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”

(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”

(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”

(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”

(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

(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.

The Value of Not Being Busy

“Those who seek learning gain every day
those who seek the Way lose every day
they lose and they lose
until they find nothing to do
nothing to do means nothing not done
those who rule the world aren’t busy
those who are busy
can’t rule the world”

(Taoteching, verse 48, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “‘Learning’ refers to knowledge of administration and rhetoric, ritual and music.”

CONFUCIUS asked Tzu-kung, “Do you think I learn in order to increase my knowledge?” Tzu-kung answered, “Well, don’t you?” Confucius replied, “No, I seek the one thing that ties everything together” (Lunyu; 15.2).

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Those who seek the Tao don’t use their ears or eyes. They look within, not without. They obey their natures, not their desires. They don’t value knowledge. They consider gaining as losing and losing as gaining.

YEN TSUN says, “Get rid of knowledge. The knowledge of no knowledge is the ancestor of all knowledge and the teacher of Heaven and Earth.”

WANG PI says, “Those who seek learning seek to improve their ability or to increase their mastery, while those who seek the Tao seek to return to emptiness and nothingness. When something is done, something is left out. When nothing is done, nothing is not done.”

HUAI-NAN-TZU says, “Those who are wise cultivate the inner root and do not make a display of the outer twigs. They protect their spirit and eliminate cleverness. They do nothing, which means they don’t act until others act. And yet there nothing that isn’t done, which means they rely on the actions of others” (Huainantzu: 1).

TE-CH’ING says, “Those who seek the Tao begin by using wisdom to eliminate desires. Thus, they lose. Once their desires are gone, they eliminate wisdom. Thus, the lose again. And they go on like this until the mind and the world are both forgotten, until selfish desires are completely eliminated, until they reach the state of doing nothing. And while they do nothing, the people transform themselves. Thus, by doing nothing, the sage can do great things. Hence, those who would rule the world should know the value of not being busy.”

KUMARAJIVA says, “Those who lose eliminate everything coarse until they foget about the bad. Then they eliminate everything fine until the forget about the good. The bad is what they dislike. The good is what they like. First, they eliminate dislikes. Then, they eliminate likes. Once they forget their likes and dislikes and cut themselves off from desire, their virtue becomes one with the Tao, and they reach the state of doing nothing. And while they do nothing, they let others do what they want. Hence, there is nothing that isn’t done.”

SU CH’E says, “Everyone wants to rule the world. But when people see others doing something to possess it, they cringe. And when the people see the sage doing, they rejoice. Those who are wise do not seek to rule the world. The world comes to them.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “When someone uses laws to restrict the world, might to compel it, knowledge to silence it, and majesty to impress it, there are always those who don’t follow. When someone rules by means of the Tao, the world follows without thinking. ‘The world’ refers to the ten thousand things.”

WEN-TZU says, “In ancient times, those who were good rulers imitated the sea. The sea becomes great by doing nothing. Doing nothing, it governs hundreds of rivers and streams. Thus, it rules by not being busy” (Wentzu: 8).

I was reminded, anew, of the value of not being busy, when my son came home from work with a very simple request. It really was nothing, requiring only 5 minutes of my time, and little effort. But, I was busy. And, because I was busy, I got annoyed. Why was he bothering me? Can’t he see I am busy? After making an ass of myself (yes, I still do that from time to time), I repented of being busy, and completed his request. But, how much better it would have been, for the both of us, if I hadn’t been busy. Can’t very well rule my world when I am busy. Have to rule my own self, first. Just in case you were wondering, I am still learning. And, the learning I am talking about is the learning Confucius spoke of in his commentary, today. “I seek the one thing that ties everything together.” I am not there, yet. I still find myself doing, and leaving many things not done. I still have lots of losing left to do, both of my dislikes and my likes. Then, I will do nothing, and nothing will be left not done.

Red Pine introduces the following sage, today:

WEN-TZU (FL. 5TH C. B.C.). Taoist recluse and teacher of Fan Li, prime minister of the state of Yueh. According to the Hanshu (History of the Han Dynasty), he was a disciple of Lao-tzu and a contemporary of Confucius. The book that bears his name is attributed to his disciples.

Near and Far

“Without going out your door
you can know the whole world
without looking out your window
you can know the Way of Heaven
the farther people go
the less they know
sages therefore know without traveling
name without seeing
and succeed without trying”

(Taoteching, verse 47, translation by Red Pine)

CHUANG-TZU says, “Who takes Heaven as their ancestor, Virtue as their home, the Tao as their door, and who escapes change is a sage” (Chuangtzu: 33.1).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are sages understand other individuals by understanding themselves. They understand other families by understanding their own family. Thus, they understand the whole world. Humankind and Heaven are linked to each other. If the ruler is content, the breath of Heaven will be calm. If the ruler is greedy. Heaven’s breath will be unstable. Sages do not have to ascend into the sky or descend into the depths to understand Heaven or Earth.”

WANG PI says, “Events have a beginning. Creatures have a leader. Roads diverge, but they lead back together. Thoughts multiply, but they all share one thing. The Way has one constant. Reason has one principle. Holding on to the ancient way, we are able to master the present. Although we live today, we can understand the distant past. We can understand without going outside. If we don’t understand, going farther only leads us farther astray.”

SU CH’E says, “The reason the sages of the past understood everything without going anywhere was simply because they kept their natures whole. People let themselves be misled by things and allow their natures to be split into ears and eyes, body and mind. Their vision becomes limited to sights, and their hearing becomes limited to sounds.”

WANG P’ANG says, “If we wait to see before we become aware and wait to become aware before we know, we can see ten thousand different views and still be blind to the reason that binds them all together.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Those who look for Heaven and Earth outside look for forms. But Heaven and Earth cannot be fathomed through form, only through reason. Once we realize that reason is right here, it doesn’t matter if we close our door. For those who are wise, knowledge is not limited to form. Hence, they don’t have to go anywhere. Name is not limited to matter. Hence, they don’t have to look anywhere. Success is not limited to action. Hence, they don’t have to do anything.”

LAO-TZU says, “The name that becomes a name / is not the Immortal Name” (Taoteching: 1).

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “‘Without traveling’ means to know without depending on previous or external experience. ‘Without seeing’ means to know that everything is empty and that there is nothing to see. ‘Without trying’ means to focus the spirit on the tranquility that excels at making things happen.”

WU CH’ENG says, “‘To succeed without trying’ is the result of the previous two lines. Because those sages know everything without going anywhere and see everything without looking at anything, they succeed at everything without any effort at all.”

And RED PINE notes, “Some commentators wonder if the line eight is not corrupt, if ming (name) is not a mistake for ming (understand), and if the line should not then read: ‘understand without seeing.’ However, the only early edition that supports such an emendation is that of Han Fei. In a similar sequence, the Chungyung; 26.6 has: ‘flourish without displaying / change without moving / and succeed without trying.’”

(I happen to disagree with Red Pine, and agree with Han Fei that “name” should be “understand” – libertariantaoist)

Today’s verse is about effort. Oh, the effort we put forth! We will travel to the ends of the Earth to achieve our goals. But, does that bring us any nearer to achieving our goals? Lao-tzu teaches that the farther people go, the less they know. But we can know without knowing (know without traveling), understand without seeing, and succeed without trying. This effortlessness goes far, while keeping us near. You will best understand others by first understanding your own self. Look within yourself to find the one reason (or principle) which binds us all together. Then, you will know. Then, you will understand. Then, you will succeed — without any effort, at all.

Presence Versus Absence

“When the Tao is present in the world
courier horses manure fields instead of roads
when the Tao is absent from the world
war horses are raised on the border
no crime is worse than yielding to desire
no wrong is greater than discontent
no curse is crueler than getting what you want
the contentment of being content
is true contentment indeed”

(Taoteching, verse 46, translation by Red Pine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presence versus absence. Do we know the contentment of being content, or are we enslaved by desire? Will we yield to contentment, instead of yielding to desire? What a curse getting what we want can be! Plowshares or swords?

Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:

The YENTIEHLUN (DISCOURSE ON IRON AND SALT). Record of debates on government policies and other problems of the day compiled by Huan K’uan.

Look For It In Perfect Stillness

“Perfectly complete it seems deficient
yet it never wears out
perfectly full it seems empty
yet it never runs dry
perfectly straight it seems crooked
perfectly clever it seems clumsy
perfectly abundant it seems impoverished
active it overcomes cold
still it overcomes heat
those who know how to be perfectly still
are able to govern the world”

(Taoteching, verse 45, translation by Red Pine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

It seems deficient. It seems empty. It seems crooked. It seems clumsy. It seems impoverished. Perfectly complete. Perfectly full. Perfectly straight. Perfectly clever. Perfectly abundant. Perfectly still. Effortlessness. Not trying to overcome anything, nothing can overcome it. Through its practice, you govern your world.

This Is the Way of Long Life

“Which is more vital
fame or health
which is more precious
health or wealth
which is more harmful
loss or gain
the deeper the love
the higher the cost
the bigger the treasure
the greater the loss
who knows contentment
thus suffers no shame
and who knows restraint
encounters no trouble
while enjoying a long life”

(Taoteching, verse 44, translation by Red Pine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is more vital? Health, right? Which is more precious? Again, health. Which is more harmful? I really think Ssu-ma Kuang puts the choice before us quite plainly. “Which is more harmful: to gain wealth and fame and lose one’s health or to gain one’s health and lose wealth and fame?” So, which would you choose?

Now, I am sure there are those who will insist they can have it all. And, I don’t think you have to necessarily lose wealth and fame in order to gain health. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

But this, I do know. The choices we make are vital and precious. It is all a matter of priorities. And regret comes too late. After all, if you don’t know when to stop, your enemies may use your skull as a drinking bowl.

Or, you can know contentment and restraint; this, my friends, is the Way of Long Life.

Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:

HUANG MAO-TS’AI (FL. 1174-1190). Scholar and military official.