Who Understands the Difference?

“The ancient masters of the Way
tried not to enlighten
but to keep people in the dark
what makes people hard to rule
is their knowledge
is the terror of the realm
who understands the difference
is one who finds the key
knowing how to find the key
is what we call Dark Virtue
Dark Virtue goes deep
goes far
goes the other way
until it reaches perfect harmony”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 65, translation by Red Pine)

WU CH’ENG says, “To make the people more natural, the ancient sages did not try to make the people more knowledgeable but to make them less knowledgeable. This radical doctrine was later misused by the First Emperor of the Ch’in dynasty, who burned all the books [in 213 B.C.] to make the people ignorant.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “When the knowledge of bows and arrows arose, the birds above were troubled. When the knowledge of hooks and nets proliferated, the fish below were disturbed. When the knowledge of snares and traps spread, the creatures of the wild were bewildered. When the knowledge of argument and disputation multiplied, the people were confused. Thus are the world’s troubles due to the love of knowledge” (Chuangtzu: 10.4).

WANG PI says, “When you rouse the people with sophistry, treacherous thoughts arise. When you counter their deceptions with more sophistry, the people see through your tricks and avoid them. Thus, they become secretive and devious.”

LIU CHUNG-P’ING says, “Those who rule without knowledge turn to Heaven. Those who rule with knowledge turn to Humankind. Those who turn to Heaven are in harmony. Those who are in harmony do only what requires no effort. Their government is lenient. Those who turn to Humankind force things. Those who force things become lost in the Great Inquisition. Hence, their people are dishonest.” Liu’s terminology here is indebted to Chuangtzu: 19.2 and Mencius: 4B.26.

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “‘Difference’ refers to ‘with knowledge’ and ‘without knowledge.’ Once you know that knowledge spreads evil and lack of knowledge spreads virtue, you understand the key to cultivating the self and governing the realm. Once you understand the key, you share the same virtue as Heaven. And Heaven is dark. Those who possess Dark Virtue are so deep they can’t be fathomed, so distant they can’t be reached, and always do the opposite of others. They give to others, while others think only of themselves.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Because it is so deep, you can’t hear it or see it. Because it is so distant, you can’t talk about or reach it. Dark Virtue differs from everything else. But it agrees with the Tao.”

SU CH’E says, “What the sage values is virtue. What others value is knowledge. Virtue and knowledge are opposites. Knowledge is seldom harmonious, while virtue is always harmonious.”

LIN HSI-YI says, “‘Perfect harmony’ means whatever is natural.”

Today’s verse is certainly easy to misunderstand. Wu Ch’eng, in his commentary on the verse, explains just how this has been done. Let’s be clear, here. By “keep people in the dark,” Lao-tzu doesn’t mean to keep them ignorant. He is extolling Dark Virtue, here. We tend to think rather highly of enlightenment. But, as Chuang-tzu says, knowledge has its drawbacks. “The world’s troubles,” are “due to the love of knowledge.” But, ruling “with knowledge” or “without knowledge,” who knows the difference? The difference is key to our understanding. Are we going to trust nature or force things? We want to cultivate the self, and through that cultivation, govern our whole world. But finding the key requires Dark Virtue. Going deep. Going Far. Going the other way. Until we reach perfect harmony.

Red Pine introduces the following sages with today’s verse

LIU CHUNG-P’ING (FL.1060). Official and member of Wang An-shih’s reform clique.

LIN HSI-YI (FL.1234-1260). Scholar-offical who produced commentaries to a number of classics. His commentary on the Taoteching is noted for its clarity.

One thought on “Who Understands the Difference?”

  1. Hi,

    I read couple of posts and searched a bit about dark virtue but I truly believe that I am able to fully understand it. Briefly, I would say it would be more about inner self, stillness, keep virtue no matter what and no effort (not forcing things to happen).
    Could you describe the dark virtue please?

    Great work you have done with your daily posts.

    Kind regards
    Luan

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