, yet their minds transcend the material realm. Hence, they are exalted by the world.”

WEI YUAN says, “Those who seal the opening and close the gate neither love nor hate. Hence, they don’t embrace or abandon anything. Those who dull the edge and untie the tangle don’t seek help. Thus, they suffer no harm. Those who soften the light and join the dust don’t exalt themselves. Thus, they aren’t debased by others. Forgetting self and other, they experience Dark Union with the Tao. Those who have not yet experienced this Dark Union unite with ‘this’ and separate from ‘that.’ To unite means to embrace, to help, and to exalt. To separate means to abandon, to harm, and to debase. Those who experience Dark Union unite with nothing. From what, then, could they separate?”

And RED PINE adds, “Knowing comes before talking. And the Dark Union comes before knowing. It’s called the Dark Union because it precedes the division into subject and object.”

Dark Union. We have been so programmed to fear darkness, to devalue it, and embrace the light. But Lao-tzu refers to darkness over and over again, and always favorably. It is as if he was saying, “Don’t be afraid of the dark.” But, I suppose we have always been inclined to fear what we do not understand, and make up stories in an attempt to explain the mystery. Lao-tzu might suggest we not be so inclined to demystify what we do not understand, but to just let it be.

Like a Newborn Child

“He who possesses virtue in abundance
resembles a newborn child
wasps don’t sting him
beasts don’t claw him
birds of prey don’t carry him off
his bones are weak and his tendons soft
yet his grip is firm
he hasn’t known the union of sexes
yet his penis is stiff
so full of essence is he
he cries all day
yet never gets hoarse
his breath is so perfectly balanced
knowing how to be balanced we endure
knowing how to endure we become wise
while those who lengthen their life tempt luck
and those who force their breath become strong
but once things mature they become old
this isn’t the Way
what isn’t the Way ends early”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 55, translation by Red Pine)

WANG P’ANG says, “The nature of Virtue is lasting abundance. But its abundance fades with the onset of thoughts and desires.”

SU CH’E says, “Once we have a mind, we have a body. And once we have a body, we have enemies. If we did not have a mind, we would not have enemies and could not be harmed. The reason a newborn child isn’t harmed is because it has not mind.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “A newborn child doesn’t harm anyone, and no one harms it. In an age of perfect peace, Humankind knows neither noble nor base. Even wild beasts do people do harm.”

TE CH’ING says, “Those who cultivate the Tao should first focus their mind. When their mind doesn’t stray, they become calm. When their mind bcomes calm, their breath becomes balanced. When their breath becomes balanced, their essence becomes stable, their spirit becomes serene, and their true nature is restored. Once we know how to breathe, we know how to endure. And once we know how to endure, we know our true nature. If we don’t know our true nature but only know how to nourish our body and lengthen our life, we end up harming our body and destroying our life. A restless mind disturbs the breath. When our breath is disturbed, our essence weakens. And when our essence weakens, our body withers.”

HSUN-TZU says, “Everything must breathe to live. When we know how to breathe, we know how to nurture life and how to endure” (Hsuntzu: 17).

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The basis of life rests on this breath. If people can nourish the pure and balanced breath within themselves for fifteen minutes, they will discover the principle of Heaven and Earth’s immortality. If they can do this for half an hour, they will enter the gate of eternity. But if they try to extend their life or force their breath, they will create the womb of their own destruction.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Life cannot be extended. But people keep trying and thus incur misfortune.”

MOU-TZU says, “Those who attain the Way don’t become active and don’t become strong. They don’t become strong and don’t become old. They don’t become old and don’t become ill. They don’t become ill and don’t decay. Thus, Lao-tzu calls the body a disaster” (Moutzu: 32).

And RED PINE adds, “Scientists talk about the Big Bang. No one talks about the Big Breath.”

In today’s verse, Lao-tzu likens someone who possesses virtue in abundance to a newborn child. For Lao-tzu, newborn children were a marvel, something of a mystery, which he uses to illustrate the power inherent in those who possess virtue, or the Tao.

It is the power to never grow old. But, he means this figuratively, not literally. For newborn children do grow old

He highlights their weakness, their softness; but then goes on to point out the firmness of their grip. He then goes on to talk about their innocence; yet, the fullness of their essence is evidenced by the stiffness of their penis. They cry all day, yet never get hoarse. This, Lao-tzu equates with their breath being perfectly balanced.

Newborn children can not harm anyone, and nothing can harm them. It seems like perfection; as long as we don’t consider, since Lao-tzu doesn’t bring it up, their total dependence on others. Also, that whole not having any control over your bladder or bowels isn’t anything I would want to resemble, again.

But, let’s not take this metaphor beyond the limits Lao-tzu intends for it. Lao-tzu doesn’t intend for you to be a newborn child again. And, it isn’t anything we could force, anyway. Perfect balance is something we can only let happen naturally, or it won’t happen at all. Forcing it, we will only become old and die prematurely.

Red Pine introduces the following sage today:

MOU-TZU (FL. 3RD C.). High official and author of the Lihuolun, the earliest known work that addresses the conflicts arising from Buddhist practice and Chinese tradition.

What Can’t Be Uprooted or Taken Away

“What you plant well can’t be uprooted
what you hold well can’t be taken away
your descendants will worship this forever
cultivated in yourself virtue becomes real
cultivated in your family virtue grows
cultivated in your village virtue multiplies
cultivated in your state virtue abounds
cultivated in your world virtue is everywhere
thus view others through yourself
view families through your family
view villages through your village
view states through your state
view other worlds through your world
how do you know what other worlds are like
through this one”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 54, translation by Red Pine)

WU CH’ENG says, “Those who plant something well, plant it without planting. Thus, it is never uprooted. Those who hold something well, hold it without holding. Thus, it is never taken away.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “What we plant well is virtue. What we hold well is oneness. When virtue flourishes, distant generations give praise.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “First improve yourself, then reach out to others and to later generations bequeath the noble, pure, and kindly Tao. Thus, blessings reach your descendants, virtue grows, beauty lasts, and worship never ends.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “In ancient times, ancestral worship consisted in choosing an auspicious day before the full moon, in fasting, in selecting sacrificial animals, in purifying the ritual vessels, in preparing a feast on the appointed day, in venerating ancestors as if they were present, and in thanking them for their virtuous example. Those who cultivate the Way likewise enable later generations to enjoy the fruits of their cultivation.”

HO’SHANG KUNG says, “We cultivate the Tao in ourselves by cherishing our breath and by nourishing our spirit and thus by prolonging our life. We cultivate the Tao in our family by being loving as a parent, filial as a child, kind as an elder, obedient as the younger, dependable as a husband, and chaste as a wife. We cultivate the Tao in our village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in our state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders. Lao-tzu asks how we know that those who cultivate the Tao prosper and those who ignore the Tao perish. We know by comparing those who don’t cultivate the Tao with those who do.”

YEN TSUN says, “Let your person be the yardstick of other persons. Let your family be the level of others families. Let your village be the square of others villages. Let your state be the plumb line of others states. As for the world, the ruler is its heart, and the world is his body.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “The reality of the Tao lies in concern for the self. Concern for the state is irrelevant, and concern for the world is cowshit. From this standpoint, the emperor’s work is the sage’s hobby and is not what develops the self or nourishes life” (Chuangtzu; 28.3).

And RED PINE notes that the same sentiments were echoed by Confucius in the Tahsueh (Great Learning): “The ancients who wished to manifest Virtue in the world first ordered their states. Wishing to order their states, they first harmonized their families. Wishing to harmonize their families, they first cultivated themselves. Wishing to cultivate themselves, they first perfected their minds. Wishing to perfect their minds, they first rectified their thoughts” (4). And, the meaning of the last seven lines is similar to that of the line in the poem “Carving an Ax Handle” in the Book of Songs: “In carving an ax handle, the pattern is not far off.”

What can’t be uprooted or taken away is virtue you cultivate within yourself. Don’t try to save the world! Chuang-tzu has it right when he says, “Concern for the world is cowshit.” And, he is also right when he says, “Concern for the state is irrelevant.” All that matters is concern for the self. This is “the reality of the Tao.”

Whoa, there. Do you really expect me to do nothing about all the bad things going on? Actually, I would echo what Jesus said, “Take care of the log in your own eye before you consider the splinter in some other person’s eye.” It isn’t that we aren’t concerned for others. Of course we are concerned for others. But, it is because of that concern for others, and that we can best help them by being concerned with our own selves, that we don’t intervene and interfere.

And, anyway, cultivating virtue in your own self is plenty enough to keep you busy. Don’t meddle in others’ affairs.

Were I Sufficiently Wise

“Were I sufficiently wise
I would follow the Great Way
and only fear going astray
the Great Way is smooth
but people love the byways
their palaces are spotless
but their fields are overgrown
and their granaries are empty
they wear fine clothes
and carry sharp swords
they tire of food and drink
and possess more than they need
this is called robbery
and robbery is not the way”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 53, translation by Red Pine)

KU HSI-CH’OU says, “The Tao is not hard to know, but it is hard to follow.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Lao-tzu was concerned that rulers of his day did not follow the great Way. Hence, he hypothesized that if he knew enough to conduct the affairs of a country, he would follow the great Way and devote himself to implementing the policy of doing nothing.”

LU HSI-SHENG says, “The Great Way is like a grand thoroughfare: smooth and easy to travel, perfectly straight and free of detours, and there is nowhere it doesn’t lead. But people are in a hurry. They take shortcuts and get into trouble and become lost and don’t reach their destination. The sage worries only about leading people down such a path.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “A spotless palace refers to the height of superficiality. An overgrown field refers to an uncultivated mind. An empty granary refers to a lack of virtue.”

HAN FEI says, “When the court is in good repair, lawsuits abound. When lawsuits abound, fields become overgrown. When fields become overgrown, granaries become empty. When granaries become empty, the country becomes poor. When the country becomes poor, customs become decadent, and there is no trick people don’t try”(Hanfeitzu: 20).

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “When the court ignores the affairs of state to beautify its halls and interrupts farm work to build towers and pavilions, the people’s energy ends up at court, and fields turn to weeds. Once fields turn to weeds, state taxes are not paid and granaries become empty. And once granaries are empty, the country becomes poor, and the people become rebellious. The court dazzles the people with its fine clothes, and threatens the people with its sharp swords, and takes from people more than it needs – this is no different from robbing them.”

LI JUNG says, “A robber is someone who never has enough and who takes more than he needs.”

WANG PI says, “To gain possession of something by means other than the Way is wrong. And wrong means robbery.”

And RED PINE notes that the standard version of line three of today’s verse, which has shih (act), so it reads: “only fear acting,” is a mistake for yi (go astray); so, he translates it: “only fear going astray.” He was influenced by Wang Nien-sun in choosing this rendering. Wang Nien-sun (1744-1832), was a distinguished philologist whose analysis of grammatical particles used in ancient texts is unrivaled. His approach is also unique in not taking characters at their face value but in viewing them as possible homophones.

I am happy to defer to Wang Nien-sun and Red Pine in changing “act” to “go astray.” While “fearing acting” is certainly in line with Lao-tzu’s teaching of “doing nothing,” today’s verse has Lao-tzu talking about the Way as a path which should be preferred to “going astray” on the byways. Going astray leads to robbery, which Red Pine also notes is a pun. Way (Tao) and robbery (tao) are both pronounced the same. People prefer other paths, other ways. And, if we are wise we will not stray from the great and smooth Way.

Red Pine introduces the following sage today:

KU HSI-CH’OU (FL. 1600-1630). Scholar-official. His is one of several commentaries incorrectly attributed to the T’ang dynasty Taoist, Lu Tung-pin.

Holding On to the Constant

“There’s a maiden in the world
who becomes the world’s mother
those who find the mother
thereby know the child
those who know the child
keep the mother safe
and live without trouble
those who block the opening
who close the gate
live without toil
those who unblock the opening
who meddle in affairs
live without hope
those who see the small have vision
those who protect the weak have strength
those who use their light
and trust their vision
live beyond death
this is called holding on to the crescent”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 52, translation by Red Pine)

LAO-TZU says, “The maiden of Heaven and Earth has no name / the mother of all things has a name” (Taoteching; 1).

KUAN-TZU says, “The ancients say, ‘No one understands a child better than its father. No one understands a minister better than his ruler’” (Kuantzu: 7).

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The Way is the mother of all creatures. All creatures are the children of the Way. In ancient times, those who possessed the Way were able to keep mother and children from parting and the Way and all creatures together. Since creatures come from the Way, they are no different from the Way, just as children are no different from their mother. And yet people abandon other creatures when they search for the Way. Is this any different from abandoning the children while searching for the mother? If people knew that all creatures are the Way, and children are the mother, they would find the source in everything they meet.”

CONFUCIUS says, “Things have their roots and branches. Those who know what comes first and last approach the Tao” (Tahsueh).

TUNG SSU-CHING says, “People are born when they receive breath. Breath is their mother. And spirit dwells within their breath. When children care for their mother, their breath becomes one and their spirit becomes still.”

WU CH’ENG says, “‘Opening’ refers to the mouth. ‘Gate’ refers to the nose. By controlling our breath to the point where there is no breath, where breath is concentrated within, we are never exhausted.”

WANG P’ANG says, “When the opening opens, things enter. And the spirit is exhausted trying to deal with the problems that then develop. Once we are swept away by this flood, who can save us?”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Those who can see an event while it is still small and change their behavior accordingly we say have vision.”

WANG PI says, “Seeing what is great is not vision. Seeing what is small is vision. Protecting the strong is not strength. Protecting the weak is strength.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Light is the function of vision. Vision is the embodiment of light. If we can use the light to find our way back to the source, we can live our lives free of misfortune and become one with the Immortal Way.”

And, RED PINE concludes, “This verse reminds me of Confucius’ words: ‘When I was young, historians still left blanks’ (Lunyu: 15.25). Not being a historian, I have proceed despite uncertainty. In the last line, the word hsi means “to wear” but also “to hold on to.”
And the word ch’ang normally means “constant,” but it is the name of the crescent moon as well.”

I appreciate Red Pine’s humility in his closing commentary. I’m not a historian either; and I know far less, I am sure, than Red Pine. But, I can’t help but think he is “reaching” a bit when he translates the word ch’ang “crescent,” in the last verse. At least he was kind enough to admit that it normally means “constant.” I prefer “constant” here, merely because it gives us something we can hold on to. The moon is ever changing. Or so it seems to me. I am seeking that one constant, like Confucius said in an earlier verse, ‘the one thing that ties everything together.” Maybe Red Pine is right, though. Maybe that crescent moon which keeps returning is that one constant. Perhaps, where I see something fleeting, I should see something everlasting.

Red Pine introduces the following sage today:

TUNG SSU-CHING (FL. 1246-1257). Taoist master and compiler of Taoist texts in the Lingpao tradition. His commentary includes extensive quotes from T’ang and Sung dynasty commentators as well as his own comments.

The Way of Dark Virtue

“The Way begets them
virtue keeps them
matter shapes them
usage completes them
thus do all creatures respect the Way
and honor Virtue
their respect for the Way
and honor of Virtue
are not conferred
but simply natural
for the Way begets and keeps them
raises and trains them
steadies and adjusts them
maintains and protects them
but it doesn’t possess what it begets
or depend on what it develops
or control what it raises
this is called Dark Virtue”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 51, translation by Red Pine)

WU CH’ENG says, “What is begotten is sprouted in spring; what is kept is collected in fall; what is shaped is raised in summer from sprouts grown in spring; what is completed is stored in winter from the harvest of fall. Sprouting, raising, harvesting, and storing all depend on the Way and Virtue. Hence, the ten thousand creatures respect the Tao as their father and honor Virtue as their mother. The Way and Virtue are two, but also one. In spring, from one root many are begotten; the Way becomes virtue. In fall, the many are brought back together: Virtue becomes the Way. The Way and Virtue are mentioned at the beginning of this verse, but only the Way is mentioned later [in line eleven]. This is because Virtue is also the Way.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “What the Way and virtue bestow, they estow without thought. No one orders them. It is simply their nature. It is their nature to beget and their nature to keep. It is their nature to raise and train, to steady and adjust, to maintain and protect. And because it’s their nature, they never tire of begetting or expect a reward for what they give. This is what is meant by ‘Dark Virtue.’”

LU HSI-SHENG says, “To beget is to endow with essence. To keep is to instill with breath. To raise is to adapt to form. To train is to bring forth ability. To steady is to weigh the end. To adjust is to measure the use. To maintain is to preserve the balance. To protect is to keep from harm. This is the Great Way. It begets but does not try to possess what it begets. It develops but does not depend on what it develops. It raises but does not try to control what it raises. This is Dark Virtue. In verse 10, Humankind is likened to the Way and Virtue. Here, the Way and Virtue are likened to Humankind. The expressions are the same, and so is the meaning.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Way does not beget the myriad creatures to possess them for its own advantage. The actions of the Way do not depend on a reward. And the Way does not raise or maintain the myriad creatures to butcher them for profit. The kindness performed by the Way is dark and invisible.” Where Ho-shang Kung reads “butcher,” Lu Hsi-sheng reads “control.” I have followed Lu. – Red Pine

WANG PI says, “The Way is what things follow. Virtue is what they attain. ‘Dark Virtue’ means virtue is present but no one knows who controls it. It comes from what is hidden.”

Lao-tzu talked about it first in verse 10, as Lu Hsi-sheng recalls in his commentary on today’s verse. Dark Virtue. How the Way begets and keeps all things, raises and trains them, steadies and adjusts them, maintains and protects them; but it doesn’t try to possess what it begets, or depend on what it develops, or control what it raises.

And, for those who follow the Way, Virtue is what we attain.

Neither Hating Death, Nor Loving Life

“Appearing means life
disappearing means death
thirteen are the followers of life
thirteen are the followers of death
but people living to live
move toward the land of death’s thirteen
and why is this so
because they live to live
it’s said that those who guard life well
aren’t injured by soldiers in battle
or harmed by rhinos or tigers in the wild
for rhinos find nowhere to stick their horns
tigers find nowhere to sink their claws
and soldiers find nowhere to thrust their spears
and why is this so
because for them there’s no land of death”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 50, translation by Red Pine)

CH’ENG CHU says, “Of the ten thousand changes we all experience, none are more important than life and death. People who cultivate the Tao are concerned with nothing except transcending these boundaries.”

RED PINE notes, “In lines three, four and six, the phrase shih-yu-san has long puzzled commentators. HAN FEI says it means ‘three and ten,’ or thirteen, and refers to the four limbs and nine orifices of the body, which can be guarded to preserve life or indulged to end it.” (I took the time to count them all; and yes, there are nine orifices of the body – libertariantaoist)

TU ER-WEI says the numerical significance of thirteen here refers to the moon, which becomes full thirteen days after it first appears and which disappears thirteen days after it begins to wane. (I have already expressed my own skepticism regarding Tu Er-wei’s interpretation of Lao-tzu’s teachings’ origins in worship of the moon – libertariantaoist)

WANG PI says it means ‘three in ten” and refers to the three basic attitudes people have toward life. Wang An-shih summarizes these as: “Among ten people, three seek life because they hate death, three seek death because they hate life, and three live as if they were dead.” Leaving the sage, who neither hates death nor loves life, but who thus lives long.

And RED PINE adds, “The Mawangtui texts, which I have followed here, word lines five and six in such a way as to make Wang Pi’s interpretation, unilikely, if not impossible. As for choosing between Han Fei and Tu Er-wei, I think Professor Tu’s interpretaion comes closer to what Lao-tzu had in mind.”

This is one of those rare times I disagree with Red Pine. I noted in my introduction to Red Pine’s translation that he was strongly influenced by Professor Tu Er-Wei, who believed the origin of Taoism was in the worship of the moon. I could be way off base, but I see all the lunar references in the Taoteching as intended as metaphors. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less – libertariantaoist.

And getting back to WANG PI, he also says, “Eels consider the depths too shallow, and eagles consider the mountains too low. Living beyond the reach of arrows and nets, they both dwell in the land of no death. But by means of baits, they are lured into the land of no life.”

SU CH’E says, “We know how to act but not how to rest. We know how to talk but not how to keep quiet. We know how to remember but not how to forget. Everything we do leads to the land of death. The sage dwell where there is neither life nor death.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Those who guard their life don’t cultivate life but what controls life. What has life is form. What controls life is nature. When we cultivate our nature, we return to what is real and forget bodily form. Once we forget form, our self becomes empty. Once our self is empty, nothing can harm us. Once there is no self, there is no life. How then could there be any death?”

CHIAO HUNG says, “Those who are wise have no life. Not because they slight it, but because they don’t possess it. If someone has no life, how can they be killed? Those who understand this can transcend change and make of life and death a game.”

So, is it “three and ten” or “three in ten?” Red Pine’s translation is the first and only translation I have read, insisting it is “three and ten,” in other words, “thirteen.” And, I still find myself agreeing with Wang Pi and Wang An-shih in their interpretation. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter; as long as we get Lao-tzu’s meaning that we can’t prolong our life by hating death or loving life. If we neither hate death nor love life, we will live long.

Neither For Nor Against

Sages have no mind of their own
their mind is the mind of the people
to the good they are good
to the bad they are good
until they become good
to the true they are true
to the false they are true
until they become true
in the world sages are withdrawn
with the world they merge their mind
people open their ears and eyes
sages cover them up

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 49, translation by Red Pine)

SU CH’E says, “Emptiness has no form. It takes on the form of the ten thousand things. If emptiness had its own form it could not form anything else. Thus, sages have no mind of their own. They take on the minds of the people and treat everyone the same.”

HUI-TSUNG says, “Because it is empty, the mind of a sage can receive. Because it is still, it can respond.”

YEN TSUN says, “A mindless mind is the chief of all minds. Sages, therefore, have no mind of their own but embrace the minds of the people. Free of love and hate, they are not the enemy of evil or the friend of the good. They are not the protector of truth or the adversary of falsehood. They support like the earth and cover like the sky. They illuminate like the sun and transform like the spirit.”

WANG P’ANG says, “Good and bad are the result of delusions, and delusions are the result of self-centered minds. Those who open themselves up to the Great Way, although their eyes see good and bad, their minds do not distinguish any differences. They don’t treat the bad with goodness out of pity but because they don’t perceive any difference. Although the ten thousand things are different, their differences are equally real and equally false. To see the real in the false and the false in the real is how the wisdom of the sages differs from that of others.”

CONFUCIUS says, “In their dealings with the world, great people are neither for nor against anyone. They follow whatever is right” (Lunyu: 4.10).

WANG PI says, “The mind of sages has no point of view, and their thoughts have no direction.”

JEN FA-JUNG says, “Wherever sages go in the world, they act humble and withdrawn and blend in with others. They treat everyone, noble or commoner, rich or poor, with the same kindness and equality. Their mind merges with that of others. Ordinary people concentrate on what they hear and see and concern themselves with their own welfare. The sage’s mind is like that of a newborn baby, pure and impartial.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Sages cover up the tracks of their mind by blending in with others.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “Stop the eyes and the ears, and the others senses will follow.”

And, Red Pine adds, “The Chinese word for mind, hsin, also means ‘thoughts,’ ‘goals,’ ‘intentions,’ or ‘will.’ Thus, Lao-tzu is not being philosophical here in saying ‘sages have no mind of their own,’ merely practical.”

A couple weeks ago I posted an article by Will Porter, in which he talked about how US foreign policy in the Middle East has us on everyone’s side in the various conflicts which we end up only prolonging, sustaining, and aggravating further, resulting in more and more civilian casualties, and more blowback. My point, which I made clear in my posting of the article, is how far-removed this is from what Lao-tzu teaches; which is, not to take sides. I saw in the notes of reblogs that someone missed my point entirely, deciding the problem was we weren’t clearly defining the enemy enough. We should recognize Saudi Arabia for the enemy it is, along with all Muslim countries, and help Israel to annihilate them all.

Oh, to be perfectly neutral. To not take sides. To neither be the enemy of evil, nor the friend of the good. To not intervene. To not interfere. We need to realize these distinctions between good and bad are merely delusions, and not be deluded by them. We need to dwell, instead, in reality.

How do we accomplish this? By being humble. By reminding ourselves, again and again, we don’t really know what we think we know. Our eyes and ears delude us. So, stop trusting them. Instead, treat everyone, whether noble or commoner, rich or poor, good or bad, with the same kindness and equality. This is the quality of having no mind of your own. No thoughts, no goals, no intentions, no will. You merely go with the flow of the Tao, letting things come and go, without forcing them.

Red Pine introduces the following sage today:

HUI-TSUNG (R. 1101-1125). Sung dynasty emperor and one of China’s greatest calligraphers and patrons of the arts. His commentary was finished in 1118, shortly before he was taken captive by nomad invaders.