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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *