Unlike the Way of Humankind

“The Way of Heaven
is like stringing a bow
pulling down the high
lifting up the low
shortening the long
lengthening the short
the Way of Heaven
takes from the long
and supplements the short
unlike the Way of Humankind
which takes from the short
and gives to the long
who can take the long
and give it to the world
only those who possess the Way
thus do sages not depend on what they develop
or claim what they achieve
thus they choose to hide their skill”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 77, translation by Red Pine)

KAO HENG says, “In stringing a bow, we pull the bow down to attach the string to the top. We lift the bow up to attach the string to the bottom. If the string is too long, we make it shorter. If the string is too short, we make it longer. This is exactly the Way of Heaven.” My reading of line two, which agrees with Kao Heng’s, is based on the Shuowen, which says, “Chang means to attach a string to a bow.”

TU ER-WEI says, “Not only the Chinese, but the ancient Greeks and Hindus, the Finns, the Pawnee, and the Arapaho all likened the moon to a bow. Thus the Way of Heaven is like a bow.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Way of Heaven is so dark, we need metaphors to understand it. To prepare a bow for use, we string it by pulling down the top and lifting up the bottom. Likewise, the Way of Heaven is to take from the strong and give to the weak.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “The Way of Heaven does not intentionally pull down the high and lift up the low. It does nothing and relies instead on the nature of things. Things that are high and long cannot avoid being pulled down and shortened. Things that are low and short cannot avoid being lifted up and lengthened. The full suffer loss. The humble experience gain.”

TE CH’ING says, “The Way of Heaven is to give but not to take. The Way of Humankind is to take but not to give.”

WANG P’ANG says, “The Way of Heaven is based on the natural order. Hence, it is fair. The Way of Humankind is based on desire. Hence, it is not fair. Those who possess the Way follow thee same Way of Heaven.”

SU CH’E says, “Those who possess the Way supply the needs of the ten thousand creatures without saying a word. Only those who possess the Way are capable of this.”

LU HSI-SHENG says, “Who can imitate the Way of Heaven and make it the way of Humankind by taking what one has in abundance and giving it to those in need? Only those who possess the Way. The Yiching [41-42] says, ‘To take means to take from the low and give to the high.’ And ‘to give means to take from the high and give to the low.’”

LI JUNG says, “Although sages perform virtuous dees, they expect no reward and try to keep their virtue hidden.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The skill of the sages is unfathomable and inexhaustible. How could it be revealed?”

And RED PINE notes, “When Lao-tzu refers to ‘the Way of Heaven,’ he is not simply referring to the sky above but to everything that lives and moves.”

The difference between the Way of Heaven and the Way of Humankind couldn’t be more stark. What do we get for all our meddling? It isn’t just unintended consequences, though it is that, too. But, what is even worse is that our meddling only compounds the problem we insist we are trying to solve. “Who can take the long and give it to the world? Only those who possess the Way.” So, how do we possess the Way? It isn’t so hard, really. As Lao-tzu has said earlier, “It is easy to understand and easy to put into practice.” But, it does require virtue. Humility.

To practice this virtue, this humility, we need to not depend on what we develop (our machinations and schemes), nor lay claim to what we achieve. Keep it hidden. Like jade, hidden inside ordinary rock. Let things evolve naturally. Yin and yang naturally follow each other. Let them.

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